“I loved this riveting book! It’s a stay-up-all-night read that will keep your heart pumping!” —Karna Small Bodman, Former Senior Director of the National Security Council in the Reagan White House and author of bestselling international thrillers, to include her … Read More
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MA: Julie Achterhoff was born in Michigan, but brought up mostly in the big city of San Francisco and a small island in the Gulf of Mexico. Her imagination was sparked by experiencing these different ways of life. She grew up reading very adult horror, mystery, and thriller novels passed to her by her mother. When reading she would get as excited about the writing of the books as the reading. She ended up becoming a home birth midwife with five children of her own. Still, with every book she read there was that gnawing urge to write something of her own.
Julie – welcome BACK! This is your third visit to my blog, and while I’ve had a few authors guest with me twice, you are the first with a triple visit.
My readers can go back and read the original posts Julie did with me, first on January 1, 2010, and then again on September 10, 2010.
Please remind my readers what you did before beginning your writing journey.
JA: I was a midwife raising a family for about 17 years, but when the oldest got big and responsible enough to watch the younger ones I started taking a couple classes a week at the local college. Of course I picked writing and English classes. I didn’t even dare hope to actually write anything. It was this deep, dark secret I kept even from myself! I started getting addicted when teachers and other students told me what they liked about my writing. That gave me more confidence. I suddenly realized the authors of every book I’d ever read were just regular people like me who probably started out not knowing if they could write. So I allowed my deeply buried creativity out and gave it full rein.
MA: I know you didn’t start writing novels right away, but you actually began with plays, is that right?
JA: My first major effort after some short stories and essays was actually a three-act play called Angel in the House. I really got excited about seeing my work performed. I eventually hoped against hope that I could work in the movie industry. But the structure used in plays and screenplays was very stilting for me. I had to pay so much attention to form that I felt it took away from the writing. I enjoyed just writing away without a care like I could with the short stories I’d written. I just couldn’t imagine putting enough words down to make up a whole darned book. But I decided to give it a try. I figured if others could do it, so could I.
MA: So how many books are you up to at this point?
JA: I’ve now written four books. I still can’t believe it, but I swear it’s true. I just kept writing and writing, and somehow the word count kept climbing until finally it was the end and I had a whole book in my hands. The first was Quantum Earth. It’s about a team of metaphysical scientists racing to find out why we’re having more natural disasters of a higher degree leading up to the end of the Mayan calendar in 2012, and if our own human thoughts are actually creating this reality. Deadly Lucidity is a thriller about a woman trapped in her nightmares and dreams. Then she meets someone who tries to help her find a way out of her own mind. He seems to be another part of her imagination, but he is also so real. Native Vengeance is a novella about a woman who meets a friend on the internet and eventually goes to visit her during the town’s main event of the year. Of course, this annual “event” isn’t what it seems. The town has an old Indian curse on it because of something that happened a long time ago. The new friend needs her so she can escape the evil that occurs each year to punish the residents of the town.
Then there’s my latest book, Earthwalker- Earth can be Hell for a Vampire. I’ve always loved vampires the most of any of the beasts around. Maybe that’s why it took me this long to write my own kind of story about them. Plus, I hate doing anything that’s “in.” So I figured I’d have to write the book so different and far from the main crowd that it would hardly resemble any vampire story from the past. I think I achieved this. Earthwalker is a book about a vampire. And there is a passionate love story. But from there on out it is different in almost every way from any past works of its kind. I think I was successful in finding a fresh new way of presenting it. It’s all in the writing, though, anyway, isn’t it? I mean if you like my writing, you’ll definitely like this book. It barely gives the reader a moment to take a breath. I write tight and lean. There’s not a lot of flowery prose or descriptive overload in my stuff. I think you learn a lot about yourself and your style of writing with each new attempt. I would call Earthwalker my dissertation.
MA: Are you the kind of writer who starts with a hero and then builds the story, or do you start with a plot and develop the right man or woman to fill the need?
JA: Whenever I begin writing a book I already have a pretty good idea of who the protagonist is. I have the framework in my mind and then let them develop and grow on the page. I say “let” them because that’s how it seems to happen. They become alive to me. I think that’s how I’m able to write a whole book at all. The characters kind of take over and tell me what could possibly happen to them that would be thrilling and exciting, but also believable to the reader.
MA: Can you give us an idea of one of your heroes or heroines?
JA: In Earthwalker, for example, Willa is the so-called heroine. In the beginning of the story she is pretty weak. She’s recently gone through some tough life situations and is worn out emotionally. But she’s basically a strong young woman with emotional reserves that she calls on from the beginning. She’s good at dealing with emergency situations, it doesn’t take much for her to catch on when something outside her past experience happens, and she has the capacity to be courageous if need be. She is also willing to sacrifice herself for a greater good. As most of us do, though, she tends to think of herself first. She does sense this about herself and ends up putting herself last. With Willa, it’s like she moves ahead two steps then one step back and so on.
MA: Where do you draw from to create your “bad guys?” I’m always intrigued by antagonists in supernatural stories.
JA: I’ve had pretty intense nightmares since I was very young, so I’ve got plenty of nasty people in my head. I actually tone them down for my books so they’re not totally evil. That would be boring. You’re always going to enjoy a story more when you can somehow relate to the bad guy/gal. It’s like your dirty little secret. It brings the reader in so they feel closer to the characters.
