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Author Update 2021: Sarah H. Baker

Sarah H. Baker is a retired engineer turned author of more than 20 published novels and numerous novellas and short stories. In 2020 she released The Prisoner, book one in her Promise Me Tomorrow speculative fiction series. Visit Sarah’s website at SarahHanberryBaker.com and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter. Read more about Sarah in her 2015 and 2019 interviews for SouthWest Writers.


What do you want readers to know about the story you tell in Promise Me Tomorrow?
I wrote Promise Me Tomorrow in order to create a positive picture of the future of human beings. I spent much of the last decade of my career working in sustainability and studying issues like climate change. The whole thing can be depressing. But I believe humans will live on after society as we know it now changes to something totally different.

Who are your main protagonists, and why did you choose them as point of view characters?
Kole is the Protector of New Village. He protects a society based on love and kindness. Shylah, who starts out as a bandit injured and left behind when a group of bandits raids New Village, has never known the concept of love. All her life she’s had to fight to survive and can’t imagine a different world. These two characters represent opposite views of humanity, so they are naturally in conflict.

What is the main setting? How does it impact the story and the characters?
The main setting, New Village, is in the mountains of Colorado, founded at the opening to a cave housing a hot spring. After New Village is attacked, Kole leads a group into the ruins of Denver, looking for the rest of the bandits. He must find them in order to make New Village safe again.

Staying in New Village and watching the way villagers treat each other has a profound effect on Shylah. After a while, she realizes she doesn’t want to go back to her violent past. And when chasing the bandits, Kole must face the fact that he, too, can be violent when he’s protecting the villagers and their peaceful way of life.

Tell us how the book came together.
The spark for the story was the setting—a world based on love and peaceful coexistence. Kole came to me quickly; Shylah I had to work at. The story came together over several months, but then I had a break from writing while battling cancer. Several years later, I picked it back up and finished the story. After editing with beta readers’ feedback, I self-published the book as the first of a series.

What was the most difficult aspect of world building for the book?
The most difficult aspect was putting a group of people with a modern understanding of the world into a stone-age existence. I did a lot of research on edible plants and making clothes from native fibers.

What was your favorite part of putting this project together?
Creating the vision of New Village. I’d want to live there if I were alive at that time.

Promise Me Tomorrow is a departure from your romance releases. Why did you choose to go in this new direction?
The book isn’t a romance, but it certainly has a central romance running through it. Still, you’re right; it is a departure. I chose this because of my need to create a vision of the future that didn’t include zombies or a nuclear apocalypse.


KLWagoner150_2KL Wagoner (writing as Cate Macabe) is the author of This New Mountain: a memoir of AJ Jackson, private investigator, repossessor, and grandmother. Kathy posts to a speculative fiction blog at klwagoner.com and writes about memoir at ThisNewMountain.com.




An Interview with Author Gina Troisi

Gina Troisi decided to become a writer in third grade and went on to complete an MFA in creative nonfiction in 2009 through the University of Maine’s Stonecoast MFA Program. Since then, her stories and essays have been published in numerous literary journals and anthologies. The Angle of Flickering Light (Vine Leaves Press, April 2021) is her debut memoir that Domenica Ruta calls “a story of powerful recovery in the truest sense of the word, the journey of a woman who reclaims a sense of home in the sanctity of the self.” You’ll find Gina on her website at Gina-Troisi.com and on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.


Why did you write The Angle of Flickering Light, and who did you write it for?
I didn’t initially set out to write a memoir, at least not at first. But in many ways, I’d been writing this book my entire life. Since I was a child, I have scribbled in notebooks and journals. I have escaped into art in order to make sense of the world around me—to process what I could not yet understand, and to make meaning of all that was beyond my control.

While working on my MFA, I began crafting and shaping stand-alone essays, and after I completed school, I began publishing them. However, many of the essays had overlapping themes and subject matter, and featured the same characters again and again. It became all too apparent that these essays wanted to come together as a book—that there was a larger story, an overarching narrative that wanted to be told.

At first, I was writing the material for myself—to question and make sense of my experiences, to assess my choices and find lessons from my mistakes, and to think deeply about circumstance. But as I began to shape the book, I saw that my personal experiences were clearly universal. This book speaks to the societal expectations of both girls and women; it addresses body image and eating disorders and trying to fill the roles that have been established for us by society. It explores the way we attempt to find our places in our families and in the world. But it is also meant for anyone who has ever struggled with addiction, or who has loved someone afflicted by addiction. Ultimately, I wrote this book for those who have experienced great despair or loneliness or confusion—anyone who has tried desperately to find their way out.

When readers turn the last page in the book, what do you hope they’ll take away from it?
Hope, and the power of perseverance. I think we are at such a place in time where people are hungry for something to believe in—perhaps it has always been this way, but the pandemic seems to have brought this even closer to the surface. I think, as humans, we want to recognize meaning and purpose in our lives, and we want to find fulfillment. My great wish is that readers will walk away from the book inspired and encouraged, with the belief that no matter how difficult things may become, they have the ability to emerge from their darkest moments, and to find their own truths.

What unique challenges did this work pose for you?
The structure was tricky. Since I had originally compiled the book as a collection of essays, in order to convert it to a memoir, I had to think deeply about the narrative throughline—the heart of the story I wanted to tell. I had to think, in the most traditional sense, of a beginning, middle and end, even though I was compiling essays that covered a huge span of time, and that sometimes varied in tone, voice, and style. And this took much experimentation, much study of other works, and of course much trial and error.

When did you know you wanted to write your memoir? What prompted the push to begin the project?
At first, I was very resistant to the idea of writing a memoir. I began writing much of this material as fiction, but of course it was completely autobiographical. When I entered my MFA Program in 2007, the mentors there encouraged me to focus on creative nonfiction, since it was clearly what I was writing, so I decided to be open to that, and to explore.

I was not only resistant to sharing such vulnerable parts of myself with the world, but I was sensitive to the negative connotation the word memoir can have, how some believe the genre is indulgent, or that it has oversaturated the market. For this particular project, it was as if the genre chose me rather than the other way around. In 2011, a couple of years after I had generated much of the material that eventually became this book, I went on a three-week writing retreat to Western Massachusetts, and I immersed myself in putting together a book-length work. At that time, I was thinking of the book as an essay collection rather than a memoir. But in 2013, I received interest in the book from a small university-run press, and the editor there encouraged me to transition the book from an essay collection to a memoir, so I began to do so.

