|Posted by Alana Woods on April 19, 2014 at 6:00 PM||comments (0)|
My guest this week is UK author Emma Calin, although to label her ‘author’ is doing her a disservice to my way of thinking as she is so much more than that. Let’s see if I can tease it all out of her.
Alana: Hi Emma, welcome from what I hear is a very springlike UK at the moment. Maybe you’re in for a good summer. Although I believe you spend time in France as well, so maybe that’s where you’ll be.
Emma: Hi Alana, thanks for being so kind as to put these questions. Yes indeed I will be in France for much of the summer. My home there is in Charente Maritime, which is about halfway down and more or less on the Atlantic coast.
Alana: Tell me how living in both countries came about and how you manage to do it. I take it you’re fluent in French.
Emma: I like to think I'm fluent in French and I do give private lessons in the UK. French folk think I'm Belgian because they can't identify my accent. My long-term project is to live in France. I bought the house with my partner Oscar who is also a French speaker. He doesn’t have a house in the UK so the French place is home to him. I was keen to educate my kids in both languages and just as importantly develop awareness of other cultures. Being a tourist really doesn't get you inside the life of a place. I have good friends in France and there is often someone popping in and out of the house. Brits are far more reticent.
Alana: You’re a woman of many talents: you write, you produce your own audiobooks—something I’ve felt beyond me technically—you play the trombone, you sound like an inveterate bike rider and you obviously also enjoy cooking. How do you fit them all in? Is there a descending order?
Emma: To be honest I only do one thing at a time. I've never been able to write all day so narrating or editing an audio book is a break. The editing is technical but mainly it is repetitive and painstaking. I have found that reading my own work has helped me work on sentence balance and the internal poetry of my prose. A reader won't spot an awkward line as such but the book will feel more difficult to read. The trombone is right on the back burner. I turn out for the local band in the UK maybe only twice a year. Bike riding has suffered while I've been writing and launching SHANNON’S LAW. I love cooking and have to do it anyway. Many women also do ironing/dusting/shopping/hoovering/gardening/community activities and watch TV. These are things I do not do! That’s where I get the time.
Alana: You sound like one of my daughters. She has a magnet on her fridge that says ‘Some people are into cleaning, I’m into art’. Puts housework squarely where it should be.
Emma: I wish I’d created that magnet. If you don’t do dusting a lot of the piled up junk becomes invisible after a while.
Alana: I’ve just read and reviewed two of your books, a steamy crime/police procedural called SHANNON’S LAW, and an accompanying cookbook COP’S KITCHEN. I have to say it was a stroke of genius to think of producing a cookbook with recipes for all the food the characters enjoy in SHANNON’S LAW. There are definitely a few I’m going to have to make. Apart from the fact that you’re a dedicated foodie how did the idea for it originate?
Emma: Glad you like the look of some of the dishes—they are all family favourites in our home—although we don’t eat them that frequently as good old home-comfort cooking doesn’t always help in the weight management department! I'm not so much a foodie as a food lover. I'm no purist but I do love to cook food from scratch. We don't do ready meals.
Alana: I’ve come around to that way of thinking myself. We moved into our present house four years ago and it had enough ground for a vegetable garden—love being able to go out and pick fresh for dinner!
Emma: Exactly. And as an author I was looking for something unique to give the book a bit of a spin. Initially I was tempted to add the recipes at the end of the story then I realised I could use a cookbook as a giveaway to encourage reviews. Broadly this strategy is working. I also hoped that the novelty factor would attract some interest from the media. It did not!
Alana: You’ve written at least one other novel that’s also a steamy crime/police procedural, if I’m not mistaken. Let’s tackle the sex first, you obviously enjoy writing that aspect of your stories.
Emma: Pleasurable emotional sex is good for people! I have never shied away from that belief. The way a relationship develops emotionally will feed into the sexual behaviour of the lovers. Often the sex will be the best window into that complex situation. Is there shyness? Who is taking the lead? Are they capable of true naked honesty? Is their commitment to each other's needs equal? Sex will provide those insights more readily than heavy psychological analysis. I also know from my own life that sex is not always loving and fulfilling. Fiction by other writers has provided me with awareness, information and stimulation.
Alana: You know, I’ve never given it any in-depth thought before. Never thought of the sex as an extra insight into characters and personalities.
Emma: I really really believe that a writer should share what she knows with readers—not just to write a ‘sexy’ passage but to be open and human with them. After all, this stuff happens and I love it!
Alana: Maybe that’s why I didn’t mind it in SHANNON’S LAW. Usually I flick through the sex to get back to the story, but the sex seemed to hold its own, if you know what I mean.
Emma: SHANNON’S LAW is a difficult book to target as it crosses several genres. Fans of erotic/steamy/romance seem to love it but those who have bought it with the police/crime/action in mind have been surprised and sometimes shocked by the more explicit scenes in the romance—although I have now updated my blurbs to warn people! My editor thinks I should bring out a second version 'Shannon's Law Lite' with the explicit/erotic elements of the romance story removed or at least attenuated. She felt it could stand up as a crime-police procedural mystery that would then appeal to a wider audience of more mainstream readers plus young adult/new adult audiences. I'm still considering it as an option.
Alana: I think that’s a brilliant idea. I’d keep the title SHANNON’S LAW for the non-sex edition and call the sexy version SHANNON’S LAW: the steamy edition.
Emma: Wow—yes! I think that's the best idea so far. Here’s a link to the build-up scene prior to the sex (don’t worry it’s a non x-rated excerpt!)
Alana: Then there’s the crime angle. A good mix with the sex, perhaps, given they both make for intense reading. But tell me about your interest in crime?
Emma: We are all interested in crime and criminals in my experience. Crime means breaking the rules and being daring. Strip away the morality and a burglar, assassin or drug dealer is an extreme risk taker. Good girls often love bad boys. A lot of cops ‘respect’ the daring of criminals. These guys frighten us. They will just snatch it for themselves. We don’t have that detachment or recklessness and secretly we just slightly admire it. Come a war or desperate times people get a permission to break out. The fact is that they do. The bank clerk becomes the machine gun hero. Shannon has some criminal sparks in her nature. She walks a fine line. For some people breaking out into a sexual expression of themselves seems too daring. In a way I think that our excitement over all daring people has a vicarious dash of desire and orgasmic abandon in it.
Alana: Wow, that conjures up some images.
Emma: Crime and sex are mutual metaphors and the perfect armchair mix. Who dares pushes the ‘no return’ button and lets go ...
Alana: I know you have other published works. Can you give a rundown of them?
Emma: My first recent novel was KNOCKOUT. It's a police story of a sexy Interpol cop who goes under cover to check out a hunk of a boxer. I have been a magazine short story writer and I love this form. My collection LOVE IN A HOPELESS PLACE has five stories. The theme is of urban working class life. It’s written without the constraints/traditions of genre romance. No one is impossibly beautiful, brave or intelligent. It's about folk at the lower end of the economic spectrum getting by and finding ways to fulfillment. I know that this collection is my best writing because it is dug out of my own life with my own hands.
As a younger writer I was a serious poet. I still love to use it to hit those high notes in a love story. My YouTube video You Are My Love shows how I talk to myself about emotion and build it up in my own heart when I'm writing.
The five stories contained in the LOVE IN A HOPELESS PLACE collection are also available separately.
Alana: How many have you produced as audiobooks? And please do tell me what got you into producing your own and how you actually do it?
Emma: I have produced audiobooks for poetry collections, my own short stories and for third-party publications. I narrated ESCAPE TO LOVE myself since it is has a first person POV. My partner, who is the poet Oscar Sparrow, is popular as a narrator and has done a couple of my short stories where I needed a male voice. I get to do the dishes which means the editing. Rather like the cookbook, I was looking for ways to sell my print and e-books. Audio seemed exciting and I started to look around the net. I came across ACX and we did some auditions. Offers came in. We set up our own mini studio—a booth in the corner of the bedroom with a professional microphone and a ‘pop screen’ (looks like a pair of nylons stretched over a hoop to tone-down any explosive ‘p’ ‘t’ and ‘s’ sounds.) We added to this editing software on the computer and completed the set up with blankets and towels hung round to deaden the noise. We produced some very popular stuff. Then ACX banned us because it was only set up for tax paying citizens of the USA. However, the ban has just been lifted and it is going to be full ahead on audio work. We specialize in projects seeking British English accents across a range of social classes and regions. Oscar does all this readily and he gets top reviews. Our greatest triumph was THE GENTLEMAN AND THE ROGUE by Bonnie Dee and Summer Devon. It's a guy-on-guy historical romp. Oscar is a true pro and a trouper. The guys just love him. It's fascinating to me that a gay male story written by women and narrated by a straight guy is a number one hit. Perhaps love and sex unites us all.
Alana: And what about currently, are you working on another book?
Emma: Yes, I'm working on a prequel to SHANNON’S LAW. I plan to have it on ‘perma-free’ to stimulate sales of the main novel.
Alana: Will there be a series following Shannon?
Emma: Not as such because it’s hard for a character to have multiple romances and remain credible. The prequel will be the early life and desperate struggles for Shannon as a teenager on a tough inner city estate. It shows how she became a cop, the prejudices she faced and why she is the woman she is. It has drugs, loyalties, tragedies and violence. She only ever finds emotional love and sexual completion with Spencer in SHANNON'S LAW. This will be followed by the next in the Passion Patrol series – another action/romance novel that will be set in the Metropolitan Police and follow the Passion Patrol theme about a woman officer. Both Shannon and Anna (from Knockout) will have walk-on parts.
Alana: Emma, thank you so much. It’s been lovely delving into your world.
Read an excerpt from SHANNON’S LAW here
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|Posted by Alana Woods on April 5, 2014 at 5:00 PM||comments (2)|
My guest today is Florida author Dan Alatorre. Dan and I met on Jason Matthews’ Facebook group How to make, market and sell ebooks—all for free. It seems I’ve met so many people I consider to be friends now in his group. Dan was kind enough to give me his prized chocolate walnut cookie recipe for Christmas because I’d mentioned to him one of my grandson’s had asked me to make them for the day—and Dan is sharing it at the end of the interview. Dan writes about a heart condition known as Long QT Syndrome and I plan to ask him to explain what it is.
Alana: Hi Dan, you live in a very exciting part of the world that experiences tornadoes on a regular basis. And when I say ‘exciting’ I don’t necessarily mean in a good way. What is it actually like to have one raging around you?
Dan: Hi, thank you for having me. You know, I grew up in Ohio near Cincinnati, and a small town near where we lived was pretty much wiped off the map one summer by a tornado. I thought if I moved to Florida I’d get away from them but I was wrong! I think they have more of them here! Maybe they followed me.
I’ve never seen one bearing down on the house like in The Wizard Of Oz or anything; mostly it’s just a big windy rainstorm and you have to go pick up sticks and tree limbs out of your yard after it blows through. Then you see in the news that a tornado touched down somewhere. Crazy. But for marketing purposes, ‘Florida: The Sunshine State’ probably sounded better than ‘Florida: Tornado Alley Plus Sharks And Hurricanes.’
Alana: So you gravitated to Tampa, Florida?
Dan: I definitely gravitated! We vacationed a lot in Florida when I was a kid, so I always wanted to live here. I went to college in Tampa, but I also lived in West Palm Beach for a while, and Orlando and Melbourne.
Alana: You have a Melbourne there too! Is it a suburb or a city? Ours is the capital of one of our states, Victoria.
Dan: Unfortunately the Melbourne where I lived is also in Florida. It’s a little city near to where they used to launch the space shuttle, on the east coast. I threw that in to see if you were paying attention.
Alana: Whew, passed that one.
Dan: With flying colours! The closest I’ve been to Melbourne, Australia, is knowing an exchange student who lived in Auckland, New Zealand. So, you know, that’s not even close, really. And I’ve had Foster’s beer. That’s the best I can do right now, but we do plan to visit one day.
Alana: Well, put us on the list of people to visit when you do.
Dan: Great. Will do. Tampa has been my home for most of my years in Florida. I love the sun and the warm weather. I love it even more when my friends are freezing up north and we are going to the beach. I’m bad that way.
Alana: I imagine there’s a fair amount of envy on their part. You write non-fiction, to date anyway. You’ve got a few books to your name and they are all about your daughter Savvy. Is that right?
Dan: I hope they’re envious, otherwise it’s no fun!
That’s right. It’s been pretty much nonfiction so far, but we do have a new book coming out soon that isn’t. It’s a thriller novel, fiction based on real events, called An angel on her shoulder. But my first books have been nonfiction based around my daughter Savvy. Those have been a lot of fun and people seem to like them.
Alana: Why the focus on your daughter?
Dan: Well, she was just a baby when I asked her if I could write about her, and she didn’t say no, so …
Alana: I’m sure she was very flattered.
Dan: Keep your fingers crossed.
Really, I think it started innocently enough. My wife and I were first time parents at an age much older than most first time parents, and I was posting on Facebook about various things that would happen with the baby that I thought were funny. My friends from high school were getting ready to have grandkids, or their children were starting college, and they just found my little Facebook stories hilarious. Quite a few of them said I should write a book and I said NO! But the more encouragement I got and the funnier the stories I wrote became I realized that I had a unique opportunity to put a book together from a first time parent’s viewpoint, have it be funny, and have it celebrate the magic of childhood. I don’t think your perspective on kids is the same at age 25 versus age 47.
So that became the force behind the first two books. Stories about how funny and fun and smart and magical kids are in those early years. It’s a lot of little things we either don’t notice or are too busy to remember later. Like a meltdown at a grocery store, or a simple drive across town while trying to keep the baby awake. Little things that turn out to be very funny. A lot of people write and tell me that reading my stories puts them right back to when their kids were young and recalled a lot of very fond memories.
Alana: That must make your day.
Dan: It does, absolutely. It feels pretty good when you hear that!
Alana: I’ve just finished reading THE LONG CUTIE, which is an evocative title to put my reaction to it mildly. It’s a departure of sorts from Savvy Stories books 1 and 2 (it's book 3 in the series) although it’s still very much about her and your delight in the everyday with her. Would you elaborate about it?
Dan: Sure! THE LONG CUTIE came about after my daughter was diagnosed with a rare and potentially fatal genetic heart condition. I wanted to learn as much as I could about it so I could help her doctors any way I could. That evolved into a Facebook site for Long QT Syndrome, and as I met people there from all over the world a familiar theme emerged: they were all lost and alone and afraid after receiving the news that they had Long QT. Almost all the stories they could find on the internet were really scary and negative and I thought, that doesn’t really represent reality. With proper medication and a few restrictions most people with Long QT Syndrome will live long happy lives.
Alana: So you created the Facebook page?
Dan: Yes, to inform people and represent a more balanced view of a life with LQTS. That site grew to over 1100 families in over a dozen countries! For a condition that affects only about 1 in 2500 people that’s the equivalent of about 10 million people visiting a regular Facebook site. As they shared their personal stories and read some of my funny stories about my daughter, we felt like a book dealing with Long QT would help raise awareness of a condition that kills more kids annually than all children’s cancers combined. So I wrote it!
Alana: Obviously it’s a subject very close to your heart.
Dan: Ha ha! Heart condition, close to my heart.
Alana: Apologies. An unintentional pun.
Dan: No apology needed. Yes, it became that way, that’s for sure. It’s a genetic condition, so that means I passed it on to my daughter, but I had lived my whole life not knowing about it. That also fueled my drive to learn more. How could my daughter and I have the same condition and she’s been told never to swim, no sports, etc, when I did all those things all my life. The short answer is the condition affects different people differently, and also some people who have it can be asymptomatic their whole lives, never having a problem. Like me. That makes for a tricky condition to control if you are a doctor!
By the way, the experts looked at her and said that she can do anything that any other kid her age can do, including swimming and the other stuff. That shows what a difference getting good information and the proper medication can make for people who have this condition.
**Dan explains the condition LQTS at the end of the interview.
Alana: The book switches between you and Savvy and contributions from Long QT Syndrome sufferers around the world. How did you find them?
Dan: From the websites. When I created the Facebook sites …
Alana: Dan, may I interrupt. Websites, Facebook sites—you have mentioned one Facebook page, are there more?
