The Fountain

The Fountain

We’ve all heard the joke about the guy who wished for “a million bucks” and awakened the next morning to the sight of a squillion deer grazing on his front lawn. As someone who happily wished her own husband into existence at the magic pool in Bath in 1994, I’m a firm believer in the idea the granters of wishes are a pretty literal bunch; if you don’t frame your desire accurately and precisely, any smidge of ambiguity will be seized upon with gusto. It also goes without saying that teenagers—such as those who populate Suzy Vadori’s debut YA novel, The Fountain—aren’t likely to think through all the ramifications of a wish made hastily in the heat of anger, frustration or disappointment.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Once upon a long ago time, young adults (previously known as teenagers) could be found with their noses stuck in Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys mysteries, The Hobbit, Phyllis A. Whitney and Mary Stewart. Today they’re more likely to be immersed in the darker fare of vampires, zombies and dystopian societies. What’s your personal take on this shift in themes and will the pendulum ever swing back?

A: Well, there’s a huge gap in reading level between books like Nancy Drew and The Hobbit – and I read both as a youth. This gap leaves young readers in the lurch that are looking for reading that challenges their intellect, yet has age-appropriate content.

I think what the Young Adult (YA) books of the past ten years have done is introduced a whole new set of adult-sized challenges to teens in a way that they can relate to more easily than stories of the past. Today’s YA is written from a teen’s point of view, and allows readers to experience a broad range of emotions that they may or may not have already experienced in their short lives.

The YA genre is definitely here to stay, though I don’t think the theme of the novels is important and will change with the tides of teen whims. Vampires, zombies, dystopian, mermaids and trolls… the characters and settings will change to keep it fresh.

Today’s teens expect more sophistication than the formulaic stories that Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys afford, but they might not be ready for the beauty of The Hobbit’s prose.

Whatever the subject of today’s YA books, there are certain things present that appeal to teens. And what’s really cool is that a YA novel done well appeals to all ages. These are elements that we all find intriguing.

  • Pace: The pace of today’s YA never lets up. While this may say something about today’s teens and their attention spans, I think it’s exciting that the written word has found a way to compete with, and even mimic the other media that teens have available to them now.
  • Challenge: This is something that both Nancy Drew and The Hobbit got right. Teens need to face adult challenges to capture the imagination of youths, and help them explore challenges beyond their years in a safe setting.
  • Emotion: Books are a safe place to explore new emotions and consequences. This is what drives much of my writing. If you come away feeling something, I’ve succeeded.

Q: What attracted you to writing for the YA market and how does it differ from writing for adults?

A: I’ve been starting novels since I was around 10, and I always wanted to finish one. But writing isn’t just about the process for me. I wanted to write something that would get read – something that would affect people.

I wrote many outlines over the years. But everything I came up with that I thought people would want to read was either drawing on something way too personal, or was a little too racy to fit with my persona as an executive (my day job) and more importantly, my role as a mom.

It wasn’t until YA emerged as a genre on its own that I became inspired to finally pursue writing in a serious way. Young Adult books explore raw emotion at the root of how it’s experienced – in ‘firsts’. First love, first loss, first time for taking major risks. These themes will never go out of fashion, regardless of the setting.

Q: When you were the age of your target readership, what did you want to pursue as a career?

A: My dad offered to buy me the car of my choice if I became a doctor. I found out that orthodontists didn’t need to do residency, so I negotiated the same deal for that, to which he agreed. I’ve always needed a lot of sleep – I knew that I wouldn’t survive working night shifts in a hospital residency.

Later, I found out I could enter the business world with only a 4 year university degree, and that’s what I did, hitting the ground running when I graduated at 21. Even when I could afford the fancy car, I never bought it.

I never looked back, but I continued to write as a hobby. When I took maternity leave with my third child, I finally realized I had the time to make my dream a reality. The Fountain Series was born.

Q: Who or what had the most influence on the choices you made as you segued into adulthood?

A: Am I an adult yet? I suppose I am. There have been many influences in my life, so it’s hard to pick just one. I think the fact that I moved a lot as a kid was the biggest influence. I was often the new kid, and had to make my way in new situations. I know that it shaped me into who I am, and made me ready to face any challenge. It was fun to channel some of that experience into Ava in The Fountain. Ava is the new kid at St. Augustus and has to make new friends and new ways… which makes her vulnerable in ways I think all teens can relate to.

Q: Tell us the inspiration behind The Fountain.

A: The setting for The Fountain was defined when I was a tween. I’d always wanted to write a boarding school novel. I just love the parent-less setting, with dorms and kids being able to sneak around at night unsupervised (disclaimer: I never went to boarding school, but this is the magical setting I’ve always imagined)

The story for The Fountain invaded my imagination when I became a mom. I love my children more than I ever thought was possible, but parenting today is interesting, to say the least. We are raising a generation that has been given every privilege that we parents can afford.

Don’t get me wrong, I’d give anything I could to my kids, but I started to wonder whether that was smart. We think we’re doing the right thing, but are we? What kind of lesson is it to get what we want without having to work for it? And The Fountain was born. A well-intentioned school founder leaves behind a legacy of a fountain that grants students the desire that they wish the most. The Fountain has unlimited power, and has the power to alter anything. What would a world that is designed to help the students actually look like, and what are the consequences?

Q: Do you ever make wishes yourself by tossing a coin into a well or a pool? If so, what’s your best tip for “smart” wishing?

