New Indie Authors

An Interview with Author Alicia Butcher Erhardt

I have the pleasure of introducing to you Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt. Her Amazon page tells us: “A voracious reader, she had always intended to write fiction, and, now retired, dedicates her whole life -when not spending time with her husband, family, and community – to exploring the concepts of integrity in relationships, and the psychological questions of why people do what they do and make the choices they make, including their life partners.”

Alicia writes transcendent prose, defining for me what a contemporary literary novel should be. I simply cannot recommend her books highly enough. In her in-depth interview, she talks candidly about herself and her art.

Will: Alicia, can you tell us something about your writer’s journey? When did you discover you were a writer and had a story to tell?

Alicia: My parents moved us to Mexico City—my next younger sister and me—when I was seven, and I read everything I could get my hands on in English, including about half of The Great Books (Plato was beyond me). And my grandmother, who had graduated from the U. of Illinois and was an English teacher, had these big fat anthologies of English and American Literature full of good stuff—short stories, poetry, novel excerpts. I thought Great Expectations and Huckleberry Finn were children’s stories, and read Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery as a child. Adding my grandparent’s huge collection of National Geographics, my head was filled with well-written material. I didn’t do what many writers have done—write stories.

My English classes at school were basic language classes for my Mexican classmates and I was allowed to read quietly. By twelve, when grownups asked, I had decided I was going to be a Nuclear Physicist, so was considered a bit odd. I followed the science side to a PhD in Nuclear Engineering (plasma physics) from U. Wisconsin-Madison, and ended up working at the Princeton U. Plasma Physics Lab for ten years, until, at a physics conference, I caught a bug, ended up with ME/CFS, and had to stop doing what I loved, computational plasma physics. It turned out to be forever. But I had always planned to write fiction when I retired, so, when our three kids were old enough, I began writing a detective series started in the world of a graduate physics department—with a young Mexican-American engineer as my heroine—when I had a bit of spare energy.

 Will: Can you share with us a bit of your creative process? Do you write every day? Do you have a favorite place and time to write?

 Alicia: I try to write every day. I sit at the computer most of the day, and, if I have done everything right—sleep, food, no other activities—my brain will focus for a while, and let me get to the next thing on my writing To Do list. I have my own way of measuring brain speed: hard Sudokus. Less than about 6 min. per, the brain is on, I stop futzing about, and get to work. Much more than that, and it’s pointless to try yet. A bad night = no writing the next day. Too much energy expended one day = ditto. Leaving the house = same result, but it usually costs me several days.

Because of this, I’ve developed a very fractal writing process which allows me to focus on single tasks during a writing session, trusting that the results will fit into the next slot in the extremely plotted whole. I trust nothing to memory—it won’t be there when I need it. I create, for each scene, a set of surrounding support files: Production—a journal of my thoughts and decisions as I create a scene; Contents—anything that has been assigned to this scene, from actual snippets of dialogue to fragments of the ancient rough draft that I still like, to the various steps in the Save the Cat (Blake Snyder) or The Key: How to Write Damn Good Fiction Using the Power of Myth (James Frey) or my plotting program DRAMATICA (a screenwriting tool); FIF—a long series of prompts I’ve extracted from The Fire in Fiction (Donald Maass) and other books on writing; and Beats—the skeleton of how I’m going to turn all this material into a scene, the actual events that will occur from some kind of beginning (which includes a section I call Introduction and a deliberately chosen First Line to drag the reader in), through a series of smaller story units I call beats, to a Resolution section with its Last Line chosen to encourage the reader to go on to the next scene or chapter. Scenes typically get 3-4 beats, occasionally as few as a single beat, or a few more.

When all this material has been aggregated, and every prompt answered in writing for this scene, I’m ready to start writing—with the aim of ending up with a scene that is a linked short story along the continuing backbone of the novel. It doesn’t take me that long to gather, but allows me to consider, for example, whether the point of view (pov) character (one of three main characters for the WIP) needs to feel/express anger in this scene, why and how, without worrying at that point exactly how it will appear in the finished scene or how it will be affected by anything else.

Then I assign every piece I’ve gathered to the Introduction, one of the beats, or the Resolution. I call this process atomizing—because I’m working with the smallest pieces of content, and refer to the steps as ‘being in the left brain,’ since that’s what used to be called the logical/mathematical/orderly use. When everything is assigned, I start the actual writing process, living through each of the sections with the pov character, seeing, hearing, thinking, and doing everything strictly from their pov, choosing what they would remember, from right behind the eyeballs—if I were them. That’s the intuitive part, what we used to call the ‘right brain’ part. The material is right there—for a relatively tiny part of the story—and it coalesces into words and images and language, with a sense of pace and sensory detail—because I can hold that much information in my mind at a time. I rarely use dialogue tags, preferring instead to insert a sensory or setting detail, or a direct or indirect thought, into the action and dialogue, aiming for a sense of reality and inevitability.

And I listen. The Mac’s robot voice reads it to me, sometimes hilariously, dragging me into a mini-play, and I work with each section until it does what I wanted it to, smoothly and seamlessly, with attention given to the little details I’ve chosen to include. And I edit as I go: putting sections of the scene through AutoCrit as necessary. I only use AC’s counting functions. It tells me how many times I’ve used a word, a phrase, a cliché. I use this information to edit each section. Then I listen again, and finally, when it feels right and complete, I listen to the whole. It’s not as complicated as it sounds, but not skipping the steps means I don’t find out later that I’ve only used, say, the sense of vision in a scene—because there is a step where I consider prompts for the five main senses plus ESP, proprioceptor (body position) feedback, and a sense of being with other people—or not. And I can do it all with a damaged brain, a story fragment at a time. I haven’t come across any other writer who says, “Oh, yes—I write that way, too.”

