A Chat with Anita Davison

Anita Davison poster

 

When I was in high school, my second favorite subject after English was History. Many a time, I’d imagine what it would have been like to live in a different time period and, accordingly, it was a natural step in my wordsmithing to invite my characters to cross paths, rub shoulders and even exchange in snappy banter with people who actually called those time periods “home.” Discovering fellow authors who share that same passion for the past is always a delight, even more so when it’s not just a stand-alone novel but, in fact, an exciting series. Our feature author this time around is Anita Davison, whose latest release, A Knightsbridge Scandal, is Book 3 of her Flora Maguire Mysteries.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q:  Tell us about your journey as a writer and when you first knew that penning stories of history and mystery was what you wanted to do?

A:  Being a published author was not something I ever aspired to. Ordinary people like me didn’t get books published. Those with Master’s degrees in journalism and English literature who have put years of practical work experience into their apprenticeship – those people write books.

In my early 20s I lived and worked in central London, where the National Portrait Gallery was a favourite haunt. In the 17th century room hung a painting of James Scott, Duke of Monmouth, the eldest of 12 illegitimate children of Charles II who tried to seize the throne on his father’s death by raising a rebellion in the West Country. Inspired by his tragic story, and reading Cynthia Harrod Eagles’ The Long Shadow, at the time, I began to create a story about a family caught up on the wrong side of the rebellion. I enjoyed the process, but became aware that I was a novice where novel writing was concerned. However the idea of putting my work ‘out there’ for others to comment on terrified me, but I decided I might as well  find out whether or not I could do something with it, or if I had no discernible talent.

I found an online critique group made up of both published and aspiring writers to whom I submitted my first chapters. I would like to say my submission came back covered in compliments – it didn’t! The group pretty much trashed it!  Nicely though. They didn’t attack the plot or the characters, more my sentence structure and my head-hopping prose. Do I hurl the manuscript into a corner and never touched it again, or hunker down and try again? I did the latter, and that’s when I began to learn rules which aren’t taught in schools – how to use active voice as opposed to passive, putting a scene into one point of view, showing not telling, how to write effective dialogue etc. I also discovered my epic saga of over 200k words would never be accepted as a debut novel, so I split it into two and  it a series; now available as The Woulfes of Loxsbeare. One day I will finish Volume 3.

I was accepted by the Kate Nash Literary Agency, who, after a brief flirtation with Victorian romance, they secured a contract for Royalist Rebel, my biographical novel about Elizabeth Murray who was a teenager during the English Civil War. I now have a five book deal for my Edwardian Cosy Mystery series with Aria Fiction. The agency’s list of authors represented is pretty impressive these days, and I would like to say my career has taken off in the same way– but that hasn’t happened – yet.

Q: Who are some of the authors whose wordsmithing structure, plots and characters have had the most influence on your own style?

A: Cynthia Harrod-Eagles ‘Dynasty’ series about a Yorkshire family inspired me to begin writing.

Q: If we could travel back in time, what are some of the books we might find on the nightstand of your 10-year-old self? How about as a teenager?  And now, as a successfully published author?

A: The book I clearly remember reading at aged 10 was Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury which fascinated me. In my teens I started reading Jean Plaidy, Dennis Wheatley, Agatha Christie. Forever Amber by Kathleen Winsor cemented my love of the 17th Century. Lately I tend to read for research but for pleasure I enjoyed Tasha Alexander’s historical mysteries, Erin Morganstern’s Night Circus, and C S Sansom’s stories of the Tudor lawyer, Matthew Shardlake.

Q: Speaking of different time periods, what was the attraction for you to Edwardian England as the backdrop for heroine Flora Maguire’s adventures?

A: I was given a subscription to a genealogy site as a gift and became fascinated with my own family history. My family were Prussian immigrants who came to London in 1880, which led me to reading all I could about London during the late Victorian and Edwardian eras. With all the photographs of London at that time, as well as a store of vintage videos on the web, I soon became hooked. Less than a hundred years ago, life and attitudes were vastly different to today. It’s accepted that the Regency period was a male dominated world, but these attitudes were still firmly in place in the early 20th Century. Women did not eat out in public unless they had a male escort, and many restaurants had male only dining rooms. Simpsons restaurant in the Strand didn’t allow women in their downstairs dining room at all until 1984.

Q: A college professor of mine once said that if one is going to write mysteries in which a broad spectrum of skullduggery is afoot (including dead bodies), it’s easier to do it in an earlier century when technology was not a prevalent tool for crime-fighting. Do you find that to be the case with your own work?

