Author: authorwilliamcook

About authorwilliamcook

I grew up on the east coast, where I attended two Catholic seminaries before getting my Master's Degree in Social Work at the State University of New York at Albany. I moved to Oregon in 1989, continuing my career as a mental health therapist. I am now retired and I divide my time between babysitting for my 15 grandchildren and writing.

An Interview with Indie Author Diana McDonough

It’s my pleasure to introduce to you indie author Diana McDonough. Her Amazon page tells us that she retired from her career as a distributor sales development manager with Ecolab after 26 years to pursue her passion for writing. She is the mother of three and the “Grandy” of twelve.

Will: Diana, when did you first realize you were a writer and had something you  wanted to say? What has your “writer’s journey” been like?

Diana: I was in second grade when my teacher said I had writing potential. I think it was just because I wrote a story about a pony and named it after her. I’ve always loved playing with words and many years ago when I lived far from everyone I loved, I wrote letters. Long letters. It soothed my soul. Then I began to write Christmas letters to family and friends every year that were a big hit. While raising three kids, my mother passed. I felt the tug to write a book about her raising a family in the D.C. area during the 60s. It took ten years, but Stuck in the Onesies was born.

Will: Can you give us a glimpse into your writing process—how, when, and where you do what you do?

Diana: I start with an idea for a story and it grows from there. Currently, I’m working on Ginger Star which was an idea I had before I’d written my first book. I shelved it while writing my first two books and am now finishing the project, tying it into My Mother’s Apprentice as part of the Stuck in the Onesies Series. It’s funny though, who I thought was going to be the main protagonist, no longer is. You never know where your characters or your story are going to take you.

Will: Your debut novel, Stuck in the Onesies, is a literary joy. Tell us about it.

Diana: Stuck in the Onesies was inspired by my mother and her girlfriend, both raising kids and husbands back in the 1960s. While that’s not all that unusual, the setting was the suburbs of Washington, D.C. when riots and marches were breaking out all over. I watched these two women try to be independent while living the Donna Reed lifestyle. It was like living with Lucy and sometimes Ethel. You never knew what money-making scheme was coming next. In the end, they both succeeded in becoming independent women, no longer “Stuck in the Onesies.” So, to explain the saying “Stuck in the Onesies,” if you’ve ever played the game of jacks, you know that if you don’t get past the onesies on your first turn, you’re forever playing catch-up. Getting “stuck in the onesies” just wastes valuable time.

Will: Your follow-up novel, My Mother’s Apprentice, took us into some different territory. Please share with us your inspiration for that story.

Diana: After I wrote Stuck in the Onesies, the readers asked for a sequel. Well, I never anticipated a sequel, and if I had, would have left an open ending in Stuck in the Onesies. Back to the drawing board. My Mother’s Apprentice is the story of the daughters. I wouldn’t call it a “true story,” but more creative non-fiction. In other words, it’s based on truth, but I filled in some blanks and took creative liberties. You’ll have to read the book to find out how.

Will: Is it accurate to say you’ve had a long-standing love affair with the island of Jamaica? What’s that all about?

Diana: YES! It was love at first sight with Jamaica the first time I landed there in 1994. My husband and I were on a planning trip for mission work our church was sponsoring. It was in the mountains near Bob Marley’s birthplace. If you’ve ever heard of the “middle of nowhere,” that’s where it is. I fell in love with the sea, the waterfalls (always the waterfalls), and the people. They are so real, so helpful to one another, we could all learn from their love for each other. We don’t know what “living by faith” is here in this country, for the most part. These folks have no social programs to help them out. They rely on one another and their faith, something I think we all need to do.

Will: Jamaica figures prominently in your current project, Ginger Star, which will be published later this year. Can you give us a behind-the-scenes peek at it?

Diana: I came up with the idea for Ginger Star while lying in a hammock in Jamaica. The story was about the daughter of a plantation owner and her secret (no spoiler alert here). Enter the pirates during this time period of 1720, The Golden Age of Piracy. I was almost finished with the book, but planned a research trip to Jamaica in May of 2020 to make sure I had everything right (and all I needed was a reason to go again!). We all know that never happened in 2020, so the trip never materialized, but the George Floyd tragedy did. I was stunned to realize that even though I had evolved in my attitude toward racism, many had not. I knew I needed to go back to the drawing board to make plantation life more realistic. So I did. It meant I had to give some of my characters ugly traits, but it made the story better, I think. Ginger Star will be published in the Fall of 2022.

Will: I understand that visiting book clubs has been a significant part of your marketing strategy. How have you utilized them, and do you have any other marketing tips for aspiring indie authors?

Diana: I have found book clubs to be a true inspiration. They energize and inspire me with their questions and interest. I treasure their honesty. It isn’t an easy task getting invited to book clubs. Typically, you have to know someone in the club and ask them to see about featuring one of your books, but once you do, word starts spreading and more invitations arrive.

Will: What advice do you have for authors who choose to publish independently?

Diana: Make sure your work is what you want it to be and what it should be. I am guilty of allowing others to push me to get it published. My advice is to “get it polished” first. Have your website tuned up and set up a launch team. Folks that are willing to push your posts out through social media are priceless. Be willing to put on your marketing hat. I was in sales for 26 years and thought this would be a piece of cake. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Selling books is totally different from chemicals. While I thought I was a social media magician, I discovered I was wrong. I’ve enlisted the help of a marketing firm this time around. Stay tuned… Here’s a link to an article with better suggestions than mine: https://blog.papertrue.com/8-pre-publishing-steps-self-publishing-book/

Will: Diana, thank you so much for taking the time to share your insights with us. We wish you every success with the launch of Ginger Star. Readers, if you’d like to learn more about Diana and her books, please visit her at her website.

