Mandy Eve-Barnett's Blog for Readers & Writers

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Creative Edge Author Interview – Sophie Mays is the pen name of author, Stephanie LaVigne

October 14, 2021
mandyevebarnett


  • What spurred you into writing stories in the first place?

I was always a big reader, which was red flag number one. Aside from reading though, I had always been writerly, I just didn’t know it would eventually manifest into fiction novels. I am one of those people with an overactive brain, plus I am a talker. So those two things combined are very conducive to be being a writer.

  • Can you tell us about the very first story you wrote?

When I think of my very first stories, I think back to things I wrote when I was in grade school and high school. I had an amazing honors English teacher in high school who was always challenging us in our creative writing. I wrote a lot of bad poems and decent short stories during that time. Then I wrote a lot of plays and screenplays in my twenties. However, my first proper novel was a quirky mystery book written when I went home for the holidays one year. I did a self-imposed NaNoWriMo, which meant sitting down on my parent’s back porch every day for a month and forcing out 50,000 words without going back to edit or second guess anything. I still haven’t published that book, but I think one day I will. Every few years I pull it out and work on it, then realize that I have other books that need to get done so it gets re-shelved for another day.

  • Why did you pick contemporary romance fiction as your genre?

It was originally because my mother-in-law was an avid romance reader. She tends to read a lot of authors like Debbie Macomber, so I set out to write books that she would enjoy. We’ve always had a lot of fun talking about plots and story ideas, and she has always been my go-to person when deciding on romance book covers. Along the way, I realized how much I enjoyed showing that even though life can have its ups and downs, “happily ever afters” are still possible.

  • Why you decide to write series rather than stand-a-lone novels?

Well, a lot of it has to do with the business end. It simply makes more sense to write in a series than unrelated stand-alones. Though I usually write standalone books within my series, meaning you don’t have to read them in order. However, as a reader myself, I am a total glutton for a series. I get roped in so easily, and once I get to know the characters or the town, I want to spend time there. I think a lot of other people feel the same way, so there is something natural about writing a series.

  • What in particular interests you about this genre?

I really like the reminder that ordinary people can have extraordinary lives, they can find love that lights them up, and can navigate through all the quirks and sometimes disasters of every day life. In spite of all the hurdles that life throws at us, we persevere, and eventually we prevail. I love that in the romance genre we strive to show the goodness in the world. We all need our hearts warmed a little more often, to laugh a lot more often, and to be shown that there are good and beautiful things for us out there in this big, old world.

  • What influences your choice of a location for each series?

I think I get my travel obsession catered to when I choose story locations. So far I have picked a lot of coastal locations, in addition to a number of locations that hold great appeal to me. Even though I usually create a fictional town, I try to set my books in places that I want to visit, or that I have spent time in and loved.

  • When writing a series – what comes first the characters, the location or an overall concept?

It is usually a combination. I usually start with a general story idea, which gives me the vague notion of the main character. Then I spent too much time thinking about the location and picking the perfect spot. Once I have the general premise of the location, then I go back in and really start fine-tuning the characters. Which in turn, changes the story in some ways. It’s a never-ending cycle!

  • Can you tell us a little about the Serenity Falls collection? Where did the idea of five siblings come from?

The first book in the series was actually part of a multi-author collaboration. Some other sweet romance writer friends and I wanted to do a Christmas collection together, however we were a slightly diverse group. Some wrote regency romance, some wrote mail order bride romance, and two of us wrote contemporary romance. So we did a lot of messages back-and-forth and several phone calls until we figured out a way to weave the story lines together where the first stories were set in Regency era England, and then those families came across to America. Then characters from that generation became mail order brides who made their way out west. Finally, the last books were there great-great-grandchildren of the mail order brides (I may be missing an extra great in there, but I can’t remember off the top of my head.) When it came time to come up with the story for my book, I knew that I wanted to write something on a ranch and I love the Rocky Mountains, plus I wanted the option to continue writing in the world if I was inspired to do so later on. That led to my creating my main character, Hannah Wyatt. I gave her a really sweet family with two loving parents and four other siblings, which became the Serenity Falls series. It’s ended up making for a really fun and lovable series with lots of unique love stories.

  • Who is your favorite author and why?

It’s terrible, but I don’t have favorites in general, and I definitely don’t have favorite authors. But for the sake of answering the question, I really love this author named A.J. Jacobs because I find his books hysterical. He has a book called The Know-It-All that I literally cried laughing while reading. It’s about the time he decided to read the Encyclopedia Britannica from A to Z. As you can imagine, this isn’t necessarily a book that would be universally considered high humor, but as a word person, I loved it. I’ve also always enjoyed Carl Hiaasen books. He was one of my first authors that inspired me to want to write novels. Plus, there are a ton of amazing female mystery authors that I’ve read and loved. I also read a lot of non-fiction reference books about any number of subjects that I’m interested in.

