Meeting Vampires with Mari Miniatt

Join me in welcoming Mari Minatt to the interview seat today. 

I first met Mari on Twitter and since then have grown to define her by vampires, fantasy and all things horror. Mari is the author of two books and works on many short stories too. So let’s give her a warm Warrior welcome.


girl with a quill: Tell us a bit about yourself. Who is Mari Miniatt?

Mari: Originally from Wisconsin, I now live in Central New York.
 I am the youngest of seven. I have alway been interested in horror and
girl with a quill: If you wrote yourself a part in one of your stories,
what role would you play and why?
Mari: Parts of me have already ended up in characters. But myself as
a character, a recent empty nester that hunts ghosts.
Part of me would love to do that.
girl with a quill: When did you decide that you wanted to be a writer?

Mari: I have always wrote. Writing was a hobby for most of my life.

A few years ago, something clicked in my head and started to take
my writing more seriously. A story I had worked on for over ten years
became the first series I wanted to put out.
girl with a quill: Many people in 9-5 jobs have a water-cooler space
where they go to talk with their colleagues about work issues.
Do you have a “water-cooler” group for your writing life?
Mari: Other than the writers I talk to on-line. It is at work!
There is a small group of women I get with every two weeks.
We sit at the cafe at work, and go over our writing. I love it.
girl with a quill: Who or what is the greatest influence on you as a writer?
and Why?
Mari: My father. He wrote everyday. When he was in his 70’s he
self published his memoirs of being a hobo. This was before the
internet and print on demand publishers. So he paid a local printer
to publish the books.
girl with a quill: If your life story were a novel, what genre would it be
and what would be the story-arc up to this point?
Mari: Chick lit. It would be a person that hits their idea of what the 
bottom is and works their way out. With the help of their immediate family.

girl with a quill: Tell us about the place that you write? What do you fill
that space with?
Mari: In the living room. My netbook on a small table. Along the walls
are some paintings my husband painted for inspiration. Along with maps
and sketches of characters.
girl with a quill: Tell us about your writing process from that magical moment
when the story’s idea / character voice interrupts your thoughts…
what happens next?
Mari: I find that an idea will be bouncing around my head for a while,
then something will click, and I have to write the whole story down.
If the story is really hot, I can knock 4,000 words in a sitting.
girl with a quill: Are you a plotter, a pantster or a little of both?

Mari: Pantster. It might help to think of my rough draft as a very

detailed outline.
girl with a quill: How important a part does the digital world and
an online platform play in your life?
Do you believe that writers now have more control over their own
platform now that we live in an increasingly virtual online world
of social networking/blogging/tumbling/tweeting ect? 
Mari: Ten years ago, I would not know what to do with my stories. I posted
some up on my own website. But nothing else. Now, it’s not just the options
you have about where and how you publish your stories, but how you can
reach an audience. A lot of the old style promotions are still valid, such as
book signings. But with Twitter and sites like Goodreads you can reach
around the world. This allows us to develop our own on-line presence.
Its strange but you can tell which people are using an assistant or if they
are posting themselves. People are expecting more interaction. We can finally
give it to them.
girl with a quill: What genre do you write in now?

Mari: Horror/ fantasy. My horror has a bit of fantasy and my fantasy

has a bit of horror in it.
girl with a quill: If you could try your pen at another genre,
which genre would you choose?
Mari: Steampunk. I would love to have a story click in my head for that
girl with a quill: Are you working on any new story now?
Can you tell us a bit about it?
Mari: I am wrapping up some short stories right now. But one story
I keep coming back to, that is getting longer and longer is a sort of
buddy cop idea. Except one is a bounty hunter vampire and the other
is a wizard. They ended up hunt down a serial killer that is killing
supernatural creatures. 
girl with a quill: If you met a found a golden lamp with a genie and
he told you he could either make one of your stories come true or
that you could become a character for a short time in another author’s book,
which option would you choose and why?
Mari: I would love to have my vampires be real. Even knowing what is
going to happen in the end, it would be cool to meet them.
girl with a quill: What is more important to you: Story or Character?
Mari: Characters. The basic plot of your story could be one that
has been used over and over again. Readers will ignore that if your
characters are interesting enough to hold them to the story.
girl with a quill: Who is your favourite character that you have created
and why? 

