Interview with Tricia Drammeh

Tricia DrammehTricia Drammeh is an author who writes in many genres: YA, fantasy, paranormal, romance, and women’s fiction. I asked her to share her thoughts on craft and publishing.

Do you decide on genre before you start writing? Does your audience shift or is there crossover?

I usually have some idea of genre, though there have been times I’ve been surprised by the outcome. For example, with Better than Perfect, I had originally intended to write a romance. It turned out to be Women’s Fiction, as the story focused more on the main character’s non-romantic relationships and her evolution as a person.

I would say my audience is broken down into two types of readers, though there is some crossover. There are the readers who fell in love with Better than Perfect and who wish I’d write more Women’s Fiction. Then there are my readers who love young adult fiction with a bit of fantasy. My writing has been all over the place in terms of genre, so I can’t really say I have a large, hardcore fan base who will read everything I write, though there are a few readers who fall into that category.

btpebook (7)What do you do when you get stuck in the writing process?

In cases where I have a deadline, I push through and force myself to write through the hard stuff. Without a deadline, I have a tendency to abandon projects, sometimes for months.

How many books have you written? How long does it typically take?

I have written nine full-length novels and one non-fiction book. When I began writing, I could complete a novel in about two months. Now, it takes much longer. I’m not a fast writer and I like to edit as I go.

What is your biggest challenge of self-publishing? What’s the best part?

Like many authors I’ve spoken with, my biggest challenge has been promotion and marketing. I feel very uncomfortable with self-promotion. The best part about self-publishing is having control of the publication process. I choose the book cover, the editor, and the publication date. It’s very empowering.

What are you working on next?

I just finished writing a short story for an anthology being published in June. My next project will be revisions on The Coven, a paranormal story for teens.

If you’d like more information about Tricia, check out her website.

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Interview with Debbie Burke

piano editDebbie Burke is one of the authors I’ve met since joining the community at Kindle Press. Her thriller, Instrument of the Devil, was selected by Kindle Scout’s crowd-sourcing program in October. I’ve asked her to tell us about her book and her writing process.

 

When did you start writing? When did you decide to pursue publication?

I wrote stories starting in third grade through college. Then career turned my focus to business writing. About thirty years ago, my husband and I moved to Montana where I found a wonderful writing community and I restarted with fiction. Sold my first short story for $5…and…the check bounced, a great lesson in the vagaries of publication. I also wrote magazine articles while working on numerous novels. The novels won contests and earned rave rejections from agents and editors but no publishing contracts. Finally, last year, my tenth book, Instrument of the Devil, won the Kindle Scout contest and was published. A thirty-year long haul but worth it.

Are you a ‘plotter’ or ‘pantser’? Do you outline a story before writing or make it up as you go?

Basically I’m a pantser. I have a starting point and an ending point but not many clues about the middle. The first draft is the skeleton to figure out the plot. Succeeding drafts, I add the flesh, muscle, sinew, layering on more with each rewrite. Sometimes characters appear and force their way into the story, changing the direction. Because I trust the power of the subconscious, I go with the flow. Usually it works out. Also my critique group helps when I get stuck, offering fresh ideas.

Do you read a lot of the mystery/thriller genre? Who are your favorite authors?

Because I do a lot of editing and beta-reading, I don’t have time to read as many books as I’d like. Probably my all-time favorite author is Raymond Chandler. I also admire Sue Grafton because she maintained high quality for decades until, sadly, the alphabet ended in “Y” when she recently passed.

InstrumentoftheDevil_KPress_Cover_FinalTalk about Instrument of the Devil.
Instrument of the Devil is about a terrorist who targets Tawny Lindholm, a technophobic widow, setting her up as a scapegoat in his plot to bring down the electrical grid. It takes place in Montana at the Hungry Horse Dam, a major power generating station for the Northwest US. The inspiration came from two sources: five years ago, I bought my first smartphone when they really took off in popularity. It confounded me with its antics–strange tones, inexplicable messages, a screen that spontaneously went black, etc. I assumed the problems were operator error, but it also made me wonder, what if a bad guy used a rigged smartphone to manipulate an innocent person to take the fall for a crime? At the same time, I was researching the vulnerability of the power grid and learned that a smartphone has the capability to access computers that control the grid’s inner workings. Those two components came together and the story was born. Then in 2016, the FBI thwarted a cyberattack by smartphone on a dam in New York, so I knew I was onto something that could really happen. A rigged smartphone is the Instrument of the Devil. Ironic postscript: after numerous trips to the phone store, it turned out my phone was defective so not all its antics were operator error.

