A Chat With Hope Bolinger

BLAZE Cover.jpg

When I was in high school in the 1960s (even though I only claim to be 35), I used to think that teenagers had an inordinate amount of “stuff” on their plates. In retrospect, I’ve come to appreciate that such stuff is really not much different from what any other younger generation endured (i.e., peer pressure, self-esteem, unreasonable parentals, exam anxieties, and trying to strike a balance between fitting in and being unique). The difference with today’s generation, however, has been the dark impact technology has had on fostering unrealistic comparisons, exposing embarrassing secrets through social media and magnifying one’s sense of helplessness in a world that, for all intents and purposes, appears to have gone insane.

Author and savvy young literary agent Hope Bolinger clearly has a finger on the pulse of YA fears, dreams and sensibilities and effectively taps that expertise for Blaze, the first book in a new series about navigating the scary road to adulthood.

Interview: Christina Hamlett

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Q: When did you first know that being a published author was your true calling?

A: I started writing novels in high school because my best friend wrote them, but when my AP Literature teacher pulled me into her office, reviewing one of my papers, and said, “Obviously you can write well,” I thought, Maybe I could do something with this.

Q: Who or what has had the most influence on guiding your career?

A: That’s such a hard question. I can’t say one particular person alone shaped me. So many writing mentors and friends throughout the years propelled me to where I have landed today. If I listed all the names of everyone who helped me get here, it would probably take the entire interview.

Q: New writers often lament that they have trouble coming up with ideas and yet an abundance of “recyclable” material already exists in Shakespeare, mythology, folk tales and the Bible. As was your own case in developing the “Daniel” series, what is it about timeless themes that make them such a wellspring of inspiration for modern/updated spins?

A: Great question. It’s true nothing’s new under the sun. I saw a lot of parallels between the life of Daniel and the life of the average American teenager. We get forced into a Babylon of sorts (the school system) and have to outshine our classmates in fierce competition and eliminate any trace of our identity. The characters did develop on their own apart from their historical counterparts, but I loved the idea of a revamped Daniel for the modern times. Some inspiration was pulled from Francine Rivers’ Redeeming Love, a revamped version of Hosea and Gomer.

Q: Of the four main characters in Blaze, which one would you most like to spend an afternoon with (and why)?

A: Oh, without a doubt, Hannah. She’s weird, morbid, and wonderful, and she’d have so many wild shenanigans planned for that afternoon.

Q: Which of these characters is the most/least like you in terms of personality traits, aspirations, fears and beliefs?

A: It’s funny. Technically all of them, but when I made a test for my launch party, “Which Character from Blaze are You?” I got Michelle.

I can see it. We both love tennis, journalism, and theater, and we want to look out for our friends. I think I have more of Rayah’s timid personality, so I won’t speak my mind as much as Michelle, but I have her same tenacity.

As for fears, I often approach the situation more like Danny, cracking jokes but battling severe stomach pain.

Q: What are some of the hard themes you tackle in the Blaze trilogy and why do you believe they resonate with today’s teens?

A: Oh dear, I leave no stone unturned in this series. I’ll break it down by book:

Blaze (2019): Mental health, terrible administrations, poorly run school systems, divorce, severe academic expectations, blurring or eradicating of personal identities. Teens deal with all of these. Even the nicest high schools can tend to have a few bad eggs running things. They have way too much unnecessary stress placed upon them.

Den (2020): Suicide, teen pregnancy, school shootings, sexual assault, mental health. All of these have hit hard in the past few years, especially close to home.

Vision (TBD): Mental health, problems with the medical care system in America and those most vulnerable in it, and spiritual warfare. Without giving away too much, I’ve had friends in their teens severely mistreated by the medical care system in the past few years but are too afraid to speak up because they won’t be believed or will end up in terrible situations they tried to get out of.

Can you tell I take mental health seriously? I love that teen books now plan to confront this topic, but back in high school when I needed characters who looked like me, I couldn’t find them anywhere.

Q: “Great things,” wrote an unknown author, “never came from comfort zones.” In your own experience, have you ever dreaded a major change and then discovered it was the best thing ever to happen?

A: Oh, always. I hate change. I feel often like Sheldon Cooper from Big Bang Theory. The slightest shift in routine can set me off. But in publishing, and in life, you can’t excel without massive change and without stretching yourself far beyond your comfort zone.

Q: How did you get a traditional publishing contract?

A: Oh dear, let me try to truncate this in bullet points.

