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M.K. Tod—Author of Historical Fiction, Blogger, and Reader Surveyor

I met Mary Tod, pen name M.K. Tod, through Lake Union’s Facebook group, a supportive online author collective who welcomes readers into their ethereal coffee klatch. She writes historical fiction novels, blogs about history, and creates reader surveys. Her fourth novel “Paris in Ruins,” set in 1870s Paris during the Franco-Prussian war, should be coming out soon! I’m fortunate that she agreed to an interview on my little blogblogblog. I’ll let her take it away…..

First of all, many thanks for inviting me onto your blog today, Lael. It’s a pleasure to spend time with you and your readers.

Tell me about your artistic / writing process, including schedule, environment, and inspirations.

Writing is a second career for me. After thirty years in sales, technology and consulting, I went with my husband to Hong Kong for three years—a fascinating but dislocating experience. There I was, half way around the world with no job, no family, and no close friends. On a whim, I began researching my grandparents’ lives which ultimately led to my first novel, Unravelled. Thirteen years and almost five novels later, I find that the genesis of a story typically hits me unexpectedly. I jot the idea down and let it ruminate for a while, then bring it up one day with my husband—could be over dinner or while we’re out somewhere or even on a road trip. That conversation puts a little more flesh on the idea. From there, I develop a chapter outline. Once I have an outline that makes sense along with several characters fleshed out as to desires, circumstances, backstory, and conflicts, I begin chapter one.

I work at my desk situated in an alcove in our bedroom almost every day, if not on the latest novel then on marketing, blogging, keeping up with social media, and connecting with readers. I love hearing from readers!

For me, just like most other authors I’ve met, writing is a passionate pursuit. Once I’m in the grip of a story, I get lost in that world with photos of people, places, maps, landscape, homes, clothing, and various articles and fiction and non-fiction books for inspiration. It can be a messy process and, of course, the first draft is only a beginning!

Why does historical fiction intrigue you? Describe your research—elaborate all you wish.

I’ve always loved historical fiction from my first exposure to the novels of authors like Mary Renault, Rosemary Sutcliff, and Jean Plaidy. There was something about travelling back in time that sparked my imagination and perhaps those stories helped with the transition from childhood to gawky teenager with hormones that had no home. Historical fiction has dominated my reading ever since. And then, while in Hong Kong researching the wars and depression my grandparents went through, I became obsessed with World War One.

What I now realize is how much research goes into well-crafted historical fiction. You need to intimately understand the world of your characters—the political, cultural, religious, social, and other beliefs and norms that governed life in whatever time period they live in. You need to appreciate how they thought, what they had for breakfast, the clothes they wore and how long it took to get dressed, the books they might have read, the restrictions governing their lives, how long it took to travel to the next town—the list is endless. To write stories set during WWI, I also had to immerse myself in the tools, techniques, and strategies of war and understand the horrific experience of trench warfare.

Research is a complex, time-consuming process and as a writer you can then select only a few details to paint the picture for your readers just like the deft brush strokes of a Chinese painting can suggest a flower or a mountain or the face of a woman. Over the years, I’ve found sources I return to again and again as well as techniques to make the research more effective.

For example, I love maps. Maps suggest worlds. Whether it’s a map depicting troop movements in northern France, or a map of a small village showing roads radiating out from a central square, or a map of 1871 Paris, each creates an imaginary world and the people within it. When I find a map from long ago, I’m like a kid in a candy store.

I think I spend almost as much time researching as I do writing. Fortunately, I love doing both!

Walk me through your publishing timeline—who does what when, and your responsibilities.

I’ve taken two publishing paths—self-publishing and more traditional publishing. My husband and I published the first two novels, Unravelled and Lies Told in Silence. I worked with a freelance editor who also designed the covers for these novels. Then my husband did the page layout, figured out how to create MOBI and EPUB files for Amazon and other e-book retailers, and worked with a printer to create paperback versions. My role was marketing, which included virtual book tours, all sorts of guest posts, lots of social media activities and so on to get the word out.

