Barkerville Beginnings

Astrid Cover

Faced with financial ruin and the loss of her good name, Rose Chadwick decides to make a new start for herself and her young daughter, Hannah, in the rough and tumble gold rush town of Barkerville, British Columbia, in 1867. However, making a new life is not so easy when it’s built on lies. And, long suppressed emotions within her are stirred when she meets a handsome young Englishman. Such is the premise of author A.M. Westerling’s new historical romance, Barkerville Beginnings.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Growing up in Alberta, both of your parents had an influence on your reading choices and the passion that eventually drove you to start writing books of your own. Tell us about that.

A: Both my parents were readers – books, the daily newspaper, Time and Life magazines. My dad would always buy me a comic book or book if I asked unlike, say, a toy or something else, especially if we were on vacation. All of my siblings read as well so obviously the apple(s) didn’t fall far from the tree. My mom introduced me to romance novels in my early teenage years and I read every single Harlequin romance in our local library. When I was a bit older, my dad started suggesting historical novels, particularly Catherine Cookson. Once I hit university, I started reading Kathleen Woodiwiss, Rosemary Rogers, Bertrice Small and that was it – I was hooked on the historical romance genre.

Q: What titles might we have found on the nightstand of your teenage self and which ones stand out as fond favorites to this day?

A: Hmm, I really can’t remember. I do recall reading The White Mountains and the Tripods Series by John Christopher. I was pretty excited when my boys had to read it for English but they were like, meh. I was crushed, haha. I did read a fair bit of science fiction; i.e., Ray Bradbury and Isaac Asimov.  My dad also introduced me to Alistair MacLean and I read every single one of his books.

As mentioned earlier, my older teenage self discovered historical romance. I think my favorites from that time were The Wolf and the Dove, and The Flame and the Flower by Kathleen Woodiwiss. Plus I really enjoyed Rosemary Rogers` Sweet Savage Love and Wicked Loving Lies. Sigh, such titles, those were the good old days!

Q: I’m always intrigued by the day-jobs our authors have held prior to pursuing writing as a full-time career. What was yours and why did you choose it?

A: I have a degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of Calgary. I chose engineering because I wanted to graduate with a degree that would actually get me a job. I worked for a number of years in Alberta’s oil and gas industry and then my husband – a mechanical engineer – and I started our own engineering company. We specialized in heavy oil facilities and hit the market at the right time. Fifteen years later, we sold the company and now I’m retired. Too busy to work, thank you very much!

Q: What appeals the most to you about the historical romance genre?

A: I love history and I love romance. Win win.

Q: Obviously anything that transpires in a time period other than the present requires diligent research in order to feel “authentic” for one’s readership. Is it your preference to do all of the research first and then start writing or to look up details as you go along? Why does your chosen method work well for you and how does it correlate to working from an outline vs. listening to your muse?

A:  I do the research first because I need to become familiar with the time period before I can feel comfortable writing it. Of course, from time to time I will look up details as I go along. Also, research gives me story ideas so it helps with developing the plot.

Q: Too much research, though, can slot the pacing of the plot. How did you go about deciding what to keep and what to set aside (and possibly for another book)?

A: I always keep in mind that the romance between the main two characters is the focus of the story, and not the history. I only need to provide enough historical detail to make my readers feel as if they’re in that particular time period. Quite often, I’ll include an author’s note at the end of the manuscript to elaborate on the historical aspects of the work.

Q: The backdrop of your story, Barkerville, is a real place that dates back to Canada’s Gold Rush days. What did you learn about it that you didn’t know before you started writing the book?

A: That in the 1860s it was thought to be the largest town west of Chicago – estimates put the population in Barkerville and area as high as 10,000. Which is pretty amazing, considering how remote Barkerville was at the time. It still is, actually, as it’s in the interior of British Columbia and pretty far off the beaten track. Because of Barkerville and the Cariboo Gold Rush, the British Parliament put forward a bill making the area formerly known as New Caledonia into a crown colony, British Columbia.

Q: Surprises, of course, are inherent in the craft of writing. Do/did your characters ever nudge you to take a different route than the original journey you have/had planned for them?

A: Oh yes, all the time. That’s when I know I’m on the right track, when my characters take over the story. Makes my job a lot easier.

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

A: Hmm, I suppose the characters. All of my books have started with a scene that pops into my mind and I take it from there. For example, in my Viking romance A Heart Enslaved, the scene I worked around was the scene in the slave market where the hero Thorvald is about to sell the heroine, Gisela. My challenge was to set up the story to get them there in a believable manner.

In Barkerville Beginnings, the scene that popped up was the opening scene, where Edmund, the father of Rose’s daughter Hannah and who up until now has had nothing to do with her, shows up at the rooming house in Victoria where Rose and Hannah live and threatens to take away Hannah. The only solution Rose can see to avoid that is to escape with her.

