CREATIVE LIFE AFTER A LONG HIATUS by Shykia Bell

 

How does one bring a career back from the dead?

Okay, perhaps that’s a little dramatic, but it’s what came to mind a little over two years after my daughter was born. By that time, I was nearly five years into my unplanned hiatus following a series of family tragedies and medical emergencies in addition to a personal battle with anxiety and depression.

The return to my art and writing has been a long and arduous process which was compounded with the brand new challenge of motherhood. For several reasons, I’ve very rarely enlisted the help of sitters. Therefore, I’ve had to make additional sacrifices in order to get any work time in. Most times I’ve had to sacrifice either my work or sleep. 

I’m sure many mothers can relate to the struggle of finding their identity after becoming a parent.  Society has long conveyed the notion that motherhood is a woman’s ultimate purpose, and once attaining that purpose all else should be sacrificed. And while I believe that my life’s priorities have been rearranged, my duties as a parent do not overwrite my passions as an artist.  If anything, the former fuels the latter and vice versa. 

By default, the creative process for authors and artists is lonely. Motherhood can magnify that loneliness in a way. Naturally, as a wonderful new life is celebrated, creative potential is sometimes overshadowed, dismissed, or forgotten. Some people have assumed that I had abandoned my creative endeavors altogether. And as my new responsibilities dominated pretty much all my time few people noticed that a vital part of my life had all but faded away.

It was seemingly of little consequence to them. Perhaps they didn’t realize that my aspirations, like my beloved daughter, are also a vital part of my identity. They are not mere frivolous pastimes. Yet, unfortunately, many artists face the same stigma where the legitimacy of their craft is solely judged upon their level of success. And given the fact that prior to publishing DUALITY: Poems, Essays, and Reflections, it had been seven years since I last published any writing, my success was questionable.

So, how did I go from a seven-year creative struggle to finally publishing my work again? A lot of sleepless nights, a lot of work, improvisation, meditation, and encouragement from a couple of dear friends and loved ones. Sometimes I’d jot down ideas (or even entire passages) on my cellphone as I rocked my daughter to sleep. I’d do the same during car rides. Most of the time I’d sacrifice sleep to work on DUALITY, new drawings, or my forthcoming sci-fi novel. However, in recent days I’ve learned that as my daughter gets older, there are other ways to unapologetically claim time for my work. Part of that means stepping beyond what others expect of me as a mother. Another part of it means getting better at delegating tasks whenever possible.

When I experienced a medical scare this past fall, it revived my desire to finish what I had started while at the same time invoking a fear that some of the words I had written might have been prophetic of my own demise. The process revealed the people who care most about me. It also left me grateful for my health and renewed my respect for the fragility of time.

In some ways it’s ironic that motherhood has provided both the greatest challenge and the greatest inspiration for me to get my work out there again. It’s important that my daughter gets to know all parts of my authentic self since that’s the closest I’ll ever get to achieving immortality.

Here are four tips that have helped me emerge from my hiatus:

1. No longer seeking permission to work on my craft.

I learned that my creative aspirations will never mean more to anyone else than they do to me. I also learned to value my work time without feeling guilty about occasionally sacrificing socialization in order to attain it.

2. Learning to forgive myself when I get off track.

Life intervenes our well laid plans. Often repeatedly and relentlessly. Yet, it can be tempting to blame ourselves when things don’t work out. Blame is unproductive and can prevent us from circumnavigating the cause of our delays and learning from the challenges whenever possible. Also, sometimes unplanned deviations to our schedule can sometimes work in our favor, allowing us to catch mistakes or coming up with ideas me might not have otherwise considered.

3. Doing my best with whatever time I’m able to get for my work. Even if it’s just five minutes.

Some people have the luxury of having a consistent schedule for their projects. Being a stay-at-home mom, I typically rely on the wee hours for productivity. Yet, even that rarely pans out as I hope, given the unpredictable sleep patterns of my beloved toddler. This means frequent interruptions. To cope with this, I work on what I can and make bookmarks and notations of where I left off. 

4. Understanding the importance of stress management.

Stress hinders the creative process and can discourage us from pursuing our dreams. Finding some method to decompress is vital to our recovery from stress. For some it’s meditation, yoga, exercise, music, reading, or other pastimes. In anticipation of stressful times, I created playlists of uplifting songs and speeches. Find what works best for you and incorporate it into your routine.

Shykia Bell is an author, poet, artist, and creator of The Bell Studio. Additionally, she is a freelance writer / graphic designer. She lives in Brooklyn, New York with her husband and their daughter.

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Duality: Poems, Essays, and Reflections is now available at Amazon

Artwork from the collection is available at the author’s Redbubble shop

Medium blog: An Unexpected Diagnosis: How a Feared Ending Led to a New Beginning

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HOTEL OBSCURE: A LONG ROAD TO THE BOOK I NEVER THOUGHT I’D WRITE

 

Short stories were never my thing. In my youth, with no direction but always a burning passion to write, I wrote one incomplete story after another. One story, however, many decades later, turned into my seventh novel, Barrie Hill Reunion. That anomaly aside, the writing of incomplete stories seemed like little more than a writing exercise for a young, searching mind.

Like many writers, I have folders filled with examples of my youthful angst and confusion: long-winded stream-of-consciousness musings, depressing poetry, and once in a while, a random ray of sunshine. Here’s one such wonder from my teenaged mind:

Wisdom entails years of sleep,

And waking to find the river is deep,

Falling closely, avoiding the rocks,

Knowing the world in a time without clocks.

 

Waves rush fiercely to salvage the drift,

Creations dancing on a whitened cliff.

Spring of water and honey pie,

Miraculous wonder which never can die.

 

But most of my poetry read more like this:

 

Trapped in a cage of gloom,

I wander all over the room.

At every bar, I chance for escape,

Forgetting it’s me in the long black cape.

 

And sometimes, my poetry was on the artistic side:


At the age of nineteen, I wrote 150 pages of an unfinished novel. As time went on, still without direction, I wrote four screenplays and two plays.

Years later, after a decade-long writer’s block and much introspection, figuring out that I had a simultaneous fear of both rejection and success, I started writing again. By now, I’ve learned that in order to complete something, I need to know what I want to complete. There’s nothing wrong with getting into a car and going for a ride without a destination, but after so long, I need to arrive somewhere.

The realization of what had been holding me back spurred me to write my first novel, Squalor, New Mexico, a 1970s coming-of-age story that takes place in East Coast suburbia.

I went on to become a multi-genre author of seven novels. People had often asked me if I’d ever written short stories. “No,” I had always replied. “My mind doesn’t work that way. My mind only works in long form. I need to write novels.”

And for the most part, maybe that’s true. But in 2015, when I was asked to write two short stories for an anthology called Triptychs: Mind’s Eye Series Book 3, I responded in the affirmative. After completing two short stories, inspired by two photos I was given, I realized the writing of short stories was not beyond my ken. (Insert smart-ass remark here from my brother, Kenneth; I know one is coming.)

While writing for the anthology showed me I could write short stories, it wasn’t enough of an impetus to write more. It was during the writing of my YA paranormal trilogy, The Desert Series, that I became increasingly frustrated by the limitations on language. So, after I finished the first book, while waiting for my edits to be returned, I unleashed my frustration by writing a short story in the literary fiction genre. Ah, what a joy it was to use any words that meandered through my mind. Before too long, I wrote another story.

Writing these stories not only made me feel good, but I found a way to keep on writing during the waiting period. While some authors can easily delve into a new novel, I only like to work on one at a time so I can completely immerse myself in the nuances of my story.

It was around that time that I decided I would slowly start building a themed collection. After three years, Hotel Obscure was finished. My goal had been to have at least fourteen stories, but to my delight, I ended up with seventeen.

Here’s the synopsis for Hotel Obscure:

In a run-down neighborhood in an unnamed city, people live and die in “the Obscure.”

