Tag Archives: blogging

Christine Ristaino – Overcoming Violence

In September 2007, Christine Ristaino was attacked in a store parking lot while her three- and five-year-old children watched. In her upcoming memoir, All the Silent Spaces (She Writes Press, July 9, 2019), Ristaino shares what it felt like to be an ordinary person confronted with an extraordinary event―a woman trying to deal with acute trauma even as she went on with her everyday life, working at a university and parenting two children with her husband.

All the silent spaces book coverIn her book, Ristaino not only narrates how this event changed her but also tells how looking at the event through both the reactions of her community and her own sensibility allowed her to finally face two other violent episodes she had previously experienced. As new memories surfaced after the attack, it took everything in Ristaino’s power to not let catastrophe unravel the precarious threads holding everything together.  Moving between the greater issues associated with violence and the personal voyage of overcoming grief, All the Silent Spaces is about letting go of what you think you know in order to rebuild.

Here are some questions I had for Christine about her book, her process, and what is important to her.

What advice would you give to your younger writing self?

I would tell my younger self to listen to my body, my heart, my head, all of them, and see what my internal voice is telling me. So many times I focused outwardly on what others wanted. Now that I hear my own voice, everything is different. I speak from a place of power and I say what I feel, not what others want me to say. I would tell my younger self to ask herself what is important to her. I would tell my younger self that her story is important, that it is worth telling.

Have you always wanted to be a writer? What made you decide to become one?

Yes, I have always loved writing. I realized I could write well when a teacher told me to send a story into a competition in High School. Something clicked for me then. I began writing stories and poems in my teens and twenties, a dissertation and an academic publication in my thirties, OpEds and All the Silent Spaces in my 40s and early 50s.

Who is your favorite character in your book?

Since my book is a memoir, I would have to say that the older me, at the end of my book, is my favorite character. The book is about trying to find one’s voice after sexual assault. The experience of finding it through writing was the most powerful experience I’ve ever had in my life and I enjoy seeing a much more settled, imperfect but self-aware woman, ready to change the world, at the end of my book.

Where do you do most of your writing?

I do most of my writing at my kitchen table in the middle of the night or in my car on the side of the road in random places.

What inspires you?

Other people’s stories about overcoming obstacles inspire me.

What else would you like your readers to know about you?

Christine Ristaino author photoIn addition to raising socially-conscious children, it has become my life’s goal to make sure survivors of violence don’t lose their voices.  Since I began writing my book, I have published articles in the Guardian, the Washington Post, the Huffington Post, Pacific Standard, and the Atlanta Journal Constitution about different aspects of my experience with violence and difficult conversations. Last January, I told my story to more than 6,000 people at the women’s march in Roanoke, VA.  Modeling how to have these conversations through my book will help more women gain the courage to say #MeToo, as well as inspire people to bear witness to the stories of those who have survived traumatic events. I would like to be a strong voice in the fight to change the discourse around violence.

Tell us a little about your process. Pantser? Plotter? Mixture of both?

I’m a pantser.  I let whatever needs to come out, come out. When I was writing my book, I felt this incredible need to write it. I just went where it took me. Ultimately, through writing, I was able to look at two experiences with sexual violence that had happened to me as a child and young adult. Writing about these two events liberated me, helped me figure out who I really was.

What are you reading right now?

I’m teaching an Italian memoir class right now and I am reading my students’ short memoir pieces. They are powerful, honest, stunning! My favorite pieces arise from the prompts “This is who I am” and “Immigrant Story”.

If you could spend the day with one of your characters, who would it be and what would you do?

I would visit my younger self and help out with the kids—allow her to have some down time and tell her how much I loved her. I would give her space to face the hidden realities that are preventing her from owning her voice. Of course, it would be fun to see my children at younger ages again, but I would miss their older selves if I spent too much time away from them.

What actor/actress would you like to play the part of your protagonist if your book became a movie/television show?

I would like Julianna Margulies to play me.

What are your top 3 favorite books?

The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson, Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson, and The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger.

Do you have any rituals that you practice before sitting down to write?

Usually I think of something and write it down as soon as I can pull over the car or get out of bed. Mostly I think of things to write about in the middle of the night or when I’m in the car. These two times of the day are the only moments where life quiets down for a spell and I feel creative and relaxed.

What do you like to spend time doing when you aren’t writing?

I teach Italian, advise three super-empowered student groups at Emory, write OpEds, nonfiction, articles, spend time with my husband and children, have coffee or meals with family, students and friends, laugh, connect, exchange stories, love.

More about Christine:

Christine Ristaino teaches Italian classes at Emory University. She has co-authored an academic publication entitled Lucrezia Marinella and the “Querelle des Femmes” in Seventeenth-Century Italy through Farleigh Dickinson Press as well as the first edition of a book series called The Italian Virtual Class, which teaches language through cultural acquisition. She writes and publishes articles, essays, OpEds, and non-fiction, and presents her work in various forums throughout the U.S. and abroad. Ristaino recently completed her memoir entitled All the Silent Spaces, which confronts the topics of violence and discrimination.

Ristaino specializes in Italian pedagogy, languages, teacher training, service learning, and education.  She serves on various boards and committees and participates in efforts around social justice, race, class, education reform, and violence prevention.  Ristaino is an award-winning advisor and teacher and has experience organizing powerful symposiums, seminars, conferences and events. She leads workshops on the topics of diversity, equity and inclusion, privilege, writing and talking about difficult topics, and creating a public voice.

Ristaino mentors and advises three student groups and is a well-known, beloved faculty member. She is currently teaching a course about Italian memoir where her students share powerful memoir pieces about identity and overcoming obstacles.

Connect with Christine:
Here is where you can preorder Christine’s book:

 

 

Author Interview – Rachael Sparks

I am so excited to share with you my interview with fellow Spark Press author, Rachael Sparks! She is here to talk about her debut novel Resistant, to be released October 16, 2018. Mark your calendars, you won’t want to miss this one!

