CHAT WITH GLYNIS ASTIE

GlynisAstie

After thirteen years in Human Resources, Glynis decided to make good on her promise to write a book. Rather than detailing the bizarre issues she had encountered over the course of her career, she elected to write about her real life French fairy tale: the story of how she met and married her husband, Sebastien, in six short months. She currently lives in Westchester, New York with her incredibly romantic husband, two angelic sons and two adorable kitties. 

Time to chat with Glynis!

What is your latest book?

I have just released French Toast, the second book in the French Twist Series. The books are based on my life and chronicle the very rapid development of my relationship with my husband, Sebastien. The first book in the series, French Twist, sets the stage with our adorable meet-cute, carries through our hilarious courtship and finishes with our first wedding. French Toast, picks up right where French Twist leaves off and shows the difficulty of the first year of marriage…and reveals our next two weddings. Intrigued, aren’t you?

FrenchToast

What are the special challenges in writing a series?

I think that it is important to link the stories across a series, but also to ensure that each book can exist as a stand-alone story. I always love it when I can pick up any book in a series and not feel like I am lost. J.K. Rowling did an amazing job with this in the Harry Potter series. She gave just enough detail in each book to catch you up to where you needed to be in order for the story to make sense. In the first chapter of French Toast, I made sure to provide enough background material so that readers would be able to jump right in to the story and not feel like they had missed too much. There is always time to go back and read the first book later!

If you were to advertise your book on a bumper sticker, what would it say?

French Toast: Will their marriage crash & burn or will they raise a glass?

How important is the choosing of character names to you? Have you ever decided on a name and then changed it because it wasn’t right for the character?

I think that I have a particularly unique experience in this case. Because my books are based on my life, there are several people who have a vested interest in my characters’ names. Choosing the name for my alter ego was easy. I had always HATED my name (I was teased a lot as a child) and I used to fantasize that my name was Sydney. The choice in last name came from one of my favorite books, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. I just love the Bennett sisters

As for the names of my characters, I chose what I felt were solid names for my friends and family members, but I left the option open for them to change the names if they wanted to. Does it surprise you to know that every single one of them changed their names? It would seem that many people have a name in mind that they would have selected for themselves given the opportunity.

Can you tell us about your road to publication?

In my wildest dreams, I never imagined that I would end up as a writer. After I had my second child, I decided to be a stay at home mom. Once my son was about a year old – and actually started to sleep – I found myself getting restless. A few months later I had a dream that I wrote a book. It seemed like a crazy idea at the time, so I pushed it aside, dismissing the idea as an early mid-life crisis. (Very early!) But the idea just wouldn’t go away and one day I found myself writing down my ideas. Before I knew it, I had outlined the entire book!

I was completely shocked that it took me only two months to write my first book. I spent another month editing and sent the book on to my sister who is not only a gifted editor, but also the biggest fan of Chick Lit that I have ever come across. She quickly assessed where changes needed to be made and a month later, I was ready for proofreaders. While the finishing touches were being put on the book, my sister designed my book cover. (Does anyone else feel like she got most of the talent in the family?)

All I had left to do was upload my books! Both French Twist and French Toast were self-published. It has been a very interesting ride thus far!

Please, tell us about your experiences with social media. What are your favorite and least-favorite parts of it?

I am constantly amazed by the power of social media. With my first book, I did very little marketing and did not engage in any form of social media. I was blissfully clueless. However, with my second book, French Toast, I resolved to pull off a marketing blitz. I set up a Facebook author page, got a Twitter account, joined Pinterest, Google Plus, you name it! It was rather overwhelming at first, since there are so many channels to visit, but I found if I set a weekly schedule of posts for myself, things were a lot easier. .

By the end of my first day on Twitter I had met so many interesting people. That led to joining a number of Facebook groups for Chick Lit authors, which has changed my life immeasurably. (It is where I met you, Lisette!) I am so grateful for the vast number of authors out there who are willing to share their experience with me. I am also grateful for the readers who have opened up their lives to me! I believe that social media in general has allowed the development of a number of very rich communities. Being involved with all of these communication channels is not for the main purpose of selling books, but for forming relationships with people who will enrich your life.

Do you write anything besides novels? Care to share?

Yes, I do! I have just started blogging in the past month. For years, my sister has told me that I should start a blog about my sons. They are certainly the most colorful characters in my life. One day I will devote a book to them, but for the time being, you will be able to hear my musings on what it is like to be the mom to two energetic (and sometimes maddening) boys. I guarantee that you will crack a few smiles!

Are you an early bird writer or night owl? And do you have any must haves like coffee, chocolates, wine, music or something else?

I used to be a night owl, but since I have had kids, I have become both an early bird and night owl writer. When you are a parent, you have to fit in your tasks whenever you can. My three-year-old will often get me up before 6:00 am, which means I need a gigantic vat of coffee. He is then content to sit and watch cartoons while I first get sucked into the social media vortex and then try to gather my thoughts for the day in terms of writing. I don’t usually fit in too much writing during the day, so after my little one and his older brother have gone to bed, I consult my Darth Vader notebook (where I have scribbled random thoughts during the day) and get to work on my latest chapter. This is when I grab a glass of wine and settle in with my laptop and two cats. They are my companions into the wee hours as I plug away on my storyline.

We all know the old saying; you can’t judge a book by its cover. This is true. However, how much importance do you place on your book cover design?

I am so incredibly lucky to have someone as talented as my sister, Megan Eisen, designing my covers. I have received so many compliments on my cover art and am grateful to her for setting me up with such a brilliant brand. I use her images in all of my social media and have even had bookmarks made to match the covers as giveaways. I know that when I am looking for a new book to read, the cover is the first thing to catch my eye – an attractive cover leads me to read the book description, which often leads me to buy the book. The book cover is responsible for the instant attraction of the reader and your brilliant writing is responsible for the relationship (hopefully long-term) that you build with that reader.

Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? If so, how do you get around it?

Often! I get very little time to write since I have two active boys to keep up with. So many times, I will have a short window in which to write and nothing comes to me! It can be very frustrating. When I draw a total blank, I start taking care of items on my household to-do list. Five minutes into whatever task I chose, an idea comes to me and I frantically run to my laptop and start tapping away. Never underestimate the inspirational power of mundane tasks.

What’s your favorite comfort food? Least favorite food?

Mashed potatoes are my absolute favorite. Rich, creamy and delicious! I do not like sushi. I detest fish, so the idea of eating it raw makes my stomach turn.

If you could have one skill that you don’t currently have, what would it be?

I have always wished that I could sing. Unfortunately, I am completely tone deaf. It doesn’t stop me from belting a tune at the top of my lungs in the car though! I just make sure that a) I’m alone in the car and b) the windows are shut tight. No one needs to hear that kind of cacophony.

What music soothes your soul?

Billy Joel will always put me in a good mood. My favorites are “Only the Good Die Young” and “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me.” I could listen to his albums all day. In fact, he now has his own station on Sirius XM. Color me excited!

What simple pleasure makes you smile?

Making chocolate chip cookies with my boys. Not only do we end up with a tasty treat, but we have a wonderful time dancing around the kitchen (because you have to have music) while we prepare the cookies.

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CHAT WITH PAT McDONALD

PatMc

Pat McDonald is the author of the crime novel Getting Even: Revenge Is Best Served Cold the first book in her Crime Trilogy. Her career as a researcher, project manager and programme manager began initially in the Health Service – in Medicine, Mental Illness and Learning Disabilities; after which she spent 17 years working for a police force where she gained experience across all areas of law enforcement and the justice systems.

Time to chat with Pat!

What is your latest book?

My book Getting Even: Revenge Is Best Served Cold is the first published crime novel in a trilogy. The second Rogue Seed is currently being proof read and the third one Boxed Off is at the stage of finalisation of bringing together all the plots and being edited. My writing limitation is the inability to end a story and I usually amass a number of alternative endings – sometimes choosing is a problem for me and I tend to write them all in, usually leaving a ‘cliff hanger’ which naturally takes the book over into the start of another book, hence I found myself writing this trilogy. Although deciding to finish and finding a suitable ending for the trilogy, I would not definitely say that is as far as this group of characters go. Maybe I will take it up again, but that is not my current plan.

PatMcGettingEven

What are the special challenges in writing a series?

Starting as I have new to crime fiction and beginning by writing a three book series, meant I was faced with difficulties that I did not foresee. It was quite a challenge remembering all my characters and those minor things that make continuity a really important issue. My style and process as a ‘free flow’ writer makes it important to re-read and edit continuously. By ‘free flow’ I am not sure whether that is a legitimate description for my vivid imagination. I do not plan a book and neither do I set out the plot beforehand – it emerges as each scene is revealed. Like a large quilted blanket each is stitched into place to form an orderly pattern. Somehow it seems to work.

