Interview with Author Margaret K Johnson

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Social networking technology has made it much less isolating to be a writer. I met Margaret through an online critique group and I immediately recognized a kindred spirit of sorts. When she explained she was self-publishing a book that was originally traditionally published, I was intrigued. I knew right then I wanted to do an interview.

I read your bio and was interested to see you went to Art College and painted before you started writing. Can you compare what these two forms of artistic expression mean to you?

I don’t paint nowadays, as I haven’t time to do everything at the moment. (I also teach creative writing, and I’m writing a new novel). When I do get the chance to do something artistic, I usually make collages these days. I’ve always loved cutting up pieces of paper, even as a small child! A few years ago, I made a collage called Urban Jungle, and went out in Norwich, my home city, taking photographs – of bins, graffiti, traffic, ambulances, play parks etc, etc, specifically to cut up. I get completely involved when I’m making a piece, but it’s different to writing. Writing takes over my life – mostly in a good way. I can hear my characters speaking inside my head, often when I’m doing something else. Painting or making collages absorbs me at the time, but doesn’t dominate my life. I suppose this makes it more relaxing than writing, but writing is my passion. I do want to make time for painting and collage in the future though.

parrotsWhen did you start calling yourself a writer and when did you decide you wanted to be published? How did you find a publisher for your first book?

I started writing after I left Art College many years ago with the misguided plan of writing a best-selling novel for Mills and Boon to support my art career. I quickly got hooked though, and even though I wasn’t published by Mills and Boon, I discovered I loved writing. My first book was published by Women’s Weekly. My brother’s girlfriend at the time shared a flat with an editor at Women’s Weekly, and she agreed to read my manuscript and liked it. It was such a thrill to see it in my local newsagents!

forhannahwithlovecoverYou have several other books traditionally published. Can you explain how you got the rights back for this title? Is this your first time self-publishing? How has it been different from your previous books?

I have had a lot of books published the traditional way – original fiction readers for people learning to speak English mostly, and a historical romance – A Nightingale in Winter – published by Omnific Publishing. I have also self-published two women’s fiction books – The Goddess Workshop and The Dare Club. I enjoy the freedom of self-publishing – you can make any changes you want, and you can add details of your other books, or special offers if you want to. You can do what publicity you want to, the way you want to as well. I got the rights back to this book (which was formerly called Taming Tom Jones) when my publisher relocated abroad. We were issued with new contracts to reflect this change, but – mainly because I wanted to change the title of the book to For Hannah, With Love – I decided not to sign the new contract. I didn’t feel the original title reflected either the story or the message of the book. However, I have nobody but myself to blame for that, since I chose it!

Find out more about this author on her website or follow her on twitter @margaretkaj. Here’s and excerpt from the opening of For Hannah, With Love

I’m in the ladies toilets at my local superstore. Inside the one functioning cubicle, sitting fully clothed on the toilet seat, surrounded by overflowing carrier bags, a peed-on plastic tester stick clenched in my hand. Waiting for my fate to unfold.

Two minutes. The time it takes for Michael to go to sleep after we’ve made love if I don’t do anything to stop him. The pee on the plastic stick is asking a question, and the chemicals inside it are working out their answer. And in two minutes I’ll know whether their answer agrees with my instinct.

“I’m crazy about you, Jen,” Michael said three months after we first got together. “I want us to be together. But I’ve got to be totally honest with you, if you want kids, you’d better find someone else, because I’ve already done all that. Don’t get me wrong, I love being a father to Kyle, but it’s enough for me.”

 

Michael. We met at a fancy dress party nearly four years ago – my mate Rick’s thirtieth birthday party. The theme was Pop Icons of the Twentieth Century, and the room was stuffed full of Elton Johns, Donny Osmonds and Mick Jaggers. I was Madonna, complete with pointy bra, and Marcia, my best mate, was Diana Ross.

“You look fantastic with all that long hair,” I told her as we propped up the bar, preening ourselves and pointing out funny sights to each other.

“Thanks. I could get used to this glamour.” She ran a hand over the sea-green sparkles of her dress. Perhaps we should start a band.”

“Yeah, right.” I hadn’t forgotten our last spectacularly bad attempt at karaoke on holiday in Spain, even if she had.

Marcia never has liked to be reminded of her failings, even at school. “Your bazoomers aren’t level,” she told me stonily, jabbing an accusing finger in the direction of my breasts. “You need to go up a bit on the right.”

I yanked dutifully at my right cone, wondering if Madonna had experienced the same trouble.

“Anyway,” Marcia said, “who are you going to get off with tonight?”

“I’m not going to get off with anybody. It’s only been three months since I split up with Luke.”

“That’s what I’m saying,” she said. “Three months of freedom and so far you’ve done zilch to celebrate.”

“I don’t feel like celebrating.” I was hurt by now, but Marcia never has been a girl to let my hurt feelings stand in her way when she’s telling me something for my own good.

“Well, you should. Luke was a prize tosser. You are far, far better off without him, Jen.”

“I loved him.”

“You thought you loved him. That’s about as different as Ibiza and the Isle of Man.”

Marcia stood on diamanté sandal tip-toes, peering into the crowd, the dark river of fake hair flowing all the way down her bare back. “Him,” she said, pointing. “That’s who you’ll get off with if you get off with anybody.”

“Who?”

Marcia pointed again. “Him,” she said. “Tom Jones.”

 

“Mummy, I need to do a poo-poo!” In the supermarket toilets, a child’s urgent voice interrupts my reminiscences.

“Excuse me, will you be long?” her mother asks.

There are two blues lines showing in the clear plastic window of the tester stick.

“Only the other cubicle’s out of order, and I think this is an emergency,” the mother continues.

I’m pregnant.