Tell us a bit about your journey to publication.
In 2012, I began sending the original version of the manuscript to agents and small presses and book contests. In 2013, when I received interest from the small press, I restructured the book so it became a memoir with a narrative arc. In the end, the press passed, so I was left with two versions of the book: an essay collection and a not-quite-complete memoir version. In 2014, I attended the River Teeth Nonfiction Conference in Ashland, Ohio, and I had a consultation with the fabulous author, Sonya Huber, who was kind enough to read both versions of the book. What I wanted to hear is that one version of the manuscript was working over the other, but in the end, she and I agreed that the final version should contain elements of both of the working manuscripts. I knew I needed to gain some distance and clarity in order to see the work with fresh eyes, so I put the book away for almost five years, and continued to work on other projects.

In late 2018, I decided it was time to return to the manuscript. I began exchanging work on a monthly basis with my good friend, who was working on his novel. For eight months, we exchanged pages religiously, and I continued to revise. I began to send the new and final version of the book out to agents and publishers again in late 2019, and I signed the contract with Vine Leaves Press in March of 2020.

How did you choose the title of the book?
The Angle of Flickering Light was originally a title of one of the stand-alone essays I published. It’s now part of a line in the book, describing an intimate moment in the narrative, and I like that it’s an image, but also that it speaks to the idea of finding flickers of light in darkness. The book is largely about hope and resilience, and about searching for light within, rather than outside of oneself.

What was the most rewarding aspect of putting this project together?
I think that the most rewarding aspect was finishing—actually bringing the project to completion after such a long journey down this path. And the finality of signing the contract was exhilarating.

During the process of writing your memoir, it must have been difficult to re-live your experiences. If you found yourself scared of what you were writing or of revealing too much about yourself, how did you move past that fear and continue writing?
This is such an important question, and I think memoirists must all go through this fear at some point. I never felt as if I was reliving my experiences consciously, but when I was deep into the work, I would find myself dreaming about the events in the book, so it very much existed on a subconscious level. And I certainly lost many hours of sleep worrying about what others might think once it was published.

But I find that many of the lessons I discover about writing are also the lessons I discover about life. Stories often help people to feel less alone. So in that sense, I began to accept that the book was for others; it was no longer about me. A brilliant writer and friend told me, “You had a story, and now it’s a gift. It’s not yours anymore,” and I think that was such a sage thing to say. We have to honor the work we are creating by letting it become whatever it is meant to be, and we also need to let go of control when it comes to other people’s reactions. There is so much in this life that we cannot control, and I think the same can be said about art.

Do you prefer the creating, editing or researching aspect of a writing project?
I enjoy them all, but I particularly love the act of creating. I feel such freedom and possibility when beginning a new project. I love knowing that I can go in any direction I am compelled to go, and that I can experiment fully because I’ll be able to revise and re-envision the work later on. I love the timelessness of the beginning of a project—the way I can become fixated and lose myself to the point where it seems nothing else exists, at least for a short time.

What writing projects are you working on now?
I am working on two novels-in-stories. One of the collections revolves around a particular restaurant in a small New Hampshire mill town. It explores economic and class issues, and consists of a cast of characters who thread a larger narrative about the way it’s possible to find and form surrogate families.

The other collection takes place in a coastal Massachusetts town, and is focused on the lives of a married couple who lose their only child in a tragic car accident just after he turns eighteen. It poses questions about parenthood and loss and perseverance, and it sifts through what ultimately sustains us during times when it seems that nothing will.


KLWagoner150_2KL Wagoner (writing as Cate Macabe) is the author of This New Mountain: a memoir of AJ Jackson, private investigator, repossessor, and grandmother. Kathy posts to a speculative fiction blog at klwagoner.com and writes about memoir at ThisNewMountain.com.




Author Update: RJ the Story Guy

RJ Mirabal (aka RJ the Story Guy) is a retired high school teacher building a second career as a writer. He’s the author of an adult fantasy series (the Rio Grande Parallax trilogy) and a children’s book (Trixie Finds Her People) inspired by his adventurous rescue dog. His newest release is Dragon Train (2020) which takes young adult readers on a unique quest in a different kind of dragon story. You’ll find RJ at RJTheStoryGuy.com and on Facebook at RJ The Story Guy and Dragon Train Quest Book Series. Read more about RJ and his writing in his 2015, 2017, and 2020 interviews for SouthWest Writers.


­­­What would you like readers to know about the story you tell in Dragon Train?
This is a story that brings together a motherless boy and a mother who fears she will lose her family. The boy’s mother died while he was a child, but he has no memories of her. The mother in the story (not related to the boy) has three children and a mate who are enslaved. She escapes bondage but fears her escape will mean death to her family unless she can rescue them. The boy and the mother team up to attempt a rescue mission. There’s adventure in that quest, but the relationship of a mother without her family and a young man longing for a mother allows them to develop a close bond. I want readers to quickly understand that and watch how the two work together to achieve their mission and find a meaningful relationship with each other.

Who did you write the book for?
The book is aimed mainly at young readers from ages 11 to 15, though advanced younger readers and typical young adult and older readers should find this appealing. Because of the main character and the many action scenes, I suspect boys would enjoy the story the most. The story’s audience includes anyone who likes dragons, a satisfying adventure, and those looking for stories of how mutually rewarding relationships can develop. Readers who enjoy fantasy and elements of magic will like the story because of the existence of dragons in a pastoral society much like the 18th Century. In addition, the fact that Blue Dragons are intelligent and can communicate with humans telepathically makes the story appealing for most any fantasy reader.

What sparked the story idea?
After writing a fantasy trilogy clearly aimed at mature readers, I wanted to write something more appropriate for young readers. I surveyed a number of books in that genre and realized that dragons appealed to me more than vampires, zombies, and the like. However, I wanted to take a new approach to the usual dragon stories, but what?

One evening, as I was dropping off to sleep thinking about dragons, the words “dragon train” popped in my head. Wow, where did that come from? I researched the internet and Amazon and didn’t find anything to do with dragon trains. Later, on an online European book site, Rakuten Kobo, I found a book with that title, but it was a very different instructional story for children. So, I was convinced I had a fresh idea. But do dragons ride on this train or… It occurred to me that because dragons are big, powerful, and can fly, maybe they could tow a train by pulling it as they flew a few feet above the tracks. Dragons could be a source of power in a world where steam power had not been invented yet. But would dragons really want to do that? If they were intelligent — and I was convinced they wouldn’t be interesting characters if they weren’t highly intelligent — would they put up with that? The answer is “no.” They would resist, but clever and devious humans could develop ways to control the dragons. And on went the thought process.

