Demon Reaper

Adele Cawley

In a slightly futuristic dystopia, a teenage girl discovers she’s an empath and that she is the linchpin between the physical world and the supernatural. Author Adele T. Cawley shares how her paranormal fantasy, Demon Reaper, came about and why it’s a genre with timeless themes of independence, individuation and rebellion that resonate with today’s YA readership.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: How and when did your journey as a writer begin?

A: Professionally, I’d have to say it began by taking a huge leap of faith investing in a collaborative publishing course, and forcing myself not to give up on my dream. However, my journey as a writer truly began when I learned to write words, at about age five. I can’t remember a time in my life I haven’t loved the power of the written word, and particularly, the emotions words can invoke.

Q: Were you a voracious reader growing up? What books might we have found on the nightstand of your adolescent self? Your teenage self?

A: I was a voracious reader growing up at times, and at other times it was hard to find interest in any book at all. I call the voracious spells “reading jags” because they are similar to food jags toddlers go through when they obsess over one or two foods and can’t seem to eat enough of them. (My four-year-old is currently going through a food jag with peanut butter and insists on eating it for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks.) Sometimes I get this way with books, and I can’t inhale them fast enough.

As an adolescent I loved the Childhood of Famous Americans book series, which prompted a lifelong love of historical fiction. I also loved the Hardy Boys mystery books, and I read every book my school library carried when I was in the 4th and 5th grades. These books primed me for my love of mysteries, and when I got a little older I read several Sherlock Holmes stories. I sometimes joke that my love of Frank and Joe Hardy (particularly Joe) was the foundation for my love of the Winchester brothers in the TV series, Supernatural, particularly Dean.

In my late teen years, I had a taste for the macabre and devoured the thrilling works of Stephen King and Dean Koontz, as well as the works of Edgar Allan Poe. Around this same time I read the Chronicles of Amber by Roger Zelazny which propelled me into the realm of fantasy, where I have semi-permanently stayed.

Q: What are you reading now?

A: Right now I’m reading the Red Rising series by Pierce Brown, and although I’m not a huge sci-fi fan, these books have been exciting to read. I love the clipped pacing and the throw-back to medieval fighting and chivalric code of honor, despite the books taking place in outer space. They remind me of Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card and the Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins which makes for a very fun time, and reading late into the night is a guilty pleasure of mine.

Admittedly, I am in the middle of the series and have diverted momentarily to read Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, but who doesn’t have more than one good read going on at the same time, right?

Q: What authors would you say have had the most influence on your own voice and style as a novelist?

A: I’m a huge fan of Brandon Sanderson, and if I can get half as good at storytelling and descriptive writing as him, I’ll consider myself very successful. I also loved The Giver Quartet by Lois Lowry, and I really admire her prose and storytelling abilities. The way she made me think while reading those books has stayed with me, and I want to be able to write a compelling story that would have the same effect on others.

Q: Skylar Grant, the heroine of your new book, Demon Reaper, is a teenage girl. In what way(s) have you channeled emotions and memories of yourself at that same age? In what ways is Skylar’s personality completely different from yours?

A: In writing about Skye, it would be impossible for her not to have similar characteristics to me. I was a loner-type of girl when I was younger, having only a few close friends, and her isolation reminds me of myself, especially her inability to make a strong connection with the group. I was often referred to as “stuck-up” or “snobbish” in school, and I reference this to Skye’s character when people accuse her of being a “princess.” I’ve never considered myself (or Skye) to be stuck-up. I prefer the term misunderstood.

On the other hand, Skye is more stubborn than me. She has a gutsy streak to her that I don’t have. Part of it is due to growing up in a hard environment having to survive a second American civil war and then living in a very old-fashioned community without modern comforts. I have lived a soft, mostly abundant life, where she has not, and she has the heart of a survivor. If I was dropped into her lifestyle it’d be a grand adventure for a couple of days, and then after that I’m not sure I would enjoy it anymore.

Q: What was your attraction to writing a dystopian theme?

A: I love the genre. I’m fascinated and intrigued by the plight of humankind, particularly the young, in these types of stories. I love seeing how a person is shaped by their experience, which isn’t unlike real life. I’m an observer of the human race. People captivate me. Their motivations and rationalizations are so fascinating. I try to imagine myself in their shoes. What is it about the course their lives took that ultimately led them down the path they chose? This is beautifully described in dystopian novels when there are often harsh and cruel realities the hero must face. I love seeing them meet challenges and overcoming them, and I love seeing the why or how behind it all. Reality isn’t far off some dystopians. Humans face oppression everywhere, and some come out better for it, and some do not.

Q: In your estimation, why do such themes resonate with our younger generation?

A: In my observation and experience, being a teenager is a lot like living in a dystopia. You’re not young enough anymore to be considered a child, but you’re not old enough to be considered an adult. You’re kind of stuck in the middle, but with additional responsibilities, and you’re under the dominion, so to speak, of your parents or caregivers. Teenagers want the ability to make their own decisions without restrictions, but lack the discipline and experience to fully think through the consequences. In dystopian societies, there is always some sort of figurehead symbolic of the overbearing adult, imposing perceived injustices on the people. I remember thinking my parents were just like this. Why couldn’t they let me live my life the way I wanted to live it? I see this theme played out again and again in many dystopian novels, and in the end the hero and/or heroine come out the other end stronger, more experienced, and better able to make decisions having lived through intended, and sometimes unintended, consequences, the same way we make the transition from teenager to adult.

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

A: I first got the idea for the character of the daemon ripere (demon reaper, a type of undead creature who has been tricked into selling his soul to the forces of evil) six or seven years ago when I dreamed about one. The dream was so compelling I knew I had to write a story about it. I loved the idea of a demonic soul, tortured by an invisible bond to his master by a magical connection from the collar around his neck. Not only had he sold his soul, seemingly to the devil, but now he knows he’s a slave to do the bidding of his master without knowing how, or if, he will ever be freed. Not only that, but he’s an assassin, sent out to reap the souls of the living.

Originally I had thought it would be a fantasy story, but when it came time to do the writing, I felt a more modern, or even dystopian, setting better suited the character and his interactions with others. Although fantasy stories are full of all kinds of creatures, sometimes magical, sometimes not, what if my creature could exist in real life?

Q: How would you compare Demon Reaper to other books in its genre?

A: I’ve heard it compared to Twilight on a few occasions, particularly if Twilight had taken place in the Wild West and had been about angels and demons instead of vampires and werewolves. I’d say that’s a mostly accurate analysis. It does have some Twilight-esque moments (love triangle anyone?) with some intriguing supernatural elements. I also think it fits in with the Hush, Hush quartet and the Fallen series too, both of which involve fallen angels. Damon, who is the demon reaper, isn’t a fallen angel, but he has fallen from grace. And what’s even better, a human girl falls for him, pun intended.

Q: How did you go about finding a publisher?

A: For all intents and purposes, I am self-published. I enrolled in a collaborative publishing course through Author Academy Elite (AAE) where I learned how to self-publish and market. I use their imprint, which appears as publisher information on some forums (Amazon and Barnes & Noble). It was an amazing course, surrounded me with inspiring people, and kept me on track. I highly recommend them for anyone thinking about writing and publishing a book.

Q: Plotter or pantser?

