I’m talking today with fantasy author Laurel McHargue, a woman with a lot of energy. She’s written eight books including her Waterwight fantasy series and an adult fairytale, The Hare, Raising Truth, she hosts her own podcast, Alligator Preserves, is a former teacher and active community member, networks and promotes her works online, and finds time attend writing events for face to face interactions with her fans and potential new readers, as well as other authors. Even through email the positive energy radiates from this author. I could give you a lengthy fanfare on how impressed I am with this lady, but I think it’s better to let you see for yourselves. So, without further ado, please welcome Laurel Mchargue.
Kaye: Would you talk about your author’s journey? How did you come to come to be a writer?
Laurel: When I was quite young, I learned I could get attention by telling stories. As the fourth of five girls, I was low on the proverbial totem pole when it came to feeling important, so I had to be creative. I think my wild dreams helped, though eventually, my parents would roll their eyes when I’d come down in the morning with an “unbelievable” dream I’d just have to share. Who knew a dream would launch my first fantasy series? I didn’t then, but hey, I was just a kid!
Fast forward through a lifetime of unique experiences that people were curious about—I was frequently told, “You should really write about that!”—and I finally made the decision to make writing my career. I always did well in classes that required writing, and there were teachers along the way who encouraged me greatly.
I think I always knew I’d write stories someday, but until I made the commitment, it was always a “someday” kind of dream.
Kaye: What can you tell me about your YA fantasy series, Waterwight, and specifically about your Waterwight Breathe which will be released on March 15th?
Laurel: Waterwight started with a dream in which I was running away from bad guys through a dilapidated town, and I came up against a large body of water. The only way across it was to fly, and so I flew. Halfway across, however, I doubted my ability to make it to the other side and started to fall. A flying frog appeared and said, “Grab hold!” and I grasped his leg. He got me to the other side and then died in my arms. The dream had other elements I was able to use in my story as well. Anyway, I shared the dream with my author friend Carol Bellhouse (because I wasn’t living at home anymore!) and she told me I needed to write a story around it.
At the time, I’d never written fantasy, and the thought of turning a dream into a story thrilled and terrified me! Over the course of a year my story unfolded chapter by chapter, and by the time I got to the end, I wasn’t ready to leave my characters. I knew there was more for them to do, and there were questions I needed to answer. So, Waterwight Flux answers questions, develops characters, and sets up more challenges for Celeste, the orphaned protagonist.
I chose to write Waterwight Breathe, the final book, in first person present tense perspective after reading The Hunger Games. I love the immediacy of the thoughts and actions, and having the last book narrated by the protagonist seemed like the perfect way to end the series. I know it’s unconventional to have different points of view in the same series, but my life decisions have frequently been unconventional, and I have no regrets!
Waterwight Breathe is available on March 15th, and it might be my favorite work yet. I couldn’t wait to get to the ending, the only part of the book I actually planned!
Kaye: You received three CIPA EVVY awards for the first book in the series. That’s quite an accomplishment. What is it about this book that makes it EVVY Award worthy?
Laurel: The CIPA EVVY awards are highly competitive, and each book is evaluated with a rubric—not against other submissions. The judges look at everything from cover design to editing to plot and character development. Waterwight is a fantasy adventure with mythical and mystical elements and a female protagonist; it received praise from Kirkus Reviews and many readers. I’d like to think those readers and the EVVY Awards judges felt compelled to keep reading at the end of each chapter. I had fun ending most of my chapters with cliffhangers!
The first book is also divided into three parts, so readers get to see what’s happening from different perspectives in each part. As a bonus, and because I’m a former English teacher, I added a synonym glossary and questions for discussion in the back of each book in the series. I don’t dumb down my prose for YA readers.
I used 99designs.com for my cover design and couldn’t be happier! The same artist created my covers for all three books in the series. Also, I paid a professional proofreader to ensure there weren’t any annoying typos or misspellings.
Kaye: Your novel Miss? is based on your own experience as a first-year teacher and earned the IndieReader Approved Award. Tell me about this book.
Laurel: I’m incredibly fortunate to have friends who are authors too. In 2012, one of those friends, Stephanie Spong, challenged me to do NaNoWriMo with her. I had never heard of such a beast! Well, being the competitive individual I’ve been told I am, I looked into it, and after thinking the 30-day personal challenge was ludicrous, I signed up on October 31st!
This was about six years after my first year of teaching 7th grade English in a doomed middle school. As a resigned Army Major, I honestly thought teaching 7th grade Language Arts would be a breeze. Oh…Em…Gee! I was very wrong.
Because I couldn’t believe what I was experiencing each day, at the end of the day I’d create a bullet-point list of everything that happened. I walked into NaNoWriMo with a year’s worth of those bullet points and had all the material I needed to write my first novel.
I remember telling my students, “Someday, I’m going to write a book about you all!” I said it as a humorous threat, and every class would be filled with hands going up and exclamations of, “Oh, Miss! Can I be in it?”
Although I couldn’t put all 130 students in “Miss?”, I meshed together many of them and included actual events from that year. I say it’s “loosely fictionalized” because of that, and because I added some romance and a scary situation that didn’t actually happen, but could have.
Kaye: Could you talk about your adult fairytale, The Hare, Raising Truth?
Laurel: The same friend who challenged me to NaNoWriMo challenged me to a 3-Day Novel Writing Contest! Stephanie Spong discovered the contest and really wanted to do it, so what choice did I have? (smiley face).
I sent my husband away for Labor Day Weekend (official contest dates), stocked my house with food and beverages, and set up little workout stations around the house. Stephanie came to my house ready to write for 72 hours and we agreed on rules: She could have the dining room, I had the “Red room” (that may have influenced my writing!), and no talking unless we happened to bump into one another in the kitchen.
We were very good girls!
As I enjoy challenging myself with different genres (and contests with crazy time limits), I decided to try something completely different for this contest. “I’m going to write it in 2nd person perspective,” I told Stephanie, and she warned me about the difficulty. Bonus, I thought. I also thought I’d write something light and funny.
Something happened, however, when I heard Rod Serling’s voice from The Twilight Zone in my head (in the Red room). My story turned darkly comedic quite fast, and there was nothing I could do about it . . . I had to see where it would take me.
I completed The Hare, Raising Truth—a Grimm’s Fairy Tale/Twilight Zone mashup—in about 38 hours. It’s novella length, and it was an absolute blast to write. My husband read it when he returned from his banishment and said it’s the best thing I’ve written so far, and I’ve had many people ask, “How did you get into the head of a horny teenage boy so well?”
Well…it wasn’t that difficult!
Kaye: You have a podcast called Alligator Preserves. What is that about?
Laurel: I started my podcast Alligator Preserves—which is about storytelling and the human condition—for several reasons. I wanted to be able to narrate my own books, so my husband set me up with the equipment I’d need to do that (even after I banished him that Labor Day weekend!). Also, friends had suggested that many of my blog posts should be recorded, since blog posts tend to get buried and lost once they’re posted. I wanted to be able to “tell” stories as well as write them.
When I started recording, I realized I had a great set-up for interviewing other people who’ve “done things” too, so I started asking racers and Reiki practitioners and authors and challenge seekers if they’d like to share their stories. The response was overwhelming, and now I have a hard time figuring out how to fit them all into my own schedule while still having time to do my writing.
Recently, I’ve gone to a pay-for-service model for anyone with a book or product they’d like to promote. Creating a podcast with another person is a lot of work. I value the time I spend reading and researching (prior to the interview) and editing and posting to social media (post recording). I provide all the links to the audio and video I create to my interviewee for use on their social media as well. For authors, it’s another plank to add to their author platform!
Kaye: What is the biggest challenge of writing fantasy?
Laurel: I can visualize scenes in my head so clearly, and most of them are fast-paced. The challenge is in slowing down my writing to help readers see what I’m seeing. Also, sometimes my writing is dream-like, and I have to find ways to convey that not-quite-real feeling.
That’s how multiple drafts help. I may blast through several chapters, totally believing that I’m conveying what my mind is seeing, and then I’ll have someone read them and they’ll say, “Huh? What just happened here? I don’t get it”!
My challenge is usually in adding more to a scene rather than deleting. There’s always more an author can do to make their writing sing more clearly!
Kaye: What’s the most fun part of writing for you?
Laurel: I think many authors might say that writing “The End” upon completing a project is the most fun, and I won’t lie—a happy dance always follows—but really, the fun is in the little surprises that happen along the way. It’s the unexpected character that pops into my head while I’m walking the dog or the funny thing a character will say. I’m more of a “pantser” than a “planner,” so I’m surprised all the time!
Sharing my work and having a fan say, “Wow! I loved that!” is another obvious fun part, but that’s after the writing is published. I brought my work to the 2018 Denver Comic Con and was blown away by the interaction I experienced with readers. I’ll attend the 2019 Denver Pop Culture Con (new name) this year with my completed trilogy and a new graphic novel! Now, that will be fun!
Kaye: Fantasy isn’t the only genre that you write in, and you hope to explore as many genres as possible throughout your writing career. What is your favorite genre to date?
