A Jealous God

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It’s the worst nightmare of any pregnant woman – to hear the sobering news on her baby’s much awaited day of delivery, “There’s something wrong.” When a pair of lawyers starts searching for clues to infant deformities, they uncover a searing mystery which makes them question everything they ever thought they knew about the concept of free will. Such is the premise of A Jealous God, a contemporary cozy mystery (and the first of a new series) penned by Dee Wilbur.

Interestingly, this is the second time my cyber-path has crossed that of the “Dee Wilbur” author team. While doing interviews and research for an article about creative approaches to book promotion, I learned that the writers put their talents as tour guides to clever use and offer Richmond (Texas) tours of sites referenced in the plot, concluding with a Dutch-treat lunch at the characters’ favorite restaurant. Check it out at: http://fireandicebooktours.wordpress.com/2013/09/25/book-tour-a-jealous-god-by-dee-wilbur-tour-dates-11113-to-112913-medical-mystery.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: “Dee Wilbur” is actually the pseudonym of two talented writers – Charlie Yates and Dee Pipes. So let’s start with a discussion of how your creative process works; specifically, who writes what?

Dee: Well, there are two of us writing each book and answering questions to this interview as well.  I’ll let Charlie explain.

Charlie: There are two of us, each half an author. I generally work out the plot and write a fifty to seventy page outline of the story. Dee takes that, improves the descriptions of the scenery, spruces up the dialogue, supplies motives for the actions of the characters, and in general, makes the book readable. We meet face-to-face once each week, send frequent e-mails, and usually talk once each day.

Q: What were your respective writing backgrounds prior to deciding to collaborate?

Dee:  After college, I worked at the Journal of Southern History (the academic publication of the Southern Historical Association) as an editorial assistant back when there were real galleys, page proofs, and typewriters.  My experience at the Journal gave me great respect for fact checking, attention to spelling names, and a delight in the printed word.  After the Journal, I worked as a technical editor at Texas Instruments and then as a technical writer at Compaq Computer Corporation.  I consider developing the Compaq DeskPro 386 Technical Reference Manual my biggest writing accomplishment while at Compaq

Charlie: I had published about twenty scientific articles in various journals. The topics were either in endocrinology or radiology. I contributed to one chapter in a book on parathyroid hormone function.

Q: What surprised you the most about writing your first novel, A Jealous God?

Charlie: The most surprising thing about writing our first novel was the thought that you could make your characters say and do whatever you wanted them to. This was quickly followed by the realization that their actions had to be reasonable and consistent. So even as an author you weren’t completely free. Despite all our work and the work of three other proof-readers, we still had two errors go through. “Rue” should have been “roux” and . . . I’ll let you read the book and see if you catch the other one.

Dee: I was surprised at the amount of work necessary after we had finished the manuscript. We had a wonderful editor and incorporating his comments wasn’t particularly hard, but the proofing, re-proofing, and chasing down details took a lot of effort.

Q: What governed your decision to make A Jealous God a series?

Charlie: An idle mind is the devil’s workshop. Dee doesn’t want me to work with the devil. She says she fills that role. So when I finished my part of A Jealous God, she said to start on something new and quit bothering her to finish her part.  Thus came about Justice Perverted.

Dee:  Readers were delighted with Daphne and wanted to know what happened to her.  Several characters seemed to have more to say, so we let them.  The difficulties of writing a series, such as making sure that we keep recurring characters consistent, especially their names, are much more easily overcome than the challenges of starting another book with all of the environment to develop.

Q: What are some of the challenges involved in writing a series versus a stand-alone title?

Dee: I still work full time running a consulting firm, And Take Names. Charlie is retired, writes faster than I do, and has more time on his hands. So when he finished his work on the first book, and was tapping his fingers so that I would hurry on my part, I innocently told him to start on something else. After we published the second book, Justice Perverted, our publisher said that she felt that a third book in the series would establish the series and we could do something else and then come back to the Richmond Series. Unfortunately the third book, A Foolish Plucking, ended with a cliffhanger, so after many threats from our readers we had to quickly publish the fourth book in the series, Ravening Wolves.

Charlie: In writing a series you have to be sure that details match. This is especially hard for us in regard to names. We can’t get away with glaring errors as did A. Conan Doyle having Dr. Watson get shot in two different places while he was in India in two different books. Ralph Waldo Emerson said,” A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds and little statesmen,” but consistency can be the nemesis of an author writing a series.

Q: Where do you get the ideas for your plots?

Dee: We put Charlie in a dark room for ten minutes by himself after feeding him spicy food.

Charlie: That’s close to the truth, but really I look at the world around me, and I let my mind drift. For instance, in A Jealous God, I remembered an old industrial plant I had seen as a child south of Richmond. I always wondered what they made there. So I decided they must have made “nerve gas,” and the story just evolved. I saw that my high school football team had a bright young coach and some excellent players. Why couldn’t they be the Texas AAAA State Football Champs? So began Ravening Wolves.