How often do your characters surprise you by doing or saying something totally unexpected?

All my characters are a huge surprise to me because I have no idea where they come from! I find myself building them around snippets or impressions of a variety of people I meet or have met in life. It could quite easily be someone I met whilst travelling, at an airport or a bus station; I have a continued interest in ‘people watching’ and seem to attract an inordinate number of interesting people as if I were a magnate and some seemingly quite odd or strange make an impression and often become a trait of one of my characters. More oftentimes revealing itself in the dialogue between my characters that I love so much to write; or perhaps a mannerism, or piece of strange behaviour – one such character is Hugo Bott who enters at Rogue Seed and continues through to Boxed Off. He is a character I enjoyed creating and developing and it was difficult to decide whether he would emerge as ‘good’ or ‘bad’.

Do you have complete control over your characters or do they ever control you?

My characters are as real to me as those in everyday life. They are in fact unpredictable and often take me by surprise when a scene emerges and I write it to its natural conclusion. The hardest part is deciding whether they are ‘good’ or ‘bad’ because the basis of my crime stories is this underlying theme – some people are nice and some people are just plain bad. I have a tussle sometimes because you can get awfully fond of the wrong characters and even where you want to make them into better people, they just won’t change! As a writer I like to elicit a reaction from my reader and do have a tendency to want to shock – any kind of reaction is all we can hope for from our readers. I pride myself on including the full spectrum of emotions and nothing makes me happier than to have a reader tell me they cried at one of my scenes. I do and I write it!

What part of writing a novel do you enjoy the most and least?

This is an easy question and I think perhaps universally felt by all writers – I love just writing, letting the plot flow and take me with it, losing myself to my imagination and letting it pour out. The least is the processing for publication, the dreaded editing. This is made worse for me by a rebellious streak and a love of writing as an art form – I do not want to comply with convention and be told how long my books should be, how many chapters etc. I want it to be as close to how it flowed from me as it possibly can be. Or indeed to be told where I should put adverbs. Did anyone tell Picasso how to hold his brush, how much paint to apply or what each stroke should look like? My writing isn’t a Picasso, but to me it is my creation. I have a problem with the conventions of this process.

Some authors, like me, always write scenes in order. But I know some people write scenes out of order. How about you?

I definitely write scenes as they come out and often rearrange them according to the emerging story. Someone once said that there is a difference between being a writer and a storyteller; a writer plans what they are going to write whereas a storyteller sits in front of a blank screen or piece of paper and writes. Although I have been a writer all my life in my varied careers and academic writings, I am now a storyteller. It gave me a sense of freedom through writing that I have never known before. When I begin a book I have no idea how it will end and sometimes even what the next scene will be – it is gloriously addictive.

Is it important for you to know the ending or title of a book before you write it?

The ending of a book is my foible and I often have more than one which is why I probably write such long books and so many in a genre series. But when the end comes to me, I then work back and fit the plot into producing that ending. It is often like doing a jigsaw puzzle, but when I find a good ending (for it is a discovery not a plan) I know it is close to me fitting it altogether. My titles either come from the way the book flows as in the first one, or as the next two given to me by a chance conversation with a person I meet and I suddenly realise just how good a title it would make. The titles become the theme of the book and I explore the different facets of it, allowing my characters to describe through their exploits what that theme is. Rogue Seed came from a conversation about a strange plant that grew from a packet of chilli seeds! It allowed me to explore the botanical concept – something growing where it shouldn’t be found, or the police concept of ‘going rogue’ where an officer diverges into criminal association, or even the biological concept of a human seed growing in the womb. My characters link it together whilst criminal activity abounds. I often joke that I have more bodies than Midsomer Murders (which is a UK crime drama series).

How important is the choosing of character names to you? Have you ever decided on a name and then changed it because it wasn’t right for the character?

I find names fascinating and whilst in the beginning they came largely out of my imagination, as the number of characters and the different ethnic backgrounds emerged I found myself turning often to a Name’s Generator package which gives names randomly according to the gender and ethnicity. Where it fell short was when I needed a Jamaican name and found that in Jamaica there is a large emergence of different nationalities rather than that which was solely native to Jamaica. I resorted to pulling up the Jamaican national football and cricket team players and finding a first and last name I like that went together! I thought that was quite ingenious, for me. I like to explore the meaning of names, and some of my characters have meaningful names. The only time I have changed a name is when I think it might be misconstrued as someone in real life which none of my characters are.

Have you ever written characters that you truly despise?

Not being overly fond of murderers, rapists, child molesters and torturers I would have to say unequivocally yes. My main ‘baddie’ took some stomaching and he had this habit of calling the wife he abused ‘My love’ in a sarcastic and jeering way. When someone said this to me in real life I found it hard to take and asked them would they mind not using that! Quite funny, yet made me cringe. I have to say I do have a fair proportion of not very nice characters, but I do balance them out with some lovely ones too. Being true to real life, my despicable characters often get away with it!

Do you allow others to read your work in progress, or do you keep it a secret until you’ve finished your first draft? Can you elaborate?

I think most writers find it difficult to let their work be read – it took me a while to acclimatise to the concept that I was writing for others to read my work. I have now begun to overcome this and have Rogue Seed being proof read by a friend who has read the first novel. I have had the need to grow into this aspect of being a writer, but now wish I had let my first Crime novel be read. I read it eleven times and thoroughly hated it by the time it was released! There are a few typos even at the final revision, and one very hilarious mistake that only one person has spotted so far – maybe one day I’ll offer a prize to whoever spots it!

Were you “born to write” or did you discover your passion for writing later in life?

I think I realised as a child that I wanted to be a writer. I had an insatiable appetite for reading and as a member of my local library joined the children’s section and read my way through it. I was granted permission to the adult section before I was old enough (with Librarian vetting!) and proceeded to read classics, poetry, plays and just about anything. I started writing in early teens and when I read the short stories (not so short was my foible even then!) it still amazes me that I wrote them. I wrote poetry early on and published some of my poems in anthologies and I still write poetry, and now dabble with Haiku. Since joining social media and meeting a large number of very talented writers I also try my hand at Micro Fiction – but this is more as a therapy – to try and limit my tendency to lengthy prose!

I knew at 15 years of age I wanted to write fiction, spending years writing academic books, papers, reports, reviews and manuals of guidance. It was only when I finished full time work that I sat down and did what I had promised myself – became a writer of fiction.

Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? If so, how do you get around it?

I did suffer writer’s block early on in my first novel. I had spent every day writing a number of other genre before I began the crime novel and write fairly consistently straight onto a screen. I discovered quite by chance a way to dispel the problem when I went for a coffee in the coffee shop of my local garden centre. I sat reading a letter from a friend about her holiday and really loved being amongst people I didn’t know, a world of passing strangers. I took out a tiny note book I carried and wrote a whole chapter that came to me and I was off and writing once more. I became a frequent visitor and wrote most of my first crime novel and the second sat in the same seat; almost a minor celebrity I found people moved from the table to let me have it! It taught me to write anywhere and part of the book I wrote flying out to Dubai and a good chunk staying in Al Ain and Fujairah on the Indian Ocean – needless to say I wrote these places into my novel – research is research!

If you could add a room onto your current home, what would you put in it?

There is really only one room that I would love to have in my home and that is a library. I have spent my life collecting books for the time when I own such a room. I can visualise what it looks like with the walls floor to ceiling with book shelves, a large oak desk in front of French doors that open onto a wonderful garden and it would contain a large and very comfortable couch for me to sit and read and review other people’s books. What I actually have is a house where most of the walls in most of the rooms have book shelves, so much so that I think they are now lode bearing! People often ask me why I keep all the books and did I know that I could sell them on eBay. I politely hold on to my inner voice and just smile – for if they don’t know why, then then don’t understand.

What simple pleasure makes you smile?

There is a lot about life that is joyous. Someone once told me that I seemed to enjoy the simplest of things, but I probably didn’t understand what they meant then. I think the world is a beautiful place and most people let it pass them by unnoticed. There are such fascinating natural occurrences that I feel fortunate to have seen. For me happiness and contentment has always been about how I felt; partly the feeling of being free, partly of experiencing to the full some of the real things in life. Breathe the air, feel the sun on my face, watch a sunset, sunrise, a total eclipse, a wild storm, a huge flock of swarming birds, the Northern Lights; all of which I can appreciate and which make me feel good to be alive. Scotland drew me and gave me pleasures I could never imagine; sitting on a rock overlooking Loch Muick with deer roaming in the heather and the sun on my face was such a wonderful almost spiritual feeling – a place to soothe the soul.

If you could be invisible for a day, what would you do?

