Summers of Fire

SummersofFire-HiRes

In the 1970s, Linda Strader became one of the first women hired on a fire crew with the U.S. Forest Service. She discovers firefighting is challenging—but in a man’s world, there would be tougher battles to fight. We’re delighted to put her compelling new book– Summers of Fire: A Memoir of Adventure, Love, and Courage—in the spotlight and encourage the next generation of young women to never let anyone say “no” to whatever career paths they want to pursue.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: What attracted you to become a firefighter, a career that was traditionally reserved for men?

A: It certainly wasn’t because I’d dreamed of being a firefighter since I was a kid! No, it was nothing quite that profound.

My parents had moved my family from Syracuse, New York to Prescott, Arizona, while I was in my senior year. Small town Prescott didn’t have much to offer in the way of work for a seventeen-year-old. I did the fast food thing, answered the phone in a tiny office where the phone never rang, waited on tables in a luncheonette for two days…and hated every minute of it. I wanted to do something different, but I didn’t know what that would be. I loved the outdoors, and often explored the forest around my home. I loved playing guitar, painting, and even learned how to silversmith, but those interests weren’t going to get me out on my own. I reluctantly ended up looking for work in Tucson. There, an acquaintance found me a job with the U.S. Forest Service, working in the ranger station high in the Santa Catalina Mountains outside of Tucson. True, it was an office job, but it was not ordinary one by any means. They hired me as a timekeeper for the Catalina Hot Shots, an elite firefighting crew. The crew introduced me to the exciting world of wildfire. After working two summers up there, I decided I hated office work, and applied for a firefighter position. I got it, and became one of the first women to work on a Forest Service fire crew in the Santa Rita Mountains south of Tucson.

Q: What are your recollections about the first day on the job?

A: When I met my supervisor, he squeezed my upper arm and inspected my hands for calluses…obviously checking to see if I could handle the hard work. I also noticed there were no other women, but didn’t think anything of it. After having such a hard time getting a job, I was determined to give this one my very best.

Q: Did you ever consider walking away and doing something else?

A: Yes, I did. Once when I found out the guys resented my presence on the crew, and again when I found myself blacklisted. However, I loved my job, and decided that the harder the guys made it for me, the more I wanted to keep that job.

Q: What was the most harrowing experience you can recall?

A: We were fighting a 50,000 acre fire in Northern California back in 1977, one of the worst fire seasons in recent history. Because of miscommunications,  two of my crewmates and I found ourselves nearly entrapped by a backfire operation, a firefighting technique where fire officials intentionally set a fire to stop the main fire. Additionally, while watching a 200 foot wall of flames, I remember questioning the effectiveness of the fire shelter strapped to my waist…a new piece of safety equipment just added to our gear that summer.

Q: Flash-forward to the present and you have written your first book. What prompted you to share your memories abut life as a female firefighter?

A: After suffering multiple losses over a short period of time, namely ending my 23-year marriage, losing my job, and then my mom dying, I found myself looking to my past because the future looked so bleak. I’d had some amazing adventures during my seven-year career, and thought to put them down on paper before they were forgotten. Over time, I added more, and eventually discovered I’d written what resembled a book.

Q: Many people believe that writing a memoir about tough times is cathartic. Was that true for you?

A: It was not. At first I left out the ‘tough stuff’, avoiding painful memories. However, early beta readers noticed I was leaving out people and events they believed to be important. Reluctantly, I agreed. It was torture to relive events that I did not want to, and every time I edited, I cried, got angry, and filled with resentment. I don’t care if I ever read those sections again, and in fact, I hope I never have to.

Q: Writing personal details about your life and then sending them out into the world for total strangers to read has to be a scary experience. Or was it?

A: Petrifying! I had no idea how people would react. Would they relate? Would they judge me? I feared the worst. However, as reviews came in, I discovered that people did relate to my story, and they did not judge me. They admired me for sharing. What a relief.

Q: What was the hardest part of the book for you to write? And why?

