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Archive for the ‘Author Interviews’ Category

Shu Wei’s Revenge

In his role as Town Scribe in 1898, seventeen-year-old Shu Wei is part of an incident which causes his family to emigrate from their village in China to San Francisco’s Chinatown. The intrigue, mystery, and tension that follow grow deeper as he tries to assimilate into a hostile world. Shu Wei ends up working for a local newspaper while he juggles the need to get his stories while dealing with the scurrilous demands and death threats by Tong members. In this coming-of-age saga, the restoration of his self-confidence and his family’s honor is at stake. Jack London and Mark Twain lend timely support.

About the Author (Full Text)

“I have had the good fortune during my career as an architect to travel and experience different cultures and environs. Working on large-scale projects in such places as Hong Kong, Taiwan, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, and England has not only been satisfying from a creative standpoint but has also allowed me to take away impressions that last a lifetime. Some of those impressions eventually became the seeds of my new novel. While at Columbia I was fortunate enough to receive a summer scholarship to travel and study throughout Europe. Writing a report on this trip in addition to my Master’s thesis in Urban Planning confirmed my deep-seated interest in writing. While working for the Mayor’s Office of Lower Manhattan Development in New York I published a book, To Preserve a Heritage-a book on landmarks in Lower Manhattan. By that time the motivation to research and to write-particularly historical pieces-was in my blood. My original research began some twelve years ago, but several hiatuses caused an interruption in my writing, specifically creating audio walking tours for the Financial District in San Francisco and artwork (etchings) for five of those years. … My book, Shu Wei’s Revenge, was a Semi-Finalist in the 2015 William Faulkner-William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition.” 

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My good friend and colleague from Avalon Books has recently published a new book, An Uncertain Path.

Here are a few word about the book from Sandra Carey Cody’s own writer’s blog, Birth of a Novel, also on WordPress.

A tragic accident links the lives of two young women, unrelated, unknown to one Cody Uncertain Path Coveranother, causing each to question things she thought were certain, and setting each on a path neither could have imagined.

Peace Morrow, abandoned as an infant, is about to meet the birth family she’s always longed to know. Raised as a Pennsylvania Quaker, she wonders what her Virginia aristocrat family will think of her. What happens when a careless action by one of them takes the family to the brink of disaster?

Rachel Woodard, longing to break out of the safe world she’s always known, takes a drastic step that results in the death of a young man and sets off a chain of events that swirls outward like a pebble dropped in a pool. Can she live a lie to preserve her own life and save everyone she loves from heartbreak?

An Uncertain Path is available on Amazon.

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https://fourfoxesonehound.wordpress.com/2017/04/27/leigh-verrill-rhys-guest-fox-redux

Many thanks to my friend, Jeff Salter, who has now written fourteen books since we last had an encounter of the blog kind.

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death-visits-a-bawdy-house-small-1A new book has been added to Featured Books today, Death Visits a Bawdy House, Adele Fasick’s recent Charlotte Edgerton Mystery.

Featured Books will be a new page on this site to introduce books by authors in my various writing networks. These featured books will include a descriptive blurb and a cover image but are not reviews; the authors’ blurbs speak for themselves. A link to the author’s website or to the book may also be included.

To start, the featured books are new or soon to be released from two friends from Romance Writers of America as well as other networking groups, Kathleen Bittner, contributes a Regency Romance, and Lynn Cahoon, shares a Romantic Suspense.

I hope you enjoy the new page, Featured Books.

Leigh

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yellodaisyMany of us experience trepidations when we offer something of ourselves to others.

The classic and often humorous question, “Suppose I give a Party and nobody comes?” is all the more poignant for actors, dancers, artists and writers who are always at the mercy of “invited” guests when they exhibit, perform or publish a work of their own creation.

A saying in the performing arts goes, “As long as there are more people in the audience than on stage…” but imagine what you feel when that is not the case.

A writer is always a singularity—in no danger of being in the majority—as long as you have more than one reader.

As one of my colleagues once commented, “If one person reads your book and loves it, you are a best-selling author.”

There is no monetary security in the Arts, probably least of all in the written word. Here are the statistics one author presented to a workshop a few years ago (regarding fiction authors):

  • Only 3% of authors/writers are ever published.
  • Only 3% of those authors who are published get their name of the cover of the book.
  • Only 3% of published authors with their name on the cover of the book make a living from writing.

That works out to .00027% or roughly 8100 authors out of an estimated 30,000,000 writers.

1384050607361Do not quit your day job until you get that movie deal.

Many more of us in this century can tick off the first two of the statistics largely due to the advent of independent/entrepreneurial publishing. Some of us were among the fortunate .009% who ticked off the first two in traditional/legacy publishing but are still far from being among the 8100 who can make a living from writing alone.

Like most creative people, writers find other ways to bring in the payola, bread, dough, green, bacon. Some of us find employment in a field related to our vocation such as writing copy, journalism, grant-writing, advertising, web content—hoping that such activity won’t kill our creative impulses. Others make our daily bread from sideshows such as teaching, talks, workshops.

1384050603906And many choose to work in jobs and professions that have nothing to do with writing and everything to do with keeping a roof over our heads and food in our children’s mouths.

Fortunately for all of us, we live in a culture and society that gives us the freedom and tools we need to create and dream and speak our minds.

Imagine if we didn’t.

What kind of party would that be?

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This post first appeared two months after my debut novel debuted in April 2012.

I hope you don’t mind that I’m including the interview that my colleague, Rebecca L. Boschee, did for the Avalon Authors Blog. I haven’t changed a word! 

