Author Archives: Jolene Owen (Editor-at-large)

About Jolene Owen (Editor-at-large)

Jolene Owen is an interactive journalist working in the transmedia sector.

Shelly Seale– Writer

What made you want to become a writer?

I would have to say reading. As the only child in my family for several years, I was read to frequently and taught to read early – both of which were amazing gifts. As a total book nerd child, the stories I read voraciously really transported me to other places, times, people and adventures. I felt always that I had stories inside me, too.

Was the journey difficult?

As with anything worthwhile, parts of it were challenging, yes. I didn’t become a professional writer, as a career, until my 30s. For some reason when I entered into adulthood, the idea of writing for a living just never occurred to me. I got into real estate, and only after years when I realized I was not passionate about the work, did I go back to school and reawakened my love for writing. My career took off from there.

Even when things are difficult, you know you are on your purpose when you still wouldn’t choose to do anything else in the world. I don’t have a “job” that is separate from the rest of my life – it is my life, it is me. Everything is organic and intertwined together, and I believe that no matter what a person’s calling is, their life’s work should reflect that, should truly be part of who you are and not just something you do.

What are themes and topics you like to tackle in your books?

I really like faraway places, and inspiring people who have overcome odds. Actually, isn’t that sort of the basis of most great stories in human history? My second passion, alongside writing, is global travel. I am infinitely curious about the world, and how other people live. So to write about different cultures and places is exciting to me. I also get a real thrill out of finding out about some incredible work a person is doing, and sharing that work with a broader audience. Whether it’s giving orphans in India a future, or helping the homeless right here in Austin, I love writing about the human thread that ties us all together.

What inspired you to write The Weight of Silence?

I first went to India in 2005 with The Miracle Foundation, a nonprofit based here in Austin that funds and manages several orphanages there. It was during that trip, getting to know the children and the stories behind how each of them had wound up in the orphanage, that I decided to begin writing a book about their lives. I had assumed they were all orphans in the true sense of the word – their parents had died – and was shocked by how many of them had been “orphaned” by poverty; their parents had left them at the Miracle Foundation home because they were too poor to feed them. I simply couldn’t go on with my life as if they didn’t exist. My sole purpose in writing this book was to give these millions of children a voice that could be heard by others in the world who, I was convinced, would be as moved by their plights as I was.

What is The Weight of Silence about and what themes do you tackle?

By now, everyone has either seen, or at least heard of, the movie Slumdog Millionaire, about the lives of two brothers who come from the slums of Mumbai – made even more desperate after they are orphaned. What many don’t know, however, is that for 25 million children in India, the harsh world depicted in the movie is their everyday reality. Yes, that’s 25 million kids who have been orphaned, abandoned or trafficked. My book takes readers along on my journey over the past five years into the streets, orphanages and slums of India where these children live without families or homes of their own. I became immersed in their world, a witness to their struggles – but also their joys, their incredible hope and resilience that amazed me time and time again. The ability of their spirits to overcome crippling challenges inspired me.

What are you working on now?

Right now I am doing a variety of freelance articles for travel magazines, lifestyle websites and publications that focus on nonprofit work, such as GivingCity Austin. I have a couple of ideas for new books, such as one that would tell the story of inspiring people who are working to change the world with one big idea. Sort of like Caroline Boudreaux is doing in India with the Miracle Foundation, but telling the stories of many people like her, putting their souls into what they believe in all over the world.

What’s your writing process like?

You know, honestly it’s different on different days. If I’m in what I call the “zone,” then the creative juices are flowing and it just seems to happen naturally. At those times, the last thing I want is to interrupt that flow in any way. Other times I sort of have to force myself, especially if I’m on deadline and can’t wait for the “zone” to happen. With a big project, like a book, I will generally work like mad on it for weeks or months on end, and then set it aside for a while. I get too close to it, and have to put some distance there. With The Weight of Silence, it was truly a labor of love.

Are there common themes in your stories?

Besides inspiring people and nonprofits, in my articles I tend to write a lot about sustainable and cultural travel – travel that is immersive and respectful, not consumerist. I also enjoy writing about sustainability in general, from green living practices to eating whole and local foods as much as possible.

What is one theme or topic you would like to tackle but haven’t already?

That’s a great question. For one thing, I wish I had more talent in writing humor. I read some unbelievably wry and witting writing styles, like David Sedaris, and I just wish I had that talent. Alas, it’s lost on me. I think I would like to tackle some more fiction, though. It’s a real creative process that I believe injects tremendous emotion and style into even nonfiction writing.

