Interview with Author Marc Boston

Marc Boston on Skyline Drive near his home in Charlottesville

When I registered for a writing workshop with Kathy Erskine in May 2014, I knew I was in for a wonderful writing experience. I had also been hoping to find other children’s writers who might want to form a critique group. Lucky for me, Marc Boston was also in the workshop!

At one point, Kathy asked for volunteers to read aloud manuscripts. Marc volunteered. Based on the smiles and laughter in the room, I think it’s safe to say that everyone was delighted by his rhyming picture book manuscript.

Well, Marc and I formed that critique group (along with other writers). He’s been cranking out the manuscripts and has been a great support to me on my own writing journey.

And that picture book manuscript? Marc ended up self-publishing it as The Girl Who Carried Too Much Stuff in October 2015.

With Marc at his book launch for The Girl Who Carried Too Much Stuff in Charlottesville

In June 2017 Marc self-published his second delightful picture book, What About Me?. Like his first book, this one is charmingly illustrated by Annie Wilkinson.

Marc with family and friends at his book launch for What About Me? in Kansas City

Amy: Hey, Marc! Congratulations on the publication of What About Me? Tell us a bit about it.

Marc: Hey there, Amy! Thank you, and thanks for inviting me to stop by to have this conversation with you. In the story, the nameless main character is vying for the attention of her two older sisters, who seem oblivious to her appeal for recognition. They aren’t being mean; they are just in their own little worlds.

As the story progresses, our lead character must come to understand that with a little creativity and imagination, she can learn to be her own best friend. She learns that she doesn’t need to seek validation outside of herself, and that it is ultimately up to her to make herself happy. This story is an attempt to explore the theme of self-empowerment, which is truly a universal theme that folks of all ages can embrace.

Amy: Will you share your inspiration for your books?

Marc: Many of the stories I’ve written are based on the interactions, antics, and shenanigans I witness my three elementary age daughters engaging in during their everyday lives. I notice their interesting or quirky behaviors such as my middle daughter Delaney’s old habit of needing to carry many of her possessions around the house and whenever we’d leave. This particularly priceless practice of hers sparked the idea for my first book, The Girl Who Carried Too Much Stuff.

I also enjoy listening to the funny things that they say, and I attempt to use that as writing material. I love to remain aware of what they are doing around me because I feel that there are so many treasures that can be mined from their unaffected, authentic way of being. I casually and surreptitiously observe all of this and spin those situations into fun tales. I’m basically a fly on the wall reporting on their day-to-day lives without their permission…hopefully they don’t sue me one day. 🙂

What About Me? is based on my youngest daughter, Journey, and her perceived interactions with her two older sisters. Perceived in that even though the stories are based on them, the stories are told through the lens of my perspective. All three of my girls get along splendidly, however there are those occasions when I notice that the older two are off engaging in some little household adventure, while Journey is off somewhere doing something solo.

Most of the time Journey seems content, but there are those times when I feel like she’s been purposely left behind because she’s just not old enough yet to keep up. After witnessing several of these instances, I began to wonder how she might feel about being treated like a third wheel. Maybe she doesn’t mind it at all, but I thought that this episode in their lives would make a great story. So I sat down and wrote What About Me?

Marc with his daughters at Great Wolf Lodge in Williamsburg, VA

Amy: How was the experience publishing your second picture book?

Marc: I am excited to have recently published my second book. I experienced a much easier time around publishing the new book than my first book, The Girl Who Carried Too Much Stuff. The first book was almost four years in the making. I wrote the story but I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with it, because I didn’t know much about the publishing world in general.

Once I performed a bit of research, I decided that I wished to self-publish the book as opposed to seeking traditional publishing. I set out down the road to self-publish, but I had almost no idea what I was doing at first. I learned through trial and error with the help of some very supportive artists and professionals. This time around I didn’t feel like a rookie; I didn’t have to wonder about whether to self-publish as I had my personal publishing apparatus in place already, so to speak. So this time it felt like a rather painless process.

