CHAT WITH ANNA BELFRAGE

Had Anna been allowed to choose, she’d have become a time-traveller. As this was impossible, she became a financial professional with two absorbing interests: history and writing. Anna has authored the acclaimed time travelling series The Graham Saga, set in 17th century Scotland and Maryland, as well as the equally acclaimed medieval series The King’s Greatest Enemy which is set in 14th century England.  She has recently released the second in her contemporary series, The Wanderer, a fast-paced contemporary romantic suspense with paranormal and time-slip ingredients.

Time to chat with Anna!

What is your latest book?

My latest book is called Smoke in Her Eyes. It is the second in a trilogy, The Wanderer, featuring Helle and Jason. They first saw the light of the day 3 000 years ago when they met and fell in love, but things did not end up peachy-pie back then. In fact, their first life ended in pain and blood, very much due to Jason’s betrayal of Helle. Since then, he has been reborn over and over again, searching for Helle, the woman he can never forget and who lives in his heart. She has tumbled through time, has no memories of earlier lives—until the day she claps eyes on Jason and realizes she knows everything about this man she has never seen before in her life.

Their story is not an easy one—being reunited with your ancient lover comes with a lot of challenges. I have further complicated things by ensuring their nemesis from their first life pops up this time round as well, just as determined to rip them apart now as he was then.


What else have you written?

Smoke in Her Eyes is my fifteenth book. I am the VERY proud author of a time-traveller series called The Graham Saga which is set in 17th century Scotland and Maryland. This series features my time-traveller Alex Lind who has the misfortune of falling three centuries backwards in time to end up at the feet of escaped convict Matthew Graham. She thinks he’s some sort of oddball. He is convinced she must be a witch. But somehow they overcome their initial reactions and go on to forge a marriage that will survive everything life (well, their author) will throw at them. Let’s just say Alex is of the opinion I have made her life excessively exciting…

I have also written a four-book series, The King’s Greatest Enemy, set in medieval England featuring Adam de Guirande, his wife Kit, and something of a political quagmire as various factions struggle to control the very young king, Edward III. I loved writing this series, weaving my fictional characters into the life of real historical characters and events.

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

That we are sloppy peeps that do not take our craft seriously. Yes, there are indie authors that publish stuff that should never, ever have seen the light of the day, so badly written is it. But there are also indie authors who invest a lot of time, effort and money on delivering a professional product. I think that most readers don’t really care if the book is mainstream or indie—but it pisses them off if they buy something that is badly edited, badly formatted. As it should…

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

Like every day…Seriously, sometimes they are a pain in the butt. Like when I present the hero with an opportunity to act heroically and he chooses that moment to look at me with anguish and admit he doesn’t know how to swim.

“What?” I exclaim. “But she’ll drown if you don’t help her!”

“And how am I to do that?” he asks, staring at the dark waters in which poor Noor is presently floating. “Dearest Lord, what have you done to my poor wife?” He glares at me. “Shouldn’t you have some sort of list of what my skills are? As a medieval knight, when would I have learnt to swim, hey?”

He has a point. “Just get in there. Now.” I frown. “I’ll make sure you can swim—a little.”

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

I love the first re-writing round. Usually, I’ll write the novel over a couple of months after which I will set it aside and let it mellow. And then I take it all out and start re-writing it. It’s a bit like unwrapping a Christmas present, albeit there are moments when I cringe at what’s on the page.

I am less thrilled by the proof-reading. Once the book has been professionally typeset, I sit down and read it through for one final time. It stresses me out as I know this is my last opportunity to catch any errors. Obviously, I don’t catch them all, which is why the moment I have the final book in my hand, you can bet it will magically open to a page with a typo in it. Fortunately, through the combined efforts of my editor and me, such errors are very few.