Dan: There are a few now, that I do. The main one focused on kids and families. The second smaller one is to help newly-diagnosed people, and we have started some spinoff sites for various countries to communicate in their own language; like we have an LQTS Mexico site on Facebook, written all in Spanish. Hopefully we will have sites for every country in every language, helping people all over the world. They can all join the main site, of course, but it’s easier for people when things are in their own language. For that reason we’re getting THE LONG CUTIE translated into different languages. The Norwegian version is about halfway done, and we have commitments to translate it into Spanish and German, too, so far.
Alana: Your aim is to cover the spectrum then?
Dan: I wanted to focus on the whole picture of a Long QT life, not just the bad stuff. That was revolutionary; people don’t write about ‘nothing happened today’, you know? That positive focus was unique on the internet. People learned a lot on my sites and I went out of my way to share a lot of personal stuff with them, to make them feel at home. If you get diagnosed and feel like you are the only one in the world with this condition, because it is so rare and because even the doctors don’t know a lot about it, it is a huge benefit to find others who understand what you are going through.
One big way to create that understanding is to tell them your own story about how you came to be diagnosed. So I told mine, then I told one for my daughter, then I’d talk about my dog and my cat and making pizzas and potty training—all the other things that go on in everybody’s life, to encourage them to share their lives. Like a big family get-together, you want to have fun and you might gossip a little and talk about the latest movie, as well as give out some vital information about a rare heart condition. You talk, you share, you discuss everything.
Note: Dan is updating the Savvy Stories covers and has provided me with the new ones to books 1 and 2 which will be available soon.
Once they started sharing—which I had to constantly ask people to do, because nobody thinks their story is special—we quickly had over 40 or 50 personal stories from all over the world.
When you do a Facebook search on Long QT Syndrome my site is the largest one you’ll find, by a landslide. So when we started talking about a book I asked people if I could use their story as part of the book. The vast majority were eager to help and said yes.
I thought the best way to create a book from that would be to have one main story that represents the most common thing about LQTS, and have it run for the entire length of the book. Then intersperse that main story with other short stories from other people with the condition. So the story of my daughter represents most people with LQTS, the story of the Norwegian man’s family represents the tragic side of LQTS, and the other stories represent the challenges of getting diagnosed, coming to grips with the condition, and deciding to live a full life after being diagnosed. It’s very uplifting.
Alana: It certainly is. I was very moved at times but finished reading with a feeling that it was a positive experience.
Dan: Many stories are about the triumph of the human spirit. The book is funny in places, sad in places, inspirational … it’s got a lot going on. People who have read it said it transcends just being about Long QT Syndrome, and that its lessons apply to any affliction. Cancer, diabetes, Muscular dystrophy. That’s pretty cool!
Alana: So tell us about the main Facebook page. What is its essential purpose?
Dan: It’s called ‘LQTS Kids and Families’. In a nutshell it’s a way for people to connect with other people who have the condition, in a positive and supportive way, without having the crap scared out of them from an internet full of horror stories. I started it as a way for me to learn and to collect information for my daughter one day, but it grew way beyond that!
Alana: Are you going to continue Savvy’s life in books or do you think there’ll come a time when she’ll object? Although I have to say that, given the questions my children and grandchildren ask about their early lives, she’s possibly going to be enchanted to have such a detailed record.
Dan: I think you touched on it there. The Savvy Stories books are about my daughter, but they are really about any child that age. All kids are magical. They all do funny stuff. If we are paying attention we notice and smile or laugh, if we have a pen handy we might write it down. I think you have to be careful when you write about what a baby does, or what a toddler does, when the life experiences are still pretty universal, versus what a five year old does. At some age you are writing less about kids and more about a specific kid. She deserves some privacy too. So the plan is that Savvy Stories series will stop after the 4th book, FOURthcoming, but some of the characters will appear in other books. The whole four book series covers birth through her fourth birthday.
Alana: And the thriller you’re planning?
Dan: It’s a mystery thriller—An angel on her shoulder—and is based on actual events. It uses characters from my real life family, like my wife and daughter, but we don’t disclose to the reader whether it was actually us who experienced the amazing events that happen in the book. I think it’s more fun that way, kind of like the Amityville Horror was way back when.
Alana: That was fun!? Never been able to bring myself to watch it. Don’t like horror one little bit! As well as the thriller do you have other books in mind?
Dan: Well, I thought it would be fun to switch from writing stories about my daughter to writing books that we can read to her, to books that she can read to us! So the upcoming books are The Adventures of Pinchy Pinchy Crab and Ramon D’Escargot, about a little girl who makes friends with some animals at the beach.
Alana: Does Savvy put in an appearance?
Dan: She does, but as a character, not a real person. That’s one to read to your kid, but there will also be a picture book for the kid to read. Then we have the thriller novel, a romance novel, and some other things. There’s a cookbook, too!
Alana: You’re going to have to include your chocolate walnut cookie recipe. That’s a must!
Dan: Okay, but I have to warn you, they're addicting!
Most of my books are collections of funny stories, but we will go down some other roads too. Savvy asked me to write a book about a character she made up called Super Balloon, a latex balloon that saves the day by rescuing kittens from trees and things like that. So, you know, I gotta do that too.
Alana: Sounds like you’re never going to be short of ideas—until she’s old enough to want to write them herself. Dan, thank you so much. THE LONG CUTIE was a delightful albeit heart-moving read.
Dan: I’m glad you enjoyed it! Thank you for having me! It was fun!
** Long QT Syndrome
In a nutshell, Long QT Syndrome is a genetic heart condition. When your heart beats it rests for a moment before it beats again. It receives an electrical signal to tell it to take the next heartbeat. In people with Long QT Syndrome the electrical system takes a little too long to deliver that signal. Doctors refer to that as the QT interval, and so people whose interval is elongated are referred to as having Long QT Syndrome.
They may pass out during exercise or swimming. For some the first symptom is sudden death. We’ve all heard about athletes who suddenly dropped dead at football practice—Long QT Syndrome is often behind that.
It is largely undetected and is often misdiagnosed as epilepsy or some other condition. Some people have been told that they are just trying to get attention!
But when diagnosed properly most people with LQTS can live long happy lives if they take their medicine, stay away from certain drugs that can elongate their QT interval, and avoid specific activities that may be a trigger for their type of LQTS.
There’s a list of drugs to avoid, and the doctor usually tells them about what sports or other activities to avoid, but for many there are very few restrictions.
The key is proper diagnosis. The main ‘red flags’ are early death in your family (deaths before age 40) and any history of passing out (syncope).
Dan Alatorre’s chocolate walnut cookies
1 cup (200 g) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup white granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder; I use Hershey’s 100% Cacao Special Dark
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2-3 cups walnuts OR white chocolate chips, or a combination of both
(I use 2 cups chopped walnuts AND 1 cup white chocolate chips)
Beat butter and sugars together.
Add eggs one at a time and then vanilla.
In a different bowl sift cocoa powder, and mix with the flour, salt and baking powder.
Mix into the butter and sugar.
Stir in the walnuts and chocolate chips with a wooden spoon.
Arrange unbaked cookies 12 per large tray or 9 per small tray. Bake on cookie sheet (with a baking mat if possible).
Bake at 350℉ for 18 minutes.
The reason they are Christmas cookies is because a friend said they look like reindeer droppings! But they taste GREAT.
The following Facebook sites are private/closed, by invitation only.
You have to ask permission to join before you can see any information.
Membership is primarily for people with LQTS but also for family members, friends, etc; anyone affected by LQTS.
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|Posted by Alana Woods on March 15, 2014 at 5:00 PM||comments (0)|
It’s a pleasure today to have Samantha Fury here talking with me. You’ll recognise her name from my recent author blog chain. Samantha writes what she describes as life fiction, it has a predominant romance theme but is wrapped in stories that are much more than ‘will she, won’t he’.
Alana: Samantha, you’ve had an interesting life so far: 18 years on the road with your husband driving all over the States and Canada. There can’t be much you aren’t familiar with on the North American continent.
Samantha: I’ve been in every state more times than I can count. I’ve been on every major interstate and on so many back roads it still amazes me to think about it. My travels helped me in my research and in developing my novels. I have lots of memories and some day hope to write a novel about my travels on the road. I was one of the first women traveling in a man’s world and I have lots of stories to tell about our adventures.
Alana: You were born in Kentucky—I love listening to you when we talk—and I believe you settled back there when you stopped travelling. Would you see yourself ever getting itchy feet again or are you well and truly ensconced at home nowadays with those little terriers of yours, Jack, Max and Socks?
Samantha: Thanks. I never traveled enough to lose my accent. I think there could be a point and time I would like to hit the road again. This time in a nice RV. Although I was all over the country there were many places an 18-wheeler would not fit. I will say that for now home is where I want to be, writing and enjoying our home and our many dogs, fish, and wild birds.
Alana: I’ve read two of your books so far, MAID FOR MARTIN, which is the first in your California love trilogy that you write under the pen-name of Samantha Lovern, and CHARLIE’S ANGEL, which is the first in your Street justice series. They’re quite different. Can you explain why?
Samantha: MAID FOR MARTIN is my first clean romance. The main characters are not Christians; Randi and Martin were raised in Christian homes but they are not practicing what they learned. It’s more of a laid back way of writing for me. The storyline’s focus is romance and finding love. I also wanted to use my great-grandmother’s maiden name, Lovern, as it’s a perfect name for romance.
Alana: By ‘clean’ I assume you mean there’s no sex?
Samantha: Yes, there is a lot of romance and a lot of kissing and tense scenes but it’s no 50 shades, that’s for sure. I find that most women want the romance, they want to fall in love. To me anyone can write smut, but it takes an imagination to make women fall in love again and again.
Alana: And the Street justice series?
Samantha: This series is clean too, but it takes on harder topics. There’s rape, abortion, drugs, and prostitution. It does have topics that are harder hitting. I hope it will be at least ten books long—it’s like law and order with kissing. It’s harder to write. There’s a lot of research involved, with police procedures, laws, and crimes taking place. I try to keep everything as real as I can so that means a lot of research. I have to be lawyers, doctors and nurses.
Alana: You must be learning a lot.
Samantha: The writing process is a never-ending learning process. There’s always new software coming out, or apps that help us in our writing. Also, there is the learning process of getting into the minds of the characters. Feeling what they feel, and learning life lessons through the characters that come to me mostly in dreams.
Alana: You’re a Christian and incorporate your values into your books to varying degrees; less so in the Samantha Lovern novels than the Samantha Fury novels. Why is that?
Samantha: My Samantha Lovern novels are aimed more at the secular audience. Those that might not want much preaching but still want a clean read. Also, I thought some of my Christian fans might not appreciate so many romantic scenes and the more secular way of life that Randi and Martin have, so I wrote under a second pen name.
Alana: The Street justice series especially comes across as needing quite a bit of specialist knowledge, for instance of police procedures in CHARLIE’S ANGEL. What kind of research does it entail?
Samantha: It’s a result of a lot of research. I’ve had to research everything from bruised livers to crossing state lines with a gun. It takes a lot of time. I have several doctors, nurses, and police officers that I contact, and there is also Mr Google, he comes in handy all the time. For TIDAL WAVE I even had to make a call to our local postmaster.
Alana: People are happy to help then?
Samantha: Yes, most of them are excited to know that their helpful tips are going into a book. I try to give everyone credit too. Some knowledge comes from detective TV shows, but they don’t always go with the facts, so I normally always double check if I use them as an example.
Alana: I know you’re working on subsequent books in your series. What can we expect next from the two Samantha’s?
Samantha: I’m getting close to releasing book two in the Maid for Martin trilogy, SURPRISE ENGAGEMENT, and book four in the Street justice series, MENDING FENCES. I also have several other things in the works, I just don’t have release dates yet: a sci-fi romance novel, SPACE STATION, a futuristic fantasy novel LOST IN SECTOR 9, and many others to come varying from mystery to westerns.
Alana: Wow, lots to look forward to reading then. Samantha, as always it’s been lovely immersing myself in that southern accent. Let’s catch up again soon.
Samantha: Thanks for having me, I love talking about writing!
Take this link to my review of CHARLIE'S ANGEL
Take this link to my review of MAID FOR MARTIN
Sign up for Samantha's Newsletter for monthly updates on releases and any upcoming contests. Samantha would like to thank all of her fans for their support and reviews on her novels. This newsletter will contain updates for Samantha Fury novels and Samantha Lovern novels.
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|Posted by Alana Woods on February 22, 2014 at 4:00 PM||comments (3)|
Annie Seaton is a very successful author of romance fiction but to say they’re just romance is to do her a disservice because some also venture delightfully into fantasy, sci-fi and steampunk. I’ve read and reviewed three and won’t be stopping there.
Alana: Annie, welcome. It’s lovely to hear the Aussie accent. So many authors I interview have wonderful accents, but nothing compares to the dinky-di. I believe we both hail from the East Coast, although to say Canberra is on the coast is to be just plain misleading, given it’s three hours inland (from Sydney, for those unfamiliar with Australian cities). You’re further up the coast and actually on the coast, I believe.
Annie: Yes, Alana. I live in paradise. My house looks over the ocean and the weather is temperate. We spend a lot of time in our little boat on the river that feeds into the ocean not far from our home (within walking distance actually). I also love walking on the beach.
Alana: Mmm, a river on the New South Wales coast: the Manning, Hastings, McCleay …
Alana: Ah, a bit further north. I agree, a beautiful spot. Has living on the ocean’s edge influenced your writing?
Annie: It’s strange. I think a love of the water is something that is a part of me. As a child growing up in suburbia in Brisbane I can remember climbing the posts of my mother’s clothesline trying to see the ocean! I spent a few years living inland ‘away from the edge’ I called it and I felt disconnected. So, yes, the love of the ocean features strongly in most of my books. Even my fantasy historical books have water scenes.
Alana: You write romance, for want of a more accurate description that better fits. Your ENTANGLED imprints range through Bliss, Indulgence and Covet. They remind me of the imprints used by publishers for their romance literature ranging from G through to R rated. Is that what yours signify? Would you tell us something about them.
Annie: I also write for Ignite for ENTANGLED too. The only one of the imprints listed above which features a particular rating are the Bliss line … which is closed door sex. There is still a high level of sexual tension and angst in the books, just no explicit description. Indulgence, Covet and Ignite can be from closed door to steamy. My books tend to fall in the middle ground … but probably closer to a higher heat level.
Alana: You seem to specialise in short novels—why is that?
Annie: My original steampunk novella was written for a competition with a shorter length word limit. The ENTANGLED line, as with most contemporary romances, are between 45,000 and 60,000 words as per the submission guidelines. You may be pleased to hear (I hope) I am currently writing a single title novel of approximately 80,000 words.
Alana: I am! I’d love to get my teeth into a longer work by you. But Steampunk—you’re going to have to explain that to me.
Annie: Steampunk? What is steampunk you ask? Sounds slightly steamy?
Steampunk as a literary genre began to gain popularity in the 1980s.It began as a subgenre of science fiction and fantasy and developed as a rebellious response to the science fiction that preceded it. It includes the core elements of steam power, alternate history settings (mostly Victorian/Edwardian era England, and sometimes the wild, wild west), SF/fantasy elements, and devices that reflect the period but are ahead of their time, for example, engines, airships and all sorts of clockwork and steam powered devices.
It’s warm, sassy, and larger than life. The new direction is now steampunk + romance and a major appeal is the historical setting, and a steampunk author can use familiar settings and times. Steampunk romance has the potential to offer something familiar, yet different. Authors can stretch their creative wings. Sassy heroines can stretch the limits of Victorian dress codes...
Her signature red bustier topped an emerald green skirt embossed with the symbols of industry flowing around her ankles, neither satisfying air safety dress regulation for dirigible travel.
Excerpt from Winter of the Passion Flower by Annie Seaton
Alana: The DE VARGAS FAMILY series is a departure from the contemporary romance novels. What was the impetus for it?
Annie: Winter of the Passion Flower (the first in the de Vargas Family series) is a steampunk novella and was the very first thing I wrote when I took up writing three years ago. I wrote it in response to a competition call … until then I had never heard of steampunk, but it certainly appealed to my imagination. I loved creating the imaginary worlds for that.
Alana: Yes, I have to say the first mention of something out-of-period took me completely by surprise. I imagine you get quite a few reactions like that.
Annie: As it was my first book a lot of people have classified me as such. I was at the local library at a talk last week and was introduced as the steampunk lady!
Alana: And then there’s Blind lust which is yet another departure from genre, into fantasy? It’s the first of your books that I read and I have to say I loved it—so playful. Did you intend it to be so?
