Being a writer—as in a professional writer who has published some work—seems like a glamorous, elusive way of life to anyone who doesn’t understand that if you find that you express yourself best in written form, you are a writer. And you don’t have to be published, by a big publisher or on your own, to be able to call yourself that. I wrote for decades, even published other people’s books that had a lot of my writing in them, before I let myself say, “I am a writer.” It always felt audacious and risky to claim that. I guess maybe it was a bit of imposter syndrome. But the moment I allowed that, the moment I became brave enough to really see myself that way, was the moment my writing went to an entirely different level and my career began to flourish.
I believe being a writer means you think in words more than images. That’s not to say you don’t see images in your mind, but that you are more focused on what words can best describe what you see. How can you conjure that same image for another person by describing it when they can’t actually see it? The same is true with feelings, emotions, and sensations. What combination of words can accurately and most effectively convey what is intangible and inside of you? The beauty of language is that it has that power. A Polish independent bookstore created an ad campaign a number of years ago with the slogan, “Words Create Worlds.” No truer words have ever been strung together, in my opinion.
Earlier this evening I posted a review about The Way Out by Gordon Jensen with Cara Highsmith and Gordon Thomas.
Following is an interview with the authors conducted by Lauren Carr, Senior Virtual Book Tour Coordinator and owner of iRead Book Tours.
How did you do research for your book?
Cara: With each book I began with an outline of the chapters so I had a sense of what I wanted to cover, and then I made a list of the possible subjects that would require research and worked my way through them using the internet to access websites created by scientific organizations, military, government, history, etc. On some topics, I consulted individuals I knew or had access to and asked them questions or gave them segments to review to offer critiques of how information was incorporated. For the pieces that were entirely speculative—where something doesn’t exist yet—I gathered as much existing information as possible and projected where it could lead, and then looked for research that suggests the projections are plausible.
Which was the hardest character to write?
Cara: In the case of The Way Out, the narrative voice was the hardest to decide. At the time of writing, we didn’t know whether Hunter would emerge as the hero of the series because there was such a full cast, so I didn’t want to use his voice for the narration. However, I also didn’t want to use an omniscient observer narrative approach because there were so many surprises and plot twists that I didn’t want a narrator who knew what was coming. It was important for the narrator to be learning about all of this right along with the reader as it unfolded. That is how we ended up with the interview style for that book.
What’s the most courageous thing you’ve ever done?
Pursue a life in creative arts. There are no guarantees, except that you will be criticized. But, if you are willing to lean into it and take the risk anyway, the reward is an incredible feeling of fulfillment.
Do you have another profession besides writing?
Gordy: I’m retired, so now I have the time to write.
How long have you been writing?
Gordy: Only a few years. The Way Out was my first book, but I have thought about the story for years.
If you could go back in time, where would you go?
Gordy: This is a fun question for me to answer as I am a history buff. I rarely read novels. I mostly read history books. My top 12 events in world history that I would like to experience/participate in and/or live through are (not in any particular order): events leading up to and after the crucifixion of Jesus Christ; Lewis, Clark, and Sacagawea’s journey across the US and back; the Titanic voyage; Alexander the Great’s campaign; Columbus’s trip to the New World; Genghis Kahn Conquests; Marco Polo’s trip; Ibn Battatah’s trip; Magellan’s trip around the world; Moses’ leading the Jews out of slavery in Egypt and into the Promised Land; Napoleon’s expedition from France to Moscow and back; To be in the thick of the group of the Founding Fathers of the US during the writing of America’s Constitution, Declaration of Independence, and Bill of Rights.
What would it be like if everyone thought you were dead? What if people walked by you and didn’t seem to notice you? A few people, like your ex-girlfriend, Jolene, and her new boyfriend, Brent, can see you. But Isabella, the medium, can’t. You seem solid enough to yourself. Normal functions work—you can eat, drink and wear clothes. You swear you are alive and well. But one moment you’re at the ocean helping beached whales and the next you’re lying by railroad tracks; then you’re in the Midwest. With no idea how you moved from place to place. Welcome to the dystopian world of Daniel Shepard in The Beached Ones by Colleen M. Story.