Q: Was “characters first” the case with Barkerville Beginnings? Please explain what it was that set this particular story in motion for you.

A: Further to my previous answer, Rose decides to make her way to Barkerville. She’s heard a lot about it from miners passing through Victoria and she thinks it’s the perfect place to hide from Edmund plus a big enough town to provide a living for her.

Q: So give us a teaser of what this novel is about and who the main characters are.

A: My heroine is Rose Chadwick, a single mom in a time when unwed mothers were frowned upon. As you already know, she’s on her way to Barkerville to make a new life for herself and her daughter. Her experience with Edmund has left her wary of men which will prove to be a challenge in a town full of lonely miners and very few women.

The hero, Harrison St. John, was expected to marry the daughter of a wealthy industrialist to bolster the family’s sagging finances. However, he is left standing at the altar and instead makes his way to Barkerville in search of the fortune which will save his family from financial ruin. Because of his wedding fiasco, he has no use for women in his life.

They meet on the Cariboo Road after Rose and Hannah have been tossed from the stage coach because of an altercation between Rose and the driver. Unable to afford passage on another coach, Rose grudgingly accepts Harrison’s offer of a ride for Hannah and her into Barkerville. Once there, she and Harrison part ways. Or maybe not…

Q: Are any of them modeled after people you know (including aspects of your own personality) or are they purely works of fiction summoned from the ether?

A: I’m sure my characters include some aspects of my own personality, after all, I created them. But yes, they are purely works of fiction summoned from the ether. I will sometimes include real people. If so, I will add a comment about them in my author’s note.

Q: Do you allow anyone to read your chapters while they are still a work in progress or do

 you make them wait until you have typed the final page?

A: I work with critique partners. That way, they can set me straight if something doesn’t make sense or isn’t true to the characters. If changes are needed, I prefer to do minor revisions as I go rather than one big revision at the end. It’s more manageable and not as intimidating.

Q: What are you doing insofar as marketing to get the word out about your titles? Of these efforts, what do you feel has been the most successful?

A: Gosh, I wish I knew. Of course, I have a presence on Facebook, Twitter  and Goodreads. I have used FB ads with some success and I’ll try running a contest on my FB page. I might also do a promo spot on Book Bub as I know other writers have had success with that. I’m also going to try my first Goodreads giveaway and I’m guesting on more blogs, which I really appreciate.

Finally, more book signings. I’ve done one already here in Calgary for Barkerville Beginnings and will be participating in another one in July, plus I hope to have a signing in Barkerville itself.

My publisher also does a bit of promotion for their authors, and that’s definitely been effective, particularly for Kobo books.

But I’ve heard many times not to focus too much on social media as the best promo is to write the next book.

Q: You have a lovely first name and yet your books are published under initials. What governed that choice?

A: I write under a pseudonym because my real name is distinctive and I wanted to stay as anonymous as I could. Although in this day of the Internet, I’m sure anyone could figure out who I really am. Hmm, I’ve been spelling both my first and last names my whole life so I wanted something a bit easier. A.M. are my initials, and Westerling was my mom’s maiden name. In hindsight, though, I would probably go with Astrid Westerling as it’s a bit odd to receive emails addressed to A.M.

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

A: I like writing in my office, I’m comfortable there, my research books are close at hand and the window looks out to the western sky. No particular time although I do prefer having a quiet house so I love writing when my husband is out. I don’t have a day job so I am fortunate to be able to write when the whim strikes me.

Q: What’s the biggest distraction when you’re in your “writing zone”?

A: Email! Facebook! Laundry! Dust bunnies!

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

A: I always buy fresh flowers when I’m grocery shopping for my dining room table.

Q: What do you do for fun and why does it bring you joy and/or recharge your batteries?

A: I really enjoy walking and I try and get out for a walk every day, even if it’s only for 15 or 20 minutes. In the spring and summer, I love working in my garden and better yet, enjoying the fruits of my labor with a cold beer in hand on the patio. I enjoy a good movie or TV series and yes, I will analyze the plot development, much to the annoyance of my husband. I don’t read nearly as much as I should but love it when I find a great book to immerse myself in. A recent read that comes to mind is Juliet Waldron’s Roan Rose.

We do a bit of traveling in March when spring refuses to come to Calgary and although I’ll bring my little laptop, I rarely sit down and use it. Vacations are for replenishing the well. And I totally love camping, especially in northern British Columbia. My idea of heaven on earth.

Q: As an insider tip to aspiring writers, what do you know now about the publishing industry that you wish you had known when this journey began?

A: Hop onto Google and find a local, or online, writing group. Writing is a lonely occupation so it’s nice to connect with others who share the same passion you do. I’ve found nobody is more willing to help a newbie author than other authors – the advice, shared experiences and support are invaluable.

Q: Where do you see the publishing industry going in the next 10-20 years, and do you think it will be harder or easier for authors to get their work in front of an audience?