A: Of course. General ones, anyway – ones for well-being of those I love. I’d rather work for the harder things in life than have them happen overnight.

Q: What governed your choice to develop this book as a series versus a stand-alone title?

A: The series format is very popular in Young Adult. No sooner had I released The Fountain than readers were asking for the next installment. I can’t wait to give them more in this world with The West Woods.

Q: Congratulations on The Fountain being nominated for an Aurora Award in 2016. How did this come about and what was your reaction when you received the news?

A: I was actually travelling in China on business when it was announced that The Fountain had been short listed for Best Young Adult Novel with the Prix Auroras. I found out in the wee hours of the morning, and raced outside to the foggy streets to take a selfie with a copy of The Fountain to share with the world. I was amazed that The Fountain got such terrific support from the amazing readers and writers who form the Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Association – most of whom aren’t in my demographic, but loved it nonetheless. It was an honor to be shortlisted by such a prestigious group. I hope they love The West Woods just as much.

Q: You teach at schools about themes of friendship, rivalry and love. What is the intersection of these timeless topics with the plot of The Fountain?

A:  Oooo, it’s my favorite to talk about these things. Teens can sometimes experience all three in a short period of time with the same person, and that can be… well, confusing.  Part of what I love most about writing is making readers feel something. And I know I’ve done it right when I get feedback from readers.

I love going to classrooms and teaching kids how to apply the feelings that they experience every day to their stories. Teachers are always amazed at what the kids are able to share through their writing during a session.

Rivalry is the most misunderstood of the three themes, and I think the ones that youth struggle with the most. Some in the book industry will dismiss this as “mean girl” stories, but it’s so much more than that. The story is never about what happens to the characters – it’s about how the characters react to their situation and grow as a result. Resilience is an important theme in many young adult books, and mine are no exception. I love teaching about it because every single class I teach is completely different.

Q: Book 2—The West Woods—will be coming out in September (2017). How and where does it take the students of St. Augustus?

A: The number one question I got from readers of The Fountain was, what is with Courtney? (She’s the girl who makes life impossible for Ava and gets wished away.) And she’s truly awful. But… there’s a really good reason that she was the way she appeared – a magical reason – shaped by her own encounter with the fountain at St. Augustus.

So, I was compelled to write The West Woods – which takes place the year before The Fountain, and is Courtney’s story about how she went from being a regular girl to being, well… the terrible friend readers meet in The Fountain.

It was really fun to vindicate Courtney in The West Woods, presenting a side that readers didn’t get to see of her. With Courtney as the protagonist, it’s easy to see how she made the choices she made when she met Ava.

Of course, it’s also full of the mystery and romance that are the hallmarks of The Fountain Series.

Q: Is it imperative that readers read your books chronologically or is there enough in Book 2 for them to understand the characters and dynamics from Book 1?

A: Both books were written so that they could be read as stand-alone books, and because Book 2 is a prequel, they really could be read in either order. However, Book 3 will pick up where Ava and Ethan left off in Book 1, and bring the whole series together, so it will make more sense if it’s read last.

Q: There’s no question that the publishing industry—like any other industry—has changed to accommodate a fluctuating economy. What has it been like for you to work with a small press?

A: Working with Evil Alter Ego Press has been the best decision I’ve made. Because they are small, they’ve treated The Fountain Series as if it were their own. My editor (based in New York), has challenged me and made the series better than I could have ever done on my own. Because the press is small and growing, I get to be involved in adapting and shaping the press to the changing publishing environment. I also get the chance to use my business and marketing knowledge to full advantage. In a world where self-publish and traditional publishing are changing daily, working with a small press has been a really great experience and I am grateful that they believed in my vision for the series.

Q: What are you doing to market/promote your work, and which strategies have been the most effective for you?

A: Being out in my community has gained so much traction for The Fountain Series. It’s fun, too. I’ve had an amazing 18 months meeting new readers at conferences, young writer’s events, schools and signings. I am so thankful for all the readers who love The Fountain and are waiting for The West Woods to come out.

As The Fountain Series grows, we’re focusing more on growing online reach, in addition to continuing to be active in my community. The response from book bloggers to the series has been really positive, and they are excited to help spread the word about the upcoming launch of The West Woods. I am truly grateful for the work that bloggers and reviewers do. Thank you all so much.

Q: There’s suddenly a knock on the door from Hollywood. Would The Fountain lend itself to a movie or a television series?

A: The Fountain Series would make a terrific movie or TV series and I’m actively looking for a home for it.

The layers of St. Augustus’ magic and the generations of students who have used it to change the world around them provides endless material for an ongoing series. I look forward to see where this leads.

Q: Authors often “cast” their characters in their heads while they’re writing so they can picture them moving through the various scenes. Was this the case with you?

A: Each of my characters is such a blend of complex layers, they’d be impossible to cast to just one person. It definitely keeps me on my toes to keep track of everything that makes them up, but that’s part of the fun.

Q: As an executive, mother of three and a writer, how do you make the time for your craft?

A: I couldn’t do it without the support of my incredible husband and wonderful kids who have all made sacrifices to help me find the time I need to make this dream a reality. I mostly write evenings and early weekend mornings. I carry the stories around in my head while I go about my day to day, so that when I do get those moments to write, everything is fully formed and the words come quickly.

Q: Planner or pantser?