Q: Settings of books often play as important a role in the plot’s development as the characters themselves. Tell us how you went about choosing your locations.

Charlie: I had heard the old admonition: Write about what you know. I know a lot about Richmond. It’s a weird and wonderful place. Hey! Why not?

Dee: When we first met and decided to write a book together, I immediately left on a trip with my mother-in-law. I told Charlie to have an outline of the book ready when I returned. I thought we were going to write a book on cognitive psychology. When I returned, he presented me with a seventy page outline of A Jealous God. The book was set in Richmond, Texas, the small town where Charlie lives, so I was trapped. By the third book, A Foolish Plucking, Charlie had taken all the heat from the home town crowd, and he was ready to share the fun.  I grew up in Liberty, Texas, another small Texas town. So part of the story takes place in Liberty.

Q: If Hollywood came calling, who would your dream cast be for your first book?

Charlie: I haven’t been to a movie in more than twenty-five years. I kept getting my feet stuck on the floor where soda and candy had been spilled. My reluctance aside, we have a screenplay for A Jealous God ready for their call.

Dee:  Like Charlie, I don’t have the repertoire of actors to try to choose, but I do know we would definitely answer the phone!  I imagine characters clearly and with some detail which made watching Gone with the Wind awful because the Tarleton twins were all wrong.  And, if I make a mistake like I did with John Grisham’s The Firm and think that Mitchell McDeere is to break the race barrier at the law firm, then I am really surprised when the movie stars Tom Cruise and not Denzel Washington.  We are not the right people to talk about casting.  Now you understand that we don’t work from story boards created with magazine pictures.

Q: What has the feedback been from your readers?

Charlie: The response from readers that are still speaking to me has been excellent. Residents of Richmond have been delighted by the description of places they recognize. Many people have volunteered that they are pleased to have been chosen as a model for one of the characters. I don’t pop their balloons. If she thinks that she’s the model for Sandy, who am I to spoil her dream?

Dee: Recently at Bouchercon, the mystery conference, I was being introduced to a friend of a friend.  My friend said “She writes as Dee Wilbur,” and the other woman said, “I’ve read her books.”  It was a wonderful experience!!

Charlie: A dear ninety-four-year-old lady from my church called me over one Sunday after Sunday school class. She said, “I bought your book and read it. I enjoyed the story, but you used too many dirty words!” A close friend who is a Methodist minister had his wife read him all the sex scenes so that he could tell anyone who asked, “No, I didn’t read that.”

Q: What part of the writing process is the most fun?

Dee: Buying new fountain pens and new colors of inks.  I enjoy creating the timeline for all of the characters.  Even though we struggle with names and naming characters, I enjoy that part, too.  I save all sorts of programs with lists of names so that I can recombine them to make character names.

Charlie: The most fun is figuring out the surprise endings for the books. I start with the ending and then work backward through the story to the beginning. The second most fun part is finding the title of the book. All our titles for the Richmond Series are based on Bible verses. The novels are not religious stories, but we always feel that there’s a Bible verse that is appropriate and catches the essence of the story.

Q: Alfred Hitchcock was a master at making cameo appearances in all of his movies. Does Dee Wilbur employ any signature tricks or insider jokes that we should know about?

Dee:  Yes, we do. With A Jealous God a frog played an important role and in all the books since we have had something about some sort of frog.  In one of them Cato, the lab, eats a frog (or several) and has to go to the vet.

Charlie: Yes. I am a retired physician. When my oldest son was ill, he called from his home about two hundred and fifty miles away to get a diagnosis and treatment for his illness. When he didn’t believe what I told him (which turned out to be correct), he called a college classmate of his who was a doctor for a second opinion. Now whenever he calls for a diagnosis, I asked him what his friend had suggested. I used his friend’s name as the name of the doctor in our novels. Also, my wife is the world’s greatest Statler Brothers fan. I had just purchased a set of Statler Brothers Christmas ornaments for her so I had a character purchase some for his wife.

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

Charlie: We wrote one hundred query letters attempting to get an agent. We got one hundred rapid rejections. We changed the first page of our query letter to say, “This book is the story you have been waiting for. It will make your career. It has so much sex in it that when it is made into a movie it will get a strong R rating. When it is made into a T.V. series, it will be listed as TV-MA-14 with parental discretion strongly advised.” We sent out ten copies. Within two weeks we had five requests for the first three chapters. Two weeks later we had three requests for the entire book. Within two weeks we had contracts offered by two agents. Your success depends on the way you advertise.

Dee:  We started with the agent because we heard that no publishers were reading manuscripts privately submitted.  We have since learned that there are several (if not many) publishers that don’t require an agent.

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

Charlie: Publishers promise to help you with publicity, but in general, they don’t do much. They also move very slowly.

