Interview With Author Robin McElveen

Please introduce yourself and your book(s)!

Hi, there! I’m Robin McElveen, also known as Melody Kittles. I write under a pen name because I hope to one day write non-fiction in addition to the fiction I’m currently working on. I’m a wife (for 25 yrs and counting!) and a stay-at-home mom. I’ve been teaching my kids at home since forever. I started writing seriously in October 2016 when I decided to join Nanowrimo as a school project with my girls. My writing has to be done around the school work so I don’t write full time yet. I’m also doing it all on my own as an independent author who is also self-published. It’s big load but I’m loving every minute of it. I was born and raised on a working farm in Louisiana. I do have a slight Cajun accent but I’m not really Cajun as far as I know.

I have one book published so far — Ripples: Children of Y’Dahnndrya — the first in a series. The second book is in the revision stages now. Over Land & Under Stone will be coming soon to a digital retailer near you. Both are YA fantasy novels, intended to stand alone while being loosely connected, until I get to the final book. I hope they aren’t what you expect them to be. Yep, you probably read that correctly. I want to write something genuinely unique in that genre so I’ve been working hard at it.

What is/are the story(ies) behind your book(s)?

Oh, gosh! I’ve loved fantasy for so long. Even as a child, I loved the more fanciful, magical stories. My mother used to purchase the Childcraft yearbooks. I don’t know if many of your readers will remember them but they were my window to learn about places and people I’d never heard of before. My love of legends, mythology, cultures, and the unexplained probably started there. I have three children and the main character in my first book has a brother and sister. So the family relationships are based on my own experiences as a wife, a mom, a sister, and a friend. I think life is about continual learning and growth. Many times that’s painful, but a lot of good can come out of painful times. I hope to convey positive and encouraging messages through my books but I also want to keep them entertaining.

Ripples is the first book in the Children of Y’Dahnndrya series. You ask what the story behind it is, and I think I would have to answer one word: connections. Family ties are very important to me. We may not always get along, don’t always agree, but I know my family will stand by me and help when I need it. There are also the connections with friends to consider. Then the connection with community comes next, followed by connection to your region, your culture, and then the world. We’re all connected and I truly believe that. One person can make a difference, even if it’s small at first.

I’m currently working on book two in the series, Over Land & Under Stone. My projected publishing date is Autumn 2019 but I may push it back to winter 2020 due to life being awfully hectic this year. The manuscript started in a mess and I’m still working to iron it out. The overall theme of book two, so far is moving forward and stepping up even when you may not want to.

What inspires/inspired your creativity?

Art, music, books, life — they all inspire me on a daily basis. I usually avoid mainstream media. I don’t like the sensationalism many people seem to favor. My favorite authors are J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, & Francine Rivers. I prefer reading older books because I find the style more uplifting than the modern books of today. Having said that, I’ve read some really awesome books from some great modern authors, too.

I grew up in a musical family and music plays a huge role in my life. While writing, I like to listen to ambient atmospheric music without lyrics. When I’m really struggling to keep up a steady pace, I listen to synthwave. The steady rhythms help me keep going. Each of my rough drafts has a YouTube playlist to go along with it. I keep the playlists for the dormant stories locked until I start working on them again. I’m actually working with a friend to create a soundtrack for my books. It’s exciting to think I’ll finally get a chance to record music.

Art and books are connected for me. Cover art is important in so many ways. When I’m reading a book about an MC with brown hair and slim build, I don’t want to see a buxom blonde on the cover. I think the reason I’m like this is when I was young, my mother was good about choosing books with beautiful artwork or fun cartoon pictures for us to read. They helped fill out the story in ways the words might have missed. My favorite artists work in watercolor and inks, except for Boris Vallejo who, I believe, worked in oils. (I’m not sure about the medium, so please don’t quote me!) Brian Froud is another favorite who caught my attention when “The Dark Crystal” came out back in the 80’s. I actually read the book before I got to see the moving I didn’t know his name at the time. I didn’t learn that until many years later. His fanciful artwork centering around the fae just grabbed hold of my heart.

How do you deal with creative block?