A: In some ways that’s true because the clues have to be more prosaic; an overheard conversation, a document, etc., and the villain revealed without the use of forensic science. In the first book, Flora finds blood on a knife, but in 1900 there was no test to tell whose it was as blood grouping had been thought of but not perfected. Also, fingerprints weren’t used for identification until a landmark case in 1902 – but were still not considered conclusive. And poisons were easier to obtain, arsenic being an ingredient in all sorts of products. Cocaine was used in cough linctus until then 1950s.

It was easier to change identities and information was much harder to find, you had to know where to look. The SS Minneapolis was one of the first ships to carry wireless telegraphy, so my character was able send a telegram to an associate on land to find out certain facts about a suspect.

Q: Writing out-of-your-time-zone, of course, requires a lot of research in order for the storyline to feel both plausible and authentic to your readers. There’s always a danger, though, of getting so carried away by these vintage details that they can easily overwhelm—and detract—from the plot. What governed your choices regarding which research should be included and which could/should be left out?

A: Absolutely – and this is a major problem for historical writers. Personally I get so immersed in historical events that I always put too much into my stories, assuming the reader will be as fascinated as I am. Editing tends to illustrate these ‘info dumps’ though and I do follow advice and remove most of it by reminding myself I am not writing a history book. Anything which doesn’t drive the story forward or fit seamlessly into the narrative without jarring – or boring the reader – must go!

Q: When and where did the fictional Flora Maguire first step into your imagination and demand your attention?

A: I was writing a Victorian romance which began with my female character travelling between New York and London on a steamship I had researched extensively right down to the patterns on the stateroom curtains and bed covers. When the book was contracted, my editor said the novel should begin when my character steps off the boat onto English soil – thus all my intricate research and writing was dumped. However, I kept my meticulous research. I had worked too hard to consign it to the bin – and when Flora Maguire needed a crime to solve, I wanted a  ‘closed room’ environment with a limited number of suspects, my steamship was ideal.

Q: Did you always intend to turn that first Flora Maguire story into a series?

A: No I didn’t. As my first try at mystery writing, I wasn’t sure if it would be credible, but the critique group and my agent said mysteries did better as a series as readers like to be familiar with the main character. When the critiquing process ended, the group asked me what was going to happen to Flora when she got off the ship. It was while I was writing Books 2, 3 and 4 that my agent secured a five-book deal for the whole series from Aria Fiction. Thus, I am currently writing Book 5. Books 1 to 3 are available and Book 4 will be released in November 2017 with Book 5 scheduled for next year.

Q: Series fiction is not without its own set of challenges; specifically, if there’s an expectation or hope that readers will read these books chronologically. But what about someone who jumps in and reads the most recent book first? How do you handle that fine line of giving them just enough background teaser to want to go back and see what they missed without giving away too much information on how the prior “episodes” were resolved?

A: I have suggested to readers that they are best read chronologically as Flora’s personal life changes, although the murder mysteries are complete stories.  Flora has a mystery in her own life, which develops a little more with each book.

Q: Flora starts out her career as a governess. Given the circles in which she moves as crimes unfold, wouldn’t she be more effective as a wealthy, titled lady or an actress?

A: Flora’s station in life was a major consideration before I began. I don’t know anything about the thespian world, either now or the Edwardian era, so didn’t feel I could portray it with any conviction. The aristocracy, unless they baulked the system and existed on the fringe of fashionable society, led restrictive lives. Unmarried girls in 1900 had to do what their parents told them, while married ones had to obey their husbands. Unless I made Flora a widow, like Tasha Alexander’s heroine, Lady Emily Ashton, Flora couldn’t gad about town on her own, which is why I introduced Sally Pond, her maid and sometime sidekick. I felt that as a governess, Flora would be intelligent by nature and discreet by necessity. As an upper servant, she moves between the two worlds with ease with an ability to be invisible, so people tend to talk in front of her, forgetting she is there.

The first story is set in 1900, the beginning of a new millennium where great changes in science, medicine and society were taking place in the run up to WWI. She ventures into some unsavoury areas at times which no titled lady would enter, and with more freedom.

Q: You make mention of the Women’s Suffrage Movement in this novel. Is Flora herself a Suffragist?

A: She’s a non-militant Suffragist and an admirer of Millicent Fawcett who worked for years to have women’s rights acknowledged by the government, and succeeded to a point with the Liberal Party. Flora’s status was gained by her marriage, and had she remained a governess, the movement wouldn’t have represented her at all as they were fighting for women who owned property. One aspect people forget about the ‘Votes for Women’ fight was that the majority of working class men didn’t have the vote either. Thus, Flora has mixed feelings about the aims of the Suffragists. Flora also believes that the WSPU- Christabel Pankhurst’s breakaway militant group with their campaign for vandalism and public protest was not representative of most women who wouldn’t dream of destroying works of art or throwing bricks though windows.

Q: What does her husband think of her stance on equal rights for women?

