Once Left the Field of Valor

ONCE LEFT IN THE FIELD OF VALOR

As of this writing, Hulu is debuting an adaptation of Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, a satirical novel about the insanity of war. It, thus, seems only fitting to feature an interview this month with R.C. Sprague about his latest release, Once Left the Field of Valor, a gripping story about a young lieutenant’s guilt and post-traumatic stress to deliver a German soldier’s death letter to his lover. Military enthusiasts and fans of historical fiction will want to add this one to their bookshelves.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Your stint as an Army pilot has not only taken you around the world but also allowed you to see humanity at both its best and its worst. How much of your own personality and personal experiences shaped the development of Damien Shaw’s moral journey and are embedded in the story?

A: Damien Shaw is a character that reflects a lot of myself. At times he has a rough exterior, which many people have told me I do. About two years into writing the book I gained a new understanding for the guilt that plagues Damien throughout the book when two of my friends were killed in Afghanistan. Just as with Damien, it took me a while to come to grips with what happened.

Damien’s home town of Sackets Harbor is actually a small town in northern New York only a few miles from Fort Drum which was where I was stationed during much of the writing process.

Q: When did you start writing Once Left the Field of Valor?

A: I started writing Once Left the Field of Valor in the summer of 2012. During a lack luster lecture at the U.S. Army’s flight school, I began writing the first chapter. The idea came to me the night before and after sharing it with my wife, I knew I had to tell the story.

Q: What inspired the title?

A: I wanted the title to sound correct for the setting. I drew inspiration from classics like All Quiet on the Western Front and  For Whom the Bell Tolls.

Q: Plotter or panster? And why does your chosen method work effectively for you?

A: I am absolutely a panster. When writing fiction, I find that free flowing allows the story to surprise me and keeps me wanting to write. It may sound strange, but my imagination keeps me on the edge of my seat with unexpected twists and turns. There are scenes in Once Left the Field of Valor where I was like wow I didn’t see that coming. I really enjoy the twists and turns that come with being a panster.

Q: Did you know the novel’s ending before you began Chapter 1?

A: The ending was a mystery to me until the late chapters. Even then, and now, I wonder if I should have chosen the alternate ending. Luckily, reviews have cited the ending as surprising and well written, so I guess I chose wisely.

Q: Had you written anything prior to this and/or dabbled in other genres?

A: Writing is a main part of who I am, and I have done it for as long as I can remember. Once Left the Field of Valor is my debut novel. Prior to releasing it, my published works were non-fiction leadership and sports articles.

Q: What appeals to you about this particular genre?

A: I’m a history buff who loves to study people. In a situation such as war, I wanted to get into the mind of a soldier and paint a picture for the world. I feel historical fiction allows reader to time travel and live in another time.

Q: What do you find to be the most challenging aspect of the writing process?

A: Balancing life demands with writing. While writing Once Left the Field of Valor I had three kids, moved three times, spent nine months in Afghanistan, and worked full-time. Luckily, I’ve gained better understanding for how to squeeze in writing!

Q: And, conversely, the most rewarding?

A: I love watching characters develop and take on lives of their own. Certain characters such as Albert were initially supposed to have a minor role. As I wrote him through his back story, it became more elaborate and his impact on the story became crucial to the plot.

Q: How have your talents as a lyricist influenced your ear for writing dialogue?

A: Writing song lyrics forces the creator to hone in on the flow of the words. When writing dialogue, I always say it out aloud to test whether it sounds natural in a conversation. Just as with song lyrics, conversations are filled with slang and broken sentences. I’m hoping that my dialogues sound natural and don’t detract from the story.

Q: Tell us about the characters in your debut novel and which ones you most admired or despised.

A: There are so many characters that are close to my heart in this story. Aside from Damien and Emily, my favorite characters are without a doubt Madame and Albert. Their roles as supporting characters were instrumental in Damien’s journey. By far my least favorite character is Geordan. His brutish attitude and insufferable demeanor made him despicable but a necessary supporting character.

