She’s an actress, assistant director, journalist, an award winning novelist-and she’s also a dear friend. Gay Yellen has a shrewd eye for detail, in fact I wanted to hire her as my editor, she didn’t have time (I mean look at her credentials she’s a busy lady) but encouraged me to really go through my manuscript.
Later I still had to hire an editor, but at least my tenses were correct, and without Gay encouraging me to tackle my greatest writing fear-editing- I wouldn’t be as strong as a writer as I am.
I’ve had the pleasure of having my poetry published along with hers in the collection IN THE QUESTIONS from Spider Road Press and we were in the same critique circle for several years which was educational and fun. I highly recommend her Samantha Newman mystery series (her Samantha is much different from my Samantha Locke in ‘Blood On The Potomac’ in which we joked often during cc) not only does it keep you on the edge of your seat, but Yellen’s descriptive quality, especially with food, is so precise that your mouth begins to water. Needless to say I think that she needs to come out with a cookbook.
And now I’m going to introduce you to the woman who’s done it all, and now is sharing her stories with the world, thankfully I had the chance to live during the same time as her thus able to meet her characters.
Twenty Questions with Gay Yellen
Every writer has that one book that made him or her want to be a writer, what’s yours? I can’t really pick one. Writing seemed to be a natural extension of reading, and as a child, I read voraciously. Family lore has it that when I was a toddler, I would turn magazine pages and babble words as if I were reading them.
How old where you when you started writing? In my baby book, my mother recorded a poem that she swears I made up at the age of three.
Name four authors that you’d love to have lunch with. Anthony Doerr. Hank Phillippi Ryan. James Michener. Theodore Geisel.
What would you eat? Fries. Vanilla malts. Maybe Green Eggs and Ham.
How do you plot out your work? I’m not much of a plotter, except for the bare-bones structure. Once I have the main characters and what the story is about, the rest more or less falls into place, although it takes quite a while to get to The End.
Do you write in the morning or evening? I start in the morning and work as long as I can.
Is there music on? Not for my mysteries. I’m also working on a historical fiction, and I use music of that period to help immerse me in what is otherwise a distant and underexplored era.
What inspired your last story? After The Body Business was published, I regretted cutting the ending short, leaving readers hanging. I wrote The Body Next Door to continue the story. Now that it’s won the international Chanticleer Mystery & Mayhem Award, I’m glad I made that decision.
Name three books so good you wish you wrote them. All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr. Housekeeping, by Marilynne Robinson. The Book Thief, by Marcus Zusak.
What television shows, movies, or albums do you believe are written well? TV has some of the best writing ever. Veep, Silicon Valley, Life in Pieces, Better Call Saul come to mind.
Which actor would you cast in the protagonist role of your most recent piece? Emma Stone would be a perfect Samantha Newman.
Which of your pieces was the hardest to write? The next one.
Which was the easiest? The Body Business. I’d just helped the author of an international thriller polish his book, Five Minutes to Midnight, which did very well, according to The New York Times. That success led me to try writing one of my own.
Which of your pieces did readers ‘get’ when they told you their thoughts on it? I love to hear from readers, whether they leave a question for me on my website, or I get to meet them in person at a book club or other public appearance. It’s a thrill for a writer to learn how the characters on the page come alive in a reader’s imagination.
What are you working on now? Book 3 of The Samantha Newman Series.
What story do you have to write before you die? The historical fiction has been in my heart for years. I started it years ago before my first mystery was published. The opening chapters actually won Best Historical Fiction in a Houston Writers Guild contest in 2013.
What’s your best fan story? I love meeting new fans who tell me that my book brightened a few hours of their lives. And when a long-ago friend discovers my books and reconnects with me, it’s a plus I hadn’t counted on, and I love it. That’s a long way of saying I have no best fan story, just a lot of wonderful encounters with readers.
What sentence have you written that you feel encapsulates your style? Here’s one from The Body Next Door. Samantha is talking about the little girl she’d befriended a few days earlier: Anyone but Lizzie would have annoyed me beyond endurance, but somehow, we vibrated at the same frequency.
Have you ever based characters off of real people? A writer’s head is filled with experiences, some we’re conscious of and some that seem to bubble up from nowhere. I’ve never consciously based an entire character on any real person, but some character traits may resemble those of people I’ve observed.
Who’s your favorite character? Lizzie, from The Body Next Door. That sad, lonely little girl in need of a friend. I have no idea where she sprang from, but I fell in love with her at first sight, as did Samantha Newman. I think that relationship helped define Samantha in a good way. I still think about Lizzie. She’ll definitely be in Book 3.
My debut YA novel ‘Everything That Counts’ will be released this August. It’s been a difficult but highly rewarding journey, but I know that the best is still yet to come.
Last September I visited my parents in Annapolis, Maryland and was reminded of the beauty that is the city. I attended high school there thus found it a natural place to set Blake’s story. I found myself weaving a detailed tapestry of background when it came to the Maryland that Blake resides. Hopefully when you read the novel you’ll also be transported to a place you might never would have envisioned would be beautifully mesmerizing, yet it is.
Until August I decided to share with you some pictures I took last September while in downtown Annapolis and Eastport.
I’ll keep you updated on the novel and share the cover of ‘Everything That Counts’
It was the most wonderful time of the year when I had the chance to go to Comicpalooza-I look forward to seeing you next year (I’m going to join a panel which I’ll talk more about later) until then here are some more pics of the amazing cosplay at Houston Comicpalooza 2017
Maybe I’ve said it before, but I’m a real big fan of Jas T. Ward. She is known for her romance but I love her shorter pieces. A collection called ‘Bits and Pieces: Tales and Sonnets’ is by far my favorite, although Ward admits that some of the stories are ‘rejects’ I find them illuminating.
