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.
Describe your writing environment and process, including research.
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.
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 theGhostGiftsshuffle. 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.
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.
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.
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:
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”
I met Carmen Baca in the Facebook group Fiction Writing. She’s friendly, helpful, and interesting. Because she quietly soaks up information online the way I do, we didn’t have much interaction for some time. However, she definitely has a presence that stands out, and when I read her short stories, I loved her unique writing style and culturally influenced tales. She believes all writers should support each other, and she shares how another writer encouraged and assisted her in her short story submissions. Sometimes you meet someone who makes you feel as though you’ve found a treasure. Carmen makes me feel that way, so I wanted to share her story and her work.
Tell me about your writing style.
“My daily routine (when I don’t have meetings or major chores planned) is to check my social media platforms to see if I need to respond to any commenters, which usually takes about an hour. Then I write for the next 4 to 6 hours and finish in time for cooking supper. I have a study all to myself, but I’ve taken over a breakfast nook in one corner of our dining room due to the many windows. I can take a break from looking at the keyboard and look up and out to see the very places I describe in my works. The towering pines, the morada across the fields of alfalfa and clover, the mountains where my father and his cousins played in my book and where I used to play with my own cousins are all visible from my little spot, which makes it easy to portray in my writing.
For some reason, I start my long manuscripts in print, and when I’ve written sufficiently to have a couple of pages on my iPad, I revert to keyboarding since I can type (keyboard) so much faster than I write. My short pieces I do completely on my iPad before submission.”
“This happened to me for the first time a few months after my debut novel released. In the three months after my launch, I had a book tour, so I spent the time promoting on social media, being interviewed for a magazine and a live radio show, and making myself available for dedications to libraries, that sort of thing. When that was behind me, I suffered a bit of inactivity, a lack of inspiration. I have another book already started, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to proceed with that or work on a sequel when I realized my debut novel was turning out to be successful. One day a sudden inspiration arose from my book: I missed working on the initial story—the characters, the locations, etc. because they were my parents, the elders from my childhood, and the location, which is right where I live. So I started writing short stories based on them. Steven Carr, a member of Fiction Writing, is a prolific short story author, having produced and published over 100 this past year. I asked him about short story submissions and he provided a resource. I am having so much fun with my short stories, and I have published 7 in the last 4 months, thanks to Steven’s assistance. What I realized is that the majority of them are turning into a serial, as they’re all connected to one another and to my novel. I plan to publish them as a collection this year.”
Describe incorporating your culture into your writing.
“It was a locked wooden box which inspired my first book. My father (like his own father and grandfather before him) was inducted into and rose to become leader of a fraternity of brothers whose goal was to provide religious services and community service to the remote village where they lived and where I live now. These men are known to this day as Los Hermanos de la Fraternidad de Nuestro Jesús Nazareno (the Brothers of the Fraternity of Our Jesus of Nazarene).Throughout my childhood, I was allowed to join my mother and the community women in acting as their helpmates; called Las Verónicas, we cleaned and prepared the church and their prayer house for their ceremonies, especially during the Lenten season.
After my father passed, we cleaned out the morada, the prayer house, and since I was the only one living in our little valley, the community members (all way older than I at the time) elected me to house the religious artifacts left behind from the brotherhood, as all the brothers had passed by that time. There was a wooden box I remembered had been in the morada throughout my childhood, but since it was always locked I never knew what was inside. One element of los Hermanos’ practices, which is sensationalized in the websites and in other literary works, is their devotion to Christ, which includes self-flagellation. My father never once disclosed whether he did this or not, and my only clue that he did was once when I was with him at a doctor visit. When the doctor exclaimed, “What happened to your back,” I knew.
So when we opened that box and I saw the handmade horsehair scourges, pieces of glass, and small bits of gravel, the blood-stained trousers, and the biggest confirmation of it all—their rulebook, which guided their membership all the way back to 1850, I knew that my father and those before him were the most devout men I would ever meet in my life. Their very existence and their humility and their piousness was something I wanted to share with the world. I had to tell my father’s story to dispel those other sources which focus on their self-harm instead of their altruism. My book was born of my father’s death.
Now my stories and future books will have the ability to educate, to inform, and to entertain those who know nothing about the New Mexico Hispanic culture which can be traced back to the 1300s. They will keep our cultural traditions, customs, superstitions, etc., alive for generations who will never have the opportunity to experience how wonderful it was to grow up among Los Hermanos in the 1920s to the 1980s.”
