Meet Bobby Casella, Author of Entry-Level

author-4What have you been up to? What are your latest projects?

James. James Bond. I have decided that James Bond needs an update. I am working on a new version of an old favorite, with a twist of America.

My mentor is a former Navy SEAL who also happened to be CEO of one of the largest outdoor brands in the world. He’s outwardly a tree-hugging hippie, but inside he’s a warrior and a deadly weapon. Total West Coast meets Rambo. So why not have a surfing, farmers-market-going, Tesla driving James Bond. Why the hell not?

Is there any advice you can give other authors?

Don’t give up. Ever.

Whether its in writing, starting a business or trying to lose weight. Yes, you’re going to experience failures along the way, but that’s part of the process. The more times you fail, the closer you are to success. Trial and Error. Make adjustments. Reorganize. Hop back on.

Also, write everything down. You cannot improve what you do not measure.

What is your writing process?

  • Outline the chapters. “Measure twice, cut once” as they say. I am spending a lot of time on the outlining process for my next book. It also includes lots of military research, conducted before writing begins
  • Eat the elephant piece by piece. My next book is 60 chapters and each chapter is 1,000 to 1,200 words. I aim to knock out a whole chapter during each writing session.
  • Warm up with revision. When I sit down to write the chapter, I like to start off by revising what I wrote during the previous session. This gets the motor hot.

entry_levelHow do you get your inspiration?

I like to write about what I know. My books are usually based off what is going on in my personal life. Entry-Level was about a deranged young professional. When I wrote Entry-Level I was definitely a deranged young professional. In fact, the most degenerate stuff didn’t even make the book. I was a mess in those days, and you get to read about it.

How do you do your research? Do you pretty much stick to the Internet or consult experts or librarians?

I am GUILTY of sticking to the internet. However, for this next book I am making a commitment to consulting with experts. In researching locations, I always travel to the location. I only use settings that I have been to and connected with.

What was the most interesting factoid you learned while researching your book?

How to detect if you’re being tailed when driving.

Have your reading tastes changed since you became an author?

No. I just appreciate good writing and will toss a book if it does not entertain. Life is too short to waste on bad reading material.

Are there any bestselling authors you hope to emulate?

Brad Thor, but less aimed towards the grumpy Fox News crowd, and more towards the center.

What promotional tool has worked best for you?

Happy Hour. It seems like each time I go to happy hour I sell a book. So the answer would be networking. Discounting also seems to work. On that logic, if I had a coupon code to distribute at happy hour, my guess is that I’d be famous by now. Let’s get a coupon code!

Which promotional tools have been the least effective?

Advertising, which is sad because in my day job I am a marketing director. You’d think I’d know how to sell some books on Facebook, etc. But the sad truth is, most pay per click is not going to put an up-and-coming author on the best-seller list.

What is the most valuable lesson you’ve learned since you started publishing?

Time management can make or break you. Working full time and finding time to write takes organization. I cannot imagine how writers with jobs and families do it, but if you want to succeed, take your excuses to the trashcan. Plenty of writers have juggled career, family, social life. You can too.

Do you have any fun stories to share from author events or interactions with fans?

One of my favorite journalists read my book and knew who I was when I went to see him at a book signing of his. That was Neil Strauss. He’s big time, so that’s cool.

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Meet Jack Remick, poet and author of Gabriela and The Widow, Blood, and the California Quartet

Jack Remick Portrait 4As a novelist, poet, and short story writer, do you approach writing in the same way, regardless of form? Or do you have a different process for each? (Feel free to describe your process(es).

I write a lot about the writing before I ever start a scene. Right now I’m in a new novel and I have 138 pages of writing but no novel. No scenes. I have written an ending, but chances are it won’t be the final ending. I always write an ending first because the ending is a template for the opening. The novel comes out of the writing about the characters and what they want. To me, all characters are consumed by three things: Want, Need, Can’t. If I can find out what a character wants, I can translate that into story. If I know what a character needs, I have a handle on the psychology and the structure of mind. If I know what the character can’t have, I get a feeling for action, because of the Antagonist—the character who wants what the protagonist wants and so you have conflict and conflict leads to one of two resolutions: either the protagonist (I use that instead of Hero just to be contrary) clams up, closes up and lets the bad guy tromp all over her or she stands up and nocks an arrow in her bow and kills the son of a bitch.

gabriela_widowTo me, story is a competition for a resource base, and fiction is the artful infusion of the past into the narrative present. This means that I have to know a lot about the characters, so I write about them—where they were born, what kind of ice cream they liked as a kid, how they dressed, how their mother mistreated them, how their father raped them, how that uncle destroyed their innocence. Then, that done, you have a pretty good start on dialogue. How? “Where did you get that scar?” Joe asks Ellen. “I don’t want to talk about it,” she says. Okay, now we have the secret that Joe will do his damnedest to ferret out, and Ellen will fight tong and hammer not to reveal it. So the past comes into the present and through revelation the story gets told. The resource base is that secret. Story is competition for a resource base (the resource base can, of course, be more complex—money, land, even a jeweled falcon from Charles V to the Knights Templar). Joe in the end knows that Ellen’s scar came from that violent encounter with the uncle in the basement when he ripped off her crucifix and cut her with a chisel. Joe either accepts Ellen’s ravishment and loves her to death or he abandons her as impure, unclean, damaged. I have two collections of short stories, several screenplays, and a dozen novels and every story gets the same treatment. Without that process, the characters are empty and uninteresting. I’ll come back to character later in this interview.

