Lost Girls

Lost Girls_5x8_paperback_FRONT (1)

“Not until we are lost,” wrote Henry David Thoreau, “do we begin to understand ourselves.” In her new collection of short stories—Lost Girls—author Ellen Birkett Morris taps this premise by exploring the experiences of women and girls as they grieve, find love, face uncertainty, take a stand, find their future, and say goodbye to the past. Though they may seem lost, each finds their center as they confront the challenges and expectations of womanhood.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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 Q: Whenever I ask authors what inspired them to take up a pen (or a keyboard), they often relate that it’s because they were voracious readers and/or had a favorite English teacher who encouraged them. Rarely, though, do I encounter someone who already had a published writer in the family. In your case, it was your father who was penning detective fiction in the 1980s and 1990s. Did watching him write make you want to be a writer?

A: Watching him write was a bit of a disincentive. He was at the kitchen table working while the world went on around him. It looked like drudge work. But when he wasn’t writing he was reading aloud to me and my sisters. The floor of our apartment was stacked with books. He took us to the movies and to story time at the library. Having story as a part of my daily life was what drew me into writing. I started off as a journalist and freelance writer and discovered the power of poetry and fiction to help me learn what I cared about and make people feel things.

Q: What’s the best advice he ever gave you about the craft?

A: “Don’t just read about writing, write.” He said it’s good to hone your craft, but finally you have to focus on the work.

Q: What’s the best advice you give aspiring authors?

A: Embrace the process. The joy is in the doing of the work. In that quiet room where you write. Getting published is great, but the work is its own reward—the pleasure of the writing, what you learn about yourself, the way in which you are able to imaginatively transform human experience to create something beautiful.

Q: What writers (past and present) have you looked to as you’ve developed your own voice and style as an author?

A: My father read us Flannery O’Connor stories at bed time and I like to think some of that dark, southern sensibility has stayed with me. I greatly admire the work of Elizabeth Strout. Reading her taught me to love my characters warts and all and to go deep when exploring character.

Q: Whenever I advise clients to start with short stories rather than diving straight into a full-length novel, they often balk and say, “But my plot can’t possibly be contained in something so limiting!”  What is your own take on the challenges and rewards of short story form? For instance, what can a short story accomplish that a novel can’t?

A: The short story offers us peak moments. As writers we get to decide where to start, what to focus on and where to end. I love the intensity of the short story form. I love the way objects and events take on heightened meaning. We get to skip the boring stuff and go straight to the good stuff.

Q: What attracted you to create a collection of stories centered on women?

A: I think because of the central dilemma most women share, which is not being seen and understood. There is so much to work off of there in terms of relationships, career, motherhood, so many stories. I wanted a chance to dwell with women of all types and explore their experiences. They did not disappoint.

Q: And the title—Lost Girls—where did that come from?

A: From the title story, which was inspired by a kidnapping in my neighborhood when I was 18. They are so many ways we can lose ourselves and I wanted to explore how you come back from that.

Q: What was your thought process that went into developing a collection? For example, did you find you had a set of stories which you felt naturally belonged together or did you specifically write new pieces with building a collection in mind?

A: I had a collection built around a male photographer traveling the south and I found that the women characters in those stories were more interesting than he was, so I toned him down and gathered their stories together.

Q: You have some interesting characters in these stories—a sin eater, an aging beauty queen, a virgin who joins a breastfeeders group. Where do your story ideas come from?

A: I hang on to ideas that spark my interest. The breastfeeders story began as an exploration of how social groups are cultish and morphed into a story about loneliness. I learned about sin eating from my sister-in-law who is from western Virginia and knows about folkways. It took me ten years to come up with a story big enough to fit the idea. If an idea has heat for me I assume it will appeal to a reader.

Q: These characters are so different that it is hard to imagine the same person writing them all. Talk to me about character development.

A: It is most important to know what your character wants and what drives them. This is where I start. I follow this by populating their world with things that are particular to them, the stain on the wall the girl imagines is a dog in “Inheritance” or the Groucho t-shirt the aging beauty queen wears to bed in “Harvest.” Then I try to think about how they’ll go about trying to get what they need—quietly, forcefully, or with charm. These are my building blocks of character.

Q: Do your fictional characters ever take you to places you hadn’t originally intended? If so, do you rein them back in or allow them to direct the journey themselves?

A: I had no idea how “Inheritance” would end. I thought hard about how this character would act and react and balanced that against her limited options given the time period. I think it is best to follow your characters and see where they take you.

Q: You also have a poetry chapbook called Surrender. How has being a poet proven useful to you when it comes to writing prose?

A: Poetry is built on images and objects that carry meaning and reveal character. I learned how to work with metaphor though poetry and how to distinguish which details are important. Writing poetry helps make my prose more vivid and authentic.

Q:  What’s next on your plate?

A: I am working on a novel about a female astronomer in Hawaii and looking for an agent.

Q: Where can readers learn more about your work?

A: https://ellenbirkettmorris.ink/

 

 

 

 

Days of Wine and Covid

Mindy Littman Holland headshot

A global pandemic certainly isn’t funny, but in author Mindy Littman Holland’s newest book, Days Of Wine And Covid, she takes a wonderful, amusing look at how the crisis affected her on a daily basis. Filled with wit, escapades, and thoughts on the whole thing, Mindy reminds us that it’s still better to laugh at life than cry and bemoan the fates.

Born in New York, Mindy attended Brandeis University, majoring in psychology and fine arts, following which she moved on to study print and broadcast journalism, and eventually even opening her own marketing communications and public relations company. She now lives with her husband, high and dry in Santa Fe, NM, where she focuses the majority of her attention on her writing, art, and fabulous photography of the incredible skies and landscapes surrounding her.

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Interviewed by Debbie A. McClure

Q What made you decide to write a book about your experiences during the Covid-19 pandemic?

A: I had no idea that I was going to write a book about the Covid-19 pandemic. As a lifelong journalist and more-recent blogger, I began to write stories about my experience with coronavirus as soon as my life became impacted by it. All of a sudden, it was mid-February 2020, and I found myself sitting in a plane with a bunch of coughing people amid news that a pandemic was making its way to the United States at record speed. The events of that day, and every day since, became fodder for stories about the virus that was taking the world by storm. I felt compelled to record my experiences, and I posted a few stories on social media.  People began to ask, “When is this going to become a book?” And I told them, “Soon. Very soon.” 

Q You started out working in the corporate world, but have transitioned into the arts in a big way. Why?

A: I come from a very creative family; lots of artists, photographers, writers, dancers, musicians, opera singers, actors – the works. For the most part, we were all encouraged to sublimate our artsy side and pursue more practical careers. The actor became a lawyer; the opera singer became an insurance salesman; the writer formed a marketing communications business for high-tech corporations, and so on.  I began writing and illustrating my own books by the time I knew how to hold a pencil, so I started out in the arts. I had a very successful career in the corporate world, and that afforded me the amazing luxury of being able to return to my artistic roots. Now, I do a little of one, and a lot of the other.  

Q What is it about the arts, including writing, that draws you in and holds you?

A: I have always felt a strong drive to express myself creatively. I was reading and writing at a very early age. Drawing pictures happened when I was prelingual. My head always created stories. I could be sitting in a subway train and get fixated on the face of the person sitting across from me. I would build an entire life for that person, just from the way they tilted their chin. So, what draws me in and holds me are the stories I create, sometimes out of the thin air and sometimes out of a reality that’s so intense, I can’t help but broadcast it. I feel compelled to tell stories, visually and orally.

