First off can you tell the Privateers a little about yourself and how you got into writing?
Hello Privateers and thank you for interviewing me! I’m J. Lee Graham and I’m a wearer of many hats. I’m a writer, playwright, musician, actor, astrologer (www.mysticalisle.net) and fluent in ASL as my second language. Joseph Campbell said “Follow your bliss.” I did that through most of my life, but sadly, writing was a ‘bliss’ I came into years later. Growing up, I remember being ‘shot down’ verbally by my family whenever I told them about my writing dream. I guess that’s the lesson right there!
Tell us all about your novel!
I’ve written a time travel series for Middle Grade. The first book is called IN THE NICK OF TIME and the second book is called THE TIME OF HIS LIFE. In IN THE NICK OF TIME, the hero, Andy Mackpeace, inherits a mysterious set of incense sticks from his Bohemian, psychic grandmother. When he lights one, the smoke whisks him off to another time and place and he seems to partially embody a person from that time. The first place is the site of the Boston Massacre. Andy learns eventually, that when he relights the stick, it sends him back home. Later, when he lights another stick with his friend Roger, they’re unexpectedly interrupted by their friend, Miranda Roberts, who makes Andy jump, and he drops the stick. As a result, all three end up trapped in a 19th century antebellum plantation in Georgia. Andy and Miranda are the son and daughter of the owner; Roger is a slave.
I integrate accurate historical information as well as a strong New Age sensibility with my characters in these novels. I enjoy the synthesis of history and imagination and having the characters use their ability to work together to tackle whatever situation they find.
What got you into writing middle grade fiction? Have you dabbled in other kinds of writing?
I’m a playwright as well. I wrote a Children’s Play called “Alana” and an adult two act play called “Lives of the Saints”. I’ve also written a coming of age Young Adult novel called THE PROMISE OF LIVING.
I like the different genres, but Middle Grade is fun because the suspension of belief for the readers is so much a part of the set up. The people who’ve read my time travel novels range from 10-70, yet they’re all willing to put aside ‘reality’ and go for the journey. That creates a lot of freedom within the work.
What do you find challenging about writing middle grade as opposed to other forms of writing?
My greatest challenge is finding the voices for my three main characters: Andy, Roger, and Miranda. Meaning, they are all 13 years old, and they’re intelligent, but they can’t sound like adults. They carry within them an “Indigo Child” persona, but they can’t be spouting off New Age wisdom at the drop of a hat. Andy especially, as the main character, is very sensitive and has the ability to converse with his dead grandmother. These mentoring moments cannot be forced or faked; there is a very fine line between pedanticism and allowing the characters to discover life. I chose the latter every time.
What do you think is more important – character development or plot-driven story? How would you advise people to balance the two?
It would be easy, especially with MG novels, to choose “plot-driven story”, but in all honesty, I side with “character development”. Characters have to be vivid, ‘real’ to the reader, identifiable, relatable. Nothing irks me more when I read a tale where terrific plots unfold, yet the characters have no emotional, visceral response to any of them. They go along as if none of what just happened affects them just so we can move on to the next episode. I love a good cliffhanger and use them frequently in my Middle Grade novels and I think readers love them, too. It adds new meaning to the term, “page turner”, but if by the end of the novel, we, as readers, feel nothing for our protagonist, and have no sense of empathy for him, then I think the novel failed in some way.
Are you currently working on anything right now?
Yes, I am editing the third book in the time travel series. It is called ALL THE TIME IN THE WORLD. It should be out by October, 2013.
My blog is www.jleegraham.blogspot.com where I keep followers posted.
Finally if you had one billion dollars to invest into any charity/project on Earth what would it be and why?
Education, especially Literacy. Gosh, the ramifications are endless. I see so many poorly educated people in this world, (is education losing its value in the home/family and be supplanted by television?) and for me, literacy beyond just a 4th grade reading level (that’s our way to describe it here in America), is vital: for shaping minds, policies, values, mores, eradicating prejudice, and creating compassion.
What do you think Privateers? Worth checking out? Definitely!