Sunday Interview #18

Hello, dear followers and those who just popped in to see what’s going on here at ‘mywithershins’!

Karen Dudley

For my Sunday Interview today, I am thrilled to introduce to you, Karen Dudley who, as her website states, is a “writer of fine novels, preparer of fine foods and all ‘round good egg”! Believe me when I say, she is all that and more! Those who have been with me for a while might remember her name from one of ‘My Bookshelf’ posts, where I talked a bit about her bird-titled mysteries. Anyway, without further ado, please welcome Karen Dudley. (Whistle! Whistle! Whoot! Whoot!)

Hi, Karen! To start off with, if someone asks, ‘who is Karen Dudley?’ what would you tell them?

Hi Susan! Who is Karen Dudley, eh? You mean, apart from the all ‘round good egg stuff? 🙂 Well, let me see…I make great food in my kitchen and scented soap in my basement, I love a good laugh, adore the research end of writing, and I’ve been a sci-fi/fantasy/folklore/mythology buff forever. My vices are books and chocolate with almonds. I listen to opera in the concert hall and sing it in the shower. I drink tea instead of coffee, and more often than not, I am covered in cat hair.

I guess that’s why we get along so well – we have so much in common! Just substitute scrapbooking for soap-making. 🙂

I know you have been writing a long time and not just fiction. Please tell my readers what you’ve written in the past.

Great African Americans in Government (Outstanding African Americans)

 A number of years ago, I was working at Weigl Educational Publishers doing photo research when the publisher decided to develop a series of wildlife biology books for kids, ages 9-12. I’d taken a lot of wildlife biology at university, so I asked if I could write the prototype. I did, and she loved it, so I wrote five more in the series. I’m very proud of the fact that I was able to convince her to include in each book a section on the relevant animal in folklore and mythology. All part of my evil plan to bring folklore and myth to the masses!

Bwa ha ha! **ahem**

I also wrote a number of books for the same publisher on Great African Americans. Yep, that’s right, Great African Americans written by a white Canadian.

Hahaha! That is rather ironic! 🙂

What led you to begin writing fiction?

I’d been working on the wildlife biology series and it was bringing back all kinds of memories of studying the subject and of working in the field (I once spent an entire summer living in a tent and gathering data for The Breeding Bird Atlas of Alberta). At that time, there were a lot of mysteries being written in which the protagonist was an amateur sleuth, and it occurred to me, what better profession for an amateur sleuth than field biology? Field biologists are trained observers, up at strange hours of the day and night, and they travel all over the place. And so, Robyn Devara–and my career as a fiction writer–was born.

Every writer I’ve talked to so far has some kind of writing habit and place where they prefer to write. What are YOUR writing habits? 

That’s changed a bit since I became a mum. I used to be most productive first thing in the morning, which came as quite a surprise to me as I’ve never been a morning person. Now, I need to wait until I get my daughter and my husband out of the house before I can settle down to work. I know some writers work in coffee shops or other public places, but that’s never worked for me. I’m too nosy, I always end up eavesdropping on the people around me rather than working on what I’m supposed to be writing. So, I always write in my den, though if the words aren’t coming, I’ll often take a notebook down to the living room and write in longhand. I think I must be using a different part of my brain by doing this because even when I’m really blocked, I can usually get past it just by changing from computer to paper and pen.

Are you a plotter or a ‘seat-of-your-pants’-type of writer?

A bit of both. Writing is really an organic process for me. I start off with a basic plot, but I never stick to it. I tend to plot a few chapters in advance and then wait and see what happens before going any further.

Once you’ve completed a novel, what sort of editing steps do you take before sending it out into the world?

Anal retentive. Is that hyphenated??? Hyphenated or not, this is what I become once I finish a novel. I NEVER let anyone see a first draft. I fiddle and fuss and angst over it, and I only show it to my husband or my writers’ group when I’m happy with it. My editor tells me that I write very clean copy, so I guess it pays off!

You mentioned a writer’s group. Do you make use of other people, like critique partners or beta readers to give you feedback?

Beta readers and my writers’ group. Couldn’t live without ‘em! I would never send anything to a publisher without first running it by someone else. Have I mentioned that I’m anal-retentive? So much so, that I just noticed that I’ve hyphenated it here and not in the paragraph above. Aaaah! Now I’m going to have to look it up to see which is correct!

How did you manage to get your first novel published? Did you get an agent or did you just start submitting your manuscript?

Karen Dudley’s Robin Devarra mysteries

I just started submitting my manuscript. It’s very, very difficult to get an agent–especially if you’re a first time author. Heck, I’ve written five novels and fourteen kids books and I still can’t get one! After I finished writing my first mystery novel, I made a list of potential publishers and started sending out queries. Turnstone wasn’t on my list because at that time they weren’t publishing genre fiction. Then one day, I was leafing an issue of Prairie Books Now and I saw an ad for Alison Preston’s mystery novel, A Blue and Golden Year published by Turnstone Press. So I sent a query to them. It was pure serendipity—and excellent luck for me!— that Turnstone was about to launch a new genre imprint called Ravenstone. My first novel, Hoot to Kill, launched the imprint.

Sounds like the way it worked for me with Great Plains – and I love Alison Preston’s mysteries, too! 🙂

There are many writers who visit my blog. Since you have been widely published, is there any advice you would give a beginning writer?

To quote my website: Persist! Persist in following your dream of writing, even on the days when you have to drag the words out with a meat hook. Persist in trying to sell your work, if that’s the path you choose. Don’t let those rejection letters get you down. Instead, think of all the interesting things you can do with them: wallpaper your bathroom, make a collage, start your very own paper airline, or toss each letter one by one onto a burning blaze while you cackle gleefully and dance naked around the flames (check your city’s bylaws first).

Now for the fun stuff! I know you have a new book coming out, which is totally different from your previous novels. What prompted you to write it? Please feel free to brag about it all you like!

Ah, Food for the Gods! I love this book! It all started a few years back when I was sitting around thinking about the Greek myth of Tantalus (yeah, writers really do think about weird stuff like that. They also work in their pajamas. Trust me.). Tantalus was that guy who thought he was better than the gods and decided to prove it by chopping up his son, Pelops, and serving him to the gods for dinner. The gods were appalled, of course, and Tantalus was punished with everlasting thirst and hunger, and unable to assuage either need (hence our verb: to tantalize). Pelops, on the other hand, was kindly remade by the gods, though they had to give him an ivory shoulder to replace the one that Demeter accidentally ate. 

Well, I was sitting there that day and I started wondering what happens to poor old Pelops after these events and wouldn’t he make an interesting protagonist: a guy with the proverbial chip on his shoulder. I thought at first I might make him a student of Archimedes, that way I could write about some of the more interesting inventions of ancient Greece, but somehow, it just didn’t feel quite right. Then, I was flipping through one of our many reference books—a book called Life of Greece by Will Durant, when I came across a line that said in ancient Athens when people wanted a special dinner, they couldn’t go to a restaurant, because they didn’t exist yet, but one could hire the services of a professional cook who was usually a foreigner. Bingo. Or, more appropriately, Eureka! With that sentence, I had my protagonist, I had his profession, I had the city that he lives in and I had the title of my book, Food for the Gods. After all, that’s what he does and that’s what he was.

If my readers would like to find you, are there any social media sites that you would like to share?

I’ve got a website, which I don’t update nearly often enough (though I’m trying to be better at this!): www.karendudley.com

You can also find me on Facebook, which I use for professional purposes (i.e. go ahead and ‘friend’ me).

Is there anything else you would like to say before we say goodbye?

Two things, really. The first is that Food for the Gods is launching on October 3rd at McNally Robinson’s at 8 pm. It’s not invitation only, so come on out. It should be a blast!

The second thing is one last piece of writing advice—the single most important piece of advice that I can give another writer! There is only one way to get better at writing, and that is to write more. So, write on, Word Warrior!

Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions, Karen, and good luck with your new book! 🙂

 Thank you, Susan! And cheers!

If you haven’t read any of Karen’s books, yet, I encourage you to find one and dive in. Not only does she write a great mystery, there are always points in the story where you’ll find yourself chuckling or laughing right out loud! 🙂

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Sunday Interview #17

For this Sunday’s interview, I’d like to introduce Chadwick Ginther, who has just launched his debut urban fantasy novel Thunder Road.

Welcome, Chadwick! Would you please tell my readers a little about yourself?

Certainly! I grew up in the town of Morden, Manitoba, where I quickly became enamoured with all things robotic and draconic. I worked a varied and disparate number of jobs until I stumbled upon employment as a shipper/receiver at an independent bookstore. Now eleven years on, I am the genre buyer (covering Science Fiction and Fantasy, Mystery and Crime Fiction, and Graphic Novels) for McNally Robinson Booksellers.