Whether anyone remembers the real name of the derelict establishment is a mystery. In this six-story building, most who occupy the rooms are long-term residents, though some stay for as little as an hour.

The patronage is an eclectic group: musicians, writers, addicts, hookers, lonely people, poor people, rich people, once-well-off people, and those who have reason to hide from their former lives or to escape the demands of a disapproving and punishing society.

As shabby as the Obscure is, as long as its walls keep out the wind and the rain, it remains a shelter, a hideaway, and a home for the many bewildered souls.

Hotel Obscure is a collection of seventeen short stories that all take place in or around the “the Obscure.” While the stories stand alone, they are to be read in order. Some characters appear in multiple stories, and sometimes, a story will continue in an unexpected way.

The Obscure is life. It is death. In the blink of an eye, it may appear supernatural. It is a place we all visit … whether metaphorically or physically, at least once in our time on Earth.

And yes, my ninth book will be a novel. However, I have no doubt that I’ll slowly begin to build another short story collection. Not only do I enjoy literary fiction and having something to do between books, I also find the process of exploring themes and stories without turning them into novels extremely satisfying. But wow, what a trip it’s been to get here.

Thanks so much for stopping by!

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CHAT WITH RAVEN H. PRICE

Raven H. Price is a Christian Fantasy/Romance writer who enjoys inspiring people through entertainment. She writes stories about God’s love as the theme behind every facet of life. In each of her books, you will see how she brings angelic beings to life by giving them voices and allowing them to interact with humans. Writing in this method gives a supernatural or fantasy element to her writing that she feels readers like this day and age.

Time to chat with Raven!

What is your latest book?

My latest novel is Wisdom’s Song. I’ve also published two short stories recently called “Blinded By the Light” and “God’s DNA.”

What are the greatest challenges in writing short stories?

I can be long-winded. Short stories are written to entertain people quickly.

Do you write under a pen name? If so, can you tell us why?

No. I like my name.

How did you choose the genre you write in? Or did it choose you?

I think my genre chose me. I am infatuated by Biblical scriptures expressing God’s love for us, so I create romantic or children’s stories to proclaim this in an entertaining manner that isn’t preachy.

Are your characters ever based on people you know?

I’ve written only one book based on the truth about a person. The Plan (my first book) is a story based on my early years. To make it interesting and entertaining I wrote it in a fictitious manner using a lot of supernatural elements.

What else have you written?

I’ve written a trilogy: The Paradigm Shift (Convicted, Convinced and Commissioned),
A children’s chapter book: A Dog Named Derf,
An edgy romance called: Wisdom’s Song,
Two inspirational short stories: “Blinded By the Light” and “God’s DNA.”
And I in the process of writing another children’s book called: The Angel Who Was Turned Into a Cat.

Many times, I’ve actually dreamed plot twists, character names, and many other tidbits that I’ve need for my WIP. Has this ever happened to you?

Every time! I get inspiration everywhere, but especially when I sleep. I wake up some mornings wanting to write before I even have my first cup of coffee.

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

I love meeting people who want to talk about my books. I also enjoy co-promoting, but I refuse to get into political or hateful conversations. I absolutely hate people bashing and I won’t get involved in those kinds of conversations even if I think the person is wrong.

Do you feel your latest book is your personal favorite or one of your previous novels?

Wisdom’s Song is my latest novel, and it is my favorite. I had a message to convey and I pushed the sensual aspects to the edgy without it being erotic. I had a lot of fun writing this story and exploring various historical aspects to tie into the storyline.

Many authors do giveaways; have you found them a successful way to promote your book?

In my opinion, doing a giveaway promotion helps new authors. People are always searching for bargains, and if they come across one free they will grab it even if the author is unknown. Since self-publishing has flooded the literary market, there are thousands of books to choose from, so why not give away a few to jumpstart your ‘literary career.’

How would you define your style of writing?

All my books have hidden messages written within the storylines. My intent is to show God’s love and His desire to see us through trials and tribulations. I like romances with hardships involved. I like to show the fight between good and evil within everything, and I use a lot of spiritual warfare between angels and demons to bring out a supernatural element that gets this point across. Some would call it fantasy.

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

Yes! When this happens, I know something within my work in progress isn’t right, so I go back through timelines, characters, whatever to see if I messed up. I also use the time to unwind and relieve stress. I feel when I worry about the writing it only jams up my creative flow, so I reconnect with things that relax me such as reading, going to the beach, or taking time to be with family and friends. Doing this gets me out of my head and back into a happy place.

If you could duplicate the knowledge from any single person’s head and have it magically put into your own brain, whose knowledge would you like to have? And why.

I don’t want to come off sounding like a religious freak, but I’d love to live in Jesus’ brain. From the books of Matthew, through to John, I read that he didn’t have any cares or concerns about life, and he wanted others to feel why. If we could live free like him, life would be amazing. He ate, lived, breathed love. I want to be like that.

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

I love shows that involve the supernatural. My favorites have recently been canceled.

The Originals, Vampire Diaries, Lucifer, (Canceled)
Those I can still watch are: The Good Doctor, NCIS New Orleans, Supernatural, Arrow, Flash

Do you have any guilty pleasures?

I love sweets. Especially baked goods. I eat them sometimes to reward myself, or when I’m stressed to the max about something.

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

I am a firm believer that love, respect, and acceptance of all peoples, races, and religions are important. I believe this, and I act in every aspect as much as I can. This includes everyone regardless of their sexual beliefs, faults, or failures. We all need to co-exist and not judge one another.

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My Autism and My Work by Benjamin Kellogg

Hello, my name is Benjamin Kellogg, and I am a 27-year-old author from New York State, USA. I also have autism, a neurological condition that has greatly affected my life.

Autism is an overriding factor in my everyday activities, from basic movement to effective communication, to how I process information, and how I associate with my family, friends, and environment. I have been able to compensate for much of how this condition has challenged me with help from a wonderful support system of my parents, teachers, therapists, and others who helped me improve myself physically, mentally, emotionally, psychologically, and in countless other ways. I am grateful for everything they have done.

Communication was incredibly difficult for me when I was a boy. I could not get the words out to fully express how I was feeling, what I needed, or what I wanted to do. In my early years, screaming and biting were the best I could manage, hardly ideal for any meaningful conversation. Conversations were impossible for me to engage in without becoming frustrated. I did not know how to start and end one, take turns with the other speaker(s), and other social niceties. In speech class and with the help of my parents and the many support people around me, I learned better ways to communicate peaceably and slowly began to gain a solid command of language and meaning. I do feel more comfortable with writing my thoughts than speaking, but real-world interactions are no longer as much of a challenge.

Movement was arguably even worse. My gross and fine motor skills were severely underdeveloped for many years. This led to all kinds of problems I needed help with daily. Balance issues created a myriad of problems for me as I would fall down frequently. I had little arm and hand strength. I remember having the most trouble with tying my shoelaces. With very little control of my fingers, I could not perform the most rudimentary steps in the shoe-tying process. I relied on shoes with Velcro fasteners for more years than I probably should have, and, well into my teenage days, my parents had to help me tie my shoes before we left the house. It was many years before I could tie my sneakers on my own. Even today, after years of therapy and practice have enabled me to gain muscle tone, smooth out my motor skills, and gain control of many subtle movements, I still find some actions awkward and somewhat tedious. It is clear to me that there will always be more work to be done regarding my motor planning, but as with everything else in my life, I am willing to put in the hard work to improve myself.

These are but a few examples of the countless issues I had to negotiate on a daily basis when I was younger. Some still affect me today, but at least I am now aware of their effect on me and can prepare for them accordingly.

After I graduated from college, I decided that I would like to help other children with autism to learn the social and life skills I struggled to master when I was a child. For this purpose, I created a children’s book series called, “Noah and Logan Children’s Book Series.” These stories are about two young boys who, in each story, learn about a social or life skill.