A: He admires her and holds similar views. He’s a solicitor from a wealthy background who has fallen on leaner times and has to make his own living, so he is sympathetic to the struggles of the working man – and woman, but he also has the ability to function in both societies.

Q: Do you have a favorite character in this series?

A: Flora is my favourite as the stories are written from her point of view, so hers is the head I am inside most of the time. I do like her young charge, Eddy, though, who enters the stories as a 13-year-old boy. My editor says he is one of her favourites, so Eddy is making an appearance in Book 5 as an 18-year-old university student. He gets into trouble and runs to Flora and Bunny for help.

Q: So what’s in store for Flora in future novels in this series?

A: No 4 is at first editing stage where a murder leads her into the shady world of child trafficking. This ties in with the International Agreement for the Suppression of the “White Slave Traffic Act” which was ratified that year in the UK.

Q: Do you start with an outline or make up the plot as you go along?

A:  Plotter every time. I research specific historical events which I would like to include, then work out the crime, the villain and the clues and misdirection. Then I sketch out each scene synopsis, its goal, content and conclusion– I need to know exactly where the story is going or I get lost.

Q: Does anyone get to read your work in progress or do you make them wait until the very last page?

A: I am still a member of the Historical Fiction Critique Group to which I submit my draft chapters for feedback. We have been working together for some years and trust each other’s opinion. If they tell me a character is hollow or not credible in the first draft, I do something about it.

Q: Have your characters ever surprised you and gone off the path in dialogue or action that you hadn’t originally fashioned?

A: On occasion, a character I had given a cameo role to has developed into a major one because the group really liked them and wanted more. Bunny’s mother was going to be a shadowy figure who made an occasional appearance, but now she is Flora’s nemesis. Beatrice Harrington is the archetypical Victorian widow with unbending principles and an opinion on everything. Naturally she doesn’t believe any woman is good enough for her only son, especially a governess brought up below stairs by a Scotsman. I thought she could be one character readers could love to hate and I allow Flora to score the odd point against her to assert herself.

Q: Are your previous novels Edwardian-themed as well?

A: I have written two Victorian Romances, but my first love was the 17th Century. The Woulfes of Loxsbeare are about an Exeter family caught up in the political chaos of the late 17th Century. Royalist Rebel is a biographical novel about Elizabeth Murray, who became Duchess of Lauderdale. A friend of Charles II, she was also one of his spies during the Interregnum, and was published by Pen and Sword Books

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

A: That I am happiest at home with my writing and only venture out when absolutely necessary or when bullied by my family. I don’t even like eating outside! I’ve been accused of everything from being an agoraphobic to a vampire, but I just like the indoors!

Q: What do you think is the best thing about being a writer?

A: That I can manage my own time and workload and create my stories from any premise I like, when I like. The autonomy is very important.

Q: And the worst thing?

A: Those times when I sit in front of the computer, a coffee at my side and fingers poised over the screen – and nothing comes. It doesn’t happen too often but when it does it can be soul destroying. Writers are insecure at the best of times [well, maybe not all] and when your mind is as blank as the screen, it’s hard to accept you will feel differently tomorrow, or maybe the next day. You think it’s over – forever!

Q: What’s your best advice to an aspiring author who is just starting out?

A:

  1. Find your author voice and have confidence in it.
  2. If you write, you are an author – don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
  3. The story is the thing. A steadily moving plot, plenty of conflict and a satisfying ending is more important than flowery descriptions and a ton of woven in research. No one recalls what the heroine was wearing when she finally wins the battle or falls into her hero’s arms.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

A: My social media links:

BLOG: http://thedisorganisedauthor.blogspot.com

GOODREADS: http://www.goodreads.com/AnitaDavison

FACEBOOK: https://www.facebook.com/anita.davison

TWITTER: @AnitaSDavison

LINKEDIN: https://www.linkedin.com/in/anita-seymour-davison-9ba57014/

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: Other than promoting my current book? No, I don’t I think so, I have gone on long enough.

 

 

 

A Chat With Joan Hall Hovey

Joan Hall Hovey, Photo: Cindy Wilson/Telegraph-Journal

Joan Hall Hovey

Interviewer: Debbie A. McClure

 I’m very pleased to introduce thriller/mystery writer and fellow Canadian, Joan Hall Hovey. Joan has been blessed with a talent for telling dark stories that stay with the reader and keep them asking for more. A self-described “avid listener of stories”, she loves weaving tales that chill to the bone, however she enjoys a quieter, saner life in her lovely home in Saint John, New Brunswick. Welcome Joan!

Q: What is it about writing thrillers and dark mysteries that holds and keeps you?

