A Conversation with James Lawless

James_Lawless

I had the opportunity to interview James Lawless, a poet, literary author, teacher and philosopher. It is fascinating to explore other points of view in this vast literary universe and for those readers who enjoy more textured writing than is commercially available, they may find a kindred spirit in Mr. Lawless.

(I would recommend readers check out his ebooks and read the samples; it’s easy to get a sense of the flavor and rhythms of his work from the first few paragraphs.)

Interviewer: Joanna Celeste

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Q: You’ve referred to Finding Penelope as your “wry glance” at the genre of chick lit. Please elaborate.

A: Just as Cervantes’ Don Quixote was a send-up of the proliferation of novels of chivalry of his time, I attempt in Finding Penelope to send up the chick-lit genre and show it for what I believe it is: a fatuous and formulaic comfort read with no claim to art. Part of the development in the character of Penelope is centered on this realisation. She starts off as a romance novelist with her de rigueur happy ending demanded by her readers and her unflappable agent Sheila Flaherty. However, after she endures various vicissitudes, she comes to realise that life is not always happily ever after and she resolves from then on to be true to herself and her writing.

Q: That’s a fascinating approach. As a poet, scholar, short story writer and novelist, you chose to play with form in Finding Penelope, switching tenses frequently. What inspired you to weave your story this way?

A: Virginia Woolf and James Joyce are great influences on me particularly in their steam of consciousness techniques. Nineteenth century narrative styles are no longer adequate to address the multimedia and high-tech world of the twenty first century. The weaving in and out of Penelope’s consciousness of past, present and future hope is in keeping with modern living varying from its frenetic texting and emailing to the deeper revelations of the solitary reverie or epiphany as Joyce called it.

Q: How refreshing that you’re bringing that “flavor” back into our present-day literature. What was your writing process for this project?

A: I tried to be disciplined although it didn’t always work. I showed up like a clerk most mornings in my little office, petit bourgeois as Flaubert would say but dreaming subversively — my dreams are my freedom. I am more productive when I go to my cottage in the mountains of West Cork where I have no Internet to distract me. For Finding Penelope I travelled to Spain to do research on the Costas particularly on the expat way of life and on the drug culture and the criminality associated with it. I also consumed a high octane level of chick-lit.

Q: What a range of research! Share with us your affinity with the Spanish culture. What about it speaks to you?

A: When I was in secondary school, an enlightened Christian Brother introduced some of us to Spanish extracurricular studies and it opened up a new and polysemic universe to me. I delighted in learning of a different culture in an Ireland which at the time was rather insular. Spanish of course stretched beyond Europe to the great South American continent with its powerful potential and also to the huge Hispanic population in the USA. I enjoy the literature not only of Spanish writers like Javier Marías but also Borges, Márquez and Carlos Fuentes. So Spanish has huge significance even from its scale and global representation. Having  a second or a third language equips one with extra keys to unlock different ways of seeing the word. Perhaps what I learned most— and this probably helped my story writing— was to try to see the world from the point of view of the other to get a different angle on things. I think that’s beneficial not only artistically but also for our understanding of world peace.

Q: Thank you; as someone with a multicultural heritage, I agree. In your book Clearing the Tangled Wood: Poetry as a way of seeing the world, you explore how poetry opens up worlds within our present experiences. How do you consider your background as a poet and an author of short stories (which I count as a poetic form) has shaped your life and your writing?

A: I studied Gaelic in university. As an undergraduate, one of the most impactful compliments I received from a lady lecturer was ‘tuigeann sé cad is filíocht ann’— ‘he understands what poetry is’, based on some creative work I had submitted. This encouragement inspired me to delve deeper into poetry. I read poems from anthologies in Irish and Spanish and English and some of the great Russian poets like Pasternak in translation wherever I got a chance: in between meals, stealing moments to read like Francis Copeland did in The Avenue, on a train or a bus, in a bar, in a dentist’s waiting room; when ill or down, poems could pick you up as they opened windows on the world. This poetic affiliation, I would like to feel, sharpens my prose writing.

Q: It certainly invokes a rhythm in your work, from what I’ve read. What do you love the most about poetry?

A: Matthew Arnold claimed that poetry would replace religion in the world. What I like about poetry is that it has no boundaries and the best of it has no agenda; it involves some of the best minds using the best language to attempt to interpret life in an unfettered way in so far as is humanly possible.

Q: Capturing the inexpressible, as many artists endeavor towards. You’re an arts graduate of the University College Dublin and you received your Masters in Communications from Dublin City University. As an author of accessible literary fiction, how has your education assisted you?

A: Some artists and autodidacts believe the university is anathema to creativity. Perhaps there is some truth in this as I remember when starting my first novel Peeling Oranges soon after I had finished my MA thesis (which later with additions became Clearing The Tangled Wood) and found myself with a mass of research information about the old tenements of Dublin and about the Irish and Spanish civil wars—I had all these footnotes and appendices written in jawbreaking, academic jargon. So I soon realised that in order to write fiction I had to unlearn the methodologies which I had employed in academe—that is not to say an academic or non-fiction text is not also creative; it is just that like Clearing the Tangle Wood it has different parameters to a novel or poem. But notwithstanding, the university did help me in at least two ways: it gave me the bottle to finish a project and it taught me how to research, which hopefully I have learned to do now without getting too bogged down now as I attempt to introduce it as seamlessly as possible into fictional narrative.

Q: You’ve also been on the other side, as a teacher; what did you enjoy most as an educator?

A: The act of teaching itself I enjoyed, sharing with people who were open to learning. However, as an artist I felt  hemmed in by the institution. The souls and the institution don’t blend. Teaching is also a great way of articulating and clarifying what you want to say within boundaries of course. The boundaries are the problem, so teaching is not really a free act.

Q: How valuable do you think a university education would be for writers today?

A: East Anglia and other ‘creative writing’ universities are in danger of churning out homogeneous writers and sometimes give the impression rather arrogantly that they are the only ones, the real McCoys of writers. While there are some of these writers I admire such as Ishiguro and McEwen, art is, like dreams by its nature, anarchic and therefore I would be wary of restricting it with rules and regulations.

Q: You touched on this in your blog entry “Creative Writing Schools”. What is your philosophy as a teacher?

A: Similar to my philosophy of life in general which is that life is not what you make it but what you make of it. Opening minds, including one’s own in a mutual process to learn about the world without dogma.

Q: As a fellow reviewer, how do you find your treatment of other stories influences the way you approach your own writing?

A: I grew up believing in the canon of literature and although we have developed interiorly since the time of Dickens and Hardy, we have not improved on their story telling or plot making skills. Indeed I believe the modernists may have discarded that quality and thrown out part of the baby with the bathwater in their attempt sometimes to be ultra-clever. I think writers of today should return to the methodology of Dickens with the benefit of hindsight of course and repair the tear made by the modernists between popular and highbrow fiction. For me the criterion is just good writing illustrating a style and narrative skill with an insight into the human condition. A writer like the undervalued Richard Yates in Revolutionary Road is an example of a modern artist who was able to span both these bridges.

Ironically, I believe the division has done more harm to good novels than to bad, because with the proliferation of mass market popular fiction, the average person (whose ancestors consumed Dickens classlessly) nowadays tends to frown on anything deeper, deeming it snobby writing. So what I look for when I review a book is something to aspire to, something I would have liked to have written myself and maybe to encourage others to consider also. Like the appreciation of good music, the appreciation of good literature is something cultivated.

Q: As someone who has been taught writing in the age of “make it tight” and “massacre all adverbs where possible” it’s interesting to consider that point of view. What are other experiences, places or people who have influenced your work?

A: I think it was Graham Greene who said nothing much happens after twelve. So like many writers, my childhood was my source: my mother reading to me as a child, my aunt’s visits with comics, a long gap in years between me and my siblings, family banter and tales, my father buying me my first diary— these were seminal experiences and later my travels to Europe and America provided many writerly insights. But I suppose the most important experience is a cultivated solitude, a condition and ability I have trained myself to do over the years while simultaneously not turning my back completely on a social life, to maintain a mental balance if such a thing is possible.

Q: I am amazed you could achieve a mental balance while publishing seven books in the space of approximately five years. How did you organize yourself?

A: With discipline, as I say going to the ‘office’ most mornings and the cultivation of solitude and believing most of all that what you are doing has value.

Q: You’ve also published different ways—as an academic, small press, etc. What has been your favorite method of publication?

A: No one in particular. Each publication is a hurdle and sheer hard work to promote.

Q: Marketing is one of the hardest aspects to being a writer nowadays. Your website [http://jameslawless.net/] is nicely put together and you are widely available through social media. What do you find is the best marketing strategy?

A: I manage my own website. I’m only learning how to blog and would like to generate comments. I send my blogs to Facebook which seems to elicit more responses. As regards marketing, I’m prepared to give any media a try as a means to an artistic end. It’s all about being known and valued. The great thing about the Internet is its global dimension— people from all over the world reading or downloading your work in seconds and then just as easily being able to communicate with the author. We are living in exciting times with great artistic possibilities.

Q: Yes, for every difficulty we seem to have great opportunity. What advice would you give to writers just starting out on the path to publication?

A: Ask yourself are you serious about your work; are you prepared to bleed for it, or are you just a dilettante? Is your work really good and original or merely imitative of a million others? Are you an artist with all of what that entails? Do you believe passionately in your art? If that is the case, you persevere, you take the inevitable rejections on the chin—editors are human; they can’t always get it right. Believe in yourself.

