A Conversation with Amanda Lyons

 

Amanda Lyons

With catchy titles and a journey into a more complex style of horror writing, author Amanda Lyons mixes tales of psychological intrigue that give readers a little bit of everything: fear, romance, fantasy and a variety of complicated characters. You Read It Here First had a chance to learn more about Ms. Lyons, and what goes on inside the mind of a horror genre writer.

Interviewer: Christy Campbell

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You’ve chosen to write for the horror genre; how is your writing style different from other horror authors?

I write stories and novels that focus a bit more on the development of the people and their psychological perspective than on the horror itself. It can have elements of romance, fantasy and a bit more of a narrative tone than some writers use. I want you to care about the characters in my stories even if it’s just for a few pages. My first novel Eyes Like Blue Fire was gothic horror and therefore had strong romantic elements interlaced with the horror for instance.

When did you first begin writing?

At a pretty young age, about 12. It started with a sappy little story about a homeless family at Christmastime. That story impressed a teacher who liked the detail and it taught me that I could write something that caught the attention of other people. I was hooked and have been writing ever since.

Tell us what Wendy Won’t Go is all about as well as other single titles you’ve released.

Wendy Won’t Go is about a particularly long haunting and the damage it causes. A writer and his daughter are being haunted by his wife; she’s changed and cold now, scaring them and limiting their lives. They don’t know why she’s there and they have to adapt to keep her from causing harm. There’s a lot in the story about pain, loss and the damage time can cause. There are also some surprises about the whole story. I’m hoping it’s a very moving story and that people will like it and think about it long after they read it. For now it’s my only piece of short fiction out there but I’m also working on a short collection with my brother Robert Edward Lyons II called Apocrypha.

What is your upcoming short horror collection Apocrypha about? 

Apocrypha is about all the little things that haunt us in life. For some of the stories it means addressing some urban legends and fairy tales, the little things that we pass on to our kids, but for others it’s about the what ifs and the maybes we face every day. Apocrypha refers to a collection of books and stories with a dubious or unproven origin, this is exactly what these stories are, little bits and pieces from a life that you might never expect to know and you can never really prove ever happened.

How is working with a small press different than your experience as an indie author?

In terms of all of the promotion stuff so far it’s pretty much the same (most small presses need to rely on the author’s ability to sell themselves and their work because there isn’t the time and money to invest in huge campaigns) but there are a lot more people checking on how your writing is going, encouraging you to keep writing and promoting and of course helping with editing, book covers and some more avenues of marketing. You have a really solid group of people invested in your work and making it look its best so that it can catch readers’ eyes and really get the best overall debut. At J. Ellington Ashton Press that atmosphere of camaraderie and support is even more present because we’re all writers and wanting to help each other do our best.

When you’re an indie, you spend hours and hours trying to get everything together and you have a much smaller group of people acting as a support system. I actually think that’s one of the biggest killers for an indie career, that lack of support and encouragement to keep you going through the rough days. Plenty of great writers give up because it’s too overwhelming to get through all of the lack of sales and immediate proof of your quality. It takes at least a year to see any real sales on a novel no matter what market you’re in and so many people think that they’ll be able to pull off serious sales right away. The work is so much harder as an indie and there are a lot of things that can go wrong. It requires a real dedication and confidence in your work, tons of work, tons of promotion and a good attitude.

Describe the kinds of books readers can expect from you in the future.

My imagination is all over the place and I think it’s safe to say that not everything I write will be horror. Here’s a few of the books I currently have in progress and hope to finish in the next few years.

1)      Cool Green Waters: This is the sequel to my gothic horror novel Eyes Like Blue Fire. In this second book we learn a lot more about Mateo, Zero and Michael some characters who were a little underplayed in the first book. We also face Raven and Katja’s remaining problems and a whole new threat from two different characters who were changed by the events in ELBF. This book is a lot darker.

2)      Other Dangers: This is an apocalypse novel dealing with an author who writes the end of the world and then tries to save it when she realizes what she’s done. It’s far more involved than that but there’s so much I have yet to finish so I can’t go into it in too great a detail Suffice to say this is my big epic and it relies on as many fantasy elements as horror ones.

3)      Jodie: This is a novel about a very damaged teenager who wanders the woods and town where she lives and how a group of boys set out to attack her. What they don’t know is that she has a lot more going on than they thought.

4)      The Farm: A couple who own a farm are faced with terrible changes taking place there. It’s sort of Lovecraftian but on a different level.

Okay, give us your favorite established horror authors and tell us why you love them. 

Stephen King (because his narrative voice is very naturally and his books are almost always very good), Anne Rice (because she has a real love for history, atmosphere and the gothic), Gary Braunbeck (because his books and stories are always very moving and emotional), Brian Keene (because he can write such dark work and make it meaningful with great characters), Joe R Lansdale (because he goes to so many unusual places and exposes you to so many different ways of seeing the world. His versatility can have you laughing one minute and horrified the next).

Pick one of those authors and share with us one question you would ask him or her, if you had the chance.

Gary Braunbeck: “Did you always know your writing would take on this emotive and personal tone or did you build that over time?”

Do you think you’ll ever explore other themes as an author?

Yes, definitely. I have ideas that fall in all kinds of genres and subgenres, time will tell which ones I end up putting out there.

What sort of topics do you think are overdone or need to be written about less in horror?

Rape. There is a big difference between rape that has a real purpose and meaning in the story and the kind of thing where it seems tossed in for spice. The later version has become so prevalent that it’s becoming tedious and it’s often used multiple times in one book. The people that use that horrific event in that way, as a casual thing, aren’t helping resolve the rape culture or women who are affected by it.

What do you think are the benefits to self-publishing that aren’t as available to traditionally published authors?

You have a bit more control over the look, marketing and promotion of your work. It’s your choice how all of these things turn out and as a result you can manipulate the overall appeal. You also have the ability to edit and modify these things with relative ease. You control the cost of your book and reap the majority of the benefits when sales come in.

What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

Reading, drawing (really anything creative) hanging out with the kids and my partner Todd, hiking, art, listening to music and hanging out with friends at B movie night.

And of course, you must let us know your all-time favorite horror movie!

Delamorte Delamore known as Cemetery Man in the U.S.

 

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Upon Your Return

UponYourReturn_E-bookCover

“The two most engaging powers of an author,” wrote William Makepeace Thackeray, “are to make new things familiar, familiar things new.” For writers of historical romance, it takes a skillful balance of researching unfamiliar elements of the past and creating a seamless backdrop against which a tale as old as time – the familiar quest for romance – can unfold in fresh and exciting ways. In her latest novel, Upon Your Return, author Marie Lavender aptly rises to this challenge and delivers the story of a young woman whose dreams of adventure and true love yield far more than she bargained for.

 Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Tell us a little about your journey as a writer and what attracted you to making it a career.

A:  Well, that’s quite a long story. I’ll try to make it as short as possible. I always wanted to be a writer, ever since I was a kid. I started writing stories then. I went around telling my family, “I want to be an author!”  It was never for the fame or the money. I just simply love writing. When I’m writing, when I’m truly in the moment, I’m happy. There is no other feeling in the world like it. I guess I can be myself when I’m writing. And that feels good.

Q: Were you a voracious reader as a child and young adult?

A:  Yes. I was always reading, always going to the library to get some book or other. I was in a lot of reading programs as a kid. I spent most of my free time reading. I mean, I even snuck around and when my mom had sent me to bed, I would use a small light to read by.

Q: Who are some of the authors that you would say most influenced your own style of storytelling?

A:  As far as contemporary and historical romance, I’ve read a lot of Nora Roberts, Jennifer Blake and Catherine Coulter books. I’m also pretty sure Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones as well as lot of her other reference books helped me to open up in my writing.

Q: If you could have lunch with one of your favorite authors, who would it be and what question would you most like to ask him or her?

A:  That’s a tough question!  I like so many authors. Though I’d love to meet any of them, of course, I would probably want to visit J.R. Ward (because of my love for paranormal romance) and ask her what inspired her to write the Black Dagger Brotherhood series. It is so great. I just wonder if maybe one of the characters was inspired by a real person.

Q: What are you reading now?

A: Black Rose by Nora Roberts, from her In the Garden trilogy.

Q: Tell us about Upon Your Return and what inspired the storyline.

A:  Well, ever since I started writing, stories just come to me without any rhyme or reason. They come in any order too, which can really drive me crazy, but that’s a topic for another time. So, I’m doing something pretty mundane like going to a doctor’s appointment or something, and suddenly I can clearly see the two characters having a pretty intense dialogue session. So as it plays out in my head, I think, “Well, this would be a great story!”  Everything just kind of fell into place after that…I mean, I knew pretty much right away what was going to happen with the characters. Of course, I was surprised here and there. But, I somehow knew what to do with it. I look back now, though, and because of how long it took me to write and perfect it, it really seems to be a sum of the romantic experiences in my own life.

