Author Interview; Robin Gregory

Today I am so excited to share my interview with award winning author Robin Gregory. Robin was born in Florida but grew up in California. She has worked as a journalist, a lay minister and an infant massage instructor for mothers and babies at risk. Her debut novel The Improbable Wonders Of Moojie Littleman is a beautiful and unique coming-of-age story, a mystical adventure, and quite simply one of the best books I have read in some time. Robin’s book has won the Gelett Burgess Children’s Book of the Year Award 2015, the IPPY Gold Medal – Best Cover Design – 2015, and is currently a finalist in Foreword Reviews – Indiefab Best Books of the Year and a finalist in the International Book Awards- Fiction – Young Adult 2016. Read on to find out more about Moojie Littleman and the inspiration behind it!

1-  The  Improbable  Wonders  of  Moojie  Littleman  is  a  unique  blend  of  magical   realism  and  coming  of  age.  Can  you  tell  us  how  the  book  came  about?  Where  did   the  idea  come  from?

Mostly,  my  son  inspired  the  book.  But  so  much  of  my  own  childhood  went  into  the   mix.  I  was  one  of  eight  kids  growing  up  in  a  pretty  messed  up  Catholic  family.  This   led  to  a  lot  of  heartache,  loneliness  and  feelings  of  “not  belonging.”  I  buried  most   of  those  feelings  for  a  long  time,  then  spent  twenty  years  trying  to  figure  out  why  I   was  so  unhappy.  The  healing  of  these  early  wounds  really  began  when  my   husband  and  I  adopted  a  baby  with  special  needs.  The  “not  belonging”  feelings   surfaced  when  I  witnessed  how  others  excluded  him.  His  daily  struggles  have  been   ongoing,  and  yet,  he  is  the  most  kindhearted,  courageous,  and  bright  boy  I  have   ever  known.  He  has  taught  me  to  forgive  the  past,  and  to  look  for  the  good  in   everyone  I  meet,  starting  with  those  who  exclude  him  or  look  down  at  him.

2-­How  would  you  best  describe  your  genre?  Was  there  an  intention  to  blend   genres,  or  did  the  story  just  evolve  that  way?

Oh  boy.  This  was  a  hard  one  for  me.  I  cringe  at  labels—any  kind  of  labels.  The   human  mind  wants  to  label  everything,  doesn’t  it?  It  wants  to  name,  package,  box   and  brand.  I  have  learned  that  one  of  the  best  ways  to  find  inner  peace  and   happiness  is  to  abstain  from  doing  this.  Our  opinions  are  vastly  limiting  and   troublesome.  MOOJIE  LITTLEMAN  is  about  coming  of  age,  but  also  about  spiritual   awakening.  The  book  would  probably  fall  best  into  the  “Visionary”  category,  but   few  bookstores  have  a  shelf  for  that.  Magical  Realism  works  better  as  a  category   than  Fantasy  since  the  story  is  grounded  in  physical  reality  while  encompassing   mystical  themes.  And  Magical  Realism  gave  me  a  way  to  climb  into  Moojie’s  skin,   and  live  from  a  soulful  point  of  view,  not  just  physical.  I  wrote  the  story  for  fluent   readers  of  all  ages,  but  my  publisher,  editors  and  agent  convinced  me  to  market  it   as  Young  Adult.  They  were  looking  at  Moojie’s  age,  the  PG  rating,  and  the  allusions   to  The  Odyssey,  which  students  in  the  US  study  from  age  12  to  18.  It  pleases  me  to   no  end  that  the  book  has  won  awards  in  Young  Adult  and  Adult  categories.

3-­ Do  you  have  any  personal  beliefs  or  passions  that  influenced  the  book?

