Monday, April 13, 2020

A Conversation with Carol Ann Soisson + Giveaway!

Here is the description of Snowmallows from Amazon: Twelve-year-old, David Griffin, is a baseball fanatic and a sixth-grade student. The weather in coastal Connecticut is unseasonably warm at the beginning of March, so David is distracted by his daydreams of being a star baseball pitcher. But then David learns that he has to pass Monday’s test on weather in order to pass science and live out his dream. David’s parents are doctors and his Grandpa is a weather scientist, so there will be no baseball season or season tickets to see his favorite baseball team play if David fails. David and his best friend, Jon, decide to search Grandpa’s lab in the family basement for something to help him pass his test. In the process, they discover the Snowmallows – marshmallows shaped like snowflakes that were scientifically altered by Grandpa to make it snow when they are put into mugs of hot cocoa. Unfortunately, David and Jon don’t read all the instructions on the bag and use too many Snowmallows. They set off a snowstorm that doesn’t stop – where snow piles reach 6 feet high in some places. David and Jon work with David's little sister, Emily, to stop the Snowmallows, but their solution, called Lemonthaw, causes a time shift. No one remembers the snow except the three of them. David fails science, is grounded, and will miss out on baseball season. Grandpa's the only person left who can help David stop the Snowmallows. Unfortunately, Grandpa's the last person he wants to ask. Snowmallows is a story for young people ages 8-12. Subjects included in the book are weather, blizzards, meteorology, family relationships, baseball, friendship, and faith.

Carol, heartiest congratulations! Thank you for taking the time to chat with me about Snowmallows. I loved it so much and am delighted that we can talk about it. I only wish this were happening in person, as we drink a cup of iced tea on my porch. Sorry, no hot cocoa in our 80 deg weather! 
Hi, Vijaya. Thank you very much for your interest in Snowmallows. I’m glad you enjoyed it and I’m excited for this – my first ever author interview – with you! I would love it to be in person, too. Not only because I’d love to see you, but also because 80 degrees on a porch with lemonade would be a lovely change. Although Emily’s favorite purple crocuses are blooming, we’re still having some cold days up here.

I’m a sucker for the story behind the story, so please tell me how you came about the idea and how it developed over the years. I want to know your background. Were you a dreamer like David or a nature-lover like Jonathan (love that they are friends, just like in the Bible) or like Emily, smart, or all of the above? 
To be honest, I’ve been working on Snowmallows for so long (since the late 1990’s) that some of the details are a bit blurry now. The original story was written as an assignment for a course I took at the Institute for Children’s Literature in West Redding, CT and the original manuscript was about 4,000 words. It was the longest creative piece I’d ever written. It included only the portion of the story about the children developing the Lemonthaw. I love these whimsical names. 
The original idea for the Snowmallows themselves came from my friend, Sharon. It seemed that whenever she drank hot cocoa with marshmallows, we would get snow. “The power of the cocoa” became a joke between us and Snowmallows emerged from that.
Another friend of mine, Cay, was so kind about reading the story through its various versions and changes. After one reading, she mentioned that she thought we needed to meet Grandpa. Grandpa was a great addition! And I like seeing multi-generational families in fiction. 

Having him as a real character in the story and not just a subplot was an idea I’d tossed around myself before that, so with that encouragement, I decided to go with it. The rest of the story – now about 40,000 words – developed. At first, I couldn’t imagine writing anything that long. But, as we both know, with God all things are possible. Amen!
As for my background, I would say that there is some of my personality in each character.  I was a good student like Emily, but I’m nowhere near as neat as her! I do have my head in the clouds at times, like David, but I’m not as brave at chasing my dreams. That’s why my college degree is in Accounting rather than writing – something with more stability – and why it took me so long to finish Snowmallows. I do love a good zoo, so in that way I’m like Jon. I also used to belong to an astronomy club.
It’s funny that you mention the biblical connection in the names. That was not done intentionally. I heard those readings of King David and his friend Jonathan one day many years into the writing of the story and realized that happened. It was a “God Moment” for me.
It is amazing, isn't it, how much your soul knows! I do so love these "God Moments."