  1. How do you juggle life and writing?

Haha, poorly! Just kidding. Though, also not kidding. It is incredibly difficult to balance work and life, and I think that goes for almost everyone, not only authors. There is so much that goes into the business end of being a full-time writer. I am constantly doing my best to triage everything in my day-to-day life. I try to stay organized, but even that comes in bursts. Most days, I have about five hours to work before I leave to get my kids. It is somehow the shortest five hours known to man.

  1. Does traveling prompt your story ideas?

I haven’t done much traveling lately, but yes, traveling is always inspiring to me! Even when I’m not physically traveling, a lot of my story work is me tapping into locations I’ve spent time in, or places that I want to go. One of the great things about being a writer is that I get the excuse of looking up cool places that I want to visit for story “research”.

  1. Where can readers find you and your books?

You can sign up for my newsletter at www.SophieMays.com to keep up with me, and hear about my new releases and deals. Plus, I am on all the usual social platforms, like Amazon, Instagram, Facebook, Bookbub, and Goodreads. I’d love if you come and follow me so I can say hello to you wherever you like to hangout online!

  1. What are you currently writing?

I am working on the spin-off series to Serenity Falls, which follows their Wyatt cousins in the Riverside Ranch series. I am also working on two Romantic Comedy series which I am super excited about!

  1. Do you have a message for your readers?

If you’ve read my books before, thank you! You have made it possible for me to take this improbable dream and make it into my everyday life. For anyone out there reading this who has something in their heart that they wish they were brave enough to do or try, my encouragement is for you to take in a big breath and take the first step toward whatever that goal or intimidating thing is. It is never not worth trying. And I completely, boldly, lovingly support you and believe in you!

The Serenity Falls Complete Series: Sweet Romance at Wyatt Ranch

BIO:

From her home in Florida, she offsets sandy toes and ocean views with trips to her favorite
regions in quaint New England, cozy coastal Maine, the majestic Rocky Mountains, the dramatic
Pacific Northwest, the glimmering Caribbean, and the ever-charming South. Sometimes she does
this in real life, but she can always steal away to somewhere beautiful in her books.

When she’s not writing, she’s wrangling kids, spending time with her husband, doing laundry,
baking cookies, planning dream trips, or attempting to fine-tune her questionable gardening
skills. More information can be found at SophieMays.com

• Five unique siblings, five unexpected life changes •
Set against a gorgeous small-town mountain backdrop in Colorado, we follow five siblings as they each return home to help start a new family business.

From cowboys to unexpected newcomers, from weddings to high-stakes adventures, you will fall in love with this cozy small town in the Rocky Mountains and become friends with the Wyatt family. Meet Emma, Hannah, Anna-Jane, Carson, and Jake! Five very different personalities, each deserving of their own happily ever after…

Read all the books in the Serenity Falls series together! This Collection includes:

🤍 Wishes from the Heart (Hannah & Rafferty’s Story) 🤍 Art of the Heart (Anna-Jane & Cody’s Story) 🤍 Baking from the Heart (Emma & Gavin’s Story) 🤍 Call of the Wild Heart (Carson & Bella’s Story) 🤍 Detours of the Heart (Jake & Mackenzie’s Story)
Brisk mountain air and romance abound at the Wyatt Ranch! From bestselling author Sophie Mays comes this delightfully heartwarming sweet ranch romance series.

Whether you are falling in love alongside a baker, an artist, an ex-Navy Seal, or a world traveler – there’s something for everyone in Serenity Falls.

If you love uplifting, feel-good romance stories with irresistible characters, prepare to get roped into Sophie Mays’ Serenity Falls series!

Creative Edge Author Interview – Donna Conrad

September 9, 2021
mandyevebarnett


  • Were your core beliefs the reason you began writing historical fiction?

In a way, yes. I was an English and History major in college and had a hard time finding information about influential women. I was appalled that even noble and royal women were rarely named while historians wrote tomes about the deeds and misdeeds of their brothers, husbands, and fathers. I initially felt compelled to give voice to women who had been marginalized, let alone completely overlooked. When I came across the African proverb, “Until the lion learns to write, every story will glorify the hunter,” I knew I must write novels about significant women based on strong historical evidence which had been supressed.

  • Did you grow up in an atmosphere of individual empowerment or did life experiences propel you in that direction?

My childhood was anything but empowering. I was terrified of my psychotic, authoritarian father, and ashamed of my mother, who did not stand up for herself, but instead fell headfirst into a bottle of whiskey to cope with her life. And yet, I always knew my mother and sister loved me unconditionally, something that sustained me through the trauma that was both my youth and the Sixties in general.

Despite her own demons, my mother managed to raise my sister and me to be strong, independent women. I learned from her example and vowed early on to never subjugate myself to another’s will, whether that of a person, a government, or a religion. When I met my husband, I realized he valued my independence. He encouraged me to be empowered and a freethinker. We’ve been married for 44 years and are still equal partners striving to become more self-aware. My husband tells people, “No one yells at Donna … twice.”

