Getting to know MaryAnn Shank #author #action #adventure #Somali #fiction #NewAge #LGBTQ

My guest author today brings her own unique experiences to storytelling. Please help me welcome MaryAnn Shank to the interview hot seat! Let’s peek at her bio and then we’ll find out more about what inspired her story.

In the 1960s MaryAnn answered President Kennedy’s call to, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” This idealistic young woman went to Somalia as part of the new Peace Corps, and when she returned home two years later even her own mother did not recognize her. Now, after fifty years, she has set her experiences in this exotic, mystical land to print. In between, MaryAnn served as a research librarian, a business writer, and a web coach helping entrepreneurs create new businesses. It took the screams of TV newscasters shouting about “Somali war lords” and the massive misrepresentation of Somalia in Black Hawk Down to persuade MaryAnn to put pen to paper to tell the real stories of Somalia, as she does here.

Author Social Links: Website * Facebook

Betty: What inspired you to write the story you’re sharing with us today?

MaryAnn: Fifty years ago I spent two years in Somalia, with the Peace Corps. This was not the Peace Corps that you see in brochures, with palm trees and laughing children. This was the Peace Corps of extremes – live bullets, seething hatred…and kindness beyond belief. It was a very dramatic time in my life, and is a story that I have wanted to tell for a long time. It has taken me all of those 50 years to focus my thoughts so that I could write the story. I wanted honesty in the story, and I wanted the world to know that not all Somalis are represented in Black Hawk Down.

Betty: Which character arrived fully or mostly developed?

MaryAnn: We might suspect the main character, a woman, a lesbian. But that isn’t so. I actually had a difficult time writing her story. Perhaps she was just too close. A couple of men were much clearer.

One was Padre Vittorio, the head of the orphanage, the one intent on giving “his” orphaned boys a real chance at life. The power of his goodness stays with me even now.

Omar “Chicago”, our landlord, was another. There was a great deal that I have never understood about Omar, but I do know that he would have given his life to protect me. I depicted those men as clearly as I remembered them.

Betty: Which story element sparked the idea for this story: setting, situation, character, or something else?

MaryAnn: I was watching the news one day and saw the reports of the “Somali pirates” and how terrible the “Somali warlords” were. I nearly jumped out of my chair. There are no “pirates”, no “warlords” in Somalia. Most clans have elders they respect and look to for guidance, even to judge a dispute. These clan leaders are far more intent on maintaining peace among the tribes than in fighting them.

I heard this depiction of Somalis as “war lords” again and again. The news media had found a fear it enjoyed: African war lords.

Somalis are a strong people. They walk with their backs straight and eyes level, no matter their station in life. They have faced severe drought, devastating floods, centuries of foreign invasion. And yet they have survived. They are a proud people. They are tall, dark, and very beautiful. Of course they scared the daylights out of modern white men, but there was no need for the fear. Somalis are also among the kindest people I have ever known.

Bringing this duality of “strength” and “kindness” into one story was the real challenge. I opted to center the story on a young woman much like myself, one who knew first hand the intensity of emotions in Somalia. I wanted my readers to be able to relate to Somalis through the eyes of this young woman, so I opted to tell stories about her life in Somalia. Each story speaks to this duality of strength and kindness, even the stories with bullets flying.

Betty: Which character(s) were the hardest to get to know? Why do you think?

MaryAnn: It was very hard to get to know the Somalis themselves. They are a private people. I was intrigued with folk tales and songs, but they were reluctant to share even that with me. I didn’t learn the story of the Goddess Arawello until many years after I returned to the U.S. Somalis had been battered and ridiculed for so long that they held their culture close to their hearts. My being a woman confounded them even further, for they had woefully little contact with foreign women. The emotions they did express were extremely subtle, like they put on a “public face” whenever they saw a foreigner. They all knew what these public faces said, but I had a much harder time deciphering them.

And since I was writing about real experiences, I often included real people, especially real foreigners and real Peace Corps volunteers. The more I could “invent” a character, the easier it was to write about that character. Friends are hard to put into a story. I didn’t want my friends’ warts to dominate a story. I knew that we had all had our challenges in Somalia. But I wanted it to be real. It was a constant balancing act.

Betty: What kind of research did you need to do to write this story?

MaryAnn: Fortunately, I didn’t have to do a lot of research. A lot of research simply would not have been possible; it had never been written. I was there, I knew most of it. But other Somali Peace Corps Volunteers were a huge help with details, like I had forgotten about the glorious pink bougainvillea on the government buildings. And one volunteer told me the story of his cat, which I had to include.

And my friend Abdi who lives nearby was kind enough to read the final draft and correct a few things, one even that Wikipedia had gotten wrong! Abdi is a Somali who lived in Baidoa, the town I was in, and he attended the Catholic school where I taught. We missed meeting in Baidoa by a couple of months. I left Baidoa about two months before he went to the Catholic school. But Abdi came to the US on a basketball scholarship and stayed, marrying a wonderful woman named Mary. We serendipitously met, discovering that we were neighbors. We’ve spent many hours talking about Baidoa life. He and his extended family here have been a magnificent source of information and inspiration for me.

Betty: How many drafts of the story did you write before you felt the story was complete?

MaryAnn: Lots. Each chapter became a story in its own right, and each story was revised many, many times. The only story that came intact was the one about Christmas in Baidoa and my conversation with Padre Vittorio.

Betty: How long did it take for you to write the story you’re sharing with us? Is that a typical length of time for you? Why or why not?

MaryAnn: If Mystical Land of Myrrh were a poem, I would likely finish it in a few hours … or a few weeks.

If it were a business plan, I could whip that out in a few days … or a few weeks … something that I did for over a decade in the venture capital world.

If it were a web page, odds are that I would devote an hour or two to writing it before loading it up.

But Mystical Land of Myrrh isn’t any of those things. It is an historical novel, a biographical novel. A very personal novel. That is why it took fifty years for the words to be set on paper; fifty years for me to focus my thoughts, prodded no doubt by the unfair, shattering bad press of the U.S. government when the president put Somalia on the “no entry” list, when the media told the stories of Black Hawk Down and the Somali pirates, with barely a sentence devoted to the Somali point of view. It was all so wrong, but I didn’t know how to make it “right.” The Mystical Land of Myrrh is a small step in that direction.

Betty: What rituals or habits do you have while writing?

MaryAnn: I begin with handwritten sketches, usually over a cup of coffee at my favorite coffee house. That forms the “skeleton” of the story. For The Mystical Land of Myrrh the “skeleton” had to be trimmed down and down and down – I had just too many stories to fit into a book, so I had to do a lot of selection.

I also like to gather around me “things” that feel like the story. In the case of The Mystical Land of Myrrh, I brought out a real piece of myrrh, a small carving of a lion that a Somali did, and a carved headrest that nomads use. I put these in my display case (out of reach of my two kitties). Things like this seem to keep me grounded in the environment I want to be in.

Betty: Every author has a tendency to overuse certain words or phrases in drafts, such as just, once, smile, nod, etc. What are yours?

MaryAnn: “And” and “But” are the biggies. There always seems to be more to write AND those conjunctions do the job – lol.

Betty: Do you have any role models? If so, why do you look up to them?

MaryAnn: I have two role models whose examples are with me every day: my two grandmothers. Both grandmothers were born in the late 19th century and lived to see the world transformed through two world wars and immense technology.

One grandmother raised two boys by herself, supporting the family with a one-pump gas station and a small apple orchard. She told me long ago that her proudest time was when she could put two decals on her front window: one for a son who went into the Army, and one for a son who went into the Navy. This was during World War II.

The other grandmother, a Christian Scientist, turned to nursing to support her family of five children and a crippled husband. Few occupations were open to women, so she chose nursing, in spite of her religion.

I am in total awe of the strength of character and resourcefulness of these two women. The challenges were simply dumped on them, and they responded without question, raising families that anyone would be proud of.

I know there are many women today who find themselves in similar situations, and I have but the highest respect for them all. I simply feel so blessed to find two such strong, loving women in my own family tree.

Betty: Do you have a special place to write? Revise? Read?

MaryAnn: My coffee house, of course. I am also working on some children’s stories about a little fairy, and I find inspiration for her in a nearby park. She seems to scamper and hide behind bushes, just to tease me.

Betty: Many authors have a day job. Do you? If so, what is it and do you enjoy it?

MaryAnn: I am retired now. My former jobs – a research/children’s librarian, a researcher/writer for a venture capital firm, a web coach for entrepreneurs – all honed skills that I use daily now. I have indeed enjoyed my career and am pleased to live in southern Oregon where inspiration is contagious.

Betty: As an author, what do you feel is your greatest achievement?

MaryAnn: First, just beginning to write is a major accomplishment. It is scary. It is a solitary task that no one understands until they try it themselves.

Second, finishing a book. “Finishing” is a tough word, for it is hard to “finish” anything artistic. There just comes a point where it has to be introduced to the world, and that is a major achievement. I am proud that I am able to speak of a people so sorely misunderstood, my biggest regret being that I couldn’t find a way to paint them more completely.

Betty: What other author would you like to sit down over dinner and talk to? Why?

MaryAnn: Shel Silverstein. I was a librarian when the book Where The Sidewalk Ends was first published. I have never seen poetry so enrapture children, and adults too. I don’t know that I could learn that much from him, for he is genuinely gifted, but I know it would be a raucous, wonderful dinner!

Betty:Success looks different to different people. It could be wealth, or fame, or an inner joy at reaching a certain level. How do you define success in terms of your writing career?

MaryAnn: I am old enough to know that money isn’t the answer to anything. I treasure a nod or a smile from a reader, an acknowledgement that Yes … Yes.