Mari: Perun. He is a wildman, a real wildman. Called a Leshy in folklore.

What I love about him is that he is almost all ego, but has a large heart
as well. My husband describes him as all male. Which is a good description.
Perun likes to mess with people, especially if they are harming his woods.
But if he considers you a friend, he will defend you. Everything he does
for a reason, even if we can’t understand his logic. Plus it helps he has a
way with women, too. He will be coming out in Patriarch.
girl with a quill: Who is your favourite character in the literary world and why?

Mary: Samuel Vimes from the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett.

He has an amazing character arc, from when we first meet him, laying drunk
in the gutter, to Duke of Anhk-Morpork. Yet, he still stays close to the
lower class he came from. A strong character, that makes mistakes, and
learns to clean up any mess he gets in.
girl with a quill: If you could throw a dinner party and invite 5 famous creative people,
who would they be and why?
Mari: Terry Pratchett, Stephan King, Ray Bradbury, George Takei,
and Jyrki 69, Terry Pratchett, Stephan King, Ray Bradbury because
they are my favorite writers.
George Takei: Because I am a fan of Star Trek, but he is very interesting
person too.
Jyrki 69 is the lead singer of a Finnish band called The 69 Eyes.
He is also an activist against child trafficking and has a chemistry degree.
Very interesting combination.
girl with a quill: If you could throw a dinner party and invite 5 of your
favourite fictional characters, who would they be and why?
Mari: Steopa, from my stories. He would be interesting and of all my
vampires could attend a dinner, as long as it was pirogies and vodka.
The aforementioned Samuel Vimes. When ever he does dinner parties
in the books, it’s a riot.
Arthur Dent. How he holds it together in just a bathrobe…. I will never
Chuck Bartowski from the TV show Chuck. So much like me, except for
the spy stuff.
Thor from the comics, not the one from myth. simple eye candy.
girl with a quill: If you could give yourself one piece of advice at
the beginning of your writing career, what would it be?
Mari: Show it to people!


girl with a quill: What is the one piece of writing advice you could give

your future self, 10 years from now?
Mari: Take your time editing.

girl with a quill: What do you want your lasting legacy, as a writer,

to be?
Mari: I hope people enjoy my books, and like the twists I did to the
girl with a quill: Where can we buy your books?

Mari: Amazon, Smashwords. And if you are in Syracuse,

NY the Enchanted Bazaar and the CNY Artist Store.
girl with a quill: Finally where can we find on the web?


 twitter I am @leapetra and If you want to meet my characters.

@SteopaR and @BiteNice are on twitter. 

Putting a Poetic Spin on Creativity | Jess Kristie

I am pleased to welcome Jess Kristie to Warrior Wednesdays this week. As promised at the beginning of the Warrior Interview series, I would feature all types of creative individuals in this series. Jess is a published poet. That is her first love. I understand this as poetry is my first love. But Jess is not just a poet, she is a creative writer who is working on a novel. So make yourselves comfortable while I sit down with Jess and discuss Poetry, Creativity and writing.

Welcome Jess.


girl with a quill: Tell us a bit about yourself. Who is Jess Kristie?                                    

Jess: I am many things and depending on the day, I might have a different answer for you.  What I am most proud of is being a mother, a friend, an honest person and a writer. 

girl with a quill: When did you decide that you wanted to be a Writer?
Jess: I have been writing since I was ten, so it seems to have always been there. As far as for a profession, it was only in the last several years that I put my heart and soul into it.

girl with a quill: You identify yourself as a poet in this sentence from your website: “Poetry is my heart, anchors my soul and documents my journey.”. Publishing poetry can be a difficult road. Can you share with us how you got to the point of having a published book of poetry?
Jess: It is definitely a difficult road to say the least.  Poetry feels to be lost in so many that it is notoriously difficult to market.  Publishers tend to not want to go down that road or if they do they only publish a handful of books every year along with their other books. It takes determination and heart to keep going.  I made a conscious decision to make a manuscript and to query it out. I was honored to find a publisher and an audience who is interested in my work.