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

Yes. I need to have some sort of goal to which I am working. Mind you, the road is rarely as straight as I thought it would be, as my characters tend to have a lot of opinions along the way. (“No,” Adam de Guirande tells me. “I will not do it. Never.” “Oh, come on,” I wheedle, “would it be so bad?” He fixes me with a look out of icy grey eyes that makes me sigh and decide this particular scene needs to be rewritten…) As to the title, no, I do not need the final title, but I must have a working title. Right now, I have a WIP with the title “No Wolf Howls Alone”. I’m not sure the title will survive the final editing, but for now it captures the mood of the story.

What is crucial for me is to create a cover image early on in the process—sometimes before the book is written. I need a visual to focus my work, somehow.

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 do a bit if both. As I am writing that first draft I will generally start every writing session by reviewing what I wrote last time round and do a rough edit. But the real editing work doesn’t start until I do that first re-write. As an aside, I don’t think an author can properly edit their own work. Using a professional editor is, IMO, a must.

Do you have any advice for first-time authors?

First of all, write the story that you want to read. Do not try to second-guess what will work on the market—in fact, assume that no matter how great your book, it will not make much of a ripple on a market that sees thousands of new titles every month.

Secondly, invest in a good editor and in good cover art.

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

It depends on what sort of book I am reading. I devour romance books, specifically romantic suspense and historical romance. In these books I am guaranteed a Happily Ever After (phew) but I do want there to be tension along the way. When reading crime, I want the plot to be convoluted and multi-layered, keeping me guessing right to the end.

Something I have a major problem with, no matter genre, is head-hopping. I detest when the point of view (PoV) jumps back and forth between the characters involved and will likely throw said book at the wall in frustration. For me to engage in a book, I need to be in one character’s head at the time. I have no problem with multiple PoV characters, though, as this adds layers of complexity to the narrative. In fact, when reading romance I require to have the story told both from his and her perspective.

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?

While working in that first draft, no one gets a peek. No one. But this doesn’t mean I don’t discuss my work with a few chosen people, more along the lines of “do you think this would work?” (usually directed at poor hubby while miming a stabbing) or “is this a realistic reaction from a traumatized child?” I also share a general outline of the work, just to gauge if my selected audience thinks it will fly.

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 think professionally designed covers are really, really important. Some authors are extremely talented artists and can handle this themselves, but I need help. I also think that a cover can become outdated, i.e. that fab cover from five or six years ago may not quite fly today, for the simple reason that trends change all the time.

I have worked with the same cover artist since I began publishing. I trust him to produce a good cover based on my vague instructions, but ultimately the product must click with me and with the image I want to convey. I am fortunate in that Olly from MoreVisual Ltd usually gets what I want and has the patience of a saint when we iterate.

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

I would settle down in one of Malmö’s busiest cafés and study how people interact, what ticks they may have, how they talk to each other, IF they talk to each other, what they may be discussing, how girls look at boys and boys look at girls. And all the while I’d be piling up little sparks of inspiration, all the way from “wow, my next female protagonist is deffo going to wear boots like that” to “he has stirred and stirred and stirred and stirred for like an hour now while staring blankly at nothing. Must go into a book.”

And while I was invisible, I would probably take the opportunity of really studying the baked goods on sale up close.

Care to brag about your family?

I do. But I won’t. My four kids are all adults by now and prefer it if they do not figure too prominently in their mother’s more public life. One has to respect that. But I will say that out of all the things I have done & achieved in life, NOTHING comes close to the pride my four kids make me feel. Always. Even when I’m pissed off at them.

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

Favourite film: Gone with the Wind. Well, it used to be—I saw it like twelve times when I was very young and impressionable. Since then, I haven’t dared see it again, worried that I may be disappointed. But then, when Clark Gable goes “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn,” I think I would still go all misty-eyed. If not Gone with the Wind it has to be The Sound of Music. Whenever I see it, it makes me happy—and has me driving the family crazy for days afterwards by singing various songs from the movie.

Favouritie book: Very, very difficult question. I don’t think a person who reads as much as I do really has one favourite book throughout life—things change, as they say. But there are some books I will always return to, principally among those Here be Dragons by Sharon K Penman, Lord of the Rings by Tolkien and The Source by James A Michener.

