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Author Interview: Cat Winters

Cat Winters has written an astonishing number of novels. Do visit her website to learn more and to discover where to purchase her different types of books. A review of one of her many books will be posted tomorrow. Meanwhile, enjoy a chat with her here!

-How would your advice for new writers differ from advice you would offer writers who have been in the game for a while?

Honestly, my advice wouldn’t differ between the two. It took me nearly two decades of serious writing before a publisher ever offered me a contract. I would give the version of myself who was starting off back in 1994 the same advice that I would have told the version who was on the brink of giving up in 2011: If writing is what your heart and soul tells you to do, do not give up.

Writing is never a waste of time—don’t ever tell yourself that it is, even when you find yourself at a point in which you need to file a book (or books) away and move on to something new. Write the stories that grab you by the shoulders and refuse to let you go. Do not write for trends or scrap beloved ideas in favor of ones you think might make a bestseller. Readers will be able to feel your passion (or lack of passion), and so will the agents and editors who serve as the gateway between you and those readers.

Seek honest feedback from critique partners whom you trust, and LISTEN to that feedback, especially when everyone is pointing to the same areas that require a bit of work. Make your books, short stories, etc., as strong as they can possibly be before sending them out the door. A writing career takes diligence, patience, love, and luck, and the writers who make it are typically the ones who stick with it, even after countless rejections and other setbacks.

-When you take a break from writing, is it a full and total break or is your mind constantly parsing the world for fodder? What does that parsing look like? How does it make you feel as an artist? As a human being?

These past three years I’ve had so many back-to-back books due that I haven’t been able to take much of a break from writing at all. In December, however, I managed to find myself with a couple of weeks that didn’t involve any pressing deadlines, so I put myself on a full writing vacation to spend much-needed time with family.

No matter how much I tried to avoid thinking about my books, though, I found myself mentally plotting and planning and drawing inspiration from the world around me—a process I believe to be one of the most important stages of writing. Often writers need to walk away from their computers and let the ideas marinate.

As both an artist and a human being, I love that my mind turns everything around me into something meaningful; the entire world speaks to my imagination. It’s a fascinating way of looking at life.

-From your perspective as an author, what do you feel is the biggest challenge to the publishing industry today? 

I feel that the biggest challenge is the lack of diversity. Because my young adult novels started appearing in print a couple years before my adult novel debuted, I’m much more aware of the state of the YA publishing industry.

In the world of kidlit, groups such as #WeNeedDiverseBooks are now encouraging publishers to acquire and promote books written by a wider variety of authors. A push for publishers to hire diverse employees is also in the works, as evidenced by the recent PublishersWeekly.com article “AAP, UNCF Partner to Improve Diversity Hiring in Book Biz,” by Calvin Reid (Jan. 14, 2016).

I also believe that we need to work harder to ensure that student writers of all racial and ethnic backgrounds—and at all income levels—receive access to educational opportunities in creative writing.

-What books are you currently reading?

I’m reading Daniel Kraus’s entertaining historical epic, The Death and Life of Zebulon Finch. Plus I’m making my way through several research books for the YA novel that I’m currently writing. A favorite of those books is American Monsters: A History of Monster Lore, Legends, and Sightings in America, by Linda S. Godfrey.

-Which authors do you think are underappreciated in the current market, and why? (The authors do not have to be living.)

Going back to what I said about the publishing industry’s need for greater diversity, I would say that many writers of color continue to be unfairly underappreciated. Sherri L. Smith’s excellent WWII-set novel, Flygirl, is a book that I learned about through word of mouth, and it was so eye-opening and moving, I felt I should have been made aware of it through bigger publishing campaigns and stronger Internet buzz.

One of the books I most want to read at the moment is Ashley Hope Pérez’s Out of Darkness, which involves a racially divided town on the Texas-Mexico border in 1936. I just learned of the novel because it was named a 2016 Printz Honor Book, but before I read the list of winners, I had, sadly, never heard of it.

