In the Spirit of Love

Debbie McClure

Can a sensibly modern young woman on holiday find everlasting love an ocean away with a dashingly handsome aristocrat who may or may not be a murderer and, oh by the way, has been dead for 150 years?

In her debut paranormal romance, In the Spirit of Love, author Debbie A. McClure not only channels those feelings of déjà vu that so mystify even the most grounded among us but also demonstrates just how hard it is to “give up the ghost” when Fate is determined to fuel the fires of passionate reunion.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Tell us about your personal journey as a writer and the mentors who encouraged you along the way.

A: Well, I gotta tell you, this has been a looong journey. Although I didn’t start writing until I was nearing fifty years of age, writing had been a life-long dream of mine. But as with so many people, life gets in the way. Years struggling with poverty as a single parent post-divorce, re-marriage, blending a family of five teenagers (yes, five!), and assorted jobs to pay the bills, had me holding back on the dream. Finally, I decided to do what I wanted to do, not just what I could do. Along the way I was encouraged by my parents, who always saw the potential and encouraged me to follow my heart. My mother has always been an avid reader, a pioneer in business, and a tremendous source of encouragement and mentoring for me throughout my life. When it comes to my writing, she, my father, and my husband have never faltered in their unwavering support. I’m one lucky woman!

Q: What books would we have found on your nightstand when you were 10? 20? Today?

A: At ten I was reading Nancy Drew and other youth-focused mysteries. I’ve always been intrigued as much by what I didn’t know, as what I did. In my twenties I had started reading Danielle Steele, and later, Nora Roberts, and J.R. Ward. Today, I still love the same authors, and have added a new favorite I discovered two new favorites via my middle sister; Kristin Hannah and Tatiana De Rosnay. In addition, I love to read Clive Custler adventure books, and have read lots of Stephen King and Dean Koontz. I have pretty eclectic tastes when it comes to reading.

Q: If you could have lunch with your three favorite authors of all time, who would they be, where would you go, and what questions would you most like to ask?

A: I’d love to lunch and learn with Kristin Hannah, Nora Roberts, and Clive Custler. My preferred lunch spot would be at a restaurant on a beach. I’m the biggest beach fan, and I love seafood! The questions I’d most love to ask each of these esteemed writers is; how do they see each book before they start to write, in progress, and at the end. Each one of these writers creates characters so full of real personality and intricate relationships, that I wonder how they keep it all straight. I’m not an outliner, but I do keep notes as I go to help me keep characters, places, and events in line. I’d love to know how they approach their writing, and whether they’ve ever been surprised by an ending or character.

Q: What was the moment when you first decided, “Aha! I’m going to sit down and write my first novel!”

A: People often ask me this when I’m doing a speaking presentation or book signing/reading. I actually remember it very clearly. It was during a Christmas break when I was working in real estate sales. I’d booked two weeks off, and had really been struggling with what I wanted to do with my life. I was nearing fifty years old, and even though the thought of taking on such a massive project scared the living heck out of me, I was determined to at least give it a shot. So, one day I told my husband I was going up to my office to “write”. He just nodded and said, “Go for it.”. That’s all I needed. I wrote that entire day, and by the time I pulled away from my computer, I knew I was hooked. I had no real plan, no outline for characters or plot. I just let my imagination go with the germ of an idea I had. From that day to this, I sit down every day and write for as much as 5-7 hours. In the beginning, I was still working a full time job in sales, so set my alarm 1-1/2 hrs early. Now, I write full time, having given up my job in sales.

Q: What attracted you to the genre of paranormal romance for your debut as a novelist?

A: Ah, good question. I guess I’d read a lot of paranormal romance over the years, and had always been intrigued with the idea of the paranormal. To me, as a writer, it allows me to explore situations and adventures not available to us mere mortals. In particular, I love pairing the “normal” with the paranormal characters. Of course my paranormal character, the ghost of a grand English country estate, has to embody all the elements of a traditional romantic protagonist, with a little dash of something extra. He has also had the advantage, or curse, of having witnessed a century and a half of history, people, and as a result, has developed a unique outlook on life. Because of the strong mystery aspect to this book, I was pleased to learn that several men had also really enjoyed it, and claimed they hadn’t been able to figure out “who done it” before the end. The leads are all there, but I’m glad readers of both genders have enjoyed this first book.

Q: Tell us how you came up with your title.

A: Because of my background in sales and marketing, I knew I wanted my title to indicate the genre, by including the word “love”. Because this story involves a ghost as the male lead, I chose to include the word “spirit”. In The Spirit Of Love just seemed to pull together all the elements I wanted in one tidy phrase.

Q: Would you say your work tends to have a running theme or message, and if so, what would that be?

A: Most definitely. I’d have to say that the running themes, or message, through my work is that life is full of mystery, we need to value each of life’s experiences, and love is worth fighting for. I also try to remind readers that friendship and family are the most valuable assets we have, and aren’t to be taken lightly.

Q: Who was your favorite character to write?

A: The ghost of Kent Estate, Sir Richard Abbottsford. As a result of his spectral existence, he’s had to learn a lot of very difficult lessons the hard way, and he continues to evolve as he begins to connect with the people, places, and events of the present.

Q: If Hollywood came calling, who’s your dream cast?

A: Oh, easy one! I’ve always envisioned Sir Richard, the ghost, as either Hugh Jackman (tall, dark, and handsome), or possibly Leonardo Di Caprio (suave and debonaire). I’ve envisioned Claire as fellow Ontario Canadian, the multi-talented Rachel McAdams. As for supporting cast characters, I’m much more flexible, and haven’t nailed down exact Hollywood representations for them. I’d like to be surprised on that one.

Q: Aspiring authors often assume that once they have written (and sold) their first book, they are automatically on Easy Street. Speaking from your own experience, what have been some of the challenges of sustaining a writing career once you embark on one?

A: I guess due to my background in commissioned sales, I knew it was going to be a looong haul, and my writing wasn’t a get-rich-quick thing. Still, I’ve learned that writing has a learning curve the size of a tsunami, and it’s really easy to get swamped and overwhelmed. The biggest challenges new writers face is getting the word out about who we are, our work, and our brand. I’m also amazed at the number of new writers who don’t realize that writing (and publishing) is a business, and consequently, they must be the CEO of their new venture. Learning to market and promote yourself and your work is a massive daily undertaking, and can be wearing, to say the least. Because the money doesn’t just flow in, writers also have to juggle the dream against the realities of life, and making a living. This means looking at either maintaining a day job in addition to writing, or turning your writing into part of a platform for additional revenue streams, such as paid public speaking gigs, workshops, freelance writing, etc. Someone recently posted on Facebook that many people say they could write a book, if only they had the time. I replied that if time were all it took, more people would walk this walk. There’s just so much more to it than that, talent and perseverance included.

Q: When and where do you get your best writing done?

A: Oh, I’m a morning writer. I’ve tried other times, but for me, I write best in the mornings, in my office. It’s then that my brain is clearest, I’ve had my morning coffee, I’m dressed (yes, dressed in proper day clothes), and ready to get to work for the day. If it’s a gorgeous, sunny summer day, I’ll take my laptop outside and sit in the gazebo at the patio table and write from there. It gives me the illusion of having gotten outside and away from my office.

Q: The publishing industry is undergoing a massive shift as new technologies are being developed and perfected. What do you see as the future of publishing and writing?

A: As those in the business will attest, this is a remarkable time to be a writer. So much is changing, and so quickly. I see writers, publishers, and agents, having to step up to working collaboratively to capture the benefits of current and upcoming technologies. The “gate-keeper” mentality of publishing just isn’t working for many of today’s writers, and as more writers move into the realm of self-publishing, and very successfully in some cases, each party is going to have to come to the table with open hands and a willingness to create the best product together, with the writer being treated as a valuable player. Fair compensation and contract terms for a writer’s work are becoming more of a hot topic, which is why I think we’re seeing more “hybrid” writers evolve. Technology isn’t going anywhere. In fact, I think the future is going to see a greater shift towards technology, as our next generations come to expect and rely on it for a number of reasons (that’s another topic entirely). I believe print books will always be available, perhaps more via POD, but I also see a shift in favour of new technologies in the future. Bricks and mortar stores are going to have to adapt to accommodate the coming changes, or risk failing completely.

Q: Do you believe it’s harder or easier for new writers to get published today than it was a generation ago?

A: Without a doubt, easier. With the advent of digital publishing, more and more writers are choosing to go the route of self-publishing. After all, they can hire the same professional editors, cover artists, and upload their work to the very same e-venues as the big publishers do. As a result, getting published isn’t as difficult to achieve today. But make no mistake, self-publishing carries a ton of work, and it all rests on the shoulders of the writer.

On the other hand, I think traditional publishers are even more careful about the writers they choose to work with. With limited distribution channels, overhead costs, etc., I believe publishers are looking for writers who are willing, and able, to approach their writing in a professional, serious manner. Creativity is certainly necessary, as is talent, but so is a business mind-set to persevere over the long haul.

Q: What’s your best advice to a writer who is just starting out, insofar as preparing for the challenges that await them?

A: In the beginning, just have fun! Explore the limits of your imagination. Don’t worry about the outcome. But in the meantime, start learning everything you can about the business of writing and publishing. Because if you decide to persevere in this crazy business, you’re going to have to be prepared to really dig in and learn. Also, connect with other writers, at all levels of their career. Build relationships, and help others build their own careers while building your own. Especially in these changing times, learn and share with each other. I’ve met some amazing people along the way, including you, Christina, and I hope they’ve learned as much from me as I have from them. Oh, and with regards to social networking, never post something unprofessional, derogatory, or something that labels you as less than professional. This means pictures, expletives, political, and religious view points. Set up an author fan page, and keep business and personal pages separate. People are watching and forming opinions on who you are and your message, whether you like it or not.

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

A: I failed both Grade 7, and typing! I’ve learned that failure doesn’t mean stop. Sometimes it just means pay attention, and try again. I now type as fast as I think, and that’s a real advantage when writing for hours at a time.

Q: What’s next on your plate? Give us the inside scoop!

A: After the success of In The Spirit Of Love, I decided to write the sequel, In The Spirit Of Forgiveness, which is slated for release later this month, May, 2014. Continuing the story of Claire and the ghost of Sir Richard, Forgiveness follows the two protagonists as they solve yet another mystery of Kent Estate. Magic, mystery, and love are all part of the spell woven throughout this exciting new story. I’m really excited about this next release, and hope readers enjoy this next book as much as the first. Who knows, I may even begin penning a series based on the first two books.

I’m also extremely excited to share that I’ve started a new novel in an entirely different genre; a fact-based historical fiction. The King’s Consort-The Louise Rasmussen Story is the story of a woman who rose from obscure poverty as an illegitimate child of a seamstress, to marry the King of Denmark. It is a true love story set in the mid-1800’s amid immense political intrigue and change. Despite severe opposition and open hostility from the aristocracy, Louise and her king are determined to be together, and as a result, change the course of a nation forever. I’m hoping to have this next project released sometime in 2015/16, but haven’t decided the publishing route for it yet. Time will tell.

Q: Where can readers discover more about you, your books, and ongoing public speaking or workshop events?

A: Website: www.damcclure.com

Blog: http://the-write-stuff.me/

Twitter: @debbiemcclure59

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/#!/DebbieA.McClure59

 

Thank you so much for your invitation to chat today, Christina. I’ve really enjoyed the thoughtful questions you’ve posed.

 

 

 

The Spirits of Birds, Bears, Butterflies and All Those Other Wild Creatures

the spirit of birds

“One touch of Nature,” wrote William Shakespeare, “makes the whole world kin.” Why then, is man’s coexistence with the diverse creatures great and small with whom he shares the planet such a fragile – and often destructive – relationship? In his first book, The Spirits of Birds, Bears, Butterflies and All Those Other Wild Creatures, author Dennie Williams offers his perspectives on environmental preservation, interspecies communications, and the need to recognize that we’re all in this together.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: So tell us what your new book – and hopefully the first of many! – is all about.

