Alfred Hitchcock’s MovieMaking Master Class

Hitchcock

Sir Alfred Joseph Hitchcock may have left the building over 30 years ago but author Tony Lee Moral puts the legendary director/producer’s expertise at every reader’s fingertips in his new book, Alfred Hitchcock’s Moviemaking Master Class. Moral’s admiration for his subject matter is no secret; this is, after all, the third book he has penned about the iconic Master of Suspense.

The amount of detailed research he has done is well evidenced and covers a career that spanned an enviable six decades. (Even though the book doesn’t come with a soundtrack, I’ve been unable to shake the TV show’s theme music out of my head ever since I finished reading it; during the late 50’s, Alfred Hitchcock Presents was one of the few shows I was allowed to stay up late and watch.)

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: When did the writing bug first bite you?

A: From a very early age, I’ve been writing ever since I started reading. I loved adventure stories as a child, particularly the Alfred Hitchcock Presents series, such as The Three Investigators, and the Willard Price books. As a teenager, I wrote many short stories, and by the age of 16, had written my first novel (unpublished). Since then, I’ve written three non-fiction books and four novels. 

Q: How about the desire to become a producer/director?

A: Along with my interest in writing, I’ve always been interested in film, and first discovered Alfred Hitchcock at the age of 10 when I saw I Confess. I loved the moral dilemma faced by Montgomery Clift in the lead role and even at that age could recognize Hitchcock’s craftsmanship in storytelling. At college, I really immersed myself in Hitchcock’s Films. My first job after college was working for the BBC where I spent many years working myself up to being a Producer/Director. I’ve now been working in television for half my life and all my professional life.

Q: In addition to Hitchcock (obviously), who were some of the filmmakers that you would say had the most influence on the development of your own vision and style?

A: I would say Ingmar Bergman, Anthony Minghella, Yasujuri Ozu and Quentin Tarantino have been inspirational to me after Hitchcock. Some of my favourite films are Persona, The English Patient, Tokyo Story and Pulp Fiction.

Q: Inquiring minds want to know: What inspired you to write not just one but three books about Alfred Hitchcock?

A: Hitchcock’s films span the history of cinema, so for me, Hitchcock is cinema. After I wrote my first book on the making of Marnie, it seemed natural to follow it up with a book on the making of The Birds for the 50th anniversary this year. The Masterclass book came as an idea from MWP to encompass all of Hitchcock’s films and it’s very timely because the last year really has been the year of Hitchcock with all the biopics and Vertigo being voted number 1.

Q: What do you feel distinguishes Alfred Hitchcock’s Moviemaking Master Class from other books on the market that have been written about him?

A: It’s like a manual or text book on how to make a movie in the style of Alfred Hitchcock, using his principles of suspense, mystery, counterpoint, contrast and putting the audience through it. It’s not a biography – though you learn a lot about Hitchcock the director along the way – and it’s not an academic book – but I think it’s insightful because it’s told through the voice of Hitchcock and his many collaborators, with some great anecdotes.

Q: What was your favorite chapter to write?

A: Interviewing the actors who worked with Hitchcock for Chapter 4, as I was able to interview screen legendaries such as Kim Novak, Doris Day, Eva Marie Saint and Norman Lloyd. All wonderful and gracious human beings.

Q: Conversely, what was the most challenging section for you to pen?

A: I would say the first two chapters because it’s essential to hook and engage the reader so they want to keep on reading. I spent more time and effort on the opening chapters and rewrote them continually.

Q: Who were your favorite people to interview in the course of doing research?

A: I went to interview Norman Lloyd twice at his home in LA. He’s 98 years old, but very sharp and quick witted with an amazing memory. He truly is a classic and classy gentleman and as well as being an actor in Saboteur and Spellbound, he was a producer on the Alfred Hitchcock Presents series for 10 years.

Q: Hollywood has a propensity for cranking out prequels, sequels and remakes of successful films, and Hitchcock’s impressive body of work is no exception, In your opinion, what were the best and worst remakes of his most popular films? Which one has yet to be remade and who would comprise the dream cast to make it a success?

A: The worst remake was Gus Van Sant’s Psycho, because it’s foolhardy to replicate a classic even in the form of a homage, and the original cast is irreplaceable. I don’t think there is a best remake, but I’ll say Rear Window because of Christopher Reeves’ bravery to continue in film after his accident. I’d remake Strangers on a Train with Zachary Quinto and Henry Cavill in the lead roles.

Q: You’ve indicated that your appreciation of Hitchcock’s talent deepens every time you watch one of his films. What’s the latest thing you’ve discovered?

A: I recently interviewed the Assistant Director on Torn Curtain, one of Hitchcock’s lesser movies, who said that Hitchcock took great care to get realism in the reflection in the ship’s dining room window. I’ve never noticed that before which shows that even when working under less than full steam, Hitchcock paid attention to the smallest details.

Q: What’s your favorite Hitchcock movie?

A: I would say the definitive Hitchcock movie is North by Northwest because it has everything that you expect from his films, wit, polish, humour, panache, the wrongfully accused man, and Cary Grant’s star charisma and athleticism. My personal favourites are Vertigo and Marnie because of the psychology of the characters and what those films meant to Hitchcock.

Q: What’s your take on the way he was portrayed by Anthony Hopkins?

A: I enjoyed Hitchcock the movie, I thought it was a humorous and affectionate portrayal and I didn’t feel that the movie was mean spirited. Obviously there were dramatic licenses taken by the film, and Hitchcock is an enormously complicated character to define, but Hopkins brought sympathy and comedy to the role.

Q: If you could sit down for lunch with the late Master of Suspense, what question would you most like to ask him that could not have be answered by anyone who ever knew him?

A: I’m curious to why he was never able to repeat the success after Psycho. It seems that with that film’s monstrous success with the public and also financially, Hitchcock reached his creative peak and I’d like to know why he wasn’t able to top that.

Q: What’s your best advice to the next generation of screenwriters and filmmakers?

