Author Interview: Yadhira Gonzalez-Taylor

Welcome to the Tuesday Author Interview series at The Writing Life, where I have the great pleasure of chatting with authors across genres. Today I’m very pleased to welcome fellow Puerto Rican writer, Yadhira Gonzalez, who celebrates a birthday today!

Yadhira Gonzalez

Yadhira Gonzalez-Taylor was born in Bronx, New York in 1973 to Puerto Rican parents. She is a graduate of the New York City public school system and also attended elementary school in Caguas, Puerto Rico. She served her country as a Military Police Officer in the US Army Reserve, assigned to the 812th MP Co., 800th MP Brigade in New York State between 1992 and 2000. 

 She received her B.S., magna cum laude and M.A., in Criminal Justice in 1999 from the City University of New York, John Jay College of Criminal Justice. A graduate of New York Law School, she received her J.D. in 2002. Upon graduating law school, Ms. Gonzalez-Taylor served as an Assistant District Attorney in Bronx County where she prosecuted economic crime cases until 2006. Her career path led to an appointment as an internal prosecutor for the NYC Police Department between 2006 and 2009. Currently, she is an administrative law judge for the NYC Department of Education. An attorney by day and a writer by night, she is inspired to write by her three daughters and her own upbringing, traveling between New York and Puerto Rico. Presently, she is working on more adventures for the Martina series and other literary projects and workshops.

Ms. Gonzalez-Taylor is published in Bronx Memoir Part I as an essay contributor. She is a member of the Full Circle Ensemble and has performed spoken word at the National Black Theater with her writing circle. She is also a contributor to the Anthology, Mujeres, the Magic, the Movement, a poetry collection written by fierce warrior women resulting from a women’s literary workshop facilitated by the poet Peggy Robles-Alvarado. The anthology book launch will be occurring soon and the book will become available within the next few weeks on Amazon.

Bienvenida, Yadhira.

Please describe what your books are about.

The published books are within the folk / fable family in children’s literature genre. Martina Finds a Shiny Coin is an offshoot of La Cucarachita Martina, an old Caribbean folktale first put to print by New York City’s first Puerto Rican Librarian, Pura Belpre. In the story, a little roach finds a coin and goes on a shopping spree. She ends up buying make up, and what follows is a journey of self-discovery, courtship, randomness, and the meaning of true love.

Martina 1

Once the first story was published, I got an idea to do a spinoff using the same character. In Martina and the Wondrous Waterfall, Martina goes on a musical journey with all her friends from the Barrio.

Martina 2

How did you come up with the titles?

Martina Finds a Shiny Coin was inspired by the main character finding the coin. This sets off La Cucarachita on her journey, not only on her shopping trip, but that of her meeting many suitors on the road to discovering her true worth. Hence, Martina Finds a Shiny Coin.

The second title, Martina and the Wondrous Waterfall, came about because the main concept of the story is the journey to a magical, wondrous waterfall that Martina and all her friends go on.

They’re lovely books. I’m saving my signed copies for future grandchildren 🙂

What inspired you to write children’s books?

As a mother, I was always tasked as the sleep time storyteller. I kept repeating the same fairy tales that were not representative of my own culture, i.e., Goldilocks, Three Little Pigs, etc. One day, my husband asked if I had any stories from Puerto Rico. Immediately I remembered La Cucarachita! The rest is history. We adapted the story with different things and interests for the main character and a new illustrated version of the story emerged.

The second book, Martina and the Wondrous Waterfall, was inspired by a trip I took with friends to a majestic waterfall in my hometown of Caguas, Puerto Rico.

I tell new writers to write what they’d like to read. Looks like it worked beautifully for you and your children.

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

I think my lifelong struggle with weight had a part to play in how I wrote the story. I have struggled with self-esteem, so I know what it’s like to people please or change one’s appearance to satisfy others. For example, I once had a boyfriend who criticized me every time I wore my hair in a bob. He preferred long hair, I guess. So I kept my hair long for a while just to satisfy this relationship, which eventually ended. Probably because I wasn’t being my true self. So in that way, I can relate at an intimate level with the main character. I have grown so much since then.