Moira, a young Peace Corps Volunteer, and a lesbian, confronts a magical, sometimes terrifying land of Somalia. Ancient tales hold Somalia together while modern warfare tears it apart. Moira quenches her soul at the women’s watering hole, and in the classrooms of her students, while all manner of peoples – local clan leaders, nomads, earthy waitresses, Italian ex-pats and the orphans of the Catholic sanctuary – all pull at her energy. Over it all is the aura of Arawello, the Somali Goddess Queen, who once rose from Her people to save the nation, and who may do so again. So strong is the pull on Moira’s heart that in the end even she hardly recognizes herself anymore.

Buy Links: Amazon

That’s a fascinating background to The Mystical Land of Myrrh. I hope many people will read it to learn more about your experiences in Somalia.

Happy reading!

Betty

P.S. If you haven’t already, please consider signing up for my newsletter, which I send out most every month, including news like new covers, new releases, and upcoming appearances where I love to meet my readers, along with recipes and writing progress. Thanks and happy reading!

Getting to know Lynn Downey #author #historical #western #mystery #historian

I’m happy to welcome a fellow lover of history to the interview hot seat today. Cinch into your chair for a ride with author Lynn Downy and her debut novel set on a dude ranch! Let’s take a look at her bio and then find out more about her and her inspiration.

I’m a native California writer, historian, and archivist. I’ve been writing since I was a kid, but didn’t get paid for it until 1985, when I started publishing articles and books about the history of the West. I was the Historian for Levi Strauss & Co. in San Francisco for 25 years and wrote the first biography of the founder, Levi Strauss: The Man Who Gave Blue Jeans to the World. And my grandmother’s experience in a TB sanatorium in the 1920s led to Arequipa Sanatorium: Life in California’s Lung Resort for Women, which won a WILLA award from Women Writing the West. My next book is a history of dude ranching, American Dude Ranch: A Touch of the Cowboy and the Thrill of the West, which will be released in March of 2022. I’m obsessed with the dude ranch, which is also the setting for my first novel, Dudes Rush In, a finalist for the Will Rogers Medallion Award. I’m the Vice President/President-Elect of Women Writing the West, and a member of Western Writers of America. I live in the northern California wine country with 4 cats and a Pinot Noir vineyard in my back yard.

Author Social Links: Website * Blog * Instagram

Betty: What inspired you to write the story you’re sharing with us today?

Lynn: I have been writing books and articles about history for over 30 years, and I love to read historical mysteries. In 2012 I was reading one of Donis Casey’s wonderful Alafair Tucker mysteries, and when I finished, I thought to myself, “Gee, I’d love to write a historical novel.” Well, I had to grab pen and paper because as soon as I had that thought, the characters and plot of a story started running through my head as though someone had turned on a movie projector.

Betty: Which character arrived fully or mostly developed?

Lynn: My main character Phoebe McFarland, and the woman who wrote the diary that she discovers, Ellender Shepherd, both came to me almost fully-formed. They are very different, in back story, looks, and time period, and that actually made it easier for me to flesh them out as I worked on the book.

Betty: Which story element sparked the idea for this story: setting, situation, character, or something else?

Lynn: I’m fascinated by the concept of the dude ranch, which is the perfect setting for a novel, especially a mystery: an isolated location with its own language and customs, filled with people from different places with unique back stories of their own. Stick everyone together in the ranch house, throw in cowboys, horses, and beautiful scenery, and the drama will happen.

Betty: Which character(s) were the hardest to get to know? Why do you think?

Lynn: It was hardest for me to get into the head of the male characters. I think this is partly a function of being a woman, and partly being a first-time novelist. Luckily, I had a wonderful editor at my publisher, Pronghorn Press, who helped me get those details onto the page. The men in my book were a little two-dimensional, which I needed to fix.

Betty: What kind of research did you need to do to write this story?

Lynn: Historical research is my profession and my favorite thing to do, so I dived into the history of dude ranches, focusing on the 1950s. I have stayed at a few dude ranches, and I was able to translate those experiences into the book, making sure I stayed true to the decade in which my story is set. My fictional town, Tribulation, is based on one of my favorite places in the world, Wickenburg, Arizona, and I used aspects of its history for both plot and setting.

Betty: How many drafts of the story did you write before you felt the story was complete?

Lynn: I wrote 2 drafts of my manuscript before it was picked up by Pronghorn Press. Annette, the publisher and editor, liked my story but she made many editorial suggestions to strengthen the narrative. I ended up reorganizing some chapters and doing a lot of rewriting, all of which I started as the COVID pandemic took hold in the spring of 2020. I spent the entire first month of the lockdown working about 5 hours a day on my manuscript. It was a great way to distract myself from the horrors, was the hardest work I’ve ever done as a writer, and was also a great joy.

Betty: How long did it take for you to write the story you’re sharing with us? Is that a typical length of time for you? Why or why not?

Lynn: Dudes Rush In is my first novel, and I started it when I was still working full time. The germ of the idea came to me in the summer of 2012, I semi-retired in 2014, worked on it exclusively in 2018, and the book came out in the fall of 2020. I call that a long time! I’m working on the second book in the series now and I expect it to come out next year or the beginning of 2023. That’s certainly an improvement.

Betty: What rituals or habits do you have while writing?

Lynn: I always listen to music, and it has to be music that’s pertinent to whatever I’m writing. When I was working on Dudes Rush In, I listened to a lot of Western swing and theme music written for Western TV shows and movies. And I threw in some 1950s jazz, too.

Betty: Every author has a tendency to overuse certain words or phrases in drafts, such as just, once, smile, nod, etc. What are yours?

Lynn: I have a passive voice problem. When I edit—whether non-fiction or fiction—I have to go through the manuscript and fix limp, lifeless sentences.

Betty: Do you have any role models? If so, why do you look up to them?

Lynn: One of them is writer Donis Casey, whose work not only inspired me to try fiction, she was also personally supportive to me when I made a tentative beginning. Her family history inspired her books, and I also use my own family as a starting point in my novel. She is one of those authors who believes in lifting up others as they travel their own paths.

Betty: Do you have a special place to write? Revise? Read?

Lynn: I write on my computer in my home office, and I cover the walls with photos, pages from magazines, and other artifacts that pertain to what I’m writing. I surround myself with these visuals so that I’m immersed in whatever world I am trying to create. Sometimes my office looks like those rooms on TV crime shows that stalkers or serial killers have filled with the objects of their obsession. But it works for me! I like editing on paper in a bustling coffee shop, but that was out of the question for a long time in 2020 and 2021. So, I take my printed pages into my living room, sit on the couch and put on some music, hoping one of my cats won’t bat the pen out of my hand.

Betty: Many authors have a day job. Do you? If so, what is it and do you enjoy it?

Lynn: I’m a consulting archivist and historian. I work with companies, museums, and libraries to organize their historical materials, and I write everything from social media posts to books for my clients. I did this work full time until 2014, when I decided to move into the world of consulting, which allows me to choose my projects and gives me more time to write. History and historical archives are my profession and where my heart lives.

Betty: As an author, what do you feel is your greatest achievement?

Lynn: Being persistent and true to my stories. I sent the manuscript of my book Arequipa Sanatorium: Life in California’s Lung Resort for Women to a publisher I had worked with before. It was rejected (with extreme prejudice) and I was in such despair I almost gave up on it, but the book was something I had wanted to write for over 30 years. I had to keep going. Then, a historian friend introduced me to an editor at the University of Oklahoma Press, who looked at the manuscript, made some suggestions for improvement, and then saw it through to publication. As I mentioned earlier, the book won a WILLA award from Women Writing the West. I believed in my story and dug in and worked hard to make it happen. It’s a lesson I think about whenever I write something new. And the University of Oklahoma Press is also publishing my next book, so this connection has been personally and professionally fulfilling.

Betty: What other author would you like to sit down over dinner and talk to? Why?

Lynn: I would love to chat with historian and author Heather Cox Richardson, who has a unique perspective on how the American West helped to shape national history. And she has a clear-eyed way of looking at modern politics through a historical lens.

Betty: Success looks different to different people. It could be wealth, or fame, or an inner joy at reaching a certain level. How do you define success in terms of your writing career?

Lynn: Success for me is getting better at what I do, and writing the best version of whatever book I’m working on. Because it’s all about the story, which means it’s ultimately all about the reader.

In 1952 San Francisco, restless war widow and aspiring writer Phoebe McFarland decides to change her life and spend six months on her sister-in-law’s dude ranch in Tribulation, Arizona, called the H Double Bar. She has enjoyed many vacations at the ranch, she loves the desert, and is happy for the opportunity to spend time with her late husband’s family. In exchange for room and board, she helps out in the office and hopes to finally finish the novel she is working on. When a group of magazine writers comes to stay, including an attractive single man, Phoebe sees a chance to connect with the professionals. But Tribulation soon lives up to its name. When Phoebe finds an old diary hidden in her desk, she stumbles onto secrets from Tribulation’s past that collide with a shocking revelation of her own, leading her down a trail to both discovery and danger.

Buy Links: Website * Amazon * Bookshop

I enjoy stories with horses and cowboys, so this one is going on my ever-growing TBR list. Thanks for sharing, Lynn!

Happy reading!

Betty

P.S. If you haven’t already, please consider signing up for my newsletter, which I send out most every month, including news like new covers, new releases, and upcoming appearances where I love to meet my readers, along with recipes and writing progress. Thanks and happy reading!

Getting to know Tony Damascus, character of author Luanne Oleas #author #familysaga #inspirational #contemporary #romance #literary #fiction

Okay, gang, buckle in for my next guest, Tony Damascus, who has taken time away from his book to be grilled—er, interviewed by me. Thanks to author Luanne Oleas for giving him some time off to stop in. Let’s find out a bit about Luanne, and then we’ll dive into the interview.

Luanne Oleas was born in Steinbeck’s Salinas Valley, the setting for her novel, Flying Blind: A Cropduster’s Story. For several years, she worked as a reporter, features writer, and weekly columnist at the Salinas Californian newspaper with reprints in publications such as Reader’s Digest. After moving to the Silicon Valley, she turned her talents to technical writing, finishing her career at HP. She left high tech in 2017 to write novels full-time.

