I’m the best wife—Sarah told her mother—I take good care of Stanley, like you took good care of me. We learn the best techniques from our parents, darling—her mother responded—I’m glad you were paying attention. Sarah hung up with a smile, reminiscing on all the hospital trips, treatments, and medications throughout her childhood. As a result, she was a healthy adult, healthier than Stanley, who suffered chronic neck, back, and knee pain, not to mention the migraines and heel issues. Before he came home, she went to her closet and pulled down the shoe box that held the Flat Stanley her son had sent out for adventure as a school project. The idea had hit her when it was eventually returned. She pushed it down farther onto the leaf’s thorns. Stanley would need extra attention tonight. Sarah would baby him with a back rub, forehead kisses, and a special dinner brought to him in his chair. She was such a good wife.
Carla has been writing a long time but was given the greatest gift by her husband in 2016 when he encouraged her to take a sabbatical from teaching special education in order to write her first book, Lily Barlow: The Mystery of Jane Dough. She enjoyed the experience so much, she resigned from teaching to start the second book in the series, Lily Barlow: The Mystery in the Mangroves. She also contributes an amusing, garden-themed column to a local magazine called The Piedmont Virginian. Word on the street is she writes a pretty funny FB post on occasion.
Tell me about your writing process: schedule, environment, inspirations, etc. Does it differ for a novel versus essay?
If there was a gold medal for waking up early, I’d be on the podium. I get up between 4-5am, even on the weekends, even on vacation. I take the first dog out, and fix a cup of coffee. At that point, I sprinkle the fairy dust and the magic happens (meaning I open my computer). First I check to see if anyone left a review for Lily Barlow: The Mystery of Jane Dough on Amazon. It’s shocking the rush of adrenaline I get when I see that number tick up. I’ve been holding at 60 for the longest time, but I know #61 is out there!
After that, I delete all the junk mail from my inbox and fiddle around catching up on social media. I do check that stuff throughout the day, but it’s easier to get caught up first thing. I try to post something fresh for my Facebook friends who follow me there.
Then, I shift into the project of the day, which is generally either writing, editing, or promoting. It’s hard for me to multi-task. If I’m involved in an author takeover, I can’t write in between takeover posts. I try to interact with everyone who leaves a comment, and I like those days to include lots of threads so by the end a person has a sense of who I am both as a human being and as a writer. It takes my full attention to do that. So on those days, not much else gets done.
There’s no set schedule. I don’t know ahead of time that I’m writing on M/W/F. I let each week have a natural ebb and flow, and I just do what needs to get done on a day-to-day basis. So, some weeks I may write every single day, other weeks, not at all.
When the weather is cool, spring and fall, I love to write on the back porch. For a while, I worked on the kitchen table. Now I’m usually on the couch, with one dog laying behind my head and the other in the space beside me. When we travel, my husband sleeps a little later than I do, so I get up and write. I wrote large chunks of Book 1 in the lobby of a hotel in Charlottesville, Virginia, and in the living room of a rental home in Moab, Utah.
When I’m struggling with inspiration, I have to ask myself a tough question — Am I truly uninspired or just lazy? Sometimes the inspiration wears thin, and I need to charge it up with a hike, a camping trip, a visit with friends. Other times it really is the trap of laziness. I may be in a scene that’s taking a long time to write, and I say I’m not inspired, but what I mean is that the scene is kicking my butt and I’m getting tired. Those times I just have to power through and get words on the page.
This is true for all the things I’m writing now—novels, essays, blog entries, articles. And interestingly, when I find myself in the middle muddle of whatever Lily Barlow book I’m working on, it’s a real temptation to put the story down to write essays. I think it’s because the essay is short and there’s an end in sight. When I’m writing, and writing, and writing, sometimes it’s just a relief to finish something.
Walk me through your publishing process from “final” draft to final product, including who does what when, and marketing that you do as the author. I’m especially interested in how you chose your hybrid publisher, their responsiblities, and the cost.