A: Quilter! I start with an outline, but then write in sections as they come to me, and depending on my mood – not necessarily together. Then I take the sections and quilt them back together, creating a wonderful mess that eventually sorts itself into a complex mystery. The operations professional in me knows that this isn’t efficient, but I’m always happy with the result.

Q: You also travel a lot for business and for leisure. How does travel impact your writing and your perspective?

A:  Writing fantasy is centered on building believable worlds. Exploring different countries gives me lots of ideas and inspiration that I draw on. I try to take note whenever I visit somewhere new about the kinds of things I notice first. Are the traffic lights different? Are there people around, or are the streets empty? What sounds are different from North America. Those are things I add to a character’s first experiences somewhere new.

Q: Any new trips on the horizon?

A: We’ve been talking about taking our kids to Europe. They all speak French as well as English, so they’ve been bugging us to take them to France.

Q: Dream destination on your “wish list?”

A: Africa.

Q: You’re on the board for When Words Collide—a festival for readers and writers. What do you think the role of conventions and festivals have for authors and aspiring authors?

A: Writing is largely a solitary profession, but the writing community plays a vital role in supporting and growing writers careers. The publishing industry is changing daily, and collectively, writers who share information and work together to stay ahead of the curve are the ones who are going to make it.

I am so grateful to all the writers I’ve met and everything they’ve shared with me about their own experiences and careers have helped me immeasurably with building my readership. Giving back to the author community in any way I can is an absolute pleasure for me. I particularly love helping new writers get started.

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

A: I think readers would be surprised to know that I love math. I’m an Operations professional in my day job, and while that is very different from writing, my love of math and puzzles helps build tricky, layered mystery within my books.

Q: Oldest, weirdest or most nostalgic thing in your closet?

A: Fuzzy onesie pajamas. Great for when it gets down to -40 degrees Celsius here in Canada, but otherwise way too hot.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

A: I’m the only Suzy Vadori on the interweb, so Google away to find out everything you’ve ever wanted to know.

Website: https://suzyvadori.wordpress.com/

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

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

Twitter: @vadoris

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/27426598-the-fountain?from_search=true

Book Links:

Amazon.com https://www.amazon.com/Fountain-Suzy-Vadori/dp/0994726643/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1497887586&sr=8-1&keywords=vadori

B&N https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-fountain-suzy-vadori/1123014750?ean=9780994726643

iBooks https://itun.es/ca/UWor_.l

kobo https://www.kobo.com/ca/en/ebook/the-fountain-13

Smashwords https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/594225

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: I love hearing from readers, so feel free to drop me a line.

 

 

 

 

A Chat with Sandra Hurst

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One of the ironies of childhood is that our first introduction to reading often comes in the form of fairy tales and myths in which magic, mysticism, fantastical creatures and mysterious realms appear with such frequency as to seem entirely plausible to impressionable young minds. Once we cross the threshold of adolescence, though, there’s no shortage of messaging from parentals and teachers that these make-believe worlds need to be summarily shelved in order to make room for the pursuit of fact-based realities.

Unless, of course, you were born with the imagination of a writer like Sandra Hurst and embrace the elements of YA fantasy—and infinite possibility—with full-fledged gusto. We’re delighted to welcome her to share insights on her new release, Y’Keta.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Given your childhood years in England and then Canada, would you say that you chose the genre of fantasy or that it, in fact, chose you?

A: What a good question, I’ve never really thought about it. I think I’d have to say that the fantasy genre is something I was drawn to, rather than something I chose because of my surroundings, since my brothers, who grew up in the same environment, have extremely logical minds and aren’t at all prone to what they call ‘fantastical fiction.’

Q: What are some of the favorite titles and authors we might have found on the nightstand of a very young Sandra Hurst?

A: Before Junior High, if you caught me reading at night, which my parents often did, I think that you would have found me huddled under the blankets with The Wind in the Willows, The House on Pooh Corner, or The Sword in the Stone.

Q: How about as a young adult (coincidentally, one of your chosen age groups for the Sky Road fantasy series)?

A: As a young adult, I read anything and everything, I still do. Some of the favourites that I remember from back then are The Mahogany Trinrose (Jacqueline Lichtenberg), Lord of the Rings, (J.R.R. Tolkein), and the Darkover series (Marion Zimmer Bradley).

Q: Like a lot of middle school students, you began your classroom writing career with poetry. How would you define that early style and what were some of the topics you liked to write about?

A: My first poems had lots of ‘Moon and June’ type rhyming patterns. The oldest one that I can remember was about snow coming down like a blanket on the town. Birthdays were always a big poem opportunity for me, I wrote poems in every birthday card!

Q: Is your passion for poetry still as vibrant as ever?

A: Poetry will always be important to me, it’s part of finding my creative space as a writer. There is a chapbook of my poetry in the works, although for right now, the prose has centre stage.

Q: What does writing verse teach you about writing books?

A: I think that poetry teaches prose writers to understand the rhythm and flow of language. One thing that I’ve learned from poetry and applied to my writing is to always read through my draft out loud. If I’m reading through a paragraph and consistently trip at the same place, I know that the rhythm there is off and I need to see if more explanation is needed for that thought, or if I’m overcomplicating the sentence.

Q: What was the inspiration behind Y’Keta?

A: The central question in Y’keta is about identity. Is Y’keta willing to give up his identity to please his father? Is he willing to risk being honest about himself, even though he may lose everything he has grown to love.

