In The Berry Patch: Author Interview with Linda R. Maki-Griffis
You are all in for a treat today. I have a hot-off-the-press interview with Linda R. Maki-Griffis, author of "In the Berry Patch". She's an author I know in real life. She lives in my community in the glorious Upper Peninsula of Michigan, which is right where "In the Berry Patch" takes place. Her husband has taught all of my children and her children go to school with mine. Her book is so much fun. Even for adults! I promise you will be engaged from page one, whether you are reading aloud to your kids, or reading for your own pleasure. This book is for middle school readers, but precocious readers will enjoy it equally well. Without further ado, I'll let Linda take it away.
Hey there, Readers! Wendy was kind enough to mention my book, In the Berry Patch, on her website earlier this summer. She recently offered to include more information about it, so here are some questions that I’ve been asked, as well as some that my family thought would be good ones to try to answer. I hope you enjoy reading about my experiences, and please – stop by my website (you’ll find it below, too) and let me know your thoughts! Thank you, Readers… and a very big thanks to you, Wendy! -Linda R. Maki-Griffis (My pleasure, Linda!)
Q – What is your book about?
A – In the Berry Patch is a middle-grade novel about a girl who discovers something incredible on her grandparents’ farm. She then struggles with deciding whether she should tell anyone about it, which would have both good and disastrous consequences, or keep the knowledge to herself.
Q – What is the best thing, for you personally, about the book?
A – Besides actually finishing it? J I’m really happy that I was able to infuse it with so many of my own memories from when I was a kid. And I like that Emilia and her cousin have such an easy way with their grandparents - that’s how it was for me when my grandparents were still alive.
Q – And what was the hardest thing?
A – Honestly? Keeping my fannie on the seat of my chair long enough to write it! The urge to go out and ski was strong upon me, and the pen does not move at the speed of thought. At least, not when it’s in my hand!
Q – Some writers say choosing names for their characters is difficult, while others have fun with it. How did you choose names for the characters?
A – A couple of the names are made up, but I usually like to name characters in honor of family members: Emilia was the name of one of my great-grandmas. The grandparents in the story - Ray and Hazel - are named for my parents, but their characters and many of the details about them are composites of my mom and dad and my four grandparents. Randy is my husband’s name, as well as one of my cousins who I spent a lot of time with growing up. Kin and Squink come from my boys.
Q – Before, you said “Besides actually finishing it?” Do you have many unfinished projects? Is it okay to drop something you’ve begun, or do you think a writer should finish each piece?
A – Oh, I have lots of unfinished projects! And I hope it’s okay to drop things, because I do it all the time. Have to - I get too many ideas. Sometimes I’ll let something go because, once I get started on it, I’ll realize it wasn’t such a great idea in the first place, and why spend time on something like that? But I usually hang on to all my starts - maybe the idea, or a phrase from it, will come in handy later when I’m stuck on something else.
Q – Do you get writer’s block? How do you handle it?
A – No, I don’t really have a problem with that. If I stall out on one thing, I’ll just let it simmer in the back of the ol’ hopper while something else moves up to bubble in front. I always have a number of things I’m working on. I do it for fun, mainly; I don’t depend on it for my income, so I don’t feel a lot of pressure to finish things by a deadline. I do work at it and try to improve, but I can be more relaxed about it than someone who does it 9 to 5.
Q – What is your writing process? Do you have a routine?
A – Although I’ve written a few things in the car while traveling with my family, I usually seem to need solitude to write - and a handful of Good and Plenty’s doesn’t hurt, either! We don’t have an office where I could just close the door on the world, so I write more when they’re all back in school, on the days when I don’t work. I used to try getting up really early, but I couldn’t seem to do a whole lot at those hours. I do my rough drafts long-hand, which means I can write anywhere - usually at the kitchen table, but also sprawled out on the living room floor, or leaning against a rock on a beach, sometimes up a tree. Lots of times I’ll have an idea in mind, and it’ll bob along while I go for a walk or hang out laundry, and I’ll just turn it over in my mind and let it ferment until the words and rhythm are right and it gloms together into a big enough chunk that I can get it out on paper. I do a lot of my revising that way.
