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An Interview with Author Scott Archer Jones

Scott Archer Jones is the award-winning author of four published books. His articles, essays, and short fiction can be found in over 40 publications. Scott’s latest release, And Throw Away the Skins (Fomite, 2019), is described by Anne Hillerman as a “hopeful and heartbreaking story of love and scars and fresh starts” told “with graceful prose and a beautiful appreciation for the complication of both place and the human condition.” You’ll find Scott on Facebook and Twitter, and on his website ScottArcherJones.com. Visit his Amazon author page for details on all of his books.


What would you like readers to know about And Throw Away the Skins?
Bec is entangled in a broken marriage, a life-threatening cancer, and a mish-mash of veterans returning from war physically and mentally chewed up. She’s drafted into running a retreat center for veterans—and donating the land for it. Her village is filled with quirky people who all have an opinion on her life and choices. And finally, she is having an affair with a Marine wearing two prosthetic legs and toting a belief that he carries death like a pathogen.

What sparked the initial story idea for the book?
The book began as a short story of a woman living alone in the forest in northern New Mexico—and her stalker. As I played out her psychic fear of rape and, above all, her fear of being alone and vulnerable, I grew to know her. Authors do a lot of work thinking offline. The backstory, in this case Bec’s childhood, became an integral part of her narrative. The short story definitely didn’t work because she needed the long form to hold her eloquence.

Tell us more about your main character, Bec, and why readers will connect with her.
Bec’s story is about the illusion of independence and inner strength. She solves the problems that beset her by isolating herself and tackling them. Instead of this working for her, she is constantly inundated by people who want to intrude and, indeed, rope her into their lives. These folks have their own agendas and humorous flaws. They see her as a fixer, and she’s actually someone just hanging on by her fingertips.

Why did you choose New Mexico as the setting for And Throw Away the Skins? Do you consider the setting a character in the story?
I contrasted Dallas and the Church of a Thousand Pews—the book’s beginning—with northern New Mexico—as a flawed form of sanctuary. I didn’t romanticize the mountains and their poverty, but I hope I portrayed New Mexico as a more authentic life than the rest of the U.S.A. So, yes, New Mexico is embodied as a force and a theme.

What unique challenges did this work pose for you?
This is the first work I’ve written in the point-of-view of a woman. To avoid demeaning her in any way, I made her completely unsentimental. I myself am very sentimental. I purposely made her bad choices very different from mine.

What was the most satisfying part of putting this project together?
Third drafts are great. By then I finally understand the protagonist. My writing circle has explained many painful mistakes to me. The first chapter finally comes together. Theme and motif have sorted themselves out, and I can remove the heavy-handed preaching and drop them into subtext. (Fourth drafts are more tuning and nurturing than the grand leaps of the third.) Holding the first proof copy in my hand is also splendid.

When readers turn the last page, what do you hope they’ll take away from the book?
Humans are inherently survivors, and they can find happiness and small satisfactions out of the most difficult and grinding lives.

What do many beginning writers misunderstand about telling a story?
E.M. Forster said that story was merely chronology, and when we turn it to plot then we give it meaning. Just a list of things that happen doesn’t constitute a fictive work. The author’s job is to interpret story into meaning. Oh, and start as close to the action as you can.

What are the hardest kinds of scenes for you to write?
Scenes that come out of (and feed emotionally on) a trauma from my own life or family are the hardest for me to write. They’re the best, but they are also the work that demands personal honesty.

What typically comes first for you: A character? A scene? A story idea?
I think every author starts each project from a new perspective. I’ve written forty pages of character and then found the beginning of the book and discarded the write-in. I’ve started with a single image ending the story and then written towards it. I’ve scribbled out the opening paragraph and the final scene and then tried to connect them. These all work, and they all keep the writer fresh.

What writing projects are you working on now?
I’m in final draft on a book about an East Los Angeles pawnbroker, and I’m taking a historical novel to workshop in a master class. There is also a novella in second draft called Celestino in Paradise.


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 Neill McKee

Author Neill McKee hails from Canada but lived and worked around the world for 45 years as a teacher, filmmaker, multi-media producer, writer, and program manager. After settling in Albuquerque, New Mexico in 2015, he dedicated himself to chronicling his experiences in Asia, Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean, and (more recently) Russia. Finding Myself in Borneo: Sojourns in Sabah is his first book in the memoir genre. You’ll find Neill on Facebook and Twitter, and on his website NeillMckeeAuthor.com.


What is your elevator pitch for Finding Myself in Borneo?
Finding Myself in Borneo is an honest and buoyant chronicle of my adventures during 1968-70 while teaching secondary school as a Canadian volunteer in Sabah, Malaysia (North Borneo). It’s a journey through vibrant Asian cultures in an exotic land: adjusting to life in a small town, learning local customs, how to teach and how to speak Malay language. My book documents many adventures, for example: climbing the highest mountain in Southeast Asia, having a love affair, navigating Borneo’s backwaters to make my first documentary films, and hilarious motorcycle journeys with my American Peace Corps buddy. It also covers my second two-year Sabah sojourn and other return trips which offer readers the opportunity to match the early anecdotes to what in fact happened to the land and people who touched my life as a young man.

Why did you want to share this part of your life with the world?
It was a dramatic change from what I had known and, therefore, a story worth telling. Kind of a “sea change” or “hero’s journey” for me worth imparting to others, I believe. Borneo couldn’t be more different from Canada. I grew up in a small Ontario town with a good deal of chemical pollution. The chemical factory there manufactured DDT and the herbicide 2,4-D, as well as Agent Orange for America’s Vietnam war in the 1960s. I had always dreamed of escaping to a cleaner, greener world full of sunshine and less stinks. When I was posted to Sabah through CUSO (Canadian University Service Overseas), I discovered Borneo was the third largest island in the world—a land with a mysterious sounding name and reputation, mainly due to what western visitors had written about it (Joseph Conrad being one of the first). Borneo was no disappointment. I loved it despite the many challenges and conflicts I faced. But that was really part of the fun.