There are five books in the series thus far: Noah and Logan Learn to Clean, Noah and Logan Learn to Share, Noah and Logan Learn to Tie Their Sneakers, Noah and Logan Learn to Care for Their Pets, and Noah and Logan Learn to Make New Friends. I am currently working on a sixth book in the series, Noah and Logan Learn to Use Their Manners. Noah and Logan are named after two of my young cousins who were born shortly before I created the series; in addition, I have added more characters for certain stories based on their cousins.

My writing is mostly a solitary endeavor, but for “Noah and Logan,” I collaborate with my mother, Theresa Kellogg, who draws the illustrations based on my ideas. For picture books such as the “Noah and Logan” stories, I feel it is vital that the text matches perfectly with the illustrations. I make sure each drawing shows everything being described by the text accurately and in a way that is easily understood by young readers. In addition, I have placed emphasis on “color” words that was a difficult concept for me to understand when I was a boy. In the text, these words are highlighted with the appropriate color and prominently displayed in the illustrations.

The response to the “Noah and Logan” series has been mostly positive and incredibly supportive. I have received feedback on several fronts, including parents and other family members of children on the autism spectrum, teachers, and therapists. The comments overall indicate that my stories have made a positive impact and have been helpful in teaching the skills represented in each book.

I am also working on several other writing projects at the moment. One upcoming endeavor is a book of poetry based on my life with autism. It will include all of my poems that have been published thus far, as well as many more based on parts of my life that I have not written about before or which I want to explore in more detail. These poems were among my first major works after I decided writing was my life’s calling; to me, they are personal and deeply meaningful, representing my innermost thoughts and concerns. I have had five poems published to date. For my first three poems, I was awarded a second-place International Naturally Autistic People Award in the Literary Arts category representing the United States of America at the ANCA World Autism Festival in Vancouver, Canada, in October 2017.

Ben at the Everson Museum in Syracuse, NY next to his latest published poem, “Finding My Voice,” which was published in this year’s UNIQUE Magazine.

Another project I am working on is a novel about a professional wrestling league. I have created an entire roster of wrestlers and the story will follow their lives in the ring as well as backstage, showing all sides of their complex world. I love pro wrestling, and being able to express this interest through my writing is a dream come true for me.

A big message in my writing and my life has been that people with autism are capable. If they have a dream, they can pursue it. No one path is perfect, but with love, support, and a willingness to keep going, anything is possible. I let nothing hold me back and I want my readers to be able to do the same.

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CHAT WITH SUE-ELLEN WELFONDER

USA Today bestselling author Sue-Ellen Welfonder aka Allie Mackay writes Scottish historical romance and contemporary paranormal romance. Her passions are animals, nature, and anything old and quirky. She lives on Florida’s southwest coast with her husband and her muse, Snuggles the writer cat.

Time to chat with Sue-Ellen!

What is your latest book?

Master of the Highlands. It’s a Scottish medieval romance about a hot-blooded Highland warrior who learns that even the boldest hero is no match for the searing passion of the one woman he cannot resist. It’s a powerfully emotional story and I love it because I enjoy writing about people who have lost everything yet go on to win love, happiness, and so much more. In real life, the bad guys win too often. In books, we can let the good guys have a go at it. I love that.

The blurb…

Master of the Highlands

He was lord of nothing…

No man is a worse candidate for penance than hot-tempered Iain MacLean. As a fierce Highland warrior and brother to a mighty, well-respected laird, he never dreamed he’d someday don a pilgrim’s robe and travel the land, bending his knee at holy sites rather than swinging his sword. But that is exactly what he must do after accidentally setting fire to his family’s chapel. He will lose everything unless he delivers his clan’s greatest treasure to a sacred shrine – the price for his wild and reckless ways.

Until he claimed her heart…

No lass is less suited for the convent than passionate Madeline Drummond. Neither should any maid see her family’s castle overrun, her people threatened, and worse. She couldn’t prevent tragedy, but she will take revenge on the murderous villain who destroyed her clan. Retribution will ruin her, leaving her no choice but to seek forgiveness in a nunnery. When the fiery Highlander and the lady meet, desire flames and their souls are scorched by a single kiss. Together, they journey across Scotland to regain Madeline’s ancestral home. And as wrongs are righted, she learns vengeance can be sweet – especially as the one true love of the Master of the Highlands.

Is your recent book part of a series?

Master of the Highlands is part of my Highland Knights trilogy about Clan MacLean.  All three titles can be read alone and are available now.

Do you write under a pen name? If so, can you tell us why?

I write under my real name (Sue-Ellen Welfonder) and a pen name, Allie Mackay. When I was still ‘traditionally published,’ I wanted to expand into paranormals and signed with a second publisher for this genre. A pseudonym was my choice because I wanted to differentiate my historical romances from the new books that were mostly time travel romances.

The pen name was not a secret and I have always been clear about also writing as Allie Mackay.

How did you choose the genre you write in? Or did it choose you?

My family background is Scottish (Hebridean) and so I was born loving Scotland. Likewise, I’ve always been fascinated by medieval history, Celtic legend and lore, and the paranormal. So when I started writing, these passions flowed into the stories.

I believe in writing what you love. Only then do words come to life. Jumping on trend bandwagons just because a genre is hot will produce flat prose – unless you are passionate about that kind of story. Your heart has to be in there, along with the ink.

Are your characters ever based on people you know?

Sometimes, yes. More than anything, I’m in my characters. They share my likes and dislikes, world views, and experience things I’ve seen or done. Where can story come from if not from our own lives? The good and the bad, it all swirls in the mysterious well we dip into when writing. I believe you can see the writer in the words, especially if you know the author.

Many times, I’ve actually dreamed plot twists, character names, and many other tidbits that I’ve need for my WIP. Has this ever happened to you?

Yes. I credit it to the ‘magic’ of writing. I’ve had dreams that became whole chapters. Dreams so vivid I went straight to my desk and typed as if in trance. Who knows where such things come from? When it happens, it is certainly a gift.

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

I think luck has a lot to do with it. The same thing can be seen outside writing. Why does one ballet dancer become the star when so many others are equally accomplished? Same with musicians, artists, actors, you name it.

Some argue that talent plus hard work will ‘see you to the top.’ But the cold, hard truth is that many gifted souls work very, very hard and yet never see much success. Someone else hits the scene and soars, never looking back.

So I think it is luck. Maybe karma?

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?

Incredibly important. Likewise titles. I’d even go so far as to say that I can’t start writing a new story until I have just the right names and a title. This is a ritual for me – just like I clean my desk and office between books. I need that ‘clean slate and fresh start’ for my workspace. And I need names and a title for my story people and their world to spring to life.

No, I’ve never changed a character name. By the time I settle on one, I’m usually sure it suits. In a weird writerly way, I like to think characters tell us their names. That they whisper into our ears, letting us know who they are.

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

No. I never wanted to write. My dream was to be an airline stewardess and travel the world. I did that for many years and loved every minute. I was encouraged to write by my favorite author, Becky Lee Weyrich. I’d sent her a fan letter, we became friends, and I’d send her letters about my travel adventures. I wrote my first book mainly so she’d stop bugging me to write. To my surprise and horror, really, the book sold. And so I became an author.

Do you feel your latest book is your personal favorite or one of your previous novels?

My all-time favorite book is Some Like It Kilted. The hero is the one I wish would materialize in my office and sweep me away. Some Like It Kilted is the book I would love to disappear into for real, never leaving its pages.

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

I don’t believe in writer’s block. I think the stories are always there, waiting to be inked to life. And it is ‘life’ that can block writers. Things that knock us sideways and take our breath, leave us gasping. The loss of a loved one or pet, illness, financial setbacks, anything that sets our world off-kilter. Often outside influences out of our control – in my life, that was once having to write through two years of nonstop construction chaos. I nearly lost my mind from the daily barrage of noise and mess and intrusion. But the words were there, even then. I knew what I should be writing. I was just so physically and emotionally gutted that I’d stare at the pc screen in a stupor.