Who are the main characters in the story?
To avoid writing complicated explanations about how the whole situation in the story developed, I decided Skye (a Blue Dragon) and Jaiden (a fifteen-year-old boy) would first become friends. Jaiden, who lives in a small farming town, wouldn’t know much about the world and how dragons were forced to tow trains. This allowed Skye to explain all this through family stories about how the dragons lost control of their lives. Since I needed a major female character, I decided the Blue Dragon would be a mother. The boy begins to think of her as a positive mother-figure and the story develops from that. Jaiden immediately proves himself to be resourceful and fearless when he helps her escape. He continues to be useful as he helps Skye avoid capture by the humans. Her storytelling and their exploits allow the two to bond since each satisfies a need in the other. And since Skye wants to rescue her family before it’s too late, that provided an adventurous quest to attract a decent-minded, but bored, young man who longed for excitement.

What was the most difficult aspect of world building for this book?
Since I had decided I needed a world whose technology didn’t include steam power, I needed to develop details of that world which meant research and some careful thinking about how Blue Dragons (the size of a barn) could be controlled by humans. The fun of fantasy is to create worlds, but you have to make it logical because sharp readers can find flaws if you make it too easy for one group of beings to control another group. However, the intelligence of my dragons, their ability to fly, and their strength allowed them to have dominance over humans just a generation or so before my story takes place, so there is considerable tension between these formidable enemies.

I decided against incorporating a lot of magic because so many fantasy stories depend on it for nearly everything. My challenge as a writer was to find ways that interesting beings and civilizations can overcome one another by means other than magic. However, I did give the dragons the ability to communicate telepathically so that Jaiden and Skye can communicate. That also allowed me to develop the dragons into complex characters. I also included other kinds of dragons such as Gold Dragons and Silver Dragons who are smaller, less intelligent, and have different behaviors than the superior Blues. More will be developed about those dragons in a sequel.

Tell us how Dragon Train came together.
From the inception of the idea to the finished book was a little over a year. I wouldn’t have thought it possible, but with help of the critique group I belong to, the book fell into place quicker than I expected. Their careful reading and suggestions gave me confidence I was on the right track, if I can be allowed to make a pun on Dragon Train! I was concerned about cover art because I didn’t know anyone who could design and draw dragons. Through Divergent Art, a website collective of artists, I found a young lady known by the name Celebril, who creates beautiful dragons very much like what I imagined when I thought of Skye. I had an image in my head of Skye towing a train with Jaiden in the lead car holding the reins on Skye as if he were the pilot. Celebril was able to create a remarkable cover matching my vision and her rates were very reasonable.

What did you learn in the process of completely this project that you can apply to your future work?
To format this book and a previous book, Trixie Finds Her People, I acquired a program that allowed me to format the book precisely the way I wanted it to look. Since publishing Dragon Train, I have also learned how to completely format and create print-ready PDF files using a new program that works the same way as In-Design. I’m now ready to produce my own books from beginning to end and use Ingram Spark as my printing/distribution service provider.

Looking back to the beginning of your writing/publishing career, what do you know now that you wish you’d known then?
First, I eventually realized a writer must learn everything he/she can about writing before trying to get published. Not just the grammar and mechanics, but the process of writing smooth, economical sentences and paragraphs that clearly convey the vision of your story, characters, setting, and theme. And it’s important to find your “voice.” What is, and how do you communicate, your unique perspective of the universe and life as a human being? I found that exploring and discovering those things through writing short works and gaining feedback from fellow writers is how you can learn to write effectively. Without feedback, you’re existing in an echo chamber and may not communicate with anyone beyond the confines of your head. This is what SouthWest Writers, SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators), and my critique group have done for me.


KLWagoner150_2KL Wagoner (writing as Cate Macabe) is the author of This New Mountain: a memoir of AJ Jackson, private investigator, repossessor, and grandmother. Kathy posts to a speculative fiction blog at klwagoner.com and writes about memoir at ThisNewMountain.com.




An Interview with Author Edith Tarbescu

Edith Tarbescu is a produced playwright and the author of children’s books published by Clarion, Barefoot Books, and Scholastic. Her debut novel is One Will: Three Wives (Adelaide Books, December 2020), which Anne Hillerman says is “packed with a large array of interesting suspects — any one of whom could be a murderer — and a roller coaster ride of plot twists.” You’ll find Edith on her website at EdithTarbescu.com and on Facebook and LinkedIn.


Tell us about One Will: Three Wives?
It’s a who-done-it, and those who’ve read the book were unable to guess, which is the goal of a mystery.

What unique challenges did this work pose for you?
I was totally unfamiliar with police procedure and how the police solve a mystery. I had to familiarize myself with the NYPD (New York Police Department).

Who are your main characters, and why will readers connect with them?
My main characters are two detectives: male and female. They are partners and lovers. I think they are both likeable. The female detective moved to New York from Montana and is part Native-American, and the male detective is a native New Yorker.

What makes this novel unique in the mystery market?
It has hints of romance and betrayal between the two detectives and a fair amount of humor mixed with adventure and murder.

How did the book came together?
I wanted to write something different for me and hit on the idea of a murder mystery. After I finished, I sent it to several agents. A few said it lacked tension. I hired a freelance editor, formerly an editor at Harper. He said it lacked tension because I was in everybody’s head. So I made the female detective my protagonist and everything is seen through her eyes.

Did you discover anything surprising while doing research for the book?
I realized how much research I had to do. I went to New York (my home town) and visited the police station I was writing about. Luckily, a policeman offered to show me the squad room, answer questions, etc. I was incredibly grateful to him and the time he spent with me.

What was the most rewarding aspect of writing One Will: Three Wives?
I came to love my protagonist, Cheri, and her partner, James, and loved spending time with them. They were very real to me. The research I did in New York was also rewarding. In addition to visiting the police station, I also visited a dog shelter. A character in my book is a dog walker and later becomes a person of interest. She was one of the three wives.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
When I attended the Yale Drama School, I saw my plays performed and got positive feedback from the Head of the Playwriting Department. Then I called myself a playwright.

What kinds of scenes do you find most difficult to write?
Scenes with a lot of description. I am a playwright and best at dialogue, so I have to work at descriptions.

Do you prefer the creating or editing aspect of writing? How do you feel about research?
Definitely creating. I also enjoy research and use Google a lot.

What advice do you have for beginning or discouraged writers?
Persevere. Join a writers group, if possible, and try to attend meetings at SWW (zooming for now). And read a lot — books and magazines.