Q: Given that it’s set against a historical backdrop, do your characters interact with any real-life people or react to any real-life events?

A:  Yes. Though I don’t have an exact scene for it, there is a casual mention that Captain Grant Hill has interacted with Napoleon III before. And some of the story is set against the backdrop of the French intervention in Mexico in 1863. I also did a section on the rise of Feminism in France in the 1830s-40s, and how the heroine reacts to it.

Q: If Upon Your Return were a movie, who would be your dream cast for it?

A:  Wow!  Hard question. I have thought it would make a good movie, but that’s just the writer in me seeing it play out in my head. I guess I was thinking either Amy Adams or Isla Fisher to play Fara, and maybe Gerard Butler for Grant. I’m not sure about who would play the secondary characters.

Q: What genre is the most challenging for you to write?

A:  At this point, I would have to say historical romance. A ton of research goes into it. Of course, it helps to be familiar with the genre, but that doesn’t cut it alone. I am working on the sequel to Upon Your Return right now, and this time around, it’s just as hard. Oh, well. That’s what I asked for, right?  But, I’m invested in the characters and I’m going to tell the story. I just have to get some questions answered first.

Q: What comes first for you in planning a story – the setting, the characters or the core conflict?

A:  My scenes come to me out of sequence. But, I develop a basic outline of the story right away. I would say the characters are first, then the main conflict, of course. The setting comes later unless it drives the conflict.

Q: If you were teaching a class on Heroes and Heroines 101, what would your primary message be to aspiring writers?

A:  Well, a character in any story has to be three-dimensional so that’s the most important. A well-rounded character. A likeable character as well, someone the reader can identify with. It’s funny, but sometimes those little things such as a character’s likes or dislikes don’t come out until later on. And they can always surprise you at any point. With my current work-in-progress, I was pretty sure I had the heroine down pat, but then she went and shocked me with her basic motivation. So, I guess my advice would be this: make good characters, but don’t be afraid to make them human either. Let them make mistakes.

Q: Do you consider yourself a romantic?

A:  Oh, yes. I can be logical about some things, of course. But, I have always believed in love, in true love really. And I believe in fate. We all have a purpose in life.

Q: What decisions went into your choice of a publisher?

A:  One, I was at my wit’s end with the never-ending pursuit of looking for a literary agent. It’s a tough industry out there. And then, there are really only a select few publishers who take unsolicited manuscripts. Solstice Publishing was my light in the dark. I used Preditors&Editors website like a manual basically because I didn’t want to fall into some kind of trap. But, then I saw Solstice listed there and I thought…hmm. There was nothing negative listed about them. Why not?  They had a decent website. And now, I’m so glad I did because the founder, Melissa Miller, is a peach and Nik Morton, the editor-in-chief, is great. The editor they assigned to me, Shawna Williams, was fantastic. Kayden McLeod, the cover artist, did a wonderful job. I just couldn’t have asked for anything better!

Q: What are your thoughts on the fact that self-publishing is steadily gaining in popularity over traditional channels?

A:   This is a tough topic because both sides really touch me personally. I self-published 15 books before Upon Your Return was released. I think traditional publishing will always survive. But, I also agree that self-publishing is gaining a momentum. The key for self-published authors, though, is to make sure they edit their work before submitting. I believe there is a lot of undiscovered talent out there, however, and if they choose to self-publish, more power to them. That’s so great!  Because showing initiative is important in this business as well.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A:  Well, as aforementioned, I am working on the sequel to Upon Your Return. It will be titled Upon Your Honor. I hesitate to give many details at this point, but the next two books, Upon Your Honor and Upon Your Love, will be about the children from the first book. So I need to finish the Heiresses in Love series (Upon Your Return is book one). I also have a lot of other projects I’d like to work on. I am writing a romantic suspense with another author. And I have several other series and stand-alone books in mind, enough to keep me busy for some time to come.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A:  Upon Your Return is available on Solstice, CreateSpace, Amazon, Barnes&Noble, Smashwords and Kobo.

 

 

 

 

Brothers and Bones

B&B_ePub Hankins

Federal prosecutor Charlie Beckman’s life has his existence turned upside down when a deranged homeless man calls him by a secret nickname, one known by only one other person in the world…Charlie’s brother, who went missing 13 years ago. Such is the premise of James Hankins’ new suspense thriller, Brothers and Bones. Hankins recently took time from his busy schedule to chat about what it’s like to be a full-time writer and stay-at-home dad.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Let’s start with what compelled you to make the transition from screenwriter and lawyer to working for yourself in the demanding role of “published author”.

A: Well, the transition from screenwriter to lawyer occurred because Hollywood was more reluctant to roll out the red carpet for me than I had hoped, and I had to start paying the bills. So I became a lawyer. I loved writing, had done it all my life, and I wasn’t about to stop simply because I’d started to practice law. But because I’d moved from L.A. to Boston, putting Hollywood thousands of miles behind me, I decided to shift from screenplays to novels. I became a lawyer by day, writer by night, and when my wife and I learned we were going to have twins, we decided that one of us should stay home with them. She’s a fantastic lawyer who has always wanted to be a lawyer, while I was a reasonably good lawyer who always wanted to write, so the choice was easy. I retired from the law two weeks before our boys were born to be a stay-at-home dad who writes books.  

Q: How did your prior employment prepare you to take this leap of faith, and were your expectations about the transition realistic?

A: My expectations were realistic because they weren’t terribly high. My hopes were always high, but my expectations were very reasonable. I’d spent years in Hollywood without making much of a dent in the place, after winning awards at one of the top film schools in the country, so I was well aware that achieving success in certain creative endeavors can be extraordinarily difficult. It’s almost freeing, to be honest, to be shooting so high that no one expects you to hit the target. There’s no pressure. If you succeed, it’s wonderful. But if you fail, everyone knows what a long shot it was anyway. It takes a lot of external pressure off. Of course, the internal pressure, the desire not only to tell my stories but to find someone willing to listen to them, never goes away. Thankfully, though, my reasonably low expectations have been exceeded by a comfortable margin. I’ve been very gratified by the reception my books have received.

Q: How do you budget your time to write amidst the distractions of hearth, home and the Internet?

A: I treat my writing like a job. I try to treat my domestic duties as one, too—at least with respect to household maintenance (hanging around with my sons doesn’t feel like a job). But I’m full-service stay-at-home dad. I do the laundry, shop for food, cook what I can manage, change light bulbs, take out the garbage, help with homework, etc. I try to do whatever chores need to be done in the first hour and a half after I drop the boys at school. Then I write until it’s time to pick them up again. That gives me four solid hours every school day. Sometimes I sneak in a little more later in the day while the boys are at a friend’s house, or at night when everyone else is asleep, or sometimes even on weekends. As for the Internet, it really can be distracting, can’t it?  It’s invaluable when it comes to marketing and social media, and it’s a powerful research tool (like when I needed to find out, when I was writing at 2 a.m., what constellations are visible in the night sky in Indiana in October). I just force myself to stay off of Youtube and limit social media interaction until my workday is over. (There’s plenty of time to watch videos of parakeets riding cats like horses later, with my kids.)

Q: Were you a voracious reader growing up? If so, who are the authors that resonated with you and perhaps even influenced your own writing style as an adult?

A: I was. I loved Richard Adams’s Watership Down. I read it as a kid and I’ve read it three or four times as an adult. It’s one of my all-time favorite books. I also loved Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. I read the Narnia series, dozens of Tarzan of the Apes books and other Edgar Rice Burroughs adventure books, Ray Bradbury’s science fiction, Jack London’s books. I’m not sure their styles are reflected in my own, but I do see a pattern. I gravitated toward adventure stories, as so many children do, and I write thrillers today. My love for suspense and action is deep-rooted.

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

A: I generally come up with the plot first. It starts with a small idea, a seed of a story, something that gets me thinking or wondering. When I have an idea of something interesting that could happen to someone, or an unusual situation a person could be thrust into, then I start to think about the kind of person who could impacted in the most interesting way by whatever that is. This probably comes from my screenwriting days, when story was always king, at least for the kinds of scripts I was writing. High concept stories that can grab you in a sentence. The hook for most thrillers can be boiled down to a sentence or two. That hook is usually what comes to me first, then I develop appropriate characters. That said, I work very hard on characterization, because the last thing I want is to write is a really interesting story populated by cardboard characters.

