How long have you been writing?
I started writing as a small child, but my first book just interchanged the words "Mom" and "Tom." In elementary school, my teacher sent me off to a day-long writing workshop. Later on, another one put my books in her recommended reading cabinet, and another asked if she could read my story to her other classes. By then, I had thankfully progressed a little from the whole "Mom" and "Tom" thing! I also received encouragement from childhood friends. One chose to read my books during our free-time in English class. (Although, she did have to keep coming over to me to have me decipher my handwriting!) Another would come over to my house to visit and ask: "Did you write any new books?" And instead of doing something with me--sometimes she would sit and read my latest book!
What do you write?
Aside from the books you see on the site, I've also written articles that have been published in non-fiction newsstand magazines. I'm currently a product review writer for a major online retailer, and it's a lot of fun to try out new things! But my favorite to write is fiction. There's so much more freedom in creating your own characters and their voices, rather than reporting on fact. The characters you create become very real to you, and you hope they do to readers, as well.
Is it easier to write fiction or non-fiction?
Conversely, if you're honest in non-fiction and writing something like a memoir, there's no need to worry about being consistent. You just will be! That being said, fiction can be more rewarding, because the world you create may be enjoyed by others. It's an amazing feeling to know you can entertain others in that way!
I feel like it's more difficult to write fiction. The writer creates a whole world that doesn't really exist and tries to bring it to life for the reader, all while trying to be consistent within that world.
Do you recommend writing on a computer or by hand? Which one do you do?
Writing on paper is useful because you can always grab a piece of paper and write out some ideas. If I'm working on a book, I keep paper and a writing utensil on the nightstand. Sometimes plots or plot holes will work themselves out when you're just starting to go to sleep. Or, you may think of the "perfect" thing for one of your characters to say. You don't want to forget it, so it's important to keep paper close by!
If you're beginning to write, I recommend doing both! You'll find out which works better for you. There are positives to each method.
At times, I'll also write in pre-made journals--books that are meant just for me. I've been writing fiction books in pre-made journals since I was a child, and doing so is really good practice. If you use a journal, when you're done you'll have your own special hardcover book! Because this type of handwritten book doesn't hold many words on each page, it's typically too short to publish, unless you might choose to expand it.
Writing by computer has its positives, too. I don't like to write in order. I write all over the place. One of the "trademarks" you may have noticed is that in quite a few of my stories, something seemingly small mentioned in the beginning becomes a major part in the end. The first chapter of Gram, Gramps, and a Guinea Pig Named Rover is a good example of that. If you type on a computer, you can go all over the place with your writing a lot easier than you can when writing by hand, and do this more complicated type of storyline. If I think of an ending first, I can type it up, then go back and write the beginning! Surprise endings are some of my favorite ones to write, and it's much easier to do them if you type what you write.
Whichever you choose to do, write, write, write! Write letters to distant family. Write letters to friends who have moved away. If you're in school, try to enjoy writing your English homework (really!). Write all you can, because the more you do . . . the better you will be at it!
Are you on any social networking sites?
No--I'm old-fashioned and still like websites better. I hope this site will serve as a means to share updates about new titles. I have an author page on Amazon, though. It's located at: www.amazon.com/author/melissataylor.
The Caroline's Cavy Series
How did you come up with the idea for the Caroline's Cavy series?
I got my first guinea pig at age nine, and remember the childhood excitement of having a brand new friend to care for and play with. There's just no similar feeling to getting your first pet, and there's no bond like the one between a child and his or her first pet. I wrote and illustrated books about her back then! Some of the events in the first book, especially, are based on things that happened to us, and it's set more in the past than in the present. Although this isn't mentioned in the series, the feel is more timeless, and the kids are more free, and aren't running around with cell phones.
I started the series after losing my mom to cancer. It's a tribute to her, because she gave me my first guinea pig--a guinea pig who lived for nearly nine years, herself! The main character's name and appearance are in her honor.
Is nine a little young for someone to be caring for a guinea pig?
Caroline additionally wanted her best friend to get a guinea pig, but decided to wait until she knew all she could about taming one before rushing in with approaching the topic. These aspects were included to try to encourage responsible pet ownership and pet-keeping.
When writing about pet ownership, it's challenging to be both realistic and politically correct on various issues. I had to really wrestle with this, and eventually decided it needed to be realistic. The book is based in a more innocent time, roughly the late 1980s or early 1990s. It would have been realistic for a nine-year-old to get a guinea pig. However, Caroline's parents not only made sure she researched pet care, but also that their family housed the guinea pig in the kitchen so they could be responsible for her care, as well. This is also how my parents approached the situation. I wanted it to be very clear, as in Gram, Gramps, and a Guinea Pig Named Rover, that the children getting guinea pigs weren't only well-educated about them, but that they also had family members that would make sure the pets were valued members of their families. When a child gets a pet, I believe that the family should approach it as if they're all accepting a new member into their family.
Such issues can be sticky, tricky situations, especially trying to include them without making the book seem too educational. At each step along the way, I've wondered, "What would guinea pig owners think? Would they be upset, for example, that Caroline took her pet on a trip?" When Caroline did something without thinking it through in Caroline's Cavy Goes Camping, her guinea pig was put in a potentially dangerous situation (cause and effect). All of these moments hopefully teach without preaching. Caroline's Cavy is a lighthearted series, so these issues are handled in a way that hopefully fits within the tone of the series, while still treating guinea pigs with respect and encouraging proper care.