Book Cover, Cold Creek Press
  •  Where did the link to Celtic Tradition come from?

My mother was Irish and never felt quite at home with Christian dogma. She raised me in the “old ways,” which she learned from her grandmother. We celebrated the Celtic Wheel of the Year. As I child I loved the freedom to run in the fields and lay under a tree as my form of worship. I was taught that all things have a lifeforce, whether that be rock, tree, river, ocean, animal, or human. The earth-based spirituality practiced by the Celts felt natural and liberating. I gave Christianity a try in my early teens but found the basis of original sin constricting and repressive. As I grew older, I embraced my mother’s tradition and researched the “old ways” through books, retreats, and eventually leading my own quarter day celebrations.

  • Do you feel women’s wisdom is supressed in modern culture?

There is a resurgence of respect for women’s wisdom in many parts of the world. If we look back 200 years, or even 100 years, women who expressed wisdom were shunned, if not murdered. Even in fairy tales, the wise old woman, the woman who knows herbs and healing and speaks with the forest animals, is always a haggard, old, evil witch, that preys on children and the unwary; someone to be scorned. With women in the forefront, late 19th and early 20th century occult spirituality led by Madame Blavatsky’s Theosophical Society and Annie Horniman’s Order of the Golden Dawn, women began to openly reclaim their personal power.

With the “women’s rights” movement of the early 1970s, and courageous leaders like Gloria Steinem, women began to publicly claim their inner wisdom and outer proficiency.

What we see from a historical perspective, is that anytime women advance in society it is through their own leadership and determination. The #MeToo movement is a great example of women joining together to bring about change. I’m speaking in broad terms of empowerment, but respect for women in all aspects of their lives, including women’s wisdom, cannot be separated from women’s empowerment.

While most of the world still suppresses women’s wisdom, there are pockets of light where women are honored. The Maiden, Mother, Crone aspects of women are certainly making gains, even though the perceived roles of women as Temptress, Whore, Witch, persist.

  • How did growing up in the 1960s affect your personality?

The Sixties were remarkable. Young people felt anything and everything was possible if we wanted it badly enough. The sixties stereotypical “free-love” culture received most of the press, but it was the larger desire to embrace “free-thinking” that motivated my generation. Definitely me. Conforming, following rules, becoming our parents with their warped sense of patriarchal rule, was anathema. My generation believed that if we united, we could affect change—and we united as had rarely been seen. My mother always encouraged me to think for myself. She encouraged me to question authority, even hers, and when given an answer, question that too!

As I grew older, went to college, started teaching high school English, I found that I could carry my values from the Sixties with me into the “adult” world, use them to help others find their own uniqueness, their own authenticity. The Sixties concepts of freedom of thought, freedom of action, freedom to live as one wanted, were tempered by another guiding star from my mother: Do no harm.

I continue to question authority, laws, regulations, first impressions, and the nature of people who enter and leave my life. I value unique qualities in people and depend on my inner sense to form, and break, my own opinions.

  • You wear many hats – memoirist, fiction author, journalist, activist, and teacher. Do these roles contribute to your writing?

Everything a writer does, or doesn’t do, influences what they write. I’ve found that even the agonizing writer’s-block is there for a reason: To shine a spotlight on what is blocked or hiding in one’s life at that moment. The many hats I’ve worn lend me varied perspectives about people’s actions and motivations.

I started writing the first book in my historical fiction series, The Last Magdalene, before I wrote House of the Moon: Surviving the Sixties. I realized my fascination with women marginalized throughout history was partially because I too had been marginalized and silenced; that my generation arose to claim our voice, to make certain we were not ignored. Writing my memoir was both traumatic and liberating. When I found I was able to write an unvarnished version of my teen years, it became imperative that I do the same for other women. I went back to square one and wrote The Last Magdalene from a deeper level of comprehension.

I find that the common thread in everything I do is to be authentic and to allow myself to change perspectives as I learn more about “life, the universe, and everything”—to quote one of my favorite authors, Douglas Adams.

  • From where do you gather your research? (Library, archives, internet etc.)

I use every means available but find physical books and research papers especially gratifying. I also like to travel to locations in order soak up the ambiance, feel the sun or rain, hear the sounds, touch the stones, eat the food, and immerse myself in the history of any given place. I even went back to my childhood home in Covina, California and walked around my high school while writing House of the Moon.

My research for The Last Magdalene includes studying with a Hebraic scholar, Shana Laxx, from Haifa University, to better understand women’s place and participation in ancient Judea. The primary written sources for my series, The Magdalene Chronicles, are from my personal library and include works by several Roman and Egyptian historians, Josephus, Elaine Pagels, and multiple translations of both the Torah and New Testament. I find reading various renditions of history to be illuminating, and helps me to see differences in various editions, and more importantly what one translator left out, or added.