Today, despite all my professional and personal successes, I still struggle. And who doesn’t? It’s part of being a human being, I think. The difference now is that today, I look at myself in the mirror and I remind myself that I am made by the universe to be alive, to love, to live, to educate, to nurture, and to be of service to my fellow humans. None of those responsibilities are affected by the way I look, unless I let it, so I affirm that I am a human first and everything else is gravy.

Exactly, everyone struggles with one thing or another. When I stopped the people pleasing, a few toxic relationships ended soon afterward, which was a good/sad thing and probably inevitable. Looking back, the experience made me stronger and opened new doors.

What is your favorite part of writing?

My favorite part of writing is having the ability to purge feelings, positive and negative, into an artistic medium. I journal, write poetry,  and perform my poems (sometimes), and I write stories. It’s a form of positive escapism. If you are going to have a vice, I would say writing is a healthy one, unless you forget to bathe, then you are running into potential problems if you share space with other humans 🙂

Too funny. I live alone, so I don’t bother anyone with my late night writing sessions, but my Chihuahua complains when I leave the light on.

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

Procrastination. I can write almost anything. It’s the editing that gets me stuck. I use verbal prompts, images, and writing workshops to crank up the writing. It’s what happens next that I find tedious. However, it is necessary to produce quality work that someone is going to be willing to pay for, or even trek to the library to borrow my book. I believe a writer’s success is measured by the quality of their work. It’s one of those things where word travels and reputations can hurt your ability to market yourself. Especially in the world of self-publishing.

Very true. Most writers I know have unique ways of dealing with procrastination. I show up at the writing desk every day and force myself to write, no matter what. If the writing doesn’t move me that day, I switch to doing research for the book I’m working on or reading, which usually gets me motivated and reinspired. But I remain at the writing desk.

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

I am currently reading a few books on writing as I am working on editing a manuscript. This one is not a children’s story. The last book I read for fun was Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. How could I not like a story written by a genius? I loved it. The sad tragic story of the main character coupled with his undying love for the love for a woman who abandoned him and his undying need to punish himself with self-destructive behavior is a reminder that sometimes we just have to let go; that love is not supposed to hurt.

Definitely one of my favorite books. Marquez was a genius and a masterful storyteller. I’m currently reading Love in the Time of Cholera in Spanish and loving it even more than the English translation.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

Isabel Allende is a favorite. I love magic realism and she does it fabulously well in her books.

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

I enjoy authors who show their own defects and spiritual struggles in their writing. Isabel Allende is one of those authors. She is unafraid to embrace the dysfunctions and sadness of life and it shines through in her writing.

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

Writing, no. I have to adapt as an urban dweller who spends a lot of time outside. So sometimes, I write in a journal and sometimes on my laptop when I have a lunch hour to spare at work. Reading however is a different story.

I have an old winged back chair in a corner, by the large windows at the front of my home. There, I have set up a nice cotton area rug for my feet to be warmed, I’ve placed many of my (70-plus) plants in that area, and I have a space to place my coffee mug. That is where I do my best reading. It is also,where I sit to quietly meditate and read the paper on Sunday mornings.

Yadhira reading nook

Looks like a great place to read. I think everyone should have a sacred space in the home.

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

I once ran after a moving tractor-trailer truck. I was about 20, crazy, and still in the Army. I still had a lot of recklessness in me. The truck hit my mom’s car and kept going, but we were in heavy traffic so the truck wasn’t going that fast. I ran after it, climbed on the step and banged on the window to make the driver stop. Looking back now I realize it wasn’t very good idea.

Wow, the hit and run driver must have been shocked to see you on his truck! Now, I want to know the ending of that story.

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

The writing process reminds me of my propensity for procrastination, the writer’s worst enemy. It’s easier for me to create content than it is to edit and re-write. I struggle with that issue. I try to carve out time. However, writing though my passion, is not my full time employment, so I have to squeeze in writing and editing time when I can.