girl with a quill: Many people in 9-5 jobs have a water-cooler space where they go to talk with their colleagues about work issues. Do you have a “water-cooler” group for your writing life?
Jess: My water-cooler is mainly in my head. If I have an issue I do the research to fix it or find the answer. I am lucky to have had several kind people reach out and give me advice or support. We all need a form of community as struggling artists and there is a lot of support out there, you just have to look for it.

girl with a quill: Who or what is the greatest influence on you as a writer? and Why?
Jess: Probably more the what than the who. I tend to pull my inspiration from all forms of life and the lifeless. I try to open up so that all things can inspire and therefore influence my words. If we can reach in and find something beyond the surface, then we can also find a uniqueness to every situation, object, or even person.

girl with a quill: Tell us about the place that you write? What do you fill that space with?
Jess: Sometimes music, sometimes silence, but always a window.

girl with a quill: Are you working on any fictional or non-fiction MS at the moment or do you want to remain focused on your poetry? If you are working on fiction, what genre will it be in?
Jess: I feel it is important for all poets to branch out beyond poetry to grow their writing skills and find what other areas they may be good at writing in. I have my first fictional novel in the works that falls primarily into the drama genre. I am developing an idea right now for my second novel as well.

girl with a quill: Tell us about your writing process from that magical moment when the idea / character voice interrupts your thoughts…what happens next?
Jess: When it comes to poetry I spin pretty quickly. If I have an inspiration my pen will just flow. Sometimes it is magic and sometimes it needs some touching up. I believe heavily in revisions and editing but have learned that there is a fine line between editing and picking apart. I have had to learn to let go and just let things be sometimes.

girl with a quill: Can you tell us a bit about the book you have published?
Jess: Dreaming in Darkness is a contemplative collection of poetry that takes you on a journey of passion and anguish, and makes you feel the acceptance and regret that life imposes on us all.  My hope was that every reader would feel the validation of their pain and discover empowerment through understanding.

girl with a quill: Why do you write?
Jess: To heal, forgive and understand.

girl with a quill: How would you describe your poetry in 5 words?
Jess: Raw, honest, heavy and heartfelt.

girl with a quill: Do you have a common theme or Omni-Premise that threads its way through all your writing? If so, what is it?
Jess: My themes run through the constant dissection of human emotion. I am captivated by not only my feelings and reactions but also those around me.  Writing about these things always brings some greater level of understanding.

girl with a quill: If you found a golden lamp with a genie and he told you he could either make one of your stories come true or that you could become a character for a short time in another author’s book, which option would you choose and why?
Jess: Definitely the character in another’s book.  My poetry often runs on a darker road and whether it was through another’s eyes or my own, in a sense I have already lived it. It would be nice to take a break into someone else’s imagination for a change.

girl with a quill: What is more important to you: Story or Character? Why?
Jess: That is a tough question because with successful books they both seem to take center stage, if not each developed equally as strong.  This doesn’t mean that one does not take precedence over the other, but each has to play its role powerfully and effectively.

girl with a quill: If you could throw a dinner party and invite 5 famous creative people, who would they be and why?
Jess: Maya Angelou, John Stewart, Eminem, Pablo Neruda, and Tom Englund.  This group encompasses the musical, political and poetically artistic genres. They hit hard and are beautifully creative.

girl with a quill: If you could give you yourself one piece of advice at the beginning of your writing career, what would it be?
Jess: Research all of your options, know your market and be prepared for a lot of hard work!

girl with a quill: What is the one piece of writing advice you could give your future self, 10 years from now?
Jess: Don’t give up, no matter what.

girl with a quill: What do you want your lasting legacy, as a writer, to be?
Jess: That I wrote with honest integrity, and with grace.

girl with a quill: Where can we find your book for sale?
Jess: Dreaming in Darkness is available on Amazon and will be reaching paperback in the next few months. 