What writing projects are you working on now?
I’m working on a memoir titled Beyond Brooklyn.


KLWagoner150_2KL Wagoner (writing as Cate Macabe) is the author of This New Mountain: a memoir of AJ Jackson, private investigator, repossessor, and grandmother. Kathy posts to a speculative fiction blog at klwagoner.com and writes about memoir at ThisNewMountain.com.




Author Update 2021: Joyce Hertzoff

Author Joyce Hertzoff writes mystery, science fiction, and fantasy in every length from flash fiction to novels, and for different audiences including middle grade, young adult, and adult. Her newest YA fantasy release is Homeward Bound (2020), the fourth and final book in her Crystal Odyssey series. You’ll find Joyce on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest, as well as on her website at FantasyByJoyceHertzoff.com and blog at HertzoffJo.blogspot.com. Read more about Joyce in her 2015, 2017, and 2019 SWW interviews, and visit Amazon for all of her books.


What would you like readers to know about the story you tell in Homeward Bound?
In Homeward Bound, I’ve wrapped up Narissa Day’s story. Nissa, her siblings and friends are sailing back to Solwintor from Fartek with devices and information that the scientists at the Stronghold need. But first, she and her group have to get past an island that wasn’t there before. When they reach home, they’ll have to fight the Legion that threatens to take over the continents of Solwintor and Leara. There are also two weddings that take place.

What unique challenges did this work pose for you?
I had to wrap up a few loose ends. I always have a problem coming up with an ending. And, as usual, I had a hard time with the fight scenes, making them as realistic as possible. I also didn’t want to be saccharine in the romantic and wedding scenes.

How did the book come together?
There had to be at least one more story after the third book in the series. The gang finished their mission in Fartek and had to go home. It took about seven or eight months to write what happened along the way, and then another year or so to get feedback and revise the story. I rely on critique groups, both online and local, and a few of those critique partners helped me.

Tell us a little about your main character and what she has to overcome in this story.
The main character, as in the previous three stories, is Narissa Day, called Nissa. She’s learned quite a bit about her world since her eighteenth birthday when she left home for the first time with brother Blane to find Madoc, her missing magic teacher. She’s definitely grown up. In this particular story, she mainly has to overcome the threat of the Legion on Solwintor, the East Islands and her home continent of Leara. Her sword-fighting skills come in handy in the story, along with the ability to harness the energy all around with her mind.

What did you do to make your story world, with its fantastical elements, believable and logical?
As a former scientific abstracter, I believe in building my story worlds on sound scientific bases. I have a need to explain everything and make fantastical elements scientifically possible. For example, the world of my series relies on crystals to power devices and engines. In the past, crystal radios used similar crystals to change which sound frequencies they were tuned to. In my stories, the crystals are used to focus the energy around us as a power source.

Did what-if questions help shape your series?
All speculative fiction starts with what-if questions. The consequences of those suppositions should be logical, yet interesting for the reader. Those consequences lead to more what-if questions, and so on. For example, if you ask, “What if you find two books written in a strange language that show star patterns different from those where you are?” Then the next question is: “What would you do?” In the second book of the series, Nissa, Madoc and their siblings travel north looking for the source of the books and a place where the stars look like the patterns in the book.

What was your favorite part of putting this project together?
I surprised myself with some of the places the story went, and that I needed four novels to finish the whole story. But my favorite part was brainstorming all the obstacles the characters had to overcome to achieve their goals, and then brainstorming ways to get past each obstacle. Characters, not just mine, have a habit of taking a story places it wasn’t supposed to go. I enjoyed dreaming up ways to bring them back to where I wanted the story to end up. I love solving puzzles, even ones I create for myself.

Looking back to when you wrote book one, The Crimson Orb, when did you know the story was strong enough for a series?
As I wrote the first story, ideas occurred to me that I couldn’t include in the first adventures. But it was those two books that Nissa and Blane found in Madoc’s rooms that made sequels imperative.

If the stars aligned, what past or present television or movie series would you love to write for (or be involved with in any capacity)?
I just finished re-watching the first four seasons of Eureka, and I’m currently watching season five. It appeals to my sense of mixing science and fantasy. Sure, a lot of the science is made up, but so is the crystal-based science in my series. I would have loved to have written for Eureka.

I’ve written fan fiction for other TV shows and movies, including The Princess Bride, Twister, Winnie the Pooh, Northern Exposure, and even the British mystery series Rosemary and Thyme. Always a fun activity. But those were for fanfic exchanges, not as real continuations of the movies and TV shows. Still, I would want to write for them for real.

What are the key issues when writing a series to keep readers coming back for more?
At least two things are needed: a premise large enough that it can take you through a series and characters that readers can relate to. Recurring details can also be good. And, of course, the world building has to be solid and consistent.

What writing projects are you working on now?
I’m working on the sequel to my award-winning novella A Bite of the Apple. I have two near-future/post-apocalyptic series in the works, one for middle-grade students and one for adults. I even have a crime/mystery series that’s partly finished. Finally, I’m writing a few short stories.


KLWagoner150_2KL Wagoner (writing as Cate Macabe) is the author of This New Mountain: a memoir of AJ Jackson, private investigator, repossessor, and grandmother. Kathy posts to a speculative fiction blog at klwagoner.com and writes about memoir at ThisNewMountain.com.




Author Update: Dennis Kastendiek

Author Dennis Kastendiek is a master at creating memorable characters whose life circumstances place them squarely in the underdog category. Reviewers call his debut novel, A Seven Month Contract at Four Thousand Per (2020), “a hilarious romp through the world of theater and life undercover” and “brilliantly written, with compelling characters” and the “unique combination of fun and craziness of Some Like it Hot wonking with the television cast of Fame.” For more information about Dennis and his writing, go to his 2018 interview.


What is your elevator pitch for A Seven Month Contract at Four Thousand Per?
Johnny is just an ordinary Kansas high school graduate being raised along with his sister by a single working mother. But he finds himself in a fix when pranking with his sister results in her broken leg just before a community playhouse review that their mother is overseeing. Catering contracts have been signed, the costumes and set designed and created, rental on the playhouse paid in advance. Johnny learned all his sister’s lines watching rehearsals. Their mother doesn’t need to draw a picture for the guilty Johnny — he must fill in for his sister. The story was written online with a pen pal, swapping scenes and chapters over many months. The characters are original, a lot of the story arc built around classics like Billy Wilder’s Some Like it Hot and Gelbart and Mcguire’s Tootsie. The pathetic hero and his/her surrounding performers just happen to be much younger.

