An Armful of Animals

AN ARMFUL OF ANIMALS Cover

What would you do to help a camel with an injured foot? Yeah, I don’t know either, but retired veterinarian Malcolm Welshman would! In his latest book, An Armful of Animals, Malcolm brings us with him through some of his most unforgettable experiences. Filled with tales of bats, monkeys, dogs, and more, this memoir is one you won’t be able to put down!

 Interviewer: Sophie Lin

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Q: How was writing An Armful of Animals a different experience for you than writing your other books?

A: My first three vet books were fictionalised accounts of a young vet in his first couple of years in practice. An Armful of Animals, relates the encounters I’ve had with animals during my life so became a much more personal experience when writing it.

Q: What was your favourite part about being a veterinarian?

A: The interaction with owners and their pets and being able to help keep that relationship going when their pets needed medical care.

Q: What inspired you to start writing and become an author?

A: I was given a goose to fatten up for Christmas. Instead she became a pet. I decided to write that up as a feature for a magazine which was accepted. They then asked me to write a vet column which I did for 15 years. With all the material I consequently accumulated, I decided to use it as the basis of a book. Hence the first one appeared – Pets in a Pickle.

Q: What do you like the most about being a speaker on cruise ships?

A: Entertaining passengers and the subsequent feedback and rapport that gets established. So many people have great stories about their own pets.

Q: What do you like the least?

A: Inevitably there are occasions when things don’t go to plan; e.g., weather conditions not allowing a ship to berth; and that can be frustrating. The biggest upset I’ve experienced in the 44 cruises speaking engagements I’ve completed is the time I was on the first two weeks of a Christmas cruise. It should have taken us over the Caribbean. However, the air-conditioning system failed in the Canaries and so the Caribbean was cancelled and we were diverted to the Mediterranean instead. Many passengers were very disappointed.

Q: What is the greatest number of pets you’ve owned at once?

A: We used to have a house with seven acres. So over a period of time we had: 15 Shetland ponies, 15 llamas, eight sheep, six budgerigars, a cat, a dog and a riding pony. Oh, and a huge aquarium full of fish.

Q: Throughout your life, you’ve traveled between the UK and Africa several times. What, in your opinion, is the biggest difference between the two?

A: As a lover of nature and animals, it’s the sheer diversity of Africa – from the heat and aridness of the Sahara to the lush tropical forests combined with the corresponding wide range of animal species which makes that continent so very different and so very special for me.

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

A: There’s quite a list. A series of features requested by UK magazines and online websites; topics being my love of trees, depression in dogs, cats in my life, anecdotes of encounters with parrots. A children’s novel is being considered for publication. Ongoing monthly column about my dog – Dora’s Diary.

Malcolm & Dora (2)

Writing the fourth novel in the young vet series: Pets are a Pleasure. And formatting a book on the interaction between dogs and humans from the dog’s viewpoint: Rover Rules.

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

A: My website: http://www.malcolmwelshman.co.uk

My current memoir, An Armful of Animalshttp://amazon.co.uk/dp/B07H1HM7ZB

http://amazon.com/dp/B07H1HM7ZB

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

A: Being a retired veterinarian, part of the reason for writing the memoir was that I could then share memories of the animals that have played a role in my life. And through sharing that with like-minded people who also have a passion for pets, continue to experience and respect the important role animals play in our lives.

 

 

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Fresh Eggs and Dog Beds 2 – Still ‘Living the Dream’ in Rural Ireland

Nick Albert photo

Can complacency with one’s comfort zone and the status quo cause us to miss out on potential adventures that are literally far from “home?” “Yes, I believe so,” says multi-published author Nick Albert. “Certainly it’s easy to get so stuck in the rut of modern life as to miss the opportunity to explore, but it’s important to realize adventure is largely a matter of perspective. Many people would consider taking a flying lesson as a great adventure but, for the instructor, it’s just another day at work.” Nick’s own perspective change helped him as a writer to recognize the adventure that is all around.  “Some people may call it Mindfulness. For me, it’s just a way of looking for the positive story hidden in everyday events. Viewed from the right perspective, life is one big adventure.”

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Many an aspiring author has decided to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) following a life-changing experience which caused him/her to rethink perspectives and priorities. Was this the case for you?

A: I suppose the short answer is yes. However, things are seldom that simple. In retrospect I can recognize the succession of events which contributed to our overall feeling of discontentment with our lifestyle in England. Sometimes we get so focused on the task at hand, making a living, paying the bills and trying to save a little money that we completely forsake the pleasure of living. We were so busy playing the game, we forgot to stop and smell the flowers. Like water pressure building behind a dam, events were conspiring, each causing little cracks to widen until the dam crumbled.

Although our life was outwardly wonderful – I had a great job, a lovely home, a desirable car and so on – my wife and I couldn’t get away from the feeling it was all just window dressing, a meaningless sham. Then, within a few short months, I experienced several upsetting events. My father passed away, a close friend was killed in a car crash, another friend was diagnosed with brain cancer and several thousand of my workmates were made redundant. When I had my own health scare, I found my perspective had changed irrevocably. That change in perspective jump-started a sequence of decisions culminating in my wife and I beginning a new life here in rural Ireland.

Did I decide to put pen to paper because of what happened? No. I’ve always been a writer. My first book, “The Adventures of Sticky, The Stick Insect,” was completed when I was eight. Just five pages long and sprinkled with spelling errors, it was not a big hit with the critics. Undaunted, over the next 35 years I continued to write, gradually developing my skills, but not my spelling. What moving to Ireland gave me was space. At last I had the time I needed to write.

Q: What was the most challenging aspect of relocating to rural Ireland? And the easiest?

A: In fairness, we weren’t trying to land on the moon, but I suppose the logistics of getting all my ‘ducks’ lined up was the most challenging aspect. There were so many things which needed to happen in the correct order. It was frustrating trying to communicate with banks, lawyers and property inspectors remotely, particularly as the vendor was in South America and only contactable via a weekly fax message. Fortunately, I’m passionate about making lists and keeping track, so when things went awry I was able to react quickly. In the end, I moved over and rented a cottage until we flopped gratefully over the finish line.