  • Started writing books in 2013 in high school
  • Tried querying agents in 2014
  • Self-published my first book in 2015
  • Went to Taylor University in 2015
  • Went to a writer’s conference based on exceling well in one of my writing classes at Taylor and pitched an agent in 2016
  • The agent ended up rejecting me a few months later
  • 2016-2017 interned for that agent
  • In 2017 that agent encouraged me to pitch another agent at his agency. I did so and got a contract.
  • That summer I wrote Blaze while my parents split.
  • That fall, I pitched it to the editor of LPC at a conference.
  • After multiple rounds of editing back and forth, the pub board finally accepted it spring of 2018.

Q: There are certain challenges inherent in penning a series vs. a standalone title, not the least of which is the risk of repetition in order to keep new readers on the same page as those who are already familiar with characters and scenarios from the preceding books. How have you handled this?

A: I try to write each book as if it can stand alone. If someone dives into book two or three in the series, I don’t want them to feel the normal disorientation you can encounter in some other series.

I think my biggest fear in a series is I want to do better each book. I’ve read so many trilogies where I couldn’t even finish the third book because I could tell the author put in only a small percentage of effort in succeeding titles, as opposed to book one. I want to keep things as fresh as possible, while maintaining the same foreboding tone throughout the series.

Q: Your career currently encompasses that of literary agent, author and other industry-related jobs. Which “hat” is your favorite and how do you strike a balance to ensure you’re delivering quality time and attention to each one?

A: Ooooh, so good. Can I cheat and say all of them? I will anyway. All of them. I wouldn’t do anything else. I strike the balance in a number of ways. First, I maintain specific work hours for agenting. Past those hours, I write. That way I can maintain boundaries and still give my clients the attention they deserve for their books.

Q: What’s the most common misconception people have about writing books?

A: Wow. I’ve written entire blog posts about this. I’ll do three common misconceptions.

  • One: Book writers are just lazy and sit around all day and write. Umm, no. We market, edit, go to conferences, go to speaking engagements, send out thousands of emails, ping reviewers, etc. We honestly only write a small percentage of the time.
  • Two: People write books during free time. No. Free time doesn’t exist. You force yourself to make room in your schedule.
  • Three: Publishers, libraries, all book people want to read it after you finish it, especially if you have an agent. It takes years, and you still deal with a ton of rejections before you can get a contract, if you get one.

Q: What are your thoughts on self-publishing vs. traditional?

A: Both are viable options. It depends on how much marketing you are willing to do, and how much time you would be willing to wait. Traditional publishing takes years. I had a writer pitch to me at a conference the other day, saying, “If you pick up this book, I want it published next year.”

I scrunched my eyebrows. “Ma’am, it takes two years minimum.”

I’ve seen authors do well in both. You just have to work at both like crazy. Neither is the “easier” option.

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

A: Well, I see it going in a platform route. Only those with the largest followings will get book contracts.

I can also see other types of books hitting the market. I’m wondering if apps like Hooked (text-message based stories) will start to go for long-form content. And audiobooks will continue to grow in popularity.

But who honestly can say? Things trending in this year won’t next year. No one can really predict what will happen.

Q: How can authors get an agent like yourself?

A: Best way? Meet me at a conference. I will most likely take more time on your submission if you met me in person. Second best way? If I like your pitch on a Twitter pitch party. Third best way? Follow my submissions guidelines here: https://www.hopebolinger.com/instructions

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

A: I don’t sleep to alarms. I haven’t since first grade. During then, I discovered my pineal gland would wake me up ten minutes prior to my alarm every morning. I decided to test out my internal alarm clock and haven’t woken to any beeping noises since.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: Writers, please keep writing. I know the industry gets discouraging. At least once a week I text my agent friend Alyssa and ask some variation of, “Can I die/give up now?” And she always responds, “If you do, I do.” So, of course, I have to keep going.

Know, even after you get published, imposter syndrome still lurks around and you never truly get over it. If I still get discouraged and keep going, so can you.

 

 

 

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Demon Reaper

Adele Cawley

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

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: What are you reading now?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: How did you go about finding a publisher?

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

Q: Plotter or pantser?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: What are you currently working on?

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

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

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

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

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

 

 

 

 

Best Psychology in Film

Kat Marshall Woods

We love them. We hate them. We’re vexed by them. We’re terrified by what they might do next. Whether the characters in movies and television shows melt into our hearts or get under our skin, there’s no denying that “reel life” psyches leave an indelible imprint on our “real life” perceptions. In her new book, Best Psychology in Film, author Katherine Marshall Woods, Psy.D. shares her expertise regarding exploration of the psychological dynamics found within Oscar winning and nominated films. Whether one is behind the camera, acting in front of it or sitting in the audience watching the finished product, the book’s takeaway value on what makes a compelling film “tick” is priceless.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: What attracted you to psychology as a profession?

