Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Writing Porch Author Q&A with Amy Cohen, Author of The Late Bloomer's Revolution

Meet Amy Cohen:
Amy Cohen was a writer/producer on the sitcoms 'Caroline in the City' and 'Spin City,' a columnist for the New York Observer, and a correspondent for cable TV's New York Central. She is the author of 'The Late Bloomer's Revolution', which was on the New York Times bestseller list. The movie rights have been sold to Sarah Jessica Parker (It’s so exciting, she can’t believe it either). She has been published in Vogue and The New York Times Modern Love section. She has appeared on The Today Show, The CBS Morning Show, and ABC News. She lives in New York City near her family, who still have a lot to say about everything.
About 'The Late Bloomer's Revolution':
In quick succession, Amy Cohen lost her job writing sitcoms, her boyfriend (with whom she'd been talking marriage), and her mom, after a long bout with cancer. Not exactly the stuff humor thrives on, is it? But filtered through Amy's worldview, there's comedy in the most unexpected places. In this unforgettable, engaging memoir, she recounts her (seemingly) never-ending search for love, her evolving relationship with her widowed dad, and her own almost unintentional growth as she stumbles through life. Filled with observations sweet, bittersweet, and laugh-out-loud funny, 'The Late Bloomer's Revolution' will be irresistible to anyone who believes her greatest moment is yet to come.
How did you get your start in writing?
I've always written since I was a little girl. I was never sporty or good in school, so writing books was my thing. My dad traveled a lot when I was a kid and I would write and illustrate books with subtle titles like "Look! Look! I'm over here!" with a little girl on the cover who looked exactly like me. Clearly, It was my way of coping with feeling that we didn't know each other very well. I think writing has always been my way of communicating and apparently, coping.
What does your writing routine look like?
It always involves coffee and at least a little agonizing (or more likely a lot). I try never to check the internet (which is hard for me) and always turn off my phone. For awhile I worked late at night into the wee hours, but I started to feel like a vampire waking up at 11 a.m. every day, so I switched and started waking up at 6 a.m. and working until 1 or 2, but now I'm feeling as if I have to shake things up again.
Tell us some writers whose work you admire and why.
I tend to love writers who can be both funny and touching.
David Sedaris, especially his book "Naked" and in particular "Ashes," which is the hilarious and absolutely heartbreaking story of his mother's battle with cancer. Zoe Heller -- incredibly funny in the most audacious, bitchy, delicious way, but also very poignant and real. Barbara's description of loneliness in "Notes on a Scandal" -- how the brush of a conductor's hand on the train is her only human contact -- always haunts me. Lorrie Moore. I love that she can make you laugh out loud but punch you in the stomach on occasion (as she does in one of my favorite stories, "You're Ugly Too.") I also adore Richard Yates, and in particular "Eleven Kinds of Loneliness" and "Revolutionary Road." He can be incredibly sad and sobering, but he's always worth it.
What are you working on next?
Right now I'm trying to figure out what I want to write about for my next book (now I know how much work it takes and how devoted you have to be to your ideas), so in the meantime I'm working on TV projects.
What made you decide to write this memoir?
I'd been wanting to write a memoir about my Mom dying of cancer. I thought that's what I was going to write about and for almost a year, that's what I did, until I realized that wasn't the book I was meant to write. I really needed to write about the fact that I was waiting for this life I thought I was going to have (marriage, children) instead of living the life I had (no marriage, no children). I kept thinking, "where's that book? That's the book I really want to read right now, " so I wrote it.
What challenges did you face with this book?
I think one of the biggest challenges for me was to get the sitcom voice out of my head. In sitcoms, the pace is fast and you need a certain amount of jokes on every page. But also, you get in the mindset that the only currency that matters is "funny," with occasional realness, but in prose there are no rules. You can make your own. Funny has a place, but too much funny can seem both forced and like you're hiding something. My first drafts tried way too hard to be funny and there was a kind of desperation to them. Finally a friend said, "You don't sound like that." And I started to use my real voice and the kinds of jokes I made in life to cope with everything that was going on. I also started revealing things I thought I never could (I had always been an incredibly secretive person). And then revealing even more. That was the turning point.
What advice would you have for other writers/would-be writers?
First of all, everything is material. That's one of the great things about writing. Screwed up childhood? Write it. Fascination with vampires? Don't mind if I do. My advice is very "Nike ad" which is "Just do it." I cannot even begin to tell you how many rotten drafts I went through in order to start discovering my voice. When I took a break from tv writing, I took a couple of local classes. They were very "Memoir 101," which got me writing every week and getting feedback.You definitely can't just want to write, I really think you have to need it in some way if you're going to do it professionally because it's just too hard. There are so many walls and breakdowns and lonely days where you feel as if that's it. So if after all that, you're still in? Then keep going and don't stop. My whole book is about coming into your own later in life (and by "later" I mean after 25). Maybe you weren't the prodigy who published fresh out of college (I wasn't, although I desperately wanted to be). Maybe for you, it's your late thirties (like David Sedaris), forties or sixties (the late great Frank McCort was a wonderful example of this.) Maybe you're a late bloomer (telling yourself this really works -- hey, it worked for me.)

EDITOR'S NOTE: J. Louise Larson, blogmistress for The Writing Porch, interviews published authors. To be considered, email her at jackielarsonwrites (at) gmail (dot) com. Larson's work has been published in a number of newspapers and magazines, including the Dallas Morning News and Entrepreneur Magazine. She is the managing editor of the Ennis Journal and a contributor at the Waxahachie Daily Light, and she has received the top award for series writing in Texas, the Texas APME, as well as a silver from the Parenting Publications of America. She co-authored a nonfiction career guide for FabJob Publishing in 2006. Her short story 'Mum in Decline' won third place in the Smoking Poet's annual short fiction contest. Larson is seeking representation for her new novel, 'At High Tide.'

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Writing Porch Author Q&A with Jeremy Duns, author of 'Free Agent'

Trade publications and fellow thriller-writers are raving about the debut novel from Jeremy Duns, FREE AGENT (Simon & Schuster UK, Viking Penguin US), with William Boyd, author of Restless, describing it as “a wholly engrossing and sophisticated spy novel… fascinating and compelling,” and Jeff Abbott, author of Panic, raving “Jeremy Duns offers an entirely original and fascinating take on the classic spy novel in this provocative, fast-paced thriller,” calling him a “compelling new voice in suspense fiction.”

Book blurb on 'Free Agent' by Jeremy Duns.

Meet Paul Dark. In 1945, the British agent took part in a top-secret mission to hunt down and execute Nazi war criminals. But all is not as it seems. Almost 25 years later, a KGB officer turns up in Nigeria, where the Biafran war is underway, wanting to defect. His credentials as a defector are good: he has highly suggestive information indicating that there is a double agent within MI6, which would be a crippling blow to an organization still coming to terms with previous betrayals. Dark has been largely above suspicion during MI6’s years of self-recrimination, but this time he’s in the frame. Desperate to save himself, the morally complex and unforgettable Dark heads to Nigeria to confront the KGB officer—with fellow agent Henry Pritchard in hot pursuit. All too quickly it becomes apparent that everything he has believed about the events of 1945—which has formed the basis of his life’s work—has been a lie. This is especially devastating because the bulk of these lies center around a tangled web involving the only woman he has ever loved, and the death of his father.

FREE AGENT is a gripping spy thriller that combines the adrenalin-pumping suspense of a Jason Bourne film with a deeply researched Cold War background. It’s a novel of innumerable cliffhangers, all set within a constantly evolving moral universe, and the twists and turns will keep readers guessing—and sweating—until the last page. It is the first in a trilogy featuring Paul Dark.

Free Agent was published in the UK in May and will be published in the US, Canada, Australia and elsewhere next month.

How did you get your start in writing?

I was a journalist for several years, but this is my first novel. I’ve wanted to be a novelist since my teens, but somehow I could never get around to it. Finally, one day, I decided it was time I should.

What does your writing routine look like?

I get up at 8 o’clock most days, and take the kids to school. After that I settle down and try to work until five, with a break for lunch. I do that five days a week, but I also work in the evenings and on weekends, depending on how fired up I am. In a way, though, I’m always working, because I can be doing something else entirely and thinking about the book.

Tell us some writers whose work you admire and why.

I write spy novels, and am a great fan of the genre: favourites include John le Carre, Len Deighton, Eric Ambler, Graham Greene and Elleston Trevor. I also love Lawrence Durrell’s novels. His style takes some getting used to, but I love the texture of his language and the rich worlds he built. The Alexandria Quartet and The Avignon Quintet are like the greatest BBC costume dramas that haven’t yet been made. I’m also a big fan of the American travel writer Kate Simon, who I think had a brilliant eye for detail – her books have been a great help to me in my research, but they are also beautifully written.