My publishing process starts when I hand the final draft over to my publisher, Lifestyle Entrepreneurs Press. I work closely with an editor I adore because she does not sterilize the voice of my characters, even when their grammar is questionable. Funny story about the editing process…with a degree in language arts, writing and editing, I was quite full of myself when I made the statement to the publisher that they wouldn’t need to spend much time cleaning up my manuscript. HA! We probably found over 200 errors that were missed by me, my husband, and a rack of beta readers.
While we’re editing, the publisher has an artist working on the cover. I have pretty specific ideas when it comes to the visual representation, but my ability to explain it is sometimes lacking. The artist who did the first cover also did the second cover. Both are awesome. He listened very carefully to what I was trying to say and captured the feeling so incredibly well.
While all that’s going on, I work on blurbs and info for distributors, and eventually I start recording the audio version of the book. That was hilarious. I recorded the first book in our teardrop camper because it was the only place in the house that was quiet enough—no dog collars jangling, no phones ringing, no air conditioner clicking on and off. I padded the camper walls with yoga mats, and each morning I’d head out before the sun was up to record a chapter. That’s about all I could do before it got too hot to work in there.
Eventually, the publishing team and I shift gears and start prepping for the book launch. I reach out to people to encourage them to buy an introductory copy of the book and leave a review. Reviews are really important, and they’re surprisingly hard to get. I think people feel like they have to write some critical PhD thesis, but really a few simple sentences is all it takes. (As my husband is famous for saying, he only reads the short ones anyways!)
I have support from the publishing team, but I do a lot of marketing on my own. I’m out there pounding the pavement, working to get indie bookshops to carry the book. I try to get myself invited to author events where I can sign books. I look for opportunities to do interviews (like this one) and author takeovers. The next goal is to get on somebody’s podcast. My publisher turns up bigger opportunities like the chance to sign books at Book Expo in 2018 or the American Library Association in 2019. Those were both incredible opportunities for a new author with a debut novel.
Like everybody, I have a story of how I went from an unpublished writer to a published author. First I tried the traditional path, but I couldn’t get a press interested in my story. Then I approached agents but had the same problem. Not interested. That left me with self publishing as my only option, but I was as interested in that process as I am in understanding the physics of inter-orbital space flight. In other words…well, you get it.
I found a hybrid publisher—basically I hired a company to be the “self” in my self-publishing initiative. I interviewed a series of candidates before I settled on Lifestyle Entrepreneurs. They offered the most complete package of services, but it came at the highest price. It was, however, an investment I was willing to make in building my brand as an author. I can say that not every author will realize a return on investment if you go this route. And it remains to be seen if I’ll fall into that category or not. But I am prepared to follow through because I believe in the Lily Barlow series.
Before I committed to LEP, I hired a literary attorney to review the contract, which is just good business sense. He asked that several small changes be made to protect my interests, and the company agreed.
What do I get for my investment? The publisher provides formatting and art. They print ARCs. They distribute to all outlets including Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and the independents so I don’t have to store or ship books. They produce the e-book and master the audio. They create opportunities for exposure. If I’m trying to reach a blogger or some other influencer but just can’t get in, they’ll take a swing at it. We’re working on a marketing plan now to help Book 1 gain traction and create a foundation for the release of Book 2. They created a “landing page” and are connecting it to my website.
Talk about your support system online and IRL; who are your biggest cheerleaders?
I’m fortunate that I have a lot of friends and family who cheer me on. My husband leads the parade with his love, praise and check book (let’s face it, this initiative has definitely been a considerable financial investment up to this point). In addition to Ricky, there are a few very close friends who always pick up when I call or text. I use these three or four people as sounding boards to keep me grounded on multiple fronts. First, since I’m my own biggest fan, I sometimes need a voice of reason who can tell me straight out “Nope, that’s not gonna work.” Secondly, while the writing part is definitely my specialty, all the other parts are most definitely not my specialties. That means the contracts and the sales and the promotion and the social platforms and the technology. My support team rises to the occasion where all this stuff is concerned.