Annie: I adored writing Blind lust. It was one of those books that just came to me, I’ve always been fascinated by the concept … when I wasn’t climbing clotheslines I was wriggling my nose in class trying to be Samantha from Bewitched! I wrote Blind lust in less than a week … it just poured out of me.
Alana: Good grief, a week! Mine take me years! I can’t imagine that you’re not writing another story at the moment. Can you tell us what it is? Contemporary, historical, sci-fi, fantasy, steampunk—you range wide. Or is it something entirely different?
Annie: I am actually writing four at once with another two in the back of my mind.
Alana: Again I say, good grief. My mind boggles.
Annie: Yes I often use the hash tag#ammadwoman! I came late to writing and I have so many stories to tell. So … I am writing book 3 of my Half Moon Bay Bliss series, an historical about a pirate in the late eighteenth century, and the prequel to my romantic suspense, Dangerous desire. I am also working on my longer title which is set in the Northern Territory. I also have another Indulgence due to my editor in July and that is about an artist and is set in Tuscany. The beauty of that is I'm going to write it when I am over in Italy in our winter!
Alana: Italy. I was there for my daughter’s wedding in July and August last year. We were down in the Puglia region. Spent three days in Polignano a Mare—gorgeous—and the rest of the time at a private massieria about half an hour away. Loved every moment. Can’t imagine that you won’t love it too.
Annie: Yes, I am really looking forward to it. Thanks for having me visit, Alana!
Alana: Annie, thank you so much. All the best and continued success with your writing.
Take this link to my reviews of WINTER OF THE PASSION FLOWER and SUMMER OF THE MOON FLOWER.
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|Posted by Alana Woods on December 7, 2013 at 4:00 PM||comments (0)|
|Posted by Alana Woods on November 30, 2013 at 4:05 PM||comments (2)|
|Posted by Alana Woods on November 23, 2013 at 4:10 PM||comments (0)|
My guest this week needs no introduction, to the indie author community at least. He’s considered close to being a superstar by the many he has helped towards publishing with his self-help books. But he’s also a novelist with two huge-in-scope works of fiction to his credit.
Alana: Jason Matthews, welcome, it’s a real pleasure to have you here today. Before we talk about your many activities and books could we find out a little about you. You live in California; have you always lived there?
Jason: Thank you, Alana, for the very kind reception. I was born in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Unfortunately my parents divorced when I was a baby, and my mother, sister and I moved around quite a bit. We also lived in Massachusetts and Ohio while spending summers with Dad in Colorado and Oregon. I returned to North Carolina for college and then moved permanently to California in 1991. I love this state.
Photo: Jason formerly lived in Truckee, California. Here he is enjoying some 'big snow'
Photo: He recently moved to Pismo Beach in California
Alana: You are also one of that rare breed, a full-time author who actually makes your living by writing—when did you reach that point?
Jason: I used to be a house painting contractor and just didn’t have the time or energy to follow through on a dream of writing my first novel. It took several years and probably never would have been written without taking substantial time off from painting. When I started selling my third book I broke free from painting and focused entirely on writing and marketing. The money wasn’t consistent and I used up all of my savings, but eventually things got better.
As you know it’s very difficult to earn a living on one or two books. I now have five titles selling as ebooks and paperbacks, but I also sell a video course, work as an author consultant and even do speaking engagements. It takes those other sources of income to pay the bills, and still there are times when it feels like just scraping by.
Alana: Well, let’s first talk about the publishing self-help books because they’re how many hundreds, if not thousands, of authors have first discovered you. There are three, I believe. What subjects do they address?
Jason: The titles are indicators of what they’re about.
HOW TO MAKE, MARKET AND SELL EBOOKS—ALL FOR FREE is an overview and training program for authors wanting to self-publish, and it specialises in using free methods when possible or recommending inexpensive alternatives, like with cover design for example.
Two important chapters within that book were about making blogs and websites, but there wasn’t enough time to go into thorough detail so I wrote HOW TO MAKE YOUR OWN FREE WEBSITE: AND YOUR FREE BLOG TOO where those subjects could be properly covered, and also the book would appeal to people who were not authors.
Alana: And the third?
Jason: A very important chapter in that book was about SEO (search engine optimisation), but again the subject was so large it really needed its own book, so I also wrote GET ON GOOGLE FRONT PAGE.
Alana: You’re active on so many fronts. I know you have a Facebook group because that’s how I first found you over a year ago, and you also host a weekly Google+ hangout about publishing that you post to YouTube—would you tell us about those, but also all the other ways you’re active publishing-wise.
Jason: The Facebook group came about as an example from the self-publishing book. I give examples of doing things I recommend, so for Facebook I created a group page and a fan page. Three and a half years later the fan page is a total dud but the group page has over 1800 members.
Google Plus is super because it has such a dynamic platform with features like hangouts. What’s really nice is that I only use it for writing associates and not for friends or family. I do an Indie Authors show on Google Plus that becomes YouTube videos, and I’ve even had the pleasure of interviewing Alana Woods for an episode on essential writing tips, which was a great show that is still helping others.
Alana: A plug! Thank you.
Jason: My pleasure.
Alana: What you’re describing here is building a platform, isn’t it.
Jason: Yes. I work to build an author platform consistently over time. My blogs are very important, and I post regularly. Also YouTube is fantastic. If I can think of something that will make a good video, I always try it. Forums for writers and readers are good too, but there’s only so much time so it’s primarily Goodreads. Lately I’ve been doing more speaking events, and it’s really exciting to work with a live audience.
Alana: What are the types of groups you speak to? Are they primarily writing based?
Jason: Primarily, yes. I’ve spoken and made presentations about the self-publishing experience at a few paid writing conferences, so hopefully that will continue to grow. The focus is usually an outline of what it takes to sell books and the things writers often do to become successful. I’ve also presented to smaller, less formal gatherings like book signings or release events. I’ve talked to classrooms at schools and presented at libraries, where an interesting mix of people show up. I’ve done many radio interviews and also consult individual authors who want help with projects.
Alana: Let’s talk about your novels now. I’m familiar with two, JIM’S LIFE and THE LITTLE UNIVERSE—I’ve read and reviewed both. They deal with such big issues I’m going to wimp out and ask you to tell us what they are.
Jason: THE LITTLE UNIVERSE began as a way to think about our place in the universe, other planets, other intelligent life and how we might all be evolving together. Obviously these are big subjects with profound, even unanswerable, questions. The book is really about creating a project that displays those things in a way we might be able to learn from it, and of course I’ve taken some liberties with what I believe we might find if we had a universe and all its mysteries at our fingertips.
Alana: It kept me interested! And JIM’S LIFE, which, I didn’t realise when I read it, is the sequel to THE LITTLE UNIVERSE—not that I think it’s necessary to read them in order. But I think JIM’S LIFE is my favourite of the two.
Jason: That’s great to hear, Alana, because many readers have told me the opposite, and I like them both for different reasons. JIM’S LIFE is about a teenage boy who suffers a life-changing accident. The trauma affects his brain function and vision in a way that gives him the ability to see the light fields with living things, like the auras and chakras of people. In time he learns to work with the light fields and becomes a healer, even considered a miracle healer. What complicates things is the accident he endured was a result of running from a crime. So he is on trial for a crime as the world realises his unique healing abilities, which brings the philosophical and spiritual nature of the story to the forefront.
Alana: You present such a conundrum for the reader to come to grips with! It’s terrific.
Jason: Thank you.
Alana: You also have other works to your credit. I’m unfamiliar with them so could you give us a rundown?
Jason: Presently I just have some short stories on Amazon, and I’ve written a screenplay called Minor Extremes that is collecting dust on my shelf. It’s about a young man’s effort to bring the sport of extreme skiing from obscurity to the limelight and the lengths he’ll go to make his dream a reality.
Alana: I hesitate to ask the next question because you sound as though it might be difficult to fit anything else in to your schedule, but I’m going to anyway. Are you working on another book or project? If you are can you tell us about it, or is it too early to be revealing ideas, themes and plot points?
Jason: Yes, it’s important to create new content, and I’ve made the mistake of only marketing existing titles for far too long. I’m working on the third novel of the series …
Alana: Sorry to interrupt but, GREAT. I can’t wait to see where you take things.
Jason: That’s perfectly okay … and I have a nice critique group reading along the way. That is so helpful for edits and suggestions, wish I did more with critique groups before! This story is about two girls, sisters with different mothers, who are born with a cellular mutation that enables them to have special abilities and powers. They are viewed by the world as the next stage for humankind. How they use their powers is up to them, and the conflicts arise from the public pressures, their own internal struggles and with each other.
Alana: These are all subjects you’re obviously intensely interested in. Would you tell us how that interest arose and how you continue to pursue them.
Jason: As a kid I was always fascinated by the universe and our own human evolution. How did we get to where we are and where might society be heading in the future? When one spends time contemplating these things, subjects like science, religion, spirituality, environment, relationships and more come into the picture. I think my novels touch on all of those subjects, hopefully in a fun way leaving room for interpretation and without coming across as one way of thinking or as preachy.
Alana: Definitely not preachy, but I have to say they opened up my mind to so much more than I’ve previously thought about. Jason, thank you so much. It’s been an absolute pleasure to find out more about the man as well as the author.
Jason: Thank you so much. What a pleasure it is getting to know and working with authors all over the world, like you, Alana
Take this link to my review of THE LITTLE UNIVERSE
|Posted by Alana Woods on November 16, 2013 at 9:10 AM||comments (2)|
My guest this week has written and published two vastly different books. The first is HOME TO STAY, a contemporary romance with a dash of western that I’ve just read and reviewed. The second, that I also want to ask her about, is ON THE OTHER HAND, a story that gets to the heart of how to deal with life after a loved one suffers a stroke. A subject relevant for so many of us.
Alana: June, welcome. First tell us a little about yourself. You live in Alberta, Canada. Forgive my ignorance but is that anywhere near Calgary, the setting for HOME TO STAY?
June: I live in Red Deer, a little more than an hour’s drive from Calgary, but most people will not have heard of it so I just say Alberta. Calgary is a city in Alberta and Alberta is a province of Canada. I did live there for a few years and I still visit family and friends there often.
Alana: And you chose it as the location for the story because … ?
June: I chose Calgary because I know it well and it’s a city that many people around the world know. It’s the home of the Calgary Stampede and many large national and international companies have offices there.
I used the home that my parents owned in Springbank, just outside Calgary, as the home where Diana lives in HOME TO STAY.
Alana: After reading your bio it sounds like we have a lot in common. You’re a keen traveller, hiker and gardener—all things that I also love doing. What have been your travel/hiking highlights so far? Maybe we’ve crossed paths without realising.
June: Traveling is something I wanted to do from a very young age. I wanted to visit other cultures and to see other ways of life, but I was in my forties before I needed a passport. Since then my husband and I have visited many places, including the States, Mexico, Fiji, and Egypt. He’s my best travel buddy.
Photos: June in Egypt and with her husband in Ireland
Alana: What about lately?
June: The last two years we visited the provinces of Quebec and Nova Scotia, right here in Canada, and quickly realised that we didn’t need to leave our own country to see different cultures and breathtaking scenery.
Alana: I know what you mean. My husband John and I feel the same way about Australia.
June: As for hiking, I love it because it’s something that my girlfriends and I do, so we get a little ‘girl time’. It’s healthy for us physically, mentally, and emotionally.
Photos: June with her sister in Palm Springs, California and hiking in Victoria, Canada, with friends
Alana: Can we talk a little bit about ON THE OTHER HAND? Like you, I’ve experienced stroke in my family and the effects are profound. I believe it’s a fictional story but is it also an attempt to come to terms with the devastation it caused you?
June: In 1983 my father kissed my mother good-bye and went into town. When he came home a few hours later he found her collapsed on the floor. Her head hurt so bad that she had vomited and could hardly speak. He placed her on their bed and phoned 911. By the time the ambulance arrived she was in a coma and she died in the hospital a few days later. That is very similar to what happens when Nina, the main character in ON THE OTHER HAND, finds her husband in the backyard. But that is where the similarities to my father’s experience ends.
Since then there have been many friends and family members who woke up with a spouse and were widowed before day’s end, due to heart attack or stroke. Every time it happened it was difficult for me to accept what felt like an injustice. I could only imagine what the widow(er) was experiencing and it was devastating to watch them, knowing that I couldn’t fix it and not knowing how to help them. Nina is a composite of all of them.
Alana: Did writing it help you personally? And has it helped others?
June: Writing ON THE OTHER HAND was very emotional for me, but I believe it was worth it. Readers of all ages have told me how much they enjoyed the story, but the response from people who share Nina’s experience is overwhelming. I am receiving comments like: ‘You got it. I didn’t think anyone understood what I was going through, but you got it’, or ‘My mother and sister couldn’t understand what I was going through, so I gave them your book to read. Now they get it’.
Writing it helped me, but knowing what it means to others, to know that someone ‘gets it’ … to be honest, I can’t describe how that makes me feel.
Alana: I believe you’re now working on a third novel. Can you tell us what it’s about? Is it a romance, like HOME TO STAY, or something entirely different?
June: My third novel is entirely different from my first two. ON THE OTHER HAND is inspirational. HOME TO STAY is a romance. My third novel is all about payback.
Alana: Your first two books are founded on personal experience so you were, to some extent at least, writing ‘what you know’. Is this also true of novel number 3 or are you branching out into new territory?
June: I am totally branching out into new territory. Because the first two novels were founded on personal experience there was not a lot of research. The novel that I’m currently writing has murder, sexual abuse, and embezzlement. I’m happy to say that I have not had experience in any of those, but it is making for a lot of research.
I hope this novel will make the reader ask him/herself a lot of questions like ‘Is payback EVER justified?’ and, if so, ‘How far do you go for payback?’ ‘Is murder going too far?’
Alana: Big questions! And I think I know the answer to at least one of them. I look forward to seeing how you address them. June, thank you so much, it’s been such a pleasure talking to you.
Take this link to my review of HOME TO STAY
|Posted by Alana Woods on October 19, 2013 at 5:00 PM||comments (0)|
Alana: Emily, first off, you’re an American living in Britain. How did that come about?
Emily: When I was 24and just starting out my career in PR, mutual friends introduced me to myfuture husband, James, from Northern Ireland. He had come to Boston for adegree and his student visa only had one year remaining. We dated for that yearand then took the plunge and moved to London together. I was an illegal immigrantfor a short while, then I got a work permit and so started our life in the UK.
Alana: Why Birmingham? How long do you intend to stay?
Emily: We moved from London to Birmingham for his job, again, and at that time I started my own PR agency, Hatch PR. Although it meant I was moving away from London's vibrant media scene it turned out to be a marvelous move for us. We will be in the UK for life, although our long-term home will be Northern Ireland, where we are in the process of buying a house. (For his job, again, but also to be near lots of family—and free babysitters!)
Alana: I can totally relate to that—I get regular school run and school holiday calls from my kids. TETHERBIRD, where does the title come from and what is its meaning?
Emily: The book is based largely on a bird metaphor and I wanted to reflect that in the title. It’s effectively a story about how war affects us both at home as well as abroad, in the form of PTSD and our rampant gun culture (in the US) and sport gun culture (shooting birds) in the UK.
I settled on TETHERBIRD because I wanted the reader to finish the story reflecting on how the main character, Benjamin, and the narrator, Stanley, found their futures tied to each other through their relative roles in the war (warrior and journalist). And it also reflects how Benjamin's freedom was limited, or ‘tethered’, by the long-lasting impact of war.
The fact that the event that eventually takes Benjamin down happens during a bird shoot is really one big metaphor. I think that most readers won’t notice that, so I wanted the title to emphasize the metaphorical feeling of the book.
Photos: Ludlow, Shropshire, on which the fictional town of Runnermede is based, and the Adirondack Mountains.
Alana: In it you explore the effects of war on the participants as well as those they leave behind. It’s obviously of interest to you but why?
Emily: My life and the lives of my brother and sister were dramatically impacted by the Vietnam War. Though it happened before our lifetimes, our father was severely injured in the war and suffered some undiagnosed form of PTSD. His stories of the war were incredibly frightening; he saw some real action as a Marine who drove truckloads of supplies to the front lines in Na Trang, and he lived with those memories on a daily basis.