A: Indie publishing is definitely here to stay and I think you’ll see more authors going that route if for no other reason than getting your work out and available a lot quicker.

Traditional publishing (i.e., finding a publishing house to publish you) will always be around, too, of course, and although in this day of indie publishing they’re crying for new authors, it will still be difficult to break into. For one thing, the big publishers are too afraid to take a risk. They’ll say they want something new and exciting but when push comes to shove, it’s the same old same old. Just take a look at the shelves at your local supermarket – you’ll always see the same names, particularly in the romance genre.

As far as getting your work in front of an audience, no matter if you’re indie or traditionally published, it’s hard enough already. Publishers expect authors to do their own promo work.

Q: Best personal cure for writer’s block?

A:  Go for a walk.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: I’m working on another Viking romance, this time set in Vinland aka L’Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland. I was working on it when I got the opportunity to participate in the Canadian Historical Brides series so I put it aside as I like to work on only one project at a time. Something about my attention span… ha ha.

I have a few ideas percolating for two more Regency set romances. Here’s the scene that’s popped into my head from one of them:

The brig.  His own crew – the mutinous scurvy bastards! – had tossed Captain YY in his own brig.  His ship. Therefore his brig.

He slammed a calloused palm against the rough planked wooden door then pressed his face to the small grated opening that passed for a sorry excuse of a window. The ship rolled and water sloshed around his ankles. The single lantern swung, casting erratic shadows on the wall and a rat swam by, its black eyes shiny in the feeble light.

With a muttered curse, he dropped down on the narrow bench and swung up his legs. He wedged his feet against the wall and leaned his head back.

Then he proceeded to think about how many enjoyable ways he could do away with the interfering Miss XX.

Because after all, it was her fault he was here.

 And from that will grow an entire book!

 

 

 

 

Romancing the Klondike

 

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

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: Have your characters ever surprised you?

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

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

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

Q: What’s next on your plate?

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

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: No. These questions cover everything.

 

 

 

 

Ten Days in Summer

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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.

 

 

 

Books We Love

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Interview with Judith Pittman, Publisher of Books We Love

Interviewer: Debbie A. McClure

 I have the privilege of working with Jude Pittman and the team at Books We Love (BWL) Publishing. In getting to know Jude, I became intrigued and wanted to learn more about this interesting woman who has been there, done that when it comes to writing and publishing, and how BWL started. Getting the inside scoop and a few behind-the-scenes of an up-and-coming Canadian publisher is a real treat for any writer or wannabe writer. Read on to find out what it takes to be an author and publisher in today’s quicksand world of book publishing.

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 Q: How and why did you get started as a publisher?

A: Back in the late 1990s I published my first book with a small e-book publisher and discovered that authors were responsible for all of their own promotions. This seemed overwhelming in that with one book most opportunities for promotion were way too expensive for a single author. I had belonged to a large group on Compuserve, called the Time Warner Authors Forum, where both traditionally published and digitally published authors gathered. Time Warner was one of the first of those services to thrive online and as one of the section leaders there I became very active in providing research information and support for both indie and traditional authors. Through this service, I became acquainted with a lot of authors and learned about all aspects of publishing.

Eventually I joined another author chat list, where I met even more Indie authors, all of us struggling with the same issues; how to promote our books in the fledgling e-book industry, where costs of promotion far exceeded any of our book publishing incomes.

I grew weary of the chat list, and came up with the idea to leave that group and formed Books We Love Author Promotion Services, where each author paid a flat annual fee and I would create a website with a page for every author and the promotion information for each author’s books. Then we combined what funds we had, to go after some of the larger promotion opportunities. It worked quite well, was very popular, and ultimately I ended up with over 100 authors. With our pooled funds, we were able to join in and offer a lot of promotion options that individually we could not afford. We held contests, promoted on review sites and generally supported each other, even though we were all from different small press publishers.

Q: What makes BWL unique as a publisher? What does this mean for authors looking to publish with you?

A: We started with a lot of knowledge and experience in the industry. Most of us are long time published authors. Many came from the shrinking mid-lists of the traditional publishers, and when the time came in the 2000s when traditional publishers started merging and forming giant conglomerates that dumped their mid-lists, and Indie publishers started going out of business right and left. A lot of these exceptionally talented authors were left holding the bag—many not getting paid their royalties and most being ignored by their former publishers. This started discussions among the members of my author promotion group, and several of the authors encouraged me to start a publishing venture. I gave it a lot of thought, and what finally tipped the scale was when my own publisher went out of business and I was left with a series of books and no publisher.