Laurel: I’m horrible when it comes to “what’s your favorite” questions, but I’d have to say that I’m really enjoying short stories right now. I’ve entered several “flash fiction” contests with very short time limits, and being able to complete a project in a week or less exhilarates me!
I’m putting together a short story collection now. I’ve promised my Patreon patrons a new short story every month (which I narrate on my podcast Alligator Preserves) and when I’ve created enough, I’ll publish them and acknowledge my partons.
That said, many of my fans tell me they love my nonfiction blog posts. Once Waterwight Breathe is launched, my next big project will be a nonfiction piece based on my dad’s WWII letters. I hope to have a draft completed by the end of 2019!
Kaye: Where does your inspiration come from?
As Neil Gaiman said when asked where he got his ideas, “I make them up . . . out of my head.” (http://www.neilgaiman.com/Cool_Stuff/Essays/Essays_By_Neil/Where_do_you_get_your_ideas%253F). But how does inspiration get into my head? It gets there from every sensory experience throughout my days and from the Technicolor dreams I’ve had since I was a child. Someone said dreams are your brain’s way of dealing with all the things bombarding your senses during the day, and when I remember my dreams, I can often link them to something that has happened, or something that’s been “on my mind.”
Real people and creatures inspire my characters as much as imaginary ones (and who says the bizarre creatures in my dreams aren’t “real”?). Old Man Massive, the mountain spirit in my Waterwight trilogy, was inspired by an outcropping of stone on Mt. Massive that looks like an old, bearded man. Names and superpowers were inspired by real people I’ve known or met while writing the series. Zoya, my tragic octopus, was inspired by a paddleboarding experience on Twin Lakes, as was Noor, my fire-breathing dragonfly. The whole series started with a crazy dream I shared with a friend. I see and find inspiration all around me.
People have asked me where I get my imagination from, and all I can say is that it must be a gift from the universe! It’s certainly not a “thing” you can buy, and I’m not even sure it’s a “thing” you can learn. I consider myself quite fortunate that I was born with an imaginative brain.
Kaye: What do you do when you’re not writing?
Laurel: When I’m not writing, I’m thinking about writing or I’m marketing my writing (sure wish I could clone myself for that task) or I’m reading or I’m recording a podcast episode or I’m cooking a yummy dinner or I’m brushing a pillow’s worth of hair from my German Shepherd or I’m cleaning out my sock drawer (because, where do all those socks come from?) or I’m swimming (several mornings per week, and not very fast) or I’m chatting with my friends or with one of my four sisters or I’m worrying about my sons (because I’m a mother) or I’m wondering how the day has passed so quickly. And other things, too.
Kaye: Hunting for Red Meat is a collection of memoir-style essays based on your own adventures hunting elk. When did you get the idea to make them a published collection?
Laurel: Several friends have told me how much they enjoy my blog posts, and one of them, Erin Sue Grantham (who also hunts), suggested I put them into a book. When I looked at putting them all in a book, I was overwhelmed by how many stories I had, and realized a book containing them all would be too big. So I thought about segregating them into topic areas.
After three years of hunting (and never filling a tag), I had plenty of hunting blog posts, so I decided to start there. Our oldest son, Nick, suggested it would be a “blook” a blog book, and I had fun coming up with the title.
I really thought I’d have a lot more sales by now with a title starting with “Hunt for Red…,” but alas, no. I honestly think many readers would enjoy it as it’s far more of an appreciation of the majesty of the wild outdoors than it is about hunting. I share my awe and my suffering, my adrenaline and my poetic moments.
My next “Blook” will probably be about our camping adventures.
Kaye: You have also published two books on Haiku. Do you have a special love for that poetry form? What is it that draws you to it?
Laurel: I love Haiku because—like a short story—they finish quickly. You have only seventeen syllables to play with, and it’s like completing a puzzle. Five-seven-five. That’s it.
Teaching grades 7-12 also gave me an appreciation for Haiku. When the word “poetry” comes from a teacher’s mouth, it’s generally followed by groans. Once a student learns how to count out syllables, though, and fit them into a “puzzle,” or a “math challenge,” for those more inclined toward that side of the brain, poetry suddenly becomes fun.
I was always amazed by the final products my students would create, boys as well as girls, and what fun it was to watch them tap on desktops or count on fingers while figuring out the syllabic pattern.
Haikus Can Amuse: 366 Haiku Starters “happened” after I dropped my cell phone into the ocean. Cell phones don’t like salt water. Anyway, I had a few weeks to kill before getting a new phone (I was away on vacation when it happened), and it was Leap Year, so I figured, why not come up with 366 first lines! I put that together as a gift journal for people who like filling in blanks and journaling just a little bit.
Hai CLASS ku is a spinoff of my cell-phone-debacle book, and it’s designed as a classroom workbook with a semester’s worth of haiku first lines (90) and space to draw a sketch and write a bit about inspiration. It’s also a great tool for substitute teachers.
Kaye: Which author or poet, dead or alive, would you love to have lunch with? Why?
Laurel: Dead? Steinbeck. Why? Because I love his writing. Alive? Margaret Atwood. Why? Because I love her writing. So many tremendous authors, so, so, so little life to experience them all.
I want to thank Laurel for joining me and sharing a little about experiences and her work. You can learn more about both at the links below.
SoundCloud (Alligator Preserves podcast): https://soundcloud.com/user-564361489
Stitcher permanent show link: http://www.stitcher.com/s?fid=165314&refid=stpr
(this link is optimized for mobile and Twitter posts)
Amazon Author page: https://www.amazon.com/Laurel-McHargue/e/B00INB9OO6
Blog link: http://leadvillelaurel.com/
LinkedIn: Laurel (Bernier) McHargue
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My guest today is an author, nature lover and plant ecologist. Her books include memoirs, beautifully illustrated travel books, nature guides, and even children’s books, but they all have strong ties with nature. Her books reveal connections with nature and life that have not been pondered or may have been overlooked in our everyday lives. Her books have won the ForeWord Book of the Year, the Colorado Book Award, and she is a five time recipient of Colorado Author’s League Award. With a background in science and plant ecology, she expertly weaves her natural environment into her writings, illustrating how all things interact and connect. Let me introduce creative nonfiction author, Susan J. Tweit.
Kaye: You are a female author who champions the natural environment. Do you identify most as a feminist, a naturalist or an environmentalist?
Susan: All of the above. I grew up in a family of naturalists and scientists; restoring everyday nature is my way of leaving the world a better place. And I work in two fields where women are still second-class citizens in so many ways: science and writing. So am a feminist just be participating in those fields as a woman.
Kaye: On your website you claim that you taught yourself to write after you realized that you enjoyed the stories told by the data more than you did doing the research. How does one teach oneself to write?
Susan: I don’t know how other people teach themselves to write creatively, but for me, as a scientist trained to eschew personal opinions and emotions, and to be extremely parsimonious with descriptive adverbs and adjectives, I found my writing voice in reading the works of writers whose works I admire. I read Ann Zwinger and Terry Tempest Williams, Barry Lopez and Kim Stafford, Brenda Peterson and Linda Hogan, Leslie Marmon Silko and Denise Chávez, Robert Pyle and Gary Paul Nabhan, Sharman Apt Russell and Barbara Kingsolver, and so many others.
As I read, I thought about the mechanics of how each writer told their stories (whether fiction or essays), how they introduced subjects and characters, where they got personal and where they stepped back, how they described landscape and culture, how they used words and language… I tried out techniques and styles until I found my own voice, which has continued to evolve through twelve books and hundreds of essays, articles, and columns for newspapers and magazines.
Kaye: Connections are a common theme in many of your works. Can you talk a little about those?
Susan: As a plant ecologist, I am fascinated by the relationships and interrelationships that form community, whether the human community, or what I call “the community of the land,” the interwoven communities of species—from tiny microbes to gigantic redwood trees—that make life on Earth possible. Who loves who, who eats who, who sleeps with or pollinates who, who can’t stand who… All of those relationships weave the fabric of Life with a capital L. Without them we would not exist, and we have so much to learn about the connections that are vital to this planet. I just collaborated with science illustrator Samantha Peters on “Natural Partners,” a feature for WILDFLOWER Magazine on plants and the animals they rely on. It’s up on the internet here: https://www.wildflower.org/magazine/fauna/natural-partners (The print version took the cover of the magazine, and it’s really gorgeous!)
Kaye: Writing seems to be a way of life for you, and your love for nature is woven into almost everything you do. You have a background as a plant biologist and most of your books offer a perspective on nature and the environment, and you call your books love letters “to the earth and its living web of lives”. If you could convey one message to your readers, what would it be?
Susan: Get outside and get to know nature nearby. Learn even a handful of your neighbors in the world of plants and animals and you’ll never be bored. Nature is vital to our health and wellbeing—it’s the best antidote to stress I know of, the closest source of inspiration and renewal, and it doesn’t require a prescription or training. And it’s free!
Kaye: Besides writing and ecological restoration projects, what are your favorite things to do?
Susan: I’m an outdoors person, so I love taking long walks in the arroyo near my home, hiking with friends, and setting out on long road trips to see this amazing continent. At home, I tend a small garden of native wildflowers and other plants chosen to provide habitat for songbirds and pollinators, cook elaborate dinners for family and friends, and read. I’m an omnivorous reader, which leads into your next questions…
Kaye: You’ve written three memoirs about your life experiences. What makes an experience worthy to become a memoir?