I never thought weather was all that interesting until I moved to the South—we have hurricanes here (far more exciting than the incessant rain of WA). I even shared David’s lack of interest, yet I was hooked from the beginning and you kept reeling me in. I loved how you wove all the elements, including Griffin’s Greatest Fastball. They all fit neatly like a puzzle. I’m curious—was it easy? Everything came about so naturally.
Thank you for that. I love puzzles and I’m glad everything worked for you in the story. I tried to be careful with the plot because I was worried about things being believable for the reader. I’m glad it looked easy because it wasn’t all the time. I backed myself into many corners during the writing where I’d be stuck for a while. Then something would eventually pop up that would solve the exact problem I was having. Again, many “God Moments” with the production of the book.
One example of this was finding the information about the Chinook. I had no idea there was actually a weather pattern that could make winter weather turn to spring quickly. One day I ran across it in a book. It was just what I needed. I can also credit my ICL teacher with pointing out the term “fanning” in baseball. Lots of little things managed to fit together in the end.

The Chinook! When I read it in the book, I wondered how a woman from the NE would know about this! I lived in Eastern WA for many years and experienced the Chinook!
I'm surprised you experienced an actual Chinook. I hope the book lived up to your experience of it.
Oh yes. It's really amazing how much snow disappears overnight with the Chinook. I was most disappointed the year my snowman disappeared instead of him getting smaller and smaller.

I think the biggest obstacle in the writing, though, was the voice. They talk a lot about voice in writing classes, but I never fully understood what they meant. Snowmallows was originally written in third person and I really liked the story, but something was missing. I finally talked myself into trying a re-write to first person and it gave the story the piece that was missing – David’s voice.

As much as I love the traditional third person/past tense, first person so much easier precisely for staying in character. Did you have any trouble keeping it consistent over the years?  

I only made the change from third to first person a couple of years ago.  I started by just changing the "He did" statements to "I did", so to speak, to test if the first person would work better.  It did, so I continued.  Initially, it was a bit tough to check that I'd gotten all of those changes because I was so used to hearing it in third person in my mind.  But after that, when I could hear David's voice and personality, it was very easy to work on the manuscript in first person.

I love time travel stories and they’re so hard to do well. Yet, you blithely threw in a time anomaly and I was breathless reading how the kids would get out of that pickle! I love what Grandpa says, “…there are some things like time and weather that we should deal with carefully. Playing around with either is dangerous enough, but combining the two—that could be a recipe for disaster. Time is too fragile and important a gift to be used for something selfish.” Wow! So true. Yet, he was busy messing with Snowmallows year after year. How would he explain that? 
Grandpa would probably look toward the ceiling for a moment and rub his chin to think about that question. Then, he’d answer as follows:
“I have used the Snowmallows for two basic reasons. One was to woo the woman who became my wonderful wife. The other was to study winter weather patterns to try and make winter storms less dangerous so accidents like Marie’s wouldn’t happen in the future.” 
Then he would look at you over the top of his glasses and give you a sly smile. “Yes, the first one might have been a bit on the selfish side, but the second isn’t – and that has taken more of my time. I just never thought to approach the issue from the warm weather side. I needed my resourceful grandson for that!” Haha! But I'd still keep a close eye on him. 
I love how you wove in what prayer is and how faith and reason are not incompatible. In fact, they go together! Do you teach Sunday school by any chance? You explain these things really well. 
Thank you for that compliment. I do teach a fourth grade faith formation class at my church, but I’m sure by the looks on the student’s faces that they don’t find me that interesting! 😊 Ah, you don't give yourself enough credit. My kids attended an adult Bible study with us the first year we moved to SC and they'd often slouch or have a bored expression, but they learned a lot and were often eager to share the juicy bits in Genesis!
I revised the prayer scenes in spots because I didn’t want them to be too preachy. In the pre-edit document, in fact, I didn’t directly make the connection between faith and science. I wasn’t sure if I should. Then one of the wonderful people who helped me with editing, Kate, said that she wanted to see me make that connection more directly. That gave me the confidence to do it and I’m happy it worked well for you.
I treasure our time at the Highlights Barn where we met. Since you are within driving distance, have you made more retreats there?
I loved the Sharing Our Hope Workshop weekend, too, and I often pray for the friends we made there. I’ve attended a few more workshops there since then. The Indie Publishing Course was the most recent one I attended and that was invaluable to me in the process of publishing Snowmallows. I took so many notes in that class that my hand was cramped by the end of the weekend. That was a couple of years ago and I haven’t been back since then.
In addition to the Highlights workshops, I’ve taken two correspondence courses with the Institute of Children’s Literature in West Redding, CT and I’ve taken some webinars through Writer’s Digest. I also found the Self-Publishing Blueprint from Children’s Book Insider to be very helpful in explaining the self-publishing process.
I did try for a long time to submit my stories to traditional publishers. Most took a long time to answer and wanted exclusive submissions. After taking the Indie course at Highlights, I knew I could do it professionally myself, so I took a chance and started my own company called Shepherd’s Companion Press, LLC. It’s been a challenge getting everything up and running, but I’m excited with the work and I know it was the right direction for me.
It is really wonderful that we have the option of self-publishing. I've read many independently published books that are well-made. Freelance editors and artists rock!
Yes, I couldn't have done it without great freelance help.
What’s next for you? What are you working on?
What’s next? I’m still trying to let it sink in that Snowmallows is really in print! And, while I do have my own company for self-publishing, I also have a regular accounting job, so my time is split. 
Yes, self-publishing is a huge venture and you have to celebrate all the steps along the way! Congratulations on getting Snowmallows in print! That's a biggie. And it'll be a perfect gift for the Easter season.
I'd love it if people saw Snowmallows as a great Easter book. That would be a wonderful compliment. hope in the future that I can write something about the Rosary for children -- I love the Rosary -- maybe a beginner book like praying a decade a day so it’s not so intimidating or perhaps something where the children delve into the mysteries.  I also have some characters for another story about a princess running around in my mind, but I’m not fully sure yet where that story is supposed to go. I guess we’ll see where the Spirit moves.
The rosary is my favorite prayer, but I remember when I first learned to pray how much I needed to have pictures to help me to focus on the mystery. It took me several years before it became a meditative prayer. I've seen the change in my own children too. 