Amy: Why did you decide to self-publish your first book?

Marc: Probably because I’m a little crazy. 🙂 Mostly it’s because I’m a bit of a rebel. I’ve never fit completely in with many social standards. For example, I was one of the first stay-at-home dads that I’d ever known 11 years ago, and now we are more common place.

I chose to go into self-publishing because first of all, I didn’t want to wait to be picked. I chose to pick myself! I feel like I have something to say through the stories I tell, and I didn’t want to have to wait to tell them. When I was ready to follow my goal of becoming a children’s book writer, I knew it; and I didn’t want to wait any longer. I was ready to just go for it with a sort of against-all-odds attitude.

I worked through my initial fear and attempted to just focus on putting out my best work, allowing the chips to fall where they may. Today’s publishing world is so different than in the past that it afforded me the opportunity to do this. Not to mention, my first book was like my baby and I didn’t want to give her away to the traditional publishing world to raise. That’s the stay-at-home dad coming out in me.

…my first book was like my baby and I didn’t want to give her away to the traditional publishing world to raise. That’s the stay-at-home dad coming out in me.” — Marc Boston

Amy: Do you see yourself continuing to self-publish or do you see pursuing traditional publishing at some point?

Marc: This is a question I’ve wrestled with from the very beginning, before I made the informed decision to self-publish. Which way should I go? I certainly have nothing against pursuing traditional publishing. There is something to be said about having a team of professionals to help a relative newcomer like me with the process. Being new to the game, it would be nice to have an agent or publisher hold my hand as I continue to develop and grow in this industry. And I’m certain that the education I would receive from such a partnership would be invaluable. One of the biggest issues I’ve had with self-publishing has been the marketing, promotion, and distribution. So yes, I am truly open to the idea of receiving some assistance to further the career I’m working to firmly establish.

Amy: There are so many writers looking to publish picture books. What do you feel sets your writing apart?

Marc: There are so many reading choices out there, so what would make someone want to choose one of my stories to read? When a writer is striving to be heard, it’s easy to feel lost in the shuffle. During these times I try to remember that I have something to contribute as well. With my writing, I attempt to entertain, educate, and inspire. These attributes are common in all of my stories. Part of what I hope makes my writing entertaining is my rhyme style. It is definitely what gives my work its flavor. I also don’t shy away from using words that may be above a certain reader’s grade level, and after reading my stories I want you to feel something. I try to write thought-provoking pieces.

Amy: What threads all of your stories together?

Marc: The need to write stories that contain universal themes that all people can relate to. No matter how old or young you happen to be. And the strong desire to present people of color as the lead characters in my books.

Marc with family and friends on the Downtown Mall in Charlottesville

Amy: Why is it important to you to send main characters of color out into the world?

Marc: Because there is a whole segment of people out there who feel left out, forgotten, invisible. Diverse books help to remind the world there is more than one story to be told, more than one perspective, more than one culture. And, diversity is normal! You don’t only see one race or one gender when we leave our homes. There are many different types of people, with various positions and points of view. Diversity is a beautiful thing; it should be embraced, and reflected in the books we read.

Diversity is a beautiful thing; it should be embraced, and reflected in the books we read.” — Marc Boston

Amy: What has surprised you about the writer’s life?

Marc: (1) How much better I feel when I’m writing. If I don’t write I don’t feel right. (2) How many other people wish to also write books and articles. I can’t tell you how many people have solicited advice about how to write and how to publish, and have asked if I would critique their work since they found out that I published a couple of books. And I’m thrilled to be of service in that way.

If I don’t write, I don’t feel right.” – Marc Boston

Amy: What has been the most rewarding part about the writer’s life?

Marc: One of the most rewarding things about the writer’s life is being able to write. To start with a blank page and have a story come together the way you wish is great. To publish a book and have it accepted to the VA Festival of the Book is an amazing feeling. To have an article published in a magazine is very rewarding. To have someone actually ask your advice about writing, because they believe that you may be an authority on the subject, is fantastic. For someone to say that they really love your work is worth all the effort.