MA: I take it you’ve not had any real-life encounters with vampires or other such creatures, or have you (grinning)?
JA: Not at all. I like making it all up from scratch. You will probably never see a non-fiction book come out of me. The further away from reality the better. My writing is my escape. It takes me far away from this world. And that’s the way I like it!
MA: Okay, so four works of fiction down…how many more to go? Where are you headed in the near future?
JA: Just recently I had a very long and real feeling dream that inspired me to write another book. It’s been months since I’ve written anything, so it’s great to know I haven’t dried up in the writing department. The next one’s about a reporter out to research the latest drug craze. And boy is it a doozy! What a crazy dream that one was.
MA: I can only imagine! I’ve had a few intense dream in my life, so I can relate. Will your allow any characters from past books to tag along in future stories?
JA: I have been asked by several readers if there will be a follow-up to Quantum Earth. Unfortunately, it’s kind of a time-bound novel in that it revolves around a particular time, the year 2012. But I guess it all depends on what actually does happen in 2012 to tell you the truth. Maybe these characters will have more to say and do at that point. Who knows?
MA: Let’s hope the Mayan “prophecy” turns out to be a whole lot of nothin’! After all, the Mayans simply stopped counting days, without actually saying what would happen beyond the calendar. So much about that calendar is super-hyped. Any parting thoughts?
JA: I would just like to encourage anyone who has a desire to write not to make excuses or let your inner critic stop you from doing something that could bring you a lot of joy. Don’t let anything stop you. And don’t do it for the money or fame. Chances are that won’t happen. You just have to love it. And then just do it. Get those words down on that page! You’ve got nothing to lose and so much to gain. If you do it this way it’s gonna show in your writing. Then you’ll have something to be proud of.
MA: Thanks again, Julie, for coming back. I want to encourage my readers to check out Julie’s blog (http://earthwalker.tk) and her books’ website (http://julieachterhoff.tk).
MA: Today I am pleased to welcome back not only a veteran guest-blogger, but the first author who appeared as a guest when I launched my blog two years ago. John Wills “guested” with me back in November 2009, and you can go back and read that original interview here: Fellow Writer John Wills is Mike Angley’s First Guest-Blogger! John and I are fellow, former law enforcement officers, and it was through this affiliation (and via a website called PoliceLink) that we met and networked to join the same publishing house a few years ago. John, welcome back! Please tell us about your law enforcement career because I know it has shaped your life and it has informed your writing.
JW: I spent 33 years in law enforcement, including the Chicago Police Department and FBI. That background was a natural springboard for me to write about what I had been doing most of my life. As an FBI agent, much of your time is spent writing things such as affidavits for search and arrest warrants, interviews with witnesses and informants, etc. The problem is that once you’ve created a document it has to go up the line for approval, sometimes all the way to FBI headquarters. By the time it returns to you it hardly resembles your first draft. Once I retired I felt the bonds of oversight were severed and I was free to create whatever I wanted. One caveat . . . if a former agent writes a book, the manuscript must first be approved by the FBI. Why? The Bureau must ensure that no active cases are being written about and no covert techniques or national security issues are compromised.
MA: With such a broad LE background, you must have had a lot of experiences to draw from in crafting your fiction, right?
JW: I had thousands of stories knocking around inside my brain from my time on Chicago PD as well as with the FBI. I began writing professionally as soon as I retired, confining myself to articles on officer survival, firearms, ethics, and training. To date, I’ve had more than 100 articles published on sites such as Officer.com and LawOfficer.com, as well as several print magazines. But those articles were non-fiction; I was interested in telling some stories and giving them a twist that would engage the reader emotionally.
MA: I’ve read your first two books which I thoroughly loved, tell my readers about the series itself.
JW: I created a fictional series, The Chicago Warriors™ Thriller Series, in which two Chicago Police detectives investigate not only the violent crimes they are assigned, but often times the political machine that is part and parcel of Chicago. The books are part of the mystery/thriller genre, but with a twist. Both characters rely on their faith to see them through the challenges that big city police work presents.
MA: Now, you don’t have a single protagonist in your stories, rather, you have two. Tell us about them.
JW: The male protagonist, Pete Shannon, is an amalgamation of several cops and agents I’ve worked with through the years. The female detective, Marilyn Benson, is based on a real FBI agent who I helped train in my years at the FBI Academy. I’ve also continued to mentor her since she is still an active FBI agent. Both characters are very strong, tactically. I’ve ensured they utilize the proper firearms and street survival tactics. I think it’s important to be correct in describing police work of any kind to ensure authenticity and credibility. In terms of their weakness . . . they are both heavily invested in personal relationships, including friendships. This sometimes has a pejorative influence on how they react to certain situations.
MA: And what about antagonists?
JW: Each book in the series has its own unique bad guy, including bad cop(s). That’s how I bring a fresh perspective to each story and create a bad guy that my readers have to flesh out as the story progresses.
MA: I know from your real police work that you were involved in a whole lot of action, so how did that makes its way into your stories?
JW: Yes, I’ve been involved in several shootings, been involved in SWAT operations, execution of search and arrest warrants, and of course, experienced many of the challenges in my own life that I transfer onto my protagonists.
