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More Interview with Culley Holderfield (Conclusion)

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

CH. I work at it until I can stand it no more. Then, I share the entire manuscript with readers I trust to give me honest feedback and step away from it while they read. If I’m lucky, it will take them a while, and I can gain some distance from the project. Once I have their comments, I’ll reread it myself, then revise it all over again. Sometimes it may take only a draft or two after that. Other times, as with Hemlock Hollow, it may take an entirely new draft and then eight more passes to get to the point where I feel the novel is where I want it. Then I start submitting it. If I’m lucky, it will get picked up by an agent or an editor, at which point I get to go through the process all over again.

Q. How have your life experiences influenced your writing?

CH. Tremendously. As I mentioned, my writing was influenced heavily by the cabin my parents bought right after I was born. Growing up, I learned to love storytelling on the front porch of that cabin when my grandmother would tell tales of her childhood and adults would share the goings on of their worlds. My fiction is often about the importance and

Anything that’s out-of-doors, Culley’s there

impermanence of place over time, how we can be nurtured and haunted by the places that make us who we are. And that comes directly from my own past of falling in love with places that change because all places change. Much of my writing is an effort to come to grips with that truth.

Q. What’s your downtime look like?

CH. What’s downtime? Just kidding. Sometimes it does feel like I don’t have much downtime. I have a demanding job that I love, and writing takes up most of what would otherwise be my free time. But I do manage to spend quite a bit of time in nature. I hike and paddle and camp when I can. Travel is one of my favorite things to do, and I read a lot and watch a lot of movies.

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

CH. That first novel I set aside was a spy thriller set in Ecuador, and at some point, hopefully not too far down the line, I have a pre-historical fantasy novel I’d like to write.

Cooking in Tuscany

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

CH. Step one, if you want to be a writer, is to read widely. Step two is to write often. Step three is to find your place in a community of writers and engage with them.

You don’t have to do it all yourself; in fact, you can’t. When I was just starting out as a young writer, I thought all it took was sitting down and writing. Writing a novel is hard work, but it turns out that just writing well is not enough to succeed in this business. In addition to grit and persistence, you really need to find community. That’s hard for writers. Most of us are introverts, after all. But for me, finding other writers with similar goals and similar levels of commitment has made all the difference in my writing life. My twenty-five year-old self wouldn’t believe me if I told him this.

Cabin that inspired book

He would shrug me off and shoulder on alone, but no writer has ever succeeded in that way. Take advantage of writers’ groups and associations. Go to conferences. Meet other writers. Be willing to share your work and to have others share their work with you. In North Carolina, we have the North Carolina Writers’ Network, which has really been important to my growth as a writer. Other states may have similar organizations, so seek them out.


Did you miss the start of this wonderful interview?
    Look for my review of this book December 2nd. 

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Interview with author, Culley Holderfield (part 3)

Q. Are you working on something now or have a new release coming up? If so tell us about it.

CH. My debut novel, Hemlock Hollow, is forthcoming from Regal House Publishing on December 6 of this year. It’s a historical, Appalachian novel about a college professor who inherits a cabin and with it the ghost who haunted her childhood. In the process of renovating the cabin, she uncovers a journal written by Carson Quinn a hundred years before, and she can’t square the boy’s voice in the journal with the murderer he became. 

One of Culley’s writing spaces. Albemarle Sound in eastern NC

My work in progress is a historical novel set in Western North Carolina during the Civil War. It involves the Red String Order, also called the Heroes of America, which was a secret organization in North Carolina that opposed secession.

Q. When did you begin to write seriously?

CH. I started to write seriously in college. I crafted my college career around becoming a novelist. I started at Wake Forest, then transferred to UNC-Chapel Hill. At UNC, I completed the undergraduate creative writing program, studying with Bland Simpson and Doris Betts. I finished my first novel shortly after graduating college. It was okay for a first novel, but it was a first novel, and needed a lot of work. I rewrote it seven times over fifteen years, all the while marketing it to agents. Despite some close calls, no one ever picked it up, so I set it aside. When that didn’t sell right off the bat, I realized that my path to success wasn’t going to be Garp’s path to success. I tried freelancing. Interestingly enough, freelancing wasn’t great for my fiction. I changed tactics and found a good, meaningful day job that has left enough time for me to continue to write. Five years or so ago, I was fortunate to find Writeaways, which is a unique writing workshop model run by Mimi Herman and John Yewell. They are great mentors and pals. Being immersed in a community of like-minded and supportive writers has made a huge difference in both the quality and volume of my work.

Carl Sandburg Home in Flat Rock, NC, ‘ a place that never fails to inspire me.”