The inspiration for this came out of two unconnected events about four years ago, the first was a casual comment made by a relative on the reactions she dealt with when she came out as LGBTQ in the early 80s, the other was a long night sitting beside a campfire in Grande Cache, Alberta watching the Northern Lights dance over the horizon.

Q: One of the things that always fascinates me about fantasy novels and stories set in alternative realms/universes is how their authors come up with the unusual names for their characters, objects and settings. Can you let us in on your own approach to the name game?

A: The language I used for the People borrows liberally from several modern native languages which I have ‘aged’ in different directions to suit the Sky Road.  While I wanted to keep the feel of the original tongues, I tried to avoid having words that were too exact and would tie the story down to one tribe over another. So, for example, the Nehewak (Cree) word for Thunderbird (kitowak) becomes my race the Waki’tani and the Tlingit word for pig becomes a rude nickname that Siann calls her greedy little brother.

Q: What sort of myths are incorporated in the Y’Keta storyline?

A: Y’keta is based on several Indigenous myths from the Cree, Haida Gwaii, and Pacific Northwest areas. Each of these groups have legends about a people called by various names but all adding up to the Thunderbirds. It’s interesting to note that even now, the Nehewak don’t have a word for thunder. They say kâh-kitowak, “the Thunderbird’s call”. I’ve also incorporated parts of a several legends from the southern US to create my bad guys, the Utlaak, these legends feature scaly or serpentine bad guys who come from an underground world.

Q: Which scene was the easiest for you to write?

A: I think the easiest scene in Y’keta was the first one. The characters’ voices were so clear and I could visualize the ceremony where they all became a part of the village and started interacting with each other. The first draft, 15-20 pages, was written all in one shot in the course of an evening, while listening to Loon Echo Lake, on my headphones.

Q: And the hardest?

A: I hate killing people! The scene where one of my main characters is murdered in an Utlaak raid shattered me. I wrote it with tears pouring down my face, then re-wrote it, and re-wrote it, until I felt the hurt as much on the paper as it did inside me.

Q: On Amazon, the title is listed as Volume 1. How many volumes do you have in mind?

A: The Sky Road is planned as a trilogy.

In Book One, Y’keta, A young exile, searches for a place to belong, only to find his new home threatened by secrets from his past. If Y’keta reveals what he knows to the villagers, it will tear their history and traditions apart…but sharing his secrets may be their only hope for survival when the Village comes under attack.

Book two is at the necklace stage, that is the point in my writing process when I have ‘pearls’ written, but desperately need the thread of the story to tie them together. It will focus on the continuing war with the Utlaak and Y’keta’s unsettled relationship with his father.

In book three Siann struggles to accept the power that the Lightning Stones have given her. Power is not always a good thing, and she has some hard choices to make about using or abusing it.

Q: What governed your choice to develop a series versus a stand-alone title?

A: I don’t ever remember thinking ‘Hey! I’ll make a trilogy!’ The storyline just grew into one. I think it’s all D’vhan’s fault, he’s one of the lead male characters. He refused to stay in the background, and before I knew it I had an uprising of characters whose stories deserved to be told.

Q: More and more authors are seeking to control their intellectual property by going the self-publishing route. What have you learned about the challenges of this choice that you didn’t know before you started?

A: What didn’t I know? Is everything a fair answer? My decision to self publish was driven more by a need to put a physical copy of the book in my dad’s hands for his 90th birthday. I think that the learning curve for either type of publishing is terribly steep for someone like me, who knew nothing about the industry. Traditional publishing takes time, patience and a degree of luck to hit the right agent at the right time. Independent publishing takes all of that plus a substantial cash investment in editors, cover artists, printers etc. Social media is also crucial to an indie author, as word of mouth is often the only marketing tool we have access to.

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

A: I’m most creative at night, when the whirlwind I call a mind has quieted down for the day. I put some music on and let my world go and step into Y’keta’s world. My family learned early that ‘I’ll be there soon’ really meant “I’ll see you in the morning.” At least 75 percent of the book was written between midnight and 5am. Other great creative places for me are restaurants like Denny’s, or Tim Horton’s. I often go to grab a coffee, plug in my tablet, hide behind my earphones and just blend into the crowds.

Q: Conversely, when does it feel the most challenging or frustrating to work at your craft?

A: Handling my own nature is the hardest part of writing for me. I tend to be very distractible and moderately obsessive. There is always that one more piece of research, a new book to read, and, Oh Look! I got a Facebook mention. My mind will bounce to anything new and shiny and sometimes when it lands on a topic I find it hard to let go and get back to the writing. There is a definite benefit to this type of mind though, once I start writing and the scenes are flying, I will keep going until someone pulls me out.

Q: Best personal cure for writer’s block?

A: I like to shake things up when I’m in a slump or struggling for ideas. I will sometimes take a side character and re-write a scene from their point of view. It helps me see with new eyes and often gives me the next question that I need to ask or the next move I need to make. Another good trick is to pick the one thing that my character would really hate to have happen, and make it so.  Are they afraid of water? Then maybe the boat sinks.

Q: Tell us a little about your family and whether they’re allowed sneak peeks at your work or have to wait like the rest of us until it’s all finished?

