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Book Review ~~ the Banty House by Carolyn Brown

reviews, authors, writing reviews, authors, writing reviews, authors, writing reviews, authors, writing reviews, authors, writing                 5 out of 5 quills                                   Book Review 

This is a newly discovered (for me) author .  And what a pleasant surprise.  If the Banty House is any indication, this prolific author gives readers hours of charming stories. 

the Banty House is a charming tale of three old ladies who take in strays, from bedraggled kittens, to damaged heroes, to homeless young women.  Betsy, Connie and Kate are real eccentric characters who you can’t help but fall in love within the first few pages. That’s all I’m going to say, as you all know I don’t write spoilers. The writing is superb and you’ll find that you can’t put the book down. I love Carolyn Brown’s style of writing and look forward to reading more….and more. 

Even though Banty House was just released there’s already another story in the pipeline, to be released in late July, Miss Janie’s Girls. Can’t wait!

Don’t miss my interview with Carolyn Brown coming in August.
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My weekly BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!   May:  Joram Piatigorsky, June: Mike Maden writing for TOM CLANCY. July: Guest Blogger Desiree Villena, August: Carolyn Brown
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Interview with Writer for Tom Clancy, Mike Maden (Conclusion)

Q. What’s your best advice to other writers for overcoming procrastination?

MM. The first lie every writer tells themselves is this: I don’t have the time to write. The second lie is this: I can’t write. Here’s the truth: writers always write. Are you a writer? But you’re not writing? Then ask yourself this: why aren’t you writing? What are you trying to avoid by not writing? I promise you the answer is going to be some variation of abject fear. Fear of failing as a writer, of falling short of our ideal of good writing, of disappointing others, etc. In other words, it’s all about self-preservation or to be more blunt: death. Death of my ideal self, death of my status in the world as “a great writer;” some painful, shameful, hateful permutation of emotional and/or psychological destruction. Don’t believe it! Don’t define your sense of self in the world through writing. Rather, your writing is defined by your sense of self. You are not your writing. Your writing is you.

Here is the irony (and I’m stealing this from the best): if you seek to save your writer’s “life” by not doing the work in order to protect yourself, you’re going to lose the very life you’re trying to save. More simply, not writing is the death of your career. Everything you think you’re avoiding by not writing is actually going to occur when you don’t write—so write! Here’s one more tip (also stolen, in this case, from Hemingway): the first draft is always (rhymes with) “spit” so you’re only job is to “spit” out your first draft—the complete and entire first draft—and then you can fix anything later in edit, i.e., “all writing is rewriting.” If Hemingway thought his first draft was “spit” then I’m in pretty good company and so are you. I spend most of my time spitting—from an outline.

If that’s still not enough, attack the problem from the other direction. Forget yourself and simply obey the work.

Slovenia ~~ the river below the narrow trail

If you say you’re a writer then you’ve made a commitment to a “vocation” in the oldest sense of the term. Writing (truth telling, either fiction or non-fiction) is holy work; “holy” as in set apart for service. Whether or not you are religious, you committed yourself to the priesthood of Art once you said, “I am a writer.” What follows is both necessary and clear. You must recover and practice with earnest devotion the disciplines of the disciple—a follower, a student, a servant of the Work. Faith—the evidence of things hoped for, like a completed manuscript when you’re staring at the first blank page—and Love of the word are the first two hallmarks of the writer/disciple. Commitment, sacrifice, suffering…the list of the qualities of the true disciple are well known or easily discovered (e.g., the Gospels or whatever you prefer). In other words, writing is not about “you” it’s about answering the call, to saying “yes” when summoned and exerting inexhaustible effort toward the completion of the task, denying self and even other people and all other things that distract or dissuade you from your mission. “Not my will, but Thine.” If you happen to be a person of true religious faith, then your discipleship is twofold: obedience to the One who calls and fulfilling that call through the faithful exercise of the gift that the One has given you.

If all of that is too abstract then here’s the most practical advice I can give you: do yourself a favor and purchase a copy of Steven Pressfield’s, The War of Art. Study it, memorize it. Let it be your missal. Then get your derriere in the chair—and write!