What unique challenges did this work pose for you?
A major challenge was to keep this oft-told tale fresh. We tried to do that by focusing on the characters and their motivations. Johnny’s mother loses her job at Walmart because of having to drive her daughter to and from doctor appointments and rehabilitation sessions. A talent scout lazily passing through another hayseed town stops to watch the local play and is astounded by the talents of the lead actress. One of his major clients is looking for a star to act in what is hoped will be a blockbuster aimed largely at a teenage audience. Hence a seven-month contract at four thousand per is the carrot dangled in front of Johnny/Johnnie (the lead “actress”). The snowball starts rolling from there.

Tell us how the book came together.
A lot of the foundation was in exchanging ideas and scenarios with my coauthor. He has traveled more widely than I have, so I relied on him for the “road story” expertise. We included another Kansas cast member, Johnny’s good friend (and secret crush) Laura, noted by the talent scout and invited to join the traveling troupe. Johnny would now have at least one friend “in” on his crazy conspiracy. The writing itself took months. We rejected ideas, modified others, those kinds of things.

Who are your main characters, and why will readers connect with them?
Johnny and his friend Laura, the town minister’s daughter, are put on a Greyhound to California by their respective parents. Johnny gets put through a wringer but is determined to keep a roof over the heads of his mother and sister. He doesn’t see any other way to earn twenty-eight thousand dollars to do so. Family is his main motive. Laura has had a long dream of attaining stardom and is swept off her feet by another cast member after they arrive in California. Johnny’s hopes of rooming with Laura are thus dashed. A woman named Patricia overhears Johnny’s dilemma and offers to room with “her.” Johnny now has a new deception to portray. When Patricia senses something rotten in Denmark, Johnny invents a false story to share with her, that he is transsexual. Patricia accepts the tale. Good motives and strange mischief.

Is there a scene in your book you’d love to see play out in a movie?
That’s a particularly good question. I’m in a critique group with well-known western writer Melody Groves. As I read my chapters, she kept saying, “I can just see these kids, the bus they travel in, the cities they travel to. This would make a great one of those ‘Afterschool Movies.’” So, long story short, I wouldn’t mind the whole thing as a movie.

What was the most interesting fact you discovered while doing research for this book?
One interesting fact I discovered came from my coauthor. There’s a scene in the book where Johnny and Laura are rolling their luggage from a bus toward a taxi stand. My coauthor had several careers, one of them working on the Apollo Project. My character makes the comment, “I can’t believe we landed a man on the moon before luggage makers decided to put wheels on luggage.” Again, I took his word on that.

What was your favorite part of putting this project together?
Favorite is a tough word to pin down. My favorite genre is just plain good writing. The swapping of paragraphs and scenes and chapters between my coauthor in Kansas and me in Albuquerque was fun. But for a long time I really didn’t think the resulting book was publishable. It needed work. Melody Groves (mentioned above) invited me into her critique group. Advice poured like welcome rain. After all the revision I put into it, my coauthor offered me author credit. I share that gracious gesture of his in the acknowledgments. So I guess my favorite role was being part of a shared effort. This book, like the Apollo Project my coauthor worked on, was a team effort. A goldanged dude landed on the moon. I just hope readers get a similar kick from reading about this straight kid in a dire bind as I got from writing the thing.

Before writing A Seven Month Contract at Four Thousand Per, you were predominately a short story writer. What is it about the short story form that draws you to it?
The swirling and often moving trip of the short story draws me to that genre. I often reread Salinger’s magnificent “For Esme, with Love and Squalor.” I find the quiet space that I need, and I enter that other world, that other dimension as another great named Serling put it, and the story washes over me. The war, the girl with the oversized watch and the semi-obnoxious little brother, the rain, the wisecracks with Clay about pussycats and stamp collections. They all wash over me, and I find myself crying my heart out. Singers like Hank Williams, Neil Young, a retired mailman named John Prine, a Canadian named Leonard Cohen can do the same. They distill the essence of life. They age it in them old oaken barrels. Then they pour it all gently into a glass and silently ask, “Have you ever tasted anything like this before?”

When you start a new writing project, do you have a theme or message in mind or is that something that develops as the story unfolds?
I think every one of my stories started differently. If you read my collection, I partially hope you think, “THIS is the same guy who wrote THAT?” I try not to write the same story twice. In my reflective old age, I wish I had been more prolific. But I’m somewhat happy about the curs I unleashed on this world.

Is there anything else you’d like readers to know?
I’d like my readers to know that I’m just like them. I don’t want to be a carnival barker or a rich encyclopedia salesman whose product is going to go out of date in about a year. I’d like to be remembered as someone who told a few stories, maybe left behind a few tears, a few smiles, a few laughs. Maybe a thought: this place can be better.


KLWagoner150_2KL Wagoner (writing as Cate Macabe) is the author of This New Mountain: a memoir of AJ Jackson, private investigator, repossessor, and grandmother. Kathy posts to a speculative fiction blog at klwagoner.com and writes about memoir at ThisNewMountain.com.




An Interview with Author Esther Jantzen

Esther Jantzen is a former high school teacher turned author. A long-time family literacy advocate, she published Way to Go! Family Learning Journal in 2006 (now out of print) and Plus It! How to Easily Turn Everyday Activities into Learning Adventures for Kids (2009). She turned to writing fiction after a 500-mile pilgrimage sparked the idea for her first novel for pre-teens. WALK: Jamie Bacon’s Secret Mission on the Camino de Santiago (July 2020) follows the missteps, adventures, and heroism of an 11-year-old boy on a pilgrimage across Spain with his home-schooling family. You’ll find Esther on her Amazon author page.


When readers turn the last page in the book, what do you hope they take away from it?
I’ve heard from some readers that they cried (“good crying”) at the end of WALK. That pleases me. I assume they were touched by Jamie’s spunk in facing a rash of disappointments, choices, and problems — and that they felt relief and pride in his kid-like humility as he meets the moment, encounters unexpected, happy results, and earns a touch of fame. I’m guessing that the readers’ tears were tears of joy because the family is unified at the end, proud of their youngest member, and understands that the whole Camino experience had cracked him (and each of them) open to a new generous way of being.

What unique challenges did this work pose for you?
The biggest challenge for me was making what was essentially a travelogue — characters going from place to place and seeing interesting things — into a compelling narrative with suspense, tension, betrayal, wins and losses, and plenty of growth in the characters. Those are the elements that make a good story.