MA: You have a new release in the series, so please tell us about that and what else you are working on.
JW: I continue to freelance, writing articles for magazines and websites. I’ve written several award winning short stories and have had others printed in several anthologies. I’ve also contributed several stories to a daily police devotional entitled, Cops on The Street, which was released in December.
I am working on a new novel, non-fiction, entitled, Women Warriors: Stories from the Thin Blue Line. The book will be a collection of true stories, written by the women who’ve lived them. I include not only female police officers, but also corrections, dispatchers, chaplains, and prosecutors. If any of your readers know of a woman who might like to share their story in the book, which will be released sometime this fall, please direct them to my website; http://johnmwills.com/
In my latest release, TARGETED, I’ve brought the FBI into the story which may allow me to take a totally different direction in future novels.
All of my books are also available in eBook format on both Kindle and Nook.
MA: John, thanks again for coming back to my website. I wish you well with the new release and with all your writing endeavors.
When Not to Edit
Sometimes we don’t feel like writing, or we’re frustrated with what we’ve produced. This is NOT the time to switch to editing.
A friend said when she’s stuck in her plot, she edits. Okay, editing what you’ve just written is part of creating a scene or the story. Oftentimes editing triggers new ideas and gets you out of being stuck. We writers do this all the time; edit what we’ve written, to assure we’ve said what we meant, in order to proceed further.
However, as an editor, pure editing of a large or total body of work is not good at certain times.
Never edit when:
It’s late in the day
When you’re in a hurry
Have eye strain
When someone waits for you to finish
If you wish to take a chance with your own work and edit under these conditions, keep in mind that you may chop up your work. It could turn out to be something you never intended.
One of those distractions, like when you’re hungry, can be dealt with immediately. Have you never eaten a snack or lunch over your keyboard? Do you have a glass or cup of something satisfying sitting on your desk at all times?
It’s crucial that when editing other writers’ prose that you are in the best frame of mind, attempting to understand what the other person has created. The above list of times when not to edit tend to create a less caring attitude. Get through the work and be done with it. That is not good enough, not even with your own work.
Take a break. Wait till the next day. Read a book. Whatever. You wouldn’t want someone editing your work under those conditions; don’t even do that to yourself. Most often when writing your own stories, editing can go too far afield when you’re distracted. You may end up not thinking through any changes and altering the story in ways you never intended it to go. Have a clear head when editing.
When editing your manuscript after a publishing house asks for changes and sets a deadline, you may have to prop up your eyelids if time is of the essence. In that case, you should happily get through your work in spite of the deadline because a publisher likes your story. Yay!
The more you write and create, the more you’re likely to get your ideas down closer to what you wish to say. Editing will be easier and your prose may not need drastic changes that may happen when careless. Have a clear head.
Please visit Mary Deal’s website for more wonderful articles like this one: Write Any Genre. Read More
Preparing Your Manuscript for an Agent
Being aware of what agents look for will help you prepare the type of manuscript they will read. Keep in mind, these same rules apply once you have an agent and the manuscript is being sent out to publishing house editors.
All agents hope to find that one manuscript that is unique above all the others. It’s been said that all stories have been told. What makes them different is each individual writer’s slant on the topic, providing they have written a solid story.
When an agent begins to read, after years of experience, they are keen to grammar flaws. This is one area that could cause an agent or editor to reject a manuscript without consideration of any of its other merits.
Too, how long is your manuscript? Paper books presently should be 60,000 to 80,000 words. Anything more than that, since it’s the requirement, the agent will believe the writer too verbose, lacking control over their adjectives and adverbs and overall sentence structure.
With the advent of hand-held readers, entire books are now converted to ebooks. There may or may not be word count restrictions. Still, your story must be good to merit the higher-end costs of ebooks as well.
If the agent or editor reads on, they do so with one motivation. They need to decide if this book, when published, will sell enough to make back their commission and any advance royalty paid to the writer. And still, the book must make a profit for the publishing house beyond that point.
The agent or editor will also be judging the writer’s overall presentation. Is it neat? Was the cover letter professional? Did it follow standard form? Did the writer seem to know what he or she talked about. What they look for is how you, the writer will perform after the book is published. Are you going to be difficult to work with? Are you going to go out of your way to make this book a success? Or do you believe that’s the publisher’s duty?
Professionals know immediately if they want to spend the time to read all the way through. They are also concerned if a reader will want to spend hours with the story and author. They scrutinize to see if the writer’s descriptions are fresh and different. What the agent looks for is individual voice. It was once enough to say “the trees had greened up after the last heavy rain;” another to say “the morning sun reflected in the raindrops on the new green leaves and made the trees sparkle.” Your voice shows in how you describe scenes and action. Your description must be different than anything else you’ve read.
An agent is keenly aware whether or not they will turn from the first page to the second. Agents read thousands of stories. They know by the end of the first page if the book will stack up against others in the same genre.
Have you written characters that an agent will appreciate? Your characters must stand out from all the rest. For character development, see my articles Faces and Quirks and Character Sketches. Everyone, from agent, to editor to publisher to avid reader must like your characters. Make them likeable or make them the kind of characters we love to hate, but make them memorable.