What is some advice you would give an aspiring writer?

Think very seriously about why you want to be a writer. Some people just want a creative outlet and that is great – and very easy to do as a “hobby.” I love to cook but would never become a professional chef. I once saw a posting on a writer’s forum where someone was asking if he couldn’t get lots of free travel if he became a travel writer. That’s the exact wrong type of reason to become a writer. You do it because you haveto – there’s simply no choice. And if that’s the case for you, then find a way to do it.

Where can we find out more about your work?

You can always find me at www.shelleyseale.com, and you can find out all about The Weight of Silence, which is being re-released this month with a Revised and Expanded version, at http://weightofsilence.net.


Rahul Varma– Playwright

What made you want to become a writer?
I was born in India and came to Canada in 1976. In 1981, I co-founded a theatre company called Teesri Duniya Theatre (www.teesriduniya.com). My playwriting is linked to this company. There was complete absence of cultural diversity in Canadian theatre. With few exceptions, everything I saw on the stage or cinema screen was Euro-centric re-imposing the Anglo-French dominance without a serious scrutiny. First Nation communities, the original inhabitants of this land were completely ignored. Whenever ethno-cultural minorities were shown on the stage they were trivialized, exoticized and stereotyped.  I became playwright (a) in reaction to what was absent in theatre, (b) to give voice to ordinary people, reflect cultural diversity on the stage, and (c) to make literary contribution to the field by writing with political consciousness

Was the journey difficult?

It was and continues to be a challenging journey.  Writing about marginalized, under/misrepresented communities, writing about social justice with political consciousness, writing in a cultural milieu that is predominantly euro-centric, hierarchical as well as writing against the stream of plays that avoided critical themes and promoted otherness  – was an uphill journey. In addition, English is not my mother tongue – it is language of my adulthood. Writing in a language other than my mother tongue posed other challenges. But at the same time it has been a good journey because it has allowed me to offer an alternate viewpoint, give me a chance to dialogue with peers and colleagues, and challenge the status-quo.  It has been a difficult journey but also an enjoyable one. After all, we reach our destination only if the journey teaches you lessons of traveling the path.

What are themes and topics you like to tackle in your books?

Social justice and human condition has been the common theme that I’m dedicated to. Cultural complexities, racism, power-relationship, peace, human-rights, environment, women’s issues, gendered violence are some of the themes I have tackled in my plays.  While personal experience is essential condition in writing, I am not interested in writing about self-discovery and self-awareness.  To much of me, me, and me doesn’t interest me.

What inspired your play Bhopal?

The play Bhopal is about one of the world’s worst industrial disaster that occurred at the Union Carbide pesticide plant, located in the city of Bhopal, India. The play derives its title from the city’s name.

On the night of December 3, 1984, the American multinational Union Carbide exploded, engulfing entire city in a billow of deadly poisonous fumes. Small children fell like flies, men and women vainly scurried for safety like wounded animals, only to collapse, breathless and blinded by the gas. By morning, the death toll was over 500, by sunset, 2,500. By the following day, numbers didn’t matter — Bhopal had become the largest peace-time gas chamber in history. Over 25,000 people have died to date and counting.

Incongruously, I first learnt about this disastrous explosion on the TV screen in Montreal Canada which had become my home since 1976. The next day, newspapers brought images of mass destruction of lives in Bhopal. Land was littered with dead bodies and bodies gripped in pain. These horrifying images of destruction relayed directly into our drawing rooms by TV, on the one hand hugely disturbed me, and on the other hand raised the question “why did this had to happen”, and therefore “how do I respond?” The quest for response was precipitated by the image of a child named Zarina, which I saw in a hurriedly made documentary film called Bhopal: Beyond Genocide by Tapan Bose and Suhasini Mulay. The film traced 18 days short life of Zarina, who was one of thousands of babies born after the explosion. The film showed the heart-wrenching body of Zarina – her heaving ribcage and her collapsed heart that could be seen through the lesion on her melting skin.  Her autopsy report said, “Poisoned in her mother’s womb”.  I asked myself if Zarina had lived to tell, how will she describe her pain? Well, she didn’t live and at 18 days, she was too young to say anything. What could have been said, then, became my creative response culminating in the form a play Bhopal later translated into Hindi as Zahreeli Hawa by iconic Late Habib Tanvir.