A: I’m like 95 percent pantser, but OCD enough that I have to have some type of outline. I hate the restrictions of formal outlines, so I write my big ideas on sticky notes. That way I can keep track of them but have the flexibility to move them around as they work into the story. Demon Reaper started with two big ideas: the beginning and the ending. Then as the writing process took over, other big ideas came to mind. I’d write them down and rearrange them as they became pieces of the story. Each sticky note came to represent one chapter of the book, but I wouldn’t write which chapter it was until that chapter was completed in the manuscript. It was great having a simple visual representation of the manuscript that I could take a quick glance at to refresh my memory of certain events. It also allowed me to write dates on the sticky notes so I could keep the timeline straight.

Q: How long did it take to write Demon Reaper from start to finish?

A: Five and a half months start to finish, counting the dead space in the middle. If I took out the months I never even looked at the manuscript, it took about 7 weeks, with the bulk of it getting done in the last 4 weeks. I wrote just over 65,000 words in about three and a half weeks, which was both grueling and exhilarating. However, it’s not a general practice I recommend. In the time since, I’ve found consistent, weekly (if not daily) writing is easier to manage.

Q: When and where do you get your best writing done?

A: My favorite place to write is sitting on the sofa in my bedroom, door closed, earbuds in with the music cranked loud, and laptop on my lap. It’s not the most comfortable way to write, but for some reason, it triggers a cue in me that it’s time to get in the zone. Typically I can get my best writing done either first thing in the morning (weekends) or at the end of the day and into the evening. I work a full time job, and I have six kids, so finding the time to do it during the middle of the day is almost impossible.

Q: Do you allow anyone to read your work while it is still in progress or do you make everyone wait until you have typed “The End?”

A: When I was younger, I craved feedback anytime I could get it. So I’d share works in progress. When I wrote Demon Reaper, I found myself bouncing ideas off my two oldest daughters who fit the target audience, but then I realized that doing so was a disservice to them because it would take the fun out of reading the book when it was finished. So I stopped collaborating with them and rarely talked about characters and plot with anyone until the book was finished. At that point, I took on several beta readers to proof the manuscript. I split them into two groups, and Group A got copies of the rough draft, while Group B got copies of the updated manuscript after Group A finished with it. I loved how that process went and intend to do it again after the next manuscript is finished. Until then, mum’s the word for the most part.

Q: This is Book #1 of a trilogy. From your perspective, what are the challenges inherent in writing a series versus a standalone title?

A: This is such a great question, and is actually something I’ve thought about a lot. Writing and publishing a book is a lot of work, and sometimes it’s hard work. If I’d written a standalone, I’d be done. Win, lose, or draw, I would be done, and it would be out there. But I didn’t write a standalone. I started something that’s bigger than that, and slowly a fan base is forming. They are demanding the next segment of the story. I love having that pressure because it keeps me going. I tend to perform better with a deadline because it creates focus. However, I do have some ideas for standalone novels that I look forward to writing.

Q: I’m intrigued about your background in theatre (a particular passion you and I happen to share). How has this been an influence on your writing insofar as character development, dialogue, pacing and structure?

A: I have loved my time spent acting in community theater. I love the transformation that occurs when you become another person. Writing a book allows this same creative process, only better, because now I’m not just the heroine or the villain. I’m everyone at the same time. I’m the director, and I’m the stage manager, the producer, props manager, hair/makeup artist, and all of the actors.

There is always an endorphin-fueled high following an amazing stage performance when you know you nailed it. The audience was receptive. You flawlessly executed your role. Even if you made mistakes, you recovered and kept going in a way no one ever realized what had happened. There were many times I experienced a similar high after being in the zone for an extended period of time writing. I’d found my groove and executed amazing passages. I live for moments like those.

Q: According to your bio, you’re an advocate for the arts in schools. Too often—especially in public schools—funding for arts programs is always the first to be cut from city, county and state budgets. If students aren’t exposed to plays, music and art in the classroom, where are our future theatregoers, concert audiences and museum attendees going to come from?

A: This is such a great question, and it’s something I think about often. Our young people are exposed to the arts less and less, and it saddens me because what we focus on and appreciate when we’re young shapes who we become when we’re older. Public school systems feel rigid and results-driven, and we’re seeing a rise in ADD/ADHD diagnoses. Theater and dance are great outlets for these types of children. In fact, one of my favorite success stories is about Dame Gillian Lynne whose mother took her to see a doctor when she was about seven because she couldn’t stop moving. Her mother thought she had a learning disorder. The doctor observed her and asked the mother to step outside with him for a few moments. On the way out the door, he turned on the radio and then asked the mother to watch her daughter from the hallway. Her daughter leapt around the room to the sound of that radio, and the doctor finally turned and said that there was nothing wrong with her. She was simply born to dance. This was in the 1930s. Dame Gillian Lynne went on to become a world-famous choreographer for musicals such as “Cats” and “Phantom of the Opera.” What would have happened to her if she’d been diagnosed with ADHD and then medicated as so often seems to happen today?

I’m not entirely sure the priorities of public schools, especially with the adoption of core standards, have shifted in the right direction. I love Montessori schools and their approach. I love interest-driven learning. When a student is having fun, they are engaged, and when they are engaged, they learn effortlessly. What if their passion is for music? Or theater? Or art? When and where do we encourage this in public schools and drive them to seek excellence in these fields? Do they have the foundation and support they need to excel in these areas? Or do we kill their natural talent for them simply because reading, writing, and arithmetic are more important? Skills can always be taught, but talent must be finely honed.

I’ll stop there. I am very passionate about this subject, and I feel I get a little preachy when I talk about it.

Q: What’s the oldest, weirdest or most sentimental thing in your closet?

A: The oldest, most sentimental thing I own is actually in my hope chest, not my closet. It is a diamond and pearl ring and necklace set given to me by my mother on my 18th birthday. They were gifted to her by her aunt, who was the closest person I had to a maternal grandmother growing up because my grandma had passed away when I was just a baby. I always admired the jewelry, and I was very fond of my great aunt, who passed away about a year and a half before I turned 18. So receiving the set meant a lot to me, and I hope to pass it on to my oldest daughter when she comes of age.

Q: Okay, so aside from what you just disclosed about your closet, what would readers be the most surprised to learn about you?

A: I have a very large, overdeveloped sense of vanity. I care deeply about my appearance and how others see me, and I have since I was a small child. Now, that is hardly a surprise. What’s shocking is what happened when I was young because of it.

When I was in the 4th grade, there was a boy in my class who had the most beautiful, delicately shaped eyebrows. I had unfortunately inherited my dad’s bushy, unruly brows. I admired this boy’s eyebrows and stewed for days about what I could do to make mine more like his. I didn’t know at the time that it would require tweezers, a steady hand, a high tolerance to pain, and patience.

One evening at home I finally had a plan to give myself the most beautiful eyebrows ever bestowed on a ten-year-old girl. I carefully sneaked into my parents’ bathroom while they were distracted in the kitchen, quickly found my dad’s razor, and carefully placed it over my right eyebrow. One easy swipe is all it would take. Well, sure enough, one easy swipe and the eyebrow was gone, with the exception of two or three sneaky hairs that were not in the direct path of the destructive razor. To say the result was shocking is an understatement. I was horrified. Not only was I missing the artistically shaped eyebrow I’d been dreaming about, I was missing an eyebrow! I took a deep breath and re-analyzed the situation. It was obvious I couldn’t have lopsided features, so I quickly swiped the other side to even things out a bit. Now I had no eyebrows, but at least my face looked symmetrical once again.