Her first novel, A Primrose In November, is a family saga set in England and France. It’s a story about loving, losing, and learning to love again.

When she isn’t publicizing Flying Blind, Luanne works on her upcoming novel, tentatively titled When Alice Played The Lottery. It’s the story of a 50-year-old widowed receptionist who starts a lottery pool with nine multi-cultural coworkers at a failing Silicon Valley startup. Just as the layoffs start, the coworkers win the big jackpot and go on to star in their own reality TV show. It takes place in the Silicon Valley where Luanne lives with her husband and Blackberry the cat.

Author Social Links: Website * Facebook * Twitter

Betty: How would you describe your childhood?

Tony: Fractured. My name is Tony Damascus and my life began normally enough with Mom and Dad, but it split wide open before I turned two. Mom died, Dad took off, and I entered the foster care system. Care is a loose term. Maybe I wasn’t the easiest kid to have around but locking me in a closet didn’t help. I spent a lot of time drawing airplanes and staring out the window.

Betty: What kind of schooling did you have? Did you enjoy it?

Tony: I attended public school—occasionally. It was good to get away from my foster family, but it was hard to stay out of trouble. By high school, I visited my classes off and on—enough to graduate. I spent more time at the airport than I did in any after-school activities. I did like getting to know the girls though, but I wasn’t always the guy parents wanted to see coming up the walk.

Betty: When did you have your first kiss and with who? How did it go?

Tony: It’s hard to remember exactly, but I want to say I was four. It was with my foster mother. You might think that doesn’t count, but trust me, if you had kissed her, you’d be counting it. My foster father counted it. I mean, she may have been a slut, but in my situation, I took what affection I could get.

Betty: What do you think is your greatest achievement? Why?

Tony: Easy question. Becoming a pilot was my greatest achievement. It wasn’t easy, flying for 15 minutes at a time and trying to build up the hours needed for my private and commercial licenses. Of course, the flying I dig the most is ag flying. Cropdusting. The hard part is eventually, you have to land. But being alone in the cockpit, with the earth below looking well-ordered, is a trip.

Betty: What is the most embarrassing thing that has happened to you?

Tony: Whoa. . . It’s hard to narrow it down to just one embarrassing incident. Getting caught with the boss’s wife is up there. It’s even worse when he fires you. Then, starts shooting at you. I did get caught using the spray plane to waterski on the Salinas River. That was kind of a bummer. Getting caught, I mean. Making rooster tails with the landing gear was great. I accidentally shot a hole through the neighbor’s bathroom window. That was embarrassing. It didn’t do much for our relationship either. The guy never let me borrow his lawnmower again.

Betty: If you could change one thing from your past, what would it be and why?

Tony: Just one? I suppose I should have stopped drinking sooner. Of course, it was fun for a long time, until it wasn’t. Oddly enough, it didn’t really seem to affect my flying, but it effed up more than one relationship. Of course, it inspired most of them, based on what I was drinking—and how much—when I met a woman. It ruined several marriages, but only one that mattered.

Betty: What’s your greatest fear? Who else knows about it?

Tony: Falling in love. Things were humming along just fine until that happened. Before that, I was partying like there was no tomorrow and having a grand time. I could tell you stories about a masseuse I dated but we’ll keep this PG. I suppose the only one who knew my fear, or let me know he knew, was my best friend, Bill. He was one of those stable guys with a library card and morals. It’s a little odd that we became best friends. Flying connected us. It’s probably a good thing we became friends. The dude saved my life. No B.S. He really did.

Betty: How much of your true self do you share with others?

Tony: Oh, everyone pretty much gets all of me. How long they stick around and tolerate it is another story. I don’t hold back. Like when I had to teach that priest how to fly. Huge mistake putting me in as his instructor. Especially when I was describing how flying fast and low was like making love with a beautiful woman. He didn’t know what I was talking about. When he asked me if it was like praying, I didn’t know what he was talking about.

Betty: Are you close to your family? Do you wish your relationship with them was different in any way? If so, how?

Tony: Are we close? Ha-ha-ha, very funny. I would have to say we are about as close as a group of porcupines. How do I wish my relationship was different? Well, with my foster family, I wish I didn’t know ’em. Especially my foster brothers. My wife invited them to the wedding. One shot up heroin and the other stole the maid of honor’s purse. As far as my real parents, I wish they had stuck around longer. Especially my mom.

Betty: What characteristics are you looking for in a potential lover/spouse?

Tony: Well, being good in bed matters. In fact, that used to be my only requirement until I met Angela. Don’t tell anyone, but I didn’t even get her in bed for a few months. It didn’t matter that she couldn’t cook. Finally, someone looked beyond how screwed-up I was and just got me. I never thought of myself as a provider. Hell, I could barely take care of a dog. But with Angela, I found I wanted to protect her.

Betty: How do you like to relax? What kind of entertainment do you enjoy?

Tony: I like women, guns, and yellow airplanes, not necessarily in that order. Flying relaxes me. It also turns me on. Listening to music definitely helps. My favorite tune is “Sexual Healing” by Marvin Gaye. Anything by the Rolling Stones works for me. Listening to music AND flying at the same time rocks. I did try duck hunting once, but my leg was in a cast at the time, and it got stuck in the mud. I had a motorcycle for a while. That was cool. I had to get rid of it to collect the insurance when I lost my job. I miss that old Hog.

Betty: If you could change yourself in some way, what change would you make? Why?

Tony: You know, giving that priest flying lessons made me wonder if there was more to life than sex and flying. I’m not talking about getting saved, but when your plane goes down and it looks like you might die, you wonder about whether there’s more to life than you know. I guess I wish I was willing to believe that faith crap. I think it might make me a better person.

Betty: What do you think you’re good at? Bad at?

Tony: I’m awesome at flying. I think I’m good in bed, too. I can fix an engine. Any engine. They used to call me the piano tuner because I fixed them by sound. Even with my lousy hearing. What am I bad at? You name it. Making a relationship work. Staying employed. Staying sober. I’m horrible with money. If I have it, I spend it.

Betty: What items do you carry in your pockets or handbag?

Tony: In my pocket right now, I have a lighter with a Great Lakes biplane on it. Don’t tell Angela—I wouldn’t want to hurt her feelings—but that masseuse gave it to me as a birthday present. That gal was fun to hang out with—until she got divorced from her long-haul trucker husband. Then she started rubbing me the wrong way, if you get my meaning. She started hounding me to settle down. What a drag! I also used to have a beer opener that looked like a naked lady, but it fell out of my pocket at the airstrip one day.

Betty: What foods and beverages do you routinely have in your refrigerator?

Tony: Beer. And more beer. Once I had this gal as a maid (she thought she was my girlfriend, but she was really just a housekeeper with benefits. I was the benefit.) Anyway, she used to make this great pineapple upside-down cake. It went well with screwdrivers. I like barbequing steaks, too. Great big ones.

Tony flees Texas at the point of a shotgun and finds himself unemployed. Taking a temporary job as a flight instructor, he demonstrates flying spray runs to his worst student, Father Roberto. Imagine the Great Waldo Pepper teaching Mother Theresa to fly in Steinbeck’s Salinas Valley in 1972.

An ace in the air, but a mess on the ground, Tony needs to tame his inner demons. Can he stay alive long enough to do that? Is flying fast and low really like making love to a beautiful woman?

Buy Links: Amazon * B&N

 Wow, Tony, you’ve had quite a life. I hope things work out for you in the best way possible. Thanks again, Luanne, for letting Tony stop by and talk to us.

Happy reading!

Betty

P.S. If you haven’t already, please consider signing up for my newsletter, which I send out most every month, including news like new covers, new releases, and upcoming appearances where I love to meet my readers, along with recipes and writing progress. Thanks and happy reading!

Getting to know Gayle Leeson #author #cozymystery #mystery #ghosts #haunting #fiction #books #mustread #amreading

I have a lovely surprise for you today, everyone! Author Gayle Leeson has given her character Amanda Tucker some time off out of her story, Designs on Murder, to come chat with me for a few minutes. Let’s take a glance at Gayle’s bio and then we’ll get to know Amanda.

Gayle Leeson is a pseudonym for Gayle Trent. Gayle has also written as Amanda Lee and Gayle Trent. As Amanda Lee, she wrote the Embroidery Mystery series, and as Gayle Trent, she writes the Daphne Martin Cake Mystery series and the Myrtle Crumb Mystery series. Going forward, Gayle intends to keep her writing under the Gayle Leeson name. Please check out her Ghostly Fashionista and Down South Café series.

Author Social Links: Newsletter * Facebook * BookBub

Betty: How would you describe your childhood?

Amanda: For the most part, it was great. My mom was—ha! is—a little overbearing and demanding sometimes, but my dad spoiled me rotten. Plus, Grandpa Dave and Grandma Jodie lived nearby, and I loved spending time with them. In fact, I still do enjoy living close to Grandpa Dave and see him nearly every day. Grandma Jodie is no longer with us, and Mom and Dad moved to Florida, so Grandpa and I keep a close eye on each other.

Betty: What kind of schooling did you have? Did you enjoy it?

Amanda: I went to public school, and it was all right. I loved drawing and sewing and making patterns, so I excelled more away from school than I did inside it. Still, I made good grades, and I recently graduated from college with a degree in business administration.

Betty: What do you think is your greatest achievement? Why?

Amanda: I feel that opening my shop this past year was my greatest achievement. Doing something so bold was both exhilarating and frightening; but I took the leap, the business has been successful, and I’m so glad I took the risk.

Betty: What is the most embarrassing thing that has happened to you?

Amanda: Well, this happens on a regular basis—I’m trying to talk with people in my shop and find myself answering Max, the ghost that they can’t see or hear! I’m sure my coworkers often think I’ve lost my mind.

Betty: If you could change one thing from your past, what would it be and why?

Amanda: I’d like to have found Max sooner.