Dee:  Publishing includes many things:  cover design, layout design, editing, printing, and getting placement in book stores.  We thought that they also did book tours, promotions, and lots of help.  That’s not where publishing today is for the majority of new authors.  The editing is still great and we love our covers.

Q: What are you currently reading and how has writing changed your reading habits?

Dee: I’m reading Called Out of Darkness by Anne Rice; I have read and delighted in her descriptions and sensual landscapes in Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt and thought I would like to read more of her non-paranormal. I am eagerly awaiting Book 3 of the All Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness. And, I’m reading Some of My Best Friends Are Black: The Strange Story of Integration in America and the Fault in Our Stars.  As an author, I pay special attention to series and to how authors treat their characters.  I enjoy reading tricky series (see Harkness above), and I want to read respectful authors.  I understand that typos that aren’t misspellings happen, but I really lose patience with a confusion of “to, too, and two.”  I’m not sure I was this picky before A Jealous God.

Charlie: I am reading Predisposed: Liberals, Conservatives, and the Biology of Political Differences by John R. Hibbing, Kevin B. Smith, and John R. Alford. I just finished W is for Wasted by Sue Grafton, and I am eagerly awaiting The Gods of Guilt by Michael Connelly. I read very differently now. I get very annoyed with writers who have their characters do unrealistic, out-of-character actions. I can’t stand errors in fact, even in a work of fiction. Are you too lazy to look it up?

A Jealous God is available on Amazon and published by BookSurge.

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Shakespeare for Screenwriters

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I’ve been a fan of William Shakespeare ever since freshman high school English class and, coincidentally, our study of Hamlet. That this prolific playwright could not only stitch together so seamlessly a multitude of complex characters – and swiftly move them about in a minimalist set – but also explore timeless themes that would still resonate hundreds of years later was astonishing to me. Had he lived and worked in this century instead of his own, The Bard might have dabbled in screenwriting, a whimsical “what if” I encouraged students to explore in my writing and drama workshops back in the 70s. Shortly thereafter, these speculations gave way to new conversations with actors in my theater company (coincidentally named The Hamlett Players), a touring troupe that echoed Will’s own creative approach to “less is more.”

It was, therefore, exciting to recently meet a kindred spirit in J.M. Evenson whose new release, Shakespeare for Screenwriters, will continue to fuel the discussions about enduring plots and archetypes as well as that longstanding debate of whether he really, truly authored all those plays and sonnets himself.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Let’s start with some brief background on who you are and what you do.

A: I am both a writer and a scholar. I received a Ph.D. in Renaissance literature from the University of Michigan and an M.F.A. from UCLA’s famed School of Theater, Film and Television. I’ve been a writer in LA for the last 5 years. As a screenwriter, I’ve worked with a variety of studios and production houses, from DreamWorks to Focus Features. In addition, I’ve kept up my scholarly work by teaching Shakespeare, composition, and film part-time at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California. This book is, in fact, a perfect meeting of both my most passionate interests.

Q: How and when did you have the epiphany that a playwright who lived so long ago could impart creative wisdom to aspiring screenwriters in the 21st century?

A: I remember it clearly. One day, after finishing up with my teaching at Pepperdine, I was trying to come up with ideas for a new story. I thought to myself: if only I could write like Shakespeare! And it dawned on me: if I spent some time analyzing his works to see how he did it, or what they might call “reverse engineering” his writing, perhaps I could learn a thing or two. The idea for this book was born that day — I knew I could not be the only person who could learn a thing or two from the greatest writer who ever lived!

Q: Controversy continues to simmer among scholars regarding the true authorship of The Bard’s 37 plays and 154 sonnets.  What’s your own position on the debate?

A: I believe the debate is motivated by class politics. Edward de Vere, the man most often identified as the secret writer of Shakespeare, was a cultured aristocrat. Shakespeare was, by contrast, relatively low-born. In fact, the class difference is a main part of the argument: how could such a low-born person possess such unrivalled genius? In their minds, genius is the purview of those with money. This is an argument I simply do not buy.

Q: In your book you make the point that Shakespeare is one of the greatest writers of all time. What do you believe is the secret to Will’s sustainability and modern-day popularity?

A: I think Shakespeare’s unique creative genius transcends barriers of language, culture, time, and place. He never goes for the small story. Love, family, power, war — these are the issues Shakespeare addresses. His plays touch a nerve because they are raw, human, and utterly timeless.

Q: What’s your favorite Shakespearean play?

A: I love them all, but my personal favorite is “Hamlet.” I wish I could explain why this is in terms that made sense. I can’t. It just grips me tight and holds me from the first words until the end. It’s love!

Q: What is your favorite Shakespearean speech or catch-phrase?

A: I think probably the famed “to be, or not to be” speech from “Hamlet.” I’ve read the speech a thousand times — maybe more — but I find something new every time.

Q: Numerous film adaptations have been made of Shakespeare’s work. Which one resonates the most with you?

