Capsized: A Novel in Verse

Capsized

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,

And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;

And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,

And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.

What accounts for our longstanding fascination with the sea, with ships and with the siren call to distant destinations? Anne Tews Schwab applies her own love of all things nautical to Capsized: A Novel In Verse – an imaginative story told in poems about sailing, music, family and swirling teenage emotion.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Let’s start with telling us how your personal journey as a writer began.

A: My writing journey began at age three. I had recently mastered writing my first name, and was eager to share my writing prowess with my whole neighborhood.  Red crayon clutched in my hand, I hurried outside and proceeded to write on the walls of the house, the door of the garage, the silver trash cans and the slats of our white picket fence. I was proud of my work but my mother seemed to disagree.  Soon after my crayon masterpiece was discovered, I had my first experience in editing as my mother handed me a bucket and a sponge and instructed me to start scrubbing!

Q: Were you a voracious reader growing up?

A: Yes! We weren’t allowed to watch any television except for PBS, so my sisters and I all became voracious readers at very early ages.

Q: What authors and titles especially resonate(d) with you (and why)?

A: I read so many covers off so many books, I wouldn’t have the space to name them all here, but a few that come to mind include: The Anne of Green Gables series by L.M Montgomery (because my mother read a chapter out loud to me every night before bed), Cheaper by the Dozen by Frank B. Gilbreth and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey (because I dreamed of one day having a family as big as theirs), the Nancy Drew series by Carolyn Keene and Bobbsey Twin books by Laura Lee Hope and Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh (because I had dreams of one day becoming a detective or spy),  A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (because I wanted to be as smart as Meg and wanted to believe it possible to time travel).

Q: What are you reading now?

A: The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (aka, J. K. Rowling)

Q: What is Capsized about and what was your inspiration to write it?

A: Written as a series of poems, Capsized is a fictionalized version of the some of the highs and lows and joys and woes of scow sailing and lake racing combined with a deep love of piano playing and music. Dani’s story began many years ago when I wrote a short story featuring a girl from a sailing-centric family who was deathly afraid of the water. Like Dani, I grew up sailing and playing piano, but unlike Dani, I loved the water, and my sailing and piano stories are quite different from hers!

Q: Who is your target audience and what is the takeaway value you hope to achieve with those readers?

A: I hope that young adult readers will emphasize with the plight of the main character as she struggles to balance the demands of her father, her mother, her brother and the friends that come and go in her life.  In addition to empathizing with the story’s theme, I hope that teens and tweens will come away with a new found love and/or appreciation for power and beauty of poetry.

Q: You describe Capsized as “a novel in verse.” What influenced your decision to go this particular route?

A: As part of my MFA in Creative Writing for Children and Young Adults at Hamline University, I had the privilege of penning two theses – one critical, one creative. For my first thesis, I researched extensively in the field of poetry, focusing specifically on the epic poem and how it related to a novel of my own.  As I dove deep into the epics of yore and was immersed in the world of verse, I had the lightbulb idea to rewrite a shelved prose novel entirely in poems.  When the award-winning verse novelist, Ron Koertge, was assigned as my final semester advisor, I knew I had made the right choice.

Q: What were some of the challenges you encountered in developing the story and its themes?

A: The first challenge came when my advisor advised me to put the whole prose novel away, make a bare bones outline of the general story structure from scratch and then begin again, but this time in poetic format … Yikes! The next challenges arrived as I struggled to find the poetic forms that would best represent character, setting, action and emotion.

Q: What part does setting play in the development and progression of the plot?

A: Dani’s home lake — Black Bear Lake — plays a large part in her life and the lives of her friends and family. In addition to being essential to the sailing action that takes place in the story, the lake also sets the tone and pace of the poems and prose throughout the books.  The rhythm of the winds and waves across the lake are reflected in the rhythmic development of the story and the ebb and flow style plot progression.

Q: If you could be any character in the book, which one would it be?

A: Mary — so I could tell her story (there’s so much about her that the reader never gets to see!)

Q: If you were to set sail around the world with only one person for company, who would it be and why?

A: My first choice would be my amazing husband, although it would take some convincing since he has often stated — in no uncertain terms — that he has zero desire to sail anywhere where he can no longer see land 🙂

Q: How long did this book take you to write from start to finish?

A: If we count all of the prose drafts, plus the short story that began it all, the whole process adds up to nearly ten years. If we only count the poetic drafts, it would be closer to two.

Q: Tell us a little about your writing process. For instance, do you do outlines and research in advance or create and research as you go along?

A: I am more of a pantster than an outliner – I tend to write by the seat of my pants, letting the plot develop and the story grow until the first draft is done. After that, I will go back and outline the basic structure to find the holes, pinpoint the flaws and discover what more is needed.

Q: What are some fun or interesting facts about Capsized you’d like readers to know?

A: The sail number and name on the X boat pictured on the cover are the same as my boat’s name and number from back when I was an X-boat racing teenager, but that’s not me or my boat in the picture!

Q: In classrooms across the country, the study of poetry has seriously fallen by the wayside. Further, aspiring writers are often discouraged from writing poetry because there just isn’t any money in it. What’s your reaction to this?

A: It’s true, there is not a lot of money in poetry, but, as I tell teens today, poetry has a power that cannot be denied.  With poetry, deep emotions can be expressed in non threatening ways.  With poetry, teens can speak deep truths. I like to borrow the words of a certain wise doctor when I speak with teachers and teens and tweens of today about poetry, telling them that, with poetry in their pocket, “Oh, the Places You Will Go!” (apologies to Dr. Seuss).

Q: How did you go about finding the right publisher for your work?

A: I submitted my book to a wide range of traditional publishers, but as a quiet verse novel, Capsized did not garner a strong interest from agents and/or publishing houses.  After some careful research, I found North Star Press, a local publisher with strong poetry collections. Through their guided self-publishing arm, Polaris Publications, I was able to bring Dani’s story from manuscript form to published fruition.

Q: What kinds of things are you doing to promote the book now that it’s out?

A: Interviews, book signings, mailings, book club appearances, teaching classes about poetry, teaching online workshops, contacting schools and libraries.

Q: For writers that are just starting out, what are your three best tidbits of advice?

A: 1. Write.

2. Write.

3. Write!

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: A middle grade fantasy fiction story about pirates and mermaids and destiny and family.

Q: Anything else you’d like readers to know about you or your work?

A: I write a poem a day and I would encourage all of your readers to do so as well —  poetry is perfect for all people, all places, all the time.  Poetry is perfect for you!

 

Readers can learn more about Anne by visiting the following:

Website: http://piratepoems.com/capsized

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/capsized.anovelinverse

Twitter: https://twitter.com/PoetryPlunder

 

 

The Days of Song and Lilacs

Days of Song and Lilacs

When I was 10 years old, a new movie – a musical starring Robert Preston and Shirley Jones – was opening at a theater in downtown Seattle. It was pouring rain (does it ever do anything else in Seattle?) but the line of filmgoers for that Saturday matinee stretched all the way around the block. Even at a young age, I knew I was about to see something really special. Last year marked the 50th anniversary of The Music Man and yet with the passage of decades, those same feelings of anticipation and joy return every time I catch it on television, pop in the well-worn DVD, or – for that matter – hear a marching band.

You can, thus, imagine my excitement when I discovered author Mary Beth Sartor Obermeyer whose path crossed early in childhood with that of Meredith Willson – the musical genius who brought River City, Professor Harold Hill, and Marian the Librarian to life. For anyone who loves nostalgia, tap dancing and being inspired by a beautiful message, The Days of Song and Lilacs is a must-buy delight.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: The Days of Song and Lilacs is a lovely title. What’s the story behind it and what inspired you to share your story with others?