I first started Books We Love as a sole proprietorship, then had a couple of partners join me, but after a couple of situations where I realized I needed professional support and backing, I approached my former boss, a retiring lawyer with many years of experience in business law. I asked if he’d like to have something to do when he retired, and help a very large number of people in the process. He agreed, the Corporation Books We Love Ltd. was formed in 2012. Thanks to Brian Roberts’ support and a group of the best authors in the publishing industry today, we have grown and thrived. It’s not always easy, the challenge is immense, and the costs are high, but the rewards, especially as a Canadian genre fiction publisher are huge. There’s never been one in Canada that survived. The literary publishers pretty much ignore all of our genre fiction authors, and submissions are rarely opened, and when they are, they’re politely refused.

Books We Love is a Canadian genre fiction publisher that works primarily with experienced, multi-published authors who have considerable skill and storytelling ability.

Q: Jude, you are also a well-seasoned, respected writer. What has been the biggest lesson you’ve learned since beginning this journey of writing?

A: You have to love it to be a writer. Very few ever make a full-time living. Most of our authors either hold full-time jobs or are retired. Giant corporations like Amazon have flooded the markets with poorly written and poorly edited manuscripts – they don’t care about anything but the bottom $0.99 cents, and as a result it’s a huge challenge to get your voice heard in the midst of thousands of screaming petitioners. But, if you love writing, and you want to leave behind stories that can be enjoyed for generations, and you get a huge amount of satisfaction when that one person who purchases your story online is kind enough to leave you a review to tell you how much they loved your story, it’s worth it. So the biggest lesson is probably; if you get into publishing strictly for the money, I’d recommend another job.

Q: What do you see as the future for publishing, either traditionally or indie?

A: I believe we’ll have two distinct types of publishing. The major “celebrity, ghost written stories”, because when Hollywood celebrities aren’t getting enough attention or being offered roles, they write books. They say “the cream always rises to the top.” Ultimately all of those publishing as a lark (Because hey, anyone can publish a novel. Just get on Amazon and stick your story up there.) will discover that good writing is hard work, and surviving in publishing takes talent, dedication, and experience. You have to be a good storyteller, you have to be a master of your craft, and you have to put the effort in to write and rewrite and rewrite again until you have the best story you can write. Ultimately that “cream” will rise to the top, and the authors who strive for excellence will be known by the excellence of their work. That doesn’t mean that the “celebrity ghost written stories” won’t continue to get the most attention and make the most money, but it does mean that the really good writers will always have the satisfaction of knowing they told the best story they could tell, and that story will endure for generations to come. I love the idea of my fifth generation granddaughter reading my books and saying, “My great, great, great, great grandma wrote this story.”

Q: What does BWL look for in an author?

A: We look for quality writers with excellent stories to tell, the education and experience to tell the stories, the dedication to edit and re-edit those stories until they are as perfect as they can make them, and the willingness to stay the course. To believe in your stories, be willing to tell the world about your stories, and the conviction to continue writing more stories until you have completed a library of work that you can be proud of. Books We Love is not set up for the novice. Our authors need to have several books and years of publishing behind them, because it simply takes a long time and many books to gain the skills and knowledge of craft necessary to tell the kind of stories being told by our Books We Love authors.

In our latest venture, The Canadian Historical Brides novels, one novel is written a BWL author for every province and territory in Canada, and published by Books We Love to celebrate Canada’s 150 birthday. #canada150.

Q: What would you say are three of the biggest mistakes new authors make, and how can they avoid those pitfalls?

A: Not putting in the time to learn their craft. Publishing is not an “instant career.” Don’t be one of those who flood the shelves with poorly written, poorly edited and obviously inferior quality work. Take classes, study with online groups, join critique groups, polish your manuscript, and then when you think it’s great, rewrite the entire manuscript. Then find a mentor to evaluate and tell you what you need to do to your novel so that it’ll be a piece of work you can be proud to publish. As in any other industry, pay your dues, learn to write before you learn to publish, and when you’re ready, find a publisher that recognizes and supports your talent. Good writers with good stories will always find a publisher.

Q: What would you say is the biggest challenge a publisher faces?

A: First, making sure that every book is edited so that it shines to its highest potential, then setting that book up so that it stands out in an over-crowded marketplace, and last but not least, promoting your author with everything you can muster. It is our job to make sure that an author’s books and voice is recognized, to the best of your ability. Of course that has to be done by the author as well, but the publisher can certainly go a long ways toward helping reach that goal. At Books We Love we have a dedicated “author written” blog, the Books We Love Insider Blog (www.bwlauthors.blogspot.ca). We have a Facebook page, a Facebook Online Fan Club page, and several Facebook pages for various groups, like our Canadian Historical Brides Facebook page. The challenge of gaining recognition for your authors and their books is the publisher’s biggest challenge.

Q: Writers often wonder whether they should write their narrative using the spelling of their own country, based on the country of the story’s setting, or based on the spelling of their target market. What’s your opinion?

A: We started out using US spelling, because initially the US was the biggest marketplace for digital publishing. Over the years that has changed, and as our international marketplaces expanded and more authors from international countries joined us, we’ve adopted a policy of having our authors write their stories in the language of the country, or location of the characters in the story. In other words, we favour telling your story in the “English” spoken by the characters in the story.