Ward has had literally and figuratively every punch thrown at her, and yet she comes back strong in her writing. Her characters share her resilience, lust for life, and are truly unforgettable. She has over eight titles available for you guys to check out, as well as a coloring book that lets you tap into your own artistic abilities.
Jas is a dear friend, and I’m proud to be one of her stalkers. Now it’s time for you to hear from her….
20 Questions with Jas T. Ward
Every writer has that one book that made him or her want to be a writer, what’s yours? You may find this odd, but it was the children’s book The Velveteen Rabbit. Something about it pulls me in today. It has a low word count actually, but the emotions behind the words. Amazing. I wanted to do that. I wanted to put emotions behind the words, draw a picture without having to be artistic, and have people feel. With words.
How old where you when you started writing? I wrote my first story when I was about 8 years old. Pictures and everything. I spent days gluing those notebook paper pages together. It was not a work of art. LOL. But I’ve always written and I don’t see that changing. Sure, the audience may change and the scope, but no. I’ll probably write my goodbye on my death bed.
Name four authors that you’d love to have lunch with. Well, I’ve already met you and would love to have eats with you again. But four I haven’t met to share the meal. Hmmm… Amy Tan, Ken Follett, Penelope Reid and Colleen Hoover.
What would you eat? Has to be a Chinese food with huge trays of food made for the masses. I think you can tell a lot about what choices creative people when it comes to a selection of food. For me? Sushi, dumplings and coconut shrimp. Oh, and spring rolls. 🙂
How do you plot out your work? I don’t. I have tried to use all the tactics – outline, story boarding. But none of it worked. Or it just went unused. The only two things I do is know my beginning and my ending. Then, the challenge is to make them meet up with what ever flows in the middle. Otherwise, I just start writing without a clue how that’s going to happen.
Do you write in the morning or evening? I am inconsistent as all get-out. Some days it’s one and other days it’s the other. I think it has to do with my brain just goes on overdrive without warning. It’s a curse and a blessing so I’m not complaining.
Is there music on? Not usually. I do have a movie or TV playing as white noise for the side of my nature that balks at having to write. But every now and then there is a soundtrack needed and when there is, it’s usually Linkin Park.
What inspired your last story? That’s a complicated question to answer. My upcoming book releasing 06/13 – Soul Bound: The Warrior was inspired by real life events of my own. Some dark tragedy and loss. I still can’t really talk about it personally, but I was able to tap into it to write this fictional story. I see that as progress and it actually brought about some closure. Though I’m not really sure I’ll ever completely have that. But it’s nice to know I can go there… if only a little bit.
Name three books so good you wish you wrote them. Oh wow, that’s a toughie… hmm. Any of the Pillars of the Earth books by Ken Follett. The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan and The Dark Tower by Stephen King.
What television shows, movies, or albums do you believe are written well? I was just having this conversation with a author friend of mine. I don’t know if you or any of your followers remember a show called ‘The Red Shoe Diaries’, but that show was amazing in how it told a different story every week from the view of one man reflecting on love. Another one that I think is incredibly well written and produced is ‘The Story of Us’. Also, the limited series ‘Big Little Lies’ was AMAZING. It needs every award there is for acting, directing and story. Movies? I love big budget movies. Deadpool was genius. Different, a thrill ride, dark elements and sex. It remembered me of my books. 😀
Which actor would you cast in the protagonist role of your most recent piece? My reader club had this discussion. They all saw a younger Gerard Butler when discussing Jace Camden from Soul Bound. Brooding and intense with a soul you wanted to know, but it wasn’t going to be easy.
Which of your pieces was the hardest to write? Soul Bound, without a doubt. It was just so personal. And there’s some scenes in the book that are not fiction. They happened. I’ll leave it up to the readers to decide which.
Which was the easiest? Partly because his foundation had already been solidified in the first books of the series but also because he was just so much fun to step into the skin of. I had a lot of fun writing that book even though it was a paranormal, thriler book. Jess Bailey is something else.
Which of your pieces did readers ‘get’ when they told you their thoughts on it? Madness, pretty much. The main character, Reno is so flawed. But he’s so good natured with a big heart. And mental special – he has a split personality and a much darker side. And he’s driven from forces beyond his control, literally and figuratively. I think the people that have gotten to know me, know I’m the same in a lot of ways.
What are you working on now? Now that Soul Bound is at the formatting stage, I’m working on another ‘Romance – The Ward Way’ titled – ‘A Little Pill Called Love’. Which means it’s quirky, fun, has some love and intimacy but some series twists in it, but also takes on social issues in a background way. The reader goes in and realizes they learned something or found something in themselves without it being preached or lectured about within the pages. The characters took them there without even realizing it. This book will deal with severe bi-polar disorder and love.
What story do you have to write before you die? My own. And considering how slow it is getting it out and on paper, I better live a LONG time. But I think I’m getting closer to being able to it. Soul Bound proved I could go there. I just hope it continues.
What’s your best fan story? Ah, I have so many. The readers are amazing and how they have come to love the characters, many who have actual, interacting profiles on social media thanks to people who wanted to fan-fic/role play them, they love them even more. But I made the mistake of killing off Reno. And meant for it to be for good. Bad idea… They went ballistic! They sent me hate mail and inboxes of anger. They went on my wall and posted the meanest memes. Some they even created of “Bring Our Candyman Back!” And others threatened to boycott me and my books. Heck, there was a petition started with thousands of signatures. I was FLOORED. But, due to that love the Shadow-Keepers series was born and I am so grateful for that. I think that’s when I realized that not only are the voices of our characters rattling in our heads real to us in a way, they are also the same for our readers. It’s something we should always keep in mind. We want our readers to believe the escape we’re giving them—and the people that live there.