I’m not sure there is a solution. You just soldier on. What helps me is getting out in nature, reading, yoga and cycling, getting enough sleep. Above all, hit pause, replenish the well.

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

I’m vegan, but my favorite comfort food is still the same as in my pre-vegan days. I’m a potato zealot and love potato-anything. I love to cook and bake and enjoy pretty much everything (as long as it is vegan). Even as a child, there was nothing I didn’t eat with glee.

If you had a million dollars to give to charity, how would you allot the funds?

No brainer: animal rescue.

What might we be surprised to know about you?

Probably that English is not my day-to-day language. I only speak English with friends or when I am out shopping, etc. German is spoken in my home. I also think and dream in German, and it is the language I feel most at ease speaking. My husband is German and as I was very young when we married, I spent much of my adult life living there, in Munich.

What makes you angry?

Animal cruelty, injustice, arrogance, narrow-mindedness, bullying.

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

Kindness, compassion, caring for the environment.

What simple pleasure makes you smile?

My cat snoring.

 

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CHAT WITH PAULA SLADE

Paula Slade, alumnus of Wisdom Bridge Theater, Players Workshop Second City and NBC-TV’s Daytime Writers Program, began her career as on-air announcer/reporter for radio station, WEFM, Chicago. She has served as head of the Literary Department Savage Agency, Hollywood, and developed radio and television programming for Blair Entertainment, New York. Paula’s acting credits include everything from Lady Macbeth on stage, to General Hospital on television. Today, she serves as VP/Creative Director and Audiobook Narrator for ARTISTIC MEDIA ASSOCIATES, INC. in the greater Boston area.

Time to chat with Paula!

Writers know how much effort it takes to get a book out (developing ideas, researching, writing, rewriting, editing, etc.), but most of us probably don’t know a lot about the process of turning our words into an audiobook. Can you tell us?

 The first step is to start listening to audiobooks, preferably in the genre you write. There are audiobook memberships from sites such as Audible, Playster, Audiobooks.Com and others, which offer trial programs and are good bargains. Or, check with your local library system. These days, libraries are increasingly following the public’s demand for audio, and it’s a free and easy way to become familiar with the general marketplace. An added benefit to your listening is that you’ll be aware of pacing and narration of different genres of books, and what works. Also, listen to book previews, which are free on Amazon.com and Audible.com, and check out ratings and comments. By doing this type of research and comparisons of styles, the process of selecting a narrator will be less daunting.

There is another excellent place to add to your knowledge base before taking the plunge into audio: Audiobook Creation Exchange, also known as ACX.com. On their website you will find a wealth of information geared toward authors as well as narrators and producers. I suggest you familiarize yourself with both sides of the fence, which will give you tremendous insight into the entire process. And, once you grasp the initial information on ACX,’s site check out their informative videos from ACX University, which are on YouTube.

How do authors go about finding a narrator and choosing the one best suited to their books? What is the average number of words you read for an audition?

 ACX.com is a good place to start your search. When you get to their web page, click on search (top of page/right side) then press on “Producers for Hire.” You’ll be taken to another page and in the section marked “Filters” (on the left side of the page) you’ll be able to request multiple narration requirements such as Book Genre, Narrator Gender, Language Spoken, Accent, Voice Age, Vocal Style and even Payment Preferences. Once you make your search selection(s), narrator names will populate the page, and when you click on any of the display arrows attached to the name you’ll hear a preview of the narrator’s voice. If you want to hear more samples of their work, just click on the narrator’s name and you’ll be taken to their specific ACX page, which will give you additional samples and tell you more about the narrator including a bio, credits, and pricing.

As far as the number of words in an audition, that is a rather dicey question. More often than not, authors who are new to audiobooks ask for extremely long auditions. (Personally, I consider anything over one thousand words too long.) Keep in mind, that as a rule of thumb, shorter is better. For a typical audition select excerpt(s) that are either critical to your book’s pacing, or character voices in dialogue that require significant interactions. Trust me on the audition length, as oftentimes you’ll know the best voice for your project in under a minute.

One of the first questions authors have about turning their work into e-books is cost. No surprise. Can you talk about the different options authors have when it comes to compensating the narrator?

There is flexibility here. Prices vary from straight Royalty Share on ACX to $1,000 per finished hour. Variances occur because of the narrator’s experience in acting or audio production and whether they are union or non-union.

For non-union narrators without previous recording or acting experience rates could very from straight Royalty Share to $50 to $100 PFH (per finished hour), or a combination of both if a stipend is involved.

For an experienced union performer who has expertise with foreign accents, character voices or a familiarity with medical terminology they will command a higher rate (anywhere from $200 to $1,000 PFH). Also, some narrators utilize audio engineers to perform editing and mastering, which is built into their fee and allows them to solely concentrate on their narration and acting. All of these factors play into the rate offered by the narrator.

Although royalty share is a popular choice and requested by authors, consider the following: To make it viable for all concerned, know that narrators will be taking many factors into consideration such as your Amazon Overall Sellers Rank (anything 100,000 or below is a good place to be); the number of customer reviews and the reviews themselves of the print or e-version of your book; your book’s cover art – does it draw the listener in?; the need for a strong social media and website presence, and finally be willing to share your royalties for a seven year period with your narrator. On ACX, you and your narrator will be splitting royalties 60-40 with Amazon/Audible, which will leave you and your narrator sharing 20-20 of overall sales. Also know, that unless you are an established well-selling author, many narrators will make PFH paid bookings a priority in their schedule so there may be a wait time before taking on your project.

A quick method of determining what you might expect to pay for your audiobook production vs. Royalty Share, is to figure that one hour of narration translates to approximately 9,400 spoken words per finished hour, which is the average rate determined by ACX. So, if your manuscript is 50,000 written words from title to closing credits, your audiobook would translate to nine hours and 32 minutes total. You would then take the narrator’s requested rate (let’s say a union person at $275 PFH, (price includes pre-production read-thru, author and producer consultations, studio recording time with engineer, as well as editing and mastering).

With all that in mind, your finished audiobook would be $2,563.00. That may sound pricey at first glance but bear in mind that it takes at least six hours to produce one finished hour of an audiobook. Roughly, speaking about 57 hours of work is performed in order to provide a 50,000 written word audiobook.

Are there certain genres of books that you prefer to narrate? Are there books that you won’t narrate?

I personally enjoy non-fiction as I always get to learn something new. But, a riveting horror, paranormal, mystery or sweet romance will always grab my attention! Erotica is the only genre I do not record.

How do you handle books with many characters, especially when there are many in one scene?

Before I get in front of the microphone, a complete read-through of the book is done in order to get a feel for each character voice as well as the narrator, if the book is in third person. Along the way, I make notes as to the character’s physical attributes and vocal/speech pattern as it is written by the author. During that process all characters are given a specific highlighted color on the text so that when I’m in the booth and recording, I am able to switch personas without stopping. I also note any specific delivery such as “he whispered,” or “she said snidely” etc.

If a particular book would be enhanced by ambient music in the background, whether it is horror, suspense, romance, adventure, etc., how does this work? Is there music in the public domain for such purposes? Are you able to add it?

Yes, to both questions.

There are many websites that offer royalty free use of music, but most require an initial payment in order to download.

However, one site in particular, Free Music Archive.org has a vast collection of music in many genres and is free to download. Each music track comes with specific licensing requirements depending on use. For some, there is no attribution needed under the Creative Commons License and for others attribution is required, which is added in your audiobook’s text and shared in the narration.

When you perform a search on Free Music Archive’s site and you find an appropriate piece of music, just click on the title and you will be taken to another page that will provide the licensing information.

A search for music selections by your narrator or narrator’s producer or engineer would be an extra expense that could be saved by DIY and sharing the information for production.

What do you do prior to narrating a book to ensure that pronunciations for all character names, places, etc. are correct?