June 20, 2012

Today we’re talking to Avalon author Leigh Verrill-Rhys about her novel Wait a Lonely Lifetime. Join us to learn what makes this novel special…

 

Wait a Lonely Lifetime (Avalon Books, 2012)

Sylviana Langdon’s marriage went bad from the start. She married the wrong guy, and there was no chance of ever making him right — not for her. Divorced and dating again, she can’t stop thinking about a smart guy she met a few weeks before Steve came into her life. Eric Wasserman walked away from her with no explanation back then. What would he want with an airhead artist’s model now, fifteen years and two little girls later?

Captain Wasserman’s best buddy, Steve Langdon, saved his life and stole his girl. The career Army officer’s second-in-command drops a pretty blue envelope on his desk. The handwriting isn’t familiar, but the name pulls the pin on the grenade that has been in Eric’s mind since he walked away from the green-eyed girl his buddy wanted.
When he doesn’t reply to either of the two letters and a third arrives, his ungentlemanly behavior threatens the morale of his combat support unit. For the sake of his unit, Eric takes the hit from his best buddy’s wife, wondering why Steve has put her up to writing to a man she doesn’t know.

Welcome, Leigh! We’ve read the synopsis, but please take a minute to tell us in your own words what your latest novel is about.

Besides girl meets boy, girl falls in love with boy, girl loses boy, girl gets boy back? I began with that basic framework and built in betrayal, loyalty, self-sacrifice, hope and determination. Sylviana is a wide-eyed innocent looking for direction. When she meets Eric, he’s a bit roughed up by four years in combat zones but still has a strong commitment to doing right. Their natural connection is torn apart by Eric’s best friend, who is also attracted to Sylviana. Steve is smarter and meaner. When all his lies come to the surface, Sylviana ends her marriage to him and turns back in search of the man she believes she was meant to marry.

There’s lots to like about that set up. I understand a big part of Wait a Lonely Lifetime is written in letters and emails. What inspired you to take that approach? 

Epistolary novels have a long, respectable history especially in the Romance genre. If you remember the film You’ve Got Mail based on the eastern European story The Letter (also made into a film in the 1930/40s with James Stewart) as well as a musical, He Said, She Said, you’ll recognize the device. I didn’t really plan the book that way; it seemed the only way Sylviana could communicate with Eric, not knowing how to reach him once he had re-enlisted. A letter is a monologue. Until it receives an answer, it’s just one person, one-sided. A letter demands and expects an answer. Once it’s written, the writer is at the mercy of the recipient. A lot like writing a book. Writing Wait a Lonely Lifetime in letter and emails seemed the natural way to bring Sylviana and Eric back together, much safer than a phone call. No matter how dependent we are on electronic communication, nothing replaces a handwritten letter to send a heartfelt message, most especially a love letter.

I couldn’t agree with you more. There’s something inherently romantic about letters. And speaking of romantic…your novel is set partly in Firenze. You’ve been there and have described it as one of the most enchanting places you have even visited. Was there anything in your book based on real life experiences? 


The moment I arrived in Firenze, I knew I was going to write about it but I didn’t make notes or keep a travel diary. I had a camera but took no pictures. I observed and absorbed. What I wrote about the city is distilled from all I remembered. Quite a lot! I made mental notes of some details like the high water mark and the monument to the victims of the Mafia bombing. I wove those into the story because they were unique. I kept the tourist map so I could find my way around once I was back in Wales.
 

It sounds like a great place to fall in love. Your heroine, Sylviana, falls in love with Eric at first sight. I’m a big believer in this, but how does she know?

I believe this happens for many people. The moment doesn’t always lead to everlasting love but I think we know when we’ve met someone we will never forget. That chemistry is instantaneous – ignore it at your peril! A lot of that sense is hopeful. Some of it is intuition and instinct. I’ve only felt that way about one person. I married him pronto.
 

Smart move! Let’s talk about your writing. What was your favorite scene to write and why? 

I’m particularly fond of the plaid pajamas with piping around the collar scene. The most dramatic scenes are when Sylviana escapes with her daughters from her house and they can’t reach Eric on Thanksgiving Day. I also loved writing about Eva’s first school dance. The whole book was fun and challenging. I couldn’t stop writing. Part of the joy of writing for me is discovery. I don’t plot beyond a basic outline, feeling my way through the boxes and barriers that these persnickety characters put in the way.
 

Based on your discovery writing style, you must have learned something from writing your book. What was it? 

The most amazing thing I learned was that I could actually write a novel, from beginning to end. I learned the essential ingredient of discipline and more discipline. When Lia Brown asked to read the first chapters, I had half of the book still in draft. A month later, when she asked to see the full manuscript, I was ready! I had the feeling I had to be prepared. 
 

Good thing you followed that instinct! Was there any particular author or book that influenced you in any way either growing up or as an adult? 

The list of authors I’ve read and been influenced by is pretty long. I studied Victorian literature and was enamored of George Eliot. I’ve read every book she wrote and put Daniel Deronda as my #1 of all time. Also Middlemarch but that is lower on my list. I’m reading a lot of more contemporary writers at the moment: Frank Waters, Chinua Achebe, Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Isabel Allende’s short stories, Eva Luna and In the House of the Spirits are stunning. I’m a fan of Anne Tyler and enjoyed Annie Proulx’s The Shipping News. I just bought a copy of Sherry Thomas’s Not Quite A Husband after I heard her speak at the San Francisco Area RWA chapter meeting. I’m reading as many of the Avalon authors’ books as I can find. I guess you don’t want to hear about things like Milton Freidman’s books on economics!
 

