Walking Into Lightning

Ellen LeFleche

In the aftermath of her beloved husband’s death from ALS, author Ellen LaFleche took up her pen to create Walking Into Lightning, a collection of poetry which emphasizes the sensual and physical losses of widowhood and challenges our current notions of grief. Her interview is a delight to include in our line-up.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: In recent years, I’ve had several friends whose spouses have succumbed to MS, ALS, cancer and a myriad of other devastating illnesses. In every case, they’ve grappled with whether it would have been a blessing to have no time to prepare for such loss—for instance, an accident—versus having too much time and feeling powerless to slow things down. What is your own take on this?

A: That’s a hard question. Sudden deaths often happen because of a drunk driver or shooter, or perhaps suicide or drug addiction, so there must be a lot of anger or guilt in those left behind. My husband was remarkably calm about his fatal diagnosis of ALS. He’d worked for decades with senior citizens as a gerontologist, so he’d dealt with loss and death his entire career, and was for a time on the board of our local hospice. After the diagnosis, we did what I call pre-grieving: lots of talking, planning, and trying to enjoy simple pleasures like watching a baseball game or visiting our newborn grandson. Slow deaths are very hard on the caretakers. And while such a death is hard to accept, there may be some relief that the suffering is over.  I tried to honor my relief by not feeling guilty about it, and integrating it into the loss.  Processing anger after losing a loved one to accident or violence would be much, much harder for many people.

Q: Did the inspiration to express yourself through poetry come while your husband was still alive or was this after you became a widow?

A: I came to poetry many years before John got sick.  When he was in the hospital weeks before coming home to hospice care, I didn’t have the time or desire to write, but I used my cell phone to email myself an idea or image related to what was happening.  For example, the IV bag looked like a “goblin’s bobbing head” to me, and that line eventually made its way into a poem. Taking a few moments every day to engage with poetry was a way of calming myself; I knew I would want to tell our story as a way to help others who are grieving.

Q: Tell us about your writing journey prior to the development of Walking Into Lightning.

A: I always wanted to write.  I think it was just a natural instinct for me.  When I was six years old I wrote a story called “The Sneezing Apron.”  Imagine a page of lined paper with first-grade printing and a story about an apron that was allergic to pepper!  My grandfather kept it in his wallet for years.  I think it eventually fell apart, but that simple act was pivotal to me — the idea that someone could deeply appreciate what I had to say!  I had many teachers who encouraged me to write. Before Walking into Lightning, I had three poetry chapbooks published and was honored by winning several prestige prizes.

Q: Early in your career, you worked as a local reporter. How did that influence your growth and organizational skills as a writer?

A: Working as a reporter was great training. I learned how to write for specific audiences, how to appreciate editing as well as criticism and praise from readers, how to organize my thoughts as I was driving back to the office from a meeting I covered, how to view events critically, etc. I worked at a local weekly newspaper and especially loved writing feature articles where I could include descriptions and imagery.

Q: One typically doesn’t think of science (biology) and poetry in the same sentence and yet this was the case for you. How so?

A: I majored in biology (long story), and while I never worked as a scientist, it was wonderful preparation for creative writing. I’m very interested in writing about the body, for example, and biology provides imagery and details that might otherwise not occur to me. For example, in Walking into Lightning, I describe conception as happening under “the fallopian orchard,” an image that occurred to me many years ago while studying the textbook for a class on reproduction.

The scientific method was also great training for professional journalism and essay writing, a way to organize an article as a “hypothesis” and the steps to proving (or disproving!) what I want to say. Sometime, disproving my own ideas, while frustrating, is the best thing that can happen!

Q: How important is to you to incorporate your working class background into your wordsmithing?

A: My working class background is central to my writing. My parents worked for many years in textile mills. My dad would come home with his clothes stained in rainbow colors from synthetic dyes. The smell of the fumes was terrible. He later developed bladder cancer, which is strongly linked to working with dyes.  That was a great sorrow for us, and I felt a lot of anger, which is an emotion I rarely feel.

My first chapbook, Workers’ Rites, is a series of narrative poems about the lives of workers: a gravedigger, waitress, cloistered nun, ballet dancer, dowser, etc.  We need to honor all workers and their jobs, especially jobs that involve low pay and direct services to people.

Q: There’s no shortage of self-help books on the market about dealing with grief and I’m sure you must have read a number of them. How did these texts help shape some of the major themes you’ve explored in Walking into Lightning?

A: I read a lot of self-help books about grief and had many mixed reactions. It was helpful to know that other people have gone through similar pain. It was also helpful to get tips on finances, etc.  Several things bothered me immensely, though. Most books don’t acknowledge the sensual and physical losses that come with losing a partner. The solution offered was a series of tips on how to start dating again. Most books reiterated current clinical theories that grief lasting more than six months is “complicated grief” that might require therapy. I understand this – some people fall into deep depression, for example, or cannot function at their jobs – and can benefit greatly from professional help. But the word complicated? All grief is complicated.  There are so many individual factors, and six months is not realistic for a major loss. We need to take our own good time with grief.

Most books focused on the loss of one beloved person. But many family deaths are multiple – think bus accidents, house fires, acts of war, mass shootings, etc. My dad died a month before my husband, and my only sibling died three weeks after. Talk about complicated grief! There was a synergistic effect that rippled through my entire family.  I wanted Walking into Lightning to show that grief is supposed to be complicated. I also wanted to fill a gap by including sensual details of a marriage.

Q: Great title, by the way! What inspired it?

A: John was a Midwesterner who loved storms. We met and married in western Massachusetts, and on the very rare occasion when we had a tornado warning, he’d go outside to admire the green tint of the sky! I’d scream at him to follow my daughter and me into the cellar. But thunderstorms were his specialty!  He’d stand on the porch and admire the lightning as it got closer and closer. This drove me crazy, oh yes!  The title poem is about scattering his ashes into a thunderstorm.  I didn’t literally do that; the poem is an extended metaphor about surrendering his cremains into a place that he loved.  When my six-year-old grandson saw the book title for the first time he said, “But Mémère, you’re not supposed to do that.”  So my grandson and I talked a little bit about what a metaphor is, and that, of course, nobody should ever walk through lightning carrying a metal urn in their hands!

Q: In novels and plays, one either comes up with a plot and then peoples it or develops characters and identifies conflicts which will challenge them. A poem, of course, is a completely different platform. What comes first for the poet?

A: It’s different for every poet. I am very interested in using imagery. My process usually starts with an image around which I can explore an idea.  For example, a few months after John died, I was walking into town on an errand. It was the morning after Halloween, and I saw a crumpled white sheet in the gutter. I assumed it was an abandoned ghost costume, and that raised all kinds of interesting thoughts and images. This resulted in a lyric poem about the workings of memory titled “I remember our first Halloween together.”

Q: One of the unexpected elements of the book is the inclusion of poems about the sensual and physical losses of widowhood. What governed this choice for you?

