In Conversation With Author Devra Robitaille
Reviewer & Author Interviewer, Norm Goldman. Norm is the Publisher & Editor of Bookpleasures.com.
He has been reviewing books for the past fifteen years when he retired from the legal profession.
To read more about Norm Follow Here
Bookpleasures.com welcomes as our guest author Devra Robitaille. Devra was born in London, England and had a successful career as a professional composer, songwriter and keyboardist in England, before moving to America in the nineties.
She now lives in Florida, on the beautiful Sarasota Bay with her family. While she still keeps her hand in, writing and composing for the theatre, she has found a new love; writing for children and young readers.
Her children's book series The Muffy Series is a trilogy of chapter books for kids aged four to eight.
Her latest novel The Efficiency Claus; An Improbable Christmas Tale is for older readers, and her exciting sci-fi thriller called The Dream Stealers is coming out on February 19th 2017.
Norm: Good day Devra and thanks for participating in our interview.
Devra: Hello, Norm nice to be here, albeit “virtually”
Norm: What has been your greatest challenge (professionally) that you’ve overcome in getting to where you’re at today?
Devra: Well, back when I was a young upwardly mobile professional of twenty-something, (we used to call them yuppies) living in Los Angeles, newly arrived from England, I found myself working in the music business as a high powered executive. I had a series of jobs culminating in four years as Administrative Assistant to the now-infamous Phil Spector; followed by two years as Label Manager for George Harrison’s record label, Dark Horse records.
Ironically, I was good at it, but even with all the trappings, I felt unfulfilled and empty. I kept wondering why there wasn’t something more. It took a series of improbable synchronicities and some disasters to convince me I was on the wrong path and that my purpose was to make my own music, not support others in making theirs. So I chucked it all in, and formed a band and went on the road.
Eventually I ended up in a well known band back in London. When I look back at that fork in the road I can see that, had I chosen the other branch I most definitely would not have ended up here, writing books for our lovely young and bright hopes for the future; our kids.
Norm: Why have you been drawn to writing books for children and young readers? As a follow up, are there aesthetic advantages and disadvantages peculiar to writing these kind of books? Do they have a distinct form?
Devra: Your questions are awesome, they are really making me think and reach deep (LOL). Well, my long and winding road has taken me from song writer and performer to dramaturge, working in the theatre in LA and writing plays and shows.
There have been many adventures and ups and downs and perhaps someday I’ll write about them, but suffice it to say that I love youngsters, they are so dashing! And I just naturally wanted to tell them stories. I have a daughter and I home-schooled her for some time while I was writing for theatre and I often wrote with her in mind..
Yes I do think these kinds of books have a distinct form, it’s really important to write with a certain “voice” that’s appropriate for the age group you are writing for. But don’t talk down to them!! And, although I’m sure other authors would not agree with me, I prefer to have my characters take the high road, if at all possible. Not to come off sounding “poly-anna” but their minds are impressionable and just forming their opinions, so we have a responsibility to give them a shove in the right direction. Advantages and disadvantages? Well, it’s just fun, isn’t it? Each book for me is a lovely romp, and I can’t wait to get to the computer every day. Except I hate proof-reading.....
Norm: What are common mistakes you see aspiring writers make when writing books for children and young readers?
Devra: In my humble opinion writing must be a labor of love, and this is never more true than when writing for young impressionable readers. They might be young and still forming their opinions, but you can’t easily fool them. They are pretty tuned in. Perhaps if I had to give a word of advice I might say don’t try so hard, just let your spirit soar and your fingers fly and they will like it. If you write it, they will read.
Norm: Why do you write? Do you have a theme, message, or goal for your books?
Devra: I write because I can. I write because it gives me joy, and at the end of the joy...there’s a book!!! It doesn’t get much better than that! I seem to naturally and organically fall into quest and journey themes, and coming of age, and David and Goliath.
Norm: Did you read any special books on how to write and do you work from an outline? Please describe your writing process
Devra: I don’t believe in too much “googling” (in the metaphorical sense), I gained my skill from just working it and honing it. Having said that, I did go to college, I was an English major. Of course you need to know your craft and have respect for its rules, but there’s a fine line between having the right information and being beaten to death by it!
So many bright sparks get extinguished in college for example by the overly-gung ho professor forever “critiquing.”
It’s tricky to let young talent breathe and hone it at the same time, and I have great respect for those teachers that can do that.
Usually an idea for a book pops into my head, and then it grows and I make notes and sometimes record little blurbs and it starts to take shape, so I suppose you could call that an outline, although its somewhat informal. My approach is mostly organic.
Let me tell you a story. A young girl is walking down a long hallway. She is about to give a speech and she is nervous. Her friend joins her and looks her up and down as they walk. “What? The girls says “What’s wrong?” the friend makes a face and says “Oh nothing,” and tugs a bit at the bottom of the girls jacket. Then the friend looks at the girls shoes and once again grimaces. “What?” says the hapless girl again. She has already begun to react to the friend’s obvious displeasure, she is now limping a bit, self conscious of the shoes, and she has been tugging on her blouse and its dishevelled now; then the friend looks at the hair and the girl tugs on it, trying to get it to stay behind her ears. By the time they get to the doors to the conference room the girl is a total wreck. She is limping, her hair looks bad now and her shirt is untucked and her jacket askew. Later she asks her friend what was wrong. The friend says “Nothing, I had something in my eye” – My way of saying if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it LOL
Norm: How has your environment/upbringing colored your writing?
