Killing Time

The Etonville Little Theatre is producing Dracula and somebody planted a stake in a stranger’s heart. Sleuth Dodie O’Dell is on the job!

Just in time for Halloween, a bewitching new mystery by author Suzanne Trauth.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: We’re clearly kindred spirits in our respective expertise with novels, theatrical scripts and screenplays. Of these three storytelling platforms, do you have a favorite?

A: Choosing one would be like choosing a favorite child! You love them all. Because my background is in theatre, playwriting was most familiar but the genre I started writing last. Writing screenplays taught me storytelling structure. But novels have provided the most freedom, the most leeway in storytelling. I would have to say my favorite is whatever genre I am working on at the moment and right now, at least through the pandemic, it’s been novels, so novels are my favorite genre right now.

Q: What was your first foray into publishing and where did it lead in your evolution as a writer?

A: My initial publishing ventures were in the academic arena—a book co-written with a colleague on acting technique titled Sonia Moore and American Acting Training, that focused on character development and the creation of story. I also co-edited a play anthology that included a play I’d co-written. The anthology, Katrina on Stage, focused on plays written about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. Though these works were either non-fiction or theatre-based, writing them sowed seeds of discipline, the importance of editing, meeting schedules. And character development was the topic, or formed the basis, of all the works which naturally fed into the creation of character in novels.

Q: How do/did these various genres influence each other?

A: Since I started writing screenplays first, I had an opportunity to learn structure, hone dialogue, and create the specific world of characters quickly. Writing plays was an easy transition with dialogue and character, though I felt screenplays were more like an outline and theatrical plays allowed characters more room to express their emotional and internal lives. Once I settled into writing novels, both genres influenced my storytelling via a tight structure, dramatic dialogue that pushed the narrative forward, and characters that were specific, had clear wants and needs, and relationships.

Q: If you could sit down with any three writers whose work most influenced your own style, who would they be and what would you like to ask them?

A: Elizabeth George: “Though you are an American living in California, your Inspector Lynley Series takes place in England. How do you mine a foreign country and its language, manners, history, geography, and customs to be credible for an international audience?”

Agatha Christie: “When you disappeared in 1926 for eleven days, what really happened to you?” It’s still one of the great mysteries about the queen of mystery.

Louis Penny: “You’ve created a lovely, gentle, intelligent protagonist in Armand Gamache. How do you balance these wonderful character traits with the need to have a flawed protagonist as well?” I love this series and am working my way through all of her books.

Q: Tell us how your Dodie O’Dell mystery series came about.

A: I had written a book a number of years ago that featured Dodie and some of the characters currently in the series. When I approached an editor, a terrific help, he suggested I decide which I was writing: women’s fiction or a mystery? “Where do you see your book on the bookstore shelf?” I immediately said “mystery” and he set to work assisting me in the developmental editing process. I queried Kensington Books at his suggestion and was offered a three book contract.

Q: What is it about female sleuths that make them so appealing to mystery lovers?

A: Good question. I think most mystery readers are women and more and more protagonists are female. In my experience, they are rarely hard-boiled and bring sensitivity, humor, and personable traits to the sleuth. I’m thinking Kinsey Milhone in Sue Grafton’s series, Stephanie Plum in Janet Evanovich’s books, even Miss Marple and Nancy Drew which, by the way, I grew up reading!

Q: Is there a particular character in this series with whom you strongly identify?

A: I suppose I’d have to say Dodie…in a way she is my alter ego. I would have enjoyed engaging in amateur sleuthing on a regular basis years ago. However she manages a restaurant, and I include lots of menu items in the books, but I don’t cook so much…at least I didn’t before the pandemic hit. I’m actually cooking more now!

But since I spent decades teaching, producing, and directing theatre, I have a soft spot for Penny, the whistle-blowing stage manager. I was able to channel my funny, crazy, traumatic theatre experiences through her.

Q: Your mysteries include a good amount of time spent in the world of theatre, a focus which reflects both your academic background and the number of years you spent acting, directing, teaching and penning plays. In light of the current pandemic which has shuttered production companies across the country and around the world, what is your prediction for theatre’s comeback…or will it?

A: Yes! I definitely believe theatre will come back. It’s an art form that has an almost three thousand year history…an institution like that cannot simply die. However, I think “coming back” will take time and require flexibility. For example, some regional theatres are producing work outside under tents; some are severely limiting indoor seating and size of productions and casts; new plays are being written and presented in staged readings on Zoom and other platforms. Writers are still creating and actors still performing. I do fear, however, that it will be a while before Broadway reopens. But I am hopeful that even two thousand seat houses will one day be able to fill them. I so look forward to it.

Q: How do you choose which plays and details of production to feature in each book?

