Author Interview: Mickey Brent

Welcome to the 2018 Author Interview Series at The Writing Life, one of my favorite features on the blog. Instead of hosting one author per week as we’ve done for the past two years, I will share one interview per month to allow me to focus on finishing my second book, The Laments. The distraction quotient is real over here!

I hope you enjoy the new author interviews. Thank you for your visit!

Eleanor

This month, I’m happy to welcome my friend, Mickey Brent. We met in Brussels, Belgium through a shared love of and a deep appreciation for The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, when we both lived in the fascinating city.

Mickey Brent is a multicultural author and creative writing teacher who lives in Southern California with her partner and two kitties. She is also an active member of the LGBTQ community. Mickey spent nearly two decades living in Europe and loves writing quirky stories about Europeans, their diverse cultures, languages, and lifestyles. Mickey has written numerous travel articles, book chapters, poems, and screenplays, publishing various genres of fiction and non-fiction under other noms de plume. Mickey’s aim is to offer readers a more fun, light-hearted, and romantic view of life. She has created this vivid reality with Underwater Vibes, a well-crafted, contemporary novel showcasing a unique cast of characters thriving in the multicultural city of Brussels, Belgium, the capital of Europe. Its sequel, Broad Awakening, will be published by Bold Strokes Books in October 2018.

Underwater Vibes cover

Please describe what Underwater Vibes is about.

Hélène Dupont, a French-speaking scientific translator in Brussels, Belgium, cherishes two things: flowers and Chaussette, her cat. Hélène writes bad poetry to help her survive her painful existence with Marc, her husband, until she collapses at work and her doctor proposes a radical lifestyle change. She diets drastically and attempts sports for the first time, while Marc laughs at her efforts. Then Hélène meets Sylvie Routard, a carefree, young, amateur photographer from Greece. By chance, Sylvie becomes Hélène’s private swim coach. During their daily lessons, Hélène’s admiration towards Sylvie turns to attraction. As unsettling feelings hijack her mind and body, daydreams featuring Sylvie enter her life—even her poems. Hélène starts to question her relationship with Marc, and everything else in life.

How did you come up with the title?

Because Hélène and Sylvie spend so much time in the water, the attraction they feel can best be described as vibrations, hence the title, Underwater Vibes. I worked on my title for several weeks before I came up with one that was short, descriptive, and perfectly captured the essence of the story. These vibrations are underwater, just as underlying vibrations can translate to underlying meaning in our lives. As humans, we constantly feel things, whether we realize it or not. Believe me, Hélène and Sylvie are feeling things throughout the book. The fact that they are swimming underwater together adds to the intrigue, in my opinion.

What inspired you to write this book?

The idea for Underwater Vibes came as an assignment for an English composition course I took in college. The story was about a plump, shy girl—a loner—who learned to swim in a lake one summer. My writing teacher loved the story and urged me to keep writing. Twenty years later, while taking a creative writing course in Brussels, Belgium, I remembered that original essay. Each day, as I biked through Brussels, I jotted down new ideas for the story. Despite minor accidents with light poles and a parked car, I kept up my pace until I had birthed a unique, humorous tale. After thirteen years of tweaking, Underwater Vibes is, at last, ripe and ready to be devoured by readers who like quirky, character-driven stories.

Knowing you, humor will be evident in this book. Congratulations! What is your favorite part of writing?

Sitting with my cat early in the morning with a pot of steaming tea. Every day, my cat meows at the bedroom door until I get up—at an insane hour—as soon as the birds start chirping. I roll out of bed, splash cold water on my face, put on the tea kettle, and proceed to brush the cat. Then I settle on the sofa with my mug of tea, my cat, my pen, and my notebook, contemplating each empty page, wondering what’s going to fill it each day. Every story starts this way: in silence, with bird chirps, meows, a hissing kettle, then furious scribbling noises as I pen my incessant, rapid-fire thoughts. That’s my routine and my favorite part of writing. I also love teaching creative writing. Working with my students motivates me and fills me with deep joy.

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

Hélène resembles me a little bit. I was a translator for many years in Brussels, and she’s a translator. Yet she’s much shyer than I am, and not very athletic, although she gains confidence and becomes an athlete as the story evolves. The other main character, Sylvie, is an amateur photographer, and so am I. She also loves food, and so do I. We’re total foodies. They both adore cats and flowers, and so do I. They also appreciate poetry, although Hélène isn’t very talented in that department. I like to think that I’m a better poet than her. But Sylvie is a much stronger swimmer than me.

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

The most challenging aspect of writing is keeping myself, and my voice, out of my characters’ heads. As a writer, it’s difficult to keep their viewpoints authentic, and it’s hard to not be influenced by their words and actions. I constantly have to ask myself, “What would she do in this situation?” or “What would he say if that happened to him?” It’s important to keep myself separate from their lives, yet it’s challenging because I’m attached to each of my characters. They are all living in my head. To make sure I’m writing from their unique points of view, I fill out at least four pages of a character sketch worksheet for each individual. I keep the worksheets next to my desk, so when I’m writing dialogue or action or plotting out a scene, I can refer to each character sketch, which includes the character’s history, voice, habits, attitudes, preferences, etc. Sometimes, I even stand up and act out a scene, to make sure I’m writing it from their perspective instead of my own.

I love character sketches and use them, as well. What was the last book you read? What did you think of it?