Q: Historical fiction often calls for in-depth research in order to make events ring “true” for one’s target audience. There’s always a risk, however, in either overstuffing a narrative with too many facts that make the text read like a history lesson or embroidering it with so many liberties as to deviate significantly from reality. Tell us about your own research strategies to embrace a plausible balance.

A: When researching the time period, I watched several movies, read books, and went to military museums to get an idea of what it was like to live in that time. I take great pride in getting the locations of major historical events correct and painting a scene that allows the reader to flawlessly fall into the book.

Q: The cornerstone of Once Left the Field of Valor is a bloodied letter penned by an enemy soldier to the one he loves. Is this letter’s hold on Damien of supernatural essence or is its impact all in his head?

A: There is some form of supernatural connection with the letter. Whether you call it fate, divine intervention, or a self-fulfilling prophecy, the letter is the key to Damien’s future.

Q: Favorite quote about redemption?

A: My favorite redemption quote comes from Lewis B. Smedes, “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” I think it’s such a powerful statement and really sheds light on the cycle of guilt that plagues many people.

Q: Like many authors, you decided to go the self-publishing route. What governed that choice?

A: Breaking into the traditional publishing scene is a difficult process. I felt that my story would resonate with readers and needed to be released without any further delay or bureaucracy.

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

A: Self-publishing can be a very tedious process. Properly formatting your document can be an ordeal. Overall, I do enjoy the creative freedom that self-publishing gives me.

Q: What are you doing to promote the book?

A: I have completed several written and podcast interviews, all of which can be viewed on my website rcsprague.com. In addition to interviews, I held a free eBook event in April and did a live reading on Facebook. I’m quite active on social media and can be found on Facebook and twitter @rcspraguewriter as well as @rcsprague on Instagram and Youtube.

Q: What would you like readers to take away from this story by the time they turn the last page?

A: I want readers to know that redemption is possible. A person can overcome their past and take back their destiny.

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

A: One of my “guilty pleasure” is singing along to showtunes.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: In July I’ll release my debut poetry collection, The Soul Behind the Mask. Additionally, I’m revising my second novel which is the first in a three-part series called Tales of a Toy Soldier. I hope to release part one of that series in spring/ summer 2020.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: I just want to say thank you for the opportunity to conduct this interview and I hope everyone has enjoyed getting inside my head.

 

 

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The Handy Wisconsin Answer Book

Wisconsin answer book

Since this website’s debut in 2012, we’ve had the pleasure of introducing a global readership to lots of new books and new voices. This time around, we get to introduce our readers to an entire state: WISCONSIN! And, of course, we had a good time picking the brain of one of The Handy Wisconsin Answer Book‘s co-authors, Mark Meier, who has put together a fun answer book chock-full of tidbits about his home state. (Had this nifty reference been available when Love, Actually was filmed, we like to think that the Wisconsin-enamored Colin Frissell (played by Kris Marshall) would have tucked a copy into his duffle bag when he set off to meet American girls who would find his accent adorable.)

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: “Knowing the answers,” wrote an unknown author, “doesn’t take away the wonder. It actually makes it more amazing.” Assuming the same sense of wonderment can be ascribed to the heart of America’s Dairyland, what was your inspiration to pen The Handy Wisconsin Answer Book?

A: The project came about from a former coworker. The publisher approached Terri (Schlichenmeyer) about writing the book, but she was getting ready to build a new house outside the city. “I don’t have the time to devote to such a big project. Can I have a coauthor? I know this guy . . . .”

She asked me, I talked it over with my wife, and I dove into something totally unlike anything I’d ever written before.

Q: Which came first in the book’s development—the questions or the answers?

A: Pretty much that was a 50-50 mix. Researching one thing brought up questions that needed answering. Sometimes getting one bit of information resulted in two or three questions, which came up with two or three more, and eventually I’m forced to limit the questions for that chapter.

Other times finding interesting bits to write about was like pulling teeth. Then the questions followed the answers. “This interesting thing happened. Now, what can I ask to use that as an answer?” Sort of like an episode of Jeopardy!