Do you have any advice for writers? You've had a long and interesting journey. What do you wish you'd known? 
I have had a long journey in regard to the writing, but I believe that God worked it out for His time and not mine. I would not have been the same person and Snowmallows would not have been the same book if it had been published 5, 10, or 20 years ago. I am thankful for how things happened.
This is so true. Sometimes when I wished that I'd not sat on Bound for 5 years after it was ready making the rounds I realized I wasn't ready to take the plunge to publish it myself back then. Everything happens at the appointed time.
What advice would I give? With only one book under my belt, I don't know that I'm in a position to give much advice! And the list of what I wish I'd known is probably too long for your blog.  But, I can tell you what I learned.  I learned that a writer needs to know enough about his or herself inside to be able to find the right path for them.  When I started in writing, I wanted to go the traditional route.  I had no interest in trying to publish myself.  But, as time went on and I learned more about myself and the industry, I found that I didn't share the viewpoint of many traditional publishers in a variety of areas.  I didn't want many of them to publish my book.  Then I took the time to learn about the self-publishing process and found that, as an accountant and a writer, I had the right skill set to do this myself and to do it pretty well.  I'm not saying my way was better than the traditional route, but it was the right path for me.  I think other writers should consider the available options and consider their own personality to help them make the best choice about their own path.
Wise words, Carol. I might have to pick your brain about the business side of things--I've been procrastinating on that front.  
Happy to help with the business side. Believe it or not, it took me a while to make the shift for my personal business. It's a strange transition from working in a larger corporation.
Is there anything else you would like to add/share?
I’d like to let people know about the website I’m developing for Shepherd’s Companion Press, LLC  There are free materials on the site related to Snowmallows – a short story about Emily, a quiz to see which character is most like you, suggestions for snow day activities (perfect for covid quarantine too!), and a word find puzzle about people of science who believed in God. I haven’t written a blog yet, but I’m planning for one to show up on the site in the near future and I’m hoping to put more resources for learning about weather on there, too.
I also want to thank you for this interview, Vijaya. You’ve helped me so much with the book so far. And, I’d like to thank everyone who’s taken the time to read Snowmallows. I truly appreciate the support.
Thank you so much.
You are welcome, Carol. It's been such a pleasure. I hope many children will get to enjoy the exciting adventures in Snowmallows. And I pray you and all yours have a very blessed Eastertide. I'm sharing an old picture from our time at Highlights--may our writing dreams sprout like these cheerful johnny jump-ups!

