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Thursday, November 30, 2017

Meet Melody Dimick, Author of YA Novel BLAME

Here’s another interview with an author I know personally, Melody Dean Dimick. We met a few years ago when we were both working on novels for young people. We formed a critique group for ourselves and other writers to share insights and offer suggestions about our writing efforts. A former high school teacher, Melody began writing Young Adult novels after she retired. Her books show a rare honesty about the reality of teens’ lives. Blame is the third book in her Silent Series (the other two are Silent Screams and Sinister Silence) but its unique plot and main character allow it to be a stand-alone novel as well. 

1.  You were a teacher for many years.  When did you decide you also wanted to be a writer?

When I heard rumors about a murder and a cover up of the murder in my home town, I wanted to tell the murdered woman’s story.

2.  Many adults have a rosy picture of teen life.  I remember good times, yes, but also insecurities and worries.  Where do I fit in?  What do I want to do with my life?  Will I have a date for the prom?  In creating your books, do you draw on your own memories or on your students’ lives?

My characters’ experiences are a compilation of my memories and events I witnessed while teaching.   

3.  The main character in Blame is 17-year-old Jacob who discovers by accident that his father is hiding something that could destroy his family.  He agonizes over what to do. What is the most important message you want your readers to take from this story?
I’m bearing two messages: Even if it comes with pain, family is worth saving, and it’s important to have a friend or friends to turn to when times get rough.

4.  When Jacob and his co-captain get into a fight and refuse to tell their coach why, the coach tells them to work it out. Should he have done more?

No, the coach understood it was too painful for the boys to discuss what the problem was. It was too private and embarrassing. He gave them his card, so they could contact him when and if they were ready to discuss the reason for the conflict.

5.  Jacob is obsessed with being clean and is constantly washing his hands to the point where they are red and raw.  Why did you add this to his personality?  Should his parents have encouraged him to see a therapist?

This part of Jacob’s character is from me. I’m excessive compulsive about germs. I wash my hands until they peel. I kept hand sanitizer on my desk for students to use. One young man came up four or five times a period to clean his hands. Finally, I told him his hands were going to start peeling if he didn’t stop using so much hand sanitizer. He looked at his fingers and said, “Oh, is that why my hands are peeling?” Since I don’t think I need a therapist, I wouldn’t suggest it for teens. Part of my job at one school was to stand in the bathroom between classes to deter students from smoking or fighting in the bathroom. A shocking number of students did not wash their hands after using the facility. Since germs spread through hand contact, I’ve made it a habit to wash my hands more frequently than many others do.

6.  You write about teens who are definitely not part of the “in” crowd?  Why did you choose them over the popular kids?

Popular teens don’t usually need an advocate. On the other hand, alienated kids need to know they are not alone with their problems.

7.  Do you have a favorite character in your books? What do you like about him/her?

I love all my characters, but Dallas, also known as Squirrel, dares to be different. She wears her own style of clothes, loves trees, and dares to stand up to bullies.

8.  What part of the writing process is easiest to you?  What is hardest?

Brainstorming ideas, coming up with the what ifs, and choosing unique characters, is the easiest part of writing for me. The character arc challenges me. There’s an old cliché that states, “A leopard doesn’t change its spots,” yet writers must show character change. It’s difficult for me to write about measurable character change.

9.  What kinds of books do you like to read?  Can you mention a couple of your favorite books? 

 I love to read books from every genre. Like most girls my age, I loved Carolyn Keene’s Nancy Drew series when I was in middle school. Rebecca, The Good Earth, She’s Come Undone, The Fountainhead, and Spoon River Anthology are among my literary favorites. If I’m heading to the beach to relax, I love to bring a Janet Evanovich book with me because she combines humor and mystery.



My thanks to Melody for sharing her thoughts with us.  Her books can be found on Amazon and also through her publisher, Taylor and Seale.  And here’s a special note for SCBWI members—Melody will be on the First Books Panel at the January conference (Saturday at 11:45).  If you’re there, stop in and say hello.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Practical Advice at the FWA Conference

I attended the Florida Writers Association’s (FWA) Annual Conference this past Saturday, and found the workshops I attended to be down-to-earth and helpful.  Each one offered practical ideas that could be put into practice right away.