Susan: Memoir is a way of distilling what our own lives and experiences have to offer others. What makes an experience worthy of memoir is partly whether we can find a way of telling the story that is compelling to others (that is, to a wider audience than our close friends and family!). It might be that we lived through a critical part of history, or our personal journey is exceptional in some way, or simply that we figure out how to relate our very ordinary story in a way that offers some universal wisdom about being human. Both of my published memoirs—Walking Nature Home; and Barren, Wild, and Worthless: Living in the Chihuahuan Desert—taught me about how to tell a story, how show the way we grow and change over time, and how to pick and choose telling detail. Each one presented different challenges, and the memoir I am working on now is challenging me in new ways. Telling my personal story may be my greatest learning experience as a writer!
Kaye: Would you tell us about your Write & Retreat Workshops?
Susan: They are an immersion in writing, in learning place and story, and in the inner work that is the source of our creativity. Each one includes hands-on writing and workshop time, as well as time to retreat and nurture our inner selves. Each one is set in some extraordinary place chosen to inspire us, with time spend exploring that place. I don’t have any W&R workshops planned this year, but next year I may offer one set near Yellowstone National Park, that place of wildness and wonders.
Kaye: You are a member of Story Circle Network, Women Writing the Westand Colorado Author’s League. How are these organizations beneficial to you as a writer?
Susan: I am also a member of Wyoming Writers. Belonging to at least one professional writing organization is critical to writing: they offer education, resources, and, most importantly. community. Writing is an inherently solitary activity: pulling words from deep within, honing them into stories, and then offering the work of our hearts to the world is perilous. Finding a community of fellow sufferers… uh, writers, is essential to maintaining our sanity, growing in the craft, and getting published.
Kaye: What is the one thing in your writing career that is the most unusual or unique thing you’ve done so far?
Susan: Besides leaving behind a paycheck, benefits, and job security to chase words and stories? Hmm… It’s hard to choose just one. Kayaking with sea turtles in the Sea of Cortez off Baja California? Learning about how to blow up dams to restore a river and its salmon run? Dancing with a Native American community to celebrate the return of those salmon? Watching a grizzly bear mom teach her twin cubs how to dig and eat spring-beauty bulbs in a meadow in Yellowstone National Park? Walking alone through some of the wildest country in the Lower 48 states, carrying all I needed on my back to listen to myself? Tending my husband and the love of my life through his death from brain cancer and then figuring out how to write how to survive loss? Seeing monarch butterflies return to a restored patch of urban nature? I’ve been fortunate to experience miracles and wonders all along the way.
Kaye: What are you working on now? What can readers expect in the future from Susan J. Tweit?
Susan: I’m working on The Climate Victory Garden, a book about how gardens can help grow The Green New Deal and slow climate change. It’s another chapter in my life-long quest to leave this world in better shape than I found it by restoring nature nearby and our connection to the green and living world.
Many thanks to Susan for sharing with us today. You can learn more about Susan J.Tweit and her work by visiting the following links:
Join us next Monday, when I’ll begin a new bi-monthly blog series, “His Name Was Michael”, which will chronicle the stages of writing a memoir as I work through them for my own memoir of the same name, telling the story of my son’s death and my own grief process. This first post will talk about the prewriting stage for memoir.
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In January, Writing to be Read is celebrating women’s fiction and female authors. You may have caught my Interview with Loretta Miles Tollefson two weeks ago, or my post about the history of female authorship last week. In continuation of this monthly theme, I’m pleased to welcome a woman who authors science fiction and women’s fiction as my first guest for this new monthly series, Chatting with the Pros. Barabara Chepaitis is a traditionally published author of both science fiction and women’s fiction, and she’s very familiar with the issues that surround being a woman author in today’s publishing industry. Let’s see what she has to say.
Kaye: What defines women’s fiction? Is it the subject matter, female protagonists, or the manner in which women are portrayed?
Barbara: In my experience, women’s fiction is defined by the publisher, who wants to have a specific place to put a book in a bookstore. For me, the difference between my science fiction and my ‘women’s fiction’ was what name they used. When I write science fiction, they want me to use my initials to hide that I’m a girl. When I write women’s fiction, they want to use my name, to prove I’m a girl.
Since I’ve never written a novel that doesn’t have a female protagonist, it’s clear to me that this isn’t the defining aspect. Other than that, I think the definition is kind of the way Dr. Who describes time – wibbly wobbly.
Kaye: What draws you to women’s fiction?
Barbara: I don’t know that I am drawn to women’s fiction. I’m a feminist, for sure, but I never set out to write any particular genre. I just get an idea for a character and story, then tell it. If they happen to be female, that’s because I’ve known some fascinating women, with very complex lives.
Kaye: Do you think it is tougher female authors today, or has digital and self-publishing evened the playing field for women in the publishing industry?
Barbara: It’s always been more difficult for women, in every field of endeavor we have in our culture. There’s so many many ways to block women. First, you can just not hire (or publish, or pay) them. Second, you can let them do the work, but not acknowledge the work they’ve done, attributing it to others. Only time will tell if digital and independent publishing will change that kind of move. Being cynical, I guess that women will have to continue to fight for their place. But that’s just me, being cynical.
Kaye: Romance usually has female protags. Why is it not considered as women’s fiction?
Barbara: The quick answer – because the narrative arc primarily follows a trajectory of romance. I know that when I’ve written material that has a strong romance (as in The Amber) but has something else as it’s narrative arc (coming of age, self-discovery, overcoming demons, etc.) then it isn’t seen as romance. For instance, there’s some pretty strong romantic properties to the whole Jaguar series, but she’s primarily dealing with criminals and crime.
Kaye: What makes a good story?
Barbara: The answer to that varies pretty wildly, depending on who you ask. For my husband, a good story is often one of a hero who makes the ultimate sacrifice for a cause. He loves Spartacus, Saving Private Ryan, and so on. For me, a story of a hero who overcomes incredible obstacles to reach a goal that serves others, or creates a new understanding of life, is always entrancing. I’m guessing that for romance readers, the tale of finding true love is what winds their clocks. So the question to ask, really, is what makes a good story for you?
Kaye: Your Fear series has a futuristic setting, an action adventure storyline and a strong female protagonist, Jaguar Addams. It’s really women’s genre fiction. What genre or genres do you put it in?
Barbara: I wrote the Fear series as a detective/mystery series. It just happened to be set in the future. When I was seeking a publisher, there was no such thing as ‘cross-genre’, and the mystery/detective market wanted nothing to do with it. Thus it landed in science fiction, which was more open, and they called it cyberpunk suspense – which made me wonder if I had to do something different with my hair, you know?
You can say Jaguar is ‘women’s fiction’ in that it has a powerful female protagonist and is written by a woman, but there’s plenty of men hanging around as well, and they all have their own obstacles to overcome, sacrifices to make, stuff to learn. Most of my work crosses literary lines in some way. I’m bitextual, and trangenre, I guess. And proud of it.
Kaye: Would you like to tell us a little about the series?
Barbara: Jaguar Addams and Alex Dzarny work on Prison Planetoid 3, which was established after a time of massive domestic violence known as The Killing Times. Now the worst criminals are sent to the Planetoid Prisons, where they’re run through programs that make them face the fears which drove their horrid crimes, based on the theory that all crime grows out of fear. Jaguar and Alex are both practitioners of the Empathic arts, and have some maxxed out psi capacities, which they use in their work.
Jaguar and Alex are alike in their dedication to the job, but they approach it differently. Jaguar runs with scissors, and colors way outside the lines. If Alex runs with scissors, he points them down. Both characters have close and complicated friendships with others who work on the Planetoids, and Jaguar has a ‘family’ in a Native American community in the Southwest. She’s an offshoot of a Mayan nation by heritage.
Each book is its own case, as in a detective series, but there is a larger arc along the way, which deals with Jaguar’s need to develop trust in intimacy, and Alex’s need to get a little more wild.
Kaye: Would you talk a little about the books that are published under Barbara Chepaitis, the ones that annnounce that you’re a girl and would probably most be classified as ‘women’s fiction’?
Barbara: I’ve got 3 under the ‘Barbara’ name:
Feeding Christine: “It was the season of Miracles in Teresa’s kitchen, and while none of the women particularly believed in miracles, neither did they think they’d be needing one. They were wrong.”
TERESA DI ROSA, owner of the thriving catering business Bread and Roses, makes the feeding of bodies and souls her life work. Now, with her niece CHRISTINE and her friends DELIA and AMBERLIN, she’s gearing up for the big event of the year – the annual Christmas open house. But as the party gets organized, her life is spinning out of control.
Her divorce is barely final, her son is spending Christmas with his father, and Christine seems to be losing her grip on sanity as she grieves the death of her mother, Teresa’s sister. The radical steps Teresa takes to rescue Christine shock everyone, but with her friends, Teresa feeds Christine a healthy dose of courage, wisdom and love.
