Category Archives: Artist Interviews

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

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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Sasha Dawn Instagram

Brandi Reeds Amazon Author Page

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.

Kerry Anne King website

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Kerry Schafer website

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Jorja DuPont Oliva—Author of Chasing Butterflies trilogy

 

Jorja sent me a friend request last year, and after looking at her page, I accepted. She’s a brilliant storyteller who is always supportive of other writers. She’s mystical and magical in an unseen universe (see what I did there?), and chaotically creative. I’m privileged to have a connection with Jorja and wished to share her stories—about her life and in her fiction. She’s a lovely human.

 

Tell me about your writing process, including environment, inspirations, schedule, strategies, and muse (if you have one!).

Is there ever a process for anything when you have kids? I try to steal time to write, but I do it every day. I journal, I write ideas when they pop up, and I write poetry. I am an emotional storyteller, because in all honesty, I struggle with my emotions, so in turn I heal. I don’t write from a desk or have an office. I write from my laptop, which is portable, so I can take it places, but mostly I write from my couch. I have been known to write in my car while my son is at football practice, I would say a third of Sisterly was written or edited there. It is for me, really, no different than reading a good book, an escape, but I get to choose the ending. As for a muse, this is the concept that I thought only I experienced. When I write I do feel as though I am channeling many muses. I like to think of them as my writing angels. My grandmother (my mother’s mother) was, in her lifetime, the best storyteller. When I was a child, she would tell us a story that I would visualize so vividly. I would like to think that she is still telling me those stories I loved to listen to as a child. Our stories are very important to generations to come. They learn from our mistakes and gain knowledge to what works. Life is not easy.

I love the story of how you started writing—elaborate upon that and how the relationship with your mother encouraged you in this direction.

My mother wrote for our local paper. She loved to write and would always talk about wanting to write a book. She could come up with stories that conveyed a message about love, friendships, and all the good things life has to offer (Hallmark channel was her favorite). Sadly, I lost my mother this year, February 2018. She unfortunately never published any of her works. She lived that dream through me I suppose. Let me step back and explain,–I talked my Mother into taking a class to teach you how to write a book. At that time I had no interest in writing a book. I just thought it was something we could do to spend time together and possibly help her achieve one of her dreams. I found a love for writing—it was my purpose, and looking back, I was always a writer. My Mother wrote many short stories through our adventure in this class, but my Mother always put her kids first. She became my biggest fan. By the end of the class I had created a book—Chasing Butterflies in the Magical Garden (2013). By the way, I plan to publish her work in the coming year. I see it like this—I have gained another writing angel during her time on earth and in her after life.

What finds its way into your stories and why?

I try to teach lessons or convey wisdom we learn through our lifetime by using every day stories. I love to entertain while doing this, which may be possibly why I add a little magic to my stories (I think I get that from my grandmother). I love to read stories that make you question or wonder, or have a spiritual aspect. I also love surprises. Metaphors are always welcome in my writing as well, and I like to hide them throughout my stories. So why not write what I enjoy reading?

Describe your support system—your team, everyone who works with you or gives you props.

Gosh, I have a lot of support, sometimes so much support, I will never be able to retire from writing. My family supports me with my writing the most. When my mother passed, I have to say, my emotions held me back from taking her writing. They were the first to tell me that they were mine. I got the whole box! There is something very connecting reading someone’s writing. It is the truest form of them. I am truly blessed. I also have a wonderful writing community. We meet once a week to discuss our writing endeavors. We do not critique. We only motivate and challenge our own abilities. That is the best kind of writing community to have. I’ll tell you why—each of us is different, we learn in many ways, and we have different interests. Readers are the same, are they not? Don’t get me wrong; we do at times read each other’s work and give suggestions, which in turn gets our own creative juices flowing. Last is a good editor, but not for typos, because let’s face it, typos happen! During final edit we worry about those. I have been fortunate to have two wonderful and patient editors. I spend most of my time on editing and rewriting. I am not going to tell you it is my weakness. I am just going to say I don’t edit while I write. Editing interferes with my creative process. When most people think of an editor, they think of someone who comes in and cleans it all up. I’m sure there are some editors out there that do that, but that isn’t my case. I have two supportive editing coaches. They show me things I missed or need to elaborate on and we work together to prefect it. It is usually a 4 to 6 time go-over on the story. While this is happening, I send my story with a WARNING to everyday people to read and send me feedback. Usually I have at least 4 to 5 people of different ages and opinions. I have even sent one of my first drafts to my 4th grade English teacher, who is now retired. I can’t express the importance of having many people working with you to produce the best you are capable of producing.