Q In everything you write, you definitely lean toward using humor and a “let’s sit and chat with a glass of wine” approach. What is it you hope to achieve in your writing style?

A: I am a relationship person; always have been. And I was born with a funny bone.  Connecting with other people is very important to me. Being humorous and making myself accessible makes connection lighter and deeper at the same time. I am fascinated with what makes individuals tick, and I listen very closely to what they have to say. Their stories are rich, and I love what they share. So, what I hope to achieve with my writing style is a sense of connection.

Q What have you learned about yourself in your pursuit of the arts that has surprised you the most?

A: What I have learned about myself is that I don’t discourage easily, and that does surprise me because trying to make a mark in the arts can be very daunting. There are a lot of very talented people out there, and the playing field is extremely competitive. But what is no surprise is that I write for my own joy, and little else.

Q What advice would you give to new writers?

A: I would tell them to write about what they love, and be meticulous in their story-telling, regardless of whether it’s fiction or nonfiction. I would tell them to do their homework, to research, and to learn how to entertain. I would also urge them to understand the demographic of the people they are trying to reach. Some generations prefer to listen to a book rather than to read a book. It’s good to know something like that in advance.

Q When writing, do you set a regular schedule, or write only when the mood moves you?

A: I write when I feel compelled to write, and I feel compelled every day.  

Q What lessons have you learned about the publishing industry and its many challenges?

A: I’ve learned that the publishing world isn’t what it used to be. Unless you’re a household name—or know someone who is—most traditional publishers won’t work with you unless you have a literary agent. And most literary agents won’t work with you unless you’ve successfully published already. It’s a bit of a Catch 22. I have published with traditional publishers and I have published on my own. In both cases, I have had to do my own marketing. I’ve learned that there’s no stigma to self-publishing, as long as you have the ability and drive to do a professional job and promote your work.

Q What might surprise people to know about you?

A: After a long career in marketing, people might be surprised to know that I don’t enjoy marketing myself. And sales gives me the willies, altogether. Basically, I don’t like asking people for money. On the other hand, I believe my work is well worth reading.

Q How much did your past experience in marketing and public relations help you in your current work?

A: When I majored in psychology and studio art in college, one of my professors wanted me to be an English major because he liked my writing.  I said, “I don’t want to teach English. If you already like my writing, what do I need a degree in English for?” When I did graduate work in journalism and broadcasting, it led to me becoming a corporate writer and a radio news broadcaster. That made more practical sense to me. I ended up founding a company that specialized in marketing and public relations – basically, oral and written communications. The bottom line is it’s all about communications; being able to tell a story in a way that entertains and/or provokes feelings or actions in others, and being able to sell that story to the masses. So, yes, I would say that my experience in marketing and public relations did help me in my current work.  

Q What marketing and public relations advice would you give to new writers and artists?

A: I would tell new writers to use all social media platforms that are available to them to promote their work. I would recommend that they create a compelling website to send people to for more information. If there weren’t a pandemic going on, I would advise them to arrange as many reading engagements as possible, not only in their home market, but all over the place. I would have them do a focused emailing to potentially-interested parties. They should encourage people to review their book, understanding that strangers may not be as kind as their friends. If they have the opportunity to participate in interviews, they should answer questions directly and completely, without going off into the weeds. And they should try to get as much press as possible.

Q What’s next for you, Mindy?

A: I’m already hard at work on my next book. I don’t know yet if it’s going to be nonfiction or fiction because sometimes it starts out as one and ends up as the other. Considering what’s going on in the world, it could end up being the grimmest book on Earth. Or the funniest. After all, humor is at the heart of all my books.We’ll see. I may not be able to help myself. 

 

Bio: Mindy Littman Holland is a writer, artist and photographer living in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  She is the author of Wait Until You’re Fifty: A Woman’s Journey Into MidlifeThe Rebirth of Gershon PolokovAll My Funny Ones: A Collection of Short Stories; and Days of Wine and COVID: Fifty-Seven Stories of Pandemic Proportions.

Websites:

http://mindylittmanholland.com

http://books.mindylittmanholland.com

Amazon Links (for Days of Wine and COVID)

https://www.amazon.com/Days-Wine-COVID-Fifty-Seven-Proportions/dp/B08BF2PF7L/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1594345347&sr=8-2 (Paperback)

https://www.amazon.com/Days-Wine-COVID-Fifty-Seven-Proportions-ebook/dp/B08BJ89FDY/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1594345347&sr=8-2 (Kindle)

https://www.amazon.com/s?k=Mindy+Littman+Holland&ref=nb_sb_noss_2 (General Amazon Page)

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/Mindy+Littman+Holland?_requestid=348307 (General Barnes and Noble Page)

Social Media:

https://twitter.com/MindyHolland

https://www.facebook.com/Mindy-Littman-Holland-135748896534912/

https://www.linkedin.com/in/mindy-littman-holland-846313/

Email:  mlittmanholland@gmail.com

 

 

 

Unmarriageable

Unmarriageable

Although Jane Austen was English and hailed from a different century, her sharp-witted commentary on patriarchal societies and the “proper” role of females obviously resonated with the sensibilities of a certain teenage Pakistani named Soniah Kamal. Her delightful novel, Unmarriageable, is a modern-day cross-cultural treat, and we’re pleased to feature the wonderfully talented and prolific Soniah this month at You Read It Here First.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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 Q: Were family expectations of matrimony and motherhood pressed upon you while you were growing up or—like Austen herself—were you born with a gene for purposeful rebellion?

A: Both. The pressure of getting married was always there even though I was a straight A student but I also had the pesky habit of questioning why? Within a Pakistani context, why was it ok for guys to smoke but not girls? Why could my much younger brother have a phone in his room while I was not allowed to, meaning why are boys allowed privacy but not girls? Why was it ok for him to stay out at all hours with his friends, but I had a curfew or was not allowed to go out at all? Good girls don’t question why but accepted that parents, teachers, adults, know what is best for her. Clearly I was a very Bad Girl. Just because needed explanations for decrees. I actually wanted to be an actress, but my father forbade it, and yet he sent me to out to college by myself in the US in early nineties. I always like to ask if this makes my parents’ values conservative or progressive?

Q: Austen was clearly an influence on your life perspectives and on your writing, but who are some of the other authors whose works we might have found on your nightstand and regular reading list(s)?

A: Growing up in a post colonial country in a certain era, the British author Enid Blyton loomed large. However I grew up for a while in Jeddah Saudi Arabia where I attended an International School with books from everywhere and so Judy Blume, S.E. Hinton, L. M Montgomery, Anne  Frank, a wonderful anthology that contained work by Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, Gwendoyln Brooks, Shirley Jackson, Anne Sexton. Decades later I found this anthology at a local library sale and I pounced on this chunk of sunshine from my childhood.  In the classics, my favorite authors were Thomas Hardy, E. M. Forster, George Eliot, Edith Wharton, Virginia Woolf, and in translation anything by authors such as Ismat Chugtai, Kishwar Naheed, Qurratulain Hyder; in fact, as I grew older, whatever I could find by South Asian authors.

Q: Who are you reading now?

A: I’m giving a keynote address at a Jane Austen Festival hosted by JASNA Louisville (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TDhHx1ud0fg), and so at the moment am back to being steeped in Jane Austen’s work which is always welcome. However, once I’m done I’m looking forward to finish How to Hide an Empire by Daniel Immerwahr and reading Lee Connell’s The Party Upstairs about a unraveling friendship as well as Rakhshanda Jalil’s But You Don’t Look Like a Muslim about Muslim identity in India.