What sentence have you written that you feel encapsulates your style? .. that’s a hard one and I would probably spend days in all my books to find the very best one. I think, if I have to have one sentence it would be – Don’t judge me or the world I’m showing you until the ride is over. Then, you’ll understand. If not, sorry, no refunds. 🙂
Have you ever based characters off of real people? Not yet. But when I write my real story? Oh yeah, They’re in there.
Who’s your favorite character? Easy and the fans would revolt if I didn’t say it – Reno Sundown. I love that character so much. My inner child given life. As a hot badass doesn’t hurt.
First off I’m very happy to announce that I along with a few dear author friends will have a booth at Comicpalooza in Houston, Texas from May 12-17, 2017. I would love for all of you to attend as I’ll have copies of my work that you can check out and even get me to sign it.
I always have a great time at Comicpalooza where I can meet up with friends, other authors, and fans all while were dressed as their ‘alter-ego’. Speaking of which I will be meeting Felicia Day (Charlie from Supernatural) so if you see me on Saturday I will be cosplaying as her!
I really hope to see you there!
Next I’m happy to announce that a fellow award winning author/horror fan Kreepy Keelay narrated my story ‘Hair Dying’. He did a phenomenal job (it’s almost as if he crawled into my head…) and I implore you to listen to a story that is far more horrifying than brassy highlights-click here for Scary Story Time ‘Hair Dying’.
Finally I’d like to tell you how much I throughly enjoyed the novel ’13 Reasons Why’ by Jay Asher, so much in fact that I was worried the story would be ruined when brought to the small screen. I was wrong-although the story is different, the show brought to you by Netflix has more characters, it holds true the theme that Asher wanted the audience to understand once they were done with Hannah and Clay’s life.
I had the pleasure of meeting New York Times Bestselling author Jay Asher when he spoke at the HWG Spring Conference-he even signed my copy of his books. I throughly enjoyed ’13 Reasons Why’ and think that everyone should read it (not just Madame Bijou who’s pictured with the novel). Asher’s work along with ‘All The Rage’ by Courtney Summers should be mandatory reading especially for young adults.
So after you listen to the narration of my story ‘Hair Dying’, but before you see me at Comicpalooza be sure to read then watch ’13 Reasons Why’-it’s a story that deserves to stick with you forever.
We first met at a writers conference while waiting to pitch our respective novels.
Apparently the first thing I said to him was, “Nice suit,” as I leaned back on the sofa that lined the floral wall papered wall that faced the ballroom in which agents held our futures in their hands. I wore my traditional skinny neon colored jeans, Chucks, and an oversize shirt. (Full disclosure I’ve only seen him in a suit that one time. I wouldn’t use the word ‘uptight’ to describe him-precise would be more accurate.)
“Thanks,” he nodded and smiled. His face softened and my conversation starter had worked, we began talking thus getting my mind off my pitch.
I’d practiced it enough, if I didn’t know it a few moments before I’d meet an agent then I figured I didn’t know it at all. Therefore befriending a fellow writer seemed like a good idea to calm my nerves. Jason and I have stayed friends, and in fact one might say that it flourished over time. Although we have different writing styles we both love music, art, and ideas of stories that we’re contemplating. We’ve critiqued each others work, and he’s edited my upcoming YA novel ‘Everything That Counts’ (he did a great job so any mistakes that might end up in print are my fault not his).
Basically he’s cool, intelligent, and totally cool with the copious amount of times I use the word ‘dude’. Now check out his answers to my 20 questions…
Twenty Questions with Jason Brandt Schaefer
Every writer has that one book that made him or her want to be a writer, what’s yours? Oh, man. I can’t say that I DO actually have ONE book that made me want to be a writer, but there have been several along the way. First, some of my favorite memories of my childhood are listening to my mother read to me, and it wasn’t always children’s storybooks. She read Tom Sawyer to me one year, and I don’t think we got all the way through it, but there was one scene that cracked her up something fierce and it has always stayed with me. Tom was playing with his friends, and for some reason pulled down his pants, maybe to relieve himself (or maybe all the boys were naked already; I haven’t re-visited the book since), but “he lit upon a nettle,”then rose up howling in pain. My mom found this tremendously amusing. Because I found Mark Twain’s 19th-century narration difficult to follow, I had to ask her why she was laughing so hard she was crying. As she wiped her face, she explained we had bull nettles on our eight acres, and Mom totally identified with Tom’s anguish. She hadn’t sat on one (not to my knowledge, anyway), but everyone in my family had been stung somewhere on their bodies, including me. The laugh was a small thing, but it showed me how words have the power to invoke emotional responses, and our tie to Tom’s plight through our own experience, decades and decades into the future, blew my mind. This was a book written by a guy who was now dead, a famous dude we were studying in class, whose name I had read in history books and had heard everywhere, and he knew about bull nettles! So I saw that our lives were in that book, too. It was exciting. Mom read Jurassic Park to me, too, among many other Crichton novels, and seeing the movie version, the dinosaurs come to life, made the power of narrative all the more real to me. I was drawn to the cinematic style of Crichton’s other novels, and compared the movies to the books every chance I could get. Eaters of the Dead is, in my opinion, one of his greatest literary experiments since it draws from archetypes you find in Beowulf, and The Thirteenth Warrior was pretty transcendental. Finally, in high school, when I was reading Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series, I realized literature is not only about writing to an audience; it’s about communicating with and responding to other literature. He drew inspiration from a Robert Browning poem, “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came,”but if I remember correctly from King’s memoir, On Writing, he never intended it to be an adaptation of the poem, though it certainly is an interpretation of it. He had the lines, or the sentiment of the lines, rolling around in his head one day and set pen to paper, and realized LATER he was basing his book series on the poetic hero. That was FASCINATING to me. King also pulled lines out of T. S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land.”So it’s been a long, low-burning affair with literature —novels, poems, and films —that has driven my study of writing and my writing career to date. I’ll add here that Emily St. John Mandel’s contemporary novel, Station Eleven, has finally given me a model for the KIND of novel I want to write, so if I had one book, I’d say that one has been the most influential, but then, I read it only last year.