I just finished reading “The Paris Wife” by Paula McLain. It’s a New York Times Bestseller and I thought it was amazing. It’s a story about a couple living in Paris in the 1920s and it particularly caught my eye because I used to live in Paris myself. It’s about Ernest Hemingway and his first wife during the period when Hemingway finds his voice as a writer, which particularly intrigued me. It’s very well written, with powerful dialogue and colorful, dramatic scenes. As a reader, I was drawn into the story on each and every page.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

Isabel Allende, Julia Cameron, Mark Nepo, Paolo Coelho, Eckhart Tolle, Sarah Waters, Radclyffe… These are a few of my favorites.

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

Julia Cameron opens her readers’ eyes to all expressions of creativity and beauty in the most intriguing way. For example, through her own experiences, she introduced me to screenwriting and songwriting. And I learned to love Taos, New Mexico—without ever visiting the place—because of the way she describes its scenery. In her books, she helps readers find their special place in life. She teaches them to learn to trust their intuition, the Universe, and all the pleasures and pains that come with being fully human. Her words are truly a gift to this planet. I am surely not the only reader who feels lucky to have picked up “The Artist’s Way” so long ago. I truly cherish this book and am thankful that Julia has been guided all these years to put her talents and insight to paper.

Along similar lines, Mark Nepo is a philosopher, poet, teacher and well-published author whose words and inspiration have made a positive difference in my life. In fact, I often begin teaching my creative writing classes by reciting one of Mark’s daily entries in “The Book of Awakening.” His exquisitely penned words set a calm, reflective atmosphere in the classroom. As his sentences unfold, my students and I contemplate his literary mastery—the delicate way he illustrates the simplest acts of life. Not unlike famous Japanese haiku poets, Mark offers his readers an opportunity to pause and reflect. By exposing the raw beauty of everyday happenings, he incites readers to appreciate the most insignificant details of life surrounding us: leaves falling in a mossy forest, a lone daisy, thoughtful glances, random acts of kindness by strangers. These are the kinds of insignificant details—that aren’t so insignificant, actually—that make stories real.

Mark writes non-fiction and poetry, while I mainly write fiction. But my hope is to transform my characters, and readers, through carefully selected words, plot, and mindful presence—like Mark—to bring everyone to a better place in life.

I will check out The Book of Awakening. Do you have a favorite place to write? To read?

As I mentioned earlier, I love to sit on my living room sofa with a big mug of tea, my cat, my pen, and my notebook. Surrounded by soft pillows, I contemplate the scenery outside—palm trees, a lush potato tree with its purple flowers, my statue of Buddha—wondering what’s going to fill my notebook each day. I use an aromatherapy diffuser, so there’s lemongrass, lavender, or some other calming, purifying scent in the room. I keep the large windows open to let in fresh air; their frames are lined with shells and stones from the local beach, colorful candles, postcards, and photos of loved ones. This is also my favorite place to read. I must admit, however, in the evenings I read lying down because I’m exhausted after getting up at dawn to write.

When it’s time to work on my stories with a computer, I move upstairs into the bedroom. My desk there overlooks more palm trees—and a parking lot. One day, I’d like to look out at the ocean instead of the parking lot. But for now, I’m content with where I am.

Mickey, tell us something personal about you people may be surprised to know.

When I was young, I used to be a competitive athlete. I competed in several sports simultaneously and took winning very seriously. I was raised this way—my father was my coach. I was hard on myself, determined, a real overachiever, and perhaps not the kindest kid to others. Luckily, I grew out of this tough, self-focused phase and learned to be kind to others. I realized that winning is not everything in life. People and relationships are much more important. Looking back, I’m much happier as an adult to be in a more positive, open-minded, and caring place.

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

Yes, it did. The more I write, the more I learn about myself and my life. I have always had a passion for writing, even as a child. And when I started writing novels in addition to short stories, I realized that writing is a spectacular way to discover who I am and where I’m headed as a person. It unearths hidden passions, secrets, and, in my case, an imagination that seems to know no limits. I often get asked if I’ve experienced the things my characters go through in my stories. It’s a valid question. Some authors experience nearly everything they write about, even in fiction. But most of what I write comes from some other place—some hidden source from within. It just bubbles up and I put it down on paper.

As you might have guessed, I’m a pantser (I write from the seat of my pants, rather than planning and plotting my stories). So I don’t even know what’s coming until it literally shows up on the page. For example, in Underwater Vibes, Sylvie’s obnoxious ex, Lydia, showed up in my novel while I was rewriting my seventh version of the manuscript. A true perfectionist, I completely rewrote the manuscript thirteen times over a thirteen-year period. The fact that Lydia simply popped up on the page after seven years surprised me. I had never met anyone like Lydia before and I had no clue how she got there. Somehow, she hijacked my fertile imagination with her despicable charm. Surprises like these represent tremendous gifts to authors like me, who strive to tell meaningful stories with unexpected twists.

The publishing process is a whole different story. If you don’t mind, I’ll wait to answer that question in my next interview with you, after my sequel, Broad Awakening, is released in October.

Underwater Vibes cover

What do you hope readers will gain from Underwater Vibes?

Hopefully, my book will offer readers a pleasant literary experience that will also transmit a strong message of human acceptance, so that LGBTQ issues will no longer be topics of overt—or hushed—conversations in boardrooms, school cafeterias, at dinner tables, etc. Because my novel explores a budding, yet awkward, lesbian romance, I hope it will open up the minds of readers in a positive way, especially those who have never bought a book or opted to watch a film featuring LGBTQ characters. Personally, I wish one’s sexual orientation could be as insignificant to others as one’s hair color or freckles. It shouldn’t matter. Love is love.