The easiest part of the move? One word, commitment. Once we had made the choice to relocate to Ireland, there was never a moment when we doubted the decision. That kind of clarity in our lives was very refreshing. Considering the relocation and then the huge project of renovating the property without any previous experience, I believe I’ve realized that, with patience, tenacity, careful research and a lot of planning, you can pretty much achieve anything. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t want to do it all over again though. Once is definitely enough – at least for now.

Q: Along with your latest release, you’ve written two comedy memoirs, a twisty thriller, a children’s book and a golf instruction book. Shouldn’t you just pick one horse and ride it?

A: Is that a law? I don’t think so. If you’ve got a story to tell, and you know your stuff, don’t let protocol hold you back.

Q: So how do you cope with writing for such diverse audiences?

A: Wear a different hat perhaps? I guess it’s a bit like method acting. I just listen for the internal dialog I hear when I’m telling a story or a joke. As a qualified golf coach, when I write about that subject, it’s very much as if I’m giving someone a lesson. The same principle applies to my other works. The humorous sections in the Fresh Eggs and Dog Beds series sound very similar to how I tell jokes and the thriller has the same tension and misdirects I would use if I were telling that tale. By the way, there is only one copy of the children’s book. I wrote it for my grandson, he seems to like it.

Q: Plotter or pantser?

A: I’m definitely a plotter. Before I start writing any book, I create voluminous lists and flowcharts. It’s a long and arduous process but essential to create the framework for my story. Once the fingers are flying and the words flowing, I can permit my butterfly mind to occasionally flit off-track, secure in the knowledge I will never lose my way. Having a plan isn’t restrictive, quite the opposite, it encourages creativity. When I was writing Wrecking Crew, there were a couple of times when I was astonished by an event that just popped into my head, particularly as it slotted perfectly into the storyline. About halfway through the book, the protagonist Eric Stone opens the trunk of a car and there was… well, I won’t spoil the surprise. I recall sitting back in astonishment as I really had no idea what was about to happen. Of course, it was just my imagination running along ahead, something that could only happen because it had a clear path to follow.

Q: How does writing a thriller like Wrecking Crew differ from the process you would follow for one of your memoirs?

A: Writing memoirs need strict adherence to a good timeline, particularly for me, otherwise it is all too easy to jump about chronologically and that can become very confusing for the reader. My timelines are usually dozens of pages of A4 covered in scribbled notes and yellow post-it’s. It can take months to get all the events in the correct order. Usually my notes are just single-line memory triggers, meaningless to anyone but me.

For a thriller like Wrecking Crew and the follow up, Stone Façade, which is still under construction, I made a storyboard with detailed notes about each scene including links to important events in the overall plot. When you are trying to slip clues into the narrative to help or sometimes misdirect the reader, it’s crucial to have a clear plan. Thriller writing requires a considerable amount of research,  particularly when the storyline touches on areas that are outside of the author’s experience. Google Earth and the internet is now a great resource for geographical research (and a real money-saver) but sometimes there is no substitute for getting hands-on. As part of my research for Wrecking Crew, I took a course in lock-picking as I knew it was a skill my protagonist would need to demonstrate. In the end, much of that scene ended up on the cutting room floor but it wasn’t for a lack of quality research.

Q: Do you allow anyone to read your work while it’s in progress?

A: I share every chapter and here’s why. I’m very consistent, so if I make an error the chances are I’m just going to keep repeating it. To my mind, it’s far better to have a reliable eye watching over me and picking up any problems before it’s too late. I would hate to get off-track and not find out until I’ve wasted 120,000 words. Trust me, it happens.

In Zoe Marr, I’m very fortunate to have access to a wonderful editor. She’s based in New Zealand and I’m on the other side of the world here in Ireland. That time difference works to our mutual advantage. At the end of my working day I can email her a chapter or two, secure in the knowledge her edits and helpful comments will be waiting for my attention just after breakfast. It’s a great way to work.

Q: How did you go about finding the right publisher for your work?

A: I began looking for a publisher at about the time the industry began this seismic shift away from the traditional publishing model, brought about by the success of Lulu and Amazon as publishing platforms. At first I approached several agents along with those few publishers who were still accepting direct submissions. All I got in return was silence or cold boilerplate rejection letters. As someone who accepts refusal about as well as a child in a sweetshop, I found it all very depressing. However, when I saw J.K.Rowling (writing as Robert Galbraith) had experienced the same issue, I began to feel a bit less discouraged. Eventually I ran out of patience and opted for the self-published approach using the Amazon platform.

Over the next few years, I continued to make submissions, but now I had a better offering – a proven track record of sales, hundreds of great reviews and a solid social media presence. Finally, I received an offer to publish. In fact I had four within just six months. Suddenly, I had a dilemma. As a successful self-published author, what had I to gain from signing a contract to publish?

Most of the publishers were essentially offering to do what I was already doing but charge me a fee for the privilege. They were reticent to talk about marketing strategy, budgets or anticipated revenue, but were expecting me to sign over the artistic rights to my work. I chose to sign with Ant Press precisely because they were different. To begin with, they don’t sign books, they sign authors. Secondly, they have considerable experience publishing memoirs, so they really know their stuff. Thirdly, they asked me to make changes to my manuscripts – a lot of changes.

At that time I had two completed manuscripts, totaling almost 200,000 words. Ant Press asked me to make so many changes, it made my head spin. Even so, I was impressed they had such courage in their convictions. For a month we had robust but amicable discussions about what a new series of books would look like. I even rewrote a couple of chapters to see if I was comfortable with the stylistic changes they were proposing. Finally, we were in agreement and I became an Ant Press author. It was a proud day for me. I have no regrets.

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

A: I see a lot of similarities between publishing and the film business just now. Since the financial crash, it feels like both industries have ceded editorial control to accountants. Whereas before the occasional blockbuster/bestseller supported the less financially successful, but equally important, remainder of their portfolios, now every book or film has to be a huge moneymaker. The financial pressures must be huge. I think this is why we’re seeing so many film remakes and sequels like, “The new blockbuster movie starring (insert famous name here)”. With both industries, this shift in focus has created some terrific opportunities for someone to come in and fill the void. Suddenly, we have Netflix, Sky and Amazon video producing exclusive content. Some of it is world class. The same thing has happened in publishing.

