Invitation to a Book
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Anne K. Edwards


Invitation to a Book

Talking Craft with Jane Tesh, Author of ‘Butterfly Waltz’

by marbob00 marbob00 on 10/01/15


DSC_0005Jane Tesh is a retired media specialist and pianist for the Andy Griffith Playhouse in Mt. Airy, NC, the real Mayberry. She is the author of the Madeline Maclin Series, A Case of ImaginationA Hard Bargain, A Little Learning, and A Bad Reputation, featuring former beauty queen, Madeline “Mac” Maclin and her con man husband, Jerry Fairweather. Stolen Hearts is the first in the Grace Street Mystery Series, featuring PI David Randall, his psychic friend, Camden, Randall’s love interest, Kary Ingram, and Cam’s career-driven girlfriend, Ellin Belton, as well as an ever-changing assortment of Cam’s tenants.  MixedSignals is the second in the series, followed by Now You See It and Just You Wait. Jane’s mysteries are all published by Poisoned Pen Press, located in Scottsdale, Arizona. Butterfly Waltz is her first published fantasy novel from Silver Leaf Books. All of Jane’s books are on the light side with humor and romance.

Connect on the web:

https://www.facebook.com/GraceStreetMysterySeries

https://twitter.com/janetesh

http://www.janetesh.com/fantasy.html

Q: Congratulations on the release of your latest book, Butterfly Waltz. To begin with, can you gives us a brief summary of what the story is about and what compelled you to write it?   

A: Des Fairweather is a struggling young musician who fears he may possess the same destructive magic power that killed his parents.  While helping his tabloid reporter friend, Jake Banner, investigate a report of talking flowers, Des meets Kalida, a mysterious and beautiful young woman who says she is being pursued by her people, evil beings from a world called the Caverns.  Des will have to put aside his fear of magic and find some way to rescue Kalida.

I love using music in all of my books.  Often, a specific piece of music inspires a story.  For Butterfly Waltz, I used “One For Amelia,” a lovely waltz by ragtime composer, Max Morath.  As I listened to this or played it on the piano, I could see scenes from the book unfolding.

Q: What do you think makes a good fantasy? Could you narrow it down to the three most important elements? Is it even possible to narrow it down?

A: In any kind of book, there has to be a good story.  I’m a big fan of Pixar movies because no matter how wild the characters and settings are—cars, toys, emotions in your head—the writers make sure the story is solid and surprising.

The second element would have to be characters that the reader cares about and wants to see succeed.

Third, and most important for me, is humor.  Dystopian novels about ruined civilizations are fine every now and then, but I like to include lighter moments.  My favorite fantasy author is Terry Prachett, and he does a masterful job of mixing drama and comedy in his novels.

Butterfly_C1_2Q: How did you go about plotting your story? Or did you discover it as you worked on the book?

A: All of my stories just sort of happen, so I discover lots of things as I go along.  Sometimes I know how I’d like a book to end.  Other times, I let it roll.  I do like to keep track of time, though, so I’ll write “Day One” on a page and as the scenes happen, I’ll arrange them into “Morning,” “Afternoon,” and “Later.”  It’s all very casual.

Q: Tell us something interesting about your protagonist and how you developed him or her. Did you do any character interviews or sketches prior to the actual writing?

A: With me, the character’s name comes first.  Once I’ve found the right name, the description falls into place.  I see each letter as a specific color.  I used to think I might be a little crazy, but fortunately found an article in Psychology Today about a condition called synesthesia.  People with synethesia, usually poets and painters, have mixed up senses.  They might smell colors, or taste sounds.  Many writers see letters as colors.  Des Fairweather is gray, green, blue, and a little yellow.  By contrast, his friend Jake Banner is red, yellow, and black.  Once I’ve got all the names and colors, I’m ready to write.

Q: In the same light, how did you create your antagonist or villain? What steps did you take to make him or her realistic?

A:  The people of the Caverns are all red and black.  They arrived like this.  It is very hard to explain how they happened.  As a child, I had many imaginary friends, and lots of them morphed into characters.  I also watched a lot of TV.  The leader of the Caverns, The Lady, may have her roots in Cinderella’s evil stepmother.

Q: How did you keep your narrative exciting throughout the novel? Could you offer some practical, specific tips?