Although the play is based on real incident, it is not a documentary play. The play fictionalizes the events and attempts to reach the truth behind such incidents.
For those of us who don’t live in India, what happened in Bhopal?
To understand Bhopal disaster, one needs to trace down the roots of Multinational Corporation called Union Carbide in India.

Union Carbide came to India in 1905 while the country was still under British rule. The company was best known for the manufacture of the Eveready battery. By the mid-60s the company had moved into agrochemicals, and by the mid-70s it had become one of India’s largest manufacturers of chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

Production of fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides, were part of a massive effort during the 1970s and ’80s known as the Green Revolution. This term described a movement that aimed to increase food yields through the use of new strains of food crops, irrigation, fertilizers, pesticides, and mechanization. The Green Revolution promised to harness the power of science, technology and industrial development to tackle hunger in the developing or Majority World. Unfortunately, the promises of the Green Revolution were never realized.

For example, even though the Green Revolution increased wheat and rice yields, nearly 5,000 children die each day of malnutrition. One-third of India’s 1 billion people are poverty-stricken, and can’t afford to buy the “surplus” food the Green Revolution promised. Green Revolution made even those farmers who could afford the growth, dependent on foreign technology, chemical products, and machinery.

Worse still, the technology that was used at the Indian plant was inferior to the one used in the western countries. And the chemicals that were manufactured in India were banned in North America and Europe because of their hazardous nature.  This was well known to the Union Carbide and the company covered up the ill-effects of its poisonous gases and deadly discharges that were leaking into the community. Nearby residents were experiencing diseases unknown to medical science, and animals near the company drainage pipe were dying. When animals were found dead near the pipe, the company responded with cash. It paid compensation to the animal owners in order to buy their silence. While the company succeeded in silencing the villagers, poisonous chemicals continued to make its way into the bloodstreams of the neighboring people, with tragic effects. Women gave birth to deformed babies and infant mortality rose to alarming levels.
Not only the plant was sub-standard, it was unsafely managed, which culminated in the form of the explosion resulting in 25,000 dead to date and leaving thousands more disabled or injured.
Has there been any justice as far as you know?
In the aftermath of the explosion, the Union Carbide site has never been properly cleaned up. Chemical wastes continue to poison people living near the abandoned factory. Testing conducted by Greenpeace found cancer, brain-damage- and birth-defect-causing chemicals in the soil and groundwater in and around the factory site, at levels up to 50 times higher than US Environmental Protection Agency safety limits. Mercury levels were 20,000 to 6 million times higher than levels accepted by the World Health Organization. A 2002 study by the Fact-Finding Mission on Bhopal found traces of lead and mercury in the breast milk of nursing women.

Survivors have not been properly compensated and culprits have not been brought to justice.  Warren Anderson, the CEO of now defunct Union Carbide lives as a free man in the US and has not been tried.
The only justice done is that in their death, the victims of Bhopal have given us a sense of awareness.

What are obstacles to achieving justice in India?
Pressure from multinational corporations, corruption in the government, bureaucracy and the judiciary are some of the reasons why justice has not been delivered.  I have talked to survivors who must bribe judges and bureaucrats to receive compensation.  The government doesn’t want to discourage foreign investment; hence it doesn’t impose safety regulation and does not punish polluting corporations.  Profit dictates the process of production.
Are you working on any new plays?

After Bhopal, I wrote a play called Truth and Treason that examines the so called war on terror. Truth and Treason tells the story of an American soldier of conscience, an Iraqi mother, her jailed husband and their 11 year old daughter killed in the war of aggression. As the play unfolds, audiences are drawn to  question not only what comprises ‘war’ and ‘terror’, but how, where and by whom the real ‘war on terror’ is fought… Truth and Treason premiered in 2009 in Montreal to an enthusiastic reception by the public

At present I am working on a new play called Unusual Battleground, which is a play about hidden identity. It is about woman survivors of genocide and rape who must hide their true identities in order to live. The play extrapolates Armenian genocide of 1915 Turkey, which is still contested by many — with genocide and rapes from Rwanda in 1994-95. The play links these two human catastrophes through memories of the Diaspora from these countries now living in Canada.
Are there common themes in your plays?

I have written over 12 full length plays both in Hindi and in English. Themes differ from play to play but they all have one thing in common – they are about human condition drawing attention to social justice with political consciousness. My attempt is not to write plays about reality but about discovering the truth behind the reality.
What is one theme or topic you would like to tackle but haven’t already?

