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Helen Zuman dishes about her book – Mating in Captivity

I am pleased to share with you this fascinating interview with Helen Zuman, the author of Mating in Captivity, a memoir that tells the story of Helen’s quest to find meaning in life and relationships that led her to Zendik Farm; a place that espoused a philosophy of saving the world from lies and corruption through art and harmony. What she came to realize was that Zendik Farm was something she hadn’t entirely expected.
Publisher: She Writes Press

Release date: May 8, 2018

book cover - Mating in CaptivityTell us about your book!

Mating in Captivity: A Memoir chronicles my five years, post-college, in a cult called Zendik Farm. When I moved to Zendik, at twenty-two, I was seeking meaning, belonging, and skills not taught in school; I had no idea I would gradually lose sovereignty over my time, energy, mind, and relationships—that is, surrender self-trust. In writing this book, I’ve both composted the stinky guck of my Zendik experience into fertile soul-soil and, I hope, enticed readers to turn their own piles.

What are you working on now?

I have a seasonal gig editing college application essays for an admissions consulting company; in the fall and early winter, that’s where most of my writing energy goes. However, I do write a monthly e-newsletter and blog post, and I spend five to ten minutes each morning engaging, through writing, in an effort to explore and transform my relationship with money.

What advice would you give to your younger writing self?

Embrace the shitty first draft! Decide that the mission of your first draft is to be shitty, and that if you don’t make it shitty enough, you will have failed.

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

I’ve been writing since I was a kid, and the quality of my writing has always been extremely important to me. However, what made me a writer, and an author, was my determination to share the full tangle of my Zendik experience with readers who knew nothing about it. It was the book project that compelled me to establish and keep faith with a regular writing practice, and accept writing as a process. It kept asking me to learn more, travel further—and I kept saying yes.

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

My current favorite is Owen, who pops up to deliver some shocking news to the protagonist, then fades out. I like his peculiar blend of whimsy and mysticism.

Where do you do most of your writing?

At my desk, in a nook in the living room of the one-bedroom apartment I share with my husband in Beacon, New York.

What inspires you?

Crisis. Magic. Things that disturb me deeply, or strike me as miraculous. I’m also inspired by delicious writing—in particular, the word-feasts cooked up by my dear friend Nina Kang.

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

I see my book, my other writing projects, and my book-related events as shuttles with which to weave and reweave the web of relationships, i.e., the fabric that both holds and comprises all life. Each connection made, each book read, each story shared is one more thread in the web.

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

Since my book is a memoir, I knew the basics of my story before I started writing it. However, I did make many rounds of decisions, over the years, about what belonged and didn’t—and chose, eventually, to focus on my development as a sexual being and my quest for a partner. Those two threads became the spine of the book.

What are you reading right now?

Writing Down Your Soul, by Janet Conner. It’s a guide to getting in touch with, and listening to, one’s inner wisdom, while connecting with the infinite knowing of the larger whole. Also, I just finished two books by Ursula LeGuin—The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed—that seem to be grappling with big questions close to my heart: Is it possible to create a culture without money or overlords, in which everyone cares for everyone else? Is it inevitable that any pathology a group roots out will eventually be replaced by a new one?

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

Wulf—the male half of Zendik’s founding couple, whom I never met. I would ask him questions, or perhaps just listen to him ramble, in quest of a better understanding of his motives, his contradictions, his unsolvable knots.

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

Reese Witherspoon.

What are your top 3 favorite books?

In order of appearance in my life: Bomb the Suburbs by William Upski Wimsatt. New and Selected Poems by Mary Oliver. Lost and Found: My Life in a Group Marriage Commune by Margaret Hollenbach.

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

I make sure I have an adequate supply of homemade chocolate balls—also known as “crack”—on hand, so I can bribe/reward myself with one ball per half hour of thought-work.

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

I like engaging in nourishing conversation driven by open, honest questions about things that matter. I like villaging—especially at Earthaven, an off-grid intentional community in Black Mountain, North Carolina. I like growing food with as little effort as possible. I like singing, writing songs, writing skits, inciting laughter. And I like walking—if not for my quota of six miles per day, I would be a cyborg.