A:  This may sound obvious, but things have to keep happening.  If there’s too much backstory, description, or unnecessary information, especially at the beginning of the book, readers will get bogged down in the details.  If you can keep the story moving with just enough additional material here and there, then the narrative will become more exciting.  It’s all about finding the right proportion between important events—Des and Jake go to Snowden Manor to check out talking flowers, Jake falls for Christine Snowden, Des meets Kalida—and the additional material: what the characters look like, descriptions of the flowers, how Des feels when he first sees Kalida, how she feels when she first hears his music.

Q: Setting is also quite important and in many cases it becomes like a character itself. What tools of the trade did you use in your writing to bring the setting to life?

A:  Since dialogue is my strong point and I really love it, I have to work more on setting.  I can remember my writing teacher telling me my first draft read more like a radio play than a novel.  “You have Des sitting down, but where is he sitting?” he asked.  “On the piano bench,” I answered, because it was obvious to me.  “You have to let your readers see that,” was his reply.

I’ve never forgotten that advice.  Just because something was in my head, it wasn’t necessarily on the page.  Now I do my best to set the scenes and to use active descriptions.

Here’s an example:

“We’re gonna stay till we have a story, so let’s look around.”  Jake peered into the adjoining dining room.  “Enough room for twenty people.  More velvet cushions, silver candlesticks, some kind of fancy artwork in the corner that looks like it’s hanging upside down.  The place remind you of home?”

“Sort of.”  Actually, the house reminded him enough of the Fairweather estate to make him uncomfortable.

In this case, Jake is explaining the setting instead of me, and Des is having an emotional reaction.

Q: Did you know the theme(s) of your novel from the start or is this something you discovered after completing the first draft? Is this theme(s) recurrent in your other work?

A: I discovered the theme after I’d finished the book when I realized that everyone wants a home and a family.  Everyone wants to belong somewhere and to feel wanted.  This theme is especially strong in my Grace Street series where the characters, having lost their real families, have made new ones.

Q: Where does craft end and art begin? Do you think editing can destroy the initial creative thrust of an author?

A: I think when a writer has mastered all the mechanics and can let go and just write, not caring what the first draft is like, or what anyone will say, then art begins.  When you’ve been writing away and look up and three hours have disappeared, then you’re approaching that blissful creative state.

I’ve been lucky in that both editors I’ve worked with have made suggestions for changes rather than changing things themselves.  We’ve been able to work through problems together with the ultimate choice being mine.  However, I’m not going to cling foolishly to a title, for example, if my editor thinks another title would sell.  I can always call Just You Wait its original title, Cover Up, in my own mind.

Q: What three things, in your opinion, make a successful novelist?

A: Persistence, honesty, and a sense of humor.  I would not be published today if I hadn’t persisted since 1968.  As for honesty, I try my best to play fair with the reader, whether it’s laying in clues for my mysteries, or creating fantasy worlds.  If someone finds a mistake in my books and emails me, I always thank them and correct the mistake.  And having a sense of humor is the only way to get through the ups and downs of publishing.

Q: A famous writer once wrote that being an author is like having to do homework for the rest of your life. What do you think about that?

A: Bring on the homework!  I love it.

Q: Are there any resources, books, workshops or sites about craft that you’ve found helpful during your writing career?

A: I was very lucky to have attended the Writers Retreat Workshop in 1990 when the founder, Gary Provost, was in charge.  Gary’s books, Make Your Words Workand 100 Ways to Improve Your Writing are wonderful resources and they’re funny, too.

Q:  Is there anything else you’d like to share with my readers about the craft of writing?

A: Terry Pratchett said, “The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.”  You can always fix it.  Can’t think of the prefect word?  Put in an “x” and come back to that place later. Relax, have fun, and write the book you want to read.  Don’t try to follow or create a trend.  Explore what you love and care about.

Talking Craft with Jonathan Raab, Author of ‘Flight of the Blue Falcon’

by marbob00 marbob00 on 08/21/15


jonathanJonathan Raab is a veteran of the Afghanistan war, where he served as an infantryman assigned to a combat advisor team. He is the editor-in-chief of Muzzleland Press and an editor for the War Writers’ Campaign. His work has appeared in The New York Times’ At War Blog, CNN.com, the Military Success Network, Literati PresentsThe Stars and Stripes, and many others. His second novel, The Hillbilly Moonshine Massacre, will be available in late 2015. He lives in the Denver metro area with his wife Jess and their dog, Egon.

