Hope Irvin Marston is a member of the New York State Retired Teachers, the Greater Thousand Islands Literacy Council, the Jeff-Lewis Librarians Association, and the Adirondack Center for Writing, the St. Lawrence County Arts Council, the North Country Arts Council and SCBWI. She organized the Black River Valley Writers Club and served as its leader for several years.
In addition to writing thirty-two children’s books and several adult titles, Hope has been on staff for Christian Writers Conferences at Hephzibah Heights (MA), Montrose Bible Conference (PA) and at St. Davids Christian Writers Conference at Beaver Falls, PA. She has taught creative writing workshops at Jefferson Community College, the Jefferson-Lewis Teacher Center and the North Country Arts Council.
Her picture book series, MY LITTLE BOOK COLLECTION (Windward), has grown to eight titles thus far and has 125,000 books in print.
VS: I want to thank Hope for being my guest here on The Writing Mama today. To get things started, Hope, what do you do to help balance your writing life with your family life?
Hope: It’s not too difficult to balance my writing life with family life because my husband and I are retired senior citizens and our families live in New England and Pennsylvania. His activities are limited due to his health so he watches a lot of sports. That keeps him occupied most evenings and gives me time to spend at my computer.
VS: I can’t tell you how nice it is to have a time already carved out to write. Many of us reading your interview will be jealous. How long have you been writing?
Hope: My very first published piece was a poem, a tribute to my Sunday school teacher, published when I was in about sixth grade. My first stand-alone publication was a small devotional guide for children in the Daily Bread for Girls and Boys series, published by Child Evangelism Fellowship in 1972. Precious Moments characters were added to the cover in 1993 and the booklet stayed in print for many years. In 1978 Dodd, Mead published my first hardcover book, a career guide for junior high students interested in trucking careers.
VS: That’s wonderful. I know you’re a reader so what inspired you to write?
Hope: My fascination with books and the ones who wrote them and the stories my teacher read to us when I was in the middle grades. I still have fond remembrances of “Evangeline” and The Great Stone Face.”
VS: What is a typical writing day like for you?
Hope: Because I believe writers must write every day, I begin my writing day with Morning Pages, a habit I developed many years ago after reading a book by Julia Cameron. I used to keep these writings, but the stack of journals became so tall and took up so much room, I started disposing of them a few at a time in the weekly trash pickup. They had served their purpose in the original writing in that they primed the pump for whatever I was going to concentrate on later in the day.
VS: That’s wonderful. I love doing writing prompts to help get my blood flowing to write. It is hard to write everyday so I’m glad you found a way to do that. Hope, can you share with us what you write?
Hope: What do I write? It depends on what is on my mind. Sometimes it is two pages in which I try out ideas for a problem in some manuscript. Sometimes it is a rant about someone of something that upset me. Sometimes it is gloating over an unusual blessing or circumstance that came my way. My third page is a prayer journal of sorts. A page of pondering, asking, thanking, worshipping the Lord because I know my talent comes from Him. All of this serves to clear the writing pipes and make room for the “good” stuff to flow through later in the day.
Unlike most of my writing friends who feel freshest and want to get right to work on whatever manuscript is at the top of their work pile, I can’t settle down until I take care of major things on my daily “to do” list. If I don’t take care of them first, they keep distracting me until I give them the attention they are demanding. That means I spend my mornings doing my other things. Sometimes I don’t get to my writing until after the evening meal. But when I do settle down to write, I give it my full attention. My goal is to spend at least three hours a day writing.
VS: I hear many writers taking about how their families don’t understand the long hours that we put in on projects. Even though they love seeing the finished project and support our love, they also find it hard looking at the back of our heads so to speak. Is your family supportive of your writing?
Hope: My husband is my greatest supporter. It blesses my heart when I hear the pride in his voice as he shares something about my just released book, Eye on the Iditarod: Aisling’s Quest, with his friends. My sister Roberta took my new book as well as My Little Book picture book series with her to Florida to show the “snowbirds” down there.