Underwater Vibes is a contribution to the struggle for equality for all. Perhaps this might seem like a lofty aim, but I wrote my novel to help reduce the discrimination that still exists globally among humans on many levels: racial, ethnic, religious, socio-economic, etc. This discrimination also includes biases against peoples’ sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, linguistic, regional and cultural differences, etc.

Without knowing these intentions, certain people have advised me to end the novel by having Hélène and Marc, her verbally abusive husband, get back together; but if that were the case, the essential meaning of this story would be lost. These two characters are obviously not meant for each other. Somehow, they ended up together, but once Hélène discovers that someone special exists out there, she needs to trust her heart and face the truth. I hope my book will help readers learn to trust their true feelings. Sometimes, this trust involves taking risks to get what they deserve in life.

I wholeheartedly agree with you. My editor and several advance readers encouraged me to change the original ending of A Decent Woman. I’m glad I listened. Looking back, what did you do right that helped you write and market this book?

I had a dream that I truly believed in. I wanted to be a writer so I wrote every day for many years. I didn’t give up on my book, even when I felt like it. I worked weekends and evenings, early in the morning, and late at night. I followed my intuition every step of the way. I didn’t listen to naysayers who told me two decades ago, “You’re only a beginner. You’ll never get published.” Likewise, I ignored those who said, “You’re not making any money on this. Why don’t you just give it up and get a real career?” They didn’t seem to notice that I was juggling several jobs while writing all these years.

I was stubborn and optimistic; I bought every worthy book on writing that I could get my hands on and devoured it with passion. Next, I joined a book club, then I joined a writing group, then a critique group. I kept taking classes on how to write short stories and screenplays. I wrote several of each, edited the stories until I was satisfied, then I sent them to publishers of anthologies, writing contests, magazines, etc. After quite a few rejections, several stories got published. That motivated me a lot. Next, I started teaching creative writing classes, which motivated me even more, especially when my students started publishing their work. I learned the craft of writing even better by researching it, then instructing others on what I had learned.  

To conclude, what I did right was believing in my dream of becoming a published author and sustaining my intense determination to realize this dream. Working hard created a positive momentum that made it easier for me to write, edit, and submit my book several times until I found the right publisher. It has also helped me market Underwater Vibes now that my story is out in the world.

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

Waiting so long to submit my first book to agents and publishers slowed the process down. Like so many writers, I was afraid of rejection, and I was a perfectionist. Over the past few years, I’ve worked hard to overcome these two issues. In hindsight, I wish I had taken more initiative to get my first book published. As a published author now, I’ve learned my lesson and I’m much more confident. That is why I’ve promised my publisher that I will be devoting two years to write my third novel, instead of thirteen!

Any advice or tips for writers looking to get published?

If you have a dream to become a published writer, you must believe in yourself. Write something every day, even if it’s just in your journal. That’s still writing. Don’t give up on your projects or ideas, even when things look bleak. If you can, work a little on weekends, evenings, early in the morning, and holidays. Every little bit counts and it fuels you with positive momentum. Follow your intuition—trust your gut—every step of the way. That person you feel compelled to contact on a hunch just might open the right door for you. Don’t listen to naysayers, especially those who say they mean well or “it’s for your own good.” Know that writing is extremely hard work. It’s pure dedication. But it’s worth it to feel the satisfaction of finally having your name in print, or seeing your friends waiting in line for your autograph. Royalty checks are great too but don’t count on receiving those right away.

In my opinion, your primary aspiration as a writer shouldn’t be to rake in tons of money and become famous overnight. It should be to share your story with the world, and hopefully, transform people in a positive way. You’ll only get discouraged if you strive for instant success and fame. That’s extremely rare. Join a book club, a writing group, a critique group, take writing classes, find a skilled and experienced mentor or editor—and beta readers—who know how to critique your work in a gentle yet constructive manner. Write lots of different pieces, go outside your comfort zone, edit your stories multiple times until you’re satisfied, let them rest, then edit them one final time. Read them aloud standing up, then send them out to potential agents, publishers, magazine contests, blogs, etc. When you finally get your publishing contract, read the fine lines carefully. Then hire a professional who is highly experienced with author contracts to help you negotiate your book/film deal. Good luck!

Great advice! Website and social media links?

I’m not yet on Facebook but I’ve promised my publisher that I will set up a Facebook page within the next few weeks. Until then, please visit me at www.mickeybrent.com

Let me know when your Facebook page goes live, so I can tag you. You might look into setting up accounts with Goodreads, Twitter, and Pinterest, as well. Where can we find Underwater Vibes?

There’s a link to my publisher, Bold Strokes Books, listed on my website. https://www.boldstrokesbooks.com/authors/mickey-brent-275  That’s the best place to purchase Underwater Vibes, and pre-order my sequel, Broad Awakening. They are available in print and as ebooks. They can also be ordered at Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and at your local bookstore. As a public speaker on the craft of writing, multiculturalism, diversity and LGBTQ inclusion issues, I’m often invited to give author presentations at bookstores, libraries, book festivals, and book clubs. My book is available for purchase at these events, which are listed at www.mickeybrent.com.

Awesome. What’s next for you, Mickey?