Q:  Tell us about Brothers and Bones, how it came about, and the influence that your previous career had on giving your protagonist a job as a federal prosecutor.

A: Brothers and Bones is about Charlie Beckham, a federal prosecutor who is on his way to court to start the biggest trial of his career when a deranged homeless man says two words to him that turn his world upside down. He calls Charlie by a nickname known by only one other person in the world—Charlie’s beloved older brother Jake, who went missing 13 years ago. Charlie has a hundred questions but loses the homeless man in a crowd before he can ask a single one. So begins his search for answers, a search that takes him into dangerous places and pits him against ruthless people. The book is a thriller, of course, but it’s also part mystery, part action, and at the core of it is an interesting “partnership” between a prosecutor and a homeless man who isn’t afraid to bend the laws as he needs to.

The seed that grew into the story was planted when I was a lawyer in Boston. I’d pass the same homeless man on the street every day, near the same street corner, and he was always talking to himself as though he were arguing with someone only he could see. He’d be very focused on whatever he was saying and to whomever he thought he was saying it. One day I wondered how strange it would be if, as I passed, he interrupted himself, looked up at me, and said – very clearly and lucidly – “Hi, James,” before resuming his argument with himself. It was an odd thought that I couldn’t shake. Then I thought it would be even stranger if what he called me was something secret, something he simply shouldn’t know. What would that be?  How could he know it?  These questions led to more until it was a mystery I wanted to solve.

I do think that my experience as a lawyer helped me write Brothers and Bones, at least a bit. Like my protagonist, I was a lawyer, but Charlie Beckham is a federal prosecutor while I was an employment lawyer—and those are two very different animals. But from my legal practice I knew what it was like to be a lawyer in Boston. I’ve been to court, and to the federal courthouse where Charlie works. I might have chosen to make Charlie a lawyer even if I hadn’t been one myself, but I’m certain that writing him was a little easier because I did practice law.

Q:  In Brothers and Bones, a defining moment in Charlie’s life took place when his brother, Jake, went missing many years ago. A strong sense of familial devotion is evident in the book – both in Charlie’s dedication to finding out what happened to Jake, and in Charlie’s memories of Jake’s sacrifices for Charlie as they grew up without parents. Does family play an important part in much of your writing?

A: It wasn’t something of which I’ve been conscious, but it’s evident that family has played an important role in my writing to date. As you note, Charlie and his brother had a very strong bond, one that drives the story to a very large degree. In my other books there’s an importance on family, too. In Jack of Spades, my police procedural, the detective is divorced, still in love with his wife, and frustrated that he’s growing apart from his college-age son. This is woven throughout the book. And my supernatural thriller, Drawn, is about four very different people, driven by different forces — some supernatural, some all-too-human – toward a shared destiny. But each of those four characters lacks family in any meaningful way, and they all seem to be searching for it in their own ways without even realizing it. As for me, I’m the last of six kids in a very close family, so I’m not surprised that familial bonds are important to my stories.

Q:  Brothers and Bones is actually one of three books that you released simultaneously. What challenges did you face releasing three at once that you don’t think you would have had publishing one at a time? 

A: The biggest challenge was that I couldn’t promote each book equally, at least not at first. It’s hard enough to get people to pay attention to a new author at all, much less get them interested in three books at once. If I split my focus I would have done none of the books justice. I realized that, instead, I’d have to focus on one book and hope that people would like it enough to buy my others. For the most part, that has worked for me. I chose to focus my efforts primarily on Brothers and Bones because, of the three, it probably has the quickest hook to grab a reader. I love my other books, but Drawn is a supernatural story, which has a smaller audience than straight thrillers, and Jack of Spades is a cop-chasing-a-serial-killer book, which is also a subset of the larger thriller category. I’ve been very pleased to learn from reader reviews many people finish Brothers and immediately buy my other books. Of course, there are also people who start with one of the others, then buy the remaining two. Either way works for me!

Q: If your favorite of these three titles were turned into a movie, who would your dream cast be?

A: I love this question because I never think about this. My wife does and she’s usually spot on with her casting choices. She reads my books and tells me who should star in the movies, and she’s usually right, but I never have anyone particular in mind when I write, though I can see my characters very clearly. I can’t really pick a favorite of my books – I love all of my “children” equally, if differently – but I’ll use Brothers and Bones because it’s the one that would be most likely to make it to the silver screen. For Charlie, the prosecutor, we’d need an early thirties lawyer with a sense of humor. I think Ryan Gosling would be terrific. Tougher casting would be the quirky homeless man who starts out a little deranged but slowly regains his faculties. He’s strange and tough as nails and in his mid-to late forties. Nicholas Cage, who makes really interesting performance choices, could do it well.

Q: Like many authors, you opted to go the self-publishing route on your titles. What drove this decision and what did you learn from the experience?

A: I’ve had a terrific agent for years but we were never able to find a fit for my books with a traditional publisher, despite positive feedback. With the explosion of self-publishing and ebooks, it became obvious that self-publishing was the way for me to go, as it has been for so many thriller writers who aren’t already established in print. Indie publishing seems to be the way that these books are getting out to the world. I’ve definitely learned a few things, but first and foremost is that the work never ends. When the book is finally written, the marketing begins. But all authors are expected to promote their books these days, not just indie authors (though mega-sellers often have access to marketing opportunities that indie authors don’t). But what I also realized is how much control self-published authors have over their work, from how it reads, to how the covers look, to pricing, etc. That’s something that I really like.

Q: What would you like readers to take away from your stories?

A: Other than a burning desire to make sure they’ve read all of my books?  I hope that I help readers escape – just for a while—to a new place, a new life. I want to give them a chance to walk around in someone else’s shoes for a bit, maybe to visit a place they’ve never been, to find themselves in a situation they’ve never experienced, to feel a few tingles up their spines, some excitement and thrills and a sense of mystery and discovery, as well as a sense of satisfaction that causes them, when they reach the end of the books, to say to themselves (and hopefully to all of their friends and family) that reading my books was a worthwhile way to spend their valuable time.

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

A: I almost went with the fact that I can juggle knives (not well, but I can) or that I can recite Lewis Carroll’s wonderful poem of near-gibberish, “The Jabberwocky,” by heart…but I’m going to go with the fact that twenty years ago I got to kiss Dawn Wells (who played “Maryann” on Gilligan’s Island) on the cheek…mostly because I love to tell that story.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: Another thriller. It’s too early in the process to say more about it, but I’m working on another thriller. I’m always working on another thriller.

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

A: I hope people visit my website – www.jameshankinsbooks.com. There’s more about me and about my books there. They can sign up for my newsletter, which I send out on only very special occasions. They can also email me through my Contact page. I love hearing from readers. Also, I can be reached on Facebook at  http://www.facebook.com/JamesHankinsAuthorPage. And I’m on Goodreads at http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6644088.James_Hankins.

Of course, most importantly, I’d love folks to check out my books. They’re on the major online retailers’ sites, but here are the Amazon links:

Brothers and Boneshttp://www.amazon.com/Brothers-and-Bones-ebook/dp/B009XGD2DY/ref=pd_sim_kstore_2

Drawnhttp://www.amazon.com/Drawn-ebook/dp/B009XGIHES/ref=pd_sim_kstore_3

Jack of Spadeshttp://www.amazon.com/Jack-of-Spades-ebook/dp/B009XGD6LM/ref=pd_sim_kstore_1

Finally, I want to thank You Read It Here First for this interview opportunity. It was a lot of fun. Happy reading, all!

The Girl Who Came Home: A Titanic Novel

The Girl Who Came Home cover

What is it about the tragedy of Titanic that still holds us in such a mesmerizing grip over a century after its collision with destiny in the North Atlantic? A multiplicity of novels and movies – as well as a haunting Broadway musical – have attempted to illustrate what life was truly like above and below decks during that fateful week in April, to reinforce the cavernous social divide between the haves and the have nots, and to capture snapshot instances of selfless courage and self-righteous cowardice during the ship’s final hours.

Perhaps we never tire of these stories because they cause us to examine our own values, to see in every character – both real and fictional – composites of people we actually know, and, as always, to speculate what might have happened to the multitudes who met their deaths that night had there been a tighter focus on safety rather than speed.

For her debut historical fiction novel, The Girl Who Came Home, author Hazel Gaynor was inspired by true events surrounding 14 Irish emigrants who boarded the extraordinary ship on a seemingly ordinary day in Spring.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: When was your interest and curiosity about Titanic first ignited and what inspired you to develop a story in which this tragedy was the central theme?