A: Know what the studios are looking for, watch a lot of films, develop your own voice, listen to people, work on distinctive dialogue. Nurture relationships as well as your talent. The best stories are out there and it’s all about finding them.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: My fourth (and probably final) Hitchcock book on his reputation and how he is perceived over 30 years since his death. This is going to be very interesting and revealing and I’ve already gathered many interviews from people who haven’t spoken out before.

Q: Anything else you’d like readers to know?

A: My steps to a Hitchcock education are watch The 39 Steps, Notorious, Rear Window, Vertigo, North by Northwest and Psycho.

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Tony Lee Moral is a writer and award winning documentary film maker who has written three books on Alfred Hitchcock: Alfred Hitchcock’s Movie Making Masterclass, The Making of Hitchcock’s The Birds and Hitchcock and the Making of Marnie. He has produced and directed over a 100 hours of television for major broadcasters in the US and the UK, including behind the scenes documentaries on films and television.

A Murder of Crows

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As the saying goes, birds of a feather flock together. But do our feathered friends also have an inside track on felonious foul play? In her latest release, A Murder of Crows, Jan Dunlap’s protagonist – Birder/high school counselor Bob White – wrestles with hypnotized students, wind farm controversy, faculty secrets, and rare birds to unmask a murderer.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Let’s start with some background on your journey as a writer and the moment you knew that this was something you wanted to do.

A: I fell in love with the idea of being an author the first time I walked into a public library. I think I was in second grade, and I was entranced by the fact that you could find a book about anything in a library. I wanted to write a book to put up on those shelves!

When I was in high school, I wrote for the school newspaper, and I so enjoyed the writing that I took an English/Communications major in college, then went on to work professionally in Public Relations and advertising. I really enjoyed research and interviews, so I thought I would always be writing non-fiction, and for many years while I was raising my children, I freelanced for regional and national magazines writing about personal spirituality. I also wrote a humor column for my local paper based on raising my children. I admired Erma Bombeck so much, and her columns helped me stay sane as a mom, so I latched onto that style of writing: conversational and tongue-in-cheek.

One day, I finished reading a novel, and it was so poorly written, I decided I could do at least as good a job as that author had done. I guess you could say my pride got the better of me – I had to give it a try. I discovered I really liked inventing characters and witty dialogue, so I decided I’d find a niche and see if I could land a book on a shelf somewhere.

Q: Were you a fan of the mystery genre when you were growing up? If so, who are some of the authors that you admired?

A: I read all the Nancy Drew books, but then lost interest in mysteries until I discovered Tony Hillerman when I was in my late 30s. I’ve always loved the Southwest, and I loved how Hillerman wove the Native American culture and the land itself into his novels. That got me hooked on mysteries. Nevada Barr has that great sense of place, too, and I always learn a lot of natural history from her books. I liked that educational component in both Hillerman’s and Barr’s writing, and I try to do that same thing in my books, but with birds and conservation.

Q: How did you go about honing your writing and storytelling style?

A: Writing a humor column for about five years really gave me the practice I needed to find my voice. I turned out a weekly column, and even though the columns were short, I labored over them to hit exactly the right tone. I read books by authors whose style I admired – like Janet Evanovich (her Stephanie Plum series) – and authors whose craft impressed me – like Steve Berry, David Baldacci, John Grisham – and studied how they developed plots and tension. I actually outlined entire published novels to better understand the structure of a story!

Q: There are lots of subgenres of mystery writing – the P.I., the amateur sleuth, police procedurals, cozies, capers, locked rooms, noir, suspense, howdunits. What category does A Murder of Crows best fit and why did you choose it as the best vehicle for your plot?

A: A Murder of Crows, like all the Birder Murders, is a cozy. When I was trying to find a niche for writing novels, I knew I wanted to write about birders solving murders, but I wanted it to be a humorous series, so the cozy subgenre seemed ideal. My books are more driven by the characters than the plot – one of my booksellers calls them ‘mystery light,’ which is exactly what I was aiming for. I want readers to have fun when they read my novels, not get stressed out!

Q: So what inspired you to mix birds with murder?

A: My younger son went on a birding trip when he was in high school. It was the dead of winter, and I knew he’d be in remote locations. Being the overprotective, nervous mom I was, I worried something dreadful would happen to him, and I wouldn’t be there to help. The worst thing I could imagine was an injury and freezing to death. And then I imagined something else: my son finding a dead body! I realized it would make a great mystery if birders found bodies in these remote places they go birding.

Q: Are you a birdwatcher?

A: I am! Most of my birdwatching takes place on my porch, though. We’re lucky enough to back up to a preserved piece of forest and marsh, so I get lots of varieties of birds passing through my yard. I’m not at all a dedicated birdwatcher like my protagonist – I have yet to drive hours in hopes of seeing a specific bird in the wild!

Q: Do you have a favorite feathered focus?

A: I love Bald Eagles. Every time I see one flying, I have to stop what I’m doing and just gaze at it. The grace and power of that bird is awe-inspiring for me.

Q: Conservation themes are a recurring theme in your books. What kind of research goes into this?

A: A great deal! I do extensive research on conservation issues to be sure I cover both pro and con sides in my novel. I do a lot of online investigating, I read books, I interview experts in the field, I watch videos. I find it all so interesting, I wish I could put more of the research into my books, but I always have to balance what is necessary to the story, and what is just interesting information.

Sometimes I turn up really funny anecdotes to include. For instance, in A Murder of Crows, I was researching complaints about wind farms, and found a few stories about folks who insisted that the frequency of the turbines gave them hallucinations, so they wanted to sue the wind farms. The complaints, it turned out, were fabricated in hopes of getting financial settlements. That’s the kind of material I love to work into stories.

Q: Tell us about your protagonist and the skill sets he brings to the table?

A: Bob White, as an expert birder, is a skilled observer, so he notes details others might miss as he tries to solve murders or mysteries. He’s also a sensitive listener, and as a high school counselor, he’s trained to problem-solve and listen to his gut instinct when it comes to the human element. He’s also very likable and non-threatening, which often can catch his antagonists off-guard to his own benefit.

