Retribution

Margotta Cover

What happens when a 1,000-year-old goddess, a supernatural wolf, and an untested youth lead a band of heroes to fight against unrestrained violence in medieval Europe? It’s all part of the fantasy adventure for young adults in Retribution. Author Jenny Margotta (writing as J Margotta-Ferrara) shares her insights on the craft, what it was like to collaborate on a book with her spouse, and whether she’d want to cross paths and match wits with a witch, a werewolf or a vampire.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

**********

Q: When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

A: By the time I was ten, I was reading on an adult level, and one of the first adult-level books I read was The Day Must Dawn by Agnes Sligh Turnbull. It was set in the late 1700s in a frontier town near Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, which is close to where I grew up. There was a line in the novel about the sun shining through the overcast sky like a pewter plate and I knew, right then, that I wanted to write things like that, use words in unusual or memorable ways to capture the attention of readers and, hopefully, have my stories stay with them for decades, like those words of Ms. Turnbull’s have stayed with me.

Q: Who encouraged (or dissuaded) your dream of earning a living as a wordsmith?

A: Although I was encouraged by my mom and high school counselor to earn a degree in English —the thinking was that I would teach—no one really encouraged me to write until I met my late husband, John. He loved my writing style and pushed and prodded until I did something about it.

Q: What’s the first thing you remember writing? And have you gone back since then to read what you wrote?

A: I think I began writing as soon as I could hold a pencil in my chubby little hand. At least I know I began telling stories at a very early age. But the one I most remember—and that I have kept—is based on the Turnbull novel I’ve already mentioned. I was captivated by that story, and for a history project in fourth grade, I decided to write my own “diary” about a young girl captured by the Indians. Not only did I write the story, but I took some of my mom’s good stationery, soaked it in tea and dried it in the sun, bound the paper in a cloth covering, and wrote the story on the “parchment” using an old fountain pen. I still have that diary in my Things to Keep box.

Q: On the path to becoming a rich and famous author, a lot of writers pay the rent and put food on the table by having a day job. What was the first job you ever had and what did you learn from it that could be applied to what you really wanted to be doing?

A:  The very first job I ever had was picking strawberries for a nickel a quart. It certainly impressed upon me that manual labor was not how I wanted to earn a living. I didn’t know then what I wanted to do, but I sure knew what I didn’t want.

Q: Do you write full-time?

A:  No, and I’m not really sure I would want to. I spend most of my working hours editing other authors’ efforts—a process I absolutely love. But I also enjoy so many other facets of everyday life that I wouldn’t want to be tied down to any one thing. How boring would that be?

Q: How have your personal and professional experiences shaped who you are as a writer and influenced what you enjoy writing about?

A: I honed my writing skills while earning my degree in English/Language Arts and then spent many years writing industry-related HR documents, magazine articles, contracts, and software manuals. That required me to be very clear in my meanings without a lot of flowery speeches. But more importantly, I began reading at the age of three and have continued to read voraciously ever since in a wide range of fiction and non-fiction genres. I think that, more than anything, has helped me develop my writing skills. When I am spellbound by a story, I analyze why. When I’m having trouble with dialogue or a story issue, I go to my favorite authors and see how they’ve treated a similar issue. I can’t imagine being a writer without also being a reader.

Q: What was your inspiration for the plot and characters behind Retribution?

A: In all honesty, most of the plot and characters came from the very imaginative mind of my late husband, John, with whom I co-authored this book and two others. I did have some input into the main character, Luc, when I suggested we make him left-handed. I am left-handed, so I know how it can both hinder and be advantageous in a predominately right-handed world. I also added some of the softer, more feminine aspects of the female characters.

Q: From the time that storytelling first began, fantasy and adventure have had a hold on our imaginations. In your own view, what would you say accounts for our fascination with things that go bump in the night, return from the dead, and are not of this world?

A: Man is blessed with an imagination and an unquenchable desire to learn “what’s out there.” Also, we often feel our own lives are mundane and uninspiring, so stepping into a world of fantasy and excitement gives us that “kick” we need to make our lives more interesting. And the adrenaline rush of being scared or excited is quite addictive.