A: I was in my teens when the wreck of Titanic was discovered and I think that was significant in cementing my interest. I am drawn to so many aspects of the story: the Edwardian era, the human tragedy, the stark divisions of social class and the remarkable chain of events which contributed to Titanic’s demise. It is simply beyond belief, and that is what makes it so fascinating.

For years I said I would write a book about Titanic, but whenever it came to putting pen to paper (or fingers to typewriter) it was just far too daunting a prospect to tackle. It was only in early 2011, after pursuing my writing seriously for several years, that I started doing detailed research, particularly into the Irish connection with Titanic. That was when I discovered the story of The Addergoole Fourteen, who left their small Irish community together to sail to America on Titanic.

Writing The Girl Who Came Home was both a daunting and incredibly moving experience. For me, this wasn’t simply about writing a book – it was about understanding better a part of history, and doing justice to the memory of all those who lost their lives that night.

Q: What were some of the primary research tools and resources you used to so beautifully capture the costumes, dialects, social mores and, of course, details about the magnificent ship herself?

A: Being such a huge event, and being the first real event to be broadcast in mass media, there is an incredible volume of information and detail available on Titanic. I researched in detail online and in press archives, right down to the smallest details of the cabins my characters slept in, the meals they ate aboard the ship and the songs they sang during their evenings. I spoke to members of The Addergoole Titanic Society who were extremely helpful. I listened to audio recordings of the survivors and watched incredible images of the Titanic setting out from Belfast and other footage of passenger’s relatives and friends massing outside the White Star Line offices on Broadway in New York when news of the disaster arrived. I studied Father Browne’s incredible photographs and read books about the disaster. I read survivor letters and newspaper articles. I was entirely immersed in Titanic’s story.

Writing historical fiction certainly requires commitment, passion and a real interest in the historical event. Researching for this book was an absolute labour of love. Of course, being such a tragic story, I often found myself becoming emotional. All the time I was writing, I was very aware of a sense of obligation to do justice to the memory of the people who lost their lives that night – and to those who suffered so much as a result of the trauma of the event. I was also conscious of the need to show sensitivity to the surviving descendants of the Titanic victims – this was neither the time, nor the place, to be in any way sensationalist.

Q: What’s your favorite Titanic movie and why?

A: Although many historians and movie buffs have picked fault with it, I have to admit to being a fan of James Cameron’s 1997 epic. I first saw it on New Year’s Day in Sydney, Australia and cried from the moment it started. It was just so visually amazing and despite the typically over-the-top ‘Hollywood’ treatment of the event, I still love it as a movie.

Q: The intersection of fact and fiction is typically easier to orchestrate when one is dealing with a large-scale contingent of passengers and crew such as those on Titanic versus the Lewis and Clark expedition in which there were fewer than 40 people (plus a dog). Tell us about the decisions that went into making plausible your fictional characters’ interactions with real-life individuals such as Harold Bride, the ship’s junior wireless officer.

A: I started by making notes on each real-life individual I intended to feature, to ensure that I had their role in the event correct: where they would have been on the ship, what their level of ranking was, etc. I guess the joy of writing historical fiction is in imagining the conversations and interactions between people which – given what facts we know about them and the event – might credibly have taken place. When referencing real people, I made sure I stuck to the facts about them. For example, it would have been implausible to have Harold Bride talking to my steward, Harry, on the bridge, or in the First Class dining room, but by having their interactions take place in the Marconi radio room, where Bride and Philips were working, it is a more honest and authentic interaction. If it is done well, the intention with blending fictional and real-life characters would be to ensure that the reader isn’t focusing on who is real and who is imagined, but is simply immersed in the story.

Q: Were any of your fictional personalities composites of real individuals?

A: While The Girl Who Came Home was inspired by the true story of the Addergoole Fourteen, I knew it would be too confusing for the reader if I attempted to tell each of the fourteen passenger’s stories equally. That is why I decided to create just one central character, Maggie Murphy, who is actually an amalgamation of two of the youngest girls of the Addergoole group: Annie McGowan and Annie Kate Kelly. The addition of the character of Harry Walsh, the steward, was inspired by accounts of real stewards and also gave me a way in which to show the experience of those working on Titanic. The character Vivienne Walker-Brown is loosely based on the real passenger, actress Dorothy Gibson and provided a way to incorporate the experience of the First Class passengers as a contrast to the Irish group in steerage.

Q: In the aftermath of unspeakable tragedy, those who live often experience “survivor guilt” for the rest of their existence. From whence in her background did your protagonist, Maggie, draw her greatest strength and what lesson can that impart to your readers?

A: It was the story of a survivor and ‘survivor guilt’ that I was particularly interested in exploring in The Girl Who Came Home. Many survivor accounts did, indeed, reference their sense of guilt at the fact that they had been spared when so many others hadn’t. It is something which was also spoken of often after the 9/11 tragedy. I see Maggie as a spirited, resilient young girl who, over time, drew strength from the memory of those she had travelled with on Titanic. I imagined that she would have wanted to live her life in their memory – to ensure that she made the most of the life she had been given. Maggie came from a humble, Irish community where family was everything. In my mind, I believed that she would have learnt to live again through her own family – husband, children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren. I think we can all draw strength from the things which are closest to us and which we cherish the most – be that family or friends who we see every day, or through the memory of those we have loved and lost.

Q: Did you work from an outline or simply start writing and allow your characters to guide you as you developed the story from one chapter to the next?

A: From the start, I had a very clear vision for the book; that it would be set in two periods of time: 1912 and 1982, but with the 1912 story taking up the majority of the narrative. Essentially, this was two stories running in parallel. I then mapped out loosely what would happen in each chapter; particularly how I would take Maggie, and the group she was travelling with, from their village in Mayo to Queenstown, what would happen when they were on Titanic, and what was happening to their relatives in Ireland and New York while they were at sea. I knew I wanted to capture the drama of the sinking, but that I also wanted to focus on the experience of the relatives awaiting news at home, and on what the experience was like for the survivors in the lifeboats and on the rescue ship Carpathia and once they arrived in New York. It was those aspects of the Titanic story which I felt were less well known.

Once the structure of the chapters was in place, I wrote the story quite quickly, being careful to weave in my research details as I wrote. Although I had a mass of information to hand, and in my head, I would research specific details as I was writing that part of the book. For example, when I was writing about the experience in the lifeboats, I researched as I wrote. Again, when I wrote about the experience of the relatives waiting for survivors to disembark The Carpathia, I researched passenger accounts as I wrote. That way, I took each stage of the experience and each step, in turn – which prevented me from getting bogged down and overwhelmed by the magnitude of the story I was hoping to tell.

Q: Why does the tragedy of Titanic and its passengers still resonate with us – and with you – a century later?

A: For me, Titanic is a very human story. Even for the casual observer, the sheer scale of the disaster is hard to comprehend:  from the 2,207 individuals on board only 712 survived the sinking. From the 107 children and infants on board, 53 died in the tragedy and all of those children were travelling as third class passengers.  I think there are many reasons for the enduring appeal of Titanic: the class divisions being played out so starkly, the elegance of the Edwardian era, the many possible reasons which have been given for the sinking, the fact that this happened at a time when radio communication was relatively new which made Titanic the first major news event of the 20th century, and the first to be broadcast around the western world. And, of course, it is also the opulence of the ship itself and the arrogance of those who made such bold claims as stating that the ship was unsinkable which also play a part in our continued fascination with the event.

Titanic also sank at the dawning of the film industry and the story has been told over and over again, Ultimately, Titanic was the most tragic of accidents. We simply cannot believe that this really happened; that such a huge vessel sank with such a devastating loss of life. Perhaps we are fascinated by the notion of what we would have done in those circumstances. Whatever the many and varied reasons for our fascination with her story, Titanic’s tragic allure will, undoubtedly, only grow stronger over time.

Q: What would fans of The Girl Who Came Home be the most surprised to learn about its author?

A: How lovely to think that my little book has fans! People have expressed their surprise that this is my first novel, which gives me great encouragement for writing more novels. Maybe others would be surprised to realise that the book was written at my laptop at the kitchen table in stolen moments between cooking the dinner, making Lego castles and playing football in the back garden! I am often surprised that it was ever written at all!

Q: Upon completion, did you attempt to pitch the book through traditional publishing channels or was self-publishing your objective from the start?

A: I am a traditionalist at heart and I did pursue a traditional deal with The Girl Who Came Home before turning to self-publishing. I was working with an agent in London at the time and when I told her I wanted to write a novel about Titanic she was very supportive, but did warn me that most publishers would have already bought their ‘Titanic’ novels  by the time mine was ready to be pitched. I hadn’t realised, at the time, that 2012 would be the centenary year of the Titanic tragedy. In the end, the novel was only pitched to a small number of publishers in Ireland who, although being very complimentary about my writing, didn’t offer me a publication deal.