satoriPoetry is another beast altogether. In my early work, I wrote in meter and rhyme. I did not know what a poem was and so continued for a long time working the traditional veins. Later, I came to understand something of the Zen of poetry and so started looking deeper into the craft and came up with a set of guidelines—can’t call them rules, because if you disavow rhyme and meter, there are no rules, but there can still be structure. The first techniques I came to understand were these: Music first; breath second; rhythm and beat third; story last. You can see that this is the opposite of fiction where the first element wants to be Story followed by Structure followed by Style. Once the traditional shell was cracked, I got into vowel harmony and from vowel harmony I came to understand the notion of the transposition doublet which is akin to assonance. For example in breathless, the lead poem in Satori, poems you find this:

Seventeen and dreaming,

Bill Hansen and I flew up 99

in a Ford Fairlane—holy barbarians

who craved a satori that never came.

We carved our way out of the valley to the Bay

where the rhythms of poetry

were a junkie’s waking visions

his veins choked with banned chemicals

where spaced out garbage men

thrashed through cannabis hallucinations

of cruel women in black stockings and turtlenecks

women who never said yes

women who smoked and always said maybe

If you read those lines sotto voce you read story—it’s a journey—but that’s the final form. If you read the lines aloud, you’ll hear things, for instance the vowel harmony of –teen and dream; you’ll hear the alliteration of  flew-Ford-Fairlane; you’ll hear the leonine rime of way-Bay; you’ll see the transposition doublet craved-carved; you’ll hear the rhythm of repetition where-where; women-women-women; you’ll hear the polarity never-always.

As I wrote more poetry, I developed an esthetic focused more on language and its rhythms than on the story of the poem. I asked myself these questions:   Is there an esthetic base we can use, or has the notion of free verse broken us loose so that each poet has a poetics that serves that poet alone? Rather than sit down with pen and “critique” holding to some phantom notion of “poem” can you start with a set of elements and write from it?

But that left me asking the questions—where does a poem start and how does it start?

Zen poetics.
Learn how to wait.

Quiet the noise.

Sing the vowels

Poetry is pre-linguistic.

Language is a vehicle for capturing emotion

Freedom without discipline is chaos

Energy is language working for you

Patience is killing your ego

Patience plus energy equal discipline

Energy plus discipline equal power

Power plus strength equal grace

Grace is the goal of our writing

The universe is one long poem, and each poet gets a moment, a piece of it from time to time. It doesn’t matter which part of it you are working on at a given moment, which poem, because each one is just part of the larger fabric, given to you to work out in detail. Once it is given to you, the great poem abandons you, says I don’t care what you do now. If you fall on your face, it’s because you don’t have the skill to take the given and do something with it.

In all writing, Discipline is the poet’s obligation to the gift. Music first.

What role do you think fiction plays in contemporary society?

deificationIt’s massive if you think of films as fiction. The way I see it, films have rewired our brains to expect a certain sequence in the story line. We are more Aristotelian than ever—three acts, violent action rising to a climax, catharsis—turn off the idiot-box and go have a beer. What we as novelists can learn from the screenwriters is that time is money. What we as novelists don’t learn from the screenwriters is the Mantra of Movieland: stories are told with action and image. The perfect movie is silent. The basic unit of story is the scene. So, get into a scene late, get out early, enter as close to the climax as possible. Don’t waste words. Words are time. Time is money.

Let’s break it down into two categories—entertainment and education.  Education—what the European writers call the bildungsroman, what we now call the “coming of age” novel—showing the enlightenment of the hero is now defunct in the novel because of the democratization of experience. Your ignorance is as good as my knowledge, so there is no learning left.

bloodThe death of the literary novel lies in the success of the money-time complex we call blockbusters. Entertainment—we are entertained by blowing shit up and killing. Two areas of contemporary fiction interest me—not as a writer but as an observer of culture. A friend of mine just returned from a year in the Balkans. The first words I heard from him were, “America’s primary export is violence.” Okay, so how do we, as novelists, fit into that? In the classical world, violence was always off stage. If you ever saw killing, there wasn’t much blood, but you did see the aftermath and the effect. Now, in this, the Age of Torture and Excess, we see it all. The knife goes in, the carotid artery spurts blood for miles in all directions, the electric shock is applied, the screams give us chills and the blood fills our eyes. When you, as novelist, try to tame that pack of wild horses, you better be ready to self-publish, because you don’t stand a chance. Misguided realism is ruining us at the same time it is preparing us for Armageddon.

