Dead Air

 

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Whenever there’s an unsettling stretch of silence on my favorite morning radio station, I always wonder if someone accidentally turned the microphone off or the station lost its power signal. Could it also be that my radio just needs a new battery? Now that Cliff Protzman’s debut mystery novel, Dead Air, is out, I have another possibility to consider: maybe there’s been a murder.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: After a long career in banking and finance, what compelled you to wake up one day and decide to try your hand at crime(writing)?

A: It wasn’t a snap of the fingers moment. Like all writers, I was an avid reader. The first book I recall was Pride of the Yankees: the Lou Gehrig story. I was amazed to be so engrossed by a story. I began writing for my high school newspaper, finding a passion for writing. I originally planned to major in journalism in college, but eventually choose a more practical course. Several times I began to pen a novel, but let distractions put it aside.

My brother had some modest success with playwriting and graphic stories. He passed away several years ago. At the funeral, my daughter, a news reporter and editor commented, “I know how to write, but I have no stories.” My reply was, “I have stories.” That’s the moment I choose to pursue my passion.

Q: Dead Air is all about mystery and dark suspense. What particularly appeals to you about this genre?

A: I contend all stories are mysteries. Will star-crossed lovers live happily ever after? Will the empire survive? Will the hero hit the game winning home run? These mysteries keep readers turning pages because they want the answer.

A murder mystery provides the reader a look into the darker side of human behavior. The investigator is compelled to solve the crime because it is the right thing to do. A murder investigation forces seemingly innocent people to hide their deep, dark secrets. The sleuth must deal with lying witnesses, hidden agendas, deep emotional conflicts, and the murderer.

With all that happening, the protagonist must struggle with their own inner conflicts as he follows the clues. We share the suspense as he solves one challenge, only to face a bigger one ahead. Throughout the story, keep in mind the PI is chasing someone who has already killed once.

Q: Who are some of the authors you admire in this genre?

A: I admire many authors. Two of my favorites are Max Allen Collins and Troy Soos.

Collins, A Grand Master of the Mystery Writers of America, wrote a series featuring PI Nathan Heller. He investigated the “Crimes of the Century” from the Lindberg kidnapping to the assassination of President Kennedy. Heller bills himself as PI to the Stars. His cases lead him to conversations with Al Capone, Governor Huey Lewis, Senator Joe McCarthy, the Rosenbergs, and even Robert Kennedy. Collins creates a thoroughly believable scene. Collins has a unique ability to make these scenes seem so realistic.

Soos, a physics teacher, wrote a series featuring a fictional journeyman baseball player in the early twentieth century. As Mickey Rawlings (no one by that name ever played major league baseball) is traded from town to town, he finds himself drawn into a murder investigation. Rawlings is confronted by the issues of the times; unionization, the Klu Klux Klan, World War I, gambling in baseball. Soos allows the reader to feel what it’s like to ride a trolley through Brooklyn, the smell of the Chicago stockyards, or the sounds of auto manufacturers in Detroit. Rawlings’ investigations find him talking to Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Shoeless Joe Jackson, and other greats of the time.

Q: For this—your first novel—did you work from a formal outline or listen to your muse as you went along?

A: Outlines work well for research and opinion pieces. I had no idea how to outline a fiction novel. I started with a victim, a killer and an investigator. My plot was only vaguely formed. I began to write the story. I let the characters move the story. When I reached a road block, I found myself telling the story, not Beck.

This may seem like a disjointed method. However, Beck proved the killer I had in mind was indeed innocent. I let my characters tell the story. I had not planned the scene at the hunting cabin until Beck and Irene took me there. I believe that’s why Dead Air is a compelling thriller.

Q: Did your characters ever do or say anything that surprised you?

A: I think if the characters are going to surprise the reader, the writer was probably surprised as well. Irene constantly surprised me. She had a knack of being witty, intelligent, or vulnerable at just the right time.

If I disclosed the person who surprised me the most, it would be a spoiler. Beck knew better, however.

Q: Unlike the structure of a 9-5 job that involves deadlines and interactions with others, writing is a solitary craft that requires you to spend a lot of time with the voices in your head. What were/are some of the things you did/do to stay motivated and on task?

A: Although writing may not seem be a structured task, time management is critical. Planning effectively requires a person to allow time for dealing with interruptions or delays. For me, the key was to set small goals and allow time to complete them. This kept my motivation high and procrastination at a minimum. I wasn’t necessarily looking to complete the book in one sitting. I simple completed one scene at a time. I rewarded myself and moved willing to the next small task.

Q: Was there anything that slowed down the process for you or created distractions? If so, how did you deal with it?

A: Writing may be a lifestyle. However, I am a husband, father to six, and grandfather to four. My time with them is precious. Therefore, time management is essential. I flexibly schedule my days to include time for writing, marketing, and social.

Of course, creativity has no on/off switch. That is why I attempt to achieve small tasks, and the larger ones are more manageable. If this sounds perfect, it’s not. It does help to have a template.

Q: How did you manage to network within the writing community?

A: I don’t believe writing is a solitary craft. The best writers are social beings, they interact with the world, not just electronically.

My first step was to join a writing group, not one focused solely on mysteries. I experienced not only differing styles, voices, and techniques, but also how they work within different genres. This helped me fashion the techniques into a mystery. It should be noted the group is comprised of accomplished writers.

Writers conferences are an excellent opportunity to meet the writing community. In additions to informative workshops, valuable information about the business is available. Of course, you can learn as much at happy hour as you can in classes. Most conferences have the opportunity to pitch an agent or have manuscript evaluated. I owe authors Julie Hyzy, Matthew Clements, and Jess Loughery for their valuable contributions.

Q: Dead Air features a male protagonist with a strong female collaborator. Where did these characters come from?

A: Beck, as a male, was easy for me to create. Irene, a combination of two women, was more challenging. I desired a woman that was a trusted resource for Beck. He eventually realized how much more she meant to him.

I wanted the sexual tension between the two as a subplot. She had to be strong in order to refocus Beck when his arrogance started to take control. Their interaction helped move the plot and created titillation for the readers. Several reviewers have been very complimentary when mentioning her. I am very proud of Irene, she will continue to have a prominent role in future books.

Q: If Hollywood came calling for a TV series, who would play your two lead characters?

A: Michael Keaton is the only choice for Beck. Dead Air is set in Pittsburgh, the hometown of Keaton. He has shown the ability to display the toughness of Beck, as well as his humor. I believe he could convey the many emotional conflicts Beck faces. In his favor, Keaton was the best Batman.

Tea Leoni is perfect for Irene. She is not only an actor, but also a producer. She projects the beauty and strength the exemplifies Irene. I think she could add a personal touch to the character that audiences will enjoy. Leoni could easily handle the professionalism and humanity of the character.

Q: Like many of today’s writers, you chose to go the self-publishing route. What governed that choice and what have you learned from it?

A: It really wasn’t much of a choice. At my age, I did not want to wait several years to attract an agent or publisher. I believe the book was good and could be marketed. I choose self-publishing as an expedient entry to the market, to see what I could accomplish. I realized that it would require a lot of my time to market, but traditional publishing requires quite a bit of time as well.

I have learned and continue to learn how difficult it is for a debut author to be seen. I am looking at the process as my own form of an advanced degree.

Q: What are you doing to market the book and which strategies have been successful for you?

A: As a debut author, there was no template for me to follow. My plan was to utilize social media to drive brand awareness. The most effective reach has been blog tours. The tours generated reviews and to my delight highly positive reviews.

Q: Now that Dead Air is released, have you achieved what you expected?