My plays from the recent past have been on international and human rights themes.  After completing my work-in-progress Unusual Battleground, I want to turn my attention to a set of family plays that will examine gender issues among new Canadians. In this set of plays, I will also examine cross-cultural relations across communities.

 

Where can we find out more about what happened in Bhopal?
Some very good information is available on the web
http://www.bhopal.org,
http://www.bhopal.net,
http://www.studentsforbhopal.org/
I also encourage people to visit the website for Sambhavna Clinic Trust  headed by Mr. Satinath Sarngi based in Bhopal, India.

Where can we find out more about your work and your productions?
Those who are interested in my work, I encourage them to visit the website of the Teesri Duniya Theatre http://www.teesriduniya.com or email me rahul.varma.rahul@gmail.com
The book is available at the Playwrights Canada Press http://www.playwrightscanada.com/

 

Copyright 2005-2011, Jolene Owen. All rights reserved. This interview is free to copy, publish and circulate. You may reprint or publish it without permission in any format. Please credit: Jolene Owen as interviewer. The views expressed herein are those of the interviewees and do not necessarily reflect the interviewer or the official position of the publishing company, its various departments and/or the Institute of Interactive Journalism. If you’d like to be interviewed, or would like to send our team an interview, or just send us lots of gifts and candy, contact us at: inspiring.interviews@gmail.com.  Please do not try to contact interviewees through the institute. We never release confidential information or fwd messages. No exceptions.


Graeme Davis– Game Designer

What inspired you to become a game designer?

I had wanted to be a writer since the age of about six. I grew up as a voracious reader, and started writing stories almost as soon as I could form the letters. I got into D&D and other tabletop roleplaying games as a student in the late 70s and early 80s, and loved the creative side of the hobby – designing dungeons and writing adventures. I even made a couple of false starts on a fantasy novel. White Dwarf was in the process of going from bimonthly to monthly, and put out an appeal for new writers. I started sending articles, and to my amazement, they printed some of them. After four years as a regular contributor to White Dwarf and other British games magazines, I was approached to join Games Workshop and help develop Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay.

How does one break into the industry as a game designer?

At the time, I was able to break in because I knew the games, I had some good ideas and wrote them up reasonably well, and I persisted. It took two years of sending two articles a month before my first piece was published. These days, anyone can get into RPG publishing, either with a blog or with a whole product line published electronically. The internet has lowered the barrier to entry considerably, reducing production costs to almost nothing and making global distribution ridiculously easy. Of course, there’s the matter of letting people know you’re there. The market now has more publishers than at an previous time (according to my unscientific estimate), and the overall hobby continues to shrink as players move to electronic games – and while the internet is great for distribution, marketing is a real challenge. If people don’t know to search for your product, they are not going to find it online.
Video games are a different matter. I had been writing for tabletop games for almost ten years before landing my first videgame contract, and that was a referral. Almost every job and contract I’ve had in that industry has been through a recommendation by someone I have worked with in the past. Breaking into the videogame industry today must be fantastically tough. There are just so many kids who are desperate to work in games, and have worked so hard to get the requisite skills, that the industry is oversupplied at the moment. Employers can afford to be very choosy about whom they hire, and they can pay almost nothing for entry-level positions. If I had to give anyone advice, it would consist of three words: skills, portfolio, contacts.

What was the most memorable game you’ve worked on?

It would have to be Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, because it was my first professional gig and it started me on the path of IP creation and development which is my favorite part of the job. When I got to Games Workshop, Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay consisted of three piles of notes (some hand-written) by the company’s three main wargame designers. The Warhammer IP itself consisted of bits of text scattered across rulebooks, magazines, miniatures ads, and elsewhere. I had to pull all that together, and I take some pride in the fact that my work organizing the setting and filling in the blanks has underpinned everything Warhammer ever since, from tabletop to video games to novels and comics.

What was the most difficult game you’ve worked on?

Microsoft’s “Beyond the Limit: Ultimate Climb.” It would be unprofessional to go into details, but I will say there were some serious (indeed, near-fatal) confidence and personality inssues between the development team at Magnet Interactive Studios, where I worked, and the supervisory team at Microsoft. The relationship turned adversarial, which is almost certain death to the development process.

What keeps you inspired?

Lots of things. I read constantly and watch a lot of TV, paying attention to characters and dialogue and the building of plots and story arcs. I also read a lot of nonfiction, especially books about the ill-lit corners of history. Anyone who doesn’t believe truth is stranger than fiction needs to read more history. Sometimes an idea will be sparked by reading or hearing something and twisting it around into a different setting or context. I also make it my business to become thoroughly familiar the IP behind any game I’m working on, and that process sparks questions or suggests stories almost constantly.

