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On The Table Read, “the best book magazine in the UK“, children’s author and founder of Sonburst Books, Vicki Burris Risbeck, talks about what inspired her new book, What Can (Might) Doodles Do?
Written by JJ Barnes
I interviewed Vicki Burris Risbeck about her life and career, her independent publishing company, Sonburst Books, and her latest release, What Can (Might) You Do When You Are A Doodle?
Tell me a bit about who you are.
Hello! My name is Vicki Risbeck, and I live in Grove City, a southwest suburb of Columbus, Ohio, USA. I live with my husband Tom – a retired metallurgical engineer – and my two rescue dogs, Sophia Rose and Luna (short for Lunatic…which she certainly is! 😊).
I have two grown children and four grandgirls. OH…and one granddog Maeve, who is the subject of my latest book! I retired three years ago, after over forty years of teaching and administration at all levels, from kindergarten through graduate school.
I now own my own company, Sonburst Books, a small, independent publishing company established in 2019. I am also getting more involved with the literacy movement here in the States.
When did you first WANT to write a book?
I come from a large, fairly income-challenged family, where a plethora of books in the home was only a dream. My mother however, managed to find used books for us, as I think she got tired of me spouting off print from every time a new cereal box was brought home.
Being fairly astute in literacy early on (I could read way before kindergarten), the urge to write stories of my own surfaced with my continued reading ability. School only heightened my love for both disciplines. When I couldn’t find any paper around the house to use for my stories, I would often go to those worn books my mother brought home and carefully rip out their first blank pages, so no one would ever know – or miss them. They made fine landscapes for my words 😊
When did you take a step to start writing?
As I said, as soon as I could read, I wanted to write. So often I would lay awake at night, filtering out different scenarios and constructing new and exciting scripts. I’m sure my elementary teachers knew that someday I would end up as an author, no matter how limited it might be.
How long did it take you to complete your first book from the first idea to release?
I seriously write stories in my head, way before putting anything down on paper. Oh, and rewrite. And edit. I guess I am a planner in that way, which is not so evident in other areas of my life. So, for my first published book, A Lens View~Family was “Vicki Cloud” written in 2020 but was not published until June 2021.
How long did it take you to complete your latest book from the first idea to release?
Well, my last book was done (written) in a weekend, since it was a simple picture book. However, waiting on the illustrations took at least six months, mostly because Dixie, my illustrator on my first and last book, had shoulder surgery and couldn’t draw for at least two months. So, for that one, I’d say start to finish six months.
Focusing on your latest release. What made you want to write What Can (Might) Doodles Do?
My daughter Sara’s family had a wonderful Great Dane, Daphne, who died violently at just under a year ☹. Following Daph’s death, the family swore they would never get another dog. Oh, but wait…just a few months later, my nephew posted Facebook pictures showing his liter of Doodle Dogs from Momma and Papa Doodle – and of course, being the canine lovers we all are, Sara and company weakened.
Once they went to see the pups, Maeve decided she belonged to them. At first, she was a sweet, polite little fluff ball…but that didn’t last long! I laughed hysterically at her antics and the stories Sara told; it was a daily treat to see and hear. Thus, the book just wrote itself. Title? What Can (Might) You Do When You Are A Doodle? This was the second book in which I used the mixed media of illustrations and actual photographs.
What were your biggest challenges with writing What Can (Might) Doodles Do?
Waiting on the illustrations was so frustrating! Of course, I chose to have Dixie do the work, so I was willing to wait. That is one advantage of being an indie (independent) author: I chose the illustrator and worked carefully with her to catch the image(s) I wanted. More often than not, large publishing houses hire their own illustrators, which may be fine for some folks. I however, wanted the art to match my vision to the tee. And I was certainly pleased with the results!
Who or what inspired you when creating your Protagonist?
On the last book, the one and only Maeve-a-Doodle! The protagonist Penny, in my novella for young teens, Searching For The Best, has the same beautiful, fiery red hair as my oldest granddaughter, Emma Grace 😊
Who or what inspired you when creating your Antagonist?
The first and last books had no antagonist, as they were written that way. It is interesting that the antagonist in Searching for the Best is not a person at all: it is death, and the grief that follows it. It was exciting to use something different than a person to cause the story to move along and see the protagonist win out!
What is the inciting incident of What Can (Might) Doodles Do?
As I said, in Searching, the death of Penny’s father happens before the book begins, so that would be the inciting incident.
However, there is another that further guides the story along, and that’s when Penny is ‘forced’ to take home a mangy dog named Rue from the shelter, against her desires and wishes. She wants the best dog but has to settle for what she claims is the worst one.
What is the main conflict of What Can (Might) Doodles Do?
Going back to the Doodle book, the main conflict is there are ways Doodles can (and should) behave…and then there’s the reality of how they MIGHT behave in that same situation. The disparity is quite dramatic at times! The main conflict in Searching is that in so wanting the best all the time, Penny could not see the good that’s right before her, perhaps until it is too late. The main conflict in A Lens View is Dax’s struggle to understand how his father’s new family impacts his family tree with his ‘old’ family.
Did you plot What Can (Might) Doodles Do? in advance, or fly by the seat of your pants and write freely?
As I previously stated, these books are floating in my head for months before the fingers ever hit the keys.
Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did What Can (Might) Doodles Do? need?
I am pretty comfortable editing my own work, as I have served as an editor for textbooks and other documents. I was so proud of my work on A Lens View, sure I had edited it perfectly. That is, until Brynn, my second born granddaughter thumbed through a few pages of the printed copy and immediately informed me of several errors. That prompted me to invest in an online editing program for the next two. I used it for grammar and spelling, not content.
What is the first piece of writing advice you would give to anyone inspired to write a story?
First piece of advice would be – know yourself as a writer. By doing that you will set reasonable, achievable expectations and timelines for yourself. So many writers float on clouds of excitement, but then second and third guess themselves on every page because they don’t really know themselves in the craft. Therefore, they get “writer’s block” and sometimes never produce their work. Perseverance is a huge strength for anyone who writes.
Can you give me a hint about any further books you’re planning to write?
Sure. The second Lens View will see some incredible photographs of ‘scary things’, according to some children, but they are shown that sometimes what we think as scary can actually be quite helpful – and even beautiful! Searching has an actual epilogue, which leads Penny and her friends into an upcoming mystery surrounding a missing classmate. One class of fourth graders, who heard this one read aloud, insisted on a continuation!
There are no real plans for a Doodle follow-up. It, like Maeve, is one of a kind. On a separate note, I am also musing on an education book, but that is in the more distant future. It will be released independently however, since Sonburst books are primarily for children and are meant to be read aloud.
And, finally, are your proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?
Being an indie author is so rewarding. Expensive – but rewarding. I consider writing as an art, and as the artist I get to paint the story and characters the exact way I want. So yes, I am proud of my efforts and hard work. What makes me prouder is the feedback I receive from students. They like the stories. They want more of them.
Following a recent read-aloud of the Doodle book in a second-grade class, a mother emailed that her son came home from school that night – a Friday night no less – and spent the night making his own book of their family dog. That, to me, is worth any effort I put into the book. If all of us could touch at least one child in that way, imagine the wave of positiveness we could create!
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