valley_boyThe second area that interests me is the paranormal—by that I mean zombies and vampires. I do not understand vampires, but I have a pretty good feel for zombies. It goes like this—fear and collapse. In a way, it starts with the Trojan War and The Iliad. Inside that wooden horse, there is disaster. You let it in, and you’re dead. The Greeks break into the closed circle called Troy carrying destruction, and they kill just about everyone. End of Troy. Collapse.  Zombies are an apt metaphor for the modern world where our greatest fears are 1) fear of infection; 2) fear of invasion; and 3) fear of collapse. Zombie-land is always about survival against great odds. In zombie-world, society and civilization are on the verge of total collapse. The writers who succeed in writing zombieish are telling us that we are about finished as a race and that extinction is just a bite away—and it’s our own fault.  The zomboid writers show us with the veneer stripped way, the bare wood showing, and our evolutionary truths revealed—we become prey once again. Civilization is a thing of the past and all that’s left is the Tribe. The Unlucky Few who survive.  So where does that leave us? Writing the dead genres such as mystery novels and romance? Writing another zombie-blood orgy? How about a good torture movie? The big question for me is: Can there be a non-filmic writing that makes any sense? I’ll come back to that question later.

book_of_changesYour California Quartet novels revolve around four different coming-of-age stories, what drew you to link your novels through that theme rather than a repeating character?

Most American men put off growing up as long as possible. We hate to let go of our adolescence and so we look back on it with nostalgia which becomes a metaphor for the lost innocence of America and the breakdown of the American dream. We call them The Boys of Summer because they are perpetual hope even though we know that by early Fall, all the dreams but two will be shattered.

I don’t like to repeat myself. Every novel has its own language and style.

trio_soulsIn the Quartet, I was as interested in the language as I was in the story so each book has its own style. In Trio, the final book, I wanted to write a novel whose style was the absence of style. Doing that lets you write as close to emotion as you can get because you don’t let language get in the way.  The task in Trio was to write without using the word feeling except in a concrete sense—feel the floor, the skin. Sort of like trying to write a novel without using the letter E the way Georges Perec did.

I turned away from the repeating character model when the books were taking shape. I knew I didn’t want the long character arc, but instead imagined what I call Aging the Archetype as a device. This idea gave me freedom to do with time what I wanted so the novels in the Quartet are not chronological but develop their own time and place. Only the Archetype matters. The Quartet works this way: in The Deification, a lost boy living on the street, dreams of becoming a poet. In Valley Boy, you see teenagers at the mercy of the world—they have no idea what’s going on, they don’t have the rules they need to become men and so they make horrendous mistakes knowing they will end up in the same place their fathers did. In The Book of Changes, the boys have become young men acquiring life-tools and as they age, they face all the cruelty and loss that comes with the abandoned adolescence and the wicked truth. In Trio of Lost Souls, the boys have aged into young men and the young men have grown old. They understand life, they have the tools they need and they no longer let life act on them. They become the decision makers. And they are capable. They are flawed, they have been hurt, and their dreams have cost them, they are on the verge of destruction, but they still know they can do more. Trio has a socialist subtext in which the characters recognize that together they can do more than any one of them can manage alone.  Trio is the most political of the Quartet. The arc for the Quartet then is from going it alone to understanding that you can’t do it alone. In America, despite the Horatio Alger myth, there are no self-made men. The idea is that the novels have a ring of truth without being factual. Realism is factual and if you obey the maxim write what you know, your novel will tend to be autobiography. I did not want to write a memoir or an autobiography. The characters are not just phases of me.

In Blood and Gabriela and The Widow there is an entirely different way of looking at the novel.

Your characters are very complicated, something most writers struggle with, what advice do you have (or what techniques do you use) to create characters with substance?

I’ll give you a list of what I look for when I’m working. I think that the character with substance is always vulnerable and wounded. The deeper the wound the more complex the character. A wound, coupled with character flaw, gives you a human character. The more obvious the wound, the more likely the reader is to identify with the character.

Pain, shame, guilt, and betrayal. Getting to know the character’s shame and guilt leads you to the essential element of dramatic conflict that all stories must have in order to engage the reader.

I read a novel a while back called The Pilot’s Wife. In that novel the Pilot is guilty of adultery, fathering a child out of wedlock, lying to his wife, betraying his daughter and wife, cheating, stealing, and concealing it all (his humongous Secret). His is a dense packet of drama waiting to be revealed.

Because the Pilot has betrayed his wife, and because she discovers his betrayal, she lives in anguish. A sympathetic or rich character has a history of anguish. If in your writing about the writing you find out what causes your character’s anguish and then ask what makes her happy you get a simple polarity of character emotions that spins out into an array of traits and possibilities.

If you write about your character in the past and then in the present and then the future, you deepen character and you introduce aspects of plotting.  What will become of her? Will she find happiness? Defeat? Plotting a future for your character gives you a handle on the narrative present.

Betrayal: How many times has your character been betrayed? How deep is the betrayal? Who? When? Why? How deep is the wound?

Shame: What is she ashamed of?

Want, Need, Can’t:

Want. What does your character want?

Need. What does she need?

Can’t. What can’t she have?

Thwarting Desire and Plot: Because human beings react to being thwarted, Desire always leads to Action. Action is what characters do to achieve their wants, to satisfy their needs. Plot can be defined as what your characters do to get control of what they want. How does your character react when she finds out she can’t have what she wants?

Denial: Denial leads to action. Action leads to pain. Who gets hurt?

Need merging into Obsession:  What does your character need? A hundred thousand bucks a year?  New wardrobe every six months? A new house? How strong is that need? Is it strong enough to become an obsession? When need becomes an obsession, need melds into drive. Need is the deep, inner aspect of character that cannot be ignored.