I work on one of my other projects. I always have several things going at one time. I don’t know why but it’s always been that way. I can’t tell you how many sewing projects I’ve got piled up in my sewing corner right now. And the beading projects! There are a few of those, too. I haven’t tried this yet, but using prompts might be helpful. Oh! And I also like to fill in character profile worksheets and interviews. That’s always helpful since knowing your characters well means you can do a better job writing about them.

What are the biggest mistakes you can make in a book?

Oh, wow…I repeat things and go on and on about non-essential information. I cut quite a lot during my revision process. I have a wide vocabulary but sometimes it fails me and I end up using the same word over and over again. And where I could be more clever in describing a place or situation, I sometimes fail miserably. So I think the biggest mistake in creating literature is failing to edit and revise many, many times. I think I read somewhere about a well-known author saying to edit and when you thought you were done, edit it again. I know for a fact, that’s the truth. I can’t afford a professional editor yet. My books are around 100k words. That adds up quick, even at a penny a word. So I am working to build a beta reader following and relying on friends and family to help as much as they can.

Do you have tips on choosing titles and covers?

Stay informed and up-to-date on what’s currently popular. Also stay true to yourself and your book’s content. It may take a while to find the right elements and put them together correctly (if you’re working on your own like me) or to find the right artist to work with but it’s worth all that effort in the end. It’s the initial bait to hook your reader so don’t be afraid to spend a little more time getting it right. If you’re working with an artist, don’t be afraid to ask for samples of their work and references. It is a business transaction after all.

How do bad reviews and negative feedback affect you and how do you deal with them?

Well, I haven’t had any reviews yet. I’ve had people talk to me about my book but none of them have left an actual review. But, I do know from reading in a lot of forums that it’s best to leave negative reviews alone. Don’t sweat it. Learn what I can from it. If the reviewer presents a genuine problem, use it as a lesson for future writing. If they didn’t even take the time to be constructive, I think it’s best to just shrug my shoulders and continue on. If you love what you do, and I most certainly love what I do, then the negative opinion of one or two others shouldn’t matter at all. The purpose of reviews is to help other readers find books they may like and the fact is, not everyone is going to like my book. I’m OK with that.

How has your creation process improved over time?

In 2016, I had no other books in the works. I started in October and followed the Young Writers Program suggestions with my girls. World building and character creation was so much fun! Then came the next Nano event. I wasn’t ready, not even close. I had no outline, just a vague idea of who my characters were and what a few of their struggles were going to be. I wrote the chapters as they came to me and ended up with an mishmash of ideas I had to sort through. The plot was vague. The only strong things were the characters and the scenery, at least in my head. I’m not sure how the scenery will come across to a reader, even now. I made sure to put together an outline for the next two rough drafts. (Yes, there are two other books for the series in the rough draft stage.) Things went better. I’ve learned it’s much better to have an outline when you start a rough draft, even if you don’t stick to it as if it was Gospel truth. It was apparent early on that I’d need several binders to keep my world details handy and safe from digital failure. I have a nice collection on my shelf now and a nice way of organizing everything.

What were the best, worst and most surprising things you encountered during the entire process of completing your book(s)?

Never think once your book is in its final state that the hard part is done. As an independent author, there were so many non-writing things I had to learn about, am still learning about, if I’m honest. The copyright registration process is, at least, pretty straightforward and quite affordable. Buying ISBNs is easy but costly. Filling in the information, on the other hand was daunting at first. Shopping for a POD (print-on-demand) publisher was somewhat scary and not as affordable as I’d hoped. Since I created my own covers, I had to work on mine several times before it came out to the correct dimensions, even with the figures the company gave me.

The best thing, hands down, is holding that finished copy in your hands and knowing you did it. Start to finish, you crafted something that is a small piece of your heart and it’s now out there for the world to enjoy…or hate. It’s up to them. It may not be perfect. In fact, it most likely isn’t. But it’s yours. You did it. And you can tell all the naysayers to stuff it by simply smiling and pointing them to it. My book is in two local libraries and available in ebook format in several libraries across my state. That’s exciting to me, too. A lot of my friends and family can’t afford to purchase my book. (POD books are of necessity somewhat higher in price than mass marketed books.) Now they have the chance to read it, too.

