Barkerville Beginnings

Astrid Cover

Faced with financial ruin and the loss of her good name, Rose Chadwick decides to make a new start for herself and her young daughter, Hannah, in the rough and tumble gold rush town of Barkerville, British Columbia, in 1867. However, making a new life is not so easy when it’s built on lies. And, long suppressed emotions within her are stirred when she meets a handsome young Englishman. Such is the premise of author A.M. Westerling’s new historical romance, Barkerville Beginnings.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Growing up in Alberta, both of your parents had an influence on your reading choices and the passion that eventually drove you to start writing books of your own. Tell us about that.

A: Both my parents were readers – books, the daily newspaper, Time and Life magazines. My dad would always buy me a comic book or book if I asked unlike, say, a toy or something else, especially if we were on vacation. All of my siblings read as well so obviously the apple(s) didn’t fall far from the tree. My mom introduced me to romance novels in my early teenage years and I read every single Harlequin romance in our local library. When I was a bit older, my dad started suggesting historical novels, particularly Catherine Cookson. Once I hit university, I started reading Kathleen Woodiwiss, Rosemary Rogers, Bertrice Small and that was it – I was hooked on the historical romance genre.

Q: What titles might we have found on the nightstand of your teenage self and which ones stand out as fond favorites to this day?

A: Hmm, I really can’t remember. I do recall reading The White Mountains and the Tripods Series by John Christopher. I was pretty excited when my boys had to read it for English but they were like, meh. I was crushed, haha. I did read a fair bit of science fiction; i.e., Ray Bradbury and Isaac Asimov.  My dad also introduced me to Alistair MacLean and I read every single one of his books.

As mentioned earlier, my older teenage self discovered historical romance. I think my favorites from that time were The Wolf and the Dove, and The Flame and the Flower by Kathleen Woodiwiss. Plus I really enjoyed Rosemary Rogers` Sweet Savage Love and Wicked Loving Lies. Sigh, such titles, those were the good old days!

Q: I’m always intrigued by the day-jobs our authors have held prior to pursuing writing as a full-time career. What was yours and why did you choose it?

A: I have a degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of Calgary. I chose engineering because I wanted to graduate with a degree that would actually get me a job. I worked for a number of years in Alberta’s oil and gas industry and then my husband – a mechanical engineer – and I started our own engineering company. We specialized in heavy oil facilities and hit the market at the right time. Fifteen years later, we sold the company and now I’m retired. Too busy to work, thank you very much!

Q: What appeals the most to you about the historical romance genre?

A: I love history and I love romance. Win win.

Q: Obviously anything that transpires in a time period other than the present requires diligent research in order to feel “authentic” for one’s readership. Is it your preference to do all of the research first and then start writing or to look up details as you go along? Why does your chosen method work well for you and how does it correlate to working from an outline vs. listening to your muse?

A:  I do the research first because I need to become familiar with the time period before I can feel comfortable writing it. Of course, from time to time I will look up details as I go along. Also, research gives me story ideas so it helps with developing the plot.

Q: Too much research, though, can slot the pacing of the plot. How did you go about deciding what to keep and what to set aside (and possibly for another book)?

A: I always keep in mind that the romance between the main two characters is the focus of the story, and not the history. I only need to provide enough historical detail to make my readers feel as if they’re in that particular time period. Quite often, I’ll include an author’s note at the end of the manuscript to elaborate on the historical aspects of the work.

Q: The backdrop of your story, Barkerville, is a real place that dates back to Canada’s Gold Rush days. What did you learn about it that you didn’t know before you started writing the book?

A: That in the 1860s it was thought to be the largest town west of Chicago – estimates put the population in Barkerville and area as high as 10,000. Which is pretty amazing, considering how remote Barkerville was at the time. It still is, actually, as it’s in the interior of British Columbia and pretty far off the beaten track. Because of Barkerville and the Cariboo Gold Rush, the British Parliament put forward a bill making the area formerly known as New Caledonia into a crown colony, British Columbia.

Q: Surprises, of course, are inherent in the craft of writing. Do/did your characters ever nudge you to take a different route than the original journey you have/had planned for them?

A: Oh yes, all the time. That’s when I know I’m on the right track, when my characters take over the story. Makes my job a lot easier.

Q: What comes first for you—the characters or the plot?

A: Hmm, I suppose the characters. All of my books have started with a scene that pops into my mind and I take it from there. For example, in my Viking romance A Heart Enslaved, the scene I worked around was the scene in the slave market where the hero Thorvald is about to sell the heroine, Gisela. My challenge was to set up the story to get them there in a believable manner.

In Barkerville Beginnings, the scene that popped up was the opening scene, where Edmund, the father of Rose’s daughter Hannah and who up until now has had nothing to do with her, shows up at the rooming house in Victoria where Rose and Hannah live and threatens to take away Hannah. The only solution Rose can see to avoid that is to escape with her.

Q: Was “characters first” the case with Barkerville Beginnings? Please explain what it was that set this particular story in motion for you.

A: Further to my previous answer, Rose decides to make her way to Barkerville. She’s heard a lot about it from miners passing through Victoria and she thinks it’s the perfect place to hide from Edmund plus a big enough town to provide a living for her.

Q: So give us a teaser of what this novel is about and who the main characters are.

A: My heroine is Rose Chadwick, a single mom in a time when unwed mothers were frowned upon. As you already know, she’s on her way to Barkerville to make a new life for herself and her daughter. Her experience with Edmund has left her wary of men which will prove to be a challenge in a town full of lonely miners and very few women.

The hero, Harrison St. John, was expected to marry the daughter of a wealthy industrialist to bolster the family’s sagging finances. However, he is left standing at the altar and instead makes his way to Barkerville in search of the fortune which will save his family from financial ruin. Because of his wedding fiasco, he has no use for women in his life.

They meet on the Cariboo Road after Rose and Hannah have been tossed from the stage coach because of an altercation between Rose and the driver. Unable to afford passage on another coach, Rose grudgingly accepts Harrison’s offer of a ride for Hannah and her into Barkerville. Once there, she and Harrison part ways. Or maybe not…

Q: Are any of them modeled after people you know (including aspects of your own personality) or are they purely works of fiction summoned from the ether?

A: I’m sure my characters include some aspects of my own personality, after all, I created them. But yes, they are purely works of fiction summoned from the ether. I will sometimes include real people. If so, I will add a comment about them in my author’s note.

Q: Do you allow anyone to read your chapters while they are still a work in progress or do

 you make them wait until you have typed the final page?

A: I work with critique partners. That way, they can set me straight if something doesn’t make sense or isn’t true to the characters. If changes are needed, I prefer to do minor revisions as I go rather than one big revision at the end. It’s more manageable and not as intimidating.

Q: What are you doing insofar as marketing to get the word out about your titles? Of these efforts, what do you feel has been the most successful?

A: Gosh, I wish I knew. Of course, I have a presence on Facebook, Twitter  and Goodreads. I have used FB ads with some success and I’ll try running a contest on my FB page. I might also do a promo spot on Book Bub as I know other writers have had success with that. I’m also going to try my first Goodreads giveaway and I’m guesting on more blogs, which I really appreciate.

Finally, more book signings. I’ve done one already here in Calgary for Barkerville Beginnings and will be participating in another one in July, plus I hope to have a signing in Barkerville itself.

My publisher also does a bit of promotion for their authors, and that’s definitely been effective, particularly for Kobo books.

But I’ve heard many times not to focus too much on social media as the best promo is to write the next book.

Q: You have a lovely first name and yet your books are published under initials. What governed that choice?

A: I write under a pseudonym because my real name is distinctive and I wanted to stay as anonymous as I could. Although in this day of the Internet, I’m sure anyone could figure out who I really am. Hmm, I’ve been spelling both my first and last names my whole life so I wanted something a bit easier. A.M. are my initials, and Westerling was my mom’s maiden name. In hindsight, though, I would probably go with Astrid Westerling as it’s a bit odd to receive emails addressed to A.M.

Q: When and where do you feel you are at your most creative?