“Now that I’ve got my novel and several short pieces published, writing has given me a purpose, a new career as a story teller in my twilight years. All those decades I spent teaching the classics—short stories, poetry, novels, etc., by my own favorite authors—I am free to create my own literary works which other teachers can use in their own classes. That floors me! To know that my own literature will be taught in English, Spanish, Chicano Studies, and history courses in the same way I used to teach literature just amazes me.
My husband, sons, and many cousins are all thrilled for me. My husband and sons especially know what this means to me—that a manuscript I wrote 25 years ago is now a book and has made my lifelong dream come true. When I received the proofs in the mail and opened that package to reveal my book, my very own book, in my hands was the best feeling I’ve had in a long time. I burst into tears and made my husband blink away tears of his own. One of my sons followed in my footsteps and became a teacher; every teacher and student at his school knows every step of my publishing journey because of him, and I’m pretty sure most either received my book from him or bought their own. My other son, a computer whiz, manages my website, takes me to my readings and videotapes/photographs everything, and prints everything I need for such events. My husband, who works part time, leaves me to my writing for most of the day. Every time there’s a new news article or a short story gone live, they’re all just as giddy as I.
I have no siblings, my parents’ siblings are all gone, so all I have left of extended family are a multitude of cousins. Yes, several have contacted me out of the blue, since we either never met or met as children so long ago. But get this—one cousin is the coordinator for a national book club, so she immediately began promoting my book months before its release and has a place ready for me to go speak to her club in Denver whenever I wish. Another actually came from Denver to my book launch, and she also began promoting my book, since she works for a university up there.
My former colleagues, many of whom are my dearest and oldest friends, and my former students are some of my biggest fans. When I created my Facebook author page and invited everyone, I started with 290. Over the course of last year, my following grew to nearly 600 as more colleagues and students realized what I’d done and began supporting me as an author. I imagine at least half of my books are in the hands of former students, friends, and relatives, most of whom follow my page and read my short works. At least several hundred of these wonderful people knew I’d written a book, so when I finally published it, they were among the first to pre-order a copy directly from me. At first, I feared they might not like it, they might find it boring, they might throw it down without reading to the end; so when great reviews and comments on my page started appearing, I cried like a baby again. To think that I was capable of touching them so profoundly that they laughed and cried and remembered their own ancestors, or in some cases remembered elements of their own pasts they’d forgotten was something I didn’t know I’d accomplished until they told me. Now that’s the part of this publishing journey which always amazes me: the words my own readers use to convey to me how my book made them feel is both indescribable and still unbelievable.”
Tell me about your literary support system.
“I enjoy helping others in the writing groups I found after I published. My only regret is I wish I’d found them before I published, since so many are more experienced than I and offer great advice. I also have a blog where I post chapters of my WIPs for feedback, but unfortunately, not many people see them, which is why I began making them into short stories and publishing some in online literary magazines and two women’s blogs thus far.
I don’t use beta readers; my son, the one who manages my website and assists when I do readings, is my only proofreader. I sometimes run ideas through him, and he’s always got great advice to help move my plots along. He’s my only critique partner.”
You write articles, essays, novels, and short stories. Talk about this diversity in your work.
“When a prolific short story author began communicating with me and offered a few places where I could try my own hand at publishing my shorter pieces, I jumped at the opportunity to get my name out there even more, to establish more publishing credentials, and most importantly, to get my works read by others. Now, remember, I wrote my debut novel twenty-five years ago, and I hadn’t written anything of substance (other than literary analytical essays I used to write when I assigned them to my students) since. So when I decided to write short stories, which quickly became a serial, I tried my hand at third person omniscient. And I loved it! All the short stories, which are either based on folk tales or traditions/customs/superstitions from my culture, are written in that point of view. Part of my impetus for writing my stories is because so many of our traditions are dying out; I want to keep them alive, even if only in literature.
The non-fiction pieces I’ve written are essays based on my teaching experiences and how I learned to communicate effectively with adolescents. They’re written kind of like my short stories, since they’re comprised of anecdotes I put together. For example, my first essay called “Word Play” is based on several instances where puns and innuendos create embarrassing, humorous, awkward, and memorable moments. How we adults choose to deal with them affects the teacher/student relationships.
One other non-fiction essay highlights how I used my culture in creating the romance in my first novel.
There are three more on one of my blogs which I’m determined to rewrite and publish in a writer-type of resource, such as “Authors Talk About It” or others which accept manuscripts on the writing, publishing, or marketing process.”
