Robert L Calixto's first book, "The Cloud Seekers: A Pirate Ship in the Clouds" will be published by Halo Publishing during the first week of March.
What type of reading inspires you to write and what kind of books did you enjoy most as a child?
To find inspiration to write, I try to read anything and everything I can get my hands on, includingonline sites like Wikipedia and various blogs. Lately, I've been reading a lot of biographies of great-minded people, especially writers like E.B. White, Roald Dahl and Oscar Wilde. As a relatively new writer, I find E.B. White's life story a great beacon for aspiring writers. I also have a collection of inspirational self-help books that I have collected over the years. I spent my childhood in Manila,Philippines until I was eleven years old. My parents seldom read children's books to me, so I had to catch up in my early teens in America. I still enjoy reading some of the great children's classics like 'Charlotte's Web', 'Alice in Wonderland' and every by Dr. Seuss to my children. These books always seem to loosen my imagination. I have to also mention that in my early teens, I used to enjoy reading my Mom's Reader's Digest subscription. I was addicted. I couldn't wait for those little things to come in the mail and read them from front to back. There were a lot of inspiring stories in those mags!
What is the inspiration behind the Cloud Seekers?
The Cloud Seekers is quite special. As a young child growing up in the tropical islands of the Philippines, during the rainy seasons I spent countless hours on the corrugated metal roof of my grandmother's bodega-style house, staring at the clouds. There was a particular day when it all got started. Just before I turned six, as one of my earliest memories, I remember my entire family plus several cousins spending an entire afternoon looking at the clouds; seeing faces, animals, cars, hearts, and a really huge barge, amongst other things. In the first book of the Cloud Seekers series, I turned the barge into a pirate ship. I still remember going up to the roof by myself, constantly trying to find "things" in the clouds. When my family migrated to America, the clouds just weren't quite the same. To this day, I still have a habit of looking up at the clouds. As a son of immigrant parents, I equate the experience of cloud seeking as a metaphor for finding a better life. I shared this childhood experience in the back of "A Pirate Ship in the Clouds", called "A Cloud Seeker's Story". A friend read the story and she convinced me to include it in the book. I'm very glad that I did.
What do you think is required for a character to be believable? How do you create yours?
To create a character, you have to start with a theme for your story. That's a major part of the foundation of your story. The characters suport that theme in their actions and words. And of course, your characters have to be believable. To be believable, a character has to be someone that anyone and everyone can identify with. In my book, all of the characters are children between the ages of five and nine. They all have very distinct personalities and even dress the parts, so they are much easier to identify with. There's a cowboy, a princess, an athlete, an artist, a sweetheart, and a well-rounded boy (yes, he's well-rounded in every sense of the word!) Purposely, I set a goal early on so that each character would be easily identifiable to any child reading the book. Diversity and acceptance was the theme. I'm quite sure I covered all bases. To create believable charactes, you really have to be very consistent, in the way they talk, the way they move, and even down to 'how the girl with a sweetheart personality holds her teddy bear'.
What is your creative process? How do you set about writing and illustrating a book?
First of all, I can't draw even if my life depended on it, so I had to find the right illustrator to bring my vision to life. With the Cloud Seekers, I described as much detail on each page as I possibly could. I think that is you're going to collaborate with an illustrator, it's so much better to over-describe than to under-describe. It will make life so much easier for your illustrator. Also, I think it's very important to know what you want before you start. Then give the illustrator as much freedom to express his originality and genius on the page without losing your original idea.
From the very beginning, I told Russel Wayne, illustrator for the Cloud Seekers that I absolutely loved his style. The only criteria I asked for in return was that he needed to love my story as much as I loved his drawings. If he only 'liked' it, then we couldn't go on. I wanted us to be equally passionate about the project and I think that shows in the book. It would be ideal if that happens in every one of my children's books. I can only hope.
As for my creative writing process, I use the three classic components to ocmplete my story; the theme, the characters, and of course the story. Most new writers think that the story is the most important thing. Without an engaging theme and memorable characters, you won't have much of a story. These foundations are crucial to any story. It's what people hold onto, forever. In writing a story, for me there simply aren't any rules. Sometimes a great story comes to mind and I build my characers around that, and sometimes vice-versa. It really doesn't matter what comes first. You just have to knwo how or what to wrap around an idea. You can come up with a great title, and if you wrap that title with great characters and a great story, then you're on to something. I don't set rules for myself. I just let my imagination run free and hopefully I can express it as best I possibly can. You have to have a lot of faith in your abilities if you want to become a great writer. Like E.B. White says, "Writing is an act of faith, not a trick of grammar."
Describe your work area.
I have a small office in my house, about 7 feet by 8 feet, with a window overlooking the backyard and a fairly big desk that takes up half of the room. It's my own little writing space.
Does reader feedback help you?
Yes it does. I'm at a point in my life where my ego doesn't rule me. I can take any feedback or criticism, asl ong as there is reasoning behind it. I like listening to other people's opinions becasue most people's intentions are usually positive and helpful.
What has been your experience with publishers?
I've only really dealt with my current publisher so far, since this is my first formally published book. At this point, I'm very happy with Halo Publishing International. They are a small sized self-publishing company and there's always someone there to communicate with. Their art department is truly phenomenal, I might add. I'm really happy with the way the book has turned out.
Is there a web address where we can see some of your work?
The Cloud Seekers is at http://thecloudseekers.com/ and my other writings are at http://robertlcalixto.weebly.com/
What are you working on now?
I am currently working on the drafts of another children's book called "The Earth is a Taco." I'm also finalizing the draft of the Cloud Seekers' second book of the series, called "Meet the Cloud Seekers." When I worte The Cloud Seekers, I wrote eight stories. My original goal was to publish them all at the same time, as a series. But with time and financial restraints, it'll have to be one at a time. I can't wait for all of them to see the light of day.
What advice do you have for someone who likes to write and would like to make a living from it?
First learn as much as you can about writing and the publishing industry. Knowing which direction to take helps you focus on your destination. And that destination is your finished manuscript. Once you're finished, the second challenge is to get it published. Then onto the next project. Remember that from one project to the next you'll grow, you'll evolve, you'll improve. Most people never get the first book done because they think everything has to be perfect. "Life is an inevitable process of growth and transformation," I once read. There's a lot to be said for having a 'body of work'. I mean, I love writing children's books. I'd say it's my favourite genre, but I also have many other book projects in the works which are not only for children. I can't wait to get those done too.
How do you set about publicising and selling your work?
The way I see it, marketing is the second half of any of my book projects. Afte ryou've come up with your finished product, whether it's self or traditionally published, you still have to promote it. I love the challenges of marketing your own art. I think it is a lot of fun. I plan to do book signings, radio or tv interviews, cable advertising, school presentations and readings, and lots and lots of internet marketing. sharing your art is like sharing your light with the world!