CHAT WITH REBECCA LACLAIR

REbecca

Author and magazine editor, Rebecca Laclair, has published short stories and band interviews in Gravel, Wordhaus, and Mixtape Methodology. She blogs about writing and is passionate about mentoring teen writers. Never further than a walk from the Pacific Ocean, Rebecca has migrated along the West Coast, from Vancouver, Canada to San Diego, finally landing on a forested island in the Pacific Northwest, where she is at work on her next novel.

Time to chat with Rebecca!

What is your latest book?

Radio Head is a fast-paced sex, drugs and rock’n’roll novel about a 19-year-old girl with a magical ability to hear music in others, just by touching them.

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

I’m so excited to announce that Radio Head was released for pre-sale on November 27! The book’s official release date is February 12, 2016.

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

I write contemporary fiction in several categories: Middle Grade, Young Adult, and Adult. I once tried my hand at Horror and placed my story in the first magazine I queried. If that’s a sign that I have a knack for the macabre, it’s an ironic twist; I can barely sit through a trailer for a scary movie.

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

Everyone has a song inside.

What else have you written?

I am making final revisions on my second book, a middle grade road-trip adventure, How I Learned to Play Guitar. It’s kind of a mash-up of The Wizard of Oz and Easy Rider, aimed at grades 6, 7, and 8.

I’ve published short stories, personal essays, and interviews of musicians, athletes, off-road racing champions, and business owners. I used to write articles about health, wellness, and green living for magazines. The motherhood blog I wrote in the past landed me on TV, and a cooking column I created was featured in a celebrity cookbook.

What are the greatest challenges in writing short stories?

I believe every sentence counts, whether it’s an epic 200,000-word fantasy, or flash fiction. However, the shorter the story, the more significant each sentence becomes. Carefully chosen words carry the tone of the scene, reveal the unspoken backstory of the characters, and foreshadow what might come—or what is unseen backstage. Short stories are also wonderful for earning literary magazine bylines, by giving away a free gift to readers who join your author newsletter. They’re also wonderful when querying agents.

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

On a daily basis. Letting go of control is a function of making art, isn’t it?

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

The process of discovery is exciting: putting the characters in a given situation and finding out what they’re made of and how they feel about it. I’m very much an independent soul. Writing from home, I’m surrounded by a lush forest; my dog and cat lay at my sides, and I can listen to music. But, I love coming out of solitude to volunteer for local writing events, and I mentor teen writers through my public library. Writing conferences and author lectures are invigorating and inspiring—and a great way to meet other writers. One of the best aspects of novel-writing is enjoying a sense of creative community. The thing I like the least is when I’m working on a scene and I know I’m not doing it justice, that it could be better. I have to walk away and hope a light bulb comes on for how to fix it. Or, brainstorm ideas with a trusted critique partner.

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

I’m with you, Lisette! I need to write in order. I can’t know how my characters feel unless they “live” through the conflicts first. How would I know how much they’ve grown, if I didn’t first give them reasons to fight? My characters depend on talents learned, also. What they’re able to do in Chapter Fourteen, for instance, is very different from what they could do in Chapter Three. That said, I struggle with opening and closing pages. Once the book is complete, I’ll rewrite the beginning and the ending over and over, dozens of times.

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

Good questions! I used to leave my endings ambiguous, so the story could go where it needed, but I found that without a clear destination, the middle section would suffer. Author Neil Gaiman said, “You need more than a beginning if you’re going to start a book. If all you have is a beginning, then once you’ve written that beginning, you have nowhere to go.”

I have to ask myself, what will my protagonist need to realize by the end? Will he or she get what they wanted, and if so, will they still want it? It’s all about my characters’ growth. My favorite books leave me with the impression that I grew, too.

I think titles are extremely important. Most write themselves, springing from the narrative. For those that leave me stumped, I’ve saved some fun title-writing articles I came across on the web, and apply those techniques.

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 love, love, love NaNoWriMo, because it’s the one time a year I stop censoring, doubting, and second-guessing, and just write the damn thing. It’s a beautiful, and emotional process. Real progress is made. I always encourage writers to register in November! The rest of the year? I type, delete, type, delete. The words I’m happy with one day get dumped the next. I’ve been editing magazines for over ten years, and I’m in the habit of looking at sentences with a critical eye, cutting redundancies, and increasing readability. That’s all well and good, until it takes years (yes, plural) to complete a novel. I have to remind myself there’s no such thing as perfection, especially in creative endeavors.

Over the years, many well-known authors have stated that they wished they’d written their characters or their plots differently. Have you ever had similar regrets?

Absolutely. Art is fluid and mercurial. You could tell the same story a hundred different ways. One of the hardest parts of writing is letting go. The terrifying thing about publishing a book is the knowledge that it could’ve been different—did I write the “best” version? At some point, we have to share our art with the world. There is a reader for every story, and our work serves no one if it’s hiding in a file on our hard drive, or in a drawer somewhere.

Have you ever written characters that you truly despise?

Yes. It happened when I was competing in a writing contest. All the participants were given a surprise genre, specific characters, and a limited time to produce a story. I ended up getting, “Horror.” My antagonist was a despicable, horrendous monster. I don’t even want to talk about what he did to the babysitter, his wife, and his own child.

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?

Over the years, I’ve had opportunities to interview musicians, other writers, visual artists, photographers, and even interior designers. One thing I’ve observed is that successful creatives seek out opportunities. It’s tempting to hole ourselves up and nurture our craft on our own terms. The truth is that we don’t have to be A-type sales dynamos in order to pitch and sell our books. But, we do need to seek out and act on opportunities to teach, speak, share our knowledge, and help others however we can. We need to figure out who our real audience is (hint, it’s never “everybody”) and build relationships within those communities. Some of the best ways for introverted, sensitive people (like me) is to help. If there isn’t a local literary non-profit in your area, consider volunteering for a writing conference, teaching a workshop, giving a lecture at your local library, or assisting a PR exec part-time, to learn the ropes.

As writers, it’s very easy to go about making marketing decisions ourselves, because we spend so many hours working alone. Solitude is ideal for writing. However, the business of marketing communications and PR is an entirely different mindset and skill set. Once a writer makes the decision to self-publish, it’s important to get educated, talk to others who have done it successfully, and if possible, enlist the help of a public relations professional. E-book pricing comes down to what the market will bear. Social media is fun and free. As writers, the written word suits us well, so building an online platform can be exciting and interesting, if we allow it. Your Twitter and Facebook feeds should be filled with people who share your interests. Find your tribe. They are, in turn, looking for you. The important thing to remember is that we’re not trying to sell books, but engage readers. Our readers are, essentially, our dearest friends. We’re letting our readers see our art, our inner world. We’re sharing the thing we hold precious. I have Twitter and Facebook accounts, but I also use Pinterest. I created a Radio Head page, where I pin shareable memes featuring quotes from my book, and memes showcasing my best reviews from magazines, editors, and fellow authors.

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

On the surface, Radio Head is a behind-the-scenes look at the rock star lifestyle, in Los Angeles. I lived in Southern California for eighteen years, so I have first-hand knowledge of my characters’ home. However, three of my characters are in rehab, and the one who isn’t—Stanford Lysandre—is the one who needs it most, and suffers the physical consequences of not seeking treatment. Radio Head is a book about avoiding being “caught,” illustrating the games people play, and how they rationalize their actions as reasonable, or clever. My characters each find their own means of coping; they’ve figured out how to get ahead. We’re all a little “crazy;” Does Shelby suffer from delusions as a result of a lifetime of abuse and neglect? Or is her special ability to hear music real? It’s up to the reader to decide. Zac is a borderline personality. He lives in the extreme, driving recklessly, engaging in unsafe sex, idealizing (or vitrifying) others, and has paranoid fears of abandonment. Weaving those characteristics in, yet keeping him attractive, lovable, and sympathetic was a delicate dance.

The Ashtynn character was tough because she’d been so badly hurt by the adults in her life. Growing up in the spotlight, she did as she was told, and Hollywood made her a star. She’s only a teen, but she has a long history of drug and alcohol abuse, and self-mutilation. She is a psychopath, and unlike a sociopath, she has no conscience, no remorse for her actions. As sordid and reprehensible as her behavior might be, I do want readers to see that she has been gravely harmed. Lastly, I have a social worker character and a psychiatrist, who happen to be married. They have their own issues, and as equipped as they may be to resolve conflicts and communicate effectively, they play their own games, they know how to hurt one another, and how to deflect.

I spent a lot of time talking with counselors, reviewing the American Psychiatric Association’s DSM-5, and researching both celebrity and patient histories.

Additionally, I gleaned much from reading California police codes (and protocol) in the Official California Legislative Information website.

The most difficult statistics I came across, however, were those regarding military. The effects of long tours of duty (during the war in Afghanistan) were staggering. More enlisted men and women died of suicide than in the line of duty. It’s tragic, and my heart goes out to the families of those who suffered.

Do you have any secrets for effective time management?

It isn’t a secret: Our job is to write. We must meet the page every day, whether inspiration strikes—or not. I’m thankful I don’t suffer from writer’s block; I think it’s because I don’t stop writing. I just begin, and before I realize it, my characters are speaking for me.

I’m a huge proponent of the Pomodoro Method. I am consistently amazed by how much I can produce when I allow myself a short interval of undistracted focus.

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

My very favorite thing is to ask a reader what the story is about. As I’ve said, no two people read a book the same way. One reviewer described Radio Head as “A girl who desperately wants her father’s headphones back and will do anything to get them.” Another reviewer wrote, “This is an insider’s view of the dark reality of fame.”

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

I always enjoyed making up stories when I was little. My father paid me ten cents for each little book I wrote, illustrated, and bound with construction paper and staples. A fantasy of mine was to live by the water, or in the woods—somewhere very remote—and write book after book, and just send them to an agent in New York. In high school, I believed that was a ridiculous pipe dream and rejected the idea. I floundered under a Liberal Arts diploma, not knowing what I wanted to do. I traveled, then went to college for graphic design. I ended up working for an engineering firm and then as a marketing executive before finally deciding to write full-time in my early thirties. I moved to a remote, forested island a year and a half ago, and have completed two books.

I’m sure you’ve read many interviews with your fellow authors. In what ways do you find your methods of creating most similar and dissimilar?

I think many of us write the books we want to read. At some point, “the market” tempts us: what’s hot and trending, what kinds of books are garnering awards. When we meet the page, however, we owe it ourselves and to our art to write the scenes keeping us awake at night, the characters begging to be brought to life. I think one thing working writers have in common is passion for the stories we have to tell, the ones that won’t be quiet inside us.

How would you define your style of writing?

My writing has been described as “clear, concise, and thought-provoking.” I suppose I would define it as contemporary, with a sense of the immediate. My characters live in the here-and-now of their worlds, avoiding the demons of the past, but fearful of the unknown future, and those fears dictate their actions. Again, this is what I call, “invisible backstory.” I like to infuse a sense of hope. I often weave in, unintentionally, the theme of family—the meaning of it, the search for it, and the sacrifices made on behalf of family. My style of writing is a process of self-discovery, and I’ve noticed that’s common for many writers.

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

I’ve never written Fantasy. Not as an adult, that is! I have a huge, detailed outline for an Epic Fantasy, but the story intimidates me. I’ve never built an unreal world before, and I think that’s the most intimidating aspect of my project. One of my goals for 2016 is to tackle that book. I’m dedicating one day per week to learning how to write Fantasy, and preparing the first draft.

