Writer Wednesday Interview with author Debra Lauman

This week, we feature an interview with author Debra Lauman, who will talk with us about some of her trials and triumphs as a writer, as well as her latest project. Welcome, Debra!

This Blog Blank: I like to start each interview by giving the author a chance to discuss their work. What can you tell us about your latest work?

Hi, I’m Debra Lauman, also known as “Ramkitten,” the hiking writer. To date, I’ve written four novels, two of which are published, a few long-distance trail journals, and hundreds of articles and essays, many about some aspect or area of the great outdoors and dozens more about a wide variety of other topics.

Like my earlier novels, I conjured up my latest work of literary fiction while walking trails. That’s when I get most of my inspiration. Or, rather, that’s what I’m usually doing when my ideas bubble to the surface and characters are born.

The idea for my first published novel, I. Joseph Kellerman, came to me while I was hiking the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine.  I wrote most of the first draft during that six-month adventure, often writing at night while lying in my tent, holding my little flashlight in my mouth (silly me, I didn’t have a headlamp), propping my head up with one hand while scribbling with the other, as other tired thru-hikers slept.

My most recent novel, A Picket Fence in Pawpaw, was conceived while I was on a weeklong backpacking trip in Wyoming’s Wind River Range. The main character, a 12-year-old girl called “Mouse,” came to life as I was hiking up and down mountains, camping near glaciers and mountain lakes, and sliding down scree slopes.

Funny thing is, my books (so far) having nothing at all to do with hiking or the trails I’ve been on when I came up with the ideas and the characters.

 

TBB: What was your inspiration for writing your bbok?

DEL: Well, the setting — the fictional town of Pawpaw in Pennsylvania’s Sockdolager River Valley — was definitely inspired by the small, very rural town where I lived and worked as a farm caretaker for six years. That part of the answer is easy.

As far as the inspiration for some of the characters and themes, however … that’s more difficult for me to figure out. I’ve honestly not thought about that before. But I suppose, as authors, our stories usually don’t come solely from our imaginations.

So, I’d say this story of childhood innocence giving way to adult wisdom and an understanding of human frailty and forgiveness was inspired, at least in part, by my relationship with my father and some things I learned about him over the years — things that didn’t really jive with the man I knew and loved but that really had nothing to do with me.

Another theme of the story is the idea of carpe diem or “seize the day” — making the most of life and finding a healthy, happy balance between work and play, planning and spontaneity. That’s definitely something always on my mind as time seems to pass so quickly.

 

TBB: Here’s a hard one, but my favorite question. Can you share a quote, a sentence, or a paragraph that is one of your favorite pieces of writing?

DEL: The first thing that comes to mind is the opening sentence of I. Joseph Kellerman: “Once upon a time, there was a boy named Isaac in a cattle car.”

That sentence popped into my head quite some time after I’d conjured up the main characters and the basic gist of the story. To that point, I’d written many snippets of dialogue and some bits of description, but it wasn’t until I had that first line that I was able to begin weaving those bits and pieces into something more coherent and complete.

TBB: Why did you choose that selection?

DEL:  I chose that sentence because it set the tone for the whole novel, bringing forth the idea of a warped fairy tale of sorts, along with the style of prose you might find in such a story.  The fairy tale theme, with relevant symbolism, then naturally came up throughout the novel and at the end, without me really concentrating on it. Each time I realized I’d brought that theme back to the forefront, I would smile at how it had felt so effortless. It’s amazing how much impact the first sentence of a novel can have on the whole feel and direction of the story, at least in my experience.

TBB: The publishing industry is in flux now, with distributors like Amazon encouraging writers to publish directly. I find most writers to be on one side of the fence or the other – Indie or Traditional publishing. Where do you see yourself in this debate – “Go Indies,” “Give Me the Book Deal,” or “Who Cares, Just Show Me the Money?”

DEL: I have nothing against self-publishing at all. In fact, I’ve basically self-published A Picket Fence in Pawpaw, releasing it on Kindle before even attempting the traditional route, querying agents and/or publisher. But I do prefer traditional publishing for my work, if possible. I like the idea of having someone else handle the merchandising and a significant part of the marketing.

For my first novel, I. Joseph Kellerman, I went with a small publishing house after meeting the founder and president of the company at a writer’s conference. She read some of my novel during those four days and offered me a contract at the end of the conference.

Being a new author, I jumped at the opportunity despite knowing in my gut that I was taking a chance with this relatively new and very small publishing house. I knew I probably should hold out and collect more rejections in the search for an agent and a larger publisher. But I didn’t. The doubts I had that I’d ever receive another “yes” won out.

Long story short, that small publisher went kaput during the first print run of my book, leaving me and a number of other authors on our own, with boxes of books shipped to our doorsteps.  This situation created a problem for me, since my book, which the publisher had already listed on Amazon, was then considered published, making it more difficult to find an agent and new publisher to re-release it.