Wow! What a Review!

Book Review of Gallery of Gangsters: A Driftwood Mystery

Diane Donovan, Senior Reviewer, Midwest Book Review and Editor of Donovan’s Literary Services.

Gallery of Gangsters is the final Driftwood Mystery in the series, expanding its five predecessor titles with a new and final battle between Native American detective Charley Whitehorse and Russian crime czar Vasily Volkov. It’s a confrontation that will rock prior readers, and is introduced by an Author’s Note about currency security and counterfeiting that features some key facts to lend better understanding to this mystery’s subject and progression.

This information in hand, readers embark on a vivid romp that opens in the art auction world of 2019. Here, a meteoric bidding war is taking place, with prices hitting the millions for a work of art that two contenders have no intention of losing.

As the bloodless combat between the contenders evolves a chess-like game of strategy and countermoves, readers will be thoroughly engrossed in the story’s mystery and outcome by the time the purchase of Hurricane is complete.

This is just the first chapter of a complex story that moves into the mysterious death of an art gallery owner in Driftwood, who specialized in high-end paintings. It reveals not just the game being played by Whitehorse and Volkov, but a strong woman caught in the middle (Michelle Garrison), whose auction house work has placed her in the crosshairs of a powerful female assassin.

As Michelle asks hard questions about who killed McKinley Striker and Dashiel Owen and becomes immersed in the identity and subterfuge of Odesa (nee Kseniya, whose job is murder), all characters dance into an arena of threat that reaches out to embrace the innocent and guilty alike.

Mystery readers who enjoy stories centered on the art world will find Gallery of Gangsters satisfying for its insights into that community’s activities and the works of art that drive passions and pocketbooks alike. These motivate characters to move outside their comfort zones and into the unfamiliar territory of murder, investigations, and nefarious connections.

Powered by strong personalities whose special interests create different perspectives and representations of moral and ethical behavior, William J. Cook’s story assumes a provocative tone of surprises that embrace unexpected romance and adversity alike.

As events unfold, this final Driftwood mystery comes to life in ways even seasoned genre readers won’t see coming.

As a stand-alone mystery, it will also nicely attract newcomers who have and need no prior experience with the exploits of Charley Whitehorse and Vasily Volkov to prove understandable and engrossing; especially since Michelle’s character powers many of the scenes and insights.

In the end, love wins. But, via a circuitous route that keeps readers guessing right up to the mystery’s satisfying conclusion.

Libraries and readers who look for outstanding characters, an art world backdrop, and intrigue and subterfuge that moves from a small town into international waters will find Gallery of Gangsters the perfect crescendo of a conclusion that explores what is unique and fragile not just in the art world, but in matters of love, power, and the pursuit of profit.

The US Review of Books Gives it a Thumbs-Up!

Gallery of Gangsters: A Driftwood Mystery
by William J. Cook

book review by Joe Kilgore

“She slammed the phone down again. It felt like her life was spiraling out of control. Why had she bothered to call? Was she still atoning for her adolescent crime?”

This tale is another in the author’s series about the small town of Driftwood, Oregon. The story, however, begins a continent away at an art auction in New York. There, readers are introduced to a young woman named Michelle, who will journey from one side of the country to another in an attempt to restart her life, currently plagued by an unseen blackmailer. As Michelle’s story unfolds, so too does the interplay between Volkov, a Russian gangster in Portland, and Whitehorse, a Native American police detective in nearby Driftwood. Previously adversaries, they currently share an odd sort of truce until money laundering, counterfeiting, political influencing, and murder begin to create a toxic mix that simply can’t be ignored.

Author Cook effectively weaves his two narratives together. Eventually, Michelle and Whitehorse are engaged in efforts to not only keep themselves safe from Volkov’s assassins but, in the detective’s case, his wife as well. Continuing characters from previous books in the series are on hand to give a feeling of family to this novel. One of the more appealing players is Chiara, the Driftwood Police dispatcher who is bright, perceptive, and perhaps well on her way to one day becoming a detective herself. On the villain’s team, Kseniya is a stone-cold killer who is as lethal as she is beautiful. Her ability to dispatch individuals with extreme prejudice is matched only by her inability to exhibit any form of emotional involvement with them—until she encounters Michelle.

Author Cook does a first-rate job of mining interpersonal relationships as he’s peeling back the layers of his plot. His depictions of interactions between husbands, wives, and lovers feel honest and real. The people who populate Driftwood are folks readers can enjoy spending time with, particularly as they keep the bad guys at bay.

The New Book is Almost Here!

The Kindle edition of Gallery of Gangsters: A Driftwood Mystery will be published on August 24. You can pre-order it by clicking on the image above.

If you click on the image below, you can read the first chapter. It introduces the new character, Michelle Garrison, and begins to weave the tangled web that will engulf all of Driftwood. Be prepared for the final confrontation between Detective Charley Whitehorse and the sinister Vasily Volkov!

An Interview with Indie Author Adam Copeland

From his Amazon Author Page, we learn that Adam was born and raised in Silverton, Oregon, and that he studied abroad for a year in France. Ever since that time, he has been passionate about international travel. He is an avid outdoorsman, enjoying hiking, backpacking, camping, mountain biking, and scuba diving. He is the co-founder of the Northwest Independent Writers Association. Currently, he resides in Vancouver, Washington, where he is an active member of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church.

Will: Adam, how did you come to realize that you’re a writer?