A: From early childhood I was attracted to psychology. I recall asking my mother what profession would allow me to sit and listen to an individual’s problems and help people. From that time on, psychology was my focus with the goal of being an integral part of people’s healing. I believed it would be an honor to hear individuals’ stories that ranged from happiness to pain and allowed the opportunity to be trusted with such intimate information. I have not been disappointed; it has been my honor to serve my patients in what I hope has been as meaningful to them as it has been for me.

Q: Given the diversity of specializations in this field, what types of experiences have been the most influential in shaping your career?

A: What a difficult question! I feel that all of my work has influenced me to become the professional I am today. Whether I provided services within academic settings, mental health hospitals, outpatient treatment programs, private practice, or the Middle East, or teaching university classes with doctoral students, I can easily track how each of these experiences have honed my professional skills and developed my professional self. With the array of experience I have been afforded, I feel now well equipped to apply what I have learned to screenwriters who are in the midst of developing themes and developing their characters as it pertains to psychological dynamics and interpersonal interactions.

Q: Psychology and film make for an interesting combination. How have you connected these two fields?

A: My main interest has been to share what psychology has to offer to those naturally interested in the field and in a manner that is inviting to those who give little attention to psychology in an effort to spark curiosity. Using film, a source of entertainment, to illustrate psychology in a welcoming way has been ideal to marry the two fields.

Q: You also have a background in media. Tell us about it.

A: My first employment included working with children and building a semester curriculum to teach a class. I chose Cartoon Education, a class for children to view cartoons together and discuss the morals found within the episodes. Thereafter, I became employed as an intern at a national insurance company within their visual communications department. There I learned how to perform numerous media activities, teleprompting, editing, etc. Since becoming a psychologist, I have been frequently asked to be the talent/expert. Stepping onto the set always feels like coming home.

Q: What inspired you to develop Best Psychology in Film?

A: For several years I wrote for American Psychological Association’s journal, PsycCritiques regarding psychology and film. In an effort to share these ideas, I began contributing with The Huffington Post and Medium. For the last years, I have continued to contribute to Medium and now Thrive Global. Best Psychology in Film became a way to share these ideas with my readers who wished to think deeply regarding the films they enjoyed.

Q: What governed your focus on films which were nominated for Academy Awards and those that won within a specific year?

A: The Academy Awards is a time of the year when people congregate to films. Whether it is for the fashion displayed on the red carpet or an interest in the films deemed as extraordinary; these films have been most likely viewed and discussed. Because these films were recommended by such an esteemed organization with many viewers support, I felt Best Psychology in Film might capture those works that would be able to include many people in the discussion. Otherwise, it is suggested in Best Psychology in Film that one might view the film prior to reading the associated chapter to personally relate to the book.

Q: What chapter/film was the most enjoyable for you to conceptualize using psychological theory?

A: Chapter IV: La La Land. This film was surprising to me. Though I very much enjoy musicals, I admittedly lacked excitement to view this film. It was also a film that I initially lacked a clear link to the psychological theory that would be best suited to explore. However, after multiple viewings, I found myself seduced by the characters’ passions, determinations and support of one another. I was hooked; singing and poorly performing dance routines in my home! Once the dancing began, the psychological theory was soon to follow.

Q: What are your three favorite films that you remain most intrigued by psychologically?

A: The Shining (1980) as this film highlights the presence of psychotic symptoms budding in an individual (Jack Torrance, performed by Jack Nicholson) and the presence of an early onset of psychosis in his son (Danny, acted by Danny Lloyd); Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971) that depicts the hardships on a single mother providing for a child and four elderly grandparents made light by the hopes and inspirations of a young boy who wins the opportunity to view paradise in fantastical chocolate factory and The Color Purple (1985) that illustrates the effects of generational and cultural trauma.  All of these films, I could watch a million more times than I already have only to learn of additional psychological theories that apply.

Q: Does Art imitate Life or does Life imitate Art?

A: Honestly, I think both occur. The beauty of art is that it documents life, what it has been and what it is presently. In concert, art also offers possibilities of what life can be. And when art makes suggestions regarding how the world can be, it has the power to inspire its viewers and support change; allowing life to imitate a different reality, one that art proposes as an alternative.

Q: What do you believe is the takeaway value of Best Psychology in Film for readers? And for Hollywood?

A: I am hopeful that readers will take that psychology is an unavoidable aspect in our lives. Psychology is indeed the study of individuals and the way in which we navigate our world. If this is agreeable, I believe the art of film that strives to visually share individuals in their most natural and complex states can benefit from considering the psychology within the themes and characters to create richer productions.