A: I wanted to acknowledge the physical losses of widowhood because most self-help books ignore this reality.  Physical loss adds a dimension to grief that many people might not feel comfortable talking about, even to a therapist.  After my recent book launch, I received a card in the mail from someone who was in the audience and felt great relief that this aspect of grief was honored.

Q: What were some of the challenges in writing personal poems about marital intimacy while honoring the feelings of family members who knew your husband?

A: This was the great challenge in writing the book.  I had to think deeply about what should remain private and what could be shared as a way of honoring what was lost. I relied heavily on metaphor and beautiful images rather than explicit details:  definitely not porn and at a level below erotica.  If the book were a movie, it would have a rating somewhere between PG and R. This challenge of what to include and how to write about it came from a deep appreciation of our marital privacy and my goal of helping other grievers to know that it’s okay to talk about physical loss.  I also thought about loved ones who knew John and told several relatives that is was ok if they didn’t read the book.

Q: How did writing this book help you to heal from losing your spouse to ALS?

A: Every person needs a container for their grief. It could be volunteering, making art, traveling, gardening, etc.  Writing was my container, a safe, enclosed place where I could figure out my feelings. I wanted to write poems that offered grieving people the solace of being understood. My therapist said that true grieving requires understanding the lost relationship in all its dimensions, good as well as bad. Writing these poems helped me to do that.  Because the loss of my husband was bracketed by the loss of my dad and my only sibling, I was overwhelmed not only with sorrow but with endless tasks to take care of and other people to comfort.  All of this during one of the coldest, snowiest winter in memory. I didn’t go through the traditional bouts of deep weeping that many people experience.  I hardly ever cried that winter; I was locked in a state of numbness. Writing the poems served as a kind of metaphorical weeping. In fact, there is poem in the book titled “Prayer for Weeping.”

Q: How did you go about finding a publisher who would not only be the best match but also a supportive and sensitive partner to the material you wanted to share?

A: Several of the poems in the book won prestigious prizes, and initially I was very optimistic about finding a publisher or winning a contest that included publication. I came close a few times but didn’t quite make it.  It took two years to find Saddle Road Press.  A friend cyber-introduced me to Don Mitchell and Ruth Thompson. I couldn’t have asked for a better publishing experience.  Don provided amazing design options. He took the sumptuous photograph that appears on the cover. Ruth served as a perceptive and gentle editor. I was going through an unexpected health crisis at the time the book was accepted, and working with Ruth and Don helped me to cope with physical discomfort.  We emailed almost every day during the process and shared life events that were happening and interesting stories about our daily lives. It was the perfect blend of hard work and human connection.  I couldn’t recommend them more highly.

Q: What advice would I give to creative writers who want to explore grief and loss? 

A: Don’t worry about following current theories about grief. Challenge ideas that don’t resonate with your personal and cultural experiences of grief.  Make sure to give yourself the time and space to write. This is the most important part, allowing yourself the space to write. Be comforted. Be held. Know you are not alone.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: I’m trying to organize another collection of poems.  It’s a challenge at the moment because these poems are not thematically related and do not follow a narrative arc like Walking into Lightning; I’m not sure where this project will take me.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: Thank you so much. I appreciate everyone who has read these comments.  And I’d like to thank all my wonderful friends and neighbors who kept me fed, nurtured, and held during my winter of loss.

 

 

 

 

 

Reaper: A Horror Novella

JonathanPongratzHeadshot

As far back as The Inquisition, the speculative existence of demons among us has woven a dark seduction over impressionable minds of all ages. Despite centuries of religious teachings that things which go bump in the night, wander fog-shrouded cemeteries, or assume the shape of bats and wolves to feed on human prey are to be avoided at all costs, curiosity has not only killed many a cat but lured many a reader into creepy plots that conjure nightmares. But hey, what’s not to love about a good story that brings on goosebumps? Jonathan Pongratz, author of Reaper: A Horror Novella, explains his own draw to the horror genre.

Interviewer; Christina Hamlett

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 Q: Did you read horror novels and watch horror films when you were growing up?

A: Growing up, my parents wouldn’t let me read or watch anything relating to horror, but I was determined. Though I couldn’t buy any horror books against their knowledge, I spent many late nights creeping from my bedroom to the dark living room. In time I watched all the great classics, in turn giving myself constant nightmares, but it was very much worth it!

Q: Is there a favorite that stands out in your memory?

A: As far as films go, Halloween is probably my favorite. The film really focuses on the mystery and terror of the boogeyman, while also having a great build up to the blood and gore. I rewatch it every year around Halloween.

On books, I really haven’t read that many horror novels to be honest, but my favorite thus far is Sarah by Teri Polen. A scary spirit with an insatiable lust for vengeance made it a real page turner for me.

Q: Last book or movie that really scared your socks off?

A: The last one that terrified me was IT Chapter One (the remake). Every scene had such scare factor that by the end I was something of a nervous wreck. It’s very rare that that happens to me, and I was extremely impressed.

Q: What are you reading now?

A: I just finished up reading the Watchmen comic series. If you’re not familiar, it’s a superhero themed comic set in the 80s, but much more grisly, dark, and violent than most other superhero novels I’ve read before. It is pretty similar to the movie adaptation, and I absolutely loved it!

Q: What was your attraction to writing a horror-themed story?

A: I’ve always loved the horror genre. I have watched hundreds of scary movies, and writing a horror-themed story was a way for me to pay respect to the genre itself. Chills, thrills, adrenaline,

I wanted to write something creepy that got my blood pumping and hopefully the readers as well.

Q: Whose work in the horror genre do you most admire?

A: I’d have to say George Romero and James Wan. George Romero is popular for his zombie movies, Wan for Insidious and The Conjuring franchises. Both have been able to create compelling, dark landscapes that are simply unforgettable. I always gravitate back towards their works, and it’s a constant source of inspiration for my own ideas.

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

A: My real writer’s journey began when I moved to Kansas City about eight years ago. I was at something of a crossroads in my life, and though I hadn’t written anything in years, something about the change of scenery awakened something within me. Ideas started forming in my mind, and I couldn’t ignore them. I felt an intense compulsion to write, more than I had ever felt before. I haven’t stopped writing since.

Q: Share with us the inspiration behind the plot and characters for Reaper: A Horror Novella.

A: I was watching horror movies around September of 2018 when an idea started forming in my mind. The boogeyman, creepy basements, and vanishing children are all themes that I’ve seen in movies before, but for some reason, as I rewatched my favorites this time around I was more inspired than usual.

I wanted something nostalgic, an ode to my own days as a kid, so I went with the early 90s. I wanted to write a creature feature centered around Halloween and the boogeyman, while portraying the sibling rivalry between a comic book kid and his bratty little sister. A lot of the main character’s personality are actually small pieces of my childhood.

Q: Plotter or pantser?

A: Plotter all the way. I like to have a chiseled out plan before I start writing, even if I do end up pantsing here and there on the spot. If there isn’t a chapter summary, it won’t get written.

Q: If Hollywood came calling, who would your dream cast be for this title?

