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

 

 

Think of Me

THINK OF ME Cover.jpg

When you’re single, separated, divorced or widowed, there’s no shortage of well-meaning friends wanting to fix you up with someone new. For Detective Josh Hartnell, it’s not just about finding romantic companionship for himself, it’s about finding a caring woman to be a mother to his little girl. Not every relationship, however, is a blissful match made in Heaven … as Josh is about to find out in Kat Schuessler’s new romantic suspense, Think of Me.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett
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Q: Did you always know you wanted to be a writer or were there other career paths percolating in your imagination when you were growing up?

A: When I was younger, I read Harriet the Spy and wanted to be a spy when I grew up. I was obsessed with spy gear and sneaking around. As I grew older, I realized the movie was more about Harriet being a writer than being a spy. Then I read the Harry Potter series and my yearning to be a writer increased.

Q: Do you remember the first thing you ever wrote?

A: The first thing I remember writing is a series of short stories featuring myself as “Super Kat” and my neighbors as the villains.

Q: What titles might we have found on your nightstand as an adolescent? As a teenager?

A: As an adolescent I was reading Harry Potter, Harriet the Spy, and Anne of Green Gables. As a teenager I read Stephen King books, the Series of Unfortunate Events series, Twilight (don’t judge haha), and all of the books I read as an adolescent.

Q: Which authors do you feel have had the most influence on your wordsmithing style?

A: I was definitely influenced by Kresley Cole and Stephen King. The snarkiness and backstory they give their characters always delights me and I strive to at least resemble their characters a little bit.

Q: What inspired you to start writing romance?

A: I first read A Hunger Like No Other by Kresley Cole and became addicted to the whole series. It had never occurred to me that I could write so visually about sex and people would not only read it but enjoy it. I decided to try writing a sex scene and when it flowed so easily, I knew I had found my genre.

Q: If your own life were an existing romance novel or movie, what would it be (and why)?

A: Pick the most pathetic one you can think of and that’s it. You’re probably thinking Twilight but at least that included vampire action.

Q: Plotter or pantser?

A: Pantser. I have tried to plot and I can barely stick to a timeline.

Q: Do you allow anyone to read your works in progress or do you make everyone wait until you have typed The End?

A: It really depends on the person but I tend to want to wait unless I hit a wall and need advice.

Q: Think of Me is part of a series. How did you come up with this title and the titles of your other books?

A: The first book was untitled until halfway through the book, and I just could not think of a name. I was watching Phantom of the Opera and a line from one of the songs stuck with me, so I decided to go with it. After that, I just tried to find more lines that made a good book title.

Q: What do you find to be the biggest challenge in creating a series as opposed to a standalone novel?

A: I always feel like I need to make the next book better than the last, and it’s a lot of pressure for me. I’m also unsure how much of a review of the last book I need to include.

Q: Who are your favorite and least favorite characters?

A: My favorite character is definitely Rory from No Backward Glances because she represented my past and how I wish I could have been. We both had dark times and contemplated suicide, and we both made it through, but she did it with more grace. She was also able to actually be with somebody she loved who helped her learn to trust again.

My least favorite character was Kelly, Rita’s roommate in Think of Me. I don’t think I spent enough time developing her character, and even though she was only a side character, I feel like I could have made her more interesting than I did.

Q: Are any of them patterned after people you know (including yourself)?

A: Almost all of my characters are patterned after people in my life, including my sisters, best friends, parents, nieces and nephews, lovers, and exes. I also tend to include a few inside jokes between the characters that I have with people in my life. It makes me feel closer to my characters.

Q: How does pop culture influence your writing?

A: I actually wouldn’t say it influences my writing. I just do my best to reference it as much as I can, because I feel like it not only makes people laugh, but it connects my readers to my characters by giving them something in common. This is also why I try to write speech the way it’s usually spoken, including slang words, despite the fact that a lot of professional writers frown on this. Real people don’t speak with perfect grammar; they use slang and speak easily, and it’s instantly relatable.

Q: How do you ensure that pop culture references won’t “date” your material down the road?

A: I do my best to choose references that are iconic enough that people will always understand them. I also try to throw in some that are mildly obscure but hit little niches of people that get excited about their fandom being mentioned.

Q: Is there anything you’d like to experiment with in your path as a writer?

A: Although I don’t have any experience with it, I would love to try writing a lesbian romance. I feel like it would be enough of a challenge to keep me interested.