A: When I started the series I began with Romeo and Juliet, a play that is well known to most readers, for the first book, Show Time. I continued to choose shows that most people would have some familiarity with: classics, a musical, a new play based on an old chestnut. Once I had the play, I worked the mystery around it: Who is murdered? Who is new to the theatre company? What characters in the company would have a motivation to kill? What would the rehearsal process be like with this particular production? How does the rehearsal and performance mesh with Dodie’s sleuthing and attempts to solve the mystery? I could then incorporate running jokes, like the artistic director’s comical pre-show warm-ups. I have to say, much of the theatre activity is based on my experience, and then enhanced.

Q: Writers often do “casting” in their heads as they develop their characters. Is this the case for you?

A: While I don’t actually cast characters in my mystery series, I do see them and hear them as I am writing and they give me quite the runaround! Sometimes they get ahead of me and I have to catch up…maybe it’s my theatre background but the characters are always “acting out.”

Q: In your own experience, what are the pros and cons of writing a mystery series versus standalone works?

A: Writing a series gives me the opportunity to develop characters and setting over a number of books. I have the time to create arcs for the main characters and watch them change and grow. Readers tell me they love to see the small town of Etonville come alive book after book. However, I have to be careful not to repeat myself with a series: though each book has primarily the same cast and setting, the play, murder, motivations etc. have to change.

I am writing my first standalone novel now and I am finding it exhilarating. I have the freedom to wander in different directions. I can make the book breathe. On the other hand, each standalone novel requires a whole new setting and cast of characters. I think it takes much more preparation and research time. Though I have to admit I am a “plantser,” I combine some plotting with writing by the seat of my pants.

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

A: I am a celebrant and perform weddings in the New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania area.

Q: What’s currently on your reading list?

A: I have several great books that I am in the midst of or looking forward to reading:

The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel

Aftermath by Julia Alvarez

Bury Your Dead by Louis Penny

The Abolitionist’s Daughter by Diane McPhail

Q: Best advice for aspiring writers?

A: The same advice I was given over and over: persist. Don’t get bogged down by perfectionism (especially on that first draft), in-your-head criticism, or distractions. Write every day even if it’s only one sentence! Find a great editor when you are ready to share your book with the world. And, I am doing it for the first time this year, try NaNoWriMo: National Novel Writing Month. It is a project to push writers to attempt 50,000 words during the month of November. In other words, draft a new novel. I am cheating a little since I hope to have the novel half-drafted by November.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: I am in the midst of a standalone mystery that I hope to have drafted by Christmas—with the help of NaNoWriMo. I am also finishing a last draft of a new play.

Q: Anything else you’d like to share?

A: Thanks so much for having me on your blog! I really enjoyed sharing my thoughts on writing with you.

A Chat with Pamdiana Jones

There’s no doubt about it, travel and adventure can often lead to humorous moments that remain in the memory long after the intrepid traveler is home, safe and sound. Such is the case with author Pamdiana Jones (pseudonym) in her new book, When In Roam. In addition to the memories are the lessons, the people, and the places that resonate, and sometimes even change our lives irrevocably.

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Interviewed by Debbie A. McClure

Q         By your own admission, you were a naïve traveler back in the ‘90s. Looking back on your experiences of that trip, given the chance, what advice would you give yourself back then?  

A         Yes, pretty naive. I didn’t watch or read news, I didn’t understand world politics, religions, sciences, history, cultures… It took me awhile to find my confidence in my own instincts. I really felt in-tune with it later in the trip, but wish I’d known that earlier on. I might have gone deeper into Africa and really spent time with the tribes, if I’d known I wasn’t really headed home!


Q         What stands out in your mind as your most memorable event during your adventure?

A         On a “life” level, it would be my father’s death, but on an adventure level getting chased by a herd of elephants in the wild animal park. You don’t forget something like that! Plus that very full day in Sumatra where I picked jungle plants for Malaria prevention tea, had leeches on me, rode an elephant through the jungle and woke up to thousands of bugs in my room. I’ve never had a day quite like that since!


Q         What did you learn about yourself through that experience that you still relate to today?

A         I just trust that life will be ok. I now listen immediately to my instinct and can read a situation, or a person, quite quickly from learning the subtle signs. Most people in the world are good people. 


Q         What did you learn about the people and cultures you encountered that surprised you?

A         When I left Los Angeles, I was a bit bored of people asking me lame questions, like what I ate, did I get a haircut, did I see the latest movie? I wanted to speak about much deeper, more worldly things, like politics, religion, cultures, why we are the way we are, how we got from cavemen to now, etc… On my travels I noticed that everywhere I went, as I made new friends, they’d all ask what I ate, and if I got a haircut, the same types of questions, yet now I could appreciate them as the very act of caring. When asked what I ate for lunch showed I was truly feeling love from all different cultures. I learned we are all the same, no matter where we go. We all just love our families, like to laugh, move to music, want food in our belly, and a good night’s sleep!


Q         You use a lot of self-deprecating humor in your book. What was your goal in utilizing that narrative approach?