Q: The parallelism of Pride and Prejudice through a Southeast Asian postcolonial lens was a delight to read. Well done! What was especially fun, though, was deciphering the Pakistani names and matching them to their English counterparts in Austen’s novels. Given the number of characters peopling this luscious plot, I’m curious as a fellow author whether some of the minor players may have been borrowed from your own family and friends? If so, how did they feel about this inclusion?

A: Thank you! I’m so glad you appreciated the postcolonial angle and retelling which was the very reason I wrote it. I grew up a postcolonial child schooled in the British medium system meaning English and British classics were my educational foundation. As an adult when I came across the reasons Thomas Babington Macaulay, back in 1835, suggested to British Parliament to implement English as the language supreme across colonies in order to create a confused “person brown in color but white sensibilities”, it became imperative to me that I write an alternative postcolonial parallel retelling, a reorienting if you will of this policy. Professor Nalini Iyer of Seattle University has called Unmarriagable Macaulay’s worst nightmare.  As the essay at the end of Unmarriageable (US paperback, green cover with faces, edition) says, I wanted to fuse my English language with my Pakistani culture and it seemed absolutely fitting to choose Jane Austen and Pride and Prejudice which I believe is a quintessentially Pakistani novel.  Jane Austen was Pakistani; she didn’t know it. There is also an essay included about why I chose the names. Many of them are not Pakistani names such as Lady or Georgeullah. I give a reason for Lady within the class conscious themes of the novel but also, and here is one of the many Eastern eggs in Unmarriageable for Austen fans: Austen’s first novel was published as ‘by a Lady’ and so Lady.

Unmarriageable is also a standalone novel, so those not coming from love of Austen need not worry. As for Georgeullah, often Pakistanis come to Western countries and Kamran will go by Kamran etc. and so in reverse of that George joins the popular suffix  -ullah, and Wickaam is spelled with a double a because in Urdu ‘aam’ meaning ordinary which is what he is in both Austen’s and Unmarriageable’s world. As for your last question, “Any references to historical events, real people, or real locales are used fictitiously. Other names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination, and any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.”

Q: With which of the Binat sisters in Unmarriageable can you picture yourself having a lifelong friendship?

A: This is a hard one. Probably Alys, Qitty and Sherry, an honorary sister. I admire Sherry’s common sense and being able to stand up to peers when needed and I very much like Alys’s no nonsense blunt sprit, needing to speak up for what is fair whatever the cost to herself as well as her being able to see through layers of hypocrisy and speaking up. Let’s say the Alys and Sherry were going to the Aurat March, a women’s right march held annually in Pakistan- Sherry would be making posters as would Alys and at the march Sherry would hold up a poster while Alys would have the loudspeaker.  I suppose Alys can get a bit exhausting but I’d prefer that to complacence. Qitty and I would completely bond over the comments we receive over about being fat. I’ve been both thin and fat and have seen the world through both these bodies. Since body positivity movement has, thankfully, gained traction and ‘fat’ has lost much of its shaming, I’ve notice the new word used to try to shame me is ‘obese’.  Qitty is, of course, very young, but we’d have a smile at those who pat themselves on their backs for supposedly doing well at the genetic ‘lottery’ while conveniently bypassing the fact that ectomorphs, endomorphs and mesomorphs are body types and that magazine/online quizzes which congratulate you for being one and not another are absolutely ridiculous and feeding into this ‘beauty’ hierarchy.  Qitty and I are big proponents of the tag line in Unmarriageable which is ‘books over looks’.

Q: If a reader had no prior frame of reference to Pride and Prejudice, Unmarriageable still makes for a satisfying standalone read. For those of us who are familiar with the source material, you’ve artfully planted a number of “Easter eggs” throughout the chapters—little insider secrets and literary references that prompt a smile. What was your favorite gem to hide in plain sight of Austen aficionados?

A: Unmarriageable is certainly a standalone novel and I worked extremely hard to make it so. However, if you are a Janeite then certainly there’s yet another layer of reading. I’m so thrilled you saw both and the Easter eggs. I’d love to know which ones you caught. There are so many favorites! Lady’s name’s Austen connection of course, and Tom Fowle shows up, and there are nods to each of Austen’s six completed novels in Unmarriageable and it’s so much fun in book clubs to hear the participants try to figure them out. Too many people have not read the delightful Northanger Abbey so that’s a hard one right there.

Q: Do you see Mrs. Binat as the quintessential “cross-cultural mum”—a woman who is as much a comedic helicopter parental wanting to meddle in everything as she is anxious and fretful that her offspring might end up sad and alone? To me, she feels interchangeable with every Jewish, Italian and Latina mother I’ve ever known.

A: Mrs. Binat may have a funny way of expressing her worries for her daughters but certainly her behavior stems from her fear that they might end up, as you say, sad and alone. Unmarriageable explores why she thinks choosing to be unmarried would equate to being sad and alone. Alys certainly doesn’t see it that way. She believes it’s better to be happily unmarried than unhappily married, and she tries to teach her students this too, much to the Principal’s dismay. That said, in Muslim honor cultures, the only legal way to have a physical relation, and thus biological children, is through marriage and this is what, I think, Mrs. Binat doesn’t want her daughters to regret missing out on. The number of readers from different cultures who reach out to tell me that ‘Unmarriageable is just like them’, and “My mother was a Mrs. Binat”, has been a consistent thrill. Jewish, Italian, Latina, like you point out, but also Irish, Southern US, Nigerian, Greek, Mexican, Brazilian, I could go on.

When it came to wanting me to get married, my own mother was a Mrs. Binat, but her worry came from love and concern, so I was really able to recognize this aspect of Mrs. Bennet/Mrs.Binat.  However, in Unmarriageable, Mrs. Binat is also looks obsessed, but then look at her own history— Mr. Binat literally sends her a proposal after taking one look at her, so in her world, looks reign supreme.  In Unmarriageable, there is a tussle between mother and daughter because Mrs. Binat thinks people like Alys with their ‘books over looks’ mantras are fools and Alys thinks her mother’s ‘looks over books’ attitude is unsmart.  We live in a world now where women are expected to be smart and earn also, but often still adhere to a certain beauty standards and this mother-daughter pair clashes over this.

Q: It’s always amazing to me that for a woman who had so much to say, Austen penned only a handful of novels before her death at age 41. Do you have a personal favorite (and have you read it more than once)?

A:  Mansfield Park is my favorite Austen novel. It’s her grimmest in many respects and one in which she totally skewers the concept of loving and supportive families and relatives. Can there be any nastier aunt than Mrs. Norris who cherry picks which niece to be decent to depending on how it will benefit her? I’ve read all of Austen’s novels countless times and they are all favorites in different ways.

Q: There’s been no shortage of film adaptations of Austen’s work. In your opinion, which one do you think comes closest to earning the late author’s seal of approval?

A:  I’m quite sure she would have enjoyed the 1995 BBC adaptations with Elizabeth Ehle and Colin Firth, the wet white shirt withstanding. There is a certain playfulness to that adaptation be it Alison Steadmans’ excellent self-obsessed and worrywart of a Mrs. Bennet or David Bamber’s bumbling yet pretentious Mr. Collins, just every actor played their part so beautifully, and because it is not a film but six episode drama, each almost an hour long, each scene in the novel is depicted on screen. It’s my favorite adaptation so I may be biased. As for screen retellings, I think she may have been well pleased with Clueless as Emma and the time traveling Lost in Austen which very cleverly interprets Pride and Prejudice. 