“Sorry. I…I’ll be right out.” I get up in a daze, flush the toilet, and begin to fumble with carrier bags, testing stick and door.

I’m pregnant. Pregnant.

“Too late, Mummy. Too late…”

One of the carrier bag handles snaps, and as I scrabble for control, a box of tea bags and the testing stick skitter onto the floor.

“Mummy, I pooed my pants.”

The woman with the small child looks first at the stick, and then at me. “Good luck!” she says as her child begins to cry.

“Thank you.” I pick up the stick, and make my way from the toilets and out to my car. Load the bags into the boot of my car. Unlock the driver’s door. Get in. Just as if it’s any ordinary day.

But then I just sit there, gripping the wheel, staring straight ahead at nothing. My mouth’s numb and I’ve got pins and needles starting in my fingers. I want to cry because I’ve never felt so afraid and alone. And I want to laugh because I’ve never felt so excited and happy. It isn’t possible to feel all of those things at once, and yet I do.

I do.

 

Interview with Author Margery Walshaw

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I stumbled across Margery Walshaw’s new book, Full Color Life, at an opportune time. It deals with a subject that many of us struggle with as writers: staying motivated. This has been a real problem for me lately.

This book is less of a ‘how to’ writing manual and much more about how to get inspired and stay inspired. You say “writer’s block is almost always a matter of not knowing where our story should go.” When you hit a writer’s slump, how do you get out of it?

I talk about how to get out of a writer’s slump in my book. Some of my advice is simple such as getting outdoors, other times, it’s seeking inspiration from other sources such as music. When I personally hit a writer’s slump, I feel it’s important to remind myself to have confidence in the writing process. Meaning, I know that there will be days when the words fly out of me and days where I’m not focused.

It might sound a bit esoteric, but I truly believe that if we are open to inspiration it will find us. If I believe that the answer will come to me, it usually manifests itself fairly quickly. Of course, I’m thinking about the problematic section of my book and therefore, when I go about my normal activities, I’m much more likely to be on the lookout and be receptive to an answer.

 

I’ve called myself a writer for a long time, but I have a harder time identifying as an artist or creative. Can you talk a bit about how these labels overlap and the importance of claiming them?

The term “creative” as applied to an individual is a very Hollywood term and that’s where I first heard it, but I like it and apply it to all artistic people. I can meet a writer and just launch into a great conversation. It’s like we “get” each other. I think this is because we’re both writers, we’re creative, we’re artists. We often hear that labels are bad. But labels can be positive. If someone wants to call me an artist, rather than a writer, I welcome that label. I encourage people to come up with their own terms/labels. What do you want to be remembered for? Are you a writer, a creative, a story-teller, an entertainer…they’re all good choices.

 

Throughout your book, you’ve included interviews with a diverse group of creatives. Did you find commonalities?

It’s easy for me to quickly state what the commonality was among the people I interviewed. In a word: DRIVEN. They know what they want and work tirelessly for it. But, they love their work. In fact, it’s sometimes hard to even call it work because it embodies their whole being.

 

You write fiction under the name Mia Fox. What are some of the different challenges in writing fiction versus nonfiction? Which do you prefer?

There is a big difference to my mindset when I’m writing as Mia Fox (for fiction) or Margery Walshaw (for non-fiction). I sometimes say that Mia is my naughty alter ego. (Readers will know the truth of this if they check out my Surprise Passion series!) Mia gets to have all the fun while Margery has to be serious. However, I also use my fiction process as a means to help other authors. I test out different genres and see if they are selling well with readers. I test out different marketing tactics. I explain that I’d rather have Mia make the mistakes than my clients.

Writing non-fiction is my way of sharing the knowledge that I have accumulated professionally. But a writer writes and I wouldn’t be satisfied in life if I didn’t pursue my fiction and the fantasies that my stories lead me to. One writing is for entertainment and the other is for education. I love both.

 

One of the things that resonated most for me was the unexpected stumbling block you encountered when you finished your first book and had to start marketing it. How did you break out of your comfort zone?

When I wrote my first fiction book, like many new writers I expected to put it on Amazon and have people find it. That was terribly naive. Just think of how many books exist! But, they say ignorance is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. My solution was not to be ignorant, but to educate myself. I read tons of blogs from successful authors, internet marketers, even people who understood the nuances of internet advertising. And now, I share my knowledge as a writer’s consultant and on my blog.

 

You can check out blogs for Margery Walshaw or Mia Fox

 

Interview with Author Tabatha Stirling

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My New Year’s resolution was to get back to doing these author interviews that I think are so interesting. I love hearing from people who call themselves writers. I find our similarities as reassuring as our differences. I also think it’s particularly helpful in challenging the isolation that many writers face.

On that note, I’m excited to introduce the Today’s Author community to Tabatha Stirling, who shares her particular writing struggles, including the publication process of Unbound.

 

How old were you when you started writing? When did you decide you wanted to be published?

I was writing stories in my head before I could physically write. I think I was 7 years old when I met Pamela Kettle, the ultra-glamourous author-mother of my friend Danae, at Prep School.

I loved her at first sight. She had a massive, complicated auburn beehive, wore exotic, flimsy clothes, smoked Sobranie Cocktail cigarettes through an ivory holder (God! I know, but I was only 7), and swigged neat Stolichnya out of frosted glasses ringed with lime juice.

She wrote a few books I’d never heard of, but did I care? Not one bit and when I saw her name printed on the dust jacket I knew instinctively that I was going to be a published author one day.

It was hard for me because I suffer from Bipolar Type II and was un-diagnosed and un-medicated for a long time. This meant I had terribly low self-esteem and found it very difficult to finish projects or send anything off for query.

