Tag Archives: SheWrites Press

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 – Read about Kathryn Taylor

From loss and despair, Kathryn Taylor has learned how to live life to the fullest again. Today she shares with us the impetus for writing her memoir, Two Minus One. Her book will be released November 6, 2018 by She Writes Press. Thank you, Kathryn, for sharing your story of empowerment!

Kathryn Taylor - headshot

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

Two Minus One: A Memoir

I had been divorced and was raising two daughters as a single, working mom. The three of us had carved out a life for ourselves and made our way in the world as a united entity without a male figurehead. We had grown strong in our relationship and independent in our lives. I had met with success in my career, my daughters were ready to move off to college, and I was content with my life and happy in my world.

Then I took a chance! The father of friends of my daughters was divorcing his wife. He had always been supportive of the three of us as a family unit and ready to help in any way that we needed. Over several years, it became clear that his intentions were evolving from friendship to relationship. I was adamant that was not what I wanted and had no interest in another man in my life. However, after years of hearing his repeated refrain, “You can quit waiting for the other shoe to drop: I’m in it for life,” I thought it might be true and worth taking a chance.

Those fateful, repeated words convinced me to remarry, retire from my thirty-year profession, sell my home, and relocate in support of my new husband’s career. We enjoyed an idyllic life committed to making our second marriages last a lifetime. We awoke each day in wonder and awe that we had grown children who were independent, no financial liabilities or elder care responsibilities, and enjoyed good health. But five years later, in a car packed with food I had carefully prepared to nourish my husband’s dying brother, the other shoe did drop. On a road trip, my loving husband unexpectedly proclaimed he was, “done with the marriage and doesn’t want to talk about it.”

I somehow survived the weekend with his family – convinced he didn’t mean a word he was saying, and that he was striking out over fear of his brother’s imminent death. However, on the return drive home, he made it clear that he was “fucking damn done,” that I was “mean and despicable,” and he, “has nothing more to say.” As the door closed behind him, so did my world. I remained on the sofa, with the shutters closed to block out the world that I knew could not go on without the life we had built.

I was completely distraught and debilitated. The man I had come to completely love and trust had walked away from the life we had worked so very hard to build – without any indication that anything had been wrong. We had routine “state of the union” discussions about our relationship and covered every topic from sex to travel to retirement. We had been building a strengthening relationship in a new environment and reported nothing but growth and increasing commitment in each of these meetings. Yet, now he was gone – and didn’t want to talk about it!

I was immobilized by grief. I was overcome with shame for what he said I had displayed in bad behavior towards him. I was certain that if he said I was mean and unworthy of love, it must indeed be true. I felt that if I had destroyed this wonderful man and our wonderful marriage, I certainly had nothing to offer to anyone else in the world and held no value whatsoever– for myself or for anyone else. I remained on that sofa for weeks – of which I am not proud to admit – blubbering, dripping snot, and unwilling to take or make phone calls or connect in any way with the outside world.

I felt a sense of shame that I had never experienced in my life and was certain that I was unworthy of anything that life offered. The unexpected betrayal – by the man I trusted and who had assured me that he loved me more than his next breath – was more than I could bear. Except for an occasional text, I terminated all outside communication with those I loved – and who I had once felt certain loved me.

Finally, I received a text from my very best friend. She stated that she would call me and expected me to pick up the phone. She did not care if I did nothing but sob, but she was going to connect. If I did not answer, she would send the police to my door to check on my welfare. Hesitant, I took the call and let the details tumble out. Days later, my friend arrived at my house.

Two Minus One coverI began relying on the strength of that lifelong friend who refused to let me succumb to the intense waves of grief. I gradually began to find my way out of the darkness that had become my life. Over the course of two years, through appointments with attorneys and therapists, purging shared belongings, and pushing myself to meet new people and do new things, I gradually regained a sense of control in my world. I slowly learned to enjoy the new life I began to build, the friendships I began to form―and to savor my triumphant outlook and new-found strength.

My book relates that personal journey from unexpected loss to triumphant new beginning. I believe it – and I – have a strong message that will benefit many others that are experiencing similar loss.