Betty: What’s your greatest fear? Who else knows about it?

Amanda: Failure. I think Grandpa Dave knows, but he has enough confidence in me for the both of us.

Betty: How much of your true self do you share with others?

Amanda: Very little unless I’m really close to them. There are only a handful of people who know about Max, and that’s because they can communicate with her too.

Betty: Are you close to your family? Do you wish your relationship with them was different in any way? If so, how?

Amanda: I am. I wish my mom and I were closer. Now that I’m an adult with my own business/life, I realize that much of her domineering behavior comes from a place of love and fear. That doesn’t always make it easier to live with, but I can make an effort to understand her better.

Betty: How do you like to relax? What kind of entertainment do you enjoy?

Amanda: I love reading and watching old movies. Max and I have a sort of book club now. She adores reading but hadn’t been able to do so until I introduced her to eBooks.

Betty: If you could change yourself in some way, what change would you make? Why?

Amanda: I think I’d like to be more fearless—like Max!

Betty: What do you think you’re good at? Bad at?

Amanda: I’m excellent at designing a dress and creating a pattern for it. I’m horrible at saying no. I need to be less of a people-pleaser!

Betty: What items do you carry in your pockets or handbag?

Amanda: I’m never without a tape measure and a sewing kit.

Betty: What foods and beverages do you routinely have in your refrigerator?

Amanda: – Tea, bottled water, salads, fruits, and something chocolate to satisfy my sweet tooth.

What if you discovered your lively new friend wasn’t really…alive?

When Amanda decides to lease a space in historic Abingdon, Virginia’s Shops on Main, she’s surprised to learn that she has a resident ghost. But soon Maxine “Max,” a young woman who died in 1930, isn’t the only dead person at the retail complex. Mark, a web designer who rented space at Shops on Main, is shot in his office.

Amanda is afraid that one of her new “friends” is a killer, and Max is encouraging her to solve Mark’s murder a la Nancy Drew. Easy for Max to want to investigate–she can’t end up the killer’s next victim!

Buy Links: Amazon * B&N * IndieBound * IndieboundAudio

I hope you catch the killer without any scary moments yourself, Amanda. Thanks for swinging by!

Happy reading!

Betty

P.S. If you haven’t already, please consider signing up for my newsletter, which I send out most every month, including news like new covers, new releases, and upcoming appearances where I love to meet my readers, along with recipes and writing progress. Thanks and happy reading!

Getting to know Fred Misurella #Author #Contemporary #WomensFiction #LiteraryFiction #FamilyLife

My guest today is an intriguing character from one of Fred Misurella’s novels. Please help me welcome Jamie Sasso straight from between the covers of A Pontiac in the Woods. First we’ll get a quick look at Fred’s background and then we’ll dive right in with finding our more about Jamie.

A Pontiac in the Woods is the fourth in Fred Misurella’s cycle of novels about the modern American family. The others are Only Sons, a saga of two competing Italian immigrant families in rural Pennsylvania; Arrangement in Black and White, the story of an interracial marriage in Connecticut; and A Summer of Good-Byes, about an American couple’s attempt to restart their marriage on a visit to Provence in the face of past infertility and the wife’s recent extramarital affair. Misurella has also written Lies to Live By: Stories, and Short Time, a novella about the Vietnam War. His literary journalism has appeared in Partisan Review, Salmagundi, Voices in Italian Americana, Italian Americana, The Christian Science Monitor, The New York Times Book Review, and other journals. His essays on Primo Levi appear in The Legacy of Primo Levi and Answering Auschwitz. He is the current book review editor for VIA (Voices in Italian Americana), a former Fulbright scholar in France, and a graduate of the University of Iowa Writers Workshop. He lives with his wife and children in East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania.

Author Social Links: Website * Facebook

Betty: How would you describe your childhood?

Jamie: Miserable, especially at the beginning. I was abandoned as an infant, adopted by an older set of loving parents who died when I was still a young teen. From there it was catch as catch can because I never really knew what I wanted to do, or even what was possible. Then a social worker, Mr. Santa, began helping me.

Betty: What kind of schooling did you have? Did you enjoy it?

Jamie: A pretty good public school full of kids and parents with snotty noses constantly pointing skyward. So, to be truthful, I didn’t enjoy it. In fact I fought a lot because everyone thought I was weird. Maybe I was. But running track with the boys helped, and when I met nerdy Misha I finally found someone I could trust (and dance with).

Betty: When did you have your first kiss and with who? How did it go?

Jamie: Please, that’s really my business, don’t you think? In any case, it went, and it went well enough from there for me to want more. But you know, there’s a lot more important stuff in life than sucking tongues, so let’s get to it.

Betty: What do you think is your greatest achievement? Why?

Jamie:  Achievement? For a fourteen-year-old girl living on her own (yes, in the woods, in a Pontiac) what do you think the answer should be? I survived. In a certain way I thrived, which is even better than survival because it gave me a sense of what path I could take and what I might be able to do if I kept pushing forward.

Betty: What is the most embarrassing thing that has happened to you?

Jamie: My drug-addled birth parents, who abandoned me. And then my living situation after my adoptive parents died, while a distant, no-brain cousin told me to fuck off because he just wanted money. Who could be proud of that? I kept wondering what I had done, if it was somehow all my fault.

Betty: If you could change one thing from your past, what would it be and why?

Jamie: That’s a no-brainer, believe me. I’d like my adoptive, loving Mum and Dad to have lived many, many years longer. I still miss them and feel cheated I couldn’t see them grow old and content with me and what I might become. I think of them and miss them every single hour of every single day.

Betty: What’s your greatest fear? Who else knows about it?

Jamie: A repeat abandonment, and the whole world either should know and understand that already or is incredibly dense.

Betty: How much of your true self do you share with others?

Jamie: A lot, I think. Read my story. I pretty much let it all hang out, even the sucking tongues parts.

Betty: Are you close to your family? Do you wish your relationship with them was different in any way? If so, how?

Jamie: Sometimes I think Mum and Dad were too good to live. Maybe I jinxed them; maybe I was too bad to have them with me all this time. I just wish I could hug them again and explain the shit that I’ve been doing.

Betty: What characteristics are you looking for in a potential lover/spouse?

Jamie:  Jesus, what a question! Somebody who will love me and stay with me a long, long time without getting bored or disgusted; nice eyes wouldn’t be bad either.

Betty: How do you like to relax? What kind of entertainment do you enjoy?

Jamie: Again, read my story: I love to run; I love to dance. And before the pandemic, New York was perfect for both those things when Misha and I went there.

Betty: If you could change yourself in some way, what change would you make? Why?

Jamie: I’d like to stop feeling abandoned again or threatened by it all the time. Even with Mr. Santa and Misha that shit comes over me still. I cannot stop feeling alone.

Betty: What do you think you’re good at? Bad at?

Jamie: Good at dancing, better at running. I ran with the boys’ cross country team in high school (there was no girls’ team) and was faster than all but the top one or two. Bad? I don’t know. I’m bad at feeling sorry for people who haven’t suffered as I have. Is that selfish? Probably so.

Betty: What items do you carry in your pockets or handbag?

Jamie: Please… I’m a constant runner. I like to keep things light. I don’t carry a handbag; no phone either; just some identification in my pocket and, maybe, a paperback or two in a very tiny backpack.

Betty: What foods and beverages do you routinely have in your refrigerator?

Jamie: Don’t have a refrigerator, so it’s all canned food and boxes. But that may change if things work out the way I want them to. Check out my story for more details.

Jamie Sasso finds herself alone, with no family or home. Cast adrift by a distant cousin in another state, she finds she cannot tolerate her county’s foster care program. But where can she live, how can she feed herself, and in what way can she plan for her future? Will she even have a future? A Pontiac in the Woods explores those issues and raises meaningful questions about them. With the help of a social worker, Mr. Santa, Misha, a young man she meets at a dance, and her school’s track coach she begins to find her way. But the way is never smooth. More important, she cannot find for sure where that way will lead.

Buy Links: Amazon * Bookshop * Website

I hope you find the stability and loving home you’re seeking, Jamie. Best of luck to you! And thanks to Fred for giving you the freedom to come talk with us today. It’s been interesting!

Happy reading!

Betty

P.S. If you haven’t already, please consider signing up for my newsletter, which I send out most every month, including news like new covers, new releases, and upcoming appearances where I love to meet my readers, along with recipes and writing progress. Thanks and happy reading!

Getting to know Joel Allegretti #author #poets #poetrylovers #prose #fiction #water #oceans

I’d like to introduce you to an author who is also a poet. Please help me welcome Joel Allegretti! He has quite a background, so let’s glance at his publishing history and then find out more about what makes him tick.

Joel Allegretti is the author of, most recently, Platypus (NYQ Books, 2017), a collection of poems, prose, and performance texts, and Our Dolphin (Thrice Publishing, 2016), a novella. His second book of poems, Father Silicon (The Poet’s Press, 2006), was selected by The Kansas City Star as one of 100 Noteworthy Books of 2006.

He is the editor of Rabbit Ears: TV Poems (NYQ Books, 2015). The Boston Globe called Rabbit Ears “cleverly edited” and “a smart exploration of the many, many meanings of TV.” Rain Taxi said, “With its diversity of content and poetic form, Rabbit Ears feels more rich and eclectic than any other poetry anthology on the market.”

Allegretti has published his poems in The New York Quarterly, Barrow Street, Smartish Pace, PANK,and many other journals.

His short stories have appeared in The MacGuffin, The Adroit Journal,and Pennsylvania Literary Journal, among others. His musical compositions have appeared in Maintenant: A Journal of Contemporary Dada Writing & Art and in anthologies from great weather for MEDIA and Thrice Publishing. His performance texts have been staged at La MaMa, Medicine Show Theatre, the Cornelia Street Café, and the Sidewalk Café, all in New York.

Author Social Links: Website * Facebook

Betty: What inspired you to write the story you’re sharing with us today?