What do you love most about your creativity?

I love creating! I love everything about the process of creating. I’ll admit, with my first book, I wasn’t fond of rewriting and editing, because it was work. Now after 4 books, 2 anthologies, many short stories, and a screenplay, I enjoy the rewriting and editing process as much as I do creating the story. The only thing I do struggle with is the ending to a creative project, the moment it is published. I’m like a lost puppy looking for a new story to write.

 

Follow Jorja on social media and buy her books here:

Amazon author page

Bookbub

Goodreads

Twitter

Facebook personal page

Facebook author page

Facebook Chasing Butterflies in the Magical Garden page

Facebook Chasing Butterflies in the Mystical Forest page

Facebook Chasing Butterflies in the Unseen Universe page

Facebook Sisterly page

A Night Like This: A Flagler County Anthology benefiting Christmas Come True

Creative Chaos Anthology

Ammar Habib—Award-Winning Author

Ammar asked for a reader on Twitter to review his novel Memories of My Future. Intrigued, I asked him questions, all of which he readily answered, before I agreed. The story he wrote with Dr. Anil Sinha is fantastic—read my review.

 

 

Ammar exudes friendliness and positivity in his online presence and digital communication, and I always feel cheerier after speaking with him. He has also written a vigilante series called Dark Guardian, and his latest book Ana Rocha: Shadows of Justice was co-authored with a detective.

 

 

 

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

My writing process is somewhat structured and somewhat fluid. It always begins with a theme. I ask myself, “Why should readers read this? What do I hope they get out of it?” As entertaining as I hope my stories are, I want them to hold some sort of moral lesson or theme for the audience as well. At the same time, I don’t want to slap readers in the face with this theme. Instead, I want to show it in the characters and story arc. So I take a lot of time in figuring out who my character are. As far as pre-writing goes, I probably spend more time fleshing out the characters than I spend on any other aspect of pre-writing. Many times, putting in the effort to create three dimensional characters is the separator between good and great work.

However, with that said, my writing process is very fluid. I like to try and create an outline before I go into the actual writing. But many times I find myself starting the first draft before I’ve even finished my outline. The inspiration comes in bursts so I try to capitalize on those bursts as much as I can. I find that being too stringent on my writing process can actually become a hindrance.

As far as inspiration goes, I honestly draw inspiration from everywhere. I’ve possessed a huge imagination since I was a child, so that is usually my biggest source. I have a hard time switching my imagination off, which can be a problem when somebody is trying to talk to you and you’re imagining a battle scene in your head! The other place I really draw inspiration is from the world around me. I try to stay observant because sometimes the best inspiration passes by right in front of you!

My environment and schedule do change based on circumstances. I don’t have a set place where I do my writing and my schedule varies because I can honestly write any time of the day or night! There are some days where I spend hours writing or revising manuscripts, and there are other days when I may spend only thirty minutes.

I love Memories of My Future—tell how you built on historical events through folklore, and the history behind the book itself, working with Dr. Sinha to create an inspirational story.

Memories of My Future is definitely one of my personal favorites. It takes place in three time periods: 13th century India, 19th century India, and present day New York City. The project began when I got a phone call from Dr. Sinha, whom I somewhat knew beforehand, in September 2014. He had the seeds of an idea that he wanted to write a book about, which was very similar to something that I was wanting to write about, which is why we decided to partner together. The reason Dr. Sinha reached out to me was because he had just read my debut novel, Dark Guardian, and had really loved it.

From there, we grew a story with themes of coexistence and courage. When we were researching the events of the 13th Century, there honestly was not much to be found because the history of the Bihar province has not been as well kept as it should. However, along with some facts and dates that we were able to gather, there was plenty of local folklore and legends about the events that are described in the story, and those legends were the basis for that piece of the novel.

Explain how you work in so many genres, and the challenges and satisfactions of doing so.

Like you mentioned, I do write in multiple genres. Many authors do see this as a challenge. For me, I’ve found that spending a lot of time up front with my planning and taking the time to nail down a theme, tone, and characters on the front end helps me write the story within the parameters of the genre I am aiming for. As a writer, I never want to be limited to a specific genre because I’m one of those people that doesn’t like limitations in general. So the ability and freedom to write in multiple genres is a very liberating feeling!