How old where you when you started writing? I first began with a journal, I think. I was probably eight or nine. I remember sitting in the sun by the pool at our outdoor iron table, which my folks still have, writing down my thoughts and not knowing for what purpose. “Dear Journal, I’m not sure what to say here…”That sort of thing. The answer, I now know, was less about recording my experience (since I’d had precious few at the ripe old age of nine), but had everything to do with the PRACTICE of writing. Trying to figure out ways to plot my thoughts silently, using written words. I think I was inspired by Doug Funnie to begin a journal, though. You know, that old Nickelodeon cartoon? Someone told me Doug reminded them of me (not far from the mark; an awkward, private, unathletic dreamer of a child), and I thought, well, if I am to become the realization of Doug, I’ll have to begin a journal. The short stories came after, I’m sure, and the poetry came in college, after I made that Stephen King/Robert Browning connection senior year of high school and began reading all the poetry I could get my hands on. I was like, if King’s reading poetry, I should be reading poetry.
Name four authors that you’d love to have lunch with. Stephen King, naturally, then Louise Erdrich, author of Love Medicine and The Round House, Amelia Grey, this contemporary writer who pens the nastiest, most beautiful short stories I’ve ever read (you can find them in Gutshot, her most recent collection), and James Hannaham, author of Delicious Foods. I’d love to eat with Crichton if he were still alive, and I already met Emily St. John Mandel, who declined to answer a few interview questions for an academic paper I was writing on her book. I understand she was busy, but I’m still a little sore about that, so I think our lunch date would be a little tense. I worry she wouldn’t have time to pass the salt. I like my salt. Damn, I can only name four here? Can I eat at like a twenty-foot dining table with every writer I admire? Can we do hors d’oeuvres and wine in an art gallery and mill about, trading ideas as we run into one another? I want to meet and eat with all the writers I admire, provided they have good table manners. (I think novelists probably do; it’s the poets I worry about, those whimsical manipulators of language. I’d be too afraid they’d bend a fork the way they bend a metaphor just to see if they could re-invent a way to eat their salad. And I abhor conversations with people who say things like, “Prose is ugly in its attempt to bring MEANING to something. Words don’t MEAN anything. Because language can’t really be UNDERSTOOD, per se…”This is not productive conversation, and it doesn’t encourage anyone. And I’ll admit I’ve said things like this myself. At dinner, even!)
What would you eat? TACOS! I don’t care who you are; everyone enjoys tacos. We’d have to have pork, fish, beef, seafood, and vegan options, though. And corn and flour tortillas. And lots of napkins. It’ll be fun to see who picks what. I imagine King and Grey would eat with violence, given the content of their stories. Not sure about Erdrich or Hannaham. They strike me as wholesome, balanced people, so maybe they’ll indulge in fish or tofu and use lots of napkins.
How do you plot out your work? I write LOTS of notes, then put them together. These notes can be lists of major events or beats within scenes, investigations into character that could become scenes in longer work or short stories in themselves or woven into the texture of a book through backstory. I’ve tried beginning a book and trying to let it flow, but my time as a journalist trained me to write from notes, so this doesn’t work very well for me. So I consider my notes to be a sort of interview with myself, with my characters, in which I ask them where they’ve been, what they’ve done, where they’re going, what they wore last Tuesday, what they carry in their purse, what vacation they plan to go on next October, what they think of this particular work of art. The more random the questions, the more refined the characters become, and the more refined the characters, the clearer the plot becomes, and the clearer the plot, the more easy it is for me to write it all down and find unity of theme and structure. I guess I’m holistic in that respect —you can never see a novel all at once, but I like to know where I’m headed and why before I set out on the journey. The real adventure is the journey, anyway, not the stops along the way, or even more depressing, the end.
Do you write in the morning or evening? I seem to be the most productive in the early afternoon, but only if I’ve slept in until at least 11 a.m. I am aware this is ridiculous, and I’m always trying to find the real answer to this question, but for me there is no “best time”to write. The best time is when there’s no one around and no one expected to show up at the door, when it’s relatively quiet or there’s some gentle background noise to let me know people are still alive in the outside world while I’m in my head, when I’m fed and relaxed and comfortable and have had at least two cups of coffee. Sometimes I feel like I have to be bored to write, but I’m not sure that’s quite true, either, and yet not sure it’s completely false. Why did humans invent novels in the first place? The correct answer, of course, is to share their experience of the human condition, but let’s get real. There’s no better cure to sheer, absolute boredom than to imagine an entire world chock-full of excitement. Maybe that’s why I feel I have to be bored —it’s not the boredom, but the stability which grows from it, that I need. I have to be stable while I spin the world around in my mind, or else I’m going to get dizzy and fall down.
Is there music on? Sometimes I put music on, and sometimes I’m in a coffee shop with music on. I can’t listen to music when it’s repetetive or commands my attention. It brings me out of my daydream too much. If I’m going to work with music on, it’s going to be something that can make me dance without occupying my mind. I do much better with ambient noise —traffic, people talking, wind and rain, waves.