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

CH. No. Not in our lifetime. I think we’ve seen and will continue to see a resurgence in paper books as people realize how much damage staring at screens does to our emotional and mental health, and how utterly addictive the virtual world is. Maybe this is wishful thinking on my part. I may be the only serious reader remaining who doesn’t own an e-reader.
I do think eventually, if we figure out how to survive climate change intact, we will eventually wind up reading entirely on Star Trek-like tablets. While we clearly have the technology to do that now, I think it won’t be ubiquitous until long after we’re gone.

Q. What makes a writer great?

CH. I think there are a lot of different ways for writers to be great. Ernest Hemingway is great differently than Margaret Atwood is great. But the kind of great writing that moves me and that I aspire to write is work that creates an authentic narrative experience for the reader. In The Art of Fiction, John Gardner describes the fictive dream that readers enter into when reading good fiction. The writer can get away with pretty much anything as long as she or he doesn’t wake the reader from that dream state. So, I think at a minimum, a great writer entrances the reader into this fictive dream state. There are writers who can do that by spinning a great yarn and others who do it by turn of phrase, but the best writers do both well without one overwhelming the other on the page.

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

CH. It starts with an inkling, a voice calling out, begging to enter this world, then a blank page that in its blankness contains infinite possibility. Each word inscribed on that page constrains those possibilities exponentially. Eventually, with enough words comprising enough sentences composing enough paragraphs, a story emerges. If I’m successful, that story holds me for the year or more it takes to build a first draft. Once the draft is complete, the work begins. Now I have the clay with which I can mold my novel into something coherent.

Watch for the conclusion to this wonderful interview next week.

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My chat with author, Culley Holderfield (part 2)

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

CH. They come from all over. Since I write mostly historical fiction, many of my characters emanate from my research. I might pattern them on actual historical figures, or sometimes I just take the historical figures and put them whole hog into the book. You have to be careful with that, though. If you include real people in your novel, you need to make sure you’re describing them accurately and not having them do anything that runs counter to their known history. I also have characters arrive when I’m walking or in the shower or while driving. They show up, and it may just be their voice at first. Or it may be something else, like an image or an expression. Sometimes I might dream them, and every once in a while they are ghosts.

Q. What first inspired you to write?

CH. I’ve always made up stories. My mother has the evidence in the form of little handwritten books I did as early as first grade. But I distinctly remember being in the 8th grade and having an assignment to write a short story for English class. I remember sitting down at the dining room table with a clutch of blank pages, and starting with the sentence, “It was a serene, brisk day, great for hiking.” It wound up being a ghost story, and the teacher loved it. From that encouragement came the desire to write more and write better. Then, my senior year of high school, I read The World According to Garp. In Garp, John Irving peeled back the curtain on the writing life for me. It taught me that one might actually become a writer as Garp did. Before that I hadn’t really thought about writing as a possible career choice. Once I realized it could be that, it became something I couldn’t shake, so I set my sights on becoming a novelist.

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

CH. Almost always characters create the situation with the decisions they make. Good fiction puts characters into the position of having to make choices, and the

Hickory Nut Gorge where story takes place

choices that they make result in outcomes that lead to them having to make new choices. The engine for all of this is desire, the characters trying to get what they want. I’m not a good enough planner to map out ahead of time what situations my characters will get themselves into. So I typically leave it up to them, hoping that I’ve put enough work into understanding them that I understand their motivations and can authentically render that onto the page.

Q. Do you ‘get lost’ in your writing?

Hiking in the Hollow where story takes place

CH. Yes. If I allow myself sufficient time, I’ll easily get lost in the narrative. The characters in my work-in-progress are fascinating to me. The more time I spend with them, the more fully formed they become. When I understand them really well, even the minor characters, the story can just take off in unexpected, though fully logical, directions. I may find myself hours later emerging from this state of consciousness that leaves me almost dizzy and pleasantly numb, like I’ve been in an almost meditative state for all that time.

Q. What compelled you to choose and settle on the genre you now write in?

CH. I’ve always been interested in history. In college, I double-majored in History and Comparative Literature. But what inspired 

 me to write the particular series of books that I’m working on now, including Hemlock Hollow, was the cabin my parents own in the mountains of Western North Carolina. I grew up, like Caroline, the main character of the novel, spending my summers and weekends there. One summer, my father was cleaning out an attic we didn’t know we had, and he uncovered a box full of old photos. They were from the 1930s and before. Presumably, they were the people who had built the cabin and lived there. I was fascinated by those black and white images of these men and women who lived in that same place where I spent so much time yet had such different lives from mine. Later I would turn my historical research skills onto those families and the entire Hickory Nut Gorge region. Eventually, I made up a fictional family, the Quinns, and their fictional lives intertwined with real history, which became the fodder for this book.