Q: Ever had writer’s block? If so, how do you deal with it?

A: I have writer’s block a lot. I actually have a really odd treatment for it:  I watch the movie Bag of Bones, which is an adaptation of Stephen King’s book by the same name. It contains a writer who has writer’s block and he finds a way to overcome it. Watching his joy as he finds his ability to write again always inspires me to get going so I can try to find that joy.

Q: What’s your greatest weakness when it comes to writing?

A: My greatest weakness is definitely coming up with my blurb and synopsis. I find it very difficult to sum up a 60,000 word novel in just a couple of paragraphs, all without giving too much away.

Q: Like many authors today, you chose to go the route of self-publishing. What governed that choice and what do you know now that you didn’t know when you started?

A: I chose to self-publish mainly out of necessity. I would much rather publish traditionally but it seems to be a dying art. What I know now is that my dream of seeing my book on a literal store bookshelf is probably never going to happen because technology has taken over. I’m very old fashioned when it comes to books.

Q: Where do you see the publishing industry going in the next 10 years? 20 years?

A: I have a really bad feeling that print books are going to disappear and ebooks will be the only format. I really hope that isn’t the case but that’s the way the world seems to be going.

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

A: The only thing I can think of is that I have been learning American Sign Language and have really been enjoying it. I’m definitely not fluent but I believe I could hold a conversation.

Q: Best advice to fellow authors?

A: Edit. Edit. Edit some more. Then put the book aside for a while, maybe a month or so, then re-read it and edit again. Finally, have somebody else proofread it. When you’re that close to your book, you’re going to miss a lot of errors because your eyes will just slide over it.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I’m trying to work on a third book but with my daughter running around like a maniac it’s hard to find time to write.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: First, thank you to my readers for reading my books, whether you enjoy them or not. The very idea that you read a novel that I wrote astounds me and I am so grateful for the time and money it took to buy and read it. Second, I want to encourage everybody to remember that, even with technology encroaching on our lives, nothing will ever be better than holding a physical book in your hand, turning the pages, and inhaling that classic smell. There is no battery on a book. And if we keep buying and reading physical books at least as much as, if not more than, ebooks, they might just stick around.

 

 

Black and Single Blues

Black and Single Blues Cover

You think finding the love of your life is hard? Try keeping her. Keith Jackson is a globe-trotting guitarist in great demand and with legions of ladies along the line. When he crosses paths with Lesli—a woman who wondrously stops his life dead in its tracks—it looks as if a happily-ever-after will be in the cards for both of them. Or will it? 

Minnesota novelist, essayist and playwright Dwight Hobbes offers a sneak peek into his new release, Black & Single Blues, and shares thoughts on his journey as a savvy wordsmith.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: With a long list of credits to your name in Essence, Reader’s Digest, The Washington Post, The San Diego-Union Tribune, guest appearances on public radio and television, and theatrical expertise at The Loft and The Playwrights Center, it seems a natural segue to your latest passion for the world of book publishing. Such success, however, never happens overnight. What was your own journey like insofar as getting the stories in your head in front of a paying readership?

A: Tough. Essence took about two years to buy a short story and, aside from placing a play, “You Can’t Always Sometimes Never Tell” in a reasonably successful anthology, Center Stage, it was all queries and rejection slips from 1980 to 1992. Went through a marriage to a lovely, very disillusioned young lady. Frank Sinatra sang that if you can make it in New York you can make it anywhere. Doesn’t necessarily mean you can make it in New York, where the assistant to the editor probably has an assistant. The Twin Cities is a much smaller, very different world. Being rejected wasn’t nearly as coldly impersonal and you had a significantly greater chance of catching on. At the magazines, newspapers. Even book publishers. Something I Said (collected essays on domestic abuse, rape, race and more) I was able to pitch to Papyrus Publishing by calling Anura Si-Asar and having coffee. Made a magazine sale a year after I got here, then newspapers and haven’t stopped since. It’s been fat, sometimes lean but it’s steady. Never gone without some kind of check whether it’s big or small.

Q: Who are some of the authors you admired from adolescence and into adulthood, and what insights did you glean from them in shaping your own successful career?

A: Well, I cut my teeth on James Baldwin and Chester Himes as a teenager. Later, John A. Williams, Ann Petry, Zora Neal Hurston. Insights?  I’ve never tackled the same subjects as any of them but did thoroughly digest their styles. Doubted myself for that until I saw that Baldwin, one of my greatest heroes, parroted Carson McCullers. Literally. After ages, I actually arrived at my own voice but even the most original pen is going to echo some influence.