Granted, historical fiction is a genre that itself is often underappreciated, but historical fiction about marginalized groups tends to slip under the radar all the more. I hope future changes in the publishing industry will remedy this issue.

-Which new writers do you find most interesting, and why?

My busy schedule has kept me from reading as much as I’d like in the past couple of years, but I would say to keep an eye on Amy Lukavics, a young horror novelist. I blurbed her debut novel, Daughters Unto Devils, of which I said, “Imagine Stephen King writing Little House on the Prairie.” I love when authors experiment with the historical fiction genre and do something completely unexpected with it.

-Which “get writing” techniques are most effective for you?

I write when my kids are in school, so there are very specific hours in the day when I need to plop myself down into a chair and get the work done. In order to make the transition from my mom life to my writer life, I typically listen to a song that connects me to my work-in-progress. I compile lists of go-to inspirational music for each one of my books, and when I sit in my chair, close my eyes, and absorb that music, inevitably I’m put into the writing mindset.

In the middle of the workday, when I grow restless or find writer’s block setting in, I get up and take a long walk outside, if the weather cooperates (I live in Oregon). Afterward, I almost always return to my computer refreshed and ready to go.

-Can you give us a sneak peek into your current project?

I’m getting ready to release my next young adult novel, The Steep and Thorny Way, a retelling of Hamlet that centers on a biracial teenage girl in 1920s Oregon. That book releases from Abrams on March 8, 2016.

The novel that I’m actively revising at the moment is my second adult novel, Yesternight, which HarperCollins will release in October 2016. It involves a female school psychologist who, in 1925, finds herself dealing with the baffling case of a seven-year-old girl who claims to have lived a past life in the late 1800s. It’s a historical psychological thriller, and I’m greatly looking forward to celebrating its publication just in time for Halloween.

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Author Interview: Martin Smith, All Tomorrow’s Parties

Today’s interview is with Martin Smith, author of All Tomorrow’s Parties.
LC: All Tomorrow’s Parties is a very intimate look at a specific part of North Carolina, a specific time, and a specific subculture. How did you manage to mine all of those details for this book project?
MS: It’s a long story – but then, with a writer, what isn’t?
I “discovered” live local music after moving here in the spring of ’82, right out of college. One of my housemates was in a band, so I’d go to the Cave and other locales to see them. Before this, the only shows I’d been to were a small handful of national acts at the arena back in Omaha: Famous People At Expensive Ticket Prices, far away and very small down on the stage. At the Cave, the musicians are right there in front of one, and usually socialize with the audience, which often contains local musicians too. Through friendship with the one I met others, as well as through various jobs I had, and began following their shows as well. They were all in their mid-20s like me, doing music as a hobby, not making a living at it but maybe hoping to; they were always glad to see familiar faces, like mine, at shows, and presently I’d become a part of their informal extended “entourage.” I was enthralled – these Incredibly Cool People are actual humans that one can talk to; and what’s more, they like seeing me, and even let me party with them!! That was my “conversion” to the “religion” of live local music, which I’ve been following ever since.
Chuck McDonough’s experiences in the “back catalog – chuck” section of All Tomorrow’s Parties are thus autobiographical, not in specific incidents but in his thoughts and feelings. All the music-related (and party-related) stuff in the book is reconstituted from the thirty-years’ worth of shows and parties I’ve been going to. (Likewise with John Overstead in the “hey mr. dj” chapter: I was a volunteer DJ at WXDU for 23 years. And I faint at the sight of my own blood.)

LC: Tell me about your publishing journey with All Tomorrow’s Parties.
MS: I wrote All Tomorrow’s Parties between 2004 and 2011. I sent out query letters to every agent that seemed remotely likely to have interest. The response was a handful of polite “No’s” from some and dead silence from the rest. I knew that was par for the course, having been writing and submitting short stories for the past thirty years (when I wasn’t out seeing shows). I had planned all along to try the self-publishing route if no agents or presses took the bait. I’m just starting that adventure now, with my new author website and ads for the novel in local papers.