A: I live in Calgary, Alberta with my husband and son, both of whom I love dearly, and have put up for sale on e-bay when their behaviour demanded it.  My day to day life is a balance between my outside life as a paralegal counsellor and my inner life as an author/poet. I do try out scenarios and words on my family now and again, especially on my son, who is around the target audience for my books.

Q: What do you do when you’re not writing (i.e., day-job, hobbies, travel)?

A: When I’m not writing or doing double duty as a wife/mother, you can find me working as a paralegal in Calgary. On off days, or holidays we spend a lot of time out in the mountains camping, canoeing and just listening to the quiet. I also enjoy time with the other amazing writers in the Calgary and love going to the write-ins and open mic. events.

Q: What’s something quirky/unique/unusual about you that readers would be the most surprised to know?

A: Ooh, you really want to go there? I think that answer would depend on who you talk to. My son would cringe and point to ‘opera nights,’ evenings when I don’t speak and insist on singing my answers to any questions.  My husband might point to my fits of insomnia and my late-night Facebook addiction. But really! You meet the best people online at 3am.

If there is one thing I would say was unique or quirky about me it would be my breadth of interests, I’m a bit of a Hermione, a collector of odd facts and knowledge about anything from the Kaiju culture of manga Japan, to Shakespeare, to Opera, or the band Nightwish. There isnt much that I won’t listen to, read, learn about and find value in.

Q: Who is your hero and why?

A:I think the common thread in all my heroes, whether real or literary, is that they had the opportunity to quit, every reason to say I’m too old, too tired, it’s just easier to let it be someone else’s problem. This kind of hero, unwilling, often flawed, yet willing to step up, gets me every time. These heroes all have one thing in common. They are people very much like I am, broken and damaged people just trying to do their best with the time they are given.

As far as literary heroes, I love the authors who can make words dance and sentences mean things. This has led me to authors like Guy Gavriel Kay, and Don Dellilo. I would give my left ovary (not so dramatic a thing since at 54 those parts are hardly crucial) to sit down with either of these gentlemen, or even better their writing notes, for an afternoon.

Q: Who’s your favorite character in a book (other than your own)?

A: There is no fair way to give one answer to that question, but one of my favourites is Richard Lamb, from M.K. Wrenn’s sci-fi series The Phoenix Legacy. He is a young intellectual working to prevent the oncoming dark age.

Q: Have your own characters ever surprised you?

A: Constantly! No matter how well I think I know the characters, when I put two or three of them together the dynamics always amaze me.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: Next up for me is When Words Collide in Calgary in mid August, then finishing up a romance novella which will be coming out in 2018, then back to Book 2 of the Sky Road.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

A:  You can find more about me, or follow me on social meda at all of the links here:

Website:         www.delusionsofliteracy.com

Facebook – @SandraHurst.Author

Twitter –  @_SandraHurst Website:

Amazon Link:  https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01N9V4M8C

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: Christina, Thank you so much for letting me talk to your readers and introducing them to the Sky Road. I’m really enjoying Y’keta’s journey through this ancient land and look forward to meeting your readers as they walk the Road with me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Chat with Megan Edwards

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“Every wall is a door,” wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson. If you swap out the word wall for obstacle, it’s as true to life as you get. Whether it’s the sensation of feeling boxed in, running up against impediments, banging your head repeatedly, or simply not knowing what’s on the other side, a wall can either curtail your journey or provide a chance to forge your own detour. For Megan Edwards, the fire that completely destroyed her home subsequently became the spark of imagination that led to the smokin’ hot keyboard she has today as a published author. Getting Off on Frank Sinatra is the launch book of her new mystery series.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: If we could time-travel and visit the bedroom of your 10-year-old self, what might its contents—and bedside reading material—have revealed about your career dreams of the future?

A: At ten, I was living in Berkeley, California. One book I read that year was Ishi: Last of his Tribe, the partly fictionalized story of the last Yahi Indian who lived in San Francisco until his death in 1916. I loved going to the anthropology museum at the university and thought I might one day become an anthropologist or archaeologist. I did later study classical archaeology, although I never worked in the field professionally. Also that year, I was confined to bed for a couple of months with an illness that was never diagnosed. While recuperating, I read a book about bookbinding. I wrote, illustrated, and bound my own book, a story about a rabbit that gave everyone else gifts but never received any. It wasn’t a great story, and the binding was far from professional, but I guess it was technically my first book!

Q: What advice would the adult you give now to that 10-year-old self?

A: Keep that inquiring mind! Don’t let anybody force or nudge you in directions you don’t want to go, just because they’re safe, respectable, or normal.

Q: Who would you say had the most influence on the person you grew up to be? A favorite memory to share?

A: My mother always got great books for me to read and encouraged me to pursue a wide range of interests. She gave me Ishi: Last of His Tribe when it was first released. “I think you’ll like this,” she said, and she was so right. I was enthralled. She also encouraged and provided for my artistic tendencies.

Q: In what way(s) did your study of Greek and Latin in school shape your outlook about the human condition … and the challenges of wordsmithing those views into something that would one day captivate readers?

A: I am grateful to have a familiarity with Greek and Latin literature and language, not so much because I agree with what those cultures valued and promoted, but because they have been so influential in shaping the world we live in today. I’ve always loved words, grammar, and etymology. A background in Latin and Greek has given me a sort of “operating system” I draw from all the time.

Q: Are there particular books that truly resonate with you and/or authors whose work you admire?