A: As I mentioned above, writing about painful memoirs was the hardest. They brought back anger and resentment over how my wonderful world fell apart.

Q: When did you first realize that the craft of writing was calling to you?

A: As soon as I started writing down memories of my adventures, I couldn’t stop. But because I’d never written a book before, it took many, many rewrites to turn those memories into an actual story, one that someone would want to read. Obsessed by this point, I refused to give up until I got it right.

Q: What have you learned about yourself and your outlook on life during the actual writing process?

A: That I’m stronger than I think I am. I’ve been asked what I would tell my twenty-year-old self if I could go back in time. Not one thing. Actually, it is she who has much to say to me. All of those losses I suffered through set me back, big time. I lost touch with who I am. While reading my personal journals to write my book, I realized that I’m still her…the strong-willed twenty-year-old who fought for what she wanted. That was quite a profound realization for me.

Q: What is a typical day of writing and editing like for you?

A: Because I run a small landscape design business, I write when I have time. For me, editing is best done in the early in the morning when I’m rested, and creative writing in the late afternoon with a glass of wine. Hey, it frees up the mind! Summer is very slow for me, so I do make the most progress during that time, both writing and editing.

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

A: My goal at first was to find a literary agent. After two years, and over a hundred queries and multiple rejections, I decided to query small publishers. Ironically, I had agents reading my full manuscript at the same time three publishers made offers. It was a tough decision, because I still really wanted agent representation, but I was also tired of playing the game. I ended up accepting one of those three offers, a decision I don’t regret.

Q: Successfully marketing a finished work is often one of the biggest hurdles new writers face. Was your publisher helpful in this regard or were you largely on your own?

A: My publisher made sure my book was available in multiple outlets, all over the world. They entered me into appropriate competitions, resulting in me becoming a finalist in one of them. They provided me with a press release. But speaking engagements, book signings, reaching out to the news media—that fell on me. However, I knew this would happen, no matter how I published. Therefore, I’d done my homework ages ago. I started writing a blog over five years ago, and had been networking on social media for at least three years. I exchanged blog posts with other authors. I looked for, and found, author interview opportunities. Prior to my book’s release, I booked eight speaking engagements and signing events. After watching a free online podcast about how to market your book without paying a publicist, I landed a TV interview, and Parade Magazine published an excerpt. I’m always looking for more opportunities.

Q: Now that the book is out there, what feedback from readers surprised you the most?

A: That they think of me as brave. I have never thought of myself as brave. I do know that if I want something bad enough, nothing will stop me from achieving it. If that is considered bravery, I will concede that maybe I am.

Q: What message do you want to be most strongly convey to the next generation of young women who want to follow their dreams?

A: Never let anyone tell you what you can and cannot do! And never give up.

Q: If your philosophy of life were printed on a t-shirt, what would it say?

A: When you love what you do, it’s not called ‘work.’

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: I’m working on a prequel to Summers of Fire. It’s a coming-of age memoir about the intricacies of love, physical attraction, deep friendship, and the longing for independence and a meaningful life.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

A: My blog has more about me, as well as blog posts about strong women, women in Forest Service, and links to guest blog posts and my interviews. I also have a photo gallery of my firefighting years. https://summersoffirebook.blogspot.com/

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: Thank you for this opportunity to share my story and experiences!

 

 

 

 

Frances Darwin Investigates

 

Photo by Shelley Corcoran

Brew a cup of tea, invite neighborhood children to a cozy story hour, and immerse yourself in Eileen Moynihan’s latest release, Frances Darwin Investigates. When the intrepid young heroine, Frances, discovers a bit of torn paper on the ground, it instantly ignites her desire to be a detective and reunite a stray dog with its owner. But that’s just the beginning for Frances and her new friends; dog-nappers are on an aggressive prowl in her neighborhood, and it’s up to the amateur sleuth to find out who’s behind it. In a delightful interview from across the pond, Eileen attests that being young at heart has a lot to do with successfully penning stories which will resonate with the next generation of readers.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Tell us about your journey as a writer and who/what inspired you along the way.