A: I actually love many of the adaptations. Some of them are excellent all around, such as Branagh’s “Much Ado,” which literally made me fall out of my chair laughing in the theatre; some are landmark films, such as Olivier’s “Hamlet”; some are of sentimental value, such as the Zeffirelli’s “Romeo and Juliet,” which was the first Shakespeare play I’d ever seen; some are of special interest, such as the ultra dark version of “Macbeth” directed by Polanski right after his pregnant wife’s murder by Manson. Each one offers new insight on these amazing stories.

Q: Which do you think lend themselves better to screen adaptation – Shakespeare’s comedies or tragedies?

A: There have been dozens of remarkable adaptations of both his comedies and tragedies. I think directors like Joss Whedon, with his fabulous recent version of “Much Ado,” prove that Shakespeare’s comedies are as timely today as they were 500 years ago. Kurosawa’s “Throne of Blood” shows that Shakespeare’s tragedies are powerful no matter which language they are filmed in. The history plays are also marvelous — Branagh’s “Henry V” is absolutely riveting, one of my top favorites. No matter what the genre, Shakespeare’s plays continue to speak to each new generation. It’s truly amazing.

Q: Give us an example of a modern movie that demonstrates the writing principles you see in The Bard’s scripts?

A: Let’s take an example from the most famous of all Shakespeare’s heroes: Hamlet. Far from a typical hero, Hamlet is actually best known for questions and doubt. He is a psychologically complex character — smart, introspective, angry, despondent, euphoric, and possibly insane. The key to building psychological complexity into your heroes is giving them an inner conflict. Watching a hero struggle with inner conflict generates sympathy and creates psychological depth that audiences recognize as uniquely human.

For Hamlet, the struggle begins in the very first pages. He is visited by the Ghost of his father, who tells him that he was murdered by Claudius, the reigning king. His father’s Ghost demands that Hamlet kill Claudius in revenge.

If Hamlet were a typical avenger, he would go do it. But Hamlet is a thinker. In a moment of pure anguish, Hamlet asks his famous question: “To be, or not to be? That is the question.” In this passage, we discover the true nature of Hamlet’s dilemma. Why do bad things happen to us? Is it better to die than to suffer? What happens to us after death? These are real questions — ones that humanity has struggled with since the dawn of time. The directive from the Ghost thrusts Hamlet into a moral quandary, and from that moment on, Hamlet is ripped apart by an agonizing internal conflict. Should he, or shouldn’t he, kill Claudius?

Audiences love watching characters be torn apart by inner conflict. Take Jim Stark (James Dean) in “Rebel Without A Cause” (1955), for instance. We watch Jim battle both his inner demons and the treacherous world around him. As he tries to cope with Buzz and his gang of bullies, Jim looks to his father for help. Over and over again, Jim asks his father: “What can you do when you have to be a man?” The question becomes central in the most famous scene, when Buzz forces Jim to play a game of chicken. Jim knows it’s a dangerous game, but if he doesn’t play, how can he be a man? When Buzz’s jacket gets caught on the door handle, accidentally dragging him over the cliff to an explosive death, Jim goes into an emotional tailspin. His anguished guilt erupts when he screams out the celebrated lines: “You’re tearing me apart.”

Many screenwriting manuals will tell you to find a single motivation and make sure your hero stays on point. But what we learn from Shakespeare is that sometimes it’s better to not to limit your characters to one motivation. Let your characters struggle with their inner conflicts. Let them have flaws, and let them overcome. Above all, let them be human.

Q: How does Shakespeare’s five-act structure correlate to what we’ve been hit over the head with in three-act structure?

A: Here’s an interesting but little-known fact: there’s no such thing as a five-act structure for Shakespeare. The five-act structure is purely a construction of modern editing practices. If you look at the original works printed in the Renaissance, you will see that there aren’t divisions into acts or scenes.

I do think there is something to be said about Shakespeare and structure, however. Shakespeare wasn’t beholden to formulas. Some of his plays obeyed the set-up, rising action, falling action model; some do not. “Othello,” for instance, rises in action to (what we call) Act 3, Scene 3, when Iago convinces him that Desdemona is cheating on him. This is the turning point of the play — not unlike, say, the turning point in “The Godfather,” when Michael embraces his family (and The Family) and kills Sollozzo. Other plays, like “King Lear,” are structured like an avalanche: the play begins at a high point, with Lear happily dividing his empire, but then immediately begins an inexorable march into shocking tragedy. It ends with Learn naked and insane, holding his beloved dead child, with his empire ruined and everything lost, before he dies. It’s an unusual structure now, and it was unusual in Shakespeare’s time. But Shakespeare was a maverick — he was then, and will always be, unique.

Q: If you could take any of his plays that have never been adapted to the medium of film, which one would it be, how would you define the new context in order to appeal to mainstream audiences, and who’s your dream cast for it?

A: Amazingly, there are no plays from Shakespeare that haven’t been committed to film. Some of the less well-known plays have not gotten the big release treatment from Hollywood, but all of them have been filmed at some point. The BBC has been diligent!