I learned a lot during the self-publishing process. I tried traditional agents and publishing houses, but I was unsuccessful. I had to do all the work myself. I hired illustrators, editors (of all stages), even the guy who produced the trailer for my first book. So I became well versed in the lingo of the industry, which I believe adds to my credibility as a self-published author. Many people out there are discovering createspace or other self-publishing platforms. They are buying ISBNs or using the createspace ISBN, and putting work out there that is not edited by anyone. Oftentimes, the first draft is published and we, self-published authors, have to compete against the presumption that self-published is of a lesser quality than a traditionally published book.

To your last comment, that’s a common complaint among self-published authors. Self-publishing is a lot of work!

What do you hope readers will gain from your book?

Both stories involve a journey of self-discovery. There is also the underlying theme of self-reflection and personal improvement woven within the story. It is never too late to change your perspective. A positive perspective in any situation can lead to positive changes and therefore, genuine happiness.

Looking back, what did you do right that helped you write and market your books?

I was blessed to meet so many people because of writing the first book. When I first published Martina Finds a Shiny Coin, I participated in the Brooklyn Book Fair. It was there that I met Maria Aponte, a fellow author, who is very involved in the Latino writing community. She was my shiny coin! After meeting her, I met countless others that shared the same desire to produce quality written content as well as people willing to share resources and information and that is how a natural marketing process began. Today I have so many new friends, including you, Eleanor, whom I have met through my adventurous development as a writer.

Maria is a shiny coin! I was very happy to finally meet you, Maria Aponte, Bobby Gonzalez, Theresa Varela, and Manuel Melendez at the Comite Noviembre Puerto Rican Author Book Expo last year. It’s a great Boricua event, and I hope to participate again this year. My son lives in NYC, so it’s looking good.

What didn’t work as well as you’d hoped in the writing or marketing of your books?

I stay away from paying Facebook for ads. I don’t have an exuberant budget and I found that the amount of money I was paying for highlighting my main character’s Facebook posts was not paying a dividend.

I’ve thought about Facebook ads, and heard the same feedback from many authors. I find book blasts, book tours, and Thunderclap campaigns are good ways to introduce new books.

Any advice or tips for writers looking to be published?

Editing is an important part that cannot be skipped or minimized. I am not going to buy any subsequent books you publish if your first one is riddled with errors. Editing, editing, and more editing is the bulk of our writing. Also, don’t go straight to self-publishing. Try the traditional way first. Publishing houses have far more resources than an indie author could ever dream of having. You’ll still have to market yourself as an author, writer, etc., but you will have more support in the background.

I completely agree with you on editing and trying for traditional publishing. I recommend checking out smaller publishing houses; that’s how I got my foot in the publishing door.

Website and social media links?

You can follow me on twitter @gothamesq

Martina has her own Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/martinafindsashinycoin/

And my author page can be found on the net at: www.ygtbooks.net

Where can we find your books?

You can find both titles on Amazon.com and of course, directly from me by emailing ygonzaleztaylor@yahoo.com. I can mail a signed copy right to reader’s doors, or to their gift recipient’s door.

What’s next for you?

I am attending workshops to hone my craft as well as writing and reading as much as I can. I am hoping to finish editing a manuscript and will begin the process of finding agents to represent me in that endeavor.

Yadhira G

I just love this photograph of you! This is the happiest way to end a great interview. Best of luck on your writing journey, Yadhira. I look forward to the release of the anthology.

About Eleanor:

ellie

Puerto Rican-born Eleanor Parker Sapia is the author of the award-winning historical novel, A Decent Woman, 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 currently lives in Berkeley County, West Virginia, where she is working on her second novel, The Laments of Forgotten Souls, set in 1920 Puerto Rico.

Eleanor’s book: http://amzn.to/1X0qFvK
Please visit Eleanor at her website:
www.eleanorparkersapia.com

 

 

 

 

 

Author Interview: Marsha Casper Cook

Welcome to the Tuesday Author Interview series at The Writing Life. Each Tuesday, I have the great pleasure of chatting with authors across genres about books and writing, and marketing and publishing. 

Today I am very pleased to welcome Marsha Casper Cook, a talented screenwriter, novelist, editor, and writer of children’s books. Marsha, who hails from Chicago, is a radio show personality on Blog Talk Radio, which is how we met a few years back. Her World of Ink Network partner for the last five years is V.S.Grenier, an author, editor, and radio show host, who lives in Utah. Marsha’s group discussions always feature interesting and talented writers and center around writing, publishing, screenplays, and books. I love her show, and always come away with pages of writing tips.