The Driven Character: How driven is your character? What will she do to get what she wants?  Murder? Steal? Cheat? Betray her husband? lover? children? mother?  What will she do when her drive is deflected or even betrayed?

Joining Need to Want and Can’t: When your characters have needs and wants but can’t gratify or satisfy them, you have an equation that screams for Action. Action is what your character does to meet her needs, to get what she wants. Does your character want to be wanted? Are there layers of want? Why does your character need to be wanted? Deepen need and want and can’t with shame, guilt and betrayal and you have character traits that will engage your reader.

Doubt, the Forgotten Element. What does your character doubt? Her abilities? Her sexuality? Her intelligence? Doubt always leads to hesitation—that moment before she pulls the trigger, slashes off her hair, slices her wrist. Doubt is the powerful inhibitor of action. Because the character doubts his physical prowess, he fails to engage the villain in combat. Failing combat, she loses the battle. Losing the battle leads her to the brink of death. Doubt is serious business in fiction.

Childhood and Buried Need: How deeply buried in the character’s childhood is your character’s need? Can we see the buried need erupting in her present life?  What caused that need? Who buried it? Why was it buried?

Summary:  The coupling of want, need, can’t, guilt, shame, betrayal, and doubt lets you explore action, psychology, and plot. How does plot hook to need and want and can’t? Plot is what characters do when need and want become obsessions.

Character and Plot. Plot means story, story means competition for a resource base. Resource Base means what characters want  or –what they don’t want the others to have.

What is your internal editor most likely to say to you as you work though a first draft? What do you do to either silence him, or make him work for you?

Before I answer your question about the internal editor, let me say that in the computer age, I’m not sure what a first draft is so let me ask you a couple of questions—is the first draft your first cut at a piece still with the vernix on it—raw, untamed, slippery, breathing and maybe alive? Is it the first beginning-to-end run through with mistakes and lousy writing and sentences that don’t work? Is it the first readable piece that you give to a beta reader for suggestions?  In the computer age with word processors and editors, story software, final draft software, outline software, Don’t Kill the Cat thinking you can change a piece with search and replace, move stuff around, delete whole chapters. And you have grammar/spell checks, so what is the first draft? In my writing world, a first draft—the one I hand to a reader—might be the fifteenth working of the story.

Your readers probably have never struggled with a typewriter, carbons, worn out ribbons, white-out, erasers, scissors and glue. Those were the tools of the pre-computer age writer. If you had to make revisions, you often had to retype an entire page. You could cut and paste and then retype but clean hard copy was hard to come by if you were a hunt and peck typist and it was all hard copy. Often the weight of the white-out corrections added half a pound to the bulk of a novel. In the typewriter world, the first draft was a real thing that had already walked through fire, had mud slung at it, been tinkered with leaving the fewest number of words it took to tell the story.

Now on to the internal editor—she never talks to me because I put her to sleep using a timed writing technique. Timed writing—writing for a set period of time using a kitchen timer, pen to paper. I let the internal editor doze while the clock ticks and I tune into the matrix where all the good stuff hides. I pull it out of the unconscious mind already loaded with archetypes and archetypal patterns. I tell her that discipline is the writer’s obligation to the gift, and my discipline is in the timed writing with these principles—I’d call them rules, but there are very few rules in writing, the main one of which is Make it Sing—Keep the hand moving; don’t cross out anything; take what comes; go deep; go crazy on the page; shoot the moon in every writing; leave nothing in the well (that from Annie Dillard); don’t listen to the screech of Monkey Mind (that from Natalie Goldberg); forget good grammar; let the language bleed through the end of the pen; write what you don’t know; take risks and chances; write wicked shit in fragments without thought and know this—no matter what, you will never be in this place again. Timed writing is a river and you can never stand in the same river twice. That’s what I tell the internal editor. Once the story has a shape, she takes a vacation and the discipline takes over. Remember that discipline is the writer’s obligation to the gift.

What are you working on now?

After answering the first five questions, I should give you the expected answer—another novel. A long novel. A novel within a novel. But as a literary novelist working in the shadow of Zombieism and Vampirism, as a writer working outside the standard genres—mystery, romance, time travel, adventure and all the gazillion sub-genres—I’ve come to an impasse and I’m tired of the standard stuff. The formulas of the age have worn me down—three acts, fifty scenes, character arcs, snappy dialogue, do this-do that, try this-this is the way to, scenes stop time, narration compresses or amplifies it…Writing a novel is not a cake mix. Writing is far too important to be turned into a recipe. Let me go back to Question Two where I talked about films rewiring our brains for certain expectations. That has left us in the grasp of the Reader who says give me what I want or I’ll put your book down and never finish it. Readers, as victims of film’s success, ask novelists to perform like trained seals and if we don’t do that, we have no readers. So where do we end up? Back to the educational vision of the novel—all experience is valid, no one has anything new to say, all the stories have been told, we’re on the verge of extinction so we repeat and repeat and tell the same story over and over. And believe me, Fifty Shades of Gray is already contained in Les cent-vingt journées de Sodom from the pen of the Marquis de Sade.

