Warm weather has finally arrived and it is time to start thinking about what to read as you lounge around the pool, while your kids play in the park, or during your hour-long commute on the transpo. To help you prepare your summer-time TBR list, every Monday for the next few months I will be talking with some really fabulous authors about their latest or upcoming books.
It is the first week of July and everyone knows it is time to celebrate! Nevertheless, I have Cordelia Dinsmore here to chat about Michaela’s Gift, released by Euterpe only a couple weeks ago on June 15th. If you want to hear more from her, check out her blog, facebook, or twitter.
Cordelia lives in a century-old farm house surrounded by fields of corn, wheat, sunflowers, etc., depending on the whims of the farmers. A dog, five cats, a horse, and several humans share the small farm where they work and play together. She writes strictly for children and have a fondness for creating rhyming picture books. When not writing, Cordelia loves to grow flowers, blackberries, tomatoes, and the occasional herb. She also loves bird-watching and scouring the Flint Hills for artifacts and prehistoric shark teeth.
How would you summarize your book in one sentence?
Michaela Cochran still believes in enchanted mountains and fairytale castles, but her happily-ever-after is never going to happen if she can’t convince her mother to accept the magical gift Michaela has inherited.
Oooh, sounds good already! How long did it take you to write this book?
From start to absolute finish? About three years. It only took me a few short months to initially write it, but I kept going back and changing things, and adding more to it. Of course, I had several critique partners, and each of them brought their own insights into it, so that involved more revising and tweaking.
How many drafts do you go through?
I’m not sure. I have a very, very bad habit of editing as I go. I just can’t get past it. After I write a scene, it will replay in my mind several times, and I find myself making little changes repeatedly. I know that’s not good, but I haven’t disciplined myself to stop doing it yet. I know there are seven different versions of Michaela’s Gift on my computer.
I have heard of that advice before, being an editor at heart I probably wouldn’t be able to resist myself! When do you write best: in the morning, afternoon, or at night?
I love to write late into the night, while the rest of the house is sleeping. That’s the only time my house is almost totally free of distractions and interruptions. We live out in the country, but we’re on a very busy highway with lots of heavy truck traffic. Also, we’re surrounded by fields, so if the farmers are out there planting or harvesting, I’m distracted. Plus, we have quite a bit of wildlife show up in our yard, so every time I glance out a window, I see something new or interesting to pull me out of my writing. Also, I still have one fairly young offspring at home, and I often watch my grandbaby while my daughter’s working. So most of my days are filled with cooking, errands, and chores, so I get very little writing accomplished during daylight hours.
Children –and grandchildren- are always a full time job! But I’m sure they are, or will be, great inspiration for future stories *wink* Where is your favorite place to write?
In the recliner, with my darling old tortoise-shell cat, Molly, lying across my legs.
Better the cat on your legs than on the keyboard itself! But then I should ask this first: Typewriter, computer/laptop, or pen & paper?
I pretty much use my laptop exclusively now. My husband bought me a Dragon Naturally Speaking as a Christmas gift, and he finally installed it on my laptop. I’m still trying to figure it all out, but so far I’ve just played with it. It does save my hands, though. That doesn’t mean I won’t get up in the night if an idea or a complete conversation between characters plays through my head. I’ve found that if I don’t write it down at that moment, it’s gone by morning. I always keep a pen and pad of paper in my nightstand drawer.
I’d never heard of Dragon Naturally Speaking before, but it sounds handy! Well, unless it also types out the sound of crunching should you happen to be having a snack. Do you drink or eat while you write?
Coca-Cola or Iced Tea. I find that eating anything just slows me down. Although I have been known to shove mini-donuts into my mouth with one quick flick of the wrist as I type. The trouble is, I’m so distracted by my characters, I end up eating a whole bag of whatever before I realize what I’ve done. Definitely not good on the hips of a fairly sedentary writer.
Do you listen to music while you write? If so, what kind?
Absolutely not! I love to sing, and if I have music on, I’m singing along. Before I know it, I’m typing down the words as I sing. Guess I’m not that good at multi-tasking.
I love singing, too, but I can’t even manage to type the lyrics at the same time. You have me beat in multi-tasking *grin* So you’re in your recliner with Molly, what are you wearing when you write?