VS: That’s wonderful. Nothing like free marketing for your books too. Can you share with us a little about your current books?
Hope: Eye on the Iditarod: Aisling’s Quest, my thirty-second children’s book, was released by Windward Books on December 1. It’s a biography of Aisling (pronounced “Ashley”) Lara Shepherd whose goal is to some day run her own dogs in the famous Iditarod sled dog race held each March in Alaska. Born legally blind, from the time she was three she loved watching sled dog racing on television. My book, written from information Aisling shared with me in hundreds of e-mail letters, follows her through the mushing season the year she is eleven. That memorable year she conquered obstacles, dealt with heartbreak and loss, and achieved great victories, while keeping her eye on the Iditarod.
In 2008 when Aisling was ten years old, she was one of three girls chosen from 8,000 nominees for a Real Girl of the Year Award, by American Girl. The award was given in recognition of her “demonstrating initiative, effort, impact and personal growth” in reaching her goal of someday running the Iditarod. She exemplified those qualities by her dedication to rescuing, training and racing sled dogs. I learned about her from an article in an online newspaper published near where we used to live in Maine.
Windward Books had been one of my publishers for many years. I am the author of an eight-book series of wildlife picture books called My Little Books. To date there are over 125, 000 copies of these books in print. The most recent one in the series is My Little Book of Bald Eagles. Because of the satisfying relationship I have with Al Krysan, the publisher, I asked if he’d consider publishing Aisling’s story. Gentleman that he is, he agreed to read the manuscript and was hooked.
Against the Tide: The Valor of Margaret Wilson, published by P&R Publishers, is an historical novel of the life of a young Covenanting Presbyterian in17th century Scotland. Its target audience is 9-14 year-old readers. It deals with the persecution of devout believers who chose death over being forced to worship in their kirks where the immoral King Charles II claimed to be head.
VS: They sound wonderful and I can’t wait to finish reading them. I’ve enjoyed what I’ve read so far. Now Hope, what do you enjoy most about writing?
Hope: I love refining my manuscripts after I have a reasonable first draft. One of my joys is finding the precise word I need in a particular passage. That’s especially challenging when I am writing historical fiction, which I am doing right now. I have to find the right word for the context and then make sure that word was in use at the time. Two of my well-worn reference books are The Synonym Finder and English through the Ages.
VS: What is the most difficult part of writing?
Hope: The most difficult part of writing for me is choosing what to write about from a long list of things I find intriguing. What makes it challenging is determining which ideas have the most universal appeal to my chosen audience. When I began my publishing career nearly forty years ago, I couldn’t think of suitable topics. Now I can’t decide which of my ideas I should pursue.
I learned years ago when I was writing and submitting to magazines that just because something pushes my buttons, the whole world isn’t necessarily interested in that subject. I did a lot of “practice writing” until I became savvier in that regard. On the other hand, those pieces that were never published were good practice. Each one was a step forward in my pursuit of getting a book published.
VS: Thank you for sharing all that wonderful insight, Hope, and with that, what is the best writing advice you ever received?
Hope: That I should write what is important to me because it touches my heart rather than writing for what I think will sell. Also, I should write about that topic that has been inserting itself into my thinking for long periods of time. For example, I first read about Margaret Wilson about thirty years before I was able to gather the information (and enjoy two trips to Scotland) to write a sensible accounting of this devout teen-ager and her faith.
VS: Do you find it hard to balance your personal writing time with your other projects and/or jobs?
Hope: Not with my other jobs since I have been retired, but with my other interests and commitments. Things needing my attention tend to pile up in the same proportion as the paper stashes on my worktable. During the month of January, I was mentally stretched with making revisions on an historical novel about the War of 1812 that I was professionally critiqued by a respected children’s book editor. At the same time, I was answering the Interview Questions for this World of Ink Tour and having two interviews concerning the publication of Eye on the Iditarod. I didn’t spend much time twiddling my thumbs and I never watch television.
