Ten Days in Summer

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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.

 

 

 

The Freedom Broker

The Freedom Broker

Thea Paris is one of twenty-five elite kidnap negotiators in the world, and she takes on her toughest case with a special client: her father. The pulse-pounding action unfolds In K.J. Howe’s new thriller, The Freedom Broker, and we’re delighted to put her in the spotlight this week at You Read It Here First.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q:  You’ve lead an international life with a wide variety of activities. Tell us about some of them.

A:  Growing up, I lived in the Middle East, Africa, the Caribbean, and Europe because my father worked in telecommunications. Adventure and travel have been an important part of my life ever since. I’ve had the pleasure of racing camels in Jordan, ziplining in Costa Rica, diving with Great Whites in South Africa, and interacting with elephants in Botswana. I really enjoy immersing myself in other cultures and learning about them.

Q:  In what ways was that lifestyle influential in prompting the urge to become a writer?

A: I had an eclectic education because of all the travel. Stories were my sanctuary, a lovely escape from the pressures of always being the new kid. I enjoyed reading so much that I wanted to create my own books. I spent years as a medical writer as I worked on my craft and storytelling skills in fiction, and I’m most grateful to have The Freedom Broker out now.

Q:  If you had never left Toronto—or had grown up and stayed in a small community—would you still have started writing novels?

A:  I definitely feel that I would be writing whether or not I’d had my international upbringing, as I love books, stories, and the experience novels provide. I started reading at an early age, and I always wanted to be an author. That said, I believe my choice of international thrillers is firmly rooted in the experiences I’ve had abroad. I work hard to create verisimilitude by immersing myself in the locales I’m writing about, as I love to transport readers there, bringing them the smells, tastes, and sounds of a country. Maybe if I would have stayed in Toronto, I would have written different books—but most likely in the thriller genre.

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

A:  Thea Paris came first, but in thrilleresque fashion, the story raced to close the distance. I wanted to create a strong, talented woman with humanizing vulnerabilities, including Type 1 diabetes. I enjoy books that are character based, so I’m hoping Thea might resonate with people, and perhaps encourage anyone with an illness that they can still reach for their dreams.

Given my extensive research into kidnapping the last three years, I wanted Thea to be an elite kidnap negotiator—a freedom broker—who travels to the world’s hotspots to bring captives back home. The world of hostage retrieval fascinated me, as it lurks in the shadows of society, a heartbreaking and dangerous milieu. Thea Paris became a freedom broker after she witnessed her brother’s kidnapping as a child. While her brother returned home nine months later, he was never the same. As a result, she was determined to help other hostages. There are over 40,000 reported kidnappings every year, and the number continues to grow.

Q:  What attracted you to the thriller genre?

A:  Thrillers appealed to me because I’ve always been a bit of an adrenaline junkie, something that was fostered by my father. He introduced me to motorcycles, scuba diving, and other adventures. I also love whiplash pacing, and the most suitable genre for that is thrillers. And maybe writing suspense novels is my way of vicariously experiencing the life of an action hero!

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

A:  David Morrell, also known as Rambo’s Daddy, is an exceptional writer. He has had such a rich and diverse career writing everything from spy novels to historical trilogies to papers on John Wayne. I respect David’s approach to writing as he delves deeply into whatever subject matter he is studying. He is also a guru on the craft of writing, a professor of literature. And creating a new word in the English language—Rambo—is pretty darn sensational.  I also have the deepest respect for Lee Child and his creation of Jack Reacher, Lee’s character is a throwback to a Western hero, a stranger who comes into town and solves a problem, then blows back out with the wind. I love that Reacher doesn’t do laundry, that he doesn’t own a credit card, that he lives by his own rules. It’s refreshing in today’s world to have a character who stands out in the crowd—and not just by his height. And Lee’s prose is tight, smooth—he’s a brilliant author.

Q:  Authors often infuse their fictional characters with aspects of their own personality. In what ways are you and your protagonist, Thea, very much alike? And in what ways are you very much different?

A: Most authors inject themselves into their characters because writing is a catharsis, a way of making sense of our world. I feel a strong collegiality with Thea Paris, as I never wanted the fact that I was a woman to stop me from pursuing any interests. Thea and I share a love for travel and adventure, but Thea is far braver than I am. I’m not big on being shot at, but she rushes into the fray. And Thea has Type 1 diabetes, which is a serious vulnerability for her, especially when she travels abroad, as insulin is her elixir—without it, she would die.

Q:  In Thea Paris’ bio, we learn that her brother’s kidnapping led her to become a negotiator for kidnap situations and an advocate for the families. What in your life prompted you to choose this particular career path for your main character?

A:  With over 40,000 reported kidnappings a year, this issue has become a global crisis. Kidnapping is a purgatory of sorts, as the hostage is alive, but not really living life. Every single item a hostage wants, whether it be food or privileges, he/she must obtain permission for it, a horrible existence.

I spent a lot of time in countries with high threat levels, so there was always a shadow hovering over me—and being abducted was a realistic fear. When I met former hostage Peter Moore, the longest held hostage in Iraq (for almost 1000 days), I had such respect for the courage he showed under enormous duress. Peter was taken hostage along with four British military gentlemen, and sadly, he was the only one to come home alive. What made Peter able to cope?  I explore issues like this in my book. I wanted to create a character who would help bring hostages home, a strong female who would do anything to assist others. And Thea is personally motivated to be a kidnap negotiator because of her brother’s experience. It’s more of a calling than a job.

Q:  The theme of The Freedom Broker had to have involved extensive research in the arena of covert operations. How did you go about identifying expert resources so that your suspenseful plot would ring true?

A:  I attended a kidnap and ransom conference, and I met some fabulous experts who were willing to share their knowledge. From there, I kept building relationships with a variety of people in the milieu, including kidnap negotiators, former hostages, K&R insurance executives, reintegration experts, and the Special Forces soldiers who deliver ransoms and execute rescues. I plan to continue my education on this compelling topic as I write the series.

Q: What was the most intriguing thing you learned from your body of research?

A: The kidnappers usually settle for around 10-15 percent of the original ransom demand—and haggling is an important part of the process to avoid the kidnappers thinking they have a cash cow on their hands. If the hostage’s family doesn’t stretch out the negotiations (which is hard to do when your loved one is in captivity), then the kidnappers might accept the ransom as a first payment and demand more. Also, it’s important to cry poor because if you pay too much, too quickly, then you are seen as a soft target, and the kidnappers might come after you or your family member again.