Amazon UK:

girl with a quill: Finally where can we find on the web?


Twitter: @JessKristie



Introducing Joe Pranaitis

Introducing Joe Pranaitis.

Join me as I sit down with Joe tonight. We discuss how healing can be found through the creative medium. Joe shares with us his passion for Sci-fi, in particular; the influence of Star Trek on his writing. So take a seat, make yourself comfortable, help me in welcoming Joe to the Dragonfly Scrolls studio.

Welcome Joe.


girl with a quill: Tell us a bit about yourself. Who is Joe Pranaitis?
Joe: To begin I’m a writer, an artist, and a theatre manager. I’m also the youngest of two boys. I’ve always felt like an outcast. Then again, growing up in East Chicago Indiana wasn’t the best of times. It got to a point where I wouldn’t go outside at all and so I started drawing. The drawings became my little world, including the ones about war. When my parents divorced; I was thrown into a tail spin and tried to off myself, at age 13, when I started High School. A couple of years later, when I was a Junior; my art teacher gave me a sense of direction by giving me the assignment of creating my own comic book. Needless to say, I’m a fractured human like everyone else but I’ve learned to channel my feelings into my writing and art.

girl with a quill: When did you decide that you wanted to be a Writer?
Joe: I guess I would say that I wanted to be a writer after I heard Star Trek: Final Frontier and could see the pictures that the words described. Then it just took the free time between high school and college to get me going in adapting the comics that I created.

girl with a quill:How long have you been writing for?
Joe: I’ve been writing for about fifteen years now.

girl with a quill: In your bio, you say that you first wrote a comic book. Are you still interested in writing graphic novels?
Joe: Yes I am.

girl with a quill: Many people in 9-5 jobs have a water-cooler space where they go to talk with their colleagues about work issues. Do you have a “water-cooler” group for your writing life?
Joe: Yes. I talk to my boss and one of my ushers whom has begun writing his own book.

girl with a quill: Who or what is the greatest influence on you as a writer? and Why?
Joe: My greatest influence would be Diane Carey. When I would go on a car trip to Ohio, to visit my brother and his family, we would bring audio novels; one of those would be Star Trek: Final Frontier. I’ve been a big fan of her trek writings since then.

girl with a quill: If your life story were a novel, what genre would it be and what would be the story-arc up to this point?
Joe:  If my life story were a novel I would say that we’re at the mid-point before any big changes really happen. As to what genre, I would say that’s a good question and I really don’t know.

girl with a quill: Tell us about the place that you write? What do you fill that space with?
Joe: Where I write is at my computer next to my bed. I put toys, pictures of family and models of starships around as well as having my book cases full of books and dvds.

girl with a quill: Tell us about your writing process from that magical moment when the story’s idea / character voice interrupts your thoughts…what happens next?
Joe: When I sit down for a writing session; I put on some music and read a little of what I wrote before and then let the story flow through my fingers to the key board.

girl with a quill: Are you a plotter,or a pantster, or a little of both?
Joe: I would say a little of both because sometimes I do stumble onto a plot point where I know I need to think things out before putting them on the page.

girl with a quill: You write mainly science fiction. What drew you to this genre?
Joe: What drew me to sci-fi was that my parents were into it while I was growing up. I can’t count how many times I’ve watched the original Star Wars and Star Trek: The motion Picture.

girl with a quill: Which Sci-fi authors have influenced you?
Joe: Besides Diane Carey, I would say that the other authors that have influenced me are Keven Anderson, Vonda N. McIntire, Karen Traviss.

girl with a quill: If you could try your pen at another genre, which genre would you choose?
Joe: Adventure.

girl with a quill: Can you tell us a bit about the books you have published?
Joe: Sure, the first two volumes in the series Infinite Possibilities: Chronicles take place in the 29th century. They follow the voyages of the starship Lionheart from the moment that she leaves dry dock and is struck by a space probe from another Earth on the other side of the Galaxy to a number of parallel universes. This leads to it becoming the fleet flagship and dealing with civil wars among the Pirate republic and their own colonies. Now here is a little hint: the second story within Volume one is the leap off point that I used to continue the story of Horizon station and her crew in through three of seven planned books.