Photo Helen ZumanMore About Helen:
Helen Zuman, author and witch, turns waste into food and the stinky guck of experience into fertile, fragrant prose. A graduate of Harvard College, she lives with her husband in Beacon, NY and at Earthaven Ecovillage in Black Mountain, NC. Mating in Captivity (She Writes Press 2018) is her first book.
More about Mating in Captivity:

When recent Harvard grad Helen Zuman moved to Zendik Farm in 1999, she was thrilled to discover that the Zendiks used go-betweens to arrange sexual assignations, or “dates,” in cozy shacks just big enough for a double bed and a nightstand. Here, it seemed, she could learn an honest version of the mating dance and form a union free of “Deathculture” lies. No one spoke the truth: Arol, the Farm’s matriarch, crushed any love that threatened her hold on her followers’ hearts. An intimate look at a transformative cult journey, Mating in Captivity shows how stories can trap us and free us, how miracles rise out of crisis, how coercion feeds on forsaken self-trust.

Read Helen’s blog:
helenzuman.com.
Buy her book!

http://helenzuman.com/signed-copies/, https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781631523373, https://www.amazon.com/Mating-Captivity-Memoir-Helen-Zuman/dp/1631523376/

Things Unsaid – Author Interview with Diana Paul

I am so excited to share with you my interview with Diana Paul. Her book, Things Unsaid, released in 2015 by She Writes Press, explores the dynamics and emotional landscape of caring for elderly parents, while trying to navigate life’s other plans.

Book cover Things Unsaid

 

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

My debut novel, Things Unsaid, was released exactly three years ago and focuses on the sandwich generation:  what to do with aging parents who are driving you crazy?  Conversely, for the elderly, will their adult children be willing to contribute to their caregiving financially, emotionally, and physically? This could be about anyone’s family.

Inspired by a true story – Jules Foster, a Stanford child psychologist, after hearing news of her estranged, narcissistic mother’s terminal diagnosis, chooses to care for her mother over her own addicted daughter.

What are you working on now?

I have two novels in the pipeline–one is a rom-com about online dating .  The other is a mystery that continues where my debut novel, Things Unsaid,  leaves off, turning an ambiguous subplot into a possible murder.

What advice would you give to your younger writing self?

Stay with your dream of being a writer, even if that means only writing for yourself.  My advice would draw attention to the fact that you will be  surprised by how much you enjoy meeting others along the way in your writing/reading adventure.

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

I have always been a scribbler and writer, from elementary school on.  I wrote stories for the school and college newspapers, academic books on Buddhism (my graduate school specialty), and then finally turned my energies to fiction.

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

All the characters, of course, have part of my psyche but my favorites are the protagonist, Jules Foster, who is deeply flawed, and her daughter, Zoe, who has to contend with her own crisis.  I had fun with Courtney in the online dating novel as well.  She’s hilarious and also vulnerable.

Where do you do most of your writing?

If the weather is nice, I like to write on the deck with my laptop.  Otherwise, at my desk.

What inspires you?

Almost everyone has a story, and I love hearing what others have experienced. Sometimes, I will even record what a friend says with her/his permission, of course.  Movies and television series also have great writing. The structure and character arcs of the best screenwriting never cease to inspire my own writing.

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

That I meditate every day as a way to bring a clear mind to the writing process and to unwind and let thoughts just surface.

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

I usually start with an outline, so that makes me a “mini-plotter”. But the story and characters evolve in a way that surprises me so I become a “pantser” as well.

What are you reading right now?

I haven’t read mysteries in a very long time, but since I’ve just finished the manuscript for one, I decided to pick up the genre again.   I’m enjoying reading The Suspect by John Lescroart, featuring a female attorney as the protagonist.

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

I’d either sketch or paint with Jules, the protagonist in Things Unsaid.  Or, I’d attend university classes with her daughter, Zoe.

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

I always thought that Kate Winslet, Reese Witherspoon, or Naomi Watts would make a great Jules Foster who is on the cusp of fifty years old.  For the narcissistic matriarch I would go for Meryl Streep, Glenn Close, or Melissa Leo.  I kept these actors in mind when working on Things Unsaid.