Tell us about your novel

Resistant, imagines a world post-antibiotics, which is truly almost upon us. The main character is a woman who has lost her mother to an infection and is getting by with her father but discovers she might hold the cure in her own blood. Because of that, she’s a target of several groups that would like to control that cure. She’s unsure whom to trust and still trying to protect her friends and family while she determines the real answer, and the adventure takes off from there. It’s a little bit sci-fi, adventure, action and romance, so I think it’s going to appeal to many readers.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on the publicity steps for Resistant, which releases in mid October. I’m also finishing a work in progress that I love working on. It’s set in 1700s Maine and the present day, with just a dash of science, a pinch of witch, and romance threading through two stories. The two main characters are distant relatives and I’ve really come to adore learning about them—and about lighthouses, Maine, and medicine in colonial Americas.

What advice would you give to your younger writing self?

I’m certain I was quite a terrible writer in my youth, but I was just writing fun tales for myself. Later in my early 30s, better stories came to me but I wasn’t confident enough to write them. If I could advise younger Rachael, I would say to start practicing and writing down those tales stuck in my brain. It took the confidence of age for me to begin writing seriously, but also the experiences and exposure to different styles of writing. It even took exposure to some poor, yet published, writing that gave me a sense of “Well. If they can, I can.” So maybe I would just buy her a drink, wink, and tell her she’s capable of more than she knows.

Have you always wanted to be a writer? What made you decide to become one?

Very, very secretively, yes. As a kid, I read nonstop. I daydreamed in full, detailed stories that I would revise constantly, as if daydreams needed to have a proper plot. I never actually dreamed it could be a career, though. Michael Crichton was a god to me, and he seemed omniscient in a way I didn’t think I was capable of achieving. But over time I came to see I was an autodidact with obsessive research tendencies.

At some point I realized I’d accrued a lot of these stories, along with a fairly unique knowledge set, and that I could weave many into a full novel, the type I wished someone was writing and publishing: a meal with all my favorite flavors of science, action, thrills, mystery, romance, danger. It had been simmering, then two events made Resistant happen. One, a dream of Rory and Navy in a certain scene that happens at the climax of the novel. And two, my husband and I had a dare between us for who could finish the first step towards our most secret aspiration—either he would finish a small piece of furniture, or I would finish the first five chapters of a novel. We had three months. I finished Resistant nine months later.

Who is your favorite character in your book(s)?

Well, Rory is my main character, so I do adore her. But I think I favor Navy, her co-hero, because I find him difficult to get to know. There’s a lot more to learn about him if one could pry his brain open. Fortunately, that’s my task.

Where do you do most of your writing?

Wherever I can find a quiet moment! Family, work, and trying to have a healthy life can both slow you down and feed your imagination. But usually from nine to midnight, and if I can beat everyone awake, during the blue hours of the morning. I love that color of light and the sense that everyone is dreaming on pillows while I’m dreaming on [digital] paper.

What inspires you?

Learning new information, exercise and music inspire me. I read as many scientific and history articles as fiction work, and am constantly saving them to bookmarks so they can inspire a new plot twist. I have a playlist that is curated to the mood of each WIP. It’s the soundtrack to the movie playing in my mind. If I’m stuck, for me, a hike or a long walk to said soundtrack usually bubbles up a new twist or motivates a stuck character. And when I want historical perspective, I love to dig through the New York Public Library’s Digital Collection– if you haven’t been, go, and I advise putting your vacation responder on.

What else would you like your readers to know about you?

I’d probably want my readers to know that I appreciate them. If we ever meet, I hope they’ll say hello, let me buy them a beer, or even cook them some pasta. For reassurance, I would also want them to know I used to cook professionally. It’ll be good.

Tell us a little about your process. Pantser? Plotter? Mixture of both?

Once I sit to write, the pantser takes over. When I am unable to actually type, I try to record my disparate thoughts and needles of “this character is too likeable and needs faults” or “don’t forget to take that gun off the wall soon”. Thank goodness for Google Keep (tm?), while I continue the search for a plot-mapping app that I like.

What are you reading right now?

I’m ashamed to admit how many books. I’m reading Eliot Peper – 2 of his. Just finished Adrienne Young’s Sky in the Deep. Kelli Clare’s Hidden. Andrew Mayne’s Looking Glass. James Scott’s The Kept. The Map of True Places by Brunonia Barry. And re-reading Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe, That’s the fiction stuff. Maryn McKenna’s Big Chicken is in progress too. As you might imagine, everything moves pretty slowly with that many going on. It’s a recent problem I’ve developed that I’m not sure how to treat.

If you could spend the day with one of your characters, who would it be and what would you do?

AJ, a character who will have a larger role in the sequel, is a fishing captain of her own vessel. I’d love to go on a fishing trip with her off the coast of Woods Hole, MA. Maybe swing into Martha’s Vineyard for a homebrew and pizza at the Offshore Ale Co.

What actor/actress would you like to play the part of your protagonist if your book became a movie/television show?

Rory is in her twenties, so I imagine there are hundreds of talented actors [actresses? Not sure the preferred parlance these days] who could play her. It seems more fun to find an unknown actor with untapped talent! I’m certainly unknown so far. On the other hand, I think Jennifer Lawrence and I share the commonality of a well-educated pirate’s vocabulary and a fondness for a pint.

What are your top 3 favorite books?

So hard to narrow down! I guess I’d say the ones that haunt me most: The Lace Reader, by Brunonia Barry. Wuthering Heights. Jurassic Park.

But if we’re being honest, I confess to rereading Daddy Long Legs. Though fiction, it’s this historical, literal progression of a poor, uneducated orphan from child to a young woman, told through the letters she writes to her benefactor. While it’s outdated and of course today the story would never be so patriarchal, I still like reading how Jerusha overcomes her insecurities through education and faith in her natural skills. Her college education, her social education, are all relayed through such an honest lens, and her destiny is to be a writer. I daydream of writing the modern adaptation.

Do you have any rituals that you practice before sitting down to write?

Music on. That’s all. When I write, I think it’s wise to read a bit of my last writing as well as a random chapter somewhere else. The former refreshes me of where I was headed, and the latter both cuts editing time in the final product and keeps the mood consistent in the overall story.

What do you like to spend time doing when you aren’t writing?