I found the physical act of writing torturous and was surprised when I was placed in the last 10 of a Comedy script competition run by the BBC. But I didn’t pursue it because I always felt a fluke and that anything successful that I did was by chance and I would never be able to replicate it.

My father was very unsupportive of my writing and my art. Actually, dismissive is more accurate. I remember him telling me that I should just go and get a secretarial job because ‘really, I was nothing special’.

I sometimes imagine where I would be in my publishing life if I had been supported. But that was the hand I was dealt and I’m delighted that I now have the chance to be traditionally published. botblunboundcoverpostcard

 

What’s your book about? Where did the inspiration come from?

My book explores the dark heart at the centre of Singapore’s maid culture and the abuses of human rights there.

I lived in Singapore from 2010 to 2014 and from my very first week I was appalled at the way both maids and helpers were treated.

Firstly, it is important to understand that these women and girls live in your house, usually in tiny little rooms, smaller even that most people’s utility rooms. They have one day off a week (there was no mandatory day off in Singapore for FDW (foreign domestic workers) before 2012), often work from 5.00 am to 11.00 pm with no breaks, are expected to hand over their passports to their employer and quite often are not allowed out in their free time.

If that wasn’t enough, some employers even change the women’s natural names to something Western and pronounceable. For example, from Rizel to Lisa. Some women come leaking breast milk, some women don’t see their children for 2-3 years and most send 80% of their money back to their home countries.

I was inspired to write the novel because I had no political voice in Singapore as an expat, demonstrations and political gatherings are illegal and the inhuman and corrupt maid agencies were not interested in a single person’s concern.

What I could do was write. And that is how Blood On The Banana Leaf came to life. I am passionate about these issues because all women deserve a voice, to be heard and not to feel invisible.

 

How long have you been working on this book? What else have you written?

I’ve been working on this book since 2013. I started writing it in my bedroom. My favourite place to write is my bed. I would have the fan on because I loathe AC and it gets pretty humid in Singapore and would stare out at the Banyan trees in the park and the incredibly fragrant frangipani in my neighbour’s garden.

It actually started out as a crime novel. I was washing up (as you do) and I thought ‘what if a Western employer had an affair with a maid, she became pregnant and they conspired to rid themselves of his present wife?’ And then it became something much more.

I began to see these stories from four very different women weaving in and around each other like four meandering tributaries exploring abuse of all kinds and how women cope in the most brutal of circumstances.

It was a very difficult book to write at times because much of the abuse described in the book are true stories trusted to me by helpers that lived close by, my beloved helper, Clarie and other women who had sought sanctuary at HOME, the NGO in Singapore. It is an incredible place that shelters women who want to return home but have no money for a multitude of reasons.

I’ve written loads of short fiction and poetry and have had quite a bit of success having things published which is very pleasing (and a relief). I’ve also written a 30 minute play, Don’t Like Mondays, about a school shooter. It is published on Amazon and was performed for Drama GCSE in 2014.

I have stories and poetry in two anthologies published by the Cake and Quill Collective and poetry being published in an up and coming anthology by The Feminine Collective.

Oh! And my next two novels are decided and sketched out. I think that’s it.

 

When you hit a writing slump, how do you get motivated again?

Writing blocks are the scourge of all writers in any genre but I think they are particularly dreadful for novel writers. Part of successful writing is the fluidity of the words, a flowing narrative and ideas springing from every corner of your world. This happens in patches and when it does you feel like you’re invincible and your novel is absolutely the best thing you’ve ever written. I think it feels quite like being in love. Intoxicating, heady and seductive.

On the flip-side when it staggers, drops to it’s knees and falls face down on the dusty page, then it feels as if you will never write anything good again, you will never be published and why the hell are you even bothering.

This is where writer’s groups are so important because you all understand this process and can lend moral support and practical ideas when someone is hollowed out with anxiety.

When it happens to me, I leave it to one side and design things. I am a book cover designer by trade and I just let the other side of my creativity make beautiful, colourful things.

Unlike writing, I never freeze up with design and I find it much easier. I can work for 18 hours a day on a design project and never get bored. Writing takes much more focus for me with frequent breaks and total silence.

I’ve always wanted to be a cool fantasy YA writer like Victoria Schwab and have groovy playlists that she publishes for her fans.

But no, frequent breaks, mostly on the net, and total silence.

I have a young, energetic family and an incontinent Beagle so total silence is very unusual but I’ve got to bang on with editing soon and some friends have offered a room when I need the peace.

 

Tell me a bit about the Unbound process.

The Unbound process is a white-knuckle, white water rafting experience. It is a game of sweat, tears and so much sighing that one sometimes wonders what it’s all about. But never, ever, ever do I regret signing with Unbound or starting the journey because once I’m funded I will be traditionally published and that is all I have ever wanted as a writer.

I know some authors write to tell their stories to readers, and some just because they love it and some because it’s a bit of a hobby.

I write to tell my stories, to make a really good living, to become an acclaimed writer in my field and to be able to write full-time. I may not achieve all these goals but I’m going to have fun trying.

Unbound is a literary crowdfunding platform but unlike other crowdfunding models it has a strict submissions process, a traditional publishing house that kicks in once funding is achieved AND a distribution deal with Penguin Random House which means our books will be in Waterstones and other well-known book shops.

I was signed by Scott Pack (iniitally through a Twitter pitch) who was Head Buyer for Waterstones for 10 years. I first heard of Scott when I was on Authonomy, a writing site that gave authors a chance, if their book was popular enough, to get to the ‘Editor’s Desk’ and receive a critique from a reader at Harper Collins.

But first you have to crowdfund your book with pledges by many, many people. And trust me, even if you have a billion friends on Facebook and 2000 followers on Twitter not everybody understands the idea.

