Sunday, January 24, 2016

J.M. Lavallee on Books and Writing

Readers young and old have been comparing The Wishing Stone and Other Myths: Learned on Gull Cliff Island to the most adored children’s books like Anne of Green Gables and Little House on the Prairie, and its author J.M. Lavallee says that if her book manages to inspire even a fraction of what both those series have inspired in her, then she can be happy that she has accomplished something to be proud of.

Excerpts from an email interview with +J.M. Lavallee where she talks about her book, her inspiration for ideas, her writing process, and more.
“If you love writing, never stop. The stories that come are gifts, and it’s your duty to give them life and share them with the world !”
1. The Wishing Stone and Other Myths: Learned on Gull Cliff Island is your first book and it has received good reviews especially on its setting. How did you decide the setting and how much effort went into the beautiful portrayal of the rustic Canada in your book ?

Because I grew up along the Lower North Shore of Quebec, choosing a community from its coast as a book setting felt a natural course of action. Especially since a move from the stretch of space meant I missed its calling ocean, its windswept rock. The location in question is an isolated part of Canada, and widely unknown. I wanted to share it with others through Dot’s tale.
Deciding upon Gull Cliff Island in particular, came about after discovering a black and white photo of my mother and her sister in the sixties.

This photo, snapped along the Lower North Shore of Quebec, reminded me of stories I’d been told of life during the fishery, when living off land and sea was the only option for the area.

Gull Cliff Island is an actual place, and no longer inhabited, though some spend vacation time there to camp during the summers.

My portrayal of Gull Cliff Island comes from the hearts of many… including my own. I am tremendously happy this love seems to be felt by readers.

A gentleman with J M Lavallee's book in one of the few remaining houses on Gull Cliff Island. He lived on Gull Cliff Island when it was a thriving, seasonal community.
2. The beautiful scenery of Canada in the Montgomery books that I grew up reading have always fascinated me. Undoubtedly, literature is a key aid to the knowledge about a place and its people. What kind of readers are on your mind when you generally write? Do you try to paint a vivid picture of Canadian life keeping in mind the readers from outside Canada?

This is a very good question, one I had to contemplate. As a writer, I owe it to my readers, to responsibility create a voice that will capture the work’s targeted audience. In the case of The Wishing Stone and Other Myths: Learned on Gull Cliff Island, there were many I thought of during the process of its making. Dot and Sara’s adventures most definitely created connection with the novel’s young audience, while the relationships between the adults, and with Henry, made room for a more mature audience. I greatly wished for this novel to be shared by families, perhaps more specifically by those who once lived as Dot’s family does in this book, and who wish to share that past culture with their children. I did also hope this tale might inspire curiosity in readers apart from the Lower North Shore, and say something special about the beauty and hardship living in isolation can often mean. Whether or not I did a good job of that, I can only hope!

3. What authors did you use to read when you were young? Is there any author or book that you think has inspired you into writing for the young?

I have always been a voracious reader, and any genre will do! I couldn’t possibly name all the books that impacted me as a child, but a few authors I absolutely must mention are Lucy Maud Montgomery, Ursula K. Le Guin, Madeleine L’engle, Bill Wallace, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Frances Hodgson Burnett, and the beloved Judy Blume. These fearless authors enforced in me the importance of magic, courage, humility, and love. For me their work was the personification of inspiration. Nothing was impossible when I walked through their worlds.

4. Can you tell me briefly about your writing process? How do you put down the initial ideas and how much of effort goes into developing a final draft out of it?

I love it when book ideas reveal themselves. I have learned not to take them for granted. What I mean by that is, if the snippet of a tale tumbles in, or a name, title, or saying pushes its way through what’s for supper and did I pay that bill, it must immediately be seized… or it will be forgotten. My writing process most always begins like that; an idea, of which gets jotted down in one of two leather bound notebooks. From there, the idea sprouts into a form by way of clustering, experimenting, and researching. Once I have a conflict, details create a skeleton comprised of chapters and noted character development. From there, the voice takes control. Sometimes this may require a few adjustments, but for the most part we all get along.

J M Lavallee at her writing desk.
5. What do you think about the concept of a writing studio? Do you have one or a favourite place where you generally like to be when you are writing?

Oh, how I’d love the writing studio of my imagination! I picture a great sunroom fit with bookshelves ready to share the classics as well as personal favorites. I picture artwork to influence, color to energize! That space will come, but for now I enjoy writing time in the wee hours of the morning, before others in the house awake. My space is sunlit, and surrounds me with the warm embrace of history and time, as my husband and I have a great interest in antiques.

6. Your book was first launched as an e-book. Personally, do you prefer reading eBooks or paperbacks?

If you’d asked me that question a year ago, I’d have said without hesitation, “paperbacks, of course!” I have since grown an open mind on the matter. After receiving an Indigo gift card, I took to purchasing eBooks and the world changed. I soon discovered one can lay in any weird position with an e-reader and not suffer wrist cramps. When reading from my personal device I no longer need worry about the room’s tricky lighting, and my goodness… I can so easily snack because I have a free hand! So, I admit, I love my e-reader. That said, I just bought two paperback novels the day before yesterday. As I’ve mentioned, I adore literature. I live for the magic that brings words to life, and having that magic at the fingertips is priceless. When I read an eBook and adore it, I will purchase it again in paperback. I collect books; to share, to show off, and to enjoy over and over again. That will never change.

7. Other than as a writer, you work as a preschool instructor. Does this interaction with children help you in your writing? Would you be interested in writing children’s books?