What unique challenges did this work pose for you?
I didn’t keep a diary, as advised by CUSO (an NGO slightly older than the American Peace Corps), but I did write detailed letters home and to friends. I made carbon copies of some of these, and my mother kept many for me knowing I would want them someday. I had no plans to write a memoir—too busy with my career. But I’m blessed with a good memory, especially of those formative years and experiences. I also had old photos which triggered memories.

Tell us how the book came together.
I had written the draft of what became Chapter 6 in the 1990s. People who read it, loved it, and encouraged me to write more. It wasn’t until I fully retired that I had time to study a new genre (outside of technical communication books and articles) and try my hand at it. In 2014, I attended a creative nonfiction evening course at St. John’s College in Annapolis, Maryland where I started drafting pieces of my book and got feedback. After moving to Albuquerque in 2015, I enrolled in a graduate-level workshop in creative nonfiction at the University of New Mexico. That’s when I began to write, revise, get feedback, and revise again. I also attended presentations and workshops at SouthWest Writers, which continually gave me new ideas. After about 25 revisions (and a year into the process), I thought I had a pretty good manuscript. It was only then that I hired a good literary editor for in-depth feedback. Boy, was I wrong about being finished! It took me over a year, and at least 25 more revisions, to finally complete the manuscript for publication in mid-2018. I had submitted earlier drafts to about 10 publishers and received lots of rejection letters. After two “strange” offers from commercial publishers (they wanted to have full control but put up little or no money for publicity), I decided to self-publish through IngramSpark. I hired a good book designer and marketer and took control of the process myself.

Is there a scene in your book you’d love to see play out in a movie?
Yes, probably in Chapter 4 when my Peace Corps buddies and I take LSD and go to see the movie Camelot with Chinese subtitles. The whole experience opened up my senses, broke down barriers in my perception, and made me see the land I was living in as a much richer and more magical place. Since we were reading J.R.R. Tolkien’s trilogy The Lord of the Rings at the time, we noticed many of the features of North Borneo were similar to Tolkien’s Middle Earth. We created the North Borneo Frodo Society and gathered members from all around the world, including Prof. Tolkien himself—one of only two such societies he patronized according to letters we received. The myths of Borneo and Middle Earth become humorously paralleled in Finding Myself in Borneo. Maybe good for an animated film!

What makes Finding Myself in Borneo unique in the memoir market?
There are other memoirs and travel books on Borneo but most of them are based on “Wild Men of Borneo” or adventure travel themes. Many of these reinforce stereotypes of the land and its people. P.T. Barnum was the first to come up with the wild men theme in the 1800s through his freak show promotion of a couple of little people from a Ohio farm. My book is based on entertaining stories of what it was like to live in coastal Borneo in a multi-cultural society with ancient traditions. I cover some history, politics, and religion of the place, but in a lighter, entertaining way to help explain the overall story arc. My book is different in that it covers my 40-year relationship with the land and its people, not just the impressions of a single journey or sojourn.

What was your favorite part of putting the project together?
I enjoy writing the most and sharing my work with reviewers—trying to understand how my words are perceived and how I can improve. Writing this memoir has also connected me with a lot of people who have lived in Borneo as volunteers or have traveled there, or who want to go there. It has also re-connected me with many old friends and colleagues from around the world.

What is the best compliment you’ve received as an author?
A number of readers and reviewers have said that my writing is refreshingly honest.

While you were writing Finding Myself in Borneo, were you ever afraid you were sharing too much of yourself? If so, how did you move past this feeling and continue writing?
At first I did not tell the whole truth—such as losing my virginity and the other sexual experiences and attractions. I wondered if readers would be turned off. I also wrote guardedly about people about whom I had something negative to say. But I was persuaded to just change names and other details of these characters and write from my heart. This helped me construct a story about how I found out who I really am and what I should do with my life.

What writing projects are you working on now?
I spend six to seven hours each day writing, researching, revising, and communicating or promoting. It’s a huge amount of work if you want to do it well. I’m writing two other memoirs at present. One is on my childhood and youth, with a theme of “going elsewhere”—escaping the polluted town I grew up in. At the end of the book I leave for Borneo, so it’s a prequel of sorts. The other project is a travel memoir on searching for stories of my ancestors in Canada and the US. It’s an entertaining account of finding (through my maternal grandmother from Wisconsin) that I have ancestors who fought in just about every American war, beginning with the bloody wars with Native Americans in New England in the 1600s. I travel to the places where they lived and battlegrounds where they fought. I found out my ninth great-grandfather was a passenger on the Mayflower. I previously thought of myself as just a peace-loving Scots-Irish Canadian.


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: Larry Kilham

Larry Kilham is an entrepreneur, retired engineer, and author of four novels, two memoirs, and five other nonfiction books. His most recent release, The Perfectionist: Peter Kilham and the Birds (2018), sheds light on designer, inventor, and visionary Peter Kilham (the author’s father). You’ll find Larry on LarryKilham.net, Facebook and Twitter, and his Amazon author page. For more about Larry’s work, read his 2017 SWW interview.


At its core, what is The Perfectionist about?
This book is about an artist and inventor who brought nature’s beauty and function to the public and did this with complete integrity.

What unique challenges did this work pose for you?
The story is told as my father and I growing up together. But the challenge was to convey his point of view rather than dwell on mine.

When did you know you wanted to write your father’s memoir? What prompted the push to begin the project?
When I realized that my father’s life story was more important than the subjects of my many other books and only I could adequately address it. Also, due to my advanced age, if I didn’t do it now it might never be done.

Tell us how the book came together.
After I pulled together several boxes of files, I recycled through this content many times until I found an accurate and logical outline of the story. With this done, it only took four months to write the 121 pages and a month to edit. For the cover design, I engaged a very talented book designer who had just gone freelance after working for a university press. She grabbed my notes and photos and I went on vacation.

Do you have a favorite quote from the book you’d like to share?
“Be guided by purpose, truth, and perfection, and the rewards will come.”