I do refer to the internet but am skeptical about fast and easy searches. I end up going down the rabbit hole for hours on end trying to source information, and often end up back in my personal library, or emailing university professors who are always helpful and eager to aid in my research.

  • What surprising things did you learn from writing your books?

How much I don’t know!

I’m also continually surprised at how interconnected people are, even when there are no physical ties that bind. But above all other surprises, the reach of the written word is what continues. Books have been a major source of inspiration throughout my life. Maya Angelou, Alan Ginsberg, Hunter Thompson, Marion Zimmer-Bradley, Sharon Kay Penman, and so many other authors and poets have shaped my perspectives, given me both hope and despair. When someone contacts me to say my writing has impacted their lives, I’m hugely surprised and gratified.

  • Where can readers find you and your books?

My website is www.donnaconrad.com.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Dconrad999

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/donnadconrad/  

Twitter: https://twitter.com/DonnaDConrad999

Or send me an email at donna@donnaconrad.com.

I also teach at various conferences. The next workshop on the agenda is Real vs. Reality, a hands-on workshop to help writers take facts and turn them into dynamic prose. https://www.pnwa.org/page/ConferenceRegistation

I am also represented by Creative Edge: http://www.creative-edge.services

  • What message do you want to give your readers?

Every person can make a difference, but it takes courage and authenticity. Don’t doubt your abilities or your insights. To quote Oscar Wilde, “Be yourself. Everybody else is already taken.”

Bio

Donna Conrad is an award-winning author, journalist, activist, and teacher. Her core values revolve around the concept of individual empowerment, a sustaining ideal running through the books she writes. Her writing interests are varied and include articles for fine-art periodicals, memoir/narrative non-fiction, as well as historical, flash, and paranormal fiction. She teaches all of the above at writers’ conferences.

Her first published book “House of the Moon: Surviving the Sixties,” has received rave reviews.

Donna’s life is as varied as her writing. She embraces change as an exciting adventure. She has studied writing with the likes of Alan Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and Jack Whyte. She has also been mentored by Donald Maass, whom she worked with privately on her upcoming four-book historical fiction series, “The Magdalene Chronicles.” Book One, The Last Magdalene, is scheduled for publication April 2022.

She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and their five cats. When she’s not writing, you can find Donna cruising the back roads in her black-on-black Miata MX-5, Maya – named for one of her favorite poets, Maya Angelou.

Her memoir, House of the Moon; Surviving the Sixties has received critical acclaim. The first of her four-book historical fiction series, The Last Magdalene, is scheduled for publication April 2022.

Author Interview – John Mavin

June 17, 2021
mandyevebarnett


  1. You have experienced a multitude of jobs – have these experiences given you insights for the characters in your stories, within your book Rage and other writing?

Yes and no.

Yes in that I have based characters on past jobs for some of my writing. For example, two stories which appear in Rage are about archaeologists (“Deposition” and “The Edmore Snyders”) and I did work as a salvage archaeologist for about six years. Consequently, both of these stories carry elements which are very much true to life.

However, most of my stories are not based on past employment. To keep looking at the stories in Rage, I’ve never been a mountain climber, a priest, or a teenage girl (and probably never will be). To look at some of my other past jobs, I’ve never published a story about writers, software developers, or graphic designers–in fact, I find most of my past employment doesn’t excite me enough to craft share-worthy fiction from it. It’s the experiences I’ve had (which may or may not have come tangentially from those jobs) which inspire me, shock me, give me joy, disgust me, scare me, or piss me off so much I find myself mining for my fiction.

I’ll wrap this up by saying I am a strong proponent of thorough research and writers getting their facts as correct as possible. If I can use a past job to get my facts right, I’ll do it. If I need to interview people who’ve experienced the things I’m writing about, I’ll talk to them. I find story elements which don’t ring true to life (or at least my experience of it) can bring me out of a story faster than anything else–and I try very hard to never do that to my readers.

  • Your path into writing was the result of an unusual message, please tell us about it and if now you are convinced or otherwise to the validity of that message?

I’m not sure if the message you’re referring to was actually my path into writing (I’ve been making stuff up for almost as long as I can remember), but that message was most certainly the catalyst which finally got my ass in gear and helped me focus on my dream of becoming an author.

The message was this: you’re on a path for destruction and unless you change your ways, you are going to die. The deliverer of that message was a tarot reader I’d met at a party in New Orleans, and when she told me this, it scared the shit out of me. At the time I was a rather unhappy software developer and I chose to interpret her message to mean I should abandon my career in information technology and give writing a real, honest, both-feet-in effort (I also remember hoping this was not a medical thing).