What are you working on next?

I’m just starting work on my third novel, which is the final part of my Cold War spy trilogy featuring British agent Paul Dark.

What made you decide to write this novel?

In my twenties I started reading a lot of spy novels, and something about them struck a chord. I thought if I wrote one it might give me a structure that would stop me from being too self-indulgent. I started researching tentatively, just as a bit of fun, but then got more serious about it and as the ideas started coming together I became pretty obsessed with it.

What challenges did you face with this book?

Free Agent is set in 1969 and I was born in 1973, so getting all the period details right took a lot of work. And it’s also largely set in a war, which was – as wars tend to be – very complex, and I wanted to get that right, of course. Finally, it’s told in the first person by a character who is difficult to empathise with in many ways, but I wanted readers to empathise with him. So the voice took me a while to develop.

What advice would you have for other writers/would-be writers?

Keep going, even if you think what you’ve done isn’t any good. I spent a lot of time on the first few chapters worrying about every word. You will edit it dozens of times anyway, so try not to get bogged down with tiny details and just push on until you’ve got a complete draft. Nobody needs to see the bad drafts but you.
EDITOR'S NOTE: J. Louise Larson, blogmistress for The Writing Porch, interviews published authors. To be considered, email her at jackielarsonwrites (at) gmail (dot) com. Larson's work has been published in a number of newspapers and magazines, including the Dallas Morning News and Entrepreneur Magazine. She is the managing editor of the Ennis Journal and a contributor at the Waxahachie Daily Light, and she has received the top award for series writing in Texas, the Texas APME, as well as a silver from the Parenting Publications of America. She co-authored a nonfiction career guide for FabJob Publishing in 2006. Her short story 'Mum in Decline' won third place in the Smoking Poet's annual short fiction contest. Larson is seeking representation for her new novel, 'At High Tide.'

The Writing Porch feature: Waxahachie writer stays friends with mentor, 100

By J. Louise Larson

Friendship spanning a generation and a world of experience has united two writers and their work.

In life’s twilight, multiply published author June Wetherell Frame turned 100 last month.

A generation and then some behind her, writer Pat Pratt is still collaborating with her mentor.

She visits Frame three times a week in the Trinity Mission nursing home in Italy.

The two women published a novel three years ago, the PublishAmerica romance “On With the Dance.” And they’re still working on character sketches. Plot ideas. Short stories.

And that keeps June Frame’s own personal storyline going.

“We talk about what we might write together, what to do about what we’ve got. Otherwise, I don’t know what’s going,” she said Thursday. “I don’t make for stimulating conversation.”

June Wetherell Frame grew up in a newspapering home. Her parents worked in the newspaper business in Washington state, her mother as a reporter and her father as ad manager for the Bellingham Herald, where young June Wetherell got her start writing – although her first appearance in print was in a photo when, as a toddler, she rode a stuffed elk in a parade in her native Bellingham, Wa. (Her father was a leader in the BPOE Elks fraternal order)

“Instead of drawing pictures that they put up on the refrigerator, I wrote stories," she recounted in an earlier interview.

She wrote feature stories for the paper, graduated from the University of Washington and was an editor at Family Circle. She and her late husband had two sons, and she launched her fiction-writing career.

Her first book sold in 1941 to a little-known publisher for the princely sum of $150. She and her husband spent it on a trip to New York.

Her husband helped her with her historical novels. Having taken fencing, he lent some credibility to her swashbuckling scenes.

She was willing to try her hand at anything.

"Science fiction – that was hard," she said. "It came out pretty well, but a reviewer said it was very poor science fiction."

By the time she was 80, it got too hard to find agents because they had doubts about what she could produce and promote.

Clearly, they didn’t know June Wetherell Frame.

Frame’s writer’s mind that cranked out potboiling novels by the dozens in her day is still sharp, still looking for that perfect word. Even now, at the century mark, her blue eyes are still bright but focused, sometimes, on that fading light.

Frail and curled up in her bed, her hours and days tend to blur together, and some days, the dreams win.

“When you come here, at least I know it’s real,” she told Pratt.

“Her body’s just 100 years old, so it’s wearing out. It’s frustrating for her, her mind wants to do things, and her body won’t let her,” Pratt said.

“I help her stay in this world. Otherwise, she can go into her own little world after a while. It’s important to keep her frame of mind in the right place. Some days, neither one of us is a very good conversationalist,” she said with a bit of a smile.

“Some days we’re able to talk about whatever comes up. Anything to keep the conversation going, to keep her in reality. Sometimes we read. Sometimes I come down and have lunch with her.

“It’s nice to be able to visit with her but sad to watch her fade away,” Pratt said. “Her body’s just 100 years old, so it’s wearing out. It’s frustrating for her, her mind wants to do things, and her body won’t let her,” Pratt said.

“I just don’t think I have another novel in me,” Frame told her.

So they work on short stories.

What would June do?

So what would an oft-published writer give a writer just working on getting into print?

Here’s a century of writing advice from a 100-year-old writer, culled from several interviews:
"Selling it is twice as hard as writing it, to me," she said. "Maybe it will sell, maybe it won't sell, but it's done. Don't go into novel writing to make a living. You've got to do it because you love it. It's no way to earn a living.

“Just do it – don’t talk about it so much. For God’s sake, write it.

"Writing comes first – everything else in life has to work around it," she said. "When I had little kids, I wrote when they took naps, and I'd find time to write. When they went to school, then I had time to write.

To generate ideas, she has kept a leather-bound notebook, now tattered with age, filled with thumbnail character sketches – people she meets, people she imagines.

"I make up the people, get a setting and figure out where it is going," Frame said. "I put them in different situations. I've never been able to start with the plot. I'm not strong on plot – my books are character driven. When I'm writing a book, they just come right on through.

"Put your character in a situation and make the reader want to see how it's resolved."

Pat Pratt echoes her mentor’s sentiments.

"Making time to write – that's something June always stresses. ... I've learned to 'write in spite' – of everything and everyone around you. I have learned that although age may diminish our physical abilities, it does not need to diminish our capabilities. Age is not an excuse," Pratt said, borrowing Frame’s catch phrase for her writing philosophy: “Write in spite (of).”


After years of writing and newspaper work, Pat Pratt has found the courage to go out on a limb and self-publish. Her recently released “Finding Peace” (PublishAmerica) is a dramatic novel with elements of the supernatural. It’s based on a character sketch she developed.

“I was inspired by June to write this book. I never would have been able to get through this one … You are, in great part, responsible for me getting this done,” she told Frame.

“I was so excited when June asked me if I’d help her write, and three years later when we saw it in print, that gave me the courage to finish mine.

“I probably would have still been worrying over it had I not been working with her on her other book. She made me believe I was a real writer,” said Pratt, who shepherds the Ellis County writing group, Write On!

Pat Pratt feels, and sometimes sees and hears, her mentor letting go of earthly ties. And that makes her a little sad.

“It’s hard to think of coming to see her three times a week and watch her fade, but it would be harder to not come and see her, knowing she has so few days,” Pratt said.

“She’s been a great inspiration to me – that’s what I want to give back to her. I come to see her to inspire her to keep going, as long as she can.”

For one thing, Pratt made sure Frame’s portable electric typewriter sits at the ready in its sacred spot on a small desk, a tabula rasa – blank slate - waiting for Frame’s arthritic fingers to wreak magic from the QWERTY keys once more.

"That's as modern as I get," Frame said in an earlier interview. "Picture Charles Dickens sitting there with pen in hand. I don't see how he'd have written all those books."

Once in a while, Frame will greet her faithful old typewriting friend as she passes by.

“Hello, old friend,” she’ll say. “Well, it didn’t growl at me, so I guess it’s not too mad at me.”

The invitation is still there, the paper white and fresh and inviting, neatly coiled in the carriage, awaiting her expert hand’s tap of the carriage return. Any time, it seems to say. Any time.

“She’s slowed down a lot, but she’s still got a lot of ideas. If she feels the urge, she can still get up and type,” Pratt said.

The urge to control the written word remains. Curled up, her skin faded nearly to alabaster translucence, June Wetherell Frame is still self-editing at 100, with her trademark wry sense of humor.

“Polish me up a little. I hope you make something of me,” she tells her interviewer.