You’ve just made me add about a half dozen books to my reading list (with the exception of the one on economics). What about more books from you? What are your current works in progress? 

My current work is another contemporary novel but I’d call it women’s fiction with strong romantic elements rather than Romance. Salsa Dancing with Pterodactyls is set in the financial district of San Francisco (hence the Milton Freidman!). This is another book I couldn’t stop writing but, like Michaelangelo, I am “finding the story in the words”, so to speak. 


I love the title—intriguing! What would you say has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author?

The toughest criticism is always a rejection. When I was just starting out, I kept all the polite notes from short story magazines. Nowadays they come in emails. I keep those too. There’s no honest criticism that you can’t learn from. I keep in mind it’s a lot easier to criticize than it is to create.

I’m sure many of us can relate to that. On the flip side, what has been the best compliment? 

The best compliments I’ve received are about Wait a Lonely Lifetime and my historical novel (written under my pen name) when people have told me they couldn’t put it down or that they were brought to tears, laughed out loud, are still thinking about the characters. When I read a book like that, it’s a lifelong treasure. 

And that’s what makes it all worthwhile. In closing, do yo have any advice you’d like to give to aspiring writers? 

I considered myself an aspiring writer until I was mortified to hear myself say, “I always wanted to be a writer.” We’re only aspiring if we’re not writing. Once you write, you are a writer. My best advice is: Write the best book you can and then make it better.

Great advice. Thank you so much for your time today, Leigh and congratulations on your new Avalon release!

About the Author:

A native of Paris Hill, Maine, Leigh Verrill-Rhys spent most of her childhood and early adult years in San Francisco before emigrating to Wales to marry and raise three sons. She has been a writer, editor, and lecturer for most of her life, intermingled with career portfolios in marketing, finance, and community arts projects.
Wait a Lonely Lifetime is her first published novel. Leigh admits to running with scissors and leaping before she looks.

Follow Leigh at www.leighverrillrhys.com, her blog: http://www.everwrting.wordpress.com, onTwitter: @EverWriting9, or Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/LeighVerrillRhysAuthor

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The opportunity to interview the Avalon Books western novelist, L W Rogers, came after I  had read two of Zane Grey’s novels.

January 11, 2012

Superstition Trail 12-2011 Today, I have the pleasure of talking to L W Rogers, author of several Avalon Westerns whose latest novel, Superstition Trail was released just before Christmas 2011. I would like to thank her at the outset for her forthright responses.

Aside from school assignments, what was the first story you ever told/wrote that gave you the idea you wanted to be a writer?

I’ve always had an active imagination. I don’t remember having an imaginary friend, but my mother tells people that when I was as young as three years old, she would hear me on the back porch talking. My conversations were so real that she would often check to see who I was talking to. By the time I was in the 4th grade, I was writing and illustrating story books. At that young age, I didn’t really know I wanted to be a writer. Since I love horses, my dream was to own a ranch in Montana and raise Arabian and Morgan horses.

Did you run into any opposition to your decision to become a writer?

I was a teacher for twenty-seven years, and guess what subject I taught? Yep, language arts and social studies to 6th graders, as well as Composition 101 at the local community college. I loved teaching writing. Later, I was assigned to work with Migrant Services and teach English as a Second Language (ESOL). Then I decided to form the first adult ESOL classes. Between day and evening classes, plus working with Migrant Services, my job became all-consuming. Writing was put on hold until I retired at the age of 53.
Loretta RogersDid I run into opposition? Well, the biggest obstacle was me, myself and I. Two years after I’d retired, my husband said he was tired of hearing me talk about writing a book. Then my excuse was, “I don’t have a computer.” My husband told me to go get in the car. That same day, he drove me to Radio Shack to buy a computer. After we got home, his comment was, “Well what’s your excuse now?” As you can see—no opposition. Since that first computer, I’ve worn out two and just purchased a new one.

Once you no longer had that excuse, what was your inspiration?

I guess you can say my husband was my inspiration. Had he not insisted we go buy a computer, I’d probably still be talking about writing a novel, and wishing and hoping to someday get published. Of course, I don’t think my hubby knew how many times he’d have to eat grilled cheese sandwiches or hot dogs for supper that day he drove me to Radio Shack. When I’m on deadline cooking goes by the wayside, and the dust bunnies in my house multiply.

Have you always written Western novels?

In my early years of writing, I was told that Westerns was a niche market that they were passé, and no one read them anymore. What did I know? I took the advice literal and tried to write comedy. That’s when I discovered, I didn’t have a funny bone in my body.  I love the old west. Anything about horses, cattle drives, outlaws, Native Americans, rodeos, I soak it up like a sponge. Sometimes I think I was born in the wrong era. Maybe that’s why writing Westerns appeals to me; plus the fact that I grew up sneaking my daddy’s Zane Grey and Louie L’Amour novels out of his sock drawer. Back in those days, the word ‘damn’ was a huge no-no. Children were not to be exposed to such language, that’s why he kept the books hidden. Oh, and I was so in love with John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, Audie Murphy, Clint Eastwood, Clint Walker and so many of the great western movie stars. Although, I write Westerns for Avalon Books and Western Romance for The Wild Rose Press, my first non-western, Forbidden Son, published by The Wild Rose Press will release March, 2012.