Q: “Janeites”—the name by which Austen fans define themselves—are fiercely loyal to the brand. To set your own version in the modern century and a different culture held the potential to send them reaching for smelling salts and fanning themselves in agitation. I understand that such was not the case when they first became aware of your book?

A: I’m a lifetime JASNA member so well acquainted with all the many thoughts pertaining to taking on Austen and I will say I was particularly intimidated because Unmarriageable is a parallel retelling meaning it exactly follows the plot line of Pride and Prejudice and all the characters are present, too. I believe this is the first parallel retelling to date and explaining that this was not a sequel, or prequel or an inspired by was the first order of business and that I’d written this from a postcolonial perspective. I live in Georgia and there were a few, especially older JASNA Georgia members, who did look askance. I gave Unmarriageable to two members to read and this was the litmus test for me, Janeites who know their Jane inside out, and it wasn’t until they both got back to me and said they loved it, that I exhaled. I mean this is literally, literally Pride and Prejudice set in Pakistan.

My first JASNA event was with JASNA Georgia, a book club and Q and A, and this was a first time a big group of Janeites would be reading it. On the day, I lingered at the door for a bit before entering, and when I did, I received a standing ovation. I cried. I had not expected the applause or the pats of the back by those who’d previously been askance. Since then, Jane Austen Books, the largest national Jane Austen booksellers and who know every variation of Austen out there, have said that Unmarriageable is ‘Our favorite Jane Austen Adaptation’ and Austenprose has called it ‘the retelling of her dreams’.  JASNA Kentucky, which hosts the biggest Jane Austen Festival, has invited me to be a featured keynote speaker, and I’ll be speaking at the 2020 JASNA AGM annual meeting, and JASNA Northern California invited me to deliver Austen’s birthday toast.  I was a featured keynote at the Jane Austen Summer Program and have served as a Jane Austen Literacy Ambassador and a judge for their Jane Austen short story competition. I could go on. Janeites have given Unmarriageable the reception of my dreams. So many have told me that reading Unmarriageable is like they’re reading Austen for the first time and could there possibly be any compliment more gratifying.

Q: If you could invite Jane Austen to lunch in your home, what would you serve?

A: I’d serve her a rich desserty chai as described in my essay at https://antiserious.com/soniah-kamal-chai-me-essay-e5b146ac1950.  I’d serve her keema (mincemeat) and chicken cocktail samosas and pakoras and Pakistani style mini pizzas made on naan. Since lunch for a guest at my house means at least eight to ten entrees there would a mutton pulao and also mutton and beef and chicken dishes such as korma and koftas and namak gosht and because I was a vegetarian for four years and love my lentils and vegetables, at least two dals, probably yellow and black, and a four to five vegetables dishes cooked in the Pakistani style, okra, eggplant, collard greens, cauliflower. There would be cumin potato cutlets and Pakistani styled spaghetti and countless condiments and rotis and white rice. All the entrees would be cooked from scratch of course. I’m not big on desserts so probably I’d have my daughter make a strawberry pavlova and also serve kulfi ice cream. I’d serve Jane Austen what I serve any guest invited to my house for lunch or dinner.

Q What are three questions you would especially like to ask Austen?

A

Why did she say yes to Harris Bigg Wither’s proposal that evening and then say no the next morning? What exactly was it that changed her mind?

If she knew she was going to be who she has become would she have done/written anything differently?

What was she planning to do with Ms. Lambe’s character in Sanditon?

Of course, I would have loved to see what Austen would have done with the industrial age in her work had she not died young and, in fact, her mother and many siblings lived into their eighties.

Q: Darsee has a wonderful line in which he expresses, “We’ve been forced to seek ourselves in the literature of others for too long.” As someone who has spoken passionately about immigration and assimilation, what are your thoughts on the challenges of embracing an adopted country’s language, customs and traditions without losing sight of the very elements which make our own heritage so precious and unique?

A: I was recently invited to deliver the keynote speech at a citizenship oath ceremony (https://bittersoutherner.com/southern-perspective/2020/we-are-the-ink-new-citizens-soniah-kamal-speech) in which I then had the great honor of handing out citizenship certificates and shook hands with all 150 new US citizens. To top it off, this took place in the same building where I myself had become a citizen. Of course there is a never a single story and each immigrant’s becomes one for different reasons and embraces aspects of their adopted country in different facets. Thanksgiving is an American holiday and the Thanksgiving meal is always one where the turkey, and green beans and cranberry sauce and potatoes can be prepared in to reflect one’s culture and, thus, illustrate a lived assimilation.

My first Thanksgiving in the US, I was invited by a college mate to her home and it was wonderful to sit amidst her large Irish-American family and hear the roots of this holiday and what they make of it and what they were going to do with this huge turkey’s left over, make sandwiches for a week at least. I loved the cornucopia of desserts, the sweet potato pie, apple pie, and my favorite, pecan pie, with fresh cream and ice creams. Darcy’s sentence, of course, comes within the context of British Empire and Babington Macaulay’s colonial policy of replacing native languages with English which then, by default, became the language of power and advantage meaning qualifying for the well paying, prestigious jobs. Generations opted for an education in English and many did not even learn another language and so their entire history shifted to British classics, as did mine actually, so there I was looking for myself in Hardy or Austen.

While it’s wonderful to be able to find universalities within lived experiences even across centuries, it’s not an exact match and in losing language and the ability to read it also means one’s losing a sense of self within history and tradition. Darsee laments not growing up reading literature from own culturally lived experience. When Pakistan became a sovereign country in 1947, it retained English as one of its official language and so with Unmarriageable I wanted to fuse the English language I grew up with my Pakistani culture.  The theme of analogous literatures in Unmarriageable—that is, books which connect thematically or otherwise from the Subcontinental cannon and Western cannon—is a topic very dear to my heart. All the literature mentioned in Unmarriageable feeds into themes in the novel, being it Toni Morrison’s novel The Bluest Eye or Leslie Marmon Silko’s short story Lullaby.

Q: Your writer’s journey thus far has accrued a number of impressive awards and accolades. Which one means the most to you?

A: Any award, accolade, recognition is so hard to achieve, whether regional, or national, or international, there are so many brilliant books, and so each one is precious to me from just being nominated to winning, from praise by someone with three followers to praise by a major avenue. Unmarriageable has really seen so much love by so many different readers and organizations everywhere and each and every one is a blessing. I will say giving a TEDx talk, a citizenship oath ceremony and a keynote at a writers conference were never things I expected to happen and each led to epiphanies about my life and writings that were most unexpected.

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

A: Who knows? But here’s one: I was born full term yet 2 ½ pounds, what it knows as dysmature and I wasn’t meant to survive the night but here I am.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: Right now I’m just enjoying this ride Unmarriageable is taking me on.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: Thank you so much for these lovely questions. My next novel, An Isolated Incident, is debuting in the UK this month and I’m delighted to see which journey this will take me on. I wrote because my late grandfather, a refugee from Kashmir, made me promise that I would write about the Kashmir conflict. Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner called An Isolated Incident ‘a wonderful novel’ and my grandfather would have certainly have been proud of me for fulfilling my promise.