The sequel to Underwater Vibes, Broad Awakening, will be released by Bold Strokes Books in October 2018. It takes place in Brussels, Belgium, and in Santorini, Greece. Now, I’m working on my third novel, which will be set in San Francisco. It’s also a multicultural, multilingual contemporary lesbian romance. I’m very excited about this new story. I lived in San Francisco for three years and I’m looking forward to heading back to this exciting, cosmopolitan city to do more research for my upcoming book.

Thanks for a great interview, Mickey. I wish you the very best with your books. We should plan a reunion with our fellow The Artist’s Way group members soon!

ABOUT ELEANOR PARKER SAPIA:

ellie

Puerto Rican-born Eleanor Parker Sapia is the author of the award-winning novel, A Decent Woman, published by Scarlet River Press. Her debut novel, set in turn of the century Ponce, Puerto Rico, garnered Second Place for Best Latino Focused Fiction Book, English, at the 2017 International Latino Book Award with Latino Literacy Now. The book was awarded an Honorable Mention for Best Historical Fiction, English, at the 2016 International Latino Book Awards with Latino Literacy Now. A Decent Woman was selected as a Book of the Month by Las Comadres and Friends National Latino Book Club in 2015, and Eleanor is featured in the anthology, Latina Authors and Their Muses, edited by Mayra Calvani.

A writer, artist, and photographer, Eleanor currently lives in Berkeley County, West Virginia, where she is working on her second novel, The Laments, set in 1927 Puerto Rico.

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AUTHOR INTERVIEW: SAHAR ABDULAZIZ

I am very pleased to welcome author, Sahar Abdulaziz, to The Writing Life.

Abdulaziz strikes again. Her characters are the gal and guy next-door, masked in smiles, yet cloaked in secrecy. She challenges topics of family and marital discord, and the need for emotional survival. She skillfully lures the reader into her stories without being extensively graphic or sensationalistic with hard-hitting, uncomfortable subject matter. Fascinating glimpses into her characters’ internal talk that not only engage the reader, but challenges them to question the status quo, identify the issues as they truly present, all while exposing human frailties, and stripping away the forced facades and ambiguity. Abdulaziz traces the triumphs and tragedies of families torn apart by decades of betrayal, familial domestic violence, and sexual abuse. She also explores the human desire and need for renewal, closure and finally healing.

Sahar author picSahar Abdulaziz graduated with a bachelor’s degree in psychology before going on to earn her master’s degree in health and wellness promotion and administration. She holds a Certification as a Domestic Violence Counselor/Advocate as well as in community health. She uses her writing platform and voice to advocate for the underrepresented, the disenfranchised and/or maligned. Her multidimensional characters have been described as having “substance and soul”.

Author of The Broken Half, as well as the recently published novel, As One Door Closes, Abdulaziz again demonstrates that those who have suffered abuse are not victims, but survivors.

What is your book’s genre/category?

The Broken Half falls under the genre/category of contemporary fiction.

Sahar book cover

Please describe what the story/book is about.

The Broken Half is the story of a young American Muslim woman, Zahra, whose marriage from the very start has been anything but peaceful. When faced with the difficult and dangerous choice to either stay in her abusive marriage or leave, Zahra soon realizes that each step she takes towards freedom is riddled with risky and uncertain repercussions, making her feel trapped and vulnerable. Danger within the marriage continues to escalate, and the clock is ticking. Zahra knows she is running out of both options and time.

This story traces the triumphs and tragedies of how families can be torn apart by domestic violence, and sexual abuse, as well as the human desire and need for renewal, closure and finally healing.

How did you come up with the title?

Often we will hear someone introduce their partner as their, “better half”, but in this story, my character’s marriage is severely damaged, hence the term – the broken half.

The question is, can the relationship between Zahra and her husband be fixed? And if so, at what cost, or is there nothing left worth fixing making escape the only answer? I felt that for many women facing domestic violence and abuse within the confines of their homes and marriages, the title, ‘The Broken Half’ would resonate.

The title, The Broken Half was also used to illustrate how domestic violence and sexual assault are not limited to one isolated punch or slap, but often manifested in a series of convoluted life conditions that are permitted to exist through apathy. The title is also a stark reminder of how critical a functional family core is to the individual as well as to the community at large, and how quickly both can unravel if these conditions are not adequately addressed.

What is the reason you wrote this book?

I wanted to use my writing platform to advocate for the underrepresented, the disenfranchised and/or maligned, especially to help others clearly understand exactly how someone—anyone, given the right circumstances and vulnerability—can be held captive emotionally, physically, spiritually, and even financially by an abuser. I wanted this story to dispel many myths and stereotypes concerning domestic violence and sexual assault. At the same time, I wanted to illustrate precisely how, “Just leaving” isn’t always a readily available option or resolution.

Again, although the story is fictional, The Broken Half sets out to realistically and candidly challenge topics of family and marital discord, the false perceptions of domestic violence and sexual abuse within a marriage, and bring to light the need for emotional survival.

What is your favorite part of writing?

I run the gamut of emotions when preparing to write. I think for me, the most agonizing aspect of writing is that period of time right after I finish writing a book, and just before starting on the next unknown project. It’s the ‘unknown’ that drives me, and the people who live with me insane. However, once I figure out what my next story will be about, I become energized, animated, and ready to jump in full force. The realization that I know exactly what I want to write about has got to be my most favorite part of writing -beyond thrilling. Mapping out how the story will start and finish in my head [and in my $1.99 lined notebook] becomes electrifying. New characters are born, their nuances are threaded into their personalities, and the real work begins.

What is the most challenging aspect of writing?