Q: If your books were turned into a television series, who would play the lead?

A: Tom Hiddleston has the height, the smile, and the likability.

Q: How much of your books are based on real places and real people?

A: A lot! I love writing about real places both to give readers a grounding in reality and because then I get to go there myself in order to capture it on the page. Many of my characters are composites of people I’ve met: my protagonist, Bob White, is partly a combination of two high school counselors I know, my son, my husband, and me. I really enjoy creating new characters, too, because I start with one very human trait and build from there.

Q: Do your characters ever talk to one another – or, for that matter, to you – inside your head?

A: Just a minute – let me check with them, and I’ll get back to you. (Pause) Yes, yes, they do.

Q: Have they ever surprised you over the course of writing their actions and conversations?

A: All the time! Here I thought that as the creator of the characters, I got to call all the shots, but being an author is like being a mom – they don’t always listen to you or do what you want them to do! I know I’m controlling too much when I find myself stuck in the progress of my plot. That’s when I realize I’ve written all of us into a corner, and I need to go back and really let the characters drive the plot, not me. Sometimes, I’ll read a piece of dialogue I’ve slaved over and then delete it all, because it’s not the character’s voice, it’s mine. Like kids, characters can be really stubborn when things don’t go their way.

Q: How did you go about making the all-important decision of who would publish your work?

A: It was the process of elimination. I spent almost three years querying agents to represent me to a national publisher, but no one took me on as a client. After several agents said that no one was interested in birds – even though it’s one of the fastest growing hobbies in America – I decided to try a small publisher in Minnesota since we have a very active birding community in the state. I researched regional publishers (no agent required) and found North Star Press, Inc. of St. Cloud. They focused on books with a Minnesota tie-in, and my publisher herself was a birder, so she was very enthused about the project. That was five books ago.

Q: What do you know now about the publishing world that you didn’t know when you started?

A: Writing is the easiest part of a writer’s task – once you’re published, you need to devote enormous amounts of time and energy to marketing your book. I wish I’d written all 12 books in my series before I’d gotten the first one published because I’m always behind now on writing!

Q: What do your five children think about their mom’s mystery-writing career?

A: They are all totally supportive, and help me out by being my first readers and critics, teaching me more about social networking for marketing, and encouraging me to keep at it. As long as I don’t embarrass them in print, they’re okay with my writing. Although I think one of them once said I was using writing as a passive-aggressive outlet…

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: I’m writing book #6 in the series right now. It’s titled Swift Justice and will be out in 2014. I’m also planning a trip to the Rio Grande Valley to research birds and settings for book #7.

Q: Anything else you’d like readers to know?

A: I love hearing from readers at my website www.jandunlap.com and often work into the books the ideas they share with me. I’m also on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, where I pin images and ideas for upcoming books to give readers a sneak peek into what’s ahead for Bob White. Finally, I do write a brief humor blog on my website to give visitors a weekly laugh. And my publisher does offer free Kindles of my books on occasion: the third book in the series, titled A Bobwhite Killing, is going to be free on Kindle at Amazon.com July 10-14, 2013. It’s a great opportunity to try out a Birder Murder and get to know Bob White and the world of birding!

Parlor Games

Parlor Games

Was May Dugas, the globe-trotting protagonist of Parlor Games, just a sweet girl trying to make good in the big wicked city or was she a glamorously calculating con artist who left a trail of broken hearts and empty wallets everywhere she went? Author Maryka Biaggio offers insights on how a real-life grifter from the Gilded Age sashayed and swindled her way into a succession of romances, not the least of which was with the very person who is suing May at the story’s start.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: After years in the classroom as a psychology professor, what prompted you to pursue a path of fiction writing back in 2000?

A: I’d always wanted to write. Yes, it’s the same old trite story! And I finally came up with an idea and genre—a historical novel about an unknown and possibly shady period of my grandfather’s life. My family didn’t even mind that I threw in a murder to spice things up.

Q: Was it easier or harder than you imagined it would be?

A: Harder. Writing fiction is the most difficult task I’ve ever undertaken. By comparison my dissertation was a snap, getting tenured at three different universities a waltz, and paying off a mortgage in 16 years easy-peasy.

Q: Who are some of the published authors whose work you admire and whose style may have influenced your own creative approach to storytelling?

A: Barry Unsworth is one of my favorite historical novelists. He had a way of telling a profoundly moral story without sounding the least bit preachy. I also love the work of Geraldine Brooks, E.L. Doctorow, and Marilynne Robinson. Erik Larson has a marvelous knack for making nonfiction read like fiction. And Valerie Martin’s taut story-telling deserves more notice. Being a writer has “ruined” reading for me in a way—I’m always standing back and examining how writers manage the magic. But I still love to read, and when a book really transports me and I lose sight of how it happened, I admire it all the more. M.L. Stedman’s The Light Between Oceans was the last book that I completely lost myself in.

Q: You have three novels that you wrote prior to Parlor Games. What were they about and what did the completion of each one teach you about the craft of writing?

A: Those three novels haven’t found their way off my office shelf. I queried agents and I pitched them at conferences but I couldn’t drum up a publisher. They’re all historical novels. The first is the story of a young man trying to uncover the truth about his grandfather’s life (see first question), the second is based on an actual utopian community founded in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan in the 1890s, and the third is a bit more modern. It’s the story (again true) of a talented young woman who rejects her family’s wealth and runs away to New York in the 1960s to become an actress. She lands some good roles, but then she becomes obsessed with an opera star and her life unravels. With each novel I uncovered more and more lessons in what I didn’t know. Writing fiction is like becoming a musician: You must practice—for long hours, for many years, and attune your ear to detect both the screechy and tuneful notes.  

Q: So tell us what ignited your fascination with the real-life May and her deliciously scandalous reputation.

A: On a lark I stopped at the Menominee Information Center back in summer of 2009 during a family vacation. There in a glass case I spied a document (as it turns out, a Chicago Tribune article), the first line of which read, “The Pinkertons had her down in their files as the most dangerous woman in the world.” This writer couldn’t resist the urge to make May provide an account of her life. That’s why the novel is told in first person.