 Will: In your trilogy, Pride’s Children, you write with authority about the movie-making business, both in front of and behind the cameras. Pride’s Children: Purgatory introduces us to the rarified air of cinema: movie stars, movie directing, movie production. Is that from research, or do you have some personal experience with the film industry? What was your inspiration for the book?

 Alicia: I did some theater acting during prep school, and caught the acting bug. When you’re Queen Elizabeth I in Schiller’s Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots (in Spanish) for months on end, it sticks, living in an alternate world. It wasn’t on my STEM timeline, though I tried a couple of times in college, but I’ve always both liked movies and watching the ‘making of’ documentaries, especially when they started being on the DVD versions. The nuts and bolts—and the eerie effect of the whole as seen by the viewer. The acting classes as an adult were short, but you don’t forget the feeling when the teacher makes the whole class walk around the auditorium yelling obscenities to get over the reluctance.

My writing partner and I took our youngest daughters to an audition in Princeton for A Beautiful Mind, and I asked Ron Howard where would be a good place to watch them filming a scene from, and sat where he indicated. It’s a slow process, but you have time to take a lot of notes. Just having films as an interest brings you random useful stuff through the years, and there is a surfeit of information in articles and interviews online and on YouTube. Books filled many of the gaps. Our Hamilton Public Library had a copy of The Making of Gone With the Wind, a beautiful coffee-table book with hundreds of rare photos.

Some of it, of course, I imagined. Actors and directors are human, and we expect them to give us open and vulnerable portrayals of characters, while we sometimes wonder where a particular piece came from. Pride’s Children was vouchsafed to me in 2000. In one piece. When I had been exposed to several powerful movies, had been sick for years, and had found the ‘billionaire loves a nobody’ kind of romances unbelievable, my mind decided to ask me how a disabled person might possibly end up with one of the world’s most eligible bachelors, a rising star leading man, and filled in the rest of the story. I poked sticks at it for a couple of months, stopped writing the second mystery in my detective series, and started a process which has so far consumed twenty-three years. I didn’t think it would take this long!

Will: The second book in the trilogy, Pride’s Children: Netherworld, continues the saga of Kary Ashe, Andrew O’Connell, and Bianca Doyle. As an author, you seem to have an uncanny ability to get inside your characters’ heads, exploring not only their emotions, but the motivations for what they do and their layers of self-deceit. How do you do that?

 Alicia: I don’t allow a narrator in my stories. So whatever it is that I want to express has to come from the appropriate character in the story. I think of it as writing in third person pov but being the first person narrator of the scene. One of the steps in my Left BRAIN Right method is ‘Gather the feeling of Being this Character’ and includes ‘read previous scenes’ from the character’s pov. It is very helpful because I don’t write many scenes sequentially in the same pov. So for most scenes I have to switch my pov so I can channel a different character, a struggle each time—the three characters are very opinionated. I also insist that anything I write from the character’s pov has to be motivated organically. It must be something the reader would believe the character to think or say in that moment. It is not a place to sneak a narrator/author statement into the story. The characters don’t do things for my convenience. They each talk to themselves differently, and, when I’m them, I’ve trained myself to catch that self-talk. That’s often where the prompts regarding emotions from my FIF file come in useful. I think my mind keeps a short mental checklist for each beat, and nags until I use all the pieces assigned there somehow.

 I don’t think of it as uncanny so much as deliberate: if I filled in the prompt ‘Anger,’ with the appropriate reason why the character might feel anger during the beat, the prompt and the writing pulled something out of me because it does belong in the scene, and when I’m moving all those pieces around in my mind for the beat, they snap into each other in a logical (to me) sequence. Like a chain of pop beads. These snippets are all there, there are a finite number of them, and it’s a small-enough number that I can run through the permutations in my head, and write the best order. With the right vocabulary for the character, of course.

In my earlier days as a writer, when I was figuring all this out, there were times when I printed out a scene which wasn’t working, cut it into strips with scissors, one sentence per strip, and rearranged them on my desk until it worked—and then taped them to a piece of paper so I wouldn’t lose that order. I literally compared strips two at a time to find which one was before the other. I called it ‘going back to Kindergarten.’ I couldn’t go to writing classes due to lack of energy, and I didn’t do critique groups mostly for the same reason (and they wanted me to remember several other people’s works-in-progress over weeks and months, something I couldn’t even do with my own!). I had to find my own way, which has been to read many books on craft—tackling small problems such as writing a fight scene again in a tiny piece. Atomizing the task and the skill.

 Will: Your protagonist Kary Ashe, former physician turned best-selling author, suffers from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, a condition that has totally transformed her life. Would you be willing to share with us your own experience with CFS and how it has altered your life and your writing?

Alicia: I became determined somewhere along the way to give a READER the real experience of having to deal with the illness every day, with no breaks and almost no help from the medical profession, to see and feel how the constant calculus of ‘do I have enough energy to do this?’ and ‘how will I function after?’ affects everything they do, and still sometimes doesn’t work. Not as the main point of the story, but from the pov of a character determined not to let an exhausting illness take any more of her energy than absolutely necessary. Many of the little pacing steps Kary uses are things I’ve had to learn. She’s much younger than I am, but back when I was her age, I could do the things she does (like go for a walk or use a wheelchair to save energy in an airport). You learn.

 Will: I understand you’re hard at work on the concluding novel of the trilogy. Have you settled on a title for it yet? Can you give us a peek at your work-in-progress?

