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Author Interview – Karen Harmon

November 5, 2019
mandyevebarnett


AuthorInterview

Karen's Headshot.jpg

What inspired your latest novel? My father passed away when I was 27 years old, so none of my three children had ever met him. To keep his memory alive, I used to tell my kids true stories about my dad. He was an amazing fun loving, comical, adventurous person but he came from a very dysfunctional, heartbreaking back ground. One day (8 years ago) when I was telling my (then) 11-year-old son about how my father rode the rails when he was 13 years from Saskatchewan to BC, my son said, “Mom, I love your stories so much, you should write a book”. So, I did.                                                                     

How did you come up with the title? The title of my book Looking for Normal, is a play on words. For a big part of my life I would often say, “I just want a normal family”. Therefore, I was always looking for normal. When, in the real world, there is no such thing as normal. I use a quote from Erma Bombeck, “normal is just a setting on your dryer” on the first page, chapter one.

Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp? YES! I would very much like my readers to 1) feel inspired by my story 2) come to understand that mental illness and addiction can cause people to behave a certain way, but there is always hope and humour if you can get past the pain. Mental health issues are not uncommon.

How much of the book is realistic? My book is a true story about family, heartache, heartbreak, hope, and humor, it is all true and about my life. Some people have described my memoir to be unique and eclectic and I say, “aren’t we all?”

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Are your characters based on someone you know, or events in your own life? Yes, the main characters in my book are my mother, father and myself. It weaves in and out with flash backs and stories throughout. I have been told that my book is very relatable, it could be many peoples story. It takes place between 1930 and 1978 and has historical facts, photos and events along the way.

Where can readers find you on social media and do you have a blog? I currently have (as of April 2019) 25 reviews on Good Reads. My book is available on amazon.ca  amazon.com  Indigo.ca  chapters.ca barnesandnoble.ca  I also love chatting with my followers on Instagram, I have approximately 8,000  @karenharmonn  I post about writing, health, fitness and family. Twitter @karenharmonn

Do you have plans or ideas for your next book? Is it a sequel or a stand alone? Yes! I am currently (as of April 2019) 50,000 words into my 2nd book which is a sequel. I should be finished by the time this blog comes out. I am very excited as this book takes place in the 80’s and 90’s. Parts of it have been fun to write because I was a disco queen during Vancouver’s disco era. And I started teaching fitness at the same time as Jane Fonda. HaHa! Other portions have been more difficult to write but very therapeutic to write because it deals with AA, and Alanon.

Of the characters you have created or envisioned, which is your favorite & why? Of my three main characters they are ALL my favourites and this is why…….. 1) my dad adored me, and I idolized him. He was funny and kind. He never repeated the cycle of abuse that he was raised under. 2) my mother wanted to be a private detective in the 1930’ & 1940’s which was completely unheard of for a woman, so she settled and became a mom & house wife. Plus, she had mental health issues and in those days that too was unheard of. 3) Me, my heart breaks for the little girl I once was. I really got to know little girl Karen during my telling of her childhood. I gained confidence from writing about who I once was and my beginnings. Therefore, all three of my characters are my favourite.

Do you favor one type of genre or do you dabble in more than one? I favor non-fiction because writing about something I know to be real and true is easier. I gained my story telling ability from my father, he was animated and funny. I like to look at life that way, we are all characters on the stage of life.

Do you plan your stories, or are you a seat of the pants style writer? My first book was by the seat of my pants, sometimes it felt like verbal diarrhea. My second book has been more planned out and I feel way more organized.

What is your best marketing tip? Networking and asking questions. Find a facebook page with like minded individuals. That’s where I found you, and look, I get to be in your blog! Instagram and Twitter are important too.

Be professional, if you are having a book launch, a book read, or any kind of event make professional invitations and hand them out. At my book launch my friend made appetizers that were conventional in the 1960’s. I had old fashioned coke in glass bottles, and everyone was offered coffee or tea. My friend owns a coffee shop, so she gave me a great deal. It was super fun and prior to the launch the newspaper did a story on me.

Contact your local newspaper as they love personal interest stories about people in the community, you are helping them if they do a story on you. So, it is a win-win as it gives you exposure as well.