I met Laurie Gardiner in one of the most helpful online writing groups Fiction Writing. She and founder Brian Paone are fair and just administrators of a 30K+ group of supportive and sometimes raucous gang of writers. She published her first novel Tranquility through independent publisher Escargot Books and Music, and short stories in two of the group’s annual “Of Word” themed anthologies. You can find her on Facebook and her own website.
Tell me about your writing style.
“I need silence and a long block of time in order to get into a good writing zone. Some days when the house is quiet I’ll write for hours; other days, life gets in the way, and I don’t write at all. My children are grown, but my house has become the family meeting place, the laundromat, and the neighbourhood diner, so quiet days without interruption are rare. And of course, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I do all my outlining longhand in a notebook, set up in sections with labeled tab dividers for setting, timeline, each character, etc. I may have a slightly compulsive grammar issue, so I’ve been training myself to stop editing as I go, because I know it’s a habit that slows down my first draft. The first thing I do when I sit down to write is to read over the last few paragraphs I wrote. This helps get my head back into the story before I continue. During this process, I often correct glaring errors or badly structured sentences, but I’m learning to leave the bulk of the editing and revising until the end. I often play scenes out in my head before I sit down to write them. My favourite time to do this is during a walk or a yoga class, or even while I do mindless, everyday chores like laundry and grocery shopping.”
Who gets to read your work first and why?
“My kids are often the first to beta read a short story for me. They are all avid readers and two of them also write as a hobby. They aren’t afraid to be honest and will tell me if they think something doesn’t work. I also exchange critiques with a few fellow writers I’ve met through Fiction Writing, the Facebook group I co-administrate.”
What prompted you to write your book?
“Tranquility was inspired by my work in the dementia unit of a long-term care facility. As a support worker, I spent the majority of my time providing hands-on care to residents. Because my duties were limited to resident care, I interviewed housekeeping and nursing staff in order to gain insight into their experiences and what their jobs entail.
It was also important to me that Tranquility reflect the reality of living and working in a long-term care facility in Canada. The characters represent a variety of ethnicities and I wanted to realistically depict these characters and avoid stereotypes. For instance, one character is an elderly Italian man. A close friend of mine, whose parents came to Canada from Italy, agreed to check the character’s dialogue for authenticity.
I didn’t last long working in facilities. Things are slowly changing for the better, but I didn’t enjoy my work there. It bothered me to make the residents do things even if they didn’t want to, for the sake of adhering to a routine. And I didn’t always agree with how facilities were run and how residents were treated. I found my niche working in homecare, where I could connect one-on-one with my clients and spend quality time with them. At times, it can be difficult caring for people who suffer from dementia, but it’s also very rewarding. Many of my clients were the inspiration for characters in Tranquility.”
Sometimes there’s a price to pay for doing the right thing.
Support worker Sarah Scott learns this the hard way when, soon after being transferred to Tranquility’s dementia unit, she uncovers a sinister secret. Doing the right thing could mean losing her job, and unemployment is not an option for the young, single mom.
Meanwhile, Sarah begins to question whether her newest resident, Edie, belongs in the nursing home’s locked unit. The feisty, Scottish woman certainly doesn’t act as though she has dementia. Sarah is determined to have her released, but her plans may be thwarted when Edie risks her own freedom to help uncover the secret.
Tranquility is a poignant story of the relationship between three generations of women as they struggle to reconcile past hurts and discover the healing power of love.It is an eye-opening, behind-the-scenes glimpse into life in a long-term care facility, and a fight for justice in the face of adversity.
“Tranquility was published by Escargot Books and Music, an independent publisher out of California. The personal, collaborative publishing experience was exactly what I needed as a first-time author. The whole process of researching how to publish, searching for a publisher, writing a query letter and synopsis, and dealing with rejection, opened up a whole new world of knowledge for me.
As is the case with most independent publishers, the majority of the marketing was left to me. Months before Tranquility’s release, Escargot advised me to build my author platform. I set up a website and a Facebook page, and joined online writing communities where I could connect and network with readers and other writers.
After Tranquility’s release, the publisher set up a virtual blog tour. It was a great opportunity for me to interact with bloggers and readers, and it resulted in some much-needed book reviews.
This past summer, I had the opportunity to sell my books at a neighbourhood farmer’s market when they invited local artists to come and promote their works. I’ve also done book signings and readings at local libraries. Both were a fun way to connect with my neighbours while marketing myself and making sales.
Marketing is something I had no experience with before being published, so it has been a huge learning curve for me. I continue to research and learn more every day.”