The overall plot must be about something the characters need to attain or obtain. They must want it desperately or the reader simply will not care enough to follow the character through whatever conflict arises.
Not only in nonfiction but in fiction as well, your facts must be right. In nonfiction it can be no other way. If you wish to make your fiction true to life, which helps the reader suspend reality and keep reading, get your facts straight too.
Dialogue moves the story. It must be written in such a manner that enhances the character’s personality. Dialogue exchanges between characters must propel the story. Ordinary conversation is never written into books. It is boring and says nothing really. Consider this:
“Good morning, John.”
“Good morning, Jim. What’s on the agenda today?”
“Guess we’re supposed to take the plane out for a test run today.”
They went to leave immediately.
“Morning, John,” Jim said, rushing in. He thumbed toward the sky. “Let’s get upstairs before the boss sees the plane still sitting on the tarmac.”
Ordinary conversation has no place in good writing. Dialogue and beats move the action. Oh yes, see my article titled Let the Dialogue Speak.
The above could easily be included in the instruction we’ve all heard: Show, Don’t Tell. Simply, what this means is that the reader must see the action happening. Dialogue promotes action. Any time the writer begins to tell what a person thinks, how they interact with others, that should raise a red flag in the writer’s mind. See the two examples above? The first version contains dead dialogue and stalls the action. The second example not only contains dialogue that moves the story, but shows us what these two people are doing. Shows, doesn’t tell.
* * *
Most of the information in this article applies to both agents and editors. You must find an agent before you can approach a publishing house editor. The agent does that for you. In rare instances I’ve heard about someone submitting directly to an editor, but it usually turns out to be a small start up publishing house. If you wish to approach the big houses, get an agent.
To help you find an agent, try the site which does not charge a fee. In my experience they have been totally reputable:
The agents listed on this site tell you what types of manuscripts they will accept and in which genres. It’s very thorough.
These are the people who publish those real thick volumes about everything you need to know as a writer. The book is expensive. However, if you sign up for their online edition, you get new listings and updates as new information come in all year long.
You can double check the credibility of an agent or editor you wish to contact by finding them on Preditors and Editors at:
Preditors and Editors tell you who is legitimate and who is a scam. Yes, there are scam artists in the writing industry. You knew that, right?
I’m sure other sites have additional information but these are great places to begin your search.
Please visit Mary Deal’s website for more wonderful articles like this one: Write Any Genre. Read More
MA: I’m delighted to welcome back to Mike Angley’s Blog, Sylvia Massara. Sylvia first guested with me on September 3, 2010, and you can go back and read her original post here: All the Way from Australia Comes Romantic Comedy Author, Sylvia Massara to Guest with Mike Angley
I won’t repeat her biography here, but you can find it at the link above, or visit her website for even more information about her: www.sylviamassara.com
MA: Tell me again what you did before becoming a writer.
SM: Prior to embarking on my writing career, I spent many years in the corporate world being a HR Manager, a Trainer/Lecturer, and most recently I started a business, Tudor Writing Services, where I provide proofreading/editing/website and social media services. Having said this, my true love has always been acting. I can remember wanting to be an actress since the age of 5. I was in lots of school productions, and later in amateur theatre. I also did a stint (when I was in between jobs) as an extra in some Aussie soapies, where I rubbed shoulders with actresses such as Melissa George and Isla Fisher, whom I believe made a bit of a name for themselves in the US. I was also in TV commercials and a couple of documentaries.
MA: You are a self-proclaimed day dreamer…is that one of your fiction influences?
SM: Well, I always lived my life in what you might call a ‘world of make believe’. Even now I do this. Ever since I can remember I always caught myself day dreaming; and I usually run several plots through my head at any given time. So I guess it was natural for me to progress to a career as a writer. I’ve been writing since I was a teenager and always loved it. Besides, you can write till you’re 90, whereas an acting career may not last that long.
MA: The last time you visited with me, you talked about your novel, The Other Boyfriend (which my daughter thoroughly enjoyed, by the way!). What are you here to tell us about today?
SM: The Soul Bearers is a rather spiritual story which deals with courage, friendship and unconditional love. It was partly inspired by true life events. In terms of genre, I guess you could put it under ‘literary fiction’ ‘mainstream drama’, not sure where, but it does make a good read and you better have those tissues handy.
A bit more about the story: The story involves three people whose lives cross for a short period of time, and the profound effect which results from their interaction. Alex Dorian, freelance travel writer, and a survivor of severe child abuse, arrives in Sydney in an attempt to exorcise the ghosts of her past. She shares a house with Steve and the disturbing Matthew, a homosexual couple. Alex finds herself inexplicably attracted to Matthew and must battle with her repressed sexuality and her fear of intimacy.
I believe readers of The Soul Bearers will come away with a deeper understanding of human relationships and of what it means to truly love without condition.
MA: You did something interesting with your characters in this new book. Tell us about that.
SM: There are three main characters, and the story is told through their respective points of view. Even smaller characters have their point of view. This makes the story more intricate as we see the events develop through all the characters, but mainly the main three, being Alex, Steve and Matthew.