When doing my initial read-through of a book I always make a list of names and places that include my phonetic ideas as to the pronunciations. After that is done, it goes off to the author for approval or corrections.

For text that requires specific terminology (medical and technical) I refer to Merriam Webster online and for variances in pronunciation (British vs. American English) I use the website Howjsay.

What are some of the common misconceptions about turning books into audio books? Any common mistakes that authors make during this process?

 As mentioned earlier: inordinately long auditions.

Next on the list are books that have not been properly or professionally edited. Good grammar usage and spelling are paramount as is word placement when read aloud. The latter is a problem I refer to as “the repeat-repeat syndrome.” That is when an author uses the same word (several times) in one paragraph. Here’s an example: “Harry met Mary in high school. They were completely devoted to each other from day one. Harry devoted all of his free time to Mary and Mary devoted all of her free time to Harry.” When this is read quickly and silently it is often overlooked, but becomes painfully obvious that other word choices could have and would have made the sentence much more interesting, particularly in audio. A simple change to: “Harry met Mary in high school. They were devoted to each other from day one and it was the hallmark of their free time together.” I’ve seen this problem often and it does not become apparent unless read out loud. These corrections are best made by the author prior to sending their book out for audition.

The third point I’d like to make is that when entering into a contract with a narrator, review each chapter as it is recorded rather than waiting until the entire book is finished, thus providing feedback if it is necessary as you go along. Any changes are more easily made rather than waiting for the entire book to be finished. A chapter review by the author is usually done within a reasonable time frame – 24 to 48 hours after the chapter is uploaded for your review. This way, you and your narrator are in sync.

Also, constant re-working of a chapter (more than one time) does not serve you or your narrator well. It is one thing to ask for a mistake to be corrected, but it is an entirely different matter to request a full re-reading. On ACX you are given the opportunity to review and approve the first 15 minutes of your audiobook production and that is the time to request any changes to pacing, sound levels and voices. After passing the first 15 minutes, your narrator will keep those ideas in mind.

Once your book is completely recorded on ACX, it will go through a final quality check to make sure all recording and sound levels meet their strict specifications. If there are any problems flagged it is the responsibility of the narrator/producer to bring them up to standard. Note: This rarely happens with narrators who have some mileage under their belt.

What else would you like us to know that I haven’t asked?

Have the marketing for your audiobook in place well before the launch and begin actively promoting once you are under contract for the production.

Also, line up professional reviewers ahead of time and make sure they are comfortable with reviewing your genre. On ACX you will be given promo codes (25 for U.S. listeners and 25 for British), which will allow a free download of your book for reviewing purposes. You also have the option to promote to friends and family through Audible’s 30-day free trial, which will allow them a free download of your book. If they continue with their Audible membership after the 30 day period, you’ll get a one-time bounty bonus of $50, which is payable along with your book’s monthly royalties.

Once you’ve selected your narrator, a brief expression of thanks to those who have auditioned for your book will go a long way. Again, this is not mandatory, but it is professional and nice to do.

Please know that the cover of your book will have to be modified, going from a rectangular to a square view, which is easily accomplished using Photoshop or similar programs. At that time, you may also consider adding the narrator’s name (“read by” or “narrated by”) to your cover. This is by no means mandatory, but is an optional gesture that is appreciated by the talent, plus the talent’s name may be beneficial to the sales of your audiobook.

Once you’ve gotten the entire audiobook process under your belt, you have options for your next book from sites such as Findaway Voices, which offer an extremely wide range for distribution and the ability to connect with narrators for a set PFH rate.

Keep in mind that audiobooks are a wonderful way to reach new clients and build upon your sales base. Take your time processing all of this information as your research knowledge base will pay off over the years. Happy recording!

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

Gummi Bears for comfort, but please never serve me kidneys!

If you could duplicate the knowledge from any single person’s head and have it magically put into your own brain, whose knowledge would you like to have? And why.

Albert Einstein, because I’ve always been fascinated with physics.

If you had a million dollars to give to charity, how would you allot the funds?

It would be s split among charities that cover services for children, which include health care, housing, and literacy initiatives.

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

I would love to be able to do large math sums in my head.

What music soothes your soul?

Almost anything classical played on a violin.

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

More books!

Do you have any guilty pleasures?

A single serving, which is (in all actuality) a full pint of Haagen Daz Coffee ice cream.

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

Love one another and live in peace. Listen to others without being judgmental. Take care of the environment, it is the only planet we have.

What simple pleasure makes you smile?

The beauty of nature in all forms.

CONNECT WITH PAULA

Artistic Media Associates

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CHAT WITH KEN FRY

Bestselling, and multi-award-winning British author, Ken Fry, holds a university Master’s Degree in Literature and has extensively traveled around the world. He has extensive knowledge of the Art world.

He is now retired and devotes his full time to writing. He lives in the UK and shares his home with ‘Dickens’ his Shetland Sheepdog.

Time to chat with Ken!

What is your latest book?

My latest book is The Chronicles of Aveline. It’s a historical novel set during the 3rd Crusade and involves the predicament Aveline finds herself in after being banished to a convent and her subsequent adventures as she begins to search and for her lover who has been exiled to fight in the Holy Land. It’s the first time I’ve written a novel with a female protagonist.

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

Of course! I have just sent off to Eeva Lancaster, my editor, and book manager, my final edit for The Lazarus Continuum. It should be published in August, and is a sequel to the multi award winning and very successful, The Lazarus Succession.

 

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

I always enjoy the start or epilogue. I find they can set my perspective of how I may shape the narrative.

The part I like least… maybe before the dénouement when there is an attempt to bring all the elements into focus.

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

I was once tempted to purchase the ‘Scrivener’ software. A truly remarkable writer’s tool it is too, and ideal for the non-linear approach. However, I resisted. My memory is pretty cool, and I write strictly in a linear fashion. Plus, technology and me struggle at times.

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

Not at all. For me, nothing is written in stone. Plots and ideas change frequently, and as I progress. I have listed over a dozen titles and have chosen each one several times before reaching a decision, and that may not even have appeared on the list!

Some writers edit excessively as they write, others wait until a novel is finished. What do you do?

I have my own way of handling this issue. Each morning, before I commence writing, I read through what I wrote the day before and make what edits I think are required. When the book is finished I read slowly through it twice over and making the inevitable alterations etc. I then send it to Eeva Lancaster, my editor, who then goes through it several more times and keeps in contact with me about how it’s shaping up. It works well for me.

Are you easily distracted while writing? If so what do you do help yourself focus?

When focussed, I’m blind and deaf to all around me, even the phone ringing. A lack of ideas may cause distraction but that never lasts long enough to worry about.

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

Absolutely! No point giving a hard-boiled thug type, a name like Timothy. It doesn’t sound right. All my principal characters have had name changes halfway through the narrative even. It’s a very important consideration, and the name can be quite meaningful when viewed in context to the story.

Do you have any advice for first time authors?

There’s a lot to learn and unless you are a God-given genius, or have a fantastic stroke of luck, you are not going to get it right straight away.

You need a solid platform of writing and to develop a distinct profile. If you are on the Indie route, you need social media and you need to know how to use it. Seek professional help. I did, and for me it has worked well, although it’s taken two years to get to this point.

How much research was involved in writing your books. How do you go about it?

There can be lots. I have an extensive library of learned and literary books from all my university work. When I read anything that could have a bearing on my story, it gets researched via Google, public libraries and any other source. I’ve been known to spend over a day or more researching on one facet alone. For example, I’m halfway through a book where there is a lot of underwater activity occurring. I’ve contacted diving clubs and divers etc. Now I know something about the subject and I can discuss it in my book without making a big mistake.

Having your work out there to be judged by strangers is often daunting for writers. Do you have any tips for handling negative reviews?

If we are talking about Amazon, you need to look at who the reviewer might be. Have they a subjective and touchy belief system? Is what they say relevant? If it is, take it on board. If it’s the former, shrug it off. Don’t dwell on it. All writers experience the odd bad review. It’s part of our lives!