 Alicia: Working (and probably final) title is Pride’s Children: LIMBO. There is a lot in the vernacular about the place where unbaptized children went when they died (thank God the theology no longer believes this), to be happy, but not as happy as they might be in Heaven. It supports the main theme that it’s all, eventually, about the children—and it matters very much who rears them. The prologue to this volume again wrote itself (I have no idea where these pieces come from!), a third chunk of an article in The New Yorker written after the events described by someone who thinks she knows the real story. I can’t guarantee it will stay exactly the same, but they tend to.

Will: Do you have any advice for aspiring authors—what they should attend to, what to disregard, tips for publishing, marketing, getting reviews?

 Alicia: My main advice for aspiring authors is to figure out where you are on the spectrum from complete pantser to extreme plotter, and find books and articles and blog posts that are your style. I loved Lawrence Block’s Telling Lies for Fun and Profit, but he’s a pantser, and I can’t write as he does: my structure comes first, and is always undergirding the story. I figure I lost a couple of years in some skills trying to understand why I couldn’t do what he said was so simple. For a rough general rubric: pantsers lose interest in writing the story if they know where it’s going—plotters know exactly where it’s going before they can write it at all.

For publishing: if you do it yourself, there are many skills to learn, but then you know how whether you do it yourself forever or hire someone to do it for you. I did PURGATORY with no help, paid for formatting and cover to the same standards for NETHERWORLD because I had some health problems that required surgery, and I wanted it out before that. I supervised every step, every word, every image—fortunately we are still friends. Join a Facebook writing group, read all the posts. Buy a few inexpensive books—try the steps. There are some shortcuts for some of the steps, like Vellum or Atticus for interior formatting, but they usually cost money. Learn to rigorously self-edit, even if you have an editor at some point—don’t let your initial faults go uncorrected. And do NOT go with a vanity/hybrid publisher—most who do lose a LOT of money, and never write another book. Things keep changing, but publishing paperbacks and hardcovers on Amazon right now can be done with 1) a pdf of the interior of the book, and 2) a pdf using their templates of the cover. There are other methods of input, but I prefer the pdfs because what you send them is exactly what you will see in the published book. For the ebook, send an epub.

Marketing: if you write what a lot of others write, the FB group will give you the conventional wisdom. If you try to write mainstream fiction as an indie, as I do, please let me know when you figure it out (because the traditional publishers think this niche belongs to them). If you want a traditional publishing contract, you have a lot to learn and UNlearn, it is incredibly hard to break into, and doesn’t pay much anymore unless you’re a huge seller. I gave up ‘submitting’ (I hate the term) when my first detective series kept getting nice rejection letters (send us your next book) after a literary agency would sit on it for six months. Educate yourself a lot on many different blogs before making a final choice of what you will try—only self-publishing can be guaranteed to happen if you stick to doing all the steps; traditional acceptance rates are in the low single digits.

Getting reviews is easy (not): put yourself in the position of the reviewer, and talk the reviewer into giving you time, effort, and space. For popular genres, you might be able to follow the trends. For my kind of fiction, only individual, carefully considered appeals have yielded results—and only in about half of the cases I’ve attempted. But the reviews themselves for PURGATORY and NETHERWORLD have been heart-stopping and fulsome. Take a look on the books’ Amazon pages

Will: Alicia, I can’t thank you enough for sharing you insights and energy with us. To my readers, here are links to the first two books in her trilogy. Clicking on her image above will bring you to one of her websites.

An Interview with Indie Author David Rose

In September, I had the pleasure of interviewing David Rose, an indie author who hails from South Africa. On his Amazon page, he tells us that he has had a “relationship” with books for as long as he can remember. He used a manual typewriter for years, his favorite being an Olivetti Lettera 32 portable which he inherited from his mother. He has traveled very widely, beginning at the age of ten. David describes himself as an “unabashed romantic.”
Will: David, can you tell us a bit about your writer’s journey? When did you discover your “voice?” What convinced you that you were a writer?

David: I have a “voice”? Wow. I had no idea. No, seriously, I don’t think I’ve yet discovered my “voice”. I’m a very eclectic writer, and my style alters to match the mood of my genre or topic. Genres I have written in include SF, Fantasy, Romance, Christian nonfiction, Horror, Historical (I guess fantasy?), some paranormal stuff, and children’s literature. I also write poetry, of which my favourite form is probably haiku. I enjoy humour and comedic moments, but I’m probably impossible to pigeonhole as a writer of a given type. (Perhaps I should simply confess to being undisciplined!) I tend towards shorter fiction, and I’ve written several short stories, some of them published as ebooks. For the last decade I have wrestled with the longer form, and currently have one fantasy novel at about 60,000 words, what should eventually be the first of a trilogy. I’ve had an affinity for writing for as long as I can remember. Certainly, I began reading at a very early age—I remember devouring my mother’s James Hadley Chase novels from when I was around six years old. I wrote a bad and unpublished novel when I was eighteen or nineteen. I’ve written on and off ever since, depending on what was happening in my life, and how much time I could give to creative writing. I love words, and the use of language in English to achieve the desired effect. One short (a single page) story started life as an exercise to see if I could tell a story with no characters; I wound up with a story in which a house, the wind, and a seagull became the characters! (That’s “Storm’s End”—see favourites below.)

Will: What’s your creative process? Where do you get your ideas and how do you begin to flesh them out? Do you write every day?