What are you working on next?

Stalking Midas is a proposed title for the second book in the series. Tawny is working for the lawyer who helped her in Instrument of the Devil. He suspects his estranged father is a victim of elder fraud and sends Tawny to investigate. The plot involves a lucrative annuity scam that takes cruel advantage of senior citizens’ devotion to their pets. The third book in the series (proposed title The Suicide Gene) deals with teenage suicide.

Check out Debbie’s website at debbieburkewriter.com

Debbie is giving away three FREE signed copies of her book! Three winners will be chosen at random from all entries received by April 30. Enter by answering this question in the comments section:

Who are your favorite authors?

 

Interview with Louise Cole

LouiseColeLouise Cole is a fantasy writer whose book, The Devil’s Poetry, was published by Kindle Press in 2017. The sequel will be out this year. I got her to give her thoughts about publishing and writing and to talk about her books.

What do you do when you get stuck in the writing process?

I don’t really believe in writer’s block. I think it’s a bit of an indulgence – teachers and nurses and firefighters don’t get to say: ‘Oh I can’t work today. I’m blocked.’ They have to push through. And to some extent it is, therefore, about discipline. That said, not all writing is done at a keyboard. I usually find that when I’m not writing well, it’s because I don’t know where the story is going or what the point of the scene is. So I need to stop and do something else. Often manual labour which leaves your mind free – digging, washing up, walking the dog – is a great opportunity to let your subconscious solve problems. But I’m still writing. It is purposeful. I’m not just knocking off for the day.  Some people have to work stuff out by typing. Others – like me –  work it out by thinking, dreaming, living the scenes before we type. What you don’t get to do is say: “Shucks. I can’t do this now but it will magically come right tomorrow.” It only comes right when you put your mind to it.

Can you describe your path to publication? Did you query agents? How long did it take?

The Devil’s Poetry had a long and twisty path to publication. I have an agent, who loved the book but, as she sent it out, the UK publishing industry decided, more or less collectively, that it needed to turn its attention to middle grade novels and not YA. Editors felt that the YA  dystopian market must be running dry but they didn’t know what the next big thing would be. As a result we got a lot of lovely rejections, saying things like: “This isn’t where we’re putting our focus this year,” or even, from one editor; “I’d love to buy this but I’d never get it through acquisitions at the moment.” We were offered one deal which I declined on commercial grounds, and I decided to put the book out through Scout. I’ve always believed in The Devil’s Poetry as a book that could excite and move people and, really, I just wanted it to have an audience.

Would you recommend Kindle Scout to other authors?

This is a difficult question. Everyone’s path to publication is different, often from project to project. My first advice would be to write a book good enough to attract an agent. You don’t need to sign or take a trad deal – I’m talking about the quality of the book. There is a marked difference in quality between most traditionally published books and most self published books. When you look at the really successful self-pubbed authors like Hugh Howey and Michael J Sullivan, they wrote astoundingly good novels. They know their craft inside out and there is no sense that these books  are rushed or derivative or ‘good enough’. They stand their ground against anyone in their field. I know some self publishers take a different view and that’s a valid choice – but for my part, I wanted to write a really good book. Whether I’ve succeeded is up to you guys but that was my aspiration. Not to make a tonne of money or give up my day job. Just to write something other people would love.

Sorry, back to your question: If it’s your first novel and you have no following, then Scout may well give you more publicity and, if picked up, a stronger launch than otherwise. That was my reckoning and I think I was right, for me. If I already had lots of books out there, I’d run a campaign with a standalone because I think that has marketing benefits for your other work as well.

However,  if you are an established writer, I might think twice about putting a first in series into Scout. Keeping the rights to the first book may pay dividends in driving traffic and sell-through to your other novels.

For myself, overall it’s been a good experience. I’ve had more confidence than I would have had I put TDP out on my own; I’ve got more reviews and had more sales. It’s not a perfect experience  but frankly nor is working with most traditional publishing houses. But working with Kindle Press gives you a  great deal of liberty when doing your own marketing and building your platform and I really enjoy that.

Who are some of your favorite writers?

Oh golly. My heart has always belonged to the epic fantasy writers, which is strange given that my own fantasy is rooted in the real world. I think Tolkien, Robin Hobb, Leigh Bardugo, Brandon Sanderson. People who combine glorious characters, and vast but detailed worlds with an unerring instinct for style.

the-devils-poetry-cover-final1123Tell us about your books.