In this interview, Marsha graciously offers readers a glimpse into the business of turning books into audio books, and I’m excited to begin.

Welcome, Marsha!

marsha-cc-photo

marsha-cc-book-cover

What is your newest book’s genre?

Romantic comedy.

Please describe what Grand Central Station: Some Relationships Are Just Meant to Be is about.

A famous child psychologist, who has authored several bestselling books on raising children, discovers he doesn’t know as much as he thought he did when he meets a pediatrician and mother of three. Neither of them imagined how their lives would change when they shared a flight headed for Las Vegas for a medical convention.

For Jack Winston and Victoria Feingold, whatever happens in Vegas doesn’t stay in Vegas. It follows them back to Chicago.

Jack doesn’t want to fail, but he’s not sure he’s emotionally prepared to live with Victoria’s three children. Not to mention her mother, sister, dog, and needy ex-husband.

Grand Central Station is a fast-paced ride and a lot of fun! 

Congratulations on Grand Central Station, Marsha! How did you come up with the title?  

There was so much going on in the story, and it seemed as if Grand Central Station would be the perfect fit. A busy house with so many characters coming and going. 

What inspired you to write this romantic comedy?

It’s taken from one of the screenplays that I had written several years ago and loved. It had been optioned, but never produced.

How exciting that the screenplay was optioned, Marsha. In my mind’s eye, I can see this romantic comedy on the silver screen. Best of luck!

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

Actually, there really were no similarities to any of the characters in my book, but I felt the family quarrels were most likely a part of any family, including my own.

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

Not coming up with another story while I’m working on one. I usually think any idea that pops in my head might be better than what I’m writing, but usually the feeling passes.

That’s a familiar scenario when I’m writing, as well. What is your favorite part of writing?

I enjoy the fun of not knowing exactly how my story will end. I always feel if I don’t know the ending, the reader will be just as surprised as I was when I wrote it.

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

I have been lucky to meet wonderful people all through my life that have guided me in my writing by telling me their stories, and in turn, I listened with open ears and learned how to write good characters with real problems.

Marsha, many of your books are now audio books. Could you tell us about that process? I know I’m more than interested.

One of my favorite passed times is listening to audio books. When I hear an audio book, it’s becomes a special event and very entertaining. The story comes to life, and it’s so enjoyable I sometimes wish the story could go on forever; however I do agree with the common complaint about the narration. If you like the voice behind the words, it’s such fun to imagine the setting and the story, but if you don’t, the feeling is not the same, and sometimes it’s enough to make you go on to something else. It doesn’t hold your interest.

I never thought my books would become audio books, but because of Audibles and the sharing method between the producer of the audio and the author of the book, it became possible.

The children’s books that I have on audio were a great learning experience for me. I got to hear every word and realized that after reading a book and listening to the audio, the experience is far greater than just the read, especially for children.

I urge authors and readers to give audio books a chance.

For authors go to www.acx.com

http://www.audible.com/search/ref=a_hp_tseft?advsearchKeywords=marsha+casper+cook&filterby=field-keywords&x=0&y=0

http://www.audible.com/search/ref=a_search_tseft?advsearchKeywords=lady+jane+sinclair&filterby=field-keywords&x=0&y=0

Thanks so much for sharing, Marsha. I love audio books, and would love to go down that path with my first book. 

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

I love writing in coffee shops or restaurants when I’m by myself. That’s when I truly feel I’m completely in my characters world. 

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

I’m very organized, however as a teenager I wasn’t and didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do. I usually try to tell parents not to judge their children so harshly because life has a way of working itself out and growing up isn’t easy. Every child needs their space as do adults.

True words and great advice for parents. As a kid, my interests were varied and appeared to have no rhyme or reason to many adults. Looking back, the common denominator was creativity and a healthy imagination.

