Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Meet Margot Finke - Rate Your Story Judge

Greetings from The Gambia, West Africa!  Today's post is a true measure of how worldly Rate Your Story really is.  Not only are those of you who submit literally from around the world - we are too!  Our first week we hosted American picture book author Jill Esbaum and last week we welcomed Simon Rose, Canadian MG/YA Author.  Now, for today we welcome the worldly writer...

Margot Finke!

About Margot Finke:
Margot Finke is an Aussie transplant who writes midgrade adventure fiction and rhyming picture books. For many years she has lived in Oregon with her husband, children, and grandchildren. 
Gardening, travel, and reading fill in the cracks between writing. Her husband is retired, and very supportive.  He gives her lots of time to write and promote her books (yay!).
Margot didn't begin serious writing until the day their youngest left for college. This late start drives her writing, and pushes her to work at it every day. Margot said, "I really envy those who began young, and managed to slip into writing mode between kid fights, diaper changes, household disasters, and outside jobs. You are my heroes!"

She has 11 published books + a follow-up for Taconi and Claude due out soon.  All her books, +  Video readings, trailers, reviews and sample pages can be seen on her website:
Her Manuscript Critique Service attracts clients from all over the globe, and her website offers a great deal of help for new writers. Nothing gives her a bigger thrill that to hear that a book she helped polish has been published.  “This is always a huge YEA moment,” Margot says. 
Miranda:  Welcome, Margot!  So excited to have you - it's been awhile since we last chatted via Skype, too, so we'll have to do that again.  Now, let's begin at the beginning.  Tell us about the first thing you ever wrote. 

Margot: Oh dear, mate, that’s going back into the dark ages.  I had been to the movies with my parents to see “Lassie Come Home,”  and like millions of other kids at the time, I fell in love with the dog. I wrote a story about her having another adventure with the boy in the series – I forget his name. I ended up with an epic about Lassie and her brave deeds.  My parents thought they were wonderful.  I desperately wanted a dog like Lassie.

Miranda: Fun!  Now...tell us about the first thing you wrote that was really GOOD! :)

Margot: I have several unpublished picture books that I think are super good – hey, they ARE my babies! They are tight, terrific, and leave kid readers with a cool yet intelligent message.  Unlike many of my published picture books, neither are in rhyme.   

In “Kobi Koala Borrows a Pouch,” a young koala thinks he is ready for a tree of his own. He runs away from home, gets warnings and advice from other bush critters, and ends up lost. Kobi borrows Milli-Milli Kangaroo’s pouch while he searches for his old home tree. He discovers Mum is right – learning bush smarts does take time.  

The other is “Oscar Needs a Friend,” a tale about not judging a Tasmanian Devil by how he looks.  Oscar is different. He does not eat other critters.  He is not nasty.  But he is ugly, and he does look like his relatives.  Oscar searches for friends, and his wish to be accepted by the other bush critters brings disaster, danger, and a wake-up call for those who only judged by appearances.  

I love both these stories, and so does every child I have read them to.
Miranda:  That's so awesome to hear that a published writer also believes in her unpublished works.  And, it's also a reminder of taking joy in pleasing our audience - as many Rate Your Story followers also write for children!  Now...let's talk getting published - tell us about the first book you published.

Margot: Kangaroo Clues was the first book I had published. It became the first book in my “Wild and Wonderful” rhyming series. 7x individual rhyming books that tell fun facts about animals from the US and Australia. This one is particularly memorable, because how I found the illustrator gives the Internet a bright gold star. Imagine this: the illustrator was from Turkey, he spoke no English, and did not own a computer.  How was this possible you ask?   
An online friend, also Turkish, and famous for her own children’s books, suggested I use her illustrator, Mustafa Delioglu.  NOTE: this story pays homage to the value of networking – both locally and worldwide.  My friend sent me some of the books he had illustrated for her, and his work was awesome.  Much of Mustafa’s other art hung in galleries over Europe.  I shouted, “YES!”  