A:  In Mason City, Iowa, in 1954, everyone seemed to have two things in abundance: music and lilacs.  Those nubby blossoms nodded along every alley, guarded each yard, I even think they made us dizzy!  And those marching bands practiced like mad, down most every street by day; and piano music floated through the sash of every window at night.  And live entertainment was everywhere, pre-television, served up like dessert—at Vivian’s Bridal Shower, Farmers’ Round-Up, Stunt Night in the Park.  I got to tap-dance out almost every night!  And, to boot: I lived down the street from Meredith Willson, who was composing his beloved The Music Man for Broadway, and—we had the same accompanist, the elderly Mabel Kelso.  Who could ask for anything more?   I was 12 years old.

Q: What ignited – and zealously fueled – your unabashed passion for wanting to tap-dance all the time?

A:  Because I could!  I lived in a time and a place.  And I didn’t have just a pulse; a metronome clacked inside me!

Q: Were there other tap dancers in your family tree or were you the first?

A: I was first.

Q: Are you still tap-dancing and, if I may be so bold, how old are you?

A: I am 71 and 1/2.   Just last week I shredded the little wooden stage at Subtext; A Bookstore, St. Paul, tap dancing, after a reading.  Sometimes I tap sitting down, an art form I developed when I decided to tap and play piano at the same time.  My mother always said I would never waste anything that I learned.

Q: Knowing Meredith Willson and sharing his accompanist had to be an incredibly inspiring experience for a young girl growing up in a small Iowa town. Tell us about it.

A: Mason City was the biggest town around.  It seemed normal to see artists grow up in Mason City and return as celebrities.   (Bil Baird is another star, home across my alley.  I played with his elderly mother and heard of her professional puppeteer—he did the “Lonely Goatherd” scene in The Sound of Music film.)  Mabel spanned decades, accompanied Meredith in 1917 when he played the piccolo, me mid 40’s-mid ‘50’s.  I followed his struggle to Broadway through her, his letters, calls, visits.  He was loyal and never gave up, qualities I believe were in the air in that town.

Q: There was quite an age difference between you and Mabel Kelso, your accompanist. Looking back, would you best categorize your interactions as that of a parent/child, teacher/student or friend/friend?

A:  We were a team!  She went with me for every program; we shared syncopation, stop time, the intro, the tacit.  I knew her look, an “atta girl,” tossed over her shoulder, her arms pumping away.  Actually, at that time, in small towns everywhere, children spent time with their elder neighbors.

Q: What’s your favorite Mabel story?

A: She was such a professional that everything seemed to stay stable, and so the memory is of constant music, support; she was a strong woman—treasurer of the musician’s union!  And strong yet 10 years after her stroke.  Meredith had a little piano made to roll over her bed.  He played the left hand over and over, but she didn’t respond.  He whispered, hummed, cheek-to-cheek—and didn’t she play the right hand!  And I have the photo, p. 290.  After my book was out, Patty Paul sent me photos of Mabel as a young woman, in a band with Patty’s father, for WCCO Radio, and they traveled in a van with their name on it.  The young Mabel was cute and tiny, perky, posing with the fellows, she almost danced off the page, to sit by me again.

Q: What’s your favorite story about the composer?

A:  Just when Meredith was pushed to do the new sure gangbuster hit, “Injun Joe,”—Meredith cold-called a big producer, Mr. Bloomgarden.  “Okay, come by my townhouse at midnight after my show, do a quick run-through,” he said.  After, Meredith, with wife Rini at his side, skated home on ice, to their hotel, in New York City.  Next morning the producer called them to his office.  “Meredith,” he said, “I would be honored to produce your beautiful musical.”  He would always treat Meredith and his music the way Meredith treated everyone, all of his life.  Sometimes life is fair.  Also—in 1981, when I organized the World’s Largest Marching Band, Minneapolis, Meredith came to the airport, not sure where he was, elderly, and—he bowed and kissed my hand!  Our memories of Mabel, I am sure, photo, p 295.  And that evening, when he stepped up to conduct, he paused, uncertain.  But when the band started he began to chant: “Whatta band, whatta band, whatta band!” and into full motion he went.

Q: Last year marked the 50th anniversary of Willson’s signature musical. When The Music Man first came out, what aspects of Mason City and its denizens – both good and bad – did you recognize in his fictitious “River City” backdrop?

A:  It was my town; it all seemed normal.  Newcomers did have to figure us out: “Come give Iowa a try!”  Imagine, though, the librarian and the piano teacher were the same person, about the biggest jobs in town.  I looked forward to falling in love on that bridge, but not with some shyster.  And I knew there was trouble wherever young boys gathered.  But our mayor was nothing like Mayor Shinn.  Ours was Ken Kew, nice and well-spoken, and he had a glass eye, made him unique.  When the film was re-made, now the town had all colors of people.  The Mayor’s wife wasn’t quite so silly.  (Both versions: the townspeople all, had music, and lilacs.)

Q: Were there any elements of the 1950’s that you really didn’t want to write about?  Did you leave them out or write about them anyway?

A: My mother did not tolerate divorce and so for her that eliminated a lot of people I adored, including Meredith Willson, Bil Baird, (but not his mother); Jackie Gleason (although we could watch the June Taylor dancers at the top of his TV show and then snap it off.)  So I couldn’t let Mom gush in the book when I knew she didn’t approve.  But the biggest thorn was that our big show in Mason City was “Darktown Varieties,” opened  with a minstrel line.  Unless I scissored a few blackface out of cast photos—and the occasional Al Jolson Impersonator,  p. 74—and re-named the show (that the whole town was in)—  It had to be in the story—one year I got the singing-dancing-acting lead, with Jack Johnson, we were 11 and 13.  So I went to a PR agency that specialized in African-American lore and history.  Their advice?  I’d been 12 years old, they said.  This was my opportunity to tell how it felt to jitterbug in those scenes, and in many North Iowa towns that had similar shows.  (The rest of the show wasn’t minstrelsy, only the opening.)  So I documented how and when it faded.  And now—the only African-American child in our school, front row in the cast photo, p. 134, emails me scenes for her own book-to-be. And how did she feel about the minstrelsy, nine years old?  “I didn’t think anything,” she says.  “They weren’t real.  No one looks like that.”

Q: What influence did your parents have on your young performing life?

A: During the depression, my mother worked in her brother’s movie theatre and she saw every musical 10 times.  I got the costumes!  And my dad loved big band music.  When he was at the University of Chicago, the ‘30’s, they lived in a hotel; the Lawrence Welk Band performed in the penthouse every Saturday night.  I got the music and dance lessons!

Q: How about your peer group? Were there other children “dancing out” almost every night, on programs, in the pre-television era of the 40’s and early 50’s?

A: Lots did—whistlers, entire accordion bands of children, and mimes; they played the bones, harmonica, most played an instrument, or sang.

Q: Did anyone ever tease you?

A: Yes, because I was different, perhaps I danced out more than most.  And the petticoats, costumes to kazoo.  That is what children do—find the one who is different, for any reason—and go for it.  But it was not bullying, just pick-picking, because they could. It is human nature to look down on someone.  Because I was so busy dancing I didn’t get to do things with them.  So I just avoided the cloakroom before school started.  When we were making music for school plays and shows—no problem.  Now they are the best readers!  I discovered that the man who came to the side door with fresh fruit and vegetables was really paying his doctor bill!

Q: Do you remember the first time you ever tap-danced for a public performance? What were the emotions in play for you that day?

A: My earliest memory is at four, I was the cheerleading mascot and did all the cheers, middle of the gym floor, at basketball games.  I loved the rhythms I made, the back and forth with the crowd, never got over that phenomenon, and I always knew that I earned it with hard work.  The day I got tap shoes, traded up from the white lace-up high-top baby shoes, was huge.

Q: What was/is your favorite tune to tap to?