Adam: Even as a child I was told that I was a story teller. I’d come up with the most imaginative stories. As an adolescent, I wanted to see my stories go “big time” as a book or movie, but of course I felt I didn’t have what it took to make that happen. It wasn’t until after college that I seriously gave it a go and wrote the first chapter to my first book. Then the next, then the next. After the book was finished, I felt “accomplished,” but not quite like a writer yet. I knew that no one was ever going to give me permission to be a “writer,” so I just went and made it happen through self-publishing. When I held that first proof in my hand when it arrived in the mail, that is when I realized I had accomplished being not just a writer, but an author.

Will: Can you give us a glimpse of your process? How do you get your ideas? Do you develop an outline first or are you what they sometimes call a “pantser?” How structured are you about your writing—do you have a dedicated space for writing, a dedicated time?

Adam: I’m most definitely a “panster.” My ideas mostly come from the ether. From the muse. Nudged into existence by the inspiration of music, other books, and movies. My last book touches on that where the narrator, a writer, literally sits at a table with his muses and discusses the story being told—and how they quite often push back or admonish him. I have a general idea where the story is going, then it just happens to come together as if it were meant to be. I do, however, really need to reign that in and learn more the art of story and outlining. I’m a binge writer. Usually in 4-hour blocks on a weekend. Usually at a favorite café with comfy couches where the ambient sounds of the café act as white noise.

Will: You have two books in your Tales of Avalon series: Echoes of Avalon and Ripples in the Chalice. Can you tell us about them?

Adam: Echoes of Avalon is my first book and serves as a repository for all the knowledge I accumulated through my life regarding my love for fantasy, mythology, legend, and history. Before school would start, I’d hang out in the library in the mornings just reading encyclopedia articles about anything that had to do with swords, knights, castles, and ancient battles. My father had a similar passion, so our house was full of books, too. The Hobbit was my first adult book that I read. Echoes of Avalon is a love letter to my love of all that. Ripples in the Chalice is its sequel. I often pitched Echoes as “If you could go back in time to witness the actual event that inspired a fairy tale, it would look like this.” Such is the story of a knight in shining armor, charging up a mountain of glass, to rescue a princess in an ivory tower. But since we’re talking about real life here, does the princess want to be rescued? And by him? Ripples in the Chalice is the follow-up revolving around the consequences of one’s choices, made all the more profound by the involvement of the Holy Grail.

Will: What about your book The Tower?

Adam: When writing Echoes of Avalon, my editor told me my antagonist needed to be more fleshed out; a real person with real motives. So I wrote this novella as a back story to my villain to explain why he is the way he is. The story goes waaaay back to when the progeny of exiled angels passed themselves off as gods with a little “g,” incurring the wrath of God with a big “G” and getting a front row seat to the Great Flood for their troubles.

Will: I confess that I was blown away by your novel Midnight in Silverton: American Gothic. What a strange and wonderful book! And the new audiobook version is extraordinary! What can you tell us about it?

Adam: If Echoes of Avalon and Ripples in the Chalice were love letters to my fascination with fantasy, then Midnight in Silverton was a love letter to my home town and the people there. Echoes is a repository for my life knowledge, Midnight is a repository for my life experience. It was a lifetime in the making, born of a thousand inspirations. From Bradbury, to King, to Hemingway, to…well, just about everyone whose words touched me. It’s very meta, where the reader is along for the ride with a wink. I’d call it a “faux-ography” that draws from my personal life to provide a stage for a murder mystery with supernatural elements. As I mentioned above, the Narrator’s muses guide him while he tries to solve the murder, even though he *might* not want to find out who it is. Though it has elements of Fight ClubDandelion WineArrival and other great stories, this one’s uniquely all mine.

Will: You are a co-founder of NIWA—the Northwest Independent Writers Association. How did that come about? What should our readers know about NIWA?

Adam: While promoting my first book, I nabbed one of the last spots in the vendor room for Orycon, a sci-fi and fantasy convention in Portland, Oregon. The event organizers asked if I’d mind sharing my spot with another author who had signed up late. I was totally fine with that and that’s how I met Mike Chinakos, author of the wonderfully fun Hollywood Cowboy series (An 80’s metal band that also moonlights as vampire hunters). He noticed that we weren’t the only ones selling self-published books that day and suggested we should all band together and pool our resources. I said, “Ah, heck no, that sounds like a lot of work!” Sigh. It was. But I wouldn’t change it for anything. The friendships and connections I’ve made have been priceless. If I want readers to know one thing about NIWA it’s that there are so many great authors right here in your own backyard who deserve a look (C’mon! A hair band that fights vampires! How can you not want to read that?).

Will: Are you working on a new project? Can you give us a peek at it?

Adam: I have an un-published manuscript that has come very close on a couple of occasions to being published with traditional publishers. It’s a WWI vampire/zombie action adventure. I’d like to take a stab at making it into a graphic novel. All my writing is very visual. I basically have a movie projector in my head, and this story isn’t any different and so would lend itself very well to the graphic arts media. In a nutshell: What if, at the height of trench warfare in the First World War, the Germans got so desperate to break the stalemate that they tried lobbing a vampire at the Allies? With a tagline like “A weapon of mass destruction is only as good as your ability to control it” goes a long way to telling you how that plan goes.

Will: Do you have any advice for aspiring independent authors?

Adam: Keep at it. Don’t quit. Write something. Then read something. Then write something else. Repeat. Mostly, just keep at it. I subscribe to Duotrope, which is a website and information-center for places to submit writing to. It keeps track of your submissions. It tells me I submitted a variety of stories over 200 times over several years before I finally got my first “real” acceptance. It didn’t pay much, but the fact the publisher turned my Film Noir Bigfoot creature feature (Incident at Ape Canyon) into a multi-voice cast audio story was well worth it.

Will: Adam, thank you so much for sharing some of your writer’s journey with us. I wish you wonderful success with all your projects.