It made me want to write about how the impact of war is ever-reaching. In America we tend to forget that fighting is going on in Afghanistan because it’s not on CNN. But the reality is that it impacts us every day, in every way. And obviously for military families the impact is immediate and life-altering.
I came about the story of TETHERBIRD in a more roundabout and personal way. My husband took a job where he worked 7 days a week, sometimes 24 hours a day (as a kidney surgeon). For a year I never saw him and neither did our children. It was incredibly tough when I was at home with a newborn and a two-year-old. It made me want to write about the plight of a military spouse who faces separation and division in her family on a constant basis, plus the harrowing reality that daddy might never come home.
Alana: Well, the story certainly drives all of that home. Looking at another aspect of the book—the different locations—was your use of the UK as a location element a direct and conscious decision emanating from your love for the country? And why incorporate the class system?
Emily: I am fascinated by English royalty, not just through history but right now, the royals who live in these gigantic country houses and yet have no real power in society. You could even say they have been discarded by society. I think the legacy of the royals as a ruling class is endlessly interesting. I love the UK and most everything about it. There are so many interesting elements to society here. I love writing about how England looks from an American’s perspective andI love imagining how America must look to a Brit. The rest of the world is only getting a tiny taste for the nuances of the English class system through Downton Abbey. Class structure impacts most aspects of life in England.
Alana: Practically impossible to eradicate, I imagine, given it’s been the accepted way of things for so long.
Do you mind if we move away from TETHERBIRD and talk about your other work. Would you tell us about your first novel THE BOILER PLOT.
Emily: THE BOILER PLOT is about how we live our lives online, via computers, which can easily be used for menace. It explores what would happen if our privacy were violated in a real way through our search engines. (I didn’t have to stretch my imagination too much for this premise!) The story is told through the eyes of an American PR girl in London who is bright yet gullible and, in a way, she orchestrates her own demise. It has a romantic element, as her counterpart and savior appears halfway through the book. But can she trust him?
Alana: Given the obvious parallels, is she based on you at all?
Emily: I definitely used some of my personal observations on London's PR industry in creating the character, but she differs from me in many fundamental ways. I felt that I should ‘write what I knew’ for my first book. I no longer feel constrained by that. But I think there's a little piece of the author in every book.
Alana: Your bio says that along with writing mainstream fiction you write social satire. Where does that fit into your published works?
Emily: My third novel will be a suspenseful comedy. I believe that comedy is more difficult to write than drama, so I wanted to write a couple of straight suspense novels first to learn more about the craft of writing. But that being said, THE BOILER PLOT was quite satirical with regards to our dependence on technology.
Alana: And TETHERBIRD? I have to confess that I don’t remember anything I thought overtly satirical.
Emily: TETHERBIRD was satirical with regards to our relationship with guns. In America many people claim that guns protect them, yet their kids find them in the cupboard and accidentally shoot themselves. So the greatest tragedy in their life stems directly from their own paranoia. There is great irony with regards to human's reliance on guns as devices that grant protection. The saying ‘Guns don't kill people, people kill people’ is probably the stupidest thing anyone has ever said, in my opinion.
I appreciate your feedback though—maybe the satire was too subtle! I hope it's more blatant in my third book.
Alana: Would you give us a clue as to what your third novel is about or is it too early to be revealing storylines and plot points?
Emily: The comedy I’m writing is called THAT GUY and it’s about a Boston-based stay-at-home-dad who creates a secret life for himself out of boredom and the emasculation of staying home and looking after kids. He’s an ex-journalist, keeping with the media theme of my other books. His secret life is amusing, and suspense builds as he contends with the idiosyncratic art world and some eccentric, yet nefarious, characters.
Alana: Emily, it’s been a real pleasure talking to you and maybe next time—when I’m back in the UK—we can get together in one of those delightful Irish pubs.
Take this link to my review of TETHERBIRD.
|Posted by Alana Woods on October 12, 2013 at 5:10 PM||comments (4)|
My guest author this week has lived such an interesting life so far that I can only hope the interview does her justice.
Alana: Gisela, hello, you were born and grew up in Austria but have lived in the US for quite a few years now. Do you ever get the urge to return to Europe to live?
Gisela: Hi Alana, so happy to be here.
I think I just fell in love with the United States on the first day I arrived in November 1982. I was a young film production manager, still living and working in Austria. My goal, like everybody else’s in the industry, was to win an Oscar. Thus I was eager to travel to Los Angeles with my fiancé at the time. He was an Austrian movie maker who had done one study-abroad year in Los Angeles. On my first morning in LA we drove down Sunset Blvd and I fell in love with the United States. Funnily enough none of these plans worked out. I did not marry the man, I did not win an Oscar, and I did not even stay in the movie industry. But, surprisingly, the great love of my life and father of my two children wanted to live in Florida. Together we immigrated to the United States. Both of our children were born here, therefore I would not go back unless my children decided to live in Europe.
Alana: Yes, I can relate to that. And the need to be close by intensifies, if that’s possible, when grandchildren arrive. In my review of NAKED DETERMINATION I’ve called it an autobiography of sorts, but it could just as easily be called a memoir, albeit in the form of lessons you’ve learned or situations that have taught you something about yourself.
Gisela: NAKED DETERMINATION is really a book outside conventional genres. One reviewer at Amazon, Robin, wrote: ‘Naked determination reminds me of the series Chicken soup for the soul, only every story has been written by one person.’ Personally, I believe it is an adventure book, with adventures taking place on trips to exotic countries, at the work place, and even in relationships.
Alana: I hadn’t thought of it in that way but you’re right. So what inspired you to write it?
Gisela: It was really the Great Recession that inspired me. As you pointed out in your review, I had it really tough for a while. That's when the lessons I learned previously came in handy. I believe that revealing what I found by telling funny, adventurous and sexy stories might be an easier and more entertaining concept for readers than the usual 12-step programs. I believe that readers like the idea, because many of the reviewers point to similar experiences and say they could relate to my stories.
My book also won Bronze at the eLit Awards 2012, in the category inspirational/motivational.
Right now I have reduced NAKED DETERMINATION’s price by 75% to 99 cents. I am moving out-of-state and cannot promote my book as vigorously as I would like. It will be priced at 99 cents until October 19.
Alana: Congratulations on the Bronze! I wonder about the recollections from childhood in particular—how did you remember them? Did you keep a diary?
Gisela: As a child I lived in this unimaginably boring town where nothing ever happened. Also, at the time girls were expected to live this similar boring life of ‘being well-behaved’; consequently, anything out of the ordinary became memorable. I don't remember everything from my life. Just recently a friend from Austria reminded me of a trip about 28 years ago, when (obviously) he and I drove to Salzburg to have a cup of coffee in one of the famous coffee houses. Most embarrassingly I have absolutely no recollection of this trip, yet he remembers tiny little details.
Alana: Your time in the Austrian film industry in particular and your travels made for engrossing reading. What are your favourite memories from both?
Gisela: Though I shot many commercials and movies the greatest experience was shooting the bus-commercial, which I mentioned in my book. Our film team rented an entire stone quarry for three days. When we were not shooting because the team had to set up, we drove around in the bus and the tank to explore best locations. Also, during the entire filming only one tiny thing went wrong. In the end we ended up with a wonderful commercial, which became a finalist at the NY film festival for commercials, which was so thrilling for me.
As for traveling: I like traveling and seeing new things more than anything else. Having said that, I haven't traveled to a single country where I did not find awesome beauty. If I would have to pick one region which was outstanding it would be the Himalayan region. Since the plateaus where I traveled—Tibet from the Chinese side and Kashmir from the Indian side—are at such high elevations, useless commercialized products didn’t make it up there at the time. It was too complicated to transport them. Thus, everything had a certain simplicity and purity, which was just striking; it was almost a spiritual experience.
China, including the Great Wall and an ice sculpture at the International Ice and Snow Sculpture Fesitval in Harbin, capital of the Heilongjiang Province.
Gisela in front of the Taj Mahal and a houseboat on Kashmir's Dal Lake
A tent camp in Kashmir and the Zoji-La (Pass) en-route to Kargil and Padum in the Zanskar Valley in the Indian Himalyas.
Alana: NAKED DETERMINATION isn’t your first published book; would you tell us a little about your others.
Gisela: With my late husband, who was an aerial photographer, I published two aerial photography coffee-table books, one about Vienna, the other one about Austria.
Alana: What was your role?
Gisela: I worked mostly on the visual concept and design. The Vienna book received the biggest recognition I have ever received. In 2005, when President Clinton visited Vienna, Austria's biggest business publication gave him my/our book as a good-bye gift and keepsake.
Gisela: Yes. They could have picked anything they wanted and chose the book my husband and I created. I did not even know anything about it. This business publication had an article with a picture in the newspaper. My father clipped it out and sent it to me. Can you imagine my reaction when I opened the envelope? My father did not call me or send an email, he just sent the article via snail mail as a surprise. And, didn't that work out!
Alana: Any others? Although I think that would be hard to top.
Gisela: A few educational children's books that I’ve published in print and on CD, but I had to stop that because teaching materials are advancing in a way which is beyond my technical skills.
And having analyzed 100,000+ emails I also wrote an ebook about how to write great emails. Plus a short inspirational ebook telling success principles through the eyes of a/my cat.
Alana: Are you working on another book at the moment? If so, could you give us an insight, or is it too early to reveal?
Gisela: Right now I am working on a children's book. Concept and pictures are already finished, but I am still writing. I need to research a lot to have good keywords, whichc hildren are supposed to practice. Therefore this is a complicated stage and I cannot say more about it because it is still evolving.
Alana: Gisela, thank you so much for giving me your time, especially given you’re in the midst of moving.
Gisela: Thank you for inviting me to share with your readers!
Take this link to Gisela's books at all ebook vendors
Take this link to my review of NAKED DETERMINATION
|Posted by Alana Woods on May 19, 2013 at 4:10 AM||comments (0)|
My guest this week is Gillian Jackson, author of THE COUNSELLOR, a novel that delves into the inner workings of therapeutic counsellors. I was intrigued to say the least about Gillian’s background and reason for writing this story.
Alana: Gillian, welcome, it’s lovely to have another author from the UK here. I’d like to combine my first question with a bit about you and a bit about the book. Do you live in the book’s location?
Gillian:Yes, although the book is set in North Yorkshire and I live just over the border in County Durham, England. The fictitious market town is a combination of several which are near my home, an area I love, combining the best of urban and country living right on the doorstep, with the coast just forty minutes drive away.
Alana: Looks like heaven! I have to say that as I read THE COUNSELLOR I was intrigued by what seems to me to be quite in-depth knowledge of how to ‘treat’ people who seek counselling. You have childcare qualifications and are now a voluntary worker for Victim Support, is it that knowledge and experience you called upon or was further research required.
Gillian: My childcare career was a wonderful period which I loved enormously but one which came to a rather abrupt end with the worsening of a long-term back problem. Seeking out a less strenuous occupation led me into training for therapeutic counselling which is currently put to use in my work for Victim Support, a brilliant charity which does amazing work in supporting people at vulnerable times in their lives.
Alana: Ah, that’s something I didn’t pick up on when researching for the interview—that you had trained for that. I imagine it was similar to the training Maggie underwent in the book?
Gillian:Yes, the training and ongoing work has provided invaluable knowledge and insight in the areas I write about, although I would never actually use a ‘case’ for a scenario in the books. It’s very much an instance of truth being stranger than fiction, my real life clients’ stories would not be believed!
Alana: Now THAT piques my interest. Not that I’m going to ask about the real cases, but I have to say the fictional ones were emotional enough to read. But before writing and publishing THE COUNSELLOR you had already published a self-help book From victim to survivor. Could you give an insight into what it contains and why you wrote it.
Gillian: From Victim to survivor is a short, self help book specifically for adults who were sexually abused as children but did not disclose until later life. It’s a sad fact of life that this atrocity happens and is something which can destroy lives. The book is in many ways a very personal one, inspired by my own abuse as a child which I kept secret until I was fifty years old. It is not, however, a book about me and is surprisingly positive!
My own story is briefly outlined but in the book as a whole I have attempted to offer positive and practical ideas for self help and to signpost to organizations which can support and encourage survivors. I was in a very bad place for two or three years and was given books on the subject which I hadn’t the energy or inclination to even open, so huge and complicated they looked! Eventually seeking therapeutic counselling for myself, it proved to be a most empowering experience and From victim to survivor is the book I would have wished to read at the time, short, succinct and even with pictures! Therapy was the spark which ignited my interest in counselling and afterwards I returned to college to study psychology and counselling.
Alana: Just like Maggie.
Gillian: Absolutely. I was the ‘granny’ of the group and, like Maggie, enjoyed the complete change of focus this brought.
Alana: Did the information you use in From victim to survivor inform Maggie’s methods in THE COUNSELLOR?
Gillian: Certainly in the specific area of historical childhood abuse, yes. There is a cross over in From victim to survivor with the character Janet in THE COUNSELLOR, who is loosely based on my own experience. The depth of training and practical work for counselling however is the main inspiration for Maggie. I wanted to give her the ability to get alongside each client to offer the best possible help she can, her own grief and loss bringing the empathy needed to be totally committed to the work. Although a novel, I hope to portray therapeutic counselling as a powerful tool in taking control of life in general rather than a fashionable whim for those who can afford it.
Alana:You were certainly successful there; it definitely came across as a powerful tool! I was pleased to discover that Maggie continues in a second book—Maggie’s world—already published and I believe you’re working on a third. Would you tell us a little of where Maggie’s story takes her in them?
Gillian: Maggie’s world moves her personal story along in time and brings her into contact with three new clients. I love being able to choose an issue to explore and in the second of the series is a young mother with amnesia, a newlywed who is the victim of psychological abuse and the heartbreaking topic of childlessness.
The third in the series is my work in progress, again with three new clients bringing diverse issues and the return of a popular character from book one! The working title is ‘Pretence’ and is on track to be finished later this year. I have been thrilled and encouraged by the feedback from the first two books. The subject matter seems to have captured people’s attention and the way I write, alternating stories throughout the book, for many makes easy reading. I’m also a believer in happy endings and aim for the best possible outcome, although to reflect life and be realistic there has to be a measure of sadness.
Alana: Well, I think you’ve got the mix just right in THE COUNSELLOR.
Gillian: That was my debut novel and first serious attempt at fiction. It was like a new baby and as a new writer I feel I’m growing and honing my work continuously. Writing is compulsive, I could not imagine life without my lap top and writing projects; our cat, who used to be my only ‘laptop’ has resigned herself to second place and my wonderful supportive husband has been persuaded to subscribe to SKY television to immerse himself in football but there are simply not enough football matches in the day to keep me happy!
Alana: I’ll take that as a hint that I’ve kept you from writing long enough and let you get back to it. Gillian, thanks so much for talking to me today.
Take this link to my review of THE COUNSELLOR
|Posted by Alana Woods on May 5, 2013 at 5:15 AM||comments (11)|
Today I have as my guest one my fellow Goodreads Boomer Lit group members. I’ve just reviewed her first book CONFESSIONS OF AN INSTINCTIVELY MUTINOUS BABY BOOMER and wanted to find out more about her and what prompted her to write her memoirs.
Alana: Marsha, I’ve got to ask—Confessions of a mutinous baby boomer ... Why mutinous?
Marsha: It's funny, Alana, that your first question is about mutinous. I can't tell you the variety of responses I've received about that word! One reviewer said, ‘This book may have the most intriguing title of any other book I've read in the past year’, and another started off her review with, ‘At first I was put off by the title, since Boomers are by definition a mutinous generation’, but went on to say how much she liked it! I suppose what she said was exactly my point: Boomers ARE by definition a mutinous generation. One of the meanings stated in the dictionary is ‘refusing to obey or submit to control’. Well, that sounds like Boomers to me! I thought the word that stood out was instinctively, but I guess not!
Alana: Instinctively hardly registered on me. It was definitely mutinous that piqued my interest. I’m a Boomer myself but I have to say that as a member of Goodreads Boomer lit group I’m learning so much about what being one actually means.
Seeing how we’ve dived straight into the book let’s stick with it for a while. Let’s talk about the parables. How did you remember all of those episodes in your life that you’ve written about? Did you keep a diary?
Marsha: Good question. Yes, I did keep a diary from time to time, especially when significant things happened. For instance, I wrote about the process of birthing our son, Matt, a week or so after he was born. When I dug through old papers and found what I had written I was a little taken aback by how accurate it was concerning what I had experienced physically and emotionally. I don't think I could have written that chapter on such an earthy level had I not documented it so soon after it occurred.
