Bonded at Birth: An Adoptee’s Search for Her Roots

Bonded at Birth

“Our history begins before we are born,” wrote Scottish inventor James Nasmyth. “We represent the hereditary influences of our race, and our ancestors virtually live in us.” It’s a quote that aptly captures the popularity of genealogical quests but what if the paper trail goes only as far as a birth mother’s decision to leave her baby’s future in the hands of strangers and walk away, taking her own life story with her? In her poignant memoir, Bonded at Birth: An Adoptee’s Search for Her Roots, author Gloria Oren shares insights gleaned from 16 years of searching and 41 years apart.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Where, when and how did your journey as a writer begin?

A: My journey as a writer began years ago. My first published piece was a poem in a camp newsletter. I seemed to be writing something all the time. It strengthened during the “Breaking Into Print” course.

Q: Do you feel that you chose this profession or that it chose you?

A: It sort of chose me. One day I received a piece of mail from Long Ridge Writers Group offering a writing test to qualify for one of their courses. I thought, why not, at the worst I won’t pass. I received the test, filled it out, and sent it back. I didn’t think I would pass or qualify. A few weeks later I got that piece of mail I didn’t think would come saying I qualified for the “Breaking into Print” course. It included the application. I applied and the rest is history. I owe a lot for the improvement of my writing to my instructor, Lori Soard.

Q: Your new book, Bonded at Birth: An Adoptee’s Search for Her Roots, just made its debut. What inspired you to put fingers to keyboard and bring this story to life?

A: What inspired me to write my story was the realization that adoptees do have the right to their own information regarding their origins and medical histories. I had almost no information to go on, yet things have a way of happening, and because of them and the help of others, I was found. I had to share my story with adult adoptees who wish to search but hesitate, adoptive parents confronted by their adopted child’s wish to search, and by birth parents who fear searching not wanting to intrude on their biological offspring’s life. It will also attract memoir readers who enjoy a unique story. And couples contemplating adoption will learn the damage that secrecy can lead to and, with hope, this book will ensure that they will be the ones to talk to their adopted children about their adoptions.

Q: Describe your book in seven words.

A: Interesting, unique, roller coaster, engaging, motivating, descriptive, and page-turner.

Q: What was the most challenging aspect of developing this project?

A: Oh gosh, mostly technology, but also sounding good on audio clips and creating professional looking videos. That is yet to come.

Q: Did you allow anyone to read it as a work in progress or make everyone wait until you had typed the final chapter?

A: I had many beta readers at various stages of development. Feedback has been great.

Q: In earlier generations, adoption records were kept sealed, often as a measure to keep both the birth parent and the adoptee from having their respective lives disrupted down the road. Today there seems to be a greater emphasis on literally making those records an open book and even including birth parents as part of the extended family. What are your thoughts on this shift in accessibility? If, for instance, an unwed mother gives up her baby in order to avoid personal scandal, is she now offered no legal protection if/when the adult child demands to know her identity?

A: Since not all states have opened adoption records, I would venture to say that unwed mothers are still given the option for sealing the records or opting for an open adoption where they will have connection with the child.

My thoughts on this after being raised surrounded by secrecy and post reunion being told by my mom that she was forced to sign the papers not even knowing what she was signing says that records should be accessible to the adoptee at age 18 and that secrecy has no place in their lives.

Q: Aside from medical considerations, is “curiosity” a substantive excuse to expose past secrets about parentage?

A: I suppose curiosity has a play in it, though it is a right the adoptee has to know his ancestral roots, where he came from, and if secrets get exposed at some point, so be it. In the end it usually works out well for many cases.

Q: What do you know about yourself now that you didn’t know before?

A: If you mean before my reunion, then I didn’t know I was related to Col. William Prescott or that my sixth great aunt was the first North American nun.

If you mean before I wrote the book, then I now know that I can do it and can also do the marketing as long as I take it step-by-step.

Q: Like many authors today, you chose to go the self-publishing route. What governed that decision and was the experience what you expected it to be?

A: I’ve queried over a hundred agents and though they all had something good to say and responded, no one accepted it for publication. I knew it had to get out there, and I was getting tired fishing for a hooked bait so I tried the self-publishing route.

Q: What did you like best about self-publishing?

A: What I liked best was that I could produce a product the way I wanted to. It was a learning process for me as well.

Q: What did you like least?

A: What I liked least is that I didn’t have a backup marketing setup in the route I chose, but I will get the ropes of the marketing side and will do the best I can for now. I hope to sell enough books to allow me to find some marketing help in the future if needed. As they say, the best form of marketing is word of mouth and for that, no training is needed. So please tell everyone you know who likes to read a good book to check Bonded at Birth out.

Q: Advice to other authors considering the DIY route?

A: Do your research and don’t give in. You will get bombarded with phone calls from self-publishers out to get your money. I got quotes from $1200 up to $4000. I reached out to someone who published many books on the self-publishing route and he connected me up to the gal who helped him. It cost a lot less, the work was completed in a timely manner and the finished product is beautiful.

Q: What are you doing to promote your work and which strategies are proving to be the most successful for you?

A: My book just came out on the 15th of this month (June 2016) so right now I’ve sent out some press releases, some tweets, announced it on Facebook, and word of mouth. I’ve been working on creating a marketing plan. I plan on doing a small scale launch party now and probably a two week long (or longer) virtual book tour in November to coincide with National Adoption Month.

Q: Bad reviews are a fact of life. What do you do when you get one?

