Unmarriageable

Unmarriageable

Although Jane Austen was English and hailed from a different century, her sharp-witted commentary on patriarchal societies and the “proper” role of females obviously resonated with the sensibilities of a certain teenage Pakistani named Soniah Kamal. Her delightful novel, Unmarriageable, is a modern-day cross-cultural treat, and we’re pleased to feature the wonderfully talented and prolific Soniah this month at You Read It Here First.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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 Q: Were family expectations of matrimony and motherhood pressed upon you while you were growing up or—like Austen herself—were you born with a gene for purposeful rebellion?

A: Both. The pressure of getting married was always there even though I was a straight A student but I also had the pesky habit of questioning why? Within a Pakistani context, why was it ok for guys to smoke but not girls? Why could my much younger brother have a phone in his room while I was not allowed to, meaning why are boys allowed privacy but not girls? Why was it ok for him to stay out at all hours with his friends, but I had a curfew or was not allowed to go out at all? Good girls don’t question why but accepted that parents, teachers, adults, know what is best for her. Clearly I was a very Bad Girl. Just because needed explanations for decrees. I actually wanted to be an actress, but my father forbade it, and yet he sent me to out to college by myself in the US in early nineties. I always like to ask if this makes my parents’ values conservative or progressive?

Q: Austen was clearly an influence on your life perspectives and on your writing, but who are some of the other authors whose works we might have found on your nightstand and regular reading list(s)?

A: Growing up in a post colonial country in a certain era, the British author Enid Blyton loomed large. However I grew up for a while in Jeddah Saudi Arabia where I attended an International School with books from everywhere and so Judy Blume, S.E. Hinton, L. M Montgomery, Anne  Frank, a wonderful anthology that contained work by Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, Gwendoyln Brooks, Shirley Jackson, Anne Sexton. Decades later I found this anthology at a local library sale and I pounced on this chunk of sunshine from my childhood.  In the classics, my favorite authors were Thomas Hardy, E. M. Forster, George Eliot, Edith Wharton, Virginia Woolf, and in translation anything by authors such as Ismat Chugtai, Kishwar Naheed, Qurratulain Hyder; in fact, as I grew older, whatever I could find by South Asian authors.

Q: Who are you reading now?

A: I’m giving a keynote address at a Jane Austen Festival hosted by JASNA Louisville (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TDhHx1ud0fg), and so at the moment am back to being steeped in Jane Austen’s work which is always welcome. However, once I’m done I’m looking forward to finish How to Hide an Empire by Daniel Immerwahr and reading Lee Connell’s The Party Upstairs about a unraveling friendship as well as Rakhshanda Jalil’s But You Don’t Look Like a Muslim about Muslim identity in India.

Q: The parallelism of Pride and Prejudice through a Southeast Asian postcolonial lens was a delight to read. Well done! What was especially fun, though, was deciphering the Pakistani names and matching them to their English counterparts in Austen’s novels. Given the number of characters peopling this luscious plot, I’m curious as a fellow author whether some of the minor players may have been borrowed from your own family and friends? If so, how did they feel about this inclusion?

A: Thank you! I’m so glad you appreciated the postcolonial angle and retelling which was the very reason I wrote it. I grew up a postcolonial child schooled in the British medium system meaning English and British classics were my educational foundation. As an adult when I came across the reasons Thomas Babington Macaulay, back in 1835, suggested to British Parliament to implement English as the language supreme across colonies in order to create a confused “person brown in color but white sensibilities”, it became imperative to me that I write an alternative postcolonial parallel retelling, a reorienting if you will of this policy. Professor Nalini Iyer of Seattle University has called Unmarriagable Macaulay’s worst nightmare.  As the essay at the end of Unmarriageable (US paperback, green cover with faces, edition) says, I wanted to fuse my English language with my Pakistani culture and it seemed absolutely fitting to choose Jane Austen and Pride and Prejudice which I believe is a quintessentially Pakistani novel.  Jane Austen was Pakistani; she didn’t know it. There is also an essay included about why I chose the names. Many of them are not Pakistani names such as Lady or Georgeullah. I give a reason for Lady within the class conscious themes of the novel but also, and here is one of the many Eastern eggs in Unmarriageable for Austen fans: Austen’s first novel was published as ‘by a Lady’ and so Lady.

Unmarriageable is also a standalone novel, so those not coming from love of Austen need not worry. As for Georgeullah, often Pakistanis come to Western countries and Kamran will go by Kamran etc. and so in reverse of that George joins the popular suffix  -ullah, and Wickaam is spelled with a double a because in Urdu ‘aam’ meaning ordinary which is what he is in both Austen’s and Unmarriageable’s world. As for your last question, “Any references to historical events, real people, or real locales are used fictitiously. Other names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination, and any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.”

Q: With which of the Binat sisters in Unmarriageable can you picture yourself having a lifelong friendship?

A: This is a hard one. Probably Alys, Qitty and Sherry, an honorary sister. I admire Sherry’s common sense and being able to stand up to peers when needed and I very much like Alys’s no nonsense blunt sprit, needing to speak up for what is fair whatever the cost to herself as well as her being able to see through layers of hypocrisy and speaking up. Let’s say the Alys and Sherry were going to the Aurat March, a women’s right march held annually in Pakistan- Sherry would be making posters as would Alys and at the march Sherry would hold up a poster while Alys would have the loudspeaker.  I suppose Alys can get a bit exhausting but I’d prefer that to complacence. Qitty and I would completely bond over the comments we receive over about being fat. I’ve been both thin and fat and have seen the world through both these bodies. Since body positivity movement has, thankfully, gained traction and ‘fat’ has lost much of its shaming, I’ve notice the new word used to try to shame me is ‘obese’.  Qitty is, of course, very young, but we’d have a smile at those who pat themselves on their backs for supposedly doing well at the genetic ‘lottery’ while conveniently bypassing the fact that ectomorphs, endomorphs and mesomorphs are body types and that magazine/online quizzes which congratulate you for being one and not another are absolutely ridiculous and feeding into this ‘beauty’ hierarchy.  Qitty and I are big proponents of the tag line in Unmarriageable which is ‘books over looks’.

Q: If a reader had no prior frame of reference to Pride and Prejudice, Unmarriageable still makes for a satisfying standalone read. For those of us who are familiar with the source material, you’ve artfully planted a number of “Easter eggs” throughout the chapters—little insider secrets and literary references that prompt a smile. What was your favorite gem to hide in plain sight of Austen aficionados?

A: Unmarriageable is certainly a standalone novel and I worked extremely hard to make it so. However, if you are a Janeite then certainly there’s yet another layer of reading. I’m so thrilled you saw both and the Easter eggs. I’d love to know which ones you caught. There are so many favorites! Lady’s name’s Austen connection of course, and Tom Fowle shows up, and there are nods to each of Austen’s six completed novels in Unmarriageable and it’s so much fun in book clubs to hear the participants try to figure them out. Too many people have not read the delightful Northanger Abbey so that’s a hard one right there.

Q: Do you see Mrs. Binat as the quintessential “cross-cultural mum”—a woman who is as much a comedic helicopter parental wanting to meddle in everything as she is anxious and fretful that her offspring might end up sad and alone? To me, she feels interchangeable with every Jewish, Italian and Latina mother I’ve ever known.

A: Mrs. Binat may have a funny way of expressing her worries for her daughters but certainly her behavior stems from her fear that they might end up, as you say, sad and alone. Unmarriageable explores why she thinks choosing to be unmarried would equate to being sad and alone. Alys certainly doesn’t see it that way. She believes it’s better to be happily unmarried than unhappily married, and she tries to teach her students this too, much to the Principal’s dismay. That said, in Muslim honor cultures, the only legal way to have a physical relation, and thus biological children, is through marriage and this is what, I think, Mrs. Binat doesn’t want her daughters to regret missing out on. The number of readers from different cultures who reach out to tell me that ‘Unmarriageable is just like them’, and “My mother was a Mrs. Binat”, has been a consistent thrill. Jewish, Italian, Latina, like you point out, but also Irish, Southern US, Nigerian, Greek, Mexican, Brazilian, I could go on.