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

I’ve always loved stories, so it wasn’t much of a leap. When I was growing up, my great-great uncle lived with my family and he spun original yarns about Tarzan for me and so I became hooked on adventure quite early on. Role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons were my first outlet for creating my own characters and stories, a passion that continued from childhood until (checks watch) what time is it now? It was a few years after becoming a bookseller that I began to write in earnest. Meeting writers in the store, whether they were travelling on book tours, or locals in to do some shopping, helped make writing a book feel like an attainable goal. Bookselling has been an invaluable aid in terms of researching the markets, networking, and just being constantly surrounded by stories.

Thunder Road isn’t the first piece of writing that you’ve had published. Please tell us about some of your other work.

The first story I sold was a sword and sorcery tale titled “First Light” which appeared in the Summer 2011 issue of On Spec Magazine. “First Light” follows a blacksmith’s daughter caught up in murders and missing persons in a world of eternal winter. It spun out of the first full length manuscript that I finished, one that I still have hope to get back to and fix. About a month before Thunder Road released, my story “Back in Black” appeared in Tesseracts 16: Parnassus Unbound. “Back in Black” features an obsessive record collector who is searching for his “Holy Grail” find, an AC/DC bootleg that shouldn’t exist. I have another Sword and Sorcery story in the pipeline, in December 2012 “First They Came for the Pigs” will be appearing in the Innsmouth Free Press anthology, Fungi. This story is about a group of mercenaries hired to deal with mushrooms that have started devouring people. 

Besides word counts, what are some of the differences that you’ve found between writing short stories and novels?

I really feel they are two different disciplines, and not always complementary. I’ve always felt the fewer words you have to say something, the harder it is to do–one of many reasons I’m not a poet, I suppose. Short stories require an economy of prose that I feel I am still learning. As a reader, I always gravitated to novels over short stories, and so I’m playing a bit of catch up there. Speaking strictly as a fantasy writer, I also find them challenging because I can’t take the world as a given. There will always be “worldbuilding” details that need to be slipped in whether the story takes place in a made up world, or our world. It is a balancing act to include your magical elements, or realistically convey cultures and places that the reader may have no context for, while still maintaining pacing.

Thunder Road (The Thunder Road Trilogy)

Okay, let’s get down to the meat of the interview, and what I’ll bet you’ve been dying to talk about – Thunder Road. How do you feel, now that your first novel is published?

It feels great–astounding, really. When my author copies were delivered, I couldn’t stop holding the book. I’d seen the page proofs and the cover proofs, so I thought I knew what the book would look like, but I had no idea what it would feel like. Holding the book, it had a weight I wasn’t expecting. Absolutely a dream come true.

Please tell us a little about the story.

I like to joke that Thunder Road is “oilsands meets Asgard”. Oilsands, because my protagonist Ted Callan is an unemployed oilsands worker and Asgard, because of the novel’s ties to the Norse myth cycle. After the fire giant Surtur awoke in an explosion at Ted’s workplace, destroying it, Ted leaves a failed marriage and Alberta behind for a new life in Manitoba. That new life goes a little sideways when a group of fortune tellers, a trio of dwarves, and the trickster god, Loki, all take an interest in Ted’s destiny.

What was your inspiration for Thunder Road?

The Norse myths have been a huge part of my life almost as long as I’ve been a reader, thanks to finding D’Aulaire’s Book of Norse Myths in my hometown library at an early age. In fact, I checked the book out so repeatedly, that the librarian suggested that perhaps another little boy wanted to learn about mythology, I disagreed (funny story, one of those little boys ended up at my book launch, fortunately as a grownup he was able to laugh about it). The stories of Odin and Thor and Loki always fascinated me. The Norse gods always felt very human to me. Not only could they die, most of them knew when and how it was going to happen.  

Obviously, given the setting, my home province was a huge inspiration as well. The Icelandic community of the Interlake region was the perfect excuse to blend myth to Manitoba. We have a rural municipality named Bifrost; Bifrost was also the name of the rainbow bridge that connects Asgard to Midgard (or Earth, as we like to call it). We have lake serpent and sasquatch sightings, tons of reputedly haunted buildings; so with a little digging into provincial folklore, I saw that the monsters were already here. I just had to put them on the page.

Much of the writing I’d done until I started working on Thunder Road also had ties to myth. But if I think back there were two snippets of early writing that really started the ball rolling: the first was an idea for a short story in which the gods Thor and Sif are living in suburbia and getting a divorce. This was actually the first thing I ever wrote with an eye for being published (it wasn’t–wasn’t ever finished, in fact). The other was another short story where our own lake serpent, Manipogo, was actually Jormungandur, the Midgard Serpent of Norse mythology. That story also didn’t go anywhere, but some of “Jorry’s” dialogue and about a paragraph from the Thor and Sif story ended up unchanged in Thunder Road. Those two ideas pushed me from writing Sword and Sorcery to sticking the gods and monsters in our backyards.  

Finally, I always write to music, and started a playlist for the book, eventually picking twenty songs that seemed suited to the book I wanted to write, and arranged them as if they were my chapter titles, about the only kind of outlining I do, so music was also vital in writing Thunder Road.

Sounds fascinating! I’ve always loved stories based on myths and legends, especially contemporary ones set close to home! 🙂

When writing Science Fiction and Fantasy, a writer needs to create believable worlds in which to set their stories. What type of world-builder are you and how do you start your creations? (I know that makes you sound rather God-like, but don’t let it go to your head! lol)

I am what can best be described as a “pantser,” as in I write by the seat of my pants, discovering the book as I go, without much in the way of a formal outline. I approach my world building in much the same way. I have one huge master document where I dump any scene or idea that doesn’t fit anywhere else. When I start a new project, or if I’m looking for inspiration for a short story, I comb through that file to see if there’s anything I can use. I’ll often write short stories as a world building exercise as much as to try and sell them. Eventually a new world reaches a critical mass of these snippets and stories that allows it to feel fully formed in my head, and as I write, I fill in the blanks. It is especially important (at least for me it is) to keep notes as I go, especially since there’s no handy resource to fact check them for you, and I assure you, fantasy readers will notice those inconsistencies.

Along with your worlds, you must also breathe life into your characters. What advice do you have for new and emerging writers regarding the creation of believable characters?

Read widely, listen deeply, and experience as broadly as possible. That old adage of “write what you know” is certainly true, but I’d prefer to see it worded “know what you write.” Also what is often left out of that tidbit of advice is to never stop finding new things to know.

Once a manuscript has been written, we all know that a lot of editing must go into it before it is ready to submit to an agent or publisher. What is your initial process for editing?

My initial process for editing is hiding from it. All kidding aside, I know writers who loathe the first draft, and can’t wait to get in and fix the book, but I am completely the opposite. I love finding the book, not fixing it. I do recognize that it is a necessary step, but if I am procrastinating on the internet, chances are I’m editing, rather than drafting. As for process, I try to let a first draft breathe for at least a few weeks before diving back in. That distance helps me to identify what needs to be fixed. I do several passes looking for specific things. First is a story pass to make sure the narrative is solid. This is where chapters usually end up getting cut or rewritten. I try to read through clumsy phrasings when I find them at this point, only making a note to fix it later. Once I’m happy with the story, I do a character pass to make sure their actions and reactions are still consistent with whatever changes I’ve made. Once I’m happy with my characters, I get into fixing things on a sentence level. Usually this involves a few more rereads. Thunder Road went through about six passes before it went out on submission. I’m hoping that the process of going through a substantive edit and copy edit will help streamline my editing process a bit for future books.

Once you’re satisfied with it, do you enlist the help of critique partners, beta readers or a writer’s group to suggest improvements?

I do have a writing group. We meet monthly, sharing works in progress. I also have a group of beta readers that look at mostly finished manuscripts prior to my submitting them to editors or agents. There is some overlap in the two groups, but I also find it valuable to have some fresh eyes see the work. I’ve also found it very useful to have a reader who isn’t a writer. Writers can give great critiques (and my group does!) because they are familiar with the elements of the craft, but there is also a chance they will try to rewrite your work as they would have done it. Much like writing, critiquing is a learned skill.

How difficult did you find the submission process, writing the inquiry letter and synopsis, etc?

I don’t find the submission process difficult, it’s something that needs to be done even if it isn’t always fun. I have a spreadsheet that I use to track my story submissions, and record response times and comments, if any. I’m not terribly fond of writing either query letters or synopses, but both are necessary and different skills from writing the work itself. When people talk about all those great and famous books that publishers passed over, I wonder what role a poor query letter might have played in those first rejections.

On your blog, after your launch, you mentioned that the store played songs that you had used for chapter titles. How do you incorporate music into your novel? Do you listen to it as you write or look for songs that would be suitable for a particular scene, like a movie or TV show producer might do?