I was delighted when Time and Regret was taken on by Lake Union Publishing (one of Amazon’s publishing imprints). The team there guided me through a smooth, professional process from developmental edit, to cover design, and on to production. On release day, I was ready to go with a round of marketing activities to complement those of Amazon. More than eighteen months since publication, Amazon continues to offer marketing support for Time and Regret.

Talk about your support system: beta readers, ARC reviewers, publishing team, readers, etc.

Beta readers and ARC reviewers are treasured colleagues. Beta readers give the gift of honesty by answering the questions: Does this story work for you? And if not, why not? They aren’t editors, they’re test readers. ARC reviewers give the precious gift of the first reviews on influential places like reading blogs, Goodreads, Amazon, Kobo and so on. I’m fortunate to have discovered several people who are so generous with their time and effort.

And readers? I can’t say enough about how wonderful it is to have readers who’ve taken the time to read my novels, give their feedback, post reviews, send me notes, leave comments on a blog, encourage me to write another story, and ask when the next novel is going to be available. I’ve had some great jobs over the years but writing is unique. In many ways, it’s a lonely profession, one full of self-doubt and intense periods of what-the-hell-am-I-doing. Readers complete the story, giving it life, breath, and feeling. Without readers, novels are merely words on a page.

What is your favorite thing about your creativity?

This is such a difficult question! I always struggle with the word favorite. But let me answer it this way: the best thing about writing fiction has been discovering that I can. I’m a mathematics and computer science grad who disliked both English and History. To discover the excitement of creating stories and have them read and enjoyed has been both awesome—in the full sense of the word—and fulfilling. I only wish there were more hours in the day.

Author Extra: Reader Surveys

In addition to writing novels and blogging and all the work that goes along with those activities, I also conduct reader surveys. In 2012, I went looking for an answer to the question: Why do people read historical fiction? Finding almost nothing out there in the Google-Sphere, I conceived the notion of conducting a survey. With the help of Sarah Johnson of Reading the Past and a few other authors and bloggers, word of the survey spread. In 2013 and 2015, I also surveyed readers for answers to a range of questions like how many books do you read each year, where do you find recommendations, what’s your favorite type of story, and so on. In 2017, I did a smaller survey focused on WWI fiction. This year, the reader survey will go beyond historical fiction to ask about other genre preferences and topics like the influence of social media. Lael Braday has kindly agreed to publish the survey link when it comes out and I hope you will take a few minutes to respond. Results from past surveys are available on my blog.

Lael, it’s been great fun talking to you and your readers. Many thanks for your questions. You’ve made me think again about how fortunate I am to have discovered a passion for writing stories.

Connect with M.K. Tod:

M. K. Tod’s website

Although I have a website, the best place to find me is on my blog.

M.K. Tod’s blog

M.K. Tod’s Twitter

M.K. Tod’s Facebook Author page

M.K. Tod’s Goodreads Author page

Cloud Whisper by Sedona Hutton blog tour

 

 

 

Cloud Whispers

by Sedona Hutton

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GENRE

Women’s Fiction

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BLURB

The daughter she gave away. The family she always wanted. The journey to redefine her fate.

Katie Callahan longs to start a family of her own. Infertile and unable to convince her relatives to accept the man she married, she regrets giving away the daughter from her secret teenage pregnancy. When a twist of fate brings a second chance at motherhood, she’s caught between joy and the fear of her husband’s rejection of another man’s child… until a devastating motorcycle accident rips the decision out of her hands.

With her body trapped in a coma, Katie finds herself in the dreamlike space between Earth and the afterlife. Guided by spiritual forces and the soul of her beloved dog, she learns the life-changing power of intention and self-transformation. From her ethereal vantage-point, she watches as her loved ones work together to connect the pieces of their broken hearts. As she finally realizes her true destiny, Katie’s only chance to fulfill her purpose means completing an impossible journey back to life…

Cloud Whispers is a mind-expanding women’s fiction novel with a strong spiritual message. If you like headstrong heroines, heartwarming stories of family and forgiveness, and new age concepts, then you’ll love Sedona Hutton’s empowering tale.

