Selkies' Skins

Selkies' Skins
Current book in series Temple and Skinquest. Enjoy Castle and Well from Amazon, B&N and Smashwords while waiting for that and the prequel's audiobook "Pearls of Sea and Stone: Book of Seals".

Friday, September 13, 2013

Author Interview: Marisha and Joseph Cautilli of Zombies vs. Robots

Some time ago I ran across an article about a book that was written by an 8 year old girl. That was awesome enough, especially as my daughter has been starting books since she was around four, but never finishing writing the story. So both my daughter and I know how hard it can be to write. I have more than a few unfinished manuscripts myself that will one day join my finished works. Some of those books can take years when life gets busy or when one project supersedes another.

Then I read on and discovered the book to be "Zombies v. Robots," which of course very nicely smashes the stereotype that "girls don't like zombies, robots, and such things" which was so prevalent when I was a child. I still see and hear little boys in my apartment complex say such things and try to get girls to fit with gender stereotypes. My own daughter LOVES zombies (she's working on a zombie book of her own). Because of all this I was even more intrigued. I love when the boat gets rocked and I find the fireflies showing off their colors, reminding us that the norm doesn't always apply.

I decided to find out how to contact Marisha and her dad for an interview since Marisha had impressed me so much. Child authors is one of the main reasons that I started my publishing, so even though she was going on her own with it, I wanted to help the world know about her story and meet the author.

Grab a cup of your favorite drink, maybe a snack to go with it, and be the fly on the wall in my little chat with this bright young lady and her very supportive father.

If you're already interested, then feel free to open up one of these links at the same time.

Teresa: Tell us a little about yourself please.

Marisha: I turn eight years old this Saturday. One of the presents that I received was an electrical scooter and I am looking forward to riding it. I attend PA Cyber School. When I was diagnosed as gifted, they allowed me to accelerate my curriculum. I am now 2 years ahead of my grade level.

Teresa: That scooter sounds fun, I hope you get lots of enjoyment out of it. Congratulations on being so far ahead of your grade level. I am very impressed and very happy that you’re being allowed to do that. It is so important to be able to take classes that are going to keep you challenged and engaged.

Joe: I guess there is a lot to tell. I am a licensed psychologist. I have specialties in both behavior analysis and clinical psychopharmacology. I have practiced for roughly 27 years now. I own my own practice in Bala Cynwyd –called Behavior Analysis and Therapy Partners. The last valuation of the company was over one and a half million dollars. I have taught at the university level- mostly graduate students in education, psychology, and behavior analysis. I started writing in college as a hobby. I mostly wrote horror, cyberpunk, and science fiction.

Teresa: Wow, congratulations on such hard work. That is quite the background.

Teresa: How old were you when you started writing your book? How old are you now?

Marisha: I was seven when I started writing the first book. I am still seven now.

Joe: Forty six and I am still 46 now.

Teresa: So you finished the book in less than a year. Some authors that I know can write that fast and some can’t. Of course a lot also depends on the length of the story being written, but I hope you realize how awesome a feat is to accomplish that fast.

Teresa: How long did it take to write Zombies vs. Robots?

Marisha: It seems like a long time but it was only five months.

Joe: It took five months to write and then about a month and a half to find out how to get it published.

Teresa: What inspired you to write it?

Marisha: We were doing story starters to practice for the PSSAs. I wrote one story on Mario from Super Mario Brothers and that gave my dad the idea that we could do a book. I was writing to have fun. I hope people who read it have fun as well.

Teresa: That’s the best way to write. That’s what I do as well.

Joe: Marisha is a cyber school student and I was helping her as she said with her practice to take our state tests for writing. We were using the curriculum based measure procedures. They involve giving the child a “story starter” and having them look at it for a minute, then write for three minutes, and then edit for one minute. Well, she was producing between forty five and fifty words per starter and we were doing them 3x-4x/day. About two weeks into it, I noticed two things (1) she writes very well and (2) we were producing a lot of words. I thought, hey let’s organize this and see if we can get something permanent. When I was young, my dad and I would do a lot of projects together like working on the car and paneling the basement. I always liked those projects and thought that Marisha and I writing together could be an excellent project for both of us. We had done models together. Her school PA cyber gives her a lot of hands on types of activities. So I had some experience working with her.

Teresa: Hands on is always the best way to learn.

Teresa: In another letter you mentioned that Marisha built a robot with her mom. Can you tell us about that project, why you built the robot, what your favorite part of it was, and anything surprising that you learned during that project. I’ve never built a robot, so that is really cool. My son will be so jealous, since that’s something he’d like to get into.

