Category Archives: Artist Interviews

Paula D. Ashe—Educator and Writer

 

 

I met Paula through a writerly friend on Facebook. One story of hers and I’m hooked. She graciously agreed to an interview. As a horror fan, I’m delighted to share her work.

 

 

Describe your writing process: schedule, medium, environment, strategies / techniques, and inspirations mental, emotional, and material.

So, I used to be one of those writers who thought she had the luxury of waiting until she was in a certain setting, in a certain mood, with the certainty of uninterrupted hours available, before she could write anything. Then that writer never wrote anything, so now I write whenever I can, provided I’m mentally able to do so. My most recent short story publication was “Exile in Extremis” in the anthology Visions from the Void by Burdizzo Books. I wrote the bulk of the first draft of that story on my phone.

I wish I could tell you I have a schedule, I really do. I will someday.

It’s sweet that you think I have strategies and techniques. I mean, I’m sure I have them, I just am not self-reflective enough as a writer to know what they are.

Inspirations are abundant. I never run out of story ideas, I run out of the energy to tell them. I tend to write about the worst of humanity so, never a paucity of material, you know? Emotionally, I’m inspired by real-life stories that make me hurt. And like any sensitive/damaged person, I experience a pleasurable frisson from exploring that pain. So…a story like “All the Hellish Cruelties of Heaven,” which is about an immortal witch who falls in love with a serial killer (the story is much cooler than I’m making it sound), gave me the chance to play around with figuring out why people—or at least I—have such a fascination with humans who wantonly destroy other humans. It also gave me the opportunity to incrementally articulate the belief system / mythology that has been pocketed in most of my fiction without much fanfare.

Talk me through the publishing process from final draft to final product and selling—who’s involved, what they do, and how much you contribute, especially to marketing.

So the process is basically like this (a flowchart would work exceptionally well here):

– An editor invites me to sub something.

– I review the guidelines, especially the deadline, because I am the slowest writer on planet Earth.

– I scan my ‘stories in progress’ folder, to see if there’s anything I’m working in that fits the anthology’s theme. Rarely do things match up.

– I cogitate.

– I write. I’m sure this is supposed to be more exciting, but it’s just not. But it’s also the most exciting part.

– I inevitably miss the deadline because I’m me.

– I ask for an extension and am usually granted one (read: several).

– I submit the final draft, knowing it’s the final draft only because I’ve prodded that exposed nerve of a tale until it’s a bloodied pulp. All that’s left is the thrill of knowing the story will (likely) go on to intrigue and/or hurt other people. I honestly have no idea why I’m like this and I don’t want to know.

– Rarely, edits are requested. When they are, I generally comply. It’s the only benefit of being the slowest writer on Earth; I tend to do a thorough job of proofreading.

– Publication day! I post about it on social media, predominately Facebook. I’m really terrible at marketing.

– I let the editors ask for reviews because I feel weird asking people to review my work. If they want to read it and review it, they will. This is also why no one knows who I am..????‍♀️

Who’s your support system, online and IRL? Does it shift as you progress from writing to publishing to marketing?

First of all, my wife is amazingly supportive throughout the process. I’m in several FB writing groups that offer support—Colors in Darkness and Ladies of Horror, and individually: Chris Ropes, Brian Barr, Crystal Connor, Suzi Madron, Eden Royce, and Christine Sutton, to name a dear few (I’m forgetting so many people and I’m sorry).

How does your writing influence your life and vice versa? Did this change when you became a mother?

So, I am a maudlin MF (I don’t know if I can curse in this interview…). I have…a multitude of mental illnesses—have had them since adolescence. My worldview is reflective of that. I write terrible stories about terrible people doing terrible things because…that’s how I have (by degrees) experienced the world. Now it’s not all been horrible, but the stuff that lingers…skews towards the dark. So, I love horror. I write horror, I read horror, I watch horror movies, I listen to true horror and true crime podcasts, I listen to dark and violent music (I listen to all sorts of music but there’s a theme here, yeah?).

I am a writer of the ‘nothing is off limits, provided there’s a reason’ variety. I’ve written about childhood sexual abuse, incest, necrophilia (all in one story!), serial killers, hate crimes, infanticide, mutilation, matricide, racism, patricide, ableism, religious cults, genocide, misogyny, xenophobia, etc. However, since my son was born, if I have a story where something…bad…happens to an infant or small child, my brain immediately substitutes him as that infant or small child. So, I have a sequel to “All the Hellish Cruelties of Heaven” in the works titled, “All the Heavenly Mercies of Hell” and something…bad…happens to an infant in that story, and although I’ve had most of the full story in my head for years, I just can’t bring myself to write it.

But I’ll have to.

 

What do you love most about your creativity?

I rarely meet an idea I don’t like. I mean, there are plenty of half-started stories that I’ve abandoned for one reason or another, but there’s always some part of it I can appreciate. For that reason I save everything I write, because it often will work its way into another, more promising tale.

Author Extra: Write a flash fiction piece right now! 50 words, ma’am!

Someday she’ll remember. Now there’s only waiting. For what, she also can’t remember. This dim, cold, aching place has no secrets. Others like her—more patient, smarter—hidden in apartments with devoted lovers. She dosed there in the hall. Alone. Paralyzing pain.

Now she sits. Forgotten and forgetting.

 

Connect with Paula:

Facebook

Twitter

Goodreads Author page

Amazon Author page

 

 

A small selection showcasing her talent:

7Magpies anthology

The Witness

Aspects of Emptiness

Katherine Center—New York Times Bestselling Author

I received an ARC of How to Walk Away from the publisher St. Martin’s Press and fell in love with Katherine’s writing. Although never having had to face such a challenge as the main character, I could definitely relate to her constant bewilderment at other people’s actions. After following Katherine’s book tour online, I gathered my courage and asked her for an interview. She graciously stuffed my little blogblogblog into her bursting schedule. I’m excited to share a little insight into the life of this bestselling author. Check out her website (below) and follow her on social media.

Tell me about your writing process, including schedule, environment, and strategies, techniques, and nuances that keep you moving forward in the craft.