Amy: What has been the most challenging part about the writer’s life?

Marc: Writing can be a lonely pursuit. Often I wonder if anyone cares about the work I put out. The vulnerable feeling of putting yourself out there to potentially be judged by others can be nerve-racking. Am I good enough to even call myself a writer? Sometimes it’s really hard to produce something you feel is worthy enough to present to the world, and after you do, the insecure feelings over the quality of your work are always there.

Some writers wish to be JK Rawlings or John Grisham or Walter Mosley, and if you aren’t that it feels as if you have to fight off the stigma of this being “just” a hobby. There are certain expectations you put on yourself as a writer and the perceived expectations of others that seem to be ever-present. The only thing I can do about that is to put out the best content I can, and let the work speak for itself. Because it isn’t about me, it’s about the work.

Amy: What other stories are you working on these days?

Marc: The beauty of being in a wonderful writing critique group like ImagineInk is that we usually submit new material to one another for review every three weeks. Without my writing crew, I probably wouldn’t write as much as I do. You all have been holding me accountable for the past three years. So I’m always working on something new. I have a picture book story I’m working on now that touches on childhood poverty, and I just wrapped up an article I wrote for a local magazine that explains how my daughters often provide fodder for my stories.

Amy: What other interests do you have besides writing? What else fills your days?

Marc: When I’m not writing, I’m usually reading. I’m an avid reader who loves the Easy Rawlins mysteries by Walter Mosley. I’m very much into spiritual books like those from Marianne Williamson and also Eckhart Tolle. I try to stay fit by running a mile a day, and I have a daily meditation practice. I also enjoy watching old movies, listening to classic hip-hop, taking walks, cooking, and spending time with my family traveling or just being silly with them around the house.

Marc with his daughters at Sesquicentennial Park in Columbia, SC

Amy: Is there anything else you’d like to tell us?

Marc: I just want to thank you, Amy, for giving me this opportunity to chat with you. I’d also like to encourage everyone to continue to support diverse books, and to always strive to live as fearlessly and authentically as possible. Peace & Blessings.

Amy: Thanks so much for stopping by, Marc. It’s been fun to learn more about what makes you tick. I look forward to your next writing group submission. See you soon!

And thank YOU for stopping by. Marc’s books are available at http://www.marcboston.com/. 

If you’re local, Marc and I will both be at the Charlottesville Book Fair on Saturday, November 18 from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. at CitySpace on the Downtown Mall. Please come say hey to over 40 local authors!

Until we meet again,

Amy

Interview with Author Cynthia Kadohata

Cynthia Kadohata

Cynthia Kadohata! I had the great pleasure of meeting her in 2007 at the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award Ceremony where her novel, Weedflower, won the award for Older Children.

Here’s Cynthia’s autograph:

Huh? An honor? Cynthia Kadohata, author of the Newbery Award winning Kira-Kira? To this writing newbie, her message shone with humility and generosity.

Those qualities shone through again when I emailed Cynthia (after no contact in between) to ask if she might be interested in being interviewed for my future blog (i.e. still a figment of my imagination).

Since 2007 Cynthia has published several other novels to great acclaim including The Thing About Luck, winner of the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. You get the picture: this woman can really write!

Although this interview is my first lengthy exchange with Cynthia, l have felt a sense of connection to her over the years through her novels which I find luminous, honest, and humorous.

“Sometimes it’s simply amazing how the world blooms around you when you are searching for something.” – Cynthia Kadohata

Amy: Welcome, Cynthia! It’s truly my honor. You’ve had a long writing career including ten published books. You started off writing for adults, publishing your first novel, The Floating World, in 1989. How did you make the shift from writing adult novels to writing children’s novels?