That was several years ago, though, and, after making some relatively feeble attempts to market the book on my own, including releasing it on Kindle, I recently decided to give traditional publishing another try.  I’m happy to report that, despite revealing in my query letter that I. Joseph Kellerman was already published, a major New York City agent is currently reading the full manuscript.

That’s great!

 

TBB: Do you ever work actual people you know into your characters? Do the people ever know?

DEL: My characters — which is what I usually come up with first as opposed to plot — evolve from … well, anyone, anywhere, be it complete strangers or close friends. Most often, these characters are combinations of many people mixed with a lot of my own imagination.

I’m a people-watcher, and I find human nature and all of our little and not-so-little quirks fascinating. I love to play with and explore those quirks and flaws — some minor and humorous, others quite significant and serious — when I’m writing novels.

So far, I haven’t intentionally created characters from close friends or family. But I find it’s nearly impossible to keep them out completely, particularly certain quirks or character traits that stand out to me, even if they’re minor. The characters may not have their foundations in these friends and family members, but they certainly take on aspects of people I know.

Whether friends or family have noticed anything “familiar” about my characters, I have no idea. Those traits are most likely mixed in with so many aspects of other people I know or have never known at all that no one would say, “Hey, that character is me!”

That’s probably going to change, though, as the novel I’m currently pondering is very much based on a real-life experience and real people, which is why it’s taking me so much longer to begin, let alone settle on just how I want to handle the story, than with any of my previous stories.

TBB: Do you have a specific writing style?

I’m sure my voice seeps through in all of my writing, especially in the narrative as opposed to dialogue. (I think I speak for my characters, in their unique voices, pretty well.) Overall, though, I would say no, I don’t have a specific style. Rather, I like to experiment and get bored with one style. I’ve actually been told that my two published novels may as well have been written by two different people.

I always have enjoyed pretending (though I do it mostly in my head now that I’m a big girl), so I easily slip into different roles and styles when I’m writing. But I can’t force it, and the various styles of my novels and short stories usually aren’t intentional at all.

TBB: What book are you reading now?

DEL: I’m actually between books right now, as I ponder what to read next. What a dilemma!

Do I want to read another Anne Tyler book? (Love her character-driven novels, like Breathing Lessons, A Slipping Down Life and Accidental Tourist.) Or is there a travel-adventure book by Peter Jenkins that I’ve somehow missed? Maybe another wilderness survival story, like one of my favorites: Touching the Void by Joe Simpson. (I’m involved with Search & Rescue, so I enjoy reading that type of genre.) I’d also love to read another good time-travel book. (I was hooked on Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series.”) And I’m interested in reading more books by authors I’ve become acquainted with online, having just finished the most enjoyable Manhasset Stories by Suzanne Rosenwasser. Along those lines, I’ve got Dixie Miller Goode’s young adult novel, Duffy Barkley is Not a Dog, downloaded on the Kindle, so that’s another contender.

There’s so much I want to read that I’m having a hard time settling on which one to begin.

TBB:  The idea for my last book (and the next one) came from music videos. What strange places, situations, or people have inspired your stories?

DEL: The idea for I. Joseph Kellerman came to me while I was hiking the Appalachian Trail, though the story has nothing at all to do with hiking or the great outdoors. On the contrary, the main character, a very troubled psychiatrist, hasn’t left his row house home and office in more than four years.

One day on the trail, I was in the Shenandoahs, talking with a fellow thru-hiker. Somehow, we got onto the topic of real people who’d make interesting foundations for fictional characters. It was then that she told me about a deceased New York City psychoanalyst a friend of hers had known, both as a patient and a lover. What little she told me about this highly regarded yet controversial man, all of which she’d heard second-hand from her friend, soon morphed into my own Dr. Kellerman as I continued hiking north, alone with my own thoughts for the rest of that day. Over the days that followed, all of the other characters appeared — I really don’t know where THEY came from at all — and I walked with them and their frequent jabbering for many more miles.

TBB: You are granted one wish, and are allowed to choose any writer, living or dead, as your mentor? Whom do you choose?

DEL: That’s a tough one!  I guess it’s a toss-up between Pulitzer Prize winner, Anne Tyler, whose books I’ve both enjoyed and studied as I’ve tried to become a better writer.  Tyler’s novels are what I’d consider very character-driven with “small” plots.  I often find myself nodding as I read her stories, because I not only find I can relate to the characters, even in just some small way, but also because I love the subtle nuances Tyler notices about human nature and behavior. It’s obvious she’s as much of a people-watcher and eavesdropper as I am.

Then there’s Diana Gabaldon, author of the very popular “Outlander” series about a World War II nurse who travels back in time to the 18th century Scottish Highlands, where she meets a very brave, noble … and hot! … man of the kilt.  Gabaldon’s books, though many hundreds of pages long in most cases, are what I’d consider riveting. Her plots are complex, with lots of twists and turns, but the stories move along at a pleasant pace. And her characters are … well, I’m not feeling very literary today, so I’ll just say they’re awesome! I’ve met Diana Gabaldon in person, when she came here to her home town of Flagstaff, Arizona, to give a talk, and I found her to be as engaging and fascinating as her writing.