Q: How did you feel the first time your saw your name in print? Was it a surprise or an expectation?

A: The greatest surprise was that Essence contract. It’s like, “What do they mean by ‘Yes.’?”  It was staring me in the face and I still couldn’t believe it. Not only was I going to be in a national magazine but the only black one that ran fiction. Negro Digest had died years before and you have to understand, it was decades before opportunities got better. I just sat there, making myself believe it was real.

Q: What was the inspiration behind Black & Single Blues?

A: The story in Essence. Which had been an attempt at an essay, really, debunking true love as a pleasant fantasy. Wound up trying it as fiction and that worked. It was still cynical until the weekly, Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder, a few years ago, needed a romance to serialize.  In the process, it became hopeful because, frankly, I welcomed a break from coming up with caustic commentary week in, week out and wanted to do something on the lighter side. Shoot-from-the-hip sardonic but good-natured, put a smile-on-your-face fun.

Q: With whom will its storyline most strongly resonate?

A: I’ve said, you don’t have to be black, single or have to the blues to enjoy it, but, yeah, it resonates best with black women. Those who, for instance, like Lifetime but want to see someone who looks like them and has a good profession. Lesli, the female lead, is a head librarian, what you could call a sexy nerd. She’s self-possessed, intelligently articulate and, of course, hot as a sunburn. Keith, the male lead, is an easy-going, fun-loving guitarist who comes across her and is just blindsided by this fascinating woman. It affords readers a seldom seen look into the heart and mind of a man in love.

Q: If Hollywood came calling, who would comprise your dream cast for this book?

A: I suppose Paula Patton. And if there’s a youngish Denzel floating around out there somewhere.

Q: Are you a plotter or a pantser? And why does this approach work well for you?

A: Had to look pantser up. No, if I don’t know where my story’s going to go, I’ll be lucky to ever get there. Before writing the first word, I need to decide how things will end. How they begin. In-between, sure, that’s a free-for-all, nudging here and there, letting the characters – you have to create them solidly enough – allowing their behavior to carry the action.

Q: What was the most challenging aspect of developing the plot and characters?

A: I have to care about the people in order to convincingly create them. Know them inside and out. Well enough to give them each spontaneous behavior and distinct dialogue. The plot, the story has to be something readers or an audience finds an interesting experience. Something they’ll feel.

Q: Do you allow anyone to read your works-in-progress or do you make them wait until after you have typed THE END?

A: Nope. Nobody reads nothin’ ‘til it’s done.

Q: How did you go about finding the right publisher for your work and what was the takeaway from that experience?

A: With Essence where else was I going to go?  They owned the market. The plays, you just keep knocking on doors until one opens. Of course, you don’t send dramas to a shop that specializes in comedy. You open up the old trusty Writers Market and see who’s looking for what. Black & Single Blues lucked out. I knew Shelley from reviewing her novels, which is how we originally came across on another. She doesn’t even do romantic fiction but asked to look at it, anyway. And liked it.

Q: Where do you see the publishing industry going in the next 10-20 years?

A: With all the advent of electronic this and that, e-books, I-Pads, what have you, God alone knows. I do have a sneaking suspicion that just like even the biggest big chains, let alone small, independent stores that have gone out of business, have run into serious trouble selling something you can hold in your hand and turn the pages of, it’s conceivable actual books could become obsolete. Not a good thing

Q: Why do you write?

A: It’s a cliché but it’s true. Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly. When it’s something to which you’re naturally suited you don’t, to coin another corny phrase, choose it. It chooses you.

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

A: That I started out reading comic books and that’s how I got hooked on books. And, these days, I thoroughly enjoy, am engrossed in Warriors. A children’s book series about clans of kitty cats adventuring in the wild.

Q: What are your best tips for aspiring writers in terms of (1) being an original voice, (2) not giving up, and (3) dealing with rejection?

