Sunday, May 24, 2009

[Interview] Kathy-Diane Leveille

Author Kathy-Diane Leveille is a former broadcast journalist with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBS) and is a member of Sisters in Crime; International Thriller Writers; Kiss of Death RWA and Crime Writers of Canada.

Her short story collection, Roads Unravelling (Sumach Press, 2003) was published to critical acclaim. A selection from its pages, "Learning to Spin", was adapted to radio drama for CBC’s Summer Drama Festival while "Showdown at the Four Corner’s Corral" was revised for the stage and performed by New City Theater in Saint John.

Her work has also been published in anthologies that include Water Studies: New Voices in Maritime Fiction (Pottersfield Press, 1998) and New Brunswick Short Stories (Neptune, 2003) as well as in a number of literary journals, among them, Grain; Room of One's Own; The Oklahoma Review; Pottersfield Portfolio and The Cormorant.

Let the Shadows Fall Behind You (Kunati, 2009), is her first novel.

In this interview, Kathy-Diane Leveille talks about her writing.

When did you start writing?

I wrote my first poem when I was in Grade 1:

Oh Father Dear, I’m glad you’re here
So we can celebrate this day, with a Doran’s beer.

Of course I didn’t understand why my teacher’s eyes rounded with horror when she read it. That was my first lesson in discovering that not everyone will welcome the truth in what you write.

My mother sewed paper together for me so I could write books when I played library, but I really didn’t have any desire to write until I was in Grade 6. I was secretly in love with our new teacher from Toronto, Miss Matthews. (Yes, she was the inspiration for the character, Miss Matthews, in Let the Shadows Fall Behind You.)

One day Miss Matthew glided to my desk, scarf fluttering, and delicate cologne filling my nostrils. She announced she loved the story I’d written, and that it would make a great radio play.

I was stunned.

I had no idea that the words I scribbled like mad would actually elicit such a strong and positive response in someone else. It was my first inkling that words were powerful.

I wrote and produced a few radio dramas that year, and also wrote and directed the class Christmas play.

When did you decide you wanted to be a published writer?

I’m a former broadcast journalist with CBC radio.

Seventeen years ago, when I was home on maternity leave with my youngest son, I dug out an old file of story ideas and started scribbling. By the time the date arrived when I was supposed to return to work, I had already decided that I didn’t want to keep putting my dream of writing fiction on the back burner.

Since then I’ve done different jobs, including being a janitor and typing medical transcription, to give me the time and energy to pursue my passion.

My first book Roads Unravelling, a collection of short stories set on the Kennebecasis River where I live, was published a few years ago. Let the Shadows Fall Behind You, released this spring, is my first novel.

Who is your target audience? And, what motivated you to write for this audience?

Anyone who loves a good psychological suspense story.

I tend to discover a new author in the genre and compulsively read every single thing they’ve written. Lately, I’ve been devouring the works of Nicci French, a husband and wife British team. Maybe I’m just intrigued that this collaboration continues without self-combusting. I can’t imagine my husband and me surviving a writing project long enough to type THE END.

I really like sophisticated screen thrillers, too, like Fatal Attraction and Wall Street, and have watched both quite a few times. I just love the mechanics of the plot paired with superb characterizations. I think every movie I watch and book I read informs my writing to some degree, because when the story transports me, I am always curious as to why and try hard to nail it down. Hopefully, I’ve done it with Let the Shadows Fall Behind You.

How have your personal experiences influenced your writing?

Working in the field of journalism offered valuable training in discipline. You’re working to a deadline to produce stories whether you like it or not. There were many times I sat down at the computer with absolutely no idea of where to go. You learn in journalism to have faith in the process, that you can start with nothing and eventually something will take shape and grow. It was a tremendous mentorship in the art of research, fact checking and honing the 5 W’s.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

The most difficult thing about writing is returning to the page when the initial excitement over a story idea has worn off and I’m riddled with doubts about my ability to translate the vision to the reader. However, I’ve learned through the years that I must keep going back, that eventually the doubts fade and something sparks and I fall in love with my characters all over again. It is that moment, ironically, that is the most exciting about writing because I always learn something from my character’s journey.

I believe writer’s block comes with the territory. At first, I despair, convinced whatever I’m working on should be tossed. But usually after reflection, a long walk or a trip to the library, I realize I need a break from the writing. For me writer’s block comes because the well is dry. I need to get out and enjoy life. It usually takes one or two days before suddenly a window opens in the block (when I’m doing something totally mundane like having my tooth drilled), and suddenly I’m antsy to be set free to grab a pen and paper.