hush_nowLast year I met a novelist named Dennis Must. He’s the author of Hush Now, Don’t Explain, and The World’s Smallest Bible.  Dennis doesn’t break all the rules, but he writes glorious prose and the prose in his novels set me to thinking that what I want to do is work out a new definition of fiction. Earlier I said that fiction is the artful infusion of the past into the narrative present. I said write about the writing. I said create the complex character, I said…

What if you reject the Dictatorship of the Reader? What if you reject all the Do Thises? Literary fiction is dead, so what do I have to lose by falling over the edge and leaving the safety net behind? What would post-filmic fiction look like? What would it do? How would you do it? Would it be readable? You can’t go back to Dickens or Austen. You can’t go back to Fennimore Cooper. They are the refuge of the disillusioned, victims themselves of the anti-fuckism dictates of the culture police and the language suppressors so you have to go on, go forward, you have to search out the language for another way to achieve story. And that means you have to redefine fiction.

So, I’m writing a novel with the working title of Desire. Within Desire there is a novel called Citadel. Within Citadel, there is a novella called Women in Captivity. Am I simply wrapping three three act novels into one and calling it new? No. The question in all of fiction is two–fold: Point of View and Time. Who tells the story and what happens to time. Time is structure. If you use time instead of Plot Points (the marks of the three-act play) to anchor the novel then the three novels are released into some kind of non-linear development and each can develop its own impulse. Has it been done before? Some of it. But then everything has already been done and that gets me to the question of Story Limitation and the ability of the human brain to devise anything new. Yep. Redefining fiction is going to take a lot of work. But then, as I found when I abandoned rhyme and meter in poetry—there is a way.

Final Words of Wisdom

Practice timed writing; give up your computer; put your pen to paper; get in touch with the paper; talk to your characters, make them talk to you. People will think you’re crazy, but you know that you are because you’re already making up shit. A story can be true without being factual. Write what you don’t know. If you write only what you know, you’ve already limited yourself. Go where the characters take you. This advice is as old as writing.

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Catching up with T.W. Emory, Author of Trouble in Rooster Paradise

Picture 1What is your writing process?

I decide on a murder victim, and why he or she might have been murdered by possible suspects. I then come up with an inciting incident and go from there, one scene at a time. I’m a plodder. Since my protagonist is an old man telling a young caregiver about a case during his private eye days, I wrote his story first, and was then better able to fill in the present-day sections where he’s talking with his caregiver about this case in the past. That’s also how I’m approaching it with the sequel.

How do you get your inspiration?

Well, aside from the acknowledged beneficial influence I’ve garnered from other mystery writers, when it comes to getting motivated to write, I sit down in front of the keyboard, I re-read the scene I wrote last; I tweak it some, and find that this generally “primes the pump” sufficiently enough so that I can go on with the next scene. Thankfully, this approach seems to work, because though I might jot down a note here and there as an idea comes to me during the week, I have a set time only one day a week when I can do my writing, so I have to make that time count.

Illustrations by the author

Illustrations by the author

How do you do your research? Do you pretty much stick to the Internet or consult experts or librarians?

Over the years, I’ve interviewed an old-timer or two of my acquaintance about Seattle back in the post World War Two era. But they’re gone now. A time or two I’ve accessed old newspaper archives. I will draw on books as needed of course, and yes, I certainly do online research—which is a real boon, to be sure. For instance, I’ll check for images of clothes, furniture, buildings, cars, and such, of the period in which my novel is set, for use and for description purposes. There’s also much about Seattle’s history that’s available online which is very helpful.

What authors have influenced you?

Many. But to narrow it down when it comes to the kind of book I’ve written, I’d say chiefly Rex Stout (Nero Wolfe), Dashiell Hammett (Sam Spade, the Continental Op), Raymond Chandler (Philip Marlowe), and Ross Macdonald (Lew Archer).

Do you have any feedback comments from readers that you found particularly gratifying and that you’d care to share?

One reader messaged me on Facebook about my novel and told me “It was a blast to read,” and “I absolutely loved it. You have such a way with a descriptive phrase.” Another reader contacted me via my webpage to tell me that my principal characters were “likable” and also said, “I read mysteries constantly… your book was very good. I have you on my list to watch for your next one.” After writing for a hobby for several years, with little or no feedback, such comments have been a real “shot in the arm” for me, to say the least.

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An Interview with Danielle A. Dahl, Author of Sirocco

Danielle A. Dahl

When did you start writing?

When I was twelve, I tried writing a story that would go beyond the essays required by my French class. It was a fairytale that took place in the lost kingdom of Atlantis.

My teacher read it to the class. When, in turn, my father read it, he declared that writing such trash would not, later on in life, put food on my table.

This put an end to my budding writer’s aspirations and I no longer wrote anything more than the essays required at school.

siroccoWhat made you decide to go back to writing?

During a low time in France, feeling hopelessly trapped in a country I disliked, l was tempted to take my own life, but was stopped by curiosity about what my future might have in store for me. What I might, perhaps, miss or accomplish gave me the strength to wait and see. I started a diary into which I poured my feelings of emptiness, my latent anguish, my loneliness and lack of self-worth.

Thank Heaven writing worked its miracle, and little by little, time leached the deadness out of my soul and sent me on my way to the rest of my life.