A: It’s hard to know why I’m drawn to the dark side in the human psyche. Some people can’t get enough romances or westerns. My son and granddaughter are hooked on SciFi, but since childhood you could always get my attention with a good ghost story, or any story that had tension and chilled the blood.  I read everything by Edgar Allan Poe, love the Gothic suspense novels, my favorite being Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. I collected my pennies and went to see all the scary movies. Later I discovered authors Ruth Rendell, Patricia Highsmith of the Ripley books, and Stephen King.  All those authors have influenced my work in some way.

Q: You often write about strong women who are facing challenges in their life, or who must learn to trust themselves and others. What is it you want female readers to take away from your stories?

A: My main job in writing a suspense thriller is to entertain; to keep my readers at the edge of their collective chairs and turning those pages until the last and hopefully satisfying sentence. The underlying message in my books is that we’re stronger than we think we are. We find this out when we’re forced to draw on that inner strength we didn’t know we had in the face of challenges that can shake us to our very core. Most of the time we manage to come out the other side, not only relatively intact, but often to find we’ve grown in confidence and in our ability to not only survive, but thrive.

Q: What do you think is the future for print and e-books, and why?

A: I think print books will be around for a long time to come, but many people, including me, have also embraced the technological age. I have always had a passion for books. I love the heft of them, the smell, everything about books. Unfortunately, my eyes are no longer as sharp as they once were, and I can make the font on my Kindle as large as I need it to be. Because I like to read in bed (too busy writing and teaching during the day), the Kindle is very lightweight to hold in my hand, so my arthritis is thankful for it.

Q: What advice would you give to new writers just starting out on this crazy journey?

A: Focus on your writing, make it the best it can be, and try to write every day. Pick a time that works best for you. I like to write in the mornings before the rest of the world is quite awake—that time between the black and gray zone. This is how you become a disciplined writer. Learn to do the work whether or not you’re inspired, because a page you’re not happy with can always be edited and improved. The rest—publishing your book, promoting it, etc., can be learned. You can Google anything today.

As far as publishing your work goes, writers definitely have more options today than when I began. You can try for a big publisher through an agent, or a good small press, or you can even self- publish.  If you choose the latter road, keep in mind that you’re solely responsible for everything involving your book’s success. 

Q: Would you say writing the beginning, middle, or end of a book is the most difficult for you, and why?

A: I don’t find one part of the novel more difficult than another. If it’s going well and I am really into my story by experiencing what my characters are experiencing, seeing clearly those scenes in my imagination, I’ll be fine. It’s not easy, although there is nothing I can think of that’s more rewarding. Expect lots of trial and error.  Some authors like to outline, while others write by the seat of their pants. I’m somewhere in the middle. I outline mainly in my head, and take copious notes as I go along. Sometimes a plot problem will solve itself while I’m on a walk, or doing the dishes. Magic happens when you’re there, deep in the book.  Stephen King calls those great gems that come to you when you least expect them gifts from ‘the boys in the basement’.

Q: Many of your books contain an element of the supernatural in them. Have you had any experiences with the supernatural that you can share with us?

A: Yes, there are a few occurrences in my life that caused me to wonder, and sometimes even lose a little slept. I want to keep those to myself, though, so I can draw on them for future books.  

Q: As an actor you have the opportunity to act out characters and experience storytelling in a very different way. Does your acting experience influence how you write?

A: Absolutely. Just as I enter the skin of the character I’m portraying on stage, it is the same with my characters on the page. I really must inhabit their bones, take on the emotions and sensibilities of the character, because it’s how I’m able to grasp that character and make him or her real to the reader.

Q: So many novice writers balk at learning to effectively use social media and the Internet, including Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, blogs and book trailers, in order to connect with other writers and readers. What advice would you give them when it comes to marketing and promoting their work?

A: There are literally thousands of books on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and so on. Readers will simply never find your book if you don’t find ways to point them to it, and we’re so lucky now to be able to take advantage of social media and the internet. Marketing your book is your job as the book’s author; it goes with the territory. It can be the difference succeeding as an author or not, regardless of the level of your talent. I’d suggest spending an hour or two each day on promoting your work.

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

A: I’ve been writing stories and poems since childhood, and then professionally for more than 40 years, so it’s difficult to say. The writing grew and changed as I grew and learned. I believe that’s true for most people. In September 2015, I lost my dear husband of 63 years, following a lengthy illness. It was a numbing shock, even though I knew death was inevitable. It has changed my life in ways that I don’t even understand. I’ve learned that you recognize the changes more with the passing of time, but rarely while they’re happening.

Q: Can you tell us a little about your latest novel?

A: My latest release is titled ‘And Then He Was Gone’. Here is a little about it from the back of the book:

AVAILABLE FROM AMAZON PRINT/EBOOK and other online bookstores.

WHERE IS ADAM?

Julie Raynes’ husband has been missing for six months. Devastated and confused, she refuses to believe that he would leave her voluntarily, though her best friend thinks differently. However, her Aunt Alice, a psychic, tells her Adam has been murdered, and when she reveals how she knows this, any hope that Adam is still alive, dissipates.