A: As a child, I loved C. S. Lewis’s Narnia books. I still admire his storytelling brilliance. Three books I admire right now are Gentlemen Prefer Blondes by Anita Loos, Winterdance: The Fine Madness of Running the Iditarod by Gary Paulsen, and The Doomsday Book by Connie Willis. The first is an amazing tour de force that is sadly underappreciated because the film version featuring Marilyn Monroe has completely overshadowed it. The second is the best memoir I’ve ever read. I admire the third because it’s an enthralling story about a horrible topic: the Black Death. In spite of the gloomy subject matter, the story conveys a message of hope and has the best ending of any novel I’ve ever read. While it’s difficult to choose just a few titles when there are so many fabulous books, these rise to the top of my list right now.

Q: What did you learn about yourself from the devastating experience of becoming “stuffless” when your home totally burned to the ground in 1993 and you had to start over?

A: I’m still learning from that experience! One realization that appeared rapidly is that “stuff” had been keeping me from doing things I longed to do. In the years since, “stuff” has once again accumulated, but my relationship with it is utterly different. In a nutshell, it was my boss before the fire. Now, I’m the boss. I now prize access over ownership. I’m not quite a true minimalist, but I admire the concept and lean toward it. We’re all only visitors on earth, and the platitude is correct: you can’t take it with you. I’ve learned that I like seeing myself as a traveler through life, and that I like to travel light. I will admit, however, that I’m a virtual hoarder. My digital attic never runs out of space!

Q: One of the positive outcomes of that tragedy was the development of your first book, a travel memoir called Roads from the Ashes. Were you actually writing notes the whole time on the road or did the concept for the book not come together until you finally settled into a home without wheels and a windshield?

A: I did keep a journal while traveling, but the idea of writing a book came after we’d been on a roll for a couple of years. When we first set out, we never dreamed our journey would last as long as it did, and it took a while for me to realize that the beginning stages of the Internet revolution were a fascinating time to be traveling the continent and possibly worth writing about. When we hit the road in 1994, email was just becoming ubiquitous. In 1996, my husband and I launched our first website, roadtripamerica.com. It’s older than Google, which may be the reason we did at times feel like pioneers. I wrote the book toward the end of our odyssey, and it was published just before we decided to make Las Vegas our home.

Q: Tell us about Marvin, the road dog.

A: Marvin was a white cockapoo. Or maybe he was a bichon. Because he was a rescue, we never knew for sure, but he was white and fluffy, and he didn’t shed. He was very friendly, and he loved our motorhome—when it was parked. He definitely preferred being settled to being in motion, but he was a good sport and wore his own special seatbelt without complaint when we were on a roll. He could be a scoundrel, of course, like the time he chased a mule deer through a campground in western Oregon or the time he disrupted an entire newsroom in Staten Island. Good thing he was cute!

When we finally settled in Las Vegas, we called our new house Marvin’s Resort. He loved it because 1. It didn’t move, and 2. It had a pool with a shallow beach area. Marvin wasn’t a swimmer, but he loved basking.

Q: Marriage is all about compromise, especially cohabiting a tiny place. I’m trying to fathom what it must have been like for you and your husband to share an RV (and miniscule closet space!) without driving each other crazy. How did you manage to make it work?

A: We had about 200 square feet of living space, so yes, some negotiation was required. Early on, I remember showing a visitor around and saying, “We don’t have much space, so we have to get along.” The man replied, “Honey, when you aren’t getting along, the whole world isn’t big enough.” He was so right, and there were times my husband and I did drive each other crazy. Thankfully, we worked it all out, and those negotiations still govern how we live together now. One thing about a motorhome that helps make up for the lack of interior space is that you can move it. Having a backyard the size of North America makes a big difference.

Q: You originally went to Las Vegas for a six-week stay. Seventeen years later, you’re still there. How did this come about, and what’s the principal attraction that happily keeps you there?

A: We were still living in our motorhome when I finished writing my travel memoir and decided to try my hand at fiction. The protagonist in the novel I began writing had to be a Las Vegas native. As I wrote, drawing from my limited, biased, and heavily stereotypical knowledge of southern Nevada, I realized I would never be able to craft an authentic character and backstory without spending some time in her hometown. So, off to Las Vegas we drove, thinking that a week or two—six at the most—would be more than enough time for me to learn everything I needed to know about a city I was sure I would dislike. We found a pretty nice RV park on Boulder Highway, I bought myself a bus pass, and I proceeded to learn what I could about Las Vegas beyond the neon.

Whenever you spend time getting to know a person or a place in depth, your opinion changes. In the case of me and Las Vegas, mine quickly changed for the better. As I rode every bus line to the end, wandered around neighborhoods I never knew existed, and took a hike or two in Red Rock Canyon, I got over being surprised and started wanting more. I was also discovering the city’s amazing libraries at the time and reading up on its unique history. I feel fortunate that my husband and I both felt like we’d found a home after we’d been here a month or so. But—if someone had told us nearly seven years before when we left Pasadena, California that we would drive all over the continent and then decide to live permanently in Las Vegas, I would have said, “Never!”

Q: A lot of people have impressions about Las Vegas based on what they’ve seen in movies—many of which involve glittering casinos, scantily attired showgirls and Bugsy-esque mobsters. What was the most surprising thing you discovered about Sin City once you actually became part of its population?