Art and Crime

I live with an artist wife, and Sharon never ceases to amaze me. She enters her studio (formerly, our dining room!) in “paint clothes” (of course, she’d be beautiful even dressed in rags!), starts blending different colors, and confidently approaches her easel armed only with a palette knife. Hours later, she emerges, the cutest smudges of paint on her nose and cheeks, and asks me to take a look at the initial phases of the piece she is birthing. (It seems appropriate that what she is painting on is called a “cradled birch panel.”) Her work staggers me. Here’s her website.

The Oxford Dictionary defines abstract expressionism as a development of abstract art that originated in New York in the 1940s and 1950s and aimed at subjective emotional expression with particular emphasis on the creative spontaneous act. Wikipedia says it put New York City on the map, eclipsing Paris as the new hub of art in the West. I don’t know about all that, I only know my wife’s work knocks my socks off. Here she is:

So why have I’ve called my blog “Art and Crime?” I don’t mean to imply that Sharon is in any way a criminal—far from it! But I write murder mysteries. As I’ve accompanied her to showings at the galleries that feature her work, I’ve learned that art galleries are far and away one of the best places to launder money! Oh, I thought, I can use that! And indeed I have.

Gallery of Gangsters is the final book in the Driftwood series (and one of Sharon’s paintings is on the cover!) If you click on the image below, you can read the first chapter. Let me know what you think.

The book will be released on August 24. Pre-order it now for only $0.99—a $5.00 savings. Here’s the link.

An Interview with Indie Author Suzanne Lawrence

Her Amazon page tells us that as a child, Suzanne was prone to prevaricate to save herself from embarrassment. This story-telling talent led her to writing her first book, The Story of Grace. Her parents divorced when she was barely out of nursery school. Three stepfathers later, she came of age in a small country town while working in the hay fields and driving a tractor. She still loves the smell of freshly cut alfalfa and doesn’t mind getting her hands dirty. She lives with her husband in Salem, Oregon.

Will: Suzanne, when did you first realize you were a writer, and what drew you into the field?

Suzanne: I still don’t consider myself a writer. I see myself more as a storyteller. When I think of writers, I imagine someone that readers are drawn to. Someone who creates excitement for each upcoming book. I think of readers who quote their favorite writers. I’m not there—not by a long shot. But I love to weave a story of overcoming pain or tragedy. I like to bring to life events in my characters’ lives that inspire readers.

I had never written anything until I retired, six years ago. I decided I had a story of my own to tell. I started there and found that I enjoyed bringing to life memories. I enjoyed embellishing my story with color. Then, I decided I could live multiple lives through the characters I created in my fiction.

Will: Can you tell us a bit about your process? Do you have a dedicated place and time for writing? Do you work from an outline?

Suzanne: I am constantly thinking about my story and future stories I might tell. I walk with my characters throughout the week and attempt to capture their feelings and mentally outline what they are doing in the book. I take notes on my thoughts and fine-tune at a later time. Occasionally, another potential book will pop into my consciousness and that’s very distracting.

However, when it’s time to write, I have a dedicated place and time. I review what I’ve written up to the current point in the book. I look at my notes. Then I have a conversation with my characters and allow them to drive the plot forward. Along the way, they may be angry, hurt, confused, or sometimes lost and need my help to resolve their issues.

I do the necessary research as I am writing. I search for accurate settings and props. Generally, it’s like watching a play while sitting at my keyboard. I type what I’m seeing.

Will: In your debut literary novel, The Story of Grace, you’ve created a female protagonist we can love and hate at the same time. What was your inspiration for her?

Suzanne: Grace was a very complicated character and I borrowed from strong women in my past. Originally, I had sympathy for Grace because she was alone in her final years. She had been so lovely, strong, and independent. Now she felt sorry for herself, and that was not an attractive quality. I took parts of myself, my mother, and other women I’ve known who made many bad choices in their lives and paid the price for it. They hurt people along the way. But, as I wrote the book, I realized I cared for Grace and, in the end, it was necessary for someone else to love her and respect her, no matter what mistakes she had made.

Will: Is it accurate to describe the arc of that story as “a tragedy with a promise of redemption?”

Suzanne: Yes, that would be accurate. Grace could never correct the damage she had done not only to herself but to others. She may have felt bad for what she’d done, but given the opportunity, she would no doubt have made the same decisions. When her grandniece became her companion and friend, she found someone who didn’t judge her for her mistakes. Grace despised being judged by others. She criticized herself, she didn’t need criticism from others. She needed unconditional love. Because in the end, love does conquer all.

Will: Your second novel, Legacy, is an epic western about several generations of a family tending the Lazy M Ranch in southern Oregon. On its Amazon page you say, “If you like YellowstoneBonanza, or The Big Valley, you’ll love Legacy.” Tell us about it.

Suzanne: I chose these three television sagas because they have a central theme of family ranches and overcoming difficulties.

The Big Valley had a strong matriarch (Barbara Stanwyck) and was loosely based on an actual ranch in California. The ranch was built around the shared family goals. The family was fighting to keep their ranch. They fought to keep the railroad from crossing their land.

Bonanza did not have a strong female character, but again, the ranch was a family ranch, and in each episode, they faced moral dilemmas. They stuck together and fought for what was right for their ranch.

Finally, I added Yellowstone because it’s a current television hit. Again, it involves a family ranch and the obstacles that face the family as they strive to keep their land. It has a strong female character in Beth Dutton. She’s far more obnoxious and crass than my characters in Legacy, but her desire to protect the family ranch at all costs is admirable.

I think that people tend to romanticize the lives of ranchers. In Legacy, I wanted my readers to see that it’s more than just riding horses and wrangling steers. It’s hard work that takes the cooperation and dedication of everyone in the family. Hardship happens, and often no one understands but family.