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

Every book, story, and article opens my eyes to a truth I didn’t know before I started. So yes, absolutely, one hundred percent yes. I have to outline a novel before I can begin, it’s the only way I know how to write. But I only outline the action, the plot points, and my story’s structure and timeline. The feelings, the emotional fallout, and strengths my characters gain by throwing themselves into the action dictate what the story is about. I never truly understand my story’s theme or moral until my characters show me, and by that time, I have a first draft. Is that weird? It seems odd saying it, but that’s how it goes.

What do you know now that you wish you’d known five years ago?

First, I wish I’d adopted my practice of writing every day, even if it’s only twenty minutes of solid, focused work. Second, I wish I’d been confident enough in my writing to keep sentences short and as clear as possible. Readers get the most pleasure when they don’t have to stop reading to figure out what the writer is trying to say, or skip parts that are too cumbersome, or overly intellectual. In fact, one sign of intellect is being able to explain complicated information clearly and concisely. Smart readers want a good story, not fancy words.

Trains, planes, automobiles, or boats?

Travel is important to me, even finite trips, like the time I spend chauffeuring my children to school, playdates, and activities. Through the years, the music in the car has changed, the songs we sing while driving, and the conversation, too. The same is true for riding in the car with my husband. We’re together as a family in the small, cozy interior of a vehicle, headed to or from an adventure. We have great conversations while in motion, it’s a dedicated time, suspended between responsibilities. All we have to do is “get there,” so the time is precious, it’s just for sharing whatever is on our minds without the distraction of what we must do after we park. Getting to our island requires a ferry ride. Aside from the fact that Conde Nast Traveler included it in the mag’s top ten list of most beautiful ferry rides, time on the boat has helped me recover the hours I spent in gridlock traffic in Southern California. I’m thankful for that.

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

Among my favorite cuisines are Japanese, Mediterranean, Vietnamese, French, and anything involving pico de gallo and guacamole. My ultimate comfort food (aka: addiction) is dark chocolate. I prefer at least 85 percent cacao, and enjoy a few squares every day. And by “a few squares,” I mean I engage in internal debate about giving up non-chocolate foods entirely.

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.

That’s a tough question! I think my longest-held ‘super-power’ fantasy is to be polyglot, someone who can speak several languages fluently. I suppose this supports my feeling that I could live many places quite contentedly, but more than that, I want to know people, share their everyday lives, respect their culture and how it is expressed, and travel not as an ‘other,’ but as a passionate embracer.

CONNECT WITH REBECCA

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Email: WriterRLaclair@gmail.com

 

 

CHAT WITH LINDA ABBOTT

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Linda Abbott’s love for Sanibel Island shines through her debut novel, Ten Days in Paradise. Though she worked for many years as a professional writer—first as an award-winning journalist and then in public relations—Linda is a late bloomer to fiction. She found the muse while vacationing on Sanibel, where she wrote the opening chapters of her novel. Linda’s writing career took another turn when she founded Never Forget Legacies & Tributes to write life story books for individuals and families. She feels blessed to have two new careers and can’t wait to get started on her next novel. A Chicago native, she lives in Middleton, Wisconsin with her husband.

Time to chat with Linda!

Tell me about your book.

Ten Days In Paradise is a compelling and heartfelt family drama set on beautiful Sanibel Island.

The book opens with the Blakemore family arriving on Sanibel to celebrate their parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. The mom, Judy, is worried about her husband’s strange behavior and inexplicable memory lapses. Her daughters Julia and Maggie haven’t spoken for months. Her son David, married with three young children, is ambushed by a powerful attraction to another woman.

And that’s just the beginning …

10_Days_ParadiseYou call yourself a late bloomer to fiction, can you explain?

I never even thought about writing a novel until well after my fortieth birthday. I grew up wanting to be Lois Lane (for those of you who remember Superman), not an author.

Looking back, about fifteen years ago someone asked me a fairly innocuous question that literally changed the direction of my life: “Have you read any good books lately?” At the time, all I read were newspapers and magazines like Time, Newsweek and Vanity Fair. Somehow I’d fallen out of the habit of reading fiction even though I’d spent my childhood devouring Nancy Drew. So I went to the library and checked out a great mystery by Elizabeth George.

I fell in love with books again. And at some point I started thinking about the process of writing the terrific books I was reading and was in awe. Though I had spent my career working as a writer – first in journalism and then in public relations – I was convinced that I could never write fiction. The idea of creating characters, dialogue and describing the sunset with colors that no one has ever heard was just too daunting. Plus my last creative writing class was more than thirty years ago, case closed.

But the challenge intrigued me. I bought a “how-to” book, it ended up in the closet for about a year because my job was very demanding. But the book did get tossed into my suitcase one year when I took a vacation to Sanibel Island.

I love the island, and it wasn’t until Day Four when I dragged myself in from the beach. I opened the book and did a simple writing exercise to create a scene. Much to my amazement, three hours later I had written fiction! I had characters, dialogue and a beautiful island setting. Little did I know that I had written what was to become the first chapter of my novel … and that I would spend the next ten years finishing it.

What are some of the lessons from your writing and publishing journey?

So many … here are a few of the most important ones.

Follow the dream in your heart even when you don’t know where it is taking you. If I had invested the time I put into writing and publishing my debut novel, I could have 1. started a small business; 2. finished a doctorate; 3. raised another child. But for some unknown reason, once I started my novel, I just kept going, as if some unseen hand were moving me forward. Unlike many authors, I never thought I had this amazing story to share with the world, I just wanted to finish what I’d started. There were periods of time I didn’t work on it for months, but then I got back to it again and again and again.

Challenges keep us vibrant and alive. I learned about writing, how to pitch agents, how a cover can make or break a book. I took classes in Adobe InDesign and Photoshop (which to me seems as complicated as flying a small airplane). I learned when things in my life weren’t going well I could get lost in my writing, plotting chapter after chapter, editing and revising, trying to get it right. I learned about the thrill of doing research and finding some detail that enlivened a character or scene or gave my words greater authority and credibility. I learned that your first bad review can be brutal and when you find a champion for your book – someone who encourages you well beyond what you’d ever expect – you thank the good Lord for sending them.

Fear is a dream killer. A year ago I was still on the fence about publishing because of fear – fear of failure, fear that that my novel wasn’t good enough, fear of rejection. I had the market cornered on fear : ) But I’m not alone. On my computer is a post-it with this quote: “Everything you want is on the other side of fear.” It is my mantra. When I do signings and presentations, my goal is to inspire people, we are all so much more capable than we imagine.

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

Giving voice to the characters was the most enjoyable. I wrote Ten Days In Paradise using multiple viewpoints, which I’m sure I learned through osmosis reading Elizabeth George, my favorite author. She writes mysteries that read like literature, and has a gift for creating the most compelling and intriguing characters.

What was really surprising is that this seemed like the most natural thing in the world. So I became Liz, a feisty 76-year-old widow; David, who can’t stop thinking about Ellen;

Ellen, who falls for David just as hard; and Maggie, a hard-partying gay prodigal daughter.

The hardest part was plotting and deciding what was going to happen next. There was a pivotal moment in the book about David and Ellen’s relationship that took me months to decide which way it would go.

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

While writing I had only a vague idea of my ending … so I’d have to say no. I didn’t even use an outline and that will never happen again! And although I think it’s important to have a general idea of where you’re heading, it’s also good to leave the door open because the writing process can take you places you never intended.

Early on, I gave my book the working title Ten Days In Paradise. Wasn’t convinced it was the one. One agent loved it, and over time it grew on me. Today I think it is the perfect title.

Do you have any advice for first-time authors?

Perseverance is the key. You have to write on good days and bad days and stay focused on the finish line no matter how long it takes! I can’t tell you how many people I’ve met who have a novel in the drawer they’ve been working on for years.

Really important: Build your social media platform long before publishing and if you’re an indie author, hire a professional editor. No matter what you think you cannot edit your own book. Make sure your book and cover is exceptional. Join a local writer’s group and get feedback from potential readers before publishing.

I saw a great quote on Twitter the other day. Professional writers are amateurs who didn’t quit.

If you are considering going the indie route, understand two things: There’s never been a better time to be an indie author and it takes a tremendous amount of work.

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

Not a huge amount but I did online research on Indigo children and was delighted to find this New Age concept because it fit perfectly with my character Marianne and how she views her four-year-old daughter Emma. I also researched Alzheimer’s to make sure I was on the right track with the symptoms George was experiencing. On the topic of Sanibel Island, I have been doing that “research” for more than ten years of vacations. I also did research on the names of shells, shorebirds and shrubbery found on the island.

Do you write anything besides novels? Care to share?

I am blessed with two writing careers I love. My ‘day job’ is helping families capture and preserve their memories and family stories in heirloom-quality legacy books. I started Never Forget Legacies & Tributes two years ago after running my own PR firm for fifteen years. I love this work, it is my passion. I used to write news releases that ‘lived’ for a day or two, the books I do for families will hopefully be read thirty to fifty years from now.

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

Most effective: I started my Twitter account four months after I published, and have found it a fantastic platform for book promotion. I have a link that I exclusively use on Twitter, it has gotten more than 2,000 hits in six months and sales increased especially over summer.

I’ve used several paid book promotion sites such as kboards, EReaderNews, Digital Book Today, the New Kindle Book Review, Ignite Your Book and others. They’ve all been effective to varying degrees, with the winner being EReader News for the demographic of my novel, which is women ages 35 and older.

Least effective: A few of the paid promotion sites have been a little disappointing, you really need to find the best fit for your book and be careful where you spend your money. I’ve spend a lot of time vetting these sites and this is an ongoing process.

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

I did in the beginning. I ran Kindle Giveaways in my first two 90-day periods with KDP Select. I didn’t realize until later that it was a Giveaway or Kindle Countdown Deal, not both! I think I gave away about 2,500 books and it did really help to build sales.

With the exception of Goodreads, which is really a different approach, I’m not doing anymore giveaways. For one thing, I want to be paid. I can understand giving a book away if you have others for a reader to buy, but I don’t. For another, I’m in the camp of authors who think giveaways can result in not connecting with your target reader (and potentially bad reviews). Right now, I’m still in KDP Select and I’d rather opt for the Kindle Countdown Deal which allows me to retain a 70% royalty for my book when it is priced at or below $2.99.

Have you found the Kindle Direct Program to be worthwhile?

I think KDP Select is a terrific program.   I initially went in thinking I’d opt out after the first or second period, I’m in my third renewal with no plan to opt out yet. The Kindle Unlimited program accounts for roughly 30% of my royalties, and the expansion of the fund from $3 million to $11 million resulted in a substantial increase in my royalties for July and August.

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?

A cover can be a game-changer, it’s so important.

I designed my own cover. But as I mentioned I did take classes in Adobe Photoshop and InDesign so I could create a professional-looking cover. I spent two weekends looking at hundreds of images to find the perfect photo. But the time was well spent. The booksellers on Sanibel Island tell me my cover sells my book. (Which after spending so many years writing is quite the irony.)

My first cover, prior to publishing on Amazon, screamed “self-published” but I didn’t realize it right away. Thank goodness I came to my senses.

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?

I think authors need to educate readers on the importance of reviews. I explain this whenever I get the opportunity. (Before I wrote my novel, I never even thought about writing a review for a book.)

We also need to let people know it’s easy, it doesn’t have to be long and we’re not looking for the kind of review you’d read in a magazine. Getting reviews is really hard, I spent the entire month of February pitching dozens of bloggers and Amazon reviewers. I am really proud of the fact I have 90 reviews but never in a million years did I think it would require so much effort.