Marisha: It was a project that I did with my mom. It was Scientific Explorer Robot. It was a humanoid shape with a clear-white skin. My dad bought the kit and my favorite part was how it walked. I don't remember as much about it as I would like. I did it at five. I remember the gears. They were a reddish color and you could see them though the plastic skin. I remember we had to line them up and put the screws in to hold them. It lived about a year but then it broke.

Teresa: Why zombies? Why robots?

Marisha: The robot idea came from watching a show in T.V. called Robot Combat League on Sci-Fi Channel. I really like that show. They had a father daughter team.

Joe: When Marisha and I started writing, I was thinking of the future. I guess zombies are popular now and so are robots. I think for me the clincher as to both was the idea of the opposite views of the future they create. In the zombie future, the world is dying. People are turning into mindless beasts with a singular purpose- that is surviving by eating others. Robots are sort of the opposite view of the future a technology that improves and indeed in some respects keeps humans alive. Initially, Marisha wanted more a Haitian zombie- magic creates them. I kind of talked her into more of a zombie that was of a biopunk origin (that is humans are the origins of the zombie plague- science gone amok). We both agreed for the Ramero type- bite others and turn them into zombies.

Teresa: Was there anything that you would have done differently?

Marisha: No I don’t think so. I had a lot of fun with the book. I especially had fun looking up some of the solar and survival stuff.

Joe: If I was working alone, I would have killed off more of the main characters but Marisha had a soft spot for them. Marisha was also very much interested in character development, so she wanted them to feel like real people. I think that slows them down somewhat but if you look at zombie flicks that don’t develop the characters they tend just to be stereotypes of good and evil. So working with Marisha has helped me to produce a type of book I would not have done so on my own.

Teresa: Was there something that you took out of the manuscript during the drafting that you wish you hadn’t?

Marisha: I occasionally get scared about zombies but not as much as I do about tsunamis.

Teresa: I can understand the fear of tsunami. I was not in Fukushima, but I did get a text that day waking me out of deep sleep while I was recovering from a surgery. I was being checked on because of the possibility of the radiation from the double disaster coming over the sea since I'm on the West Coast and the air current points right here. Then there is also the fact that I have a lot of family down by the sea. I check what's going on in that area every time I hear of quakes.

A (Joe): Some of the characters seemed to have been based on subtle jokes that Marisha and her mother make about me. Not to take it personal, it is difficult sometimes to hear those criticisms, your daughter’s criticism of you, directed off handed at the characters in her writing.

Teresa: I can understand that, yes.

Teresa: Was there something that you wish you would have explored more in your book?

Marisha: In the sequel we had the opportunity to explore more of Emma and her views of the world and in book three she will have a new look with a suit that she is constructing.

Joe: While we were writing, I really felt like I had the chance to learn about culture from my daughters view. She liked to put songs in the book and we often clashed on which songs to mention. I found that often I would mention a song and she would have never heard it, so we would go Youtube and watch it before we made the final decision of “in” or “out.” Marisha likes a lot of happy songs like Katty Perry and songs from video games. So I got to hear more songs like those and I as we did the sequel and now book three I feel like I have a much better understanding of how she views the world.

Teresa: What was your favorite scene or part of your book?

Marisha: In book 1, I kind of liked all of the scenes but I think the best one was when Emma asks her dad to build jetpacks. Actually, jetpacks were completely my idea and my dad did not want to do them at first, but I convinced him.

Joe: I really liked the scenes in book one where people are fighting back against a world that seems and really is out of control. I think it is a hopeful statement. I also really liked the scene where Kathy is speaking to John Fredricks about his experience in Vietnam. Also, sometimes Marisha would write a section that was challenging to integrate, so it became like a puzzle how to fit it in. I liked that – sometimes I would weave it as a wish of the character or a dream. Those tended to be my favorite parts because I was able to get something to work that some would have just said “It cannot happen that way.” It really helped me to feel like I could preserve her views.

Teresa: Do you have a favorite character?

Marisha: Emma is clearly my favorite. She is bright and a computer wizard. In addition, she is an avid gamer. I also really like Jade and Katrina. Jade is more an artist and better at reading the situation. Katrina takes care of the animals. I think Martin was a funny character.

A: I really liked the character of Pete. He was quite an interesting point of contrast. He was a medical doctor and also a gun tooting militia guy. The conflict between the two roles really made him hard to keep an understanding on. I also really liked Timmy, especially in the sequel, because he represents the rebellious adolescent who is really trying to make a difference.

Teresa: Did you work with an outline for your book, or did you just wing it?

Marisha: We had an outline. We sat and discussed before starting the setting, characters, plot, conflict, resolution, conclusion and ending. Then we did chapter headings to map out the plot. Finally, we had a general outline for each chapter but the details we winged. In addition, often when writing we changed things and this affected our outline. We reworked some of the characters that we were going to kill to keep them alive. My dad then would write a half sentence story starter. I would look at it for one minute and think then write for three minutes and edit for one minute.