The next morning I’d forgotten all about the incident until my mom saw me and freaked (I mean f-r-e-a-k-e-d) out. She was beyond upset. When I went back to school, my teacher was so amused by it she made me stand up in front of the class (this was still socially acceptable in the 1980s) and let my classmates have a good look. It mortified me, but to my relief (and rescue) it inspired another boy in my class who went home that day and shaved off his eyebrows too. We became the talk of the school and even upper classmen sought me out to see if the stories they’d heard were true. I’d earned a bit of notoriety and gained an ego boost to my vanity despite the mishap. With the modern obsession over eyebrows since, who knew I’d start a movement spanning the last three decades? *wink*

Q: If you could invite three authors (living or dead) to dinner, who would they be, what would be on the menu and what would you ask them?

A: J.R.R. Tolkien and Jane Austen are definitely on my list. For my third, it’s a tossup between Lois Lowry and Stephen Chbosky. The Perks of Being a Wallflower is so poignant and beautiful it is the only book I read the last page and immediately turned to page 1 and reread it cover to cover again. Likewise, The Giver Quartet also stirred a lot of passion and thought in me. All authors exposed the plight of humankind in a rich, unapologetic, sometimes humorous way that has stayed with me for years.

We’d have light fare on the menu. I have a preference for a fine wine (or cocktail, but only if I’m mixing) and charcuterie board to just about anything else, wrapping up with a simple dessert and wee dram of Scotch. And by wee, I mean a generous pour, of course.

I’d ask them about their experiences, not just in becoming writers, but ultimately what shaped their paths to become writers and what influenced them the most to write about the subjects they chose. If they had even a shred of advice, I’d devour it, particularly from Tolkien because I think he was a truly inspired man.

Q: What are you currently working on?

A: I am currently working on the second book of the Demon Reaper Trilogy. I was recently asked in an interview if the second book has a title, which it does, and then I was asked if I would share it, which I will. The title of book two is Indigo Moon.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

A: Readers can check out my website at https://adeletcawley.com where I casually post blogs and upload photos of my hobbies, when I have time for it. They are also more than welcome to follow me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/adeletcawley or Instagram @a.cawley_author.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: This has been a great interview, and I’ve had a lot of fun answering the questions. Thank you for the opportunity, and I look forward to connecting with readers and future fans often!

 

 

 

 

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Once Left the Field of Valor

ONCE LEFT IN THE FIELD OF VALOR

As of this writing, Hulu is debuting an adaptation of Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, a satirical novel about the insanity of war. It, thus, seems only fitting to feature an interview this month with R.C. Sprague about his latest release, Once Left the Field of Valor, a gripping story about a young lieutenant’s guilt and post-traumatic stress to deliver a German soldier’s death letter to his lover. Military enthusiasts and fans of historical fiction will want to add this one to their bookshelves.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Your stint as an Army pilot has not only taken you around the world but also allowed you to see humanity at both its best and its worst. How much of your own personality and personal experiences shaped the development of Damien Shaw’s moral journey and are embedded in the story?

A: Damien Shaw is a character that reflects a lot of myself. At times he has a rough exterior, which many people have told me I do. About two years into writing the book I gained a new understanding for the guilt that plagues Damien throughout the book when two of my friends were killed in Afghanistan. Just as with Damien, it took me a while to come to grips with what happened.

Damien’s home town of Sackets Harbor is actually a small town in northern New York only a few miles from Fort Drum which was where I was stationed during much of the writing process.

Q: When did you start writing Once Left the Field of Valor?

A: I started writing Once Left the Field of Valor in the summer of 2012. During a lack luster lecture at the U.S. Army’s flight school, I began writing the first chapter. The idea came to me the night before and after sharing it with my wife, I knew I had to tell the story.

Q: What inspired the title?

A: I wanted the title to sound correct for the setting. I drew inspiration from classics like All Quiet on the Western Front and  For Whom the Bell Tolls.

Q: Plotter or panster? And why does your chosen method work effectively for you?

A: I am absolutely a panster. When writing fiction, I find that free flowing allows the story to surprise me and keeps me wanting to write. It may sound strange, but my imagination keeps me on the edge of my seat with unexpected twists and turns. There are scenes in Once Left the Field of Valor where I was like wow I didn’t see that coming. I really enjoy the twists and turns that come with being a panster.

Q: Did you know the novel’s ending before you began Chapter 1?

A: The ending was a mystery to me until the late chapters. Even then, and now, I wonder if I should have chosen the alternate ending. Luckily, reviews have cited the ending as surprising and well written, so I guess I chose wisely.

Q: Had you written anything prior to this and/or dabbled in other genres?

A: Writing is a main part of who I am, and I have done it for as long as I can remember. Once Left the Field of Valor is my debut novel. Prior to releasing it, my published works were non-fiction leadership and sports articles.

Q: What appeals to you about this particular genre?

A: I’m a history buff who loves to study people. In a situation such as war, I wanted to get into the mind of a soldier and paint a picture for the world. I feel historical fiction allows reader to time travel and live in another time.

Q: What do you find to be the most challenging aspect of the writing process?

A: Balancing life demands with writing. While writing Once Left the Field of Valor I had three kids, moved three times, spent nine months in Afghanistan, and worked full-time. Luckily, I’ve gained better understanding for how to squeeze in writing!

Q: And, conversely, the most rewarding?

A: I love watching characters develop and take on lives of their own. Certain characters such as Albert were initially supposed to have a minor role. As I wrote him through his back story, it became more elaborate and his impact on the story became crucial to the plot.

Q: How have your talents as a lyricist influenced your ear for writing dialogue?

A: Writing song lyrics forces the creator to hone in on the flow of the words. When writing dialogue, I always say it out aloud to test whether it sounds natural in a conversation. Just as with song lyrics, conversations are filled with slang and broken sentences. I’m hoping that my dialogues sound natural and don’t detract from the story.

Q: Tell us about the characters in your debut novel and which ones you most admired or despised.

A: There are so many characters that are close to my heart in this story. Aside from Damien and Emily, my favorite characters are without a doubt Madame and Albert. Their roles as supporting characters were instrumental in Damien’s journey. By far my least favorite character is Geordan. His brutish attitude and insufferable demeanor made him despicable but a necessary supporting character.

Q: Historical fiction often calls for in-depth research in order to make events ring “true” for one’s target audience. There’s always a risk, however, in either overstuffing a narrative with too many facts that make the text read like a history lesson or embroidering it with so many liberties as to deviate significantly from reality. Tell us about your own research strategies to embrace a plausible balance.

A: When researching the time period, I watched several movies, read books, and went to military museums to get an idea of what it was like to live in that time. I take great pride in getting the locations of major historical events correct and painting a scene that allows the reader to flawlessly fall into the book.

Q: The cornerstone of Once Left the Field of Valor is a bloodied letter penned by an enemy soldier to the one he loves. Is this letter’s hold on Damien of supernatural essence or is its impact all in his head?

A: There is some form of supernatural connection with the letter. Whether you call it fate, divine intervention, or a self-fulfilling prophecy, the letter is the key to Damien’s future.

Q: Favorite quote about redemption?

A: My favorite redemption quote comes from Lewis B. Smedes, “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” I think it’s such a powerful statement and really sheds light on the cycle of guilt that plagues many people.

Q: Like many authors, you decided to go the self-publishing route. What governed that choice?