Connect with Jonathan Raab on the Web:

Website Facebook /Twitter 

Q: Congratulations on the release of your book, Flight of the Blue Falcon.To begin with, can you gives us a brief summary of what the story is about and what compelled you to write it?   

The novel is about three men who serve in an infantry platoon deployed to the Afghanistan War. It follows their training, their deployment, and a little bit of them coming home from it all. I wanted to tell the story of men serving in the Long War, especially from the National Guard perspective.

Q: What do you think makes a good military novel? Could you narrow it down to the three most important elements? Is it even possible to narrow it down?

War writing tends to be nonfiction, but I think fiction is the best place to tell war stories. You can tell more truth that way. Every war is different; every war is the same. But every good war story should have good characters, be accessible to civilians, and tell something new (if possible) or true (as true as a story about war can be).

Q: How did you go about plotting your story? Or did you discover it as you worked on the book?

I tend to outline everything from the start, but that outline changes as I write. It’s a constant process of writing to catch up with the outline, and discovering that the plot is moving in new and unexpected directions.

Q: Tell us something interesting about your protagonist and how you developed him or her. Did you do any character interviews or sketches prior to the actual writing?

I have three protagonists in the novel, which is something I wouldn’t recommend to aspiring writers! Each character offered a unique perspective on the book’s events. They’re all based on guys I know, in whole or in part. A little bit of me is in each of them, too.

Q: In the same light, how did you create your antagonist or villain? What steps did you take to make him or her realistic?

There’s no real antagonist. The Taliban is in this book, of course, but they’re not really the focus. This is more of a character study—how three men deal with going through the Big Green Army Machine.

flightQ: How did you keep your narrative exciting throughout the novel? Could you offer some practical, specific tips?

I tend to write short, focused chapters. That helps the reader feel accomplished as they go—hey, I finished another chapter!—and so they keep reading. Each scene should communicate something new and important about your characters, the plot, or (preferably) both. If your scene doesn’t do that, cut it. Cut it right out.

Q: Setting is also quite important and in many cases it becomes like a character itself. What tools of the trade did you use in your writing to bring the setting to life?

There’s several settings here—but the prevailing setting is that of the Army culture itself. The use of specific language, cultural tropes, and illustrative anecdotes or scenes helps to communicate that to an audience that may not have served in the military. Try to tell larger truths about the setting or culture in small, focused ways. For example, there’s a scene where our characters arrive in Afghanistan on a big command base. Instead of being greeted by enemy fire and soldiers around them ready for combat, they’re screamed at for minor uniform infractions. That scene tells a lot about the culture and the situation, and what’s to come for our characters.

Q: Did you know the theme(s) of your novel from the start or is this something you discovered after completing the first draft? Is this theme(s) recurrent in your other work?

The broader theme is that war is stupid—on several levels. I knew that going in, and my characters and plot didn’t disappoint in that regard.

Q: Where does craft end and art begin? Do you think editing can destroy the initial creative thrust of an author?

Editing should refine the creative thrust. If it compromises it, it’s not really editing, it’s revision. That said, authors need to know when to throw out those lines or scenes they really love—we can convince ourselves something is really good when it is in fact unnecessary or even distracting.

Q: What three things, in your opinion, make a successful novelist?

1) The novelist finishes a novel. 2) The novelist is open to intense but fair criticism to make the book better. 3) The novelist keeps writing, and keeps improving.

Q: A famous writer once wrote that being an author is like having to do homework for the rest of your life. What do you think about that?

It’s like homework, sure, but it’s also a lot of fun. It’s also very frustrating. It’s a love-hate activity, for sure.

Q: Are there any resources, books, workshops or sites about craft that you’ve found helpful during your writing career?

This is a cliché, but Stephen King’s On Writing is really, really good. I’ve taught a part of it in my English class. I’ve never been to a workshop, so I can’t speak to that. I will say that you don’t need a fancy MFA or creative writing degree to be a writer, although those things can certainly be helpful to many people.