girl with a quill: Your first book is part of a trilogy? In writing the trilogy, did you write them as separate stories individually or did you get the idea for the complete trilogy and then divide the story ideas into 3 books?
Joe: No, the first book is not part of a trilogy but the first story within the first volume was before I expanded the story to a now 3000 year story arc that stretches from 65 million years ago to the middle years of the 50
th century. But the original trilogy arced from the Lionheart’s launch to events that, if I were to explain now, would be massive spoilers for the rest of the series since I’ve planned the Chronicles series to go beyond 12 volumes.

girl with a quill: What are your thoughts, if any, on Indie/Small Press publishing vs Traditional Publishing?
Joe: So far I’ve only dealt with Indie/small press publishing so I have no idea how traditional publishes would be since I’ve been turned down by more than 100 agents who don’t have a clue that star trek just landed on their lap.

girl with a quill: What tips would you give aspiring pre-published authors out there to get a foot in the industry door?
Joe: I would say to write and let the story take you to where it ends up. As for getting your foot in the industry door; write a good query letter or letters and send them to both agents and publishers but watch out for publishers that ask for money up front because they will keep asking.

girl with a quill: Are you working on any WIP now? Can you tell us a bit about it?
Joe: Yes I’m working on my 10
th book right now and it is an expanded story that I wrote in 2006 when my original story turned 10. It takes place in a parallel universe to the original series; where we see the coming together of the crew of the Lionheart, from the loss of her first captain, to an all-out war and then to it’s end. It’s the beginning of a new adventure for the ship’s second captain post war to passing the ship down to her first officer leading to the birth of the first officer of the Lionheart-A. It is also the first of a duelogy.

girl with a quill: Why do you write?
Joe: I write because I have a hunger for it. The ideas that I have, I feel I need to write down.

girl with a quill: Do you have a common theme or Omni-Premise that threads its way through all your writing? If so, what is it?
Joe: Yes. It is basically good vs. evil.

girl with a quill: If you found a golden lamp with a genie and he told you he could either make one of your stories come true or that you could become a character for a short time in another author’s book, which option would you choose and why?
Joe: If I found a golden lamp with a genie and he told me I could enter another author’s book I would ask to visit Star Trek: Final Frontier. The character that I would choose would be George Kirk, starting from the time that he saw the original Enterprise in dry dock for the first time. Now why I chose that book and character is because at times I feel like I’m there watching the last part of the ship, that I’ve been asked to be a first officer on, being constructed.

girl with a quill: What is more important to you: Story or Character? Why?
Joe: I would say both since you can’t have a story without a character and vise versa. But I mainly focus on the story line.

girl with a quill: Who is your favourite character that you have created and why?
Joe: My favourite character that I’ve created is Captain Bontrk because through him we see everything that happens to the Lionheart. We also see what will happen because he knows that eventually his ship will be retired to allow the Lionheart-A to go on her adventures. As to why; I would have to say that it’s because his face is hidden, we never see it but we know that it’s there and it’s reacting like everyone else’s.

girl with a quill: Who is your favourite character in the literary world and why?
Joe: You know I never really thought that I had a favourite character in the literary world; just stories. Right now, my favorite story is the Vatta war series. Even though I’ve only read the first two books, I really enjoyed them.

girl with a quill: If you could throw a dinner party and invite 5 famous creative people, who would they be and why?
Joe: Gene Roddenberry, George Lucas, Ronald Moore, J. Michal Straczynski, and Frank Herbert. As to why; well I’ve always wanted to meet all five of them. I wish that I had met Gene Roddenberry before he passed in ’91.

girl with a quill: If you could throw a dinner party and invite 5 of your favourite fictional characters, who would they be and why?
Joe: They would be Captain Kirk, Ky Vatta, William Adama, Optimus Prime, and Batman. I know quite a cast. When I was growing up; Kirk was always my favourite Captain. As for Ky, because I understand her and know that sometimes doing what we think is right could get us into unknown trouble. Now why William Adama; well, it’s because I felt for him during the four years of BSG and he is a favorite character too. As for Optimus Prime; well, when I was a kid he was my first transformer and in that respect became my childhood hero. Now Batman; well, after losing my parents, both to heart attacks, I now see why he has such a bleak outlook on life even though he is on the side of good.

girl with a quill: If you could give yourself one piece of advice at the beginning of your writing career, what would it be?