To  expand  a  little  on  the  first  question,  my  spiritual  practice  has  been  key  to   shaping  the  story.  I  believe  we  are  all  coming  of  age  spiritually;  that  is  why  we  are   attending  what  a  friend  of  mind  calls  “Earth  School.”  In  the  past  twenty-­one  years,   I  have  seen  all  kinds  of  healing,  and  have  come  to  the  realization  that  nothing  is   incurable.  Several  of  the  so-­called  miracles  in  the  story  actually  did  occur  in  my   life.  A  part  of  me  has  been  wanting  to  teach  others  that  what  they  consider  to  be   miracles  are  perfectly  natural  events.  The  key  to  accessing  miracles  lies  in  our   ability  to  give  up  limiting  beliefs,  judgments  and  labels—to  stop  naming  things,   conditions  and  people  as  “good  or  bad.”  Even  Shakespeare  knew  way  back  that  we   evaluate  others  according  to  our  own  self-­image.  It  is  important  to  remember  that   messed  up  folks  are  doing  the  best  they  can.  Those  who  have  been  mistreated,   mistreat  others.  We  begin  to  stop  the  crazy  cycle  of  fear  and  hatred  by  knowing   and  living  this.  I  am  not  suggesting  that  people  should  not  be  imprisoned  for  their   crimes.  I  am  saying  that  if  we  fear  and  hate  them,  we  are  part  of  the  ongoing   problem.  People  who  fail  to  love  do  so  because  they  do  not  know  how  to  love.   MOOJIE’s  story  is  a  parable  to  help  others  examine  their  actions  and  beliefs.  To   help  stop  the  cycle  of  hatred  toward  oneself  and  others.  Compassion  is  a  mighty   healing  balm.

4-­ Tell  us  about  your  writing  process.  Are  you  a  plotter  or  someone  who  starts   writing,  and  waits  to  see  where  it  will  go?

It  may  have  been  a  great  disadvantage  to  write  MOOJIE  by  the  seat  of  my  pants.  I   had  about  500  pages  before  I  took  a  serious  look  at  story  structure.  Blake  Snyder’s   SAVE  THE  CAT,  a  book  on  scriptwriting,  and  John  Truby’s  THE  ANATOMY  OF  A   STORY,  helped  me  revise  pacing,  action  and  character  arcs.  Would  I  have  saved   myself  years  of  rewriting  had  I  had  a  clearer  vision  of  plotting  in  the  beginning?  Oh   yeah.    But,  what  can  you  do?  Sometimes  you  sit  down  to  write  and  the  bloody     characters  just  take  over.  They  just  do  not  behave  at  all.  Not  very  decent  of  them,   is  it?

5-­ All  the  characters  in  Moojie  Littleman  were  memorable  and  well  drawn  -­  tell  us   how  you  managed  to  create  such  realistic  and  believable  characters?  Are  any   based  on  people  in  real  life?

Thank  you  so  much.  You  know,  from  the  time  I  started  imagining  the  story,  I  was   taking  mental  notes  on  people.  What  was  it  that  made  them  interesting?  What   are  they  pretending  not  to  know?  How  do  language  and  appearance  reveal  their   deeper  beliefs?  And  mostly,  how  are  they  shaping  their  world  through  choices?   Almost  every  character  in  the  book  is  a  composite  of  those  observations,  warts   and  all.  Life  is  not  easy  for  anyone.  I  did  not  want  to  present  characters  as  good  or   bad  as  much  as  being  in  differing  stages  of  awakening.  Each  has  their  own  inner-­ outer  struggle;  each  has  their  limitations  to  overcome.  Like  many  of  us,  they  fail  to   live  up  to  their  own  expectations.  I  ended  up  loving  them  all  for  who  they  are,  and   who  they  are  not.

6-­ Moojie  himself  was  incredibly  endearing.  Is  his  story  over?  Or  will  there  be  any   further  stories?  

I  am  so  glad  you  feel  that  way  about  Moojie!  When  I  set  out  to  write  the  story,  I   knew  that  fictional  characters  with  physical  or  mental  challenges  are  rarely  given   front  and  center  stage.  They  are  usually  confined  to  secondary  roles.  I  felt  it  was   absolutely  imperative  that  Moojie  steal  the  readers’  hearts.  My  son,  who  has  been   blessed  with  amazing  charisma,  helped  a  lot  with  this.  I  would  love  for  Moojie’s   story  to  continue.  Now  that  I  am  acquainted  with  the  characters,  I  know  how  to   take  better  charge  of  them.  I  will  insist  that  they  go  play  elsewhere  while  I  rough­out  the  plot.  Ha!