Q: So how did you go about finding questions that readers would find interesting?

A: I operated on the assumption that if I’m bored, the reader will be bored. If I find something interesting, there will be readers who are interested. It’s not a 1:1 ratio, but chances are anyone reading my chapters of the book will be able to tell the bits where I was bored.

There’s one corporation in Wisconsin. . . .

But I don’t want to cast aspersions.

Q: Are you a native Wisconsin or a transplant from somewhere else?

A: I was born in La Crosse, and grew up outside a community just north of that city. I still live in that same area, though much of what was my grandpa’s farm is now inside the city limits.

Q: What’s your favorite thing about living there?

A: I like the climate. I like the history. I like my connection to my family, which has been in the area for more than a century. I feel connected here, in a way I’ve never experienced anywhere else.

And I like the cold winters. Weird, huh?

Q: What was the funniest, weirdest or most thought-provoking tidbit you discovered during your research about The Badger State?

A: In early Wisconsin racing there was a guy who drove with a rooster in his car. His daughter called his Chevy coup a “Chicken Coop,” and told him he had to have a chicken with him. So he did.

Roho the Rooster was with him for every race, and even went out to the bars to party with the racers. (Anyone who knows the state knows how hard Wisconsinites can party.) The bird drank beer from a shot glass, ate peanuts, and eventually passed out drunk along with some of the other racers.

On a radio interview that racer was confronted with a caller who thought it was terrible to put that rooster in such a dangerous position. He replied something like, “Lady, I’m in the car too!”

Roho died of pneumonia right after that season of racing. They actually performed an autopsy (yes I know there’s a different word when they do that to birds) to find an official cause of death.

Q: Tell us about interactions with your coauthor as well as anyone else who chimed in on the book’s content.

A: Having a coauthor definitely adds a level of complexity to any project. From the start we had eight topics, and Terri assigned them. The topic I was most leery of was Sports. You see, I’m kind of a sports moron. I had to ask someone once what “that yellow thing was” the refs threw onto the field in football games. “And I’m supposed to write about Wisconsin Sports?”

As it turns out, that topic was the most interesting part of the project for me. The History chapters she wrote is where I thought I’d be good, and Terri told me later it was like writing about trees growing.

Q: Does it have to be read front-to-back or can readers pick and choose chapters and read them out of order?

A: Each Q&A is supposed to be brief. The rule of thumb is “two paragraphs, tops.” But the editors told us from the start, “If you need more than two, see if you can split it into another question. If you can’t, don’t sweat it.”

So the whole thing is written in bite-sized pieces. You can open up to any page in any chapter and not worry about missing the flow. Sure, there might be three questions in a row about one thing, but even if you start with #3 in that series you don’t really miss out. Read the other bits next week or next year.

However, if you want to make sure you get to every question, it makes sense to read it front to back. You might not find everything fascinating, but you’ll learn a lot you didn’t know.

Q: Who’s your target readership?

A: There shouldn’t be anything inappropriate, so there’s no worries about letting young kids read it. Some of the vocabulary might be a bit advanced for the younger ones, but anyone with a curious mind will appreciate what the book offers.

As I mentioned above, I’m not a fan of sports. I found those chapters fun to write, and I’m guessing other non-fans will find out a lot of interesting things a sports fan might already know. (Who received Brett Favre’s first forward pass as a Green Bay Packer? Brett Favre.)

Anyone who lives in or wonders about the state of Wisconsin should read this book.

Q: What are you doing to market the book and which methods are proving the most successful?

A: It may (or may not) surprise people to know I almost always have copies of every book I’ve published somewhere nearby. When people find out I’m an author, they ask what I’ve written. I can show them.

I also have been posting on social media through the whole process. There were posts about it before I even signed the contract more than two years ago. Terri has done the same.

Terri is a book reviewer appearing in more than two hundred publications worldwide. She knows a lot of people. One of them manages our local Barnes and Noble, and that’s how we secured a book signing for June.