I’m just always thinking about stories. Whether I’m working on one of my own, or reading someone else’s, or watching a movie, or reading a news story, or talking to my kids—stories are just kind of the lens that I bring to everything that I do. When I’m not writing, I’m reading fiction, or reading about fiction, or writing about it in a journal. It’s fun for me to take stories apart and figure out what makes them work (or not work). As for schedule, I’m not a person who writes every day. When I have a story going, I write obsessively, but then I take breaks in between to focus on something else and let the well fill back up. I am very chatty and sociable, and I find hanging out with my cute family almost irresistible, so when I have a big deadline, I leave town for several days so I can really concentrate. My mom has a sunny little beach house on Galveston Island in Texas, and I’ll spend four or five quiet days there several times a year so I can get big bursts of writing done. But I think the time when I’m not writing is as important as the time when I am—letting the story “drain,” and letting myself get distance from it, is important, too. My main strategy for getting better—and I am always trying to get better—is to try to get clearer and clearer about what I love in a story, myself, as a reader, and then to get smarter and more skilled at how to do those things for readers when I write. Whenever I read a story that I fall in love with, I try to figure out what I loved about it and teach myself how to do that. I really find, in writing and in life, that it’s best to focus on what you love.

I love your philosophy of resilience, always getting up no matter what happens. This makes me think of Sophie Kinsella’s work, with the feel good, happy, yet realistic and pragmatic, endings. How do you maintain that sense of joy and positivity, and trust in your work—what inspirations do you have in your work environment and in your head?

Humor is a coping mechanism for me, and I’ve always had a wry sense of humor, but I wouldn’t say that I’m naturally sunny, exactly. I’ve had to really work at it. Growing up, I had a strong tendency to focus on everything that was wrong in any situation—usually out of an earnest desire to fix it. I had this idea that we could only be happy if nothing was wrong. But of course, the older you get, the more you realize that you can never fix everything. Things are always going to be wrong—and right—all at the same time. The trick is to learn to savor life’s joys even among all the hardship. It’s never just one or the other. It’s always both at the same time. So the way I embrace joy is hard-won—and very deliberate. And that’s what I do in my stories, as well. I try to put joy on the page. I try to write stories that are infused with pleasure and laughter—even among all the struggles and troubles. In fact, you can’t write about joy without also writing about suffering. You need the contrast. We tend to think of comedy and tragedy as being opposites, but I think they’re two sides of the same coin. They live side by side—in real life and in fiction.

Describe the process of publishing, from final draft to final product, including your publishing team and all your cheerleaders, and all the promotional work you do yourself.

That’s a big question! Honestly, it’s different for every book. For How to Walk Away, my publishing house worked very hard to get the word out. They printed a gorgeous tri-fold brochure and a first chapter sampler. They designed a phenomenal cover that was so eye-catching and totally captured the book’s vibe. Then they printed up Advance Reader Copies (ARCs), which are like a paperback version of the final book, to send to reviewers and book bloggers and Instagrammers. With How to Walk Away, I was very lucky to get some beautiful blurbs for the ARC from many bestselling authors, including Emily Giffin, Nina George, Elinor Lipman, Karen White, Graeme Simsion, Jill Santopolo, Brené Brown, and Jenny Lawson. In the months leading up to pub date, my publicist and marketing team at St. Martin’s Press (The most amazing, fun, hardworking people!! Love them!!) sent out advance copies and worked to get the book out there as much as possible! My part of it has been to say YES to everything! I visit book clubs, chat with readers on Instagram, post on Facebook, answer Q&As, do podcasts, write guest posts. It’s very busy around book launch time—we call it “book season”—but I just go and go, because I want to do everything I possibly can to help my books take flight and find the readers who will love them.

I can imagine that you’re a powerful and inspirational speaker; I’ve enjoyed following you online on your book tour for How to Walk Away. Who arranges your speaking engagements, where do you speak, and what specifically are your speaking topics?

I love to speak! I’m a talker from a long line of talkers, and going up on stage is one of my favorite parts of my job. Sometimes I set up the details of speaking events myself, and sometimes it’s a speaking agent, depending on the kind of event it is! When folks email me, I route them to the right person. I usually talk about some aspect of stories—how they work, why they matter, how they make us better at life. I’ve also spoken about why telling great stories helps businesses, how failure is good for you, and how to learn to look for the good stuff in life. I gave a TEDx Talk this spring about how stories teach us empathy—and why we need to encourage boys to read stories about girls.

How does your life influence your writing, and vice versa, and what do you love most about your creativity?

Creativity is joy for me. I am always happy when I’m making things. And I love to make lots of different things. I love stories and writing, but I’m also very visual. I almost went to art school, and I love making collages, doing hand-lettering, doing embroidery, and painting. I did black and white darkroom photography while I was in grad school for creative writing. In college, I made art books—using art papers and sewing my own bindings. Leave me alone for any amount of time, and I’ll start making things. As for how my life influences my writing and vice-versa, I’d say that both my books and my life exist as a kind of search for joy. Not short-term thrills, but the slow deepening pleasure that comes with understanding and wisdom. My characters are always struggling to learn the same things that I am struggling to learn—what really matters in life and how to savor every disappearing minute.

Connect with Katherine:

Website

How to Walk Away

Facebook

Facebook Author page

Instagram

Twitter

Heather Burch—Bestselling International Author of Contemporary Fiction and YA

First, let me say thank you for having me, Lael! I love visiting with reader friends and new readers who may not know me yet!

Describe your writing process, including subject, schedule, environment, inspirations, and techniques / strategies.

I have an office in my home that is the backdrop for most of my writing. It’s a large space filled with things I love. But I do change up and write outside sometimes or cart my computer to Starbucks. Change is good. As for my schedule and process, I am an early riser so I do my best work in the mornings before the world is awake. I usually write for a few hours, then take a break. Sometimes I go back to the computer; sometimes I get busy with social networking. When I’m working on a book, I try to stay really close to the project—it’s never far from my thoughts and is always working in the back of my brain. I don’t let it totally dominate, but I do allow that creative magic to flow so that it’s there when I need it!

Walk me through your publishing process, from final draft to finished product; include your publishing team, who does what.

I’m always amazed at how many hands are on any particular project. I send the final draft to my editor (each publishing house has their own way of doing things, but these steps are fairly universal). The editor will read, offer suggestions, give feedback, then it’s back to me to decide which elements help make the book stronger and which may not. Round two, she reads again, then passes the project to another editor who will also read—this time for smaller content issues and continuity. A third editor will read for typos and the like. Each editor may go through a manuscript more than once, and the author will tweak with each editorial pass. (By the end, we’ve read our books 6-8 times.)