As a result, I completely refocused my life. I enrolled in some continuing education classes in creative writing and for the first time in a long while felt truly happy (like I was where I was supposed to be). My instructors were encouraging, my classmates were invested, and everyone took the writing thing seriously. I learned a lot. When I got enough decent material together for a portfolio, I applied to Simon Fraser University’s year-long program, The Writer’s Studio. Coincidentally enough, that was the time I got downsized from my software development job, so I was given the luxury of being able to focus on my studies full time. At SFU, I got involved in the local literary community, met many interesting people, and learned even more. Then, I took my biggest leap and applied to the Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program at the University of British Columbia. I’ve got to say when I got my acceptance letter from UBC, I did the biggest happy dance of my life. UBC was a fantastic experience for me, where I met even more interesting people, got involved in teaching creative writing, and learned an awful lot more.

In the end, whether or not I’m convinced of the validity of that message doesn’t really matter–I acted on that message, destroyed my old life, and created a new one I’m very happy with.

  • In teaching creative writing is it an advantage or a disadvantage to your own creativity?

It’s both.

Advantageous in that I get to meet many people with creative ideas so very different from my own. As a writer I don’t get out much, and talking to other writers about stories and other creative things is something I both enjoy and constantly learn from.

The downside for my creativity I experience from teaching is that I let it pull me away from my writing time. When I’m teaching a class, I feel it’s only fair to give my students my full attention, so whether I’m critiquing homework assignments or preparing lesson plans, I find I’m not writing as much of my own material as I’d like (in fact, I find I don’t write at all while I’ve got a course in session).

  • What writing process is the most comfortable for you – pantser or planner?

I’d like to be able to say I’m a planner, but that’s not entirely the truth. While I outline meticulously (not only do I take comfort in an outline, I’ve also discovered outlining saves me from having to write at least a full draft or two), I almost always deviate from my outline and end up pantsing to some degree as I go along. Now that could mean I’m further refining within the scope of my outline, but it could also mean I’ve got to throw away my current outline when I come up with something better (which happens often). As I’ve discovered my own writing process, I’ve realized my first drafts don’t look very much like my second drafts, and my final drafts are very different from what I first envisioned for my story (that’s not to say I only write three drafts–my current work in progress is on draft 10.7). So, um, yeah, I’m a bit of a hybrid.

  • How do you find inspiration and time to write?

As for time, I’m very lucky in that aside from the occasional teaching gig, all I do professionally is write (I’m also very lucky to have an extremely patient and generously supportive wife). As for inspiration, that’s been a bit trickier for me these past two years (as I suspect it has for a lot of people). I usually find my inspiration (whether it’s from things which shock me, give me joy, disgust me, scare me, or piss me off) from meeting new people, going to new places, and doing new things. As those stimuli have been somewhat curtailed lately, being inspired has become a bit of a challenge. I’m currently relying on memory and my outlines to carry me through my work.

  • What determines which genre/style your write in? (Short story, play, or poetry)

I haven’t been writing for the stage lately, and I’m not doing much short fiction or poetry, either. What I’ve been focusing on is longer fiction (the word count of the latest complete draft of my current WIP is about 120,000 words).

That being said, I did take a break from my novel and publish a short story in Speculative North last year. It’s about a werewolf desperately trying to keep her shit together while contending with increasing provocations from sources which have no regard for her as a person whatsoever (by the way, there should be an adult content warning if anyone decides they want to read that story–which anyone can for free by following the Free Downloads link on my website [http://www.johnmavin.com/downloads.html]). I knew that story would be short (it’s only about 7,900 words, admittedly long for a short story) as what I wanted to say wouldn’t have filled a novel.

So I guess that’s my answer–it’s what I want to say about a given idea that determines which genre or style I’ll use. My current WIP is too big and has too much world building to be effective in short formats so I’ve gone long. For my stage plays, it was usually the effect on a live audience I was going for (for example, my one-act play Daguerreotype–also available on my Free Downloads page–is an intentionally uncomfortable experience which is different for each person in the audience, depending on when they figure out what is really going on). For my poetry, if what I’m looking for is the emotional equivalent of a quick punch, that’s the genre I’ll choose.

  • You offer writing courses – what made you decide to do this?

I like to share and I like to teach. Back when I was taking my MFA, my grad advisor looked at my proposed schedule and called me in for a meeting. She said I’d signed up for too many courses and had to limit my choices–specifically, she asked me to choose between a class on teaching creative writing and a class on journal publication. While I was disappointed I couldn’t take both, making that choice was easy (I chose the teaching class).

  • Do you have a current WIP? Can you tell us about it?

I’m currently working on (and have been for far too long) a dark fantasy trilogy. I’m not yet at the stage where I can publicly say much about it, but I will say it’s set in a secondary world and deals with belief, deceit, and what happens to the soul after death. Oh, and yeah, the cast is very much filled with morally questionable characters (as with most of my writing, no one is truly good and no one is truly evil–they’re all hybrids, which I find true to life, or at least my experience of it).