I know some people who run a local cable TV show, and appeared for an interview. That clip was posted to social media, so I was able to share that with my followers.

The publisher is a mid-sized operation, so they have access to major distributors. They also have a budget for promotions that, while small for them, is much larger than Terri or I could afford. We all have a hand in it.

As for which is the most successful, I’d have to say that word of mouth is probably the best for me. I can’t evaluate how Visible Ink’s efforts are playing out, since it’s so early in the process.

Q: Had you done any writing prior to The Handy Wisconsin Answer Book?

A: I’ve published mostly science fiction, but before Handy Wisconsin it was all fiction.

Q: What about the craft of writing most appeals to you?

A: I love words. Finding “that one word” that means exactly what I need is thrilling for me. Crafting stories makes me feel more alive than working at my “regular” job.

Some people like to drive fast, others like to shoot hoops, set up computer networks, cook the perfect steak, or build houses. I create universes.

Q: Conversely, what daunts you?

A: Editing. At times I despair of getting across exactly what I mean, especially when I read a passage to some of my critique partners and they give me a puzzled look. Sometimes the solution is just another word choice, but other times it requires major surgery. But it’s sometimes frustratingly boring to the point where I want to NEVER read about those characters again.

Second place, and it’s a close second, is marketing. These things are not what I’m gifted for.

Q: How do you cope with writer’s block?

A: I can’t say I’ve ever had writer’s block. If it exists at all, I’ve never experienced it. I’ve been burned out to the point I didn’t write for a couple of years, but that’s not “blocked.” I’ve hit difficult parts of one project or another, but I go to work on something else. Is that “blocked?” I don’t know.

I’ve heard people talk about being blocked, but I can’t really relate because I’ve always had something to write. For those reasons I doubt there’s really such a thing as writer’s block.

Q: Any new projects on your plate?

A: My current project is taking a novel and making it three separate books. What I thought was a finished product was really more of a sketch than true novel. Since it was too long anyway, fleshing it out made a lot more sense, and was really a three-part story to begin with.

I have a rough idea of a book series that could end up to be in the neighborhood of thirty novels or short story collections. While working on the above project I’m researching for the bigger one. Those two should keep me busy for the rest of my life, and if I run out there are some smaller works I have in mind.

Q: Best advice to aspiring writers?

A: Write. Writers write, and if you’re not writing you’re not a writer. Simple, but not easy. Every story you write will be better than the last one. If you’re not getting attention with the ones you’ve already written, write a new one. Then another one.

I think Tom Clancy’s first novel published was Red October. It wasn’t his first written. There were at least two before that. He didn’t stop. You shouldn’t.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: Find a critique group. Nobody writes in a vacuum until you hit it so big people will buy anything with that name on it. Again using Tom Clancy, if you look at his later books, they all could have used an editor. Rumor has it he had the attitude, “I’m Tom Clancy. I don’t need an editor.” As a fan of his writing, I’d have told him, “Yes you do.”

Every writer needs someone who can tell them they need more of “this” and less of “that.” “Something else” needs to be changed, “another thing” needs clarification, and “are you kidding me” should be left out entirely.

I’m totally convinced my writing would be unmarketable trash without a critique group. If you can’t find one, form one. Twenty years ago my group consisted mostly of “aren’t we good” kind of people. Eventually the skill level of some improved, and people not willing to get better moved out of the group. It takes time to build a group, but they’re instrumental. Don’t skimp on getting other eyes on what you write.

 

Treading the Boards with Jamie Dare

Jamie Collage

Have you ever thought about what Macbeth would be like if it was written in the style of Dr. Seuss? Apparently, the answer is a play … and the start of an incredible literary partnership. Welcome Jamie Dare, the writing partner of our very own Christina Hamlett, as she tells us the story of how Hamlett & Dare originated, who her favourite literary characters are, and more!

Interviewer: Sophie Lin

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Q: What’s the story of how your partnership with Christina came to be?