You ask how I developed the characters and all I can say is that in terms of the gay couple it wasn’t so difficult. Having come from a hospitality background, I made lots of friends who were gay and I socialized with many of them. So I knew what their way of life was like. For, Alex, it was a little more difficult as she is the victim of sexual abuse. I also have a good friend who was unfortunate enough to have been a victim of sexual abuse as a child and from what I learned through her, and my own research, I came up with Alex.
MA: Are your characters larger than life or are they flawed like us all?
SM: All my characters are flawed; even the very spiritual and wise, Steve. They all have something to learn and something to give to each other. But I guess Steve comes out as the strongest. He’s facing imminent death from AIDS and his only concern is that he leave his partner well provided for, both emotionally and financially. And he manages to do this through Alex (that is, the emotional part of it). I can’t say that Steve has any real weaknesses, except that he likes to ‘arrange’ the lives of others in some way.
Alex is strong in that she managed to survive her childhood ordeal and carved out a life for herself. But she must still face the ghosts of her past and fear holds her back from many an opportunity for growth. The same thing applies to Matthew, but in a different way; he’s living with the rejection of his parents, his partner’s illness and his fear of what the future will bring. Matthew is not so much strong as he is chivalrous and protective of those he loves.
MA: I suspect you don’t have a traditional antagonist in The Soul Bearers, and that perhaps life itself is the “bad guy.”
SM: There is no bad guy per se, but there are bad people in the past of all three characters. There is Alex’s stepfather, who sexually abused her; her mother, who lived in denial of it; then you have Matthew’s parents and their rejection of the only son they have. So you could say these people are the bad guys.
MA: What comes after this latest release? Are you working on anything new?
SM: I will turn back to more lighthearted novels; and I plan another ‘chick lit’ story, but this one will probably be a series featuring the same heroine.
MA: I believe you have a book trailer for your newest release. Where can people find it?
SM: For more on The Soul Bearers check out my website and blog (www.sylviamassara.com). There is a video I posted there that tells you a little bit about the story. The book released in September 2010 and is available in ebook format through Amazon and Smashwords, and sometime in the next couple of months it will be made available in paperback. Read More
Once you have finished your opus, do not apply for a Copyright until you know exactly what you are doing.
If you plan to self-publish or publish print-on-demand, then you will need to copyright your manuscript. (See the information below.) This may change in the future but at the moment, self-publishing and print-on-demand companies do not do this for you.
However, if you secure a copyright registration and then try to sell your book to a big house publisher, you may have doomed yourself. That copyright you took much time and effort to secure makes you the holder of 1st Rights. The big houses will want 1st Rights; they usually will not take any manuscript on 2nd rights.
In rare instances where a book has already been published, a big house will pick up the book under a new contract. However, any published book will usually have to have sold into the thousands of copies in order to be noticed by the larger publishing houses. If such a book is taken on by a larger publisher, they would accept 2nd Rights.
To protect yourself as being the creator of your manuscript, you may wish to register it at Writer’s Guild of America. They charge a fee; you send your entire manuscript, and there are various ways to submit. I use this organization myself. Filing with this group is not a form of copyright and you will later need a copyright from the U.S. Copyright Office. Filing with WGA is simply another way to register a date that your manuscript was completed and that you are the owner. Should anyone try to plagiarize your story, you have proof of when you completed the manuscript and that you are the original owner. Make sure you read their FAQS and understand the process. They have east coast and west coast branches, so you should use the branch in your vicinity.
Should you choose to file with the U.S. Copyright Office, you will find them at
The U.S. Copyright Office also has an online submissions capability that I have used in the past.
My only advice here is that you know which way you will publish your book before you decide whether or not to seek a copyright.
Please visit Mary Deal’s website for more wonderful articles like this one: Write Any Genre. Read More
MA: My guest-blogger today is Jessica Knauss. Born and raised in Northern California, Jessica has become something of a wanderer who hopes to settle down soon. She has worked as a librarian and a Spanish teacher. She lives with her husband Stanley, with whom she plans to open a soft-serve ice cream shop in the future. Jessica has participated in many writer’s groups and workshops, including the International Writers’ Program at the University of Iowa. Her nonfiction has appeared in Medieval History Magazine, Hortulus, LL Journal, and an encyclopedia entitled The World and Its Peoples. To date, she has published fiction in Bewildering Stories, Do Not Look at the Sun, (Short) Fiction Collective, Full of Crow Quarterly Fiction, Sillymess, This Mutant Life and Short, Fast, and Deadly. Her poetry can be found at Haggard & Halloo, Apollo’s Lyre and The Shine Journal. Her novella Tree/House, about a woman’s awakening through sleeping in trees, is available at Amazon. Açedrex Publishing will release her poetry chapbook, Dusk Before Dawn, in September. Get updates on her writing at her Facebook page.
You have been very busy with all your writing projects!
JK: I came out of the womb with a pencil in my hand. In grade school, I could hardly be bothered with math, but let all other experiences influence the stories that just kept coming out of me unbidden. I grew up in Northern California, close to the Redwood forests, near the foggy grey beaches, and gained a sense of awe at nature and a strong isolation from civilization that shows up in all my work. I studied a lot of subjects, mainly Spanish, because my love of Spain sprouted spontaneously one day when I was about 11. I’ve been a librarian (love those books!) and a Spanish teacher in the beautiful cities of Boston and Providence. Somewhere along the way I lost sight of creative writing, but have now taken it up again with complete seriousness. The stories and characters were patient. They knew I had to come back to them some day.
