Wow, that’s a challenging question, and one with many answers that have shifted over time.
When I first started writing, my goal was to publish commercial fiction. I started writing decades before I published anything, working on novels and short stories. Thankfully, they never saw the light of day! I attended workshops and conferences, and joined writers’ groups. I wanted to learn about the business of publishing, as well as how to improve my fiction writing skills. I read and read and read. When attending a workshop in 2006, I came up with the idea for mystery, using the themes in the book I’d been working on (families, adoption, relationships).
With this kernel of an idea, I felt that I’d surpassed a hurdle. I thought I had something that people might actually want to read! A character and a compelling social topic. Most importantly, my idea was within my grasp as a writer. I felt I could be successful.
I went to work, sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph, chapter by chapter. It took years. When I had my first draft, I felt successful. When I received comments from early readers and my writing coach, I felt like I was on the right track. And, when Due Date was accepted by a publisher and published in 2012, I felt like I’d reached my goals.
But my goals for success then shifted. I decided that if at least one person I didn’t know read my book, I’d consider that a success. (Of course, it would be all the better if they liked it.) After that happened, I decided that if ten or twenty people I didn’t know read it, I’d consider that a success. And now, almost seven years after the first edition of Due Date was published, I feel like the book has been a success. I have a lovely number of happy readers on Amazon and Goodreads. I can’t help but get a lift when I think of that.
Now, my measure of success is a bit different. Naturally, I want readers to discover the Shelby McDougall series and enjoy the books. But I also want readers to think about the cultural and social issues I raise in the books. I hope that the issues are so compelling that it will get readers thinking — enough so that readers will spread the word and talk about these issues with their friends, in their book clubs, on Goodreads and Amazon, and over dinner and cups of coffee.
Who knows though? By the time the third book in the series is available, my measure of success may have shifted yet again! At that point, I’ll have to check back in!
How did you choose the subject for this story?
Originally, this story was not in the mystery genre at all. It was women’s fiction, and was a story about the relationship between a birth mother and the adoptive parents. However, it was clunky and slow and not so interesting! In a brainstorming session at a conference I attended around the time I was trying to figure out what to do with this uninspiring manuscript, someone suggested I turn it into a mystery.
I never thought I’d be able to write a mystery, what with clues and tension and plot twists, but I decided to give it a try. I am forever indebted to the woman at the conference for the idea and to the larger group for helping me develop the 250-word book blurb that same day. Once I chose the subject and genre, I started reading mysteries and thrillers. I got hooked, and to this day, mysteries and thrillers are my genre of choice.
In Due Date, the main character is in a very unusual situation for a protagonist. What prompted this choice for the character?
I found that making the protagonist a surrogate mom put her in a very precarious, vulnerable situation, which worked well to build tension in the story. She was also isolated, both physically and emotionally. The beginning of Due Date finds Shelby, the protagonist, moving from her brother’s home in Santa Cruz to a cottage on the intended parents’ estate in the Santa Cruz mountains. She has no car and is often alone.
A few months later in the story, she develops hypertension and is on bed rest. Shelby moved to the Santa Cruz area for the term of the surrogacy and has no friends. She’s estranged from her parents, and over the course of the book, becomes somewhat estranged from her brother. Her isolation causes her to make choices she might not have made otherwise.
What was the hardest section of Due Date to write? Why was it more difficult?
The hardest sections to write were the violent scenes, both emotionally and logistically. I have a hard time with my characters getting pummeled! It’s also challenging to figure the logistics of a fight, how to make all the actions taken by all the characters fit together in a seamless thread of action.
Occasionally, I found myself walking through the actions in my office: She’s running, in the dark, in clogs; how does her weight shift from one side of her body to the other? What’s she doing with her hands for balance? What happens when she makes contact with her enemy? And how does that feel when you’re pregnant with twins?!
Conversely, what was the easiest section to write and why?
The easiest and most fun sections for me to write are when my character is outside, wandering around in the beautiful place I call home, Santa Cruz county in California. I love the outdoors, and it’s such a joy to write descriptions of the Monterey Bay coastline and the redwood forest.
The way that the climax resolves in Due Date was intriguing. Was this a planned decision, or did the idea develop as you worked on the story?
This developed as I worked on the story. I’d been reading a lot of mysteries and thrillers by this point, and was really drawn in by the longer stories with twists. The ‘first’ ending would have been a great place to stop, but I decided to keep going and see where the story took me. Once I decided to continue, I had to edit the first part and plant in a few more clues.
When you work on developing a story, is there a process you use to help develop the idea? Or is it a lot of off-the cuff-writing, or a combination?
A combination. I have learned that I’m better off with a plot well in mind before I start. Now, after many years of rewrites, I’m better at plotting out a story to the chapter level. I also write extensive character sketches and back stories for each character, so I feel that I know how each character will act and react in a given situation. For me, it makes for a lot cleaner writing and a lot less editing.
Was there any special preparation or research you did to help develop the protagonist of Due Date?
