Welcome to the three hundred and thirtieth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with humorous non-fiction author Amy L Peterson. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Amy. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
Amy: I’m the stepmother of four kids, wife of an obsessed fisherman, grant program manager, caretaker of over a dozen animals, photographer and outdoor nut. I’ve been writing since I first held one of those fat pencils, and won a Law Day essay contest in middle school (the award for which was meeting a grumpy judge and watching two feisty law students engage in a debate). Winning that contest inspired me to continue writing, so I went on to earn a journalism degree (and a biology degree) from Michigan State University back when computers screens were green. In October 2009, I started blogging about nature, pets and life, and my first book, From Zero to Four Kids in Thirty Seconds, was released in December 2011. I live in Michigan.
Morgen: I remember those fat pencils. I think they still sell them at the seaside over here. 🙂 What genre do you generally write?
Amy: I generally write humor. My book is my humorous story of becoming a stepmother, and I wrote it because a lot of other stories about stepmotherhood are as uplifting as three-legged frogs. I try to use a fun, casual style and include interesting chapter titles and tips. For example, the chapter where I meet the four kids is called “The Dreaded Children” and the chapter where I finally meet my beau’s ex-wife is called “So Nice Not to Meet You”. Amongst the 70 tips is “Tip 44: You can’t trade a bad kid for a good head of lettuce,” (and I know this to be true because I tried).
Postings on my blog, http://www.amylpeterson.com, are also often light-hearted. My Valentine’s Day posting featured fishing lures I got from my fisherman-husband. An older posting called The Pursuit of Things is about how I accidently became “one of those crazy Black Friday shoppers”. Halloween Bah Humbug bemoans the fact that Halloween isn’t scary like it used to be and how kids lack that competitive spirit I had when I was a kid. I also blog about my pets and interactions with wildlife, such as the posting called The Rude Hawk, about a hawk that plucked a mourning dove off my deck. More recent blog postings include excerpts from my book, and book-related events, like this one.
Morgen: Your blog sounds like fun. What have you had published to-date? Do you write under a pseudonym?
Amy: Early on, I wrote articles for publication in magazines, including a fun story published in Montana Magazine about going backpacking with my future husband, Mark, and getting lost for five days. My publications are all links or PDFs on my web site. I haven’t found a need for a pseudonym yet, though if I get arrested and jailed, I’ll probably use one.
Morgen: Let’s hope you don’t need one then. Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Amy: When I was writing magazine publications, I had so many rejections I set up an Excel file to make sure I didn’t send things to the same publisher a second time. I’ve since gotten rid of the computer the Excel file was on and threw out all the old letters. Or burned them. Or shot them to smithereens.
Morgen: I have an Excel file for the exact same thing. I know an author who accidentally sent the same thing to two magazines, had the first one accepted then kept everything crossed that the second was rejected, which fortunately it was. Are your books available as eBooks? Were you involved in that process at all?
Amy: From Zero to Four Kids in Thirty Seconds is an e-book on Amazon.com for a mere $1.99 US dollars. I hired someone to help with the formatting of the e-book because I have as much patience for that kind of thing as I do getting cavities filled. In March, I paid someone to format my book as a paperback on Amazon; the paperback has a glossy cover and fancy fonts, and you get all that for $10.50 US dollars. While figuring out all the formatting stuff, I had 40 paperback copies printed at Michigan State University—MSU has a machine that can crank out a paperback book in the time it takes to make a cup of espresso. Those were real handy to give to friends, family members and book reviewers. And speaking of reviews, Joy V. Smith—whom you interviewed in February—did a very nice review of my book on The New Book Review site and on Amazon. You can see other review comments on Amazon and also on my landing page.
Morgen: Ah yes, Joy. She’s also had a couple of flash fictions. 🙂 Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Amy: So far, I am a paperback junkie, but only because my husband didn’t get me a Kindle for Christmas. (It’s so fun to tease him). Seriously, I think if I didn’t sit in front of a computer most days, e-books might be more appealing, but right now, paperbacks are still my preference.
Morgen: Most of my interviewees have said that. I love my Kindle although it’s only a few weeks old so still a novelty but I can’t see books disappearing, just running alongside each other. How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Amy: I am in the early phases of marketing, and am branding myself everywhere I can, with the exception of bathroom stalls and as part of urban graffiti. I tweet at https://twitter.com/#!/amylpetersonblg. My web site is http://www.amylpeterson.com and I have a Facebook page. My book is also on Kindlemojo.com which I discovered in March. I think it’d be cool to see my name or book cover on the side of a NASCAR race car, but for now, I’d be happy with a bunch more followers, subscribers, Like-ers and book buyers.