Q. What comes first to you? The Characters or the Situation?

MM. Characters are all that matter. Situations, scenes, plots, actions…it all comes out of character choices, character collisions, character flaws, character construction.

Q. Do you ‘get lost’ in your writing?

MM. I start with a solid outline so I always have those touch points that keep me on the path from A to Z. But if I’m really writing—really doing it the way it’s meant to be done—I get completely carried away in the moment, plunging headlong into the river, carried along by the surging rapids.

Q. Are you working on something now? If so tell us about it.

MM. Yes. Can’t. Top secret. But it’s gonna be awesome and my first collaborative effort. News coming soon.

Q. When did you begin to write seriously?

MM. I’ve always written seriously beginning with my academic, non-fiction writing. What surprised me was to find out I was actually a writer. Yes, I could write. But I never thought of myself as a writer because of the mystery that surrounded that term. I was forty years old before I gave myself permission to call myself one. And what really surprised me was that I could write fiction. I was utterly stunned to discover I could write a screenplay but I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt I could never write a novel. Until I did. But one novel was it. Finito. No way could I do another even though I’d just signed a two-book deal. I knew I couldn’t write the sequel. Until I did. And another two-book contract showed up. And then I knew the game was up. My publisher would finally realize their big mistake. Until I finished those up too. And then…well, I think you get the idea. A serious writer writes. And writes. And writes. It’s hard work. Really hard. And it only gets harder—but only if you’re doing it right.

Q. Do you think we will see, in our lifetime, the total demise of paper books?

MM. Absolutely not. They may become rare or expensive but they will never disappear. For people of a certain age, ahem, me, the tactile nature of the printed page never ceases to amaze or comfort.

Q. What makes a writer great?

MM. All writers are great but only if they write. The act of writing—of completing the work—is an act of obedience unto the Muse. It is our offering on the altar. The mere doing of it is its own reward. Whether or not the work will be judged as “great” by history or the literati or the New York Times bestseller list is completely outside the control of the writer. We can’t choose to be “great” but we can choose to do the work. Tell the truth, be yourself (i.e., original) and do the work—the rest will follow whether you like the outcome or not.

Q. and the all-important: What does the process of going from “no book” to “finished book” look like for you?

MM. Get a bucket. Fill it with kerosene. Carry it to the top of a ten-story building. Stick your head in the bucket. Light your head on fire. Throw yourself off the roof. Hit the pavement. Douse the flames. Type, “end of chapter one.” Do it again. Sixty-five more times. Now you know what it feels like to go from “no book” to “finished book.” Easy as pie. Or as some wag said, just open up a vein and bleed onto the page.

Q. How has your life experiences influenced your writing?

MM. Everything. You write out of your life.

Q. What’s your down time look like?

MM. Reading. Watching the best film and television I can. Hanging out with my best friend (my wife). Exercise. Golf. Guns. Hiking.

Q. Have you or do you want to write in another genre`?

MM. I wish I was smart enough to write science fiction.

Q. Note to Self: (a life lesson you’ve learned.)

MM. General life lesson: “Discipline Equals Freedom.” (Jocko Willink)
General writing life lesson: “The bad news is, the Problem is Hell. The good news is, it’s just a problem. The Problem is not us. The PROBLEM is the problem. Work the Problem.” (Steven Pressfield)

PS. (from Mike Maden)  My Clancy novel ENEMY CONTACT was set in Poland. Amazing history, culture, people…and food. We love travel and learning new things but unfortunately it also means encountering the human condition in its worst permutation. Auschwitz is one such place and of all of the things that wounded me in that terrible place nothing grabbed me more than this moment. Those red shoes took me to a very dark moment. I could just see a young woman picking them out of the shop window one bright sunny morning, so happy and proud of them…having no idea where they would one day take her.

Did you miss Part I and Part 2 of this fascinating interview?

Book Review of Firing Point

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My weekly BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!    March: Olivia Hawker, April: Dan Sofer, May:  Joram Piatigorsky, June: Mike Maden writing for TOM CLANCY
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Firing Point, by Mike Maden, writing for TOM CLANCY~~Book Review

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5 out of 5 quills             ~A Book Review~

 

From the first sentence, on the first page, begins a riveting new story for Jack Ryan, Jr.  Our readers would never know that Tom Clancy wasn’t writing this book. Mike Maden does his usual magic in creating another harrowing international intrigue. 