Teresa: What did you learn by getting all the way through the process of publishing?

Marisha: My dad handled a lot of that. I don’t know.

Joe: I guess for me – it was to learn to let go of things that were not necessary to the story.

Teresa: Publishing a book is a big process, is there anyone that you would like to thank for their help and to tell us about what they did?

Marisha: I don’t know. I like some of the revisions that Krista made.

Joe: Yes, Krista Schwartz and Jason Sinner were both real helpful in getting the book through. They both spent a lot of time editing and reviewing the book. Some of the stuff cut was really unnecessary, as well as some of the stuff they asked us to add was very helpful. As you write, you know the characters so you might leave something out that you know but the audience does not. It is good to have some-one point that out.

Teresa: Do you plan to make the book available as an audiobook?

Marisha: We did make an audio book version but my dad voiced it and we are not sure they will accept it.

Joe: As Marisha said, we made an audiobook and it is under review. I think that the issue was I tend to have a great voice most of the time (I did a radio show for awhile and taught) but other times my voice can be grating and irritating.

Teresa: Are you going to write another book?

Marisha: We are writing book 3 now.

Joe: Book 2 is Zombies vs. Robots Part 2: Out of the Rubble. The second book is faster pace, as we had less need for character development. It reads a lot more graphic. It is due out in a few days. The third book is Zombies vs. Robots: Emma’s Army. In the first book, Emma’s hacking is just briefly introduced and toward the end of the book, you get a sense of just how powerful she can be. In the second book, she is sort of unleashed. In the third book, it sort of all comes together for her and you can really see her come on her own. Also, Martin’s process of moving from a typical sci-fi utopian to a cyberpunk hero is really completed by books three.

Teresa: You just get more and more amazing.

Teresa: What is your favorite genre to read?

Marisha: I vary. My favorite stories this year were the Hunger Game trilogy. I really like Mocking Jay the best because it was the most action and really showed war that Katiness actions created.

Joe: I like all kinds of horror stories but I like the cyberpunk style of a faceless corporation taking control of the world and powerless govs that cannot stop them. In addition, I like the idea that technology does not instantly produce moral people. I like the flawed hero types.

Teresa: Do you have a favorite author?

Marisha: Favorite author is Michael Scotto and Susan Collins. Michael Scotto writes a lot of the books I read for school. I like his illustrator, especially his covers.

Teresa: If you had a huge sum of money tomorrow, what do you think you would do with it?

Marisha: I don’t know. I would save some in my bank account. Also, I would like to buy my ticket to France- I want to go in the fall.

Teresa: What do you most want to be when you get older?

Marisha: I want to be a zoo veterinarian, a politician, and then the president of the United States.

Teresa: What do you think is the most pressing need in our world today?
Marisha: A way for the poor to become rich.

Teresa: What’s your most favorite place in the whole world?

Marisha: Wildwood, NJ, Clearwater and Orlando Florida, as well as India and Poland.

Joe: Asleep in my bed in Philadelphia but Wikki Beach in Honolulu, HI is a close second.

Teresa: What’s the most important thing about you and/or your book that we should know?

Marisha: The book is 100,000 words and it is – I don’t know – it is a nice book. This year has mostly been a zombie year and I hope next year we do a book on vampires. I would like to see a story I did for American Girl get accepted. It is called Linda: A Swimmer’s Dream.

Joe: The book’s characters all really grow a lot. Even the characters that you might not like change and grow. I think that this is important because people do change. Lots of death in the three books and it is hard on people when they get attached to a character to lose them, so I think people should put that in their decision of wither* to read or not.

Teresa: Is there anything you’d like to tell us or give us to think about that we’ve not covered?

Marisha: No. Well Zombies really frighten me. I think that I have had enough with zombies after the three books. They are creepy. I like historical fiction to read on my own.

Joe: We a lot of fun to write. I hope people have as much fun reading as we did writing.

Teresa: Thank you so much for joining us so that we could learn more about yourself and your books.

Who says school has to be in the classroom? Research opportunities abound.
Source: PA Cyber article on Marisha

I hope that you enjoyed the interview. If you are interested in the book, I suggest checking it out. Don't forget to be watching for the next books in the series.


*This stems from older English usage and has been left, not a misspelling. I personally have a large beef with people saying things like "you can't use this word, it's obsolete, ancient, archaic" or some such. I like archaic language, so if there is a reason for an archaic word to be used instead of a more modern one I defend it. It is nice to see that other people also use archaic words in daily language.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wow! Great interview! I'm a fan of the books and the writing team - and I'm looking forward to vol. 3. Keep on writing!