I do a little of both. I always write to music. I know some writers must have complete silence, others will write to classical or jazz but have to avoid lyrics. Usually, I just put my entire library on shuffle and go to work. It’s led to some interesting serendipity. For novels, I create a soundtrack for the book, trying to have the songs ebb and flow in a way that feels how I want the narrative to progress. Depending on how deeply invested I am in the project, the novel may have more than one soundtrack. Because I’m currently editing the manuscript for the second book in the Thunder Road series and have started drafting the third, there are soundtracks for the later volumes, as well as for all of the major characters.

Are there any social media sites (Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, blog, etc) where we can find you that you’d like to share with us?

I am on twitter: https://twitter.com/chadwickginther

Facebook:  http://www.facebook.com/chadwick.ginther

Thunder Road also has its own page:  http://www.facebook.com/ThunderRoadTrilogy

My website is: http://chadwickginther.com/

Is there anything you’d like to add before we bid you adieu?

Tonight, September 23rd, at 7:00 pm, I’ll be reading a passage from Thunder Road at Winnipeg’s writing festival, THIN AIR, as part of the Mainstage event: Voices from Oodena. Oodena is a magical venue, and one of my very favourite spots in Manitoba. If you’re reading this, I hope to see you there!

http://www.thinairwinnipeg.ca/events/mainstage-voices-from-oodena-voix-d-oodena

I definitely plan on being there, Chadwick! 🙂

Thank you, Chadwick, for taking the time to chat with us. I hope your book does well. For any of you who are interested in learning more about Thunder Road, check out this review found in the Winnipeg Free Press:

http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/arts-and-life/entertainment/books/creative-fantasy-an-excellent-first-novel-169879906.html

I should mention, Thunder Road is NOT a YA novel. If you are thinking of picking it up for a teen reader, take the time to read a passage or two to determine if it would be appropriate for the child you have in mind. Other than that, hope you all enjoyed the interview! 🙂

Sunday Interview #16

Hi, Everyone! I would like to introduce another Canadian writer who was on a YA panel with me at the Word On The Water writer’s festival in Thunder Bay, Ontario last fall. Craig Russell has written the YA novel Black Bottle Man, a classic story about good versus evil.

Johnson House

Welcome, Craig!  Would you please tell us a little bit about yourself?

I grew up on a farm near Barnsley, MB. with four brothers and five sisters – an environment where you need to keep your stories straight.

I’ve practised law and now administer the Land Titles system for ~5,000 sq. miles of SW Manitoba for the Province.
My wife and I are restoring ‘Johnson House’ – a 1906 Victorian house in Brandon. It’s now a Municipal Heritage Site – http://www.gov.mb.ca/chc/hrb/mun/m224.html
So life is pretty busy.

It certainly sounds like it! Wow, restoring an old Victorian house – that would be amazing and a lot of work! 🙂

How long have you been writing? Did you always know you wanted to write?

Writing is a recent development for me. I’d been an actor and theatre director in Brandon for a number of years.  Hearing and speaking beautiful dialogue written by others opened my mind to the possibility of writing myself.  In 2006 my short dramatic work, The Unintended Consequences of Love was selected for the Carol Shields Festival of New Works, and I was hooked!

What does your writing process look like? Do you have a set time you prefer to write or do you just fit it in whenever you can?

I’m a closed-door writer. (I don’t understand how other writers can accomplish anything sitting in a coffee shop!) When writing, I aim for a solid three hours at the keyboard. I let the words (good & bad) flow. Later, I cut it to shreds, editing out the crap and keeping what’s worthwhile. Some years I’m able to set aside vacation time for a “writing week”. That’s been effective – a focused period of uninterrupted creative time.

Once you are finished a manuscript, what does editing look like for you?

It’s loud! Because of my theatre background I read the work aloud, in a dramatic fashion, listening for the ‘music’. Good work sings. Bad work reveals itself – and dies. Also – killing adverbs is a cardinal rule.

That’s fascinating! 🙂

Do you have a writers group, critique partner or beta reader that helps you with the process?

I don’t have time to read and comment on others’ work. So I’m not cut out for the writers group dynamic.

With Black Bottle Man I had a wonderful – and possibly unique – experience. With the help of eighteen local actors, we presented the story as a staged radio-play. Each of the three performances had an audience of ~150. Hearing the interplay between actors and audience was invaluable. It forces you to cut anything superfluous.

That certainly IS a unique way to edit!

Please describe the steps you took to get published. Did it take long once the manuscript was finished? Did you need an agent?

I don’t have an agent. After many edits, I sent BBM to four publishers. Anita Daher, the YA editor at Great Plains Publications was enthusiastic and her editing process was fast. It was about six months from her first call to the book launch.

Yes, she is a very quick and enthusiastic editor! 🙂

In which genres do you prefer to write?

My stories always include Fantasy or SF elements. Fantastic situations let you push characters to their limits.

They certainly do!

Do you write strictly YA or have you written in other genres?

I really don’t think about the reader’s age. As a teen I read novels written for adults and felt quite at home. Teen readers are just like adult readers. They’re smart.

Good point!

Product Details

Would you care to tell my readers a little more about Black Bottle Man?

I wrote Black Bottle Man for the smartest reader I could imagine. I think people sense the respect I have for the reader. When it works, the writer and the reader are a team, telling the story together.

The critical approval for BBM has been encouraging – an American Moonbeam Gold Medal, selection as a finalist for the Canadian Aurora Award, the ‘On the Same Page Award’ and two Manitoba Book Awards; and selection by Best Books for Children & Teens as “a title of exceptional calibre”. 
And wonderful reviews by:
CBC radio’s Nikki Tate; Australian book reviewer, Anastasia Gonis, at BuzzWord books http://buzzwordsmagazine.blogspot.ca/2012/05/black-bottle-man.html;
Victoria, B.C. book reviewer, Meghan Radomske for CM Magazine http://umanitoba.ca/outreach/cm/vol16/no40/blackbottleman.html, and more.

That’s fantastic! Congratulations! 🙂

Was Black Bottle Man the first manuscript you wrote, or had you written other things before it?

BBM is my first published novel. As mentioned earlier, I had a short dramatic piece selected for the 2006 Carol Shields Festival of New Works. I have second novel – Fragment – is out to publishers.  With luck, this winter another fantasy novel will take over my life.

What is ‘Fragment’ about?

Fragment is a high-energy action/adventure.

The synopsis starts like this…
·         Collapsing glaciers thrust a massive Antarctic ice sheet into the open ocean.
·         The commander of an American atomic submarine rescues the survivors of a smashed polar research station. 
·         A Presidential advisor swims the murky waters of Washington politics with the confidence of a Florida alligator. He’ll spin the disaster to suit his aims.
·         A newsman heads into the storm-ridden Drake Passage, intent on learning the truth.
·         A cutthroat corporation sends a cruise ship after an iceberg the size of France, hoping to garner millions in publicity. 
·         A scientist uncovers a secret that threatens the future of American military power and the fate of an entire species.
·         And one brave Blue Whale still has hope.

Intriguing! 🙂

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I’ve enjoyed chatting with readers at literary festivals, SF&F conventions, high school & university classes, and library & book groups. I hope to be invited to many more.

I’m sure you will get plenty of opportunities in the future. 🙂

If people would like to learn more about you and your writing, are there places they can find you?

McNally Robinson Booksellers has been a great support – http://www.mcnallyrobinson.com/editorial-1712/The-Temptation-of-Black-Magic…Black-Bottle-Man,-by-Craig-Russell

There are reader reviews at:
Amazon Book – http://www.amazon.ca/Black-Bottle-Man-Craig-Russell/dp/1894283996
Goodreads – http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/8143891-black-bottle-man
Chapters – http://www.chapters.indigo.ca/books/Black-Bottle-Man-Craig-Russell/9781894283991-item.html
I have a Facebook Page – http://www.facebook.com/pages/Black-Bottle-Man/166244836732780
Great Plains Publishing has a reader/teacher’s guide at: http://www.greatplains.mb.ca/buy-books/black-bottle-man/

Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions, Craig, and I hope we get to be on another panel together sometime! 🙂

For those who would like to know a bit more about what Black Bottle Man is about, here is the blurb from Amazon:

Forced to move every twelve days, what would happen to your life? 1927. Rembrandt is the only child in the tiny community of Three Farms. Soon his two aunts grow desperate for babies of their own. A man wearing a black top-coat and a ‘glad-ta-meet-ya’ smile arrives with a magic bottle and a deadly deal is made. Determined to undo the wager, Rembrandt, Pa, and Uncle Thompson embark on the journey of their lives, for if they stay in one place for more than twelve days terrible things happen. But where and when will they find a champion capable of defeating the Black Bottle Man? Time ticks. Lives change. Every twelve days…

If you get the chance, I encourage you to read it! 🙂

Sunday Interview #14

This week, I would like to introduce to you a prolific, award-winning Canadian author. Please welcome Elizabeth from Elizabeth Creith’s Scriptorium.

Hi, Elizabeth! I’m glad you could join us, today. Please begin by telling us a little bit about yourself.