7-­When  did  you  first  know  you  wanted  to  be  a  writer?

This  question  always  makes  me  smile.  I  often  hear  about  writers  who  knew  of   their  calling  before  they  cut  their  first  teeth.  Not  in  my  case.  I  had  a  tough  time   learning  to  read,  and  a  mother  of  eight  children  has  no  time  to  read  to  her  litter.   My  father  was  a  pilot  in  the  Korean  and  Vietnam  Wars,  and  mostly  gone.  I  didn’t   start  reading  fluently  till  high  school.  My  life  changed  when  I  discovered  Kana  and   Hemingway.  As  a  teenager  living  in  a  perpetual  state  of  underwater,  I  turned  to   journaling  to  save  me  from  the  emotional  tsunamis.  That  led  to  short  stories,   poetry,  and  eventually  longer  fiction.  I  never  thought  of  myself  as  a  writer.  Writing   was  just  something  I  did.

I  love  what  Robertson  Davies,  the  Canadian  novelist,  once  said:  “There  is   absolutely  no  point  in  sitting  down  to  write  a  book  unless  you  feel  that  you  must   write  that  book,  or  else  go  mad,  or  die.”

8-­ Tell  us  about  your  writing  and  publishing  journey  so  far  -­  which  paths  you  have   followed  and  why?

When  I  graduated  from  college,  I  took  an  internship  at  a  local  newspaper.  It  was   fantastic!  I  learned  to  get  that  first  draft  down—and  fast.  That  led  to  writing   freelance  articles,  and  book  and  movie  reviews.  Then  I  wrote  my  first  screenplay   and  novel.  They  were  pretty  awful.  But  they  taught  me  a  lot-­mostly  humility.   Writng  is  like  being  in  the  circus.  You  have  to  jump  though  hurdles  the  same  way   acrobats  jump  through  burning  hoops  in  order  to  learn  how  not  to  make  mistakes   that  get  you  burned.
It  took  thirteen  years  to  write  MOOJIE.  Thirteen  years  because  I  had  to  evolve  in   order  to  deliver  the  story  in  the  manner  it  deserved.  During  that  time,  the  book   has  been  workshopped,  shared  with  a  number  of  alpha  and  beta  readers,  put   through  2  manuscript  consultations  and  edited  by  five  pros.  After  submitting  to   agents  and  getting  nowhere,  I  contacted  publishers  directly.  Three  publishers   offered  me  sub-­standard  contracts,  which  I  turned  down.  (Thank  heavens  SCBWI,   a  writer’s  org  that  I  belong  to,  provided  a  manual  with  standard  publishing   contracts.  Holy  moly!  Publishers  will    take  your  skivvies  if  you  let  them!)  I  wanted   to  keep  my  rights,  to  choose  my  cover,  and  be  the  one  to  decide  when  the  book   was  ready  to  print,  among  other  things.  While  researching  my  options,  I   discovered  Wyatt MacKenzie  Publishing,  Inc.  (h=p:// http://www.wymacpublishing.com/),  a  traditional  publishing  house  that,  for  20  years  has   offered  consultation  and  assistance  to  indie  authors.  I  contacted  some  of  their   authors,  and  they  gave  stellar  reviews.  After  an  hour  consultation  with  Nancy   Cleary,  the  publisher,  I  knew  the  indie  consulting  program  was  right  for  me.  And  it   has  been  fantastic!  I  can’t  say  enough  about  Nancy’s  guidance,  respect,  support,   and  expertise.

9-­ What  advice  would  you  give  to  a  new  author  who  is  about  to  launch  their  new   book?