New technologies like Audible, Kindle and print on demand have created almost unrestricted routes to market for authors and modern cloud-based publishers. But, just like the internet, there’s a downside to this new freedom. The lack of editorial control on these platforms is degrading the market, swamping us with so many new books – many of them of questionable quality or subject matter – that it’s becoming difficult for customers to find what they want. I’ve read that 800-1,000 new books a day are published on the Amazon platform alone, with some genres becoming saturated. If the idea of self-publishing was to make it easier for aspiring authors to be seen, it’s close to failure. But there is some hope.

Much like the film and TV business, I think publishing will move further away from the traditional arrangement, work through this messy transitional phase and settle on a stovepipe model of quality exclusive content. Perhaps in the future we’ll see a Netflix sister company called Netbooks, asserting editorial control and producing top quality books and screenplays, written by their stable of authors and delivered exclusively to your device. Whatever happens, I’m confident the future will be exciting.

Q: If we were to take a peek at the bookshelves of your younger self, what might we have found there?

A: Hundreds of books piled chaotically. I was, and still am, a veracious reader, it’s an absolute must for any aspiring author. As a child, I was introduced to the wonderful world of books by my sister, when she gave me her well-thumbed copy of Winnie-the-Pooh. A short while later, I discovered The Story of Doctor Doolittle, by Hugh Lofting. I believe I read all 13 books in the series in a month. Introducing a child to the joys of reading is the greatest gift anyone can ever give.

When I was a student living in Norwich, England, my first flat was next door to the best secondhand bookshop in the city. What heaven! Back then I read a lot of sci-fi books and thrillers, purely for the escapism. Because I was from a forces family, I collected hundreds of military biographies. Other favorites in my collection were Clive James, David Niven and Spike Mulligan. These books were treasured possessions, I still have most of them now.

Q: And what would your current collection of reading material tell us about you as a person?

A: My collection is somewhat eclectic, I’m not sure what that says about me. I have a library and dozens of stacked boxes bulging with hundreds of golf books, biographies featuring authors from all walks of life, loads of thrillers, some sci-fi and the complete works of Sue Grafton, Lee Child, Tom Holt, Terry Pratchett and William Shakespeare. I’m never without a book. One secret I can reveal, if I’m writing comedy, I’ll only read thrillers – and vice versa.

Q: If you could invite three famous authors (living or dead) to enjoy a bottle of wine and watch an Irish sunset with you, who would it be and why?

A: Only three? Tough choice.

  1. Gene Kranz, author of Failure Is Not an Option. Gene Kranz was present at the creation of America’s manned space program and was a key player in it for three decades. As a flight director in NASA’s Mission Control, Kranz witnessed firsthand the making of history. He participated in the space program from the early days of the Mercury program, through the moon landings to the last Apollo mission, and beyond. It would be fantastic to hear his story firsthand.
  2. Beth Haslam, author of the Fat Dogs and French Estates Beth is a fellow Ant Press memoirist and very much an inspiration to me as an author. She was brought up on a country estate in Wales. Her childhood was spent either on horseback, helping the gamekeepers raise pheasants, or out sailing. After a serious car crash, she set up her own consultancy business. As semi-retirement beckoned, Beth and her husband decided to buy a second home in France. This became a life-changing event where computers and mobile phones swapped places with understanding the foibles of the French, and tackling the language. Somehow, she found the time to write a bestselling series of memoirs. In many ways our journeys are similar. We’ve only chatted online, but I think she’d be great company over a glass of wine.
  3. Terry Pratchett. Because he died too soon and I’d like to have him back writing again.

Q: What’s the oldest, weirdest or most nostalgic item in your closet and what is your particular attachment to it?

A: An old Irish coin. It’s called a Punt and I found it in my father’s desk, when I was clearing it out shortly after his death. To the best of my knowledge my dad had never visited Ireland and he had no earthly reason to have or keep a coin that had no value. At that time my wife and I were planning our move to Ireland, so I felt it was a significant discovery, as if he were saying, “Go ahead, it’ll be grand!” which it was.

Q: What have you learned from your own journey as a writer that you would pass along to someone who came to you for advice about how to break into publication?

A: Before you write, read – a lot. Read what you enjoy. Read the kind of books you would like to write but be sure to observe the authors craft as you read. Take note of how they mix dialog with narration, how they paint their pictures and how they guide your mind. Try to look beyond the words to understand how the story was constructed. Do all this and more, before you put pen to paper.

When you begin writing, remember it is a craft, one that needs developing. No matter how talented you are at the beginning, your writing should always improve over time. You should expect your last book to be much better than your first. Never let anyone tell you that you are unworthy.

Understanding the difference between dreams and goals can make your task considerably less stressful. Dreams are the things we would like to achieve, but have very little control over – like winning the lottery. Goals are the steps we take towards achieving our dream – like buying that lottery ticket. Goals you control, dreams you don’t. That distinction is important. As a writer, you must focus your efforts and evaluate your success based only on the things you can control. Trying to do otherwise is a recipe for disaster.

Many excellent writers have given up because they made getting published their goal and failed.  Trying to get published won’t make you a better writer, but being a better writer, and building a large social media following of people who like your work, will definitely help you to get published. Focus on what you can control.

Q: Any new projects in the works?

A: My ‘ideas folder’ is bulging with interesting storylines, but it would be a mistake to take on too much. Just now I’m writing the third book in the six-part Fresh Eggs and Dog Beds series. It is progressing well and due out in early 2019. In the background I’m researching a book about my father’s fascinating life in the RAF. I’m also working on Stone Façade, the second in my Eric Stone thriller series. I am very excited about the twisty plot, which will bring Stone to Ireland in search of a missing journalist, but not all is as it seems…

Q: Where do you see yourself 30 years from now?

A: I hope I’ll still be writing. Perhaps my spelling will improve. If I can average a book a year until I’m 90, that would be something special to look back on.

Q: Anything else you’d like to share?

A: Writing is the loneliest job in the world. I have only my characters and four dogs to keep me company, but becoming a successful author is a team effort. I have to thank my wife, my publisher, my editor, my cover artist and, most of all, the thousands of authors whose books I have read. I humbly stand on the shoulders of these giants, so I can reach a little higher.

 

A Conversation with Jamie Dare

Jamie Dare headshot

As one half of the dynamic duo, Hamlett & Dare, Jamie Dare takes no backseat in her co-writing endeavours. An outstanding writer, she dives right into new projects with gusto, and loves exploring new opportunities to write “outside the box”. Funny, quixotic, and down-to-earth, Jamie takes her writing seriously, and isn’t afraid to tell us a bit about her own insecurities, writing processes, and give us a small, behind-the scenes look at what goes into co-writing a book and comedic play that’s currently in the works. Welcome Jamie!