I’ve had people think I’m asking for a loan and becoming quite cross and at times it does feel really grubby. But this idea, the idea of Patrons funding books has been around since Dickens who, incidentally, used the same model to fund some of his best known works.

British culture is Fort Knoxed about asking for money. The Americans and Chinese are much more open to it but still I keep banging on those doors and am now up to 50% which is half-way there. A very exciting milestone.

There are some incredible rewards for supporters even at entry Patron level. £15.00 will get your name on the Supporters page of EVERY edition of the book. Literary immortality for fifteen quid is not a bad deal!

So that’s a tiny window into my mercurial brain. Thank you for reading my article and do remember to pledge if you feel inspired: www.unbound.com/books/blood-on-the-banana-leaf

And thank you, Katie, for having me. Some great questions to answer.

You can check out Tabatha’s blog here.

Interview with Author Gail Cleare

gailMany years ago, I participated in an online writing community that has since closed. Authonomy had a section of comment boards where different topics were discussed and one of the most helpful of those were the critiquing groups. They were organized by genre and Gail Cleare ran the Women’s Fiction Critique Group. When the site closed down, it was this group that many of us were most distraught to lose. And so we didn’t. We moved the group to another forum where it continues to run under Gail’s care.

I was able to read her new novel for that group and I’m thrilled to announce it’s being published today! Gail talked to me recently about her life as a writer.

When did you start writing and when did you start calling yourself a writer?

I wrote my first poem when I was ten. It was selected to appear in the literary journal at my school, the first time a fourth grader’s work had ever been chosen, and that was it for me—I wanted to be a Writer. I wrote stories all through high school, won two big contests, studied the craft in college, had my poetry performed in live theater in Boston, and then…remembered I needed to earn a living. So I wrote marketing/PR copy for many years, while dreaming of having the time to write novels because then I would be a real Writer. Instead, I raised three boys and settled for writing ads and content for AOL until 2010, when the stars aligned just right and I wrote my first full-length work, DESTINED, a novel of the Tarot. That’s when I started calling myself a Writer, though I had been a writer of another sort for my entire career.

Talk to me about your writing process. What is your preferred writing environment? How long does it take you to complete a book? At what stage of writing do you find outside feedback helpful? How do you sift through differing advice? When do you think about the audience your book appeals to? 

I write in a blue room at the very top and back of my house, sitting in front of a double window that looks out over many acres of fields and forest. Birds fly by at eye level. It’s lovely. My first book took only five weeks for the first draft and I worked on it every day, straight through. THE TASTE OF AIR has been rewritten three times and took a total of five years, with several stops and starts. After the first draft, I took started looking around for an online writing group because I needed feedback, and I found HarperCollins website for authors, Authonomy. Unfortunately, that site is closed now, but it’s where I originally started the Women’s Fiction Critique Group (WFCG), which has since moved to WriteOn. I find it incredibly helpful to be critiqued by other serious writers in the same genre. If you get a dozen or more opinions all at once, you can see the trends and understand which comments are personal taste vs. which views are held in common, and clearly identify flaws in the work. At that point, I make a judgment call and go with whichever path seems both practical and likely to take care of the unresolved issues. I think about the audience for the book all along, starting from the first draft of the first chapter. I shape the voice and the story with that in mind.

You run an online critique group for writers of women’s fiction. What has that group meant to you as a writer?

Yes, I mentioned the WFCG above. It has meant an enormous amount to me, in terms of making friends like you, Katie, who I met there on Authonomy, and because access to the group mind has been invaluable. We share reviews, information, experiences, leads, jokes and sympathy. There are several writers’ groups locally where I live, but they are for all genres. I am much more interested in having my work critiqued by authors who like to read similar books, rather than by writers who enjoy science fiction or detective stories, for example. By going online, we’ve been able to collect WF authors from around the world, and many current and past members of the group are doing really well, I’m glad to say.

Your new novel, The Taste of Air, is being released today. What is the book about and who should read it?

The Taste of Air is the story of two sisters who discover their mother has been hiding a secret life for over forty years. When Mary Reilly turns up in a hospital hundreds of miles from the senior community where she lives, Nell and Bridget find out she has a lakeside cottage in Vermont, a Westie named Winston, and a set of complex relationships with people her daughters have never met. The family drama plays out from the middle of the 20th century into the present, revealing the sacrifices all three women have made and the secrets they carry.

If you ever wondered what your mother is really like, you should read this book. It’s a family saga with mystery/historical elements, exploring the woman’s journey through three strong main characters. Readers of Sarah Jio, Kate Morton, Susan Wiggs and Luanne Rice will enjoy this story.

What’s your next project?

I’m working on the second draft of something much lighter called “Love & Chocolate, a romance with recipes.” It’s the story of a young woman who has been burned by a bad marriage, and tries to protect her heart by substituting chocolate and cybersex for the real thing. Every chapter ends with a chocolate recipe, or a bit of cocoa trivia. This book is nearly finished and I hope to have it out next year.

I’m also working on a sequel to The Taste of Air. A young girl introduced at the very end of the first book becomes the main character of the second, and the saga of the Reilly clan continues.

More information about Gail Cleare can be found on her website.

Interview with Author Jennie Ensor

jenny_ensor_author_photoI first “met” Jennie Ensor years ago on a now defunct writer’s website. We both belonged to a critique group there and I was able to read an earlier draft of her recently released novel, Blind Side. I’m rereading the polished, final version and I’m enjoying it even more the second time around. I recently talked to Jennie and got her to answer a few questions about writing, editing, and about her new book.

Jennie- I just started rereading, though it’s been long enough that I can’t tell for sure what’s new. Is the prologue new? It’s fantastic…

Thanks Katie – and thanks too for inviting me here. I added the prologue fairly late on, yes – good to know it works! It’s a short passage that plunges the reader into the action straight away, taken from a chapter near the end of Blind Side. The aim is to let the reader know the kind of book this is (a thriller infused with psychological suspense, terrorism, romance and politics!) as well as to create suspense as to what will happen.