A: You know, I’m not very good with names, so I would just want each character to be portrayed correctly and settle for that. Gregory as a classic 90s comic book nerd, Imogen as a bratty little sister, their parents as loving but detached. The one person I did have an actress in mind for is his mother, Patricia. I’d like to see someone that looked like Catherine Mary Stewart play her part.

Q: How long did it take to write Reaper: A Horror Novella from start to finish?

A: From draft to publication it took me about six months, which I believe to be a bit fast. The first draft itself took about 2-3 months.

Q: Did you allow anyone to read it while it was still a work in progress? Why or why not?

A: I used to do that, but nowadays I don’t. I feel that I’ve grown enough in my writing that I should be able to complete a compelling, well-written first draft. Sure, there will always be little things here and there, but you can’t catch everything. I also don’t like other peoples’ opinions weighing in until after I’ve completed the story in its totality, so that I know what I actually want to keep and what I can compromise on if there’s a problem.

Q: I understand that a sequel is already in the works?

A: Yes! I am in the late stages of writing my first draft of the sequel. Ironically, I had no intentions of continuing this story, but a week after I published the first one I woke up one morning and the sequel just started pouring into my head. If that’s not divine intervention, I don’t know what is! Sometimes you just have to go with the flow, so I did.

Q: What are some of the challenges/rewards inherent in continuing an existing story versus leaving it as a standalone?

A: Well, I believe that writing a standalone may be a bit easier. You can write a great, compelling story and move on to other projects afterwards. Some readers are series-averse. I have phases where I do not want to read a series. Sometimes you just want a one off, and that’s okay. Writing a series, however, can be quite the headache. Not only are you writing more than one novel, but ensuring the continuity is there is extremely important, amidst a plethora of other things you have to watch. That being said, it can be easier to write more than one book once you solidify your style of writing for the main characters. I had a much easier time with Gregory when writing the sequel than I did with the first book.

Q: Like many of today’s authors, you chose to go the self-publishing route. What did you learn from this that you didn’t know when you started out?

A: A lot, actually. Without a traditional publisher backing you up, you literally have to do every single step of the publishing process yourself, which can easily get confusing. ISBNs, the cover, formatting the digital copy, setting up with a print-on-demand service. I lucked out that my dear friend and fellow author Emerald Dodge took mercy and held my hand through a big chunk of the process.

Q: How are you going about marketing your work?

A: Honestly, for the most part I stick to my social media platforms. I use WordPress and Facebook primarily, but also utilize Tumblr and GoodReads to boost my presence when I can. Marketing is definitely something I could work on quite a bit more, but honestly I don’t have a lot of time after all is said and done.

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

A: I usually write in my room with the ambient music cranked up. I have a desk and desktop with a large screen that makes things so much easier. As far as timing, that’s where the plotter in me thrives. I write before work, on lunch, and after work in at least 30 minute intervals. That’s about all I can do with my crazy busy life, but I have a system that yields results.

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

A: I’m pretty predictable nowadays, but every once in a while I love to rock out with some karaoke. I was a choir kid growing up and was even in several show choirs. Jazz hands!

Q: It’s a dark and stormy night and you’re out by yourself. Which would you rather face down—a vampire, a witch or a zombie?

A: Face down or persuade to turn me? Haha! My answer is vampire all the way. I’ve always had a love for vampires since reading Anne Rice in high school, and I’m pretty sure I would be able to convince a vampire that I’d be the best prodigy ever rather than have one kill me. I mean, my vocal and writing skills alone should earn me a lofty eternal life.

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

A: At my website www.jonathanpongratz.com. I also post frequently on Facebook at www.facebook.com/jonathanpongratz but the content is richer on my website. I’ve got a lot of great stuff planned!

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: I always like to impart a little bit of wisdom to newer writers. If any of them are listening now, I’d like to urge them to keep writing. Find a time every day to write in a comfortable space, even if you have to fight for that time. Some things are worth fighting for, and you’ll grow so much faster if you stick to it. The world is full of possibilities!

Women of Means

women of means cover

Whether one is born with a silver spoon in her mouth or marries into a family with an expansive set of heirloom cutlery, it has to be said that wealth, social status and privilege are no guarantee of a happy-ever-after life. Author Marlene Wagman-Geller explores this theme in her new release, Women of Means: Fascinating Biographies of Royals, Heiresses, Eccentrics and Other Poor Little Rich Girls.

Interviewer; Christina Hamlett

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Q: Let’s start with your journey as an author. Who (or what) had the greatest influence on your passion to put words to paper and/or fingers to keyboard?

A: My love of reading segued into my writing career. Books have always been a large part of my life and my dream of dreams was to become an author.

Q: What was your break-out moment into the world of publishing and how did it make you feel?

A: My first publication occurred in 2008 with my book Once Again to Zelda: The Stories Behind Literature’s Most intriguing Dedications. I love words but do not have adequate ones to express such a feeling of elation.

Q: Have you had other careers along the way? If so, what did they teach you about the craft of becoming a disciplined wordsmith?

A: I am a long-term high school English teacher. I do not feel it enhanced my career as an author…unless I write an updated Up the Down Staircase.

Q: What gave you the idea for Women of Means?

A: The idea for Women of Means was the oft-repeated comment, “If I only had money…”

Q: How did you go about deciding which women to include in the line-up?

A: The criteria for inclusion: extraordinary wealth coupled with an extra-ordinary story.

Q: What was the most surprising thing you learned in the course of your research?

A: The most surprising thing I learned was wealth often comes with a high price.

Q: Which chapter resonated the most with you?

A: The chapter that resonated most was Christina Onassis, a tragic, poor little rich girl.

Q: If you could invite three of these famous femmes to dinner at your house, which trio would make the guest list, what would you serve, and what would you most like to ask them?

A: I would invite Huguette Clark to ask why she bought priceless pleasure dome estates and never lived in them; Leona Helmsley to ask the Queen of Mean why she was so mean; Ruth Madoff to ask if she knew how her husband was funding their lavish lifestyle. I would serve Uber Eats as I don’t cook.

Q: Did the book alter your personal perspectives on wealth?

A: My research showed great wealth is not always commensurate with great happiness.

Q: Finish the sentence “If I had a million dollars, I’d…”

A: Travel and buy a dream house. Maybe a lovely kitchen would inspire me to cook…

Q: Our society has sadly moved in a direction where even the offspring of not-so-rich parents embrace an attitude of entitlement, lack of ambition and zero accountability. Is it a fixable problem or are we stuck with this trend for the foreseeable future?

A: I think history is cyclical. The post war parents-baby-boomers worked hard; their offspring traded suburban homes for hippie communes.

Q: What do you want the takeaway message to be for your readers?

A: As the Beatles sang, “Money can’t buy you love.”

Q: Did you allow anyone to read the book while it was a work in progress or did you make everyone wait until THE END?

A: My friend was with me from the beginning, the one who I mentioned in the Acknowledgement Section.

Q: What direction do you see the publishing industry taking in the next 10/20/50 years?

A: More e-books till they outnumber physical books. I think the trend of taking chances on new writers, ethnic, and non-traditional books will continue.

Q: Tell us about some of your prior publications.