A: Yes and no. I had two goals. Naturally sales. The second was critical acceptance.

I wanted simply to break even on my investment. That goal is within sight. I knew that immediate acceptance would be difficult for a debut author. I hired a publicist to reach unknown markets. That has provided some outreach to social media that I may not have had otherwise. I learned a valuable lesson, I started too late. However, sales are starting to improve.

I have been amazed by the reviews and rating from readers. The comments range from well written and plotted, to exciting character development. One reviewer termed it a modern noir, which I find exciting. Dead Air has received one literary award. I am pleased to have created a story that readers enjoy.

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

A: Readers would not be the least bit surprised to discover I love baseball. As a child, very few games were televised, so we listened to the game on radio. I lived in a city neighborhood. In the summer folks sat on the front porch with a radio tuned to the game. We played in the streets and listened to baseball since the sound echoed throughout the neighborhood. When the game was on the West Coast starting at 10:30, Mom let us take a transistor radio to bed with us. We listened until we fell asleep or the batteries died.

I like to write with a game on. The TV is behind me and I write during the game. Unfortunately, today’s announcers are not as eloquent as their radio counterpoints of the past. A past radio announcer would describe a runner was out by a gnat’s eyelash, meaning it was a close play. Today the call would be the runner’s out, we’ll wait for the replay.

Q: If you were hosting a murder mystery dinner and could invite any five mystery authors or fictional sleuths, who would comprise your guest list, what would happen, and who would solve the case by the time dessert was served?

A: The setting would have to be a remote Victorian mansion on a dark and stormy night. Mystery authors create fictional sleuths, so fiction it is. Phillip Marlowe (Raymond Chandler) would be the first to arrive. Someone has to belt down the scotch and offer a wisecrack. Hercules Poirot (Agatha Christie) would provide a continental approach to the crime. Lieutenant (Frank) Columbo (Levinson and Link) would arrive raincoat wrinkled and drenched in rain. After all, when it comes to murder there is always “just one more thing.” Sherlock Holmes (Arthur Conan Doyle) to analyze the pattern of dust particles circling the dead body. Lastly Kinsey Millhone (Sue Grafton) because men never get it right.

With such great minds, the case would have to be a previously unsolved murder. Perhaps a fictional version of Jack the Ripper, the Kennedy assassination, or Nicole Brown Simpson.  What a great dialogue would ensue. Columbo and Holmes discuss a fine point of evidence. Poirot and Marlowe sharing analysis of the motive. Millhone throwing in common sense and intuition. What a great adventure. I have no idea who wins.

Q: What’s your next project?

A: I have written a Christmas short story featuring Beck and his granddaughter. I plan to offer this as an add-on to Dead Air this year. This is leading to release of the second book in the Glenn Beckert Mysteries.

In the second installment, Beck dismisses a missing person case that turns into murder the week before his wedding. The victim, a software engineer, was developing an artificial intelligence application for the military. The deceased had a past gay liaison that ended badly. The clues lead Beck to chase alternating motives. Amidst the confusion, beck learns a secret from Irene’s past that threatens to destroy their relationship. The planned release is early 2019.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: In the competitive world of selling books, Christina Hamlett is a bright light advocating the craft of writing. Although I was included in her anthology Unfinished Chapters, there was no obligation for her to follow me. Yet she did. I will never forget her support and encouragement. It is what we writers do. Thank you, Christina.

 

 

 

 

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Eye of the Moon

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For readers who enjoy strong female characters, supernatural elements, magical realism and the occult, there’s a delicious new Gothic mystery on the market that will satisfy all of these. Author Ivan Obolensky takes time from his busy schedule to talk to us about Eye of the Moon, demons, and who to invite to a literary dinner party.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Tell us a little about the premise of your new book and what inspired you to write it.

A: Eye of the Moon was inspired by a large house my father owned when I was growing up. I always thought it was a perfect setting for a novel. Strange things happened there. I wanted to write an American story but differentiate it from the typical English gothic novel. Business is a unique facet of American life and sets American culture apart from those of other countries. Such relationships often involve promises of performance. I wanted to explore the consequences for having broken an oath, or a contract, not only in everyday life, but what happens when a promise is broken to an entity such as a demon. What are the consequences? What is trust, and how is it formed? What happens when we discover that we have been lied to? How do we set aside our prejudices and assumptions? These are a few of the questions I wanted to answer in the story.

Q: Literal and metaphorical demons abound as the story unfolds. How do you believe they relate to each other?

A: I think we all face demons. Some are metaphorical. Some are real. We no longer call them demons. Science has moved on and wants no part. We call them narcissistic tendencies, or perhaps we say we create images of ourselves that are unsustainable instead. Not all demons are imaginary. We each face issues of economic survival and threats to our existence. We solve them, or we don’t. In this, we are not alone. Others around us also face their own unique difficulties, but never ours exactly. Achieving wisdom is about the struggle to gain that extraordinary perspective that life was never about us to begin with. Our internal demons on the other hand, argue the opposite, that life is really about us. We are what is important, and we can demonstrate that through either outstanding success or extraordinary personal failure. I wonder which is more destructive? In the past, success was defined by achievement. Today, it is about fame. Through notoriety, we can achieve a similar measure of immortality and in the case of a person who ruins all that they touch, the demon in them is as real as any that we can imagine. The metaphorical demon then becomes the literal, and a reality we must face. Demons are still around because they never left. How we deal with them defines in no small measure who we are as individuals. Do we surrender, or not? Our faith in our goodness, our cleverness, and our humanity are our only defenses against such monsters, whether real or imaginary.

Q: Did you work from a structured outline or allow your characters to “speak” to you as you began writing?

A: I set only two constraints for Eye of the Moon. One was the location. The second was that the action takes place over a long five-day weekend. The plot was never worked out. That the story turned out as well as it did was a surprise. I would not recommend such a loose approach as a usual way of writing because it tends to be more stressful than working with an outline. The writer is constantly trying to understand where the story is going and that creates a great deal of angst. It worked out for me, but it was not easy. I think really great stories require the writer to experience a unique pressure from not knowing and having to figure out an outstanding ending. It is a form of mental torture that requires a special courage. Lucky for me, the characters and my muse helped. I followed their leads and suggestions. It is truly distressing to realize one has spent three years painting oneself into a corner with no conceivable way out. Now that is scary.

Q: Did your characters do/say anything that surprised you?

A: That was almost a constant. None of the characters behaved. They tended to do their own thing and say what they wanted. What surprised me the most was the profoundness of their thoughts.

Q: How much research was involved insofar as incorporating authenticity into the events and character interactions/motivations?

A: It is usually what the character says (the drama) that is important rather than whether a character wore a specific brand of jewelry that was available at the time. A writer can often duck the hard conflicts in favor of doing research. I did my share of it. Ancient Egypt required a fair amount, but when the research became overly involved, I scrapped it. I grew up in the environment that I wrote about so there is a sense of authenticity. The characters had strong personalities and certain inclinations. I had met many of them in real life and then added my own touches. The characters were as real as I could make them, and that kept the story authentic and strong.

Q: Who or what has had the deepest influence on your storytelling style?

A: I grew up listening to legends, myths, and magical stories. That many of them involved the mysterious and strange occurrences should come as no surprise or that the stories I like contain such elements. I also loved the idea of a plot twist. O’Henry was a master at this in his short fiction. So was Edith Wharton in Ethan Frome. I think it is a given that most of the stories that I write contain mysterious elements with a twist.

Q: The storyline is replete with strong, independent women. Were any of these females patterned after women in your own life?