I did a lot of reading on surrogacy and talked to a few surrogate moms. I read plenty of discussion boards, forums, and blogs, as well. I also researched fertility clinics, trying to figure out how that end of the arrangement works.
What advice would you share with other nascent authors as they work to create their own stories?
Keep going! And read anything and everything in your genre. Find something that catches your attention, and something that will catch the attention of readers, and just go with it. Writing and creating a story is so rewarding and seeing it take shape as the number of chapters increases is a thrill like no other.
All authors I’m sure see this one at least once: What prompted you to get into writing?
I really don’t remember. I was in the 5th grade when I wrote my first book, Castaways of Skull Island. My teacher was quite supportive, and even bound it for me, and placed it in the classroom library. I think it was all of two or three thousand words.
When I was in the sixth grade, we had weekly writing assignments to use all the word in our vocabulary list in a short story. We were only supposed to write one page or so, but I always wrote more than was needed. At the end of each week, I’d end the narrative with “To be continued!” The next week, I’d continue with different characters and a different setting. In the end, the story was a little like Kerouac’s On the Road with lots of characters and mini-adventures, but no overarching plot. The teacher never complained.
You’ve worked on aircraft as a profession. Do you feel this helped your attention to detail in the story, and how?
Yes, it helped me pay attention to the way things worked, although I’m not certain that the average reader will appreciate the details. Instead of imagining a black box that the character activates, I imagine the details of the box. Does it work with hydraulics or electrical power? Pneumatics? EM fields? I worked for Northrop on the B2 project, and I know how complicated a machine like that can be, and all the things that can go wrong if you don’t stay on top of maintenance.
With all the detailed information on how the mind is affected for the main character, I’m guessing you had to do a lot of research for your book. Could you detail some of the subjects that you had to research, and how they affected the story?
I did do a lot of online research, but I didn’t understand a lot of it. The human mind is still mostly uncharted territory even for experts, and I’m the furthest thing from an expert. In the end I had to assume a lot of properties of the human consciousness. I also assumed that though much research had been done, a complete map of the human mind had remained an elusive goal, much like fusion research is today.
I was specifically interested in how an old personality might die and be replaced by a new one. There are actual historical cases where this happened.
What was it like for you, when you found out that your story was going to be published?
Are you kidding?! I was beside myself! The submission guidelines at Paper Angel stated that they’d reply within a month and, after six or seven weeks had gone by, I figured it was another no-go. When I finally received an email, I convinced myself it was another rejection and I had to read it twice before I realized that it was not, because the words made no sense on the first reading.
I don’t think I slept at all that night. I remember trying to tell my wife, and the words wouldn’t come out of my mouth in any coherent order, so I just let her read the email.
I was attending weekly weight-loss support group meetings, and I almost didn’t go to the meeting that night. I went, and told everybody what happened, and they gave me a round of applause.
My feet have only occasionally touched the ground since.
What was it like to see all the parts of getting a book published, such as the cover design, manuscript formatting, etc.?
Frustrating in some respects; fascinating in others. There are aspects of the story that only I have ever imagined, and now other people were trying to imagine them, too.
To shift back to the book again, the book seemed to actually have two stories ongoing. Was this structure something you planned out ahead of time, or did the story develop the parallel threads as it evolved?
You’re absolutely correct. There is the personal narrative of the protagonist, and then the global narrative of how society and government reacted to a new existential threat. People don’t exist in isolation, and I wanted to offer insights into the larger universe of Kentaurus. Plus, I have done a lot of world building for this story and wanted to show it off.
Your story raises some interesting and thoughtful questions. The foremost one, is the question of “What constitutes a living being?” The situation the main character seems to have that as a central theme. Was this a deliberate choice?
Not so much a living being, but a legal civil entity. There are debates in the story about whether the protagonist has civil rights, and if so, do they outweigh the rights of society to protect itself. These are old themes in science fiction, as well as other genres, but the debate still rages. An additional dimension to the debate in this case is that the protagonist used to have civil rights. Should government and military leaders ignore that, or do they have a point?
What authors, if any, did you read that might have helped steer you into writing Memory and Metaphor?
I was inspired by David Weber’s Honor Harrington series in terms of creating a space navy and how spacecraft of the future might navigate. I intentionally steered away from the Star Trek and Star Wars models of spacecraft that are basically airplanes in space.
The ghosts of Isaac Asimov and his robots were always haunting me in this story.
There’s also a bit of Spider Robinson in there.
I reread several of Elizabeth Moon’s books from her Vatta’s War series while writing it.
Finally, I’m sure you recognized the influence of Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness.
What was the thought behind the title of your book?
It’s pretty obvious that memories play a big role in the plot. The metaphor part is subtler, but I really liked the alliteration.
Finally, as a new author, what words do you have for other authors looking to become published?
An obvious one is: Don’t give up. But more importantly, stop treating your writing as something you do after all the other chores are done. It’s far more than just a guilty pleasure; it’s a part of who you are. If you don’t think it’s important enough to give it your best, then publishers won’t, either.