VS: Yes, it can be hard to find the balance sometimes. There are many things I also seeing piling up around me and I have to stop and say, “Okay, time to get this done before it gets out of hand.” Hope, do you have any other works in progress? Can you share a little about them?
Hope: Yes. My current project is an historical middle grade novel, Sackets Harbor Powder Monkey. It’s local history. I had hoped to find a publisher for it a couple of years ago. After over 20 rejections, I realized it must have major faults. I learned to find them after attending Darcy Pattison’s Novel Revision Workshop in the fall of 2010. Since then I’ve spent considerable time re-writing the story. I had it professionally critiqued by Paula Morrow (good decision on my part) and am now working through her comments and suggestions. Because it’s too late to find a mainstream publisher in time for the War of 1812 Bicentennial Celebration, I am bringing this one out as an e-book.
Once the powder monkey book is completed, I will get back to another historical novel of a Vermont family settling in New York in the early 1800s. Hannah Brown: Pioneer Girl is the working title. The story is based on the settlement of Pulaski, New York. During a difficult winter move from Vermont to central New York in 1806, a plucky 12-year-old Hannah proves her maturity in hopes of being given the new calf that will be born shortly after the family arrives at their destination.
VS: Hope, I would love for you to share with us what you think are the basic ingredients of a good book?
Hope: Intriguing, unique characters, doing something non-routine that is fun, dangerous, important, or helpful to others that are believable. It must be written in such a way the reader can visualize every scene and action so much he feels he is right there watching it happen.
VS: Now Hope, you have received awards for some of your books. Can you share which ones?
Hope: I’m glad you asked. Here they are:
My Little Book of Bald Eagles
2010 Next Generation INDIE Book Award
Best Children’s/Juvenile Non-Fiction
My Little Book of Manatees
Adirondack Literary Award
Best Picture Book 2007
Adirondack Center for Writing
Picture Book of the Year 2007 Finalist
My Little Book of River Otters
Charlotte Award 2006 Finalist
Isaac Johnson: From Slave to Stonecutter
Charlotte Award 2006 Finalist
My Little Book of Whitetails
Picture Book of the Year 2004 Finalist
Salmon River Odyssey
Certificate of Commendation
American Association of State and Local History (2003)
Isaac Johnson: From Slave to Stonecutter (First Edition)
Notable Children's Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies (1996)
Big Rigs (First Edition)
Junior Literary Guild Selection (1981)
VS: Is there anything else you would like to share with us about being a “Writing Mama”?
Hope: Though my husband and I have not been blessed with children, I come from a family of nine and have lots of extended family. It’s rewarding when they express interest in my writing and when they share their writing with me.
It’s a natural high when I do school presentations or book signings and a child comes to me and confides that he has his own copy of one of my books and tells me “it’s the best book I’ve ever read!”
The World of Ink Network will be touring three of award-winning author Hope Irvin Marston books. Her most recent release Eye on the Iditarod: Aisling’s Quest (ISBN: 978-0-89317-071-4) is a biography, but was written as an autobiography. Windward Publishing (An imprint of Finney Company) released the book December 1, 2011. The other two books on tour are My Little Book of Bald Eagles also from Windward Publishing (An imprint of Finney Company) and Against the Tide: The Valor of Margaret Wilson from P & R Publishing.
You can find out more about Hope Irvin Marston’s World of Ink Author/Book Tour schedule at http://storiesforchildrenpublishing.com/HopeIrvinMarston.aspx. There will be giveaways, reviews, interviews, guest posts and more. Make sure to stop by and interact with Marston and the hosts at the different stops by leaving comments and/or questions. For each comment, you will be entered into the big Giveaway at the end of the tour.
In addition, come listen the February 6, 2012 to Blog Talk Radio’s World of Ink Network show: Stories for Children at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/worldofinknetwork. The hosts VS Grenier and Irene Roth chatted with Hope Irvin Marston about her books, writing, the publishing industry and experiences. The show aired live February 6, 2012 at 2pm EST.