Alana: I can so relate to that. Just a week ago I was at the birth of my newest grand-daughter. What an experience! It immediately became one of the precious moments in my life. Sorry, I couldn’t resist telling you that.
Marsha: How lovely for you and congratulations. I'd like to suggest to you that you take the time to write down exactly how you felt while it's still fresh! Of course there were many stories I shared that I had little or no documentation about and I'll tell you how I remembered. I went to this beautiful spot on top of a mountain and would sit, staring off into the clouds. I would let my mind wander back and when I remembered something I'd jot it down on a legal pad. For instance, the sequences that were about some of the extraordinary things I witnessed when I was a young operating room nurse and also in the ICU. I didn't want to write those chapters until I could walk through those doors again and look around each room—the sounds, the smells, all of it. That took being by myself, in the quiet, to unearth those memories.
Alana: What beautiful photos! Did those episodes have significance at the time? Was it immediately apparent that they were life lessons?
Marsha: Sometimes yes. Sometimes no. I think there are moments in everyone's life when something happens and it's like a two-by-four just hit you across the head—you know it's significant! But there are other situations that it takes the passage of time to see that one seemingly unimportant moment was really a defining moment after all.
Alana: And when did you start thinking of them as parables?
Marsha: That came about with the tomato plants. When the incident that I call The parable of the tomato plant happened I went right inside, sat down and wrote it out long hand that very day. That was about a year and a half before I began writing my book, but it was ‘the seed’ for what was to come.
Alana: I query in my review the revealing of other people’s personal details. It’s something I guess you can’t avoid if you’re being candid in a memoir. How did you tackle that?
Marsha: I would never use someone's actual name and reveal personal details without their permission. There were miscellaneous people in my life, particularly when I was a young woman, who I either didn't want to use their real name or couldn't locate them to ask permission. And these people were not those who I based the stories around—they were more incidental characters. It's really my family and a few close friends that we're talking about here.
Marsha: My husband and long-time business partner, Bob Rector, who is also a writer, told me to ‘keep it honest’ from the beginning, and he stuck by me on that all the way.
I'll tell you a quick story that best sums it up, Alana. You recall that there is one chapter about our son when he was a teenager. It was a tough chapter to write and it might be tough to read, I don't know. But Matt is now a grown man and very happily married.
Alana: So how did you approach it?
Marsha: I sent the chapter to him before including it in the book, to get his permission to be as personal as I was about what we had experienced during that troubling time. After he read it he told me, ‘I was holding my breath, wondering if you were going to pull your punches or not. I was so proud of you that you didn't. Yeah, mom, include it. It might help some other parent going through the same thing’.
Alana: Wow, how wonderful of him.
Marsha: That meant SO much to me. As you can see, I've had a lot of encouragement about keeping it honest ...
Alana: You’ve obviously had some tough times in your life but you’ve overcome them. You come across as an indomitable spirit but do you see yourself that way?
Marsha: Ha! Yeah, I guess I do! The photograph of the little stinker of a girl on the cover of my book is me!
(The photo of adult Marsha below is the one she considers her current 'Mutinous' photo.)
Alana: It’s a fabulous photo. I love the look on your face.
Marsha: I was born with that attitude and frankly it's been a lot to live up to at times. I expect myself to be world-conquering material and when I miss the mark I'm terribly disappointed in myself. To answer your question, yes, I do rather think of myself as indomitable, but often I'm not. It's part of what my book is about really, making sure that you remember how you overcame tough times so that you can pull from that part of yourself when tough times come again.
Alana: Well, you’ve certainly done that in spades. What prompted you to write the memoir?
Marsha: Actually it didn't start out as a memoir at all. Initially it was going to be a series of vignettes about remembering life's lessons. I've been in the unusual situation of experiencing the normal side of life as a wife, mother and daughter in a middle-class neighborhood, while at the same time living BIG dreams! Among other things Bob and I traveled the globe doing something that had never been done before: producing an original play, Letters from the Front, that entertained American troops and their families around the world for fifteen years. Quite a contrast!
Alana: I’m sorry to say I’d not heard of the play until reading about it, but I Googled and found the website. What an undertaking is all I can say! Oh, and congratulations on seeing it through and it being so successful.
Marsha: Thanks so much, Alana, and as you could tell from reading the book, it took years of persistence before it was successful, which gave me a keen awareness of what it takes to overcome life's obstacles. I wanted to share what I had learned in the process. However, when I presented the first draft to my in-house editor (Bob!) he told me that he liked it very much but thought it was going to leave the reader unsatisfied.
Alana: How so?
Marsha: He explained that I had introduced so many extremely personal issues in my parables and then moved on too quickly. For instance, there is an early chapter about my mom being sick with breast cancer. Bob said that I needed to let the reader know what happened to my mom and how it affected me. He told me to connect the dots in my book, to give it a narrative flow as an overall story, even though each chapter can basically stand on its own. At that point I had to rethink the entire structure of the book, but I'm sure glad I did. The second draft was twice as long as the first and very close to how the final book turned out. Certainly a memoir in a way, but with a different twist I think.
Alana: Definitely a different twist. And there’s nothing quite like good advice. Given all the parables you write about why did you choose the tomato plant as the book’s sub-title? Why not Letters from the Front, which dominated your life for so long?
Marsha: Because my book started with the tomato plant story. About 18 months after I wrote it I found myself about as lost as I had ever been. We had been hard hit by the economy, like so many other people, and I was feeling pretty beat up by life. Not indomitable at all! I found the hand-written pages of The parable of the tomato plant tucked away in a drawer, next to where I would sit in the den and look out at my garden. When I read it I cried, smiled at the silliness of life and felt more hopeful. There have been very few changes to that parable from when I first wrote it. You see, I didn't write Letters from the Front, my husband did. I produced it. When I read The parable of the tomato plant that day I realized that I was a writer and it was time for me to write a book. I suppose I felt I had to leave it in the title to honor that moment. (I took a picture of the very first tomato that popped out—it was a cherry tomato.)
Alana: And a magnificent one it is! You now live in the mountains and I have a vision of you in a little log cabin surrounded by mountains and fir trees? Am I close or a way off track?
Marsha: Well, you were pretty close concerning where we lived when I wrote my Mutinous Boomer book! It was more of a cottage than a cabin, there were initially fir trees, but they were taken out by a tornado! We recently moved to a lovely spot very near the mountains but with a good deal more room than the cottage!
Alana: Do you have any projects on the go at the moment. Another play perhaps, another book?
Marsha: I will definitely write at least one more Mutinous Boomer book and I have an outline for another writing project that I've been working on. I am a writer now, there's no going back from that.
As far as plays, Letters from the Front is the love of my life in that category! There is interest in touring it again, which I would love to do. There is no better or more appreciative audience in the world than our troops and their families. We shall see.
But, Alana, since you've read my book, you know I try not to write a script for my life. Try is the operative word here! My personal goal is to allow myself to feel the wind change, God's wind in my life, and let it fill my sail and take me where it will. It sure has taken me to some amazing places so far!
Alana: Marsha, I can only agree with you, it certainly has. May I say it’s been a real pleasure talking to you. Thank you.
Marsha: Thank you, Alana. The pleasure was mine.
Take this link to my review of Confessions of an instinctively mutinous baby boomer
Kirkus Reviews of Confessions
|Posted by Alana Woods on March 9, 2013 at 4:10 PM||comments (2)|
By Alana Woods
Today we have the pleasure of Michael Murphy visiting to talk about his latest book GOODBYE EMILY and to also give us a little insight into his life which, although I didn't ask him about it, obviously includes sky-diving!
Alana: Michael, welcome, thank you for giving up part of your weekend to come visit. Hopefully I haven’t kept you from chicken farm chores. What about giving us a peek into what life is like as a chicken farmer in Arizona.
Michael: A couple of years ago my wife from out of nowhere said, “Don’t you think it would be fun to raise chickens in our backyard?” Before I could give it serious consideration she’d brought home five chicks, a small pen and heating lamp. Of course the girls quickly outgrew their initial enclosure, so we ordered a chicken coop which we set inside a portable dog run and surrounded the whole thing with fencing. It’s been quite an investment in money and upkeep, but fun? Well, I guess.
Alana: And I imagine there are always plenty of eggs for breakfast! Have you always been an Arizona boy or did you arrive there after a life elsewhere?
Michael: I’ve lived more than fifty years in Arizona, so I’m practically a native. It’s got everything, desert, mountains with pines, lakes, snow in the winter and more than 300 days a year of sunshine. Guess that’s why everyone’s moving here, or at least it seems that way.
Take this link to Bing.com images of Arizona
Alana: Sounds like a little slice of paradise. Let’s talk about GOODBYE EMILY. There are three themes running through it: Woodstock, obviously, but also the effects of war, on Vietnam vets specifically, and Alzheimer’s. First, can we talk about Woodstock—what attracted you to it?
Michael: I grew up in the sixties and attended the Monterey Pop Festival in 1968, but Woodstock was the most culturally historical event of the twentieth century. The performances have been covered in book and film, but no-one ever wrote about the 400,000 who braved the elements and helped make it such a memorable event.
Take this link to Looney Palace to see original Woodstock festival photos
Alana: Well, you certainly brought that aspect to life in GOODBYE EMILY. While reading it I was thinking that you must have been there because it was so real to me. But what about the effects of war angle? What instigated or encouraged you to touch on this?
Michael: Growing up in the sixties one couldn’t help but be impacted by a war that divided the country so much. And what we did to, or failed to do for, Vietnam Veterans was tragic. I tried to convey some of that in the novel with my character Buck Jamison.
Alana: And lastly Alzheimer’s. Another extremely emotive topic. Why bring that into what is already an emotion-packed story?
Michael: When I was younger I worked in a nursing home that had an Alzheimer’s unit. I’ll never forget the impact of the disease on family members. Also, since the novel is about three baby boomers, I wanted to touch on the impact of aging on their lives which is why the main character, Sparky, struggles with a very real disease, Broken Heart Syndrome.
Alana: Your descriptions of that were ‘heartfelt’ to say the least! I could almost feel the ache as I was reading. How did you know or find out about it?
Michael: I drew upon my experience working alongside an Alzheimer’s unit. The former schoolteacher with Alzheimer’s in GOODBYE EMILY was based on a patient who greeted me each morning by asking if I’d turned in my homework. It was sad and touching at the same time. One day she stopped asking.
Alana: Following on from that there’s another topic I almost forgot—the companion dog Lady. She’s a real honey. You’ve packed enough tear-jerkers into this book. Did you set out to tackle so many emotive subjects?
Michael: My wife and I had a golden retriever and anyone who’s had one can attest to their personalities which I tried to convey. As far as so many emotional subjects, I wanted to address some serious topics that baby boomers deal with, but do so in a humorous story with likeable characters. From the reviews so far I think it worked.
Alana: I know it worked because the entire story made such an impact on me. But GOODBYE EMILY isn’t your first book, is it. In fact I believe it’s your eighth. Are the topics and themes of those similar—eg Boomer Lit—to those in GOODBYE EMILY?
Michael: My first novel The Class of ’68 takes place in the most tumultuous year of the twentieth century, so there are many similar themes. However, the others are the types of novels I enjoy reading, mystery/suspense. My first post-GOODBYE EMILY novel The Yankee Club, which isn't out yet, is a humorous mystery set it 1933 New York. Prohibition, speakeasies, and I get to use the word dames a lot. I think readers who enjoy GOODBYE EMILY will enjoy The Yankee Club.
Alana: Michael, thank you so much. I’ll let you get back to the girls and that incredible sunshine now.
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|Posted by Alana Woods on February 16, 2013 at 9:15 AM||comments (2)|
This week's interviewee is Duncan Whitehead, a member of my Goodreads Boomer group. We discuss his boomer novel THE GORDONSTON LADIES DOG WALKING CLUB as well as his so far amazing life.
Alana: Duncan, welcome. It’s lovely to have you here today. Before we talk about your book we just HAVE to talk about you. You’ve had such an interesting life: born in the UK, the Royal Navy, working on super yachts, boxer, teacher, soccer coach, self defence arts, languages, cooking among other things—how on earth have you fitted all of that in?
Duncan: I joined the Royal Navy at age 17 and prior to that I was already boxing regularly, since the age of 14. After serving onboard ships for four years I undertook extra training, including languages, which enabled me to work in British Embassies, mainly in South America. Before leaving the navy in 2002 I took a teaching course—English as a foreign language—as I wanted to travel. Fortunately for me I was head-hunted and offered a job as a purser aboard a super yacht. I was able to combine writing, my other interests and activities in between jobs and yachts. Coaching kid’s soccer was fun because my daughter took up the sport. A lot of the things I do are usually on a volunteer basis.
Alana: Can we focus on the super yacht period for a moment. Any juicy anecdotes that you can relate without fear of retribution.
Duncan: Well, I have signed several confidentiality agreements but I can tell you that the yachts I worked on are unbelievable—not only the amount of money that’s spent on them but the organization, rules and regulations and other laws they have to abide by. The photos are of two, the Boadicea and Princess Mariana.
I was lucky to meet some well-known individuals and have remained in contact with some. It’s an interesting ‘industry’ and I have to say the crews work long hours and very hard. The travelling is of course great. I visited Australia, the Mediterranean, Caribbean, South Pacific, South America and both coasts of the USA, berthing at some luxurious locations. I am most impressed by the quality of chefs on these yachts; they produce 5 star quality food in such cramped conditions. One former chef of an owner I worked with went on to international fame and Michelin stars!
As for anecdotes, how about this? I was once mistaken for an owner. My girlfriend was visiting me and my boss insisted we stay onboard as guests while they weren’t onboard. Denzil Washington and his family were on Greg Norman’s yacht berthed next to us and they waved to us, probably thinking we were famous!
Alana: On waving terms with Denzil—I AM impressed. And then you settled in the south of the USA! How did that come about?
Duncan: While working onboard a yacht we visited Savannah for a protracted period of time. I met a girl and after we sailed we continued dating and married. Eventually I settled in Savannah. I love the place and I made it my base as I travelled. Eventually it became my home.
Alana: And that’s where you began to write in earnest?
Duncan: I had written short stories in the past and attempted several novels, all comedy based, but never had the time nor inspiration to ever complete anything. Savannah is a hotbed of writers, in my neighbourhood alone there lived two NY Times best-selling authors who became friends.
Alana: Don’t want to say who?
Duncan: Greg Keyes, a fantastic fantasy writer and Rosemary Daniell, a very accomplished writer of Southern fiction and memoirs.
With time on my hands I wrote THE GORDONSTON LADIES DOG WALKING CLUB and two other novels. It didn’t happen overnight; I began writing TGLDWC in 2006.
Alana: THE GORDONSTON LADIES DOG WALKING CLUB is set in the Savannah location—your Amazon bio says it was inspired by the quirky characters and eeriness of your new environment. What do you mean by that?
Duncan: Gordonston is a very quaint neighbourhood and it was very alien to me. I’m English with a very strong accent and I was a stay-at home-dad ...
Alana: Ah, so the character Doug is based on you?
Duncan: Some aspects of Doug are based on my personal perception of the neighbourhood as an outsider, an alien if you will, not accustomed to not only his environment but also the personal situation he finds himself in. Apart from that Doug and I are very different ... I wouldn’t dig a hole ...
During the day I would walk around the neighbourhood with my dog and daughter and would never encounter a soul. It was as if I was the only person alive at times. Even though Gordonston is in a city it’s very quiet and not much traffic traverses through it. The park amazed me, it’s as I describe in the book and it felt I had the place to myself, my dog and child. I guess I thought it would be a great place to hide something ... or someone.
As for characters, yes I did find some of them ‘quirky’—though I am NOT going to say who!
Alana: How close to fact is the book then?
Duncan: The book does have several factual parts; there is a park, as described in the novel, and the houses as described do exist, though I have used a bit of imagination with one of them. The neighbourhood is leafy and the avenues and streets are tree lined with Spanish moss dripping from them like silk.
Alana: It sounds beautiful. And the characters?
Duncan: Some of the characters and events are loosely based on real neighbours—there was a widower alderman living in the neighbourhood though he bears no resemblance to the character in the book and I confess I found it good ‘fodder’ to have a good-looking eligible bachelor in my story.
Alana: I believe this is your first book. Is it the first you’ve written or the first you’ve published? And what are you working on now?