Was there anything surprising you discovered while doing research for this book?
Until I researched this story, I never realized how much his wife Dorothy understood him and his business and how much she helped him. My father never said much about her when we talked. That itself is another insight about him.

What was your favorite part of putting The Perfectionist together?
Looking at the old photos, newspaper clippings, and letters to bring back almost-lost memories and to see other people’s perceptions of Peter Kilham.

Which do you prefer: the creating, editing, or researching aspect of a writing project?
The creating and researching feed on each other and I enjoy both. I endure editing like, say, physical therapy.

What does a typical writing session look like for you? Do you have any writing rituals or something you absolutely need in order to write?
I write in the morning when my mind is fresh, and I read in the afternoon. I like long walks in the forest to recharge my mind.

Who are some of your favorite authors, and what do you admire most about their writing?
My list of favorite authors constantly changes. Right now it is Loren Eiseley, T.S. Eliot, and D.H. Lawrence. It’s kind of fun and educational to resurrect Alexander Pope.

What advice do you have for beginning or discouraged writers?
If you’re having trouble getting going, maybe you’re writing about the wrong thing. A story that you should write will make you blossom.

What writing projects are you working on now?
I’m intrigued with Native American poetry, especially Pueblo, and I am experimenting with integrating its thought and style into my poetry.


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 has a new speculative fiction blog at klwagoner.com and writes about memoir at ThisNewMountain.com.




An Interview with Author Cornelia Gamlem

Cornelia Gamlem is an expert in employee relations and human resources. She is also a consultant, a speaker, and the founder/president of the management consulting firm The GEMS Group, Ltd. Working with colleague Barbara Mitchell, Cornelia has co-authored four business resource books. Their newest release is The Manager’s Answer Book: Powerful Tools to Build Trust and Teams, Maximize Your Impact and Influence, and Respond to Challenges (Red Wheel/Weiser, 2018). You’ll find Cornelia at BigBookofHR.com and EssentialWorkplaceConflictHandbook.com as well as on Facebook and LinkedIn. Follow her and Barbara’s weekly blog at MakingPeopleMatter.blogspot.com.


Who did you write your newest book for, and what will they get out of reading it?
The book was written for managers at all levels in organizations of all sizes and in all industries—this includes small business owners. Recognizing that while most managers have expertise in their own field, there are so many other areas and situations that they’ll encounter. New and seasoned managers can be overwhelmed by new situations, and those are the issues the book addresses.

Tell us how the book came together.
The concept for the book was proposed by our publisher, and my co-author and I thought it would be a fun book to write. The contract was signed in August 2017, the manuscript due on January 31, 2018, and publication scheduled for June 2018. From February through April 2018, we went through the editing process with the publisher, and received the galley proof in early April with two weeks to review and respond. Our publisher works on a pretty tight schedule and the challenge was coordinating our time with theirs.

What makes this book unique in the business market?
It goes beyond the people side of management and introduces the reader to getting started in their management role, developing skills, building credibility, working with other managers and functions, and avoiding areas of risk and conflict.

Do you have a favorite quote from the book you’d like to share?
“Curiosity is one of the most important tools you should be using in your management journey. Curious people are always learning, asking questions, and exploring.”

Did you learn anything new from writing/publishing this book that you can apply to future projects?
Each of the books I’ve written with my co-author has been published through a traditional publisher who provided a small level of publicity. We’ve learned traditional publicity is waning and we didn’t get as many requests for articles or radio interviews with this book. Social media and podcasts are clearly dominating the publicity space and the way to get your books noticed. We are focusing our efforts in that direction for all of our current and future books.

What was the most rewarding aspect of putting this project together?
Ironically, finishing it. During the writing process, both my co-author and I moved our homes. She moved seven miles and I moved 1,800 miles across the country. So there were lots of challenges and distractions along the way.

What are some of the more interesting facts you discovered while doing research for The Manager’s Answer Book?
Unlike the other books we wrote, this one drew from our collective experiences working in large organizations as employees and with smaller organizations as consultants. We saw many of the challenges managers faced and drew on our work with organizations and knowledge of organizational and management development to respond to these challenges. It was similar to writing an advice column for managers.

Would The Manager’s Answer Book work outside of a business environment?
People who work with volunteers or on volunteer boards would find certain sections helpful. “Developing Your Management (and leadership) Skills”—especially communication skills—is essential in these roles, as is “Creating Your Personal Brand”—your image, credibility, and effectiveness. Another section, “Managing Up, Down, and Around” talks about the importance of understanding the organization, as well as working with, and influencing others, to get things accomplished.

Of all the books you’ve written, which one did you enjoy writing the most, and which was the most challenging?
Writing The Essential Workplace Conflict Handbook, which was our second book, was enjoyable because we incorporated scenarios to describe the situations we were discussing. It was a different approach from our first book. The follow-up to that book, The Conflict Resolution Phrase Book, was probably the most fun—coming up with things to say and not say in a conflict situation. The most challenging was the second edition of The Big Book of HR. It involved a great deal of revision which required moving text and footnotes around. We had to be focused and take extra care explaining all the changes to our virtual assistant and editors.

Looking back to the beginning of your writing/publishing career, what do you know now that you wish you’d known then?
Writing a book is like having your own business—you have to constantly and continually promote it. You’ve got to have a marketing plan even if you are working with a traditional publisher. Having had my own consulting practice, much of the promotion came painlessly. Connecting with other writers, especially those who write in the same genre and learning what they are doing, came as naturally as networking. The challenging, but rewarding, part was learning about the publishing industry, public relations, and about social media and related technology.

Do you prefer the creating or editing aspect of writing? How do you feel about research?
Definitely creating. I leave the editing to the experts, plus it’s so hard to see your own mistakes. In your head, you know what it’s supposed to say. The research I’ve done for my books has been painless since I’ve written about subjects that I’m very familiar with in areas where I’ve worked. When it came to doing research, I knew where to find the most relevant information.