What are your top 3 favorite books?

A Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende,  Mrs. Bridge by Evan S. Connell, and A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini.

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

I meditate, then I review the previous day’s work.  And I also have to deal with our cat, Mao, jumping on the keyboard of my laptop.

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

Creating mixed media art, gardening, and dancing.

More about Diana:

Diana PaulDiana Y. Paul was born in Akron, Ohio andhas a Ph.D. in Buddhist Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and has a B.A. in both psychology and philosophy from  Northwestern University.  Diana is a former Stanford professor in Buddhism with a focus on the role of women.

Diana is also the author of three books on Buddhism, one of which has been translated into Japanese and German.  Her short stories have appeared in a number of literary journals. She lives in Carmel, CA with her husband and calico cat. Her  second novel, A Perfect Match, is  pending as well as a third, Deeds Undone, a mystery which continues the narrative in Things Unsaid. When not writing, Diana  creates mixed media art.  Her art has been in museums and galleries in California, Hawaii, and Japan.

More about Things Unsaid: 

Family is never easy to deal with, elderly family is even more so.  Jules, a former university professor, has always played “the good daughter.” She and her husband Mike have set aside a college fund for their daughter Zoë, who is preparing to leave for Stanford. But when Jules’ parents lose everything in 2008’s Great Recession, she must make an impossible choice: her daughter’s future or her dying parents.

Things Unsaid is an award-winning novel: a 2016  USA Best Book Awards Finalist in two categories (Best New Fiction and Best Literary Fiction),  2016 Beverly Hills Book Awards Winner for Best New Adult Fiction, Readers Favorite Silver Award Winner for Best Drama, and a 2016 Pushcart Nominee.

“With a grace that is absorbing and deft, Paul tackles many difficult questions, including filial responsibility, depression, marital strife, and sexual identity. …The author depicts heart-wrenching conundrums as the three siblings are forced repeatedly to evaluate their personal priorities….An engaging tale of family dysfunction and intractable senior citizens.” ~Kirkus Review

Connect with Diana:

Visit Diana’s blog on movies and art at:  www.unhealedwound.com and her author website at: www.dianaypaul.com. Or stop by on Facebook, Twitter:  @DianaPaul10 and/or  Instagram: dianapaul10  and dianapaul4675

Buy Diana’s book:

https://www.amazon.com/Things-Unsaid-Diana-Y-Paul/dp/1631528122?  https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781631528125

Author Interview – Betsy Graziani Fasbinder

This woman really loves life! I am so excited to share with you my interview with the vibrant Betsy Graziani Fasbinder. She has released three books with SheWrites Press and shares a little bit about all of them here. I’m certain you will enjoy learning about Betsy and her books!
Betsy Fasbinder

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

My latest book is not a work of fiction, but a resource for writers. It’s called From Page to Stage: Inspiration, Tools, and Public Speaking Tips for Writers. I wrote it because I was once positively terrified to speak in front of groups. In fact, fear kept me from thinking of publishing my writing for many years, so terrified was I that if I actually published a book, I’d have to stand in front of people to talk about it. That seems absurd now, but it’s true.

 

I eventually got frustrated that I was letting fear of being in front of a group rob me of opportunities, both in my writing and in voicing my ideas, experiences, and viewpoints on matters about which I’m passionate. So, I sought training in public speaking, and I saw that a few simple skills, supportive coaching, and some practice could radically improve my ability to speak in public. I learned to manage my nerves and to speak in front of audiences of any size with confidence and skill in a way I could not have, at first, imagined. I want that for every writer, many of whom are either timid about speaking in public, perhaps as fearful as I was, or simply want to gather some skills to talk about their stories, their writing, and ideas they hold dear. This book is my version of a love gesture to writers and storytellers whose work has meant so much to me. I want every author to feel confident and bold when they’re talking about their writing and their ideas.

From stage to pagePrior to this book I published a book of fiction, Fire & Water and a memoir, Filling Her Shoes: A Memoir of an Inherited Family. Fire & Water is a dark love story about the link for some people between extreme creativity and madness, and about the painful experience of being in love with someone suffering profound mental illness.