When it came to wanting me to get married, my own mother was a Mrs. Binat, but her worry came from love and concern, so I was really able to recognize this aspect of Mrs. Bennet/Mrs.Binat.  However, in Unmarriageable, Mrs. Binat is also looks obsessed, but then look at her own history— Mr. Binat literally sends her a proposal after taking one look at her, so in her world, looks reign supreme.  In Unmarriageable, there is a tussle between mother and daughter because Mrs. Binat thinks people like Alys with their ‘books over looks’ mantras are fools and Alys thinks her mother’s ‘looks over books’ attitude is unsmart.  We live in a world now where women are expected to be smart and earn also, but often still adhere to a certain beauty standards and this mother-daughter pair clashes over this.

Q: It’s always amazing to me that for a woman who had so much to say, Austen penned only a handful of novels before her death at age 41. Do you have a personal favorite (and have you read it more than once)?

A:  Mansfield Park is my favorite Austen novel. It’s her grimmest in many respects and one in which she totally skewers the concept of loving and supportive families and relatives. Can there be any nastier aunt than Mrs. Norris who cherry picks which niece to be decent to depending on how it will benefit her? I’ve read all of Austen’s novels countless times and they are all favorites in different ways.

Q: There’s been no shortage of film adaptations of Austen’s work. In your opinion, which one do you think comes closest to earning the late author’s seal of approval?

A:  I’m quite sure she would have enjoyed the 1995 BBC adaptations with Elizabeth Ehle and Colin Firth, the wet white shirt withstanding. There is a certain playfulness to that adaptation be it Alison Steadmans’ excellent self-obsessed and worrywart of a Mrs. Bennet or David Bamber’s bumbling yet pretentious Mr. Collins, just every actor played their part so beautifully, and because it is not a film but six episode drama, each almost an hour long, each scene in the novel is depicted on screen. It’s my favorite adaptation so I may be biased. As for screen retellings, I think she may have been well pleased with Clueless as Emma and the time traveling Lost in Austen which very cleverly interprets Pride and Prejudice. 

Q: “Janeites”—the name by which Austen fans define themselves—are fiercely loyal to the brand. To set your own version in the modern century and a different culture held the potential to send them reaching for smelling salts and fanning themselves in agitation. I understand that such was not the case when they first became aware of your book?

A: I’m a lifetime JASNA member so well acquainted with all the many thoughts pertaining to taking on Austen and I will say I was particularly intimidated because Unmarriageable is a parallel retelling meaning it exactly follows the plot line of Pride and Prejudice and all the characters are present, too. I believe this is the first parallel retelling to date and explaining that this was not a sequel, or prequel or an inspired by was the first order of business and that I’d written this from a postcolonial perspective. I live in Georgia and there were a few, especially older JASNA Georgia members, who did look askance. I gave Unmarriageable to two members to read and this was the litmus test for me, Janeites who know their Jane inside out, and it wasn’t until they both got back to me and said they loved it, that I exhaled. I mean this is literally, literally Pride and Prejudice set in Pakistan.

My first JASNA event was with JASNA Georgia, a book club and Q and A, and this was a first time a big group of Janeites would be reading it. On the day, I lingered at the door for a bit before entering, and when I did, I received a standing ovation. I cried. I had not expected the applause or the pats of the back by those who’d previously been askance. Since then, Jane Austen Books, the largest national Jane Austen booksellers and who know every variation of Austen out there, have said that Unmarriageable is ‘Our favorite Jane Austen Adaptation’ and Austenprose has called it ‘the retelling of her dreams’.  JASNA Kentucky, which hosts the biggest Jane Austen Festival, has invited me to be a featured keynote speaker, and I’ll be speaking at the 2020 JASNA AGM annual meeting, and JASNA Northern California invited me to deliver Austen’s birthday toast.  I was a featured keynote at the Jane Austen Summer Program and have served as a Jane Austen Literacy Ambassador and a judge for their Jane Austen short story competition. I could go on. Janeites have given Unmarriageable the reception of my dreams. So many have told me that reading Unmarriageable is like they’re reading Austen for the first time and could there possibly be any compliment more gratifying.

Q: If you could invite Jane Austen to lunch in your home, what would you serve?

A: I’d serve her a rich desserty chai as described in my essay at https://antiserious.com/soniah-kamal-chai-me-essay-e5b146ac1950.  I’d serve her keema (mincemeat) and chicken cocktail samosas and pakoras and Pakistani style mini pizzas made on naan. Since lunch for a guest at my house means at least eight to ten entrees there would a mutton pulao and also mutton and beef and chicken dishes such as korma and koftas and namak gosht and because I was a vegetarian for four years and love my lentils and vegetables, at least two dals, probably yellow and black, and a four to five vegetables dishes cooked in the Pakistani style, okra, eggplant, collard greens, cauliflower. There would be cumin potato cutlets and Pakistani styled spaghetti and countless condiments and rotis and white rice. All the entrees would be cooked from scratch of course. I’m not big on desserts so probably I’d have my daughter make a strawberry pavlova and also serve kulfi ice cream. I’d serve Jane Austen what I serve any guest invited to my house for lunch or dinner.

Q What are three questions you would especially like to ask Austen?

A

Why did she say yes to Harris Bigg Wither’s proposal that evening and then say no the next morning? What exactly was it that changed her mind?

If she knew she was going to be who she has become would she have done/written anything differently?

What was she planning to do with Ms. Lambe’s character in Sanditon?

Of course, I would have loved to see what Austen would have done with the industrial age in her work had she not died young and, in fact, her mother and many siblings lived into their eighties.

Q: Darsee has a wonderful line in which he expresses, “We’ve been forced to seek ourselves in the literature of others for too long.” As someone who has spoken passionately about immigration and assimilation, what are your thoughts on the challenges of embracing an adopted country’s language, customs and traditions without losing sight of the very elements which make our own heritage so precious and unique?

A: I was recently invited to deliver the keynote speech at a citizenship oath ceremony (https://bittersoutherner.com/southern-perspective/2020/we-are-the-ink-new-citizens-soniah-kamal-speech) in which I then had the great honor of handing out citizenship certificates and shook hands with all 150 new US citizens. To top it off, this took place in the same building where I myself had become a citizen. Of course there is a never a single story and each immigrant’s becomes one for different reasons and embraces aspects of their adopted country in different facets. Thanksgiving is an American holiday and the Thanksgiving meal is always one where the turkey, and green beans and cranberry sauce and potatoes can be prepared in to reflect one’s culture and, thus, illustrate a lived assimilation.

My first Thanksgiving in the US, I was invited by a college mate to her home and it was wonderful to sit amidst her large Irish-American family and hear the roots of this holiday and what they make of it and what they were going to do with this huge turkey’s left over, make sandwiches for a week at least. I loved the cornucopia of desserts, the sweet potato pie, apple pie, and my favorite, pecan pie, with fresh cream and ice creams. Darcy’s sentence, of course, comes within the context of British Empire and Babington Macaulay’s colonial policy of replacing native languages with English which then, by default, became the language of power and advantage meaning qualifying for the well paying, prestigious jobs. Generations opted for an education in English and many did not even learn another language and so their entire history shifted to British classics, as did mine actually, so there I was looking for myself in Hardy or Austen.

While it’s wonderful to be able to find universalities within lived experiences even across centuries, it’s not an exact match and in losing language and the ability to read it also means one’s losing a sense of self within history and tradition. Darsee laments not growing up reading literature from own culturally lived experience. When Pakistan became a sovereign country in 1947, it retained English as one of its official language and so with Unmarriageable I wanted to fuse the English language I grew up with my Pakistani culture.  The theme of analogous literatures in Unmarriageable—that is, books which connect thematically or otherwise from the Subcontinental cannon and Western cannon—is a topic very dear to my heart. All the literature mentioned in Unmarriageable feeds into themes in the novel, being it Toni Morrison’s novel The Bluest Eye or Leslie Marmon Silko’s short story Lullaby.