There’s a whole industry designed to separate writers from their money, so don’t go chasing expensive conferences, retreats, or seminars. They might be helpful, but you can probably learn more from joining a free writers’ group or just plugging away at the craft. Books are cheap, so read all the time. And it doesn’t cost you anything to write and share your work with trusted friends who will give you open and honest feedback.

You just have to be ready to be told that your precious baby of a story sucks, because you will write something that is awful. And that’s okay. What matters is how you deal with your failures—large and small. Don’t quit. Keeping writing. Even if it takes you the rest of your life to get published.

Q:  Is there anything else you’d like to share with my readers about the craft of writing?

Don’t let your own ego get in the way of producing better work. Also, don’t worry about being a perfectionist—write, write, and write until that project of yours is finished. You can fix all of your issues in editing, when you open the door to others, and when you can read your own work with fresh eyes.

Interview with Sophia Bar-Lev, Author of ‘The Silver Locket’

by marbob00 marbob00 on 08/19/15

Author Photo

On a bright spring afternoon many years ago, Sophia Bar-Lev‘s 5th grade teacher asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up. Without hesitation, Sophia answered, “I want to write books – lots of them.”  Busy for a number of years with raising a family and teaching school, in more recent years she has been primarily involved in adult education. Meanwhile, the passion for writing remained very much alive and has been continually nourished by her large and energetic family (20 grandchildren – there may yet be more!), by her extensive travels and by her professional experience as an educator and speaker.  Her latest novel is THE SILVER LOCKET.

Book description:  

This novel celebrates the triumph of the human spirit over tragedy and heartache.  Set against the backdrop of World War II, it chronicles the lives of two young women whose lives are linked by a child that belongs to both of them but in different ways.  Their common devotion to motherhood and family ultimately leads to a dramatic and fulfilling reunion. The power of a sensitive and difficult decision years earlier is realized as two families join their hearts and lives because of one special daughter they share.

Were you an avid reader as a child? What type of books did you enjoy reading?

Yes, my grandmother instilled the love of books in me before I could even read myself.  Throughout my childhood and into adulthood, reading has been an uninterrupted passion.  As a child, I loved biographies, historical novels and the popular Nancy Drew Mysteries and Little House on the Prairie series.

Book Cover - The SIlver LocketTell us a bit about your latest book, and what inspired you to write such a story.

THE SILVER LOCKET is loosely based on the true life story of a good friend of mine who longed to have her story told but did not have the time or inclination to write it herself.  With her permission and approval, I took on the project because I believed it was a story worth telling.  It taps into the deepest feelings of motherhood in a respectful and thoughtful way without glossing over the very real emotional issues of an unwanted or unplanned pregnancy.

What will the reader learn after reading your book? 

My hope is that regardless of the life circumstances a reader is living through when they come across this book, that they will find inspiration and wisdom for dealing with their own challenges and position.

Agatha Christie got her best ideas while eating green apples in the bathtub. Steven Spielberg says he gets his best ideas while driving on the highway. When do you get your best ideas and why do you think this is?

My best ideas come from my family and friends.  Most often, a casual comment or an experience with a friend or with a family member births an idea that mushrooms quickly into the basis for a book.

From the moment you conceived the idea for the story, to the published book, how long did it take?

THE SILVER LOCKET was published eight months after the first time my friend told me her story and asked me to write it in the form of a novel.  My two previous novels took just about 10 months from start to finish.

Describe your working environment.

I have a dedicated room in my home that I call my ‘writing cave’.  It’s something of a sanctuary for me as in addition to my desk and some bookshelves, I also have a comfortable reading chair.  It has a door with a soundproof panel and I have a small Memo board on the outside of the door where I post my writing schedule so my husband knows when not to interrupt me! The Memo board was actually his idea!

Do you write non-stop until you have a first draft, or do you edit as you move along?

I tend to write non-stop until I think I’ve completed a first draft and then go back to the beginning.

Usually I end up adding another chapter or two while editing along the way.

They say authors have immensely fragile egos… How would you handle negative criticism or a negative review?

No author ever pleases everybody all of the time so negative reviews are inevitable.  I’ve had a couple amidst many positive reviews.  I think every review is important from the aspect of my growth as a writer.  Sometimes I’m surprised at the positive remarks and find inspiration in something a review says. And I always find something in the negative reviews that makes me pause and ponder.  In that sense negative reviews are as important as positive ones for each one is an opportunity to learn something that will contribute to my improvement as a writer.