The Devil’s Poetry is about a girl who has the chance to stop world war three by reading from an ancient manuscript. In a way it’s an exploration of the whole magical solution question: if you could go back in time to shoot Hitler, would you? If you could wave a wand to solve world hunger, what would happen? So part of the novel looks at that question, the apparent no-brainer which actually, when it’s in your hands, turns out to be far more terrifying and complex than you had imagined. My 17 year old heroine, Callie, is torn between wanting to perform this one seemingly simple act and having a growing realisation that the consequences are unknowable. The Cadaveri – chaos inducing demons – seem determined to stop her from reading, as are other more human forces – but why? TDP  takes a fantasy element and drops it into the real world, a world that is so very nearly ours – filled with terrorism, rumbling wars and desperate peace talks. And it asks how you make the right decision when you never really know the truth.

But it’s also an action-packed thriller with a dash of love story and a glorious friendship.

The sequel to The Devil’s Poetry is on Kindle Scout now – it’s called On Holy Ground. It continues Callie’s story as faithfully as I can. It’s not an easy journey for her. Her dreams of breaking free from all of the allies and enemies she made during The Devil’s Poetry are scotch mist and she finds herself hunted and alone but this time in the United States. She desperately needs help – but whose agenda can she trust? Callie has to find the book and escape – or die trying.

You can follow Louise Cole on Facebook or Twitter.

 

Interview with Maria Riegger

Maria-13Maria Riegger is a lawyer and political junkie who lives in the DC area and has found a creative outlet by writing novels. She writes contemporary romance set in a political environment. Maria was nice enough to talk to me about her writing process and journey to publication.

When did you start calling yourself a writer? When did you decide you wanted to be published?

I’ve been writing since I was about twelve years old. I started calling myself a writer when I began working on my first novel. When I came up with the storyline for that novel (around 2012), I decided I wanted to publish it.

How did you determine that self-publishing was right for you? 

I knew immediately that I would self-publish. I prefer to retain 100% creative control, and I did not have the patience to shop my work around to publishers. I know several successful authors who self-published first before their work was picked up by publishers, so that is also a possibility.

thunderstruck-coloredDo your personal politics filter through when you’re writing fiction set in a political environment? How did the recent election affect your writing?

Yes, my personal politics do filter through, and that is by design (I also blog about constitutional law issues and other areas of interest to libertarians). I’ve received different advice from authors on whether or not to let readers know your political preferences. Some of the best advice I’ve received from successful authors is to write what you are passionate about, and readers will naturally be drawn to that. I will add, writing about your political or other personal preferences should always be done respectfully.

-The recent election did not really affect my writing. I’ve been disillusioned by the two-party system for years, and that has not changed.

What do you do when you get stuck in the writing process? 

I am always working on multiple books, so if I’m stuck on one, I will often work on another book. Sometimes I will ask other writer friends for advice. A good workout and taking some alone time also help spark creativity for me.

Talk a bit about your most recent book. How long did it take to write? Who is your audience? 

My most recent book, which will be published March 2018, is titled Thunderstruck. It is a standalone (not part of a series) contemporary romance novel set during a fictionalized political campaign. It took about a year to write (I work around my day job). It’s targeted to adults. Interestingly, I had several male friends who enjoyed my first two novels, Miscalculated Risks and Acceptable Misconduct, although I intended those books to be targeted more to women. I think that some of the themes, e.g. not fitting in, finding one’s purpose in life, uncertainty regarding relationships, resonated with men as well as women.

Learn more about Maria at www.lawschoolheretic.com. Her 99 cent sale starts today, January 15th.

Interview with author April Wood

I’ve “known” April Wood for several years in that internet 5photos6way where you get to feel like you know people you haven’t actually met in real life. I came across her awesome reader’s blog, A Well Read Woman, while I was promoting my first book.

Well, I noticed a change in her Facebook posts recently and was surprised to discover she had a book out! Then, two books! Needless to say, I was intrigued and wanted to add her to the interview ranks.

Ok, so I’ve always known you as a book blogger and I’m curious about the transition. Have you always written? When did you start calling yourself a writer?

Yes, I’ve been writing since I could form complete sentences on paper. I had all these “books” that I penned with crayon and sealed with contact paper — haha! But I didn’t consider myself a writer per se until I was published. I didn’t feel like I “earned” the title before this.

What has been the hardest thing about publishing? What has been the most fun?

I honestly can’t stand the publishing process but to have a bound book in my hand, that I wrote, has been unbelievably rewarding. It makes all the stress of publishing worth it.