How does your creative effort influence your daily life?
“Writing is an outlet and a way of expressing myself. As a mother and a caregiver, I’ve spent the majority of my life caring for others. Writing is the one thing I do that is only for me, and I believe I am a more fulfilled, well-rounded person because of it.
I come from a family full of creative people. My mother was an artist, a writer, a singer, and a musician. She created lush gardens and laid the stone paths that wound through them. Our Christmas gifts were beautifully crafted sweaters and blankets she knit or crocheted. Many of us own one-of-a-kind rustic wood furniture pieces built by my father. They passed that creativity on to their children and grandchildren.
Unfortunately, I have trouble drawing a decent stick figure, power tools scare me, and my singing voice could be a used as a form of torture. I did inherit my father’s athleticism, and I enjoy swimming, kayaking, canoeing, hiking, and yoga.”
In September, I attended the 34th Western Reserve Writers Conference and Workshop, driving up from NC, eager to hear the keynote speaker, Brian Klems, online editor of Writer’s Digest. The conference was fantastic, and starting in 2016, the Cuyahoga Library sponsors it to support writers. The South Euclid-Lyndhurst branch hosting the conference has a Writer Center that makes me want to live in Cleveland.
In between sessions, I chanced upon Brian and we chatted for a few minutes. He’s a super nice guy, of course, being from the Midwest, like myself. We Midwesterners are so friendly. Brian agreed to a written interview for my blog, and I promised to share links to his work and his book. He’s a pretty funny guy and in his keynote speech, he shared a few stories from his parenting book. If you’re a parent, or even if you’re not and love kids, I recommend it.
Many writers have an unusual and varied employment history. Mine includes framing / remodeling, llama husbandry, job coaching, home health care, and substitute teaching. I’ve also been a barista, a wine steward, and a personal assistant. Brian’s career climb is more logical, with surprising summers.
“During sophomore year of high school, I landed my first job bagging groceries at a local supermarket. One close friend also worked there, so we’d align our shifts to get off at the same time and hang out together after. I spent most of that money at a local Perkins and on CDs. Next, I was selected to take part in the inaugural ArtWorks Apprentice program for young writers in Cincinnati. I not only learned how to refine my writing, but also a bit of photography and film development (which I completely forget now, so thank god for iPhones and Walgreens). During college summers and breaks, I manned the desk at the Hamilton County Courthouse, retrieving daily case files for the magistrates and judges—it was divorce court, so very few were in a good mood (but the judges couldn’t have been nicer to me).
As for my professional writing career, I worked in NYC for a few months in the summer of 2000 for two sporting and health fitness business magazines. After that, I landed a job in Chicago for plumbing trade magazines. I had several editors there who took me under their wings and helped me grow as not just a writer, but as an editor. I also stepped in to oversee their websites, and it was my first real dip into the professional online world. After two years there, I itched to move back to my hometown, and applied for a job at Writer’s Digest—which I landed, and it became my professional home for the next 14 years.”
Every writer must find his / her own style to be productive. Sharing the process inspires other writers and satisfies reader curiosity. Brian offers a look into his creative style and gives some good advice.
“I like to write in chunks as opposed to writing every day. I’m constantly brainstorming and writing down my ideas on notepads and napkins and scrap paper and anything I can find when an idea hits. Then I collect them into Google Drive docs. When I feel inspired and motivated, I sit down and work through the ideas, sorting and writing scenes and essays and whatever I’m ready to write.
As for editing, I find this to be a critical part of the process. Somehow, everything I write seems to be awesome and terrible at the same time. I believe that’s true for many writers. When writing humor, I self-edit as I write. With jokes, every word matters and I have problems leaving a line until it’s perfect. When writing fiction, I attempt to power through until I’m finished and then go back and edit (though I totally get slowed down by my humor writing process, because sometimes I want to get the sentence right the first time). One of the keys for me is, once I have my “first final draft,” I have an editor give it a look. Working at Writer’s Digest, I’m lucky to know several professional editors. While I edit manuscripts professionally too, I want someone with a fresh set of thoughtful eyes who knows the industry and is a professional to let me know what works, what doesn’t, and anything else. Writing and editing is a tough process, but I love it.”
Creatives, whatever their medium, see inspiration everywhere, and often within. We must keep our wells filled in order to continue creating. On this, Brian not only tells what inspires him, but in his words is a subtle reminder to be supportive of other creatives, which also helps fill our wells.