Q: Thank you. Your fictional work seems to carry a theme of cross-culture (particularly between Ireland and Spain), politics and threaded with a romantic/poetic atmosphere. What would you say is at the heart of all that you write?

A: What I write about is not what I know but what I want to find out, things that impacted on me: in my education for example being taught through the medium of Irish, the place (or absence as in the case of Derek Foley in Peeling Oranges) of religion or ideology in our lives such as the civil wars in Spain and Ireland; the all consuming monolith of capitalism obsessed me in For Love of Anna; what suburbia (being a product of it ) was about was my preoccupation in The Avenue; and what true writing strives to be in Finding Penelope and so on. A reviewer said the romance in some of my novels tends to be more than a mere love interest, but that it is sometimes strewn with history or politics such as with the extreme nationalist Sinéad in Peeling Oranges; and even Anna in For Love of Anna ,which is considered the most romantic of my novels, is also an acronym for Anarchist of the New Age. As regards the poetic element, I think I have alluded to that already.

Q: Yes, I like how you define your work as “accessible literary fiction.” By the way, what is the latest on The Avenue becoming adapted to film?

A: Still ongoing, under consideration.

Q: Your latest novel, Knowing Women, just released this month. Please tell us more about this project.

A: Knowing Women is about a vulnerable man, Laurence J Benbo, who is wrongly tainted sexually. With all the paedophile cases going on at the moment— and there is no doubt most of them are justifiable—I wondered what if opinion and the law were to get it wrong. Benbo is perceived as a weak character particularly sexually, but he is no paedophile and when he stands accused, how will society judge him in the hue and cry of vindictiveness?

Wow, that’s quite a challenge to take on, but I’m sure your treatment will make for a fascinating read. I wish you all the best and thank you for this interview.

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A Conversation with Laura Davis

Laura Davis

Laura Davis is the author of seven non-fiction books, including The Courage to Heal, The Courage to Heal Workbook, Allies in Healing, Beginning to Heal, Becoming the Parent You Want to Be and I Thought We’d Never Speak Again. Not only have her groundbreaking books sold more than 1.8 million copies worldwide but she also leads weekly writing groups and memoir writing retreats in the Santa Cruz, CA region, as well as an annual summer writing retreat in Bolinas, California, a two-week writing and yoga retreat in Bali, 10 days in a Scottish castle, and other international retreats. She recently took time from her busy schedule to share what inspires her…and how she inspires others to learn more about themselves through the transformative power of writing. 

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Tell us about your journey as a writer.

A: Well, when I was in my twenties and thirties and maybe even into early forties, it wasn’t always easy to see the through line. I’ve always been such a maverick and I’ve never been one to follow a traditional path. But looking back now, I can see the connecting threads clearly.

I’ve always been deeply committed to writing—both as a tool for my own understanding of myself and as a means to communicate with others. I have always been able to be more honest on the page than I can be face-to-face. The page is the place where I discover what I think, what I feel, what I yearn for, what I need to say to somebody. The page is the place I come to a decision when I’m standing in the crossroads, and life is kicking me in the butt, screaming: “Move!”

On the other hand, I’ve never written just for me. I love the interplay of author and audience, writer and reader. I published my first book, The Courage to Heal, in 1988, and it unexpectedly (to me anyway) became a huge best-seller, catapulting me into a level of notoriety I wasn’t prepared for. That book was about healing from child sexual abuse, and it was the first book of its kind. My co-author, Ellen Bass, and I laid out the roadmap for healing in a simple, compelling way that just hadn’t been done before. It became the groundbreaking book in the field, the one that has made a huge difference in the lives of generations of women (and men) who had been abused. And it was through The Courage to Heal that I learned the power of the printed word and the awesome, humbling responsibility of being an author with, literally, the lives of your readers in your hands.

Q: You became famous because of the most painful thing that ever happened to you – incest with your grandfather. How did the challenges inherent with this constant exposure in the spotlight ever allow you to heal emotionally?

A: You have to realize, The Courage to Heal came out when I was only 31 years old. I was so young! For a number of years, I was the poster child for incest. Every TV interview I did, every radio appearance, every time I stood on a stage and spoke out to a thousand women who’d lined up around the block to hear me, all I had to work with was my own story, my connection to a power greater than myself, and the determination to reach out to the women in that room, telling them, yes, healing is possible. You can do this.

Because I was so young, and because I was so consumed by my own healing process, incest was my whole life at that time. It was as if the letters I-N-C-E-S-T were just screaming at me from my living room. They followed me everywhere. So for a time, what I was doing and what I was living were in synch. But as the years went by and I healed from my own abuse and began to move on, I no longer wanted to be known as the “incest queen.” I no longer wanted to meet people because of the worst thing that had ever happened to them. I wanted to meet them in a different playground, in a field where the past no longer had such a hold.

Q: Referring back to your desire to meet people in a venue other than than of victim survival, how did you reinvent your sense of purpose?

A: Once I had earned the scary right to create my own life, not one predetermined by trauma, I knew my work had to move on, too. And so I quit the lecture circuit and quit writing about sexual abuse. I moved to Santa Cruz, California (where I live now), met my partner, and started a family.

My books moved in new directions, too. A couple of years after my son, Eli, was born, I teamed up with a wonderful parent educator, Janis Keyser, and we wrote Becoming the Parent You Want to Be.

As I began to heal a long, very painful estrangement from my mother, I started researching, and eventually wrote, I Thought We’d Never Speak Again: The Road from Estrangement to Reconciliation.

Clearly, my books track my interests in life. Right now, I’m writing a memoir about my relationship with my mother and the unexpected, amazing journey we’ve been on together.

When I look at my body of work as a whole, all my books have a similar theme: growth, change, human evolution, healing. Since I’ve always been fascinated with peoples’ stories, all of my books include a lot of those as well – varied, gritty, real, honest, deep, human stories.

Q: “Forgive and forget” is advice that’s commonly dispensed but, in the case of truly heinous acts, is it universally practical, especially if the offender has no remorse nor seeks redemption?

A: “Forgive and forget” is one of worst things you can say to someone who is suffering after being grievously hurt. It isolates people and tells them that shutting down and smoothing things over is preferable to acknowledging and working through the hurt. I would never give that advice to anyone, and I challenge anyone who does. “Forgive and forget” is like slapping a band-aid on a festering wound. I don’t believe we can “make ourselves forgive.” The anger and unresolved feelings just go underground. True forgiveness, if it comes, only arises naturally at the end of a very long, committed process of healing.

Forgiveness is a personal choice on a religious, ethical and moral basis. I have always maintained that for trauma survivors, it is not a necessary part of the healing process. I’ve seen people live through terrible trauma and go on to live productive, positive lives without forgiving their perpetrators. Ultimately, we have to move beyond the injury, let go of our grief and rage – as well as our identification with being a victim, but whether that moving on ultimately includes forgiveness is an individual matter each of us must come to terms with on our own. How can anyone dictate another person’s spiritual evolution?

Personally, I have forgiven my grandfather, the man who abused me. But it wasn’t anything I tried to achieve. That feeling of forgiveness arose naturally and spontaneously after many years of healing, when I’d finally earned the right to put the incest to rest. I had released my grandfather long before that – letting go of my anger and neutralizing his impact on my life. The added forgiveness was a gift, but it was not something I consciously sought or created.

Q: What intrigues you the most about human transformation?

A: I’m fascinated with human evolution – how we carve away all the things that were laid on us or expected of us – in order to become the people we were meant to be. Not all of us make it all the way to the core, but I’m a cheerleader for that true self – for the true expression exists in each of us if only we can get out of the way.

That’s why I love teaching long-term writing groups, because often, students come in thinking they’re going to be working on one thing, and they do, often quite successfully. But then, over the course of months and years, they sometimes peel that initial goal back and something deeper, that they were really meant to write, comes bubbling up to the surface. Before that moment, they didn’t feel ready or safe enough; they never had the proper conditions and support to make telling that story possible. It doesn’t matter if it’s memoir or fiction; the process is the same. And then one day, they’re ready, and the real work begins.

Q: What do you love the most about your work?

A: It isn’t when a writer shares a beautiful sentence (though I can swoon over a well-turned phrase); it’s when a writer tells the real truth. It’s watching people crack open. I love watching my students find their strength, their voices, their own direction. One of my favorite students, Bonnie Harris, once said to me, “Laura, you say you teach writing, but you don’t really teach writing. You teach transformation.” It’s not exactly the kind of thing you go around saying about yourself, but it’s absolutely true.

Q: If your philosophy of life were printed on a tee-shirt, what would it say?

A: It’s the challenges in life that teach us the most.

Q: Tell us about the classes you’ve been teaching in Santa Cruz as well as the ways you’re creatively expanding beyond your own community.

A: I teach ongoing weekly classes in both writing practice (a “finding your voice” class) and feedback classes where people working on projects at home bring their work in to be critiqued. I love my weekly students and the intimate community that builds up in those classes.

To expand my geographical range, I’ve also started a free online community, The Writer’s Journey Roadmap, where I send out weekly writing prompts and people can post their responses on line. Over the past two years, that’s developed into a lovely online space for people who want to share their work in a safe, encouraging community. (http://www.lauradavis.net/roadmap)

Q: What’s your favorite thing that you’re doing now?

I love retreat teaching because of the intensity, because we’re all unplugged from life at home, coming together with one purpose – to write our brains out and go deep into our writing. People often arrive the first night of a retreat, looking tense and afraid, and then by the time they’re hugging everyone goodbye, their faces are cracked wide open and they look deeply refreshed. And it’s not just a quick high that fades. I’ve watched people make profound changes in their lives because of something they experienced on a retreat with me.  