What are the biggest challenges that you face?

Rejection of the work you’ve spent so much time on is always a blow. The only cure for my disappointment has always been writing. Before you know it, I’m caught up in the characters and the mystery of their journey. Sometimes it helps to work on a completely different project. If anything, I figure I must have learned something by now to make this one come closer to the mark.

Do you write everyday?

I have a large chair that could fit three people in its lap. It allows me to keep lots of books, pads of paper and pens by my side. Directly across from the chair is a large picture window three-quarters sky and one-quarter river that is constantly shifting in light and color.

I usually start with a pen and pad for the inspiration stage, then move to the computer for the perspiration stage. When I get to a place where I’m uncertain as to how to proceed, I always go back to pen and paper. I think there’s some mechanism in that tactile exercise that frees the right brain to soar.

I usually begin by simultaneously visualizing a situation that causes an upheaval in life, and hearing a character’s voice emote their reaction to it. It’s a very strange process and definitely has my husband worried some days; especially when he dusts the books on my research shelf: Handbook of Poisons and Crime Scene Investigation.

How many books have you written so far?

My first book, Roads Unravelling, is a collection of short stories set on the river where I live on the east coast of Canada. It was published by Sumach Press in 2002 to critical acclaim when "Learning to Spin" was adapted to radio drama and aired on the CBC Summer Drama Festival.

My second book Let the Shadows Fall Behind You is a suspense novel published in the spring of 2009 by Kunati Books.

How long did it take you to write Let the Shadows Fall Behind You?

It took about five years to write Let the Shadows Fall Behind You from the initial idea stage to publication. Partly, it was because I had so much to learn about novel writing; but I’m a slow writer. I need to do a draft and then set it side before digging it out again.

Ultimately, Let the Shadows Fall Behind You is a story about coming to terms with the past and letting it go.

The truth is people disappear from our lives all the time; the fiction is the belief in our control to bring them back.

Let the Shadows Fall Behind You celebrates the strength of women’s friendship.

What did you find most difficult when you were working on the book?

I think when you write mystery novels, constructing the murder scenes is always difficult. The theme of suspense is positive not negative. When you get to the last page, the story is about the triumph of good over evil. Those short times I, as a writer, have to step inside a psychopath’s mind are always a bit grizzly.

What did you enjoy most?

Turn to the opposite side of the coin, which is the protagonist who is flawed and human, but still contains the kind of heroism, hope and strength I admire.

What sets this book apart from other things you've written?

I absolutely love the freedom a novel provides in comparison to a short story. The canvas is so much larger, and there is so much opportunity to stretch your creative muscles.

Tackling a novel was a steep learning curve for me. I had to write three or four in order to learn the many elements involved, and I’m still learning. I can remember that feeling of breaking through, however, when I knew that I was finally juggling all the balls of character, setting, plot, theme, pacing and not dropping any. It was, and is, tremendously satisfying.

What will your next book be about?

My next suspense novel, In Cold Storage, is about finding the courage to believe in yourself.

What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

Having my own books displayed on the shelves at the library. When I was growing up, the library was my sanctuary and source of inspiration and grace.

There is no feeling comparable to having my books published and joining the authors who opened new worlds and ideas to me. Picture the arrival of Christmas morning, the thrill of hearing a newborn baby’s cry and the rush of your first kiss all rolled into one. My husband and I do the happy-happy joy dance. He’s my number one cheerleader and gets more excited than I do!

However, he does get nervous when I start digging plots in the garden, and discussing ideas for a new character who murders her spouse.

Possibly related books:

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Thursday, May 21, 2009

[Interview] E. R. Fussell

Lawyer and author, E. R. Fussell was born in Peru to American citizens and moved back to the United States at the age of five.

He received his law degree from Loyola Law School in Los Angeles and began practicing law in California. Since 1972, he has practiced law in his hometown of LeRoy, New York.

In this interview, E. R. Fussell talks about the life and work of his grandfather, Joe Fussell, author of Unbridled Cowboy (Truman State University Press, 2008).

Who is Joe Fussell?

Joseph B. Fussell was born in Tyler, Texas in 1879 and was the son of a cowboy and buffalo hunter. At fourteen, he quit school, ran away from home and trekked across the Southwest working as a cowboy and livery stable operator.

At 27, he married and began a family.

Ten years later, when Mexico was in the throes of civil war, he travelled to Vera Cruz to check on the suitability of some land for oil drilling.

After a stint as an undercover Texas Ranger, he began a new career in Arizona as Yardmaster and Librarian for the Santa Fe Railroad. During this time, he became politically active and started writing compelling letters to politicians and newspapers.

