Tag Archives: literary fiction

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

Twitter

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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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Whisper Me This by Kerry Anne King—pub date August 1, 2018

In her childhood, Marley talked Maisey into adventures for which she abandoned Maisey to take the blame. Maisey’s mother told her that Marley wasn’t real, even though she was as real as her mother to Maisey. In her third decade, raising her daughter Elle by herself, Maisey continues to be scatterbrained and unfocused, and has never been normal according to Elle, who wants her to stay that way. Elle is 12 when Maisey receives a phone call that her mother is dying, circumstantial evidence pointing to her father, a man she has always known as a gentle buffer between her mother and herself, as the cause. She must go home and untangle the ugly mess, uncovering a mystery in the process. This sets her off on an adventure to uncover her mother’s secret, revealing much about herself and their relationship in the process. The love interest has his own secrets, and Maisey is the catalyst for his family recognizing his trauma and helping him to move past it. As the EMT / firefighter responding to her family’s emergencies, he is woven into her story as an eventuality.

King brilliantly sets up family dynamics that clearly show the repressed fear of the mother and the compensating kindness of the father, and how secrets create chaos and confusion in relationships. There are a couple of slight distractions from the story: Maisey throws up or feels like it a LOT; Whenever the love interest appears, he’s described in Harlequin Romance hunky terms. Despite this, the story moves along at a brisk pace, with the mom’s backstory presented through her journal, an intimate medium that elicits sympathy. It’s a very human story full of complex emotions and motivations, a must-read!

I was fortunate to receive an ARC through NetGalley of this wonderful book.

Click here to go to Kerry Anne King’s website.

How to Walk Away by Katherine Center—pub date May 15, 2018

Click on picture to order!

This book starts off with a bang, specifically a plane crash. Despite Margaret’s fear of flying, her fiance coerces her into a flight in his Cessna before his certification test. An unexpected storm causes the plane to flip, trapping her inside as it explodes. The story reads like a memoir, such is the detail of her learning process about the extent of her injuries and medical procedures. The shocking revelations don’t end with her body and its new needs, as Margaret / Maggie spends more time with her family than she would have expected, or chosen. She discovers the true nature of her beloveds: suddenly absentee fiancee Chris, estranged sister Kitty, and distant mother—secrets bursting bubbles right and left. Some of those bubbles are burst by her recalcitrant physical therapist, whose already wobbly professionalism crashes at the charm of Maggie. Center brilliantly leads the reader through a labyrinth of complex emotions and clashing dynamics on two continents to a hilarious and painful climactic scene, where Maggie cannot escape a situation more awkward than she could imagine. Then the story goes a bit over the top, ala Harlequin romance style, with the love interest taking a dangerous leap literally, and gushing about his feelings for her as though the rest of the world stopped for this moment. It’s difficult to see what is happening around them as they open up to each other in a completely inappropriate place and time.

That life constantly takes Maggie by surprise is an endearing trait that makes her relateable and encourages readers to cheer her on through her physical and emotional struggles. There was a cringe-worthy scene early on where her professor tells her to “act like a man” for her interview, and she promises to do so. It’s very much her character, though, and Center maintains the integrity of all characters as they face secrets exposed and emotions unleashed. The denouement ends up being summarized, a bit of a disappointment in such a captivating tale, but leaves the reader with a sense of humanity restored as life exceeds Maggie’s expectations. This is a novel that reminds readers fiction often has much truth, in showing unspoken, understandable motives behind seemingly hurtful actions and how communication can resolve even long-held conflicts.

I was fortunate to receive an ARC from St. Martin’s Press of this beautiful story by Katherine Center.

The High Tide Club by Mary Kay Andrews—pub date May 8, 2018

Brooke Trapnell, the runaway bride in Save the Date, continues her story, having moved back to little town, Georgia, with her son, Henry. The resident wealthy socialite philanthropist of nearby Sea Island, Josephine Bettendorf Warrick, contacts Brooke to represent her against the state of Georgia, who wants her land for a state park. The secrets of nonagenarian Josephine slowly seep out as she lays out her plans to atone for her sins and defend her estate by passing it on to descendants of her long ago best friends. Brooke discovers a related family secret she would have never thought to guess.

Andrews’ description of friendships in the 50s deep South feels less like crossing a color line and more like pushing into an invisible, flexible barrier that they can’t quite break through. The re-emergence of The High Tide Club through the descendants of the original members is meant to be poignant, yet it’s hard to imagine the remaining original member at 95 walking naked into the ocean in chilly October. Though Andrews’ writing continues to be fully engaging, this novel seemed to go long, and it felt as though the author decided at one point to simply wrap up all the loose ends, with revelations coming fast and furious after the typical length of a novel, around 300 pages. There’s a contemporary would-be killer paralleling the murder mystery from decades past, and neither seems credible, nor true to character, even given the circumstances. Despite this, it’s an interesting story and worth it for a sandy good beach read.

I was fortunate to receive a pre-release copy from the publisher of one of my favorite authors.

Sisterly by Jorja DuPont Oliva

Janie returns to her hometown to make things right with her sister, and her ex-boyfriend who married her sister, by revealing her secret to them. She stays in the yellow house run by Mrs. Francis, where the otherworldly seems to creep in, everything is too connected for reality, and Mrs. Francis forbids her to enter the mysterious, yet beckoning, backyard. Though the dialogue is stiff—no contractions are used, and can sound unrealistic—Mrs. Francis’ dialect is over the top, the characters’ interactions with each other and Janie’s “episodes” are vivid. When Janie’s missing time and chaotic, dreamlike events are explained in the final scenes, the brilliance of Oliva’s storytelling skills burst forth like fireworks. Though hints are sprinkled like candy throughout the story, the reveal is surprising, and the reader can only be impressed by the descriptive details and timeliness of those “episodes.” References to the inciting incidents are well placed in the story, with emphasis in the reveal for a satisfying ending.