How did you get the idea for Broken Bridge?
The idea came late in the writing. The first few chapters were the characters establishing themselves. The antagonist’s trap came as a surprise to me. I could feel something, I just didn’t have the real understanding what the character was up to until later in the book. It honestly felt like when you see a great movie and someone decides there has to be a sequel to it. That’s how the first few chapters felt. Once I got into the story, things started clicking and the puzzle pieces fell in place.
How do you normally write — by the directions the characters take you or do you plot it out? Have you tried it either way?
Both Best Intentions and Broken Bridge were totally off-the-cuff. Both seemed like I was at a coffee shop interviewing Fern about what happened. She talked, and I recorded it as best I could with pencil and paper.
Where did Fern come from? Is she based on someone?
Fern reminded me a lot of my daughter, her sister and friends. They all are in some way a part and parcel of Fern.
I understand you had to do a few rewrites. Did you rewrite the entire novel or just parts? What parts were the most difficult? What did you keep from one version to the next?
That is an interesting question. The original ending for Broken Bridge was meant to be a cliffhanger. I wanted that thrill leading into the next book. The publisher and editor said that wasn’t the best idea. My ego got in front of me and I tried to rewrite the first ending twice, and it just didn’t work. I finally saw what they had been trying to tell me, and rewrote the last half of the book from scratch. It turned out a lot more acceptable to the publisher, but I had to get past my own ego to get there. As a writer, I have to put myself into writing, but not let the ego get in the way of constructive criticism. A book is a team project.
Did you find it difficult or easy to write a second book? How many books are planned for this series? Do you have the series planned out, or are you going to sit down with the characters and have them guide you?
The second book was definitely harder, for a few of the reasons outlined previously. I’d never thought past the first book and, when asked if there were more books in the series, was something I had to think about. The obvious answer is: yes, there are more books. I’m envisioning four, but again, the publisher and the editor have a big say in that with me. The last thing I want is for the series to drag on to the point where it goes stale. I’m more for a small series that outlines a world and a character, getting an adventure snapshot of their lives, and moving to the next character/setting/story — like anything with me. Plotting out has had very mixed results. I love writing spontaneously. The characters, when I’m in the story, tell me where to go and what’s happening.
The description in this novel is extensive and doesn’t seem to get in the way of the story. Do you find narrative or dialogue easier to write?
I originally found that dialog was easier for me, and narrative was my weak link. That may be why there is so much in Broken Bridge. I’m nowhere near as good as other authors in getting in a character’s head and describing their feelings, so dialogue gets me that glimpse. Likewise, the setting is what helps frame the narrative, and with the narrative, I can hopefully recreate the mood of the story, and drag the reader in. That’s the ideal situation. Like any neurotic writer, I’m never sure if I got it right. It feels great going down on paper, but six months and two edits later, I’m not quite as certain it came out right.
There are a lot of red herrings in the story as well. Were these planned or did these just come up?
The red herrings are to me a lot like what happens in real life. You have choices each day, and your life is determined by them — like taking a left to go to one store versus a right to go to a different one. Saying “yes” to a date, versus saying “no” and waiting for someone more ‘compelling’ to show up. Each choice creates movement. The red herrings are a glimpse of what might have been, or, foreshadowing for something in a following book. And it could simply be someone saying something they think they saw, and it’s so preposterous or unlikely, that nothing happens.
What was some of the research you had to do in order to write this book? For example, how are you familiar with the pistols/weapons that Fern used?
My boyfriend helped me a lot with ideas for weapons. He is a history buff, and a reloader. If I got stuck, or wanted to throw an idea out about things like the survival straw, he and I looked them up online and on the outdoor sites. The stuff you can get for survival is amazing! I’ve never seen so many gadgets. The settings and things I researched online, there’s a lot of information out there.
Children of the Wrong Time has a very thoughtful story, and at the same time, it feels that it is a warning. What brought about the idea for this book?
The original “Ha ha!” moment was a line from the movie Parenthood. Not a particularly memorable movie, but this line struck me as the perfect summing up of a topic I’d been mulling over for a while. The line is: “You need a license to drive, you need a license to fish, you need a license to own a dog, but any moron can become a parent.” It got me thinking, what if there is a way to expand into a full story the idea expressed by this line?
This idea was reinforced by the normalization, if not the glamorization, of dysfunctional parenthood that can be found in contemporary popular culture; for instance in TV shows such as “Sixteen and Pregnant”, “Paternity Court”, and the worst of them all, Maury Povich’s endless variations on the theme “I’m seventeen, which one of these three men is the father of my baby?” By contrast, another source of inspiration was a voice of reason from one of my favorite people, Judge Judy Sheindlin: her memorable catchphrase, “If you can’t feed them, don’t breed them.”
Children of the Wrong Time feels to me like one that had to come out in an inspired frenzy that didn’t let you sleep until it was on paper. Was this a frenzy, or a more calculated development of an idea?