I’ve been teaching an annual retreat in Bolinas, California, right on the high cliffs of the Pacific for a week every July–and I’ve been doing that for years. Last year, for the first time, in part because my children are getting ready to leave the nest, I also led an international retreat to Bali. My partner taught yoga and I taught writing, and we teamed up with a wonderful local eco-tour company who kept us in small, local hotels and introduced us to amazing artisans, dancers, shamans, and all kinds of incredible adventures. We used our writing time to document our travels and to dive deeper into the descriptive world. And starting our day with yoga was just divine. I fell deeply in love with Bali and the Balinese people. I can’t wait to go back this June (June 21st-July 5th) with another group of writers (http://www.lauradavis.net/cometobali).

I’ve also added a second international retreat this year–this time to the Scottish Highlands, near Findhorn. It will be at the end of the summer, (August 14th-28th) and we will be living in a Victorian mansion, a sister center to Findhorn. In addition to exploring the gorgeous Scottish countryside, and diving deep into our writing, we’ll be living in a successful sustainable community and witnessing what that means on a day-to-day basis.

Q: What can students expect to learn from these overseas excursions?

A: When I teach, I like to take my cues from the students who come, but in the trips to Bali and Scotland, we will definitely utilize a lot of what we see, hear and experience each day to develop deeper powers of observation and the capacity to better capture sensory detail. These are useful habits no matter what genre we work in. We will use our writing time to glean every bit of insight we can out of our trip, the community we’re visiting, to help us take full advantage of the kind of change and openness only travel can bring.

Writers at all levels – as well as their non-writing spouses – are welcome to join us. Readers can learn more at http://www.lauradavis.net/cometoscotland.

Q: Over the course of your career, what accomplishment are you the most proud of?

A: Like many parents, my marvelous children come to mind first. They’re amazing young people and I can’t wait to see who they become. I’m very proud to have been a foundational part of their lives.

But when I set them aside and look at my literary work, you might think I’d choose The Courage to Heal, and the three other books I wrote about healing from sexual abuse. Those books have been read and translated all over the world, with more than 2 million copies in print. I still get letters (well now, texts and emails and FB messages) from grateful readers who tell me that the books have literally saved their lives. That is immensely gratifying.

But really, to tell you the truth, the books I feel the most proud of are two books I wrote this past fall – two volumes conceived and completed on a very tight three-month deadline. My brother had convinced me we should do something special for our mother’s 85th birthday. We agreed to have a big family party for her around Thanksgiving because that’s when our relatives gather. He said he’d be in charge of the party and I said I wanted to make a book for her.

I put out a call to all our relatives and all of her old and new friends asking for photographs, tributes and stories. The material started pouring in! In three months, I created two incredibly beautiful books – using everything I knew about constructing and writing a book – and printed two copies through blurb.com, and gave them to her. They were filled with her own writings, pictures of her being crowned campus queen at City College in 1937, photos and reviews from her acting career, stories and photos from everyone she had ever loved. Considering where my mother and I were 30 years ago (she was the prime subject of I Thought We’d Never Speak Again), I have a lot be proud of. My mother does, too. We both worked hard at our reconciliation.

My mother has dementia and these books, A Tribute to Temme – Volume 1 & 2, literally gave her back her life. She lives in assisted living now and her world has shrunk dramatically, but every day she looks at those books and remembers her travels, her friends, her former life and who she used to be. That’s definitely the thing I’m most proud of today.

Readers can learn more about Laura, her books, and her workshop retreats at http://www.lauradavis.net. Email her at lauradavis@lauradavis.net.

 

 

 

 

 

The Girl Who Came Home: A Titanic Novel

The Girl Who Came Home cover

What is it about the tragedy of Titanic that still holds us in such a mesmerizing grip over a century after its collision with destiny in the North Atlantic? A multiplicity of novels and movies – as well as a haunting Broadway musical – have attempted to illustrate what life was truly like above and below decks during that fateful week in April, to reinforce the cavernous social divide between the haves and the have nots, and to capture snapshot instances of selfless courage and self-righteous cowardice during the ship’s final hours.

Perhaps we never tire of these stories because they cause us to examine our own values, to see in every character – both real and fictional – composites of people we actually know, and, as always, to speculate what might have happened to the multitudes who met their deaths that night had there been a tighter focus on safety rather than speed.

For her debut historical fiction novel, The Girl Who Came Home, author Hazel Gaynor was inspired by true events surrounding 14 Irish emigrants who boarded the extraordinary ship on a seemingly ordinary day in Spring.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: When was your interest and curiosity about Titanic first ignited and what inspired you to develop a story in which this tragedy was the central theme?

A: I was in my teens when the wreck of Titanic was discovered and I think that was significant in cementing my interest. I am drawn to so many aspects of the story: the Edwardian era, the human tragedy, the stark divisions of social class and the remarkable chain of events which contributed to Titanic’s demise. It is simply beyond belief, and that is what makes it so fascinating.

For years I said I would write a book about Titanic, but whenever it came to putting pen to paper (or fingers to typewriter) it was just far too daunting a prospect to tackle. It was only in early 2011, after pursuing my writing seriously for several years, that I started doing detailed research, particularly into the Irish connection with Titanic. That was when I discovered the story of The Addergoole Fourteen, who left their small Irish community together to sail to America on Titanic.

Writing The Girl Who Came Home was both a daunting and incredibly moving experience. For me, this wasn’t simply about writing a book – it was about understanding better a part of history, and doing justice to the memory of all those who lost their lives that night.

Q: What were some of the primary research tools and resources you used to so beautifully capture the costumes, dialects, social mores and, of course, details about the magnificent ship herself?

A: Being such a huge event, and being the first real event to be broadcast in mass media, there is an incredible volume of information and detail available on Titanic. I researched in detail online and in press archives, right down to the smallest details of the cabins my characters slept in, the meals they ate aboard the ship and the songs they sang during their evenings. I spoke to members of The Addergoole Titanic Society who were extremely helpful. I listened to audio recordings of the survivors and watched incredible images of the Titanic setting out from Belfast and other footage of passenger’s relatives and friends massing outside the White Star Line offices on Broadway in New York when news of the disaster arrived. I studied Father Browne’s incredible photographs and read books about the disaster. I read survivor letters and newspaper articles. I was entirely immersed in Titanic’s story.

Writing historical fiction certainly requires commitment, passion and a real interest in the historical event. Researching for this book was an absolute labour of love. Of course, being such a tragic story, I often found myself becoming emotional. All the time I was writing, I was very aware of a sense of obligation to do justice to the memory of the people who lost their lives that night – and to those who suffered so much as a result of the trauma of the event. I was also conscious of the need to show sensitivity to the surviving descendants of the Titanic victims – this was neither the time, nor the place, to be in any way sensationalist.

Q: What’s your favorite Titanic movie and why?

A: Although many historians and movie buffs have picked fault with it, I have to admit to being a fan of James Cameron’s 1997 epic. I first saw it on New Year’s Day in Sydney, Australia and cried from the moment it started. It was just so visually amazing and despite the typically over-the-top ‘Hollywood’ treatment of the event, I still love it as a movie.

Q: The intersection of fact and fiction is typically easier to orchestrate when one is dealing with a large-scale contingent of passengers and crew such as those on Titanic versus the Lewis and Clark expedition in which there were fewer than 40 people (plus a dog). Tell us about the decisions that went into making plausible your fictional characters’ interactions with real-life individuals such as Harold Bride, the ship’s junior wireless officer.

A: I started by making notes on each real-life individual I intended to feature, to ensure that I had their role in the event correct: where they would have been on the ship, what their level of ranking was, etc. I guess the joy of writing historical fiction is in imagining the conversations and interactions between people which – given what facts we know about them and the event – might credibly have taken place. When referencing real people, I made sure I stuck to the facts about them. For example, it would have been implausible to have Harold Bride talking to my steward, Harry, on the bridge, or in the First Class dining room, but by having their interactions take place in the Marconi radio room, where Bride and Philips were working, it is a more honest and authentic interaction. If it is done well, the intention with blending fictional and real-life characters would be to ensure that the reader isn’t focusing on who is real and who is imagined, but is simply immersed in the story.

Q: Were any of your fictional personalities composites of real individuals?

A: While The Girl Who Came Home was inspired by the true story of the Addergoole Fourteen, I knew it would be too confusing for the reader if I attempted to tell each of the fourteen passenger’s stories equally. That is why I decided to create just one central character, Maggie Murphy, who is actually an amalgamation of two of the youngest girls of the Addergoole group: Annie McGowan and Annie Kate Kelly. The addition of the character of Harry Walsh, the steward, was inspired by accounts of real stewards and also gave me a way in which to show the experience of those working on Titanic. The character Vivienne Walker-Brown is loosely based on the real passenger, actress Dorothy Gibson and provided a way to incorporate the experience of the First Class passengers as a contrast to the Irish group in steerage.

Q: In the aftermath of unspeakable tragedy, those who live often experience “survivor guilt” for the rest of their existence. From whence in her background did your protagonist, Maggie, draw her greatest strength and what lesson can that impart to your readers?

A: It was the story of a survivor and ‘survivor guilt’ that I was particularly interested in exploring in The Girl Who Came Home. Many survivor accounts did, indeed, reference their sense of guilt at the fact that they had been spared when so many others hadn’t. It is something which was also spoken of often after the 9/11 tragedy. I see Maggie as a spirited, resilient young girl who, over time, drew strength from the memory of those she had travelled with on Titanic. I imagined that she would have wanted to live her life in their memory – to ensure that she made the most of the life she had been given. Maggie came from a humble, Irish community where family was everything. In my mind, I believed that she would have learnt to live again through her own family – husband, children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren. I think we can all draw strength from the things which are closest to us and which we cherish the most – be that family or friends who we see every day, or through the memory of those we have loved and lost.

