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Interview with Claudia Osmond, author of SMUDGE’S MARK

I met the fabulous Claudia Osmond through Twitter (where she’s @claudiaosmond), when she organized the very first in-person tweetup of Torkidlit. Hugely supportive of the local writers’ community, Claudia interviews writers and talks about writing on her blog, Where the (not-so) Wild Things Are. Her first book, Smudge’s Mark, came out from Simply Read Books earlier this year.

How long have you been writing?

Thanks to spending much of my early years with Dr. Seuss, I’ve always had an obsession with letters and words (and thus, writing materials) and have been writing for as long as I can remember.

But way-back-when it was purely for my own entertainment; mostly in the form of poems, journal entries, skits, and just random thoughts and phrases that I either read somewhere or just made up myself.

I didn’t start writing in earnest until about ten years ago, and, well, even then it was more for the fun of it than anything, just because I love doing it.  

When/how did you make your first sale?

My first sale came in February of 2006. I’d started writing that book in 1999, completely in secret. And actually very literally and appropriately in a closet. Because publication had never crossed my mind, I just took my time with it, enjoying my writing process for what it was. Ahh, no pressure at all.

As the book was nearing completion, in a moment of, oh I don’t know, a brain lapse, I told a friend of mine that I was writing a book. Well, then the pressure was on! She immediately said I must try to get it published. I balked at the idea for quite some time; after all, whose friend wouldn’t tell them their book is great and encourage them to try to get it published? Friends are always so biased.But this friend of mine wouldn’t let up and she eventually wore me down.

And, really, the more I thought about it myself, the more the idea of having a published book sounded appealing. So I spent a good year researching publishers, reading every book on getting published I could get my hands on, and then drafting and sending out query packages.

Out of the twenty-five or so packages I sent out, I got five favorable responses; two of which came after I’d already signed my contract with my current publisher.

Wow, you started writing your book in a CLOSET? You wouldn’t happen to have any photos I could include with the interview, would you? 🙂

Ha! You know, I actually took pics of my closet before we moved from that house, but I didn’t have a digital camera at the time and took them with a roll of film. I hadn’t been able to find it, but just the other day while I was cleaning stuff out for our current move, I found a roll of film! It might be the one. I’ll have to get it developed and if my closet is on it, I’ll scan and send your way. —- yay!

I’m glad your friend wore you down and encouraged you to try to get it published! Also sounds as if you did a ton of research before sending it out. You mentioned you read a bunch of books about publishing…any you’d like to recommend to Inkygirl readers?

So the books I read over and over, pretty much memorizing every detail so as not to miss a thing are:

1. Getting your Book Published for Dummies. Sarah Parsons Zackheim and Adian Zachkheim, Wiley Publishing Inc.

2. The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Publishing. Harold Underdown, Penguin Group USA Inc.

3. The Everything Guide to Writing Children’s Books. Lesley Bolton, Adams Media Corporation. (chapters 10-20 are on publishing – what to do before, during, and after)

Heh! The titles pretty much describe how I felt about the whole thing at the time! 🙂 A couple other books about writing I’ve felt to be particularly helpful both now and before pub:

On Writing, Stephen King

The Plot Thickens, Noah Lukeman

You mentioned that you received more favourable responses -after- you already signed the contract with your current publisher. If you could go back in time to when you were first sending out queries, is there anything you’d do differently?

This is a tough one to answer. I’m thrilled with my book and had I not gone down the route I chose I wouldn’t have the exact finished product I have now. Nor would I have had the opportunity to work with the two editors that I learned so much from. However, I did learn from that experience.

First of all, I’d spend more time querying AGENTS, not publishers. Having an agent would be so beneficial on so many levels. Those of you who have a fabulous agent can probably attest to the geniusness of your agent 1,000 times over. I know. I’ve read all about them on Twitter! 🙂

Secondly, if I had the choice to do it over the way I DID it, I’d query my top five publishers first and wait to hear back from them before moving on to my next five.

What inspired you to start the Torkidlit group?

Why did I start the torkidlit group? Do you want the selfish or selfless motivations? Because there are a bit of both. The selfish motivations being: I wanted a group that I could be a part of that a) was fun, b) was full of like-minded people, c) was a place where I knew I didn’t have to explain or apologize for my obsession with, frustrations about, and absolute sense of fulfillment I get from writing.