Story keeps the reader off balance by inserting flashbacks of Daniel’s earlier life in a single-parent, dysfunctional household. Daniel escapes that environment by becoming a motocross stunt rider. One of his current desires is to get to San Francisco to meet his younger brother, Tony. The other is to reclaim Jolene.
I never really became involved with the characters in this novel. They all seemed like chimeras. Daniel seemed the most solid, alive character even though he apparently died from an accident at a motocross show prior to the beginning of the novel. Ghostly as he is, Daniel is the anchor holding the lives of those within his sphere together. Daniel feels responsible for everyone who touches his world, no matter how tangentially. That includes Trisha, a teenager who he doesn’t know, who commits suicide in a parking lot while Daniel stands helplessly nearby.
Straightforward or Beached?
Are our lives as straightforward as we would like to believe? Do we absolutely know where we’re headed at any given point? Or are we pulled this way and that? Do we live a vertiginous life as Daniel does in both human and spirit form?
Are the beached whales that Daniel attempts to save at the beginning of the novel synonymous with, and representative of, those humans in his life whom he also tries to save? Hmm, read The Beached Ones and draw your own conclusions.
Earlier this morning I posted a review of The Beached Ones by Colleen Story. I hope you enjoy this interview that takes us behind the scenes to look at a writer’s process and inspiration.
Colleen M. Story: The Beached Ones
Interviewed by Lauren Carr
What made you write a book about the bond between two brothers?
I grew up with three brothers—one older and two younger. I felt responsible for my younger brothers much of the time. I took care of them as we were growing up, which informed my portrayal of Daniel, who is the older brother in the story.
The bonds between siblings are unique and challenged by many factors including upbringing, parents, age, and personalities. Yet these are the longest-lasting relationships most of us will have in our lifetimes. When the character of Daniel came to me, it was always with his younger brother Tony. That relationship was there from the beginning and provided a great grounding point for the rest of the story.
Where do you get inspiration for your stories?
Inspiration comes to me from a variety of places, but often I can’t identify where when talking about a particular story. The main character will just show up in my mind first, and then over time, his or her story will start to develop in my mind.
In the case of The Beached Ones, though, I could go back and identify a couple of sources of inspiration. The first was the movie Sarah’s Key, which was based on the book of the same title by Tatiana de Rosnay. The second was an experience I had myself as a child. My adoptive father committed suicide. The experience was traumatic, but when you’re young, you don’t have the maturity to understand or deal with it.
Later in life, that event came up again. I started thinking about it more, and I had a few dreams about it. I didn’t purposely write about it, but I can see echoes of that experience showing up in some facets of The Beached Ones.
What advice would you give budding writers?
One of the most common pieces of advice I share with writers is to focus on the work. It’s very easy to get caught up in the trappings of the writing life—getting published, having readers/fans, and chasing that golden ticket to writing fame. We all have those dreams, but if you’re called to write, it’s likely for another reason. (Your soul doesn’t care if you become famous, in other words.)
No matter if you become the next bestseller or never publish a single story, if you focus on writing as a daily (or almost daily) practice, you will notice positive changes in your life. I guarantee it. Writing is magical that way.
If you could put yourself as a character in your book, who would you be?
If I could put myself as a character in the book, it would probably be Gus. He is a preacher at a cowboy church, and he just lives his life as he sees fit. He doesn’t worry about what anyone else thinks. He spends time in the beautiful mountains of Montana, and he likes to ride his four-wheeler around. Yet he’s kind and caring and offers a lot of support to Daniel (my main character) and his little brother Tony.
How long have you been writing?
I started writing seriously in the mid-1990s. I got my first official writing job in 1997. I went freelance in 2003, and have been a professional freelance writer ever since. Meanwhile, I continued to write fiction and penned several novels, many of which never saw the light of day. I received my first traditional novel publishing contract in 2013, I think! Since then I’ve published five more books and plan to keep going.
