I have a triple header today with a Review of RES-Q TYLER STOP, an Interview with the author (June McCrary Jacobs), and a GIVEAWAY.
Frequent MMGM blogger, June McCrary Jacobs, introduces her debut middle grade novel this week with Book 1 in the TYLER STOP Series. Set in 1968, the plot focuses on 12-year-old Weston Gregg. He’s an animal lover and together with his sister, they start a business with their parent’s support to rescue animals who need a home.
Cats, dogs, and a few other animals are given a second chance with the care the kids provide. The business grows and does very well. Too bad Weston can’t say the same thing about the bully at school.
Filled with lessons to be learned, the story stops short of closing up all the plot points in anticipation of Book 2. Issues of race, respect, and doing the right thing come across strong. This would make a good read-aloud in the classroom or at home, followed by a discussion of the many themes.
THE OFFICIAL PLOT
It’s the summer of 1968 in Sonoma County, California, and eleven-year-old Weston Gregg and his nine-year-old sister, Wendy, are looking for fun things to do during their summer break from school. When they discover some abandoned rabbits, they hatch an idea to make a positive difference for animals and people in their small town of Tyler Stop.
They decide to form ‘Rescue Each Species-Quickly’, or RES-Q Tyler Stop.
There are challenges to face as they move forward into their new venture, including standing up to someone who is targeting Weston’s friends for being different and a painfully bad decision.
Will Weston have to handle these issues on his own or will he learn to accept the advice and wisdom shared by some important people in his life? Join Weston and his family and friends as they share some adventures and learn and grow together in RES-Q Tyler Stop.
I’m pleased to have June stop by today to talk about writing and publishing. Welcome, June!
How long have you been writing professionally?
Hi, Greg. Thanks for hosting me on ‘Always in the Middle’ today.
In 2007 I began selling my original sewing designs to magazines and sewing industry blogs in the United States. I was responsible for writing a catchy blurb, sidebars, and full instructions for each design. This was my introduction to technical writing, and I loved it!
In 2008 I began designing sewing projects for a magazine published in the United Kingdom. A few months after my designs were accepted and were beginning to show up in their issues the editor put out a call for writers to compose regular columns for the magazine. Our audition was to write a column about the subject of our choice regarding sewing. I wrote about the differences between the customs, language usage, and sewing vocabulary terms in the United States and the United Kingdom. I was one of the fortunate three who was selected to contribute a quarterly column entitled, ‘From Across the Pond’. I was able to write some essays about my grandmother, sewing and quilting events I attended, and other things of interest to people who love to sew or quilt. The column continued for two years.
I also wrote several articles for other sewing/crafting magazines which are no longer in publication. Those articles included one about charity quilting/sewing, fun places for crafters to visit in Northern California, and a history of three generations of women who were needle workers in my family.
In late 2010 I began dabbling in writing fiction. It was a lifelong dream of mine to write fiction. My first short story was published in an anthology in early 2012. My first novella, ‘A Holiday Miracle in Apple Blossom’, won the 2013 Cedar Fort Holiday Tale Contest and was published in October, 2013. Three more books have followed each of which I have published independently.
Where did the idea come to write your historical novel, RES-Q TYLER STOP?
A few years ago I began seeing a lot of bumper stickers in our city that showed a paw print and the motto, ‘Who Rescued Who?’. I loved the positivity in the phrase and began writing a story about a family who starts an animal rescue organization in their small town.
The original story was set in the present with the entire family of four as the lead characters. Then I got busy with my inspirational romance novels and set aside the story for a long while. When I picked it up again, I changed it to a contemporary inspirational romance where the husband of the family and his kids were grieving the loss of their wife/mother from a terminal illness. I immediately decided this was not the right approach to the subject matter, so I scrapped that version. Then I drifted back to the premise again and changed the story to a historical family novel. I wasn’t happy with that version either, so I filed the document in my ‘Work in Progress’ folder on my computer and moved on to other projects.