A: Breaking into the traditional publishing scene is a difficult process. I felt that my story would resonate with readers and needed to be released without any further delay or bureaucracy.

Q: What did you learn about self-publishing that you didn’t know when you started?

A: Self-publishing can be a very tedious process. Properly formatting your document can be an ordeal. Overall, I do enjoy the creative freedom that self-publishing gives me.

Q: What are you doing to promote the book?

A: I have completed several written and podcast interviews, all of which can be viewed on my website rcsprague.com. In addition to interviews, I held a free eBook event in April and did a live reading on Facebook. I’m quite active on social media and can be found on Facebook and twitter @rcspraguewriter as well as @rcsprague on Instagram and Youtube.

Q: What would you like readers to take away from this story by the time they turn the last page?

A: I want readers to know that redemption is possible. A person can overcome their past and take back their destiny.

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

A: One of my “guilty pleasure” is singing along to showtunes.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: In July I’ll release my debut poetry collection, The Soul Behind the Mask. Additionally, I’m revising my second novel which is the first in a three-part series called Tales of a Toy Soldier. I hope to release part one of that series in spring/ summer 2020.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: I just want to say thank you for the opportunity to conduct this interview and I hope everyone has enjoyed getting inside my head.

 

 

Frances Darwin Investigates

 

Photo by Shelley Corcoran

Brew a cup of tea, invite neighborhood children to a cozy story hour, and immerse yourself in Eileen Moynihan’s latest release, Frances Darwin Investigates. When the intrepid young heroine, Frances, discovers a bit of torn paper on the ground, it instantly ignites her desire to be a detective and reunite a stray dog with its owner. But that’s just the beginning for Frances and her new friends; dog-nappers are on an aggressive prowl in her neighborhood, and it’s up to the amateur sleuth to find out who’s behind it. In a delightful interview from across the pond, Eileen attests that being young at heart has a lot to do with successfully penning stories which will resonate with the next generation of readers.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Tell us about your journey as a writer and who/what inspired you along the way.

A: I have been writing from an early age. I loved to make up stories about magic and fairies when I was about 7. Then I moved onto adventure stories around the age of 9. As I grew older I was more into characters and what made them tick. I was definitely inspired by my mother reading books to me, regular visits to the library and encouragement from teachers at school. But as I got bogged down in rearing children and working, my writing got put on the back burner. Then in later years I heard about S.C.B.W.I (Society of Children’s Book writers and Illustrators) and became a member. They were very helpful in directing me in my writing. I also joined local writers groups where I could network and receive feedback.

Q: When you were the same age as your young target readership, were you a voracious reader?

A: Yes I was always reading. I would read when and wherever I could. I would even read the cereal packets. I was often caught with a torch under the sheets reading a book.

Q: What sorts of books might we have found on your bookshelves and nightstand when you were growing up?

A: Books by Enid Blyton, the Narnia books by C.S. Lewis, @Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce, Little Women by Louisa M Alcott, poetry by Robert Louis Stevenson and A. A. Milne.

Q: What influence did your upbringing in the U.K. have on your storytelling style and your general outlook on life?

A: I suppose I was influenced by writers from the U.K. in my use of language and style of storytelling. I liked the idea of the rural idyll of small quaint villages and countryside. But my father who was Irish also persuaded me to read books by Patricia Lynch such as The Turf-Cutter’s Donkey which sparked an interest in the Irish way of life.

Q: What attracted you to the children’s market as your genre of choice?

A: I used to teach and loved to share my love of books with children. I also wanted to revisit the books I had enjoyed as a child, and discover new ones. It was just a natural step to write for children.

Q: What inspires your creativity as a wordsmith?

A: It could be something I overhear or read – a phrase that may catch my fancy. It could be something I see or feel. Sometimes it is just a random thought that ‘grows legs.’

Q: All of your titles are delightfully imaginative! How did you come up with them?

A: Rory Gumboots just jumped into my head.

The Reckolahesperus came from the phrase I heard as a child – ‘You look like the Wreck of the Hesperis.’ The Wreck of the Hesperis was a poem about a shipwreck.

Hattie and Jacques Love London came from the name of Hattie Jacques who was a star of the Carry On films.

The Dreamsmith was just pure imagination.

Q: What was the inspiration for Frances Darwin Investigates?

A: I had seen reports of dognapping in the paper and that started me thinking. I enjoyed adventure books written by Enid Blyton as a child so that definitely influenced me, too.

Q: How much of young Frances is actually Eileen?

A: There is definitely a lot of me in Frances, her curiosity, her independence and imagination.

Q: Over the course of the story, Frances makes friends with people young and old. Do you think children can identify with this?

A: I think so because children are surrounded by parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, neighbours and friends. Sometimes age doesn’t matter if there is a connection of hearts and minds.

Q: Why do you think children would enjoy this book?

A: I think children would enjoy this book because it has dogs, adventure, humour, interesting character relationships and it has a happy ending.

Q: Children today have far more distractions (many of them technological) than those of earlier generations. As a former educator, what would your advice be to parents who want their children to be more actively engaged in the joy of reading?

A: Read them books at bedtime from an early age. Encourage them to use libraries. Let them read comics. Let them read stories online or on Kindle and listen to audio-books. Buy them books as presents. Present reading in all its forms.

Q: Like many of today’s authors, you chose to don multiple hats and go the route of self-publishing. What governed this choice for you?

A: I sent Rory Gumboots to publishers and agents. I was told it was a sweet story but that they didn’t do books with anthromorphic animals etc.… so then I looked into self-publishing. I first did an eBook with KDP and then decided to get print books with Amazon’s Createspace. I am not getting any younger so I just wanted to get on with it.

Q: What have you learned (both pros and cons) about the DIY route that you didn’t know when you started?

A: The pros of self-publishing is that you are in charge of what you do and you can do it at your own pace and convenience. You learn a lot in the process and it is good to network with others who are self-publishing. The main thing is that you can produce the main product which is … your book.

The cons are that you have to do everything yourself, promotion, social media, uploading file, formatting and having to buy books before you can sell them yourself.

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

A: That I enjoy dancing and used to do stage-dancing as a child on the Isle of Wight.

Q: What is the oldest item you still have from your childhood and what is its nostalgic value to you?

A: The oldest items I have from childhood are some A.A. Milne books that belonged to my mother when she was young. I remember her reading these to me when I was at home sick from school.

Q: Plotter or pantser?

A: I believe I am mostly a pantser with a bit of plotter thrown in. For Frances Darwin Investigates I had a rough outline in my head but sometimes my characters would lead me down a different way.

Q: What is a typical writing day like for you?

A: I have no typical writing day. I often work better when I have a deadline for myself. I am a slow writer and give myself little rewards after doing so many sentences. I start with a small number of sentences and keep building up.

Q: Does anyone get to read your works-in-progress or do you make everyone wait until you’re finished?

A: I often read my works-in-progress to other people in my local writers group. I also used to be in an online S.C.B.W.I. group.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: I am working on a poetry book for children about wild flowers with accompanying photographs from my friend, Margaret O’Driscoll, who is also a poet. The illustrations of accompanying flower fairies are by my sister, Angela Gawn. The cover is done by my friend Dan Flynn who is an artist and fellow writer.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: I don’t claim to be a great writer but it is something I enjoy. I am loving the journey and learning new things every day.