In the meantime, a creative team is working on items like cover, back jacket copy, marketing strategies.

The author has their hands in each of these processes—which is fascinating! It’s incredible to see your project come to life with so many talented people doing what they are gifted to do!

Italian
Italian
Italian

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How did you get your novels in so many different languages? That is awesome! I want to know step-by-step and who does what for that to happen, and how your work sells in other countries.

I started getting contacted by international publishers when my book, One Lavender Ribbon released. It’s a contemporary story, but has a WWII tie-in, in the form of love letters from a soldier. Well, the book released over the 70th anniversary of D Day, and I think the world really came together over the events of WWII.

Turkish

 

The first time I was contacted, I thought it was a joke. But I sent the email on to my agent and she sent it to my US publisher. Next thing I know, I’m signing a foreign contract. I’m now in about 12 languages—which is just surreal. I sell extremely well in Italy and was named one of the top authors in three Italian cities. Crazy! I’d love to go to Italy and do a book tour! I also sell quite well in Turkey. Fun fact: My book titled In the Light of the Garden is titled The Willow Tree in Turkey. What is fun about that fact? My original title was The Weeping Tree, but the publisher felt like it wasn’t the right title.

Spanish
Slovenian
Serbian
Norwegian

 

German

Tell me how your art (writing) and life influence each other; what other talents do you have?

I spend a lot of time “searching” for the perfect story. Everything that comes into my mind is viewed through a writer lens. There are tiny seeds of ideas lurking everywhere! We just have to look around and notice them.

I love to cook, but I wouldn’t call it a talent. My husband and I love to travel. We spend our leisure time dissecting movies and talking about what could have been done differently to strengthen the story. If the story is perfect, we talk about why.

What do you love most about your creativity, and how does it play into teaching the craft of writing?

Freedom! When you’re writing, you’re free. Free to change the world or create a new world. Free to roam through the tunnels of time and land anywhere you choose. Reading is the same way. When you’re reading, you’re free. One of the strongest points I make when teaching about writing is to never ever, ever lose your childlike wonder. View the world through a different lens, then write it so we can all come along on the journey with you.

 

I’d love to stay in touch. Here are the places you can find me.

Website https://www.heatherburchbooks.com/

I hope you’ll add your name to my newsletter list on my website. There are usually at least one of my books on sale for $1.99, and I give the direct links for those in a monthly newsletter. Also, when you sign up, you can request a link to a free book! It’s a story that was written for Princess Cruise Lines.

Other ways to stay in touch…

https://m.facebook.com/heather.burch.50

https://www.facebook.com/heatherburchbooks

https://twitter.com/heatherburch

https://www.bookbub.com/authors/heather-burch

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4983102.Heather_Burch

https://www.instagram.com/heathereburch/

Lynn Taylor—Professional Photographer and Fine Art Photographer

 

I went to school with Lynn, but we weren’t friends then; I didn’t fit in—she did. She has fond memories of school—me not so much. There’s an adage floating around the internet, attributed to various people, as happens these days, that states—People don’t remember what you did, but they remember how you made them feel. When Lynn sent me a friend request on Facebook, I gladly accepted, remembering her as a quiet, sweet person, and looked forward to getting to know her better. A couple years ago, she started taking pictures for fun and found out that she loved it. So she started her journey to become a professional photographer, and she is well on her way! It’s been exciting to see her grow in this career. I have thought from the beginning that she has natural talent, and I can see the stories expressed in her photos, whether fine art or portraits. She’s already done quite a few projects, a few of which are listed at the end of the interview. She works primarily in her new studio that she shares with a few partners, shooting people for senior photos, weddings, and other events. Sometimes her work takes her outside; she lets her clients lead her. This recent quote tells you how she really feels: Wedding number one for the week is in the books, and I can’t wait for wedding number two this Saturday. Of all the regrets I have in life picking up a camera will never be one. Love my life!

Model: Ashley Hopkins (click name to connect with Ashley!)

First of all, tell me about your journey—what prompted you to move from a 9-5 to a career of creativity? And, would you share pictures of your studio and how you came to it?

I still have my 9-5, but photography takes up the other half of my life.  It started as a hobby, but the more I challenged myself, the more I wanted to learn and turn it into a career.  I love that photography is a field of endless possibilities. It has led me to a lot of new places, and to meeting a lot of people I wouldn’t have met otherwise. I find it fascinating that several photographers can take a shot of the exact same thing in the exact same light, but each one will have a different result, whether it be because of technique or a different point of view.  It’s a never ending opportunity and challenge. 

Last year, I was fortunate to be asked to share studio space with some friends I met in a photography class. It’s a pretty awesome space in a renovated warehouse in Kansas City’s Historic West Bottoms. I love the rustic feel with the old wood floor and brick wall. The area around the building is also full of potential spots to shoot, so it’s a win-win whether you want to shoot inside or out

Senior portrait: Sue Oneslager

I love that your work tells stories—your clients are smart to choose a photographer with this inherent magical ability. Describe your process: determining location, timing, lighting, angle, etc…also, in your fine art pieces, how you choose your subject matter and understand the composition.

This is a tough question to answer! A lot of it depends on what type of shoot it is and what the client wants. Photographers are always chasing the light, but the golden hour before sunset is by far the best time to shoot. I will help clients pose, but overall I try to catch people as they really are. Sometimes people visibly relax when they get over the stress of knowing I don’t expect them to know how to pose, and I’d rather they feel like they can be themselves. In that sense, I’m a bit of an opportunist. I am constantly shooting during a session, and some of my favorite pictures end up being the ones when I catch a person slightly off guard and completely relaxed. One client told me I had captured her son in the way she had hoped the whole world could see him. That was a huge compliment, and it told me I’m doing something right when it comes to telling the story of who a person truly is.

For me, fine art is a lot of trial and error, but sometimes I see something either while I’m shooting, or when I’m editing, that just pops out as something I could potentially turn into fine art. That’s the short answer, but more often the not that’s the way it happens

Arionna Spletstoser

What is your support system like—online and IRL; how do you connect with other photographers / artists and potential customers

I’ve made a lot of really great connections and friendships through photography classes, workshops, and group shoots. The talent in the Kansas City area is truly amazing, and I’ve been fortunate to meet and work with some of the best of the best, from hair and makeup artists to fellow photographers. One great thing about the circle of friends I have made is that there is no judgment. They are all there willing to support, help and give advice to others.