These Dreams: Cricket Thompson’s routine life of husband, home, and family becomes a land of nightmare when an act of random violence leaves her daughter critically wounded. The crisis destroys her family, exposes her illusions and defies her belief in dreams. She seeks solace at the bird sanctuary where she volunteers, and learns that healing is a miracle of choice rather than chance.
Something Unpredictable: Just FYI – SOMETHING UNPREDICTABLE is based on a house that me and my husband actually tried to buy. There really is a circus house.
Delilah is 31, has no career to speak of, and is living at home with her hippie parents, and hanging on to a boyfriend who likes to photograph her naked in tubs of blue jello. Clearly, Delilah needs a plan.
Her sister is living the perfect life with the perfect husband, her father continues to make money off the stock market, and her mother continues to spend it on the latest social cause. Delilah would love to save the world as well if only it weren’t such an overwhelming task. She longs for inspiration. But she’s about to encounter some things she never predicted – a long-lost grandmother, Carla, who used to tame tigers with the circus; a 260 year old house with septic problems; an ex-fiancee; and a man named Jack – all of which will change her life forever.
Kaye: Food plays a central role in much of your women’s fiction. In fact, you might consider it a core theme for your books. Can you explain why this is, and why it’s important?
Barbara: Mmm. Foood. I’m a real foodie, and love to cook and play with my food. Perhaps because my mother’s family is Italian, I also understood from an early age that food is a language all its own, something we consume to learn about the land and its people and our relationship to all that. To me, cooking is similar to writing, and eating and reading are the way we enrich ourselves, body and soul.
Kaye: Why does symbolism play such a big role in your work?
Barbara: Symbolism? Actually, none of it is symbolism. It’s all experience and reflection on experience. If I write about a family violin that’s been lost and must be found, it’s because I know that music connects us across time with our ancestry. If I write about food, it’s because food speaks to us all the time.
Kaye: Children of the Land (Songs of the Mothers Book 1): This title screams women’s fantasy. I imagine a fantasy world laden with legends of yore. Would you like to tell me a little about this book?
Barbara: Children of the Land is actually the last novel in a series that I wrote which attempted to move across genres through each novel. It started with Children of the Gods, historical fiction with a contemporary twist, retelling the ancient history of the Haudonosaunee. Next was a near future novel titled Children of the World, which featured the descendants of the first novel as they approached the historical moment when biological immortality became possible. After that was Children of the Land, where the next round of descendants dealt with the political and world ramifications of that possibility in a fantasy novel.
When I talked to publishers about the series, they looked at me with something akin to terror. I swear their hair stood on end. It’s really the ultimate in transgenre, and couldn’t be handled by this market. Ultimately, I decided to go ahead with Children of the Land, which is indeed a fantasy novel, and worry about the others later. I have to say it was one of my favorite writing experiences ever. It really appealed to my love of language, and my love of the Heroine’s journey. It also allowed me to play with a lot of gods and goddesses from a variety of cultures, because part of the idea is that it’s time for them to return, and establish a closer relationship with humans, who are indeed the children of the land.
Here’s the synopsis:
Lord Aroc rules all, giving the gift of immortality only to his citizens. The balance between City and village has been preserved for a long age, but a change is at hand, signaled by the dancing of the Northern Lights. Now, a young woman’s choice to plant a small seed will determine world dominion, and the return of the gods.
That woman is Vareka, a Citizen working for Lord Aroc as Watcher for the villagers of Eryahsa. Such villagers live apart from the City, and are ultimately absorbed to feed the City’s energy. As heavy solar flares disrupt the City’s technology, the northern lights cause villagers to recall ancient stories of the Dreamers – spirit beings who would someday return. Then, an old man in Eryahsa tells Vareka she is inheritor of a task only she, daughter of a Dreamer and a Human, can complete.
She bears a locket handed down from mother to daughter for ages uncounted, and the seed it holds must be planted if the Dream is to continue.
She must choose her path, with no guarantee of success. Either she will take her friends on a perilous journey to find the place and time of planting, or she will accept Aroc’s rule, allowing him to remake the world, in his own image.
Kaye: Your fiction features strong female characters, and their strengths give them power. Where do you draw your characters from?
Barbara: For me, characters make themselves known in a very visceral way, speaking up inside me to tell me it’s time to tell their stories. Jaguar popped up when I was on the highway, and I had to pull over and make notes. I can still see her, sitting on the arm of her couch, in her apartment with its skulls and hanging herbs. She was smoking a cigarette, swinging her leg back and forth, and she said, “What you’ll do next is write me.”
Characters and their world, how they arise, where they come from, is a bit of a mystery to me, but I have noted that the best thing I can do is maintain an attitude of openness to their arrival. In fact, an attitude of openness in general. A kind of “Okay. I’m ready. Whaddya got?”
I’m sure that this attitude is assisted by the fact that I grew up with a horde of powerful and complicated women, but I can’t say that any one of them has become a particular character. Perhaps it’s just the flavor of their lives that gets put in the mix.
Kaye: So, would you say your stories are character driven?
Barbara: Yes, my stories are character driven. Characters, with all their complexities and eccentricities, create plot. They have something to say, and are blocked from saying it. Or they have something to hide and it’s revealed. Or they have something to BE, and are meeting obstacles in being that. Characters – human and animal – are at the heart of all plots, the heart of all interest, the heart of our hearts.
Kaye: They say the pen is mightier than the sword. What causes have you used your status as a writer to champion?
Barbara: I once helped a Navy SEAL and Army Ranger rescue a war-wounded eagle from Afghanistan, and that came about only because I’m a writer. I’ve also used my writing in any way I can to promote environmental causes. In fact, I’d love to do more of that.
You can get the full story on the war-wounded eagle in her book, Saving Eagle Mitch: One Good Deed in a Wicked World. Thank you for sharing with us today Barbara. You can learn more about Barbara Chepaitis and her works at the following links:
Goodreads Author Page (Barbara Chepaitis): https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/202062.Barbara_Chepaitis
Goodreads Author Page (B.A. Chepaitis): https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/841157.B_A_Chepaitis?from_search=true
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After writing an excerpt of Delilah for an assignment in grad school, I remember thinking, ‘this could be a book’. But I also remember thinking that a western by a female author probably wouldn’t sell. Women weren’t supposed to write westerns. After all, the western frontier was for rugged men. I knew there were women in the west, but I guessed that they weren’t protagonist material. Then, I wrote and published Delilah anyway. It was a story that wanted to be told. My character, Delilah spoke to me and the writing of the tale was too important for me to let the idea that it might not be a best seller stand in the way.
In the meantime, I was happy to learn that there are other female western authors out there. I’m pleased to have one as my guest today. Her books are set in the historical New Mexico landscape based on factual historical people and places. Western fiction author Loretta Miles Tollefson will share her thoughts on the matter of gender in the western genre and other aspects of writing and her books.
Please welcome Loretta Miles Tollefson.
Kaye: Would you share the story of your own publishing journey?
Loretta: When I was fifteen I won a writing contest in a Sunday School paper and that triggered a deep desire to continue to see my words in print. I published a couple more pieces in that same paper, then branched into short stories and poetry in my 20s and 30s. I had a few things published and received a co-publication offer for a novel. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the financial resources to follow up on that. I continued to write and had some poetry published in my 40s and early 50s. I self-published a couple novels in my mid-50s and then The Pain and the Sorrow was published by Sunstone Press in 2017. I was frustrated by the lack of opportunities to advertise a novel that had been traditionally published and went back to the self-pub route with Not Just Any Man.
Kaye: When did you know you wanted to be an author?
Loretta: I was 15 but, because I come from a very practical family, I chose to take the pragmatic approach of going into newspaper and magazine work instead of stepping into the uncertain waters of fiction. Eventually, I became a Special Projects Manager for a regional planning organization here in New Mexico, a job which utilized both my writing and research skills. I didn’t realize my dream of writing full time until I retired about five years ago.
Kaye: What is the most enjoyable part of writing westerns for you?
Loretta: For me, the most enjoyable part of writing is finding ways to bring the historical details, my characters’ personalities, and the storyline itself together. It’s like weaving a tapestry. And then there’s always the sudden inspiration that seems to come out of nowhere, when my characters seem to be telling me what they want to say. Although I, as the author, always have control, I’m sometimes surprised at where the story takes me.
Kaye: What is the biggest challenge of writing western fiction for you?
Loretta: I think my biggest challenge in writing historical fiction set in the West is feeling like I need to double check all the details. Even though I grew up on a small farm and we had horses and cows and chickens and hung the clothes on a line and pretty much all the rest of it, there’s a great deal I don’t remember or took for granted at the time. And, of course, I didn’t actually live in the early 1800s. I have to be careful not to assume certain ways of doing things or specific pieces of equipment were common back then. I’m always concerned that I’ll slip into an anachronism.
Kaye: You follow the old adage “write what you know”, setting your books in areas where you have lived and are familiar with, yet you must envision those settings in another time period. It seems perhaps your own setting acts as inspiration for your stories?