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?

I still read them with one hand over my eyes, does that answer your question : )

Getting a bad review is tough, but when it happens you can’t just focus on that one and forget about all of the good ones. I recently read a terrific blog post by an author who wrote about his favorite bad reviews. One was “Too many words.” I couldn’t stop laughing, and yes, if you’re an author it helps to have a sense of humor.

And when that less-than-stellar reviews rolls in, remember, no two people read the same book.

On the other hand, a few weeks ago I received one of, if not the best, review I’ve ever gotten from Julia Grantham, author of Smitten. Everything I tried to convey in my novel was understood and appreciated. I’m still on Cloud 9. Being an author means you’re getting on a roller coaster, know it and try to enjoy the ride!

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

I live in Middleton, Wisconsin with my husband Paul. I love where we live, but my dream is to find a way to spend the winters on Sanibel Island, which is located off the Gulf Coast of Florida.

I fell in love with Sanibel about fifteen years ago, it is such a special place for me. Walking on the beach, listening to the surf, watching shorebirds dance at the water’s edge, never fails to renew my spirits and belief in all that is possible, and this novel is proof of that.

Trains, planes, automobiles, or boats?

Not planes I am a terrible flyer and a world-class claustrophobic. I am the woman in the airport swallowing pills 45 minutes before departure time.

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

People who are warm, kind, caring and loyal.

Care to brag about your family?

I am blessed with a husband I love, we’ve been married for 34 years this month. (Oh that makes me feel so old!) Our son Charlie is a talented singer/songwriter and musician in Nashville. We’re a ten-hour drive away so we miss him, but want more than anything to see him achieve his dream to perform on a big stage some day.

What kind of movies do you like to watch?

I am a huge fan of classic cinema and film noir. I adore Bette Davis, Fred Astaire, Cary Grant and so many others. My favorite movies not in order from that era are All About Eve, Double Indemnity, Laura, The Philadelphia Story and Casablanca. And any movie with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers!

I hate to sound like my grandmother but they just don’t make movies like that anymore. The acting, dialogue, stories – the extraordinary talent of these actors and actresses who could often sing, dance and act – is a joy to behold. Love the history you can glean from a movie made in 1932. And the most amazing thing is how brazen some of those characters and story lines were. Conniving tarts, unfaithful husbands, boozing, brawling young people – what has changed?

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

Love one another. Be grateful. Support the causes you care about.

CONNECT WITH LINDA

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CHAT WITH JENNA NELSON

JenNelson

Jenna Nelson grew up in Shoreview, MN, where hanging at the local supermarket was considered a big night out. After graduating from UW-Madison, she drove her 1979 Buick Electra, the largest car known to man, to California to flee the snow and find refuge in the land of film, her favorite pastime.

Soon Jenna noticed that the TV needed turning up, spoken words seemed muted, and everyone sounded like Charlie Brown’s parents. Diagnosed with a significant hearing loss, Jenna turned from movies to books, where every word was savored and none was missed.

A Midwest girl at heart, Jenna lives with her husband and their saved-from-the-pound-pup Clancy. By day she works as the VP of Marketing for a financial firm, by night she weaves tales of nefarious and fantastical worlds.

Time to chat with Jenna!

Is your recent book part of a series?

My Fantasy novel The Snow Globe is Book 1 of a Duology – The Winterhaven Chronicles. Here’s a tiny blurb:

By day, Sondrine Renfrew works at Cimmerian’s Curio Emporium, her aunt’s apothecary and antique shop in London, 1875. By night, she weaves fire, water, and air into both inanimate objects and living creatures. When a hooded stranger offers Sondrine a snow globe in trade for medicinal herbs, she accepts, enchanted by the castle, forest, and sea encapsulated under the glass.

Her enchantment fades, however, when her deceitful aunt betroths her to one of London’s wealthiest men—a complete stranger. Determined to escape the marriage, Sondrine trades her corset for trousers and decides to run away. With one foot out the door, she falls down a veritable rabbit hole into Winterhaven, the haunting world inside the snow globe.

To say chaos ensues from that point forward would be a gross understatement.

SNOW GLOBE FINAL

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

Originally, I didn’t want to spend too much time in Victorian London, so there wasn’t a whole lot of research needed. But after a massive rewrite, I changed quite a lot. There were so many details – the dress, the mannerisms, the verbiage. The tiniest things needed to be pondered – like the word “twit” could not be used, because it came about later than 1875. So disappointing! I spent so much time with etymologyonline.com we are now considered a couple. Countless hours were spent reading articles and watching movies to better understand the time period.

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

When people tell me they did three full edits and finished, I’m always blown away. I’m a serial editor. *cue the shrieking violins* I am constantly looking for new ways to write a sentence, to get rid of the riff-raff, and to generally add more fodder for the senses.

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

Having a great cover is key. I’ve heard people say they couldn’t afford a good cover. You don’t need a lot of money to self-publish, but you do need some, and the cover is one place the money should be spent. What’s the point of writing a great story if no one can find you? Platform is also helpful. It used to be that only NF writers needed a platform, because Big 5 publishers would get your books into the right hands. This is no longer true. Also, I hear a lot of complaints about having to market oneself – even in the traditional arena. Unless you write a blockbuster that gets picked up for big money, I think you need to go into this business knowing that part of the equation is marketing. I liken it to athletes. You need to play the sport well, yes. But you also need to choose healthy food and eat a balanced diet. You need to go to the gym. You don’t simply show up on the field, hit/kick the ball, and find success. There’s a process in getting there. There are multiple aspects to being a writer and in this day and age marketing is one of those things. Writing no longer exists inside of a vacuum. If you rely solely on your publisher, or solely on people somehow finding your book, your chances for success are much slimmer, I think. To put it in more blatant and perhaps depressing terms, nearly 1MM books are now released per year between Indie authors and trade publishing. You need to find a way to stand out.

What else have you written?

I’ve written two screenplays and three books. As far as my novels go: a MG Sci-Fi with a girl protagonist called Violet Strange, a YAUF called Virgin, and a YAUF with some contemporary issues called Tainted. I really love them all in very different ways. Virgin was my second book and my true love. It landed me my first agent along with a big producer who wanted to turn the trilogy into a TV series. Needless to say, it all fizzled. Easy come easy go. Virgin is a great tale, and I’d like to get it out into the world soon.

Have you ever written characters that you truly despise?

Many. But oh are they fun to write, because unlike in real life where horrible people may continue to live and even prosper, I know my characters will get their just desserts. The king in this book is about as despicable as they come.

Can you tell us about your road to publication?

How much time do you have? 🙂 To be completely candid, my road to publication has been forked, plagued with twists, and downright depressing at times. Over the past decade I’ve had three literary agents, none of whom could sell my work. I was also under contract with a small press that turned out to be highly disorganized. Luckily, before my book came out, I asked to break the contract and they complied.

Don’t get me wrong. I have many friends with great agents and fantastic publishing tales.

When I amicably parted ways from my last agent, it occurred to me that it might behoove me to go it alone. Regardless of what happens with The Snow Globe, I’m glad I did it on my own terms. I like being in control in any given situation, and often, the traditional path means giving up that control, and not in a positive way. I’m all for having someone tell me to make scenes better, richer. I’m against being ignored and told to do things because it’s the only way to garner a sale. Writers are often treated unfairly in trade publishing—like children. We are not. Many of us are adults with important jobs, whether as a SAHM or as a VP of a major financial firm. And yet, we are the lowest rung on the ladder; we’re fungible. I know writers who have never been paid for their work, even though the promise was there. I know writers who were given contracts so egregious it would have ruined their careers to sign. Trade publishing is looking out for itself. I get it. But the beauty of going Indie is that it’s me looking out for me. And I trust myself wholly in every regard. 😉

I know that you’ve suffered a significant hearing loss that has impacted your life in many ways. On a positive note, you say that this loss drew you closer to books and writing. Can you elaborate on your experience and how it has changed or restructured your world?

Losing one of your senses is pretty terrifying. For most of my life I’d had perfect hearing. But in my early 30s, I noticed I was having a real problem – not so much with sound, but with speech discrimination – understanding what people were saying. It’s as if the whole world was speaking underwater. And for the record, yelling doesn’t help—it’s just louder water! It’s genetic – both my mother and sister have chronic hearing problems. Going to the movies was one of my favorite pastimes, but that grew increasingly frustrating so I turned to books; I’d always been an avid reader anyway. I started coming up with my own stories and found a natural fit with writing because all that was needed were my eyes and my imagination.

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

For someone like me, social media is amazing. I don’t need to rely on my hearing to communicate, and that’s a beautiful thing. Before my hearing went kaput, I used to be pretty social in real life, so Twitter is really the perfect place for me. I love chatting and connecting with other writers. The downside is that you do get some very aggressive people demanding that you RT them or buy their book. You would never walk up to a stranger on the street and do that, so why is doing it online okay? It’s not.

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?

I think as a writer you really need to take a step back and understand that you cannot possibly write something that everyone will love. That’s why Baskin Robbins has 31 flavors, right? My goal is to not read the negative reviews. I wrote the best book I knew how to write. If it doesn’t resonate with a reader, that’s totally fair. That’s the beauty of the world—diversity!

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

I get asked this a lot. The answer is: what are your goals? Way back when, getting traditionally published meant getting into brick and mortars. Now, it guarantees nothing. I have a few traditionally published friends whose books never saw a B&N bookshelf. Sad, but true. Regardless, if your goals are to have one of the Big 5 names stamped on your book, then that’s the route you need to take. If your goal is simply to get your work out there and find readers, Indie might be the way. For me, I wanted nothing more than the elusive “stamp of approval” from the Big 5. But editors were never interested. Ten years ago it was a big fat no-no to self-publish. Now, it’s very much accepted.

Every day brings forth new changes and shifts in the world of publishing. Any predictions about the future?

Indie is going to take over, I believe. Right now, publishers are not putting marketing muscle into the mid-list, so those books are dying on the vine. Moreover, it takes years to get published. I think the Big 5 will continue to support big authors, celebrities, and the like. But the midlist is fading quickly. Those authors need alternatives and Indie publishing is one of them. We have Indie movies, Indie music. Why are Indie authors judged so harshly? Sure, there are stinkers out there, but isn’t that the case with all mediums?

What might we be surprised to know about you?

Around fifteen years ago, a friend said that I needed to listen to this amazing children’s book on CD. My first remark was that I wasn’t much into children’s books. When he told me it was about a boy wizard, I was even more disinterested. Of course, I succumbed. I fell in love with Harry Potter and it remains one of my favorite series to this day. To think I write about such things now – magic, wizards, faraway lands—it’s kind of mind-boggling.

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

I’ve been working with a friend to find better alternatives for hearing aids. Hearing aids cost 5k-7k and only last 3-5 years. Moreover, insurance doesn’t cover them. It’s criminal. So we’re looking for a way to create a device that’s cheaper and works better. As a population, the hard-of-hearing are grossly overlooked, but hard-of-hearing no longer pertains to old people. It’s becoming epidemic, especially in people under the age of 25. Something needs to be done – we have the idea, and I think it could work. But funding is essential. Of course, that’s from a completely selfish standpoint. From an unselfish one, animal rights are one place my money would go. Underprivileged children is the other. Education and books for all. Always.

What simple pleasure makes you smile?

Rain. I miss those Midwest thunderstorms. It cleans the air, soothes my soul, and helps me to write about all the wonderful things.