Facebook has been my way to connect with potential customers. I look back at some of my first pictures my friends raved about, and I feel pretty sure that they were just being kind, but the constant support made me strive to do better. I still feel like I’m struggling when it comes to shooting as well as some of my mentors, but posting images on Facebook has led to senior and family shoots as well as weddings. One client surprised me this year, and made me over the moon happy, when she nominated me for The Best of Lawrence!

Wildlife

How does your art and work and life intertwine?

I don’t get nearly enough sleep. My life consists of work, shooting, and editing. It’s kind of funny that I don’t consider the time I spend shooting and editing as work. It’s my life. It’s my addiction. I’m pretty fortunate that I have found something I love to do that also brings in extra income.

b&w

What do you love most about your creativity?

I see things differently than I used to, and I feel like I have a greater appreciation for light and color. There is always an opportunity, whether it be in nature or with people. Sometimes things work and sometimes they don’t. But the fun is in trying. There is a certain sense of excitement when I watch pictures upload and know I got the shot(s) I was hoping I would get. The very best part, though, is being able to share my work with others. It makes me happy to know a landscape or sunset shot made someone else happy. That feeling is tripled when a client loves the results of a shoot. Picking up a camera, and really learning how to use it, is by far one of the most rewarding things I have ever done.

Connect with Lynn:

Facebook: Lynn Taylor Photography

Instagram: LynnTaylorPhotography

Projects

Majestic Car Club

 

99.7 The Point’s Red Fashion Show, in partnership with The Americ

Model: Clara Simkins

Designer: Coral Castillo

MUA: Mitsu Sato Hair Academy Hair: Roseanna Pollina Garrett — with Clara Simkins, Mitsu Sato and Crystal Avena Soria.

Prairie Plowing Days in Concordia, KS

John A. Benigno—Award-Winning Fine Art Photographer

I know John online through a Facebook friend, a fellow author who lives in New Mexico, where John has been working on a photography project. His work intrigues me, so I wanted to ask him more questions about his work, and here we are! Enjoy learning about this fantastic fine art photographer and his projects, outlook on his art, and his artistic process. I’m pleased to share him and his photographs. Please go to his website for a more extensive gallery and contact him for purchase. Links to website and social media follow the interview.

Describe your artistic process: choosing subject matter; determining projects; inspirations; and the nitty-gritty of taking photos—location, timing, angle, light, etc.

I am a Fine Art Photographer. This gives me the freedom to pursue projects that appeal to me without commercial pressures. The downside is that I have had to look elsewhere to make a living. This is not a complaint, but a choice. Over the years, I’ve worked in public relations, marketing, fund raising, and real estate – all of which I have enjoyed thoroughly.

I don’t really choose projects. They seem to choose me. In fact, I don’t really think there is any rhyme or reason as to why I take on a project. The only connecting theme that comes to mind is my curiosity with “place” and how “place” relates to culture.

Perhaps I’m best known for my Adobe Church Project. During my first visit to New Mexico some 15 years ago, I was taken by the absolute beauty of these simple structures, the history they represent, and the important role they play for the communities they serve. I’ve never looked back.

Tea staining these photographs, first in the darkroom, and later replicating this result in Photoshop, is my way of commenting on the connection between the buildings and the natural material from which they are constructed.

Riding the Rails

Riding the Rails is a project that came about by happenstance. Returning home on a commuter train from Philadelphia, I happened to make a photograph of a scene that caught my eye while looking out the window. The train was moving quite fast, and upon inspecting the resulting print, I was fascinated by the sense of motion—the way colors melted into one another. This inspired me to photograph this project in color, rather than my usual black-and-white.

Bicycling through the back roads of Pennsylvania’s Amish Country first inspired my Amish Country Landscape project.  The countryside is so quiet and open—the slow pace allows plenty of time to meet the people and to take in the landscape.  Later, I would return with my camera to make photographs. As many people know, the Amish shy away from being photographed.  In fact, their religion prohibits them from posing.  I’ve always done my best to respect their wishes.  Instead, I look to the landscape to tell their story and to celebrate their way of live.

Laurel Hill Cemetery

My Laurel Hill Cemetery project offers a unique window into the history of Philadelphia and its urbanization during the mid-1800s. The cemetery is a time capsule.  It is not just the remains of our ancestors that are buried there, but a way of life.  Designated as a National Historic Landmark, countless prominent people are buried there.  While names such as Rittenhouse, Widener, and Strawbridge pique local interest, Laurel Hill also appeals to a national audience.  General George Meade and 39 other Civil War generals reside there, as well six Titanic passengers.

Laurel Hill Cemetery is very much a product of the Victorian era.  The monuments and garden reflect the art and architecture of those times.  Who were the people who built them?  What life did they pursue?  I hope that my photographs conjure up these questions and make us wonder what traces we will leave behind.

I don’t really have any theories about location, timing, angle, or light. I pretty much let the subject determine these qualities. I will often photograph a subject many times using different focal length lenses, from different angles, and at different times of day. One of the advantages of “project photography” is getting to know your subject. If the light isn’t right, I’ll return when it is. This does take patience, but the results are well worth it.

Summarize the chronology of your career and its highlights—when did you “feel” that you embodied the “title” of Photographer?

This is more difficult to answer than you might think. I’ve been involved with photography for some 60 years. So, as you can imagine, there are many, many fond memories.

There is the first camera my father bought for me when I was 10 years old. I came down with the whooping cough. My dad thought a camera would cheer me up. Oh, by the way, I still have that camera.

When I was in high school, I was the photographer and photo editor for the yearbook and newspaper. This might not sound like much, but every time I was excused from class to cover an event or game, I felt like a kid playing hooky.

However, on to more serious “art” stuff, as it pertains to my career as a fine art photographer. (See answer to next question for my beginnings as an actor.). It wasn’t until 1992 that I made an effort to take my work seriously and to search opportunities to show.

1992 marked the first time my work was accepted into a juried show, and it was the first time I was awarded a prize for my work.

In 1994, I was asked to show my work in a gallery for the first time. In addition, it was the year I sold my first photograph. And 1996 I have my first showing in a New York City gallery.