Will: Can you share with us some of what you’ve learned as an indie writer? What works and what doesn’t work? Do you have any advice for new authors aspiring to publish independently?

Suzanne: I’ve published only two books, and I don’t think that I’m in a position to be giving any advice. However, I feel very strongly that you need to surround yourself with other good writers—writers who will offer support and criticism. I participate in two writing groups and without their support, I would flounder and certainly lose focus.

The best thing that I could say is to keep writing. Keep your inspiration fresh. Don’t be afraid to try something new. Work hard and stay focused on the goal. Do your research. Your readers will know if you screw up and put a cell phone in the hand of a character before cell phones were invented. Make it authentic. That means, giving your characters true emotions. Your readers like conflict, anger, love, and loss. They are reading your book because they want to feel something. I think readers want something out of your book that they are curious about or that is missing in their life.

There are several options for self-publishing. I chose KDP because it has good support to market your book, and the customer service is very responsive.

Will: Would you be willing to give us a peek at your current project? Do you have another novel in the works?

Suzanne: Of course. I’m working on a follow-up to The Story of Grace. It’s called The Forgotten Daughter. In this story, we get to peek inside the life of the daughter Grace gave away (in my first book). Although Grace found redemption in the end, she didn’t find it from her daughter. The damage was too great for Agness to get over. Now Agness has a daughter of her own and a granddaughter. She blames herself for her daughter’s troubles and wallows in her own regret of things she should have done differently. Her granddaughter, Beth, is coming to live with her. Agness is discovering that she is more like her mother, Grace, than she wants to admit.

Will: Suzanne, thank you so much for sharing some of your writer’s journey with us. I wish you every success with your new project.

An Interview with Indie Author Ron Miner

Ron Miner graduated from the University of Rhode Island over 45 years ago with a BA in English. He spent thirty-five of those years as a landscape designer and contractor in Oregon. Continuing to write behind the scenes, he began to assemble a collection of short stories and family history pieces.

In 2011, his father passed away, and the family made some unusual discoveries. A magical trove of artwork, writing, photos, and memorabilia of all shapes and sizes lay dormant among his father’s belongings, giving him a rare insight into what the Second World War in the Pacific theater was really like.

Will: Ron, did you always know you were a writer, or is that something that happened later in your life? What prompted your becoming an author?

Ron: Thanks, Will, for inviting me in for a chat.

      In a way, it’s a funny question. I wouldn’t say I excelled at anything in the high school classroom, but science held my interest, and I was told I was pretty good at math. When the dreaded SATs were unleashed my junior year, I scored well in math and miserably in English, enough so, that I was persuaded to take the test a second time as a senior and improved slightly.

     In college, I bombed out as a physics major, overwhelmed by organic science, labs, and that abominable calculus with its weird mathematical vocabulary. I dropped most of it before midterm and survived on the remaining three courses that were going much better, one of which was English Literature. So much for SATs.

     But an actual writer? No, that wasn’t on my radar then. Yet, using words as I used to use numbers was a pleasant option for meaningful expression, and I kind of took to it. I also found I far preferred writing creatively to slogging through term papers or assignments.

     Eventually, I became a landscape designer by trade (one of the other two college courses), and creative writing got away from me for most of the next forty years, other than website development or business-related correspondence. For a while, I considered fashioning a landscape design and construction book with extensive photography and illustrations. Coffee table landscape books were trendy during the 80s and 90s, and our company put together some pretty artistic projects over the years. I just never seemed to find the time to get beyond collecting ideas and project photos and packing them away into various files. The book idea sat on the back burner and the birthdays flew by.

     Then something unexpected happened.

     I received word that my father had passed away, and it opened my eyes and heart to writing about a subject I had never considered. I was beginning to scale back my landscape operation anyway and started my first book as we headed into the fall and winter of 2011. It was something I’d never experienced before: a convergence of available time, an engaging subject, and extraordinary motivation.

Will: Can you share your writing process with us—how you get from “idea in your head” to “words on a page?”

Ron: It varies. Sometimes an inspiration simply happens. It could come from a book or a movie, perhaps an encounter of some kind on a train or on a hike. A concept jumps out and the juice starts to flow. We’ve all seen a film and said to ourselves, “I wish I’d thought of that.” There are so many storylines that have gone through countless mutations and are unrecognizable as a new piece of fiction. I mean, how many snobs have inherited an old Tuscan winery and then thought they wanted to sell it? However, I think I get the most satisfaction when an arbitrary thought dances through my head, unanticipated and original, and then it hits me! If I’m lucky, I grab a notepad and hammer out a few sentences describing the “it” before it gets away.

     I am not a spontaneous writer, blessed with the ability to sit down and effortlessly rattle off prose by the page. It’s more of an exercise for me. Often, I need to move around as I work on the rough draft to explore where certain aspects might be going. In my novel, for instance, I began with the general idea for the ending first.

     Once I can pull together enough coherent pages, it takes multiple rewrites before I’d dare let anyone see it. Edit, edit, and so on. Like I say, slow as molasses. In landscape work, I used to tell my crew to stand back and look at what they were doing from a short distance. It’s easy to get too close to your work. In writing, I find that a chapter or essay works far better if I can set it aside for a week or more. Get some distance from it. The next time I have a look, it’s with new eyes. It also helps to have a terrible memory.

Will: Your first book, Sketches of a Black Cat, is a direct result of your finding “a magical trove of artwork, writing, photos, and memorabilia of all shapes and sizes” left by your father after his passing. That sounds like something from a movie. Can you tell us about the discovery and then how you wove all that material into such a compelling book?

