A warm welcome to Sharon Plumb, my guest author today!
Tell us about yourself.
I started writing as soon as I could hold a pencil, and wrote a lot of stories growing up. Then I switched to writing computer programs and a Master’s thesis in Computer Science. Reading books to my children re-ignited the creative spark, and I took up writing stories again about 20 years ago.
I have two published books—becoming a writer is not always quick and easy! The first one is a grade 2 level picture book published by Scholastic Education in 2006. Bill Bruin Shovels his Roof is about, well, a bear who shovels his roof because the heavy snow prevents him from opening his bathroom door and having a hot, bubbly bath. Along the way, he discovers the fun of playing in the snow. It is listed as a fantasy, presumably because of the talking animals.
My second book also has talking animals, actually aliens. Draco’s Child is a young adult fantasy novel published by Thistledown Press in 2010. It has a talking dragon, a star-child who speaks in mind pictures, and a lot of fungus that doesn’t speak but does make life difficult on a new planet. It also has a teenage girl who needs to figure out how to help her colony of transplanted Earthlings survive.
I am currently working on another story set in the same world, but hundreds of years earlier, and with a whole lot more dragons. Besides fantasy and picture books, I also write plays, songs, and children’s poetry. I am the president of the Saskatchewan chapter of CANSCAIP (Canadian Society of Children’s Authors, Illustrators, and Performers).
SEVEN SPOTLIGHT QUESTIONS:
#1: What do you enjoy the most about writing?
I love being able to get away from my ordinary life and explore other worlds. I love creating places that don’t exist anywhere except in my mind—although I depend a lot on the things that do exist to make them believable and realistic. I love exploring ideas and the “what if” questions that arise from them. For example, I recently heard a scientist talking about the possibility that children who relate to people via technology instead of face to face don’t develop the ability to read body language and facial cues. If they are “plugged in” for much or most of their time, they tend not to daydream, which is normally how people make sense of their relationships and other things that happen in their lives. So this makes me wonder, as a writer, what would happen to our society if people lost these social skills? Autistic people have trouble with social relationships for different reasons. Would autistic-type traits become the new normal, and how would our lives change as a result? I haven’t used this idea in a story— I don’t know if it will lead anywhere. It takes at least two good ideas to make a story, and part of what makes writing fun is finding those good ideas and fitting them together in creative ways. I also enjoy exploring how characters like us might act in situations unlike any we have ever seen.
#2: What was your earliest writing experience?
My earliest memory of writing is sitting on a small chair at a child-sized table in our kitchen and printing something—I don’t know what—on a piece of clean, white paper. Later I used the regular kitchen table to turn out stories inspired by the ones I read. After reading one of my stranger fantasy stories, my teacher told me that either I had psychological problems or I was going to be a writer. I think I was flattered that he found my story so disturbing. I don’t have that old story, so I don’t know exactly what he was referring to, but the dream was born.
In grade 7 I wrote (and typed out on an old, mechanical typewriter) my first novel: a 25-page coming-of-age story about a wolf cub. It was called Leader of the Pack, and was inspired in large part by Felix Salten’s novel Bambi, which is far more serious and philosophical than the cute Disney version.
#3: Describe a day in your writing life:
For most of the past 20 years I didn’t have a daily writing pattern; I fit my writing around all the other things I had to do. In the very early days, naptimes were writing times. Sometimes my husband took our three boys somewhere for a weekend so I could concentrate on writing. Now that the boys are more independent, I have more freedom to structure my time. I soon realized I needed an attitude update: to make a conscious decision to value my writing enough to do it FIRST, not only when everything else is done.
I like a quotation from Carl Sandberg: “Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you.” I now make a weekly list of everything I have to do, with writing at the top. Each morning I schedule in what I will spend the coin of my time on—taking care to distinguish writing from “writing-related activities”, like working on my website. Yes, other things are important. But many things are only urgent, not important, and they can wait until I have time for them. I also evaluate carefully what it will mean to my writing if I agree to take on something new. The result? I am writing more, and faster, than before. And I hope, better.
#4: What authors influenced you and how?
I suppose I should start with Felix Salten (see question #2). All of my favourite authors show me what good writing is and make me aspire to write as well as they do. Here are a few:
- Cynthia Voigt’s Jackaroo series, with its lyrical writing, so-real characters and rich medieval-type world. I want to write stories so convincing that readers forget they’re not real.
- Orson Scott Card’s Ender and Homecoming series, which confront serious ethical issues through the eyes of his larger-than-life intellectual characters. I also want to consider every implication of what my characters do, although I don’t want them to spend so much time talking about it.
- Megan Whelan Turner’s Attolia series, with her crafty thief Jen and richly imagined ancient-Greek type world. I would love to create such a tricky character—and make it work four times!
- Stephen Donaldson’s Thomas Covenant and Mordant’s Need series, with intricate plots and worlds that reflect the main character’s psychological states. I would like to try that world-building technique.
- David Brin’s Uplift books, with his alien characters that don’t think at all like humans. I hope mine don’t either.
- Kenneth Oppel’s Silverwing series, convincingly told through the eyes of bats who see with sound, and his soaring Airborn series. And everything else I’ve read by him. I want to write such enthralling books.
- Monica Hughes. Fun science fiction set in places I know. I hope I have as many good ideas.
- Sheree Fitch’s poetic prose, generous spirit, and “seriously joyful nonsense”. I want to make my words say as much as hers do, and sound as delicious.
- Melina Marchetta’s On the Jellicoe Road. Heart-stopping from the first sentence to the last. Dialogue that is always one step ahead of the reader. Inspiring in every way possible.
#5: What are some things you learned to help with your success?