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CHAT WITH DAN ALATORRE

Dan_AlatorreBest-Selling author and humorist Dan Alatorre turned his sights on fatherhood in “Savvy Stories,” and the results were hilarious. Since then, Dan has racked up a string of #1 Bestsellers in family humor, novels, illustrated children’s books and cookbooks, and has been published in 12 languages throughout 14 different countries. His romantic comedy Poggibonsi: an Italian misadventure, set in Tuscany, will be released in a few weeks.

Dan’s success is widespread and varied. In addition to being a best-selling author (he claims it was a slow week at Amazon when that happened) Dan has achieved President’s Circle with two different Fortune 500 companies.

Time to chat with Dan!

What is your latest book?

Poggibnsi: an italian misadventure

It’s a romantic comedy set in Tuscany, and it involves marital infidelity, runaway capitalism, culture clashes, death, office politics – all the stuff we consider hugely funny, right? No? I may be in trouble, then.

Poggi cover FINAL

Is your recent book part of a series?

I hope not. I mean, no. I have done several series (serieses?) and they’re fun but this is a stand alone. Astute readers will see a character from one of my other novels appear in this one, though, so you have to say awake. Actually, that’s good advice for any book of mine. Please stay awake while reading.

What are the special challenges in writing a series?

I’m a terrible typist. I type with two fingers. It’s very slow. And I hate proofreading so there are always a TON of typos. People who text with me think my phone is out of whack but really it’s just me. My new computer has a keyboard that SUCKS so a lot of letter o’s and a’s don’t get types – I’m not kidding! So things can become awkward when asking my lady writer friends about “word count” and leave out an “o.”

I’d get a new keyboard but it forces me to proofread so it’s actually a sadistic plus. You’d think with just the two fingers I’d usually hit the right targets. You’d be wrong. I’m so bad, I’m considering having myself checked for dyslexia.

What are the greatest challenges in writing short stories?

I can’t do anything short. I wrote 104,000 of paranormal for Mother’s Day (don’t ask). Short stories are just my idea of sitting down on Sunday morning and trying to type out an amusing 3-line post for Facebook, and 6000 words later I’m thinking about making it into a serial. Can you tell by the length of these answers that brevity is not my strong suit? Stop torturing me!

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

That would have been a smart idea. Why didn’t I think of that? I think I’m too egotistical to write under a pen name. I thought about it, though, because people who’ve come to know my stuff through my family humor stories might not want to read a bawdy romantic comedy, you know? “Oh, there’s the author who did that wonderful illustrated book about the mermaid; let’s get his new book for little Heather. What??? There are bare naked breasts in it???” Could be trouble. Or funny. Let’s go with funny. Because it’s a comedy.

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

I am trying to write a book in every genre, kind of like an errant guidance counselor from high school – “Just try all of these and see if you don’t suck at one, kid.” So far we have humor, sci-fi thriller, illustrated children’s books, cook books (is that a genre?), paranormal, memoir, and now romantic comedy.

Mainly I like comedy, and that’s what I’m best known for, so of course I had to try other things to prove my worth to society. If you can make people cry in art, or a movie, or a book, you’re an amazingly talented master. If you can make them laugh, you’re a clown. I disagree. Both are difficult emotions to get from a reader, and anyone will tell you getting somebody to laugh is much harder. That said, I try to do both. I want my readers crying in some places and laughing in others – in the same book. If you can make them laugh AND cry, you own them. They’ll trust you for the rest of the roller coaster ride. Write that down, writer-types. It’s hard to do, but it’s worth the effort. Every great story contains trace elements of every genre.

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

My good friend Allison’s book The Fourth Descendant has just become a bestseller. I was one of her critique partners for it, so I get to say I helped in the creation of another bestseller! We are also writing a marketing series together that will be released this fall, so now I have to change the covers to say “by bestselling author Dan Alatorre with bestselling author Allison Maruska.” (I told her I’d get her name squeezed into this interview. Hah! Okay, Allison – that’s ten bucks you owe me.)

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

“I will sell you my book out of my trunk at the next red light.”

That’s a good idea. I may actually try that.

What else have you written?

I’ve been very fortunate. I have 17 titles in 12 different languages. I’m really big in Portugal, I think. Or there’s a dearth of reading material there.

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

  1. That we don’t shower. I shower every day.
  2. That there’s a stigma to being indie – tell that to High Howie and a lot of other big names that are turning away from traditional publishing in droves.
  3. That indie is easy. It isn’t. It’s harder than trad publishing because you have to do so much yourself, and if you suck at any one aspect, that may ruin your chances. (I’m terrible at cover designs, for example, so I have artists do mine and fans get to vote on the best one.)
  1. That you’ll have lots of people helping you if you trad publish. You won’t. They’ll be telling you, and you’ll still do your own marketing. There are tons of examples – and I’m not trashing trad publishing; I still query – but it’s not what it was 10 years ago and 10 years from now it may not exist at all. Buggy whips, anyone?
  1. Did I mention showering?
  1. Indies are a clean, hygenic people, as noted. And helpful. I was given SO much support when I stared out, and I try to repay it each week on my blog. There are lots of things you can do wrong and you’ll fall into an abyss of despair. Yes you will. My blog is abyss avoidance.

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

My characters are like me, so all the time. It’s more fun that way. ”Put your characters up a tree and throw rocks at them,” right? At each decisive spot in the story, I try to have something go wrong to make the path more difficult for Dorothy to follow the yellow brick road. Or for Elton John. Somebody.

Often I’ll do unexpected things in dialogs. Two people are talking back and forth and one says something completely inappropriate or off topic, which is what people do in real life, but if it’s outrageous, it can be memorable. My characters tease each other. They know each other’s inside stories and they act like it. Here’s an example of a niece talking with her aunt.

“You’re stalling. Tell me something real. Something mom would never tell me. Just say the first normal father-husband thing that comes to your mind about my dad.”

“He was a good lover.”

Gina’s jaw dropped. “What?”

“With a big penis.”

“Oh, my god.”

“Huge.” Sam shook her head. “Your brother will probably be pretty popular after he hits puberty. Now slow down, you’re speeding.”

Didn’t expect that, did you? People love my characters.

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

Pounding it out. I wake up and it’s Christmas morning every day because I get to write. I get great ideas at 3am for a conversation or story and I’ll hide in the pantry and tell them to myself in a talk-to-text on my phone just so I don’t forget them. Although that method has resulted in such great story ideas as “the cat mango garden in the butler,” but still.

The least?

Proofreding. (Yes I misspelled that on purpose as far as you know. Frigging keyboard.)

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

I go with the hot hand. If an idea is percolating in my head, I will write it regardless of where it comes in the story. I mostly write in order, though, because I usually come up with an outline before I start writing the story – and that’s a complete outline. I’m not a pantser. But as I’m mowing the lawn and I keep thinking about how funny that dinner scene is going to be where the wife confronts the best friend about who the mistress is – yeah, I know; not an obvious humor topic, but it’s a VERY funny scene – well, then I just go start writing it, even though it’s 15 chapters into the future from where I am. The danger in doing that is, it might not actually fit when you get there. Things change as we write.

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

Not the title, but the ending. Okay, that’s not true. I usually know the title and the ending before I start writing. I don’t know why I lied about that. Let me go into some detail here for new writers, because this is typically a difficult thing for them.

I’ll be thinking of a story and I’ll start sketching out an outline, and as I do I will throw the ideas in a folder in my computer – so the folder has to have a name. I’ll call it whatever the story is mainly about, and that usually ends up being the name unless I come up with something better as I’m writing it. For example, I have a semi-dystopian story that has elements of Fight Club, Hunger Games, and the recent racial-cop disharmony from Ferguson and Baltimore. It’s called The Kill Club, and the premise is that rival gang leaders have created these riots on purpose but the media has mid-identified it. The main character is a psychopath who evolves from gang lord to mass murderer to media sensation – to attempting to put Thunder Dome-style death matches on live TV broadcasts. And the politicians and media heads go along, thinking it would solve random gang violence around the country if gang members compete to kill each other on TV. (Um, this one’s not a comedy.)

Anyway, that’s the basic story and the title, and I’ve written maybe 1000 additional words than what you just read. If a character says or does something that would be a better title, Kill Club goes away and the new idea takes its place.

In my sci-fi thriller The Navigators, a time travel story, it was nicknamed “the fantastic five” (horrible, I know) until halfway through when a character realized they wouldn’t be piloting the time machine they’d discovered, and that at best they’d be navigating it. One of the other characters said, “So, we’re the navigators, huh?” That became the title because it was also the background theme about how these young adults had yet to take charge of their own lives.

The new one is a YA fantasy nicknamed The Water Castle, but that sounds a little too much like “water closet,” so we’ll see.

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 don’t edit much as I write and I sure don’t edit afterwards. I have a pretty clear idea of what’s going to happen in a story and even though I’m verbose, I’m usually pretty engaging. My critique partners tell me when I’m being long winded (they didn’t get chance to see this piece obviously or it’d be pithier) and I’ll trim and cut based on their suggestions, so that’s probably editing as I go.

Have you ever written characters that you truly despise?

Sure! A good bad guy is a great thing! I had a real rat bastard (are we allowed to cuss here?) and wow did I despise him. Findlay, in The Navigators. I hated that little weasel! I still hate him. I need to go drink some milk now because just thinking of him upsets my stomach.

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

You have to be good but you need to catch a break, too. First, write a good story with interesting characters and a compelling plot. Make the reader hooked to know what happens next and so they HAVE to turn the page. Very few writers do that. Next, you need a professional-looking cover (and that doesn’t have to cost $1500) and a blurb that makes shoppers become buyers. That’s HARD. Next, the opening chapter has to hook readers from the start, from the opening words. That’s hard, too. So there are a lot of things you have to get right, and if you screw one step up, your great story will go unread.

Do you have any advice for first-time authors?

“If I could give you one thing, it wouldn’t be confidence, it would be ENOUGH confidence.” – me.

Writing is both very easy and very hard, and the hard stuff for most authors is not always the writing, it’s the marketing and promotions.

The other advice is, don’t polish that book forever. Publish it and get on to the next one. Waaaaaay too many writers attempt perfection. Don’t. At some point, your re-polishing doesn’t make the story better, it just makes it different. And you have more than one great story in you. Don’t deny your readers that.

Can you tell us about your road to publication?

This is another long answer that will be good for new authors. Bear with me.

I talked with an agent who wanted to rep me. After several meetings it became obvious that the pace of trad publishing was glacially slow. We were looking at 18-24 months to release a manuscript that was ready to go. I parted ways with him because I’d been successful in business and I knew whatever I learned myself via indie publishing would give me knowledge and skills and leverage for the future.

I put my book out and fell into the abyss, selling almost NO copies for a loooooong time. Oprah never called. I couldn’t give the book way. (You think you can, but lots of people are giving way books and you can’t even do that.)

That’s the abyss. Slowly, I learned the steps necessary to climb out of that hole – professional looking covers, good ad copy-like blurbs, etc – and now I help others not fall into such holes. I put out a lot of books because I get up early and write before anyone else is awake, then I work very efficiently to get a story completed. Putting out lots of titles means there’s always something for a new fan to read while I’m working on my next book.