My father read the same books and we watched all the western TV shows but I was more interested in fairy-tales, but Americans have never lost their connection to the West or the Frontier Spirit. After reading some of the Avalon Western writers’ books, I’m rediscovering my passion for the genre. When you published your first novel, how did you feel?

I wrote my first novel in 2004. It’s collecting dust in a drawer. I can’t believe I had the guts to submit that piece of work to several publishers and agents.  Every so often I pull it out to give myself a good laugh and as a reminder of how far I’ve come. For several years, I wrote short stories for True Confessions and True Romance magazines. My first book was actually a novella, published, in December 2007. Isabelle and the Outlaw is a time-travel western romance. I thought I had won the lottery when the editor contacted me. Shortly after that, I received a contract from Avalon Books for my first full-length novel The Twisted Trail which was published in April of 2008. With almost back-to-back books, I felt as if I’d won the mega-ball million. A funny story about The Twisted Trail; this book is a “Cracker Western,” meaning it is set in1840’s Florida. I submitted to an editor  (who shall remain nameless). I still have the rejection letter which states, “Everyone knows that Florida is all about bikinis, beaches and palm trees and has no cowboy history.” Shame on that editor for not knowing his history, and thanks to Erin Cartwright, my then Avalon editor, for seeing the potential in that book.

It seems once a book is out of your hands, you’re at the mercy of a quite few other people. That editor’s comment is one of the funniest I’ve read. Your new book is Superstition Trail. (This will link to the trailer). Like The Twisted Trail, your hero is a gunman. Tell us more about this new book.

Superstition Trail, my third Western, published by Avalon, released December, 2011.
Ace Donovan is bent on revenge. For fifteen years he has tracked six men who hanged his father and brother, and left him for dead. With five notches on his gun butt, the last bullet is for a faceless man who has a penchant for spitting on his victims.

Donovan never intended to fall in love with Dulcie Slaughter. His bullet left her a widow. Set in the backdrop of the Superstition Mountains of Arizona, Superstition Trail is filled with action-packed adventure that includes an Apache legend about the Screaming Woman. The Apache believe the Screaming Woman spirit is angry because they didn’t prevent the white man from invading sacred lands. Outlaws use this Apache legend in an attempt to steal the herd. Dulcie’s trust in Donovan is shattered when one of the outlaws recognizes him as the man who killed her husband.

Superstition Trail is a book I’ll want to read with so many elements woven together: action, adventure, history and romance. And now you’re taking on the challenge of another genre. Do your readers comment on the difference between your writing for Avalon and the books you have with other publishers?

twistedtrailAt first, I had a separate sets of readers—men who read only my westerns and women who read only my western romance novels.  I’m not sure when the cross-over happened, but now I seem to have as many men who read my The Wild Rose Press western romances as I have women who read my Avalon westerns. When I wrote The Twisted Trail a Marine Lt. Col. stationed in Iraq emailed to say he was surprised a woman could write such convincing fight scenes. Wow, what a great compliment! Yet,  a man who  read Bannon’s Brides, my TWRP western romance, said that reading the book was like having chocolate and sex wrapped up all in one spicy package.  That comment really put a grin on my face. Forbidden Son is my first non-western. I’m not sure how my readers will respond to a vintage romance that is primarily a series of flashbacks to include Rwandan rebels in Africa during the 1950’s and a segment that takes place in LaDrange Valley, Vietnam in the 1970’s. If my readers aren’t happy with the new genre, perhaps I can pacify them with the new western Cowgirl Courage that will release December 2012.


High praise indeed from your readers. When you set out to write a new western, where do you go to research the background of the story?

I have friends who know that I’m a ‘book hound.’ When they find non-fiction books about the old west, they gift me with these gems. In fact, my shelves are running over with books. In return, I give my friends one of my new releases. It’s a win-win for all of us. Sometimes, not often, I use the internet for research. I’m skeptical that some of the sources aren’t reliable. I also use the library’s inner-library loan system, which I can access via computer. I enjoy researching, but have to be careful not to get so caught up in it that it detracts from writing.

Will you try your hand at comedy again?

The reason I don’t tell jokes is because I can never remember the punch-line, no one ever laughs, and I end up with a red face. Nope, absolutely not! If I ever had a funny bone, it is permanently retired and resting peacefully in the drawer with the novel that is collecting dust.

I understand everything you’ve said here! I have a good sense of humor but writing comedy is another art form. If the book that launched your writing career hadn’t been published, where would your career be now?

There’s no denying that my debut novella was the energizing force to my writing career, but had it not been published, I think I might have continued submitting manuscripts until  rejection letters convinced me that I’d probably be better off creating scrap books and watching re-runs of old western movies and eternally dreaming about becoming a published author.

We can all be grateful Isabelle and the Outlaw worked for you. Thank you very much for taking the time to answer these questions and all the best for your future endeavors, Loretta.    

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Disclaimer: This interview appeared shortly after the publication of Ilsa Mayr’s novel, The Widow, a book about one woman’s experience of illegal immigration. There are always circumstances that humanize a situation that is fraught with difficulties. This story is imaginary and does not address the reality of the millions of illegal aliens who have crossed the border or overstayed their student/visitor visas. I interviewed Ilsa Mayr about her release before I understood the magnitude of the problem.

November 23, 2011

widowGood morning, Ilsa. Thank you for agreeing to this interview. I’d like to start with the inspiration for The Widow. You have chosen a controversial idea for your relationship. How did that occur to you?
The inspiration for THE WIDOW came from a most prosaic incident. I was sitting in my dentist’s reception room, waiting to have my teeth cleaned. I picked up a magazine that featured a long article on illegal border crossings in Texas. From that evolved the plot of the novel. I can’t remember the name of the magazine, but the article was obviously impressive.