Duncan: This is my first published book. I’m in the editing phase (lessons learned) of my second book, a comedy set in Manhattan entitled The Reluctant Jesus. I’ve also written a sequel to THE GORDONSTON LADIES DOG WALKING CLUB.
Alana: How far off are they both to being published?
Duncan: The Reluctant Jesus is being re-edited. I decided to use lessons learned from TGLDWC to alleviate any editing errors that would mar readers’ enjoyment. The sequel has been written but I’m undecided as to who dies ... the character I wanted to kill off may have some extra mileage so I am trying to figure out if he (or she) should live or die. Friends who have read the sequel enjoyed it; however, with a film treatment now completed ...
Alana: Duncan!!! you've thrown in yet another teaser. What do you mean by 'film treatment'?
Duncan: Well, one’s been written, not by me, and sent to a few production companies who requested it ... and it slightly changes things. I need to be careful about how the next one ends ... in case I need the character to ultimately tie up the story. AndI’m drafting the third and final book in the trilogy.
I also write comedy satire and spoof news and do have a real job!
Alana: May I ask what that might be?
Duncan: I work as a security and safety auditor and consultant for private super yachts. Our company helps owners implement required safety and security regulations and we provide advice, consultancy and management systems that help them achieve that goal.
Alana: Duncan, thank you so much for all of that information! Wow, is all I can say.
Take this link to read my review of THE GORDONSTON LADIES DOG WALKING CLUB
|Posted by Alana Woods on February 9, 2013 at 9:15 AM||comments (9)|
If you’re a fan of classic movies you’re going to really enjoy my interview with this week’s author Stephen R Hulse. And if you are a fan you may well already be familiar with his name and work.
Alana: Stephen, welcome. Thank you for accepting my interview invitation. However, before we get to THE BLUE HOUR may I find out a bit about its author, you. You were born in Liverpool England, are you still there?
Stephen: Thank you, Alana. It’s a pleasure to be here. First of all I must say that this virtual coffee is positively superb.
Alana: Glad you like it. I ground it just a minute ago so it’s lovely and fresh.
Stephen: Now, where were we? Yes, I was indeed born in Liverpool and, yes, I’m currently still there. Although over the years I’ve spent time in America, both coasts, Germany and Australia, as well as a period living in London during the mid 1980s. I’m blessed or cursed, depending on my mood at any given time, by wanderlust. Although like a salmon I always seem to end up making the long, hard swim back up river to my spawning ground.
Alana: Australia! Whereabouts? I grew up in Adelaide but have been in Canberra since 1980, except for a five year sojourn up on the Sunshine Coast.
Stephen: Ah, of course. I noticed when I visited your site that you're based in Australia yourself. The lovely small town of Echuca, down in Victoria. I spent three months there back in 2007. Coincidentally enough I was there when the original paperback version of my first novel, Shadowchaser, was published. Back in the days before it became an ebook only edition.
Alana: Lovely place, Echuca. For our readers' edification it's on the Murray and used to be a busy port when the river was still navigable by paddle steamer. But, I always say there’s nothing quite like home. I understand that you’re the co-creator and a former contributor to the classic television websites Television Heaven, Teletronic, and Day In The Life. I'm not familiar with them so would you enlighten me with a bit of background and what instigated their creation?
Stephen: Happy to. The genesis of Television Heaven came about in 1999–2000 when my great friend and then writing partner, Laurence Marcus, had the idea that it might be fun to set up a little website where we could write about the classic television series that we’d enjoyed in our childhood/youth. Both of us being unashamedly square-eyed TV addicts the idea appealed to me instantly. Between us we drew up a list of ten classic shows we’d cover.
Now bear in mind that at the time this was entirely for our own amusement. We fully expected that this wondrous site would only ever enjoy two visitors—us! At the time I was living in Northern California while Laurence was back home in his native London, so the entire idea took shape via a frantic tennis match of emails at decidedly ungodly and odd hours for both of us.
Anyway, once we’d decided on the ten shows we’d feature, while Laurence set about the design of the website I undertook the writing for the first batch of show overviews/reviews. If I recall correctly the very first completed review was for the classic comedy series Dad’s Army. Amazingly, Laurence was thrilled with it and that review became the standard template for everything which was to follow.
Anyway, cutting a very long story short, fast forward to the present day. Following my departure as an active contributor Television Heaven went on to grow beyond our wildest expectations. It’s now recognised world-wide as one of the leading resources on the subject of classic television and television history. From that original list of ten shows the site has blossomed into a vast treasure trove of television knowledge currently covering over one thousand classic and current series, visited by millions of people per month from all over the globe.
Laurence and his team of contributors have done an absolutely phenomenal job, and I’m immensely proud of both the success Laurence has made of the site and my own small contribution to what began as—and remained for us both—a genuine labour of love.
As for Television Heaven’s sister sites, Teletronic began when I had the idea of us producing a monthly text-based ezine covering TV related subjects which didn’t quite fit into the main site, or we simply didn’t have room for at the time. However, it quickly became apparent that the text-based format was too limiting. So, Laurence worked his design magic once again and Teletronic the website was born.
With it we were able to delve in much greater detail into specific aspects of the history and development of the medium and the personalities which shaped its development. It was here that Laurence’s wonderful skills as a factual writer truly bloomed. And now Teletronic has grown into far more than the sum of its original parts. It provides the perfect compliment to the original site.
And finally ... (you there at the back. Yes, you! At least attempt to pretend to be paying attention. We’re almost done with this particular subject) ...
Alana: Who? Me? Sorry, the glaze is because I’m rapt!
Stephen: All right, you’re forgiven ... well, as I was saying, finally there’s Reminisce This, the third site in the stable, originally called Day In The Life. Now this was Laurence’s idea, and I just pitched in with suggestions and the writing of the overview for each of the decades covered. Unlike its sister sites it isn’t television based. Rather, it’s a nostalgic look back at the development of the culture of the UK over a period of sixty years from the 1940s through to the 1990s. It’s fun, as already mentioned, it’s nostalgic—and yet again, it’s a labour of love.
Alana: You obviously have a deep and broad knowledge of both television and film across all the major genres. Does that result from the intense interest of an amateur or from working in the industry?
Stephen: My knowledge of both mediums stems primarily from far too many childhood hours with my nose either pressed up against the television or cinema screen, far too many hours spent with my nose buried deep in the musty pages of books and magazines devoted to film and TV stretching back decades, plus a family with an almost preternatural knowledge of both.
Professionally I've flirted with the television industry here and there. But, sadly, tis a tale of projects that never quite made it to fruition, and expectations confounded by unexpected obstacles. But never say never—doubtless I’ll take another tilt at that particular windmill in times to come.
Alana: This seems a logical spot to turn to THE BLUE HOUR. In my review I make the observation that your story-telling style reminded me of the Raymond Chandler novels. I haven’t read your first book so don’t know if that carries through but, is it a style you consciously use?
Stephen: Well, I’ve always had a long standing love affair with classic noir ‘Private Eye’ fiction in both print and film/TV. So following the publication of SHADOWCHASER—which, while containing elements in common thematically with THE BLUE HOUR, is written in a very different style—I was casting around for that all-important second book idea and the idea of taking a classic noir approach to a modern day mystery with a slight supernatural undertone appealed to me.
I also knew I wanted the story told in the first person by a strong, yet flawed, female lead—with the much more traditional male private eye as the partner figure. My prime influences/inspirations included the fast-talking, wisecracking duo of Bogart/Bacall in the classic film version of The Big Sleep, Chinatown, and my physical template for the rugged, ironically recognisable incarnation of my private eye, Gideon Wade, was the ever wonderful Robert Mitchum.
Alana: What about the subject matter in THE BLUE HOUR—where did the idea for that come from?
Stephen: Hmmm … difficult to answer without giving away too much of the central core of the plot, I think. What I can say is that the issue of human trafficking has been rather high profile these past few years. The idea appealed to me as a very effective core of the novel’s story. From there it took very little extrapolation on my part to realise that if I narrowed that down to one very particular aspect of the issue then it added a very resonant emotional core to the story which would resonate strongly for both readers and central characters alike. The stakes are high, because the threat being faced is utterly monstrous and repugnant. Once I had that central concept and my research nailed down, the characters basically wrote the story themselves.
Alana: I think that’s something authors in general find—once underway the characters take over. Let’s talk about your characters. You make no allowances for them being male or female in the situations in which you place them. You expect the women to be as tough, resourceful and resilient as the men. Why?
Stephen: Why? Because in my personal experience women are as tough, resourceful and resilient as men. Arguably even more so. I like woman—actually I love women—and I like to think I understand them enough to do them the justice they deserve—particularly in my writing.
Alana: I agree that it's difficult to talk about the book without giving spoilers so let's get on to what you're working on at the moment?
Stephen: You mean apart from my duties steering the good ship Blue Hour Publishing through the treacherous waters of the Amazonion Sea?
Alana: Yes, let’s take time out from that particular black hole for a moment at least. I find that it can consume you.
Stephen: Well, workaholic madman that I am I’m currently writing three books simultaneously! The insignificant other, which is the sequel to THE BLUE HOUR. Shadowchaser II, for which readers of the first book have been (im)patiently waiting for five years. And last but by no means least a brand new comedy thriller provisionally titled The dark eye agency and featuring my brand new female lead character who, I have to admit, I’m more than a little bit in love with. Want me to describe the basic premise in a single sentence? Bridget Jones … as written by Raymond Chandler.
Alana: That I will have to read. Stephen, thank you.
Stephen: No, thank you Alana, m’dear, for making this a wonderfully fun and enjoyable experience. Er, I don’t suppose you have any of that delicious virtual coffee left ... and perhaps a Lamington cake …?
Alana: I do actually so there’s no need for you to rush off. It’s a beautiful day so grab your mug and we can move out on to the deck and enjoy the view at the same time. I’ve not long put a sunset photo of it up as my Twitter header and if I say so myself it looks good (@AlanaEWoods). A little past l’heure bleue perhaps, but not by much.
Take this link to my review of THE BLUE HOUR
|Posted by Alana Woods on February 2, 2013 at 9:10 AM||comments (0)|
I first met Amy some time ago in what was then a new Facebook group begun by Jason Matthews as a place for authors to meet and exchange ideas and information. I figured it was time I read and reviewed Amy's first book and gave her some air time to talk about it, as well as herself.
Alana: Amy welcome, it’s lovely to finally have you here. The first question I want to ask is where your knowledge of such places as Quito and Hope Valley come from. I understand your parents were missionaries—are they places you actually lived or visited?
Amy: First of all, thank you so much for having me, Alana. It’s a privilege to be interviewed by the amazing author of IMBROGLIO, AUTOMATON and 25 ESSENTIAL WRITING TIPS. It’s exciting to be here.
Alana: Amy, Amy, I’ve got to get my head through the door, so stop it!
Amy: Ha ha! Sorry. So, Hope Valley is based on a real place in British Columbia where I spent 18 months from the age of 10 to 11.
Alana: I thought it sounded like first-hand experience.
Amy: My father was the Director of the camp there (much like Gabriel Walker’s father in the book) and my mom led a Bible study group with the ladies. There were only four families and the place was so small and remote that you could only get there by boat. Almost all of the locations in Hope Valley actually exist, except for the berry patch which I created from memories.
I have sadly never been to Quito ...
Alana: You’re kidding! I would have put money on those descriptions coming from experience!
Amy: Well, I did a lot of research on the city and combined my feelings of being a misplaced TCK (third culture kid) to give Anjaline’s story some depth. Though I was born in Canada I spent the first nine years of my life in Africa.
Alana: Wow, what an amazing experience for a child.
Amy: Yes, but when my parents moved us back here it was like what Anjaline went through, but in reverse. I was returning to my home country, but it took a very long time for it to feel like home. Africa and Canada were like night and day. And, of course, Ecuador and Canada are as well. So, I had no trouble seeing how hard it could be for Anjaline to be transplanted, since I had gone through the same thing.
Alana: Your descriptions suggest to me that you loved Hope Valley very much and that perhaps, as far as Quito is concerned, you would like to visit one day.
Amy: I loved the setting for Hope Valley very much. As young children with nowhere to go besides the woods behind and ocean in front—our parents never worried we would wander off—we were given a lot of freedom.
I remember many times going up the mountain with a few of the other kids or swinging from the tire swing out over the water. I know our parents were around somewhere but they didn’t really supervise us overly much. It’s a place with a lot of wonderful memories.
Alana: Sounds like heaven. And Quito?
Amy: As I said before, I’ve never been to Quito. After researching it so thoroughly though, I am very interested in visiting someday. Especially during the Feast of Fruits and Flowers.
Alana: Talking about all that freedom in Hope Valley, you weren’t worried about the cougars? Is Anjaline’s experience of them based on something that actually happened?
Amy: Actually it was bears we had to be on the lookout for. They liked to come down to fish in the creek when the salmon were spawning and because of this we were never allowed to wander in the woods alone. I guess we should have been more worried, but black bears are really only aggressive if you get between them and their babies. Sadly that happened once with my dad. He wasn’t hurt and shot the mother right away. He didn’t know she was a mother though and had to shoot the cub they discovered nearby as well, because without its mother it would starve. It was a pretty devastating experience.
Alana: I can imagine. So where are you now? And did the wandering stop while you were still growing up and with your parents, or when you married?
Amy: I’m in Toronto now, married to a man who was born and raised here. We have such completely different backgrounds. He’s lived in the same city, same side, his entire life, while I moved every one or two years.
The wandering did stop for grades six through twelve, basically because my father was stationed at Mission Aviation Fellowship Canada as the Director. As soon as I graduated they moved to Kitchener, staying there for a couple years and then moving again to be close to my older sister and her family. I think my parents have the moving bug.
Alana: I imagine that’s the basis then for Anjaline’s stepfather’s profession?
Amy: I don’t know if it was the moving bug, per se. His job did call him all over though, just like my father’s line of work did. Personally I hate moving. It didn’t stop after I moved away from my parents either. I’ve moved several times since then, before and during my marriage. I think the longest I’ve stayed in any one place since getting married was our last home. And that was just shy of three years.
Alana: Amy, turning to THE HEART’S DISCOVERY, why Young Adult fiction? Why were you drawn to writing in that genre? Did you try others beforehand?
Amy: It sounds clichéd but I didn’t really choose the genre. It chose me. I have actually wanted to write adult fiction and some sci-fi ever since beginning The Hope Valley Saga but for now I’m writing YA fiction. I think the nature of my story—a boy and girl in their early teens falling in love and making a whole bunch of mistakes along the way—leant itself well to young readers. I have one 13 year old who insists she is my biggest fan. So, even though I didn’t set out to write YA, it seems that my young readers like my writing. I have tried romance and even comedy, but never been published. It was really the nature of the story that placed me in the YA genre.
Alana: What sparked the idea for the story line which, I should explain, is book 1 in The Hope Valley Saga?
Amy: I was talking to an old friend I grew up with in what is the setting for Hope Valley. We got talking about our memories and he said I should write about them. I sat down to just write out some memoires and before I knew it the story was growing rapidly. I wrote the first three books in the saga in just under a year. My daughter was very young at the time and sleeping in four hour stretches. So, while she slept, I wrote and wrote. It was a wonderful time. I never had any idea of publishing until my husband encouraged me to try. I went to agent after agent and finally discovered Jason Matthews and his wonderful book, How to Make, Market and Sell Your Ebook—All For Free. I self-published my first book and I’ve never looked back.
Alana: Yes, so many of us are grateful to Jason for his advice. Are the ages of your two principle characters reflective of the age of characters generally in YA fiction? I ask that because to my way of thinking 14 year old girls should be playing sports and having sleepovers with their girlfriends, not kissing and declaring their undying love to 15 year old boys. Please don’t see that as criticism—probably just my age talking.
Amy: I’m not offended in the least. If I was to compare my books to others in this genre then, yes, I would say my principle characters are a little young. So, no, it’s not typical. I honestly couldn’t tell you why I chose that age. It just happened. It’s funny though. You’re the first person who’s mentioned them seeming a bit young for falling in love. My first boyfriend was at the age of ten. I guess maybe in my mind my characters started falling for the opposite sex young because I did.
Alana: You’re right, personal experience is everything. My first boyfriend was after I started work. Not sure if that makes me sound slow or sad, so I won’t dwell on it. Let’s get back to you. I know you have published book 2 in the saga; would you tell us a little about it without giving any spoilers away?