A: I like to take writing classes whenever I can, and on a particularly auspicious day in 2012, I landed in one of Christina’s seminars. We got along well, and after the course had finished, she approached me about co-writing a play. It took me about two nanoseconds to say yes, and a few short weeks later, we’d completed Meet the Macbeths, the first of three “Seussspeare” plays we penned for Pioneer Drama Service. (Shakespearean tales told in Dr. Seuss rhyme).

Q: How do you come up with the ideas for your stories and plays?

A: In the most haphazard ways possible! Current events provide an endless stream of ideas. I’m also a big fan of incongruity (odd sentence, I know), and combining disparate elements is a favorite way to generate story ideas. What ifs are also helpful. ‘What if Dr. Jekyll crossed paths with—not Mr. Hyde, but the entire cast of Pride and Prejudice? And what if we added, say, a matchmaker into the mix?’ The answer, of course, is Hyde & Prejudice.

Q: How did you get into playwriting?

A: My background is in television writing, and playwriting is a natural extension of that. Both have a lean, economical approach to storytelling which I find appealing, and I like that plays are driven by character and dialogue.

Q: What do you have to say about the fact that drama and arts programs in schools are often some of the first victims of budget cuts?

A: I’ve seen this firsthand with my kids’ schools, and it drives me bonkers. Imagine a world with no movies, no TV shows, no music, no art. What a drab existence that would be. On the plus side, I’ve seen some wonderful arts programs at the secondary school level. Middle and elementary school as well. The talent and resources are definitely out there. We just need to keep fighting for these programs, keep being an advocate.

Q: Who or what inspires you to write?

A: Other artists. There is nothing more motivating than good writing—across all genres. I love reading a good book, or watching a good movie, and thinking, “Man, I wish I’d written that.” It inspires me to sit down and try to create. Thank goodness for other people.

Q: Who is your favourite character from one of your books or plays and why?

A: I didn’t create this character, of course, but Elinor Dashwood from Séance and Sensibility. I relate to her dry wit and quiet practicality. Stuff me into a muslin gown, and I’d be Elinor. For original characters, I’d have to say Serafina Moore, the pop star diva in Fandemonium (a play examining the pitfalls of celebrity worship). Serafina is most definitely a flawed character—those are the most fun to write—but she appeals to the frustrated performer in me.

Q: In Séance and Sensibility, you bring the paranormal into a Jane Austen classic. What prompted you to make this particular change for your spoof?

A: Christina and I were riffing one day on haunted hotels. She’s had some interesting supernatural encounters, whereas I barely have control of my five senses, let alone a sixth. Anyway, the paranormal was on our minds when we were brainstorming ideas for an Austen-esque spoof, and it seemed perfectly natural to give impulsive, passionate Marianne Dashwood a crystal ball.

Q: What do you hope your readers will take away or learn from your writing?

A: Christina and I have a lot of fun when we’re writing—it’s one of the perks to writing comedies—and I hope that energy translates to our readers and audiences. With our adaptations, I hope the audience is inspired to visit (or re-visit) the original source material.

Q: Who is one character from a play that you think you’d be good friends with in real life?

A: Ophelia. So I could talk some sense into her.

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

A: I’m developing a pilot called Low End of Normal, a comedy about a dysfunctional family which bears no resemblance whatsoever to my own. Christina and I also just wrapped Price of Admission, a full-length play (a drama) about the ultra-competitive nature of college admissions. And of course, we always have ideas percolating for other pop culture/classic tale mash-ups. Stay tuned for details.

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

A: Please check out hamlettanddare.wordpress.com and www.authorhamlett.com. And please visit the good folks at https://www.pioneerdrama.com (Pioneer Drama Service)  https://www.brookpub.com (Brooklyn Publishers), and https://heartlandplays.com (Heartland Plays).

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: It’s an honor to be included amongst these talented writers. Thank you for taking the time to meet with me!

 

 

 

Summers of Fire

SummersofFire-HiRes

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

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: What’s next on your plate?