Who is your main character, and what will readers like most about him?
The main character in WALK is eleven-year-old Jamie Bacon — a clumsy pre-teen whose natural curiosity snaps him out of grumbling resistance and awakens his integrity, awe, leadership, and willingness to help others. He’s up against a quarrelsome older sister, a bossy mother, and a mostly absent father as he discovers that friendships and attachments are fleeting because of the nature of a pilgrimage. Readers will like Jamie’s honesty, enthusiasm, imagination, and willingness to both stand up and back down. His troubles and adventures make him learn and change and ultimately lead to him keeping his word.

How does the story’s setting impact the characters?
The setting for WALK is mighty unusual: an ancient 500-mile route of rough trails, cow paths, woodland walks, scary highways, mountain passes, and urban streets that starts in France, goes over the Pyrenees, and winds through Northern Spain to the holy city of Santiago de Compostela. This location has been known for about 1200 years as El Camino de Santiago. The setting serves almost as a character — challenging, wooing, deceiving, confusing, wowing, and educating pilgrims.

What topics explored in WALK make the book a perfect fit for the classroom?
By design, I think many elements in the book make it a valuable teaching: 1) the hero’s journey narrative structure; 2) the geography, history, references to art, architecture, European literary classics; 3) its values orientation — toward compassion, personal responsibility, honesty, forgiveness, flexibility, initiative, and service; 4) as an introduction to another culture and some of its language; 5) the depiction of a certain parenting style, showing how sibling issues might resolve and the value of allowing children to have their own experiences; and 6) how students can document an experience, work collaboratively, study independently, and more. I was a long-time classroom teacher. I wanted this book to have multiple layers so teachers can emphasize what they think is most needed. And incidentally, I think WALK can be useful for parents, perhaps as a means to inspire them to risk a bit and do more expansive things with their children. Plus, home-schooling families may enjoy many aspects of the story.

Tell us how the book came about.
The idea to write a children’s book about the Camino came to me on my first walk in 2008: I wanted to convey to my family and friends, (and especially grandkids) a sense of the fun, beauty, physical challenge, freedom, and expansion I experienced. How hard could that be, I naively (arrogantly) wondered. Well, it took twelve years before WALK appeared in print. I had to learn how to write fiction (dialog, plot, setting, theme…); learn the conventions and scope of the middle-grade novel as a genre; and become informed about the history and legends of the Camino (which I did through both reading/research and returning twice more to walk the Camino). Further, I had to grasp what real editing and cutting of 30,000 words felt like. Then I experienced the challenge of seeking and not landing a traditional publisher. Eventually I had to face all the decisions, frustrations, and costs of independent publishing. Was it worth it? Absolutely, yes! I love the result that came from my collaboration with my cover illustrator, my graphic designer, mapmaker, and others.

What was the most rewarding aspect of putting this project together?
Three things, not one, from this project were incredibly rewarding: 1) the travel and research that I did to make the book as accurate as possible; 2) what I did to bolster my knowledge of children’s lit — reading several hundred Newbery Award and Honor books; and 3) the lifestyle change that I chose (selling my home and becoming a nomadic house sitter), because I so enjoyed the freedom of the Camino. This book feels like my legacy. I have other story/novel ideas, but who knows what will become of them.

What did you learn from working with the cover illustrator for WALK?
The trick to working with a cover illustrator, I found, is to walk a line between being very clear about what you want (and that clarity is not easy to come by), and trusting or allowing the illustrator’s artistic gifts and sensibility to shape something that may be far better than what you thought you wanted.

Looking back to the beginning of your writing/publishing career, what do you know now that you wish you’d known then?
I wish I had started earlier. I’m retired now, yet I have a dynamite idea I’d like to shape into a book. But it’s a complicated concept and would require years of research. Also, there are different priorities in the world now. I feel a strong responsibility to do work toward climate solutions. Writing another novel seems like an indulgence, almost misdirected energy. So I’m on the fence about what’s next for me, although marketing WALK will be a priority for a while.


KLWagoner150_2KL Wagoner (writing as Cate Macabe) is the author of This New Mountain: a memoir of AJ Jackson, private investigator, repossessor, and grandmother. Kathy posts to a speculative fiction blog at klwagoner.com and writes about memoir at ThisNewMountain.com.




2021 Call for Submissions: SWW Annual Writing Contest


The SouthWest Writers 2021 Annual Writing Contest is open for submissions. The competition encourages first-time writers as well as seasoned professionals. You do not have to be a member of SouthWest Writers to enter.

First-, second-, and third-place winners will be awarded in twelve categories for fiction/nonfiction prose and eight categories for poetry.

Deadline: Midnight May 31, 2021 (Mountain Time).
Fee: $10 for each entry.
Submission: Online only.
Awards: First place, $50. Second place, $25. Third place, $10. Winners in each category have the option to be published in the next SWW contest anthology.

CONTEST RULES

  • Each entry must be an original work, in English, not published electronically or in print anywhere.
  • No limit on number of entries per person. The same piece can be entered in more than one category but will cost $10 for each entry/category.
  • All entries must be submitted electronically via the SWW website, using .doc or docx file format. NO mailed entries accepted.
  • Prose: Limited to 3,500 words.
  • Poetry: Limited to 250 lines.

Go to the SouthWest Writers contest page for more details and to enter the contest. Good luck!




Author Update: Jasmine Tritten

Jasmine Tritten is an artist, poet, memoirist, and short story writer whose work can be found in over a dozen publications. In her second memoir, On the Nile with a Dancing Dane (August 2020), she explores the land of the pharaohs while following her love for dance and the Egyptian culture. Visit Jasmine on Facebook and her Amazon author page. Read her 2016 SWW interview to learn about her debut memoir, The Journey of an Adventuresome Dane. And in a 2019 interview, she and husband Jim discuss their first children’s book collaboration.


What would you like readers to know about On the Nile with a Dancing Dane?
The book is an adventurous travel memoir filled with mystery and surprises, from galloping a horse in the Sahara Desert to belly dancing on the Nile River. It’s a safe and inexpensive way to travel with me to Egypt, exploring the land of the pharaohs before iPhones and computers.

What unique challenges did this work pose for you?
About 37 years ago, when I went on a trip to Egypt, I wrote by hand a detailed journal. I used the journal to write this memoir. Photos were taken at the time using a plastic Brownie camera with one white button. I had to scan all the small photos into my computer and enhance them.

When did you know you wanted to write a second memoir?
While joining a critique group in Albuquerque, I shared one of my short stories from Egypt. Afterwards the leader of the group said to me, “I don’t want you to tell me about your adventures. I want you to take me with you on a trip to Egypt.” That triggered something in me to write the memoir and show (rather than tell) the reader about my experiences.