Ron: The Discovery is actually a chapter title because that’s exactly the way it unfolded. My father was typical of many World War II veterans in that he didn’t talk about the war very often with the family. He sometimes shared a funny anecdote or mentioned an old “buddy” who had gotten in touch, but most of the post-war energy for returning servicemen like my father was focused on reentering society, meeting the right girl, raising a family, and starting a career. It was the 50s and the economy was booming due to war-time levels of production. So it was common to put the war stories behind them and move on.

     Consequently, I didn’t know much about his World War II experiences. However, I did know my dad was an artistic fellow in a whole host of ways. When I was a young boy, he surprised me one day by showing me the contents of a manilla folder in a file cabinet in our basement. In it were sketches of planes, jungles, and soldiers—wonderful stuff for a kid. He had done them all during the war, much of it in Guadalcanal. I secretly took friends to visit the folder for, I don’t know, a year or so, when I suddenly found the cabinet locked. My dad was on to me. I didn’t see them again as a young man.

     When he passed away early in 2011 at 93, we endured several months of confusion and disorder involving his actual status. His second wife was in declining health, difficult to communicate with, and they lived 3000 miles away. It took six months before we could even arrange a service and visit the house.

     When we finally made the trip to New England, the house had been empty for years. It would be an understatement to say going through his effects was unpleasant. Rodents of all kinds had been there first. I worried about the condition of his artwork and if it was even there at all. I was thrilled to find it intact, and our search also uncovered another several boxes of notebooks, photos, and keepsakes that I had never seen before. It was a moment filled with electricity, and I suspected his entire wartime story was scattered within these boxes––if I could only piece the puzzle together.

     It began with the artwork. I decided on a creative design for the book, using a sketch or painting to begin each chapter. My landscape office became the bunker, with writing, photos, graphics, maps, and research materials stacked about like a 1940s police detective’s room. I  read his writing, journals, logbooks, and official Navy War Diary. There was a collection of magazine articles, letters written home, and hundreds of black and white photos, many with descriptions on the back. I decided to use the outstanding graphics throughout the book as part of the narrative.

     I connected with a talented artist and book designer, Anneli Anderson (StudioAnneli), who took my rough layout, text, and assorted materials to heart and gave the book an inventive, scrapbook appearance. Our collaboration has continued now for two books and second editions. Initially, Sketches of a Black Cat was only available in full color, but the cost for self-publishing in color was somewhat prohibitive. We decided to release a black and white and later, an ebook, along with the collector’s edition in full color.

Will: Is it fair to say that your second book, The Last Word, is the result of the reception Black Cat got? I know that although The Last Word is a novel, it is based on actual events and anecdotes you compiled by interviewing ten World War II veterans and painstakingly recording their stories. Can you tell us about that fascinating process?

Ron: Imagine, for a moment, that you’re a journalist with an assignment in the year 2038. It’s an interview with an old man––a very old man.  And he fought in World War II.

     The Last Word is the unquestionable by-product of Sketches of a Black Cat. My initial opportunity for a real interview with a World War II veteran came in 2013. As luck would have it, he had read a brief snippet in the paper about my initial book launch at a small, local college. He walked up forty stairs using a cane, waited in line with a newly minted book under his arm, and promptly handed me a photo of my father, picturing the two of them at a squadron reunion together. I still get goose bumps when I recall his words: “I knew and flew with your father.”

     His was the first of nearly a dozen videotaped interactions with men who were members of a night flying Navy squadron that also included my father. Dad, indeed, had left behind a trove of writing, memorabilia, and documentation about his adventures as a part of this little-known group of flyers, but I had published the book after his death, and there were many unanswered questions. With the opportunity to speak to his colleagues came a reprieve, a second chance to ask them about the things I could never ask him. As the book caught on, I continued to film interviews with veterans up and down the West Coast. I developed friendships and accumulated priceless narratives. They told me stories with humor, sincerity, and tears––stories that begged for an audience. By 2018, I knew it was time for a new book.

     There was another influence. A big one. This wonderful group of ninety-somethings who had so graciously invited me into their homes were passing away. I was attending funerals and losing friends. I found myself wondering, How long will it be before they are all gone?And beyond that,someday in the not-so-distant future, this process will play itself out until the last veteran in all of World War II surrenders to time. 

     It suddenly occurred to me that I should create that individual now.

     I again put pencil to paper (OK, fingers to keyboard), and started developing a novel, my first attempt at historical fiction. I was a reasonably experienced interviewer by then, had a wonderful assortment of compelling tales to draw from, and a pretty good notion of what my last World War II veteran might like to say on behalf of his comrades, given the chance. His personality grew into a composite of all the gentlemen that I’d interviewed, his mind filled with memories of skies above vast, unexplored regions, expansive seas between tiny specks of Pacific coral, and the nostalgia borne from well over a hundred years of living.  While my fictitious character recounts his story in 2038, it becomes a way of emphasizing how fragile––how finite––the World War II generation and their in-person accounts are today. 

Will: Your works are a glowing tribute to “The Greatest Generation,” and I understand that you are still involved with these heroes. What are some of your ongoing projects on behalf of Black Cats and World War II veterans?

Ron: I’ve had numerous meetings with museum curators and staff trying to develop exhibits that would showcase the Black Cat squadron, whose legacy is still one of the least known to come out of World War II. I then began to develop a documentary using the footage from interviews and the collection of photos and video from my library. I got as far as an eleven-minute trailer available on Youtube, which I’ve also given to museums and use for presentations. Movie making is a lot of work!    

     I’ve reeled in some of the more ambitious projects, and now try to promote the books and use Facebook as a forum, blog, and communication tool of sorts. Some of my ads continue to cast the net for squadron members, hoping to connect with a few more on the West Coast, but time is not on our side. I’ve launched a new post called “Help Me Tell Their Stories” that I hope will be a platform for families of World War II veterans who might wish to furnish accounts that may never find their way into print, so that I can compose and share them with readers of my posts.