“Reading amazing books by others always inspires me. The creativeness and thoughtfulness that goes into these epic tomes that entertain me or teach me something (or both) make me want to do the same for others. To know that I could write something that makes someone laugh or think, or makes them smile just a little bit, makes me feel good, really motivates me.
Also, my family feeds my writing life. Since I write a lot of creative nonfiction about fatherhood, they feed my stories with life lessons and humor that I couldn’t even make up. It works out perfectly for me, as I’m built really for two things: to be a writer and be a dad. Knowing I can merge both to do something that entertains others is just icing on the cake.
I don’t keep a journal, just a running Google Doc of ideas, jokes and lines that I save and, if I’m lucky, turn into something of value one day.
As for who sees my work before it’s finished, it usually goes through two sets of eyes—an editor and my wife. I send it through an editor for the reason mentioned earlier, and I send it through my wife because she knows me better than anyone and can be brutally honest. Plus, I don’t want to accidentally write something about our family that would bother her (that rarely happens, but I’m smart enough to use her as a buffer to make sure I never publish something that I shouldn’t).”
“Like I said, I’m cut out to be a dad—I love everything about it. The hugs and cuddles. The coaching their sports. The reading on the couch before bedtime. The helping them with their school work. The bringing their lunchbox up to school when they forget it. The dirty diapers (OK, so that I could have lived without, though thankfully, those we retired years ago). My wife and I make a great team and being a dad is the best job that I have.
The way that parenting changed my writing process is that I do so much more writing at night after the kids are in bed than I do during the day. I don’t want to miss time with them while they’re young and still like hanging out with me. I’m hopeful they’ll break the stereotypes and still want to (sometimes) spend time with me even in their teenage years, but I’m not banking on it. So spending as much time as I can with them now is what I do.”
Many writers have various interests that come out in different genres and are creative in multiple ways, resulting in blogs, vlogs, non-fiction, fiction, etc. Beyond his editing position and humorous parenting work, Brian has other projects in the works. He shares his wisdom in the truism of gratitude.
“Aside from parenting essays and my book, I’m working on a Young Adult novel right now. It’s the biggest challenge facing me, as novel writing is so eye-opening. In fiction you have endless choices, and I like to debate each one to find the best scenarios I can for my characters. It’s moving slowly, as my fiction writing always does, but I’m making progress.
As far as snail mail or poetry, I don’t write much of either. I wrote poems to my wife when we were still young lovebirds in college, but now I win her affection by cleaning the dishes and keeping the grass cut lower than our neighbors.
And one of the best parts of being a writer is all the fan mail I get, especially from parents who have read my blog or my book. I’ve also received hundreds of kind letters from folks who have read my blog on writing or have seen me speak at an event. Interacting in person with writers is one of my favorite non-writing things that I do. It gives me an opportunity to share what I’ve learned and help other writers navigate and find success in this difficult business. After all, the writing community is the best and most supportive community around. And for that, I am forever grateful to be a part of it.”
Science fiction and horror writer Brian Barr was my first writer Facebook friend. He sent me a friend request after reading my story in Storyteller, an online literary magazine that has accepted much of his work, and he invited me to follow Dark Chapter Press, who held contests that I entered. I didn’t win any of the contests, but I was welcomed into a supportive group of creatives, several of whom are also now Facebook friends. Brian’s friendliness and positivity launched me fully into an online writerly mindset, and now I’m in several writers’ groups on multiple social media. He inspires fellow writers online by being himself, with his personality shining forth gloriously. He also happens to be a brilliant storyteller. Check out the links, like this one The Head: Book 1 of the 3 H’s Trilogy, to his work and collaborative projects, such as Empress with Chuck Amadori, throughout this blog! Here’s his Amazon Author Page.
All writers must find a sustainable writing process of their own, learning from others for enlightenment and guidance. Brian Barr’s is straightforward, “I type nearly everything, though I may jot notes from time to time as ideas come to me throughout the day. I basically sit down and type in documents, then revise when I’m done and a little as I go along. I’m pretty free-flowing when it comes to writing, and though I have ideas that are planned and notes I reserve for my stories, I’m not a huge outliner or anything like that. So my writing approach is not rigid and I mostly like to have fun and enjoy what I’m writing. If my heart isn’t in it, then I let it go. I like to get invested in what I’m creating.”
