Ghost Maven

 

Ghost Maven cover

Author, television producer, award winning documentary film maker, and world traveller, Tony Lee Moral, has just completed work on his second published novel, Ghost Maven, and has generously offered to share a bit of insider scoop on his new book, what drives and motivates him, and what he has planned next. Despite an increasingly busy work life, as with everything Tony takes on, he remains focused and grounded while enjoying the creative journey he rides with each new project and challenge. Welcome Tony!

Interviewer: Debbie A. McClure
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Q: Your work spans several genres, including documentary film-making with your own production company, journalistic interviews with celebrities, and author of several books. Is there a common thread or arc in each of these endeavours? If so, what would that be?

A: Story! Story! Story! Whether it’s making a documentary film, writing a novel, or interviewing your subjects for a non-fiction book, each has the common thread of having a good story at the core. If I have something compelling to say, I will write, direct, produce, or find an outlet to tell my story.

Q: Your latest project, Ghost Maven, is a YA novel, which is quite a departure from your previous books on Alfred Hitchcock and murder mysteries. Can you share a little about this story to whet a young reader’s appetite?

A: In Ghost Maven, I blend mystery, with suspense and the supernatural. The central character, Alice Parker, moves to Monterey, California, with her father and little sister after her mother dies. Whilst kayaking in the bay, she paddles towards a mysterious island, but capsizes and is drowning when a young man, Henry Raphael, magically appears, delivering her safely to the beach. Against all rules, they begin seeing each other. It’s a love story with a twist.

Q: Why YA at this point in your career?

A: I’m inspired to write different genres, and as a compulsive communicator, I wanted to reach out to as many different readers of all ages as possible. The Young Adult readership is especially appealing to me, as I read many books in my teens and can identify with the hopes, fears and aspirations of being a teenager. It can be a very uncertain time for many teens, but I hope they identify with the characters in the book and want to share the journey with them.

Q: Have you ever encountered a ghost or spirit form in your personal life or travels? If so, what happened? If not, do you believe in ghosts?

A: I haven’t experienced ghosts or spirit forms, but I have had some intuitive dreams. Like Alice, I have experienced personal loss, and I use those feelings to create an atmosphere of reaching to the after life. I do believe that some things can’t be explained and science is still trying to unlock the answers.

Q: What surprising correlations or similarities have you discovered between film-making and writing?

A: Good storytelling is at the heart of both film-making and writing, whether it be shaping well-developed characters, creating emotional arcs and creating compelling situations. A good film or book takes the viewer or reader on a journey of discovery, enlightenment, or good old-fashioned entertainment.

Q: What dissimilarities have you discovered between film-making and writing?

A: With film-making, one should think in visuals, rather than relying on words or dialogue. You have a rectangle to fill with a succession of images to create an emotional response. Hitchcock said he wasn’t interested in photographs of people talking in his films, so I try to rely on visuals to tell my story when directing. In fact, I often think my novels are more like screenplays as I’m always thinking of the mise-en-scène, where the characters are, how they are dressed or what expressions they have on their faces. The advantage of writing is that you can really get inside your characters’ minds, what they are thinking and feeling, which you can’t quite do in a documentary film.

Q: What would you say fuels your imagination in writing?

A: Definitely travel – I’m lucky to travel with my day job as a film-maker, and I have been to some extraordinary places and have had access to some incredible situations and people. I’m like a sponge, absorbing human behaviour and thinking of how I can translate stories to the page or screen.

Q: How long does it take you to write a novel from first draft to final edit?

A: It depends on the publishing process. I first wrote Ghost Maven in 2010, so six years later it is being published. The last 18 months has been especially productive, as the novel was honed through various drafts, and I had some wonderful input from agents and copy editors.

Q: You are represented by a literary agency, Loiacono Literary Agency, in an age when many writers are choosing to self-publish. What has been your experience in working with an agent?

A: One of support and encouragement, which is invaluable as writing can be a very lonely process. The great screenwriter Jay Presson Allen, who I interviewed, described writing as a “divorcement from life”, which I can totally identify with. But having an agent is having someone to share the rewards and accomplishments with. What’s the point of being successful, if you have no one to share that success with?:

Q: Can you tell us a little about your production company, Sabana Films, and what you are trying to accomplish with your films?

A: I won the Special Jury award last year at the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival, which was an incredible, inspiring moment, and has reignited my love for natural history. I’ve started filming a documentary movie which I’m very passionate about called ‘The Cat that Changed America’. It’s about P22, the mountain lion who is trapped in Griffith Park in LA, and the wonderful conservationists and Angelenos who are trying to help him.

Q: If you could sit down and spend an evening chatting with three people, dead or alive, who would they be, and why?

A: Alfred Hitchcock, because I’ve written three books on the Master of Suspense, and currently writing a fourth on his reputation. His films have inspired me and are text book examples of film making and screenplay writing.