What are you working on now?

I’m about halfway through my first draft of a new book of fiction. I’m happy to be back to fiction, my first love as both reader and writer. It’s fun to be back into the work of an imagined world. This new story keeps knocking on my mind…even coming to me in dreams. That’s when I know it’s a story that I must write.

What advice would you give to your younger writing self?

“Be braver sooner, you’re stronger than you know and living out loud is far more freeing than you’ll ever imagine.”

So many of my younger self’s fears kept me from pursuing all kinds of things, including publishing books. I was afraid of “living out loud”, telling both my lived and imagined stories, fearful of feeling exposed and conspicuous. What I’ve discovered is that in finding my voice, first on the page and now in my spoken work, that it’s incredibly freeing to rid myself of the burden of hiding. By first publishing, then talking about my writing, I’ve had the priviledge of encounters with readers who tell me that my stories made a difference to them, made them feel more understood or gave them insight into some aspect of human experience. This is the most deeply gratifying part of writing for me. I’d have missed out on all of that, were it not for writing and publishing stories.

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

I recently recalled something funny regarding that. When I was about eleven, I read an author’s dedication to her mother in the front of the book. I decided at that moment that I’d someday write (though I didn’t imagine publishing, at all). So I took a piece of onion-skin paper, and in my eleven-year-old version of caligraphy I wrote a dedication to my mom of some future, imagined book I’d someday write. I stained the paper with tea to make it look old, burned the edges, and rolled it like a diploma, tying it with a black ribbon. This became my mom’s holiday present.

Later, practicality prevailed and I did other work to earn a living, but I always wrote privately.  I published my first book at age 54, sadly long after my mother had passed away. So I suppose this desire has been in me for a long time. I always wrote—stories, poems, journals—but only pursued publishing in my more mature years. I think I wanted to become a writer because stories mattered so much to me. They were not just entertainment, they were escape, inspiration, understsanding, and adventure. I wanted, and still want, to be able to provide that to others.

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

It’s funny, I actually miss the characters in my novel, Fire & Water. They feel, even still, that real to me. A supporting character in the story in Fire & Water  is Mary K (short for Kowalski).  I may miss her the most. She’s a sassy, sometimes foul-mouthed, but an always truthful friend to Kate, the protagonist of the story. She’s fiercely loyal, brave, and also funny. Mary K became a surprising hero in the story—surprising to me, even! She’d be a girlfriend of mine in “real life” when actually, she’s a composite of many close women friends I’ve enjoyed in my life.

Where do you do most of your writing?

This is where I must confess a luxury. Six years ago, my husband and I moved to a modest mid-century ranch house. It’s a small, not a fancy place, but it does have a little cottage in the back yard, separate from the house. This has become my writing studio. I think of it as a little birdhouse, overlooking a scene of hills and trees in the distance. Honestly, I feel like a millionaire when I’m in that studio and am reminded of Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own. My earlier books were written in a open landing at the top of the stairs, with family members and pets running through constantly.  I have little excuse now not to get writing done–though I manage to find excuses, I’m afraid.

What inspires you?

Honesty. Honesty in personal life and in writing or any professional pursuit. This seems like a simple word, honesty, but it’s a complex virtue. It’s not simple truth-telling, it’s about being impecible in the pursuit of understanding and telling of truth. It’s about authenticity. It’s about setting aside biases and agendas. It’s about bravery. It’s integrity. A fictional story can be told with “honesty” because it tells a story with authenticity and not simply for commercial gain. It’s not manipulative of the readers nor a contrivance.

Memoirs and essays are one kind of truth-writing, but not the only kind. Sometimes the truest stories are told through fiction, though that may seem contradictory to some.  I recall as an adolescent reading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith. Though a work of fiction, it felt at that time like the “truest” thing I would ever read. I like what the author Pam Houston says, that everything she writes is true, and some of it actually happened.

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

I’m someone who loves sharing whatever I’ve learned, sometimes what I’ve just learned, with the next person right behind me trying to understand the same thing. This is true for those whom I coach as writers, as speakers, and in my role as a therapist, though of course that’s a different kind of sharing. Now in the final year of my fifties, I’ve finally determined what I want to do when I grow up. Throughout my various careers and roles, I’ve strived to communicate clearly in intimate conversations, public ones, and in my writing. I love helping others to do the same. This feels like my life’s purpose.