Are you a disciplined writer? 

Yes, I would say so.  I write for four to six hours per day four days a week.  Some of the writing never sees the light of day but it is nevertheless important in the process of becoming a published author.  Since I am a wife and mother and active in my community, I find that the four day ‘work week’ is best for me.

When it comes to writing, are you an early bird, or a night owl?

Definitely an early bird, I routinely get up between 4:30 – 5:00 am and have done so for many years.

I love the early hours.  My general routine is to get up, make coffee and seclude myself in my ‘writing cave’ for at least two hours.  I meditate, do some reading and then start writing.  I’ll take a break for breakfast with my husband and then go back to writing until early afternoon.

What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

A college professor told me once that the formula for becoming a writer was actually quite simple:

Write, write, write and then write some more.  He went on to say that the daily discipline of writing assures the best success.

Do you have a website/blog where readers may learn more about you and your work?

My website is http://www.sophiabarlev.com  My blog is part of my website.  I invite your readers to stop by for a visit.

As an author, what is your greatest reward?

Nothing thrills me more than to hear from a reader that something in my novel enriched his/her life in some way.  I write to entertain but also to inspire.  I believe that life is most meaningful when one contributes in some way towards making another person’s life better, happier and/or more significant.

 

Interview with Arnaldo Lopez Jr., Author of ‘Chickenhawk’

by marbob00 marbob00 on 08/15/15


arnaldoArnaldo Lopez Jr. has been employed by New York City Transit  for twenty-eight years and was formerly employed as a dispatcher with the NYPD.  Mr. Lopez is also a speaker and trainer, speaking on subjects as diverse as terrorism and customer service.  He created the civilian counter-terrorism training program currently in use by New York City Transit and many other major public transportation agencies around the country.

As well as writing, Mr. Lopez is an artist and photographer, having sold several of his works over the years.  As a writer he’s sold articles to Railway Age magazine, The Daily News magazine, Homeland Defense Journal, and Reptile & Amphibian magazine; scripts to Little Archie and Personality Comics; and short stories to Neo-Opsis magazine, Lost Souls e-zine, Nth Online magazine, Blood Moon magazine, and various other Sci-Fi and/or horror newsletters and fanzines.  He was also editor of Offworld, a small science fiction magazine that was once chosen as a “Best Bet” by Sci-Fi television.  Chickenhawk is his first novel. 

Connect with Arnaldo Lopez Jr. on Facebook and Twitter.

Q: Congratulations on the release of your latest book, Chickenhawk. To begin with, can you gives us a brief summary of what the story is about and what compelled you to write it?   

A: Chickenhawk is an urban crime fiction novel that showcases New York City’s diversity, as well as the dark side of race relations, politics, sexuality, illness, madness, and infidelity.

Two NYC homicide cops are after a serial killer that manages to stay below their radar while murdering young, male prostitutes in a city that’s turning into a powder keg.

Q: What do you think makes a good thriller? Could you narrow it down to the three most important elements? Is it even possible to narrow it down?

A: Yes, I believe that for brevity’s sake we can narrow it down to its three most important elements. 1. Have a good antagonist. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately?) most people find the antagonist the most interesting character in a book. 2. Have a good protagonist. Even though the antagonist can often wind up stealing the show, he or she still needs a good protagonist to use as a foil. 3. Build a believeable, well-researched story in which your reader can become fully engaged.

Q: How did you go about plotting your story? Or did you discover it as you worked on the book?

A: Once I had a general idea of what I wanted my story to say and who the main characters were, I did character outlines of most of the characters and a general outline of the story itself. As I worked on the book, the characters often drove the story on and pretty much filled the blanks.

Q: Tell us something interesting about your protagonist and how you developed him or her. Did you do any character interviews or sketches prior to the actual writing?

A: Yes, my main protagonist is actually a combination of my brother, father, and a former boss of mine. Since I know all of these men intimately, I just needed to observe and interview a couple of older police officers to completely flesh the character out.

arnaldo 2Q: In the same light, how did you create your antagonist or villain? What steps did you take to make him or her realistic?

A: My antagonist is also a composite of several people that I’ve known over the years. I tell people that among other things a writer is a collector. He or she should be a collector of people – mannerisms, quirks, names, habits, dress – basically any and everything needed to create realistic and compelling characters.