A: Women of Means is my seventh book. All prior publications are non-fiction. My next book, Fabulous Female Firsts, will arrive on March 17, 2020.

Q: What’s next on your plate?
A: I am working on a dual biography of two fascinating women who slipped through the sands of time. Fingers are crossed! This would be a departure from my earlier books; I hope the publishing gods look kindly upon it.

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

A: I am originally from Toronto, Canada; my parents were Polish, Jewish immigrants.

Q: Where can they learn more about upcoming releases, book signings, etc.?

A: Website at https://marlenewagmangeller.com/

Amazon Page:

https://www.amazon.com/Marlene-Wagman-Geller/e/B001JS09V2%3Fref=dbs_a_mng_rwt_scns_share

https://www.facebook.com/marlene.wagman.5

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: I want to share my belief that dreams don’t just have to be for sleeping. The power of persistence makes goals attainable. I would also like to thank Ms. Christina Hamlett for arranging this interview, for all her sisterly solidarity.

I enjoy connecting with fellow bibliophiles. Please contact me at wagmangeller@hotmail.com

 

 

Canaries Can’t Cry

Canaries Can't Cry

Anchored in the Adriatic is the tiny island called Sansego, where people live their lives in heavy labor, faith, and superstition, working the land from cockcrow to vespers and the sea from vespers to cockcrow. This is the birthplace of author Antonia Burgato who, in Canaries Can’t Cry, stitches the stories her mother told of life on the island that, in part one, spans the time between two world wars. The author’s voice changes in the second part, as she comes of age in an America of President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Elvis Presley and becomes an adult during the Civil Rights uprising, the VietNam War protests, and the women’s liberation.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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 Q: Your new book, Canaries Can’t Cry, focuses on the Istrian-Dalmatian exodus following World War II. This being a geographical. political and sociological period with which many readers may not be familiar, could you indulge us with a brief history lesson?

A: The Dalmatian comprises a group of islands off the coast of Croatia. They belonged to the Austrian-Hungarian Empire until WWI, then to Mussolini’s Italy until WWII, and then to Yugoslavia until its breakup in the nineties. Today they are a part of Croatia. By the time my mother turned 32, she had lived in three different countries without ever having moved as far as across the street.

Q: The title alone is compelling. How did you come up with it?

A: When my brother visited me in boarding in school, he told me of a canary he had bought for my mother to keep her company while at home alone. The bird flew on her shoulders chirping while she was at her chores. She loved that bird, but he had a habit of biting. She patted him on the head each time he bit her. One day she patted him too hard, and the bird fell lifeless in her hand. I couldn’t help but draw a comparison with a time when I was eight years old, and she had humiliated me with a public beating in front of the school. She had killed my spirit as much as she had killed the canary.

Q: One of the challenges of penning an autobiographical work is striking the right balance between telling too much, telling too little and finding a place of common ground which will resonate with readers who otherwise have no frame of reference or context regarding the events and dynamics which unfolded. What was your approach to developing this very personal project?

A: In writing an autobiography, the author must expose her inner self. For example, I was still a teenager when I was thrown into the world of Rome alone. It was a painful, growing up experience better left buried. However, I needed to unearth details to take the reader on the journey with me. I chose details that are translatable to any woman too young to be out on her own without guidance.

Q: Your mother escaped from Yugoslavia to go to Italy where your father had an apartment. What did you find there?

A: It was after Italy had surrendered to the Allies and declared war on its former Axis partner. Germany had begun to occupy Italy. Living quarters were scarce for anyone, and my father found his apartment occupied. We lived first in a chicken coop and then in a barn until the Germans left and the apartment became available.

Q: After his death, she brought you and your brothers and sister to America. Why did you leave Italy?A: With my father gone, my mother lost her privilege to live in the factory-owned apartment. America had opened a quota system to accept the many emigrants from the former Yugoslavia. Everyone my mother knew from her island in Dalmatia had already gone. She asked her father for her share of the inheritance, and she followed them.

Q: How old were you at the time and what were your first impressions of the country you would now call “home”? A: I had become a teenager in America. We had living room with television, a washer and dryer in the home, a refrigerator, and there were supermarkets. Wow! I also discovered Bazooka gum.

Q: What was it like being a teenager in America? Is there anything you know now that you wish you had known then?

A: That’s a tough and painful question. I was disassociated with family and with school. I tried hard to fit in with other teenagers from the neighborhood, but I wasn’t like them. I belonged neither here nor there—and I wanted to belong. I’m thankful that such times didn’t have violent gangs as today. I could have joined a gang, if the opportunity was there, just to belong somewhere.

Q: You also have three older brothers and a younger sister. How did your mother manage such a “full house”?

A: She put us all to work, and she took our paycheck. Some people are stupefied by that. But is it better to go to work and leave the children unsupervised or to send the children to work and let them contribute to the family’s well-being? There are arguments for both cases.

Q: Best advice she ever imparted to you?

A: It’s never one piece of advice but a sum of them. She guided us children to value education and responsibility in everything she did, in all her scolding and caring—not always the best for everyone. Our (my siblings) values in strength of character, of compassion, and of a drive to self-improvement emanate from her role model.

Q: Mixed marriages are fairly commonplace in the 21st century but not so much back in the 1960s. How was your marriage to a black university student received by family, friends and coworkers?

A: My family saw his color and his character and embraced him into the family. I had nothing but warm memories of my 14-year marriage to a black man in the sixties. His family and friends were the kindest people I have known. They were academics, belonging to the Harlem black elite. They roused in me a desire to further my education. The story was different in the working world. Some states still had anti-miscegenation laws, and feelings were strong in the southern states. I had been fired twice from jobs for being a “n….r lover.”

Q: Was it a happy, fulfilling partnership?

A: I would not be the person I am were it not for my first husband. He had exposed me to universities and to conversations beyond gossip and frivolous niceties. He taught me freedom of expression and helped me to revive my spirit.

Q: Your move to California ignited a passion to start writing seriously. How so?

A: My husband had released in me a spirit that wanted to fly. My marriage had become confining, and I left a man I loved to search for my own identity.

Q: And your passion for playwriting—who or what was the prominent influence there?

A: I would have to say George Bernard Shaw was my primary influence in playwriting. I went on to major in dramatic literature after discovering his plays. The works of Ionesco, Beckett, Ibsen, Chekhov, Strindberg, and Sartre ignited passion in me. My second husband was a well-known playwright and a founder of the Los Angeles Theater Alliance. I had begun to find my voice.

Q: Tell us about reconnecting with your brothers and sister. Would you consider yourselves close-knit or has time and distance pushed you farther apart?

A: My mother had sent us all to boarding school. We did not get to know each other until we came to America. She sent us to work as soon as we could to support the family. We learned responsibility and to care for each other. Today, we are closer than we’ve ever been.

Q: Your mother’s death, with the word “Finally,” had a powerful effect on you, and it seems that it was a turning point for you. How so?

