Happy Friday, Y'all! I'm so glad you stopped by to check out my latest interview!
A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of talking to Mary Wilkinson, and I can't wait for you all to meet her. According to her website, she is an author who specializes in books that encourage and inspire readers. Her books are wholesome and age appropriate for children, middle grade readers, and adults. She loves to meet other authors and share her experiences in this business. So, stick around and find out how you can meet this wonderful lady face-to-face.
AJ: Good morning, Mary! Can you tell us a little about yourself and your background that led you to become a writer?
MW: I grew up the second oldest of 13 children. My mom had all 13 of us in 15 years! My dad was an active alcoholic for the first decade of my life. When he turned his life over to Jesus, he quit drinking and he and Mom had to go three nights a week to AA and Al-Anon meetings for him to stay sober. My older sister and I had to babysit the kids. I was the story teller. I would gather them around me each night and tell them a story that would catch their interest. If all of their eyes lit up, I knew I was succeeding. I loved being a story teller. I studied to become an elementary teacher after graduating from high school. I used my storytelling skills in my classroom and at home with my own three children. Soon I started writing some of those stories down on paper and later making up new ones. I always wrote alongside my students and encouraged them to try new genres of writing. I had always wanted to do a novel, so I took my own advice and have loved writing books ever since.
AJ: How many books have you written and in what genre would you classify your works?
MW: I started writing my first middle grade novel, Call Me Lizzy, after a summer program at Ball State University where I was a fellow in the Indiana Writing Project. It was six years later before a publisher contacted me wanting to publish that book. Since then, I have continued to write. I wrote a children's picture book titled Henry Listens Harder, and my second middle grade novel, Room 101, came out in December of 2017. I have also written a biography of my parents' life titled, Sober by the Grace of God, and a biography of my mother-in-law when she was 95. It is titled, A Very Good Life. I think of myself as a Christian Children's Author with some other books thrown in!
AJ: What inspired you to write your first book? Can you tell us about it?
MW: I read many of the books my 5th and 6th grade students chose from the school library, and I always ordered new books from the book club pamphlet I passed out to the class each month. I found that I really liked middle grade fiction, but when the book club began offering my 5th graders Young Adult books that were inappropriate for their age and maturity, I decided to write clean encouraging and uplifting fiction that I would want even my own children and grandchildren to read. My first novel, Call Me Lizzy, was the result of that desire to write wholesome novels for middle grade. I have continued to keep my pledge to write clean Christian fiction for children, teens, and adults.
AJ: Tell us a little about your writing process. Do you work from an outline, or do you prefer to see where the story leads you?
MW: When I start a new book, I know the first page has to catch my readers' attention, so I like to start with dialogue instead of describing the setting. I want the reader to jump right into the middle of things, which dialogue helps me to do so well. I know I have to take my protagonist through some pretty hard problems so that the reader can have empathy with my main character. I line my characters up in my mind and give them names. I write those names in a notebook and underneath their names, I put a short description of each using a few adjectives. I think about how the story will end before I start writing it out, but once I get going, I never know what might happen to get to that ending. It kind of comes to me while I write. Sometimes I might write a chapter and later delete the whole thing or part of it if it is not getting me to the conclusion I want. Once my computer's hard drive crashed and I hadn't saved ten chapters of the novel I was writing onto a jump drive. It was really hard rewriting all of that because I had to remember all of the little things that had happened to my characters in those ten chapters! Now all of my work is backed up to the Cloud so that does not happen to me again.
AJ: Have you had much success in marketing and selling your books? If so, what tips could you give fellow writers who haven't been as blessed?
MW: Marketing is very hard. I am kind of an introvert. I would much rather just write the book and hope it sells by itself, but it doesn't work that way. You have to promote yourself and that is very hard for me. I started with an Author Facebook page and a Twitter account, but I have not had a great deal of success with them selling books for me. I have a web-page, but it doesn't get much traffic either. I think the best way for me to sell books is to speak to groups of people. When I have been asked to speak to women's groups, I usually sell books. I feel that if I sell 10 books at a small event, I have been successful. That means I have to speak at a lot of events! Not a happy thought for me, but when I get discouraged, I turn the problem over to my Heavenly Father and ask Him to send me the people who need to read my books. Then people start calling me instead of me reaching out to them! That makes me so happy! There are also a few yearly events that I try to go to in order to sell my books. Two of them are Christmas Bazaars where I usually sell some books to repeat customers who are looking for my next book. The other one is a vendor booth at a local tractor show. I see lots of people and sometimes I get invitations to come speak to ladies groups, book clubs, and civic groups by being out in the public with the folks who live in my county. Get to know the movers and shakers in your own town and county. When they find out you have a book published, many will spread the word and even ask you to speak at their clubs. I would suggest that a first time author try to get another book finished within a year or two so they can keep their readers in new material. I was pretty slow at that, but I wanted to do a couple of family biographies after my first novel came out, and that pushed my second novel back a couple of years.
AJ: If you could say one thing to your readers, what would it be?
MW: I would tell my readers to remember that life is good. God cares for you, and He will help you be the person He created you to be. No matter how small or shy you are, you can still do great things for your family, school, community, and world with God's help.
AJ: What has been the toughest criticism you’ve received as an author? And the best compliment?
MW: My biggest criticism was from an adult who thought my books were too religious. I have never had a middle grader say that my books were too religious. At the same time, someone I deeply respected who had been in the publishing world told me that it was wonderful how I wove faith throughout my books. I once gave a copy of Call Me Lizzy and Henry Listens Harder to then first lady of Indiana, Karen Pence, now 2nd lady of the United States. She sent me a thank you card saying, "Thank you for sharing your books with me. They are wonderful - hopeful, positive, real messages. I appreciate you giving them to me. Well done!"
AJ: Does your inspiration come from real life or is it purely fictional?
MW: The best writers write from what they know and throw in some fiction to fill in what they don't know. I was an elementary teacher for 29 years before I retired. I know what problems kids have in school. Despite the teachers' and administrators' hard work to eliminate bullying, it continues each year. So my middle grade novels each have bullies for the characters to contend with. Since I grew up in a big family, I made a character in Call Me Lizzy, Lizzy's cousin, Shelby, to have 12 children in her family. I wanted kids to know what it could be like living in such a big family. Since I love Jesus, faith is one of the themes that run through my books, along with many other themes that children struggle with today; divorce, death, loneliness, bullies, making friends, treating people with respect, and caring for classmates with special needs. These are just a few of the themes that wind themselves through my books. The plots and characters of my books are all fiction, but some of the events may have been inspired from things that have happened to me or to my friends when I was in school.
AJ: I know fellow writer and reader would like to discover more about you. Can you tell us how?
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