TBB: When I write, I tend to see it in my head, often beforehand, as a movie. It’s either that I’m a visual thinker, or I have a brain tumor. When you write, how does the story unfold for you?

DEL: I’m definitely a visual thinker — visual and auditory — and have been since I was a child, sitting in the chestnut tree outside my bedroom window, watching those mental movies. I could see and hear them so clearly, so much so that the rest of the world would disappear for a while, even the leaves on the branches right in front of my face.

I’m still very much like that, though I can now keep just enough focus on the trail I’m usually hiking or the road I’m walking while watching those mental movies to avoid mishaps. Occasionally, one of those movies draws me in enough to eventually become a novel.

TBB: When did you first consider yourself a writer? What inspired you to start writing?

DEL: I wish I’d realized I was a writer long before I actually did. Perhaps I would have made different choices about my path in life and in college (but no regrets, yadda, yadda).

I wrote my first book-length story — well, a novella more like — when I was eight years old, on that thin, lined yellow paper that would tear if your pencil was too sharp. I have no idea what the story was about, but I do remember writing it (in big, flowing cursive, no less) and proudly reading it to my mom. Such fun that was!

Then there were all those stories, short and long, that followed over the years. But it wasn’t until my third “formal” attempt at novel-writing — that attempt being I. Joseph Kellerman — that I began answering, “I’m a writer,” when people would ask me what I did … as long as they didn’t add “for a living” onto the question.  These days, I can happily and truthfully reply, “I’m a writer” even if they do tack on that phrase.

Ah, that notorious “for a living.” I know it well. 🙂

Thank you, Debra for suffering through answering all of our questions. It’s been great. For more information on her books, check out the links below. If you want to buy her books (and you should), it’s easy: just click on the book cover.

Deb’s Bio:

In addition to writing and hiking, another of Debra’s passions is Search & Rescue. She’s been a volunteer member of a busy “SAR” team in northern Arizona since 2007, blogging about her experiences in “Deb’s Search and Rescue Stories.” (http://debssarstories.blogspot.com)

Along with novels and blogs, Debra’s writing credits include several trail journals, hundreds of articles on topics ranging from outdoor skills and travel to how to make great huevos rancheros, ghostwriting articles and portions of a California guidebook for clients, and freelance journalism for American Media Distribution. Her essay, “A Man Called Screamer,” (http://www.squidoo.com/screamer) a true story from the Appalachian Trail, received second prize in the Arizona Literary Contest.

Originally from Rhode Island, Debra now lives in Flagstaff, Arizona, where she enjoys hiking to the summits of San Francisco Peaks to the bottom of Grand Canyon.

 

I. Joseph Kellerman

Within the boundaries of a world peopled by the troubled souls who come to 4991 Hopewell Street and by one devoted assistant, a tale of self-discovery and redemption unfolds.

The shingle outside that Boston row house reads, “I. Joseph Kellerman, Psychiatrist,” but inside exists a tormented man. Under the watchful eye peering through a hole hidden by a bizarre painting, Dr. Kellerman listens to the problems of those who sit in the yellow armchair. The same yellow chair beckons the doctor, who struggles there with his own demons, created when he was a child in Nazi occupied Europe. As he comes to terms with his past and attempts to salvage what remains of his future, the psychiatrist and those who know him perform a dance of relationships, both imaginary and real.

A Picket Fence in Pawpaw:

Picket fences can enclose not only what seem to be perfect houses and perfect lives, but also small-town thinking. In A Picket Fence in Pawpaw, thirty-six year-old Minnie Mincola takes us to Pawpaw, Pennsylvania, where this tale of the people who were part and parcel of her childhood plays out in her heart and mind. Known then as “Mouse,” she thrived in the warm glow of her extraordinary relationship with her grandfather, Raymond “Pawpaw” Prine.

As Minnie looks back on events that shook her world, a child’s trust becomes the woman’s questions. What she had believed to be the fabric and facts of her life in Pawpaw turn out to be a network of secrets. One day, an exploration by a curious Mouse brings her grandfather, friends and events into sharp focus and sets in motion a harsh flood of reality. Youthful innocence becomes a woman’s wisdom, as picket fences give way to an understanding of human frailty, forgiveness and love.

More Links

 Debra “Ramkitten” Lauman’s Hiking Writer website: http://www.debralauman.com

I. Joseph Kellerman on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/I-Joseph-Kellerman-ebook/dp/B002C4KKXY/ref=pd_sim_sbs_kstore_1?ie=UTF8&m=AG56TWVU5XWC2

A Picket Fence in Pawpaw on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/A-Picket-Fence-Pawpaw-ebook/dp/B002BNLTZE/ref=pd_sim_kstore_3?ie=UTF8&m=AG56TWVU5XWC2

Debra Lauman’s Author Page on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/DebraLauman

Coming this Week – More Writers

For #Writer Wednesday, we will feature an interview with author Deb Lauman. It should be fun, so stay tuned.