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EXCERPT

Guides are assigned to humans at birth.” Posie sat cross-legged on the ground. Katie joined her, facing the dazzling view. “Black Eagle and I have been with you since the day you were born.”

Wow.” She angled her head, wondering how it all worked. Her mind flashed back to her days in Belize, when she’d suspected she was pregnant. She’d been so scared, so alone. Her exchange mother had been kind, but Katie had only been with her for a month when she’d figured it out. She’d missed a few periods before she’d gone to Central America, but she’d chalked it up to stress after her boyfriend had broken up with her the day after they’d finally had sex. Her exchange father had been cool and distant, and her popular exchange sister hadn’t wanted anything to do with her. She’d managed to make a few friends on her own, but their friendships were new and delicate. Then, seemingly out of the blue, another exchange student had appeared in their small coastal town. She’d come from Sweden, with fair skin and long, shiny blonde hair, and had been the prettiest girl Katie had ever seen. She’d looked a lot like…Katie lifted her gaze to Posie. “You!”

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REVIEW

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AUTHOR BIO

Author Sedona Hutton finds inspiration in the beautiful Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, where she lives with her husband and curly-coated retriever. In addition to writing, she’s a Reiki Master and a certified Chopra Center Meditation instructor. She enjoys reading, yoga, gardening, playing with her dog, and riding motorcycles. Her “Peace, Love, & Joy” blog can be found on her website. Visit her at www.SedonaHutton.com, Facebook @SedonaHuttonAuthor, and Twitter @SedonaHutton.

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LINKS

Website

Last Blog Link

Amazon Purchase Link

Twitter

Facebook

Buy the book

Tour dates

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GIVEAWAY

Sedona Hutton will be awarding a $40 Amazon/BN GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

The Heart of Aleppo: A Story of the Syrian Civil War by Ammar Habib—pub date July 27, 2018

“May 30, 2011

  • Protesters are galvanized by newly published images of the mutilated body of Hamza Ali al-Khatib, a 13-year-old boy from Darʿā who was tortured to death while in police custody. Photos of Khatib are distributed at protests, and the images become a potent symbol of the regime’s brutality.”–https://www.britannica.com/event/Syrian-Civil-War/Uprising-in-Syria-2011

“That March, peaceful protests erupted in Syria as well, after 15 boys were detained and tortured for writing graffiti in support of the Arab Spring. One of the boys, a 13-year-old, was killed after having been brutally tortured.”—https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/05/syria-civil-war-explained-160505084119966.html

Thirteen-year-old Zaid and his friends, siblings Fatima and Salman, leave innocence behind when their parents send them away at rumors of rebel attacks. The teenagers discover that nowhere is safe, as they are besieged repeatedly by rebels, and learn that the military cannot be trusted—they are alone. Strangers sacrifice their lives; strangers betray them; strangers ask for help…evoking survival instincts and humanity’s courage in the darkest hours. They are children, separated from their parents, who must fear multiple, murderous factions and their own government, kids who days ago were living normal teenage lives, as any teenager in any country.

Habib’s portrayal of Syrian teens on the run from death, as well as their daily lives before the war, was supplemented by his friendships with native Syrians and interviews with Syrian refugees for accuracy. His hope is to bring more awareness to the world of a civil war that has killed hundreds of thousands of civilians who desire only the freedom he enjoys.

