I’m pleased to welcome new friend and writer, Arleen Williams, author of women’s contemporary fiction, Running Secrets, The Alki Trilogy.
Arleen is the author of The Thirty-Ninth Victim, a memoir of her family’s journey before and after her sister’s murder. She teaches English as a Second Language at South Seattle Community College and has worked with immigrants and refugees for close to three decades. Arleen lives and writes in West Seattle. Running Secrets is her first work of fiction as well as the first book in The Alki Trilogy.
What is your book’s genre/category?
RUNNING SECRETS is contemporary women’s fiction, but I’m happy to report a positive response from male readers as well. Readers have called it a touching and gentle novel about the redemptive power of friendship.
Please describe what the story/book is about.
Set in Seattle, RUNNING SECRETS tells the story of the unlikely friendship between a suicidal young woman named Chris Stevens and Gemi Kemmal, the Ethiopian home healthcare nurse her parents hire to care for her. On Chris’s journey of recovery, both women learn unexpected truths about themselves and their personal identity.
How did you come up with the title?
I hesitate to share too much about the title because I don’t want to reveal the secrets my characters discover. Suffice to say that Chris is a distance runner, but we’ve also used the word run in its different forms to mean a variety of things throughout history. I chose this title for both its literal and metaphoric meaning.
What is the reason you wrote this book?
I wrote RUNNING SECRETS because the characters came to me and demanded their stories be told. I was also interested in learning more about suicide, which is reaching epidemic levels in America. For example, I learned that it’s the tenth cause of death. Homicide is the fifteenth. More people die of suicide than in car accidents. And since most suicides are caused by depression, it is treatable.
Also, as an ESL teacher working with immigrants and refugees for close to thirty years in Seattle, questions of personal identity, including those of race and religion, intrigue me. So the friendship that developed between Chris and Gemi opened many doors.
What is your favorite part of writing?
I love watching the story unfold in my mind’s eye. It’s a bit like watching a movie screening on the inside of my closed eyelids. If I watch carefully enough, I find the story.
What is the most challenging aspect of writing?
Getting the story on the page in words and sentences that convey the images in my head. It can be really frustrating at time
Who are some of your favorite authors?
My favorite author tends to be whoever I’m reading at a given moment. That said, Ann Patchett, Barbara Kingsolver, Isabelle Allende, Dinaw Mengestu, and so many others are high on my favorites list.
What authors or person(s) have influenced you?
I write with three different writing groups in Seattle. The first was established by two wonderful teachers and writers, Robert Ray and Jack Remick, twenty-some years ago. In all three groups we follow the guidelines laid out by Natalie Goldberg in WRITING DOWN THE BONES. We write against a timer and then share our work around the table.
I am inspired and influenced by all of the dedicated writers I share the table with – both those who are award-winning published authors as well as those just embarking this crazy journey of writing. It takes dedication and discipline to be a writer. A regular practice with like-minded people is important to me.
Favorite place to write?
When I’m creating new work, I like to be at a shared coffee shop table writing against the clock surrounded by other writers moving pens across paper. I prefer music loud enough to drown out individual conversations or I start listening and transcribing what I hear.
To key in those scenes and work the story, I need the absolute silence in my small writing room at home in West Seattle with a view of our back garden.
Any surprises or learning experiences with the publishing process?
My first book, a memoir titled THE THIRTY-NINTH VICTIM, was published in 2008 by an indie press called Blue Feather Books, Ltd. Now I’m with Booktrope Publishing. In both cases, I’ve enjoyed working closely with people who care passionately about books. The wonderful aspect of Booktrope is the team approach to publishing where author, book manager, designer, editor and copy editor work together to build and promote the best possible book and all share a percentage of royalties. What I didn’t realized about this team approach was the responsibility I would feel toward making my works a financial success for the benefit of all these terrific people who have worked so hard.
Looking back, what did you do right that helped you with this book?
I worked longer on RUNNING SECRETS than on any other book I’ve written. I was moving between memoir and fiction, learning the ins and outs of both genres. What I did right was to set aside the early (lousy) draft, write a second memoir, and then return to that lousy draft to rewrite it completely and find the secret that made the story click. So I suppose both the setting the draft aside for awhile and the going back to it were important.
Any advice for writers looking to get published?
All writers write differently, so I find giving advice tough. That said, I think the first step is to decide if writing is truly your passion. If not, find something else to do! It’s hard work and takes endless hours. If you have a story that has to be told, then go for it! Set a writing schedule and structure that works for you and discipline yourself to stick to it. Go to conferences, find a writing practice group or critique group, seek out other writers. But most of all, be willing to put in the seat time to reach your writing goals.
In terms of publishing, there are multiple options. Explore them all before deciding the direction you want to take. Then go after it with the same passion that fired you to write the work. And never give up, especially after that eighty-third rejection letter.
Where can we find your book?
If you’d like to support your local independent bookstore or Barnes & Noble, just ask them to order RUNNING SECRETS from Ingram.
You can also order from Amazon (paperback or Kindle):
Barnes & Noble (paperback or Nook):
Something personal about you people may be surprised to know?
Early this year, a friend suggested we needed to do something special to celebrate our shared (big) birthday. After a minimum of discussion, we signed up for the RSVP (Ride Seattle to Vancouver and Party). So on August 15 and 16, I’ll be riding my bicycle 188 miles and when I make it to Canada, I will definitely be partying!
What’s next for you?
RUNNING SECRETS is the first book in the ALKI TRILOGY. The second is BIKING UPHILL. You can sign up to follow www.arleenwilliams.com for updates.
I’m currently working on the third book in the trilogy, WALKING ALKI. I hope to have it out by the end of the year or early 2015. There will also be a few other surprises for my readers next year!
Thanks, Arleen! Happy writing and good luck with the books!