So I love reading a piece I’ve read before that’s been revised and perfected. Tell me how long it took you to write this from the time you typed your first line until your publisher took it from your hands.

I started mulling over ideas and scribbling them down late 2004 early 2005 – so long ago I’ve forgotten exactly when. My novel was accepted for publication by Unbound in October 2015 (conditional on crowdfunding, see below). So around 11 years in total, though I did write another novel during this time and finish one I’d started earlier. I must have revised it ten or more times – I’ve lost count of how many! And before Blind Side was published I had to make many more changes (more on that later). Thank goodness there’s no more to make!

We ‘met’ in a writer’s critique group. How do you feel about the value of getting feedback as you’re writing?

It gives an immediate insight into how your work in progress comes across. Also other writers can make useful suggestions as to how to fix problems and can often articulate issues better than non-writers. Often there’s plenty of quite small things that people will pick up on, which a single editor may not. Though some find it confusing, I like getting a diverse range of views – with practise I’ve found it easier to decide which points I will act on. I think peer critiquing is one of the purest forms of feedback a writer can have. No money changes hands, which could influence things, only time and effort. You get back what you put in – there’s so much to learn from the attempt to help others. Last but not least, a group can really help one to soldier on in the face of discouragement, I’ve found – and be there to cheer on the successes.

I know a little bit about your struggle toward publication but can you describe the process you went through with Unbound?

The most difficult part was raising over £3000 to cover the costs of publication. For each pledge there’s a reward offered, e.g. a video of the novel’s settings that I’m doing my best to get done now. In the UK people aren’t used to crowdfunding as much as in the US, so you have to do a lot of explaining as to how it works and the publishing model. Like many others I found the first 30% or so came in relatively quickly… then it got difficult. I tried all sorts of things in the later stages. When my allotted three months were nearly at an end I’d reached only two thirds of my target and was trying not to panic. Fortunately, two very special people came forward and lifted me across the finish line.

Once the book was funded, I believe the processes are similar to traditional publishing – this is my first published novel so I’ve got nothing to compare it with. Blind Side is also the first title in Unbound’s new digital list (comprised of e-books), mainly genre-oriented fiction. There was an intensive period of editing and cover design – I was surprised at how much consultation was involved to produce the cover. But it’s nice to be able to say that in part at least it was my idea 🙂 I was thrilled with the final cover – I’m hoping the e-book sells enough copies to allow it to come out as a paperback version and be seen in its full glory!

Regarding the editing, I was asked to make many substantial changes for the developmental edit, such as changing the whole thing into present tense. I also altered aspects of the plot to make things hang together better and brought forward some elements to speed up the read. After reading my editor’s first report I felt daunted by the extent of the changes she suggested… especially the re-plotting, which was like tearing apart a jigsaw you’ve spent ages on knowing you’ll have to rebuild a bigger better one in only a few weeks. But as I made the changes I could see that they worked and knew I was doing the right thing.

How did you decide to change the title? 

I’d had my title ‘Ghosts of Chechnya’ for years – it was the second title after ‘Nikolai’. I started thinking of an alternative after my editor suggested that the title didn’t reflect the central character’s situation. I’d had doubts about it too for a while – many people didn’t respond well to ‘Chechnya’. The publisher also wanted a title that would suggest a thriller… After much hand wringing I came up with ‘Blind Side’, which totally fits the novel. But it’s taken quite a while to get used to it – and of course some people like the old one better.

Can you tell us what the book is about and give an excerpt?

Off the top of my head, Blind Side is about two guys who want the same girl. One she’s known a long time as a platonic friend, she thinks she is close to him then realises she doesn’t really know him as well as she thought. The other she is wildly attracted to but he has been traumatised by fighting in Chechnya, and is potentially dangerous. My central character Georgie has issues with trust having been badly hurt before; in essence she has to decide whether to risk making herself vulnerable, or to carry on as she is, living half a life.

I focus a lot on relationships and the (often abnormal) psychology of my characters, as is the case with many psychological dramas/thrillers. But the setting of my novel is 2005, amid the terror attacks on London. Embedded in the story are social and political currents of the time, e.g. people’s suspicions and fears of immigrants and outsiders, which seemed to escalate after 7/7 having already been heightened by the UK general election earlier that year. Also the war in Chechnya, which plays a part too… Tongue slightly in cheek, I’ve described Blind Side as The Book of You (a sinister stalker novel by Claire Kendall) meets a condensed version of Gone With the Wind.

Below is a short chapter from fairly early on – the first time Julian appears in the novel in the first person.

She’s standing there, across the lane. Close enough for me to call out hello.
Blue jeans, padded jacket, short boots, the furry insides folded over at the tops.
Not much make-up. Hair loose, tickling her shoulders. Scarf draped chicly
about her neck. With her long legs and silky hair she could pass for a model.

Every so often she looks at her watch. She’s getting agitated, chewing her
lower lip, staring at people passing by. Men, that is. Her hair keeps getting
blown across her face and each time she pulls it off with an impatient flick
of the fingers. The wind has a nip in it today. She hugs herself and rubs her
arms. She pushes her hands down into her jacket pockets, rocking from one
foot to the other.

It’s busy in this quaint little lane. People ducking in and out of boutiques
and bakeries, yakking in French, supping their Saturday morning cappuccinos.
Old ladies creaking along in cashmere coats and sensible shoes, trendy mums
pushing designer kids. Oh, yes, and little old me loitering in a doorway,
watching.