Joel: Our Dolphin indulges some of my literary interests. Latin American magic realism has had a huge influence on me, particularly the writings of Gabriel García Márquez and Jorge Luis Borges. I wouldn’t have come up with phrases like “a gull of mythological proportions” and “the face that brought her infinite despair” had I not read García Márquez’s novels and short stories, which I read in translation.

The inspiration for the main character, Emilio, a deformed teenager, was my favorite literary character, Erik, better known as the Phantom of the Opera.

The scenes in Tangier were inspired by a day trip I took to the city in 1990 and by the writings of Paul Bowles and William S. Burroughs, who’s my favorite Beat. In fact, one of the key characters in the Tangier section, Moore, is based on Burroughs. While I had recollections of my trip as I wrote the book, the Tangier in Our Dolphin is really a Tangier of my imagination.

Betty: Which character arrived fully or mostly developed?

Joel: I’d have to say Serafino, the talking dolphin. He doesn’t have a history. He just is.

Betty: Which story element sparked the idea for this story: setting, situation, character, or something else?

Joel: It was the idea of a supernatural animal appearing out of nowhere for the benefit of a young outcast. I chose a dolphin because I’ve always liked dolphins. I was a fan of the TV show Flipper when I was growing up.

Betty: Which character(s) were the hardest to get to know? Why do you think?

Joel: Since I created the characters, I didn’t have any trouble getting to know them. Part of my program, however, was to create characters I didn’t want the reader to know well. The primary example is Mr. Charles, the owner of the brothel in Tangier. He’s a horrifying human being. He’s snide, pompous, and sadistic, a flamboyant villain without a redeeming characteristic. I don’t reveal anything about his background. The reader knows his nationality (English), but that’s it. I want the reader to take Mr. Charles at face value and not wonder why he’s so malevolent or how he found his way to his despicable occupation or what he was like when he was ten years old.

Betty: What kind of research did you need to do to write this story?

Joel: Even though I had visited Tangier—as I mentioned, it was only a day trip—and had read quite a bit of fiction and non-fiction about both the city and Morocco itself, including Paul Bowles’s translations of books by Moroccan authors Mohamed Choukri and Mohammed Mrabet, I wanted to make sure I got details right. So, I became a fact-checker. I looked at photographs, too. Fortunately, I was familiar with the subject and knew what needed confirmation.

I can’t say for sure, but to put myself in a Tangier state of mind, I probably listened to Brian Jones Presents the Pipes of Pan at Joujouka, a recording of Moroccan trance musicians that Rolling Stones Records released in 1971. I’ve owned a copy of the LP for decades.

Betty: How many drafts of the story did you write before you felt the story was complete?

Joel: Our Dolphin began its life as a novel called Christ Sang for the Dolphins. I wrote the first draft over the course of a few years as I busied myself with other things, not the least of which was earning an income. I did more work on it from time to time and changed the title to Music for Dolphins. Years later came the high-octane revision. I went through it with mental hedge clippers. “This can go. This can go. This adds nothing.” I reduced it from 46,000 words to 19,000 words. I changed the title yet again, to Our Dolphin, and submitted three chapters to Thrice Publishing, which was launching a novella series. The editor, Bob Spryszak, requested the full manuscript. To my astonishment, he chose Our Dolphin as the introductory title in the series. Bob provided excellent guidance as we worked our way to the book’s publication.

Betty: How long did it take for you to write the story you’re sharing with us? Is that a typical length of time for you? Why or why not?

Joel: I began the first draft in 1993, I believe. I wrote the final draft in 2015. I didn’t work on the book consistently, though. There were years when I didn’t touch it or even think about it.

I seldom work in long forms, so the length of time it took to write Our Dolphin was atypical.

Betty: What rituals or habits do you have while writing?

Joel: I write first drafts in longhand. I use Pilot pens with blue ink.

Betty: Every author has a tendency to overuse certain words or phrases in drafts, such as just, once, smile, nod, etc. What are yours?

Joel: I wouldn’t say any particular words or phrases recur in my works, but I seem to gravitate toward water imagery. I’m predominantly a poet. References to bodies of water show up in poem after poem; e.g., “The Sea at Our Door,” “The Sea Serpent,” and “The Moon Reconsidered as the Tide’s Puppeteer.” And then there’s Our Dolphin.

I was at HomeGoods one day this year, and when I was on line to check out, I saw a 5″x7″ wooden sign that read, “MY HEART SLEEPS BY THE SEA.” I thought, If I don’t buy it now, I know I’ll come back for it. It’s on my desk, where it looks to be right at home.

Betty: Do you have any role models? If so, why do you look up to them?

Joel: The writers who inspired me, starting when I was in my early double-digit years, often show up in my work in some fashion, even if their influence isn’t overt: Jules Verne, Edgar Allan Poe, Ray Bradbury, Leonard Cohen, and the aforementioned García Márquez and Borges, to name the most prominent.

It’s hard to say why this author influenced me, but that one didn’t. I read a lot of Graham Greene and W. Somerset Maugham in the ’80s and a lot of Jack London in the ’80s and ’90s, but they had no impact on my writing.

Betty: Do you have a special place to write? Revise? Read?

Joel: I was born under the sign of Cancer. We crab folks like our homes. I write and revise in my home office or on my dining-room table. My home office is also my reading room.

Betty: Many authors have a day job. Do you? If so, what is it and do you enjoy it?

Joel: I’m retired now. My last position in the working world was Director of Media Relations for the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, the national membership organization of CPAs. I counseled the CEO, his senior staff, and other spokespeople for interviews with print, online, and broadcast media. I dealt with the Associated Press, 60 Minutes, The Wall Street Journal, and Bloomberg, among many, many, many other outlets.

Betty: As an author, what do you feel is your greatest achievement?

Joel: I suppose my answer could change at any time. For the sake of answering it here, I’ll say the publication of my first book. It’s always a special occasion for a writer.

Betty: What other author would you like to sit down over dinner and talk to? Why?

Joel: Maybe not over dinner, but over a cup of coffee or tea I’d like to ask Joyce Carol Oates and Stephen King how they maintain their enthusiasm for writing after so many years and so many books.

Betty: Success looks different to different people. It could be wealth, or fame, or an inner joy at reaching a certain level. How do you define success in terms of your writing career?

I realized in early 2021 that I had accomplished my literary goals:

  • I wanted to publish a book. My first book, a collection of poetry called The Plague Psalms, came out in 2000.
  • I wanted to publish in some big-name literary journals. Check.
  • I wanted to publish a novel. I published a novella. Close enough.
  • I wanted to edit a poetry anthology. Check.
  • I wanted an affiliation with the poetry press NYQ Books. Rabbit Ears: TV Poems and my latest collection, Platypus, are with NYQ Books.

It wasn’t a goal, but one of my poems, “The Sea at Our Door,” made it into a college textbook, so I’ve sort of elbowed my way into academia.

Another poem, “Epitaph: Edie Sedgwick,” appeared as one of 100 poems by 100 poets in an anthology called Visiting Bob: Poems Inspired by the Life and Work of Bob Dylan (New Rivers Press, 2018). Bob Dylan has been important to me since I was 16, so making it into the book was a special publication credit, even more so when I discovered that Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Allen Ginsberg, and Patti Smith were among the other contributors.

I grew up reading Jules Verne and go back to him from time to time. In late 2020 I saw a call for submissions from the North American Jules Verne Society, an organization of Verne scholars, for an anthology, Extraordinary Visions: Stories Inspired by Jules Verne. I wrote a short story titled “Gabriel at the Jules Verne Traveling Adventure Show,” revised it I don’t know how many times, submitted it, and crossed my fingers. A few months later, I received an acceptance. After I read the note, I got up from my desk and said, “Yes!”

Emilio Canto, a deformed adolescent, lives with his parents in an unnamed Italian fishing village. While in bed one night he hears a cry coming from the shore. He leaves his bed to investigate and finds that a dolphin has beached itself. With great effort, Emilio helps it back into the water. He watches it swim away, then lies down on the sand and falls asleep.

“Something troubled the water as it headed toward land. A pair of grateful eyes broke the surface and watched the sleeping youth. ‘Thank you, Emilio,’ the dolphin said. ‘We’ll see each other again very soon.’ It spun like an acrobat and pursued the deep.”

Emilio meets the dolphin a second time and discovers its extraordinary ability. He names the creature Serafino.

Because of his deformity, Emilio decides to run away from home. He convinces a Portuguese sailor to take him on his boat. They travel to Tangier, where the sailor gets Emilio intoxicated on a hashish confection and sells him to a male brothel.

Serafino learns of Emilio’s plight and swims to Tangier to rescue him.

For the reader, the conclusion will come as a genuine surprise.

Buy Links: Amazon * B&N * Bookshop

I love going to the beach and would love to meet a dolphin in person one day. Thanks so much, Joel, for telling us about your stories and your poems.

Happy fall!

Betty

P.S. If you haven’t already, please consider signing up for my newsletter, which I send out most every month, including news like new covers, new releases, and upcoming appearances where I love to meet my readers, along with recipes and writing progress. Thanks and happy reading!

Getting to know Carrie Dalby #author #historical #southerngothic #YA #novels #novellas

Getting to know Carrie Dalby #author #historical #southerngothic #YA #novels #novellas

Please help me welcome author Carrie Dalby to the interview hot seat! First a glance at her bio and then we’ll dive right in…

Carrie Dalby, a California native, has lived in Mobile, Alabama, since 1996. Carrie has published eight novels (with more on the way), one novella, nine short stories, and several non-fiction articles in national and international magazines. Besides serving two terms as president of Mobile Writers Guild, Carrie worked as the Mobile area Local Liaison for SCBWI from 2012-2017, volunteers with Metro Mobile Literacy Council events whenever possible, and helps coordinate the Mobile Literary Festival. When Carrie’s not reading, writing, browsing bookstores/libraries, or homeschooling, she can often be found knitting or attending concerts.