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

It would be good if we could resuscitate the art of conversation, of intelligent discussion. If people actually listened to each other and their arguments in various issues maybe the world would not be as polarized as it is. It scares me, this growing tendency to see life as black and white, an “either you’re with me or against me” approach that can only lead to growing divides.

I also think we all need to substantially reduce the amount of meat we eat, whether it be beef, pork, lamb or poultry so as to reduce the negative impact on the environment.

Likewise, we have a collective responsibility to do something about plastic and trash in general. If all of us took ten minutes a day to pick up the trash we see, the world would at least be cleaner if not better…

What simple pleasure makes you smile?

Home-made cardamom buns hot from the oven and served with tea

Sitting against a south-facing wall in March with the sun in my face

Swimming naked in the lake by our country home

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CHAT WITH IAN WILFRED

Ian Wilfred is 50+ but in his head he will always be 39. He lives in the UK on the Norfolk coast with his husband and West Highland Terrier where he writes romantic comedies.

Time to chat with Ian!

What is your latest book?

My new book is My Perfect Summer In Greece and it’s set on the fictional Greek island of Holkamos. The main character, Cheryl, has a sister Julie who is getting married on the island. Julie won’t allow Cheryl to be a bridesmaid because ‘she’s too frumpy.’ On the day of the wedding, Cheryl has a huge surprise for her family. There are three other characters: Vangelis, who owns the beach café; André, who’s come back to the island after the death of his father, and John, Cheryl’s best friend. These four together make for a very interesting summer.

Is your recent book a series?

No, it’s not a series, but it is set on the same island that my last book, Secrets We Left In Greece, was set. Some characters appear in both books, but the island itself is one of the stars of both books with the town’s visages and the stunning beaches.

How did you choose the genre you write in?

I didn’t choose it; it chose me. Back in 2012, when I started writing, what ended up on the page just happened to be romance with a bit of comedy and a lot of friendship.

All set on the Canary Island of Tenerife, Putting Right The Past was Carole’s story written in diary form. Carole has inherited some money and moves to the island. That’s when the fun begins as she tries to help her new friends and neighbours put right their past lots of secrets, lies, gossip, and even blackmail.

More than anything, however, friendship is a central theme that runs through all of my books.


Are your characters ever based on people you know?

Every main character has bits of people I’ve come across over many years. I’ve been very blessed in my working life to have come in contact with thousands of fabulous women— from teenagers to more mature ladies. Their reaction to events and situations, not forgetting their attitude about life, all ends up on the page. In the book I’m writing now, the beginning is based on a true story that happened to a friend over thirty years ago. All I can tell you is that is has to do with a package!

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

That’s a good question and very easy to answer. Never Too Old For Love. That title represents all my books especially The Little Terrace Of Friendships that is set in London, New York, and the fabulous Martha’s Vineyard … a place I so enjoyed researching on the Internet. Unfortunately, I didn’t go there, but my character Maggie did and she had a wonderful time.

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

They surprise me all the time. In one of my books, a gorgeous lady ended up with the wrong man. While I was plotting, it was my plan for her to end up with a different man, but ninety thousand words later, she did the complete opposite of what I had planned for her to do. The nerve! Also, I’ve had characters that I developed to be horrible people, yet they ended up being the loveliest person in the book. Go figure! Don’t ask me how that happens; I will never know.

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

I love it when the first draft of the story is all in my head and I just want to get it written down. All my books are around 100K words. I love getting to the 30K point where the characters are embedded in the story and everything is gelling. This is the point where someone new appears and the story starts to change, things happen, and the action gets exciting.

The other part of the book process I love is cover design. I work very closely with my designer, Cathy. The emails between us are exciting, and it is like we are in the same room even though I’m in the UK and she’s over in America. As for the bit I hate, this has to be stage where I’m doing the third and forth edits. I start to get bored because the text is too familiar. Thank goodness for my fabulous editor, Nancy.

Some authors edit as they go along. Others wait until the end. How about you?