Did you have any second thoughts or misgivings about a marriage of convenience for these two characters?
I am a sucker for the marriage of convenience plot. Since we know that a happy ending is guaranteed in a romance, one of the thornier problems is to come up with a conflict strong enough to keep the hero and heroine apart for some fifty to seventy thousand words. In a marriage of convenience plot, tension and conflict are naturally built in.

ilsamayrYou write in two genres. The Widow seems to have elements of both. Which element is most comfortable for you?
Lately I’ve been writing a romance, followed by a mystery. I think this keeps me from falling into a rut – or so I hope. And I like to combine the two, at least in a small way, by adding a bit of mystery/suspense to the romance and a hint of romance or possible future romantic involvement to the mystery. Love and danger are a potent combination.

What do you like most about this book?
The protagonists, Santiago and Jane Peterson, the widow.

I think most authors have a strong preference for their characters – over other elements in the story. As a librarian you see a multitude of books vying for space on your shelves. What insights into readers’ preferences have you found to help you with yalibisliesour own writing?
None–I can’t write to demand. I tried it, but can only write what I like to read. For example, right now at  school the supernatural/horror is very popular. However, I don’t like to read that genre as I am very impressionable and when home alone in the evening, a small noise can conjure up scary images.

You say on your website (www.ilsamayrbooks.com) you began writing after many years as a librarian and the first book you wrote is still in a box, hidden away. What advice would you give to new writers about their first attempts?
Probably to keep first attempts in the closet. However, it is possible to use the plot or characters later in a new book.

I glad you said that! Was this first attempt a romance or a mystery?
It was a young adult novel–a very hard genre to break into. Have not tried to write in that genre again. Maybe I’ll go back to it, but right now I have a number of plots that bug me to use them. Pesky things, ideas.

I can understand that! Do you have an overall theme that inspires your creative efforts?None that I’m aware of. Themes are a difficult topic. The students at school always find the term “theme” scary. Often themes are so subtle that they are difficult to unearth. To make matters worse, there can be more than one theme in a novel.

I’ve noticed that several of your books have artistic elements: in Maelstrom and Serenade music is an element; dance is important in Dance of Life; and painting is significant in Portrait of Eliza. (I will include thumbnail covers for some of these). Will you elaborate on how ‘art’ influences your work? 
maelstromProbably because these are areas that I love. We drive to Chicago several times a year for the Chicago symphony. Usually we (my husband and I) go early so that we can visit the Art Institute which is across the street from Symphony Hall to see the new exhibits or just go to look at our favorite ones again.

In what ways, if at all, did the novels of Zane Grey influence your work, especially The Widow and Gift of Fortune?
Having grown up in Austria, where every 3-4 kilometers there’s another village or town, the idea of wide open spaces where there’s nothing but open fields and grassland is awesome. To most Europeans, or to those of us who have European roots, the Old West, or the myth of it, is totally fascinating. Among movies, a Western is my favorite genre. Right now hardly any are filmed, to my dismay.

You write both romance and mystery. Dance of Life was your first published novel and had elements of mystery as well as romance. Maelstrom is a mystery and, according to one reviewer, has ‘an agreeable romantic subplot’. Do these genres provide a pleasant, natural mix for you or do you lean more toward one?
danceRight now my favorite mix is a mystery with a romantic subplot. I suppose “romantic suspense” is the right term.

The last time I approached a librarian about genre fiction, she was quite dismissive and made me feel I was a lower form of life. Do you find any difficulty in combining your profession as a librarian with you work as a romance/mystery writer?
I am so sorry you ran into that kind of librarian! The snobby attitude is totally outmoded. My idea is that ANY reading is better than NO reading. I think of a student’s reading as stepping stones–the “easy” books leading to more reading, leading to more difficult and challenging reading. I love it when a student tells me that a particular book is the one he/she (it’s usually a he) has read cover to cover. And asks if I have another one like it! That’s when I feel I’ve earned my pay.

That is a wonderful feeling, may you have many more of them, especially for your own books. Thank you so much for taking this time from your busy schedule.

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YA Author, Sarah Jamila Stevenson

YA Author, Sarah Jamila Stevenson

My guest for this Author Interview is writer and Welsh enthusiast, Sarah Jamila Stevenson. Her most recent book, The Truth Against the World is set in San Francisco and the southwest of Wales, one of the most beautiful, romantic and mysterious places I’ve ever visited. I’ve asked Sarah questions about her inspiration and her plans for her writing future. She has kindly and generously responded. So, meet my young colleague:

1) The Truth Against the World is your third novel. What was the one aspect of your experience that inspired this book?
I would say there are two main sources of inspiration for this book: one, of course, is having traveled in Wales and having a longstanding love of the culture, the country, and the language. The rest of the inspiration comes from my own grandparents. My grandfather died in 1997 after battling colon cancer for a few years, and I found myself wanting to write in some way about that experience–not only of death and grieving, but everything that comes before: how families cope with the diagnosis and the treatment, whether they talk about it or don’t talk about it. My grandmother also inspired the aspect of the story dealing with family secrets. She passed away about 12 years ago, but before she died, she began to open up about a lot of details we hadn’t known about her life–even things she’d once lied about! I found the idea of longstanding family secrets a very intriguing basis for a story.
2) In what way is The Truth Against the World a different direction for you from your first book, The Latte Rebellion?
It’s much more serious in terms of its theme and overall feel. In certain respects, The Truth Against the World shares more similarities with my second book, Underneath; they both have themes of grief and loss. Of course, as young adult novels, all three books share that “coming of age” element that I find so compelling about YA–the ability to explore what really makes a character, what creates and shapes someone’s personality as well as their actions. The Latte Rebellion explores that idea of identity in a very different way, through humor and misadventure. All three books, though, do focus on the idea of identity–who we are at heart, how we become that person, how we learn who we are.
TATW3) In The Truth Against the World, you characters, Gareth and Wyn, share a Welsh heritage, but both at a distance. Is this a reflection of your own hiraeth (longing) for a part of your cultural past?
I wish I could say it was! It certainly qualifies as hiraeth for a long-overdue trip back to Wales and the rest of the UK. I have family and friends in various places in England, Wales, and Ireland, and frequently daydream about returning!
5) Was your interest in Welsh language and culture inspired by your personal heritage or did the idea for this novel come first?
I’ve been interested in Welsh language and culture since my first visit to Wales at age 4! We took a family vacation to England and Wales and I remember being quite impressed with the castles in Wales, and the green countryside. I returned with my mother when I was 13, and that’s when I first remember encountering the Welsh language and being captivated by it. It almost felt as though I should already understand it–when I heard it spoken, it felt familiar somehow in its rhythms. That was when I bought my first book on basic Welsh, but I didn’t do much with it until I went to college and, my final year, I had the opportunity to take a couple of Welsh language classes, something I’d long dreamed of doing. It was a few years after that that the idea for this novel began to take shape, in about 2001. So it’s been a gradual process of the story idea coalescing over time, I think.
6) As with most Americans, your heritage is multi-cultural. What about your Welsh heritage has inspired you to learn the language and write this paranormal mystery novel?
Unfortunately, I have no idea whether I have Welsh heritage or not, and I may never find out! It was something my grandmother (see above) always used to say (she’d say that side of the family was English, Scottish, Irish, Welsh, German, and French) but we have no idea how much of that was accurate, and no real way to prove it. We only know for sure about the English, Irish, and French Canadian. Having her say that at all, though, did plant a seed in my mind, clearly! And repeated visits to England and Wales nurtured that seed. My parents met in London in the 1970s–my father was living there as a young man after emigrating from India/Pakistan, and my mother was on a trip when she met him. They lived there for a couple of years before I was born before moving to California. Then, when I was in college, I had the opportunity to work in London for a summer, and had a chance to take another visit to Wales at that point. My last visit was in 2000, not long before I started to get the idea for this book. So, I suppose it is accurate that my hiraeth inspired me to write it!
As for its being a paranormal mystery, I always envisioned the story that way–even after multiple revisions, the first scene has always begun with Gareth meeting the ghost. And Wales is a place that seems to inspire magic and mystery.
7) Gareth and Wyn’s adventure is located in the Tywi Valley. What attracted you to this area as the setting for The Truth Against the World?
On my last trip to Wales in 2000, we stayed in the Tywi Valley and had an opportunity to explore the area, which was one I hadn’t visited before. So it was the freshest in my mind, I suppose, and I felt more confident about inventing a small village and having it be (hopefully) convincing. It is also an area with a lot of interesting contrasts of scenery–industry and nature, cities and seashore–and enough of a Welsh-speaking population that the language could realistically be a plot element.
8) What have you planned for the next project in your writing career?
I’m working on a new YA project, which I recently decided was not one but two books. It’s speculative fiction, set in a world that relies on steam and water power–a catastrophe in the distant past meant that combustion power came under strict governmental control. In this rigidly controlled world with drastic differences in social class, we meet Chiara, a young woman from a noble family who wants to work with technology and change the system from within–but work is prohibited for noblewomen. Aden, a young man from the less prosperous town outside the palisades, is struggling to overcome various hardships, but his talent for alchemy might just be a lifeline–provided he can avoid getting mixed up with the wrong people. The first book about Chiara and Aden is calledTinder.
9) What’s next in your study of Welsh culture and language?
Whenever I can, I try to attend Cymdeithas Madog’s Cwrs Cymraeg (Welsh course), which takes place for one week each summer here in North America. I plan to go to next summer’s course in Portland, Oregon, to refresh my skills. I’ve also been doing a bit of translation and editing work for a company that does software localization (translating software into other languages for marketing in other countries)–I’ve been a QA tester, which means I look through and make sure buttons are working and everything is translated correctly and that sort of thing. It’s really been challenging my Welsh skills! But then again, I suppose I wouldn’t be in the arts if I didn’t enjoy a challenge.
Many thanks for taking the time to respond to these questions, Sarah, and all the very best for your writing future. I share your enthusiasm for all that is Welsh.
Llongyfarchiadau am dy lwyddiant hyd hyn.