Do you find social media a great tool or a hindrance? I want to say a little bit of both. Through Instagram I have connected with some amazing, writers, bloggers and readers. Sending personal messages DM’s (direct messages) I have messaged at least 50 people I have admired. At least ten of those people have responded and we have had some amazing conversations. I have been given incredible advice from other authors. I have sent my book to instagrammers who read as a hobby and I they have given my book great reviews. Plus, its fun to post photos, make videos, network, and make connections.  I find Twitter a bit more challenging as it is important to post something everyday, if not more. I enjoy following people who have odd perspectives on life. My challenge is coming up with something unique and fresh daily.

OPTIONAL QUESTIONS 

What do you enjoy most about writing? I enjoy thinking of someone reading my material and laughing or crying or becoming inspired. I visualize certain friends reading what I have written, and I can see them smile in my head.

What age did you start writing stories/poems? I have always liked to write stories, but my lack of self confidence and self esteem got in the way. I am way more confident now, so I have way less inhibitions.

Has your genre changed or stayed the same? So far it has stayed the same, but I do have a few ideas for a fiction book, based on real people.

What genre are you currently reading? I love true stories and memoirs, I just accidentally read, Too Close to the Falls by Catherine Gildiner. I say accidentally because I read it before, years ago but I forgot and read it again lol. My favourite book was The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls.

Do you read for pleasure or research or both? Both.

Who is your best supporter/mentor/encourager? Wow! I have a few. I have three author friends who have helped me and inspired me in different ways. Nadine Sands she wrote Hold On, Let Go, she told me these simple words, “not everyone likes memoirs, which does not mean that yours is not good”. As silly as that sounds, it was like an epiphany for me. Mary Edigar, she wrote Mennonite Girl, she said “just keep writing, do not worry about mistakes or punctuation that can be fixed later”. Colleen Friesen she is a Travel Writer and a Blogger, her inspiration is more about who she is and how she lives her life. Plus, she can be very frank in her writing but still manages to bring hope to the reader. She writes about travel, but she also writes about family, death and spirituality.

Where is your favorite writing space? Good question! I love, love, love, writing in my bed with my little dog Steven curled up next to me. I am either drinking a coffee (with extra cream) or a giant water. I live in a small home, but my bedroom is my sanctuary. My husband can have the TV and the living room lol.

Do you belong to a writing group? If so which one? I have attended the North Shore Writers Association and I really like it. They bring in guest Authors and it feels great to be with like minded people.

If you could meet one favorite author, who would it be? Jeanette Walls and Whalley Lamb.

If you could live anywhere in the world – where would it be? I would live here in North Vancouver, but I would like someone to give me house too. OR if my three children and husband could come with me, I think Hawaii would be a great place to live.

Do you see writing as a career? I would love that, if I could make a living from it.

Do you nibble as you write? If so what’s your favorite snack food? I could never nibble while I write, but I do love coffee or tea while I am writing. AND Ice cream after a day of writing with my favourite Netflix show.

What reward do you give yourself for making a deadline? Rewards vary. A massage, a pedicure, ice cream and for example today when I finish answering all these questions, I will have a cold Corona with lime. But just one.

Bio:

Local Vancouver writer Karen Harmon, writes passionately in her recent memoir Looking for Normal – which won the Rubery Book Excellence Award in the category of Women’s Health.

The book contains Karen’s recollections based on her parents meeting in 1945 at the Cave Super Club in Vancouver B.C. and her own personal experiences of growing up in the 1960’s. Taking the reader on a memorable journey throughout 1930 to 1978.

“With poverty, addiction, mental illness and family relationships being current topics of discussion, Karen Harmon has tapped into a story that everyone can relate to. I am looking forward to sharing her upbringing with my students”.  Cathy Sieben, Secondary Teacher Gibson’s B.C.

Looking for Normal is a bitter-sweet memoir that covers historical events dating back to the depression era, the outcome of prohibition, the obsolete recognition of mental health issues and a family trying to succeed in amongst the trappings of society and current events in Western British Columbia, Canada.