Actually, it was slow writing. Once I posited a society based on rules that don’t exist, I needed to make sure that all the rules compute. The premise is that, according to the laws of this futuristic society, people are not allowed to become parents until they prove that they are fit to be parents. That’s easy. Then come the details: Who wrote the laws? Why did they write the laws? How are people tested for fitness to be parents? Who administers the tests? What are the tests? A lot of interlocking details to be worked out so that they meshed into a believable picture. The story was originally 60 pages long or so; but the pieces of the puzzle kept coming fast, and the length basically doubled. Interestingly enough, the story originally was set in a futuristic America.
As I was proofing the story just prior to publication of the book, it occurred to me that Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale has been criticized in America because Atwood is Canadian, and as a Canadian she has no business imagining a futuristic America. I agree with the criticism, so I thought: if Margaret Atwood is criticized because she’s Canadian, imagine the trouble an Italian would get into if I presumed to imagine what a futuristic America might look like. So, over the course of two short days, while Steven patiently waited for my proofs, I reworked parts of the novel to switch the setting to an entirely fictional country. If I can give myself a facetious pat on the back, I’m proud that I was able to avoid this pitfall literally in the nick of time — not to mention relieved.
How was your preparation for Children of the Wrong Time different from the historical novels, The Iron and the Loom and The Names of Heaven?
It’s two entirely different genres of course, but I discovered that the process was surprising similar. In the historical novels I wanted to recreate a world that no longer exists; in Children of the Wrong Time, I wanted to create a world that doesn’t exist, period; which is to say, start from a fixed point, and from there travel backwards in time in one genre and travel forward in time in the other genre.
Stories can spur the imagination, like in science fiction, and tackle controversial subjects in a manner that provokes discussion. What do you see as the reason for this story’s existence?
Science fiction if often maligned as a “lightweight” genre. I think it’s quite the opposite. Science fiction can be the perfect vehicle for some of the toughest existential questions: What would you do if all of a sudden nobody died anymore? What would you do if the world were taken over by beings that have nothing in common with you? What would you do if you were not allowed to have children unless you prove that you’re fit to be a parent? Questions as endless as those that have beset the human race since day one.
The first question I’d like to ask is about the book in general. If I remember correctly, Grimaulkin is written for Young Adults?
Yes, mostly in the high-school plus range. The main character is 18 years old.
Did you find that focusing on that particular age range influenced the style of your writing?
Oh, definitely. My first draft, the one I wrote when I wasn’t paying attention to words, had a lot more detail and swear words than the final version did. Since the time period is in the year 2000, I didn’t have to worry about modern lingo and slang, as I was familiar with the slang at that time.
So, why 18 years old for the main character? Was this a deliberate choice for the character? Or did you feel that the character “evolved” to be 18 as you created the story?
I wanted him to be at least at the age of consent, because. in this book, and in subsequent books, there will be an awful lot of sex talk. Boys that age think and talk a lot about sex, and I wanted to make sure that I didn’t shock the reader — or their parents — by not having characters be at least at the young adult age.
That makes sense. Do you see this as a series of books, rather than just a single story?
I’m working on the second one now. There’s a third one in my mind, at least. I want to culminate in a relationship between him and Scott, so there will be at least three books in total.
You have another series you’re writing, called War Mage. I’ve read it, and liked the great detail in it. In Grimaulkin, the magic feels very similar. Do both series take place in the same “universe”?
Yes and no. The magic systems are the same, but in Grimaulkin‘s universe, I’m trying to keep out the extra little beasties, such as vampires and werewolves. The magic is similar to how magic would work in the real world (which I believe it does), but on an instantaneous basis. For example, I do believe that magic works, but only if the Universe chooses to let it work for your own higher good. In Grimaulkin‘s universe, it works, but as blatant obvious workings, not subtly, as it does in our own world.
I noticed that Grimaulkin has a very different opening, with the main character being released from prison as the book opens. What prompted the choice to start at his release?
I initially wrote Grimaulkin as a coming-of-age story, starting from when he was a little child and growing up, how he became strong in magic, and how he learned at his aunt’s knee. But it was so boring. Then I tried to write some prison scenes, but they were just too rough. He was getting beaten up all the time. So, I wanted to start from a place where he was a new person, changed from the old child that he’d been, and contrast that with his family, how Evie (his sister), would accept him for whatever he was, however he was.
War Mage a very rich background detail. In comparison, Grimaulkin has a very sparse background, with just enough detail to get a general idea of the setting. Was this a deliberate choice to make the story stand out more?
Sort of. I was writing about places I was familiar with — I mean they’re right down the street from where I live right now. War Mage, although still within an hour’s drive, was unfamiliar territory. I also typically write without much detail to setting, because I want the characters to drive the narrative, and I want the reader to pay attention to the characters and their actions.
There are some intense scenes in Grimaulkin. How close to personal experiences of your own do these scenes come? Did that make it difficult or easy to include those scenes in the story?