Loretta: It does. Very much so. I’ve lived in New Mexico almost thirty years and was fortunate enough to travel all over the state in connection with my job. Then, after I retired, we moved to Eagle Nest, New Mexico, on the northern end of the Moreno Valley. We lived there five years and that experience really brought together my love of history and my desire to write full time. There’s so much history here in New Mexico that I don’t think I will ever run out of ideas. We recently moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, and that will continue to inspire me and to provide me with great resources for my research.
Kaye: Your novel, Not Just Any Man, was recently released. Would you like to tell us a little about that book?
Loretta: Not Just Any Man is about a black mountain man in 1820s New Mexico named Gerald Locke, Jr. It’s an adventure story, as Gerald traps in Northern New Mexico and then joins a fur trapping expedition across the Arizona desert and up the Colorado River. The group includes Enoch Jones, the only mountain man in the West who seems to have an issue with Gerald’s skin color. Jones has a few other issues as well, and the conflict between the two men is a crucial plot element.
But this isn’t just an adventure story. Gerald has met a young woman in Taos who seems far above his station in life and he can’t stop thinking about her. Even if he can survive the Sangre de Cristo mountains, the Mohave Indians, and the arid rim of the Grand Canyon, as well as Enoch Jones, can Gerald prove to himself and the girl he loves that he is, after all, not just any man?
Kaye: Do you think western readers are more receptive to male protagonists?
Loretta: There certainly are a lot of male protagonists in the western genre. I think this is because the traditional Western initially reflected the cultural assumption that only men played an active role in events in the West. As we broaden our understanding of the historical West, both before and after the United States was the primary actor there, we’re realizing just how often women played critical roles on the frontier. Life was harsh. Any family that was going to survive needed everyone in it to be fully engaged. Women had to take on roles they hadn’t necessarily played before. If anything, I believe their experiences on the frontier helped to begin breaking down the barriers that we’re still disassembling today. As we do that, I suspect Western readers will become more and more receptive to all kinds of protagonists.
Kaye: You have wonderful covers with beautiful landscapes that cry out ‘western’! Where do you get your covers?
Loretta: Well, thank you! I’m glad you like them. I worry about my covers. Other than The Pain in the Sorrow, I’ve designed them all myself and created most of them using a combination of Publisher and Gimp. The pundits’ advice is to have someone else do them, but I tend to have very specific ideas about what I want, and I haven’t yet discovered anyone who can quite catch my vision.
Loretta: The Pain and the Sorrow was strongly inspired by New Mexico history. Its characters actually existed and the primary incidents in the story are based on historical artifacts.
The plot of Not Just Any Man is also strongly situated in actual events. While the protagonist and villain are both fictional, most of the mountain men in the novel, are based on actual people—Old Bill Williams, Milton Sublette, Ewing Young, etc.—and much of the story line is based on their first-hand accounts.
Kaye: The Pain and the Sorrow has historical basis, as do all your books as I understand it. And it’s obvious that you strive to make your details as accurate as possible. Do you weave the history into your stories or is it the New Mexico history that inspires the stories?
Kaye: The Pain and the Sorrow is based in New Mexico history and a historical figure of legend, but the story about your female protagonist. Not all of your novels have female protagonists though. Was the female protagonist easier to write since you have a natural female perspective?
Loretta: The Pain and the Sorrow was a very difficult story to tell because of the abuse my teenage protagonist suffers at the hands (and other body parts) of her husband. I think that writing Gregoria’s story may have been more difficult for me precisely because I am female. My emotions were very raw during the entire process. I might have found it easier to tell Gregoria’s story if I didn’t have a “natural female perspective” and felt less connection with her.
Kaye: Do you think it’s more difficult for a female to make it in the western genre than it is for male authors?
Loretta: I think it’s difficult for any author to break into any genre today, regardless of their gender. However, it seems to me that more women are writing Western-style stories and getting them published than has been true in the past. For example, of the fourteen authors showcased in Five Star Publishing’s recent The Trading Post and other stories, four or five are women. In early December 2018, the twenty top-sellers in Amazon’s Western category included at least two women. There may have been more, publishing under a male pseudonym. We’ll really know that women have made it in western fiction when no one finds it necessary to use a male, or male-sounding, pen name when they do so.
Kaye: My publisher slapped Delilah into the romance category, listing it as a frontier romance. While there is a romantic element to the story, I didn’t make it the major focus of the story. I guess they thought it was more marketable as a romance, and I do think that because my protagonist is female, the book might have a stronger appeal to a female audience. Do you think western readers are more receptive to stories with a male protagonist?
Loretta: That’s hilarious. I really liked Delilah and I enjoyed the romance element in it, but classifying it as a frontier romance seems to me to diminish its marketing potential. I never search for frontier romance. As a result, I would have missed Delilah entirely if that’s the only place it could be found. I feel strongly that the current way the market is being sliced into finer and finer categories does us all — readers and writers alike — a disservice because it makes it more difficult to find the well-written, well-conceived books like Delilah that transcend easy categorization.
Kaye: Do you feel that it is harder for women authors to be taken seriously in the western genre?
Loretta: To a certain extent, this may be true. After all, as I mentioned above, some women authors of Westerns apparently feel that it’s necessary to use pseudonyms to obscure their gender. But I think that as we persist, this will become less and less of an issue.
Kaye: You are also a poet and you have out several poetry books. Would you talk a little about what inspires your poetry?
Loretta: My poetry is very personal, especially But Still My Child, which contains the poems I wrote after a miscarriage over thirty years ago. The poems I wrote during that time and afterwards helped me process that grief and I hope publishing them will support others in that same process.
My other volumes of poetry were the result of an attempt to blend my interest in poetry with my love of story. For historical stories, now that I think of it. The poems in But Then Moses Was There and Mary At The Cross try to get inside the heads of Biblical characters to express what living their experiences might have felt like.
Kaye: You’ve also written other non-western novels. What other genres do you write in?
Loretta: I’ve written an urban fiction about coming of age/homelessness in 1980s Seattle and a chick lit novel about a New Mexico couple who wins the lottery. I’m not working in either of those genres now. I’m focusing my energies exclusively on historical fiction set in Old New Mexico.
That focus on historical fiction has also resulted in two short story collections set in New Mexico: Valley of the Eagles and Old One Eye Pete. Valley is a collection of micro-fiction. The stories are all 500 words or less. Old One Eye Pete contains longer pieces, with stories featuring the mountain man Old One Eye Pete acting as the narrative thread.
Kaye: What is the working title of your next book?
Loretta: It’s called Not My Father’s House. It’s a sequel to Not Just Any Man and (spoiler alert!) focuses on Suzanna’s struggle to adapt to living high in New Mexico’s Sangre de Cristo mountains. I’ve just finished the second draft, so it should be out by the middle of 2019.
Kaye: Besides writing, what are your favorite things to do?
Loretta: I research material for my upcoming books — or at least I tell myself it’s for my upcoming books. Hah! And I read fiction: historical, mystery, suspense, Westerns, and pretty much anything else that looks interesting to me at the moment. I review most of everything that I read, unless it has 100 reviews or more. I would love to review more historical fiction set in 1800s New Mexico and Southern Colorado, since Southern Colorado was part of New Mexico at one time.
Kaye: Would you tell us a little about your blog? What will readers find there if they visit?
Loretta: My blog is at http://www.LorettaMilesTollefson.com. About once a week, I post a short piece about a historical event or a flash fiction story set in Old New Mexico, which I define as anything prior to statehood in 1912. The site also includes news about, and links to, my books.
Kaye: Which author or poet, dead or alive, would you love to have lunch with?
Loretta: I have so many favorites. This is a hard question to answer. I think right now, given the work I’m doing, the person I would most like to have lunch with would be Paulette Jiles. I really enjoyed her News Of The World and the way she brought actual events to life in that book.
Kaye: What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
Loretta: I read and explore the region with my husband. Ultimately, it’s all research.
Kaye: Is there anything unique or unusual about your writing process?
Loretta: My writing process consists of writing the first draft, letting it sit a month, revising, letting it sit a month or so, then revising again until I feel it’s really ready. This process seems to be becoming more unusual in today’s fast-paced writing environment.
Kaye: How much non-writing work, (research, marketing & promotion, illustrations & book covers, etc…), do you do yourself for your books?
Loretta: At the moment, I’m doing all my own research, marketing, promotion, book covers, and so forth. I’m stretching myself pretty thin with all these different activities, but doing it all gives me a lot of control. I may have to start farming some of the non-writing work out as I move along in my journey.
Kaye: If your book was made into a film, who would you like to play the lead?
Loretta: To tell you the truth, I watch so little television and so few movies these days, that I’m not sure who would be the best actor to play Gerald or Susanna in a movie based on Not Just Any Man or Gregoria or Charles Kennedy in The Pain And The Sorrow. I’d love some input from your readers on this question.
Kaye: I can and will reach out to readers for input on who should play your leads were your story made film, but now you have to answer another question: Since many of my readers may not have read your books, can you tell us what characteristics these characters would have so they can better imagine who would be a good fit?
Gerald: square forehead, gray eyes. Half black/half Irish. Late 20s.
Suzanna: slim, tall for a woman (about Gerald’s height). long black hair, dark brown eyes. Half anglo (WASP), a quarter french, a quarter Navajo. About 16.