That even included the conference’s special guest and keynote speaker, best-selling author, Steve Berry, one of my favorites.  Berry writes suspense/thrillers based on little-known historical facts, and his books are definitely in the “can’t put it down” category. After breakfast on Saturday, he sat down for a “Get To Know Steve Berry” interview.

Here I am with best-selling author
 Steve Berry
Berry was candid and to the point in talking about his path to success. He stressed that, first, you have to know your ultimate goal and then head towards it. His goal, he said, was to be a successful writer of commercial fiction. Keeping sight of that goal kept him from wasting energy in other directions.  He also advised, “Don’t write what you know, write what you love because you’re going to be living with it for a long time.”  After the interview, he stayed to answer individual questions. I asked him how he kept all his plot lines straight and was surprised to learn that he doesn’t use huge charts, but works in sections.

After he graciously posed for a picture, I moved on to one of the three marketing workshops on my list. Sales of my middle grade skating novels really need an online boost.  I’d like to focus on Amazon because I learned 96% of e-book sales are on Amazon. 

Nancy Cohen, author of the The Bad Hair Day Mysteries series, gave a lot of concrete suggestions in her workshop, “Marketing on a Budget.”  Her main point was to be visible on many social media sites so that your name will be familiar.  She explained blog tours and suggested teaming up with other writers to share a blog, sponsor contests with prizes, start a reader newsletter, and examine your books’ special niche.  Another suggestion was an Author Lifeboat Team, a group you can form with other authors in your genre to promote each other through Facebook shares, retweets, contests etc.  Her handouts gave links to many helpful sites.

Then it was on to “Help, My Book Isn’t Selling” and “Selling Books by the Truckload” (I wish!). These workshops were taught by Penny Sansevieri.  Penny is the President and CEO of ama (Author Marketing Experts), a San Diego-based company, and she is an Amazon expert. She talked about categories, keywords, and search terms as three things that matter on Amazon.  For example, choosing a small, niche category with less books can give you a higher ranking and also help potential readers find your book.  She also talked about pricing strategies, saying that the “sweet spot” for Kindle books is $2.99-$5.99.  The 2018 edition of Penny’s book, How To Sell Your Books by the Truckload, is now available as a Kindle on Amazon.  It’s definitely on my list, but I’m hoping for a paperback soon.

All I need to do now is find time to write and market, too.  So here’s a question for my author readers:   How do you organize your day (or week) to find time for marketing?  I'd really appreciate your ideas!  Thanks in advance.




Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Meet Kathy Cannon Wiechman, author of NOT ON FIFTH STREET

I’ve been friends with Kathy Wiechman for a number of years through an on-line writers support group and also on Facebook.  Kathy writes historical fiction for children and teens. Her first book, a Civil War novel called Like a River, won the prestigious Grateful American Book Prize from the Grateful American Foundation, created by David Bruce Smith.  She also wrote Empty Places, set in a 1930’s coal mining town, and the just-released Not on Fifth Street, which takes place during the Ironton, OH, flood in 1937. 
     I read an advance copy of Not on Fifth Street and just loved it! Although the history is fascinating, it's the characters that drew me in. Pete and Gus Brinkmeyer are real and likable, and I found myself worrying about them and rooting for them as they confront one problem after another.
      All of Kathy's  books are published by Calkins Creek, an Imprint of Highlights.    

1. You were a teacher for many years.  When did you decide you also wanted to be a writer?

Actually, I have always been a writer, writing my first poem (a not-very-good one) at age five. The reason I taught when I could was to help pay the bills, but my passion was always writing. I wrote poems, plays, and short stories, but novels were my favorite genre. I wrote ten novels before I wrote the one that was first published. It took 39 years for one of my novels to be accepted for publication.

