The Writing Life Interviews: Elizabeth Passo

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Welcome to The Writing Life blog, where I have the pleasure of chatting with authors every Tuesday for our Author Interview series. 

I enjoy taking a December sabbatical from writing to enjoy the holiday preparations for our annual family Christmas visit and dinner. This year I decided to host one special author. Since Christmas is all about love, wonder, fun, and family, especially children, please welcome award-winning author of children’s books, Elizabeth Passo.

Elizabeth Passo has always had a happy knack for rhyme and stories, and impulsively bombards her friends and family with her imaginative creations. The challenge of finding a more than very special way of delivering a more than very special Christmas gift for her daughter, led her to create the tale of the Reindeer Gift. This particular story captured her heart, and she founded Happy Knack Publishing, LLC. Now the reindeer gift-hiding tradition is available for you to include as part of your annual family holiday for those more than very special Christmas gifts. Cries for more prompted Elizabeth to continue the reindeer capers into Easter. And bored students inspired her hilarious vocab building comic book. All have won national book awards and are available on Amazon. Elizabeth lives in central Pennsylvania with her two number one fans as well as a not quite perfect, but beautifully golden and rosy nosed pit bull and a gargantuan pussycat. She’d love to hear from you! You can learn more and contact her at elizabethpasso.com or reindeergift.com.

Welcome, Elizabeth!

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What are the genres of your books?

  1. The Reindeer Gift: A Fun, Easy Christmas Tradition – Holiday/Children/Family
  2. The Reindeer vs E.A.Ster: A Fun, Easy Springtime Tradition – Holiday/Children/Family
  3. Birthday Party SBD – Vocab Building Comic Book

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Please describe what your books are about.

The Reindeer Gift tells how Santa’s reindeer have gotten bored with standing around on the roof. They’ve decided to get in on the gift giving fun. Now they’re taking turns going down the chimneys and hiding a special reindeer gift somewhere in the house for each person to find. Since they take turns, you’ll want to find out which reindeer came to your house, so the last page of the book provides an interactive website www.reindeergift.com. Go to this website and click on the big, red Reindeer Reveal button, and a different nameplate will be emailed to you for free each year that tells you which reindeer hid your gift.

People clamored for a sequel, so I came up with The Reindeer vs. E.A.Ster. This continues the reindeer adventures and also tells the fun story of the bunny’s real name, which not too many people know. There is nothing for reindeer to do in the spring, so they decide to play a prank on their buddy. But he’s not as distracted as Santa and catches on pretty quickly. Well, those reindeer don’t give up. There’s a lot of action and drama and a surprise ending that you won’t see coming. There’s also the same interactive website you go to at Easter to vote for who you want your Easter present from: the reindeer or the Easter bunny. We’ve done this two years now, and both years the majority of kids have said, “We want the reindeer to bring our Easter present.” We’re going to keep track of this friendly competition each year. We’re hoping the bunny can reclaim his holiday.

Birthday Party SBD packs 75 words that students should know into the funniest story I could think of for kids. The Silent But Deadly subject matter really makes them laugh. I decided to put it into a comic book format to give context clues to the vocab words. If the students don’t know what a word like “cacophony” or “exhume” means, they can flip to the Glossary in the back for the full definition. Teachers have assessed it as being appropriate for grades 4 through 8.

How did you come up with the titles? 

I wanted the titles to tell people instantly what the books were about. They’re each unique and fun ideas, so I didn’t want to make the titles too obscure or difficult to figure out.

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Elizabeth, what inspired you to write this book?

My daughter is my muse. When she was 3 years old, she was particularly excited about a very special gift that she wanted. It was so highly anticipated that it didn’t seem right to simply put it under the tree with the others. So I came up with the idea to bring the reindeer in on the action. They’re just standing around on the roof with nothing better to do, so why not? On Christmas morning, we hid the gift. After all the under-the-tree presents were opened, I told her one very special gift was still somewhere in the house. One of Santa’s reindeer had come down the chimney and hidden it for her. Her eyes got as big as Christmas tree ornaments, and she loved looking for it. She’s 14 now, and it’s become part of our Christmas tradition so she still loves doing it.

When she entered middle school, she told me that school was getting boring, so that’s what made me come up with the vocab building comic book idea.

Now she’s in high school, and I’m writing my first full length young adult novel.

What is your favorite part of writing? 

I love brainstorming ideas. After that, I love developing the characters. I enjoy giving them each full and complete personalities, which is why I added a page for each reindeer on the www.reindeergift.com website where you can find out each reindeer’s favorite activity, favorite food, favorite color, birthday, etc. and root for the reindeer you want to come to your house. I also have little known facts for each such as who each one likes to hang out with the most.

Select one book and tell me which character resembles you? If so, in what ways?

Blitzen probably most resembles me. She has an insatiable curiosity and likes exploring. In fact, she tries something new every single day. I’m always researching something and trying new recipes. Her favorite food is pasta because of all the different things you can do with it. Pasta is definitely a “go to” food for me. And her birthday is the same as mine.

What do you find is the most challenging aspect of writing? 

Editing. Definitely. Making sure all of the grammar and punctuation isn’t too creative. And if it is creative, that it’s acceptably so and doesn’t look like a mistake.

What was the last book you read? What did you think of it?

Bartimaeus by Jonathan Stroud. I loved it and am working through the series now. He’s just come out with the 4th book. I really like his unconventional use of adjectives, and the sense of humor he injects and his dialogue banter. He made me laugh out loud so many times. He seems like he has a lot of fun while writing. I could picture him cracking himself up as he wrote.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

The author who’s been on my Favorites list for the longest amount of time is Jack Kerouac. A recent addition is Rick Yancey. The Fifth Wave was just OK for me, but his Monstrumologist series is pure word art.

What author(s) or person(s) have influenced you as a writer and how have they influenced you?

My daughter started bringing home Cassandra Clare books and raving about them, so I got curious and started reading them. The stories are along the lines of magical realism: vampires and werewolves and such existing among us and the challenges they face by being friends with us. I researched the author to find out more about her and found that she has an enormous, devoted following. The writing isn’t necessarily award winning, but she’s captured the imaginations of millions. Her books made me think that I could do that too – that being an author who wasn’t a household name, but still enormously popular was possible. It got my imagination juices flowing and prompted an idea for my first novel.

Do you have a favorite place to write? To read?

I love chairs that move: rocking chairs, gliding rockers, swings. My husband bought me a giant, overstuffed chair that glides. It’s so big, you can sleep in it. I curl up in that, pull my laptop onto my lap, and glide and type. It’s also my favorite place to read.

Tell us something personal about you people may be surprised to know? 

I have a full drum kit and take drum lessons.

Did the writing process uncover surprises or learning experiences for you? What about the publishing process?

I think the amount of marketing and getting in front of people after the book is published is still somewhat surprising. We always hear about those overnight successes such as Amanda Hocking, the indie publishing sensation whose self-published novels have sold millions of copies all over the world, and Waffle House waitress Anna Todd’s four-book deal worth half a million. There’s a part of me that still keeps expecting to get “discovered” like that, I think. Until then, I keep plugging away at my book signings.

I must look up Anna Todd! Goodness, what luck. As we both plug away with our books, Elizabeth, what do you hope readers will gain from your book?

I really hope kids have so much fun with the reindeer gifts that they become fun, easy holiday traditions that are carried on for generations. The kind of traditions that provide families with moments where they come together in love and laughter and make those “Remember the time when Comet hid my new bike in the bathtub?” memories that they’ll always cherish.

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Lovely. Looking back, what did you do right that helped you write and market this book?

The very best thing I did was hire talented artists to illustrate my books. We did not rush this process. It took a year to hand oil paint the illustrations for each reindeer book and the comic book artist took about 6 months to hand ink the SBD drawings. People consistently comment on the quality of the illustrations.