Q:  Did you envision Thea Paris’ journey to become a series when you started writing your debut novel?

A: Yes, I wanted to create a series character, and I felt a freedom broker had endless story potential. There are many facets of kidnapping, from kidnap for ransom to virtual kidnappings to tiger kidnappings. I could also explore extortion and piracy in the series because Thea works in those areas. And there are endless hotspots in the world, so there are countless settings for future novels.

Q:  Let’s talk about the advantages—and the challenges—in creating and sustaining a series with an overall story arc.

A:  The advantages are many in a series. Readers tend to connect with recurring characters, as they become real to them. It’s incredible to see the fan loyalty with some major fictional characters. I definitely considered the overall story arc, but I also left wiggle room for being impulsive. Like any seasoned operative, Thea left me egress routes all planned out.

Q:  Do you work from an outline or do you let your characters “talk” to you as you work from chapter to chapter? Why does this approach work well for you?

A:  When people ask if I’m a plotter or a pantser, I answer, “pants on fire.”  I’m definitely an organic writer. I do think about the story all the time, but I don’t plot out my novels. Instead, I feel that if I’m surprised, my readers will hopefully be as well. I don’t think there is one right way to write, it’s more a personal decision based on the way you work best. I love creating as I go.

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

A:  Charlize Theron or Mila Jovovich for Thea Paris—I’d like to see a strong, fit woman play her. Phillip Winchester for Rif Asker, as I loved him in Strike Back. And Thea’s brother Nikos, maybe Robert Downey Junior or Lieb Shreiver.

Q:  Do you allow anyone to read your work in progress or do you make them wait until THE END?

A:  I’m happy to have help along the way. It’s good to talk to trusted readers, get feedback.

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

A:  I do my best writing on my laptop alone at home on a comfortable couch. Because I travel a lot, I write on planes and in hotel rooms, but my first choice would be home sweet home.

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

A:  That I’m an introvert at heart. Because I had to integrate into new environments, I’ve had to come out of my shell and become more extroverted, but I truly am introverted and a little shy.

Q:  What’s next on Thea’s (and your own) plate?

A:  I’m doing edits on the second book in the series now, Skyjack. Thea is shepherding two African orphans from Nairobi to London where they are being adopted when the plane they are on is hijacked. The adventures kick off from there. The CIA, the Vatican, secret stay-behind armies from WWII all collide when Thea has a huge challenge in the not-so-friendly skies.

Q:  When you’re not at your keyboard, what do you do for fun?

A: I love sports, especially tennis and swimming. Being out in nature is also very restorative. Travel, adventure, thrills. I love learning new things.

Q:  You’re the executive director of ThrillerFest. Can you tell us more about this conference for thriller enthusiasts?

A:  ThrillerFest is the annual conference for the International Thriller Writers held every July in NYC. It’s a wonderful gathering of over 1000 authors, and we celebrate the genre. We have something for everyone, whether you’re an aspiring author, a fan, or an industry professional. You can learn more via www.thrillerfest.com

Q:  Best advice for aspiring authors?

A:  Be passionate about your subject matter. You will spend so much time working on your books, take your time and choose the genre and topic carefully. And embrace constructive criticism. Writing is a journey of a thousand steps—or more like a million words—so enjoy the process of learning and be kind to yourself. Like any skill, you need practice.

Q:  Anything else you’d like to add?

A:  I love hearing from readers, so if you’re reading this, please drop me a line anytime at kj@kjhowe.com.

I’d like to thank you for taking the time to interview me. It has been a real pleasure.

A Chat With Joan Hall Hovey

Joan Hall Hovey, Photo: Cindy Wilson/Telegraph-Journal

Joan Hall Hovey

Interviewer: Debbie A. McClure

 I’m very pleased to introduce thriller/mystery writer and fellow Canadian, Joan Hall Hovey. Joan has been blessed with a talent for telling dark stories that stay with the reader and keep them asking for more. A self-described “avid listener of stories”, she loves weaving tales that chill to the bone, however she enjoys a quieter, saner life in her lovely home in Saint John, New Brunswick. Welcome Joan!

Q: What is it about writing thrillers and dark mysteries that holds and keeps you?

A: It’s hard to know why I’m drawn to the dark side in the human psyche. Some people can’t get enough romances or westerns. My son and granddaughter are hooked on SciFi, but since childhood you could always get my attention with a good ghost story, or any story that had tension and chilled the blood.  I read everything by Edgar Allan Poe, love the Gothic suspense novels, my favorite being Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. I collected my pennies and went to see all the scary movies. Later I discovered authors Ruth Rendell, Patricia Highsmith of the Ripley books, and Stephen King.  All those authors have influenced my work in some way.

Q: You often write about strong women who are facing challenges in their life, or who must learn to trust themselves and others. What is it you want female readers to take away from your stories?

A: My main job in writing a suspense thriller is to entertain; to keep my readers at the edge of their collective chairs and turning those pages until the last and hopefully satisfying sentence. The underlying message in my books is that we’re stronger than we think we are. We find this out when we’re forced to draw on that inner strength we didn’t know we had in the face of challenges that can shake us to our very core. Most of the time we manage to come out the other side, not only relatively intact, but often to find we’ve grown in confidence and in our ability to not only survive, but thrive.

Q: What do you think is the future for print and e-books, and why?

A: I think print books will be around for a long time to come, but many people, including me, have also embraced the technological age. I have always had a passion for books. I love the heft of them, the smell, everything about books. Unfortunately, my eyes are no longer as sharp as they once were, and I can make the font on my Kindle as large as I need it to be. Because I like to read in bed (too busy writing and teaching during the day), the Kindle is very lightweight to hold in my hand, so my arthritis is thankful for it.

Q: What advice would you give to new writers just starting out on this crazy journey?

A: Focus on your writing, make it the best it can be, and try to write every day. Pick a time that works best for you. I like to write in the mornings before the rest of the world is quite awake—that time between the black and gray zone. This is how you become a disciplined writer. Learn to do the work whether or not you’re inspired, because a page you’re not happy with can always be edited and improved. The rest—publishing your book, promoting it, etc., can be learned. You can Google anything today.

As far as publishing your work goes, writers definitely have more options today than when I began. You can try for a big publisher through an agent, or a good small press, or you can even self- publish.  If you choose the latter road, keep in mind that you’re solely responsible for everything involving your book’s success. 