Do you write other than nonfiction or have you ever wanted to?
Funny you should ask that. An idea for a book took hold when we finished our first book. When we wrote our second book together, my co-author and I wanted to integrate more scenarios to illustrate lessons, and a whole new storytelling voice emerged. We’re now working on a book that’s creative non-fiction. It’s a series of stories based on actual situations that have occurred in organizations.

What writing projects are you working on now?
In addition to the creative non-fiction book, my writing partner and I write a weekly blog called Making People Matter.


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 has a new speculative fiction blog at klwagoner.com and writes about memoir at ThisNewMountain.com.




An Interview with Author Timothy Curtin

Author Timothy Curtin was a volunteer advocate for the poor before finding his life’s work in unionizing factory workers. A long-time writer, Tim has written about politics and the status quo, and his short stories can be found in three volumes of Keystrokes, an ongoing publication of Oak Park Writers Group. A series of essays about his experiences growing up became the basis for the memoir My Five & Ten Cent Life (2018).


How would you describe My Five & Ten Cent Life?
The book is a memoir of my teenage years growing up in a small town in Southern Wisconsin in the early 1960s. It’s a story of survival of me and my family who were thrust into a hostile environment we were not prepared for.

When readers turn the last page in the book, what do you hope they take away from it?
I want the readers to understand how difficult it was to have lived in such an environment. Also, it was a cold, sterile place in which I was forced to invent my own limited world of enjoyment through an occasional escape or by tricking those around me.

What unique challenges did this work pose for you?
Writing a memoir takes more thought than anything else. No two people remember events exactly the same way because everyone experiences things slightly differently based on their previous experiences and memories. It took me ten years to understand what had happened and why. As the only son, my experiences and memories are very different from my three sisters. They are all angry at what I wrote about the actions and motives of my parents.

What prompted the push to begin your memoir?
I had the opportunity to visit this small town again approximately twelve years ago. At the time I was thinking only of a short story about getting revenge from this town for what they had done to my family all those years ago. Over time, I plowed further and further back and ultimately the idea of the memoir took root.

Tell us how the book came together.
It took ten years to write. The process of rewriting was handled by submitting each story to the Oak Park Writers Group in Illinois. They would discuss it, critique it and then I would rewrite it again. I hired an expert for final editing and layout in the winter of 2017, and the book was self-published in early 2018.

Was there anything surprising you discovered while doing research for the book?
I discovered things about myself that I didn’t know. I realized I took an incredible amount of chances with my life in those days largely because I didn’t see any better choices. I also learned about the incredible sacrifices my parents made to help their family and the indignities they suffered at the hands of local people.

What was the most rewarding aspect of writing My Five & Ten Cent Life?
Finishing the book and seeing my hard work in print has been rewarding. I don’t know if this is true for all writers, but I write because I have to tell my story my way. Otherwise, the story is incomplete or not entirely true. It is a labor of love. Writing is mental exercise and is a form of working out.

In a memoir, does a writer’s responsibility lie with the truth of the facts or with the perception/feelings about what occurred?
You cannot separate this answer as either/or. The writer’s responsibility must lie with his memories of the facts because you cannot honestly have a memoir without truth. What happened over time, however, was those memories and what they meant then and what they mean to me now changed because I’m much older and my perception about what happened evolved over time.

What first inspired you to become a writer?
My mother inspired me to become a writer. I have always written, but the bulk of my writing had to do with politics of the day and my anger and frustrations with the status quo. That took me into independent politics as a candidate.

What writing projects are you working on now?
I’m currently writing essays on the need for alternative energy, such as solar power for New Mexico. I’m also deep into writing my second book which is more of an autobiography.

Is there anything else you’d like readers to know?
I strongly believe that everyone, if they dig deep enough, has a story to tell. Tell it and it will set your mind and spirit free.


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 has a new speculative fiction blog at klwagoner.com and writes about memoir at ThisNewMountain.com.




Author Update: Sarah H. Baker

Author and retired engineer Sarah H. Baker (writing as S. H. Baker, Sarah Storme, and Lydia Parks) has released 20 novels, numerous novellas and short stories, and three audio books. Her publishers include Kensington, Harlequin, Five Star, and Siren Audio. S. H. Baker’s Return to Marshall’s Bayou, a full-cast audio version of the first book in her Dassas Cormier Mystery series, was recommended for an Edgar Award. In 2018, Sarah released four books from her Sarah Storme backlist including the romance novel The Long Way Home. You’ll find Sarah on Facebook as well as her Amazon author pages for S. H. Baker and Sarah Storme. Read more about Sarah in her 2015 interview for SouthWest Writers.


Who are the main characters in Return to Marshall’s Bayou, and how did you develop them?
The main character is Dassas Cormier, a young man whose father was Acadian and whose mother was European. Dassas returns to southwest Louisiana after a disastrous end to his law-enforcement career, only to find out the local chief of police has been murdered. The other main characters are Alcide (Dassas’ brother), Becky (Alcide’s wife), and Frank, the oldest of their children. Dassas formed organically and truly told me his story. His is the strongest voice I’ve ever heard when writing. And the family relationships grew out of his character. As an older sibling myself, I often identified with Alcide, but Dassas will always be close to my heart.

What would you like readers to know about the story?
The story is a mystery, but it’s also about coming home to the comfort and support of a family. Dassas has suffered a terrible emotional trauma that he likely wouldn’t have survived without the love of his brother and sister-in-law. Return to Marshall’s Bayou is the audio book based on the first in the Dassas Cormier mystery series, Murder in Marshall’s Bayou. When Siren Audio bought the audio rights to the first book, they changed the title because they wanted to focus on the homecoming. I’m thrilled with the result.

You’ve written four books in the Dassas Cormier Mystery series (with a fifth in the works). What sparked the original idea for the first novel?
My grandmother was born in 1901 in Johnsons Bayou, Louisiana. The area was as remote as an island; people traveled in and out on the mail boat. When my grandmother died, she left behind a dresser drawer of letters she and her family had exchanged. The letters were the equivalent of our phone calls and held all kinds of insights into daily life in the 20s in that area. I couldn’t help but use them as background. I pulled names from my grandfather’s Acadian family of twelve children—Dassas Broussard was the oldest. I never met the man, but I liked his name. I used Alcide for the same reason and put the two of them together. Ironically, I found out after writing the book that Dassas and Alcide had been close in real life and even worked together. And I also found out one of the sisters had married a Cormier. Life imitating art?