Interviewer: Debbie A. McClure

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Q: What kind of research do you do when preparing for a new book project?

A: Read, read, Google like a maniac, read. I hadn’t read much chick lit before “While You Were Out” so to familiarize myself with the genre, I blazed through the entire Sophie Kinsella canon. I hadn’t planned on doing this, but after the first book, I couldn’t stop. Ms. Kinsella’s books are like rainbow Skittles. Can’t stop at one.

Q: What’s the most unusual thing you had to research online for your book?

A: Two words: stargazy pie. In “While You Were Out,” Henny’s mother isn’t known for her culinary prowess. So you can imagine what happens when she tries her hand at this rather unique dish. Someday I will work up the courage to make it myself.

Q: Do you work from an outline, or allow the plot to unfold as you go along?

A: The latter. I know you’re supposed to outline before writing. So I outline, but I never stick to it. I’m most definitely a pantser.

Q: Describe your writing process in five words or less.

A: Procrastinate, panic, write, rewrite, repeat. Were I allowed a sixth word, I’d probably put “procrastinate” in there twice.

Q: Can you tell us a little about the current project you’re working on?

A: Christina and I just wrapped up “Séance and Sensibility,” a comedic take on the Jane Austen classic. In the play, Elinor and Marianne Dashwood navigate Regency-era England’s stuffy social customs with assistance from a crystal ball. And some otherworldly friends, of course. It’s the most fun I’ve ever had writing a script. It’s also our third Austenesque spoof. “Cliffhanger Abbey” and “Hyde and Prejudice” can be found at Heartland Plays (https://heartlandplays.com/).

Q: Have you ever experienced “writer’s block”? If so, how do you overcome it?

A: I haven’t experienced writer’s block, I AM writer’s block. It should be my middle two names.

I have different methods for un-sticking myself. If I find myself staring at “At Rise” or “Chapter 1” for hours on end, I’ll force myself to write something. Anything. Even if it’s terrible. Even if it’s “All work and no play make Jack a dull boy”. (Although, this technique made me want to put an axe through a door, so I’ve sort of stopped using it). The next day the deficiencies are so glaring, I can’t wait to dive in and rewrite.

If I’m stuck in the middle of a chapter or scene and the words aren’t coming, it means I’m out of gas. So I’ll do something else to give my mind a break. Run, walk, bike, line dance. I always fear the words won’t come back, but they do. Usually when I don’t have a pen handy, but that’s beside the point.

Q: What would you say are your strengths and weaknesses as a writer?

A: Strength would be dialogue. I love writing dialogue, which is odd because in real life I can’t stand talking. I’m also a decent first-drafter.

Weaknesses? Where to begin. I’ve given myself bald spots trying to plot out stories. While we’ve all heard that “Good writing is rewriting,” I sometimes overdo this to the point I’m writing and erasing at the same time.

Q: What was your elevator pitch for the While You Were Out book?

A: It’s one thing for Henny Tinker to think her handsome and charismatic new boss, Geoffrey Bond, is way out of her league. The more she reflects on his secret trips and his uncanny ability to acquire never-before-seen artworks, the more she suspects he’s – quite literally – out of her time-zone.

Could it have something to do with the Scottish railway clock in his office that runs perfectly…in reverse? Is it his penchant for period outfits that supposedly coincide with the themed costume parties he attends? Or has Henny simply been watching too many time-travel movies and now sees evidence of its existence everywhere she looks?

Set against the backdrop of modern-day London, While You Were Out is just the right mix of romantic comedy, mystery, and a dash of wicked competition in the world of high-end art acquisitions. My stellar writing partner is the genius behind this pitch, by the way.

WYWO front cover

Q: What was the most difficult scene for you to write in While You Were Out?

A: Honestly? The restaurant scenes! Geoffrey and Henny dine at the finest establishments in London. I don’t eat out unless I have a coupon, so I have no idea what a five-star restaurant would serve. I burned up the Internet researching words like “vacherin” and “fribourgeois”.  To me, these sound like an ailment and its prescription. Henny notes this in the book as well.

Q: Tell us an interesting, fun fact about your book.

A: I had no idea how it would end — until the very end! Christina and I write by dividing up chapters or scenes; she’ll write a couple, then I will, and so on. For “While You Were Out,” she had the final chapters and kept me in the dark about the big reveal. Like Henny, I was left to develop my own theory about Geoffrey’s comings and goings, and his odd disappearances. The finale was even better than I could have ever imagined.

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

A: I’ve learned I can stay awake until 3am on a consistent basis. I wouldn’t say I recommend this as a writing schedule, but that’s the way my mind works. It doesn’t matter if I staple myself to a computer from 9am to 5pm. The words that “stick” to the page are the ones that come in the wee hours of the night. I’ve learned to accept it. Embrace who you are, kids.

Q: What is the most difficult and easiest part of co-writing a book with another writer?

A: The easiest part is having another writer as a sounding board. Instant feedback from someone you trust… it doesn’t get much better than that. It’s also invaluable having a co-writer who is adept at story structure. Christina has plotted out entire novels in her sleep, no joke. You know what I do in my sleep? Sleep!

The only difficult part is trying to keep up with Christina’s prolificity. I’m the type who agonizes over every word, so whenever I send off new pages, it’s a big deal. I’ll go make myself a celebratory sandwich or whatever and by the time I’ve finished eating, Christina has sent me her new pages. I have no idea how she does it.

Q: What’s next for you, Jamie?

A: Lots of fun stuff on the horizon! The response to “While You Were Out” has been so overwhelming, we’re planning another chick-lit novel, “Saving Captain Cupid.” We’ve also broken ground on a romantic suspense novel, “Silent Knight.” Watch this space for more details.

And look for a new play, “Last Flight to Ithaca,” from Brooklyn Publishers in August 2017 (https://www.brookpub.com). Christina and I love adding a contemporary spin to the classics, and this comedy finds Ulysses (yes, the Greek hero) stuck in an airport as he tries desperately to get home for the holidays. Talk about an odyssey. Wow, that’s a lot in the pipeline! Time to go clean the house.