What inspired your last story? I’ll tell you about two of my shorter pieces, “Lament for Reunions”and “Audrey Watched.”I wrote “Lament”in response to the death of my grandfather and the drunken night I had with my cousins where we all realized though we come from the same place (geographically as well as hereditarily), we might finally be too different now to get along. I kept wondering, “What do I do with that information?”And I wrote the piece, just listing the strange and scary observations I was making that made me feel like an alien in my own family, a list of things perhaps I was the only one observing, and I got a really moving, emotional lyric essay out of it. (Though I sometimes call it fiction because the images and the “plot,”if it does have a plot, are taken out of context and manipulated to a degree.) And in writing the essay, I realized this is how I mourn things in my life —I intellectualize and bargain, I put people and events in boxes and turn them around to see them from all sides, I stain microscope slides with little scenes from my own life and investigate why they happened that way, and what I could have done differently and what might have happened had I done that differently. “Audrey Watched”was similar, though it is more solidly a work a fiction. I’m a musician, sometimes, and I lost a friend a while back to depression, anxiety and substance abuse. He was a musician, too, and we’d played in a relatively successful group before things fell apart. Keeping the band together and everyone happy is the real business of music, not performing the songs. And a lot of times battling depression and confronting demons is a part of that. So I wrote this story of a Houston blues musician in a downward spiral. Because that’s such a common theme in today’s literature, I had to find a new way to write this old story, so I chose to tell it from the perspective of his guitar, named Audrey. She doesn’t have any emotions, and she never responds to the protagonist, of course, any more than a guitar would in real life. What she does do is provide a keyhole into the world of his suffering, which made for a terrifying, claustrophobic story. I’m working on a novel now, which I won’t get too far into, but it’s also based on personal experience —my parents’shift from Lutheran Christianity to Wicca, a neo-pagan Earth religion. This happened when I was a teenager, and likely is the greatest reason I became a writer. To unpack complicated formative experiences like these.
Name three books so good you wish you wrote them. At this point, I see any book on the shelf and wish I’d written it, only because I’m so hungry to get my work out there. I deeply admire Station Eleven, and I’ll add Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea to that list, but I don’t wish I’d written them because they’re amazing works of literature. I’m glad they were written by others and that I can call them heroes for their achievements and that their work provides examples of what kinds of books I’d like to write in my own way. I’m not a jealous person, and I celebrate every writer who has their work out in the world. That said, I do wish I would have written the screenplay for this new movie, “Captain Fantastic”(2016), because I’d already developed a plot very similar to the ending of that movie, and I felt the way I’d written it was better and more fitting for my novel. It’s not like he stole the story from me or anything. I don’t know the guy, he just got to it first. The world is an echo chamber; similar inventions are inevitable because our needs are similar. Of course, seeing someone else doing first what I had already planned to do was pretty damned frustrating. Now I have to find a new way to end my novel, but I know the new way will be better than the original because fresh solutions always are. That’s heartening to me.
What television shows, movies, or albums do you believe are written well? If you haven’t seen “The Wire,”I strongly recommend it. And “Breaking Bad,”of course. I’m watching “Girls”right now and learning a lot from it. We’re kind of in a new golden age of television. Some call it the platinum age, and I’ll agree. With movies, “American Beauty”is such a strong film, it has remained at the top of my list for a long time. As has “Forrest Gump”and “Dances with Wolves,”though I’ve grown more critical of stories like that that feature a white person going into an unfamiliar world only to win the day. That doesn’t happen in real life. Historically, white people basically take what’s not theirs, ruin everything, build on the ruins and say, “Look at the great job we’ve done.”Not to get too political, but see what’s happening right now. This is why it’s so important for readers and writers and basically everyone who believes in a free, diverse world, to read literature and watch shows and movies by people who are different from you. I’m a white man, and for the past two years I’ve been reading and watching work by women, LGBTQ people, and black people pretty much exclusively. I feel it’s my responsibility to next read more from Jewish and Muslim writers. I’ve gotten off topic. I believe John Coltrane’s “Blue Train”is written well. Jazz is very narrative, but also poetic. It breathes and searches like an organism, an extremely human music, the music of risk-taking, failure, and improvisation, and it requires huge amounts of concentration, study and practice. Give “Moment’s Notice”a listen. What a gorgeous composition!
Which actor would you cast in the protagonist role of your most recent piece? For my novel-in-progress, maybe Crispin Glover would fit the tall, thin, pale character of Jonah Holloway, though I’m not sure I’d call him the protagonist. On the first page, we learn he has been murdered. The book features a first-person narrator, Micah Holloway, who investigates the origins of her family’s decision to become Wiccan, and the consequences of that change. Much of the plot involves these stories, so it’s a large cast. Wait. It just occurred to me. Jennifer Lawrence would be perfect for Micah, and incidentally, Jonah is her father. Maybe Crispin’s too old for that. We haven’t seen him in a while.
Which of your pieces was the hardest to write? This novel I’m trying to bang out is pretty damned difficult. Only because it’s the most complicated story I’ve ever worked on, and the plot is a beast. Emotionally speaking, “Lament for Reunions”got me pretty depressed, but then maybe I was depressed already and writing it helped guide me through it.
Which was the easiest? That said about the emotional investment required for “Lament,”I wrote and drafted that piece to submission-ready in less than two months. I OBSESSED over it, maybe because it was more present in my head than anything. It was the perfect time to write that piece because it sort of grabbed me by the neck and didn’t let go. Or maybe I was the one who grabbed. Either way, we helped one another become better, stronger individuals because we depended on each other in our time of need, like a father and a daughter, maybe. That’s ridiculous. Stories aren’t daughters.
Which of your pieces did readers ‘get’ when they told you their thoughts on it? The complete ones. The ones I knew were ready to put out into the world, no one ever has trouble understanding. It’s the works-in-progress, the early drafts that raise eyebrows and elicit questions. I will say when I read “Audrey Watched”to the public for the first time (holding a reading is a requirement of my MFA program), my sister-in-law leaned over to my brother and whispered, “Your brother’s a pretty fucked-up dude.”They told me this after the reading. So I guess she “got”it; she was deeply disturbed by it, which was the goal of the piece. When people say they “get”your work, they should not only understand everything that happened, but the reason it happened, and what it MEANS that it happened. And I don’t think that’s too much to trust an audience with; as writers, it’s our job to meet the audience halfway. Maybe not even halfway —maybe more like 45 percent of the way. Because when people are shoved off a cliff and asked to fly, sometimes they grow wings. Literarily speaking, of course.