Hmm. I’m a lifelong artist who just keeps switching media. I live in rural Northern Ontario with my husband and dog, and surrounded by mixed hardwood bush. In other places it would be called forest. I love the solitude of the rural life, and I’ve found it a wonderful place to work as an artist, both because of the quiet and relative lack of distraction, and also for the inspiration I draw from this piece of the world.

Erik the Viking Sheep

On your blog, you have a very impressive list of articles and stories that you have had published. You also have a children’s book, Eric the Viking Sheep, published by Scholastic, which is very impressive. This leads me to believe you have been writing for quite some time. How long have you been writing and what inspired you to start writing in the first place?

I’m fifty-eight, and have been writing most of my life. I suppose reading was the real inspiration. I can’t remember when I didn’t know how to read or a time when I didn’t draw, and I know that in kindergarten I wanted to grow up to be a writer and artist. I’ve written on and off for years, and wrote my obligatory bad novels when I was a teenager. I also wrote a lot of bad poetry – isn’t that part of being a teenager anyway? I always assumed I wasn’t really a writer, and that I was just fooling around, because almost everything I wrote was bad. I didn’t understand – as I think many people still don’t – that writing is a skill and can be learned and practised. I could understand being a bad painter and improving, but somehow I didn’t translate that to writing. If you could write well, you were a writer. If you couldn’t, you weren’t. I had that attitude until I was thirty-six and ran into my first editor, Alice Korach at Threads magazine. That was when the light went on.

You have written everything from journal articles, children’s fiction and poetry, but in which genre do prefer to write and why?

Pick a favourite, you mean? I suppose I’d have to say fiction, just from the sheer volume of what I’ve written. I love flash, and actually really began to hone my fiction skills on 55-word flash pieces in 2005 or 2006. I write well in the five-hundred-to-one-thousand-word span. Subject matter – fantasy is definitely my favourite, but I’m rigorous about it. I stick to the classic lore about creatures, whether they’re the Good Folk or zombies, and make my stories work within that frame. I like the young adult genre, both to read and to write, because YA requires a plot, and YA novels usually have a sense of justice. This doesn’t mean that good is always rewarded and evil punished, but there is certainly an overriding ethic that says it should be so. Right now I’m engrossed in a novel, on the fifth or sixth draft. A few years ago I wouldn’t have believed I could write something this long, and I’m completely enthralled with the story and the process. I do love to write instructional articles and humour pieces, and currently have three regular humour columns: Strata of Ephemera at Bibliobuffet, North by NorthEast at Pet Product News International, and Over the Ridge in the Sault Star.

Please tell us a little about your writing process. Is there a time of day at which you prefer to write? Are there any items you like to keep handy for inspiration?

I’m not sure what to tell you. Butt in the chair, pen on the paper (or fingers on the keyboard). I like to write in the morning – sometimes nine a.m.and sometimes one a.m. Right now my major fiction writing time is between 1:30 and 2:30 pm because I have a full-time job, afternoon shift, and write in the car while my husband drives. It’s a 75-minute commute. I write columns and articles at home, where I have notes, reference books and an internet connection, however slow (in my part of the country we don’t yet have high-speed or cell service). I write poetry wherever it occurs to me. I don’t have any particular item that I keep for inspiration, but I do have quotes pinned up on my wall, and when I get my new office, I’ll be writing things on the wall that help keep me focused and inspired. One of my favourites is from my friend Lucinda Kempe. “Life is tough, E, but it’s tougher for those poor souls who have no passion, yes?” Definitely yes. I also keep books on myth and folklore handy, and a lot of reference stuff about animals and biology.

What is your strategy with regards to editing? Do you rely on critique partners, beta readers, or writer’s group?

I don’t know what I’d do without my writers’ group! I’m a member of a wonderful, active group in Thessalon, close to where I live. We critique each others’ work for grant application and submission for publication. We’re very effective: four of us have won major provincial grants to support our fiction writing, and five or six of us have won smaller grants on a regular basis. I also have a group of readers whose judgement I trust who are not part of the writers’ group. I’ve been relying on them for critical reading of the YA novel. For a long time I worked on line in Zoetrope in the Flash Factory, which was my on line writers’ group, and that vastly improved my flash fiction. When I get back to full-time writing, the first thing I’m doing is going back to the Flash Factory and more flash stories.

It was so frustrating when I was first looking for critique, many years ago, to have people say, “Oh, this is fantastic!” because I knew it wasn’t, but I didn’t know what I was doing wrong. I felt a little bit like the abstract painter with a portrait, and he wanted to change the nose, but didn’t know where it was. I knew there were problems with my work, and by then I’d realized that they could be fixed, but first I had to be able to pinpoint the trouble, and I didn’t know how. I didn’t even know where to go for help, and was fumbling along, improving almost by accident. When I began writing for radio, the producers I worked with made many very gentle suggestions, and I gradually learned how to edit my own work for that medium. I now read a lot about writing; there’s always something new to learn.

Product Details

You have written a book, Shepherd In Residence. Would you like to tell us a little bit about it?

“Shepherd” is about my time keeping sheep in Wharncliffe, where I live; about the sheep, and the dogs, the fencing and lambing and everything that goes with shepherding. Some of it is humorous, and all of it is true. For about a year I wrote (and taped) a monthly letter about my flock for a CBC radio programme called “Richardson’s Roundup”. When that gig finished, I kept the pieces, with the idea in the back of my mind that it might be possible to make a book of them. That was about 2002. In 2010 I got them out again and decided that I would rewrite the fifteen pieces I had so that they were stories rather than letters and add stories that hadn’t been told on the original series. I applied for a grant through a programme where small publishers read the applications and award the grants. Laurence Steven of Scrivener Press in Sudbury saw my application for “Shepherd” and asked to see the manuscript when it was complete. He ultimately made me an offer to publish. He arranged everything, including an illustrator, and I approached some people about blurbs for the back cover. It happened at light speed – my original application was December 2010, the manuscript was completed in May 2011, and the book came out in April 2012. You can get “Shepherd” from Amazon or Chapters, or from Scrivener Press, or from my site. I autograph, of course.

Your latest project is a story called The Swan Harp. Please tell us a little bit about it, unless you are superstitious about revealing too much about a work in progress.

It’s not superstition so much as a conviction that you should write rather than talk about it. Since the writing is going well, I’ll tell you that I first got the idea for the story about twenty years ago from Loreena McKennitt’s song “The Bonny Swans“. I like story reversal, the idea that some critical facet of the story would change if it were told from another viewpoint, and that’s part of what I’ve done. I was also interested in what happened to the middle daughter, because the song begins “A farmer lived in the North Country. He had daughters, one, two, three,” but after that we hear only about the eldest and youngest daughter. The middle daughter has become my point-of-view character. Because there is a reference to a swan “looking very like a gentlewoman”, I thought of the swanfolk, mostly swan-maidens, who turn up in myth and folklore, and made my protagonist and her sisters the daughters of a human man and a swan woman. This has been absorbing to write – a lot of fun, and a lot of work, and the story has gone way beyond the original idea. I’ve drawn on my knowledge of biology, history, mediaeval combat, farming, shepherding, textiles, medicine and magic to write this story. I love winding all those threads into the original story and making something that reads – at least to me – like a workable, authentic world.

Oooo, that sounds fascinating! 🙂

On your blog, you present a lot of advice to writers. What is the most important thing a new writer should know as they embark on their road to publication?

Publication is an end, but it’s not the end. If you aren’t writing because you actually love the act of storytelling and the stories that you write, you have a recipe for frustration. Anyone who goes into the arts needs to love what they do, because it’s difficult to make a living on it. The odds are probably a little better than becoming a professional hockey player, but the pay isn’t nearly as good. Do it because you love it. That love translates into and shapes the work. I discovered when I was living on my pottery that the things I loved to make also sold well. And learn your technical stuff, because if you love making chairs, it’s easier to make a good chair when you understand things like saws and nails and “measure twice, cut once”. The technical aspects of writing, once mastered, let your story come through.

Good advice! 🙂

Do you have any hobbies that you’d like to share with us?

Most of what I do usually becomes business, because I’ve spent a lot of my life paying my bills with the work of my hands and imagination. At the moment I’d say that bookmaking and pop-ups are pretty much a hobby. I don’t usually sell the books or cards, but I love to make them. You can see some of them at http://northernpopups.wordpress.com. I’ve always loved messing around with paper. I know how to handle it, I understand its grain and what it will do, and I like to play with it. I do origami, too, which gives me a great deal of pleasure for minimal skill. I own five spinning wheels, and when I get the time, I love to spin, knit and weave.

I also love canoeing. We have lots of beaver ponds and things around home, and gliding around on the water, looking at the birds and rocks and plants, is a happy afternoon. I love rocks, and I pick fossils. If I’m driving along a highway and spot a limestone cut, I pull over and poke around. You can get some very cool fossils from pieces that have fallen off the limestone and are just lying on the ground. These are sites no paleontologist is ever going to get to, so I feel all right about fossil-picking there. One of my favourites is a fossilized cycad cone my husband found me in a rock cut.