Watch for part 3 next week.

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Interview with author, Culley Holderfield

Writing my next book

TS.   Culley Holderfield is a writer from Durham, NC. He is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he completed the undergraduate creative writing program. He primarily writes fiction but has been known to dabble in poetry and essays. His work has appeared in a variety of publications, including Dime Show Review, Amarillo Bay, Yellow Mama, Scarlet Leaf, Kakalak 2016, Kakalak 2020, and Floyd County Moonshine. Hemlock Hollow, his debut novel, is forthcoming from Regal House Publishing in December 2022 in their Sour Mash Southern literature series.

Q. Where do you write? Do you have a special room, shed, barn, or special space for your writing? Or tell us about your ‘dream’ workspace.

CH. I have a really nice desk that my in-laws gave me that I often use, but I sometimes I write in my easy chair with my feet up. I’d love to have a writing shack or hut. A few years back, I visited George Bernard Shaw’s home in Hertfordshire, England. He had a writing hut in his garden where he produced the bulk of his work. It housed his writing desk and typewriter and a day bed. The best part is that it was built on a swivel so that he could rotate it throughout the day to follow the sun. If it’s good enough for George Bernard Shaw, it’s good enough for me!

Q. Do you have any special rituals or quirks when you sit down to write? (a neat workspace, sharpened #2 pencils, legal pad, cup of tea, a glass of brandy, favorite pajamas, etc.)

CH. I try to steer clear of rituals when it comes to writing. I don’t want my creativity to become dependent on having to meet particular needs. That said, writing itself is its own ritual for me. For a while, I used to start my writing sessions by doing a few minutes of stream-of-consciousness writing to get my creative juices flowing. I don’t do that anymore, but I journal and meditate before I write, and those serve a similar purpose.

Q. Could you tell us something about yourself that we might not already know?

CH. My favorite bit of trivia about myself is that I’ve officially resided in nine different counties in North Carolina in my life, dispersed throughout the state, from the piedmont to the mountains to the coast.

Q. What tools do you begin with? Legal pad, spiral notebook, pencils, fountain pen, or do you go right to your keyboard?

CH. I tend to do all my work on a computer. I’ve tried notebooks and legal pads and index cards, but my organizational skills are subpar, and I tend to lose track of

Debut book

them. If I keep everything in the same folder in Word, there’s a chance I won’t lose them. When starting a project, I begin with research and characters, and those usually go hand in hand. When I was beginning my current work-in-progress, I knew that it would be set in North Carolina in the 1860s and I had a good sense of two of the main characters. I then immersed myself into the era and place, and gained a lot of ideas and insights for the arc of the book that I fleshed out in different documents on my computer.

Q. Do you enjoy writing in other forms (playwriting, poetry, short stories, etc.)? If yes, tell us about it.

CH. Yes. I often write short stories and poems in between my longer projects. I have an ideas document that contains a number of ideas for short stories or poems. When I have time, I’ll work on those. Short stories and poetry are harder for me to write than novels. I was a long distance runner in my younger days, and I think I’m just built for sustained pacing over time. A short story is like running the 400, and a poem is like a 100 yard sprint. I can do them if I force myself, but it induces a lot of pain and suffering to get them right, and I’m never going to be great at them. Just like it’s good to mix in high-intensity and low-intensity modalities of exercise, I figure it’s good for me to mix in different forms of writing every once in a while.

My writing partner

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

CH. There’s procrastination, and then there’s writer’s block. It’s probably good to figure which one you’re dealing with. If you know what you want to write and just aren’t able to make time for it, I think there are a number of strategies that can help. Most of them boil down to making it easy on yourself by setting small, attainable goals. My goal for any one writing session is to grow my manuscript by at least one page. Sometimes that means I don’t even have to write a full page. I can just edit my work until the manuscript grows by a page. So, if I have 35 total pages in the document when I start, I want to see that there are 36 pages when I finish. (Note: adding spaces between paragraphs doesn’t count!)

If I’m having trouble getting going, that’s more of a writer’s block issue. I may just tell myself that all I need to do is to write one word. If I can change or add a single word, I will have made progress. Also, it’s freeing to remember that whatever you write today, you’ll probably wind up changing during revision. All that really matters is that you make progress. This takes the pressure off. All of that said, once I get going it’s rare that I only add that one word. I usually wind up writing a page or so, and a page or so per day is a novel a year.

Join us next week for Part II of this wonderful interview with new author,  Culley Holderfield.

