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The Ninja Librarian (The Ninja Librarian, #1)
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ARCHIVE - BOTM discussions > Interview with Rebecca M Douglass, author of our April BOTM

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Jemima Pett | 1424 comments Mod
Our book of the month for April is the Ninja Librarian by Rebecca M Douglass.

On this thread you'll find an interview with Rebecca, and you can comment about the book, about writing, and ask any questions you'd like. Rebecca is not allowed to comment on the ordinary comments thread, but she is encouraged to interact with you here!

I hope we get some lively discussion.

First, the interview.

Q How long did it take to write the Ninja Librarian?

This book, which is really a collection of stories, took several years to write. That’s partly because I started out just writing a story when something around the library made me think of one, and I was only thinking about entertaining my co-workers, not writing a book. So I think I wrote occasional stories for perhaps 2 years before someone suggested I was writing a book, and then it took perhaps another year to finish it.

Most of my books since have been drafted much more quickly, but it still usually takes the better part of a year of revisions to get a book ready. I usually have 2 books in draft form, as I like to draft a new book when I finished one, then turn to revising something else while the latest MS marinates. Ideally, I’d be making those turn-arounds in under a year, but currently I’m about 2 years behind! I’ve also been alternating adult books with middle grade fiction, so it makes for long gaps between releases—not so good.

Q What was your initial inspiration for the book?

The inspiration for the the Ninja Librarian’s first story was a real incident at the library. Maybe it didn’t quite happen like in the book, but our head librarian at the time was Tom (who looks a lot like the Ninja Librarian). He made an off-the-cuff comment one night about not getting mugged on the way to the bank because he’s trained to kill. I asked if he was some kind of Ninja Librarian, and the character, the town, and at least part of the story popped into my mind. I started writing at once—fortunately, it was a slow night at the library! Big Al showed up to narrate and I was off.


Q What research did you do, and how?

Since the stories are not just fiction but a bit preposterous, I didn’t do a lot of research. I didn’t even pick a definite time or place to set the stories—in my mind, they are set around 1900, and either in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains of California, or in the foothills of the Colorado Rockies (actually, I think something in Return to Skunk Corners settles that question pretty well).

So rather than research, it was more a matter of reading over decades the kind of books that inspired the style—Mark Twain, Richard Peck, Sid Fleischman, and all the tellers of tall tales. I do think of the stories as tall tales in the tradition of Mark Twain. I have done things like look up photos of Carnegie libraries and when trains started running to particular places, just for some inspiration. When it comes to all those things, the internet is your friend! I’ve found nearly everything I need by doing on-line searches.


Q Who is your favorite character in your books?

Oh, my! That’s harder than you’d think. Al may be nearest and dearest to my heart, and the Librarian is wiser than I could ever hope to be. But I think it’s Tess I like the best, because she is so human, and just as wise as the Ninja Librarian—with maybe a better understanding of human nature. In the second book of the series (Return to Skunk Corners) I wrote in a character who is actually my father-in-law, and I’ve always treated him kindly :)


Q As an indie author, what has been the most successful method of promoting your books?

I’m very tempted to say “none” in answer to this. I am still searching for a really effective way of marketing my books. So far, for on-line sales, keeping a steady and active social media presence (in places like this, my blog, and other on-line forums) is the best I’ve found. My biggest profits usually come from local events. I sometimes do school visits/readings and provide order forms, or do readings at the library. Both of those can be hard to schedule, even though I have an “in” both places!

I suspect that spending money on actual advertising might be helpful, but it is hard to know where that would be effective, and the costs can easily exceed the very modest profits most Indy writers make.


Q Any tips of things to do or avoid?

I’m not sure if this is a question about writing or marketing, so I’ll answer for writing (since I’m not good at marketing). My biggest take-away after 8 novels is to plan in advance. Some people will say that stifles the creativity, but having done it both ways, I can say that a good plan (I won’t say “outline,” because that’s just one way to plan) can shorten the revision time by about half. It also shortens the writing time—if you want to do a NaNo-style blitz, you need to know where the story is going, or at least I do. To be sure, that’s less important with a book like The Ninja Librarian, because it’s a collection of short stories and the overarching plot is minimal. The stories were short enough I could get an idea and just write it out. But when I began writing murder mysteries (my other series is cozy mysteries for adults), I learned in a hurry to plan it (and then violated that rule, so I got to learn it again as I spent nearly 2 years straightening out Book 3 of the Pismawallops PTA mysteries).