Q: A witch, a vampire or a werewolf—which would you feel the most comfortable dealing with in a winner-takes-all game of cunning, intellect and strength? And which one would scare you the most?

A: I think I’d deal best with the witch. Most of a witch’s arsenal is based on mental games—spells and tricks and such—and I live my life mostly in my head, as I have some mobility issues.  In a game of matching wits, I think I’d do pretty well. Vampires would scare me the most because they live in darkness and, if a lot of stories are to be believed, can be very persuasive in drawing you to them.

Q: What was the most challenging aspect of developing Retribution?

A: For me, the most challenging aspect of developing Retribution was making sure there were no anachronisms in the story. The story takes place in early medieval times; we don’t give a specific year, but we imagined it to be around 1100. There are so many things we take for granted that just didn’t exist in that timeframe. For instance, they have few references to time, so we couldn’t say, “They rode for eight hours,” or “Wait a minute.” And food was an issue, too. We originally had our heroes eating dried beef along the trail, but only the very wealthy ate beef at that time. We did a tremendous amount of research on clothing, boats, weapons, all aspects of day-to-day life in those times.

Q: It’s often said that two heads are better than one. In co-authoring Retribution with your husband, what did you learn about each other’s writing, project development and time management skills?

A: John liked to sit down every day and write for four or five hours. And he liked to move quickly from one plot point to another. He would very quickly turn out ten or more pages, then go back and start to flesh out what was, in many cases, almost an outline. He would often say something like, “Let’s see where the story takes us today.” I prefer to think about what I’m going to write—sometimes for several days—before I actually sit down in front of my computer. John would have multiple rewrites, while I often only had one or two, since I’d done all the “rewrites” in my head.

Q: Please share with us the process of how your co-authoring worked.

A: You can probably guess, based on my previous answer, how our team process worked. John would write the key story points then I’d take his work and begin to round it out. He didn’t like to use a lot of description and I do, so that was my job, to add the color and flavor to his raw action.

Q: Would you co-author another book together?

A: Unfortunately, John passed away in 2012 when we were only about halfway through the book. We originally intended to have only one book, by the way, but I ended up making it two by the time I finished the project in 2015. If he were still alive, I would definitely continue to partner with him—we made a very strong writing team—but I’m not sure I’d like to co-author with someone else.

Q: Did any of your characters ever surprise you?

A: Yes, the main character, Luc de Lassier, surprised us. He was only supposed to be in the first twenty or thirty pages, but he just wouldn’t go away. I remember John sitting at his computer and almost yelling at Luc. “What are you still doing here? You’re only supposed to be a minor character!” Luc just took over the story to the point where we gave in, stopped fighting him, and made him the hero.

Q: Who will Retribution appeal to?

A: Although it’s described as a fantasy adventure for young adults, I think the story appeals to older adults as well.  It’s a coming-of-age tale that deals with many aspects of society, injustice, and human determination to overcome adversity. We just wrapped it all up in a rollicking adventure. Readers can certainly just enjoy the first layer—the adventures—but there are also some very serious issues to think about.

Q: If Hollywood came calling, is there a dream cast you’d love to see?

A: Ving Rhames would be my choice now for the character of Otieno, although both John and I pictured the late Michael Clark Duncan when we began writing the book in 2009. And John most definitely developed the character of Edeva with Nicole Kidman in mind. Peter Dinklage would be a great fit for Aldwyn, but surprisingly, neither John nor I had anyone specific in mind for the main character, Luc. And then there’s Aatto, the wolf. I don’t know any famous actor-wolves.

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

A: Creative writing is almost exclusively a morning task. I’m definitely the most productive early in the day. Most nights I mentally lay out my schedule for the next day, and I always put my most difficult projects first, whether its editing or my own writing. By mid-afternoon I want to be doing lighter things, like working on a cover in PhotoShop or researching on the Internet. And when I’m editing others’ works, I need to switch between two or three manuscripts. I stay sharper that way. When I focus too long on a single project, I lose my objectiveness.

Q: What famous author (living or dead) would you most want to have lunch with and why?