Q: Would you say writing the beginning, middle, or end of a book is the most difficult for you, and why?

A: I don’t find one part of the novel more difficult than another. If it’s going well and I am really into my story by experiencing what my characters are experiencing, seeing clearly those scenes in my imagination, I’ll be fine. It’s not easy, although there is nothing I can think of that’s more rewarding. Expect lots of trial and error.  Some authors like to outline, while others write by the seat of their pants. I’m somewhere in the middle. I outline mainly in my head, and take copious notes as I go along. Sometimes a plot problem will solve itself while I’m on a walk, or doing the dishes. Magic happens when you’re there, deep in the book.  Stephen King calls those great gems that come to you when you least expect them gifts from ‘the boys in the basement’.

Q: Many of your books contain an element of the supernatural in them. Have you had any experiences with the supernatural that you can share with us?

A: Yes, there are a few occurrences in my life that caused me to wonder, and sometimes even lose a little slept. I want to keep those to myself, though, so I can draw on them for future books.  

Q: As an actor you have the opportunity to act out characters and experience storytelling in a very different way. Does your acting experience influence how you write?

A: Absolutely. Just as I enter the skin of the character I’m portraying on stage, it is the same with my characters on the page. I really must inhabit their bones, take on the emotions and sensibilities of the character, because it’s how I’m able to grasp that character and make him or her real to the reader.

Q: So many novice writers balk at learning to effectively use social media and the Internet, including Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, blogs and book trailers, in order to connect with other writers and readers. What advice would you give them when it comes to marketing and promoting their work?

A: There are literally thousands of books on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and so on. Readers will simply never find your book if you don’t find ways to point them to it, and we’re so lucky now to be able to take advantage of social media and the internet. Marketing your book is your job as the book’s author; it goes with the territory. It can be the difference succeeding as an author or not, regardless of the level of your talent. I’d suggest spending an hour or two each day on promoting your work.

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

A: I’ve been writing stories and poems since childhood, and then professionally for more than 40 years, so it’s difficult to say. The writing grew and changed as I grew and learned. I believe that’s true for most people. In September 2015, I lost my dear husband of 63 years, following a lengthy illness. It was a numbing shock, even though I knew death was inevitable. It has changed my life in ways that I don’t even understand. I’ve learned that you recognize the changes more with the passing of time, but rarely while they’re happening.

Q: Can you tell us a little about your latest novel?

A: My latest release is titled ‘And Then He Was Gone’. Here is a little about it from the back of the book:

AVAILABLE FROM AMAZON PRINT/EBOOK and other online bookstores.

WHERE IS ADAM?

Julie Raynes’ husband has been missing for six months. Devastated and confused, she refuses to believe that he would leave her voluntarily, though her best friend thinks differently. However, her Aunt Alice, a psychic, tells her Adam has been murdered, and when she reveals how she knows this, any hope that Adam is still alive, dissipates.

The police are also beginning to believe that Adam Raynes was murdered. And Julie is their prime suspect. Her life in ruins, Julie vows to hunt down whoever is responsible for Adam’s murder and make them pay for their crime.

In the meantime, David Gray, a young man who was pulled from a lake by a fisherman when he was 9 years old, wakens from a coma after nearly two decades. Unknown to Julie, Adam and David share a dark connection, a darkness that threatens to devour both of them, in a terrifying race with death.

Q: What’s next for you Joan?

A: Probably another suspense novel, but I want to explore other options as well . I have always loved writing short stories, so I may return to that at some point. I will say that I expect they will also fall somewhere on the dark side.  🙂  

You can find Joan here: http://www.joanhallhovey.com

And she loves to hear from readers.

 

 

 

Dancing at Midnight

 

Dancing at Midnight

On a trip to England years ago, I recall learning that Queen Elizabeth has kept a diary ever since she was a young girl. This poses an interesting question. When it’s understood (or just assumed) that one day these private entries will be read by someone other than herself – or perhaps even made public – how candid might they actually be?

I like my dogs and horses better than my children.

Camilla wore the most ghastly shoes at lunch today.

Philip’s a dear but his snoring is really vexing me.

Perhaps instead, she sticks to safe ground to avoid controversy and the potential ruffling of feathers.

The morning began with light rain but cleared by midday.

I think I’ll buy a new hat.

I tried a different marmalade on my toast. It was amusing.

In Rebecca Yelland’s compelling new book, Dancing at Midnight, a mother’s secret journal takes center-stage after her death and causes her estranged daughter to suddenly start questioning everything that she once believed was true. While catharsis may be good for a troubled soul, it’s not without the risk of collateral damage – a scenario this author thoughtfully explores.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

**********

Q: First of all, congratulations on your debut novel! Have you come down from the ceiling yet?

A: I’m not sure. Every time my feet start to touch the ground, a great review or acknowledgment pops up and I’m in the clouds again. Most recently, I was awarded the indie BRAG medallion for literary fiction. It’ll be a few weeks before I land.

Q: Seriously, what did you do to celebrate the book’s release?

A: When I received the first copy of Dancing at Midnight in the mail, I was grinning like an idiot. But other than plastering all over social media to friends and family that my book had been published, nothing particularly special. The real work of promotion had only just begun.

Q: When did you first know that the burning desire to be a writer was in your blood?

A: I come from a family of artists. Literally. My uncle and grandfather were both painters and my grandmother and her family were musicians. I guess you could say it was in my DNA to seek some sort of artistic outlet like writing. I started out composing poems as a child and graduated to songwriting in my teens and adulthood. Eventually that led to writing my first novel. Expressing my thoughts on paper is a natural as breathing.

Q: What’s the earliest thing you can ever remember writing?

A: A poem when I was in 3rd grade. I can’t remember the name. It received an award and was published along with other winners for our school district. Sadly, the publication was lost many years ago during a move. I hope to find another copy someday.

Q: Successful wordsmiths are often voracious readers. Is this the case with you?

A: In my case, not so much. I’ve always had a way with words. My mind absorbs everything around me – including the use of language. I read a lot when I was younger. But with the demands of a full-time job that required hours of computer work, my poor eyes needed a break in the evenings.  However, after publishing my book, I have been able to enjoy a short work sabbatical and have been catching up on my reading.

Q: What’s your favorite genre?

A: I’d have to say memoirs and biographies. I am fascinated with the true life stories of people who have overcome great obstacles and challenges in their lives. I’m encouraged to learn of such individuals who have emerged from the other side and survived.