Alright readers. Here’s your chance be heard. Who do you think would be good for the roles of Gerald and Suzanna? Please comment with your suggestions. Loretta and I would both love to hear the possibilities.
Kaye: What advice do you have for aspiring authors?
Loretta: In a nutshell: read, revise, revise again.
If you plan to write fiction, read fiction. Especially classic fiction: Hemingway, Steinbeck, Austen, Dickens, and so forth. Also, read contemporary fiction, and not just books in your genre. Some of my favorite authors right now are Louise Penny and Donna Leon. They teach me pacing and character development. I’m especially fascinated by the way their protagonists develop over the course of the series. Everything’s research, even the books you don’t like. And don’t be afraid to express your opinions and trust your instincts. It’s okay to not like a book even if everyone else is saying how wonderful it is.
Most of all, revise! As Anton Chekhov said, “rewrite everything five times.” Well, maybe not that many, but you see what I mean. I would add “but not immediately” to that advice. Take the time to let your work rest, and then go back and look at it again. When you start changing sentences back to the way you had them in a previous version, that’s when you should stop. But not until then.
Revise it, let it rest, then revise it again. There’s a popular saying that “Perfection is the enemy of done.” I am uncomfortable with that statement. While no work is going to be absolutely perfect, rushing to publication is the enemy of quality work. Try to get your story as well-written as possible. Producing quality work is what will keep your readers coming back for more.
I want to thank Loretta for joining us today and sharing a glimpse into the world of western writing from a female author’s perspective. I have admired her work since I reviewed The Pain and the Sorrow last May, and it’s a thrill to have the privelage of interviewing her. It’s a real treat to hear from another female author in the world of western fiction.
I have the pleasure today of interviewing romance author Alexandra Forry, whose latest novelette, Deepest Elements is scheduled for release on November 17. Alexandra is a lovely young author who writes her stories in spite of being afflicted with cerebral palsy. She’s agreed to share with us today a glimpse into her life and a little about her books. Please help me welcome Alexandra Forry.
Kaye: You have written in multiple genres and formats, but you are primarily a romance author. Why romance?
Alexandra: I’m hopelessly romantic, from way back. I loved a good romance that ends not happy with the man rides off in the sunset with his soul mate. I love forbidden romance the most. I write real-to-life romance because I think people can relate to it more than a fairytale romance. There is sometime about witting romance that fulfills my soul like I meant to be a romance author. If you get what I mean. Thank for asking this question, it really makes me think. No one has asked me this before you, Kaye.
Kaye: On October 12, 2014, you promoted your work at a ladies tea at Louisa Voisine’s Showroom in Las Vegas NV. How did you manage to get an invite for this opportunity? Do you feel it was successful? In what ways?
Alexandra: That was the best promoting event I’ve been to and it was very successful in every way. I met Ms. Senior United States of 2018, while I was there. I was purely a fairytale afternoon!!!
Louisa Voisine Millinery is a award winning famous Hat and Fashion Designer. Her designs are like a work of art. Louisa’s hat’s are Kentucky Derby Winning Design, Emmy Awards featured designer Pre-Emmy Event. I encourage you to check her website out!!! I had the honor to meet Louisa at Mob-Con back in 2014 and became good friends.
Mob-Con was a 3-day event Meet Real Mobsters and the Lawmen who put ’em away, with speakers and the authors like myself selling their books. Not to add, it’s not every day you get to see Mobsters, FBI, CIA news reporters and true crime authors in one ballroom talking about the good old days, acting like old friends.
Sorry to get off track. Louisa was there selling her hat’s at Mob-con and we got to talking a bit. After Mob-Con I got a Facebook message from her inviting me to sell all of my books at her high tea. Also, she’d give me two invites so I could bring whomever I wanted. I chose to take my dear and beloved Grandma. We always wanted to get all dressed up and go to a high tea. I shall never forget that tea because it really was truly made one of my grandma’s dreams come true.
Kaye: What writing groups are do you hold membership in? Would you recommend that other authors join similar writing organizations? Why or why not? What are the benefits for you?
Alexandra: I’ve got to tell you the truth. I need to re-join RWA. A few years I got out of the whole writing scène because of personal reasons but now I am back. A fellow author and friend told me this when I was first starting out he told me to join real writing groups to be taken seriously and make contact and friends. He was right. Now I’m apart of a top Authors Dinner Group in Washington, D. C. They help me out hugely. In the writer’s business, it’s whom you know. I got damn lucky at age 23!
Kaye: What can you tell us about your children’s books?
Alexandra: The Troop 740 books were based on my own Girl Scouts experience. In fact, I had a tycoon Girl Scout leader, let’s call him LL, when I lived in Portland Oregon. LL rented out a major radio station for us be on the radio, and once rented out a delta airlines aircraft for us to view what first class and the airplane cockpit look like. LL even flew in fresh flowers from Hawaii for us to learn about. I want to make my book’s leader a man, but in today’s age I didn’t want to take a gamble on it, so the leader is a woman. I hope to go on more adventure’s with Troop 470, someday! 😉
Kaye: In spite of many obstacles which life has placed in your path, you have overcome them and reached for your dream of being an author. The Omerta Affair was your debut novel. How did it feel when that book was published and you could finally say, “I made it! I’m a published author?
Alexandra: Oh hell YES!!!, I was jumping with over joy, tears of joy. It was a super amazing, wonderful feeling “I really did, I’m a published author.” It’s all began on my 22 birthday, I went to the newly open Mob Museum and to my shock, Frank Cuttolla was there signing his book. I meet him and told him that I want to be a Mafia-Romance and he told me that if I need help just let him know. I said okay thinking he has better things to do than helping me a young CP girl at the time. I found him on Facebook weeks later and we began to talk, he always inviting me to this and that. I base my fist book “Omerta Affair” off on Tony Spilotro’s reign as The Las Vegas Mafia Boss, in the 1970s. He had it all, running the Crime underworld. He could have any woman he wanted in Las Vegas, instead, he became romantically Geri Rosenthal. At first, it was a Casino’s FanFic to the 1995 move, that I was witting and putting online for free, but my family and friend told me it was way too good to be a FanFic. After I was done with my book Frank hooked me up with some people and that how my book came to be. Now he’s Uncle Frank to me. ❤
Kaye: One of the obstacles you’ve had to overcome is Cerebral Palsy, and you haven’t let it stop you from doing what you love. Have you given any of your characters disabilities to overcome?
Alexandra: YES! I really hope to write a romance that the leading woman has CP and falls in love. It makes me mad that there no disabilities romance books. Like we are still people with romantic feelings. People beg me to write my life story, I tried and give all my might, but I stopped writing it because I was up to a painful point in my life that I don’t care to remember. Sorry it’s the way I feel. Who knows maybe someday I will finish it.
Kaye: What challenges does cerebral palsy pose for you as a writer specifically?
Alexandra: I use up 3 to 5 times the amount of energy that people use without
Cerebral Palsy. My muscle spasms sometimes act up and slow down my typing.
Other than that, it doesn’t present any challenges to my thinking process
about my storytelling. I have CP but CP dose NOT have me! 🙂
Kaye: Timeless Omerta: With Beauty Comes Danger is the follow-up for that first book. It’s kind of a sequel, but not, and it launched you into the world of romance authors. Can you talk a little about the differences in the two books?
Alexandra: TIMELESS OMERTA Is a lighter version of Omerta Affair. After Omerta Affair came out for sale, a few months went by, I began to wonder what if I took out the harsh, colorful language making the story’s main love scene more romantic. With that idea, why not rename it something that a woman would really want to pick up to read when they saw it. I’ve re-titled it TIMELESS OMERTA. Making it more for women.
Kaye: Why did you choose to write Pit Boss: A Screenplay as a screenplay, rather than a novel? Why did you feel it was a better fit for the screenplay format? Do you have other screenwriting experience?
Alexandra: Pit Boss: A Screenplay was the very first writing piece that I’ve completed. Back in July 2011, my birth father passes away from stage 4 cancer. He didn’t catch it before it was way too late. I was very devastated by his fast death.
I bought a book and a screenwriting program on how to write a screenplay because I needed something that I never done before to take my mind off of my father’s death. I’ve locked myself in my room (in a way) for a month to learn and wrote “Pit Boss”
In 2016, I felt that I wanted to publish it, even if I didn’t make a penny for it. Just to showcase my work. Then with help with a ghostwriter, I turned the Pit book into a novel.
Kaye: Besides writing, what are your favorite things to do?
Alexandra: Every night, I love to sit down and relax in my chair (my comfort zone) watching a movie with my dad. That’s is my favorite part of the day> I love coloring, I have a lot of adult coloring books. 😉 I enjoy listing to audiobooks. walking outside, having a blast with my group of friends here in Williamsburg.
Kaye: What time of day do you prefer to do your writing? Why?
Alexandra: I don’t have a time that I prefer to write. When I start writing, I can go until I am wiped out. LOL 😉
Kaye: What is the biggest challenge of being a writer for you?
Alexandra: My spelling and grammar for sure. Being slow at typing, I can’t type 1,000 words a day, I wish. The biggest thing is that I get writers’ block or I lose interest in my writing and stop. I need to find a way to fix that.