White Flowers “Trio”

1998 was the first time one of my photographs was published. “Trio” from my “White Flower” project was published in the “Antietam Review Journal of Creative Writing and Photography.”

1999 marked another first. The Woodmere Museum in Philadelphia accepted one of my photographs for its permanent collection.

The Lancaster Museum of Art invited me to participate in my first museum exhibit in 2001.

In 2002, a photograph was accepted for the annual “High and Dry” exhibition sponsored by Texas Tech University in Lubbock. This was the first time one of my photographs was accepted in a show beyond the local Philadelphia area.

2005 was the first time I received statewide recognition for my work. One of my photographs was accepted into Pennsylvania’s Annual Art of the State Exhibition. Also, 2005 was the first time I was invited to jury a photography exhibit.

Between 2006 and 2009 I participated in many shows, and I was fortunate to have my work awarded many prizes. Then, in 2010, my “San Francisco de Asís IX” photograph was awarded the Plastic Club Silver Medal. The Plastic Club is one of Philadelphia’s oldest and most prestigious art organizations. Perhaps this is the beginning of the “feeling” that I could call myself a fine art photographer.

2012 was a very good year, and the “feeling” that my work was gaining acceptance continued to grow stronger. I had a retrospective show at the Keystone Art & Culture Center in Lancaster, PA. Also, in Lancaster, one of my photographs was selected for the “Permanent Collection on Exhibit” at the Lancaster Museum of Art. In addition, Lisa Hanover, then the Director of the Philip and Muriel Berman Museum at Ursinus College, selected one of my photographs for the “Picture Making: Recent Acquisitions in Photography” exhibit.

Adobe Churches

In 2016, the Luminous Endowment for Photographers awarded my “Adobe Church Project” a grant enabling me to return to New Mexico to continue work on this project. This marks the first grant of my career. In 2017, I was a finalist for a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, but, unfortunately, I was not awarded a grant.

Then, in 2017, Rosemont College awarded me a solo show for my adobe church pictures. This was an amazing experience. I have worked on this project for almost 15 years, and to see the work come together in a single show was the highlight of my career to date.

For me, being a finalist for a Guggenheim Fellow and the solo show at Rosemont finally convinced me that I could truly call myself a fine art photographer.

Tell me about your support system, and explain who and what are involved in connecting you as a professional with those who would purchase your work.

I am going to combine my answer to the above question with my answer to your following question: Elaborate upon your life influencing your art/work and visa versa.

An artist cannot exist without a support system. And, hopefully, yours will begin at an early age, as did mine. Theatre and acting were my first interests. Fortunately, my parents, while hesitant, did support this early dream.

During my teen years, they introduced me to Broadway theatre, and made it possible for me to participate in local theatre productions and to study acting. From there I went on to study theatre and acting in college and graduate school.

My life has had many chapters. As a young actor, I had the support of both my parents and wife. I was fortunate to find work on stage, on TV and in films. However, there came a time to put this world aside.

The next chapter involved working with non-profit organizations. In this way, I did not completely leave the arts behind. I worked in public relations, marketing, fund raising, and special events. All of these positions made use of my photography skills.

(These business skills proved invaluable a few years down the line when I started promoting my work. No one is going to do this for you. I cannot stress enough: learn how to write a press release, learn how to put together a press kit, learn how to approach local newspaper editors, take note of who purchases your work, and learn how to be professional when approaching a gallery director.)

In this small way, I never put down my camera. And, eventually I began to show my personal work. Over the years, I developed associations with local visual arts organizations.

My advancement into the world of the visual arts would not have been possible without the support of these groups. They organized shows for members, provide opportunities to learn about other media, networking, and professional career counseling.

Amish Country Landscapes

Networking was especially important to me. For example, it led to a friendship with fellow artist, Don Patterson. Don introduced me to bicycling through Lancaster County, which lead to my first real photographic project—Amish Country Landscapes.

Over time, the exposure these groups provided led to recognition for and interest in my work.

Again, I must return to the importance of family—this can be blood relations, relations by marriage, or, even, a close-knit group of friends. All I can say is that without the support of my wife, I wouldn’t have lasted in the non-profit world as long as I did. Not only did her income far exceed mine during these years, but she has always been my biggest booster.

While I might hang back, she never did when it came to telling anyone who would listen about my work and accomplishments.

Unfortunately, the non-profit world did not provide the economic stability I needed to continue my personal work. So, I moved on to the next chapter.

This led me to a career in private sector public relations, and, eventually, to real estate sales. Real estate may seem an unlikely path for a fine art photographer, but the opposite proved to be true.

Southwest Landscapes

Real estate is not a nine-to-five desk job. You may have a breakfast appointment and another later in the evening. However, if you manage your time well, there is “free” time for the pursuit of personal projects—photography and volunteer work with arts organizations. And the income made it possible for me to travel to locations to work on projects and to purchase needed equipment.

Most important, the income gave me the freedom to concentrate on developing my career as a fine art photographer. It meant that I could work on projects important to me.

This was the key. My passion for my subject matter began to show in my work. Potential clients saw and appreciated my commitment, which, of course, translated into sales. But more important to me, my work gained greater acceptance within the fine art community, leading to several awards, and eventually a grant from the Luminous Endowment for Photographers.

Before moving on to the next question, I must comment on social media. It’s essential for today’s artist. Yes, it takes a lot of time, and I fully agree with everyone who dislikes the endless nonsense on Facebook. But, using sites such as Facebook, Instagram, and Flickr, I have developed relations that lead to sales, exhibit opportunities, and, more important, good friendships with people such as yourself, Lael.

Research is another important component of social media. For example, I’ve development friendships with many artists from New Mexico. Living in Philadelphia, this has proved invaluable. I am most appreciative of their willingness to share information about adobe churches, and to suggest churches that I simply don’t know anything about. It would take me weeks of endless driving through unknown territory to find out a small portion of their local knowledge.

What do you love most about your creativity?

I think the most delightful part of being an artist is that it keeps you in touch with your inner child.

Details

Back many years ago when I was learning how to develop film, that magic moment when an image would appear on a blank piece of white paper never ceased to amaze me. Yes, it’s chemistry, but there is a charm and sense of accomplishment to it akin to what a child must feel when conquering a new experience.