Blogmistress for The Writing Porch, J. Louise Larson contributes to WNI News papers, and is managing editor of the Ennis Journal. Her novel, At High Tide, is in revisions. Again.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Sam Harrell's no victim - a top HS football coach and father of recordbreaking QB Graham Harrell, he says he's the luckiest man alive

Sam Harrell believes he may be the luckiest man alive.

Even though he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2005 – a diagnosis he and wife Kathy shielded from friends and family until recently - the Ennis Lions football coach counts his many blessings.

In 2005, Harrell first noticed the vision in one eye was going blurry, which would get worse with heat and exercise.

An eye specialist referred him to a neurologist, and three tests all pointed to a devastating diagnosis: multiple sclerosis. His immune system was ravaging itself, eating away the myelin sheath surrounding the nerves.

“Heat plays a huge role. If your body gets hot, through weather or exercise, your nerves start firing faster. When you have MS and your nerves start firing faster, then your symptoms start going faster – your symptoms, balance and coordination, walking – all that just escalates,” he said.

Multiple sclerosis is a very individualistic disease; each case is unique and often unpredictable. Since Sam’s symptoms weren’t always apparent, the Harrells kept to business as usual and decided to keep the diagnosis to themselves.

“We chose to keep it quiet for several years. We didn’t even tell our boys, because we didn’t want them worrying about it. They had an idea something was wrong - I didn’t ever go out and shoot baskets with them any more, I didn’t play tennis with them, I can’t mow the yard, I can’t do anything you ought to be doing. They had an idea … we never told them exactly what Dad had,” he said.

“I wasn’t in denial – I knew I had it, but it would kind of come and go. My hope was that it would go more often than it would come,” he said.

This spring, the Harrells decided it was time to tell their sons, and Sam went to the school board and told them.

“I feel like our school board’s a great group of people, but also my bosses, and I didn’t want them hearing about it and not knowing something about it. I told our players and our coaches – all those groups are special to me and close to me and I wanted them to hear it from me,” he said.

While he looks like the same Sam Harrell – and he feels like the same Sam Harrell – the moment he tries to jump rope or jog like he did in the old days, that normal feeling subsides quickly, he said. He’s been on medication since the disease was discovered, and careful management can keep symptoms at bay to some degree.

“The thing that’s kind of disappointing is that the neurologists here have nothing that really gives you much hope. All they can do is say keep on this medication and hope it slows down, hope it doesn’t overtake your whole nervous system before they find a cure,” he said.
Looking ahead, Sam Harrell says he is encouraged by accounts of medical advances being achieved outside of the U.S. strict regulatory environment.

“Outside the U.S. some things are being done that people have had phenomenal results with, and that’s been encouraging. I really think there’s going to be a cure for it. That’s what I’m hoping for. It’s been encouraging to hear those stories and talk with people,” he said.

“I really think I will go outside US and do something. I’ve heard of two different procedures I really think I’ll try,” he said.

One procedure being done in Costa Rica involves the use of adult stem cells by American doctors.

“It’s very expensive, but that’s a hurdle I can try to tackle for hope of a cure,” he said.

“I get excited when I talk to those people who have gone outside the country, because they’ve come back with a story of hope,” he said, recounting the story of a young father who left the country requiring a scooter for mobility, and returned able to walk on his own and play with his young boys once again.

“I’m still hopeful for a cure … I’m serious about that. These people who have tried some of these things, they don’t feel better – they feel cured. That’s what I’m hoping for. Then I can still live in Texas,” he said.

“I just don’t see myself going anywhere but Texas, even though the weather would be a relief and would allow me to do a little more. It’s sure hard to take the Texas out of me,” he said.
Harrell says he’s adamant about one thing he has never asked for: sympathy.

“People don’t die from MS … I don’t want to make is sound like ‘Poor pitiful me’ - .. a lot of people are facing tougher things than that. It takes away the things you do, but it doesn’t take away your life,” he said.

Counting blessings

Sam Harrell’s office is filled with memorabilia of years of coaching success – evidence of back-to-back 4A football state championships – and three state prizes within five years. He was named to the Gordon Wood Hall of Fame, he got to coach his own sons on great teams. He was elected to coach the All Star team in 2002, and last year, he was elected president of the Texas High School Coach Association.

These are the blessings he counts, on a daily basis.

“Kathy and I were talking about that just this weekend. I still feel like one of the luckiest guys in the world. When you think about how blessed we’ve been with families and careers and things that have just happened – the good Lord’s just blessed us. I don’t think I’d trade places with anybody,” he said.

As a father of three sons and a mentor to many young men and other coaches, Sam Harrell sees ahead a golden opportunity to practice what he has always preached.

“That’s just part of life. There’s going to be some good things and there’s going to be some tough things. How we handle the tough things is probably a reflection of how we see the good things. All those good things, family or job, that I’ve been so blessed with – I didn’t do something to deserve those. They were just blessings from God.

“You get those good times come and the tough times. Now, do you give up and start crying, ‘Oh, poor pitiful me?’ No you don’t. You just keep going on trusting, that’s just part of life. And all of us, some time in life, are going to have some tough times,” he said.

“We tell our kids all the time, ‘Hey, don’t give up – you’re going to get some adversity. Never give up. Stay strong.’ You say all those things, but then you get a little adversity and you collapse or you quit? No, we’re not going to do that. I’ve been dealing with this since 2005, and I’m going to keep dealing with it. I get a chance to walk my talk, right there,” he said.

And for now, life goes on, pretty much as usual – with some modifications: the use of a golf cart to get around quicker, focusing on the teaching side of coaching.

“No, I’m not deathly ill, I’m not quitting coaching. Things are not going to be much different. We’re going to keep coaching and keep going,” he said.

The Harrells have settled into their adopted home town.

“Kathy and I feel like years here in Ennis have been so enjoyable and special. We’ve had opportunities to leave, but the people here are good and we like it here,” he said.

He is quick to reiterate that there’s nowhere he’d rather be, no one’s shoes he’d rather walk in, because it’s all about focusing on the blessings.

“You just think about some of those things. I may be the luckiest guy in the world, you know,” he said. “I don’t want sympathy. I don’t know that I’d trade places with anyone.”
This article by J. Louise Larson originally appeared in the Ennis Journal and the Waxahachie Daily Light.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Writer/designer Deborah Gaslin's Fourth of July Picnic Essay and Recipes

Summer time is here and this presents us all with the perfect opportunity to pack up our meals and head outside with friends and family for a picnic. What is the allure of eating outside? Nostalgia for the days of the cave or some civilized triumph over nature that we bring our indoor dining outdoors. Whatever the case, Americans of all backgrounds embrace the idea of the summer family picnic.

And these families are not what we see in those glossy gourmand food & lifestyle magazines. I personally feel out of touch looking at those slick choreographed families. Everyone is so neat and tidy and the children are wearing white! The “homemade” picnic is presented like sculpture as if everyone had a personal chef. Let’s get real. That’s not what family summer picnics are really like.

Family picnics are like hog piles. Everyone arrives en mass to the agreed meeting place bringing their picnic contribution. And so begins a mixing of tables, linens, baskets, and coolers as everyone negotiates a spot. Most everyone has picnic traditions within their family that get passed down and on from older generations to newer generations. These traditions take the form of classic recipes, seasonal beverages, kitschy picnic linens, picnic baskets of all kinds, and favorite summer games. Throw in the odd assortment of lawn chairs, lounge chairs, stadium stools and various blankets spread all over the ground for the young and old to lounge around on while meals are being prepared.

There is no rhyme or reason to this activity and no need for any. Everyone makes their way around and we all know as the day wears on, sated by food and drink, picnickers get mellow and relax. Picnics have no rules. Picnics are where you can let it all hang out. Let your inner goof loose and play tag with the kids or endless rounds of Corn Hole. Or maybe this will be the year you beat your grandpa at cribbage. Picnics allow for people to do the things they do not give themselves the time for during their everyday lives.

The heart of the picnic is the food. When I picnic with family, I look forward to eating lots of bratwurst, beans and weenies, deviled eggs, potato salad, & ambrosia. Mind you, I never eat this fare or feed it to my family at home. But take us to a summer picnic and we are all over these delicacies like white on rice. This is the picnic food of our family’s generations before us– a mix of Norwegian, English, Austrian, Scottish, and Irish palettes. When sharing stories at friends’ picnics, I have learned of food and meals for summer picnics that have passed down from their familys’ generations before them. Mouth-watering offerings of whole-roasted BBQ pigs cooking in oil drums for hours, dolmas on the BBQ, chicken curry salad on saffron rice in large metal camping bowls, and tamales in a Dutch oven over a campfire.