Will: Can you tell us what the self-publishing process has been like for you? Unlike novels which are plain text, your books have photographs, maps, drawings, all of which make them exponentially more difficult to manage. How did you do it? Do you have advice for other indie authors who may be daunted by all that?

Ron: Self-publishing has been a mixed bag. I enrolled in a self-publishing seminar as I was working on my first manuscript. I ended up showing a few chapters to the instructor over lunch, using the complication of artwork and graphics as a ruse to get him to look at it. I was shocked when he smiled and started passing chapters around the table. This instructor became a wonderful advocate and encouraged me to self-publish, describing it as the wave of the future. So, I tried it.

     The print book was high-resolution and the file was huge. Reducing resolution very much made some of the images on the Kindle file blurred or otherwise garbled. The file size added a lot to Amazon’s delivery cost, and to the selling price of the ebook. The layout, including fonts, drop caps, and the images in both booksis pretty complicated, especially Sketches. Things can also move around depending on the device and often escape from where they were intended. I think some of this might have been avoided with a conventional publisher.

     Overall, I am very pleased with the quality of the print books and the publishing-on-demand aspect works for me. I was relieved not to be saddled with a garage full of books.

     I seriously considered conventional publishing with The Last Word, and at times, still wish I had gone that route. I felt this was a truly unusual storyline and wanted it to have the widest possible audience. However, it was somewhat time-sensitive, in that it presupposes a date in the near future and was inspired by interviews with elderly people who I hoped to share it with. I was afraid to wait the two years it might take to get through the publishing process. Of course, now, we are beyond that anyway.

     I depended on a pro to help with the formatting and setup. I would have had no idea how to create a master file like the ones for Sketches or The Last Word. In fact, it was tricky for Anneli at times, but I like to say that she not only pulled it off, she added the sparkle.

     This process definitely adds a layer of cost and carries some risk if you find the book doesn’t sell. In my case, I was determined to tell my father’s story. I looked at it as an expenditure I might make for a vacation or favorite pastime, as something that I wanted to do and not as an investment. The fact that the book has been relatively successful for a self-published book is both unexpected and gratifying.

     You never know.

Will: What can we expect from your next project? Can you share a behind-the-scenes peek with us?

Ron: I’m currently working on a local history project about a small Oregon community founded in the mid-1800s. The early pioneers are fascinating individuals, and to dig into the lives of folks whose names adorn street signs and creeks today is quite an experience.

     For me, non-fiction is tough. Sometimes I find I’ve been working all morning and have a single, tangled up paragraph to show for it. Research is time-consuming and distracting, partly because it’s interesting. I find I now prefer fiction, and especially historical fiction. That way, if you really get stuck, you can just make it up.

     I enjoy short story writing and will probably bundle together a collection at some point. I also think I’m old enough to be thinking about that memoir. If not now, when? If you wait too long, you might lose the ability to do it, and if you do it too soon, you might miss the best thing you ever did.

     I think you should relive your life in prose while you can and see if you can determine what that gleam in your parents’ eyes amounted to. Hey, at least someday they’ll have something to use for your obit.

Will: Ron, thank you so much for sharing your fascinating “writer’s journey” with us. This has been a real joy.

Here are links to Ron’s books:

An Interview with Indie Author Katherine Girsch

Katherine Girsch holds an MA in Spanish Literature from the University of Oregon. In 2018 she self-published Coming to Terms: A Novel under the name K.D. Girsch, and she completed TransAtlantic Ties, a collection of interconnected short stories, in 2021. She is currently at work on My Own Heart’s Song. She lives and writes in a renovated nineteenth-century cottage in Oregon.

Will: Kathy, words like “luminous,” “elegant,” “transcendent,” come to mind when I try to describe your prose. Can you give us a glimpse into your writing process? How do you do it?

Kathy: Thank you. I appreciate your lovely description of my prose. Writing is a delight for me, an opportunity to express who I am in a voice that doesn’t always make itself heard in my day-to-day conversations. I imagine people and let their experiences, thoughts, and voices take up residence in my mind. They evolve, and a substantial part of each character’s life is waiting for me when I start to write. Individual personalities continue to develop and deepen as they respond to events and interactions on the page. The characters I create teach me something and inspire the words I choose to tell their stories.

Will: When and how did you discover you were a writer?

Kathy: I never thought of myself as a writer of fiction until I’d finished the first pages of my first book in the fall of 2016. Nonetheless, the characters of the story I started writing that September day had lived with me for months. Throughout my life, characters as diverse as Heidi, Peter Pan, Anne Frank, Hamlet, Jude of Jude the Obscure, Scout of To Kill a Mockingbird, and Thomas Cromwell of Wolf Hall have brought literature to life for me, and they inspired me as I envisioned characters of a story that eventually became Coming to Terms: A Novel. I shared the story I was imagining with my husband, who encouraged me to actually write it down. The first few hours of that process did not go well. I hadn’t expected my characters to shine like those written by literary greats, but my total lack of success at transporting the beauty in my head to the written page was demoralizing. Not about to abandon the characters I loved, I persevered. Before the day was up, I was a writer.

Will: What about “nuts and bolts?” Do you have dedicated time and space for writing? Do you develop an outline before you begin?

