Background Notes: Val Muller is a teacher and writer living in Virginia. Her first novel, Corgi Capers: Deceit on Dorset Drive, is the first in a mystery series for middle-grade readers starring fifth-grader Adam Hollinger and his two corgis.
You can find out more about the Corgi Capers series at www.CorgiCapers.com. Book Two is due out in October through Dancing With Bear publishing. She also writes short stories for adults, with a horror novel forthcoming. Find out more at www.ValMuller.com, where she also blogs. She lives in Virginia with her two dogs, Leia and Yoda, and her husband.
Jan: Thanks for the interview, Val. You’ve described yourself as an English teacher by day, and a writer by night. When did you decide to lead this double life and how’s it working out for you?
Val: I’ve wanted to be a writer since I could first hold a pencil. I didn’t take myself seriously until a few years ago, when I decided to read and write as much as possible. I was teaching high school, but I wasn’t happy with my life. I actually had a dream in which I met my grandfather (he died before I was born), who told me if I wanted to be a writer, all I had to do was… write! It was a life-changing dream. I woke up feeling refreshed and full of hope. You can read about it in more depth on my blog.
Jan: You’ve written for kids and for ‘grown ups’ so I wondered which you prefer and why? How similar and how different is this process for you?
Val: Writing for kids is easier, with novels between 30,000 and 50,000 words. The story lines are less complicated and can be written quickly—within a month or two (at least the first draft!). When I write a novel, I like writing the first draft within a compressed period of time so that I can juggle the storylines, characters, and main plot. It’s also fun to put myself back into the mind of a kid. But I like writing for adults because I can add things like sarcasm and allusions that would be too complicated for a children’s chapter book. Right now I’m working on a young adult work, which I think nicely balances the two—it keeps the imaginative quality of children’s fiction with some of the nuances of adult literature.
Jan: Your latest book, Corgi Capers: Deceit on Dorset Drive, is written for young readers aged 8-12 and features your own thinly disguised Welsh Corgis, Yoda and Leia. Sounds like a great summer read for families looking for high interest books for their kids. What inspired you to feature your own dogs as major characters for this book?
Val: When I first started walking my puppies around the neighborhood, they were kid magnets. The kids in the neighborhood asked me what my dogs did while I was at work. When I didn’t have an answer, they came up with their own very imaginative ones. It reminded me about the magic of being a kid, and I realized that it was a topic that would interest kids. When I wrote Corgi Capers, I incorporated multiple points of view, including that of the corgis, who communicate while their people are away.
Jan: You have a second Corgi Capers book, The Sorceress of Stoney Brook in the editing stage. When will it be out and do you have another Corgi Capers book on the drawing board?
Val: The second book will be released in early October. It’s Halloween-themed, so it’s great timing! There is a third book in planning stages. I think I’m going to tackle that one during November (NANOWRIMO—National Novel Writing Month).
My newest adult novel “For Whom My Heart Beats Eternal” (Rebel Ink Press) is a young adult novel that explores time travel. In this time-travel romance with a sci-fi twist, Anna, a young graduate student, has found her intellectual soul mate. She and Dr. Thomas Wellesley, forty years her senior, have been working on sensitive research on applied time travel. He is her favorite part of the day and she’ll stop at nothing to please him. Modest and humble, she even ignores the requests of college suitors in favor of extended time in the research lab.
When a rival professor follows the pair into the lab and threatens their research and their safety, Dr. Wellesley does everything in his power to protect Anna from harm. But in his effort to protect her, he inadvertently sends her back in time. Forty years back in time, to be exact—to a time when a young, passionate student named Tommy Wellesley is just embarking on his first degree in physics. And it’ll be up to young Tommy to see her safely back to her own time. If he can bear to lose her. Available on Amazon (for Kindle) and in other electronic formats.
Jan: Your ‘grown up’ short stories seem to fall into a pattern regarding publications and titles that deal with phobias, zombies, supernatural and similar topics. I’m thinking here about stories like: “Next of Kin” in Wicked East Press’s Chained in the Attic Anthology (forthcoming), “Zombies of the Caribbean” in Christmas is Dead: A Zombie Anthology, “The Prophet on the Sand” in Shroud 10: The Quarterly Journal of Dark Fiction and Art (Vol 3). So can you tell our readers more about this genre and what inspired you to write these stories?