Cynthia: My editor, Caitlyn Dlouhy, was my grad school roommate, and while I went off to write for adults, she went off to become a children’s book editor. We remained good friends, and now and then over the years she suggested that I write for children.

Then in 2002 I read a pile of children’s novels she’d sent me, and something just clicked. I hadn’t read children’s novels in many years. It was like a light being turned on. So I decided to try it.

My writing was always from the POV of a young person – my first adult novel’s narrator is a child at the start of the book – so the switch to writing children’s novels wasn’t that much of a jolt to my system. It felt very natural, and I loved it. Channeling my inner twelve-year-old is one of my favorite things to do!

Amy: I’m glad that you brought up your inner twelve-year-old. I’ve read four of your novels (so far) and noticed that the protagonists are all at the threshold of adolescence. What is it about that age that speaks to you so strongly?

Cynthia: I’m not sure. I’m still in touch with a number of the “kids” I knew from when I was twelve, and I feel a connection with them that I don’t feel with many other people from my past. It was a fun, intense, vivid time.

Often when I’m writing, the character just naturally comes out eleven or twelve, so I just let that happen. My February 2018 novel, Checked, is from the POV of a boy who starts out eleven and turns twelve during the novel. I think it’s a sign that my development stalled at age twelve!!!

Amy: Ha! If you’re stalled at twelve, I’m stalled at nine or ten. Care to share anything about Checked?

Cynthia: Checked is about a group of hyper-competitive, athletically talented, and sensitive twelve-year-old alpha boys playing elite hockey in Southern California. The main character, Conor, owns a Doberman named Sinbad who is his best friend in the world. Sinbad gets very sick, and Conor learns to navigate the world and play the game he loves while also suffering through the ups and downs of Sinbad’s illness. In short, he grows up!

Amy: Sounds compelling and I look forward reading to it! A year after your last book, Half A World Away, was released, I had the pleasure of taking an intensive on editing and revising with your editor, Caitlyn Dlouhy, at the SCBWI (Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) Mid-Atlantic Conference. She said that after a few rounds of back-and-forth edits, she suggested that you put away the manuscript in the drawer. You then sent her a much revised manuscript which she described as “the biggest blow-my-mind ever.” How did you take this manuscript from drawer to publication?

Cynthia: I think a lot of it was discovering Bruce Springsteen’s song “Backstreets.” It’s a really intense song, and when I first discovered it, I went to sleep with my earphones on, and the song just played over and over while I slept. And then this really intense boy character just came to me when I woke up. I listened to that song a lot as I wrote.

Amy: Such a cool story! I do find the voice of Jaden, the adopted son and protagonist of Half A World Away, to be intense (and honest) which is largely why I find him endearing…When you adopted your son Sammy from Kazakhstan, you had already made the transition to writing for children. How has being a mom influenced your writing?

Cynthia: One thing is that I have greater confidence to write from a young boy’s point of view. And of course loving someone so much is transformational. I’m not sure how that changes my writing, but I’m sure it does. On the down side, I don’t have as much time to write anymore! Checked is about a boy who plays ice hockey, like Sammy does. At this point I sometimes think I can write more naturally from a boy’s POV than a girl’s.

Sammy, Cynthia’s son, taking a great shot!

Amy: Yet you’ve been prolific with six published books since becoming a mom. How do you manage your writing time? Any tips to share with other writer-parents?

Cynthia: I don’t feel I manage my writing time very well at all! I feel I should have had a book published every year and am actually kind of disappointed in myself that I haven’t. Well, more than kind of disappointed. It eats at me! I used to write daily, but now I write more in spurts when I can. Either way seems to work out fine.

Amy: Writers and parents are two groups of people who never seem to have enough time. If you were gifted with an extra hour each day — your only restrictions are that you may not do anything directly related to your writing career or being a mom — what are some of the things that you might do?