Q: Had all of your research been collected and organized prior to starting the book or were you looking up things as you went along?

A: I researched as I wrote. I tracked down newspaper reports of the trial early on, and I wrote all those scenes first. Then I started on May’s life story, digging up the dirt as I moseyed along.

Q: The storyline artfully cuts back and forth between May’s “present-day” trial in 1917 and the three decades preceding it. What governed the decision to use intercuts rather than a purely linear progression of events?

A: I feared chapter after chapter about a trial would slow the action too much. And I liked the idea of referring to events in the trial and then hinting at them in the history shortly afterward. I hoped that would keep the reader interested in both the trial and May’s life story.

Q: You have a wonderful quote on your author page by William Martin that says, “The historian serves the truth of his subject. The novelist serves the truth of his tale.” How much creative license did you employ in managing all of the moving parts of May’s colorful escapades?

A: I learned the broad outlines of May’s adventurous life through research, and I tried to stay true to these events (or at least the historical accounts of them, which were sometimes inconsistent). Creative license came into play as I tried to build conversations and the day-to-day events behind the escapades. I would spend weeks trying to figure out how she managed a particular con. She had much more talent in that department than I do!

Q: If Parlor Games were made into a movie or a Masterpiece Theatre series on television, who would make up the dream cast? (I think the role of Frank is tailor-made for Kathy Bates.)

A: Kathy Bates—what an inspired choice! I’d love to see Marion Cotillard play May. She has the striking features, hauntingly mysterious manner, and French flare that make her perfect for the role. I picture Harry Connick, Jr., playing Detective Dougherty.

Q: From a psychological perspective, would you categorize May as the sympathetic victim of a chauvinistic era or as a sly opportunist who would have engaged in criminal activity regardless of her circumstances?

A: I think of May as a woman with great ambition and an adventurous spirit. During the Gilded Age women’s roles were quite circumscribed, and she simply didn’t want to settle for mundane marriage, not even one that brought wealth with it. She wanted to travel the world, mingle with the rich and famous, and see how far she could push a con. Today she’d probably be CEO of some wildly successful corporation. Or an international jewel thief.

Q: Do your characters ever surprise you?

A: Yes, and that is one of the most delightful experiences of the writing process. Sometimes when I’m drafting a scene I close my eyes and just let my fingers fly over the keyboard. Some of the dialogue that has popped into my head when I give the characters free rein does surprise.

Q: If May’s philosophy of life were printed on a t-shirt, what would it say?

A: “Looking for love in all the moneyed places.”

Q: Had the Pinkertons not been her constant nemesis, with whom do you think May would have found the most happiness?

A: I think May was downright disarmed by Johnny, the young man she met in Tokyo. He was unlike most of her other “companions.” He was trusting and fun-loving, and he believed she was just who she said she was. She hated having to leave him—but she chose to do that rather than shatter his innocent spirit by revealing her scandalous background.

Q: I love the inclusion of “Parlor Talk” on your website in which your society-savvy protagonist dispenses advice to the lovelorn. Is this an interaction you plan to continue?

A: I hadn’t planned on it but if any damsels in distress need May’s assistance, I’m sure she’d be glad to share her wisdom.

Q: So many book clubs these days are utilizing the technology of Skype to invite authors into their living room meetings. How has this worked out for you and what do readers need to know in order to book you for a virtual appearance?

A: I’ve done both face-to-face and Skype book club visits. Both are great fun. The live visits afford more opportunity for mingling and special twists. For one group we recreated the dinner May shared with Claude Montcrief (p. 32). Skype sessions tend to be more focused and “on topic,” which makes for good in-depth discussion. Readers can contact me through my website (www.marykabiaggio.com), and I will gladly schedule an appearance with their book club.

Q: What would readers be most surprised to learn about you?

A: I’m very humble.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: I’m making good progress on another historical novel based on a real person—Barbara Follett, daughter of famous literary critic Wilson Follett. She was a child writer prodigy educated at home by her mother Helen Follett, who was also a writer. At the age of 12 Barbara published her first novel to critical acclaim. Then tragedy struck the family.

Q: What did you as a writer hope to accomplish with Parlor Games?

A: I aimed to entertain!

Author’s P.S.: And indeed she did!

 

 

 

 

Media Interviews 101 – An Article

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THE TEN WORST THINGS TO DO WHEN THE MEDIA CALLS

By Christina Hamlett

The dream of almost every author when his/her new book comes out is to get a request from a journalist to do a feature interview about it. Yippee! Huzzah! Can fame and fortune be far behind once you become a media darling?

Unfortunately – and because most people think of interviews only in the context of job-hunting – the potential for totally botching this invitation to free publicity is pretty high. Herein are the 10 most common mistakes that will land you on a reporter’s never-call-again list. (Note: Although the focus is on authors, the advice is applicable to spotlight moments for virtually any other industry.)

