Ten Days in Summer

Calder-TenDaysInSummer[825]

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

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

**********

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

bwl-logo

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.

**********

 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

**********

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

**********

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