The second best thing was to enter each of my books into the National Indie Excellence Awards. My first book, The Reindeer Gift: A Fun, Easy Christmas Tradition, won the 2015 Holiday category. My second book, The Reindeer vs. E.A.Ster: A Fun, Easy Springtime Tradition, won the 2016 Holiday category. And my third book, Birthday Party SBD, placed second in the 2016 Comic and Graphic Novel category. Displaying these awards on my book signing table at the various shows I do has consistently made an impression on people and, I suspect, been instrumental in pushing a wavering mind into the “I’ll take it” decision.

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The third best thing is that I’m relentless about researching new venues to get my book out there. We typically go to art and craft and holiday shows and set up a book signing booth. We’ve gone from the Michigan State Fair to the Charleston, SC Christmas Show and everywhere in between. Since my books aren’t available in e-format yet, getting out and talking to people is what sells the books. Just doing the shows part time has resulted in over 2,100 reindeer book sales since its release in 2014.

What didn’t work as well as you’d hoped? 

I was amazed that putting my books in actual bookstores did very little. Since there’s an interactive part to the books, walking people through the process really helps them to appreciate it. I think that having the books sit on a shelf surrounded by scads of other books with no understanding of what makes it special just doesn’t work.

The Harrisburg Small Business Development Center actually got Costco interested in carrying my books. A buyer at Barnes & Noble contacted me. And Books A Million also expressed interest. But I was afraid that I’d pay to ship them out, they’d sit, and then I’d have to pay to have them shipped back in questionable condition. So I didn’t do it. I’ve always wonder whether that was completely stupid of me.

Soon after I published A Decent Woman, I had the same experience with Books A Million, and like you, I decided against it for the same reason. I often wonder if I should pursue that venue with the second book.

Any advice or tips for writers looking to get published?

Persistence is paramount.

Determination is demanded.

Courage is crucial.

Marketing is mandatory.

Website and social media links?

www.elizabethpasso.com

www.reindeergift.com

https://www.facebook.com/elizabeth.passo.3

Elizabeth, where can we find your books?

www.reindeergift.com

The Reindeer Gift – https://www.amazon.com/Reindeer-Gift-Easy-Christmas-Tradition/dp/0989496805/ref=sr_1_9?ie=UTF8&qid=1480966418&sr=8-9&keywords=the+reindeer+gift

The Reindeer vs E.A.Ster – https://www.amazon.com/Reindeer-E-Ster-Springtime-Tradition/dp/0989496813/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1480966457&sr=8-1&keywords=reindeer+vs+easter

Birthday Party SBD – https://www.amazon.com/Birthday-Party-SBD-Joe-Badon/dp/098949683X

Aaron’s Books in Lititz, PA

Irvin’s Books in York, PA

The Midtown Scholar Bookstore in Harrisburg, PA

Strawberry Gifts in Strawberry Square, Harrisburg, PA

What’s next for you?

I’m coming around the bend towards finishing my first full-length novel. The tentative title is Foresight. About a month ago, I needed to take a step back and regroup, so took some time away from it and wrote a chunk of a second, completely unrelated novel.

I’m so close to getting Foresight 100% done that I’m on a big push with it now, and plan on shopping it around to agents and trying the traditional publishing route – to see what it’s like. I have plans for it being a trilogy.

You can keep posted on my progress, where I’ll be signing books, and also read some silly poems on my author website www.elizabethpasso.com.

Thanks very much for chatting with me today, Elizabeth. I wish you a warm and Happy Holiday season, and best of luck with your books!

ABOUT ELEANOR PARKER SAPIA: 

ellie

Eleanor Parker Sapia, Puerto Rican-born author of the award-winning historical novel, A Decent Woman, is published by Scarlet River Press. Her debut novel, set in turn of the century Ponce, Puerto Rico, garnered an Honorable Mention for Best Historical Fiction, English at the 2016 International Latino Book Awards with Latino Literacy Now, and was selected as a Book of the Month by Las Comadres and Friends National Latino Book Club in 2015. A writer, artist, and photographer, Eleanor is never without a pen and a notebook, and her passport and camera are always ready. Her awesome adult children are out in the world doing amazing things. Eleanor currently lives in Berkeley County, West Virginia, where she is working on her second historical novel, The Laments of Sister Maria Inmaculada, set in 1920 Puerto Rico.

Happy Holidays to all!

Eleanor’s book: http://amzn.to/1X0qFvK

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PLEASE VISIT ELEANOR AT HER WEBSITE: HTTP://WWW.ELEANORPARKERSAPIA.COM

 

 

 

 

 

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The Writing Life Interviews: Donelle Knudsen

Welcome to the Tuesday Author Interview series at The Writing Life. This morning I have the great pleasure of chatting with Donelle Knudsen. 

A native of the Pacific Northwest, Donelle Knudsen was born in Portland, Oregon, and has lived in Washington State since 1988. She has written short stories, poetry, and memoirs. In addition to being a wife, mother, and grandmother of five, Donelle earned a B.S. in Arts & Letters from Portland State University. She is a six-time finalist and two-time winner of writing contests through Pacific Northwest Writers Association and Oregon Writers Colony. She is the author of Through the Tunnel of Love, A Mother’s and Daughter’s Journey with Anorexia and the young adult/women’s contemporary novel, Between Heartbeats, which is book one of the Heartbeat series.

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Welcome to The Writing Life, Donelle.

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I love your book cover. What is the genre/category of Between Heartbeats?

My novel, Between Heartbeats, was originally written for the Young Adult audience, but reader feedback has shown women of all ages enjoy it. I have re-categorized it YA/Women’s Contemporary. 

Donelle, please describe what the story is about.

My goal was to write about a young female protagonist who experiences a life-changing trauma. When Diana Baker awakens on her seventeenth birthday, she is told at breakfast, during a heated argument with her mother, that the man she has loved as her father is not her father at all. Diana decides to unravel the mystery of her childhood and the reason for family secrets and travels across the country to visit her step-father. And so she begins a journey where she discovers shocking truths hidden just beneath the surface. That summer she meets Kevin Wright, a college junior and when he disappears without a trace, Diana learns family is more than shared DNA and discovers who will help her when it appears all hope is gone. Between Heartbeats is about a young girl’s quest to find her roots and discovers love and the power of forgiveness. 

How did you come up with the title?

I titled my novel Between Heartbeats because I believe life can change in a heartbeat, hence, between heartbeats. I like the image of a heart on its literal and figurative levels. 

What inspired you to write this book?

Kernels of ideas for Between Heartbeats grew from personal life experiences, our daughter’s adoption, and from the fruit of my imagination. I believe young people are capable of making important decisions and can determine who is trustworthy and who is not when it really matters. When I turned thirteen, I had to make several important life-changing decisions, so I know it can be done despite the inexperience of youth. Also, I find assistance can come from the most unexpected sources, so it is wise to imagine what’s possible, seek solutions, and accept answers and sincere help unconditionally.

What is your favorite part of writing?

For novel writing, I call myself a discovery writer, in that I have the novel’s premise in my head and know the ending before I begin. Then, I sit anywhere that’s convenient with my laptop and write fluidly, freely, just letting it happen. This is my favorite part, to write without an internal editor. I allow one year to eighteen months to complete my first draft. This timeline includes submitting most of the book to my critique group so I can consider their input and begin rewrites.

My first book was a memoir so the process was entirely different from writing my first novel. I outlined meticulously, relied on my diary, my memory, and private interviews with parties involved. Through the Tunnel of Love, A Mother and Daughter’s Journey with Anorexia took five years to write primarily because our daughter’s battle with her eating disorder was erratic and unpredictable. It was a tough project to complete, but I believe I accomplished my goal to create an honest, deeply personal, and readable memoir.

