Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Mechanical Mind of John Coggin Blog Tour Interview

Earlier this month, I shared my absolutely, all-out love for The Mechanical Mind of John Coggin by Elinor Teele. Now I'm over the moon to be part of the blog tour and to share my interview with Elinor with you!
I describe this book as an adventure that blends the twists and turns of A Series of Unfortunate Events and the essence of your favorite Roald Dahl characters into one nonstop novel!

I'm sure you'll enjoy Elinor's thoughts about writing and her process. I'm especially fond of the advice she shares and think student writers would benefit from hearing these words of encouragement!

TMT: Can we meet for coffee so I can pick your brain in person, please!?

Pick away! There’s not much left after winter, but you might find a few scraps of rhymes and a couple of ladybugs wandering around in there.

TMT: Just kidding! But I am so curious about how you tackle character development. All of your characters are unique and multi-faceted. What insight can you share about how you bring a character to life?

Many of my characters start with an unusual detail that I’ve observed in life or read about in non-fiction accounts—the talisman in a pocket, the habitual twitch of a foot, the odd cadence of a man’s speech. That’s a start.  

However, as the story grows, characters begin to tell me how they’re going to behave. For example, I had little control over Boz’s movements—once I’d established his red hair and his speech pattern, he was off like a proverbial rocket. I often had to shove him out of scenes.

Great-Aunt Beauregard was different. She and I are still arguing about the merits of her position in the narrative. Yes, she’s nutty and has bizarre views on child labor, but she believes in family unity and a stable income stream. Those are pretty strong arguments in today’s world.

In general, I try not to think too hard about development during the first draft. But in subsequent drafts, and with the help of editors/readers, I’ll go back and see if my characters are lapsing into two-dimensions. It usually indicates that I haven’t been listening to their voices.  

TMT: What are you reading and loving right now (or recently)? What are some ways what you have read influences your own writing?

I’ve just finished the draft of a new book, so I’ve been trying to avoid recent fiction. It’s depressing to encounter the Statue of David when you’re hacking away at a lump of granite with a pickaxe.

For the most part, I’m a magpie. Along with books (new and old), I’ll pick up ideas for themes and plots from magazine articles, graffiti, news, information plaques—whatever is floating in the atmosphere.

For instance, I was recently reading Kepler’s Witch by James Connor and got caught up in the concept of geometry being proof of divine reason. I’d like to work that into a story at some point.  

And I’ll always return to Dickens. I’m wandering through his canon at the moment and taking mental notes on his technique. It’s fasc-i-nating to see how he constructs a scene—again, usually starting with a tiny observation that blossoms into an extended metaphor.

TMT: What is the best writing advice you have received and what advice would you give student writers?

The most important piece of advice I’ve ever encountered comes from a cartoon. It’s a picture of a crane trying to swallow a frog. Though the frog is well and truly screwed, he has his flippers clamped firmly around the crane’s throat. The caption reads:


You will want to pack it in millions of times. You can’t. You have to believe.

The second piece of advice comes from my agent, Steven Chudney. When I was wrestling with plot direction, he gave me the following phrase:

  • “This is a story about [X] who wants more than anything in the world to [Y] but can’t because of [Z].”

I often repeat it when I’m getting muddled. Don Quixote wants to right the wrongs of the world. D’Artagnan wants to be a noble musketeer. Odysseus just wants to go home.

For kids who want to be writers, the third piece of advice is:

  • Observe and report.

Every person you meet has a hidden tale. Every detail is potential fodder. Every trip, even a walk to school, is a chance to amass material—dialogue, scenery, action sequences…  

Keep your eyes and ears and heart open and record your experiences. Don’t worry about what you’ll use this material for. Just get it down on paper. The stories will come.

TMT: Finish the statements: “Reading is…” and “Writing is…”

Reading is exploration.

Writing is procreation.   

A giant thanks to Elinor for her wonderful interview and Walden Pond Press for the opportunity to review the book and be part of the blog tour. Be sure to find Elinor Teele at her website. And check out the Educational Activity Kit based on the book for use in the classroom or library.

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