 

For more information about Jamie’s work, please visit https://hamlettanddare.wordpress.com/.

 

 

 

Secrets of the M*A*S*H Mess: The Lost Recipes of Private Igor

MASH Mess082

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

In 1950, a country bumpkin named Igor Straminsky answered his country’s call to duty and, as an unwitting Army private, soon found himself in the most hostile environment the planet could ever serve up. No, we’re not talking about Korea. We’re talking about the men and women of the 4077th who queued up three times a day with plastic trays, growling stomachs, and growing suspicions they’d more likely meet their deaths at the inept hands of their new cook than they ever would in confrontations with the enemy they’d come to fight. “Dear Ma,” Igor wrote home, “Instead of letting me work at something I’m good at, they’re gonna make me do a job I don’t know anything about! Radar, the company clerk here, told me that he thinks the Army does that on purpose.”

Suffice it to say, Igor had plenty of time to hone his craft (such as it was). His stint in a mess tent chef’s hat, in fact, lasted eight years longer than the actual Korean War. When the hit television series M*A*S*H finally bowed out in 1983, almost 125 million viewers tuned in to say goodbye, the largest audience ever for a TV show. Fortunately, Igor’s efforts to please the palate weren’t left behind on a helicopter pad. His alter ego-Hollywood actor/writer/entrepreneur Jeff Maxwell-has compiled the best of Igor’s mess tent magic into a hilarious book entitled “Secrets of the M*A*S*H Mess: The Lost Recipes of Private Igor.”

Testimonial from Colonel Potter: “There seems to be a misconception here. Those recipes weren’t lost! We did our best to hide them.”

Within these wacky pages—which are replete with black and white production stills, “dog-tag” quotes, and letters home—the author not only gives us generous dollops of homegrown culinary advice but demonstrates a talent for memorializing his Army experiences and friendships with his own brand of signature recipes such as Hot Lips Tri-Tips, Radar’s Teddy Bear Turkey Loaf, and Hunnicut’s Homesick Cookies.

As clueless as Igor seemed to be whilst unveiling inventive concoctions such as “Cream of Weenie Soup” or “Hot Potato Pucks”, he shows remarkable clarity in laying out instructions that are fun and easy to follow. Whether you’re mustering your troops off to work or school with “Frontline Flapjacks with Chocolate Gravy”, settling in for an evening flick with “Movie Night Popcorn Shrimp” or dazzling your next book club group with “Forward Marsh Melts”, there’s no denying that Igor knows what it takes to please picky eaters.

Testimonial from Hawkeye Pierce: “Can’t wait to try the recipes. There are several people I’m trying to kill.”

In real life, Maxwell loves to chat about the convoluted journey that took him from the bowels of the Print Department at 20th Century Fox to stand-up comedy to the elation of playing a character with an actual name on a hit series instead of just a credit as “Soldier 1”. The proliferation of candid shots throughout the book suggest the slap-dash happiness of an overgrown kid who has not only found himself at the summer camp of a lifetime but in the thick of new friendships destined to last forever.

Q: Did you know anything about M*A*S*H before you joined the series?

A: Not really. I thought it was something you fed to chickens! Okay, okay, for a short time I worked as a casting director at Twentieth Century Fox and was responsible for casting some of the smaller parts in a film titled M*A*S*H. I saw the movie when it was released and loved it. I knew nothing about the television version or the actors in it until the first day I showed up on the set.

Q: What were your impressions of the film?

A: Robert Altman’s raw, improvisational and bloody approach made me feel very uncomfortable. It also made me laugh which, I believe, is the true genius of both the movie and the television show.

Q: Had you read the novel on which the film was based?

A: Shortly after joining the show, I did read the book and enjoyed it. But don’t you think it would have been a better novel if Igor had been in it?

Q: Did you think M*A*S*H was going to be a huge hit when you first read the script?

A: No. As a matter of fact, the show was getting less than super ratings in the early days. Shortly after I made my appearances, the ratings shot through the roof. Draw your own conclusions.

Q: So what were your impressions of Private Igor?

A: I really liked Igor and thought of him as a person struggling to get used to a job that wasn’t familiar or comfortable. Like everybody else in the compound, he was stuck there. I played him as a mechanic who was forced to trade motor oil for butter fat. The thing I liked most about him is that no matter how tough people treated him, he always tried to be a little funny.

Q: Tell us what inspired you to write a book.

A: Several year before the show ended production, I thought it would be funny if Igor were to write his own cookbook. I had planned to write it during the last season but got involved in another project. Better late than never.

Q: Did you come up with all the recipes yourself?

A: In the book you learn that Igor created them. He didn’t know it but he was really a gifted chef who was forced to cook-by-the-book. Okay, maybe he had a little help from a couple of friends and Mrs. Igor.

Q: And how about you? Are you a good cook?

A: You bet your creamed weenies I am!

Q: Have any of your fellow actors tried the recipes?

A: I don’t know. But I haven’t heard from any lawyers yet.

Q: Do you have a favorite go-to comfort food?

A: I’ve become a major student of the art of smoking food. I am an animal lover, and this will not sit well with many of my respected friends, but I admit to loving smoked ribs. Successfully blending seasonings with just the right amount of smoky flavor to build the perfect flavor profile on a rack of ribs is an art.

Q: Getting back to the show, do you recall a favorite episode?

A; Adam’s Ribs stands out in my mind as one of the all-time greats. The “river of liver, ocean of fish” scene between Hawkeye and Igor is a classic.

Q: Which character was your favorite (besides Igor)?

A: Tough question to answer. All the characters and their behaviors were so integral to the comedy and theme; it would be hard to suggest any one was a favorite. I enjoyed each of them for what they contributed to every episode.

Q: When was it determined the 11th season would be the last?

A: I think at the end of the 10th.Everybody knew that all of the stories had been told. To continue into a 12th season would have put the quality of the writing, acting and producing in great jeopardy. Although there was talk of moving the show to Alaska and re-naming it MUSH.

Q: What was it like on the set that final day?

A: It was warm and fuzzy—kind of like that nice fog you’re in after a big Thanksgiving meal. There was a lot of hugging and a few teary outbursts but, for the most part, surprisingly upbeat. All the agents, however, were sobbing daily.

Q: Was there any talk about you appearing on “AfterM*A*S*H?”