What a fascinating life you lead – and your pop-ups are amazing! 🙂

Are there any social media to which you belong that you would like to share? (Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, etc)

I have a Facebook page, which I set up strictly to create part of my author profile. I enjoy it, but I spend minimal time there, mainly because I have little time to spend. I’m on Twitter as well, again with not a lot of time to spend there. It would be very easy to get sucked into it, because I see quite a few interesting tweets that I’d love to follow up on. I’ve just registered on Goodreads; where I think I’ll get the time is a mystery to me.

I know how you feel. There never seems to be enough time for all the connecting through social media that writers need to do these days. We’re too busy writing or researching that next great work! 🙂

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

It’s a surprise and a delight to me to see how many people like my work. I think that art is the best work in the world, and I know I’ve been lucky to be able to spend so much of my life doing it, and earning at least part of a living from it. I really wish that everybody could do work that they love. I love to get people excited about doing art – pottery, bookmaking, pop-ups, printmaking, knitting, spinning,writing. There’s a deep satisfaction to making something, bringing a sock or a story or anything into being that wasn’t there before you did it. I think everyone should have that.

I love that attitude and feel the same way. Thank-you, Elizabeth for taking the time to chat with us. 🙂

You are SO welcome!

I highly recommend dropping by to see what Elizabeth has to offer on her site, as well as her books, etc. All links are in red so you can find them easily. 🙂

I guess that’s it for now. To all my Canadian and American friends, I hope you are enjoying this lovely Labour Day weekend! 🙂

Sunday Interview # 12

Hello, Everyone! Today I’d like to introduce a fellow blogger and writer who loves everything ‘pirate’. He often posts about everyday pirates and is writing a serial-style futuristic story, Red Jenny and the Pirates of Buffalo. Please welcome J. D. Ryan.

Oh, please, call me Jim!  I hear “JD,” I think of either what my brother calls my son, or think of what they used to use ‘JD’ for, short for ‘juvenile delinquent.’  And no, my son does not act that bad…

Okay, hi, Jim! Would you like to start by telling us a little bit about yourself?

Well, I’m a writer based in New York, waiting for his long evening to end so that he can become an ‘overnight sensation.’  It shouldn’t be more than a few years from now for that to happen…  I’ve pursued the craft for a while between bouts where other things have popped up, like being a husband, a father, having a trade, all the stuff that keeps frustrated writers from ending up like a sad pastiche from La Boheme

What got you interested in Pirates? 

I think you could say I’ve always had an interest in those who didn’t “color within the lines;” even as a kid, the rebels and malcontents tended to get my interest in just about any story.  This applied to pirates, but also to revolutionaries, civil justice crusaders, punk rockers, all the folks outside of the whole “rigid law and order” alignment; hell, as a kid I identified a lot more with Han Solo than Captain Kirk…

Beyond just about every kid’s attachment to Treasure Island and Captain Hook in Peter Pan, I can’t claim that every instance when growing up that someone unfurled the jolly roger got my attention, but there were plenty of opportunities to go on the account when they came up.  I remember being one of the few people who really took notice in Watchmen that when superheroes actually showed up that comic books in that universe would turn instead to pirate stories; I thought it was one of the coolest things about the work.  And to my surprise, no one else I knew thought the whole Tales of the Black Freighter subplot was worth paying attention to; it’s finding yourself all alone out there that can keep you from finding your strengths for a while.

Were pirates the inspiration for your writing, or did you like to write before you were interested in pirates?

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I’d been writing for years before I found my muse, at the pilot wheel of a brigantine, doing work in other areas.  I had some success out there with some gaming articles and some fiction in print, and it’s an area I’ve never fully left.  For some time, I was doing a lot of stuff in horror and SF, particular alternate history (AltHis) with some degree of success. 

A few years ago, I discovered an interesting book, The Science Fiction Stories of Jack London.  Apparently, early in his career, before Jack London was Jack London, he wanted to be H. G. Wells.  None of the stories collected in the work were all that bad, but it was watching him trying to find his voice that made me look at what I had been doing, and ultimately something clicked. 

It encouraged me to take a good look at what I had been writing at that moment, which was feeling a little stilted, and when I just let go, Abigail Sanders showed up, probably after killing some time in the same room Harry Potter was hanging out in before he introduced himself to Jo Rowling.  I used to think this whole “character springing up and introducing themselves to the author” thing was just bad PR copy, and yet there she was; our eyes met and a half an hour later there were thirty pages of first draft narrative at my feet…

I noticed on your Author Page that you have published work on many on-line sites. Why did you decide to use this format to publish your stories?

I spent a lot of years sending my stuff to anyone who’d be willing to look at it.  When I started out, there were no online opportunities; the concept of an Internet writing outlet was years away from being a reality when I was collecting my first rejection slips from the likes of Analog and Playboy.  One of my online pieces, Tick-a Tick-a, actually got reprinted physically in an English magazine, The Dream Zone.  If an opportunity came to share a work in that way, any opportunity, I would certainly be willing to go that route.  Paper, electrons, smoke signals, synesthesian odors; hey, I will do it all…

Have you ever considered traditional publishing routes? Why or why not?

You know, I’m of two minds on that.  On the one hand, part of me would love to do the traditional thing, get a book done with a publishing house.  It’d be part of an old picture I used to have as to what it meant to be a writer, which included drinks at the Russian Tea Room with my agent and a few minutes during Carson’s third half hour on his couch to discuss the book.  And yeah, I had this image in my mind for a long time…

But part of my going digital is this fear/belief that Publisher’s Row isn’t going to wait around for me to give them a book they want.  I gave it a pretty good try for years, with a lot of encouragement from reading groups and confidants who’d keep me from giving up, then we would all gripe about something that did get published like Fifty Shades of Twilight or some such and wonder, what the hell?  And with the technology and the market forces actually allowing writers to seize the means of production (and yes, I did go there), the whole question of the underlying relationship between writer and publisher can’t help but be challenged.

And truth to tell, when it comes to inspiration on how to decide this, pirates don’t help as much as you might think.  Yes, every pirate out there all found their fortunes by going their own ways as the flew against all flags, but give a sea dog a chance to have a letter of marque to make it all legal and he or she would often take the opportunity.  Henry Morgan, the pirate who terrorized the Spanish, brutally sacked Panama and got a line of rum named after him?  He ended up Deputy Governor of Jamaica, so there you go…

I read your story Rooftop Sessions! From that, I have a feeling you’re a fan of ‘The Beatles’. What is it about their music that you enjoy?

Where to begin?  When you’re young, you get drawn to the hooks in each piece that just draw you in and get the endorphins running, and when you’re older and start studying musical theory and deconstructing songs you realize what complete geniuses they were when they wrote their own pieces. 

I can’t really recall a moment when the Beatles weren’t around me in some fashion.  I just about grew up on the Beatles, playing my poor parents’ first pressing of Magical Mystery Tour to death; we could have found oil in the gouges I left in that disk.  One of things that drew my wife Susan and I together was our interest in the group; she’s gone on to become a recognized authority on the band, its members and their influence, which means for the sake of shalom bayit  that I just cannot change my mind about them this late in life…

There’s another aspect concerning the Beatles and my fiction:  They were and still are great focal points for historical and AltHis pieces.  Because they were some of the best documented people of the 1960s and later, writing about the history of the time and how that history had changed in a piece, using them as foci, relays a lot of information to the reader very quickly.  And they were so interconnected with their times, with everyone wanting to be with them and they with others, that you can write about a large swath of the 1960s in one story.  So for me, doing pieces like One Ring to Rue Them All, Magneto and Titanium Man, and Act Naturally, they were a way to approach a decade loaded with rebels and questioned authorities and delve into themes of challenge and change.

I’ve noticed in your writing a rather wry sense of humor that I find very amusing. When you’re writing, is humor something that just slips in or do you put it in deliberately to create comic relief in your stories?

I’d have to say it is deliberate, essential even.  On the one hand, there’s so much misery and bad news we all get bombarded with every few seconds, and Lord help you if you depress easily and get caught in a big 24 hour news cycle, as none of those are ever happy affairs…

There’s another reason for bringing in humor wherever possible.  In most of my material, I have characters that are in the process of being under threat of assault, threatened with being stabbed, shot at, blown up, raped, tortured, you name it.  And for most of them, given half a chance they’d flip from being victims to perpetrators if they could.  None of these are folks you’d really want to be caught with on the subway between stations for 20 minutes, so something has to be done to keep it light…

Getting back to pirates, would you please describe the premise for Red Jenny, to those who are unfamiliar with the story?