The first couple of books I wrote, I edited, wrote, then edited. But this didn’t work for me. I found I got lost and couldn’t keep up with the stories or the characters. Now, I write and don’t go back until those two famous words are written: The End. I also write everyday even if it’s just a couple of hundred words one day and several thousand. I often go to sleep thinking about what’s next for my characters, where they are going, and what will they be up to.

Are you easily distracted while writing? If so what do you do to help yourself stay focused?

Two words, Lisette. Yes, Twitter, as you know because it was on Twitter we met. I love it everything about it: authors’ publication days, cover reveals, chart positions, and blogs. It’s 24/7. Tuesdays are my worst days: #tuesnews @rnatweets. That’s the day all of the Romantic Novelist Association members get on the old Twitter with their book news. I never feel guilty on a Tuesday. The rest of the time I give myself targets write X number of words and then I allow myself fifteen minutes on Twitter.

How important is choosing characters names? Have you ever decided on a name and then changed it because it wasn’t right?

Yes. I’ve never told anyone this before, but in my book, The Little Terrace of Friendships, I had named the main character Mabel. Later, my editor and my formatter, Nancy and Rebecca, both said it sounded more like a cat’s name than a person’s name. So, Mabel became Maggie, and that was definitely the right thing to do. That said, I have told myself one day a Mabel will appear in one of my books, even if it’s as a cat.

Do you have any advice for first-time authors?

I sure do. Write every day, even if it’s just a couple of paragraphs. Also read every interview and watch every video the fabulous author Milly Johnson has done about writing.

We all know the saying, “you can’t judge a book by its cover.” This is true, however, how much importance do you place on your book covers?

The book cover is a huge part of the story. I’m so very lucky and blessed to have been recommended to Cathy Helms at Avalon Graphics. She is the best! Cathy has designed all my covers except for the first one. She knows what I like, and more importantly she knows what I don’t like.

Do you miss not spending time with your characters when you’ve finished writing them?

Yes, definitely, because they have been a huge part of my life for so many months. It’s tough when they’re suddenly gone. The best way for me to stop missing them is to start a new book. But I’ve often wondered what it would be like to bring them all together in one book. That could be a lot of fun.

Where do you live now? If you could move where might that be?

I’m very lucky to live in Norfolk in the UK. It’s on the coast and we are five minutes walk from the beach. If it’s not raining, I go there every day with my dog. If I could live anywhere else, it would be lovely to live in Parga, Greece. There are such lovely people there, not to mention the food, the gorgeous weather, and Valtos Beach: a true paradise.

What your favorite comfort foods?

Another easy question, Lisette. I love fish and chips, but they must be seaside fish and chips, eaten on the sea wall. That’s how I celebrate all my publication days, even in winter. I do love my food. A big lump of cheese, a jar of mayonnaise, and a few glasses of red wine make for a very happy Mr Wilfred.

Whats’ your favorite film of all time?

It has to be Pretty Woman why because Julia Roberts is fabulous and Richard Gere are very special. Another film has to be Steel Magnolias. The chemistry between the characters, the acting, and all the actresses is just wonderful.

What simple pleasures do you have?

I have a very simple pleasure that happens every day of the year. First thing in the morning, my husband and I walk with our dog on the beach for an hour or so. It is the perfect start to the day. If for some reason I miss it for a couple of days, I’m so irritable.

What makes you angry?

A lot of things make me angry, but the worse is violence, bullying, and cruelty. There is no excuse for any of those things. It’s very sad to have to keep reading and hearing about it

Thank you so much for having me on your blog Lisette I’ve enjoyed answering the questions.

It has been a real pleasure, Ian!

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CHAT WITH CW HAWES

CW Hawes is a sixty-something guy who is living his dream of being a full-time writer (and, yes, the retirement income helps him to do that). Prior to writing fiction, he was a successful poet.

Hawes enjoys simple pleasures, because, in the end, life is pretty simple. People are the ones who make it complex. After all, what more is there than a well-made cup of tea and listening to music, or the rain falling?

