Co-author of the Imagination Station Series
1. Were you always a skilled and gifted writer or did you ever struggle with writing?
First, thank you for implying that I’m skilled! I have been gifted with opportunity and mentors. I have been writing a long time now and have improved my craft from working alongside some excellent editors at Focus on the Family. The NYT best-selling book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell points out that to achieve highly in a field requires about 10,000 hours of application. I’ve definitely put in my 10,000 hours. I’ll let the readers decide if it’s been worth it. I do still get nervous before I turn in a book to be edited. Being critically evaluated is still stressful for me.
2. What was the length of time after you had your first idea to write a children’s book did your goal come to fruition? How long did it take for the book to become published?
My first published book was Trouble Shooting in a series for older elementary readers called Lights, Camera, Action. Because I was in the children’s publishing world at the time, I had a lot of friends to encourage me. Author Sigmund Brouwer helped me develop the concept (it was actually his idea for a Hollywood series) and Liz Duckworth, his publisher at Victor, accepted my proposal almost immediately. The books were then published by Cook because Cook bought out Victor. I had already been writing/editing for Focus on the Family Clubhouse magazine for about five years before that first book proposal was submitted.
3. How long does it generally take you to research a topic before you start to write about it?
For historical fiction—too long and never enough. It’s difficult to know when to stop researching. For the book Voyage with the Vikings, I probably spent some 200 hours researching and writing.
4. What advice would you give someone that wanted to start writing Christian Children’s books?
Write, write, and write some more—hit that 10,000 hour mark ASAP. At the same time worry more about the content and originality of the story. A word Paul McCusker uses a lot is “compelling.” I think that way now—is this a compelling plot twist or setting . . .Turn in a finished book if you’re a first time fiction author—that way the publisher will know you’re a finisher. Try going for a series—they are more profitable to you and the publisher. If you are a writer with an illustrator friend, don’t send in the art unless that person makes at least 60K a year on freelance artwork. A publisher will want to hire a professional artist.
5. Do you have a strict writing schedule that you adhere to and what do you do when you encounter writer’s block?
I’m not strict about anything. I’m a moody writer. I can write thirteen pages in one day, and then not thirteen words the next. I am writing for Focus and so I am usually interrupted a lot because I manage several projects at once. I can’t afford writer’s block for long periods or I’d lose my job.
6. When dealing with editors, how much say do you have as the author in what changes, if any, are made?
I am an editor and now edit my own books. That’s scary! When I wrote for Cook, I went head to head with the editors over changes they wanted to make to a phonic book series I cowrote with reading specialist Peggy Wilber. We even had an agent. We lost.
7. Once you are published and a publisher wants more from you, what type of timetable, if any, is usually set up? and how much control do you generally have over the project?
Sometimes I have a lot of control. I had a very positive experience working with Zondervan on some Sunday school curriculum a couple years back. As long as I was communicating about any delays, they were responsive and gave me more time. Publishers can’t deal effectively with surprises, so I try to be up front about any possible delays.
8. Once a following has been established, do you as the author continue in the creative path you originally envisioned or do you channel your vision into what you know your audience wants?
If this is a point of tension within yourself (finding a compromise between what you want and what your audience wants), how do you reestablish consistency within yourself?
I’ve never had a following, so I can’t speak to this unless it’s in my dreams. I have a fairly healthy inner child and my kids keep me young, and so I haven’t had much tension over what to write for kids.
9. How do you keep writing fun, even though you do it for a living?
My mom always said to me, “Not many people can do what they like, so learn to like what you have to do.” I’ve taken that advice into my career. I just keep positive and refuse to let negativity take over. I have that attitude about housework and paying bills, too, though writing is always more fun than those two tasks.
10. The tips you give parents for reading are extremely valuable. At what age did your kids start reading and at what age do you recommend a parent start teaching his or her child how to read?
My daughter just morphed into a reader at about 4. So did my one of my twin sons. The other boy, however, couldn’t read the word “it” after months of training. I started the boys at about 5. After about three months of failure with my son, I hired my friend Peggy Wilber, the reading specialist, to teach me how to teach him. That’s when I learned a specialist can spot a struggling reading in about 5 minutes. (She says she can gauge with a high degree of accuracy whether or not a 3 year old will be a slow or a fast reading learner.) We had to work hard with my son through the fourth grade to keep him from falling behind. My advice is this: If your child is struggling, get help NOW. Don’t wait till he/she “grows into it.” Reading is not innate like walking. It’s a learned skill. According to some recent reading data from the Lindamood-Bell researchers, some kids can learn new words after four repetitions. Some kids need 400. My son is in about the 100 time exposure category. He will require lots and lots of help, even through college. He does not learn new vocabulary easily (unless, of course, he loves the subject like cockroaches or soccer).
It’s not hard to find uplifting positive stories ...