A: I like writing in my office, I’m comfortable there, my research books are close at hand and the window looks out to the western sky. No particular time although I do prefer having a quiet house so I love writing when my husband is out. I don’t have a day job so I am fortunate to be able to write when the whim strikes me.

Q: What’s the biggest distraction when you’re in your “writing zone”?

A: Email! Facebook! Laundry! Dust bunnies!

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

A: I always buy fresh flowers when I’m grocery shopping for my dining room table.

Q: What do you do for fun and why does it bring you joy and/or recharge your batteries?

A: I really enjoy walking and I try and get out for a walk every day, even if it’s only for 15 or 20 minutes. In the spring and summer, I love working in my garden and better yet, enjoying the fruits of my labor with a cold beer in hand on the patio. I enjoy a good movie or TV series and yes, I will analyze the plot development, much to the annoyance of my husband. I don’t read nearly as much as I should but love it when I find a great book to immerse myself in. A recent read that comes to mind is Juliet Waldron’s Roan Rose.

We do a bit of traveling in March when spring refuses to come to Calgary and although I’ll bring my little laptop, I rarely sit down and use it. Vacations are for replenishing the well. And I totally love camping, especially in northern British Columbia. My idea of heaven on earth.

Q: As an insider tip to aspiring writers, what do you know now about the publishing industry that you wish you had known when this journey began?

A: Hop onto Google and find a local, or online, writing group. Writing is a lonely occupation so it’s nice to connect with others who share the same passion you do. I’ve found nobody is more willing to help a newbie author than other authors – the advice, shared experiences and support are invaluable.

Q: Where do you see the publishing industry going in the next 10-20 years, and do you think it will be harder or easier for authors to get their work in front of an audience?

A: Indie publishing is definitely here to stay and I think you’ll see more authors going that route if for no other reason than getting your work out and available a lot quicker.

Traditional publishing (i.e., finding a publishing house to publish you) will always be around, too, of course, and although in this day of indie publishing they’re crying for new authors, it will still be difficult to break into. For one thing, the big publishers are too afraid to take a risk. They’ll say they want something new and exciting but when push comes to shove, it’s the same old same old. Just take a look at the shelves at your local supermarket – you’ll always see the same names, particularly in the romance genre.

As far as getting your work in front of an audience, no matter if you’re indie or traditionally published, it’s hard enough already. Publishers expect authors to do their own promo work.

Q: Best personal cure for writer’s block?

A:  Go for a walk.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: I’m working on another Viking romance, this time set in Vinland aka L’Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland. I was working on it when I got the opportunity to participate in the Canadian Historical Brides series so I put it aside as I like to work on only one project at a time. Something about my attention span… ha ha.

I have a few ideas percolating for two more Regency set romances. Here’s the scene that’s popped into my head from one of them:

The brig.  His own crew – the mutinous scurvy bastards! – had tossed Captain YY in his own brig.  His ship. Therefore his brig.

He slammed a calloused palm against the rough planked wooden door then pressed his face to the small grated opening that passed for a sorry excuse of a window. The ship rolled and water sloshed around his ankles. The single lantern swung, casting erratic shadows on the wall and a rat swam by, its black eyes shiny in the feeble light.

With a muttered curse, he dropped down on the narrow bench and swung up his legs. He wedged his feet against the wall and leaned his head back.

Then he proceeded to think about how many enjoyable ways he could do away with the interfering Miss XX.

Because after all, it was her fault he was here.

 And from that will grow an entire book!

 

 

 

 

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A Chat with Konn Lavery

mental-damnation-reality-cover

Dark fantasy is a popular genre in today’s YA market, and Canadian author Konn Lavery taps into that enthusiasm with his second edition of Mental Damnation: Reality. The storyline follows a pair of friends—Krista and Darkwing—as they struggle to survive gang violence, a militarized dictatorship, and a fast-spreading disease that is infecting the population. Like many writers who are passionate about their craft, Lavery frequently burns the midnight oil coming up with page-turning plots. By day, he runs his own graphic design and website development business under the title Reveal Design. These skills have been transcribed into the formatting and artwork found within his publications and supporting his fascination for transmedia storytelling.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Why did you decide to go the self-publishing route?

A: I initially wanted to go through traditional publishing when I was in high school. This would have been back in 2007. At the time I didn’t know anyone in the industry and had no idea how to begin. I had it in my head that if you land that one publishing contract you were set. The publisher would get you an editor, print the books, market it and tour you around the world. The industry doesn’t work that way. Self-publishing also did not seem like an option since I didn’t have any network or an editor to complete my manuscripts.

After some failed submissions I decided to hang up the writing and focus on my postsecondary education. It wasn’t until 2011 when I was teaching at a graphics college when a colleague and good friend of mine asked to read some of my writing (which at the time was unpublished). She happened to be the first person beyond my immediate family who read my work. I gave her a digital copy of the first manuscript of Mental Damnation. Her feedback was very encouraging and she believed I should seriously consider pursuing my writing.

I didn’t want to go through the process of finding a publisher again. Being in the graphic design industry, I now had the knowledge of design fundamentals, book layout, formatting and technicalities to work with a print shop. Self-publishing seemed like a much more plausible option than when I was in high school.

From there I began asking colleagues, friends and searching online about the pros and cons of self-publishing. I took down as many notes as I could and began the process of finding an editor and ultimately releasing my first novel in 2012.

Q: Your latest release is a second edition. Can you elaborate on why Mental Damnation: Reality has a new edition?

A: The first novel I released was Mental Damnation: Reality back in 2012. I had published three more novels after that, one being unrelated to the Mental Damnation series. In the fall of 2016 I returned to the series to finish the story. To do this, I had to brush up on the first novel and become absorbed in the fantasy world once again.

After reading the first edition of Reality, I identified clichés, narration and a stylistic approach that could be improved upon. It had been about five years since the initial release and you can learn a lot in-between that time. My writing has evolved and it read as if it were written by another author.

It had been two years since the release of the third book in the series and I realized that it was an opportunity to start from ground zero and improve the overall story. I compiled a list of feedback I had received over the years from readers who commented on ways to improve the book and applied it to the second edition of the novel.

Q: Will the rest of the series have second editions as well?

A: Yes, the other two novels currently in the series will have second editions. A lot has been adjusted in the new Mental Damnation: Reality and these changes will be seen in Dream and Fusion. Some of these include the lore, character and creature descriptions. I will also be adding new chapters into these novels much like with the new Reality to further expand on the storyline.

Q: How many books are planned for the series?

A: Now that I have re-visited the story, I have the endgame in mind. While I have been re-writing book one, two and three, I am including additional chapters that will help tie together the whole story together.

There will be a fourth and final book in the series that provides a conclusion to Krista’s storyline and a number of subplots that have been introduced to the readers.

Q: Where did the idea for the Mental Damnation series come from?

A: The original storyline for Mental Damnation was written in high school; the concept has evolved drastically over time. It has adapted creatures and characters from earlier manuscripts.

The premise came to me in 2007 while in math class. I was supposed to be doing my homework but instead, I was drawing. The sketch was of a reptilian girl – Krista – who was clutching her head and split between two worlds. On one side it was a forest and on the other was a hellish landscape with demons and fleshy monsters.

The sketch inspired me to come up with a name for the piece and a backstory. I had played with a number of titles such as “Mind’s Hell” or “Mental Fire” but settled on “Mental Damnation” for the biblical reference.

From there, I drafted the first manuscript which differs greatly from the novel you see today. A lot of it has been altered during the editing phases in 2011 and late 2016. This has been a crucial part of my growing process as a writer and am quite pleased to have gone through it.

Q: Will you be writing more books related to Mental Damnation?

A: In the future yes. I have always had the idea that every book I write is part of the same universe. Very similar to how Stephen King’s novels relate to the Dark Tower. As for spinoff novels or more dark fantasy pieces, I do plan to write more related to Mental Damnation.

Fantasy is a big interest of mine – I used to play a lot of role-playing games as a kid – and I do have story outlines for future novels related very closely to the timeline and characters of Mental Damnation.

Q: You also illustrate all of the artwork found in the book, what made you want to do this?