A: Being original ironically calls for first finding a style you admire. You learn to speak by hearing someone else’s voice. From childhood, y’ know?  Eventually your own way of walking and talking through a story will develop. Not giving up?  What can I say, you have to refuse to lose. Have the attitude that if you ever fail, you’ll never know it because you’ll have died trying. Rejection is easier to deal with in love and life than it is in writing and dealing with it in love and life is plenty tough. With writing, you can get turned down because you don’t have the chops or simply because your material isn’t what they’re buying. And never know which reason it was. Just that you got turned down. It can be, and my ex-wife told me this, entirely arbitrary. Which is the God’s honest truth. I found out, a couple years after the Essence sale, that it happened because Marcia Ann Guillespie peeked at the editor’s desk, saw it sitting in the rejection pile and overruled her. Had she been looking left instead of right as she went past, that would’ve been that. Ultimately, you have to develop a thick skin. It helps keep your morale up to always have something out there on somebody’s desk. That way, you’re always giving yourself a chance.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: Working on two manuscripts before I get to the three waiting behind them. A Black Life On The Great White Way, memoir of ushering 20 years at Historic Theater Group/Hennepin Theatre Trust, a company that brings Broadway seasons to Minneapolis. The book is sort of a Backstairs at the White House only instead of historic drama, you get a nonetheless engaging tale of some entertaining trials and tribulations. And Ella Stanley, a play based on Effa Manley, the Negro Baseball Leagues’ only female owner who, in the late 40’s, refused to sit down somewhere, shut up, be a pretty face and let men handle things. She was a savvy businesswoman and community crusader way ahead of her time. Who, however, like the men, lost her livelihood when Branch Rickey and, after him, the rest of Major League Baseball, raided black clubs for talent like Jackie Robinson. That’s social progress for you.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

A: Www.dwighthobbes.weebly.com. That’s about it. Marcie Rendon, a former student, successful writer and good friend, tried to do a bio on Wikipedia but found the rules and regulations too tricky. Of course, there’s always Facebook.

 

 

Barkerville Beginnings

Astrid Cover

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

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A: Email! Facebook! Laundry! Dust bunnies!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: Best personal cure for writer’s block?

A:  Go for a walk.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 And from that will grow an entire book!

 

 

 

 

A Conversation with Jamie Dare

Jamie Dare headshot

As one half of the dynamic duo, Hamlett & Dare, Jamie Dare takes no backseat in her co-writing endeavours. An outstanding writer, she dives right into new projects with gusto, and loves exploring new opportunities to write “outside the box”. Funny, quixotic, and down-to-earth, Jamie takes her writing seriously, and isn’t afraid to tell us a bit about her own insecurities, writing processes, and give us a small, behind-the scenes look at what goes into co-writing a book and comedic play that’s currently in the works. Welcome Jamie!

Interviewer: Debbie A. McClure

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Q: What kind of research do you do when preparing for a new book project?

A: Read, read, Google like a maniac, read. I hadn’t read much chick lit before “While You Were Out” so to familiarize myself with the genre, I blazed through the entire Sophie Kinsella canon. I hadn’t planned on doing this, but after the first book, I couldn’t stop. Ms. Kinsella’s books are like rainbow Skittles. Can’t stop at one.

Q: What’s the most unusual thing you had to research online for your book?

A: Two words: stargazy pie. In “While You Were Out,” Henny’s mother isn’t known for her culinary prowess. So you can imagine what happens when she tries her hand at this rather unique dish. Someday I will work up the courage to make it myself.

Q: Do you work from an outline, or allow the plot to unfold as you go along?

A: The latter. I know you’re supposed to outline before writing. So I outline, but I never stick to it. I’m most definitely a pantser.

Q: Describe your writing process in five words or less.

A: Procrastinate, panic, write, rewrite, repeat. Were I allowed a sixth word, I’d probably put “procrastinate” in there twice.

Q: Can you tell us a little about the current project you’re working on?

A: Christina and I just wrapped up “Séance and Sensibility,” a comedic take on the Jane Austen classic. In the play, Elinor and Marianne Dashwood navigate Regency-era England’s stuffy social customs with assistance from a crystal ball. And some otherworldly friends, of course. It’s the most fun I’ve ever had writing a script. It’s also our third Austenesque spoof. “Cliffhanger Abbey” and “Hyde and Prejudice” can be found at Heartland Plays (https://heartlandplays.com/).

Q: Have you ever experienced “writer’s block”? If so, how do you overcome it?

A: I haven’t experienced writer’s block, I AM writer’s block. It should be my middle two names.

I have different methods for un-sticking myself. If I find myself staring at “At Rise” or “Chapter 1” for hours on end, I’ll force myself to write something. Anything. Even if it’s terrible. Even if it’s “All work and no play make Jack a dull boy”. (Although, this technique made me want to put an axe through a door, so I’ve sort of stopped using it). The next day the deficiencies are so glaring, I can’t wait to dive in and rewrite.