Q: Let’s say you’re planning a dinner party and can invite six authors (living or dead) that you most admire. Who’s on that auspicious guest list and what question(s) would you like to ask each of them before the evening is over?

A: J.K. Rowling – What sparked your brain to create the elaborate world of Harry Potter?

C.S. Lewis – If you had to give one reason to believe in God, what would you say?

Judy Blume – You are so relatable to young girls. What’s your secret?

Mary Shelley – What was the inspiration for the “monster” in Frankenstein?

Virginia Wolf – Do you believe that depression is a life sentence that cannot be overcome?

Amy Tan – Do you think women of the past were right or wrong to hide their traumatic experiences from their daughters?

Q: You’ve spent a large part of your career as a human resources professional. What aspects of that job have yielded the most insights on what makes people tick, and how have you applied those insights to the development of fictional characters?

A: I’ve worked in several different industries with several different employee populations. In preparing performance reviews, interviewing candidates and handling the delicate nature of terminations, I’ve been exposed to many personality types in the process. As a result, I’ve come to learn that everyone has a story to tell. Observing a large spectrum of human behavior on a daily basis has only helped me in creating believable characters for my story.

Q: What was the inspiration for Dancing at Midnight?

A: I was randomly looking through my family’s genealogy one day and realized there were a lot of missing pieces in the lives of some of my relatives – including my own mother. I knew some about her life, but not enough that would help explain her often erratic behavior. My mother has since passed away and there are so many things I will never know. In writing Dancing at Midnight, I was able to give my character the answers that I had hoped to find.

Q: The plot of your debut novel revolves around the discovery of a mother’s private journals and the secrets she has kept hidden from her family. What is your own theory about the keeping of diaries (i.e., a cathartic way to examine one’s life with no intention of those entries ever being read OR a confessional that is meant to explain past deeds and seek redemption after death)?

A: Diaries can be a very therapeutic way for otherwise introverted individuals to express their deepest thoughts and darkest secrets. Especially when dealing with trauma they would prefer to keep private from the outside world. In the time period of my novel, it makes perfect sense then that June would use her diary to sort out her feelings in a time where many of her experiences were not openly talked about like they are now. I believe keeping the journal was the only thing that helped her to go on living.

Q: Do you keep a diary?

A: I’ve kept a diary at brief points in my life. I usually ended up losing interest after a while and forgot to keep them up. I prefer to talk about my feeling to a live person if possible.

Q: How much of your own personality was put into Dancing at Midnight?

A: I am a combination of both Carolyn and June. But mostly June. Both characters suffer from an anxiety disorder as do I. As a daughter, my mother was very much like June. As a mother, I have suffered trauma that I feel is often misunderstood by family and friends. It’s interesting that how in writing this book, my personality became more evident in the mother.

Q: Have you ever entertained the idea of penning an autobiography?

A: Yes. I’ve had a very eventful life and wish to write about it someday. However, in consideration of others that may be affected by my story, I’m waiting until the right moment to present itself.

Q: Who’s your favorite character in Dancing at Midnight?

A: That would be Jimmy! I don’t know how that character came out of my brain. He is wonderful! I want to marry him myself.

Q: Is there a takeaway message you’d like your readers to have by the final chapter?

A: There are two things actually. First, not everyone is who they appear to be. Carolyn’s frustration with her mother was based on lack of knowledge and understanding. We never know what someone else has endured unless we have lived in their shoes. Judgement should be reserved when you don’t know the whole picture. Second, not everyone heals from trauma the same way. For some the trauma lasts a lifetime. Our society is so quick to shame people into “moving on” and just “getting over” it. Mourning is unique to each individual. The timeline should never be judged or rushed.

Q: Like a lot of authors today, you chose to go the self-publishing route. Was it easier or harder than you expected to wear a multiplicity of hats and get this book in front of a readership?

A: I originally opted to pursue self-publishing as a simpler and faster way to get my book published. It has proven to be anything but that. Although my book has received outstanding reviews and honored by indie BRAG, the promotion has been an extremely frustrating process. Writing a good book means nothing if you can’t get it out to the masses!

Q: What are you doing to promote it and which methods are working the most effectively for you?

A: I’ve done a lot of giveaways on Goodreads, Facebook and Amazon. Goodreads has given me the most exposure, but it’s still limited in the grand scheme of publishing. At this point, word of mouth had brought about the best results so far.

Q: Let’s say Hollywood comes calling to adapt this to a feature-length film. Who comprises your dream cast for it?

A: A film would be my biggest dream! I saw the book as a movie in my head the whole time I was writing it. The cast suggestions below are based strictly on physical resemblance and types.

Jimmy – Alex Pettyfer

June –Aleixis Bleidel

Alice – Jessica Hamby

Tom – Brant Daughtery

Carolyn – Rachel McAdams

Sharon – Reese Witherspoon

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

A: I’m terrified of frogs! My brother lives in a rural area and in the summer it looks like one of the Egyptian plagues outside his house.

Q: Who or what inspires you as an author?

A: My inspiration is based solely on my need to put my thoughts on paper. It is very therapeutic for me to express myself in this type of format. Sometimes even I am surprised but what I write.

Q: When and where do you feel the most creative?

A: Unfortunately, I’m the most creative when I’m trying to get to sleep at night. I wish I could plug my brain into a computer and transfer the data. By the time I get up and go to my computer I don’t always remember what I want to say! So I write mostly at night/early hours of the morning. It’s my best time to concentrate.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: I’m currently working on a sequel to Dancing at Midnight. I wasn’t planning on writing one but there has been an overwhelming request to do so. You’ve got to make your readers happy, right?

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: Publishing my first novel has been an incredible personal accomplishment. I have many more stories in my head. I look forward to expanding my collection of titles in the future.

A Chat with Ann Royal (aka Anna) Nicholas

Ann Royal

In the world of show business, a person who can sing, dance and act is often referred to as a “triple threat”. But what do you get when you mix equal parts of writing, acting, horseback riding, mediating, book publishing, cocktail blogging and an unabashed stash of wicked wit, creativity and compassion? The delightful result is Ann Royal (aka Anna) Nicholas – a woman with so many talents to her credit that I don’t know if even a “centuple threat” label would quite cover everything. Nevertheless, it’s an honorary title we’re happy to bestow on this week’s spotlight guest.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

**********

Q: At what age did you first realize you were a wildly creative being?

A:  At about the age of ten. Something compelled me to create a pair of large crewelwork lips on the derriere of my jeans. I took some heat for it, but I wore those jeans until the lips fell off.