I know one of the common bits of advice is to write every day, and while that doesn’t always happen with me, I did work on Berry Patch every day - well, most days, even if it was just for an hour or so.
Q – Long-hand? Haven’t you heard of the computer?!
A – Um, well… They do make it easier to revise, I have to admit, but I’m not all that into technology.
Q – So, what got you started writing?
A – What got me started… I guess it was a chickadee! I was trailing along behind this little bird in my grandparents’ apple orchard, watching as it flitted from this tree to that, and I made up a little song about it.
Q – How old were you?
A – Eight. I remember writing some poems after that while still in grade school, just humorous - to me, anyway - little things. I was writing poems pretty regularly during middle school, then as I began to play more music, the poetry just sort of turned into songs. I still write songs - they’re my favorite type of creative writing - some poetry, stories, whatever.
Q – How did you become interested in writing for children?
A – Well, when I was a senior in high school, my English teacher, Mr. Malechuk, had us each write a children’s story, the final version of which we had to read to a class at a neighboring grade school. I didn’t really care for the reading of it - I was pretty shy - but writing it was a lot of fun! Then when I went to college, I did my work study in the library. Shelf-reading the children’s books, which means to go along and make sure each book is in its place, was a chore none of us liked - it was always so messy. But one day I came across a book that I remembered from when I was small, and flipping through it, I saw it from a whole different perspective. You see how carefully the language is chosen, and how the illustrations work with the story. I wanted to do something like that some day. I also really like children; I’ve babysat them, worked with them as a parapro and in day care - both in a center and in my own home. It’s fun to write something, and then think of them reading it.
Q – Had you published anything before In the Berry Patch? Why did you decide to self-publish it, rather than work with a publishing company?
A – I’ve had a few short poems published in children’s magazines, and when I was first writing Berry Patch, I thought that if it turned out well, I’d send it around to publishers and/or agents. Then someone asked me why I didn’t self-publish. At first I thought it would be too expensive, so I didn’t really consider it. Besides, why would I want to mess with all the nitpicky little parts of the process that I didn’t even understand when a publisher might do it instead? But the closer I got to finishing the first draft, the more I was learning about self-publishing, and I decided I did want to try it after all. Putting it all together was a lot more time-consuming than I thought it would be, and promoting and marketing are not my fortes, but I’m glad I did it this way; I think I feel like it’s more my book than I would if a publisher had produced it.
Q – You must have learned a lot. What was one of the more valuable things you took away from the experience?
A – Communication! I’d never worked with an illustrator before, and while some of Sara’s (Hogue) drawings came out just the way I wanted the first time, there were others that took a bit of… fine tuning. I realized that sometimes you can’t give too many details, and when I couldn’t seem to communicate in words what I was thinking, I finally thought to scratch out little drawings to show her what angle, etc. I was thinking of. Then I’d email it to her with a note that said, “Don’t worry - I won’t tell anyone that you taught me how to draw!” Eventually, we figured everything out, and we’re both pretty pleased with the results.
Q – Have you received any criticism about the book? If so, how do you deal with it?
A – I have had a couple people wonder whether an 11-year-old would talk the way Emilia does, or if she sounds too grown-up. And that some of the vocabulary might be a little high for younger readers. That was something I wondered about myself as I was writing - thought I might have to go back and change some things. But in the end I thought, you know, Emilia is a kid who spends lots of time with adults, and she secretly writes poetry - she notices things and tries to use words to describe them. So I decided to stay with the original voice. Don’t know if that’s good or bad. Might turn some kids off, but then again, there are an awful lot of kids out there who read above grade level and have a hard time finding books that appeal to them that still have age-appropriate content. And regarding vocabulary - how do kids build on theirs if they’re never exposed to new words?