David: I have flashes of inspiration, and try to record them, and work on them later. “Dragonfire,” though—I woke in the middle of the night with the idea of the story burning in my mind, got up, and had the body of the story written within a couple of hours, between something like 01:30 and 04:00. Inspiration can come from news articles, a book or a movie. I don’t copy, but something in another story can spark a tangential idea. I find that daily life, lived reflectively, and people-watching, are also good sources of ideas. I usually capture the original idea and then play with it in my mind—where might it go from this initial situation? So I run through several scenarios, some very different from the final version, before I settle on a direction for the story. While I might plan and prepare a lot of background, especially in Fantasy or SF (world-building), once I have a core direction for the story I allow details to vary as I write. It depends on how much the characters come to life and take over! Do I write every day? I wish! That is what I need to be doing, and I hope that when I retire at the end of next year, I will be able to do just that.

Will: Your Goodreads page would suggest that you’re particularly fond of writing short stories. What are the elements of a good short story, and how do you go about writing one?

David: Plot, Characters, and Point (or message, or theme) are the most important to me. Before I start a short story, I know how the main issue is going to be resolved. Characters have to be human and relatable, and the point of the story needs to be something that will satisfy most readers. (You can never satisfy everyone.) I like the classical approach to short story writing that has a sting in the tail that, ideally, the reader never sees coming. O. Henry’s and Roald Dahl’s stories are good examples. Finally, I believe the setting should enhance the story, not usurp it or conflict with it. Look, bottom line is, does this short story leave you feeling satisfied and/or surprised and/or interested in the topic? Your answer needs to be, “Yes,” to at least one of those and ideally all of them. Your own short stories, Will, are excellent examples! What d’you mean I’m not supposed to praise my interviewer? You’re one of the finest short story writers I’ve read! I dare you to leave in my comments on your short stories!

Will: Yikes! You’ve caught me completely off guard! Thanks so much, David. That’s very kind of you. But let’s get back to your writing. If it’s not too personal, what life experiences have shaped your artistic vision?

David: I don’t mind, but to try to share all my significant life experiences would not only take too long, it would make me look like a vain attention-seeker!· My parents being medical missionaries in Thailand, which resulted in my growing up essentially independently in South Africa from the age of ten, certainly had an impact. I saw a lot of the world, and was exposed to a variety of cultures and experiences as a merchant seaman, including sailing through the eye of a cyclone in 1982 on a vessel of about 13,500 tonnes.· I’ve seen the effects of poverty close up, and worked with emerging farmers in South Africa.· So I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter what culture you’ve inherited, or what your ethnicity, or whether or not you have money. We are all human beings, individual persons, and we all matter.

Will: You’re not afraid to tackle serious emotions in your stories—human brokenness, grief, loss, heartache. How do you manage that?

David: I suppose the fact that I’ve been exposed to all of this in real life, in counseling among other areas, has allowed me to put these things into some perspective. I’ve encountered some truly horrifying and heartbreaking personal stories, too grim, and too confidential, ever to use in my writing. But it’s meant that I believe in sharing the courage to deal with hard issues, by fictional example if nothing else.

Will: Do you have favorites among your stories? Tell us about them.

David: Oh, come on! They’re all my favourites! …Really? I have to? …All right, all right then.· “Moonlight,” because it came first, and because it’s a beautiful story.· “Dragonfire,” because it burns so ferociously.· “Storm’s End,” unpublished, but you can find it on my sadly neglected website.· “Frost,” because I (believe I) succeeded at what I set out to do.

Will: What have you discovered about indie publishing? Do you have any advice for aspiring independent authors?

David: I’m not the greatest person to take advice from, since I’m far from any kind of commercial success, but there are a few things I’ve learned.· It takes a village of writers and friends to raise a child book: you’ll need support in different levels of editing and proofing, encouragement to keep going in the face of trollish reviews, and hard, truthful advice on how to become a better writer. (That’s how you know who your true friends are! Thanks Mike! And the others.)· Seriously, find a community of like-minded writers, whether locally to you or online.· You’re very unlikely ever to make any significant money doing this. Don’t do it to get rich. Do it because it’s what you love.· If you do want to become an established author (still not rich, though!), you will need to spend some money on marketing your books.· The great thing about indie publishing? No one will force you to write what you don’t enjoy. No one will demand a plot change that destroys your message (or your character!) and no one will demand a delivery date. Although… that last one is also a disadvantage!
Will: David, thank you so much for sharing your insights with us. To my readers, here are links to two of David’s stories. Check out his Amazon page for more.

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.

An Interview with Indie Author Ginger Bensman

Ginger Bensman was awarded a Ph.D. in Human Development from the University of Maine in Orono in 1993 and spent 25 years directing programs for at-risk children and their struggling families. But she was always a writer, too, and now she writes whenever she’s not reading or gardening or watching her grandsons grow. She lives with her husband here in Salem.

Will: Ginger, tell me how you discovered that you were a writer?

Ginger: Every night at bedtime, my father read fairytales, or would make up adventure stories about my brother and me. I loved those stories! But mostly, as far as written materials and books were concerned, my family would rather be physically active outdoors than reading. We hiked, and camped, and fished. My father hunted and my mother loved gardening, canning, picnics and huge extended family get togethers. In our house, we had children’s books, our local newspaper, a subscription to Readers Digest Condensed Books, and a set of encyclopedias my parents bought for my brother and me. Otherwise, there weren’t a lot of books. I didn’t discover the public library until my sophomore year in high school, during a stretch when I was moody and sad, and having a tough time. The library was a place I could go to be alone, sequestered among the stacks. Books became my refuge. Through them, I could venture out of myself. I discovered David Copperfield, Jane Eyre, Silas Marner, The Count of Monte Cristo, Green Mansions, Gone with the Wind, the novels of John Steinbeck, D.H. Lawrence, Jane Austen. It seemed to me then, and still does, that those writers achieved an almost impossible kind of magic—and I wanted to do it too.