He’s open in his social media use, mixing professional and personal on his Facebook account. He has professional sites for readers: www.facebook.com/brianbarrbooksdotcom and www.brianbarrbooks.com. He says, “I use social media to interact with other writers and readers. A few I know IRl. There are my local friends and a few I’ve grown up with. Most of the people I’ve met on social media are either creators or supporters of books and comics that I haven’t met in person. I also use social media to promote my work and let people know about my books. It’s a way that I can keep tabs on my favorite authors and buy their works as well. That’s the main thing I use it for. There are a lot of Facebook groups that have been supportive from Colors in Darkness to Grimdark Readers and Writers. The two groups I mentioned are my favorite groups at the moment. There is also Queer Sci Fi, which has done a lot to promote Carolina Daemonic [Brian’s dystopian alternative timeline fiction published by J. Ellington Ashton), and various horror groups that have allowed me to share my horror work.”
Independent and ambitious, Brian explains his working style, “I’ve done a few writing workshops here and there, but they’re not my thing. Whenever I’m at one, I feel I could be at home writing, or that it’s time I could use to do other things, like walking, going somewhere, visiting friends, etc. So writing is a very solitary and personal, intimate experience for me. I feel like people at writer’s workshops can be helpful, but it can also become a way that other people tell you how to write to the point that you lose your own voice, so on a personal level, it’s been a balancing act for me to avoid those groups and do my own thing. The last time I joined a writer’s group, I acted on someone else’s advice, and I’ve been learning to respect people’s opinions, but do what’s right for me. I always felt restricted in groups when it comes to my creativity, like it would make me waste time on unneeded rewrites to please other people instead of pleasing myself and whoever would like the stories as I genuinely write them, so I’m solitary when it comes to writing stories.”
When asked his preference for self-publishing, he states, “I publish with presses along with self-publishing, so I don’t do self-publishing exclusively. I have books published by presses. With self-publishing, I can hire my own editors and cover artists, then release work when I choose. So I like the independence more. I guess that’s also why I’m not a big proponent of writing groups and stuff like that. I like to see people create on their own and put their own experiences and individuality into their own work. I’m self publishing the next books though. They were accepted for publishing, but they wanted me to use in-house artists. I have a certain way I want all my covers to look now, and they use stock photos, so I pulled them. My friends I usually commission are doing the covers and editing. Sullivan Suad and Zilson Costa are my favorite artists. For the first edition of Carolina Daemonic, a few people told me they saw the photo in other places. I want to have original art for all my books. I appreciate the publisher for accepting my work, but as I’ve been self publishing, I found I like it more. I get all the royalties and like the people I work with. It’s just been better for me.”
A highly creative individual, Brian is also a musician in a band called Pig Head Dog. Punk fans can listen to samples and follow the band on www.reverbnation.com/pigheaddog2 and www.facebook.com/pigheaddog. When asked about a connection between his band and writing, he tells me, “Not at this time. Music for now is a collaboration between friends, and I’m thankful to my friends for bringing me into my band. It’s a fun experience for all of us. I’ve written my own songs before in other projects, and I do come up with basslines for songs in this current band, but I’m not the singer or songwriter for the band I’m currently in. Bubbs Ruebella is the singer and songwriter of Pig Head Dog, and the band is his creation. I’m the newest member, and also pretty new to bass playing, which is what I do in the band. We practice on Thursday nights, or Saturdays. We’ll usually meet for 2-3 hours and work on either a set list or, most often, the newer songs we need to get down. I think we’re all fast learners and good collaborators, so after we get a song down, it’s drilled in our memory. Other than our weekly schedule, we do shows from time to time. I’ve only been playing bass for less than a year, so it’s all pretty new to me.”
With optimism, Brian says he’s doing, “pretty good. I’ve just been focused on my creative projects and freelance writing, recharging for the fall, and getting rested. I’ve been reading a lot, since I wrote so much this summer, though I’m still working on stories as well. For fun, he likes to, “write, make music, and travel. I like to watch movies, read books, and I like anything artistic or creative. So I like to look at art, interact with artists, things of that nature. I also like learning, and I study Japanese. I’ve always had a strong interest in Japanese culture, since I grew up in Hawaii, and there were a lot of Asian influences there.”
I haven’t met Brian Barr in person, but online, he’s a super nice guy, positive, and always supportive of other writers and artists. Follow him on his Facebook page www.facebook.com/brianbarrbooksdotcom and website www.brianbarrbooks.com. Feel free to ask him questions about his work, any upcoming projects, or his professional life. His illustrators, Sullivan Suad and Zilson Costa, are also open for commission, so please do inquire if you need cover art. Even if you’re not hooked on his genres, I highly recommend reading Brian Barr’s work, as it transcends those genres due to his storytelling talent.