A: If there was, nobody told me. If they had only researched how Igor affected the ratings on M*A*S*H, AfterM*A*S*H might still be on today. But seriously, the stories and humor of M*A*S*H were driven by one of the most powerful, horrendous human endeavors one can imagine. Taking those characters out of the war and putting them in a benign setting for any kind of reunion show would be as wrong as moving Gilligan’s Island to Korea.

Q: Are you still acting?

A: Not really, although ask me and I might. I enjoy bringing projects to fruition and have become very involved with fund-raising, producing movies and selling television shows. Raising budgets for independent films is challenging and exciting. And it can make you nauseous and sweaty even in winter.

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

A: Probably that I am an extremely serious person. The secret about comedians is that their desire to be funny is usually born out of difficult childhood experiences. I’m not talking about abuse, but something that makes them feel fragmented from their family and/or peers. Cool kids are not usually motivated to do stand-up comedy. They’re too busy fielding offers from the CIA or Apple. It’s the not-so-cool kids who make their classmates laugh to gain acceptance and to avoid getting beat up by the cool kids. Many funny folks are serious and shy. I guess I have that in my DNA, too.

Q: What’s the oldest, weirdest or most nostalgic item you currently have in your closet?

A: My brother.

Q: Rumor has it that you have a new book in the works. What is it about?

A:  My wife recently endured Breast Cancer and its treatment. I’m planning on writing about the experience and its impact on us as a couple, but mostly how it affected me. I’m going to take the reader on the difficult path of the event while highlighting some humorous moments nobody expects. It will definitely not be a medical textbook or a maudlin tome. Still thinking about putting some recipes in it.

My wife is now doing quite well, by the way.

Q: Anything else you’d like our readers to know?

A: Whether they remember it or not, I’d like them to know that M*A*S*H was a magical moment for everyone connected with the show. I was fortunate to have worked with incredibly talented, vibrant and intelligent people, cast and crew, for nine of the eleven-years the show was produced. I gained life-long friendships and learned a lot about acting, writing, and behavior in the very heady environment of a successful television show. The late Larry Gelbart developed the show for television and wrote most of the episodes in the first four years. Gene Reynolds was the executive producer of the show and directed most of the episodes in the first four years. Larry’s writing genius combined with Gene’s wisdom and incredible talent for the daily maneuvering of a gaggle of high-powered actors was the fuel that allowed the magic to happen on the stage and in our living rooms. And it helped me grow up. Although I’m definitely still a work in progress.

I’d also urge your readers to watch the reruns of M*A*S*H whenever possible. I like the residuals.

A Chat with Ann Royal (aka Anna) Nicholas

Ann Royal

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

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: Dream role you’d love to play?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: What are you currently working on?

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

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

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

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Down the Aisle with Bridezilla

bridezilla

Dealing with four demanding clients, Megan Waters thought her job as a wedding planner would involve romance and eternal bliss. Instead her profession has been causing drama, outrageousness, and has made Megan reach for the aspirin bottle in her top drawer more than once. 

In Carli Palmer’s debut novel, the term Bridezilla lives up to its moniker. Follow the crazy journey in one determined woman’s life, where what should be a time to celebrate, ends up being her worst nightmare!

Interviewer: Christy Campbell

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First things first, tell us about Down the Aisle with Bridezilla. Such an interesting title!

Thanks!  This book is about a wedding planner named Megan Waters who resides in Malibu.  Along with a friend from college she forms a wedding planning company catering to rich clients- aka the bridezilla.  The story is about how she keeps her head straight while pleasing to all their demands.  And their demands are outlandishly ridiculous!

Give us an insight into your main character.  What does she do that is so intriguing

I don’t consider Megan Waters special.  I wanted her to be relatable to readers. To me that meant making her as ordinary as possible.  With the same goals as other gals – love, some good luck, and a good life.

How did the idea come about for this storyline?

For this book I got the idea from a TV show called Bridezillas which doesn’t run anymore.  I remember thinking that I never read a novel from the wedding planner’s point of view.  It’s always about the bride.  By seeing the story unfold through Megan’s (the wedding planner) eyes we see how crazy these brides really get.

How much research did you do for this novel? Better put, is there anyone you based this novel on, names withheld, of course.

Tons.  This book was my first true attempt at a full-fledged novel so I figured it would be more believable if I had an idea of what the wedding business was about.  My research was solely the Internet and personal experience.  I scoured tons of sites to find out what the going trend was, then I blew it out of proportion to fit the book.  My brides are anything but plain and ordinary.  But it’s not based on anyone I know, that’s where my imagination came in.

What does your writing process involve; any steps you like to take specifically?

It’s really all over the place.  Sometimes I’ll do my research first, other times I might just dive into the writing.  It varies on what my mood is.  If I have a scene in my head that I don’t want to lose track of I’ll write it out right there and then and then go back to fill in the facts and details.  I still do write the first draft with pen and paper.  Then I type it out.  It’s what I grew up with and helps me think out the story more.  Plus there is something soothing to me to actually writing it down first.

Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer just to see where an idea takes you?

I am definitely a planner.  I start with the initial idea.  Then I work on the characters, locations, and then a book outline and last but not least I outline each chapter.  I love working with pictures.  So tons of magazine photos end up in my files after the book is done.  If I’m describing a dress or a bouquet, chances are I have a picture somewhere that sparked the initial concept.

If/when you get hit with that inevitable writer’s block, how do you overcome it? 

Ugh!!  I consider it losing my mojo.  It’s like an ocean wave for me.  When the wave comes in, I write like crazy because I am in the zone.  When the wave is out, my thoughts don’t connect and I hate everything I’m writing. To get out of it I’ll usually jump to another project I’m working on.  Right now I’m working on my second book due out next year hopefully and an idea I have for two book series and also a screenplay.  So there’s a lot to keep me busy.

Putting together that first book is a long process for most that involves so much. How long did it take you to write Bridezilla?

It was on and off for seven years.  In that time I was finishing up college and working full time so all my writing was done in my free time.  If I had nothing to do besides writing, then I’m thinking I could have had it done within a year.

What was the hardest part of writing your book?

The ending.  At first I didn’t know how to end it.  I wanted Megan’s story to go on and on.  I get that way about TV shows too – thinking why did the network have to end that series?  Life goes on I guess.

Was there any particular areas of your manuscript you found the most difficult to write?