Q: Who (or what) encouraged you to explore every possible avenue of expression?

A: I did a lot wild things in my youth—jumping off the 2nd story of our house so I could ride my bike to the nearest bar that would accept fake I.D.s and that sort of thing. I wonder now how many of those early escapades, including the artistic pursuits—e.g., the “plays” I used to direct in which my younger brothers and sister would star—naked—were spawned by a need for approval and attention from my parents who divorced when I was young. None of us got a lot of attention but I did some rather antic things to try and earn it.

Q: Writing is one of many venues in which you excel. Do you believe that great writers are born or that they must be nurtured to become great?

A: I think anyone, ANYone, can become a better writer through practice, reading and self-discipline; tedious and unremarkable a claim as that is. There’s certainly no pill for it. I also think there are few writers whom all of us believe are truly great. That said, I think most of our “greatest” artists—whether they be singers, dancers, composers, actors, writers—seem to just have something extra.

Q: If you were hosting a posh dinner party to which some of the authors whose work you most admire were invited, who would be on that guest list and which two would you like on either side of you?

A: I’d want an animated conversation so even if I admired an author’s work, I would want to know they’d contribute to a lively evening. On that basis, and without benefit of knowing their verbal skills, I’d prepare a round table for five and invite Kurt Vonnegut because he was so funny and smart and political. I’d seat Jane Austen next to him, because they’d have fun comparing notes on social commentary in fiction. Joan Didion would need to be there because she writes to find out how she feels about things (a reason I write) and I could ask her what she’s discovered. I’d also want JK Rowling next to me because she has done the most amazing job of creating a literary empire and the rest of us could benefit from hearing how she did it. But I don’t know whom I’d choose to sit next to. In fact I think I’d need to switch seats with every course served.

Q: You’ve published the first two books in The Muffia series, a series which you describe as Sex and the City Meets Jane Austen. How did this premise come about and who is your intended audience for it?

A: I am a member of The Muffia—not the group calling itself The Muffia, which represents militant mothers in the UK, women who attack other mothers for poor parenting skills in grocery stores. Nor am I part of the group of lesbian sex workers who absconded with the name. My Muffia is a real-life, Los Angeles-based women’s book club that’s been in existence since 2001. We came together after 9/11, when a lot of us needed our friends. All of us work or have worked, some are mothers, and all of us love to read, have adventures and tell stories.  When one Muff had a torrid affair with a Mossad agent, I could no longer keep myself from writing us down in a book. My readers would feel perfectly at home in my book club, and their husbands, who are curious about what goes on at “book club,” might find The Muffia illuminating.

Q: Which is more challenging for you – to write a stand-alone title in which all (or most) questions are tidily wrapped up or to write a series with sustaining characters that are constantly posing new questions?

A: As a viewer/reader, I don’t like things tied up perfectly because life is never tied up perfectly; unless you’ve successfully gotten through all the steps necessary for a dental implant. But I think in a series, each book has to achieve some sort of finality, otherwise when does it end? I don’t know that either one is more difficult. The genre and story dictate.

Q; Plotter or pantser? And why does your choice best accommodate the way you approach a new project?

A: A little of each. I have a general idea for a story and I put together a rough outline. With each of the Muffia books, there’s a light mystery involved and mysteries need some plotting. If you have a dead body on the first page, and the body belongs to someone important to one of the characters in your book, your reader needs to find out who that person was, how he died and how your living characters deal with it. And you need to have clues appear at critical intervals to heighten or lessen tension because there are always those nagging questions. Literary fiction also needs a plot but it may not need to be quite so driving as in a mystery. Having an outline, with whatever I write—plays included– keeps me headed in a direction even if I take detours. On those days when inspiration isn’t getting me into a chair to write, having a map gets me going.

Q: Like many authors today you’ve sought to maintain more control over your intellectual property by launching Bournos, your own self-publishing imprint. What governed that decision and what has proven to be the biggest challenge in wearing multiple hats?

A: Wearing multiple hats was not my first choice. There was a time I imagined myself typing away in a bathtub (the image of Clifton Webb in Laura comes to mind). My publisher, who was waiting anxiously for my manuscript, would then turn it into a bestseller. Such are the dreams of the unpublished. Like a romance novel whose hero rescues the damsel, or the Calgon slogan “Take me away….” But no, that’s not the way it works these days. When the small publishing house that said it would publish my series not only selected a cover I didn’t like but did less to promote it than I was, I thought I could do a better job myself and wouldn’t owe them anything. It seemed like the best move, even if it took me away from writing. And therein is the biggest challenge, having my attention taken from what I want to do, in order to deal with the business part of selling books.

Q: Is Bournos strictly a platform for your own work or do you publish stories by others?

A; It’s set up to publish the work of others as well, should I ever read a manuscript I feel I can become a champion of. I’ve laid the groundwork in terms of staffing and outsourcing of some tasks, to accommodate other people’s books.

Q: What do you advise fellow authors thinking of going the self-publishing route?

A: First, make sure your book is ready. Beta test it with trusted friends and relations who will tell you the truth. Find editor(s) to polish it. You may need a content editor and/or a copy editor and there’s lots of help online to find these people. Go to writers’ conferences and sit in on the sessions related to self-publishing. You’ll meet other authors, editors and publishers who can give you recommendations. When your book is ready (or concurrently with the editing process), find out what is happening in self-publishing at that very moment. It’s a constantly changing landscape of cover design, formatting, Kindle unlimited vs. other outlets, book blogs, etc., and it can be overwhelming. If you can afford to hire an author’s assistant to help you through it, they are out there too. But get recommendations. As with most people one contracts with, the best people are often the busiest, so make sure you talk timelines.

Q: What are some of the things you’re currently doing to promote your work?

A:  The main thing is to keep writing. Without new content coming out regularly, a writer can die in this marketplace. You can’t really keep saying “Buy my book” when you haven’t written anything new since 1997. These days a writer can’t promote just a book, she needs to promote herself and build a following. It’s what they call branding and it takes time and energy to do. Like a lot of people—women particularly—I don’t enjoy promoting myself, even if I’m great at promoting others. But I’ve become comfortable with tweeting about writing, theatre, horses, cocktails, wine and other things that interest me and the characters in The Muffia.

Q: When you’re not writing or acting, you’re using your law degree as a mediator. Has wordsmithing enabled you to be a better mediator and/or has your legal background influenced your craft as an author?