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Book Review ~~ The Boardwalk Bookshop

4 out 0f five stars  ~~ Book Review


No surprise here. Susan Mallery dishes up another excellent contemporary fiction for women. A great story with lots of plot twists and romance. A real page-turner. 

This time three women who don’t know each other share a lease on a retail space none of them can afford by themselves. They set up shop, books, muffins, and gifts, right off the sand, on the boardwalk in Santa Monica, California. Each has been wounded by love in the past, romantic or familial; it all hurts the same. 

All three main characters are equally balanced with in-depth storylines, so the reader has the opportunity to care about each one of them. Will their particular shop succeed? Will true love win out?  How many nasty turns will life serve up before the women find happiness?

I highly recommend this as your next book. But it’s no secret (by now) that I’m a huge fan of Susan Mallery myself.

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Interview with author, Donna Ashcroft

Donna Ashcroft declared she would be an author at the age of twelve and used to write voraciously. During her career, Donna worked in publishing, online retail and as a freelance copywriter until she started her family.  She had two children and finally decided she’d reached her “now or never” time. She joined the Romantic Novelists Association and started to write seriously in 2016. In 2018 (after penning a number of novels) she was offered a publishing contract by Bookouture and has been with them ever since. Her debut novel, Summer in the Castle Café was shortlisted for the RNA Debut Romantic Novel of the Year Award in 2019.

She says, “I love a happy ending and am never more content than when I’m escaping into a romance novel or movie. When I’m not reading or writing I’m probably swimming, or negotiating with my OH or teenagers about who is doing the washing up.”

Q. Where do you write? Do you have a special room, shed, barn, special space for your writing? (please provide a photo of you at work in your shed, room, closet, barn, houseboat….) Or tell us about your ‘dream’ work space.

DA. I work in my spare room. It’s a small space so we had to take the bed down and I have the headboards along one wall! I’ve tried to make it into a lovely space with a heart banner, plants and pictures of my novels. When the sun is shining though I love working outside in the garden. My ‘dream’ workspace would probably involve a pool and somewhere I can shelter from the sun but take a dip whenever I wanted to.

Q. Do you have any special rituals or quirks when you sit down to write? (a neat work space, sharpened #2 pencils, legal pad, cup of tea, glass of brandy, favorite pajamas, etc.)

DA. In the mornings I have to have coffee (multiple) and can’t start work without a caffeine hit. I also always have water on the go and drink plenty as the day progresses. I have hand cream on my desk as it’s good to just take a little time out sometimes to have a mindful moment as I’m applying it.

My office

Other must haves include pens, pretty notebooks and post it notes which I make notes on all the time! I also have a ball instead of a chair for when I’m working in an attempt to look after my back.

Q. Could you tell us something about yourself that we might not already know?

DA. I’ve been training to do a 1.4km open water swim since March – the swim is this weekend and I’m terrified but I always think it’s important to try  new challenges. I’m a qualified life coach and NLP Practitioner. I don’t practice but I think the learning experience was useful to understanding behaviour in both myself and others.

Q. What tools do you begin with? Legal pad, spiral notebook, pencils, fountain pen, or do you go right to your keyboard?

A daily walk with my friend’s dog Tiggy

DA. I usually like to make notes on a pretty notepad when I’m brainstorming but I then hop straight onto the keyboard.

Q. Do you have a set time each day (or night) to write?

DA. I’m a full-time writer so I write between 8am and 6pm on weekdays and sometimes I work in the mornings on weekends. I take regular breaks to refresh my mind and body.

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

Heart banner in my office

DA. Treat writing like a profession. You can’t wait for your muse, you just have to get on with it. Often I’ve spent a day writing chapters I think are awful, but then I often discover a nugget in there that’s worth keeping. Writing is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration with a little talent thrown in.


Join us next week for Part 2 of this Interview

Coming soon! July’s author interview with Donna Ashcroft.

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Review ~~ Dreaming of Flight by Catherine Ryan Hyde

5+ out of 5 stars  Book Review


Odd, loveable, quirky characters are sprinkled throughout this story. From the first page they  seduce and beguile the reader.

Stewie, a 10 year old boy (when we first meet him) is passively neglected by his overly taxed, older sister.  His Gam has recently died and as a way to stay connected to his much beloved grandmother, he adopts and takes over the care of her chickens.  During his ‘egg route’ he meets Marilyn, another grandma-type with the same rough edge as his Gam. 