Q: Your writer’s journey thus far has accrued a number of impressive awards and accolades. Which one means the most to you?

A: Any award, accolade, recognition is so hard to achieve, whether regional, or national, or international, there are so many brilliant books, and so each one is precious to me from just being nominated to winning, from praise by someone with three followers to praise by a major avenue. Unmarriageable has really seen so much love by so many different readers and organizations everywhere and each and every one is a blessing. I will say giving a TEDx talk, a citizenship oath ceremony and a keynote at a writers conference were never things I expected to happen and each led to epiphanies about my life and writings that were most unexpected.

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

A: Who knows? But here’s one: I was born full term yet 2 ½ pounds, what it knows as dysmature and I wasn’t meant to survive the night but here I am.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: Right now I’m just enjoying this ride Unmarriageable is taking me on.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: Thank you so much for these lovely questions. My next novel, An Isolated Incident, is debuting in the UK this month and I’m delighted to see which journey this will take me on. I wrote because my late grandfather, a refugee from Kashmir, made me promise that I would write about the Kashmir conflict. Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner called An Isolated Incident ‘a wonderful novel’ and my grandfather would have certainly have been proud of me for fulfilling my promise.

 

 

 

 

Think of Me

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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.

 

 

Barkerville Beginnings

Astrid Cover

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

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A: Email! Facebook! Laundry! Dust bunnies!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: Best personal cure for writer’s block?

A:  Go for a walk.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 And from that will grow an entire book!

 

 

 

 

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/.

 

 

 

A Chat with Stephanie McKibben

 

Stephanie McKibben

Stephanie McKibben is one of the most generous, open publishers I’ve ever met. Her genuine desire to help other writers obtain their desires of becoming published authors is clearly evident in the audio message she’s recorded on her website at Troll River Publications (http://www.trollriverpub.com), and she welcomes readers with open arms. Her engaging personality comes through clearly, but she’s a stickler for ensuring that she and her writers are held to high standards in terms of the quality of the product they produce. Not just a body behind a desk, like many small presses, Stephanie does it all; editing, publishing, career development, and hand-holding aplenty. She cares deeply about writers and readers, and brings them together with joy and purpose. Welcome, Stephanie!

Interviewed by
Debbie A. McClure

Q: Stephanie, you are both an author and the small, independent publisher of Troll River Publications. Can you tell us how and why you decided to take on both of these extremely challenging roles?
A: I was always going to be an author, but it was Patricia A. Knight who convinced me to publish for other authors. When I was thinking about publishing I decided to go the indie route and create a separate company—a publishing company. That much I knew I was going to do. My crit partner, Patricia, didn’t want to be a self-published author and queried publishers to no avail. When she said she was going to put her manuscript in a drawer and forget about it, I freaked out. I told her I would publish it. I told her I would do the things she didn’t want to do – like convert the word document to an .epub, or do the technical side of things. I would help her through the process. I convinced Patricia that her story was too awesome to hide in darkness, so she became my very first signed author to Troll River Publications. That book is now the first of our most profitable series.

Q: How did you come up with the name Troll River Publications for your company? Does it hold any significant meaning?
A: When I was deciding between becoming a self-published author or going with a publishing company, I always came across people saying the Big 6 (“The Big 5” now) were trolls. They were the gatekeepers. Sometimes they were vilified. When I took the mantel of being a small press I decided that if I was going to become a “troll” that I might as well embrace the stigma.
But I also had a strange dream one night while trying to decide which way to go. A troll on the bridge of “publication” stood there, mean, ugly and not letting anyone through until a little girl handed him a book. He sat down and read the book, allowing all the little authors to dance over the bridge of publication and get their stories past the gatekeeper’s iron fence. And the troll was happy.
So I thought, why not? Because the bridge was over the river of writer’s tears, I called it Troll River Publications.

Q: You are the author of eight erotic fiction novels. How did you get started writing erotica, and what is it about this genre that fascinates you?
A: I guess there’s no other explanation than, I like sex. I like erotic romance the best, and I try to bring a certain amount of romance and story to each book.

Q: How do you decide which writers to work with and which ones to pass on?
A: I don’t really take queries. I talk to authors. I get to know them. If they like, I look at their work in progress and become an editor/critique partner for them. If they work well with me as an editor, I know I’d probably work well with them as a publisher.
Editing requires a bit of a thick skin. I don’t pull punches, but I don’t try to be mean. I just tell them my thoughts and if their feelings are hurt, I know they won’t be back. Writing takes so much more than just dealing with constructive criticism. You have to be strong. You have to be a marathon runner—I see a lot of writers slowing down and saying, I need to pace myself, after two years or about three to four books.
I also take referrals from TRP authors that have worked with the writer. But I still talk to the referred writer, tell them what we’re all about, and try to help them the best I can.

Q: What is Troll River Publications looking for in a writer and in books to publish?
A: In writers I’m looking for enthusiasm, willingness to work with me, drive to make the best book they can, have a thick skin, and love their audience.
As to what I’m looking for in books, I mainly go for romance. We have a few odd books out there in different genres because I believe in the author and what they have to say.

Q: What advice would you give to new writers just starting out on their publishing journey?
A: Finish the book. I understand you want to make that first one the best novel ever…but know this…the book you write today will never be the book you write tomorrow.
One day you’ll have twenty books out there (don’t balk—writers who complete the first one will go on to write more), you’ll pick up your first book and then proceed to rip apart your own work.
But you have to finish that first one. It’s also okay to spend more time on the first one. But if it’s taking so long that it’s been five years, set it aside and write the next. You don’t have to abandon the first, just make sure you finish something.

Q: What are your thoughts on the whole traditional vs self-publishing options facing writers today?
A: There is no right or wrong. You must decide what you want to accomplish and whether you’re willing to split the work and the profit. Either way can leave you to die trying. Don’t think it’s better to go self-published or traditionally published. You can try one, then the other. In fact I think it works best if you do both.
(I’m sorry, I have to laugh for a moment. Originally “Traditional publishing” was self-publishing. There were no agents or publishers during the times of the first print press. An author purchased the time and materials for ink, a type-setter, parchment, renting the press —everything. So for me to say “traditional” publishing makes me roll my eyes. Personally, self-publishing is just bringing the industry back to what it was.)

Q: As a publisher who works closely with your writers to polish their work and get it ready for publication, what is the most common error you see new writers making?
A: Most of my writers hold onto their first manuscript so close to their chest and snarl at me that it’s “not ready” that I have to tell them to stop editing and rip the manuscript out of their hands. I wouldn’t say it’s an “error” but it’s the most common thing I see in first time authors. They want it “perfect” and they forget that “excellent” is not perfect. I have to tell them I only want the very best they can do at this time. After the second book, they realize they can have as many “babies” as they want and start getting excited again.
As for writing mistakes, each writer has been different. For some it’s too many occurrences of the same word in one paragraph. With others it’s writing in passive voice, or forgetting about the reader. But these things are pointed out as we work together.

Q: Writing is a craft, a personal journey, and a business venture. What have you learned about yourself since you began writing and publishing?
A: In writing I’ve learned that I have endless stories. I used to wonder if the first book was all I had, but the words kept coming. When I finished one, another would arise.
In publishing I’ve learned that spreadsheets are my friend. I’ve also learned that even smart marketing can’t be as good as an ultra-fan, and there are a lot of books out there. It has been a really fun road. The things I’ve learned before and after publishing have been too great to number. I’m still learning. I’m still drawing strength from those who believe in me.

Q: What has been your greatest life lesson so far?
A: That having a mentor to help me has made all the difference. No matter where you start out, always try to find a mentor and do what they tell you.

Q: What three things can you recommend writers do to move them closer to a “yes” from a publisher?
A: Well I don’t know about other publishers, but for me, if you’re dedicated, unemotional about edits and are willing to reach out to fans, then that moves you closer to being signed.