I love to cook with my daughter, and to feed my family and friends. Pasta occupies a steady 1/8thof my daily thoughts. My dogs appreciate a walk, though I don’t always appreciate their addition to mine. I like to have a glass of anything with my husband, who is charming and hilarious and challenges me. I treasure time with my mother, who at 74 is spry and brilliant, especially when she gets sassy. She leads our hiking adventures. I garden for beauty and food, and try to learn what is edible that we all ignore [latest: look for a plant called lamb’s quarters, it’s a weed but the wilder, nuttier version of spinach]. Ask me on Twitter for my fresh Caesar dressing recipe, or anything about pasta.

Here is more about Resistant

Book Cover Resistant

In the final battle with drug-resistant bacteria, one woman’s blood holds a secret weapon. Rory and her father have survived the antibiotic crisis that has killed millions, including Rory’s mother—but ingenuity and perseverance aren’t their only advantages. When a stoic and scarred young military veteran enters their quiet life, Rory is drawn to him against her better judgment . . . until he exposes the secrets her mother and father kept from her, including the fact that her own blood may hold the cure the world needs. Now she is the target of groups fighting to reach it first. When the government comes after Rory, aiming to use her for a cure it can sell to the highest bidder, she’s forced to flee with her father and their new protector. But can she find the new path of human evolution before the government finds her?

Here is more about Rachael:

Rachael Sparks was born in Waco, Texas. She graduated with a degree in microbiology from Texas A&M University and her first college job was ghostwriting a nonfiction science book. After a decade-long career in Austin, Texas, as a transplant specialist, she joined a startup fighting healthcare-acquired infections. After relocating with her husband, young daughter, and mother to Asheville, North Carolina, she finally put her first novel onto the page. In her free time she serves on the board of the Asheville Museum of Science and loves to cook, brew, garden, and spend time with friends and family in between obsessively researching new science concepts, history, or new recipes.

Connect with Rachael:

 

 

Author Interview – Alexa Padgett

Ready for a murder mystery?
Today I am interviewing a fellow New Mexican, Alexa Padgett, whose novel, A Pilgrimage to Death, was released August 14, 2018, with Sidecar Press LLC. Here is a little bit about Alexa:

Alexa PadgettWith a degree in international marketing and a varied career path that includes content management for a web firm, marketing direction for a high-profile sports agency, and a two-year stint with a renowned literary agency, award-winning author Alexa Padgett has returned to her first love: writing fiction.

Alexa spent a good part of her youth traveling. From Budapest to Belize, Calgary to Coober Pedy, she soaked in the myriad smells, sounds, and feels of these gorgeous places, wishing she could live in them all–at least for a while. And she does in her books.

She lives in New Mexico with her husband, children, and Great Pyrenees pup, Ash. When not writing, schlepping, or volunteering, she can be found in her tiny kitchen, channeling her inner Barefoot Contessa.

 

Alexa, what was/is your latest book release? Tell us about it!

A Pilgrimage to Death is a murder mystery. The novel released August 14, 2018. This book’s protagonist is a Harley-driving, potty-mouthed reverend whose identical twin sister was murdered a year ago. The book opens with Cici and her hiking buddy, Sam, finding the body of one of her parishioners in the Santa Fe National Forest…with stab wounds reminiscent of her sister’s. As she’s pulled into the investigation, Cici discovers her sister was on the trail of a deep-rooted criminal operation, and her death was no random act of violence.

Readers mention this novel saddles a few genres: true crime, thriller, supernatural mystery/suspense and just a tiny touch of romance.

What are you working on now?

I’m finishing the edits to book two in this series, A Heritage of Death. It releases October 23, 2018.

What advice would you give to your younger writing self?

Take more risks. Write even when you don’t feel like it and even when what you think you’re writing is total crap. Get in the habit and be open to new ideas and methods. Never stop learning. A bit cliché, huh? But still advice I wish I’d followed.

Have you always wanted to be a writer? What made you decide to become one?

When I was seven, I read L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables. That year, my teacher had a “reading tub.” She claimed it a special treat to snuggle into the heaps of pillows and read there—I believed her and spent many hours with Anne in that cracked, white porcelain palace. I’ve been hooked on novels since, though I tended toward genre fiction: fantasy, mysteries, thrillers, and romance. In fourth grade, my friend Ginger used to come over, and we’d write fantasies based on Narnia and Lord of The Rings. In some form, I’ve been writing since then.

Who is your favorite character in your book(s)?

I find this questions hard to answer! I adore many characters, but here are a few that come to mind quickly. I love Inspector Poirot in Agatha Christie’s cozy mysteries. I adore Claire in Diana Gabaldon’s The Highlander. I chuckle at Nuala Anne McGrail’s antics in Andrew M. Greeley’s series.

Where do you do most of your writing?

Oh—this is pitiful. I have a desk and a lovely chair in my office, but I prefer to write with my laptop on my lap while I sit on the couch.

What inspires you?

That’s changed over time. Now, I find I’m more drawn to ideas that hold themes and emotion. Sometimes it’s a news story or a person I hear about—other times, I’ll go for a walk, my brain will be doing its thing and voila! Inspiration!

What else would you like your readers to know about you?

I was the English nerd…who never actually took an English course in college. I adored some of the assigned readings in high school and college, like The Scarlet Letter, The Stranger, and Madame Bovary, but my favorites were The Remains of the Day, Memoirs of a Geisha, and Catcher in the Rye. I’m sure it helps that I’ve participated in a book club for years—since right out of college, really, and many of my close friends are voracious readers. I worked as a literary agent where I learned to broaden my scope and enjoy a vast array of excellent works. I’ve always been a fan of a beautifully-crafted phrase or a quixotic project that just works.

Tell us a little about your process. Pantser? Plotter? Mixture of both?

I like to have a basic idea of the book I’m developing. Though, in completing a book earlier this year, I ended up tossing the outline and starting over—for the third time—because my brain finally latched onto the right story thread for that novel.

What are you reading right now?

I’m listening to Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. I love the quirky humor that abounds throughout this novel.

If you could spend the day with one of your characters, who would it be and what would you do?