A burly man in a khaki jacket strides into view from the direction of the
Tube station. His hair is hidden by a beanie. She checks him out too. A sharp
turn of the head and the expectant look on her face is wiped in an instant. He
disappears into the gallery.

Russell Brand, or his lookalike, emerges from a florist. Diamond earring,
pirate beard. She looks again at her watch, ignoring him. Her mouth twists in
frustration. She jams her hands in her pockets and strolls along the lane, away
from me.

I drain my coffee, ditch the plastic cup. She stops and looks into the
florist’s window. I go closer, almost close enough to reach out and touch her.
Her long earrings nestle into the curve of her cheekbones. She’s wearing
gloss on her lips. A trace of light perfume reaches me. Something new, inviting.
I feign an interest in the garish display of tulips, unnatural yellows and reds.
Funny how dark glasses and a hat can make such a difference. She doesn’t
recognise me, doesn’t even see me.

What are you working on now?

I stopped writing poetry for a while due to so many demands on my time, and I do miss it. It seems to access another part of the brain to that needed for prose writing. I’ve started writing flash fiction and want to experiment a little with the form. I’ll probably need to revise my second novel (an unsettling psychological thriller) once more before it can be published, my next goal. Also I’m keen to get stuck into something new, not sure what yet.

To find out more about Jennie, check out her website at www.jennieensor.com

Interview with Author Jim Nelson

jim_nelson_author_photoJim Nelson’s new novel, The Bridge Daughter, was released last month. This alternate history/science fiction tale is a bit of a departure for him genre-wise and he talked to me about that and about his writer’s journey.

Do you know what genre you are going to write in before you start, figure it out as you go, or only decide what it is after it’s finished?

For Bridge Daughter, the genre kind of came and found me. The idea of a world where bridge girls are surrogates for their mothers, carrying their mothers’ child to birth, is not subject matter I’d normally write, but I was fascinated with the concept and the character. When I put it all together and began writing chapters, I realized it would be considered science or speculative fiction. But I wasn’t thinking of that when I started.

What other genres do you write in and did you write in that genre since you began writing?

I was a huge science fiction fan in my youth, but other than a terrible short story I wrote decades ago, I never took a stab at writing in the genre. Most of my work would be considered straight-ahead fiction, although some of it veers into the absurd (Edward Teller Dreams of Barbecuing People, my short story “A Concordance of One’s Life”).

Writing Bridge Daughter has made me re-think writing science fiction, and I’m now sketching ideas for another book in the genre. Going back to science fiction feels a little like returning to my hometown as an adult an re-seeing it all through new eyes.

When did you begin writing and when did you decide to work toward publication? What has that journey been like?

I grew more serious about my writing when I was in my late 20s. I’d started a web site in 1995, what we’d today call a blog, but this was before that word existed. Writing regularly for it got me thinking of authoring stories and novels. My first serious attempt at a novel (Edward Teller Dreams) I started in 1999, although I only published it in 2014, so that gives you an idea of how rocky the journey’s been.

Do you read in the same genre(s) you write in? Are there particular authors who inspire you?

One science fiction author who inspired Bridge Daughter in an oblique way was William Gibson, a writer I admire a great deal. His early cyberpunk novels were a blast of fresh air in the 1980s. I was especially drawn to their near-future feeling, the way their world did not seem wildly alien to the world we lived in back then, just more gritty and claustrophobic. His world was the 1980s fast-forwarded instead of a new world invented from the top down. That partially inspired me to set Bridge Daughter in a world almost exactly as our own, save for the biological difference.

Tell us a bit about your most recent book. Can you share an excerpt?

Bridge Daughter regards a 13 year-old girl named Hanna who learns she is a “bridge daughter,” that she has been carrying her mother’s fetus since birth. In a few months she will grow visibly pregnant, give birth, and die, leaving her parents with their “real” child. Hanna refuses to accept her fate and is determined to find a way to live to adulthood.

Hanna had a vague idea about bridge parties. She’d heard the term many times. She knew it didn’t involve cards, that was a nervous slip on her part. She also knew a bridge party was for adults and not children. In particular, it was not for the bridge daughter, at least in the sense that the bridge daughter did not participate in it.

Family television shows often featured episodes about bridge parties. Hanna never understood the fuss. The bridge daughter would sit off to the side staring into the camera, pregnant and mute, as she always did in these TV shows. Family and neighbors arrived at the house with food, flowers, and wine. Every so often, the bridge daughter would rise from her isolated chair and go about the party gathering dirty plates and discarded wrapping paper. If the party went late, the bridge daughter would be sent to her bedroom while the revelry continued.

Often in these television shows some major dramatic moment would occur. The family doctor, Scotch-and-soda in hand, would let slip he’d diagnosed the father with cancer. Or the eldest sister would announce she’d been accepted to a prestigious university like Harvard or Stanford. The bridge daughter never spoke, of course. On television, everything important happened to other people, never the bridge daughter.

Hanna never quite understood why they were called “bridge parties.” The bridge daughter had little to do in these TV shows. She stood to one side while the rest of the family went through their weekly crises and upheavals. The bridge daughter served dinner and cleaned the house and answered the door when the bell rang. On shows set in the costumed past, she darned socks and tended the sheep pen and threw logs on the fire when the flames drew low. Even that afternoon at the bakery, a few bridge daughters were helping their mother with the day’s errands. Mute and deferential, clad in neutral-color dresses and soft-soled shoes, they were easily overlooked, but not by Hanna.

To learn more about Jim, check out his website.

 

Interview with Author Ferris Robinson

ferrisFerris Robinson’s new novel, Making Arrangements, was released yesterday, on July 5, 2016. She’s written cookbooks and articles for years, but this is her first work of fiction. In this interview, she answers my questions about writing and publishing and talks about the book.