The story winds and weaves through Spain, with flash-backs to Washington D.C., and cruises the deep seas of the South Pacific.  Supreme intrigue, international terrorists, spies, and lots of techno stuff that I adore.  An extremely complex story plot made simple and clear in the deft hands (and pen) of Mike Maden. 

My new readers (Tom Clancy fans) may not know this about me: I don’t write spoilers. I don’t write cliff notes for the book. I review the WRITING! And it is a pleasure to report that the writing here is superb. 

I highly recommend this book to my readers. 
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My weekly BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!    March: Olivia Hawker, April: Dan Sofer, May:  Joram Piatigorsky, June: Mike Maden writing for TOM CLANCY
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The Goodbye Man by Jeffery Deaver ~~ Book Review

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Most people, who have not been seduced into a cult, are fascinated by them. For example, I find it hard to imagine subjugating myself totally to a ‘family’, a group, a commune of people with one belief. Coming under the spell of one person (usually a man) who preaches whatever just to lure you in. To give up all my worldly possessions, including money (first red flag) and surrendering my mind and soul. 

But death, grief, depression, tragedy, desperation can and does drive thousands of people to hundreds of cults across this country. The Goodbye Man takes the reader into a fictional cult who promises immortality.  Jeffery Deaver weaves a wonderful story with a plot that twists and turns with regularity. He writes with a flare that is slightly scary and causes a pit of fear in the bottom of the reader’s stomach. 

The irony, for me, was I kept seeing Donald Trump in the Deaver’s character, Master Eli (the Leader). The cadence of Eli’s speech, the repetition of certain words, (‘gorgeous’, ‘the best ever’, ‘the best in his class’, etc.) and the lies that no one could fact-check.  When a cult expert was consulted (in the story) they listed the narcissist traits in cult leaders and really!… Donald Trump was all over the page. The parallels were so starkly drawn for this reviewer, I couldn’t help but comment on it. 

Cult Leader                                            Donald Trump
all consuming ego                               all consuming ego
attacks his enemies                              attacks his enemies
lashes out in anger                                lashes out in anger
an absolute belief that he’s always    an absolute belief that he’s always right
right                 
won’t listen to advice or criticism      won’t listen to advice or criticism
paranoid                                                  paranoid
craves worship and adulation            craves worship and adulation

and…sorry, America but….43% of you are in the biggest cult existing in modern history.

I thoroughly enjoyed this read and highly recommend it.  

 

Did you miss my Interview with Jeffery Deaver?
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MY BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!    March: Olivia Hawker, April: Dan Sofer, May:  Joram Piatigorsky
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An Interview with Author, Joram Piatigorsky (part 2)

Q. Where/when do you first discover your characters?

JP. Good question. I think I discover my characters in combination with when a story comes to mind. The story usually comes to me by having an idea – almost an image – nothing more, of what I want the story to be about. For example, I had the idea that I wanted to write a story about a man whose favorite activity was standing in line. Crazy, I know. The story is called The Open Door and it’s about a man who lives vicariously hearing the experiences of others in line. That was the character in mind that came essentially with the story idea. He is timid and struggling with the conflict of who he is, himself or a product of everyone else.

The protagonist of my novel, Jellyfish Have Eyes, is an Argentinean scientist who studied jellyfish eyes (yes, jellyfish do have eyes and I have published several research papers on them). My protagonist, Ricardo Sztein, is partly my alter-ego in a world of science, mixed with large doses of fantasy as well as issues about basic science — the world I inhabited for so many years. It’s the classic first novel – one with autobiographical meaning.

The characters from my latest short story collection, Notes Going Underground, are pure fantasy. The character in the title story gives a eulogy to himself as he watches his live body slip into the coffin at his side. He developed as I wrote, and he changed personality a bit this way and that as the story unfolded. This story also includes a question of identity, as well as the fantasy of a porous nature between life and death. So, there is no one way that I create my characters: They are all a part of me, but none completely me. They are also my imagination, and sometimes have a foil for contrast and sharp relief.