Q: What is more challenging for you, writing or publishing books for other writers?
A: I have to say writing books for other authors. I’m a ghostwriter as well. It can be hard to give them my best work and never receive recognition for it. Writing is fun. Publishing is fun. Neither are more challenging, only different.

Q: What do you feel Troll River Publications offers writers and readers that’s different from other publishers?
A: I tell every writer that they can do what I do. They don’t need me. You can do it! In fact, I’m an advocate for self-published writers. However, I get a lot of authors who don’t want to do this journey alone. They have questions. They’re unsure. They want or need someone to tell them to stop editing—and rip the manuscript out of their hands to publish the book. Some writers are so lost and don’t know where or how to start. I’m different in the way I help. I’ve encouraged several authors to do it themselves, and many have. Those that asked me for advice and responded to my help in a professional manner sometimes come on board with TRP. But Troll River is also different in the community. Our authors help each other. Even the ones that don’t run in the same sub-genre. I have were-wolves helping vampires. Cats helping dogs, and military guys holding out a hand to the geeks.

Q: What’s next for you, Stephanie?
A: In writing, I’ve got a stack of my own manuscripts to publish and clients who want my next story yesterday. (can you give me the name of your own latest release so I can link to it?)
In publishing, Troll River has two books coming out every month in 2016. Visit us at http://www.trollriverpub.com to see our new releases! We’ll be at the RT Conference (https://www.rtconvention.com/) in Las Vegas April 12-17, 2016, and are hoping to get all our writers to a personal retreat in June, 2016.

You can find out more about Stephanie and Troll River Publications here:
FaceBook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Troll-River-Publications/553065864724059?ref=hl
Twitter: https://twitter.com/TrollRiver
Web page: https://www.trollriverpub.com
Blog: https://www.trollriverpub.com/blog
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCqJflEmvzQVB4e9uYne98rA
Email: stephanie@trollriverpub.com

Guessing at Normal

Guessing at Normal

When I was in high school, one of my closest friends had a mega-crush on Mark Lindsay of Paul Revere and the Raiders. “Isn’t he just to die for?!” she’d say, dramatically swooning. Despite my criticism that this guy was (gasp!) almost 30, she insisted that being married to him one day would be nothing less than perfect. Fast forward to 1994 and my friendship with a co-worker who had actually been married to a major rock icon. “It was complete Hell,” she declared. To come into the living room every morning and discover a bevy of drunken, stoned and semi-naked fans sprawled on the floor struck her as not a particularly healthy environment to be raising their toddler. Without looking back, she packed a suitcase of clothes, a few toys, and her wallet and went in search of a saner lifestyle. Accordingly, the themes of Gail Ward Olmsted’s second novel, Guessing at Normal, immediately resonated as the “star” of a new feature interview for You Read It Here First.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Tell us about your journey from being a professor at a community college in Springfield, MA to becoming a rockin’ published author with two titles now on the market and a third book in the works.

A: When I was halfway through my first novel Jeep Tour, I finally shared with my family and friends that I was writing in my ‘spare time’. My oldest and dearest friend’s response was ‘well, it’s about f*cking time.’ Apparently writing a book had been one of my early life goals. Along the way, I had a wonderful career in the telecommunications industry. After my two children were born, I decided to teach marketing and put my years of real-world experience and MBA to good use. It’s definitely a full time job, but I get summers off and a one month break over the holidays. I love teaching and I love writing. All in all, it makes for a very satisfying life!!

Q: Accomplished writers tend to be voracious readers. Who are some of the authors that occupy a special place in your heart and on your bookshelves?

A: Dennis Lehane is my all time favorite author. His historical fiction trilogy- The Given Day, Live by Night and World Gone By is outstanding. He’s also written gems like Gone Baby Gone, Mystic River and Shutter Island. I got to meet him twice and hardly any stalking on my part was required!! I also love Elin Hilderbrand, Stephen King, Claire Cook, Sue Grafton and Harlan Coben. Characters that stay with me long after the story ends…that’s what I look for in a novel.

Q: So tell us the inspiration behind Guessing at Normal.

A: I worked nights at a motel though out my undergrad years. I saw a lot of people come and go from my safe little perch behind the front desk. I just kept imagining this shy young woman watching and waiting for her life to happen. When rocker James Sheridan checks in, she is instantly drawn into his world of non-stop touring, eager groupies and the glare of the media.

Q: It’s a catchy title for sure! How did you come up with it?

A: I read an article years ago about how those who grow up in an alcoholic household have to guess at what ‘normal’ is all about and it stuck with me. With no reliable role model, Jill has to figure things out on her own regarding relationships, parenting, work-life balance and all that. I did too!

Q: The premise of Guessing at Normal revolves around a dreamy poet falling in love with – and yet largely living in the shadows of – a hard partying rock star. Is there a message about female empowerment that you’d like readers to come away with over the course of the story?

A: Jill is a strong and talented woman, but when she first meets James, she is pretty lost. As the story progresses, she learns to come to terms with the challenges of life with a famous partner and finds her own inner artist. She gets really savvy when it comes to negotiating for herself and establishing boundaries. I love Jill!!

Q: Each of the chapter titles is the name of a hit song from the last 20 years. Why did you choose to ‘name’ your chapters in this fashion?

A: We all have our own unique sound track or playlist. When you hear certain songs, you remember things that happened, people that you miss. Jill’s playlist captures all of the love, angst, joy and sorrow she experiences and each chapter title sets the tone for what’s to come: Baby, One More Time ~ I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing ~ Come As You Are ~ I’ll Be Missing You, just to name a few!!

Q: I’m the first to admit that every time I see a plot that utilizes the device of twins, I’m wary of reading it. Nearly every combination imaginable of good twins, bad twins and doppelgangers has manifested in classic literature, movies and television sitcoms – thus making it a challenge to deliver a fresh twist. Since your heroine Jill’s core conflict stems from her relationships with James and his brother Alex, what governed your decision to make them twins rather than having one of them slightly younger or older?

A: One of my dear friends has twin sons, now amazing young adults. I wanted to explore how two people can be very different, despite both their shared upbringing and all the physical similarities visible to the casual observer. I agree with you about the ‘twin thing’ being done to death, but in my mind, it was central in establishing the love triangle of Guessing.

Q: Are you Team James or Team Alex?

A: Team James, all the way!!

Q: There’s no question that what we experience with our families when we’re growing up has an impact on how we’ll view the world – and relationships – as adults. How did you apply this to the individual back stories of Jill, James and Alex?

A: Jill learned to live ‘under the radar’ in order to survive her turbulent family and to express herself through her poems and journal ramblings. She believed that if you don’t expect much, you won’t be disappointed and lacks (initially) the self-confidence needed to get out there and take chances James and Alex grew up in a household with affectionate and loving parents and they also had each other. Both men were confident enough to follow their dreams of becoming successful musicians, but both have their demons as well.

Q: Real life has shown us no shortage of wives and girlfriends that stay in unhealthy relationships (i.e., infidelity, alcoholism, verbal/physical abuse) because they don’t want to give up the glamorous lifestyle their partners represent (i.e., wealth, politics, sports). What do you see as Jill’s justification to stay faithful?

A: Jill is initially drawn to James in part because of the excitement of life on the road and his larger than life sex appeal. But she falls in love with the struggling musician, not the polished superstar. I truly believe she would give up all the money and trappings of fame in order to keep James sober and faithful. In her own words, “James was it for me. I haven’t strayed but it’s only because I don’t want anyone else.  Not in my bed and not in my heart.”

Q: If Hollywood came calling, who would comprise your dream cast for Guessing at Normal and why?

A: I can see Jill being played by Emma Watson, Elizabeth Olsen or Chloe Grace Moretz. All lovely young women with a lot of depth and range. James and Alex would be much tougher to cast. Assuming that one actor could play both roles (a la Hayley Mills/Lindsay Lohan in The Parent Trap) I could imagine Chace Crawford, Alex Petyfer or Taylor Kitsch playing the twins, assuming they could play guitar and rock out on stage. My inspiration for the Sheridan brothers was Billy Crudup, based on his role in my fave film Almost Famous. But he’s now old enough to play….yes, the twins’ dad!!