A: When I was on Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion, he played “Stump the Taps” with me, live.  Butch Thompson played the piano, and I tapped, to—Clair de Lune; The Minnesota Rouser; Amazing Grace, others.  Wabash Cannonball.  If Butch Thompson plays—I can dance.  He is a premiere pianist.  Oh!  Morton Gould wrote The Tap Concerto and I did the 20-minute, four-movement piece, tap written into the score as percussion, toured with the Minnesota Orchestra.

Q: How do you feel your own music education and performing experience compares to those growing up today and those who have turned professional?

A:  It’s all music.  A crowd in any form is an audience.  I did get more live performing experience than many can get today.  Nothing stuns like standing on a stage when the curtain doesn’t open or the music doesn’t start.  No excuses.  Do it.  And I had constant music education in my school, Holy Family.  I wish music education, for all.

Q: Twice in the book is the poignant theme that music stays in the bones after much else has left; specifically, for Mabel Kelso 10 years after her stroke in Mason City and for Meredith Willson, 80, trying to guest-conduct the World’s Largest Marching Band in Minneapolis. How and why do you think this happens, that music stays until the end?

A:   I saw it happen, twice, and I have the photos.  The book, Music, the Brain and Ecstasy, helped me reflect and I shared it with my doctor father.  Music changes the brain, connects to the rhythm of the body, relaxes, pulls out a different person.  Some might call it magic; others see science.

Q: Every believable main character in a story falls out of character at least once. What did you allow your character in The Days of Song and Lilacs to do offstage and what caused it?

A:  “Well.  Doesn’t that frost your tits!” she said, back seat of her parents’ car.  And that was usually reserved for Iowa cow/farm talk—but she was 12, and oh, the frustration.  She’d just tapped her heart out on the floating stage on Clear Lake, the 4th of July and—she placed second, fourth year in a row, criminy!  But it was in that moment she realized: contests are contests!  No way can judges compare whistlers to tap dancers to mimes—or one child to an adult cowboy band.  And then came fall, and another way-out day; she was craving to just be one of the kids, for once.  It was half-time of a basketball game.  So, she swung like a monkey, high on the bars over the toilet—pumped too high—and she slipped, fell into the toilet, gashing her knee.  Actually, she was out of character quite a few times.  She really did not care to tap dance with her baby sister at first, the magnetic whipper-snapper-tapper, Julie.  We did, however, tap on the Ted Mack Original Amateur Hour, in New York City!

Q: What do you envision as the primary takeaway value for your readers when they reach the last chapter?

A: It was a time and a place, the stars crossed.  All wasn’t idyllic, then or now.  But music has the power to soften prejudice, ease economic situations, it changes the way the mind works, a case for music education for all.  And it stays in the body to the last, when much else is gone, how nice is that?

Q: How did you go about finding a publisher for your book?

A: A columnist, Barbara Flanagan, Star Tribune, reported that I had written the manuscript and “it will be published.”  After, she recommended two regional publishers.  Also, my instructor/editor at The Loft, Kate St. Vincent Vogl, Lost and Found; A Memoir of Mothers, had a good experience with her book at North Star Press.  Two weeks after my query, I was asked for the manuscript and…

Q: You have other titles out there, too. What are they and do they embrace a music theme as well?

A:  Yes.  The Biggest Dance; A Miracle on Concrete –the1,801 tap dancers I put on Hennepin Avenue, the toughest street in downtown Minneapolis, to open the newly-renovated Hennepin Center for the Arts.  Not the regular wine and cheese!  A little-engine-that-could kind of story, the scene was a grass-roots explosion of tap dancers of every size, all in tap shoes, dressed in their own red white and blue.  A lot of the arts culture of the time is in this book, 1979, Twin Cities.  (I was on the faculty of the Minnesota Dance Theatre at the time.)

The second book, Big! World Records in the Streets; Plus Tap-Dancing Galore!” tells the tale of six more large-scale people events, all went into the Guinness Book of World Records.  I had my own event/event publicity company, TA DA! Special Events for 10 years, a good use of a lifetime of dance and music and a journalism degree.

Q: What would your readers be the most surprised to know about you?

Well, it surprised me!  I needed to get my underpants to match my flapper dress, a shade of cream, not glaring white.  I was between the one rehearsal and the first performance, a solo in The Boy Friend, with the Minnesota Orchestra, Orchestra Hall, with Christopher Plummer!  So.  I went home, made some tea, and dipped the pants in, concentrating: was the boiled wet color right?  It would dry lighter.   I absent-mindedly drank the tea!

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: I proposed a class, yesterday, “Catch the Lightning; Creative Book Marketing” to the Loft Literary Center, for January; and I finished—as though any manuscript is ever finished—a story about finding my grandfather’s medical journal of the Winter of 1918—the flu pandemic.  He became Iowa history, Iowa’s Doctor of the Year, 1953, by the Iowa State Medical Society.

 

Readers can learn more about Mary Beth – and buy her books! – at www.bethobermeyer.com.

 

Earth Girl Trilogy

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Ms. Janet Edwards is an English author whose debut novel (Earth Girl) made waves across the world; she has managed to combine her love of make-believe with her knowledge of science to craft a marvelous style of writing that stays with the reader in many more ways than one.

In my book review for Earth Star (http://blogcritics.org/book-review-earth-star-by-janet-edwards/), I wrote this about Ms. Edwards’ work: “It reminds me a little bit of why I love Doctor Who, because while it is full of things that are brilliant and fun, it has an undertone of what makes humanity human, and gives us both sides of the coin. It manages to convey socially important messages in marvelous wrapping, and I am very glad that it is one of the pieces of literature to be welcomed both sides of the pond.”

Ms. Edwards is as warm and generous in person as her writing is witty and deep, and it was a treat to connect with her for this interview. You may find out more about her and her “Earth Girl Trilogy” on her website (www.janetedwards.com). You may also contact her via her Twitter (@JanetEdwardsSF) and Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/JanetEdwardsSF).

Interview by Joanna Celeste

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Q: Your debut novel, Earth Girl, was the first in the “Earth Girl Trilogy” and it garnered much acclaim, including being named as among the best Young Adult books of 2012 by both Amazon.co.uk and Kobobooks.com; did you know, starting out, that this would be a trilogy? (If so, how did you pitch something that you had not yet completed?)

A: I wrote Earth Girl to be a book that would stand alone, but by the time I finished it I had ideas about how it would fit into a trilogy, what would happen in book two, and what the end of the third book would be. I pitched Earth Girl as a single book without mentioning sequels. When my agent suggested trying to sell it as a trilogy, I spent a couple of days trying to turn my rough ideas for the next two books into something more detailed and coherent.

Q: Smart! How did you deal with the double-edged sword of so much acclaim?

A: I don’t think it’s exactly acclaim but I was certainly lucky that Earth Girl got some attention and some praise. The biggest problem for an unknown debut author is that people have no idea that you or your book exist, and it’s wonderful when people help by spreading the word.

Q: That’s a great way to look at it. What were you most concerned with, when dealing with the trilogy as your debut?

A: I’d actually written two more unrelated books in the nine months between finishing Earth Girl and getting publication offers. That meant I was fairly confident I could write more books. The big difference was that I’d written Earth Girl without any real expectation that anyone would read it.  Now I knew I’d be writing books that people would read which was a bit of a scary thought.

Q: Yes, writing something that you actually know will be read changes things. Will you publish the other books?

A: I haven’t any immediate plans for publishing those two books, but I may do if the opportunity arises.

Q: Do you have any plans for other series or genres?

A: I’m working on some ideas for series which would be science fiction like the Earth Girl trilogy, set in future worlds and walking the grey area between Young Adult and Adult. I’ve also some ideas which are a bit nearer to fantasy.

Q: That sounds wonderful! You mention in your guest post on world building [http://shusky20.blogspot.co.uk/2013/08/guest-post-on-world-building.html] that you created an alternate timeline for the “Earth Girl trilogy”, imagining each of the steps as Earth fell from grace—how did you organize this? (Did you storyboard, or keep a notebook, or have a huge chart on a wall?)