Describe your research process, including how you find sources and what you choose to use.

For works like Memories Of My Future, where a lot of research is required, I definitely do take my time with it. Research is something that should never be rushed. I always try to use as many scholarly or peer-reviewed sources as I can. This is to ensure the authenticity of the material. Working at a college, I have access to the college’s databases, which have tons of articles over a variety of subjects, so that is a major help. If I am using a source that is not one that would be considered scholarly, I always try to verify its authenticity by cross-referencing it with something that is more academically purposed. I know everyone has their own methods for research, but that is the basis for mine.

What do you love most about your creativity?

For me, creativity is synonymous with freedom! It’s the freedom to create. The freedom to inspire. The freedom to affect lives. I always try to use my creativity positively, with the hopes of inspiring others. I view creativity as an asset and as a responsibility, just as I view any other talent or ability. Therefore, I try to use it in a good way. Thankfully, I can say that there are a few other authors I’ve met throughout my journey as a writer who have said that I have helped them along the way since I was further along the road than they were at the time, and honestly that’s the kind of thing that inspires me to keep moving forward!

Connect with Ammar and purchase his books:

Ammar Habib

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Gareth Walsh—Artist and Illustrator

 

Click on photo to purchase “Blue Eye” painting.

 

 

Gareth is my first interviewee who’s not a writer, and I’m proud to share his evocative, intriguing work.

Purchase his gorgeous work here: The Darkling.

Share his work far and wide; someone you know will love it.

 

 

 

Click on photo to purchase this original pen drawing.

 

 

Tell me about your artistic process.

“Usually ideas will flit through my mind, and I try to store them in memory for future use. Sometimes the work in progress may go in different directions. Mostly I try to follow the natural flow as much as possible.

 

 

Click on photo to purchase “The Gathering of the Sluagh.”

 

Your art is gorgeous and affordable. How do you determine price?

“Currently, I determine price by the time it takes to complete the work, and also which medium and materials are used.”

 

 

 

Click on photo to purchase this original pen drawing.

 

 

Explore the dark elements in your work.

“I choose colors in a very random way. A lot of my process is very much a kind of instinct. I like this as it keeps the work exciting, at least for me.”

 

 

 

 

Click on photo to purchase this oil painting.

Describe your studio.

“My studio is small and, due to finances, very limiting at the moment. I have various objects around which might prompt ideas, and reference photos. Usually inspiration comes from within, my memory, and dreams.”

 

 

Click on photo to purchase this original watercolor.

 

 

What do you love most about your creativity?

“The thing I love most about creativity is the freedom from reality—the everyday, and how it allows expression of my feelings.”

 

 

 

 

Click on photo to purchase “Moonlight” oil painting.

 

Go to The Darkling to see more of Gareth’s work. He’s always producing: ink sketches, watercolors, and oil paintings.

Get his work on your walls now while it’s still affordable!

Follow Gareth Walsh on Facebook and Instagram @dreemtimeart_.

Laura Spinella—award-winning author of women’s fiction and paranormal romance

Laura Spinella gifted me a digital copy of Ghost Gifts and an autographed copy of Foretold in a giveaway, and I loved them! So I wanted to spread the book passion. I’m pretty excited that she agreed to be on my blooming little blog. She’s supportive of other writers, no matter where they are on their journey. Some of her besties are writers.

Laura and Barbara Claypole White

 

Laura works for her web developer, so her website is “very custom!” It’s like an amusement park, with fascinating rides around every corner and tons of visual fun. She’s also on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Goodreads, Pinterest, and Instagram.

 

Describe your writing environment and process, including research.

Click on book cover to pre-order Echo Moon!

Most book writing occurs in my sunroom, which is…sunny! The room has a great vibe and it’s really where I do my best work. My desk faces the only wall in the room, so that provides a bit of built-in discipline. But the wall is covered in a collage of old postcards. They’re all of my hometown, Bayport, New York. The postcards provide a lot of inspiration. Interestingly, one card plays a pivotal role in my next book, Echo Moon.