Q. What first inspired you to write?

JP. Although a science major at college, I loved literature courses and took quite a few and wrote a bit, ideas and such. While science dominated my life, I still liked writing, so I was prolific writing science. Then, at 46 and fully engaged as a scientist, I started writing a short story on vacation in Maine and loved creating an imaginary world. On returning home, I took writing workshops at The Writer’s Center in Bethesda, MD, kept writing, more and more, and here I am, a writer.

Q. What comes first to you? The Characters or the Situation?

JP. Interesting question. I think the characters come to me first since they are all embedded in me in some form or other and I can’t run away from myself. Then, the story or situations I put them in follow from who they are.

Q. Do you ‘get lost’ in your writing?

JP. Yes, on good days. Sometimes, however, my mind just doesn’t click and it’s a struggle to write anything I like. I think it’s important when that happens to not to push it, when to take a break and do something else. But on the good days, writing is like quicksand. I sink and get absorbed, time suspends, and I forget to take a break now and then. I just write. I love when that happens.

Q. Are you working on something now? If so tell us about it.

JP. I have blogged on my website and on Facebook for the last four years. The blogs are disorganized ideas, free associations in a way, about writing, creativity, personal experiences, Inuit art, whatever. I thought of the blogs as a foundation to expand and develop later. Now I’m at home sheltered in self-quarantine like the rest of the world, which gives me time to do just that. I’m putting together my collected thoughts in organized short essays grouped in themes. It’s coming along. Stay tuned.

Q. When did you begin to write seriously?

JP. I began to write seriously when I returned from a vacation in Maine, where I wrote my first (very) short story. I loved doing that and wanted to continue. However, science still sapped my time when I returned, so I only wrote short pieces now and then, in cracks of time as I called it, nothing with publishing in mind. I also took writing workshops at The Writer’s Center in Bethesda, MD, for about 10 years, until I closed my research laboratory to devote my time to writing. It’s been ten years since then and I keep writing.

Q. Do you think we will see, in our lifetime, the total demise of paper books?

JP. Certainly not in my lifetime (I’m 80!). But I think paper books will continue for a long time. There’s nothing quite like a tangible book that can be held and read. I read electronically from time to time, but I don’t like it. It’s not the same as holding the “real” book. They last generations and are not dependent on the operating system in vogue at the time. I can’t imagine we would have the dead sea scrolls if it were only as an ebook!

Don’t Miss Part 3 of this Fascinating Interview ~~ May 29th
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MY BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!    March: Olivia Hawker, April: Dan Sofer, May:  Joram Piatigorsky
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Book Review ~~ Brave Girl, Quiet Girl

5 out of  5 quills            ~~  A Book  Reviewreviews, authors, writing reviews, authors, writingreviews, authors, writingreviews, authors, writingreviews, authors, writing

 

No surprises here! The writing is …..(I’m running out of adjectives)…superb, luscious, heart rending, and inspired. The characters that Catherine Ryan Hyde has created and drawn are empathic, scary, motivating, and real. The reader falls in love with all of them, even the villains. 

Never one to write spoilers….I’ll let the back jacket of the book do that…I’d rather give my assessment of the writing, the characters and the story. 
The writing: flawless, (as usual) keeping the reader riveted to the story. The characters: Well drawn with depth and a back story for each character. The bonding between a run-away teen and a toddler is beautiful to witness.  The story: You’d think that it was unlikely and (slightly) unbelievable for a run away to keep a baby for that long but then the reader understands that Molly had very few, if any, options.  This is the story of three people who find each other…but the question is, will they keep each other?

I highly recommend this book to my readers. It’s a rich story about the humanity in all of us. 

Did you miss my Interview with Catherine Ryan Hyde?
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MY BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!    March: Olivia Hawker, April: Dan Sofer, May:  Joram Piatigorsky
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Book Review ~~ Robert B. Parker’s Grudge Match

reviews, authors, writing  reviews, authors, writingreviews, authors, writingreviews, authors, writing    4 out of 5  quills      ~~  Book Review   

 

This reviewer is a big fan of Robert B. Parker but I  hadn’t  read  a Sunny Randall story  in  about ten years. Grudge Match was an excellent way to get reacquainted with Sunny. 

