Questioning AUTHORity is an occasional feature here at Bookish Serendipity featuring–you guessed it!–MG and YA author interviews. The featured author for this edition is Cheryl Skory Suma, who is the author of Habitan, an awesome middle grade fantasy adventure. You can find my review here.
About The Author:
Website| Amazon |Goodreads
Cheryl always enjoyed making up bedtime stories for her two children, brief tales imagined on the spot to teach and entertain them each night before going to sleep. Then one day, her daughter asked her to write her a ‘longer’ story, and Habitan was born. The Habitan Series grew out of these imaginative bedtime stories and the author promises continued plot twists, surprises and new mysteries along the way in this four book series.
Cheryl holds an Honors degree in Child Psychology and a Masters of Health Sciences in Speech-Language Pathology, and brings over 30 years experience working with children and youth. Following a successful career, first as a Speech-Language Pathologist, and then as the founder & CEO of a home health care company, Cheryl was able to return to her true love, story telling. She lives outside Toronto, Canada with her husband Peter, son Michael, and daughter Melissa. This book would not exist without all of their love and support.
ME: Habitan is one of my favourite middle grade novels this year. Could you share a little about what inspired your debut? Do you draw inspiration from people/ places around you?
CSS: First, thanks for the wonderful compliment! Habitan, Book 1: The Parallel Place grew out of my life-long passion for story telling and the art of imagination. The primary reason I first decided to begin writing the Habitan fantasy series was my own two children. I had been making up ongoing ‘bed-time’ stories for them since they were small, and these stories and plots became more complex as they grew older. When my daughter Melissa started comparing my tales to some of the great YA fantasy novels that she had been reading and then asked me to please write her “…a longer story, a whole book?”, I just couldn’t say no!
In terms of the setting and characters…. I have been fortunate enough to travel throughout most of Canada with my family, which triggered ideas for various story backdrops. I think we’ve all heard the expression that it is easier to ‘write what you know’; I decided to use a lot of the Canadian landscape to create the look and feel of the magical land of Habitan, as well as the animal characters in the book. Similarly, I based the magical language (character names and spells) spoken in Habitan on Canadian Aboriginal Cree, as my maternal grandmother is Cree and is a very inspirational person.
I think many authors, including myself, tend to create characters based on aspects or traits of people we’ve met. In my case, while some characters are completely grown out of pure imagination and aren’t based on anyone in particular, I often like to design characters from a melting pot of several traits of different people I’ve known.
ME: Do you remember where your interest in writing started?
CSS: Absolutely! Pretty much as soon as I could read, I would devour books; I kept my mother busy just going back and forth to the library! I loved the whole escape of it all, and the opportunity to become someone else.
My actual attempts at writing began very early. My mother gave me an old mechanical typewriter, and I began writing short stories and poems on it from grade one (my mom would then mark them up and give me constructive feedback — this was before the computer age, so thank goodness for whiteout!). I also had a very encouraging teacher in primary school who allowed me to write very long responses to short creative writing assignments, which really seeded my love for story-telling!
Books have taught me so much, and still do. I think one of the magical things about stories is that they allow us, the reader, to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes; to be something or someone we’re not. I believe that readers and book lovers naturally become more empathetic and understanding people: because reading allows you to develop the ability to imagine another’s perspective, to see things through someone else’s eyes.
ME: Habitan reminds me a bit of the Narnia series. Who are a few of your personal favourite children’s writers? Do you think there are any that influenced your writing?
CSS: Narnia was one of the first series I ever read as a child, so the idea of a magical land that children could escape to was definitely an influence when I was creating Habitan. Beyond fantasy, I also loved stories where the central characters had spunk or a sense of humor, such as the Anne of Green Gables series. As I moved into my teens, I added classic science fiction to my collection; no doubt you will see this influence as the Habitan series progresses!
I think the largest influence on my writing, however, is my belief that stories should not just offer entertainment or an escape, but also carry some sort of message or moral as well. I am a big believer in teaching my children to have their own ideas and to develop their own opinions; not to just follow the crowd. As an example, my daughter experienced a lot of bullying in grades 1-3, and we worked to help her develop the skills to stand up for herself and be happy despite what was going on around her. She developed the confidence and skills to stand true to her own ideas and values, and to be brave enough to stand up for what she thinks is right if she sees someone else in trouble. So while I wanted Habitan to entertain and excite readers, to surprise them, and to make them laugh, I also wanted the story to hopefully share examples of personal strength and individual spirit.
ME: You clearly put a lot of thought into self-publishing and publicizing Habitan. Could you tell us a little bit about this process?
CSS: It really was a learning process. I knew from the beginning that I wanted to self-publish the first book. When I told my husband last spring that Habitan was nearly finished, he came up with the idea of launching it at the Toronto International Book Fair.