A: This is a book of true to life nature tales emphasizing animal and bird interaction and communications with humans. The tales start with a short poem about Chickadees and end with a poetic tour through the Costa Rican jungle. The book opens with a prologue relating how I became fascinated with animals and birds through family influences and experiences. Then, in an introduction, it explains the significance of interactions and spiritual communications among birds, animals and other creatures with humans. Finally, it starts with the first of sixteen true stories or descriptive chapters of interesting interaction among people and birds and animals.

One of the critical issues facing the world today is the vital obligation to preserve and protect the environment. As a result of the momentum of destruction of nature world-wide, it will take generations, if ever, to repair all the damage. Hopefully the erosion, already generations old, will not continue at its present pace. But, whatever happens, children, teenagers and adults need to educate themselves as much as possible to the very soul of nature. This book and its short stories are a small and humble effort at catching the attention of as many readers as possible to the need to appreciate wildlife and the actuality that wild creatures can and do communicate their vital needs to people around them, even if they don’t listen or observe the many attempted interactive approaches to them by the non-human world.

Once people, at as early an age as possible, become educated to the needs of wild life, the less destructive they will be toward nature during their lifetimes, and perhaps they will even become devoted to help the causes of all living beings including those humans other than themselves. If the skill to appreciate nature and interact with wild creatures is honed at an early age, it becomes almost impossible not to take up or support environmental protection causes as one grows older.

Q: If there were a single quote in the book that summed up its takeaway value, what would it be?

A: “As kind as people are to animals, birds, fish and other living creatures, they have to think more about those creatures’ innate desires for freedom and independence. Above all, humans need empathy toward wild animals, birds and all other untamed critters. If more of them expressed it, nature could flourish in wider areas worldwide and man-made pollution disasters might decrease in kind. Can you imagine poisoning, torturing or intentionally running over a rabbit, squirrel or roadside crow? I can’t! Then how do corporations operated by people endlessly pollute the air, water and earth where wildlife lives?”

Q: And yet these practices not only continue to exist but also escalate. Are we sowing the seeds of our own destruction in our disregard for the planet and its non-human inhabitants?

A: Even as I was writing this book, my own concern for wildlife has grown so much that sometimes I have a very hard time reading, watching or listening to its incredible destruction during wide spread forest fires, hurricanes, oil spills, munitions explosions in war and after war or every day pollution of the air by nuclear plants, factories or just plain exhaust from hundreds of cars I pass by with my own car every week. And, yet for all of my working life I was a news reporter writing hundreds of stories of environmental disasters including investigative human health tales involving the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The environmental decimation of those wars, particularly from radiation dust caused by depleted uranium munitions, will impact on nature, wild creatures and humans in the Middle East for untold numbers of years. Radiation is hard if not impossible to eradicate and some say its hazards can last billions of years. And yet it seems news reports about its repercussions as well as the health effects of depleted uranium contamination and other huge environmental disasters focus on harm to people but not wild creatures, the earth or the oceans.

Q: Is there any bright spot we can draw to?

A: The nature tales in this book look largely upon the positive side of the relationships among people and wild creatures. They are lively, poetic and funny stories all with a focus on interaction, not always friendly, among people and birds and animals. Some of them involve my own experiences at all ages.

In order to put those stories and the book in perspective, I open up with my own family background, not as an ego trip, but to show how I very gradually became a kind of minor league nature fanatic. On the other hand, however, the first short story, “Blueberries, Butterflies and The Pig,” explains, how only at a late age, as a so called senior citizen, I finally realized there exists a spiritual, fascinating and inspiring interaction among humans and wild creatures, in this case butterflies, and people. Of course, that only occurs if the person already has a sensitive and regular appreciation of wild creatures. After some weeks of thinking about these butterfly experiences, it occurred to me that I and some close friends had a reservoir of experiences interacting with birds and animals.

Just as inspiring still was doing some extensive research on communications among humans and wild creatures and discovering it was not just my imagination. My thinking wasn’t craziness, it related to the real world! That research is part of the introduction to the short stories and is necessary to create credibility with the reader.

Q: So what inspired you to roll up your sleeves and put pen to paper…or fingers to the keyboard?

A: I was picking blueberries one beautiful, sunny day in a patch 10 or 12 miles from home, when a butterfly suddenly landed on my out stretched hand. I began showing it first to my wife then to several other pickers before I saw two young children, a boy and a girl, just outside the patch laughing and rolling down a grassy hill. Loudly, I asked them if they would like to see my pet butterfly and warned the boy to stop running toward me, as his curiosity overwhelmed him. He rushed on next to me and scared the butterfly 30 or 40 feet into the air.

“See what I told you!? You scared my pet butterfly away,” I exclaimed. But a second later, the boy exclaimed, “No, it’s on your ear!” I told the boy he must be mistaken. Then, suddenly, my wife appeared from out of the patch and said, I thought with sarcasm, “Yes, it’s on your ear.”

So I walked carefully over to the blueberry selling shack and asked the sales lady if she could see my butterfly. She confirmed its presence and quickly warned me that her two friendly dogs were approaching. Sure enough, one of them scared the butterfly up into the sky and away forever. Two days later, I was shocked when I remembered that about ten years earlier I had experienced another wild butterfly episode in Barnard, Vermont. There on a porch near a pond on a beautiful day, a local character took me by surprise and started telling me a wild tale. As he did, two white butterflies began flying just over his head with their flights matching the excitement of his tale. They did so until he finished and then quickly disappeared into the sky and over the pond.

Q: Would we be right to assume that you’re an animal lover?

A: Yes!

Q: When do you recall first taking such an interest in creatures of the wild?

A: I have followed the flights and eating habits of all sorts of birds on my feeders ever since I was a little boy. I loved seeing moose and bears in the forests of Canada and the Wild West.

Q: Did you work from a formal outline or did you allow the content to just flow from consciousness once you started to write?

A: In writing the book, I composed each story soon after it was told to me. Then I sent a copy to those being interviewed to make sure it was accurate. Then, I organized the investigation of the reality of interaction and communications among wild creatures and people. Next, I felt I needed to explain to the readers about my own life and family experiences as they related to my love of wild critters.

Q: How much research was involved in pulling all of the elements together?

A: My research on the Internet about interactions among people and all sorts of animals, birds and fish went on for months. Of particular help in proving the book’s thesis was the Internet’s YouTube which has dozens of videos showing wild creatures communicating and interacting with all sorts of people.

Q: Was it your style to do all of the research first or to start writing and do the research as you went along?

A: I did this research before I wrote the book to prove the existence of these extraordinary relationships among humans and the wild creatures of all sorts.

Q: By profession, you’re an investigative reporter. How different are the experiences of investigative reporting and the nuts and bolts of being an author of a book?

A: My investigative reporting for almost five decades was instrumental in writing the book because credibility, particularly involving this rare subject, is essential. Since the book involves short stories, the ability to write them was not that much different from checking out, interviewing and writing a news story.

Q: Who do you see as the book’s target demographic?

A: I believe the book is intriguing for most lovers of nature, but it is particularly inspiring for young adults because they need to learn that wild creatures can and do interact and communicate with people; and once they do, they may have more respect for preserving the environment, not only for themselves and other people, but for birds, bees, bears, butterflies and other beautiful wild critters.

Q: What impact did the development and writing of this book have on your own life? Do you feel that you see things differently now than you did before?

A: This nature book increased my appreciation of wild creatures tenfold because I had not the slightest idea that they had this people-inspiring capability to be so spiritual and friendly. As a result, I now often have trouble even thinking about swatting an annoying insect!

Q: What is the most amazing interaction you have ever heard about between humans and wild creatures?

A: I believe the most amazing interaction ever was the one shown on 60 Minutes in which Anderson Cooper followed “The Sharkman” into the ocean without being in a cage below South Africa and played a simple game of letting white sharks, the most dangerous of those creatures, bump them with their noses. After a couple of bumps, The Sharkman grabbed one of the shark’s fins and took a short ride. This is all on film!

Q: Why is it important to realize that wild creatures indeed interact and communicate in their own manners with humans?

A: As I hinted earlier, it is critical for humans to realize the communication skills of wild creatures because it makes them think that all environments need to be preserved, not only for us, but for animals, birds, fish and insects.

Q: How did you go about proving to yourself and, ultimately, to your future readers that these dynamics are critical to understand?

A: The content of the nature book itself deals with stories that prove this reality, and that is why I think the younger the reader, the better. So it was my investigation, leading up to the writing, that convinced me of the truth of what I was to compose. That probe is written into the book to convince others as well that these dynamics of nature are indeed critical to understand.

Q: How can readers benefit the most from this realization and which ones might benefit most?

A: If people begin to accept this inspiring reality, it means maybe we will have a remote chance of keeping the earth healthy and livable.

Q: Spirituality is an overarching theme throughout the book. What is your own definition of this state of being? Do you believe it exists in the animal kingdom or is it an anthropomorphic trait we ascribe to them?

A: Spirituality is the essence of keeping this thought forever in your mind and doing all you can possibly do to think of kindness and to think of helping others to include all living things including plants. And, indeed, spirituality is a reality for any living being desiring to communicate and preserve any other living being.

Q: It’s often said that our dogs understand more of what we’re saying to them than we understand about what they’re trying to say to us. Do you believe this same disconnect exists in the “wild” world?

A: There is no question that, like pet dogs, wild creatures frequently understand much more than people ever think they do. Although children with imaginations, sometimes know how pets and wild creatures communicate with them.

Q: Can hunters truly say they’re concerned about survival of critters in the wild when they are, in fact, hunting them?

A: Within the book, I describe the rather complicated ethical thoughts and actions good, competent and caring hunters have about killing animals and birds. American Indians taught some of them these lessons. We must remember that long ago, in order to survive, cavemen killed animals and hunted them, much as animals do to other creatures. During those times, however, it seemed from all the ancient tales that those ancient hunters only took down what they needed to survive. They didn’t go out and plant almost tamed pheasants in wooded areas, and then grab their shotguns to pursue the game they had just released.

Q: Environmental change, habitat destruction and human intervention have collectively contributed to the extinction of countless animals since the dawn of mankind. An alarming number of these have been within the past century. What’s your reaction when you encounter such statistics and what do you think we should be doing about it?

A: My reaction to this incredible destruction is partial disbelief that some people, many of them political leaders with powers to pass laws and enforce them, are incredibly egocentric, ignorant, thoughtless and cruel. Those leaders, aware of the potential disasters of the future, need to assemble in the United Nations or elsewhere, anywhere, and create a plan to stop the slow disintegration of our planet.

Q: Now that you’ve written your first book, what do you know now about the world of publishing that you didn’t know when you first began?

A: The writing, publishing and now the marketing of this nature book was indeed one of the toughest experiences of my life. Very, very few in the publishing business have any time at all to help a first-time author. Many agents and publishers don’t answer emails, phone calls or letters. For a first time author to get a book published and marketed they must be famous, infamous, rich or lucky beyond belief.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: My book plate of the future is empty and I would find it hard to believe I could ever create another one. But if the inspiration hits me hard enough, I will! It sure helps to have been an investigative reporter because the tasks involved with that job are often so difficult and nerve wracking that patience and determination are the only qualities allowing one to get all the tasks done.

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Readers can learn more about The Spirits of Birds, Bears, Butterflies and All Those Other Wild Creatures at http://birdscrittersbutterflies.webs.com/.