2. Were you always interested in history?  How do you choose your topics?

I never liked history class. Memorizing dates and battles and generals and Acts of Congress bored me. But reading historical fiction, where I “met” people and read stories, was something I loved. I also liked reading biographies. I think my topics choose me. When I learn about an incident in history that grabs my interest, particularly one few people know about, I know I need to learn more. As I learn more, story ideas often imbed themselves in my brain. Learning about the steamboat Sultana, for instance, made me NEED to write a story about that incident, and the result was Like a River.

3. Not on Fifth Street is about a devastating flood.  I lived in Ohio for twenty years, and I never heard of the Ironton flood.  What sparked your interest?

The flood didn’t just impact Ironton. Its effects were seen along the entire length of the Ohio River, from Pittsburgh, PA, to Cairo, IL. The flood waters continued on into the Mississippi, causing the flood to affect thirteen states. It took 385 lives. I grew up hearing my father talk about the flood and how it devastated his hometown of Ironton. I guess this story is one that came from an old spark ignited many years ago. Even though my hometown of Cincinnati was greatly impacted by the ’37 flood, I chose to base the story on my dad’s memories, and I set the story in Ironton in the house where he lived.

4. Where did the title Not on Fifth Street come from?

Dad grew up on Fifth Street. His parents built their home there because Fifth Street had never experienced a flood. It was on ground much too high for that. But in 1937, the flood filled the first floor of their Fifth Street home with 4 feet, 2 inches of water.

5. Not on Fifth Street is about two storms—one is the rainstorm that causes the flood, the other the conflict between two very different brothers. What is the message you want your readers to take away from the story?

I really don’t think about messages when I write. I want to write a story that will entertain a reader and touch his or her heart. Sibling rivalry is a subject I know about, having grown up with six siblings of my own. I think it’s a subject many readers can relate to.

6. How do you go about researching your books? You have so many historic details.

I read everything I can get my hands on about my subject and I travel to the place(s) the story takes place. For Not on Fifth Street, going back to Ironton, where I went nearly every summer of my childhood, was also a way to visit family. I researched the flood in the archives there, finding numerous photos, newspaper stories, and personal accounts from 1937. I interviewed my aunt, who was fourteen at the time of the flood and whose memory is spectacular. We spoke several times about the flood, but she also sent me handwritten pages and pages of her personal memories. She helped with many of the details. When I learned what movie was playing in Ironton at the time of the flood, I watched the old black-and-white flick. I also listened to old radio shows from the time.

7. What part of the writing process is easiest for you?  What is hardest?

I love, love, love revising, finding the right words to make the narrative “sing.” The toughest part for me is getting that first draft down.

8. You’ve written three books.  Do you have a favorite character? What do you like about him/her?

Of my three published books, it would be hard to choose a favorite character, though Adabel Cutler from Empty Places was a joy to write. The favorite character I have created is Ginnie Lee Kent, the main character from one of my novels that was never published.

9. When did Ginnie Lee live? Do you think you’d ever like to write her story again?

Ginnie Lee was born in April, 1899, in the hills of West Virginia. On her fourteenth birthday in 1913, her grandpa invites her to go with him to Gettysburg for the 50th anniversary of the battle there. I know this character well, having rewritten and revised her story numerous times. Right now, the story overflows its file drawer, waiting to see if I can come up with the right way to revisit it one day.


10. What kinds of books do you like to read?  Can you mention a couple of your favorite books?

Historical fiction is still my favorite genre, but I also read realistic fiction, non-fiction, and biography. I like fantasy when it involves time travel into the past. It goes back many years, but Stone Words by Pam Conrad is one of many favorites. Jerry Spinelli’s Milkweed and Richard Peck’s A Long Way from Chicago are also on my list, as well as Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson.
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My thanks for Kathy for taking the time to answer my questions.  Kathy’s books are available in bookstores and through Amazon and Barnes and Noble.  They would be great gifts for a child or grandchild who loves to read—or even for one who doesn’t. These books just may spark a new lifelong interest!