A: It’s actually just a timeline in a word document, a list of dates and what happened on them. I did it that way because if I wrote on a chart or in a notebook it would get incredibly messy when I kept adding things. There are also individual timelines for each book with the date and time of each scene.

Q: I love that about Word; it cuts down on so much of the mess from when we had to do everything by hand or typewriter or index cards. What was your process for writing the trilogy?

A: It was different for each book. In Earth Girl I just journeyed along with Jarra discovering the story as I went along. I have to be careful how I say this not to give any spoilers, but there’s a point nearly three quarters of the way through the book when she walked towards a portal and I had absolutely no idea what was going to happen. For me, a lot of the writing process happens on a subconscious level, and it was only when Jarra walked towards that portal that I found out what my subconscious had planned to happen, and exactly why I’d written several earlier scenes.

Earth Star was rather more consciously planned in advance, but there were still several points where Jarra did things that surprised me. The final book, Earth Flight, has taken some serious planning of plotlines to bring everything in the trilogy together for the conclusion.

Q: I think I stopped breathing when Jarra walked towards the portal. Do you have any books you would recommend to new writers that helped you through the different processes?

A: The book I’d recommend to other writers is Stephen King’s On Writing.

Q: Your second novel, Earth Star, was published this month in the UK and around the world (Those in the US, sadly, have to wait until April of 2014). What resources do you find you have now, that you didn’t have with Earth Girl?

A: With Earth Girl I was a complete unknown. This time round there are some bloggers and reviewers who have already read and enjoyed Earth Girl and are interested in Earth Star. That’s a big help.

Q: With writing like yours, it’s a pleasure, and you’re a lovely person to work with as well. Could you please share with us your experiences working with traditional publishers: was it what you expected, why or why not?

A: I knew very little about the publication process beforehand. As the author, I was mostly involved with the text of the book, working with my editor to improve it as much as possible. I’d expected that, but I hadn’t realized how many other things had to be done when a book is published and how long in advance they have to happen. Long before the release date for the first book, various people were quietly doing their jobs and making things happen. I was constantly surprised by things like my book appearing on online bookshops for various countries.

Q: That’s a neat way of putting it—like it takes a village to raise an author. In your experiences working with UK publishers and having your work also sold across the pond, what has been the most challenging?

A: Earth Girl was published in the UK in August 2012, and in the USA in March 2013. That meant most of work on the text had been done for the UK launch and I really only had to check the proofs for the USA. I had interviews and blog pieces to do for the UK launch, and then there was a sense of déjà vu doing more interviews and blog pieces to launch the same book in the USA.

Q: It’s almost too bad you can’t keep up a Word document with all the questions and blog posts so you can just tweak and recycle them. You mark Earth Star (and indeed the trilogy) as for Young Adult and Adult. What do you consider the strong points of a YA novel, as opposed to an adult novel?

A: I think the distinguishing thing about YA novels is their theme. Their stories involve first experiences, and characters discovering not just their world but the person they are themselves. That theme can appear in a huge range of stories, and many YA novels tackle very challenging subjects. There’s no strict boundary wall between Young Adult and Adult books, and many adults of all ages find a lot of the books they enjoy are labeled YA.

Q: Yes! Some of my favorite books are YA, but I have never seen it phrased quite so elegantly. In your guest post about becoming a writer [http://authorallsorts.wordpress.com/2013/05/13/the-journey-from-fan-to-author/], you shared with us your love for reading as a child. Since your first publication, have you had anyone contact you to thank you for being their inspiration to write?

A: It would be delightful to have that happen, but my debut Earth Girl hasn’t really been out long enough to have been the inspiration for someone else to take up writing. I have had a few deeply moving messages from people with disabilities, including invisible disabilities, who’d really identified with the book because they’ve been the target of insults in the same way as Jarra.

Q: Please elaborate on what you mean by “invisible” disabilities.

A: Invisible disabilities are ones where someone couldn’t tell you have a problem just by looking at you. Disabling illness, deafness, agoraphobia, epilepsy, there are a huge range of these that can have a damaging impact on someone’s daily life. A person with an invisible disability can find themselves in something very like Jarra’s situation, because they have to decide whether or not to tell people they meet about their problem. If they’ve told someone about it in the past and met with a bad response, disbelief, insults or jeering (sadly this really does happen with some disabilities) they may be wary of risking that again. However, not telling someone about their problem may be a risk too, because they can get into embarrassing or even dangerous situations when they can’t do something or need help. I’m sure there are more detailed and expert explanations online.

Q: Ah, Jarra faces a couple of those in Earth Star. I liked your portrayal of both sides of those “handicaps”—the socially labeled and the invisible—and the realistic limitations and potentials for overcoming them, even if by compromise. I also enjoyed your futuristic military, which are featured much more in Earth Star. How did you build up that aspect of your world?

A: My ideas for the military in the Earth Girl trilogy came from their history and the work they did. In the year of 2789, humanity lives on 1200 colony worlds spread across six sectors of space. There hasn’t been a full scale war since before the exodus from Earth started in 2310, though humanity came close to one during Beta sector’s split from the rest of the sectors during its Second Roman Empire period. There are, however, occasionally small scale conflicts limited to one planet. The separate army, navy and air forces of the past have merged into one military that’s cross-sector, recruited from every planet. These military aren’t fighting wars, they’re peacekeeping, they’re running solar arrays, but their biggest job is opening up new colony worlds.

So when I was thinking of this future military, my ideas were coming from peacekeeping forces and emergency services. I felt the future military would probably take more ideas from the air forces of the past than other forces, though I’ve deliberately used a mix of ranks from a variety of forces. I threw in a couple of other factors from the military of today. Many career soldiers in the armed forces come from families with a tradition of military service, and people leaving the armed forces can sometimes have problems adjusting to civilian life or because of the aftereffects of traumatic events. I gave my future military a strong family tradition, with most of them born into military families, and made joining the military a lifetime commitment. This is a military with its own culture, operating as both a professional force and a family, so conversations can be formal including ranks, or informal casually using first names.

Q: Awesome! It can be so fun, imagining futures and playing with current realities. What brings you the most joy as a writer?

A: Hearing that someone, somewhere, has read something I’ve written and enjoyed it. All my life I’ve had great joy in reading books and it’s wonderful when someone says that I’ve given that same feeling to them. If you ever read a book and love it then consider letting the writer know by sending them a message or writing a review. Positive feedback helps inspire authors to keep writing. Reviews spread the word to new readers, which helps authors get more books published.

Q: That’s very true; I have experienced that as a writer and as a reviewer. Your writing was quite inspiring to me, and I’m glad that we will have the chance to read more of your work. Is there anything else you would like to say?

A: I’d like to thank you for doing this interview, and to thank everyone who takes the time to write reviews. It wouldn’t be appropriate for me to comment on individual reviews to say thank you, so I like to say the occasional general thank you when I get the chance.

 

The Book of Helen

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What do you do after you win a beauty contest, your face launches a thousand ships, everyone goes to war to get you back, and a bunch of Greeks hide themselves inside a big wooden horse outside the gates of Troy? Debut author Sherry Antonetti has tapped her passion for ancient mythology and delivers a compelling tale about a glamorous icon who was smarter than most people thought.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Let’s start with what ignited your passion to become a published author.

A: I’ve always loved reading beautiful stories. My parents kept placing books in front of me like chocolate truffles.  I’d gobble them up and feel full, happy and satisfied and still want more. By the time I got to college, I became an English major, I wanted to know them all.

However the writing part of my life didn’t really take flight until 2005 when I was asked to submit a speech I’d made to the local paper.  They published it.  That beginner’s luck success led me to keep writing.  I realized I wanted to create a beautiful story, like a truffle that would leave the reader full, happy, satisfied and hopeful to be invited back for more soon.