I’m a discovery writer with my historical novels, which includes sending out questionnaires and communicating with people who have a good knowledge about my subject matter. Does your main character resemble you, Donelle? If so, in what ways? 

My heroine, Diana Baker, is a contemporary seventeen-year-old living in Boise, Idaho. She lives with her mother and visits her father, who resides in the mid-west, twice a year. I can relate to Diana because my parents were divorced when I was nine. It was difficult when my father had to move out, as my mother was never interested in who I was or what I wanted to become. Consequently, it was easy to create a fictional character that learns to cope with the upheaval of a divorce and leap from childhood to adulthood practically overnight. Like my teenage self, Diana has dreams of going to college, teaching, becoming a writer, and finding the forever love that brings a husband, children, and the promise of a fulfilling life.

What do you find is the most challenging aspect of writing? 

I’m terrible at outlining and realized early on that I am a pantser or a discovery writer, in that I fly by the seat of my pants and let the characters show me the way. I have the story’s premise and plotline mentally outlined, know the ending, and let the journey begin. As the author, I have control until my characters take over and show me where they want to go. It can be challenging, but it is an exciting way to write and is never dull. 

I totally agree with you! I love when the characters take over; that’s when the fun (and rewriting) begins. What was the last book you read? What did you think of it? 

The last book I read was, “All the Light We Cannot See,” by Pulitzer Prize winner, Anthony Doerr. It is a literary masterpiece that tells the beautifully sad story of two young people caught up in the horrors of WW II. Doerr describes the world caught up in war scientifically and analytically at times, yet with the sensitivity of a poet. He walks the delicate balance of portraying his characters in their harsh settings and reveals their world of beauty, heartache, cruelty, and pathos. It is a must read.

Thanks, that book is on my reading list. Who are some of your favorite authors?

I’ve read and admired so many writers, my list of influential writers is rather long, so here goes: Maud Hart Lovelace, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Ray Bradbury, J. R. R. Tolkien, Stephen King, and Jane Kirkpatrick. 

What authors or person(s) have influenced you as a writer and why?

Ms. Lovelace and Laura Ingalls Wilder spurred my desire to write for young people; Jane Austen’s witty social commentary and endearing characters showed me good writing is timeless. I believe Charles Dickens is the best novelist of all time. His description of life in England through his characters’ eyes and their varied experiences cannot be surpassed. Ray Bradbury and Stephen King introduced me to Science Fiction and Horror and taught me anything is possible; J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings inspired me to write about how Good can conquer Evil on any level. I have attended Jane Kirkpatrick’s workshops and book readings, and receive her newsletter, Story Sparks. Jane writes primarily historical fiction and focuses on strong women protagonists. My goal is to create strong characters that can capture a reader’s imagination and in turn give her or him confidence to face life’s challenges.

Wonderful. Do you have a favorite place to write? To read? 

My creativity flows better when I listen to music at home or sit amidst the background noise of a café. But not a word will be written without a cup of hot or iced tea, depending on the time of year. However, when I edit or do re-writes, I need complete silence and work in my office on my desktop.

I prefer reading at home, propped up in bed, again with a cup of tea and classical music playing.

Tell us something personal about you people may be surprised to know?

I am a distant cousin of James A. Garfield, the 20th U.S. president, who was assassinated just a few months after his inauguration on March 4, 1881. 

Did the writing process uncover surprises or learning experiences for you? What about the publishing process?

I think most published authors would agree that marketing is the most challenging part. Being creative is one thing, however, getting out and pushing our books in person and online can be a real chore. For me, marketing my work does not come naturally; however, I’ve learned a lot since 2011 and when my third book comes out in a few weeks, I will be even more prepared.

Good surprises have come my way in myriad ways. People I know well or not at all have attended my book signings and/or purchased both books online. Reviews are critical and some have been gracious and posted reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. Hooray for reviews!

I have received lots of encouragement and praise for publishing not only two books, but having crossed over from nonfiction to fiction writing. For that I am grateful. Each project has been different and I take nothing for granted. I still fear the blank Word document on my laptop and feel a degree of trepidation as I begin each new chapter. But so far I haven’t experienced serious writer’s block. Somehow, the creative juices keep flowing.

I have published two different ways: through small presses, first in 2011 and upcoming in 2017, and with a publishing house in 2015 that I found at a writers conference. I discuss this later in this interview with my advice/tips for writers looking to get published.

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Donelle, what do you hope readers will gain from your book?

Without giving away too much, in Between Heartbeats, my goal is to take the reader along a young woman’s journey on which she must unravel the mystery of her childhood and the reason for so many secrets. As Diana searches for her family heritage, handles stresses in friendships, family, and her first romance, she grows emotionally and learns to accept help from unexpected sources in multiple generations. I write about people and everyday events I believe most readers can identify with and care about. I like to create a difficult situation and then let the characters find resolution with issues that matter most to them. However, I’m a sucker for happy endings.

Looking back, what did you do right that helped you write and market this book?

What I did right was to pick genres and write stories about people or topics that piqued my interest. Also, by deciding to write a three-part series helped me to plan long term and stay focused. If the reader enjoys the first book in a series, it is likely he/she will stay with me. As far as marketing, I have found that face-to-face interaction works the best. I’ve established relationships with bookstore managers and business owners, held book signings at writers’ conferences, bookstores, and venues of my choice. I have found simple word-of-mouth is effective, too. Establishing a personal relationship with potential readers is key. This can also be done online through a blog or to some extent Twitter and Facebook.

I had my cover artist design custom bookmarks and with permission I have left them in various businesses. I make sure to have bookmarks, business cards, and copies of my books with me, always. It’s best to be prepared when a potential reader comes along. I thought swag for my first novel would help with book sales, so I invested in customized mini-journals, notebooks, keyrings, ribbon bookmarks, wine glass rings, etc. They are handy for giveaways and are eye-catching, but they don’t sell books. At book signings I’ve offered gift card giveaways with a book purchase or for filling out a short questionnaire.

There are many people out there who are well versed in marketing, so it’s a good idea to network and learn as much as possible.

Great advice. What didn’t work?

Through my previous publisher, I became involved with on-line author/reader events. These are sometimes called “take overs” where half hour to hour time slots are allotted by the host author to her guest author to pitch, advertise, and promote her book(s). Swag giveaways, free eBooks, and Amazon gift cards are offered in hopes of acquiring new readers. I found that authors are good at supporting fellow authors; however, on-line events don’t really help sell more books or garner new readers.

Any advice or tips for writers looking to get published?

My advice to writers is to attend writers’ conferences, join writer support groups, enter writing contests, and network in person and online. I am a six-time finalist and two-time winner of writing contests through Pacific Northwest Writers Association and Oregon Writers Colony. In May of 2014 I met a representative of a publishing house at a writers’ conference and pitched my novel. One year later Between Heartbeats was on its way to publication. Then I chose my editor and proofreader, and my creative team who designed my book cover and helped with the marketing phase. The process went smoothly and by Mid-August of 2015, Between Heartbeats was live.

This publisher used the team approach and seemed to have a promising future, but when they closed their doors in May of 2016, I had to decide what to do with my orphaned book. With the help of a friend, I was able to re-format the book and cover and then I re-published on Create Space and Kindle. This process took less than a month and my book was never off line or out of print.

Self-Publishing:

I published my first book, Through the Tunnel of Love, A Mother’s and Daughter’s Journey with Anorexia, with a small press. The president acted as my editor and book manager. She assigned the formatter and design artist; however, I had full control in deciding the cover and final layout. I helped proofread and approved the final copy for production. I was happy with the finished product which included many family photos. They gave life to our personal story and helped the reader relate to our journey from darkness to light, from illness to a healthy life.