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

I do tons of mental plotting of what I write in every genre, sometimes for many months, or even years.  I often have a mental image of the beginning, much of the middle, and the probable ending of a story or book, though that can change and evolve as I do the writing. I write reams of notes about my characters, search for photos of people whom I think they might resemble. But I don’t so much plot stories out on paper. Sometimes this causes me some pain because I write many pages—sometimes many chapters—that later get deleted from the final piece.  But I’ve tried to plot more formally, and for me, it takes the freshness out of the writing. My way is messier, but it works for me.

What are you reading right now?

In my few recreational reading moments, I’m reading Beautiful Illusion by Christie Nelson. It’s a gorgeous bit of historical fiction set in my own San Francisco. Most of my reading time is going toward the manuscripts of writers for whom I’m providing developmental writing coaching. It’s a delight, but not quite the same as simple pleasure reading.

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

Of course, I’d love to spend some real-life time with Mary K, whom I mentioned above. But I would also love to spend time with Jake Bloom, a more primary character in Fire & Water. He’s a brilliant artist and a passionate person. I’m sure he’d be a fascinating person, as long as he is not in his more treacherous cycle of his mental illness.

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

I actually sent a copy of Fire & Water to Maggie Gyllenhaal because I thought she’d be a perfect person to play Dr. Katherine Murphy in Fire & Water. I’m sure she’s inundated with books, so I never got a response, but hey, a writer can try, right?

What are your top 3 favorite books?

This is tough. Of course, it might be tough to name just 300 favorite books. But okay…three.  I have to list John Steinbeck’s East of Eden for its sheer mastery. Pam Houston’s Sight Hound also comes top of mind. It is such a creative way to tell a story and she exposes with raw candor the “truth” that she and her characters uncover. And finally, I must say I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou is among my favorites. This book was so groundbreaking, telling a story both in its ideosycratic detail and its universal truth. This book changed the course of my life in profound ways.

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

I have to confess that I’m a bit of a binge writer, so my writing “rituals” change all the time depending on what I’m writing and in what stage. But one practice holds me in good stead, regardless of what I’m writing. At the end of my writing time in a day, particularly when I’m feeling a little stuck about the next part of the story, I write what I call “dream seeds”.  Just before bed, I write questions to myself or even addressed to my characters about their choices, behaviors, background, etc. More often than not, my dream seed blossoms and I dream the answer to the question. Sometimes I dream of a plot point. At other times, I uncover a motivation of a character or a bit of their history I’d not yet imagined. I think these come to me in dreams because the distractions of the world are set aside during sleep.  Dreams are my main source of untangling the knots in my writing.

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

Of course, I love books and I love going to author events, and even host a quarterly readers’ series. But beyond that, I am a bit of a movie nut, rarely going a week without going to the movies and now, there’s Netflix—both blessing and curse. And I love spending time with loved ones, sharing meals, playing cards, traveling together.

Connect with Betsy:
Facebook: BetsyGFAuthor
Twitter: @BetsyGFasbinder
Instagram: betsygrazianifasbinder
Here are some reviews of Betsy’s books:
 
From Page to Stage – “Fasbinder’s candid yet comforting delivery makes it feel as though she’s with readers every step of the way, offering a thumbs-up from teh back of the room. A lean, helpful primer for authors who want to succeed as speakers.” ~Kirkus Review
Filling Her Shoes:  “A beautiful and inspiring testament to the resilience and healing power of family.” ~Booklist Starred review
Fire & Water: “…Fasbinder takes the reader on a most compelling and satisfying ride, all the way to the final four words.” ~Sands Hall, Author of Tools of the Writer’s Craft
 
Buy Betsy’s books:
 From Page to Stage
Filling Her Shoes
Fire & Water

Quirky Stories for a Quirky World – Mindy Tarquini

Author Mindy Tarquini spends her time creating and crafting new worlds in which all things, good, evil, and quirky are possible.