And that’s where I’ll leave the spoiler alert.  The writing is done with the same brilliance we have come to expect from Catherine Ryan Hyde. Her turn of phrase is unapparelled.  Her balance of descriptive text and dialogue is near-perfect. And my readers know how too little dialogue irks me!  This will never happen in a Hyde book.  The characters are well thought out and deeply written. Hyde ‘shows’ you her characters; never tells you who and what they are. And who else could get a beautiful story out of a young boy and his chickens?

I highly recommend this book to my readers. If you loved Allie and Bea (and I did!) you will certainly love Dreaming of Flight.

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Writing isn’t a calling; it’s a Doing!

Lillian Hellman said this. ‘If you hope to be any good, nothing you write will ever come out as you first hoped.’     It is true and if you are truly lucky it will happen to you.

In my novel, Women Outside the Walls, I have waited until Joe dies at Charlie’s hands to share with you the back story of how the last chapters of my book came to be.   How I experienced this lucky event of my book not turning out as I had first hoped.

In the play script version , this is where the story ends; Joe dying on the cold floor of a prison and Charlie’s line:  “I got you to find Chelsea, didn’t I?”  And this was where I had planned for the  novel to end too.

IF I had not been working closely with a woman who had ‘stood by her man’ for 15 years while he was in prison. Women Outside the Walls Shortly after he was paroled, her son received 13 years for manslaughter.  She has been there, done that, times two!  After SK (the woman outside real walls) read the last pages, she looked up and asked: “What happened to Charlie?  To Alma?”

I looked blank for a moment. I was, first and foremost, a playwright after all. Then replied, “do you think anyone would care?” She said, “Absolutely.  Is Charlie in a death penalty state?  Does Alma stick by him?” she asked.  And “By the way, what happened to Hattie and her kids?”

The problem was I had no experience with death row……BUT I did have SK, whose son narrowly avoided the death penalty when he  pled down from murder two to voluntary manslaughter.  SK never spoke of those dark days when she thought she would lose her son when the state executed him.  Now she was willing to speak of it with me.

Based upon her stories and the stories of her friends (other women outside the walls) I was able to write those
final chapters.  Did Charlie walk down that long hallway to the ‘needle’?  Was anyone there to witness his death?
You might be surprised.  And yes, what happened to Hattie and Kitty?

Try to explore everything you can about your characters’ lives.  Don’t leave a single road untraveled.  We all care about what happens to the villain!


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Book Review ~~ A Spanish Sunrise

 5 out of 5 stars ~~ Book Review


Sigh. Another delicious, wonderful story from Boo Walker.  Perfecto! Magnífico!   We all know him for his fabulous series, Red Mountain.  Plopping his readers down amongst the vines in northern California. Introducing us to wonderfully drawn characters that we could savor through the series. 

With  A Spanish Sunrise, he takes us on a journey of loss, grief, fear and love. A Dad and his little girl, each seeking peace in their own way.  And then a surprising and shocking email arrives one day.  Enough said, I try not to write spoilers. 

A little while ago I wrote a “teaching” book review about the writer who ‘tells’ the story instead of ‘showing’ the story with the actions and dialogue of his characters.  This book is a perfect example of ‘showing’ the story.  Through the characters’ voices I could smell the loam in the olive tree orchards. Feel the hot sun on my shoulder, taste the pungent, spicy oil on my tongue.  Because Walker showed me, through his characters’ actions and dialogue. He didn’t tell me “the oil was good.” 

I’ve read most of Walker’s books; maybe all of them. A Spanish Sunrise is my all time favorite from this wonderful writer…..so far.  It would be divine if this was book 1 of a new series. Boo, are you listening? 

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A Teaching Book Review

This could have been a great story, a fascinating, enjoyable family saga spanning several generations.

Instead, the writer, Bill Kitson, chose to tell his readers the story, instead of showing them.  Chapters of telling, telling, telling.  Then a half page of dialogue and ‘showing’.  For example, the rift between patriarch, Albert, and his son, James. Albert’s decline into dementia would have been an interesting sub-plot if the writer had shown it; not told it.   Jesse’s arduous journey from war-torn Europe back home to England. The First World War (section) was reduced to a few chapters of ‘telling’. Ugh.  Leaving this reader not caring about Kitson’s characters much at all. 

The characters that this writer created were interesting, predictable in places, but on the whole pretty good. But, with the storytelling style of ‘telling’ rather than showing who these people were they were not deeply drawn.  Dialogue enriches not only the story but the characters.  Telling rather than showing is, to my mind, a lazy way of writing.  

for the story.                                                                                     For the writing. 

The formatting was distracting. The pages were not titled with the traditional title and author’s name.  In the front or back, there was no list of Kitson’s other books; a missed marketing opportunity. There was no author biography. 

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