Pros and Cons of Self-Publishing:

The Pro is that after multiple rejections with my memoir, Through the Tunnel of Love, I was able to get our story out to inform others who either faced the horrors of eating disorders or self-destructive behavior, or knew of ones who did. I was able to get my book into Barnes & Noble where I had multiple book signings. I entered into a consignment agreement with three Indie bookstores, sold my books at writers’ conferences, and hosted personal book signings. It has been a positive experience.

The Con is facing the hurdles of marketing and advertising. The first time around it was learn as I went, and I was not online savvy until Between Heartbeats was published. One year before it came out, I opened a Twitter account, an Author Facebook page, LinkedIn, and became more active with my blog. I discovered it’s not Publish or Perish, but Market or Perish.

Very informative, thank you. Please share your website and social media links.

https://www.facebook.com/DonelleMKnudsen/

Twitter @donelleknudsen

Website: http://donellemknudsen.weebly.com/

Blog  Http://dknudsen-writersblog.blogspot.com/

Goodreads  https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5754704.Donelle_Knudsen

Where can we find your book(s)?

Book(s) link:

https://www.amazon.com/Donelle-Knudsen/e/B004X31KDQ/ref=dp_byline_cont_book_1

What’s next for you, Donelle?

I recently completed Heartbeat Interrupted, the sequel to Between Heartbeats and Book II of the Heartbeat Series. It is in the hands of my editor. If the schedule goes as planned Heartbeat Interrupted will be available on Amazon and in local bookstores through Seiders House Publishing shortly after the first of the year. I am about halfway through the first draft of Book III in the Heartbeat Series. It is a departure from the first two in that my heroine, Diana, who is twenty years older, finds herself enmeshed in a baffling mystery surrounding an estate built during the Civil War era. There are many supernatural qualities to it, so it is a Gothic/Urban Fantasy.

My next book, scheduled for 2018, is a sweet ghost story that would appeal to the Middle Grade reader. I plan on writing until I run out of ideas, or am too old to use a computer.

When I’m too old to use a computer, I’ll somehow dictate my stories! Thanks for an insightful and informative interview, Donelle. It was a real pleasure getting to know more about you and your books. I wish you all the best.

ABOUT ELEANOR PARKER SAPIA: 

ellie

Eleanor Parker Sapia, Puerto Rican-born author of the award-winning historical novel, A Decent Woman, is published by Scarlet River Press. Her debut novel, which garnered an Honorable Mention for Best Historical Fiction, English at the 2016 International Latino Book Awards with Latino Literacy Now, was selected as a Book of the Month by Las Comadres and Friends National Latino Book Club in 2015. Eleanor is a writer, artist, and photographer, who is never without a pen and a notebook, and her passport and camera are always ready. Her awesome adult children are out in the world doing amazing things. Eleanor currently lives in Berkeley County, West Virginia, where she is working on her second novel, The Laments of Sister Maria Inmaculada.

Eleanor’s book: http://amzn.to/1X0qFvK

new-book-cover-a-decent-woman-june-2016

PLEASE VISIT ELEANOR AT HER WEBSITE: HTTP://WWW.ELEANORPARKERSAPIA.COM

 

 

 

My Writing Life: How I Made It Happen

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The research material for my work in progress, The Laments of Sister Maria Inmaculada, rests in three full notebooks, scribbled on scraps of paper, and written on junk mail that day I ran out of paper. My first book, A Decent Woman, was published in February 2015.

On Saturday, after a book reading at a local bookstore, a writer asked me the following question:

“How did you make all this happen?”

I am excited, honored, and committed to doing what I’m passionate about–writing and making art full time. How did I make this happen? I’m glad you asked.

Beginning in 2011, I learned to say no. I sacrificed a lot. I changed my life. I was honest with myself. I trusted my gift. Listened to my gut. I shut out the negative, toxic, and even well-meaning voices, who offered negativity and fear when I said I would give up my job, a comfy life, and healthcare to write full time. I was afraid, but more afraid of what it would mean to never publish my book. I jumped off the cliff to my new life. I had BIG faith. Moved to a new state with lower cost of living. I was brave, tenacious, and firm. Practiced discipline and sat/sit at the writing desk every day, no matter what. I adopted a writing mentor. I refused to join a writing group for many reasons. I grew more patience than I ever thought I possessed. I’d turned 50 in 2006 and realized that time would not wait for me to be ready. I got rid of cable TV. Stopped reading newspapers. Read more books. I believed in myself and my story. I honored my gift; never took it for granted. I felt that what makes my heart soar, cry, and love a story would matter to one reader. I showed confidence on the days when I had very little. I learned from others. I strive to continue improving my writing each day. I work very hard. I play. I trust my gut. And so much more.

Most importantly? I kicked my inner critic/censor to the damn curb. But, that’s just me. That’s what worked for me.

I wish you the very best in whatever you choose to do. Oh, and today, I have health care for those who kindly asked. Thank you and happy writing to you!

ABOUT ELEANOR PARKER SAPIA:

ellie

Eleanor Parker Sapia is the Puerto Rican-born author of the award-winning historical novel, A DECENT WOMAN, published by Scarlet River Press. Her debut novel, which garnered an Honorable Mention for Best Historical Fiction, English at the 2016 International Latino Book Awards with Latino Literacy Now, was selected as a Book of the Month by Las Comadres and Friends National Latino Book Club in 2015. Eleanor is a writer, artist, and photographer, who is never without a pen and a notebook, and her passport and camera are always ready. Her awesome adult children are out in the world doing amazing things. Eleanor currently lives and writes in Berkeley County, West Virginia.

Eleanor’s book, A DECENT WOMAN: http://amzn.to/1X0qFvK

new-book-cover-a-decent-woman-june-2016

PLEASE VISIT ELEANOR AT HER WEBSITE: HTTP://WWW.ELEANORPARKERSAPIA.COM

 

 

Author Interview: Liz Doran

Happy Election Day to my fellow Americans! VOTE!

Welcome to the Tuesday Author Interview Series, my favorite day at The Writing Life. Please check back with us next Tuesday for another fascinating interview. Today I’m very pleased to welcome multi-talented Liz Doran, author of the women’s fiction novel, “Where She Belongs”.

Liz Doran is an Irish writer, who lives in Germany.  She has also lived and travelled extensively in the U.S.A. and spent several months living in London and Italy. She loves colour, art, books, film, design, and travel. A lifelong interest in metaphysical and spiritual matters has taken her on many interesting journeys. She trained as a Heilpraktiker in Germany, specialising in classical homeopathy and colour puncture. She also loves nature and animals, and enjoys a good laugh. She has been married to her German husband since 1984 and has two grown sons.

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Welcome, Liz!

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What is your book’s genre/category?

It’s women’s fiction.

Please describe what “Where She Belongs” is about.

“Where She Belongs” is about a woman’s transformation as she decides to be proactive by leaving her unhappy marriage in Spain and move back to her homeland, Ireland.

How did you come up with the title?

Ah, the title! Well, the book is all about belonging and I think it reflects the theme pretty well. I was struggling with a title, but then a friend suggested I might like to look at the last line of the book. And there it was, snuggled into the sentence. 

What inspired you to write “Where She Belongs”? 

I was writing a different book and got stuck in the plot. Then I decided to write Where She Belongs. I didn’t have a plan, but liked the idea of taking my character on a journey to see what would happen.

Taking my characters on a journey often turns into my characters taking me on a journey. My favorite part of writing. What is your favorite part of writing?

I’ve taken courses in hypnotherapy and have conducted and taken part in creative visualisation courses. Writing, when I’m in the flow, is similar. I see the scenes in my mind’s eye, and I can orchestrate the characters in a certain setting, or I can let the images flow through my fingertips onto the page.  