Q: What’s the most important thing modern writers can learn from Will?

A: I think a lot of writers these days are worried about making their ideas fit into standardized formulas. They give up on their voice and everything that makes them unique in the hopes of making it.

I’d just remind them that Shakespeare was a maverick. Instead of adhering to formulas, Shakespeare made every single play exactly what it needed to be without worrying about whether or not it broke the rules. What Shakespeare ultimately teaches us is to do whatever it takes to make your story right. If you need to, break the rules of today — just as Shakespeare broke the rules of the sixteenth century.

Q: Shakespearean plays were typically light on the number of female roles in the cast (primarily, of course, because those roles were played by males). In your view, which of his works could best be adapted to a film – regardless of setting or circa – in which the cast was comprised of a majority of females?

A: I don’t necessarily believe that his works are light on female roles — or at least no more so than Hollywood today. In almost every play, there is a strong female character. In “Macbeth,” it’s Lady Macbeth; in “Lear,” it’s Cordelia; in “Antony and Cleopatra,” it’s Cleopatra. The list goes on. In some of the plays, the female characters steal the show, as is certainly the case with Lady Macbeth. Almost all of Shakespeare’s major female characters are fascinating in their own right, regardless of whether or not they are or were played by men or women!

Q: Let’s say, hypothetically, you could sit down for lunch with the world’s most prolific playwright. Where would you go and what three questions would you most like to have answers to before that meal is over?

A: This is a difficult question. I am not sure what I’d ask him. Probably the first question would be if he’d read my screenplay! (I’m kidding. Sort of.)

My first inclination is to say that I would ask him detailed questions that have been bothering us for 500 years: Why does Hamlet delay? Why does Iago do it? What drives Macbeth? But the truth is that I like the fact that we don’t have solid answers to these questions. I like the fact that there are ambiguities in the way these characters were written. Every time I read Hamlet or Lear or Othello, I see something new. The characters seem to change and grow as I change and grow as a person. It’s like the Mona Lisa: if we could change her smile, would we? She’d lose part of her charm.

Q: What’s your best advice to new writers who dream of making it big in Hollywood?

A: I had a wonderful teacher at UCLA, Professor Howard Suber, who told me that the most important determining factor in how well a writer will do in Hollywood is not their talent or their networking skills; it’s how they handle despair. It sounds depressing at first, but the hard truth is that you will encounter setbacks in this town. Everyone does! You just have to learn how to handle it. The most important skill you can have in Hollywood is persistence — never, never, never give up!

Q: So what’s next on your plate?

A: I have several projects in the hopper. First, I’m gearing up to teach an online class through ScreenwritingU on specific lessons that writers can learn from Shakespeare. Second, I’m finishing up a children’s book that I just wrote. Third, I’m almost done with the proposal for my next book on writing, about which I am very excited — stay tuned for that one!

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: I just want to say how delighted I am to be doing this interview here with you! Many thanks!

 

 

 

 

The Elf Lord’s Revenge

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A sexy elf who falls in love while solving a murder mystery is as unique as it gets! In Arabella Thorne’s fantasy novel The Elf Lord’s Revenge, readers are treated to a concept not yet explored when an otherworldly man meets a human who just might capture his heart while healing her own. In this suspenseful fairy tale, happily ever after comes with a price.

Interviewer: Christy Campbell
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What made you choose the paranormal/historical fantasy genre?

I have always loved magic. I read fairytales from many lands when I was a kid. I like the surprise and wonder of magic…especially in everyday life. When all else fails; magic just may do it! So writing under the umbrella of fantasy was a no brainer. The historical aspect is because I love California history (where I grew up) which I got from my mom. I have set two other novels in contemporary England with elves. But I felt—elves: England (mostly because of Tolkien). So I wanted to try something a little different. I picked 1843 because things were moving along. Los Angeles was a little sleepy town, but already growing…This is alternate universe, of course, so there are no hostilities with Mexico in my tale yet (California became a state in 1849 seceding from Mexico to do so).

You chose a unique concept for your novel, amidst today’s flurry of vampires, werewolves and wizards. Why elves for your first paranormal foray?

After seeing Peter Jackson’s interpretation of the elves in his Lord of The Rings movies, it was all over but the shouting. I fell in love with Elrond because he was an elf with attitude. (Legolas was/is gorgeous. What’s not to love?). I wrote fan fiction ten years ago which still resides on FanFiction.net. I was inspired. So it is really no surprise my first novel would deal with elves. And my next few shall as well!
What do you think it is about young adult stories that attract so many older readers?

Some nostalgia, I imagine. But the stories are about growth and discovery frequently, and wonder (when they are not dark tales). Some of my all-time favorite books are YA: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (and the sequels), Citizen of the Galaxy by Robert Heinlein, Lloyd Alexander’s Book of Three and the other novels of Prydain, To Kill a Mockingbird (okay not YA strictly (grins) because the heroine was young and I read it when I was twelve or thirteen) just to name a few. They were adventures and refreshing.