Return to Marshall’s Bayou takes place in 1920s Louisiana. What is it about this time and place that makes the perfect setting for the book?
The 1920s was one of the most exciting decades in US history. Women were getting the vote, automobiles were replacing the horse and buggy, and Prohibition sent people to speakeasies for fun. Southwest Louisiana was so remote, it still had some of the Victorian values, but the rest of the world was intruding. It was also the home of the Cajun cowboys and European Protestant settlers, which sometimes sparked societal friction. What could be more interesting?

You’ve done two full-cast audio books now. How did that experience affect your writing going forward?
Working on the full-cast audio books was the highlight of my writing career. I didn’t expect to hear the actors’ voices in place of the characters’ in my head, but I do. I pay more attention to the rhythm and sounds of my writing than I did before. I’ve also realized how important it is to get those sounds right. An added bonus to the whole experience is I ended up with some really great friends from the publishing house and the actors who participated.

The Long Way Home is one of four books you released from your Sarah Storme backlist in 2018. At its heart, what is this story about?
The Long Way Home is about finding a second chance for love, and understanding that home isn’t a house but a place where you truly belong.

Tell us a little about your main characters and why readers will connect with them.
Sam is a veterinarian in a remote area of Colorado. He’s dealing with a teenage daughter who spends the summers with him and always shows up carrying her mother’s anger. Although Sam has been burned by his ex, he still expects the best from those he meets, and that endears him to me and (I hope) to readers. I think readers will appreciate his kindness and tenderness, wrapped in strength of character.

Allie is a woman running from an emotionally abusive marriage. When Allie’s car breaks down in the Colorado mountains, she realizes her husband has so isolated her that she has no one to turn to. Sam gives her a place to stay until she can get back on her feet. Allie’s one true desire—having grown up an orphan—is to have a home. Although her wealthy husband provided her with a nice house, it was anything but a home. As she tries to repay Sam’s kindness by helping him connect with his daughter, Allie discovers that Sam’s place is the real home she seeks. Even if readers haven’t suffered the trials Allie has, I believe they’ll understand her desires and will cheer for her.

Why did you choose Colorado as the setting for the book?
I lived in a small town in western Colorado for a few years, and I appreciate the beauty of the state and the remoteness of the area. I based Sam’s office on the office of our local veterinarian, who even had a cat he’d found frozen to the sidewalk, like Popsicle in the book. The vet wasn’t exactly Sam (more like Doc from Gunsmoke), but he was a nice guy.

What unique challenges did this work pose for you?
I’d moved from Colorado before I started work on this project, so I had to spend time thinking back on the setting and reviewing photos. Other than that, the story flowed. When I was young, I wanted to be a veterinarian, so it was fairly easy to get into the role.

What was your favorite part of putting this project together?
My very favorite part of this project was Sam, the main character. He was so full of emotion and conflict, and yet so kind, it was easy to fall for him. After having more than a dozen romance novels published, he’s still my favorite hero.

Looking back to the beginning of your writing/publishing career, what do you know now that you wish you’d known then?
Everything I know now I wish I’d known then! I had no idea what I was doing when I started my first book. Still, I think I learn best by doing, so maybe I started at the right place for me. Because I had no illusions around my level of knowledge, I was open to learning from every editor with whom I had the opportunity to work.

What do many writers misunderstand about telling a story?
I think many writers who are just starting out do the same things I did at first: they don’t start in the middle of the action, and they feel the need to tell the reader all the backstory. I had the opportunity to work as an acquiring editor at a small press for a short time, and I learned just how quickly you have to grab the editor’s attention. If you can’t grab an editor’s attention, you won’t be able to grab a reader’s. Jumping into a story mid-stride isn’t natural. It takes practice, but it’s very important to do.

Are you working on any new writing projects?
I’m currently working on speculative fiction set in the future. Having recently retired, I’m anxious to share what I learned about how we’re changing our ecosystem. I think the best way to do that is to paint a realistic picture of the future through fiction. This is very different for me, so we’ll see how it goes.


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 has a new speculative fiction blog at klwagoner.com and writes about memoir at ThisNewMountain.com.




An Interview with Author Jack Woodville London

Award-winning author Jack Woodville London studied the craft of fiction at the Academy of Fiction, St. Céré, France and at Oxford University. A former U.S. Army quartermaster officer and courtroom lawyer, he has authored nonfiction articles and reference books, as well as novels and short stories. Jack shares his love of writing at national and international conferences and teaches veterans who want to pen their own stories. Meticulous research of World War II and its affects on the home front play out in his French Letters historical fiction series praised for its authentic portrayal of the culture and the times. Children of a Good War (Vire Press, 2018) is the third book in that series. You’ll find Jack on his website at JWLBooks.com and on Facebook.


What is your elevator pitch for Children of a Good War?
Hamilton and Burr. Grant and Lee. Custer and Crazy Horse. Nixon and Kennedy. And the Hastings brothers, Frank and Peter, each of whom detests the other. Peter accuses Frank of being a bastard their father brought back from WW2. Frank believes Peter stole their parents’ home and dumped them to die in a soulless retirement center. Neither will learn who the other truly is until he learns who he is himself, quests that take Frank to France and Peter into the cockpit of a hijacked 747. Included in the Kirkus Review edition of Best Books 2018, SouthWest Writers’ own Parris Afton Bonds says the novel is “Beautifully written, a paean to humanity and a masterpiece of insight.”

When readers turn the last page in the book, what do you hope they take away from it?
Are we who others think we are? Or who we have decided for ourselves to be? We often wear masks to make others see us as we want them to see us or as we think they see us, but hide inside who we really are. We even take for granted who our parents are, rarely knowing who they were before us, people who had their own loves and suffered their own tragedies and who kept hidden their own secrets. And, of course, we are usually wrong about thinking we know all there is to know about others. Two of life’s most important quests are to find out what is behind these masks to discover who our parents were and who we really are.