Q: Despite the fact there has been no shortage of crises, tragedies and conflicts throughout the world in recent months, the Los Angeles Times gave much more front-page ink during the month of May to the final season of Game of Thrones than to actual news. In your view, what has driven the obsession of fans to care more about the fate of fictitious characters in fictitious realms than events transpiring in real life?

A: Consistent, structured investment. Game of Thrones has been a collection of narratives that have included the intensities of human nature. Using fictitious realms, animal and human-like creatures have allowed for the stories to become a vehicle to engage the adult fantasy mind. This series has been an outlet for many to feel similar as the characters and wrestle with similar conflicts (typically less intense than depicted in the series) of love, faithfulness, loyalty, humiliation, torture, war and rage. Being based in fiction allows for the viewer to engage in such conflicts and primitive raw behaviors in the safety of our own living areas while being entertained.

Q: Briefly, what was the process that led to your being hired for film projects?

A: Initially, I was requested to be an expert psychologist upon documentaries and was asked to take the role of a psychologist in a scripted series. Thereafter, I was asked to review scripts for writers, provide a psychological perspective upon the work, ensure the representation of psychology and interpersonal exchanges represented a realistic experience and provide set accuracy when there was a psychological scene (i.e. ensuring a therapist’s office appeared accurate). Since, I have offered my services through PsychMinded Media, a business created to house this work.

Q: As a psychologist, do you limit your consultation to films which have a psychological aspect?

A: Absolutely not.  I am a strong believer that psychology is all around us. It is within every interaction we have with others and when we are taking part in our own solitude.  Because psychology is ever present, I have had the privilege to consult on films that do not have an overt psychological aspect.

Q: When you’re not writing and consulting, what do you do for fun?

A: There are four activities I faithfully turn to for enjoyment: quality time with my husband and dog, visiting my neighboring organic farm to harvest and take in nature, exploring unfamiliar places and resting with a Vogue magazine for inspiration!

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: Currently, I am consulting on a number of short film productions, offering psychological perspectives of films upon panels pertaining to cinema works and conceptualizing my next book publication.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: Cinema and media works have great power to display individuals in a manner that captures the richness of the human condition. It has been amazing to be a contributor in this industry while using my love for psychology to offer greater authenticity to the work. I am hopeful that I will remain as fortunate in the future!

 

 

Once Left the Field of Valor

ONCE LEFT IN THE FIELD OF VALOR

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

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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

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

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

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

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

Q: What inspired the title?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: What appeals to you about this particular genre?

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

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

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

Q: And, conversely, the most rewarding?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: Favorite quote about redemption?

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

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

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

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

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

Q: What are you doing to promote the book?

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

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

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

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

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

Q: What’s next on your plate?

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

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

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

 

 

The Handy Wisconsin Answer Book

Wisconsin answer book

Since this website’s debut in 2012, we’ve had the pleasure of introducing a global readership to lots of new books and new voices. This time around, we get to introduce our readers to an entire state: WISCONSIN! And, of course, we had a good time picking the brain of one of The Handy Wisconsin Answer Book‘s co-authors, Mark Meier, who has put together a fun answer book chock-full of tidbits about his home state. (Had this nifty reference been available when Love, Actually was filmed, we like to think that the Wisconsin-enamored Colin Frissell (played by Kris Marshall) would have tucked a copy into his duffle bag when he set off to meet American girls who would find his accent adorable.)

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: “Knowing the answers,” wrote an unknown author, “doesn’t take away the wonder. It actually makes it more amazing.” Assuming the same sense of wonderment can be ascribed to the heart of America’s Dairyland, what was your inspiration to pen The Handy Wisconsin Answer Book?

A: The project came about from a former coworker. The publisher approached Terri (Schlichenmeyer) about writing the book, but she was getting ready to build a new house outside the city. “I don’t have the time to devote to such a big project. Can I have a coauthor? I know this guy . . . .”

She asked me, I talked it over with my wife, and I dove into something totally unlike anything I’d ever written before.

Q: Which came first in the book’s development—the questions or the answers?

A: Pretty much that was a 50-50 mix. Researching one thing brought up questions that needed answering. Sometimes getting one bit of information resulted in two or three questions, which came up with two or three more, and eventually I’m forced to limit the questions for that chapter.

Other times finding interesting bits to write about was like pulling teeth. Then the questions followed the answers. “This interesting thing happened. Now, what can I ask to use that as an answer?” Sort of like an episode of Jeopardy!

Q: So how did you go about finding questions that readers would find interesting?

A: I operated on the assumption that if I’m bored, the reader will be bored. If I find something interesting, there will be readers who are interested. It’s not a 1:1 ratio, but chances are anyone reading my chapters of the book will be able to tell the bits where I was bored.