Haylee and the Traveler’s Stone

Lisa_and_the_Haylee_Books2

What a pleasure it has been to interview and get to know Lisa Marie Redfern, author of the Haylee etrilogy and Haylee and the Traveler’s Stone (print book soon to be released). Not only is she a wonderful writer, but her talent doesn’t stop there. As an accomplished artist, photographer, and business woman, Lisa stretches the boundaries of her art and her way with words/imagery, enticing followers to dip their toes into the rippling waters of imagination.

Interviewer: Debbie McClure

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Q: Books, movies and even television shows these days are delivering a steady stream of plots that involve the undead, the unreal, and the wickedly supernatural. In your opinion, what accounts for society’s longstanding fascination with characters that are not completely human?

A: A cultural theme occurs when lots of people have similar ideas and begin exploring it in depth. We take our collective temperature with questions such as; What are we afraid of? What defines us as human? How far can we stretch our imagination? What does it mean to be ‘different? How would it feel to be powerful and untouchable? I think the dark nefarious vampires, zombies, and wickedly supernatural characters that are popular today are reflections of our attitudes and worries about the cultural and economic conditions that we live in.

Q: Tell us how you came up with your title.

A: Hyale is a daughter of the Greek gods Oceanus and Tethys. The character Haylee, and the book title, is roughly based on this name…with a modern twist.

Q: Alfred Hitchcock was a master at making cameo appearances in all of his movies. Does Lisa Redfern employ any signature tricks or insider jokes that we should know about?

A: Absolutely! Although I won’t reveal them all—I will say that many of the animal names were family pets. The Rattler/Lovey storyline was based on a rescue dog named Bandit. He lived up to his name. Once it was changed to Happy, he was much easier to live with. Lovey was one of our pet cats.

Q: Tell us about your female protagonist, and the passions that drive her thoughts and actions.

A: Haylee has spent most of her childhood living with a wounded parent—she takes on responsibilities beyond most children her age. She attempts to stay out-of-sight and out-of-mind as much as possible, has an affinity for animals, and possesses a quick mind; she aspires to become a veterinarian. But things don’t go according to plan. When it becomes clear that her strange condition poses a threat to her loved ones, she drops everything to figure out how to stop it. Along her adventurous journey, we see a maturing inner resolve, self-direction, and a belief that something good can be born from facing a problem head-on.

Q: In Haylee and the Traveler’s Stone, Haylee is transported to the turbulent backdrop of the San Francisco Gold Rush in 1849. During this time in California history, the population was dominated by young male adventurers who came from all over the world. Why did this specific era personally resonate with you?

A: I feel connected to this time period because it is woven into the historical fabric of where I live—in the heart of Gold Country. I wanted to develop a deeper understanding about what life was really like by bringing alive the sights, sounds, smells, and textures of that time. In my research, I discovered fun and quirky facts that may not have made their way into commonly read history books.

Q: What do you hope this book will accomplish?

A: My goal is to suck the reader into a vortex of altered time where his/her own life fades out for a while as Haylee’s story takes center stage. Isn’t that the ultimate definition of a good book—to entertain? Along with entertainment, I included those quirky facts (mentioned in the question above), because I want the readers to have something memorable to keep. If Haylee readers (who visit San Francisco) are able to see the city in a new way, I will be thrilled!

Q: Have your characters ever done anything that surprised you?

A: I usually arrive at my keyboard with an outline and longish, handwritten essays that fill in sections of the outline. Days of thought and nights of dreams have gone by as I’ve worked out the complexities of what I plan to write. It is a surprise when I’m typing away and a character goes in another direction…or says something unexpected. They are usually right, but we have to argue about it for a little while before I relent. When I describe it that way, it sounds psychotic doesn’t it?

Q: The publishing industry continues to reinvent itself. The combined effects of downsizing at traditional publishers and the desire by authors to have more control over their intellectual property and pricing structure has led to an escalation in self-publishing endeavors. What are your thoughts on this issue, particularly the debate as to whether a self-published title is as “real” as one produced through traditional channels?

A: Every work published is real. It is meaningful to the person who wrote it, so it can’t be anything else. Prior to 2010, when iPads and e-readers hit the market en mass, publishing houses set the quality standards for reading material before it was released to the public. The flood of independent authors who are self-publishing has changed those standards.

As a consumer, I appreciate knowing that the book I am about to read has a reasonable chance of being good—in subject matter, clean page design, and very little grammatical or spelling errors. When you buy something that has been self-published, quality levels can be hit or miss.

As an artist and independent author, I love having the ability to self-publish. For the very first time in my work life I’m unencumbered and free to create my vision from start to finish. The creation process itself is highly satisfying. I place a great value on producing work that is ‘as good as’ anything that a publishing house would turn out. Fortunately, I have developed the skills to do most of it myself, but I also invest in areas where I need help—editing and some design assistance. There is something ironic about putting so much effort into a product that sells for .99¢, $3.00, or even $5.00. Like those adventuring pioneers who braved the treacherous seas and overland treks with the hope of finding gold, we authors are gambling that more than a few readers will push that shiny, rounded-rectangle button marked ‘buy.’

Q: In addition to being an author, you are also an artist and photographer with a busy home life. How do you find time to write?

A: Good organization is a must. I use a Google calendar synced with my smart phone. Sometimes other jobs have to go to the top of the ‘to do’ list. I get as much done as I can when my son is in school. I enter into my most efficient writing zone after everyone has gone to sleep and the phone isn’t ringing. I try very hard to remind myself to go to bed before it gets too late…

Q: Lisa, you are incredibly multi-talented, and your website, book trailer are amazing. What advice would you give to new writers/artists regarding building a social media or networking platform?

A: 1. Realize that platform building and gaining followers is something that takes time. It starts small and slowly increases over time.

  1. Once you start participating in social media, know that you’ve created a ‘living’ thing that needs to be fed on a regular basis.
  2. Start slow. Choose one or two sites that you think that you might enjoy. Stick with them until you are comfortable before moving on to more.

My social media ‘ah ha’ moment came with Pinterest. Because I am visual by nature and I enjoy organizing data, this was a perfect social site to start with.

Q: As an artist and writer, you are clearly an inspiration to others, but who inspires you? Have you benefited from the wisdom and/or counsel of a mentor? If so, who and why?

A: Inspiration comes from everywhere. To quote Christina Hamlett’s book Screenwriting for Teens, “Log into life. No password required.” Also, my artist friends inspire me when we spend time together setting up art shows, getting our hands dirty, or just sharing and talking about our work.

For authors, I follow the big guys—Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Douglas Preston, Lincoln Child, Barbara Kingsolver, and Jean Auel for starters. I also follow some of the rising independent author stars—Hugh Howey, Guy Kawasaki, Rysa Walker, and Chuck Wendig. I like studying how they present themselves online, how they interact with their fans, what kinds of stories they are writing next, and what rights they are selling.

My son has a big imagination; he and I have many humorous, “What if …” conversations. Being out in nature, photographing interesting animals, random conversations, seeing something online that grabs my attention, or even just being alone and quiet, are all areas of inspiration.

Q: You’re obviously drawn to the metaphysical and otherworldly in many aspects of your creativity and writing, sometimes blurring the lines between the real and fantastical. What is it that draws you in, or inspires you?

A: Underlying everything is the hope and faith that we are much more than just our physical existence. I think all life is connected, and should be respected and honoured as the incredible gift it is. The real magic in this world is love and our relationships with the people, animals and living things around us. That is what I always attempt to express in both my art and in my words.

Q: A lot of new writers think all they have to do is write a good story and their job is done, but today’s writers are expected to do so much more, whether self or traditionally published. What advice would you give to new writers just starting out on this very long journey?

A: I think that is an urban myth. How did that one ever get started? When I worked as a book publicist, I dreaded the inevitable moment when the author bubble would burst. Once it popped, fairy dust and glitter never spewed out and sprinkled to the ground.

My advice to authors just starting out is similar to the advice you gave in your interview for In the Spirit of Love. Always conduct yourself professionally online. Stick to it – give writing a permanent place at your table – live your life – do what you need to do…and then go back and write some more. Once you have a few books out there for sale, add to your regular routine time to feed the marketing machine.

Q: Many writers and artists struggle with following their creative path vs making a (normal) living, and being accepted in a world that often can’t understand what drives the creative mind. Have you struggled with this, and if so, how do you attempt to overcome it?

A: Oh yes! More than a few times, I’ve wondered if I was adopted. Most everyone in my family is an engineer, accountant, scientist, lawyer, or a business person. Conventional social norms hold the greatest respect for professions with the highest pay scales. If pay scales were based on job satisfaction, artists and writers would be where the venture capitalists and technology moguls are now. I don’t worry about people accepting me. I am who I am, I do what I do, and I am very happy about that.

Q: Where can readers discover more about you and your books online?

Author reads sample chapter Audible.com Lisa’s art portfolio & online store Art and Words Blog Google+ Goodreads Twitter reddit Redfern Writing Facebook Page Join Lisa’s author e-mail list

Lisa: Thank you for the opportunity to participate in a You Read It Here First interview. I enjoyed responding to your thoughtful questions. Additionally, it was a pleasure to become acquainted with you and Christina and your work.

 

 

 

 

About

woman readingHi, Readers!

For as long as I can remember I’ve been a voracious reader. I memorized the route of the neighborhood bookmobile, I always checked out the maximum number of titles at the school library, and I suspect that if a Beast had given me access to a ginormous collection of books in his castle, I’d have had no reason to ever leave. My allowance was regularly spent on the latest Nancy Drew mysteries (which I read with zeal and via penlight under the covers long after it was past my bedtime).

Even as an adult, I probably have enough books to open a lovely bookstore, although I’m sure I’d develop a modicum of angst about parting with some of my favorites and sending them out the door with a total stranger.

In the 30+ years of my own career as a professional writer, I’ve always been intrigued by what inspires my fellow authors, who their mentors were, how they organize their work day, what they’re passionate about, and what they’re currently reading. Thus was born the idea of launching “You Read It Here First” – a gathering place for those who love to write and those who love to read.

If you’re an author who’d like to chat about your latest title as well as share insider tips for those who are just beginning their own journeys in fiction (any genre), nonfiction, playwriting, or screenwriting, drop me an email (authorhamlett@cs.com) and let’s get the conversation started.

blogoramahttp://www.blogarama.com/books-and-literature-blogs

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Meet the Staff: Who We Are and Why We’re Here

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Christina Hamlett, Founder and Literary Manager

Award-winning author, script consultant, and professional ghostwriter Christina Hamlett has been involved with writing, publishing and the performing arts for over 40 years, an amazing accomplishment in light of the fact that she insists she is only 35.

Her credits to date include 43 books, 209 stage plays, 5 optioned feature films, and squillions of articles and interviews that appear in trade publications throughout the world. Not only is she frequently tapped to judge national and international competitions in the fields of fiction, nonfiction, playwriting and screenwriting, but – as a script consultant for the film industry – she attempts to stop really bad movies from coming to theaters near you. (Obviously she needs to be working much harder at this…)

Next to her husband, Mark Webb, and their dog, Lucy, her true love is the theater. She spent 16 years acting and directing, half of which was with her own touring theater company, The Hamlett Players. Many people mistakenly assumed that the group (1) only did Shakespeare, (2) only performed The Bard’s play about the guy with the skull or (3) thought the extra “t” was a typo. None of these assumptions were correct. Christina penned nearly all of the plays performed and, in fact, discovered that it was a nifty way to get feedback from the cast and from audiences prior to submitting them for publication.

If you read the third paragraph (and there will be a test on this later), you’ll see that she is still writing plays, the majority of these being scripts for the high school market and which, since the 1980’s, have been published by PLAYS (http://www.playsmagazine.com/), Pioneer Drama Service (https://www.pioneerdrama.com/), Heartland Plays (http://heartlandplays.com/) and Brooklyn Publishers (https://www.brookpub.com/). She is also a monthly contributor of scintillating lesson plans to School Video News (http://www.schoolvideonews.com/Authors/Christina-Hamlett/), an online resource targeted to K-12 video arts educators.