A lot of those scenes come from the emotions that I feel, not necessarily the action. I was more trying to find the scene to fit the emotion, rather than actually finding the emotion to fit the scene. I’m a method writer, and put myself in the shoes of my character. Although a few things come from my own experiences — such as getting bullied in high school — I hold onto the emotion and look for scenes that will express it.
A book almost never goes smoothly. What was the most difficult part of writing Grimaulkin for you?
I had problems right in the middle. When the first body shows up dead, I said to myself, “What do I do now?” I am an organic writer as well — a “pantser” as they’re called, or a “discovery” writer. I write to see what’s next in the story. I went back, reread it, and thought, “Well, I’ll just add in another demon.” So, the second half of the book flowed from there.
The other hard part was the ending. I knew what had to be done, but I kept writing it too short. I talked to my beta reader, who gave me some ideas which I used, and it came out much better. Organic writers have a habit of writing short, to the point endings, because it’s, well … the end.
With having two series, War Mage and Grimaulkin, do you find that ideas might start as an idea for one series and, on occasion, become a better idea for the other series?
Yes. In War Mage, Brent has a “knack” — a limited telekinesis as well as his magic. Mike doesn’t have that additional knack; he just has an excellent memory. But as we talked about before, the magic systems are the same, in general. In addition, War Mage is more military-based, and is a whole different world than Grimaulkin, which is the civilian world, and four years before War Mage takes place. Some of the ideas cross over, but I try to keep them fresh and original, not knowing if the same person will read both books and notice I’m reusing stuff.
When you write stories like Grimaulkin or War Mage, do you find that it comes in spurts, or more in a continuous period of writing?
The muse usually grabs a hold of me for days — if not weeks — and does not let go. I’ve found that if I try to write things in spurts, that I lose the context of the story and have to re-read what I’ve done. That turns into (more) editing of what I’ve done. I wrote Homecoming in one month, and Grimaulkin, this version, in just under a month as well. Grimaulkin has been in my head for three years.
There are a lot of nascent authors out there. What would you give them as advice?
To write. To not think about writing. To write the story, however it comes out, and not care who will see it, but that it’s yours, and it needs to be told.
This is probably one the most common question asked of authors: What made you decide to become an author?
After working for 23+ years in the fitness/yoga/wellness industries, I had decided to write a book about creating a career in those areas. I had begun that project when Sex on Fire demanded to be written.
You book is a very intense self-exploration of how trauma is begun and perpetuated over time. How did you step from recognition to writing?
I had struggled a lot with elements of shame in my trauma experience, and it took me years of different therapy modalities to personally get beyond the shame, and then there was another layer of fear when I wrote down and verbally shared many elements of my story in a small women’s circle about a year before I began the formal writing process. I used a couple of voices in the book: teenage/young adult Leah, and adult/healed Leah. Using multiple voices allowed me to write both the experience as well as the recognition. They both had to be there for the book to be written.
Your background in Personal Training seems a recurring theme for you in the book. Did personal training help with possibly recognizing the developing trauma, or did it provide a place of stability to recognize and come to terms with your personal experiences?
Personal training really came after the trauma, but it was a great teaching tool as I was doing the bulk of my healing work. Personal training was one of the arenas where I fumbled through creating personal and professional boundaries. Also, I found that having an outlet for body movement really helped me to stay grounded in my physical self. So even though one of my trauma symptoms was dissociation (mentally “leaving” your body until the trauma or flashback is over), I maybe didn’t suffer as many lingering or long lasting dissociative tendencies as other trauma survivors because of my strong foundation of bodily “connection.” I’m grateful for that. My body generally feels like a pretty safe place to be, and many trauma survivors really struggle to get to that place in their healing processes.
Sex on Fire: Finding Embodied Intimacy After Trauma is a very interesting choice for a title. What was the defining idea that triggered this as the title from other possibilities?
Frankly, I wanted something that would catch the eyes of potential readers surfing the shelves at a bookstore. It was harder to land upon the right subtitle, but after some help from the publishers, I think we have got it.
Writing from personal experience is very intensely emotional. with your revelations in the book, did you find the experiences easier writing in sequence, or was there less stress in writing them non-sequentially?
Sequence was the way to go for me, even though I had to go back and make a few additions when certain memories were triggered that had been stored away for a long while. For instance, I had almost forgotten about the interaction I had with a youth pastor. That particular experience was not as traumatic as the others, so I think I stored it a little deeper in my memory than the really painful stuff. Yet, as I was writing, I saw so many patterns of my interactions with adult men when I was a kid. It was like I one memory would trigger another with varying positions on the “yuck” scale. Being able to look back on those patterns actually helped me more with understanding some of my behavior as an adult on a deeper and more forgiving level as well.
As you detailed this personal journey, what was easiest to write about?
I really enjoyed recounting and showing myself my own power and independence when I moved with my daughter to Nashville on my own. It was a leap of faith, but I also had the hard work and smarts to back it up. The Universe helped so much — seeing that whole community be created around my daughter and myself in writing was very cool.