Q: If you weren’t already married to the love of your life, which rock star would you most likely choose for a husband?

A: Can I make up a composite rock star?? My ideal would have the moves of Mick Jagger, the voice of Michael Stipe (REM), the soul of Sting and the looks of Jon Bon Jovi. Not sure if that would make for ideal husband material, but can you imagine?

Q: Given the organizational skills you utilized throughout academia, do you start new projects from a formal outline or “wing it” as you go along?

A: I have an overall idea of the characters and their backgrounds, but the way they interact and what happens to them along the way is completely up in the air. Do I sound ridiculous if I admit that I was totally surprised at both the endings of Jeep Tour and Guessing at Normal?

Q: What’s a typical writing day like for you?

A: A ‘perfect’ writing day would be fueled by a trough of coffee, early exercise in the form of water aerobics, minimal distractions, relative solitude and my Mac Book Air on my lap. A ‘typical’ day is full of chores, errands, telemarketer’s phone calls and my family coming and going. Also a trough of coffee, but my computer time is frequently geared to email and social media. I try to seek out pockets of creative time whenever I can.

Q: Do you allow anyone to read your work in progress or make them wait until you’ve typed “The End.”

A:I have beta readers who give me lots of feedback, criticism and direction as I work. I have learned to count on them to keep me on track.

Q: Tell us about your path to publishing and what you learned along the way.

A: I self-published Jeep Tour through CreateSpace last year but I am thrilled to now be part of the Booktrope publishing community. Such a supportive group of talented writers, editors, designer and administrators! The inspiration, support, entertainment, advice and friendship I have received has been phenomenal.

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

A: I love to travel to other countries, stay active, go to movies and eat out, but I am happiest at home with my family and friends, books, cats and knitting.

Q: What are you currently working on?

A: I am working on a sequel to Jeep Tour, which will be based in Ireland. My daughter Hayley and I took a caravan tour there last year and the whole time I kept thinking about my characters and what they would be doing and saying. Oh, and a sexy Irish tour guide!! My characters are in different stages of their lives this time around, but I missed them and love hearing their voices again.

Q: Where can readers learn more about your work?

A: My Facebook page is www.facebook.com/gailolmstedauthor. You can also email me at gwolmsted@yahoo.com or find me on Twitter @gwolmsted

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: Thank you for the opportunity to meet your readers, Christina!!

Love Alters

Love-Alters-Book-Cover-v1

Talk about living a life outside the box, Michelle Tupy, author of Love Alters, certainly accomplishes that on many fronts. What a pleasure it’s been to connect with Michelle and learn about her work and her unique lifestyle. A content writer, ghostwriter, and self-confessed lover of words, Michelle, her husband and two young children are currently travelling throughout South America on an adventure and learning experience of a lifetime.

Interviewer: Debbie McClure

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Q In your latest book, Love Alters, you write about the many ways people connect and fall in love. What inspired you to produce this book?

A In truth, it was my own love story which got the ball rolling. It was a story I had been meaning to write for quite a while but I didn’t have enough substance to pen a whole book. While browsing a second-hand bookstore in Canada I stumbled across a small anthology of stories based on friendship and had an aha moment. The rest is history.

Q Where did your love story take place?

A My love story took place in China over 11 years ago. I had travelled to China to teach English with my good friend, Sharon, and on our second teaching assignment we were headed to Jilin from our home base of Changchun to work in a school for the winter holidays. Standing at the train station, also heading to Jilin, was a Canadian man named Matt. We struck up a conversation immediately and over the course of the next few months we started our courtship amongst the snowy backdrop of the wintry city. Two kids and many continents later we are still travelling and still very much in love.

Q Were you amazed at the range of the stories you received?

A At the beginning of the process I must admit I felt a little nervous. What if no one wanted to contribute to my anthology? However not long after I had put the call out, the stories came in little by little, bit by bit until I had enough to fill an anthology. I was blown away. The stories were all so different and varied and the only thing connecting them in actual fact was the theme of love. I received stories of young love, reconnected love, love that connected couples until the day they died. I must admit I shed a tear or two when I was reading them – all moving and totally inspirational in their own way.

Q How did you choose who to feature as contributors for Love Alters?

A I didn’t want the book to have different versions of the same story – I wanted to represent the young, the middle aged, the elderly – different people from all walks of life. I wanted to show that love could come to us at any time, at any age and quite often presents us with a second chance at happiness or family that a previous relationship may not have provided. So I purposefully chose a mix to fulfill my general requirements.

Q Was there one story which stood out in particular? If so, why?

A Early on in the process, Maree Crosbie sent me a beautiful story about this woman she met in hospital many years ago. Over time she learned their amazing story.

Prior to the war, Nancy had been engaged to Dennis. George was Dennis’ best friend and during the course of the relationship, a strong friendship developed between the three of them. When the war broke out, Dennis and George were sent away to fight. Then the war ended and Nancy waited for her husband-to-be to return. But his friend George returned home alone. Dennis, she was told, was believed to be a prisoner of war and the official statement received was ‘whereabouts unknown’. Finally after several years, Dennis was formally declared missing in action and believed to be dead.

Over the years Nancy and George maintained their friendship, supporting one another through life and as time passed, this genuine affection blossomed into love. After a number of years, they eventually wed, grateful that they had one another to share their life with.

Then the unexpected happened. Dennis came home. All three parties found themselves in an unavoidable situation. Nancy and Dennis were still very much in love despite Nancy’s marriage to George, however, to honour their friendship and the marriage vow made between George and Nancy, they made a pact not to act on their love. Over the years all three remained great friends helping each other through good times and bad. Dennis never married and despite her undying love for him, Nancy remained faithful to her husband George, right up until the day she died.

In this age of break-ups and divorces, you just don’t hear many stories like that these days and as I told Maree, I had to feature their story. Great fiction cannot rival stories like this.

Q How long did the book take you to produce?

A For the first year I had it slowly simmering away while my family and I were working on a travel project of our own, but I had always had the date of February 2015 at the back of my mind. As that date approached, I started to firm up the stories and contributors and arrange for a designer to help with the cover. All told, it took me two years from start to finish.

Q You and your husband made the momentous decision to gather your two young children and head out on an incredible cross-country adventure; touring South and North America. What has been the greatest personal lesson you’ve learned so far, and why?

I am not the most patient person in the world, which my husband will happily attest to. Travelling, especially to foreign countries means you have to develop or at least get used to the fact that not everything (or hardly anything) will go your way. Time is indeed relative – half an hour in Peruvian time is a whole lot longer than in the time zone I usually operate in. I am getting better but I still find much of the situations I have to deal with extremely frustrating.

Q Can you share with our readers one of your funniest stories, or more difficult trials, about your cross-cultural and/or travel quest?

A My daughter has a huge desire to be famous – whether through her singing, dancing, modelling or otherwise she doesn’t mind – so bearing this in mind, I signed her up to participate in a beauty pageant in Arequipa to gain some modelling experience. As we don’t generally travel with a formal dress or two in hand, we were told that the organisers of the pageant would take care of our “Australian” cultural dress. On the day of the pageant when we went to collect the dress, our dress was far from the traditional “Australian” outfit we were expecting and instead turned out to be more Austrian than anything representing the Australasian continents. So we had to run around – just hours before the pageant in a city we didn’t know, trying to find something suitable. While we didn’t rival the creative costumes of the Brazilians with their huge feathers and boas, we did learn that not everyone has as good a knowledge of other cultures as we do. And I would like to add, my daughter totally rocked the pageant – and I just hope we never have to do it again!

Q How do your children feel about this massively altered life-style, and what would you say are their biggest challenges to date?

A This has always been their life – they know no different. My husband and I have always travelled and since we have had children, we continue to travel. Our lifestyle is a little different to many others but we make it work for the most part. Our daughter, who is turning 10 this year, has lived in China, Australia, Canada and Peru – that’s pretty great in my book. One of the biggest challenges we face is arranging play dates for the kids, although in reality I think we struggled with it more in Canada when we had a permanent base. We are very keen to meet with other travelling families on the roads and are always looking for opportunities for the kids to make real connections with others, however briefly.