Learning of others’ picnic traditions has inspired me and my family to “borrow” those ideas and bring them into our summer picnic repertoire. We’re sure our children will continue to share our family summer picnic traditions to future generations. America is forever a continuous melting pot of people, ideas, culture, and, best of all, food.

Gaslin Urbane Farm Potato Salad
(This is a make-a-day-ahead salad)

6 medium potatoes, scrubbed and peeled
2 stalks celery, chopped small
4 slices of bacon, cooked and chopped fine
1/3 cup scallions, chopped – just the green parts
1 cup mayonnaise
¼ cup sour cream
1 TBS apple cider vinegar
2 tsps Dijon style mustard
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste
6 hard cooked eggs, peeled and chopped.

Cook potatoes in boiling water until just tender (20-25 minutes). Drain well. Peel and cube. In a large bowl, combine celery, bacon, scallions, mayonnaise, sour cream, vinegar, mustard, salt, and pepper. Add potatoes and eggs, (after they have cooled slightly). Toss to mix. Cover and chill for 6-12 hours. Makes 12 (1) cup portion servings.

Stuffed Burgers for the Bar-B (Adapted from Rachel Ray’s Kid Food Cookbook)

1 lb lean ground beef
Onions or scallions to taste Makes 4 burgers
4 shakes of worcestershire sauce
¼ tsp allspice
½ tsp cumin
Pepper to taste
Cheese - choose what you like – the stinkier the better – cut into chunks
1 tomato
Burger buns or Kaiser rolls or ciabatta

Mix beef, onion, Worcestershire sauce, allspice, cumin and pepper in a bowl. Choose a patty-size of beef and form it around the cheese chunk. Patties should be no more than ¾” thick. Repeat for a total of 4 patties.

Cook burgers on medium hot BBQ for 5-6 minutes each side. Meat should be cooked thoroughly and cheese melted. Tell children cheese will be hot! Salt to taste. Put in buns or rolls and top with tomato, lettuce and condiments. Serve with chips, potato salad or green salad.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Short story, 'Mum in Decline' wins third in Smoking Poet's annual contest

My short story, Mum in Decline, won third place in the Smoking Poet's annual short story contest. Check it (and some other good stuff) out here:

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Writing Porch Author Q&A with Harley Jane Kozak

About Harley Jane Kozak:

A sometimes actress, and full time author, Harley Jane Kozak lives with her family in California’s Conejo Valley. Her debut novel, "Dating Dead Men," won the Agatha, Anthony, and Macavity awards. Its sequel was "Dating is Murder," followed by "Dead Ex" (coming out in trade paperback at the end of June, 2009) and "A DATE YOU CAN’T REFUSE." her short prose has appeared in Ms. Magazine, Soap Opera Digest, The Sun, The Santa Monica Review, and the anthologies Mystery Muses, "This is Chick Lit" and "A HELL OF A WOMAN."

What made you decide to write this book?

Well, the contract was a big factor! "A Date You Can't Refuse" was the 4th book in a series, and nothing helps a book get written like a deadline. On a more artistic level, I wanted to give my heroine an espionage-like adventure, because I've been a lifelong fan of James Bond and the books of John Le Carré, the Cold War era spy genre, so this was my homage to that. It was a lot of fun for me to stretch the classic cozy boundaries and make Wollie, my protagonist, a spy.

What challenges did you face with this book?

For Wollie, a greeting card artist, to go undercover and deal in a world of international political intrigue, required some mental footwork, to keep it credible. I try in all my books to make the plots absolutely possible, if not entirely . . . normal. What I aim for is for the reader to be nodding, reading along, thinking, "okay, I'll buy that, I'll go along with that," and only later think, "Wow. This is really wacky."

How did you get your start in writing?

I began taking courses at Santa Monica Community College, and later at UCLA -- too many courses to count. I was working at my day job -- acting -- while writing my first book, "Dating Dead Men." I took 10 years from the time I began writing until I saw it published. Along the way I had essays published here and there, and a play I wrote was workshopped, but my first novel was really my big break.

What does your writing routine look like?

It varies from year to year, following the schedules of my 3 kids. When I sold my first book, I had a 2-year old and infant twins, so I wrote when they napped. Now they're in school (whew!) and so my writing day is their school day. Although summer is coming up, and summer camp has shorter hours, so I'm already nervous.

Tell us some writers whose work you admire and why.

I loved John D. MacDonald, for his hero Travis McGee . . . I love Nelson DeMille, for his laugh-out-loud humor in the midst of his thrillers . . . and Robert Ferrigno . . . yes, I realize I'm talking about men. I'm reading a lot of tough guys right now; I don't know why. I go in spurts. My old favorites, the books I reread when I have the flu, or need comfort, or miss my mom, are Georgette Heyer and Mary Stewart. I never grow tired of rereading them. The combination of romance and humor in the case of Heyer, and romance and gothic suspense, in the case of Stewart, are incomparable.

What advice would you have for other writers/would-be writers?

Write, write, write. Whatever keeps you going back to the computer keyboard (or paper, if you're really old school) long enough to finish the project, do it. For me it's a combination of a writers group, coffee, chocolate. Earlier in my career it was those classes. And books on writing. Anne LaMott's "BIRD BY BIRD," for instance. Anything that's inspiring. Perseverance can be the toughest piece of the puzzle. I've seen talented writers give up because the rejection is so hard to take, when lesser talents with thicker skins or more stubbornness simply hang in, and get published.


EDITOR'S NOTE: J. Louise Larson, blogmistress for The Writing Porch, interviews published authors. To be considered, email her at jackielarsonwrites (at) gmail (dot) com. Larson's work has been published in a number of newspapers and magazines, including the Dallas Morning News and Entrepreneur Magazine. She is the managing editor of the Ennis Journal and a contributor at the Waxahachie Daily Light, and she has received the top award for series writing in Texas, the Texas APME, as well as a silver from the Parenting Publications of America. She co-authored a nonfiction career guide for FabJob Publishing in 2006, and is seeking representation for her new novel, 'At High Tide.'

Author Q&A with Kelly Abell

Author Kelly Abell lives in Florida with her family and a dog named Snickers. She holds a masters degree in adult education. Her new book, "Sealed In Lies" is a romantic suspense story that deals with spies, abuse, betrayal, and finding true love. The two main characters are very unlikely companions and eventually form a bond out of necessity. Read the first chapter free at

When did you first think about writing and what prompted you to submit your first ms?
I wrote a lot in high school but stopped shortly after that. I’ve always had stories swimming around in my head but never really thought about writing an entire novel. I was a manager for an insurance company and I was conducting a performance evaluation with one of my employees one day when we starting talking about hobbies. I told him I’d always wanted to write a novel. I mentioned a book on writing that I had seen at Barnes & Noble called "The Weekend Novelist" by Robert J. Ray and how I’d thought about buying that book. The next day he brought in a Barnes & Noble gift card and gave it to me with instructions to use it only for that one book. I was deeply touched and I wrote my first novel that summer. It took a while for me to get published but "Sealed In Lies" is a direct result of that Barnes & Noble gift card and Chuck’s encouragement.

How much of your personality and life experiences are in your writing?
I would say there is a mixture between my real life and experiences and fiction. The majority of my characters are made up but do contain some personality traits of people I really admire or people I know. I never totally copy someone I know as a character. Most people are not as interesting as those you make up in your head. I do a lot of research to make sure my character’s experiences are authentic. Whatever you do you should be true to your character all the way through the book. Don’t have them do something that is inconsistent with the personality you’ve built for them. Your readers will lose interest.

What's your writing routine like?
I really wish I could have a set schedule. I have to go with the flow but generally I get in at least an hour or so a day either before my day job or in the evening. I usually tell my family that from 7:00 pm to 8:00 pm is my writing time. I can do more on the weekends and that is usually done early in the morning before anyone gets up. Once I start a book I generally do a thorough character analysis on the characters. I lay out their physical description, their personality traits, and what it is they want in respect to the story. I list their goals and the obstacles that they will encounter along the way and how they might overcome them. Then I write my back cover. There is a great set of books by various authors called "Writing Great Fiction" that gives you great advice and that is where I got the idea to write the back cover first. It really helps give me direction. Sometimes I do a chapter outline with a brief paragraph or two about each chapter but generally I'm not much of an outliner. I may do some research ahead of time but most of it is done through the course of the book. Then I set a goal to write so many words per day. I even have a spreadsheet where I keep track of the words I do per day in comparison to my goal. It's a great motivator. I got this from an author friend named Kelley St. John. What is important is the discipline to write every day.