Rather than rabbit on incessantly, she invites you to visit her website at http://www.authorhamlett.com. There you will not only find information on her publications but also details about her online workshops, consulting and ghostwriting services.

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Sophie Lin headshot

Sophie Lin, Literary Associate

Sophie Lin has been an avid reader for as long as she can remember. She would read everywhere she went, whether it was in the car, late at night, or even walking up the stairs (which led to some minor injuries). Around fourth grade, when her teacher started holding monthly writing competitions for her class, Sophie discovered her love for writing.

Through writing, she found a world of limitless possibilities that she could get lost in. A few writing courses in various programs later, Sophie found herself writing stories on Wattpad, which she spent about two years on before high school came knocking to shove a new campus, new friends, and APs into her life. Now, she’s trying to reawaken her old passion for writing, and has started out by writing articles for the La Cañada Flintridge Neighbors magazine.

In her free time, Sophie can usually be found reading, singing, writing, building robots, hanging out with friends, or going to the gym. She lives in La Cañada with her family and huggable maltipoo, Skippy.

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Debbie McClure

Debbie McClure, Literary Associate

Debbie McClure wrote her first short story back around the age of twelve, and although she loved the experience, realized even then that writing took a lot of hard work and dedication! Although she continued to harbour the dream of becoming a writer, as with most of us, life got in the way of the dream. First there was marriage to a high school sweetheart that resulted in two fabulous children and a divorce eleven years later, then many years working as a single mother with no child support from an absent father. When she met her second, current husband fifteen years ago, Debbie’s life took yet another turn, as she welcomed three teenaged step-children into her life, in addition to her own then teenaged children. Yep, five teenagers in one household! Those were intense years of blending a new love and family into one cohesive unit, and through it all she worked as a full time real estate and mortgage agent.

As she approached her fiftieth birthday, Debbie began to realize that something was missing from her life, and so finally returned to her first passion; writing. Overcoming the fear of failure and insecurities of starting something so grand so late in life was a challenge. With nothing more than an intense love of reading and writing, and a grade ten education, Debbie wrote two full length novels before scoring her first publishing deal and releasing her debut novel in November, 2012, a paranormal romance/murder mystery, In The Spirit Of Love. In June, 2014, the sequel, In The Spirit Of Forgiveness was released. Finally Debbie quit her job in commissioned sales to pursue writing full time. Now, almost five years after beginning her writing career, Debbie has written a third up-coming novel in the bio-historical fiction genre.

In addition to writing, Debbie has discovered a love of public speaking and teaching creative writing workshops. These two new ventures allow her to connect with avid readers who want to know how books are written, and assist beginning writers who are seeking guidance and inspiration for their own writing projects. She also often speaks of overcoming the fear of failure and getting past the road blocks that often stop us on our way to discovering who we are and what we want to accomplish in life. Debbie is thrilled to be Literary Associate here at You Read It Here First, and approaches author interviews with a sincere desire to learn more about what drives the creative mind, the thing that makes writers tick, and the often remarkable journeys that lead writers along their chosen path.

You can find Debbie on Twitter, Facebook, her blog, website at www.damcclure.net, and welcomes direct emails at mcclure.d@hotmail.com. She lives in a quiet beach resort town along Lake Huron’s shores in Southwestern Ontario, Canada with her husband, which is ideal for the kind of laid-back, relaxed lifestyle she enjoys most.

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Christy Campbell

Christy Campbell, Literary Associate

Christy began a love of writing as early as sixth grade when she won second place in a short story contest at her school. Suddenly, she was always writing – whether it was in class (when she shouldn’t have been), at home (in a diary), and anywhere (really!). Poetry became a huge hobby as well. Christy got to high school where her Creative Writing teacher used one of her stories as an example to the class and urged her to pursue being a professional author. When she got to college, she dabbled a bit and writing papers was a breeze, including fifteen page ones! Eventually, marriage, a day job and children pushed the dream aside for a long time. But the desire resurfaced last year for her during a period of unemployment, and The Sharing Moon – her debut YA novel – was born.

Christy loves to write and read, obsessively she might add. The young adult genre has always been a favorite so she finds it not only quite fun and very easy to relate to but also intriguing and insightful. A graduate of Spring Arbor University with a Bachelor’s degree in Family Life Education, she’s still searching for that day job but, in the meantime, she’s working on the sequel to The Sharing Moon and keeping up with her busy family. As the newest literary associate to join You Read It Here First, she looks forward to reading and reviewing all kinds of fiction but young adult, mysteries, and complicated romance books are her personal favorites. You can find Christy on Goodreads, Twitter and Facebook under The Sharing Moon. Follow her blog at christycampbell12873.wordpress.com. She can also be reached by reached by email at cac1973@gmail.com.

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Joanna Celeste

Joanna Celeste, Literary Associate

Joanna Celeste (a.k.a. Joanna Cook) set up her first interview as a teenage reporter for The Friday Flyer, as part of her three-part series on the pros and cons of attending private school, public school, or studying at home. She came up with questions and surveyed various students for her “Teen Talk” weekly column.

Now, more than thirteen years later, Joanna has rediscovered her love of journalism: interviewing authors as part of the WOW! (Women on Writing) Blog Tours, or for her NAWR (National Association of Women on the Rise) group, “Author and Character Interviews”. Her author and character interviews have been published on Blogcritics.com, E & K Family Book Review, and on her Blog (notionsofagirl.wordpress.com).

Joanna is an official reviewer for Blogcritics, TRR (TheRomanceReviews.com), E & K Family Book Review, and a member of Netgalley. Her book reviews have been published on Blogcritics.com, E & K Family Book Review, TRR, SPAWNews, and The Dark Phantom.

In between her journalistic endeavors as a teenager and now, Joanna pursued her fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, publishing her short stories, poems and articles in various magazines, e-newsletters, anthologies, newspapers and trade newsletters. She has had the good fortune to have been mentored by professional authors through private mentorships, workshops and correspondence courses with The Long Ridge Writers Group. In turn, she enjoys assisting new authors as they learn the ropes.

Joanna is honored to join You Read It Here First as a Literary Associate. Joanna enjoys finding those books that impart that unique kinship, joy or hope, which first sparked a love for writing; the power of reaching out to others she had never even met.

On the side, Joanna enjoys illustrating, cooking, and singing. She lives in Southern California with her family and dog, Rosie. Visit her website at http://www.joannaceleste.com.

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Is Your Book Ready For Its Close-Up?

Have you just written a book? If so, congratulations are in order. By staying the course and having the passion and perseverance to bring your characters and concepts to life, you’re already leagues ahead of the thousands of wannabe writers out there who have yet to pen their opening sentences.

So what do you do now?

In a perfect world, you could kick back, let your publisher do all of the shout-outs, and blissfully watch buyers beat a hasty path to the nearest bookstore. Not surprisingly, many of the aspiring authors I’ve met over the years believe that this is exactly the way it all works.

Alas, but the process is not that simple, especially in the 21st century. Like any other industry, publishing houses have all been hard hit by a downward spiraling American economy that is likely to get much worse before it shows even a faint glimmer of getting better. What this means to authors is that they are now required to take on a lion’s share of promotion for their own titles. Many publishers, in fact, are reluctant to even offer a contract to new talent unless there is demonstration of a strong marketing platform and a gaggle of ready-made fans who are eager to open their wallets.

Perhaps the most daunting component of all of this horn-tooting is the challenge of working effectively with members of the media. Being able to attract a journalist’s attention – as well as perform flawlessly in any type of interview scenario – often makes the difference in how many prospective readers you’ll be able to reach and whether the media outlet invites you back.

If you’re new to the world of public relations, marketing and advertising, my recommendation is a visit to www.mediamagnetism.org, the companion website to Media Magnetism: How to Attract the Favorable Publicity You Want and Deserve. Available in paperback and on Kindle, this new release is targeted to authors, artists, entrepreneurs, small businesses and nonprofits – in short, anyone who wants a better understanding of what it takes to be a media darling and stand out from the competition.

Two dozen industry experts (myself included) offer insider tips and advice on everything from photos ops and DIY ads to surviving awkward moments and running an effective media campaign on a shoestring budget. It’s the closest thing you’ll get to a master class on Media 101 …without even having to leave your house.

One-on-one consultations are also available for individuals who want to learn:

How to attract media opportunities without spending any money.

How to be interesting (and more effective) as an interviewee.

How to put together an author press kit.

For fee information, contact authorhamlett@cs.com.

Reaper: A Horror Novella

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As far back as The Inquisition, the speculative existence of demons among us has woven a dark seduction over impressionable minds of all ages. Despite centuries of religious teachings that things which go bump in the night, wander fog-shrouded cemeteries, or assume the shape of bats and wolves to feed on human prey are to be avoided at all costs, curiosity has not only killed many a cat but lured many a reader into creepy plots that conjure nightmares. But hey, what’s not to love about a good story that brings on goosebumps? Jonathan Pongratz, author of Reaper: A Horror Novella, explains his own draw to the horror genre.

Interviewer; Christina Hamlett

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 Q: Did you read horror novels and watch horror films when you were growing up?

A: Growing up, my parents wouldn’t let me read or watch anything relating to horror, but I was determined. Though I couldn’t buy any horror books against their knowledge, I spent many late nights creeping from my bedroom to the dark living room. In time I watched all the great classics, in turn giving myself constant nightmares, but it was very much worth it!

Q: Is there a favorite that stands out in your memory?

A: As far as films go, Halloween is probably my favorite. The film really focuses on the mystery and terror of the boogeyman, while also having a great build up to the blood and gore. I rewatch it every year around Halloween.

On books, I really haven’t read that many horror novels to be honest, but my favorite thus far is Sarah by Teri Polen. A scary spirit with an insatiable lust for vengeance made it a real page turner for me.

Q: Last book or movie that really scared your socks off?

A: The last one that terrified me was IT Chapter One (the remake). Every scene had such scare factor that by the end I was something of a nervous wreck. It’s very rare that that happens to me, and I was extremely impressed.

Q: What are you reading now?

A: I just finished up reading the Watchmen comic series. If you’re not familiar, it’s a superhero themed comic set in the 80s, but much more grisly, dark, and violent than most other superhero novels I’ve read before. It is pretty similar to the movie adaptation, and I absolutely loved it!

Q: What was your attraction to writing a horror-themed story?

A: I’ve always loved the horror genre. I have watched hundreds of scary movies, and writing a horror-themed story was a way for me to pay respect to the genre itself. Chills, thrills, adrenaline,

I wanted to write something creepy that got my blood pumping and hopefully the readers as well.

Q: Whose work in the horror genre do you most admire?

A: I’d have to say George Romero and James Wan. George Romero is popular for his zombie movies, Wan for Insidious and The Conjuring franchises. Both have been able to create compelling, dark landscapes that are simply unforgettable. I always gravitate back towards their works, and it’s a constant source of inspiration for my own ideas.

Q: How and when did your own journey as a writer begin?

A: My real writer’s journey began when I moved to Kansas City about eight years ago. I was at something of a crossroads in my life, and though I hadn’t written anything in years, something about the change of scenery awakened something within me. Ideas started forming in my mind, and I couldn’t ignore them. I felt an intense compulsion to write, more than I had ever felt before. I haven’t stopped writing since.

Q: Share with us the inspiration behind the plot and characters for Reaper: A Horror Novella.

A: I was watching horror movies around September of 2018 when an idea started forming in my mind. The boogeyman, creepy basements, and vanishing children are all themes that I’ve seen in movies before, but for some reason, as I rewatched my favorites this time around I was more inspired than usual.