That was very nearly the end of the story. I had no intention of self-publishing and, as a debut author, felt anxious that if publishers didn’t think the book was ‘good enough’, then it probably wasn’t. For months and months I wondered: could I self-publish? Should I self-publish? With a Titanic novel in my hand and a huge media event of the Titanic centenary staring me in the face, there was really only one answer to my questions: Yes, I could and I should. I had the book edited, did some re-writes, had a wonderful cover designed and published the book though the Amazon KDP programme. It quickly became a No. 1 bestseller in the Kindle historical fiction lists and has gone from strength to strength ever since.

I still adore the physical book and bookshops and it is still my dream to find an agent who really believes in me and my writing and who can help me to secure a traditional publishing deal. For me, it is partly about gaining validity and credibility as an author and partly about gaining the professional experience of working with an experienced editor and a publishing house.

Q: Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? If so, what’s your personal cure for it?

A: I think every writer suffers from writer’s block – or some form of it. For me, it usually happens at around 30,000 words when that first flourish of ‘new book creativity’ has been written down and I look at my work and doubt myself and wonder how on earth I am ever going to write another 70,000 words! My advice – go for a long walk. There is nothing like time away from the screen to clear the mind, to come up with plot solutions or to simply find the determination to keep going. I think at times of frustration and self-doubt, it is important to try not to keep looking at the impossibly distant summit, but to just keep putting one word in front of another.

Q: Rejection is a fact of life and yet it can teach us volumes about how to keep moving forward. To date, what’s the worst rejection you have ever received as a writer and how did you cope with it?

A: I think every rejection is the worst rejection! There is nothing harder than hearing that an agent or editor doesn’t feel that your work – which you have put blood, sweat, tears and several bottles of good wine into – just isn’t right for them, or for the market. With The Girl Who Came Home being my first novel, I did find the rejection very, very hard, especially when I saw lots of other writers around me securing publishing deals. In hindsight, it was the push I needed to find another way to get my work out there.

In a strange way, I have also found that some of the toughest rejections are the ones where an editor has been extremely complimentary about my work and has said that it was a very difficult decision for them to say no. It is so crushing to feel that you came ‘so close’ and are yet so far away! I don’t think I naturally have a thick skin, but I am certainly learning to toughen up and have taken an awful lot of confidence and determination from the success of The Girl Who Came Home.

Q: Who are some of your favorite authors and how has their storytelling style influenced your own writing?

A: I love everything written by Philippa Gregory, Rose Tremain, Tracy Chevalier and Sarah Waters. Their ability to create memorable characters, rich historical settings and incredible storylines is so inspiring. The plot twist in Sarah Water’s ‘Fingersmith’ is one I talk about all the time! Their writing inspires me to write better, to write more honestly, to not be afraid of tackling big historical events and to remember to write what you want to write – not what you think you should write. Someone in the publishing industry once told me that women don’t want to read books written in a male voice. I recently read Rose Tremain’s fabulous Restoration and Merivel – never has a male character been more brilliantly imagined or written – which just goes to show that opinions about what readers want can differ hugely!

Q: Do you write full-time? If so, tell us what a typical day is like for you. If you have a full-time job doing something else, what is it and how do you fit writing into your off-hours schedule?

A: I have two young children, so my writing is now based around their school hours. When I first started writing, and while I was writing The Girl Who Came Home most of my writing was done early in the morning before the children woke up, or late at night after they went to bed. Now I would consider myself a ‘part-time’ writer as my time is very much divided between writing and family life. I am very grateful to be able to work at something I love and still be at home for the children during these early years. I know that in the future I will be able to spend more and more time writing, but for now I have to split myself in two!

Q: What are you currently doing to develop your writing craft and hone your skills?

A: I read and read and read and can think of no better way to inspire myself and stretch myself as a writer. Reading gives me an insight into how other people write and reading brilliant books just makes me want to write better. I also maintain a regular blog of my own and also blog for a writing website. I also like to enter short story competitions when time allows. All of these things are helping me to flex my writing muscles in slightly different ways.

Q: In your opinion, are critique groups and social networking with other writers a valuable pursuit?

A: Absolutely! My whole writing career started by being inspired by two writing workshops I attended. It’s a great way to meet other writers, published authors, agents and publishers. Writing can be a very lonely, isolating existence – so I’d encourage anyone who is serious about writing to go to workshops, talks, book launches, festivals – anything to put them in contact with people in the industry. Social media also keeps me in contact with other writers and has been a great way to meet other writers and readers and to have those ‘water cooler’ moments from your own desk.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: History has always fascinated me, and having finally found the confidence to tackle a major historical event in The Girl Who Came Home, I am very excited about writing further historical novels and have plenty of ideas. I completed my second novel Daughters of the Flowers at the end of 2012. It is, again, inspired by true events, this time surrounding orphaned flower sellers in Victorian London. Spanning several decades, Daughters of the Flowers tells the story of a young girl who is searching for her lost sister and a young woman who is searching for acceptance. I am literally waiting to hear back from several UK publishers as I type – fingers crossed! I am also making The Girl Who Came Home available in paperback  (and hopefully in limited edition hardback) through Amazon Createspace. Details will be on my blog as soon as it is available.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

A: At my blog www.whimsandtonic.com or at my Facebook page or by following my tweets @HazelGaynor I also write a regular guest blog for National Irish writing website writing.ie and review books for Hello Magazine at blog.helloonline.com/offtheshelf. I love to hear from readers so please do get in touch!

The Hollywood Murder Series

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When Peter S. Fischer left the bright lights of Tinseltown after nearly three decades as a network television writer/producer, it was with no intention of going quietly into a retirement mode on California’s central coast. If anything, the sound of keyboard tapping is louder than ever with his development of The Hollywood Murder Series, a sequence of mystery novels set against the historic backdrop of moviemaking’s glamorous heyday and which he publishes under his own imprint, The Grove Point Press.

The coincidence of my happening to interview Fischer stemmed from my having read his political thriller, The Terror of Tyrants, and – on the heels of my 5-star review (http://thegrovepointpress.com/tag/peter-s-fischer/ ) – sent an email to thank him for writing such a topical and chilling page-turner. Graciously, he not only took the time to respond but also to share his insights about the craft of writing.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: The glitz and glam of Hollywood has always attracted eager young hopefuls like proverbial moths to a flame. Coupled with this, however, seems to be an increasingly pervasive mindset of “entitlement” and arrogance. A case in point was a teen who recently wrote to me and declared, “The problem with movies and television today is that all you old people and your dumb ideas need to go away.” As someone who left the industry after a long career writing for hit series, why do you think that novelists and playwrights have a longer – and more respected – shelf life as authors?

A: First of all, I lend little credence to a teen who, unless she is exceptional, has no business lecturing us “old folks” about anything. I despair of a generation that believes “Thanks” is spelled “Thx” and spends a huge amount of time regaling each other about their last bowel movement or sexual encounter or the spinach they were unable to eat for lunch. These modern day twits know nothing about the art of conversation and for the most part do not even read unless forced to at the point of a hot poker. They get the television they deserve because TV is ratings driven. If you watch, you get it. If you don’t watch, it gets cancelled. Don’t blame us old folks for that!

The average TV executive at a studio or a network is about 30 years old. Movies have always been part trash, part escapism, often mindless and here and there, brilliant and absorbing. In an era where there are more and more low budget indy producers, you get a wide range from rotten to brilliant. No generalization fits. Ditto books and plays. For every Broadway hit, there are a dozen one-night turkeys. The same applies to books, Even in the old days when a handful of publishers controlled all of the market, many books were published that shouldn’t have been. Today, with self-publishing, the situation is even worse. I guess my point is, there will always be mediocre product and happily there will always be literature in many forms that rises above the norm.

Q: Once upon a time in Television Land, married couples slept in twin beds, no one swore, and husbands/fathers were not portrayed as henpecked twits. Nor were there reality shows in which contestants trashed one another and humiliated themselves to win a million dollars. In your view, are there any programs that indicate the medium is still salvageable as an entertainment venue or will it continue its drekky downward spiral?

A: In keeping with my response to the previous question, there has always been rotten television ever since the days of Lucy and Sid Caesar and Milton Berle, shows that were forgotten a day after they were cancelled. The old rule of thumb used to be for every pilot ordered to script, maybe one in five would be filmed. Of every filmed pilot actually aired, maybe one in five would be given an order for 6 and sometimes 13 episodes. Of those new shows, the odds of being renewed for a second season were also about 1 in 5.