A: By trade I am a graphic designer and web developer and I have also been drawing for as long as I have been writing. After sketching the initial drawing of Krista split between two worlds, I felt that the visual portion of Mental Damnation played an important role to help set the tone of the story. It also provides extra content for fans to enjoy.

The visuals have also seen an evolution over the years. The drawings I did in high school were more detailed and more illustrative. Now they pull a lot more graphical influences with icons, glyphs and patterns. The abstract approach towards the illustrations helps keep the details in the imagination of the reader.

Surprising to me, the addition of illustrations has led to some fan art over the years. It has been very inspiring to see that my work has encouraged people to draw.

Q: You wrote another novel last year in the strange fiction genre. Tell us about it.

A: Back in 2014 I had released Dream and Fusion, two novels found in the Mental Damnation series. I had been engrossed in the dark fantasy world for a number of years and wanted to take a break from it. This opened the doors to explore a new writing style and genre. I was able to take everything I was familiar with and do the opposite of that and grow as a writer.

In 2015 I participated in the NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and wrote the first manuscript for the novel Seed Me. At the time it was called Amensalism but it didn’t fit the mood of the book. Writing Seed Me allowed me to explore a first-person, past-tense narration, something I had never done before.

It was a good experiment and helped broaden my writing ability. I was able to do a lot of research into the history of Alberta, Canada and study what makes a good horror. This research led me to H.P. Lovecraft’s theory of playing off of the unknown which became a major part of the novel.

Q: With Seed Me you introduced a score to accompany the book. Why?

A: I am a huge fan of transmedia storytelling. As seen in the Mental Damnation series, there are a lot of visual bonuses such as a glyph system, illustrations and a map. With Seed Me, I wanted to experiment with new writing and new bonus material.

The score accompanying a book has been done in the past and is a very good idea to create a mood for the readers. While writing Seed Me I listened to a lot of dark ambient, witch house and down tempo music. I also had been writing my own music and knew a number of musicians within these genres.

In the spirit of experimentation that I had for Seed Me, I thought I could take it one step further and include a musical component to the story compiled by various musicians.

Q: What else will you be writing in the near future?

A: I have several story outlines on the go. One being the fourth and final novel in the Mental Damnation series, one being a splatter punk novel and another is a thriller.

In the immediate future, the second edition of Mental Damnation: Dream will be out in the fall of 2017. The second edition of Mental Damnation: Fusion will be out early 2018. The thriller novel I am working on will also be out for 2018.

Q: Any final thoughts you would like to share with our readers?

A: If you are interested in writing or are writing, keep doing it. It is the only way to improve. As mentioned above, I’ve gone forwards and backwards with my writing to really improve on the storytelling and craft.

Don’t be afraid to try new things with your writing and push yourself out of your comfort zone. This is where you’ll really discover what you are capable of.

Off-Screen with Loretta Swit

SWITHEART

It’s a fact of life. At 79, there is no one on the planet who can rock a tube of red lipstick better than Loretta Swit. Although she’s well known by many for her roles in stage, film and television productions (most notably Major Margaret Houlihan in M*A*S*H), it’s almost eclipsed by her passionate talent for painting and her international reputation as an advocate for animal rights. Art and activism find a happy marriage in the release of her new book, SwitHeart, a coffee table edition of 65 full-color paintings and drawings, 22 photographs, and anecdotes about the furry and feathered friends that inspire her.

As she confided in our recent interview, “The toughest part of the book was deciding which images to use. My publisher, Mies (Hora), and I have concluded that we’re just going to have to do another one so as to fit everyone in!”

Proceeds from the book (which is available at SwitHeart.com) are donated to her ongoing campaign to end animal cruelty and suffering across the country and around the world.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: You first discovered your passion for painting when you were six. How have you sustained that passion for all of these years?

A:  By painting, of course, you silly twit! If I’m sitting still, I’m doodling. Constantly! I had a touch of insomnia last night and was thinking about the latest painting I’m working on. I was up until 3 am. Sometimes things just happen. They occur. It could be a stroke or a color or even a background that suddenly makes a painting pop in a way it wouldn’t have in any other context. It’s an incredible journey for me and I sustain my love for painting … by painting! If I’m away from it or if I’m busy traveling, as soon as I can I get back down to it, it’s the first thing I want to do. It’s really not anything regimented. I see something, I’m moved by it, and it becomes my next project.

Q: After you won your first prize for art at such a young age, did you ever think of making that your career?

A: Looking back, it was kind of a cartoony sort of thing. I stalked my mother through the house until she finally agreed to submit my drawing. The next thing I knew, I won! My prize was a cute little pirate’s chest bank. I kept it for years—it was really adorable. It was thrilling for me at six years old to be recognized. As for thinking art could be my career, though, no. Never. Art is something I do the same way I breathe or sleep and it will always be a part of my life. But I also always knew I wanted to be an actor. This is what I wanted, this is what I’m doing and I can say that I’m living the dream. Other people go on vacations. What I do is my vacation because I love being there so much. Sometimes I’m lucky enough to combine wonderful travel with my work. When you’re doing evening work like being in a play, you have time during the day to paint and that’s where you’ll find me.

Q: How does your approach to painting compare/contrast with your approach to acting from a preparation and emotional perspective?

A: For me, they’re different but they both require craft. For instance, I’m a self-taught painter and I’m a hard-working, craft-oriented teacher. I believe in having a strong foundation of craft for your method, for your approach to whatever work you’re doing. There’s nothing mystical about acting but it’s infinitely interesting to me because it’s the study of human behavior. You never really know yourself inside and out because there’s always some new discovery for you. You evolve, you change, you’re affected. When it comes to painting, I very often feel that a higher power reaches out and guides you. For example, I only paint in watercolor and I feel that with watercolor you need the discipline to step back and quit. Otherwise, you can muddy and actually ruin your painting. Not so with oil painting where you have lots of do-overs.

I have had the almost spiritual feeling of something being produced by inspiration and intuition, tweaking colors here and there and then saying, “Did I just do that? That’s really good.” That said, I’m a very harsh critic of my own work. Maybe more lenient as I get older but I’m always taking into consideration that I am self-taught and have learned quite a lot over the years. I think if you’re earnest and committed and it’s a sincere effort, there is always even a small part of every painting that will speak to you and affect you. I compare this to movies. Maybe the movie overall isn’t that great but there’s a moment in it—even a small moment or scene—that stays with you long after it’s over.

Q: Which do you feel is more of a challenge – to act in a live play where there are no “do-overs” in front of an audience (no matter what goes wrong) or to act in a TV series where storylines are not only shot out of sequence but the same scenes are done multiple times as well?

A: They’re both challenging and they both have different rewards. I prefer the stage because I love the size of it. I love the feeling that I’m shot out of a cannon! I love to journey with the audience and feel that we experience all of those moments together and for the very first time. Therein lies tremendous challenge because even if you’re in a long-running show and have been saying the same lines over and over, the people in those seats are seeing and hearing something that’s brand new to them. What you’re creating is an intimate love story that invites them to get to know your character and witness how that character grows and evolves from start to finish.

In film, you’re shooting a character’s growth and feelings out of order, and it’s a huge challenge to know how it all works out without betraying that knowledge in the flow of nuance and energy the camera is capturing. Really good actors also don’t rely on the fact they can shoot a scene over and over until they get it right. I remember a story about Joanne Woodward where she was shooting a particularly emotional scene and something went wrong that required that entire scene to be reshot. She groaned about having to dig down to her toes and pull up all the energy again to re-deliver this highly-charged, high-voltage piece but that’s just what actors do. She was good, she was brilliant, and she was faithful to her craft.

Let me give you another example about attitude from a brilliant actor. Alan Alda. Alan and I were doing a scene we thought was really good. We finished and looked at each other, cheering about the moment of completion. Except something technical went wrong. We were directed to take the scene over again from the very top. We were so sure it was perfect. Arghghghgh! I couldn’t believe this was happening. Alan nudged me with his elbow and said, “Great! We get another chance to do it even better!” Now that’s a winning attitude I appreciate and I try to apply it to everything I do. You can always, always do it better the next time around.

Q: Actors are often warned against acting with children and animals because they will be ruthlessly upstaged. What, then, was it like for you to be a guest on The Muppet Show?