Q: How did you keep your narrative exciting throughout the novel? Could you offer some practical, specific tips?

A: Keep the prose and your characters moving – keep things lively by having the dialogue and interaction of your characters drive most of the story. Also try to end your chapters in such a way that the reader will want to know what happens next.

Q: Setting is also quite important and in many cases it becomes like a character itself. What tools of the trade did you use in your writing to bring the setting to life?

A: My setting is New York City and that setting in itself is so dynamic that little is needed to bring it to life. Still, I do describe lighting and weather conditions in spare detail to add to the atmosphere. I try not to be overly descriptive when it comes to describing the setting.

Q: Did you know the theme(s) of your novel from the start or is this something you discovered after completing the first draft? Is this theme(s) recurrent in your other work?

A: Oh yes, I was well aware of my novel’s theme(s) from the start – infidelity, madness, guilt, and police work being just a few. These and/or similar themes will find their way in subsequent works that will feature the same characters.

Q: Where does craft end and art begin? Do you think editing can destroy the initial creative thrust of an author?

A: I believe that the initial draft of any writing is closer to art than craft. At this point you are writing from the gut, with craft coming into play during the editing process. Overzealous editing can, of course, damage an author’s creative vision, but all in all, proper editing can enhance that author’s vision.

Q: What three things, in your opinion, make a successful novelist?

A: 1. Finish what you start. 2. Research. 3. Editing.

Q: A famous writer once wrote that being an author is like having to do homework for the rest of your life. What do you think about that?

A: It certainly can feel that way at times, but the exception is that this is homework you assigned to yourself and so ultimately there are no right or wrong answers.

Q: Are there any resources, books, workshops or sites about craft that you’ve found helpful during your writing career?

A: Yes, the Writer’s Market, the Writer’s Market Guide to Literary Agents, the Writer’s Guide series of reference books, and Roget’s Thesaurus.

Q:  Is there anything else you’d like to share with my readers about the craft of writing?

A: Yes. Tell your story first and foremost. Forget about dotting your I’s and crossing your T’s, you can always get to that later. Don’t get so bogged down with the writing that you forget to tell your story.

//////////////////////////////////

Title: Chickenhawk

Genre: Thriller

Author: Arnaldo Lopez Jr.

Publisher: Koehler Books/Café Con Leche books

Purchase on Amazon

About the Book:

Chickenhawk is an urban crime fiction novel that showcases New York City’s diversity, as well as the dark side of race relations, politics, sexuality, illness, madness, and infidelity. Eddie Ramos and Tommy Cucitti are Manhattan North Homicide detectives after a serial killer that manages to stay below their radar while the body count keeps climbing in a city that’s turning into a powder keg.

Talking Craft with M.D. Moore, author of ‘Waiting for the Cool Kind of Crazy’

by marbob00 marbob00 on 08/02/15


MooreBook2014_4922A native of Tacoma, Washington, M.D. Moore worked as a therapist in Washington State’s most acute psychiatric hospital. Moore currently serves as a rehab director at a long term care facility serving veterans and their families. A member of the Pacific Northwest Writers Association, M.D. Moore lives in Gig Harbor, Washington with his wife and sons.Waiting for the Cool Kind of Crazy is his debut novel. Visit M.D. Moore online at:www.mdmooreauthor.com.

Q: Congratulations on the release of your book, Waiting for the Cool Kind of Crazy. To begin with, can you give us a brief summary of what the story is about and what compelled you to write it?  

A: My story is about a middle-aged son of a paranoid schizophrenic mother who has the problems of the world on his shoulders, but doesn’t have the skills to navigate them all successfully.  He has a mentally ill mother who still is the cause of chaos in his life, a life threatening illness, a failing business, and a host of people who want to see him fail on all fronts.  He also has two legal strikes (a third would result in a sentence of mandatory life in prison without parole) and anger issues.  He is forced to see a therapist against his better advice who seems to have as many issues as he has.  The only bright spot in his life is his reunion with his high school sweetheart, but even she is just recently divorced from his high school adversary who has the power to destroy what Harmon has worked to build.  The story focuses on how he navigates and untangles the messes of his life to a logical conclusion.