Sunny is hired by one of her nemesis, gangsta’, Tony Marcus. His business (criminal enterprises) partner has disappeared and he needs to find her. All the old characters are back; Susan Silverman, Spike, Junior, Ty Bop, Jesse Stone and Molly Crane, just to name a few. 

There’s a sub-plot involving Sunny’s ex-husband, Richie, that nicely breaks up the through-line of crime, murder and mayhem. Richie becomes,almost over night, the awkward step-father to a endearing, wise (beyond his tender years) boy, Richard. Completely unprepared he sucks Sunny into a sometime auntie/babysitter role. 

Mike Lupica, the writer, does a superb job of continuing this series. The writing is total Robert B. Parker and Mike doesn’t miss a beat. 
Enjoyable story and I was delighted to, once again, run the streets with Sunny Randall .

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MY BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!    March: Olivia Hawker, April: Dan Sofer, May:  Joram Piatigorsky
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Interview with Olivia Hawker, Author (conclusion)

Q. What makes a great writer?

OH. Greatness is so subjective, I don’t even know how to begin answering that question! But it is a question worth asking.
For me, I think a writer is great—as in powerful—when they are fearless. It can be really hard to expose our true emotions and our true thoughts. Most humans fear too much criticism; we fear being shamed and we fear doing things that run counter to our culture’s expectations. So it can be really intimidating for a writer to expose an unpopular opinion or even just to write in a really emotive, vulnerable manner.
It’s so much safer and therefore more comfortable to tell stories that don’t challenge the status quo. You’ll never be shamed for going along with what’s expected of you. In fact, you’ll usually be celebrated for it. I certainly don’t think less of any writer who chooses to stick to what feels safe and comfortable, and there are a whole lot of wonderful, beloved, and frankly lucrative stories in that safe/comfortable zone; a writer can make an entire career, and be wildly successful, by being safe.
But in my opinion, you can’t achieve greatness by being safe or by serving the status quo. And certainly, when we continue to uphold the status quo, we’re directly creating a culture that upholds all the things that go along with it—hierarchies, oppressions, homogenization, the stifling of some wise and brilliant voices.

Q. and the all-important: What does the process of going from “no book” to “finished book” look like for you?

OH. Sitting at my desk every day and putting in the work! Those initial days when I know I’ve hit on a shiny new idea and I’m so excited about it—they don’t last forever. With almost all my books, ennui sets in and I start to think of that book as a total drag. I still get it done. I’ve got a mortgage to pay; this is my only source of income and, with my lack of a degree, it’s certainly the only well-paying job I’ll ever be able to get. Better get that book done if I want to keep a roof over my head… and then I’d better move on to the next book as quickly as possible.

View from my desk

When you’re a baby writer dreaming about what it’ll be like to write full-time someday, you never imagine that vast swaths of this profession are just you glaring at your manuscript and thinking, “Ugh, I hate this piece of junk so much.” Much of the time, writing is a job like any other, with the same deadlines and grinds and frustrations and outrages. But as I said before, my worst day writing still beats the hell out of my best day doing accounts payable!

Q. How have your life experiences influenced your writing?

At my desk

OH. Oh my gosh, how have they not? For me, for my writing process (and, I suppose, the process of my inspiration, all the pre-actual-writing stuff) I can’t separate my life experiences at all. Which is kind of funny, because I never write about myself directly. This book I’m working on for Lake Union right now is the closest I’ve ever come to writing about myself, and it’s still not very close to actually writing about myself. I don’t do that thing where I make certain characters avatars for Libbie (aka Olivia)—that’s just not how my brain works. Yet I can so clearly identify exactly which bits of this character or that character are parts of me. And there is a part of me—usually a big part—in every single character I write, even the awful ones.
Really, though, I think that’s true for most authors, though some may not be fully aware of it. We may not have direct experience with the specific situations our characters are in, but we have felt all the same emotions they feel.
 I think the writers whose work really resonates with readers—the writers who become memorable instead of forgettable—are always influenced by their life experiences. How else can you write about life if you won’t allow your own life to influence your work—all of your life, the beautiful moments and the terrible ones?