Q: BWL utilizes the talents of experienced, talented editors and cover-artist to help round out the professional look of a book. What advice would you give to new writers faced with making decisions regarding editing and cover art?

A: I’m probably the wrong person to answer that question, because in my opinion books without qualified editors should never be published and cover art should be a coordination between author, cover artist, and publisher. The publisher has the final say, since they will be making the final decision that the book is ready to publish.

Q: In your opinion, what is the future of print and e-books, and why?

A: I believe it’s already happening. Readers are growing weary of the “Amazon mass” that’s out there and they are looking for better quality. They are willing to pay higher prices to find better books to read, and they are equally willing to purchase both e-books and print. At first the e-book industry thrived, but having it flooded with thousands and thousands of barely readable manuscripts has seriously damaged the market. Many former e-book readers have gone back to print, just because they feel they have a better chance of getting a quality book if it’s available in print. As we all know, that is not always the case, but what’s exciting is that a lot of readers are looking to blogs like You Read It Here First and others for recommendations. They’re visiting publisher’s online storefronts, and they are doing their own due diligence before purchasing their books. Kobo, Overdrive, Apple, and others, are growing. In my opinion, Amazon, with their fixation on videos, drone merchandise deliveries, and the music industry has kind of “deserted” the publishing arm to a certain extent, leaving it to sink or swim on its own. Like I said, ultimately “the cream always rises to the top.”

Q: Looking forward into the future, what do you hope to see for BWL?

A: I’d like Books We Love to become the genre fiction voice of publishing in Canada. That’s my dream. When I started out I was shocked to discover that Canadians, for the most part, had to go to the United States to find a publisher. Unfortunately, unless the author wrote literary fiction, there were no Canadian publishers willing to even read their work. The times are changing and digital publishing has had a lot of impact on those changes. I’m looking for Books We Love to be a pioneer as one of the first truly successful Canadian genre fiction publishers.

Q: What’s next for you, Jude?

A: I guess I answered that one in the question above. I’ll be working on that dream until it materializes. This past year we received funding from the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund—a huge step for a Canadian genre fiction publisher. It was a small grant, but a big step forward. We’re using it to promote our Canadian Historical Brides series of 12 books, all to be published in 2017 and 2018, covering every province and territory in Canada (with Northwest Territories and Inuvik combined in the same book). This is such an exciting series, and the books I’ve read so far are amazing. Talk about getting to know your own country through the lives of the people who really lived those times. You see, the stories are all fact-based. Every aspect of the stories are meticulously researched. The bride and groom are fictional characters, but they are set in factual locations at factual times, and they live their lives among real people who lived during the time of the story. These books are amazing. I’ve read Brides of Banff Springs (Alberta), His Brother’s Bride (Ontario) and Romancing the Klondike (Yukon), and I can say unequivocally that every book is one I’m proud to have in  my library and I believe the Canadian public is going to feel the same way.

On the writing front, I’ll be working with my writing partner, romantic suspense author Jamie Hill, to complete Book 2 in our McWinter Confidential series. Look for To Catch a Ghost by Jayme Lynn Robb (our pseudonym) in September of 2017.

Find Jude and Books We Love Here:

Canadian Historical Brides Blog: https://www.facebook.com/Books.We.Love.Ltd/

Facebook: Books We Love Ltd: https://www.facebook.com/Books.We.Love.Ltd/

Facebook: Books We Love Online Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/153824114796417/

Insider Blog: http://bwlauthors.blogspot.ca/

Website: http://bookswelove.net/

Twitter: @judebookswelove

How to Prepare Your Young Child for Success in School

How to Prepare Your Young Child for Success in School

I often consider myself fortunate to have been a toddler in a pre-technology age. Yes, there was radio and television but they figured only minimally in terms of educating me or keeping me mindlessly entertained. I also seem to recall that my favorite toys were sans batteries and that I could be mesmerized for hours with “talking” sock puppets, blowing bubbles, making hand-shadows on the walls, collecting fallen flower petals, and turning the pages of a colorful book as the nearest available parental read out loud to me.

As a result of these experiences – all of which were “free” – I knew how to read, write, talk up a storm, color pictures and do simple math before I ever started school. Margaret Welwood’s book (available through SmashWords) may be small in terms of page count but it packs a pleasant punch of happy memories and serves as a reminder to today’s parents, grandparents and guardians that the very best thing they can spend on the little ones in their lives is Time. It’s a message that can’t be repeated often enough, especially the concept of carrying on conversations with toddlers even though logic might otherwise tell you that they haven’t a clue about, oh say, what the national deficit, global warming, or supply side economics even means.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Let’s start with your background as an educator and ESL instructor. During the 25+ years you worked with immigrant families, were there any differences you observed between the passion they exhibited to give their children the best learning opportunities versus the mindset and expectations of non-immigrant parents?