What are you working on now? Besides the novel, at the present moment, I’m trying to get four different short stories published and trying to build a body of visual art. Since January 2016, I’ve been researching and experimenting with ways to make stories into three-dimensional sculptures. I have a theory that objects can tell highly complex stories if they are intricate enough, and that patrons can “read”the story by spending time with the object. I have a few ideas but so far, I’ve been dabbling in concrete poetry. Less narrative, but still just as visual. I’m basically painting with words. It’s a fun exercise and it brings me closer to language, “feeling”my way through it and living with it for a while. We all do it as we draft, but likely not to such intensity. The concrete poets whose work I’ve studied are INSANE. And maybe I am a little, too.
What story do you have to write before you die? I’ll settle for this first novel! From time to time, an idea will grab ahold of me and I’ll plot it a little, sometimes getting pages of plot notes out. I have plots like this for a six-book YA series about a boy who finds his way into the world of faeries and becomes their king (that suddenly sounds like one of those “great white hero”stories I was just talking about, so that’s a problem), and for a novel about a door-to-door tutor who gets involved with an extremely wealthy family with ties to a corrupt underworld. The only thing linking them together is the innocent, damaged child he’s tutoring to take the SAT. Before I die, I’d like to write all of these stories I’ve already imagined but haven’t had a chance to write yet.
What’s your best fan story? To be honest, I’m not sure what you mean by this, so I’m going to have some fun with this. Sense 1: one of my fans approaches me —I’m an emerging writer, just now getting out into the world, so I haven’t really be approached by fans. I had a fellow student buy one of my concrete poems from my graduate show and ask me to sign it. That felt pretty amazing. And I made forty bucks. That same residency, I had another student who I can only assume was a fan of me, though likely not my work since there’s no way she could have read any of it, narrate my life in third-person as I was preparing my cup of coffee. She snuck up behind me and without introducing herself said, “He pours his milk and sugar into his coffee with patience and precision, each movement deliberate, as though he had performed this action a thousand times before.”You’ll notice I forget completely what I said back to her. That was pretty weird. Sense 2: I, as a fan, approach one of my favorite writers —I already mentioned Emily St. John Mandel, so I’ll give you the full story here. Mind you, I don’t blame her for this. It was just the slightest bit rude. Me: “I love your book! I’m writing a paper on it.”Emily: “That’s good to hear.”(Smiles, signs my book.) Me: “I love the way you handled objects and used them as a tool to link the past and the present.”Emily: “Well, it seemed like a good idea.”(Hands me back the book.) Me: “I’d love to email you some interview questions so I can get more into your style. It’s for my MFA.”Emily: “You know, I have a three-year-old; I barely have any time to write anything for myself.”Me: (laughing nervously) “Oh, of course, it was a shot in the dark, I know you’re a busy woman, I’d be busy, too, I don’t have kids, but I understand,”et cetera. You’ll notice I’m writing very long answers to these interview questions. That’s what it means to be a good literary citizen. But then, I’m in my quiet apartment, alone and childless. Sense 3: a story involving a fan, the device used to push air around a room —When I was about six or so, and Dad was still in the Air Force, his commanding officer came over with his baby daughter. This man is very tall, and the ceiling was very low. So when he lifted his daughter up above him, as fathers who love their daughters do, he poked her head right into spinning blades of the fan. If you’ve ever shoved your hand into a running fan to stop the blades for a second, you know what this sounds like, and how much it must have hurt his daughter. She immediately started screaming and screamed for hours. She’s fine now. Holds a Master’s degree from an international business school and she’s working in Germany. She speaks two languages. Maybe we should put all our babies’heads into fans.
What sentence have you written that you feel encapsulates your style? Let’s say this one, from “Audrey Watched.”This passage comes after the protagonist has sold Audrey to a pawn shop, and he returns many months later to see if it’s still there and if he can buy it back: “As he perused the guitars on the wall, his eyes carried the same determination as a wild animal searching for its old burrow, the place where its mother had raised her cubs. A glimmer of hope expecting to come up disappointed.”
Have you ever based characters off of real people? All the time! I find, though, that basing a character on a real person is in some ways an analysis of that person’s psyche. As you become close to the character, you begin to understand more deeply the person the character is based on, for better or worse. That’s a tremendous responsibility, and sometimes it can ruin relationships. But this, too, is inevitable. If we’re not basing characters on others, we’re basing them on ourselves. And ourselves are built by our relationships with others. So to write a character, a true, strong, complicated, human character, ALWAYS comes from reality, ours or another’
Who’s your favorite character? Right now, I’m identifying most with Micah Holloway, the narrator of my novel-in-progress. As she is searching through her family’s reasons for changing religions, I’m coming to terms with my own family. It’s an enlightening investigation for both of us.
As Women’s History Month is upon us I couldn’t help but think of all the women who’ve helped me through my writing career.
I’ll highlight some of them, but this by no means includes all of the powerful women that I’ve come across since I’ve joined the writing community. They know who they are, even if I do carelessly forget to mention them, they will forever be a part of my life, and I’ll forever be grateful for you.
I’ll begin with ‘the dream team’ as we often call ourselves which includes Andrea Barbosa, Chantell Renee, and myself. We’re all award winning authors, and have sometimes placed in the same contest thus giving us another opportunity to be together. Throughout the years we’ve worked on anthologies together including ‘Hair Raising Tales of Horror’ that Chantell and I published together.
Next of course would be Fern Brady who’s not only my publisher Inklings Publishing, sometime writing partner, but a dear friend. Without her my debut romantic thriller Blood On The Potomac wouldn’t exist. She helped shape me into the writer that has a fan page.