Author Social Links: Facebook * Instagram * Twitter

Betty: What inspired you to write the story you’re sharing with us today?

Carrie: The Possession Chronicles started because the editor I worked with on my first two published novels (Fortitude and Corroded) encouraged me to try my hand at horror. Based on my descriptive style, he said I had “serious horror chops.” I went toward the Gothic end of the horror spectrum. While the whole series is “Southern Gothic family saga,” several of the books in the series could be labeled as “Gothic horror”—mainly Murmurs of Evil and Tendrils of Passion, which were written first. After completing those, I wrote what is now the first book in the series Perilous Confessions, which has horrific events like any good Southern Gothic does, playing upon class distinction, religious morals, debauchery, and “madness,” to name a few themes.

Betty: Which character was the hardest to get to know?

Carrie: Alexander Melling, one hundred percent! I had him planned out and wanted to keep him in his little box because I didn’t like him and he needed to fit my plans. Being the entitled man he was, he made his own choices beyond my outline and kept screwing up what I thought was the proper story for the series. He ended up having so many layers to his personality that surprised me and finally won me over—many manuscripts later. What I hear from readers is that they either love him or love to hate him, and I’ve felt both extremes with him.

Betty: What kind of research did you need to do to write this story?

Carrie: I thoroughly researched turn-of-the-century Mobile, Alabama, as well as the time period in general to capture the Ragtime/Edwardian Era and beyond. That included reading novels written during that time period (not historicals set then—but the actual authors alive and active in those years), digging through newspapers of those years, and basically spending hours at the local history library going through microfilm, maps, and files for the current events, property size, Mardi Gras happenings, and disasters. I used historic buildings and locations from the Mobile Bay area and based the masquerade gowns on actual dresses from those years.

Betty: How many drafts of the story did you write before you felt the story was complete?

Carrie: All my books go through at least two dozen drafts and some over fifty. I started the series thinking I was writing a stand-alone novel, but kept adding to it because the characters weren’t settling down. I kept thinking “one more.” Not until I was at the fifth novel did I realize it was going to take several more to complete the full story arc. After finishing the eighth novel, I went back and wrote a novella bridging the first and second novels.

Betty: What rituals or habits do you have while writing?

Carrie: I like listening to music while I write and always have water to drink.

Betty: Do you have a special place to write? Revise? Read?

I’ll read and write anywhere, at any time—in the car, waiting rooms, in the kitchen, etc. For editing, I need quiet and as few interruptions as possible.

Betty: As an author, what do you feel is your greatest achievement?

Carrie: So far, having Fortitude (my historical Southern Gothic teen novel) listed as a “Best History Book” for Kids by Grateful American Foundation is my greatest achievement. The list only includes about fifty titles, most of which are Newbery Award winners or other classics by authors like Maya Angelou and Harper Lee.

Betty: What other author would you like to sit down over dinner and talk to? Why?

Carrie: Frances Parkinson Keyes. She was excellent with flawed characters and weaving real events into her historic novels. I call her my Southern Gothic soul sister, though she wrote more than just Southern Gothic. She brought so many characters/families to life through different tragedies and triumphs in her novels. And yes, her novels make me cry.

Betty: Success looks different to different people. It could be wealth, or fame, or an inner joy at reaching a certain level. How do you define success in terms of your writing career?

Carrie: Evoking feelings in readers is my ultimate success. Whether it’s love or loathing, if readers have a connection with the characters, it’s a win for me. The best is hearing that the story made someone cry. It’s all about a human connection.

The Possession Chronicles is a Southern Gothic family saga series with eight main novels, as well as a novella (#1.5), published by Bienvenue Press. The series is set in the Mobile Bay area on the Gulf Coast of Alabama between 1904 and 1929. Fans of period dramas and multi-generational sagas like The Thorn Birds, Peyton Place, Downton Abbey, Poldark, and Wuthering Heights will enjoy the lush historical descriptions, scandals, and characters.

Buy Links: Amazon

Sounds like an interesting read, Carrie! Thanks for sharing your writing process and inspiration with us.

Happy reading!

Betty

P.S. If you haven’t already, please consider signing up for my newsletter, which I send out most every month, including news like new covers, new releases, and upcoming appearances where I love to meet my readers, along with recipes and writing progress. Thanks and happy reading!

Getting to know Ellen Prager #author #scientist #books #childrens #fiction #nonfiction  

My guest today brings a very refreshing perspective to her writing. Please help me welcome Ellen Prager to the interview hot seat! Let’s look at her interesting background and then find out more about her writing inspiration and process.

Dr. Ellen Prager is a marine scientist and well published author, widely recognized for her expertise and ability to make science entertaining and understandable for people of all ages. She currently works as a freelance writer, Chief Scientist for StormCenter Communications, and science advisor to Celebrity Cruises in the Galapagos Islands. She was previously the Chief Scientist for the Aquarius Reef Base program in Key Largo, FL, which includes the world’s only undersea research station, and at one time the Assistant Dean at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences. She is a frequently requested speaker for public-oriented events and has appeared on-air as an expert for the media, including on The Today Show, NBC NewsGood Morning America, CNN, The Weather Channel, and more. She has published numerous popular science books, including Sex, Drugs, and Sea Slime: The Oceans’ Oddest Creatures and Why They Matter, along with children’s books, including her latest, Escape Greenland, the second book in her series for middle graders that combines fast-paced action, humor and relatable characters with fun learning about science, nature and in this book, climate change.

Author Social Links: Twitter

Betty: What inspired you to write the story you’re sharing with us today?

Ellen: Several years ago, while giving talks about some of my other popular science books (illustrated books for young children and non-fiction for high school and above), I was asked why I had never written anything for a middle grade audience (8 to 12 years old). The person asking went on to explain that middle grade is a very important and influential period in a person’s life in which he/she/they are exploring their interests, looking for role models and career paths, and have great influence over their peers and parents. So, I did my homework to discover what middle graders like to read. The answer: fiction and in particular adventure fiction with a humorous twist. I was particularly inspired by Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series in which he combines Greek mythology with adventure and especially sarcastic humor. Since then, I’ve published a three-book series entitled Tristan Hunt and the Sea Guardians (The Shark Whisperer, The Shark Rider, and Stingray City) and this book, Escape Greenland, which is the second book in The Wonder List Adventures (following Escape Galapagos). The books combine adventure, humor, and relatable characters with fun learning about the ocean, marine life, nature, science, and environmental issues.

Escape Greenland has an underlying theme of climate change, a topic I am very passionate and concerned about. I also traveled to Ilulissat, Greenland, for research on climate change for a non-fiction book and became mesmerized by the area and the Kangia icefjord, so I wanted to share it in a fun way with my readers. In the front of the Wonder List books are maps and in the back is a section entitled Real vs. Made-Up in which I ask the readers to decide what parts of the stories are based on real science and what is pure fiction. And then provide the answers.

Inspiration also comes from the overwhelmingly positive and enthusiastic response to my previous books for middle graders. Reviews indicate that the humor, suspense, and fun characters in the books keep readers engaged while they learn, which is exactly what I was going for.

Betty: Which character arrived fully or mostly developed?

Ellen: Most fully developed was the main character, Ezzy Skylar. As the second book in the Wonder List Adventure series, she was already evolving after dealing with the grief of her mother dying, her younger brother not handling it well, and a phobia about animals in the wild. She had gained confidence and courage in the first book, but still had serious bouts of insecurity, felt like she wasn’t up to her mother’s legacy, and had become quick to judge others.

Betty: Which story element sparked the idea for this story: setting, situation, character, or something else?

Ellen: A combination of setting, the importance of educating readers about climate change in a fun and understandable way, and the characters.

Betty: What kind of research did you need to do to write this story?

Ellen: I previously went to Greenland to do research on climate change for a non-fiction book. So, I already had great photos and memories of the area and exploring it. For Escape Greenland however I needed to do more research on Greenland, the culture, local traditions, and the people.

Betty: How many drafts of the story did you write before you felt the story was complete?

Ellen: I am all about the rewrite. I go through untold number of drafts before I feel it is ready for prime time and other readers.

Betty: How long did it take for you to write the story you’re sharing with us? Is that a typical length of time for you? Why or why not?

Ellen: It probably took me about a year or a little bit less to write the book. I don’t have a typical length of time as it usually depends on what other projects I am working on, if I am traveling and speaking a lot, and how inspired I am.

Betty: What rituals or habits do you have while writing?

Ellen: I don’t necessarily have any specific rituals, but in terms of habits for me it is all about getting words on the page and rewriting. My goal is to fill those blank pages and then rewrite the hell out of it. It might not be an ideal method, but it works for me and I enjoy honing the text, adding humorous tidbits or fun character details and working on the dialogue.

Betty: Every author has a tendency to overuse certain words or phrases in drafts, such as just, once, smile, nod, etc. What are yours?

Ellen: Just is a big one for me. I need to delete a lot of “justs”. I often find that short, crisp, and to the point is more powerful than wordy sentences, especially for a younger audience. I also watch out for the use of really, very, and that.

Betty: Many authors have a day job. Do you? If so, what is it and do you enjoy it?

Ellen: My day job is several all-in-one and I feel extremely fortunate that I love most of them. I am a marine scientist by training and have had some really cool jobs. I taught oceanography to college students (and took them to sea aboard a tall sailing ship), did research in the Florida Keys with the U.S. Geological Survey, was an Assistant Dean at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, ran a marine laboratory in the Bahamas, and was the Chief Scientist for the world’s only operating undersea laboratory (I have lived underwater twice to study coral reefs). Now my main focus is on bringing ocean and earth science to broader audiences while keeping it accurate and entertaining. I am also the science/program advisor for Celebrity Cruises’ three expedition ships in the Galapagos Islands. So, I have to go to the Galapagos several times a year (a fantastic gig). And I work as the Chief Scientist for StormCenter Communications, Inc., where I consult on various projects. I also do a lot of public speaking, sometimes appear on television as an expert and was a consultant on Disney’s Moana (did I write I love my job?).