Guest Interview: Anne Beall, author of Cinderella Didn’t Live Happily Ever After
Why did you write a book about fairy tales?
I’ve always loved fairy tales and after a particularly bad day, I turned to them for comfort. As I read, I noticed some patterns, so I decided to analyze them systematically. I conducted statistical analyses and found that female characters were often weak, passive and terribly victimized, whereas males were brave, intelligent, and powerful. And powerful men were mostly good, whereas powerful women were often evil. Females married royalty largely because of their appearance whereas males married royalty when they showed tremendous feats of bravery or intelligence. I was surprised how many hidden messages about gender, power, agency and good versus evil.
Are you suggesting that children shouldn’t like Cinderella or other popular fairy tales?
No, not at all. These are good stories. I just caution people to think about what else they may communicate besides the basic plot. I don’t think we want to suggest to little girls that they should just wait for Prince Charming to save them from a difficult situation. That seems like a big message to give that could lead to a lot of disappointment.
I am definitely not against children reading fairy tales. In fact, I encourage people of all ages to read fairy tales because there are so many great ones. In some of them, the female character goes to battle, saves her handsome prince, and rescues family members. There are quite a few fabulous female heroines who are strong and inspirational.
Do you have another profession besides writing?
Yes! I’m a researcher and I own a research company that does market research for Fortune 500 companies. We do everything from surveys and focus-groups to complex statistical modeling. We do studies to help companies understand their customers better and to provide better products and services to them. It’s a wonderful profession and I work with very smart people.
Do you write anything other than non-fiction?
I’m writing a middle-grade fairy tale about a heroine who ends up battling an evil wizard. She is a lowly servant in a castle and believes she’s an orphan. A fairy comes to her and tells her she has a family, but they’ve been cursed. She must solve riddles and find enchanted items to lift this curse and be reunited with her family. Although she has some special gifts, she lacks confidence in her abilities and doesn’t think she can do it. And she only has 15 days, or the curse will be permanent!
What is your advice to anyone who thinks they have a book within them?
I believe everyone has an important story to tell. My best advice is to sit down and write it. You can get help in editing and crafting your story once you’ve written it. But for now, just sit down and get it out. I believe that there is a reason you want to write it and the world needs to read it. Don’t let a lack of confidence get in your way. Just write! That’s the best advice I have. If there is something that’s nagging at you, there is probably a reason.
Earlier today, I posted a review of Shadow of Murder. Now I’d like to present the author in her own words, outside of her novels. Presenting, Guest Post: Lauren Carr.
The Lasagna That Turned into a 900-lb Gorilla
by Lauren Carr, author of Shadow of Murder
I have learned that every author puts a little bit of themselves into their characters. No, I am not a murderer. Yes there is a killer in every one of my murder mysteries. After all, you can’t have a murder mystery without a killer in the cast of characters somewhere.
We’ll dive into that another time.
Today, I wanted to talk about Erica Hart, who I introduced in Shadow of Murder. Erica Hart is the Cold Case Diva, who works with Mac Faraday to solve a couple of murders in Deep Creek Lake.
One aspect of Erica Hart’s character is that she is a gourmet cook (like me!) and has a collection of family recipes going back multiple generations in a special cookbook that has been passed down throughout her family (also like me!).
Some of you may recall the famous saying, “The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.” This is one of the many things that bring Erica and Dusty together as she charms him with her cooking talent. I confess, my husband swears it is my cooking that made him fall in love with me.
In one scene in Shadow of Murder, Erica passes on her secrets to a great lasagna to Dusty’s thirteen-year-old daughter. While writing that scene, I found myself recalling one of the multiple times that I wondered if being a great cook was blessing or a curse.