After retiring from the Santa Fe in 1945, he moved to California to be near his daughter and family and wrote Unbridled Cowboy, a riveting memoir about real life in the West at the turn of the century.

He died in 1957.

How would you describe Joe's writing?

His writing is autobiographical in the authentic spoken language of Texas and the American Southwest at the turn of the century.

He was writing for a broad audience -- anyone interested in Southwestern life during his era. He was motivated by the fact that he'd led an exciting life that he wanted to share, especially because his early years were spent in an era that had vanished by the time he began writing.

Do you know what Joe's main concerns as a writer were?

His main concern was to convey an accurate picture of life in the American Southwest during the years he lived there.

His personal experiences are his entire body of work.

His biggest challenge was to convey his story in the clearest, most understandable manner possible.

How would you describe Joe's writing process?

Joe wrote at home, but we don't know much else about his writing process.

The book was published by a small university press in 2008. I was offered a publishing contract for the book by Truman State University Press after I had met the publisher at a Western History Association meeting in the fall of 2006.

Unbridled Cowboy is a riveting firsthand account of a defiant hell-raiser in the wild and tumultuous American Southwest in the late 1800s. At the age of fourteen, Joe Fussell hopped trains to escape from school and the authority he scorned. Joe became a roving cowpuncher across the Texas territory, tilling the land, wrangling cattle, and working in livery stables, moving on whenever his feet began to itch.

In a time and place with no law, the young cowboy exacted revenge on those who trespassed against him or those who abused authority.

Joe recounts tales of cowboy adventures, narrow escapes, and undercover work as a Texas Ranger.

Even after marriage, a spark of his wild cowboy spirit remained during the rise of the railroads in the Southwest when he worked as a switchman and yardmaster.

Joe's unadorned prose is as exposed and simple as the wide open Texas plains. His unpretentious and unique voice embodies the spirit of the Wild American West.

Considering the limited resources that most small presses have, Truman State University Press has been outstanding to work with and extremely cooperative with the book's independent publicist.

Which are the most difficult parts of the book?

The stories about his revenge trip to Mexico and his descriptions of his work as an undercover Texas Ranger have to be the most difficult because he committed serious crimes in both instances.

He was neither proud nor ashamed of his behavior.

What would you say is Joe's most significant achievement as a writer?

If Joe were alive today, he'd say that being able to tell his story in his own words was a significant achievement.

Possibly related books:

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Monday, May 11, 2009

[Interview] Anonymous, author of 'worlds undone'

In this email interview, the anonymous author of the blog novel, worlds undone talks about her concerns as a transgendered lesbian, a feminist and a writer:

When did you start writing?

Writing fiction is a new endeavor for me, something I impulsively dove into five months ago. Heretofore, my writing was mostly of life experiences, or interacting with others in the lesbian community. Coming out for me was a daunting and destructive experience, shattering about everything and everyone around me.

PTSD resulted; in therapy for years now, I sensed a need to do more. The first step was to embrace Reiki, something that empowered me in self-healing, and in giving me a way to reach out to others around me who might wish to receive healing energy. The next step was fiction, and both of these things -- Reiki and writing fiction, sprung forth after leaving a therapy session, which I attend once a month.

How would you describe your writing?

More than anything, it is a story of life, of people embracing their love and a need to change the world around them. As a feminist and lesbian, these elements are inherent to the story, safe space for women and for women who love women. The characters are strong, and the characters defy our stereotypes.

There is an element of science fiction, necessary to bridge to story segments, but I really do not find pleasure in writing these elements. My best writing comes from feeling, touching, and embracing the emotions I feel are called forth by the protagonists.

These elements flow from my soul, from deep within, from my community. And I write without assigning race to the characters, because I would like people to read the story and find themselves in the characters, and not feel as though the story is written in a way that excludes them. The lgbt community transcends skin colour, the lesbian community is among the most accepting one can find, and I like the idea of inclusion.

Who is your target audience?

Given the story carries a central feminist and lesbian theme, that is an obvious conclusion for a target audience. More than anything, I write to soothe my soul, write to give voice to those of us who self-identify as feminist and lesbian, but it would be nice to one day reach beyond and share some of this community with those beyond the community.

My motivation was decidedly selfish; to self-heal, to share how I see the world, to offer my voice from this not often heard from place. Learning to share what was within is relatively new in terms of the length of my life. Too often, what lie inside was hidden away, leaving me to live in fear of others learning or suspecting of the truth.

In the writing that you are doing, which authors influenced you most?

