Interview by Gloria G. Adams
Bio: C. H. Colman has collected stamps since the age of five and loves imagining the events detailed in those tiny pictures. Stamps feature as illustrations in two of his books. A former executive, business author, and lecturer, Charles has published three books for children. These are The Bald Eagle’s View of American History; Flaked Out: The Story of Cod, and Newfoundland; Amundsen of the Arctics. Charles is a long time member of SCBWI. He lives in Kentucky, across the river from Cincinnati. We're excited to welcome Charles to the Six Pens blog today!
What inspired you to write The Bald Eagle’s View of American History?
I love history and stamp collecting. I wanted to write a book that communicated the broad sweep of American history. While searching for a theme, I sat down with my stamp collection and stamp catalogues. I immersed myself in those images, windows onto history, and realized that the bald eagle was a viewpoint from which I could tell a story. The chapters in The Bald Eagle’s View of American History are inspired and organized around stamp images.
Tell us a little about your journey of working with Charlesbridge Publishers.
Charlesbridge is a high-class organization. My editor, Judy O’Malley (who has since retired) was both a professional in her industry and my cheerleader. Judy had seen my nonfiction work during a session at a weeklong writers conference. She approached me and asked if I had some nonfiction ideas that I’d like to show her. She loved Bald Eagle, and we went from there.
What made you decide to publish your next two books independently?
The short answer is that both of these non-fiction books were too limited in their audience to pay out financially for a publisher. The reason I say this is that a Canadian publisher accepted Flaked Out but then withdrew the offer (can you imagine how I felt?) when the marketing department said it couldn’t sell enough books to pay out the production costs.
What are the pros and cons of that process for you?
Well, since you asked. The major negative for me, strangely enough, is that I cannot gain entry to the major book fairs with my independent books. When Bald Eagle came out, I loved selling and promoting at the Buckeye Book fair. I loved introducing Bald Eagle at the ALA national conference.
Another con is that independently published books are not of the same technical quality as a main line publisher’s. Color reproductions are not vibrant. Paper choice is limited. Without spending a lot, you can’t produce a hard cover book.
The major stress of independent publishing, at least for me, is making sure my book is good enough to put out there. I no longer have Charlesbridge to prepare my work with a fact checker, a copy editor, an editor, a book designer, and an artist. Having said that, Judy and I are friends, and she has continued to coach me.
The major pro of going independent is that you guide the process from start to finish. It is a thrill to do this, but like the fugu fish, the addictive tingle can turn deadly. By this I mean I’m scared of publishing an inferior product and always regretting it. I’m scared of assuming that everything is going to somehow turn out well on its own. So I’m careful. My critique partners Jean Daigneau and Gloria Adams save me again and again. My two independent books have sold sufficient copies to pay my costs and make a profit. The first, Flaked Out, sold well with the help of the philatelic community and Amazon’s amazing online worldwide storefront. The Newfoundland press and Kirkus gave Flaked Out good reviews. You have to pay for a Kirkus review, by the way. They are unbiased. See the Kirkus website for more info. My second book, Amundsen of the Arctics, has also done well thanks to Amazon and a good Kirkus review. It sells well in England because of the British interest in how Amundsen beat the British explorer Scott to the South Pole.
I’m a research nut, so I love nonfiction the most. Even my as yet unpublished science fiction is based upon a research idea.
What are you currently working on?
I’m very excited about my current project, My Ugandan Hill (MUH.) It is a non-fiction
account of my childhood years in Uganda. I am going to publish independently because I have found it very difficult to sell MUH to publishers due to the memoir nature. My now-retired Charlesbridge editor has looked through the manuscript and given me invaluable advice. My critique partners have provided great perspective. I’ve paid Kirkus for a copy edit. I will also pay Kirkus for a review. If the review is a good one, I will place an excerpt on the back cover of MUH and publish via Kindle Direct.
What books or authors have influenced you the most?
Black Potatoes by Susan Campbell Bartoletti. This nonfiction book won the Robert F. Sibert medal.
It has a wonderful narrative bibliography that inspired me to do likewise in my books. This narrative style is particularly useful in MUH. My perspective is “Author Looking Back.” This requires a balance between the age-appropriate author's explanations added directly into the story versus historical context presented in the back matter. Bartoletti’s approach accentuates a pleasing conversational style.
What was your most unusual, gratifying, or funny experience as a writer? How about a touching experience?
There I was at the ALA National Conference sitting behind my pile of books, all ready to sign. Unfortunately, the long lines had formed in front of other authors. No one stood in front of me. It was nearly ten am. Signings were about to start. Luckily, one of those popular authors with a long line was seated right next to me. Linda Sue Park turned and asked enthusiastically about my new book. Was it my first? Was I excited? I nodded, somewhat star struck. Linda smiled, and said she was going to tell each person who bought one of her books to sidestep over to me. Her lineup was my lineup. How kind of her was that?
What is your writing process like, from inspiration to final product?
A lot of my inspiration comes from history. At first, that inspiration was tied up with stamp illustrations. My process is inspiration-secondary research-outline-primary research-writing-first draft-lots of revisions tied up with lots more research-critique group feedback-more revisions and more research.
What is one piece of advice that you would give to other writers?
My advice has to do with independent publishing. Don’t try this unless you are ready to do some preparatory work. Get connected by attending conferences and joining a critique group. I would have had no idea of my many failings as a writer had I not done these things. Also, take a professional approach to your publishing. Pay for a copy edit at the very minimum to ensure that your work is accurate and free of errors. Check out the Kirkus website for one example of the types of editing services available. Get a review. Make your book the best it can be before you put it out there.
Short and Sweet:
Pantser or Plotter?
Guilty Food Pleasure?
Dairy Queen monthly blizzard
Dog or Cat person?
Both, for sure.
Who would you like to have dinner with (living or dead)?
Beatrix Potter. Can you imagine the animals that might join us? Peter would steal the salad, however,
and I’d have to interrupt my conversation to chase him.
Do you do your best work in the morning, afternoon, or evening?
Morning. Sipping a cup of coffee, at a table with no view to distract me.