I think people who know me would expect me to give an amusing example of what I would like to do if I became invisible. The truth is that over time it is something I have often felt and have written about the need to withdraw and recoup from the world; on days like this you hope to go about your business unnoticed and ignored. I have a tendency to attract the attention of some of life’s strangest of people whilst out. They come up to me in the most unlikely of places and tell me their life’s story; and yes of course I listen because they have a need to do so and it might be important for them at that moment in time. But I am a people watcher and like to sit in terminals and observe the daily round of people going about their business, be it terminals for trains, buses, coaches, planes and such like. I think it is fuel for my imagination.

What music soothes your soul?

I have a wide taste in music, but love some classical music more than others. I have recently become reacquainted with the Viola which I once played in a couple of orchestras and lost touch with. I treated myself to one and began with the basics (still at that level), but found I love to listen to Vivaldi. I love Africa and Arabian music and find this very soothing and very moving.

What are three things you think we can all do to make the world a better place?

There are only three things that I believe would make the world a better place. The first is kindness, the second is kindness and the third is kindness. If everyone in the world indulged in one act of kindness each day the world would change because kindness grows and spreads when it is passed on. It’s like a ripple on the surface of a calm lake when you throw a pebble into it, the ripple moves outwards. Your act of kindness to someone you know or don’t know is likely to encourage them to be kind to someone else. It doesn’t have to be huge, just a smile, a card, a helping hand, a word of encouragement that might make their day. I try to live my life like that.

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CHAT WITH KATE JAMES

KateJamesKate spent much of her childhood abroad before attending university in Canada. She built a successful business career, but her passion has always been literature. As a result, Kate turned her energy to her love of the written word. Kate’s goal is to entertain her readers with engaging stories, featuring strong, likeable characters. Kate has been honored with numerous awards for her writing. She and her husband, Ken, enjoy travelling and the outdoors, with their beloved Labrador Retrievers.

Lisette, thank you for this opportunity to be a guest at your writers’ chateau.

You are very welcome, Kate! Delighted to have you here.

Do you have any advice for first-time authors?

Don’t give up on your dream!

There are so many viable options to getting your work published these days, you just need to keep at it and believe in yourself. If I have one regret, it is that I didn’t follow through when I first had the dream of writing. I got caught up in my professional life, and my first attempt, a half-finished manuscript, is tucked away in a storage box somewhere in our basement, possibly breeding some form of mold worthy of a sci-fi thriller.

Also, having someone who believes in you can be enormously helpful, even if you are a self-motivated individual like me. My husband buying me a personal laptop for my writing was the start of Silver Linings. I was wrongly convinced that I did not need another laptop, as I had a perfectly good one already. Psychologically, it made a huge difference. Thankfully, my husband has never said, I told you so—at least not directly!

This leads me to another bit of advice. If you have a “day job”, creating a clear separation between it and your writing may help, as a separate laptop for my writing did for me. As another example, an author friend works from home and has a home office. When she writes, she purposefully does it in a different room in her home.

Finally, read as much as you can, for enjoyment—of course—but also for learning! It’s a rare book these days that draws me in so much that I don’t at some level of consciousness analyze the writing to seek to improve my own.

SilverLinings

Can you tell us about your road to publication?

I either got very lucky, my business background came in handy or, more than likely, it was a combination of the two. There is the artistic, creative side to writing, but there is an entire business side to it as well. Publishing is a business and for an author to excel, I believe they have to be able to understand and effectively deliver on both the creative and business aspects. Querying agents and/or publishers requires a combination of creativity and business acumen.

I was fortunate to have my very first manuscript picked up by a publisher. Although the publisher is small, and thus doesn’t have a large budget for marketing and promotions, they were a dream to work with both for editing and cover art/design. It also meant that my first book was in print and in book stores in about eighteen months from when I first sat down at my new laptop to start writing Silver Linings. The experience also afforded me the opportunity to learn a great deal about publishing, which I believe was invaluable in securing my contract with Harlequin.

I consider myself extremely fortunate to be able to write for Harlequin, and have the privilege and pleasure to work with two of the most amazing people in the business: Victoria Curran and Paula Eykelhof.

Do you have any grammatical pet peeves to share?

This is an interesting question for me, and perhaps you’ll allow me to go on a bit of a tangent with it.

I had to “retrain” myself when I started writing fiction. Most of us have heard the axiom that in business we should write to the average grade eight intellect. I consider that a sad and demeaning statement. When I was in business, I always encouraged our communications teams—everyone in the organization, in fact—to strive to release high-quality, well-written, well-presented material. Annual reports, marketing materials, routine correspondence and e-mails all reflect on the brand of an organization. I was a stickler for proper sentence structure, grammar, spelling and so forth. When I first started writing fiction, I had to consciously retrain myself, for example, to not use “proper” sentence structure, especially where dialogue is concerned.  We don’t speak in proper sentences, and if my dialogue was constructed in that manner, I can guarantee it wouldn’t make for an enjoyable read!

Have you received reactions/feedback to your work that has surprised you? In what way?

Perhaps surprise is not the right word, but I continue to be amazed by and appreciative of the informal feedback and more formal reviews that Silver Linings has been getting. Reviews mean a great deal to authors, and I am grateful to everyone who takes the time to write one.

I was very pleasantly surprised and honored for Silver Linings to have received first place recognition in both readers’ choice contests it was entered in. The fact that people are reading my work and enjoying it is a thrill. The positive feedback is something I will never take for granted.

Do you dread writing a synopsis for your novel as much as most writers do? Do you think writing a synopsis is inherently evil? Why?

I am glad we’re not having this discussion in person at a writers’ workshop, as I expect some people may be inclined to throw things at me. I enjoy writing a synopsis. It may have something to do with my business background, but I enjoy switching gears and writing the synopsis. To me, writing a synopsis is also an organizational tool, as it is essentially my outline for the manuscript. Writing it, I challenge myself on the characters’ personalities and motivations, and the key plot elements, and then I expand and embellish as I write the manuscript. To be clear, with respect to this latter point, I am not referring to a two page synopsis, but rather a much longer version that my editor wants to see as a proposal for a book.

Some authors, like me, always write scenes in order. But I know some people write scenes out of order. How about you?

I generally write scenes in order from my synopsis. If I find that I am not progressing quickly through a particular scene, I may jump ahead. I do this for a couple of reasons. Inherently, I don’t like to waste time, and if I am belaboring the scene without making progress, that’s what I feel I am doing. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, if the scene is not progressing well, there is a chance that it just doesn’t fit, and I have not yet admitted it to myself. If I jump ahead and finish the rest of the manuscript, I might find that it needed to be cut anyway. Once my first (rough) draft is complete, I go back and invariably add, remove, rework or reorder scenes before I venture to call it a completed first draft.

Are you an early bird writer or night owl? And do you have any must haves like coffee, chocolates, wine, music or something else?

All of the above! Okay, almost all. I was a full-time CEO when I wrote Silver Linings and my second manuscript. By necessity, that meant writing very early in the morning and late at night. I enjoy coffee, chocolates and wine. Add in tea (hot or iced) and more than likely one or more of those is within easy reach whenever I am writing. Music only enters the equation if my husband is home, as he loves to have it playing all the time.

We all know the old saying; you can’t judge a book by its cover. This is true. However, how much importance do you place on your book cover design?

To the contrary! I believe the cover can have a huge impact on the success of a book, especially for lesser known authors. I believe most of us have picked up a book by an unknown author because the cover appealed to us. Although I don’t think people pass up on a book by their favorite author because the cover isn’t appealing, I do believe that some excellent work by unknown authors doesn’t get the same uptake as it could, if the cover isn’t appealing or appropriate for the genre.

Have you ever written characters that you truly despise?

Despise? No. Disrespect, most definitely!

Where do you live now? If you had to move to another city/state/country, where might that be?

We live north of Toronto, and we split our time between our home and cottage. We are fortunate to have two large, scenic properties, but if we were to move, my husband would want to be somewhere without snow! Texas and Arizona come to mind. Kelowna in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley is a beautiful spot, too. I would need to have a large property. I like to visit cities, but I love nature and the outdoors, thus I would need to live somewhere we could have significant acreage.

What’s the coolest surprise you’ve ever had?

My husband is really great at surprising me. The converse is much harder to do, as I have to get really creative with how and what I wrap for him, as he has an uncanny ability of knowing exactly what it is.  A particularly nice surprise, and one that is related to my writing, had to do with my contract with Harlequin. I was on a ten-day “world tour” and in Dubai when I received the e-mail from my editor with the good news. I, of course, shared the news with my husband immediately (time difference be damned!), and he was very happy for me.