LC: Do you play any instruments yourself? How well?
MS: I don’t play anything; dearly wish I did; but am mulish about putting in the necessary time to learn, and especially practice. I did take organ lessons in junior high, from a guy named (I kid you not) Mr. Cheeseman, but never kept up with it.

LC: Does music interact with the creative act of writing for you? How so?
Music doesn’t interact with the writing. I prefer quiet when I’m working, on anything. Since I’m a “words” guy, lyrics that are catchy, or stupid, can distract me.

LC: You also run a literary magazine that has one of the largest print circulations in the nation. How have you managed to keep that alive for so long?
MS: That’s easy: I’m a trust-fund slacker (thanks to Grandpa Knapp, who traveled the world designing factories for Johnson & Johnson, and left all five of us grandkids plenty of stock). I support it financially. Garry the editor supports it artistically and editorially, which I think is probably much more complex. I keep it going because I’m proud of it; because I like Garry’s enthusiasm, inimitable ways and the choices he makes; and because it gives me a sort of “position” in the community when out seeing shows: I’m the “Blotter guy.”

LC: How do you interweave working on The Blotter and writing your own projects?​
MS: I try to keep every weekday afternoon open for writing my own stuff. I do Blotter business in the morning, between breakfast and exercise. After lunch I work, until my creative neurons burn out for the day or until it’s time to start fixing dinner, whichever comes first.

LC: You’ve posted a number of free stories on your website. What moved you to do that…a deep and abiding love for your readers? Or something more sinister?
The four free stories have been published (my website tells where & when), which sort of means to me that they’re already accessible to the public. Also, maybe if people like them enough, they’ll want to buy the for-sale ones.

LC: Tell me, tell me, about that ink! (Click here to see the groovy tat!)
The tat? Got it done in ’04. Passed out in the tattoo chair from the hurt (most embarrassing; that should only happen to boastful hetero yuppies) and was revived with Pixie Stix.
There’s a quarterly zine, “White Crane Journal”, now online only but formerly print as well, which focuses on gay spirituality. They published my stories “Dream Lover” and “Fairy Tale.” The picture illustrated an article, and I thought, “That’d make a cool tattoo.” So after six months of working up the gumption, I went and dood it.
A hetero friend calls it “Jesus of Finland.” If people give me weird looks and demand “Is that Jesus??” I reply, “If you want it to be.”

LC: What are you working on for your next book?
It’s complicated. I have a title (Masters In This Hall), an assortment of characters, and several plot threads to try and work out. One theme will be power and powerlessness. I want to write out the dark memories and fantasies that fuel my obsession / depression, much of it stemming from junior-high-school bullying and other childhood scars. But I also want to put in something of my love for passenger trains and geek-out knowledge of their pre-Amtrak history; a thread where the main character, an ordinary guy, inherits a ginormous mansion and even more ginormous fortune for no apparent reason; and Parallel Universes, because why not?

Author Interview: Rich Ehisen #writechat

This interview is with Rich Ehisen, a political journalist who is working on a new book called Gen Wars: Voices of America’s Generational Culture War.

LC: Politics, politics. You have built a career writing about national and California State politics. Dish, please. Best part of covering politicians and their ilk? Worst part? How’s the free food at PR events, really? But don’t share anything that will get the men in black after you.

RE: Funny, I used to cover sports, which I thought would be my dream job. Covering politics seemed like the opposite of that. But after actually covering sports and dealing with athletes and teams, I couldn’t wait to get away from it. Politics is actually far more interesting to cover professionally. I’d rather just be a passionate fan of sports and an impartial observer and reporter of all things political. The best part is that the stuff I’m covering is important – it matters to our society. And I get paid to ask powerful people hard (but fair) questions that often challenge their positions. They don’t always answer but I get to ask. The worst part is without a doubt dealing with their flacks who try more to shield their boss from us than to help work out us being able to talk to them. Thankfully, there are not that many who operate that way these days, at least at the state level. Congress, which I have covered a little, that is a different story. ;o) I generally avoid the food at press events, lest someone accuse me of being too cozy with the powers that be – as if I could be bought off with rubbery chicken dinner. That said, cops and reporters NEVER say no to coffee.

