Coffee & Conversations with Monica S. Baker!

Happy Friday, everyone!  Today we have the lovely Monica S. Baker joining us in the cyber cafe to discuss hurdles, singing ladies dangling from balconies by their toes, and her fiction novel, FREESTYLE!

A thriller for young readers, join Mitchell Burke, a 13-year-old boy from Maryland who stumbles into a dream portal that transports him to the 1820s, where he faces Patty Cannon, the legendary and ruthless slave kidnapper. Mitch tries to lead a normal life, but his nights are interrupted by the adventures in his dreams and mysterious connections between Patty Cannon and his family. Learn how Mitch builds a stronger bond with this father, a reservist on active duty in the Middle East; resolves conflict; and learns the truth about slaves crossing to freedom in Pennsylvania before the Civil War.

And while Monica gets comfy with her favorite coffeehouse beverage, a decaf soy latte extra hot…chased by water, to cool her off . . .

And her favorite snack, apple and toasted walnuts . . .

. . . let me remind everyone that our first-ever PICTURE BOOK CHALLENGE will be starting on Monday, September 19th, (always good to start on a Monday,) and will last for six weeks, PLUS there will be weekly prize opportunities for all those who participate! More details and picture book related posts are coming soon.

I hope you’ll join us!

And now that Monica is ready, let’s start! First off, when did you decide to be a writer?

I have liked to write since I was a kid, and have written in school and work for decades. I became serious about writing for children, however, when my youngest child was born – 15 years ago! That’s when I registered for Children’s Writing classes with Mary Quattlebaum at the Writer’s Center in Bethesda,Maryland. I’m not sure what I was thinking at the time, because I worked full-time (with lots of travel) and had 3 kids to care for.  I think my creative writing hormones, along with a dose of insanity, unleashed themselves with the last pregnancy!

Love Mary! Okay, how long did your path to publication take, and what were your biggest hurdles? 

In 2002 I began researching and writing seriously, with an eye toward finishing my first novel, Freestyle.  Finding chunks of time to write was my biggest hurdle at first. And not-so-great writing second.  I cut back to part-time employment in my “day job” by 2005, which allowed me time to rewrite Freestyle.  I think I rewrote it 12 or so times…my poor critique group!   My next hurdle to publication was lack of writing credentials.  I researched writing opportunities that would enhance my skills, took on assignments for Science Weekly, and became one of their regular science writers in 2007.  While science doesn’t have anything to do with the historical fiction I wrote, science writing sharpened my analytical skills and word choices. I truly believe that credential kept my manuscript from the rock-bottom of the slush pile! Freestyle was accepted for publication in 2008. Next hurdle: my publisher was sold in 2009. Fortunately, Schiffer Books, the acquiring publisher, extended an offer to publish Freestyle and it came out in 2010.

Seeing how hindsight is 20/20, what advice for beginners do you wish you would have followed? 

Do not send out a manuscript until the last fat lady has sung, swinging by her toes from the balcony!  I wasted much time, energy, cash…and probably goodwill by sending manuscripts out too early. The first picture book I ever wrote is so God-awful that I have a special file for it, where it won’t contaminate other manuscripts.  I can not believe that I imposed it on the publishing community. As my teens would now say, “My bad!”

Where’s your favorite place to work?    

I have a fabulous 3rd story office that looks over my back yard. I tend to dawdle, looking out the window at the birds of prey hawking on my cat in the yard. I feel especially empowered when I can knock on the window to warn the fat tabby to move off the lawn and out of harm’s way!  When I am not stalling and watching the cat out the window, I’m stalling by filing my nails at my desk!

How were you inspired to write your current or upcoming release? 

I was inspired to write Freestyle when working on an Underground Railroad educational project for historian Tony Cohen.  In one presentation, Tony spoke about a woman named Patty Cannon – famed slave kidnapper and murderer who ran a 19th century reverse Underground Railroad in the Mid Atlantic. “Pirate Patty” stuck in my head for at least a year, teasing to get out, until I decided to write a book in which she played antagonist.  I loved her as a bad girl and knew that she could be my vehicle to a story about the Underground Railroad. 