I love learning about your life through your essays and the inspirations for your novel. How does your writing influence your life?
Like a lot of people, I write what I see and hear. Sure, I might tweak it, or jazz it up, but it all comes from a source out in the world. I spend a lot of energy gathering these tidbits, so, I’m kind of on safari all the time, hunting for the next thing I can incorporate. Sometimes these safaris take me to exotic destinations, like when we drive Jeeps off road in Moab, Utah or hike the Escalante Staircase, but sometimes they’re way more ordinary than that. It could be a greasy spoon on a road trip somewhere, or a market where I have a few minutes to talk with a farmer, or that six seconds of silent eye contact when I connect with a complete stranger pumping gas.
Since I’m always in search of these moments, I like to go places, even if it’s just up the street. My fear is that my next great idea is happening somewhere right now, and I’m not there to memorize it.
What do you love most about your creativity?
I like the freedom it gives me to explore. I’m a pantster, so I write from the seat of my pants. This is different from a plotter, who outlines a storyline and knows where it’s going from the first word. I like following the characters down rabbit holes, and I like being surprised when they do something I wasn’t expecting.
Connect with Carla:
A simple DNA test taken just for fun rips bestselling author Dani Shapiro’s life apart, leaving her wondering who she is after discovering that her dad is not her biological father. She shares her journey to find her origins, understand her parents’ decisions, and come to terms with it all, delving deeply into the implications of the discovery for her faith, marriage, and son. It seems that almost every family has a secret. Learning that secret hits like a hammer, damaging relationships and rending familial bonds, especially when the parents who held that secret have passed and cannot explain why. Dear Reader follows Dani through heart-wrenching emotions, feeling unmoored by the inability to ask her parents why, while remaining hopeful in finding answers through her biological father. As riveting as the writing is, it’s hard to watch her struggle with the sense of betrayal and crisis of identity as she searches for a path to healing. Read this memoir if you’re a Dani Shapiro fan, are working through a family secret of your own, or just love learning how the process of life works. It’s worth your time. I was fortunate to receive a copy from the publisher for an honest review.
It’s a parasite, ya know—Len said as he twirled his finger around, indicating the wisteria dripping from the pergola. I hadn’t known. What’s more, I didn’t want to know. Len loved to enlighten me, especially when he could destroy notions of things I loved. I nodded, unimpressed. Parasite indeed. I imagined that beetle that infiltrated spiders and took control as they ate the spider from within its own body. If one crawled into Len, it could commandeer a larger life form, eating on him for an excessively longer amount of time. I wondered how long Len would be in control of himself if this happened—a day, a week, a month. It’s a tiny beetle in comparison to a human.
I believe you can eat the blossoms—I told him and started picking some for (his) dinner. They were prettier than expected on the salad. Len didn’t notice that I took very few blossoms, and that I didn’t actually eat even those. After three long days, I asked if he was okay. He looked at me funny and asked why. I shrugged. Then I looked up wisteria on my phone. The blossoms are edible. Len’s right. I really should pay more attention to what I’m doing.
Describe your writing process: schedule, environment, strategies, inspirations, etc.
I’d love to tell you that my writing process involves copious amounts of cocaine while riding a yak naked through the Appalachian Mountains, but sadly it doesn’t. It also doesn’t involve sloths, sasquatch, lube, or the pit pat of tortillas being made all over Mexico. My schedule (please note that I am being fast and loose with the term schedule) revolves around my life. Damn it! If shit is going down, then my writing goes out the door, along with the dogs, old shoes, dead plants, and dust bunnies. It kills me to admit it. I want to be all, “Oh, look at me, I get up every morning at five and write seventy pages of amazing prose before I have my first cup of coffee.” Instead I am, “Give me coffee and leave me the f**k alone for at least an hour. I will be busy checking the weather network, creating astonishing words like GAS, PET and BOOBS in Words With Friends, and perusing Facebook to see if someone (my daughter) has organized an event for me today that will make me want to stab myself in the eye (i.e.: kids birthday parties, socializing with people I don’t know, socializing with people I do know, leaving the ranch, etc.)