What would you like people to know about the story itself?
The brothers’ mother, Virginia, gave birth to Peter when their father, Will, was an army doctor in France during WW2. The brothers grew up assuming they were married and also assuming that their parents had cozy lives together when in fact WW2 cost each of them the people they deeply loved. Four decades after the war, when the United States had become rich, urban, self-centered, and polarized, the brothers discover their parents did have secrets and that they may not themselves be who they think they are.

Tell us a little about your main characters. What is it about your protagonists that will make readers connect with them?
Peter was a star athlete, great student, Air Force Academy graduate who loved flying gunships in Vietnam before becoming a Pan Am pilot, the golden child everyone wants to be growing up. Frank was an ugly duck who was kicked off school teams for mooning Peter and for using chicken manure napalm to scorch the school rival’s initials into the football field, a skill he came to regret in Vietnam. His good quality was to question why things are the way they are. Their last argument arises from putting Will and Virginia in a nursing home. Candace, Peter’s wife, was a child of the sixties who becomes a loving suburban mom. Eleanor, a doctoral student from England, sees and brings out the goodness in Frank’s inner core. Their father is Will, a doctor who dies while on a walk from his retirement home and leaves the boys to fight over what will happen with their mother, Virginia, who has become aphasic and alone. And in France, four bitter widows use their medicines to play poker, remembering what really happened in WW2 when Will saved lives in their apple barn as a young army doctor. And one lonely, wonderful French nun in an Irish convent…

What sparked the initial story idea for the French Letters series?
A combination of Bible stories (Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau) and the observation that all of us put on our best face to others. We may lapse into being who others think we are or we may hide who we really are to make others believe we’re better or different from the person who (deep down inside) we would like to be. I framed the issue with three stories. In the first book, Virginia is a single woman in a small town during WW2 who hates being gossiped about and taken for granted, and who gets pregnant. In the second book, Will is thrown into mortal combat in Normandy and loses everything—Virginia, family, friends, and nearly his life, because he refuses to be who his commanders consider him to be. Their Children of a Good War, Peter and Frank, know nothing of their parents’ pasts or secrets and are comfortable baby boomers, happily hating one another over mistaken beliefs about each other’s supposed bastardy and treachery.

What was your favorite part of putting this project together?
Integrating into the story historical details—rationing of food, gasoline and gossip in a small town during the Second World War, landing on Omaha Beach and struggling through France, the barely perceptible shift from small town to big city America, and the polarizing division between Americans. The long story arc also includes more recent history: the AIDS fright of the 1980s, bank failures, hijacking of Pan Am airplanes in Pakistan, the discovery of DNA. All of these shaped us as a people while we soldiered on in the comfort of thinking we know who we are. Among my personal favorite episodes are two backstories I wrote: the Navy losing its goat at a football game and Pakistani government ministers trading a hijacking captive for a box of helicopter parts.

What do many beginning writers misunderstand about telling a story?
When readers pick up a book they look for three things: what is the story about, who are the characters, and where do I come in? Telling a story is a contract between the storyteller and the audience. The reader has to become invested in the story for it to succeed. To invest readers, the story must be something they can see themselves being a part of. The story must make the reader expect the conflict to come out a certain way and continue reading until the conflict does come out, although not necessarily as expected. The story doesn’t get better with clever phrases and lots of adjectives.

Do you prefer the creating or editing aspect of writing? How do you feel about research?
I prefer creative writing and love research, and don’t so much love real editing. Whatever I have written that has become readable is so because I have wonderful editors.

How has your experience writing nonfiction benefited your fiction writing?
It has taught me to be precise. Care with language, with accuracy of details, and writing the fewest words possible to convey the story all come from practice in nonfiction. Having said that, and reading what I wrote above, one could reasonably argue that I should practice what I preach.

Looking back to the beginning of your writing/publishing career, what do you know now that you wish you’d known then?
I was the John Snow of beginning writers. Criticism is painful, but not fatal.

Do you have a message or a theme that recurs in your writing?
It hurts when people take us for granted. It hurts when we lose people we care about. It hurts when we discover that our lives and the lives of people we care about are messy and uncertain. People do have secrets, often for good reason. And, everyone we know is more complicated, richer, deeper, better but also sometimes meaner and nastier and greedier than we see on the surface. Know yourself; whether you choose to let others know that self is up to you.

What are the hardest kinds of scenes for you to write?
Sex scenes. I vastly prefer to invite the reader to imagine any necessary details.

What writing projects are you working on now?
A lighthearted and funny (I hope) Popeye versus Bluto story set on a WW2 troopship in the Pacific, in which the Popeye character disappears overboard and Bluto washes up on a desert island—next to a Japanese POW camp. Their names are Bart and Olafson and, despite the improbability of the story, the historical backdrops are accurate.

Is there anything else you’d like readers to know?
Don’t write for money. Write for the art of writing. There isn’t much money and what little there is will disappear fast. But, the satisfaction you will have from your artistry will be with you always.


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 has a new speculative fiction blog at klwagoner.com and writes about memoir at ThisNewMountain.com.




Call for Submissions: 2019 Prose & Poetry Contest

SouthWest Writers is proud to announce a Call for Submissions to the 2019 Short Prose & Poetry Contest.

This 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 sixteen categories: 7 fiction, 8 nonfiction, and 1 poetry. All entries must be original, unpublished, and in English.

Deadline: Contest entries may be submitted through midnight April 30, 2019 (Mountain Time).
Entry fees: $10 for each entry submitted through April 1, 2019. $15 fee applies for each entry submitted April 2-April 30, 2019.
Submission: Online submissions only. Acceptable files: doc, docx, or pdf.

CONTEST RULES

Prose: Limited to 3,500 words. For nonfiction categories, footnotes are not part of the word limit. The body of the submission should be in 12 pt. Times New Roman, Ariel, or Courier, with the title in 14 pt. Submission should be double-spaced and have one-inch margins.