Where do your ideas come from?
My ideas come from a variety of places. Most come from true news stories. "Sealed In Lies" came from a news story about a burglar who broke into a prominent Virginia Senator’s home not realizing whose home it was. He was caught by the wife and he kidnapped her. I read things like this and wonder what if??? Then the stories just flow. I also base stories on events that happen to my friends and family. They don’t usually know this of course. Sometimes, and you’re going to think this is weird, I dream my ideas. I keep a notebook by the bed and I have recorded multiple dreams for books later on. The problem is not getting the ideas, it is getting the time to write them all down.

Whose work do you admire?
I have a few favorite authors that I follow but my all time favorite is Nora Roberts. She is a machine when it comes to writing and her characters are so real and alive for me. I also like thrillers so I love to read Dean Koontz –a master of alliteration, and James Patterson.

What would you say to an aspiring author?
Patience, my dear, patience. It can take a long time to get published and you cannot be afraid of rejection. What is one person’s trash is another person’s treasure, so don’t give up. Make sure your work is complete, thoroughly edited, and ready before you submit to an agent or a publisher. Don’t be afraid to try some of the e-publishers. Be careful and do your research. The e-book is becoming more popular and developing quite a following. It can lead to more opportunities down the road. My publisher Hearts On Fire Books is a great one. Check it out at

What are you working on?
A young adult paranormal book about a teenage girl, Sam, who discovers she’s a medium and ends up having to rescue the most popular girl in school, Amy, when a particularly nasty spirit arrives with some furniture to Amy’s house. Amy’s boyfriend begins to have an interest in Sam which leads to all kinds of teenage drama.

Favorite links:
EDITOR'S NOTE: J. Louise Larson, blogmistress for The Writing Porch, interviews published authors. To be considered, email her at jackielarsonwrites (at) gmail (dot) com. Larson's work has been published in a number of newspapers and magazines, including the Dallas Morning News and Entrepreneur Magazine. She is the managing editor of the Ennis Journal and a contributor at the Waxahachie Daily Light, and she has received the top award for series writing in Texas, the Texas APME, as well as a silver from the Parenting Publications of America. She co-authored a nonfiction career guide for FabJob Publishing in 2006, and is seeking representation for her new novel, 'At High Tide.'

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The novel as journey: an odyssey in words, not geography

Perhaps the most interesting thing that happened to me on the journey to Dan's wedding (outside of the whales and bears and the 11-hour air trip, following the 9-hour bus ride, after the 15-hour ferry that followed the 3-hour drive) is the phone call I received from Susan while waiting to begin my odyssey at DFW airport.

She told me my novel has made it through the ranks at her publisher and is under consideration.

It occurs to me that the path to getting published isn't unlike the journey I have just taken to a wedding in the northern reaches of British Columbia - reaches so northern that Alaska was just 40 nautical miles away.

Between constantly combing the horizon for whales and bears and the dynamics of interacting with siblings and friends, I feel I am light years away from where I started on May 30, a perception that is echoed in the book writing process.

Embarking on the 50,000-plus word journey toward a completed book is even more of an odyssey. Though the personal changes required are not geographical in nature, they are revolutionary in nature.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Writing Porch Author Q&A with Jenny Gardiner, 'Sleeping With Ward Cleaver'

Jenny Gardiner is the author of 'Sleeping With Ward Cleaver.'

Her work has been found in Ladies Home Journal, the Washington Post and on NPR’s Day to Day. She likes to say she honed her fiction writing skills while working as a publicist for a U.S. senator. Other jobs have included: an orthodontic assistant (learning quite readily that she was not cut out for a career in polyester), a waitress (probably her highest-paying job), a TV reporter, a pre-obituary writer, and a photographer (claim to fame: being hired to shoot Prince Charles--with a camera, silly!). She lives in Virginia with her husband, three kids, two dogs, one cat and a gregarious parrot. In her free time she studies Italian, dreams of traveling to exotic locales, and feels very guilty for rarely attempting to clean the house. Her humorous memoir, 'Winging It: A Memoir of Caring for a Demented Bird Determined to Kill Me' (think David Sedaris meets 'Marley & Me' with a really sharp beak) will be published by Simon Spotlight in spring 2010.

Tell us a bit about your book, 'Sleeping With Ward Cleaver' (Dorchester, 2008)

It's the funny yet poignant story of a woman at a crossroads in life, who years earlier married a man who swept her off her feet, but now finds that her Mr. Right has evolved into Mr. Always Right, and the only sweeping going on in her life involves a broom and a dustpan. As her dreams collide with reality and the one that got away shows up trying to worm his way back into her heart, she must decide if her once charmed marriage is salvageable, and if so, how she's going to go about saving it.

"A fun, sassy read! A cross between Erma Bombeck and Candace Bushnell, reading Jenny Gardiner is like sinking your teeth into a big frosted chocolate just want more." -New York Times bestselling author Meg Cabot

How did you get your start in writing?

I probably started writing because I was so bad at math. By fourth grade I realized the only way I was going to pass math was by writing extra credit reports so I fine-tuned my writing skills by avoiding D's and F's ;-)

What does your writing routine look like?

Slightly schizophrenic. Actually I feel most productive in the morning but it doesn't always lend itself to writing. I've got 3 kids and so often times I have to work my schedule around getting them to and from places.Over the past two months when I was working on a tight deadline, I actually dropped my kids off at school and made my way to one of a number of favorite coffee shops in town, where I would hunker down with my headphones blocking out chatter with iTunes cranked, and write until it was time to pick up my daughter at soccer practice at 6 pm. But that intensive writing schedule becomes exhausting after a while, and more realistically I'd say I try to focus in the morning for a few hours when my brain feels fresh.

Tell us some writers whose work you admire and why.

Wow, so many. I think I got my love of writing first person POV from reading Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. Also with Jean Shepherd ('In God We Trust All Others Pay Cash' --LOVE this memoir). I tend to love strong voices, and also prefer smart alecky ones. Even my new recent find, Victoria Dahl, is that; Jaquie D'Alessandro as well. I love Meg Cabot's voice and I love her crazy pop culture sensibility--I relate to this a lot, being a child of the Brady Bunch generation. I really enjoy Jonathan Tropper's writing ('Everything Changes' is a great book).

What are you working on next?

I have a humorous memoir coming out in March titled 'Winging It: A Memoir of Caring for a Vengeful Bird Determined to Kill Me.' It's sort of Jen Weiner meets Marley & Me with a deadly beak. LOL. My agent is also shopping a novel I've written called 'Slim to None' about the nation's premier food critic, who is outed on Page Six of the NY Post and everyone now knows she is fat, thus cannot hide herself to remain incognito to continue reviewing restaurants. Her editor gives her six months to slim down or ship out. I love this book so hope we find a house for it soon.

What made you decide to write this book?

I love to explore relationships and the evolution (or devolution) of marriages in particular. I've probably always been like that because my parents' marriage crashed and burned in a big way so I hyper-analyze these things. But I wanted to make it funny as well as serious, which is sort of tricky.

What challenges did you face with this book?

It's a bit smart alecky--my protagonist is a strong personality and she was a hard sell to editors. I feel so fortunate that Chris Keeslar at Dorchester happened upon my manuscript for the American Title III contest because he finally "got" it, and without his championing it, it might never have made it into the competition, eventually winning.

What advice would you have for other writers/would-be writers?

Believe in yourself, and don't let the rejections get you down. It's a tough business and the last writer standing gets the publishing contract!

Favorite Links:

EDITOR'S NOTE: J. Louise Larson, blogmistress for The Writing Porch, interviews published authors. To be considered, email her at jackielarsonwrites (at) gmail (dot) com. Larson's work has been published in a number of newspapers and magazines, including the Dallas Morning News and Entrepreneur Magazine. She is the managing editor of the Ennis Journal and a contributor at the Waxahachie Daily Light, and she has received the top award for series writing in Texas, the Texas APME, as well as a silver from the Parenting Publications of America. She co-authored a nonfiction career guide for FabJob Publishing in 2006, and is seeking representation for her new novel, 'At High Tide.'

Monday, May 18, 2009

Congratulations to QueryTracker on turning 2 - love this tool to find representation / related contest

There's a cool and relatively new tool online for finding representation - I really like QueryTracker, which allows writers to browse for agents and keep track of their connections. It gets all the information in one place for a very modest fee, and it has been an excellent resource for me.

There is a free versison as well, but I ponied up the few extra bucks per year to get more and it's a service Frugal Me is happy to pay for. There are so many sites and services hoping to get a piece of my little financial pie - this is one of the few that I consider worth it.