I wanted something nostalgic, an ode to my own days as a kid, so I went with the early 90s. I wanted to write a creature feature centered around Halloween and the boogeyman, while portraying the sibling rivalry between a comic book kid and his bratty little sister. A lot of the main character’s personality are actually small pieces of my childhood.

Q: Plotter or pantser?

A: Plotter all the way. I like to have a chiseled out plan before I start writing, even if I do end up pantsing here and there on the spot. If there isn’t a chapter summary, it won’t get written.

Q: If Hollywood came calling, who would your dream cast be for this title?

A: You know, I’m not very good with names, so I would just want each character to be portrayed correctly and settle for that. Gregory as a classic 90s comic book nerd, Imogen as a bratty little sister, their parents as loving but detached. The one person I did have an actress in mind for is his mother, Patricia. I’d like to see someone that looked like Catherine Mary Stewart play her part.

Q: How long did it take to write Reaper: A Horror Novella from start to finish?

A: From draft to publication it took me about six months, which I believe to be a bit fast. The first draft itself took about 2-3 months.

Q: Did you allow anyone to read it while it was still a work in progress? Why or why not?

A: I used to do that, but nowadays I don’t. I feel that I’ve grown enough in my writing that I should be able to complete a compelling, well-written first draft. Sure, there will always be little things here and there, but you can’t catch everything. I also don’t like other peoples’ opinions weighing in until after I’ve completed the story in its totality, so that I know what I actually want to keep and what I can compromise on if there’s a problem.

Q: I understand that a sequel is already in the works?

A: Yes! I am in the late stages of writing my first draft of the sequel. Ironically, I had no intentions of continuing this story, but a week after I published the first one I woke up one morning and the sequel just started pouring into my head. If that’s not divine intervention, I don’t know what is! Sometimes you just have to go with the flow, so I did.

Q: What are some of the challenges/rewards inherent in continuing an existing story versus leaving it as a standalone?

A: Well, I believe that writing a standalone may be a bit easier. You can write a great, compelling story and move on to other projects afterwards. Some readers are series-averse. I have phases where I do not want to read a series. Sometimes you just want a one off, and that’s okay. Writing a series, however, can be quite the headache. Not only are you writing more than one novel, but ensuring the continuity is there is extremely important, amidst a plethora of other things you have to watch. That being said, it can be easier to write more than one book once you solidify your style of writing for the main characters. I had a much easier time with Gregory when writing the sequel than I did with the first book.

Q: Like many of today’s authors, you chose to go the self-publishing route. What did you learn from this that you didn’t know when you started out?

A: A lot, actually. Without a traditional publisher backing you up, you literally have to do every single step of the publishing process yourself, which can easily get confusing. ISBNs, the cover, formatting the digital copy, setting up with a print-on-demand service. I lucked out that my dear friend and fellow author Emerald Dodge took mercy and held my hand through a big chunk of the process.

Q: How are you going about marketing your work?

A: Honestly, for the most part I stick to my social media platforms. I use WordPress and Facebook primarily, but also utilize Tumblr and GoodReads to boost my presence when I can. Marketing is definitely something I could work on quite a bit more, but honestly I don’t have a lot of time after all is said and done.

Q: When and where do you feel you get your best wordsmithing done?

A: I usually write in my room with the ambient music cranked up. I have a desk and desktop with a large screen that makes things so much easier. As far as timing, that’s where the plotter in me thrives. I write before work, on lunch, and after work in at least 30 minute intervals. That’s about all I can do with my crazy busy life, but I have a system that yields results.

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

A: I’m pretty predictable nowadays, but every once in a while I love to rock out with some karaoke. I was a choir kid growing up and was even in several show choirs. Jazz hands!

Q: It’s a dark and stormy night and you’re out by yourself. Which would you rather face down—a vampire, a witch or a zombie?

A: Face down or persuade to turn me? Haha! My answer is vampire all the way. I’ve always had a love for vampires since reading Anne Rice in high school, and I’m pretty sure I would be able to convince a vampire that I’d be the best prodigy ever rather than have one kill me. I mean, my vocal and writing skills alone should earn me a lofty eternal life.

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

A: At my website www.jonathanpongratz.com. I also post frequently on Facebook at www.facebook.com/jonathanpongratz but the content is richer on my website. I’ve got a lot of great stuff planned!

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: I always like to impart a little bit of wisdom to newer writers. If any of them are listening now, I’d like to urge them to keep writing. Find a time every day to write in a comfortable space, even if you have to fight for that time. Some things are worth fighting for, and you’ll grow so much faster if you stick to it. The world is full of possibilities!

Canaries Can’t Cry

Canaries Can't Cry

Anchored in the Adriatic is the tiny island called Sansego, where people live their lives in heavy labor, faith, and superstition, working the land from cockcrow to vespers and the sea from vespers to cockcrow. This is the birthplace of author Antonia Burgato who, in Canaries Can’t Cry, stitches the stories her mother told of life on the island that, in part one, spans the time between two world wars. The author’s voice changes in the second part, as she comes of age in an America of President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Elvis Presley and becomes an adult during the Civil Rights uprising, the VietNam War protests, and the women’s liberation.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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 Q: Your new book, Canaries Can’t Cry, focuses on the Istrian-Dalmatian exodus following World War II. This being a geographical. political and sociological period with which many readers may not be familiar, could you indulge us with a brief history lesson?

A: The Dalmatian comprises a group of islands off the coast of Croatia. They belonged to the Austrian-Hungarian Empire until WWI, then to Mussolini’s Italy until WWII, and then to Yugoslavia until its breakup in the nineties. Today they are a part of Croatia. By the time my mother turned 32, she had lived in three different countries without ever having moved as far as across the street.

Q: The title alone is compelling. How did you come up with it?

A: When my brother visited me in boarding in school, he told me of a canary he had bought for my mother to keep her company while at home alone. The bird flew on her shoulders chirping while she was at her chores. She loved that bird, but he had a habit of biting. She patted him on the head each time he bit her. One day she patted him too hard, and the bird fell lifeless in her hand. I couldn’t help but draw a comparison with a time when I was eight years old, and she had humiliated me with a public beating in front of the school. She had killed my spirit as much as she had killed the canary.

Q: One of the challenges of penning an autobiographical work is striking the right balance between telling too much, telling too little and finding a place of common ground which will resonate with readers who otherwise have no frame of reference or context regarding the events and dynamics which unfolded. What was your approach to developing this very personal project?

A: In writing an autobiography, the author must expose her inner self. For example, I was still a teenager when I was thrown into the world of Rome alone. It was a painful, growing up experience better left buried. However, I needed to unearth details to take the reader on the journey with me. I chose details that are translatable to any woman too young to be out on her own without guidance.

Q: Your mother escaped from Yugoslavia to go to Italy where your father had an apartment. What did you find there?

A: It was after Italy had surrendered to the Allies and declared war on its former Axis partner. Germany had begun to occupy Italy. Living quarters were scarce for anyone, and my father found his apartment occupied. We lived first in a chicken coop and then in a barn until the Germans left and the apartment became available.

Q: After his death, she brought you and your brothers and sister to America. Why did you leave Italy?A: With my father gone, my mother lost her privilege to live in the factory-owned apartment. America had opened a quota system to accept the many emigrants from the former Yugoslavia. Everyone my mother knew from her island in Dalmatia had already gone. She asked her father for her share of the inheritance, and she followed them.

Q: How old were you at the time and what were your first impressions of the country you would now call “home”? A: I had become a teenager in America. We had living room with television, a washer and dryer in the home, a refrigerator, and there were supermarkets. Wow! I also discovered Bazooka gum.

Q: What was it like being a teenager in America? Is there anything you know now that you wish you had known then?

A: That’s a tough and painful question. I was disassociated with family and with school. I tried hard to fit in with other teenagers from the neighborhood, but I wasn’t like them. I belonged neither here nor there—and I wanted to belong. I’m thankful that such times didn’t have violent gangs as today. I could have joined a gang, if the opportunity was there, just to belong somewhere.

Q: You also have three older brothers and a younger sister. How did your mother manage such a “full house”?

A: She put us all to work, and she took our paycheck. Some people are stupefied by that. But is it better to go to work and leave the children unsupervised or to send the children to work and let them contribute to the family’s well-being? There are arguments for both cases.

Q: Best advice she ever imparted to you?

A: It’s never one piece of advice but a sum of them. She guided us children to value education and responsibility in everything she did, in all her scolding and caring—not always the best for everyone. Our (my siblings) values in strength of character, of compassion, and of a drive to self-improvement emanate from her role model.

Q: Mixed marriages are fairly commonplace in the 21st century but not so much back in the 1960s. How was your marriage to a black university student received by family, friends and coworkers?

A: My family saw his color and his character and embraced him into the family. I had nothing but warm memories of my 14-year marriage to a black man in the sixties. His family and friends were the kindest people I have known. They were academics, belonging to the Harlem black elite. They roused in me a desire to further my education. The story was different in the working world. Some states still had anti-miscegenation laws, and feelings were strong in the southern states. I had been fired twice from jobs for being a “n….r lover.”

Q: Was it a happy, fulfilling partnership?

A: I would not be the person I am were it not for my first husband. He had exposed me to universities and to conversations beyond gossip and frivolous niceties. He taught me freedom of expression and helped me to revive my spirit.

Q: Your move to California ignited a passion to start writing seriously. How so?

A: My husband had released in me a spirit that wanted to fly. My marriage had become confining, and I left a man I loved to search for my own identity.

Q: And your passion for playwriting—who or what was the prominent influence there?

A: I would have to say George Bernard Shaw was my primary influence in playwriting. I went on to major in dramatic literature after discovering his plays. The works of Ionesco, Beckett, Ibsen, Chekhov, Strindberg, and Sartre ignited passion in me. My second husband was a well-known playwright and a founder of the Los Angeles Theater Alliance. I had begun to find my voice.

Q: Tell us about reconnecting with your brothers and sister. Would you consider yourselves close-knit or has time and distance pushed you farther apart?

A: My mother had sent us all to boarding school. We did not get to know each other until we came to America. She sent us to work as soon as we could to support the family. We learned responsibility and to care for each other. Today, we are closer than we’ve ever been.

Q: Your mother’s death, with the word “Finally,” had a powerful effect on you, and it seems that it was a turning point for you. How so?

A: In her life, she was demanding of me, trying to mold me in her image of a woman. I distanced myself from her, but physical distance does not break the emotional bond. Her death released her grip on me and my resentment of her. With that gone, I could see her strength, frailty, and courage, and I wish she could be here for me to tell her so.

Q: What was the easiest part of the book to write? And the hardest?

A: It was easier to write about my mother’s story because she told them often and with great passion. Once I switched to my story, I had to do much soul-searching and reveal long buried things. I didn’t want to delve deeply into my rights and wrongs, but if I didn’t, my readers would have felt something amiss.

Q: Did you allow anyone to read it while it was still a work in progress?

A: I had a beta reader. A dear friend and very supportive. I also gave parts of it to a few family members. They knew my mother’s story needed to be told; they didn’t always agree with my version of it. It is the old Roshomon effect when everyone sees the same event differently.

Q: Is there a message you want readers to take away from Canaries Can’t Cry when they finish?

A: Live your life to the fullest but do not trample on others. Your accomplishment is attained through your own efforts. If someone has given you a position, be grateful for the opportunity but question what you’ve done to earn it. If you throw someone under the bus to get somewhere, you have cheated.

Q: Define “home.” Is it the place you were born, the place you live now or the place that holds the fondest memories?

A: A home is where you find love and fulfillment. That place for me, at this time, is in California with my husband, surrounded by encouraging and caring friends.

Q: How did you go about finding a publisher?

A: I did quite a bit of reading about traditional publishers and decided to go hybrid because, at this stage of my life, I didn’t want to spend the lengthy time in submissions and rejections. It took me 10 years to write this book and I wanted it out.