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

Over the years, I have learned so much from writing and doing my radio shows, which in turn gave me the best education ever on how to independently publish, and not worry that a publisher may have rejected my work. If the story is good, readers will enjoy your work regardless of who published the book. Enjoy writing and try to remember that if your book makes you laugh or cry, that is always a good thing because your readers will probably do the same.

I also feel that because things have changed over the years in publishing, authors have an open field for fulfilling their dreams. They just have to be persistent.

marsha-cc-book-cover

What do you hope readers will gain from your book?

It’s always good to hear your reader understood what you were trying to convey in your story, and as authors that is the best feeling imaginable.

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

I used my own judgement. Listening to too many people can end up causing a writer to feel insecure and not finish their story. Finishing the story works!

I agree wholeheartedly–finish writing the book! What didn’t work as well as you’d hoped?

Usually by the time my story is written, I’m hopeful that everything worked during the journey because if I felt uncomfortable on any level, I would try to re- work my story until I got it right.

Any advice or tips for writers looking to get published?

My suggestion would be if you are having trouble getting an agent or publisher, find an Independent service and publish your own book, but don’t skimp on three very important aspects of successful publishing: editing, formatting, and getting the best artwork you can for your cover.   

Website and social media links?

Radio Show Blog – http://worldofinknetwork.blogspot.com/

Author Blog – http://whatsnewwithmarsha.blogspot.com/

Marsha’s Website-   http://marshacaspercook.com

Radio Show Website – http://worldofinknetwork.com

https://www.facebook.com/marshacaspercook

Where can we find your books?

https://www.amazon.com/Grand-Central-Station-Relationships-Meant-ebook/dp/B01B8CBDMC

https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/michiganavenue

https://www.kobo.com/us/en/search?Query=marsha+casper+cook  

A list of Marsha’s books:

Novels: Grand Central Station – romantic comedy & audio book; Guilty Pleasures series – erotica

Children’s books: The Busy Bus; No Clues No Shoes – also audio; The Magical Leaping Lizard – also audio; Snack Attack -also audio; I Wish I Was A Brownie- also audio

Screenplay (book): It’s Never Too Late

Non-Fiction:
To Life 

What’s next for you?

I have several projects in my head. One is to write another romantic comedy, and the other is to add to my Guilty Pleasures series.

Thanks so much for joining us today, Marsha. It’s been a real pleasure getting to know more about you and your books. I wish you the very best with your many books and audio books!

About Eleanor:

ellie

Puerto Rican-born Eleanor Parker Sapia is the author of the award-winning historical novel, A Decent Woman, 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 currently lives in Berkeley County, West Virginia, where she is working on her second novel, The Laments of Forgotten Souls, set in 1920 Puerto Rico.

Eleanor’s book: http://amzn.to/1X0qFvK
Please visit Eleanor at her website:
www.eleanorparkersapia.com

 

 

 

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!

elizabeth-passo-2

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

elizabeth-passo-book-cover-1

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.

elizabeth-passo-2-book-cover

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.

elizabeth-passo-1

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.

elizabeth-passo-book-cover-3

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

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.

donelle-knudsen

Welcome to The Writing Life, Donelle.

donelle-knudsen-cover

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.

donelle-knudsen-cover

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

 

 

 

Author Interview: Scarlet Darkwood

Welcome to the Tuesday Author Interview series at The Writing Life. Yes, it’s Thursday. I’m two days late. Have you ever felt quite sure you’ve done something that you haven’t done at all? Well, I have that sheepish feeling today. I thought I’d sent my next guest, the lovely Scarlet Darkwood, the interview questions, but I hadn’t. So we are back on track today!

Please do check back next Tuesday for the next fabulous author interview.

Novelist Scarlet Darkwood always prefers avant garde themes for her stories that take the reader on unusual adventures, exploring the darker parts of the human psyche, and sometimes she takes a happy-go-lucky romp on the brighter sides of life.

Writing in several genres unleashes Scarlet’s imagination, so she never grows bored. From a young age, she enjoyed writing and keeping diaries, but didn’t start creating novels until 2012. She’s a Southern girl who lives in Tennessee and enjoys the beauty of the mountains. She lives in Nashville with her spouse and two rambunctious kitties.