A         I’m not sure it was really a thought out goal, it’s just the way I always am! I still talk like that, even though the trip was 25 years ago.


Q         What, if anything, would you change about that solo travel experience?

A         At this point I would like to change nothing, because the trip as a whole was life-changing. I might have wanted to share it with someone, but then I would have been talking with them the entire time instead of making new friends. I’d love to say I wish I had more money to travel more comfortably, but then I would have stayed in a fancy hotel, and I wouldn’t have taken that local’s home to stay in and would’ve missed out on knowing these incredible locals. I wish I didn’t just have to eat so much plain rice, but it made me appreciate when I had a proper meal. I will say it took me five years to eat rice again after the trip!

Q         What advice would you give to today’s solo female travelers?

A         It is so very different now, with Uber, and Tinder, and WhatsApp, and phones in general. I was unable to contact my family or friends from home because it was very expensive to call, and I had to just use snail-mail, so when I sent a letter not one person wrote me back, as I was always on the move. It sounds awful, but I would tell them to put the phone away, get off social media—you don’t need the perfect Instagram picture—really feel the culture, the new scents, the new sights, the new foods, and the people. You might never get back to that place again. 


Q         What has been your biggest challenge in getting this book published?

A         I guess lack of knowledge about what I was even doing. I have young twins and we moved twice, so it took me five years to write the book. It was finished in three years, but then I spent a year getting burned financially from two different editors with stellar resumes. The last year I had to learn to edit and format myself, as I navigated the self publishing route on my own, without a mentor. It is kind of fitting though, as the book is about finding your own confidence alone in the world. Now I’m doing the same in the world of publishing!

Q         What advice would you give new writers, either on writing or publishing?

A         I read early on that you can’t edit an empty page, and that has really stuck with me. I took huge three, four, and five month breaks without picking it up, out of nervousness that not one person could like what I’d written. I worried that every person on the planet has a story to tell, so why me? But then I just thought it might be fun for my kids to see my adventures one day (not until they’re 30!) and it motivated me to keep going. I saw the movie and read the book Eat, Pray, Love, and while it was cute and heartwarming, I thought there might be a few more girls like me—a bit more wild and free. So I wrote the book that I had wanted to read, but couldn’t find anywhere.


Q         How and why did you come up with your pen name, Pamdiana Jones?

A         When I was writing my letters home, at times I felt like Indiana Jones, and I cracked a joke that I’m now Pamdiana Jones, and my family loved the reference. My mom fell at a museum in the 1970’s and who caught her? Harrison Ford! Now my own son’s middle name is also Harrison.


Q         What’s next for you, Pam?

A         Because of the very warm reception as a newly published author, I’m already three countries into the second travel memoir, where I go through the South Pacific and bits of Europe with friends. In the future I can write travel memoir three, traveling with my husband and twins. They’ve already been overseas a few times, but I’d not thought about it until we flew to Grandma’s home on a 90 minute flight. They couldn’t believe that was even a real flight, as they were used to 22 hours and 15 hours and more!

During lockdown I’ve written two children’s books, where my twins get sucked into a portal to meet Santa on Christmas Eve in book one. In book two they dissolve into their own shadows and meet historical people on July 4th. I’m still looking for an illustrator, but I’m hoping to get them out soon!

You can find and connect with Pamela here:

Facebook-Instagram-Pinterest: @PamdianaJones

Killing the Girl

“There are two tragedies in life,” wrote George Bernard Shaw. “One is to lose your heart’s desire. The other is to gain it.” Unfortunately, the desires so often lusted after when we are too young to know any better can carry perilous and sometimes deadly consequences. Such is the premise of U.K. author Elizabeth Hill’s gripping debut novel, Killing the Girl. A buried body about to be unearthed. Lies that are hidden in the past. Will Hill’s protagonist escape justice or pay for the sins of her friends? Who else deserves to die?

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Tell us about your journey as a writer and who or what had the greatest influence on your storytelling style.

A: I joined the library when I was young and was an avid reader. Many writers have influenced me from Christie to Lawrence to King. One book stands out that made me want to write and that was, Stolen by Deborah Moggach. My previous career was mainly in credit management and litigation, but writing was my dream. Unfortunately, my spinal problems worsened, and by summer 2018, I decided that it was time to leave the 5.30am alarm clock and see if I could start a new career.

Q: What books might we have found on the nightstand of your adolescent self? Your young adult self? Now?

A: Nancy Drew was a favorite, then Christie and many mystery writers, though I read many by Graham Greene in my late teens. Now it’s anything with a mystery, and there are too many talented writers to name them. Jane Harper is one stand out.

Q: You classify Killing The Girl as “domestic noir.” What prompted you to choose such a dark genre for your debut novel?

A: I wanted to write about the reasons women kill, (those that aren’t serial killers), and decided that for my first novel the premise would be a relationship between lovers. My principal character set out on her doomed path to fall in love with the gorgeous Frankie and told me about what pushed her to the point where she killed him.