I blog and I’m on social media, but only the ones I like. As I learned to market, things took off and I was fortunate enough to get a few bestsellers. But it was a long slog I’d like to help others avoid, just out of sheer humanity. Life’s hard enough. If a more successful author wants to help you, let them. And there are plenty that will! I was eventually smart enough to find people to help me, and now I help others. The indie community is great that way, unlike any other business I’ve been involved in – and it IS a business, so waiting 24 months to release a product that was ready seemed like a bad business decision and it still does, but I have never shut the door on trad publishing and I still query my latest books.

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?

When you are as famous as Stephen King, you can charge Stephen King prices. Until then, you can’t. But most people who follow my advice can sell a book for $2.99 or more and not have to give it away – or fall into the abyss.

All book promotions are hard for writers because it’s not writing, and because many writers are shy. Learning to do it well is hard work.

Publishing is a changing world. Read about it, but not to excess and make sure the source documents in any articles you read aren’t more than two years old. If they are, see if there’s been an update by the original author; usually there is.

Make author friends online and other places, and listen to the friends who have your best interest at heart when it comes to new articles and industry trends, etc.

Promote others more than yourself, but don’t stay friends too long with others who don’t reciprocate (to the extent that they can).

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

I come to the table with a bunch of seemingly useless facts that have been stuck in my head for decades. I absorb stuff. If I watched a documentary about elephants 10 years ago, I probably remember most of it. So I don’t have to research much, and I’m pretty bright. I have a genius level IQ and was in Mensa. I went through graduate school and never opened a book. I came up with a new time travel theory all by myself for The Navigators.

But I don’t recommend that for other people. The internet is a great tool, but watching a shotgun go off on your computer is different from hearing the blast, feeling the kickback into your shoulder, having your ears ring, smelling the burnt gunpowder (it smells like fireworks), and seeing the bruise the next day. That’s a big difference. Get out and experience life. I’ve been shot at and I’ve swam with sharks, dived a sunken boat, walked on a glacier – and I can bring those experiences to my writing better than somebody who watched it on YouTube. Experience real life and work it into your stories. It’ll be much more compelling.

Do you have any secrets for effective time management?

Tons. We all have 24 hours a day but some people get a lot more done. Here are some tips; do the ones that work for you.

Do the most important stuff first. If you do all your email and Facebook and don’t write a chapter, how bad do you feel? Get the chapter done and don’t do Facebook? You’ll sleep just fine and your book will get done in three months not three years.

Record/DVR everything. The Kardashians can wait. Write your word count, and when you need a break, watch your recorded TV shows and skip the commercials. A 1-hour Tv show has 20 minutes of commercials. That’s more than 2 hours saved if you watch just 1 hour a night. And that’s 2+ more hours of writing time each week. Check your personal email on your lunch break at work if you can. Do your non-essential Facebook stuff (playing, and we all need to play) while waiting in line at the store or the bank.

The biggest two are these: make your writing time sacred, and when you do sit down to write, actually write in that time (do Twitter later!)

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

It always amuses me how people react to things. In comedy, you understand that some people won’t get a joke here and there. But in some dramatic scenes, like in Poggibonsi, one reader will say the description of the old barn getting repaired is a totally long and boring passage that should be deleted, while another reader will write me gushing about how it was such a beautiful metaphor about the MC’s marriage! That kind of range in feedback always surprises me.

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

I type fast at times, but overall I’m slow because I only use two fingers. That allows me to really think about what I’m putting down, editing the sentences in my head first because I’m typing so slowly! I should really learn how to type. You’d run out of the room if you ever saw me doing it. It’s awful to watch.

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

I like writing a synopsis, but I suck at it! I keep trying, though. Luckily, I have friends who are good at it. Let’s face it, writing an 80,000 word story is a different skill set than a 500 word piece of ad copy – and that’s almost what a synopsis is.

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?

A LOT. Books on Amazon are impulse buys. If you don’t have good cover, you won’t sell, period.

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

Fave: Pizza!!! I would eat that every day, even for breakfast.

Least favorite food? Oh, lots of stuff. I’m a picky eater. Let’s go with mushy vegetables. Yuck. And plantains SUCK. Ask my wife – she will give you a list.

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

I have to admit, I’d sneak into the women’s locker room wherever the Buccaneers cheerleaders work out. Sorry.

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

Money. I can be friends with anyone rich. I am very open minded that way.

Care to brag about your family?

I have the best family in the whole wide world. I wrote a bestseller about how fun it was to have my baby daughter around. One day she’s going to realize other daddies don’t all write books about their kids. My wife gave me the coolest idea for a YA fantasy that is probably the best idea I’ve ever worked on. It gives me chills, some of the plot twists!

What was your favorite year of school? Why?

I met my wife in my first year of graduate school and thought she was the prettiest girl I’d ever seen, and I was amazed that she would even talk to me. I fell in love on our first date and immediately knew I’d marry her, which I did.

What might we be surprised to know about you?

That whole typing with two fingers thing is true.

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CHAT WITH TIMA MARIA LACOBA

Tima

Tima is a former ancient historian and archaeologist who accidently smashed a 3,000 Egyptian vase while on her first dig! Her supervisor made her glue it back together again. It took a week. From there she went on to specialise in late Roman-British archaeology, and the military forts along Hadrian’s Wall, because buildings don’t smash as easily.  Now she’s combined her love of history with another passion—story-telling—to create a dark tale of Roman soldiers cursed by a British witch.

Is your recent book part of a series?

My recent book, Bloodpledge, is Book 2 of my gothic series, The Dantonville Legacy. Before this year ends, I hope to release Book 3, BloodVault.

Bloodgifted

What are the special challenges in writing a series?

There are a few. Contradicting yourself is one of them. By that I mean, if you’ve killed off a character in Book 1, make sure they don’t suddenly make an appearance in Book 3! Unless, of course, you’re writing sci-fi and they’ve been resurrected. I remember reading one series, by a well-known traditionally published author, where the main character’s name was changed!

To avoid inconsistency, I keep detailed notes of all my characters and their world.

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

It definitely chose me, lol! Being an archaeologist and ancient historian, I always thought I’d write a historical novel, so it was a surprise to me when I began to write a paranormal gothic suspense series. I’ve always loved paranormal suspense mysteries, so maybe it was inevitable. But saying that, possibly Book 4 or 5 of this series will be set in 3rd century Britain, where the story began.

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

Are You Bloodgifted?

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

For me, yes. When I began writing Bloodgifted, I knew the story from beginning to end. In a way, I was working backwards from the end as most mystery writers do.

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

I find the name has to fit the character and their world. For example, I chose the name Dantonville because is the English version of the French D’Antonville, which is itself derived from the Latin, Villa Antonii—the House of Antonius (Marcus Antonius Pulcher), a cursed Roman soldier.

You’ll have to read the book to find out.

Can you tell us about your road to publication?

I didn’t consciously set out to be an indie author, but the more I researched it, the more I thought to give the indie road a trial. After entering a couple of writing competitions and reaching the finals, I was offered a publishing contract, which I seriously considered.

I’m still not sure if I made the right decision.

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

Before I began writing Bloodgifted, I was working on my Masters in Romano-British Archaeology. After I handed in my introductory thesis I had a two-month break, and being bored, I began to write a fictional story based around my research. Bloodgifted was born.

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?

Okay, I learnt this the hard way – you ignore it. Take what you can from it and move on, because no matter how good your work, you will never please everyone. There will always be someone who will hate it.

That’s their problem, not yours.

Write for the readers who love your books and ignore the rest.

What do you know now that you wish you’d known five years ago?

Get off social media and write that next book!

It’s important to have a social media platform/presence, but, it can suck your time (excuse the pun) and take you from what’s really important – your writing.

If you’ve written a good book (great story, good plot, professionally edited and formatted) readers will be hanging out for the next one.

That won’t happen if you’re forever on facebook or twitter or tsu or tumblr….

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

My favourite food is my mother’s amazing Czech potato pancakes. Three words – To. Die. For.

My least favourite food? Tripe. Wouldn’t eat it even if my life depended on it!

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

Sincerity. To me a genuine friend is the person who loves me for me, and no other reason

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

I’d give it to one charity that is close to my heart—cancer research. A member of my family suffered breast cancer, and I thank God she’s in remission. I would love to see that horrendous disease eradicated

What’s your favourite film of all times? Favourite book?

I have a few favourite films, but topping the list has to be the 1940s movie version of Laura

My favourite book is Charlotte Bronte’s, Jane Eyre

What simple pleasure makes you smile?

Eating potato pancakes; playing with my baby grandniece (she’s so cute!); sitting in a cosy corner reading a book on a cold, rainy afternoon.

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CHAT WITH SARAH E. BOUCHER

Sarah_BoucherTime to chat with Sarah!

Sarah E. Boucher spends her days instilling young children with the same
love of literature she has known since childhood. After hours, she pens
her own stories and nurses an unhealthy obsession for handbags, high
heels, and British television. Sarah is a graduate of Brigham Young
University. She lives and teaches in Ogden, Utah. Becoming Beauty is her
first novel.

What is your latest book?

My latest book is Becoming Beauty, a Young Adult twist on Beauty and the Beast. With serious entitlement issues and an inability to recognize true beauty, Bella is sometimes more of a Beast than a Beauty. Her plans to snag a wealthy gentleman and her own household are curtailed when she’s forced to become the Beast’s servant. Though her new position is humiliating, Bella begins to glimpse the man beneath the monster.

Is your recent book part of a series?

Becoming Beauty is part of a loosely connected fairytale series. It happened as a part of what I like to call a happy accident. I started writing the second book in the series, a twist on the Twelve Dancing Princesses while Becoming Beauty was in preproduction. As an inside joke (I love those), I added Jonas, the main character from the second book, into the finale of Becoming Beauty. Then, as I played around with the idea for a third book, I thought, “Why not put them all in the same area?” The first two are already based around the same forest, so why not?

BecomingBeauty

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

I have been unabashedly obsessed with fairytales since I was old enough to hold books. There’s something magical about the words “Once Upon a Time” and “Happily Ever After.” I played around with other genres but when I started my version of Beauty and the Beast, it felt like I’d come home. As soon as I plunged into fairyland, my mind came alive with plans for upcoming books. At the end of the day, I blame my mom who kept great books around and my dad who taught me to love reading.

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

I submitted Book Two, my twist on the Twelve Dancing Princesses to my publisher! I chose the supremely awesome moment right before my carpal tunnel surgery to hit the fateful submit button. Now I’m playing the waiting game. Hopefully they see enough potential in it to accept it. Fingers crossed!

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

My characters tend to be slightly obnoxious, snarky, and teasy. Also, I’m a fly-by-my-pants writer. A very loose outline and away I go! So, yes, I tend to be surprised by my characters. I learn about myself, life, and love as they interact with one another. It’s a process I really enjoy. I hope the audience sees something of themselves and their life in my stories as well.

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

There’s always a specific scene that I visualize clearly before I start writing anything. I use that as a springboard for the story, whether I write it at the beginning or just hint at it. Other than that, I write everything in order. When the juices really start flowing and I don’t feel a scene, sometimes I’ll sketch it out and jump to the next one. Also, I leave myself notes when things don’t quite work and fix them when I’ve let my mind relax a bit.

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

So far I haven’t known how one of my books would end at the beginning. Little twists, turns, and interesting flips occur to me along the way and change the ending. I really enjoy the surprising aspect of writing. Likewise, none of my books had their titles at the beginning. Titles usually come to me mid-project or after I’ve finished writing. And no, it doesn’t bother me in the least!