  • How important do you feel creativity is – no matter the medium?

Very, very important. I believe humans have an innate need to create in almost all situations. Whether that creativity is expressed through writing short stories, composing music, painting pictures, solving problems, completing work, or even getting dressed is immaterial–everyone is creative. I realize I’m not expressing this very well, but I do know someone who can: his name is Jim Jackson and he has a podcast called Radio Creative, in which he looks at ways to expand people’s natural creativity and tap into it when they want to in their life, work and art. Full disclosure–Jim had me on as a guest a while back–but he’s also interviewed chefs, business consultants, and lawyers besides editors and writers). I recommend giving Radio Creative a listen. [https://anchor.fm/radiocreative/]

  1. Where can readers find you?

The best place to find me online is my website, http://www.johnmavin.com, where I’ve got links to both my Facebook page [www.facebook.com/author.john.mavin] as well as my Goodreads profile [www.goodreads.com/author/show/16623050.John_Mavin].

  1.  Do you have a message for your readers?

Um, you mean beyond “hello, thanks for reading my stuff, please read more of my stuff, and I’d really appreciate it if you gave my stuff an honest review on Goodreads and/or Amazon”?

Okay, for something much less self-serving, how about this…I came across a meme on Facebook the other day which struck me as apropos. It went something like this:

List of Books to Read Before You Die

1. Any book you want.

2. Don’t read books you don’t want to read.

3. That’s it. The meme goes on, but at its core, I really liked its message

A chilling collection of stories unraveling the consequences of longing, broken trust, and deceit.

BIO:

John Mavin is the author of the dark literary collection Rage who’s taught creative writing at Capilano University, Simon Fraser University, the University of British Columbia, with New Shoots (through the Vancouver School Board), and at the Learning Exchange in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. He’s a graduate of SFU’s The Writer’s Studio and also holds an MFA in Creative Writing from UBC. A past nominee for both the Aurora Award and the Journey Prize, his work has been translated, studied, and published internationally. He invites you to visit him online at http://www.johnmavin.com or follow him on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/author.john.mavin.

You can find John at Wine Country Writer’s Festival September 24 – 25, 2021

Wine Country Writer's Festival

This years festival will take place VIRTUALLY and be chock full of advice, fun, learning, meetings and of course a little bit of wine. https://winecountrywritersfestival.ca/the-presenters/

Author Interview – Nina Munteanu

October 10, 2020
mandyevebarnett


  1. When did you first start writing?

Not until I was a teenager when I wrote my first complete novel (“Caged-In World”—which later served as a very rough draft for my first published novel, “Darwin’s Paradox”). My first published work was my non-fiction article “Environmental Citizenship” which appeared in Shared Vision Magazine in 1995. My first fiction work was a short story entitled “Arc of Time”, which was published in Armchair Aesthete in 2002. However, I told stories long before I wrote them and long before any of them was published. I told stories in the form of cartoons. Since I was a small child, I wanted to be a cartoonist and write graphic novels (back then I knew them as comics). I created several strips with crazy characters that I drew, blending my love for drawing with my love for storytelling.

  • What made you decide on science fiction as a genre?

That goes back to my love for comics. I wasn’t much of a reader as a kid. While my older brother and sister devoured The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew series, I secreted myself in the back corner of Williams General store and read Superman and Superboy, Supergirl, Batman, The Fantastic Four, Flash, Magnus Robot Fighter and Green Lantern. I was obviously enamoured with the fantastic. When I earnestly started to read things other than comics, I came across the SF classics: Huxley, Orwell, Heinlein, Clarke, Silverberg and Asimov to name a few. Bradbury sent me over the moon and his “Martian Chronicles” made me cry. I wanted to write like him and move readers like he’d done with me.

The reason I continue to write in this genre is because of its ability to encompass the creative imagination and application of metaphor to story. Given its wide range of possibilities in creating a believable reality of the fantastic, science fiction provides a compelling platform for metaphoric storytelling. Possibilities for powerful archetypes abound. Where else can you make water an actual character?   

  • Was the ecological aspect of your stories a gradual realization or your primary objective?

My primary objective was always to tell a compelling and meaningful story and hopefully to move readers. The ecological aspects slid in unannounced like a shadow character. It made sense: the environment and how we treat it (and ourselves by extension) has always been something important to me since I was a child. So, while I was writing science fiction, it was also eco-fiction. When the brand became more known, I realised that this was the kind of science fiction I was writing most of the time. 

  • Do you prefer writing novels or short stories?