Tough one! I like most of my characters and enjoy spending time with them on the page. But…in real life? I’d have to say the spy we meet in An Artifact of Death(that’s book 3 in my Reverend Cici Gurule Mystery series). He fascinates me. He’s such a debonair man-of-the-city, but he’s adaptable enough to handle a mountain lion and a flash flood. I think I should like to spend the day in Charleston (because I’ve been wanting to go for years!), learning about the city and maybe catching an international operative during a jewel heist. I do have a purple belt in Kenpo, so I’d like to think I’d be helpful.

What actor/actress would you like to play the part of your protagonist if your book became a movie/television show?

Oh, tough one! Maybe Morena Baccarin or Salma Hayek because they’re both so talented and look somewhat like I imagine Cici to look. Or dreaming really big (one of my favorite actors), Anne Hathaway.

Here is more about A Pilgrimage to Death:

Book coverThey murdered her sister. They threatened her church. Now, the day of reckoning will cost her everything…

When Cici Gurule finds the dead body of a parishioner in the nearby Santa Fe National Forest, she’s horrified to realize the victim bears the same stab wounds that ended her twin sister’s life one year earlier.

Now, as a freewheeling, progressive reverend who’ll stop at nothing to protect her flock, she’ll need to join forces with her detective friend and a loyal pair of Great Pyrenees to hunt down the killer before she’s forced to officiate another funeral.

Soon, however, Cici discovers her sister was on the trail of a deep-rooted criminal operation, and her death was no random act of violence.

With the criminals out for Cici’s blood, she needs to catch the wolf by the tail…before it goes in for the kill.

Connect with Alexa:
Twitter: @AlexaPadgett
You can buy her novel here:

Author Interview – Jacqueline Friedland

Jacqueline I am so pleased to share with you my interview with attorney turned author, Jacqueline Friedland! Today, she is telling us about her novel, Troubled The Water, which was released May 8, 2018, by Spark Press. She also gives us insight into a little bit about her process.

What was/is your latest book release? Tell us about it!

My latest book release is a historical fiction novel, TROUBLE THE WATER.  The story takes place twenty years before the Civil War in Charleston, South Carolina. I was inspired to write this story after learning that the international trafficking of slaves was outlawed in 1808, but the practice continued nearly unfettered for decades afterwards.  The governments of countries like the United States and England did not do nearly enough to enforce the anti-trafficking laws nor otherwise stop the atrocities.  I began to wonder what if there had been a person, a vigilante, who stepped in to make a difference?  Maybe there could have been someone with sufficient resources and sufficient manpower to get a group together and make the kidnapping of Africans more difficult for the criminals of the high seas.  I asked myself what kind of person would be brave enough, bold enough, to do such a thing?  What would his life be like, and what would his actions cost him?  I created my main character, Douglas Elling, based on these thoughts, and the rest of my story grew around him.  Interestingly, when I introduced a female protagonist to challenge Douglas, I found that her story fascinated me as much as his, and I created a young woman who I envisioned as an early feminist and an independent thinker. As this character, Abigail Milton, and Douglas Elling get to know each other, they each learn a great deal about themselves, as well.

What are you working on now?

I am working on another novel.  Unlike the first one, the next story is contemporary fiction.  I so greatly enjoyed writing a historical novel and will most likely write others, but just as I love reading across different genres, I also appreciate that interesting stories can materialize out of so many diverse situations and time periods.  The next book is about a young woman in Manhattan who finds herself in a surprisingly complex love triangle.

What advice would you give to your younger writing self?

I would advise my younger writing self to commit sooner. I wasn’t sure if I had the talent or the dedication to work as a writer.  I was afraid to fail, and so I moved very slowly at first.  I dabbled in the research, I wrote scenes in my head but stalled before putting them down on paper.  I wish I could have been braver, that I could have brought myself to sit down at the computer a little sooner.  The first rule to being a successful writer is that you actually have to WRITE.  I would have pushed myself a little harder at the beginning.

Have you always wanted to be a writer? What made you decide to become one?

I have wanted to be a writer my entire life.  I have always loved words and crafting sentences, but I worried as a young adult that I wouldn’t find success.  So instead I went to law school and became a lawyer. I was actually pretty good at my job as a lawyer, but I never felt passionate about my work.  I also never got accustomed to office culture.  After my first child was born, I decided to use a portion of maternity leave to begin working on my first book.  It was an attempt to see if this whole “writing thing” could really pan out for me.  Unfortunately, in my naïvete as a new mother, I didn’t realize that I would have precious little time to do work with an infant in the apartment.  Even so, something about the transition to motherhood helped me realize that I was truly an adult, and I’d better get busy doing something I loved because life is short.  I tried to transition to teaching Legal Writing as a compromise between the two disciplines, but I still wasn’t satisfied because I wasn’t creating fiction. I finally left the law and went back to school for an MFA in Creative Writing.  I am glad to have my background in law, and I still find several aspects of the legal system genuinely interesting, but I am thrilled to finally be living my dream as a writer.

Where do you do most of your writing?

I do almost all of my writing at home. I know many people are easily distracted at home and feel they have to set up shop at a café or a library in order to be productive.  I am the opposite.  I find people enormously fascinating, so if I am in public, it’s very difficult for me to draw my eyes away from all the other people around me and focus on my screen instead.

Tell us a little about your process. Pantser? Plotter? Mixture of both?

I am a hardcore Type A kind of a person, which puts me squarely into the category of Plotter.  That said, it never works out like I’ve planned.  Before I start writing, I make a detailed outline.  Then I fix it and re-do it several times.  Then I highlight and color code.  Then I make various changes and fix everything all over again.  I don’t begin writing the story until I really feel that I have a step-by-step guide about where the piece is going.  Then when I actually begin writing, everything changes.  Nothing turns out as I expected, the characters keep doing things that surprise me, and the story ends up going in a completely different direction. At this point, I am comfortable with the spontaneity, and I even expect it, but I am still committed to completing those outlines in advance. Imagining all the different scenarios and laying out a framework for myself helps me to get to know my characters and my setting. It puts me inside their heads deeply enough that when they start going off-script, I can understand why, and I can work with it.

Do you have any rituals that you practice before sitting down to write?

Before I write, I have to get my kids out of the house to school or camp.  Then I drink a big cup of coffee and respond to any outstanding emails.  Once my inbox is organized, and my desk is clean, I can get to work.