 

 

 

 

The Sign Behind the Crime Series

Ronnie Allen

No matter the season or reason, who among us doesn’t love playing armchair detective? In her The Sign Behind the Crime mystery series, author Ronnie Allen invites us on a ride-along through the mean streets of New York … and the meaner minds of crafty villains seeking to elude capture for their dark deeds.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: When I read that you and your husband made a relocation leap twelve years ago from the bustle of New York to the rural quiet of Central Florida, I couldn’t help but hear the Green Acres theme song dance through my head. Is it true that you can take the girl out of the city but not the city out of the girl?

A: Totally, Christina. I miss NYC on so many levels; the diversity, the restaurants, shopping, fast paced energy. I don’t think I’ll ever be a Floridian. And I went back home through my novels which are set in NYC. The last time I was in Manhattan was for ThrillerFest in 2015 as a debut author.

Q: Tell us how your educational and professional background made you such a natural to pen a pulse-pounding crime series with psychological elements.

A: For one, psychology is my formal education. I’m a NYS licensed School Psychologist, and have been a teacher in the NYC Department of Education for thirty-three years, retiring in 2003. Aspects of my careers are in my books. The killer in Gemini is a pretend school psychologist, and one of the detectives, Det. Samantha Wright, in Aries and the rest of the series was an elementary school teacher before she joined the police force. My holistic and alternative therapies training and experiences are also in the books, manifested through character development and the plots. Dr. John Trenton in Gemini is psychic and clairvoyant and has the same skills in the areas in which I’m certified. Det. Samantha Wright is at the beginning of becoming in tune with her abilities and her approach was similar to mine when I first became aware.

Q: Did you envision writing a series when you began or did typing THE END on the first book inspire and dare you to not let go of the gritty crime world you had created for your readers?

A: Actually, I didn’t foresee the series until I was in the middle of writing book two, Aries. I had started writing book two before Gemini was in contract. I didn’t want to write the same characters if I didn’t know the book would be picked up. When I was writing Aries, the astrological components started to reveal themselves, and I got that ‘ah ha’ moment. My tag line was The Mind Behind the Crime because I write psychological thrillers. The Sign Behind the Crime popped into my mind as the astrological signs give the clues to solving the crime. I approached my publisher about it and we ran with it.

Q: Whether it’s a novel, a film or a television program, writing about crime requires a high degree of accuracy, plausibility and realism in order for the fiction to ring true. Tell us about the level of research you employed in order to click on all cylinders.

A: Yes, research is crucial in the crime genre. Nothing is as easy in real life as portrayed on TV. I had several consultants; a detective in NYC, and a Captain of Major Crimes here in our small county, and others for the different subplots. I have folders of printed out research from police procedural courses I’ve taken as well as internet searches. I was at FBI headquarters in NYC in 2015 and received a wealth of information there. Also, getting forensic psychiatry correct was crucial for my characters and the situations in which they found themselves. Police procedure, department names, terminology used all vary from state to state. It was interesting to see the differences between the NYC PD and our Sheriff’s office. The author also needs to know what organizational names and locations have to be fictionalized, such as psychiatric organizations, hospitals, and schools.

Q: Do you allow anyone to read your books while they’re still a work in progress or do you make them wait it out? Why does your chosen method work for you?

A: During my writing process, no one reads them. When I get a complete first draft, or second, or third, then I go to my critique partners and beta readers. This works for me because I strongly believe that writing is rewriting and rewriting. Nothing is written in stone in the first or even following drafts. I want people to see my best possible work effort. If someone points out something, I don’t want to say, “Yeah, I know, I have to fix that.” It’s very frustrating for a critique partner to spend their time giving you feedback and then for you to know about it.

Q: Plotter or pantser?

A: I started out being a plotter, a very intense plotter. I had Gemini in my brain, and in notes before I hit the computer. As I was writing, if my character started to take over, which they did, I ran with it. The second book was also heavily plotted. Book three, Scorpio, was a mix, and by the time I was writing Libra, I was like, “Whoa, where are you going so fast?” Libra is the longest book.

Q: The four books in your series have all been given the names of zodiac signs. Why is that?

A: I’m a Gemini, so I decided to start with me. It went through several title changes, and when the Gemini aspects came out, I said, ‘that’s it!” And as a series, I felt it was fitting for the rest of the books.

Q: Do they need to be read in order or could each be read as a standalone?

A: Gemini and Aries can definitely be read as standalones. The third and fourth books have the characters from the first two, and I weave in enough backstory so that the reader will not get lost.

Q: Will there be more books in this crime series? (You do, after all, have eight more zodiac signs to go …)

A: I’m not sure. I wrapped up Libra with the happiest ever after the reader could want, so I’m content with ending the series there.

Q: Are any of your fictional characters fashioned after real-life people you know (including yourself)?

A: Definitely me. My readers will learn a lot about me. I’m a part of all of the major characters. My parents, Esther and Sam, are Dr. John Trenton’s parents in the series. It’s their personality, and names, not their careers. I tell my friends that no one I actually know is in the books.

Q: Which of these fictional personas would you most like to go to lunch with (and why)?

A: To go to lunch? Definitely Drs. John Trenton and Frank Khaos. Frank is the forensic psychiatrist who’s introduced in Aries. For one, I love hunky men. Dr. Trenton is a holistic psychiatrist, and I can lean more about Medical Orgone Therapy that is one of his specialties. I participated in this in the 1970’s in another form, and it pivoted me into wanting to work with chakras as part of my holistic healing practice in NYC. Frank is a BJJ fighter and I’m fascinated with martial arts.

Q: What’s the takeaway for your fans after they’ve read the final chapter(s)?

A: There are several takeaways; dreams can be manifested, your childhood traumas do not have to determine the quality of your adult life, resolving an issue from childhood is not as fearful as you thought before you took the action, traumas can push you to be a better more compassionate human being.

Q: As a fellow wordsmith, I have an extensive collection of reference books, most notably the Howdunit series published by Writer’s Digest. (You can imagine how unsettled it made our dinner guests on the occasion I’d leave one out on the coffee table.) Hypothetically, if you were to embark on a successful life of crime, what would you be most likely to pursue?

A: Yes! I can imagine how it made dinner guests feel. I don’t know! If I hadn’t resolved my childhood trauma around asthma like AriellaRose Larcon in Aries, I probably would have been a serial killer. I can’t imagine me hurting anyone, though.

Q: Best advice to aspiring authors before they begin their journey to getting published?

A: Thank you for asking this. I feel too many writers want to cut short this process. My words of advice; make sure you listen to those who have accomplished what you want. For example, in social media groups, be careful on whose advice to take. Don’t fall for any scams. Have critique partners and beta readers go through your manuscript before you submit. I’m a proponent of traditional publishing. Make sure your manuscript is as good as it can be before submission. Read the publishers guidelines on their website before you submit. Follow the directions. That’s a major reason for rejection. If you’re lucky enough to get feedback and it’s consistent between editors, listen. Edit, rewrite. Don’t submit the same manuscript repeatedly with the same errors. The writer has to step back and get their ego out of it. Don’t say, “It’s my manuscript, and I want it this way.” Because I listened, I received my first contract on only my seventh submission.

Q: What do you do to prepare yourself mentally for each new project?

A: When plotting, it comes to me naturally. There isn’t mental preparation. I don’t have to talk myself into it.

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

A: I’m very much like my characters, except for the murders or violent parts. I’ve had a very pampered life, so writing these scenes is really a stretch for me. Some scenes have actually happened. Not telling which ones, though.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: I’m coming from a film and screenwriting background from the late ‘70s through mid ‘90s, and I would like to get my books to a TV episodic series.

