Thanks for joining me on another edition of Author Interview Thursday. Today’s special guest resides in the beautiful state of Colorado. Despite the fact she has a big family, she still makes out time to write great Middle Grade fantasy books.She is well respected amongst her peers and has worked in the education sector for many years. It truly is a delight to meet someone whose passionate about improving literacy levels in young people and loves telling a story. Without further ado, please join me in welcoming M.J. Evans.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I am a wife, a mother of five fabulous young adults, and a grandmother of nine beautiful kids. I love being outside (which is not good for an author!) I love riding my horses both on the trails in the Colorado Mountains and competitively in Dressage shows. I also love to ski, hike, camp, ride bikes…pretty much anything outside! I also love people and make friends easily. Dancing and musical theatre are also interests of mine. Now, add to that my love of reading and writing, I’m never just sitting around!
Tell us about the first time someone complemented you on something you had written?
It wasn’t until I was a college student at Oregon State University that I was complimented on my writing and realized that I did have a talent for writing. It was many, many years later that I found the time to do the creative writing that I so yearned to do. Before that, I used my skills to write school curriculum and help Odyssey of the Mind teams write their one-act plays. Yet, I still didn’t really believe that I was a good writer until my books started winning national awards. When The Mist Trilogy won a gold medal from the Mom’s Choice Awards last December and North Mystic won first place in the Purple Dragonfly Awards for fantasy last spring, I started to gain a little more confidence.
What were some of your favourite books as a child?
My favourite books were all horse stories! I loved all of Marguerite Henry’s books and I collect first edition copies of them. I loved Black Beauty and the Black Stallion, My Friend Flicka, and National Velvet. Do you see the common theme?
As you know, publishers want a middle-grade, YA novel to be 50,000 to 70,000 words in length. I had the over-arching story in my head from the beginning and found that there were natural breaks in the story at about 65,000 words. So, it turned out to be a trilogy. I started writing The Mist Trilogy to challenge myself. I wanted to see if I could actually get it done. I had the story in my head and once my youngest child started high school, I actually had the time to commit to writing.
What tips do you have for writing good dialogue?
I love writing dialogue and I have found that I am quite good at it. The hardest part is to stay in character as you write what they are saying. Always ask yourself if that is something that your character would really say. Some other tricks I have learned: 1. Don’t try to fill in a lot of the story line or information through dialogue. Dialogue should enhance the story and add colour, not be the vehicle for telling the story. 2. Read it out loud, after all, dialogue is the spoken word. One example is to use conjunctions the way people actually speak. For example write: “She’s really angry with us.” Rather than “She is really angry with us.” 3. Let your characters have their own unique speech patterns and favourite phrases without over-doing it. For example, in The Mist Trilogy, one of the unicorns named Shema likes to repeat herself. One example: “Oh my poor boy, my poor, poor boy.” Hasbadana, the evil unicorn likes to try to impress others by using big words. In North Mystic, an award winning allegory of the Revolutionary war, the oldest child Evelynd is always the one to bring up the problem in any situation. She is the serious one, the pragmatic one.
My passion is writing fantasy and I get my inspiration from J.K Rowling and C.S. Lewis. One reviewer wrote that I was this generation’s C.S. Lewis and a young reader told me in a letter that she liked my books better than Harry Potter! I don’t believe that either of those are true but it sure was nice to get those compliments. C.S. Lewis uses allegory which is a tool I love to use and have used in The Mist Trilogy and North Mystic. J.K Rowling uses beautiful description which has inspired me as I write. I have a piece of paper by my computer that has five words on it: “Smell, Sight, Sound, Touch, Taste.” J.K Rowling is a master at using all the senses in her writing.
Toy Story or Shrek?
No contest! Toy Story!
With a background in education, what qualities have you seen in books that tend to capture children’s imagination?
I write so that pre-teens and teens will love to read. I believe that fantasy is one Genre that is best suited to encouraging the use of a child’s imagination. First, you are creating a fantasy world with fantasy characters. As the author paints a picture with words, the reader must use their imagination to follow the story. I have also learned that children should be allowed and encouraged to read books about topics that interest them. For me, it was horses. So, I have combined my love of horses and fantasy in The Mist Trilogy. I also enjoy history so I incorporated that passion in North Mystic.
What three things should a first time visitor to Colorado do?
Take a trail ride into Rocky Mountain National Park. Ride a bike from the top of Vale Pass to Frisco. Drive to the top of Pikes Peak. Actually, it’s really hard to pick just three things!
Everyone thinks horses are beautiful but some people are afraid of them because they are so big. Fear of horses is something I have never known. I guess that is why I get along with them so well. People need to know that horses are herd animals. As a result, they want and need a leader. If you are going to be the leader, that is just fine with them. But if you aren’t, then they will take that role because, in their minds, someone has to be the leader. This is why horses will behave so differently depending upon who is working with them. Second, horses have both a reacting side of the brain and a thinking side. An untrained horse has an over-developed reacting side and an underdeveloped thinking side. As a trainer and rider, it is my job to reverse that. I help them develop the thinking side of the brain. You never can completely eliminate the reacting side, however! Finally, horses have a great ability to sense what a handicapped child needs from them. If you have ever watched a therapeutic horse work with a disabled child (or adult for that matter) you will be amazed. Therapy horses have helped autistic children find their voice, CP and MS children find control of their bodies and at-risk kids find a purpose in life. Horses are truly amazing and a gift from God.
What can we expect from M.J. Evans in the next 12 months?
I have just completed a new manuscript titled In the Heart of a Mustang. It is a young adult novel about a troubled teen and a mustang mare that meet at an Arizona ranch. The bond that forms between the two saves both their lives. I am now starting to submit it for publication. It is not a fantasy and for a little older audience than The Mist Trilogy and North Mystic so that is new for me.
Where can readers and fans connect with you?
I love getting letters from my readers. They make my day…week…month! Readers can connect with me by going to my website: www.mjevansbooks.com They can also follow me on Facebook: Behind the Mist or North Mystic or on my blog: www.themisttrilogy.blogspot.com.
Any advice for authors out there who are either just starting out or getting frustrated with the industry?
I understand how frustrating the publishing industry is. Not only is it hard to break in and actually get someone to publish your work but the industry is going through a lot of changes that are hard to keep up with. Some of the changes are helpful for new authors. They now have the option of self-publishing, either in print or on eBook. I actually know several authors who are bypassing or abandoning the traditional publishers all together and just publishing on eBook format. I would recommend that new authors find several beta readers that are not family members or best friends to read their manuscript before submitting it to a publisher. Take their suggestions if you want, discard if you want, but at least you would get some objective feedback. The best thing that happened to me was when I submitted North Mystic to a publisher. After reviewing my query and sample chapters, she asked to see the full manuscript. A couple of months later, she turned down the book but wrote up a full page, single spaced, critique. I took every one of her comments and made the changes. As a result of her helpful suggestions and criticisms, North Mystic was not only published but went on to become an award winner.
Thanks for spending time with us today Margi. I loved your insight on horses and I’m really impressed with how you’ve weaved in a theme around horses – something you love – into your stories. Do check out Margi’s website where you can purchase one of her books. Do share our interview using one of the share buttons and leave a comment/question. We’d be delighted to respond and know that you stopped by.