Does your main character resemble you? If so, in what ways?

Yes, I suppose she does in some ways. She can be indecisive, hates injustice, gets bored easily, loves adventure and travel, and is creative.

Liz, what do you find is the most challenging aspect of writing?

I really do have that dread of the blank page, especially when I’m stuck in a difficult plot. Because when I’m stuck, I know that everything I write in the next few pages should be moving the novel forward. It’s like facing a fork in the road and deciding which of the myriad paths to take. Then there’s the aspect of remembering that one’s goal is to entertain people. You have to try to create twists, inject the unexpected. It’s all about pacing too, getting the dialogue right, creating believable characters.

What was the last book you read? What did you think of it? 

That’s a difficult question because I usually read a few books at a time. I know that’s a bad habit. Blame the e-book reader for that! I like to support other Indie writers and often buy their books and dip in and out of their works according to my mood. I do usually finish them though. There are so many talented writers out there, both Indie and traditionally published. I also love going to my local book shop, which has a pretty well-stocked English section. So I’m reading The Harder They Come by T.C.Boyle, Purity by Jonathan Franzen, Anne Enright’s The Green Road.   But I ramble. I think the last book I finished was 80: A Memoir by Pauline Bewick. My sister told me about it and I started it when on holidays in Ireland in summer. It was so engrossing, what a life! It included sketches of some of her paintings and I thought, I recognise her art. Then I remembered: I have a little book called Irish Tales and Sagas by Ulick O’Connor. The illustrations by Pauline Bewick are fantastic. Every time I read a few pages of her Memoir, I felt inspired.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

I don’t really have a favourite author. But I’ll mention authors who have left their mark. Deborah Moggach’s Tulip Fever, Stephen King’s The Stand and On Writing, The Hundred Secret Senses by Amy Tan, Olive Kitteredge by Elizabeth Strout, Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts, and Anne of Green Gables by Maud Montgomery. An eclectic mix, right? Too many to mention. I’ve also read several Indie books this past couple of years by members of a most supportive Indie Writing Group, IASD, which was initially set up by Paul Ruddock and is now run by Ian D. Moore. The genres range from sci-fi to supernatural, thrillers, romance and everything in between.  

I agree with you, IASD is a very supportive group. What authors or person(s) have influenced you as a writer and why?

See above. I think I’ve been influenced by so many authors over the years. Deborah Moggach’s Tulip Fever is so cleverly written. Her sense of pacing, her humour and her historical details inspired me to try something similar one day. Then an Irish writer, Joseph O’Connor, who wrote Star of the Sea about a ship of famine victims, an American journalist and several members of the upper class emigrating to a new life in the U.S. It’s a great read with an exciting plot. He uses information from newspaper cuttings to lend historical accuracy to the times and really transports the reader into the story. 

Do you have a favorite place to write? To read? 

I prefer to read in bed or in a prone position. Usually I write in the living room, looking out onto my garden. I can watch the little robin that hops by my window when he decides to visit, or the pigeon with the white speck on his forehead, and the prowling neighbour’s cat who is usually up to no good, but he doesn’t know it.  Then there are the faces in the hedges that watch me while I watch them. I can write pretty much anywhere once I’m not distracted. I don’t think I could write well in a café. I’d be too busy people watching.

Faces in the hedges…oh, I like that. Can you tell us something personal about yourself that people may be surprised to know?

What would people be surprised to know? Hmmm. Let me think.

I trained as a Naturopath here in Germany and had my own practice. My mind is very open to the weird and wonderful. I used Light and Colour therapy, constitutional homeopathy and foot reflexology to treat people holistically and have a passion for inspiring and helping others. But I’m not a good business person. There’s a Memoir of sorts coming out soon about my journeys, my penchant for astrology, tarot, psychics, guiding dreams, if I don’t get cold feet. The book has been sitting on my computer for a few years now.

You know I love the weird and wonderful, good luck with the memoir! Did the writing process uncover surprises or learning experiences for you? What about the publishing process?

I’ve been writing for years, keeping journals, writing on snippets of paper back in my twenties when I was doing a lot of travelling and waiting at train stations, or sitting in cafes. But writing a novel is a whole other thing. I’ve learned perseverance and not to take myself too seriously either. Ah, the publishing process. I’d informed myself for years about the publishing world and many people were saying how hard it was to get an agent, write a synopsis, and that query letter. Once I’d finished my first novel, I didn’t have the patience for all of that. I decided to do it my way, with a lot of help from my friends. There’s a certain amount I can do myself, but I need to create an alter ego. who helps me with time management and marketing.

What do you hope readers will gain from your book, Liz?

I’ve already had positive feedback from other writers, both men and women, who have told me my book helped them to make a decision to transform their lives and find their place. That’s pretty amazing and certainly gives me a boost.

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That’s awesome. Looking back, what did you do right that helped you write and market this book?

I’m not sure about the marketing aspect. I haven’t done very much in that regard. My plan is to keep writing more books and hope to gain visibility that way. I find it easier to promote others’ books than I do my own. The good decisions I’ve made were finding a professional cover designer and a good developmental editor, who helped me see the big picture.

What didn’t work as well as you’d hoped?

I should have given my two main characters different names as they are difficult to pronounce, and I should have done some pre-publicity for my book. Perhaps I should have had the patience and sent out query letters to agents and publishers, especially since I am not good at promoting my own work.

Agents and publishers can help with publicity, but I find most of the work still falls on the author. Any advice or tips for writers looking to get published?

Don’t give up on your dream. If you love to write and want to see your book in print, stick with it, learn as much as you can. Read a lot and write every day. If you choose the traditional publishing route, do what I didn’t do and write a synopsis and a query letter. Practice getting it perfect. Writing the synopsis, even before the book is finished, can be a very helpful way to figure out where you’re going with the plot. Get the Artist’s Year Book and check out the agents and publishers who specialise in your particular genre. There is so much information available on publishing. There’s nothing original I can say on that score.

Please share your website and social media links.

I’m working on setting up a website, but I want to do it right.

I do blog occasionally. Here’s the link:

www.eclecticwrite.wordpress.com

Twitter: @DoranRogel

Where can we find your book?

It’s available on Amazon, both as an e-book and as a paperback.

Here’s the link: https://amzn.com/B01D6X71PE 

What’s next for you, Liz? 

I’m working on my next novel. It’s also set in Ireland and is a fictional story loosely based on a true historical event. Part contemporary, part historical, I’ve woven the story to encompass the event which was set in the eighteenth century. Think haunted house with an air of mystery and suspense.

Sounds intriguing! Thank you for chatting with us today, Liz. I’ve enjoyed learning more about you. I wish you the best with your books and writing.

ABOUT ELEANOR PARKER SAPIA:

ellie

Eleanor Parker Sapia is the Puerto Rican-born author of the award-winning historical novel, A DECENT WOMAN, published by Scarlet River Press. Her debut novel, which garnered an Honorable Mention for Best Historical Fiction, English at the 2016 International Latino Book Awards with Latino Literacy Now, was selected as a Book of the Month by Las Comadres and Friends National Latino Book Club in 2015. Eleanor is a writer, artist, and photographer, who is never without a pen and a notebook, and her passport and camera are always ready. Her awesome adult children are out in the world doing amazing things. Eleanor currently lives and writes in Berkeley County, West Virginia.

Eleanor’s book, A DECENT WOMAN: http://amzn.to/1X0qFvK

new-book-cover-a-decent-woman-june-2016

PLEASE VISIT ELEANOR AT HER WEBSITE: HTTP://WWW.ELEANORPARKERSAPIA.COM

 

 

 

 

Rejection and Bad Reviews: What’s to Be Done?