I love writing both forms. Each form challenges in a different way and each lends itself to a different kind of story. Since I was a child, I had wanted to write novels. But as I got older and became familiar with the publishing industry, I learned that one of the best ways to get exposure and credentials to successfully publish a first novel was to get known as a published short story writer. So, I started writing short stories. I didn’t write them very well at first; they read like novel-wannabies. And that’s exactly the feedback I got from the magazines I submitted to. Then I figured it all out and I started to sell my short stories. Lots of them. And reprints too. They’ve even won some awards! When I published my first novel in 2007, I didn’t stop writing short. While my love for the novel drives my writing (I have published nine novels so far), I love the short form for its challenges and need for discipline and its powerful platform of “short.”  I am particularly proud of my two latest shorts: “Alien Landscape” in The Group of Seven Reimagined (2019); and “Out of the Silence” in subTerrain Magazine, Issue 85 (2020).

  • Does your teaching aid your writing or the other way around?

Both. I teach writing skills to scientists, medical students and engineers. I also teach creatives who are learning to write long and short fiction. What I find is that my writing and publishing experiences—both the successes and the failures—help me share more practical lessons with my students. Experiences with my students also help my writing. In fact, my latest non-fiction book—the third book of my Alien Guidebook Series on place as character (“The Ecology of Story: World as Character”)—came largely from my experiences with my students.

  • Do you prefer writing fiction or non-fiction?

I love both forms for different reasons. If I had to pick one from passion, I’d pick fiction and its expression of my imagination; if I had to pick one from utility and general satisfaction, I’d pick non-fiction for how it responds to and communicates reality. Having said that, they are more like each other than many readers realize. Both tell stories. Both use compelling narrative with a tease or hook and final conclusion. Both require research. Both must create a believable “reality” and both dispense truth—in non-fiction truth is literal and in fiction it is metaphoric. But then there are hybrids out there such as creative non-fiction and diaries or journals. And finally my latest piece of fiction—“A Diary in the Age of Water”—that reports on real events and real people.

  • Can you tell us about your newest book “A Diary in the Age of Water”?

The book is essentially a journey of four generations of women, who have a unique relationship with water, during climate change and water shortage. The book spans over forty years (from the 2020s to the 2060s) and into the far future, mostly through the diary of a limnologist (someone who studies freshwater), which is found by a future water-being. During the diarist’s lifetime, all things to do with water are overseen and controlled by the international giant water utility CanadaCorp—with powers to arrest and detain anyone. This is a world in which China owns America and America, in turn, owns Canada. The limnologist witnesses and suffers through severe water taxes and imposed restrictions, dark intrigue through neighbourhood water betrayals, corporate spying and espionage, and repression of her scientific freedoms. Some people die. Others disappear…

  • How did you come up with the concept for the book?

It started with a short story I was invited to write in 2015 about water and politics in Canada.  I had long been thinking of potential ironies in Canada’s water-rich heritage. The premise I wanted to explore was the irony of people in a water-rich nation experiencing water scarcity: living under a government-imposed daily water quota of 5 litres as water bottling and utility companies took it all. I named the story “The Way of Water.” It was about a young woman (Hilda) in near-future Toronto who has run out of water credits for the public wTap; by this time houses no longer have potable water and their water taps have been cemented shut; the only way to get water is through the public wTaps—at great cost. She’s standing two metres from water—in a line of people waiting to use the tap—and dying of thirst.

The Way of Water” captures a vision that explores the nuances of corporate and government corruption and deceit together with global resource warfare. In this near-future, Canada is mined of all its water by thirsty Chinese and US multinationals—leaving nothing for the Canadians. Rain has not fallen on Canadian soil in years due to advances in geoengineering and weather manipulation that prevent rain clouds from going anywhere north of the Canada-US border. If you’re wondering if this is possible, it’s already happening in China and surrounding countries.

  • Is there anything else you would like to mention or advise your readers?

I’m often also asked why I chose to write the fiction book as mostly a diary. I was writing about both the far and the near future and much of it was based—like Margaret Atwood and her books—on real events and even real people. I wanted personal relevance to what was going on, particularly with climate change. I also wanted to achieve a gritty realism of “the mundane” and a diary felt right. Lynna—the diarist—is also a reclusive inexpressive character, so I thought a personal diary would help bring out her thoughts and feelings more. There’s nothing like eves-dropping to make the mundane exciting. The diary-aspect of the book characterizes it as “mundane science fiction” by presenting an “ordinary” setting for characters to play out. The tension arises more from insidious cumulative events and circumstances that slowly grow into something incendiary. 

  1. Where can readers find your work?

In the usual places: in the local libraries or book stores, on Amazon, Kobo, Barnes & Noble and through the publisher. You can also go to my writing / coaching website www.ninamunteanu.me where I keep an updated publication list and a bookstore window to other bookselling outlets. Most of my books are available in several formats: print, ebook, audiobook.

Bio:

Nina Munteanu is a Canadian ecologist / limnologist and award-winning novelist and short story writer. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Nina’s non-fiction book “Water Is…” by Pixl Press was selected by Margaret Atwood in the New York Times ‘Year in Reading’ and was chosen as the 2017 Summer Read by Water Canada. “A Diary in the Age of Water” is her thirteenth book.