A: In her life, she was demanding of me, trying to mold me in her image of a woman. I distanced myself from her, but physical distance does not break the emotional bond. Her death released her grip on me and my resentment of her. With that gone, I could see her strength, frailty, and courage, and I wish she could be here for me to tell her so.

Q: What was the easiest part of the book to write? And the hardest?

A: It was easier to write about my mother’s story because she told them often and with great passion. Once I switched to my story, I had to do much soul-searching and reveal long buried things. I didn’t want to delve deeply into my rights and wrongs, but if I didn’t, my readers would have felt something amiss.

Q: Did you allow anyone to read it while it was still a work in progress?

A: I had a beta reader. A dear friend and very supportive. I also gave parts of it to a few family members. They knew my mother’s story needed to be told; they didn’t always agree with my version of it. It is the old Roshomon effect when everyone sees the same event differently.

Q: Is there a message you want readers to take away from Canaries Can’t Cry when they finish?

A: Live your life to the fullest but do not trample on others. Your accomplishment is attained through your own efforts. If someone has given you a position, be grateful for the opportunity but question what you’ve done to earn it. If you throw someone under the bus to get somewhere, you have cheated.

Q: Define “home.” Is it the place you were born, the place you live now or the place that holds the fondest memories?

A: A home is where you find love and fulfillment. That place for me, at this time, is in California with my husband, surrounded by encouraging and caring friends.

Q: How did you go about finding a publisher?

A: I did quite a bit of reading about traditional publishers and decided to go hybrid because, at this stage of my life, I didn’t want to spend the lengthy time in submissions and rejections. It took me 10 years to write this book and I wanted it out.

Q: What are you doing to market the book?

A: In addition to this interview, I do much social media contacts, book signings, and speaking engagements to immigrant associations, especially to those engaged in second language learning.

Q: What have the reactions been from family, friends and fans?

A: Their encouragement motivates me to write my next book. Some of have expressed a shared feeling, especially in the various “me too” scenes. They didn’t know that about me. I had never talked about them because I thought I had done something wrong.

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

A: A few of my readers have remarked that they didn’t know what an interesting life I have had. I’m not so sure it was any more interesting than anyone else’s life. I’ve lived with curiosity, adventure, and risk. That is my wealth.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: My next book, Secrets of the Very Old, is now in its editing phase. I’m already thinking of more projects. Four years ago, my husband and I took a year off to live in Italy. It’s in my mind to write that memoir. Another one is my displacement after my house burned to the ground from one of the California fires. I’m still displaced with lots of emotions.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: People say their life is boring compared to mine. I’d say no one’s life is boring. Even an uneventful life has its unique story. Live life to fill your cup and shout it out. Thank you for this opportunity to talk about my book.

 

 

Not Again

Maria Henriksen headshot

Innocence meets tragedy and romance meets conviction in Maria T. Henriksen’s new novel, Not Again. This faith-based YA page-turner is set in the 1980s and will not only resonate with today’s teens dealing with seemingly insurmountable challenges but also with middle-aged women who weathered similar storms in their youth and, despite scars, emerged with a deeper understanding of their own beliefs and strengths.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Tell us about your journey as a writer and who/what inspired you to try your hand at a novel.

A: Ever since I was in third grade I wanted to write. My teacher showed the class laminated books that previous students wrote and illustrated. I couldn’t resist the urge to create something original myself, so I wrote and illustrated books and comic strips. The desire to create a story or artwork never left. No matter what job or stage of my life I was in, I found myself involved in some creative process whether it was taking photographs or scrapbooking. I even got excited when a professor in college assigned a huge term paper. I cheered while everyone else groaned.

Q: You describe Not Again as a YA edgy Christian romance. That’s quite a mix of genres! What’s the story behind its development?

A: I wanted to write what I liked to read and at the time it was convenient for me to read young adult novels since I had access to them as a substitute teacher. However, those novels lacked the kind of romance that I like to read to about, so I incorporated romance as part of the driving force behind the main character’s transformation. The edgy part is where it gets sticky, perhaps controversial. My novel is realistic to the point that the descriptions make you feel like you’re experiencing life along with the main character and it tackles real life issues. I make no apologies about that and many have found my writing to be gripping.

Teens today are exposed to all kinds of things online and in real life. Ignoring these realities doesn’t make it go away. Instead, my intent is to address these issues head on, all of it, including the good, the bad and the ugly. Not Again offers alternate ways to approach these real challenges. The novel was God inspired and through the obedience to Christ, Not Again has the potential to transform many lives.

Q: What types of books were you reading when you were the same age as your heroine?

A: I was not fond of reading at all when I was a teenager. In fact, almost any kind of reading made me fall asleep. It was especially embarrassing my freshman year in high school when I was too tired from reading the long questions and even longer multiple-choice answers that I fell asleep and awoke with drool on my arm.There was one time, however, that I did read for leisure. I was enthralled by the novel, The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton and to this day it is one of my favorite books.

Q: What governed your decision to set the plot in the 1980s rather than the present day?

A: The 80s was such a simpler time. There weren’t any distractions as there are today like cell phones, the internet, social media… Also, I was a teenager back then and was able to channel my experiences, thoughts and feelings of that time and use them as a springboard to create an original story line.

Q: What are some of the themes you tackle in Not Again and how will these resonate with today’s teens?

A: As an educator, it is important to me to incorporate teachable moments in a relatable and entertaining manner. Being exposed to teens every day, I witness first-hand how they deal with the same centuries-old topics such as bullying, self-image, friendship, romance, conviction, faith, courage, trust. These are some of the topics that are addressed in Not Again and it approaches each of them in a positive, refreshing and sometimes witty manner.

Q: In what ways are you similar to your main character, Christina? In what ways are you different?

A: Christina is kind of my alter-ego, but she’s prettier, taller, thinner, smarter, more athletic and more talented. You get the picture.

Q: If Hollywood came calling for a movie or television series, who would comprise your dream cast?

A: This cast of characters is based on the age of each actor’s performance in said production.

Christina De Rosa – Victoria Justice (Tori Vega in Victorious)

Avery Evans – Zac Efron (Troy Bolton in High School Musical)

Katie – Peyton List (Emma Ross in Jessie)

Morgan Ricci – Bella Thorne (CeCe Jones in Shake It UP)

Paul Martin ­­– Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy in Harry Potter)

Joey – Noah Centineo (Peter in To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before)

Mindy – Camilla Mendes (Veronica Lodge in Riverdale)

Miss Brenda – Octavia Spencer (The Help, Hidden Figures, The Shack)

Q: Many of today’s authors are going the way of self-publishing. Was this your original intent with Not Again or had you tried the agent/traditional publisher route first?

A: Traditional publishing never appealed to me. With the advent of self-publishing, writers have control over every aspect of their writing. It’s not that I’m a control freak by any means. However, having the freedom to create my own cover with photos that I took is very rewarding. I even wrote the song and took the photographs and video that are featured in my book trailer.

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

A: I didn’t realize how challenging, technical and involved self-publishing is. As a self-published author you either need to figure out how to do something or farm it out. Paying someone to do aspects of publishing is very costly. It can be expensive if you do certain aspects yourself too because you need equipment, software, training. I find all of that to be very overwhelming. Nonetheless, I forged through and was able to produce a quality product.