A: Not everyone will like your writing. If most reviews are positive and good, one or a few are the needles in a haystack. Most of the time they won’t be seen and if seen I pretend I don’t see them. I don’t respond to bad reviews.

Q: Morning person or evening?

A: Morning. I’m usually up and at it between six or seven.

Q: Dogs or cats?

A: Definitely dogs. I’ve had a dog since I was six. My last dog was a Doberman-Australian Shepherd mix. She died several years ago. I’ve been searching for a non-shedding dog since but all the good ones I come across seem to slip right through the cracks and I haven’t had luck yet.

Q: Coffee or tea?

A: Both, though mostly tea.

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

A: On a trip to Sitka, Alaska, I visited a bear sanctuary and fed a bear apple slices.

Q: Describe yourself in five words.

A: Dependable, dedicated, helpful, creative, and caring.

Q: What is the oldest, weirdest or most sentimental item in your closet?

A: The most sentimental items in my closet are my children’s childhood blankets.

Q: If you could sit down at lunch with your favorite hero, who would it be and what would you most like to talk about?

A: Definitely Col. William Prescott of the Battle of Bunker Hill fame. I’ve always liked learning about him in school and thought he did some amazing things. After my reunion when I started genealogy research of my birth father’s family ancestral tree, I discovered that Col. William Prescott was my 1st cousin 7X removed. I would talk to him about his aunt, Sarah Prescott, who was my sixth great grandmother.

Q: Sent off to live on a deserted island (yet with all the necessities for survival), which three books would you want to have with you?

A: Foraging & Feasting: A Field Guide and Wild Food Cookbook so I would have something to eat; Making Shelter in the Wild so I could have someplace to sleep; and a Soduko booklet so I would have something to do.

Q: What do you do for fun when you’re not writing?

A: Let’s see, I like crocheting and needlepoint, paint by number, and lots of reading. I love doing genealogy research and trying to solve the puzzles brought upon by DNA matches. I’m also an avid Scrabble player but don’t get to play often. And when I have the opportunity, I love jigsaw puzzles.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: I am in the research state. There were seven elected presidents before George Washington. I want to learn more about them, about the duties of those elected presidents, and how they were elected. What else they did in their personal lives. Did they have families and who were they. What were those years like and how did events of daily life affect those men. I became interested in this when I heard it mentioned on the radio and when I asked around no one seemed to know anything about this. I don’t recall having learned about this in school.

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

A: I can be found online at the following places:

Facebook: Gloria Oren Writing Ventures
Facebook Group (women only):
Women Writers, Editors, Agents, and Publishers
Twitter:
http://twitter.com/gloriaoren
Google +: https://plus.google.com/u/0/+GloriaOren
Goodreads:  http://www.goodreads.com/user/show/2049009-gloria
Pinterest:  http://pinterest.com/gloriaoren/
LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/gloriaoren

And of course, they can visit my website at http://gloriaoren.com.

I also have two blogs: Gloria’s Corner http://gloriascorner.com and Family Links Matter http://familylinks.blog.com/ http://

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: If you do have a chance to read Bonded at Birth, it would be greatly appreciated if you took a minute to post a review on Amazon. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. It is available at https://www.amazon.com/Bonded-Birth-Adoptees-Search-Roots/dp/0692722289

 

 

 

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Raisin the Dead

 

Karoline Barrett

“Cooking,” wrote American journalist Harriet Van Horne, “is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all.” The same can be said about the craft of writing, and when these two passions come together in a culinary themed mystery, it’s the recipe for a mouth-watering delight that leaves readers hungry for more. Karoline Barrett – today’s featured author – joins the ranks of Ellie Alexander, Miranda Bliss, Christine Wenger and other kindred spirit wordsmiths whose protagonists have a taste for solving neighborhood crimes. In Barrett’s latest release, Raisin the Dead, library director Anne Tyler is a person of interest in a murder, a scenario that compels bakery owner Molly Tyler to step in to help clear her mother’s name.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: When did you first know that writer’s ink was flowing through your veins and you just had to do something about it?

A: I’ve always enjoyed writing, but didn’t take it up seriously until I was older (we won’t discuss how much older). My husband encouraged me to take writing classes from an online writing school in Connecticut, where we now live, called Long Ridge Writers Group. They were wonderful and I learned so much. My very first published novel, The Art of Being Rebekkah, started as a short story in one of my classes.

Q: Stylistically, what authors (living or dead) do you feel have had the greatest influence on your own approach to storytelling?

A: Ann B. Ross (author of the Miss Julia series) because of her character portrayals, they’re so very real, and Janet Evanovich because of her humor.

Q: The Bread and Batter mystery series is a clever concept. What inspired it?

A: I was having a hard time thinking of another writing project and my agent asked me what I liked to read. The answer was mysteries. She suggested I write one, and I took her advice. I like discovering new bakeries, so I wanted the series to center around Molly and the bakery she owns with her best friend, Olivia. I’m happy to say it worked out.

Q: Which of your characters is secretly your fictional self?

A: I’m asked that a lot. In reality, my characters come from my imagination. If I had to pick the one I want to be my fictional self, it would be Emily, the owner of Barking Mad books. I’ve always thought owing a small bookstore would be delightful.

Q: Favored baked dessert – a cake, a pie or cookies?

A: Since ice-cream isn’t a choice, chocolate cake with chocolate icing (do you see a chocolate theme here?)

Q: Store-bought or homemade?

