I may be pushing 46, but I love books geared to all ages. Author Christopher Cloud writes exciting and emotionally honest fiction for tweens and young adults. Here he talks a little about how he connects with his young audience. Be sure to read past the interview for my review of his middle-grade novel The Ghosts of Petroglyph Canyon.
Author Christopher Cloud
The Ghosts of Petroglyph Canyon takes place on a cattle ranch in New Mexico and your descriptions of the environment and landscape are quite vivid. Do you have any personal experience of the area? Do you need to visit a place to write about it?
I do have personal experience with the area, and for me, it is important that I visit a place to write about it. Petroglyph Canyon is a beautiful, wilderness gorge out in the middle of nowhere. The closest town is 50 miles away. The New Mexico canyon is part of a 90,000 acre cattle ranch owned by the Thompson family. They gave me full access to the scenic ravine, whose walls are covered with primitive petroglyphs I made about a dozen or so trips to the canyon while I was writing my story.
Pablo, Pia, and Kiki are vivacious and engaging. How do you develop your characters? Do they come before the plot itself, or do they suggest themselves as the project moves forward?
I pretty much know who my characters will be before I start writing a story. (I will often add characters as I get into my story.) I make a list of personality traits for each of my characters and describe them to the reader with dialogue and action, not adjectives. It’s important that each character’s personality remain consistent throughout the story. He or she cannot appear weak or wishy-washy in one scene, but bold and strong in another scene.
How did you come to write for middle-grade readers? What is it about this age group that interests you? Do you plan any books for older readers?
First, let me say that middle-grade readers of today are not the same middle-graders readers of twenty years ago. I was made aware of this transition several years ago when my grandson—at ten years of age—and his friends were tearing through the Harry Potter books, which I believe are more on a young adult/adult reading level. I have another young adult story roughly based on my two years of high school in Japan. It’s titled Voices of the Locusts and tells the story of a 16-year-old boy who falls in love with a 17-year-old Japanese girl who has been promised in marriage by her parents to an older man.
What do you find the most challenging part of the writing process? Is it the initial draft that’s the challenge? Or shaping it into a polished piece of work?
Finding an original story idea presents the greatest challenge for me. All of my stories, even the middle-grade and young adult novels, are based loosely on personal experience. Once I have the kernel of a story idea, again mostly based on my personal experience/observations, the writing process will fall into place. I have never encountered a road block in the initial draft, and working the story into a polished work has always been rewarding.
The Ghosts of Petroglyph Canyon has plenty of action and gets pretty scary in places—Pablo, Pia, and Kiki are in real danger from the criminal ring they uncover. How do you balance the story’s need for tension and drama with the age of your readers? Do you ever second guess yourself and say, You know, maybe I should dial this back?
This can be tricky. However, middle-grade readers today are more “worldly” than their parents were when they were tweens. This level of sophistication still requires self-censoring. Although I have crossed the line in many pieces of dialogue and action, I generally call upon an editor to make that decision. For example, I wrote a descriptive suicide scene in my young adult novel Voices of the Locusts, but I would have been less descriptive had the story been targeted to middle-graders..
These days writers have to spend almost as much time marketing and promoting their work as they do creating it. How do you arrange and guard your creative time?
This is a great question, and one that plagues most writers. I am no exception. It’s hard for me to write part-time and market part-time. I have to limit myself to one activity or the other, not both. I normally set aside time to write or market. It’s difficult to build up a head of steam with a story, then put the story aside and begin to work on marketing. The story suffers. However, marketing goes with the territory.
What is your favorite way to connect with readers? Does reader feedback ever influence what or how you write?
I allow my characters to connect with my readers with dialogue that is reflective of their gender, age, economic status, and education. Reader feedback is important to me, and I generally incorporate all or parts of this feedback into subsequent novels.
Are you working on anything now?
I’m working on a middle-grade story about three kids who find themselves in a runaway hot-air
balloon. I don’t have a title yet.
About Christopher Cloud
Award-winning author Christopher Cloud writes middle-grade and young adult novels. He began writing fiction full time at the age of 66 after a long career in journalism and public relations. Chris graduated from the University of Missouri in 1967 with a degree in journalism. He has worked as a reporter, editor, and columnist at newspapers in Texas, California, and Missouri. He was employed by a major oil company as a public relations executive, and later operated his own public relations agency. He created the board game Sixth Sense in 2003. Chris lives in Joplin, Missouri, and enjoys golf and hiking.
Visit Christopher Cloud’s website
More books by Christopher Cloud:
Voices of the Locusts
Searching for the Treasure of Jesse James
My Review of The Ghosts of Petroglyph Canyon:
* I received a free copy of the book to review
Three kids visiting their uncle’s New Mexico cattle ranch stumble upon a criminal ring bent on stealing Native American artwork.
The Ghosts of Petroglyph Canyon
THE GHOSTS OF PETROGLYPH CANYON is an exciting adventure full of dramatic plot twists. I was surprised that a middle grade novel could hold me in such rapt attention. Pablo and Pia Perez and their cousin KiKi are realistic and full of energy. The bad guys Red, Gordo, Pirate and Harvey Ragland are bumbling but also scary and full of malice. Uncle Antonio seemed a little underutilized, but he is dealing with a drought emergency that has left him understaffed and in economic hardship.
Christopher Cloud does a great job depicting the New Mexico landscape and the daily activities on a cattle ranch. The archaeological details are accurate and well presented. Also, though this is a book for kids, the author doesn’t write down to his readers. Cloud ratchets up the tension little by little until it explodes into a wild and frightening climax. Every time I thought “this has to be the end,” he threw another challenge at his young heroes.
My one tiny issue with the book has to do with the cover. Sure, it gives a great flavor of what the plot is about. But why are the kids are blond when the characters in the book are clearly Latino?
The cover is only a small bump. Overall, this is a fun book full of adventure and excitement.