A: Absolutely. I think there was a strong matriarchal streak that ran through all sides of the several families I grew up with. The women tended to be strong, wealthy, self-reliant, and didn’t stand for a lot of nonsense. I, on the other hand, liked a great deal of nonsense, the more the better, which tended to put me on the other side of the fence. I had my charm which tended to ease the struggle of wills that ensued. I won sometimes and lost at others, but it was a struggle I enjoyed. I learned a great deal because those women were often much smarter than I was.

Q: Fictional characters are frequently confronted with forks in the road that force them to either take a leap of faith or play it safe. Was there ever a time in your own career that later caused you to revisit decisions you made or didn’t make?

A: I used to constantly second-guess myself. I did so for most of my life. What changed that tendency was having nearly died. After several near-death experiences, the second-guessing fell away. I realized I could have chosen one way or the other and still ended up dead, or made a decision that was obviously flawed in hindsight, but the result was I lived. The logic of my choices did not have a high correlation with the happiness or success of the outcomes. At some point, I understood the futility of revisiting and second-guessing a decision. I look at it this way: if the decision was bad or good is irrelevant when one is standing in a happy place. Had the choices been made differently, that happy outcome may never have occurred. I am happy with everything that has happened. I wouldn’t change a thing, and that is a good place to be. I have no doubts about it.

Q: Physical settings—such as the house and grounds of Rhinebeck—often assume personalities of their own. What inspired your development of this particular backdrop?

A: I visited when I was small. Rooms were gigantic, shadows crept out of their hiding places and lengthened during the late afternoons. Thunder would rumble at the edge of hearing when there were storms, and tense silences would descend. The governesses would get nervous. We were after all cut off from the outside world. The grounds and the house I found thrilling, but adults often felt differently. They were either hypersensitive, or I was much less so. Adults would get jumpy as night fell. They drank more. I wanted to see a ghost, but then I didn’t. I did try, but with no success. I think the adults felt similarly. Many wished they hadn’t after they did. I think the possibility of seeing a ghost and the sporadic rumors that guests had occasionally seen one made invited guests uneasy. It was this tension that was a defining characteristic of the house and growing up in it. It gave the place a creep factor that was delicious.

Q: How much of your personality and personal experience is embroidered into the plot?

A: I think a great deal of me is in each of the characters. Percy and Johnny are two sides of my normal self, the optimist and the pessimist, but that may be overly simplistic. I always wanted a good friend. Johnny came from that idea. The wonderful thing about writing a novel is you can put yourself in the middle of your own play. Whatever you can dream can happen, and there are so many wonderful things to dream about. There can be characters that are realer than life and impossibly wise. There can be people more beautiful and more alive than any reality. The characters of the novel are people that visited me many times in my dreams and in my thoughts. They’re old friends and very dear. I’m happy that others can meet them.

Q: By the time you typed The End, what had you learned about yourself that you didn’t know when you started?

A: Writing is a scary business. The result may be enjoyable, fulfilling, worthwhile, and all that, but there is more to it than simply writing a story and then typing The End on the last page. It’s a whole other world that you have created. What other people think about that world becomes something out of your control, and one’s vulnerability as a result can be unsettling and disturbing. The reader may not like what has been written. The story may not communicate in the way the writer, me, thought it would. The characters were too shallow, or too loud; the dialogues, too unreal. It is hard to relinquish that control to the reader and let them decide and stand in judgement. Placing this power in the hands of another is much harder than I would have thought. Every writer knows that the work has to stand on its own, and either it does or it doesn’t. Reader acceptance is the ultimate test, and there is no avoiding it. I love it when it passes, and dislike it when it doesn’t. In the end, one realizes that one cares about what others think. That’s why it’s scary.

Q: What’s the best book you’ve read this past year?

A: Travels by Michael Crichton

Q: Do you listen to music while you write? If so, what’s on your playlist?

A: I rarely listen to music when I write. I work in an office where there are many different conversations and other activities. I have to focus so everything gets drowned out including any music.

Q: If you could relive a certain age in your life, what would it be and why?

A: I suppose we would all like to be shockingly good looking. I think we all have achieved that at one time or another as well. I really do. It is amazing to look at pictures of what older people looked like in their prime. I would certainly like to revisit that time of my life when life was forever grand, only this time with the wisdom that was singularly absent during that period. One may look great but have the mind of an idiot. That was me. It is rare when both are present in a human being.

Q: If you threw a dinner party and could invite any five people (living or not), who would they be and what question would you most like to ask each one?

A: I would probably throw Oscar Wilde, Richard Feynman, Raymond Chandler, Nancy Mitford, Stephen King, and Jane Austen in the same room just to see what would happen. There would be no particular questions that I would ask, but I would seriously listen to what was said. I would be enchanted. I would also make sure that Stanley had plenty of spirits on hand and that Dagmar had a free rein with the menu.

Q: What’s next on your list of projects?

A: I’m writing another novel. This one is about what happens if you manage to meet a god.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

A: My website: Ivanobolensky.com

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: Keep reading. Keep thinking. Keep wondering. Be curious forever.

 

 

Death Unmasked

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One of the sweet dreams of a reincarnation belief is that we will continue to be reunited with the souls of those we loved. Conversely, a nightmare of that same tableau is a cyclical encounter with our worst enemies and the inherent challenges of dealing with the dark side of any unfinished business.

A Houston homicide detective investigates his, and his wife’s murder … in his next lifetime. Such is the premise of Rick Sulik’s Death Unmasked, a novel of reincarnation, retribution and timeless love.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Tell us about your journey as a writer and who or what had the biggest influence on your personal style?

A:  I have high admiration, and give much credit for my personal style, of knowing who I am, where I came from, and where I am going, to my loving parents during my growing-up, and self-awareness years. My parents taught me to believe in myself, and I learned to develop a can-do, positive, and constructive attitude, so that I would be able to accomplish whatever I set my mind on doing in life. They were my main inspiration.

Q: What were you doing career-wise prior to penning your first novel?

A:  I spent thirty-nine years in law enforcement before retiring in 2013.

Q: How did your real-life career experiences shape your approach to the challenges and discipline of writing fiction?

A:  It was a challenge to switch from ‘descriptive’ police report ‘fact’ writing, to, ‘creative’ and colorful, ‘story-telling’ novel writing. It took true grit, and I completed my story, the way I saw fit, without outside influence or interference.

Q: Where did you find the inspiration to write Death Unmasked?

A:  Music – These three inspiring, and entrancing tunes dramatize the storyline in, Death Unmasked, ‘Greensleeves,’ by Mantovani, ‘Think of Laura,’ sung by, Christopher Cross, and ‘Mary in the Morning,’ sung by, Al Martino.

* Oscar Wilde’s Disquieting Poem – ‘The Ballad of Reading Gaol (Jail).’

* My belief in Reincarnation.

Q: I love the title! Does it hold special meaning for you?

A:  Yes. When it’s quiet, I like to mediate, and within a few minutes, my free, and lighter than a feather, ‘spirit,’ is floating in the center of the cosmos. Now, close your eyes, clear your mind, and meditate. Let your ‘mem’-ory, shine through the darkness, so you can, re-‘mem’-ber. As strange as it may seem, I didn’t choose the title, Death Unmasked, it chose me, and, the reincarnation story was written, ‘in-a-blink-of-an-eye.’

Q: So what is Death Unmasked about?

A:  Death Unmasked, is a suspenseful, mystery police thriller spanning lifetimes, using reincarnation, karma, psychic ability, remote viewing, and out-of-body experience to out-wit an evil incarnated entity stalking women in, Houston, Texas.