To read some of Rich’s work, click here.

LC: You’ve been jetting around the country working on a big new project…big in the sense of what it encompasses and big in terms of what it might do on the market. Tell me more about Gen Wars: Voices of America’s Generational Cultural Clash.

RE: It’s been slower going than I would have hoped, but I’ve adopted the mindset that it will be done when it is done right. I’m notoriously impatient but rushing through really complex stuff like this generation transition we’re going through from the Boomers to the Millennials via Gen X won’t serve my purposes at all. In the book, I really want to showcase some of the people across all of these generations that are doing good work in areas that matter, and where Boomers and the two younger generations are alike and where they differ in their approach to it all. For instance, I’m planning a section on activists that profiles how activists in the Boomer generation compare to those working today from younger generations. I was at a writers conference in San Diego in January and was able to have a trio of agents look over my proposal. Two of them were pretty interested with some caveats, which I am working to address right now. So fingers crossed.

For more about this project, click here.

LC: What’s the worst thing you’ve personally done as a boomer?


RE: Sex, drugs and rock & roll, baby! Definitely spent my youth wrapped up in all three as a lifestyle. I was probably pretty typical of my late Boomer group, though.

LC: Best thing?

RE: I will say I have worked a lot harder since my 20s at not being selfish and narcissistic, which I think has been the hallmark of the Boomers. I actually find it funny when I hear a Boomer bitching about Millenials being self-absorbed. Where do they think these kids learned that behavior? Who are their parents? I made it my mission in life to raise my Millennial daughter to not be that way, so when I see 20-somethings who are selfish idiots I usually presume the apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree. From a practical standpoint, I have also made it a priority to save money for my retirement, which I can tell you far too many people in my age group have not done. I’ve interviewed a lot of Boomers all over the country who have no idea how or if they will ever be able to stop working. That should scare all of us, especially the Millennials and Gen Xers who will likely have to pay the bill for taking care of them.

LC: What’s the most important way Millennials can change their lives or world view?

RE: Be flexible in everything they do, and to think entrepreneurially. Not necessarily as if they are all going to start their own business, but more like they are the captains of their own ships and take responsibility for their own happiness and success. I sound all new age with that, but I really do believe that with technology there are more opportunities now than ever, but also more challenges to maximizing those opportunities. And to keep giving back at every opportunity. Life really is a team sport.

LC: Any wisdom for Gen X?

RE: Same as above, with the addition of also being willing to let your guard down a bit more. Gen X really has got screwed a bit in all this. Boomers and the Silents did a lot of things right, but we also did a lot of things wrong that Xers bore the brunt of. Subsequently, they tend to be a lot more guarded and wary. Stats show they are the hardest to market too, the least susceptible to sales pitches, etc. That’s a good thing, but they also tend to be the most cynical of the generations, which is not a good thing.

LC: When we first met, it was through a writer’s group and almost 20 years ago. Since then, you’ve evolved quite a bit, and this project seems to be an important part of that. Tell me how you decided to work on this, and what impact you think it will have on your career.

RE: This project came out of a conversation I was having with my daughter, who was 25 at the time. We were talking about some of the struggles she was having with grad school living in the big city etc. All normal stuff I some ways, but it made me think a lot about what kind of world we are leaving them. We have some really significant problems to deal with – climate change, growing wealth disparity, the absurd cost of education, etc. – that I’m not sure my generation is doing much about. I’m not sure we even can now, given how polarized we are both politically, economically and socially. That leaves it to the young ‘uns, which is a hell of a burden if you ask me. I am hoping that I can do this topic justice and inform and entertain people in the process. From there, if it opens the doors for me to do more books or another film, then I’ll be very happy.

LC: Plans for post Gen Wars?

RE: I’m really energized right now. I’m working on some new fiction, though as of this moment I’m not sure what form it will take. I’m just letting the story form and move, almost on its own, every day. It has been great. I’m also for sure going to work on more screenplays and maybe even produce another short movie.