That was forty-nine years ago … and counting.

The Author at age 16

The Author at age 16

What is your average day like?

I do not have an average day. Each one is different, depending on the urgency I feel to go back to the current story or start a new one. Before picking up the thread of the current story, I reread, proofread and correct the previous day’s work. Only then do I feel grounded enough to continue writing.

Most writers will tell you they write the book’s first draft then go back and revise/proofread/copy edit. I cannot work this way. For me, every word put down on the page must be perfect before continuing to the next one, which often impacts my word count for the day as I may spend hours crafting one paragraph, if not one single line.

How long did it take you to write Sirocco?

It took me five years to complete Sirocco’s manuscript—five years spent doing research to check the accuracy of historical facts as well as learning the craft of writing and doing several rewrites.

The main reason it took so long to write Sirocco was checking the facts. Many times, during my research, I found that facts had been altered by the Metropolitan French and Algerians, to lay full responsibility of the war at the feet of the Pieds-Noirs or French settlers, thus proving Winston Churchill’s quote: “History is written by the victors.”

I studied the pictorial, written, and taped testimonies of fellow Pieds-Noirs. Read the injustice and downright lies of the rewritten history—which, to this day, are still taking place. The old nightmares and daytime anguish followed by sleepless nights stopped me from writing for days at a time while I gave in to anger and grieved anew for the slaughtered and the disappeared.

Are the facts of your story true?

Each one of my stories is true. In a few instances, I bowed to the necessities of storytelling by jiggling the timelines, but never the core facts. As for the dialog, it is impossible to recall every word, but when one knows the characters, it is easy to reconstruct their particular reactions, speech pattern, and words they’d use in given circumstances. I believe my characters remain true to the real-life individuals.

While writing Sirocco, what research did you do? You obviously couldn’t have recalled the radio broadcasts word for word—are they faithful to the source?

My research was done through interviews with family and friends, reading documentation on historical facts, personal testimonies, and pictorial archives made available by le Centre De Documentation Historique Sur l’Algérie, and its magazine, Memoire Vive, and finally, through the internet.

The radio broadcasts are not direct quotes, but recreated using historical facts of the times.

What was the hardest part about writing Sirocco and what did you enjoy most?

The hardest part about writing Sirocco took place during my research of historical facts as I was plumbing the depth of the horrific deeds meted out by the terrorists upon Europeans and Arabs alike. This was made even worse by discovering the abysmal misinformation disseminated by Arab, French, and international pro-independence groups regarding what, why, when, and who was responsible for the political mess Algeria’s quest for independence had become.

The part I enjoyed most was recounting funny childhood episodes I shared with my siblings, rendering in wide strokes the way of life of the Arab community among which we lived, and describing the treasure trove of sights, scents, and sounds of a land that to this day remains a part of my being.

In Sirocco, you express bitterness toward the Metropolitan French. Do you still have the same feeling now?

During the war of independence, and to this day, the Metropolitan French held the French from Algeria, the Pieds-Noirs—black feet, as they called us—responsible for the death of Metropolitan soldiers sent by the French government to deal with the Algerian insurrection, which was, in fact, sparked by the policies of the French Government in Algeria.

On the eve of Algeria’s independence, to save their lives, the Pieds-Noirs fled the land of their ancestors and sought refuge in France. There, they were treated by the Metropolitan French, not as French citizens returning to the mother country, but with aversion and contempt, if not hatred.

So, yes, I was bitter, resentful, and angry toward the Metropolitan French as were a million and a half other Pieds-Noirs. Our grandfathers and fathers had fought for their freedom during two World Wars only to be shunned in return. To this day, over fifty years later, many Metropolitan French still retain their anti-Pieds-Noirs stance. But such bitterness and resentment can only go on so long before it starts rotting one’s life. Perhaps it is the reason why, unconsciously, to let go of both, I wrote Sirocco.

In your memoir, you express warm feelings toward the native Algerians and a deep love of the land. What are your feelings now toward the Algerians and do you miss living there?

I will always miss Algeria but will not return. Doing so would revive the heartache of eight years of violence and loss. A loss that can never be reversed.

I would love to see my house in Sidi Mabrouk again, but I know my grief would be unbearable.

As for the people, the ones I knew “là bas,”—over there—were part of my everyday life. They were the schoolmates and the neighbors my mother, brothers, sisters, and myself grew up with. We shared a history, felt at home with each other. Belonged. The people I would find now would be total strangers with no shared memories and experiences. It would be akin to perusing the faded photos of people who died before you were born.

The part that leaves me with an intense feeling of loss, of longing, is not having a childhood place and its people to return to—“Bonjour Madame Justine. Do you remember me? I used to steal apples from the tree in your front yard.” Or “Oui, Monsieur Jerome, Monsieur Honninger was my grandfather. He used to go fishing with your grandfather.” And so on, down the block, my memories would link me to a community that remembers me and my family. A place where my past would peek through every window, around every doorjamb as I walked by. Instead, it is as if the people, time, and places of my childhood and teen years never existed. That’s why I am thankful for the gift of memories.

Do you expect any criticism from today’s Algerians?