Q: You describe its genre as “Romance / Mystery / Suspense / Thriller / Police Procedural / Urban / Fantasy / Paranormal / Supernatural / Poetry.” If it were found on the shelves of a traditional bookstore, though, where would it most likely be located?

A:  A copy of, Death Unmasked, would be found on the shelves, in the following book sections:  Romance / Mystery / Suspense / Thriller / Police Procedural / History / Urban / Fantasy / Paranormal / Supernatural / Past Lives / Poetry.

(Editorial Comment: We are assuming the author is being facetious in this reply. Unlike a virtual platform where novels can be categorized with a long list of tags, a traditional bookstore has a finite amount of shelf-space. It’s unrealistic to suggest—and especially to aspiring writers—that multiple copies of the same title would be found in a dozen different sections of the store. This is also critical to keep in mind for those of you pitching your own projects to agents or publishers. While many books certainly contain aspects of multiple genres, the objective is to define which genre is the predominant one.)

Q: Who is your target readership?

A:  High School – Adult.

Q: Given its reincarnation theme, is reincarnation something you personally believe in? If so, how did this belief come about?

A:  I believe in reincarnation. When I was young, my mom and I would walk a mile in the evenings after dinner around a lake near our home. On our last walk together before she passed away, she looked up at me, and said with a sweet smile, “If I had to do it all over again for you, and your brothers, I would.” Instinctively, without her saying another word, the knowing look in her beautiful hazel eyes communicated her thoughts, and it all came together ‘in-a-blink-of-an-eye,’ and I fully understood what my mom had meant. She had been my mother in other lifetimes.

Q: Do you plan to come back in your next lifetime? If so, as what?

A:  As a, – human being, of course. In the very beginning of time, all ‘spirits’ were created at one time, and baptized at the same time in the ‘spirit’ world by Our Creator. All spirits have their own ‘personality,’ or ‘identity.’ When a spirit uses their ‘free-will’ and incarnates to the ‘physical’ world as a human being to experience a lifetime, or lifetimes, they have their own individual ‘fingerprint,’ what the Chinese call, a ‘chop,’ or mark, which is their signature that identifies their unique spirit  from another spirit. That ‘fingerprint’ belongs to them, and only to them, each and every time their spirit decides to incarnate to ‘physical’ earth. From the very beginning of time, we were all ‘identified,’ and keep only one set of ‘physical’ fingerprints – – – for eternity. We cannot learn, ‘in-a-blink-of-an-eye,’ all about life in one lifetime. It takes many lifetimes for our spirits to evolve, and come around full-circle, in order to become completed spirits with Our Creator.

Q: Tell us about your main characters in the book. Did they spring forth from your imagination or are they modeled after real people (including yourself)?

A:  The protagonist, Sean Jamison, and his police colleagues, Roman Addison, and Captain Virginia Schaeffer, are a combination of police personalities (veterans) of all my Houston Police Department, Field Training Officers (FTO’s), during my training / probationary period in the late 70’s.

Q: What were some of the challenges you encountered in developing the plot, the characters and their interactions?

A:  I wrote from my daily experiences, and on-the-job training, in those thirty-nine years of service.

Q: Did you work from an outline or just wing it from day to day?

A:  My mind started in the middle of, Death Unmasked. At night, I would type chapters until a fog, or, ‘writer’s block,’ kept me from advancing. I would then ‘change tactics,’ and start writing chapters in the beginning, and continued typing towards the middle of the book. You probably heard the military saying – ‘Improvise, adapt, and overcome.’ I wanted to write, Death Unmasked, in a different writing style from the norm, and I tried to keep the story rolling along at a fast clip.

Q: Is there a hidden message in the story that you would like to convey to interested readers?

A:  There are no hidden messages. It’s all laid out in black-and-white. At the conclusion of the story, the reader should be able to decide for themselves in the comfort, and in the silence of their sanctuary, if the story convinced them that reincarnation – is a reality.

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

A:  When I’m in my element. I can switch it on, or off, as I please – anywhere.

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

A:  I’m a fallible human being, no better, no different than another earthly human being, and my blood is the color red.

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

A:  It took many painstaking hours of searching. Tenacity finally prevailed. I finally found the light switch in the very dark and empty room.

Q: What are you doing to market it?

A:  I hope, Christina, your blog will attract many interested readers, and book clubs to read, Death Unmasked, and that everyone will enjoy discussing, and learning something new, and be inspired by my intriguing reincarnation story.

Q: Any new projects in the works?

A:   None. I’m retired and a senior citizen. I’m enjoying life at a much slower pace these days. There are no more schedules for me to keep up with. My motto – Live life to its fullest, and forget your age. I now have more time to stop and smell the roses. I might consider penning another book in my next incarnation – somewhere down the road, and over the next hill, in the not so near future, and only when I decide the time is right, to use my God gifted free-will again.

Q: What’s your best advice to aspiring writers?

A:  I will quote Richard Bach, author of, Jonathan Livingston Seagull, “A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.”

Q: Where can readers find your book?

A:   www.christophermatthewspub.com

Amazon Link:  http://amzn.to/2r2LpFI

Goodreads Link: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/27510127-death-unmasked?fromsearch=true

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: I thought it interesting, since Army General George S. Patton Jr., (born 11-11-1885) believed in reincarnation, that his Warrior ‘spirit,’ in foresight, would choose to incarnate (Free-Will) back into the ‘physical’ on the date, 11-11. General Patton’s poem, ‘Through a Glass, Darkly’ is evident of his resolute belief in reincarnation. I quote, “So as through a glass and darkly, the age long strife I see, where I fought in many guises, many names, but always me.” To Patton, who strongly believed in God, the date 11-11, might symbolize ‘spirits’ re-entering the ‘physical’ (earth) by way of the top left inside 11, and eventually departing by way of the lower right inside 11, back to the ‘spirit’ world, only to be ‘reborn’ again (a cycle) at some future date by using – The All Merciful Father’s (God) greatest gift to humanity – ‘Free-Will.’ At 11:00 am, of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, WWI came to an end, and it was to be the war that would end all wars. Patton lived half of his adult life at this point in history. General Patton’s Warrior ‘Spirit’ might have foreseen, before reincarnating on his latest birthday, 11-11-1885, that years after WWII, his birthday (November 11) would be remembered as a National Holiday, and would honor all veterans, and that Armistice Day, would be eventually changed to – Veterans Day.

Thank you very much, Christina, for taking time out from your busy schedule to do this  interview.

 

 

 

 

A Chat with Rosemary Morris

 

Rosemary Morris

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

Interviewer: Debbie A. McClure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: Is your genre specific or general? Why?

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

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

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

Q: Where were you born?

A: In Kent, South East England.

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

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

Q: What’s your favorite season?

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

Q: Do you have any personal heroes/heroines?

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

Q: What’s next for you, Rosemary?

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

Website: www.rosemarymorris.co.uk

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

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

 

 

 

A Conversation with Jamie Dare

Jamie Dare headshot

As one half of the dynamic duo, Hamlett & Dare, Jamie Dare takes no backseat in her co-writing endeavours. An outstanding writer, she dives right into new projects with gusto, and loves exploring new opportunities to write “outside the box”. Funny, quixotic, and down-to-earth, Jamie takes her writing seriously, and isn’t afraid to tell us a bit about her own insecurities, writing processes, and give us a small, behind-the scenes look at what goes into co-writing a book and comedic play that’s currently in the works. Welcome Jamie!

Interviewer: Debbie A. McClure

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Q: What kind of research do you do when preparing for a new book project?