Q. What’s your down time look like?

OH. I love my garden. I’m always working to expand it and I’m always tinkering with it—adding features, moving plants, improving the setup so it’s more resilient. I spend a lot of time outside with my plants and the bugs and the little garter snakes and the voles who live in my grapevine. I’m sure that answer won’t surprise anyone who has read One for the Blackbird, One for the Crow.

My garden

When weather won’t permit me to frolic among the plants (like right now—it’s snowing and it’s miserable outside) I spin yarn and occasionally I get around to knitting or weaving with the yarn I’ve spun.
I live in a pretty isolated place—my island is at least an hour from the mainland by fast boat, and sometimes the trip takes longer; even then, it’s still a couple hours’ drive to the nearest sizable city, which is Seattle. Way out here, you have to make your own fun, so I do a lot of quiet, introspective things—but I really enjoy the isolation and the solitude. Occasionally the isolation does get to me; I’m only human. Writers need those things at least as much as we need garter snakes and flowers.

Note to Self: (a life lesson you’ve learned.)

OH. Trust your gut. Go where your instincts lead you. There is no one else on the planet like you; only you can tell your story and tell it the way it wants to be told. Listen to the story when it speaks to you. Honor its desire to come forth. Be a brave and confident midwife: Bring your story into this world, and damn what anybody else thinks of it.

Did you miss the beginning? Click here.
Review of One for the Blackbird…
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MY BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!    December: Dervla McTiernan – January: David Poyer, March: Olivia Hawker, April: Dan Sofer 
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Book Review ~ Red Mountain Burning

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This trilogy (Red Mountain, Red Mountain Rising) is spectacular! Red Mountain Burning, while touted as the end of the series, really doesn’t tie it all up. Full Stop! End of story. (literally). So I hope this author realizes that and he finds the true ending in a fourth book. But that wish is only from a truly selfish reader and fan. I, like many other fans of Boo Walker, want more of Brooks, Otis, Joan, Jake, Margot, Emilia, , just to name some. 

The trilogy is so well written with deep characters fleshed out into real people that we know or have known.  The vines become a character in themselves in all the books. I as a reader, cared deeply about the vines doing well and the harvest being excellent. When Otis’ barrels are crushed, I was sick with regret for him and his wine. 

A word about the cover (which I rarely mention): I must take issue with it. While dynamic, it gives away too much of the story. After seeing the cover, the reader is distracted waiting for the story to get to the ‘burning’ of Red Mountain. But what a great story!

I highly recommend this book. The writing is superb, the characters well drawn; eccentric, entertaining, frustrating, and charming. Boo has relocated to Florida, in real life, and it will be fascinating to see what (if any) characters from Red Mountain follow him.
A new book is slated to be released in August this year.   

Did you miss my Interview with Boo?
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MY BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!    December: Dervla McTiernan – January: David Poyer, March: Olivia Hawker, April: Dan Sofer 
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Interview with Author of ‘One for the Blackbird, One for the Crow’

TS. We continue here with part 3 of this fascinating look into Olivia Hawker’s writing process. 

Q. You mentioned, in your bio, that your novels were inspired by ‘true stories from your family tree.’ Can you tell us about that?

OH. I love genealogy (a holdover from my Mormon days) and I’ve gone down some wild rabbit holes while doing genealogical research. You can find the most fascinating stories in old journals and typewritten versions of families’ oral histories. And if you know how to read between the lines of certain kinds of genealogical records, you can uncover a lot of “silent” stories, too—information your family members probably wanted to keep hidden. For example, I’d read during some of my research for a forthcoming novel that there were a few women among the early Mormons who had multiple husbands (men having multiple wives is a well-documented and well-known fact.) By reading between the lines of some interesting church marriage records, I was able to figure out that one of my own ancestors was a woman who was married to four different men at the same time. Get it, girl!
But the two books I’m referencing in particular are The Ragged Edge of Night and One for the Blackbird, One for the Crow. Ragged Edge is about my husband’s grandfather, who was a former Franciscan friar and a music teacher living in a tiny village in rural Germany during World War II. He got involved in a plot to assassinate Hitler… as one does. His real story made for some pretty gripping fiction, so I didn’t have to change much in order to write an interesting book.
Blackbird is much more loosely based on fact, but I did find the core of that story in a family tale of adultery, death, and the forced cooperation of two women who really, really hated each other’s guts, but had no choice but to work together if they wanted to survive out on the Wyoming frontier. I changed a lot to make Blackbird what it is.
It just goes to show that you can write fiction that cleaves very firmly to facts or you can get more creative and free-wheeling with it—there’s room for either approach in the market.