A: I completely believe we are made up of our corporeal selves and the totality of our experiences, so they feed each other. The narrator of book one in the Muffia series is based on me insofar as she’s an ex-lawyer and underemployed mediator. The contradiction with mediating and writing is that mediation involves reducing conflict, whereas dramatic writing requires it. So when I write, I have to be vigilant not to step in and mediate my characters’ conflicts!

Q: As if your plate weren’t already overflowing, you also manage to squeeze in some horseback riding. Tell us about it.

A: There is no other thing I do that takes me out of my head like being with horses. They don’t let you multi-task, which is a joy, given that the rest of my life requires it. Horses are big, potentially dangerous, and you have to be ready for the unexpected─thinking about plot development when you’re riding isn’t wise. A snake might slither onto the trail causing your horse to rear and dump you before bolting back to the barn. I own a Thoroughbred rescue named Will—aka Wilbur, William, Guillermo and various other endearments. I have been working with him for three years, and yes, I have fallen off in the course of training him to be an Event horse. He and I have recently had a bit of success after overcoming many obstacles involving Will’s sensitive nature, early abuse and health issues. He’s my four-legged partner.

Q: You recently appeared onstage opposite David Selby. For those of us who swooned over his dreamy looks as Quentin, the conflicted werewolf, in Dark Shadows or his turn as Richard Channing, Jane Wyman’s dashing adversary in Falcon Crest, did you ever watch either show? (Just curious.)

A: I was not an aficionado of either show but David is still very handsome. He’s also very kind and a complete professional who is conscientious about his work. And one thing you may not know about David, he is also a published author.

Q: Speaking of things theatrical, you also pen plays. Which do you prefer – writing lines of dialogue that will be read silently or those that will be spoken by actors?

A: That’s a hard one. A writer of novels doesn’t often get to hear how a reader makes sense of the words on the pages she writes, while it’s the actor’s job to do so. I just want people receiving the words to understand and be moved by the character speaking them, even if it’s only in one’s head.

Q: Dream role you’d love to play?

A: It’s changed over time, of course. I did once want to play Juliet. Now I’d most like to originate a role in a fabulous new play, like Jayne Houdyshell in the Tony-nominated The Humans by Stephen Karam. Or Sigourney Weaver’s turn in Durang’s Vanya, Sonya, Masha and Spike.

Q: Many of the best writers I’ve ever known actually got their start treading the boards. What influence did your own acting experience have insofar as developing characters, planning structure and creating conversations amongst personalities in a book?

A: A trained actor needs to understand her character’s motivations. The question of “Why am I saying this now?” comes up a lot in rehearsals. This is a question that needs to be in the mind of the author of novels, too.

Q: Do you ever get writer’s block and, if so, how do you get over it?

A: I write notes to myself constantly and I also record voice memos telling myself what to do. Like having an outline, as mentioned above, giving my brain a job on a given project gives me that opening I need to sit down and begin writing. It’s like giving myself a writing prompt and usually when I do that, I’m off and running. I have, however, read notes I’ve awakened to write in the middle of the night only to find they make no sense for the project I’m working on, nor for anything else. The other day I found a note-to-self that said, “Make Tamra a bat” and I have no idea what that’s about.

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

A: I eat donuts, my skin is too big for my frame, I don’t write every day, I feel guilty about not showing up for more fundraisers, I take naps, I sometimes have to drag myself to public functions, I like sentimental films, I still have a Cinderella complex and dream of galloping off on a white horse even if I know that’s ridiculous.

Q: What is the oldest, weirdest or most nostalgic item in your closet?

A: I will not part with a Pucci dress that my mother wore in the late 1960s. It still fits me and I absolutely love it. I hope my son has a girlfriend one day whom I can give it to.

Q: What are you currently working on?

A: Too much! I’m writing the third book in The Muffia series entitled Muff Stuff , writing a new play about nosy neighbors and editing a couple of other plays. Unrepresented playwrights usually must submit their own work to fellowships and workshops, so that requires writing too. This year it’s been worth it as two of my plays have been finalists at Sundance, Lila Acheson, Centenary Stages and Playwrights Center.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

A: My website, I guess, which is annanicholas.com and if you’re on Facebook I am facebook.com/theannanicholas and facebook.com/annroyalnicholas. I’m on Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram @aroyaln and I blog (where I regularly post cocktails) at themuffia.us.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: Ten percent of Muffia profits are given to charitable organizations benefitting women and girls. We have contributed to Girls Inc., Step Up and we (the real life Muffia) are always looking to help more.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Chat with Stephanie McKibben

 

Stephanie McKibben

Stephanie McKibben is one of the most generous, open publishers I’ve ever met. Her genuine desire to help other writers obtain their desires of becoming published authors is clearly evident in the audio message she’s recorded on her website at Troll River Publications (http://www.trollriverpub.com), and she welcomes readers with open arms. Her engaging personality comes through clearly, but she’s a stickler for ensuring that she and her writers are held to high standards in terms of the quality of the product they produce. Not just a body behind a desk, like many small presses, Stephanie does it all; editing, publishing, career development, and hand-holding aplenty. She cares deeply about writers and readers, and brings them together with joy and purpose. Welcome, Stephanie!

Interviewed by
Debbie A. McClure

Q: Stephanie, you are both an author and the small, independent publisher of Troll River Publications. Can you tell us how and why you decided to take on both of these extremely challenging roles?
A: I was always going to be an author, but it was Patricia A. Knight who convinced me to publish for other authors. When I was thinking about publishing I decided to go the indie route and create a separate company—a publishing company. That much I knew I was going to do. My crit partner, Patricia, didn’t want to be a self-published author and queried publishers to no avail. When she said she was going to put her manuscript in a drawer and forget about it, I freaked out. I told her I would publish it. I told her I would do the things she didn’t want to do – like convert the word document to an .epub, or do the technical side of things. I would help her through the process. I convinced Patricia that her story was too awesome to hide in darkness, so she became my very first signed author to Troll River Publications. That book is now the first of our most profitable series.

Q: How did you come up with the name Troll River Publications for your company? Does it hold any significant meaning?
A: When I was deciding between becoming a self-published author or going with a publishing company, I always came across people saying the Big 6 (“The Big 5” now) were trolls. They were the gatekeepers. Sometimes they were vilified. When I took the mantel of being a small press I decided that if I was going to become a “troll” that I might as well embrace the stigma.
But I also had a strange dream one night while trying to decide which way to go. A troll on the bridge of “publication” stood there, mean, ugly and not letting anyone through until a little girl handed him a book. He sat down and read the book, allowing all the little authors to dance over the bridge of publication and get their stories past the gatekeeper’s iron fence. And the troll was happy.
So I thought, why not? Because the bridge was over the river of writer’s tears, I called it Troll River Publications.