What was the most difficult part of your writing journey with this book?
Recounting the trauma pieces was hard, for sure, but I was surprised to feel a lot of fear and anxiety when I was writing about my relationship with my mother.
As your book deals with helping oneself find “good intimacy”, some might want to lump your book in the “self-help” category. To me it feels that “self-help” is a very catch-all term for books. Do you find this category accurate or misleading for describing your book?
I hope that my book is helpful for anyone who reads it. However, I did not set out to write a “self-help” book. I view most books in that genre as pretty surface-oriented. As in, “do these things exactly the way I, the author, have laid them out and get the desired result.” My book offers a non-clinical account of how several therapy modalities worked to help me heal myself. If anything, I hope the book communicates that healing is possible, shows some good examples of what the reader might expect if he or she were to try out some of the tools, and encourages that trauma sufferer to search and try stuff until she finds her unique way through the pain and emotions to a level of wholeness she may not have experienced before.
Finally, while this book is primarily aimed at women, would you recommend men read it also?
Men who have suffered sexual trauma or who have partners (male, female, trans) who have suffered (trauma does not discriminate between gay and straight relationships, the relationship behavior holds the same patterns) sexual trauma can really benefit from this material. My husband had to do a lot of “behavior decoding” with his own therapist while I went through a lot of anxiety about trusting him and getting close to him at the beginning of our relationship. This book can shed a lot of light on how it really feels to open oneself to a safe relationship after trauma, regardless of which partner had the trauma.
By your own admission, you say that you came late to the writing game. What prompted you to start and want to get published?
I was having a rough go of it back in 2006 when, on a whim, I got into the online game City of Heroes. When I joined, this group called “Futura Force” that had these players, “Kill Favored”, and “Electroidium” that got me interested in posting short little stories on the forums. Then both of those players started talking about “National Novel Writing Month”, and how they were going to participate because they liked writing. I’d had a taste of doing it and decided “why not try something new?” The rest, as is often said, is history.
What led you down the path to your first novel, Best Intentions? Were there any specific inspirations for it?
My daughter. We’d lost a good friend recently and that got me to thinking about what people leave behind. A story seemed like a way to give my daughter something special, and leave something behind when it’s my time to go. She wanted me to try and publish it after reading it through, so I got an editor to clean it up, then submitted it to Paper Angel Press. I was shocked when the contract was sent.
How did that feel? What advice would you give to other first-time authors based on your experience with the entire writing and publishing process?
It felt amazing that I actually finished a story and had it to share. For first time authors, go for it! It’s a tough road, and you need to expect rejection, nothing worth doing has instant gratification associated with it. If you really want to be an author, be ready to put the time and effort in. That doesn’t mean 50 gazillion words. Often it means just sitting down each day and writing a paragraph or two just to keep the story building and learn to be consistent.
What have you find to be the most exciting part of being a published author? What has been the most difficult or challenging?
The most exciting part is right next to me at the moment. I look at this book with my name on it and keep asking how it is that this author has the same name as me. That kind of goes with the most difficult too. You write a manuscript, it gets accepted, and suddenly you have a book, and now you have to write another. Will it be good enough? Will it be better than the first one? Will this be what it’s like each time with a new book? It’s easy to get neurotic about writing, and for me, who is a bit neurotic anyway, it’s hard to keep from spiraling down that hole. I want to get feedback on my writing, so I can do better with each story. It’s kind of hard to get that starting out. No one knows your book and when you don’t have friends that read, good, critical feedback is rare.
How do you write? By that, I mean, do you have a set schedule or do you wait for inspiration to strike?
I’ve never had much luck with trying to build a plot. I find writing “off the cuff”, letting the story develop without a plan, works best for me. I have a goal of X words a day, so I can learn consistency of writing. I’ve had layoffs of time without writing a thing in the past, and I find that my skill and feel for writing erodes without practice. So, I try to be consistent to learn more about writing and try to improve my skills.
What do you see as your next milestone achievement in being an author?
Someone once said you’re only as good as your last book. Each story is a milestone, and it’s that story that becomes the current beginning, and end, and judgment of your storytelling skill. It’s not so much a milestone as a new beginning each time. And each time I want to do a little better. Better characters, story, dialog, background, emotion. It all creates the story. My milestone is the next book, and that the next book is better than the previous one.
Best Intentions is the first book in a planned series. Do you have any other books you would like to do?
I plan to keep writing until I can’t any more. As for the Glass Bottles series, there are four planned books. I am collaborating with some other writers on a cyberpunk-style story, and with another in an urban fantasy theme. I am really excited by them and want to see where each story goes. I want to explore everything I can. One nice thing about writing is that there is no mandatory retirement age. As long as I can write, I can write, and share stories.
What makes a story interesting to you—both as a writer and a reader?