A: It’s like I died and went to Heaven! Seriously, the creativity was so thick and amazing that you couldn’t help but have a wonderful time. They flew me to London, put me up at the Dorchester, and I got to sing and dance around with a bunch of pieces of fur and felt and have the time of my life. I could rave about them forever.

Q: Favorite play you ever acted in?

A: It’s always whatever play I’m doing at the moment. Isn’t that what every actor says? Well, it’s true. I’m very fickle about that. I have a list of favorite plays, things I’ve loved that I completely adored. There are roles like Shirley Valentine that I went after before I had even closed the script. It’s a remarkable piece of theater written for a woman. I also loved doing Same Time, Next Year. Bernard Slade, in fact, wrote the first film I ever did so he really had me pegged to do the play. I loved the female character in it and, at that time, the play was very current in its notions about marriage and relationships. Too much has happened in our world since then to have the play current now but as a timepiece it’s an absolute jewel.

I also played Sister Aloysius in Doubt and Agnes Gooch in Mame and you couldn’t have had two characters farther apart! I think the more you have to stretch in different roles, the more fun it is for both you and the audience. I enjoyed doing Love Letters and The Vagina Monologues and Love, Loss and What I Wore—all fun stuff that was a joy to do and that I’d do all over again. It goes without saying that I loved M*A*S*H, too, because it was like doing a sweet little play every week with writers and actors I adored. It gave me the opportunity to work on a single character for an awfully long time and fortunately I had visionaries as producers who allowed me to continue to grow within that character. It was the first time in television that this actually happened, that Margaret continued to evolve, mindful of reruns and the order in which viewers would be catching the episodes.

Jeff and Loretta

Loretta at a Southern California book-signing with friend and actor Jeff Maxwell (aka Private Igor, the 4077th doofy cook).

Q: Had you seen the film version of M*A*S*H prior to the audition that won you the role of “Hot Lips?”

A: No, and it’s a funny story actually. I was in Hawaii at the time working with Jack Lord on Hawaii 5-0. By the time I came back, a lot of the flap about casting the TV version of M*A*S*H had already died down and I didn’t know they had already seen 200-300 women trying out for the part of Hot Lips. My then-agent called and asked me if I had seen the movie. When I told him I hadn’t, he said, “Great. No problem. Doesn’t matter.” He set up an appointment for me to meet Gene Reynolds, Larry Gelbart and Burt Metcalfe. He told me there wasn’t anything to prepare for or read and that it was just to show up.

My agent, meanwhile, had an offer for me to do a film with Olivia de Havilland which put me in orbit because I had always admired her. Out of courtesy, he called Fox to tell them he had had an offer for me to do a movie and that we were going to go for it if I didn’t get cast in the show because there was a conflict of dates.

Gene Reynolds told him, “Oh, we were just going to call you. We’ve decided to go with Loretta.” Anyway, I’ve been told that our series was closer to the book in terms of characters and episodic and, thus, closer than we ever were to the movie. After I got cast, there wasn’t really any reason for me to watch the film. Now and again I’ll be channel-surfing and catch what looks like the 4077th but it’s not really my M*A*S*H and I keep on going.

Q: In addition to an endearing ensemble cast, top-notch scripts and an artful blend of comedy and drama, M*A*S*H has the distinction of lasting longer on the air than the actual war it was depicting. Well over 30 years after the series finale, it’s still possible to channel-surf on any given day and find it playing in syndication. In your opinion, what accounts for the longevity of the show and its ability to resonate with viewers of all ages (even those too young to have watched it the first time around)?

A: Well, for one thing, the writing was superb and it just kept getting better and better. They also never repeated themselves. They kept coming up with one luscious idea after another and matching some of us together to see what would happen. Next came the extraordinary group of actors who also loved each other. You can always work on friendship and politeness but love is something that’s either there or it isn’t. It happened so deeply that, to this day, it’s the closest family I personally have ever had. We have always been there for each other. On the sad occasions when one of our own has passed away, we mourn them just as we would a flesh and blood family member and cry and hug and share favorite stories. That bond came across very clearly and without working at it in every episode we did. And audiences knew that.

There were also the core values the producers put forth, timeless values that hit people at just the right time and mindset to produce synchronicity. They were ready for a show about peace even though the backdrop of M*A*S*H was about war. Integrity, love, friendship, ambition—M*A*S*H had all of these things. It was about experts—expert doctors and expert nurses—doing their very best under the worst of circumstances. To be able to laugh at their clowning which was a relief for them and at the same time get a lump in the throat when things went wrong—it was a beautiful balance. Families could watch this show together because they trusted us and they trusted the writers to deliver something that was real, that was authentic and that reinforced the message we are all human.

Because we were on the air for so long, the children in those families grew up, got married, had children of their own and yet M*A*S*H is still a family thing. Our fan mail always reflected that. Little girls, for instance, who grew up to become nurses after the years of watching me play-act. For all intents and purposes, M*A*S*H was a sitcom—and I hate that word—but it was so much more. It was a slice of life and its own category that audiences trusted because everyone involved was giving their heart and soul.

It’s also funny that occasionally when I’m channel-surfing and I come across an episode, it instantly seduces me. I can sit there and recall in amazing clarity everything we were doing that day—whether I was needlepointing a pillow or Alan was playing chess with Mike. Sometimes I’ll even call my fellow actors and say, “Wow! Guess what I’m watching! Was this a great episode or what?” It’s almost like I’m seeing everything again for the first time and appreciating it even more.

Q: When actors play a particular role on TV for a long time, they can become so closely identified with their fictional personas that it can be challenging for audiences to accept them as anyone else. As the iconic “Hot Lips,” for instance, you were starring on Broadway in Same Time, Next Year at the same time M*A*S*H was on the air. Did you ever get a sense that the audience was murmuring, “Does Frank know about this?”

A: Never. Ever. Ever. And I can point to several reviews that support that. I remember one in particular—and I have to mention I was never someone caught up in reviews of my work—where a gentleman came up after a performance of Shirley Valentine and said, “I understand you don’t always read reviews. Well, I’d like you to read this one.” And it began, “If you’re headed to the theater in the hopes of seeing Margaret Hot Lips Houlihan, you’ll be disappointed in that way but joyous in being riveted for two hours and fifteen minutes by an actor on stage bringing so many different characters to life.” He took exception to people liking to come to the theater to see a television icon, but this goes back to my own relationship with the audience. If I believe in the character I’m playing, an audience will be swept along and believe it, too. If I do my best, the audience will respond to it.

Q: Speaking of painting, let’s talk about the gorgeous animals that fill the pages of your new book.

A: Yes, let’s. Enough about me. Let’s talk about them.

Q: Since furry and feathered subjects can’t sit still for a studio portrait like their human counterparts, tell us a little about the process you go through to capture their essence.

A: It’s a number of things, actually. It’s memory, it’s imagination. It’s doing a sketch of something I’ve seen, as well as working from photographs. Sometimes I’ll start a new project based on friends’ snapshots of their pets. Other times, I’ll draw inspiration from a picture in a calendar. Every painting in the book is accompanied by short stories about what inspired them.

The cover of the book, for instance, is my painting of a Jack Russell. He was a rescue pup from BIDE-A-WEE, which is the oldest animal rescue organization in Manhattan. I just can’t say enough good things about the remarkable work they do. Anyway, I was the recipient of five lovely little “mistakes” by two uneducated youngsters who knew nothing about spaying and neutering. Believe me, they know now! I took them to BIDE-A-WEE and they were fantastic in terms of giving them their shots, socializing them, and happily, placing them in forever homes. They scrutinize every adoption request thoroughly. In fact, it’s probably harder to adopt a dog from BIDE-A-WEE than it is to adopt a child from Russia.

Q: I’m assuming you had beloved pets when you were growing up?

A: I did indeed. My first little dog was named Cheetah. Seriously. Today I share my home with my little Yorkie and two 15-year-old cats. I was told the latter were littermates. My vet thought this was hilarious and said there was no way that cat parents could have produced a Siamese and a black and white tuxedo. I call Nubie—the black and white—my Velcro cat because he attaches himself to me and likes to just hang there while I walk around.