Deepest Blue, Mindy T.

Today, author Mindy Tarquini tells us about her novel, Deepest Blue, published by Spark Press last month, and gives us a peek into her process and how pain brought her to writing. Here is what Publishers Weekly had to say about Tarquini’s newest release: “…a haunting lyrical fantasy dealing with love, loss, and political turmoil…”

Fans of Paulo Coehlo and Neil Gaiman will revel in this magical tale.

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

My latest release is Deepest Blue (Sparkpress 2018). The story is set in a fairytale land where everyone’s destinies are predetermined, until one young man decides to seek a life of his own.

What are you working on now?

I am leaving fairyland for a while to return to the county of humorous contemporary fiction. The story is set in Arizona, the time-traveling is sublime.

What advice would you give to your younger writing self?

Learn story structure, and use it. A great story needs a great structure or it is just a series of events.

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

Mindy TarquiniNo, I have worn many hats. From restaurant to retail to accounting to allied healthcare, it wasn’t until I had my mom-hat on that I truly began to write. I hurt my back, which meant that there wasn’t much else to do except hang out on the internet and search the pain forums for ideas on how to alleviate the constant ache. I ended up chatting with someone who was a writer. She invited me to a writer’s forum where people exchanged stories. There, I made a couple of friends whom I still consider to be among my closest. We don’t exchange stories so much anymore, but we do love to laugh.

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

Claudio from Deepest Blue. He’s a cleric, which makes him the man who knows everything but can’t say any of it.

Where do you do most of your writing?

At home with my dog. Punctuation makes her happy.

What inspires you?

The land of “what-if” inspires me. I see something, I go to the land of “what-if”, and all kinds of wondrous things happen.

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

I’m always breaking the rules that I set for my characters.

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

Who actually likes wearing pants? As my daughter says, “comfy pants or bust”. As for writing- I’ve never met an outline that couldn’t be expanded.

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

I used to sacrifice a blue bird or two, but the neighbors complained to the HOA.

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

Plotting the next one. There’s no time once you get on this publishing rollercoaster. Like…none.

Read more about Deepest Blue.

In an enchanted city seen only at twilight, a resentful second son unlocks secrets which could cause his world’s star to finally set.

In Panduri, everyone’s path is mapped, everyone’s destiny decided, their lives charted at birth and steered by an unwavering star. Everyone has his place, and Matteo, second son of Panduri’s duca, is eager to take up his as Legendary Protector–at the border and out from under his father’s domineering thumb. Then Matteo’s older brother pulls rank and heads to the border in his stead, leaving Panduri’s orbit in a spiral and Matteo’s course on a skid. Forced to follow an unexpected path, resentful and raw, Matteo is determined to rise, to pursue the one future Panduri’s star can never chart: a life of his own.

Brigadoon meets Pippin in this quirky tale of grief steeped deep in Italian folklore and shimmering with hope–to remember what helps, forget what hurts, and give what remains permission to soar.

More about Mindy!
Mindy Tarquini grew up convinced that there are other worlds just one giant step to the left of where she’s standing. Author of the critically acclaimed and award-winning Hindsight (SparkPress 2016) and The Infinite Now(SparkPress 2017), Tarquini’s writing has appeared in Writer’s Digest, BookPage, Hypable, and other venues. An associate editor on the Lascaux Review and a member of the Perley Station Writers Colony, Tarquini is a second-generation Italian American who believes words have power. She plies hers to the best of her ability from an enchanted tower a giant step left in the great Southwest.
Connect with Mindy:
Buy Mindy’s books here:
vintage writing

Building a Character on Top of a Historical Figure

This article was first published on the SheWrites Blog, June 27, 2018

I’ve always been at my most creative when I have to work within structural confines, whether it be an extensive outline for a novel, or creating a character based upon someone in history. Within those structural walls, my mind is free to roam, without getting lost in all the noise outside.

As writers of historical fiction, we will never really know what was going on in the minds or emotions of the people in history we want to portray. We see them through their actions, what they’ve written, or what they’ve reportedly said, but we don’t always know their deepest fears, or what they secretly wanted in life. We don’t always know their unrequited loves, their biggest regrets, or their pet peeves—unless it was written down. And even that can be up for interpretation because we can never really be inside the mind of anyone, much less a historical figure. Even non-fiction historical accounts can be skewed because every writer has a personal bias. They put their perceptions and interpretations onto the page. It’s human nature.