A: Homemade. The best kind!

Q: In your daily writing routine, when and where do you feel you are at your most energized?

A: I’m a morning person, so I do well between 7 a.m. and 3 p.m. My writing desk faces a window, so I navigate between that and my recliner when I’m writing.

Q: Do you allow anyone to read your material while it’s still a work-in-progress or do you make them wait until you have typed The End?

A: They have to wait. My work-in-progress goes through a lot of changes between the time I type the first work and the time I type The End.

Q: Which do you feel is more challenging – to pen a short story, to develop a stand-alone novel, or to create recurring characters for a series?

A: I’ve done all three, so I have to say a series. I have to keep each book fresh, make sure all the characters come back with the same names, eye colors, etc. Make sure the town names haven’t changed. It’s also a challenge not to say too much about the previous books in case someone hasn’t read them yet. Then there’s the challenge of keeping all the characters interesting.

Q: Let’s say Hollywood comes calling to turn Raisin the Dead into a new TV series. Who’s on your wish list for casting?

A: I have to confess I don’t keep up on who’s who in Hollywood. I don’t know who the Gilmore Girls are, and I thought The Game of Thrones had something to do with Queen Elizabeth. I’m going to chicken out of this one and say I’d be so thrilled to see it as a TV series, I don’t care who was playing the characters. Although, I’d love to hear from readers on whom they think would be good casting.

Q: How did you go about finding the right literary agent to represent your work?

A: As mentioned, my first novel was The Art of Being Rebekkah. I compiled a list of agents who were looking for women’s fiction.  I got a lot of requests for the partial manuscript, and the full manuscript, but no takers. After going through 120 agents, I was thinking about calling it quits. Then, on Twitter, I saw someone discussing Frances Black. She and a partner own Literary Counsel. Okay, I thought. One more time! She loved my book and signed me. The rest, as they say, is history.

Q: What’s your favorite thing about being published?

A: Pleasing my readers and having them ask for more books!

Q: Promoting a new title is almost as much – if not more – work than writing it in the first place. What are some of the activities you’re pursuing in this regard to put your book(s) on everyone’s radar?

A: It really is! I’m a constant presence on Facebook. Both on my author page and personal page. I’ve connected with a lot of other authors, readers, and bloggers. I do a lot of blog tours and giveaways. I love the giveaways, but I make my husband pick winners. I just can’t do it. I’d pick everyone!  Since my Bread and Batter series is e-book only, I can’t do book signings, which I’d really like to do.

Q: To celebrate your success, you’ve made reservations for dinner at your favorite restaurant and can invite any three famous authors to join you. Who are they, what are the seating arrangements, and what question would you most love to ask each of them?

A: I’d have Shirley Jackson, Janet Evanovich, and Debbie Macomber. I’d be at the head at the table, so I could see and hear everyone.  Shirley’s question would be, “How on earth did you come up with The Lottery? It’s my favorite short story of all time.” For Janet, I’d want to know how she comes up with all the scrapes her characters get in to and how she keeps all her books so funny and fresh. I’d like to talk character development with Debbie. Her books are so character driven, which is what I love about them.

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

A: I want to write a psychological thriller like The Girl on the Train.

Q: What do you do when you’re not writing?

A: Read, shop, spend time at the beach. Think about writing.

Q: Do you typically read one book at a time or have multiple stacks throughout the house?

A: I can handle reading two books at once, but more than that and my brain starts complaining.

Q: What are you reading now?

A: I just finished A Muddied Murder by Wendy Tyson. Time for a trip to the library!

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A:I’m working on book three of my Bread and Batter series, I’m outlining a new series I want to present to my agent, and I also have a romance half-written.

Q: Best advice to aspiring writers?

A: Write what you love, believe in yourself, and have patience, lots of patience.

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

A: My website is karolinebarrett  On Facebook, readers can find me here, KarolineBarrettBooks

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: Thank you so much for having me, it’s been fun! Of course, a thank you to all my readers!

 

 

A Chat With Dan Lombard

Dan Lombard

For as many years as I lived in Northern California – and even the coincidence of penning advertising copy – my path had never crossed that of fellow wordsmith and publisher Dan Lombard.* It was through some of his well-crafted political posts on Facebook that our cyber-paths not only began to cross regularly but soon segued to chats about our joint fondness for fabulous food and travel. When I learned that Death Panel, Dan’s debut novel in 2012, had been followed in rapid succession by several more, I just knew I had to put this prolific author in the global spotlight.

*A mirthful bit of disclosure here is that I’d once had a government coworker of the same name. When I encountered that name again decades later, I couldn’t help but think the passage of time had made DL much more accomplished and interesting. A closer look at his head shot, however, also explained why he never mentioned he remembered me. Because, in fact, we’ve never met.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: If we were to time-travel and take a peek in the bedroom of your 10-year-old self, what clues might give us an indication of what you thought you wanted to be when you grew up?

A: Probably more riddles than clues. I haven’t figured them out yet. Or maybe I just did. Yes, that is it, I was always seeking adventure in the unknown, and back in those days entertainment was very participatory and required imagination, unlike today’s passive entertainment. It was a different place and a different time though. I mean, today I’m reluctant to allow my high school children to go into our local Target store alone. But when I was 15, back in the early 70’s, my buddy and I bought Eurail Passes and toured Europe for a month with nothing but that pass, a few hundred dollars and whatever we could fit in our backpacks. I need to keep that in mind when considering a contemporary audience; their experiences today are completely unlike anything I experienced. Perhaps that is why ageism is prevalent in Hollywood and on 5th Avenue.