Q: What was your inspiration for this particular plot?

A: Relationships going wrong, dreams being thwarted, and people using and abusing others. Killing The Girl is about relationships between women and lovers, Killing The Shadowman is about relationships between women and their fathers. My third novel will be about women’s relationships with their mothers—that will be called, ‘Killing The ‘Something’.

Q: Tell us about the story’s setting. Is it a real place or one which exists only inside your head?

A: The place setting is imaginary but vaguely set on a range of hills south of Bristol, UK. There was a possibility of a ring road being built years ago around these hills. That’s where the idea sprang from—what if your house was demolished for a ring road and you had buried someone in your garden…

Q: Oftentimes what we perceive to be a dream life when we are younger can become the stuff of nightmares when seen through the prism of adult perspective. Such was the tortured path you crafted for your main character, Carol. During the development of the story, did you ever feel badly about giving her so many wicked obstacles?

A: No. I wanted to push her to her limit, and I wanted the reader to react against what she was accepting as normal behavior, but also to understand that she was young and naïve. Many women put up with abuse and I hoped that the story would make them think about what they would accept – or not – and recognize cohesive behavior if they were in that kind of relationship.

Q: If Carol could be offered a single do-over, what would it be?

A: To learn to become independent and gain self-confidence.

Q: What are the prevalent themes in Killing The Girl, and why did you choose them?

A: The themes are, ‘go careful what you wish for’, and ‘you can’t make someone love you’ -both chosen to illustrate that you have to accept life’s limitations and make your own way despite the many set-backs you encounter.

Q: What governed the decision to write Carol’s story in first person rather than third?

A: The first drafts were in third person (there were eighteen drafts!) but one day I started writing and Carol ‘took over’ so the novel had to be re-written. I’m glad I changed it as, to me, the first person is more effective and Carol came ‘alive’ on the page.

Q: The plot is split between 1970 and present-day. How is this an effective device for the development of the plot and its characters?

A: The time zone was used to illustrate the difference in women’s lives. In the 1970s, especially in working-class backgrounds, the primary aim for every woman was marriage—also encouraged by their families and society. The Equal Pay Act came into effect in 1970 but we didn’t see a great change in pay straight away. Many women couldn’t afford to leave home without marriage, even if they had a reasonable job. That spurred many women to marry too young and be trapped in a life of domesticity before they had developed a sense of who they were as people.

Q: How did you come up with the title?

A: The title was originally, ‘Wicked’, but one day, as I was re-writing part two, it just announced itself. She had to ‘kill’ the girl she was and grow to accept her part in what had happened.

Q: Why have you chosen to write about women and why they kill?

A: The market is full of men who kill women and I wanted to be different. It’s easier for me to write from a woman’s perspective as that can be based on what I’ve experienced in general, or seen happen to others – not that my friends and I have killed any boyfriends! The premise is much more interesting as this type of killer is not as prolific and therefore more original. 

Q: Would women make good serial killers of random victims, or are they psychologically attuned to only kill those who personally harm them?

A: There are very few women serial killers (that we know about) compared to men so maybe they are good, as they have escaped justice and kept under the radar. To me, women kill for different reasons and often because they are pushed to the limits of endurance, rather than killing being a main option.

Q: Tell us about your writing process (i.e., how many drafts do you write, do you re-write/edit early drafts, do you allow anyone to read your work in progress?).

A: I write many drafts, and many fresh drafts, deleting thousands of words, until I’m happy. Then I send it to beta readers and pay attention to all feedback before implementing all relevant changes. I also use a story editor and a proof-reader/line editor.

Q: What’s the takeaway for your readers after they finish the book?

A: I hope that they are surprised at the ending in a way that makes them reflect on life and that the story stays with them a while after reading the last page. That the novel makes them think about how someone can focus on their own life so much that they miss something surprising right under their nose. That the story illustrates how entwined our lives can be and what friendship means to them.

Q: Best advice to aspiring writers?

A: Accept that your first draft will be terrible but contain everything you want to say. Never correct it or re-write that awful first draft. Open a new document and have the original beside it, then go through each scene and chapter writing the new draft, bearing in mind that you now know what will happen and the path each character takes. This will produce a fresh, generic draft that will save you time in the long run and will be more original.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: To finish Killing The Shadowman.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: My new world of writers and readers is a lovely place and I’m grateful to all my new writer friends for their assistance, the giving of their time, and sharing their experience with me. Although writing is at times stressful, and a solitary pursuit, there is always another writer who has ‘been there, done that’ to listen, or to point in the right direction for help and resources. For that I am truly thankful.

Old Sins Never Die

The good news is that journalist Emmeline Kirby and jewel thief/insurance investigator Gregory Longdon have an opportunity to thwart an international assassination when they overhear someone attempting to hire a rogue MI5 agent for the deed. The bad news is that they have no idea who the intended victim is going to be. In the latest book in Daniella Burnett’s mystery series, Old Sins Never Die, the intrepid pair has more than enough on their plate to keep them one step ahead of certain danger.