Kaye: What is the one thing in your writing career that is the most unusual or unique thing you’ve done so far?
Alexandra: Okay, so one of my friends once dared me to write a very XXX romantic, erotic, sex scene! Let’s just say that I blew him out the water when he read it. Ha, ha, ha!
Kaye: Your book, Deepest Elements is scheduled for release on November 17. Can you tell us a little about it?
Alexandra: To my astonishment, all of the Beta and Test reads really love it! Saying that Deepest Elements is worth your time. Truth be told, I haven’t felt this way about one of my books coming out since Omerta Affair. I had this book idea tucked away in my mind since I was a teenager in high school!!! Have to tell you, that this book will be a kick off for a big series set, to be called Deepest Elements Series!
Here’s a brief synopsis:
My worst fear was those woods; my greatest fear had once been him.
She was an innocent, heading for her illustrious private boarding school in the best tradition of the grandmother who raised her, and with the blessing of the father who adored her. Forsaken by her mother soon after birth, she had made lifelong friends in a protective, privileged,Portland society.
Arriving in Radcliffe Heights, Rhode Island, freshman Peony “Poppy” Calloway admired the picturesque small town. But deep in the shadows of the woods near Blue Bell Boarding School, and along its hallowed halls, lurked illicit sex, murder, and harrowing danger.
Seduced by Jordon Dashwood, the handsome, blue-eyed, white blonde Headmaster, Poppy enters a world of love, ecstasy, heartbreak, betrayal, and death.
“Deepest Elements” is by the well-known author of “Wildflower,” Alexandra Forry.
Thank you so much for reading my in-depth interview. Also, thank you so very much, Kaye, for having me on your wonderful blog Today! Best wishes, Alexandra!
I want to thank you Alexandra, for sharing with us today. It’s been a pleasure learning abouot your books and the challenges you face in creating them.
Readers can learn more about Alexandra and her books here:
Facebook Author page: https://www.facebook.com/cpgalauthor/?hc_location=group
Don’t forget, Deepest Elements is scheduled for release on November 17, so be sure and grab your copy.
I have the pleasure of interviewing independent author Brenda Mohammed today. She is not only a multi-genre author, but a multi-award winning author, who seems to dabble in a bit of everything. She comes from a background in finance, but became an author when she wrote a memoir about her battle with ovarian cancer. Since then, she’s written several other memoirs, as well as a science fiction series, a horror novel and a crime novel, as well as a wonderful self-help book for aspiring authors. She has done so much, and made so many travels, and I’m thrilled to have her share all that with us here, on Writing to be Read. Please give a warm welcome to Brenda Mohammed.
Kaye: When did you know you wanted to be an author?
Brenda: I never planned to be an author. I was a successful Bank Manager for many years. After I retired from the Bank at an early age, I became an Insurance Professional. I loved working in Finance and helping many people achieve their financial goals. In 2005 I was stricken with ovarian cancer. My doctor in Trinidad told me that she could not help me, and no other doctor in Trinidad at that time was qualified to do so. I sought treatment in Miami and gained a new lease on life. In 2013 I wrote a book about my cancer ordeal and recovery, I am Cancer Free. That was my first book and I have never stopped writing after that. To date I have written nineteen books.
Kaye: You’ve written 6 memoirs, 2 children’s books, a science fiction series, a crime novel, and a nonfiction book on writing. What’s the secret to tackling so many different genres?
Brenda: There really is no secret to writing in multiple genres. I have always loved a challenge and constantly seek out new opportunities. I write whatever I feel passionate about.
Kaye: You have written books in multiple genres: science fiction, memoir, self-help, etc… What are some of the differences you run into in writing different genres?
Brenda: When I am writing science fiction I maintain my focus on science fiction, and similarly with the other genres. The secret is to stay focused on the plot or the subject to achieve the end result. However, the problem I faced was in promoting my books.
I discovered a way around that and made Facebook Author pages for each genre. I have seven Facebook author pages. I also joined several Facebook groups that specialise in genres in which I write, to promote my books.
Kaye: Which genre is your favorite to write in? Why?
Brenda: I really enjoyed writing my science fiction series because it took me to another world for a while. When I wrote it I found myself becoming the hero or heroine and doing impossible things.
Kaye: You won a Readers’ Favorite Award in the 2018 International Book Awards for both your YA science fiction series Zeeka Chronicles,and your memoir I Am Cancer Free. What, if anything do these two books have in common besides both being Reader’s Favorite Book Award recipients? What makes them award winning books?
Brenda: Strange. I think I just answered that question above. The books have nothing in common yet there is a common thread. One is a futuristic thriller and the other is a survival story. As I said above when writing science fiction. i.e. Zeeka Chronicles, I found myself becoming the hero or heroine. In I am Cancer Free I am the heroine.
Seriously though, I quote from Readers Favorite: “Contest entries are judged all year long and are given a rating score based on key literary elements. The judges simply read the book and score it based on its merits.”
Kaye: Those are not the only award winning books you’ve written. Two other memoirs, My Life as a Banker received a second place award in memoirs in the Metamorph Publishing’s Summer Indie Book Awards in 2016 and Your Time is Now received IHIBRP 5 Star Recommended Read Award Badge. What can you tell us about those two books?
Brenda: My Life as a Banker is a memoir about my life in Banking. Banking was my first love. I always wanted to work in a bank. I love serving and helping people and seeing them prosper. Banking gave me the opportunity to do so and especially when I climbed the ranks to Commercial Area Credit Manager and was able to help business people with startups and expansion. Banking allowed me to play my part in building the economy of my native country, Trinidad.
Your Time is Now is intended to help people understand their own lives and to realize that we are all here on earth for a purpose.
The reviews for both these books speak a lot for them.
Kaye: What is it like to receive notification that your book is the recipient of a prestigious award?
Brenda: I have won many awards before in both Banking and Insurance.in my home country
However, as this was an International Award it was a most joyous feeling to tell my friends and family that I won two prestigious awards with Readers Favorite International and will be attending the Awards Ceremony in Miami. In November.
Kaye: What’s something most readers would never guess about you?
Brenda: I dabble in art, poetry, and graphics in my spare time. Some of my art work hang on the walls of my home.
Kaye: What time of day do you prefer to do your writing? Why?
Brenda: I prefer to write in the still of the night. When everyone is asleep I find peace to think and write.
Kaye: What is the biggest challenge of being a writer?
Brenda: Only a few days ago I penned this poem about writing:
Writing takes me into a fantasy world.
Sometimes I find myself in a black hole.
I edit and fight to come out of it
But not before I get into a fit.
My books have gathered great reviews
Won awards and made the news.
Is it worth it, I sometimes ask?
Writing a book is a great task.
A writer’s life is a rather lonely one.
All day behind a computer is no fun.
An author must make the time
Read others’ books and go out and lime.
Do not sit at your computer all day.
Join the family in travel and play
Love of a family is life’s greatest gift
When you need to relax they give you a lift.
Kaye: Is there anything unique or unusual about your writing process?
Brenda: Before writing a story I write an outline of the entire plot in a couple of pages. I then use that to build my story. It sounds simple, but it is not.
Kaye: Your book on writing is titled How to Write for Success: Best Writing Advice I Received. Can you briefly share what the best writing advice you ever received really was? What is the main message of this book?
Brenda: The Best Writing Advice I Received was “Keep the Reader in mind when writing. In other words write for the reader and your books will sell.”
To answer the second part of the question I will quote one of the five-star reviews. The one from Readers Favorite is too long so I will share this one from an Amazon Reviewer:
“Having read a couple of Mohammed’s books, I knew I wouldn’t be disappointed in this self-help book, and I was not. The book covers not only the gamut on the art of writing, but the formulation of an idea for a book, to proofreading, and eventual marketing of his/her book. This is an excellent book for anyone who finds him/herself contemplating becoming a writer. With Mohammed’s book in hand, there should be little, if any, room for error. I highly recommend.”
Kaye: You like to travel. Do the places you travel end up in your books?
Brenda: Yes they do and they did. I wrote Travel Memoirs with Pictures: Exploring the world. It is an illustrated picture book filled with reflections of my travels around the world.
In this pictorial travel book of my priceless memories, I describe places visited and the wonderful times I and my family had in our tourist trips. The book is great to read while on a vacation or for some travel inspiration.
I want to thank Brenda Mohammed for joining us here today and sharing a little about her lovely books. You can learn more about Brenda and her books on Amazon at: http://Author.to/BCM786. I love how she turned her own life experiences into books to be shared by all.
I recently made the acquaintance of the energetic, sassy author, R.A. Winter. She writes in several genres, including fantasy, magical realism, dark fantasy, , time travel romance, contemporary Native American romance, and paranormal Native American western. And it seems she never rests when it comes to writing. Please help me to welcome R.A. Winter to Writing to be Read.
Kaye: Hello and welcome. Would you start by sharing the story of your own publishing journey?
R.A.: I started out writing genealogy nonfiction books under my married name. I love research and old libraries! I also love reading romances. With so many ideas flirting around my head, I thought I’d give creative writing a go.
Kaye: Is there anything unique or unusual about your writing process?