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

Definitely ‘early bird.’ I use music intensely. It heightens my mood and emotions… Hans Zimmer, Yuja Wang’s piano playing, Buddhist chants and mantras, Vangelis, Lisa Gerrard, Ennio Morricone, to name but a few.

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

That saying may be true, but a cover goes a long way in telling the reader what they might expect from the book. Can you imagine a zombie tale with a spaceship on the cover? Well, you might if it was Zombies from Outer Space. I’m sure you know what I mean.

I use The Book Khaleesi, who produces first class and imaginative covers that reflect my content. I had thought of using covers from a stock, but two authors can end up with the same cover. I’ve seen it. Ouch! None of that is worth it to save a few pence. It’s not worth it. I’ve changed my covers a couple of times when sales are low, and it has worked every time.

Always ask to see what ideas your cover designer has in mind and then make a choice. But let them design it.

Many authors do giveaways; Have you found them a successful way to promote your book?

Not so much. Unless the book involved is FREE.

 Do you feel your latest book is your personal favorite or one of your previous novels?

In terms of writing, I feel that my best book is The Brodsky Affair. You could call it my favorite.

Do you miss spending time with your characters when you finish writing them?

Finishing a book makes me feel sad every time. I get very emotional.

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

Yes, I have. I shut down and go for a long walk with my dog, and then end up in my local pub to partake of a bottle of wine and bowls of tapas. Works wonders! I take a notebook with me, and also when I go to bed. I often then wake up, and the ideas begin to flow once more.

A lot of authors are frustrated by readers who don’t understand how important reviews are? What would you say to a reader who doesn’t think his or her review matters?

Dear Reader,

A writer lives for your reviews. To know that someone is reading what we wrote. A simple one-line comment is more than enough. It not only validates our work, it also helps other readers figure out if they should read it. If you’re reading an Indie, then the review becomes more important.

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

I live in a small village in the county of Surrey in the UK. It suits me well, but my ideal would be to live close to Florence in Italy. I adore that place, and been there over seven times. For me, it has everything I would ever want. It has passion, culture and an ambience, which has captured my soul.

If you could duplicate the knowledge from any single person’s head and have it put magically put into your own brain, whose knowledge would it be, and why.

Professor Stephen Hawking. Wow, he understood Einstein and expanded our knowledge of how the universe works. His theories are mind-boggling and withstand scientific investigations.

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

That would be to be able to play musical instruments.

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

Sorry, folks…

1) abandon religions

2) abandon nationalities

3) abandon ethnic differences.

Ken Fry… May 2018.

CONNECT WITH KEN

Amazon Author Page

The Lazarus Continuum (Pre-Order)

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Video of The Lazarus Succession

Audiobooks on Audible (UK)

Audiobooks on Audible (US)

LINK TO GIVEAWAY

CHAT WITH C.A. ASBREY

Chris Asbrey has lived and worked all over the world in the Police Service, Civil Service, and private industry, working for the safety, legal rights, and security of the public. A life-changing injury meant a change of course into contract law and consumer protection for a department attached to the Home Office. She has produced magazine and newspaper articles based on consumer law and written guides for the Consumer Direct Website. She acted as a consultant to the BBC’s One Show and Watchdog, and been interviewed on BBC radio answering questions on consumer law to the public.

She lives with her husband and two daft cats in Northamptonshire, England—for now. She’s moving to the beautiful medieval city of York.

Time to chat with Chris!

What is your latest book?

The Innocents is the first in a trilogy of 19th century murder mysteries. My detective is a female Pinkerton and she has the skills the real women who performed that role really had; she is up to date with the modern detective methods of 1868, conversant with the sciences of the day, feisty, clever, and an expert at accents and disguises. She is nobody’s sidekick and goes in alone to collect intelligence– just like the real women did. In the first book she is sent in to help bring in the most cunning thief in the country, who also happens to be as forward-thinking and as interested in science as she is – except he uses it to commit better crime. When he saves her life, she owes him and resolves to bring in the murderer of a family friend. They find their respective skills dovetail perfectly, but if they’re found working together he could be jailed and she could be ruined forever. Neither of them bargained for their growing attraction either.

Is your recent book part of a series?

‘The Innocents’ is most definitely part of a larger body of work. It’s the first of a trilogy, but if people like them there’ plenty of scope to keep them going if there’s a demand. Each book is a self-contained mystery with the larger universe of the characters providing an over-arching connection between the books. The third book is written and at editing stage, but there are plenty of trials I can still put the characters through yet.

Do you write under a pen name? If so, can you tell us why?

I kinda do. I write under my married name and feature on social media under my maiden name for social interactions on line. I also write under initials. I don’t hide my gender, but it’s not immediately obvious when you look at the book cover.

How did you choose the genre you write in? Or did it choose you?

It definitely chooses me. I’ve loved mysteries all my life and read them voraciously all my life. I joined the adult section of the library at ten and read about three a week for years. I love the fact that there are there are rules to writing a mystery, and the writer has to keep to them if the reader is to be able to play along. The story has to keep moving, all the clues need to be available and the plot needs to be convincing. The rules were set out in ‘The Detective Club’ which featured members such as Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, G. K. Chesterson, and E. C. Bentley. Not all the rules hold true today; for instance, “No Chinaman must figure in the story.” That is simply a ridiculous premise today. Agatha Christie broke another rule. “The detective must not himself commit the crime” but they still provide a framework for the modern mystery writer. The method of murdering the victim must be a robust and feasible technique and not invented or spurious. The motive for murder in a whodunit should be personal, and not an act of war or part of a professional hit. That takes the killing into a different genre of writing. I think that pushing the boundaries in the mystery have to be done by taking the reader with you. It’s a really interactive medium and a mental game.

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

He was wanted. She wanted him more than anyone else.

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

I love it when they do that. One minor character took over and grew into a major one. Another decided to kill herself and left me wondering how to write my way out of this one. When creativity starts to play it’s important to go with it. It makes for a far more interesting plot.

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

I do start with a title, but it can change as the story proceeds. For some reason I need a hook to hang the story on. The ending can definitely change, and often has. I need to keep track of clues, red herrings, characters, and even aliases, but somehow it all comes together. In some plots it’s vital to know the ending. The third book in the trilogy is a howdunit. We know who kills and why, but my characters have to prove how he kills in a case which stretches their forensic skills to the limit.

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 always re-read what I wrote the day before and edit as I go but when I finish, I re-read and edit as well as sending the book out to trusted friends and beta readers who not only edit, but would point out any plot holes and scenes which don’t work. That results in more edits until the manuscript is honed and exactly as I want it.

Have you ever imagined what your characters are doing after you’ve finished a book or series?

Oh, yes. I’m already thinking what will happen in the fourth as I promote the first.

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

Copious amounts. ‘The Innocents’ has taken years of research into the early Pinkertons, especially the female agents and the kind of work they did, including their methodologies. I research everything, even the stationary, or the correct codes for the telegraph stations mentioned in the books. The theatrical make up, used as disguises in the book, began to flourish right around the period the books are set in. Lighting had improved and people could see the flaws in the rudimentary makeup used previously on stages lit by candles.

Greasepaint was invented in the 1860s by Ludwig Leichner, building on the work of Karl Freidrich Baudius (1796–1860) in the 1850s. Lighting also improved costumes and acting techniques. It drove a desire for more natural representations in every area, simply because people could see the stage more clearly. Crepe hair went out and quality wigs came in. Colors were mixed to mimic skin tones and classes in their application were popular in the acting profession. Latex wasn’t invented until 1920, but prior to that rubber was molded or even applied to a light fabric backing. When it was the right shape it was expertly painted to look exactly like a nose, dewlap, bald cap, or any other body part. I even researched whether someone with as much hair as the average Victorian woman could wear a short wig. The answer came from a young woman who enjoys cosplay—and she explains online how to pleat her long, thick hair and coil it flat under the cap before putting the short wig on. It absolutely IS possible.