I am also in the midst of an unscientific survey to determine who are the Top 100 writers in history. I’ve pulled information from a number of places: critical analysis of novelists, assessments of writers, poets, and playwrights, estimates of publishing revenue, views of the top Novels of all time, etc. My concept is that if you truly want to place writers in some sort of ordered context, you certainly have to consider both their place in literary history (thus the critics’ survey) and their popularity.  I think a book that a consensus of critics love, but readers find unreadable should be placed lower than a writer who is loved by critics and readers alike. Not all of the world’s voracious readers care a nit about great literature. They are looking for entertainment.

The truly gifted writers can do both things well.

There are no prejudices for genre in my survey.  I include children’s authors, foreign novelists, playwrights, and poets alike. I must admit that poets are at something of a disadvantage, as there is no objective means of determining the marketability of poetry. But perhaps that is how it should be. Maybe one can make the case that a good novelist tops a great poet, simply because far more people wish to read the novelist’s work. We’ll see. I’m still playing with the algorithms.

I’m also throwing in a few points for longetivity. Shouldn’t a book still being read from 1821 be given more credit than a book that’s only been in the public eye for a few years? For example, the consensus on the Twilight books is increasingly that they are not a true “fantasy” series, but a romance series. As trends change, views of what is considered to be quality certainly changes. Many Sci-fi/fantasy fans deride the books, while romance fans buythem in droves. Who is right?

I hope to have this done by Friday. We’ll see. Hopefully, it will stimulate conversation. Remember, this won’t be my list – only the methodology and weighting are mine.

Tune in when it’s posted, so you can tell me how wrong I am.

#WriterWednesday Interview with Author Ruth A. Douthitt

This week for Writer Wednesday, we feature an interview with author Ruth A. Douthitt. Ruth, welcome to This Blog Blank.

This Blog Blank: I like to start each interview by giving the author a chance to discuss their work. What can you tell us about your latest work?

Ruth A. Douthitt:

First of all, thanks for having me! I am a writer based out of Phoenix, AZ. My latest project is a YA Fiction series titled “The Warfare Club” and it is about a group of teens that rescue people within their dreams by battling the supernatural forces of evil.  It will be a 7-book series. The first draft is complete; I am now adding scenes and characterizations. 

TBB: What was your inspiration for writing the story?

RAD: After I finished my first book, “The Dragon Forest,” written for middle grades, I thought about my next project. My son was now a teenager so I thought about what books were out there for teens. I visited our local library and browsed the teen section. This was in 2009, so the vampire/werewolf craze was hot. I noticed that most of the novels and graphic novels were about paranormal stuff—very dark and dreary.

It depressed me because there really wasn’t much out there for Christian teens to read. I wanted a book that had an important encouraging message.  I decided to write a series about how teens can be victorious in Christ. I hope the series will be a set of graphic novels someday.

TBB: I had a very similar reaction, and wrote The Stream series for the same reason. Good versus evil is a grand theme – however, it doesn’t always have to star evil.

 

TBB: Here’s a hard one, but my favorite question. Can you share a quote, a sentence, or a paragraph that is one of your favorite pieces of writing?

“We do not worship the book, but the One whom the book reveals.”  – Oswald Chambers

This quote is from a devotional by Oswald Chambers.

TBB: Why did you choose the previous selection?

RAD: This quote moved me because so many people think Christians worship the Bible. We consider it to be the Word of God … but we worship who the book is about: GOD.

  

TBB: The publishing industry is in flux now, with distributors like Amazon encouraging writers to publish directly. I find most writers to be on one side of the fence or the other – Indie or Traditional publishing. Where do you see yourself in this debate – “Go Indies,” “Give Me the Book Deal,” or “Who Cares, Just Show Me the Money?”

RAD:  I am a huge supporter of traditional publishing because I think writers should be paid to write. However, I am also a fan of self-publishing and do not think writers have to choose one or the other … but can easily do both!

I am planning on self-publishing a couple of books that will be companions to The Dragon Forest series. I also plan on self-publishing some non-fiction titles.

That way, I can submit my work to my publisher and while I wait for the release of my books, I can be busy getting my work out to and further develop that fan base!

TBB:  I (gasp) stopped reading fiction for over five years. I read a lot of non-fiction, and learned a lot about behavior and history. I also wrote a TON of business proposals. In retrospect, it was part of a long process that turned me into a better writer. What life experiences have you brought to your writing that made you a better writer?

RAD: Ditto!  I hardly ever read fiction. I have always loved history books, autobiographies, and books on theology. I didn’t delve into fiction until I wrote fiction.

But now that I am pursuing a writing career, I find that my love of non-fiction, my graduate degree, and my work as a curriculum developer has helped me hone my craft because I learned a writing or development process.  I learned research and how to obtain information to support claims.