My feet are bare, always. I have a pair of plaid flannel pj pants that I just love, so I often put them on. Any shirt will do. But I usually have a blanket draped over my legs for Molly. She’s old and gets cold easily, so she loves my Sherpa blanket.
Pajamas are the best clothing in the world! I wish we could all just wear pj’s everywhere… Do you have any other writing rituals?
Not particularly. If I get stuck on a particular scene, I sometimes switch it up and take my laptop outside or to the kitchen table. A change of scene or position sometimes helps my train of thought. I’ve even gone out to the trampoline to work. For some reason unknown to me the webbing of the trampoline supports me, but helps me avoid stress points, so I’m much more comfortable than I am in a chair.
Note to self: get a trampoline… How do you plot? Chapter by chapter or an overall synopsis? Do you use detailed outlines?
Oh, yuck. I hate outlines, and I’m a terrible plotter. An idea just comes into my head and I start typing it. That might be why I do so much editing as I go. Sometimes I have an idea of where I’m going, but my characters won’t behave and I end up with something totally different. And there have honestly been times when I have gone back and read a section of one of my books, and thought, “who the heck has been messing with my computer?” It’s like I totally don’t remember writing that particular scene. I’m beginning to think my house really is haunted, as some overnight visitors have said.
When ghosts aren’t trying to take over your stories, how do you decide which narrative point of view to write from?
I’m not sure it’s my decision. Michaela’s Gift is written from her viewpoint, in past tense. But my current WIP is first person, past tense. I have just recently begun a rewrite of another YA novel that I’m changing to first person, but that’s switching over to present tense. I’m not sure if I can pull that one off, but I’m liking it so far. I don’t know that it really matters or that I have a preference for one over the other. I know that a lot of the recent YA is written in first/present. It took me a bit to get accustomed to, but now I sort of like it.
I have noticed that addition in writing style as well. It gives more options for readers to choose from, they can always find something that allows them to connect to the characters. Speaking of those characters, how do you choose their names?
This may sound totally weird, but I don’t know that I do. Of course, many of the characters in Michaela’s Gift are based on people and animals I actually knew or know, so their names were easy. The others just seemed to fall into place, and I went with them. But in my current WIP, it seems like almost everyone has a very unique, or even bizarre name. I didn’t consciously put any thought into their names, I swear, but several of them have turned out to be the perfect name for that particular character. For instance, there is Uncle Miracle. I had never heard of anyone with that name before in my life, but it’s the perfect name for him. I’m also working on a historical YA, and the MC in that one just started talking to me one morning while I was taking a bath. She told me her name was Cherry, so I had to go with that.
So here you are, your characters have led you on a crazy journey but it is now complete. Who is the first person to read your manuscript?
Either my brother or my sister read every one of them before they go out to anyone else. I get honest feedback from them, even when they don’t like something I’ve done or don’t understand my characters’ motivations. We love and respect each other enough to be honest, at least in regards to our writing, because we each know that the others take it seriously. I don’t know what I would do without their input.
Wow, it sounds like you have a wonderful relationship with your siblings. I think I have can guess who you first wanted to tell, but I will ask anyways. What did you do immediately after hearing that you were being published for the very first time?
Called my brother, and then my sister. Oh, wait, I hope you meant after I stopped screaming and running through the house like my pants were on fire. Then I shared the news with one of the ladies at my church. I think she was almost more excited than I was. That weekend we had a meeting of our Heart in Hands group, and she asked me if we could share it with them. Of course I said yes, so the whole church knew about it by the following week.
I am sure they are all very proud of you! Imagine how much more excited they would be if your book were to become a movie. That being the case, who would you like to see star in it?
Even though I know she’s a little older now, I have always wanted Abigail Breslin to star as one of my characters. I think she’s absolutely brilliant. She stole my heart in Little Miss Sunshine. She had so much grit and determination, and Ms. Breslin pulled it off beautifully. And I would love for Melissa Gilbert to play the part of her Aunt Sharon. For Michaela’s brother, Sean, I envision a blond version of Asa Butterfield. He has the most beautiful blue eyes, and his wistful expression reminds me of Sean. Sean wants to be a superhero, you know. He longs to be able to fly.