When did you start calling yourself a writer? Do you consider yourself trained or self-taught?

I have always written – I made little books out of cardboard and scratch paper when I was a child, and they were pathetic. The first time it occurred to me I may actually be good at it was during an entrance exam for a private high school in Chattanooga, GPS. I failed miserably at math, science, history, general reasoning… everything EXCEPT the writing portion. I had described a section of Woods Creek in Marion County where I grew up – I just pictured the tree limb hanging over the water and imagined the sound of the water and an occasional car over the old wooden bridge. Anyway, my description gave me a shot and I graduated from there.

I took a few writing classes in college, and wish I’d majored in it. After college, the lifestyle editor of our daily paper gave me freelance assignments, and eventually a column, but I still didn’t call myself a writer. Lots of ‘less than’ feelings there I suppose. I write regularly now at my job at a monthly community newspaper, The Lookout Mountain Mirror and The Signal Mountain Mirror, and although I am confident writing articles, it’s hard to say “I’m a writer.”

I suppose I am a combo of being taught and self taught, and am still learning lots and lots.

How long were you writing before publishing your first book? Did you try the traditional publishing route — sending queries to literary agents? What are your thoughts on traditional versus self-publishing?

Four years ago I sent out about 75 queries for my book, and waited on a few bites for partials and one full, which were rejected at the end. But I ended up with an agent for Making Arrangements. She was with a respected NY agency and I got her because her brother dated my niece and she agreed to read my manuscript. She ended up leaving the agency for another career with a tech company, and wasn’t able to sell it. That was in 2013. I put it away for a few years. A friend who had read it said, “Of all the things you’ve written, I like your novel the best,” and she urged me to publish it. I pulled it out of the drawer and reworked it mightily. I added/changed/deleted/deepened all different parts of it, and decided I liked it as well.

I thought about trying to find an agent again, but it’s such a long shot and I wasn’t up for the inevitable wait. I was excited about my book and wanted to get it out there. Kindle Scout was new to me, but a few folks I know online in writing communities gave me their opinions and I went for it. The campaign was nerve-wracking, but also fun in a way. And I was beside myself to be chosen!

I think the publishing industry is definitely changing.

Who are your favorite authors?

I love Lee Smith, Lolly Winston, Claire Veye Watkins, Rick Bragg, Ann Patchett and Anne Lamott among others.

What’s your latest book about?

Cancer patient Lang Eldridge spent her supposed final year of life making sure her soon-to-be widowed husband could manage without her. Ha! After he drops dead on the tennis court, Lang, alive and well, discovers a secret that could ruin her life. If she lets it.

Making Arrangements is the story of the perfect arrangements going completely awry, and the consequences of that. The protagonist must decide whether that particular fall-out is going to change her life, or if it isn’t.It deals with themes of forgiveness and friendship, and champions women who are strong, yet don’t know it yet.

How do you plan to celebrate your book release?

I hope to go out to dinner with my husband (who thinks it’s ironic that my protagonist’s husband dropped dead of a heart attack – he had open heart surgery 23 years ago, at the age of 34, and thinks this story is Freudian on some level! He jokes that all those years of healthy cooking to keep him alive made me snap.)

To learn more about Ferris, check out her website: http://www.ferrisrobinson.com/

Interview with Author Jessica Knauss

Jessica Knauss Author Photo“So much Talent can kill you.” So begins the blurb for Jessica Knauss’ new paranormal novel, Awash in Talent. A writer with a diverse publishing history, Knauss shared some of her insights with me.

I was looking at your Amazon author page and I see you have several books out already in various genres. Do you consider genre before you start writing or does it emerge during the process?

I only consider genre after I’ve told the story I want to tell. With my historical fiction, it’s easy to assign categories. With my fiction set in the present day, it’s always a little harder. I really found my contemporary voice when I started reading the magical realists, but that’s not a genre that necessarily attracts a lot of readers. For Awash in Talent, I went with contemporary (to distinguish it from my medieval fiction) paranormal (because some characters have supernatural powers). I’m also happy placing it in women’s fiction because of the sharp focus on female characters’ experience of this slightly strange world, and parts of it qualify as YA or New Adult because of the characters’ ages. I think I wrote about teenagers because their struggles are universal.

Do you plot it all out on note cards or does the ending come as a surprise to you, too?

To call them note cards would be an exaggeration. When I’m writing something that stays as close to the original inspiration as Awash in Talent does, I scribble scenes and character development dilemmas on whatever paper is at hand. It’s a raging mess by the time I get to the end, which, now that you mention it, is normally a mystery to me until I’m right up on it.

Often, in order to properly end a novel, I have to pause in the writing and review the entire story to consider what would be the best earned emotional experience for the reader. I ended Awash in Talent with a summary sentence that I thought might be cheating a little, but no one’s complained about it so far.

Can you talk a bit about your experiences with publishing and what got you to try Kindle Scout?

While I was shopping around my first novel, I considered submitting it to the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest, but in the end, it wasn’t the right novel for that process. After an arduous journey through agent rejections and rewrites, I placed that novel with a small press. What a relief! By that time, I was ready to shop Awash in Talent, but the first novel had exhausted me. I thought Awash was the right kind of novel for the ABNA, only to find that program had been discontinued. Instead, I stumbled across Kindle Scout, which has many of the advantages of traditional publishing with a modern, almost crowdsourcing approach to the slush pile. I only had to receive two rejections of Awash in Talent to convince me that Kindle Scout was the way to go. I knew somehow that it would be able to attract the audience it couldn’t at a small press.

It was a dream come true to have Awash in Talent accepted. Perhaps the best thing about Kindle Scout is that the published books are called winners!

What are the challenges faced by your main characters in Awash in Talent?