Welcome, Scarlet.

What is the genre of “Words We Never Speak”?

The genre for my latest release is supernatural romance. It also fits into ghost and occult.

scarlet-darkwood-book

Please describe what the story/book is about.

My book is a ghost story with a “gotcha.” It’s about love and forgiveness when hurtful things are said, but this takes place much later in the character’s life. People should always consider the power of their words. The spoken word becomes truth, if you’re not careful. The story is also about a connection to one’s past and wanting to hold on to those special elements.  

How did you come up with the title?

I borrowed the snippet from my spouse. Whenever I get angry at something and open my mouth, he tells me, “Oh, those words we never speak never have to be forgiven.” I use that line in the story!

Great line! Scarlet, what inspired you to write “Words We Never Speak”?

This book was inspired by a dream I had of an old classmate who died after high school. In real life, he and I were never friends, let alone dated in high school. So the work, though grounded in lots of personal truth, is fiction.

What is your favorite part of writing?

Being able to write in bursts when the ideas come. I don’t have these ideas flowing like milk and honey like some authors do. I struggle with getting a handle on my story and filling in the guts of it. Sometimes my skeleton is pretty sparse at the beginning, but in the end, it has all come together. 

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

Kit Millinger resembles me in that she loves old houses and antiques, and that though she appreciates religion and some of the force or intent behind it, she doesn’t get caught up in the trappings of dogma or ceremony. Unlike Kit, I personally enjoy the ancient spiritual teachings that seem to give me a broader understanding of spiritual laws and principles.

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

Really grabbing the story by the horns and focusing in such a way that it gets down faster and more efficient. The other challenging aspect for me is being a little fearful of painting myself in a corner. It forces me to keep plotlines simple, and that can be a huge hindrance. What makes a good story sometimes is the intricacies and details that come together in the storytelling. I risk keeping things too predictable and status quo. Though several readers have mentioned in reviews of my books that they didn’t see “such and such” coming. So maybe I don’t do too badly!

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

I read “The Widow’s Game,” by Maddie Holliday Von Stark. I had seen a particular post of hers one day back in the summer, and I decided to read the story. I found the writing descriptive, the word choices titillating at times, and the interwoven stories intriguing. There was excitement and chapters that dug into emotion and experience.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

I’ve enjoyed Madeleine Roux’s Asylum Series, and I like books by Liz Curtis Higgs: Bad Girls Of The Bible, Mad Mary, and I also purchased, It’s Good to Be Queen: Becoming as Bold, Gracious, and Wise as the Queen of Sheba—also by Higgs. I didn’t realize I’d liked her that much until you asked your question! I’ve enjoyed some of Anne Rice’s books: The Mayfair Witches (I’m getting through the second book), and her Sleeping Beauty Trilogy. I have some of Stephen King’s books, but I’ve only read Salem’s Lot (Cell and Pet Sematary are on the shelf).

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

I’m not sure I can pick any particular authors who have influenced me. I look to different ones to learn how a particular genre is handled, or how certain subject material is presented. Then what I do is inject my own take and go from there.

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

I have a European ergonomic chair in my living room. When I’m not working, I’m sitting in that chair and on the computer. 

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

I took about two years of ballroom dance, and did some showcases and competitions. Hint: Unfortunately, I look nothing like a ballroom dancer. 

Has the writing process uncovered surprises or learning experiences for you? What about the publishing process?

As far as surprises, go, I learned that certain genres have readers who are super picky, and certain ways you write things or the way you present the material can be an immediate turn-off. For publishing, I’ve learned that unless I’m the publisher, I’m not interested in pitching my work to agents or other publishing houses. I like total control over what I do. I might enter the occasional anthology, but it has to feel right.

scarlet-darkwood-book

What do you hope readers will gain from your book?

I hope readers will have been entertained, most of all. I also hope some of the themes or subject matter covered allow readers to focus on those aspects or experiences in relation to themselves.

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

Re-editing the book and making some additional changes created work that makes me feel more confident. Working with some marketers and other authors has helped get the book out a little more. I simply think putting out more work might help everything catch fire a little better. It’s a tough market, and everyone is told to do the same: write, write, write.