Five days later, I arrived home at about seven in the evening after a thirteen-hour flight from Hong Kong, and very little sleep during most of the trip because of the full schedule, overnight flights and numerous time zones changes. I walked in to candlelight, a bottle of champagne on ice, a wonderful dinner, and a beautifully wrapped gift with a huge bow on it. If you have read my responses to the questions above, you may have guessed correctly that the gift was a new laptop!

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CHAT WITH KATIE OLIVER

KatieOliver

Katie Oliver currently resides in northern Virginia with her husband and three parakeets, in a rambling old house with uneven floors and a dining room that leaks when it rains.

She’s been writing off and on since she was eight, and has a box crammed with (mostly unfinished) novels to prove it.  With her sons grown and gone, Katie decided to get serious and write more (and hopefully, better) stories.  

She even finishes most of them.

What is your latest book?

Mansfield Lark is the latest, published on 3 March.

MansfieldPark

Is your recent book part of a series?

Yes, Mansfield Lark is the newest addition to the “Dating Mr Darcy” series. Other books in the series are Prada and Prejudice and Love and Liability. I have two more books in the works – one featuring Natalie and Rhys from Prada, and one with Gemma and Dominic from Mansfield.

What are the special challenges in writing a series?

Well, I didn’t start out to write a series. I wrote the first book, Prada and Prejudice, with no clue that I’d write another…and then another, featuring some of the same characters across the three books. It just sort of happened that way. As I wrote the first one, I thought, you know, I really need to tell Holly’s story…and Dominic’s story… and so I did.

I think the biggest challenge when writing a series is keeping everything straight from one book to the next! I might forget whether a character in book one had blonde hair or black, or where he/she was born. Where was Ian and Alexa’s house located? Did Natalie take one gap year, or two? Those little details will trip you up in a later book if you don’t track them. I keep a notebook for each book, and I jot down stuff as I begin writing, so I can refer to it later.

How often do your characters surprise you by doing or saying something totally unexpected?

All the time! For instance, (spoiler alert) I didn’t intend for Holly James to end up with Alex Barrington. He was meant to be a cad who breaks her heart. But it didn’t work out that way…

Authors, especially Indies, are constantly trying to understand why some authors sell very while their talented fellow authors have a hard time of it. It’s an ongoing conundrum. What do you make of it all?

What I make of it is this: it’s a crapshoot. There are many very excellent writers whose books languish unread. And there are many so-so writers whose books hit the bestseller lists.

Things that help get your book noticed are: a well-designed book cover; blog tours; and hosting a giveaway to stir a buzz and find you new readers. Establish yourself as a brand. Your writing name is your brand. Utilize social media. Don’t post non-stop “buy my book” Tweets – that’s spam, and no one likes spam. Engage with your followers. Use apps like Quozio to pull quotes from your book and post them on Twitter or Facebook. Pin pictures of your characters or locations to Pinterest and share on other social media. Think outside of the “buy my book” box.

Beyond that? It’s luck, pure and simple.

Do you have any advice for first-time authors?

Know that nothing happens fast in the publishing world. It takes time to get representation, land a book contract, navigate through the editorial process. Be patient. Learn. Listen to people who know what they’re doing – your editor, your agent, the art department, your publisher. But don’t be afraid to push back (politely) if you really hate the cover or don’t agree with an edit.

For indie authors – I recommend hiring a proofreader to copyedit your book before you format and publish it. And it’s worth hiring a graphics person to design a killer book cover, as well. Make social media work for you by connecting with readers, bloggers, and other writers.

Can you tell us about your road to publication?

Once my kids were grown, I wrote the book (well, two) that I’d always wanted to write. When I finished, I got an agent referral through the Elaine English agency in Washington, DC, based on the synopsis and first three chapters of Love and Liability. It took time to get a publishing deal, mainly because my books featured British characters and settings, which American publishers were hesitant to take on. But with time and perseverance it did happen, and my books – all three of them – were bought by UK Carina/Harlequin and published an ebook series.

There are so many conflicting opinions out there about everything related to publishing: e-book pricing, book promotion, social media usage etc. How do you sort through it all to figure out what works best for you?

It’s true, there’s a LOT to wade through and it can be overwhelming, especially to a new writer. Just try different approaches to find the one that you’re most comfortable with. If you hate Twitter, create a Facebook page instead. If you hate writing a blog post, let book bloggers know you’re available to answer interview questions or provide an excerpt from your book.

Many authors are happy to share what worked – and what didn’t – with other writers. Romance Writers of America publishes lots of useful tips on marketing and promoting your book. There’s also plenty of good information on the Internet.

You have to find what works for YOU, and for your book. Be creative. Themed giveaways that fit your book are a great approach. For the Dating Mr Darcy books, I offered a British Barbie and assorted “Keep Calm” notepads, page clips, and a pocket organizer, in addition to my latest ebook. Have fun with it, and your audience will have fun, too (and hopefully, buy your book!)

Do you have any advice to a new author if they asked you whether to pursue the traditional route to publishing or to start out as an independent writer?

Decide what works best for you. If you work well independently, if you want to control everything from the cover design to the formatting and pricing of your book, you might want to self-publish.

If you prefer to focus on writing and wish to leave book cover design, editing, and formatting to others, you might prefer the traditional publishing route. Just be aware that promotion is still largely your responsibility. You may be assigned a publicist or a marketing liaison; you may not. Be prepared to market your books yourself.

What have you done to market your novel and what did you find the most effective? The least effective?

I think blog tours are one of the most effective ways to gain new readers for your books. You get exposure to a whole new audience who otherwise might not find you. You can share an excerpt from your book, or provide teasers about an upcoming release. You can participate in cross-genre blog tours with other authors. It’s fun, and a win-win for writers and readers.

Least effective? DON’T run a constant stream of links to your books on Twitter or Facebook. Just. Don’t. And giveaways can either be very effective or a complete waste of time. Themed giveaways are good; so are those that are open to everyone. Keep the rules simple. Don’t make contestants jump through a lot of hoops to enter, or they won’t bother. Make it easy, and fun.

If you could have one skill that you don’t currently have, what would it be?

To play bass guitar! I’ve always wanted to do that. I want to be Tina Weymouth.

What might we be surprised to know about you?

That I suck at cooking. I’m an ace baker, and I make my own pizza dough and spaghetti sauce, and my lasagna is to die for. But beyond that? I’m hopeless.

What was the most valuable class you ever took in school? Why?

In my junior year of high school, I took a course called Film Production. For the first half of the semester we watched films – Showboat, The Night of the Generals, Singing in the Rain, Chariots of Fire – and then we discussed them. We examined how scenes were edited and paced – short and fast for action sequences, longer for quieter scenes, etc. We learned that the film editor took miles of footage and cut and spliced it all together into a cohesive, compelling whole.

I learned to look at movies in a whole new way. Why did the director choose black and white versus color? Why was a particular scene shot in slow motion? How did those choices affect the drama, the tension, the pace of the film?

I learned to apply those lessons to books as well. I’m a visual person, and I ‘see’ my books as films inside my head. So wherever you are, Mr. Singleton – thank you. You rocked that class.

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CHAT WITH ALAN BEHR

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After college, Alan spent the next twelve years as a law enforcement officer, with a two-year hiatus in Berlin, Germany, contracted to US military. After law school, he was a prosecutor then a criminal defense attorney. He and his wife, Lillian, reside in the Austin, Texas area.

Time to chat with Alan!

What is your latest book?

My latest book is titled Cornered and is expected to be released by late spring or early summer. The story follows a Texas detective as he works to solve the mysterious disappearances of seven professional women while trying to exorcise a demon from his past. He faces off against an organization that always seems to be one step ahead. When he gets too close, he steps into the cross-hairs of a professional cop killer.

Is your recent book part of a series?

The manuscript I’m writing now, titled Rampage, is a sequel to my first title, Price of Justice. It’s set about three years after the ending time frame of Price of Justice. In it, the protagonist detective has to deal with temptation – he has a very pretty and single female partner – and trust issues – he’s in a long-distance relationship with the heroine/co-protagonist from the first novel, while working a series of murders committed by a gang. His worries ratchet up several notches when the gang attacks his home where he lives with an eight-year-old daughter.

Price_of_JusticeDo you use a pen name? If so, why?

I use the pen name of Alan Brenham. This matter arose when I discovered that another attorney named Alan Behr (New York) had also written a book. We’re probably distant relatives but I never explored it. He had the domain name of alanbehr.com so my wife came up with the name Alan Brenham, using my name and the name of a nearby Texas city where Blue Bell Ice Cream is made.

Is it important for you to know the ending of a book before you write it? The title?

I always plan out both the working title and the ending before I begin writing the manuscript. Most of the time, it doesn’t end up as planned. In my first novel, Price of Justice, I set up a non-Hallmark Channel ending but changed it to a satisfying ending after all the trials and tribulations I had put the protagonists through.