Congratulations to QueryTracker on their Two Year Anniversary Celebration. The Carnvial starts today, with several fun contests spread out over three weeks. Check them out! There are some darn fabulous prizes, including a Web site design - got to love that.

The first two weeks they will be announcing the contests and taking entries. On the third week, they will award prizes for each contest (one each day), and culminate with the grand finale prize on Friday, June 5.

Tuesday, May 19 - Purple Prose ContestContest Details Submit Your Entry
Thursday, May 21 - Anagram Contest

Check back with them at at the beginning of each week for details.

Contest winners will be announced in the first week of June, and on June 5 they will draw the name of the grand prize winner. Every time you enter, your name gets into the hat for the random Grand Prize drawing for a custom-designed writer's website to showcase your craft.That's a $600 value provided by Purple Squirrel Web Design. Purple Squirrel is a web design company that focuses on writers and the writing industry. You already know their work because they are QT Blogger Carolyn Kaufman, and Patrick McDonald, the creator of QueryTracker.

Good luck!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Writing Porch Author Q&A with Carola Dunn, author of 'Manna From Hades'

Author Carola Dunn was born and raised in England, where all her books are set - although she lives in Oregon.

When her son was young her part-time and temp jobs ranged from childcare and market research to construction, building design and proof reading and writing definitions for a dictionary of science and technology.

"Thirty years ago I wrote my first book, and I've been at it ever since," she said.

Her latest book - her 50th - is Manna From Hades, the first of a new mystery series set in Cornwall in the 1960s. An IMBA bestseller, its main character is Eleanor Trewynn, a widow in her 60s who has done global work for an international charity. Now she's retired to Cornwall, bought a cottage in a fishing village, and turned the ground floor into a charity shop.

In Manna, she finds the body of a scruffy youth hidden in the back of the stockroom. Other major characters are her niece, Megan Pencarrow, a police detective, and Megan's irrascible superior, DI Scumble; the vicar's wife, Jocelyn Stearns, kind, charitable, efficient, but bossy; and Eleanor's next-door neighbour, an artist, Nick Gresham.

How did you get your start in writing?

After several years of part-time and temporary jobs, I was faced with the prospect of looking for a "proper" job with career prospects. My reaction was to sit down at the kitchen table with a pile of lined paper and a ballpoint and write a Regency. Having to my amazement, completed it, I typed it and shopped it around, and was lucky enough to sell it. I wrote 32 Regencies in all, though now I'm only doing mysteries. I've written 18 books in my Daisy Dalrymple series set in England in the 1920s. The next, Sheer Folly, will be out from St Martin's in September.

What does your writing routine look like?

Writing is my job. It pays all my bills. I work 6 days a week (Sunday is laundry and gardening day), about 6 hours a day at the computer. But it's really a 7/24 job as you can't turn off your brain and stop plotting. Ideas come at 2 in the morning, or when walking by the river, or at the grocery store...

Tell us some writers whose work you admire and why.

The writers I like make you care about their characters, not just about what's going to happen next. I read a lot and can't even begin to start making a list, but two I return to over and over again for sheer pleasure are Jane Austen and JRR Tolkien.

What are you working on next?

I'm presently in the middle of the second in the Cornish mystery series, tentatively titled A Colourful Death.

What made you decide to write this book?
Well, to be practical, I have a contract for a second Cornish mystery ;-) As Eleanor is very good friends with the artist next door, Nick Gresham, I decided to put him in the spotlight with the death of a fellow artist.

What challenges did you face with this book?

I know next to nothing about art--I'm one of those "I know what I like" ignoramuses. Luckily, like Eleanor, I have a good friend who is an artist and can point me in the right direction.

What advice would you have for other writers/would-be writers?

One of my favourite quotations is from Somerset Maugham, the famous British novelist, who said something like this: There are three rules for writing a novel. The trouble is, no one knows what they are. In other words, don't take lists of rules too seriously. One other bit of wisdom: Becoming a published author takes three qualities, Talent, Luck and Persistence. You can get away with just two of the three. The only one you control is Persistence.

Favorite Links:

EDITOR'S NOTE: J. Louise Larson, blogmistress for The Writing Porch, interviews published authors. To be considered, email her at jackielarsonwrites (at) gmail (dot) com. Larson's work has been published in a number of newspapers and magazines, including the Dallas Morning News and Entrepreneur Magazine. She is the managing editor of the Ennis Journal and a contributor at the Waxahachie Daily Light, and she has received the top award for series writing in Texas, the Texas APME, as well as a silver from the Parenting Publications of America. She co-authored a nonfiction career guide for FabJob Publishing in 2006, and is seeking representation for her new novel, 'At High Tide.'

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Author Q&A with Michael Dickel, author of "The World Behind It, Chaos"

EDITOR'S NOTE: This Q&A is the exception to several Writing Porch rules. We don't usually review eBooks. And generally, we're about novels and nonfiction. And our entries are much shorter.

However, I wanted to post this gem (which reads like he's talking to me over coffee) from Michael Dickel for my friends, poets Grace Vermeer and Brenda Riojas.

Michael tells me his trouble is with focus and cutting. I had no trouble focusing on what he was saying, but alas, I had trouble cutting it. In the words of my old editor Jack King, (who flailed his arms like a windmill when he lamented the long, LONG, pieces I'd turn in on occasion) "Who's ever gonna read all this stuff?" Enjoy, Grace and Brenda - and everyone else willing to dig through this long, LONG and delightful post.

Michael Dickel teaches English academic writing at The Hebrew University in Jerusalem, where he also is co-editor of an annual poetry anthology, open to anyone who writes in English, called "Voices Israel." He is also working on an as-yet unnamed invitational anthology which explores the role of art and writing in contested territory. "I hope to gather Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Palestinian, Israeli, Arab, Druze, Bedouin and other voices from the area—not just writers, but also artists, thinkers, activists—to speak not just to the situation here in the Middle East ... not just war and peace, but meaning, interpretation and response. And I want to explore throughout the collection the question of what do art and literature signify in the midst of conflict. Once again, this raises questions of what can and cannot be articulated (either in art/writing or in our lives," he said.

His own writing reflects those same themes, he says, "and art’s desire to understand and express what we don’t seem to have the ability to articulate, or speak."

What made you decide to write this book?
Some of the story of this book begins as long as ten years or more ago, when I wrote many of the poems (or their first drafts). My concerns (obsessions?) then, as now, centered on the process of making meaning, the space between the idea or image as sent out by the writer and as received by the reader, and expressing what is just barely beyond articulation.

A few years ago. I was working on another manuscript of poems related to these themes, but from both political and mystical perspectives rooted in Judaism, the Kabbalah ... I started working with incorporating photos and digital artwork into that manuscript, and liked the results. When I finished the project, and while negotiating with a publisher (in the end, unsuccessfully) about publishing it, I returned to these older poems. I revised some of them, added some new poems I’d written recently, and sent it in to why vandalism? (wv?) to see if they would be interested in it for their eBook series.

Wv? had published a number of my poems in their literary and art journal, so I thought perhaps they’d like this book. I expanded it to include my poems they had published ... The editorial board came back with some suggestions about the manuscript that helped tighten it and to focus it more—both removing several poems and rearranging what was there. I took most of their suggestions, and went a little further.

Excited by the interaction of visual images with the poetry of the other manuscript with the Jewish theme, I asked them about including images in The World Behind It, Chaos. They were very enthusiastic, so I worked with my photos and digital art to develop a coherent manuscript. The fact that I like to work, in my poetry, at the edge of articulation leads naturally to a collaboration between my visual art and my writing. The poems and graphics reflect and complement each other. Or, at least, I hope that they do. The feedback I’ve received so far is that they do this well. And, I think that these combined expressions are at the heart of this book and my concerns / obsessions: exploring the gaps between experience and expression, feeling and articulation, words and body.

Why did you decide to publish the book as an eBook?
Two reasons. First, this is what why vandalism?, the publisher, was doing. They’d liked both my poetry and visual art well enough to publish it in several of their issues, so I hoped they would want to publish my book (and, all along, I hoped to include the visual art). However, practically, eBook publication allows the inclusion of graphics so much more easily and less expensively than print. While some of the images are in black and white, most are in color. The costs of printing color alone would have made publishers less willing to take the risk and would have sent the cost of the book through the ceiling. At best, I would have been restricted as to how many images, what size, how many color images—all of that. So, the eBook format allowed me freedom to use images as I wanted. I would like to go further, doing work like Maria Damon and Miekal And do, or like Adeena Karasick, that incorporates more interaction, more media (such as animation, pop-ups, audio, and other things computers can do that a printing press cannot), and less linear sense ... In some ways, I’d like to explore both directions—traditional print and the new possibilities of electronic media. (Perhaps I could include an interactive CD or DVD with a printed book?)