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

Paying money for advertising hasn’t worked. Social media is extremely time-consuming, and if it works, it’s slow going. Also, thinking that there would be huge author support in a publishing house—not so. Authors won’t support or share for various personal reasons. So it’s really back to you as the author to find your own way.

Any advice or tips for writers looking to get published?

Learn to self-publish, because you’ll never be at the mercy of another. Having control over your work is a good feeling. If you want to write, read some books on the craft of writing or take some online courses. An author needs to understand why certain elements need to be included in a story or excluded. They need to have a good handle on each story they write, and they need to learn the whys and wherefores of everything they write.

Please share your website and social media links.

Newsletter: http://ow.ly/HUyz303E5Oh

Blog: www.scarletdarkwood.com

Follow her on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/scarletdarkwoodauthor

Follow her on Google+ at: http://ow.ly/VvZ82

Follow her on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/ScarletDarkwood

Where can we find your book?

http://www.amazon.com/Words-Never-Speak-Scarlet-Darkwood-ebook/dp/B01GH7SJ4S

What’s next for you, Scarlet?

I’m off to try a different genre, and I’m opening myself up very slowly to helping publish other authors. 

Thank you for chatting with The Writing Life, Scarlet. I wish you the best with your books and publishing adventures! 

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 at the 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 author 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.

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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

Author Interview with Sarahn Henderson, Birth in the Tradition

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I couldn’t be happier to introduce you to my new friend, the midwife, educator, and writer, Sarahn Henderson. Two months before my historical novel, A Decent Woman went to layout, I was browsing the internet about caul births, and I stumbled upon Sarahn’s website. This was synchronicity at its best! I immediately contacted Sarahn, who was gracious enough to read an advanced reader copy of A Decent Woman. Sarahn gave my novel the first midwifery ‘seal of approval’. I will always be grateful to this beautiful, talented lady, and can’t wait to meet her in person.

Sarahn Henderson is the principal midwife at Birth in the Tradition. She is the mother of five adult children who were born at home. Since 1980, and to her credit, Sarahn has assisted and midwifed hundreds of families into parenthood. Her role models were the Granny Midwives, respectfully called Grand Midwives today. Sarahn has also apprenticed over a dozen women who chose to study or practice midwifery. Her vision is that homebirth will become nationally recognized as a safe alternative to hospital births (for the low risk mother), and that midwifery will become a licensed profession in the US maternal healthcare system. Sarahn is the author of Speak Sistah Speak, Preserving a Legacy and she is a performance artist.

Welcome, Sarahn!

What is your book’s genre/category?

Speak Sistah Speak, Preserving a Legacy is an inspirational coffee table photo book of Giwayen Mata; an all female African dance, drum and vocal ensemble!

Please describe what the story/book is about.

Speak Sistah Speak, Preserving a Legacy is a mélange of eloquent quotes, golden nuggets and voices of inspiration by the women of Giwayen Mata and other “Elephant Women”.  Additionally, it pictorially reflects the twenty years of Giwayen Mata’s growth and continuation.

How did you come up with the title?

Speak Sistah Speak is a Giwayen Mata Performance piece.

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In addition to being the title of GIWAYEN MATA’S book, Speak Sistah Speak is also the name of one of the performance pieces in Giwayen Mata’s repertoire. In this piece, Giwayen Mata’s artistic director, Omelika Kuumba, has addressed the ridicules, laughter and scorned faces from those who disapproved of her and other women stepping out to speak with their hands as female drummers. The title was used here again because being at the forefront, defending this change in attitude about women drummers is our charge and appropriately sums up Giwayen Mata’s 20 years. The preserving a legacy part of the title speaks to Giwayen Mata’s purpose to preserve the stories, language and history of Africa and the African Diaspora through song, dance and rhythms.

What is the reason you wrote this book?

This compilation of stories and words of wisdom are intended to inspire and encourage those who need examples of perseverance to help them achieve their goals. This book is about determination and perseverance. Giwayen Mata continues to trail blaze a new frontier for women drummers.

What is your favorite part of writing?