The forensics are fascinating to dig into too. You name it I researched, right down to what shades of clothes were available at that time. I don’t want all that to become a lesson to the reader though. It should be a backwash, a setting in which the plot unfolds. I’m first and foremost a storyteller and I want to carry the reader with the tale and not have them worrying about whether something was available at the time or whether it was possible.

I do enjoy finding things which seem like anachronisms but were actually invented much earlier than people think, but I have my characters discuss these things so it’s clear I’ve done my homework. I have a blog where I detail the strange, obscure, and the things too mundane to be taught in history classes. I was very flattered to be told by another writer that they’d used it as a resource.

CONNECT WITH CHRIS:

Blog (all things obscure and strange in the Victorian period)

Facebook (The Innocent Mystery Series Group)

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CHAT WITH INGRID FOSTER

Fantasy Suspense Author Ingrid Foster lists Pennsylvania Farm Girl, Veteran, World Traveler and Desert Dweller among her many descriptors. Having written her first story when she was eight, she didn’t officially get the writing bug until January 2005. She currently lives in the Sonoran Desert with her husband and furry babies.

What is your latest book?

My Fantasy Suspense novel entitled My Father’s Magic just went into print and later this year I plan to publish my second book in the Esme Bohlin Suspense Series, Revenge of the Dark Queen.

How did you choose the genre you write in? Or did it choose you?

It chose me. My Instructor at Long Ridge Writer’s Group, Lynne Smith, told me after reading Fresh Meat, that I was a natural for the horror genre. But she never had a chance to read my novel, My Father’s Magic. While having some horrific elements, it is truly what I call Fantasy Suspense. It has the immediate telling of the villain of the story and the fast pace of a suspense novel while in a contemporary fantasy setting. So, in truth, I waffle between the darker stuff like with my Dark Desert Tales and the Fantasy, but all of it is dark, fantasy-based and an entertaining ride from start to finish.

Are your characters ever based on people you know?

Not intentionally, but there are some personality similarities between my characters and people I know in real life.

What else have you written?

I’ve published two short stories from my Dark Desert Tales Collection, “Fresh Meat” and “A Home for Rose.” Both will be included in a somewhat altered state and along with one novella, one novelette and a surprise story in my upcoming book, The Dark Desert Tales Collection, to be published next year.

What do you think some of the greatest misconceptions about indie authors are?

That their books are poorly edited and unprofessional. The vast majority of Indie Authors spend a great deal of time on their craft, they value their readers and want to provide the best product they possibly can. Like many others, going Indie was not a hasty decision. I researched both avenues, listened to more experienced authors both Publishing House published and Indie and finally decided to go Indie with my own brand name, Lucky Nut Press. I wanted the freedom to make choices that were right for me and my stories without having to yield to the latest market trends and big house bottom lines.

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

All the time, every day and I wouldn’t have it any other way!

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

The first book, I edited each chapter as I went. I stopped doing that. I see it as two completely different mindsets. I keep early mornings for writing and late mornings or afternoons for editing.

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?

Yes, after five years on My Father’s Magic I was done so I chose some objective people and had them read it. After two editors and a team of beta readers, the book was ready to publish.

What are some of the crazy things people have said to you upon learning you are an author? How have you responded?

“Oh, I’ve got a great story idea for you!” or they’ve sent me their stories without asking, expecting me to read them and give a glowing opinion. But, I didn’t choose writing, it chose me. So, IMO, we all have a need to write as a way to vent, but just because you do that doesn’t mean you’re a writer. A writer is someone who has to write, it’s as natural as breathing and we are happiest when writing. If you don’t have that drive, that desire and passion to write, look around you, your talent and passion are most likely doing something else.

Have you ever written characters that you truly despise?

Yes, the antagonist in My Father’s Magic. He had a lot of the same characteristics of someone from my past. Someone I came to despise. Needless to say, I was glad when my main character (protagonist) Esme kicked his ass.

Do you have any advice for first-time authors?

Read everything, inside your favorite genre and outside and then when the need to write becomes so intense that you have no choice, write and write and write. Reading feeds your inner writer, gives you ability to think outside the box and original ideas and concepts are what sells. If you want to write something that’s been hashed a thousand different ways like vampires, come up with a different take on vampires or at least a character that is close to home for you.

Can you tell us about your road to publication?

I’m 55 years old, I devoted my life to writing January 2005. That’s when I stopped fighting my inner writer. Long story, very personal, let’s just say a well-meaning family member convinced the 17-year-old me that giving into my need to write would drive me slowly insane. Over the past few years I’ve learned too things, that cutting off my need to write hurt me more mentally than writing ever could, and two, to embrace all of me, the good, the bad, the ugly, and the crazy. A whole life is a happy life. But back to being published, after a dozen or so query letters I decided writing was a much better use of my time and then when I decided to go Indie, a good friend helped me self-publish my first story, “Fresh Meat.” I’m a fast learner, so I was then able to epublish “A Home for Rose,” and My Father’s Magic.

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

I absolutely love a story that grabs me from the first paragraph. If a story doesn’t do that, most likely it won’t later and I’ll pass on it.

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

A lot. It took me five years to write My Father’s Magic and a lot of that was because I researched Goddess worship, Paganism, the European Germanic Migration and other topics along the way.

Is there a question I haven’t asked you that you would like to answer?

Where did the idea for My Father’s Magic come from?

After a few years of writing other stories, I got the feeling I had an emotional block inside me that needed to be addressed. Writing has always allowed me to explore my feelings. I’ve always wanted to tell my story, but when I started writing a memoir, the ADHD part of me said, “Boring!” So I decided, “Why not tell your story but in a fictional, fantasy way?”

So I drew a map of a fictional place on a whiteboard and the magical village of Albion was born. Then I started coming up with characters and even though the characters are not me or people I know, I used a lot of my own background, emotions and experiences to write this book.

Do you feel your latest book is your personal favorite or one of your previous novels?

Is it wrong to say your own novel is your absolute favorite read? In truth, I write stories that I myself enjoy. I believe that if I’m not enjoying the story, my readers won’t either, and so I write for me. It’s an absolute pleasure and bonus when others enjoy my stories as much as I 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?

The only negative reviews really involved my two Dark Desert Tales, basically that they were too short. So with that in mind, I decided to take them back to the drawing board and explore ways I can increase their story line. I wrote them both to meet assignment requirements for a class I was taking, that’s why they’re short. But with the freedom to expand and allow my characters to spread their wings, it will be fun to see what happens.

Do you miss spending time with your characters when you finish writing them?

Yes, always. My first book was about five friends and even though I couldn’t quite get the story to work I never forgot my five friends. A couple years back I put them into another story. It’s pretty much the same location, but a different plot and it will most likely be a trilogy.

Have you ever wished that you could bring a character to life? If so, which one and why?

I have this adorable little creature in My Father’s Magic that takes a bigger role in Revenge of the Dark Queen. He has six spider legs and two cat legs complete with paws. His fur is as soft as cashmere and changes color to reflect his mood. He has large Onxy eyes and he’s the last (as far as we know) of his species thanks to an flea-carrying plague that took place in the human world centuries before. I’d love for him to come to life.

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

I brake for katzenspinders!

A lot of authors are frustrated by readers who don’t understand how important reviews are? What would you say to a reader who doesn’t think his or her review matters?

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

LOL, yes, The Gathering, the novella that will come out in my Dark Desert Tales collection, started out being about a middle-aged couple moving into a haunted apartment complex in southern Arizona. It’s now about a young widow who returns to southern Arizona to spread her husband’s ashes as promised. Unfortunately almost at the same time, a construction project disturbs a buried pile of ancient bones and all hell is about to break loose.

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

Okay, this may be a little morbid. But I had a near-fatal car accident in 1994. After five days in ICU and pretty much out of it, I woke up to see my two-sisters entering my hospital room. Mind you, I’m the youngest of four by eight years and as we are spread all over the country it had been years since I saw them. Having them there when I opened my eyes was the absolute best surprise!