Three novellas make up the novel Awash in Talent, each one narrated by a different young woman who is challenged by the role of the rare Talented people in a mostly un-Talented world. This includes the firestarters and psychics being more or less reviled, and all three types being under constant surveillance.

In the first novella, Emily faces smaller challenges in her fraught dealings with her family and her pursuit of a man who doesn’t return her affection. In the second, Kelly has to make a go of a school for firestarters that is more like a lockdown facility and deal with the ups and downs of friendship and love, all while figuring out a way escape the school to save her mother’s life. In the final novella, Patricia is a psychic in hiding. She must avoid revealing her Talent and remedy her failing marriage. On top of it all, she finds her most difficult psychological therapy client ever in Emily, who told us the story from her perspective in the first novella. While focusing on young women, Awash in Talent brings up a variety of social issues I hope will resonate with readers.

What inspires you to write? If you ever get stuck, what helps you get unstuck?

I love that juicy feeling called inspiration. It can come from just about anywhere, but Awash in Talent is based on a dream. I’ve written a lot of stories based on dreams, but I never thought a single dream could carry an entire novel. And indeed it doesn’t. During the writing process, new inspirations cropped up to keep the story afloat. Many of them came from my love of Providence, Rhode Island. Imagining the characters in that unique city, it sometimes felt like the story wrote itself.

I can’t afford to get stuck with writing often because I have so little time to do it. But if I’m really having trouble with a scene, I imagine the characters fully in the setting, as if it were a movie. Positioning yourself as a spectator to the story takes away some of the pressure and helps the action to be character-motivated. Watching in this manner, it’s easy to spot if a character does something unlikely.

The release day for Awash in Talent is June 7th. How do you plan to celebrate?

I’m planning a book launch party. I’m not sure it will be on June 7. If it isn’t, I’ll be sure to commemorate the day in some small way. My first book launch is certainly not like any other day!

If you’d like more information about Jessica Knauss, check out her website!

Attending Writing Workshops

writingworkshopIn the age of the internet, it’s become much easier to find other writers to bounce ideas off of, commiserate with and be motivated by. It can be harder to find that community in the real world.

If you participate in NaNoWriMo, you may have noticed that they schedule in-person write-ins. Another option, especially if you live near a large city, is a writing workshop. These are often put together by a local college and they bring published authors and literary agents together to share their expertise – for a small fee.

I’ve been lucky in Tucson where we have the free Festival of Books every February at the University of Arizona and the Pima Writers’ Workshop in May. I’ve attended four or five times and was disappointed to learn this year – its 28th – would be the last.

It got me thinking whether these real world opportunities are going the way of the Dodo bird… or the print book. Now that it’s gotten so easy to look up what top literary agents have to say about writing queries, is there simply less demand for a chance to hear an agent speak to a  half-full auditorium about it?

What gets lost with that kind of thinking is the networking potential. My favorite part of the workshop was the manuscript consultation where you’d get a professional read and critique of thirty submitted pages. I’m still thinking about some of the feedback I got yesterday – so much more useful than a form rejection letter.

If you can find a workshop to attend in your area, I’d recommend it. Pay attention to what the agent says and when you send a query, let them know you saw them, mention something from their speech. Making a personal connection matters. I heard that once from an agent giving a speech in a half-full auditorium.

Take advantage and go to one of these workshops before they’re extinct.

Interview with author Erik Therme

Author photo Erik ThermeI love hearing from different authors about their writing process and road to publication. I find it reassuring that we all have different stories; there is no singular “right” way to do it. I recently got the chance to speak with author Erik Therme. His new YA thriller was selected for publication by KindleScout. Here’s what he had to say:

Your book sounds really scary. How scary is it and what is it about?

Resthaven, at heart, is a young adult novel, so I tried not to make it too terrifying. I have two teenage daughters (one that’s obsessed with horror movies) so I wanted to write something they would enjoy. The story follows a pack of girls who venture into an abandoned retirement home for a scavenger hunt, and everything quickly goes wrong. I’ve always wanted to tell a story that unfolds in a creepy, old building, and Resthaven fit the bill nicely.

When did you start writing? Have you always written in this genre?

I began writing stories in junior high, but it wasn’t until college that I began working on novels. They were all pretty lousy, but as most writers know, you have to write a few bad books to learn how to write good books. As far as genre . . . I never consciously think about it when I start a new project, but everything I write seems to gravitate toward suspense with ‘twinges’ of horror. I clearly enjoy making readers squirm.

What are some of your literary influences- books or authors?

One of my all-time favorite books is Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger. I’ve often thought about trying my hand at literary fiction, but I’m probably not talented enough to pull it off. Stephen King has always been a huge influence, and I’m a big fan of Alden Bell, who wrote the brilliant novel, The Reapers Are the Angels. It’s a tasty bit of literary fiction, set in a post-apocalyptic world of zombies. Truth be told, I’ll pretty much read anything that catches my interest.

How did you go about getting published? What brought you to KindleScout?

Like many authors, I chased literary agents for years in the hopes of bridging the gap to a traditional publisher. After a very close call with Gillian Flynn’s agency, I decided it was time to take matters into my own hands and self-publish. Shortly after the release of my first book, I received an e-mail from Thomas & Mercer publishing, who had discovered the work and wanted to acquire it. Needless to say, I was thrilled. When I finished Resthaven, I knew the story wouldn’t be a right fit for them (they don’t handle young adult) so I submitted the book to Kindle Scout. Two months later it was selected for publication, and I was off and running.

What are you working on now?

I’m knee-deep into a third mystery about a father searching for his missing daughter. I’m also tweaking a short novel (written years ago) that I hope to release next year, and I’ve been outlining a sequel to my debut mystery, Mortom.

Erik’s new book was released April 12th. Check it out!