Amy: Well, basically book 2 is the story of Gabriel and Anjaline growing up and living their lives apart, hence the title WORLDS APART. Though they’re not physically a world away from each other, because of their very different backgrounds it seems that way. Readers of volume 2 get to watch them grow up and experience a slightly more mature love. It also introduces the careers that will take them into adulthood. It’s a bit of a coming of age book, with the main characters trying desperately to hang on to a past that they can never recapture.
Alana: We can look forward to more conflict then?
Amy: We can indeed. What’s a love story without a lot of conflict? There will be lots of problems for both of them as they’re introduced to a chance at new love. I think readers can figure this out mostly from the back of my book, so I don’t think I’ve given any spoilers.
Alana: What are you working on now? You said earlier that you had written book 3.
Amy: I’m editing and reworking book 3 (or volume 3 as I’m calling it now) which is set to be released December 2013.
I’m also working on a book I hope to have out by June 2013, entitled RUNAWAY: DAMIAN’S STORY. It features one of the characters in book 1 that a lot of my readers have begged me to expand on. As it doesn’t flow completely with the saga it will be numbered volume 2.5. There’ll be five books in total (six if you include volume 2.5) in The Hope Valley Saga, with one book being released every year, hopefully in December.
Alana: Well, I should let you get back to it then! Amy, thank you so much for your time.
Amy: Thank you so much for the interview. I really enjoyed it.
Take this link to my review of THE HEART'S DISCOVERY
Amy's Amazon author page
I include the following URLs to pages that I can't get clean links to:
Amy's Facebook page: www.facebook.com/AuthorAmyMcGuire
Amy's FB group page: www.facebook.com/groups/114804801984584/ (She's An Author page)
Amy on Twitter: twitter.com/ShesAnAuthor
THE HEART'S DISCOVERY on Smashwords: www.smashwords.com/books/view/146706
|Posted by Alana Woods on January 26, 2013 at 9:10 AM||comments (12)|
This week I have a treat for writers especially. I’ve just reviewed Morgen Bailey’s first published novel and here’s an interview with her to accompany it. We talk about her blog—on which many of us have featured—her books and her writing. I have to confess she exhausts me with her energy and output!
Alana: Morgen, welcome, it's nice for the shoe to be on the other foot, so to speak, for a change. You've interviewed and featured me a number of times and it's an absolute pleasure to be able to return the favour.
Tell me how you found the time to write a novel—which, I believe is actually the third you've written but first published—in among everything else you do.
Morgen: Thank you, Alana. It’s a pleasure to be here. And yes, you’ve been very generous with your time on my blog (two interviews, numerous guest blog posts). I’m very grateful (and for your generous review of my debut novel!).
I swear by NaNoWriMo – and sometimes at it!
I’ll warn you now, I tend to waffle so I’ll try to keep my answers short … I came to writing by spotting an evening workshop at my local college back in 2004. I enrolled and once I started my first short story I was hooked! I’d devoured Stephen King novels in my teens(and blame him for me wearing glasses; torch/under the duvet) but loved writing shorts so I started reading (and devouring them). I was working full-time and running a house so it allowed me to read an entire story in one sitting. It’s still my favourite format.
Oh dear. I said I was going to keep this short.
Alana: That’s okay. I’ll stop you when I think you're rambling.
Morgen: Thanks! So speed up three years. I discovered NaNoWriMo. I’d thought of novels as taking a year to write but when I was encouraged to write one in a month I thought ‘I can do this’. So November 2008 produced 53,000-word Hitman Sam—which is currently languishing in a file but I will revisit.
I enjoyed the experience so much I started another, After Jessica, which I finished in 2009 but which I’m back to working on again at the moment. Immediately after Jessica I wrote Serial Dater’s for NaNoWriMo.
Alana: Good grief. I’m tired just thinking about it!
Morgen: I can’t stop. I had a bundle of weird and wonderful characters I wanted a woman to meet. Thirty days later (actually I think I had a couple of days off) I had a 117,540-word first draft. I’ve done (and ‘won’ three more NaNos since then.
Like anything, if you have to do something you find the time to do it. That’s why NaNoWriMo, and deadlines in general, are so great.
Alana: So true. I find now that I’m not working full time I get less done because I don’t have externally imposed deadlines. Can we talk about your blog? You've given hundreds of authors an opportunity to strut their stuff on it.
Morgen: Just over 600 to date.
Alana: What prompted you to start it?
Morgen: I’d heard blogging was a good thing to do. I had my website but did nothing with it. After volunteering at Oundle Literature Festival in March 2010 where philosopher Nigel Warburton mentioned he’d had over two million hits to his blog (over 1000 a day) I’d started a WordPress blog by the end of the month! I’m not in his league yet—best day was 497, so half-way there.
Alana: Did it have small beginnings, such as just interviews, and develop from there, or was the spectrum of offerings there from day one?
Morgen: The complication for me was wondering what to post each week (I’d heard that you should post something at least weekly) so I started with writing-related articles I’d spotted, events I’d been to etc. but wanted more.
Alana: So what did you do?
Morgen: At the time I was interviewing authors via Skype and in person for my Bailey’s Writing Tips podcast but the recording/editing/posting process was so time consuming. When I was invited to do a blog interview, all via email, the benefits of switching to that format was immense. I put a shout-out on Facebook and Twitter and ticked over until February 2011 when I started running out. Then I put a shout-out on all the LinkedIn writing groups I belong to and was flooded out … to the point where I was booking nine months in advance at one a day!
Because I add in comments between the replies and my next question each one takes over an hour to do so I couldn’t do any more than one a day and of course by the time I posted some they were out of date.
Alana: Only an hour! It takes me around three hours to get my interviews ready and up! I’m obviously doing something seriously wrong.
Morgen: Ouch! It does take me longer, probably about the same as you, for specific interviews, where I've invited an author. But 99% of them are a standard Q&A which I was worried would be boring, but the authors' replies are always so different. I've realised having the interviews posted every morning left the evenings free so it’s evolved over the months.
(Alana: Below is Morgen's blog logo, Morgen with an E.)
Alana: Where do you see the blog heading?
Morgen: It’s gone through a bit of a change recently but it’s more or less there, I think.
Earlier this month I set up four new online writing groups (exercises, critiquing etc.) which then replicated a couple of the features on the main blog (red pen critique, Short Story Saturdays) so I’ve stopped those. The newest feature is Novel Nights In which runs two novels in instalments on Saturday and Sunday nights.
Alana: Wow, that’s a serious amount of blogging.
Morgen: But wait, there’s more! ... I’ve increased the number of spotlights and guest blog posts to avoid booking too far in advance. I don’t like to keep people waiting too long and apart from the interviews the other content is quite quick to process. Sometimes I do wonder if I put up too much but as the cliché goes, ‘variety is the spice of life’, and I’ve not had any complaints yet.
Alana: Heavens,why on earth would we complain.
Morgen: I’ve actually just set up another blog where I’ve reposted the 600+ from the main blog and will be posting simpler free new interviews (just the Q&A, not my comments).
Alana: Why have you done that?
Morgen: As I mentioned earlier, the full interviews are so time-consuming that I’ve had to stop them as of the beginning of March and regretfully start charging for them (the only thing on the blog I do charge for). So the new blog is a way for authors to still get the exposure without it costing them anything.
Alana: Enough about the blog. Let's turn to THE SERIAL DATER'S SHOPPING LIST. Where did the idea come from and was any online dating research involved? Be honest!
Morgen:<laughs> The research had already been done. Apart from times when I’ve been single and curious—online seemed like a good idea, and I grew up with an older brother so being a techie runs in the family—I had two friends who ran dating agency franchises. I did some work for one so as a ‘bonus’ she’d line me up with anyone nice over 6ft/1.83m (there weren’t many … Robert ‘Mr Jag’ Hilton was based on one of them!) The other friend wanted to check out another area’s events so we went speed dating (where I met a dodgy builder touting for business).
Alana: Why did you make your main character Izzy a journalist?
Morgen: Not sure exactly, but I do remember going through a Word document of ideas and seeing all these male characters. I knew I had to write a lot in a short amount of time (although I hadn’t a clue I’d write so much!)
Alana: You said it started life as a NaNoWriMo project?
Morgen: It did, and I wanted it to be fun … and it was. I then needed a female to meet them and it took shape from there.
Alana: I really like Izzy. She's old enough to have had a life and young enough to still be looking for one. Is she modelled on anyone you know?
Morgen: Thank you very much. She’s partially autobiographical (probably more so than I’m willing to admit). We share the same height (5ft 10in/1.78m), shoe size (8.5/43) and we’re both partial to Baileys and Banoffee pie—that was a fun scene to write! (Chapter 2, everyone).
Alana: I liked the present tense first person point of view very much. It really suited this story, gave it a real immediacy. But why did you choose it?
Morgen: Again, thank you. I’m not sure. It came out that way. I know first person tends to be frowned upon (second person, my favourite, even more so) but it’s just how it came out. I don’t think it would have worked … dare I say, ‘so well’ from a narrator’s point of view as it would have felt detached.
Alana: Exactly! You’ve pinpointed why I liked it so much.
Morgen: I'm so glad you do. Readers liking the character, for me certainly, is the most important thing. We even have to like the baddies, or at least care what happens to them. And by having it present tense, hopefully the reader feels like they’re on the journeys with her.
Alana: I also like that you use dialogue a lot to carry the story forward. It's my favourite kind of storytelling. Is dialogue as a way of telling the story a technique you also favour or was it this particular story that you felt called for it?
Morgen: You’re very kind. Unlike one of my Monday night poets who loves it, I glaze over when I see huge chunks of description in a book. That’s when I skim read. A writer can tell a lot in dialogue, and it’s more ‘show’ than ‘tell’, to quote a technique.
Alana: Couldn’t agree more. So what's happening with you at the moment? Another book? More on the blog site? Anything else?
Morgen: I’m supposed to be editing After Jessica. I’ve had it back from the aforementioned poet (who’s a brilliant red penner) and have six first (second?) readers waiting for it.
The blog’s been a huge hogger of my time (all day, every day since I quit my job in March last year. I’m fortunate that I have a house big enough to rent two rooms to two very nice lodgers, and still have the box room as my bedroom and the back bedroom as my ‘office’;).
Not dedicating time to my writing was becoming evermore frustrating to the point where I scaled back the interviews and have, hopefully, made everything else more streamlined.
I quite often say in the interviews on my blog how 300 words a day equates to 100,000 words a year and how everyone can find the time. I have a slot called 5pm Fiction where I wrote a story a day (usually <500 words) between 1st June and 31st October (150 in all) taking a break for NaNoWriMo and then December and January for editing After Jessica (ha! I’m about 10 pages in), but it returns on 1st February and knowing that I have to post something (and I like to post something good despite them often being first drafts written while I walk the dog around the park in the mornings) is motivation enough.
2013 will see much more output online, I’m determined!
(Alana: Below is a photo the 'dog', Bailey, Morgen's namesake who, if you look closely, is disappearing off to the right in the photo of the Picturedrome, one of the locations in THE SERIAL DATER'S SHOPPING LIST.)
Alana: Morgen, you’re a source of inspiration! Thanks so much.
Morgen: Thank you, Alana. It’s been fun to be under someone else’s spotlight for a change—and kept me warm; we’re surrounded by thick snow here in the UK, and like every year we get it, we don’t know how to deal with it … schools and airports close, roads grind to a halt … the joy of being a writer; I don’t have to go anywhere!
Alana: My oldest daughter lives in West Sussex and she sent photos of her boys rugged up to the nines out in it. We can just see their noses.
Morgen: Sussex is beautiful. I already have Brighton earmarked for my second home.
Take this link to my review of THE SERIAL DATER'S SHOPPING LIST
|Posted by Alana Woods on January 19, 2013 at 9:15 AM||comments (2)|
This week Claude Nougat joins me for a discussion about her latest book A HOOK IN THE SKY, the emerging new Boomer genre in literature, and art and painting. We're also very lucky in that she has allowed me use two of her own paintings to illustrate her answer to one of my questions.
Alana: Claude, welcome. You live in Italy. Whereabouts? And how did that come about?
Claude: In Rome. It came about by chance. Some 35 years ago I met a wonderful Sicilian who happened to work here and we got married!
Alana: It sounds v-e-r-y romantic. As does your use of the French pronunciation of the main character’s name in A HOOK IN THE SKY, Rob-air. So much sexier than the no-nonsense Robert. I still can’t think of him any other way. How much does his career in the UN and the fact that he’s an amateur artist resemble your own life?
Claude: I guess you could say it’s very autobiographical, but then all one’s writing draws on one’s life experience ... I drew on my own work experience at the UN and I won’t deny that many of Robert’s reflections on his work are close to my own. Like him, I worked for 25 years in a UN agency, the Food and Agricultural Organization, based in Rome. I’ve had a similar career path: I started out as a project evaluation specialist working in the field and ended in the higher rungs of the organization, as a director responsible for Europe and Central Asia.
Alana: To say it must have been interesting is, I think, a gross understatement. Where did your years with the UN take you?
Claude: Like Robert I’ve often travelled to the Third World, mostly Africa, but I’ve also been to other fascinating places like Peru, Nepal, Thailand, Vietnam. And just like him I’ve made sketches, taken photographs and later turned them into oil paintings.
Alana: Let’s talk about your painting. Have you taken it further than Robert, ie, turned professional and exhibited?
Claude: We’ve both turned professional (grin)! He’s had one exhibition in Paris sharing the gallery with Natasha who’s a talented photographer and also the woman he is having an affair with. That’s something I’ve never done!
I’ve participated in many group shows (13 at my latest count) in France except for a couple in Sicily, and had two personal shows, one in Paris, the other in Rome. That last one was big, over 60 paintings! However, since 2008 I haven’t had any more as I’ve concentrated on my writing.
Based on my own paintings I’ve uploaded on Picasa an album that pulls together paintings and photographs that Robert could have done but of course I did them.
[Alana: I recommend a side trip to see Claude's paintings. Well worth it. You may have to copy and paste the URL as I had trouble linking to it.]
Actually, as you know since you read the book, there are two paintings that play a pivotal role in A HOOK: the naked woman and the painting of two flood victims in Bangladesh, two young girls, looking forlorn with their feet in the water. Respectively called La femme objet and Bangladesh the flood victims 2005.
Alana: And I thank you for allowing me to use them to accompany and illustrate the interview.
Claude: Thanks for showing them! But no spoilers, I won’t say here why these paintings are important! Actually, Robert in his artistic career has gone much further than me. He’s left traditional figurative art behind and had one major art installation shown at the famous Turbine Hall of the Tate in London. Any artist would dream of that! I certainly will never be shown there.
Alana: Why not?
Claude: I’m not a conceptual artist! I’m not into art installations—except for the ones I’ve invented for my book. Maybe some day an art merchant will ask me to put together a pile of ladders reaching up to a hook and take it to the Tate …
Alana: Like the one on your book cover.
Claude: ... but I’m pretty sure that won’t happen. The art world is closed, almost impossible to penetrate for most artists, as I try to show in the novel.
Alana: What was the impetus for A HOOK IN THE SKY? And what in particular did you want to explore in it?
Claude: Contemporary Art is obviously one of the many things explored in it, but it’s almost a side-show. It’s what the main characters, Robert and his wife, fight over. But the main point of the book is another. I wanted to explore what happens to someone who retires after having had a successful career whether at the UN or in business. You’re a big manager, you retire, then what will you do? Go back to work as a consultant? So many people do that. But Robert has a special talent, an innate ability to draw and paint. From childhood, because his mother was an artist, he had this dream of becoming a painter like her and it seems to him that now is the time to make that dream come true. But he hasn’t taken into account his wife’s taste for conceptual art. So he goes after his dream alone … with catastrophic results for their marriage!
Alana: Is your mother a painter too?
Claude: Okay, full confession: yes, she’s a painter, a surrealist after the Dali manner, same generation … but she’s still alive and thriving at 99!
Alana: Good for her. Shows what having a purpose and interest can do.