Joe: Considering that was only two years ago; I would tell myself, that even though I may have to pay for the book to be both published and edited, that it is worth it; and to do a giveaway as soon as I can, as well as look for

girl with a quill: What is the one piece of writing advice you could give your future self, 10 years from now?
Joe: That’s hard because the future is always changing. I would say that I took the right path by getting the first two published and that my first two publishers are always a backup if I really want to get a story out.

girl with a quill: What do you want your lasting legacy, as a writer, to be?
Joe: As for my legacy; I just want people to enjoy my books and to continue to enjoy them and discover them as time goes on.

girl with a quill: Where can we find your books for sale?
Joe: My books can be found on, Barns & ( and the publisher’s websites

girl with a quill: Finally, where can we find on the web?
Joe: I can be found on Facebook, MySpace, trekspace,, twitter under joepranaitis.

Introducing Judith van Praag – Writer, Artist, Scriptwriter

 I am honoured to introduce my friend, Judith van Praag to Warrior Wednesdays. I first “met” Judith through She Writes and then got to know her even better  through NaNoWriMo and the online group we both belong to on Facebook called Warrior Chat. In this time of a little over 6 months I have come to like, admire and respect Judith as a person, an artist and a writer. She is a woman that is as wise with her words as she is warm with her friendship. I am proud to have her on Warrior Wednesdays. So make yourself comfortable while Judith and I discuss Scriptwriting, Writing as a form of healing and redemption and viewing the world as an artist. I welcome the multi-talented, multi-lingual Judith van Praag. (I may be enjoying some delicious dutch apple pie while we talk…will try not to scatter any crumbs.)


Judith: Hi Kim, Thank you so much for inviting me! I’ve brought a slice of my Dutch apple pie for you. (How did you know that was my favourite dessert. MMmhhh…Delicious!)

girl with a quill: Tell us a bit about yourself. Who is Judith van Praag?


Judith van Praag aka the Dutchess Abroad is a writing artist from the Netherlands who makes her home in Seattle with Texan husband and Basenji-Terrier mix pooch.


girl with a quill: When did you decide that you wanted to be a Writer?


After reading the Diaries of Anaïs Nin I realized one could write about one’s life and create fiction after life as well.


girl with a quill:How long have you been writing for?


I’ve practiced compulsive automatic handwriting since the late 1970s, and for publication since 1994. In 1995 I attended Centrum’s Port Townsend Writers’ Conference and work-shopped a few short pieces that were based on memories of my childhood. In 1997 I attended the conference again and made contact with a writer who invited me to the critique group she was a member of. Everyone in that group wrote children’s books. I wrote about myself as a child, material that has become part of a memoir with the work title “Painting for Life”.


girl with a quill: You write both screenwriting and fiction. Do you

have a first love of either of these?


Until NaNoWriMo 2010 I had never really written any fiction to talk about. In 1989 I went to Los Angeles to study scenario writing with John Truby. Everything I learned about screenwriting applies to fiction I think. Only a film tells the story in moving pictures and dialogue, while in fiction the imagery is dependent on the narration. You have more room to narrate what goes on in a character’s mind in a novel, unless you use voice-overs.


girl with a quill: Working in these two creative disciplines would

require a different set of skills for each. What tools from

screenwriting have helped you in your fiction writing and

vice versa?


The skills are the same, at least in my mind. I’m strong with dialogue, which is important for a screenplay. What’s narrated in a novel becomes just a scene or action description in a script. You have a whole lot less words available in a script to say what’s going on. You have to keep in mind what the camera will see/ show.


girl with a quill: Congratulations on being a winner both of NaNoWriMo and ScriptFrenzy. What is it about these challenges, do you think, add to your writing skills?


