Sharon Cramer – Author Interview

What is your most recent book? Tell us a bit about it.

Cougar Cub Tales: I’m Just Like You

This is the second book in the “Cougar Cub Tales” series. The first one was Cougar Cub Tales: Lost and Alone. Each of the books is about the ongoing adventures of the brother and sister cougar cub, each is written in non-sensical rhyme, and each features 18 watercolor illustrations. More importantly, each deals with an everyday, childhood issue.

Cougar Cub Tales: I’m Just Like You deals with intolerance, especially regarding physical differences and disability. When the cubs encounter a most unusual creature in the woods, for naive and fearful reasons, they do not readily accept the blind bob-cat as “a real cougar-cub”. By the end of the story, they recognize, with the help of their new friend, that they actually are very much the same, overcoming their fear and intolerance of the bobcat’s outward appearances to discover the inner connectedness they share.

Tell us something about yourself.

I was born in New York and have lived throughout the United States, really. When my oldest sons were 8 and 10 yrs. old, my third son was born. I wrote the first cougar cub book about my oldest sons, for my newborn. The issue Cougar Cub Tales: Lost and Alone dealt with was sibling rivalry, spats and resolution of conflict between siblings and friends (obviously having the walls, on some days, come down around me with my older boys, as they were best friends but also best rivals, it was the obvious childhood issue to address).

I am an identical twin, am happily married, have three sons and work as a Nurse Anesthetist. I have been writing my whole life, have tons of short stories and am just now finishing my first novel, it is a work of Historical Fiction taking place in the 14th century France.

What inspired you to write this book?

When my third son was born, I wanted a GOOD piece of children’s literature for him, I was tired of the scads of average, disneyesque (no offense Walt) books available and I wanted a book that had a message, challenged him without talking down to him, and was colorfully illustrated with watercolors. My twin, Vonnie, encouraged me to follow through, as a matter of fact, when the book was done, she was the one who inspired me to publish it.

How did you publish this book? Why did you decide on that publisher?

To tell you the truth, I received many rejection letters. The reason is obtuse… most publishers who accept children’s literature have their own illustrators. They didn’t want the paintings, wouldn’t even consider looking at them… I didn’t NEED to publish it, so refused to compromise. I just kept looking online at publishers, sending out querie letters, and accepting their rejections. Several actually accepted the work on the manuscript alone, but on the condition that I not utilize my paintings. I tried to tell them the “but… these ARE the cougar cubs… there are no others…” but it didn’t seem to help. Then I applied at a local publisher and the lady, I think her name was Linda, was very kind and directed me to Russ and Gray Dog Press. I went in to see him and he perused the manuscript and paintings for what seemed a very long time before finally saying, “yep… I think it has legs…” Gray Dog had never done a kids book and so this has been an adventure for both of us as we find our way along in the promotion of the book.

How did you know you wanted to be a writer? How did you get started?

I can’t not be a writer, it never occured to me to “want” to be one. It’s like asking, ‘how did you know you wanted to breathe air?’ You don’t have to publish to be a writer, although that is gratifying I suppose. I got started by putting words on the page, any words, string them together, put down your feeling, thoughts, dreams, imaginations. Create what it is that you wish you did or didn’t see as you walk through the world.

What do you believe is the hardest part of writing?

The hardest part is staying true to yourself, not being trapped in cliche. I don’t read when I write because I am easily influenced by the styl of the author I am currently reading. It is important to cultivate that style that is inherently YOU… that individual style that makes people say, “wow… unique”. It’s like the saying goes, “be yourself, everyone else is taken.”

How do you do research for your books?

My children’s books I don’t research, they are in my head, along with the paintings, I just put them on the page. The novel I am just now finishing, because it is a period piece, required a good deal of research. I utilize the internet mostly but also grab up every history book that I can of the period that I am writing about. Then, because it’s fiction, it’s no holds barred beyond the accuracy of the moment.

Did you learn anything from writing this book? What?

I learned that children’s literature is the hardest genre to promote. Curiously, it’s not because the kids aren’t interested, it’s because the parents are more interested in their own reading. As much as we love our kids, we are not naturally altruistic when it comes to our kids… we buy them a book for a birthday or something but will splurge on a novel a week for ourselves. I have had countless children reach for the book only to have their parents drag them away to the bestseller or video aisle.

What are you reading now?

I am not reading right now… well, that is not entirely accurate, I am thumbing through “Tribulation Force,” the second installment in a spiritual series about the rapture, but I get annoyed and toss it down only to pick it up again. It’s not the subject material, it’s that the authors ARE cliche`, that attribute I try so hard to avoid. BUT, I have this very annoying habit of having to see a book through to its end, good or bad. It’s an odd respect for the object… the book itself. And then, when I do, if it’s bad, I’m disgusted more with myself than the book.

What types of books do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors? Why?

I like historical fiction, suspence thrillers, romance when it’s good, and comic fiction (of which GOOD comic fiction is rare, for example, “A Dirty Job”) I also like the classics and I would have to say I return to them as favorites. I strongly prefer, for example Steinbeck, especially Cannery Row. I think because these books, the classics, are written by people that I describe above, who are true to themselves, not out to publish, who would have written the book if all they had was a case of Top Ramen and a sheaf of paper and a pencil, stranded forever on an island. That is unique, that is inspiring.

Are you working on your next book? What can you tell us about it?

Having just completed the second of the series of the Cougar Cub Tales, I am gearing up for the third. This one will deal with the everyday childhood issue of illness. Eventually, I wish to cover the concept of death from a child’s perspective. I am also just finishing “The Execution”. It is, as I said a period piece of fiction. A young priest, who suffers great loss, has the formidable task of giving last confession and rites to the condemned. He goes one night to the dungeons to see “the murderer” and enters the cell only to discover his identical twin. The entire book is the one night in the cell as the two share their stories. Can’t give away the ending though…

What is the best advice you could give other writers about writing or publishing?

Uhmm… for me, read a lot, but when you write, don’t read, let it be you. Also, forget everything your ever read or heard in a “great scene”. Don’t let there be any ‘stern visages’, ‘happily ever after’s or ‘stirring in his gut’s… abandon this and make his face ‘cracked like an overbaked custard and hard as a hammer unhappily on your thumb’. Also, don’t underestimate the intelligence of your audience. Have a good editor and assume everyone out there knows everything. Do your homework.

What are you doing to promote your latest book?

That’s a hard one… like I said, I’m discovering that kids books are a challenge. I’m trusting my publisher, going to every signing, reading and promotion that I can, networking, meeting other authors, building a webpage, entering awards contests and putting it up on youtube.