Devra: Well I am of the camp that believes that you can’t separate yourself from your writing. There will always be shades of your own experience, even if your characters live in the deepest jungle, or on the moon. Because it’s your personal signature, like a fingerprint. Like a chef or a painter or anyone who creates, their personality is in their work.
I guess the trick is combining it with a soaring imagination and coming up with situations that are fresh; that’s the ongoing challenge and it’s what will never stop fascinating me.
Norm: I noticed you will be coming out with a sci-fi thriller The Dream Stealers coming out on February 19th 2017. How did you become interested in writing a sci-fi and how does it differ from your usual genre of children and young adult books?
Devra: Oh, I just love fantasy and space, so when I started writing DS it just sort of naturally came out as an amalgam of the two.
I don’t think sci-fi does differ, it’s just set within a different frame. In the theatre there’s a thing called the proscenium arch – which is an invisible plane that acts as a frame for the action and separates the players from the audience. The play exists as a world within that arch. It’s no different with books, the author creates a reality which frames the characters and events.
If it’s sci-fi, or if it’s the North Pole, the characters still love and fight and laugh and act out their purpose in the story. Even if it’s about a little dog, it has to be authentic to that frame. The characters might not be realistic, but they have to be real.
Norm: Could you tell us about your latest novel, The Efficiency Claus; An Improbable Christmas Tale?
Devra: I am very proud of this book and I’m excited to see what it can do. It’s a rollicking and funny look at a probable reality, or alternate universe, where Santa’s chief of staff runs amuck and tries to computerize Christmas and ban Christmas spirit. It’s a world gone mad where Santa has to go to war against the Efficiency Army. He’s aided by the ELF, the Elf Liberation Force, and there are a lot of interesting characters doing interesting things. You’ll have to read it to find out more
Norm: What inspired you to write the book and what were your goals and intentions in this book, and how well do you feel you achieved them?
Devra: Well, like I said I’m pretty happy with how this one came out. Yes I do feel like I said what I intended to say. There is a lot of my own philosophy in there, that music and laughter will ultimately save the world. The book is not meant as a diatribe against technology. I love technology and I use it effectively. But it’s a bit of a cautionary tale, not to let technology take over and squeeze out the magic.
Norm: What was the most difficult part of writing this book and what did you enjoy most about writing this book?
Devra: I absolutely loved writing it – hated the proof-reading. I grew up in England and we spell differently there and punctuate differently too at times. Often two words are hyphenated in England but not here, or vice-versa; and don’t get me started about capitalizing…So when I write I can’t edit at the same time, it’s a different side of the brain being used, so I just type like a mad man, my daughter calls it “going ‘splot’”…I just have to get the idea out – SPLOT!!
That is the joy of creating, that’s when I am completely wrapped up with my characters and their foibles and exploits. But then….oh my goodness, then the real work starts. Do you spell it color or colour? Is it mid air, midair, or mid-air? Is it hoofbeat or hoof-beat? And where the hec am I anyway? And what was my name again?
Norm: Many people have the skills and drive to write a book, but failure to market and sell the book the right way is probably what keep a lot of people from finding success. Can you give us 2-3 strategies that have been effective for you in promoting your book?
Devra: Having a good website and keeping it up to date helps. I am very lucky to have a daughter who is talented at marketing. She keeps my online presence going (while I’m out kayaking and dilly-dallying in boats).
On social media it’s really important to have interesting content that’s not always all about self-promotion so you get genuine followers interested in what you have to say.
And then, it has to be said, hopefully what you are selling is good and they’ll like it and pass it on by word of mouth to others. That’s the beauty part of technology. I have a phrase that I like to bandy about when asked how to write; I say birds fly, fish swim and writers write. That might sound silly, but it’s actually very wise because it is organic. I just asked my daughter to comment on marketing to help me answer this question and she said “Mum, birds fly, fish swim and marketers market!!” – How did she get so wise?
Norm: Where can our readers find out more about you and your books?
Devra: The Hologram Library
Norm: What is next for Devra Robitaille?
Devra: Glad you asked, I’ve got two new books in the works and I can’t wait to start. I have to get through the wall of proofing first, I have the third in the Muffy series finished and illustrated, it needs spell checking, (its called Muffy and the Medicine Cat and I think it’s a cute story) and the Dream Stealers is also finished and ready to proof. So if I’m very good I should be able to start the first one after Christmas.
Norm: As this interview draws to a close what one question would you have liked me to ask you? Please share your answer.
Devra: This is the hardest question of all, as your questions have been really great, you’ve covered a lot of ground and gotten me to dig down and really discover what I think, so I thank you for being an excellent interviewer. I’ve enjoyed it very much. I don’t think there’s an unturned stone.
Norm: Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions. It's been an absolute pleasure to meet with you and read your work. Good luck with all of your books.