Lots of writers like to work in coffee shops, libraries, or other people-oriented locations. That’s just not my style…or maybe I’m just lazy. I’m most comfortable in my own space, but I can and have worked in some unusual spots. When my middle daughter was a teenager, she was quite ill and spent a lot of time at Children’s Hospital in Boston. (She’s fine now!) I wrote most of my first novel, Beautiful Disaster, in various hospital rooms, sitting on linoleum floors, or in waiting rooms.

As for my research team? Mmm…that’d be the renowned team of Me, Myself & I. Naturally, I reach out to experts when necessary, but I do all the leg work. Last summer, I traveled to NYC to research early 20th century tenement housing, as well as making a trip to Coney Island. A portion of Echo Moon takes place in Luna Park, an incredible amusement arena that was a singular sight back in the day. Getting a place so rich in history right took a lot of research. Luckily, Coney Island’s museum curator couldn’t have been more helpful.

Talk about the publishing process.

My first novel was published in 2011—Beautiful Disaster. The book did well and went on to be a RITA finalist. I always say I wrote the first draft in about six weeks. From there it was about six years to publication. That included the learning curve of writing a novel, to securing a literary agent, to actually selling the book. The book was published on the cusp of e-books, so it was a very different world in terms of publishing.

Click on book cover to order Ghost Gifts!
Click on book cover to order Foretold!

Echo Moon, my latest, is due out May 22nd. It’s the last installment (after Foretold) of the Ghost Gifts Novels. Ghost Gifts was a Kindle First, which is an Amazon program that opens your book up to a huge audience. I really had no intention of writing any more “ghost stories.” Ghost Gifts did very well and Montlake, my publisher, asked me to continue with the main character, Aubrey, Ellis, for two more books. I hadn’t anticipated anything like this.

Contractually, my next book was slated to be a women’s fiction novel, Unstrung. Looking back, I wish we’d put Unstrung on hold; the book kind of got lost in the Ghost Gifts shuffle. But Montlake has a fantastic publishing team in place—I really couldn’t ask for more in terms of a team effort, particularly the editing folks. They are top shelf.

Click on book cover to order Unstrung!

As far as in the moment publishing, we’re just gearing up Echo Moon marketing. I have a brand new street team, accessed via Facebook. I’ve always loved visiting with book clubs, and I thought this would be as close as I could come to creating an environment like that—a place to chat and chill with readers.

Tell me about your support system and reciprocity.

Naturally, readers are everything. You start with two or three readers and hope your writing attracts a larger audience. It’s an ongoing process in an extremely competitive market. I have a small group of published authors who are also close friends. One of them is my critique partner, so we trade a lot of publishing stories and share the stressful moments.

Click on book cover to order Beautiful Disaster!

I had no author support when writing Beautiful Disaster—no real beta readers or other writers to share my work with. In fact, it’s kind of surprising I succeeded on any level! I learned, I think, from reading. I did end up with an extraordinary agent who gives incredible editorial advice. That said, I’m still a fairly private writer. I’ve grown in terms of a public persona, and I really do enjoy that part. But the writer in me is drawn to the solitude of the craft.

Elaborate upon life influencing writing and vice versa.

I’m not sure that my everyday life influences my writing all that much. When I go in that sunroom, it really feels like a whole other world. Writing, on the other hand, largely influences my everyday life. I’m fortunate to have an extremely supportive family. That’s code for they let me do my thing without a lot of fuss. Unless it’s crunch time, probably when I’m three months out from deadline, I try to keep to set writing hours. Those deadline months can get stressful because no matter how much time you have, it never feels like enough.

What pleases you the most about your chosen career?

Ha! Well, this would be easier to answer if I felt like I chose writing. I think writing chose me. It’s a strange life, a writing life. It’s isolating, exhilarating, frustrating, and fits into very few boxes. It can be difficult for other people to relate to, which is frustrating in an entirely different way. But that’s not what you asked, is it? Every time I finish a novel, there’s a brief moment where I sit back, look at the thing, and say, “Geez. How did that get there?” I like that moment a lot.

Laura and Auggie

Connect with Laura on social media:

Click on book cover to order Perfect Timing!

Twitter

Facebook, street team

Google+

Goodreads

Pinterest

Instagram

 

Steven Carr—internationally published short story writer and playwright

I met Steven Carr in the Facebook writing group Fiction Writing. He has astonished us all with his work, sharing each new story he has gotten published, recently surpassing 100 short stories in various publications. His complete list (so far!) is at the end of the interview. Steve is full of surprises and delights in life. He is friendly, intelligent, and more interesting the longer you talk with him, as whatever he shares urges more questions. I’m honored to share him with my readers. Find him online at Facebook and Twitter.