What are some creative ways you’ve learned to generate ideas?

I don’t really have any creativity tricks, although I have been known to pound my head repeatedly against my keyboard. All my ideas come from asking “what if?” (Harry Potter’s great-grandfather had served in World War II, magic is fueled by belief, the Cold War had turned hot in the 80s) and by stealing bits of well-known stories, mixing them up, and putting them back together the wrong way.

What keeps players playing?

They must have a powerful desire – even a need – to know what happens next. With any kind of narrative, that’s what drives anything. With fiction, you just have to keep reading, but with games you have take the role of protagonist and overcome the obstacles for yourself. That balance of challenge and reward is crucial to good game design.

Where do you see the game industry in twenty years?

I think we’ll see a lot more augmented reality games. The form has got off to a shaky start, and it’s still defining itself, but I once people figure out what to do with it, there will be no stopping it. MMO games will either have fizzled out completely or will have figured out how to handle story a lot better than they do today. There will also be a lot more crossover – twenty years from now I expect to see interactive TV miniseries delivered to mobile devices and offering each viewer/player a unique experience.

What’s your favorite game?

For tabletop games, Cthulhu by Gaslight. I grew up on a diet of Hammer Horror films, and the combination of Victorian horror and the Cthulhu Mythos is hard to resist.
For video games, Medieval: Total War, the original. I played a lot of medieval strategy boardgames in the 80s, and a turn took forever to complete. I remember thinking at the time, “if only we could have a computer to take care of all this.” Now, we do.

What is a saying or proverb you live by?

“The Emperor is completely naked!” Anderson’s tale of The Emperor’s New Clothes is a fable for the ages, and the amount of technological hype and snake oil out there makes it more relevant than it’s ever been.

Any advice for aspiring game designers?

Play games. Everything you can get your hands on. Play them to destruction, and keep on until you can pick up a game you’ve never seen before and see the wheels going around beneath the skin. Think about what would make them better – not just new units or whatever, but new mechanisms, tweaked gameplay, and so on. Think about why you like or dislike certain aspects of a game, and how you would make it even better. Make games – start with dice, cardboard, and markers, simple mechanics – and keep the best as portfolio pieces. Beta test video games, make contacts in the industry, and blow them away with your ideas and observations. Skills, portfolio, contacts.

Where can readers find out more about your games?

My LinkedIn profile (http://www.linkedin.com/in/graemedavis) has links to a portfolio of cover shots and a list of videogame credits. I also have a blog at http://graemedavis.wordpress.com/ which I update occasionally, but probably not as regularly as I should.

Copyright 2005-2011, Jolene Owen. All rights reserved. This interview is free to copy, publish and circulate. You may reprint or publish it without permission in any format. Please credit: Jolene Owen as interviewer. The views expressed herein are those of the interviewees and do not necessarily reflect the interviewer or the official position of the publishing company, its various departments and/or the Institute of Interactive Journalism. If you’d like to be interviewed, or would like to send our team an interview, or just send us lots of gifts and candy, contact us at: inspiring.interviews@gmail.com.  Please do not try to contact interviewees through the institute. We never release confidential information or fwd messages. No exceptions.


Laura E Williams– Writer

What made you want to write for children?

As a child I was an avid reader.  I read everything from comic books to Nancy Drew to books like Charlotte’s Web and The Outsiders.  I’m still an avid reader, and I still love children’s literature.  In fact, I think some of the best writing being published is coming from children’s book authors!  I do think of writing books for adults, but my ideas always seem to come to me as books for kids.  Maybe it’s because I work with kids as a high school English teacher.  Maybe it’s because I remember being a kid and how hard it was.  Whatever the reason, I am proud to be a children’s book author!
What were your first steps ?  

The very first step to becoming a writer is being a reader.  Next, writing a first draft helps a lot!  It’s also one of the hardest steps.  In fact, I much prefer REwriting to writing that first draft.  I actually LOVE rewriting – adore it, it’s the best!  But that first draft is killer!  Then, after the first draft and multiple rewrites, it’s time to submit the story to publishers.  That’s when the rejections start rolling in.  Finally an acceptance comes along, and all that hard work is suddenly worth it!  There is nothing like getting published after all that writing and rewriting – well, maybe a big scoop of mint chocolate chip icecream on a sugar cone is close, but not quite!