What do you like to spend time doing when you aren’t writing?

When I’m not writing, I love watching movies with my family, reading fast-paced novels, exercising, sitting outside on warm days, and laughing with friends.

Here is more about the book!

Book coverAbigail Milton was born into the British middle class, but her family has landed in unthinkable debt. To ease their burdens, Abby’s parents send her to America to live off the charity of their old friend, Douglas Elling. When she arrives in Charleston at the age of seventeen, Abigail discovers that the man her parents raved about is a disagreeable widower who wants little to do with her. To her relief, he relegates her care to a governess, leaving her to settle into his enormous estate with little interference. But just as she begins to grow comfortable in her new life, she overhears her benefactor planning the escape of a local slave—and suddenly, everything she thought she knew about Douglas Elling is turned on its head.

Abby’s attempts to learn more about Douglas and his involvement in abolition initiate a circuitous dance of secrets and trust. As Abby and Douglas each attempt to manage their complicated interior lives, readers can’t help but hope that their meandering will lead them straight to each other. Set against the vivid backdrop of Charleston twenty years before the Civil War, Trouble the Water is a captivating tale replete with authentic details about Charleston’s aristocratic planter class, American slavery, and the Underground Railroad.

Read more about Jacqueline!

Author Bio:

Jacqueline Friedland holds a BA from the University of Pennsylvania and a JD from NYU Law School. She practiced as an attorney in New York before returning to school to receive her MFA in Creative Writing from Sarah Lawrence College. She lives in New York with her husband, four children, and two energetic dogs.

To connect with Jacqueline:

For more on Jacqueline or her writing, go to www.jacquelinefriedland.com or follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/JacquelineFriedlandAuthor

https://twitter.com/jbfriedland

https://www.instagram.com/jackiefriedland/

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

Generating More Ideas for Writing

In my last blog post, I wrote about understanding your gifts, talents, and knowledge for generating ideas for writing. See it here. This week, I am going a bit further to help you with coming up with ideas for your book, or your blog, or even your journal.

People Watching

Do you ever eat out? Go to a coffee shop by yourself? Or to the park?

men at coffee shopI like to do all of the above, and one of my favorite things to do is people-watch. I love to see how people interact with each other. I like to study the expression on their faces, watch their body language. What are they doing? Are they eating with abandon, or are they picking at their food? Why? If someone looks like they are shoveling in their food, are they in a hurry? Are they starving? Or are they trying to avoid something? Same with picking at their food. Are they not hungry, do they not like what they ordered? Are they preoccupied? With what? Write down the possibilities. Make up a story about that person.

It is also fun to watch people interact with animals. Animals can bring out the best in people. Watch how they treat their animal. What is the story behind their relationship? Was the animal from a rescue center? Why did that animal end up in a rescue shelter? Or, has the animal been with the person from birth? Is the animal a service animal? If so, why does that person need a service animal?

Come up with a story about the animal, or the person, and how they ended up together, and what they mean to one another. Or, perhaps you can take the subject of animal/human relationships and write a piece or even a book on that.

Documentaries/Ted Talks/ Movies and Television

Inspiration is all over the internet. Look up documentaries on YouTube about a particular subject, topic, or person that interests you. Ted Talks are full of inspiration and amazing ideas that people have already come up with. You could expand on that.

What are your favorite cable television shows? Longmire? Game of Thrones? Downtown Abbey? Take something from that time period or place and create your own characters and your own stories. Maybe your protagonist is inspired by Mary Crawley of Downton Abbey or Henry Standing Bear from Longmire. You don’t need to copy the character, just take one of their personality traits you find interesting and build your own character with that trait. How many books and novels have been written based on characters, settings, and situations that come from beloved fairytales? Endless numbers.

Magazines and Collage Creation

farming collageLove to flip through your favorite magazines? Or maybe you are interested in a particular topic like horses, or auto mechanics, tiny houses, or fashion. Find magazines on the topic and cut out photos of people, places or things that interest you. On an 8×11 piece of paper or larger poster board, past the photos onto it in an aesthetically pleasing way to you. Or make a collage on Pinterest or Canva. Use that visual inspiration as a springboard for your story, blog post, or article. Make up a story using the information you have in front of you.

For example, if writing fiction, you could create a character who lives on a huge 40-acre ranch with horses, but lives in a tiny house. Why do they live on such a big spread but in a small house? Are they trying to make a simpler life for themselves? Are they running toward something or from something or someone? If I were writing the story, the main character wants a simpler life but loves the great outdoors, or maybe they inherited the land, but can’t afford to build a big house. A murder might happen in a nearby town, or my protagonist would uncover some mystery that has been long forgotten in the town or on the ranch.

For non-fiction, you could write about the importance of simplicity, getting back to nature, or how to build a tiny house or take care of horses. The possibilities are endless.

Your Own Experiences, Information or Imagination

What is your profession? Does anything unusual or interesting happen in your day job? Could it? Think about different authors who use their experiences or ideas in their books. For instance, take Tess Gerritsen a former physician who wrote the Rizzoli and Isles books that co-feature a female cop and female medical examiner. Or John Grisham, a former lawyer who’s written a number of legal thrillers.

In the non-fiction arena, take someone like Brendan Bouchard who has written a number of books on productivity, and living a more productive, fulfilled and successful life. His interests and experiences helped him become one of the leading self-help coaches of all time.

Inspiration is everywhere. On the internet and in nature, in television, film, and books. Get curious. Ask yourself a myriad of questions and the most important question—What if? Write down your ideas. Focus on the one that gets you the most excited. You might be surprised at how many ideas you can come up with. Maybe too many, but that’s a topic for another day!

 

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

Woman having difficulty writing

Understanding Your Gifts, Talents, and Knowledge

Don’t know what to write about?

When people find out I am a writer, and particularly when they find out  I write novels, they often ask “How do you come up with your ideas?” Well, ideas aren’t usually my problem—focusing on ONE idea proves to be a challenge for me, but everyone is different. Some writers struggle to come up with ideas. Other people want to write, but don’t because they don’t feel they have any ideas or that their ideas aren’t good enough or worthy to write about. I say, NOT SO.