Betty: As an author, what do you feel is your greatest achievement?

Ellen: Inspiration! When a reader is inspired to learn, take positive action, be curious, laugh, or simply want to read more, I am utterly grateful and wonderfully satisfied. And in turn, a reader’s positive response inspires me to keep writing.

Betty: What other author would you like to sit down over dinner and talk to? Why?

Ellen: As I wrote earlier, I am a big fan of Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series and his ability to combine mythology, adventure, and wickedly sarcastic and creative humor. I’d like to sit down with him to find out what inspires him, where he gets his ideas, and if he ever gets stuck in a plot. In general, I’d simply like to pick his brain a bit. He also seems like a great guy.

Betty: Success looks different to different people. It could be wealth, or fame, or an inner joy at reaching a certain level. How do you define success in terms of your writing career?

Ellen: That’s a difficult question for me to answer and one I am still working on. I don’t think I want fame, as I like my privacy outside of public events and sometimes find it difficult to accept praise. Wealth would be nice and offer security and more time to write, explore, and learn, but I think that’s a long shot. So far at least, great satisfaction has come with inspiring my readers and interacting with them. I think for me success is making a positive difference in my readers’ lives and it also brings me joy. Success or maybe satisfaction also comes when I can personally interact with my readers, answer questions, and see how engaged they are.

Ezzy Skylar, her brother Luke, and their father embark on a trip to number two on her deceased mother’s wonder list—Greenland’s Kangia Icefjord. While worrying that she didn’t inherit her mother’s gene for adventure, Ezzy and her family become embroiled in a dangerous plot. A flight across an obstacle course of icebergs, some hungry humpback whales, and a wild kayak ride atop a river inside a glacier will test Ezzy’s bravery and lead to an astonishing discovery.

Buy Links: TumbleHomeBooks * Amazon * IPGBook

What a cool job you have, Ellen! Thanks for sharing the inspiration behind your stories, too.

Happy reading!

Betty

P.S. If you haven’t already, please consider signing up for my newsletter, which I send out most every month, including news like new covers, new releases, and upcoming appearances where I love to meet my readers, along with recipes and writing progress. Thanks and happy reading!

Getting to know Radine Trees Nehring #author #fiction #mystery #novels #series 

 Sometimes a certain locale can be inspiring. Please help me welcome my next guest author, Radine Trees Nehring, as she shares her inspiration for her stories. First a glance at her bio and then we’ll get right to the good stuff!

Radine and John Nehring lived in Tulsa, Oklahoma, when they discovered the rural Arkansas Ozarks on a camping trip there in 1978 and fell in love with the area. They bought their first eleven acres in the Ozarks that same year (later expanded to 23 acres) and, working on weekends, built a weekend cabin. In 1988, they left Tulsa and moved full-time to Arkansas. Radine’s writing career opened when she began selling articles and essays about the Ozarks to regional and national publications. Many were collected in her first book, Dear Earth: A Love Letter from Spring Hollow, published by Brett Books in New York 1995. (That book was later sold to a Chinese publisher.) Radine says that all her writing, including her nine mystery novels, share what she loves about the Ozarks with readers. Her various awards and lively book sales prove that readers do enjoy the stories set in real places. This includes a New York reviewer who, after reviewing several in Radine’s To Die For mystery series, came with her husband to Arkansas on vacation because she wanted to visit all the book locations.

Radine says, “I enjoy writing about places I love, and sharing these with readers everywhere. Both they, and I, can experience famous Arkansas adventure areas as each crime story related to the area unfolds.”

Social links: Website * WordPress * Twitter

Betty: What inspired you to write the story you’re sharing with us today?

Radine: I did not begin writing for publication until I fell in love with the Ozarks of Arkansas. Then there was so much I wanted to share as I was discovering it for myself and found unique and very interesting. Evidently others did, too. Until that time not many people outside Arkansas and Missouri knew much about the Ozarks. (For example…they are not mountains, but eroded uplift plateaus.)

Betty: Which character arrived fully or mostly developed?

Radine: Carrie McCrite arrived fully developed. I am not sure why, but I am grateful it happened. Seemed like I had always known her and even her parents, who do not appear in any of my writing.

Betty: Which story element sparked the idea for this story: setting, situation, character, or something else?

Radine: All of the thirteen stories in this book are set at or near Spring Hollow (called Blackberry Hollow in all my books). It’s the area around the home John and I developed on our Ozarks land and the surrounding area we became very familiar with. I could walk every bit of the places covered in the stories, including the Crescent Hotel in Eureka Springs where Carrie and Henry were married and the mall where the baby abduction occurred. The library in one of the stories is very real and accurately described as well. I experienced the stories as I wrote them.

Betty: Which character(s) were the hardest to get to know? Why do you think?

Radine: Each character came “full grown” into his or her part in the story. And Shirley and Roger were already fully developed in several of my full length novels. I often know my book characters better than people I meet several times a week. “Real” people are often hard for me to get to know. Never (thus far) any book people.

Betty: What kind of research did you need to do to write this story?

Radine: Since every location in every one of the short stories (as well as all the main locations in my eight full-length mystery novels) was known to me, the only research needed was for details in the novels. I spent time at each of those sites and often worked with staff there. That, fortunately, led to acceptance and usually welcome for the completed novel. I have never had to ask permission to include a real location, but most readers would not know they were real down to the last doorknob. I do think, however, that being “in” the real place myself did help in developing each story.

Betty: How many drafts of the story did you write before you felt the story was complete?

Radine: Have never made drafts. Yes, I might change details within a story as I edited, but never finished any novel or short story and then did any very extensive re-write. I was member of a critique group at times during the writing process for some novels and short stories and group members would sometimes make suggestions for changes I thought of value, or ask questions that led to a change. But none were ever major. Initially, a St. Kitts Editor suggested that I make Carrie younger than she seemed in A Valley to Die For, but I knew Carrie too well by then to consider a change. One interesting development along that line is that I discovered early on that female readers of any mature age assumed Carrie was their age. Therefore I have never stated her age or answered questions about it. (I just say, “I don’t know, I never asked her.”) Assumed ages have ranged from 50s to 80s.

Betty: How long did it take for you to write the story you’re sharing with us? Is that a typical length of time for you? Why or why not?

Radine: Novels usually take me about a year to write and edit. Several individual short stories were written over probably 6-7 years, and some were published in anthologies at that time though stories were edited again for publishing in Solving Peculiar Crimes. Most of the stories in that collection are new, however, and each took a few days to think through and write. (As to the few that had been previously published, I had always received full return of rights. One example is the baby abduction in the mall, a Christmas story I wrote and donated to an anthology to benefit Toys for Tots.

Betty: What rituals or habits do you have while writing?

Radine: Can’t think of any rituals. I just sat down at my computer and took up where I left off the day before.

Betty: Every author has a tendency to overuse certain words or phrases in drafts, such as just, once, smile, nod, etc. What are yours?

Radine: Yes, I have done that, and the “word of the week” has varied so I can’t name a single one though the ones you mention must surely fit. I usually catch it when I do a first edit.

Betty: Do you have any role models? If so, why do you look up to them?

Radine: Role model. Hmm. It was Carolyn Hart who first encouraged me as a beginning mystery writer. She also charmed me with her Death on Demand series. Same was true of Margaret Maron and the Deborah Knott books somewhat later. Another, still more recently, is Marilyn Meredith. My husband and I also enjoyed spending time with Marilyn and her husband, Hap, at many mystery writers’ conventions we attended. I especially like her Rocky Bluff police procedural books, written as F. M. Meredith.

Betty: Do you have a special place to write? Revise? Read?

Radine: After we built Spring Hollow house in the rural Ozarks I had my own office. I wrote at my computer desk there, and re-read for editing on a love seat in my office. After my husband and I moved to a condo duplex in Fayetteville, AR, I again had my own office and computer desk. I edit sitting on a day bed in my office.

Betty: Many authors have a day job. Do you? If so, what is it and do you enjoy it?

Radine: I began writing short articles and essays for publications before I retired from a full-time job in Tulsa, but after we moved to Arkansas I could be a full-time writer. I did have one sort of part-time job however. I had my own radio program. “Arkansas Corner Community News” aired weekly on a Northwest Arkansas radio station. I researched and wrote all the news items on that program and delivered the news on the air. (Got pretty tired of nighttime board and committee meetings, truth be told.) I did enjoy doing radio work, however, and the notice and “fame” (😊)  I got around the two counties I covered was fun. Covering the yearly Christmas Parade in the town nearest us was a high point. I usually invited a local “citizen of note” to join me on the air and serve as a commentator about people and organizations we were seeing in the parade.

Betty: As an author, what do you feel is your greatest achievement?

Radine: Achievement. Maybe promoting this wonderful area and getting to work with so many people at the various locations I covered. And, the writing I do does give me a sense of accomplishment.

Betty: What other author would you like to sit down over dinner and talk to? Why?

Radine: Talk to over dinner?  No question…none of the “dead British ladies” like Agatha Christie or Dorothy L. Sayers, but any of several mystery authors I have met and enjoyed being with at the writing conferences that used to be held frequently around this country. Several of them are gone now, but they were considered good friends, and I miss them.

Betty: Success looks different to different people. It could be wealth, or fame, or an inner joy at reaching a certain level. How do you define success in terms of your writing career?

Radine: Success was/is a satisfying degree of recognition for my work, which helps validate it, and the fact I am pleased (and, honestly, still enjoy re-reading) my written work. Don’t know if I will write more to submit for publication but gee, there are the daily emails that keep me in touch with distant friends and family. As soon as COVID clears enough I intend to go back to setting up at one of many stores in an area grocery chain that has welcomed me at their entrances on past weekends to sell books. Lots of nice people to talk with whether they buy books or not. I have really missed that.