Hard to say, though I can think of one strong influence -- Miranda Beverly-Whittemore, specifically the novel, The Effects of Light. Aside from this specific citation, my favourites are Kate Mosse, Rita Mae Brown (earlier work), Anita Diamante, Sue Monk Kidd, Elizabeth George, and many others.

How have your personal experiences influenced your writing?

Absolutely. This is a story that formed in my head through a lifetime of closeted feelings. Coming out, learning to share what was within, my overall idealist and optimistic nature finds its way into the story. If I can touch a story, if I can feel the story, it will work well in the writing. If I am disconnected, so too would be any resulting work.

Part of my coping came through music -- a major part of coping. And music more than any other external source, influences my writing.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

Staying true to the story I wish to convey.

Writing on a blog, with each posting comprising a rough draft story element, it is easy to veer off on tangents. This can be good, and it can be bad. For instance, a recent report found domestic violence was increasing due to current economic conditions. That night I built a story element addressing the issue.

On the other hand, other tangents have gone nowhere in the story and in my ability to take them forward; on a second draft, I would remove them.

A second concern is my overall lack of formal training and grammatical skill. I compensate in other ways, through emotion, through feel.

What are the biggest challenges that you face?

Falling into dysfunction, totally and completely for a thirty month period of time. As a transgendered lesbian, coming out shattered the world around me, and almost took me out right along with it.

Pulling myself back together, almost an hour by hour, day by day, week by week, month by month undertaking, taught me much, and I wish to learn much more, can stand to learn much more.

Do you write everyday?

I do. Most often, the story element forms during the day, and I set to writing at night. On weekends, I have a goal to write two elements each day. Each blog element is roughly 5-8 book pages.

There is a rough framework in my mind of where the story is at a given point in time, but then I look for inspiration to see me to the next element.

How many books have you written so far?

This is my first effort; it will not be my last. This work is worlds undone (intentionally uncapitalised) and is a story of two women who overcome extreme obstacles and end up changing two worlds.

In five months, I have written 191 blog posts or story elements, equating to roughly 575 book pages. This is a first draft, and at some point would move to a second stage. 109 story elements remain in this book.

Choosing a blog format was no choice at all. As a novice, with a story burning within, with three years of experience sharing my life on a blog, it was a natural outlet. Wordpress worked, as opposed to TypePad (where my regular blog is) because of an excellent category framework. This allowed me to use categories to reference story characters -- readers can look up every story element involving that character or where they are named.

Using pages, I structured a list of story element, the equivalent of chapter navigation with a click of a mouse.

Which were the most difficult aspects of the work that you put into the novel?

Keeping the story consistent through each story element. Using categories helped me reference prior elements that involved an aspect of a story that is again referenced, or the last actions of a character.

Another problem arose with generating names that would give a reader the sense of being of another world. Adding a pronunciation list hopefully offered assistance to readers.

What did you enjoy most?

Definitely writing on the human element, of someone facing a life issue or issues, contemplating the love of another, or interacting with another as they find their way through. I live to write these elements, and grudgingly write elements that bridge from one place to another. These elements flow easily from my mind.

What sets worlds undone apart from other things you've written?

This is my first attempt at fiction. Even a year ago I would scoff at the notion of my attempting to write and share a story fabricated in my mind. Now it is a part of me I will never relinquish.

All of my previous writing focused on my experiences, my condition, my observations in life.

Both carry a decidedly human element, and both reflect elements of my life, of me, of my community.

What will your next book be about?

The next will take the current story, and take it toward facing the prejudices of a world that seemingly abhors diversity. The characters will face judgment and misjudgment, some will grow frustrated, some will work for change. Questions might get asked that carry no easy solution, but I remain hesistant to write something quite that dark.

What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

Actually finding the courage to write and place it in front of others. Through much of my life, this simple act was unthinkable. In my college years, I ran like the wind from any classroom presentation. My life was largely trying to exist on the periphery of anyone's attention, to be unnoticed.

Second is getting this far into a story, and third is the love of writing fiction that now dwells inside of me.

Possibly related books:

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Related article:

[Interview] Dora McAlpin, author of 'Promises Divined', Conversations with Writers, April 24, 2009

Monday, May 4, 2009

[Interview] Margay Leah Justice

Novelist Margay Leah Justice lives in Hudson, Massachusetts.

At various stages in her life, she has worked as a waitress, an aerobics instructor, a paralegal and as an administrative assistant in a computer company.

Nora's Soul (Second Wind Publishing, 2008) is her first novel.

In this interview, Margay Leah Justice talks about her writing:

When did you start writing?