This friend acted as translator for both of us.  Talk about a marathon effort.  I will always be grateful to her.  Fortunately, Mustafa lived near her, so she went back-and-forth for months with my e-mails, and his replies to them.  How do you argue with someone in another land, when you can’t see, hear, or speak his language?  Oh boy, trust me, we found ways to argue.   Almost a year went past before the illustrations were completed, and the book was finally published.  I was thrilled with the results - worth every hair tearing moment. His magical illustrations came together with my rhymes in a delightful marriage of fun reading. The picture book offered information kids could enjoy, while learning about Aussie animals.

Miranda: What a great worldly story!  Now tell us about the other books!
Margot:  * Don’t Eat Platypus Stew – *Never say BOO to a Frilly - Mama Grizzly Bear – Humdinger Hummers – *Prairie Dog’s Play Day – *Squirrels Can’t Help Being Nuts.

These six complete my Wild and Wonderful series.
(The starred titles contain 3 separate stories about 3 different animals) 

The books that followed are in soft cover, e-book, Kindle or Nook readers:

Horatio Humble Beats the Big D (dyslexia - rhyming PB )
Ruthie and the Hippo’s Fat Behind  (how sudden change can affect kids - rhyming PB)
**Both these include helpful parent/teacher guides.

Rattlesnake Jam
  ( fun, rhyming PB - especially for boys )

Taconi and Claude – Double Trouble ( Set in the Aussie outback of 1950, this historical young teen adventure offers aboriginal lore, Dreamtime Spirits, + big decisions for Taconi to make) 

** See all these books on my website:  + Video readings, reviews, book trailers, covers and writing samples.

Miranda:  What amazing accomplishments.  And, you also help new writers build their careers and tweak their writing through your manuscript critique service.  Can you shed some light on mistakes that many writers make? 

#1 - Waffling on too long.  Waffles should stay in the kitchen with the maple syrup. 

#2 - Limp and over used words.  Powerful and active words make a powerful and active story.

#3 – Lack of focus. Allowing your plot to wander off down sidetracks that lead nowhere.
** Any one of these three is sure to earn your MS a rejection.  All thre. . . KABOOM! 

Miranda:  Thank you!  Great advice.  Now...the nitty a children's writer, you've realized the publishing landscape has gotten pretty competitive and narrow.  What are three pieces of advice you have for "Pre-Published" children's authors? 

#1 - Make sure your manuscript is polished before you send it to an agent, publisher
or publish it yourself. 

#2 – Do your homework – whether you are self publishing or trying to decide on the right publisher.  Make sure your final choice is a legitimate, and not some scammer wanting to pounce on your money.

#3 – Set up a good Blog or website, and promote your book before publication.  Get a buzz going.  Make your name, and that of your book, a familiar site on Facebook, Twitter and GoogleX  etc.

Miranda:  Ok...and if we need help with some of these points...where can a writer get an in-depth critique of their work from you (not just a basic critique on Rate Your Story)? 

Margot:  I love helping writers polish and fine tune their pages. If you want to cut the waffle, focus on what is important to your plot, and craft rich and intriguing characters, I can help you.  Writing “as tight as your granny’s new girdle,” is easy, once you get the hang of it. 
Read specific details on my website:
Secrets of Writing for Children:  
And if you want to write rhyming picture books, learn the basics from a wonderful pro:
Writing Rhyme – Dori Checonas
E-mail me <  > we can chat about your manuscript.

Miranda:  Now, as you know, I love humor!  Tell us a funny story to end the interview, please!

This happened one Saturday when I was a kid around twelve.  Our Scotch Collie, Peggy, was due to have her first litter of pups.  The time was imminent, but Dad insisted “No way,” and went off to town.  Mom thought otherwise, has no experience in birthing puppies, and was uneasy about being left in charge. Well, Dad was hardly out the front gate before Peggy began to show signs that Dad’s NO WAY was fast becoming a big, YES WAY! 