Q: Your love for animals and your passion to advocate for them go hand in hand. In general, how are we progressing in the fight to stop animal abuse, and if you could change any one aspect of this issue, what would it be?

A: First thing on the agenda would be to erase every single puppy and kitten mill off the map. It’s as disgusting as a bloodsport and a boil on the complexion of our society that we continue to allow these places to exist. Whenever we hear about one, we shut them down. Just as quickly, though, they pop up somewhere else. I have a friend who adopted a Yorkie that had been in a puppy mill. For the first couple of years, this poor little thing kept walking around in circles. They realized she was walking the perimeter of the cage she had grown up in through her whole ordeal as a baby machine. It’s a horror and the conditions are even more horrible.

Laws also need to be more stringent on what’s done with the “discards” from breeders, the dogs that don’t meet all of the standards to be show quality. This also goes along with the elimination of “backyard breeding”—another horrible and sad practice. Professional breeders have to pay a license to breed dogs but, of course, this doesn’t stop people from doing this in their basement and trying to make a profit from excessive inbreeding.

We need to step up in terms of educating people about the important of spaying and neutering. On top of that, if we can’t reach people on a compassionate level, it’s also costing tax-dollars every time an animal has to be euthanized. Multiply that by the millions of animals we put to death every year. We also need to ban the practice of selling dogs and cats at pet stores, many of which have come from mills. There’s no vetting of strangers who come in off the street and want to buy a live animal from a shop at the mall. Will those owners be responsible or will those “purchases” end up dead through no fault of their own?

Q: Tell me about the concept behind SwitHeart Animal Alliance and how your partnership with Mies Hora came about.

A: I absolutely adore Mies, mostly because he never disagrees with me! He’s a brilliant designer and editor and publisher and we couldn’t be prouder of this book. Funny story—Mies is Czech but for some reason I always assumed he was Dutch. Through the course of getting the book out there, I introduced him as Dutch. Well, he let me do it a few times and finally one day he said, “You know, I’ve been meaning to tell you that I’m actually Czech.” Down the road we were working on some marketing ideas and very mildly arguing about whose idea was better. “As a joke, I said, ‘you know, I think I really liked you better when you were Dutch!’ and we laughed and everything was fine from there. It has become our running gag and whenever we hit a roadblock, I tell him that I wish he was Dutch.

As for how it began, we met on a private plane on the way to Florida where I was receiving the Red Cross Humanitarian Award. I had my iPad out and he happened to notice some of my paintings. He asked if he could see it. He really loved them, we got to talking and everything just sprouted from there. The whole process took about a year—to me, it really doesn’t seem that long—but every bit of it was exciting in picking, choosing, writing, and defining what we wanted this book to say. Work is in progress on a second edition and—like the first one—proceeds from sales will go to give a voice to those who can’t speak for themselves.”

A Chat with Anita Davison

Anita Davison poster

 

When I was in high school, my second favorite subject after English was History. Many a time, I’d imagine what it would have been like to live in a different time period and, accordingly, it was a natural step in my wordsmithing to invite my characters to cross paths, rub shoulders and even exchange in snappy banter with people who actually called those time periods “home.” Discovering fellow authors who share that same passion for the past is always a delight, even more so when it’s not just a stand-alone novel but, in fact, an exciting series. Our feature author this time around is Anita Davison, whose latest release, A Knightsbridge Scandal, is Book 3 of her Flora Maguire Mysteries.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q:  Tell us about your journey as a writer and when you first knew that penning stories of history and mystery was what you wanted to do?

A:  Being a published author was not something I ever aspired to. Ordinary people like me didn’t get books published. Those with Master’s degrees in journalism and English literature who have put years of practical work experience into their apprenticeship – those people write books.

In my early 20s I lived and worked in central London, where the National Portrait Gallery was a favourite haunt. In the 17th century room hung a painting of James Scott, Duke of Monmouth, the eldest of 12 illegitimate children of Charles II who tried to seize the throne on his father’s death by raising a rebellion in the West Country. Inspired by his tragic story, and reading Cynthia Harrod Eagles’ The Long Shadow, at the time, I began to create a story about a family caught up on the wrong side of the rebellion. I enjoyed the process, but became aware that I was a novice where novel writing was concerned. However the idea of putting my work ‘out there’ for others to comment on terrified me, but I decided I might as well  find out whether or not I could do something with it, or if I had no discernible talent.

I found an online critique group made up of both published and aspiring writers to whom I submitted my first chapters. I would like to say my submission came back covered in compliments – it didn’t! The group pretty much trashed it!  Nicely though. They didn’t attack the plot or the characters, more my sentence structure and my head-hopping prose. Do I hurl the manuscript into a corner and never touched it again, or hunker down and try again? I did the latter, and that’s when I began to learn rules which aren’t taught in schools – how to use active voice as opposed to passive, putting a scene into one point of view, showing not telling, how to write effective dialogue etc. I also discovered my epic saga of over 200k words would never be accepted as a debut novel, so I split it into two and  it a series; now available as The Woulfes of Loxsbeare. One day I will finish Volume 3.

I was accepted by the Kate Nash Literary Agency, who, after a brief flirtation with Victorian romance, they secured a contract for Royalist Rebel, my biographical novel about Elizabeth Murray who was a teenager during the English Civil War. I now have a five book deal for my Edwardian Cosy Mystery series with Aria Fiction. The agency’s list of authors represented is pretty impressive these days, and I would like to say my career has taken off in the same way– but that hasn’t happened – yet.

Q: Who are some of the authors whose wordsmithing structure, plots and characters have had the most influence on your own style?

A: Cynthia Harrod-Eagles ‘Dynasty’ series about a Yorkshire family inspired me to begin writing.

Q: If we could travel back in time, what are some of the books we might find on the nightstand of your 10-year-old self? How about as a teenager?  And now, as a successfully published author?

A: The book I clearly remember reading at aged 10 was Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury which fascinated me. In my teens I started reading Jean Plaidy, Dennis Wheatley, Agatha Christie. Forever Amber by Kathleen Winsor cemented my love of the 17th Century. Lately I tend to read for research but for pleasure I enjoyed Tasha Alexander’s historical mysteries, Erin Morganstern’s Night Circus, and C S Sansom’s stories of the Tudor lawyer, Matthew Shardlake.

Q: Speaking of different time periods, what was the attraction for you to Edwardian England as the backdrop for heroine Flora Maguire’s adventures?

A: I was given a subscription to a genealogy site as a gift and became fascinated with my own family history. My family were Prussian immigrants who came to London in 1880, which led me to reading all I could about London during the late Victorian and Edwardian eras. With all the photographs of London at that time, as well as a store of vintage videos on the web, I soon became hooked. Less than a hundred years ago, life and attitudes were vastly different to today. It’s accepted that the Regency period was a male dominated world, but these attitudes were still firmly in place in the early 20th Century. Women did not eat out in public unless they had a male escort, and many restaurants had male only dining rooms. Simpsons restaurant in the Strand didn’t allow women in their downstairs dining room at all until 1984.

Q: A college professor of mine once said that if one is going to write mysteries in which a broad spectrum of skullduggery is afoot (including dead bodies), it’s easier to do it in an earlier century when technology was not a prevalent tool for crime-fighting. Do you find that to be the case with your own work?

A: In some ways that’s true because the clues have to be more prosaic; an overheard conversation, a document, etc., and the villain revealed without the use of forensic science. In the first book, Flora finds blood on a knife, but in 1900 there was no test to tell whose it was as blood grouping had been thought of but not perfected. Also, fingerprints weren’t used for identification until a landmark case in 1902 – but were still not considered conclusive. And poisons were easier to obtain, arsenic being an ingredient in all sorts of products. Cocaine was used in cough linctus until then 1950s.

It was easier to change identities and information was much harder to find, you had to know where to look. The SS Minneapolis was one of the first ships to carry wireless telegraphy, so my character was able send a telegram to an associate on land to find out certain facts about a suspect.

Q: Writing out-of-your-time-zone, of course, requires a lot of research in order for the storyline to feel both plausible and authentic to your readers. There’s always a danger, though, of getting so carried away by these vintage details that they can easily overwhelm—and detract—from the plot. What governed your choices regarding which research should be included and which could/should be left out?