You have certain abilities, gifts, knowledge, and talents that make you unique. Everyone does. Even if we share those certain gifts, knowledge, and talents with others, we have our own take on them.

Here are a few tips and tricks to get your ideas flowing.

  1. Sit down for 10 minutes and a) write a list of your talents b) write down any kind of special knowledge you have. Are you a medical professional? Are you president of the PTA? Have you come up with a wicked fettuccini alfredo recipe?
  2. Write down your talents. Are you a good dancer? Are you good at fixing all things mechanical? Are you a whiz with numbers? Think about what you can do that others struggle with.
  3. What about your experiences? Did you have a difficult home life when you were growing up? Did you live in an exotic place? Was it for a long period of time or a short period of time? Do you volunteer your time anywhere or for anyone? Did you have a life-changing experience? What is your profession? What kind of training have you had?

If you have trouble coming up with anything in these areas, particularly in the abilities, knowledge or talent areas, ask a few friends or family members what they think you are good at. You might be surprised by their answers. Sometimes people see things in us we aren’t able to see ourselves until it is pointed out to us.

Happy woman writing

 

You can use the abilities and tools you already have as inspiration for writing—fiction or non-fiction. For instance, if you are a good dancer, you could write a romance, a thriller, or a mystery with a dancer as your protagonist or amateur sleuth. You could make the main setting a dancing studio, or you could take your protagonist on dancing tours with her dance company or troupe. For non-fiction, you could take a few of your favorite dance genres and talk about the history of them or pick a famous dancer who specialized in that genre and write a piece about them. You could write a “how to” book on your favorite dance number or dance moves.

Do you see where I am going here? Even if you have a mere INTEREST in something, you can research it and give your take on that topic, that person, that area—whatever it is.

You probably have a lot more ideas than you think. And if you think your ideas aren’t interesting, go to the internet and research the idea. See how much you find about it. Look on social media for groups on the subject. It is amazing what interests people and turns people on. You aren’t alone in your fascination with ladybugs or spark plugs! Writing about your interests, whether fiction or non-fiction connects you to the people who like the same things you do. There is always an audience—some big, or some small, but you can touch people with your words and ideas. You just need to find them, and they are right there inside of you!

SaveSave

SaveSave

Author Interview with Mystery Author Chris Asbrey

Today I am interviewing mystery author Chris Asbrey whose novel, The Innocents,  will be released April 19! The book is available for pre-order on Amazon. Get it here. 

About The Author

Chris Asbrey has lived and worked all over the world in the Police Service, Civil Service, and private industry, working for the safety, legal rights, and security of the public. A life-changing injury meant a change of course into contract law and consumer protection for a department attached to the Home Office. She has produced magazine and newspaper articles based on consumer law and written guides for the Consumer Direct Website. She acted as a consultant to the BBC’s One Show and Watchdog and been interviewed on BBC radio answering questions on consumer law to the public.

She lives with her husband and two daft cats in Northamptonshire, England—for now. She’s moving to the beautiful medieval city of York.

Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?

I kinda do. I write under my married name and feature on social media under my maiden name for social interactions. I also write under initials. I don’t hide my gender, but it’s not immediately obvious when you look at the book cover.

Do you want each book to stand alone, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?

‘The Innocents’ is most definitely part of a larger body of work. It’s the first of a trilogy, but if people like them there’ plenty of scope to keep them going. I would still continue with each book being a self-contained mystery with the larger universe of the characters providing an over-arching connection between the books. The third book is written and at editing stage, but there are plenty of trials I can still put the characters through yet.

What is your writing Kryptonite?

Emotional upset for sure. My last book took me a year to write as I was distracted by my husband being injured in an accident and my mother-in-law passing away from a long illness. I was very lucky to have a lovely mother-in-law. She is sorely missed.

What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?

I’ve met many wonderful people on this journey and I’ve found them to be an incredibly generous and open community. I’d really encourage new writers to reach out and make contact. Not only will you find that they share resources, but you’ll probably make all kinds of new friends too. There are too many to mention but Kit Prate and Joanie Chevalier deserve a special mention. Both have been so supportive and inspiring to a brand new writer and have gone the extra mile in helping me cross over so many barriers. Kit introduced me to her publisher after reading my work and helped me out of the slush pile. Joanie helped to point me towards the various groups which help a new writer with marketing and publicity. Not only that but she actually made up some advertising material and told me to ‘get my swag on.’ I was being far too Scottish—reticent and unwilling to look like I was bragging by saying my book was good. Both ladies have been incredible and I can’t thank them enough. Read their books and you’ll soon see how lucky I was to be assisted by them.

What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?

That would be in my work as a young police officer. I learned that talking people down from spiraling emotions is a powerful tool in keeping people safe, and more potent than violence. I also learned that listening to detail is vital too. Noting the small things helped to push cases along in gathering evidence. I also learned the complex and intricate ways people use language to put you down and grab power in a situation. Understanding that really helps you stay in control of a situation.

What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?

That would have to be ‘The Moonstone’ by Wilkie Collins. Not only is it considered the first proper detective novel in the English language, it also shows working class females as rounded characters instead of foils for male attention. It also is the first to introduce many of the elements we take for granted in mysteries such as red herrings, false suspects, the skilled investigator, and a final twist. Collins was actually vastly more popular than Dickens in his day, but is now largely forgotten in comparison.

As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal? 

Lol, maybe a giant sloth? Or one of those dogs or cats which go viral for bumping into glass doors or falling off things?

How do you select the names of your characters?

As I write 19th-century characters I try to keep them in period and maintain a sense of place. I’ll research popular or unusual names as well as using names of people I know if they’re appropriate. I’ve also been known to add really unusual names to my note as I come across them. Some are too good not to use.

Who is the most famous person you have ever met?

That would be either the Pope or the Queen – on a protection duty. When the Pope visited Scotland I was the police officer at the bottom of the aircraft steps. We then moved with him into the city. As a fun aside, the glass-covered vehicle he used was nicknamed the Pope Mobile by the press. The crowds were all still there when we returned to the airport in the Pope mobile without him. We stood in full uniform waving flowers out the top to cheering crowds as we drove the full length of Prince’s Street in Edinburgh (the big main street in Scotland’s capital city). The crowd cheered us and waved flags as we passed. Only a Scottish crowd could hail a car full of police officers like that. Great fun.