 Grammar always is an issue for me.  I was never an English major, just a sociology major so that’s why I have an editor. LOL.

You chose to go the indie route. What would you say are the main advantages and
disadvantages of self-publishing?

 Self-publishing allows the no-name writer like me to tell a story.  I’ve read books from authors who wouldn’t have gotten the time of day from a publishing house.  And they were fantastic books. A big disadvantage of self-publishing that I’m just finding out is the marketing.  You have to do it all yourself and it’s a learning road with a lot of roots sticking out of the ground.

Choosing names for our characters can be easy or tough, based on the personalities we create. How relevant are the names of the characters in your books? 

I definitely think about the name for a while.  I really do think it makes a difference. Think about it – would we think of Scarlett O’Hara in the same way if she was called Jane?  Megan was a down to earth name pertaining to the fact that I wanted her to be ordinary so I couldn’t name her something like Jasmine or Cleo – or anything with finesse to it.  I actually have a few lists of names that are about 30 pages long – for male, female, and last names.  I go through them when I’m creating a new character and whatever hits me, I pick.

Is there a famous person, living or dead, who inspires you?

Too many to count.  If I had to pick right this moment I would say it’s a three way tie right now between Kate White (author), Cleo Coyle (author), and Stephen J. Cannell (writer/producer).  Kate White writes a mystery series that I have read over and over about twelve times.  Cleo Coyle also writes a mystery series that takes place in a coffeehouse.  Both are still alive. Stephen J. Cannell created over 40 TV shows including 21 Jump Street, The A-Team, and Baretta.  He passed away in 2010.  If you ever watched his shows, he was the guy in the end sitting at a typewriter and throwing a sheet of paper into the air.

If you were given the opportunity to spend some time with him or her, just what kind of day would you plan?

I would sit with them at an all day writing session.  Coffee, food, talking, and coming up with a great crime drama/suspense mystery.  Kate would supply the suspense, Cleo would supply the details, Stephen would supply the drama, and I would supply the characters.  All this taking place on a balcony overlooking Los Angeles somewhere where we could listen to the sounds of the streets.

It’s always fun to visualize our books on the big screen. If you could cast your characters in the Hollywood adaption of your book, who would play your characters?

 I could see Megan Waters as an unknown actress and the brides all being established actresses.  For some reason I can see Cameron Diaz playing a bride.  She can do a nasty side pretty well.

Time to humbly advertise. Are there any social network or websites where readers can learn more?

Right now you can find me on Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/23510939-down-the-aisle-with-bridezilla

LibraryThing: http://www.librarything.com/author/palmercarli

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Down-Aisle-Bridezilla-Carli-Palmer/dp/150259711X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1417735501&sr=1-1&keywords=carli+palmer

And readers can always e-mail me at: cpalm8486@yahoo.com

 

A Conversation with Gyles Brandreth

Gyles CollageWhat can possibly be worse than a fictional character of your own creation getting far more fan mail than you do? In the case of Arthur Conan Doyle, it’s receiving three envelopes respectively containing a severed finger, a severed hand, and a lock of hair while you’re just trying to get away from it all for some R&R at a spa in Germany. To make matters worse, the celebrated author has been joined by the effusively chatty playwright, Oscar Wilde, who insists that they hop the very next train to Italy to answer an obvious cry for help.

Oscar Wilde and the Vatican Murders was my first introduction to the work of Gyles Brandreth but I knew by the time I turned the last page that I simply had to discover more about this wickedly witty and whimsical author.

And oh what a jolly discovery that quest turned out to be! From 6,000 miles away, this amazing gentleman graciously accepted my invitation to give readers a glimpse into his world and the passions that fuel his imagination.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: The remarkable volume and diversity of your published works suggests that you came into the world with your fingers aggressively fixed to a keyboard. What’s the real story behind your journey as such a savvy and prolific wordsmith and who were the mentors that helped shape your career choices?

A: You are about right. I certainly knew that I wanted to be a writer from about the age of eight. The poet TS Eliot went to the church where I was a boy server and he encouraged me! How’s that for a distinguished mentor? As a boy I lived in Baker Street (opposite 221B – truly) and I loved the Sherlock Holmes stories. I wrote my first play when I was 12. It was called “A Study in Sherlock”. My wife will tell you there’s not been much professional development with me over the past 50 years. What gripped me then grips me now. (My wife would also tell you that with me there’s not been much development of ANY kind over the past 50 years…)

Q: What authors were you reading at age 10? 20? 30? In retrospect, which ones would you say had the most influence on your own style of creative expression?

A: At 10, Arthur Conan Coyle and Agatha Christie. At 20, Oscar Wilde and Dorothy L. Sayers. At 30, Anthony Trollope and W.M. Thackeray. In any of my Oscar Wilde Murder Mysteries, you will see how all of the above have influenced me.

Q: You’ve also worn the hats of an MP, a Whip and Lord Commissioner of Prime Minister John Major’s Treasury, a popular broadcaster, and a theatrical producer. Aside from the obvious question of, “When did you ever find the time to sleep?” which of your many venues exemplifies the tenets of your best-selling book, The 7 Secrets of Happiness?

A: One of the 7 secrets is to be “a leaf on a tree”. Every leaf is unique and a leaf that’s not attached to a tree feels free and floats about a bit, which is fun, but soon it falls to the ground and dies. Each of us needs to be a leaf on a tree – unique, yes – but also attached to an organism that is larger than we are and alive and growing. Sometimes a writer’s life can be lonely. I felt most like a leaf on a tree when I was a member of Parliament – attached both to the House of Commons (an amazing place) and to my constituency (the beautiful and historic city of Chester).

Q: What did you most want to be when you were a lad growing up?

A: So many things! That was the problem. I wanted to be an actor, a writer, a politician, a TV anchor, a woman. And, because I have been very lucky, I have had a go at all of them.

Q: If your philosophy of life were printed on a tee-shirt, what would it say?

A: “Be happy.” (See No. 7 of The 7 Secrets of Happiness for more details.)

Q: The two of us share a mutual love for the stage as fellow actors, directors and producers. (And kudos to you for wowing audiences with your musical theater portrayal of Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest.) What would you say are some of the best lessons that treading the boards have taught you about pennng snappy dialogue and compelling characters for your works of fiction?