Q: What are you doing to market the book?

A: In addition to this interview, I do much social media contacts, book signings, and speaking engagements to immigrant associations, especially to those engaged in second language learning.

Q: What have the reactions been from family, friends and fans?

A: Their encouragement motivates me to write my next book. Some of have expressed a shared feeling, especially in the various “me too” scenes. They didn’t know that about me. I had never talked about them because I thought I had done something wrong.

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

A: A few of my readers have remarked that they didn’t know what an interesting life I have had. I’m not so sure it was any more interesting than anyone else’s life. I’ve lived with curiosity, adventure, and risk. That is my wealth.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: My next book, Secrets of the Very Old, is now in its editing phase. I’m already thinking of more projects. Four years ago, my husband and I took a year off to live in Italy. It’s in my mind to write that memoir. Another one is my displacement after my house burned to the ground from one of the California fires. I’m still displaced with lots of emotions.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: People say their life is boring compared to mine. I’d say no one’s life is boring. Even an uneventful life has its unique story. Live life to fill your cup and shout it out. Thank you for this opportunity to talk about my book.

 

 

Not Again

Maria Henriksen headshot

Innocence meets tragedy and romance meets conviction in Maria T. Henriksen’s new novel, Not Again. This faith-based YA page-turner is set in the 1980s and will not only resonate with today’s teens dealing with seemingly insurmountable challenges but also with middle-aged women who weathered similar storms in their youth and, despite scars, emerged with a deeper understanding of their own beliefs and strengths.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Tell us about your journey as a writer and who/what inspired you to try your hand at a novel.

A: Ever since I was in third grade I wanted to write. My teacher showed the class laminated books that previous students wrote and illustrated. I couldn’t resist the urge to create something original myself, so I wrote and illustrated books and comic strips. The desire to create a story or artwork never left. No matter what job or stage of my life I was in, I found myself involved in some creative process whether it was taking photographs or scrapbooking. I even got excited when a professor in college assigned a huge term paper. I cheered while everyone else groaned.

Q: You describe Not Again as a YA edgy Christian romance. That’s quite a mix of genres! What’s the story behind its development?

A: I wanted to write what I liked to read and at the time it was convenient for me to read young adult novels since I had access to them as a substitute teacher. However, those novels lacked the kind of romance that I like to read to about, so I incorporated romance as part of the driving force behind the main character’s transformation. The edgy part is where it gets sticky, perhaps controversial. My novel is realistic to the point that the descriptions make you feel like you’re experiencing life along with the main character and it tackles real life issues. I make no apologies about that and many have found my writing to be gripping.

Teens today are exposed to all kinds of things online and in real life. Ignoring these realities doesn’t make it go away. Instead, my intent is to address these issues head on, all of it, including the good, the bad and the ugly. Not Again offers alternate ways to approach these real challenges. The novel was God inspired and through the obedience to Christ, Not Again has the potential to transform many lives.

Q: What types of books were you reading when you were the same age as your heroine?

A: I was not fond of reading at all when I was a teenager. In fact, almost any kind of reading made me fall asleep. It was especially embarrassing my freshman year in high school when I was too tired from reading the long questions and even longer multiple-choice answers that I fell asleep and awoke with drool on my arm.There was one time, however, that I did read for leisure. I was enthralled by the novel, The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton and to this day it is one of my favorite books.

Q: What governed your decision to set the plot in the 1980s rather than the present day?

A: The 80s was such a simpler time. There weren’t any distractions as there are today like cell phones, the internet, social media… Also, I was a teenager back then and was able to channel my experiences, thoughts and feelings of that time and use them as a springboard to create an original story line.

Q: What are some of the themes you tackle in Not Again and how will these resonate with today’s teens?

A: As an educator, it is important to me to incorporate teachable moments in a relatable and entertaining manner. Being exposed to teens every day, I witness first-hand how they deal with the same centuries-old topics such as bullying, self-image, friendship, romance, conviction, faith, courage, trust. These are some of the topics that are addressed in Not Again and it approaches each of them in a positive, refreshing and sometimes witty manner.

Q: In what ways are you similar to your main character, Christina? In what ways are you different?

A: Christina is kind of my alter-ego, but she’s prettier, taller, thinner, smarter, more athletic and more talented. You get the picture.

Q: If Hollywood came calling for a movie or television series, who would comprise your dream cast?

A: This cast of characters is based on the age of each actor’s performance in said production.

Christina De Rosa – Victoria Justice (Tori Vega in Victorious)

Avery Evans – Zac Efron (Troy Bolton in High School Musical)

Katie – Peyton List (Emma Ross in Jessie)

Morgan Ricci – Bella Thorne (CeCe Jones in Shake It UP)

Paul Martin ­­– Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy in Harry Potter)

Joey – Noah Centineo (Peter in To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before)

Mindy – Camilla Mendes (Veronica Lodge in Riverdale)

Miss Brenda – Octavia Spencer (The Help, Hidden Figures, The Shack)

Q: Many of today’s authors are going the way of self-publishing. Was this your original intent with Not Again or had you tried the agent/traditional publisher route first?

A: Traditional publishing never appealed to me. With the advent of self-publishing, writers have control over every aspect of their writing. It’s not that I’m a control freak by any means. However, having the freedom to create my own cover with photos that I took is very rewarding. I even wrote the song and took the photographs and video that are featured in my book trailer.

Q: What have you learned about self-publishing that you didn’t know when you started?

A: I didn’t realize how challenging, technical and involved self-publishing is. As a self-published author you either need to figure out how to do something or farm it out. Paying someone to do aspects of publishing is very costly. It can be expensive if you do certain aspects yourself too because you need equipment, software, training. I find all of that to be very overwhelming. Nonetheless, I forged through and was able to produce a quality product.

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

A: As much as I treasure my time alone weaving stories, I thrive on interacting with people and getting to know them on a deeper level.

Q: What brings you the most joy about writing and publishing?

A: I absolutely loved writing my novel. Being able to put in writing what is playing around in my brain is extremely rewarding. As far as the publishing part, to be able to say that I’m a published author is very satisfying. My greatest joy is yet to be realized. I look forward to the day when a person’s life is forever transformed from reading Not Again.

Q: And the most stress?

A: The amount of work that is involved in writing and publishing is very stressful. It’s never ending, overwhelming, and costs a ton of money. Also, it’s very challenging to find competent, reliable persons of integrity to perform services that you can’t do or don’t want to do.

Q: Best advice to an aspiring author?

A: Be prepared to spend an exorbitant amount of time and money on your work. If you aren’t willing to make that commitment, then don’t even bother. You should be consistent, disciplined and willing to learn and do more than you would ever fathom. Always get referrals if you are outsourcing a task and follow a certain protocol to make sure you are compatible with your service providers. Even though I did that, I still had more than my share of grievances that continue to plague me to this very day.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: I plan on developing an ecommerce website where you can purchase an autographed copy of Not Again along with themed accessories and swag as well as complete my sequel to Not Again.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

A: I start my day off by posting morning blessings or inspirational posts on social media; FB, Instagram and Twitter. Reading the scriptures and looking at the accompanied pictures fills the spirit. For inspirational and Christian content, you’re welcome to follow me. It’s a great way to start the day! Your support is greatly appreciated. Here are my social media links.

https://www.facebook.com/PurpleNchocolate/

https://www.instagram.com/maria_t_henriksen/

https://twitter.com/mariathenriksen

https://www.mariathenriksen.com

I started a fabulous FB group. It’s my way of giving back to the writing and Christian communities. We feature Motivation Monday, Transformational Tuesday, Wellness Wednesday, Thankful Thursday, Funny Friday, Sovereign Saturday, Scripture Sunday, heartfelt topics and so much more! I would love for you to be a part of this warm, caring community. If you would like to be a member of this amazing group, check it out at www.facebook.com/groups/292254218386413. Traditionally, my monthly blog/newsletter featured photos and stories written by me about my life or loved ones or as they relate to my novel. Moving forward, I will be mixing it up by showcasing authors and their writings as well as having guest writers contribute to the blog.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: I have yet to find my target niche – teens.

These are teens who:

1.) are believers in Christ

2.) once followed the straight and narrow path but went astray

3.) are searching for a meaningful way of life that speaks to them on a level beyond their understanding.

With the support of my readers, friends and fellow authors, I hope to find these teens and help to enrich their lives. Let’s make this world a better place one reader at a time!

 

 

 

A Chat With Hope Bolinger

BLAZE Cover.jpg

When I was in high school in the 1960s (even though I only claim to be 35), I used to think that teenagers had an inordinate amount of “stuff” on their plates. In retrospect, I’ve come to appreciate that such stuff is really not much different from what any other younger generation endured (i.e., peer pressure, self-esteem, unreasonable parentals, exam anxieties, and trying to strike a balance between fitting in and being unique). The difference with today’s generation, however, has been the dark impact technology has had on fostering unrealistic comparisons, exposing embarrassing secrets through social media and magnifying one’s sense of helplessness in a world that, for all intents and purposes, appears to have gone insane.

Author and savvy young literary agent Hope Bolinger clearly has a finger on the pulse of YA fears, dreams and sensibilities and effectively taps that expertise for Blaze, the first book in a new series about navigating the scary road to adulthood.

Interview: Christina Hamlett

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Q: When did you first know that being a published author was your true calling?

A: I started writing novels in high school because my best friend wrote them, but when my AP Literature teacher pulled me into her office, reviewing one of my papers, and said, “Obviously you can write well,” I thought, Maybe I could do something with this.

Q: Who or what has had the most influence on guiding your career?

A: That’s such a hard question. I can’t say one particular person alone shaped me. So many writing mentors and friends throughout the years propelled me to where I have landed today. If I listed all the names of everyone who helped me get here, it would probably take the entire interview.

Q: New writers often lament that they have trouble coming up with ideas and yet an abundance of “recyclable” material already exists in Shakespeare, mythology, folk tales and the Bible. As was your own case in developing the “Daniel” series, what is it about timeless themes that make them such a wellspring of inspiration for modern/updated spins?

A: Great question. It’s true nothing’s new under the sun. I saw a lot of parallels between the life of Daniel and the life of the average American teenager. We get forced into a Babylon of sorts (the school system) and have to outshine our classmates in fierce competition and eliminate any trace of our identity. The characters did develop on their own apart from their historical counterparts, but I loved the idea of a revamped Daniel for the modern times. Some inspiration was pulled from Francine Rivers’ Redeeming Love, a revamped version of Hosea and Gomer.

Q: Of the four main characters in Blaze, which one would you most like to spend an afternoon with (and why)?

A: Oh, without a doubt, Hannah. She’s weird, morbid, and wonderful, and she’d have so many wild shenanigans planned for that afternoon.

Q: Which of these characters is the most/least like you in terms of personality traits, aspirations, fears and beliefs?

A: It’s funny. Technically all of them, but when I made a test for my launch party, “Which Character from Blaze are You?” I got Michelle.

I can see it. We both love tennis, journalism, and theater, and we want to look out for our friends. I think I have more of Rayah’s timid personality, so I won’t speak my mind as much as Michelle, but I have her same tenacity.

As for fears, I often approach the situation more like Danny, cracking jokes but battling severe stomach pain.

Q: What are some of the hard themes you tackle in the Blaze trilogy and why do you believe they resonate with today’s teens?

A: Oh dear, I leave no stone unturned in this series. I’ll break it down by book:

Blaze (2019): Mental health, terrible administrations, poorly run school systems, divorce, severe academic expectations, blurring or eradicating of personal identities. Teens deal with all of these. Even the nicest high schools can tend to have a few bad eggs running things. They have way too much unnecessary stress placed upon them.