MA: Was your decision to write novels a conscious, formulated one, or did something simply inspire you?
JK: The novels chose me instead of the other way around. For me, being a writer consists of taming the wild muse and making a craft out of a formless mass of creativity I’m re-learning to tap into.
MA: So tell us about Tree/House.
JK: My novella, Tree/House, is a timeless coming-of-age story in which a woman, Emma, has made terrible decisions throughout her life, allowing herself to be led around by anyone with more force of will. When the husband who took her on dies suddenly, she slowly turns her drifting into a direction, learning some shocking truths along the way. She could not go through this process without Geraldine, a vagrant who camps on her property, sleeping not in the barn or the stable, but in the wild old trees. Geraldine is in need of some emotional rehabilitation herself, but with her assertive personality, she helps Emma see the alternatives to the passive life she has lived. The novella has a slightly nineteenth-century feel to it, because the characters write letters, build libraries, and trek through the countryside on foot, but at just 28,000 words, it’s a fast, fun read that will leave you time to read it again! It’s perfect for book clubs and discussion groups or just sharing with friends.
I also have a poetry chapbook that recently released, called Dusk Before Dawn. This is a compilation of most of my poetry from over the years, and I’ve put them together in a trajectory that addresses the nature of language, the search for love, the nostalgia of place, the creative process, and, most importantly, personal identity. Some are like stories, and others a very lyrical. They make a nice companion to Tree/House, as they address many of the same issues.
MA: Emma sounds like an intriguing character. How did you go about developing her in the story?
JK: One of the lines from what ended up being the third chapter came to me in a bolt of sheer inspiration. It’s when one of the servants on the estate is telling Emma some unsavory truths she didn’t know about Geraldine: “Do you know she killed the cat, aimed for the stable boy and slept with her boss?” The protagonist at that point was merely a receptacle for this information. Emma’s character grew out of the way she reacted to Geraldine’s extravagant style. The antagonist, Franklin, grew out of that passivity in a natural way, creating the drama organically.
MA: Would you say Emma is a strong character? Is she flawed at all?
JK: I’m afraid Emma is all weakness: confused, not confident, no direction, no definable talent, and worst of all, led easily astray. She represents any woman who finds herself at a crossroads, and I think her indecisiveness and insecurities make her very sympathetic for readers.
MA: Do you have a definable antagonist, or is Emma challenged by many characters because of her weaknesses?
JK: Franklin, who ends up as Emma’s husband (and then brutally murdered in revenge for past misdeeds) is very dangerous because he knows how to manipulate her, all while she believes she is making her own choices. His praise of Emma seems unfounded and bizarre, just like the rest of him. He seems to have sprung out of nothingness to impose an ancient order on her disorganized life. He is a jailer and a neglecter and represents every thing evil and intransigent, at the same time that he opens a new world of literature up to Emma. His gifts are awkward, beautiful only in a certain light, and I hope the reader feels as weird about him as I do.
MA: Is there any of Jessica’s real life story in Emma?
JK: Absolutely. Because of the organic development of the plot, Emma’s predicament reflects the trapped feeling and self-doubts I was going through at the time. The writing and sending of letters comes directly from my experience, and I think it increases the feeling of isolation as she’s trying to make a decision about what to do with her life. I had a terrible experience with a wrinkled wedding dress that I make Emma go through with a little more naiveté, and I had a friend in college who told me that eating French fries gave her the hiccups, so thanks for that tidbit! (I’m not sure she would want me to broadcast her name, but she knows who she is.) Franklin turned out as a Bluebeard type. He has elements from just about anything I felt stifled me in the past, including, of course, old boyfriends! I think all this leakage between life and fiction, unintentional or otherwise, helps give the story psychological realism the reader can really get into.
MA: Now that Tree/House and your book of poetry, Dusk Before Dawn, are out, what’s next on your writing horizon?
JK: I’m striking out into territory that may seem very different by writing a historical novel set in tenth-century Spain and based on an epic revenge poem. It’s full of battles, glittering armor, and exotic locales. It’s not really a departure for me because I have a PhD in Medieval Spanish, and, continuing the feminine theme of my previous work, the story has female characters who know how to manipulate the society in which they live.
I’m always working on weird short stories, and waiting for that bolt of inspiration for my next longer work.
MA: Will Emma come along in future works?
JK: Tree/House readers have said they would love to spend more time with the characters. I have considered writing the further adventures of Geraldine, or even a prequel showing how she really got to be the fascinating woman she is in Tree/House, but nothing concrete is on the writing schedule. Read More
Western Romance, Chick Lit, Feminist…all Descriptions of Mike Angley’s Guest Author, Lotus Landry and her Novel, “Skookum Man”
MA: I’m joined today by Lotus Landry, author of the Western Romance, Skookum Man. Lotus had a prior career as a software applications developer for aerospace projects – among these were line-of-sight helicopter sight stabilization code. She resides in the Los Angeles vicinity and has two adult sons. (One of her sons is able to combine software and storytelling as a video games developer). She is a native of Seattle and grew up not far from the setting of the book.