A: I’d love to have lunch with Tobias Smollett. Smollett was an 18th century author—he died in 1771—who wrote, among other things, the satirical, very funny novel, The Expedition of Humphry Clinker. The book is written in the form of letters between the characters and, as such, is basically all narrative. I love to write descriptions, so this really appeals to me. I only wish I could be as humorous as he was.

If Smollett isn’t available, I’d invite W.E.B. Griffith. I’m a World War II historian, and in my opinion, Griffith is one of the best fiction writers in that genre.

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

A: I certainly don’t look the part, but I rode a motorcycle for several years. I once made a trip of over 4,500 miles—through seven states and two countries—in just 18 days. I also dreamed of being a singer. I performed my first solo when I was three, sang in bars and nightclubs in college and later years, and still do karaoke when I get the chance.

Q: Tell us about the California Writers Club and how it offers support and resources for wordsmiths at any stage in their writing careers.

A: The California Writers Club has 21 branches and over 1,700 members statewide. I belong to the High Desert Branch. We host workshops by prominent professionals in the writing world, we have a variety of speakers at our monthly meetings—ranging from social media experts and marketing professionals to editors and authors—and our members can belong to one or more of many critique groups. Within our branch we have artists and illustrators, social media experts, website developers, professional editors, marketers, and writers from every level of skill. If one of our members expresses a need for a certain service or help with something, we strive to introduce them to another member who can provide that help or give them the tools to find their own answers. We also offer venues throughout the year for authors to showcase their work. (Visit www.hdcwc.com for more information.)

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

A: I knew from what I’d learned in the writers club that self-publishing was the most viable option. I researched several online, on-demand printers and found that CreateSpace was the best choice for me.

Q: Best advice to aspiring authors?

A: Well, for one, don’t count on getting rich. Chances are you won’t. But if you want to write, then do it. Don’t worry about all the technical issues up front, just write your story. There are so many people out there who are afraid to write that first page because they don’t think they have anything to say. Everyone has something to say. Write your story. Then find the experts to make it publishable.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: Most of my time is spent editing—that’s how I put food on the table. But when I can make the time, I’m currently working on two very different novels of my own. One, The Woman in Room 23, is very loosely based on my mother’s less-than-happy life and her 12-year battle with Alzheimer’s, a battle she lost in 2011. The other is a murder mystery set in Orange County, California, called The Red Braces Murder.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you and your work?

A: Two of my books—Retribution and the sequel, Resolution—are available on Amazon.com. Both books, along with the cookbook John and I wrote called Some Like It Hot … the culinary adventures of one hot mama and one cool dude, are showcased on www.writerslairus.com. I can also be contacted directly at jennymargotta@gmail.com

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: J Margotta-Ferrara is a combination of my name and John’s. He was a prolific writer who often wrote under the name John Ferrara (Ferrara was his mother’s maiden name.) Listing both authors individually can sometimes be a hassle, so combining the names just seemed like the natural choice. Although I now write alone, I continue using the name in remembrance of John.

 

 

 

Advertisements

A Chat With Freddi Gold

Freddie Gold

One of the great joys of speaking engagements with writers’ groups is not only making new friends but also hearing about their personal journeys to publication. This time around I’m happy to welcome Freddi Gold, the inventive author of a trilogy she defines as, “Soft Sci-Fi in an adventure, thriller, romantic setting or Romantic Suspense in a science-fictional, adventure, thriller setting.” Fasten your seat belts and enjoy the ride!

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

**********

Q: Tell us what inspired you to write Dimension Norræna.

A: I had written and published a non-fiction book and except for the leeway I took by inserting scenarios to hold the attention of the reader I found it a lot like writing a thesis. Consequently when I had completed the book I didn’t want to write another in that category. Because the fictional vignettes were a lot of fun to do, I thought I would try fiction. I didn’t prepare much, just started with the idea that I was interested in metaphysics and really enjoyed dystopian novels. I guess you could say that I was inspired by the lure of a new adventure.

Q: Did you always envision this work to be a trilogy or did you reach the end and decide you simply couldn’t let go of your characters?