Cynthia: If I could save all the hours up and have a big hunk of time, I would take Amtrak somewhere, anywhere. I love the train! My sister was interested in visiting our childhood home in Arkansas, and that’s something I’d like to do as well. If I could have only one hour at a time, I also like to draw.

Amy: Ooh, what do you like to draw?

Cynthia: I used to love drawing the faces of old people. Their faces are so beautiful and expressive! I’m not good enough to do that anymore, as I really haven’t kept it up. So now when I draw, it’s always a still life that I set up. For a while I was drawing regularly with my son, but for some reason we stopped doing that even though we both enjoyed it.

My drawings are kind of embarrassing now – really, really simple, but at the same time it is kind of cool because I could feel that if I really put work into it, I could get back to where I was. But I feel like it would take 100% commitment…which isn’t going to happen.

Amy: I hope that you’ll find some time to draw and take that train ride with your sister! Many of your protagonists possess strong sibling relationships that help sustain them through very challenging circumstances. Will you tell us about your portrayal of realistic yet tender, devoted sibling relationships?

Cynthia: My childhood, while far, far from perfect, was nonetheless totally magical. And my brother and sister were a part of that magic, so I really like writing about siblings. Of course I love my brother and sister a lot…more some days than others – I guess that’s where the “realistic” parts come from.

Amy: I love your point that life, while imperfect, may still be magical. American and world history are filled with imperfections, and yet you write historical fiction that is nonetheless magical…Little known chapters of history often undergird your novels. How would you describe your relationship with the research process? Do you have any words of advice for other writers who need to do intensive research?

Cynthia: I just read a 1,000-page historical book to help me write a novel that’s less than 150 pages. The history book is backstory for one of my main characters, and I didn’t feel I could write my novel without this backstory. I get really involved in the research, and I’d say it takes up as much time as the actual writing.

I also do a lot of interviews. My only advice would be to treat your interviewees like the royalty they are. I recently watched a video featuring short-story writer George Saunders. He used the phrase “intuit their expansiveness.” I LOVE that phrase, and I think it’s a good idea to intuit the expansiveness of your interviewees. They turn out to be such wonderful and generous people, as well as unique and full of great depth of emotion.

Amy: “Intuit their expansiveness” — that’s wonderful advice for any writer. What keeps you writing for children? Do you have any interest in writing another adult novel?

Cynthia: I love writing for children! I don’t have a particular interest in writing another adult novel, but I would never say never. If a story idea came to me, I would gladly do another adult book. It seems like it’s fairly common for me to run a story idea by my editor, and she thinks it sounds too adult for kids. Like I wanted to write about the Battle of Stalingrad from the POV of a young boy, but she didn’t really see how it could be a children’s story. I had even started studying the Russian language a bit.

Amy: What are you working on now? What do readers have to look forward to?

Cynthia: Checked just went into copy-editing, so while I wait for the copy-edited version, I’m working on a novel about a Japanese American girl whose father renounces his American citizenship while incarcerated during WWII. Several thousand Japanese Americans did just that. At the moment I’m working on deepening the girl’s character, or intuiting her expansiveness. It’s coming in fits and starts.

Amy: Is there anything that you’d like to add?

Cynthia: Hmmm, well, right now I’m into the concept of serendipity. I’d been worrying because I didn’t see how I was going to get firsthand information on what Hiroshima was like after the war for my current project. I didn’t know who I could interview. And then a translator who is generously helping me with the project happened to mention that she has friends whose parents come from Hiroshima, and they could help me.

Sometimes when you’re writing a novel, things just fall into place in a miraculous way. Seeing this happen is one of the best parts of writing a book. And THEN I found a woman whose parents renounced their citizenship AND they went to the Hiroshima area after the war! Sometimes it’s simply amazing how the world blooms around you when you are searching for something.

Amy: Thank you, Cynthia, and I wish you much continued serendipity!

To find out more about Cynthia, please go to http://www.cynthiakadohata.com. And be on the look-out for her next novel, Checked, in February 2018!

Until we meet again,

Amy