Q: Did you have favorite authors/books at that young age?

A: Tolkein of course, the Harry Potter of my generation. Then, not long after it was Ian Fleming, I enjoyed reading about James Bond’s adventures as much as seeing them on screen. It was not until much later in life that I became aware that a favorite childhood movie, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, was written and directed by the same duo, Ian Fleming and Albert Broccoli, who gave us Bond in print and on film. Of course, that made complete sense.

Then it was Leon Uris and above all James Michener (notably The Source) and his ability to draw you into a tale that featured far off places and spanned centuries. At one point I also found an unfortunately misplaced copy of a Henry Miller book, I can’t even remember now if it was Tropic of Cancer or Capricorn. Needless to say, it ruined me. But little did I know it would give me a taste of what would, far in my future, (today) be the model for bestselling novels. At the time I was living in Stockholm, Sweden, a very permissive society in that regard, and on my way home from school every day (yes, in 7th grade) my buddies and I would pass by a number of sex shops. Nobody would ever bat an eye when we’d stop in for a little ogling of the picture books, furthering my youthful debauchery.

Q: And who are your favorites now?

A: I do not read near enough fiction today, either in reprint from generations ago or contemporary. My preference in writing and reading is for books with an (accurate and believable) historic context, Dan Brown being a good example. I do have one peculiarity that I will share. At the age of 25 I read the entire 6-volume set of Winston Churchill’s recounting of World War II. I reread it 25 years later at the age of 50, and expect to do so one more time at 75. However, in between those readings, I do read volume one, The Gathering Storm, alone. That volume contains the instructions on how to avoid reliving the subsequent volumes. History is fascinating, a great teacher and, unfortunately, widely ignored.

Q: What experiences – travel, work, relationships – would you say have/had the most influence on your approach and discipline toward the craft of putting a story together from start to finish?

A: It’s not so much the experiences, but my approach to them. Everything I say, do, hear, think or see is tucked away for future use, whether simply in life, at work, or perhaps to form a plot or subplot in a good story. And in dreams and nightmares, the observations do show there frequently, as well.

Q: Which is more challenging for you as an author – writing a book or writing a short story?

A: If writing was a challenge I would not be writing. Okay, that was snide. A book is more difficult but has less regret. A short story is easier, but I am always left wondering why I didn’t expand that wonderful plot into a more complete work.

Q: Catharsis often factors into the development of works that are deeply personal and/or painful. Your first book, Death Panel, addressed the failure of the medical system during the last four months of your wife’s life following a diagnosis of multiple myeloma. What governed your choice to pen this as a novel told in third-person through fictional characters rather than as a first-person memoir?

A: It was not to shield myself from pain, or to serve as an outlet for the pain. I wanted to be completely honest in recounting my experience, which included some emotions from which I felt I could derive no pride. A reader can tell, though, that the third person is merely a front, so it was not an attempt at deception. But rather to deceive myself, and thinking that, since I had signed a confidentiality agreement with Kaiser when they paid me off, that this was a defense should they decide to come after me for violating that confidence. In retrospect, the best thing possible would’ve been for them to do exactly that, to give me publicity you just can’t buy. And after that ordeal, there really wasn’t any blood for them to get in return.

Q: The reviews on Amazon reflect that the themes which underscore Death Panel have resonated with readers across the country. What was your reaction to the outpouring of vicarious support from total strangers?

A: The reviews were a tremendous reward in themselves, and were sufficient to justify the time spent writing the book. Which is fortunate since, well, there was no financial reward.

Q: Almost on the heels of your debut novel, you entered the self-publishing waters again, this time with a cat and mouse suspense thriller set against a backdrop of California’s high-speed rail system. How did Midnight Departure come about and can we draw from the plot’s prescient context that Dan Lombard is secretly psychic?

A: I actually had been against the bullet train back when it was first proposed at the turn of the century, and even financed a website called StopTheBullet.com. That measure failed, I patted myself on the back for the small part I played, and assumed that was gone. Then it came back, and I thought what a great context in which to place a cat and mouse suspense thriller. Much of what I wrote is happening, not that greed, corruption and government planning are such a novel premise.

Q: Other than flowing prose and compelling dialog, what is the most important consideration as you write?

A: I like to bring together larger concepts and figure out how to work them in together. In the case of Midnight Departure pairing the project to build a $100,000,000,000 high-speed rail system with greed and corruption might have been kind of obvious. In my screenplay Prime Time Crime I chose to pair the notion of seeking fifteen minutes of fame (and the hoped for fortune that follows) with the evolving idea that just about everything we do is, or has the potential to be, surreptitiously recorded. In Last Writes, a short story, I chose to pair a Faustian deal with unforeseen consequences, especially when the devil is the author of those consequences. In the short story Red Ringer I paired the concept of identity theft with the Wild West of the 1880’s. And in Serum 6 I chose a device that is, I think, unusual if not unique. In this medical thriller I create a situation whereby the two protagonists do not realize they are brother and sister (though the reader does) as they get closer to consummating their relationship. Later in the novel, when this knowledge makes all the difference, the roles are reversed: they believe they are brother and sister but the reader now knows they are not.