 

 

 

 

 

Think of Me

THINK OF ME Cover.jpg

When you’re single, separated, divorced or widowed, there’s no shortage of well-meaning friends wanting to fix you up with someone new. For Detective Josh Hartnell, it’s not just about finding romantic companionship for himself, it’s about finding a caring woman to be a mother to his little girl. Not every relationship, however, is a blissful match made in Heaven … as Josh is about to find out in Kat Schuessler’s new romantic suspense, Think of Me.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett
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Q: Did you always know you wanted to be a writer or were there other career paths percolating in your imagination when you were growing up?

A: When I was younger, I read Harriet the Spy and wanted to be a spy when I grew up. I was obsessed with spy gear and sneaking around. As I grew older, I realized the movie was more about Harriet being a writer than being a spy. Then I read the Harry Potter series and my yearning to be a writer increased.

Q: Do you remember the first thing you ever wrote?

A: The first thing I remember writing is a series of short stories featuring myself as “Super Kat” and my neighbors as the villains.

Q: What titles might we have found on your nightstand as an adolescent? As a teenager?

A: As an adolescent I was reading Harry Potter, Harriet the Spy, and Anne of Green Gables. As a teenager I read Stephen King books, the Series of Unfortunate Events series, Twilight (don’t judge haha), and all of the books I read as an adolescent.

Q: Which authors do you feel have had the most influence on your wordsmithing style?

A: I was definitely influenced by Kresley Cole and Stephen King. The snarkiness and backstory they give their characters always delights me and I strive to at least resemble their characters a little bit.

Q: What inspired you to start writing romance?

A: I first read A Hunger Like No Other by Kresley Cole and became addicted to the whole series. It had never occurred to me that I could write so visually about sex and people would not only read it but enjoy it. I decided to try writing a sex scene and when it flowed so easily, I knew I had found my genre.

Q: If your own life were an existing romance novel or movie, what would it be (and why)?

A: Pick the most pathetic one you can think of and that’s it. You’re probably thinking Twilight but at least that included vampire action.

Q: Plotter or pantser?

A: Pantser. I have tried to plot and I can barely stick to a timeline.

Q: Do you allow anyone to read your works in progress or do you make everyone wait until you have typed The End?

A: It really depends on the person but I tend to want to wait unless I hit a wall and need advice.

Q: Think of Me is part of a series. How did you come up with this title and the titles of your other books?

A: The first book was untitled until halfway through the book, and I just could not think of a name. I was watching Phantom of the Opera and a line from one of the songs stuck with me, so I decided to go with it. After that, I just tried to find more lines that made a good book title.

Q: What do you find to be the biggest challenge in creating a series as opposed to a standalone novel?

A: I always feel like I need to make the next book better than the last, and it’s a lot of pressure for me. I’m also unsure how much of a review of the last book I need to include.

Q: Who are your favorite and least favorite characters?

A: My favorite character is definitely Rory from No Backward Glances because she represented my past and how I wish I could have been. We both had dark times and contemplated suicide, and we both made it through, but she did it with more grace. She was also able to actually be with somebody she loved who helped her learn to trust again.

My least favorite character was Kelly, Rita’s roommate in Think of Me. I don’t think I spent enough time developing her character, and even though she was only a side character, I feel like I could have made her more interesting than I did.

Q: Are any of them patterned after people you know (including yourself)?

A: Almost all of my characters are patterned after people in my life, including my sisters, best friends, parents, nieces and nephews, lovers, and exes. I also tend to include a few inside jokes between the characters that I have with people in my life. It makes me feel closer to my characters.

Q: How does pop culture influence your writing?

A: I actually wouldn’t say it influences my writing. I just do my best to reference it as much as I can, because I feel like it not only makes people laugh, but it connects my readers to my characters by giving them something in common. This is also why I try to write speech the way it’s usually spoken, including slang words, despite the fact that a lot of professional writers frown on this. Real people don’t speak with perfect grammar; they use slang and speak easily, and it’s instantly relatable.

Q: How do you ensure that pop culture references won’t “date” your material down the road?

A: I do my best to choose references that are iconic enough that people will always understand them. I also try to throw in some that are mildly obscure but hit little niches of people that get excited about their fandom being mentioned.

Q: Is there anything you’d like to experiment with in your path as a writer?

A: Although I don’t have any experience with it, I would love to try writing a lesbian romance. I feel like it would be enough of a challenge to keep me interested.

Q: Ever had writer’s block? If so, how do you deal with it?

A: I have writer’s block a lot. I actually have a really odd treatment for it:  I watch the movie Bag of Bones, which is an adaptation of Stephen King’s book by the same name. It contains a writer who has writer’s block and he finds a way to overcome it. Watching his joy as he finds his ability to write again always inspires me to get going so I can try to find that joy.

Q: What’s your greatest weakness when it comes to writing?

A: My greatest weakness is definitely coming up with my blurb and synopsis. I find it very difficult to sum up a 60,000 word novel in just a couple of paragraphs, all without giving too much away.

Q: Like many authors today, you chose to go the route of self-publishing. What governed that choice and what do you know now that you didn’t know when you started?

A: I chose to self-publish mainly out of necessity. I would much rather publish traditionally but it seems to be a dying art. What I know now is that my dream of seeing my book on a literal store bookshelf is probably never going to happen because technology has taken over. I’m very old fashioned when it comes to books.

Q: Where do you see the publishing industry going in the next 10 years? 20 years?

A: I have a really bad feeling that print books are going to disappear and ebooks will be the only format. I really hope that isn’t the case but that’s the way the world seems to be going.

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

A: The only thing I can think of is that I have been learning American Sign Language and have really been enjoying it. I’m definitely not fluent but I believe I could hold a conversation.

Q: Best advice to fellow authors?

A: Edit. Edit. Edit some more. Then put the book aside for a while, maybe a month or so, then re-read it and edit again. Finally, have somebody else proofread it. When you’re that close to your book, you’re going to miss a lot of errors because your eyes will just slide over it.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I’m trying to work on a third book but with my daughter running around like a maniac it’s hard to find time to write.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: First, thank you to my readers for reading my books, whether you enjoy them or not. The very idea that you read a novel that I wrote astounds me and I am so grateful for the time and money it took to buy and read it. Second, I want to encourage everybody to remember that, even with technology encroaching on our lives, nothing will ever be better than holding a physical book in your hand, turning the pages, and inhaling that classic smell. There is no battery on a book. And if we keep buying and reading physical books at least as much as, if not more than, ebooks, they might just stick around.

 

 

Mildred in Disguise With Diamonds

Toni Kief

When I asked author Toni Kief what genre her work embraces, she whimsically replied, “OA,” for “Old Adult.” Hey, if there are categories for YA and NA, why not? Turns out that when she began researching this answer, there’s such a thing as “Matron Fiction” and “Boomer Fiction.” Who knew? “My target audience,” she says, “is for mature people who like to laugh.”

And laugh they will when her protagonist, Mildred (who was anticipating a comfortable retirement), becomes a widow and discovers that her husband’s secrets change everything. Needing work, she takes the job a local casino offers—undercover security.

A delightfully wicked chat with a writer who has plenty to say. And don’t even get her started on those rumors about Mick Jagger …

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Your website divulges that you started writing around the same age as Grandma Moses started painting. What would you say accounts for your being a late-bloomer as an author?

A: I was 60, and after a little research found that—compared to G’ma Moses at 76—I was an early bloomer. I had never really thought about writing until I challenged a friend. He wanted to write more so I told him “…if you write, I’ll write.” Ten years later, we have eight books between us and new business cards.