R.A.: I write the raunchiest first draft, the humor is way over the top. Then I cut it down, and my crit circle cuts it down further. My editor slices more. They say that a bit of humor goes a long way.
Kaye: You have sites on both WordPress and Wix. Can you give us the advantages and disadvantages of each? Which site do you prefer? Why?
R.A.: Wix is easier to deal with, super simple to navigate and change. WordPress is a bit of a pickle to deal with, and every time I change something, I mess up the page. I do prefer WordPress because I can easily share review and pages on a whim. Wix doesn’t give you that option.
Kaye: You’re on the review team at The Naked Reviewers, where authors can submit a book and request an honest review. Would you like to tell us a little about that site and what the review process is?
R.A.: We have a group of published author on Scribophile.com who formed the group. Right now, I think there is twelve of us. When someone submits a book, we all read the first chapter, the ‘look inside’ feature on Amazon. Then we rate the writing, the blurb, and the cover. If two of us agree, we review the book. Each Wednesday, two of us leave our review as a feature, if anyone else read it, they leave their thoughts in the ‘comment’ section. It does mean that most books that we review get a 4.0 or higher rating, usually. We wanted to show off the best books.
R.A.: I ordered products from Amazon.com. A coffee grinder, a milk frother, and a small coffee taper, they just happened to be from the same company in China. Now, I review every product I receive, but when I went to upload my reviews, Amazon wouldn’t allow it. After contacting them, they said that I had a ‘relationship’ with the company in China and that I’d violated their terms. Apparently, I ordered too many things from them. I just don’t understand. They ask you to review, you review… then they’re like… you review too much! They banned me for LIFE for writing any reviews.
My point to them was- IF I was screwing reviews, wouldn’t my books have like 300 hundred reviews instead of each of them having less then 10? I mean seriously. THAT’S what would have benefited me!
Kaye: What is one thing that your readers would never guess about you?
R.A.: I have five children… all boys. I’ve lived in 5 different countries too. I don’t know which one was harder to live through. And all my boys look like my husband.
Kaye: What are your secrets for juggling writing with family?
R.A.: My kids are older, so they don’t need me. I like to write at night, when the house is quiet and no one interrupts. My earbuds are essential, and a song list that corresponds to my writing mood.
Kaye: You have some really great covers, some of which you’ve shared here. What do you do for cover art? DIY, or hired out, or cookie cutter prefab? Do you have a great cover designer you’d like to recommend?
R.A.: Some are creations of Kayci Morgan, from KreativeCovers.com. A few I did myself, which you can probably tell. Kayci is wonderful to work with and very reasonable. I am learning Photoshop and I’m doing my own teasers. I’m getting better but I just don’t have the finesse to do covers well.
Kaye: You have a paranormal romance fantasy novella, Twisted, which I’m excited to be reviewing here on Writing to be Read. (So watch for that review on Friday.) What can you tell us about that story?
R.A.: Twisted is a novella, and one of the hardest things I’ve
It’s a Freaky-Friday, body switching piece… full of adult humor. A witch’s land is cursed. Males are no longer born to the vampires, nor are females born to the wolves. To end the curse, the witch must solve a riddle, and she has to have the cooperation of the vampires and the werewolves.
Kaye: What is the strangest inspiration for a story you’ve ever had?
R.A.: My Spirit Key series was a way to keep my cat alive in my memories. He’d just past away, and Dingle had the oddest personality for a cat. He always reminded me of an old man, you know the one. The spunky old guy in the nursing home who’s constantly bugging the pretty nurses and running behind them with his walker, never able to catch them. Occasionally, he’d pinch their behinds, but act like he didn’t do it. I taught Dingle how to wink, but usually he had this grumpy look on his face. He used to love to jump out and scare me, then give me that ugh, you’re-stupid-to-fall-for-that-again look. He’s now a ten-thousand year old spirit who has a bit of trickster in him.
Kaye: Your Spirit Key series are westerns with a bit of a different twist to them. Would you like to tell us about them?
R.A.: Contemporary Native American’s in a western setting with magical realism is the gist of the Spirit Key Series. In book 1, we follow young Sara, as the ghosts of ancestors haunt her days and try to keep her away from young RedHorse. There’s a new spirit in town, a nefarious one who has his own agenda. The Old One wants the land for the dead and he’ll do anything to have it, including taking away what Sara loves most.
Kaye: There are two books in The Spirit Key series: Painted Girl and Redhorse. What type of research did you do for these books?
R.A.: The first two book are contemporary, set in modern day Kansas on a farm. Books 3 and 4 (which are almost finished) go back to 1950, and we delve into Grandfather’s life, and that of the ten-thousand year old spirit who watches over them. My research centered on the old Indian Schools, and the horrors that the children underwent. It’s all to stop the spirits from invading this world, and to give grandfather his happy ending. The Native American research is from my family.
Kaye: You also write contemporary romance with a Native American twist. What about Little Sparrow, A Kiowa in Love or Red Dress, Two Wives?
R.A.: Those were my early books. I’ve taken the ebooks down, and now I’m writing those into the Spirit Key Series. Everyone is related, so it made sense to do that. I kept the hard copies up because a few people really liked them the way they were. My writing evolved, and I thought those two would be great as part of the Spirit Key Series with some rework.
Kaye: What is the attraction for adding a Native American element to your writing?
R.A.: Two fold. My grandmother was ‘found’. It was assumed that she was Native American. This was in the 1880’s, a time when the tribes had to travel west and were forced onto reservations. Our family farm was near one of the routes and my grandfather brought home a baby girl one day, saying that he’d found her. My cousins are Sioux. I barely remember the eldest two girls but I do remember their beauty. One day, when I was only six years old, they disappeared. Just up and gone. Our family went nuts, as you can imagine. It wasn’t until twelve years later that we learned that they had been taken west to different orphanages and divided up. (This was the early ’70’s when the government still took NA children on a whim.) Anyway, my stories revolve around finding your identity when you don’t know who you are, when you have no memories of your family. My Native American family is rooted by my life stories. You know that you’re different, but you feel the same as everyone else. You just have to find your own special, because it’s there, you don’t have to go looking for it. It just may be hiding in plain sight.
Kaye: I’m also very interested in your time travel romances, As Long As I Have You and Always With You. What can you share with us about them?
R.A.: These were part of an anthology, and part of a series inside the anthology. The rules are simple, Cupid owns a bar, and his mate has a special tattoo that glows when soul mates are touched. In book 1, Ann Paolo comes to the bar with her dog. Unbeknownst to her, the dog, Han, is the spirit of a long dead Native American, who has been cursed to follow Ann through time, always to love her, and be loved, but never to be with her. Cupid sends them back in time, so Han can erase his curse. In book 2, Ann’s back, because so many lifetimes couldn’t be rewritten. This time, Cupid calls on the fates to bring Han to life in this day and time. The fates have a bit of trouble writing him into time-line, so they turn to Netflix for ideas. Han is now, Dan Winchesty, from the TV show Super-Unnatural Killers and Revealers Suckers for short. You know, Dan Winchesty- the one with the perky nipples? It’s a spoof on Supernatural, and I think it’s hilarious, but that’s just my opinion.
Kaye: What is your favorite genre to write in so far? Why?
R.A.: I love magical realism and fantasy. Creating my own world, and rules, takes a lot of thought and design. You just can’t pop something on paper, it has to make sense, have rules, have life, and you have to bring a reader into your world and make them happy.
Kaye: How much non-writing work, (marketing & promotion, illustrations & book covers, etc…), do you do yourself for your books?
R.A.: I do all my own marketing, which isn’t much. Word of mouth is my best friend, because lets face it, my works are different. I just had a review from a guy, who said that someone at work bullied him into reading it and he loved it, even with the romance in the book. I think that was a compliment.
Kaye: If one of your books was made into a film, which book would you want it to be? And who would you like to play the lead?
R.A.: Hmm, I’d love the Spirit Key to be a series on Netflix, but for a movie, I’d chose Twisted. Sam Witwer and Meaghan Rath. They had great chemistry in Being Human. Now, however, Meaghan would be a vampire, and Sam would be a wolf.
Kaye: What’s next? What does the future look like for R.A, Winter?
R.A.: Oh, I have at least six books in various stages of completion. Twisted will be turned
into a series, readers have asked for that. I’m also writing a series about Death Takers
coming alive and finding love. It’s a dark romance series that takes the reader on a
journey to Tartarus and the bowels of hell. Book 1 is finished, book 2 is halfway. Once
book 2 is ready I’ll publish.
Kaye: If writing suddenly made you rich and famous, what would you do?
R.A.: I’ve done a lot of things on my bucket list. I’ve traveled the world, lived in five different countries and enjoyed most of my life. If I had a lot of money, I’d pay off my family’s student loans. Right now, it’s around 200k, and I’m serious. It would be life changing for them to pay off their debts. BTW, I have one family member, with 100k debt who graduated from Pitt with a bachelor’s in psychology. Anyone have any job prospects for him? E-mail me.
I want to thank R.A. Winter for joining us today and putting up with my interrogation. Seriously though, she was really a good sport about answering all of my questions with open, honest answers. You can find out more about her and her writing on her website, her Spirit Keys site, or her Amazon Author Page.