Lotus told me she chose to write a novel because she loves to work on very large and intricate projects – especially those which fall outside the boundaries of traditional genres. I can understand that with her background in the aerospace industry, something that warms my heart!
Please tell us about Skookum Man.
LL: In Skookum Man a chick lit feminist confronts a greenhorn ladies man in 1830s rainforest. It’s been tagged as: Western Romance; Feminist; Chick Lit; Pacific Northwest; Kindle Romance. The book is set in a Hudson’s Bay Company outpost, the Pacific Northwest, circa 1810. Men and women from divergent worlds meet in an Arden-like forest. In those strange woods the reader is introduced to: wood-wise ingénues, confused men, matronly women, clever animals, and assorted asses and fools. The introductions are lovingly conducted by a benign narrative presence.
That’s a happy beginning- but as the story progresses….the benign presence becomes somewhat sinister. The wood-wise ingénues lose their wisdom; the confused men become calculating; and the outpost seems to contract into itself. As in many fairy tales, the story’s conclusion is uncertain and … disturbing(?). It is a fairy tale with a modern edge – a romantic speculation – a speculative history. The book’s airy structure and modern references contribute to its bouncy, tale-like mood.
It features Jane, who is sometimes called ‘Matooskie’, and her accidental boyfriend, Robert. Jane, who knows how to take care of herself in the remote rain forest of the Pacific Northwest, has been brought up as a free range child. She is multicultural and disciplined enough to master Latin.
Robert is a newly arrived officer at the fort, a remote place with several peculiar luxuries but very few romantic options. He has a history of being a slick player of sophisticated women of the London social scene. He is honored as ‘skookum’ by the local Indian clan even though he demonstrates that he has no wilderness skill sets.
MA: Tell us more about Jane, or Matooskie.
LL: The main character, Matooskie, has trouble integrating her two natures. She has a Chinook Indian heritage from which she derives her expertise for surviving in the forests, but she is also eager to please her father by adopting the trappings of a proper British lady.
Matooskie is extremely tenacious and goal directed and loves keeping secrets. She is sharp enough to master Latin with the assistance of the private tutors who pass through the fortress as guests.
MA: Yours is such a unique story…how did you come up with the idea?
LL: I was influenced by contemporaries from the Pacific Northwest. When I wrote the heroine as a person with a passion for botany and a compulsion to classify plants, I gave her the habits of my best friend’s mother, a horticultural writer, who deposited her children on trailheads in remote mountain forests where the children were instructed to seek rare plant species.
When I invented another woman, the woefully displaced British matron of the story, I gave her the confusion of a 20th century transplant to Oregon from Maryland, who mistakenly thought that she could not leave the house – for months—until the rain stopped. I included native people as some of the first people I myself saw when I moved into Oregon were Indians spearing and smoking fish along the old Columbia River highway.
MA: Any person, childhood experiences that you drew from?
LL: When I consider the inspiration for writing Skookum Man, it becomes apparent that whatever happened to me in the fourth grade did not stay in the fourth grade. Of course, this is the year that kids become immersed in the history of their respective states and the folklore sticks to them like pieces of campfire marsh mellows on a stick – even when they settle elsewhere. In my case, we studied sea explorers and the forts and covered wagons and it wasn’t unusual for one chum to blurt out that she was a descendant of the famous trapper, Joe Meek. Regrettably, when one moves away and settles in another state, one ends up clueless (for decades) about the arcane of the new state because fourth grade can only happen in one place. The brain accumulates only one set of lore that is reinforced by the field trips of childhood.
MA: Okay, so what’s in your writing future?
LL: I’m currently working on my next novel, a cozy mystery set in contemporary Orange County, California. It features two career women with unusual occupations who belong to a Homeowners Association.
MA: Lotus – thanks for stopping by and telling us all about Skookum Man. If my readers want to learn more, please visit: www.matooskie.com.
MA: Audrey RL Wyatt is right brained to a fault, so she tells me! Before attacking prose, she exhibited photography in juried shows and worked in theatre; acting, teaching and creating children’s theater curricula. So it was surprising that her writing career began in the non-fiction realms of politics, environment and law.
Finally succumbing to her creative nature, Audrey now writes fiction. Her debut novel, Poles Apart, is a story of family inspired by Audrey’s childhood among Holocaust survivors in Cleveland. Whether it was their silence or the horrific stories they told, their presence left an indelible mark. It has been honored with five awards. Her essays and short fiction, often featuring strong-willed, quirky women, have been published in various forums, both print and online.
Always one to foster aspiring artists, Audrey founded Southeast Valley Fiction Writers near Phoenix, Arizona, and Bay State Writers in Southeast Massachusetts. She gives a good deal of time to area schools and also teaches Memoir Writing to seniors. She is a partner in LitSisters Publishing, a boutique house publishing women writers, as well as a founding member of LitSisters, a networking and support community for writers.
Audrey loves to travel and has enjoyed living all over the country, from the Rockies to Boston Harbor. She currently makes her home in the Valley of the Sun with her incredible husband, their two terrific teenage daughters, and their beagle-basset mix, the Artful Dodger.
(Smiling) So, tell me more about this right brain and how you ended up in the fiction realm.