I have found that there is a fine line between being explicitly sensationalistic for the sake of shocking your audience and realistically describing an event that by its very nature is appalling and uncomfortable. When writing my books, because of the complicated and often uncomfortable topics, I try to lure the reader into the story without becoming extensively graphic while still providing hard-hitting, and sometimes difficult subject matter.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

I enjoy many different genres of reading, much like I enjoy various types of food. Singling out any one specific or a few specific names feels impossible, so I guess by genre I would have to say I really enjoy the work of Mitch Albom, whose inspirational and faithful stories have always held special meaning and solace for me.

Janet Evanovich’s contemporary mysteries, which feature her highly entertaining character Stephanie Plum, the failed lingerie clerk turned Trenton, NJ bounty hunter is ridiculously comical. I cried tears filled with unbridled hilarity while reading her series. Evanovich nailed it.

In terms of classics, I am a super big murder mystery fan, or what I like to refer to as, ‘polite murders’ so all of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple, and Hercule Poirot’s detective books are mega-big favorites of mine. And, of course, without a doubt, all of Arthur Conan Doyle’s, Sherlock Holmes mystery novels are all-time favorites as well.

J.K. Rowling, Harlan Coben, Christina Baker Kline, Anthony Doerr, Erik Larson, Liane Moriarty, David McCullough, and Gillian Flynn are only a few of the artist/authors I deeply respect and admire for their skills.

What is your favorite place to write? 

I do most of my most dazzling work while at airports while waiting for my flights to board. For some strange reason, I have the uncanny aptitude to zone out the world around me and focus on my writing voice the best as I sit in loud, bustling, and terribly intrusive atmospheres.

I believe my mind-numbing training came from mothering my six children. I found that while raising my brood, if I had any intention of getting any cohesive brainwork done, I had to learn how to block out the lunacy and foolishness that I lovingly call my family. Now my compromised brain simply doesn’t know how to handle too much normalcy and quiet.

Could you share something personal about you people may be surprised to know?

I have Crohn’s Disease. It’s a debilitating, painful and incredibly intrusive chronic illness associated with inflammation of the digestive tract. Because of the severity of my disease, I am often unable to physically leave the house, often too weak or in pain. Thank goodness as an author/writer, I can work from home.

Unable to sit at my desk for extended periods of time, I wrote most of my first book, But You LOOK Just Fine in bed. There I was propped up with pillows, sipping hot tea, herb bag on a distended belly, surrounded by research, and tapping away on my laptop. Fun times.

Any surprises or learning experiences with the publishing process?

The Broken Half is my fourth book and in all honestly, I am still at a loss when it comes to the publishing process. There is so much to learn and explore. I found that with each new book, there have been also new approaches that had to be implemented. Within each new project, goals naturally had to be transformed and tailored to meet those required changes and expectations. Unfortunately, with change also comes the ever-widening potential for unsuspecting errors to occur, so I have found that staying focused, determined, and committed become highly advantageous. Large pots of tea, and ample supplies of chocolate, as well as an account with Netflix, are also compulsory.

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

The biggest thing I think I did right with The Broken Half was in making sure that I honored all of my characters, including the antagonist by allowing their individual back-story to bring depth and empathy to their plight as well as to their actions and choices.

I did this because I firmly believe that it is important to remember- no one does anything in this life without prior experiences or because they lived safely tucked away inside a bubble. Therefore, it became necessary to make sure each one of my characters exhibited both nuance and history. This in turn helped to highlight where their individual motivation, rationale, and choices came from.

I also tried to include many facts about domestic violence and sexual assault without necessarily preaching or info-dumping- (I hope!) My intent was to stay as realistic to the content and platform of the story as fiction would allow.

Any advice for writers looking to get published?

I am going to sound like a redundant, broken record here, but my advice is to read. Read everything. –AND DON’T limit yourself to one particular genre just because you prefer to write in that style.

Kick your assumptions and opinions to the curb. Open up your mind to the richness of other authors’ works. I read everything from magazines, cookbooks, novels, blogs, the backs of cereal boxes, and telephone books. You name it -I read it.

Become a serious people watcher- not stalker- but a watcher. Observe, absorb, learn, listen, and most of all, respect. Respect the human condition that others must live and survive in so when you write your stories, no matter what you are writing about, you do so from a place of authenticity and genuineness, tempered by empathy, but never-ever dictated by apathy. Writing is a powerful tool, so use it wisely and judiciously.

Website?

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AuthorSaharAbdulaziz

Blog: http://saharraziz.wix.com/sahar-abdulaziz

Twitter: Sahar_author

Amazon Author page: http://www.amazon.com/Sahar-Abdulaziz-MS/e/B00J9P5KNE/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0

Where can we find your book?

All my books, including, But You LOOK Just Fine, As One Door Closes, The Broken Half, and my children’s novel, The Dino Flu, can be purchased on Amazon, iBooks, nook, kindle & Kindle app, B&N online.

What’s next for you, Sahar?

More writing. Booktrope Publishers is publishing a second edition of my book, As One Door Closes, this summer with a wickedly prolific new cover, and some additional tweaks inside. I’m also working hard on a new novel now. Another fiction. I am hoping to create a story that brings readers on yet another incredible journey. If possible, I would also like to write another book in the Just Fine series as well.

It has been a pleasure chatting with you at The Writing Life, Sahar. I wish you much success with your writing.