  1. Blowing It Off. Even if you’re maniacally busy, terminally lazy, or simply aren’t interested, it’s a matter of professional courtesy to at least acknowledge the request and say thank you. While now and then a reporter will follow-up to see if a query trickled into spam folders or a phone message accidentally got deleted, it’s much easier to cross off your name and move down the list rather than to keep chasing you. Not surprisingly, a number of authors that have ignored my original invitation will call me a year later and expect me to still be wildly interested in them.
  2. Sending Clips of Previous Interviews. “These will give you some ideas of how to write my story,” they’ll explain. Perhaps they think they’re just being helpful, unaware that a good journalist will already have done his/her homework to learn as much about the interviewee as possible. The underscored message, however, is that they think the reporter doesn’t know what s/he is doing and needs to learn from examples. Even worse are those who say they’re too busy for an interview but they don’t mind if I cut and paste from prior publications. Does it not occur to them that those previous reporters would be torqued or that yours truly could be perceived as a plagiarist?
  3. Sending More Than Is Requested. If an agent asks to see the first 5 pages of your novel, do you really think you’ll endear yourself by sending 407 along with a smiley-face note that you just knew they’d be hooked and want to read the whole manuscript? Unless a reporter specifically asks to see more than a brief bio and a 25-word synopsis of your project to prep for an upcoming story, do not annoy them by sending your headshot, Amazon reviews, sample chapters, glowing testimonials, or Facebook links. The same goes for word-count parameters. When I tell an interviewee that his/her story will run about 2,000 words, the last thing I want to get is 6,500 words and instructions to “just go ahead and edit out whatever you don’t want.”
  4. Being a Flake/Missing Deadlines. Promoting your work should be your highest priority. If you’re scheduled to do a television, radio/podcast or Skype interview, nothing less than a genuine emergency should cause you to have to reschedule it. When you cause an interviewer to have to scramble at the last minute to fill your slot with someone else, don’t expect to get asked back any time soon. Whenever a journalist gives you a date that s/he would like to receive your email interview replies, it’s because that interview has been slated for a specific issue/publication date. You shouldn’t have to be reminded multiple times to turn in your content. If you absolutely need an extension, ask for one as far in advance as possible.
  5. Being a Pest. You’re not the reporter’s only story. Seriously. If you’re constantly sending emails, leaving voicemail messages and asking for progress reports, it won’t take long to wear out your welcome. You must also be mindful of the fact that “freelance” does not mean “free at all hours of the day and night.” A freelance reporter will certainly do everything humanly possible to accommodate your schedule but expecting him/her to take your calls at 3 a.m. or on holiday weekends is neither reasonable nor professional.
  6. Rewriting the Questions. In my experience, this happens with authors more than any other group. If you’re asked a question that you feel is inappropriate, repetitive or off-message, politely bring it to the interviewer’s attention at the outset rather than rewriting it yourself. My own worst-case scenario was an author who not only snarkily re-wrote all of my questions but also wrote “my” introduction to what a fabulous person she was.
  7. Saying “It’s All In My Book.” Let’s say you went to buy a high-tech appliance. Every time you asked the salesman about a particular feature, you were told, “Oh, it’s all in the user’s manual.” Would you really feel inclined to make a purchase? The purpose of any interview is to sell yourself as the expert, not do a hard-sell commercial for your product. If you can’t impart useful tidbits to whet a reader’s appetite, you’re approaching the interview process in entirely the wrong way.
  8. Expecting the Journalist to Become Your Personal PR Firm. On the one hand, it’s flattering that someone likes the way you develop a feature story about them. On the other hand, it’s nothing short of pushy on their part to now expect you to become their 24/7 marketing maven, redesign their website, get them booked on radio shows, and write advertising copy for them…all of which they expect you to do for free. (It’s also not uncommon for interviewees to expect you to become their BFF just because you’re paying attention to them.)
  9. Asking For Previews/Demanding Copies Upon Publication. Unless the interview is in conjunction with paid advertising, you’re not entitled to review the story prior to its publication. This only holds up the process. Nor is it appropriate to ask a journalist, “You’re not going to make me look terrible, are you?” This is akin to asking a surgeon while you’re on a gurney being wheeled into surgery, “Do you promise not to kill me?” With online publications, I always provide my interviewees with a link when their story goes live. For print media, I provide interviewees with a pdf version. With books, magazines and newspapers, you’d be surprised how many people ask me if I can get them x-number of copies – and deliver them – so that they can send them to friends and relatives. Sorry, guys – if you want extras, you need to contact the publication yourself and purchase whatever number you want.
  10. Trivializing the Journalist’s Role. Last but not least is the most common excuse I hear from interviewees about why they haven’t responded in a timely and responsible manner: “Unlike you, I have to work for a living.” Do they really think that reporters just sit around all day eating bon-bons, watching soaps, and taking naps? Being in the media may sound glamorous on the surface but it’s still work. Hard work. Work that often extends well beyond an 8-hour day. Trust me: We’re just as busy as you are.

Thresholds

Adrianne Hall

“In all secrets there is a kind of guilt, however beautiful or joyful that may be, or for what good end they may be set to serve,” wrote Gilbert Parker. “Secrecy means evasion, and evasion means a problem to the moral mind.”

Throughout her debut novel, Thresholds, Adrianne Marie Hall’s skill as a storyteller deftly demonstrates that no matter the intention behind the smallest lie or casual secret of fleeting convenience, it holds the power to become a weapon of mass destruction. Hall shares how her journey as a writer began…and what path she plans to take next.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

**********

Q: When did you first know that you wanted to be a writer?

A:  When I was eight years old, my third teacher gave the class an assignment to read the poem Stopping by Woods on a Snowing Evening by Robert Frost. I absolutely loved that poem and as we discussed the poem in class, the concept of describing and or expressing one’s thoughts, feelings and ideas into something as compact as a poem was the spark that ignited my interest in writing poetry.                           

Q: Did you read a lot as a child and young adult?

A: Having older siblings and parents who loved to read and write was a blessing that resulted in my learning to read and write before I started kindergarten. As a matter of fact by my first day of kindergarten I had read Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White but I hadn’t yet learned how to tie my shoe strings. I am still an avid reader… and I still don’t like shoestrings.    

Q: What were some of the books and who were some of the authors that made a lasting impression on you as an aspiring writer?

A: My favorite book will probably always be To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Not only is the story fantastic, I just love the fact that Harper wrote just one fabulous book in 1960 and it is still in print all of these decades later.  A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith is also a book at the top of my favorites list but I also have to mention The Stand by Stephen King, Runaway Jury by John Grisham, and The Help by Kathryn Stockett.  I love to read and have read hundreds of fantastic books in my life. What I look for is a story that keeps me engaged, and surprises me at the end.    

Q: What are you currently reading?

A: I am actually reading through the 4 volume Digital Photography Library by Scott Kelby which might sound boring to some people but I love photography almost as much as I love to write. Just a few weeks ago I was able to meet Scott in person when I attended a photography seminar that he was teaching at the LA Convention Center. He is a photography guru.    