AW: I’m as right brained as they come. I started in the theatre at the advanced age of six and by the time I finished high school I’d tried every art that didn’t require fine motor dexterity. I wrote a lot, mostly nauseatingly syrupy poetry, and I acted. My mother called me “Audrey Heartburn.” I spent a lot of time on photography after that, having my work exhibited in juried shows. I worked my way through college teaching children’s theatre and creating children’s theatre curricula.
I got my education – college and grad school – and after some time spent at Legal Aid and County Children’s and Family Services I decided to stay home with my kids and write.
MA: You’ve mentioned poetry, and of course I know you’ve written a novel, but is there anything else?
AW: I also write short stories and essays. I think the story finds the writer and dictates what form it will take. But I love the novel form most of all. You have the time to stretch out and relax, letting the story unfold like a beautiful flower.
For me, writing is an exercise of will. On one hand, I will the story to come. On the other, the story will haunt me until I give it voice.
MA: Well said! Tell us about your first novel.
AW: I am a women’s fiction writer. I feel passionately about the stories that resonate with women. Women wear so many hats that nothing is ever simple. I find that intriguing. Poles Apart, my debut novel, is a story of family, of secrets, and of the damage that secrets can do, even over generations. Here’s the book blurb:
CHAIM SCHLESSEL lost his family to the Holocaust more than sixty years ago. He vowed to embrace life and protect his own wife and children from his painful memories and harrowing experiences. Finding solace in his family, his painting and the healing effects of his wife’s cooking, he has kept his nightmares at bay. But when a new neighbor unwittingly triggers the terrors of his past, Chaim is faced with the horrors that increasingly haunt his soul and threaten his sanity.
DAVID SCHLESSEL, grown, married and successful, is plagued by the always taboo subject of his father’s suffering at the hands of the Nazis. As a second generation survivor, he struggles with his father’s unwillingness to discuss the past and his own inability to communicate with those he loves. With his marriage falling apart and his relationship with his own children deteriorating, David, after numerous false starts, ultimately vows to conquer his inner turmoil.
UNITED BY A HISTORY they cannot discuss, yet starkly alone in their private struggles, father and son confront their demons as well as one another in a stand-off that will change them both forever.
All my short stories and essays can be found on my website: www.audreyrlwyatt.com.
MA: The storyline sounds complex. I take it there is more than one hero?
AW: Mine is a parallel plot novel, so the father and son protagonists – Chaim and David – are based on an amalgam of people I knew growing up in Cleveland in the 1960s and 1970s. This is also true of the supporting characters in the novel. I find that once a character is created (and I do a very detailed character chart on each of my characters) they develop a mind of their own and take their story where they see it going.
MA: How about an antagonist?
AW: There is a nemesis in the story. But the bigger nemeses are in the character’s minds and hearts. Their struggles are both internal and external. This is an area where art imitates life. I think people struggle more with internal demons than the external forces that set upon them.
MA: You came to know Holocaust survivors early in your life, and their stories and experiences inspired Poles Apart. Please elaborate.
AW: Well, Chaim is a Holocaust survivor and I grew up around a lot of Holocaust survivors. I heard horrific stories when I was far too young to understand them/put them into context. In fact, it’s interesting how differently we interpret information at different times in our lives. I found the holocaust stories more horrific as an adult than when I initially heard them as a child. As a child it was information without context. But as an adult I had so much more experience and understanding to apply to the information.
MA: Are you working on any new projects?
AW: I’ve just started a new novel called Women’s Work. It’s about four women, life-long friends, who recreate their graduation road trip on its twentieth anniversary. Their lives are now complicated, their baggage much heavier. They have secrets – demons they need to exorcise.
I also have another project in the works called Happy Trails. I originally wrote it as a sitcom treatment and have plans to novelize it.
MA: It sounds like you write standalone novels, and nothing that necessarily lends itself to a sequel. Am I right?
AW: I tell a story until I’m done with it. It all happens in one novel. I don’t really envision any of my books garnering a sequel. As for migrating characters, I won’t completely discount it. But, having lived in a number of places, I set my stories all over the country so the characters are unlikely to meet.
MA: I don’t always ask this question, but why do you write?
AW: I was listening to NPR the other day and they were talking about why writers write. Talk about the coolest topic ever. Though I didn’t listen to the entire show (my work is a demanding taskmaster) I didn’t hear anyone talk about how social media effects the answer to that question. I think everyone wants to be heard above the din. That’s one reason why twitter and facebook are so popular. It’s a way for people to make a mark on the world. For me, writing is how I make my mark. It’s how I am heard above the din.
Along time ago I said, probably flippantly, that if I could affect another person – if my writing could speak to them in some way that benefited them – then I would consider myself a success. Well, like most writers I scan the reviews from time to time. On the Barnes & Noble site there is one lone review. In it, the reader said that he read the book and liked it but that he’d recently had a personal problem that caused him to return to the book. He read it a second time and found help for himself from the characters and story. In other words, something that I wrote helped him. It took my breath away. I spoke to someone through my story, through the characters I created. And that person benefitted. All I could think was that this is what success feels like. It still brings tears to my eyes. The point is that what we as writers do matters and success doesn’t have to be about the NYT best sellers list. Though that wouldn’t hurt.
MA: I second those sentiments. Thanks, Audrey. My readers can learn more about Audrey RL Wyatt and her stories at: http://audreyrlwyatt.com/