Interview with Tammy Young Cote, author of “Merlin & Martha: The Calling”

Tammy Young Cote2

Today I get to interview a lovely lady by the name of Tammy Young Coté.  Although I have not had the chance to read her book, the story line does intrigue me.  No doubt I will be charging off to a buysite (see waaay down there↓ for the info) after posting this blog tonight.

Thanks for the chance to get to know you better, fellow MSH author!  I’m so glad  you could be here today.

Thank you!

What influenced you to write your book?

I was teaching junior high at a Catholic school at the time. I wanted to write a modern fantasy adventure novel that supported Catholic teaching. It was fun to work religion into a story and I thought of it as a way to teach faith themes in a way that is fresh and new. It’s easy for kids to shut off when we teach religion if we fall into stodgy or old-school ways of talking about it, but the Bible includes the greatest stories ever told. I challenged myself to package some of those stories into a new imagining that I hope will point the kids back to the originals. Of course, I never take off my teaching cap, so there are a lot of teaching moments in the book. I am working on lesson plans for teachers so that they can take these further into cross-curricular projects/lessons. For example, a science research question: “What has happened to all the bees?” or history: “Who was the English king in the late 1420s who was trying to take over France when Joan of Arc fought?” Geography: “Where is Madeira? Who owns the island?” or Health: “What effects do energy drinks have on your body? How do they affect a 13-year old differently than an adult? How about performance-enhancing drugs?” All of these topics appear in the story, hopefully in a way that kids will want to talk about them.

A virtual treasure chest of wonderful things!  It is a constant challenge to keep a student’s mind on what’s important when all he/she wants to do is stare out the window or pass notes–or other things not quite so innocent.  I hope your story line will do just that.

Do you have a favorite character or theme?

I think my favorite character is Martha’s best friend Anna. She is a conglomeration of many of my former students and she is fun to write. She’s smart and sassy, she’s boy-crazy and honest, and a really good friend to Martha. I try to portray an authentic friendship between the girls and show how important it is to support your friends. That goes both ways in the story as it should in life. I think girls need to be encouraged to back each other more and compete less.

Wouldn’t that be a wonderful thing?  Books like yours can only help toward that end.

Do you have any other books in progress, or that you plan to write?

I am close to finishing the second book in the Merlin and Martha series. It is called The Way of the Warrior and it tells about Martha’s trip to Japan during the summer before entering high school.

Now THAT I will find interesting, because my daughter did that very same thing–only it was after her senior year in high school.

Here’s where the questions get a little more personal:  I saw that you and your mom were members of “Dancing Die-hards”—care to elaborate?

Ha! Yes, we have been studying with the same teacher, David Potter, for the last 20 years. We do tap and jazz as a way to stay in shape. I’m not good at exercising, so I have to fool myself into a workout by dancing. Really, our weekly classes are like a ladies’ night out. Since we’ve known most of these women for so long, we’ve shared experiences of child-rearing, passed along clothing and sports equipment between our kids and supported each other through the kids’ phases – whether the terrible twos or the terrible teens! Thank goodness David is patient with our chatter during warmups at the barre or conversations after class. This class also makes sure that I see my mom at least once a week.

Nice.  Twenty years!  Wow!  What a great social circle too. 

You have an upcoming newspaper interview.  How did that come about?

I sent out a press release to all the newspapers and publications in my area, and two have responded so far. The Enfield Press wanted to interview me and The Catholic Transcript wanted a review copy. It was a pleasant surprise because as an author I have gotten used to sending out inquiries and hearing nothing back. I guess persistence is the key!

It also helps to have a publishing company backing us up.  I am going to have to keep you in mind for questions when it comes to my own press releases.

I haven’t had a chance to read your book, “Merlin & Martha”—but it intrigues me.  Can you tell us a little about it?