A:  An interesting question. I would say that in my experience most parents want the best for their children and will sacrifice to provide for them. However, some of the refugees I worked with had suffered so terribly in their home countries that I believe they had a heightened appreciation of what it means to be Canadian. They were truly grateful for the opportunities their children would have here.

Others, whom we would term “economic refugees,” gave up good positions in their home countries so their children could have a better life here. One young woman told me that in her country she didn’t have choices. “Here,” she said, “I have choices.”

Q: What attracted you to the topic of early learning?

A: I’d worked with children off and on for years. When I wanted to promote our college’s English as a Second Language program for adults, a freebie on the website on how parents could help their children learn seemed like a good idea.

Q: What are some of the most significant changes you’ve seen in this field?

A: My early work with children consisted of teaching nursery school, Sunday School and English as a Second Language. In later years I worked as a teacher aide with Canadian students who had special needs. Thus I can’t really speak to how curriculum and delivery have changed, but I will note another important facet.

That is the emphasis on safety and security. There were no peanut-free schools when I started out. Fire drills yes, lockdown procedures no. And no signing in and out at the day care. I was so impressed with the director of Tommy’s after school care. I used to pick him up about once a week. Once I picked him up two days in a row, and the director asked, “Is he staying with you now?” They don’t miss much!

Q: What do you feel distinguishes your approach to early learning tools and techniques?

A: I believe that’s what is in the book is simply common sense, based on shared experience and solid research.

Q: Define the desired takeaway value of this book for your readers.

A: I think that for conscientious and aware parents and caregivers much of the value may be in being able to say, “I’m doing most of these things. I’ve got it right!” But there may be a couple of surprises. I’m really intrigued by the link between learning a second language and delaying Alzheimer’s symptoms, and the possible link between excessive screen time and autism.

Other parents, particularly young ones, may find a lot of new information that they can use from day one.

Q: Throughout the text you’ve incorporated wonderful pictures rather than using stock photos. Why?

A: None of the pictures except the cover one were taken with the book in mind. I looked through some very attractive—and free—stock photos, but they all looked so posed. They didn’t fit with my theme of using everyday experiences and no-cost or low-cost activities.

Q: Tell us about your prior writing/editing experience.

A: I started writing freelance newspaper and magazine articles, then edited a business magazine and a Writer’s Digest award-winning book on diabetes education.

Q: How did you get into writing picture books for children?

A: My grandchildren, Tommy and Tina, were the impetus. They like me to read them stories, but there’s something special about making up our own. Tina even missed her school bus one day while she and I were engrossed in our story about a bug hotel! And once Tommy called, very sad, and said, “I think what would help me is a really funny story.” I did a take on Jack and the Beanstalk using his house, and it helped to distract him from his sorrow.

Q: The best writers were often voracious readers growing up and have simply carried that thirst for reading into adulthood. Would that apply to you?

A: Yes. I really liked science fiction. My mother used to park me in the book section of The Bay while she did her shopping, and I worked my way down a series of SF books.

Q: What and who were some of the books and authors that especially resonated with you?

A: Marooned on Mars by Lester del Rey and French-Canadian fairytales. I also read non-fiction books about astronomy. The Stars Are Yours by James S. Pickering was an inspiration. I bought a telescope, and my friends and I had a space club.

Q: I’m assuming you read aloud to your children when they were toddlers?

A: Oh yes, and years after they were toddlers, too.

Q: As crucial as this bonding experience is between a parent and child, a lot of today’s moms and dads who are dual wage earners or are single heads of households lament that they just don’t have enough time to read aloud, much less play games. What impact does this have on a child when s/he starts school?

A: Some older teachers say that kids aren’t as smart as they used to be. I think part of that is the need for faster and flashier stimulation than a book affords. Yet, earlier this year as a volunteer story reader at a day care, I found that the children were, in general, very good at listening to stories. I also never saw a TV on there.

Reading and playing with children is important, but I believe that a lot is also accomplished through solitary and group play with generic toys that encourage creativity.

Q: Every year there seems to be a strong push to get technology into the hands of children at a younger and younger age. In your view, what are the pros and cons of this approach to early learning?

A: Pro—it’s the way our world is, and children need to be ready for it. Also, some learning technology is highly interactive. I’m attempting to learn French with a free online program and a set of DVDs I’ve borrowed from the library, and I think they’re pretty effective.

Con—I think some children are less able to entertain themselves or to pay attention to what’s going on around them. And they are losing the ability to interact with others through play. I see these as real losses, and I’m always encouraged when parents limit screen time.

Q: Writing is a solitary pursuit. Do you allow anyone to read your work while it’s in progress or do you make everyone wait until it’s completely done?

A: Allow?? I insist! I love getting feedback.

Q: You’re giving your book away for free and yet this still requires marketing efforts on your part to let parents, grandparents and guardians know that it’s available. What steps are you taking to accomplish this?