I live in the boonies, far away from civilization—on purpose. I am an introvert who is easily exhausted by small talk that involves the weather, babies, cauliflower recipes, and the latest fashion choices. I either write at my kitchen table, or in my art studio, which I christened The Wookie Cave. And, unlike the majority of authors, I have to have my shit together before I can sit down and write. The dishes have to be done, the three inch thick layer of dog hair has to be swept up, and my laundry folded and put away. It’s a sickness. I used to drive my boss around the bend at work with my morning routine of tidying my already spotless office. A real perk of the job if you ask me.
But when I write, I write. When the fever grabs me and the world leaves me alone, I can crank out a couple hundred pages without breaking a sweat. The last five years I’ve been walking every day, and because I live on an acreage, I walk a lot—and think a lot. I work out my stories in my head. Which, truth be told, is probably a good place to keep most of them. After all, jail sounds too peopley. The very first novel I wrote I was training for a marathon and spent countless hours working it out. (Believe me, it was a lot better than focusing on my poor suffering body.) After I finished the race, it took me less than two weeks to type it up, afterwards I threw it into a drawer for fifteen years hoping that it would fall into a singularity that would magically allow it to be seen by a publisher. That hasn’t happened, singularities suck, but I have managed to edit it a few dozen times and sent it out into the world.
Tell me about getting your work published, how you find venues, and steps from acceptance to publication.
As of today, most of my published works have been short stories. Mostly I am published online, but I do have a few tales in printed anthologies. At one time I was a zealot and a regular contributor to many zines, but sadly I have been neglecting them while working on a novel, and now another one. However, on occasion, between bouts of self-doubt and loathing, I still manage to write a few short stories. Mostly because little images pop into my head and make my brain itchy until I have to get them out of my system. Then if I feel they deserve to be seen by others, I will look for a publication that is in the market for such a tale.
I belong to a couple of writing groups on Facebook and find them to be very helpful in locating a home for my scratchings. I also do research for publications in between Googling for information about 9mm glocks, EMPs and how to raise honey bees.
Of course, over the years I’ve collected a quantity of “Thanks, but no thanks,” rejections. Initially they traumatized me and I still have the lash scars across my back as proof, but eventually, I came to find them to be part of the process. Now when someone is kind enough to add a few lines beyond the standard “You Suck” boilerplate, I am tickled pink. However, when a magazine accepts me, the yak and I get naked and do a little happy dance to the god of all things small and furry.
Talk to me about your support system online and IRL; who are your biggest cheerleaders?
My husband is one of my biggest supporters, even though he doesn’t understand me at all and can’t believe I go for walks with no destination in mind, and scowls at me when I tell him that we need to get a goat. “That’s a great story,” he says, “But we are NOT getting a goat!” For some reason, even though we come from different planets that are located in different parts of the galaxy, he likes the stuff I write, even when the story involves him trying to fix a spline-winder in a linkage drainage tube. Which he says doesn’t exist, but I totally remember him yammering away about something like that while I was busy ignoring him.
My daughter is my other cheerleader, mainly because she owes me big for squeezing her out into the world and getting me involved in mind-numbingly boring activities like throwing themed birthday parties for babies.
I also belong to the Gallows Hill Writers group in beautiful Lunenburg; we meet every Friday. They are a talented bunch who make me blush when they tell me my stuff is wonderful, but they also kick my ass to do better when they say it sucks and, “You’re better than this codswallop—get crackin’ on the editing or we’ll pull out the cat-o-nine tails.” Maritime writers can be real pirates some days.
How does your writing influence your life and vice versa?