It’s comforting to think back to the golden ages of television starting with the one-hour live dramas of the 50s and then the golden age of the sitcoms like Archie Bunker and Mary Tyler Moore and Cheers where the humor was genuine and character driven. For the most part network television is dismal and the best work is being done on the smaller cable channels where ideas and good writing make up for the lack of budget. Mad Men on AMC and House of Cards on Netflix are two prime examples.

Q: Blurring the line between fact and fiction has long been a popular device in doomsday novels, and you chillingly bridge that divide in your political thriller, The Terror of Tyrants. The premise: A corrupt government controls the major media (“an informed public is a dangerous public,” says one of the higher-ups), implements Executive Orders without Congressional approval, confiscates all firearms, fines and imprisons anyone who criticizes the administration, disables national telecommunications, and orchestrates a fake terrorist attack on a California coastal community in order to declare martial law, seize property and authorize assassinations. This book would clearly make a blockbuster movie but, given Hollywood’s fawning adoration of Obama, what are the chances of it getting produced?

A: The Terror of Tyrants will never get made as a movie unless it was championed by a powerful conservative producer with lots of money behind him. And even then it wouldn’t be easy because Hollywood actors and directors would be afraid to get involved. There are a couple of indy companies in Utah that have made some decent movies with a conservative message but in the end if you can’t get widespread distribution, it’s not worth the effort and liberal Hollywood has the theaters tied up.

Q: Any worries that there’s a drone out there with your name on it?

A: No worries. Invariably my name is spelled Peter Fisher by merchants and charities alike and the administration is a lot dumber than they are so I am safe. However, I do feel sympathy for any real-life Peter Fisher who may live in the vicinity.

Q: Your new Hollywood Murder Series is a juicy marriage of two subjects you know best – the mystery genre and Hollywood films. What governed your decision to start the storyline in 1947 rather than present-day? How many “years” have been published to date and how far do you plan to take this series?

A: I placed my books starting in 1947 because I consider the 30s, 40s and 50s, the Golden Age of Hollywood, rife with glamour real or imagined. These were kinder and gentler times as opposed to the chaos of modern day living and there is to me something intriguing about the nostalgia of old stars and old films. Since then hundreds, if not thousands, of brilliant movies have been created but the whole studio system run by Mayer and Warner and Zjukor, that was a world of its own.

I actually never envisioned a series of books, just the one – Jezebel in Blue Satin. And then I had to write a scene in a director’s office and I thought it might be fun to put a real person into the scene so I wrote in Gail Russell. That’s when it struck me that I could do a follow up book after a year had passed and so I settled on Treasure of the Sierra Madre and made characters of Bogart, John and Walter Huston, Tim Holt and even Ann Sheridan. The ninth book (1955) is currently being printed and revolves around Marty which was shot in New York. Number 10 takes place in Texas (Giant), number 11 in Memphis (Jailhouse Rock) and number 12 (Touch of Evil).The latter are in first drafts. There are a couple of on-going arcs from book to book and I believe I will wrap the whole thing up with either 15 or 16.

Q: Who would your protagonist, Joe Bernardi, prefer to brainstorm his ideas and theories with – Jessica Fletcher, Lt. Columbo or Ellery Queen?

A: None of the above. Except in one or two rare cases, Joe wants nothing to do with these murders that keep intruding on his life and when he gets involved it’s because he has a compelling reason why he cannot just walk away. He doesn’t consider himself a detective, not for one moment. He is closest in philosophy to Jessica who never considered herself a “detective,” at least not while I was running the show. Columbo took great delight in playing cat and mouse with his quarries but it was in the line of duty. It’s what he was paid for. Ellery loved the pursuit of the puzzle and wouldn’t quit until he’d unraveled it. So our man Joe is a reluctant protagonist at best , especially considering his job description. Whoever heard of a press agent solving murders?

Q: Does 21st century technology make it harder or easier for fictional villains to commit crimes and, conversely, for sleuths to solve them?

A: The technology of the 21st century has virtually destroyed the credibility of the so called ‘armchair’ detective. DNA is a shining example. Besides all the other highly technical and scientific things crime labs are capable of. It’s another reason why I started the series of books in 1947 . It’s also not a coincidence that we set the TV series Ellery Queen in the year 1947 for the same reason.

Q: What comes first for you when you sit down to pen a new story – the plot or the characters? In the case of a continuing thread such as Hollywood Murder Series, do you have the full map in your head – including the final destination – when you start out or do you sometimes allow your characters to take the steering wheel and, accordingly, take you along for the ride?

A: Good question. All of the above. First I need the gimmick, the incident that brings Joe into the story. I used Joe accused of murder once. I won’t use it again. I used Lydia, ex-wife, accused of murder. No more of that. In another I have his ex-live in gal pal Bunny eye witness to a murder and in deep trouble. In another, someone has plagiarized Joe’s book and ends up murdered. In another Joe sends out a press photo which may have gotten a man killed. etc etc etc.

Once I have the gimmick and I’ve decided the movie I am going to tell the story around, I invent a few characters and start writing. I don’t have an outline and in several cases – maybe half – have no idea what the ending is. Very often a lot of the pieces come to me while I am in the middle of a chapter. For the most part I let the characters take me where they want to go and most of the time I have no problem with it. Remember that between EQ and Columbo and MSW as well as my other shows, I probably have plotted over a hundred mystery scripts of one sort of another. It’s like second nature but more important, I discovered in later years that a rigid outline was stifling my imagination which is the main reason I gave up outlining. I do know the final destination of the series, I know what is going to happen to Joe’s career and to Bunny and to Jill and to the child, Yvette. How I reveal all this remains to be seen….

Q: The publishing industry has changed radically in the past decade and, as the combined result of downsizing at the major houses and the rise in popularity of ebooks, has driven numerous authors – yourself included – to go the DIY route. Tell us about the debut of your own imprint, The Grove Point Press, and the challenges/rewards of wearing multiple hats.

A: I think the days of the mass market, brick and mortar bookstores are over. People are reading less and less and other venues such as Kindle and POD are the coming thing. The old fashioned way the traditionalists do business has no future. If you are lucky enough to get an agent who is lucky enough to get you a deal for a book which they will publish the following year or maybe even later, it will sit on the shelf for maybe 5-6 months and then – unless it’s a runaway bestseller – it will be shunted off to Nowhereland to make room for the next Great American novel. Online your book lasts forever and there are enough success stories to lead me to believe that we are doing this the right way. I say “we” because my son Chris is handling everything about The Grove Point Press except the actual writing and he is doing a fantastic job. I have infinite patience and infinite enthusiasm for what we are doing

Q: If you could sit down for lunch with any famous author from the past whose writing and vision inspired you, who would it be?

A: I make it a rule never to break bread with any writer unless he is a lot smarter than me and a much better writer. This gives me a huge universe from which to select and I could spend all day picking and choosing! So I’ll keep it short. TV writers, only two. Rod Serling and Paddy Chayefsky. Novelists? Thomas B Costain, the first book writer that captivated me when I was 7 or 8. Scott Fitzgerald, Conan Doyle. Sinclair Lewis. Contemporary: Michael Connolly, John Grishham. Scott Turow. Playwrights: William Inge, Doc Simon, Tennessee Williams.

But if I had to pick only one it would be the late Robert B. Parker, creator of Spenser and Jesse Stone. I loved the way he plotted sparsely but effectively, the way he used humor to temper grimness, his facility with dialogue. I believe my style and rhythms, especially in the Hollywood books, are very close to his.

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

A: Although I studied writing and drama at Johns Hopkins, I had to put my writing ambitions on hold while I raised a family. Then at the age of 35 I literally sat down at my kitchen table in Smithtown, Long Island ,New York and wrote a movie not knowing that nobody sells a movie this way and nobody gets into the business from a place called Smithtown, particularly at my age. It’s a long story but the happy ending has my movie airing on ABC Movie of the Week, produced by Aaron Spelling under the title The Last Child. It gets nominated for an EMMY for Best TV Movie of the Year. I move to Hollywood and freelance for a few months before I meet Peter Falk and get hired by Universal Studios and the rest, as they say, is history.

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The Blade

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What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. Unless, of course, a villain has plans to completely obliterate it from the map. While investigating the theft of a 4000-year-old artifact, a federal agent finds herself confronted with an international fugitive who threatens to destroy Sin City. Such is the pulse-pounding premise of The Blade (Stone Creek Books), an adult thriller recently published by Lynn Sholes and Joe Moore. The pair took time from their busy schedules to talk about the collaborative process of bringing their ideas and characters to life.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: How and when did the two of you become collaborators?