The author offered this novel gratis in March and I was fortunate to pick it up and read it, posting a review for the book gift and for my delight in the story. Thank you, Jorja!

The Little French Bistro by Nina George

Finding Femininity and Feminism in France

Does love have to be earned through suffering?”

Marianne determines that the Seine is preferable to one more minute of accommodating her husband’s controlling condescension. She walks away from the tour group during dinner to dive into the river, and her husband does not even notice her leaving. A homeless man “steals her death” by pulling her from the water. In the hospital, her husband expresses his concern that her attempt affects him adversely. She again walks away, bent on reaching Kerduc, the seaside town depicted in the nurse’s placemat tile, a town in which she invests her romantic notions of a larger death than her life has been. Circumstances lead her there as if by magic, pulling her into a setting amongst colorful, complicated characters that could have been created by Maeve Binchy. She falls into employment at Ar Mor restaurant, fitting seamlessly into the rhythms of the kitchen. At 60, Marianne begins a new life, of wonder, of real love, of authenticity. Toward the end, the novel gets a bit over the top (with the young waitress Laurine inexplicably removing all her clothing to rescue Jean-Remy’s love letter boats from the water, but maybe that one’s a French thing), yet maintains the integrity of its characters and Breton setting. A woman blooming into a fully realized individual after decades of being an extension of her spouse evokes feminism, when she can see herself as an equal to her lover.

Brittany, France, stands proud as a character in this story, new friends emphasizing Breton identity and sharing Breton folklore. Marieanne’s mysterious introduction to the community as “the woman who came from the sea” invokes the legend of Ys, the city swallowed by the sea, and her new love takes her to the magical forest of Broceliande. Although German, Marianne feels at home amongst her new friend, from the little touches, such as her return to playing the accordion, a long-stored instrument given to her by a Breton reluctant to fall for her charms based on memories of the war. She discovers that there are various ways to thwart love and defy romance. In another nod to Maeve Binchy, the ending provides closure without complete resolution, as in real life. There is death, rekindled romance, illness, love rescued, dementia, and new life, with all their complex and tangled emotions.

International bestselling author Nina George, after “The Little Paris Bookshop” (translated into 35 languages), again lays out beautiful, complicated relationships in seemingly impossible situations and offers readers wildly emotional connections and absolution as human beings in “The Little French Bistro,” on its way to multiple translations.

I was fortunate to receive a copy of this wonderful book through NetGalley.

Nina George’s gorgeous website

Our Little Secret by Roz Nay—pub date April 17, 2018

This story opens in an interrogation room, with Angela prepared to tell her story to police, if they will only listen. Finally, Detective Novak allows her to share everything that she feels is relevant, beginning with her meeting H.P. in high school, where he changed her life. They became best friends who fell in love, or as Angela tells the story, soul mates. She leads Detective Novak through their complicated relationship, hampered by her lack of a healthy role model and his small town contentment, and further strained by Angela attending Oxford, where she’s befriended by Freddy, who dotes on her against her will. Detective Novak perks up at the entrance of Saskia, the missing wife, the reason for Angela’s interrogation, during H.P.’s visit to England. Misunderstandings ensue, emotions tangle, and new pathways are formed. Angela blames losing her first love on everyone else, spending her life from that point on waiting for him to do the right thing. When her mother moves in uninvited after leaving her father, she pursues an unhealthy friendship with H.P. as their houseguest and babysitter, which culminates in Saskia’s disappearance. Detective Novak pieces together the evidence through the long night of storytelling by Angela, who is either also an innocent victim or a truly unreliable narrator.

Nay leads the reader through a maze of Angela’s fears, internal struggles, unrealistic desires, and inevitable disappointments. Angela is brilliantly depicted as a minor character in her own life, for which she can then lay guilt at whoever she allowed to make the decisions for her, as she waits in vain for things to go her way without taking action herself. Failure to communicate is a key element in the derailment of Angela’s life, and Nay relays every misstep taken by those underestimating her. The ending is not as well captured as the entire novel leading up to it, subtlety left behind in the previous chapter.

I was fortunate to receive an early copy from the publisher through a giveaway.

After Anna by Lisa Scottoline—pub date April 10, 2018

Dr. Noah Alderman is on trial for his life, accused of murdering his stepdaughter. Her father fought ruthlessly for custody of baby Anna as a power play after Maggie suffered the relatively unknown, but common, postpartum psychosis. With his recent death, Anna reaches out to the mother she wants to know. She enters the family, which includes Noah’s 10-year-old son Caleb, with a fortune from her father and an attitude of entitlement. Her accusations of molestation against Noah rend Maggie’s heart. Though circumstantial evidence points to Noah as Anna’s killer, Maggie retains a sliver of hope, not quite able to believe he is capable of such an atrocity. A phone call with shocking news sets Maggie on an investigation that may possibly free Noah and return him to her.

Told in alternating timelines, moving back in time through Noah’s trial, while Maggie’s story moves forward from the initial contact with Anna, the stories come together after the trial, with the reader learning information along with the characters. In true Scottoline fashion, the reader is kept guessing who did what until the perspective-shifting bombshell, and the action fast forwards. Un-put-down-able!

I received a digital ARC through NetGalley of this fantastic novel from one of my favorite authors.