Q: Did you work from an outline or simply start writing and allow your characters to guide you as you developed the story from one chapter to the next?

A: From the start, I had a very clear vision for the book; that it would be set in two periods of time: 1912 and 1982, but with the 1912 story taking up the majority of the narrative. Essentially, this was two stories running in parallel. I then mapped out loosely what would happen in each chapter; particularly how I would take Maggie, and the group she was travelling with, from their village in Mayo to Queenstown, what would happen when they were on Titanic, and what was happening to their relatives in Ireland and New York while they were at sea. I knew I wanted to capture the drama of the sinking, but that I also wanted to focus on the experience of the relatives awaiting news at home, and on what the experience was like for the survivors in the lifeboats and on the rescue ship Carpathia and once they arrived in New York. It was those aspects of the Titanic story which I felt were less well known.

Once the structure of the chapters was in place, I wrote the story quite quickly, being careful to weave in my research details as I wrote. Although I had a mass of information to hand, and in my head, I would research specific details as I was writing that part of the book. For example, when I was writing about the experience in the lifeboats, I researched as I wrote. Again, when I wrote about the experience of the relatives waiting for survivors to disembark The Carpathia, I researched passenger accounts as I wrote. That way, I took each stage of the experience and each step, in turn – which prevented me from getting bogged down and overwhelmed by the magnitude of the story I was hoping to tell.

Q: Why does the tragedy of Titanic and its passengers still resonate with us – and with you – a century later?

A: For me, Titanic is a very human story. Even for the casual observer, the sheer scale of the disaster is hard to comprehend:  from the 2,207 individuals on board only 712 survived the sinking. From the 107 children and infants on board, 53 died in the tragedy and all of those children were travelling as third class passengers.  I think there are many reasons for the enduring appeal of Titanic: the class divisions being played out so starkly, the elegance of the Edwardian era, the many possible reasons which have been given for the sinking, the fact that this happened at a time when radio communication was relatively new which made Titanic the first major news event of the 20th century, and the first to be broadcast around the western world. And, of course, it is also the opulence of the ship itself and the arrogance of those who made such bold claims as stating that the ship was unsinkable which also play a part in our continued fascination with the event.

Titanic also sank at the dawning of the film industry and the story has been told over and over again, Ultimately, Titanic was the most tragic of accidents. We simply cannot believe that this really happened; that such a huge vessel sank with such a devastating loss of life. Perhaps we are fascinated by the notion of what we would have done in those circumstances. Whatever the many and varied reasons for our fascination with her story, Titanic’s tragic allure will, undoubtedly, only grow stronger over time.

Q: What would fans of The Girl Who Came Home be the most surprised to learn about its author?

A: How lovely to think that my little book has fans! People have expressed their surprise that this is my first novel, which gives me great encouragement for writing more novels. Maybe others would be surprised to realise that the book was written at my laptop at the kitchen table in stolen moments between cooking the dinner, making Lego castles and playing football in the back garden! I am often surprised that it was ever written at all!

Q: Upon completion, did you attempt to pitch the book through traditional publishing channels or was self-publishing your objective from the start?

A: I am a traditionalist at heart and I did pursue a traditional deal with The Girl Who Came Home before turning to self-publishing. I was working with an agent in London at the time and when I told her I wanted to write a novel about Titanic she was very supportive, but did warn me that most publishers would have already bought their ‘Titanic’ novels  by the time mine was ready to be pitched. I hadn’t realised, at the time, that 2012 would be the centenary year of the Titanic tragedy. In the end, the novel was only pitched to a small number of publishers in Ireland who, although being very complimentary about my writing, didn’t offer me a publication deal.

That was very nearly the end of the story. I had no intention of self-publishing and, as a debut author, felt anxious that if publishers didn’t think the book was ‘good enough’, then it probably wasn’t. For months and months I wondered: could I self-publish? Should I self-publish? With a Titanic novel in my hand and a huge media event of the Titanic centenary staring me in the face, there was really only one answer to my questions: Yes, I could and I should. I had the book edited, did some re-writes, had a wonderful cover designed and published the book though the Amazon KDP programme. It quickly became a No. 1 bestseller in the Kindle historical fiction lists and has gone from strength to strength ever since.

I still adore the physical book and bookshops and it is still my dream to find an agent who really believes in me and my writing and who can help me to secure a traditional publishing deal. For me, it is partly about gaining validity and credibility as an author and partly about gaining the professional experience of working with an experienced editor and a publishing house.

Q: Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? If so, what’s your personal cure for it?

A: I think every writer suffers from writer’s block – or some form of it. For me, it usually happens at around 30,000 words when that first flourish of ‘new book creativity’ has been written down and I look at my work and doubt myself and wonder how on earth I am ever going to write another 70,000 words! My advice – go for a long walk. There is nothing like time away from the screen to clear the mind, to come up with plot solutions or to simply find the determination to keep going. I think at times of frustration and self-doubt, it is important to try not to keep looking at the impossibly distant summit, but to just keep putting one word in front of another.

Q: Rejection is a fact of life and yet it can teach us volumes about how to keep moving forward. To date, what’s the worst rejection you have ever received as a writer and how did you cope with it?

A: I think every rejection is the worst rejection! There is nothing harder than hearing that an agent or editor doesn’t feel that your work – which you have put blood, sweat, tears and several bottles of good wine into – just isn’t right for them, or for the market. With The Girl Who Came Home being my first novel, I did find the rejection very, very hard, especially when I saw lots of other writers around me securing publishing deals. In hindsight, it was the push I needed to find another way to get my work out there.

In a strange way, I have also found that some of the toughest rejections are the ones where an editor has been extremely complimentary about my work and has said that it was a very difficult decision for them to say no. It is so crushing to feel that you came ‘so close’ and are yet so far away! I don’t think I naturally have a thick skin, but I am certainly learning to toughen up and have taken an awful lot of confidence and determination from the success of The Girl Who Came Home.

Q: Who are some of your favorite authors and how has their storytelling style influenced your own writing?

A: I love everything written by Philippa Gregory, Rose Tremain, Tracy Chevalier and Sarah Waters. Their ability to create memorable characters, rich historical settings and incredible storylines is so inspiring. The plot twist in Sarah Water’s ‘Fingersmith’ is one I talk about all the time! Their writing inspires me to write better, to write more honestly, to not be afraid of tackling big historical events and to remember to write what you want to write – not what you think you should write. Someone in the publishing industry once told me that women don’t want to read books written in a male voice. I recently read Rose Tremain’s fabulous Restoration and Merivel – never has a male character been more brilliantly imagined or written – which just goes to show that opinions about what readers want can differ hugely!

Q: Do you write full-time? If so, tell us what a typical day is like for you. If you have a full-time job doing something else, what is it and how do you fit writing into your off-hours schedule?

A: I have two young children, so my writing is now based around their school hours. When I first started writing, and while I was writing The Girl Who Came Home most of my writing was done early in the morning before the children woke up, or late at night after they went to bed. Now I would consider myself a ‘part-time’ writer as my time is very much divided between writing and family life. I am very grateful to be able to work at something I love and still be at home for the children during these early years. I know that in the future I will be able to spend more and more time writing, but for now I have to split myself in two!

Q: What are you currently doing to develop your writing craft and hone your skills?

A: I read and read and read and can think of no better way to inspire myself and stretch myself as a writer. Reading gives me an insight into how other people write and reading brilliant books just makes me want to write better. I also maintain a regular blog of my own and also blog for a writing website. I also like to enter short story competitions when time allows. All of these things are helping me to flex my writing muscles in slightly different ways.

Q: In your opinion, are critique groups and social networking with other writers a valuable pursuit?

A: Absolutely! My whole writing career started by being inspired by two writing workshops I attended. It’s a great way to meet other writers, published authors, agents and publishers. Writing can be a very lonely, isolating existence – so I’d encourage anyone who is serious about writing to go to workshops, talks, book launches, festivals – anything to put them in contact with people in the industry. Social media also keeps me in contact with other writers and has been a great way to meet other writers and readers and to have those ‘water cooler’ moments from your own desk.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: History has always fascinated me, and having finally found the confidence to tackle a major historical event in The Girl Who Came Home, I am very excited about writing further historical novels and have plenty of ideas. I completed my second novel Daughters of the Flowers at the end of 2012. It is, again, inspired by true events, this time surrounding orphaned flower sellers in Victorian London. Spanning several decades, Daughters of the Flowers tells the story of a young girl who is searching for her lost sister and a young woman who is searching for acceptance. I am literally waiting to hear back from several UK publishers as I type – fingers crossed! I am also making The Girl Who Came Home available in paperback  (and hopefully in limited edition hardback) through Amazon Createspace. Details will be on my blog as soon as it is available.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

A: At my blog www.whimsandtonic.com or at my Facebook page or by following my tweets @HazelGaynor I also write a regular guest blog for National Irish writing website writing.ie and review books for Hello Magazine at blog.helloonline.com/offtheshelf. I love to hear from readers so please do get in touch!

What Are You Laughing At? How to Write Funny Screenplays, Stories and More

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“Man is the only animal that laughs and weeps,” wrote English essayist William Hazlitt, “for he is the only animal that is struck with the difference between what things are and what they ought to be.”