Tell us how the book came together.
In the beginning of 2020 before the pandemic, I started writing the book and then worked on it every day, since I had all the time in the world. After the summer, I used several beta readers to go through every page. Finally, I took it through two editing programs on the computer (AutoCrit and Grammarly). The book cover, the eight ink drawings, and the six scratchboard images I created myself. In August 2020, I self-published the memoir with the help of my husband.

What was your favorite part of putting this project together?
Rewriting and editing. Deciding which photos and artwork to use.

What is the best compliment you’ve received as an author?
When somebody in one of the reviews of On the Nile with a Dancing Dane said, “I was entertained with exciting experiences at every turn of the road – or river. I felt as if the author had slipped me into her backpack, and I was with her every step of the way.”

How did you become interested in memoir specifically, as opposed to fiction?
Because I have lived an exciting life and written detailed journals since I was a young girl, I have so much material to use that I don’t need to make up any stories.

What advice do you have for discouraged writers?
Write down what comes to your mind right away without worrying about whether it is good or bad. Later, you can work on the writing and make it into a good story.

What writing projects are you working on now?
My next project will be writing a memoir about a trip to Greece I made long before iPhones and computers were invented. The Universe is pushing me in that direction.


KLWagoner150_2KL Wagoner (writing as Cate Macabe) is the author of This New Mountain: a memoir of AJ Jackson, private investigator, repossessor, and grandmother. Kathy posts to a speculative fiction blog at klwagoner.com and writes about memoir at ThisNewMountain.com.




Author Update: Neill McKee

Author Neill McKee is a world wanderer from Southern Ontario, Canada, who now makes his home in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Following the release of his award-winning Finding Myself in Borneo (2019), he published a second travel memoir in 2020, Guns and Gods in My Genes: A 15,000-mile North American Search Through Four Centuries of History, to the Mayflower. You’ll find Neill on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, as well as his website NeillMckeeAuthor.com. Read his 2019 SWW interview to learn about his first memoir.


What would you like readers to know about your newest book?
My travel memoir starts in 2017 in Ontario, Canada, as I uncover the stories of my rather religious McKee Scots-Irish ancestors in Canada (Chapters 1 to 3). In Chapter 4, I follow the trail of my maternal grandfather, John Addison Neill (my given name is my mother’s maiden name), who enters the USA in 1899, becomes a Methodist minister, and marries a woman in Wisconsin by the name of Effie Jane Haskins. Chapters 5 to 7 are about my grandparents’ adventures as they move west to Nebraska and Wyoming, still very much a part of the Wild West during 1895-1907. The remainder of the book (Chapters 8 to 17) takes the reader deeper into North American history as I discover the stories of my great-grandfather, Lafayette Haskins, in the Civil War. Other ancestors fought in the American Revolution, The French and Indian War, and King Philip’s War, which involved a bloody struggle between some of my Puritan ancestors in New England and the Native Americans they displaced, enslaved, indentured, or killed. Throughout the book, I compare American and Canadian early settlement, the role of religion, wars, the rule of law, and gun control.

What sets this book apart from other travel memoirs?
Many people search for their roots on Ancestry.com or other websites, and in libraries. Often, they end up with pages of family trees, which may be of interest to a few cousins but make most others’ eyes glaze over. I took a different approach and traveled to the places my ancestors lived, farmed, struggled, fought, and prayed, so that I could meet distant cousins, uncover new stories, take photos, and gain insights on the memoir’s theme: the conflict between guns and gods in my genes. I also had a personal challenge to answer that adds some tension: Should I, a peaceful Canadian writer in his 70s living in New Mexico, also become a citizen of gun-happy USA? Throughout the book I use vivid descriptions, historical analysis with some of my own interpretations, dialog, accounts of on-the-spot detective work, lyrical prose, uncovered ancient poems (and one of my own on a “Rowdy Man” ancestor in Connecticut), and 116 photos and illustrations. The pages are unencumbered by tables and chapter notes, which are placed at the back.

When did you know you wanted to write this second memoir?
During my 45-year career in international development, I lacked the time to properly write the stories of my adventures in Asia, Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean, and more recently Russia. After I retired in 2012, I began writing Finding Myself in Borneo, the story of my first job after university. (It has won three awards and gained over 25 five-star reviews.) Simultaneously, during 2013-15, I visited my aging mother in Ontario, traveling from my home in Maryland a few times a year. My dad, who died in 2007, was always interested in old family history but never had the time nor the skills to do much research or writing. I discovered the beginnings of interesting stories in his old files, and I reached out to cousins, one living uncle, and three remaining aunts. I found many leads on both sides of the family and interviewed family members in person, picking up more stories, photos, and records. That’s when I knew I had another book to write. Also, by getting my DNA tested on Ancestry.com, I matched with distant cousins who had additional stories, records, and photos.

What unique challenges did this work pose for you?
I had to verify some genealogical links, which, with my own skills in genealogy research, proved challenging. So, I hired researchers at the New England Historical Genealogical Society (NEHGS), Boston, to do the refined work. I tracked down all the birth, marriage, and death certificates I could find, but NEHGS found some missing links and submitted my application to the General Society of Mayflower Descendants, Plymouth, Massachusetts, and it was accepted. I also visited the Mayflower Society in Plymouth for help in verifying other New England ancestors of interest — many through female lineage.

Tell us more about how the book came together.
When I began the genealogical search on the Canadian side of my family in 2013, I only had a few records and stories from my father and cousins, but did extensive interviews with my only living uncle. On the US side, I had quite a few leads from a now-deceased cousin to whom I dedicated the book. These were anecdotes, website stories, etc. and a lot from Ancestry.com and other records. My cousin had done a great job, and between 2013 and 2015, I put these all together in two 200-page documents — one on my paternal side and one on my maternal side. They are more traditional genealogical accounts and, although I knew they would be interesting to my extended family, I wanted to write the story of our ancestors in a way that would be of interest to a much wider audience.

In 2015, after my wife and I settled in Albuquerque, I began writing stories for the book. That year, I also joined a graduate workshop in creative nonfiction led by Professor Diane Thiel at the Department of English, University of New Mexico. At the same time, I worked on Finding Myself in Borneo, and some of my submissions were on that subject. The feedback I received in these sessions was invaluable. I joined Professor Thiel’s 2016 workshop on writing poetry, as well, and also attended SWW workshops, which helped with both books.