A: Lynn: Joe and I belonged to the same writing critique group that met every week. During the middle of each session we’d take a break and we’d all chat. Sometimes we’d share ideas about other projects we’d like to do. I had this idea about a book I wanted to write, but it wasn’t in my comfort range because of the genre. Joe thought it was a great idea, and after a year or so, he finally threatened me that if I didn’t write the book, then he would. We decided to give co-writing a whirl.

That produced The Grail Conspiracy, our first collaboration, which did very well. It was ForeWord Magazine’s book of the year and an international bestseller. So far, it’s been translated into 24 languages.

Q: So how does your collaborative process work (i.e., brainstorming, logistics, editing one another, utilizing each other’s respective strengths)?

A: Lynn: I can only vouch for what Joe and I do. At first it was very difficult, not because we disagreed on anything, but rather because our styles and voices were so different. Joe wrote male action-adventure with a very bold voice. I wrote historical fiction with a more lyrical voice. So blending took a lot of work, but we stayed with it. As a matter of fact, friends are always guessing which line one of us wrote! They’re usually wrong, but we never tell.

As far as the mechanical process, we do outlining and brainstorming so we know the story. Either of us could write it. Then whoever feels they have the best handle on a scene takes on the first draft of that scene. We send it back and forth for revisions. Using Dropbox makes it easier. We drop a file in the shared Dropbox folder and voilà! The other picks it up.

Q: Where do you get your ideas for the fascinating characters and compelling stories the two of you compose?

A: Joe: An idea that sparks a story can come from anywhere, anytime. Movies, newspapers, magazines, other books. What we look for is the seed that grabs our attention. Our first book written together came from an article in Discover Magazine about a cup found by an archeologist in Israel. He believed it was the Holy Grail and subsequently discovered that traces of blood residue were present. Could it have been the blood of Christ? What if someone used the DNA to clone Christ? The result was our first thriller written together, The Grail Conspiracy. An article I stumbled across on the Internet about the Germans working on an atomic bomb at the end of WWII prompted our latest thriller, The Blade.

Q: When it comes to character development and dialogue in a thriller such as The Blade, do you think it’s easier for a female to write from a male’s perspective or a male to write from a female’s perspective?

A: Lynn: I don’t think it matters to us. Joe and I have never decided to write scenes because of a character’s gender. We don’t take on specific characters when we write; we take on scenes. When Joe has a better handle on a scene or better vision, then he does the first draft of it. If I feel I have a strong image of a scene, then I do the first draft. We both have our strengths, but they aren’t gender-related.

Q: Do you revise as you go along or wait until the novel is complete?

A: Joe: Because there are two of us and we exchange drafts of each chapter many times, the revision process is ongoing, with the final one after input from our editor.

Q: What is your strategy behind short chapters vs. longer ones?

A: Joe: Most of our chapters average 1000 words. We do that to keep the reader turning the pages. If they see that the next chapter is only a couple of pages long, they will decide to read just one more. And then one more…

Q: If The Blade was made into a movie, who would you choose to play Maxine, Kenny and Applewhite?

A: Lynn: Maxine –Julianna Moore, Kenny – Hugh Jackman, Applewhite – Tommy Lee Jones or William H. Macy?

A: Joe: I see Naomi Watts as Maxine, Jude Law as Kenny, and Brian Cox as Applewhite

Q: What’s the best part of working with your partner?

A: Lynn: We left our egos behind years ago. We both have a vested interest in the book so we sort through plot, the details and motivations together. It’s great to have a sounding board and brainstorming partner with the same goal. And the really good part is if someone criticizes something, I can always say, “Joe wrote that part.” 

A: Joe: Like Lynn said, we both have a stake in the book that no one else has. Our spouses give us both a mountain of support, but they are not writers nor do they think like writers. I can ask my wife her opinion and she will give it honestly. But she doesn’t see the big picture; she has other things to think about. I’m sure it’s the same for Lynn and her husband and family. Having a writing partner means I can make a suggestion or throw out an idea, and Lynn will analyze it while considering all the consequences of how it would impact, improve or detract from the story.

Q: Do you ever have writer’s block? If so, how do you handle it?

A: Lynn: Because Joe and I write together, I don’t think we’ve ever had writer’s block. Having a brainstorming partner tends to prevent that. Of course we have plot issues we have to work out, but not true writer’s block. One thing we have learned is that when we come to a stumbling block we talk through it and something eventually pops up. We also know that there will come a time in the process that is devoted to revision.

Q: What’s your favorite thing about writing?

A: Joe: Entering into the “zone” where you lose track of time and place as the words flow freely.

Q: Learning to write compelling fiction takes a lot of time, study and practice. It’s also not uncommon for a writer’s style and vision to evolve and undergo reinvention from what it was originally. Do you ever go back and read your earliest writings? If so, what’s your reaction?

A: Lynn: Yuck! Yes. When I first decided to take writing seriously, I wrote a book called Talisman Rose, mostly to see if I could sustain 100,000 words.  I wrote it on a typewriter which convinced me to get a computer and printer.  Well, I discovered that I could write my way through 100,000 words. But that manuscript rests in a box high in the closet that I never intend to show anyone.  Every time I write a book, I learn something new. Sometimes I look back in horror and slap my forehead asking myself if I really wrote that.

Q: Like many writers, the two of you have ventured into indie publishing rather than going the traditional route. What are some of the advantages and disadvantages you discovered during the process of taking The Blade from concept to publication to marketing?

A: Joe: With the advent of indie publishing, writers have become a self-contained business and must handle most or all of the facets of sales and marketing. It takes away from writing time, but it’s also liberating and fulfilling.

Q: What’s next on your plate (collaboratively or individually)?

A: Joe: What’s next? Maxine returns in The Shield (working title). Former OSI federal agent Maxine Decker is recruited by a blacker than black government operation to track down the theft of alien artifacts originally collected from the 1947 Roswell Incident. Stay tuned!

A: Lynn: As a note of interest, I have just handed over my first four books, written under the name Lynn Armistead McKee, to enter the digital world. Those books are a totally different genre than what Joe and I write. Woman of the Mists, Touches the Stars, Keeper of Dreams and Walks in Stardust are historical fiction in the tradition of Clan of the Cave Bear, but not quite as far back. These are stories about the extinct aboriginal peoples of Florida before European contact.

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Readers can learn more about the authors at http://www.sholesmoore.com/p/author-bios.html.

The Long, Steep Path: Everyday Inspiration From the Author of Pay It Forward

Catherine_Ryan_Hyde

Catherine Ryan Hyde was one of my heroes growing up; I learned about her book, Pay It Forward, when I was 17 and a new writer trying to work out if I wanted to pursue my writing or if I might do something else. Seeing what Catherine accomplished with her book, and then having the joy of meeting her in person and discovering it was possible to achieve the level of influence she did without it changing who she was—I realized I could become the writer I wanted to be, without having to give up the aspects of myself that I was sure would get compromised if I ever became a public figure (at the time I thought you either were a nobody or a celebrity in the artistic fields).

Catherine was exceptionally down to earth, and she encouraged me to pursue my writing. That someone “like her” could believe in me that much meant a lot to me, and when she wrote on her Pay It Forward dedication “Please say you will [Pay It Forward]” I made a silent promise that I would, for the rest of my life—and ironically it’s that mindset that’s led me full circle, to where I have the opportunity to interview Catherine about her exquisite book, The Long, Steep Path: Everyday Inspiration from the Author of Pay It Forward where she shares herself in spirit the same way she has touched my life – and this way she can be a mentor and a friend to millions more people than she has graced personally. (My book review is on Blogcritics at  http://blogcritics.org/books/article/book-review-the-long-steep-path).

If you’d like to know more about Catherine, she’s truly accessible – check out her website at  http://www.catherineryanhyde.com, her Amazon author page at http://www.amazon.com/Catherine-Ryan-Hyde/e/B001ITTR60#/ref=la_B001ITTR60_pg_3?rh=n%3A283155%2Cp_82%3AB001ITTR60&page=3&ie=UTF8&qid=1363147923 and Facebook at  https://www.facebook.com/#!/crhyde?fref=ts.  

Interview by Joanna Celeste

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Q: What prompted you to write your memoir?

A: I don’t think of it as a memoir… exactly. It’s memoir-ish. It has some elements of memoir, in that everything in it is true, and happened to me. But I tend to think of a memoir as a more complete story of a person’s life. So then, for readers to want to read that memoir, they would have to be interested in knowing about that person’s life. I’m not assuming that people wanted to know my life story. Instead I’ve chosen life experiences that changed my thinking about the world in a small way, and laid them out in a way that just might, possibly, change your thinking about the world in a small way as well.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that’s it’s not really so much about me. It’s more about things I’ve observed that might be useful to you (the reader).