While pain and loss are the common denominators that universally produce tears, identifying the elements that trigger giggles, chuckles, and rip-snorting, knee-slapping guffaws is much harder. Humor is not only predicated on whether we´re a victim, participant or observer in the hilarity that ensues but also age, gender, education, ethnicity, social status and even where we live. A penguin that walks into a bowling alley in a New Yorker cartoon is likely to generate adult mirth from an incongruous caption that mixes sophistication with silliness. In a children´s show, the same penguin isn´t funny until he gets hit in the face with a cream pie or tries to evade an oncoming rush of bowling balls. If someone trips over the penguin in America´s Funniest Home Videos and smacks his head on the ball-return mechanism, we laugh at the man´s clumsiness, disregarding the realities of potentially knocking all his teeth out or getting a concussion from which a blot clot forms and subsequently kills him.

Humor sits at a complex intersection between context and audience. And who better to explain what tickles our collective funny bones than Brad Schreiber, author of What Are You Laughing At? How to Write Funny Screenplays, Stories and More.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Let’s start with some general background about who you are, what you’ve done, and when did the writing bug first bite you?

I describe my writing background as “psychotically eclectic,” because I have written for film, TV, stage, radio, advertising, fiction, nonfiction and was once hired to write dialogue for a pre-recorded phone line called “Dial-an-Insult” but I´m not so proud of that. I attended Burlingame High School in the San Francisco Bay Area, where I actually became more interested in acting than writing. Then, I eventually was the Editor-in-Chief of the school newspaper and Editor of the school literary magazine as well.

My writing career evolved from medium to medium and I now crossover in TV, film, books and theatre. Writers who work in numerous media find that some pay better than others, but those others sometimes provide greater artistic satisfaction so the trade-off is calculated and very worthwhile. I´ve always advised writers to try and develop their skills in one more than one area.

Some people are funny in person while others are funnier in print. Which category best fits you and why?

I think I am funniest wearing my flannel pajamas covered with the character Stewie from the TV series Family Guy. I think the humor writer who is “good in a room” pitching or has performance experience has an advantage over other comedy writers in TV and film. Success in those media is predicated not only on perceptions of your talent but your personality and ability to adapt to new suggestions.

Thus, the comedy writer who has performed onstage may well have this advantage. I don´t think more introspective humor writers need to be standups or in comedy groups, but I strongly advise taking an improvisation class at least once to loosen up, to expand their abilities, to free associate. When I was 18, I was in a comedy troupe in the Bay Area called the Burlingame Philharmonic Orchestra. Unfortunately, an actual orchestra complained when they saw our name on the bill at a club, asking who we were and why they did not get the gig. Still, performing on radio, TV, stage and in recording studios helped me to gain confidence in meeting new people and promoting my work.

Humor covers a broad spectrum of everything from pie-in-the-face pratfalls to sophisticated wit and sarcasm. Tell us a bit about what kind of mirth appeals to different demographics and how writers can use this awareness to pen funny scripts and stories.

This is a tricky question. As I say in my humor writing book What Are You Laughing At?, humor is as personal as the clothing you wear, and sometimes in as bad taste. I´m not sure of the exact demographic for fruit-pie-in-the-face compared to meringue but I can tell you this: the more people you try to appeal to, the broader and less sophisticated the humor becomes. Thus, a comedy screenplay based on wordplay will not be as accepted in other countries as one relying upon physical comedy.

English male comedians like wearing women´s clothes. Perhaps because women get to wear more silk. I don´t know. But the English also have a love of wordplay, so there is room within the culture for sophistication as well. I think it´s dangerous to make universal assumptions about what kind of humor will appeal to Ecuadorians. Here´s an example of the unpredictability of humor to a specific nationality. After one of my books was published, I went to the Book Expo America in New York City. I met a group of German publishing executives at a party. They were dressed in suits, seemed very intelligent, business savvy and knowledgable about American culture and the corporate world. But when one of them mentioned not liking a type of food because it made him fart, they all erupted into laughter like a group of prepubescent boys. Then, they started talking nonstop about flatulence. But it would be a mistake to think all Germans like fart jokes. Or at least, I pray to God they don´t.

In the end, you should write humor from passion and from strength. As always, it is good to learn about all kinds of approaches to comedy. But I have to quote the great Bill Cosby, here: “I don´t know what the key to success is. But the key to failure is trying to please everybody.”

Who did you think was funny when you were growing up? Who do you think is funny now?

My mother, Mona, was an actor and writer and told great jokes, did voices and had a profound effect on my artistic development. I watched way too much TV as a child. I watched stuff that even bored me. But there were no computers then. I loved certain animated series, including Rocky and Bullwinkle, which had jokes for kids and adults combined. An early TV series I enjoyed was My Favorite Martian with Bill Bixby and the great Ray Walston. I don´t think the show would have worked so well if Walston´s humorous intensity, his commitment to the role, wasn´t so focused. The two antennae protruding from his head also helped.

 

I recall seeing Bob Hope early on TV and loving the quality of his material. Of course, he also had tremendous writers, including the great Larry Gelbart, who I was fortunate enough to get to know a bit. One of the great honors of my life was getting a blurb from Larry on my humor book, saying, “Finally, a how-to by somebody who actually knows how to.” Prior to the great Johnny Carson, Jack Paar exhibited not only a brilliant wit but an exceptional intelligence for a talk show host. I could go on and on. Generally speaking, I want humor writers and performers to have a unique approach to the world as they see it: I don´t want something warmly familiar. I want something that feels like it builds on the history of humor.

Tell us about your book, what topics it covers and what inspired you to write it? What’s the takeaway value you want readers to have when they’re finished?

It´s the only book I know of that looks at all forms of humor writing, both in script and prose form. It´s also the only book to have an out-of-focus, closeup of a laughing pig on the cover. You see, there´s a lesson right on the cover: As you laugh at the pig, it laughs at you too.

The book not only has over 75 excerpts from great humor writers but also writing exercises I have created. I used to teach Humor Writing at UCLA Extension and the book built upon my course materials. I also have insinuated some principles that apply not only to humor but to dramatic writing as well.

What are some of the common mistakes that people make when they’re trying to write humorous dialogue and silly scenarios?

Vulgarity for shock value. Cultural references that will become dated. Sketches that do not have a beginning, middle and end but repeat a situation or character flaw over and over. Using exclamation points and all capital letters to make unfunny dialog somehow funnier. DO YOU THINK THAT´S ALL IT TAKES!!

What’s the best advice anyone ever gave you about comedy?

I can tell you the worst advice I have ever heard and I have heard it more than once: Analyzing comedy kills it. Wrong. Understanding the flow of words, how juxtaposition creates humor, why shock and surprise work, all these things are important to know. I have a section in “What Are You” called Yiddish Sound Theory, explaining why certain words sound funnier than others that have the same meaning. You require talent to write humor but understanding principles will aid all writers of comedy.

What are some movies and television programs that you think lend themselves well to the study of comedic delivery?

I don´t believe in citing my favorite movies and TV shows and comedians too often because everyone´s taste is different. But I do believe you as a writer and/or performer should be able to tell anyone why you like one person over another. Is it about material or intonation or appearance or facial expressions or topics? If you force me against my will- which you are, damn you, Christina – here are some faves: Verbal dexterity in standup: Robin Williams. Uniqueness as a female standup: Phyllis Diller. TV ensemble acting: The Carol Burnett Show. Uniqueness of sketch writing: MadTV. The last American comedy film that I thought broke new ground was The Hangover. If you disagree with any of this, then I didn´t mean any of it.

What’s the most recent thing you laughed about and why was it funny?

I´m a playwright member of the Actors Studio in Los Angeles. After a recent reading of a darkly comedic play of mine, some folks, including Mark Rydell, who runs things, gathered at a deli. He told me how he knew the meekly humorous actor Wally Cox, who came over Rydell´s mother´s house for dinner once. Mama Rydell kept giving him more food and Cox kept politely saying he was full. Finally, when she ignored him for the fifth time, in his typically timid voice, Cox said, “Shove it up your ass, Mrs. Rydell.” Mark said his father laughed so hard that he cried. Now I ask you, if Cox was anything but mousy, would this line have elicited laughter?

If you could go to lunch with any comedian from the past or the present, who would it be and what question would you most like to ask him or her?

Even though I knew him, I would bring Larry Gelbart back to life and have a nice, long lunch with him, shot on video, to keep for posterity. While he was not a comedian, he was one of the most remarkable comedy writers in history. His career spanned radio, TV, theatre and film. He infused his characters, no matter how flawed, with great humanity. He broke comedic ground with the TV series M*A*S*H, films like Tootsie, his remarkable theatre work, including Mastergate and films like Barbarians at the Gate. His adaptability, his perspective on the changing nature of humor and his brilliance with both comedy and drama in writing made him very special. He was also a mensch and I loved him.

What are you working on now?

I got the rights back to my first book, Weird Wonders and Bizarre Blunders: The Official Book of Ridiculous Records and I published it as a Kindle book on Amazon. My book about Jimi Hendrix is under option with me to write the screenplay. I am also adapting Becoming Jimi Hendrix as a musical and I am attached as screenwriter to a project about Formula One car racing that will be a big, international co-production.

Where can readers learn more about you?

http://www.BradSchreiber.com and also they can enter my name at http://www.RedRoom.com for more video, audio and reviews. THANKS, CHRISTINA! I mean, thanks, Christina.