I guess the most surprising thing was having so much fun creating book-themed art and a book trailer. I learned so much about how a short film is put together. I didn’t have a lot of time to work on it, so I know it could be much improved, but I’m happy with the results for the time I spent on it. My husband was so helpful and encouraging during this portion of the work, especially. Digital photography/videography and graphic art are his realm more than mine. He was an invaluable source of information. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from the people closest to you! Another surprising and fun thing I did was creating a quiz based on the characters from Ripples. It was so much easier to do that than it was to do any of the other things on my to-do list.

Do you tend towards personal satisfaction or aim to serve your readers? Do you balance the two and how?

I’m more about personal satisfaction. But I also want to take my readers into consideration. I think paying attention to those who are helping you by beta reading and proofreading helps to balance it out. If I wrote solely for readers, I’d be writing in a different genre altogether and I’d probably end up with a stomach ulcer. I don’t generally like what the majority of people enjoy. But people are people no matter where you go. I think if you write your characters with truth, giving them some flaws and struggles to fight against, I think people will enjoy connecting with them more.

What role do emotions play in creativity?

I’m sure they play a big role. When I’m in work-mode, deep in work-mode, I’m so utterly focused, I don’t even know if I feel anything at the time the words get typed onto the screen. It’s later when I’m revising that I can see if something is tugging at my heart or making me want to jump for joy or having me send a file to the recycle bin.

Do you have any creativity tricks?

Not that I can think of. I usually get these flashes of ideas at odd times then go running to my desk to grab a paper and pen to jot them down. I just have a lot of stuff piled up in my head. Forty-three years is a long time to hoard a stash of ideas.

What are your plans for future books?

I have a total of four novels in the “Children of Y’Dahnndrya” series so far, as well as a couple of short stories that take place in that world. The series is meant to be comprised of books that can stand alone but I’m wondering if I’ll be able to manage that after working on the current WIP. I like books to have some closure so that if a reader picks up a tome that comes in the middle of a series, the stories that come before aren’t spoiled for them. And if they never pick up another one of the series, it won’t be so awful to stop with just one book. Over Land & Under Stone has been a problem child in several ways up to this point. But I’m not giving up on it. I love the characters in the story and I like how things are coming along. Book three is called “Surge” and book four is called “Bid the Fallen Rise.” I’m really looking forward to writing the next one so it’s a great motivator, keeping me moving with book 2.

Tell us some quirky facts about yourself.

I’m definitely quirky. I’m old-fashioned in a lot of ways, but also open-minded. I think putting a block on music because there are words that some people don’t like in them is not necessarily a good thing. Some home school families confine their kids to a particular set of people. I tried to find as many outside activities as possible to get our kids into groups where they meet people from all walks of life. We were part of the Society for Creative Anachronism for a few years (too few!) and I rediscovered sewing then. I now enjoy creating garb from the Middle Ages, as well as cosplay costumes based on favorite anime and manga characters. Steampunk offers epic costuming opportunities, too. I do my best to avoid films and books that present sex as a game and relationships as something to be used and then thrown away. I do not consider them to be so easily discarded. I’m kind of a packrat, I guess, though I try to keep it under control. We have multiple bookshelves overflowing with books I’ll probably never use but can’t bear to get rid of. As soon as they’re gone, I’ll wish I hadn’t done it. It’s the same with cloth scraps — I’m a quilter. Remember when I mentioned I’m part of a musical family? We own a hammered dulcimer, a bazouki, two guitars, a piano, four ukuleles, a set of bongos, a couple of lap harps, an ocarina, several types of flute, a full-sized keyboard and who knows what else. I’m losing track as I mentally sift through the inventory. Most of them are old and in need of some repairs. Thankfully, my son is learning about piano repair in his spare time and has already fixed a broken key. I enjoy reading manga and watching anime. My favorite series is probably Fruits Basket. I’m a big fan of Pusheen and Mangobrown. Another thing that might be considered quirky, is my love of wide-leg pants and big earrings. On the matter of coffee, I was drinking that hallowed beverage for breakfast probably as early as third grade. I hope I never have to go without.


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