It’s enough to put any new marriage to the test.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Let’s talk about your journey as a writer. Who or what would you say had the greatest influence on your passion for storytelling?

A: It began with a love affair with reading. I thank my parents for reading to me and my sister from a very young age. This developed into an appreciation for the written word. All writers are readers at heart. Writing is like breathing. It’s something I must do. I can’t imagine not writing. I would be like an empty shell, lost and forlorn on a stretch of silken sands. I love devising plots, adding twists and turns, and leaving a string of red herrings in my characters’ wake just for a bit of fun.

Q: Were you an avid fan of mysteries when you were growing up? If so, who are some of the authors whose work especially resonated with you?

A: Since my mother introduced my sister and me to mysteries and thrillers, I’ve been off on a literary adventure. Agatha Christie is my hero. She was truly a master at her craft. Her deliciously wicked and ingenious plots appeal to the reader’s intellect. Christie had an astute insight into human nature and all its foibles. One wouldn’t characterize Daphne Du Maurier as a mystery author, but I admire the brilliant way she created an atmosphere of suspense. As each page was flipped, the reader had the sense that he or she was taking another step toward the danger.

Q: Do you ever play armchair detective in your real life or do you leave all the savvy sleuthing to your fictional characters?

A: Oh, I am definitely an expert armchair detective. I enjoy racing the sleuth to the solution. It’s a matter of paying careful attention to the clues that the author casts before readers. Only on very rare occasions have I been proved wrong, when it comes to unmasking the murderer. I suppose it’s because my mind leans toward the devious.

Q: Do you share any particular attributes with your lead players, Emmeline and Gregory?

A: I think a part of every author is in his or her characters. Perhaps it’s a trait you wish you had. Or a witty riposte you should have flung back at some quite insufferable person. Now, as an author, you have a second chance. Anything is possible. The author and his or her characters set out on a journey together. It’s a conspiracy, if you will. Each brings something distinctive to the story as it unfolds.

Q: What do you feel makes you uniquely qualified to shine in this genre?

A: Everyone comes from different backgrounds. Each one of us is shaped by the myriad people with which we come into contact; the situations in which we find ourselves; and the opportunities we’re given—and let slip through our fingers—in life. It is this confluence of factors combined with our inherent nature and temperament that make us unique. Therefore, only I could have conjured up Emmeline and Gregory. It is the story that I wanted to tell.

Q: Tell us what governed your decision to develop a series rather than a standalone title.

A: I chose to write a series because I wanted to take time to develop my characters—their flaws, admirable qualities, likes and dislikes. Each book provides another nugget of information to peel back the curtain on Emmeline and Gregory, while also leaving something dangling. After all, the human species is full of contradictions that are begging to be explored.

Q: Series fiction is not without its own set of challenges, especially if your readers don’t read the books in the sequential order in which they were intended. Share with us how you addressed keeping each book fresh and yet still building on what your readership already knows.

A: Each book can stand alone. Readers will be fine if they pick up one of the middle books because I include some of the backstory so that they understand the characters and don’t feel lost. Of course, if readers want to see how the relationship between Emmeline and Gregory develops, then they should start with the first book.

In terms of keeping each book fresh, I find it devilishly good fun to dangle a little surprise on the last page to leave readers clamoring to know what happens next. It also sets me on the path of the plot for my new book.

Q: Oftentimes the kiss of death in television series where there is sexual chemistry between the two leads is the decision to marry them off. How do you plan to maintain the heat between Emmeline and Gregory now that they have said, “I do”?

A: Gregory’s shadowy past provides endless possibilities and the fact that he continues to derive an adrenaline rush from stealing jewels. Meanwhile, secrets and lies are a constant threat. And yet, Gregory has gotten under Emmeline’s skin. She can’t deny her love for him. What’s life without a dollop of trouble, now and then.

Q: If Hollywood came calling, who would comprise your dream cast?

A: I’ve often been asked this question. Naturally, all my choices are British actors. Rufus Sewell would be perfect as Gregory. He’s charming, witty and handsome, and extremely talented. Emmeline is a bit more difficult, but I believe Lily James would bring her to life with great skill because she has such a wide acting range. Hugh Bonneville would pull off the character of Superintendent Oliver Burnell of Scotland Yard with aplomb. Rupert Penrys-Jones would be terrific as Philip Acheson, who ostensibly works for the British Foreign Office, but is a MI5 agent.

Q: What makes for a good mystery?

A: A tantalizing puzzle that the reader must unravel hooks me every time. It has always been about answering the question, “Why?” I love following the clues that the author has strategically dropped. Once the reader understands a criminal’s motivation, everything falls into place.

Q: What tropes do you loathe the most in mystery novels?