The Hollywood Murder Series

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When Peter S. Fischer left the bright lights of Tinseltown after nearly three decades as a network television writer/producer, it was with no intention of going quietly into a retirement mode on California’s central coast. If anything, the sound of keyboard tapping is louder than ever with his development of The Hollywood Murder Series, a sequence of mystery novels set against the historic backdrop of moviemaking’s glamorous heyday and which he publishes under his own imprint, The Grove Point Press.

The coincidence of my happening to interview Fischer stemmed from my having read his political thriller, The Terror of Tyrants, and – on the heels of my 5-star review (http://thegrovepointpress.com/tag/peter-s-fischer/ ) – sent an email to thank him for writing such a topical and chilling page-turner. Graciously, he not only took the time to respond but also to share his insights about the craft of writing.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: The glitz and glam of Hollywood has always attracted eager young hopefuls like proverbial moths to a flame. Coupled with this, however, seems to be an increasingly pervasive mindset of “entitlement” and arrogance. A case in point was a teen who recently wrote to me and declared, “The problem with movies and television today is that all you old people and your dumb ideas need to go away.” As someone who left the industry after a long career writing for hit series, why do you think that novelists and playwrights have a longer – and more respected – shelf life as authors?

A: First of all, I lend little credence to a teen who, unless she is exceptional, has no business lecturing us “old folks” about anything. I despair of a generation that believes “Thanks” is spelled “Thx” and spends a huge amount of time regaling each other about their last bowel movement or sexual encounter or the spinach they were unable to eat for lunch. These modern day twits know nothing about the art of conversation and for the most part do not even read unless forced to at the point of a hot poker. They get the television they deserve because TV is ratings driven. If you watch, you get it. If you don’t watch, it gets cancelled. Don’t blame us old folks for that!

The average TV executive at a studio or a network is about 30 years old. Movies have always been part trash, part escapism, often mindless and here and there, brilliant and absorbing. In an era where there are more and more low budget indy producers, you get a wide range from rotten to brilliant. No generalization fits. Ditto books and plays. For every Broadway hit, there are a dozen one-night turkeys. The same applies to books, Even in the old days when a handful of publishers controlled all of the market, many books were published that shouldn’t have been. Today, with self-publishing, the situation is even worse. I guess my point is, there will always be mediocre product and happily there will always be literature in many forms that rises above the norm.

Q: Once upon a time in Television Land, married couples slept in twin beds, no one swore, and husbands/fathers were not portrayed as henpecked twits. Nor were there reality shows in which contestants trashed one another and humiliated themselves to win a million dollars. In your view, are there any programs that indicate the medium is still salvageable as an entertainment venue or will it continue its drekky downward spiral?

A: In keeping with my response to the previous question, there has always been rotten television ever since the days of Lucy and Sid Caesar and Milton Berle, shows that were forgotten a day after they were cancelled. The old rule of thumb used to be for every pilot ordered to script, maybe one in five would be filmed. Of every filmed pilot actually aired, maybe one in five would be given an order for 6 and sometimes 13 episodes. Of those new shows, the odds of being renewed for a second season were also about 1 in 5.

It’s comforting to think back to the golden ages of television starting with the one-hour live dramas of the 50s and then the golden age of the sitcoms like Archie Bunker and Mary Tyler Moore and Cheers where the humor was genuine and character driven. For the most part network television is dismal and the best work is being done on the smaller cable channels where ideas and good writing make up for the lack of budget. Mad Men on AMC and House of Cards on Netflix are two prime examples.

Q: Blurring the line between fact and fiction has long been a popular device in doomsday novels, and you chillingly bridge that divide in your political thriller, The Terror of Tyrants. The premise: A corrupt government controls the major media (“an informed public is a dangerous public,” says one of the higher-ups), implements Executive Orders without Congressional approval, confiscates all firearms, fines and imprisons anyone who criticizes the administration, disables national telecommunications, and orchestrates a fake terrorist attack on a California coastal community in order to declare martial law, seize property and authorize assassinations. This book would clearly make a blockbuster movie but, given Hollywood’s fawning adoration of Obama, what are the chances of it getting produced?

A: The Terror of Tyrants will never get made as a movie unless it was championed by a powerful conservative producer with lots of money behind him. And even then it wouldn’t be easy because Hollywood actors and directors would be afraid to get involved. There are a couple of indy companies in Utah that have made some decent movies with a conservative message but in the end if you can’t get widespread distribution, it’s not worth the effort and liberal Hollywood has the theaters tied up.

Q: Any worries that there’s a drone out there with your name on it?

A: No worries. Invariably my name is spelled Peter Fisher by merchants and charities alike and the administration is a lot dumber than they are so I am safe. However, I do feel sympathy for any real-life Peter Fisher who may live in the vicinity.

Q: Your new Hollywood Murder Series is a juicy marriage of two subjects you know best – the mystery genre and Hollywood films. What governed your decision to start the storyline in 1947 rather than present-day? How many “years” have been published to date and how far do you plan to take this series?

A: I placed my books starting in 1947 because I consider the 30s, 40s and 50s, the Golden Age of Hollywood, rife with glamour real or imagined. These were kinder and gentler times as opposed to the chaos of modern day living and there is to me something intriguing about the nostalgia of old stars and old films. Since then hundreds, if not thousands, of brilliant movies have been created but the whole studio system run by Mayer and Warner and Zjukor, that was a world of its own.

I actually never envisioned a series of books, just the one – Jezebel in Blue Satin. And then I had to write a scene in a director’s office and I thought it might be fun to put a real person into the scene so I wrote in Gail Russell. That’s when it struck me that I could do a follow up book after a year had passed and so I settled on Treasure of the Sierra Madre and made characters of Bogart, John and Walter Huston, Tim Holt and even Ann Sheridan. The ninth book (1955) is currently being printed and revolves around Marty which was shot in New York. Number 10 takes place in Texas (Giant), number 11 in Memphis (Jailhouse Rock) and number 12 (Touch of Evil).The latter are in first drafts. There are a couple of on-going arcs from book to book and I believe I will wrap the whole thing up with either 15 or 16.

Q: Who would your protagonist, Joe Bernardi, prefer to brainstorm his ideas and theories with – Jessica Fletcher, Lt. Columbo or Ellery Queen?

A: None of the above. Except in one or two rare cases, Joe wants nothing to do with these murders that keep intruding on his life and when he gets involved it’s because he has a compelling reason why he cannot just walk away. He doesn’t consider himself a detective, not for one moment. He is closest in philosophy to Jessica who never considered herself a “detective,” at least not while I was running the show. Columbo took great delight in playing cat and mouse with his quarries but it was in the line of duty. It’s what he was paid for. Ellery loved the pursuit of the puzzle and wouldn’t quit until he’d unraveled it. So our man Joe is a reluctant protagonist at best , especially considering his job description. Whoever heard of a press agent solving murders?

Q: Does 21st century technology make it harder or easier for fictional villains to commit crimes and, conversely, for sleuths to solve them?

A: The technology of the 21st century has virtually destroyed the credibility of the so called ‘armchair’ detective. DNA is a shining example. Besides all the other highly technical and scientific things crime labs are capable of. It’s another reason why I started the series of books in 1947 . It’s also not a coincidence that we set the TV series Ellery Queen in the year 1947 for the same reason.

Q: What comes first for you when you sit down to pen a new story – the plot or the characters? In the case of a continuing thread such as Hollywood Murder Series, do you have the full map in your head – including the final destination – when you start out or do you sometimes allow your characters to take the steering wheel and, accordingly, take you along for the ride?

A: Good question. All of the above. First I need the gimmick, the incident that brings Joe into the story. I used Joe accused of murder once. I won’t use it again. I used Lydia, ex-wife, accused of murder. No more of that. In another I have his ex-live in gal pal Bunny eye witness to a murder and in deep trouble. In another, someone has plagiarized Joe’s book and ends up murdered. In another Joe sends out a press photo which may have gotten a man killed. etc etc etc.

Once I have the gimmick and I’ve decided the movie I am going to tell the story around, I invent a few characters and start writing. I don’t have an outline and in several cases – maybe half – have no idea what the ending is. Very often a lot of the pieces come to me while I am in the middle of a chapter. For the most part I let the characters take me where they want to go and most of the time I have no problem with it. Remember that between EQ and Columbo and MSW as well as my other shows, I probably have plotted over a hundred mystery scripts of one sort of another. It’s like second nature but more important, I discovered in later years that a rigid outline was stifling my imagination which is the main reason I gave up outlining. I do know the final destination of the series, I know what is going to happen to Joe’s career and to Bunny and to Jill and to the child, Yvette. How I reveal all this remains to be seen….

Q: The publishing industry has changed radically in the past decade and, as the combined result of downsizing at the major houses and the rise in popularity of ebooks, has driven numerous authors – yourself included – to go the DIY route. Tell us about the debut of your own imprint, The Grove Point Press, and the challenges/rewards of wearing multiple hats.

A: I think the days of the mass market, brick and mortar bookstores are over. People are reading less and less and other venues such as Kindle and POD are the coming thing. The old fashioned way the traditionalists do business has no future. If you are lucky enough to get an agent who is lucky enough to get you a deal for a book which they will publish the following year or maybe even later, it will sit on the shelf for maybe 5-6 months and then – unless it’s a runaway bestseller – it will be shunted off to Nowhereland to make room for the next Great American novel. Online your book lasts forever and there are enough success stories to lead me to believe that we are doing this the right way. I say “we” because my son Chris is handling everything about The Grove Point Press except the actual writing and he is doing a fantastic job. I have infinite patience and infinite enthusiasm for what we are doing

Q: If you could sit down for lunch with any famous author from the past whose writing and vision inspired you, who would it be?