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“What began the change was the very writing itself. Let no one lightly set about such a work.” – C. S. Lewis

Negative book reviews certainly aren’t a walk in the park for an author. Yes, the book that took you years to research and write; the one that was finally, finally published was rejected and trashed by a reader, and they couldn’t leave it well alone. They wrote, in excruciating detail, mind you, how much they hated your book, and how no one should read it for many reasons that you find awfully unfair.

Okay, breathe. First of all, the reader isn’t rejecting you personally, unless perhaps the review was written by your disgruntled neighbor with the precariously leaning tree that you’ve complained about to everyone and anyone who will listen. Or maybe the negative review was written by your ex under another name. Well, that’s another story.

Let’s take a look at negative reviews. In truth, most authors will receive one or more negative reviews for each of their books. Rejection and negative reviews can sting and feel unfair, and sometimes what the reader says in their review might really tick you off. I’ve read some pretty mean-spirited book reviews about other books that raised my eyebrows, elicited a quiet “damn”, and reminded me of Thumper’s father’s advice, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all.” If you dislike a book that much, stop reading, put the book down, and say nothing. That’s what I do. Wouldn’t that be kinder to the author? Of what possible value is a negative review?

There is value in every book review. No, I haven’t lost my marbles. I know experiencing rejection through a negative review can hurt and sting, but at the same time, the experience can be helpful to a writer–if the writer chooses to view and understand it from another angle.

My debut novel garnered a few negative reviews; they’re part of the writing life. We writers put ourselves out there with every book, so buck up; it’s going to happen. Did I like reading those less-than-glowing reviews of my book? No, I didn’t; I’m human, but deep down I knew I could learn something from them. And besides, my sage writing mentor told me to in so many words to quit whining, ignore all reviews, and keep writing because I am a good writer. He was right. I never whined again.

What did I learn and remember as an exhibiting artist of nearly 30 years, before I discovered my passion for writing books?

Art is subjective. The same is true with books. In a group of 10 book club members, five readers might come away with a similar reaction to a book, but be sure that each reader will filter your story through their life lens, their life experiences. The story will mean different things to different readers. Keep writing.

Accept that not everyone will love your book. You won’t appeal to the masses and that’s okay–that’s not your job. Your job is to write the best book you can possibly write, and to write an even better book next time with what you’ve learned. Keep writing.

For goodness sake, don’t write what you believe will sell! Write the story that’s in your heart. Keep writing.

If two or more reviewers touch on the same or similar issues with your story, take a serious look at what they are saying. I don’t care how many editors or advanced readers have read at your book–the reader(s) may be right. Or not. Be open to explore the possibility, and consider the reader may have a point. Keep writing.

Use all feedback to improve your writing. Be grateful to readers who’ve bought your book, read it, and took the time to write an honest review. Reviews are gold. Keep writing.

Whether your book is your debut or seventh novel,  learn from your mistakes. Don’t beat yourself up, especially if it’s your first book. Major kudos to you for doing what most people will never do–you wrote and published a book. Keep writing and learning.

Don’t obsess over reviews–good or bad. That’s easier said than done; I know. My writing mentor encouraged me early on to not read my reviews…I still find that difficult. I checked my Amazon reviews this morning. I am #stillwriting.

Lastly, I humbly offer this one bit of writerly advice:

Never. Never ever, challenge, argue, or discuss a negative review with the reviewer. Don’t blog about it or out the reviewer on social media. Save yourself the grief, negative publicity, and possible public embarrassment and social media backlash (hey, it happens). Remain mute when it comes to receiving negative reviews or negative comments. Grit your teeth, cry for a couple hours max, and then focus all your attention on your work in progress, improving your writing skills, and growing your readership. Develop thicker skin and accept the negative reviews as constructive criticism. Learn from them. Keep writing.

Always remember to thank and interract with your wonderful readers on social media.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart, dear readers, for buying and for sharing your honest reviews of my book.

Do you have any advice or suggestions for dealing with a negative review? If so, please share.

ABOUT ELEANOR:

ellie

Eleanor Parker Sapia is the Puerto Rican-born author of the award-winning historical novel, A DECENT WOMAN, published by Scarlet River Press. Her debut novel, which garnered an Honorable Mention for Best Historical Fiction, English at the 2016 International Latino Book Awards with Latino Literacy Now, was Book of the Month with Las Comadres and Friends National Latino Book Club in 2015. Eleanor is proud to be featured in the award-winning anthology, Latina Authors and Their Muses, edited by Mayra Calvani. Well-traveled Eleanor is a writer, artist, photographer, and blogger who is never without a pen and a notebook, her passport, and a camera. Her awesome adult children are out in the world doing amazing things. Eleanor currently lives and writes in Berkeley County, West Virginia.

Eleanor’s book: http://amzn.to/1X0qFvK

Please visit Eleanor at her website: http://www.eleanorparkersapia.com

 

 

Author Interview: SJ Brown

Welcome to The Writing Life blog and to the Tuesday Author Interview series. I will be showcasing authors well into May 2017, so please check back in.

This week, I’m very pleased to chat with wildlife photographer, memoirist, and author, S. J. Brown.

Prior to pursuing wildlife photography, S. J. Brown describes living an average life in New Jersey. She discovered her love of writing in high school, and her love of photography began on a whim with an inexpensive 35mm camera, a few rolls of film, and an appreciation for the natural world. For over 15 years, she has traveled extensively throughout the eastern United States in pursuit of wildlife encounters. Much to the dismay of her spotter, this often involves trekking through thick brush, muddy trails, and secluded locations, and on rocky seas. S. J. says the interaction with wildlife makes it all worth the effort.

S. J. Brown’s books include, Close ups & Close Encounters: A View From Behind The Lens and Adults Gone Wild Coloring Book, and for little ones, All The Birds I See, Clancy’s Catnap, and Wild Animals Coloring Book. I am a fan of this creative lady’s beautiful, sensitive photographs.

Welcome, S. J. Brown.

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What is your book’s genre(s)?

Close Ups & Close Encounters: A View From Behind The Lens is a mix of nonfiction, memoir, and photography.

Please describe what Close Ups & Close Encounters is about.

The reader goes into the field with me to see what photographing wildlife is really like.  There is more to photography than just clicking the shutter button.

That’s a unique approach and very true about photography. How did you come up with the title?

I played with several titles, which I sent to friends and family for their opinion.  Most of them loved Close Ups & Close Encounters. They felt it accurately captured the feel of the book.

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What inspired you to write this book?

A fellow author overheard my conversation about one of my photographs. He later said, “Girl, you have to write this shit down.” I went home that evening, put aside the project I was working on, and began Close Ups.  Everyone has heard the saying every picture tells a story.  Well, there is a story behind getting every wildlife image.

Within the pages of my book, I share the learning experiences in the field, my close calls, and my failures and successes.

I love that your book combines photography with memoir, which helps the reader to learn about and connect with you, the person behind the camera.

I’m still smiling about your friend’s comment. So true about the importance of getting it all down. What are your favorite parts of writing and photography?

I love sharing my love of wildlife and ultimately, sharing my images and experiences with readers. The time I spend with students and adults presenting and discussing my photographs hopefully inspires others to explore their creative side. Whether it is through photography, painting, sculpting, or sketching, I believe there is a little bit of artist in everyone that often just needs to be nurtured a bit to bring it to the surface.

I wholeheartedly agree with you. What do you find is the most challenging aspect of writing?

Punctuation, I really suck at punctuation. As the book evolved, many pages were put aside, which at first was hard. However, the book slowly took on another feel and showed things from a different perspective, which I liked better.

What was the last book you read? What did you think of it?