Poetry: Limited to 250 lines. The submission should be in Times New Roman, Ariel, or Courier. Font sizes can range from 12-18 pt. Spacing is at the author’s discretion. Poem form/style (freeform, haiku, etc.) must be included in the manuscript above the title.

Other:
A total of three entries allowed per author. The three-entry limit can be in one category or a combination of categories. First-place manuscripts from previous SWW Contests are ineligible.

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




An Interview with Author Benjamin Radford

Benjamin Radford is deputy editor of Skeptical Inquirer science magazine and a Research Fellow with the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. He has seen his nonfiction work published in over 20 books (as author, co-author, or contributor) and has written thousands of articles on topics such as urban legends, mysterious phenomena, critical thinking, and media literacy. His newest release is the award-winning Investigating Ghosts: The Scientific Search for Spirits (2018). You’ll find Ben on his website at BenjaminRadford.com and on Facebook and Twitter. For a list of all his books stop by his Amazon author page.


What is your elevator pitch for Investigating Ghosts?
Investigating Ghosts is an in-depth look at scientific attempts to contact the dead, from historical, cultural, and folkloric perspectives. From Shakespeare to the Victorian era to modern-day ghost hunting, people have always tried to find ghosts, and this is a look at their methods and how to bring science to them. I’m open-minded but skeptical.

What unique challenges did this work pose for you?
This book is a culmination of about 20 years of research and investigation into the subject, and it’s probably one of the broadest topics I’ve written about. My previous books were often on narrower topics (such as New Mexico mysteries, the chupacabra vampire, and evil clowns) which allowed me to do a deep dive and analysis into them. But with ghosts, there’s an enormous amount of information I needed to tackle, from early ghost-based religions (such as Spiritualism) to ghost folklore, the psychology of a ghost experience, ghost hunting devices, ghost photos, the scientific process, and so on. In all these cases I wanted to bring something new to it, not just copy and paste information or third-hand sources but give readers factual, science-based information. That’s why there are eight pages of references; it’s not just a book of spooky, told-as-true ghost stories, but evidence-based analyses, including my own investigations. Even with all that, I couldn’t get everything into 320 pages.

What was your favorite part of putting this project together?
Throughout the book I describe my firsthand investigations, including many here in New Mexico. I’m not just an armchair investigator! I love to get out in the field, go to haunted locations, interview witnesses, examine evidence, and try to figure out what’s going on. So I enjoyed describing some of the investigations, for example at the KiMo theater, the Albuquerque Press Club, courthouses in Santa Fe and Espanola, the tiny town of Cuchillo, and so on. I have also done haunted house investigations for television shows in Los Angeles, Jamaica, Canada, and other countries. It’s part memoir, which was fun, and I’m especially pleased it won the New Mexico/Arizona Book Award.

Tell us how the book came together.
Investigating Ghosts is actually a follow-up to a previous book titled Scientific Paranormal Investigation: How to Solve Unexplained Mysteries which came out in 2010. In that book I cover pretty much what the title states: How to investigate—and more importantly, solve—seemingly unexplained mysteries. I cover a wide variety of phenomenon, including crop circles, lake monsters, psychic detectives, and ghosts. But I realized that ghosts are so popular, and such an often-investigated phenomenon, that they really deserved their own book. There really are many different aspects to ghost investigation (photos, experiences, so-called EVP or ghostly voices, etc.) that I couldn’t do it justice in just a chapter or a few articles. Plus I kept meeting well-intended amateur ghost hunters who were going about it in completely the wrong way—often influenced, unfortunately, by “reality” TV shows—and honestly I felt badly for them. This book is partly an attempt to help sincere ghost investigators, whether skeptic or believer, to improve their methods so that if ghosts do exist, it can be proven. Or, by the same token, if ghosts aren’t real, we can help prove that, too.

Do you have a favorite quote you’d like to share from Investigating Ghosts?
“If you prefer that mysteries remain unsolved and would rather not look too closely at a phenomenon lest its secrets be revealed through logical deduction and perseverance, this book is not for you…. Everyone—skeptic and believer alike—benefits from clarifying the situation, improving the quality of evidence, and distinguishing fact from fiction.”

Any “Oh, wow!” moments when doing research for the book?
I think what surprised me most was the variety of phenomena that can be, and have been, mistaken for ghosts. When most people think of ghosts they imagine dramatic depictions on television and in films, but in fact most ghostly phenomena are very mundane and subtle. It’s more like missing keys, feeling watched, or odd sounds and odors. For many people, ghosts are comforting, not scary.

Of the eleven nonfiction books you’ve written, which one was the most satisfying to write?
I’d have to say my 2011 book Tracking the Chupacabra: The Vampire Beast in Fact, Fiction, and Folklore (University of New Mexico Press, 2011) is probably among my favorites. It was challenging because it took me five years to investigate and another year to write. But it’s by far the highest-profile mystery I’ve ever solved. It’s satisfying to be able to do good research and bring it all together into a sort of real-life vampire mystery. Plus the book has sections of memoir, such as my experiences in the jungles of Puerto Rico and Nicaragua looking for the creatures.

Tell us about your writing process.
I need silence to work and write. I’m always jealous of, and astonished by, people who can somehow write amid chaos. I begin by determining the scope of the book, so that I have a clear picture of what’s relevant and what’s not. I usually outline the books, at least informally, and make changes as I go along. I usually do about four drafts: the first is just to get the words on the screen, the second is to organize them, and the third is more editing. Then I print out a hardcopy of each chapter and edit with a red pen, like an old-school copyeditor. It gives me a tactile sense of working the words. Then I make those changes on the computer files, and set it aside for a week or two. Then I come back and do another few rounds of edits, and with any luck I’m 90% of the way there. The last 10% is always the hardest, for some reason.