A: I make it a rule never to break bread with any writer unless he is a lot smarter than me and a much better writer. This gives me a huge universe from which to select and I could spend all day picking and choosing! So I’ll keep it short. TV writers, only two. Rod Serling and Paddy Chayefsky. Novelists? Thomas B Costain, the first book writer that captivated me when I was 7 or 8. Scott Fitzgerald, Conan Doyle. Sinclair Lewis. Contemporary: Michael Connolly, John Grishham. Scott Turow. Playwrights: William Inge, Doc Simon, Tennessee Williams.

But if I had to pick only one it would be the late Robert B. Parker, creator of Spenser and Jesse Stone. I loved the way he plotted sparsely but effectively, the way he used humor to temper grimness, his facility with dialogue. I believe my style and rhythms, especially in the Hollywood books, are very close to his.

Q: What would your fans be the most surprised to learn about you?

A: Although I studied writing and drama at Johns Hopkins, I had to put my writing ambitions on hold while I raised a family. Then at the age of 35 I literally sat down at my kitchen table in Smithtown, Long Island ,New York and wrote a movie not knowing that nobody sells a movie this way and nobody gets into the business from a place called Smithtown, particularly at my age. It’s a long story but the happy ending has my movie airing on ABC Movie of the Week, produced by Aaron Spelling under the title The Last Child. It gets nominated for an EMMY for Best TV Movie of the Year. I move to Hollywood and freelance for a few months before I meet Peter Falk and get hired by Universal Studios and the rest, as they say, is history.

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The Blade

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What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. Unless, of course, a villain has plans to completely obliterate it from the map. While investigating the theft of a 4000-year-old artifact, a federal agent finds herself confronted with an international fugitive who threatens to destroy Sin City. Such is the pulse-pounding premise of The Blade (Stone Creek Books), an adult thriller recently published by Lynn Sholes and Joe Moore. The pair took time from their busy schedules to talk about the collaborative process of bringing their ideas and characters to life.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: How and when did the two of you become collaborators?

A: Lynn: Joe and I belonged to the same writing critique group that met every week. During the middle of each session we’d take a break and we’d all chat. Sometimes we’d share ideas about other projects we’d like to do. I had this idea about a book I wanted to write, but it wasn’t in my comfort range because of the genre. Joe thought it was a great idea, and after a year or so, he finally threatened me that if I didn’t write the book, then he would. We decided to give co-writing a whirl.

That produced The Grail Conspiracy, our first collaboration, which did very well. It was ForeWord Magazine’s book of the year and an international bestseller. So far, it’s been translated into 24 languages.

Q: So how does your collaborative process work (i.e., brainstorming, logistics, editing one another, utilizing each other’s respective strengths)?

A: Lynn: I can only vouch for what Joe and I do. At first it was very difficult, not because we disagreed on anything, but rather because our styles and voices were so different. Joe wrote male action-adventure with a very bold voice. I wrote historical fiction with a more lyrical voice. So blending took a lot of work, but we stayed with it. As a matter of fact, friends are always guessing which line one of us wrote! They’re usually wrong, but we never tell.

As far as the mechanical process, we do outlining and brainstorming so we know the story. Either of us could write it. Then whoever feels they have the best handle on a scene takes on the first draft of that scene. We send it back and forth for revisions. Using Dropbox makes it easier. We drop a file in the shared Dropbox folder and voilà! The other picks it up.

Q: Where do you get your ideas for the fascinating characters and compelling stories the two of you compose?

A: Joe: An idea that sparks a story can come from anywhere, anytime. Movies, newspapers, magazines, other books. What we look for is the seed that grabs our attention. Our first book written together came from an article in Discover Magazine about a cup found by an archeologist in Israel. He believed it was the Holy Grail and subsequently discovered that traces of blood residue were present. Could it have been the blood of Christ? What if someone used the DNA to clone Christ? The result was our first thriller written together, The Grail Conspiracy. An article I stumbled across on the Internet about the Germans working on an atomic bomb at the end of WWII prompted our latest thriller, The Blade.

Q: When it comes to character development and dialogue in a thriller such as The Blade, do you think it’s easier for a female to write from a male’s perspective or a male to write from a female’s perspective?

A: Lynn: I don’t think it matters to us. Joe and I have never decided to write scenes because of a character’s gender. We don’t take on specific characters when we write; we take on scenes. When Joe has a better handle on a scene or better vision, then he does the first draft of it. If I feel I have a strong image of a scene, then I do the first draft. We both have our strengths, but they aren’t gender-related.

Q: Do you revise as you go along or wait until the novel is complete?

A: Joe: Because there are two of us and we exchange drafts of each chapter many times, the revision process is ongoing, with the final one after input from our editor.

Q: What is your strategy behind short chapters vs. longer ones?

A: Joe: Most of our chapters average 1000 words. We do that to keep the reader turning the pages. If they see that the next chapter is only a couple of pages long, they will decide to read just one more. And then one more…

Q: If The Blade was made into a movie, who would you choose to play Maxine, Kenny and Applewhite?

A: Lynn: Maxine –Julianna Moore, Kenny – Hugh Jackman, Applewhite – Tommy Lee Jones or William H. Macy?

A: Joe: I see Naomi Watts as Maxine, Jude Law as Kenny, and Brian Cox as Applewhite

Q: What’s the best part of working with your partner?

A: Lynn: We left our egos behind years ago. We both have a vested interest in the book so we sort through plot, the details and motivations together. It’s great to have a sounding board and brainstorming partner with the same goal. And the really good part is if someone criticizes something, I can always say, “Joe wrote that part.” 

A: Joe: Like Lynn said, we both have a stake in the book that no one else has. Our spouses give us both a mountain of support, but they are not writers nor do they think like writers. I can ask my wife her opinion and she will give it honestly. But she doesn’t see the big picture; she has other things to think about. I’m sure it’s the same for Lynn and her husband and family. Having a writing partner means I can make a suggestion or throw out an idea, and Lynn will analyze it while considering all the consequences of how it would impact, improve or detract from the story.

Q: Do you ever have writer’s block? If so, how do you handle it?

A: Lynn: Because Joe and I write together, I don’t think we’ve ever had writer’s block. Having a brainstorming partner tends to prevent that. Of course we have plot issues we have to work out, but not true writer’s block. One thing we have learned is that when we come to a stumbling block we talk through it and something eventually pops up. We also know that there will come a time in the process that is devoted to revision.

Q: What’s your favorite thing about writing?

A: Joe: Entering into the “zone” where you lose track of time and place as the words flow freely.

Q: Learning to write compelling fiction takes a lot of time, study and practice. It’s also not uncommon for a writer’s style and vision to evolve and undergo reinvention from what it was originally. Do you ever go back and read your earliest writings? If so, what’s your reaction?

A: Lynn: Yuck! Yes. When I first decided to take writing seriously, I wrote a book called Talisman Rose, mostly to see if I could sustain 100,000 words.  I wrote it on a typewriter which convinced me to get a computer and printer.  Well, I discovered that I could write my way through 100,000 words. But that manuscript rests in a box high in the closet that I never intend to show anyone.  Every time I write a book, I learn something new. Sometimes I look back in horror and slap my forehead asking myself if I really wrote that.

Q: Like many writers, the two of you have ventured into indie publishing rather than going the traditional route. What are some of the advantages and disadvantages you discovered during the process of taking The Blade from concept to publication to marketing?

A: Joe: With the advent of indie publishing, writers have become a self-contained business and must handle most or all of the facets of sales and marketing. It takes away from writing time, but it’s also liberating and fulfilling.

Q: What’s next on your plate (collaboratively or individually)?

A: Joe: What’s next? Maxine returns in The Shield (working title). Former OSI federal agent Maxine Decker is recruited by a blacker than black government operation to track down the theft of alien artifacts originally collected from the 1947 Roswell Incident. Stay tuned!

A: Lynn: As a note of interest, I have just handed over my first four books, written under the name Lynn Armistead McKee, to enter the digital world. Those books are a totally different genre than what Joe and I write. Woman of the Mists, Touches the Stars, Keeper of Dreams and Walks in Stardust are historical fiction in the tradition of Clan of the Cave Bear, but not quite as far back. These are stories about the extinct aboriginal peoples of Florida before European contact.

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Readers can learn more about the authors at http://www.sholesmoore.com/p/author-bios.html.

The Long, Steep Path: Everyday Inspiration From the Author of Pay It Forward

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Catherine Ryan Hyde was one of my heroes growing up; I learned about her book, Pay It Forward, when I was 17 and a new writer trying to work out if I wanted to pursue my writing or if I might do something else. Seeing what Catherine accomplished with her book, and then having the joy of meeting her in person and discovering it was possible to achieve the level of influence she did without it changing who she was—I realized I could become the writer I wanted to be, without having to give up the aspects of myself that I was sure would get compromised if I ever became a public figure (at the time I thought you either were a nobody or a celebrity in the artistic fields).

Catherine was exceptionally down to earth, and she encouraged me to pursue my writing. That someone “like her” could believe in me that much meant a lot to me, and when she wrote on her Pay It Forward dedication “Please say you will [Pay It Forward]” I made a silent promise that I would, for the rest of my life—and ironically it’s that mindset that’s led me full circle, to where I have the opportunity to interview Catherine about her exquisite book, The Long, Steep Path: Everyday Inspiration from the Author of Pay It Forward where she shares herself in spirit the same way she has touched my life – and this way she can be a mentor and a friend to millions more people than she has graced personally. (My book review is on Blogcritics at  http://blogcritics.org/books/article/book-review-the-long-steep-path).