Q: You also define yourself as an “accidental nomad.” Where have you been, what did you do there and where do you currently call Home?

A: I was born in Pekin, Illinois and moved to Peoria, almost in my cap and gown after graduation. I stayed there until I was about 22, got mad at my boyfriend, and moved to Phoenix for three weeks. (Even bought a car.) Then I flew to Florida to help my mother drive back to Illinois, but she introduced me to who would be my first husband. This is where the buses keep showing up in my short stories. I left him three times by bus and once took his van. Wonder why it didn’t work out. I ended up in Tampa Florida for 17 years and a couple relationships. Finally, I have moved to my mother’s hometown of Marysville, Washington. It is strange to be new in town and yet have generations in the cemetery. My sister told me when I arrived, “If they don’t have a neck, don’t date them they are family.” She has proven to be right. This doesn’t include my trips to Canada, Italy, Belize, Guatemala, Mexico, the Bahamas, Ireland and many trips around the USA.

Q: What prompted you to take up a pen (or sit down in front of a keyboard) and pursue a career as an author?

A: When I was challenged to write, James Johnson and I started a cookbook based on women from myth and history. I did a light-hearted biography and then we cooked for them, making up recipes as we went along. We haven’t published it, and I think he may have lost the file; you know how life throws monkey wrenches. I did get it copyrighted but only two copies printed. “Dangerous Dishes and the Food they Inspire” is still a possibility.

Q: What has surprised (or dismayed) you the most about the creative process?

A: Commas! They are nasty little ninjas that move around at night. After that, it is the need for continual marketing.

Q: Plotter or pantser?

A: Pant-seat all the way. I have a Flash Fiction writing group, and we write from prompts. It helped build skills of trying to look at things differently and then let the story tell me. I also learned to find the right words and not a line of adjectives. My first book was watching a woman walking along the side of the road near the railroad tracks. She was cussing and kicking dirt as she stomped down the road. I looked at my granddaughter and said, “That SOB got 49 years, he isn’t getting 50.” And Old Baggage was underway.

Q: Who, where or what was the inspiration for the character of Mildred?

A: I thought of her name while in the shower. The biggest inspiration is always someplace that I can’t write. I have made notes on my arm while driving. She took over from there. Mildred in Disguise with Diamonds was to be a standalone, except Mildred doesn’t quit. I just finished the third one, and I kind of miss her already.

Q: How much of Mildred is actually Toni Kief?

A: I say none, but my friends think that Mildred has Toni skills for falling into awkward situations and then mocking her way out. I was an independent insurance adjuster and did handle some of the claims at different casinos in the Northwestern USA.

Q: Tell us about the casino where Mildred goes to work undercover. Is it an actual place or a composite?

A: I live on the other side of the highway from the Tulalip Casino. The Ivory Winds is different, but I have gone over there for smells, sound, inspiration and the buffet.

Q: Like many authors, you chose to go the route of self-publishing. Why?

A: Basically because of my age. At 60 (70 now) I decided I didn’t have time to query agents, wait to be rejected and then when I find one, wait a year or so to be published. Additionally, publishing changes every day, and unknowns are stuck doing all of the marketing anyway. So, I might as well take all the bags of money and the indie route satisfies my need to hold the books and not imagine.

Q: What do you like best about wearing all of the self-publishing hats yourself versus turning it over to someone else?

A: The best thing is my books don’t have to follow a genre outline. They can be uniquely different and can blend into other types. There is so much to do, it keeps me out of the taverns.

Q: And what do you like the least about this process?

A: The 20 hours a day on marketing and trying to build a base and foundation letting my new projects waste away.

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

A: I’m mostly stunned at the thousands of thousands of other writers out there.

Q: If Hollywood came calling and wanted to turn Mildred and her adventures into a movie or TV series, who do you picture in the lead role?

A: I’ve thought about this before, and settled on Sally Field or Helen Mirren.

Q: Speaking of adventures, what’s next on the plate for Mildred … and for you?

A: Mildred Raising the Ante is at the editors now. So, we have counterfeiters and a dash of organized crime.

Q: Writing is a solitary craft. Do you belong to any writers groups and/or allow anyone to read your works in progress?

A: I actually lead two groups. Ever since I was a political activist in the 80s, I have the tendency to grab some lumber and put on a show. I’m in the Kickstart Writers which is flash fiction and I mentioned it before. Also, I’m a founding director of the Writers Cooperative of the Pacific Northwest. That group was started by watching so many of our Kickstart writers try to publish and have the same problems over and over. So, now we work together on publishing and marketing.

Q: If you could invite three authors (living or dead) to a dinner party, who would be on your guest list and what would you most like to ask them?

A: Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway and Janet Evanovich. I have a chance for one of the three. The second part of this question stopped me cold. I’m a bit of a jabberer and let conversations build on their own. I guess I would ask Sam and Papa what books they were hoping to write next. As for Janet would be “Do you ever take a break?”

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

A: That I have an FBI file.

Q: And the rumors about you and Mick Jagger?

A: I made them up. As a fiction writer, you have to watch my stories closely. Although, in 1964 when the Beatles first arrived in the US, I swore to never go see them because Paul McCartney would love me so much, he would quit music to be with me. I just couldn’t do that to the rest of the world.

Q: Best advice to an aspiring author?

A: Read, read and then some more, and not just one contrived genre.

Q: Best advice anyone ever gave you about honing your craft as a wordsmith?

A: Keep at it and don’t quit. I particularly love the Hemingway quote “The first draft of everything is shit.” Followed with “Write Drunk, Edit Sober.”

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

A: A couple choices, the first is meet me at Happy Hour on Friday at CCR. Otherwise I have a website at www.tonikief.com and author pages on both Facebook https://www.facebook.com/tonikief8author/ and Amazon, https://www.amazon.com/Toni-Kief/e/B01CR8V3RG/ref

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: This has been an unexpected reincarnation. I find it difficult, rewarding and exciting. I am stunned that I have written one book, let alone 300 short stories and 4 novels. No telling what will happen next.

 

 

 

Ghost Grandma

Ghost Grandma cover

Right before the start of her sophomore year, Brett O’Brien is visited by the ghost of her grandmother. The only issue? No one seems to believe her except for her best friend. In her captivating book Ghost Grandma, author S. Kay Murphy leads us through a young girl’s struggle to find her place in the world after the death of her beloved grandmother.

Interviewer: Sophie Lin

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 Q: What inspired you to write Ghost Grandma?

A: To be honest, the premise came to me as I was walking through the halls of the high school where I was teaching at the time. No doubt I was ruminating on two things: Visitations from those who have passed over plus the way high school students often treat each other. At times, it feels like a war zone, with everyone at odds with everyone else.

Q: Is there anyone in your life that you based Brett off of?

A: Brett is absolutely the girl I was at 14 or 15, only she is the new and improved version, the one who is braver and stronger and has better hair.

Q: Do you have a rigid writing schedule or do you write whenever an idea comes to you?

A: Both. I wrote Ghost Grandma in 30 days. True story. I participated in the NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) challenge of writing 50,000 words in 30 days, and I did it, much to my surprise. Of course, during that month, I still had to go to work every day, so I wrote 800 words in the morning before I went to work and 800 more at night after dinner, sometimes falling asleep at the keyboard. I knew the premise when I started, but had no idea where the story would take me. It was one of the most fun and most exhausting projects I’ve ever indulged in.