I am never not-writing, even when I am specifically not writing. I jot notes when I come across something that makes me laugh, or cry, or get angry, or even if it just makes me feel exhausted. I highlight stuff in books (the library hates me). Sometimes when I read something that is incredible, I rail against the world with the knowledge that if I wrote every second of every day for a hundred years I would never be that good. But then I pull up my big girl panties and keep on writing my codswallop and dream about baby goats.
What do you love most about your creativity?
For many years I used to run. Mostly it sucked juniper berries. Either my back hurt, my knees ached, or my breath felt as if it would burn my chest into a tiny charred cinder. My running partner and I would whine and complain as we slogged out the kilometers. “This bites, we must be stupid,” we would tell each other. But then would come a day when all the planets aligned. When you had enough sleep, when you’d eaten the right amount of carbs, and when your body felt as light as a dandelion fluff. They were the best runs of my life. I felt like I could fly. Like I was on the top of the world. Like I was high on cocaine, naked on the back of a yak and hurtling through the mountains. That’s how it feels when I write, or paint, or work on a story while wandering through my Nova Scotian wilds.
Connect with Gab:
Life as a Human: https://lifeasahuman.com/author/gabhalasz/
An unforgivable betrayal halts the wedding of Colleen Donohue, who immediately runs away to NYC, estranging herself from family. A decade later, a family crisis pulls her home, requiring collaboration with her betrayer, making forgiveness the only option left to her. In the midst of the crisis, a secret is revealed that changes her entire understanding of herself and family. Henry pulls Dear Reader into this beautiful story of complicated emotions and familial dynamics with down-to-earth descriptions and perfectly placed hints. Fans of Diane Chamberlain and Liane Moriarty will appreciate Henry’s style. I’m grateful to have received this wonderful story from through NetGalley.
“Happy Anniversary!” Rich leaned down and gave Barb a kiss as he handed her a dozen yellow roses.
“Oh, honey, they’re beautiful. Thank you.” She beamed back at him.
After he went downstairs to his home office, I asked her how many years. She told me thirty. Later that night, he gave her a 3-carat diamond ring, one carat for each decade of their marriage. It was obnoxious, but the roses were gorgeous. As Barb’s personal home health aide, I was often witness to the couple’s relationship interactions. Today I would become privy to a secret.
“Would you please put them in a vase and set them in my office?” Her office was a small room off the kitchen that she rarely entered.
“But you won’t see them in there. Don’t you want them in the kitchen or living room?”
She leaned toward me from her wheelchair and stage whispered, “I hate yellow.”
“What?” I was astonished. She’d seemed genuinely pleased to receive them. “I figured it must be your favorite color since men usually give red roses.”
Barb sighed and sat back. “He gave me yellow roses on our first anniversary. We were newly married, so I didn’t want to hurt his feelings. I gushed over them, and he forever believes they’re my favorite.”
“Why don’t you tell him otherwise?”
“It’s too late.”
I put them in a vase and set them in her office, drawing in their scent deeply before leaving.
Tell me about your writing process: schedule, environment, strategies, inspirations, etc.
Calling what I do a process makes it sound far more organized than it actually is. What I really do that creates success for me is a two step process: I meditate, and I write a small amount every day. Reality means I’m usually writing a lot most days, but the trick is I promise myself I can quit any time after the first, say, five hundred words. I never want to quit after five hundred words.
As for environment, I used to be finicky and say it had to be a certain level of quiet or comfort, or there had to be this and that to write. Now I write wherever I am, so long as there’s no one talking to me. I can edit with a room full of children cavorting around me and begging for bananas on toast, but for the writing itself, I still need to be left alone.
Walk me through your publishing process, from final draft to final product, including who does what when and what marketing you do.
I don’t have a final draft. I have the best I can do in the time I have, and that is what goes to the publisher, and that is what they copyedit and proof and eventually print. But I am still editing in my mind for all eternity. When I read aloud from my work at events, I edit it as I go. So readers are hearing the best version of the book for that day in that moment. I guess I could never be my own audio narrator!