What are your favorite lines from this book? 

21st century Mitch is escaping on the 19th century Underground Railroad. He is being hidden by Quakers in a barn, where he unexpectedly meets an escaping slave boy:

The boy sat on the dirt floor next to Mitch, and crossed his arms, exposing the letter “S” burned into his bicep.

“What’s that?” Mitch reached to touch the scar.

“Ya never seen brandin’ before?” The boy turned his arm in Mitch’s direction.

“You were branded, like a cow?”

“An it hurt like the Lord Jesus done felt.” He ran his right finger over the left bicep. “‘S’ is for slave. An’ I ain’t no slave either. My pappy has free papers on all o’ us, signed by the old mistress. But, she died and no second mistress or no slave catcher cares what the paper say when the body say ‘slave.’”

“Wow.” Mitch couldn’t take his eyes off the boy’s arm.

Wow is right! Okay, are there any other genres that you’d like to tackle some day? 

I have written picture books, but have yet to get one published. I understand that is a very difficult market, but I won’t give up!! 

Hmm . . . sounds like you would be a good candidate for the Picture Book Challenge! 🙂 What’s next on your agenda, any juicy projects you’d like to tell us about? 

I am finishing research on and am now starting another middle grade novel. The Monsters They Know is a companion to Freestyle, but deals with contemporary slavery in our midst. And, I am currently marketing a nonfiction picture book called Promises and Peacepipes; Chief Buffalo’s Voyage for Answers. In 1850, the 93-year-old chief of the Ojibwe people canoed, walked and traveled by train from Lake Superior to Washington, DC and back to stand up for his people. He was amazing by any standards and succeeded in renegotiating the U.S./Ojibwe treaty that is binding today.

Time for the lightning round—no more than four words per answer!

Do you . . .

Outline or wing it?  I write timelines.

Talk about works-in-progress, or keep it zipped?  Call me Chatty Cathy.

Sell by proposal or completed draft?  Draft, but proposal-friendly.

Prefer writing rough drafts or editing?  Trick question, right?

Dread marketing/blogging or love it?   Ugh. Prefer Divine Intervention.

Read Kindle or traditional books?  Traditional, but not averse.

And finally, what’s your favorite:

Time to work?  Morning, but really anytime nobody will interrupt me.

Music to listen to while writing?   Rarely. If so, instrumental only.

Writing tool?  Pencil to pad to start, then I take off on the laptop.

Favorite shoe?   Boots – either my Italian walking boots or stompin’ cowboy boots.

Guiltiest pleasure?   Movie theater popcorn.

Line from a movie?   Probably, “Come here, little gopher,” from Caddyshack.  I really have no memory for dialogue!

Awesome, thanks for stopping by, Monica, and best of luck with PROMISES AND PEACEPIPES! It sounds fantastic. 🙂

And I hope to see everyone tomorrow at Jane Conly’s ABC Event! For more details, click here.

Happy writing! 🙂

About Laura Bowers

Laura is a writer, runner, reader, runDisney addict, blogger/vlogger at Write, Run, Rejoice and Joyful Miles, mom of two awesome boys, wife of one fantastic husband, excellent chili maker, and obsessive list keeper. She loves run-on sentences and adverbs. She also still thinks Spice World was an awesome movie and feels no shame about that.
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3 Responses to Coffee & Conversations with Monica S. Baker!

  1. Pam says:

    Congratulations to Monica! I can’t wait to read her book. And who doesn’t love Mary?

  2. I critiqued Monica’s Promises & Peacepipes at an SCBWI conference a few years ago and I want to point out her excellent advice above: “Do not send out a manuscript until the last fat lady has sung, swinging by her toes from the balcony!” I read in a blog a few weeks ago that not following that advice is why self-publishing often results in poor quality writing. Very, very few writers can critique their own work and they rush the process. Monica writes well, but she gets feedback and revises again and again—a real professional!

  3. Ron Smith says:

    Fantastic interview. Thanks for posting this.

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