Having said that… I am now retired from teaching, so I have plenty of time to write. But I also have plenty of time to go out and play—go hiking or exploring, ride my bike, have lunch with friends, see a movie—so it has been hard for me to be as disciplined as I should be. But I’m working on that.

 Q: How would you describe your writing process?

A: What works best for me is this: When I’m working on a particular project, I’ll spend some time—30 minutes to an hour—composing. Then I get up, walk around, make more tea, take the dog out or pet the cat. In that time, I generally edit in my head. (I love to write poems this way, and when I do, I’ll write them out in longhand, leaving the notepad on my desk so I can swing by as I’m putting in a load of laundry and change a word or a phrase.) When I go back to what I’ve written, I’ll spend a few minutes making those minor changes, then move on. In the early days of my writing, every paragraph had to be perfect before I moved on. Books don’t get written that way. It’s important to get the narrative down while you’re still excited about the project. Editing is satisfying to me, so I don’t mind doing it. Ghost Grandma went through at least six drafts before I felt it was ready for publication.

 Q: Do you believe in ghosts and/or the supernatural? If so, have you ever had any supernatural encounters?

A: It is possible that I have had supernatural encounters. It is also possible that my experiences can be easily explained away. One of the reasons I wanted to put Ghost Grandma out there was to get young people thinking about what they believe regarding those who have crossed over. In my own spirituality, there is definitely a place for signs and messages from those who have passed. Part of my daily meditation is talking to my deceased loved ones. If that sounds all creepy and séance-y, it’s really just me saying, “Mom, Dad, Aunties, Uncles, good morning. Help me to remember that extending love and kindness to others is the most important thing I can do today.” I definitely feel guided by them at times. One of my best friends is a medium, so we’ve had some pretty fascinating conversations about all of this.

Q: What’s your favorite part about writing?

A: I love having done it. Sometimes, sitting down and beginning a project is absolutely terrifying. When I sat down to begin writing my memoir about my great-grandmother (who has been accused of being a serial killer), I was literally trembling. I wanted that book (The Tainted Legacy of Bertha Gifford) to be perfect because so much was riding on it—I wanted to bring the truth to light and bring closure to my mother (Bertha’s granddaughter). When I finally finished the book, I sat at my desk and sobbed. The same was true for The Dogs Who Saved Me. When we put heart and soul into creating truth and beauty with words, it is a humbling, mystifying, spiritual relief to have the project completed.

Q: What would be your advice for dealing with bullies like Brittany and Jason?

A: In the vast majority of cases, I would say that the best action taken against bullies is to ignore them. It’s also the most difficult. Part of us always wants to fight back, to make a snarky or rude comment, even if it’s behind the person’s back. But we rarely know what other people are going through in their personal lives. Both Brittany and Jason are based on students I actually taught. Brittany started a fight in my classroom in which another girl was badly injured. But in her senior year, she stopped by to thank me for my patience with her. I was never angry with her. I understood that she felt, as I have mentioned previously, that she was in a war zone. She acted accordingly. Sometimes bullies just need to get to the point in life at which they can love themselves. In Jason’s case, he was truly a bad dude, and once I met his angry, abusive father, I understood why. With a bully like that, my advice would be to stay as far away from him as possible.

 Q: What’s different about writing a coming-of-age novel like Ghost Grandma and writing a book like Tainted Legacy?

A: Oh, that is a really great question. In writing Ghost Grandma, I could rely solely on my imagination for the narrative. Fun! Except when I couldn’t for the life of me think of what should happen next. That was grueling—especially since I couldn’t just wait for inspiration, since I had to get my word count in every day. With Tainted Legacy, the fun came in doing the research. There were times when the truth I overturned made me feel absolutely surreal, as if I were living inside a novel. While in Missouri doing research, I kept calling my best friend back home in California to tell her everything, and I would often add, “I swear, I’m not making this up!” Of course, getting down to actually writing the memoir and formulating some sort of chronological coherence was challenging, as I was telling both my story and Bertha’s as well, so the process was completely different, but nonetheless equally satisfying.

Q: Who’s your biggest inspiration to write?

A: Harry Cauley, author of the award-winning novel, Bridie and Finn, said something in a writer’s group 20 years ago that has been my mantra ever since: “Writing is the loneliest work you’ll ever do.” Isn’t that just spot on? One of the reasons writers have a difficult time being disciplined—especially nowadays—is that once we sit down and begin, we know (at least subconsciously) that we are retreating from the world to be absolutely alone for a time, and that is a frightening prospect. It’s much more pleasant to scroll through Twitter to find out what’s happening in the world or Instagram to see yet another adorable dog or cat photo or Facebook to say hi to family members and beloved friends. Doing all those things makes me feel less alone in the world, and I live alone (except for Purrl and Thomas, my cat and dog), so I spend a great deal of my day by myself. I adore social media. But I have to make myself back out of that rabbit hole in order to work—and it is indeed lonely. When I heard Harry Cauley say that, he became my writer-hero for life, and I am blessed for that. I also have a handful of cheerleaders, including a couple of pushy Irish cousins, who keep reminding me that my gift is writing so I should be doing it.

Q: Are you working on any other projects right now?

A: Last spring, I finished a middle-grade urban fantasy novel. I have been looking—with no success so far—for an agent for it. In the meantime, I’m doing short writing projects. I will be starting on another book soon.

Q: Where can people find more information about you and your books?

A: All my books (except the first, which is out of print) are on Amazon. To get a sense of who I am and my worldview, I recommend scrolling through my blog until you find a post that resonates—about dogs or cats or the #MeToo Movement or gay rights or gender equality or whatever. It’s here: www.skaymurphy.blogspot.com. I am on Instagram (posting photos of food, as I am a vegetarian, and I love sharing all the gorgeous, delicious food I eat) and Twitter (where I follow back most folks who follow me—unless they’re a bot or a stalker). Handle for both is @kayzpen.

 Q: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

A: For writers: Write your heart out and never stop! You are not alone in the world, though you may feel lonely while you are ‘away’ in the world you are creating. Never let rejection slow you down; keep putting yourself out there. If you begin to feel like giving up, find a friend or a cousin who believes in you and ask them to set goals with you then check back to see if you’re working toward them. I did this with The Tainted Legacy of Bertha Gifford, and it is the only way that book ever got published. I wanted to give up, but my beloved cousin Danny wouldn’t let me. He’s the reason the book is in print, may he be blessed forever.

For readers: You are everything for those of us who write. You are the friends who listen as we speak—even if we never meet you. I feel so very blessed for every email I’ve ever received that has begun with these words: “Hi, you don’t know me, but I’ve just finished reading your book….” You make all the hard work, all the loneliness, all the nail biting and junk food indulging so very worth it. Thank you!

 

 

Black and Single Blues

Black and Single Blues Cover

You think finding the love of your life is hard? Try keeping her. Keith Jackson is a globe-trotting guitarist in great demand and with legions of ladies along the line. When he crosses paths with Lesli—a woman who wondrously stops his life dead in its tracks—it looks as if a happily-ever-after will be in the cards for both of them. Or will it? 

Minnesota novelist, essayist and playwright Dwight Hobbes offers a sneak peek into his new release, Black & Single Blues, and shares thoughts on his journey as a savvy wordsmith.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: With a long list of credits to your name in Essence, Reader’s Digest, The Washington Post, The San Diego-Union Tribune, guest appearances on public radio and television, and theatrical expertise at The Loft and The Playwrights Center, it seems a natural segue to your latest passion for the world of book publishing. Such success, however, never happens overnight. What was your own journey like insofar as getting the stories in your head in front of a paying readership?