Q: Anything else you’d like to share?

A: Thank you so much, Christina. My website is http://www.ronnieallennovel.com, and your readers can find me on Facebook at Ronnie.allen.507. On Twitter and IG, I’m @ronnieanovelist.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Chat with Cookie O’Gorman

 

Cookie O'Gorman

I was introduced to Cookie O’Gorman years ago when I worked as a reviewer and I was enchanted by her debut novel, Adorkable, which had a sort of magic I had rarely seen in YA romance, though it was one of my favorite genres. I picked up her next book, Ninja Girl the moment it came out in ARC review. This one surprised me even more, and from that point on I was a fan for life. I found Cookie again on Instagram last year and was delighted to become reacquainted.

On her website (http://cookieogorman.com), Cookie has a brand of humor and heart, and she describes her stories as “Tales of Happily Ever After” and “Cookies for the Soul” (with her newsletter even called “The Cookie Jar”, an apt name since there is an addictive quality to her universes). With her fifth book recently released, and her debut novel featured in Target, I’m honored to introduce you to an author who is sure to leave you smiling, even if you don’t normally read YA.

Interviewer: Joanna Celeste

*******

Q: You went from self-published to indie/hybrid publishing. Can you share with us the pros and cons of each type?

A. All five of my books have been self-published, however, my debut YA romance Adorkable was later picked up by a publisher.

The pros to self-publishing are the freedom and input that you have in your own work. Everything from the cover to the plot, characters and scenes, to the editing and marketing, is all up to you! I think along with this pro comes the con of having all the responsibility rest on your shoulders. Whether anything succeeds or fails, it’s on you. Another pro from a business standpoint is that any profits you make from your books are yours; but again, the con is that any and all of the expenses for your books are yours, as well.

When you are indie/hybrid published, the responsibility is shared and you have a team working with you to help get your book out there and give it opportunities (like getting in stores, marketing, selling foreign rights etc.). That’s a definite pro of being indie/hybrid, the knowledge, expertise and connections they have within the publishing world. The con, of course, is less control over your book. Another con from a business standpoint is that you do not keep all of the profits from your books and earn a smaller royalty; however the pro is the indie publisher may be able to get your book in front of more readers as well as in stores and pays for marketing (but they have the power there and may decide how much or how little to promote your books).

In other words, both self-publishing and indie/hybrid publishing have their drawbacks and are awesome in their own ways.

Q: Your works were recently published internationally! What was the process of translation and publication in other markets like?

A. Three of my books (Adorkable, Ninja Girl, and The Good Girl’s Guide To Being Bad) have been published in Hungarian! My experience has been wonderful! Basically, the publisher approached me; I sold the Hungarian foreign rights to them, and they translated the books (sending me questions if they needed any clarification). They also are wonderful about sending me the Hungarian covers and letting me know how the books are doing.

Q. What advice would you give to new writers?

A: My advice to new writers would be: don’t give up. Finish your book. Learn as much as you can about writing and publishing, make your book the best that it can be, and then decide how you’d like to proceed (traditional or self-publishing). Also, just remember you have the power to validate yourself. You don’t need anyone’s permission to write. Some people will love your books and some won’t, but it’s the ones who do that you should focus on. A lot of writers complete and publish their books, and you can do it, too.

Q: Please share some of the common misconceptions about YA romance you have encountered.

A. Hmm…this is a tough one. I think people sometimes think of YA romance as fluff and, therefore, less important. There’s a stigma attached to romance, in general, but I think YA is even more discounted because it features teens and their experiences. This mindset is absolutely not true! The world has far too many tragedies. We need more happy endings, and that is one of the reasons I write romance. Another misconception is that YA romance can only be enjoyed by young adults, which is just crazy. YA romance is for anyone and everyone who enjoys love stories and happily ever after.

Q. What are some of the best elements of YA romance?

A: I love how YA romance allows you to get inside the character’s head and examine their emotions. YA romance often explores firsts (first love, first kiss, first heartbreak, etc.), and I love writing those. The fun banter, the friendships, the swoon-worthy and hilarious moments, those are all things I love about YA romance.

Q. You wrote four YA novels and just published your fifth, as a New Adult novel. What was different in your process, writing for the New Adult market?

A: My New Adult sports romance, The Best Mistake, just came out.  It features the O’Brien Brothers, and I love, love, love it.

The process for writing NA versus YA was a bit different because:

1) NA is set in college, so the characters are older.

2) I knew my characters would no longer be living at home, so they’d have more freedom/autonomy than in YA. I also wanted to get the living situations right, so I researched that.

3) The New Adult market’s readers are also a bit older; NA romance is written for adults 18+, so I knew the books included more mature romantic interactions. My YA romance has always been PG-13, and none of my characters were ready to do more than kiss (though there were some swoon-worthy, steamy kisses).  But my NA romance features older characters, and I knew I wanted to allow them to go as far as they wanted to go.

4) I had to make sure my characters for my NA read like mature college kids (my two main characters were seniors in college). They couldn’t sound too young, so their thoughts, views and experiences of the world, had to be right.

5) My New Adult romance features the O’Brien brothers, and I knew that I wanted it to be a series, to write stories for each of them—which I had never done before. So my approach to The Best Mistake, knowing I wanted it to be book one of a series, was definitely different.

Q: How do you define New Adult? (In case readers are unfamiliar with the genre and associate it with a totally different “adult”).

A: There are probably better definitions out there, but I define New Adult as books that feature characters who are college-aged, dealing with the transition between being a teen and becoming an adult and all of the experiences that may come during that time (such as: leaving home, living away from parents for the first time, having more autonomy, being more financially responsible, internships, jobs, college parties, clubs, drinking, having sex, falling in love that leads to engagement or marriage).

Q. You manage to write, keep up your blog and post regularly on social media. How do you juggle it all?

A: Very badly. I don’t think I’m very good at juggling everything, but I try my best.

Q. After signing on with Entangled Teen you had your Adorakable novel in Target for the first time. What was that process like?

A: It was amazing. I don’t think I could’ve ever done that on my own. Getting Adorkable into Target and Barnes & Noble was all Entangled Teen’s doing, and I’m so thankful. Seeing Adorkable on actual store shelves, it was truly a dream come true.

Q. Please share your best practices when requesting reviews and setting up book blog tours.

A. For each book I write, I try to book at blog tour. That is where the bulk of my early reviews come from. The hard part (for me anyway) is getting the timing right. Book blog tours are usually scheduled far in advance, at least a month or two, and you need to have your cover and blurb already completed (as well as your properly formatted book, of course). I would say plan ahead; get your cover done and manuscript properly edited and formatted; and contact blog tour sites as early as you can.

Q. Any other marketing tools you recommend?

A. Not really. I’m not the best at marketing, still learning. I know a lot of people don’t recommend them, but I like having a cover reveal and blog tour for my books. If you can, get a featured deal on BookBub™, I definitely recommend that. I had one for Adorkable, and it was very successful.

Q. How do you deal with writer’s block?

A: I cry in a corner, convinced I’m not a real writer/author. But seriously, I just try to get back into it. If writing comes naturally to you, that is awesome. I have to make the decision and then force myself to sit down and write. Then I just keep doing that until I reach the end (usually with a lot of writer’s block in there). But the point is to keep going.

Thank you for your time with us today, Cookie.

Connect with Cookie:

Twitter: @CookieOwrites

Instagram: @cookieogorman

Facebook: @cookieogorman

ENJOY A TASTE OF HAPPILY-EVER-AFTER!