Fortunately, I have never lost this excitement. Even in today’s digital world, there is a sense of youthful pride that comes from seeing the final image appear as you envisioned it. And, this sense of accomplishment grows exponentially from seeing my work exhibited and appreciated by others.

I don’t mean just people buying my art (of course, this is important), but their genuine appreciation puts a bounce to my step.

Travel is, perhaps, the second most important component of my life as an artist. It’s not simply visiting distant locations, but it’s the people you meet along the way.

For example, most of the adobe churches in New Mexico are in extremely remote locations. Even so, inevitably, someone will appear out of nowhere and want to know what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. Sometimes they will chase you away, but I’ve always found that if you are genuine with them, they will listen, and, then tell you their story—and, in most cases, it’s much more interesting than anything I have to say.

They will tell of their childhood memories attending the church, of their friends, their parents, and even suggest churches that I might want to photograph.

Yes, when you come right down to it, fine art is a “belly to belly” business.

By the Sea

Links:

John Benigno website
John Benigno Flickr
John Benigno Instagram
Application to Luminous Endowment
Final report to Luminous Endowment
John Benigno Facebook

David Gibbs—Award-Winning Author and Editor

I met David through Storyteller Magazine, for which he was Editor and I was a mere peon volunteer curator, both of us contributors of short stories. David’s tales live in the darkness—we won’t ask where David lives (his website says Cincinnati; seems dubious)…..

but his writing snatches you and drags you, wide-eyed and speechless, into the stories.

He, however, is a super friendly guy, so I wasn’t nervous about asking him for an interview. Links to connect with David come after the interview; check out his uber-user-friendly, gorgeous website, where anthology after anthology showcase David’s talent. The first book of his YA series “Mad Maggie Dupree” comes out June 26!

Tell me about your writing process, including schedule, environment, and inspirations. I love your blog post about the muse being a romantic notion. If you would, explain as well how you transitioned from this magical mythology to your prosaic philosophy of writing.

Well, as with most writers, my process has evolved over time. I used to like plotting and outlining everything before I even began writing my first word. When I’d get stuck plotting or writing, I’d blame my muse, the fickle little minx that she was. I honestly just thought that’s the way the writing process went. I’d have to wait for this mystical thing to whisper the next line or the key point I’d missed in my work.

That all changed a few years ago. I read about “pantsers” or those writers who didn’t plan anything and just wrote from the hip, so to speak. Honestly, I thought it was ridiculous. How could anyone write without planning, without plotting, without doing the leg work first?

Curious, I decided to give it a try and haven’t looked back. My output increased ten-fold and I enjoyed being surprised by the twists and turns the characters gave me. It’s made the process much more fulfilling.

Thought it may sound daunting to writers who are plotters and planners, I fully understand it. The thing is, now that I’m a “pantser” I don’t need a muse. I write. Period. I don’t have to wait for her to whisper to me. I trust myself as a storyteller and know I will come up with what needs to happen next as I’m writing the story. I no longer have writer’s block, because I merely write myself out of it. It helps me average over 2,000 words a day. Last year alone, I had my biggest output as a writer, finishing with 690,000 thousand words. That equated to eight novels and a dozen short stories.

Writers have to find what works for them, but they also need to be willing to try new things. Whether it’s a new spot in the house, writing at a coffee shop, or changing from pen and paper to a laptop or vice versa. Sometimes just making a small change can spark the most wonderful things.

Remember, writing is a superpower. Take a chance. Write some words. Make some magic.

My husband theorizes that people who suffered challenging childhoods prefer reading / writing horror. It happens to be true in my case. Although writing my debut novel was highly cathartic in healing some of that damage, I still love horror, so perhaps his theory is debatable. What draws you to the darkness?

I’m honestly not sure what’s drawn me to it. I’ve written in many different styles and different genres, but there’s always a touch of creepiness to everything I write.

 

While growing up, I enjoyed reading everything and anything I could my hands on. When we went to the library, in school, I always checked out books on UFO’s, Bigfoot, Loch Ness, Area 51, vampires, and werewolves. But when I read The Shining in middle school it was over. Horror hooked me.

Talk up your support system, from beta readers to reviewers, anyone and everyone who is your cheerleader, online and IRL.

My family and friends have been incredibly supportive of my writing. But I have to say one of the most rewarding parts of being a writer and an editor is the community of friends and colleagues I’ve met along the way. I talk daily with my writing group, made up of fellow writers from the ashes of Storyteller Magazine. I also talk with quite a few writers on Twitter as well. It’s always great to share experiences with other writers and editors.

Describe your publishing process from final draft to final product, from perspectives of self-publishing, and all that entails, and traditional publishing, including your publishing team.

I’ve enjoyed both self-publishing and traditional publishing. They have both been fulfilling and challenging at the same time. Both require a lot of work, but in the end the onus is definitely on the author to make them both as successful as possible.

I’ve found a wonderful home with Clean Reads Publishing, formerly Astraea Publishing. The owner, Stephanie Griffith, has been great. She has an impressive group of editors she works with who are thoughtful and thorough working through both Mad Maggie Dupree manuscripts they’ve accepted. This is my first foray into the middle grade arena and it’s been an awesome experience so far. They have their own art department which has done outstanding work bringing Mad Maggie Dupree to life.

What do you love most about your creativity?

That I can use it to escape at moment’s notice. No matter how good or how bad the day, writing is the gravy that makes it all worthwhile.

Author Extra: Write a flash fiction piece right now! 50 words, mister!

He heard the sound again, sharp and flinty, a bone poking his heart. He stared into the darkness, waiting for the knobby knuckled hand to clutch at his clothes, the chill bone deep. Then grandma appeared, withered and stooped, giving him a goodnight kiss, hands icy, breath from a crypt.

Connect with David:

David J. Gibbs website

David J. Gibbs Twitter

David J. Gibbs Amazon author page

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

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

Website

Goodreads

Instagram

Twitter

Facebook

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.

Brandi Reeds—Writer, Philosopher, Collector of Tap Shoes

 

I met Brandi Reeds through the Lake Union Authors Facebook page. She also writes YA under her pen name Sasha Dawn. As you’ll see, she’s truly dedicated to her writing. I’m fortunate that she agreed to allow a peek into her writing life on my little blog. Her adult debut novel “Trespassing” just came out in April.

 

Describe your writing process, including schedule, environment, and inspirations.