As a result, I now have a better writing process that I follow in order to write fiction.  I am reading more fiction now than ever before and am enjoying it.

 

TBB: Let’s Play a Little “This, or That?” (Some of these may be tough J)

 – Plotter, Pantser, or OMG, I think I have OCD? I have to plot. I am not OCD about it, but I have to plot. I am a visual person, so having everything set out before I start just makes sense to me.

Great Writer or Great Re-writer? Re-writer. Thanks to my editor, I am a much better re-writer!

Grammar Nazi or I Only Brake for Periods? I only brake for periods. I let my editor work out all the grammar!

Mood Music or Total Silence? Mood music all the way! I tend to listen to movie soundtracks while I write because that music is already written to a storyline, so it moves and has a set pace already. But I am also listening to Christian music that teens listen to. It helps me visualize my characters.

Writing is my Art or Writing is my Job? Art for now … hopefully, a job in the very near future? Lord willing…

Character-driven, Dialogue-driven, or Plot-driven? Plot driven for now. I hope to write character-driven books soon. I am not quite there yet. For my YA book, I tend to have more dialogue.

My Book has a Message, or My Book is Pure Entertainment?  A message—absolutely!  I write with a purpose.  The message may not be blatant, but it is in there: morals, values, ethics, biblical principles like honor your vow, stand up for what is right even when no one else is, endure through trials with honor, fight the good fight, be willing to die for your faith.

 

TBB: What book are you reading now?

RAD:  I am reading about four books right now: On Writing by Stephen King; The Order of the Phoenix, by JK Rowling; Blacklash: How Obama and the Left are Driving Americans to the Government Plantation by Deneen Borelli; and I have about one chapter left of The Hunger Games.  All these in addition to the Bible daily and a devotional daily. Whew. I am tired.

 

TBB: I love to ask writers this one. What book(s) do you wish you’d written? Why?

RAD: Lies Women Believe and the Truth that Sets Them Free by Nancy Lee DeMoss because I bought into those lies she writes about when I was younger. I wish I had written this book!  It’s a great book and has helped many women come to the knowledge of the truth.

I’d like for my non-fiction books for women to do this someday.

 

TBB: When I write, I tend to see it in my head, often beforehand, as a movie. It’s either that I’m a visual thinker, or I have a brain tumor. When you write, how does the story unfold for you?

RAD:  I am the same way! I think it’s because I am a child of the 70’s and was raised by the television. I saw Star Wars 26 times in the summer of 1977. So, now I see my stories as movies inside my head. I have often been told that The Dragon Forest reads like a movie plays out on the screen.

TBB: What’s the last book you read that made you want to start reading more books?

RAD: Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. She is an amazing writer of history! Her book made me want to read more books on WWII, my favorite historical period.

 

TBB: When did you first consider yourself a writer? What inspired you to start writing?

RAD: I suppose when my first book came out and people told me they enjoyed it. I think that’s when I first started considering myself a writer. I have a long way to go, still, and look forward to learning more about the craft.  

I was inspired to write by my love of art. I thought I could combine my writing with my art in a children’s picture book. My son inspired me to change it to a chapter book. That idea is what got me going and 20 years later, I held the published book in my hand!

TBB: Do you call yourself an artist when you are around non-artists? How about when you are alone?

RAD: I am known as an artist because I paint and draw. It took me decades before I considered myself to be an “artist” in every sense of the word. But now I have no issue with the title because I’ve earned it.

I feel I still have to earn the title of “writer” but I am on my way!

TBB: There are almost infinite definitions of success as a writer, or just as a person. What’s your definition of success?

RAD:  Completion. It took me 20 years to complete my Bachelor of Arts degree. I never felt successful until I completed it. It took me 20 years to see my first book published. Completing my first book was success to me even if it never sold one copy. To me, completion means success.

 

 TBB: What would be your stretch writing project, if you found the time and the nerve?

To write a WWII history book!

Ruth, thank you for taking the time to answer our questions and be with us today.

For those wanting to learn more about Ruth and her work, you can reach her via the links below:

The Dragon Forest is available now on Amazon:

“Ten-year-old Peter might be the Prince of the kingdom of Illiath, but he feels pretty useless. His father is too busy running the kingdom to have time for his son, and his mother is dead. Now the forces of the evil Lord Caragon threaten war, and only one weapon can save the kingdom: the powerful scales of a dragon.

Illiath lies at the edge of a mysterious forest ruled by a fierce Dragon the King has sworn to protect. But what if Peter can best the dragon and bring back the scales? As Peter and his horse, Titan, plunge into the trees, he has no idea of the surprises awaiting him…..”

 

Write Much?

So, while I spend my time editing, promoting my new release, Awakening (available 23 March 2012), knocking out a couple of short stories, and starting my next book, I thought I needed something to keep me less busy.

As a result, I’d like to start a Weekly Writer Wednesday feature, wherein I feature writers. On Wednesdays. Clever, no? The feature can be in the form of interviews, guest blogs, or other features. The only restrictions is that the posts need to be Safe for Work, as I want people to be able to access the blog without fear.