What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book? 

Copious amounts. ‘The Innocents’ has taken years of research into the work of the early Pinkertons, especially the female agents and the kind of work they did, including their methodologies. I research everything, even the stationary which was in use and the correct codes for the telegraph stations mentioned in the books. The theatrical make up, used as disguises in the book, began to flourish right around the period the books are set in. Lighting had improved and people could see the flaws in the rudimentary stuff previously only lit by candles. The forensics are fascinating to dig into too. You name it I researched it.

What was your hardest scene to write?

The interrogation scene. I had to inject a sense of menace into it to make it work. I know it’s not usual to make your hero do bad things, but he’s a professional criminal and he has to find out who this mysterious woman is and how much danger the heroine poses to him.

How long have you been writing?

I’ve been playing with the characters for about ten years, but work and life got in the way. I started writing seriously about two years ago and spent about a year being turned down by everyone. I acted on every bit of feedback and continually got my work reviewed and improved until it was polished enough to be accepted.

What inspires you?

Often fact is stranger than fiction, so I’ll start with real crime or criminals. I‘ll then change it to ensure that even people familiar with that particular crime can’t guess whodunit. The stories are inspired by real crimes and people but they are not a memoir. They are stories where everything is historically possible. It either happened or could have happened.

How did you come to write The Innocents?

My grasp on the methodologies used by law enforcement, when applied the law in day to day enquiries in the days before technology was available, as well as historic weaknesses and blind spots in the both the legal and court systems, make for an authentic backdrop to the characters.

I was always a voracious reader, my mother teaching me with flashcards at the age of two, and graduating to the adult section of the library about the age of ten. I easily finished three books a week for years and was lost without one. Mysteries were a real love and I consumed the works of writers old and new constantly. The one thing I always wanted to do was to write but never had the confidence or time to do more than dream about it.

As a child I loved to run lines with my actor father when he rehearsed, and peeked in on the parties full of creative people singing, dancing, telling jokes, performing and discussing the issues of the day. Childhood taught me that creativity was something you do, not something you passively watch. That carried over to a love of singing, professionally and with choirs, as well as playing some dodgy fiddle music, alongside far better musicians who either made me sound okay or drowned me out entirely. Either way I managed to carry it off for a bit and even bagged a musician husband.

I first became interested in the female pioneers in law enforcement when I joined the police in Scotland. History has always held a draw and the colorful stories of the older officers piqued my interest, making her look even further back.

The very first women in law enforcement had been in France, working for the Sûreté in the early 19th century. They were, however, no more than a network of spies and prostitutes, the most infamous being the notorious ‘Violette’. Now there’s another story which needs to be told!

The first truly professional women in law enforcement worked for the Pinkerton Agency, and they were trained by the first female agent Kate Warne, an ex-actress and an expert in working undercover. Kate Warne was an expert at disguise, adopting roles, and accents. She was said to be daring and able to pass her characters off, even in close quarters. In the only known photograph of her she is dressed as a man. This was a skill set my childhood had prepared her to understand.

These women were fully-fledged agents, with their skills being held in high regard by Alan Pinkerton who once said, “In my service you will serve your country better than on the field. I have several female operatives. If you agree to come aboard you will go in training with the head of my female detectives, Kate Warne. She has never let me down.”

I started to wonder why one of the female agents couldn’t be a Scottish Immigrant. After all, Alan Pinkerton was one. He came from Glasgow. Being a Scot in another land is something I know well. They do say you should write what you know.

My work has taken me all over the world, but working in the USA and visiting the places where these women worked deepened my passion for finding out more about how they lived. I also researched the tools and equipment available to them at the time. Connections to police and Home Office experts allowed me to research the birth of forensics with people who knew their subject intimately.

The topic for ‘The Innocents Mystery Series’ simmered in the background for years, and all the time I was researching more and more deeply into the period. I love the rapid pace of innovation and invention in the 19th century. Nothing pleases me more than finding spy gadgets available at the time which were invented far earlier than most people would think possible.

Work and life got in the way of the books being anything more than an idea until I was suddenly grounded by a serious accident. The enforced leisure time of recuperation focused my mind and the old dream of writing resurfaced. It started as a short story which took on a life of its own when it grew and grew—then grew some more.

Eventually, ‘The Innocents Mysteries’ evolved and I found the perfect home for it at Prairie Rose. This is my first foray into fiction. I have produced magazine and newspaper articles based on consumer law and written guides for the Consumer Direct Website. I was Media Trained by The Rank Organization, and acted as a consultant to the BBC’s One Show and Watchdog. I have also been interviewed on BBC radio answering questions on consumer law to the public.

I run a blog which explores all things strange, mysterious, and unexpected about the 19th century. It was a huge compliment to be told that another writer finds it a great resource. The link can be found below.

I live with my husband and two daft cats in Northamptonshire, England—for now. Another move is on the cards in 2108 to the beautiful city of York.

Link to book (Click here)

Blog which includes things obscure and strange in the Victorian period     http://caasbrey.com/

Twitter  https://twitter.com/CAASBREY

Facebook  https://www.facebook.com/mysteryscrivener/

Facebook group for The Innocents Mystery Series 

https://www.facebook.com/groups/937572179738970/?ref=br_rs

Create Your Own Writing Space

Do you have your own writing space? A place dedicated to your writing life?

If not, I suggest you find one or create one. A place that is all your own, where you can sink into your writing self without any disturbances or distractions.

As I wrote about in my article “The Importance of Ritual for Productive Writing,” having a set time and place for your writing is important. Once we have a place and a space physically and emotionally, it will be easier for us to go to that space and place to get some writing done.

I met a woman at a writer’s conference a few years ago who was struggling with her writing. She worked nights, full time, had an adult child and grandchild living at home, and a husband who worked at home. Do you see where I’m going here? The woman had no space to herself, no place where she could retreat from her responsibilities. So, I asked her questions about her house. Was there any place she could go to be alone? She mentioned a small attic room with a window seat. She said when she had time, she would sometimes go sit in that window seat and read. I suggested she put a small table or desk near the window and take her laptop up there and see how it worked.

