Maria, Karl, it’s so nice to meet you! How long have you been a member of CWG, seems to me like it’s been a long time.
Thank you for this opportunity! I was actually one of the founders of Catholic Writers' Guild, so I have been around from the beginning. :)
Maria, First, congratulations on your publications “Tristan Travels” and “Toupee Mice” which will be published in 2012. That is so awesome! They are both for sale in Amazon, right? Are they both children stories? What inspired each book?
Thanks! It's been a fun journey. Well, Tristan's Travels is currently available on Amazon. I think our next book, Toupee Mice, will initially be limited in availability to independent booksellers and the publisher, Rafka Press. My guess is that it might be released to Amazon towards the end of the year, but that timing depends on the publisher.
Actually, I wrote Toupee Mice first. When I had no success finding a publisher, I ended-up shelving it and starting another, Tristan's Travels. Once TT sold, I went back and revised my first tale, and it was then accepted by Rafka Press.
It's easier for me to talk about what inspired TT than TM, since it's been about a decade now since the Toupee Mice ideas began to come together. I knew that I wanted to be a writer, but I didn't know exactly where to begin. Since I enjoy writing silly stuff (you can check out my "Restless Auditor" blog), I decided to try my hand at children's books first. I love making kids giggle. Hearing children laugh I think is one of the most beautiful sounds there is, and I think these days it's getting harder and harder to find quality books for children. So many times authors write "down" to their young readers, and I set out to avoid that pitfall.
I guess I'd have to say that TM was inspired by just a desire to write a lighthearted children's book featuring talking animals. Tristan's Travels' origin is a little easier to recount. It had its start with in silly stories I would tell the kids aloud. TT features some of their favorite characters from those early sessions. Into that mix, I'd say that I was also moved to write something about the north coast of Oregon. Astoria, in particular, is a fascinating area to me. The landscape has a striking beauty about it, and the light has a way of constantly changing at times. I love everything about the ocean, and I thought a book about a seagull who is afraid to fly would be fun for kids--and the author, too!
Maria, How has “Tristan Travels” sold? Is it what you expected?
Not really, but I never was doing this for the money. It's more along the lines of a labor of love. Rafka Press is a brand new publisher, and I'm a new author. I figure we're both learning here, and that we need to give it some time. I can say, though, that TM might be last book for children if sales don't increase for both books. I'm finding that I really enjoy writing for older readers, so that may be where I focus in the future.
Maria, You also write articles. You’ve been published in America, The National Catholic Weekly, This Rock, and, even Musica Sacra. Are you a musician too? What do you prefer to write fiction or non fiction, why?
Good question! No, I am definitely not a musician, but I do have strong opinions about music. Having come from a Protestant background, I really don't like hearing the awful music creeping into the Mass. In fact the title of my article for This Rock was "Thirst for Reverence," and our conversion story really had its beginning in our efforts to find a church home where we felt the music was drawing attention to God and not, instead, pointing back at ourselves. Not to digress too much, but I think the problematic hymn "Sing a New Church" is a great example of this problem. Anthony Esolen's articles on music and the Church are 100% on the mark in my book.
I began writing non-fiction articles, but I am really more interested now in expressing those kinds of thoughts within my blogs. It's a lot easier that way to concentrate on my fiction. I seem to have more natural talent for fiction-writing, so that's where I'm concentrating for the time being. I'll probably get back into the non-fiction again, but right now the priority is my novel.
To be honest, poorly organized editors are a pet peeve, too. Last year, for example, I had a couple articles accepted by a top Catholic publication, then they changed their mind after I made the requested editorial revisions. That kind of stuff makes me cranky... I don't like the term "customer service," but I do think some editors need to learn to be a little more professional in their dealings with their prospective writers. Little things can make it a lot easier--e.g. automatic replies for e-mailed submissions verifying receipt and conveying general timelines for review. Okay...I'm stepping away from the soapbox now. :)
Maria, I know the interview is about you, but I have to mention your wife Kimberly because she’s a children’s book illustrator and so many of our writers are constantly in search of an illustrator! She’s also the daughter of John Carroll Collier the sculptor of the Catholic Memorial at Ground Zero in NYC. I know this isn’t necessarily writing related(not yet), but how did you two meet?
We met in a New Testament course taught by Dr. Robert Wall at Seattle Pacific University. We ended-up studying together, and I guess you could say the rest is history! I always think it's cool that we met in a religion class, because faith is so important and critical to both of us. I love being married to my illustrator!
Maria, Your website has some beautiful photography, congratulations on that too. Are these photos available for sale? The landscape pictures are breathtaking.
Thank you. Photography is a little side hobby of mine. Eventually, I'd like to do more with it. I'd be happy to sell any of the pieces on that page. If someone's interested in a particular photograph, the best thing to do is to contact me directly. I do also have a calendar available for purchase. It features photography from the Wallowas (far northeastern corner of Oregon). Eventually, I'd like to create calendars also featuring photographs of the Oregon and Washington coasts and perhaps Washington State's beautiful San Juan Island.
Maria, In the day time you are a ‘number cruncher’ How do you balance a full time job and a writing career/call?
While I, of course, strive to be the best employee I can be, I'm careful to avoid letting my job define who I am. I think, for instance, author , father, or husband are much better descriptions of who I am than "State Tax Auditor." I also am careful to keep writing at every opportunity--from the serious blog ("Singing in the Wood") to the silly blog ("The Restless Auditor"), and the book projects. I think of the blogs as my writing exercises. Sometimes, for example, I'll write a couple blogs on Saturday than a book chapter on Sunday. It seems to help the "writing muscles" that way.
Maria, What advice would you give new writers to CWG?
Develop your own voice. Don't try to sound like others. Find an authentic voice, tone, and perspective and stick to it for your particular genre(s). Writing what you know is important, too. In-person visits and research are an important part of the novel-writing process. Strive for originality and truth above all. Don't neglect reading the masters, too. My writing seems best after I come to it following the writing of something altogether different or even after reading a good book. If I feel like I am having writer's block, sometimes I'll read J.R.R. Tolkien. (Some additional reflections on the creative process are available here.)
I would also quickly add to beware of distractions. From social media sites like Twitter and Facebook, I think there's a danger for new writers to begin to concentrate more on promoting their work than actually writing new content. That road will lead to trouble quickly--not only superficial work, but annoyed readers and friends, too. I, for instance, have tried to back off on the promotion a bit and leave that more to others when I can.
It also is critically important to the Christian writer that he never forget that the source of creativity lies in Him and not himself.
Maria, Thank you so much for your time!