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

A: As much as I treasure my time alone weaving stories, I thrive on interacting with people and getting to know them on a deeper level.

Q: What brings you the most joy about writing and publishing?

A: I absolutely loved writing my novel. Being able to put in writing what is playing around in my brain is extremely rewarding. As far as the publishing part, to be able to say that I’m a published author is very satisfying. My greatest joy is yet to be realized. I look forward to the day when a person’s life is forever transformed from reading Not Again.

Q: And the most stress?

A: The amount of work that is involved in writing and publishing is very stressful. It’s never ending, overwhelming, and costs a ton of money. Also, it’s very challenging to find competent, reliable persons of integrity to perform services that you can’t do or don’t want to do.

Q: Best advice to an aspiring author?

A: Be prepared to spend an exorbitant amount of time and money on your work. If you aren’t willing to make that commitment, then don’t even bother. You should be consistent, disciplined and willing to learn and do more than you would ever fathom. Always get referrals if you are outsourcing a task and follow a certain protocol to make sure you are compatible with your service providers. Even though I did that, I still had more than my share of grievances that continue to plague me to this very day.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: I plan on developing an ecommerce website where you can purchase an autographed copy of Not Again along with themed accessories and swag as well as complete my sequel to Not Again.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

A: I start my day off by posting morning blessings or inspirational posts on social media; FB, Instagram and Twitter. Reading the scriptures and looking at the accompanied pictures fills the spirit. For inspirational and Christian content, you’re welcome to follow me. It’s a great way to start the day! Your support is greatly appreciated. Here are my social media links.

https://www.facebook.com/PurpleNchocolate/

https://www.instagram.com/maria_t_henriksen/

https://twitter.com/mariathenriksen

https://www.mariathenriksen.com

I started a fabulous FB group. It’s my way of giving back to the writing and Christian communities. We feature Motivation Monday, Transformational Tuesday, Wellness Wednesday, Thankful Thursday, Funny Friday, Sovereign Saturday, Scripture Sunday, heartfelt topics and so much more! I would love for you to be a part of this warm, caring community. If you would like to be a member of this amazing group, check it out at www.facebook.com/groups/292254218386413. Traditionally, my monthly blog/newsletter featured photos and stories written by me about my life or loved ones or as they relate to my novel. Moving forward, I will be mixing it up by showcasing authors and their writings as well as having guest writers contribute to the blog.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: I have yet to find my target niche – teens.

These are teens who:

1.) are believers in Christ

2.) once followed the straight and narrow path but went astray

3.) are searching for a meaningful way of life that speaks to them on a level beyond their understanding.

With the support of my readers, friends and fellow authors, I hope to find these teens and help to enrich their lives. Let’s make this world a better place one reader at a time!

 

 

 

Time-Traveling with Kelsey Clifton

A Day Out of Time cover

Among the most popular “what-ifs” in our culture is the theme of time travel. What if you could go back in time and prevent a tragedy like Titanic? What if you could go forward and find out what kind of smart money investments to make in the present? What if you could take back words and actions which hurt a loved one’s feelings or choose a different career path than the one you once thought was perfect?

Or what if your quest as a member of an oddball group of misfits was to save your world—and each other—from the perils of time travel run amok? Right. No pressure. All in an afternoon’s work.

Such is the premise of Kelsey Clifton’s debut novel, A Day Out of Time. Enjoy what she has to share about the angstful anomalies and vexatious vagaries of thinking outside one’s (comfort) time zone.

Interview: Christina Hamlett

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Q: What’s your attraction to the genre of time travel?

A: It just has so much potential for chaos! That was one of the questions I got to ask myself when I was writing these books: “How can I ruin this character’s day next?” Sometimes the answer was with renegade colonial soldiers, and sometimes it was with aliens. What other genre gives you that kind of versatility?

Q: If you had the chance yourself to travel through time (and knowing everything you do in the present day), would you rather go backwards or forwards? And why?

A: In a way, I address this exact question in the Day Out of Time sequel, After/Effects. There’s such a danger in either direction; when you travel to the past, you might feel helpless to stop events from unfolding, but when you travel to the future, you might find out things you were better off not knowing. Either way, you have to worry about the burden of knowledge. For me, I think I’d want to visit some ancient civilization or lost site, just to see what it was really like.

Q: Was the theme of time travel something your adolescent and teen self was interested in when it came to favorite bedside reading? Or was it something entirely different?

A: I didn’t really become interested in time travel until I started watching Doctor Who in my early twenties. It’s probably not a coincidence that Doctor Who and its spinoff series Torchwood are two pieces of media that I often compare to A Day Out of Time. I was always more of a fantasy reader, which still holds true to this day.

Q: Which authors in this genre do you most admire and why?

A: Although Becky Chambers writes other worlds sci-fi and not time travel, she’s far and away my favorite sci-fi author because she focuses so strongly on individuals and cultures in her stories, and those are the parts that fascinate me the most. You can see a bit of that fascination in my Day Out of Time series; while there’s a lot of action and humor, they’re really stories about people relying on each other. The time travel aspect is more of a really entertaining way to explore that concept.

Q: Tell us about some of the themes inherent in A Day Out Of Time and After/Effects.

A: The main theme in A Day Out of Time is this idea of broken things and how they can be mended. Gamma Team itself is mostly made up of misfits and “broken” people who are made whole by being together. In that same vein, we have the subtler theme of the power of a group. A lot of the problems that Gamma faces can only be solved with other members.

As the title suggests, After/Effects deals with the consequences of our actions, both negative and positive. The idea that gets bandied about a lot is that nothing we do is isolated; every decision causes ripples, some far larger than others.

Q: Writing and editing a series vs. a standalone title is not without its own rewards and challenges. What has your personal experience been in this regard?

A: I think the rewards far outweigh the challenges. I’ve gotten to see these characters grow and develop over two books (soon to be three) into better, fuller versions of themselves. There’s also a lot of fun in linking stories and plot points across multiple books, even though A Day Out of Time and After/Effects can be read as standalone novels. One of the challenges that I’ve found in both this series and another that’s currently in-progress is consistency. Changing a key detail in a world can unravel a lot of threads, which is what I’m currently struggling with. Depending on how long you think a series will eventually be, I think there’s a big advantage in having at least a first draft of every book done before you start publishing.

Q: Tell us about the characters in the series. Were some of them easier to write than others (and why)?

A: Cat and Darwin are the two easiest characters to write because they more or less appeared in my head fully formed, like Athena bursting out of Zeus’s skull. Cat is a force of nature – specifically a tornado. When she’s angry, she can touch down and do incredible damage in a very specific spot, while leaving everything else around her untouched. She’s one of the few things that can cow Darwin, who’s otherwise completely uncontrollable. Every scene with him in it automatically becomes 150% more fun to write.