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/14924267.Cookie_O_Gorman

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/14924267.Cookie_O_Gorman

 

A Chat with Caroline England

 

Caroline England headshot

Caroline England knows the law, and she knows how to write stories that capture and hold a reader. That’s a powerful combination! Born in Sheffield, England, Caroline now resides in Manchester, UK. Having left a lucrative career as a divorce lawyer, she now writes stories filled with mystery and intrigue, and characters readers are drawn to.

Her domestic psychological thrillers, Beneath The Skin, also known as The Wife’s Secret (ebook), was published by Avon Harper Collins in October, 2017. Since then she’s gone on to pen many more stories that are gaining quite a bit of interest on many fronts. Also writing under the pen name, Caro Land, her first Natalie Bach novel, Convictions, a legal suspense, was published in January 2020, with additional titles just released. What tremendous accomplishments! Welcome, Caroline.

Interviewed by Debbie A. McClure

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Q You had a career in the law before turning your hand to writing. How much has this career influenced your writing?

A I was from a family of lawyers, so I was somewhat blinkered when I applied to study law at the University of Manchester. After my degree I tried to break free by applying for a journalism course, but at the time it felt easier to take the professional legal exams and become a solicitor.

As a trainee I worked mainly in criminal law. After that I practiced divorce and matrimonial work, then went on to do professional indemnity, also known as legal malpractice, representing professionals such as lawyers, accountants, and surveyors, who’d made a mistake – or not – as the case might be.

All these areas of the law helped on a practical level (see below) but also on an emotional level in terms of characterization and digging beneath the human facade. Being charged with a crime and facing prison is terrifying; going through a divorce or having a fight over the custody of your children is often deeply traumatic. An allegation of professional negligence can be debilitating too. Accordingly, I was given a fabulous insight into the human psyche because I saw people at their lowest ebb, emotionally stressed and raw, having to bare their souls and admit to their darkest deeds, sometimes keeping secrets and telling lies like the characters I write about!

Additionally, where people are in conflict, it’s fascinating – and eye-opening – to hear the same story told from completely different viewpoints, which is very much what writing is about.

As an ex-lawyer I’m able to write about UK legal procedure and cases, so the law has also influenced my writing on that practical level. My three published Caroline England books, Beneath the Skin, My Husband’s Lies, and Betray Her are psychological thrillers, but have lawyer characters. Also, under a pen name Caro Land, I have written two legal dramas: Convictions (published in January), introduced my solicitor protagonist, Natalie Bach. Though a feisty legal eagle on the outside, Nat is vulnerable, real, relatable and, I hope, engaging. Though there are legal cases, crime, darkness, and intrigue, there’s humour, love, and friendship too.

The follow-up, Confessions, was published this month. We follow more of Nat’s challenges and dilemmas both personally and professionally. Her cases range from mercy killing to cowboy builders, from revenge porn to murder, and all sorts in between.

In Confessions, Nat is seconded to criminal law firm Savage Solicitors, so I was able to draw on my duty solicitor days when I sat in on police interviews, visited inmates in Strangeway’s Prison, and frequented the local magistrates courts.

Q How did you jump from lawyer to writer?

A When my third daughter was born I took the decision to give up the law and be a stay-at-home mum. Before I abandoned my solicitor’s desk, I wrote the first few lines of my first novel. After that I became pretty much addicted to writing, spending my free time on the first drafts of three or four books. My novel writing stayed firmly in the ‘novel closet’, but I did admit to penning poems and short stories, and I joined a writer’s group. I regularly sent the short stories to magazines and literary publications, and I was delighted to have many of them published. I was even more thrilled to be approached by an editor who had seen one of my twist-in-the-tale short stories and wanted to publish a collection of them. This short story collection, Watching Horsepats Feed the Roses, and the follow up, Hanged by the Neck, are available to buy on Amazon. If your readers like a quick fix, these sweet and sharply twisted dark tales might appeal to them!

Q Why did you choose crime fiction as your genre?

A Back in the novel closet days, I just wrote stories I would like to read without any ‘genre’ in mind. When my debut, Beneath the Skin (known as The Wife’s Secret in ebook), was taken on by HarperCollins, I was told, to my surprise, that it was crime fiction, albeit on the psychological thriller or domestic suspense end of the spectrum. On reflection, I think my style of writing is a blend of crime and contemporary because my real interest is people, their secrets and journeys and lives. The legal drama novels are an extension of that, but this time the characters revolve around the law.

Q How much do you draw on real life to create fiction?

A Like Frankenstein, I get inspiration by pinching tiny bits of people’s lives, news stories, films, TV, newspapers, documentaries. The legal cases I have worked on help, though of course it wouldn’t be ethical to steal them outright! Like many authors, I put a bit of myself in characters and storylines too. Then there’s my crazy imagination…

Q How important is location?

A My novels could be set anywhere in the world because they are predominantly about people, which, of course, is universal. We may be different sizes, shapes, age, race, colour, sex, or creed, but we’re all human beings with the same joys and emotions and worries and fears.

However, they do say to write what you know, so my novels are all set near to where I live in Manchester, UK. Knowing an area gives a story heart and authenticity, and that helps the reader visualize and experience it, even if they live far, far away!

A How did you get a traditional publishing contract?

A The publication of my short story collection gave me a huge confidence boost, so I concentrated more seriously on the draft manuscripts I had already written. Beneath The Skin was the first of those and I started sending it out to literary agents. Though like most authors, I had a lot of rejections (and a book deal that fell through), I eventually got lucky and found my agent through submitting a short story in 2016.

The offer from HarperCollins came through a few months after signing up with my agent. Fortunately I didn’t know a great deal about the process back then, so I wasn’t constantly fretting or looking out for emails. My agent didn’t tell me about any rejections, but waited until an offer was made. I had assumed that if an editor liked a manuscript, that would be a yes, but in fact any new novel needs the thumbs up from various departments, such as marketing and sales. I was thrilled to be offered a digital deal initially, but the real pleasure was when the publishers confirmed the book would be in paperback too! It was published in 2017. My Husband’s Lies followed in 2018 and became a Kindle top ten bestseller. Just this week the audiobook of My Husband’s Lies was published by Penguin Random House Audio – I’m so excited to listen and see how the narrator has vocally interpreted the characters.

Q What are your top tips to budding writers?

A Only a few writers get lucky with an agent or a publisher the first, tenth, or even thirtieth time of trying. When yet another rejection comes your way, my advice is to shed a few tears, then pick yourself up, dust yourself down and carry on polishing that manuscript until it positively gleams.

Looking back, I would also recommend paying for a professional edit if you can afford it. An alternative is to find a beta reader to give feedback on your work. Don’t ask your great aunt Mildred, who’ll say it’s fantastic, but someone who is prepared to dish some hard truths if necessary – doing a swap with another writer is a great idea.

Above all, write, write and write more – never give up!

Q Your main characters are strong women of action. How much of your own personality finds its way into your written characters?

A As mentioned above, I think most authors put an element of themselves into each character they write – both male and female. Beneath the Skin and My Husband’s Lies have sections from different character view points, but Betray Her, as well as the two Natalie Bach legal books, are from one female POV. My next novel, Truth Games, is due out in November 2020, and it’s again from one female POV. Perhaps having three strong daughters and a brilliant female publication team at Little, Brown Book Group is an influence. However, I do have more written books which include male POVs ready to spring from my laptop!