I think most of you are quite familiar with the tendency of adding just one more thing to your to-do-list —usually because you are a nice person. (You have my permission to reach around and pat yourself on the back for being a good person.) Or maybe because that little thing is something that you rather enjoy doing—like whipping up a delicious lasagna made from your own secret recipe.
The very thought of making a single lasagna seems quite minuscule while it is a thought inside your head. Then, it ceases being a thought and turns into a reality. Before you know it, that single lasagna grows until it is transformed into a 900-pound gorilla that has decided to sit down right smack in the middle of your kitchen.
One Sunday, my friend Gail requested food for a reception following a funeral. Instantly, my husband’s eyes lit up and he turned to me. “Lasagna,” he mouthed.
I thought, “Gee, I haven’t made a lasagna in quite a while. It only takes a couple of hours to prepare and assemble a lasagna.” So, I volunteered to make a lasagna for the funeral reception. At which point, Gail handed a huge pan—big enough for three lasagnas—to me.
Okay, my one lasagna is now three, plus one for my family.
Except, when I make a lasagna, I don’t just make a single lasagna. I make several lasagnas, cook one for dinner, and then pack up and freeze the rest. Then during the upcoming months, when I get busy and don’t feel like cooking, I’ll take one out of the freezer and pop it into the oven.
The day after I had volunteered to make the giant lasagna, my husband came home with six foil pans in anticipation of my culinary delight. In one day, my couple of lasagnas had multiplied up to ten. One enormous pasta dish for the church, six to be frozen, and one for dinner.
Just smile. It will only take a few hours, and everyone will be happy afterwards, I kept telling myself while trying to figure out where I was going to put all of these lasagna pans and hoping I had enough pots and pans to cook the noodles and sauces. I was seriously wondering if my kitchen was big enough to contain this giant gorilla (aka lasagnas).
As L-Day (Lasagna Day) approached, my husband kept requesting a grocery list of what he would need to purchase. Finally, on Saturday, I sat down to count up the lasagna pans and add up the amount of the ingredients. I came up with five boxes of noodles, five huge jars of sauce, a half a ton of Italian sausage, and a ton of various cheeses.
He came back from the store with five boxes of noodles, half a ton of Italian sausage, ground beef, and pork, a ton of various cheeses and one regular size jar of sauce.
“What happened to the sauce?” I asked.
“That’s plenty of sauce,” replied the man who has yet to figure out how to turn on the toaster. “Let’s not go crazy.”
“Dear, the time to suggest that we not go crazy has passed,” I said. “I’ve volunteered to make enough lasagna to feed an army, plus enough lasagna to feed us until the end of the next Ice Age, and you bring me one jar of sauce!”
He handed me the car keys and said that if I needed more sauce, I could go back to the store to get it.
So, I did exactly that. Grumbling the whole way, I drove to the store and bought four huge jars of sauce and a giant cheesecake.
You see, over the years, I’ve learned something about 900-pound gorillas. Best not to fight it. Embrace it, feed it plenty of cheesecake, and the two of you will get along just fine.
I’ve just discovered Lauren Carr, a prolific author of cozy mysteries as well as other genres. In the near future, I’ll be reading and reviewing a few of Carr’s mysteries.
Gnarly is a character that appears in a few of the books in Carr’s Mac Faraday series.
Enjoy this preview of what’s ahead.
Ten Things You May Not Know about Gnarly
by Lauren Carr
Gnarly is a canine genius. In It’s Murder, My Son, Mac has Gnarly evaluated by a dog expert who determines that the German shepherd has reasoning and planning capability, which is why he doesn’t always listen to humans.
Gnarly is a kleptomaniac. When he gets bored, he plans and executes heists—just to see if he can get away with it.
Gnarly is a West Virginian. He was born at Beck’s Kennels in Inwood, West Virginia. His parents still live there.
Gnarly is lactose intolerant. Mac Faraday only recently made this discovery.
Gnarly was not in the first or even second draft of It’s Murder, My Son. While Mac Faraday had a dog, it was not become an actual character until a much later draft.