For Guns and Gods in My Genes, I carried out the real travel research during the summers of 2017 to 2019, when I clocked 15,000 miles through Ontario and 22 US states. Besides going to the very places where my ancestors lived and died, I visited many historical museums and societies to dig up more facts and stories, and to uncover mistakes other amateur genealogists (like myself) had made and put on Ancestry.com. The receptions I received from local historians and museum curators were overwhelmingly positive.

Who are a few favorite “characters” you discovered from among your ancestors?
By following female lineage (Neill/Haskins or Hoskins, Robinson, Stevens, Gallop, Thacher, Conant, Fuller), I found real rascals and Indian fighters, as well as some fair and saintly people in my genes. For instance, Reverend Thomas Thacher, first pastor of the Old South Boston Meeting House, was a reformist and “Renaissance Man.” And Roger Conant, founder of Salem, Massachusetts, argued against the increasingly fanatical Puritans — people who brought us the infamous Salem Witch Trials. I also take readers into the foundations of, and myths about, the Puritan Pilgrims and their worldview through two visits to the recreation of “Plimoth” Plantation, Plymouth, MA. There I meet and humorously dialog with educator-actors playing the roles of real Pilgrims such as Samuel Fuller, the colony’s quack doctor and brother of my ninth great-grandfather, Edward Fuller, who came on the Mayflower with his unnamed wife in 1620. (They died in the first winter, but I descend from his son who came to New England in 1640.)

What was the most rewarding aspect of putting this project together?
The discovery through travel was the most rewarding, especially meeting like-minded people with a similar interest in preserving and documenting history. For instance, when I met the people who own the great Haskins house in Windsor, Connecticut, built in 1750, they immediately welcomed me and showed me all around the property, telling me more stories about the place. My former training in communication research helped me uncover myths and mistakes people make by not checking and triangulating facts. In my memoir, I document how this happens and how to avoid it. I also loved listening to many books on US and Canadian history, usually while walking and making notes. I have a pretty full library and, besides the 21 pages of chapter notes, I include a suggested reading list at the end of the book.

Any “Oh, wow!” moments when doing research for this book?
There are many “wow! moments” in my book. Here are two:

  • On top of a hill in Virginia I walk along still-visible trenches used by Confederate soldiers in the Battle of the Wilderness (May 5-6, 1864). I then take an eerie walk down the hill into the woods where my great-grandfather, Lafayette Haskins, a 20-year-old foot soldier in the 7th Wisconsin Regiment (a part of the famous Iron Brigade) received a gunshot in the leg from the Confederate trenches above. (This was his last battle of his two years in the war. He had also endured more dangerous episodes of sickness in rudimentary, unsanitary hospitals.)
  • Through perseverance, I keep asking locals in a small town in western New York, if they know possible descendants of my Stevens ancestor who fought in the American Revolution. The clues I gather finally lead me to an 82-year-old flower farmer who, 25 years ago, had researched his whole ancestry through 25 generations and documented it all in a thick binder. He invited me in for a cup of coffee and a long chat, and this distant cousin and I still keep in touch.

Do you have a favorite quote from Guns and Gods in My Genes?
Here is a short lyrical prose piece from Chapter 6 (“Reverend Neill in the Aftermath of Wounded Knee”), when my maternal grandparents lived in Nebraska during 1904-05. It demonstrates how slim a chance any of us have of being born:

The Prince Albert Suit Coat, 1905: My grandpa Neill, a Methodist pastor, preached one Sunday morning in Rushville, Nebraska, then left for his other churches, 20 miles away. Warmed by a buffalo coat, he drove his sleigh pulled by Indian ponies through drifting snow, arriving in time for evensong. Realizing he’d forgotten his Prince Albert suit coat, with two more sermons to preach on Monday, back he and his ponies went in the cold calm moonlight. Opening the door, he found the house so still, his family breathing in deadly vapors. Grandma had dampened down the coal stove too soon. But Grandpa pulled her and their four children outside — all saved by love for that coat, his mysterious pride.

When writing memoir, is a writer’s responsibility to the truth of the facts or to his perception/feelings about what occurred?
I believe a memoir writer must pay attention to both truth and perceptions/feelings. It is even more important to follow the facts carefully in writing a historical memoir like this, where much has been written about the time and places in which the writer’s ancestors lived. I did extensive research and reading on North American history. But obviously my background, education, perceptions, political leaning, and temperament determined some interpretations in creative nonfiction. If these factors did not play a part in what I wrote, the book would have turned out as a dry piece of academic writing, possibly of interest to a few historians and genealogists only. I hired Pamela Yenser, SWW member, as my literary editor for this book (as well as my Borneo book). She helped a lot with methods of marrying facts and creativity. I tried to rise to the challenge of writing a book which would have wider appeal in both Canada and the US.

What writing projects are you working on now?
I have simultaneously been writing a memoir about my own beginnings in Ontario, Canada, which incorporates some of the stories that are not used in Guns and Gods in My Genes. It also connects with my Borneo memoir. It is presently being sent out for reactions and pre-publication reviews. Here is a brief write-up:

Kid on the Go! Memoir of my life before Borneo is Neill McKee’s third work in creative nonfiction. It is a prequel to his first work in the genre, the award-winning Finding Myself in Borneo: Sojourns in Sabah. In this short book, McKee takes readers on a journey through his childhood, early adolescence, and teenage years, while growing up in the small industrially polluted town of Elmira in Southern Ontario, Canada — now infamous as one of the centers for production of Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. Each chapter is set to a different theme on how he learned to keep “on the go.” McKee’s vivid descriptions, dialog and self-drawn illustrations provide much humor and poignant moments in his stories of growing up in a loving family. In a way, the book is a travel memoir through both mental and physical space — a study of a young boy’s learning to observe and avoid dangers; to cope with death in the family; to fish, hunt, play cowboys; to learn the value of work and how to build and repair “escape” vehicles. The memoir explores his experiences with exploding hormones, his first attraction to girls, dealing with bullying, how he rebelled against religion and authority and survived the conformist teenager rock-and-roll culture of the early 1960s, coming out the other side with the help of influential teachers and mentors. After finally leaving his hometown, McKee describes his rather directionless but intensely searching years at university. Except for an emotional afterword and revealing postscript, the story ends when he departs to become a volunteer teacher on the Island of Borneo — truly a “kid on the go!”


KLWagoner150_2KL Wagoner (writing as Cate Macabe) is the author of This New Mountain: a memoir of AJ Jackson, private investigator, repossessor, and grandmother. Kathy posts to a speculative fiction blog at klwagoner.com and writes about memoir at ThisNewMountain.com.




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