A: I had just finished reading Hunger Games, followed by Divergent, then Red Rising, 50 Shades of Grey and a host of single dystopian novels so I planned from the beginning to write a trilogy. I didn’t really know how to go about it so I just plunged in. For the first book, I used Al Watt’s, The 90 Day Novel and was motivated to write every day. The characters however, came alive for me and the length of the books gave me ample time to get to know them exceptionally well. At the end, in truth, I hated to leave them. I’d learned so much during the process though, that I looked forward to writing my next book with more discipline, time spent and in a much more studied way.

Q: What are some of the positives and negatives you’ve encountered in penning a series versus a stand-alone title?

A: I’m a very positive, optimistic person, so the negatives mostly seem like learning to me. I tend to turn them around into something beneficial. I realized at the onset that I needed to entice the reader to come back to the story when it ended in the first and second books while I was writing the next one. Because I was so interested in the book, I assumed everyone who liked the first one would be happy to dive right back in—much like how we wait for our favorite series on TV to return for the next season. Waiting a year in between each of them was an extraordinary request. In retrospect, that was asking a lot. If I ever do it again, I’ll release the trilogy once all the books are completed and ready for promotion. Since the romantic suspense aspect was included, I had to find a way to give the reader some satisfaction, without letting them know how things would end. I had to do this again in book two. Some people didn’t want to wait. A positive was that writing each book was exciting because I had to come up with adventures and twists while still heading for the eventual finale. I was able to languish in developing the characters, dreaming and fantasizing about directions to go in. I’m a “pantser” obviously, so I had no idea how the story would end and I found that both alluring and challenging.

Q: You define your book’s genre as “Soft Sci-Fi in an adventure, thriller, romantic setting” or “Romantic Suspense in a science-fictional, adventure, thriller setting.” Why did you have difficulty narrowing down to one genre?

A: Because the story is about a young woman who teleports to another dimension, my critique group and I originally thought the genre would be science-fiction. Once they learned, though, that this happened without the use of a vehicle, it flew in the face of physics. I was using bits and pieces of astrophysical terminology while introducing U.S Intelligence and criminal cartels, a sociopath and a romance or two. Add to the recipe the human-like species on Norræna and another more frightening class of aliens from Møhrkhavn, transhumanism, kidnapping, murder and a dog and soon it was labeled as a fantasy-thriller. Although it’s listed on Amazon under Sci-Fi, for many readers their main enjoyment is the romance and adventure. Verbally I like to say it’s soft sci-fi with a healthy dose of adventurous romance. I do like the term science-fictional which I read in one of the other interviews on this site, though. I think I may use that more.

Q: If your book were to be sold in a traditional bookstore, the obvious question to be posed is what shelf would it go on so that prospective buyers could find it?

A: Good Question! I’ve been looking at reviews and listening to verbal comments from the readers and I was surprised that both men and women really liked the romantic suspense aspect. I was sure most of the women would but surprised by the men. Many of the men sided with one of the males being chosen over the other. Interestingly, many of the women chose the other male. That prompts me to consider including it in the Romance genre. However there isn’t a sub-category for other-dimensional romance and it’s not alien or ghost romance or sci-fi erotica either. Is there a Metaphysical Romance shelf?

Q: Norræna means Nordic and you borrowed most of the Norrænder language from Iceland. How did that play for your readers?

A: I needed a language for the Norrænders. My own efforts looked like gobbledy-gook. I went to Google Translate and looked at translations of some of my lines from the book in a number of foreign languages. I was drawn to Icelandic. It was so unfamiliar to me. I thought it might be to others also. Initially I sought help with the syntax from a wonderful friend in Norway with an Icelandic neighbor to get the syntax right, more so than you could get from Google. I did realize since it was the language of a fictional people, that it did not have to be a hundred percent correct, so I took some liberty to leave out letters or add some or in some cases make up my own words just because they came to me as I was writing. Happily the readers found it both plausible and realistic. I will say it drove some of my critique group-members crazy trying to pronounce some of the terms. I used Dragon Naturally software to convert from audio to type and after a while Dragon learned to spell all the names and words correctly which I found quite humorous.

Q: Do you have a personal connection with Scandinavian countries or ancestry? In other words, what governed your decision to choose that orientation for the storyline?

