Recently, I joined Southwest Writers, an organization in Albuquerque, New Mexico, that serves writers of fiction and nonfiction in every genre worldwide. It is an honor to get to know the esteemed members and to be the fortunate recipient of the myriad of webinars offered by the organization. As a welcome, Kathy Wagoner, a Board member and website facilitator, published this interview in the latest issue of the SWW's newsletter. If you would like to learn more about the organization, please visit https://www.southwestwriters.com/.
Former elementary school teacher Linda Wilson has written over 150 articles for children and adults, along with short stories and books for children. Her dream to be a children’s book author came true in 2020 with the publication of Secret in the Stars: An Abi Wunder Mystery, the first book of a ghost/mystery trilogy. You’ll find Linda on her website LindaWilsonAuthor.com and her Amazon author page. Visit the Writers on the Move blog where she’s a contributing author.
What would you like readers to know about the story you tell in Secret in the Stars. My fondest desire is to create entertaining stories for young children about nature and the great outdoors. I would like readers to get swept away with the story and come away with a desire for adventure and exploring sports and outdoor activities.
What unique challenges did this work pose for you? My biggest challenge in attempting to write a novel was living in a small town with no critique partners. I was a member of the Society of Children’s Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), but because of distance, couldn’t be involved. It took about eight years to finish Stars. The biggest help was moving to Albuquerque and finding critique partners. Thanks to my connection with the New Mexico chapter of SCBWI here in Albuquerque, I finally learned enough to publish the book. I have since finished Secret in the Mist and two picture books.
Who are your main characters, and why will readers connect with them? In the beginning of Stars, eleven-year-old Abi is anxious to get home from a camping trip with her grandfather. The first day of Summer Art Camp starts that afternoon. But her plans are dashed when her grandpa’s car breaks down and she becomes stranded at an old country inn. Abi, who lives in an apartment two hours away and is not athletic, meets eleven-year-old Jess, who lives in the country and is good at sports. A friendship blossoms based on the girls’ interest in solving the mystery in the story, and also on how much they admire each other. As a budding artist, Abi is aware of the world around her and uses her memory to create sketches of all that interests her. By Secret in the Mist, book two, she has awakened an interest in art in Jess. Jess is a fast runner, a good swimmer, and in Mist she takes Abi horseback riding. By the end of Stars, Abi finds that she can run faster than ever before. In Mist, she finds that she’s good at horseback riding, too. My hope is that Abi and Jess become role models for my readers.
Why did you decide to use the particular setting you chose? I love this question because Stars and Mist both take place in fictional Pine Hill, a town based on Purcellville, Virginia, a beautiful town where we lived in the heart of horse country near where Jackie Onassis rode horses. In book three, Secrets of the Heart, we go to Abi’s apartment, which I think many readers will be able to connect with.
The country setting is deliberate, written for children who know and love the country, and also for children who do not have the opportunity to spend time in the country. There are personal reasons, too, which include the inn in Stars (based on an 18th century B & B a mile down the road from our house), and in Mist, horseback riders trotting their horses on our road and a marsh across the road where a bullfrog lived.
Where did the story idea come from? We had so many guests for a wedding once that some needed to stay at the B & B down the road. Before our guests arrived, I paid the B & B a visit. The 18th century white-washed stone building loomed high on a hill, down a long, winding dirt road. Along the way, cows grazed on lush green grass and flowers bloomed in gardens, completing the Virginia country charm.
The proprietress sat me down in the old-fashioned parlor and regaled me with tales of the many renovations her husband had recently completed. On our way upstairs to see the bedrooms, I thought she said, “Oh, here’s my husband now.” I turned, expecting to see her husband climbing the stairs behind us. But I saw no one. Her eyes fell on a silhouette stenciled on the wall. I followed her gaze of a man in overalls and straw hat, lantern in hand, appearing to hurry up the stairs.
Without another word, she continued to the second-floor landing. I followed, perplexed. Where was her husband, I wondered? I asked her, still expecting to see him. She looked surprised and said, “Oh, he died a year ago.” Died? But he’s here. I can feel his presence. He hadn’t yet left her side. I knew that, though how I’ll never know. But I felt the truth of his presence in my bones. She tilted her head in the oddest way and added, “Why, I lost my Herbert a year ago, to the day!” She added, “I painted Herbert’s silhouette on the wall, as he so often looked on his way to bed.” Color rose to her cheeks. “I suppose it’s silly, but it’s my way of keeping him close.” I went home with the idea of her husband’s ghost dancing in my head and then finding his way into my heart. I still get goose bumps every time I think of that eerie encounter.
What was it like working with a cover designer and Tiffany Tutti, the illustrator for the book? I gave Tiffany my vision of what my characters looked like and the scenes I wanted to see portrayed. I used two to three traditionally published model books because I wanted Stars to look professional. I think we succeeded. As a self-published author, I was able to find two terrific companies to format Stars and create the cover using the manuscript and illustrations by Tiffany Tutti, Formatted Books, and 100 Covers. In addition to the book cover,100 Covers also created a beautiful media image, which I’m very proud of.
Tell us how the book came together. By the time I retired, I had written many articles for adults and children, had been editor of a newsletter, and helped a fellow author interview and write biographies of people who grew up in Westford, Massachusetts where my family lived at the time. I had always wanted to write fictional stories for children. I began by writing and publishing short stories. Stars is my first book. Though like many writers, I have partially written manuscripts stashed away in my drawer.
The illustrations for Secret in the Stars, and the completed book, were accomplished with what is known as a “vanity publisher.” I worked with a terrific editor, staff, and illustrator while the book was in production. Just days before the book was to be published, I read 10 Publishing Myths by W. Terry Whalin, a fellow contributor to www.writersonthemove.com. From the get-go Whalin advises googling any company you’re about to do business with to check for complaints: “company name + complaints.” Was I in for a shock. I was directed to a private Facebook page of authors numbering forty-nine at the time, who had not received any royalties for their books for over two, sometimes, three years. I was lucky. When I cancelled my account, I was able to retrieve my files right away, both the illustrations and the interior, and was able to publish the book on Amazon. Other authors weren’t so lucky. Today there are many more authors involved and some were never able to retrieve their files. We have retained an attorney who has been helping the authors as well as finding ways to put this company (one man) out of business.
What do you know now that you wish you’d known when you began your writing/publishing journey?
How much revision is needed to create a polished manuscript.
How important knowledgeable critique partners are in editing things I can’t see, and also how much I’ve learned and enjoyed by critiquing their works.
How long it would take to feel competent in writing fiction. I knew it would be difficult and I had read that an overnight success takes fifteen years. I suppose I’m about at that mark, fifteen years! However, I wouldn’t change my experience as a writer for anything in the world.
Is there anything else you’d like readers to know? A Packrat’s Holiday: Thistletoe’s Gift is available in eBook, and the September 2021 paperback copy is available in full color on Amazon. Discounted and signed copies of Packrat’s Holiday and Secret in the Stars are available by ordering from LindaWilsonAuthor.com. Chris Eboch, prolific author and editor from Socorro, New Mexico, says of Packrat’s Holiday, “Children will love this story, where the littlest creatures have adventures and become heroes. Fun language and cowboy slang make for a great read aloud.” My next picture book, Tall Boots, features a 4-H Horse Show complete with the official 4-H name and emblem. Tall Boots will be available soon. You can read about the books on my SWW author page.
KL Wagoner (writing as Cate Macabe) is the author of This New Mountain: a memoir of AJ Jackson, private investigator, repossessor, and grandmother. Kathy posts to a speculative fiction blog at klwagoner.com and writes about memoir at ThisNewMountain.com.