I worked in my state’s largest psychiatric hospital for several years and one of the patients had a husband and two teenage boys which was very unusual.  Most of the patients had never been married or if they had been, had been divorced.  The family’s dedication to their wife and mother was very touching, but I always felt sorry for all of them realizing how hard it must be for each one for their own reasons.  It inspired this story of a man and his schizophrenic mother and the life they have shared.

Q: What do you think makes a good family saga? Could you narrow it down to the three most important elements? Is it even possible to narrow it down?

A: I think the single most important element of a family saga is it has to feel real.  Many of the occurrences in my book would be far fetched to readers who are not familiar with the mentally ill and what struggles they face, but I believe the reader could still see the plausibility of the events.  Now, this may sound somewhat contradictory to condition one, but you must also make it exciting enough that it doesn’t sound so real, that it could just happen to anyone, especially the reader.  I’ve judged several writing contests and one of the biggest flaws I’ve seen is that people make their stories sound so real, they could’ve easily happened to the reader.  Ok, your protagonist is buried in bills – been there.  Oh no, your protagonist had a fight with their wife or kids – done that.  Shoot, your protagonist is fat and needs to lose weight – it would be a bigger stretch if that person was in shape.  Make real world problems, just make them someone else’s real world problems.  The last element in a family saga, or for any realistic fiction for that matter, is to make your characters relatable.  Make your protagonist someone like your Uncle Paul or your grandfather with maybe a little scar here or there – make your person someone who could exist.

Waiting for the CoolQ: How did you go about plotting your story? Or did you discover it as you worked on the book?

A: I tried the free-flowing method and I ended up making a mess all over myself.  There were pieces of book all over the place and a story that got me more lost than my first version of Mapquest.  Unfortunately, and I say unfortunate because I wish I had the skill to just “let the story happen,” I am a meticulous plotter.  My chapter summaries are almost as long as the chapters themselves.  I need to know where I’m going so I don’t waste too much energy trying to find my way with a sundial.  Give me a programmed GPS and just let me write.

Q: Tell us something interesting about your protagonist and how you developed him or her. Did you do any character interviews or sketches prior to the actual writing?

A: My protagonist, Harmon, is actually a combination of a lot of people.  He shares character traits of a couple of family members and friends and physically, he’s also a combination of several people.  I actually had a little photo album, the type you’d get as a kid, that had several pictures in it that I would reference on occasion when describing Harmon.  In the editing process, however, I ended up taking a lot of physical description out as I like to let the reader develop their own image of the characters based on their own experiences.  As for behaviors, in the end, Harmon basically did what I would do.  I’d like to write a character someday that is a far departure from me, but with this being my first novel, decided to stick with what I know.

Q: In the same light, how did you create your antagonist or villain? What steps did you take to make him or her realistic?

A: He was a little easier.  Since Harmon had known Frank (the antagonist) since childhood, I just thought of kids that I didn’t like when I was young and used them for the childhood antagonist and as Frank aged, I just created a history that would put him on a path to continue being an asshole.  I have known enough of those in my lifetime that I had some folks to draw from.

Q: How did you keep your narrative exciting throughout the novel? Could you offer some practical, specific tips?

A: I think exciting narrative comes from exciting characters.  Having motorcycle gang members, chronically mentally ill patients, outlaw therapists and the like in the book made for easy, fun narratives.  I had the hardest time keeping Harmon interesting because his character was the most real of the bunch and real life isn’t typically that exciting.  The only tip I have is to really pay attention to narrative during your rewrites/edits.  Write it all during the first draft, but try to weed out the garbage the second and subsequent rewrites.  Better yet, have a trusted reader go through and tell you what doesn’t work or where your work really starts to slow down.  Another reader is a super valuable tool.

Q: Setting is also quite important and in many cases it becomes like a character itself. What tools of the trade did you use in your writing to bring the setting to life?

A: Again, make the setting as interesting as you can.  The type of story you write will dictate how interesting that will be.  A sci-fi set in space will definitely be more interesting than a family drama set in Washington.  One of the most helpful things I did for myself was to really pay attention to my surroundings before and while I was writing the book.  I worked at our states largest mental hospital and it still had some of the old, creepy buildings from when the grounds were an army fort in the 1800’s.  This was easy to make interesting.  Harmon’s business and home were a combination of this old antique store in Tacoma, WA and the residence of an acquaintance who lives over a bar whose home used to be used as a hotel (which I then turned into a brothel).  Pay attention to your surroundings, even going for a drive and taking notes, and you’ll find plenty of places that will work (given your story is not set in space or underwater!)