A: No, I don’t. But I’m drawn there in a kind of mystical way. I’m sure I might have initially lingered in the stereotypical, romantic lure of Viking warriors and it fascinates me archaeologically, but the fact that the novel just poured out of me and leaned to the far north was as much a surprise to me as the next person. The more I wrote, the more natural it felt.

Q: Like many authors, you have gone the self-publishing route. What have you learned from this DIY strategy that you didn’t know when you started?

A: Everything! Being a member of the High Desert California Writers Club and having had the opportunity to listen to a wide selection of authors as invited speakers, I learned that the traditional publishing route was fraught with disappointment, long waits, and rejection. Like the way I wrote the series, I was eager to get the books published. I read The Fine Print of Publishing, by Mark Levine which provided a list of self-publishers in categories from Outstanding to Pretty Good, to Just Okay to Publishers to Avoid. I went right to the “Outstanding” publishers, read their reputations, fees, royalties, printing costs, contracts and other services. I selected Dog Ear Publishing for all of my books.

I found that my out-of-pocket costs could range from roughly $1100 for the least expensive package to $9,000. The packages were very attractive—so many areas to publishing I knew nothing about: interior and cover design, registration with online booksellers and national distributors, Books in Print, ISBN numbers, Library of Congress control number, a webpage for the book. There were add-ons, all for a cost, of course, like, e-book distribution, return policy options, integrated blogs and optimization for Google and others.

Some of my friends were using Create Space, but at the time it not only seemed too technical to me, but as I was teaching college courses every semester and summer classes as well, I just didn’t have the time or the inclination to do all the work it looked like it would be. I spent a lot. While I always had a very attentive author representative and have been more than happy with Dog Ear, I am re-considering the Create Space option to see how much effort might really be involved as the cost is far less, but there are sacrifices to consider as well.

Q: What are you doing to market your work?

A: Looking back there is much I could have done, but didn’t. First I think I should have celebrated the achievement, but I didn’t. I think everyone should reward themselves after writing their first few books, or heck, after any book is published. It’s a Big Deal! I never did a real book launch or did a tour to promote and sell the books. I might still do that. I used some social media, like Facebook and Twitter, but I didn’t keep the latter up. I had a website and I included it on any and all online work I did. I did publicity releases, was in the local paper several times. I did public speaking for a variety of organizations. My non-fiction book was used as a supplementary read for one of my classes and other instructors used it as well. The college bookstore sold it. I do as many book signings as I can work in. I’ve been on panels and been interviewed for blogs. I taught the Artists Way and promoted it there. I have a blog for Dimension Norræna (http://dimensionnorraena.com) and a Facebook page. I have run advertisements in the club state bulletin and locally.

Something new for me is to increase my reviews on Amazon and I plan to try advertising there also. My mind is geared to look for promotional opportunities. It’s a learning process.

Q: It’s rumored that you have an eclectic background. Tell us about it and how this background has influenced your interest in exploring a multiplicity of genres.

A:  When I was twelve I lived in Puerto Rico. TV had not been introduced so I read a lot and one day decided to write a book.  It was very short, about a group of kids who survived a plane crash, completely unscathed on an island in a vast sea, who set up a Robinson Crusoe-like existence and were rescued by page fourteen. I was quite proud of my achievement and wish I had kept it for a good laugh today. As a freshman in high school, I wrote an essay on my desire to become the first female Special Agent for the FBI. My teacher said it would never happen until I learned to spell special. My father wanted me to go to college to find a man who would support me. I majored in Drama my first year in college because my high school drama teacher was very cute. Imagine my surprise when my first instructor was in his eighties. I made my heroine in Dimension a college theatre instructor.

I stayed with my major. It was fun. I hadn’t a clue about how I would support myself or what to do with the degree. I became a flight attendant after my sophomore year, then finished my degree and moved to California. Coming from a long line of teachers, I became one and simultaneously picked up a Masters in the same field. Metaphysics drew me to a Psychic Research Society meeting one night in Los Angeles where I listened to a speaker talk about hypnosis. This led to my taking several years of training in the field of clinical hypnotherapy. I opened up a private practice and soon took an interest in psychology. All of these elements supplemented my character descriptions.