Q: A lot of aspiring writers tell me, “I don’t have time to write.” As the parent of 10 children, you obviously orchestrated this dilemma successfully. Any been there/done that tips you’d like to share?

A: I’m still working on the time management of writing. All I know is to write every day, and remember that all of life is a balancing act.  Some days, I do better than others.  As for tips to aspiring writers, all of us have the same 24 hours.  What we do with those precious seconds every day reveals who we are, what we value, and how the rest of the world will know us.

Q: Tell us what The Book of Helen is all about.

A: Newly widowed at 65, Helen of Troy finds herself in the odd position of starting over in life with no husband, no family and facing exile on the island of Rhodes.  She hopes to establish a legacy including the stories and memories of her life beyond the events both known and embellished, that made her the most famous beautiful woman in the world.

Writing this book, I sought to answer three basic questions that go unanswered in the original texts and many of the subsequent reversions of the Helen/Paris/Menelaus Trojan War story.

1) What made Helen leave Sparta? (She’s queen, she’s in charge; she’s the actual power of that world). Most of the versions give her motive short shrift. I wanted her to have a thinking/feeling real reason for her actions and not be a mere pawn of the gods in the machine or carried away purely on emotional adrenaline.

2) What made the Trojans keep her? Yes she brought Spartan gold but eventually, that would have been an insufficient cause. They could have ended the siege by sending her out or killing her. Her beauty would have been sufficient perhaps for Paris, but what made all of Troy decide to stick it out? Helen had to be more than a pretty face to warrant a 10 year war that ended a civilization and somehow survive.

3) What made Menelaus take her back after all of that? She’s the most famous adulterer of the Greek world. She’s shamed him. She’s forced Greece to empty its city states of grown men on her behalf to bring her back. She’s caused the deaths of countless people and suffering to those left behind. The line in the Aeneid, “She bared her breasts, he dropped his sword.” is all the explanation of their reconciliation we get. Yet in The Odyssey, it is clear that the two of them have a happy marriage later in life. So how do we get from running away and a 10 year bloody war to apparent tranquil domestic hearts in accord with one another?

Q: Is this your first novel?

A: Yes.  However, I’m working on my second, “The Book of Penelope,” then hopefully, I’ll craft “The Book of Pythia.”

Q: What inspired you to make Helen the cornerstone of your story?

A: I was reading Fagles’ translation of The Odyssey. The line about Helen slipping a drug (opium) into the wine to allow the men to think about the Trojan War without getting upset jumped out at me.

Immediately I wrote a Helen story with the tag, “It started with an apple.” The original idea had been to do a series of tales (sort of an Arabian Nights) based on the various trinkets and treasures Helen deemed sentimental. It turned into something more. I envisioned her as a CEO in a predatory world. Helen became a composite of multiple strong women I’ve known in my life plus a goodly dose of the mythic woman from all the literature.

Q: Who do you think this book will most strongly appeal to (and why)?

A:  Women of all ages I think will find a lot to enjoy in Helen.  The book sports three very strong different women as the main characters, all of whom have flaws and gifts.  While a male friend who read an early preview of it, described it as Greek Chick Lit meets Game of Thrones.

As to why, Helen touches on something primal.  Every one of us wants to leave behind something more than our names, something with an epic scope.  I think readers will be rooting for Helen to somehow triumph and win everyone’s heart. We all want the happy ending, even for the fallen and the selfish, the vain and the indulgent, because we all want that level of mercy for ourselves.

Q: What do you believe is its strongest takeaway value?

A: Beauty, truth and memory matter.  They are the salt, light and music that make life something other than a grind of suffering.  When we opt to deny beauty, deny truth, or ignore memory, we lose something invaluable, part of our history and our humanity.

Q: As you began to research all of the myths about Helen, what was your most surprising discovery about her and how did you apply that to developing her character and motivations?

A: I discovered Helen to be the original Fan Fiction character. There is only one Odysseus, one Hector, one Achilles and one Penelope, but Helen has been reinvented in almost every age of Western civilization.  She’s the archetype of beauty, a succubus of pure sexuality for Faust, consigned to Level 2 of Dante’s inferno for adultery and lust, the victim of the gods, abducted against her will and in one version, she never was unfaithful at all. There are massive intertwined and contradictory myths about Helen spanning the ages. Unraveling them to discern Helen herself, was great fun.

Q: Did you do all of the research before you started writing or did you look things up as you went along?

A: Research went on constantly. Over the years I read two versions of The Odyssey, tried Greek cooking, watched Troy, I Claudius (yes I know it’s Rome but it helped anyway) and 300, and visited museums and jewelry stores to find “what Helen would wear.”  I now own a compendium of Greek myth, three different translations of the Iliad, Homer’s odes, several plays by Euripides, stacks of books on Sparta, and my favorite, Bettany Hughes’ Helen of Troy. Even now, I still see books and art and stories and hear the echoes of Helen’s influence.

Q: Does a person have to have a working knowledge of Greek myths, The Odyssey and The Illiad to understand this book?

A: No. I tried to treat Helen’s story as real, as opposed to mythic, to ground this historical mythic fictional woman in a historical world so the reader could meet her without any back story.

Q: What do you believe your book says about relationships between women and how they treat one another?

A:  I would say women sometimes confuse the sharing of stories with intimacy and it can lead to very hurt feelings.  Friendship is something developed over time, through gradual increased illustrations of trust, of service, and shared gifts of the self.  It cannot be imposed through generosity or forced proximity.  As a young mom, I often mistook experiences in common, (I’m a mom, you’re a mom) for deeper things, out of my own need for a connection.  I wouldn’t say that’s a female trait, I’d say it is a human natural response to loneliness.  Such relationships are not always what we imagine or hope. Even if we know they aren’t the healthiest, sometimes, we will cling anyway, because the idea of being alone seems far more unbearable.

Q: You’ve indicated that the book took six years to complete. If you could go back and talk to your younger self – the 40 year old with only 8 kids at the time – what advice would you give?

A:  For the writer me: Read the myths.  The story is there waiting for you to uncover. Outline.  It won’t kill the inspiration or the story.

For the parent me: Enjoy this time.  You have time for all of this, for all of them. I promise. It’s awesome being their mom.

Q: Tell us about the process you went through to find the right publisher.

A:  At the 2012 Catholic Writer’s Conference Online in 2012, they hosted a pitch session with Joan Edwards.  At that same conference, there were several opportunities to make a pitch. After reading the profiles of the various publishing companies, and running their names through Preditors and Editors and Writer’s Beware, I took a deep breath and submitted my name for a live chat interview.  In retrospect, doesn’t it seem obvious Helen should belong to a company called Muse It Up?  (Museituppublishing.com)

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

A: Read writers’ and agents’ blogs about promotions, marketing and launching.  You can’t be ignorant about social media.  The landscape of promoting a book is very different from the process of writing and editing a book, and navigating it well requires a level of expertise that can only be crafted over time.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A:  Learning that lesson I just gave to my six year younger self and doing the research and writing of the Book of Penelope.  I have to ban Helen from my head so I can start fresh.

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

A: Writing a book is rather like having ten children.  You don’t start out with ten.  You start out with that first moment when you know you are expecting your first.  You don’t start out with the whole book, you start with an idea that tickles you and you know it could be something more.  It takes a long time to grow that whole idea into something as civilized as a book.  It takes the whole of a life to raise a human being.   Every book and every human has the potential to be magnificent. We just need to give them the time, craft, care and love they require.

Q: Where can we learn more about you and your work?

A: I have a blog, sherryantonettiwrites.blogspot.com which is more personal in nature and a Facebook page for The Book of Helen. If you leave a comment at either, I’m sure to respond as I update both regularly.

 

 

A Conversation with Patricia Fry

Patricia Fry

Of Ms. Fry’s varied achievements (40 books to her credit, published by traditional and small presses, in the business for 40 years and the Executive Director of SPAWN [Small Publishers, Artists and Writers Network] www.spawn.org), she is entering new territory as a fiction writer with her “Klepto Cat mystery series”.