The police are also beginning to believe that Adam Raynes was murdered. And Julie is their prime suspect. Her life in ruins, Julie vows to hunt down whoever is responsible for Adam’s murder and make them pay for their crime.

In the meantime, David Gray, a young man who was pulled from a lake by a fisherman when he was 9 years old, wakens from a coma after nearly two decades. Unknown to Julie, Adam and David share a dark connection, a darkness that threatens to devour both of them, in a terrifying race with death.

Q: What’s next for you Joan?

A: Probably another suspense novel, but I want to explore other options as well . I have always loved writing short stories, so I may return to that at some point. I will say that I expect they will also fall somewhere on the dark side.  🙂  

You can find Joan here: http://www.joanhallhovey.com

And she loves to hear from readers.

 

 

 

Dancing at Midnight

 

Dancing at Midnight

On a trip to England years ago, I recall learning that Queen Elizabeth has kept a diary ever since she was a young girl. This poses an interesting question. When it’s understood (or just assumed) that one day these private entries will be read by someone other than herself – or perhaps even made public – how candid might they actually be?

I like my dogs and horses better than my children.

Camilla wore the most ghastly shoes at lunch today.

Philip’s a dear but his snoring is really vexing me.

Perhaps instead, she sticks to safe ground to avoid controversy and the potential ruffling of feathers.

The morning began with light rain but cleared by midday.

I think I’ll buy a new hat.

I tried a different marmalade on my toast. It was amusing.

In Rebecca Yelland’s compelling new book, Dancing at Midnight, a mother’s secret journal takes center-stage after her death and causes her estranged daughter to suddenly start questioning everything that she once believed was true. While catharsis may be good for a troubled soul, it’s not without the risk of collateral damage – a scenario this author thoughtfully explores.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: First of all, congratulations on your debut novel! Have you come down from the ceiling yet?

A: I’m not sure. Every time my feet start to touch the ground, a great review or acknowledgment pops up and I’m in the clouds again. Most recently, I was awarded the indie BRAG medallion for literary fiction. It’ll be a few weeks before I land.

Q: Seriously, what did you do to celebrate the book’s release?

A: When I received the first copy of Dancing at Midnight in the mail, I was grinning like an idiot. But other than plastering all over social media to friends and family that my book had been published, nothing particularly special. The real work of promotion had only just begun.

Q: When did you first know that the burning desire to be a writer was in your blood?

A: I come from a family of artists. Literally. My uncle and grandfather were both painters and my grandmother and her family were musicians. I guess you could say it was in my DNA to seek some sort of artistic outlet like writing. I started out composing poems as a child and graduated to songwriting in my teens and adulthood. Eventually that led to writing my first novel. Expressing my thoughts on paper is a natural as breathing.

Q: What’s the earliest thing you can ever remember writing?

A: A poem when I was in 3rd grade. I can’t remember the name. It received an award and was published along with other winners for our school district. Sadly, the publication was lost many years ago during a move. I hope to find another copy someday.

Q: Successful wordsmiths are often voracious readers. Is this the case with you?

A: In my case, not so much. I’ve always had a way with words. My mind absorbs everything around me – including the use of language. I read a lot when I was younger. But with the demands of a full-time job that required hours of computer work, my poor eyes needed a break in the evenings.  However, after publishing my book, I have been able to enjoy a short work sabbatical and have been catching up on my reading.

Q: What’s your favorite genre?

A: I’d have to say memoirs and biographies. I am fascinated with the true life stories of people who have overcome great obstacles and challenges in their lives. I’m encouraged to learn of such individuals who have emerged from the other side and survived.

Q: Let’s say you’re planning a dinner party and can invite six authors (living or dead) that you most admire. Who’s on that auspicious guest list and what question(s) would you like to ask each of them before the evening is over?

A: J.K. Rowling – What sparked your brain to create the elaborate world of Harry Potter?

C.S. Lewis – If you had to give one reason to believe in God, what would you say?

Judy Blume – You are so relatable to young girls. What’s your secret?

Mary Shelley – What was the inspiration for the “monster” in Frankenstein?

Virginia Wolf – Do you believe that depression is a life sentence that cannot be overcome?

Amy Tan – Do you think women of the past were right or wrong to hide their traumatic experiences from their daughters?

Q: You’ve spent a large part of your career as a human resources professional. What aspects of that job have yielded the most insights on what makes people tick, and how have you applied those insights to the development of fictional characters?

A: I’ve worked in several different industries with several different employee populations. In preparing performance reviews, interviewing candidates and handling the delicate nature of terminations, I’ve been exposed to many personality types in the process. As a result, I’ve come to learn that everyone has a story to tell. Observing a large spectrum of human behavior on a daily basis has only helped me in creating believable characters for my story.