 

About Eleanor Parker Sapia

Puerto Rican-born novelist, Eleanor Parker Sapia, was raised in the United States, Puerto Rico, and Europe. Eleanor’s careers as an artist, counselor, alternative health practitioner, Spanish language social worker and a refugee case worker inspire her stories. She is a member of PEN America and the Historical Novel Society. When Eleanor is not writing, she facilitates creativity groups, reads, and tells herself she is making plans to walk El Camino de Santiago de Compostela a second time.

A Decent Woman is Eleanor’s debut novel, set in turn of the nineteenth century Puerto Rico. The book was selected as 2015 July Book of the Month for Las Comadres & Friends Latino Book Club. Eleanor is the mother of two adult children and currently lives in West Virginia, where she is writing her second novel, The Island of Goats.

 

 

 

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: ANESA MILLER

The Writing Life is very pleased to welcome, Anesa Miller, author of the debut novel, Our Orbit.

AMiller

Anesa Miller is a recipient of a Creative Writing Fellowship from the Ohio Arts Council. She studied writing at Kenyon College and the University of Idaho. Her work has been published in The Kenyon Review, The California Quarterly, the Southern Humanities Review, and others. Her debut novel, Our Orbit, releases from Booktrope of Seattle in June 2015. Anesa currently divides her time between Ohio and the Pacific Northwest.

What is your book’s genre?

That’s a question I’m especially interested in! Debate has been raging recently over what defines the various genres. Mine is a bit controversial, but I’ll claim it anyway: literary fiction. I can also call my book “contemporary fiction,” in hopes people won’t consider me a snob!

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Please describe what Our Orbit is about.

Our Orbit is set in the 1990s and follows a series of encounters between two families who’ve lived in the same small town for generations but have rarely crossed paths. They live on the proverbial opposite sides of the tracks. After losing both of her parents, the youngest daughter from the poor family enters a new world when she is placed in foster care with the educated, middle-class family. The young foster parents quickly come to love their “new little girl.” Then they meet the rest of her relatives: brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins. Connections and conflicts ensue.

How did you come up with the title?

I ran through an array of titles over the almost 8 years that the basic plot spent as a short story. I settled on “Our Orbit” because it suggests a homey routine as well as cosmic balance: Things held at a distance but in a kind of harmony. After I chose this title, I stumbled upon the phrase “our orbit” in Lee’s classic To Kill a Mockingbird. That book focuses on children and everyday life in a small town with social problems, so I felt encouraged and stopped trying to think of a better title. You see, earlier, I had gotten some criticism that readers might assume my book was science fiction because of the term “orbit.” I finally decided not to worry about that.

What is the reason you wrote Our Orbit?

At first, I had a very intellectual purpose in writing the story. I wanted to portray conflicting beliefs among people who can’t simply ignore each other or pretend their views are compatible. The foster child in the story brings notions to her new home that could be considered far-out. For example, she believes that her uncle was abducted by aliens—her whole family supported this legend. But the foster mother feels threatened because her biological children are younger and might pick up wacky ideas.

This struck me as a serious, yet potentially comical, scenario that would be fun to explore in fiction. But over the years that it took me to draft the complete novel, I came to realize that I had subconscious reasons for gravitating to my topic. I lost my mother when I was 16 and my father when I was 26. Although I was never in a foster care system, I have a natural sympathy for children—and adults for that matter—who’ve experienced a loss of family. I wrote three novels before I really noticed that this theme runs throughout my work: the condition of being an orphan. Or of young people whose parents are alive but unavailable to care for them.

What is your favorite part of writing? 

My favorite part of the writing process is when some new insight comes clear to me—like in the situation described above, when I saw the obvious connection between my characters’ situation and patterns in my own life. On the surface nothing was similar; only the subconscious link.

And in the writing life, my favorite thing is no doubt the same as most writers’: When someone I’ve never met before reaches out, maybe through a review or a message, to say that they enjoyed my book. That’s what I live for.

What is the most challenging aspect of writing?

Keeping faith that the effort is worthwhile in times when no one reaches out.

Who are some of your favorite authors? 

Among classic novelists, I love Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Wharton, and Woolf. Among contemporaries—Alice Munro, Louise Erdrich, Kazuo Ishiguro, Barbara Kingsolver, Kent Haruf, and lots of others.

What authors or person(s) have influenced you?

I’ve had wonderful teachers. Their work and advice is in a class by itself. To mention a few, there’s Kim Barnes (author of In the Kingdom of Men); Nancy Zafris (The People I Know and Metal Shredders); Joy Passanante (The Art of Absence); Mary Clearman Blew, (This Is Not the Ivy League); and Daniel Orozco (Orientation and Other Stories).

And, of course, there were my high school English teachers, Mr. Jensen and Mrs. Grandee. Both were very dedicated and remain special to me.

But my most crucial influence in every way was my mother. She was the first in her family to attend a university. She majored in chemistry and became a medical technologist but always loved literature and all the arts. When I was little, she read poetry out loud and taught us to appreciate the beauty of language. Quite a few years after her death, I learned from my aunt that my mother’s favorite novel had been the same as mine! At that time, The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky was my favorite.

Anesa, what’s your favorite place to write?

Any quiet place but with regular distractions so I don’t forget to move around once in a while. The “sedentary lifestyle” is a killer! For the most part, I write best at home. I like to stand up and stretch, which gets awkward at a coffeehouse. I try to set a timer for 25 minutes throughout the day so I stop and do that. At least, when I’m being good that’s what I do.

Something personal about you people may be surprised to know?