Here are a couple sites to learn about the war—how it started and why it’s ongoing:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Syrian_Civil_War#Documentaries

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-26116868

Here you can learn about the current situation and how you can help:

http://time.com/5159869/war-syria-entered-dangerous-new-phase/

https://syria.liveuamap.com/

Sometimes I Lie by Alice Feeney

Amber comes to from a coma, but realizes that she is not awake, only aware. While in her hospital bed, she hears her husband and sister discuss mysterious happenings related to her car accident. Flashbacks to a week before bring the reader up to date slowly through an unreliable narrator. Journal entries from childhood fill in blanks and spew a haze of ambiguity regarding the sisters, until the reader is delightfully confused and enlightened repeatedly, like the proverbial roller coaster ride. Feeney plops out a big, ole’ shocker at the end—twice!—that makes the reader go, “Hmm…” It’s a fun read and worth the time to try to figure out what’s going on between the sisters, and if anyone is trustworthy, or if all of them are constantly scheming. The journal is brilliantly done, without revealing anything. Much murder and mayhem ensue, beyond the family, a deliciously wicked family. I was fortunate to receive an advanced copy from the publisher of this fantastic novel.

Abby Fabiaschi—Author and Human Rights Advocate

 

I decided that I sincerely want my debut novel published by St. Martin’s Press, since most of my favorite authors are with them. This is how I came to read Abby Fabiaschi’s debut novel I Liked My Life and I loved it (see my review), so reached out to her to let her know. She is so friendly that I asked her for an interview for my little blogblogblog and she agreed!

 

 

Turns out she’s also an activist for survivors of human trafficking, which is amazing and will be addressed at the end of this interview. She is a survivor herself of a dog attack at a young age, which altered her life and perspective, as you can read below in the Author Extra.

 

 

Tell me your artistic / writing process, including schedule, environment, and inspirations.

Motherhood really changed the answer to this question. I use to be able to be much more picky! I put in a minimum of five hours a day—usually 3-4 while the kids are at school and 1-2 after they are asleep (or at least I think they are). I work in a home office at a desk…boring, I know. I’m inspired by whatever it is I’m exploring. I don’t start my stories with an end in mind, so characters’ experiences keep me vested and learning with them.

Walk me through your publishing process, from final draft to final product, including your publishing team.

German translation

Right now I’m with St. Martin’s. When a first draft is complete, I send it to my agent and editor. They pile on constructive feedback and I make a plan for a round of revisions. That step repeats itself until we all say, “Yep. This works!” St. Martin’s decides on a release date at least a year out and designs a cover. From there, the assigned publicity team works on getting Advanced Reader Copies in the right hands while I get back to work on the next project. About six months before the launch, I get to review the final pass, which is when I add in acknowledgements.

 

Talk about your support system, including beta readers and all of your cheerleaders!

Italian translation

I am in awe of amazing people like you, who bring reading and writing communities together. Since my debut came out, I’ve also been grateful to establish friendships with many talented writers, including all the wonderful authors in The Tall Poppies. (If you are a reader on Facebook, follow Bloom with Tall Poppy Writers—great content and giveaways!)

I don’t have a writing group, nor do I leverage a ton of beta readers. Rather, I approach a couple people who I think would offer a valuable lens on the story to be first readers. There is one exception—my sister is always on the list!

 

How does life influence your art and vice versa?

Each story I write sets out to explore a component, a strand, of either something I’ve witnessed or  experienced. I get a moment in my head and my mind runs with it—what if this and what if that?—until a set of characters have lived through a moment worthy of readers’ time.

What do you love most about your creativity?

Slovakian translation

I love how I learn from my characters. With I Liked My Life, I came to believe that even life’s most antagonizing moments offer slivers of beauty once you rise above the fog and the haze of grief. There’s insight and clarity there for the taking. Now, it’s at the expense of whatever you lost and it will never be worth it, so you have to learn to digest the injustice of that. It’s a conclusion I never would have gotten to without diving into the Starling’s story.

 

 

Please share about your advocacy activism—I’m all for telling everyone the good you do in the world!

I’d love to! Twenty percent of all of my after tax proceeds go to an organization I co-founded called Empower Her Network. We collaborate with ready survivors of human trafficking who find themselves in the same vulnerable circumstance that led to their initial exploitation by removing housing barriers, financing education, and uncovering employment opportunities. To learn more or buy a Lulu Frost Empowerment bracelet, go to www.empowerhernetwork.org.