Kathy: When I was writing my first book, I wrote any place I could carry a laptop—the coffee shop, airplane seats, my bed—but I control myself these days and, depending on the season, confine my writing to a spare room next to my bedroom or the garden room at the back of the house. I start writing while I drink my first cup of coffee. The session might last as little as forty-five minutes, but most often goes on for three or more hours. I write for a couple of hours in the evening, and if I awake with an idea in the middle of the night, I slip out of bed and head for my laptop. I don’t use a written outline, but I do have a loose plan in my head. I start out by writing spontaneously, letting the thoughts that have accumulated in my subconscious flow freely. I’m not at all organized in those first moments. Later I carefully re-read passages I’ve written and begin making nuanced changes. I follow up with another spontaneous burst of writing. And so it goes. I write, refine, and move on. Although I have a plan, I tend to write sections out of order. That makes for a lot of revision as chapters fall into place, but I don’t mind. It’s a joy.

Will: You write primarily about relationships, and you’re gifted with articulating very deep emotions—grief, despair, joy, love. If it’s not too personal, may I ask the source of your inspiration?

Kathy: Thank you for asking. My dad, who grew up in a rough and tumble Chicago neighborhood and, along with my mom, raised six kids in a small Iowa town, was an extrovert who could talk to anyone. A fountain of stories and songs, he laughed at jokes—including his own—until tears ran down his cheeks. He swam with a mighty crawl stroke, hunted, fished, and took up power-walking before the term had come into being. This vigorous man was stricken with multiple sclerosis at forty-five years of age. He found it impossible to conceive of happiness without the physical activity he loved and succumbed to a deep despair that lasted for a number of years. Ultimately, his exuberant way of being triumphed, and he reimagined himself. Bought a CB radio, chose the handle “Seagull,” and began to soar. He talked to truckers he’d never met, invited new friends into his life, and told stories from his wheelchair. Unable to hold a pencil, he learned to type, and transformed a lifetime of memories into poetry. He made me laugh each time I saw him. When he died at age sixty, I cried for a year, and I’ll grieve him for the rest of my life. On painful occasions and joyous ones, my siblings and I still sing his songs, read his poems, laugh through our tears as we repeat the jokes of the resilient man who’ll always inspire us.

Will: What has the process of indie publishing been like for you?

Kathy: I loved every aspect of writing my first book, Coming to Terms: A Novel—the free flowing, off the top of my head bursts of energy, the creative revision and sentence crafting, the nit-picky proofreading. But the rigors of formatting for print were beyond what I wanted to take on. I hired BookBaby, a company whose staff members were always ready to answer my questions and receive my input. They executed the formatting process and made my book available for sale to a network of booksellers. Every aspect of publishing proceeded flawlessly, but when I used the same company for self-publishing my second book, TransAtlantic Ties, there was a glitch in connecting with Amazon that stalled production of print books. If I use BookBaby again, I’ll opt for a newly available hybrid between that company and Kindle Direct Publishing.

Will: Would you be willing to tease us with a behind-the-scenes look at your current project?

Kathy: I’ve completed a draft of My Own Heart’s Song, and I’m presently following the advice of various renowned authors: “Kill your darlings.” (It’s painful.) I remove sentences and passages, then rethink and rewrite. I’ll carry out the process again after completing the second draft. For the most part, I’m having fun as I reread and revise this novel in which Laura Weber, an unconventional twenty-six-year-old New Yorker, shares her coming of age story in a voice that sparkles with passion. Her frank, tender first-person observations alternate with narratives presented from the points of view of her friends, lovers, and family members. Optimistic and big-hearted, Laura carries readers along on an emotional, intellectual, and physical journey that began as a search for the romantic love she believed her parents had lost.

Will: Do you have any advice for aspiring authors who may be daunted by the tasks before them?

Kathy: Firstly, begin by writing what you love, exactly the way you want to write it. You can—and will—make changes later, but don’t cheat yourself out of the fun of watching your words flow together in a unique way, of learning about yourself when you read what you’ve written. Secondly, make time for reading, the kind of works you’ve always loved, as well as new authors and genres. Carry your newfound writer’s outlook to everything you read; enjoy and employ the viewpoints you take away.

Will: Kathy, thank you so much for sharing your insights with us. To my readers–here are links to Kathy’s books.

A Difficult Question

I’m going out on a limb here, testing the waters to see if issues like this can be talked about rationally without starting a fight. I wish to offend no one, just to start a different sort of conversation about this—a clinical discussion.

I’m talking about the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law in Florida. Do I think promulgating this law was politically motivated? Absolutely, shamefully so. But—and this is a big but—there is some truth to the law. Please let me explain.

I worked for 37 years as a clinical social worker. During that time, I worked with thousands of children and their families. In my training, we were taught that all human beings go through psychological “stages” as they mature. Those stages have different names depending on which authority you consult, but they all look at the developmental tasks children must complete in their growth. Children from Kindergarten through grade 3 are focusing on relationships—learning to share, building empathy—and also learning foundational skills in reading, writing, mathematics, etc.

One school of thought refers to this period as “latency,” a time when sexuality takes a back seat to these other skills. Of course, children are “sexual beings” from the beginning of their lives, but sex isn’t the focus at this time. Certainly, they may occasionally “play doctor” or ask “where babies come from,” but good parents give brief, child-friendly answers and direct them back to other activities.

Sexual abuse at this time of life is particularly harmful because it pushes the child out of “latency” and “sexualizes” them—sex becomes the focus of their thoughts and behaviors. They may abuse other children as they were abused. Interpersonal relationships suffer. Academic skills falter.

Please understand: I’m not claiming that teaching these very young children in school about LGBTQ matters is abusive, only that it’s too early for them to process it, and it poses a risk of making sex a focus of their lives when there are other issues that need their attention.

I don’t mean to offend my gay, lesbian, transgender brothers and sisters. And I wholeheartedly celebrate diversity in our society and equality under the law. I just have doubts that teaching Kindergartners in school about these things is the way to go. I would love to hear back from some child psychologists and psychiatrists to fact-check whether I’m making any sense or not.