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

Generally, I’m an edit-as-I-go gal. I try not to get bogged down in the editing mire before the story wraps up, but I find that making small tweaks along the way helps me to keep the momentum going. However, heavy-duty editing is saved for the end of the project when I have the whole project before me.

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

I think many (if not all) of us reach the “Writer Suck Fest” when everything you write begins to sound like crap. When I arrive at that point, I know that it’s time to switch gears and either a) shelf the project and work on something else (another writing, creative, or work project) or b) pass the book on to someone else, whether it be beta readers, a trusted author friend, or an editor. We lose perspective for several reasons and withdrawing from the project helps me see it with clear eyes.

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?

I think I’m a pretty tough critic. I’d never finish a one-star book, much less review one. (And yes, the one-star review has happened to me.) I’ll never understand the rationale behind leaving a completely negative review, but I keep in mind that my book isn’t everyone’s cup of tea and not everyone will connect with my characters. I also remind myself that whenever you introduce people to something new, they may love it, they may hate it, or it may leave them cold because everyone is entitled to their opinion and they’re allowed to express it as loudly as they’d like. Lastly, I remember that just because someone doesn’t love my book, it doesn’t reflect badly on me. (And at least in my experience, when you pour all your best into what you do there are few people who truly hate it.)

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 a lot of professionalism can be conveyed in a cover. But there have been books with beautiful covers that have completely let me down. Generally, I’m picky. If it doesn’t have a compelling cover, I probably won’t give it a second glance. That said, I’m very pleased with the cover of Becoming Beauty and hope that subsequent books have equally lovely covers.

Trains, planes, automobiles, or boats?

Yes, please! Trains are lovely and car rides are great if we’re going somewhere cool and there’s something interesting to look at on the way. But planes are my favorite. You hop in and in a matter of hours, you’re in a totally new place! I don’t know by I’m still so surprised by that. (By the way, I’m still waiting for today’s technology to catch up with Star Trek and beam me up without charging extra for my luggage. Also, the TARDIS would be acceptable.)

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

I have always had the dream of standing on a spot-lit stage in a long sequined gown and wowing the crowd with my stunning vocals. But since I’ve never taken vocal lessons, that’s not happening. Sadness. (Also, belting out mad tunes in Spanx doesn’t sound like fun either. I guess I’ll stick to writing. *sigh*

What makes you angry?

I get extra cranky when people are just plain dumb. I grew up with five brothers and I work with kindergarteners, so I have a fairly high tolerance for nonsense. But sometimes people take it to the next level. (Or possibly I just need a snack. #hangry

Do you have any guilty pleasures?

I adore chocolate (in practically any of its forms) and romantic comedies (in literature and movies). Both together? Yes, please!

What simple pleasure makes you smile?

I really do love laughing and I appreciate anyone that can crack me up. Most recently that was my four-year-old blonde angel of a niece who repeatedly threatened my life with a play light sabre. Kids and laughter are two things that make me supremely happy.

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CHAT WITH HELEN J. ROLFE

HelenRolfe_BENCH

Helen J. Rolfe writes contemporary women’s fiction. She enjoys weaving stories about family, relationships, friendships, love, and characters who face challenges and fight to overcome them.

Time to chat with Helen!

What is your latest book?

Handle Me with Care is my latest book. It’s a book about second chances and here’s the blurb…

Does true love come along more than once in a lifetime?

Maddie Kershaw doesn’t think so. She lost the love of her life in the 9/11 attacks, and since then has hopped from one casual fling to the next. But when she delivers an erotic cake to a one-hundredth birthday party by mistake, she meets Evan and starts to believe in second chances … until she realises there’s a risk of getting hurt all over again.

Evan Quinn is serially single, yet when he meets Maddie he feels an instant connection, so much so that he confesses on their first date that he may have testicular cancer. Was it a mistake to tell her? He wants Maddie more than he has ever wanted any other woman. But he doesn’t want her pity.

With the odds stacked against them both, finding love won’t be easy. But beneath the Australian sun, a Happy Ever After could be worth fighting for.

Handle Me with Care

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

I think the genre chose me because I love to read the same sorts of stories. Romantic fiction has always been my go-to genre, whether it’s in the form of a book or a film.

For me, there’s always a romantic thread in the stories I write and I think that will always be the case, but the story isn’t just about that romance, it’s about real men and women who are faced with everyday challenges. I like to explore deep themes sometimes, which means more research, but I enjoy creating stories that my readers will relate to.

What else have you written?

My debut novel was The Friendship Tree. I set this novel in Australia too, where I lived for fourteen years. The Friendship Tree is about facing up to problems rather than running away.

Tamara Harding leaves her manipulative ex behind in London and heads to Australia to get away from him and spend time with family. She is soon drawn in to the small community of Brewer Creek where she becomes the coordinator for an old fashioned Friendship Tree – a chart telling people who they can call on in times of trouble. Things get complicated for Tamara when she meets Jake, a man with secrets of his own.

Again, The Friendship Tree is romantic fiction with a little bit of suspense thrown in when the past catches up with one of Brewer Creek’s residents.

FriendshipTree

The Write Romantics are a group of writers who met via the Romantic Novelists’ Association and we blog together about writing, reading, our books and everyday issues. Last year, with the help of other published writers, we put together Winter Tales, an anthology of winter and Christmas stories that raised funds for the Teenage Cancer Trust and the Cystic Fibrosis Trust. My story, Christmas in July, was based in Sydney’s Blue Mountains and again there’s a featured romance. The story is currently featured for free on my website.

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

All the time! I plot my books beforehand but I know it’s important to stay flexible because once I start writing my characters evolve in ways I didn’t predict

In The Friendship Tree for example, I didn’t originally plan for Mr Wilson or Danielle to have any significant involvement with Tamara, but the friendships formed as I wrote. It was fun that way and I guess teaches us that friendship sometimes surprises us and age is no barrier. Mr Wilson is elderly but he and Tamara have a bond and understand each other. He’s the first to see that she’s in Australia because she’s hiding something about her ex, and she finds herself confiding in him. Tamara also bonds with Danielle, who is, I think, someone Tamara can relate to. Danielle sees Tamara as brave and independent, and I think she helps Tamara realise that what she’s actually good at is hiding the way she really feels.

In Handle Me with Care I had no idea until I started writing, what journey Evan would follow with testicular cancer. I didn’t want the book to be about the nitty gritty of cancer and medications, but more about the emotions that come to the fore when you’re faced with the disease. I wanted to be able to highlight the importance of early detection and the importance of leaning on people when you need to, and with these goals in mind, my character evolved as I wrote. Sometimes it’s hard to know how characters will work together until you actually get them on the page, side by side. Then they often surprise you!

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

It sounds strange but I enjoyed all of it. The research was fun because it gave me the confidence to pen characters who were realistic and to whom readers could relate to. I enjoy the first draft because it’s so free…the story can go anywhere you like!

The editing is fun too, because it means the first draft is complete. This is the chance to turn it into a better story and as that happens it’s really satisfying.

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’d definitely get my first draft down first. My first draft is full of question marks and italics with notes to go and check on this and that, instructions to refer to research. That way I’m not thrown out of the story. Also, I think if you obsess too much about getting each bit perfect, not only do you lose momentum, but you lose some of the passion for the story you’re writing.

I guess different methods work for different people though!

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

I think this always happens. I think it’s important to put a novel aside and have time away from it. This is usually when I pass it to at least 2 beta readers and they flag up any major issues or criticisms. Then the novel goes to an editor and once it’s returned I’ve had enough time away to look at it afresh and make changes that’ll help it be a better story.

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

I think it’s a tough job to do, being an author. And it’s much tougher than most outsiders give you credit for! To a lot of people, an author’s life is all about long lunches and sitting at a table signing books. They don’t realise that 9-12 months, often much more, of hard work has gone into that book and then equally as much work must ensue to promote it.

I also think the marketplace is crowded now and it’s hard to get books noticed. There’s a lot of advice out there although I think if you obsessed about it too much you’d never write anything else.

Whenever I start to feel overwhelmed with it all, the cure for me is to get away from obsessing about rankings and sales and write something else. This is when I’m at my happiest. 🙂

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

In writing Handle Me with Care, there was a bit of research particularly around the topic of testicular cancer. I wrote articles for health and fitness magazines a few years ago and I approach my research for novels in the same way as I did then for non-fiction. Firstly I trawl the internet and read up, from reliable websites, to get a feeling for the subject matter. This also helps me devise a list of questions that I need answered.

Next I find an expert or two, depending on how many questions I have and what level of detail I need. For Handle Me with Care I interviewed the Cancer Council in Australia and they sent me booklets that usually go out to patients. These were particularly helpful when trying to deal with the emotions of cancer and develop my character, Evan.

I also interviewed a doctor who specialised in testicular cancer and I was able to expand what I’d already found out. As I was writing, I could also email him to check I was along the right lines with my character.

Interviewing specialists / experts also gives you confidence when you’re writing. For example, an editor had queried the chemotherapy aspect in my novel as they didn’t think it sounded as in depth as it should be. I was able to go through my interview transcript and check that I was correct with how my character had experienced chemotherapy, and to double check, I reconfirmed with the doctor too.

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

I tend to keep it a secret – the title, the subject, everything, until I’m well on the way to having it ready. I’m not sure why but I think it helps me work it out in my own mind first so that my writing isn’t clouded my anyone else’s opinions on how I should or shouldn’t write the story.

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

Yes, I type at about 75 wpm! It was probably one of the best things I ever did, learning to type. My Dad brought home a library book teaching touch typing when I was about 14 and I learned on one of those old-fashioned typewriters. I’ll never forget it … the ‘a’ key stuck all the time and you needed to give it quite a whack with your little finger to make it move.

Being able to type was a godsend at University, typing a 10,000 word dissertation, and then in temporary jobs during school holidays where I could be an office assistant.

And now, of course, as an author it’s great to be able to type quickly, particularly when the ideas are flowing!

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

A long walk or an exercise class really helps. Anything that’s time away from my desk really. The other day, my plotting for novel number 4 was painful. All day, I tried and failed to really get going with it. Then, waiting in the car for my child to do their gymnastics class, the ideas just kept flowing!

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

I have just returned to the UK after living in Australia for fourteen years.

If I had to live in another country then Australia would have to be first choice. I fell in love with Melbourne, where I spent 9 years, and Sydney was pretty spectacular too. It’s an amazing country with lots of space, brilliant weather and so many opportunities. The only thing missing from Australia was family. 🙂

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

It’s a tough choice…crisps or chocolate! My least favourite food is avocado!

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

Trustworthy, loyal, and easy to laugh with.

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

That’s a really tough question. I think I’d divide it between ten charities but it would be so hard to choose.

What might we be surprised to know about you?

In 2000 I resigned from my job in the UK, bought a one-way ticket to Australia, and not knowing a single person there and having never been to the country myself, I moved to Melbourne.

It was the best experience ever!

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

English for sure. I still remember my teacher saying she’d wanted to be a journalist and that I should never give up on my dream. Her words kept me going when I doubted I’d ever become a published author.HelenR6

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CHAT WITH MARIA HASKINS

self3

Maria Haskins was born and grew up in Sweden, but has been a resident of British Columbia, Canada since the early 1990s. Currently, she lives just outside Vancouver with her family – a husband, two kids, and a very large dog. She has had several books published in Sweden, and Odin’s Eye – a collection of science fiction short stories – is her English language debut.

In addition to being a writer and blogger, she is also a certified translator, translating between Swedish and English.

Time to chat with Maria!

What is your latest book?