Well, Red Jenny and the Pirates of Buffalo is a tale that takes place a few years after climate change became undeniable as it rendered major changes in the world we knew.  Hardest hit was the United States, bankrupted from failing to save the East Coast cities from being claimed by the sea and unable to get a good crop from a perpetually dry Corn Belt.  Things are so bad that a war they launched with Canada to claim the Great Lakes solely for themselves ended in defeat with a hostile neighbor to the north, with one of the results of the war being the closure of the border.  And on this border over the lakes, smuggling between two former trading partners has flourished, which prompts a rise in piracy, as practiced by our heroine, Red Jenny DiNapoli.  And we follow Jenny through a rough patch in what’s a rough trade to begin with, as trying to celebrate a successful raid as the book opens just spins wildly out of control for her.  Her luck’s like the weather in Buffalo, if you think this is bad, wait an hour…

You’ve painted a rather dim view of the future and with good reason, I think, with everything you’ve posted about the economy and real life pirates these days. What was the inspiration for Red Jenny, the thing that triggered in your writer’s mind, ‘THIS is what I will write about’? 

The main inspiration actually came to me years ago, with the release of the Schwartz-Randall Report to the Department of Defense.  This was written back in October of 2003, but the administration at the time did their best to keep this paper’s profile lower than an SSBN on station.  The thrust of the report was to raise the possibility of radical climate change as a national security issue, and included as one of its suggestions that the Pentagon “(i)dentify no-regrets strategies,” which is a wonderfully euphemistic suggestion that we get ready to do some nasty things to neighbors we can’t really share with anymore.  

Now, I spent a lot of my life in Northern and Western New York.  Both my folks were from Buffalo, I have a lot of family in and around Erie and Franklin County, and I spent a few years living close enough to the border to be able to cross it casually.  I still come back upstate every chance I get.  Most people, when they get word that their government is seriously thinking about invading their neighbor to claim a resource formerly shared in friendship, feel a little uneasy.  I was shocked, like a lot of people who live on a friendly border would be to find that we actually considered how to be anything but a good neighbor. 

Now by the time word of the paper started getting out there, which was inevitable considering what a better Republican president said about “fool(ing) all the people all the time,” there was growing evidence that climate change might not be as slow a process as imagined, and that we might need to consider “no-regrets strategies” sooner rather than later.  At the time, I was working heavily on writing Raging Gail, but I started to keep notes so that I could get things ready to launch once I wrapped the first book.

Why have you chosen to post Jenny in a short serial form instead of larger blocks, or waiting until the whole story was written before posting it?

Well, most of the writing was done before I started posting.  I have the overall story and most of the key plot points written out.  When I do work on the novel now, it’s a matter of polish and flow to get the individual pieces to “crisp up” and to make the flows from scene to scene work better. 

Putting the work online in this format is actually a business decision that I came to when I started work on the first novel.  I noted the work of other online writers and comic creators who were getting their material out there without the constraints and hassles other distribution channels offered.   Because of the nature of the Internet, the fact that users when they get online expect their content to be in manageable bits refreshed regularly dictated the form, while proving that Marshall McLuhan was right yet again

One could argue that the tradition of a novel coming out in short segments harkens back to an earlier time.  Charles Dickens presented his novels in serial form before ultimately being collected in single volumes.  Rather large volumes, too, as he used to get paid by the word on first pub, which explains some of the extended scenes you find in Great Expectations that seem to go on forever…

That’s true! Do you have any other ‘irons in the fire’, so to speak, that you’d like to tell us about as far as your writing goes?

I’m a little superstitious about pitching upcoming works.  I’ve had stuff previewed by me before it was ready to share, then watched it disappear as something comes up and the moment passes.  There’s footage out there of me at an old Beatlefest previewing a work I was halfway through, a piece with John Lennon growing up in a post-Operation Sea Lion Liverpool; I still have problems living that one down…

What I can mention with some comfort is that I’ve finished work on some short pieces that I’m going to try and offer to paying markets, to try and update my collection of rejection letters going back a few decades.  I have some larger works that are very preliminary right now that keep me distracted in a good way that might some day lead somewhere; some older set pieces from things that didn’t get completed found their way into Red Jenny, so there’s no waste of material on this end.

I do have a few notes for how to follow up both Raging Gail and Red Jenny with direct tie-ins.  Whether I move ahead depends on the reaction when I post notice in the future on the soon-to-be-launched KickBriber (TM pending), where my ardor for the work depends on what goodies I’ll be offered for going that way.  Let me say right up front that yes, booze is always a good enticement, but that I am open to any vice that you may wish to seduce me with…

Well, on that note, I encourage you (my readers) to check out Jim’s website, Raging Gailhere and if you want to read what has been posted of Red Jenny and the Pirates of Buffalo, you may do so by clicking here.

Jim, are there any other links you’d like to share with us, places where we can find your writing, websites you enjoy, Facebook, Twitter?

I am fairly regular over at io9.com, where you can watch me make an even bigger fool of myself on a grand scale.  I’m also on Facebook, and maybe a few government watch lists as well...

Is there anything else you’d like to add before we close, today?

Oh Lord, I have always been bad at closing thoughts; there’s a good chance that when my number’s up, the epitaph I come up with is going to be pretty lame.  Which gives me yet one more reason to be careful and not snuff it yet…

Well, let’s hope you don’t ‘snuff it’ any time soon! Thanks, Jim, for taking the time to join us today!

My pleasure; and thank you for hosting me!

Sunday Interview #8

Hello, Everyone! Today I would like to introduce the writer of the Utopian novel ‘Slant of Light‘. Please welcome Steve Wiegenstein!

Hi, Steve! To start with, would you mind telling us a little about yourself?

I’m a native of Missouri, having grown up on a farm in the eastern Ozarks. It’s a rugged and rather poor part of the country, but it’s home. After high school, I went off to university, became a newspaper writer for a while, then returned for graduate degrees and became a college teacher. I’m currently in administration at Columbia College in Missouri, about a four-hour drive from where I grew up. So I guess I’d say I’ve come full circle.

How long have you been writing and what inspired you to start?

I started writing as a little kid, inspired by my mother, who wrote freelance feature stories for the local newspapers. I’ll admit, I became enamored with the mythology of the “great novelist,” the superhuman Hemingway- or Faulkner-like figure who created entire worlds in his head. I wrote like crazy when I was in my twenties and thirties, but then got caught up in earning a living, and didn’t get back to real writing–by which I mean serious, daily, disciplined writing–until about eight years ago.

Great writing history, having a mother who wrote for the paper! 🙂
In which genre do you prefer to write?

Until recently, I had always written short stories, but when I got back into the writing saddle this latest time, what compelled me was the idea of an interlocked series of novels, set in the same location, but unfolding over the generations with an evolving cast of characters. That’s the big project I’m working on now, and it will take years. The first set could be called “historical novels,” I suppose, but as I get closer to the present day, I won’t be able to call them that.

That sounds like quite the undertaking. Good luck with it! 🙂
Please tell us a little about your writing process. Do you write daily, at a specific time, in a particular place?

If I could, I’d write all day, every day, but as it happens I have a day job that requires a lot of my time. So I get up early in the mornings and write for an hour or two before anybody else is up. It’s a good time to write, when the house is quiet and there are few distractions. 

What is your strategy with regards to editing? Do you have a writers group, critique partner or beta reader that helps you assess you manuscript?

One thing newspaper work taught me is to be ruthless with my own prose. When I’m writing, I’m full of emotion and love every little word that drops onto the page. But when I’m editing, I put on my green eyeshade and get very cold-hearted. So I mostly edit my own work. I’ve been fortunate to work with careful editors at Blank Slate Press, in addition.

I know you’ve been recently published. Please tell us what that process was like.

Writers are masochists, let’s face it! You spend months and years crafting a book . . . then more months and years trying to convince an agent to represent it! And most writers I know are pretty introverted to begin with, so the task of selling their manuscript doesn’t come easy to them. But if you truly believe in what you’ve written, you have to get over that reticence and develop the thick skin necessary to persist. When I finally found a publisher, Blank Slate Press of St. Louis, Missouri, it was such a thrill! Here were these people, complete strangers to me, who were responding to my work with such a level of enthusiasm and understanding. It was like pushing your way through brambles for a couple of years and finally emerging into a beautiful landscape. Of course, you quickly discover that your work is only beginning, because the folks at Blank Slate had their own ideas about how the book should develop. We had many, many intense discussions, and the book is the better for it. 

What a great analogy, “pushing through brambles”! I’m glad you made it through to the “beautiful landscape”. 🙂
Would you like to tell us a little about ‘Slant of Light’? Brag as much as you like! 🙂

Oh, I’ll brag all right! The novel takes place in the years 1857-1862, which in American history are really fascinating — the trouble times leading up to the Civil War, when everybody in the country knew that something terrible was about to happen, but had no idea of its magnitude, and the leaders were incapable of achieving a peaceful solution to the intractable differences that divided the country. So it’s a time with built-in drama right there. Add to that the fact that this was also one of the great periods of American literary creativity, with people like Emerson, Thoreau, Whitman, Hawthorne, and others at work, and you get an idea of the amazing ferment that the country was in. So I decided to explore the great themes of that era — nature and civilization, human perfectibility, the American ideal of self-reliance — through a utopian community located in the Missouri Ozarks.