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

I’d love to learn how to fly helicopters.

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

My 5th Grade English class. I was in a bad place regarding school until 5th Grade, mainly because of severe dysfunctional issues at home. My parents divorced when I was in 5th Grade ending my severe abandonment issues and for the first time I could focus on school. I’ll never forget setting at my desk working in my Language Skills workbook and it seemed like everything opened up to me and I began my life-long love of words.

What’s your favorite film of all times? Favorite book?

I have three movies: The Long Kiss Goodnight, Something’s Gotta Give, and Love Actually

Favorite books: The Prophetess by Barbara Wood, Stephen King’s It and William Shakespeare’s Hamlet

Do you have any guilty pleasures?

Doesn’t everyone? 🙂 Okay, mint chocolate chip ice cream and key lime or lemon meringue pie

What simple pleasure makes you smile?

Spending time with my family, a child’s laughter and walking my dog.

 

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CHAT WITH STEPHEN M DAVIS

 

Steve was the grandson to a Thames-Docker, and son of a schizophrenic, alcoholic mother. Life on the streets of East London in the 60s was a testing time for him. In 1971, he moved to rural Essex aged 14-years. At 16-years old, he was in a house fire, leaving him with life-threatening injuries, which resulted in nine minutes on the other side. He believes he was given a second chance to write about Rebecca.

He went on to work for Royal Mail for 32 years, retiring at the age of 52. He then turned his attention to writing, aiming to improve his use of the English language. It took him five years to recognise his literary voice was a feminine one. Unbeknown to him, Rebecca had been waiting patiently.

Time to chat with Steve!

Is your recent book part of a series?

I only ever intended Rebecca & the Spiral Staircase to be a one-off story chronicling the adventures of a 15-year-old girl. I had finished – or so I thought – and was preparing my novel for a launch date. Then from nowhere, my beloved Rebecca called me for one final chapter. This chapter changed everything, and opened the door for Rebecca, A Way Back, and more…

Do you write under a pen name? If so, can you tell us why?

My name is my name. I write with a feminine voice, but even son, a guy writing about a 15-year-old girl raised a few eyebrows. It was suggested I changed my name and instead choose a female pseudonym. I wasn’t comfortable with that, especially as it is so hard to spell ha ha.

How did you choose the genre you write in? Or did it choose you?

 Aha, that’s an interesting, and in my case, fascinating question. When I first decided to get some words down on paper, a manly sci-fi novel seemed to be the obvious choice. After a couple of years of trudging my way through this story, I realised that either I didn’t fit it or it didn’t fit me. I tried some alternative styles with little joy. I was seemingly lost in literary oblivion. Then from nowhere, Rebecca called me. The moment I started typing she was there waiting. I had found my voice, and genre. Rebecca chose me.

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

Adults lose their ability to see.

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

My girl closes the front door and always turns left. Even though I have a set route or plan for Rebecca, she’s rarely prepared to be led, and instead chooses an unforeseen direction. When she speaks, however, I know how she thinks and responds. Either, I am in her head, or she’d in mine, so there’s rarely a surprise.

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

Oh, if only it were that simple. With an individual like Rebecca, there is no way she’d allow me or anyone else to pre-empt the ending. As with her first chronicle, just when I thought it was done-n-dusted, she shouted an alternative conclusion.

 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?

That’s quite a provocative question. Generally, the personalities of my characters or their roles within my novel will ultimately determine their name. I can see everyone’s individual’s facial expression, appearance, and characteristics, which mostly results in a perfect name fit. Sometimes though, I have no choice but consider era appropriate names as with Meredith, a lady from 1853. Rebecca, however, picked her name, and I went along with it because it suited her perfectly. I subsequently discovered that Rebekha was the wife of Isaac in the Hebrew Bible and one of the four original female names.

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?

At the get go, I struggled deciding the right publication route for my novel. Initially, I believed the conventional road via a literary agent was the only way for my girl. I soon realised that in these times of austerity, a new author book deal was always going to be a difficult direction. Literary agents receive an endless list of proposals and invariably your beloved novel, can, and will end up on the ‘slush-pile’, even if your story is outstanding. I tried six agents and although their response was positive, there was always a, “at the moment, we cannot consider new authors.” Interestingly, I didn’t get one auto “thanks but no thanks” reply. Although frustrated, I was actually spurred on by their positive comments. I then looked at the e-book route, and decided to let Rebecca loose on the world. Ultimately, the readers decide if your tale is good enough, and so it has proven with a phenomenal response.

I do use social media as a platform for my novel and this has had a mixed response. I write an angling blog, and with a constant world-wide audience, I used that to promote my novel. Although my fishing blog employs a somewhat different literary voice, it led to a few sales. I also run an angling forum via Facebook, and this platform produced a decent level of sales. Of interest, all the female anglers who read my book openly shared their enjoyment. The male anglers, however, showed their pleasure via private messages. Mostly though, Twitter has been a fantastic method of promoting for my novel. I believe that providing you are proactive and engage your followers, then they will – it would seem – purchase your book once they get to know you.

I spoke with an employee of a large UK book store, and he had an interesting view on independently published books. He explained that while at university, he was tasked with exploring the indie author route. He suggested that over ninety-five percent of e-books are “rubbish,” and that if you have a good story, and it is well written, then it will, in time, rise up through the ranks. His view was that reviews, an attention grabbing cover, a fascinating tale, and believable characters are the keys to success.

Are you a fast typist? Does your typing speed (or lack of it) affect your writiing?

Even if I could type five-hundred words a minute, Rebecca’s tale manifests itself at her pace, with the hands of the clock seemingly motionless. So no matter how fast I want to go, she keeps slowing me down, allowing her time to consider her direction.

Do you write anything besides novels? Care to share?

 As I said earlier, I write an angling blog. Interestingly, readers often say they feel they have been on a fishing expedition with me. Many have said that Rebecca takes you by the hand and leads you through every turn. Although the two are written with a slightly different literary voice, it appears, they both engage the reader in a similar way.

How would you define your style of writing?

 It has been said on a number of occasions, by many, that I have a feminine voice. My intended style is to engage people with thought provoking, between the lines, suggestions. I hope my readers are left unsure, wondering if the events surrounding Rebecca’s journey actually happen. Ultimately, I trust them to find the alternative, unforeseen conclusion. After all, I didn’t see it coming…

Have you ever wished that you could bring a character to life? If so, which one and why?

I don’t know what you could possibly mean. All my characters are alive, thriving, and very well, thank you for asking.

A lot of authors are frustrated by readers who dont understand how important reviews are? What would you say to a reader who doesn’t think his or her review matters?

Reviews are king of the hill… Readers trust independent opinions. Today, the internet dominates people’s decisions. Those going to a new restaurant, holiday resort, or hotel, will check reviews first. Why would it be any different for a book?

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

I currently live with my wife in Essex, just north of London. We hope to move soon to rural Suffolk, known as ‘Constable Country’. It is a beautiful county, with lovely people, an amazing history, and stunning old houses.

Trains, planes, automobiles, or boats?

We prefer boats, or in our case, ships. My wife and I love to cruise and have most recently returned from a fifty night cruise that took us from Southampton, across the Atlantic, around the Caribbean, Latin America, along the coast of North America, and back home. We cannot wait for the next one, so buy my book 😉

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

A two way road of honesty and compassion without an agenda is important to me. Knowing they are there for you no matter what, and that you feel the same.

 Care to brag about your family?

I have been married to Jacqui for 38 years, and she is still my best friend. Before she retired, she was the court manager at the world famous ‘Old Bailey’, Central Criminal Court, in London. Our son, Ryan is currently resident in Vancouver, Canada living the dream. He is super intelligent, getting his brains from his mother, a fantastic footballer (soccer), and an honest individual.

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