Q: What was the inspiration for Dancing at Midnight?

A: I was randomly looking through my family’s genealogy one day and realized there were a lot of missing pieces in the lives of some of my relatives – including my own mother. I knew some about her life, but not enough that would help explain her often erratic behavior. My mother has since passed away and there are so many things I will never know. In writing Dancing at Midnight, I was able to give my character the answers that I had hoped to find.

Q: The plot of your debut novel revolves around the discovery of a mother’s private journals and the secrets she has kept hidden from her family. What is your own theory about the keeping of diaries (i.e., a cathartic way to examine one’s life with no intention of those entries ever being read OR a confessional that is meant to explain past deeds and seek redemption after death)?

A: Diaries can be a very therapeutic way for otherwise introverted individuals to express their deepest thoughts and darkest secrets. Especially when dealing with trauma they would prefer to keep private from the outside world. In the time period of my novel, it makes perfect sense then that June would use her diary to sort out her feelings in a time where many of her experiences were not openly talked about like they are now. I believe keeping the journal was the only thing that helped her to go on living.

Q: Do you keep a diary?

A: I’ve kept a diary at brief points in my life. I usually ended up losing interest after a while and forgot to keep them up. I prefer to talk about my feeling to a live person if possible.

Q: How much of your own personality was put into Dancing at Midnight?

A: I am a combination of both Carolyn and June. But mostly June. Both characters suffer from an anxiety disorder as do I. As a daughter, my mother was very much like June. As a mother, I have suffered trauma that I feel is often misunderstood by family and friends. It’s interesting that how in writing this book, my personality became more evident in the mother.

Q: Have you ever entertained the idea of penning an autobiography?

A: Yes. I’ve had a very eventful life and wish to write about it someday. However, in consideration of others that may be affected by my story, I’m waiting until the right moment to present itself.

Q: Who’s your favorite character in Dancing at Midnight?

A: That would be Jimmy! I don’t know how that character came out of my brain. He is wonderful! I want to marry him myself.

Q: Is there a takeaway message you’d like your readers to have by the final chapter?

A: There are two things actually. First, not everyone is who they appear to be. Carolyn’s frustration with her mother was based on lack of knowledge and understanding. We never know what someone else has endured unless we have lived in their shoes. Judgement should be reserved when you don’t know the whole picture. Second, not everyone heals from trauma the same way. For some the trauma lasts a lifetime. Our society is so quick to shame people into “moving on” and just “getting over” it. Mourning is unique to each individual. The timeline should never be judged or rushed.

Q: Like a lot of authors today, you chose to go the self-publishing route. Was it easier or harder than you expected to wear a multiplicity of hats and get this book in front of a readership?

A: I originally opted to pursue self-publishing as a simpler and faster way to get my book published. It has proven to be anything but that. Although my book has received outstanding reviews and honored by indie BRAG, the promotion has been an extremely frustrating process. Writing a good book means nothing if you can’t get it out to the masses!

Q: What are you doing to promote it and which methods are working the most effectively for you?

A: I’ve done a lot of giveaways on Goodreads, Facebook and Amazon. Goodreads has given me the most exposure, but it’s still limited in the grand scheme of publishing. At this point, word of mouth had brought about the best results so far.

Q: Let’s say Hollywood comes calling to adapt this to a feature-length film. Who comprises your dream cast for it?

A: A film would be my biggest dream! I saw the book as a movie in my head the whole time I was writing it. The cast suggestions below are based strictly on physical resemblance and types.

Jimmy – Alex Pettyfer

June –Aleixis Bleidel

Alice – Jessica Hamby

Tom – Brant Daughtery

Carolyn – Rachel McAdams

Sharon – Reese Witherspoon

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

A: I’m terrified of frogs! My brother lives in a rural area and in the summer it looks like one of the Egyptian plagues outside his house.

Q: Who or what inspires you as an author?

A: My inspiration is based solely on my need to put my thoughts on paper. It is very therapeutic for me to express myself in this type of format. Sometimes even I am surprised but what I write.

Q: When and where do you feel the most creative?

A: Unfortunately, I’m the most creative when I’m trying to get to sleep at night. I wish I could plug my brain into a computer and transfer the data. By the time I get up and go to my computer I don’t always remember what I want to say! So I write mostly at night/early hours of the morning. It’s my best time to concentrate.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: I’m currently working on a sequel to Dancing at Midnight. I wasn’t planning on writing one but there has been an overwhelming request to do so. You’ve got to make your readers happy, right?

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: Publishing my first novel has been an incredible personal accomplishment. I have many more stories in my head. I look forward to expanding my collection of titles in the future.