Why did you decide to offer it for free?
The policy of why vandalism?, as I understand it, is to be totally free from commercialism. There are no ads on their site, and they don’t charge for anything they do. It is a work of love on their part, so far as I can see, a desire to put the art and the poetry out to the world, free of constraints other than the editorial board’s judgment. For my part, I think it could work for me something like it does for emerging bands that have been putting their music up as free downloads for years now. This develops an audience, listeners for the bands who will then buy a CD or pay for an album download in time—certainly pay for concert tickets, that sort of thing. I hope to develop an audience, readers (viewers) for my work.

In reality, I wouldn’t expect to make much money from selling a book of poetry. I’d rather have readers. I read in the International Herald Tribune just the other day that the novelist, Cory Doctorow, offers free eBooks online the same day his hardcover books go on sale, to entice new readers. Doctorow is less worried about losing money to free downloads or internet piracy than he is about obscurity. He wants to be read. And, so do I.

What does your writing routine look like?
Routine? I’m supposed to have a routine? Oh, yes, I’ve read that many writers have even severe routines and schedules. I don’t work that way, but perhaps that means I’m not writing as much or as well as I could. I tend to read, to discuss, to watch movies, to take photographs, to listen, to think, to hike, to enjoy the company of my wife, to have coffee with friends, to read some more.

When something comes, I write at full tilt, usually, whatever flows forth. Often a rhythm or sound sparks the next words, sometimes word play or twisting a meaning leads to the next, often image leads to image, story to feeling or feeling to story, so that the writing comes from itself as much as anything. I pour it out on the page. Then, I go over it. I know that Ginsberg said something like “first thought, best thought.” At times, I agree—I try not to mess with what works. However, at other times, revising helps (for me, cutting in particular). I don’t like to overwork a poem, so that it starts showing its craft or becoming muddied by its sense of self or my sense of self. However, I do like to revise to hide the craft, to focus, to develop something of the felt sense that never quite emerges in the words. Striking a balance between “first thought” and “revise, revise, revise” is, for me, my routine, I guess. If such an off-balance attempt counts as a routine.

Tell us some writers whose work you admire and why.
I’m going to start away from poetry. Recently, I’ve been reading Jonathan Safran Foer and Umberto Eco. Both authors work with some of the same philosophical issues that I try to reflect in my work: the nature of experience and memory; how history and the past reflect and shape the present, and how the present shapes and reflects itself back on the past; the way we construct identity and meaning rather than discover them, and meaning and identity, in turn, construct us; and, yet, how all of this sits in a real world—that we only seem able to know partially and imperfectly—but that has real political and historical impacts on our lives.

I mix this kind of reading in with Kabbalistic writings, Torah, and commentaries on Torah to inspire my own writing. These far-out ideas, some of them converging with theoretical science, epistemology, ontology, mysticism, and experience of the world, also influence my pleasures in poetry.

I trace my own influences as reader and writer from Walt Whitman (Leaves of Grass is one of those books that sat prominently on a shelf in the dining room of my parents’ house) through William Carlos Williams, to Langston Hughes, to the Black Mountain School, to the Beats (particularly Ann Waldman and Allen Ginsberg), to contemporary writers like: Robert Bly, Caroline Forché, Claudia Rankine, Lorna Dee Cervantes, Julian Spahr, Sharon Olds, Philip Levine, Gloria Anzaldua, Leonard Cohen, Adeena Karasick, Gary Lundy, Jamaica Kincaid and Joy Harjo, among many others. There is a similarly long list of international poets that I could name—Lorca, Akhmatova, Yehudai, Ali are just the tip of that particular interstellar iceberg.

The long list of poets I read contains very different poets and poetry—reflecting my eclecticism, I suppose. What they have in common, for me, is their engagement in the world, the ideological, the concrete, the political, the historical, and the spiritual in such a manner as to stop readers from easily assuming clarity and order. The poets I like best break through superficial sensibility, commercial skins, and plastic-surgery facial expressions to show the cracks on our beliefs, our world, our lives.

To paraphrase Leonard Cohen, everything has cracks, but that’s also how the light gets in.

In fiction, I have read, re-read, and been influenced by Leslie Marmon Silko, Salman Rushdie, Stephen Dixon, John Fowles, Toni Morrison, Philip Roth and Tom Robbins, again among others, for very much the same reasons as the poets I read. Margaret Atwood I admire for these reasons, and for her ability in both fiction and poetry (I also write some fiction, on occasion).

What challenges did you face with this book?
The main challenge was focus. Originally, at some point a few years ago, I had a much, much longer manuscript. A friend of mine suggested cutting it into parts. I had divided the original into sections, which made possible places to divide it into separate manuscripts. This was hard for me, in that I saw echoes and motifs throughout the whole, repeated themes in the different sections. I gravitate toward complexity and convoluted lines of exploration.

What I learned, through my friend’s careful reading and help, was that the motifs were likely separate manuscript themes. So, I had to take poems from different sections and move them around, reorganize them. I ended up with something like three manuscripts with a few poems left over. (I also pulled poems from the long work to create Jerusalem Imagined and Recalled—the Jewish-related project I mentioned earlier that has yet to be published—thus creating a fourth manuscript that went beyond the first, too large one.)

When I sent the manuscript for this book, what became The World Behind It, Chaos, to why vandalism?, and they suggested even more cutting and rearranging, I could see that their ideas really helped the book become a “book” somehow, more than just a collection of related poems. I used their ideas, made some modifications to their suggestions (that they, in turn, liked). I put back one or two poems that were related to some left in the manuscript, took out one or two that belonged with those taken out, changed the name (they suggested leaving out the poem that had the line for the earlier name, and I agreed), and did a little more re-ordering of the poems. This was fun and good work, but also quite challenging.

It is often easier for me to write a poem than to figure how to put poems together so that the reading of them as a “work” or “book” coheres. In the end, the poems that came out of the manuscript in this process had their own type of focus, so now I have yet another manuscript with these poems, although more of a chapbook than a full-length poetry book.

What advice would you have for others wanting to publish eBooks?
Don’t be afraid to do it. Consider how to use the electronic medium to enhance the book experience, not simply to replicate a printed book. I don’t think I moved in that direction very much, other than the inclusion of so many images. There used to be a book called The Macintosh is Not Just a Typewriter, something like that. It was early in the days of the Macintosh interface (even before Windows, if I remember correctly), and all about the formatting stuff you could do with a computer word processor and how to create, essentially, typeset documents. Of course, many of us now find this routine. However, I’ve thought, as an extension of that idea, that the computer is not just a printing press, either. It offers so much more than paper. We see this clearly on the web, with multi-media and hypertext providing a different viewing / reading experience than the linear one that paper requires.

Some decry this change in literacy, lamenting the type of reading we did before; but I think it would be interesting to embrace it, to write interactive texts with hyperlinks, pop-up images, movement, animation, comments, all of that which we see on blogs and web pages. I don’t mean we should also give up traditional forms of reading and writing, but that we should not only live there. How can poetry embrace this hyper-poetic possibility? How can fiction embrace hyper-narrative potential? What sort of new forms could emerge? Perhaps they are already there.

As one thinks of electronic publishing, perhaps it’s worthwhile to think of all the possibilities and play with them, use them, find new ways of constructing and understanding knowledge, images, sensibility and identity with them. For writers, it means giving up much of our control over the reader’s experience of our words. On one hand, how much control do writers really have over the reader’s experience, even in the printed word? On the other hand, it seems like a very exciting direction to take our cultural production of meaning(s).

What advice would you have for other writers/would-be writers?
The same advice everyone has, I suppose. Read. Write. Listen to yourself. Listen to others. Let the words carry you. Revise as needed (but don’t overwork). Write. Write. Write. Read. Read. Read. Write from experience. And play—play with words, ideas, images, and meaning. Find the erotic pleasure of the words, the text, the poem, the story.

Rain Taxi
Ravenswood Books Blog
The Cartier Street Review
The Drunken Boat
why vandalism?

EDITOR'S NOTE: J. Louise Larson, blogmistress for The Writing Porch, interviews published authors. To be considered, email her at jackielarsonwrites (at) gmail (dot) com. Larson's work has been published in a number of newspapers and magazines, including the Dallas Morning News and Entrepreneur Magazine. She is the managing editor of the Ennis Journal and a contributor at the Waxahachie Daily Light, and she has received the top award for series writing in Texas, the Texas APME, as well as a silver from the Parenting Publications of America. She co-authored a nonfiction career guide for FabJob Publishing in 2006, and is seeking representation for her new novel, 'At High Tide.'