For me, Ms. Fry’s greatest achievements lie in the things she won’t see, and the things that can’t be counted; the power of self-confidence gained from minor successes, and from knowledge; the warmth of someone reaching out and honestly wanting someone else to succeed; and the natural Pay-it-Forward sequence that occurs when someone finds their wings and wants to help others fly.  She is open to receiving email: PLFry620@yahoo.com.

Interview by Joanna Celeste

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Q: With your latest story, Catnapped, a Klepto Cat Mystery, you are entering new fictional territory. How is your writing process for fiction different than nonfiction?

A: As you said, I’m a beginner when it comes to fiction and I’m still finding my way in this genre. As I pondered this question, it occurred to me that my process and approach isn’t a whole lot different between writing fiction and nonfiction. Both must be written with the audience in mind, both require a sense of organization (of material—of plot/story), both require a beginning, middle and end. The author must be consistent when writing both fiction and nonfiction. And both require attention to detail—grammatical, punctuation and factual. I guess where my process differs is in the building of the story for fiction, as opposed to the gathering and compiling of facts for my nonfiction articles and books. With both fiction and nonfiction, I find that I can start with a basic premise (story or theme) and I can sit down and let it develop as I write. Only occasionally do I need to refer to a storyboard or an outline. I do keep a character log, however, so I don’t forget what color hair someone has or if they’re rotund or stick thin, for example.

Q: Smart tip! How did the idea for the Klepto Cat series come to you?

A: I’ve wanted to try writing fiction for a long time. I enjoy reading cozy mysteries and especially those with a cat in them. I’ve lived with cats for years. I currently have a sweet cat who carries things around in her mouth—her toys, teddy bears from my collection and so forth. My mother has a large grey-and-white cat with a huge personality. So when my daughter told me about seeing some guy walk up on her porch and take off with her cat, I decided that cats being catnapped would make a good plot for my first novel and I expanded on our kitty’s habits and my mother’s cat’s confidence and demeanor and created Rags, a kleptomaniac cat. I figured it would be a fun exercise coming up with ways that a cat with this habit could help to solve the various crimes in the series. In the second book—Cat-Eye Witness—coming in October 2013, Rags actually participates in a police line-up, of sorts.

None of the cats, dogs or horses in my stories talk. They’re as ordinary as most animals, some with more interesting quirks than others. The people in the stories are the focus, with the animals charmingly making appearances and, of course, revealing important clues.

Q: I like how you give the cat such a sense of character within the normal traits of kitties. How do you have a second novel ready for publication in October, when Catnapped has just come out?

A: I wrote three starting in June of 2012 all one right after another. I am doing my final self-edit for book two now and will turn it over to my proofreader next week. Also I have engaged a few test readers. Then I’ll start the final work on book 3. I have book 4 sketched out and am eager to start actively working on it. Of course, my progress with writing new books will slow down now that I have books to promote.

Q: In a previous how-to, Talk Up Your Book (http://www.spawn.org/blog/?p=2326), you give many options for promoting one’s work, even if someone is shy (who would likely imagine they could never become self-promoters). What do you find is the greatest misconception of marketing?

A: Probably that someone else is going to do it for you. The truth is that no matter which publishing option you choose (landing a traditional royalty publisher, paying a “self-publishing” company or establishing your own publishing company), the author is required to promote his or her own book.

Q: Good point. When and why did you join SPAWN?

A: Mary Embree started SPAWN in 1996, before the Internet was so active. She had in mind bringing authors, artists, illustrators, cover designers, printers, publishers, agents, editors, etc. together to meet face-to-face for the purpose of networking and possible collaboration. I joined Mary early on in her vision as President for many years and I am now the Executive Director of SPAWN. We are online only now. Our mode of networking is via an online discussion group and we still keep our finger on the pulse of the publishing industry and continue to provide information and resources through the website and two e-newsletters.

Q: Over the last two decades you have helped authors, artists and publishers find their way, through your engagement and care (as an editor, Executive Director of SPAWN, with your books, etc.) When did you know this was your life’s passion?

A: My passion is and has always been writing. I began writing articles for magazines early on as a way to justify spending time writing. If I’m being paid for my writing, then I can justify continuing to write. And for decades, all I was interested in was writing. Over the years, I had people asking me to help them with their writing projects. I declined—I was completely absorbed in my own work. Finally, I decided to teach a workshop for local writers. It was such a success and I felt such satisfaction for having helped other writers, that I wrote my first book for freelance writers. It was about then that I began accepting manuscripts for critique and editing. Along with this, I began speaking to authors and writing articles and books for authors. I discovered that I loved this work—again, it felt wonderful to be able to help authors to succeed in the highly competitive field of publishing. So yes, I still have that passion for writing, and I am passionate about helping other authors. Now, I am also passionate about developing stories from my own head and heart as I attempt to move into the realm of fiction-writing.

Q: Awesome! Is there a particular thing you find coming up as a challenge among the people you guide and mentor through your various works?

A: Many new authors today are writing for themselves. There has always been this faction—I mean before technology and the various service companies that have cropped up within the publishing industry, people wrote for themselves. Now, everyone wants to publish and not every book is suitable. Authors need to think about their audience before ever launching a book. They must keep that audience in mind through the entire process of writing, whether it is fiction or nonfiction. They need to understand the publishing industry and how to navigate it. Most new authors do not understand that, while writing is a craft, publishing is a business—an extremely competitive business.

Q: In all your years as a self-published author, is there a moment you could pinpoint where you felt like “a real writer”?

A: This is an interesting question—I do recall hesitating to consider myself a writer back in 1973, even after I was writing regularly for a few magazines and I was a columnist for a newspaper. I guess it was when my first book came out in 1978 that I felt comfortable introducing myself as a writer. Today, it seems that people apply the term author or writer to themselves as soon as they finish typing out their first draft of their first manuscript. Really, does it matter?

Q: It’s something that I’ve run into as well; I feel I always have to qualify myself with “I’ve been published a lot but my only paying gig was as a Teen Reporter” or “But I’m not like published with my own book yet”, so I wanted to see your thoughts on it. I wonder if all writers run into the need to qualify what kind of writer they are. Like how you would define “a real writer” by today’s standards, when it is so easy to get published and the lines between traditional and self-publishing are becoming blurred so that both carry their own weight?

A: I must say that sometimes when I introduce myself as a writer, I find myself qualifying this statement by saying, “I’ve been writing for publication for four decades,” or “I have 40 books to my credit.” I do this in order to separate myself from those who claim they’re writers just because they have an idea for a book and are spending a few hours each week working on it. Again, it doesn’t really matter how we represent ourselves to others, does it? The proof in the pudding is what we produce, right?

Q: Yes, definitely. Though to me, it wasn’t the way I represented myself to others, it was how I saw myself. You’ve seen a lot of changes in the publishing industry; from your experience, what has been the most important?

A: One of the most important changes is probably the one that has made it so easy for people to become authors. And this isn’t necessarily a good thing. Successful authorship is not easy. And it does not have to cost a lot of money, either. Another important change is the way we’re reading books—via Kindle, Nook and other e-readers. And the way books are being sold. Some authors, who have not studied books such as my Publish Your Book, still hope to sell beaucoup books through major bookstores. And this is just not happening for anyone I know. People are selling books online and through personal appearances. Some books sell well at specialty stores related to the theme or topic of the fiction or nonfiction book. It’s through the author’s efforts that books sell. For a greater understanding of book marketing, read my book, Promote Your Book, Over 250 Proven, Low-Cost Tips and Technique for the Enterprising Author.

Q: I’ll check that out. What, if anything, do you feel the industry has lost in its myriad evolutions?