Tell us about your background in writing . . . when did you first become interested in being an author?

Well, I have been writing since I was twelve. I loved the TV show “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” so I wrote my first fan fic about those guys. I thought Ilya Kuryakin was swoon-worthy even then! I worked at the LA Times for almost nineteen years and freelanced a ton of stories, features, book reviews. (I was not a staff writer but the film editor’s desk assistant.) I was also a professional dance photographer and got to photograph Baryshnikov and Nureyev and subsequently was published in books and magazines and even the NY Times.

I, like so many others, wrote about four novels that all reside in boxes in closets or the garage before settling on my first novel The Elf Lord’s Revenge. My first efforts were all fantasy/paranormal even ages ago…I wrote a tale about an aristocratic wizard who had a tiger who could go invisible as a familiar set in Victorian London about 25 years ago. I’ll have to dig it out some time…..I loved entertaining myself with alternate versions of reality so I wrote stories.

Which authors, past and present, have influenced you?

You know, it’s not just one author: it’s pretty much all of them! I think because I am a voracious reader and will read sweet romances, Regencies, Science fiction, high Fantasy and mainstream NY Times bestsellers as well as classical literature (I am very fond of Russian literature) I got marinated with the thousands of words in all those books. Journalism helped me to be a bit more succinct.

My favorite authors remain: Mark Twain, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Lois McMaster Bujold, Diana Gabaldon, Ivan Turgenev, Henry James, Jane Austen, Steven Berry, James Rollins…well the list is pretty endless!

Do you have a specific routine when it comes to writing, i.e. habits or a special place to concentrate?

My writing routine is pretty much all over the map. I can write under the noise of a house filled with grandkids, young mother and boyfriend, the pressure of emotional trouble, time constraints. I wrote my first feature for the LA Times in a notebook on a packed city bus after a night of no sleep. I like writing at work on my lunch break. I can write in waiting rooms and cafes…..I usually write linearly from beginning to end but I can write in a notebook, on spare paper or my computer.

Do you write full time?

At this point in time, I do not write full time. I am still employed by a day job. I hope to retire in a few years when I can indeed spend my day wrestling words and plots.

What do you think of the current surge in indie publishing?

I am so glad independent publishing has come along! I always dreamed of being published by New York and holding a hardback book in my hand. But finding an agent and waiting and waiting and getting rejected and waiting….just was such a grind to contemplate.

I feel indie publishing has allowed me to fly or fall—and then I’ll know whether the rest of the reading world thinks I can write and I’m not just deluding myself

What do you think your strengths are as a writer?

The strongest aspect of my writing is my descriptive ability and I think my dialogue is pretty good. At least, I do not usually struggle to figure out what a character needs to say. Subtext is my weakest aspect. I can meet a deadline (after all my years at the newspaper—I should hope so!) and I can, if needed, write quickly.

What do you enjoy doing in your spare time, when you aren’t parked in front of a computer?

Reading. And more reading. Pottering about the yard, Getting together with friends. Shopping. Especially thrift store shopping! And right now I’m involved with prepping my house for sale—which is taking a lot of time—since I have a lot to get rid of and reorganize!

Tell us what you’re working on at the moment.

I am working on the second book of the elves of California series, The Elf Lord’s Secret and then I hope to do the third book The Elf Lord’s Return. I also have a contemporary novel set in England (also involving elves—what a surprise) that I would like to tweak into shape.

I finished a story for an anthology based on a game “Kaiser’s Gate” which deals with an alternate WWI where the fae (elves, dwarves, etc.) have entered our world and are involved in the Great War. It was done in a short amount of time. I do not have a pub date for it yet. My story involves a dragon-shifter and the Romanovs of Russia. Down the road I’d like to tackle a historical set in Regency or Victorian England.

 

The Elf Lord’s Revenge is available on Amazon. Readers can learn more about the author on her website at http://www.arabellathorne.com.

Dark Secrets

Dark Secrets cover

Stalkers, rock singers and one woman who vows never to fall in love makes for one juicy story, but when you toss in sudden wealth and secrets, you’ve been lured into Dark Secrets, the new adult suspenseful novel by Josephine Harwood. With a background in writing screenplays and a penchant for romance reads herself, Ms. Harwood talks to You Read It Here First about her career as a writer, and even throws in a little about her former dreams of being a rock star.

Interviewer: Christy Campbell

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When and how did the plot for Dark Secrets first come to you?

My earliest printed copy of my story was dated February 1984.  The original title, Just Friends, was written in dialogue only, like a play.  My friends and I were crazy in love with Jon Bon Jovi, so I thought it would be fun to write a play about a girl who falls for a hot-looking garage band singer.  Of course the girl has a beautiful sister who wants him, too…creating the conflict.

