Give us a quick summary of your book, Book of Shadows, the first book in your Young Adult fantasy series?
Book of Shadows is centered around our sarcastic narrator, Emma McGlinchey, who finds her late great grandmother's book of shadows – a witch's spellbook and journal – while cleaning out her house. That night, Emma tries a simple candle-lighting spell and, much to her amazement, it actually works. Soon, she recruits her best friends Lia and Shar – an out lesbian couple – into forming a coven. Together, the 16-year-olds begin to dabble in magick, but they learn the hard way that spells can have unintended if not entirely disastrous side-effects. Side-effects they attempt to deal with by casting other spells, but it quickly spirals out of control.
While Emma deals with enchanting the boy of her dreams, Lia and Shar also have to deal with bullying as a group of zealots at their new private school set about taunting them for being lesbians.
You have a lot in common with the main character, Emma. Can you tell us
more about your relationship with her and this story?
Well, perhaps the biggest things we have in common are that our great grandmothers were both witches, a tradition we're carrying on, and that I started to cast spells when I was Emma's age. The book also takes place in and around Lowell, Massachusetts and I live in Dracut, a town that borders Lowell. (FYI, Lowell is the birthplace of the late Jack Kerouac, one of my favorite writers, as well as the industrial revolution.)
Another thing Emma and I have in common is the last name Beaulieu. And, no, I didn't name her that for egotistical reasons. You see, I wrote Book of Shadows before I ever thought about using a pen name. (My actual last name is McCarthy.) I gave her the last name Beaulieu (well, McGlinchey-Beaulieu) because it's a name that was in my family for generations but eventually died off and it was also the last name of my great grandmother. But then when I checked to see if the domain michaelmccarthy.com was available, I discovered that it was – if you had $2000 lying around, as it was purchased by one of those vile companies that buys up every web domain they can think of then charges people outrageous prices for them. I didn't have two grand, much less two grand to spend on a domain, so I checked to see if michaelbeaulieu.com was available. It was. And I figured using Beaulieu as my pen name would be an even better way to bring it back than to name a character that. Unforunately, I'd already gone through the process of making the e-book files to distribute. It was my first time using the program, Jutoh, and it had taken me several hours to do, so I wasn't about to go through that headache again just to change her last name. So, we're both Beaulieus. In hindsight, I wish I would've changed her last name because I'm sure some readers must cringe when they discover that she shares my last name, but I'm getting ready to publish book 4 now so there's no changing it at this point.
What was your inspiration for the magick and witchcraft in your series?
For one thing, I was inspired by my own experiences with casting spells. Although, fortunately, my spells have never yielded such disastrous secondary effects as those that Emma, Lia and Shar cast. Then again, they haven't been as powerful as their spells either. I was also greatly inspired by my late great grandmother. I'm not sure she actually called herself a witch, but she had prayers that could do powerful things like heal burns. In fact, even years after she died, she continues to heal burns.
My sister poured a scalding cup of coffee on herself when we were camping when she was two. She suffered third degree burns, the very worst, and ended up at Shriner's Burn Institute in Boston. She was going to need several skin grafts where they take skin from one part of the body and use it to replace burned skin, but my mother prayed to my late great grandmother and a week later my sister's burns were completely healed! The doctors said they would “have to write this one off as a miracle” because they had never, ever seen someone recover so quickly from third degree burns.
In Book of Shadows, Emma forms a coven with two unlikely friends, a lesbian couple, and together they go through a lot of hardships. Why did you chose to address the issue of homophobia in this series?
First, I decided that I wanted to address bullying, as I was bullied heavily when I was a kid and teenager. I had actually decided to have Lia and Shar be a lesbian couple before I even realized that it was something they could be bullied for. But, eventually, a lightbulb went off above my head and it dawned on me that since they're going to a Catholic high school there might be zealots who would harass them for that. I say this because I went to Catholic high school and people told jokes about gay people all the time. It was so bad that there wasn't a single gay or lesbian person who was out of the closet at school. I only learned that one classmate was gay because he tried to committ suicide, a decision that had to be at least partially the results of the homophobia at school.
This is one of many novels you’ve self published. Many of our readers are trying to decide which publishing option is best for them. Why did you chose self publishing and what have the benefits been for you?
I tried to find an agent and publisher for 20 years, as painful as that is to admit, with no luck. Needless to say, I was elated when I learned about the self-publishing trend. Also, when you have a “real” publisher, they'll usually pay you an advance of two or three thousand dollars – unless you're already an established author – but then you don't receive any royalty payments until you've paid back the money that they gave you. I already have enough debt, just to be honest, and I didn't like the idea of having to owe a publisher thousands of dollars. I understand that you don't actually have to pay them back if you don't sell enough books, but it still means that you wouldn't start collecting any royalties until it was paid back, which could take years. You also get much better royalty rates when you self-publish. Amazon pays as much as 70% of what your book sells for. I believe it's only 35% if your book is 99 cents, so that's why you see a lot of authors charging a few dollars for their books.