We brainstormed about how to create a memorable experience for visitors to the booth; we wanted it to be an immersive experience that really took you to the land of Habitan. We came up with the idea of a “story tunnel” where the walls would be scenes from the book on printed backlit vinyl, and where speakers could project readings from the book to go with the scenes. In the end, our whole family got involved, as well as a network of artists and consultants from around the world. This group helped create the artwork, photography, layout, construction, audio engineering and editing that supported the book, website, and the trade show booth. We found all these people on the internet using sites like 99designs.com, eLance.com and LinkedIn.com, etc. The team was coordinated over email, Dropbox.com, telephone and Skype.
My daughter (age 12) did the first sets of sketches for the animal characters, and then Steven Albert (past DreamWorks lead) did the scene paintings. Our son Michael (age 10) did many hours of web searching for the photographers, animal characters and web designers. The booth itself was built on our back deck by my cousin and brother. The products and vinyl to build it were sourced from sites like Alibaba.com, and the electronics were sourced from the US and China. So after four months of effort, we were able to deliver not just the book available worldwide, but also a booth that many said was by far the best at the fair. By sourcing everything and building it ourselves, we did this all for a fraction of what such booths are normally quoted for professionally.
As for the book publishing…. After much searching and comparisons we chose to publish with IngramSpark.com for their worldwide distribution of paperback, hardcover and eBooks. We also used CreateSpace.com to supply Amazon directly (for the enhanced royalties it provided and the tight and fast integration with Amazon’s sites). In the end the book launch was a great success. We sold over 450 books at the TIBF book fair, which we were told was amazing given that this is a new book from an indie author!
For me, while the sales were great, the most important experience was the reader’s reactions and my family’s involvement. My family all rallied together to help me live out a dream, and we have had such a positive reaction from visitors to the booth, as well as early book reviewers! The conversations with the readers at the booth about the themes in the book, and their love of reading, was so affirming and positive. I am so grateful for the entire experience. I truly enjoyed meeting people like yourself who share a passion for stories and the world imagined.
ME: Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
CSS: a) Keep writing! I have boxes upon boxes of old stories and ideas; I think the more you write, the more you will improve. I am very proud of Book 1 in the Habitan series, but I also think Book 2 will be even better!
b) Share your work! Before an editor ever saw Habitan, I had many family members, friends, as well as a group of children and teens read the book. I learned as much if not more from the feedback (good and bad) from these early ‘reviewers’ as I did from my two professional editors. You have to be brave enough to face people’s reactions to your work if you truly want to grow and develop your craft. It doesn’t mean you have to take all of their advice; just think on it, and then believe in yourself and trust your own instincts.
c) Finish it! The biggest comment I get back when I first tell people I’ve released a book is “I’ve always wanted to write a book about…”. I think the hardest thing may be first, to get started, and then secondly, to keep going! I was determined to complete Habitan within a year of selling my health care company; in the end, you need to find the willpower to push yourself to finish it. There will always be a reason to set it aside, but if you truly want to write, you need to approach it with a passion. Set deadlines for yourself, and forgive yourself if you miss them, but keep going! People mistakenly think writers have a leisurely life. Writing is work, and takes discipline, but it is all worth it when someone reads what you’ve written, and then laughs, smiles, gasps, or tells you wow!
d) I am always happy to correspond with new Habitan readers. They can send me questions or comments through our website! http://www.HabitanBooks.com
About The Book:
Amazon | Goodreads | My Review
Melissa, Michael and Annabelle were each separated from their parents as infants. Our story begins where they now live, together in an orphanage in northern Canada in the 1600’s. Discovering a strange kinship, they have become true friends, and support one another. But why do they feel they are meant to be somewhere else? Is this where they truly belong?
Then a mysterious event occurs, transporting them to another land called Habitan, a magical place where anything and everything is possible if you believe and strive hard enough. In Habitan, sorcery, magic, and powers ‘of the mind’ abound. Animals talk, and the spirit of the woods is alive. While in Habitan, the children join forces with three animal guides, encounter a wicked sorceress named ‘Oskana’, and embark on an adventure to discover their true heritage and destiny.
Can they develop their innate powers and magical gifts soon enough to protect themselves and to help the Good of Habitan? Will they be reunited with their parents again? Who can they really trust? How can they save Habitan from the tyranny of Oskana’s rule? Finally, how do the events on Habitan affect the Parallel Place, the ‘earth’ they grew up on?
The children discover that they may be Habitan’s last hope for salvation from the evil sorceress Oskana. They face challenges and surprising twists along the way, all while also developing their own innate gifts and magic. As they begin the path to finding their own inner strength, they learn how to face unbearable odds with determination and courage, standing up for what is right despite the possible personal costs.