A: Tough. Essence took about two years to buy a short story and, aside from placing a play, “You Can’t Always Sometimes Never Tell” in a reasonably successful anthology, Center Stage, it was all queries and rejection slips from 1980 to 1992. Went through a marriage to a lovely, very disillusioned young lady. Frank Sinatra sang that if you can make it in New York you can make it anywhere. Doesn’t necessarily mean you can make it in New York, where the assistant to the editor probably has an assistant. The Twin Cities is a much smaller, very different world. Being rejected wasn’t nearly as coldly impersonal and you had a significantly greater chance of catching on. At the magazines, newspapers. Even book publishers. Something I Said (collected essays on domestic abuse, rape, race and more) I was able to pitch to Papyrus Publishing by calling Anura Si-Asar and having coffee. Made a magazine sale a year after I got here, then newspapers and haven’t stopped since. It’s been fat, sometimes lean but it’s steady. Never gone without some kind of check whether it’s big or small.

Q: Who are some of the authors you admired from adolescence and into adulthood, and what insights did you glean from them in shaping your own successful career?

A: Well, I cut my teeth on James Baldwin and Chester Himes as a teenager. Later, John A. Williams, Ann Petry, Zora Neal Hurston. Insights?  I’ve never tackled the same subjects as any of them but did thoroughly digest their styles. Doubted myself for that until I saw that Baldwin, one of my greatest heroes, parroted Carson McCullers. Literally. After ages, I actually arrived at my own voice but even the most original pen is going to echo some influence.

Q: How did you feel the first time your saw your name in print? Was it a surprise or an expectation?

A: The greatest surprise was that Essence contract. It’s like, “What do they mean by ‘Yes.’?”  It was staring me in the face and I still couldn’t believe it. Not only was I going to be in a national magazine but the only black one that ran fiction. Negro Digest had died years before and you have to understand, it was decades before opportunities got better. I just sat there, making myself believe it was real.

Q: What was the inspiration behind Black & Single Blues?

A: The story in Essence. Which had been an attempt at an essay, really, debunking true love as a pleasant fantasy. Wound up trying it as fiction and that worked. It was still cynical until the weekly, Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder, a few years ago, needed a romance to serialize.  In the process, it became hopeful because, frankly, I welcomed a break from coming up with caustic commentary week in, week out and wanted to do something on the lighter side. Shoot-from-the-hip sardonic but good-natured, put a smile-on-your-face fun.

Q: With whom will its storyline most strongly resonate?

A: I’ve said, you don’t have to be black, single or have to the blues to enjoy it, but, yeah, it resonates best with black women. Those who, for instance, like Lifetime but want to see someone who looks like them and has a good profession. Lesli, the female lead, is a head librarian, what you could call a sexy nerd. She’s self-possessed, intelligently articulate and, of course, hot as a sunburn. Keith, the male lead, is an easy-going, fun-loving guitarist who comes across her and is just blindsided by this fascinating woman. It affords readers a seldom seen look into the heart and mind of a man in love.

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

A: I suppose Paula Patton. And if there’s a youngish Denzel floating around out there somewhere.

Q: Are you a plotter or a pantser? And why does this approach work well for you?

A: Had to look pantser up. No, if I don’t know where my story’s going to go, I’ll be lucky to ever get there. Before writing the first word, I need to decide how things will end. How they begin. In-between, sure, that’s a free-for-all, nudging here and there, letting the characters – you have to create them solidly enough – allowing their behavior to carry the action.

Q: What was the most challenging aspect of developing the plot and characters?

A: I have to care about the people in order to convincingly create them. Know them inside and out. Well enough to give them each spontaneous behavior and distinct dialogue. The plot, the story has to be something readers or an audience finds an interesting experience. Something they’ll feel.

Q: Do you allow anyone to read your works-in-progress or do you make them wait until after you have typed THE END?

A: Nope. Nobody reads nothin’ ‘til it’s done.

Q: How did you go about finding the right publisher for your work and what was the takeaway from that experience?

A: With Essence where else was I going to go?  They owned the market. The plays, you just keep knocking on doors until one opens. Of course, you don’t send dramas to a shop that specializes in comedy. You open up the old trusty Writers Market and see who’s looking for what. Black & Single Blues lucked out. I knew Shelley from reviewing her novels, which is how we originally came across on another. She doesn’t even do romantic fiction but asked to look at it, anyway. And liked it.

Q: Where do you see the publishing industry going in the next 10-20 years?

A: With all the advent of electronic this and that, e-books, I-Pads, what have you, God alone knows. I do have a sneaking suspicion that just like even the biggest big chains, let alone small, independent stores that have gone out of business, have run into serious trouble selling something you can hold in your hand and turn the pages of, it’s conceivable actual books could become obsolete. Not a good thing

Q: Why do you write?

A: It’s a cliché but it’s true. Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly. When it’s something to which you’re naturally suited you don’t, to coin another corny phrase, choose it. It chooses you.

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

A: That I started out reading comic books and that’s how I got hooked on books. And, these days, I thoroughly enjoy, am engrossed in Warriors. A children’s book series about clans of kitty cats adventuring in the wild.

Q: What are your best tips for aspiring writers in terms of (1) being an original voice, (2) not giving up, and (3) dealing with rejection?

A: Being original ironically calls for first finding a style you admire. You learn to speak by hearing someone else’s voice. From childhood, y’ know?  Eventually your own way of walking and talking through a story will develop. Not giving up?  What can I say, you have to refuse to lose. Have the attitude that if you ever fail, you’ll never know it because you’ll have died trying. Rejection is easier to deal with in love and life than it is in writing and dealing with it in love and life is plenty tough. With writing, you can get turned down because you don’t have the chops or simply because your material isn’t what they’re buying. And never know which reason it was. Just that you got turned down. It can be, and my ex-wife told me this, entirely arbitrary. Which is the God’s honest truth. I found out, a couple years after the Essence sale, that it happened because Marcia Ann Guillespie peeked at the editor’s desk, saw it sitting in the rejection pile and overruled her. Had she been looking left instead of right as she went past, that would’ve been that. Ultimately, you have to develop a thick skin. It helps keep your morale up to always have something out there on somebody’s desk. That way, you’re always giving yourself a chance.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: Working on two manuscripts before I get to the three waiting behind them. A Black Life On The Great White Way, memoir of ushering 20 years at Historic Theater Group/Hennepin Theatre Trust, a company that brings Broadway seasons to Minneapolis. The book is sort of a Backstairs at the White House only instead of historic drama, you get a nonetheless engaging tale of some entertaining trials and tribulations. And Ella Stanley, a play based on Effa Manley, the Negro Baseball Leagues’ only female owner who, in the late 40’s, refused to sit down somewhere, shut up, be a pretty face and let men handle things. She was a savvy businesswoman and community crusader way ahead of her time. Who, however, like the men, lost her livelihood when Branch Rickey and, after him, the rest of Major League Baseball, raided black clubs for talent like Jackie Robinson. That’s social progress for you.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

A: Www.dwighthobbes.weebly.com. That’s about it. Marcie Rendon, a former student, successful writer and good friend, tried to do a bio on Wikipedia but found the rules and regulations too tricky. Of course, there’s always Facebook.