Specs and Helix provide much-needed ballast in the group by acting as the moral and emotional centers. Specs is the steady ground to Cat’s whirlwind, making him invaluable as her lieutenant. On top of being their geneticist, Helix is the team’s medic, which suits her caring personality. She takes the team’s physical and emotional well being very seriously, even when she’s technically off the clock.

Cushioned between these wildly different personality sets, we have Millennia, Grunt, and the New Kid. Millennia was the easiest of the three to pin down because she has all the best qualities of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, which makes her so vivacious and fun to write. The New Kid acts as our “guide” through the world of the Dogs, and at first he seemed deceptively easy because of his mild nature. Over the course of the first draft, however, I discovered all kinds of unplumbed depths to him! And Grunt, of course, is the most enigmatic of all. I think he’s the kind of character you just instinctually understand, even if you don’t know all that much about him.

Q: Over the course of your publishing journey, you tried the traditional route. What prompted you to make the switch and become self-published?

A: I had grown a bit tired of querying, honestly, but I’d never really given self-publishing much serious thought. Then a friend sent me a link to an author who had completely funded her novel on Kickstarter within 24 hours or something. And even though it turned out that she was a fairly well-known comic book artist with an established following, it really got me thinking about it for the first time. I started doing research into the market and my different options, and I decided that I was tired of waiting around for the chance to tell my stories.

Q: Going the DIY route, of course, requires authors to don multiple hats. What do you like the best (and least) about managing your intellectual property from start to finish?

A: I’m a bit of a control freak, so I do really enjoy the creative control that I have over everything. I like that there’s no one pressuring me to change the title or the ending. The part that I like the least is the constant need to seek out potential readers. I’m a casual social media user at heart, so I’d almost always rather be working on a new project instead, but I have to put my writing aside sometimes and dedicate an hour or two to promoting myself and my work.

Q: What surprised you the most about navigating the ropes of self-publishing?

A: How easy it is to look up and say, “Oh my God, I haven’t posted to [X] in so long, I haven’t updated the website, I need to schedule a signing, etc.” You just get caught up in one aspect, and before you know it you’re getting reminders from your Facebook page about posting.

Q: If Marie Kondo were to visit your home, would she applaud your embrace of minimalism or be alarmed by your unabashed clutter?

A: Marie Kondo would just look around and say, “Oh my goodness” on repeat. I have a hard time getting rid of things anyway, but I also have a habit of collecting little trinkets or memorabilia that I leave strewn across every surface and tucked away in memory boxes. There are definitely things I could get rid of, but plenty of others that fill me with joy. Basically, I’m a dragon at heart and I cannot be reformed.

Q: Authors often picture their finished works as taking on another life as, for instance, a television series, a stage play or a movie. Is this the case for you with your time travel series?

A: I think A Day Out of Time would make an incredible TV series. There’s plenty of potential for “Problem of the Week” episodes, along with more complicated story arcs. I’d be open to surprise casting for all but two characters: Cat and Specs. I will accept Robin Wright and Mike Colter, or nobody.

Q: What is the thing you enjoy most about the creative process of writing?

A: Honestly, editing. A lot of writers gripe about the editing process, but it’s my favorite part. Writing a first draft is messy and grueling and magical, like metaphorical childbirth. But editing is like helping your story grow up. I’m also a big fan of “Aha!” moments, when the threads of a plot come together – especially if it turns out that I was subconsciously working towards a certain concept all along.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I’m currently working on the final draft of a standalone sword & sorcery novel called Fire and Lightning, Ash and Stone. It’s like a snarkier version of The Enchanted Forest Chronicles, and I’m hoping to release it in early or mid-January. Fans of A Day Out of Time will find a similar mix of humor, action, and heartbreak.

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

A: In spite of what I said earlier about social media, I really am very approachable! Feel free to find me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Tumblr and say hello. I may not enjoy trying to market myself, but I do enjoy engaging with readers.

 

Windmaster Legend

Widnmaster Cover

 

From the mists of time, a forbidden love. An impossible quest. Threats to life and career. But can love survive the accusation of witchcraft? Author Helen Henderson invites us into the magical world of her new fantasy romance, Windmaster Legend.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: How did the dichotomy of a simplistic upbringing on a farm and a professional career in computer design influence your writing style and the development of your works’ pacing, structure, dialogue and characters?

A: While there is a certain consistency in my writing voice and I try to write action and adventure into each storyline, my characters have to be unique … and real. My fantasy worlds have various ranks of characters such as leaders, historians, and arbiters of justice; villagers and the elders who guide and protect the town; or officers and the crew that serve in their command. One of the ways to make a distinction is for one to have different types and amounts of formal education (here I channel more of the professional side of my life) and the other the down-to-earth farm side.

A piece of writing advice I’ve heard since I first put pen to paper is to, “Write what you know.” While I have never lived in the Old West, courtesy of my farm life I have fired a rifle, watched deer in the fields, and ridden a horse. And on the flip side, while I have never worked on the bridge of a starship, I have been behind the controls of a small aircraft and studied the cockpit of commercial aircraft. Combine that with experience designing and programming computers and my thoughts wander the stars to create the more technical worlds of science fiction.

Q: Do you remember the first story or article you ever wrote? 

A: The first article bearing my byline was a story about New Jersey salt-glazed stoneware for a national publication for antique collectors. That first piece led to another and eventually to a career as a correspondent and feature story writer for a dozen or so national and international publications.

The first piece of fiction to be published came many years later after that non-fiction piece and at the time was only the latest of many short stories I had crafted. Considering the first story I wrote was quite a few (not saying how many) years ago, the tale itself is lost in the mists of the past. That said, during a clean-out of old papers, an early story resurfaced. Written while I was a grade-schooler living in the Philippines, the fictional tale set during the Vietnam War chronicled the first mission of one pilot and the final one of another. I not only took the premise but much of the original writing, added another layer, and polished it with the more experienced eye acquired after years of writing. After some tears and a final salute to the me of yesteryear, the base that no longer exists, and to those who never made it home, FIRST MISSION, FINAL DAY was published in Hearth and Sand, a tribute to family members who served in the military.

Q: What books might we have found on the nightstand of your adolescent self? Your teenage self? And now?

A: In some ways my to-be-read pile hasn’t changed much. I still like action and adventure … and a happy ending. The adolescent me would be reading my mother’s collection of Cherry Ames books and every Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys in our local library. My teenage self progressed to the historical westerns favored by my father. Adventure and mystery came courtesy of the characters created by Alistair Maclean, Leslie Charteris, and Ian Fleming.

My current pile of favorites, read, and to-be-read includes historical westerns by Louis L’Amour, science fiction by Anne McCaffrey, and an eclectic collection of historical romance and fantasy.

Q: Tell us about the inspiration for penning Windmaster Legend.

A: To me, a fantasy book requires a rich environment, which means not only the world of today, but legends, myths, and tales of times past. Intended as a bit of foreshadowing of a potential romance between Captain Ellspeth and the archmage, Lord Dal, in the first book of the series, Ellspeth is explaining the story behind two especially bright stars in the night sky. According to legend, the stars are a pair of lovers named Iol and Pelra. They were turned into stars and placed in the sky by the water gods so the pair could be together for all eternity. A brush stroke of fantasy, a sprinkle of forbidden love and slash of feuding families, Windmaster Legend recounts the real story behind what was given just a few lines in the earlier books of the series.