A: I have been writing from an early age. I loved to make up stories about magic and fairies when I was about 7. Then I moved onto adventure stories around the age of 9. As I grew older I was more into characters and what made them tick. I was definitely inspired by my mother reading books to me, regular visits to the library and encouragement from teachers at school. But as I got bogged down in rearing children and working, my writing got put on the back burner. Then in later years I heard about S.C.B.W.I (Society of Children’s Book writers and Illustrators) and became a member. They were very helpful in directing me in my writing. I also joined local writers groups where I could network and receive feedback.

Q: When you were the same age as your young target readership, were you a voracious reader?

A: Yes I was always reading. I would read when and wherever I could. I would even read the cereal packets. I was often caught with a torch under the sheets reading a book.

Q: What sorts of books might we have found on your bookshelves and nightstand when you were growing up?

A: Books by Enid Blyton, the Narnia books by C.S. Lewis, @Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce, Little Women by Louisa M Alcott, poetry by Robert Louis Stevenson and A. A. Milne.

Q: What influence did your upbringing in the U.K. have on your storytelling style and your general outlook on life?

A: I suppose I was influenced by writers from the U.K. in my use of language and style of storytelling. I liked the idea of the rural idyll of small quaint villages and countryside. But my father who was Irish also persuaded me to read books by Patricia Lynch such as The Turf-Cutter’s Donkey which sparked an interest in the Irish way of life.

Q: What attracted you to the children’s market as your genre of choice?

A: I used to teach and loved to share my love of books with children. I also wanted to revisit the books I had enjoyed as a child, and discover new ones. It was just a natural step to write for children.

Q: What inspires your creativity as a wordsmith?

A: It could be something I overhear or read – a phrase that may catch my fancy. It could be something I see or feel. Sometimes it is just a random thought that ‘grows legs.’

Q: All of your titles are delightfully imaginative! How did you come up with them?

A: Rory Gumboots just jumped into my head.

The Reckolahesperus came from the phrase I heard as a child – ‘You look like the Wreck of the Hesperis.’ The Wreck of the Hesperis was a poem about a shipwreck.

Hattie and Jacques Love London came from the name of Hattie Jacques who was a star of the Carry On films.

The Dreamsmith was just pure imagination.

Q: What was the inspiration for Frances Darwin Investigates?

A: I had seen reports of dognapping in the paper and that started me thinking. I enjoyed adventure books written by Enid Blyton as a child so that definitely influenced me, too.

Q: How much of young Frances is actually Eileen?

A: There is definitely a lot of me in Frances, her curiosity, her independence and imagination.

Q: Over the course of the story, Frances makes friends with people young and old. Do you think children can identify with this?

A: I think so because children are surrounded by parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, neighbours and friends. Sometimes age doesn’t matter if there is a connection of hearts and minds.

Q: Why do you think children would enjoy this book?

A: I think children would enjoy this book because it has dogs, adventure, humour, interesting character relationships and it has a happy ending.

Q: Children today have far more distractions (many of them technological) than those of earlier generations. As a former educator, what would your advice be to parents who want their children to be more actively engaged in the joy of reading?

A: Read them books at bedtime from an early age. Encourage them to use libraries. Let them read comics. Let them read stories online or on Kindle and listen to audio-books. Buy them books as presents. Present reading in all its forms.

Q: Like many of today’s authors, you chose to don multiple hats and go the route of self-publishing. What governed this choice for you?

A: I sent Rory Gumboots to publishers and agents. I was told it was a sweet story but that they didn’t do books with anthromorphic animals etc.… so then I looked into self-publishing. I first did an eBook with KDP and then decided to get print books with Amazon’s Createspace. I am not getting any younger so I just wanted to get on with it.

Q: What have you learned (both pros and cons) about the DIY route that you didn’t know when you started?

A: The pros of self-publishing is that you are in charge of what you do and you can do it at your own pace and convenience. You learn a lot in the process and it is good to network with others who are self-publishing. The main thing is that you can produce the main product which is … your book.