Earning another Masters in Clinical Psychology and a PhD in Human Behavior enabled me to leave high school teaching and become a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. With these credentials and my experience as a Clinical Hypnotherapist, I spent a lot of time doing public speaking, offering classes training other professionals in the health field and giving seminars related to hypnotherapy. A local radio station invited me as a guest on a talk show. This resulted in my having my own radio talk-show until I segued into having my own television talk show.

During all this time I continued with private practice and teaching college classes. I was published in several journals, and magazines and often cited in newspaper articles.

I travelled a bit to Europe, South America and most states, married, had kids and ultimately decided to write the nonfiction book. Joining the Writers Club encouraged me to pursue becoming a writer. I used all of my experience to color the events used in the series.

Q: Your first book, Adultery is Universal But I’m Getting Married Anyway, was nonfiction. What caused you to segue to fiction?

A: Almost all of what I’ve written is from an academic or professional perspective. I wanted to explore other possibilities, but I didn’t think I was creative enough. I also didn’t think I could generate any ideas for a story. I actually dreamed about an out of body kind of experience, and wrote the feelings and visual imagery down. Later when I began the book it occurred to me that it could be an interesting beginning. I altered it as ideas flowed and used the actual memory for another chapter later.  Honestly, it was much more fun to write fiction. I felt excitement to write every day, to create characters, to let my imagination roam free. I still write academic stuff daily. I teach all my classes online.

Q: Was there a purposeful shock element in giving this book a controversial title and incorporating vignettes to illustrate points made throughout the chapters?

A:  Yes. I took a two year program from a company called Mission Marketing Mentors. Among many wonderful ideas and valuable training in marketing a book related to a field I was in (Marriage Counseling), they provided a formula for creating a title that would attract attention, draw in the target audience and provide something that others in my field were not providing. The complete title of this book that was about the evolution of marriage and women’s roles, couple communication, infidelity and statistics was: Adultery is Universal, But I’m Getting Married Anyway: What to Know Before You Do or Already Have. It’s still selling after six years.

The book contains historical information, biological aspects of human beings, belief systems, gender orientation considerations, digital relations and statistical information. So it wouldn’t read like a straight textbook, the writing is casual and the vignettes help to paint a visual for the areas being discussed. My target audience was actually other therapists, but the general population buys it.

I should mention something that crushed me when the book first came out on Amazon. The day after it appeared, someone on a global website called Reddit, wrote that his girlfriend had cheated on him and wrote a book. Then he listed the name of my book and indicated it was on Amazon. A hoard of people then jumped in on the post promising to bash the book so nobody would buy it and they did—about fifteen of them. I didn’t understand what was happening and was devastated. My first book and it was receiving these horrible reviews. After a day or two, a subscriber to Reddit from England e-mailed me to tell me what had happened. I didn’t know him— he just thought I should know. I called Amazon and told them about the situation, but they would not remove the negative reviews. It was incredibly disappointing and frustrating.

Q: Have you been published in other formats besides books?

A: Yes—a little, in clinical journals, magazines on a variety of topics, business newspapers. I wrote for AOL on alternative medicine, and created a booklet for a Parks and Recreation Department for an Arizona city on Creative Drama. I wrote online communication courses for two different colleges and professional courses for the California Board of Behavioral Science and the Board of Registered Nurses. I’ve been published in three anthologies and recently wrote the prologue to a short book of women’s poems.

Q: As still a “newish” writer, where do you aspire to take your writing in the coming years?

A: I plan to focus only on writing novels. I might write a few speeches.

Q: What are the five most recent books you’ve read and how have they contributed to your knowledge base and skill set as a writer?

A:  The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood: Interesting formatting and revealed a different style of writing.

Stephen King/On Writing, Stephen King: I’m in progress-have read the memoir portion so far. Wonderful down to earth, solid advice on improving skills and the crucial importance of reading all the time.

Scotland Forever, Bonnie Watts: a lengthy historical novel set in the highlands of 1600s Scotland. I relished the detailed descriptions of the land, the characters and the story of everyday life in those times. It featured an emerging powerful woman. I learned more about the value and art of story-telling. (I can’t wait for Outlander to return).