If you are a current or soon-to-be published writer (Indie or Traditional), give me a buzz if you’d like to sign up for a Wednesday feature. You decide the subject matter, or if you want an interview, let me know, and I’ll pull something together. So far, the Wednesdays are open.

Writer Wednesday Interview with AlicaMcKenna-Johnson (#WW)

Today This Blog Blank welcomes author Alica McKenna-Johnson, author of the newly released Phoenix Child. Welcome, Alica!

This Blog Blank: I like to start each interview by giving the author a chance to discuss their latest work. I’m sure since you just released your first novel, you must be excited. What can you share with us about it?

Alica McKenna-Johnson: Phoenix Child is a YA urban fantasy novel set in San Francisco. Sara has grown up in group homes, with only her mother’s journal as any kind of family connection. When she turns fourteen she wakes up to find that not only has her physical appearance changed, but she now has supernatural powers that she doesn’t really want.

Because of these changes her uncle is able to find her. So not only does Sara have to figure out who she is now, but she needs to learn to be part of a family, and decide if she’s going to accept her destiny or hide from it.

TBB: What was your inspiration for writing the story?

AMJ: It was a ‘what if’. I was reading about Selkies and how the males would shift into their human form and seduce human women, but the stories say they can only come ashore once every seven years. I thought that was crap- those Selkie men lied so they could sleep around. Then I began wondering if the children from those unions had magical powers, and soon my brain was off on all kinds of craziness. I think the basic idea of the modern descendants of magical creatures went through 5 incarnations before Phoenix Child was formed.

TBB: When I fall in love with a book, invariably it’s when I can get lost in the descriptions – when it becomes real – sound, image, etc. Other people I know skip the descriptions and go straight to the dialogue. As writers, we are fortunate in being able to get lost in worlds we create. What causes you to get lost when you are writing a book?

AMJ: I am a description whore! In my critique group I’m always being asked to tone down the description- “Alica you don’t need 10 color words on one page.” I basically vomit everything in my head onto the page and rely on others to help me weed through it.

I want full sensory emersion into a book, and I hope I’ve created that with mine.

TBB: I love to ask writers this one. What book(s) do you wish you’d written? Why?

AMJ: I knew this was coming and I still don’t have an answer. Part of me, of course, wants to say Harry Potter, because I love them and she made so much money.  Another part want of me wants to pick something more lyrical and classic, like the Velveteen Rabbit it’s such a beautiful story and I adore the way it’s written. However I am going to say the Stephanie Plum series by Janet Evanovich because not only can she make me laugh out loud in public, but I can clearly remember scenes from her books that I haven’t read in years. And that is an awesome thing to be able to do as an author.

TBB: You are granted one wish, and are allowed to choose any writer, living or dead, as your mentor? Whom do you choose?

AMJ: But we’re all such crazy unstable people!  Mark Twain- that man was trouble, and I don’t know how much writing I would learn, but I would have a darn good time hanging out with him.

TBB: When I write, I tend to see it in my head, often beforehand, as a movie. It’s either that I’m a visual thinker, or I have a brain tumor. When you write, how does the story unfold for you?

AMJ: It’s more bit by bit. It is very visual, however until I get a scene written down it loops in my head over and over again. I can even just write a few words to solidify it, but until I have something written there it is in my brain. I do have a general idea of what will happen in my story- or at least a beginning, middle and end but how they get there usually surprises me.

TBB: Do you call yourself an artist when you are around non-artists? How about when you are alone?

AMJ: Wow- um- no I don’t call myself an artist, although I would call other writers artists. I’m still getting used to calling myself an author without devaluing it by adding, ‘but I’m only self published’.  Even though I don’t feel that way about other self-published authors. We’re always harder on ourselves right?

TBB: (Sigh) Yes, we are.

TBB: Let’s pretend civilization as we know it has come to an end. You are allowed exactly one TV series, one author’s books, or one singer/musician’s complete works by the Ministry of the Arts. If you cheat, you die. Which do you choose, and whose works?

AMJ: What a horrid thought. Well, first I would establish a co-op so we could share, or become some badass vigilante stealing and freeing art for everyone! But what would I pick? I think I’ll go with Janet Evanovich because she’s written a lot and I would need to laugh in that kind of a world.

TBB: There are almost infinite definitions of success as a writer, or just as a person. What’s your definition of success?

AMJ: I want to be able to support my family with my writing. That would be freeing. But I want people to love my characters and the worlds I’ve create enough to write fan fiction about it. If there was a site dedicated to Phoenix Child fanfic I would be beyond thrilled.

TBB: If you could define the perfect reader for your book, that group you are certain would love it if only they gave it a chance, who would those people be? Here, I’m less thinking about marketing and demographics, than I am personality or lifestyle traits.