How do you choose which writing project to tackle next?
I’ve been fortunate that as a writer I’ve mostly been able to choose projects that interest me and that I’m passionate about. I have to, since I often spend years on them and I’ve only got so many years, so many books in me. I’ve done plenty of freelance writing, but I don’t think I could do a whole book unless it was something I cared about. Although if it was a huge check, I could probably make myself care enough to do a good job and get through it… That’s what a writer does; you can’t wait for the muse to sing. As Tom Waits says, you “got to get behind the mule in the morning and plow.” So I do that, but I choose which field to plow.

You released a dark satire, The Merchant of Dust, in 2015. How did your experience writing fiction compare to writing nonfiction?
I enjoy both fiction and nonfiction, but of course they’re different beasts. I hope to return to fiction someday, but for now I’ve made my niche in nonfiction. I wrote a first novel set in Ecuador titled Jungle Green, which—quite justifiably—will never see the light of day. Well, I shouldn’t say that… I think it’s a decent first novel but it’s one of those you have to write before you can write, as they say. Organizing a nonfiction book is much easier than organizing a fiction book, at least for me. There are so many narrative threads to quality fiction, so many things that need to be right, and you have a little more leeway with nonfiction. I’m better at editing and improving other people’s work. Part of that is being an editor for twenty years, and part of that is having the necessary emotional distance to objectively tell what’s good and bad.

What is the best advice you’ve received in your writing journey?
There’s plenty of writing advice out there, so much to choose from, but one of my favorites is, “Writing is rewriting.” They’re not separate things. Nobody’s prose is good in first draft, I don’t care who you are. You may be typing, you may be scribbling, you may be blurting out words, but you’re not really writing until you’re rewriting, editing, and shaping what you’ve done.

What writing projects are you working on now?
I’m working on a long-gestating book about the role of fear in American culture. It’s partly about the politics of fear, but also how science and critical thinking can help improve the world. I’ve been working on it for well over a decade in one form or another, and I’m feeling added pressure to finish it and get it out there because of the current social and political climate. There is light to be found in the dark forest of negativity, but you have to know where and how to look. The book won’t solve the world’s problems, of course, but it might help bring a positive message of unity and optimism if I can help fight phantom fears.


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 has a new speculative fiction blog at klwagoner.com and writes about memoir at ThisNewMountain.com.




Author Update: D. E. Williams

D. E. Williams began her writing journey at an early age but didn’t consider being an author until later in life. While working full-time as a software trainer, she honed her writing craft on her off-hours and went on to publish an award-winning science fiction novel, Child of Chaos, in 2015. Chaos Unleashed (2018) is the second book in the Chesan Legacy series. Visit Dollie on her website at DollieWilliams.com and on Facebook, and read about book one and the journey to publication in her 2017 SWW interview.


What is your elevator pitch for Chaos Unleashed?
“A young assassin risks everything to save her friends and find the truth about her past—and her future. The cost could be her life, but will it be enough?”

What unique challenges did this work pose for you?
Connecting this continuation of a complex story without dropping important lines was the most difficult challenge. Because the story is told from two perspectives, the other big challenge was to keep the story moving without crippling the suspense in one point of view or the other. There was a ton of rewriting and moving scenes around.

Your main character in the Chesan Legacy series is Tridia Odana, a 17-year-old assassin. What are her flaws and strengths, and why will readers connect with her? Brenden Aren, a former Master Assassin sworn to kill Tridia, is the main antagonist in the story. What is the most difficult aspect of writing from his point of view?
Tridia is fiercely loyal to her friends and selfless in her determination to help them. Even though some allies could become enemies, she’ll do whatever it takes to free them. Her loyalty and sense of duty are also flaws, causing her to take risks on her own that may not be necessary. I think her most endearing quality is her deep desire for an innocence that she lost long ago, but the one that makes her unforgettable is her utter refusal to give up—even when there appears to be no way to go on. Brenden Aren becomes more complex and mysterious every time I write about him. People keep telling me they don’t know what to think about him. Is he one of the good guys or one of the bad guys? Keeping that suspense going is a real challenge. Tables get turned in this book and Brenden becomes more dangerous than ever.

What was your favorite part of putting together Chaos Unleashed?
Seeing my characters come to life once more for other people has been my favorite part. Working with my first and second readers was an amazing experience this time, and I’m looking forward to working with them again with book three.

In your previous interview, you said it took seven years to write what you thought was one book. After realizing it was really two books, it took another four years to separate them and refine the first novel into Child of Chaos. How long did it take to refine the second book? When did you know book two was finished and ready to publish?
It took an additional two and a half years to refine Chaos Unleashed. My first readers—three amazing friends: Clare Davis, Shari Holmes, and Kevin Cooley—had to help me decide when it was finished. Letting go of a project like this can be really hard. And when I was ready to quit too soon, Kirt Hickman had to remind me that a good book is worth the revision time. So, I had lots of help!

Now that you’ve written two books in the Chesan Legacy, what are the challenges of writing a series?
Those who’ve read my books know they’re very complex, and I’ve got a lot of small things running in the undercurrent now that will become significant later. Not dropping those threads is the biggest challenge. Keeping the story moving at its established pace is also huge. (My books don’t slow down.)

You consider yourself a pantser. After taking more than 12 years to bring two books to market, do you see the benefits of being a plotter or will you remain a diehard pantser?
Book three is already swarming in my head. There’s no way for me to tame it with an outline at this point.

What is the best compliment you’ve received as an author?
My best compliment has come from several readers at Comic Cons who’ve come to the table to tell me they’ve been waiting for book two. The first time it happened, I was stunned. The next several times were only slightly less of a shock. I’m just humbled by the enthusiasm when they see the second book. I’m looking forward to giving them a third and fourth!

Looking back to the beginning of your writing/publishing career, what do you know now that you wish you’d known then?
I would have encouraged my first and second readers to be more forthright a lot sooner. I wouldn’t have waited so long before deciding to self-publish. And I would have let go of the first book about three years earlier.

What writing projects are you working on now?
I’m currently working on Chosen Son, The Chesan Legacy Series Book Three, and a couple of short stories about the other Chesan survivors.


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 has a new speculative fiction blog at klwagoner.com and writes about memoir at ThisNewMountain.com.




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