If you’re not working under contract, or if you don’t have an assignment with a deadline you just work slower than when there is a deadline such as the last day of the NaNoWriMo or ScriptFrenzy. I don’t think either adds to my writing skills. It’s my skills that make it possible to produce readable material during that period though.


girl with a quill: You are an artist, writer, producer,publisher. Creativity is obviously something that is very important to you. How and Where do you find your inspiration for all this creativity?


Life in general, nature, psychology, relationships, justice or injustice are the greatest source of inspiration. When I worked in the theater in the Netherlands I was most attracted to multicultural productions to help minorities voice their stories, to say something about their situation in the world. Writing enables me to tell my own story.


girl with a quill: Do you find that each of your creative roles inspire the others? How?


My tagline is that I paint portraits in color and words. The way I see the world is influenced by my artist’s eye.


girl with a quill: Many people in 9-5 jobs have a water-cooler space where they go to talk with their colleagues about work issues. Do you have a “water-cooler” group for your writing life?


I’ve been a member of the FreeLancers Association for Journalists and we communicated on forums. Some blogs, such as Anastasia Ashman’s Expat+Harem are great hubs, but the focus is not on the craft of writing. With eight of the women I met thanks to Anastasia I have regular contact via Linkedin, Twitter or Facebook, we’ve even published as a blog-ring as Hybrid Ambassadors.


Since NaNoWriMo 2010 when you, Kim, invited me to Word Warriors, followed by the invite from Lia Keyes to join the Warrior Chat Group I have found what you call the virtual water cooler. Beside the constant flow of information that is shared, there’s a sense of camaraderie that’s quite amazing.


girl with a quill: You are a prolific blogger with more than just one blog. What do you enjoy about blogging?


Starting in 2004 I covered Arts & Literature for the Seattle based International Examiner. In 2005 I launched my website DutchessAbroad and at the same time Hope Filled Jars a catch-all blog where I posted material I knew I wouldn’t sell to a publication, but that I wished to share anyway, my poster board. The garden blog that I created for retired friends in the Netherlands, was from 2005-2010 my virtual Dutch territory, as well as a way to stay in close contact with those friends.


girl with a quill: These days it is expected for anyone in the creative worlds to build a powerful online platform promoting themselves. What 3 tips would you give to a person who is just starting off to build an online presence?


1 – Figure out what it is you’re passionate about. If it’s writing, which age group, genre, and specialty?

2 – Don’t wait any longer, create a blog/website, right now. is particularly user friendly, can make your blog look like a website, and if you sign up with you can use your own domain name. I’m stuck on Blogger because I’m loyal, plus I don’t look forward to another learning curve, and they’ve really improved since the early days.

3 – Sign up for Social Media accounts such as Facebook, a personal and professional page(s): content on the former is only visible within the FaceBook “structure”, while content on the latter is visible on the Internet at large, which means more exposure for your business or profession). Sign up for Twitter and Linkedin in your own name and/or in the name of your business.


girl with a quill: You also are a dual language writer/artist. Do you find you have to build two separate social platforms because of this?


Since I plan to publish my books in Dutch as well as English, I have recently started a Dutch language blog for myself and signed up for Dutch accounts on Facebook and on Twitter.


girl with a quill: Who or what is the greatest influence on you as a writer? and Why?


In 2003 an agent asked me what I liked to read. Saul Bellow, Henry Miller, Anaïs Nin, Jean Rhys, Henry Roth, Philip Roth, John Updike, Virginia Woolf. He stopped me and said: So you’re writing literary fiction. OMG I thought, do I really? Perhaps my memoir writing would one day magically turn into fiction? Since then I’ve discovered Esther Freud, who bases all of her fictional writing on her family (among whom Sigmund and Lucian) and Linda Grant who does the same. I love these ladies, do they write literary fiction? Possibly. Have they influenced me? They and the others have one way or an other. Why? Because the characters they create are so real I believe I know them. And yes these days I as well am writing fiction from life, even if it’s life imagined.


girl with a quill: If your life story were a novel, what genre would it be and what would be the story-arc up to this point?