So, I made copies for my friends, we all chose a character, and we read the play out loud.  On the rare occasions I could get a guy to read along with us, I always looked forward to their feedback and suggestions.  Their advice helped me write more accurately from the male perspective.

You originally wrote Dark Secrets as a stage play. What prompted you to switch gears and adapt it to a full-length novel?

Well, whenever I received comments or suggestions about the play, I would revise the story for the next group reading.  I began to add more dialogue and more scenes to keep the continuity of the story flowing.  Inevitably the length of the play was reading more like a screenplay for a movie.  My friends mentioned the story would make a good book.  Spurred on by their encouraging words, I decided to rewrite the play as a book.

Let’s talk about the adaptation process and the challenges you encountered of reworking a story first destined to be performed aloud by actors into a print medium to be enjoyed silently by readers.

The original story’s content was honestly a little boring and dull.  Everyone was nice to everyone else.  There was jealousy among the sisters, but the dialogue was kind of juvenile and silly.  The story was filled with playful sarcasm and good humor, but there were never any serious issues or major conflicts; no reason for a hero or a heroine.  The story clearly reflected my naïve view of the real world.

Then, my mom suffered a massive stroke when I was six-months pregnant with my first child.  Suddenly, my practically-perfect life had become uncertain and incredibly unfair.  It was time to face the cold reality of the real world and grow up a little.  My husband insisted my parents move in with us, and we helped my dad take care of my mom for four years.  When she passed, I started working on my story, again, with a completely different attitude and style of writing.

I knew I needed to revise the original dialogue.  My characters were almost as naïve as I had been.  I created more adult situations for them along with mature conversations.  I also tossed in a stalker to add a little suspense and mystery to the story, and I changed the name from Just Friends to Dark Secrets.

I envisioned Dark Secrets playing out like a movie on the big screen, and that helped me a lot when I needed to describe scenery and settings.  But I knew I needed the reader to not only see the scenes I wrote, I needed to tap into all the other senses as well.  This was a very time-consuming process because all I had to work with was straight dialogue, but I loved and welcomed the challenge!

Have you written any other plays?

A friend of mine was convinced all Christian people were arrogant and self-righteous, and I asked God how I could help her.  He gave to me my very first Christian play, A Sister’s Love.  I gave it to the drama ministry and the play was performed for the public at our church.  It’s about two sisters; one a devout Christian and the other a non-believer.  When the Christian sister gets into a car accident, the non-believer meets members of her sister’s church one by one in the emergency waiting room.  Not only did my friend see the play, she was my co-director, and she even started coming to our church.  My friend was my loving sister, Diana.  I plan to turn this play into a book.

On the last night we performed, A Sister’s Love, a young man came up to me after the show and said, “Miss Josephine, can I be in your next play?”  I was so touched, I asked God for another play.  That same night, He gave me my second Christian play, a story about teenage suicide called, Second Chance.  I wrote this three-act play in one night.

I plan to turn this play into a book as well.

What has theater taught you about character development, dialogue and staging?

I had never been on stage before or even worked behind the scenes, and suddenly I was directing my own play.  I was very anxious to share the powerful message behind this story, A Sister’s Love, but first, I had to put my ego in check and listen and learn from the people who worked in the drama ministry.

They taught me how to set the stage, where the actors should stand, and when to make the transition from one scene to another.  I learned about stage lighting and musical timing to empathize a character’s emotions.  I also learned about crucial voice projection originally written as whispered dialogue.

Fortunately, I was blessed with an incredibly talented group of people, and everyone involved in the production seemed to share my passionate goal; to share the love of our Lord and Savior without being arrogant or self-righteous.

One of your characters is a garage band singer.  Have you ever been in a band?

Yes.  Although my garage band singer, Rick Anderson, is a fictional character, the burning passion he feels about wanting to be a famous rock singer is from my own personal experiences.  Back in the early ‘80’s I wanted to be the next Pat Benatar or Joan Jett.  I sang in a couple of bands, but obviously, neither Pat nor Joan had anything to worry about it.

Your female characters experience psychological abuse.  Were these themes drawn from personal experiences or extensive research?

Many women I know have confessed to me that they have suffered some kind of abuse from a boyfriend or husband.  From these women I have learned there is a misconception about putting up with someone.  It is insulting to them when a clueless female flips off, “I would never let any man do that to me.”

Physical abuse does not happen overnight.  There is a long period of psychological abuse; a brainwashing method.  It’s not easy to walk away from someone who has convinced you that you have nowhere to go.

Tell us the story about the song lyrics that appear in the book.

I wanted the reader to believe Rick was a musician and songwriter, so I included a couple of my own original songs throughout the book for him.  I also added my songs for my fictional rock band, Roulette.  Roulette, by the way, is my tribute to my favorite rock band, Bon Jovi.