Den (2020): Suicide, teen pregnancy, school shootings, sexual assault, mental health. All of these have hit hard in the past few years, especially close to home.

Vision (TBD): Mental health, problems with the medical care system in America and those most vulnerable in it, and spiritual warfare. Without giving away too much, I’ve had friends in their teens severely mistreated by the medical care system in the past few years but are too afraid to speak up because they won’t be believed or will end up in terrible situations they tried to get out of.

Can you tell I take mental health seriously? I love that teen books now plan to confront this topic, but back in high school when I needed characters who looked like me, I couldn’t find them anywhere.

Q: “Great things,” wrote an unknown author, “never came from comfort zones.” In your own experience, have you ever dreaded a major change and then discovered it was the best thing ever to happen?

A: Oh, always. I hate change. I feel often like Sheldon Cooper from Big Bang Theory. The slightest shift in routine can set me off. But in publishing, and in life, you can’t excel without massive change and without stretching yourself far beyond your comfort zone.

Q: How did you get a traditional publishing contract?

A: Oh dear, let me try to truncate this in bullet points.

  • Started writing books in 2013 in high school
  • Tried querying agents in 2014
  • Self-published my first book in 2015
  • Went to Taylor University in 2015
  • Went to a writer’s conference based on exceling well in one of my writing classes at Taylor and pitched an agent in 2016
  • The agent ended up rejecting me a few months later
  • 2016-2017 interned for that agent
  • In 2017 that agent encouraged me to pitch another agent at his agency. I did so and got a contract.
  • That summer I wrote Blaze while my parents split.
  • That fall, I pitched it to the editor of LPC at a conference.
  • After multiple rounds of editing back and forth, the pub board finally accepted it spring of 2018.

Q: There are certain challenges inherent in penning a series vs. a standalone title, not the least of which is the risk of repetition in order to keep new readers on the same page as those who are already familiar with characters and scenarios from the preceding books. How have you handled this?

A: I try to write each book as if it can stand alone. If someone dives into book two or three in the series, I don’t want them to feel the normal disorientation you can encounter in some other series.

I think my biggest fear in a series is I want to do better each book. I’ve read so many trilogies where I couldn’t even finish the third book because I could tell the author put in only a small percentage of effort in succeeding titles, as opposed to book one. I want to keep things as fresh as possible, while maintaining the same foreboding tone throughout the series.

Q: Your career currently encompasses that of literary agent, author and other industry-related jobs. Which “hat” is your favorite and how do you strike a balance to ensure you’re delivering quality time and attention to each one?

A: Ooooh, so good. Can I cheat and say all of them? I will anyway. All of them. I wouldn’t do anything else. I strike the balance in a number of ways. First, I maintain specific work hours for agenting. Past those hours, I write. That way I can maintain boundaries and still give my clients the attention they deserve for their books.

Q: What’s the most common misconception people have about writing books?

A: Wow. I’ve written entire blog posts about this. I’ll do three common misconceptions.

  • One: Book writers are just lazy and sit around all day and write. Umm, no. We market, edit, go to conferences, go to speaking engagements, send out thousands of emails, ping reviewers, etc. We honestly only write a small percentage of the time.
  • Two: People write books during free time. No. Free time doesn’t exist. You force yourself to make room in your schedule.
  • Three: Publishers, libraries, all book people want to read it after you finish it, especially if you have an agent. It takes years, and you still deal with a ton of rejections before you can get a contract, if you get one.

Q: What are your thoughts on self-publishing vs. traditional?

A: Both are viable options. It depends on how much marketing you are willing to do, and how much time you would be willing to wait. Traditional publishing takes years. I had a writer pitch to me at a conference the other day, saying, “If you pick up this book, I want it published next year.”

I scrunched my eyebrows. “Ma’am, it takes two years minimum.”

I’ve seen authors do well in both. You just have to work at both like crazy. Neither is the “easier” option.

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

A: Well, I see it going in a platform route. Only those with the largest followings will get book contracts.

I can also see other types of books hitting the market. I’m wondering if apps like Hooked (text-message based stories) will start to go for long-form content. And audiobooks will continue to grow in popularity.

But who honestly can say? Things trending in this year won’t next year. No one can really predict what will happen.

Q: How can authors get an agent like yourself?

A: Best way? Meet me at a conference. I will most likely take more time on your submission if you met me in person. Second best way? If I like your pitch on a Twitter pitch party. Third best way? Follow my submissions guidelines here: https://www.hopebolinger.com/instructions

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

A: I don’t sleep to alarms. I haven’t since first grade. During then, I discovered my pineal gland would wake me up ten minutes prior to my alarm every morning. I decided to test out my internal alarm clock and haven’t woken to any beeping noises since.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: Writers, please keep writing. I know the industry gets discouraging. At least once a week I text my agent friend Alyssa and ask some variation of, “Can I die/give up now?” And she always responds, “If you do, I do.” So, of course, I have to keep going.

Know, even after you get published, imposter syndrome still lurks around and you never truly get over it. If I still get discouraged and keep going, so can you.

 

 

 

It’s Never Too Late To Be Your Self

Davina book cover

Do you feel like you aren’t living the life you want to live? Are you letting fear stop you from following your heart? Do you find it hard to listen to your own voice because those of society, friends, and family blare in your head? In her new book, It’s Never Too Late to Be Your Self, Dr. Davina Kotulski shows readers how to take back their lives from the paralysis of fear by following their inner compass. If becoming a better You is on your list of upcoming resolutions for New Year’s, the timing of this title couldn’t be better.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: “The best way to succeed in life,” wrote an unknown author, “is to act on the advice we give to others.” Tell us a bit about your own journey as a professional giver of guidance to those who believe their lives either need redirection, reclamation or a bit of both.

A: As a teenager, I entered AA realizing that using alcohol whether as a means of coping with the persecution I faced or for the enjoyment of intoxication was going to impact my life in a negative way. Clean and sober, I became fascinated with why people did what they did and how they contributed to their own happiness or success based on their thoughts and actions. I wanted to understand how people repeated family patterns and how their lives could go so off-course. My own extended family history included alcoholism, extramarital affairs, depression and domestic violence. After taking Psych 101, I decided to get my Ph.D. in Psychology and devoted my life to learning about the human psyche, while also dabbling with spiritual concepts.

Q: Why are you passionate about helping people live authentic lives?

A: People who are living authentic lives are happier, more at peace and create a better world than people who are hiding who they are, people-pleasing, or chasing after false rewards. Living inauthentically can lead to resentment, addiction, materialism, and even violence against oneself and others. People who are living authentically are connected to their hearts and their essential nature, and because of this they are more compassionate and more aware of their impact on the world and others. We need more awakened and authentic people if we are going to make the changes necessary to preserve our Earth.

Q: What’s the best advice anyone ever gave you and how have you applied it to the person you are today?

A: When I was in my mid-20s I read a book by Dale Carnegie called How to Stop Worrying and Start Living. It was written years ago, however it’s still relevant today. One of the things Carnegie has you do is address your fears head-on. Many of us tend to awfulize at various times in our lives, expecting the worst. Carnegie reassures you that the worst rarely happens. However, he then asks you how you would cope with your worst case scenario. Then a lesser version of that and so on. If you can imagine how you would cope with your worst case scenario, you will become resourceful and resilient. You will also be more willing to take calculated risks, rather than staying stagnant because you’ve built a sense of relaxed confidence within you on how to deal with life’s challenges. I think this piece of wisdom has helped me face fears and uncertainties in my career endeavors, relationships health issues and so on. It’s given me strength to go after my dreams, find solutions, and steady myself in trying times.

Q: In my own profession, I often hear people say, “Someday I’m going to write my novel. Someday I’m going to write my memoir. Someday I’m going to (fill in the blank).” Someday, however, just never seems to come for them because they fill up the weeks, months and even years with activities that seemingly have nothing to do with the pursuit of their own dream. Why are they being their own speedbump on the way to a destination they say they really want?

A: People procrastinate for a variety of reasons. Perfectionism is one. If it can’t be perfect or they don’t know how they will accomplish the whole enchilada, they won’t even start. They also think they can do everything on their own. When we want to make a significant change or take on an important project it’s important to take these four important steps. 1. Get a mentor. Find someone who has done what you want to do or who knows how to coach you through the process. This could be a life coach or a teacher. 2. Get support. Find a group of supportive people, a community who is doing something similar. Don’t go it alone. 3. Take baby steps. Plot out the steps you need to take. You can’t do everything at once. 4. Create a timeline. You need a game plan and you need to create a realistic timeline in which you will take the steps, whether it be to write the pages of your novel, or build your new business.

Q: As creatures of habit, we often balk at the thought of change. Why, though, can a change in the status quo actually be beneficial to our growth and our state of well-being?

A: Change by its very nature creates uncertainty. We love our routines. They bind our anxiety. We’ve learned the maze and we know where to find our cheese. Once we start making changes, we open ourselves up to uncomfortable feelings. However, if we can move through those uncomfortable feelings, we expand our comfort zone. In my book, It’s Never Too Late to Be Your Self, I talk about how I quit my stable government job at the beginning of the 2008 Great Recession 10 years ago. I had given my notice to go out on my own and the next day the news announced we were in a recession. My boss asked me if I wanted to change my mind and rescind my notice. He and other co-workers thought I was nuts to leave my secure job at such an uncertain time. I was filled with excitement about going into business for myself and said I had no intention of changing my mind. I was struck by how fearful they were and honestly how much money and the fear of not having it owned them. I was putting my trust in something bigger. While I worked on growing my practice, I also used my extra time to write a book. On my drive to the café where I  wrote. I would listen to Tony Robbin’s Powertalk tapes. The Powertalk audio program was recorded in 1992 and one of the tapes talked about a horrible recession the country was in. There was a recession in 1992? I had no idea. I was in my first year of graduate studies at the time and had no awareness of the country’s economic concerns. Listening to people talk about the 1992 recession and how they thought it was the end of the world gave me hope. The current recession couldn’t last forever. On the tapes, people shared how they made themselves immune to the 1992 recession by being flexible and making peace with change. The people who were most successful during the 1992 recession were people who could proverbially roll with the punches. It was then that I became clear how much change has to offer us.

Q: What are some ways people can manage change in their lives?

A: Like the trick I learned from Dale Carnegie, learn how to be with change. Turn your attention away from the problems and the disappointments in your life or what you’re losing with this change. Instead notice what is working for you—the things that are going smoothly, and get excited about the opportunities that are opening up.

Q: Change, of course, is frequently thrust upon us by powers outside of our personal control. When a major life event such as a death in the family, divorce, catastrophic illness, or loss of a job sends us into a tailspin, how can we embrace a positive mindset in order to restore balance, self-esteem and a sense of purpose?

A: Whether we are choosing change or change is choosing us, we must all learn to stabilize ourselves. It’s Never Too Late to Be Your Self focuses on how to create peace within yourself so you can navigate the waves of change that come into your life. We are not statues. We need to be flexible. The more we can be flexible and unattached, the more at peace we will feel. The more we can trust the cycles of life.

Q: What are some tips you have for readers about how to connect with their authentic essence?

A: If you want to connect with your authentic essence, you have to slow down. Practices like meditation, going for walks, being in nature, contemplation and stillness will help you create spaciousness for yourself.

Q: Your book makes reference to one’s “inner compass.” How do you define this?

A: Your inner compass is the intelligence of your heart. Your heart, the seat of the soul and the place of compassion and love, not romantic love, that greater love of life, is your inner compass. It knows what’s true. It’s calling to you, it guides you. We may ignore it. We may try to rationalize away its call. However, the heart is truly an inner compass that will point you in the most authentic direction for you, moment to moment. The more open your heart is and the more connected you are with it, the more accurate your reading will be.

Q: What does courage have to do with this and what do you mean by courageous heart?