Tell me about your writing style.

“I type my initial draft, which is my only draft. I haven’t written anything longhand since I learned how to type while I was in high school, which was over forty years ago. I usually write a story in 2-3 days. I was trained when I was a journalist to write fast and edit while I write. I write only one draft, make sure it is as error free as possible, and submit it right away. Motivation is almost entirely internal. Where it comes from, I don’t have a clue. Writing for me is like an itch that I have to constantly scratch.

I don’t really have a schedule, but I tend to write early in the day and late in the evening. Sometimes I’m so excited about a story I’m working on, I work on it all day and forget to stop to eat. I just sit down at the computer, procrastinate a little while I see what’s happening on Facebook or in the news, and then get down to the business of writing. I have an office set up. It’s crowded with photographs, books, paintings, and art pieces. It’s a good place just to sit back and pretend I’m in a museum.”

Tell me what you write about and why.

“I like the literary genre, which I seem to have luck with getting published. I also seem to have a knack for writing speculative fiction, horror and fantasy, all of which I enjoy writing also. I’ve led a very full life, lived in and seen some astonishing places, and met an incredibly large number of people from all backgrounds and ethnicities. My writing is a way to pay homage to those people and places.

I wrote a novel a few years ago that is gathering dust inside my computer. The whole process of writing it was so horrendously tedious and unfulfilling that I vowed never to write another one. I had written plays for a while, and was moderately successful with that, and learned a lot about writing dialogue and setting a scene while doing it, but I’m such a control freak that I didn’t want anyone but me to be in control of how my plays were produced.

The short story form, for me, is easy to construct. I started writing professionally as a military journalist, and the who, what, where, when, and why of journalistic writing fits perfectly into writing short stories. Plus, I have a short attention span, so the fewer words I have to write, the better. Here are the links to a few of my favorites:

“Paper Mache Man” by Two Sisters Writing

“The Saguaro Two Step” in Near to the Knuckle

“Sand” in Sick Lit Magazine

 

“When Wizards Sing” in Aether / Ichor

Photograph by Raul Petri

 

“The Citrus Thief” in Fictive Dream

 

 

 

My love of the short story form actually began in high school. I was placed in an English Advanced Placement class and the teacher, Mrs. Kurtz, told me I had talent writing short stories, and I was gullible enough to believe her. God bless you Mrs. Kurtz, wherever you are. I’ve had a 50 word story published and a 7,000 word story published. Generally, they fall into the 1,500 to 4,000 word range. I borrow snippets from my life in writing a lot of my literary fiction, and practically nothing from my life when writing other genres. I’m proud to say I’ve borrowed nothing from my life when writing horror stories.”

Describe your submission process.

“I have a subscription to Duotrope. Practically 90% of the publications that I find to submit to, I find on Duotrope. Obviously, I love Duotrope. They should hire me as their spokesperson. The big thing I like about Duotrope is not only how easy I find using their search system, but that they send an email every Sunday that lists publications looking for submissions. It fits perfectly for me as I like to write a story after I see what publications are looking for instead of the other way around. The other 10% I find thanks to getting way too many emails with invitations to submit to one publication or another.

I read carefully what the magazine or anthology is looking for, and if I think I can write a story that matches what they are looking for, then I write the story. I don’t keep a stockpile of stories lying around waiting for a match. I write specifically for what a publication is looking for. I don’t write to make money, but I don’t turn money away for my writing if I can get it. I make sure they are a publication I feel matches my values as a person, meaning they aren’t racist, homophobic, ageist, sexist, and a few other -isms or -ists. I don’t discriminate in regards to the size or prestige of the publication. I want my stories to reach as many different audiences as possible, and the only way to do that is to make sure I submit to a broad variety of publications up and down the prestige scale.”

Describe your support system, receiving and giving.

“Writers are my species. It’s in the interest of all writers to support one another. I support others by buying their books, reading their stories and giving reviews, providing links to publications looking for submissions, and in general just trying to provide encouragement and support. I can’t even begin to describe the amount of encouragement I get from other writers who do something as simple as to Like a post I make on Facebook about a story acceptance. I belong to about ten Facebook writing groups. I’m only really active in about three of them. The others don’t seem to notice my absence. I’m trying to decide if I should take that personally.