F. Scott Fitzgerald, as he is my favourite author, his prose is elegant, simple and elegiac. I love The Great Gatsby, the world Fitzgerald lived through and created, and the characters who populate that world.

Winston Churchill, because he epitomizes everything great about being British, what I love about England, and the country where I was born. His stoicism and heroism is something to be admired.

Q: What’s next for you, Tony?

A: I’m looking forward to my book tour for Ghost Maven. On Labour Day weekend, Saturday 3rd September 2016, at 2 p.m., I will be in the Old Capitol Books store in Monterey, California, signing copies of the book. It’s very special to me to launch the book in the place where the novel is set and where I lived for two inspirational years.
Q Where can our readers find you online?

http://www.ghostmaven.com
http://www.tonyleemoral.com
http://www.alfredhitchcockbooks.com
http://www.thecatthatchangedamerica.com
http://www.sabanafilms.com

https://www.facebook.com/tonyleemoralfans/

 

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Dancing at Midnight

 

Dancing at Midnight

On a trip to England years ago, I recall learning that Queen Elizabeth has kept a diary ever since she was a young girl. This poses an interesting question. When it’s understood (or just assumed) that one day these private entries will be read by someone other than herself – or perhaps even made public – how candid might they actually be?

I like my dogs and horses better than my children.

Camilla wore the most ghastly shoes at lunch today.

Philip’s a dear but his snoring is really vexing me.

Perhaps instead, she sticks to safe ground to avoid controversy and the potential ruffling of feathers.

The morning began with light rain but cleared by midday.

I think I’ll buy a new hat.

I tried a different marmalade on my toast. It was amusing.

In Rebecca Yelland’s compelling new book, Dancing at Midnight, a mother’s secret journal takes center-stage after her death and causes her estranged daughter to suddenly start questioning everything that she once believed was true. While catharsis may be good for a troubled soul, it’s not without the risk of collateral damage – a scenario this author thoughtfully explores.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: First of all, congratulations on your debut novel! Have you come down from the ceiling yet?

A: I’m not sure. Every time my feet start to touch the ground, a great review or acknowledgment pops up and I’m in the clouds again. Most recently, I was awarded the indie BRAG medallion for literary fiction. It’ll be a few weeks before I land.

Q: Seriously, what did you do to celebrate the book’s release?

A: When I received the first copy of Dancing at Midnight in the mail, I was grinning like an idiot. But other than plastering all over social media to friends and family that my book had been published, nothing particularly special. The real work of promotion had only just begun.

Q: When did you first know that the burning desire to be a writer was in your blood?

A: I come from a family of artists. Literally. My uncle and grandfather were both painters and my grandmother and her family were musicians. I guess you could say it was in my DNA to seek some sort of artistic outlet like writing. I started out composing poems as a child and graduated to songwriting in my teens and adulthood. Eventually that led to writing my first novel. Expressing my thoughts on paper is a natural as breathing.

Q: What’s the earliest thing you can ever remember writing?

A: A poem when I was in 3rd grade. I can’t remember the name. It received an award and was published along with other winners for our school district. Sadly, the publication was lost many years ago during a move. I hope to find another copy someday.

Q: Successful wordsmiths are often voracious readers. Is this the case with you?

A: In my case, not so much. I’ve always had a way with words. My mind absorbs everything around me – including the use of language. I read a lot when I was younger. But with the demands of a full-time job that required hours of computer work, my poor eyes needed a break in the evenings.  However, after publishing my book, I have been able to enjoy a short work sabbatical and have been catching up on my reading.

Q: What’s your favorite genre?

A: I’d have to say memoirs and biographies. I am fascinated with the true life stories of people who have overcome great obstacles and challenges in their lives. I’m encouraged to learn of such individuals who have emerged from the other side and survived.

Q: Let’s say you’re planning a dinner party and can invite six authors (living or dead) that you most admire. Who’s on that auspicious guest list and what question(s) would you like to ask each of them before the evening is over?

A: J.K. Rowling – What sparked your brain to create the elaborate world of Harry Potter?

C.S. Lewis – If you had to give one reason to believe in God, what would you say?

Judy Blume – You are so relatable to young girls. What’s your secret?

Mary Shelley – What was the inspiration for the “monster” in Frankenstein?

Virginia Wolf – Do you believe that depression is a life sentence that cannot be overcome?

Amy Tan – Do you think women of the past were right or wrong to hide their traumatic experiences from their daughters?

Q: You’ve spent a large part of your career as a human resources professional. What aspects of that job have yielded the most insights on what makes people tick, and how have you applied those insights to the development of fictional characters?