At first, all went well in the birthing shed Dad had built in our back yard, and Mom sat comfortably on a chair close by, watching those cellophane bundles pop out.  Then #6 refused to pop.  Peggy and my mum worked hard, both of them panting, pushing, and walking about together.  Several hours passed. Still nothing popped.  It was hard to tell who was the most distressed, exhausted, and ready to quit.  Mom called Gran, who lived with us, and told her to go ask Morty ( our grumpy old doctor who lived over the road) for advice. Off Gran scuttled, returning soon with a message from Morty, “For God’s sake woman, it’s only a dog! Try warm milk and brandy.”  
“Don’t just stand there,” yelled Mom, “DO IT!”

Soon, Gran arrives with a large glass fillet to the brim. Mom took the glass, looked at the miserable dog, and thought a moment. “Sorry Peg,” she said, swigging down the whole thing, “I need this more than you!” 

Gran and I were flabbergasted. My mom was no drinker – she got tiddley on the smell of a cork, or the rum in Christmas pudding.  Yet calm ensued.  Peggy gave a sudden push and a yelp.  Mom cried  “You little beauty!” and out popped #6, followed in fast succession by 4 more bundles – 10 in all.  Mom sat in the chair, a huge grin on her face.  She kept telling Peggy what a wonderful team they made.  I was out of my skull with excitement, and ran to tell all my mates. 

Then Dad returned.  Mum arose with inebriated dignity, “So, Peggy isn’t going to have pups today – HAH!”  Dad looked sheepish. Mom pointed a wobbly finger at Peggy and her pups, “Those 10 say you don’t know half as much as you THINK - Buster!” 

Head up, Mom walked toward the back steps.  She only stumbled twice. Gran and I fell into each other’s arms and giggled our socks off. 

Miranda:  And now I'm giggling my socks off.  Thank you so much, Margot - for this interview and all of your hard work s a volunteer judge with Rate Your Story.

Comments are open below.  Please mark your calendars to return next Wednesday for our next author interview at Rate Your Story!! (And, hopefully, the Internet cafe will be open and we'll have electricity here in my corner of The Gambia so I can make it all happen!!)



  1. Thank you for the writing advice and for that absolutely wonderful story about your mom and Peggy. I will be chuckling all day!

  2. WOW! This interview caught me by surprise when it popped up in my IN box. I did it a while back. So glad you enjoyed it all Heather. Even I still giggle when think of Mom and that dog having those pups together. And of course Dad never lived it down.

    Thanks for the opportunity to be a part of your great Blog interviews, mate.

    BOOKS for Kids - Manuscript Critiques

  3. Loved learning so much about you, Margot. That's a great story about your mother. Ten puppies. Wow!

  4. Oh, what a hoot of a story! I'm going to have to pull out my old James Herriot books to re-live more tales like that with my daughter.

    Thank you, as always Margot, for your sharing your wisdom and experience in the picture book realm!

  5. Great, Great Margot-You are a wonderful story teller and with such good information to mix in!
    Kit Grady

  6. Such a nice post with a great puppy story! I thoroughly enjoyed this interview and your Aussie state of mind and way of seeing things...So American but with a lovely bit of, well, Australia!

    Keep writing!

  7. Nancy, Kit,Bildebok, Cheryl: thanks for taking the time to come and comment - such nice comments too. You are all just wonderful!!!

    I miss my mum. She was a terrific lady.

    BOOKS for Kids - Manuscript Critiques

  8. Great interview, Margot! Keep up the good work!

  9. Gid-day Margot.... I so laughed my head off over the story. You sound like quite a character. Love to avail of your services in the very near future. Thankyou for sharing. (i'm a neighbour, from kiwiland)

  10. Wonderful advice--thanks, Margot. And what a wonderfully funny story about Mom, the brandy and warm milk, and the 10 pups! I'm still laughing.

  11. Excellent interview! It had some great tips. I loved the story about your Turkish illustrator. Your story at the end was delightful!

  12. What a delightful interview! Thank you for your writing advice. You are quite a storyteller:) Your ending story made me chuckle...good times with family. :)

  13. Thanks for the wonderful interview, Miranda and Margo! I loved your story about your mom and the pups - too funny!


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