The Hunt for Red October, Tom Clancy: My own books include CIA and FBI characters and operations. I wanted to read about earlier events and operations that would give me insight for my scenes. I did learn about roles and chain of command and a lot of technical terminology relative to that story’s situations.

The Kommandant’s Girl, Pam Jenoff: I enjoy historical novels from a wide variety of time periods and countries. Again the art of story-telling, this one about Poland and the Jewish community during the Nazi occupation. I feel that it broadens my intercultural knowledge and understanding.

Q: Besides reading, what else would you suggest to new writers to get them to take the plunge?

A: I believe that if you’ve thought about it, or if people have ever said to you. “You should write a book,” it means you have a story to tell, people like what you are telling them, find you interesting and think you should share it. If you have the itch, the dream, the desire—just do it! Give yourself permission to write badly, too. You can re-write later. A good way to start is to write every day. From more than one source, I learned to write three pages every day. It does not matter what you write about; just write. Write about a dream you had the night before, write about what you have to do and did instead, write about how you feel—about anything. But write every day. Join a writer’s group, a book club. Visit blogs on writing and also the blogs of authors whose books you’ve read and like. Read this blog site! Write a letter to an editor of a paper. Write to a magazine about an article you liked. Write letters or keep a journal. The key thing is to write. Read about or go to meetings to learn about writing and publishing and promoting and if you can, join a critique group. Don’t be afraid—it’s your story or book—other people just make suggestions from their perspective. Use what feels good to you and let the other advice go or keep it for future reference.

Q: What interests or pursuits have you added to your own writing skill?

A:  I like to add a number of different locations in my books and if I can, I use it as an excuse to go there. In addition to using many locations in California and Arizona in my books, I’ve taken the Amtrak Coast Starlight from LA to Canada, gone on a petroglyph tour and another to underground Seattle by Pioneer Square and stayed in the Ecuadorian mountains for a week. I visited an archeological dig there and travelled to different cities. I’ve been to Cabo San Lucas and utilized Google Earth to provide me with imagery for several different descriptions. Not sure if I’ll ever write about the early days of the West, but I subscribed to a couple of magazines (Cowboys & Indians, Wild West) that illustrate a variety of info in case I try that. I plan to get into sculpting again and use it in a scene. I try to stay current on science and new technology and rely on Discover, National Geographic and Archaeology magazines and news stories a good deal. I’m exploring a wide variety of writing aids online, utilize other writing blogs and learn from reading many club member and speakers books.

Q: Tuning out distractions when one is in the midst of wordsmithing is one of the biggest challenges that writers deal with on a regular basis. What’s your own secret for successful coping?

A: Well it’s not music. I tried that, but found myself too involved with the rhythm of the music and the imagery it created—even when I tried different kinds of melodies to help with a scene.

I write when my mind is most active and I am energized which is the first thing in the morning. I feed the dogs and myself, curl up on the couch or sometimes sit on the patio surrounded by trees while the dogs take a second nap. For me—it’s quiet. I don’t look at my cell unless there is a call, which at six am is seldom. I have a loosely constructed map in my mind re how to break up the day to take care of obligations so I’m not worrying about getting other things done while I’m writing. If I need to let the dogs out, or answer the door, I do it and get right back to writing. I try to write at least a chapter at a time. I use the re-write time to edit my work so when I’m writing, I’m just focusing on using my energy to pour out the story, the characters and tone that I want to keep intact.

Q: What are you currently working on?

A:  I’m about 150 pages into a new novel: Name of the Game. It centers around an intuitive-sensitive roughly ten years in the future who assists the CIA with her gifts on a case that includes a covert alien presence among the human population. (I’ve had the good fortune of working with UFO researchers and alien abduction). I’m “pantsing” it, but taking my time to work on the craft in greater depth as well. As soon as summer session classes are over, I’ll start a blog for this book. I’ll likely try writing in other genres as time goes by and I look forward to seeing how I transition to that. I’m also embarking on launching more specific promotion for the Dimension Norræna series. The website is http://freddigold.com. I can be reached at freddigold3@gmail.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

**********

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.