I know how hard it is to write consistently when you have a day job, or kids, or both, and it’s no coincidence that my writing didn’t take off until my kids were in school and fairly independent (and the remodeling on our house was mostly done. There aren’t enough hours in the day for everything). In retrospect, I think it’s better to write for 15 minutes every day than to wait until you have a big block of time, which is what I used to do. That big block almost never comes, and if you haven’t been working, you don’t remember where the story was. That approach made my first mystery a mess!


Q What more is in store for the Ninja Librarian?

I consider the Librarian’s stories to be finished. At this point, anyway, I can’t see where to go with Skunk Corners except farther out into the world, and I think that would ruin the feel of the place. So I guess I wrote a trilogy, though that was never my intention! (Now I might have to write a fourth book just to not be a stereotype!).


Q Have you any new books coming out in the next few months you’d like to tell us about?

I have a book that just came out, though it’s not for middle grade readers! Book 3 of the murder series mentioned above (Death By Adverb) just released March 28. I guess it’s sort of relevant here, because many of us are parents of school-aged kids, and the mysteries are set in the PTA! Also, a story is appearing in the (again, for adults) IWSG Anthology, Tick Tock: A Stitch in Crime, which is due May 1.

I do hope to return to the fantasy I drafted over a year ago from flash fiction pieces I’ve posted on my blog about Gorg the Troll. That’s not specifically middle-grade, I don’t think, but I will probably aim for an all-ages appeal. Given the goofy nature of the concept, I might need to tilt it more middle-grade—kids are so much smarter than adults about enjoying goofiness!

My personal life is going to be all topsy-turvy for the next year, though, so I’m trying to be realistic about how my writing will or won’t progress. I may concentrate on short stories!

Thank you, Rebecca. Over to you, members!


message 2: by Laurel (new) - added it

Laurel Decher | 7 comments This sounds fun! I'm looking forward to reading.


message 3: by Emily (new)

Emily Freeman | 13 comments Thanks for your candor, Rebecca! I’m looking forward to reading!!


message 4: by Rebecca (new) - added it

Rebecca Douglass (rdouglass) | 1673 comments Mod
Great! I hope you enjoy the book :)


message 5: by Bonni (new)

Bonni Goldberg | 8 comments Thank you for your insiders perspective on your book and on indie publishing. It seems doubly difficult to market for MG because the buyer isn't usually the reader. Can you comment on the difference between marketing your MG and your adult books?


message 6: by Rebecca (new) - added it

Rebecca Douglass (rdouglass) | 1673 comments Mod
Good question, Bonni. I may not be the best one to answer that, though :) I'm really pretty poor at marketing in the big wide world. I do better with in-person appearances, but those are hard to set up, and require good marketing of their own.

So, with the kids' books, I've done best locally, because I have an in with a number of teachers, who invite me to their classes to talk about writing, read to the kids, etc. Then they want to buy my books. I do pass out order forms (or rather, leave them for the teacher to pass out later), and sometimes get a few sales, sometimes a lot.

On the other hand, I have found better on-line publicity for the mysteries. There seem to be more people willing to organize blog tours for adult books, and the blogs that focus on mysteries are beyond counting :) Maybe there's more for kid lit than I've found, though.

The thing with children's books is that as you note, usually the buyer isn't the reader. So you need to market to appeal to the parents, while also making the blurb, cover, and contents appeal to the kids. At least with adult books the audience and the buyer are the same!


message 7: by Stacia (new)

Stacia Jones | 2 comments Just FYI for the author, we have a kiddo at our school that LOVES LOVES LOVES this book, so much so she now has a crew of kids reading it :) Isn't that just the best?!?! I love a student that gets excited about a book!


message 8: by Rebecca (new) - added it

Rebecca Douglass (rdouglass) | 1673 comments Mod
Stacia wrote: "Just FYI for the author, we have a kiddo at our school that LOVES LOVES LOVES this book, so much so she now has a crew of kids reading it :) Isn't that just the best?!?! I love a student that gets ..."

That totally makes my day! Thank you!


Jemima Pett | 1424 comments Mod
Your kids have excellent taste, Stacia!


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