My favorite part of writing is the sharing of my imaginative thoughts in literal form. Writing is an artistic expression that allows me to create tapestries of words that entertain and inform. Writing is my gift, which I am continuously developing.

What is the most challenging aspect of writing?

Putting my thoughts “perfectly” into words is the most challenging aspect of writing for me. When I find myself rewriting what I’ve already written just to make it read better, the process extends longer than I’d like. Knowing that my words will touch someone in the process allows me to stick to the challenge.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

I don’t have one favorite author. I tend to be attracted to historical fiction literature. So authors who write a good story with interesting characters and events with historical context, can most times captivate me and hold my attention.

What authors or person(s) have influenced you?

I would have to say that Eleanor Parker Sapia and her novel A Decent Woman have been new sources of inspiration and influence for me. Besides being a performing artist, I am also an African American Midwife. I have been intending to publish my midwifery memoirs for years. Eleanor Parker’s book closely resembles my personal experiences in the US. After reading her story, I could tell that it is time for me to write my own. My clients, family and friends are continuously encouraging me to do so.

Favorite place to write?

Since I cannot say on the front porch of my cabin over looking the Smoky Mountains of Georgia or on the patio of my beach home listening to the waves of the Atlantic ocean, I have to confess that my favorite place to write is on my bed with my laptop on my lap desk! My room is my “She Cave” where I retreat to gather my thoughts. The lamp which hangs over my head provides me with the light I use to burn the midnight oil.

Something personal about you people may be surprised to know?

I’m shy! People don’t believe it because I perform and am well known in my community. But get me in a crowd with people I don’t know, I am quite the opposite of the social butterfly.

Any surprises or learning experiences with the publishing process?

Writing and publishing is a process. Going the self publishing route requires doing your own editing, research and marketing.

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

Speak Sistah Speak is my first published book. After researching different publishing options, I followed the advice from the first person who put me on the road of self publishing. As a novice, this process has felt safe and has allowed me to have control of what I know and of what I need to know for further works.

Any advice for writers looking to get published?

Write! Be courageous. Don’t be afraid. Don’t procrastinate. If you have a story to tell, write it. Whether you are interested in self publishing or using a publishing company, there are plenty of resources on the web.

Website?

www.giwayenmata.com

Where can we find your book?

Speak Sistah Speak can be found at:

http://www.giwayenmata.org/store/specialty-items/speak-sistah-speak-preserving-a-legacy/  or

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=Speak%2C+Sistah+Speak!!%3A+Preserving+a+Legacy

What’s next for you?

The Memoirs of an African American Midwife by Sarahn Henderson!!

Thank you for a wonderful interview and for the kind words, Sarahn! I am blessed to have you in my life and wish you all the best with Speak Sistah Speak and your memoir! Please keep me posted and visit us again! x

About Eleanor

Puerto Rican-born novelist, Eleanor Parker Sapia, was raised in the United States, Puerto Rico, and Europe. Eleanor’s life experiences as a counselor, alternative health practitioner, a Spanish language social worker, and a refugee case worker inspire her stories. When Eleanor is not writing, she facilitates creativity groups, and is making plans to walk El Camino de Santiago de Compostela a second time.

A Decent Woman is her debut historical novel. Eleanor is the mother of two adult children, and she currently lives in West Virginia.

A DECENT WOMAN available now on Amazon 

Ponce, Puerto Rico, at the turn of the century: Ana Belén Opaku, an Afro-Cuban born into slavery, is a proud midwife with a tempestuous past. After testifying at an infanticide trial, Ana is forced to reveal a dark secret from her past, but continues to hide an even more sinister one. Pitted against the parish priest, Padre Vicénte, and young Doctór Héctor Rivera, Ana must battle to preserve her twenty-five year career as the only midwife in La Playa.

Serafina is a respectable young widow with two small children, who marries an older wealthy merchant from a distinguished family. A crime against Serafina during her last pregnancy forever bonds her to Ana in an ill-conceived plan to avoid a scandal and preserve Serafina’s honor.

Set against the combustive backdrop of a chauvinistic society, where women are treated as possessions, A Decent Woman is the provocative story of these two women as they battle for their dignity and for love against the pain of betrayal and social change.

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