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

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

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

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

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

 

 

 

 

Frances Darwin Investigates

 

Photo by Shelley Corcoran

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

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: What inspires your creativity as a wordsmith?

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

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

A: Rory Gumboots just jumped into my head.

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

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

The Dreamsmith was just pure imagination.

Q: What was the inspiration for Frances Darwin Investigates?

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

Q: How much of young Frances is actually Eileen?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: Plotter or pantser?

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

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

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

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

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

Q: What’s next on your plate?

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

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

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

 

 

 

 

 

Think of Me

THINK OF ME Cover.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: What inspired you to start writing romance?

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

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

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

Q: Plotter or pantser?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: Who are your favorite and least favorite characters?

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

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

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

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

Q: How does pop culture influence your writing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: Best advice to fellow authors?

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

Q: What are you working on now?

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

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

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

 

 

Mildred in Disguise With Diamonds

Toni Kief

When I asked author Toni Kief what genre her work embraces, she whimsically replied, “OA,” for “Old Adult.” Hey, if there are categories for YA and NA, why not? Turns out that when she began researching this answer, there’s such a thing as “Matron Fiction” and “Boomer Fiction.” Who knew? “My target audience,” she says, “is for mature people who like to laugh.”

And laugh they will when her protagonist, Mildred (who was anticipating a comfortable retirement), becomes a widow and discovers that her husband’s secrets change everything. Needing work, she takes the job a local casino offers—undercover security.

A delightfully wicked chat with a writer who has plenty to say. And don’t even get her started on those rumors about Mick Jagger …

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Your website divulges that you started writing around the same age as Grandma Moses started painting. What would you say accounts for your being a late-bloomer as an author?

A: I was 60, and after a little research found that—compared to G’ma Moses at 76—I was an early bloomer. I had never really thought about writing until I challenged a friend. He wanted to write more so I told him “…if you write, I’ll write.” Ten years later, we have eight books between us and new business cards.

Q: You also define yourself as an “accidental nomad.” Where have you been, what did you do there and where do you currently call Home?

A: I was born in Pekin, Illinois and moved to Peoria, almost in my cap and gown after graduation. I stayed there until I was about 22, got mad at my boyfriend, and moved to Phoenix for three weeks. (Even bought a car.) Then I flew to Florida to help my mother drive back to Illinois, but she introduced me to who would be my first husband. This is where the buses keep showing up in my short stories. I left him three times by bus and once took his van. Wonder why it didn’t work out. I ended up in Tampa Florida for 17 years and a couple relationships. Finally, I have moved to my mother’s hometown of Marysville, Washington. It is strange to be new in town and yet have generations in the cemetery. My sister told me when I arrived, “If they don’t have a neck, don’t date them they are family.” She has proven to be right. This doesn’t include my trips to Canada, Italy, Belize, Guatemala, Mexico, the Bahamas, Ireland and many trips around the USA.

Q: What prompted you to take up a pen (or sit down in front of a keyboard) and pursue a career as an author?

A: When I was challenged to write, James Johnson and I started a cookbook based on women from myth and history. I did a light-hearted biography and then we cooked for them, making up recipes as we went along. We haven’t published it, and I think he may have lost the file; you know how life throws monkey wrenches. I did get it copyrighted but only two copies printed. “Dangerous Dishes and the Food they Inspire” is still a possibility.

Q: What has surprised (or dismayed) you the most about the creative process?

A: Commas! They are nasty little ninjas that move around at night. After that, it is the need for continual marketing.

Q: Plotter or pantser?

A: Pant-seat all the way. I have a Flash Fiction writing group, and we write from prompts. It helped build skills of trying to look at things differently and then let the story tell me. I also learned to find the right words and not a line of adjectives. My first book was watching a woman walking along the side of the road near the railroad tracks. She was cussing and kicking dirt as she stomped down the road. I looked at my granddaughter and said, “That SOB got 49 years, he isn’t getting 50.” And Old Baggage was underway.

Q: Who, where or what was the inspiration for the character of Mildred?