But, interpretation can open the doors to a whole new kind of creativity.

When I use a historical figure in fiction, I do extensive research to know as much about that person as I can. I read books and articles on them, and I watch television shows, documentaries or movies featuring that person. I make notes on what I think is most interesting about them and what is portrayed about their life. Then I start exploring what that person must have been going through psychologically at any given event or circumstance.

I try to put myself in that person’s shoes and wonder how they felt about what was happening to them. I also like to create a new reality for them, and then based on what I know about that historical figure, I imagine how they would react to the situation I have created for them.

Some of my favorite books feature historical figures as amateur sleuths. The author has, within the confines of history as we know it, put that character in charge of solving a puzzle the author has created. The author uses what they know about that historical figure’s personality and the events that surrounded them, and then they create a mystery within those confines for the character to solve. What a great way to delve into the heart and soul of a person!

Some of my favorites have been Stephanie Barron’s series featuring Jane Austen as an amateur sleuth, and Karen Harper’s series featuring Queen Elizabeth I as an amateur sleuth. It was great fun to sink myself into the world of the historical figure I knew through stories and my own research, combined with situations created by a present-day author. I found it inspiring.

photo Annie OakleyIn my historical series, I’ve used the famous and iconic figure Annie Oakley as an amateur sleuth and put her into situations she never encountered in real life. It was interesting and exciting to imagine how she would have reacted to being compelled to solve murders. I took what I knew about her, and surmised that she was gutsy, smart, lovable and loving, and incredibly talented at something a woman rarely pursued—sharpshooting. She also bested most men in her field.

Annie Oakley did not live the life of an ordinary woman in 1885. Given the scope of the Wild West Show’s travels, and what Annie did for a living, I thought she would make an excellent amateur detective. One who is driven by seeking the truth and finding justice.

The key is to be as accurate as possible given the information you have, and most importantly, to make your historical and fictional story believable.You wouldn’t make King Henry the VIII a pacifist or monogamous, or Fanny Brice dull or somber. Readers won’t buy it. Be smart about it.

If you want to assert in your historical fiction novel or series that a historical figure can act like, or be something history did not record, make sure you do your research to see if the historical accounts of him or her support that idea. Then, dive deep into what you think that person is about, and what drove them. Let your imagination go.

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 – Mary Kathleen Mehuron

Today I have the pleasure of bringing you my interview with Mary Kathleen Mehuron, author of The Opposite of Never released by Spark Press, April 24, 2018

Mary Kathleen Mehuron is a career educator who made a splash with her first book, Fading Past, an autobiographical novel whose protagonist, like Mary Kathleen, grew up Irish-Catholic in New Jersey. The Opposite of Never is Mary Kathleen’s second book, and to finish it, she traveled alone to Havana in January 2015 in order to experience the city before it became Americanized. Mary Kathleen lives and teaches in a ski town in Vermont where they call her Kathy. This is where she and her husband raised three sons,  and she is an occasional columnist and writes curriculum daily for private math and science students. She takes extended time to work on her novels on Grand Turk Island and in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom.

Mary Kathleen, tell us about your latest book.

At the end of April, SparkPress released my new novel The Opposite of Never. It’s about four Vermont families, three close women friends, two love stories (millennial and baby boomer), a devastating mistake on the part of the young couple who become involved in the opioid epidemic, and a truly grand, grand finale.

I never really know how a reader will interpret the words I’m writing, because, his or her own experiences become mixed in with my intentions. But, I know for sure, that I wrote this particular story about hope, which I firmly believe, is contagious. The novel has been included in the Most Anticipated Books of 2018,Brit+Co; Breakout Novels of 2018,Indie Picks; Six Books About Family to Cherish This Spring, Buzzfeed; Ten Heartwarming Tales About Family, Culturalist; 12 Inspiring Me-Time Reads Perfect for Mother’s Day, Working Mother; and10 Books to Keep You Woke in 2018, Bookstr.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on a third novel with the working title The Belonger. A “belonger” is someone with historical ties to the island of Grand Turk in Turks and Caicos, where my family and I spend a great deal of time. At one time salt was more valuable than gold but producing it was grueling work. White business owners brought African slaves to the Grand Turk to do it. My novel begins in the 90s and is about a young man descended from such slaves, who is offered a chance to come up to largely white State of Vermont. As always I am interested in love stories and how life throws curve balls at us, but, in this case, also the subject of skin color.