I remember Abigail Breslin from “Signs”, and it is hard to believe she’s a teenager now! Such a tremendously talented kid. Speaking of one’s childhood, what is the first book you remember reading?
I want to say Call of the Wild, but I’m not absolutely certain. That one stayed with me, though. I know in 4th grade my teacher gave me a copy of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. But I know I’d been reading long before that. It was just the first book I absolutely fell in love with.
What book is on your nightstand right now?
Ha! That’s a great one. Actually, my son has borrowed my Nook because he’s reading Lost in the Bayou by Cornell Deville, and he let the battery run low so it’s on the charger. So I don’t guess that one counts, even though I’m reading (when I can get it away from him) The Super Spies and the Cat Lady Killer by Lisa Orchard. I have several more YA books that I’ve just recently downloaded to my Nook. Also, there’s One fish two fish red fish blue fish by Dr. Seuss. My granddaughter spent the night last night and that was her choice of bedtime story. I also have Devil’s Gate by Clive Cussler. I’m almost finished with it, but other things got in the way and I haven’t gotten back to it yet. And I just finished Fetching by Kiera Stewart a few days ago. It’ s still there, even though I need to get it back to the library. And the final one is Save The Cat! by Blake Snyder. It’s a book on writing screenplays. Whew! All done.
That’s quite a variety there! Do you have a guilty pleasure read?
Well, I always rush out and buy every single Nora Roberts book as soon as it comes out in the book stores. I guess that counts.
Don’t feel guilty about reading Nora Roberts, I love her books too! *grin* How do you organize your library/book collection?
We’re supposed to organize them? Huh, who knew? Seriously. When I finish a Nora Roberts or Jude Deveraux, I take them to my sister. When my husband and I finish a Clive Cussler, I usually mail them to a former exchange student who lives in Germany. She discovered his adventure novels while living with us. The rest of them are piled into numerous bookshelves throughout the house so anyone can make use of them whenever they’d like.
Did you always want to be a writer?
No, not always. When I was ten I wanted to be Annette Funicello. Seriously, I really wanted to be a singer at the Grand Ol’ Opry. Preferably someone who would sing duets with Randy Travis, or Vince Gill, or Alan Jackson.
Alan Jackson’s “Little Bitty” was my theme song growing up –guess who was ALWAYS the shortest kid in class? *sigh* If there was one book you wish you had written what would it be?
Have you ever read The Shack? That book blew my mind. I would love to have that kind of insight into what makes people tick.
No, I haven’t read it yet… but I guess I’m going to have to now! If you could talk to any writer living or dead who would it be, and what would you ask/talk about?
I would love to talk with Jerry Spinelli, or just sit and listen to him talk about where his ideas come from. I think he probably has had one very interesting life.
If you could be any character from any book, who would you be?
I think I would like to be Hester Prynne, from The Scarlet Letter, but I would probably turn her into something totally lacking in everything I admire her for. I’m nothing like her, and maybe that’s why I admire her so much. If not Hester, then possibly Mary Poppins. Wouldn’t that be a lot of fun? Of course, I don’t think I could ever leave those children, even if they no longer needed me.
I wish I had a Mary Poppins growing up, as I always hated cleaning my room and she had a gift for making children happy. What is the best gift someone could give a writer?
Honest feedback. It’s a total waste of valuable time for a writer to stagnate because well-intentioned friends or family won’t offer honest, constructive criticism. It’s always helpful if it can be managed with tact, but if a reader is honest or not, a serious writer will eventually figure it out. Then he may come back to you and ask why you didn’t point certain things out to him rather than stroke his ego. Of course, I’m saying that just as my debut novel makes its appearance. I hope I can remember my own advice when less than stellar reviews pop up.
What is the best advice someone could give a writer?
Oh, I’m definitely not a person who should be tossing out advice. Especially with my limited amount of experience in the writing field. I guess the best advice I could give a writer would be to follow your heart. If you really want to write, then put the time and effort into learning everything you can about the craft. Don’t wait around for people to tell you you’re brilliant.
What is one random thing most people don’t know about you?
I did sing at the Grand Ol’ Opry.