A: I’ve posted a link on my website. There are several links to the book on my g+ page because I’ve posted it on several communities. I offer it to people I meet who show interest in the topic—and I ask people like you and The Edimath for reviews!

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: The artist is coloring the pictures for Scissortown and then the marketing will begin in earnest, hopefully this month. (I have a reading at the Christian school booked for Jan. 27.) I’m also doing a course on Google AdWords.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: The e-book, Scissortown, and other books to follow are expressions of my love for my grandchildren and our enthusiasm for stories.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

A: Please visit Writing Books for Children to learn about my writing journey, Grandma’s Treasures to learn about Tommy and Tina, the inspiration for my stories, and Grandma’s Bookshelf for a video about Scissortown, a link to my free e-book, and reviews of books I like.

 

Desolation Row

Desolation Row

The 1960’s. It was the era of the Nixon/Kennedy debates, the Berlin Wall, the turbulence of civil rights, the Beatles, foreign espionage, the moon landing, and the emergence of a counterculture generation that believed that loving one another was preferable to committing acts of violence. Central to this latter mindset was the controversy of the Vietnam War and the decision of many able-bodied young men to avoid the U.S. draft by leaving the country. In debut author Kay Kendall’s new release, Desolation Row, her newlywed heroine not only finds herself married to such a man but also in jeopardy of losing him as a result of dire circumstances beyond the control of either of them.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Tell us how your journey as a writer began and what inspired you to embrace the mystery genre for your debut in the world of publishing.

A: My favorite stories involve romantic suspense set against a backdrop of great turmoil and danger. Stories about World War II and the Cold War fill that bill for me. I wanted to write my own version of that kind of romantic suspense. In the case of Desolation Row, a young woman from Texas marries her college sweetheart and goes off to Canada with him during the Vietnam War. Then her husband David is arrested and jailed for murdering the son of a United States Senator. Only the new bride, Austin Starr, believes he is innocent. Against all odds, she decides to rescue him, to prove that he was no killer.

Q: Did you read a lot of mysteries when you were growing up? If so, who are some of the authors whose storytelling styles you most admired?

A: I read every one of the Nancy Drew mysteries, just gobbled them up. I also read classic fairy tales that had an air of suspense to them. From there I leapt right on to the famous Cold War spy stories of John le Carré. In contrast, I read just one book in the series that featured Cherry Ames in various nursing professions.   Not my cup of tea at all. Now that I am “all grown up,” I don’t even watch medical shows. They simply don’t interest me, whereas mysteries and suspense and spies sure do.

Q: Who and what are you reading now?

A:  I’ve just begun to read Sue Grafton’s latest offering in her famous alphabet series that stars private eye Kinsey Milhone. This one is called W is for Wasted, so she doesn’t have many letters in the alphabet left to explore. I’m impressed by how much her mysteries have grown in complexity over the years. I heard her speak at a writers’ conference last month, and she is a hoot—besides being massively talented.

Q: Does the title you chose for your new book – Desolation Row – have a particular meaning to you?

A: All the titles of my Austin Starr mystery series will be taken from Bob Dylan songs. If you know the era, then you will recognize those titles and realize that the stories are set in the sixties. I had to make sure that any title I used was from a song that had been released by the time my story took place. Bob Dylan is so prolific a song writer that it is not hard to find an appropriate, evocative title. In the case of Desolation Row, the title captures Austin’s husband’s sense of desolation as he waits in a row of cells in prison.

Q: Tell us about your female protagonist, Austin Starr, and the passions that drive her thoughts and actions.

A: Austin is smart, a real bookworm, and loves history. She’s young and naïve and has been taught by her mother that the role of wife and mother is the only one that will bring fulfillment to a female. Austin is not sure this is true, but she goes along with it and, with that grounding, she feels she has to go to Canada with her husband, even though she does not want to leave Texas. Her husband is a political activist but she is not. Once David is jailed, only one thing counts for Austin—proving his innocence. After that, she hopes somehow, someway, to return home to Texas. That is an over-arching question to this series—will Austin ever return to the United States, which is her heart’s desire?

Q: Is she modeled after a real person?

A: Austin is a combination of traits that I see in my nearest, dearest, and longest-held friends.

Q: If Hollywood came calling, who would you cast in the lead role and why?

A: Because Austin Starr is only twenty-two years old in 1968, when Desolation Row takes place, the actress who plays her has to be quite young. She has to be able to be naïve and sheltered and scared. Although Austin gets around to being gutsy eventually, she does have lots of fears. I’d pick one of these young actresses—based not on their looks but their ability to portray vulnerability: Dakota Fanning, Elizabeth Olsen, or Sheilene Woodley. I think they are all excellent.

Q: Desolation Row is set against the turbulent backdrop of the 1960’s. Why did this specific era personally resonate with you?