A: Read, read, Google like a maniac, read. I hadn’t read much chick lit before “While You Were Out” so to familiarize myself with the genre, I blazed through the entire Sophie Kinsella canon. I hadn’t planned on doing this, but after the first book, I couldn’t stop. Ms. Kinsella’s books are like rainbow Skittles. Can’t stop at one.

Q: What’s the most unusual thing you had to research online for your book?

A: Two words: stargazy pie. In “While You Were Out,” Henny’s mother isn’t known for her culinary prowess. So you can imagine what happens when she tries her hand at this rather unique dish. Someday I will work up the courage to make it myself.

Q: Do you work from an outline, or allow the plot to unfold as you go along?

A: The latter. I know you’re supposed to outline before writing. So I outline, but I never stick to it. I’m most definitely a pantser.

Q: Describe your writing process in five words or less.

A: Procrastinate, panic, write, rewrite, repeat. Were I allowed a sixth word, I’d probably put “procrastinate” in there twice.

Q: Can you tell us a little about the current project you’re working on?

A: Christina and I just wrapped up “Séance and Sensibility,” a comedic take on the Jane Austen classic. In the play, Elinor and Marianne Dashwood navigate Regency-era England’s stuffy social customs with assistance from a crystal ball. And some otherworldly friends, of course. It’s the most fun I’ve ever had writing a script. It’s also our third Austenesque spoof. “Cliffhanger Abbey” and “Hyde and Prejudice” can be found at Heartland Plays (https://heartlandplays.com/).

Q: Have you ever experienced “writer’s block”? If so, how do you overcome it?

A: I haven’t experienced writer’s block, I AM writer’s block. It should be my middle two names.

I have different methods for un-sticking myself. If I find myself staring at “At Rise” or “Chapter 1” for hours on end, I’ll force myself to write something. Anything. Even if it’s terrible. Even if it’s “All work and no play make Jack a dull boy”. (Although, this technique made me want to put an axe through a door, so I’ve sort of stopped using it). The next day the deficiencies are so glaring, I can’t wait to dive in and rewrite.

If I’m stuck in the middle of a chapter or scene and the words aren’t coming, it means I’m out of gas. So I’ll do something else to give my mind a break. Run, walk, bike, line dance. I always fear the words won’t come back, but they do. Usually when I don’t have a pen handy, but that’s beside the point.

Q: What would you say are your strengths and weaknesses as a writer?

A: Strength would be dialogue. I love writing dialogue, which is odd because in real life I can’t stand talking. I’m also a decent first-drafter.

Weaknesses? Where to begin. I’ve given myself bald spots trying to plot out stories. While we’ve all heard that “Good writing is rewriting,” I sometimes overdo this to the point I’m writing and erasing at the same time.

Q: What was your elevator pitch for the While You Were Out book?

A: It’s one thing for Henny Tinker to think her handsome and charismatic new boss, Geoffrey Bond, is way out of her league. The more she reflects on his secret trips and his uncanny ability to acquire never-before-seen artworks, the more she suspects he’s – quite literally – out of her time-zone.

Could it have something to do with the Scottish railway clock in his office that runs perfectly…in reverse? Is it his penchant for period outfits that supposedly coincide with the themed costume parties he attends? Or has Henny simply been watching too many time-travel movies and now sees evidence of its existence everywhere she looks?

Set against the backdrop of modern-day London, While You Were Out is just the right mix of romantic comedy, mystery, and a dash of wicked competition in the world of high-end art acquisitions. My stellar writing partner is the genius behind this pitch, by the way.

WYWO front cover

Q: What was the most difficult scene for you to write in While You Were Out?

A: Honestly? The restaurant scenes! Geoffrey and Henny dine at the finest establishments in London. I don’t eat out unless I have a coupon, so I have no idea what a five-star restaurant would serve. I burned up the Internet researching words like “vacherin” and “fribourgeois”.  To me, these sound like an ailment and its prescription. Henny notes this in the book as well.

Q: Tell us an interesting, fun fact about your book.

A: I had no idea how it would end — until the very end! Christina and I write by dividing up chapters or scenes; she’ll write a couple, then I will, and so on. For “While You Were Out,” she had the final chapters and kept me in the dark about the big reveal. Like Henny, I was left to develop my own theory about Geoffrey’s comings and goings, and his odd disappearances. The finale was even better than I could have ever imagined.

Q: What have you learned about yourself since you began writing?

A: I’ve learned I can stay awake until 3am on a consistent basis. I wouldn’t say I recommend this as a writing schedule, but that’s the way my mind works. It doesn’t matter if I staple myself to a computer from 9am to 5pm. The words that “stick” to the page are the ones that come in the wee hours of the night. I’ve learned to accept it. Embrace who you are, kids.

Q: What is the most difficult and easiest part of co-writing a book with another writer?

A: The easiest part is having another writer as a sounding board. Instant feedback from someone you trust… it doesn’t get much better than that. It’s also invaluable having a co-writer who is adept at story structure. Christina has plotted out entire novels in her sleep, no joke. You know what I do in my sleep? Sleep!

The only difficult part is trying to keep up with Christina’s prolificity. I’m the type who agonizes over every word, so whenever I send off new pages, it’s a big deal. I’ll go make myself a celebratory sandwich or whatever and by the time I’ve finished eating, Christina has sent me her new pages. I have no idea how she does it.

Q: What’s next for you, Jamie?

A: Lots of fun stuff on the horizon! The response to “While You Were Out” has been so overwhelming, we’re planning another chick-lit novel, “Saving Captain Cupid.” We’ve also broken ground on a romantic suspense novel, “Silent Knight.” Watch this space for more details.

And look for a new play, “Last Flight to Ithaca,” from Brooklyn Publishers in August 2017 (https://www.brookpub.com). Christina and I love adding a contemporary spin to the classics, and this comedy finds Ulysses (yes, the Greek hero) stuck in an airport as he tries desperately to get home for the holidays. Talk about an odyssey. Wow, that’s a lot in the pipeline! Time to go clean the house.

 

For more information about Jamie’s work, please visit https://hamlettanddare.wordpress.com/.

 

 

 

Romancing the Klondike

 

CanadianBrides-Yukon

Just as tradesmen took leave of their jobs, doctors took leave of their patients, and the world at large took leave of its senses in 1849 to scramble to California in pursuit of glittering treasure, a similar stampede for riches got underway 47 years later—this time, toward Northwestern Canada’s rugged Yukon. It’s against this rugged backdrop that a young woman named Pearl Owens goes in search of adventure while her cousin, Sam, is equally fervent about staking his own claim for gold. Such is the premise of author Joan Donaldson-Yarmey’s latest novel, Romancing the Klondike.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: When did you first realize you had been bitten by the writing bug and wanted to pursue this as a possible career?

A: I had thought about trying to be a writer for a few years while my children were young. I wrote a few stories but just put them away. When my children were teenagers I took a writing course and wrote a short story about the injured hawk my son and I found on the side of the road. We took it home and kept it a couple of days until it was better, then let it go. The story was accepted by a small magazine and I was paid $100.00 for it. When I saw the published story and people told me they had read it and liked it, I was hooked.

Q: Who are some of the writers (living or dead) whose work you especially admire?

A: Since I write mysteries, of course Agatha Christie is one of the writers I admire, especially for her innovated plots. I can say the same for Mary Higgins Clark. Their endings were surprises and I like that. I wasn’t a fan of most of Mordecai Richler’s books. However, I really enjoyed his novel, Barney’s Version, for the unique way it was written and, again, for the surprise ending.