A: Absolutely – and this is a major problem for historical writers. Personally I get so immersed in historical events that I always put too much into my stories, assuming the reader will be as fascinated as I am. Editing tends to illustrate these ‘info dumps’ though and I do follow advice and remove most of it by reminding myself I am not writing a history book. Anything which doesn’t drive the story forward or fit seamlessly into the narrative without jarring – or boring the reader – must go!

Q: When and where did the fictional Flora Maguire first step into your imagination and demand your attention?

A: I was writing a Victorian romance which began with my female character travelling between New York and London on a steamship I had researched extensively right down to the patterns on the stateroom curtains and bed covers. When the book was contracted, my editor said the novel should begin when my character steps off the boat onto English soil – thus all my intricate research and writing was dumped. However, I kept my meticulous research. I had worked too hard to consign it to the bin – and when Flora Maguire needed a crime to solve, I wanted a  ‘closed room’ environment with a limited number of suspects, my steamship was ideal.

Q: Did you always intend to turn that first Flora Maguire story into a series?

A: No I didn’t. As my first try at mystery writing, I wasn’t sure if it would be credible, but the critique group and my agent said mysteries did better as a series as readers like to be familiar with the main character. When the critiquing process ended, the group asked me what was going to happen to Flora when she got off the ship. It was while I was writing Books 2, 3 and 4 that my agent secured a five-book deal for the whole series from Aria Fiction. Thus, I am currently writing Book 5. Books 1 to 3 are available and Book 4 will be released in November 2017 with Book 5 scheduled for next year.

Q: Series fiction is not without its own set of challenges; specifically, if there’s an expectation or hope that readers will read these books chronologically. But what about someone who jumps in and reads the most recent book first? How do you handle that fine line of giving them just enough background teaser to want to go back and see what they missed without giving away too much information on how the prior “episodes” were resolved?

A: I have suggested to readers that they are best read chronologically as Flora’s personal life changes, although the murder mysteries are complete stories.  Flora has a mystery in her own life, which develops a little more with each book.

Q: Flora starts out her career as a governess. Given the circles in which she moves as crimes unfold, wouldn’t she be more effective as a wealthy, titled lady or an actress?

A: Flora’s station in life was a major consideration before I began. I don’t know anything about the thespian world, either now or the Edwardian era, so didn’t feel I could portray it with any conviction. The aristocracy, unless they baulked the system and existed on the fringe of fashionable society, led restrictive lives. Unmarried girls in 1900 had to do what their parents told them, while married ones had to obey their husbands. Unless I made Flora a widow, like Tasha Alexander’s heroine, Lady Emily Ashton, Flora couldn’t gad about town on her own, which is why I introduced Sally Pond, her maid and sometime sidekick. I felt that as a governess, Flora would be intelligent by nature and discreet by necessity. As an upper servant, she moves between the two worlds with ease with an ability to be invisible, so people tend to talk in front of her, forgetting she is there.

The first story is set in 1900, the beginning of a new millennium where great changes in science, medicine and society were taking place in the run up to WWI. She ventures into some unsavoury areas at times which no titled lady would enter, and with more freedom.

Q: You make mention of the Women’s Suffrage Movement in this novel. Is Flora herself a Suffragist?

A: She’s a non-militant Suffragist and an admirer of Millicent Fawcett who worked for years to have women’s rights acknowledged by the government, and succeeded to a point with the Liberal Party. Flora’s status was gained by her marriage, and had she remained a governess, the movement wouldn’t have represented her at all as they were fighting for women who owned property. One aspect people forget about the ‘Votes for Women’ fight was that the majority of working class men didn’t have the vote either. Thus, Flora has mixed feelings about the aims of the Suffragists. Flora also believes that the WSPU- Christabel Pankhurst’s breakaway militant group with their campaign for vandalism and public protest was not representative of most women who wouldn’t dream of destroying works of art or throwing bricks though windows.

Q: What does her husband think of her stance on equal rights for women?

A: He admires her and holds similar views. He’s a solicitor from a wealthy background who has fallen on leaner times and has to make his own living, so he is sympathetic to the struggles of the working man – and woman, but he also has the ability to function in both societies.

Q: Do you have a favorite character in this series?

A: Flora is my favourite as the stories are written from her point of view, so hers is the head I am inside most of the time. I do like her young charge, Eddy, though, who enters the stories as a 13-year-old boy. My editor says he is one of her favourites, so Eddy is making an appearance in Book 5 as an 18-year-old university student. He gets into trouble and runs to Flora and Bunny for help.

Q: So what’s in store for Flora in future novels in this series?

A: No 4 is at first editing stage where a murder leads her into the shady world of child trafficking. This ties in with the International Agreement for the Suppression of the “White Slave Traffic Act” which was ratified that year in the UK.

Q: Do you start with an outline or make up the plot as you go along?

A:  Plotter every time. I research specific historical events which I would like to include, then work out the crime, the villain and the clues and misdirection. Then I sketch out each scene synopsis, its goal, content and conclusion– I need to know exactly where the story is going or I get lost.

Q: Does anyone get to read your work in progress or do you make them wait until the very last page?

A: I am still a member of the Historical Fiction Critique Group to which I submit my draft chapters for feedback. We have been working together for some years and trust each other’s opinion. If they tell me a character is hollow or not credible in the first draft, I do something about it.

Q: Have your characters ever surprised you and gone off the path in dialogue or action that you hadn’t originally fashioned?

A: On occasion, a character I had given a cameo role to has developed into a major one because the group really liked them and wanted more. Bunny’s mother was going to be a shadowy figure who made an occasional appearance, but now she is Flora’s nemesis. Beatrice Harrington is the archetypical Victorian widow with unbending principles and an opinion on everything. Naturally she doesn’t believe any woman is good enough for her only son, especially a governess brought up below stairs by a Scotsman. I thought she could be one character readers could love to hate and I allow Flora to score the odd point against her to assert herself.

Q: Are your previous novels Edwardian-themed as well?

A: I have written two Victorian Romances, but my first love was the 17th Century. The Woulfes of Loxsbeare are about an Exeter family caught up in the political chaos of the late 17th Century. Royalist Rebel is a biographical novel about Elizabeth Murray, who became Duchess of Lauderdale. A friend of Charles II, she was also one of his spies during the Interregnum, and was published by Pen and Sword Books

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

A: That I am happiest at home with my writing and only venture out when absolutely necessary or when bullied by my family. I don’t even like eating outside! I’ve been accused of everything from being an agoraphobic to a vampire, but I just like the indoors!

Q: What do you think is the best thing about being a writer?

A: That I can manage my own time and workload and create my stories from any premise I like, when I like. The autonomy is very important.

Q: And the worst thing?

A: Those times when I sit in front of the computer, a coffee at my side and fingers poised over the screen – and nothing comes. It doesn’t happen too often but when it does it can be soul destroying. Writers are insecure at the best of times [well, maybe not all] and when your mind is as blank as the screen, it’s hard to accept you will feel differently tomorrow, or maybe the next day. You think it’s over – forever!

Q: What’s your best advice to an aspiring author who is just starting out?

A:

  1. Find your author voice and have confidence in it.
  2. If you write, you are an author – don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
  3. The story is the thing. A steadily moving plot, plenty of conflict and a satisfying ending is more important than flowery descriptions and a ton of woven in research. No one recalls what the heroine was wearing when she finally wins the battle or falls into her hero’s arms.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

A: My social media links:

BLOG: http://thedisorganisedauthor.blogspot.com

GOODREADS: http://www.goodreads.com/AnitaDavison

FACEBOOK: https://www.facebook.com/anita.davison

TWITTER: @AnitaSDavison

LINKEDIN: https://www.linkedin.com/in/anita-seymour-davison-9ba57014/

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: Other than promoting my current book? No, I don’t I think so, I have gone on long enough.