A: I find insanity (although terrifying) a boring motive. Rather than devising a knotty reason for the crime, an author is taking the easy road by suggesting that the murderer could not help himself or herself. On the same token, serial killer novels make me shudder. They focus too heavily on gore and violence.

Q: Who’s your favorite detective and why?

A: Hercule Poirot, bien sûr. I adore Poirot for his razor-sharp mind. Yes, he is fusty and arrogant, but not in a mean-spirited way. He is merely confident in his own abilities and impatient with those who are slow-witted. Poirot has a tremendous respect for the law and therefore cannot allow a criminal to flout it. Meanwhile, he is sensitive and empathetic. He understands that we all have faults, as well as good qualities.

Q: If you were throwing a dinner party and could invite any three writers to join you, who would be on the guest list and what would you most like to ask each one?

A: Agatha Christie, of course. I would hang on her every word, absorbing things like a sponge. I would like to know whether she was involved in any adventures in her personal life that influenced her writing. Anthony Horowitz would be invited too. I saw him in an interview once. He has an incisive mind and a droll personality. I would ask him for advice on subtle ways to add shocking twists to the tale. Finally, Jeffrey Archer would round out the table. I would pepper him with questions about his life. He’s a peer of the realm, a former politician and was sent to jail for perjury and perverting the course of justice. I would be curious to know about the fascinating life he has led.

Q: What’s on your current reading list and where do you most like to spend time enjoying the work of others?

A: I’m looking forward to reading The Rose Code by Kate Quinn; Band of Sisters by Lauren Willig; Moonflower Murders by Anthony Horowitz; Hidden In Plain Sight by Jeffrey Archer; The King’s Justice by Susan Elia MacNeal; Poppy Redfern and the Fatal Flyers by Tessa Arlen; A Devious Death by Alyssa Maxwell, and so many others. My TBR pile never dwindles since there is a perpetual need to nourish the mind and the soul.

As for the nook where I like to escape with a book, I usually like to read curled up in a comfortable armchair or in bed. In the summer, I often lose myself in a good book in the cool shadows of a tree as the dulcet susurration of the balmy breeze dandles the branches above me.

Q: Best advice for aspiring authors?

A: I would tell aspiring authors to write the story that they want to write and not what others tell them or what the current market trends are. To write a great story, you have to breathe it, live with it, and nurture it in your dreams and waking hours.

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

A: I am utterly useless when it comes to technology and anything mechanical. Don’t ever ask me a question having to do with a computer. If my laptop starts giving me a problem, my first reaction is to throw it out the window. Another secret I will share (more of a warning) is that I’m impatient and have a short temper.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: Viper’s Nest of Lies, Book 7, will be published in fall 2021. I’m currently working on Book 8. There’s no rest for the wicked. Emmeline and Gregory are always dragging me off on another adventure.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: If readers would like to learn more about me, my website is http://www.daniellabernett.com. There’s an e-mail address on the site, if anyone would like to drop me a note. Readers also can follow me on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100008802318282 or on Goodreads https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/40690254-daniella-bernett.

A Palette For Love and Murder

A Palette For Murder

Author Saralyn Richard knows how to weave an excellent tale of murder and mystery in her newest page-turning book, A PALETTE FOR LOVE AND MURDER, that’s sure to pull readers in and hold them fast. Fans of her protagonist, Detective Oliver Parrot, will enjoy continuing to follow his adventures, and his life, in this intriguing new series that’s winning readers from all walks of life. A creative writing instructor at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, Saralyn loves to pen stories of mystery, mayhem, and love that have garnered terrific reviews. Read on to learn more about this fascinating author and her work.

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Interviewed by Debbie A. McClure

Q Why did you choose to set this series in the world of Brandywine Valley?

A I’ve been fortunate enough to visit relatives in Brandywine Valley frequently. It is one of my happy places. The country landscape is scenic and lush, and the people who live there are among the country’s wealthiest and most powerful. Whether I’m hanging with the equestrian crowd, visiting the amazing Brandywine River Fine Arts Museum, antique shopping at Kennett Square, or hiking through the gorgeous vegetation at Longwood Gardens, I know I’m experiencing some of the best that rural America has to offer.

Some years ago, I attended a birthday celebration at a country mansion there, and after the nine-course meal, I was lounging by the fireplace and chatting with another partygoer. I said, “This would be the perfect setting for a murder mystery.” When she recovered from the shock, I added, “but for that to happen, one of us would have to die, and one of us would have to be a killer.”

What struck me about the setting was that it was so serene. It was the last place one would expect a murder to take place.

Now, having set two novels in Brandywine Valley, I have to say that the people who live and work there are so friendly and cooperative. I’ve interviewed policemen, architects, restaurateurs, artists, horse owners, magazine publishers, funeral home directors, museum employees, landscapers, and others. Everyone has been delightful to talk with and very happy to be interviewed—as long as they weren’t going to be the murder victim or the murderer!

Q What distinguishes Detective Oliver Parrott from other literary detectives?