Q What would you say are your children’s greatest take-aways?

A I think for the most part we are trying to encourage our kids to have a broad awareness of the world and the people in it. We want them to understand that people, regardless of where they are from, think the same, feel the same, and love the same, despite their cultural upbringings. We want our children to be citizens of the world rather than one nation and to know that they can go, do and see whatever they want. They are a little too young to understand it all right now, but I think it will hold them in good stead when they are older.

Q Who came up with this idea, you or your husband, and how did that conversation play out?

A It was a conversation which was carried out over many years. Before coming to Peru we joked about driving from Canada, although without having lived there we didn’t really know whether it was viable. But upon seeing and hearing other travel stories, especially those stories featuring kids, we thought we may be able to just pull it off. We talked about buying a vehicle and my husband managed to find us a 1982 Volkswagen Kombi in Cusco, Peru, which we painted in bright colours in preparation for the trip. Of course the conversation is still occurring as we work out our next destination and which country we will head to next. Tomorrow we leave for Puerto Maldonado in the Amazonian jungle in Peru to start the next leg of our world schooling adventure.

Q You and your husband ran a hostel, Casa Emilia, in Cusco, Peru for twelve months and lived among the locals. What was your greatest take-away from that experience, and why?

A Yes we did – it was a lot of work and the kids really enjoyed having their own “hostel” to call home for the year. We definitely learned that the process of setting a business up in another country is not as easy as one may think. We had a lot of people promise things which just did not materialise in terms of support and assistance and in reality, we quickly learned, it was just us and was always going to be us and we just had to find a way to make things work. And that patience thing I talked about earlier, well it was needed tenfold in these circumstances.

Q The next leg of your journey has the four of you packing up your old kit bag and heading out in a van to traverse across South and North America, back up to Niagara Falls, Canada. To help you accomplish this, you managed to gather some wonderful supporters. How were you able to do this, and how can our readers contribute if interested?

A We have had an amazing amount of support for our trip from all levels – we set up a fundraiser to help us out initially selling my writing services and we have received offers of free accommodation from great sponsors like The Meeting Place in Cusco (http://www.themeetingplacecusco.com/) , Percy’s Family Home in Pisac (www.percysfamilyhome) and Anaconda Lodge in Puerto Maldonado (www.anacondalodge.com). We don’t have a huge kitty to dip into in terms of our travel fund and are actually earning and volunteering on the road as we go to help make ends meet. So any form of help or assistance we get whether on or off the road is very welcome. We are open to support in terms of financial assistance, particularly as a little can go a long way in many countries in South and Central America, and we would love to receive more accommodation offers as we travel. My husband, Matt, is a hotel manager, so is happy to work with hotels en route in exchange for help or a review or two while I am happy to assist hotels and hostels with their social media side.

Q Do you plan to write a book about your travel adventures with your family? If so, when can we expect to see it?

A Most definitely. The love story anthology whet my appetite in terms of book publication and I am planning to write a book covering our travels entitled “And Off We Went” showing that it is possible to travel with young kids and still provide them with an amazing (yet slightly alternative) education on the road. We are going to show our trials and tribulations while featuring other families who are travelling and educating on the road as well. As we don’t know how long the trip is going to take us, I am aiming for a 2017 publication date. Although for those interested and who want to see more than the snippets, we post on our Facebook page and blog, we are pre-selling the book for $40 on our website, and this presale will also include special behind the scenes access to our trip.

Q Do you intend to do a follow up anthology?

A Absolutely. I am following up the love anthology with a kindness of strangers anthology – this will have a 2016 publication date so slightly earlier than our travel adventure book. If your readers, would like to contribute a story, they can contact me direct through the Love Alters website. I am looking for true to life stories approximately 1,500-2,500 in length.

Find Michelle here:

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Love-Alters-All-Seasons-ebook/dp/B00SIEFHF8/

Website: www.lovealters.com

Website: www.andoffwewent.com

Website: http://www.andoffwewent.com/pre-order.html

Website: www.michelletupy.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Love-Alters-An-Anthology/363489527107413

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/andoffwewent

Twitter: https://twitter.com/MKileyTupy

 

 

 

Shadows of the Keeper

KBrown

Coffee’s her vice, historical romances her weakness, and marriage to her boss’s son is but a month away – normal, everyday stuff, for a normal, everyday Texan gal. Except there’s hardly anything ‘normal’ about Emily Garrison. Little does Emily know, she’s the long awaited High Queen of a kingdom in a parallel universe . . . and the soul mate to Hades’ son, Prince Dezenial of the Lumynari. To start the new year, we’re chatting with Karey Brown, author of Shadows of the Keeper.

Interviewer: Christy Campbell

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Aside from general plot, our characters are at the head of the class, pulling the reader into the story. What was the biggest challenge of developing your main characters?

Writing two different books until it felt right—until the main characters were in their correct roles. For example, in the first telling, I have Emily and Broc getting married; having them basically picking up where they left off 3,600 years earlier. Prince Dezenial was going to be the ‘bad guy’.

This kept me up for too many nights. When I changed the entire story, THIS time, the too-many-nights-up was because I couldn’t stop writing! It was as if I couldn’t type fast enough, their story flashing in my mind like a movie. The biggest challenge was convincing myself that it was okay to let go of the first story version, and rewrite all of it, no matter how long the blasted thing took!

In deciding on your characters’ backgrounds, how did you come up with your characters’ names?

Emily has been with me for years and years. Her story has always just kind of been there—a woman who is reincarnated over the ages, having lived several lives. I also subscribe to the whole soul mate thing—when we come around a corner, see someone, and have that weird déjà vu moment, is it really that we’ve seen that person before, or is that our soul instantly recognizes their soul as having been meaningful to us in a previous life? What if the love was so profound, no matter how many lifetimes they’re born into, they keep finding each other? Now consider, what if one of them was immortal? How would he/she know that the other existed again? Broc has been with me about as long as Emily, and though I tried to have them be the two ‘connected’ souls, it never felt right. After writing the first version, I realized why: they were together in a previous life, but it was never meant to be, though it will scar Broc for a very long time, and leave Emily with an anger towards him that she doesn’t understand—not at first.

Dezenial’s name, however, was a bloody nightmare to come up with. Nothing fit his persona, so, for a long time, I used XXX as a placeholder. A name generator finally helped, and taking the part of one name and adding it to another, I came up with Dezenial. It was so perfect, and so weird how the two parts connected, I stared at the monitor for a long time, wondering if I was tapping into some otherworldly event, or was I really making this story up?

Reignsfeugh and Inzyr’s names took playing with sounds and spelling. For the rest of the cast—and there are many—I hunted through Celtic/Gaelic names and their meanings. Again, they had to fit the character.

Do you have a favorite character?

I like the complication of Inzyr. The assassin’s story begs to be told, but it isn’t quite the right time yet. I keep trying to set him up with a love interest, but have had to accept there existed only one true love for him—something never suffered by Shadow Masters. They’re not interested in the emotional commitment; never succumb to the weakness.

Amidst the huge birth of a young adult craze, the competition is tough. What made you choose this particular genre?

As much as I LOVED Judy Bloom’s storytelling when I was a kid, I don’t possess the knack for writing YA. Historical romances, mythology, and paranormal grabbed hold of me, and never let go. I create fairytales, mythologies, languages, realms, and beings. Tossed into this mix are everyday normal people finding themselves connected to these otherwise unknown realms/parallel universes, and how their lives change; how they cope with discovering mythology/fantasy is fact.

Was there a particular scene that was the most difficult for you to write?

When Peter assaults Emily. It forced me to relive a personal experience involving violence. There aren’t exactly shelters for battered women in the year 1214 A.D. Also, when we suffer something so overwhelming, some of us are lucky enough to have a ‘hero’ rescue us, put us back on our feet, and send us back into the world of the living. I wanted this for Emily, but I didn’t want the rescue to be her ‘happily-ever-after’. The scene and the outcome needed to be both realistic, and show relationship-complication, regardless how much one person loves another. The answer isn’t always obvious to the two people caught up in a blossoming fondness.