My latest book is ‘Cuts & Collected Poems 1989 – 2015’. It’s a sort of poetry-anthology. It includes one book of poetry called Cuts, the first one I’ve ever written in English, and translations of my three previously published Swedish collections of poetry.

Cuts_Maria_HLast year I also self-published Odin’s Eye, a collection of science fiction short stories. The stories are set in an unspecified distant future when humanity has colonized parts of the solar system, and are also exploring outer space. My stories deal with things like artificial intelligence, cloning, human colonization of alien worlds, and how human life on Earth has been affected by conflict and environmental problems. And aliens: there are definitely some aliens, too! One of the themes running through the book is how human beings and society are affected by technological change. I’d say that the focus in my stories is on how technology affects human beings, the human experience, and the human condition, rather than on the specifics of the technology itself.

odins-eye-cover_20How did you choose the genre(s) you write in? Or did they choose you?

I feel like I’ve written poetry, fantasy and science fiction pretty much my whole life.

I’ve been a huge fan of science fiction ever since I was a child. Books like Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles and Isaac Asimov’s Foundation-series set me on that path, just like Tolkien’s and Ursula K. Le Guin’s work made me fall in love with the fantasy genre. There’s just something about these kinds of stories set in other worlds (whether alternate fantasy worlds, or sci-fi future-worlds) that appeals to me very strongly. Part of it is that there’s a freedom in the storytelling, and in what you can do as a writer (and what you can expect as a reader) in those kinds of stories. I have written other kinds of fiction, and I do write poetry as well, but science fiction and fantasy are definitely my first loves when it comes to both reading and writing, and that’s my focus as a writer right now.

I’ve written poetry since I was a young teenager. It was a way to express myself and use my creativity, but it was also a way to process everything I was thinking and feeling. That’s the way it still is for me. It’s almost like a safety valve, and it was definitely a safety valve when I was a teen.

What really changed the way I thought about poetry, and how I wrote poetry, was when we read T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land in high school. I still have the printout of the poem we were given in class. Eliot’s language, and the way he mixes and blends the strange and the familiar, memories and literary references… that made a huge impression on me. It made me realize that you could do things with language that I hadn’t realized were even possible before that. You could sort of paint your feelings with words on paper. The Waste Land is still one my favourite poems. I come back to it all the time and still find it very inspiring. It is such a strange and beautiful poem, almost like a hallucination or fever-dream. Reading The Waste Land opened my eyes to the fact that things don’t have to “make sense” in poetry (or prose, really) for you to understand them. Interestingly, even when I had terrible writer’s block, I would still write poetry occasionally because it was so much more immediate and visceral, perhaps, than writing prose.

What are the greatest challenges in writing short stories?

Probably creating a sense of the place and the world your story is set in without a lot of exposition, and also giving the reader a feel for your characters without using pages and pages to do it. But that challenge is also what makes writing short stories a lot of fun! You have to really think about what NOT to say, just as much as you think about what you DO say: keeping some mystery rather than explaining things thoroughly. One of my favourite short stories is Ray Bradbury’s The One Who Waits, about a strange being that lives “like smoke in a well”. It’s brief, enigmatic, haunting, scary, and totally awesome. And Bradbury’s prose is just perfect in that story. That is sort of my gold standard for what a short story should be.

What’s the greatest challenge in writing poetry?

I’d say that it is getting at the emotional truth of what it is you want to say, and not lose sight of what, exactly, you’re trying to express. That’s what I aim for when I write, to focus on a feeling or mood and express it in words the way I feel it in my own mind. Often, that means NOT writing what comes to mind first, but digging deeper and not be afraid to be strange and weird. It usually also means paring it all down to the very core of what you’re feeling, even if that can be painful.

A poem in my latest collection ‘Cuts’ is called ‘Pain in Progress’ and it was written when I found out that a friend of mine had died from cancer. She was close to my own age and it hit me so hard: the finality of it, that death can come for someone you know and all of a sudden they’re just not part of the world anymore. I basically wrote that poem in a day, just in the pain of missing her, anger at death and cancer for taking her away. Everything was so raw and close. It was painful to write it, but there were so many feelings just screaming to get out of me. It was a way to talk to myself and others about that grief and pain.

Another challenge when I was getting my collection of poetry ready for self-publication was translating my old poetry, written in Swedish many years ago, into English. That was rather daunting, but also kind of exhilarating: to revisit those poems that I wrote many, many years ago and almost reinterpret them into English. Translating poetry is tough, that’s why there is that famous quote about “poetry is what gets lost in translation”, because it’s so hard to capture the exact meaning, rhythm, and nuances of one language when you translate a poem into another language. There is no way to do it without losing something of the original along the way, that’s just the nature of the beast, but at least in my own case I knew what I originally meant to say. It was gratifying to translate all that poetry, to read it again and experience it again, and actually capture it – to some extent at least! – on the page in English.

What else have you been working on?

After self-publishing Odin’s Eye, and my collection of poetry last year, I’ve been working a lot on short stories and flash fiction mainly fantasy and science fiction. I have two short stories coming out in the next Mind’s Eye anthology, and I also have a short story in an anthology from Inklings Press called ‘Alternate Earths’. It’s a science fiction / alternate history story, and different from the kind of writing I’ve done before: it’s my first time diving into alternate history. I am really excited to be part of those two anthologies!

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?

It’s hard. It’s tough to deal with somebody saying that they don’t like something you poured your heart and soul into. I’m not great at handling it to be honest, but I try. I try to at least not take things personally. One thing to keep in my mind is that not every reader will like your work, regardless of how good a writer you are. And sometimes you can learn from it as well: that’s the good and scary part about criticism, when it points out actual flaws in our work!

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

I’ve written stories pretty much as long as I can remember. It’s always been a part of me, and it’s always been something I do.

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

My life is pretty busy with kids, a dog, and a part-time job as a translator, so I try to grab whatever moments are available. If I could pick, it would be to work before noon, and maybe late nights after everyone else has gone to bed. I find that my creativity is probably best earlier in the day, but late nights are pretty good for editing and poetry. As for must-haves, I must have my cup of extra strong tea, and sometimes I like listening to instrumental music as well.

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 covers are important. They are not everything, but they can definitely help. When it came to Odin’s Eye, I was really lucky, or maybe it was serendipity or fate or whatever. Anyway, once I had decided on the title, I stumbled on an image of the Helix nebula online: it’s a nebula that looks like a giant eye in space. Sometimes it’s been called the “eye of god”. It was such a perfect image for the book, and I knew immediately that this had to be the cover. Luckily for me, the picture was in the public domain! I was so pleased with how that cover came out, and I still get a thrill every time I see it. I have thank Caligraphics for designing that cover!

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

I suffered from a very bad case of writer’s block for a few years. There were a lot of things behind that. One thing was that my two wonderful-crazy-nutty kids came along, shifting my priorities and changing my life: and I am so deeply grateful for them, but yes, having kids did affect my writing. I was used to just being able to write whenever I felt like it, and suddenly that wasn’t really possible anymore. I also wanted to switch from writing in Swedish (I was born and grew up in Sweden, and my first books were published in Swedish) but I was terrified of writing in English, and extremely worried that I’d just suck at it. There were several other factors at play too, things I can kind of see now, but wasn’t able to really see clearly at the time. Getting out of that hole was very hard. I actually started blogging as a way of getting back into writing: just to write something, anything, even if it wasn’t fiction. I also took a course in technical writing which was helpful: again, I was writing and learning about writing, but without doing the “dreaded” fiction-thing. It was a very slow process to get back to fiction writing – almost like overcoming a phobia! What I had enjoyed doing more than anything else suddenly became a source of anxiety, even fear, so I avoided it. I’m very happy to be back to fiction-writing and I know it might sound odd that you’d ever have trouble doing something that you love… but there it is. These days I try to live by Karen Blixen’s words: “Write a little every day, without hope, without despair.”

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

I live just outside Vancouver on Canada’s west coast. It’s one of the most beautiful places on Earth, I think. If I had to move somewhere, I’d either want to move back to Sweden, where I’m originally from, or to Maui. I’ve been to Maui a couple of times, and that place is just magical. I do know I always want to live fairly close to the ocean. Not necessarily beach front, but somewhere where you can get to a beach without too much trouble. I think there’s just a fundamental, deep connection between humans and the ocean and I don’t want to be too far away from that.

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

I love food. I love eating it, reading about it, and cooking it. Well, OK, maybe I don’t like cooking every day, but I do usually enjoy it. It’s hard to pick just one dish… I love spicy food, Chinese food, I love pizza, sushi, I love steak, and I love all kinds of seafood. But if I had to pick just one thing as a comfort food, it would probably be fresh bread with butter, and maybe cheese: simple but so good you just can’t stop eating it. Least favourite food would include oysters. I’ve tried them cooked every which way, but I just don’t get the attraction.

What’s the best gift you’ve ever received?

One of the best gifts I have ever received was my Kindle e-reader. My husband bought it for me even though I had told him I didn’t want one. These days, I can’t imagine my reading life without it. Another great gift was a ring my mom gave me after my grandmother passed away. It was my grandmother’s silver ring, adorned with this large crystal. It’s a piece of jewelry that I remember my grandma wearing many times, and whenever I wear it I feel like she’s a bit closer to me.

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

I don’t watch a lot of TV anymore, but Game of Thrones is definitely must-watch TV for me. I love George R.R. Martin’s books, and I’m not sure I’m all that crazy about the deviations from the books this most recent season, but it’s still a gripping and well-cast show. Past TV-shows I love include Firefly (I’m still not over that it was cancelled after just one season), Star Trek the Next Generation (Picard!), and Lost, a show I was absolutely obsessed with. Through my kids, I’ve been introduced to Adventure Time and I really love that show: it is completely and insanely warped and trippy, but brilliant.

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

A separate writing room for me. I don’t have a separate room for me to write in right now, though I do have a good writing space in the house. And I’d love to add a library: a library with my computer desk, and a ton of books on all the walls: that would be ideal.

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

Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner is definitely my all-time favourite movie, though I have other loves as well. The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca rank very high on my list as well! My favorite book would be The Lord of the Rings. I never get tired of it, and by now I’ve read it so many times that I’ve lost count! Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea Cycle is a very close second, though.

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CHAT WITH JONATHAN MILLER

Screen Shot 2015-06-10 at 7.37.31 PMJonathan William Miller was born in Owenton, Kentucky, on July 7, 1968, and has lived most of his life in Central Kentucky. He is the youngest of three sons of a Baptist minister father and a schoolteacher mother. He attended public schools in Nicholasville and graduated from the University of Kentucky, majoring in journalism. After college, he worked at various newspapers as a reporter, sportswriter and website developer and producer in Texas, Arkansas and Kentucky. In the mid-1990s he began writing serious fiction.

Time to chat with Jonathan!

What is your latest book?

On Your Own, short stories and vignettes about people who feel alone and disconnected from the world.

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What are the greatest challenges in writing short stories?

Making sure the reader knows where the story is going early on and making it interesting enough for them to want to go along for the ride.

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

Let me answer this by saying I love when characters pop up out of God knows where and start talking. There are no living models for these people. They just appear and I’m really just a vessel for their performance. This is very rare for me. I have a couple of those characters in On Your Own that I’m still wondering where they came from and feel very fortunate that they dropped in for a visit.