Monday, May 11, 2009

Author Q&A with Janet Spurr, of Beach Chair Diaries

About Janet Spurr: "After being in sales for over 15 years, I had a calling to be a writer. I had never written before and started taking courses and attending conferences."

About Beach Chair Diaries: Beach Chair Diaries is a collection of short humorous essays about summertime. From learning to surf in Maui to boogie boarding in Maui. Spurr independently published her 172-page book in May of 2008, through Lightning Source, which is owned by Ingram.

Why did you write this book? I started writing fiction, children's books, screenwriting and finally figured out that short essays work for me because of my full time sales job and trying to do too much.

In one course, a British woman said that I should write a book about summer time, sailing and yacht clubs. And I thought, I could do that.

What did I love about it? The fact that now I can go on any beach vacation and tell people that I'm doing research.

Also, when I do book signings, I ask people where their favorite beach is and we talk about beaches.

Why did you self-publish, and what has helped you be successful at self-publishing?

I had a dishonest agent and a book contract; the editor of the small publishing company suggested that I fire the agent because she was so difficult to deal with. I was able to get my second agent, who didn't have the passion for Beach Chair Diaries that I did, so I had to let him go. A best-selling author told me that every author has three agents. Since I had been in sales, selling women's accessories to stores throughout New England, everyone said that I should sell my book to the stores that I already sell to. I did and now a year later I've sold over 2,100 books and had over 20 events.

What does your writing routine look like?

I'm laughing. I have no routine, because I travel to so many different places for my sales job. When I write I usually do while away from home and/or on the beach.

Tell us some writers whose work you admire and why.

Mitch Albom, who wrote Tuesdays with Morrie. I hope someday to write a book about my dad and if I can make a difference as Mitch's book has done, then that would be the greatest. Bill Bryson. I want to be the Bill Bryson Babe of the Bookshelf. Doris Kearns Goodwin. I just finished Team of Rivals. I have a relative who was in the Boston Tea Party, that might be my fourth book.

What are you working on next?

Beach Chair Diaries 2, but that won't be the title. It should be out next spring.

What advice would you have for other writers/would-be writers?

Believe in your dream not matter what happens. Never forget your dream. I think a lot of people get out of college and then forget that a dream takes 4-8 years. So go for it. There is nothing more amazing. There was a 95-year-old woman who graduated from college. If she can do it, anyone can.

What would you say to others thinking of self-publishing?

Go with Lightning Source. The upfront costs might be higher, but the wholesale cost makes more profit. Most importantly, what I didn't realize was that once you publish a book with Lightning Source you are then listed with Ingram. Many times I would call a book store and they would order my book right away because I was with Ingram. This was a very important fact that I didn't even realize until after I had published. I was only turned down by two bookstores because I was self published.

Favorite Links:

EDITOR'S NOTE: J. Louise Larson, blogmistress for The Writing Porch, interviews published authors. To be considered, email her at jackielarsonwrites (at) gmail (dot) com. Larson's work has been published in a number of newspapers and magazines, including the Dallas Morning News and Entrepreneur Magazine. She is the managing editor of the Ennis Journal and a contributor at the Waxahachie Daily Light, and she has received the top award for series writing in Texas, the Texas APME, as well as a silver from the Parenting Publications of America. She co-authored a nonfiction career guide for FabJob Publishing in 2006, and is seeking representation for her new novel, 'At High Tide.'

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Author Q&A with Jerry Hunsinger, 'Axe of Iron' series

Author Jerry Hunsinger (the Axe of Iron series, Vinland Publishing) spent most of his adult working life as a commercial pilot, and pursued writing novels as an avocation after retirement.

How did you get your start in writing?
My writing was sporadic until 2004. My wife Phyllis made me believe in the story that I had held inside for my entire adult life. Without her support and advocacy, I would not have begun, completed, or published this first novel of my series. It is the most difficult undertaking of my life. She pushes me just enough and I need a push on occasion, to get the job done. Ultimately, this effort led to publishing after I wasted one year seeking a literary agent to pursue publication of my work through a large publishing house. So today, I both write and publish. How long that will continue is impossible to estimate at this point.

What does your writing routine look like?
My day begins not later than 0700, after coffee and the newspaper, and typically continues until the evening hours. I found that I had to factor composition into the day—I have a schedule I try to adhere to--or all I did was promote and socially network for visibility. I do try to write daily, but that is not always possible given the myriad business details that come up that must be attended to. I have written only historical fiction novels. My first novel, Axe of Iron: The Settlers was published August 1, 2008. It is the first in the Axe of Iron series. These books are a continuing tale about a medieval people whose lives are surprisingly like ours. They have the same basic desires for happiness, love, food, and shelter that has dominated the thoughts of generations of cultures the world over. These character-driven, historical fiction books tell the adventures of Greenland Vikings as they struggle to establish a settlement in North America 1000-years ago in the face of hostile native opposition.

Tell us some writers whose work you admire and why.
Historical fiction is my favorite genre. Our bookcases sag under the volumes that we have retained. For pleasure, I read everything that Wilbur Smith and W.E.B. Griffin write. I also own every book written by C. S. Forester, Alexander Kent, and Ayn Rand. Sir Winston Churchill’s History of the English Speaking Peoples is an excellent reference work. Ken Follett is another favorite. His Pillars of the Earth was superlative. The works of the aforementioned authors have been read repeatedly because they are able to spin a tale that is engaging, entertaining, and realistic.

What are you working on next?
Axe of Iron: Confrontation is in the edit process and is scheduled for release in June 2009. The series is five or six books and the release of each volume will follow at the rate of one per year until I have told the tale.

What made you decide to write this novel?
I have had a lifelong interest in the medieval Norse people. That interest is focused on the five hundred year history of the Norse Greenland settlements. The mystery surrounding the abandonment of the two known settlements and the disappearance of every single person living therein has captured my imagination. Years of research has led me to believe that they did not disappear, rather they assimilated with the natives of North America. My series of books tell a plausible tale in support of that contention. No other author has ever treated the subject the way I have. Axe of Iron: The Settlers is my first novel. It is a character-driven, historical fiction book. My characters tell the story and the reader sees the events through their eyes.

What advice would you have for other writers/would-be writers?
The entire process has been a nightmare because of the time and money wasted while I learned the business. I wish I could say that there is lots of help out there for the newbies, but actually, the reverse is true. You are prey swimming in the shark’s pool—take heed. Do your homework, believe nobody, and get everything in writing, research, research, and research.

I have seen many aspiring writers take one class after another in the hopes that this acquired knowledge will pave the way for them. I, too, took many writing classes. If you spend all your time worrying about plot, voice, POV, etc. you will never actually take the plunge. In the final analysis I can say the classes helped, but what I finally found was, ‘In order to learn to write, you must write.’ You must have a story to tell, find someplace where you can do so without interruption, and set down and get at it. You will make mistakes, certainly, but you will learn your craft in the process. Another piece of advice for you: if you do not own a recent edition of The Chicago Manual of Style, buy one; it is the bible of the industry.

We write because we must; we have a story to tell. Now that I have actually gotten the process going with one book published, I derive satisfaction from telling my tale to others. I expect that feeling to continue as the Axe of Iron series unfolds. The entire writing/publication process was difficult and expensive. There are two major downs to writing and both are part of the learning process. With high expectations, I presented my rough draft manuscript to an editor—wrong approach—forget the expectations. I got my masterpiece picked apart, marked up in red, and seriously in need of correction and rewrite. My response? I dropped it in the trash. Phyllis to the rescue! She made me see the error of my ways and pushed me to do what all writers must do at this stage, dig in, and do your job. I cracked up the editor by telling her that she had said that ‘my baby was ugly.’ Actually, it was ugly, so I had to fix it, and I did. Hire professional editors to edit everything that another person will read, especially the final draft of your manuscript. An English teacher is not an editor and you cannot edit your own work, so hire someone. Your professionalism will determine whether you ever make the grade. A shabby cover letter on your submission packet will guarantee its demise.

Do your homework on the submission guidelines before you query. All agents will have their own guidelines; adhere to them absolutely. Do not ever send a manuscript unless it is requested. Agents and publishers are busy people and they have no time to waste on people who do not follow their submission guidelines. Dealing with agents is the most disheartening undertaking for a writer. Agents act like the writer exists because of agents, when in fact it is the other way around. I wasted a year trying to find an agent from among those professing to have an interest in my genre only to find that there are not any in existence.