Q: If you could invite three of them to a private dinner at your home, what questions would you most like to ask each one before the evening is over?

A: How do they come up with their ideas? How many rejection slips did they receive before their first book was published? How long did it take for them to get their first novel published? Did the same publisher publish their second book? If they switched publishing houses during their career, why? I would ask each of them these questions because I’m sure their answers would be different.

Q: You’ve held no shortage of diverse jobs throughout your life – printing press operator, bank teller, house renovator, bookkeeper. How did each of these prepare you for both the work ethic discipline and the solitary aspects of spending time in fictional worlds of your own creation?

A: I think I am naturally a disciplined person. When I decide I want to do something, I do it no matter what I have to go through to accomplish it. I like immersing myself in my story and characters. Sometimes, when I am living my normal life, I miss the people and life happening in my book. Having a variety of jobs did provide me with a lot of occupations to give the main characters in my books. Although technology has changed since I worked at some of them, I might be behind the times on how things are done. But I am free to set my books during any decade I want.

Q: You’ve also moved more than 30 times. That’s a lot of packing and unpacking! What would you say accounts for this sense of wanderlust…and are there any upcoming moves on the horizon?

A: I like new places, new experiences, meeting new people. I never really have been attached to a house to the point that I have said, I don’t want to move. Sometimes, once I’ve left a place I look back at the fun I had and the friends I met, but I never really say “Oh, I never should have moved from there.” Instead I think, if I had stayed there, I wouldn’t be here. Right now I live on an acreage with fruit and berry trees. Being raised on the prairies where we had to purchase all our fruit like cherries, peaches, pears, apples, it is nice to go out into my yard and pull them from the tree and eat them fresh. Every once in a while I think it’s time to move on, but so far I haven’t found the next place where I want to live.

Q: When and where do you feel you are able to be your most creative self?

A:  Right now, I have an office with my desktop computer, plus I have a chair in the living room with a table beside it for my laptop. I seem to be able to watch television and follow the show while writing at the same time. I get most of my work done there.

Q: After successfully penning a number of historical articles and travel books, you made the switch to fiction. What was it that influenced this decision?

A: I like reading mysteries and I found that there were so many with inferior plots or predictable endings. I figured I could write a book at least as bad as some of them and tried. It took a couple of years but I found a publishing house that accepted my first mystery, Illegally Dead. Since then I have published three more mystery novels, three historical novels, two sci/fi, one contemporary young adult and one Christmas romance (with my sister).

Q:  As someone who is skilled at writing in different genres, how do you go about deciding which genre will ultimately be the smartest fit for a new story?

A: Most times I set out to write a mystery. The main character of my first three novels, Illegally Dead, The Only Shadow in the House, and Whistler’s Murder, which I call The Travelling Detective Series, is a travel writer. She somehow manages to get involved in a murder while researching places for articles for travel magazines. So the books include information about the places she visits as well as the mystery. In The Only Shadow in the House, she also has a boyfriend, so there is a romance. But since they are mainly mysteries, I put them under the mystery genre. My stand alone novel, Gold Fever, there is a mystery and romance so I call it both. My historical novels and my young adult contemporary young adult were easy to define. It was my novels, The Criminal Streak and Betrayed that I wrote first and then decided that they belonged in the science fiction genre.

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

A: Usually it is an idea that I get from reading a news story, overhearing a conversation, or seeing something on television. Then from there I decide on the plot and then bring in the characters.

Q: Do you develop your stories from an outline or develop the actions and interactions as you go along?

A: I have never worked with a solid outline because I find that my characters seldom end up the way I first pictured them and plot never takes the route I thought it would. I do start the story with the main character in his/her everyday life so the reader can get to know them then I put in the trigger that starts the mystery. This puts the main character on his/her quest for a solution.

I do have scenes pictured ahead of time where characters are going to have a certain conversation or be at a certain place but unexpected conversations or character twists surface as I am writing the story. Some of these are surprises or mishaps or problems that get in the way of my character’s quest. I strive not to make these predictable nor so far out that they don’t make sense to the story. I try to leave the reader with the thought that (s)he should have figured that would happen. I find that it is no fun to read a book where you can foresee where the story line is headed and what is going to happen before it does.

Q: For your latest novel, Romancing the Klondike, you chose the backdrop of the Yukon, specifically 1896, the year before the great Klondike Gold Rush began. How did you go about doing the research for this era in order to ensure the storyline’s authenticity?

A: I have been to the Yukon twice. On the second visit, in 1997, I was working on my non-fiction travel book, The Backroads of the Yukon and Alaska. I decided that I wanted to hike the Chilkoot Trail, since it was the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the Klondike Gold Rush. To write Romancing the Klondike I used my knowledge of the territory plus read books about its history to make sure I had that right. I also read books about the late 1800s to describe hair dos and clothing and equipment.

Q:  Romancing the Klondike isn’t your first novel about gold. Your mystery/romance Gold Fever is set in the mountains of southern British Columbia. Do you have a fascination with gold?

A: I guess I do. My father panned for gold with two of his brothers in the Salmo area of southern British Columbia in the late 1930s. When WWII broke out, he and one brother joined the army. At the end of the war, Dad ended up in Vancouver where he met my mother and they married. In 1980, my husband, kids, and I accompanied my parents to the gold claim that Dad once owned. He showed us how to pan and we all ended up with a little bit of flour gold.

In 1992, my husband and I decided to drop out of society for a while. We sold our house, quit our jobs and headed to the Salmo area to get a gold claim. We found a small section of the Salmo River that was not part of any claim and we staked it. When we registered it, we found out that it was part of the claim that my dad had had in the 1930’s.

Q: You have written two other Canadian historical novels, West to the Bay and West to Grande Portage. What do you think makes Canada’s history such compelling fodder for novelists and authors of nonfiction?

A: When I attended school in the 1960s I was told that Canada was too young a country to have much of a history and what it did have was boring. I was taught the history of the United States, France, England, and ancient Greece and Rome. I decided that I was going to prove my teachers wrong and began reading about Canada, and yes, sometimes the books were boring, but when I looked at what the people who lived in that time did to survive and thrive, it was amazing. In 2014 I wrote West to the Bay, the first in my Canadian historical series for teens, young adults, and adults. The story takes place 1750 and is about four boys who join the Hudson’s Bay Company and sail from Scotland to Rupert’s Land to work in an isolated fort. It is also the story on a young native girl and her family who wait expectantly for the yearly visit from her grandfather on the supply ship.

In 2015, my second book in the series, West to Grande Portage, was published. It takes place in Montreal in 1766 and shows the life of two young adults, a boy and his female cousin as they each strive to make a life for themselves, he as a voyageur with his uncle and she as a volunteer at the hospital and prospective bride.

The Hudson’s Bay Company was founded in 1670 and set up a few forts on Hudson’s Bay in Rupert’s Land, as Canada was known at the time. The Company began as a purchaser of beaver pelts but over the centuries also became a retailer, opening stores across the country. It is the oldest continuously operating company in the world.

The birch bark canoe was invented by the natives and used by them and non-natives to navigate the lakes and rivers for centuries.

Q: Since you write in so many different genres, what’s your favorite genre to read?

A:  Mysteries, mysteries, mysteries. I like to be drawn into a detective novel, taken through all the clues and red herrings and then be shocked at the ending.

Q: Do any aspects of your own personality find their way into the characters you’re writing about?

A: Yes. The main character of The Travelling Detective Series is an aspiring travel writer who works as a nursing attendant in a long term care facility. I am a travel writer who has worked in a long term care facility. My family and friends who have read the novels say that they can picture me saying or doing things that she says and does.

