‘Even Best Authors Had Their Fair Share of Rejection Letters’

INTERVIEW

Author Candice Zee may have written short stories as a kid and had English as her major in the first semester of college, but she decided to follow a different life trajectory. ‘I never really thought I would be a book author until I started writing The Munchkins,’ the 43-year-old American writer, who had been volunteering to compose essays, letters, and articles for local organisations and groups until The Munchkins happened, says, beginning her interaction with the Literary Tribune.

Speaking about the book, Candice, who dwells in Cleveland, Ohio, says the idea had been in her head since childhood. ‘When I was a kid, my younger brother and I would make up our own make-believe stories and play pretend, acting them out. I dreamt up about kids with magic powers who never grow up, and we called it “Munchkins.” I always remembered it as I grew up, and somehow I knew I would turn it into a book someday,’ she shares with us. 

Getting Bigger and Better

The Munchkins is the first book in a series, and it has won four literary awards hitherto, including the Gold Award in the Teen Category of the 2021-22 Reader Views Literary Awards. ‘In the book, Capricorn Munch and her twelve siblings suddenly appear outside a children’s home; no one, including themselves, knows who they are or where they came from,’ explains Candice. ‘At ten years old, they stop ageing, and she and her siblings develop powers that give them incredible abilities like healing wounds and manifesting objects,’ she adds. 

Letting us know that the characters strive to live a life of normalcy with their loving adoptive father, hiding their powers until a sociopathic neighbour moves in next door, Candice says, ‘As the dangerous neighbour encourages them to be reckless with their powers, the siblings realise he is up to something more sinister, and they need to find out what before it is too late.’ 

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Dreamer’s Digest

The book, picked up by Eksmo Publishing House, will soon be published in Russian and English. ‘And even though it is labelled middle-grade, adults seem to enjoy it just as much,’ Candice states matter-of-factly. She then reads the Reader Views’ review: This has all the ingredients for a fantastical, magical, YA story that also caters to adults who absolutely love the Potteresque world that happens maybe twice in a lifetime.

Be that as it may, asked if she deems herself a plotter or pantser, Candice, who holds a B S in Speech Pathology and an M Ed in Elementary Education, says she already knew the plot and characters of The Munchkins before putting pen to paper. ‘The story, which had been in my mind since childhood, kept evolving and becoming more distinct into adulthood. I had to make a few changes to the plot and characters, but I knew where I wanted to go with it,’ she lets on.

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ENGAGE WITH LT! Do you look forward to reading The Munchkins? Well, you can click on the cover image of the book below and buy yourself a copy right off the bat!

Inspired by Stephen King

And are there any authors from whom she derives inspiration? ‘My favourite author of all time is Steven King,’ answers Candice, who loves horror novels. ‘Having read most of his books and short stories, I have realised he has significantly influenced my writing style. There are a lot of Kingsian elements in The Munchkins, such as the strange children with extraordinary powers and an evil villain who is after the children and their power,’ she reveals. She soon adds, ‘Careful readers will also notice some Steven King references. I love John Saul and Dean Koontz too. Also, I just read Hide by Kiersten White; it easily became one of my new favourite horror novels.’

While discoursing with the author, we learn the second book in The Munchkins series is already written. ‘I am working on final edits now. I also wrote the first chapter of the third book, and I wrote that as soon as the idea came to me of how to start the next book,’ Candice, who has worked in the field of education for over twelve years, tells us.

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‘Something Was Writing Through Me’

Asked if becoming an author was a conscious decision, the author says she started writing out the story of The Munchkins in her head for fun without any initial intention of publishing it. ‘I would write bits and pieces here and there, and at some point, I looked at it and decided it was too good not to publish. Then, I got more serious about writing it, and there were times I would go into a zone and spend whole weekends doing nothing but writing, staying up all hours of the night, only coming up for air to eat,’ she explains, adding, ‘I know this sounds cliché, but I felt like something was writing through me. I would type out the words before I could even think of them. Once I completed writing it, I went through the process of finding a professional editor and cover designer. Then I researched how to successfully self-publish a book.

Candice stresses that she works on writing her book whenever she finds the time; however, marketing and promotion take up most of her free time. She says, ‘I spend a few hours in the evenings almost daily working on promoting my book. I am a night owl, so I stay up late most nights and manage to get everything done.’

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I know this sounds cliché, but I felt like something was writing through me. I would type out the words before I could even think of them.

CANDICE ZEE

Fine and Focused

Well, does she have any hobbies she has been pursuing passionately? ‘I love horror movies, reading social science nonfiction and horror novels, listening to my favourite podcast The Majority Report while playing Candy Crush, playing board games, singing show tunes, hiking, drinking coffee, eating vegan food at restaurants, and spending time with my friends,’ she shares.

And when we want to know from the author if she has any works in progress, she tells us she wants to focus on completing The Munchkins series first. ‘But there will be at least three books in the series and most likely more,’ she pronounces. ‘The second book in the series, Capricorn’s Journal: My Family’s Fight for Survival, is much more YA than middle grade and is significantly darker and more intense than the first book,’ the author says. ‘The kids must pull together and depend on each other to survive. I just started writing the third book, but the Munchkins backstory and general outline are all mapped out.’

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‘Cannot Please Everyone’

As the interview nears its end, we ask Candice if she has any suggestions for budding authors, and she replies by saying she would ask them not to give up. ‘It may take a few times before you find the right audience, and even then, you cannot please everyone,’ she stresses. 

She continues, ‘If you are facing a slew of rejection letters from publishers or agents, first remember that even the best authors received their fair share of rejection letters. Second, do not let that stop you from writing and publishing your book. If you cannot find an agent or traditional publisher, self-publish it. I think it is the better way for some writers to go anyway because you have a lot more creative freedom over your own story and book design when you do it your way.’

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If you are facing a slew of rejection letters from publishers or agents, first remember that even the best authors received their fair share of rejection letters. Second, do not let that stop you from writing and publishing your book. If you cannot find an agent or traditional publisher, self-publish it.

CANDICE ZEE

Parting Shot

However, Candice says each writer must also prepare to invest a significant amount of work, time, and money not only in professional publishing services like editing, formatting, and cover designing but also in marketing and selling their book. ‘It is important to research and learn as much as possible about book publishing and marketing because there is a lot to know. It is not easy, but nothing worth doing ever is, and it is worth it in the end,’ she tells us. 

Last but not least, is there anything she would like to change in the world if given a chance? ‘That is easy. I would make the world a more just and equitable place for everyone, especially the marginalised and oppressed. I have been an activist for a long time and am strongly passionate about social justice, animal advocacy, and protecting the Earth,’ says Candice, signing off on a powerful note.

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