LC: Best tip for interviewing.

RE: Be prepared but don’t be so rigid to your questions that you miss the obvious follow ups to what people say. Make them feel comfortable, look them in the eye, show them respect. You don’t have to go to coffee with them later but try to connect in some way. People always will tell you more if they like you and trust you. And always show integrity in your own work. There are times where the situation is unavoidably confrontational or tense, but most subjects will stand behind their words if you report them accurately.

LC: What does your writing space look like? If you don’t have one, where do you go to create?

RE: I’m the luckiest person alive. I work from my home office. We’re quasi-rural, so the view out my office window is a hillside with a plethora of trees, birds and the occasional deer. My desk can be a challenge – two laptops, a large monitor, etc. I’m a neat freak so sometimes that makes me crazy.

LC: Wild card: Share a crazy dream, a wildly ambitious goal, a favorite quote. Or whatever.

RE: I would love to write a great screenplay based on the main character from the fiction I am working on now, and then have that screenplay win an Oscar! Woo hoo!

Interview with Marion Grace Woolley #whattoread #mustread

The author of the stunning Those Rosy Hours at Mazandaran, available from Ghostwoods, chats with Laine Cunningham of Writer’s Resource about her stunning debut novel. For the review, see Monday’s post (3-23-15).

LC: Tell me about the idea for Those Rosy Hours. What sparked the seed concept?

MGW: Those Rosy Hours at Mazandaran is a reference taken from Gaston Leroux’s novel The Phantom of the Opera. It refers to a period in the Opera Ghost’s life before the Paris Opera House was built. As a young man, Erik is said to have travelled extensively, learning to throw the Punjab lasso in India, and eventually becoming playfellow to the daughter of the Shah of Iran.

It’s a story that is hinted at, but never fully told. There have been previous attempts to piece it together, most notably Susan Kay’s novel Phantom, but I wanted to take a different approach. My interest lies with the Little Sultana and her world. She was born into ultimate wealth and privilege, yet found her closest companion to be a travelling conjurer with a lust for blood. I wanted to give her a voice, to see what made them similar and what brought them together.

LC: How did the idea develop once you’d latched onto the seed?

MGW: In the grand style of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, it was really about taking a very minor character from a much loved classic, and putting her centre stage. The existence of The Persian in the original novel, and reference to both the Sultana and ‘those rosy hours,’ would suggest that something deeply significant happened all those years ago.

The first part of developing the plot involved working out roughly when those years ago actually were. By taking the completion of the Paris Opera House as an anchor, and assuming Erik, the Phantom, must have played a part in building it, I was able to work backwards, leaving him enough time to meet Christine and to have left home at an early age. That brought me to around 1850.

From there it was a case of researching the times. Thankfully, there was a vivid cast of historical characters to draw inspiration from.

LC: What was your primary challenge writing this work? Is this usually a challenging area for your other writing projects or did this come as a surprise?

MGW: It’s always difficult writing historical fiction. You’re constantly at risk of tripping yourself up, having your characters see something that hasn’t been invented, saying something out of context for the period. I like to spend the first few weeks completely immersing myself in the time, looking through picture archives, listening to music and watching documentaries on YouTube. But there comes a point where you have to turn off and let the story speak for itself. Anything you’re not sure about you can look up along the way.

That’s fairly standard, I think. The part that proved more of a challenge was taking on an established novel with a cult following. Anyone who loves classic literature tends to feel a strong sense of ownership over the characters. Some fans are willing to follow you into new territory, others are not. Those who see Phantom as a tragic love story are unlikely to enjoy the young Phantom I present them with, who is deeply rooted in Leroux’s dark, Gothic original.

LC: What was the part you enjoyed most about writing this work? Was this in line with your other works or was it a surprise?

MGW: Growing up, I always wrote stories to entertain myself, but it wasn’t until around 2008 that I attempted to write my first novel. I was a VSO volunteer in Africa, and there wasn’t much to do in the evenings. I didn’t have a television, radio, or many books to read.