Q: This is Book #3 of a series. What do you find to be the challenges inherent in writing a series versus a standalone title?

A: With each additional book in a series, keeping the details straight becomes harder. You don’t want to use the same name for two different characters. Fantasy series have an additional problem with unusual character or location names. As the number of volumes grows in a series, the potential for misspelling also increases. And the problem grows by a magnitude when you have written multiple series. I find myself asking were the Revarn Mountains in the Dragshi Chronicles or the Windmaster Novels? Or one of the novellas or stand-alone novels? Creating a series bible helps, but isn’t an absolute solution.

An additional problem I found when writing series is keeping the storyline fresh. While I may include a magical equine of some form in each series, you don’t want the exact same plot and characters over and over and over again. A challenge I inadvertently created for myself was when I wrote the fantasy series, the Dragshi Chronicles, and reprised a scene from early in the book as the story’s ending. Then I had to do something similar for the other books to keep a consistency in the series.

Q: Do you have a favorite character from one of your books? If the two of you hung out together for a day, what would you likely be doing?

A: My heart says my favorite character remains Ellspeth, captain of Sea Falcon. The tale of Ellspeth and the archmage, Lord Dal, is told in Windmaster, the first book I ever had placed under contract so there is a sentimental aspect. That said, I choose to spend a day with Glyn of Clan Miller. Hopefully, one of the magical equines the dragshi raise would allow me to be its rider for the day and Glyn and I would journey along the mountain trails. After lunch in a flower-covered alpine meadow, we’d return to Cloud Eyrie. Or if the weather was not cooperative, we’d spend the day in the practice room while she coached me on some of the finer points of the fighting staff and short bow. If I happen to be there when a celebration is being held for one of the local resident’s naming day, there will be music and dancing. And if I am lucky enough, maybe Lord Talann would grant me the favor of a dance. Just not the dragon wing, I don’t think I’m ready for that energetic or acrobatic maneuver.

Q: Rumor has it that you like to hang out with mages and fly with dragons. Tell us about those dragons!

A: I met the dragons while visiting Cloud Eyrie to interview some of the dragshi. The dragshi are two beings, one human, one a dragon, who share one body in time and space. This sharing allows the human to take on dragon form and take to the skies. Many dragon soul twins stay in the background, sleeping unless needed by their human twin. The quiesence continues until the human half dies and the dragon is able to fulfill its destiny and join the rest of their kind on the high ledges of the remote mountains. Other dragons, such as Honored Old One Llewlyn who is the soul twin of Lord Branin, take an interest in human affairs, observing them and attempting to understand us. And on more than one occasion, expressing his opinion.

The human and dragon halves communicate through mindspeech. Some rare humans also have the ability and they are educated and their talents encouraged. While I don’t have a dragon soul, I have been fortunate to be chosen to chronicle some of the tales of the dragshi and to interview Llewlyn. Through him I have found out that even though they don’t possess magic in the usual sense of casting spells, the dragons are magical creatures and possess an earth magic of their own. Their fire can heal or kill. Although the honored old ones are forbidden to harm a human no matter what the provocation, some of their dragon twins such as Lord Branin are skilled fighters and when in dragon form have on occasion used fire, talon and tail as weapons.

Depending on what part of the land they came from, the human half of each dragshi pairing has their own food preferences. However, most dragons’ favorite meal is sheep, and mountain villagers keep flocks just for the dragons.

Beyond that, anything else I have been told in confidence about his kind by Llewlyn or his mate Honored Old One Jessian, must remain private, unless it was documented in the Dragshi Chronicles.

Q: Does this suggest you were a fan of Game of Thrones?

A: Since I write fantasy, I don’t know if I should admit this or not, but I am probably one of the few people who didn’t see a single episode of Game of Thrones. As to the reason? I could say my cable company didn’t carry it, or that I don’t have cable. Or, that when I’m writing, I don’t read in that genre to avoid inadvertent cross-over from the other author’s work. The same would apply to the small screen. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

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: As a rule I don’t usually allow anyone to read a work-in-progress until the story is written and gone through a good polishing. I want it as close to perfect as I can make it before letting it out into the world, even if it is only exposing it to friendly fire. Although I do admit there were a couple of times when I was only a step ahead of the online critique group readers and was giving one chapter its final polish as the group was going over the previous one.

Q: Writing is a solitary craft. How do you combat the potential demons of loneliness?

A: Walking along the waterfront or bicycling a shore trail brought with it the serenity of the outdoors. Attendance at local writers group meetings and an occasional conference reinforced the feeling of community. Since I also wrote non-fiction, being a docent at a local history museum and lecturing at other historical groups also brought me into contact with other people. But I would say the greatest tool to combat the demon of loneliness is the Internet. Although we only met in the virtual world, there are a number of writers that I am privileged to call a friend.

Q: History holds a special passion for you, and you’ve had the experience of participating in archaeological digs. If someone from 200 years in the future were to look at the artifacts we left behind, how would they define us as a culture?

A: Wow, what a hard question. Especially since I don’t consider myself a futurist. A lot can happen in 200 years. In that period of time, a country could go from initial exploration to becoming a major civilization. Archaeology has provided insights into the movements of troops on a battlefield or the migration of a people across thousands of miles. The quality of artifacts can show how people lived. From shards or even entire items we can determine whether the people who lived at a particular site used fine porcelain or primitive stoneware. Even in just my lifetime (and no, I am not hundreds of years old), there has been the Korean Conflict, the eruption of Mount Saint Helens, and the fall of the towers on 9-11. A man has walked on the moon and a mechanical explorer roamed the sands of Mars.

To answer the prompt, I focused on the electronic age. The same amount of computing power that once required huge racks of equipment in climate-controlled warehouses can now be had in a small device we hold in the palm of our hand. As to how our culture might be viewed? I will use one word, primitive. If electronic devices continue to increase in power, our laptops, tablets, and smart phones would be considered crude by the standards of the future civilization. They might also wonder how we ever managed to get anything done with the massive volumes of data that to them was essentially an unorganized dump. After all, we didn’t have the sophisticated artificial intelligence to organize information to its maximum usefulness.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: A novel set in the world of Windmaster that I started during NanoWriMo (also known as the crazy month for authors when we try to write 50,000 words in a span of a month) is demanding to be finished. And a twist on a dragon shifter story is fighting for equal time.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: I love to hear from my readers and invite them to join me on travels through the stars, or among fantasy worlds of the imagination. Excerpts of my work, writing tips, and information on new releases can be found at https://helenhenderson-author.blogspot.com. Or connect with me online at

Facebook—https://www.facebook.com/HelenHenderson.author

Twitter—https://twitter.com/history2write

Amazon—https://www.amazon.com/Helen-Henderson/e/B001HPM2XK

Goodreads—https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/777491.Helen_Henderson