How long did it take you to get this book published, from its initial conception to the release date?
I created Book of Shadows as a television series first. That was a few years ago. Of course, the series wasn't made, largely because after I finished writing the first five episodes, which took several months, I decided that I wanted to make it a series of novels instead. The scripts are available on Instafreebie, but bear in mind that I was still developing the characters when I wrote them, so their characteristics are somewhat different in the scripts than in the books. But after I finished writing those scripts, I started writing the first novel. That took about a year to complete and I released it not long after that.
What was the biggest hurdle you had to overcome in completing your book?
I suppose it was my own self-doubt. Since I'd already spent months writing the Book of Shadows teleplays, I kept wondering if it was really worth turning into a series of books. As I wrote the first several chapters, I questioned whether I should be doing that or just start something entirely new.
What other books and authors inspire you?
Stephen King's book On Writing was very inspirational for me. Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird was as well. But if you're talking about fiction that inspired me, I would say Bret Easton Ellis' Glamorama, Jack Kerouac's On The Road, and anything by Francesca Lia Block. Speaking of Francesca, she recently published a book that was both a writing guide and memoir called The Thorn Necklace and I highly recommend it.
Why do you feel so many readers of all ages feel the pull to read Young
Adult Fantasy novels?
I think that with a lot of fantasy books people read them because they want to escape our world and live in someone else's for a while. My series is urban fantasy, which is when you have a book that's contemporary and basically set in the real world with whatever differences you choose to make for your fantasy elements. I think people read urban fantasy because it's easier to imagine these books really happening when they're set in the here and now and most things are as they are in reality. As for why people choose young adult fantasy, I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that many of today's best fantasy authors are writing young adult books. Plus, people are often scarred by their teenage years and find some reassurance reading about characters who are going through similar things. Or, people think fondly of their teens and want to read books that remind them of that.
Are any characters in your book based on people you know in real life?
Emma is based on me in the ways I've mentioned above. The other characters are purely my imagination.
Can you share with us a bit about your writing process?
I always have an idea of how my books will end, but for the most part I'm what they call a pantser, meaning you write by the seat of your pants, making it up as you go along. I want to learn to write better outlines so I can write faster and release books faster accordingly, but the problem I have is that if I know too much about the story I feel like it's already there and doesn't need to be written. Or, I can't get excited about it like I do when I write something where I'm winging it and can make anything happen as opposed to having to stick to an outline.
What is the first book that made you cry?
I can't remember the name of it, but it was a book about a young boy and his dog and in the end the dog gets rabies, and has to be put to sleep. Mean while the poor kid was exposed to rabies, so he has to get precautionary shots in the stomach every week, or every month, for a whole year. That book devastated me. I cried about it for days. It said it was “inspired by a true story,” so that made it seem real to me and I felt so bad for the dog and the boy. I'm sure I still have it somewhere in my closet full of books because there's no way I would've ever given away or thrown out a book that had such a strong emotional impact on me.
What is your writing Kryptonite?
Interesting question! I suppose the obvious answer is writer's block. I also find it hard to write when I'm stressing about financial things. And it's impossible to write when I have one of my panic attacks where I experience heart attack symptoms and convince myself I'm really having a heart attack. Or that I'm going to give myself one from worrying about it so much. Yeah, those stink. Definitely can't write on days I'm dealing with that.
What advice do you have for aspiring writers looking to publish their first novel?
Although I'm not exactly successful at it yet, I would suggest self-publishing for the reasons I mentioned earlier. I should also say that I took Mark Dawson's Self-Publishing 101 course and I'm confident that I would be making money by publishing my own books if I would've had the money to advertise and spent a bit more time on the business end of things, whereas I get so pre-occupied with writing that I tend to forget to promote. Another thing to consider is that traditional publishers schedule books far ahead of time. In other words, if a publisher agrees to publish your book, it probably wouldn't be for a year or two.
What is your favorite book to recommend to others?
A favorite that I recommend to others? Hmm. That's a tough one because I usually don't give book recommendations because I like a lot of books that could easily offend most people like American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis. One book that I would highly recommend to anyone, though, is What's Eating Gilbert Grape by Peter Hedges. If you like books like The Catcher in the Rhye and/or The Perks of Being A Wallflower, I think you'd like it. Tone-wise, it's kind of like a cross between the two. I'd also recommend the film, which Hedges himself wrote the screenplay for. One of Johnny Depp's best acting roles and it was Leonardo DiCaprio's acclaimed performance as a developmentally disabled individual that showed people what a brilliant actor he could be. (Depp plays his older brother, who's rather discontent, partially because his mother weighs about 800 pounds and is a very selfish woman, who is, sadly, the community's laughingstock. And also because he constantly has to bail DiCaprio's character out of hair-raising situations like climbing a water tower.)