Val: I’ve always been sort of paranoid yet strangely drawn to darker topics. As a kid, I always had to have my younger sister go upstairs before me to turn on the lights and make sure there were no monsters or ghosts around. I couldn’t have my closet door ajar, and the scariest holiday for me was Easter because I always imagined a giant, humanoid Easter bunny sneaking into my room! My imagination was fed by my father, who made up all kinds of stories, including the fact that my real father was the beast from the 1980’s television show Beauty and the Beast.
I believed him and lived under the fear that Vincent, the beast, was eventually coming for me to reclaim his kin. He also told me that my mother (who looks like the woman on the Sun-Maid raisin logo) was eventually going to return to her old life of picking raisins. I lived in perpetual fear that my mom would one day leave to go pick grapes and never return!
The list of stories he told me goes on and on… my dad didn’t realize until much later that I took him seriously, but I’m glad for all the stories. One of my professors describes him as “a writer’s goldmine.”
Jan: You mentioned that you grew up in cold haunted New England and have moved up and down the East Coast before finding the right balance in Northern Virginia. When did you realize that you longed to be a writer and how has that information shaped your life? How did your early experiences shape your choice of fictional focus and your writing life?
Val: I guess I addressed these questions in the previous response!
Jan: Like many writers, you actually hold down two full-time jobs what with teaching and writing. How do you manage it all? Describe your creative process?
Val: I live for the summers because I have time to market and social network, as well as write. During the school year, I have to manage my time more efficiently. My husband leaves for work early, so I get up with him. I write between 5 and 7:15 a.m. —that way, writing gets the freshest part of me before I get tainted by the rest of the day. When I get home from work, I don’t always have energy to write, so I spend an hour or so researching markets, promo opportunities, networking, blogging, and updating my websites.
Jan: What’s your take on the need for writers to connect to social media? Does the payoff seem to justify the time spent? For writers exploring their options and with time constraints, which form of social media is essential to a writer and which forms suck up too much time, in your opinion?
Val: I think social media is a necessary evil. It’s good to connect to other writers and share in their triumphs and frustrations. It’s also good to connect to readers and learn what resonates with them. I recommend that whatever social media you choose, don’t let it consume you. Put aside an allotted amount of time, and don’t go beyond that.
Also, don’t simply promo your work all the time. Readers want to know authors as human beings, too. Blog about everyday life and experiences, offer free short stories or serialize a longer work on a blog. Blogging has forced me to be more concise in my writing. I’ve also made a recent commitment to review one book per week and post the review on my blog. This has been essential in helping me to recognize elements that work well in writing, and I’ve already applied it to my own work.
Jan: What’s on your personal summer reading list? What have you recently read that you loved and would recommend for kids and for adults?
Val: I have a mix of middle-grade, young adult, horror, and romance. Some books of note are The Book Thief, A Thousand Splendid Suns, and The Gunslinger. I also make a point to incorporate some indie and small press works in there as well. You can check out my blog every Monday for a new review.
Jan: What advice would you give a writer aspiring to write about supernatural events, including zombies and alien time travelers? I’ve recently had an email from a writer who raised this question to me. Where can he go for more tips and market information?
Val: I would warn that there is so much out there about zombies and aliens. Writers should bring something unique to the table. Be original, or have a strong human element—if a reader likes the main character (or hates the bad guy), she’ll be compelled to read on. Don’t rely on stereotypes to carry your work.
I like to “cross” what I read with what I’m currently writing. For example, if I’m writing about a zombie, I would be reading a romance. That way, I’m not drawing from what I’m reading, and it keeps my writing fresh.
Duotrope.com is a great site to start looking for markets. I always check out markets I’ve never heard of on places like Absolute Write Water Cooler or Preditors and Editors.
Jan Bowman’s work has appeared in Roanoke Review, Big Muddy, Broadkill Review, Trajectory, Third Wednesday, Minimus, Buffalo Spree (97), Folio, The Potomac Review, Musings, Potato Eyes, and others. She won the 2012 Roanoke Review Prize for Fiction. Her stories have been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, Best American Short Stories and a story was a finalist in the “So To Speak” Fiction Contest. She is working on two collections of short stories and currently shopping for a publisher for a completed story collection. She has nonfiction work pending publication in Spring 2013 Issues of Trajectory and Pen-in-Hand. She writes a weekly blog of “Reflections” on the writing life and posts regular interviews with writers and publishers. Learn more at: