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.

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The Writers Circle: Seeking Inspiration

TWC
One of our goals here at Today’s Author is to help all of the writers among us to do what we love to do: write. One of the best ways to accomplish this is by talking to each other and learning from each other.  Our Writers Circle series is designed to do just that – provide a chance for us to discuss writing, editing and publishing questions.

This week’s topic is:

We all have our favorite places to write, whether it’s a special spot at home, a specific corner table in the nearby coffee shop, the non-fiction stacks at the local library or a grassy hill overlooking a quiet lake.  What places inspire you to write and where do you go when you need a place that you can just keep writing?

Let’s discuss this in the comments and see what our community thinks.

The Writers Circle: Gifts for Writers 2016

TWC
One of our goals here at Today’s Author is to help all of the writers among us to do what we love to do: write. One of the best ways to accomplish this is by talking to each other and learning from each other.  Our Writers Circle series is designed to do just that – provide a chance for us to discuss writing, editing and publishing questions.

This week’s topic is:

With the holiday season upon us, thoughts turn to gifts for us or for our loved ones. What do you, as a writer, wish someone would give you as a gift this holiday season? What are you planning to give to the writers on your gifting list? If you’ve been shopping this past weekend or today for Cyber Monday, did you come across any great writer-oriented gifts?

Let’s discuss this in the comments and see what our community thinks.

Creative Anxiety

It’s been a month already, huh? As you may or may not recall, last time I rambled for a bit on Today’s Author, it was about the differences between the writing process and a writing cycle. The short version looks like this:

The Writing Cycle

I think that with some very minor revisions, we could view any creative output through a similar lens.

Of course, this is just how one guy thinks about it (that’s me). And I admittedly think about creativity a lot—maybe too much. I am inherently curious about what triggers creativity and why it happens the way it happens for the people it happens for. But that’s for another day.

Today, I want to look at anxiety in both the creative process and the creative cycle–creative anxiety, we could call it. I think that artists are, on average, a pretty anxious breed. We worry about almost everything it seems, but in my experience the anxiety is worst at the beginning of the writing process and at the end of the writing cycle.

When I start a new writing project, I freak out in the early going. Are the ideas good enough? Does the story have enough going on? Are these characters interesting? As a “fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants” writer for a good chunk of the process, this anxiety hangs around for a while. As a writer of general fiction, the anxiety starts to fade when I get up around 40,000 words. It’s almost all gone by the time I finish my outline of the last half of the book. That’s when I know, for better or worse, the book will be finished. The momentum takes over.

Writing poetry was similar. At the inception of an idea for a new poem, I was nervous about writing. I would struggle through the lines for a while, and eventually, if the poem was meant to be, some line or couplet or stanza would snag me and the anxiety would fade away.

I enjoy the early stages of the process, though—in spite of the anxiety. It’s new and exciting and I’m learning about these new people, so there is a chance that some of that anxiety comes from the excitement of starting something new.

 

We’ve established that the writing cycle encapsulates all of the movements of any writing project—from its planning, to its editing and revision, to cover design and layout, all the way through publication, if that is the goal of the project. Of course, a creative cycle can end when you put the binder clip on and shove it in the back of a drawer. Once a writing project is abandoned for whatever reason, that cycle is done.

I’ve learned that I feel the greatest anxiety at the very end of this process. When I’m out promoting the book, I’m anxious about two things:

1.    My creation doesn’t belong to me anymore. It belongs to the world. Will they take care of it? Will they love it? Will they hate it and burn it? Will they understand it?

Not that any of that really matters. It’s up to readers to read and draw their own conclusions. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t still a source of anxiety.

2.   What will the next project be?

This is different from the anxiety felt at the beginning of the writing process. Here, we worry if we will have another idea worth pursuing with the same vigor as the one that just wrapped. Will we always have stories to tell? For some people, it may be alright to imagine a world where they don’t write anymore. But for me? I don’t know what that looks like.

There is a great scene in Salman Rushdie’s autobiography, Joseph Anton: A Memoir, where a young Rushdie meets Kurt Vonnegut. Vonnegut asks the young writer, who was fresh off publishing Midnight’s Children, “Are you serious about this writing business?” When Rushdie responds that he is, Vonnegut says, “Then you should know that the day is going to come when you won’t have a book to write, and you’re still going to have to write a book.”

That scene sticks in my head for a couple of reasons. First, it would have been super badass to be in that room. Second, what if I run out of stories?

What are your experiences with creative anxiety? Let’s discuss in the comments.

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/

The Writers Circle: Gifts for Writers 2015

TWC
One of our goals here at Today’s Author is to help all of the writers among us to do what we love to do: write. One of the best ways to accomplish this is by talking to each other and learning from each other.  Our Writers Circle series is designed to do just that – provide a chance for us to discuss writing, editing and publishing questions.

This week’s topic is:

With the holiday season upon us, thoughts turn to gifts for us or for our loved ones. What do you, as a writer, wish someone would give you as a gift this holiday season? What are you planning to give to the writers on your gifting list?

Let’s discuss this in the comments and see what our community thinks.

How to Talk to People Online

social media chatTalking to people online is nothing like talking to them in person. You realize quickly how much communication is transmitted by body language, pacing in speech, facial expressions–all characteristics that can’t be conveyed with the black-and-white of words. That makes sarcasm challenging. Even humor–how often do you know someone’s being humorous because of their grin, exaggerated expressions, or laugh. None of that comes through online.

As a result, online conversations need to be sorted differently than in-person conversations. Consider these quick rules:

  1. Always consider the perspective of the person you’re talking to. They can be anywhere on the planet, with a world view entirely disparate from yours. Not better or worse, just different, with cultural norms that could make your comments insulting or intimidating (never good when you’re trying to make new friends). Sure, you can’t catch all of those, but you can start by avoiding comments you know could be misunderstood and adding details about your background to provide context to your conversation.
  2. Be international in your conversations. After all, you’re writing to the world, not your home town. Include international references (like Happy Canada Day on July 1st). That might take research, but that’s fine, especially for writers who hope to sell books in multiple countries.Children's drawings idea design on crumpled paper
  3. Don’t talk politics. Best case, you’ll annoy half of your readers. Few people understand the intricacies of foreign governments (few understand their own rulers). Most people believe the axiom, ‘Better the Devil you know than the Devil you don’t’. Here are two examples:
    • Most Americans think our education system is broken but think their local education is great.
    • This second is an opinion: While democracies (like America) value freedoms, lots (and lots) of people around the world don’t. They want someone else to make those big decisions for them. They believe having all those choices makes life too complicated. Be sensitive to that.
  4. Use good grammar and spelling. Lots of people conflate ‘texting’ with ‘online writing’. Not true. Texts are private, not intended for the world to see. Every online communication has the potential to go viral, bad grammar and spelling errors included. As writers, we don’t want to risk that.
  5. Where weather used to be a safe (albeit boring) topic, it isn’t anymore. Now, it’s political and could blow up into an insult-charged scream-fest about global warming. Don’t talk about the weather. Talk about books instead. Or dogs and children.

I’d love to hear what innocent online conversations you’ve been part of that have become toxic. What should I avoid in the future?

Check out this article from Wikipedia on the ‘online disinhibition effect‘ for an better understanding of online chats. Or this one from Jeffrey Lin on the toxicity of some online games.

More on social media:

Writers Tip #48: Have a Web Presence

27+ Tips I Wish I’d Known About Blogging

15 Tips Picked Up From Twitter


Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is the author/editor of dozens of books on integrating tech into education, webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, adjunct professor of technology in education, a columnist for Examiner.com and TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her book at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning.

Improvements and Changes for Today’s Author

Here at Today’s Author we are have been working to build a community of aspiring writers since December of 2012. We’ve accomplished a lot in the first couple of years of working toward this goal and we are constantly seeking new ways to improve what we bring to the community.

That is why we are pleased to unveil today a new feature at Today’s Author: our Discussion Forums! Our goal with these forums is to provide a more open and interactive place to discuss our collective journey with writing. We’ve put some forum categories together to start things off and these will continue to grow and change as the community grows and changes.  I hope everyone in our community will create an account in the forums and that this will enable a new level of interaction and growth within the community. Since we are just getting this started, there may be a few kinks to work out with it, but I hope you will give it a try today!

Secondly, we are looking for a few new contributors to write for Today’s Author. Do you feel you are ready to commit to writing a post or two each month, sharing your techniques, strategies, goals and dreams with respect to writing? If so, please fill out the contact form on the Contact Us page and let us know.  We look forward to hearing from you.

The new Forums are just the first of several exciting things coming to Today’s Author.  In the coming months we hope to be bringing you even more tools to help you in your writing journey. Thanks for being part of our community and remember to just keep writing…

The Writers Circle: Gifts for Writers 2014

What’s with all the red?

Today is December 1st–World AIDS Day. The fight against AIDS is very personal to me, and my co-owner/editor has agreed to let me make this change to show support for World AIDS Day.

I lost my father 25 years ago when the disease was a death sentence. Today because of the hard work of hundreds of thousands of people, that’s no longer the case. In a few more years we might even have a cure.

Here are some quick links:
Learn more: http://www.worldaidsday.org/
Learn more: http://www.red.org/en/learn
Do Something: http://www.worldaidsday.org/act-aware.php
Do Something: http://www.red.org/en/act
Donate: https://mydonate.bt.com/charities/natnationalaidstrust
Donate: http://www.red.org/en/act/donate
Buy something (charity gets a cut): http://www.red.org/en/shop/

Thank you for your taking the time to read this. And if you used any of those links to support, or learn more about, a cause that’s important to me, I thank you for that, too.

And now, I’ll turn your attention back to writing and today’s topic of Holiday gifts for writers.

–Dale

TWC
One of our goals here at Today’s Author is to help all of the writers among us to do what we love to do: write. One of the best ways to accomplish this is by talking to each other and learning from each other.  Our Writers Circle series is designed to do just that – provide a chance for us to discuss writing, editing and publishing questions.

This week’s topic is:

With the holiday season upon us, thoughts turn to gifts for us or for our loved ones. What do you, as a writer, wish someone would give you as a gift this holiday season? What are you planning to give to the writers on your gifting list?

Let’s discuss this in the comments and see what our community thinks.

15 Traits Critical to a Successful Writer

At times, writing seems impossible. I wonder if I have what it takes or if there’s some critical piece I’m missing that means it just won’t ever happen. I do a lot of the right things-writer

  • I read, a lot
  • I’m observant
  • I’m a loner (or, the flip side–I don’t mind being alone)
  • I bloom where I’m planted

But is that enough? I went in search of other traits friends who I consider successful writers have that might inform me in my endless quest to succeed in a craft that few can. I found that more is required to become that person who can proudly, eruditely consider themselves a writer:

  1. Writers have a selective memory–they forget the bad stuff people say and remember the good. Otherwise it’s depressing.
  2. Writers are conversant with their muse. Anywhere, at any time, on any subject. It doesn’t matter. When s/he starts talking, writers listen.
  3. Writers are tethered to their voicemail in case that Big Call from an agent comes through. If there is no call, they check the machine to be sure it’s plugged in and working properly.
  4. Writers understand the importance of taking a break to do something fun, like read a book. If they are one of those unlucky folk who get writer’s block, this will suffice.
  5. Writers never show fear in front of their computer. It’s like a dog–it smells fear. It’ll then do nasty things like eat your manuscript or freeze in the middle of a scene.
  6. Writers embrace the words of Winston Churchill: Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.
  7. Writers can be categorized as plants or sharks. Plants take whatever life throws at them, hoping to survive long enough to publish. Sharks never stop moving, always hunting. Successful writers are sharks.
  8. You can tell a lot about a writer by the way he/she handles three things: rejection, fame, and tangled Christmas tree lights.
  9. Talking about a WIP is almost like writing it, but not as frightening.
  10. In golf, one of 14 clubs has to be the right decision. In writing, all 14 are wrong because readers want unique.
  11. Don’t judge a writer by what he does between the lines.
  12. Writers believe in the impossible, miracles, and Santa Claus. They will spend hours trying to literarily square the circle and consider it time well spent.
  13. To rephrase Voltaire: No problem can stand the assault of sustained thinking from a thriller writer.
  14. Where the engineer thinks of his equations as an approximation to reality, and the physicist thinks reality is an approximation to his equations, the writer thinks it doesn’t matter if the prose are elegant.

And #15: The most prevalent trait: We are dreamers, positive thinkers, and don’t know how to quit even if it would be in our best interests to move on. That above all else was part of the heart and soul of so many writers I admire.

How about you? What makes you a writer even if your job title says Accountant?

More about writers:

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Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for Examiner.com and TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. In her free time, she writes technology training books for how to integrate tech in education. Currently, she’s editing a techno-thriller that should be out to publishers next summer.

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