Sometimes, things are running along smoothly and suddenly we might step back and re-think an entire chapter, even an ending. What there an unexpected decision you made about the plot?

There’s a particular plot that left me crying and incredibly sad for so many days, I realized I had to do SOMETHING to free myself of this funk. That’s when I realized said plot needed to end differently—and, WOW, did it change the entire story!! It was also a way to avoid seeking professional help—which would have probably resulted in my having been committed, since this sorrow was for an imaginary character. I can just see it now, sobbing, ‘But, he died…as in, d-e-a-d!’ *sob, sob, sob* Oh yeah, straightjackets would have been my permanent attire. Not a good look.

What atmosphere do you find to be the most productive, yet relaxing to keep those pages going?

A small dining room converted into an office and closed off from the rest of the house with an odd entry off the kitchen creates my ‘secret’ room. In here, I’m surrounded by hundreds of books lining dark wood bookcases. Tapestries depicting medieval scenes hang above my L-shaped desk, and covering the floor are rugs I acquired in Turkey. Low-lit lamps complete the Old World ambiance, while, in the background, BrunuhVille plays on the Bose.

What surprised you the most about the novel writing process along with self-publishing?

How much ‘self-published’ is such a dirty word. It’s like we’re the pariahs of the publishing/writing world. If our work isn’t published by a ‘real’ publisher, somehow, we’re hacks. You won’t find silicone between my pages. No fake ta-tas here. I DID submit my manuscript to several agents. And, bless their hearts, even though they rejected Shadows of the Keeper, they still took the time to write a quick sentence or two, on their form letters, that my writing was very good, I excelled at storytelling, but the overall story just wasn’t for them, or didn’t quite fit what they were looking for—to keep writing/submitting. Some even offered a reference to another agent that they thought might be interested in my type of work. When an agent/editor takes time from their crazy schedule, and the thousands of manuscripts being submitted, to write a personal blurb of encouragement, that’s HUGE! I was not, however, willing for Shadows to sit somewhere and collect dust. I just had this feeling about this particular story—that it had to be told.

Is there an author, past or present, who served as your inspiration?

Laurie McBain, who wrote Moonstruck Madness (1977), was my first historical romance. I began reading historicals with the same appetite I now have for cheesecake—get your eyes off my hips. Just because I don’t LOOK like a starving artist doesn’t mean I’m not hungry. Last Christmas, I discovered a hardcover copy of Moonstruck Madness. It now rests on my ‘treasures’ shelf.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve taken to heart when it comes to being an author?

Study your craft. FINISH what you start. Enjoy the journey. Dedicate yourself to the journey. And then, study it more. Feeeel what you’re writing, don’t just type words.

Lastly, can you provide any links that feature Shadows of the Keeper?

Amazon: http://goo.gl/R9M70N

iTunes/iBook: http://goo.gl/2mDvgu

Barnes & Noble—Nook: http://goo.gl/9VPjS5

Kobo books: http://goo.gl/H1F1JM

Scribd.com: http://goo.gl/yiETG6

Inktera.com: http://goo.gl/OJsxCe

 

 

Seeing Things

Nancy Young cover

“True love is like ghosts,” wrote Francois de La Rochefoucauld, ” which everyone talks about and few have seen.”

Over the years, film, television and fiction have given us a bounty of stories in which star-crossed soul mates discover themselves up against the greatest divider of all – that pesky line separating the living and the dead. Whether it’s the hero who longs to be reunited with a beloved bride that was snatched from his arms too soon or a wistful heroine who has reconciled herself to the belief that all the best men are married, gay or a possible figment of their imaginations, author Nancy Young delivers a fresh twist in her latest novel, Seeing Things.  When you’re out to debunk the existence of ghosts – as well as deny your own ability to see them– what’s a girl to do when the sexy techie whose attention she has attracted is, quite literally, out of this world?

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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 Q: So tell us a little about your journey as a writer and who (or what) was the greatest influence on your quest to become a published author?

A:        I was hooked on writing from the time the teacher posted my lion story outside our first grade classroom. Even my research reports in school tended to morph into narratives. In the college where I worked, a group of us met weekly for critiquing sessions, which helped me grow out of that awkward beginners’ stage, rife with poems about butterflies and roadkill.  Drafting up to 17 stories a week when I was a reporter gave me confidence as a writer. Once I quit teaching, I had the time to publish poems, short stories, and plays. I started the novel because everyone in my writing group was working on one, and I didn’t want to feel left out!

Q: Were you a voracious reader when you were growing up? If so, what book titles might we have found on your nightstand?

A:        I grew up in the local library—literally. My mother was a librarian, and after school I’d hang out, sometimes helping alphabetize cards, but most often working my way through the collection, graduating from the children’s floor to the adult section by the time I was in middle school. (It was a very small library.)

As a girl, I read and reread The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, as well as Mary Stewart novels, Victoria Holt novels, Poe’s and Vonnegut’s short stories, and an assortment of folklore anthologies. My guilty pleasure was those Gothic paperbacks—the ones with a nightgown-clad woman running in terror from a brooding castle. My favorite of that genre still sleeps in my bedside table: Moura by Virginia Coffman. From the list, you can see that I’m drawn to a mix of supernatural/ fantasy elements, strong characters, and dark humor.

Q: You’ve described your newest release, Seeing Things, as a romance with paranormal elements. What’s your attraction to this particular genre?

A:        The two genres are a perfect balance of light and dark. I love the tensions of romance—the friction, the rising stress, and the eventual capitulation. With paranormal elements, I can introduce unpredictability—a plane where intelligence and logic have no impact. Since I prefer strong characters, the complications they face have to be out of their immediate control.

Q: What was the inspiration behind Seeing Things?

A:        This book started out to be anti-genre. The central character is neither innocent nor naïve. She doesn’t want to be rescued.  Her love interest isn’t a taciturn alpha male, either. I took a sly delight in having Mary Catherine reject the typical hero.

Q: Have you ever had any ghostly encounters similar to those experienced by your intrepid heroine?

A:        When I was a T.A. in grad school, I shared an office with a folklore expert. He was often called upon to investigate odd phenomena and invited me along on investigations. At a plumbing supply business in Northeast Philly one bright winter afternoon, I heard bells chime in a wall where there were no bells, saw a clock run backwards when its power source had been cut off, and looked over a strange arrangement of paper plates and a dead bird on a breakroom floor. Since the business owner was anxious to keep the investigation secret lest it hurt business, a hoax seemed unlikely. This scenario found its way, in a different form, into a chapter of Seeing Things.

Another example occurred when I lived in a hundred-year-old farmhouse. In the attic (accessible through a trap door in my bedroom), hats, tools, and an old Royal typewriter had been left behind by the original owners. That typewriter would periodically have a new line of type on the tattered, yellowed sheet rolled into its platen. My kids were under five and couldn’t have accessed the attic without help—nor could they spell, for that matter.

Out of curiosity, I participated in an EVP study at Rhine Research Center, a parapsychology center that was originally part of Duke University.  Though most of what I heard in the controlled study was static, two voices sounded loud and clear. I have no idea if those were “control” sounds or actual examples of paranormal recordings.

Oddly enough, things like this fail to bother me. Put me in heavy traffic on the Beltline, though, and my palms will sweat.

Q: What governed the choice to pen this story in the first person? For instance, do you feel a special kinship with the narrator?

A:        I actually wrote the first few chapters of Seeing Things in third person before recasting it in first. The first-person POV won out with everyone who read both versions. So many of the great Gothic narratives are written in first person—Brontë’s Jane Eyre, Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart,” Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper,” du Maurier’s Rebecca. First person narratives bring immediacy to a story and create a close bond between narrator and reader. Most importantly, this point of view allows for dramatic irony; the reader sees more than the narrator does. I loved playing with that notion with Mary Catherine, my protagonist.