Q. Where/when do you first discover your characters?

OH. I typically discover titles before anything else. I’ll just be going about my day, minding my own business, and sometimes a title for a new book will explode into my head and demand my all attention. I keep a little notebook with me at all times, and I jot down all these title ideas in that notebook. Over months or years, one of my many titles will sort of step out of that general fog and say to me, “I’m your next book. Me. This one. It’s my time now to come into the world, so you’d better get to work and start making me.”
After the title tells me it’s ready to become a book, it starts telling me what it wants to be about, thematically—what message it wants to convey to the world. Once I understand the theme and overall tone (or atmosphere or mood) of a book, then I can create characters who will serve the theme and the tone. My characters are all little handmaids and man servants to the story. I make them be whatever I need them to be, in order to carry the book’s message effectively to readers and present it in a way they’ll understand.

My garden

So for example, I’d known for years about this family story of adultery on the Wyoming frontier, and the two women who hated each other but were forced to live together anyway. I didn’t start writing One for the Blackbird, One for the Crow until that title (which had been lurking in my notebook since about 2014) told me it wanted to be about death—how death is a natural and necessary part of life, and how, by disconnecting ourselves from and denying death, humans have made themselves strangers to nature, and that separation from nature has damaged our psyches and sickened our societies. We can only heal ourselves and our world by accepting that our rightful, humble place is within nature, not set apart from it as a conquering and domineering force. And we can’t accept our place within nature until we accept the realities of death.

Q. What first inspired you to write?

OH. Watership Down. I’ve always liked rabbits, so my dear sweet dad—blundering goofball that he was—thought it would be a great idea to show me the film adaptation when I was a little kid. A really little kid. I don’t know how old I was exactly when I first saw it; I must have been about five years old. That’s probably way too young for a kid to be exposed to that film. 

Q. Do you ‘get lost’ in your writing?

OH. I’m not sure. Maybe. I think it depends on what “getting lost” means. I certainly enjoy writing very much. There’s almost nothing I’d rather do on any given day than write, but sadly, I have maybe three or four good hours in me per day before my brain just vapor-locks and everything goes downhill. I usually revel in those few hours, though, and enjoy them. I get very emotionally invested in my work while I’m actively writing it. I cry A LOT while I write. I cry so much; it’s kind of embarrassing. But I figure that’s a good thing, you know? 

Q. Are you working on something now? If so tell us about it.

OH. I’m always working on something! I just wrapped up my longest, most complex historical novel to date. I’d been working on it off and on for seven years, but only recently did that book jump up and tell me to focus on it exclusively until it was finished. Now it’s off to my agent; we’re hoping to sell that book to a major publisher this spring. It’s set in the Burned-Over District of the Northeast United States during the 1830s and 1840s—a fascinating time in American history, both from a political and a cultural perspective, but it’s a setting I don’t see explored often in fiction. And I’m finishing up my next novel for Lake Union Publishing. It’s set in rural Idaho during the 1970s. On the surface, it’s about a family of artists who are struggling to manage their tricky relationships while also struggling to carve out careers, but since I always write to serve an underpinning theme, it’s really about the intense and unique love creative people feel for those who inspire their work. 

Q. Do you think we will see, in our lifetime, the total demise of paper books?

OH. No; I think paper books will continue to be produced for a long time yet to come. But they have already begun to occupy a new place in the market. I think of them as being analogous to vinyl records now.

Q. What makes a writer great?

Join us next week for the conclusion of this great Interview!
Did you miss the beginning? Click here.
Review of One for the Blackbird…
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