A: I thought of her name while in the shower. The biggest inspiration is always someplace that I can’t write. I have made notes on my arm while driving. She took over from there. Mildred in Disguise with Diamonds was to be a standalone, except Mildred doesn’t quit. I just finished the third one, and I kind of miss her already.

Q: How much of Mildred is actually Toni Kief?

A: I say none, but my friends think that Mildred has Toni skills for falling into awkward situations and then mocking her way out. I was an independent insurance adjuster and did handle some of the claims at different casinos in the Northwestern USA.

Q: Tell us about the casino where Mildred goes to work undercover. Is it an actual place or a composite?

A: I live on the other side of the highway from the Tulalip Casino. The Ivory Winds is different, but I have gone over there for smells, sound, inspiration and the buffet.

Q: Like many authors, you chose to go the route of self-publishing. Why?

A: Basically because of my age. At 60 (70 now) I decided I didn’t have time to query agents, wait to be rejected and then when I find one, wait a year or so to be published. Additionally, publishing changes every day, and unknowns are stuck doing all of the marketing anyway. So, I might as well take all the bags of money and the indie route satisfies my need to hold the books and not imagine.

Q: What do you like best about wearing all of the self-publishing hats yourself versus turning it over to someone else?

A: The best thing is my books don’t have to follow a genre outline. They can be uniquely different and can blend into other types. There is so much to do, it keeps me out of the taverns.

Q: And what do you like the least about this process?

A: The 20 hours a day on marketing and trying to build a base and foundation letting my new projects waste away.

Q: What do you know now about the publishing industry that you didn’t know when you started?

A: I’m mostly stunned at the thousands of thousands of other writers out there.

Q: If Hollywood came calling and wanted to turn Mildred and her adventures into a movie or TV series, who do you picture in the lead role?

A: I’ve thought about this before, and settled on Sally Field or Helen Mirren.

Q: Speaking of adventures, what’s next on the plate for Mildred … and for you?

A: Mildred Raising the Ante is at the editors now. So, we have counterfeiters and a dash of organized crime.

Q: Writing is a solitary craft. Do you belong to any writers groups and/or allow anyone to read your works in progress?

A: I actually lead two groups. Ever since I was a political activist in the 80s, I have the tendency to grab some lumber and put on a show. I’m in the Kickstart Writers which is flash fiction and I mentioned it before. Also, I’m a founding director of the Writers Cooperative of the Pacific Northwest. That group was started by watching so many of our Kickstart writers try to publish and have the same problems over and over. So, now we work together on publishing and marketing.

Q: If you could invite three authors (living or dead) to a dinner party, who would be on your guest list and what would you most like to ask them?

A: Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway and Janet Evanovich. I have a chance for one of the three. The second part of this question stopped me cold. I’m a bit of a jabberer and let conversations build on their own. I guess I would ask Sam and Papa what books they were hoping to write next. As for Janet would be “Do you ever take a break?”

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

A: That I have an FBI file.

Q: And the rumors about you and Mick Jagger?

A: I made them up. As a fiction writer, you have to watch my stories closely. Although, in 1964 when the Beatles first arrived in the US, I swore to never go see them because Paul McCartney would love me so much, he would quit music to be with me. I just couldn’t do that to the rest of the world.

Q: Best advice to an aspiring author?

A: Read, read and then some more, and not just one contrived genre.

Q: Best advice anyone ever gave you about honing your craft as a wordsmith?

A: Keep at it and don’t quit. I particularly love the Hemingway quote “The first draft of everything is shit.” Followed with “Write Drunk, Edit Sober.”

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

A: A couple choices, the first is meet me at Happy Hour on Friday at CCR. Otherwise I have a website at www.tonikief.com and author pages on both Facebook https://www.facebook.com/tonikief8author/ and Amazon, https://www.amazon.com/Toni-Kief/e/B01CR8V3RG/ref

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: This has been an unexpected reincarnation. I find it difficult, rewarding and exciting. I am stunned that I have written one book, let alone 300 short stories and 4 novels. No telling what will happen next.