When did you decide you wanted to be published?

As a blogger, I read all these great stories from authors, like yourself, who later became friends of mine. I wanted a piece of that — to share my stories with the world too. I’ve always written, but blogging and becoming part of the book community brought out a passion to fully immerse myself and become a published author myself.

What inspires you? What do you do if you get stuck?

Fantasy novels are fun to write because I can find inspiration from nature, painting a pretty picture with my words and developing settings that I could only dream of.

Writer’s block just plain sucks, but I find if I force myself to just sit down and start typing anyway, that something, even if it’s just a paragraph or an idea to come back to later, will mesh.

Talk a bit about your books. Who do you write for?

I write the kind of books that I would like to read. I write for people who enjoy witchcraft in fiction as much as I do. My stories are about young teen witches who have magical abilities related to their elements (earth, air, fire, water), fall under the spell of romance, and solve mysteries that hit close to home.

Check out April’s author site here.

Interview with author Carla Burgess

Carla Burgess is a women’s fiction writer I met in a critique group I’ve participated in for several years. (I highly recommend joining a group like this, for many reasons.) It wasn’t until another member mentioned it that I discovered she’d been published and that made me curious about all the usual things. She’s indulged me and answered my questions below.

What do you find most useful about belonging to a critique group?

Being a writer can be a lonely, isolating business, so having a support network of online friends is a wonderful thing. I found the Women’s Fiction Critique Group great for support and advice, and it was invaluable for gaining feedback on my manuscript. This was especially important in the early days when I was a ‘secret author’ and too scared to let friends and family read my work. Critiquing other writers’ work was also an interesting experience, and I found you could learn a lot from the whole process, especially when you read other people’s feedback and see how people’s opinions and reactions differ from your own. I enjoyed being part of the group and hope to become more active again one day, but unfortunately, recent deadlines have meant that I haven’t had the time to join in.

What kind of writer are you? Do you insist on daily word counts? Did you study writing in school? Do you edit as you go or force out a whole first draft first? Do you write in silence or with music? In the morning or at night?

I’m lucky enough to spend my days writing while my children are at school, but often I find it easier to write at night when everybody is in bed. It’s not so much the quiet that I need as I often listen to music while I write, but it’s more the fact that there’s no laundry to sort or cleaning to do. No one is going to phone me or ring the doorbell. I try to do 1000 words a day but if that’s not possible I don’t worry too much. If I’m on deadline, I tend to average about 4000 words a day. At the moment, I’m going over a first draft and am spending most of my time reading and making notes and thinking up alternative scenes, so I’m not making my word count but that’s okay. I’ve been on quite tight deadlines recently, so I’ve just been banging out a whole first draft first and resisting the urge to go back and edit what I’d already written. It was quite hard this time because I knew the beginning wasn’t right and wanted to tinker with it, but I also knew I needed to get the ending down so I forced myself to carry on. It was a big relief when I wrote the end and finally got to change my beginning.

What do you do when you get stuck in the writing process?

A change of scenery often works wonders. Sometimes it’s just a matter of walking the dog and an idea will pop into my head, but occasionally I’ll write a note in the text to come back to that bit and write a different scene to help move the story along.

Can you describe your path to publication? Did you query agents? How long did it take?

My path to publication was a bit of a shock really. I was on Twitter and saw a tweet from HQ Digital, which is a digital imprint of Harper Collins, asking for submissions of stories that start with a proposal. I wrote a synopsis and first chapter and sent it in, and then they called me to ask me to write it and offered me a two-book deal. I had the offer in February 2016, and Marry Me Tomorrow was published in October of the same year, so it was quite fast really. My second book, Stuck With You, was published in April 2017.

Talk a bit about your most recent book. How long did it take to write? Who is your audience?

I’ve since been offered another two-book contract from HQ Digital and my third book, Meet Me Under the Mistletoe is being published in October 2017. It’s a contemporary romance set at Christmas time, and follows Rachel, one of the characters from Stuck With You. She works in her family’s florist shop and is clashing with the grumpy but handsome new tenant in the flat above. It’s taken me just under four months to write the first draft, which is about 86k words. It will then go off to my editor who will make suggestions for structural edits, and then be proofed by a copy editor. I’ve just seen my new cover so it feels like it’s really happening now and I’m getting excited.

For book updates and author info, connect with Carla on Facebook!

Interview with Author Margaret K Johnson

margaretkjohnsonphoto

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 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 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 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/