Before I developed foot troubles a few years ago, I used to be an enthusiastic walker. I would trek over a mile with my backpack to pick up a few things at the supermarket. I cut behind the big box stores to avoid busy streets. If health and urban design would permit, I’d love to live “car-free.”

Any surprises or learning experiences with the publishing process?

I never thought I would self-publish but wound up bringing out two books. I thought I would never find a publisher—then, that happened, too! So it has been a series of surprises.

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

I have a Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing, and when I was looking forward to starting that program at the University of Idaho, I made a plan for my thesis: I wanted to develop my troublesome short story into a novel. At that point, I had written two previous novels, but they didn’t seem as promising. Something told me that Our Orbit could be a book readers would warm to.

Any advice for writers looking to get published?

Use every kind of writing to gain practice: emails, birthday cards, blog comments, non-fiction gigs, shopping lists—everything! It’s all grist for the mill of “honing your craft.” And don’t send anything to a publisher that you might be embarrassed to see again a few months from now. In other words, don’t rush!

Social media links:

Website: www.AnesaMiller.com

Blog: http://www.anesamiller.com/?cat=2

Pinterest  www.pinterest.com/anesam98/

Facebook  www.facebook.com/anesamillerauthor

Twitter  twitter.com/anesam98

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Where can we find your book?

Booktrope makes it available through all major online retailers. These links are available now, but iTunes and others should be coming soon:

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Our-Orbit-Anesa-Miller/dp/1620157233/

Barnes and Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/our-orbit-anesa-miller/1119914300?ean=9781620157237

And by order from most brick-and-mortar bookstores!

What’s next for you, Anesa?

Here’s hoping I find the energy to finish another novel. I have one underway with a similar Appalachian setting to Our Orbit. And I also have a short story collection going into production soon. It’s called To Green Camp, and it presents of a diverse cast of characters who all encounter life-changing adventures. It is scheduled to be published by Booktrope later this year.

Thanks for visiting The Writing Life, Anesa! I look forward to reading Our Orbit. I wish you much success with your new release!

About Eleanor Parker Sapia

Puerto Rican-born novelist, Eleanor Parker Sapia, was raised in the United States, Puerto Rico, and Europe. Eleanor’s careers as an artist, counselor, alternative health practitioner, Spanish language social worker and a refugee case worker inspire her stories. She is a member of PEN America and the Historical Novel Society. When Eleanor is not writing, she facilitates creativity groups, reads, and is making plans to walk El Camino de Santiago de Compostela a second time.

A Decent Woman is Eleanor’s debut novel, set in turn of the nineteenth century Puerto Rico. The book was selected as 2015 July Book of the Month for Las Comadres & Friends Latino Book Club. Eleanor is the mother of two adult children and currently lives in West Virginia, where she is writing her second novel, The Island of Goats.

Interview with Ina Zajac, author of Please, Pretty Lights

Please, Pretty Lights

 

 

It is my pleasure to welcome Ina Zajac, author of Gritty Contemporary Fiction, Please, Pretty Lights.

Several of Ina’s childhood math teachers had something in common. They all seemed to think she should be a writer. She followed their advice, but didn’t initially consider fiction writing. Instead, Ina earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism with a minor in psychology from Western Washington University. Later she earned a master’s degree in mass communication from Arizona State University.

Ina’s first gig out of college was as a newspaper reporter. She has a broad range of communications experience including media relations, event promotion, and crisis communications. A few years ago, she decided to pursue fiction writing full time.

Welcome, Ina!

What is your book’s genre/category?

Literary Fiction/Gritty Contemporary Fiction

Please describe what the story/book is about.

It’s September when good girl Via Sorenson stumbles into a Seattle strip club, drunk and alone on her twenty-first birthday. Matt and Nick—best friends, band mates, and bouncers—do their best to shield her from their sadistic cocaine-trafficking boss, Carlos. They don’t realize her daddy issues come with a forty-million-dollar trust fund and a legacy she would do anything to escape.

She is actually Violetta Rabbotino, who had been all over the news ten years earlier when her father, an acclaimed abstract artist, came home in a rage, murdered her mother, then turned the gun on himself. Young Violetta was spared, hidden behind the family Christmas tree, veiled by the mysticism of its pretty lights whose unadulterated love captivated and calmed her.

Now, desperate to shed her role as orphaned victim, Via stage dives into a one-hundred-day adventure with Matt and Nick, the bassist and drummer of popular nineties cover band Obliviot. The rock-and-roll lifestyle is the perfect distraction—until she is rattled by true love. As Christmas looms closer, her notorious past becomes undeniable. How will she ever untangle herself from her twisted string of pretty lights?

How did you come up with the title?

The main character Via says, “please, pretty lights” in the opening scene. For her, the pretty lights are charged with emotional and spiritual symbolism. Nick and Matt are musicians who perform on stage under their own kind of pretty lights. Nick gets off on the limelight, but Matt would rather hang back in the shadows.

What is the reason you wrote this book?

I have been a writer for many years. I started out as a newspaper reporter and then transitioned into public relations. I have always wanted to write a novel, but the timing never seemed right. Then a few years ago, I started obsessing about a character (Via). I would daydream about her. It may sound crazy, but it’s true. At the time I wasn’t working full time, and so I turned my attention toward fiction writing. It has been the most emotionally rewarding work of my life.

What is your favorite part of writing?