Claude: I might include her in another book because in this one the focus is on Robert’s marriage, not his mother. What interested me was to see what would happen after retirement to a couple whose marriage has become essentially a marriage of convenience. The fact that theirs is childless doesn’t help. For years Robert and Kay have worked at their own careers without much interaction between them. That happens to so many people … When Robert retires can the marriage be reset on a sounder basis? There is one young woman in particular that turns his head, she is very beautiful and he paints her in the nude, the painting you've used above. The resilience of a long-standing relationship when confronted with the transition to the last stage in life is definitely a major issue for boomers who are retiring. They come home, they stay home, but what kind of home is it?
Alana: Talking of boomers, you’re the initiator and driving force behind a new genre in writing: baby boomer. How did it come about?
Claude: It just arose from a statistical observation regarding the market, remember I’m an economist by training! Boomers are hitting retirement age and the numbers are huge: 78 million in the US alone and retiring at the rate of 3.5 million a year. The youngest boomer is 49, the oldest is 67, and it’s clear they’ll want to read about issues that concern them and will need to identify with characters that are like them. Hence, the birth of boomer literature!
My book features a quintessential boomer. Robert is 60 when he retires, full of energy and ready to do much more with his life! So I thought I’d seek other authors who might have written boomer novels.
Alana: How did you go about doing that?
Claude: I opted for two strategies: one, set up a thread in the Kindle fora for authors to list their boomer novels ... here's the link ... If you’re a BB novelist go list your book there and if you’re looking for a BB novel to read, that’s the place to go! It’s important because at present the BB genre is not recognized by Amazon. I set up the thread in September 2012. After a slow beginning it started to fill and now it’s filling fast!
Then in October I started a group on Goodreads to discuss Baby Boomer novels ... here's the link ... At first, like the thread to list BB titles in the Kindle fora, it was very slow and I thought I had maybe made a mistake, that I had misread the market. Then, suddenly, starting in November, things began to pick up speed.
Alana: How far has it progressed? Has it surprised you?
Claude: The Goodreads group grew even faster than the Kindle thread and I have to confess I was astounded! It’s as if boomer lit had been there all along, just waiting to be named to come out in the open!
Now, as I talk to you, the group has 184 members but every day new members are added and new boomer titles are uploaded on the group’s bookshelf, so far 54 books.
Check them out to pick your next good read, the quality is remarkable and the variety is fascinating, from comedy to serious fiction, thrillers, memoirs, even guidebooks, poetry and short stories!
Alana: Are any of the authors known?
Claude: Many of the books are from NYT (New York Times) bestselling authors, and at least one that I know of was a runner up to the Man Booker Prize (The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce).
And, of course, you have the classic examples of boomer lit with Louis Begley’s About Schmidt series and Deborah Moggach’s The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, both of which inspired memorable films with great actors. I would urge interested readers and writers to join the group. It’s a very friendly atmosphere and we’re reading one book a month democratically selected through a poll.
Alana: What about your other published works? Would you give us a rundown?
Claude: I think you’re going to be surprised. My other published works are not boomer lit at all but New Adult! I’ve written a series (three books so far) entitled THE PHOENIX HERITAGE ... here's the link to the first book FLYING IN THE PAST ... It’s the story of a young American born a gifted child and who’s become a computer whiz. He goes looking for his family roots in Sicily, the homeland of his father who died when he was still a kid. He chances into an abandoned palazzo and meets the ghosts of all his ancestors going back 900 years. The series mixes history with a coming of age story. By the third book he takes his life in hand and makes a fortune online, attracting the unwanted attention of both the Sicilian and Russian mafia! Bottom line, it’s a hard-to-classify series: it starts off as a YA paranormal/historical and ends as an NA techno-thriller!
Alana: I read DEATH a while back and reviewed it. Thoroughly enjoyed the stories.
Claude: Thank you. I've also participated along with five other poets in a poetry anthology, FREEZE FRAME, edited by the talented British poet Oscar Sparrow and published by Gallo Romano. The printed version has just come out.
For more information about all my books take this link to my Amazon author page.
Alana: Is there anything else you’re working on?
Claude: Sure, a lot! At present I’m working on a serial or series of novellas, tentatively called The OnePercent Saga, set two hundred years from now in a future characterized by a profound division between the very rich who are the only ones to enjoy the amenities of technological advances while everyone else is left out. The first novella is called I WILL NOT LEAVE YOU BEHIND and I expect to publish it this summer, as soon as a couple more episodes in the series are written.
I’d also like to get into some non-fiction themes, mainly social issues like those I explore on my blog and the history of one of my ancestors, Liewin Bauwens, who was Napoleon’s favourite entrepreneur because he stole the spinning jenny from the English! He started the modern textile industry on the continent—much to the dismay of the British who tried him in absentia and condemned him to be hanged. Of course, he never returned to England.
So, as you can see, my plate is full!
Alana: I can see another interview just to explore that! But for now I’ve kept you long enough. Claude, thanks so much.
Claude: Thank you, Alana! I really appreciate the thoughtful questions and your excellent review of my book! You gave me a chance to explain my novel and what I’m doing, I’m very grateful for that. Book discovery is hugely helped along by the selfless work of dedicated readers like you who are also talented, professional writers. It’s people like you who can find the gem in the slush pile!
Alana: Any response to such praise is going to look decidedly disingenuous, so I'll resist.
Take this link to my review of A HOOK IN THE SKY
|Posted by Alana Woods on January 12, 2013 at 9:15 AM||comments (0)|
You may remember I didn't have an author interview to accompany last week's book review of Paul V Walters' FINAL DIAGNOSIS because I couldn't contact him. I knew he was travelling and it must have been remote because he wasn't answering my emails. Well, I finally caught up with him on a tiny island somewhere off the coast of Thailand and he graciously took time out to talk to me. Here's the result. I know you'll enjoy it.
Alana: Paul, welcome. I believe you live on the Gold Coast (that’s in Queensland Australia for the overseas readers). It’s often referred to as God’s own country—by Queenslanders at least. Do you think of it as such and have you always lived there?
Paul: I’m not sure about God’s own country. Developers’ own country perhaps! I ended up on the Gold Coast by chance really about 17 years ago. Having children kind of kept me there. I’m English by birth ...
Alana: Me too!
Paul: ... Since then I’ve lived in Africa, France, New Zealand, Hong Kong and Australia.
Alana: Your Amazon author bio says you were a copywriter for many years. How do you think that has influenced your fiction writing?
Paul: Copywriting gives you the opportunity to write specifically for a target audience, tailor making the language specific to the product and the audience it will appeal to. The same applies to writing thrillers. I more or less know who the reader will be and I craft the text for that particular audience.
Also, as a copywriter I developed the craft of writing in 29 second segments for both radio and TV commercials. This entailed developing plot, characters, story line and conclusion all in that tight timeline!
Alana: I think that constitutes a look behind the scenes—I’ll count that as my new bit of knowledge for the day. I believe you now write full time. Is there a story behind that?
Paul: In 2008 just prior to the GFC I sold my advertising agency for two reasons. The first was that technically I saw the downturn coming and couldn’t face yet another recession, as advertising is perhaps the most vulnerable industry of all.
Secondly, the media landscape was and still is shattering at a phenomenal rate. Where to place a client’s money to get the most ‘bang for their buck’? I felt I wasn’t being honest in trying to understand and implement ‘new media’.
I also harboured a secret desire to be a full time writer … after all Alana … it is truly a sexy job!
Alana: Sexy eh? Seductive is the description I’d use. Very seductive.
One of the bits of advice writers often receive is to write about what you know and I notice in your bio that you divide your time between the Gold Coast and Bali. Was that the reason for basing part of FINAL DIAGNOSIS in Bali?
Paul: I guess the trick is to write about what you know and having spent a few months in Bali it seemed logical to use the location as a basis for the plot.
But book two revolves around subjects I was ignorant about, surveillance and pathogens. The good people of Scotland Yard were most helpful in giving out certain information, as were the departments of several universities when it came to learning about viruses.
Alana: Continuing on that theme, BLOWBACK is mainly set in London and Africa. Have you spent time there also? If so, did you live there or did you visit for research purposes?
Paul: I spent many years working for a number of multi-national advertising agencies in both London and Johannesburg. Africa has always held an intense fascination for me and I try to get there every year or so. In fact I was there in the latter part of 2012. I love the continent with a passion as there is a surprise around every corner.
Alana: Your main characters all tend to be larger than life: the protagonists are very likeable or even magnetic, the females are stunners, the baddies are very bad. Do you think that kind of stereotypical portrayal is part and parcel of thriller fiction characterisation?
Paul: You know I think I do. Think of Fleming and his James Bond. The baddies are truly bad, the women are stunners, and who doesn’t love James?
Alana: W-e-ll, I've not read the books so for me it depended on who was playing him on screen. I was never much of a fan until Pierce Brosnan came along, and now Daniel Craig, who I think has taken the role to another level.
Authors often refer to themselves as either character-driven or plot-driven writers. In my reviews of the two books I’ve made the observation that I believe you to be plot-driven. Am I right?
Paul: You are bang on the money. The plot is the main driving force and the characters almost secondary. In many ways this is a throwback to copywriting. Without an idea the campaign withers and dies on the vine. However, I do take your point regarding a one-dimensional view and I will work on this in book three.
Alana: When I started BLOWBACK I was surprised that Jonathon Savage is not the main character in that as well. It’s the baddie, Miranda Phillips, in fact, who is the common thread. From the way BLOWBACK ends I surmise that all three of your main characters, Jonathon Savage, Miranda Phillips and Jim Moore come together for the end game. Without giving anything vital away, is that right?
Paul: Now, now, Alana, that would be telling! However, Mr Savage will be back and Miranda has a few more tricks up her sleeve to bring this saga to a close. More exotic locations and an insight into what makes a baddie really bad!!
Alana: You mean she can be even nastier than she already is? I look forward to how you do that.
Paul, thank you very much for agreeing to be interviewed. It’s been a pleasure.
Paul: Thank YOU.
Take this link to my review of BLOWBACK.
|Posted by Alana Woods on December 22, 2012 at 9:15 AM||comments (0)|
Before we talk to Shawn I want to say that the links on the authors named by him are to Wikipedia pages about them.
Alana: Shawn, let’s get straight to it. Mild-mannered university professor. Calculating sniper-assassin. I know that, like your male protagonist Will, you’re a university professor. But sniper-assassin? Where does that fit?
Shawn: It's fascinating to see what people accept under the ‘willing suspension of their disbelief’, as Wordsworth and Coleridge defined it in England and Hawthorne did in America. Many people will credit survival in a plane crash much more readily than a baby lifting its head inside of a month of being born.
Alana: Was the baby based on anyone real?
Shawn: Depends on what you mean by real. I had a few myths in mind, which Hawthorne said are 'more real than real', because they are eternal. But CLOTHO'S LOOM is full of allusions, as you pointed out, and part of the fun for me was to leave them as puzzles for my readers.
Bear in mind that good literature and film only offer extreme representations of what regular people endure every day. The less extreme ones we call Realism and the more extreme used to be called Romance (not necessarily having anything to do with love).
Alana: Ah, I made that mistake in my review, thinking the Romance in the sub-title referred to the relationship between the two main characters, Will and Nexus. My apologies, I interrupted you.
Shawn: Please feel free to interrupt whenever you want. Where was I? Oh yes—Human beings can and do undergo such radical swings, not only in external circumstance, but in their interaction with the world. And I think Plato would say these are only illusory ‘forms’ anyway. It's not giving much away to say that, in becoming an assassin, Will is still consistently struggling to do what he thinks is right, make a difference (not unlike the ones our own US government employs today). And in my view, failure at doing that is far more common than success.
Alana: If you don’t mind me saying, there are so many questions the book raised for me about you. To begin with, your knowledge of the military, how snipers operate, military machinery—everything military, it seems to me—appears extensive. Where does that come from?
Shawn: I've heard that Tom Clancy was once debriefed on his supposed knowledge of military hardware but he was never in the military. And if you survey informed opinions about the best Civil War novels they'll give you The Red Badge of Courage. But, again, the author, Stephen Crane, was never in the military. He also wrote the book very early in life and died at age 28.
Alana: Yes, I understand because, when you think about it, most authors build on their knowledge with research. Or even employ pure imagination, particularly in the fantasy and sci-fi genres.
Shawn: Exactly. Every sci-fi writer has to have confidence in the worth of extrapolation from what little we do know: current trends and human nature. Watch a single episode of Star Trek. It was inevitable that people would fantasize about long-range wireless telephones. The fantasy appears and, voilà, thirty years later the reality. And if you see a laser gun in that same episode and declare ‘Oh, but that's impossible!’ I'd say you're being naïve about human ambition. Just wait.
In my case, I have been a Marine and have known actual snipers—what they're capable of, and what limitations they labor under (both technologically and psychologically). And I have my imagination. That's all.
Alana: Okay. But how about your knowledge (because obviously it’s not experience) of childbirth and how a mother feels about a child.
Shawn: As a man without children of my own I'm sure the details of my book could be picked apart by anyone with an intimate knowledge of childbirth. But, talk to any woman—listen to her—is it possible to escape some sense of what motherhood means, down to the deep biological levels? I once had a young student who began her essay about animals ‘The bond between mother and child is one of the strongest forces of nature’, and I thought, Wow, what a great way to begin.
And I'm lucky enough to still know my own mother. I dedicated the book to her (with my father).
Alana: I realise that your education and profession means your vocabulary is going to be more extensive that the average person’s, but the language of CLOTHO’S LOOM comes across as much more than that. It comes across as a real love of the English language. Am I right? And when did that love begin?
Shawn: I was too young to remember the genesis—I'm kidding you with that last word. Yeah, we grew up without video games and a lot of toys, playing outdoors much of the time, but people like my grandmother made the invaluable effort to read aloud to me, and indulge my questions. When I could read myself my Dad was always putting a book in my hand—whatever he liked himself, which was always advanced for my age.
Alana: For me it was my mother. As far back as my memory takes me. Although funnily enough she wasn’t the big reader in the family; that was my father. I guess she wanted to engender the same love he had for them.
Shawn: I think I read Frankenstein when I was 10, and The Once and Future King (about double the length and complexity of CLOTHO'S LOOM) at 11 or 12.
Alana: I loved that one too, when I read it. Which was in my early 20s, not quite as young as you. I don’t remember it being so long—a testament to how much I loved it I suppose.
Shawn: People forget that in those days it was normal to have two huge books in the house: a dictionary and a Bible. The pace was not hurried—you enjoyed reading—and so you inquired after things to understand them better, and grow. In those days I learned more at home than in school: education came largely through imitation. And my working vocabulary is no greater than that found in any novella by Edgar Rice Burroughs or short story by James Joyce, to cite only 20th-century writers. Anything from the 19th or earlier needs a strong control of one's native tongue.
Alana: I haven’t read much of Burroughs but I loved Tarzan as a kid and I actually have all of the Barsoom series that I intend getting to one day. But I must admit to not having read any of Joyce. I tried Ulysses when I was younger but didn’t have the patience. Am I correct in saying that CLOTHO’S LOOM is your first solo work of fiction?
Shawn: It is. Previously, I published two university press books, academic stuff that only specialists in American Lit. would bother with. Mom read them, though, bless her heart.
Alana: What compelled you to write CLOTHO’S LOOM?
Shawn: I've been teaching for 20 years now, reading for 40+. I had to try storytelling on my own, having both undergone and offered so much training and criticism. And I wanted to create, you might say, the exact kind of book I myself would want to discover on the shelves. It's not for everyone. But neither is it one of those ‘just for me’ creations. I challenged myself to stay within the conventions of literary craft, as I understand them.
Short version: I wanted tough, fulfilling work and, boy, I got it. It required a long time, but the Universe was kind enough to grant it to me. I would not trade those days of labor away.
Alana: A university professor is a pretty rarified profession. What are you a professor of? How did that eventuate?
Shawn: Not as rarified as being a truly independent author, I'd wager! I'm still waiting to meet one unconstrained by the marketplace.
Well, Professor of whatever they ask of me. Writing, literature, film, social sciences, women's studies. I had good undergraduate training, and I've retrained myself a few times too. But math is beyond me—you have to know your limitations (laughs). Read page one of CLOTHO'S LOOM, and you'll see how much of a pseudo-scientist I am.
After the service, I simply returned to my love of storytelling, and it led me pretty directly to teaching. Paraphrasing Thoreau, I figured I'd lingered long enough in the woods, and it was time to live my next life.
Alana: Shawn, thank you so much for talking with me. It’s been a real pleasure discovering more about you and CLOTHO’S LOOM.
Take this link to my review of CLOTHO'S LOOM
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