I have a personal policy of not giving feedback on any work in progress. Let me make it clear, so that I don’t get hate mail, that this is just my personal opinion: If I tell a writer how to write any part of their story by giving them suggestions or advice, the story is no longer theirs alone, it is now partly my story. Each writer has a unique voice, and when someone else becomes part of the story being written, the writer’s voice becomes diluted, sometimes only very minimally, but even just a little, is still a little. I feel bad when I have to tell a writer I can’t help them by looking at their WIP, but so far no one has threatened to firebomb my house. No one reads any story I’ve written before it’s published. In some ways I’m a very private person, and until they’re published, my stories are very private also.”

How does your writing influence your life, and vice versa?

“I enlisted in the army while I was still in high school and 17, but had to wait until that summer when I turned 18, and after I graduated, before I could actually go into the Army. It was 1972 and the Vietnam war was still going, but beginning to wind down. I wanted to go to Vietnam, not to fight or kill anyone, but to see for myself what war in a foreign country was like before the war ended. I had scored really high in the verbal (written) pre-enlistment test scores and had my choice of among the military schools and occupations.

Because I loved to write, I joined to become a military journalist and was accepted into and sent to the prestigious Defense Information School (DINFOS) which was in Indianapolis at that time and trains journalists for all of the military branches. It was only a ten week program, but it was very intensive, and the only thing taught was journalism, 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. If you couldn’t write, they kicked you out. My hopes for going to Vietnam were dashed (I don’t think the military wanted me near anything that I might cause to explode) and I was assigned to the District Recruiting Headquarters in Jacksonville, Florida. It was a civilian office and there was usually no more than three of us working in it, and for a long time it was just me. It taught me how to write fast and to feel secure in editing my own work.

For the next 2.5 years, as the war wound down, I traveled around Florida writing stories for newspapers about what I knew was happening in Vietnam, about returning soldiers, and releases about men and women who had enlisted. I lived in a beautiful apartment in a complex with a swimming pool paid for by the military and was given a car to travel around in. During my time there I didn’t spend one day on a military base. If you’ve ever seen the movie Private Benjamin, I led the Army life that she dreamt of. I got out of the Army after three years without stepping foot out of Florida, returned to Cincinnati, where I’m from, started college, and never once thought about taking up journalism as a career. My first college English professor said I should become a poet! I didn’t want to starve to death so I ignored that suggestion.

Writing adds meaning to my life. It gives me another reason to get out of bed in the morning, and I go to bed thinking about what I’m writing or going to write. Writing has connected me with some truly amazing people, writers and non-writers. In some stories, I re-visit themes I’ve already written about, but I hope I’m keeping my eyes open to what is happening in the real world, to explore new themes, and tell new and original stories in innovative ways, while maintaining my style and voice.”

 

Here’s the list (Note: Some have been accepted but have not been published yet)

Literally Stories “Eleanor”

Sick Lit Magazine “The Tale of the Costume Maker”

Door is a Jar “The Memory of Vision”

SickLit Mag “The Tale of the Cabbage Patch”

Flame Tree Publishing (Dystopia/Utopia Anthology)

Viewfinder Magazine “An Olfactory Life”

Horror Sleaze Trash “Moon of the Forgotten”

Fantasia Divinity Princess Anthology “The Twelve Dancing Princesses”

Fictive Dream “The Missouri River Story”

50 Word Stories “Night Noises”

Centum Press (100 Voices Volume 3) “The Old Chapel Road Story”

Short Tale 100 “Mothering”

Centum Press (100 voices Vol. II) “A Decent Man”

The Spotty Mirror “Point A”

CultureCult Magazine “Opulence”

Temptation Magazine “Paradise Found”

Visitant Literary Journal “The Longhorn Creek Story”

The Wagon Magazine “The Crack Up”

Infernal Ink “Under the Trees”

Tiger Shark “Ants”

Double Feature “Amoeboid”

Sick Lit Magazine “Amelia Flew Home”

Fictive Dream “The Citrus Thief”

Fantasia Divinity Publications “The Tale of the Singing Snow Witch”

Ricky’s Back Yard “Tenderloin”

Bento Box “Artifacts”

NoiseMedium “The Terrible Secret Game”

Chronicle “The Buffalo Runner”

Zimbell House Publishing: The Neighbors anthology “The Gardeners”

The Drunken Llama “Oh, Nereus”