There’s one corporation in Wisconsin. . . .

But I don’t want to cast aspersions.

Q: Are you a native Wisconsin or a transplant from somewhere else?

A: I was born in La Crosse, and grew up outside a community just north of that city. I still live in that same area, though much of what was my grandpa’s farm is now inside the city limits.

Q: What’s your favorite thing about living there?

A: I like the climate. I like the history. I like my connection to my family, which has been in the area for more than a century. I feel connected here, in a way I’ve never experienced anywhere else.

And I like the cold winters. Weird, huh?

Q: What was the funniest, weirdest or most thought-provoking tidbit you discovered during your research about The Badger State?

A: In early Wisconsin racing there was a guy who drove with a rooster in his car. His daughter called his Chevy coup a “Chicken Coop,” and told him he had to have a chicken with him. So he did.

Roho the Rooster was with him for every race, and even went out to the bars to party with the racers. (Anyone who knows the state knows how hard Wisconsinites can party.) The bird drank beer from a shot glass, ate peanuts, and eventually passed out drunk along with some of the other racers.

On a radio interview that racer was confronted with a caller who thought it was terrible to put that rooster in such a dangerous position. He replied something like, “Lady, I’m in the car too!”

Roho died of pneumonia right after that season of racing. They actually performed an autopsy (yes I know there’s a different word when they do that to birds) to find an official cause of death.

Q: Tell us about interactions with your coauthor as well as anyone else who chimed in on the book’s content.

A: Having a coauthor definitely adds a level of complexity to any project. From the start we had eight topics, and Terri assigned them. The topic I was most leery of was Sports. You see, I’m kind of a sports moron. I had to ask someone once what “that yellow thing was” the refs threw onto the field in football games. “And I’m supposed to write about Wisconsin Sports?”

As it turns out, that topic was the most interesting part of the project for me. The History chapters she wrote is where I thought I’d be good, and Terri told me later it was like writing about trees growing.

Q: Does it have to be read front-to-back or can readers pick and choose chapters and read them out of order?

A: Each Q&A is supposed to be brief. The rule of thumb is “two paragraphs, tops.” But the editors told us from the start, “If you need more than two, see if you can split it into another question. If you can’t, don’t sweat it.”

So the whole thing is written in bite-sized pieces. You can open up to any page in any chapter and not worry about missing the flow. Sure, there might be three questions in a row about one thing, but even if you start with #3 in that series you don’t really miss out. Read the other bits next week or next year.

However, if you want to make sure you get to every question, it makes sense to read it front to back. You might not find everything fascinating, but you’ll learn a lot you didn’t know.

Q: Who’s your target readership?

A: There shouldn’t be anything inappropriate, so there’s no worries about letting young kids read it. Some of the vocabulary might be a bit advanced for the younger ones, but anyone with a curious mind will appreciate what the book offers.

As I mentioned above, I’m not a fan of sports. I found those chapters fun to write, and I’m guessing other non-fans will find out a lot of interesting things a sports fan might already know. (Who received Brett Favre’s first forward pass as a Green Bay Packer? Brett Favre.)

Anyone who lives in or wonders about the state of Wisconsin should read this book.

Q: What are you doing to market the book and which methods are proving the most successful?

A: It may (or may not) surprise people to know I almost always have copies of every book I’ve published somewhere nearby. When people find out I’m an author, they ask what I’ve written. I can show them.

I also have been posting on social media through the whole process. There were posts about it before I even signed the contract more than two years ago. Terri has done the same.

Terri is a book reviewer appearing in more than two hundred publications worldwide. She knows a lot of people. One of them manages our local Barnes and Noble, and that’s how we secured a book signing for June.

I know some people who run a local cable TV show, and appeared for an interview. That clip was posted to social media, so I was able to share that with my followers.

The publisher is a mid-sized operation, so they have access to major distributors. They also have a budget for promotions that, while small for them, is much larger than Terri or I could afford. We all have a hand in it.

As for which is the most successful, I’d have to say that word of mouth is probably the best for me. I can’t evaluate how Visible Ink’s efforts are playing out, since it’s so early in the process.

Q: Had you done any writing prior to The Handy Wisconsin Answer Book?

A: I’ve published mostly science fiction, but before Handy Wisconsin it was all fiction.

Q: What about the craft of writing most appeals to you?

A: I love words. Finding “that one word” that means exactly what I need is thrilling for me. Crafting stories makes me feel more alive than working at my “regular” job.

Some people like to drive fast, others like to shoot hoops, set up computer networks, cook the perfect steak, or build houses. I create universes.

Q: Conversely, what daunts you?