Q: If you could go to dinner with your favorite author, who would it be, where would you go, and what question would you most like to ask him or her?

A: My favorite author is none other than Harper Lee. I would love to invite her to the Four Seasons Tea Room in Sierra Madre where we would sip tea, munch on some of their delightful finger sandwiches and delicious scones. Then I would ask Harper if she could share with me what her process was for deciding to write the classic story To Kill a Mocking Bird. Finally I would ask her to sign my copy of the novel which my father gave me when I was 12 years old.   

Q: Tell us about what inspired you to write Thresholds.

A: Well, Thresholds began 18 years ago when I decided to take some of the characters that I had in my arsenal and bring them to life in a novel. The story line has been rewritten and reworked over the years but my focus was always the same. Using the premise that “Everyone has a secret and some of those secrets cross over the threshold to being outright lies I wanted to tell a story about how secrets and lies take on lives of their own. They get out of hand and wreak havoc in the lives of the secret keepers, the lie tellers, and most often in the lives of those who are innocent bystanders.     

Q: Who’s your target audience for the book?

A:  I would say that my target audience would be any adult who enjoys fiction packed with twists and turns and adult content. Recently, I autographed a copy of Thresholds for a very spry woman in her late seventies. She shook my hand and told me that she not only enjoyed reading the novel, but she thought it was “Juicy”.  I think I actually blushed.     

Q: How do you go about creating and developing authentic characters that will resonate with your readers?

A: I have characters that pop into my head all of the time. Sometimes they are born from an unusual name that I hear or a quirky personality trait that I see in someone. I create short character bios that are 2 to 3 sentences long which I file away for a while until I decide to develop the character a little more. When I develop a character I create a mini-story about them that may range from a few paragraphs to a few pages, and again I file that away until the time comes for me to bring that character to life in a story.      

Q: Do you work from an outline or just let your characters guide you as you go along?

A: I actually start with a story idea and then work on the last two pages of the story. During this process I decide on which characters from my arsenal I plan to include, and from there I just let the writing juices flow. With my novel Thresholds, I wrote down the title of the novel, the premise for the story which is that “Everyone Has A Secret……” and I decided to use Carley and Winter as my main characters both of which were characters that I pulled out of my arsenal that I created at least four years or so before I started writing the novel.      

Q: Have your characters ever surprised you over the course of bringing them to life?

A: Oh absolutely. Without giving away any details and ruining it for those who have not yet read Thresholds, the character Patrick Bernard had to die.   

Q: If Thresholds were turned into a movie, who would play the two lead roles?

A: Wow that’s a great question. To be honest, I would love for the characters of Carley and Winter to be played by two aspiring and gifted young women who have never before been down or near a ‘red carpet’. For every movie star that we see or hear about, there are dozens of undiscovered and equally talented people just waiting for their chance. It would be spectacular if two unknown young women were able to take their talent and make the characters of Carley and Winter shine on the big screen. 

Q: Do you allow anyone to read your work in progress or do you make them wait for the finished product?

A: I make them wait for the finished product.

Q: Which do you feel is more challenging – writing fiction or nonfiction (and why)?

A: I still write poetry every now and then just for fun which is about as close to nonfiction as I can get. I have a collection of poetry which I might publish one day. For short story and novel writing, I prefer fiction because I love surprises and playing around with reality. I grew up watching the Twilight Zone, Creature Features, Night Gallery and Alfred Hitchcock which fed my already overactive imagination. Writing fiction is not a challenge at all… I love everything about it. I might someday try my hand at writing nonfiction. When and if I do, the challenge for me will be not including something that was completely over the top, unimaginable, or out of the box.   

Q: How did you go about identifying a publisher for your project?

A: A few years ago, I met Azaan Kamau who runs Glover Lane Press. She was such a delight and took the process of publishing seriously. When it was time for me to pursue publishing my book, I naturally contacted her. She liked my novel and the rest is history. 

Q: What do you know now that you didn’t know when your publication journey began?

A:  I know more now about ISBNs than I could have ever thought necessary!

Q: You also recently launched your own business which has a unique connection to the book-loving world. Tell us about it.

A: You must be talking about Beadie Beads BookJewelry which is “A bookmark that is so unique, it has to be called BookJewelry. I actually started that company 14 years ago.

(Editor Note: Adrianne’s interview on her BookJewelry business can be found at http://thefaceofbusiness.wordpress.com/2013/02/04/beadie-books-bookjewelry/)

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: For over 15 years it has been a dream of mine to get into the independent publishing business but I put off pursuing that dream while raising my children. Now that the three of them are adults with college degrees and careers of their own, I am moving forwarding with Anthurium Publishing LLC.   

Q: Where can readers learn more about you…and buy your book?

A: Readers can learn more about me at www.authorstourusa.com and at www.thresholdsthenovel.com.  My novel can be purchased in both paperback and in the Kindle versions through Amazon. On the Thresholds website there is an Amazon.com link that will take readers directly to the Amazon website where they can make their purchase. The Thresholds website also includes information for those who would like to purchase an autographed copy of Thresholds directly from me. Webster’s Fine Stationers located at 2450 N. Lake Ave, in Altadena, California also carries copies of my novel as well.      

 

 

Onward & Upward: Reflections of a Joyful Life

Onward and Upward

Okay, by a show of hands, who thinks they have the craziest answer to the question, “Where did you spend your 21st birthday and why?”

A guy toward the back who looks like a tall, introspective Dustin Hoffman responds to the challenge.

“And your name, sir?”

“Michael. Michael Wiese. I just wrote a book called Onward & Upward that I’d like to talk about.”

“Do you have any special credentials for being here?”

“I make meaningful films, I publish the works of talented writers, and I live on the Cornwall Coast.”

“Anything else?”

(beat) “Well, I know The Great Ken Lee. I mention that on page 164.”

“Seriously?”

“Seriously. I don’t make this stuff up.”

“Now about that 21st birthday story…”

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: At age 12, you had every expectation of the secret of life being revealed to you on Confirmation Day. If as the adult Michael you could travel back in time and whisper in the ear of your younger self, what would you say?