I do expect criticism from some Algerians, more widely, from Muslim Jihadists. The hardcore that continues to think they have a score to settle with the French as well as with the whole European and North American non-Muslim populations. They are the descendants of those who rewrote history in order to rationalize their horrific crimes against humanity in Algeria and, now, threaten the entire Western civilization.

As for the younger generations of Algerians who have not been indoctrinated by the slanted facts they’ve been force-fed in history books, I would imagine that they would be more concerned with playing with their cell phones, falling in love, and building a family, than with events that occurred over half a century before.

What made you leave France and come to the U.S?

Bitterness. Rancor. Rage. A great sense of loss, emotional emptiness. It occurred to me that if I was to be treated like a second-class citizen, worse than an illegal foreigner, in my country of citizenship, I’d rather be a foreigner in a foreign country. So not only did I move to a foreign country that welcomed me, but one that became my country of citizenship.

Why move to the U.S and not another country?

The U.S. was the strongest, most dynamic, most welcoming country on earth, touted as being the New World for two centuries. A world with opportunities for all. It was a vast ocean away from a life I despised. What could be better asylum than that? A better land for a new start in life? A place where I belonged?

Would you like/want to return to Algeria to visit/live there?

A couple of months after Algeria’s independence, my family returned to our home to try to pick up our lives where we had left them. It didn’t work—worry about personal safety being the main reason.

At times, I think I would like to go for a visit, but I know that returning to one’s roots is never wise as it can only generate disappointment and regrets. So, why torture myself?

Would you consider living in France one day?

Every couple of years, I enjoy visiting France to revitalize my ties with my family. But living there is not in my future. Here, I have a husband, friends. I have developed a personal history that spans more years than those I lived in Algeria and France combined. I have grown as a person. I feel secure. This is my home.

If Algeria’s independence hadn’t occurred, would you still be living there, and what kind of life would you have?

I am convinced that had the independence of Algeria not taken place, I would still be living there as a middle-class married woman, mother of five and grandmother to many more.

I would not have visited the many places where I have traveled, come to this country, been the person I’ve become, and answered questions about Sirocco.

What happened to the rest of your family?

My family lives in different parts of France. My mother died eight years ago, my father, three years. My siblings all have children and grandchildren. My two sisters, now retired, were small business owners. Of my two brothers, recently retired, one was a welding professor in a trade school, the other a site foreman for industrial building companies. My uncle and aunt are still living and are happy grandparents.

You had a difficult relationship with your father, did it change in time?

My relationship with my father only changed for the worse.

What advice would you give other people who are interested in writing a memoir or a book?

My advice would be, to not think about writing. Just do it. Sit down at your computer, and if you must, start with, “Once upon a time there was a little girl by the name of…” and jump with both feet into one of the stories in this little girl’s life. Do not be self-conscious in choosing the story. Let it choose you. Once you have your first story down, others will pour out of your mind in quick sequence.

Concern yourself about the timeline later. The essential is to keep writing. Your mind will start working behind the scenes and provide the next story… and the next one.

My other advice is to not write with an eye toward publication, which might or might not happen. Just enjoy the process of writing. In the end, you’ll find it liberating to have poured out the anguish of painful days, for you to analyze and find, if not peace, at least, dispassion….

In what ways do you think your book might help readers gain more understanding of cultures like that of Algeria?

I hope Sirocco will help readers understand that, unlike the hardcore, uncompromising extremists whose weapon of choice is terror, the majority of people indigenous to a culture like that of Algeria are hard-working, peaceful, humble beings who only wish to feed their families and practice their faith without coercion and in harmony with each other and the world at large.

Are you glad you wrote Sirocco? Has it given you any closure in dealing with your past?

Yes. Sirocco allowed me to put events and feelings about people and myself into perspective. As for closure, all wounds leave marks, however faint. I see mine as battle scars that made me mentally and emotionally richer. Or is it that I am simply growing older and therefore, wiser?

Are you planning to write another book? If so, what would be its subject?

Absolutely. Since a memoir, as opposed to a biography, depicts only a slice of someone’s life at a time. I’m planning to write, at least, Sirocco’s sequel, with the working title of Mistral, which will pick up where Sirocco ended.

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Meet Claire Gebben

Author Claire GebbenWhat have you been up to? What are your latest projects?

Since publication of The Last of the Blacksmiths, I’ve been on the talk circuit. At last count, I’ve given over fifty talks, about my novel and about related topics like German genealogy, writing family history, and so on. I’m working on a novel now about the Scottish immigrant experience.

Is there any advice you can give other authors?

In an early writing class I took, students kept coming up with reasons we couldn’t make progress on our books. Our teacher, author Skye Moody, kept saying “Just get the story out.” That really helped, to trust the creative process and go for it.

blacksmithsWhat is your writing process?

I write regularly, it’s my day job. I can write at the computer, but longhand is my preference for a first draft. I work from an outline, but generally write my way from point A to point B as a process of discovery. My favorite part is revision, discovering themes and going deeper into the story.

How do you get your inspiration?

When I start out, I have some nagging question that grabs hold of me and won’t let go until I dig in and start writing.

How do you do your research? Do you pretty much stick to the Internet or consult experts or librarians?