A: Editing. At times I despair of getting across exactly what I mean, especially when I read a passage to some of my critique partners and they give me a puzzled look. Sometimes the solution is just another word choice, but other times it requires major surgery. But it’s sometimes frustratingly boring to the point where I want to NEVER read about those characters again.

Second place, and it’s a close second, is marketing. These things are not what I’m gifted for.

Q: How do you cope with writer’s block?

A: I can’t say I’ve ever had writer’s block. If it exists at all, I’ve never experienced it. I’ve been burned out to the point I didn’t write for a couple of years, but that’s not “blocked.” I’ve hit difficult parts of one project or another, but I go to work on something else. Is that “blocked?” I don’t know.

I’ve heard people talk about being blocked, but I can’t really relate because I’ve always had something to write. For those reasons I doubt there’s really such a thing as writer’s block.

Q: Any new projects on your plate?

A: My current project is taking a novel and making it three separate books. What I thought was a finished product was really more of a sketch than true novel. Since it was too long anyway, fleshing it out made a lot more sense, and was really a three-part story to begin with.

I have a rough idea of a book series that could end up to be in the neighborhood of thirty novels or short story collections. While working on the above project I’m researching for the bigger one. Those two should keep me busy for the rest of my life, and if I run out there are some smaller works I have in mind.

Q: Best advice to aspiring writers?

A: Write. Writers write, and if you’re not writing you’re not a writer. Simple, but not easy. Every story you write will be better than the last one. If you’re not getting attention with the ones you’ve already written, write a new one. Then another one.

I think Tom Clancy’s first novel published was Red October. It wasn’t his first written. There were at least two before that. He didn’t stop. You shouldn’t.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: Find a critique group. Nobody writes in a vacuum until you hit it so big people will buy anything with that name on it. Again using Tom Clancy, if you look at his later books, they all could have used an editor. Rumor has it he had the attitude, “I’m Tom Clancy. I don’t need an editor.” As a fan of his writing, I’d have told him, “Yes you do.”

Every writer needs someone who can tell them they need more of “this” and less of “that.” “Something else” needs to be changed, “another thing” needs clarification, and “are you kidding me” should be left out entirely.

I’m totally convinced my writing would be unmarketable trash without a critique group. If you can’t find one, form one. Twenty years ago my group consisted mostly of “aren’t we good” kind of people. Eventually the skill level of some improved, and people not willing to get better moved out of the group. It takes time to build a group, but they’re instrumental. Don’t skimp on getting other eyes on what you write.

 

Treading the Boards with Jamie Dare

Jamie Collage

Have you ever thought about what Macbeth would be like if it was written in the style of Dr. Seuss? Apparently, the answer is a play … and the start of an incredible literary partnership. Welcome Jamie Dare, the writing partner of our very own Christina Hamlett, as she tells us the story of how Hamlett & Dare originated, who her favourite literary characters are, and more!

Interviewer: Sophie Lin

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Q: What’s the story of how your partnership with Christina came to be?

A: I like to take writing classes whenever I can, and on a particularly auspicious day in 2012, I landed in one of Christina’s seminars. We got along well, and after the course had finished, she approached me about co-writing a play. It took me about two nanoseconds to say yes, and a few short weeks later, we’d completed Meet the Macbeths, the first of three “Seussspeare” plays we penned for Pioneer Drama Service. (Shakespearean tales told in Dr. Seuss rhyme).

Q: How do you come up with the ideas for your stories and plays?

A: In the most haphazard ways possible! Current events provide an endless stream of ideas. I’m also a big fan of incongruity (odd sentence, I know), and combining disparate elements is a favorite way to generate story ideas. What ifs are also helpful. ‘What if Dr. Jekyll crossed paths with—not Mr. Hyde, but the entire cast of Pride and Prejudice? And what if we added, say, a matchmaker into the mix?’ The answer, of course, is Hyde & Prejudice.

Q: How did you get into playwriting?

A: My background is in television writing, and playwriting is a natural extension of that. Both have a lean, economical approach to storytelling which I find appealing, and I like that plays are driven by character and dialogue.

Q: What do you have to say about the fact that drama and arts programs in schools are often some of the first victims of budget cuts?

A: I’ve seen this firsthand with my kids’ schools, and it drives me bonkers. Imagine a world with no movies, no TV shows, no music, no art. What a drab existence that would be. On the plus side, I’ve seen some wonderful arts programs at the secondary school level. Middle and elementary school as well. The talent and resources are definitely out there. We just need to keep fighting for these programs, keep being an advocate.

Q: Who or what inspires you to write?