Time to chat with CW!

What is your latest book?

My last book is When Friends Must Die: A Justinia Wright Private Investigators Mystery. Which was published in December 2018.

I am also currently serializing on my blog The Medusa Ritual: A Pierce Mostyn Paranormal Investigation.

Is your recent book part of a series?

Yes. When Friends Must Die is Book 6 of the Justinia Wright Private Investigator Mystery series. There is also a Book 0.

The Medusa Ritual is Book 5 in the Pierce Mostyn Paranormal Investigation series.

What are the special challenges in writing a series?

For me, the challenge to writing a series is that the main characters remain fresh and interesting.

What else have you written?

The Rocheport Saga, which is a post-apocalyptic cozy catastrophe. There are currently seven books in the series.

The Lady Dru Drummond alternative history series. There are currently two books in this series.

I’ve also written and published the alternative history novella Rand Hart and the Pajama Putsch.

 Horror is another interest of mine. In particular, cosmic and supernatural horror. I’ve published the following novellas and stories: Do One Thing For Me, Ancient History, Metamorphosis, and What the Next Day Brings.

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

I think the greatest misconception is that indie authors are basically writers who couldn’t make it in the traditional publishing world and went the self-publishing route. Although as time goes on, I think that image is fading. Primarily because the Kindle and iPad are everywhere.

When people ask me, I simply tell them that I get more money self-publishing than I would have gotten going the traditional route. And that I don’t have a boss. I’m self-employed.

Actually I prefer the term independent author-publisher. Because that is actually what we indie writers are. We are our own publishing house.

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

I enjoy the writing the most. Putting those words down on paper. I actually enjoy holding the pen or pencil and watching the words form, the story take shape on the page. It is like reading, watching the story unfold and progress to the ending.

Writing, though, isn’t just about writing. Unless one writes solely for one’s self, with no thought towards publication. And I do want other people to enjoy my books and stories as much as I do. Which means, one must edit and proofread one’s work. And that I don’t care for. I wish I had the money to pay someone else to do it. 🙂

So to minimize what I don’t like about the writing business, I strive to write finished text. Text that comes off the pen or pencil pretty much ready for publication. That is the secret weapon of the prolific writer. It is what allowed Anthony Trollope to become the Victorian Writing Machine. It is what allowed the pulp fiction writers of the 20s, 30s, and 40s to usually write over 100,000 words each month, every month, every year.

I also don’t like marketing my books. But marketing in some form is a must in order for readers to know I exist. Although from all I’ve read, I think marketing can be minimized by building a strong mailing list of fans. An army of fans to drive Amazon’s algorithms and to spread the word.

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

Not at all. I get an idea and just start writing the book, figuring out the story as I go along. Although mysteries tend to be easy in that regard as the ending is pretty much foreordained. Horror too.

I tried following the advice of outlining my novel and just couldn’t do it. I hate outlining for one; and for two, if I’m going to spend time outlining the story, why don’t I just write it?

For me, writing is like reading. I discover the book as I go along.

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

Ever since my days in college, all those decades ago, I’ve basically followed the same procedure. I hand write the text. Then I edit as I type. And I’m done. Next project.

I have, though, added two more steps. Following Anthony Trollope, I re-read what I wrote the day before and make any needed edits. Then after I’ve typed the text, I will read several times to catch typos and clunky sentences. I also have the computer read the text to me as I follow along. I catch a lot of typos that way, because the computer reads exactly what is there.

Can you tell us about your road to publication?

Way back in the 1960s, when I was in 11th grade, my drama class teacher had the class stage a play I wrote. That was my first “publishing” credit, as it were. Next I had a few poems published in fantasy and horror fanzines in the 70s. But I never did much with writing because no one around me was encouraging.

Then I read an article by Lawrence Block. The subject was procrastination and why we actually procrastinate. Reading that article was a life changing moment. I was procrastinating mostly because I was afraid I’d fail and then my parents would say, “Told you so.”

