|Posted by Alana on December 7, 2013 at 4:00 PM||comments (0)|
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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 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 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 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 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 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 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.
Add me to your Google + circles
|Posted by Alana 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