I got an email from her several months later and she explained how she’d taken up the entire room–painted it, redecorated it, and put a lock on the door. And yes, she’d made incredible progress on her novel. Yay!

So, here’s a photo of my writing space. I thought about cleaning up my desk before taking the photo, but that just wouldn’t be real. This is how I work. I usually have a couple of books on my desk, (note Simple Abundance by Sarah Ban Breathnach—wonderful for inspiration and to get me in the creative mindset.) I usually have my diffuser going, something to drink sitting on my desk, my teapot at the ready, papers everywhere.

Writing deskYes, my office is quite large but cozy. When we moved last year, I commandeered this room and my husband graciously (and thankfully) agreed. It’s my space, my sanctuary, my happy place. I have no excuse not to write.

If you aren’t able to find a place in your home, then make a ritual of going somewhere. I used to work at a local restaurant/café that had decent internet service. Sometimes it was hard to tune out the conversations going on around me, but I also found the vibe of the place inspiring. I’d get a pot of blueberry tea, find myself a nice cushy booth and settle in for a couple of hours. Sometimes I treated myself to lunch.

For a while, a friend of mine would come and join me. We would catch up for a few minutes, or brainstorm about our projects and then get to work. It was nice to be accountable to someone else. We helped each other keep focused.

To be a writer takes a lot of discipline, and when there are so many distractions in our busy lives, it’s sometimes hard to get motivated. Having a space where you can go and “retreat” can make all the difference. I hope you have a space to call your own for your writing—and if you don’t, maybe it’s time to treat yourself and make one!

 

Fear Series: #1 Fear of Writing Emotion

photo of girl at computer. Fear of writing emotion.Fear. That overwhelming emotion that can save us from danger, but also holds us back from doing what we desire, or in many cases, what we must do. Many writers and would-be writers, suffer from all kinds of fear. Fear of self-expression, fear of criticism, ridicule, rejection, and sometimes, fear of facing and writing down their own emotions. Fear stops writers from finishing the book they’ve always wanted to write, or prevents them from sharing their message with the world through their words.

In this series on fear, we will delve into the different kinds of fear that hold us back from writing and sharing our stories and messages with the world.

One of the most painful and debilitating fears that writers face is the fear of their own emotions. Sometimes writing takes us back to a memory that is too difficult to face. Or, in telling a story, we have to tap into darkness or depression to make our story believable and relatable. In fiction, we must live the pain and suffering that we create for our characters. In non-fiction, we have to face a painful subject matter, or reach back into our own painful experiences to share our message.

The more we get comfortable with the discomfort of the intensity of our emotions, the more we can tame them. When you face your emotions, you control them instead of your emotions controlling you.

Here are some suggestions to help you break free from the fear of facing your own emotions to do your best writing. If you have access to them, essential oils are terrific for support in facing and confronting, and breaking free from emotions that hold you back. The oils I will suggest are singles and blends from Young Living Essential Oils, but you might be able to create your own blends but you can use other brands of essential oils. I also use the Aroma Freedom Technique (AFT) that utilizes essential oils to help me confront difficult emotions that I need to use in my fiction. See here for more information on AFT.

[It is not necessary to use essential oils in this process. If you do not have access to essential oils, make sure you are in a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed. Listen to soothing music, grab a nice cup of tea, and sit in a comfortable chair, or on a soft cushion.]

Have a notebook handy to write down your experiences and feelings while going through this process.

Identify the emotion. Is it sadness, fear, loneliness, depression? Essential oil to use: Clarity. Ingredients: Basil, Cardamom, Peppermint, Coriander, geranium, bergamot, lemon, ylang-ylang, jasmine, roman chamomile, palmarosa.

Identify where the emotion comes from? Why are you afraid to express yourself? Did it come from a painful memory or experience? Are you afraid to express yourself because of how you perceive others will react? Essential oil to use: Inner Child. Ingredients: Orange, tangerine, ylang-ylang, royal Hawaiian sandalwood, jasmine, lemongrass, spruce, bitter orange, neroli

Give the emotion, the memory, or the perceived situation, your full attention. Lean into it. Breathe into it. Essential oil to use: Ingredients: Acceptance. Ingredients: Orange, frankincense, ginger, clove, myrrh, cinnamon, spruce.

Write down how the experience makes you feel.

Let the tears and/or fears come. Welcome them. Essential oil to use: Release. Ingredients: Ylang ylang, olive, lavender, geranium, royal Hawaiian sandalwood, grapefruit, tangerine, spearmint, lemon, blue cypress, ocotea, jasmine, blue tansy, rose.

Observe the emotions, but don’t get caught up in them. Imagine you are on the banks of a stream watching those memories, experiences or perceived experiences float on the current. Essential oil to use: Present Time. Ingredients: Sweet almond, bitter orange, black spruce, ylang ylang.

Write down what you are feeling.

Now that you have faced that emotion and are in the state of that emotion, it’s time to free yourself from it. I don’t’ want you to stay in a dark or scary place!

Think of something good or positive that can come from your writing. Is your message something that can help others? Is your story entertaining, or innovative in some way? Will people get enjoyment from it? Essential oil to use: Abundance. Ingredients: Orange, patchouli, clove, ginger, myrrh, cinnamon, spruce.

Jot down why do you feel the need to write your story or message? Then write down why you are the only person to write this. Do you have a special talent or special knowledge about your subject matter? Do you have information to provide? Do you have skills to share? Essential oil to use: Envision. Ingredients: Black spruce, geranium, orange, lavender, sage, rose.

Relay your story or message as if no one will ever read it. Pour yourself into it. Share all of your gifts, talents, and knowledge. Let your imagination take off. You have a gift, or knowledge, or experiences, that make you qualified to share your writing with others. Remember, you won’t be able to please or impress everyone, but if you can reach a handful of people, or even one person with your story or message, you’ve succeeded! Believe in yourself. Believe in your writing! Essential oil to use: Believe. Ingredients: Idaho balsam fir, coriander, bergamot, frankincense, Idaho blue spruce, ylang ylang, geranium.

See my last post on “The Five Elements to Unlock the Mystery of Writing a Book.”