Morgen: Let’s hope a few see this interview. Do you have a favourite of your books or characters? If any of your books were made into films, who would you have as the leading actor/s?
Amy: I think Sandra Bullock would do a great job as the lead actress and stepmom because she seems to have a great sense of humor, and that little snort thing she does now and again is just plain funny itself. Mark had an Army cot for a bed when I met him, an old VW Rabbit, and a boat load of fishing tackle, so I personally think Larry, the Cable Guy, would be good in Mark’s role. But Mark voted for Ben Affleck because “he seems like a nice guy, like me.” Go figure.
Morgen: I love Sandra’s snort. 🙂 And yes, a fan of Ben’s too. Did you have any say in the title / covers of your book(s)? How important do you think they are?
Amy: I came up with the title, and my cover is based on my wedding cake—we had a bride and groom in a boat, and I made sure that the bride’s fishing pole was connected to a larger fish than the groom’s. Our cake had bubbles and fish in clear, though, so the color my graphic artist came up with for the cover was much better. I also didn’t have the four kids on our actual wedding cake, but insisted on that for the cover. I think a good cover catches peoples’ attention, and if they get sucked in, woohoo!, another book is sold!
Morgen: An author’s favourite email. 🙂 What are you working on at the moment / next?
Amy: My number one priority now is marketing, but by summer I hope to begin finishing up my next book. It’s a humorous story about the various critters my husband “always wanted” as pets and that I got roped into caring for (and spoiling). The critters include frogs, iguanas, hedgehogs, ferrets, mice, gerbils, guinea pigs, dogs, a cat, a rabbit, and a domestic duck. This book will also contain tips and I’ll also share fun facts along the way. For example, we learned that female hedgehogs have spontaneous ovulation, which means that each of the three times our male hedgehog escaped from his cage and shimmied up into the female’s cage, we had hedgehog babies less than a month later. I will have photos of all the critters on my web site.
Morgen: Wow. Do you manage to write every day? Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?
Amy: Between marketing, a weekly blog posting, general correspondence (such as thanking people for reviews and interviews), and occasionally working on my other book, I do write every day. I currently have two old dogs, one fuzzy cat, one ferret and a dozen hamsters, and with all the critters inside and outside my house–and with life’s little nuances—I haven’t gotten writer’s block yet.
Morgen: Me neither really. Easy when you have so little time and so much to do, and variety helps. Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Amy: I’m a terrible historian, so I keep notes, and in lieu of those, do my best to remember what happened, and, in lieu of that, stretch the truth a little. For example, in From Zero to Four Kids in Thirty Seconds, the oldest stepkid moved in with my beau for six months, and he wasn’t real accessible to me during that time. Instead of bemoaning my lack of time with him, I made up a few things that I thought about doing to get his attention. This chapter is called “Got Time for Some of This?”
Morgen: This is more of a fiction question but do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Amy: The fun thing about using real people is that you can take their strengths and weaknesses and run with them. For example, in the chapter, “Is that Sweat Dripping Off Your Forehead, Honey?” I retell the story of my usually cool and collected beau asking my father’s permission for my hand in marriage.
Morgen: Eee… scary. 🙂 Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Amy: My editor is a friend and fellow stepmom, and she offered to read my book the first time and had numerous suggestions that were right on. I made some changes and asked her to take a second look. I’d say we went through the book three times before I was happy with it and she finally made gagging gestures that led me to believe she’d had enough. Seriously, I owe her big time for all the time she put into it.
Morgen: I’m sure she enjoyed it really. 🙂 What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Amy: I like first person because I can put myself right out there and let people wonder—as my mother often does—“Where’d she come from and who’s she related to?” I’ve not done much with second person; first seems to be enough.
Morgen: First does make sense with biographical. I love second person but it’s not everyone’s taste. What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
Amy: Working full time and having a fun husband and lots of animals makes writing something I do in my spare time. I take my laptop to work to write during lunch, and I write from about 7:30-10 p.m. week nights, and when I can on the weekends. What surprises me is that my husband thinks I’m really listening to him when I’m plugging away at my computer keyboard and nodding. Of course, I’ll be even more surprised when I learn I nodded to something inadvertently and suddenly find myself doing something I’d not intended, like wrestling catfish in Mississippi.