Q: You are the author of eight erotic fiction novels. How did you get started writing erotica, and what is it about this genre that fascinates you?
A: I guess there’s no other explanation than, I like sex. I like erotic romance the best, and I try to bring a certain amount of romance and story to each book.

Q: How do you decide which writers to work with and which ones to pass on?
A: I don’t really take queries. I talk to authors. I get to know them. If they like, I look at their work in progress and become an editor/critique partner for them. If they work well with me as an editor, I know I’d probably work well with them as a publisher.
Editing requires a bit of a thick skin. I don’t pull punches, but I don’t try to be mean. I just tell them my thoughts and if their feelings are hurt, I know they won’t be back. Writing takes so much more than just dealing with constructive criticism. You have to be strong. You have to be a marathon runner—I see a lot of writers slowing down and saying, I need to pace myself, after two years or about three to four books.
I also take referrals from TRP authors that have worked with the writer. But I still talk to the referred writer, tell them what we’re all about, and try to help them the best I can.

Q: What is Troll River Publications looking for in a writer and in books to publish?
A: In writers I’m looking for enthusiasm, willingness to work with me, drive to make the best book they can, have a thick skin, and love their audience.
As to what I’m looking for in books, I mainly go for romance. We have a few odd books out there in different genres because I believe in the author and what they have to say.

Q: What advice would you give to new writers just starting out on their publishing journey?
A: Finish the book. I understand you want to make that first one the best novel ever…but know this…the book you write today will never be the book you write tomorrow.
One day you’ll have twenty books out there (don’t balk—writers who complete the first one will go on to write more), you’ll pick up your first book and then proceed to rip apart your own work.
But you have to finish that first one. It’s also okay to spend more time on the first one. But if it’s taking so long that it’s been five years, set it aside and write the next. You don’t have to abandon the first, just make sure you finish something.

Q: What are your thoughts on the whole traditional vs self-publishing options facing writers today?
A: There is no right or wrong. You must decide what you want to accomplish and whether you’re willing to split the work and the profit. Either way can leave you to die trying. Don’t think it’s better to go self-published or traditionally published. You can try one, then the other. In fact I think it works best if you do both.
(I’m sorry, I have to laugh for a moment. Originally “Traditional publishing” was self-publishing. There were no agents or publishers during the times of the first print press. An author purchased the time and materials for ink, a type-setter, parchment, renting the press —everything. So for me to say “traditional” publishing makes me roll my eyes. Personally, self-publishing is just bringing the industry back to what it was.)

Q: As a publisher who works closely with your writers to polish their work and get it ready for publication, what is the most common error you see new writers making?
A: Most of my writers hold onto their first manuscript so close to their chest and snarl at me that it’s “not ready” that I have to tell them to stop editing and rip the manuscript out of their hands. I wouldn’t say it’s an “error” but it’s the most common thing I see in first time authors. They want it “perfect” and they forget that “excellent” is not perfect. I have to tell them I only want the very best they can do at this time. After the second book, they realize they can have as many “babies” as they want and start getting excited again.
As for writing mistakes, each writer has been different. For some it’s too many occurrences of the same word in one paragraph. With others it’s writing in passive voice, or forgetting about the reader. But these things are pointed out as we work together.

Q: Writing is a craft, a personal journey, and a business venture. What have you learned about yourself since you began writing and publishing?
A: In writing I’ve learned that I have endless stories. I used to wonder if the first book was all I had, but the words kept coming. When I finished one, another would arise.
In publishing I’ve learned that spreadsheets are my friend. I’ve also learned that even smart marketing can’t be as good as an ultra-fan, and there are a lot of books out there. It has been a really fun road. The things I’ve learned before and after publishing have been too great to number. I’m still learning. I’m still drawing strength from those who believe in me.

Q: What has been your greatest life lesson so far?
A: That having a mentor to help me has made all the difference. No matter where you start out, always try to find a mentor and do what they tell you.

Q: What three things can you recommend writers do to move them closer to a “yes” from a publisher?
A: Well I don’t know about other publishers, but for me, if you’re dedicated, unemotional about edits and are willing to reach out to fans, then that moves you closer to being signed.

Q: What is more challenging for you, writing or publishing books for other writers?
A: I have to say writing books for other authors. I’m a ghostwriter as well. It can be hard to give them my best work and never receive recognition for it. Writing is fun. Publishing is fun. Neither are more challenging, only different.

Q: What do you feel Troll River Publications offers writers and readers that’s different from other publishers?
A: I tell every writer that they can do what I do. They don’t need me. You can do it! In fact, I’m an advocate for self-published writers. However, I get a lot of authors who don’t want to do this journey alone. They have questions. They’re unsure. They want or need someone to tell them to stop editing—and rip the manuscript out of their hands to publish the book. Some writers are so lost and don’t know where or how to start. I’m different in the way I help. I’ve encouraged several authors to do it themselves, and many have. Those that asked me for advice and responded to my help in a professional manner sometimes come on board with TRP. But Troll River is also different in the community. Our authors help each other. Even the ones that don’t run in the same sub-genre. I have were-wolves helping vampires. Cats helping dogs, and military guys holding out a hand to the geeks.

Q: What’s next for you, Stephanie?
A: In writing, I’ve got a stack of my own manuscripts to publish and clients who want my next story yesterday. (can you give me the name of your own latest release so I can link to it?)
In publishing, Troll River has two books coming out every month in 2016. Visit us at http://www.trollriverpub.com to see our new releases! We’ll be at the RT Conference (https://www.rtconvention.com/) in Las Vegas April 12-17, 2016, and are hoping to get all our writers to a personal retreat in June, 2016.

You can find out more about Stephanie and Troll River Publications here:
FaceBook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Troll-River-Publications/553065864724059?ref=hl
Twitter: https://twitter.com/TrollRiver
Web page: https://www.trollriverpub.com
Blog: https://www.trollriverpub.com/blog
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCqJflEmvzQVB4e9uYne98rA
Email: stephanie@trollriverpub.com

My Husband’s Sin

My_Husbands_Sin_by_Mary_T_Bradford_200

Even from beyond the grave, there are no limits to the havoc a vengeful family member can inflict on his or her mourners. Such is the premise of Irish debut novelist Mary Bradford’s new release, My Husband’s Sin. Like many an aspiring author, she took to heart the encouragement of family and friends who told her she should seriously seek out publishing opportunities for the stories she was writing. We’re glad she did … and happier still that we can introduce her work to our global readership.