Like anyone, if it catches my imagination, I’ll enjoy it. A story has to involve the reader, and invite them to turn the page and read what happens next. I enjoy most anything. I have a preference for stories that make me think, and feel, as I read them. As a writer, I want to make people think, and at the same time, write so that they have a visceral reaction to the story. I want to engage them so they can feel the story, enjoy the highs, and lows, the stress and tension, and relief. In essence, I want to make the story real.
Are there any writers who were major influences on you: in terms of style, theme, or story?
Any book I’ve read has probably influenced me one way or another. Likewise, anyone I’ve collaborated with, or currently am collaborating with, has influenced me. I’m an unashamed borrower of anything the feels right. Every story comes from parts of imagination and memory. I’d never write if I couldn’t read. Seeing imagination in print fires my own imagination with ‘what if’ all the time. Anything can be a prompt, an idea for a story. A story could be the start, or something I see, or hear, or smell. Anything’s a possibility, you just have to give yourself permission to dream, and to write that dream onto paper, or a computer.
We’ll start with one of those questions that get asked every time in interviews: When did you realize you wanted to be an artist?
When I was in second grade, I use to get my crayons taken away from me by my teacher, Mrs. Desilva. All I wanted to do was color and nothing else. I lost a lot of crayons that year <laughs>. My mom and I remained friends with her for many years and she would always bring up the crayons and how hard it was to keep me in the real world as opposed to my artsy world. I guess that’s where it started for me.
What prompted you to graduate to online production of art? Did you find the transition from physical media to electronic a difficult challenge?
The transition wasn’t too tough but trying to get it exact can be. Every printer is different and I try to get physical proof copies sent to me before the books are printed and sent out so I can make sure it looks perfect.
How did you eventually end up doing book covers as a form of art?
I was offered the job by my very good friend Steven, and I love it! I had done some previously in school but never to this extent. It’s a learning process and will always be one. Getting tips and new ideas as I go.
Do you as an artist, have people check your work, like an editor does for writers?
All the time! I go through my friend and boss, Steven, first and from there it goes to the author for a final go-ahead.
And the other question always asked, “Where do your ideas come from for your art?”
I like to ask for a small run down of what the story is about, main characters, main objects and /or places and the like, way before its due. It gives me time to think about it. Most of my ideas though, come at random times, like when driving or cooking <laughs>. Then I have to run to my PC, if I am home, or take notes on my phone. Sometimes they are just scribbles on paper, ’til I am able to get in front of Photoshop and create them.
In developing your own style, have you found that those artists that inspired you had a style that was difficult to translate into your style?
Not very much. I get ideas everywhere and usually save them. In the end though it’s mostly long hours working around placement, font style and sometimes I have to stand back from my PC and view the cover from there. Usually it’s a 50/50 chance I’ll either like it or trash it, I’m very picky.
When you work on a piece of art, is it easier to push through to the end in one sitting, or is it much better to take time away from the project to think?
Once an idea pops into my head I usually don’t leave until it’s completely done. Again that’s a 50/50 chance <laughs> I will usually leave it open on my desk top, just in case I wake up in the middle of the night or if I walk away and come back I can look at it with fresh eyes, so to speak. Sometimes my first idea gets trashed and I start fresh. And other times I love it I don’t want to let it go.
I’ve been told (either accurately or inaccurately) that commercial art is a balance of inspiration, practicality, and time. Is this always the case?
Yes I would agree with that. Inspiration being the most important. Time would be the second.
Another thing that has been said is “a picture is worth a thousand words”. Can a picture be too emotive for a book cover? Have you had art come back for being too good?
I am not sure about too good. <laughs> Though I’ve been told a few times that the authors were completely in love with my cover/idea. I try to push with the best I can, because the cover is what the reader views first. If it seems mediocre then the content inside must be too. So that is very important to me. First impressions is always the cover of a story, so I try to make it as nice as I can.
In your time as an artist, what were the steps and experiences you went through to become a commercial artist? How would you advise others on this journey?
I’ve always enjoyed creating, whether it was restoring an old photograph, making fliers for local businesses or other graphic work. This opportunity came about quite by accident and I am so glad it did, as I truly love what I do now. I started off going to school and earning 2 degrees, one in graphic arts and one in photography. I am expanding my education now by going for my BFA in Fine Art photography. Something that has been a great passion for me for a long time.
As for advice … do what you love to do, it might never make you rich but you will always feel good when you wake up in the mornings knowing you’re going or doing a job that you love. Never give up … I was in my 40’s, a single mom of 3 with 3 jobs and I still finished school and graduated with honors. And if you knock on one door and it doesn’t open, find another and knock harder. Never give up, a tiny step forward is better than no step at all.
What inspired you to get into writing?
I was always a voracious reader. I had been surrounded by books since childhood, and my mother was always a big reader. In junior high, I started reading “adult” authors like Stephen King and Sidney Sheldon, books my mom read. I finished The Shining and I thought to myself, I can write like this. So I started writing fan fiction for a few TV shows—this was way before fan fiction was a “thing.” My first original novel was written during the summer from 8th to 9th grade, and really improved my typing skills. Then I entered a contest and won an award. I was hooked.