AMJ: Someone who is/was afraid to accept who they are and how powerful and amazing they are. Someone who feels / has felt lost, alone, and unsure of what to do. Someone who wants to get lost in a world, be inspired to take steps in their own life to make it amazing.

TBB: How can they find your work?

AMJ: You can find Phoenix Child at Amazon http://www.amazon.com/Phoenix-Child-ebook/dp/B007AK6DRW/ref=sr_1_3?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1329539659&sr=1-3

Or Smash words https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/133873

Bill, thank you so much for letting me hang out on your blog today, and for asking such great questions- I think my brain hurts a little bit. J

Well, if there’s pain, my work is done. Heh. 🙂

Interview with Heidi C. Vlach

This week’s interview is with author Heidi C. Vlach. Welcome Heidi!

This Blog Blank: I like to start each interview by giving the author a chance to discuss their latest work. What can you share with us about it? (Feel free to discuss whichever work you want to promote)

Heidi C. Vlach: My most recent book is also my first self-published one! Remedy is a medical drama that explores what it means to be family. The story follows Peregrine, an aging miner with impaired hearing, and his daughter/assistant Tillian. Peregrine’s race has a far longer life expectancy than Tillian’s, and Peregrine is wracked with doubt that their living arrangement is the best use of Tillian’s time. The two of them are swept into the relief efforts for a legendary plague and while they’re separated, they’re forced to reexamine their relationship. Doing the right thing isn’t always straightforward.

TBB: You’ve spent quite a bit of time in world building. Tell us about the Aligare world. How did you come up with the various races?

HV:  The Aligare world is a planet with a habitable area the size of a small country. That area is enclosed with a magical barrier and nurtured by the gods. The mortal people are three non-human species who live and work together, using each other’s strengths to everyone’s advantage.

I basically backwards engineered these races. As a teenager, I designed some individual characters that looked cool, then I decided to build a world that would produce those people. I also looked to Earth creatures of the past and present for inspiration. In particular, Aligare dragons are inspired by the archaeopteryx, the most well-known evolutionary step between dinosaurs and birds. Peregrine describes his korvi race as “a drop of bird in a cup of lizard”.

TBB: I hear a lot of writers talking about their literary influences. For instance, in writing my first SciFi novel, I keep seeing Isaac Asimov’s philosophy, and Jack Vance’s characterizations in my head. When you are writing, what influences can you see in your work?

HV: Hmm, good question. I don’t really see a large amount of any one influence in my work. I’m inspired by general genre attitudes. Like the differences between sci-fi and fantasy, and the places you can blur the two genres together. Even video game tropes end up in the mix. Although I do notice that after reading a Margaret Atwood book, my prose style shifts a bit, so I guess I’m influenced by the way she puts words together.

TBB: If you were certain no one – zero people – would ever read your book, would you still write? Why, or why not?

HV: I’d write something or other for myself. Maybe not coherent novels, maybe just collections of scenes for my own enjoyment. But to be honest, I don’t think I’d ever believe that zero people would read my book. Absolutely no one on this planet has any interest? Zero out of seven billion? Not likely! Self-publishing has found readers for plenty of “unmarketable” stories. Everything has a niche, it’s just a matter of finding your audience and finding what works.

TBB: I love to ask writers this one. What book(s) do you wish you’d written? Why?

HV: Envying books that way seems nonsensical to me. If I wrote someone else’s book, it wouldn’t be the same book at all. And the reading experience would be changed, too. That book would be a thing I worked to build, not a thing for me to consume and enjoy! It’s the difference between working in a bakery and receiving a gift of birthday cake. No, I’m happy writing what I write and letting other writers produce shiny things to call their own.

But if we’re talking about book ideas I just think are really cool, and would enjoy writing myself? I love what Naomi Novik has done with dragons in her Temeraire series.  Human society hasn’t had any other sentient species around to question the things we do, so when you add intelligent dragons to real Earth history, the result is a lot of food for thought. I’m not much of a history buff, though, so I’d take real Earth dragons in a much different direction if I ever used the idea.

TBB: Yeti Crab – future Aligarian race? (If you don’t use them, I will.)

HV: Hee! I don’t think I could fit them into the Aligare world and still do them justice, but I do love the idea of a yeti crab race. Let’s both write about fantasy crab people, Bill. I think the market can support the two of us.

 

TBB: What authors influenced your writing the most?

HV: My strongest visceral responses to authors are when I don’t want to do what they’ve done. I look at some authors who define trends and I think, gosh, I just don’t like that take on fantasy. It’s great that they’ve found success, but I want to do something markedly different from that.

A good example of this is Brian Jacques’s Redwall series. It’s always bothered me that Jacques is held up as a figurehead of non-human fantasy novels, when he used such simplistic scenarios and intended his work as black-and-white allegories for children. Plenty of people have told me that if I want to be marketable, I should “write something like Redwall”. Or just lie about Remedy’s story content and market it as a talking animal book for kids. My response, as a writer, is to push harder in the opposite direction and try to add more of my personal flavour to what I do. If people like your work because it’s exactly like Famous Author’s popular story, I don’t think people actually like your work.