SCHEDULE: Writing isn’t my only career. I have another full-time job, two busy teenagers, three dogs, and an incredibly busy husband, so I have to use every second wisely. I write whenever I have a free moment. A typical day:

● I wake up around 2 or 3 a.m., thinking of something that won’t quit. I’ve been an insomniac most of my life.

● Often, my laptop is open and on my lap, and my fingers are tapping keys before I open my eyes.

● I’ll write in bed for a couple of hours, close the laptop, and catch a quick nap before my day begins. My alarm goes off at 6. My goal is to have 1,500 words written before this moment. I usually meet my goal.

● After my girls are at school, I go for a run if my schedule permits, then work begins. I balance my home design and renovation business with writing. Both are on-demand and involve irregular hours. I have a design office in my home, and my laptop is my mobile writing office. Sometimes I write a sentence here, a sentence there; other times, I carve out blocks of time in a slower design day to write.

● Evenings are for family: dinner, walking puppies, jogging (if I missed my earlier run), and time with my girls—helping with homework (though they rarely need it anymore, they still humor me) and getting them to the dance studio or to the theater, or voice lessons, or wherever else they need to be.

● By the time everyone’s evening activities are over, it’s usually about 10 and time for bed.

● I sleep for a few hours, and repeat.

PROCESS: I outline a book on a high-level basis before I begin to write. The outline isn’t carved in stone; I often find that the book shifts a bit in drafting. But this helps to keep me on track. I don’t always write in order. I find that writing what I’m feeling helps keep me productive. There’s no reason to stall simply because I don’t feel like writing a particularly challenging scene. I’ll come back to it when I feel better about it. Some days, I write only dialogue. Others, I write only setting. I can’t afford not to stay on schedule, as I have deadlines looming.

At present, I have 6 weeks to write a Brandi Reeds book, contracted less than a month ago, a Sasha Dawn novel due in early November, and Brandi’s third release due by July of next year…as well as edits due on other works already in progress I revise as I go, and once I finish the book, I revise twice more before sending it to my agent and editor for commentary.

ENVIRONMENT: I prefer to write in places without distraction, but my schedule doesn’t permit me to be too particular. I’ve written in the car while my husband is driving, in parking lots waiting for my girls, in hospital waiting rooms, in cafes, on trains. I will write anywhere, but I’m most productive between the hours of 2 and 5 a.m., when the world is still asleep.

INSPIRATION: Much of my inspiration comes from dreams (I often dream plots), from places I’ve been, struggles I’ve endured, and my wonderful family. I recently returned from Spain, for example, and I’d love to create a story set on the island of Majorca. That said, I’m a firm believer that writers are not born of safe keeping. I’m a survivor of many battles, and I think that helps me when it comes to creating worlds in which my characters live. My mind goes to crazy places due to what I’ve been through.

Tell me about your support system: beta readers, publishing team, and any other cheerleaders.

My daughters and my best friend and her daughters read much of what I write before I send it to my agents and publishers. They’re my system for reality-checks and often tell me when something doesn’t ring true (i.e., a teenager wouldn’t use this word here; or wouldn’t she be thinking about her kid at this moment?). I also have a great friend in writer Patrick W. Picciarelli, retired NYPD, who is often my sounding board when it comes to plotting, criminal activity, and the business end of publishing.

My agent, Andrea Somberg of Harvey Klinger Agency is incredible. She often offers suggestions and advisement for books before we send them to my editors. I’ve been blessed to work with some incredible editors and publishing teams. I think every editor I’ve ever worked with will tell you that I’m open to criticism. I’ve never been hung up on a book being solely mine; it’s a team effort, and editors offer brilliant advice.

My mother, siblings, aunts, cousins, friends, and grandmother are cheerleaders AFTER they’ve read my books, which is equally as important. My husband, Joshua, does not read. He says that if he wants to know what happens in my books, he’ll just ask me. This doesn’t offend or bother me in any way, as he’s still an integral part of the process. I discuss plots with him, and I often tell him at the end of the day what my characters managed to accomplish. He and my girls are constant supporters and I am endlessly grateful for them.

Take me through your publishing process, from final draft to published product.

After we submit a final draft to my editors, the waiting begins. Some weeks later, I receive an email full of praise for what I’ve accomplished and created…and an attached edit letter detailing everything wrong with what I’ve done. My most intense experience with the edit letter entailed about 14 single-spaced pages. (Me at this point: “Ummm….you said you liked the book, right?”) So, after I cry for a few hours (kidding, I’ve never actually cried), I get back on the horse and revise.

Usually a book will go through 2 or 3 rounds of developmental edits. During this process, I’m filling out forms and giving input on cover design, depending on the publisher. Next, we go through a couple of rounds of copy-edits, and then a final polishing for interior design. Around this time, I receive final cover design and copy. And then suddenly, the book is real, tangible, and exciting. Sometimes, as an additional step, a publisher will ask me to check the ARC for errors.

How does your life influence writing and vice versa?

When I’m writing for the teen audience, I draw on my tumultuous teen years for emotional content. There is a little bit of me in every character I write, but I’ve never told my life story through a character. I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember, and for as long as I’ve been writing, it has kept me sane and balanced. As a teenager, I wrote as a sort of therapy. Other kids my age weren’t going through the things I was experiencing—or maybe they were, but back then, we sure didn’t talk about it—and I felt less alone because my characters went through much of what I did.

Now that I’m older, I like to think my writing reaches audiences who need it…and letters from readers support this thought. It means something to tell unconventional stories, because life is not normal. It means something to write people as they truly are, even if they’re often flawed and unlikeable. While some readers hate this about my work, there are more who write and thank me for telling a story through an authentic narrator. I don’t write fairy tales because life is dark and messy, and no person I’ve ever met is all good or all bad. Flaws are what make us interesting and varied, and so these are the stories I tell.

 

What do you love most about your creativity?

I’ve never considered facets of my creativity as something to love, and even thinking about this question now, I don’t know that I can answer it. Both my careers (writing and designing) require heightened levels of self-awareness, however, and through that awareness, I’m able to dissect struggles, learn from them, and project them onto a bigger canvas. Being a published author certainly puts me in a position to reach others, and I definitely appreciate all that accompanies the connections.