A In MURDER IN THE ONE PERCENT, the first book in the series, we meet Oliver Parrott as he starts his rookie year as detective. He’s African-American, raised in an underprivileged urban neighborhood, and a former college football hero from Syracuse. He’s chosen a career in criminal justice because he wants to right wrongs, but sometimes the people he meets and the milieu in which he serves rub him the wrong way.

The fact that he’s an outsider, an Everyman detective (as Kirkus magazine calls him in its review of MURDER IN THE ONE PERCENT), gives him a strong rooting interest with the reader.

Parrott’s fiancée is a Navy SEAL on tour of duty in Afghanistan. His cousin Bo has been killed by policemen in a random accident. Throughout the first book and the second, A PALETTE FOR LOVE AND MURDER, his personal and professional lives come together in various ways, and Parrott becomes more than just a detective. He is a smart, responsible, organized, determined, moral, and caring individual; someone we would all want for a son, a husband, an employee, or a friend.

Q Why did you choose to write with a male protagonist?

A I don’t recall choosing at all. Parrott came to me, fully developed, and he happened to be male. As a former teacher, administrator, and school improvement consultant, I’ve spent a lot of time around young people who come from similar backgrounds as Parrott, and I suppose he is an amalgamation of the best of them. I’ve written other mysteries with female sleuths, but it never occurred to me to make Parrott a female.

Q How much research did you do into the art world, and how did you choose which aspects of that world to incorporate into your work?

A Art history was an area of concentration in my college curriculum, so I’ve long been an appreciator of paintings, sculptures, museums, and artists. The Brandywine River Fine Arts Museum is one of my favorite small museums in the world, and I admire the works of the Wyeth family. It was easy to imagine a plot set in the art community of Brandywine, but I did do extensive interviews with artists, dealers, museum personnel, and others. The National Arts Club in New York, which is mentioned several times in the book, is another place I adore.

Q Do you dabble in art yourself? If so, what do you do? If not, have you thought of exploring that area of expression?

A In one of my previous positions, I was the Fine Arts Chairperson of a large high school, so I was able to hobnob with the creative types. I’ve always had a creative passion, and I’ve taken piano, art, dance, and needlework classes. One of these days when I have time I hope to be able to paint, but right now, I’m content to admire the work of others.

Q Why did you choose the art world as your backdrop in this book?

A The proximity of the Brandywine Valley to the museum, and art galleries in the Kennett Square area, made it a perfect choice to center the book on the art world. I enjoy reading art mysteries, and I knew I would enjoy writing one.

Also, artists are fascinating people. In a sense we lead double lives—the interior lives of our imaginations, and the exterior lives of reality. Sometimes there are struggles and obstacles and secrets that live within this dichotomy, and those provide fertile ground for stories.

Q  The art world can seem mysterious and nebulous to many people. What have you learned about it that surprised you and that you’d like to share with us?

A I learned about climate and security-controlled art warehouses, where a person who buys a multi-million-dollar painting for an investment can store his purchase and avoid paying taxes until he takes the painting out to sell it. Sometimes paintings are stored in these warehouses for years, and the privacy of the owners is strictly preserved.

Q What is your favorite part about writing mysteries?

A Because a mystery author presents an intellectual and emotional puzzle for the reader to solve, there is a tight connection between the author and the reader. Every step of the way, the reader is discovering clues and evidence and foreshadowing that the author has carefully laid out for the reader. In no other genre is that author-reader wavelength so well-matched. Any time I talk with a reader, I delight in the conversation. I love hearing what the reading journey was like, whom the reader suspected, whether or not the reader was surprised by the ending.

A mystery is a feeling person’s book; a thinking person’s book. It’s a joy to engage with the reader’s heart and mind.

Q Reviewers have lauded A PALETTE FOR LOVE AND MURDER for its in-depth depictions of characters and relationships, as well as its sensitive treatment of difficult topics, both of which are rare in mysteries. Did you intend to veer away from the genre tropes, and, if so, why?

A Traditional mysteries are plot-based, but, over time, genre-blending has changed that landscape, particularly when it comes to using the tools of characterization, such as deep point of view, unheroic characters, villains with redeeming characteristics, unreliable narrators, and amateur sleuths. Many of my favorite mystery writers portray characters with complexity and depth. For example, Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch is someone I know so well—he could be my friend, my neighbor, my brother. My detective, Oliver Parrott, is the same way. After you’ve read the book, you will know him inside and out. Modern readers want to connect with protagonists. They want to feel the story from inside the protagonist’s shoes. As an author, I want the same thing. I feel it makes for a more authentic, relatable reading experience.

Q How do you come up with the names in your books?