Follow Abby

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Author Extra: The Inspiration for Abby Fabiaschi’s I Liked My Life

I was attacked by a Rottweiler when I was nine. The last stitch on either side of the wound was inside each eyelid. The dog, aptly named Gator, missed both my eyes by an amount so small as to be immeasurable. The ER doctor heralded this a miracle and I decided, right then, that no matter what I looked like the next day, I would focus on that piece of good fortune—I could still see.

What I didn’t understand in my then-scarred state was that what I would see was about to change. I became a person worthy of double-takes and gasps. I was forced to acknowledge a truth far younger than most; it doesn’t matter what you look like, at least to some. I got fifty-seven stitches that first night and eight reconstructive surgeries over the twelve years that followed, but his is not a sob story. Yes, bone from my rib is now on my nose, and skin from behind my ears and on my ass is now on my face, but I wouldn’t take back that night if I could.

Because here’s the thing—I don’t know who I would be without that experience. Those scars brought me perspective at a young age. They made me tough. They gave me loads of time to read where I could sop up the crazy mistakes people make without experiencing the consequences. They protected me from vanity and made me a keen observer, ultimately leading me to writing.

A friend recently commented that life has thrown enough complications my way to merit a memoir, but an exceptional memoir requires you to hand over the whole of your truth, along with your version of other peoples’ truth, and I’m too territorial for that. Still, I borrow here and there.

When I was fifteen, I lost one of my closest friends in a tragic car accident. I felt tremendous guilt because I hadn’t invited Elizabeth over that day. So stupid—we liked the same boy, so I excluded her. Introducing guilt and grief to my already raging teenage hormones and fierce desire for independence was a hugely defining moment in my life. I Liked My Life started with a desire to explore mourning at that tender age. I wrote it for me, and then went back to my demanding career in high-tech.

Four years later, at fifty-three years-of-age, my dad died of a heart attack. He was my father, but he was also my boss, mentor, and best friend. I didn’t write for years after his death, not even in a journal. The loss consumed all of me.

Then one day, I happened across I Liked My Life on my computer. The title popped from the screen; it felt enormously important to revisit it. Having then mourned as a teenager and a parent, I was better able to distinguish the nuances of grief experienced by each character. Tapping into those challenging life events is where the nonfiction ended and the storytelling began. I was inspired by a sentiment from Adrienne Rich’s poetry; If we could learn to learn from pain even as it grasps us. Isn’t that a powerful thought?

As I discovered after the dog bite, slivers of beauty exist in life’s most antagonizing moments, if only you know where to look. I set out with three characters—Madeline, Eve, and Brady—as they learn exactly that, each on their own timeline and in their own way. I wrote the book for me, unburdening my loss on unsuspecting characters. That their journey will find its way to living and breathing readers is wild.

I Liked My Life by Abby Fabiaschi

Eve’s mom, Brady’s wife, killed herself, imbuing them both with an onslaught of guilt, but also forcing them to examine and restructure their relationship. Fabiaschi drizzles clues to a twist that leaves the reader sitting back watching these beloved characters come to terms with the information. She lays out the complexities of familial dynamics and how suicide exposes cracks in the foundation of relationships. The chaos and isolation of innocence lost is portrayed well for teenage Eve. The best part of this book is the point of view told by Madeline, or Maddy to her friends and family, the mom who died before the opening chapter narrated by her. I love how real the emotions of the characters feel and how the perspectives of each play off the others. All three members of this family keep returning from their various emotions and misunderstandings to the love they have for each other, and it all reads true.

Something in the Water by Catherine Steadman—pub date June 5, 2018

Erin’s fiancee loses his investment banking job just before they marry, causing ripples throughout the wedding planning due to his loss of income. They go ahead and hold the big wedding and go on their intended honeymoon in Tahiti, keeping their hopes up for his future employment. While scuba-diving on honeymoon, they discover a plane wreck in the ocean. A more experienced scuba diver, Erin’s new husband Mark retrieves a dufflebag of money from the wreckage. Despite good intentions, they end up smuggling it home where they begin an ongoing debate on what to do with it, even as they hide it in their home. Mark seeks opportunities while Erin continues her documentary on the before and after of three convicts released from prison: a young girl who turns to terrorism, a middle-aged woman who helped her terminally-ill mother die with dignity, and a professional criminal.