Raisin the Dead

 

Karoline Barrett

“Cooking,” wrote American journalist Harriet Van Horne, “is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all.” The same can be said about the craft of writing, and when these two passions come together in a culinary themed mystery, it’s the recipe for a mouth-watering delight that leaves readers hungry for more. Karoline Barrett – today’s featured author – joins the ranks of Ellie Alexander, Miranda Bliss, Christine Wenger and other kindred spirit wordsmiths whose protagonists have a taste for solving neighborhood crimes. In Barrett’s latest release, Raisin the Dead, library director Anne Tyler is a person of interest in a murder, a scenario that compels bakery owner Molly Tyler to step in to help clear her mother’s name.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: When did you first know that writer’s ink was flowing through your veins and you just had to do something about it?

A: I’ve always enjoyed writing, but didn’t take it up seriously until I was older (we won’t discuss how much older). My husband encouraged me to take writing classes from an online writing school in Connecticut, where we now live, called Long Ridge Writers Group. They were wonderful and I learned so much. My very first published novel, The Art of Being Rebekkah, started as a short story in one of my classes.

Q: Stylistically, what authors (living or dead) do you feel have had the greatest influence on your own approach to storytelling?

A: Ann B. Ross (author of the Miss Julia series) because of her character portrayals, they’re so very real, and Janet Evanovich because of her humor.

Q: The Bread and Batter mystery series is a clever concept. What inspired it?

A: I was having a hard time thinking of another writing project and my agent asked me what I liked to read. The answer was mysteries. She suggested I write one, and I took her advice. I like discovering new bakeries, so I wanted the series to center around Molly and the bakery she owns with her best friend, Olivia. I’m happy to say it worked out.

Q: Which of your characters is secretly your fictional self?

A: I’m asked that a lot. In reality, my characters come from my imagination. If I had to pick the one I want to be my fictional self, it would be Emily, the owner of Barking Mad books. I’ve always thought owing a small bookstore would be delightful.

Q: Favored baked dessert – a cake, a pie or cookies?

A: Since ice-cream isn’t a choice, chocolate cake with chocolate icing (do you see a chocolate theme here?)

Q: Store-bought or homemade?

A: Homemade. The best kind!

Q: In your daily writing routine, when and where do you feel you are at your most energized?

A: I’m a morning person, so I do well between 7 a.m. and 3 p.m. My writing desk faces a window, so I navigate between that and my recliner when I’m writing.

Q: Do you allow anyone to read your material while it’s still a work-in-progress or do you make them wait until you have typed The End?

A: They have to wait. My work-in-progress goes through a lot of changes between the time I type the first work and the time I type The End.

Q: Which do you feel is more challenging – to pen a short story, to develop a stand-alone novel, or to create recurring characters for a series?

A: I’ve done all three, so I have to say a series. I have to keep each book fresh, make sure all the characters come back with the same names, eye colors, etc. Make sure the town names haven’t changed. It’s also a challenge not to say too much about the previous books in case someone hasn’t read them yet. Then there’s the challenge of keeping all the characters interesting.

Q: Let’s say Hollywood comes calling to turn Raisin the Dead into a new TV series. Who’s on your wish list for casting?

A: I have to confess I don’t keep up on who’s who in Hollywood. I don’t know who the Gilmore Girls are, and I thought The Game of Thrones had something to do with Queen Elizabeth. I’m going to chicken out of this one and say I’d be so thrilled to see it as a TV series, I don’t care who was playing the characters. Although, I’d love to hear from readers on whom they think would be good casting.

Q: How did you go about finding the right literary agent to represent your work?

A: As mentioned, my first novel was The Art of Being Rebekkah. I compiled a list of agents who were looking for women’s fiction.  I got a lot of requests for the partial manuscript, and the full manuscript, but no takers. After going through 120 agents, I was thinking about calling it quits. Then, on Twitter, I saw someone discussing Frances Black. She and a partner own Literary Counsel. Okay, I thought. One more time! She loved my book and signed me. The rest, as they say, is history.

Q: What’s your favorite thing about being published?

A: Pleasing my readers and having them ask for more books!

Q: Promoting a new title is almost as much – if not more – work than writing it in the first place. What are some of the activities you’re pursuing in this regard to put your book(s) on everyone’s radar?

A: It really is! I’m a constant presence on Facebook. Both on my author page and personal page. I’ve connected with a lot of other authors, readers, and bloggers. I do a lot of blog tours and giveaways. I love the giveaways, but I make my husband pick winners. I just can’t do it. I’d pick everyone!  Since my Bread and Batter series is e-book only, I can’t do book signings, which I’d really like to do.

Q: To celebrate your success, you’ve made reservations for dinner at your favorite restaurant and can invite any three famous authors to join you. Who are they, what are the seating arrangements, and what question would you most love to ask each of them?