 

 

 

A Conversation with Jamie Dare

Jamie Dare headshot

As one half of the dynamic duo, Hamlett & Dare, Jamie Dare takes no backseat in her co-writing endeavours. An outstanding writer, she dives right into new projects with gusto, and loves exploring new opportunities to write “outside the box”. Funny, quixotic, and down-to-earth, Jamie takes her writing seriously, and isn’t afraid to tell us a bit about her own insecurities, writing processes, and give us a small, behind-the scenes look at what goes into co-writing a book and comedic play that’s currently in the works. Welcome Jamie!

Interviewer: Debbie A. McClure

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Q: What kind of research do you do when preparing for a new book project?

A: Read, read, Google like a maniac, read. I hadn’t read much chick lit before “While You Were Out” so to familiarize myself with the genre, I blazed through the entire Sophie Kinsella canon. I hadn’t planned on doing this, but after the first book, I couldn’t stop. Ms. Kinsella’s books are like rainbow Skittles. Can’t stop at one.

Q: What’s the most unusual thing you had to research online for your book?

A: Two words: stargazy pie. In “While You Were Out,” Henny’s mother isn’t known for her culinary prowess. So you can imagine what happens when she tries her hand at this rather unique dish. Someday I will work up the courage to make it myself.

Q: Do you work from an outline, or allow the plot to unfold as you go along?

A: The latter. I know you’re supposed to outline before writing. So I outline, but I never stick to it. I’m most definitely a pantser.

Q: Describe your writing process in five words or less.

A: Procrastinate, panic, write, rewrite, repeat. Were I allowed a sixth word, I’d probably put “procrastinate” in there twice.

Q: Can you tell us a little about the current project you’re working on?

A: Christina and I just wrapped up “Séance and Sensibility,” a comedic take on the Jane Austen classic. In the play, Elinor and Marianne Dashwood navigate Regency-era England’s stuffy social customs with assistance from a crystal ball. And some otherworldly friends, of course. It’s the most fun I’ve ever had writing a script. It’s also our third Austenesque spoof. “Cliffhanger Abbey” and “Hyde and Prejudice” can be found at Heartland Plays (https://heartlandplays.com/).

Q: Have you ever experienced “writer’s block”? If so, how do you overcome it?

A: I haven’t experienced writer’s block, I AM writer’s block. It should be my middle two names.

I have different methods for un-sticking myself. If I find myself staring at “At Rise” or “Chapter 1” for hours on end, I’ll force myself to write something. Anything. Even if it’s terrible. Even if it’s “All work and no play make Jack a dull boy”. (Although, this technique made me want to put an axe through a door, so I’ve sort of stopped using it). The next day the deficiencies are so glaring, I can’t wait to dive in and rewrite.

If I’m stuck in the middle of a chapter or scene and the words aren’t coming, it means I’m out of gas. So I’ll do something else to give my mind a break. Run, walk, bike, line dance. I always fear the words won’t come back, but they do. Usually when I don’t have a pen handy, but that’s beside the point.

Q: What would you say are your strengths and weaknesses as a writer?

A: Strength would be dialogue. I love writing dialogue, which is odd because in real life I can’t stand talking. I’m also a decent first-drafter.

Weaknesses? Where to begin. I’ve given myself bald spots trying to plot out stories. While we’ve all heard that “Good writing is rewriting,” I sometimes overdo this to the point I’m writing and erasing at the same time.

Q: What was your elevator pitch for the While You Were Out book?

A: It’s one thing for Henny Tinker to think her handsome and charismatic new boss, Geoffrey Bond, is way out of her league. The more she reflects on his secret trips and his uncanny ability to acquire never-before-seen artworks, the more she suspects he’s – quite literally – out of her time-zone.

Could it have something to do with the Scottish railway clock in his office that runs perfectly…in reverse? Is it his penchant for period outfits that supposedly coincide with the themed costume parties he attends? Or has Henny simply been watching too many time-travel movies and now sees evidence of its existence everywhere she looks?

Set against the backdrop of modern-day London, While You Were Out is just the right mix of romantic comedy, mystery, and a dash of wicked competition in the world of high-end art acquisitions. My stellar writing partner is the genius behind this pitch, by the way.

WYWO front cover

Q: What was the most difficult scene for you to write in While You Were Out?

A: Honestly? The restaurant scenes! Geoffrey and Henny dine at the finest establishments in London. I don’t eat out unless I have a coupon, so I have no idea what a five-star restaurant would serve. I burned up the Internet researching words like “vacherin” and “fribourgeois”.  To me, these sound like an ailment and its prescription. Henny notes this in the book as well.

Q: Tell us an interesting, fun fact about your book.

A: I had no idea how it would end — until the very end! Christina and I write by dividing up chapters or scenes; she’ll write a couple, then I will, and so on. For “While You Were Out,” she had the final chapters and kept me in the dark about the big reveal. Like Henny, I was left to develop my own theory about Geoffrey’s comings and goings, and his odd disappearances. The finale was even better than I could have ever imagined.

Q: What have you learned about yourself since you began writing?

A: I’ve learned I can stay awake until 3am on a consistent basis. I wouldn’t say I recommend this as a writing schedule, but that’s the way my mind works. It doesn’t matter if I staple myself to a computer from 9am to 5pm. The words that “stick” to the page are the ones that come in the wee hours of the night. I’ve learned to accept it. Embrace who you are, kids.

Q: What is the most difficult and easiest part of co-writing a book with another writer?

A: The easiest part is having another writer as a sounding board. Instant feedback from someone you trust… it doesn’t get much better than that. It’s also invaluable having a co-writer who is adept at story structure. Christina has plotted out entire novels in her sleep, no joke. You know what I do in my sleep? Sleep!

The only difficult part is trying to keep up with Christina’s prolificity. I’m the type who agonizes over every word, so whenever I send off new pages, it’s a big deal. I’ll go make myself a celebratory sandwich or whatever and by the time I’ve finished eating, Christina has sent me her new pages. I have no idea how she does it.

Q: What’s next for you, Jamie?

A: Lots of fun stuff on the horizon! The response to “While You Were Out” has been so overwhelming, we’re planning another chick-lit novel, “Saving Captain Cupid.” We’ve also broken ground on a romantic suspense novel, “Silent Knight.” Watch this space for more details.

And look for a new play, “Last Flight to Ithaca,” from Brooklyn Publishers in August 2017 (https://www.brookpub.com). Christina and I love adding a contemporary spin to the classics, and this comedy finds Ulysses (yes, the Greek hero) stuck in an airport as he tries desperately to get home for the holidays. Talk about an odyssey. Wow, that’s a lot in the pipeline! Time to go clean the house.

 

For more information about Jamie’s work, please visit https://hamlettanddare.wordpress.com/.

 

 

 

Romancing the Klondike

 

CanadianBrides-Yukon

Just as tradesmen took leave of their jobs, doctors took leave of their patients, and the world at large took leave of its senses in 1849 to scramble to California in pursuit of glittering treasure, a similar stampede for riches got underway 47 years later—this time, toward Northwestern Canada’s rugged Yukon. It’s against this rugged backdrop that a young woman named Pearl Owens goes in search of adventure while her cousin, Sam, is equally fervent about staking his own claim for gold. Such is the premise of author Joan Donaldson-Yarmey’s latest novel, Romancing the Klondike.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: When did you first realize you had been bitten by the writing bug and wanted to pursue this as a possible career?

A: I had thought about trying to be a writer for a few years while my children were young. I wrote a few stories but just put them away. When my children were teenagers I took a writing course and wrote a short story about the injured hawk my son and I found on the side of the road. We took it home and kept it a couple of days until it was better, then let it go. The story was accepted by a small magazine and I was paid $100.00 for it. When I saw the published story and people told me they had read it and liked it, I was hooked.

Q: Who are some of the writers (living or dead) whose work you especially admire?

A: Since I write mysteries, of course Agatha Christie is one of the writers I admire, especially for her innovated plots. I can say the same for Mary Higgins Clark. Their endings were surprises and I like that. I wasn’t a fan of most of Mordecai Richler’s books. However, I really enjoyed his novel, Barney’s Version, for the unique way it was written and, again, for the surprise ending.

Q: If you could invite three of them to a private dinner at your home, what questions would you most like to ask each one before the evening is over?