*****

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

Q: Tell us about your journey as a writer and, in particular, what led to the decision to write your debut novel.

A: My writing life began many years ago when my four children were small. I wrote down all the mischief and antics they got up to. People read them and said I should think about writing other stories. I started with short stories and the buzz of seeing my work in print was wonderful. I never thought about writing a novel, but one day, a short story I was writing just kept growing and hey, I had my first novel.

Q: Having penned short stories prior to My Husband’s Sin, which do you feel upon reflection is the greater challenge – writing a full-length work or stand-alone vignettes?

A: Oh good question! I think a novel proved the greatest challenge for me. I can spin off short stories and enjoy it. But now that I have completed a novel, I know I can do it, so it is not the daunting prospect I once thought, but yes it’s still a challenge.

Q: Are you a plotter or a pantser (and why does your choice suit your personality)?

A: I am a pantser. When I get an idea, it percolates in my head for a while and I talk to myself, asking, okay I know how it starts but how does it end? Once I have a vague idea of the ending, I am happy. I sit then and write. As the story goes along, I find all these channels open up and the characters bring me along with them. I do not make outlines or plot ideas or writing boards etc. I trust my story idea to run on its own legs.

Q: Who are some of the writers that not only fueled your passion for storytelling but may have also influenced your own writing style?

A: I have been reading since a young child. Enid Blyton was my favourite as a child. I became a member of my local library at four years old and devoured all I could get. I never saw myself as a writer when growing up. I don’t have a favourite author as an adult as I read a lot of different genres. Regarding my style, I seem to write like I speak when chatting with someone, so I’m told. Maybe I can be bold and say Maeve Binchy’s warm easy going style appealed to me.

Q: If you could sit down for dinner with one of them, who would it be and what question would you most like to ask?

A: I think it would be Enid Blyton. I would love to learn more about her life as a writer. The question would be, who influenced her?

Q: Where (and when) is your favorite place to be creative?

A: I go to my local library each morning for three hours. Then if I am on a deadline, I continue at home. But I prefer to write outside of my home as there are less distractions. When I am really being creative, I try to get away on my own for a few days and enjoy the solitude of having uninterrupted days to write and think about new projects.

Q: You live in Ireland, one of the loveliest countries on the planet. How does it feel to be in the spiritual company of Oscar Wilde, C.S. Lewis, Bram Stoker, George Bernard Shaw, Maeve Binchy, William Butler Yeats, James Joyce and Jonathan Swift? (Seriously, is it something in the water that makes all of you such savvy and prolific wordsmiths?)

A: Honestly I don’t think of it. All these wonderful authors you mention and hundreds more are just people who write. I think it is like a lot of things in life, when it is on your own doorstep, you can take it for granted. Now that you have brought it up though, it’s great to be an Irish writer, J

Q: Has there been a defining “Aha!” moment in your career that affirmed your dream of being a writer had come true?

A: Yes, when I got offered a contract. I was thrilled, there was someone else out there who believed in me. So thank you, Tirgearr Publishing for making my dream come true.

Q: There’s no shortage of people who make wishes for a second chance to reset their lives, make amends, and reconnect with family and friends that have fallen by the wayside. In your own case, you underwent the risks of open heart surgery. Upon successfully emerging from this experience, how did it affect the way you look at life, relationships and the world in general?

A: I was so ill before the operation I did not think about what was involved, I was so glad to be given a chance to become better again. But after the op, I thought how precious good health is. It is everything. Without it, how can one enjoy life? I don’t worry about tomorrow anymore, I take each day as it arrives and I do not plan days ahead. I live for now and I have found I have more peace of mind living like this.

Q: Tell us a little about the premise of your new book and the inspiration to open with the unsettling reading of a matriarch’s final will and testament.

A: The idea for My Husband’s Sin came to me while at a funeral. I looked around at the other graves and wondered what secrets were buried there. Then I thought, what if someone spilled a secret deliberately to cause hurt and harm? So working with this, I picked on Lillian, the mother, because for most people, the heart of a home is their mother, the person who loves you unconditionally, who will always hold you close to comfort and listen to you. So to have the mother shatter the family intentionally is unbelievable and disastrous for Lacey, the youngest in the Taylor family.

Q: If Hollywood came calling to adapt this novel to a feature film, who would comprise your dream cast for it?

A: Gosh I have not thought about something as wonderful as this happening, honestly. Right now I don’t know, so I shall have to get back to you on this one.

Q: How did you go about finding the right publisher for your work once the book was complete?

A: I googled publishers and made a list. I sent My Husband’s Sin off to many and got the rejections which is part and parcel of writing life. When I was going through my list of publishers, I saw that I had not sent it to Tirgearr Publishing Ireland, and for some odd reason, I kept putting it off. Then when I did eventually get my ass in gear and approached them, they very promptly got back to me with the offer of a contract.

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

A: I have learnt that whether you are traditionally published or self-published, the author has a ton of promoting and marketing to do. Publishing houses no longer promote their authors with massive media coverage, especially new writers. So a big part of my day is finding new ways to promote and get my work out there before new readers.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: Since, My Husband’s Sin has been published, as an Ebook and in paperback, I have signed a new contract with Tirgearr for their City Night’s series in erotic romance. My novella titled, One Night in Barcelona, is number 13 in the series. I have also being contracted to write two novellas under the auspices of Writers of the West. My first, The Runaway, set in America’s 1800’s, is a story about a young lad who leaves home to better his life, but unfortunately his past catches up with him. My second, a romance, Destiny, again set in Americas 1800’s is due out before Christmas. All are available on Amazon, Nook Kobo, etc. I am also at present writing my second full length novel, a paranormal. I like to stretch myself as a writer so I am writing across genres at present before settling on a favourite.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

A:

On Amazon US at the following link http://amzn.to/1PAW9l2

On Amazon UK at the following link http://amzn.to/1PPBfOX

Tirgearr Publishing http://tirgearrpublishing.com/authors/Bradford_MaryT/

Readers can find out more at my blog, http://marytbradford-author.blogspot.ie/