A: Las Vegas is the most conservative place I’ve ever lived. I shouldn’t have been surprised—Las Vegas was founded by Mormons and boasts the largest Mormon population outside of Salt Lake City. Although expanding population has changed things, the city used to have the highest number of churches per capita in the country. Another feature that surprised me is its large Hawaiian community. Hawaiians call Las Vegas “the ninth island.”

Q: Las Vegas is the setting for the debut book in your mystery series. Is it just because you live there and are familiar with it or was there another reason that influenced your choice?

A: I came to Las Vegas to do research for a novel and found way more fascinating material than I ever anticipated. I could write twenty more novels and still have ample subject matter for more. It’s a writer’s gold mine!

Q: Where did you get the idea for Getting Off on Frank Sinatra? Is it based on real events?

A: When I was first in Las Vegas, I taught for a year in a private prep school. While the story is not based on that school or actual events, I have drawn from my experiences to craft a story that is entirely fictional but also, I hope, authentic.

Q: If Hollywood came calling to make Getting Off on Frank Sinatra a mini-series, who would you like to see play Copper Black?

A: I’ll go with Abigail Breslin, but I’m sure there are a number of young actors who could do a great job. It’s important that Copper be the right age—twenty-something and still caught between family and true independence.

Q: What was the transition like for you going from nonfiction to fiction? For instance, is one easier/harder than the other?

A: After my travel memoir was published, I developed an itch for making things up. When I started working on a novel, it didn’t take me long to realize that fiction set in a real location requires just as much truth as nonfiction, even when the plot and characters are fabrications. When I chose to set a novel in Las Vegas, I had to be able to paint Las Vegas believably, because readers don’t like to be pulled out of the story by errors and inaccuracies. In addition, fictional characters must behave according to their constructed personalities, which is why authors often comment that their characters tell them what to do. So—I find fiction every bit as challenging as nonfiction. It must ring true to be successful, even though the stories may not be based on real events.

Q: What governed your decision to make this book the first in a series versus a stand-alone title?

A: The idea of creating a series grew while I was working on the first book. I’d had the idea in mind, but as I worked on the first project, I saw some longer arcs connected to Copper’s life that could be developed in subsequent stories. In addition, I saw the potential for some of the secondary characters to have larger roles in future novels.

Q: What are some of the benefits/challenges you envision in having a recurring character rather than writing a new protagonist each time?

A: When you create a recurring character, it’s a little like marriage—you’re committed to that character for better or worse. I tried to create one with enough depth and potential for growth to carry a story—and then another story. I also created secondary characters with their own backstories that can fuel events in new stories.

Q: Do you allow anyone to read your chapters in progress or do you make them wait until you have typed “The End”?

A: My husband is my biggest fan and harshest critic. I run things by him all the time. I have a few other friends from whom I elicit impressions while working on a project, but I never give it to my editor until I’ve finished a complete draft. It’s important that the person in that role experience the whole work at one time. First impressions of the work as a whole are important.

Q: How did you go about finding a publisher for your work?

A: When I first completed a manuscript back in the early 2000s, I signed with an agent. While no fiction deal came of that relationship, I kept writing, querying, and submitting. It’s perhaps ironic that I landed my first fiction contract without an agent, but I know my earlier experiences all contributed to my securing that deal.

Q: What are some of the things you’re doing to promote your work and which ones are the most effective for you?

A: I am active on social media and blog once a week on my website. I speak at events and host signings in bookstores and other retail locations. I’m especially appreciative of media coverage (newspaper, TV, radio, and Web), because it reaches potential readers very efficiently.

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

A: I’m pretty boring, but I did attend fourteen different schools by the time I graduated from high school, including three in Costa Rica. My father was a career army officer until I was about twelve, which meant my family moved often. My four years at Scripps College, where I earned my bachelor’s degree, were the longest stretch I spent at any one school, and I spent one of those semesters in Rome.

Q: Any advice for aspiring authors?

A: Go for it! Find a way to make yourself write, whether it’s committing to a blog or a writing group. For most people, deadlines are essential. The only other advice I have is that you really do need to know the rules. You can break them later, but you must know them first.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

A: My website is meganedwards.com. I’m on Facebook at megan.edwards.author, Twitter @MeganEdwards, and Instragram @meganfedwards. I’m also on Goodreads.

 

 

A Chat with Rosemary Morris

 

Rosemary Morris

Writing from her lovely home in Hertfordshire, UK, Rosemary Morris writes about the past, with characters full of life, love, and adventures, but her feet are planted solidly in the present. Witty, intelligent, and a prolific writer, she lights up the pages of history and allows her characters to tell their story in a way that draws readers in and holds them close. Welcome, Rosemary.

Interviewer: Debbie A. McClure

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Q: What is it about historical fiction that first attracted you as both a reader and a writer?

A: At primary school, I enjoyed history and English literature more than any other subjects. When I was old enough to choose library books, I selected stories set in the past. Later, I discovered authors who wrote historical fiction for children. One of my favourite novels was The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge, which is J.K. Rowling’s favourite children’s novel. I still enjoy reading historical fiction.

From an early age I had a vivid imagination. I made up stories about children who lived in the past. In my teens, I wanted to write in the same style as my favourite authors. Eventually, my first novels were either rejected or the publishers reneged on the contract. Real life intervened until I wrote another novel, and at long last achieved my dream of becoming a published author.

Q: What can you tell us about your latest book?