A: Within the mystery genre, historical fiction is my personal favorite. Many authors locate their sleuths and their spymasters during the wars of the twentieth century. The two world wars and the Cold War all have hundreds of mysteries set during those times. The only large wars of last century not “taken,” not overrun with mysteries, occurred in Korea and Vietnam. The latter is a comparatively empty niche that I concluded needed to be filled with more mysteries—and I decided I was the one to do the filling. I wanted to show what life was like for young women of that era—not the type that made headlines, the Hanoi Janes or Angela Davises, but the moderates who nonetheless got swept along by the tides of history during the turbulent sixties. All that turmoil lends itself to drama, intrigue, and murder.

Q: Did you do all of your research in advance or look things up as you went along?

A: I had my fill of research a long time ago in graduate school and chose something I could write about without having to do lots more. If I hit something that I wasn’t sure of, then I looked it up. For example, I mention the Maginot Line and thought I knew exactly what it was, but I did research just to make sure. I was right to begin with, by the way. I also had a Canadian judge read my manuscript to ensure my portrayal of the criminal justice system was correct, and also journalist who had attended the University of Toronto read the manuscript to make sure I had the period details right. Austin Starr and her new husband David move from Texas to Ontario because he is resisting the Vietnam War draft, and they both become grad students at that university.

Q: Did you always envision that the book would become a series or was it a matter of not wanting to let go of your characters after you typed “The End?”

A: I adore historical mysteries that come in series, and that is exactly what I set out to do in the beginning. I am writing the second book in the series and have the third and fourth plots in mind already.

Q: How did you go about finding the right publisher and what was your experience with the publisher you ultimately chose?

A: I submitted the manuscript of Desolation Row to several agents and to three publishers that would take un-agented submissions. Many American agents and some publishers are not keen to take on a book that is not set in the United States and definitely didn’t see the Canadian setting as a plus, but the publisher I ended up with had already issued books that have Canadian content. As soon as I saw that on their web page, I knew that Stairway Press of Seattle would be a good fit with my book. Lucky for me, I turned out to be right. The people at Stairway have been a joy to work with, and because my publisher Ken Coffman runs his operation like a writers’ cooperative, I had a lot of input into how my book turned out physically.

Q: I love the cover design! What’s the story behind it?

A: Isn’t She lovely? I get so many comments about the cover. That pleases me because I found that cover model myself. If I had been with a huge publishing house, I would have had little to no input opt for a hippie-ish looking young women. The same model used in book one will be on book two as well, naturally!

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

A: I’ve heard lots of horror stories from authors about their dealings with publishers. I used to think that once a writer secured an agent and a publishing contract, then the writer was almost home free, so to speak. Now I know that is not true. There are plusses and minuses to being with big publishers and small ones, and also to self-publishing. I knew bits of all this before, but now I know it all at a much deeper level and with lots more detail

Q: What do you know about the life and habits of being a working writer now that you have published your first book?

A:  I’ve learned that a writer has to do enormous amounts of self-promotion. Also that you really, really have to want to be a writer because it is not easy and is, in fact, tons and tons more work than I ever dreamed. That said, I absolutely love being a working writer, every bit of it. Well, perhaps not the ups and downs, but even the big-name writers say they have those too and that the capriciousness and anxiety inherent in the writing life are all just part of the whole package.

Q: Did you allow anyone to read Desolation Row while it was a work in progress or make them wait until you were completely finished?

A: I am in two writers’ groups and therefore many people had the opportunity to review Desolation Row before it came out. I found their constructive criticism helpful.

Q: Many book clubs are using Skype to invite today’s authors into their living room meetings. Have you done this and, if so, what do readers need to know in order to book you for a virtual appearance?

A: Yes, I love visiting book clubs using Skype! I’ve done it once, and we went on talking on Skype for more than an hour. If anyone would like to sign me up for a book club gig, please email me at Kay@StairwayPress.com

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

A: My author’s photo shows me holding one of my house rabbits, named Dusty. Fifteen years ago my husband and I began rescuing bunnies that people abandon. Few people know that—after cats and dogs—rabbits are the most often given up to animal shelters. I am a member of a rescue organization called Bunny Buddies in Houston and active in getting people to learn what great house companions rabbits can be.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I’m writing the second Austin Starr mystery entitled Rainy Day Women. Austin’s only good friend in Canada becomes the prime suspect in the murder of a graduate student in Vancouver who was the leader of a women’s liberation group. Rainy Day Women is a famous Bob Dylan song, but it fits so perfectly. Vancouver in Canada is just as rainy as Seattle, plus the plot centers on women.

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

A: I have two different pages on Facebook—one is personal where you can become my friend and the second is my author’s page that you can “like.”

These are http://www.facebook.com/kendall.kl and http://www.facebook.com/KayKendallAuthor

As well my personal website is http://www.KayKendallAuthor.com

I’m also on LinkedIn, and I do Tweet @kaylee_kendall