Morgen: That could be interesting. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Amy: Never give up, always write for yourself, enjoy the small successes and maintain a sense of humor. And if you need help maintaining a sense of humor, check out my blog and my book.
Morgen: 🙂 If you could invite three people from any era to dinner, who would you choose and what would you cook (or hide the takeaway containers)?
Amy: I love this question!
Morgen: Thank you, it’s a fairly recent addition.
Amy: I would invite Carol Burnett and Mary Tyler Moore because they had a positive impact on me when I was growing up—they were strong, talented, funny women. Plus, dinner with them would be fun. I’d also invite Larry, the Cable Guy, because my husband would need someone to bond with at dinner. Also, I can’t imagine another venue that would bring Carol, Mary and Larry together, can you? I would hire my husband to cook something because I don’t have time to cook much and I can repay him in fishing lures.
Morgen: What do you do when you’re not writing? Any hobbies or party tricks? 🙂
Amy: I love shooting wildlife photos. And I’m probably one of the few women you know that owns a ghillie suit—it’s great camouflage when taking photos of wildlife, and even better for jumping out at an unsuspecting visitor.
Morgen: Or visiting agents (see my interview with Peter Cox). Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
Amy: The site SheWrites is a fantastic network for women writers. I’m also a member of numerous groups on BookBlog; that site has probably gotten me more followers, book reviewers and author interviews than any other site. A LinkedIn group led me to reviewer Joy V. Smith. I’m also on LibraryThing, GoodReads and Pinterest though haven’t had time to do as much as I’d like with them yet. I found that Authonomy is a good place for writers looking for input on their writing, though I also found myself agreeing to reviewing books before I knew what I’d gotten myself into. I’ve only really been social networking since the beginning of January and found that it’s much easier to join sites and groups than to keep up with them.
Morgen: Isn’t it just. I was on Authonomy for a while but like you, struggled for reviewing time and eventually came off. What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Amy: Considering that writers started off writing on cave walls, then on stone tablets, then paper, and now on various electronic gadgets, it’s gotten easier to write and to share the written word. I think the future will be the same–as long as people are interested in history, storytelling, education, a good laugh or to just escape, there will be a place for writers.
Morgen: I’m sure more people are reading now than ever and that can only be a good thing. Where can we find out about you and your work?
Amy: My parents might tell you more than you should know, so it’s best to go to my web site, http://www.amylpeterson.com. From there, you can read more about me, follow me on Twitter, Like me on Facebook, subscribe to my blog, and link to Amazon to buy my book. On my web site you can also find my annual Seasonal Musing, which is a humorous summary of the year’s happenings.
Morgen: 🙂 Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Amy: I’d like to thank you for giving me this opportunity. If I’m ever in the UK, I’ll stop by and we can go hiking or fishing . . . if you like to hike or fish, of course.
Morgen: That sounds great although I live in one of the flattest places in the UK and the nearest fish are in the fish & chip shops but I’m sure we’ll find something to do. Is there anything you’d like to ask me?
Amy: You seem to get an awful lot done, so I’m wondering if time works differently in the UK?
Morgen: I wish it would. We’re a few hours ahead of you so even being on the same time zone would be useful. 🙂
I then invited Amy to include an extract of her writing and this is from Chapter 9: “Can’t We Just Duct Tape Them Together And Send Them Outside?” which includes “Tip #37: Children have no sense of time or space.”
We were a force to be reckoned with at the swimming pool, a colorful, loud assault on any poor slob that happened to have gone to the same pool to relax and take in some sunshine. Elizabeth introduced us all by dropping her water wings, towel, and a Water Baby on the ground and running into the shallow end of the pool while screaming at the top of her lungs for all the world to hear: “The water’s cccold!” which was followed by, “Come on into the water, you gggguys!”
All eyes turned to Mark and me. I shrugged calmly and pointed to Mark. He pointed to me. Finally, he yelled at Elizabeth to, “Quit screaming and get back here. Now! Because you don’t have your water wings on!”
She ran back, bounced around while Mark put her wings on, then ran back to the pool where she began a relentless attempt to get one of us in the pool so she wouldn’t have to swim alone.
Conrad, meanwhile, was complaining about his mask leaking, Samantha was taking over yelling at Elizabeth because I didn’t want to, and Simone was talking about going back to the apartment because, “This is boring, Dad.”
“Are they always happy like this?” I asked.
“They’re actually good today,” Mark said. “It can get a lot worse.”
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