A: Other artists. There is nothing more motivating than good writing—across all genres. I love reading a good book, or watching a good movie, and thinking, “Man, I wish I’d written that.” It inspires me to sit down and try to create. Thank goodness for other people.

Q: Who is your favourite character from one of your books or plays and why?

A: I didn’t create this character, of course, but Elinor Dashwood from Séance and Sensibility. I relate to her dry wit and quiet practicality. Stuff me into a muslin gown, and I’d be Elinor. For original characters, I’d have to say Serafina Moore, the pop star diva in Fandemonium (a play examining the pitfalls of celebrity worship). Serafina is most definitely a flawed character—those are the most fun to write—but she appeals to the frustrated performer in me.

Q: In Séance and Sensibility, you bring the paranormal into a Jane Austen classic. What prompted you to make this particular change for your spoof?

A: Christina and I were riffing one day on haunted hotels. She’s had some interesting supernatural encounters, whereas I barely have control of my five senses, let alone a sixth. Anyway, the paranormal was on our minds when we were brainstorming ideas for an Austen-esque spoof, and it seemed perfectly natural to give impulsive, passionate Marianne Dashwood a crystal ball.

Q: What do you hope your readers will take away or learn from your writing?

A: Christina and I have a lot of fun when we’re writing—it’s one of the perks to writing comedies—and I hope that energy translates to our readers and audiences. With our adaptations, I hope the audience is inspired to visit (or re-visit) the original source material.

Q: Who is one character from a play that you think you’d be good friends with in real life?

A: Ophelia. So I could talk some sense into her.

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

A: I’m developing a pilot called Low End of Normal, a comedy about a dysfunctional family which bears no resemblance whatsoever to my own. Christina and I also just wrapped Price of Admission, a full-length play (a drama) about the ultra-competitive nature of college admissions. And of course, we always have ideas percolating for other pop culture/classic tale mash-ups. Stay tuned for details.

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

A: Please check out hamlettanddare.wordpress.com and www.authorhamlett.com. And please visit the good folks at https://www.pioneerdrama.com (Pioneer Drama Service)  https://www.brookpub.com (Brooklyn Publishers), and https://heartlandplays.com (Heartland Plays).

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: It’s an honor to be included amongst these talented writers. Thank you for taking the time to meet with me!

 

 

 

Summers of Fire

SummersofFire-HiRes

In the 1970s, Linda Strader became one of the first women hired on a fire crew with the U.S. Forest Service. She discovers firefighting is challenging—but in a man’s world, there would be tougher battles to fight. We’re delighted to put her compelling new book– Summers of Fire: A Memoir of Adventure, Love, and Courage—in the spotlight and encourage the next generation of young women to never let anyone say “no” to whatever career paths they want to pursue.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: What attracted you to become a firefighter, a career that was traditionally reserved for men?

A: It certainly wasn’t because I’d dreamed of being a firefighter since I was a kid! No, it was nothing quite that profound.

My parents had moved my family from Syracuse, New York to Prescott, Arizona, while I was in my senior year. Small town Prescott didn’t have much to offer in the way of work for a seventeen-year-old. I did the fast food thing, answered the phone in a tiny office where the phone never rang, waited on tables in a luncheonette for two days…and hated every minute of it. I wanted to do something different, but I didn’t know what that would be. I loved the outdoors, and often explored the forest around my home. I loved playing guitar, painting, and even learned how to silversmith, but those interests weren’t going to get me out on my own. I reluctantly ended up looking for work in Tucson. There, an acquaintance found me a job with the U.S. Forest Service, working in the ranger station high in the Santa Catalina Mountains outside of Tucson. True, it was an office job, but it was not ordinary one by any means. They hired me as a timekeeper for the Catalina Hot Shots, an elite firefighting crew. The crew introduced me to the exciting world of wildfire. After working two summers up there, I decided I hated office work, and applied for a firefighter position. I got it, and became one of the first women to work on a Forest Service fire crew in the Santa Rita Mountains south of Tucson.

Q: What are your recollections about the first day on the job?

A: When I met my supervisor, he squeezed my upper arm and inspected my hands for calluses…obviously checking to see if I could handle the hard work. I also noticed there were no other women, but didn’t think anything of it. After having such a hard time getting a job, I was determined to give this one my very best.

Q: Did you ever consider walking away and doing something else?

A: Yes, I did. Once when I found out the guys resented my presence on the crew, and again when I found myself blacklisted. However, I loved my job, and decided that the harder the guys made it for me, the more I wanted to keep that job.

Q: What was the most harrowing experience you can recall?