Some writers edit excessively as they write; others wait until a novel is finished to do the bulk of the editing. How about you?

I’ve done it both ways. Usually the first draft is finished before I’ll do any editing. But I have occasionally gone back to certain parts of the draft and either edited out aspects that don’t fit any more or add scenes to tie in with material written in later.

After working for a very long time on a novel, many authors get to a point where they lose their objectivity and feel unable to judge their own work. Has this ever happened to you? If so, what have you done about it?

That’s happened to me many times in the course of writing a novel to completion. Usually I’ll set the manuscript aside for a week or two and work on an outline for the next novel. During that hiatus, ideas and changes to the plot (epiphanies) emerge, sending me back to incorporate them into the manuscript.

Have you ever written characters that you truly despise?

There are two in Price of Justice – Tom Zarko and Dorian Winters – and one in my current project, Rampage – Justin Cooper, AKA Mad Dog, whom I despise. In Cornered, there are three who come close to being despised but have one or two redeeming qualities.

Do you allow others to read your work in progress, or do you keep it a secret until you’ve finished your first draft? Can you elaborate?

I have two readers who provide a lot of constructive criticism and suggestions to improve the story flow and plot as well as the fleshing of the characters. Other than my two readers, I do keep the manuscript a secret.

Are you an early bird writer or night owl? And do you have any must haves like coffee, chocolates, wine, music or something else?

My writing day begins about 7:00 in the morning and ends around 4:00 in the afternoon. My wife makes sure I take plenty of breaks within that time frame. Coffee is an absolute must-have. Music is second. Every other day, I have a scotch in the afternoon. The chocolates and the wine come at the end of the day.

Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? If so, how do you get around it?

Writer’s block raises its ugly head every so often. My wife is close by so I pester her for suggestions. If that fails, I set the work aside and do something else.

What genre have you never written in that you’d like to try?

I’m giving serious consideration to a fantasy/thriller hybrid with a totally different set of characters, social rules, laws, and government bureaucracy. I’m not going to delve into any greater details simply because I have none to give out at this point – no plot, title and ending. Another story I’m considering writing, in the same hybrid genre, would be a prosecutor with a whole different outlook on the criminal justice system.

What’s your favorite comfort food? Least favorite food?

My favorite comfort food would be crackers and wheat wafers smeared with peanut butter. I’ll pile mounds of crackers and wafers on a plate and munch on them while I’m writing.

My least favorite comfort food would be broccoli. I’ve had a lifelong distaste for that vegetable in any form. The family German shepherd and I formed a symbiotic relationship whenever my mother served broccoli at dinner. He’d get treats of broccoli under the table and I cleaned my plate. A win-win situation.

Have you ever played a practical joke on a friend? Ever had one played on you?

The best practical joke I ever played on someone happened when I worked at the police department. I used to smoke cigars then that my detective partner detested. One day, I had left a box of cigars on my desk that he supplemented with cigarette loads. I lit up and got the shock of my life when the thing exploded, spraying embers everywhere. Payback came at the greatest time. He smoked cigarettes so I bought a can of loads and waited until he slipped up, leaving his pack on his desk. I figured he’d find the first two so I did three. Later that day, all of us went to lunch with the Texas Ranger captain. When lunch was done, my partner, seated across from the Ranger captain, lit up. I almost couldn’t keep from laughing as the cigarette blew up, spraying embers on the captain’s crisp, pressed shirt. If exploding cigarettes were a capital crime, the look on the captain’s face told me he’d have shot my partner then and there. Needless to say, he and I made a truce after that.

Since I was on a roll, I went after another detective and scotch-taped the end of the telephone cord that ran from the wall to his desk phone. That enabled the phone to ring but when he picked up (and he did…a few times) neither he nor his caller could hear each other. When he threatened to have the sergeant call the phone company, I removed the tape. No sense in ending up in the chief’s office trying to explain the nature of a practical joke to a man who most of us felt had no sense of humor and I didn’t need a no-pay suspension.

My other police-related joke came when I worked uniform patrol. Then, each set of car keys operated every single patrol car. So, one evening when calls were slack, my then-partner and I spotted the downtown unit parked in the alley next to a couple of bars. We parked across the street from the alley and I snuck over and drove their patrol car around the corner and parked it. Then he and I sat in our car and waited. The look on the two officers’ faces when they saw their car was gone was priceless…well, not exactly priceless, I got a day off without pay for that stunt. Neither our sergeant nor the patrol captain saw the humor.

If you are a TV watcher, would you share the names of your favorite shows with us?

My favorite TV shows are: The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, Bitten, The Blacklist, Banshee, Strikeback, Longmire, The Originals, Vampire Diaries, Grimm, Arrow, Major Crimes, Revolution, The Americans, Orphan Black, Intelligence, and Motive.

What’s the coolest surprise you’ve ever had?

The coolest surprise I ever had was a surprise party thrown by my wife, my older brother and my parents to celebrate my passing the Texas bar and getting my law license. I had decided not to wait on the Bar to mail me the documents so my wife and I drove to Austin to get them. We stopped at my brother’s house before driving across town to the State Bar HQ. Nothing anyone said or did gave me a clue as to what was about to happen. My nephew went with my wife and I to the Bar. I should have picked up on my wife’s asking a few times if I had obtained all the documents from the Bar, that maybe I ought to go back in and check to be sure. But when your mind is focused on something else, i.e., the bar card, things zoom right over your head. When we walked back into my brother’s home, I was greeted with a loud united shout of “Surprise”. And it was a surprise. A large banner of congratulations, signed by all in attendance, stretched from wall to wall. The dining table was covered with a huge carrot cake (my favorite), trays of cookies and other sweets plus a lot of beer. A great day indeed!

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CHAT WITH E.H. HACKNEY

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E. H. Hackney is a retired engineer, now writer and novelist. When not writing he’s riding a bike, hiking or playing jazz guitar on the east slope of the Sandia mountains in New Mexico, where he lives with his wife and two opinionated cats.

What is your latest book?

I self-published my first book, By The Blood, Book One, Revelation, a fantasy, in September of last year under the pen name Geoffrey Ganges. It’s the story of Quint, a dwarf wizard and healer, abandoned by his mother as an infant and tortured by his stunted, distorted body. On a quest for a long forgotten enemy of his people and his own history, he is threatened by his companions, outlaws, giant wolves and ancient foes. As the wizard confronts his origins, his world is shaken. Of all the dangers he faces, his own kinships may be the most deadly.

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Why did you choose a pen name?

There are two reasons I write under a pseudonym. First, my given name is Ewing Haywood Hackney. I couldn’t think of any name I could derive from that which would be a good name for a fiction writer, especially a fantasy author. I have gone by the nickname Hack for decades, which is no help. Second, I have started works in other genres. I believe readers associate an author with a certain kind of book. If I published a fantasy under one name, then wanted to publish in another genre, I would need a different name anyhow.

What else have you written?

I’ve had a number of humorous and non-fiction pieces published in local newspapers and magazines, but wanted to write fiction. I have written but not published a modern morality tale, and have good starts on a young adult book and two action adventures. But once drawn into By The Blood I knew it was the story I most wanted to tell.

How often do your characters surprise you by doing or saying something totally unexpected?

This has been a revelation to me. I was an engineer in a previous life and trusted planning and organization. I had heard other authors say that their characters took over their stories, and didn’t believe them. I do now. Many of the events and elements in my book surprised me. I have discovered that writing fiction is not a process of invention but a venture of discovery.

What part of writing a novel do you enjoy the most? The least?

Writing is fun! Editing is work. Promotion is torture. (Couldn’t agree more!)

Some authors, like me, always write scenes in order. But I know some people write scenes out of order. How about you?

I begin with a detailed outline developed down to the scene level. I tend to follow the outline and write scenes in order, but sometimes jump around, especially if I’m stuck and another scene looks like it will be easier to write or I have a clearer vision of it. Often writing the new scene will help me work around the problems with the difficult one.

Some writers edit excessively as they write; others wait until a novel is finished to do the bulk of the editing. How about you?

I edit a little as I go, but for the most part I want to get the story down. Then I revise and edit several times. I do later edits in hard copy. When I believe the book is in relatively good shape I make copies and send it to my first readers. My first readers’ feedback reveals a number of problems and I go back to revising and editing. When I take commas out on one pass then put them back on the next, and can’t stand to look at the damn thing anymore I decide I’m finished. I confess to being a poor editor—especially of my own work. Even reading aloud I will miss the same mistake time and again. A trick that works for me in the later edits is to have the computer read the book to me. I will hear incorrect words, missing commas and even missing periods that I did not find on my edits.