Q Do you weave fact and fiction (i.e. real stories that have been fictionalized) in your books? If so why, and if not, why not?

A My stories and characters are entirely fictional. Some of the legal cases in the Natalie Bach books may be roughly based on real ones I have come across, but they are very much inspirational only! As a former lawyer, I most certainly wouldn’t want to be sued for libel!

I also personally feel that you need to abandon ‘fact’ or real life experiences when writing fiction. Trying to be factually accurate can hinder the creative flow. Also, truth is sometimes stranger than fiction, and therefore not always believable.

Q When writing a new story, have you ever been “surprised” by a story line, angle, character, or aspect of the story you hadn’t anticipated?

A All the time! I’m very much a ‘pantser’ (in that I fly by the seat of my pants rather than plotting out a story). I have a vague idea of a secret, a lie, a twist or a reveal and I head towards that, but all sorts happens along the way. Some authors talk about a ‘writing magic’. I’m delighted to have experienced some of that. I love it when a character decides to go in an unexpected direction. Mine very often do!

Q How much research do you do when writing a new story?

A Fortunately I don’t need to do too much in depth research, and I’m in awe of authors who do, but I like to keep my writing as realistic, grounded, and as honest as I can, so I carefully research issues such as mental health or other medical aspects. I also need to check out any legal implications, as the law changes all the time!

Q What have you learned about yourself during and after the writing process?

A I’m fairly single minded, self disciplined, and dedicated whilst I’m writing, as well as tenacious. I guess I already knew these things, but they are pretty vital in the writing process, as there are so many disappointments along the publication journey, and it’s all too easy just to give up at times. You also have to be flexible and take your editor’s feedback on the chin! It’s pretty disheartening when you have to delete a whole chunk of beautiful writing to up the pace, or take out a favourite twist, but a good editor really does know what’s for the best.

Q What’s next for you, Caroline?

A Although Betray Her has been available in ebook and audiobook for some time, I’m very much looking forward to the UK paperback release on the 16th of July 2020. I’m also looking forward to seeing Truth Games ebook out later this year. I have just seen the cover and it’s FAB!

I’m still writing away and I’m just polishing my fourteenth novel, another psychological thriller, but with a gothic element. I’d love to see that and all my other manuscripts published.

Another huge wish is to see my stories on screen, so fingers crossed Natalie Bach or my other characters will one day appear in film or on the TV

You can find Caroline’s work and connect with her here:

Website: carolineenglandauthor.co.uk

Twitter: https://twitter.com/CazEngland

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CazEngland1/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/cazengland1/

 

 

Hope City

Hope City Cover

Wanderlust is as deeply ingrained in our DNA as is the quest for reinvention and the opportunity to test one’s own limits. Such is the premise of Neil Perry Gordon’s new book, Hope City – The Alaskan Adventures of Percy Hope, which follows the adventures of two teenage boys in 1898 who set out for the goldfields of the rugged Alaskan wilderness.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Let’s start with a chat about your upbringing and the influence(s) it had on your journey as a writer.

A: My education began at the Green Meadow Waldorf School, where I learned that subjects such as music, dance, theater, writing, literature, legends and myths were not simply things to be read about and tested but lessons to be experienced. This, I believe, nurtured my cravings to express myself creatively. I did struggle for many years, decades actually, trying to find my voice, and in my 60th year, I discovered writing and, thus, became a novelist.

Q: Were you a voracious reader growing up?

A: I’ve always loved reading and spent my early years reading the classics, as most do while in school.

Q: What titles might we have found on the nightstand of your adolescent self? As a teenager? As a 21st century adult?

A: In my teens, I consumed science fiction, and in particular Isaac Asimov and Ray Bradbury. Today, I jump around from writer to writer, seeking more to learn the craft rather than reading for pleasure. Though if pressed, I would say I enjoy: Stephen King, Phillip Pullman, Delia Owens, Don Winslow, Kristen Hannah, David Gregory Roberts and Philip Roth.

Q: When (and what) did you first start writing?

A: I’ve been writing business articles and industry specific books for many years, though it wasn’t until 2017 that I began fiction writing.

Q: Is your primary focus the adventure genre or have you explored other outlets for your storytelling?

A: Four out my five novels are historical fiction. My third novel, The Righteous One, explores the genre of metaphysical fiction. My upcoming novel will explore the historical romance genre.

Q: Accuracy in research for works of historical fiction is paramount in educating readers as much as you entertain them. How did you go about ensuring that you have kept all the facts straight rather than serving up an alternative history which tweaks the truth to accommodate the plot?

A: I seek to tell the truth by keeping the dates of events accurate as to when they’ve occurred. For example in The Bomb Squad, the Black Tom Island explosion happened on June 30, 1916. In my story, I kept that date and would never “tweak” it for convenience.

Q: Have you been to Alaska or is it a destination on your bucket list?

A: I’ve been there over a dozen times. It’s my happy place.

Q: What motivated you to write Hope City?

A: Last summer while in Hope, Alaska, I was dining at The Dirty Skillet, a local restaurant. The owner shared a tale of its history of how she came up with its name. I took this seed and planted it into my consciousness and Hope City – The Alaskan Adventures of Percy Hope bloomed forth.

Q: If you could meet any three adventures from history, who would they be and what would you most like to ask them?

A: Jack London – What was it like climbing the Golden Steps in your journey to the Klondike?

Wyatt Earp – In all of your gunfights, why do you think you were never shot and killed?

James Cook – How did you react when the natives thought you were a god when you landed upon the Hawaiian Islands?

Q: What governed your choice to go the route of self-publishing?

A: Ego and expediency.

Q: What did you learn about the DIY process that you didn’t know when you started?

A: That I needed to learn an entire new industry.

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

A: Considering I could have never predicted the events of the first six months of 2020, I dare not venture 10 years into the future. Perhaps one day, I’ll dip my pen into a dystopian novel.

Q: Plotter or pantser?

A: Panster! I love the idea of my writing taking me on a journey. I begin with a situation and watch it grow into a world where characters live and interact. It’s this process which excites me about working organically.

Q: What gives you the most satisfaction as a wordsmith?

A: Communicating my story telepathically into a reader’s mind.

Q: Conversely, what is it about writing that causes you the most stress?

A: My personal limitations of the craft. I know I can be better.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: Sadie’s Sin – The Zwi Migdal’s Reign of Terror

Sadie Wollman, a young Jewess in 1924 Warsaw, Poland, has fallen in love with a handsome university professor—Alexander Kaminski. But when her traditional parents learn about this possible unholy matrimony to a gentile, they hastily arrange a brokered marriage to a wealthy Argentine Jewish business man—Ezra Porkevitch.

Believing they sent their daughter off to a glamorous life of wealth and luxury, this young woman instead faces a new reality of becoming a Polaca, a sex slave to the Zwi Migdal, a Jewish organized-crime group trafficking young women into forced prostitution throughout brothels in Buenos Aires.

When her lover Alex, a war hero of Poland, learns of the deception, he, along with his life-long friend Jan Mazur, seek to rescue Sadie from the grips of this wicked group of men protected by the Argentine political and law enforcement establishment.

Sadie’s Sin is an epic-romantic tale of an innocent woman’s torment as she is sold to the city’s most prestigious brothel—The Tango, and the hero’s journey across three continents, seeking her rescue.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

A: My website – NeilPerryGordon.com

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: I love the Jack London credo:

I would rather be ashes than dust! I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry-rot. I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glo than a sleepy and permanent planet. The function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days trying to prolong them. I shall use my time.