The cons are that you have to do everything yourself, promotion, social media, uploading file, formatting and having to buy books before you can sell them yourself.

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

A: That I enjoy dancing and used to do stage-dancing as a child on the Isle of Wight.

Q: What is the oldest item you still have from your childhood and what is its nostalgic value to you?

A: The oldest items I have from childhood are some A.A. Milne books that belonged to my mother when she was young. I remember her reading these to me when I was at home sick from school.

Q: Plotter or pantser?

A: I believe I am mostly a pantser with a bit of plotter thrown in. For Frances Darwin Investigates I had a rough outline in my head but sometimes my characters would lead me down a different way.

Q: What is a typical writing day like for you?

A: I have no typical writing day. I often work better when I have a deadline for myself. I am a slow writer and give myself little rewards after doing so many sentences. I start with a small number of sentences and keep building up.

Q: Does anyone get to read your works-in-progress or do you make everyone wait until you’re finished?

A: I often read my works-in-progress to other people in my local writers group. I also used to be in an online S.C.B.W.I. group.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: I am working on a poetry book for children about wild flowers with accompanying photographs from my friend, Margaret O’Driscoll, who is also a poet. The illustrations of accompanying flower fairies are by my sister, Angela Gawn. The cover is done by my friend Dan Flynn who is an artist and fellow writer.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: I don’t claim to be a great writer but it is something I enjoy. I am loving the journey and learning new things every day.

 

 

 

 

 

Think of Me

THINK OF ME Cover.jpg

When you’re single, separated, divorced or widowed, there’s no shortage of well-meaning friends wanting to fix you up with someone new. For Detective Josh Hartnell, it’s not just about finding romantic companionship for himself, it’s about finding a caring woman to be a mother to his little girl. Not every relationship, however, is a blissful match made in Heaven … as Josh is about to find out in Kat Schuessler’s new romantic suspense, Think of Me.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett
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Q: Did you always know you wanted to be a writer or were there other career paths percolating in your imagination when you were growing up?

A: When I was younger, I read Harriet the Spy and wanted to be a spy when I grew up. I was obsessed with spy gear and sneaking around. As I grew older, I realized the movie was more about Harriet being a writer than being a spy. Then I read the Harry Potter series and my yearning to be a writer increased.

Q: Do you remember the first thing you ever wrote?

A: The first thing I remember writing is a series of short stories featuring myself as “Super Kat” and my neighbors as the villains.

Q: What titles might we have found on your nightstand as an adolescent? As a teenager?

A: As an adolescent I was reading Harry Potter, Harriet the Spy, and Anne of Green Gables. As a teenager I read Stephen King books, the Series of Unfortunate Events series, Twilight (don’t judge haha), and all of the books I read as an adolescent.

Q: Which authors do you feel have had the most influence on your wordsmithing style?

A: I was definitely influenced by Kresley Cole and Stephen King. The snarkiness and backstory they give their characters always delights me and I strive to at least resemble their characters a little bit.

Q: What inspired you to start writing romance?

A: I first read A Hunger Like No Other by Kresley Cole and became addicted to the whole series. It had never occurred to me that I could write so visually about sex and people would not only read it but enjoy it. I decided to try writing a sex scene and when it flowed so easily, I knew I had found my genre.

Q: If your own life were an existing romance novel or movie, what would it be (and why)?

A: Pick the most pathetic one you can think of and that’s it. You’re probably thinking Twilight but at least that included vampire action.

Q: Plotter or pantser?

A: Pantser. I have tried to plot and I can barely stick to a timeline.

Q: Do you allow anyone to read your works in progress or do you make everyone wait until you have typed The End?

A: It really depends on the person but I tend to want to wait unless I hit a wall and need advice.

Q: Think of Me is part of a series. How did you come up with this title and the titles of your other books?

A: The first book was untitled until halfway through the book, and I just could not think of a name. I was watching Phantom of the Opera and a line from one of the songs stuck with me, so I decided to go with it. After that, I just tried to find more lines that made a good book title.