I Have MS. What’s Your Superpower. It is a very informative book for people with MS and for their loved ones. I am fortunate to not have MS, and now I have a better understanding of how the disease affects people.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

Most of my favorite authors are people most people may not have heard of. They are authors I have met, hung out with, and consider friends. Sally Brinkman, Victor Banis, Kirk Judd, Lisa Combs, R. G. Redding, Tracy Ball, Eleanor Parker Sapia, Cheryl Grogg, Diana Pishner Walker, and M. Lynn Squires.  Of course, there are many more, these are just the top 10 that came to mind. They are not only good authors; they are good people, as well.

Thank you kindly, SJ, for including me in your list. What authors or person(s) have influenced you as a writer and as a photographer?

That list is long. Every time I read a book that captivates me, I want to write better to capture my audience.

My family has played a big part in encouraging  me to continue both my writing and photography careers.

Do you have a favorite place to write? To read?

I write at my desk in my newly-completed office. I write mostly at night when the house is quiet and there are no distractions; however, I tend to get lots of ideas and will take notes almost anywhere.

As for where I read, that varies; it might be in my car, in an office, on the couch, just about anywhere I can find a few minutes of quiet.

Tell us something personal about you people may be surprised to know?

A couple of things: I don’t like water, but I will get into a canoe or a boat if it means there is a chance to get a few critter photos. I’ve owned a small business and have explored sketching and working with stained glass and ceramics. And lastly, when I first began submitting my photography to publishers, most of the submissions were returned unopened. I knew I was choosing publishers that would be interested in my work, but they weren’t looking at the images. Once I began using my initials, publishers began opening the submissions. No, they didn’t all buy my work, but they were  looking and some were buying. It turns out that most publishers I approached assumed a woman couldn’t get the kind of wildlife images they were looking for, so they just returned them unopened.

To this day most publishers assume S. J. Brown is a man and often write the check to Mr. S. J. Brown.  Yes, I enjoy enlightening them.

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I can imagine you do enjoy enlightening them after you receive your check! Did the writing process uncover surprises or learning experiences for you? What about the publishing process?

The final version of Close Ups & Close Encounters is nothing like the original draft. Along the way and as the book evolved, I  spent a lot of time with fellow authors. The evolution included adding entire chapters, while deleting others.  Writing a book is a process and the end result can be surprising.

As for the publishing process, I still have a lot to learn. However, I now know that I need to consider each submission carefully, and if I  have doubts, that might not be the right place for my work. 

I absolutely agree with trusting our gut. What do you hope readers will gain from your book?

A love and appreciation for nature along with a better understanding of just what it takes to get that perfect shot. I also hope this book encourages people to follow their passion wherever it leads them.

That’s awesome. I’m also a big fan of encouraging others and following our passions in life. Looking back, what did you do right that helped you write and market this book?

Getting input from fellow authors is invaluable. I was fortunate to have a varied mix of authors weigh in on my work. A lawyer is going to offer a different perspective than a children’s book author or someone who writes sci-fi.

As for marketing, I am still learning and I have a lot more to learn. 

What didn’t work?

Marketing. Publishing with a small publisher was a mistake for me. A larger publisher could have guided me through the marketing process and helped me to find the right market for Close Ups & Close Encounters.

I always say I write full-time along with a part-time job in marketing. Marketing isn’t easy. Any advice or tips for writers looking to get published?

Don’t rush things. It is better to publish one good book than to publish several so-so books. Take your time. A book is your baby, nurture it. When you are ready to let it go, make sure you find the right home for your book.

Website and social media links?

Website www.sjbrown.50megs.com

FaceBook  https://www.facebook.com/sj.brown.3367

Google+ https://plus.google.com/107089848958196015385

Linkedin  https://www.linkedin.com/in/s-j-brown-40667b47?trk=hp-identity-name

Where can we find your book?

Amazon   http://www.amazon.co.uk/Close-Ups-Encounters-View-Behind/dp/0985726784

Create Space  https://www.createspace.com/4228022

Autographed Copies available at www.sjbrown.50megs.com

Barnesandnoble   http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/close-ups-and-close-encounters-s-j-brown/1115678349?ean=9780985726782

What’s next for you, SJ?

I just completed a memoir that I co-authored with my sister.  Now it is time to find a publisher for it.

While that hunt proceeds, I am working on a project I have wanted to do for a while. Time after time, readers have commented on the images in Close Ups & Close Encounters. Many admitted they never actually read the book, only looked at the photographs, so I am ready to tackle a coffee table book of just images. The real challenge with this project will be finding a publisher that is willing to handle a project with so many images.

Thanks for a fun interview, SJ. Best of luck with Close Ups, your new memoir, and the coffee table book. I look forward to catching up with you soon.

About Eleanor Parker Sapia

ellie

Eleanor Parker Sapia is the Puerto Rican-born author of the award-winning historical novel, A DECENT WOMAN, published by Scarlet River Press. Her debut novel, which garnered an Honorable Mention in Historical Fiction, English at the 2016 International Latino Book Awards with Latino Literacy Now, was Book of the Month with Las Comadres and Friends National Latino Book Club in 2015. Eleanor is proud to be featured in the award-winning anthology, Latina Authors and Their Muses, edited by Mayra Calvani. Well-traveled Eleanor is a writer, artist, photographer, and blogger who is never without a pen and a notebook, her passport, and a camera. Her awesome adult children are out in the world doing amazing things. Eleanor currently lives and writes in Berkeley County, West Virginia.

Eleanor’s book: http://amzn.to/1X0qFvK

Please visit Eleanor at her website: http://www.eleanorparkersapia.com

 

Author Interview: Fiona Hogan

Welcome to The Writing Life, where I’ll be interviewing fabulous authors every Tuesday morning. So please check back to see who is next!
Today I’m pleased to welcome multi-genre writer, Fiona Hogan.
fiona-hogan
Fiona Cooke Hogan is a writer, poet and blogger living in the beautiful midlands of Ireland. She has two books on Amazon  – a book of short stories  called The Lights Went Out and Other Stories; a quirky collection of short, long and flash fiction in a range of genres from humorous to romantic and supernatural; and a novella called What Happened In Dingle – a romantic comedy set in wild windswept Dingle, County Kerry.
Fiona is currently working on a horror as yet untitled, and is pitching her romantic fiction novel- Martha’s Cottage to an agent. She hopes to have a poetry chapbook published before Christmas.
When not scribbling like a lunatic, she is addicted to The Walking Dead, Poldark and anything Tolkien.
Welcome, Fiona!
fiona-hogan-book-cover

What is your book’s genre category?

My book is a collection of short and longer fiction and they are a mix of many genres, The Lights Went Out and Other Stories runs the gamut from humorous to the supernatural.

Please describe what ‘The Lights Went Out And Other Stories’ is about?

I always described this book as having a mix of differing themes from despair and love to loneliness and madness, however a recent reviewer very kindly wrote of a commonality that he noted between my stories that I will share here –

“Some more obvious commonalities or connecting threads between the stories is the feeling of “romance in the air.” The author is quite good at giving us dramatic, heart-stopping slices from the lives of young lovers. But she seems less interested in the Harlequin romance end of things and more interested in portraying the pains, insecurities, fears, trepidations, and heartbreaks that accompany young love, and the psychologically odd spaces lovers are drawn into, the way these romantic encounters leave them shattered, or in some way forever altered, and forever after haunted by eerie feelings of drug-like intensity it seems no amount of processing time will be enough to digest.”

I couldn’t begin to disagree with him. I like the discordant notes and unusual themes and there are plenty of these in my stories.

How did you come up with the title?

The title is taken from one of the longer tales – “The Lights Went Out”; a story of one man’s loneliness and struggle with the demons of his past. It’s funny because I had the title before the actual story was conceived. I just really liked the title- I thought it evocative and also slightly old fashioned.