Why did you choose to write about Utopian lifestyles?

They’ve been a scholarly interest of mine for many years. I’ve been particularly interested in a group called the Icarians, who existed in the United States from 1848 to 1898. They were true believers in democracy and communism, but their dreams of creating an ideal community kept getting interrupted by internal strife and by problems with the world at large — not necessarily antagonism from outsiders, but mundane things like debt and crop prices. And yet they persisted, year after year, because they truly believed they had a solution to the problems of the world. That’s the thing about utopians . . . even if you think their ideas are nutty, you have to admire the way that they establish their lives according to a principle and put that principle out there for everyone to see. The big questions about human motivation, social structure, and fate versus free will, questions that most of us don’t think about most of the time, get placed front and center in an intentional community.

History has always been a favorite topic of mine. That sounds very interesting! 🙂
You mentioned Missouri and the Ozarks and on your blog I’ve seen many lovely photographs taken in these areas. Would you like to tell us a little about the places that are special to you?

I think the most remarkable thing about the Ozarks is the number of beautiful wild springs it has. The hills are not tall, but the rivers are amazingly clear and bubble up from springs that are among the largest in the world. Some of my favorites are Blue Spring on the Current River, Greer Spring on the Eleven Point River, and Falling Spring on Hurricane Creek, but there are thousands of springs all over the region, and each is fascinating in its own way. 

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

To my fellow writers — keep it up! In some small way, writers and artists are the glue that holds civilization together. And to my readers — thank you from a grateful writer. It’s a simple fact that without readers, writers have no reason for existence. I appreciate every comment, review, and e-mail I get.

Are there any links you’d like to share so that we can find you?

You bet! I blog at stevewiegenstein.wordpress.com 

My website is www.stevewiegenstein.com 

I’m on Twitter @SWiegenstein 

On Facebook, just search for Steve Wiegenstein – Slant of Light (or click on the name for the link), and on both Amazon and Goodreads.

My publisher’s website is blankslatepress.com, and you can order the book directly there, or from your local bookstore or online bookseller. I love to do book signings at local indie stores, so I always recommend them first!

Thank you, Steve, for taking the time to chat with us. Good luck with your book sales. 🙂

Thank you!

Hope you all enjoyed meeting Steve and will stop by to visit his website. 🙂

2012 YA Author Blog Takeover

Something exciting is beginning on Jenny Keller Ford‘s blog beginning this Sunday. She will be featuring 9 YA authors, one each day until the end of the month, including me. 🙂

We will be discussing our books and our thoughts on writing, publishing and life.

Her line-up will be as follows:

Sunday, June, 22 – Kim Richardson, author of ‘The Soul Guardians

Monday, June 23 – ME! (Susan Rocan), author of ‘Withershins‘ & ‘Spirit Quest‘.

Tuesday, June 24 – Emi Gayle, author of ‘After Dark

Wednesday, June 25 – L. S. Murphy, author of ‘Reaper

Thursday, June 26 – Kevin McGill, author of ‘Nikolas & Company: The Merman and the Moon Forgotten

Friday, June 27 – Jus Accardo, author of ‘Touch‘ and ‘Toxic

Saturday, June 28 – Michael Conn, author of ‘Maxwell Huxley’s Demon

Sunday, June 29 – Jamie Ayers, author of ‘18 Things

Monday, July 30 – Rachel Coker, author of ‘Interrupted: life beyond words‘ and ‘Chasing Jupiter

Please come by and see what we all have to say. Each day, the featured author will be hanging around Jenny’s blog to answer any questions you may have for them. To get there, just click on the picture, which will link you straight to Jenny’s site. Hope to see you there! 🙂

Getting critiqued

I was perusing this morning’s blog posts and came across one that I thought all you writers out there might find interesting. Roger at Writing Is Hard Work wrote about writers groups and forums. You might want to check out his links, if you are looking for a way to get your manuscript appraised. He also gives some good advice about accepting critiques and provides some cautions when doing so on public sites. Please check it out here, then come back and I will tell you a little about my writers group experiences.

The first novel I wrote was based on a TV series that ended abruptly. It infuriated me that all the main characters appeared to be killed in the last episode. I was so upset that I was compelled to come up with a suitable ending, myself. Thus began the start of my writing career about 18 years ago.

However, not knowing anything about fan fiction at the time, I realized that nothing much could come of the story I had created because the crew from Blake’s 7 was the property of Terry Nation who created the series. So, I took the characters that I created and put them in their own story. Once the novel was finished, I joined the Manitoba Writers’ Guild to figure out what to do next. In one of their newsletters I noticed a call for fan fiction about Blake’s 7 and other British SciFi series. I got very excited but, not knowing anything about fan fiction, I called the woman who wanted to create the fanzine. She gave me the particulars, I submitted my story and won the contest. (Anne Rice presented the prize to me at World Con when it came to Winnipeg!) The husband of the fanzine creator ran a writer’s group and invited me to join.

All full of myself because of getting one of my first stories ‘published’, albeit in a very minor way (maybe 50 copies of Badlands were printed) I said sure, and submitted my novel to the group. I was crushed when they didn’t think it was the most marvelous thing since sliced bread! Trying to hold back the tears, I went home and began to read their detailed critiques. I realized that they were not intentionally being mean, they were honestly giving feedback on how to make my manuscript better.

In the meantime, I wrote a fantasy novel based on a dream I’d had when I was 16. At the time of my dream, I had tried to figure out what might have happened if I hadn’t awakened, but was too young to come up with a suitable story line. Being a more mature person (supposedly) I wrote out an elaborate quest story and submitted it to the group. Again, I was given some harsh criticism, but each time I received a negative remark my skin thickened a little.

I continued to write.

Next, inspired by Jean Claude VanDamme, I wrote an adventure story about a young boy who was bullied. Many tragedies befell the poor boy but everything eventually led him to a lovely young woman. Suddenly, after about 250 pages, the perspective suddenly switched to present the woman’s point of view as well as the boy’s. Egad! The group went crazy when they got to that part of the story! Biggest writing faux pas ever!

By this time, I had joined another group as well, since the other one was beginning to break apart and meet sporadically. With this second group, the criticism was less harsh and more encouraging. I’m not necessarily sure this was better than the previous group’s critiques, but I think by that time, my writing had greatly improved because of what I had learned that there was less to criticize.

Anyway, we created 2 chapbooks of short stories (Sex Death & Grain Elevators & Where In The World Is Carmen, Manitoba?) and were brainstorming for another that we wanted to come out around Halloween. I wracked my brain to think of something scarier than the kids’ ghost stories I’d written and came up with the idea of running around a church three times at midnight. Both groups thought it was a great idea and one member said the ritual was called Widdershins. I was amazed at how little effort it took for the story to take off (my muse was in fine form) and I suppose it showed. Both writers groups said it was the best thing I’d written to date and encouraged me to keep going, helped me edit and polish it so I could send it off to publishers. When it was finally accepted by a publisher, the name was changed to ‘Withershins‘, which I was told was the Canadian term, to set it apart from other stories using ‘Widdershins’ as a title.

I can honestly say that without the help I received from my writers groups, I probably would still be awaiting publication. I haven’t, as yet, tried to get my earlier work published as it still needs a lot of changes. Those stories may never be ready for publication, but I don’t consider them failures. They were my practice pieces, those stories from which I learned most about how to improve my writing. Without making mistakes – and finding out where we’re making our mistakes – we can’t learn from them. So, if you haven’t found a writer’s group, critique partner or beta reader, go back to Roger’s site and check out his links.

If you have had experiences with writers groups, critique partners &/or beta readers, what was it like for you?

Social Butterfly

Lately, as far as my writing has been concerned, I’ve been feeling very much like the dog, Dug, from the movie UP. You know, that highly distractible pup with the attention span of a gnat – squirrel! – uh, what was I talking about? Oh, yes, my writing.

I think what I would describe this writing phase as ‘creative nonfiction’. It’s been so long since I actually sat down and concentrated on any of my WIPs – and there are many irons in the fire. I just can’t seem to concentrate on any of them because blogging has become my newest passion, that and scrapbooking and my grandson and spending time with friends and family.

This (blogging) is the creative nonfiction I’m talking about – writing about what’s been going on in MY life instead of one of my fictional characters. It’s been fun, too, writing what I hope are interesting blog posts and READING so many wonderful blogs. It’s kind of taking over my life that when I do get distracted by life, like Dug, and return to my computer I find another batch of posts I want to read, but I want to read those from the day before or, like today, from several days back. At the moment, I am looking at 74 emails, all blog posts from my favourite bloggers that I want to read but, alas, I have Tai Chi in a couple of hours and then I will be taking three lovely ladies from class to a fun day put on by the Independent Living Resource Centre. After that, there’s a ‘Bud, Spud and Steak’ event to raise money for the families of the security guards in Calgary who were killed in a recent robbery. It is going to be one very busy day!