Will: Can you give us a glimpse into your writing process? Do you have a special time
and place for writing? Do you write every day?

Ginger: Before Covid, I would take a notebook or my laptop to a coffee shop or restaurant mid-morning or after the lunch rush when there were lots of empty tables and the waitstaff was happy to bring me a cup of tea or a latte and leave me to my work. It was an environment where I could slip into a sense of space and detachment, and escape into my own head with the characters on the page and the rhythm of words. I miss those times, and that open sense of possibility.

Now, most days, I spend a couple hours writing in my study. I know how lucky I am to have such a pleasant place to work, but I’m anxious to get back to my table at the coffee shop.

Will: Do you work from an outline?

Ginger: I don’t use an outline, but I do have a plan when I begin a writing project. I start with a character, the rough arc of a story, and an image of how the story will end. And then I sit, and walk, think, and put in time staring at the page. Sometimes, listening to music that evokes the mood of a scene helps. I am a painstaking writer. I ponder each sentence, and I don’t do rough drafts. For me, writing is like laying brick, one solid, intentional layer at a time.    

Will: When I read your novel, To Swim Beneath the Earth, I was struck by how poetic
your prose is, by your uncanny ability to find precisely the right word for your descriptions, elevating the ordinary to the sublime. It seems magical. How do you do that?

Ginger: What a kind thing to say! Thank you. Finding the perfect word, or phrase, or cadence, is the thing I love most about writing. I do a lot of research with a special focus on elemental things, those experiences encountered so often they tend to happen below awareness. I use Google images and YouTube videos to help me be more present with the thing I plan to write about. I like to visualize actions in slow-motion, to notice the nuances. When it’s possible, I duplicate an experience myself. And, of course, I’m a huge fan of the thesaurus. If I can render something mundane in a way that makes it sensory and vivid, I’m happy.

Will: I see you’ve used some professional review services to promote your novel,
including Kirkus Reviews and The San Francisco Book Review. Is that something you’d
recommend to other indie authors?

Ginger: Recommend—that depends. Getting a professional review is certainly something for an indie author to consider. I did it for two reasons: First, because I wanted an objective professional assessment of my novel from a recognized source—a sort of “seal of approval” (or disapproval) before going public as an indie author. Second, if the reviews were positive, I could use quotable excerpts on my novel’s back cover and in promotional materials. The downside is that getting a professional review is expensive, and an indie author would have to sell a lot of copies to recoup the cost. Would I do it again? Yes, those “esteemed” encouraging words gave me the confidence to self-publish.

Please tell us about your short story, “When the Heat’s Off.” What was the inspiration for that?

Ginger: “When the Heat’s Off” is about Ella, an elderly widowed, shut-in, and the two young punks who break into her house with a plan to take her for all she’s worth. Trouble is, Ella may not be as docile as she seems.

This story was so much fun to write! The character of Ella is a tip-of-the-hat to the beautiful silver-haired Ella MacHolland who lived next door to my family when I was growing up. She was a feisty widow who told stories about how Confederate Soldiers commandeered the animals from her family’s farm and stole the clothes right off the clothesline.  

What are your thoughts about “novel versus short story?”

Ginger: A short story needs to be tightly organized, there’s less room for digression. A novel, on the other hand, gives the author broad latitude, and that can be daunting. A short story is like a close-up photograph of a single flower, while a novel is more akin to a landscape. I love them both.

Will: I understand you have a new project in the works. Would you open the curtain a bit
and tell us about it?

Ginger: My current project is a novel titled Minor Insults about two sisters in the second half of their lives confronting past differences and the pitfalls of aging. In our Western culture, aging often comes with a loss of autonomy and a host of social and institutional indignities. Many of the most egregious indignities are heaped on the aging with, what amounts to, a scolding finger and a “for your own good” kind of parental arrogance. If we live long enough, age comes for all of us. In the end, it’s how we respond.

Will: Do you have any advice you would share with other new authors, especially those
who may be on the fence about whether to pursue traditional publishing or go independent?

Ginger: Traditional publishing is not always a choice. I wanted an agent and a traditional publishing contract for To Swim. I spent several years submitting to agents via conferences and mail-in submissions before I decided to self-publish. These days, a whole industry has evolved to guide and support independent authors, but promoting an independent book takes resources, persistence, and an astonishing set of skills (many that don’t come easily if you are an introverted author like me). Most indie authors I know do it for love, not money. But, make no mistake, seeing your book in print is a heady beautiful thing.

Will: Ginger, thank you so much for your time and your insights. I am anxiously awaiting your new novel!

For more about Ginger and her writing, click here to be taken to her website.

An Interview With Indie Author L. Wade Powers

I’d like to introduce you to a favorite indie author of mine. From the bio on his website: “L. Wade Powers is the pen name for fiction written by Lawrence Wade Powers, a retired academic dean and professor emeritus of natural sciences. He’s the author of a textbook and several papers on hematology, monographs and papers on marine biology and animal behavior, and articles on the history of the Pacific Northwest, especially the Klamath Basin of eastern Oregon. Larry lives in Eastern Oregon with a beautiful wife, a very strange cat, and surrounded by four seasons of glorious nature, except for the damned midges.” 

Will: Tell us about your craft. How do you approach writing? Do you write every day? Do you develop an outline or are you what some call a “pantser?” How long have you been at it?