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Author Interview – Ellen Notbohm

February 19, 2019
mandyevebarnett


AuthorInterview

Ellen Notbohm 12 2017

What inspired your latest novel?

Through many years of genealogy work, I’ve learned that every family has that one person—the one nobody will talk about, the one with the aura of taboo around him or her. Three generations back, Analiese Rushton (not her real name) was that person in our family tree.

It took a lot of digging and a grain of luck to find out why—she faced recurring perinatal and postpartum psychosis at a time when neither medicine or society understood it. Given the intense social stigma of mental illness in Annie’s day, aggravated by stark gender bias in both courts of law and courts of public opinion, what we now know to be a bona fide and treatable medical condition threatened to cost Annie nearly everything that matters to most of us—family, home, health, safety, the right to self-determination. I also learned that maternal mental health was the rarest of subjects in historical fiction; it almost felt like publishing too was infected with that zipped-lips taboo. I wanted to tell Annie’s story in a way that would heal ills and injustices, and topple that taboo.

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How did you come up with the title?

That’s a fun chicken-egg question I can’t fully answer. When I started writing, I had a working title that I knew wouldn’t be the final title. One of the things I love about novels is that Aha! moment when you’re reading along and come upon the title of the book. To Kill a Mockingbird and The Color Purple are a couple of potent examples. So as I was writing, I had my “third ear” open, listening for possible titles. I considered several that didn’t feel quite right. Then up popped “The River by Starlight” and there it was. Readers will know from the first page of the book that it’s from a journal entry by Henry David Thoreau. But they have to read some chapters in to find out how it impacts the story and why it’s a thread that carries throughout the book.                                                                         

Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?

Although The River by Starlight confronts loss and grief in many shape-shifting forms, it’s not a tale of depth-less terror and tragedy. I would not and could not have written a book like that. Edmonton historian Tony Cashman is a dear friend of mine, and in his testimonial, he described the book as “a story told with deep understanding of the human heart, which won’t abandon hope.” That refusal to abandon hope—Annie’s astonishing resilience and tenacity in the face of devastating events, is a tribute to the luminescence of the human spirit that lives in all of us. That’s why I wrote the book. I didn’t think she should be the one nobody talks about. I wanted her to be the one everybody talks about. 

How much of the book is realistic?

100%. I put in over a decade of research, including six trips to Montana, Edmonton, and North Dakota. Much of the book describes events that did take place, and most of what I made up was also based on that research. I consulted more than 40 libraries and archives, read more than 1,000 homestead accounts, close to 100 books, and several miles of microfilmed newspapers.

Where can readers find you on social media and do you have a blog?

You can find me on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Instagram. I have two blogs on my website, for fiction and nonfiction. My Facebook page is a very interactive community of readers from more than 40 countries.

Do you have plans or ideas for your next book? Is it a sequel or a stand alone?

I’m percolating an idea based on another long-ago real person, whose early life was a dramatic brew of siblings lost to an epidemic, the Civil War, and historic upheaval within her faith community. She eventually landed in Dayton, Ohio, in the same neighborhood as an interesting pair of brothers who claimed to be building a flying machine. Once I start writing a bit, I’ll know if she wants to tell me her story.

Of the characters you have created or envisioned, which is your favorite & why?

Like the children’s book, I Love You the Purplest, my mother impressed upon me that her children were so different from each other, it meant that each was her favorite in their own way. It’s just that way for my characters in The River by Starlight, many of whom I love, but in ways that defy comparison. Nor do I have a favorite villain, and at least one reader agreed, in what is a favorite comment: “The characters are real and pop off the page. I have empathy, sorrow, joy, and want to choke a number of them!”

Do you favor one type of genre or do you dabble in more than one?

As writers, we’re often told to write what we know, but also told to write what scares us, or write what we want to know. I’d written four nonfiction books and countless essays and advice columns when I decided to write a historical novel. I can’t say enough about how expansive it’s been, in every way, to stretch myself into uncharted territory as a writer. I’m eager to both continue on with what I’m good at, and to push my pencil into forms and genres I haven’t before considered.

Do you plan your stories, or are you a seat of the pants style writer?