Actually, it has been a very busy week, spending two days in the country crafting cards with my sister-in-law, popping into Scrapbook Cottage in Steinbach to pick up more supplies and a side trip to the thrift store. Then, there was the dentist on Wednesday which I thought was going to be a quick replacement of a temporary crown with a permanent one and ended up spending an hour and a half in the dentist chair while she poked, prodded, drilled, cut away gum tissue and ground down the filling put in by the guy who did my root canal. My jaw still hurts and I still can’t bite down on that side. On top of all that, I have over 2 dozen cards to make by August 1st and each one takes at least an hour to finish, sometimes up to two hours, if they are really elaborate (or I make a mistake and have to figure out how to cover it up!)

Other plans for this summer entail painting and putting up new fence boards to replace the broken section in our back yard, clean out the storage room so I can maybe expand my crafting space, read all the books on my TBR list, visit with out-of-town guests and finishing my research so I can work on the sequel to Spirit Quest. I don’t think it’s all going to happen in the next 6 weeks.

So, that’s what my writing life has been like, lately! Whew!

How are the rest of you coping with your distractions from writing? I really need to know!

Second Sunday Interview

Hello, everyone! Welcome to my second Sunday interview. Today, I’m talking with Jenny Keller Ford.

Hi, Jenny! I am thrilled to have you here, today. I’ve been reading your blog since I discovered it a few months ago and have loved reading about your journey to publication. For those who have not been fortunate to catch your beautiful blog, would you please tell them a little about yourself?

Hi Susan.  First let me say how happy I am to be here.  Thank you so much for thinking of me and including me in your new blog endeavor.  It’s a great idea.

As for me, I was born in Neu Ulm, Germany and was adopted by a U.S. military family when I was six weeks old.  I traveled around a lot as a kid, and returned to Germany when I was six years old.  We lived there for two years and during that time, my mom made sure my brother and I were introduced to all the country had to offer…including castles.  As a little girl, I adored fairytales, so seeing these castles up close and personal solidified my love for them and all things fantasy, especially stories of King Arthur, Merlin and Camelot.  I suppose that’s why I read and write stories centered around dragons, faeries and magic.

I’m twenty-one years married, have four children ranging in age from 17 to 27, and I have a granddaughter who will turn 4 in July.  I am a willing slave to an orange tabby, two Australian Shepherds and a speckled mutt, and would probably own every stray and abandoned animal in the world if I had the space and the money to care for them.   

Wow! That’s a fascinating history. I love castles, too, and I long to travel overseas to see them. You’re lucky you got to live there! As for the animals, you sound just like my daughter! 🙂

How long have you been writing?

Ever since I could hold a crayon.  My mom used to have a whole box of my scribbles from when I was a kid.  Sadly, she passed away in 2006 and I have no idea what happened to them all. 

Sorry to hear that!

What inspired you to start writing?

My mom read to me all the time.  I remember snuggling with her on the couch when I was four, maybe five years old.  I’ve always loved to read.  Of course, I always thought I could tell a story better than anyone and I embellished lots of stories.  I called it having an imagination.  My mom called it lying.  I would tell stories about our Fox Terrier rescuing fairies from avalanches (that was one of my favorites), or tell stories about the dinosaur-turned dragon that lived in my room. 

I love that! lol

In which genre do prefer to write?

I primarily write Young Adult fantasy, but I have ventured into other areas.  I like to push myself, step outside my comfort zone.  I don’t think I’ll ever be known as a romance or mystery author, but I enjoy playing around with the genres.   

It IS fun to stretch yourself and I’m sure it has a lot to do with becoming a better writer. 🙂

Please tell us a little about your writing process.

I sit down and write.  I don’t plan anything, however, sometimes I do write down brief outlines of what I’d like to see happen in the novel or story, but I tend to let my brain take me wherever it wants to go.  Most the time I write in sequence, but sometimes I’ll get ideas for later chapters and I have to stop and write them down.  I wrote the last line in the second novel of my Chronicles of Fallhollow saga before I ever wrote one word on the first novel.  In fact, every event in the second novel is written to lead up to that last line, that’s how much I’m married to it.

When I worked full-time, I would write from around 9 pm until 1 or 2 in the morning, wake up at  6 a.m. and write for another 2 hours before I had to go to work.  Then I’d write during my hour lunch break.  After I lost my job in June 2010, I’ve dedicated the majority of my day to writing.  This includes short stories, flash fiction, novels and on my blog.  The writing never stops.  I’m truly blessed that way.  Now if only I could stop fiddling with my novels and get them published.  I also provide editing services to authors, especially those who have written non-fiction and want to self-publish.

That’s good to know. I’m sure there are a lot of people out there who would be interested in that service. And I am certain that you WILL get your novels published, one day. 🙂

What is your strategy with regards to editing?

I do a lot of editing myself through multiple reads.  I also read my story out loud to my youngest son.  By reading aloud, I can find the spots where the cadence is off, where dialogue doesn’t work, and misspelled words my eyes skipped over before.  I also rely on beta readers and critique partners a lot!  They are better than any hunk of software out there.  They’re priceless.  I would be lost without them.  There is not enough gold or chocolate in the world to pay them for what they do. 

When I’ve completed a piece and I’m ready to submit, I put out a call for help.  I usually get about 5 or 6 takers, depending on the story.  Being that most of what I write is somehow fantasy related, I tend to call on those who enjoy fantasy and science fiction.  After the beta and critique partners finish their final edits, I put my story/manuscript through a free Autocrit-type software that catches overused words, clichés, incomplete phrases, etc. that my betas didn’t catch.  If I dare, I might ask one or two more betas to re-read it just to make sure I caught everything before sending it out to agents and publishers.

That sounds like a pretty good methodology.

I understand you recently had some exciting news about one of your stories. Would you like to let my readers know about it? Feel free to brag as much as you like! 🙂

Wow, this one really surprised me!  J. Taylor Publishing put out a call for submission this past January for their upcoming Make Believe anthology.  They offered up a visual prompt and asked writers to submit a short story, up to 10,000 words, based on that prompt.  As I always do with publishers, I took a look at what they usually publish, who their authors were and I read some of their books to get a feel of what they liked.  It seemed most of their authors wrote romantic urban fantasy/paranormal type stories.  The fantasy aspect I knew I could do.  The romance?  I was about to step out of my comfort zone but I figured, what the heck?  I convinced one of my friends and beta partners to go along on the ride with me.  We had until mid April to submit our short stories.  For three months my mind remained a blank slate.  Sometime in March the idea, as well as the MC’s name (Elton Fletcher), slapped me in the head, and I ran with it, with only 2 1/2 weeks to go.  My beta partner ran into the same problem and was scurrying to finish hers.  Finally the stories were done and we exchanged as well as called in more reinforcements.  Those last couple of weeks were intense with all the re-writes and beta suggestions.  Finally the day came and I had to hit the submit button.  I have to say my finger hovered over the enter key for a long time before I closed my eyes and did it.  Sometimes you just have to let go.

A few days later I heard from the publisher and they liked my story, but wanted to know if I would be willing to make changes.  After some nervous e-mail exchanges back and forth, they informed me they would get back to me.  About a week later, I received a congratulatory e-mail from the publisher welcoming me to the J. Taylor Publishing family of authors!  It was a remarkable feeling.  Sometimes I still can’t believe it.  My first real, contracted published piece.  There are no words to describe the feeling.  It goes beyond elation.  My story was chosen…my writing was validated.  I was, and still am, on cloud 9.  

After about a month, the publisher gave us permission to announce the great news.  A week or so later, the publisher revealed the cover of the book and the back cover marketing blurbs.  When I saw my name on the cover, I cried.  It was real.  My publishing dream had come true.  If you want, you can read all about the six authors and their stories at http://www.jtaylorpublishing.com/books/17 . Here’s the gorgeous cover.  The anthology releases December 3, 2012 in e-book format only and I can’t wait.  

That certainly IS a beautiful cover!

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Only this:  never, ever give up on your dreams. Don’t be afraid to take chances.  Don’t be afraid of hitting that submit button.  I’m a prime example of what can happen if you go for your dream.  I never thought I could write something outside my ‘norm’, much less get it published, but I did. If I can do it, so can all of you.  All you have to do is believe in yourself and your writing.

Those are very inspiring words, Jenny. Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions. 🙂

This is so cool. Thanks again for everything!

You’re so welcome, Jenny!

If any of my readers would like to check out her blog, you can do it here. You can check her Facebook page here with her Author Page being this. You can follow her on Twitter @jkellerford. Hope to see you all back here next Sunday for another interview. Enjoy your week! 🙂