That story was a pain in the ass – I lost the first draft on my laptop and the next time being super careful, I saved it onto my USB only for that file to become corrupted! It’s a fairly long story and I had to rewrite it fully to my chagrin, but perhaps the final version was the one I was meant to write. Personally, I dislike it because of the hassle it caused me, but a lot of people tell me it is one of their favourites.

What inspired you to write the book?

As a collection, each story comes from a different place. Some where inspired from personal experience – Blood Orange and The Saxophone Song, for instance.  Others were pure fiction.  Some were a mixture of both. One story in particular – Loose Ends was a spin off of  a longer story that was causing me problems. I couldn’t decide what to do with a character and thought, what if this happened? And I came up with a nice little flash fiction piece along with sorting out the direction of the main story – I love it when that happens.

What is your favorite part of writing?

My favourite part of writing is the excitement that comes with an idea, the “quick, where is the pen?” moment and then the euphoria of the flow – when I am writing so fast in my notebook that I get a cramp in the wrist (yes, I write longhand). There is no better feeling.

Researching is also an essential and sometimes indulgent pleasure. It’s amazing where a few clicks of the mouse can take you – from your own living room into Victorian London or Medieval France.

What is the most challenging aspect of writing?

Procrastination. I have the attention span of a stunned goldfish and am very easily distracted – social media is both a blessing and a curse. I have to be really strict with myself.

Who are some of your favourite authors?

I grew up on the Brontes, Jane Austen, Daphne du Maurier, George Elliot and Thomas Hardy – I love how the landscapes are as much a character as the individuals in their stories.

I discovered the work of JRR Tolkien at a young age and found true escapism. I remember crying when Frodo left for the Havens in the final chapter. Contemporary literary idols are Susanna Clarke, Paul Auster, Sarah Waters and Jonathan Tropper. Also Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, and lashings of John Connolly because I love a bit of well written horror and suspense.

What authors or persons have influenced you?

I love the Victorian tales of mystery and horror and I would have to say that my stories in that vein are influenced by HP Lovecraft, Edgar Allen Poe, Shelley, and Stoker. My more contemporary stories are influenced by Joyce Carol Oates, Joanne Harris, and the wonderful Dorothy Parker.

Do you have a favourite place to write?

There is an old leather armchair in my living room that is rather comfortable for curling up on with a notebook; it’s also perfect for using the laptop. But in good weather I can be found outside on the bench on my deck beside the wonderful ancient hedgerow that runs the length of our long garden. It really is the most peaceful and inspiring place, and has provided many a blog post, poem, and chapter.

Fiona, tell us something personal about you that people might be surprised to know.

I live and breathe Tolkien, and have the first two lines of the poem that Aragorn shows Frodo in The Prancing Pony (written by Gandalf to vouch for Strider/Aragorn’s true character) tattooed on my left upper arm– in Elvish. Below is the English version.

“All that is gold does not glitter

Not all those who wander are lost”

What surprises or learning experiences did you have during the publishing process?

I’m self published, so everything was a surprise and learning experience! I really hurled myself at the process with little or no knowledge of how everything worked, and hence learned an awful lot in a very quick period of time.

My first book was always going to be an experiment and as such I don’t think I have done too badly. I designed the cover myself from one of my own photographs – a beautiful view of an old cottage through an old iron gate surrounded by ivy and overgrown hedge. That cover has gone through a few incarnations and I am delighted with the final version  – I messed about with colouring on the picture and picked a segment for the cover of the paperback. I wanted it to be brighter and it looks amazing, especially the ivy on the back cover.

fiona-hogan-book-cover

I figured out the formatting (eventually) and have been going at the promotion ever since. I hold a degree in Marketing, but old school stuff  – the press releases and organisational side, digital marketing is a whole different animal and I have to say I love it.  But apart from the inimitable joy of holding my book in my arms for the first time, I have to say one of the highlights of self publishing for me has been connecting with so many amazing and helpful authors (and now friends) online. I look forward to meeting these writers over time. It still astounds me how helpful and generous these people are; from sharing and re-tweeting, to buying and reviewing my book, not to mention the invaluable advice. I make it my business to do the same for authors I come across, and I do a lot of reviewing myself because I understand just how important it is to an author.

Looking back, what did you do right that helped with this book?

Well, if you don’t have the content, there really is no point in putting your writing out there. I had a large amount of stories that had never seen the light of day and I picked through them until I was happy with the fiction I put forward. Thankfully my reviews have shown that these stories are relevant and interesting to readers and this is gratifying. I was lucky with my promotion as a newbie, and hopefully I have created a nice amount of interest for my next books.

Any advice or tips for writers looking to get published?

Make sure your writing is the best it can possibly be. For the first couple of months my book was out there, I couldn’t afford to get it professionally edited – I was forever correcting what I had thought perfect. A writer can only edit to a certain degree, it takes an objective professional to spot the errors that have been overlooked many times.  As soon as I could, I hired a wonderful editor and now friend in New York, to work my book and she did a stellar job; it really is amazing the difference a little tightening can do.

(My next novel – Martha’s Cottage has been sent to an agent as polished as possible thanks to my editor)

Don’t be afraid to get your work out there, have people lined up to read your work and critique.

When your book is ready for publishing, make sure and have the best cover art you can get, either buy it or download a free image (although you do run the risk of someone somewhere using the same pic), or use a good quality picture of your own and photo shop it to your liking. You can format the document yourself or pay for someone else to do it, but YouTube has many free tutorials.

My first book arrived on Amazon with no fanfare apart from much screaming and clinking of wine glasses with my husband. Now, I know better and my next book will get a proper online launch with the help of my blog, Twitter, and hopefully my Facebook author friends. There will be giveaways and I will promote the hell out of it before it even goes live. I can’t wait.

Website:

Incessant Musings is full of snippets of poetry, my thoughts on everything from woolly socks to dogs, my love of nature and news on my books –

http://www.fionacookehogan.com

My Facebook page is a great platform for showing little bits of my work and also commenting on the writing process –

http://facebook.com/theHazelHedge

Where can we find your book?

The Lights Went Out and Other Stories can be found on Amazon. There are also links on my website and my author page on Facebook.

http://amzn.to/2ceYPXr

What’s next for you, Fiona?

I have sent my latest book; a romantic fiction – Martha’s Cottage to an agent because I want to try a traditional publishing house with this one. I am interested to see how things differ from self-publishing promotion and marketing wise.

I am currently working on a horror or I should say “wrestling with” as this book is doing its best to fight me hard.  I also plan on self publishing a chap book of my poetry before Christmas and there is the second collection of short stories that is lurking about in the back of my mind. So busy, busy, busy. Busy is great.

You can connect with Fiona at:
It was pleasure chatting with you, Fiona. I wish you all the best with your books and finding an agent! Eleanor

ellie

Eleanor Parker Sapia is the Puerto Rican-born author of the award-winning historical novel, A DECENT WOMAN, published by Sixth Street River Press. Her debut book, which garnered an Honorable Mention in Historical Fiction, English at the 2016 International Latino Book Awards with Latino Literacy Now, was Book of the Month with Las Comadres and Friends National Latino Book Club in 2015. Eleanor is proud to be featured in the award-winning anthology, Latino Authors and Their Muses, edited by Mayra Calvani. Well-traveled Eleanor is a writer, artist, photographer, and blogger who is never without a pen and a notebook, her passport and a camera. Her awesome adult children are out in the world doing amazing things. Eleanor currently lives and writes in Berkeley County, West Virginia.

Eleanor’s book: http://amzn.to/1X0qFvK

Please visit Eleanor at her website: http://www.eleanorparkersapia.com