So, responding to criticism - I know that there isn’t one single book that will please everyone who ever comes across it, so knowing that, and knowing that I’m comfortable with my reasons for writing how and what I did, I’m o.k. with hearing things that aren’t always flattering. I like feedback - I listen to it and consider it and then do what I think I need to do in order to be happy with the result.
Q – What are some things you do as a writer that might be of benefit to others who want to write?
A – Well, one is that I belong to a writers’ group. I’d always been a rather secretive writer, like Emilia; I’d write something, then squirrel it away where no one would see it. Writers’ group meetings were a little awkward at first - reading my stories in front of a group, not knowing what the others would think - but it was one of the best things I’ve done for my writerly side. The reactions of people you come to know and respect for their writing ability will either fill you with confidence on a piece well done, or send you back to rework something that ain’t quite ready for human consumption!
Another thing I do is I keep a little notebook for “thought doodles” - lines or phrases or ideas that might turn into a song or a story some day. I first started doing it so I wouldn’t forget certain little bits and snippets that sounded promising. Then it became a good well to dip into when I needed to bail myself out of something… “Hmm, I need a way to say such-and-such - do I have anything already in my little book?” I don’t know how many times I’ve referred to it for that reason. It’s turned out to be a pretty valuable little thing, and I never even intended to use it that way.
Q – Who have been some of your favorite authors, starting when you were young?
A – Ooh, this might take a while! Laura Ingalls Wilder has always been a favorite. I read a lot of Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume, Gary Paulsen when I was a kid. Then there’s Louis L’Amour - my grandpa and I used to trade copies of his westerns back and forth. I’ve enjoyed a lot of the books I’ve read to my kids, including the Hank the Cowdog series by John R. Erickson, which are hilarious, and Brian Jacques’ Redwall books. I really like Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series - she’s one of my very favorites today. Chris Bohjalian has some really good ones. I could go on!
Q – If you had half a day to spend any way you chose, what would you do?
A – I’d go up to my favorite stretch of beach along Lake Superior and skip some stones, look for agates and other interesting rocks. We were up there last year during a butterfly migration - they just kept coming and coming, flying up behind me and out over the lake to Canada.
Q – Are you working on anything new? Can you share a bit of it?
A – Yes, and nope! I always have at least a few songs at various stages of completion, and I started another story that I ended up setting aside for a little while, but I plan on getting back to it soon. And I’m afraid I can’t share anything from it – my First Rule of Writing is that I don’t talk about projects until I have at least a rough draft finished. Why? Well… two reasons, I guess. One is because someone might say, “Hey, you should make this happen,” and then, even if I was already planning on that, I’d feel like I couldn’t use it anymore. And two, people might look at me like I’m nuts, and then I might think, gee, maybe it is a dumb idea! J
Q – How can people get a copy of your book?
A – It’s on Amazon.com, but it’s a little bit cheaper to get it directly from me. People can order from my website (www.barefootchickadee.weebly.com) or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q – Is there anything else you want people to know about your book?
A – Yes. Long ago I thought that if I ever made any money from anything I wrote, I wanted to do something good with part of it. I feel that if I’m lucky enough to earn something doing what I love, I oughtta share a little of that luck somehow. So I’m dedicating 10% of the profits from In the Berry Patch to help encourage kids in my area to be involved in the fine arts. I’m not sure what yet, but grade-school kids here don’t get any music classes, and since music can have so many far-reaching and long-lasting benefits, I’m leaning towards something musical. Maybe provide every third-grader with a harmonica and a little instruction on how to use it? Whatever it is, it won’t be on a grand scale, but every little bit helps, right?
Oh, and one more thing - Thanks to my dad for being my Southern U.P. Sales Specialist! He’s really done a lot to help me get the book out there, so… Thanks, Dad!
Thanks, Linda, for sharing so much great information with us! I LOVE your book!