What are you working on now?

Marketing the book. I am in awe of authors who can write, blog, and market simultaneously!

What advice would you give to your younger writing self?

Never underestimate the demands of the publication/marketing process.

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

I had always dreamed of writing. I entered a writing contest at an early age and have always journaled. However, my “calling” at the age of six, was toward teaching and from there, life happened. I journaled continuously, and wrote report card comments, but did not attempt a “book” until the sudden termination of my marriage. The writing helped me heal and move on.

Where do you do most of your writing?

The beach when possible. Everywhere else in the house until it is actually time to use the computer, then in my office.

What inspires you?

The pain of my story was my inspiration. It was visceral, and I strove for understanding and clarity through my writing.

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

I have no training or experience in writing.  My story has taken on a life of its own. If someone out there believes they have a story to tell and to share, they should follow their dream – no matter their circumstance or age.

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

I believe my process was different than most. I was writing my story in real time and working through some intense emotional pain. I wrote in journals, scribbled notes randomly and continuously, and compiled chapters and flow as the story appeared on the – handwritten – pages. I literally cut and pasted with scissors and glue, spreading my pages all over the house before I sat down at my desk with my laptop to put the story together. So, to answer your question, I would be called a pantser.

What are you reading right now?

Because I am so new at the entire publication and marketing process, I am certain it requires far more of my time than for most authors. Because of that, I read far less than I would like – and mostly when I do get away to the beach. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng was a wonderful recent read.

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

If I could spend the day with my former spouse, I would question him as to his motives and feelings about leaving. I would love some answers and insights.

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

That is an interesting question as when I spoke with my first therapist I asked her, “Who do you think should play me in this made for TV drama that I am living?” Her answer, “A woman with the utmost dignity.” I think Michelle Pfeiffer could pull it off!

What are your top 3 favorite books?

Anne Frank:Diary of a Young Girl– I was destined for memoir from an early age! She was so brave and never bitter in the worst of situations. Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh remains as timely as when it was written in 1955. The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz: Be impeccable with your word, don’t take anything personally, don’t make assumptions, always do your best, and the newly added fifth agreement, remain skeptical but learn to listen.

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

I light a scented candle, have a stress relief Wonder Woman bitsy, and I turn off my cell phone.

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

I am happiest on the beach-any beach. When I cannot be on the beach, I love to be outdoors biking or taking long walks with my dog Lucy. I love to read and share time with dear friends and family.

Here is more about Kathryn:

Kathryn Taylor was born at the Great Lakes Naval Station near Chicago, Illinois and spent much of her life in the Chicagoland area. When she entered first grade, reading came easily to Taylor. Decades before terms such as “peer tutoring” and “collaborative learning” had been coined, her teacher had an inspiring idea. She would allow Kathryn to assist classmates struggling to decode those pesky letter combinations and help them learn to read. Taylor experienced an undeniable sense of fulfillment helping her classmates and licking gold stars onto completed pages. The desire to become a teacher took root.  Taylor enjoyed thirty years in the classroom and had taught in the schools of Illinois, California, and Virginia before her retirement and relocation to South Carolina. It was there where Taylor wrote her book, Two Minus One: A Memoirfollowing the unexpected abandonment by her second husband. Taylor is an avid reader, enthusiastic traveler, and incurable beach lover. She resides outside of Charleston, SC, with her rescue dog, Lucy, where she can enjoy all three of her favorite past times.

More about Two Minus One:

“You can quit waiting for the other shoe to drop, I’m in it for life.”

Those are the fateful, repeated words that help convince Kathryn Taylor to remarry, retire from her thirty-year profession, sell her home, and relocate in support of her new husband’s career. But five years later, the other shoe does drop when her husband, without any explanation, tells her he is done with the marriage.

Poignant and full of raw emotion, Two Minus One is Taylor’s story of loss and rebuilding, betrayal and friendship–and of recalling life on her own terms.

Connect with Kathryn:
Buy Kathryn’s book:

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
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.