After working for a very long time on a novel, many authors get to a point where they lose their objectivity and feel unable to judge their own work. Has this ever happened to you? If so, what have you done about it?

I never feel that I can be objective about my own work. So far I have written what pleases me—what I would like to read, and I don’t know how in tune I am with a modern reader. I rely on my first readers for that. In fact, in my instructions to first readers I ask them to tell me if they gave up on the book before the end and to let me know where and why. It was a relief when none of them did.

What do you like best about the books you read? What do you like least?

I like books to take me to places I could never go or through experiences I would never have, teach me new things and at the same time be believable and reveal a kind of truth. That’s a lot to ask, I know. The best fiction reads like the telling of something that actually happened, even if the characters are fictional, the world has never existed and all the events are made up. Many books today, movies and TV shows, too, feel fabricated to me. If you can see the wires allowing the hero to fly or part of the rabbits ear is sticking out of the hat, the magic is gone. I don’t like books that are too hyped. If your novel starts with the broad-shouldered, narrow-hipped hero, with three percent body fat, uncoiling his six foot six frame from a Bugatti Veyron, I probably won’t get to page two. I might add that I have read enough dystopian, post-apocalyptic thrillers to last me this life.

How much research was involved in writing your book? How did you go about it?

I did a moderate amount of research for this book, and most of it was somewhat practical and mundane. I wanted to write a believable story about genuine characters in a real place, with its own history and culture. I used leagues rather than miles, and chose another way of measuring time rather than hours and tried to use older words for some common things. My main character is a wizard and healer; I invented names for some of his remedies. So a lot of my research had to do with what was a league, how big do horses get, what’s a hand and a stone, how far can a horse and wagon , or a sailing ship, travel in a day. Book one takes place over several months, so I studied what plants were in what stages of growth in different parts of a year. I did a lot of this research after the first several drafts, sometimes when I had found lapses and disconnects. I do all my research on line. I even use an online dictionary. My battered paperback Webster’s is missing too many good words.

This leads me to what I think is an interesting topic. My story take place in a fictional land—not on earth as we know it. The people would have their own language, lengths of days, plants, seasons, moon cycle (or not), and units of measure. I needed to invent some things to give the flavor of this new and different place,  but if there are no similarities with things we know, the reader will be confused, and I didn’t want to spend pages of explanation about language and seasons and what kind of plants grow there. I don’t have a simple answer for this, but I hope in my book I found a compromise that is interesting but not confusing.

Do you have any advice to a new author if they asked you whether to pursue the traditional route to publishing or to start out as an independent writer?

I am hesitant to give advice. Maybe I will be less so when I feel I am a successful author. I will say that, were I younger, I would have tried the traditional approach before self-publishing. But I’m in my seventies. Given the warnings that it can take a year of more to find an agent, if you find an agent, and a year or more for the agent to find a publisher, if they find one, and a year or so for the book to be published, I didn’t  want to take the time.

Are you an early bird writer or night owl? And do you have any must haves like coffee, chocolates, wine, music or something else?

I write best early in the morning up until noon or so. I get up around six but need a mug or two of coffee to get my brain working. Everything else is optional. Music is an interesting idea. I love jazz. If I have music I like playing, I get into the music and it distracts me from writing. If it’s music I find annoying, it distracts me from writing. A lot of music wouldn’t distract me, but also wouldn’t help. I have an opinion, though. I am a writer after all. I think the best music for writing would not be that which makes you comfortable, but music that would support the writing you are doing. If you are writing a bar-fight scene, for example, I think driving blues or a quick country two-step would support your writing more than say classical string quartets. I have not tried this.

Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? If so, how do you get around it?

I suffer from getting stuck. I don’t like to call it writer’s block because once it is labeled it can become like an affliction and then an excuse. Sometimes giving my mind a few days to mull over the problem can work. Any more than that, I’m just loafing. I’m good at that. Often when I am stuck I think it’s because I’m trying to work the wrong problem—trying to force the plot or characters in the wrong direction.

Have you ever started out to write one book and ended up with something completely different?

The first scene of my book started as a short story I had intended to enter into a contest. I realized it was not appropriate for the contest, but there was much more to tell. I was well into By The Blood when I realized there was too much for one book unless I made it a thousand-page doorstop. That’s too big a book for a first writer, so I decided to make it a trilogy. I’m working on book two now. I did detailed planning for the first book, but by the end of the first draft, the book was totally different. I guess I could have simply said yes.

Where do you live now? If you had to move to another city/state/country, where might that be?

My wife and I live in ponderosa, pinon and juniper on the eastern slopes of the Sandia Mountains in New Mexico. I can step over three strands of sagging barbed wire at the boundary of our yard and be in a National Forest. We are regularly visited by raccoon, fox, coyote, bobcat, deer, wild turkey, bear and an assortment of  birds and hummingbirds in their seasons. We have talked about moving somewhere near water—Portland, Ft. Bragg in Northern California, Port Townsend in the rain shadow of the Olympics in Washington state, but it would be hard to leave this place.

What was your favorite year of school? Why?

I enjoyed the last three years of college more than any time before. I was not very social in high school; I was a nerd before it was cool. In fact my best memories of my high school years are the people I met on my first part-time jobs and playing jazz guitar gigs on the weekend. I don’t consider myself antisocial, but have always been more comfortable engaged in things and talking about ideas, than in socializing.

 What simple pleasure makes you smile?

Reading the Sunday paper in front of our woodstove in the winter is a treat. It’s hard to beat the first mug of coffee in the morning. My wife makes me laugh two or three times a day. I don’t think I have ever taken a bad hike. Walking a trail through rocks and trees always rejuvenates me, and it often helps me work around writing problems. I haven’t had a gig in years, but I still like playing jazz guitar.

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CHAT WITH JULIA HUGHES

JuliaPhillipsHeadshotWhen I’m not writing, I’m reading. The fact that it is so easy to share emotions, experiences and adventures by almost by thought transference via the written word enthrals me. I try to lead a tranquil life in London’s last village, where I share a home with two young adult sons and three dogs. Fate always seems to have other plans.

Time to chat with Julia!

I hear you have some very exciting news! Can you share it with us?

My latest title, a Young Adult Fantasy Adventure “The Griffin’s Boy” will be free to download for five days from lst March – 5th March. I’m ultra excited and hope every one of your readers grab a copy for their kindles or e-readers.

TheGriffinsBoy

Is your recent book part of a series?

Yes, and although both stories are stand alones, Book 1 “The Griffin Cryer” (reader nominated runner up “Best Urban Fanasty 2013” eFestival of Words Awards)  will be only 99 cents to download during this special promotion.

What are the special challenges in writing a series?

Continuality: I had to re-read “The Griffin Cryer” in order not to contradict myself. Ideally, storylines of all titles in a series should dovetail. Some authors map out the whole series before writing. However, “The Griffin Cryer” was originally planned as a stand alone young adult urban fantasy. Readers wanted to know more about the mysterious rider. “The Griffin’s Boy” is his story. I never envisaged a series, yet now sequels, and prequels, are calling to be told.

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If you were to advertise your book on a bumper sticker, what would it say?

“My other car’s a griffin!”

What else have you written?

Three titles in The Celtic Cousins’ Adventures: “A Raucous Time“, which is a complete boys’ own adventure/mystery and since this is the first in series, it’s totally free to download from Amazon, or Smashwords & their distributors. “A Ripple in Time“,  a time travel/paranormal romance, and “An Explosive Time“; a thriller set in London.

How often do your characters surprise you by doing or saying something totally unexpected?

There’s one character who never fails to surprise: Wren Prenderson. But I think even he was astounded to be voted by readers into runner up place in e-Festival of Words “Best Hero” award 2013 for his role in “A Ripple in Time“.

What part of writing a novel do you enjoy the most? The least?

I bloody love it all! Although, there’s always that moment of trepidation before starting the story, a fear that the words won’t lay down on the paper properly.

Some authors, like me, always write scenes in order. But I know some people write scenes out of order. How about you?

Before committing words to blank screen, the story is a shimmering multi-coloured bubble. I worry that by taking too long to outline one scene, the bubble might burst, or change shape. Chapters are sketched out quickly – words just banged down any old order. Some draft chapters might only contain skeleton sentences. I’ll return to the first chapter, but even more important in my eyes, is the last chapter. I want to leave readers with a feeling of satisfaction. Is there anything more annoying than reading a great book, only to be let down by the suspicion that the author grew bored with their characters and so rushed the ending? I’ve vowed never to let my readers down in that fashion. Besides, I’m the story teller, and if I don’t know the ending, then who does? So it’s best to write the ending while the story’s still young. Going back to the first chapter, I’ve often laid down too much information, and that gets brutally chopped.