What was the first book you ever published?

My first picture book was THE LONG SILK STRAND, which was published by Boyds Mills Press in 1995.  My first middle grade novel was BEHIND THE BEDROOM WALL, published by Milkweed Editions.   Imagine a girl during WWII who loves Hitler who finds out her parents are hiding a Jewish family behind her bedroom wall!  This novel is still selling strong – and the musical version of it just premiered this past spring.

What kind of stories do you think children relate to most?

Children relate to stories that don’t preach or talk down to them.  No one wants to be hit over the head with a lesson or a moral.  At least I didn’t when I was a kid.  I wanted entertainment and escape from everything.  Children look for a main character they can relate to, like a character who could be a friend.

How can we find out more about your work?

A good way to find out about me is to Google my name: “Laura E. Williams”  When you Google a name, be sure to put it in parenthesis as I just did above.  You could also check out my website at www.readlauraewilliams.com. Hopefully it’ll be up and running by this summer!

What inspired you to write BIBIM BAP FOR DINNER?

Bibim Bap is a Korean dish that I learned about when I went to Korea several years ago.  I was actually born in Seoul Korea and adopted when I was 1 1/2 years old.  I don’t remember anything from when I was an infant.  But when one of my former students was there teaching English, I jumped at the chance to visit her.  In my time there, I grew to love Korean cuisine.  When Bebop Books asked for proposals for books, I thought about having a kid making a traditional Korean dish.  Bibim Bap is easy to make and fun to eat.


Tina Karle– Writer

What made you want to publish hiking books?

I wanted to share the beauty of waterfalls that the state of Ohio has to offer, for everyone to enjoy!

Any lessons learned on your writer’s journey?

There are many lessons I’ve learned along my journey of writing. For one the way sentences are worded plays a key part in sentence structure, along with learning the rules of punctuation all over again! Also, that not everyone, takes kindly to certain phrases that have been listed in my books.

How often will you revise and re-write your work?

For the current hiking book, I am working on, I am up to my fourth revision and corrections for said book. I will keep working on it, and letting people peruse the book, to gain their insight, before it is published.

When is the best time to go hiking?

Pretty much anytime is fine to go hiking. It just depends on what you are going to see and if you wish to tolerate the current weather condition. For my book, I list the best seasons to go and visit the falls. Also spring is usually the best time to go as the weather is more comfortable and water flow for the falls are at their best!

How many pictures will you take on one hike?

When I go out on a phot shoot, I take anywhere from 50 to 400 pictures depending on what my agenda is for the day. If I am out on an all day hike I can take anywhere of over 1000 shots. Those have to be sorted through and only 3 or 4 of those pictures will make it into the book. For my current hiking book that I am working on, I have over 703 photographs listed for the book.

What is one saying or proverb you live by?

One of my favorite sayings is “I walk by faith and not by sight, and I trust in the Lord Jesus for everything.”

Where can our readers find out more about your work?

My work can be found by internet search(using my name, or waterfalls), Lulu.com, Amazon.com, or Barnes and Nobles book stores.


Siri Mitchell– Writer

Siri Mitchell is the author of four novels including the critically acclaimed Chateau of Echoes and Kissing Adrien. A military spouse and mother, Siri is a writer with international sensibilities. She’s spent a third of her life living in such varied places as Tokyo and Paris. She is fluent in French and currently mastering the skill of sushi making. Siri writes books for her friends about people they might know or people they might like to be. And she writes books for herself—the kind of books she’d be willing to spend all weekend reading or stay up late finishing. She has a special interest in addressing tough topics and cultural faith issues and loves the synergy that develops at the place where doubt begins to ask questions of faith.

 

What made you want to become a writer?

I just always thought that writing a book was something I should do, something I had to try. It felt like a responsibility. A burden.

 

Was the journey difficult? Any help? Any obstacles?

The journey was long! It took ten years from the time I first started writing until I sold my first book. I wrote four books in that time span and received 153 rejections from publishers and agents. The fifth book I wrote was the first one to be published. Book four was bought next and then book two. Throughout that ten year period, I tried my hardest to stop writing, but new ideas and new characters would present themselves and I had no choice but to start writing again. My husband was my greatest encouragement. He would listen to me while I ranted, hug me when I cried, and pretend to believe me when I told him I was giving it all up.

 

Any lessons learned on your writer’s journey? Be persistent. Don’t take rejection personally. Find readers who will tell you the hard truths about your writing. My first readers are always people I trust to tell me where my stories aren’t working.