If I’m stuck in the middle of a chapter or scene and the words aren’t coming, it means I’m out of gas. So I’ll do something else to give my mind a break. Run, walk, bike, line dance. I always fear the words won’t come back, but they do. Usually when I don’t have a pen handy, but that’s beside the point.

Q: What would you say are your strengths and weaknesses as a writer?

A: Strength would be dialogue. I love writing dialogue, which is odd because in real life I can’t stand talking. I’m also a decent first-drafter.

Weaknesses? Where to begin. I’ve given myself bald spots trying to plot out stories. While we’ve all heard that “Good writing is rewriting,” I sometimes overdo this to the point I’m writing and erasing at the same time.

Q: What was your elevator pitch for the While You Were Out book?

A: It’s one thing for Henny Tinker to think her handsome and charismatic new boss, Geoffrey Bond, is way out of her league. The more she reflects on his secret trips and his uncanny ability to acquire never-before-seen artworks, the more she suspects he’s – quite literally – out of her time-zone.

Could it have something to do with the Scottish railway clock in his office that runs perfectly…in reverse? Is it his penchant for period outfits that supposedly coincide with the themed costume parties he attends? Or has Henny simply been watching too many time-travel movies and now sees evidence of its existence everywhere she looks?

Set against the backdrop of modern-day London, While You Were Out is just the right mix of romantic comedy, mystery, and a dash of wicked competition in the world of high-end art acquisitions. My stellar writing partner is the genius behind this pitch, by the way.

WYWO front cover

Q: What was the most difficult scene for you to write in While You Were Out?

A: Honestly? The restaurant scenes! Geoffrey and Henny dine at the finest establishments in London. I don’t eat out unless I have a coupon, so I have no idea what a five-star restaurant would serve. I burned up the Internet researching words like “vacherin” and “fribourgeois”.  To me, these sound like an ailment and its prescription. Henny notes this in the book as well.

Q: Tell us an interesting, fun fact about your book.

A: I had no idea how it would end — until the very end! Christina and I write by dividing up chapters or scenes; she’ll write a couple, then I will, and so on. For “While You Were Out,” she had the final chapters and kept me in the dark about the big reveal. Like Henny, I was left to develop my own theory about Geoffrey’s comings and goings, and his odd disappearances. The finale was even better than I could have ever imagined.

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

A: I’ve learned I can stay awake until 3am on a consistent basis. I wouldn’t say I recommend this as a writing schedule, but that’s the way my mind works. It doesn’t matter if I staple myself to a computer from 9am to 5pm. The words that “stick” to the page are the ones that come in the wee hours of the night. I’ve learned to accept it. Embrace who you are, kids.

Q: What is the most difficult and easiest part of co-writing a book with another writer?

A: The easiest part is having another writer as a sounding board. Instant feedback from someone you trust… it doesn’t get much better than that. It’s also invaluable having a co-writer who is adept at story structure. Christina has plotted out entire novels in her sleep, no joke. You know what I do in my sleep? Sleep!

The only difficult part is trying to keep up with Christina’s prolificity. I’m the type who agonizes over every word, so whenever I send off new pages, it’s a big deal. I’ll go make myself a celebratory sandwich or whatever and by the time I’ve finished eating, Christina has sent me her new pages. I have no idea how she does it.

Q: What’s next for you, Jamie?

A: Lots of fun stuff on the horizon! The response to “While You Were Out” has been so overwhelming, we’re planning another chick-lit novel, “Saving Captain Cupid.” We’ve also broken ground on a romantic suspense novel, “Silent Knight.” Watch this space for more details.

And look for a new play, “Last Flight to Ithaca,” from Brooklyn Publishers in August 2017 (https://www.brookpub.com). Christina and I love adding a contemporary spin to the classics, and this comedy finds Ulysses (yes, the Greek hero) stuck in an airport as he tries desperately to get home for the holidays. Talk about an odyssey. Wow, that’s a lot in the pipeline! Time to go clean the house.

 

For more information about Jamie’s work, please visit https://hamlettanddare.wordpress.com/.

 

 

 

A Chat with Stephanie McKibben

 

Stephanie McKibben

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

Interviewed by
Debbie A. McClure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Guessing at Normal

Guessing at Normal

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

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: Are you Team James or Team Alex?

A: Team James, all the way!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: What are you currently working on?

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

Q: Where can readers learn more about your work?

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

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

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