What advice would you give to your younger writing self?

I’d say, “You are not going to believe this. When you enter into the third act of your life, you are going to turn it into a grand finale. You are going to publish a book. Seriously, you are! And then a publishing company is going to take an interest in you and you will publish a second. Yes, I know you are a math and science teacher and it seems unlikely, but it’s true. Oh, yeah, and I left out the part when you are middle-aged and you become a professional singer. All I’m saying is hold on; it’s going to be a wild ride.”

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

Spencer Paquette. Like many young men, he makes some terrible decisions and it affects not only him but his family and friends as well. I’m a sucker for a comeback story. Who hasn’t made mistakes? But, we can always make restitution and grow as human beings. We can. I think that’s an absolute. Obviously, not everyone cares to put in the hard work to do so or wants to be felled by the amount of humility it takes to admit the need for a big change. Yet, it is a road that is always possible.

Where do you do most of your writing?

I can write anywhere. It’s probably because I grew up in a melting pot neighborhood filled with swarms of children. We had five kids in our family, not nearly as many as our neighbors, but it was enough to ensure our household was in a constant state of pandemonium. You either learned to do your homework surrounded by noise or you didn’t get it done. I am probably the only person in the world who looks forward to long airport layovers— they are generally very productive times for me with my laptop. But, if I really think about it, I wrote most of my two novels on Grand Turk island and in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont.

What inspires you?

I am a person who remembers the vivid details of life’s extreme up and downs. One day I’m singing before a seven-piece country swing band and the next, I’m diagnosed with two different breast cancers. My prognosis was grim, yet I went on to travel the world, see my sons grow up and become very successful, and to write my books. I feel better today than I did twenty years ago. Savoring a beautiful moment is an art form; living beyond tragedy is too. So I would say it is hope that inspires me. Sometimes that’s all you have. Hang on to it.

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

In every other area of my life I am an obsessive planner, but not when writing a novel. That is more like channeling a story that I’m being told as I sit at my desk. It just kicks in and starts flowing. No note cards. No outline. I literally don’t know the ending until the day I write it.

What are you reading right now?

On Writing by Stephen King, The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah, and A Dangerous Woman From Nowhere by Kris Radish.

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

I go shopping for beautiful food to cook that night. I meet some friends for a five-mile hike in the fresh Vermont air, where we finish at a vista, that every time, takes my breath away. When I’m well exercised and the groceries are all put away, it’s “go” time. I sit down and write.

Thank you so much, Mary Kathleen! I enjoyed reading your responses and I look forward to reading your book.

You can buy Mary Kathleen’s book here :https://amzn.to/2MjRdGb

Connect with her here:

Website: https://www.marykathleenmehuron.com/mary-kathleen/

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

Here is a little bit more about The Opposite of Never:

Devastated when they lose their spouses, both Kenny Simmons and Georgia Best carry on for the sake of their children, although they are certain that the best part of their lives is long over. Then Georgia and her lifelong companions, Linda and Yvonne, meet Kenny while walking down a dusty Vermont country road, and the four of them hit it off. Soon, Kenny becomes a regular part of their hiking group, and he and Georgia grow more than fond of each other.

Kenny’s stepdaughter, Zelda, and Yvonne’s teenage son, Spencer, also fall in love—at first sight. Through surprisingly relatable circumstances, they are drawn into opiate use, shocking everyone, and the two of them struggle through the torment of addiction together.

In an impulsive and daring attempt to create a grand finale out of difficult times, Kenny takes Georgia off to vacation in Cuba just as it is opening up to Americans—and what they discover in the golden light of Old Havana is another startling surprise.