Readers familiar with Carrie McCrite and Henry King in Author Radine Trees Nehring’s popular To Die For mystery series will be one step ahead of those of us just beginning the journey into Ozark stories featuring right, wrong, and redemption. Carrie’s eagerness to help people in trouble often draws her into puzzling and dangerous human events. Her friend (and by this time, husband), retired police officer Henry King, provides support and back-up (and caution warnings she usually does not heed). Solving Peculiar Crimes includes thirteen short stories that feature real locations and many varying types of crime, not always murder. Christian readers will be comfortable with Carrie’s tendency to pray when in difficulty and danger.

Buy links:   RadineBooks * Amazon * B&N

Just hearing about your love of the Ozarks makes me want to plan a picnic hike somewhere! With fall here, the weather may cooperate, too. Thanks for swinging by, Radine, and sharing your inspiration with us.

Happy reading!

Betty

P.S. If you haven’t already, please consider signing up for my newsletter, which I send out most every month, including news like new covers, new releases, and upcoming appearances where I love to meet my readers, along with recipes and writing progress. Thanks and happy reading!

Getting to know Kitty Felde #author #fiction #childrensmysteries #podcaster #journalist

Please help me welcome my first children’s book author, Kitty Felde. I think you’ll find her very interesting and refreshing, so let’s take a gander at her bio and then get to know her better.

Kitty Felde is an award-winning journalist, podcaster, and writer of children’s mysteries set on Capitol Hill.

She is also host and executive producer of the Book Club for Kids podcast – named one of the top 10 kidcasts in the world by The Times of London. The show has won the DC Mayor’s Award for Excellence in the Humanities and the California Library Association Technology Award.

Her award-winning debut novel Welcome to Washington Fina Mendoza (Chesapeake Press, 2020) is the tale of the 10-year-old daughter of a member of Congress who solves the mystery of the Demon Cat. It’s been adapted to the dramatic podcast The Fina Mendoza Mysteries.

Book 2 in the series State of the Union was released in August. A mysterious bird has pooped on the president’s head during the State of the Union address. Fina must find that bird and learn its secret message.

Kitty is a veteran public radio journalist, named “Radio Journalist of the Year” three times by the LA Press Club and Society of Professional Journalists. She hosted Southern California Public Radio’s daily “Talk of the City” for nearly a decade. She covered Capitol Hill for nearly another decade. Kitty’s also an award-winning playwright.

Author Social Links: Twitter * Facebook * Twitter2

Betty: What inspired you to write the story you’re sharing with us today?

Kitty: I covered lots of State of the Union addresses over my years as a reporter on Capitol Hill. I loved that night of the year! The Capitol is even more lovely at night. Everyone dresses up special and has dinner and probably lots of wine, so everyone’s in a really good mood. It’s fun to lean over the balcony railing to see generals and Supreme Court Justices and all the Senators smushed into the House Chamber. And something always happens: Justice Bader Ginsburg falls asleep, a congressman yells “you lie!” at the president, there’s always a chance the first lady will stumble down the steep stairs.

I wanted to take everyone with me on one of those nights. To introduce the pomp and circumstance to kids. In this day of bitter partisanship, I want to inspire the next generation to think about public service. To see themselves in the future as a lawmaker. Or at least to show up at the polls and vote!

Betty: Which character arrived fully or mostly developed?

Kitty: Fina’s older sister Gabby just showed up. Her voice was clear and distinct. She’s probably more like me than Fina.

Betty: Which story element sparked the idea for this story: setting, situation, character, or something else?

Kitty: There was a woman who worked in the Capitol snack bar who used to wear a different wig every single day. For months, I thought it was a different person every day. I had been to the Bahamas one time, taken away from the town up into the hills where neighbors would gather in someone’s yard that had been turned into a restaurant. I could imagine a character like my wig lady dreaming of opening such a restaurant of her own. So she became Bahamian. And the Bahamian island of Andros, there’s a myth about a mysterious bird with long legs, the face of an owl, and the tail of a lizard named Chickcharney. That was the beginning of “State of the Union.”

Betty: Which character(s) were the hardest to get to know? Why do you think?

Kitty: I think Papa (Congressman Arturo Mendoza) is a tough one. He dearly loves his girls. And his mama. But he’s also very protective of his inner life. He’s still grieving for his late wife and feeling great responsibility for his constituents back in LA. So it was hard to get inside his head.

Betty: What kind of research did you need to do to write this story?

Kitty: I know a lot about Congress and the U.S. Capitol building and all the people who work there. But I keep finding things I DON’T know about. Luckily, people who work for the Architect of the Capitol helped me with statues and construction and such. The House Historian was happy to share back stories. And the House Chaplain’s office was thrilled to take me “behind the altar.” The US Capitol Historical Society has been most helpful with tales of ghosts and scary things in the Capitol. (Aside from insurrectionists…)

Betty: How many drafts of the story did you write before you felt the story was complete?

Kitty: I’m not sure about the number of drafts. I have a terrific critique group and we tackle a chapter at a time. Maybe four drafts?

Betty: How long did it take for you to write the story you’re sharing with us? Is that a typical length of time for you? Why or why not?

Kitty: “State of the Union” is the second book in the Fina Mendoza Mystery series, so I already knew the characters and the setting and the “format” of the book. Book one took about five years. Book two took about a year. Book one (Welcome to Washington Fina Mendoza) took longer not only because I didn’t know what I was doing (it was my first book!) but also because I didn’t have the confidence to send it out in the world.

I am more confident now. And I have a roadmap for the series. There will be 5 books and a podcast season for each book. I know some of what is coming next, but not everything. But I want to finish the series! So I’m expecting the next books will take less than a year.

Betty: What rituals or habits do you have while writing?

Kitty: Tea. Pots and pots of tea. Walks when I’m stuck. And short bursts of writing on a consistent basis.

Betty: Every author has a tendency to overuse certain words or phrases in drafts, such as just, once, smile, nod, etc. What are yours?

Kitty: You know, more than repetitive words, my downfall is punctuation. Where does the period go? Should I use a dash or an ellipse? Why CAN’T I use capital letters to make a point? I’m hopeless.

Betty: Do you have any role models? If so, why do you look up to them?

Kitty: Years ago, I wrote to an author to gripe about some small thing in one of his books. He wrote back, outraged at my critique. I realized that he was feeling the way I did back when I was an actor and got a bad review. So I wrote back. We were pen pals for year. It was because of Ron Powers that I even imagined that I was good enough to be a writer.

Betty: Do you have a special place to write? Revise? Read?

Kitty: My husband and I have an agreement: he gets the second bedroom for his office and I get the rest of the house. That said, my writing desk (an antique secretary that I’ve had since I was 12) is in the bedroom. It’s where I write first drafts. Then I print out pages and get out of the house. Pre-covid, I’d sit in coffee shops or libraries and work. Now I sit in my car at parks.

For reading, I have a cozy nook in the living room. Or if it’s particularly fine day, I camp out underneath the sycamores in the front yard.

Betty: Many authors have a day job. Do you? If so, what is it and do you enjoy it?

Kitty: I was a public radio reporter for three decades. I started my first book early in the morning those days.

These days, I produce the Book Club for Kids podcast as my “day job.” But it doesn’t require a 40 hour a week schedule. I edit on Mondays and tape author interviews, conversations with my young reviewers, and collate celebrity readings from the books whenever they come up.

I enjoy talking to young readers about what they love (and hate) to read. It helps me with my own writing. But more than that, the things that resonate with kids is SO different from what I get out of a book. And those conversations about those “left turns” are what inspire me.

For example, a trio of 7th grade girls explained to me that dystopian novels are popular because the protagonist is a girl and the boys treat her with respect. Okay.

Betty: As an author, what do you feel is your greatest achievement?

Kitty: I remember one of the first comments I got from a little girl who said she thought the book was going to be scary. She proclaimed it “not too scary.” That was the kind of kid I was: I wanted the kind of book this is, one that’s not too scary and full of family and heart.

I love the opportunity to go into classrooms and not only introduce kids to Chickcharney and the Demon Cat and Fina and the Mendoza family, but also to introduce them to Washington and the way government works, to hopefully inspire them, or at least to introduce basic civics.

Betty: What other author would you like to sit down over dinner and talk to? Why?

Kitty: Ngaio Marsh. She was a theatre maven like me and writes those lovely mystery novels set in Britain and New Zealand (where I spent my honeymoon). She’s not as smarty pants as Dorothy L. Sayers (who I also love, but feel I’m missing a lot because I never went to school in Oxford) with a good sense of humor. I’d love to talk about plotting a mystery. And about how she managed to be SO prolific!

Betty: Success looks different to different people. It could be wealth, or fame, or an inner joy at reaching a certain level. How do you define success in terms of your writing career?

Kitty: I’d love Fina to get picked up by Netflix or Nickelodeon and turned into a TV series. But success for me is getting my books into the hands of young readers, visiting classrooms, answering questions, and writing more books to spend more time with Fina Mendoza. And maybe someday, I’ll get a letter from an angry fan who will turn into a pen pal and maybe even run for Congress someday.

A mysterious bird poops on the head of the president during the State of the Union address. Can Fina Mendoza, the 10-year-old daughter of a congressman, outsmart the Secret Service, the Capitol Police, and most of Capitol Hill to find that bird…and learn its secret message? Fina is assisted in her investigation by a pair of congressional dogs – a giant orange Briard named Senator Something and a tiny mutt called Saint Sebastian. While Fina’s father is working on immigration reform legislation with his House colleagues inside the Capitol, her grandmother is nearly arrested outside with a group of activists.

Buy Links: Amazon * Barnes & Noble * Bookshop.org

What a fun concept, Kitty! Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing your books and your writing process with us.

Happy reading!

Betty

P.S. If you haven’t already, please consider signing up for my newsletter, which I send out most every month, including news like new covers, new releases, and upcoming appearances where I love to meet my readers, along with recipes and writing progress. Thanks and happy reading!