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This interview was the first I ever did with another Avalon author. Stone Wallace’s latest novel, Black Ransom, is published by Berkley and I received a gift copy last week. I also wrote an article about it here.
Stone Wallace is now publishing with Berkley and I had the privilege of reading an early draft of his forthcoming novel, Black Ransom. This interview was published on Avalon Authors June 15, 2011.
BlackRansomWhen the call went out for interviewers, I leapt on the opportunity to have a chat with Stone Wallace. Although we had just ‘met’ in an online writer’s forum, I had an inkling I wanted to know more about him and his new western, The Last Outlaw, for Avalon Books. I’m glad I went with my inkling – I would not have wanted to miss talking to him as we have over the past few weeks.
You say in your interview with Quinten Mills-Fenn for Style Manitoba, you had a fascination for gangster movies and television series. You’ve also written non-fiction and horror. Where does your western fiction find its inspiration?
Before I decided upon writing Denim Ryder as a Western, I was actually playing around with the idea of creating a series featuring a female secret agent simply called “Denim”. What I think happened was one night I was interviewing actor John Agar and we got to talking about the Westerns he’d made and something in our conversation got me to thinking that possibly I could develop Denim into a frontier female. Had never written a Western before, so that offered another challenge. Plus it gave me the privilege to honor John Agar, who was simply the sweetest, greatest guy, by basing a character on him.
John Agar’s films are legendary, including the horror films and I remember them well. Denim was transformed into a frontierwoman as a tribute to Agar. You went on to write another female character in Montana Dawn. Is there a reason you chose to write these books from a female point of view?
Not really. “Denim” and “Montana” both just happened to develop with female leads and I went from there, groping my way through the actions, emotions and complexities of these two characters. Again, this resulted in a creative challenge to see if I could make these characters believable. Females, of course, had featured in my past novels, but central to these stories was always the male – be he protagonist or antagonist. Most of my female characters up to that point had pretty much been window-dressing.
What were some of the creative challenges you met while writing Montana Dawn? Was there a specific event in the novel that you had to dig deep to find her reaction?

 

Interestingly, I found Montana Dawn to be an exceptionally easy story to write. Of course it required some research into the time and the locale, but it seemed as if the characters themselves propelled the narrative. They became real to me – real, breathing people – who ended up taking me along on their adventure. When that occurs, writing becomes pure pleasure.
Has there ever been a character who point blank refused to play by your rules?
I suppose the best answer I can give is when I wrote my first book, a horror novel. While most of the characters were rather naive to the supernatural occurrences happening around this young, withdrawn girl, there was a most capable psychiatrist who gradually began to fit the pieces of the mystery together. I fully intended to have him stick around to the end of the book and to some degree have him be the savior of the situation, but about midway through the plot took an unexpected detour and the poor fella got himself killed. Really didn’t see that coming, and his death put me in a bit of a quandary as to how to bring the story to a satisfactory conclusion. But I must confess I like those types of unexpected plot developments. I feel that if it surprises me, it may do likewise to the reader.
You have said you think The Last Outlaw is ‘noir’. Without giving away any of this gripping story, can you tell me more about this book or how you came to write it?
Thanks for the nice words. Yes, The Last Outlaw is quite different from my previous two Avalon Westerns. Yes, it can best be called a noir Western, in that it has a darker storyline, some pretty dark, if not downright nasty, characters. Again, because I’m a fan of gangster dramas and film noir, I thought it might be interesting to combine both into a Western. Most of the noir I’ve seen or read is a gradual descending into darkness, usually through circumstances over which the hero has no control. And that certainly is what occurs to my story’s protagonist, Cash McCall. Despite his strong and honest efforts to rehabilitate after his release from prison, his situation just becomes bleaker until he has no other choice but to return to the life he’d hoped to leave behind. Again, once I knew what the plot would be, it’s a story that unfolded almost by itself. I just followed Cash through those dark alleys on his attempted journey to redemption, really not sure of the outcome. I believe that uncertainty helps to create suspense. I hope that suspense element comes through to the readers.
In Montana Dawn, you mentioned you based a character on John Agar. When you create characters, do they also evolve from other creative sources – art, history, films, novels or from ‘real life’, your own experiences and imagination?

Outside of John Agar inspiring the character of Jason Cole in Denim Ryder, I really don’t use any source other than my imagination – although unique characteristics or personality traits may be “borrowed” from real life. It’s usually after I’ve completed writing a book that I allow myself the luxury to visualize actors and actresses who would be my choice to play characters – if a movie were to be made of one of my books… and if the performer were still around, whichis not the case since I prefer the older actors from the 30s, 40s and 50s. For example, for Montana Dawn I envisioned Rhonda Fleming as “Montana” and Ben Johnson as “Walt Egan”. Thought they would have been great – if the book had come out some decades ago.
I can see Rhonda Fleming in that role. The Last Outlaw is in the tradition of the hero against the forces of evil. This is a recurring theme in your three westerns. When you knew the plot for this or your other books, were you aware you were voicing the universal angst of the artist? 
Here’s where I’m probably going to disappoint you. My sole motivation when I write a book (fiction, naturally) is simply to tell a good story. Not to educate or necessarily edify, but hopefully, to entertain. I don’t care if people think I’m a “great” writer; I’d much prefer to be known as a good storyteller. If people can put down a book of mine and feel they’ve had an enjoyable read that maybe took them away from themselves for a while, having become immersed in the characters and situations, then I’m satisfied.

What do you read, besides your day job work?
I spend most of my workday (the dreaded day job to which, unfortunately, most writers must succumb) reading and editing trade and association publications, which, frankly, is deadly dull, affording virtually no creative stimulation. Often by day’s end I can’t bear to look at another printed word and, at that point, will usually watch a good movie instead. On weekends, though, and on those weeknights when my brain needs a jump-start of literary stimulation, I generally read biographies and histories. Definitely read some Westerns, of course. There are a lot of talented, dedicated Western writers out there whose books I enjoy and from whose styles I can learn. Avalon, in particular, has a terrific stable of authors, among whom I am now immensely proud to be included.
When you sit down to write a good story, what are the things you enjoy about writing?