And finally, most important, as I write, I think, how will this novel translate to the big screen? And, in so doing, how can I avoid stretching credibility?  Not only do I feel compelled to research anything I write for accuracy, but timelines as well. I absolutely detest faulty timelines in writing or in movies. The notion that, in the space of five minutes (five minutes to other characters in the work, not necessarily for the reader), the protagonist can board a plan, fly halfway around the world and confront his nemesis for the final battle, just bothers me.  And bathroom breaks. How can someone live an entire life, or even a month, or a year, in a novel or a movie, and never have to relieve themselves?

Q: When and where are you the most creative at the keyboard?

A: At the strangest of times.

Q: What’s the most unusual object that occupies a space on your desk or the walls of your home office?

A: Perhaps not so much unusual as special. Many years ago I had been publishing a local advertorial magazine and for one issue I featured an artist’s work on the cover. She later confided that had done more than anything to boost her career. I soon began doing this for a different artist on each issue, though no longer as a favor. I am the proud owner of a very nice collection of art by the local art community. In one case I commissioned a piece through this arrangement, bringing the artist two very different historical renditions of William Shakespeare and had her meld them into one. He looks over my shoulder whenever I sit down to write.

Which brings me to the one thing for which I am most grateful. While the Italian language may be wonderful for soaring operatic aria, and French as a musical spoken language lacking hard edges, as a writer, I most grateful that I am an English speaker. It is an incredible language with great depth that allows nuance and poetry within prose. Rules that I can break with abandon; though recognizing the need to avoid the banality of one cliché too many. The downside? A rapidly increasing English speaking population that believes a vocabulary of under one thousand words is sufficient to see one through a lifetime of communicating.

Q: If your writing career came with its own soundtrack, what would it be and why?

A: Magic Carpet Ride by Steppenwolf, one of my ten top favorite tunes of all time, and because if its title.  Any good read should take you on a ride like that, as should the writing itself.

Q: Anticipation or the real thing: which is better?

A: If it is alright I will direct you to the answer to next question as I see them as intertwined. Anticipation is the future, the real thing is history

Q: If someone gave you a crystal ball, would you look into it?

A:  Yes, though I would likely question what I saw.

Q: What are your thoughts on modern literature and the direction it’s taking in the 21st century?

A: The greatest let down was not long after I published my first two novels. First was, after finding my book as one of an estimated 30,000 titles self-published every month, as lost in the wilderness, oblivion, that I would try giving my books away for free on Smashwords.com.  After three months of promoting myself vigorously and watching my rankings inch upwards I found I just could not compete with the porn that was also being given away.  So–no I did not decide to write my own porn–but I did download and read one. We are not talking soft core here, folks.

The second instance was shortly after publishing Midnight Departure I was on a flight back East to visit my parents and struck up a conversation with the fellow on the other side of the vacant seat between us. I gave him a free copy of Midnight Departure, for which he thanked me profusely. Thirty minutes into the flight he pulled Fifty Shades of Grey from his carry-o and was immersed for the rest of the flight. So immersed that he forgot to pack the copy of my book which was left on the vacant seat as we deplaned.

Q: Do you let anyone read your projects while they’re still in progress or do you make everyone wait until after you’ve typed “The End”? What about that method works for you?

A: I don’t really have anyone around me right now that would be particularly interested or have the time to critic a lengthy manuscript, so pretty much rely on myself.

Q: What piece of technology could you not go an entire week without using?

A: The Internet.

Q: What makes writing a joy for you?

A:  As previously stated, the fact that I get to write in English. An amazing language.

Q: What is currently gathering dust in your footlocker or (to channel Hemingway) in your mind ready to bleed from your forehead?

A: Since I have already, in bits and pieces, described the work I have completed, what lies ahead? I have a drama in the works, Jack Rabbit, a story of an accidental con man, which unfortunately will not be completed until long after Danny DeVito has stopped performing in lead roles; I pictured him firmly in my mind’s eye every time I sit down to write a chapter there. I have a great American Novel in the works, in fact in the works for fifteen years now, and largely untouched for the last seven. A paranormal novel that involves time travel, though without the intention or ability to change history.

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

A: The books are on Amazon, or drop me an e-mail at dan@mailprose.com

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A:  The most important part of writing, and the one which can cause the most serious hang-ups (writer’s block) is the segue. It is necessary if you want to weave your tale. Loose ends are to be avoided and ideally, you don’t give your reader a resting place where they can set the book down and resume it later!  Perfectly good, and acceptable, to fool your reader. But if you do fool them, it is best to do so with a V8-style forehead-slapper: leave clever clues.

Humor is always a useful tool in writing. I see humor as having three flavors:

Situational, where you juxtapose two or more unlikely-paired conditions in one scene.

Slapstick, where simply falling down is funny.

Wit, where you use the tool at your disposal, language, to bring a smile.  This is my favorite flavor.

So, to tie it all together, and before I lose my audience, I repeat my favorite quote by my favorite author and conclude the interview:

“Brevity is the soul of wit.”

 

 

Heaven’s Gate

Jan Dunlap

Science fiction, spirituality and a dose of suspense describes author Jan Dunlap’s first book in her new series Heaven’s Gate: Archangels Book I. Jan spins a tale of intrigue when a physicist inadvertently proves the existence of heaven and all hell breaks loose. Be the first of your friends to read what one reviewer called “a mind-blowing experience”!

Interviewer: Christy Campbell

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What or who inspired you to begin this whole journey?