 

Where does that inner drive to write come from?

A desire to create, the challenge of making the story I read on the printed page match the story I can see in my head. My goal is to make each book better than the last and I always try something new, stretch a little further, in each story I write.

 

How do you keep readers turning pages?

One of the fiction’s golden rules is ‘Never take readers where they want to go.’ When I write my books, I get to the happy ending eventually, but I take the reader on a bumpy journey first. The promise of gratification is what keeps the pages turning, in my opinion.

 

How often will you revise and re-write your work?

I write a first draft in about four months. If I can, I’ll put it aside for a month and ask several other people to read it for me. At the end of that month, I’ll pick it back up and read it through again, incorporating their suggestions and my own to complete the second draft. If I have time before my deadline, I’ll read it through a third time before I submit it. After my editor receives the manuscript, it’s read with an eye for the big picture. From that reading, I’ll receive direction on substantive or developmental edits concerning things like character development, pacing, or plot. After I fix those problems, I’ll return the manuscript and the editor will read it for a line edit. The goal of this read is to fix typos, consistency problems, and other details. These are corrections I make during my final read-through when I receive the galleys of the manuscript. At the galley stage, the pages look exactly as they will in the book, only they’re printed on normal-sized paper. I’m only allowed to change up to 10% of the manuscript at this stage and I make those changes in red pen in the margins. The next time I see the book, it’s in print!

What are some creative ways you’ve learned to generate ideas

 I’m not a plot-driven writer, I’m character-driven. In other words, the first glimmering I have that a story is ‘on the way’ is when a character begins talking to me. I can actually hear the voice inside my head. At this early stage, I may not have any idea what will happen in the story, but I know that if I listen long enough, the character will tell me. Most often I’m inspired when I travel. New surroundings seem to bring new characters to life for me.

What are some practical solutions for writer’s block?

I don’t wait for the muse. I don’t have enough time to write as it is, so I can’t afford to waste any of it. If a particular scene isn’t coming, I’ll write a different one. If a particular character isn’t speaking to me, I’ll keep badgering her, asking her questions, probing her motivations, and, if all else fails, I’ll stop asking questions and start listening to what she’s trying to tell me.

Do you have a favorite book?

 I lived, as a child, for several years in New Brunswick and Ontario, so I devoured the entire Anne of Green Gables series. In fact, if truth be known, I still read through it every couple of years. Several years ago I also read Crow Lake. I thought it was beautifully and unselfconsciously written. Possession is an all-time favorite. A.S. Byatt is a writer’s writer. She does so many different kinds of writing so beautifully and they’re all showcased in this book.

Do you have a favorite time of day when you like to write?

I write best in the mornings. In fact, due to family schedules, it’s usually the only time of day I’m able to write.

What is one saying or proverb you live by?

A quote by Stephen King: “If God gives you something you can do, why in God’s name wouldn’t you do it?” It reminds me to take my writing seriously and to put the best of myself into it.

What advice would you give kids who wish to pursue a career in writing?

 (1) Read everything you can get your hands on, both in genres you’re familiar with and those you aren’t. Every writer was first a reader. (2) Listen to everything around you; everything and everyone who speaks has a unique voice. You have to learn how to identify the voices before you can begin to imitate them. (3) Observe everything and everyone in your world – become a student of human nature. Your characters will never truly live until you understand what makes people real.

 

http://www.sirimitchell.com

 

Copyright 2005-2011, Jolene Owen. All rights reserved. This interview is free to copy, publish and circulate. You may reprint or publish it without permission in any format. Please credit: Jolene Owen as interviewer. The views expressed herein are those of the interviewees and do not necessarily reflect the interviewer or the official position of the publishing company, its various departments and/or the Institute of Interactive Journalism. If you’d like to be interviewed, or would like to send our team an interview, or just send us lots of gifts and candy, contact us at: inspiring.interviews@gmail.com.  Please do not try to contact interviewees through the institute. We never release confidential information or fwd messages. No exceptions.

 


Sherry Norfolk– Storyteller

From the International Storytelling Center in Jonesborough, TN to the Hong Kong International School in Hong Kong, China, (and hundreds of places in between!) Sherry Norfolk’s passion for storytelling incites the imagination of young and old audiences alike. In addition to an electric stage presence developed through professional storytelling since 1981, she embodies the term “teaching artist” – that is, an artist who can not only talk the talk but walk the walk.