Pantser! I’ll start with a spark of an idea and see where the research takes me. When I start writing, the story will either bloom or fall flat. If it blooms, I go on, listening with my “third ear” and following the arc of the story as my research expands. It’s almost like a game where I’m given facts or leads or provocative questions, I work them into the story, then listen for how the characters are going to respond. I’m constantly judging the messages I’m portraying, whether I’m getting it right, and also gauging when it’s necessary for me to take literary license and depart from that.

What is your best marketing tip?

Find what you’re best at and focus on that. It’s good and appropriate to stretch yourself to do things that may be a bit beyond your comfort zone but none of us can be good at everything, let alone have the time or money to do it all. If you really hate, say, a particular social media platform or blogging or podcasts or live events or whatever, be unapologetic about saying no to it. I believe readers pick up on insincerity, so connect them with your best self.

Do you find social media a great tool or a hindrance?

In all things, balance. It’s every author’s choice whether to invest time and effort in a social media presence, but to forego it entirely is to greatly limit your ability to connect with readers and potential readers. Readers expect an internet presence, and other less immediate sources may not come to mind. At the same time, neither is an author obligated to spend untold hours on social media. How much presence, how much effort an author wants to devote to her digital platform is entirely individual, and there’s no “right” amount. I know authors who are only on Facebook, or only on Twitter, and post only when they feel they have something to say. Writers have to prioritize the writing, ruminating, and revising that make us writers in the first place.

What do you enjoy most about writing?

The magic of it. Watching words flow out of a pencil tip, watching words form sentences, sentences form paragraphs, paragraphs form whole stories. Sometimes it’s almost like I’m an observer.

Has your genre changed or stayed the same?

Genre is such a fluid thing to me. Though the writing of my fiction and nonfiction were vastly different experiences, there was enough crossover for me to loosen the boundaries in my mind of what “genre” means. My novel has been recognized with awards for historical fiction, regional fiction, literary fiction. My nonfiction books and historical articles have a strong storytelling element to them. I hope to cross a few more genre thresholds before I’m done.

What genre are you currently reading?

I’m usually reading several books at any given time; right now I’m reading a historical novel, a memoir, a creative nonfiction, and a classic.

Do you read for pleasure or research or both?

They’re inseparable, because research is one of my greatest pleasures. It’s entertaining, informational, emotionally and intellectually challenging. In a way, everything I read is research. It all lodges in my conscious or subconscious and finds its way into my writing in one way or another, either by what I include or what I choose not to include.

 

Where is your favorite writing space?

In my head, of course!

Do you see writing as a career?

Sure, because the definition of “career” is as broad as a writer’s mind allows it to be. I just internet-searched the definition, and the first one that came up was, “an occupation undertaken for a significant period of a person’s life and with opportunities for progress.” Notice it doesn’t mention earning money? I’ve been blessed to have been able to earn a living as a writer, but I know countless writers who’ve been writing and publishing gloriously for years without earning a living. Their work is no less worthy than mine of being called a career. If we read only “career writers” as defined in the conventional sense (money-makers), the breadth and depth of what we read would be far poorer indeed.

Do you nibble as you write? If so what’s your favorite snack food?

When I’m “in the zone,” I have to remember to breathe, let alone eat. Although for a few blissful weeks in the summer, no day is complete until I’ve eaten my weight in blueberries.

What reward do you give yourself for making a deadline?

Making a deadline is its own reward. I’ve high-fived the wall more than a few times in my career.

BIO

An award-winning author in both nonfiction and fiction, Ellen Notbohm’s work has informed, inspired, and guided millions of readers in more than twenty languages. In addition to her acclaimed historical novel The River by Starlight and her globally renowned books on autism and, her articles and columns on such diverse subjects as history, genealogy, baseball, writing and community affairs have appeared in major publications and captured audiences on every continent.

The River by Starlight has been recognized with awards for historical, regional, and literary fiction. Its focus on maternal mental health and gender bias in the early 20th century explores a history rarely addressed in fiction.

Explore Ellen’s work and subscribe to her blogs and newsletter at http://www.ellennotbohm.com.

Connect through social media:

Facebook – Ellen Notbohm, Author

Twitter: @EllenNotbohm

Instagram: Ellen Notbohm

 

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