Gladly! It is about a typical girl in 8th grade. She has friends at school and at home, works hard in school, and plays on her school’s basketball team. As the synopsis on the back of the book says, her biggest worry is whether her basketball team can beat their cross-town rivals this year. But then, she meets Merlin, who tells her that he has come to train her to accept her calling from God. He has a mission for her to lead others from temptation and to fight against the forces of evil. She can’t believe it and feels unworthy, but slowly, through the story, she comes to accept this mission. In the end, she makes a difference in the lives of two of her friends, helping one to say no to drugs and the other to stop rushing to grow up too fast. This gets the attention of a demon, who attacks with his shadow army in the locker room right before the big game. Merlin comes to her aid and the demon is vanquished. Of course, this is a series, so there are a few things that are left hanging at the end of the book. One friend is still under the influence of the demon and may be trapped by an addiction. Martha must learn how to fight demons herself – thus the trip to Japan in the second book. Hopefully, leaving breadcrumbs in each story will get people hooked on the series!

I know I’m hooked.  Is it possible to beg an excerpt from you?

Of course! This is the beginning of chapter 1…

Martha stepped onto the escalator as the train pulled away behind her. The immense moving stairway stretched upward for two and a half stories, finally depositing passengers at the street level. Her backpack was unusually light for a Wednesday.

I’m glad I got my homework done before basketball practice this afternoon. Martha was lost in thoughts of listening to her iPod with her friend Anna until dinner.

She was still daydreaming when she noticed the man coming toward her. He seemed to appear out of nowhere, and he was coming down the rising escalator steps, going in the wrong direction! The tall man wore a simple gray suit.  He had long white hair, pulled back in a ponytail, and a neatly trimmed gray beard and moustache. What she found strangest about him were his piercing blue eyes, looking straight at her.

Ok, he’s kind of weird, she thought.

She moved to the right so he could pass. Instead, he stopped at the stair above her.

“Hello, Martha.” he said, “It is nice to see you.”

Martha’s mouth opened, and for a moment, she said nothing. “Sorry? Do I know you?” she asked finally.

“Perhaps you would recognize me more easily in my more traditional looking clothes.”

The man’s hair changed in an instant from the ponytail to a long wild mane of white. Martha tripped over the landing as they arrived at the top of the escalator. The man’s flowing white beard stretched down the front of his floor-length blue and silver robe and the tall, cone-shaped hat atop his head made him appear seven feet tall. He floated backwards from the top of the escalator, his feet a mere inch off the ground. Catching Martha by the arm to stop her fall he quickly returned to his original appearance.

“How did you do that?” Martha stammered when she finally found her voice.

“My name is Merlin, and my dear, I can do many things. I am here to begin your training.”

“My what?” Martha crinkled her forehead and shook her head. “I don’t understand. You’re Merlin? The Merlin?”

“I thought my traditional look would help you recognize me.” He smiled.

“Yeah, can I see that again?” Martha moved Merlin away from the central entrance and out of the main passageway. “I want to focus when I’m not about to fall down the stairs.”

Merlin obliged. In the blink of an eye, he was Merlin from the storybooks. His long hair and beard; blue, starry robe and hat were straight out of Arthurian fantasy. Only his eyes remained exactly the same. Martha’s jaw fell open again as she stared at the figure before her.

Narrowing her eyes, she walked around him, looking up, down, and all around. “Are you a hologram?”

He chuckled at the quick shift from shock to disbelief. “I assure you. I am quite real.” He reached out to take her hand. “Martha Zachary, I have waited thirteen years to meet you. I am very pleased that day has finally arrived. If you are ready to listen, walk with me now and I will be happy to explain.”

I definitely like the beginning of the book!

I read the “interview” with your protagonist, Martha, on your blog.  I love the relationship she and her mom have—sounds like mine with my daughter.  Have you had the same experience with your mom?

Yes! The part about cleaning the house on a Saturday morning was straight out of my childhood. My mom used to put on Jesus Christ Superstar and we both sang as we worked. It was just the two of us for a few years and we really did wash the car on Sunday afternoons for fun. My mom was a single mom until she re-met and fell in love with her best friend from high school when I was eleven. That would probably make a good story too!

Oh, definitely!

Well, dern it, this was far too brief.  Good luck with the writing, and I am sure we will meet up again on this blog.  I plan to read “Merlin & Martha”, and will post a review.  Kind of going backwards from my usual order, but what the hey.

Please don’t leave us hanging–let us know how we can contact you and/or buy your books!,,,

Tammy Young Cote1

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