A: Integrity (too many “self-publishing” companies making outrageous offers and promises) and quality books (too many companies and authors in a huge hurry to get their books out and not taking time to work with a good editor). There’s also the issue of individuals having come out of the woodwork to jump on the lucrative publishing services bandwagon in hopes of getting a slice of the pie. It’s almost impossible for authors to weed through all of their options and make the right choices on behalf of their books.

Q: Where do you see the industry going from here?

A: I believe that things will level out at some point—left standing will be savvy authors and credible companies.

Q: It will be interesting to watch that unfold. Which of your books would you recommend to anyone starting out?

A: Publish Your Book, Proven Strategies and Resources for the Enterprising Author. Available at Amazon.com in print, Kindle and audio—also at most other online and downtown bookstores.

Q: Thank you. How do you manage your time and resources so you don’t burn out, and yet are so productive and successful?

A: I’m afraid I’m a bit of a workaholic. I put in 8 to 12 hours per day at least 6 days a week. And yes, I do suffer burnout sometimes. But I find that a brief respite in the yard or at the beach helps. I walk every day and I enjoy getting out and doing a little photography. I find that I sometimes need a creative outlet from my main creative outlet—writing. Go figure.

 Q: I know what you mean; for me, it’s baking or cooking. As a last note, you say that an author is their own brand. How would you define yours?

A: I’m an author and an editor dedicated to teaching and guiding other authors through the treacherous publishing waters. I’m reliable, professional and I have a passion in my heart for writing and the written word.

 

 

The “Can Be Murder” Trilogy

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Calling all armchair detectives! There’s a new pair of mystery authors in town who are ready to put your best sleuthing skills to the test. Marilyn Rausch and Mary Donlon share insights, wisdom and wit on the collaborative process behind their “Can Be Murder” trilogy.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Tell us about your respective writing backgrounds and why you decided to become co-authors.

A: After a lifetime of reading fiction, I put “writing” on my bucket list when I retired. A writing class led to a writers’ group and to a joint writing project with my co-author, all within a six-year span. (Rausch)

A: As a kid, I had an over-active imagination and loved to make up stories, but never told them to anyone else. It wasn’t until my own children were almost grown that I worked up the courage to share my stories with others. I started with a writing class and I’ve had a blast ever since. Co-authoring was an easy decision when Marilyn came to me with a brilliant idea of writing a novel-within-a-novel. (Donlon)

Q: Do you have favorite mystery authors whose storytelling styles you especially admire?

A: I admire all the mystery authors who have mastered the “page-turner” style of storytelling…short chapters with cliff-hangers at the end of each. (Rausch)

A: I admire authors who combine elegant prose with chilling plots, such as Dennis Lehane and William Kent Krueger. (Donlon)

Q: For your co-author projects, who brings what talents to the table in terms of dialogue, character development, research, etc.?

A: I bring quirky characters and folksy humor, while Mary brings suspense and gritty details. (Rausch)

A: Marilyn cracks me up! Her characters feel like people we all know and love. We both spend a lot of time on research. I like to think that I occasionally make the hair on the back of our readers’ necks stand at attention. (Donlon)

Q: How, exactly, does your collaborative process work when a new project begins? For example, are you always in the same room, do you email each other, do you brainstorm at the local coffeehouse?

A: We have started each book in a different manner. Whatever the stage, however, we are in constant, daily communication either face-to-face, via phone or email. Communication is the key to our healthy co-author relationship. (Rausch)

Q: The two of you have taken a unique approach in your projects – a novel-within-a-novel format wherein the protagonist, a novice crime writer, infuses his novels with real-life crimes going on around him.  What inspired you to come up with that style of storytelling?

A: The credit for the idea all belongs to Marilyn. She wrote what became the first chapter of Headaches Can Be Murder as a short-story that she shared with our writers group. Then she thought it would be fun to expand Chip’s story into a full-length novel, with someone else writing his novel to give it a different “voice” than her own.  I’m grateful she turned to me to write Chip’s book. (Donlon)

Q: So give us a hint what your latest books are about.

A: All of our books incorporate contemporary topics of technology or politics or social issues. If you read about it in the headlines, you are likely to find it in one of our books. For example, Headaches Can Be Murder featured medical implant devices and alternative energy sources. (Rausch)

Q: What are the advantages and disadvantages of working with a partner?

A: We not only share in the writing, but we share in all the publishing/marketing tasks. We have half the work and double the fun. We motivate each other to keep the work on track and support each other when the work bogs down. The only real disadvantage is that we also split the profits, which to date have only financed my coffee-addiction. (Rausch)

A: The advantages far out-weigh any disadvantages. Not only do we share in the fun, but the hard parts of writing/publishing/marketing become much easier when there’s someone to brainstorm with. We’ve gotten to the point where we finish each other’s sentences. Couldn’t have picked a better partner in crime! (Donlon)

Q: How do you resolve your creative conflicts and artistic differences?

A: That’s the beauty of sharing our writing the way we have; with the novel-within-a-novel approach, we celebrate our differences in writing style, instead of letting those differences get in the way. We really don’t have creative conflicts, because we essentially have our own section that doesn’t interfere with the other’s chapters. The story lines obviously need to dovetail a bit, but we have gotten pretty creative with that.  Lucky for us, neither of us feels the need to always be right. As Marilyn always says, our writing partnership is like a good marriage; we are very open and honest with each.  Communication is the key. (Donlon)

Q: Tell us about your research process. For instance, do you do all of the research prior to starting the story or do you look things up as the need arises?

A: Research is an on-going process for us. With the writing of each chapter we do research before, during and then again after (in the re-writing process). Our beta readers often give us cause to double-check or further research our information. (Rausch)

Q: Do you allow anyone to read the book while it’s a work-in-progress (i.e., friends, relatives, critique group members) or do you make everyone wait until it’s all finished?

A: We are fortunate in that we have two writing groups that review our novels before they land on our publisher’s desk. One group reads the manuscripts chapter by chapter, with the other reading half the book at a time. Each format of review gives us a totally different perspective. (Donlon)

Q: What governed the decision to go for a series rather than stand-alone titles?

A: During the first meeting with our publisher we were apprised of the potential of a series. Mystery/thriller readers seem to clamor for series, so it was a natural outcome of our first story.

Our characters’ lives did not stop with the first book, and we wanted to see what the future had in store for them. (Rausch)

Q: If your book series was adapted to a television series, who would comprise your dream cast?

A: From the beginning I envisioned Greg Kinnear cast as Chip Collingsworth and Julianne Moore as Jane, the veterinarian. I’m not sure if they would consent to a television series, but they would be my choices. (Rausch)

A: This question has always been tougher for me, since I’ve pictured body types more than actual people. I would say someone like Ben Affleck for the role of Dr. John Goodman and Amy Adams in the role of Special Agent Schwann. (Donlon)

Q: At what point in the writing process did you start thinking about finding a publisher?

A: After our first novel had been through the review/re-write process with our two writing groups, we knew we had a decision to make. We could: a) put it on the shelf, b) self-publish, or c) find a publisher. We decided to try option c), so Marilyn researched several publishers and landed on North Star Press as the one that fit the bill. (Donlon)

Q: Tell us about the publisher you chose and whether the experience met your expectations.

A: We chose a publisher that fit our novel, a regional publisher with a history of publishing first-time, local authors and mystery books. (Rausch)

Q: Now that the books have been published, what are some of the steps you’re taking to market them?

A: We’ve been very busy with marketing.  It’s amazing what a completely different process it is from writing! Marilyn sends out press releases and I contact newspapers and magazines for articles. We both designed our website, which was a totally new experience for us. We create our own bookmarks, business cards, and posters. We devote quite a bit of time to contacting bookstores, and other venues to set up author events. One of our favorite ways to meet our readers is through book club meetings. I think we’ve attended eighteen so far. (Donlon)

Q: What responses have you had from your readers?