Q: Have your characters ever surprised you?

A: Oh, yes. In The Only Shadow in the House, I was waffling between two characters as the killer. Suddenly, a different character stepped up and said they had done it and gave the reason why. The funny thing is that readers have told me that they had thought the killer was one of the two people I had been waffling about.

Q: Which of these characters would you most like to spend a day with and where would you go?

A: Since my main character is most like me, only younger, I would like to spend a day with her. I could give her pointers on travel writing and we could discuss delving into a murder mystery and how to interpret clues while we drink Pepsi and eat chocolate.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: I am working on a mystery/romance and also on a saga about four generations of a family.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: No. These questions cover everything.

 

 

 

 

Ten Days in Summer

Calder-TenDaysInSummer[825]

In chatting with novelists over the years, it has always fascinated me how they go about choosing careers for their protagonists. Some of those professions are dream jobs the writers themselves would love to have pursued–provided, of course, they could gracefully pirouette across a stage without tripping, fearlessly jump out of a plane to pursue a villain in the alps, or design breathtaking architecture that truly takes everyone’s breath away. Others draw from personal experience and give us insider insights into career choices with which we may not be familiar The insurance industry, for instance. The latter was the case for author Susan Calder, who drew from her expertise as an insurance adjuster–and her remembrance of some of the more unusual claims–to create a most watchable series character, Paula Savard. In her new novel, Ten Days in Summer, we meet Paula as she is investigating a suspicious building fire that caused the death of a hoarder.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: What (or who) first ignited your passion for writing?

A: As a child, I wrote a few plays for the kids on our street to perform for our mothers. I also enjoyed writing stories and poems for school, and got encouragement from my teachers. My sister and I spent countless hours making up stories with our paper dolls or simply with our voices talking out characters. I set that kind of storytelling aside for 27 years, until a personal crisis shook me up and landed me in a place where I felt I had things to say and wanted to create stories again.

Q: Were you a voracious reader as an adolescent and teen? If so, what are some of the titles we might have found on your bedroom nightstand?

A: I recall an uncle admonishing me for burying my nose in a book rather than appreciating the sunset, so I must have read a fair bit. My most memorable books on my teenage nightstand were Gone With The Wind, High Wind in Jamaica, The Catcher in the Rye and The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell. I also loved two novels we studied in class: Pride & Prejudice and Of Human Bondage. They led me to read other novels by Jane Austen and Somerset Maugham. Glad as I am that I read all of these books and more, I think my uncle was right about the sunset.

Q: What attracted you to the mystery genre?

A: My childhood reading included an abundance of mystery novels. Whenever I found a series I liked, I read every book I could get my hands on. It began with The Bobbsey Twins and continued to Nancy Drew, The Happy Hollisters, Trixie Belden and several British series. In my teens I enjoyed Mary Stewart’s romantic mysteries and later I got into Agatha Christie and Daphne du Maurier. So, mystery novels were never far from my nightstand and we tend to write what we read, for good reasons. Several themes intrinsic to the mystery genre appeal to me. The search for the truth. Who can you trust? What’s really going on beneath the surface?

Q: Who are some of the mystery authors whose work you especially admire?

A: Dennis Lehane, Laura Lippman, Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, for their complex characters and plots. I like Donna Leon’s Commissario Brunetti series for its Venice setting and the dark story endings that rarely show justice completely served. And I still think my classic favourites, Agatha Christie and Daphne du Maurier, stand up to the best of mystery writing.

Q: In your view, what governs the choice to make a mystery novel a standalone title or a series?

A: When I wrote my first novel, Deadly Fall, I intended it to be a standalone. Paula, my protagonist, functioned as an amateur sleuth and I wrote it as a story of personal growth within a mystery plot. It was only toward the end of the second draft that I thought I would like to continue with these characters, to see what happens to them next. This was partly because, with the attention needed for the mystery of the victim’s life, I didn’t have space to explore all I wanted about Paula. A standalone is probably a story where the protagonist primarily investigates her own life. It becomes her defining, life-altering experience and why would she need another one?

Q: One of the biggest advantages of series fiction is that one’s lead characters are already well known to readers. A challenge, though, is in ensuring that one’s readers actually read the books in the same order in which they were written. Is this the case with your own work or could a reader be introduced to your protagonist at any juncture in the line-up?

A: I think a new reader to the series could pick up book 2, Ten Days in Summer, and quickly become acquainted with Paula, her family, friends and colleagues. They are where they are at this point in their lives and I make little reference to past cases and experiences. I plan to do the same for book three. Except, there are a couple of spoilers in Ten Days in Summer for those who read Deadly Fall afterward and there will probably be one more spoiler in my next book for people who read that one first.

Q: What aspects of your real-life career in the insurance industry influenced your approach to planning and writing works of fiction?

A: I wanted Paula to have a career and figured it would be easiest to give her one I know well—insurance adjuster. It didn’t occur to me until I was almost finished with the first draft of the novel that adjusters might stumble on insurance claims that conceal a murder, such as burglaries, fires and automobile accidents. Rather than continue with Paula as an amateur sleuth, a genre that’s hard to make believable, I wanted her next mysteries to come from her job. To start each novel off, I have to think of the kinds of insurance claims I encountered in my work.

Before Deadly Fall, my insurance career inspired a short story called “Adjusting the Ashes,” which in several ways is a forerunner to the Paula books. I chose a type of case we encountered periodically, which I found peculiar and humourous. Our company insured a brewery. Every so often someone would claim he swallowed a mouse in his bottle of beer. We settled these claims for nominal amounts to get rid of them. But I thought, what if one of these nuisance claims mushroomed into something huge? This story has been published so I can’t do the mouse swallowing again, but it would be fun to come up with an unusual claim for a future Paula story. Maybe for book four.

Q: Ten Days in Summer is set in Calgary. What elements of this city’s “personality” are infused in the storyline and make it as much a living, breathing character as the human players?

A: The Calgary Stampede wild west festival takes over the whole city of Calgary for 10 days each summer. People dress cowboy and cowgirl; banks and stores sport bales of hay and drawings of horses on their windows. I wanted the atmosphere to permeate the novel and I doubt there’s a chapter without some reference to the Stampede. Several scenes feature it prominently. Another aspect of Calgary is that it’s an oil town, subject to boom and bust. Ten Days in Summer is set when the price of oil and the city is near bottom, and that mood prevails in the book. But during the booms, Calgary’s a place where people come to try their fortune or escape their past. It’s also a city of entrepreneurs and individualists, reflecting the western spirit. I try to bring this out through the characters Paula meets in her investigation. Paula, herself, is a migrant from Montreal, who moved west to improve her life and found that everything didn’t work out as she’d hoped. Now she’s moving in new directions.

Q: What was your inspiration for this particular plot?

A: I was mainly inspired by the Stampede and Hoarding. Since Deadly Fall was set in the fall, I wanted the sequel to take place in another season and settled on summer. Among other things, summer in Calgary means the Stampede. I find two weeks or thereabouts a good time frame for a novel and realized I could set the whole story over the Stampede’s 10 days. My sister had once lived on the top floor of a building with a view of downtown Calgary and the Stampede grounds. I joined her one evening to watch the fireworks from her deck. I decided the novel would begin with Paula at the opening day parade and end the last night of the Stampede, with a group of characters watching the fireworks from the deck of the building damaged in the fire claim Paula was investigating.