Gnarly has a squirrel friend named Otis. Occasionally, he and Gnarly will have spats. In Old Loves Die Hard, Otis threw acorns at Gnarly, hitting David’s police cruiser.
Gnarly was inspired by Lauren’s son’s Australian shepherd, which was given to him by a woman during halftime at a football game. Her big sales pitch: “You can keep him. He’s free!” The next day, the free puppy chewed through a $65 power cord.
There is a real Gnarly. After the success of the Mac Faraday Mysteries, Lauren got a real German shepherd and named him Gnarly, after his fictional counterpart. He was kind enough to model for the fictional Gnarly’s campaign posters.
The real Gnarly can open doors—even doors with round doorknobs like his fictional counterpart. For this reason, Lauren has to lock the door when she wants Gnarly to stay outside. He hasn’t conquered picking locks yet; but give him time. Most of Gnarly’s misbehaviors are based on real-life incidents involving Lauren’s dogs or dog stories supplied to her by fans.
While the fictional Gnarly is un-neutered, the real life Gnarly is. A friend of Lauren’s wanted to breed Gnarly with her purebred German shepherd, but before the “wedding” could take place, Gnarly developed an unhealthy obsession with a footstool. For the sake of her sanity, Lauren decided to get Gnarly altered. Luckily, Lauren’s friend understood.
So I see in your bio that you’re a practicing burn and trauma surgeon. What’s that like?
Lots of stress. Not just the fact of dealing with patients who might die, but also of caring for their families as well. You need to be empathetic, but being that giving of a part of yourself takes an emotional and psychological toll on you, too. That’s one of the reasons that burnout is so prevalent in the field. You know, I’m constantly making that phone call that we all dread getting in which I wake someone up out of a dead sleep at two in the morning to say, “Hi, is this Mrs. X? I’m a surgeon working at University Medical Center. I’m afraid your son has been in an accident and he’s been badly injured.” Doing that over and over for a couple of decades takes a piece out of you.
How long did it take for you to become a surgeon versus a writer?
After college I did four years of medical school, followed by five years of general surgery residency, and two more years of burn and trauma surgery fellowship plus laboratory time. The writing thing on the other hand just sort of happened, though. I was an English major in college, and I’ve done a ton of scientific writing for my whole medical career. I didn’t start writing fiction until 2019 when I joke that I accidentally wrote my first novel. The Cuts that Cure started off as a Word document that served as a distraction from a really boring scientific protocol upon which I was laboring. It grew over several months until I realized I had almost 60,000 words. I literally googled “How long is the average novel?” and when I saw the answer was 80-90,000 words, I realized what I’d done. I invested in a developmental editor who made some key suggestions such as giving the main character a love interest and playing up the cat-and-mouse between Henry and the Detective as well as giving me several scenes to cut and several scenes to expand. After my revisions, I shopped the manuscript around and lo and behold got an offer on the contract. That’s when things got real in a hurry.
As busy as it sounds like you are as a surgeon, when do you find the time to write?
I get this question a lot, and my answer is always that I don’t find the time to write, I make the time to write. On the days I write fiction, I get up at 3:45 am and I write until I have to start getting cleaned up to go to work. I set weekly word count goals for new or edited prose, and I’m pretty compulsive about hitting those mile posts. The morning time is my most creative, so I really kind of have to do my writing then. When I come home in the evening, first of all I’m gassed and doing well to keep up my end of a conversation. Secondly, that’s my time with my wife, Amy.
What’s the funniest thing you’ve seen in your time as a doctor?
This is pretty gross, but it’s funny too. When I was a surgery intern, I got called to the ER at four in the morning for a guy who’d stuck a cucumber up his rectum and couldn’t get it out. While I got the guy curled up in the fetal position on the ER stretcher, gloved up, and went about trying to retrieve it, a colleague of mine who shall remain nameless stood nearby watching. It was like pulling Excalibur from the stone, but I finally managed to get it out and drop it on the steel tray next to the bed with a moist thump. My buddy looked at the feces-stained cucumber and said, “Sir, you have got to start chewing your food better.” It’s been almost twenty-five years and that still makes me laugh.