Now, to answer your question: It was one-third reaching out to the people who so far only seem interested in Pay It Forward and not so much the rest of my body of work. It was one-third carried forward from some opinion pieces I’d done for AOL News—on such subjects as happiness and gratitude—that I enjoyed doing and that people seemed to like. The final one-third was a realization I had as I was walking down Indian Cove Road in Joshua Tree, headed for a trailhead. I thought, too bad I don’t write about my hiking and travels. If I did, this trip would be tax deductible. But I didn’t write The Long, Steep Path so I could deduct my trips. I wrote it because that started me wondering why I’d never written about my hiking and travel. When I thought about it, it seemed like an oversight. That really is the honest answer. I wanted to write a creative nonfiction book about hiking and the outdoors, but was eventually able to see that it should have a broader scope.

Q: I loved all your metaphors about hiking. You touched lightly on your past—that you changed your name, just had to get out, that you had deep emotional issues—I’m curious what happened but I also respect that you want to keep some things private. How did you approach writing your memoir, culling the points you wanted to share and what you didn’t feel necessary?

A: I’m not a secretive person at all. I jokingly tell people I’d be the worst blackmail target ever. I’d be like, “Fine, I’ll write about it myself. Save you the trouble.” But that’s my history. When you start writing about your family of origin, that’s shared history. Other people’s privacy and feelings are at stake. I think you probably noticed in my Author’s Note at the end of the book that I only wrote about one living person, and only with her express permission. I was careful with the anonymity of AA members, using no last names, not repeating anything said in a meeting unless they said it outside one as well. The one person whose story was pretty personal, I didn’t use a name at all. I tried to be really careful of other people’s “stuff.” 

Q: That was done very well. I also loved the way you organized your chapters. What was your process of writing like; did you write the essays over time and compile them or did you have an outline of what you wanted to share?

A: There was a bit of trial and error to that. I really chose the subjects more by the seat of my pants. I wrote all the stories I felt were worth writing. Then I laid them out and got a sense of what they all added up to, and how their messages could be most cohesive.

Q: Nice! As a self-proclaimed hybrid author, why did you choose to self-publish this work?

A: Because I wanted to pair the essays with my own photos. And I knew that if I used a traditional publisher, they wouldn’t want to print color photos, because it’s expensive. It raises the production costs, and forces the publisher to charge more for the book, maybe more than most readers want to pay. So we never shopped it around to publishers. Instead we (my agent and I) decided to go independent ebook only. That way I could not only include a big handful of color photos, I could link to the full photo albums for those who were especially interested in one or more of the locations. You can’t do that in a print book.  

The photographs were a wonderful touch. You’ve got me wanting to hike now, so I can visit those places in person.

Q: It was fun learning that you were once a tour guide for Hearst Castle and a pastry chef. For the 8 years you worked a multitude of part-time jobs, how did those experiences influence your writing?

A: Well, they give me a lot of good experience to fall back on. I always prefer to have characters live in a city I’ve lived in, or work at a job I’ve done myself. Because the quality of material you pick up is altogether different than what you learn through research only.

Q: What did you love the most about your experience as a pastry chef?

A: For a time I worked at an actual big bakery, in the pastry department. The hours were terrible, 6:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m. I had to drive about 70 miles round trip. And I gained weight because I couldn’t stop sampling the product. Not much to love there.

Later I worked at a little restaurant in Cambria, doing homemade breads and desserts. The chef was my best friend Janet, and we worked very well together. Even when things got busy, we stayed stress-free. At the end of the night we ate like royalty. That I liked.

That makes all the difference, working with people you get along with.

Q: I loved your metaphors about animals, like how you developed “gentling” your horse rather than breaking it, and the dog’s attitude towards his daily walk. What would you say is an essential thing we can learn from animals?

A: Presence. The ability to be completely in the moment. Animals are very good at that, and humans are unusually bad at it. And it’s a real goal of mine, to be present. I think it’s the essence of my spirituality, the idea that “the powers that be” in the universe are found in the present moment. So when people act like animals are very simple and inferior compared to us, it seems backwards to me. I’m not saying we’re inferior, but I am saying I feel they are ahead of us in some respects. I guess it all depends on what you value. 

Q: Thank you. One of my favorite parts of The Long, Steep Path was your story about how one sentence changed your life. Your book was full of these one sentences for me. Since publishing your book, have you had any other “one sentence” experiences?

A: It may sound strange, but I have that experience on Twitter all the time. It encourages people to boil down their thoughts. And if you follow the right people, you pick up all these statements that are just so beautifully phrased that they cause you to look at some aspect of life in a new way. I think we do that for each other all the time, just in less dramatic ways than the one I described in the book. 

Yes! Twitter is awesome for that. The philosophy at the heart of The Long, Steep Path– finding the life you want in the life you have – is beautiful. When was the moment you discovered this?

A: I don’t think there was any one special moment when I discovered it. I think the realization came slowly over a period of time. But I think there was a moment, as I was putting together all my thoughts for the book, when I suddenly got a grasp of how to say it. I found the words in that few lines from the prologue of Pay It Forward: “Knowing it started from unremarkable circumstances should be a comfort to us all. Because it shows you don’t need much to change the entire world for the better. You can start with the most ordinary ingredients. You can start with the world you’ve got.” That paragraph seemed to resonate with a lot of people. I guess because, when you think about it, where else could you possibly start? It hit me quite suddenly that this is true of our individual lives as well. And why shouldn’t it be? Put all our individual lives together and you get the world in question.

Q: This spirit seems to be conveyed in the style of your writing—capturing lives that are mosaics; perhaps not perfect, but whole in their own way. What drives you to write your fiction?

A: Human nature. I find it endlessly fascinating. I’m curious about why we take good care of each other, when we do. And why we don’t when we don’t. I’m particularly interested in unlikely bonds, the kind that fall outside blood relations and romance. Both of those are easy to understand, but I love the odd bond that’s quirkier, that says more about the good, loving side of human nature.

Q: That’s my favorite aspect to your stories. As a mentor or a sponsor, how do you approach those whom you take under your wing? What is the basic advice you give them?

A: I think the most useful thing I can do for another writer is to help them develop a new relationship with criticism and rejection. There’s nothing I can say to stop it from stinging. Not even to myself. But it’s possible to look it in the face and not let it stop you. You can learn to see that people are really telling you more about themselves when they judge you.

That’s as a mentor.

As a sponsor, I think my goal is to help people accept life for exactly what it is. When you let a person into your life, you have to take them as a whole. You can’t change them. You can’t take the parts you like and leave the rest. I think if we could have that kind of unconditional love for the world, and our lives, we’d be much happier.

Q: You have a lot of experience you can share from (I still can’t believe that Pay It Forward was shot down by your agent). As someone who went from being relatively unknown to being the center of an international movement, what are some of the pros and cons of celebrity? 

A: I don’t really think of myself as a celebrity, though I think I was thrust into that world for a time during the initial “Pay It Forward Phenomenon.”

Actual celebrity, I’d say mostly cons. There’s something false about it. I always make an effort not to tell people what I do until we’ve gotten to know each other a bit. Because it changes the balance of interactions. And it shouldn’t. No one is above or below anyone else, unless they place themselves there by their own actions.

What I do like is the genuine interaction with readers—when a reader finds me (I make myself easy to find) and shares the thoughts and feelings they had when reading one of my books. That’s very genuine. And of course it happens more as more people read you. So that’s one positive note. That and being able to pay my bills.

Q: Yeah, life is awesome when you can do what you love, interact with the people you write for, and pay your bills. Your book ends, quite aptly, with “The Path Continues”. What’s next on your path?

A: Well, that’s a good question. In many ways I’m waiting to be surprised. But it would be a safe bet to say there will be books involved.

Q: Yay! You’ve got your new book out now, Always Chloe and Other Stories, which I’m excited to read. Anything you’d like to share about that?

A: One of the nicest parts of independent ebooks is my ability to give them away on a limited basis as a way of helping the book find its audience. Always Chloe and Other Stories contains the novella-length sequel to my novel Becoming Chloe. It’s a stand-alone work, though, for those who haven’t read the original. On the 22nd through 24th of March, the Kindle ebook will be free on Amazon. And all anyone has to do is subscribe to my blog, or follow me on Twitter or Facebook, to hear about future deals. I tend to give a lot of books away, even physical books. In the long run, it always brings me more readers.

Wonderful, thank you so much!