I wanted to be part of a group where conversation about writing flowed naturally and was expressed by and understood by everyone. I also wanted a totally unstructured, informal social group where I could just hang out and be with awesome people. Luckily for me, all of my selfish motivations have paid off!

The selfless motivation for starting torkidlit (notice there’s only ONE of these?) is really double-sided: I wanted to help promote and empower Toronto area kidlit writers as a whole. I figured the promotion piece would be relatively easy. I knew that once the group started up, word would fly throughout the twitterverse and eventually make its way across the blogosphere.

Toronto is an awesome, amazing city that is home to countless equally awesome and amazing talent. And we all know the online community is great at promoting awesomeness. But it was the empowerment piece that had me a little nervous. I mean, really. I want to empower a group of authors, many of whom are far more accomplished than I am. That doesn’t even make sense. But I have always had a passion for art and artists and one of my greatest dreams is to have a hand in bringing local artists together.

That makes total sense to me: bringing like-minded people together. I think it’s such a rare and beautiful thing, in our highly competitive society, when people can come together in community to encourage and celebrate each other. A strong sense of solidarity is created through being in community. And that’s what brings empowerment.

What is your writing process?

Ha! I’ve often wondered that myself. I was just showing my husband my notebook this morning and it’s a very clear illustration of how my brain is… um… organized.

There are very definite sections in this notebook, but they’re all written in different colours, none of them are chronological, there are huge gaps of blank paper between most, and some sections are even written upside down. Each one does have a header, though, so at least I know which section is for what.

So, using that as an illustration, there you have my writing process: not at all linear. I tend to isolate sections, or chapters, knowing fairly clearly what the focus is. I work within each as a complete yet pliable thought. In the end I find myself with a ton of puzzle pieces, each piece being relatively shaped but still needing to be snapped into place.

Now, to this revelation of madness, some of my critics may say, “Aha! I knew she wasn’t a plotter!” But on the other hand I’ve been assured by my editor that my process is the strength of my writing. So, that’s the answer I’m going with! You know, it’s really easy for me to get discouraged while I’m writing, especially when

I start listening to the voices inside my head that say I don’t “do it the right way.” I always have doubts. I always wish I could be a plotter, to have the ability to think of my stories from beginning to end. I imagine that would save me a lot of grief. But you know, I’ve come to learn that the way I write IS the right way. For me. And to try to do it any other way would mean that I wouldn’t be true to my writer-self and my story wouldn’t be told the way it needs to be. I just have to keep reminding myself of that.

In your notebook, do the sections correspond to different plot sections? Background info?

The sections correspond to everything – plot, background, dialogue, quotes that I like. I’ll even find a note or two that don’t relate to anything at all or a map showing the location of our new house!

re: writing process. So you do your planning on paper, not on your computer?

If the planning gets too complex then I have to sort it out on paper. If it’s just simple and flows fairly easily then I can just do it right in the document. Although most times even the simplest of ideas becomes complex in my mind and then I’ve got to transfer to paper anyway. I have a really hard time keeping things simple and linear. You know those brainstorming webs that go off in twenty different directions? That’s how I think all the time. And that’s why I’m so thankful that my editor is so amazing at her job.

What are your current/upcoming projects?

Currently, and most pressingly, I am finishing up the sequel to SMUDGE’S MARK. The working title is Gil’s Tattoo and there is no definite date yet for release. I think they’re aiming for sometime in fall, 2011.

 I am also in the revising stage of an adult short story for the forthcoming Chinese Whisperings Yin Book Anthology and working on another fantasy, but this time the MC is an 11-year-old girl. I’ve got a couple other projects in the incubation stage, one of them being the story of a young girl caught up in the sex-trade in Kolkata, India.

To find out more about Claudia, visit the following links:

Smudge’s Mark

Q&A with Claudia Osmond

Where the (not-so)Wild Things Are (Claudia’s blog)

Twitter: @claudiaosmond

For more insights from book creators, see my Inkygirl Interview Archives and Advice For Young Writers And Illustrators From Book Creators.