I think I started writing the first time I ever picked up a pencil. I can't remember a time when I didn't write. As to when I decided to publish what I wrote, that came later, probably when I was in high school and realized that this might be a good career for me. But a lot of life has happened between that realization and my achieving my dream. I actually was approached by a friend I made in a writing contest about his desire to start a press and to publish the stories he enjoyed reading in the contest. So of course I said yes.

I don't write in one genre. I write whatever story comes to me at the time. So I have some that have paranormal themes and others that are more mainstream and I am working on one that is a combination of contemporary and historical with paranormal elements. But they all center around romance.

Who is your target audience?

I write for whoever wants to read my writing, but I suppose my main audience would be women.

I started writing the type of books I wanted to read, books that would make me think or see things differently or just escape from my daily life for a while into a fantastic world. So that is who I write for - women like me.

Which authors influenced you most?

Well, I read as widely as I write, so it's a difficult task trying to pinpoint influences.

Some of my favorite authors are Julia Quinn, Luanne Rice, Meg Cabot, all very different writers.

How have your personal experiences influenced your writing?

A lot of my personal experiences find their way into my writing, in one form or another. They usually become the basis for plots, characters, themes.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

My main concerns as a writer are trying to deliver the best book I can to the public. The way I deal with it is to just write from the heart and hope that the readers embrace it.

Ironically, my biggest challenges are of the personal nature. Not only am I dealing with a diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis, but one of my daughters suffers from bipolar disorder and Asperger's Syndrome. The only way to deal with them is to meet them head-on and not allow them to beat you down, which can be difficult at times. The secret is pacing and not to try to take on too much at one time.

Do you write everyday?

I try hard to write every day, but sometimes the demands of everyday life and my illness or my daughter's illnesses does interfere with my efforts.

Usually, I get up early to get my email out of the way in between getting my daughters off to school.

When I get home, I start in on whatever I have in the works at the time whether it's something new or rewrites, and I usually write for most of the day.

I stop in the early afternoon to pick up my daughters and then I have to give up the computer for homework assignments, but I do try to sneak in more writing sessions around their assignments.

How many books have you written so far?

Although I have several books in the pipe, Nora's Soul is my first published book. It was published on November 12, 2008 by Second Wind Publishing, LLC and is available on Amazon.com.

It is about a woman who lost her faith in all things angelic years ago with the death of her beloved brother. Now, as an adult, she finds herself in another crossroads in her life where her beliefs are tested once again. Along the way, she becomes locked in a battle between a dark angel and a light angel with the ultimate prize being her soul.

How did you chose a publisher for the book?

Nora's Soul took more than a decade to write because I would put it aside in favor of a new idea or get frustrated with the way it was going.

The publisher actually chose me. We met during a writing competition and he decided to start a small press and asked me to submit the story from the competition, which was Nora's Soul. I had entered the story in the contest to test its merit, to see if it was worth pursuing and he obviously thought so.

What advantages or disadvantages has this presented?

Well, the disadvantage is that it's a new press, so it's small and hasn't made a name for itself. But that can also be an advantage because I was able to have more input in the book and the cover design, and the whole experience has taught me a lot about self-confidence in believing in myself.

You really have to believe in yourself and what you do to generate the buzz for your own book. The way I deal with this is to seek out places on the internet to talk about my book and the writing process and I promote not only my book but the publishing company, too. If it's a success, I will be, too.

What did you find most difficult when you were working on Nora’s Soul?

I think exposition is the hardest part for me. Striking the right balance between too much detail and not enough is always tricky for me. But that's the beauty of rewrites - you can always go back and decide where you need to pump it up or tone it down. I usually seek advice from critique partners to help me in this area.

What did you enjoy most?

Dialogue. I love writing scenes where the exchange is rapid-fire and witty (I hope). I love the dialogue from old movies of the 30s and 40s and the television show Gilmore Girls and that is what I try to bring to my stories.

What sets Nora’s Soul apart from other things you've written?

Well, for one thing, it's about angels and I never wrote about that before. But it is also the first book I ever wrote with paranormal elements to it, which has opened up a whole new arena for me.

Funny thing is, when I first started to seriously write, I did mostly historicals, then I slowly got into writing contemporaries, now paranormals!

At its core, Nora’s Soul is about love and the way people interact with one another. It's about the same issues anyone might face in their life - faith, desire, and what we truly believe in.

What will your next book be about?

I will be continuing the story of the two angels in forthcoming books, which I am working on now. Plus, I have stories based upon different things that have happened in my life or things that have effected my life (bipolar disorder, for instance).

What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

So far, that would have to be getting my first book published.

Related books:

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