Q: What do you find to be the biggest challenge in creating a series as opposed to a standalone novel?

A: I always feel like I need to make the next book better than the last, and it’s a lot of pressure for me. I’m also unsure how much of a review of the last book I need to include.

Q: Who are your favorite and least favorite characters?

A: My favorite character is definitely Rory from No Backward Glances because she represented my past and how I wish I could have been. We both had dark times and contemplated suicide, and we both made it through, but she did it with more grace. She was also able to actually be with somebody she loved who helped her learn to trust again.

My least favorite character was Kelly, Rita’s roommate in Think of Me. I don’t think I spent enough time developing her character, and even though she was only a side character, I feel like I could have made her more interesting than I did.

Q: Are any of them patterned after people you know (including yourself)?

A: Almost all of my characters are patterned after people in my life, including my sisters, best friends, parents, nieces and nephews, lovers, and exes. I also tend to include a few inside jokes between the characters that I have with people in my life. It makes me feel closer to my characters.

Q: How does pop culture influence your writing?

A: I actually wouldn’t say it influences my writing. I just do my best to reference it as much as I can, because I feel like it not only makes people laugh, but it connects my readers to my characters by giving them something in common. This is also why I try to write speech the way it’s usually spoken, including slang words, despite the fact that a lot of professional writers frown on this. Real people don’t speak with perfect grammar; they use slang and speak easily, and it’s instantly relatable.

Q: How do you ensure that pop culture references won’t “date” your material down the road?

A: I do my best to choose references that are iconic enough that people will always understand them. I also try to throw in some that are mildly obscure but hit little niches of people that get excited about their fandom being mentioned.

Q: Is there anything you’d like to experiment with in your path as a writer?

A: Although I don’t have any experience with it, I would love to try writing a lesbian romance. I feel like it would be enough of a challenge to keep me interested.

Q: Ever had writer’s block? If so, how do you deal with it?

A: I have writer’s block a lot. I actually have a really odd treatment for it:  I watch the movie Bag of Bones, which is an adaptation of Stephen King’s book by the same name. It contains a writer who has writer’s block and he finds a way to overcome it. Watching his joy as he finds his ability to write again always inspires me to get going so I can try to find that joy.

Q: What’s your greatest weakness when it comes to writing?

A: My greatest weakness is definitely coming up with my blurb and synopsis. I find it very difficult to sum up a 60,000 word novel in just a couple of paragraphs, all without giving too much away.

Q: Like many authors today, you chose to go the route of self-publishing. What governed that choice and what do you know now that you didn’t know when you started?

A: I chose to self-publish mainly out of necessity. I would much rather publish traditionally but it seems to be a dying art. What I know now is that my dream of seeing my book on a literal store bookshelf is probably never going to happen because technology has taken over. I’m very old fashioned when it comes to books.

Q: Where do you see the publishing industry going in the next 10 years? 20 years?

A: I have a really bad feeling that print books are going to disappear and ebooks will be the only format. I really hope that isn’t the case but that’s the way the world seems to be going.

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

A: The only thing I can think of is that I have been learning American Sign Language and have really been enjoying it. I’m definitely not fluent but I believe I could hold a conversation.

Q: Best advice to fellow authors?

A: Edit. Edit. Edit some more. Then put the book aside for a while, maybe a month or so, then re-read it and edit again. Finally, have somebody else proofread it. When you’re that close to your book, you’re going to miss a lot of errors because your eyes will just slide over it.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I’m trying to work on a third book but with my daughter running around like a maniac it’s hard to find time to write.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: First, thank you to my readers for reading my books, whether you enjoy them or not. The very idea that you read a novel that I wrote astounds me and I am so grateful for the time and money it took to buy and read it. Second, I want to encourage everybody to remember that, even with technology encroaching on our lives, nothing will ever be better than holding a physical book in your hand, turning the pages, and inhaling that classic smell. There is no battery on a book. And if we keep buying and reading physical books at least as much as, if not more than, ebooks, they might just stick around.