A: There is no death.  The Earth is your paradise.  Look within.

Q: One of your childhood aspirations was to grow up and be an ice cream man. Would you have sold cones straight off a truck and had little kids cheer your arrival on their street or had your own soda parlor and invited ice cream lovers of all ages to sit and linger? (and what do you think your choice reveals about your personality?)

A: Selling ice cream from a bicycle.  I like the element of surprise – showing up unexpectedly with a treat.

Q: You spent your 21st birthday in an unexpected venue and for a reason that could cause many people to raise an eyebrow. What was it, did you ever do it again, and what did the experience teach you?

A: I was in court standing before a judge with my film crew after being arrested shooting a nude scene of a dancing couple in a field.  Did I ever do it again?  Yes.  What did I learn?  To be more careful and never shoot in fields that Girl Scout troops walk through again. (laughs)

Q: Music is a recurring theme throughout the chapters of Onward and Upward. If you were involved in the music scene today, what would you be performing/producing?

A:  Indian tabla, of course.

Q: What was your inspiration to become a publisher and launch Michael Wiese Productions?

A:  Necessity!  Twelve publishers rejected my first book, I had to do it myself.  It sold 50,000 copies and I started publishing other writers as well as my own books.

Q: With so many screenwriting and filmmaking books out there on today’s market, what do you feel keeps MWP sustainable? In other words, do you ever worry about running out of topics to cover?

A:  We provide information that has – until now – been closely held film industry secrets.  We kicked open the doors with our books.  Like Mother Nature, we will never run out of ways to express ourselves creatively.  There are many facets on a diamond.

Q: You recently launched a new imprint, Divine Arts. Tell us about it and the correlation to your own spiritual journey.

A:  We are in service to provide a conduit for sacred knowledge, both ancient and emerging.  Divine Arts books demonstrate how one can bring mindfulness to daily life and reconnect with the sacred nature within.

Q: Having spent so much time behind a camera, which is the greater challenge for you – to direct the energies and skill sets of other people to deliver your vision for a documentary or to exercise the solo discipline of putting your thoughts on paper every day and writing a book as deeply introspective – and humorous – as Onward and Upward?

A:  Having Parkinson’s has made me refocus and reduce my energies toward a one-man band kind of filmmaking.  I no longer have the stamina for crews and 14 hour days.  I may hire assistants to carry the gear or an editor to help put the film together, but my challenge nowadays is to make small, personal, sacred journey films on a micro-budget.  Books or films all require a disciplined and committed approach.

Q: Documentaries that seek to introduce the world to little-known cultures often do so at the price of foisting “civilization” on tribes that were perfectly happy being ignorant of modern trappings and technology. What is your advice to aspiring documentary filmmakers insofar as doing no harm in their quest to bring home a compelling story?

A:  Walk softly.  Don’t leave a footprint.  Be very respectful.  Bring as little equipment as possible.  Leave the ‘video circus’ at home.

Q: How does the Balinese connection to the divine that you observed and experienced in your 20s help you to stay focused and positive in dealing with your recent diagnosis of Parkinson’s?

A:  I focus on the daily miracles of what I can do:  Seeing and smelling the flowers in my garden.  Hearing the ocean and birds singing. Feeling the breeze and warmth of the sun.  Like the Balinese with their constant offerings, I give gratitude daily.

Q: For you, what are the distinctions between being religious and being spiritual?

A:  Religions ask you to believe.  Believing what someone tells you to believe is not very useful.  Having an experience of the divine makes the spiritual real for you.

Q: The chapters of Onward and Upward are replete with anecdotes of famous people with whom you have crossed paths and drawn inspiration. Is there anyone you wish you could have met and if so, what question would you most like to have asked him or her?

A:  I’d like to ask Robert Johnson if he really sold his soul to the devil at the crossroads?  Of Einstein I’d ask how many dimensions are there and who lives there?  And I’d ask Carl Jung why he didn’t publish The Red Book when he was alive?

Q: When you learned that you were going to be a father at age 45, what was your first thought?

A:  Forty-five is the new thirty-five!

Q: Had you met your beloved soul-mate Geraldine 20 years earlier, what would your approach to parenting have been?

A: No difference.  Babies didn’t come with an Operating Manual then either.

Q: Parents often tell their children, “Do as I say, not as I do.” Has Julia shown signs of emulating the wild and crazy days of your own youth? If so, what’s your response going to be?

A:  You bet she has!  It’s natural and healthy to experiment and test the world.

Q: What’s the most recent movie you saw and what did you most love/hate about it?

A: “The Cave of the Yellow Dog”.  A wonderful Mongolian film about a nomadic family.

Q: What inspires you the most about living on the Cornwall coast?

A:  It’s elemental magnificence.  It’s like Big Sur on steroids.

Q: What would most people be surprised to learn about you?

A: Just about everything I write about in Onward and Upward.  I’ve been many people and had many lives.  Most people who know me see only one face.  The book reveals all!

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A:  An esoteric quest in Sicily. An interactive e-book.  The first screening in London of my latest film, “Living with Spirits: 10 Days in the Jungle with Ayahuasca”.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: I thank you for your challenging and insightful questions.  Sorry to ramble on so. 😉

Onward and Upward is available now through www.mwp.com or Amazon.

 

Upon Your Return

UponYourReturn_E-bookCover

“The two most engaging powers of an author,” wrote William Makepeace Thackeray, “are to make new things familiar, familiar things new.” For writers of historical romance, it takes a skillful balance of researching unfamiliar elements of the past and creating a seamless backdrop against which a tale as old as time – the familiar quest for romance – can unfold in fresh and exciting ways. In her latest novel, Upon Your Return, author Marie Lavender aptly rises to this challenge and delivers the story of a young woman whose dreams of adventure and true love yield far more than she bargained for.

 Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

 **********

Q: Tell us a little about your journey as a writer and what attracted you to making it a career.