Ergo, due to my creativity, I’m able to extend my reach. For example, last spring, I visited my alma mater (Antioch Community High School in Antioch, Illinois) for writers week. I do this sort of thing whenever I have an opportunity, and I’ve visited high schools all over my home state. I tell my story to captive audiences, who are experiencing the same types of challenges I’d endured as a teen. While I’m sure a few high school students in every crowd are bored with me, or even asleep, the majority walk away from my presentation inspired to overcome whatever it is they’re dealing with. And I LOVE this part of my job.

It’s also pretty fun to name characters after people I know. Emily and Andrea in TRESPASSING are named for my nieces; Samantha in SPLINTER is named for my eldest daughter, and all the male characters in SPLINTER are named after my nephews; the main character in BLINK is named for Joshua, and his sisters are named for my best friend’s daughters, Margaret and Caroline; and my upcoming teen release (currently known as PANIC) stars a spunky introvert named Madelaine, for my youngest daughter. I tell people that if they don’t want to find traces of themselves on the pages of my books, they shouldn’t stop by for a chat. I can’t help it. It’s an occupational hazard. 🙂

Brandi Reeds also has a story on the HOOKED app, entitled OFF LIMITS:

http://www.amazingchatstories.com/se/offlimits-1

Brandi Reeds website (under construction—please be patient)

Sasha Dawn website

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Buy Trespassing at Amazon!

Buy Oblivion at Amazon!

Buy Splinter at Amazon!

Buy Blink at Amazon!

Kerry Schafer / Kerry Anne King—Author and Creativity Coach

I follow Lake Union Authors on Facebook, where I met Kerry Schafer, who also publishes under the pen name of Kerry Anne King. She graciously agreed to share her writing life with us. I’ve read and reviewed her upcoming release “Whisper Me This.” It’s fantastic! I highly recommend this novel and this author. Pre-order on Amazon.

Elaborate upon your writing process—schedule, including how you mesh that time with family life, and how you measure progress, and your writing environment—whether you have a home office or work at another location, and what inspirations surround you that keep you writing.

I write at 4-of-dark in the morning most weekdays. Literally. I drag my poor, protesting carcass out of bed at 4 am, make coffee, and trudge up the stairs to my writing loft. This is the best way I’ve figured out to make sure I actually get my writing done, because if I wait until after work, I’m generally too tired and grumpy to be effective at writing. I also often write with a buddy—that way I have a scheduled time to show up and somebody to be accountable to. I also have an office away from home for my creativity coaching business, and I write there too sometimes, on weekends or evenings when I need a space away from the house to think and concentrate.

When I’m drafting, it works for me to set word count goals. That way, even when the writing isn’t going well, or I’m in one of those inevitable phases where it seems like the whole book sucks, I still feel like I’m making progress.

 

Shadow Valley Manor series

 

 

Explain why you use a pseudonym and the benefits of doing so…..also how you keep track of both authorships!

I use a pseudonym because Lake Union, the publisher for my women’s fiction titles, insisted that I have one. I resisted, in all honesty, but they were probably right to ask this of me. My two brands are very different and that can be off-putting to readers. As Kerry Schafer I write fantasy and paranormal thrillers. As Kerry Anne King I write contemporary family dramas (although the book I’m writing now does have a touch of magical realism that makes my fantasy-loving-heart happy). Keeping track is fairly straight forward—Kerry leans to the dark side; Kerry Anne leans toward relationships and emotions.

 

Describe your support system: beta readers, publishing team, Lake Union author collective, and any other cheerleaders.

I have an awesome group of support people, starting at home with my Viking. He is my biggest supporter and my first reader. After I’ve completed a draft and made a few revisions, he reads for continuity—he is forever shaking his head about my timelines, omissions, and the way my characters mishandle guns. I have several close writer friends who then read and critique for me.

The Between series

   

Walk me through the publishing process, from finishing the story to final product, as in who does what and how long it takes.

This process has been different at every publishing house I’ve been with. I love how it all works out at Lake Union. After my book is accepted and a contract is signed, I have a delivery date. On or before that date (I always aim for before—my motto is to under-promise and over-deliver whenever possible), I turn the manuscript in to my awesome editor. She gives it a read, usually within a week or two, and sends it back with some suggestions. Once those changes are implemented, the manuscript goes to my developmental editor. She reads and sends back revision notes. Typically I’ll have about three weeks for revisions. Then she reads again. There can be several rounds of this back and forth process during developmental edits.

Once the book is accepted by the developmental editor, the book goes to the copy editor. Within about a month it comes back to me and I have a couple of weeks to work through the copy editing process. From there it goes to production, and shortly thereafter I’ll get proof pages to review.

Somewhere in there other things happen. At Lake Union I get to review and give an opinion about cover concepts (this was not the case with other publishers). I also get to review and make revisions to back cover copy.

And then the magical elves turn the whole thing into a book and it gets published and people get to read it. Yay!!

The Dream Wars series

What do you love most about your creativity?

There is so much that I love—there really isn’t a “most.” I love ideas and the way they pop into my head randomly while I’m in the shower or mowing the lawn or driving to work. I love creating characters. I love putting words together in ways that sound like music to me. I guess what I love the very most are the unexpected surprises that happen in a book—the times where I think I know what I’m doing and what is going to happen, and then a character asks, “What about this?” and there’s a plot twist I never saw coming.

But there were far too many years of my life where I didn’t value my creativity or give it priority space. It used to come “after”—after work, after kids, after making my husband happy, after doing this, that, and everything in between, which meant that I didn’t do consistent writing. It also meant I was depressed, unfulfilled, and bitchy a lot. Recently, I’ve become a creativity coach on a mission to help other creatives get out of that trap. My business is called Swimming North: Where Creative Wellness Meets the Myers-Briggs. In short speak—”swimming north” is a metaphor for striking out in your own direction and going your own way. (There are penguins involved and you can read about it here) I believe that creativity is part of wellness, just as essential as mind, body, and spirit.

I’m a certified Kaizen-Muse coach, which means my coaching philosophy embraces the non-linear nature of the creative process, while using tools that are personally empowering, are not guilt inducing, and help clients learn to navigate the various things that get in the way of creativity (procrastination, harsh self talk, fear, doubt, and resistance are some of the usual suspects). I’m also a certified Myers-Briggs practitioner, and I find that knowing your Myers-Briggs type is incredibly helpful in understanding your creative process. I’m also an RN and happen to be a licensed mental health counselor, so those tools are always hanging around waiting to be useful.

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