A: We were fighting a 50,000 acre fire in Northern California back in 1977, one of the worst fire seasons in recent history. Because of miscommunications,  two of my crewmates and I found ourselves nearly entrapped by a backfire operation, a firefighting technique where fire officials intentionally set a fire to stop the main fire. Additionally, while watching a 200 foot wall of flames, I remember questioning the effectiveness of the fire shelter strapped to my waist…a new piece of safety equipment just added to our gear that summer.

Q: Flash-forward to the present and you have written your first book. What prompted you to share your memories abut life as a female firefighter?

A: After suffering multiple losses over a short period of time, namely ending my 23-year marriage, losing my job, and then my mom dying, I found myself looking to my past because the future looked so bleak. I’d had some amazing adventures during my seven-year career, and thought to put them down on paper before they were forgotten. Over time, I added more, and eventually discovered I’d written what resembled a book.

Q: Many people believe that writing a memoir about tough times is cathartic. Was that true for you?

A: It was not. At first I left out the ‘tough stuff’, avoiding painful memories. However, early beta readers noticed I was leaving out people and events they believed to be important. Reluctantly, I agreed. It was torture to relive events that I did not want to, and every time I edited, I cried, got angry, and filled with resentment. I don’t care if I ever read those sections again, and in fact, I hope I never have to.

Q: Writing personal details about your life and then sending them out into the world for total strangers to read has to be a scary experience. Or was it?

A: Petrifying! I had no idea how people would react. Would they relate? Would they judge me? I feared the worst. However, as reviews came in, I discovered that people did relate to my story, and they did not judge me. They admired me for sharing. What a relief.

Q: What was the hardest part of the book for you to write? And why?

A: As I mentioned above, writing about painful memoirs was the hardest. They brought back anger and resentment over how my wonderful world fell apart.

Q: When did you first realize that the craft of writing was calling to you?

A: As soon as I started writing down memories of my adventures, I couldn’t stop. But because I’d never written a book before, it took many, many rewrites to turn those memories into an actual story, one that someone would want to read. Obsessed by this point, I refused to give up until I got it right.

Q: What have you learned about yourself and your outlook on life during the actual writing process?

A: That I’m stronger than I think I am. I’ve been asked what I would tell my twenty-year-old self if I could go back in time. Not one thing. Actually, it is she who has much to say to me. All of those losses I suffered through set me back, big time. I lost touch with who I am. While reading my personal journals to write my book, I realized that I’m still her…the strong-willed twenty-year-old who fought for what she wanted. That was quite a profound realization for me.

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

A: Because I run a small landscape design business, I write when I have time. For me, editing is best done in the early in the morning when I’m rested, and creative writing in the late afternoon with a glass of wine. Hey, it frees up the mind! Summer is very slow for me, so I do make the most progress during that time, both writing and editing.

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

A: My goal at first was to find a literary agent. After two years, and over a hundred queries and multiple rejections, I decided to query small publishers. Ironically, I had agents reading my full manuscript at the same time three publishers made offers. It was a tough decision, because I still really wanted agent representation, but I was also tired of playing the game. I ended up accepting one of those three offers, a decision I don’t regret.

Q: Successfully marketing a finished work is often one of the biggest hurdles new writers face. Was your publisher helpful in this regard or were you largely on your own?

A: My publisher made sure my book was available in multiple outlets, all over the world. They entered me into appropriate competitions, resulting in me becoming a finalist in one of them. They provided me with a press release. But speaking engagements, book signings, reaching out to the news media—that fell on me. However, I knew this would happen, no matter how I published. Therefore, I’d done my homework ages ago. I started writing a blog over five years ago, and had been networking on social media for at least three years. I exchanged blog posts with other authors. I looked for, and found, author interview opportunities. Prior to my book’s release, I booked eight speaking engagements and signing events. After watching a free online podcast about how to market your book without paying a publicist, I landed a TV interview, and Parade Magazine published an excerpt. I’m always looking for more opportunities.

Q: Now that the book is out there, what feedback from readers surprised you the most?

A: That they think of me as brave. I have never thought of myself as brave. I do know that if I want something bad enough, nothing will stop me from achieving it. If that is considered bravery, I will concede that maybe I am.

Q: What message do you want to be most strongly convey to the next generation of young women who want to follow their dreams?

A: Never let anyone tell you what you can and cannot do! And never give up.

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

A: When you love what you do, it’s not called ‘work.’

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: I’m working on a prequel to Summers of Fire. It’s a coming-of age memoir about the intricacies of love, physical attraction, deep friendship, and the longing for independence and a meaningful life.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

A: My blog has more about me, as well as blog posts about strong women, women in Forest Service, and links to guest blog posts and my interviews. I also have a photo gallery of my firefighting years. https://summersoffirebook.blogspot.com/

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: Thank you for this opportunity to share my story and experiences!