Good, interesting characters, of course, whose lives, loves and adventures you enjoy exploring along with them. Most of all, I love surprise. I like to suddenly veer into an unexpected direction in the narrative and thereby, hopefully, throw the reader off course. I really am not a fan of formulaic fiction, where you know from the first chapter exactly how the story is going to develop and how it will be resolved. I think I tossed a pretty good curve ball at the end of Denim Ryder, which at first even Avalon, I’m told, questioned. But I didn’t want readers of that story simply to put down the book at the end and say maybe that it was a satisfying read, nothing more. I wanted to leave them with a “kicker”, as it were. Something they did not expect. And from comments I’ve received from readers of that book, I believe I succeeded.

When that good story isn’t going well, what keeps you working?
Ah-hah, the dreaded writer’s block – or when you have those days when you sit down to write and later you take a look at the day’s results and think your five year-old daughter had composed it. Had many of ’em. Those terrible periods when you say to yourself: “What makes me possibly think I’m a writer?” Fortunately, what I’ve learned is simply to chalk it up to just having a bad day, forget about it and try again tomorrow. Don’t get discouraged, just keep at it. Usually (at least in my case) the next day you write “gold”. You stumble, get back up again.

If you know the story isn’t going to work, what do you do with the aborted effort?
Boy, that’s something else I’ve experienced. I’ve submitted partials which (even after I’d established something of a publishing track record) were rejected numerous times by various publishers and finally gave up on the book and moved onto something else. But fortunately (or not), I’ve never started a story that part- or mid-way through I realized I couldn’t finish because the narrative strayed or I simply lost interest. Such has happened, but I’ve stubbornly stuck through it and eventually finished the book. It’s only when frequent rejections hammer it into me that the story is not marketable that I’ll give up the ghost and not finish the book – after all, writers don’t necessarily want to write in a vacuum. For me, at least, I write to be read. I confess I own a writer’s trunk of incompletes and rejected manuscripts. Don’t visit it often, though.
In your trunk of backlist manuscripts, is there one book you regret letting go?
If you’d asked me that maybe ten years ago, I’d probably say ‘yes’. But now, not so much. Some of the stuff hidden amongst the mothballs is pretty raw. But I certainly don’t regret having written them. You learn by writing, whether your stuff is published or not.
I’ll tell you a funny story, though. After I’d somewhat established myself as a horror writer back in the mid-80s, I wrote a teenage vampire novel, which, in many ways, was quite similar to “Twilight”. Submitted it to my publisher, who rejected it, commenting that there just wasn’t a market for vampire fiction at the time. Same thing when I submitted another manuscript about a vampire hitman. Two strikes and I was out when it came to bloodsuckers. Who would have guessed the market turnaround. Yet that’s encouraging. Because even though the Western genre might be in a bit of a slump at the moment, a turnaround could be right around the corner.
If you had the chance to begin your writing career over, is there anything you would want to change?
Oh God, Leigh, is there a writer alive who wouldn’t want one last crack at a published manuscript. We’re our own worst critics, though the reality is, even if we could make those final, final changes, down the line we’d probably want yet another shot at it. I can definitely say that about myself. I’m a nagging perfectionist and confess that errors that got through in books of mine published twenty years ago still irk me.
And maybe one more thing. After my third horror book was published, I’d decided to tackle other genres; the market seemed to be slowing and I didn’t want to become typecast. I wrote and submitted a gangster book to a publisher who, though not interested in that particular book, somehow knew of me and asked if I’d consider writing horror books for their company. Like the twaddle I sometimes am, I refused their offer and ended up not writing another book for almost 15 years. I look back now and contemplate the “what if . . . ” scenario.
You’ve written non-fiction and fiction, westerns and horror. Is there another genre waiting in the wings for you?
Yes, as I mentioned earlier I’m currently working on completing a gangster novel called The Chicago Boys.
It’s a fictional telling of what happened to the Chicago mob after Al Capone was sent away to prison on an income tax rap. It deals with the internal power struggle among the Outfit and their attempted extortion of Hollywood studios during the 30s. There’s lots of facts and real-life characters, but it is a novel so I can use my imagination to create situations or creatively expand upon stuff that really did happen during that era. As you know, I’m a gangster addict, and this has been something I’ve been developing for a long time. Fortunately, I also have a publisher interested. There always seems to be some market for these types of books. And the interest in Capone never really seems to waver.

Now that The Last Outlaw is published, is the party over?
I hope not. I do have ideas for other Westerns that I’d like to write, including a sequel to Denim Ryder. I’d love to do some promotions for all of my Westerns, but that’s somewhat difficult with them not available in Canadian bookstores. That’s always a handicap when it comes to author publicity, as I’ve unfortunately discovered. I’ve experienced some local media who are resistant to do an interview BECAUSE a book of mine is not in stores. I suppose they may feel that any book that is not in stores is not a “true” publication and maybe a “vanity” effort, which can be a bad rap. Personally, I feel that, shelf competition aside, it is vital for books to be placed in brick-and-mortar stores – for visibility and to give potential readers tangible evidence of the book’s worth. But that’s probably best for another story another day.
Thank you, Stone, for this opportunity to talk with you. It has been a pleasure to become better acquainted. My copy of  The Last Outlaw is on its way to me and I’m anxious to follow Cash McCall into his dark world.
Addendum: My copy of The Last Outlaw was delivered at the last possible moment at end of my stay in West Hartford, CT in July 2011. I couldn’t put it down.

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