A: My latest novel is Yvonne, Lady of Cassio, The Lovages of Cassio, Volume One, (BWL Publishing), and is available from Amazon as a paperback. It is also available as an e-publication from Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, and other online venues.

When Yvonne and Elizabeth, daughters of ruthless Simon Lovage, Earl of Cassio, are born under the same star to different mothers, no one could have foretold their lives would be irrevocably entangled.

Against the backdrop of Edward II’s turbulent reign in the fourteenth century, Yvonne, Lady of Cassio, contains imaginary and historical characters.

 Q: What surprised you the most about how people actually lived during the period you write about?

A: My novels are set in England during three periods: Edward II, Queen Anne Stuart 1702-1714, and the ever-popular Regency era.

The limited legal rights of women surprised me more than anything else. For example, if a woman married to an abusive husband left him, under the law he could have custody of their children, and not allow her to see them. Moreover, he could refuse to provide for her financially.

Q: How do you decide what historical facts go into a book, and which ones are interesting, but don’t make it to the pages of your novel?

A: I write from my characters’ viewpoints. I only include historical facts which are part of their lives, such as their food, clothes, religious beliefs etc., and events that have a direct bearing on their lives, which they discuss or are involved in.

Q: Those who love to read (and write) historical fiction often lament the fact that some writers create “modern” characters in period setting. How do you overcome that dilemma and ensure your characters are true to their time period, status, etc.?

A: I write fact-based fiction in which my characters act and speak according to the era which I am writing about. My research is extensive. I study relevant literature, economic, political, and social history, and visit museums, stately homes, gardens, and other places of interest.

When writing dialogue, I strike a balance between the way people spoke in the past and the way they speak now.

Q: What have you learned about yourself since beginning the journey of becoming a writer?

A: Before my first novel was published I wrote when I ‘was in the mood’.  Afterward, I learned self-discipline. I usually wake up at 6 a.m., write 2,000 words of my work in progress and deal with ‘writerly’ matters until 10 a.m. Next, I get on with the practicalities of daily life—cleaning, cooking, gardening, shopping, etc. After lunch, I work online for an hour or read non-fiction related to the novel. Between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. I often answer e-mails, post messages online, visit the online writers’ group I belong to, and critique chapters or apply critiques of my chapters.

Q: What advice would you give to that would-be or new novelist?

A: Imagination can’t be taught, but writing is a craft which can be learned. Read books about how to write, and attend a writers’ group where you will receive constructive criticism. Don’t be discouraged by rejections from literary agents or publishers. Most published novelists have served a long apprenticeship before one of their novels is accepted.

Q: How do you deal with the question of blending fact and fiction to tell your historical fiction stories?

A: Fact must be included to ground a historical novel in the past. I show my characters choosing what to wear, what to eat, etc. I allow them to express their opinions about current events and to discuss important matters.

Q: Is your genre specific or general? Why?

A: I write romantic historical fiction, which is rich in historical detail, drawing room manners, food, fashion, economic, political and social history, and much more.

Q: Did your reading choices have anything to do with your choice genre?

A: So many authors still inspire me, including Georgette Heyer’s historical fiction. I have read her books so often that the pages are almost ragged. I also enjoy Elizabeth Chadwick’s medieval novels, which I have read more than once, and Elizabeth Goudge’s lyrical prose, particularly Little White Horse, Island Magic, and Green Dolphin Country. My favourite classics, such as Jane Eyre, Ivanhoe, and Pride and Prejudice, also deserve a mention. Yet, as much as I admire and have in one way or another been influenced by these writers, I have found my own voice. My novels have themes that modern readers can understand. For example, greed in Tangled Love, a woman previously misused by a cruel husband in The Captain and The Countess, and in False Pretences, a young woman’s determination to trace her birth parents.

Q: Where were you born?

A: In Kent, South East England.

Q: What do you like most about where you live now?

A: My three-bedroom house in Hertfordshire is small and easy to take care of. From upstairs it has a beautiful view of my organic back garden with herbs, fruit trees, and vegetables. Beyond it is a green edged with woodland.

Q: What’s your favorite season?

A: Spring, when I begin sowing seeds and planting out herbs, vegetables, and ornamentals.

Q: Do you have any personal heroes/heroines?

A: I admire A.C. Bhaktivedanta, Swami Prabhupada. Penniless, at an advanced age, he went to America and founded The International Society of Krishna Consciousness, which has spread throughout the world.

Q: What’s next for you, Rosemary?

A: I have nearly finished writing Wednesday’s Child, Heroines Born on Different Days of the Week, Book Four.  After I submit it for publication I shall write Thursday’s Child Book Four, and Grace, Lady of Cassio, The Lovages of Cassio Volume Two.

Website: www.rosemarymorris.co.uk

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

Amazon:https://www.amazon.com/Rosemary-Morris/e/B007MQI9Q2/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1496328000&sr=8-1

 

 

 

Barkerville Beginnings

Astrid Cover

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

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

**********

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A: Email! Facebook! Laundry! Dust bunnies!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: Best personal cure for writer’s block?

A:  Go for a walk.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 And from that will grow an entire book!

 

 

 

 

A Chat with Konn Lavery

mental-damnation-reality-cover

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

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: How many books are planned for the series?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Off-Screen with Loretta Swit

SWITHEART

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

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

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

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: Favorite play you ever acted in?

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

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

Jeff and Loretta

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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