Up to now, most of what I’ve written has been practise. It’s been about me exploring my interests and my style of writing. I’ve dabbled in horror, historical fiction and romance. I’ve learned something from each novel I’ve written, yet when I look back on them, I see so many of the mistakes writers make in the early days. With Rosy Hours I feel as though I have finally come of age.

LC: Tell me how you connected with Ghostwoods.

MGW: I was accepted by Ghostwoods Books via the submissions process.

I’ve been published in the past by a couple of small presses, Green Sunset Books and Netherworld Books. They were both enthusiastic, but neither had a marketing budget. Once you get over the buzz of being published, you quickly realise that selling books is a much harder mountain to climb.

I felt that I’d written something good with Rosy Hours. I knew that it was better than anything I’d written before, and I didn’t want it to follow my other novels to the grave, so I decided to run the gauntlet of submissions again.

Ghostwoods came back to me almost immediately. I was bowled over by their appreciation of the manuscript, and by their fair trade 50/50 split of profits. The problem was that I was in a first refusal contract with another publisher. I didn’t think they’d want Rosy Hours because it’s quite a dark story and they’d turned down a previous manuscript on those grounds. It turned out they did want it. We have a good working relationship and, after negotiating, they were gracious enough to let me take up Ghostwoods’ offer.

LC: Since a number of the readers of this blog are authors, tell me the process the book went through to get endorsements from other authors.

MGW: My publisher is really on the ball with pre-release blurbs and early reader reviews. It’s because of their existing contacts that we got it in front of people like Kate Harrad and David Southwell.

My own personal contacts came into play as well. A few years ago I did a turn at booQfest in Northampton, UK. I met authors who remained friends, including the incredible Will Davis, whose work I very much admire, and crime writer Adrian Magson, who is the editor for Writing Magazine’s new writers feature. Will agreed to review the book, and Adrian offered me an interview.

Usually it doesn’t hurt to ask. If people have the time and they’re interested in what you’re writing, they might just say yes.

LC: What are you working on now? Are there other books already in the process of being published that we should watch for?

MGW: I’m currently halfway through my next novel. It’s a retelling of an ancient Irish legend that I’ve always liked. As with Rosy Hours, I’m trying to take it out of its original context and put a slightly fresh spin on things.

I love folktales and legends, but, due to the times in which they were written, they can often come across a bit dry in the telling. I’m going for multi-character first person, and weaving in a few other legends and characters of that time.

It’s a bit of a leap from 1850s Northern Iran to Iron Age Ireland, but I enjoy the challenge.

LC: Which books are you reading now (fiction and/or nonfiction), and why?

MGW: I’m currently reading Red Phone Box, which is a story compilation by my publisher Ghostwoods Books. It’s a bit of dark fun, and I’m reading it because my editor Salomé Jones, cover designer Gábor Csigás, and Ghostwoods’ media guru Tim Dedopulos each contributed. I know them professionally, it’s nice to get to know them creatively.

I’m also working my way through Game of Thrones, in the hope of catching up with the TV series, so that I can finally know what it’s like to read the book before watching the episode.

LC: What are the typical things you do during the day to enhance your creative process?

MGW: Honestly, I don’t really push myself. I spend a silly amount of time on social media, I’m also reading quite a bit at the moment and holding down a day job in international development. I’ll go through fits and starts of creativity. Some weeks I’ll go for days on end without writing anything, other days I’ll sit down and bash out five thousand words in a couple of hours. I really don’t worry about it too much. Writing is pleasure. If it turned into stress I’d probably stop doing it.

LC: What do you love most about being a writer?

MGW: I love the free-flow exchange of ideas. I love knowing that something I’ve written might just inspire someone else to create something else. The knock-on effect of art. For instance, I was inspired by Gaston Leroux to create Rosy Hours. From that, we’ve already had cover art featuring a picture, To The End, by Iranian photographer Babak Fatolahia, a drawing by cartoonist Stephanie Piro, and even jewellery. It’s fascinating how inspiration spreads and stories gather life. As a writer, you stand at the gateway between thought and form.