A: I’d have Shirley Jackson, Janet Evanovich, and Debbie Macomber. I’d be at the head at the table, so I could see and hear everyone.  Shirley’s question would be, “How on earth did you come up with The Lottery? It’s my favorite short story of all time.” For Janet, I’d want to know how she comes up with all the scrapes her characters get in to and how she keeps all her books so funny and fresh. I’d like to talk character development with Debbie. Her books are so character driven, which is what I love about them.

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

A: I want to write a psychological thriller like The Girl on the Train.

Q: What do you do when you’re not writing?

A: Read, shop, spend time at the beach. Think about writing.

Q: Do you typically read one book at a time or have multiple stacks throughout the house?

A: I can handle reading two books at once, but more than that and my brain starts complaining.

Q: What are you reading now?

A: I just finished A Muddied Murder by Wendy Tyson. Time for a trip to the library!

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A:I’m working on book three of my Bread and Batter series, I’m outlining a new series I want to present to my agent, and I also have a romance half-written.

Q: Best advice to aspiring writers?

A: Write what you love, believe in yourself, and have patience, lots of patience.

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

A: My website is karolinebarrett  On Facebook, readers can find me here, KarolineBarrettBooks

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: Thank you so much for having me, it’s been fun! Of course, a thank you to all my readers!

 

 

Guessing at Normal

Guessing at Normal

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

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: Are you Team James or Team Alex?

A: Team James, all the way!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: What are you currently working on?

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

Q: Where can readers learn more about your work?

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

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

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

A Conversation with Ruth Harris

Ruth Harris Books

Ruth Harris is a million-copy New York Times and Amazon bestselling author and Romantic Times award winner for her critically acclaimed women’s fiction novels. Add that to her co-authoring thriller novels with her husband, Michael Harris, and co-blogging with author, Anne R. Allen. This is one talented, busy lady! Her quick mind and witty repartee are keenly evident in her answers to our questions about writing, life, and trying to find a semblance of balance. Join us in welcoming Ruth to our writing stage!

Interviewed By Debbie A. McClure

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Q         Ruth, every writer dreams of hitting the million-seller list, but what has surprised you the most since you reached that mark?

A         What surprised me (even though I was expecting it) is the fact that nothing really changes. Once you’re past the initial thrill, your life goes on. Meals need to be cooked. Laundry needs to be folded. Books are just as easy/hard to write. You have good hair days and bad hair days. Any writer who thinks hitting a best seller list is going to change his/her life is lost in a fantasy.

Q         Writing is a looong journey fraught with many mountains and valleys. What advice would you give to new writers just starting out?

A         Keep it real and get prepared for the long haul.

Q         You also write critically acclaimed thriller novels with your husband, Michael, which is a tremendous accomplishment. What would you say are the benefits and/or downsides to this type of up-close-and-personal collaboration, and why?

A        Well, at least we didn’t kill each other. 😉

Seriously, here’s a look at how it worked (for us) when we had a major disagreement.

http://ruthharrisblog.blogspot.com/2013/08/scene-rescuewhen-collaborators-disagree.html

Q         Who would you say has been your greatest life or career mentor, and why?

A         My father, who LOVED words/language, is remembered by those who knew him (including me) as “always reading.” He was also a news junkie—all traits I inherited from him. My mother was a great story teller. She was an RN who worked in a big city hospital and told sad/funny/outrageous stories of life and death with verve and panache.

Q         Your life goals/dreams have included becoming an ice skater and lawyer, before getting involved in publishing and writing. For the most part, each of these extremely challenging choices focuses on the development of the individual’s skills. What is it about these types of challenges that intrigue and draw you in?

A         They never get boring. Always new ways to fail, new ways to succeed, always something new and different to learn/try/do.

Q         By your own admission you like to write about “strong, savvy, witty women”. What is the message you are trying to convey to women who read your books?

A        Don’t give up! Persistence is the key and don’t feel bad about your neck.

Q        I’m sure you have a very full day, every day. How do you balance life and work to find a reasonably satisfactory compromise?

A         Ha!

Q         It’s interesting to note that you write in several genres. Has it been difficult to find your niche market?

A        Probably. But, as I said above, don’t give up. I’m not.

Q        What has been the most difficult lesson for you to learn, and why?

A        Patience is numero uno!

Q        Could you tell us a little about how you and author Anne R. Allen came to collaborate on a blog?

A        Anne invited me and I said yes. Simple as that.

Q        Like so many other writers, you struggled with blogging and what to blog about. What advice would you give to writers who also struggle with the what, when, where, and why of blogging?

 A        Keep struggling. You’ll think of something! J

Q        What’s next on your agenda, Ruth?

A         I’m writing a series of cozy mysteries set in the small town called New York City. Glam setting. Quirky characters. Friendly natives. Really!