How did you get your idea for your book? What in the development of the idea made you feel the need to write it as a book?
Homecoming was presented to me in a dream about a soldier who could shoot fireballs. I was playing a character named Combat Medic in a game online, and it must have blurred into the possibility of the soldier knowing magic. I woke up and wrote down the dream immediately. Then I started thinking of what ifs. What if it took place in Afghanistan? What if he comes home on leave?
Most of my ideas come from my own thirst for revenge. I see injustice, or I have had injustice done to me, so I write it out as catharsis.
I’ve found that stories never seem to flow smoothly. There are days where it just seems to leap from thought to paper, and other days where it takes seven or eight attempts to get the scene right. What portions or scenes were the hardest to get the way you wanted?
I’ve discovered that I am better at being a pantser than a plotter. I’ve tried both. When I plot, I feel like I’m shoehorning the round story peg into a square pre-defined hole. When I do that, everything is a problem: the dialogue, the description, the setting, because I have to get it “just right” on the first go-round. When I just let the story flow, I get to a part that the muse doesn’t care about and I say, “Worry about tha during the edit.” I flag it somehow with << more cowbell >> or INSERT MORE COWBELL HERE.
Homecoming, the War Mage prequel if that’s the correct to describe the book, takes place in Worcester, Massachusetts. You do an amazing job of describing the opening scene. Is that location something that comes from your own memories?
Google Maps is your friend! No, really…I live in New England, and one suburb of New England looks like many others. Google Maps helped when I needed to picture the exact streets, the placement of the buildings. I could, if necessary, drive there, since it really isn’t that far.
I prefer to write some places that I have pictures of. War Mage, the next book in the series, it takes place in Afghanistan. I’ve never been there (and have no plans to go there). So I have maps, and a few picture books, and other pictures from websites saved in a folder.
What do you see as your strongest ability as a writer? How does that affect your writing style?
I think I have a good ear for dialogue. Because of that, I try to put the story in dialogue. Also, I was trained as a journalist, so I’m used to keeping paragraphs short and concise. Because of that, I don’t write too much in description or setting, and I suffer often from “talking head” syndrome—when characters are talking in a vacuum. That’s something I have to watch out for in editing.
It’s been said that every author has authors that they look at as inspirations. Do you have any? If so, what influence do you see in your writing?
Stephen King, especially when he uses new paragraphs and italics for thoughts. Mercedes Lackey introduced me to women who wrote male heroes. Charles Dickens in the art of the cliffhanger.
All authors have things that they have to help them concentrate on writing. Where and when do you like to write? I know that Steven Radecki says he prefers a location that’s quiet, where he can lose himself in his imaginary world. What are your favorite conditions for writing?
I have been blessed with a 10-room colonial house, so there’s plenty of places to hide. I have two computers, a Mac in my cellar that I’ve named “Hemingway”, and Windows on the main living floor named “Asterisk.” I like the option of music. I often listen to AC/DC or Two Steps From Hell, or action movie soundtracks like 300 or the SiriusXM station for soundtracks. That’s usually for action sequences. For general background music, I will produce a playlist for each novel as I go along.
One thing I absolutely need is no one else to be in the room or my immediate vicinity. I can’t write with an audience. So coffeehouses are totally out.
Characters in any book are a mix of deep background and just a passing note or two as they wave or say hello to the main character. Do you find that creating a background for these peripheral characters helps with developing the story, or can a peripheral character be over-developed for their purpose in the story, and detract from it?
For War Mage and Homecoming, I kept small, tiny notebooks of each character, major and minor. It included their background, family, thoughts about current events (in 2004-5). For the novel I just finished, Grimaulkin, I didn’t bother with that at all. I kept a general “novel notebook” instead, and as I wrote, I would take note of things said in the book that I could refer to later.
That being said, I found that the extensive background development of minor characters was a waste of time. I didn’t use half of the information that I created. I never went into Lori’s detailed sex life, though I had plotted it out in that notebook. It was tossed away with a mere mention that she was promiscuous.
I believe that if a peripheral character is overdeveloped in the story, then maybe the story needs to be about him/her.
Let’s switch to the other side of writing, and that’s appearances. What’s it like to go to a book sale, or a Convention to support your books?
There’s a sense of comfortable camaraderie. You’re all writers. Some are out to make money, others are out to display their art. But all of you have something to teach each other. If it’s not about how to sell at conventions, it could be how each writer approaches his/her craft. I’ve learned a lot by watching one particular person sell his book assertively. Luckily, I’ve been with people who are supportive and not competitive.
Sometimes during a convention, there’s a Q&A for authors. What’s it like to sit in on that? Does the Q&A help with developing the next novel?
If the next novel hasn’t already been written, it gives you good feedback as to what the readers noticed. Maybe just a throw-away line made someone remember a particular scene.