Larry: I write when I feel like it, which means on some days, or weeks, not at all. It might be morning after coffee and breakfast, late afternoon, or late at night when I get strange looks from our cat. I don’t use time or word quotas for measures of productivity. It’s not that these approaches are wrong, but I just have too much fun being sporadic and lazy. Some novels may start with an outline, subject to extensive revision, but most short stories start with an idea or an opening paragraph, what I call the “Ray Bradbury approach.” I fooled around with some ideas and put them away about fifteen years ago, but didn’t start writing fiction until I retired in 2013. It is only since 2017, however, that it has been a truly active pastime.

Will: Your first novel, The Home: One Year in a Children’s Institution, is a different take on the coming-of-age story. What was your inspiration for it?

Larry: Like many beginning writers, I began with what I know best, a hybrid of my real life experiences combined with flights of fancy. I spent six months in the Sacramento Children’s Home in 1956–57. Many of the characters are based on real people (most but not all of the names are changed). About half of the incidents happened (social doings at the junior high, the snake men, the rec hall parties, the flirtations and sexual encounters). Other events are figments of an overindulged imagination.

Will: You have two amazing volumes of short stories, Falling in Love and Other Misadventures, and Confronting the Boundaries: short stories real and unreal. Unlike many “post-modern” stories, yours have plot, as well as a beginning, a middle, and an end, not to mention a cast of extraordinary characters. Tell us about them. What are your thoughts on the “genre” of the short story?

Larry: Some of the stories follow real life occurrences faithfully (e.g., “The Trove”), others are mostly real (“Lawnmower Ted”), others completely off of my inner wall (“The Shroud”). Diverse characters have always fascinated me, in addition to the growing and learning scenarios we all experience. I was a nature nerd and slow to arrive at the threshold of sexual awareness. I also didn’t get a driver’s license until I was twenty, an unforgiveable crime in California. The awkwardness of confronting maturity and its myriad obligations and expectations runs through a number of my musings (“Odometer Moments,” “The Omaha Two-Step,” “Fig Newton”).

      I believe that depicting character is a challenge in short stories because the need for brevity restricts the development of back story. The best short story writers get right to it, bang, and you’re immersed in the tale. Choose words carefully, waste no space. Some of my favorite writers are Edgar Allan Poe, Ray Bradbury, Margaret Atwood, Karen Russell, and Joyce Carol Oates.

Will: I think I’m still chuckling after reading The Party House: Texas Gulf Coast Schemes and Dreams. How autobiographical is the tale of a graduate student studying fiddler crabs for his doctoral dissertation?

Larry: The Party House is based on my time as a graduate student at the University of Texas Marine Science Institute in Port Aransas. The setting, including the community bar and social club were real, as were some of the characters, but as with The Home, I added fictional elements. I did study fiddler crabs (thus, the cover with a crab and a glass of beer), received my doctorate, and took my first jobs in New York City as a professor at City College and a research associate at the American Museum of Natural History. The craziest events depicted in the novel actually happened.

Will: You’ve recently ventured into historical fiction with your book, New Albion Sunset: Drake’s Lost English Outpost in North America, 1579. While it is a novel, I understand you did extensive research and present an interesting hypothesis about Drake and the Golden Hinde. Give us the juicy details!

Larry: The reason for placing Drake in the Pacific Northwest, specifically British Columbia, Washington, and Oregon, rests on the studies and publications of several people: Bob Ward of Newport, Oregon, Garry Gitzen of Wheeler, Oregon, and Melissa Darby (Thunder Go North). They and many others have recently presented evidence that Drake’s long lost Novo Albion occurred well north of California, despite commercial interests during the twentieth century to place his anchorage in the San Francisco Bay Area. I am convinced the current scholars and investigators are correct and the appendix to the novel includes supporting materials: maps, references, and historical chronologies that support the theme of a northern landing, a missing ship, a fortune in silver, and the fates of about two dozen men left behind as the Golden Hinde returned to England. I now have an extensive library on Drake and the Elizabethan times, but we won’t know the truth of these competing claims until hard archeological evidence is uncovered. The location of that evidence is described in the appendix.

Will: Your latest novel, The Sagebrush Hotel Tontine: A Tale of Treasure and Treachery, is a character study of a group of poker players who come upon a trove of gold they can’t dispose of right away. They make a survivors’ agreement—a tontine—that later morphs into a “dead pool”—last one standing takes it all. Where did that story come from?

Larry: I play poker, small stakes, live, not online. My dad taught me the game when I was twelve and I like the action, the fun, the mystery of the competition around the table. There are a lot of metaphors for real life situations, and I trotted out a few of those for the novel. The novel started as the story of a drifter returning to a small town to reclaim a shared treasure. I focused on the old hotel and the memories it invoked in Johnny, my male protagonist. I set it aside for over two years before creating the prologue about the gold bullion. The idea of a tontine has always fascinated me. As explained in the author notes following the novel, tontines started as insurance and investment mechanisms in Europe a few hundred years ago. Relating a tontine to a dead pool provides the mystery for a group of characters, not all of whom have good intentions. The woman pictured on the cover represents Brandy, my female protagonist, so there is a bit of romantic intrigue also thrown into the pot.

Will: Can you give us a sneak peek at your current project?

Larry: I am currently working on a novel with the manuscript name of SurrogaCity. It stands for Surrogate City, a future community (former San Francisco) in a world-wide gynocracy, a global cooperative governed by women. Most men (98%) thirty years from now are sterile and the ones who aren’t are maintained in reverse harems to protect them and the future of the human race. Conflicts abound as women try to decide whether to rely on artificial insemination and long-term sperm storage. There are rebels, men and women, outside of the domed cities who oppose the new order, but climate change is being addressed and there hasn’t been a war since women have assumed command.