A: Character is what counts. If the people in your play are real, your audience can believe in them. Character comes first. Then comes story. Then the lines will follow. If your characters are real, what they say will be in character and if the situations are dramatic, they will respond. The great Ibsen would spend a year thinking about his plays before he began to pen them. He would think through the characters first, then place them in their situation, then make them speak. With my Oscar Wilde Murder Mysteries, I have had the advantage that so many of my “characters” are already there. The challenge is to portray them truthfully.

Q: So what was the inspiration for making the gifted playwright the cornerstone sleuth of your new mystery series?

A: Conan Doyle and Oscar Wilde were childhood heroes of mine. When I came across the fact that they had met – in 1889 – and had become friends (Conan Doyle describes the meeting in his autobiography), it occurred to me at once that here was an opportunity to create a series of Victorian mysteries with Wilde and Conan Doyle as my Holmes and Watson. I have always enjoyed a traditional murder mystery. As Oscar said, “There is nothing quite like an unexpected death for lifting the spirits.” (Or did I think of that line and give it to Oscar? That’s one of the problems with writing these books. I lose track of where fact ends and fiction begins.)

Q: I simply have to ask this. There’s a point in the book where Conan Doyle is contemplating giving hs fictional detective an older brother named Mycroft who would be patterned after his witty, intrepid and sartorially colorful colleague, Oscar. Is it more than coincidence that actor Stephen Fry not only portrayed Wilde in film but subsequently played Mycroft in the second Sherlock Holmes movie starring Robert Downey, Jr.?

A: I think it’s distinctly possible that Conan Doyle had Wilde in mind when he created Mycroft, Sherlock’s even more brilliant brother. (Stephen Fry, incidentally, was the first to bid for the TV rights to my Oscar Wilde Murder Mysteries, not with a view to appearing in them but hoping to produce them.)

Q: Two of your acclaimed biographies are about members of the Royal Family (Philip and Elizabeth:  Portrait of a Marriage and Charles and Camilla: Portrait of a Love Affair). Given your enviable reputation as a skilled interviewer, who in history would you most like to have an extended chat with if time travel were possible?

A: William Shakespeare. It is strange that we know so little about him when he knows so much about us.  Apart from the hygiene issues, I think I’d have felt very much at home in Elizabethan England.  And I’d love to meet Shakespeare and to hear some of his theatre stories. And where was he during those “lost years”?  In France and Italy, I reckon.  And which of his plays is his favourite?  And does he have another for us hidden in his bottom drawer?

Q: Rumor has it that you’ll need a bigger fireplace mantle and more wall space for all of the awards you’ve won. Which of these many honors gives you the highest sense of personal or professional accomplishment?

A: As European Monopoly Champion I came third in the World Monopoly Championships – and that pleased my parents who met over a Monopoly game in 1937 and eloped a few weeks later.

Q: Which do you feel is more challenging – to write a story for children or a plot geared to adults?

A: it is all story-telling. With kids’ stuff it tends to be shorter, but the need to capture, hold, intrigue and surprise the reader is the same. I have written six murder mysteries featuring Oscar Wilde and Arthur Conan Doyle as my detectives and the extra challenge there is to bring the period and the people to life as accurately as I can – while still (I hope!) spinning a compelling yarn.

Q: What would people be the most surprised to learn about you (besides behind a descendant of the last man beheaded in England for treason)?

A: That I was taught to play Scrabble by a friend of Oscar Wilde. He was 100 at the time and I was 15. He won all our games. I told him he cheated because he used obsolete words. He told me they’d been current when he first learnt them.

Q: Along with your daughter and grandson, you’ve authored a collection of family games called The Lost Art of Having Fun. Why is it, do you suppose, that we’ve misplaced the unapologetic joy of play and being silly? Is technology to blame or is it something more than that? Inquiring minds want to know.

A: Yes, our book is aimed at providing analog fun for the digital age.  Research suggests that kids in the UK are now spending up to 7 hours a day in front of a screen. This is terrifying. It’s got to stop. We’ve got to start looking at one another again: we’ve got to start talking to one another again. Playing games is a good way to get cross-generational communication going. The idea of playing a game alarms a lot of people – until they give it a go.  Fun is fun.

Q: Speaking of fun, you’ve got a delightful connection to teddy bears. Tell us about it.

A: My wife and I founded a Teddy Bear Museum about thirty years ago. Jim Henson gave us the original Fozzie Bear and he stills live at our museum. I was a friend of A A Milne’s son, Christopher Robin Milne, so I have shaken the hand that held the paw of Winnie the Pooh!

Q: What’s your best advice to today’s aspiring writers?

A: Mark Twain said the secret of writing a book is application – “applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair”. I can’t do better than that.  My other rule is: don’t talk about it, do it. Just get to that desk and stay there until today’s quota (1,000 words) is done.

Q: What style works best for you when developing a new book – to do all of the requisite research before you ever start writing or do you prefer to look things up as you go along?

A: With non-fiction you need to do your research before you start. With a novel – like my Victorian Oscar Wilde murder mysteries – you need the essence of the plot, but as you proceed you will find that events overtake you and the characters can take you to places you didn’t expect to go …  With my Oscar Wilde series I have been meticulous with research, so that all that you learn about Wilde and Conan Doyle and Bram Stoker, for example, will be true. With a history-mystery the reader needs to feel that the history is correct. For me, it’s been a joy to spend the first ten years of the twenty-first century living in the last ten years of the nineteenth.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: I am touring a show called “Looking for happiness”. It’s a two-hour stand-up comedy show that began life at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Now there’s a book to go with it, The 7 Secrets of Happiness that’s being published in the US, Russia, China and elsewhere. I am going to assorted launches: Moscow in August, for example. Because it is raining non-stop in England right now, next January and February I want to be performing my “Looking for happiness” show in Florida in January and New Zealand in February. Can you fix that for me? (Gyles: You should add Pasadena, California to your tour list. Not only is it a beautiful city with much to commend it but I’ll throw in the added bonus of taking you to lunch as well.)

 Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: if you have time dip into my website, www.gylesbrandreth.net, and find out a bit more about me – and what else I do. The pictures of me as Lady Bracknell with Oscar Wilde’s grandson are fun. And if you want to see a video of me talking about happiness try the Open Road Media website.  And if you fancy a short tour of Oscar Wilde’s London, take a look at www.oscarwildemurdermysteries.com