Friends, Carol has generously offered to give away one signed copy of Snowmallows to one lucky commenter. We'll do a drawing May 1, 2020. Thank you.


Mirka Breen said...

What a lovely, heartfelt endorsement. I think especially now that more (many more) MG novels that have nothing to do with dystopian themes are sorely wanted, needed and will do well.

Jenni said...

This book sounds lovely! I believe I saw a glowing review of it elsewhere. I really enjoyed hearing Carol's thoughts on her publishing journey. I like also how she made clear in her book that faith and science are not incompatible. My current WIP has similar themes, so I'm inspired to learn about she dealt with it.

Vijaya said...

Mirka, I was bowled over by how Carol merged so many different ideas so well. It was such a fun read and if I were like my kids, I'd just eat the whole book in one sitting. But, I'm a responsible grownup and don't do that anymore. Well, sometimes I stay up half the night reading.

Jenni, that's so great you read another glowing review. And Carol did a fantastic job of showing that faith and reason go together. But I confess that it's beauty--listening to Bach, studying nature, mathematical patterns--that made me say "Oh, there must be a God!" even though I was an atheist.

Kristi Holl said...

I loved, loved, loved this interview! And the photo was like a mini trip down memory lane. As a former longtime ICL teacher, I loved that Carol held onto a lesson, reworked it, let it sit (yet was open to new ideas that came along and subtly changed and enhanced the original story.) Yes, God's timing quite often isn't OUR timing, and yet, as Carol said, it wouldn't have the same book, with all its layers, years ago. Well done, Carol! And well done, both of you, for a great interview.

Carol Soisson said...

Mirka and Jenni thank you for your supportive comments. And, Kristi, please don't discount that you were a big part of this journey also. I'm so thankful for your help along the way.

Deanna said...

Delightful interview! Thank you, Carol and Vijaya.

Amazon will deliver my copy of the book during the next few days. I cannot wait to read it and share it with my granddaughter (who loves science).

Thank you, Carol, for being persistent and dedicated to bring faith-based children's literature to print. I'm praying that God will work out ways to place the book in libraries across our nation.

The photo from the Highlights workshop makes me feel as if I'm enjoying a warm cup of hot chocolate with wonderful friends. All of you are special to me.

Vijaya said...

Kristi, thank you. I enjoyed getting to know Carol even more. I didn't know you were her ICL instructor! She struck gold. As did I, with mine. And Amen to God's timing and everything working together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.

Deanna, those pictures immediately bring back happy memories for me too. Thank you for visiting and sharing the love!

Carol Soisson said...

Deanna, thank you! I hope you enjoy the book. You and the ladies from our class are often in my thoughts and prayers. It remains my favorite of all the workshops I've attended.

And, Vijaya, although I did have a wonderful ICL instructor, it was not Kristi. I have to credit Pegi Deitz Shea on that one. But, Kristi gets credit for my favorite course by far.

Faith said...

Lovely interview! And perfect to read as chilly weather is creeping into our warm CT spring! :) I hope when this quarantine is finally over you can manage some local author events... In the meantime, thanks to you both for bringing the author tour to us!
I do need to get a copy of this for my daughter--she loves science and fantasy both.

Vijaya said...

Carol, thanks for clarifying who your ICL instructor was, but I agree, that Highlights workshop remains a favorite for me too.

Faith, Carol is also in CT so you two might actually get to meet! And Snowmallows is such a perfect blend of what Lucy enjoys.

Becky Shillington said...

Thanks so much, Carol and Vijaya, for this wonderful interview, and congratulations to Carol!! This sounds like a magical, uplifting book! I love snow but live in SC, and I grew up in the south, so snow is a rare treat for me. I will definitely have to read this one! :-)

Donna Earnhardt said...

This is such an intriguing premise!! I will have to add it to my TBR list!

Vijaya said...

Becky, I hear you on what a miracle it is when we have snow here! You'll love this book.

Donna, you'll enjoy this beautifully crafted book.

Thank you both for visiting.

Carol Soisson said...

Thank you, Faith, Becky, and Donna for your support. I hope you enjoy the book. And good luck to each of you for the drawing. I'm looking forward to it!