Q: Did you know the theme(s) of your novel from the start or is this something you discovered after completing the first draft? Is this theme(s) recurrent in your other work?

A:  My theme is the oft-used, love conquers all.  Since this was a story about a man and his chaotic relationship with his mentally ill mother and since I wanted there to be redemption in the end, I always knew that this would be a book that would get wrapped up by the end between a father and mother who come to realize that they do love each other even if they didn’t necessarily get each other.

Q: Where does craft end and art begin? Do you think editing can destroy the initial creative thrust of an author?

A: This is a tough one.  I guess if I had to try and name this, I’d say that craft is what makes an author’s writing readable, art is what makes it memorable.  I believe that anyone can learn the craft of writing.  There are all kinds of resources – classes, books, workshops, critique groups – to learn the craft of writing.  One can learn to write very well by learning the craft of writing.  I’d go so far as to say that a lot of what we find on the shelves of our local bookstores are books that display good writing craft.  It’s the books that we keep on our shelves and are stingy about passing around that have nailed the art of writing.  I don’t believe that you can teach the art of writing – you either have it or you don’t.  Luckily for most of us, I think we all get a little lucky and show a little art mixed in with our craft.

Q: What three things, in your opinion, make a successful novelist?

A: First, I think it’s important to study the craft of writing.  There are many writers who believe that just because they can craft a good sentence or write a good paper for a class, they have what it takes to write a novel.  I know because I was one of them.  It wasn’t until I read some of the crap that I initially wrote that I realized that I didn’t know the first thing about writing a novel.  Sure, I could write a good sentence, I just couldn’t write enough of the them in the right order to complete a book.  Take classes, read books, join critique groups, etc, and then practice, practice, practice to learn how to do it right.

Second, listen to the advice of others.  Find someone you trust and have them proofread your work.  The writer gets too close to their own work and they always know what they were talking about.  “My dog is really protective.”  Did you picture a german shepherd? a pitbull? a Doberman? A Chihuahua?  You know you were thinking about your yappy Pomeranian but your reader did not.  If it matters, a good editor will help you clarify or tell you when something is missing or has awkward structure.

The third trait needed is perseverance.  This is a long and grueling and highly competitive business and for the most part, only the those who persevere reach their goals.  If you’re not finding the success you believe is coming to you, you must do some soul searching and find out why.  If you’ve done everything you can, it’s time you just put your head down and keep sending out queries.

Q: A famous writer once wrote that being an author is like having to do homework for the rest of your life. What do you think about that?

A: I’d say that that author either loved doing homework or was in the wrong profession.  I hate homework, but I love to write.  I also do woodworking and beekeeping, both of which took considerable work to get good at, but it was an enjoyable learning experience for both.  Homework is what I did for school and it sucked.  Work at home is what I do for me and I love it.

Q: Are there any resources, books, workshops or sites about craft that you’ve found helpful during your writing career?

A: There are a couple of excellent books on writing that provide a good roadmap towards writing fiction.  The first and best is Dean Koontz’s book How to Write Best Selling Fiction.  It doesn’t so much teach the mechanics of writing as much as it teaches about what goes into a great story.  It’s a little pricey if you can even find it.  It’s been out of print for a long time, but if you can track one down, it’s well worth having in your library.  The second is Stephen King’s On Writing.  It’s very similar to Koontz’s book, but just not quite as direct.  As for resources on the craft of writing, my best lessons came at writing conferences and from critiques.  I also read a ton of books (almost literally) about writing.  I thought I knew what I was doing until I tried to do it.  When I failed miserably, I began to read books on how to write books and everything started to come together.

Q:  Is there anything else you’d like to share with my readers about the craft of writing?

A: I really believe that this is an endeavor worth pursuing.  It takes way more work than you think it’s going to take, but ultimately, if you work hard, listen to others who’ve done it before you, and learn, learn, learn all you can about writing and the writing industry, you can find success.  You may need a little luck along the way, but I do believe, more so than any other part of the entertainment industry, that hard work and perseverance are rewarded.

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