Fictive Dream “The Island of Women”

67 Anthology “The Wind River Story”

Inane Pure Slush Vol. 14 “Trash”

MASHED: Culinary Tales of Erotic Horror Anthology “Sauce”

Ricky’s Back Yard “Magically Appearing Potatoes”

Communicators League “Landscape With Frogs”

Jakob’s Horror Box “Goodnight Forever”

Panorama Journal “Looking for Joe”

The Wagon Magazine “A Mother’s Rites”

Midnight Circus “La Primavera”

Dark Gothic Resurrected Magazine “The Snake River Haunting”

Communicators League “Men in Trees”

The Haunted Traveler “The Dissociative Effect”

Fixional “A Woman of the Arts”

The Gathering Storm Magazine “Hunting Bunnies”

Rhetoric Askew “Men in Boxcars”

Wilde Stories 2017 (Lethe Press) “The Tale of the Costume Maker”

Trigger Warnings “Night Heat”

Night to Dawn “Catacombs of the Doomed”

Zimbell House Publishing “Sing Me a River”

Zimbell House Publishing “The Sweetwater River Story”

Not Your Mother’s Breast Milk “Dancing on the Boardwalk”

Communicators League “The Platte River Story”

Aphotic Realm “If A Ghost Comes Knocking”

Bull & Cross “Once A Fine Notion”

The Dirty Pool “Heat”

Thrice Fiction “The Tale of Talker Knock”

Story and Grit “The Stew Pot”

Eathen Lamp Journal “Voices in a Hurricane”

Thousandonestories “A Town Called Wasta”

Communicators League “All the Flickering Shadows”

Occulum “Stay Out of the Attic”

Fictive Dream “Noise”

Aether and Ichor “When Wizards Sing”

4StarStories “The Pools of Nereus”

Tuck Magazine “Dining at the Mausoleum”

Zimbell House: After Effects Anthology “Washed Away”

Ariel Chart “Sing Me a River”

Truth Serum,Wiser Anthology “The Big Mouth”

Crux Magazine “The Cheyenne River Story”

Lunaris Review “The Snow Mother”

Trembling With Fear “Portrait in Blood”

Boned: A Collection of Skeletal Writing “Clickety Clack: A Love Story

Bull & Cross “Lonesome Prairie”

The Horror Zine “The Express”

Hot Tub Astronaut “The Star Counter”

Ariel Chart “Pursued”

Kristell Ink Holding on by our Fingertips anthology “Countdown”

Ordinary Madness “Barstow Requeum”

SickLit Magazine “Sand”

A Thousand and One Stories “Under the Yaquina Bay Bridge”

Ricky’s Back Yard “The Docks”

The Serving House Journal “The Shoe Tree Incident”

Near to the Knuckle “The Saguaro Two Step”

Ripcord “The Tinsel Kingdom”

Varnish Journal “The Apple Pickers”

Yalobusha Review “Men in Mines”

Clarendon House Books “The Upsandowns

Cadaverous Magazine “Strange Water”

Blue Fifth Review “Tessie’s New Cart”

Black Heart Magazine “Death and Ice Cream”

Jakob’s Horror Box “The King of Kitchen Street”

Fictive Dream “Breadth of Knowledge”

Linden Avenue Literary Journal “Airborne”

Storyland Literary Review Magazine “Sundays at the Zoo”

Communicators League “Women in Hats”

Tessellate Magazine “The Citrus Thief”

The Airgonaut “Girl in a Mason Jar”

Jokes Review “Amelia Flew Home”

Rhetoric Askew Fantasy/Megapunk edition) “Talker Knock and the Veiled Genie”

Lycan Valley Press (Pulp Horror Book of Phobias Vol. 2) “The Peter Problem”

Two Sisters Publishing “Paper Mache Man”

Tuck Magazine “The Empaths”

Pure Slush (Happy theme): “Marge”

Your One Phone Call “Hard Knocks”

Furtive Daliance Literary Review “Lisa”

New Reader Magazine “Midnight at the t. Lazare Station”

The Galway Review “Sing Me a River”

Taxicab Magazine “The Last Guru”

DeadSteam Anthology “Greta Somerset”

Stinkwaves Magzine “The Tale of the Red Lantern”

Barking Sycamores “Dreams in a Hothouse”

Bewildering Stories “Round and Round”

Bull & Cross “Boxcars