The first time I stepped into a public library – I think I was about five years old – I decided then and there that some day, I wanted to have my name on a book on a library shelf. That led me to become a ferocious reader; I earned a communications degree in college and worked in PR and advertising for a few years as an account executive/writer. I wrote a family humor column for our local paper while I raised my five children, and then one day, I decided to try my hand at writing a cozy mystery just to see if I could do it. That turned into my first Birder Murder Mystery, of which there are now seven in the series.

Your previous books of memoir and cozy mystery have all employed humor. Have you always had an interest in scientific subjects that led you to switch genres?

I’ve been a closet science geek my whole life, and especially loved astronomy. When PBS aired their series on string theory many years ago, it renewed my interest in cosmology and the mysteries of quantum physics. About the same time, my oldest son took a college course from the author of the Afterlife Experiments, and he urged me to read the text, which I did. That book sparked a landslide of ideas in my head for a suspense thriller that combined speculation about life after death, religious faith, and cutting-edge physics. I thought about it for years until I realized I had to write Heaven’s Gate (the first book in my new Archangel series) or I’d never quit thinking about it! It was a huge leap from comic cozy mystery, but writing those books helped me hone my skills at suspense and character development which are key to Heaven’s Gate.

And what was Jan Dunlap, successful author, doing before exploring the publishing world?

Raising five children as a stay-at-home mom, volunteering at their schools, writing my weekly humor column and eating chocolate.

Since this book incorporates topics of spirituality and faith in God, do you have a personal backstory to share?

My children and I often discussed spirituality as they were growing up, or at least, I spent a lot of time explaining why people practiced a religion. The older my kids got, the more interesting the questions they asked! In particular, a lot of contemporary scientific discoveries seemed to diminish or contradict faith, rather than strengthen it. It made me really explore my own belief in God, and I wrote Heaven’s Gate almost as an argument for faith in God that incorporates science, rather than taking sides in a faith OR science debate.

There are those people in this world who truly believe in psychic abilities. How do you feel about that?

I totally think that we have yet to discover/document the full potential of the human brain. We all have déjà vu, compelling instincts and even snippets of prescience. I think those are types of psychic abilities, and that some people are more skilled at using those abilities than others. As my Heaven’s Gate medium Khristina reminds my hero Michael, Shakespeare was right when he penned the line that “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” If we think we know everything about life, that’s our pride talking, because only God knows everything.

Which leads me to of course to ask, have you ever had a psychic experience of your own?

I’ve never had what I’d term a classic psychic experience. I can’t move objects with my mind, I can’t forecast the winning lottery number, and I can’t find lost items by picturing them in my head. (Actually, I can’t find lost items no matter what I do…) But there have been a few times in my life where I could feel that something was about to happen, or I see something and I recognize it even though I have no recollection of seeing it before. Whether that’s psychic or not, it reminds me that there is more in the universe than we know.

Fill us in on some of the research topics you explored to write this manuscript?

I read extensively about Albert Einstein’s later years as he searched for the One Theory of Everything, and I poured over the PBS transcripts of the Elegant Strings series. I read about psychics who work with detectives to find lost children, and I reread the Afterlife Experiments, along with material about mediumship. I even researched survivors’ eye-witness accounts of tornados and reviewed my notes from grad school in English studies about William Blake and the Grand Narrative concept of literary criticism. I spent hours online looking up everything I could find about archangels in the Bible, as well as contemporary religious cults. I read about Russian icons and Jesuit scientists and reviewed what I remembered about a Rubik’s cube.

You’ve developed a great story! What’s next in the Archangels series?

Book Two is already finished, tentatively titled Heart and Soul, and it deals with medical science, neurobiology and the power of prayer. The hero is Raphael, or Rafe, as he’s known to my cast of characters, and his story is another roller coaster of deceit, betrayal, murder, forgiveness and redemption.

Lastly, let’s switch gears a bit. If you could attend a meet and greet for any writer living or dead, who would that be and why?

Dr. Seuss, hands down. He was unbelievably creative. I’d love to talk with him about the risks he felt concocting such wacky stories that influenced generations of children and writers.

Where can readers delve into more info about your series? Any social media or websites?

I have a Facebook page dedicated to the Archangel series at https://www.facebook.com/Archangelsseries/ and readers can get a deep look into my research and writing process on my Pinterest board https://www.pinterest.com/jandunlap/archangels-book-one/ . I’m also on Twitter @BirderMurder, on Facebook at Birder Murder Mama, and my author website is jandunlap.com. I write a blog on Goodreads now, too: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/2100500.Jan_Dunlap/blog

 

 

A Chat With Steph Young

No Plus One cover.jpg

In the sort of “perfect” world the mothers of an earlier generation envisioned for their daughters, every “meet cute” that transpired in a laundromat would magically end up in a fairy tale wedding, every blind date set up by well intentioned friends would be Hugh Grant and not Eddie Munster, and every man who ever whispered all the right words would actually fulfill them. In the wackily imperfect world of the 21st century, however, finding “Mr. Right” has more likely become a quest for “Mr. Right For Now” or a reluctant acceptance that maybe matrimony just isn’t in the cards one has been dealt.

In her new book, No One Plus One: What To Do When Life Isn’t a Romantic Comedy, author Steph Young embraces a mirthful message of female empowerment – that instead of lamenting you’re seated at a table for one, you should be happy that you neither have to share your dessert nor be chided about whether you’re cheating on your diet.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Why do you feel the message of your book is important, especially in an era where we’re constantly bombarded with messaging that we’re not meant to live our lives as singletons?