The original song in the story, I’m Watching You, was specifically written for my stalker.  This particular song was inspired by one of the biggest hits of the ’80’s, Every Breath You Take, by The Police.  I remember watching an interview with the incomparable singer/songwriter Sting.  He explained the song was about control and surveillance.

I had never made the connection before and the information fascinated me, so I decided to read the lyrics without listening to the beautiful music.  Chills ran through me, my heart started pounding, and I could almost feel someone watching me as I read the words.  Despite the true meaning behind the lyrics, I still find the song hauntingly beautiful.

You’ve identified your target market as “women age 40+.” Any particular reason you chose this demographic?

Well, my romantic-suspense novel contains what I describe as, sensual content for the mature reader.  For this reason the book has an adult rating and is highly recommended for mature readers over the age of seventeen.

I would love for any women or man for that matter to read my book, and I honestly was torn about choosing a specific demographic.  I guess I wanted to target a special kind of woman.

She is strong and beautiful inside and out, but she doesn’t realize it.  She has willingly and selflessly given all she has to those she loves, and she places herself on the backburner without hesitation.  She may be single, married, divorced, or widowed.  She may feel lonely, unappreciated, and even invisible.

Every single one of you ladies is special.  You all have the right to be selfish once in a while, and you all deserve a little Me Time, whether that means soaking in hot bath with lots of bubbles…or getting lost in a book filled with mystery, suspense, and lots and lots of sensual romance!

Who inspires you as a writer?

Some of the best lines for my sexy alpha male character, Rick Anderson, are direct quotes from my husband.  I’ve known him since the summer of ’79.  He is my inspiration; my rock, my best friend, and the love of my life.  He is the reason why I can write romance.

I must also give credit to my amazing Lake Orion High School English teachers; Ms Diana Lee Mills and Mrs. Judith Skiba.  They never failed to encourage my passion for writing.  I hope one day they will know just how much they meant to me.

What genres and titles currently inhabit your own bookshelves?

I love reading romance and romantic-suspense novels by Lisa Kleypas, Lori Foster, Carly Phillips, Christina Dodd, Karen Robards, and Kat Martin, just to name a few of my favorite authors.

I like very suspenseful genres written by Lisa Jackson and Dean Koontz.  I also enjoy classics like The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, and The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton.

I am a book junkie.  I love to step into a Barnes & Noble and just inhale…deeply.  Once I finish a book, I can’t wait to open the next one.  Sometimes I have four books, different genres, going at once.

I am currently reading Kat Martin’s Against series.  I love the way she writes!  Many times I’ve had to stop reading one of her books…and catch my breath before continuing!

What’s up next for fans of Josephine Harwood?

Fans? That word feels so strange to me, because I’m a first-time author barely getting my name out there.  I can tell you this…it is an indescribable rush when people tell me they didn’t want to put my book down.

I’ve had one woman tell me she was annoyed when her husband came home, because she would have to stop reading to fix dinner!  Another woman told me she was reading well into the night when she should have been sleeping.  One of my male readers told me my love scenes should come with a warning label; may cause shortness of breath and severe heart rate acceleration.

All of these compliments mean so much to me.  I’ve always wanted to write a book, but taking into consideration this is my very first attempt, I never dreamed I’d receive such an overwhelming response to my story.

I am currently working on my second novel, Empathy.  This is the story about Delilah Walker, a caregiver who becomes too emotionally involved with her client and the client’s family.  If you enjoyed the slow and steady passion that builds between Rick and Angela in Dark Secrets, you will love the sensual heat that radiates between Delilah and Bryan, the client’s oldest son.

I’ve been asked more than once if I will write a sequel for Dark Secrets.  The answer is yes.  Empathy will introduce April Callahan, and she will have a past connection with Gemini’s sexy lead guitar player, Chris Marringer.  My third novel will be about Chris and April.  Can The Starview Casanova find true love?

How can readers contact you?

I crave feedback, comments, and suggestions!  I shamelessly beg for Facebook likes and book reviews.  If you are reading my book, I would love to hear from you!

Please, visit my author page on Facebook: www.facebook.com/darksecretsebook

Or write to me via my email address: avlotrfan@aol.com

My romantic-suspense novel, Dark Secrets, is available at major online ebook retailers including Barnes & Noble and iTunes, but only Smashwords offers a FREE six-chapter excerpt.  I am not available on Amazon, but you can use the Smashwords link to download my story to your reading device of choice including Kindle.

Smashwords webpage: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/257000

Thank you, so much, Christina Hamlett, for this wonderful opportunity to promote my very first novel, Dark Secrets.  I also want to thank you, Christy Campbell, for all your help with this interview and allowing me to share a little bit of the history behind the birth of my story.

I hope everyone who reads this interview will visit my Facebook page and leave a comment or like!  Be sure to check out the FREE six-chapter excerpt on Smashwords.  There are no hidden fees, no obligation to buy, and nothing to lose!  I sound like a commercial, don’t I?  Thank you, so much, for reading this interview.  I hope to hear from you soon!