Find Nina’s books here: http://www.ninamunteanu.ca/bookstore/

Website:http://www.ninamunteanu.me

Find Nina on FacebookTwitterLinkedInTumblr and Pinterest

https://www.amazon.ca/s?i=stripbooks&rh=p_27%3ANina+Munteanu&s=relevancerank&text=Nina+Munteanu&ref=dp_byline_sr_book_1

Author Toolbox Blog Hop- Character Building

August 13, 2020
mandyevebarnett


character-cube

Whether you spend time intricately plotting and creating your story line or let the story flow unbidden, one facet of all stories that must be created and created well are its characters. Your protagonist, antagonist and all the supporting characters have a ‘job’ to do. They must give our readers an insight into their personalities, their struggles, ambitions and fears. Characters build the ‘world’ you have set your characters within by showing it through their eyes, their thoughts and actions.

Every writer has his or her own methods, when it comes to the creation of a character.

  1. Name,
  2. Physical attributes
  3. Personality traits.
  4. Setting.

For example, Setting: an alien being trapped in a spacecraft, a monster hunting its prey or specific behavior traits for period pieces.

Physical features: This primarily gives our readers an image but more importantly an idea of their personality. A thin, acne-faced teenager will not automatically give our readers the idea of a ‘superman’ kind of personality but a muscle bound, athletic type could.

Name: a good starting point for our creation, but it is also a minefield. Research into real persons, living or dead should be foremost, unless of course you are writing about that particular person.

Accent: a character’s voice says a lot about their location and background.

Real people or not: We can base characters on people we know or a combination of several or from people watching – an author’s favorite pastime. As writers situations, overheard conversation and life in general is a constant source of inspiration.

character-development (1)

There are numerous ‘character development work sheets’ available on the Internet and it can be useful to fill them in for your main characters, if you have no clear ‘picture’ of them to begin with.

I tend to write the story letting my characters dictate how their story will unfold. In so doing the characters develop creating their own story. This tends to change the narrative from my initial perception.  In this way they may develop characteristics I had not considered or react quite differently to a situation from my preconceived idea. This method may seem harder than having a detailed description of each pivotal character, their backstory and emotional compass, but it is my method.

We ‘live’ with our characters for a long time and they become ‘real’ to us. This enables us to write the story with ‘insider knowledge’ of our characters backstory, their emotional compass and their ultimate goal. This knowledge becomes paramount during the subsequent drafts and editing process, giving us a well-rounded character and a believable one for our readers. In truth, the initial draft is the testing ground for our characters, and revisions make them well rounded and ‘believable’.

Character profile

How do you create your characters?

Recognize these characters? Remember how irate poor Wile E Coyote would become with Road Runner? No matter what he did he never succeeded in catching his ‘dinner’. Beep, beep would ring out as yet another ACME kit damaged the coyote instead of the bird. It was truly a lesson in perseverance. No matter how many times the speedy bird escaped the coyote he would try, try, try again. I actually went past a road sign to Acme on my way to Canmore one time and wished I could have made a detour just for the fun of it.

wile-e-coyote-roadrunner

The art of creating such lovable and memorable characters is what every author strives for. We hope our creations will stay in our readers minds long after the last page has turned. Character profiles and back story play a large part in ensuring our characters are well rounded and believable. We delve into their personality type seeking out traits and habits to make them react to their crisis situations in an authentic way.

Do you make up scenarios for people you observe? Have any made it in to a manuscript?

 

Without characters our stories would have no real impact on our readers. We write to engage and intrigue them and hopefully make our protagonist the character our reader cares about. If your experience is anything like mine, there is usually one, or possibly two characters, that make their presence known in no uncertain terms. They want the starring role in our narrative. These characters are usually more defined in our minds and are ‘easier’ to relate to, whether because of a personality trait or that they are more fun to write. When creating the protagonist and antagonist in our stories, we give each opposing views and/or values. This is the basis of the conflict that carries our readers along their journey. Each character, whether major or minor, needs to have flaws and redeeming features, motivations, expectations, loyalties and deterrents.

With such a guideline our characters become clearer. A lot of the details will never reach the pages of our manuscript but knowing our characters well makes for a more believable personality as they struggle through the trials and tribulations, we subject them to. As most of you know I am a ‘free flow’ writer so everything is by the seat of my pants until the editing starts. This is where I find character flaws or great character traits that I can correct or build upon. My characters live with me during the writing process and usually lead me in directions I had never considered – I’m sure many of you can relate to that. As these personalities gain strength they become more ‘real’ and that is the moment their true selves appear.

When creating characters we must remember to ensure that each character acts and responds true to their given personality. Character profiles are a good way of ‘getting to know’ our characters. For example this sheet.

character

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