If you’d like to know more about Catherine, she’s truly accessible – check out her website at  http://www.catherineryanhyde.com, her Amazon author page at http://www.amazon.com/Catherine-Ryan-Hyde/e/B001ITTR60#/ref=la_B001ITTR60_pg_3?rh=n%3A283155%2Cp_82%3AB001ITTR60&page=3&ie=UTF8&qid=1363147923 and Facebook at  https://www.facebook.com/#!/crhyde?fref=ts.  

Interview by Joanna Celeste

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Q: What prompted you to write your memoir?

A: I don’t think of it as a memoir… exactly. It’s memoir-ish. It has some elements of memoir, in that everything in it is true, and happened to me. But I tend to think of a memoir as a more complete story of a person’s life. So then, for readers to want to read that memoir, they would have to be interested in knowing about that person’s life. I’m not assuming that people wanted to know my life story. Instead I’ve chosen life experiences that changed my thinking about the world in a small way, and laid them out in a way that just might, possibly, change your thinking about the world in a small way as well.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that’s it’s not really so much about me. It’s more about things I’ve observed that might be useful to you (the reader).

Now, to answer your question: It was one-third reaching out to the people who so far only seem interested in Pay It Forward and not so much the rest of my body of work. It was one-third carried forward from some opinion pieces I’d done for AOL News—on such subjects as happiness and gratitude—that I enjoyed doing and that people seemed to like. The final one-third was a realization I had as I was walking down Indian Cove Road in Joshua Tree, headed for a trailhead. I thought, too bad I don’t write about my hiking and travels. If I did, this trip would be tax deductible. But I didn’t write The Long, Steep Path so I could deduct my trips. I wrote it because that started me wondering why I’d never written about my hiking and travel. When I thought about it, it seemed like an oversight. That really is the honest answer. I wanted to write a creative nonfiction book about hiking and the outdoors, but was eventually able to see that it should have a broader scope.

Q: I loved all your metaphors about hiking. You touched lightly on your past—that you changed your name, just had to get out, that you had deep emotional issues—I’m curious what happened but I also respect that you want to keep some things private. How did you approach writing your memoir, culling the points you wanted to share and what you didn’t feel necessary?

A: I’m not a secretive person at all. I jokingly tell people I’d be the worst blackmail target ever. I’d be like, “Fine, I’ll write about it myself. Save you the trouble.” But that’s my history. When you start writing about your family of origin, that’s shared history. Other people’s privacy and feelings are at stake. I think you probably noticed in my Author’s Note at the end of the book that I only wrote about one living person, and only with her express permission. I was careful with the anonymity of AA members, using no last names, not repeating anything said in a meeting unless they said it outside one as well. The one person whose story was pretty personal, I didn’t use a name at all. I tried to be really careful of other people’s “stuff.” 

Q: That was done very well. I also loved the way you organized your chapters. What was your process of writing like; did you write the essays over time and compile them or did you have an outline of what you wanted to share?

A: There was a bit of trial and error to that. I really chose the subjects more by the seat of my pants. I wrote all the stories I felt were worth writing. Then I laid them out and got a sense of what they all added up to, and how their messages could be most cohesive.

Q: Nice! As a self-proclaimed hybrid author, why did you choose to self-publish this work?

A: Because I wanted to pair the essays with my own photos. And I knew that if I used a traditional publisher, they wouldn’t want to print color photos, because it’s expensive. It raises the production costs, and forces the publisher to charge more for the book, maybe more than most readers want to pay. So we never shopped it around to publishers. Instead we (my agent and I) decided to go independent ebook only. That way I could not only include a big handful of color photos, I could link to the full photo albums for those who were especially interested in one or more of the locations. You can’t do that in a print book.  

The photographs were a wonderful touch. You’ve got me wanting to hike now, so I can visit those places in person.

Q: It was fun learning that you were once a tour guide for Hearst Castle and a pastry chef. For the 8 years you worked a multitude of part-time jobs, how did those experiences influence your writing?

A: Well, they give me a lot of good experience to fall back on. I always prefer to have characters live in a city I’ve lived in, or work at a job I’ve done myself. Because the quality of material you pick up is altogether different than what you learn through research only.

Q: What did you love the most about your experience as a pastry chef?

A: For a time I worked at an actual big bakery, in the pastry department. The hours were terrible, 6:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m. I had to drive about 70 miles round trip. And I gained weight because I couldn’t stop sampling the product. Not much to love there.

Later I worked at a little restaurant in Cambria, doing homemade breads and desserts. The chef was my best friend Janet, and we worked very well together. Even when things got busy, we stayed stress-free. At the end of the night we ate like royalty. That I liked.

That makes all the difference, working with people you get along with.

Q: I loved your metaphors about animals, like how you developed “gentling” your horse rather than breaking it, and the dog’s attitude towards his daily walk. What would you say is an essential thing we can learn from animals?

A: Presence. The ability to be completely in the moment. Animals are very good at that, and humans are unusually bad at it. And it’s a real goal of mine, to be present. I think it’s the essence of my spirituality, the idea that “the powers that be” in the universe are found in the present moment. So when people act like animals are very simple and inferior compared to us, it seems backwards to me. I’m not saying we’re inferior, but I am saying I feel they are ahead of us in some respects. I guess it all depends on what you value. 

Q: Thank you. One of my favorite parts of The Long, Steep Path was your story about how one sentence changed your life. Your book was full of these one sentences for me. Since publishing your book, have you had any other “one sentence” experiences?

A: It may sound strange, but I have that experience on Twitter all the time. It encourages people to boil down their thoughts. And if you follow the right people, you pick up all these statements that are just so beautifully phrased that they cause you to look at some aspect of life in a new way. I think we do that for each other all the time, just in less dramatic ways than the one I described in the book. 

Yes! Twitter is awesome for that. The philosophy at the heart of The Long, Steep Path– finding the life you want in the life you have – is beautiful. When was the moment you discovered this?

A: I don’t think there was any one special moment when I discovered it. I think the realization came slowly over a period of time. But I think there was a moment, as I was putting together all my thoughts for the book, when I suddenly got a grasp of how to say it. I found the words in that few lines from the prologue of Pay It Forward: “Knowing it started from unremarkable circumstances should be a comfort to us all. Because it shows you don’t need much to change the entire world for the better. You can start with the most ordinary ingredients. You can start with the world you’ve got.” That paragraph seemed to resonate with a lot of people. I guess because, when you think about it, where else could you possibly start? It hit me quite suddenly that this is true of our individual lives as well. And why shouldn’t it be? Put all our individual lives together and you get the world in question.

Q: This spirit seems to be conveyed in the style of your writing—capturing lives that are mosaics; perhaps not perfect, but whole in their own way. What drives you to write your fiction?

A: Human nature. I find it endlessly fascinating. I’m curious about why we take good care of each other, when we do. And why we don’t when we don’t. I’m particularly interested in unlikely bonds, the kind that fall outside blood relations and romance. Both of those are easy to understand, but I love the odd bond that’s quirkier, that says more about the good, loving side of human nature.

Q: That’s my favorite aspect to your stories. As a mentor or a sponsor, how do you approach those whom you take under your wing? What is the basic advice you give them?

A: I think the most useful thing I can do for another writer is to help them develop a new relationship with criticism and rejection. There’s nothing I can say to stop it from stinging. Not even to myself. But it’s possible to look it in the face and not let it stop you. You can learn to see that people are really telling you more about themselves when they judge you.

That’s as a mentor.

As a sponsor, I think my goal is to help people accept life for exactly what it is. When you let a person into your life, you have to take them as a whole. You can’t change them. You can’t take the parts you like and leave the rest. I think if we could have that kind of unconditional love for the world, and our lives, we’d be much happier.

Q: You have a lot of experience you can share from (I still can’t believe that Pay It Forward was shot down by your agent). As someone who went from being relatively unknown to being the center of an international movement, what are some of the pros and cons of celebrity? 

A: I don’t really think of myself as a celebrity, though I think I was thrust into that world for a time during the initial “Pay It Forward Phenomenon.”

Actual celebrity, I’d say mostly cons. There’s something false about it. I always make an effort not to tell people what I do until we’ve gotten to know each other a bit. Because it changes the balance of interactions. And it shouldn’t. No one is above or below anyone else, unless they place themselves there by their own actions.

What I do like is the genuine interaction with readers—when a reader finds me (I make myself easy to find) and shares the thoughts and feelings they had when reading one of my books. That’s very genuine. And of course it happens more as more people read you. So that’s one positive note. That and being able to pay my bills.

Q: Yeah, life is awesome when you can do what you love, interact with the people you write for, and pay your bills. Your book ends, quite aptly, with “The Path Continues”. What’s next on your path?

A: Well, that’s a good question. In many ways I’m waiting to be surprised. But it would be a safe bet to say there will be books involved.

Q: Yay! You’ve got your new book out now, Always Chloe and Other Stories, which I’m excited to read. Anything you’d like to share about that?

A: One of the nicest parts of independent ebooks is my ability to give them away on a limited basis as a way of helping the book find its audience. Always Chloe and Other Stories contains the novella-length sequel to my novel Becoming Chloe. It’s a stand-alone work, though, for those who haven’t read the original. On the 22nd through 24th of March, the Kindle ebook will be free on Amazon. And all anyone has to do is subscribe to my blog, or follow me on Twitter or Facebook, to hear about future deals. I tend to give a lot of books away, even physical books. In the long run, it always brings me more readers.

Wonderful, thank you so much!