Finally it dawned on me in late 2017 that I should follow my dream of writing for children by approaching this story as a middle-grade historical adventure featuring an eleven-year-old boy as the protagonist and his nine-year-old sister as his loyal sidekick. I decided to set the story in Sonoma County in Northern California in 1968 because I have lived in the region since I was in second grade and have firsthand knowledge of the area, the scenery, and its history.
This time, when I sat down at my computer to type the manuscript the story flowed. The characters and events in the story clicked in my mind, and I felt as if I was writing the story the way it was meant to be written. I love California history, so I used a lot of true cultural events to enrich the story to include cultural diversity and hopefully educate readers about some valuable pieces of California’s history in the twentieth century. My goal was to write an authentic, accurate, and sensitive portrayal of the native peoples of Northern California. According to the beta readers, I have accomplished this goal.
Did the characters or plot come first?
I think about my stories for a long time before I get on my computer and begin writing. I take notes, do some research, and think some more. I let things percolate and write some more. In this case, I thought of the animal rescue plot and setting first and the character development came later. As I mentioned earlier, once I decided to make the story set in 1968, I did some double-checking for facts such as when were seatbelts installed in automobiles, first aid, animal care, and the cultural history of Sonoma County native peoples.
I do a lot of research for my books even though they are fictional. I guess it’s the professional educator in me, but I like to get my facts straight before presenting my work to readers.
Do you outline before starting a writing project or is it easier to just let the story flow as you write?
I do not use outlines to organize my work. Instead, I use the same method I’ve used since I was in high school—I use good, old-fashioned lined index cards! I have cards in three colors, and I color code my notes by character development, setting, and plot. I take notes about my research on a full-sized lined tablet which lists each entry under the bibliography of the source. This way I have everything at my fingertips if I want to switch around the chronology of key elements of the plot, add details about the characters to their card to help me to keep my facts straight, and write up the bibliography when the time comes.
I work better, on anything from sewing projects to writing books, if I feel organized. I am a visual learner, so having the color-coded index cards with information on hand works well for me. I know a lot of writers use spreadsheets, story maps, and outlines, but my system works well for me. I can also work on my book without having to be on the computer.
Sometimes, I do not know how my story will end when I begin writing it. For instance, in this middle-grade story, I did not come up with this ending until my first reader told me the original ending fell flat for him. I considered his remarks and reread the last few chapters of the story and found he was absolutely right! I changed the ending and in the process made it powerful according to my beta readers who saw it after the revisions.
One thing I always know at the beginning of a project is that my work will always be completely clean in language and content. I most enjoy reading works which are written in this manner by other authors, and I have chosen this path for my own original works.
What are the challenges of self-publishing?
This is an excellent question, Greg!
My first book, as I mentioned previously, was traditionally published by a small press. I was involved in the editing process with their in-house editor, but the publisher designed the cover (with a small amount of feedback from me) and the book, uploaded the book to Amazon and other retail sites and Goodreads, and distributed the book. I was responsible for the promotions which included two blog tours.
With self-publishing, I am responsible for doing all of the above things myself or paying a professional to do them for me. I prefer to hire experts to do the things I know I am not good at such as designing graphics, etc.
I have an excellent freelance editor who edits my work, formats it, and designs the cover for me. I am responsible for uploading the books to Amazon, etc., and Goodreads.
I hire a publicity firm to run an online blog tour/blog blitz and promote it from their site. Truthfully, other than the actual writing of the book, promotion is what I spend the most of my time doing for any book project! I use my ‘Reading, Writing & Stitch-Metic’ Blog, my Facebook Author Page, Facebook groups, my Amazon Author Page, my Goodreads Author Blog, and my Goodreads Author Page to get the word out about my books and my blog posts.
Publishing is a challenge for all authors in this day and age no matter if you are published traditionally or if you are publishing independently. The key to success is having good support people invested in preparing your book for publication (editing/formatting/designing the cover) and promoting it (a publicity company) through their vast array of media channels. I view these steps as essential to presenting my work to readers. Releasing my story creations as books is rewarding and exciting.
Thanks, June and all my best for the success of your book!
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