Every character is fully fleshed out, with complex motives and emotions, and behavioral integrity. Steadman skillfully leads the reader in a carefully laid out zig-zagging path, following Erin’s ever-shifting perspective with each new piece of information. She carefully weaves in Erin’s new-found colleagues, showing the balancing strategy of the average person faced with the chance to “get away with it,” as the possibilities of advantageous connections enable her to do just that while maintaining that she is a good person and “not a criminal.” The ending circles back to the opening, of Erin digging a grave for her husband, for a highly satisfying conclusion. I was fortunate to receive an early copy from the publisher of this page-turner—a must-read for fans of psychological and crime thrillers.

Tin Man by Sarah Winman

Ellis and Michael begin a lifelong friendship after Michael’s mother dies and he comes to live with his grandmother Mabel, both boys sharing the affection of Mabel and Ellis’ mother Dora. The delicacy of their first love romance shatters as Ellis yields to society’s mores after a turning point in France, and even Michael understands that Annie is “the one.” Loving Annie draws Michael into their orbit, expanding her idea of family to include him and his grandmother. Although readers are familiar with the horrific stories of gay men succumbing to AIDS, Winman carefully portrays Michael’s unique perspective on his friends’ deaths—he returns to France where he grieves for all that he’s lost in his life. The first half of the book focuses on Ellis after all of his losses leave him off-kilter, wondering what to do with himself. The second half flashes back through Michael’s journals, a candid look at a man whose fulfilled expectations disappoint. This is a gorgeous story of how love grows to include those who might be estranged by circumstances. I was fortunate to receive a copy through a Goodreads giveaway.

The Italian Party by Christina Lynch

Scottie married Michael and they moved to Siena, Italy, both bringing secrets and gathering more, so that they appear to be a happily married couple, he selling American tractors to Italians and she his adoring housewife. Showing Italians the American Dream fulfills a larger agenda for Michael, while Scottie tries to look behind the curtain and see his true self. She seems to have a lot more freedom than expected for a woman in the mid-50s, and Italian men are portrayed as oversexed political creatures. Homosexuality is handled in a sensitive, if somewhat stereotypical, manner considering the times—adultery is inexplicably given more tolerance. When the couple open up and confess all, they become a team, and Michael learns that political secrets are larger than his own agenda, gobsmacked by his own company. This is a great historical fiction, with Siennese culture, the fallout from being overshadowed by Florence, and the political turmoil of Communism versus pro-Western leaders vividly portrayed. It shows the complexities of the world players’ motives and relationships, and how this plays out in the individual lives of the Italian people.

I was fortunate to receive a digital copy of this wonderful book from the publisher through NetGalley.

Prompt: “The trees have bloomed again sweetheart, and you’re still not here” (with photo)

Writing Bad Facebook writing group

Cherry blossoms fall outside through the hazy sunlight, causing Henri’s heart to jump at the possibility. But no, it isn’t her, only halos and silhouettes from the angle of the light through the window.

Having heard of Houdini’s pact with his wife for whichever one died first to come back and report of the afterlife, Mina researched spiritualism, witchcraft, religions, anything and everything to learn how to return, even practicing astral projection. Phone calls to family and friends confirmed her recall of astral visitation, shaking Henri’s paradigm with her accuracy. Her seemingly lifeless body inert on their bed, safely guarded by him, perturbed him more. Periods of separation lengthened, panic rising in his throat like bile, perils of astral projection haunting him in the interim. The last time, he waited hours and she didn’t return. By the next day, her body lay deathly still, while he sat staring in his sleep-deprived terror. Days. Weeks. Months. She looked perfect, requiring nothing, inexplicably preserved, so that he maintained his hope that she had not actually died.

Now the cherry blossoms again taunt him with their shadows in his growing belief that he will witness somehow the return of her essence to her physical self, three years on.