Next is the amazingly talented Patricia Flaherty Pagan who founded Spider Road Press which has published work from all the before mentioned authors. She’s a fantastic author in her own right, highly intelligent, and a highly dedicated mom. Patty is not just a strong female writer, she’s a life goal achiever.
Finally I’d like to highlight, Rebecca Nolan, an author I was a fan of before we worked together on my upcoming YA novel ‘Everything That Counts’. She’s been an amazing mentor to me and has given me the drive to work harder than I ever have before.
I know a lot authors, but Jessica Raney was the first in which I was the published her work. So keep in mind no matter how many rejections one might get, there will be someone who appreciates your work, and wants to give you the ability to share your voice. It was my pleasure to be that springboard for Jessica.
In the anthology ‘Hair Raising Tales of Horror’ compiled by myself and Chantell Renee we were excited in include Jessica’s pieces (including my favorite The Middle Part which although horrifying is perfect for Valentines Day).
She’s accomplished in her own right long before she met me, including BFE Podcast in which she, along with two friends, interview interesting people (including myself and Chantell during The Amazing Comic Con which you can listen to here.)
Jessica reading a section of her piece Cold Comfort from ‘Hair Raising Tales of Horror’
And now for Twenty Questions With… Jessica Raney
Every writer has that one book that made him or her want to be a writer, what’s yours?
Hmm…well I feel like I’ve been writing and reading forever so it’s difficult to decide which book, but I probably have to go with “Gone with the Wind” by Margaret Mitchell. I read it when I was in 4th grade, which is waaaay too young for that, but I was highly unsupervised as a child. The good news is it’s a pretty tame book. The bad news is it led me to read a follow-up book that I found in my mom’s closet that promised, “In the spirit of GWTW,” called “Sweet Savage Love” by Rosemary Rodgers. It was not so tame and yeah…that made me want to be a writer too. In addition, to find sweet, savage love with a scoundrel on a cattle drive across the American Frontier.
How old where you when you started writing?
Really young. Probably 7 or 8. I wrote a short story called “King Bong and Rose” which is a delightful tale about a crappy king who taxes the hell out of his people until a girl named Rose uses magic to threaten him with harm unless he adopts a more sensible economic strategy. I also wrote a play called “The Passing of a Pork Rind King” about a dude who builds a pork rind empire and is murdered in a washing machine. Go figure.
Name four authors that you’d love to have lunch with.
Neil Gaimen, Chuck Palahniuk, Margaret Atwood, and Beverly Cleary
What would you eat?
Whatever Beverly Cleary wanted.
How do you plot out your work?
Notebooks, diagrams, list upon lists upon lists. Then I toss them all and just write. I wish I were more organized about it but, meh.
Do you write in the morning or evening?
Usually in the evening, but sometime all day if I have the time. One of my favorite tricks is to set a timer, write for 20 minutes, and then go do something like clean for 20 minutes. I get a good groove on and words just seem to flow better. Also, things get cleaned, like WHOAH.
Is there music on?
Nope. I prefer silence.
What inspired your last story?
I think the last one I wrote was “Moonlight Serenade.” I was on a trip to New Orleans and I saw a for rent sign in the French Quarter. It advertised that the apartment was haunted so the story is an answer to the question, who wants a haunted apartment?
Name three books so good you wish you wrote them.
Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry (A master of character and dialogue), Life After Life by Kate Atkinson (one of the most unique and brilliant spec fic books I’ve ever read), and To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (No reason needed)
What television shows, movies, or albums do you believe are written well?
Game of Thrones is amazingly well written and produced. Anyone who can trim GRR Martin down into manageable TV is a great writer. Parks and Recreation was one of the most brilliant TV shows of all time. For movies, I think Stardust is amazing. It’s so good it makes me forget I always want to punch Claire Danes. For albums, I would say Rumors by Fleetwood Mac. Breakups and cocaine apparently make for genius songwriting.
Which actor would you cast in the protagonist role of your most recent piece?
Most of my projects are short stories, but I am working on a zombie apocalypse novel. I don’t know whom I see as the main character, hopefully whoever replaces Jennifer Lawrence as badass/hottie/sensitive girl, but for the villain, I see Helen Mirren because I think Dame Helen Mirren with a machete would be quite something to behold.
Which of your pieces was the hardest to write?
I have a short story called “To Stray From the Path” that is a take on a fairy tale that was hard to write. The first draft veered pretty far away from what I intended because I was caught up in sensory descriptions. As a result, I lost the point of the story. I fixed it but it was tough. Revising anything is always a pain.
Which was the easiest?
“The Middle Part” just sort of plurpted out. I knew exactly what to write and how to mess up the order of events. I did have revision help from my loyal beta readers so that helped but I pretty much got it right the first time.
Which of your pieces did readers ‘get’ when they told you their thoughts on it?
I’ve had people tell me that “Cold Comfort” freaked them out and they were wigged when their cat jumped in bed with them, so I would call that one a success.
What are you working on now?
I’m working on a vampire comedy about the least suave and debonair vampire of all time. I hope that by this time I also have a short story collection about various horrific love stories complete.
What story do you have to write before you die?
I’m going to finish an epic vampire series before I die. And if I don’t, I’m going need a vampire to bite me and give me immortality so I can finish it. I hope that it’s a cool vampire. Not that gross Nosforatu dude or that sparkly douche from Twilight. Like Eric Northman or Pam. Yeah…Pam.
What’s your best fan story?
Do I have fans? I don’t know about that but I can tell you that the first book you ever sign for someone is a trip.
What sentence have you written that you feel encapsulates your style?
“You’re never going to finish that puzzle. Fat Larry ate the llama’s nose piece.”
Have you ever based characters off real people?
Absolutely. However, I can’t go into details because I’m afraid they’ll want money.
Who’s your favorite character?
Of mine? Hmm…probably the ghost in “Moonlight Serenade.” I admire tenacity and fabulous style.