Each day I work as a preschool instructor I consider myself privileged. Children are jewels whom every adult can learn from. They are constant reminders that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, that questions are gifts, and curiosity is natural. I’m ever in awe of the tykes I work with, and I greatly enjoy crafting songs, poems, and stories for them, often on the fly. I currently have two picture book manuscripts of which I’ve submitted for consideration to Canadian publishers. Fingers crossed!

8. You were one of the judges at the Grande Prairie Public Library’s 2015 Collins Writing Contest. How was the experience?

I’m grateful for having had this experience! It was a pleasure reading through the fresh works of others; I could almost feel each author’s personal energy upon the pages of their submissions. Writing is a very private craft. It takes devotion and a large amount of courage to share creations. The fear of rejection is always present, for writers new and old, and so I deeply respect all who step up and embrace their talent. We must always support our fellow writers!

9. You have been writing poems for the National Poetry Month and Family Literacy Day. How much are you into poetry?

For me, poetry is simply words from the heart. I don’t follow many rules when I attempt it, and so I’m not a great poet! Mostly I enjoy writing music.

10. How do you manage the feedback you receive from your young readers and their parents? Do you get feedback on your books from your sons? How do you think a writer can make use of the feedback?

There is much anxiety wrapped up in feedback. While I always hope for it, I also fear it. Reviews that have come from the Lower North Shore have responded to my rendition of Dot’s time and place in kind. I am grateful I have not disappointed or shamed these readers. That they feel I have justly represented their home and it’s past is a prize worth more than gold.

On the flip side, favorable reviews of those who hadn’t before known the Lower North Shore blessed me with pride. Their feedback says I’ve spread knowledge about a way of life that is no more. From both sides of the ballpark I am able to get a sense of whether or not my novel is speaking to a range of readers, or readers from a select group. This information helps in marketing the book.

The feedback from my sons is also important, and I’m grateful for its advantages. When they show interest and amazement in topics, or start asking brilliant questions, I know I’m on to something.

I think the most important thing to remember, in regards to feedback, is that all readers are different. Some will love one’s work, others will not. Writer’s must have faith in themselves, their Editors, their publisher, and their subject matter. If twenty readers say a novel listed in Humour made them laugh, and one said it wasn’t funny at all, the author must look at the consensus. Be bigger than the nasty review. If however, it’s the other way around, perhaps it’s time to try something different; just never give up!

11. How do you think is writing for children different from writing for grown-ups? Is there any aspect that you think writers need to give special care when writing for children?

I suppose the answer to this question depends on how you look at it. Each audience will demand a quantity of depth, a strong and relatable character, and conflict that will find itself in some way resolved. Here we can say there isn’t a whole lot that differs from writing between the two. However, discovering how to keep these varying audiences rapt is what separates them. How a story flows to interest a juvenile reader might roll flat for an adult, and how one grows for an adult will most likely have the typical juvenile yawning. In my opinion, when writing for a child, a writer must first remember what it’s like to be one.

12. Your readers are wishing for a sequel to The Wishing Stone and Other Myths: Learned on Gull Cliff Island since it ends with a new beginning for Dot. And I read that your publisher is interested in making a series out of it. Could you tell me about the plans?

Morning Rain Publishing remains interested in a sequel, and I have recently completed an outline to work with. The voice will take it from there… Anyone interested in keeping up to date on this can follow me on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.  I always try to keep my spaces up to date.

13. What are you currently working on?

This summer I am very excited about the release of my Young Adult Contemporary Fantasy, “Deep Calling”, also acquired by Morning Rain Publishing. This novel, also set along the Lower North Shore of Quebec, brings Celtic folklore to Canada’s East Coast. News about its launch is soon to come (remember those spaces above)! I’m currently writing a Young Adult Science Fiction.

14. Having penned an amazon bestseller for children, what would you like to tell aspiring children’s writers?

If you love writing, never stop. The stories that come are gifts, and it’s your duty to give them life and share them with the world!

And thank you so much Priya, for giving me this wonderful opportunity to talk books and writing. It has been a pleasure.

A blurb of J M Lavallee’s second book Deep Calling, a YA Fantasy by +Morning Rain Publishing :

A quick death within Manannan’s hot embrace would be far easier to endure than a bitter life away from the sea, but Melanie is not the giving-in kind.
At seventeen, the ocean currents and weather patterns of Hailey’s Round, Quebec, are embedded deep within Melanie’s core. Awakened by her supernatural link with the ocean, the Tuatha De Danann’s beautiful Sea King, Manannan, is drawn to Melanie and hungers for her soul. A voice in the wind lures her to the water, and once there, the Sea King begins the process of taking her life.
Hailey’s Round is no longer a safe haven for the teen. Forced to stay away from her beloved ocean, Melanie has nowhere to turn. Her odd mother hasn’t been a part of her life in years, her boyfriend doesn’t believe in the Tuatha De, and the grandfather who raised her is dying.
Yielding to the call of the deep sea and refusing to be marooned, Melanie defies Manannan’s hunger and the obsessive goddess, Rhiannon. Threatened by both deities to keep away from the sea, Melanie has never been more determined to revisit it…

The Wishing Stone and Other Myths: Learned on Gull Cliff Island is available on Morning Rain Publishing website (C$3.99), (Kindle $3.18), (Kindle £2.14), (C$3.99) and as Kobo eBook (INR 196.07). Paperbacks are available in stores across Canada for $12.95. Subscribe to J.M. Lavallee’s blog and follow her on Facebook and Twitter for updates on her writing. Also check out her bookstagram @j.m.lavallee.

* All the purchase links are affiliate links from Amazon which means I earn a small commission if you purchase through those links.