A: The biggest reasons people give for not being true to themselves and not going after their dreams is fear. People are afraid of looking stupid, losing other people’s approval and respect. People fear failure and ending up penniless. People are afraid of change and risks. However, if you don’t make changes and don’t take risks, you will never grow. So you must find your courage if you want to truly be yourself and live an authentic, self-authored life which involves sharing your talent, gifts, values, personal truths, sensibilities, and passions. That takes courage. The word courage comes from the Latin cor, meaning “heart.” Courage is having the confidence to act in line with our convictions and passions, which are a heart-related matter. It involves our ability to face difficulty, danger, and pain with bravery. The expression “to take heart” means to revive your courage. To have courage is to have a strong heart, and to live from your heart requires an act of courage. Opening your heart is the basis for living a life aligned with your true essence. This is what I mean by having a courageous heart and taking the journey of the courageous heart is to allow yourself to be guided by the more fluid and open parts of yourself, connecting with joy, being open to life, being led by intuition, emotion, and feeling, and following hunches.

Q: You also use a wonderful term called hearticulation™. Tell us about this.

A: Hearticulation is a process I created of deep inquiry where you clear out the mental clutter and articulate what really matters to you in your life. Not just in the moment, in the big picture. What are the gifts you want to contribute to the world? What is your real calling? How do you want to create your life, not just follow the trends and expectations that the media and society has laid out for you?

Q: Is this book just for people in their mid-life?

A: This is a great book for people at any stage of their life who want to live a more authentic, self-authored life and connect with their essential nature. It could be a young person who wants to really get clear on how they want to design their lives and take active steps to creating that. It’s for people in their 30s and 40s who may have found themselves climbing the ladder and following social convention and realize it’s not actually what they want. It’s for people at any stage of life who find themselves dissatisfied with their lives and want to create a more fulfilling, purposeful life. It’s for people who’ve experienced a layoff, a divorce, or some sort of unexpected loss and want to find their way again or reinvent themselves. It’s for people who are getting close to retirement or those who’ve retired and want to create a thriving, meaningful second half of life.

Q: It was Joseph Campbell, author of The Hero’s Journey, who wrote, “The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure that you seek.” What are your thoughts about this and how can readers learn to recognize fear for the illusion it really is?

A: I love this quote and I love Joseph Campbell. I love the notion of The Hero’s Journey. In fact, it’s not a notion; it’s a real rite of passage that we go through again and again as we face life. Fear stops us from leaping. Fear keeps us small and cons us into believing that if we play it safe we’ll stay safe. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. Everything changes. Life is constantly shifting. We must go boldly in the direction of our dreams as Henry David Thoreau said. I don’t care if you go boldly, you can crawl there and whimper as you go, just do it. Move towards your dreams, not away from them. This isn’t a proscription to be stupid or reckless with your life and resources, or someone else’s. It is however, an invitation to invest in yourself and what you truly value. If something scares you, ask yourself “Is my mind telling me it’s a bad idea because it’s telling me I will fail? Is it telling me I’m being foolish?”

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: Professionally, my focus is to bring readers together who resonate deeply with It’s Never Too Late to Be Your Self and want to take back their lives. These readers will engage in two 90-day 8 session webinars in which we’ll delve deep into the material of the book, go through the exercises and practices and create transformational change in their lives. On a personal note, I have a few more writing projects I’m working on. Another self-empowerment book that deals with spiritual fortitude on the journey and a novel about a young writer struggling with heartbreak and writer’s block.

Q: Where can readers learn more about your work?

A: Readers can go to my website DavinaKotulski.com or FollowYourCourgaeousHeart.Com to connect with me, find out about my upcoming live webinars and book tour events, and sign up to receive my free online class and download their free hearticulation worksheets.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: Thank you for your thought-provoking questions and for the opportunity to share with your readers. It was a true pleasure.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ghost Grandma

Ghost Grandma cover

Right before the start of her sophomore year, Brett O’Brien is visited by the ghost of her grandmother. The only issue? No one seems to believe her except for her best friend. In her captivating book Ghost Grandma, author S. Kay Murphy leads us through a young girl’s struggle to find her place in the world after the death of her beloved grandmother.

Interviewer: Sophie Lin

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 Q: What inspired you to write Ghost Grandma?

A: To be honest, the premise came to me as I was walking through the halls of the high school where I was teaching at the time. No doubt I was ruminating on two things: Visitations from those who have passed over plus the way high school students often treat each other. At times, it feels like a war zone, with everyone at odds with everyone else.

Q: Is there anyone in your life that you based Brett off of?

A: Brett is absolutely the girl I was at 14 or 15, only she is the new and improved version, the one who is braver and stronger and has better hair.

Q: Do you have a rigid writing schedule or do you write whenever an idea comes to you?

A: Both. I wrote Ghost Grandma in 30 days. True story. I participated in the NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) challenge of writing 50,000 words in 30 days, and I did it, much to my surprise. Of course, during that month, I still had to go to work every day, so I wrote 800 words in the morning before I went to work and 800 more at night after dinner, sometimes falling asleep at the keyboard. I knew the premise when I started, but had no idea where the story would take me. It was one of the most fun and most exhausting projects I’ve ever indulged in.

Having said that… I am now retired from teaching, so I have plenty of time to write. But I also have plenty of time to go out and play—go hiking or exploring, ride my bike, have lunch with friends, see a movie—so it has been hard for me to be as disciplined as I should be. But I’m working on that.

 Q: How would you describe your writing process?

A: What works best for me is this: When I’m working on a particular project, I’ll spend some time—30 minutes to an hour—composing. Then I get up, walk around, make more tea, take the dog out or pet the cat. In that time, I generally edit in my head. (I love to write poems this way, and when I do, I’ll write them out in longhand, leaving the notepad on my desk so I can swing by as I’m putting in a load of laundry and change a word or a phrase.) When I go back to what I’ve written, I’ll spend a few minutes making those minor changes, then move on. In the early days of my writing, every paragraph had to be perfect before I moved on. Books don’t get written that way. It’s important to get the narrative down while you’re still excited about the project. Editing is satisfying to me, so I don’t mind doing it. Ghost Grandma went through at least six drafts before I felt it was ready for publication.

 Q: Do you believe in ghosts and/or the supernatural? If so, have you ever had any supernatural encounters?

A: It is possible that I have had supernatural encounters. It is also possible that my experiences can be easily explained away. One of the reasons I wanted to put Ghost Grandma out there was to get young people thinking about what they believe regarding those who have crossed over. In my own spirituality, there is definitely a place for signs and messages from those who have passed. Part of my daily meditation is talking to my deceased loved ones. If that sounds all creepy and séance-y, it’s really just me saying, “Mom, Dad, Aunties, Uncles, good morning. Help me to remember that extending love and kindness to others is the most important thing I can do today.” I definitely feel guided by them at times. One of my best friends is a medium, so we’ve had some pretty fascinating conversations about all of this.

Q: What’s your favorite part about writing?

A: I love having done it. Sometimes, sitting down and beginning a project is absolutely terrifying. When I sat down to begin writing my memoir about my great-grandmother (who has been accused of being a serial killer), I was literally trembling. I wanted that book (The Tainted Legacy of Bertha Gifford) to be perfect because so much was riding on it—I wanted to bring the truth to light and bring closure to my mother (Bertha’s granddaughter). When I finally finished the book, I sat at my desk and sobbed. The same was true for The Dogs Who Saved Me. When we put heart and soul into creating truth and beauty with words, it is a humbling, mystifying, spiritual relief to have the project completed.

Q: What would be your advice for dealing with bullies like Brittany and Jason?

A: In the vast majority of cases, I would say that the best action taken against bullies is to ignore them. It’s also the most difficult. Part of us always wants to fight back, to make a snarky or rude comment, even if it’s behind the person’s back. But we rarely know what other people are going through in their personal lives. Both Brittany and Jason are based on students I actually taught. Brittany started a fight in my classroom in which another girl was badly injured. But in her senior year, she stopped by to thank me for my patience with her. I was never angry with her. I understood that she felt, as I have mentioned previously, that she was in a war zone. She acted accordingly. Sometimes bullies just need to get to the point in life at which they can love themselves. In Jason’s case, he was truly a bad dude, and once I met his angry, abusive father, I understood why. With a bully like that, my advice would be to stay as far away from him as possible.

 Q: What’s different about writing a coming-of-age novel like Ghost Grandma and writing a book like Tainted Legacy?

A: Oh, that is a really great question. In writing Ghost Grandma, I could rely solely on my imagination for the narrative. Fun! Except when I couldn’t for the life of me think of what should happen next. That was grueling—especially since I couldn’t just wait for inspiration, since I had to get my word count in every day. With Tainted Legacy, the fun came in doing the research. There were times when the truth I overturned made me feel absolutely surreal, as if I were living inside a novel. While in Missouri doing research, I kept calling my best friend back home in California to tell her everything, and I would often add, “I swear, I’m not making this up!” Of course, getting down to actually writing the memoir and formulating some sort of chronological coherence was challenging, as I was telling both my story and Bertha’s as well, so the process was completely different, but nonetheless equally satisfying.

Q: Who’s your biggest inspiration to write?

A: Harry Cauley, author of the award-winning novel, Bridie and Finn, said something in a writer’s group 20 years ago that has been my mantra ever since: “Writing is the loneliest work you’ll ever do.” Isn’t that just spot on? One of the reasons writers have a difficult time being disciplined—especially nowadays—is that once we sit down and begin, we know (at least subconsciously) that we are retreating from the world to be absolutely alone for a time, and that is a frightening prospect. It’s much more pleasant to scroll through Twitter to find out what’s happening in the world or Instagram to see yet another adorable dog or cat photo or Facebook to say hi to family members and beloved friends. Doing all those things makes me feel less alone in the world, and I live alone (except for Purrl and Thomas, my cat and dog), so I spend a great deal of my day by myself. I adore social media. But I have to make myself back out of that rabbit hole in order to work—and it is indeed lonely. When I heard Harry Cauley say that, he became my writer-hero for life, and I am blessed for that. I also have a handful of cheerleaders, including a couple of pushy Irish cousins, who keep reminding me that my gift is writing so I should be doing it.

Q: Are you working on any other projects right now?

A: Last spring, I finished a middle-grade urban fantasy novel. I have been looking—with no success so far—for an agent for it. In the meantime, I’m doing short writing projects. I will be starting on another book soon.

Q: Where can people find more information about you and your books?

A: All my books (except the first, which is out of print) are on Amazon. To get a sense of who I am and my worldview, I recommend scrolling through my blog until you find a post that resonates—about dogs or cats or the #MeToo Movement or gay rights or gender equality or whatever. It’s here: www.skaymurphy.blogspot.com. I am on Instagram (posting photos of food, as I am a vegetarian, and I love sharing all the gorgeous, delicious food I eat) and Twitter (where I follow back most folks who follow me—unless they’re a bot or a stalker). Handle for both is @kayzpen.

 Q: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

A: For writers: Write your heart out and never stop! You are not alone in the world, though you may feel lonely while you are ‘away’ in the world you are creating. Never let rejection slow you down; keep putting yourself out there. If you begin to feel like giving up, find a friend or a cousin who believes in you and ask them to set goals with you then check back to see if you’re working toward them. I did this with The Tainted Legacy of Bertha Gifford, and it is the only way that book ever got published. I wanted to give up, but my beloved cousin Danny wouldn’t let me. He’s the reason the book is in print, may he be blessed forever.

For readers: You are everything for those of us who write. You are the friends who listen as we speak—even if we never meet you. I feel so very blessed for every email I’ve ever received that has begun with these words: “Hi, you don’t know me, but I’ve just finished reading your book….” You make all the hard work, all the loneliness, all the nail biting and junk food indulging so very worth it. Thank you!