Will: Wow! Sounds fascinating! Do you have any more comments about your craft or your road to publishing? Is there any advice you’d like to give to new indie writers?

Larry: Writing as an indie author is challenging in many ways, but the advantages of control and full royalty payment, in my opinion, compensate for the loss of commercial marketing associated with a traditional publisher. I can still receive full and competent design and editing services, which I pay for, but have the book out in stores and on the Internet in four months, instead of a couple of years. My advice? Explore the possibilities, compare costs (financial and labor effort), and believe that in this publishing era, you can be successful. There is a tremendous community of indie authors to help, offer advice, and provide encouragement. Of course, the best advice for any would-be writer is always, READ!

Will: Larry, thank you so much for taking the time to share your insights with us. It’s such fun to get a glimpse of how a writer creates the books we come to enjoy so much. To my readers, click here to zip over to Larry’s website and check out his whole bibliography. I wouldn’t be surprised if you find your next favorite book there!

An Interview With Indie Author Michael Gardner

Michael Gardner, whom I interviewed for my December newsletter, is an indie author from New Zealand. I’d like to introduce him to you by reprinting the bio he’s posted on Goodreads.

1.Why do I write? I write because I have an obsession with writing which borders on a mental disorder. I’ve often wondered if I can get medicated for this condition, but it’s much cheaper and easier to spend time at a keyboard.

2. How long have I been at it? I’d love to tell you I had some magical writing awakening, but the truth is I’ve been writing since I could combine a noun and a verb to form a sentence. Not sure when that was or what I used. Probably the red crayon on the kitchen wall incident. It was a good story, but not well-received.

3. What is my inspiration? I’m inspired to write so I don’t have to find another pastime. I’ve tried stamp collecting, golf and other forms of self-harm, and writing seems to be the least destructive to my mental well-being and the environment. I also have an allergy to churning out books in a specific genre, which makes me a difficult author to follow. Sorry about that.

4. Do I have a pet, is it cute and what’s its name? I do have a pet. My wife thinks it’s cute. It’s actually the embodiment of evil with a soft coat. Amongst other names, I call it the Anti-Bob. If you’d like to know why, read The End and Other Stories.

Will: As a fan, I was delighted when you gathered eight of your separately published stories into one volume, Outside Inside. Do you have some “back story” about that process and those stories in particular that you can share with us? What do you believe are the elements of a good short story?

Michael: They all come from completely different places, which sounds contradictory considering they all came out of me. For example, Henry & Isa started as a dream. Goddammit, Larry! was inspired by a glitch in a video game I love to play. And Alexander Rollins Must Die came to me fully formed as I was going to the supermarket. Don’t ask me what grocery shopping has to do with a black comedy metafiction story.

I guess the point is that inspiration strikes us in unusual and unexpected ways. We have to tune in to those moments and embrace them. Or find a really good therapist. Short stories are an interesting beast. For years, I had the ridiculous notion that a short story was what people wrote if they weren’t good enough to craft a novel. It’s absolute nonsense. In many ways short stories are easier than novels, but in many ways they’re much harder.

With a novel, you have time to explore the story in depth, chase various ghosts, sidetrack down mysterious pathways. With a short story, you have to leap into the deep end of the pool and hope you can swim, or that the pool isn’t filled with hydrochloric acid. It demands finding the protagonist’s voice, conflict and goals as quickly as possible, then chasing them relentlessly to a conclusion in the most compressed form of storytelling you can muster.

Will: Your novel Rescue One is a page-turning thrill ride. Please tell us about how you created that.

Michael: I always wanted to be a writer. But for many years, I had a bee in my bonnet about it. Writers felt like mystical, elusive creatures, and I couldn’t quite see myself in that role. The early moral of the story is: follow your dreams, don’t listen to that voice.

Anyway, cutting a long story short, I spent five of my best working years (before becoming a self-employed writer) at my local rescue helicopter service. I flew a desk, not the chopper. But the rescue crew were an inspiring group of men and women who have left a mark on me for life.

One year, I was asked to run the strategy meeting. I never take a conventional approach to anything, so as a warm-up, I made everyone play a party game called ‘And the consequence was…’ You give each person a sheet of paper and a pen. Each person writes a line from a predetermined set of story ideas. You fold the paper over so each line is hidden and pass it to the next person in the circle. I changed the story ideas to imagining what the rescue helicopter service would be like one hundred years into the future. At the end of the session, you unravel the paper and read the story. Everyone was weeping with laughter.

And so I decided to ignore that voice and start writing a book, which became Rescue One.

Will: Your droll sense of humor is practically a trademark of your writing. Does that humor come easily for you? Does it have roots in your family?

Michael: My family are a very sensible bunch of people. I’m the one with the droll sense of humour. I like to laugh and give other people a good laugh too. From a writing perspective, you can create very powerful moments if you write funny scenes and deliver them deadpan. It’s simple juxtaposition really, layering contrasting ideas into scenes to give the story different nuances.

Will: You are a master at developing quirky characters to inhabit your stories. Are there some “tricks of the trade” you might share with us about how you do that?

Michael: I’m a big fan of the antihero. All my protagonists are antiheroes, even the high-achieving ones. For me, flawed characters are more human, relatable and interesting to write. I think it’s important to love all your characters, including the villains. If you enjoy writing them, that enthusiasm comes through on the page for the reader.

Will: Do you have any advice for other indie authors, things you’ve learned along your own creative journey?

Michael: Write because you want to tell other people your story. Do it for no other reason than that. If you write with pure determination to produce a good book, with no expectation of getting anything in return, you’ll do your best work.