When I’m writing historical novels, I visit museums and archives and take photos—of places, artifacts, interpretive signs, etc.—to work from once I’m back home. To write The Last of the Blacksmiths, I took a 4-day blacksmithing class to get a glimpse of what my protagonist experienced.

What was the most interesting factoid you learned while researching your book?

How the fast pace of change in the 19th century was as life-altering for people back then as the fast pace of change is for us today.

Have your reading tastes changed since you became an author?

My tastes haven’t changed, but now I give myself permission to stop reading a book if I’m not enjoying it.

Are there any bestselling authors you hope to emulate?

Sure, I’m always aspiring to emulate authors I love to read, like Lauren Hillenbrand, Barbara Kingsolver, Daniel James Brown, Andy Weir.

What promotional tool has worked best for you?

I threw a  big launch party, with German wines, blacksmith demonstrations and horse-drawn carriage rides, which generated word-of-mouth buzz, and have a growing list of talk topics on my web page. Every effort, no matter how small, pays off one way or another.

Which promotional tools have been the least effective?

I write a column for my local newspaper about writing, where my byline states the title of my book, but that visibility seems to have generated next to no sales.

What is the most valuable lesson you’ve learned since you started publishing?

For me, becoming a published author has opened opportunities to learn and teach and share and travel. I thought it would just be a book, but it’s been so much more than that.

Do you have any fun stories to share from author events or interactions with fans?

Soon after the publication of my novel, I was invited to do a radio interview. Months later, I received a phone call from someone who’d heard it. “I was at work, and that interview was just fascinating,” the listener told me. “I made a note of your name, hoping you’d come speak for my Rotary Club in Ellensburg. Would you consider speaking for our September meeting?” Since I said yes, they also arranged for me to give a talk that same night at the library.  Let me add, I love getting fan mail. That’s the greatest.

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Meet Dennis Must

Dennis 2k“The greatest mystery of all is reality,” writes Max Beckman, the German expressionist artist. It is in this sphere of exploration without answers that I feel more at home.

The opportunities for writing and directing plays were abundant when I resided in New York City. Once I moved to New England in the early ’70s, and was no longer part of an active theater group, short fiction became my primary writing outlet. For many years I’ve employed a service that requires me to have a new or revised story every two months, which they then submit to various literary journals and magazines. This has functioned as a beneficial, albeit artificial, deadline for me without which my productivity would certainly have suffered. Concurrently I always have a novel in the making. The short fiction time limit permits a periodic return to the novel-in-progress with a fresh eye. Trading off between formats has worked well since I trust that one’s best work occurs in the rewriting.

hush_nowThe years I spent writing and directing plays do materially inform my fiction writing. When preparing to draw a character I rely on Constantin Stanislavski’s concept of emotional memory to resurrect that “person” within my consciousness. In many respects it’s more an eidetic and less cerebral process.

If one were to ask me what advice I might offer to other writers, I share the following thoughts of esteemed authors that I hold most true:

“The task of art is to transform what is continuously happening to us, to transform all these things into symbols, into music, into something which can last in man’s memory. That is our duty. If we don’t fulfill it, we feel unhappy. . . . Besides, the life of a writer, is a lonely one. You think you are alone, and as the years go by, if the stars are on your side, you may discover that you are at the center of a vast circle of invisible friends whom you will never get to know but who love you. And that is an immense reward.” Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986)

“The nature of good fiction is that it dwells in ambiguity.” E. L. Doctorow (1931-1915)

“Fiction is the art form of human yearning. That is absolutely essential to any work of fictional narrative art–a character who yearns. And that is not the same as a character who simply has problems… that yearning is at the heart of all temporal art forms.”   Robert Olen Butler

To read more about Dennis and his books, click here.

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Meet Dennis Milam Bensie

Kiersten Marie Photography

Dennis Milam Bensie (Photo by Kiersten Marie Photography)

What have you been up to? What are your latest projects?

My latest book Flit: A Poetry Mashup of Classic Literature just came out. In the months since I wrote it, I have been concentrating on flash fiction (stories under 1,000 words). I have managed to get 25 short stories published since 2012 and hope my fourth book with be those stories in an anthology.


Is there any advice you can give other authors?

Don’t be lazy. Remember –being an author is about 20% sitting down and writing wonderful things, and 80% marketing yourself (until you become Stephen King). Even if you don’t sit down and write every day, you should be planning and marketing every day.

What is your writing process?

I like to write quickly until the idea clicks. Then I let it rest for a day, then go back in for round two with fresh eyes. It’s amazing what letting your work rest for 24 hours will bring. Do round two, round three and round four if you have to. Those breaks in thought are invaluable.

How do you get your inspiration?

Everywhere, but most of my work starts with my own life. An emotion or event. Then I fictionalize what I need to. My life is in all my poetry and fiction.

What promotional tool has worked best for you?

Kickstarter. I successfully funded my book of poetry FLIT. Five Thousand dollars from 105 backers. Once people invest their money they invest in YOU. But if you go this route you really have to be a cheerleader for yourself to get people to donate.

Which promotional tools have been the least effective?

I still don’t quite get twitter.

What is the most valuable lesson you’ve learned since you started publishing?

Marketing. I see a lot of writers who are wonderful and talented but can’t market their work to save their lives. No one can read you if they can’t find you.

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