As for marketing, I try to be very flexible about this. My real job is writing and that’s how I prioritize, but I am proud of my work and want to share it. As such, I spend most of my “marketing” time chatting with excellent and active readers. I try to be open about my successes and my foibles in the world with anyone who asks, and I talk about my favorite books in the moment so that the readers who follow me never run out of good books.
Describe your support system—online and IRL; who are your biggest cheerleaders—and how did you become a Tall Poppy?
When I talk about authorial support (outside my immediate family and dear friends who support me because they love me, books or no,) I am talking almost exclusively about the Tall Poppies. This is a marketing collective in the main, but the side effect is a network of professional colleagues who believe in the same principles as I do. Namely, we all believe, with grace and gratitude, that there is room at the top, and we mean to get everyone there together. We only see each other in real life once a year, so the rest of the time, we are connecting virtually, and I think that is probably one of the only reasons I don’t throw my phone off a cliff.
How does your life influence your writing and vice versa?
They are inextricable. This is the difference between my job and most other professions. I cannot leave my writing behind when I “come home” from work, and I do not pretend that what is happening in my life doesn’t shape my writing. When I have a problem to work out, or a question about life, or a hearts desire, I write it into a book. That said, I don’t write about people I know. Even if I tried, my characters wouldn’t stand for it. They are utterly themselves.
What do you love most about your creativity?
While I’m very very grateful to be able to write books for a living, I do not quite understand how it came to pass that the creative life won out over my pragmatism. I did well in my physics and calc classes in college and probably would have been just as happy in any creative problem solving profession. The thought of a vested retirement plan makes my heart sing. Also, I always thought it would be great to be a mail carrier.
But here I am writing away, and my favorite thing about it is that even though I am a comic writer, according to my reviews, I have no concept of what it is that I write that is so funny. I just write the most emotionally honest stories I can manage, and then my editors come back to me with all these LOL comments and I think, oh, ok, great. In real life this is very weird because when I say something that comes out funny, I get really excited and say stuff like, “Oh! That was funny!” or laugh at my own jokes.
That anyone hangs out with me at all is the real comedy.
Connect with Kelly:
Alexis goes on the biggest adventure of her life, and finds her true calling, right after she dies. She finds love, monsters, and opportunistic ghosts in her quest to save the world. This is a super silly story, but it’s Hart’s signature silly style reminding us to be ourselves no matter how different we might feel. The main character Alexis finds her tribe and fulfills her dream, albeit in an unorthodox way. Although explained by details in the story, the dialogue, with its repetitive references to bodily functions, reads more middle grade than YA, except for those swear words. The romance is credible, sweet, and written really well by an author who can never have that exact experience. Kudos, Marcus! And thanks for an early copy to review.
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Despite expectations, Professor Chandra is passed over for the Nobel Prize in Economics. Again. He brushes off condolences, determining that it had been his last chance to hope, for the world was moving on without him. As he drifts into auto pilot with a side of grumpiness, he wanders in front of a bicyclist, causing him serious injuries and a silent heart attack. At the hospital, the doctor tells him to cut back on everything and follow his bliss, which he decides to do in California as a Distinguished Visiting Professor at UC Bella Vista. He ends up going to a spiritual retreat offered by his wife’s second husband. Balasubramanyam brilliantly portrays a self-important man disconnected from others through self-sabotage stemming from his background and rigid personality. Dear Reader gets to see all that Dr. Chandra does not communicate, and how much more complicated he makes relationships that matter the most to him, building tension and engaging sympathy for a challenging character. Though reminiscent of Barbara Claypole White’s father in The Perfect Son in his inability to see others and clinging to his ideas that are not serving him, Dr. Chandra wouldn’t dare consider that he might have OCPD, as White’s character determines and enters therapy. He prefers to muddle through on his own, pleading for understanding. It’s intriguing and leads to revelatory confrontation. Fans of anti-heroes will appreciate Dr. Chandra and his struggles. I was fortunate to receive this complex and enlightening story of facing one’s mortality through life-altering paradigm-shifts from Dial Press / Random House by NetGalley.