Why are the illustrations different from the ones in the Guinea Pigs' Storybook series?I like the storybooks' illustrations better, but it's a lot more fun for me to draw the Caroline's Cavy ones--there are less conventions to follow and less things to worry about--it's a much more joyful way to draw! I also don't have to worry about the characters looking the same in every single drawing, which was very important when writing and illustrating the Guinea Pigs' Storybook series. Kids don't draw things to look exactly the same all of the time or to be consistent with perspective, so there's a lot more freedom of expression.
The illustrations are based on how I drew when I was around Caroline's age. Aside from drawing with less detail and perspective, I use different writing instruments for a more rough look.
How many books will be in the series?
I don't know for sure yet. How many books there would be in the series was a lot more obvious with the Guinea Pigs' Storybooks, since there are only four seasons! :)
When will the next book come out?
I don't know yet, but whenever it's available, it will show up on the author page on Amazon: www.amazon.com/author/melissataylor. This is the series I've moved on to after completing The Guinea Pigs' Storybooks. It was bittersweet to end that series after many years, but I have been enjoying the Caroline character, too!
The Guinea Pigs' Storybook(s) Series
What age range are these books for?
They're intended for a large age range, especially as a reading activity to do together, to encourage interaction between different age groups. I started writing them way back in 2002 because I felt that a young friend and I needed to have books we could interact with and enjoy on different levels. Adults have told me they enjoy the stories, and the books can be read alone, too.
How long does it take to draw a picture for one of the storybooks?
Each illustration is done by hand, so it depends a lot on how much detail the drawing has. One with the least amount of detail might take about an hour or so from start to finish. As an example on the opposite end of the spectrum, the cover image on the Spring book--with color and a lot of details (blades of grass, etc.)--was drawn and colored over three different days!
Do the books in The Guinea Pigs' Storybooks series have to be read in any particular order?
They should be read in order (but they don't need to be read in the season mentioned!). There are so many main characters, along with members of their families and teachers introduced, that the books start off slowly and build off one another. In volume one (The Guinea Pigs' Summer Storybook), the eight friends are focused on. The first chapter introduces all of them and a bit of their personalities. Near the end of the first book, the reader gets to meet Percival's aunt and uncle and Polly's siblings. In the Fall and Winter titles, some parents are introduced. The cavies also refer to previous events. For example, a story in the Spring/fourth book builds on a story in the Winter/third book. As another example, Polly is afraid of her first sleepover in the Summer/first book, but in the Winter/third book she loves them.
Why does Percival seem to be in more stories than the others?In The Guinea Pigs' Summer Storybook, four stories focus on Percival
In The Guinea Pigs' Fall Storybook, five stories focus on Percival
In The Guinea Pigs' Winter Storybook, four stories focus on Percival
In The Guinea Pigs' Spring Storybook, four stories focus on Percival
As an added piece of trivia, Percival is the only character who appears on three out of four covers! Penguin and Violet tie for second place by being on two covers.
Do you have any guinea pigs?
He really is! Since he's the only boy in a group of eight friends, he's focused on just a bit more to keep it fair and interesting for male readers. That means that he individually gets a little more focus than the girl characters do individually.
Thankfully, yes--two sweet girl guinea pigs. From left to right: Daisy (the newcomer), Adenia (who is no longer here, but was my final guinea pig to appear in one of the books), and Sweet Cecily. The photo that shows just Daisy really is right-side up! (Showing she can stand on two feet just as well as the eight guinea pig friends.) Some of the characters in the books are based on guinea pigs I have owned. But you don't have to have guinea pigs to read the books. (Although, everyone who can be a good piggy parent should have a couple of them.)
Why is there at least one flower in every illustration?
Since she was coincidentally named after a plant, all of my guinea pigs have been. The little flower is in homage to all of them. It's also intended to create a more interactive feel to the stories, since a lot of them are hidden.
Before I got my very first guinea pig at the age of nine, my mom handed me a baby name book and told me to name her. I went through the whole thing and decided to choose a name that meant "shy," because I knew my new pet would be timid at first. That name just happened to be "Violet!" She was a wonderful guinea pig who lived almost nine years. I ended up making her the ditzy character in the book because I hoped she would be one of the most well-loved characters.
What guinea pigs in the books are based on your own?
There's also a cameo of another guinea pig. Fern was a guinea pig owned by my mother. She lived in our kitchen and would beg our family for our veggies at dinnertime! Do you know what book she appears in? Adenia, another guinea pig I had, appears in two stories in the Spring book as Henna's accident-prone little cousin.
Five of them are. Penguin, Percival, and Polly aren't. Violet, Lilac, Chloe/Clover, Miss Muffet/Muffy, and Henna are all guinea pigs I had. Sadly, they're no longer here.
Don't see your question answered? Drop me a note! I would love to answer it, and it may appear here.
Will you read/review/critique this book I wrote?
I've located this question near my e-mail address, because I'm often e-mailed with requests to read others' books. Unfortunately, this isn't something I can do in an unofficial capacity. I can never find much spare time to read, and my growing piles of unread books sadly attest to that. Be sure to look around online--there are many resources available to writers. You might also try joining a creative writing class or group. I wish you the very best with your writing!