As a teaching artist, she leads residencies and workshops internationally, introducing children and adults to story making and storytelling. She is on the roster of seven state arts councils, a testimony to her value as a teaching artist. Her dedication to and deep interest in children and literacy have been recognized with national awards from the American Library Association, the Association for Library Service for Children, the National Association of Counties, and the Florida Library Association. Sherry is the co-author with her husband Bobby of The Moral of the Story: Folktales for Character Development (August House, 1999); they are currently working on a series of Anansi stories for the new August House Story Cove label.

What made you want to become a storyteller?

I’ve always looked for ways to make learning meaningful for kids, and ways to motivate them to read. As a preschool and primary teacher, I haunted the library, searching for stories to introduce new topics and inspire the kids – and me – to learn. Later, as a children’s librarian, I discovered that storytelling was the most effective way to lure kids to the library and into books. I was sold!

Was the journey difficult?

The first steps were natural and easy – like breathing. Telling stories to the kids in my north Miami library district led to telling county-wide (it’s a HUGE county), and that led to telling at festivals all over the SE. Any help? Along the way, I was very fortunate to be helped by wonderful storytellers like Melinda Munger in Miami, and to be able to attend the NAPPS Institutes which were being offered at the time. When I married Bobby Norfolk — a fabulous storyteller, already internationally famous — he encouraged me to take the leap and become a fulltime teller, and has been my mentor and inspiration every step of the way! Any obstacles? Well, it’s scary! Leaving behind a guaranteed paycheck and benefit package and striking out into the unknown felt like walking off a cliff! I HATED the marketing aspect — and I still avoid it whenever possible! But I’ve been remarkably lucky. We received a contract for The Moral of the Story: Folktales for Character Development (August House, 1999) just before I left the security of the library, and that kept me productively occupied as my performing career got off the ground. We also spent the first 6 weeks of my new life in Anchorage, AK, telling and workshopping for Alaska Children’s Services. That led me to the discovering how much I love to TEACH kids to tell and to write their own stories.

What were some of your favorite stories growing up? 

I got hooked on the Hans Christian Andersen stories — the more maudlin the better, it seems. “Little Matchgirl” was a special favorite. Maybe I jsut loved th power of story to evoke emotion!

Is there a difference between writing a story and telling a story? For me, it’s one and same: I create text as a told story first — honing and polishing it with by responding to the audience reactions. When writing the same story, there’s a translation process — translating the actions, sound effects, character voices, etc., into words. You can’t see the audience response — no immediate gratification!

What is the difference between a fable, a parable, and a fairy tale?  The intent: a fable teaches a moral or lesson, and so does a parable, but the fable does it explicitly where the parable relies on intrinsic understanding. Fairytales often teach lessons, but that usually is secondary to entertainment value!

If you could be one character in a story who would you be and why? I love the title character in the Russian folktale, Woman of the Wood. She is brought to life and given the gifts of beauty and intelligence — but she chooses freedom above all else. A truly wise woman!

If you could have coffee with one famous storyteller who would it be and why?

My favorite storyteller and human being will always be my husband, Bobby Norfolk. ‘Nuff said!

What inspires you as a storyteller?

The faces of the listeners…their total surrender to story..their joy and surprise! Nothing better!

What advice would you give a storyteller faced with writer’s block?

Go tell stories, get away from the computer and work with living, breathing, responsive human beings. That’s where the inspiration is.

What stories are you working on presently?

Bobby and I are developing a series of Anansi storeis for the StoryCove label, and we have a picturebook titled Billy Brown and the Belly Button Monster in production.

Finally, what advice would you give kids who wish to pursue a career in storytelling?

Follow your heart! Find out what aspect of storytelling is the most appealing to you, and learn everything you can about it. Listen to lots of tellers and talk to them about their own choices and why/how they made them, then make your own choices — and most of all, believe in the power of story!

Where can we find out more about your work?

My website is www.sherrynorfolk.com and there’s plenty of info there!

Copyright 2005-2011, Jolene Owen. All rights reserved. This interview is free to copy, publish and circulate. You may reprint or publish it without permission in any format. Please credit: Jolene Owen as interviewer. The views expressed herein are those of the interviewees and do not necessarily reflect the interviewer or the official position of the publishing company, its various departments and/or the Institute of Interactive Journalism. If you’d like to be interviewed, or would like to send our team an interview, or just send us lots of gifts and candy, contact us at: inspiring.interviews@gmail.com.  Please do not try to contact interviewees through the institute. We never release confidential information or fwd messages. No exceptions.