It seems like a job like that would be rich fodder for stories.
Absolutely. Some of them are sad, some are funny, some are weird, some are dark. But none of them are boring.
At first I’d assumed you’d write medical thrillers, but I don’t know that that’s necessarily true, is it?
I get that expectation from other readers a lot, too, for reasons that are understandable. But while almost all of my stories have some element of medicine in them, none of them, zero, are medical thrillers in the style of Patricia Cornwell, with brave doctors fighting evil drug companies or playing medical detectives. My stories are first and foremost suspense stories that happen to deal with medical scenarios. Take for instance, my new one, The Bones of Amoret. Yes, the protagonist Noah is a doctor, but I use his profession as a vehicle rather than a defining characteristic. Had my publisher come back to me and said, “You have to make Noah a plumber,” I think I could have made that work. I’m a lot more Quentin Tarantino than I am Robin Cook.
Noah Travis Grady, the narrator of The Bones of Amoret by Arthur Herbert, is the typical, old-fashioned town doctor. Or maybe not so typical.
Noah is multifaceted, full of kindness and standing firm for what he thinks is right. He helps immigrants who cross the southern border illegally. Two of those immigrants were Angelica, whom he marries, and her son, both of whom he loves with a passion. He helps Francis Barnett with his AIDS, And he’s good at keeping secrets. Like his 20-year affair with Blaine Beckett’s wife. Now he is focused on finding out how Beckett has disappeared and why. And who killed his adopted son. Or so he says. Is all of Noah’s kindness and bonhomie real or just a mask?
But is Noah a reliable narrator? He is retelling a large chunk of his, and others’, personal history in an interview with an unnamed female journalist. The events he’s relating happened about 40 years in the past. So, he’s now a bit older. How accurate is his memory? In fact, Noah apologizes to the reporter: “Sorry, ma’am, there I go wandering off again. You’ll have to excuse an old man his indulgences.”
For example, Noah recounts that during one mission to assist those wanting to cross the border he got shot through the leg and part of his hand was destroyed. Yet, after his wife patched up his hand and leg, he is sitting nonchalantly with his legs crossed beside Francis Beckett as he’s dying from AIDS. And Noah flips through an Oscar Wilde novel that the young man had been reading. All this as if nothing had happened to him. As if he hadn’t lost a lot of blood just the day before.
In spite of this, I really like Noah Grady. Whether his reminiscences about his past experiences are exactly how the events really occurred doesn’t matter. Noah is a likeable narrator and storyteller. His gripping storytelling engendered joy or sadness in me dependent upon what he was retelling. Arthur Herbert also makes fully concrete the other, secondary characters. All were fully fleshed out and fit well into the story arc.
The Bones of Amoret held my attention to the end. I will be reading other works by Arthur Herbert.
I received a free copy of this book from ireadbooktours.com in exchange for an honest review.
No matter your most-loved subject matter in the books that you read, you will love Oh Reader magazine.
As stated on their website, Oh Reader is “a magazine about reading, for and by readers.” The articles deal with how, when and why we read. For example, why would someone read the Nancy Drew mystery series during the recent pandemic lockdowns? And then compile a guide to the food and meals mentioned in the stories? And then try to recreate some of the dishes? Other articles deal with what and how much book lovers read while dealing with chronic illnesses or depression. Or how they met their future spouses through reading forums.
Oh Reader is “not so much about books themselves…it’s more about the lives of those who read them.” So, if you’ve ever wondered what others are drinking while reading the same book that you are, pick up a copy of Oh Reader. Do you read the acknowledgements page in the books you read? So does Meg Walters, who writes about this in the current issue (#007).
I’ve been a subscriber to this magazine since the beginning and have never been sorry.
For a look at other magazines appearing in my mailbox, see my earlier post, here.