A: My friend Jill Dickman and I dated a lot and we were single all the time. Though we were still working through our own disappointments, our friends would always come to us for advice when they were newly single. The common themes were boredom and loneliness. The loneliness seemed to stem from a lack of self-confidence. They wanted reassurance that they were desirable – don’t we all?

Predominately media makes a fairytale ending seem like the norm, which becomes the ultimate success for women. Try to think of a movie – even those with strong female lead characters – that doesn’t end with a love connection. So when your life isn’t turning out like the movies, women tend to assume something is wrong with us. Jill and I recognized this and set out to tell women that it’s okay to be single. And while we are single, whether for 2 weeks or 10 years, we should still enjoy life, not pine away for a perfect relationship, which seems to be up to chance or luck anyway. We promote the idea of feeling complete as is.

Q: If you could time-travel, what would you most like to go back and tell your younger self about romance, sex and happily ever after?

A: I probably did tell myself this, or somebody did…But really, just stop worrying, analyzing, fretting. Time will take care of everything. We are all on the right path to where we need to go. Single or taken, life is to be lived so don’t waste time analyzing if somebody likes you back or not. Just keep it moving and do what makes you happiest. Another huge piece of advice that finally clicked for me recently is to stop beating myself up. So much energy is spent feeling bad for what’s not going right. This is the biggest time waste/energy suck there is. It has absolutely no positive value. It doesn’t make you feel better; it doesn’t motivate or inspire. It just makes you feel like shit. It was a hard shift to stop doing this, but once I got some mastery of it, my life changed.

Q: What’s the stupidest thing you ever did in the name of love?

A: I haven’t done many stupid things in the name of love, but when you fall sometimes insecurity seeps in and gets the best of us. One time I was fearful that a guy I was dating was sleeping with other girls, so one night I waited outside his house in my car to see if I could catch a girl coming in or out of his place. Now as an older, wiser me, I would handle this insecurity with good communication and getting up the guts to talk to him about it. Or if I felt he wasn’t showing me the kind of love that made me feel secure, I’d probably just stop seeing him. I really admire a friend of mine who moved to Europe in the name of love. She left her whole life and started over for a really, really nice guy. It’s been working out so far. They are now married and have lived together for four years. We all have different paths; we can’t judge our own life on somebody else’s. I don’t know if I would be able to take a leap like that but I love that she did. It’s all part of the adventure.

Q: What inspired you to put pen to paper (or rather, fingers to keyboard) and turn your perspectives about living an unapologetic single life into a book?

A: The book started on a whim. It happened one day when Jill and I were sitting in our living room (we were roommates at the time) and going through old journals and cracking up at our ridiculous dating stories. Then we said out loud, “We should write a book” and so it was. We put together an outline and some ideas that afternoon and picked it up every so often. The slow process lasted for years until we got serious about it last year and set the goal to complete and publish No Plus One.

I had no idea what writing a book would entail, and I really didn’t think it was going to be so hard. I don’t think all messages make for good books, but we agreed the story + “how-to” nature along with the homework would warrant a short and snackable book.

Q: What governed the decision to write a book from two people as one?

A: We initially started writing the book as a fictional story from one character’s point of view, however it wasn’t really coming together, so we decided to switch to a non-fiction, how-to / self-help style. Our stories were so similar, we felt it would be less confusing to the reader for us to seam our stories together rather than following two separate narratives. We also wanted to get to the heart of the issues rather than drag the reader through backstory and set up.

Q: Tell us a bit about how the day-to-day development process worked for both of you.

A: We worked really well over Google docs. When one of us would get stuck, we would hit the other up and say, “Can you pick this up?”  Since we knew each other so well, we could essentially fill in the missing pieces. We were friends for a long time and we had both lived through a lot of the stories together.

Another tactic that worked was when we’d jump on the phone while both of us were in the live Google doc and talk and write. That was really efficient because by working together we didn’t let writers block settle in for too long. Either the other person would pick up and write, or we could talk through what we were really trying to say. Talking out loud often helped us find the right words to write down.

Q: How do you manage to stay away from envy, ego or jealousy from getting in the way of your friendship/partnership?

A; It can be an easy to fall into the trap of wanting individual success or feeling resentful if you feel like you’re contributing more than another person. When we decided to finish the book, Jill and I clearly outlined our individual goals, desires, and expectations on how we wanted to contribute to the project and what we wanted to get out of it. We agreed that our number one goal was to get our message out. We weren’t using this platform to turn a huge profit or grow our personal platforms, though either of those would be an added bonus. We really believed in our message and wanted to help women. We also outlined a partnership contract that identified how we would split everything should we turn a huge profit. The important part of that process wasn’t necessarily having a signed contract, but rather working through the contract together. It gave us a forum to communicate. It can be awkward approaching a friend about a contract. It can seem insulting, like you don’t trust the other person, but I’ve been on the loosing end of a friendship agreement before, so I was happy to go through any awkwardness if it meant saving our friendship in the end.

Q: What was the greatest challenge during the creative process?

A: The biggest challenge was writer’s block. It’s really hard to make a streamlined and cohesive story, especially sustained over nine chapters. Getting the words on the page was difficult, editing and re-writing parts that didn’t make sense was even more painful. Being persistent was also really hard. It took over a year of intense and consistent writing and editing. I have a full time job so the time I would write was at five o’clock in the morning. Getting up and doing this everyday was a challenge but it soon became habit.