I  am  assuming  that  the  author  wants  to  be  a  pro.  In  this,  she  has  already  had  her   book  read/reviewed  by  at  least  10  people—beyond  buddies  or  family  members,   who  will  love  every  word  you  write  no  ma=er  what.  I  am  assuming  she  values   brutally  honest  feedback  because  that  is  the  way  the  public  is.  I  am  assuming  that   she  has  listened  to  the  feedback,  and  revised  for  clarity  and  tightness.  I  am   assuming  that  she  has  given  the  book  plenty  of  time  to  ripen.  Right  down  to  the   last  day  before  I  sent  my  book  to  the  presses,  I  was  deleting  or  rewriting  passages   if  they  didn’t  sparkle.  The  editor  had  to  practically  tie  me  down  to  get  me  to  let  go   of  the  manuscript.
That  said:
—  If  you  want  your  book  to  make  a  dent  in  sales,  your  manuscript  must  be   professionally  edited  and  proofed.  The  cover  (front  and  back)  needs  to  be  equally   polished  and  interesting.  Yes,  this  costs  money.  But  if  you  do  not  include  this  in   your  budget,  you  might  as  well  not  spend  the  money  to  publish  (unless  you  are   merely  doing  it  for  family  &  friends).  As  most  of  us  know  by  now,  the  key  to   marketing  rests  upon  getting  reviews.  If  your  cover  isn’t  delicious,  and  your  editing   is  sloppy,  people  won’t  even  sign  up  for  free  copies.  There  are  simply  too  many   other  professional  books  to  choose  from.  A  cover  created  by  your  amazingly   talented  brother  who  won  a  ribbon  in  the  high  school  art  fair,  might  be  beautiful,   but  can  it  stand  up  to  the  covers  on  booksellers’  shelves?  If  not,  your  book  will   probably  disappear  into  cyber  space  with  millions  of  others  whose  authors  were  a   little  too  anxious  to  go  to  press.
—  Start  marketing  your  book  four  months  before  the  release  date.  Yep.  Four   months!  Send  it  to  pro  reviewers  (Kirkus,  Foreword,  Publisher’s  Weekly).  Enter  it   in  contests.  Do  a  few  giveaways.  Create  an  audience  on  social  networks  by  posting   samples,  sharing  news  and  reviewing  similar  books.  This  will  give  you  a  chance  to   build  up  a  pre-­order  list  on  Amazon.  It  is  only  the  beginning.  And  it  is  crucial.

10-­Tell  us  a  bit  about  your  next  release. What are you working on right now?

While  playing  with  a  MOOJIE  sequel,  I  am  also  writing  a  collection  of  inspirational   prayer-­poems  and  a  guide  to  spiritual  healing.  There’s  also  the  audio  book  project   of  MOOJIE,  through  ACX.com.  It’s  an  amazing  process.  I  have  to  give  Amazon   kudos  for  providing  such  a  user-­friendly  service.  However,  my  reader  has  stepped   away  from  the  project  to  sort  out  personal  problems,  so  the  release  is  delayed.

11-­ What  would  you  like  readers  to  take  away  from  The  Improbable  Wonders  of   Moojie  Littleman?

I  would  love  for  my  dear  readers  to  realize  that  freedom  is  a  choice.  No  ma=er   what  difficulties  we  face,  be  it  loneliness,  physical  or  mental  problems,  lack  of   opportunity,  not  enough  money,  lousy  parents,  even  homelessness,  there  is  a   Source  of  unconditional  love  available  to  each  of  us.  We  can  grow  through  joy   rather  than  pain  and  suffering.    It  takes  effort  and  trust  to  rewire  our  thinking,  but   we  can  open  ourselves  to  receive  miracles  that  freely  and  gladly  offered.  When   this  Immaculate  Heart  is  felt  in  the  still,  deep  pool  of  our  being,  we  can  begin  to   experience  joy  and  freedom  beyond  your  wildest  dreams.  I  know  this  is  true.  I   have  lived  it.

Robin, thank you so much for agreeing to do this interview!

You can find out more about Robin by following her on social media;

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