A: I’ve worked in several different industries with several different employee populations. In preparing performance reviews, interviewing candidates and handling the delicate nature of terminations, I’ve been exposed to many personality types in the process. As a result, I’ve come to learn that everyone has a story to tell. Observing a large spectrum of human behavior on a daily basis has only helped me in creating believable characters for my story.

Q: What was the inspiration for Dancing at Midnight?

A: I was randomly looking through my family’s genealogy one day and realized there were a lot of missing pieces in the lives of some of my relatives – including my own mother. I knew some about her life, but not enough that would help explain her often erratic behavior. My mother has since passed away and there are so many things I will never know. In writing Dancing at Midnight, I was able to give my character the answers that I had hoped to find.

Q: The plot of your debut novel revolves around the discovery of a mother’s private journals and the secrets she has kept hidden from her family. What is your own theory about the keeping of diaries (i.e., a cathartic way to examine one’s life with no intention of those entries ever being read OR a confessional that is meant to explain past deeds and seek redemption after death)?

A: Diaries can be a very therapeutic way for otherwise introverted individuals to express their deepest thoughts and darkest secrets. Especially when dealing with trauma they would prefer to keep private from the outside world. In the time period of my novel, it makes perfect sense then that June would use her diary to sort out her feelings in a time where many of her experiences were not openly talked about like they are now. I believe keeping the journal was the only thing that helped her to go on living.

Q: Do you keep a diary?

A: I’ve kept a diary at brief points in my life. I usually ended up losing interest after a while and forgot to keep them up. I prefer to talk about my feeling to a live person if possible.

Q: How much of your own personality was put into Dancing at Midnight?

A: I am a combination of both Carolyn and June. But mostly June. Both characters suffer from an anxiety disorder as do I. As a daughter, my mother was very much like June. As a mother, I have suffered trauma that I feel is often misunderstood by family and friends. It’s interesting that how in writing this book, my personality became more evident in the mother.

Q: Have you ever entertained the idea of penning an autobiography?

A: Yes. I’ve had a very eventful life and wish to write about it someday. However, in consideration of others that may be affected by my story, I’m waiting until the right moment to present itself.

Q: Who’s your favorite character in Dancing at Midnight?

A: That would be Jimmy! I don’t know how that character came out of my brain. He is wonderful! I want to marry him myself.

Q: Is there a takeaway message you’d like your readers to have by the final chapter?

A: There are two things actually. First, not everyone is who they appear to be. Carolyn’s frustration with her mother was based on lack of knowledge and understanding. We never know what someone else has endured unless we have lived in their shoes. Judgement should be reserved when you don’t know the whole picture. Second, not everyone heals from trauma the same way. For some the trauma lasts a lifetime. Our society is so quick to shame people into “moving on” and just “getting over” it. Mourning is unique to each individual. The timeline should never be judged or rushed.

Q: Like a lot of authors today, you chose to go the self-publishing route. Was it easier or harder than you expected to wear a multiplicity of hats and get this book in front of a readership?

A: I originally opted to pursue self-publishing as a simpler and faster way to get my book published. It has proven to be anything but that. Although my book has received outstanding reviews and honored by indie BRAG, the promotion has been an extremely frustrating process. Writing a good book means nothing if you can’t get it out to the masses!

Q: What are you doing to promote it and which methods are working the most effectively for you?

A: I’ve done a lot of giveaways on Goodreads, Facebook and Amazon. Goodreads has given me the most exposure, but it’s still limited in the grand scheme of publishing. At this point, word of mouth had brought about the best results so far.

Q: Let’s say Hollywood comes calling to adapt this to a feature-length film. Who comprises your dream cast for it?

A: A film would be my biggest dream! I saw the book as a movie in my head the whole time I was writing it. The cast suggestions below are based strictly on physical resemblance and types.

Jimmy – Alex Pettyfer

June –Aleixis Bleidel

Alice – Jessica Hamby

Tom – Brant Daughtery

Carolyn – Rachel McAdams

Sharon – Reese Witherspoon

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

A: I’m terrified of frogs! My brother lives in a rural area and in the summer it looks like one of the Egyptian plagues outside his house.

Q: Who or what inspires you as an author?

A: My inspiration is based solely on my need to put my thoughts on paper. It is very therapeutic for me to express myself in this type of format. Sometimes even I am surprised but what I write.

Q: When and where do you feel the most creative?

A: Unfortunately, I’m the most creative when I’m trying to get to sleep at night. I wish I could plug my brain into a computer and transfer the data. By the time I get up and go to my computer I don’t always remember what I want to say! So I write mostly at night/early hours of the morning. It’s my best time to concentrate.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: I’m currently working on a sequel to Dancing at Midnight. I wasn’t planning on writing one but there has been an overwhelming request to do so. You’ve got to make your readers happy, right?

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: Publishing my first novel has been an incredible personal accomplishment. I have many more stories in my head. I look forward to expanding my collection of titles in the future.