A:  Well, that’s quite a long story. I’ll try to make it as short as possible. I always wanted to be a writer, ever since I was a kid. I started writing stories then. I went around telling my family, “I want to be an author!”  It was never for the fame or the money. I just simply love writing. When I’m writing, when I’m truly in the moment, I’m happy. There is no other feeling in the world like it. I guess I can be myself when I’m writing. And that feels good.

Q: Were you a voracious reader as a child and young adult?

A:  Yes. I was always reading, always going to the library to get some book or other. I was in a lot of reading programs as a kid. I spent most of my free time reading. I mean, I even snuck around and when my mom had sent me to bed, I would use a small light to read by.

Q: Who are some of the authors that you would say most influenced your own style of storytelling?

A:  As far as contemporary and historical romance, I’ve read a lot of Nora Roberts, Jennifer Blake and Catherine Coulter books. I’m also pretty sure Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones as well as lot of her other reference books helped me to open up in my writing.

Q: If you could have lunch with one of your favorite authors, who would it be and what question would you most like to ask him or her?

A:  That’s a tough question!  I like so many authors. Though I’d love to meet any of them, of course, I would probably want to visit J.R. Ward (because of my love for paranormal romance) and ask her what inspired her to write the Black Dagger Brotherhood series. It is so great. I just wonder if maybe one of the characters was inspired by a real person.

Q: What are you reading now?

A: Black Rose by Nora Roberts, from her In the Garden trilogy.

Q: Tell us about Upon Your Return and what inspired the storyline.

A:  Well, ever since I started writing, stories just come to me without any rhyme or reason. They come in any order too, which can really drive me crazy, but that’s a topic for another time. So, I’m doing something pretty mundane like going to a doctor’s appointment or something, and suddenly I can clearly see the two characters having a pretty intense dialogue session. So as it plays out in my head, I think, “Well, this would be a great story!”  Everything just kind of fell into place after that…I mean, I knew pretty much right away what was going to happen with the characters. Of course, I was surprised here and there. But, I somehow knew what to do with it. I look back now, though, and because of how long it took me to write and perfect it, it really seems to be a sum of the romantic experiences in my own life.

Q: Given that it’s set against a historical backdrop, do your characters interact with any real-life people or react to any real-life events?

A:  Yes. Though I don’t have an exact scene for it, there is a casual mention that Captain Grant Hill has interacted with Napoleon III before. And some of the story is set against the backdrop of the French intervention in Mexico in 1863. I also did a section on the rise of Feminism in France in the 1830s-40s, and how the heroine reacts to it.

Q: If Upon Your Return were a movie, who would be your dream cast for it?

A:  Wow!  Hard question. I have thought it would make a good movie, but that’s just the writer in me seeing it play out in my head. I guess I was thinking either Amy Adams or Isla Fisher to play Fara, and maybe Gerard Butler for Grant. I’m not sure about who would play the secondary characters.

Q: What genre is the most challenging for you to write?

A:  At this point, I would have to say historical romance. A ton of research goes into it. Of course, it helps to be familiar with the genre, but that doesn’t cut it alone. I am working on the sequel to Upon Your Return right now, and this time around, it’s just as hard. Oh, well. That’s what I asked for, right?  But, I’m invested in the characters and I’m going to tell the story. I just have to get some questions answered first.

Q: What comes first for you in planning a story – the setting, the characters or the core conflict?

A:  My scenes come to me out of sequence. But, I develop a basic outline of the story right away. I would say the characters are first, then the main conflict, of course. The setting comes later unless it drives the conflict.

Q: If you were teaching a class on Heroes and Heroines 101, what would your primary message be to aspiring writers?

A:  Well, a character in any story has to be three-dimensional so that’s the most important. A well-rounded character. A likeable character as well, someone the reader can identify with. It’s funny, but sometimes those little things such as a character’s likes or dislikes don’t come out until later on. And they can always surprise you at any point. With my current work-in-progress, I was pretty sure I had the heroine down pat, but then she went and shocked me with her basic motivation. So, I guess my advice would be this: make good characters, but don’t be afraid to make them human either. Let them make mistakes.

Q: Do you consider yourself a romantic?

A:  Oh, yes. I can be logical about some things, of course. But, I have always believed in love, in true love really. And I believe in fate. We all have a purpose in life.

Q: What decisions went into your choice of a publisher?

A:  One, I was at my wit’s end with the never-ending pursuit of looking for a literary agent. It’s a tough industry out there. And then, there are really only a select few publishers who take unsolicited manuscripts. Solstice Publishing was my light in the dark. I used Preditors&Editors website like a manual basically because I didn’t want to fall into some kind of trap. But, then I saw Solstice listed there and I thought…hmm. There was nothing negative listed about them. Why not?  They had a decent website. And now, I’m so glad I did because the founder, Melissa Miller, is a peach and Nik Morton, the editor-in-chief, is great. The editor they assigned to me, Shawna Williams, was fantastic. Kayden McLeod, the cover artist, did a wonderful job. I just couldn’t have asked for anything better!

Q: What are your thoughts on the fact that self-publishing is steadily gaining in popularity over traditional channels?

A:   This is a tough topic because both sides really touch me personally. I self-published 15 books before Upon Your Return was released. I think traditional publishing will always survive. But, I also agree that self-publishing is gaining a momentum. The key for self-published authors, though, is to make sure they edit their work before submitting. I believe there is a lot of undiscovered talent out there, however, and if they choose to self-publish, more power to them. That’s so great!  Because showing initiative is important in this business as well.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A:  Well, as aforementioned, I am working on the sequel to Upon Your Return. It will be titled Upon Your Honor. I hesitate to give many details at this point, but the next two books, Upon Your Honor and Upon Your Love, will be about the children from the first book. So I need to finish the Heiresses in Love series (Upon Your Return is book one). I also have a lot of other projects I’d like to work on. I am writing a romantic suspense with another author. And I have several other series and stand-alone books in mind, enough to keep me busy for some time to come.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A:  Upon Your Return is available on Solstice, CreateSpace, Amazon, Barnes&Noble, Smashwords and Kobo.