TBB: What do you like most about your writing? What do you want people to take from it?

HV: I love using sensory description. Especially when I get to invent a new sense to use — such as my aemet people’s ability to airsense. Aemets have specially developed antennae that let them perceive air as a three-dimensional presence. They can detect movement and textures all around them because of the way the air fills in the space around objects, or the parting motion of air currents around an approaching person. Readers have commented that they like my sensory descriptions because it makes the story immersive. They feel like they can imagine exactly what the Aligare world is like, and how a non-human being would see that world. That’s exactly what I’m trying to do, so I’m happy to hear it! I want to craft that sensation of understanding something foreign and making it a part of your own experience.

TBB: When I write, I tend to see it in my head, often beforehand, as a movie. It’s either that I’m a visual thinker, or I have a brain tumor. When you write, how does the story unfold for you?

HV: Gosh, maybe you should get that checked out. Kidding, kidding! The human brain devotes a lot of its processing power to eyesight and visual information, so it’s natural to use visuals as a go-to way of imagining things.

I used to imagine my stories as a movie in my head, but I found that I was writing too many movie-like scenes. Stuff like describing the scenery before getting to a visual description of the character — it was more like stage directions than like deeply involved prose. Easy to imagine, but not very immersive. Is the reader some kind of cameraperson swooping above the story, or what? Now when I write, I usually put myself in the character’s place and make some guidelines about how they’re going to see everything. Details they tend to notice, and any particular sensory priority their race has. I sort of imagine the character as a point in space, then build the world outward based on the feedback that character would give me.

TBB: I imagine, that like a lot of writers, you’ve been reading most of your life. What changes have you seen in fiction that move you, or anger you?

HV: The recent trend toward grim, dark fantasy is dismaying to me. I do think it’s good to look at more realistic scenarios than the destiny-based models. The good guys shouldn’t always win just because they’re the good guys. But I don’t think that wallowing in negative outcomes, selfish characters and brutal violence is necessarily realistic. Real life has joy and good fortune in it, too! Even when times are tough and events are trying, people find positives to help them carry on.

TBB: What part of writing do you like the most? The least?

HV: I love throwing ideas around and worldbuilding. Especially when I find some tidbit of trivia that clicks with a character or a scenario. I learned the other day that litmus paper uses a dye extracted from lichen. And I got absolutely excited about that! Ohmygod, the Aligare world has lichen AND people who are fluent in the uses of plants! Could I seriously have pH testing in my low-tech world? I never would have guessed!

My least favourite part of writing is that it takes so much daily effort to make the story come out the way I want it to. When I’m enthralled with an idea, I guess how long it’ll take me to write and that time estimate is usually … optimistic. But it’s worthwhile to spend that time making sure all the story elements line up, so I can’t begrudge it too much. Quality over quantity, you know.

TBB: What gives you the most energy as a writer? What drains you the most?

HV: New ideas and experiences energize me. After a road trip to a new place or a great philosophical conversation, I always feel jazzed to write something. But I’m an introvert. So while talking to people gives me great ideas and makes me want to write, I also feel like I need some peace and solitude before I have the mental energy for prose. My day job is waitressing, so on weeks where I work a lot of shifts and talk to hundreds of people, I find it hard to get much writing done.

TBB: If you could define the perfect reader for your book, that group you are certain would love it if only they gave it a chance, who would those people be? Here, I’m less thinking about marketing and demographics, than I am personality or lifestyle traits.

HV: That’s a relief, because I’ve never been able to figure out what Remedy’s marketing demographic is. I have no idea how people look at a nuanced work and decide that, say, women between the ages of 25 and 39 will enjoy it. What, do people in their early 40s suddenly stop liking things?

I intended Remedy for people like me, who just haven’t been able to find that “weird” story they’d love to read. People who like fantasy elements, but don’t like the typical formulas of quests and wars. People who think that the little everyday characters are more interesting than privileged heroes saving the world. And Remedy is particularly meant for people who want to see beyond the human perspective. If you like the way atypical viewpoints can show us universal truths, then you might just enjoy what I do.

TBB: How can they find your work?

HV:My website, HeidiCVlach.com, has a list of all the places you can buy Remedy! Just look at this cover, don’t you want this in your personal library?

I feel like I picked a cover artist and won the lottery. Erm, anyway. My website also has bonus Aligare world lore, for those of you who like backstory and reference articles. I discuss writing and worldbuilding on my blog, Climb The Sky, and I share news, thoughts and entertaining links through Google+, Facebook and Twitter. Stay tuned for news about Ravel, an interspecies romance novelette from the world of Aligare!

Heidi C. Vlach is a resident of Ontario, Canada. After graduating chef training and working as a bistro cook, Heidi found that being an overqualified waitress was really more her style. In her free time, she enjoys video games, online fandom, paper mache sculpture and conversations with her cat.