And, as above, don’t listen to the voice.

Will: Thank you, Michael. My readers and I appreciate your taking the time to speak with us.
Catch up with Michael and all his books by clicking on his picture above.

An Interview With Indie Author Connie Lacy

Connie worked for many years as a radio reporter and news anchor, with a couple of brief forays into TV news along the way. Her experience as a journalist shows up in some of her novels. She also dabbled in acting in college and community theater. She uses those experiences in some of her books as well.

Her novels are fast-paced stories featuring young women facing serious challenges set against the backdrop of some thorny issues. She writes time travel, magical realism, historical fiction and climate fiction – all with a dollop of romance.​

Bill: Connie, how and why did you become a writer, and can you tell us about your creative process?

Connie: When I was in 5th grade, I read The Little House series of books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I decided I should be a writer too. I started with my biography. After filling a page and a half, I couldn’t think of anything else to say. Ha!  I transitioned into writing angsty, teenaged poetry, then switched to short stories at 15, tried writing children’s books, YA novels, and eventually settled on writing adult novels. My creative process involves channeling my concerns about a variety of issues, including social injustice, personal failures and climate change. To shine a light on a topic, I use it as a backdrop for my story. Racial injustice is featured in several of my books—A Daffodil for Angie (Young Adult) The Time Capsule,and The Going Back Portal. Then I work on building a main character to inhabit that world. I get to know her first, then outline a story arc for her. That changes sometimes as she interacts with other characters. But I always know how the story will end before I begin writing. My first draft always stinks. It’s messy, inconsistent and redundant. I go through many, many re-writes. The revision process always generates better ideas for scenes, and in my forthcoming novel, created a different ending. That’s the first time that’s happened.

Bill: Time travel figures in several of your novels, but not in a science fiction kind of way. Talk about that.

Connie: I’ve always liked time travel stories. Ideas pop into my mind. The Time Telephone grew out of this exact thought: what if you could call someone in the past on a time telephone? The novel also grew out of a situation within my extended family where a parent abandoned their child. So I combined the two—writing about a teenage girl grieving her mother’s death, lamenting the fact that even when her mother was alive, they never had a real mother-daughter relationship. There’s that element of fantasy, but it also deals with the very real-world issue of child abandonment. In The Going Back Portal, a young woman’s grandmother appears to be descending into Alzheimer’s disease, talking about a Cherokee Indian woman living in the woods behind her country cottage. But it turns out there’s actually a time gate that leads the protagonist to 1840 where a Cherokee woman is struggling to survive the brute who’s taken control of her land and her life. The novel delves into the wrongs perpetrated against Native Americans. That’s what appeals to me – not the sci-fi type of time travel story.

Bill: Would you describe several other of your books?

Connie: My concern about climate change prompted me to write a trilogy set a hundred years in the future against a backdrop of runaway global warming. I wanted the story to be romantic and exciting. So I mixed all of that together to produce The Shade Ring TrilogyThe Shade Ring, Albedo Effect, and Aerosol Sky. My novel, VisionSight,        is about a young woman who can see the future, including the unexpected challenges that “gift” brings. The novel I’m publishing this fall is another time travel story. This one is set in the 1850s and features a suffragette living with an abolitionist family in the Philadelphia area.

Bill: You just finished producing your own audiobook version of The Time Capsule. What was that like for you?

Connie: In a word: EXHAUSTING! I worked in radio news for many years. With all my experience in front of the mic and my experience editing, I foolishly thought “How hard can it be?” I was humbled by how hard it can be. Delivering the news is nothing like narrating a novel. There are character voices to do. Even if you don’t want to get too carried away, you still have to differentiate between characters. Of course, the sheer length of the novel is a big factor. The audiobook version of The Time Capsule is 9 hours and 21 minutes! Agh! Then there’s mouth noise to deal with. Multiple takes of every paragraph to hopefully get a usable take, often editing a sentence from one take into another paragraph take. The editing was a fulltime job. And don’t forget the technical issues, including hiss and extraneous noises (airplanes flying overhead,

barking dogs, etc.) I had to get up at 4:00 a.m., go down to the basement to my makeshift recording booth so I could record for a couple of hours before all the noise started. Will I ever do another audiobook? I’m still pondering that question.

Bill: What advice would you give to other indie authors?

Connie: There are lots of blog posts and newsletters out there with specific advice on publishing, plotting, character development, pacing, etc. I don’t want to get into all of that. I think a good piece of advice is to read a lot. Read the kinds of books you want to write. Notice what the good authors do—how they transition, how they handle dialog, how they develop character. Think about those things when you notice them and imagine how you might adapt those techniques in your own writing. It can also be educational to read poorly written books, although not as enjoyable. In that case, you might notice things you, yourself, never want to do—like using a character’s name

over and over and over and over when he/she, him/her would be better.

Thanks for having me, Bill. BTW—here’s my website.

A note to my readers: My interview with Connie first appeared in my October Newsletter. If you haven’t subscribed yet, here’s the link. I promise it’s spam-free, and I will not clutter your inbox!

Paperback Published!

I am happy to announce that the paperback edition of my new book of short stories has been released today and is available for sale on Amazon. Here’s a link. The digital version is still on target for publication on September 30 and you can pre-order it here

Meanwhile, work proceeds on the audiobook production of Dungeness and Dragons, with a tentative release date around December-January. Fingers crossed!

I will begin work on my October Newsletter soon. It will feature an interview with Connie Lacy, an independent author in Georgia who can really spin a tale. You don’t want to miss it. If you haven’t yet signed up for my monthly newsletter, please do so here.

Talk to you soon!