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.
— 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;