The first thing must be better writing. I thought I wrote well 20 years ago, but when I look now at what I wrote then, I see all sorts of flaws. This is a good thing, because it means I must have improved. How do I learn to write better? Lots of ways. I read books about writing. I read books that contain good writing. I attend writing conferences and workshops. I learn from other writers.
My writing group friends have probably taught me more about good writing, and how to improve mine, than anyone else. When we read each other’s drafts and dig into them, we see what works and what doesn’t. We brainstorm ways to improve what we wrote. Amazingly often, our combined attention leads to solutions that no one of us would have come up with on our own. I am also lucky enough to have a son who reads voraciously, especially science fiction and fantasy. He helps me weed out bad ideas before they grow, and plants a lot of good ones too. Every writer should have a son like him—as well as a writing group!
The next important thing I had to learn to be a writer was how the book publishing industry works, how it is changing, and how to find a way in. Once a book is published, of course, and even before, it is essential to know about promoting a book with social media. There is a lot to learn, and I expect the learning never stops.
#6: Describe your writing method:
Some writers put words to screen and see where they lead. Not me. I need to know where I’m going, not least because I have a very hard time coming up with characters and events at the same time as sentences I like the sound of. So I keep notebooks. When I get an idea that intrigues me, I write down everything I can think of about it: who the characters might be, what the world is like, what the characters want to do, what obstacles they face, what the ending might be. I write down questions and try to answer them. For Draco’s Child, I filled two school notebooks; for my current project, I’m deep into the second.
Once I have the idea fairly clear in my mind, I make a general outline and a list of things that need to happen in the first chapter. Then I write. And the story changes because as I write I add details that turn out to be significant, and they change the characters and the plot. So I go until I’m stuck, then pull out the old notebooks, work out more ideas, and revise the outline. If there are multiple plot strands, I often make a timeline so I know what each character is doing relative to the other ones. When I’m happy with each part of my novel, I show it to other writers for feedback. Then I revise. And write more. And revise to keep everything consistent. When the first draft is done, I print it out and revise, and again ask my writing friends to read it and comment. And then revise. Only once I’m thoroughly happy with it do I start looking for a publisher. And plan to revise again.
#7: Tips for aspiring writers:
The most important ones are probably to read a lot and write a lot. Figure out what makes good books good, and bad ones bad. Don’t be afraid of feedback. In my first writing group, our guiding principle was that we always tell the truth, because our goal is to improve our writing, not make ourselves feel happy. So find a writing group with people who also want to improve their writing! Writing can be lonely and discouraging, even if it is the thing you most love to do. Having people on your side will help you through the dark times and make the bright times even brighter.
About Sharon’s Book Draco’s Child:
Varia is a 12-year-old girl who lives with her family and several other space colonists on a planet they call “The Kettle”. Or is she 13 or 14 years old? Because she spent several years on a spaceship getting to her new home, and time is different at high speeds, no one really knows.
One thing she does know is that her colony is in danger. Their food is being infested by illness-causing fungus, the ship containing the other half of their colony, including all but two of the other children, never showed up, and two of their group died of a horrible sickness shortly after exploring the forest around their base. Obviously, the planet must be hostile to animal life–after all, it has no animals of its own, except a few kinds of overgrown insects.
Then two things happen. A constellation that looks like a child falls out of the sky and starts offering them help–in return for shrinking them back into children. And Varia discovers the skeleton of a dragon in a cave, along with a brilliantly coloured stone that she deduces is the dead dragon’s egg. Varia will be tested as never before as she attempts to save her colony and reverse whatever it was that killed off all the planet’s animals. But to do so, she must figure out who is telling the truth: the mysterious star child or the secret-hugging dragon. Because they are at war with each other, and they can’t both win.
Dad whistled softly. “A weighty question for this hour of the morning!” He glanced at the sleeping children on the floor. “You’re really asking about your mother, aren’t you? I’m trying to figure her out too. She looks like a nine-year-old, but she still knows everything she used to, and does almost as much. Except for her size, she’s the same person.” He sighed. “No, not completely the same. She runs everywhere, and sleeps like a rock.”
Varia grimaced. “We need to find the other lander,” she said. “Maybe they’re in a nicer part of the planet, and if we went there, no one would need that star water.”
Dad sighed. “Except that they haven’t made contact so we have no idea where they are, and we would have to walk to this unknown place, and we don’t even know if they’re still alive.”
Varia sat up. “But if we found them, we could join them.”
Dad didn’t answer right away. “What would they think if they saw us now? Except for you and me, they wouldn’t even recognize us.”
A jolt ran through Varia. She stared into Dad’s eyes. “Is that the real reason you aren’t drinking the star water? In case they find us, so you can explain what’s happened?”
Tears sprang into Varia’s eyes. She buried her face in Dad’s neck. “You still think they might find us,” she whispered. “I thought I was the only one who hadn’t stopped hoping.”
Dad stroked her hair. “Don’t hope too hard,” he said. “They might not.”
Varia pulled away and looked into his eyes. “No, Dad,” she said. Her voice trembled. “We’ll find them.” She stood up, threaded her way to her mat, and lay down facing away from him. Mom lay curled up beside her. I wouldn’t know her either, thought Varia, in that stranger’s body. She buried her face in her empty pillow. How could things be so wonderful and so horrible at the same time?
Buy Draco’s Child:
Kobo, Kindle: Sorry—not (yet) an e-book! If you wish it were, please tell the publisher at Amazon.ca or Amazon.com! (see links below)
Connect with Sharon:
http://sharonplumb.ca (main site)
http://books4kids.ca (writing group site)
Facebook: Sharon Plumb Hamilton
Fan email address: email@example.com