A: How do they come up with their ideas? How many rejection slips did they receive before their first book was published? How long did it take for them to get their first novel published? Did the same publisher publish their second book? If they switched publishing houses during their career, why? I would ask each of them these questions because I’m sure their answers would be different.

Q: You’ve held no shortage of diverse jobs throughout your life – printing press operator, bank teller, house renovator, bookkeeper. How did each of these prepare you for both the work ethic discipline and the solitary aspects of spending time in fictional worlds of your own creation?

A: I think I am naturally a disciplined person. When I decide I want to do something, I do it no matter what I have to go through to accomplish it. I like immersing myself in my story and characters. Sometimes, when I am living my normal life, I miss the people and life happening in my book. Having a variety of jobs did provide me with a lot of occupations to give the main characters in my books. Although technology has changed since I worked at some of them, I might be behind the times on how things are done. But I am free to set my books during any decade I want.

Q: You’ve also moved more than 30 times. That’s a lot of packing and unpacking! What would you say accounts for this sense of wanderlust…and are there any upcoming moves on the horizon?

A: I like new places, new experiences, meeting new people. I never really have been attached to a house to the point that I have said, I don’t want to move. Sometimes, once I’ve left a place I look back at the fun I had and the friends I met, but I never really say “Oh, I never should have moved from there.” Instead I think, if I had stayed there, I wouldn’t be here. Right now I live on an acreage with fruit and berry trees. Being raised on the prairies where we had to purchase all our fruit like cherries, peaches, pears, apples, it is nice to go out into my yard and pull them from the tree and eat them fresh. Every once in a while I think it’s time to move on, but so far I haven’t found the next place where I want to live.

Q: When and where do you feel you are able to be your most creative self?

A:  Right now, I have an office with my desktop computer, plus I have a chair in the living room with a table beside it for my laptop. I seem to be able to watch television and follow the show while writing at the same time. I get most of my work done there.

Q: After successfully penning a number of historical articles and travel books, you made the switch to fiction. What was it that influenced this decision?

A: I like reading mysteries and I found that there were so many with inferior plots or predictable endings. I figured I could write a book at least as bad as some of them and tried. It took a couple of years but I found a publishing house that accepted my first mystery, Illegally Dead. Since then I have published three more mystery novels, three historical novels, two sci/fi, one contemporary young adult and one Christmas romance (with my sister).

Q:  As someone who is skilled at writing in different genres, how do you go about deciding which genre will ultimately be the smartest fit for a new story?

A: Most times I set out to write a mystery. The main character of my first three novels, Illegally Dead, The Only Shadow in the House, and Whistler’s Murder, which I call The Travelling Detective Series, is a travel writer. She somehow manages to get involved in a murder while researching places for articles for travel magazines. So the books include information about the places she visits as well as the mystery. In The Only Shadow in the House, she also has a boyfriend, so there is a romance. But since they are mainly mysteries, I put them under the mystery genre. My stand alone novel, Gold Fever, there is a mystery and romance so I call it both. My historical novels and my young adult contemporary young adult were easy to define. It was my novels, The Criminal Streak and Betrayed that I wrote first and then decided that they belonged in the science fiction genre.

Q: What comes first for you – the plot or the characters?

A: Usually it is an idea that I get from reading a news story, overhearing a conversation, or seeing something on television. Then from there I decide on the plot and then bring in the characters.

Q: Do you develop your stories from an outline or develop the actions and interactions as you go along?

A: I have never worked with a solid outline because I find that my characters seldom end up the way I first pictured them and plot never takes the route I thought it would. I do start the story with the main character in his/her everyday life so the reader can get to know them then I put in the trigger that starts the mystery. This puts the main character on his/her quest for a solution.

I do have scenes pictured ahead of time where characters are going to have a certain conversation or be at a certain place but unexpected conversations or character twists surface as I am writing the story. Some of these are surprises or mishaps or problems that get in the way of my character’s quest. I strive not to make these predictable nor so far out that they don’t make sense to the story. I try to leave the reader with the thought that (s)he should have figured that would happen. I find that it is no fun to read a book where you can foresee where the story line is headed and what is going to happen before it does.

Q: For your latest novel, Romancing the Klondike, you chose the backdrop of the Yukon, specifically 1896, the year before the great Klondike Gold Rush began. How did you go about doing the research for this era in order to ensure the storyline’s authenticity?

A: I have been to the Yukon twice. On the second visit, in 1997, I was working on my non-fiction travel book, The Backroads of the Yukon and Alaska. I decided that I wanted to hike the Chilkoot Trail, since it was the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the Klondike Gold Rush. To write Romancing the Klondike I used my knowledge of the territory plus read books about its history to make sure I had that right. I also read books about the late 1800s to describe hair dos and clothing and equipment.

Q:  Romancing the Klondike isn’t your first novel about gold. Your mystery/romance Gold Fever is set in the mountains of southern British Columbia. Do you have a fascination with gold?

A: I guess I do. My father panned for gold with two of his brothers in the Salmo area of southern British Columbia in the late 1930s. When WWII broke out, he and one brother joined the army. At the end of the war, Dad ended up in Vancouver where he met my mother and they married. In 1980, my husband, kids, and I accompanied my parents to the gold claim that Dad once owned. He showed us how to pan and we all ended up with a little bit of flour gold.

In 1992, my husband and I decided to drop out of society for a while. We sold our house, quit our jobs and headed to the Salmo area to get a gold claim. We found a small section of the Salmo River that was not part of any claim and we staked it. When we registered it, we found out that it was part of the claim that my dad had had in the 1930’s.

Q: You have written two other Canadian historical novels, West to the Bay and West to Grande Portage. What do you think makes Canada’s history such compelling fodder for novelists and authors of nonfiction?

A: When I attended school in the 1960s I was told that Canada was too young a country to have much of a history and what it did have was boring. I was taught the history of the United States, France, England, and ancient Greece and Rome. I decided that I was going to prove my teachers wrong and began reading about Canada, and yes, sometimes the books were boring, but when I looked at what the people who lived in that time did to survive and thrive, it was amazing. In 2014 I wrote West to the Bay, the first in my Canadian historical series for teens, young adults, and adults. The story takes place 1750 and is about four boys who join the Hudson’s Bay Company and sail from Scotland to Rupert’s Land to work in an isolated fort. It is also the story on a young native girl and her family who wait expectantly for the yearly visit from her grandfather on the supply ship.

In 2015, my second book in the series, West to Grande Portage, was published. It takes place in Montreal in 1766 and shows the life of two young adults, a boy and his female cousin as they each strive to make a life for themselves, he as a voyageur with his uncle and she as a volunteer at the hospital and prospective bride.

The Hudson’s Bay Company was founded in 1670 and set up a few forts on Hudson’s Bay in Rupert’s Land, as Canada was known at the time. The Company began as a purchaser of beaver pelts but over the centuries also became a retailer, opening stores across the country. It is the oldest continuously operating company in the world.

The birch bark canoe was invented by the natives and used by them and non-natives to navigate the lakes and rivers for centuries.

Q: Since you write in so many different genres, what’s your favorite genre to read?

A:  Mysteries, mysteries, mysteries. I like to be drawn into a detective novel, taken through all the clues and red herrings and then be shocked at the ending.

Q: Do any aspects of your own personality find their way into the characters you’re writing about?

A: Yes. The main character of The Travelling Detective Series is an aspiring travel writer who works as a nursing attendant in a long term care facility. I am a travel writer who has worked in a long term care facility. My family and friends who have read the novels say that they can picture me saying or doing things that she says and does.

Q: Have your characters ever surprised you?

A: Oh, yes. In The Only Shadow in the House, I was waffling between two characters as the killer. Suddenly, a different character stepped up and said they had done it and gave the reason why. The funny thing is that readers have told me that they had thought the killer was one of the two people I had been waffling about.

Q: Which of these characters would you most like to spend a day with and where would you go?

A: Since my main character is most like me, only younger, I would like to spend a day with her. I could give her pointers on travel writing and we could discuss delving into a murder mystery and how to interpret clues while we drink Pepsi and eat chocolate.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: I am working on a mystery/romance and also on a saga about four generations of a family.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: No. These questions cover everything.