There are days when I’ll wake up, get a cup of coffee and sit down to write. I’ll start typing away, and all of a sudden I will look up and four or so hours have gone by. I describe it as “when time turns itself inside out” because that’s what it feels like. I’ll look down to find a cold cup of coffee. I’ll have written several thousand words. Of course, these words aren’t necessarily perfectly strung together. Tweaking and re-tweaking is a must. Still, it’s a rush.

What is the most challenging aspect of writing?

There are other times when I get outside of my head by stressing or doubting the process. That doesn’t feel good. Too much attention to social media can mess with my mind. Reading “You Must Do these 10 things Right Now” blogs, for example. Also, the revision process can be grueling. It’s work. It’s rewarding, uplifting even, but it is still work.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

I have so many. First, I want to say that I respect all writers. All musicians. All artists. It doesn’t matter whether I personally connect with their work or not. Being a creator can be emotionally, spiritually, financially and physically taxing. It can be a lonely business. It can be scary putting your heart into something not knowing what the world will think about it. Vulnerability can be terrifying. Sometimes I think we forget that.

Growing up I read everyone from Laura Ingalls Wilder and Judy Blume to C.S. Lewis and Frank Herbert. I admire the Bronte sisters, Jane Austen and Leo Tolstoy. I’ve read Anna Karenina a dozen times.

Since signing with Booktrope in January, I started reading more and more Booktrope authors. Wow, so many super talented writers. Some favorites include: Mary Rowen, Ruth Mancini, Arleen Williams and Tiffany Ems Pitts.

I recently read Marni Mann’s “Pulled Beneath” and just loved it. Mann’s vibe is dark and sultry, yet understated. I often talk about my love of “quirk and contrast” and her work offers both. As a reader, I connect with emotionally damaged characters. I want a hero who is more than a little messed up. I need the villain to have some soft spots.

Tess Thompson an exceptional storyteller. I get lost in her prose and forget myself. Last week I finished “Bill Purgatory: I Am the Devil Bird” by Jesse James Freeman. I had heard it was awesome. My expectations were high and it still wowed. It is wildly creative and clever. I haven’t read Jennifer Hotes yet, but she’s next on my list. Shari Ryan, Allie Burke and Eleanor Parker, as well. 

What authors or person(s) have influenced you?

I’d love to mention my late grandmother, Louise Daney Roberts. The woman radiated pure love, so much so that I still feel it today though she’s been gone almost 20 years. I was so lucky to have had her in my life. I have based a character (Grandma Daney) on her. My grandmother was – and still is — such a part of me that I couldn’t help but include her in the book.

Favorite place to write?

I work from home and have dedicated office space, but like to mix it up. Sometimes I’ll sit at the dining room table or on the couch. When the weather is decent, I’ll write from the deck. I also like to write at my neighborhood bookstore, Third Place Books.

Something personal about you people may be surprised to know?

I would write whether anyone paid me to or not. While I would love praise and piles of money, writing is ultimately something I do for myself. I love it that much. Also, I often read my work aloud so I can listen for cadence. My dog Leland comes over and flops down next to me and listens. Maybe he’s just worried about me. I talk to my dog way too much.

Any surprises or learning experiences with the publishing process?

I used to be a people pleaser. This is something I have dealt with my whole life. Be nice. Be a good girl. Make sure everyone around you is comfortable. It’s actually a theme I explore in Please, Pretty Lights. This past year I have become better at making myself happy first. Last year I sent an early out to seven beta readers. Two loved, four really liked. One did not. Initially, I was heartbroken. While I did consider her opinions, I didn’t change my story for her. I realized I could not keep all seven beta readers happy, so I revised as best I could. I stood my ground because it felt right at the time. Looking back, I’m so happy I did.

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

I turned off my phone, got off Facebook, and wrote my story. Of course, it wasn’t that simplistic, but I made writing a priority. Social media can kill precious writing time. For me, posting and tweeting and liking are pointless pursuits unless I’m doing the real work of writing.

Any advice for writers looking to get published?

Don’t spend too much time getting advice from people who aren’t you. What works for one writer may not work for another. Learn to trust your instincts. It’s so easy to get caught up in what trends are sweeping the industry. Write what you want. What do you think about when you’re zoning out in traffic or standing in line at the grocery store? Write about that. Then revise and write some more. Make it the best it can possibly be. Take a break from it and read some books on craft. Attend a writing conference or a seminar. Connect with other writers. Read people who you think are better than you are. Pick and choose the techniques that speak to you. Then get back to your book and make it even better. Repeat this process several times. Then send it out and let the chips fall where they may.

Website?

www.inazajac.com

Where can we find your book?

I know you can bookshelf it now on Goodreads. It will be released mid July on amazon, b&n.com, nook, hobo and carried in indie bookstores.

What’s next for you?

I have a few writing conferences this summer that I am super excited about: The Chuckanut Writers Conference in Bellingham, Wash June 27-29th, and the Pacific Northwest Writers Conference July 17-20h.

The Please, Pretty Lights launch party is at 7 p.m. Aug. 27th at Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park, Wash. We’ll have food, live music and door prizes. It will be a good time. I am extremely fortunate to have a fabulous editorial team and an ultra supportive group of friends and family. I’m looking forward to thanking them all properly.

I am now working on the sequel to Please, Pretty Lights to be released by Booktrope in 2015.

https://www.facebook.com/InaZajacWrites

Follow me on twitter @InaZajac

Thanks, Ina! I enjoyed your interview, thanks for the mention, and best of luck with Please, Pretty Lights!