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

I would probably be classified as a late bloomer. I didn’t write much when I was young because I didn’t read much. Reading was a chore, especially when the outdoors beckoned. I had older brothers and we played whatever sport was in season. The act of reading meant sacrificing play time and that was not going to happen. At night I was too tired from play to read. My mom challenged me when I was, I think, 10 or 11, to read Where the Red Fern Grows. She wanted to see if I could read a book from start to finish. After a few pages I was hooked. I loved the boy’s friendship with his dogs and the hunting scenes. The ending touched me in a way that embarrassed me but it made me acknowledge that the writer had done something significant enough to produce an emotional response. That was the first time I thought of writing as a noble act. I wrote a few stories for school assignments as a kid but didn’t start writing serious fiction until after college. You are a writer when you write for yourself and for no pay.

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?

I feel as though I have tough skin and thin skin. I want everyone to enjoy my work but I also know that that is impossible. I would strongly urge all writers to edit their work vigorously until they can’t improve it anymore. If you re-read it and it produces the emotion you are seeking, then that’s all you can ask of yourself. There will be an audience for your work. Those who do not like your style or your subject are simply walking out of your theatre. Hopefully their seat will be occupied by another who enjoys the show.

Are you an early bird writer or night owl?

I like to wake in the morning thinking about the story I’m working on. I picture the character at the beginning of the story, and I walk around with him or her and go through the conflicts and I look for details that might be missing from the manuscript. Then I will prop myself up and take the story off the nightstand and get to work on it. I’ve tried working at different times of the day and it just doesn’t seem to produce the same magic that the morning does.

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

Rather than having a book signing at a book store, I decided to throw a book launch event and invited friends and work colleagues. We will have beer and wine, appetizers and live music. It’s not going to be expensive either. We got the hall for free, friends offered to help with the food. And I have lots of musician friends who offered to play the event at no charge. We’re asking each friend to bring a book-loving friend who I don’t know. I have heard about nightmare book signings where very few people show up and books go unsold. I wanted this to be a fun night, a night of celebration. There will be a sign-up sheet for my newsletter, T-shirts with the book’s cover on the front for sale, and, of course, my paperback with the option to have it signed.

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

This is an interesting question that I would like to address a little bit differently. There seems to be a lot of tension with traditionally published writers vs. indies, and genre writers vs. literary fiction writers. I would like all writers to take a step back and not be so quick to be judgmental or get their feelings hurt. Whatever genre your natural talent pulls you to, that’s where you belong. If you wish to write in multiple genres, then your talent is guiding you to do that. Writers should not feel they are in competition with other writers. Your only threat is not performing up to your ability. There’s enough audience for all of us. Even if you don’t have a large audience, you still accomplished what you set out to do. So keep at it.

What else have you written?

I’ve written a novel, a screenplay and poetry. I’m not entirely comfortable in any of those forms. I feel the short story is my natural habitat. I wrote the novel just to see if I could do it, but I think critics would say it’s really just a long short story. I like the quirky challenge of the short story, whereas, the novel seems too big and bulky for my arms to get around.

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

I’ve written stories both ways, where I knew the ending and when I didn’t. I prefer not knowing the ending. It seems to be more interesting to me if I let the characters and the situations sort themselves out during the process. Of course, during editing, the early version is almost wiped out completely. I’m more of a re-writer than a writer.

The title should come naturally out of the story. If it doesn’t, then you’re probably not thinking clearly.

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

I compose all of my fiction in longhand. I feel I can hear the characters’ voices better. Pencil on paper is a soothing sound. The tap, tap, tap of a computer keyboard I find to be a major distraction. And, plus, my fingers and hands get tired and my posture suffers. I can write longer (and better) with pencil and paper.

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

If it’s important for the writer to be published traditionally, by all means, pursue that route. But if the door is slammed in their face (as it was for me) I would urge that they self-publish. You have to do all of the leg work when you’re an indie, but the reward is so great. There are hurdles upon hurdles to jump to self-publish, but you gain confidence and wisdom after each hurdle is cleared.

How would you define your style of writing?

Simple and precise. At least that’s what I’m aiming for: simplicity and precision. I want the reader to feel as though they’re walking through the story and can see and feel everything that’s going on. I don’t want to attempt acrobatic feats with words or use flowery language or show off an education I don’t possess. I want the reader inside the story to feel like they’re seeing the action and not listening to a story being told to them. The perfect world would be for the reader to be so lost in the story that if they were to see my face on the back of the book they would say, “What is he doing here?”

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

I don’t think I’ve ever suffered from writer’s block. That may be because I don’t write every day. I write when I can avoid it no longer. This may sound sacrilegious to professional writers who force themselves to write every day. This does not work for me. I write when I feel I must.

I do suffer from story block from time to time. There will be a character or a situation or dialogue or an ending that I’m not happy with and it will bother me until I work it out.

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

Lexington, Ky. Hawaii would be nice for a while. I think I would like to live in Europe for a while and bum around there some, but my wife would probably get sick of it before I would.

What might we be surprised to know about you?

I’m a frustratingly good golfer. My wife says I’m good enough to spend too much time and money on it, but not good enough to actually make money at it.

What music soothes your soul?

Whenever I’m upset, disappointed, hurt I turn to Pink Floyd’s best years: Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, Animals and The Wall. The Beatles and Led Zeppelin are also favorites. I feel as though John Lennon and I would have been very good friends.

What simple pleasure makes you smile?

Watching movies from the 1930s-1950s. The old black and white movies where they film what cities looked like and the way people dressed in the old days really touches the historian in me.

 

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CHAT WITH DOUG J. COOPER

 

DougCooper2As a child, Doug stood on a Florida beach and watched an Apollo spacecraft climb the sky on its mission to the moon. He thrilled at the sight of the pillar of flames pushing the rocket upward, and the excitement of that time inspired Doug to pursue a career in technology. He studied chemical engineering in college, and he works as a professor and entrepreneur when he is not writing. His passions include telling inventive tales, mentoring driven individuals, and everything sci-tech.


Your books are part of a series. What’s the story about?

The Crystal series currently includes the books Crystal Deception and Crystal Conquest, the short prequel Crystal Horizon, and I am now writing Crystal Rebellion, due out in 2016. These are stories about people, and I enjoy futuristic settings, so that’s where my characters live.

On the surface, the cast sounds a bit like a comic book—there’s Sid the spy, Juice the scientist, Cheryl the military officer, and Criss the amazing AI (artificial intelligence) crystal. But I’ve worked hard to make the story hold together with a reasonable suspension of disbelief, and readers seem to enjoy the books, so that’s a rewarding outcome.

A broad arc for the story is the threatening activities of the Kardish, a space-faring race with Earth in the crosshairs. The aliens possess overwhelming force, yet Criss and his human partners confront them. I’ve worked to make the stories exciting, suspenseful, action-packed, and fun escapism. I leave it to readers to decide if I’ve succeeded.

Crystal_Deception

You write futuristic thrillers. Often, elements of science fiction books of the past are a part of today’s reality. Do you see any elements of your novels becoming a part of tomorrow’s reality?

While my stories have fantastical elements, I believe most of the technological achievements they describe will come true in one form or another. In the not-too-distant future, we will have artificial intelligence, fast space ships, biomechanical androids, life-like projected image displays, energy weapons, cloaking devices, amazing communication systems, and colonies on the moon and Mars.

I think we move to an unknowable future when we contemplate elements like gravity on spacecraft, faster-than-light travel, or first contact by an alien spaceship. But these are fundamental components of today’s science fiction, and readers seem comfortable accepting these possibilities.

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

Aliens, spies, AI, romance, battles in space!

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

I write my scenes in the order they will appear when published. The fun thing about this is that my books are written in a rotating point of view style and don’t always follow a straight timeline from chapter to chapter. So, I write a story that does not follow a strict timeline sequence, and that rotates among the viewpoints of the central characters, in page order.

And to really make it fun, I don’t allow myself to go back and change a previous scene to help me solve a challenge with the current one. To me, plot development is like solving a puzzle. I enjoy being at a particular point in an adventure, with characters deployed here and there, all with histories and in certain situations, and now I must move forward in a plausible and entertaining fashion.

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

I edit as I go. And as I write, I will look back and tweak pages here and there until I can read a whole scene without stopping. I can usually achieve this in five or so passes. And during this time, I edit for sentence structure, word selection, line breaks, showing not telling, replacing passive voice with active voice, continuity, and anything else that draws my attention at that time. Writing new lines for a story is equally slow. I can take a minute to write one sentence. And then five more messing with it.

But my key to success is persistence. I write every day for two or three hours. And slowly but surely, I write books. It took me a year each to write my two full length books—Deception and Conquest—in this manner. Both are 95K words. I expect a similar length and timeline for my work in progress, Crystal Rebellion.

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

My characters surprise me pretty much every time I write, which is why I can’t plot ahead. The conversations are the wild card. I can describe a setting or have action take place and stay on track. But once the characters start talking, all bets are off.

In a verbal exchange, a character will reveal information I had planned on holding back, note something that becomes a flaw in my plot, or make a quip that takes the scene in an unexpected direction. I don’t fight it. I embrace it. Discovering what’s going on in a character’s mind is one of the thrills that keeps me writing.

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

I write my books in order, and that begins with the title, which, to me, sets the tone for the project. With that said, picking a title isn’t a complicated process. I choose a word to combine with Crystal that evokes in me a sense of huge possibilities and unknown mysteries. With my mind ready for the adventure, the story begins.

I reached the 20K word mark on my current project, Crystal Rebellion (doesn’t the word Rebellion conjure all manner of mysterious possibilities?), before I began speculating about the ending. I have some ideas I am excited about, so I know I will like how it turns out. But I won’t really know what happens until I write it. I’m excited to find out, and that makes me look forward to writing.

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

I was surprised—pleasantly so–the first time I received a review that discussed how the plot might have unfolded differently from the way I wrote it. Since then, I’ve received a number of reviews where the person has ideas about a character, a relationship, or a plot line that differs from how I wrote it.

It’s gratifying to know that a reader is invested enough in the story to think through details of how it might have evolved differently, and then to reduce those ideas to writing for the world to read. I feel rewarded knowing my stories have impacted readers at this emotional level.

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?

A book cover drives impulse purchases, and so good ones are vital to the success of a commercial project. For web-based sales, how well a cover scales to a thumbnail size is equally important. For my three covers, I worked with talented designers at Damonza.com. I sought a retro look—shadowy figures in futuristic settings—that reminded me of old science fiction. I’m not sure how they are doing as far as impulse sales goes, but I like them.

What do you know now that you wish you’d known five years ago?

I wish I’d known how much I enjoyed writing stories. I would have started earlier!

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

I live in Connecticut with my lovely wife, where we enjoy the four distinct seasons, the rolling hills, the lakes and forests, and the history of the region. So far in my journey through life I’ve lived for at least a year (in order) in New York, Florida, Massachusetts, Michigan, California, Colorado, and Connecticut. My wife and I have discussed moving to the West Coast at some point. In fact, we are spending a week touring Oregon this summer to see if it might be a good fit for the future.

What’s the best gift you’ve ever received?

That would be a toss-up between when my wife agreed to marry me, and the birth of my son a few years later.

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

I’m a dreamer, so my answer would depend on the day you ask. Over the years I’ve dreamt of being able to play the piano and guitar; of being a world-class athlete; of having the temperament of a diplomat, the brilliance of philosopher, the courage of an astronaut, and the focus of a surgeon. At this writing, I would choose the skill of furniture making. It’s a wonderful art form, and as a bonus, it’s a hobby that yields a useable product. I’ve made a few items over the years, but I think I lack that calm and deliberate patience required to be good at it.

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