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Thursday, 22 September 2011

Author Interview with Sandra McLeod Humphrey


Sandra McLeod Humphrey is a retired clinical psychologist, a character education consultant, and an award-winning author of seven middle-grade and young adult books. She’s also the recipient of the National Character Education Center’s Award for Exemplary Leadership in Ethics Education (2000) and the 2005 Helen Keating Ott Award for Outstanding Contribution to Children's Literature. In her words: “After working as a clinical psychologist for more than 31 years, I consider my new writing career as the ‘desssert’ of my life!”

Your latest book is Hot Issues, Cool Choices: Facing Bullies, Peer Pressure, Popularity, and Put-Downs; perhaps you’d you give us some insight into it in a few sentences and let us know how you came to write it?

Hot Issues, Cool Choices: Facing Bullies, Peer Pressure, Popularity, and Put-Downs was a book I had to write. After doing school visits for two years and hearing the personal stories the students told me about their bullying experiences, I knew I had to share those stories with my readers. The stories are fictionalized to some extent, but they are all based on true bullying experiences, and the book is dedicated to a 12-year-old boy who took his own life as a result of being bullied.

Do you have a favourite character from the book? If so, who and why this particular one?

One of my favorite stories from the book is the one written by a bully himself who is totally clueless as to how others perceive him. He does not see himself as a bully and uses all kinds of rationalizations to excuse his bullying behavior.

Where can people buy your books?

My books are available at all major bookstores, both offline and online, and if people would like an autographed copy of one of my books, they can order one from my website http://www.kidscandoit.com.

What qualities does a writer need to be successful?

For a writer to be successful, one most definitely needs perseverance and a passion to write. It has been said that a writer can not “not write” and I totally agree. Everywhere I go and with everything I see, I think in terms of “story.” What kind of story is told here and by whom? Even when I’m sitting in the waiting room at a doctor’s office, I sometimes entertain myself by making up a story about each of the other people in the waiting room.

What’s your working method?

My working method is actually pretty simple. I’m a morning person, so I write in the mornings and do my busywork in the afternoons or evenings when I’m pretty much “brain-dead.” I usually set a potentially attainable goal each day (on paper), so that at the end of the day, I can cross it off. I’m a “list person” and I love to make lists, just so I can cross everything off at the end of the day!

What’s the single biggest mistake made by beginner writers?

I think one of the mistakes beginning writers may make is to not read enough. To be a writer, one must READ, READ, READ, particularly in their genre. Another common mistake is insufficient market research before they send their manuscripts off to the publishers. There are some great marketing resources available, and the editors will know if you’ve done your homework.

To what extent are grammar and spelling important in writing?

I may be in the minority, but personally, I think grammar and spelling are extremely important. They show that “you care enough to send the very best!”

How much do you revise your MS before sending it off?

I revise and revise and then I revise some more. I also give my manuscripts a “cooling off” period of a few days (or weeks), so that I can look at them with fresh eyes the way a potential reader would be looking at them.

As a writer, to what extent do you think genre is useful in the publishing world?

Actually, I think genre is quite important—particularly when it comes to differentiating M-G novels from YA novels and from differentiating the various types of fantasy and sci-fi novels.

Many authors see marketing as a bind. What's your opinion on this, and how do you deal with it?

I’m not sure what you mean by “bind,” but I see marketing simply as one of those things I have to do as a writer. This means checking out potential prepublication endorsers, potential reviewers, appropriate book awards, etc. There are always marketing “surprises” one never anticipates such as the Boston middle school which ordered 900 copies of one of my books to use in their pen pal program with their community leaders. Who could ever have predicted that one?

What sort of displacement activities keep you from writing?

I actually do a lot of work with our youth as a Sunday school teacher, Vacation Bible School teacher, confirmation mentor, school visits, young writers’ workshops, etc., but there’s most definitely an upside to all my youth activities because the time I spend with our youth gives me great material for my books.

What support, if any, do you receive from family and friends, writing group, or dedicated professionals?

Everywhere I go, I get support! My social networking friends on the internet, my friends in the real world, and especially my husband (who never complains about the endless hours I spend on the computer) all give me very much appreciated support!

Is presentation of the MS as important as agents and publishers suggest?

I think presentation is extremely important! That first line, that first paragraph, that first page all make an impression! Your format, your grammar, your spelling, your typos, your “voice,” your writing style, your storyline, your characterization etc. will all be revealed by the end of the first chapter.

How long does it take you to write a book?

I’m usually working on two books simultaneously, and it generally takes me about two years to complete both books.

Who or what inspires your writing?

People and social issues inspire my writing. The problem of school bullying inspired my bullying book, the questions my confirmation students asked inspired my Keepin’ It Real: A Young Teen Talks with God, my Sunday school classes inspired my Me, Myself, and I: Youth Meditations for Grades Five through Eight, my thirty-one years as a clinical psychologist inspired my What Would You Do? series and my new book The No-Name Club’s Not-So-Official Guide to Solving Your Problems (Royal Fireworks 11/11), and my ongoing passion to encourage our youth to believe in themselves inspired my Dare to Dream!: 25 Extraordinary Lives and my new book They Stood Alone!: 25 Men and Women Who Made a Difference (Prometheus Books 11/11).

If there’s a single aspect of writing you find frustrating, what is it?

The only area of writing I find frustrating is that I have so many ideas for so many books I want to write, and I know that I won’t be around long enough to write them all!

Is there a particular feature of writing that you really enjoy?

My passion is to inspire our youth to develop strong character, to believe in themselves, and to dream dreams (their own dreams), and every time I receive letters or e-mails from my readers who tell me how much one of my books has helped them, that is most definitely a “peak experience” for me.

Do you believe creative writing is a natural gift or an acquired skill?

I think creative writing is a combination of both native ability and acquired skill. To be a successful writer, I think you need both.

What are you writing now?

I’m currently working on Failure Isn’t Final!: 25 Men and Women Who Never Gave Up, and as with all my other books, I’m writing it to inspire our youth to persevere, to believe in themselves and their dreams, and to never give up!

Do you have a website or blog where readers can visit?

You can learn more about my books by visiting my Web site at www.kidscandoit.com. and my blog at http://www.kidscandoit.com/blog/

Given unlimited resources, where would you do your writing?

If I had unlimited resources, I think I’d have a beach hideaway on some Hawaiian island with my four dogs (350 pounds of “dog”) and enough electricity for my computer and my printer. (My husband can come, too).

Where do you actually write?

I write at my computer in my study. Actually, it’s my husband’s study because his study has better light than mine, and every time he comes in or goes out, I have to stop typing and move my chair because my chair blocks the doorway. I’m thinking that Hawaiian island is looking better all the time!

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