A: Our reader comments, whether posted online or at book club events, have been both encouraging and helpful. We listen carefully to what they like and to the flaws they have noted, and have used them to improve our writing. (Rausch)

Q: What advice do you have for wannabe writers who want to follow in your footsteps?

A: Seek out other writers for advice and support. For us, Sisters in Crime has been a wonderful support organization and our writers’ groups have been invaluable. Don’t write in isolation. (Rausch)

A: Just sit down and write out your ideas. Even if they don’t come out the way you want them to the first time, they’ll get there, with some gentle massaging. And don’t forget to write down the ideas that come to you in the middle of the night…those are often the best ones! (Donlon)

Q: What are you working on now?

A: We are together on the final book in our Can Be Murder trilogy. The working title is Writing Can Be Murder. In addition I am contemplating a Christmas novella as a companion book to the series. (Rausch)

A: Marilyn is a much more disciplined writer than I am, so I have some catching up to do. We’ve storyboarded the chapters, which makes the process smoother. (Donlon)

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: Don’t let age be a barrier to starting a writing career. I started after I retired, and it has kept me young and active. (Rausch)

A: We meet so many people who say they’ve always thought of writing a book. I always tell them to go for it. No matter what your background is, we’ve all got stories to share. As with anything worthwhile, that first step can be scary, but it gets easier. And the joy is worth it. (Donlon)

 

Readers can learn more at http://rauschanddonlonauthors.com/.

 

 

 

The Sharing Moon

The Sharing Moon

“It’s only in hindsight,” wrote artist/architect Maya Lin,

“that you realize what indeed your childhood was really like.”

In her debut fantasy/romance YA title, The Sharing Moon, author Christy Campbell weaves a compelling tale of do-overs, regrets and redemption as experienced by a pair of troubled, star-crossed teens.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

**********

Q: Let’s start by telling readers about how your creative journey as a writer first began.

A: I first started writing short stories and poems in middle school. I won numerous awards for fiction and in high school, my Creative Writing teacher read my work as an example and told me that I should pursue writing. When I was unemployed last year, it was a good time to get down to business and finally start the book I’d put off for so long.

Q: Did you read a lot as an adolescent and teen? If so, what were some of your favorite titles/genres and who were some of the favorite authors that had the most influence on your personal style as a storyteller?

A: I read a ton and still do. In earlier years I loved Carolyn Keane, Judy Blume, Beverly Cleary, and I would say Judy Blume’s young adult novels stuck with me the most. Mysteries and adolescent angst were my favorites. Then in high school I got heavily into Dean Koontz and found a pull toward science fiction/fantasy. I liked that he threw romance sometimes into such dark stories. I got into John Grisham too, who reminded me of Koontz in a way.

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

A: Definitely Dean Koontz! We’d go somewhere near the beach, since he always impressed me with his details of the California coast. I’d ask him where on Earth he comes up with the compelling ideas for such ‘out there’ topics.

Q: What are you reading now?

A: I just finished the last book in the Delirium series, Requiem, by Lauren Oliver. It’s in the YA genre.

Q: So tell us what your new book, The Sharing Moon, is all about.

A: A teen boy, Elijah, has died, and cannot recall any memories of his former life. He is stuck in between two dimensions, Before and After. Given a second chance to go back and live a new life, he finds the cost of such involves more than he imagined. He’s sent back to help another teen who battles her own emotional issues and the relationship becomes quite complicated. Elijah has no idea how his past has led him to the girl, but he learns along the way and it is very intriguing and heart wrenching as well. There is mystery and romance and some spirituality as well.

Q: What was your inspiration to write it?

A: I had this jumble of thoughts in my head to write about depression and how it affects teens. But I wanted to place a fantasy/romance aspect into the story so that it wasn’t too gloomy. I have dealt with depression and my husband, who was the same age as my character when we met, inspired a lot of the ideas. I wasn’t as severe as the female character, however. To portray both sides, I needed to have dual protagonists.

Q: The plot unfolds in South Haven, Michigan. Why did you choose this particular setting?

A: We love South Haven. There is no other Lake Michigan location in our state that is prettier, in my opinion. We’ve been there so many times and it’s so hard to leave. I know the area well and felt a lakeshore town was an interesting place to place teenage characters who live there year round, and don’t consider it just a tourist’s city.

Q: Which of the characters in your book was the hardest to write? Conversely, which one was the easiest?

A: Seraphina’s mother, Marah, was the hardest to portray. As a reclusive, emotionally damaged woman, there was a lot of background I had to cover and do it with her being a character who isn’t featured as often. Elijah and Seraphina were equally easy to write, the two lead characters, because I was a teen girl once, and remember first love very well. Writing a strong teen boy wasn’t as hard as I thought; his personality came very naturally to me. I thought of my husband.

Q: Do you see aspects of yourself in any of the characters?

A: The female lead, Seraphina, suffers a form of depression from a traumatic experience. I have been through a different type of depression and related to many of her issues.

Q: If you could go back and be the age of your young protagonists, what “do-over” moment would you most want to change and why?

A: In my own life, I would spend more time with my father, who died when I was 22. As a high school girl, I wish I’d appreciated the days I had with him more. High school years are all too consuming. Maturity seems far out of reach at 17 and 18.

Q: Did you start with an outline or simply wing it as you went along?

A: I used nothing except the mass of thoughts in my head! No outline, although I stopped dozens of times when I was out somewhere or doing something and sent myself long text messages of scenes I’d just came up with out of the blue.

Q: Was anyone in your circle of family and friends allowed to read chapters in progress or did you make them wait until the whole thing was done?

A: No one was allowed to see anything. I’m not sure why I was so protective about it. My mom is the first to have read the paperback from start to finish and absolutely loved it. I was worried what my family might think, even though I was proud of my work.

Q: Writing is a solitary craft. In your view, what’s the value of having a support network or critique group?

A: It can be good and bad. Unfortunately, I’ve found only a few family members and online groups to be the most encouraging. I’ve not received the support from friends and colleagues as I assumed. If I did, however, I’m not sure I could handle their opinions. What if they hated my work? I’ve gotten some great comments from some contacts who have made it so worth it already.

Q: From your perspective, what are some of the biggest challenges – and joys – of writing for today’s young adult market?

A: A positive right away that sealed it for me was the fact that YA novels cross over to the adult audience as well. With YA there is more to play with when it comes to fantasy type storytelling. The challenge, though, is breaking out a plot that hasn’t already been covered by all of the other YA authors.

Q: How did you go about finding the right publisher for your work?

A: I self-published, which has some advantages. I was able to list my book as an eBook on Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and with the help of a publishing press called Lulu, I have paperbacks available now.

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

A: That hiring people is stress-free for a reason! Editors, agents, marketing people, you pay for those services and don’t have to worry about anything. I’d love to go that route.

Q: Is there a takeaway message from The Sharing Moon you’d like YA readers to discover?

A: I’d like readers to understand that mental illness during the teen years, or any age, is not to be taken lightly and we need to reduce the stigma. I’d also like to inspire young people to face obstacles with strength and learn that friendship and love can move someone to really embrace faith and hope.

Q: Okay, let’s say that Hollywood comes calling to turn The Sharing Moon into a movie. Who is your dream cast for it?

A: If I ever had faces pass through my mind it was someone who looks like Zac Efron now but 18 years old, for Elijah and someone who looks like Dakota Fanning at 17 for Sera. As for the rest, I can’t come up with anyone yet!

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

A: Well, I only have a few (smile) but they might not know that I am somewhat introverted, desperately want to learn to play the piano, and that I cry at the drop of a hat.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: If something successful happens with my book, I will begin a follow-up about one of the secondary characters in The Sharing Moon. The antagonist named Damian. I also will be job hunting, since my college degree is actually in the human services field.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

A: I have Facebook and Twitter pages listed under The Sharing Moon, and a Goodreads profile under Christy Campbell/The Sharing Moon. I am working on a blog as well.