A few days ago a friend came into the salon (I’m a hairstylist in ‘real’ life) and we were both discussing our works in progress.
I’ve been spending a lot of time with the latest undertaking ‘Wintergull Lane‘ which I’ve been pecking away at for NaNoWritMo (you can check out my progress here). But she reminded me of another piece which I call my albatross. ‘The Bakery Assistant’ is the story of the tragically broken Claire Fischer who is doomed to be a perpetual teenager until she meets someone that shows her that living life is worth it. That’s the elevator pitch, but in actuality I’m projecting there to be a book two, ‘The Fighter’, which will conclude Claire Fischer’s story as far as I can tell…
Either way now that I’m doing the finishing touches for ‘Everything That Counts’ (take a peek at the novel here) so ‘The Bakery Assistant‘ will be on deck. Until then here’s a morsel from chapter two of
After I pulled the fresh loaves and rolls from the ovens, and passed them off to the day shift, we trekked three blocks to a corner diner that had been a destination appreciated by locals who loved ‘kitsch’. The waitress set a glossy menu in front of me, and Aaron. The booth only had room for two, but apparently not for two people that each hovered around six feet tall. As we situated ourselves like acrobats in the booth his knee hit mine.
“Sorry,” Aaron mumbled.
His lone dimple winked at me. “Are you blushing?”
He chuckled. “Well if you weren’t before then you are now.”
I concentrated on the paisley pattern on the bench Aaron sat on in the hopes it would cause the blood to evacuate from my cheeks.
“I’m starving,” he flipped open the picture laden menu.
“I thought it was just coffee.”
“You don’t mind do you? I’ll pay for you if you want.”
I shook my head and pressed my hands into my lap. “I’d prefer to pay for myself.”
“Okay.” His curly black hair, strong Roman God-like features including a jaw carved from marble, and delicious looking lips hid behind the menu again. I tilted my head down, reading the options, but continued to hold my posture as if I were attending a luncheon for beauty queens. Before I could get past the first page of artery clogging items, Aaron sighed, and set his menu back down. “So what do I have to do to take you out on a real date, Claire?”
Apparently I didn’t need to eat anything before my heart stopped pumping blood.
“I’m serious.” He leaned back into the booth upholstered in retro paisley fabrics. The dozen booths were either bright orange, or avocado green, and each had a jukebox that you could feed and hear your song of choice. He’d picked ‘I Fall to Pieces’ the second we sat down, but it had only begun to play now. It made me wonder how long he’d planned this dinner.
“Should I get formal stationery, and mail you my official wish to take you on a date?” He took off his flannel lined, corduroy jacket, squeezed it between him and the rust colored wall the booth bench was anchored to. Then he folded his hands together underneath his chin.
Instead of answering I stared at the edge of a rosebush tattooed from mid-forearm to above the elbow. I couldn’t see his shoulder through his t-shirt, but I assumed it was decorated in the same pattern of permanent ink. Each red petal was outlined in black, while each individual rose was the size of the coffee cup in front of me that the waitress filled before she hurried to the next table. I knew there had to be a story behind the blossoming flowers bound together with dark green vines and thorns that adorned his perfectly tanned olive skin, but it didn’t feel right to ask. He dressed like a hipster with dark jeans, a gray shirt with the word ‘RIOT’ printed in bold black along his chest. A knit beanie that matched the ebony color of his hair so perfectly it was hard to tell where the material began and his curls ended.
Aaron tilted his head to the side. “Maybe you could give me your father’s number and I can ask him?”
“That would be difficult.” I hadn’t realized I’d spoken until the words had already escaped my mouth.
He leaned forward, and furrowed his brow. “Why?”
I don’t know why I told him the truth, considering only Edie and Mario knew exactly what happened. For the remainder of the meal it was as if I watched us interact from above, or in a movie. But there wasn’t an actress willing to play the most boring woman in D.C., and Dylan O’Brien refused to take the part of her love interest because he was too homely to impersonate Aaron. Thankfully I didn’t go into explicit detail during my out of body experience when I confessed.
I spoke with an author who told me that he’s falling in love. It instantly made me think (and say aloud) “Oh it will be wonderful when you die, and years from now, when someone reads your poems to her, your love will live on in your words.”
Hopefully that reads less awkward then it sounded.
Either way the end result was this poem, a genre I haven’t written in since high school when I pledged to write a poem everyday. The ten journals full of prose will be the handprint I leave for the future to enjoy, and long after I’m gone the love stories I lived will become immortal.
All the Men I loved
All the Men I loved
Not just because they had me
Nor that they could touch the edges of the flame inside of me
But because I loved them through prose
Each of them differed
Like leaves on a tree
Changing in color from
Green, yellow, orange, a hint of blue
But it started the color of coal
With the first I was uneasy stilted
So I forgive him
How was he to understand that I’d take his pain?
And make it my own if I could
When I couldn’t find the words myself?
But the rest of them didn’t get me
Never truly understood the passion in my belly
Or how it would continue to bubble
Until my fingers began their work
That whether it was ink to paper
Or typing on a screen
It was really my blood on the page
All the Men I loved
Live on in my work
As does our story
Those tatterd and worn sheets
Torn out of my notebook
Which I handed them in-between classes
Shoved in the bottom of their backpack
They took my words for granted
Didn’t bother to deeply understand
The way I let words tell me
All the Men I loved
Never knew how fervently I loved them
How I could see through their skin
Past their smiles which were brighter than the sun
Deep into the color of their eyes
Blue like the sea, green like
freshly cut grass, darker than the night sky
Even alternating, with no reason, like
a broken mood ring.
All the Men I loved
Were never carried away by my words
Never wrapped in the warmth of my tone
All the Men I loved
Left my poems in a crumpled mess
Torn and mismatched like they left my heart
All the Men I loved
Never really loved me