Some writers edit excessively as they write; others wait until a novel is finished to do the bulk of the editing. How about you?

Because I like my beta readers’ feedback as the story progresses, I tend to send them several chapters at once. It would be rude to ask them to read anything that’s too rough, so I tend to edit as I go. I’d rather not – I’d love to be like Ian Flemming and just read the previous sentence written, and then take off again.

Have you received reactions/feedback to your work that has surprised you? In what way?

I’m constantly surprised by readers’ reactions. Although my stories are easy-on-the-eye rather than masterpieces, every form of art is open to the viewer’s own interpretation: “The reader doesn’t read the same story the author thought they wrote.” That’s the beauty of books.

What’s your biggest pet peeve?

Inconsideration. It takes seconds to put yourself in another person’s shoes and ask ‘How would I feel if someone else did or said this to me?’ As the song says ‘We’re all someone’s daughter, we’re all someone’s son.’ Kindness and consideration are two of the most valuable human traits, and should be second nature.

What are three things you think we can all do to make the world a better place?

l. Be a little more tolerant, a little less quick to take offence. (See above!)

2. Be polite to those who do the kind of jobs no-one wants to do – but somebody has to do. You know the ones – shop assistant – food waiters, telephone operators. I don’t think anyone chooses careers in those industries, they’re unglamorous, often thankless jobs. I can’t bear listening to someone bawling out someone in a service industry, who is unable to answer back.

Last week I was behind some lout who was effing and blinding at a hospital receptionist. ‘Please don’t swear at me, sir,’ she said. He said ‘I’m not swearing at you, just the situation(?!)’

So I spoke up and told him no gentleman would swear in the presence of ladies. To which he replied ‘then I must not be a gentleman.’ He’d bowled me the perfect ball. I looked him up and down and said ‘You’re certainly not a gentleman, in fact, I doubt that you’re even a man.’

3. The above, but double, triple and hundred times for the people who matter, family and friends. Don’t save the smiles and courtesies for strangers and work colleagues.

What simple pleasure makes you smile?

Having control over the telly’s remote, being the first to read a brand new book, diving into a lake or river and deep water swimming, freewheeling down a hill on a bike, someone bringing me breakfast in bed, trying on a pair of shoes, popping open a new jar of coffee, a friend calling in unexpectedly – the list is endless.

* * * *

I had fun answering these questions – some were very thought provoking. Thank you for inviting me over to your place, I’m very grateful especially as I know how busy you are with your own writing, and hope to read Mystical High‘s sequel very soon!

Lisette: Thank you so very much, Julia! It’s been an absolute pleasure and I hope to publish the 2nd book in The Desert Series by the end of spring.

CONNECT WITH JULIA

Website

Twitter

Amazon (download free book samples)

Smashwords (Find Julia’s short stories and titles that are not exclusive to Amazon)

Goodreads

And finally, because she’d like all your readers to grab a copy of “The Griffin’s Boy” when it goes free from lst – 5th March here’s a universal link to the Julia’s freebie: The Griffin’s Boy: FREE 

CHAT WITH DAWN KIRBY

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Dawn Kirby lives in West TX with her husband of 17 years and their three children. Thanks to Twisted Core Press, she has published two of the seven novels planned in the Serenity Series, Secrets and Deceit. The third, Tribulations is slated to be released sometime this spring.

Thank you so much for having me on your blog, Lisette. It’s always such a pleasure to chat with you.

Lisette: It’s my absolute pleasure, Dawn!

What is your latest book?

My latest is Tribulations. It’s the third book in the Serenity Series. Edits are forthcoming so I hope to be able to announce a pub date sometime soon.

In the meantime, I’ve begun work on a new book. For once I’ve decided to steer clear of vampires and werewolves. This one is all about finding your destiny in the most unlikely place…Dreams.

Tribulations

Is your recent book part of a series?

Heaven on Earth is going to be a stand alone title. I’m enjoying it so much, it won’t be my last.

What else have you written?

I’ve written several shorts for 7DS Books. The first, Sinful Pleasures (LUST) in Seven Deadly Sins II is probably my favorite and dearest to my heart. Others include stories in Seven Deathly Soles, Seven Dress Sizes, A Man’s Promise and Linger.

What part of writing a novel do you enjoy the most? The least?

The part I enjoy the most is finishing it so I can hand it off to my betas. I love the relationship I have with mine. They aren’t afraid to tell me what they like and what they don’t. At the same time they know I won’t change the storyline simply because they don’t want a specific character to go through a specific thing. It is fun to see my characters from different POV though. One reader may connect with one while another might connect with another. Either way, both betas are passionate about the ones they love.

The part I hate is probably waiting on edits. It’s a nerve-racking experience no matter how many times you’ve gone through it.

Secrets

Is it important for you to know the ending of a book before you write it? The title?

The title? Yes. The ending? Not so much. I’m a punster. Most of what I write I write on the fly. If I do plot out the ending it usually turns out to be the ending I want to avoid.

Some writers edit excessively as they write; others wait until a novel is finished to do the bulk of the editing. How about you?

For me it depends on how the flow happens to be that day. If it’s good I keep going. There’s always tomorrow to go back and check for mistakes. If it’s a stare-at-the-screen kinda day I tend to go all the way back to the beginning and slowly torture myself.

Deceit

Do you have any advice for first-time authors?

Don’t quit. This is a tough row to hoe. Connect with people who are as passionate as you are. Seek out people who can teach you how to navigate all the different paths that lie in front of you. Never assume you know everything there is to know. This is a constantly changing profession. Something new will always be right around the corner.

Please, tell us about your experiences with social media. What are your favorite and least-favorite parts of it?

I’ve met some fabulous people through Social Media. Some I’ve met, some I hope to meet in the future. These are the people that have really helped me put my writing career on the right track. Some have touched me personally and I can’t imagine not having them in my life. Distance be damned. There have been a few people who I’ve had to block, but for the most part I’d have to say I’ve had a great experience—so far.

Meeting people is my favorite part. Trying to keep up with all the different outlets is the hard part. Sometimes you just don’t have anything to say. Other times writing takes precedence. It’s taken me a few years to realize that having a presence online doesn’t mean having to post something every single day. It means posting something relevant. Something people can discuss. An image that makes people smile or think. Sure we need to toss in a link now and then to our work, but I honestly believe building a rapport with people is a lot more important than blasting them with one link after another.

Were you “born to write” or did you discover your passion for writing later in life?

Until five years ago I never considered writing. I’d had my hands full taking care of my kids, my nieces and nephews and daily life in general. The last thing I needed was something else drawing on time I didn’t have. I loved to read when I was in school, but I hadn’t picked up a book in over ten years at that point. Then this idea I had when I was in school started to grate on me. Over the course of months I couldn’t shake it. It woke me up at night until I finally sat down and put it on paper. By the time I finished I’d been sitting at the kitchen table for 8 hours and was determined to write more. Once I finished it I knew writing was something I had to do.

Having our work out there to be judged by strangers is often daunting for writers. Do you have any tips on handling a negative review?

Handling a bad review is as easy as realizing that not every book is for everybody. Good reviews are great. Bad reviews can be too. Especially if the person reviewing the book takes the time to explain what they didn’t like. Look at them as another beta. If it’s something a writer can fix while writing their next book (editing, plot holes), work on it. If it’s the genre or an element of the story the reviewer couldn’t get into, shake it off. At the end of the day our books are our stories. Only we can tell them. We can’t control what happens once they leave our protective hands.

Are you an early bird writer or night owl? And do you have any must haves like coffee, chocolates, wine, music or something else?

I’m a night owl. There’s something about the dark that helps the words flow. Add a little music to the calmness of the night and you’ve got the most magical environment possible to create a new world.

Where do you live now? If you had to move to another city/state/country, where might that be?

I live in West Texas. I honestly don’t think I’d ever leave for good. My family is here. BUT there are so many places I’d like to visit. If I could, I’d start here in Texas and work my way out to other states. After that—look out world!

Trains, planes, automobiles, or boats?

Automobiles definitely. Planes just scare me. It would take one hell of a journey to get me on one. Boats? Unless the water is crystal clear and I can get out quick, count me out. I want to see what I’m swimming around with or possibly away from. Trains could be fun, but they aren’t really an option here in Wt. Texas.

What’s your favorite comfort food? Least favorite food?

My favorite is Hot Tamales. Pure cinnamon heaven.

Least favorite? Potato chips. Any kind of chip.

If you could be invisible for a day, what would you do?

I would go to my favorite park and spend the day there. With three kids to keep up with it’s not often I get to slow down and really enjoy the beautiful things that surround us everyday.

What are the most important traits you look for in a friend?

Honesty. Give me that and you have a loyal friend for life.

What might we be surprised to know about you?