Some readers hate first person novels, and I knew I was taking a risk. Don’t let anyone tell you it’s the easiest perspective to write in. When it’s done right, it’s amazingly challenging. For instance, readers want to know what a character looks like, but real people don’t describe themselves. Finding innovative ways to impart such information’s like a literary game.

Early on, I thought my narrator had little in common with me, but as the book progressed, I realized we suffer from some of the same issues. My local librarian even remarked that the woman on the book cover looks like me.

Q: Unlike typical romances that are formulaic in nature – as well as predictable – you opted to incorporate unexpected twists in character and plot. Why did you decide to go this route?

A:        When I was browsing the in the public library two years ago, I picked up book after book with the same basic plots, the same interchangeable, tiresome characters. When I started writing my own novel, I set out to create a book I’d like to read—one with a funny, complex central character, an atypical love interest, and a plot that pokes into unexpected places.

Q: Would you call yourself a plotter or a pantser and why does this your choice of development style work well for your personality?

A:        I’m a pantser for most of the writing process, at least until I write myself into a dilemma and have to type my way out of it. Even though I like to feel in control of the worlds I create, my characters develop minds of their own, veering off in unanticipated directions. A good writer, like a good director, has to be flexible. In the editing process, however, I’m meticulous.

Q: Have your characters ever surprised you?

A:        They often say things I didn’t expect, and then I have to rethink the plot line. My novel characters turn out to be every bit as complicated and contradictory as real people. Developing their arcs is like watching a child mature.

Q: Tell us about the title of the book and what it means to you.

A:        Seeing Things hints at much: questioning what is real, what is imagined, what is true. People constantly close their eyes to things they cannot face. I remember teaching Oedipus Rex to a class of students who thought that Oedipus should have closed his eyes (pre-poking them out) to the evidence of his guilt, remaining happy in his ignorance. I never understood how anyone could do that.

Q: What’s your favorite novel or movie about someone falling in love with a ghost?

A:        I watched The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (Gene Tierney, Rex Harrison) when I was little, along with the old Dark Shadows TV show. And my husband and I still dance to “Unchained Melody” from the Ghost soundtrack.

Q: If, hypothetically, one day you return as a ghost yourself, where would you most likely be hanging out and why?

A:        I’d be in my office—the tower room of the Victorian house I live in. The current residents would hear the faint tapping of my keyboard late at night, and the cat would refuse to cross the threshold.

The writer might die, but the words live on.

Q: How did you go about finding a publisher for this project?

A:        I had submitted my novel to two or three big publishing houses, and it languished in the slush pile. After reading a NYT article, I aimed instead for a small publishing house and had my work accepted.

Q: “Home” for you is a small town in North Carolina. How has this influenced your life as a writer and the interactions with your non-writer neighbors?

A:        When you ask a question around here, you get a story in response. The South teems with unusual people who speak in colorful metaphors and act unpredictably. Many of my poems and short stories stem from local lore: the lost woman walking the streets twirling a hula hoop, the church organist who suffered a breakdown when faced with a new electronic keyboard, the raging diva displaced from a local singing group.

My close friends are writers and artists. To keep myself grounded, though, I joined my neighborhood book club. Most of the other members are literal people who work with computers. Unsurprisingly, we have different tastes.  I often think their book choices would benefit from the addition of a zombie, especially those dreary stories about the Episcopal priest. They find me quirky. I consider that a compliment.

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

A:        I like heavy metal.

Q: If you could summon the ghost of any famous person in history to have a chat with, who would it be and what question would you most like to ask?

A:        John Donne. As a young teen, I’d daydream about him while I studied his picture on the cover of the Norton Anthology. Donne was such a fascinating mixture of passion and intellect, and he gave up everything for love. I’d ask him if he thought it was worth it.

Q: What are you working on now?

A:        So many things—the third book in the novel series (the second’s awaiting publication) , another novel featuring a minor character from Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, a scene for a Regency play, and a short story about a pregnant woman going quietly insane.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

A:        My bio is published on Amazon and Goodreads, as well as on my publisher’s site http://www.worldcastlepublishing.com/author-nancy-young.html . I also have a Web site, http://nancymyoung.com.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A:        The sequel, Hearing Things, should be out in 2015.

 

 

 

Beacon of Sound

Beacon_of_Sound

A woman who seemingly has it all is about to get her world shaken up by one worldly man, and the results just might be too hot to handle. Take an average counselor living an unsuspecting life and throw in one incredibly delicious prince who thinks he needs to save her, and the result just might be one sensual disaster. In this mildly erotic tale by R. M. Garry, two people learn just how far each is willing to go in order to find a place in each other’s lives, and perhaps something beyond wild desire.

Interviewer: Christy Campbell

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Tell us about yourself and how you came to enjoy writing.

I am a day dreamer. I know everyone says that, but it is true in my case. My characters are always role playing in my head. At least now I have a way to share the insanity with the world. Beyond my work, I am a mother of three boys. My husband has had the pleasure of being married to me for the past 12 years. During my nonexistent spare time, I am a full time Master’s of Mental Health student. Every day, I create a new fantasy about quitting my day job and writing until my fingers burn.

What’s the story behind Beacon of Sound?

I have been asked that same questions numerous times. There are numerous stories within Beacon of Sound. The reader has to pay attention because I give them all the answers they will need. Yes, it is a very adult book with many adult scenes. The introduction is specifically blunt to lead the reader in a particular direction. Once you read the story, you realize Beacon of Sound is more than you expected.

Why did you write Beacon of Sound instead of a novella?

It was time for me to really work. A novella would not have told the whole story. The world of the Noir Dera is very complicated. I know a novel the first time out is ambitious, but I had to drink the whole bottle. It was the only way to decide if I would continue to write.

Your novel is an erotic paranormal romance. Your cover does not convey that description. Why did you choose that cover?

I work with a fantastic cover artist. Her work is beyond amazing. We both decided that this cover fit the story. The heroine is a stubborn mental health counselor who happens to play a mean cello. While her profession and life seem perfect, there are secretes hiding right below the surface. The woman on the cover looks angelic yet mysterious. She definitely has something to hide. She fools you into coming into her world and you are completely unprepared for what she has in store.

What are you hoping to receive from your readership when it comes to this genre?

I hope to gain minions. Yes, I said minions. It is imperative I gain worshipers that love everything I write. The only thing I want is to put out great stories that people connect with.

Authors are always busy creating and rolling ideas around in our heads. Is there anything that would interfere with your desire to keep up your writing career?

I would only stop writing for two reasons. If my children needed me and my work caused me to be unavailable, then I would put the work aside. My wolf pack comes first. The second reason is very simple. I love to write and share my work with the world. The moment I no longer enjoy writing is when I will walk away without any regrets.

You like to get that music playlist going once you dive in. What makes your playlist differ from another’s?

While working on Beacon of Sound, I listened to nearly 20 hours of music. Every single song had to be significant. The songs had to fit with the emotions flowing through each scene. I love art in all forms, but I am a music groupie. At some point in my life, I have listened to almost every common and some uncommon musical genre. After spending seven years playing a cello, I know that a story is naked without music. My playlists are as important as the words I write.

After publishing your first book, explain why you chose to follow the Indie route.

If I had sent query letters and received numerous rejections the first time, I would have quit. Being self-published gave me the freedom to learn and grow on my own. For now, it is the best way to get my work to readers.

Did you have any sales expectations for your first novel?

I expected to sell one or two copies. When I sold more, it made me feel as if this was something I could do long term.

How do you find balance when it comes to work, writing, and parenthood?

I gave up expectations. There was a time where I expected to do it all. I was going to be supermom, wife, employee, and student. Then one day I realized the more I expected from myself, the less I did.

What’s next on the goal list for R.M. Garry?

I just completed a contemporary romance and will work on having it published by January of next year. I recently started working on a novella that ties Beacon of Sound to the second full novel in the series. I hope to have Beacon Holiday out by December. There are at least three other series waiting to be written. My brain never stops creating stories.