At the time I was developing the idea, my siblings and I were engaged in assorted legalities regarding our late grandmother’s house. With our mother also gone, we had to deal with her only sibling, a hoarder who occupied the home’s second floor. He made things so difficult that I decided to fictionally kill him off. A hoarder’s home would be a high fire risk, which gave me the idea to have this character die in a suspicious building fire. Paula would come in to handle the property insurance claim and deal with his heirs, who gained financially from his death.

Certain things changed in the process of writing the book. I discovered it worked better to start the story the night before the parade. Technically, it’s still Stampede time, since the fair grounds are open for preview on this sneak-a-peek night. And the hoarder character inspired by my annoying uncle became the most sympathetic character in his fictional family.

Q: Which comes first for you – the characters or the storyline?

A: The characters. For Deadly Fall, I first thought of Paula, her associates and her family members. Then came the inciting plot incident—her best friend from childhood is murdered. Next more characters arrive: two detectives, people from her friend’s life. Their actions and agendas fuel the plot, which develops all the characters, including Paula.

For Ten Days in Summer, I already had Paula and the continuing characters in place. So the characters came first again. To start things off, I needed a plot point, the insurance-related incident, and decided on the fire. Through her work, Paula meets people involved with the victim and the claim. They create plot and are, in turn, affected by story developments.

Q: Do you work from an outline or allow the plot to unfold as you go along?

A: I start with a few elements – basic ideas for characters, a murder or suspected murder, and setting details. I also have some thoughts about what’s happening in Paula’s personal life. Paula spends the first quarter or so of the novel draft meeting with suspects, colleagues and family members, setting up the story problems. I try to write loosely, letting unexpected details and dialogue creep in, while keeping on top of the pacing, to make sure this beginning doesn’t get sidetracked or go on too long. From this setup, the plot unfolds. There should be enough to keep it rolling to the middle, when I need new wrinkles to raise the conflicts and tension until the end.

Q: You’ve won a number of contests for your short stories and poems. Are these two outlets easier or harder than writing a full-length novel?

A: Generally speaking, I find the more words in a piece of writing, the longer it takes to write and revise to make the best I can. In that sense, a full-length novel is harder than shorter works. The few short poems I’ve written have come to me almost fully formed. I can write them down in an afternoon. After that, I tweak and revise, but there are only so many words and punctuation marks to play with. I also feel I’m not experienced enough in poetry to know how to improve poems a lot. I haven’t won contests for poems, but have published four—vs. only two published novels that represent many more years of work.

While there are contests for unpublished novels, there are many more contests for unpublished poems and short stories. Usually these contests come with publication. I discovered I had better luck getting my short stories published through contests than through regular submissions. Perhaps this was a fluke, or perhaps there is less competition in contests due to the entry fee. To build a resume of published credits, I entered contests and sometimes won or placed. It’s nice to say now that my stories have won contests, but it doesn’t mean more than publication.

Q: Do your characters ever surprise you over the course of writing their story? 

A: Since I develop my characters in the process of writing the story, they always surprise me, at least in small ways. A large surprise in Deadly Fall was realizing, in draft # 4, that a character I had not considered a suspect might be the killer. I seriously considered changing my plan about who did it. I figured, if I hadn’t had a clue, how many readers would? In the end, I stuck with my original vision, although this character’s new involvement in the case solved a plot glitch.

Q: If Hollywood came calling, who would you like to see cast as Paula Savard?

A: This is fun. Since no one came immediately to mind, I did a Google search for Hollywood actresses aged 50. I like Diane Lane. She’s not highly recognizable and I’ve admired her work in movies. I can also see that a number of others who are more familiar could suit the part and infuse themselves into Paula’s character. Choices might be Emma Thompson (if she’ll do a Canadian accent), Andie McDowell, Julia Louis-Dreyfus or Julianna Marguilies, who I enjoyed on the TV show ER when she was involved romantically George Clooney’s doctor character. I could handle George Clooney as my movie’s male romantic lead.

Q: How much was research was involved and what were your principal resources to ensure authenticity?

A: My insurance work experience was long ago and didn’t involve many property claims. At a literary reading, I happened to talk with a man who told me that he’d recently retired from insurance claims work. He gave me his email address and I contacted him with questions about insurance, to get those details right and up to date in the book. To learn about building fires, I called a friend’s son who is a fire fighter and met with him and his colleagues at a Calgary fire station.

When I was writing my first mystery, Deadly Fall, I belonged to a Calgary Mystery Writers group that featured monthly speakers on topics related to crime writing. Some of these were police officers or others with knowledge relevant to my book. I learned much about police procedure here and also took the free Calgary Citizens Police Academy course, a 12-week program with speakers from different branches of the police.

Any time I step outside my immediate experience, I have to look things up, even something simple like the location of a particular street. The Internet helps. I read a couple of books on hoarding to confirm and enhance my understanding of this psychological condition. It’s surprising how much research you need to do for a contemporary story set in your home town, but I want to make things as accurate as I possibly can.

Q:  Do you revise and edit scenes as you move along or wait until the very end? Why is your chosen method an effective one for you?

A: I write to the end before doing any editing. The rare times I might revise a scene would be when I can’t move forward without doing this. Since I don’t write from an outline, the first draft becomes my process of developing the story and discovering what it’s all about. Only when I reach the end do I fully know if the novel works and what I need to add, delete, change or enhance in the earlier chapters.

Q: Do you let anyone read your work in progress or do you make them wait until you have typed THE END?

A: Ideally, I wait until I’ve typed THE END. I believe the first draft should be only the writer’s vision. After that, you find out how the story and characters are coming across to others and modify them for readers. Now that I have more confidence in my writing, I will occasionally show people small pieces before I’ve finished the first draft. For someone newer to writing, I think if you show your work too early, you risk being swayed too much by their opinions and you might lose what’s strongest and most original about your story.

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

A: I mainly write at home, in my den at my computer and don’t feel the need for different locations to wordsmith better. I like writing best in the mornings, when I’m fresh, but other activities often get in the way of this.

Q: What, for you, is the hardest part of the writing life and what helps you to move past this hurdle?

A: Rejection. By this I mean rejection from publishers and losing out on contests and awards that I’d thought I had a chance with. It’s also criticism of my writing at any stage in the process, from showing an early piece of work to others or receiving a critical print review.

What helps me move past this, is forcing myself to sit down and write. Before long I’m into it, and realize that it’s the process of writing that I love and it’s not really about outside opinion.

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

A: That I read The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell as a teenager? It surprises me to recall that I did, partly because today we don’t hear much about this philosopher, mathematician, political activist and 1950 Nobel prize recipient for Literature. ‘Bertie’ inspired me to take a math option at university because he declared that math was essential to the study of philosophy.

On the other side of the intellectual coin, for the past forty years, off and on, I’ve followed Coronation Street, the British TV soap opera about working classes residents in Manchester. I enjoy the tangled relationships between those everyday blokes. This was one thing I didn’t need to research for Ten Days in Summer, when I made Paula’s mother a Corrie fan.

Q: When you’re not writing, what do you do for fun?

A: Travel. Over the past few years, my husband and I have been to Europe and Mexico several times each. We make regular shorter trips to eastern Canada to visit relatives and friends.

Hiking. For the past 8 years, we’ve belonged to a hiking club that does weekly day trips to the nearby Rocky Mountains from May-Oct. Our club organizes an away trip each summer, this year to Revelstoke where I’ve never hiked before. The rest of the year, we do two hour walks in Calgary and region parks. Every couple of years, a member organizes a hiking holiday. This winter, about 25 of us spent a fabulous week in Mesa, Arizona.

I also enjoy my twice-weekly Zumba class and look forward to bicycling when the ice and winter grunge finally disappear from Calgary’s pathways and streets.