That article percolated for quite awhile, and then in 1989 I wrote the first version of Festival of Death. The first book in the Justinia Wright series. I wrote the book over the course of a year. And learned three things: that I could indeed write novel length fiction, that I had a lot to learn about writing, and that with my job at the time, which was very emotionally draining, long works of fiction were out of the question. Writing the book was exhausting.

So I turned to poetry. Never would I have imagined myself as a poet, but poetry was my first big success in the publishing world. And the form I excelled at was the English language version of tanka, a Japanese form.

For the 15 or so years I wrote poetry, I wrote over 2000 poems and had a few hundred published. I even won or placed in a few contests, received a few awards and special recognition, and even made a couple bucks. One doesn’t write poetry for money, because there is none to be made.

Then, as I neared retirement, I decided I wanted to spend the rest of my life writing fiction, which is my first love. So I dove in headfirst. I finished writing my marathon The Rocheport Saga in February 2014, and prepared the first two books for publication. I re-wrote Festival of Death, wrote Trio in Death-Sharp Minor, and The Moscow Affair.

Having read about writing and the publishing world for 50 years, I knew traditional publishing was not for me. And decided to go indie. It’s been a difficult road, but I don’t regret it.

In November 2014 I published four novels in four genres. Something I’d never do again! Then in December published two more books.

In January 2015 I retired and became a full-time author. Now I’m just waiting for the income to catch up.

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

No. I don’t suffer from writer’s block. Sometimes I don’t know where I want to go with a book. When that happens, I either set it aside and work on something else, or I just keep on writing and eventually the Muse saves the day.

Daniel Boone was asked once if he’d ever gotten lost in his wilderness explorations. He told the interviewer no. The interviewer didn’t believe Boone and pressed him on it. Boone finally said, “I’ve been bewildered at times, but I’ve never been lost.”

That’s my attitude with writer’s block.

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

My favorite comfort food is probably pizza. And my least favorite food is liver.

What music soothes your soul?

I’m a classical music person. So in general classical music soothes the soul. Although there are a few non-classical pieces I listen to when my soul needs soothing. Here are some of my favorites:

  • Ralph Vaughan Williams The Lark Ascending and The Solent
  • Handel’s “Sarabande” from the keyboard Suite in D minor in Ragna Schirmer’s performance on the piano and Christopher Parkening’s performance on guitar.
  • “Air” from Arthur Foote’s Serenade for Strings, Op 25; performed by Gerard Schwartz and the Seattle Symphony Orchestra
  • “Pavane” from Warlock’s Capriol Suite, performed by Liz Story
  • Skempton’s Lento
  • Michael Manring’s Sung to Sleep
  • Theme from Foyle’s War
  • Theme from Inspector Morse

 

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

There were three, actually. Debate, journalism, and typing.

Debate taught me how to research and present a position with evidence.

Journalism taught me how to write so that the most important information was presented first, followed by information in lesser and lesser importance.

Typing, well, who can get along without typing? Until touch screens and voice activated devices make our fingers obsolete, that is.

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

This question is like those desert island questions. And to be quite honest, I’m not sure I have a favorite film. There are a few good ones; a whole lot that are mediocre; and many more that are bad, or if not bad, at least quite forgettable.

Film is also not my favorite entertainment media. Reading is. Nevertheless, if I were to pick just one movie it would be either Little Big Man, or the Japanese movie Late Spring, directed by Yasujirō Ozu.

Both movies focus on what is important in life, what is it that has value and meaning for us. I think both movies tell us to throw out the window other people’s opinions and societal conventions, and to live life for ourselves.

My favorite book is actually a short story. One I read some 55 years ago, and one that has stayed with me all this time. It is Saki’s (HH Munro’s) story “Sredni Vashtar”. It too is a story about a revolt from convention, a revolt from those who think they know what is best for us, and in the end don’t actually care about us. They simply want us to conform to their life goals and purpose. It is a story about becoming free.

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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

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Audiobooks on Audible (UK)

Audiobooks on Audible (US)

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