Saturday, August 07, 2010

Interview with Susan Mulcaire Author of The Middle School Student's Guide to Ruling the World!

Not long ago I had the pleasure of visiting with Susan Mulcaire, the author of The Middle School Student's Guide to Ruling the World! I admire the work Susan has done and the action she took to improve her son's ability to succeed. Great work Susan!!

Can you give my readers a synopsis of your book?

The Middle School Student's Guide to Ruling the World! is a work habits, time management and organizational skills workbook for students in grades 6-8. Text, comics and graphics tell the stories of five "chronically disorganized" middle school students who encounter humorous, but typical situations as a result of their poor organizational skills. The reader follows along with the characters, to learn practical skills and strategies for being an organized middle school student. Some of the skills addressed are how to organize your binder, use a planner, manage a group project, use a rubric, remember your stuff every day, plan a long term project, etc.

What prompted the writing of your book, or when was the moment you said to yourself" "I don't care, I'm going to do it"

My son wasn't doing very well in 6th grade. There was no issue with his ability to learn. He was a GATE student. But, he was forgetting his homework, losing worksheets, not following directions, doing the wrong homework page, etc. I was tired of nagging him about it. One day, in the middle of the usual nag session, the look on his face told me that he wasn't being lazy or irresponsible—he just had no idea how to get organized. It occurred to me that if he didn't learn how to organize now, he could possibly underachieve for the rest of his academic life. I began looking for resources to help him. I searched far and wide, but found no age appropriate resource that dealt strictly with work habits, time management and organizational skills. At that time, I was still practicing law, and it turned out that practicing law and going to middle school are remarkably similar pursuits. So, I adapted my legal case management principles to his sixth grade work load and it worked!

How is being being a middle school student like being a lawyer?

Well, in both occupations there's a lot of information and paperwork to manage. Like attorneys, students have due dates, deadlines and directions which must be followed—to the letter. Binders must be organized a certain way, both need a reliable calendaring system, and project/case planning skills. A lawyer's work is reviewed a judge. A middle student also faces a judge: The teacher!

Did you use a traditional publisher?

Initially I sent out some inquiries, but I think the concept of using comics and middle school characters to teach organizational skills was a stretch for a traditional publisher. I received some interest, but after weighing the costs and benefits of working with a traditional publisher, I knew I'd be happier self publishing.

Who was your best support during the project?

My family. There are comics and dialogue in the book, so my three kids and their friends were always coming in and reading what I wrote that day and acting out the comics. They freely offered their opinions, of course, and would "translate" the dialogue for me so it sounded more authentic for middle school.

Has this project been fuel for other projects?

Yes. I created an Instructor's Guide with sixteen lesson plans and activities for teaching organizational skills, so the program has evolved into a full curriculum. My kids, their friends and I, recorded supplemental podcasts that bring the characters to life. I'm currently working on a sequel to The Middle School Student's Guide to Ruling the World! for learning basic study skills. I also now teach the course in the Irvine Public School's ACE program.

What has been the most rewarding part of the creation process?

It's more often a lack of organizational skills that trip up a middle school student, than a lack of traditional study skills, such as note taking and test preparation. Two major reports recently confirmed that failure at the middle level can have lasting and some times irreversible consequences, and that organizational skills are essential for academic success. It's rewarding to have written a curriculum that can help address some of these issues. The curriculum has sold all over the U.S. and even overseas. The books were recently added to the recommended book list for the Dallas Independent School District, and that acknowledgment was rewarding.

What has been the most rewarding part of the promotion process?

Meeting all sorts of interesting people! I speak at conferences, PTAs and attend exhibits. I meet teachers, parents, administrators, and after school directors. They are fun to talk to and compare notes.

Was there anything you wish you'd known about becoming an author prior to beginning the book?

That marketing is a huge part of being an author. You can always be doing something to market your product. I understand that even if an author publishes with a traditional publisher, they still have to do most of their own marketing and publicity. The education market is tough in this economy. For a small publisher, breaking into the education market is difficult because it is dominated by the big publishers. Fortunately, no other publisher has a similar product.

Was this something you could work on daily? What is your day job?

Running my company, Tween Publishing, is now a full time job. The education market is somewhat seasonal. It is busiest in the spring and summer, so I hire part time employees to help in the busy months. I also have those three kids! My oldest, the one that inspired the book, is off to college next year.

Have there been surprises?

Yes. I did not expect the program to evolve into a curriculum. I originally thought of it as kind of a handbook for disorganized tweens.

What came easy to you?

Not much, but If I had to pick one thing I would say -writing. Between the kids and other obligations, I didn't have big blocks of time to sit down and write. So I'd think and plan, and play with ideas in my head before I sat down to write anything. Usually sometime around 4 a.m. - in that twilight state between being asleep and awake, I could think about the topic I was tackling and formulate an outline. By the time I got the kids off to school and found some time to write, much of it was already in my head.

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