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

A: I didn’t know how long the marketing process would be. Books are different than other products because the word of mouth is much slower. People need to read the book before they pass it along. So after a year of marketing we are still gaining interest and audience, we haven’t reached a tipping point yet, but I know with consistency of messaging we will find the right fans. With a traditional publisher, they will typically do a big marketing/PR push for you at the beginning. I talked to people who had gone the traditional route and still were not satisfied even though they had a big publisher behind them. They also had less control of the outcome. The decision to self-publish meant we had to do all the work, but we also control all the profit as well. We also can continue hitting new audiences and trying new marketing tactics long after the launch.

Q: Did you ever encounter writer’s block along the way? If so, how did you get past it?

A: All the time. Writer’s block, frankly, sucks. One tactic we used was to talk through it. I would call Jill or she me, and we’d say what we were trying to say. By the time we had talked for five minutes, we had formulated the words and could continue writing. Another tactic is free-form writing. When you can’t find the right words, sometimes just writing any words, even if they don’t make any sense, can get you past writer’s block. The last part is to read. When I run out of inspiration I remember to look outward. Sometimes I’d find the nugget I was missing while exploring other articles, books, artwork, etc. Also, the same goes for getting out of your house to experience the real world. Our life experiences give us insights that we use, so it’s important to take time out to go get some new material and perspective.

Q: Tell us about the decisions you made regarding a publisher once the book was done.

A: We made the decision to self-publish before we completed the book. Often when pitching to a traditional publisher, you don’t need the final manuscript, you need a pitch. Early on we pitched our project to literary agents and got a few bites, but after a year of this we grew impatient of the process. We decided that getting the message out was far more important than signing with a publisher so we set on self-publishing. It’s a much more involved process, and I wouldn’t recommend it to anybody who doesn’t have an interest in anything business minded. If you only enjoy the writing process, I would suggest trying to find a publisher (even a small one) who can help with the publishing details. I personally love business and new projects, so it was something I wanted to dive into. There is a huge learning curve, so it was important to give myself time and do a ton of research throughout the process.

Q: What has been the response by your readers?

A: The response has been more fulfilling than either of us imagined. While I feared scrutiny, mostly I just wanted to make sure people “got it.”  It was really important to have the message land. We wanted women, and especially single women, to feel good. We designed the book from the format to the length to do just that. When I see comments or reviews and women say that single or not, they’ve gained a sense of empowerment or self-confidence, it fills my heart. It means a lot that our message and experiences can directly connect with somebody and impact their life. I believe in paying it forward and in the power of positivity, so I feel good knowing that I’m spreading positive messaging around in the world.

Q: What are you doing to promote this title and which methods have yielded the most success for you?

A: We’ve run the gamut to promote No Plus One. The biggest goal is awareness, so all marketing is done with that in mind. I’ve got a great PR person who continuously reaches out to get placements and features. I worked on an influencer seeding strategy using my personal relationships. I also write articles to promote my book along with other articles that are a cut down of the book to help find and hook potential new readers. The most effective network I have are my Facebook friends and family. They are the most supportive and engaged audience. I’ve also tried paid tactics like FB and Twitter ads as well as iAds, but these aren’t my favorite methods. All the tactics should be done in tandem to be really effective. Writing for platforms, like Thought Catalog or Mogul, plus PR and influencer seeding have been the most effective.

Q: What do you feel sets your book apart from similar self-help titles about relationships?

A: Most other self-help focused was on how to change your behavior to remedy being single (i.e. find a relationship). Our book focuses on discovering the beauty in being single and feeling confident in yourself so that you are comfortable being single. It neither promotes finding a relationship or being single, it just recognizes that being single is a special phase that we can all benefit from.

Q: Are you currently writing full-time or does another career absorb a lot of your waking hours?

A: I have a full-time, well, more than full-time job in marketing. All my writing happens early in the morning. It was a huge commitment to get this book done while working the hours my day job requires. I bordered on the verge of obsession. I needed to set a really aggressive goal in order to finish. For about a year I woke up at 5 a.m. to write for as long as I could before I needed to get ready for work. Other times, I’d spend all weekend writing. I don’t write the best at night, but even sometimes, I pined over chapters just to stay on my self-imposed schedule.

Q: When and where do you do your best and most energizing creative thinking?

A: I love writing first thing in the morning. I pour some coffee and sit in front of my windows and just write. The Internet is a really distracting place, though, so I do my best not to get sucked into mindless surfing while on my computer. I also found that putting on vibey, calming music was really effective. I loved the idea of working before the rest of the world was up.

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

A: That I am actually quite good at my day job in marketing, which has little to do with writing self-help. I’ve become somewhat of an industry expert in digital marketing based on the portfolio I’ve built with the brand I work for.

Also, I didn’t really start writing before I wrote my book. The extent of my writing was journaling or the occasional blog post. Writing the book made me feel comfortable enough to call myself a writer.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: I’m starting a new job in brand marketing in a few weeks. I’ll be heading up a team so that will be an entirely new challenge in leadership. I’ve been taking a breather from writing so I hope to start up again in a really authentic, no-filter style for a new project. I am also working on a screenplay – which I have no idea how to do.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

A: Following me on Twitter or Snapchat (@StephYoungMC) is a really quick and unfiltered look at who I am as a person. I also write a lot of articles on onMogul.com; I can be reached on any of those platforms if anybody has questions. I’m always happy to help other writers / entrepreneurs.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: Don’t ever be afraid to go after your dreams.