Country music makes me cry. Whether the song is happy or sad doesn’t matter, it brings me to tears every time.

What makes you angry?

Political Correctness. I understand where it came from in the beginning, but it is so far out of control it’s led to most of the people in this country wearing their feelings on their shirtsleeve. Are we entitled to have our own opinions? Yes, as long as those opinions come with a filter that wipes out anything that could possibly offend another person.

If you could add a room onto your current home, what would you put in it?

An office. I’d love to have a place that I could write, leave and come back to find everything as I left it. Research as you know takes up a lot of space. Kids take up even more. Those two things tend to clash when your office space consists of a corner of your living room couch.

What’s your biggest pet peeve?

Being lied to.

What music soothes your soul?

I listen to all types. In a way it all speaks to me in some way. Lately though I’ve been listening to more instrumentals. Classical or contemporary, it doesn’t matter. It’s absolutely amazing to me how much a single song can change your whole perspective.

CONNECT WITH DAWN

Website

Twitter

Facebook

Amazon

Goodreads

 

BOOKTASTIK: Helping Authors Sell Books

BooktastikHeader

BOOKTASTIK: Helping Authors Sell Books by Dionne Lister

Hi, Lisette, thanks so much for having me as a guest today. I’m excited to be here representing a fun new site that connects readers with books — Booktastik.

Did you know that there are hundreds of thousands of new ebooks being published each year? So if you’re an author, it’s obviously becoming harder and harder to get your book to stand out from the crowd. As a self-published author, I know the difficulty in getting a book noticed — if no one knows your book exists, they’re not going to buy it.

In my desperate scramble to sell books, I’m always looking for new ways for my books to be seen. I’ve tried a few different avenues; including guest blog posts, interviews, Twitter, Facebook, podcasts and paid advertising. Paid advertising has given me the largest sales numbers, but there aren’t many sites that actually work. And if you Google “advertising for authors” there’s not much out there to point you in the right direction.

Call me crazy, but I’ll share with you the site that has worked for me, the site I consider Booktastik’s largest competitor: Bookbub. If you’ve been around the traps as an author, you probably know someone who’s used them — and they work. But how does it work? Well, readers sign up for free to receive a daily email for books on sale in genres they choose. When an author pays to advertise with them, your book goes in a once-only email and appears on their website. That’s it. Simple.

booktastik

The problem is that they are pricey — a few months ago I advertised my Fantasy book, which was on sale for $1.99. That cost me $270, and since then the cost has risen to $330 — figures that not many self-published authors can afford (and fantasy is a cheaper genre than, say, mystery or romance), especially if you’re just starting out. To add to that, the last three times I’ve applied, I’ve missed out, and it’s also been impossible for most of my friends to get approved because Bookbub is always booked out.

How annoying! I’d finally found something that worked, but now that avenue seemed to be closed too. Trying not to get depressed at times like that is hard, so I was having a rant to another author friend about my frustrations (ranting to other author friends who understand is a great way to keep your sanity). During that conversation I said something that set me on the course towards Booktastik: “It’s just not fair. If you want anything done, you have to do it yourself. I’m going start my own company so us indie authors have somewhere to advertise!” And so the journey to creating Booktastik began.

I knew that if I was going to do this, I had to do it better and offer more than what was currently out there. I contacted a web designing friend of mine and told her what I wanted — a friendly, welcoming site that didn’t just deliver ebook deals, but had other relevant stuff like vetted book reviews and a blog. I pictured Booktastik becoming a community, rather than solely a middleman. I also knew that authors didn’t just need a place to advertise a book that was on sale or free, but we often wanted to get the word out about our new release or competitions and giveaways, so I added those categories, which have been very popular with the subscribers.

I know no one really wants to know the nitty-gritty of what it takes, but we spent months designing the site and getting it functional (with a few nightmares along the way), although if it was easy, I guess everyone would do it. We’re spending money on advertising to get subscribers who authors can’t normally reach — readers who are outside the social media sphere of Pinterest, Twitter and Facebook, and I’m happy to say that after just one month we are getting over 500 visits a day (and growing), and we’re already selling books for our advertising authors.

And that’s our story so far. We’ve got exciting plans for stage two of Booktastik, but that will have to wait a while. But right now, I’d like to extend an invitation to you all to come and check out www.booktastik.com. There’s lots to see and read, and I hope you love our little animal icons (there’s one for each genre) as much as I do. See you there!

 Follow Booktastik on Twitter

 Like Booktastik on Facebook

-1ABOUT DIONNE LISTER

An avid reader of many genres, including fantasy, for as long as she can remember, Dionne also loves writing and has attempted to emulate such greats as David Eddings and Raymond Feist – with … interesting results. Dionne has studied creative writing at Southern Cross University, works as an editor, runs Booktastik, and counts cats and panthers as her favourite animals and dragons as her favourite flying creature (notice ‘flying’ not ‘mythical’). Dionne writes young adult fantasy, women’s fiction and thriller/suspense. In 2013 iTunes Australia named her one of ‘ten emerging fantasy authors you must read.’ You can find out more about Dionne and her work at www.dionnelisterwriter.com.

 

Chat with Dionne Lister here at Lisette’s Writers’ Chateau

Doris

Who would you turn to if your love life, or life in general was a mess? Jemma’s not sure, but she’s lucky that Doris is looking out for her. Who’s Doris? Doris is Jemma’s vagina, and she’s determined to help Jemma put her life on track, but is the job too much for one vagina to handle?

Meet Doris, Jemma and their friends in this hilarious romance/chick lit. Here’s what some readers had to say:

A delightful, funny, and heart-warming read!

…a charming book, fast-paced and funny, with a very brave concept.

 

Close Call: A Doris & Jemma Vadgeventure

Amazon U.S.

iTunes

Kobo

B&N

 

CHAT WITH JAN ROMES

 JanRomes

Jan Romes is a hopeless romantic who grew up in northwest Ohio with eight zany siblings. Married to her high school sweetheart for more years than seems possible, she is also a proud mom, mother-in-law, and grandmother. She likes to read all genres, writes contemporary romance with characters who give as good as they get, is a part-time fitness trainer, and enjoys growing pumpkins and sunflowers. Jan is a member of Romance Writers of America.

Time to chat with Jan!

What is your latest book?

In December I published, Married to Maggie, book number 1 in my Texas Boys Falling Fast series.

Maggie

What are the special challenges in writing a series?

Texas Boys Falling Fast is my first series so this is a well-timed question. I think the biggest challenge for me is carrying over certain details from one book to the next without slowing down each story. I want the books to connect but not so much that if someone was to buy book number two or three they wouldn’t be completely lost if they didn’t read book one first. The challenge is to connect them yet make each story distinct so they can also stand alone.

Some authors, like me, always write scenes in order. But I know some people write scenes out of order. How about you?

Such a great question – again, well-timed. Normally, I have to write scenes in order. For Married to Maggie, that wasn’t the case. I jumped around a bit. There were a few scenes that begged to be written out of sequence. I was afraid if I scribbled them down on paper I would lose the flavor and excitement of what I wanted to say.

Is it important for you to know the ending of a book before you write it? The title?

A solid YES to both questions. For me, knowing the ending ahead of time is like writing the book backwards. I need to know what prize will be waiting for my characters once they resolve all the obstacles I throw in their way. That unique ending in turn helps me figure out the obstacles. Like I said, it’s a back to forward approach. I think it’s also important to at least have a working title when you start your book. The title can help drive the story.

Some writers edit excessively as they write; others wait until a novel is finished to do the bulk of the editing. How about you?

I would love to boast that I’m one of those authors that keep writing until I get all the way through the story before I tackle editing, but that would be a big fat lie. The truth is, I’m a writing neat freak. I fuss over a paragraph or line until I get it the way I want it. It’s a nasty habit. I need writing-rehab. *grins*

Stella

Do you write anything besides novels? Care to share?

I like to write short stories too. I was fortunate to have sold two stories to Woman’s World Magazine. (Not recently, however)

How would you define your style of writing?

I like to read books that move along quickly so I think I’ve naturally developed that style of writing. I place a lot of emphasis on sense of humor in my stories but there is always serious love at stake.

What are three things you think we can all do to make the world a better place?

I didn’t have to think hard about this question. Near and dear to my heart are these three things: making sure no one goes to bed hungry, no one should live on the streets unless they choose to, and recycling everything we can. I have been blessed to have the things I need and I want to give back. I currently give 10% of my royalties to organizations that feed the hungry and house the homeless. Someday I hope I can up that percentage. Regarding recycling, I’m a fanatic about it. Burying stuff in landfills doesn’t make sense when it can be broken down and reused.

CONNECT WITH JAN:

Website

Blog

Twitter

Facebook

Goodreads