A I approach name selection in the same way as I would if I were naming a new-born baby of mine. The name has to endure throughout the writing of the book, and long afterward, so I want to make sure it has staying power. Many of my characters are named after people in my life whom I want to honor. Many names are ethnic in nature, or attuned to the time period in which the characters were born. Once in a while, I’ll change a character’s name after I’ve started writing the book, but that’s rare. Once I’ve named him, that name starts to fit him perfectly, and I think of him as ___. In Brandywine Valley, the houses have names, too, so I have an added opportunity to play with names. The house in A PALETTE FOR LOVE AND MURDER, for example, is named Manderley, after the mansion in Daphne du Maurier’s REBECCA.

Some of my characters’ names are humorous, some are intentionally ordinary or unusual, and some are nods to famous characters in other authors’ books. Parrott, for instance, is a nod to Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot.

Q As a teacher of creative writing, what is your belief about talent vs. craft in the act of producing a work of fiction? How important is research in the writing of a fiction book?

A Talent vs. craft is the age-old question, much like, “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” Over the years I’ve had students with immense talent, but little regard for perfecting craft, and I’ve seen the opposite, as well. The truth is that both talent and craft are required to produce a work of fiction, and there is no ideal measure of how much of one or another is needed. A facility with words is certainly important, as is having a good story to tell. Whether those constitute talent or craft is debatable.

Research, however, is a much more concrete and definable part of the process of writing. I believe research is indispensable in developing a story that is realistic, believable, and authentic. Today’s reader wants to come away from a work of fiction knowing more about the people, places, and things within the novel. Research keeps the story up-to-date and relevant.

Q Who is your ideal reader?

A My ideal reader is anyone who is open to immersing himself in the milieu of the story; willing to engage with the appropriate characters; alert in catching the subtleties of clues, humor, and tension; and allowing himself or herself to be drawn in.

Q What is your greatest satisfaction in being an author?

A Because being an author is the fulfillment of a lifelong dream for me, I have many satisfactions: having a job that delights me every single day, being able to interact meaningfully with other authors and people in the publishing industry, holding my books in my hands, attending book clubs and other meetings where my books are being discussed, winning awards for my writing, and the list goes on and on. But, hands-down, the most important satisfaction for me is having a reader understand and appreciate my book. When someone tells me I’ve touched his or her life, I know I’ve succeeded as an author.

Q What plans do you have for future books?

A I have a standalone mystery, A MURDER OF PRINCIPAL, coming out in January 2021. I’m writing another standalone, BLOOD SISTERS, which I also hope will come out in 2021. Meanwhile, with all of the political unrest and recent events related to police brutality, Detective Parrott has been whispering in my ear. I’m sure he has another story or two to share with us.

Reviews, media, and tour schedule may be found at http://saralynrichard.com.

Buy links: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/A+Palette+for+Love+and+Murder?_requestid=2258777

https://www.amazon.com/Palette-Love-Murder-Detective-Parrott/dp/1644372045/ref= Social media links: https://www.amazon.com/Saralyn-Richard/e/B0787F6HD4/ref= https://twitter.com/SaralynRichard https://www.facebook.com/saralyn.richard, https://www.twitter.com/SaralynRichard, https://www.linkedin.com/in/saralyn-richard-b06b6355/, https://www.pinterest.com/saralynrichard/, https://www.instagram.com/naughty_nana_sheepdog/ https://www.pinterest.com/saralynrichard/ and https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7338961.Saralyn_Richard. https://www.bookbub.com/profile/saralyn-richard

 

 

 

 

Lost Girls

Lost Girls_5x8_paperback_FRONT (1)

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

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q:  What’s next on your plate?

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

Q: Where can readers learn more about your work?

A: https://ellenbirkettmorris.ink/

 

 

 

 

Days of Wine and Covid

Mindy Littman Holland headshot

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

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

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Interviewed by Debbie A. McClure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q What advice would you give to new writers?

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

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

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

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

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

Q What might surprise people to know about you?

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

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

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

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

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

Q What’s next for you, Mindy?

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

 

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

Websites:

http://mindylittmanholland.com

http://books.mindylittmanholland.com

Amazon Links (for Days of Wine and COVID)

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

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

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

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

Social Media:

https://twitter.com/MindyHolland

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

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

Email:  mlittmanholland@gmail.com

 

 

 

Unmarriageable

Unmarriageable

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

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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

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

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

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

Q: Who are you reading now?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: What’s next on your plate?

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

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

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

 

 

 

 

The Sign Behind the Crime Series

Ronnie Allen

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

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

**********

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: Plotter or pantser?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: What’s next on your plate?

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

Q: Anything else you’d like to share?

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Chat with Cookie O’Gorman

 

Cookie O'Gorman

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

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

Interviewer: Joanna Celeste

*******

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q. What advice would you give to new writers?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q. Any other marketing tools you recommend?

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

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

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

Thank you for your time with us today, Cookie.

Connect with Cookie:

Twitter: @CookieOwrites

Instagram: @cookieogorman

Facebook: @cookieogorman

ENJOY A TASTE OF HAPPILY-EVER-AFTER!

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

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