Literary Fiction LOL! Over the hill (more laughter).


girl with a quill: Tell us about the place that you write? What do you fill that space with?


My writing den is like an art installation, filled with pictures, texts and maps relating to the book I’m working on,  a painting of a cow, journals and a calendar to mark my progress. And very important, my dog’s chair.


girl with a quill: Tell us about your writing process from that magical moment when the story’s idea / character voice

interrupts your thoughts…what happens next?


A lot of the writing takes place in my head, actual sentences and scenes form while I’m doing totally unrelated things. By the time I sit down, all I have to do is type. Or, I sit and stare into the distance and imagine myself in a situation, in the head of a character and I just start rambling, spewing, or barfing as Morris Berman calls the stream of words that hit the page before you get to the good stuff. Sometimes I cry, I often weep while writing as a matter of fact. As a child I would make up stories in the bathroom and I would be in tears, overcome by romantic notions by the time I came out. My mother would remedy that with a bowl of stewed prunes.


girl with a quill: Are you a plotter, a pantster or a little of both?


I’ve written so much without any plotting whatsoever I’m having to organize everything after the fact and that is quite a chore.


girl with a quill: Do you have a beta reader or a writing partner? If yes, What are the benefits of having these people in your life?


My husband reads everything I write and he’s become quite the critic, but I know I would benefit from having readers who don’t know me as well as he does.


girl with a quill: Can you tell us a bit about the books you have written?


My book Creative Acts of Healing: after a baby dies, published in 1999 is a longitudinal account of loss, grief and recovery. It attests to the healing qualities of creativity. Notwithstanding the in your face title, it’s a hopeful book.After the publication of this book I became active in support groups and forums and until 2003, I wrote a column about loss and grief for a Dutch parental magazine.


girl with a quill: Have you turned any of your fiction into scripts?


The script The Counterfeit, which I wrote for ScriptFrenzy is based on my NaNo WIP “Forgiveness”.  It’s about the love story between a crime victim and the sister of the perpetrator.


girl with a quill: Why do you write?


I write to bear witness, to bring to the surface what has been hidden, to draw attention to issues that need to be addressed.


girl with a quill: Do you have a common theme or Omni-Premise that threads its way through all your writing? If so, what is it?


Hiding is my theme.


girl with a quill: If you found a golden lamp with a genie and he told you he could either make one of your stories come true or that you could become a character for a short time

in another author’s book, which option would you choose and why?


Since my fiction is based on real life or on reality as I imagine it may have taken place in the past long before my birth, and that particular reality isn’t really something I’d like to re-create In Real Life, I opt for becoming a character for a short time. I’d like to be Lady Chatterley in D.H. Lawrence novel. Because it’s one of the most suggestive roles I can think of.


girl with a quill: What is more important to you: Story or Character? Why?


Character makes story, and by character I don’t just mean living creatures but a land- or cityscape, and the awe inspiring nature.


girl with a quill: Who is your favourite character that you have created and why?


Since I’m new to fiction I have to pick one of the characters from the novel and/or film scenario I’m working on right now. I’d say Jake, the protagonist. He has an easily ignitable temper, is somewhat of a quack and a realer dealer, but also funny, gregarious and takes care of the people he loves, even if at times in inappropriate ways.


girl with a quill: Who is your favourite character in the literary world and why?


Can’t help it, but every time I look at the question Mickey Sabbath comes to mind, the awfully flawed protagonist in Philip Roth’s Sabbath’s Theater. I know, it’s horrible, but he seems SO real and in that his plight touching.


girl with a quill: If you could throw a dinner party and invite 5 famous creative people, who would they be and why?


1 – Robert Wilson, the avant-garde stage director. I’m a great fan of his work and would like to reminisce about a few friends we have in common among whom the godfather of Dutch Design the late Benno Premsela, who hosted many a dinner party. I hope he’ll enjoy mine!

2 – Mick Jagger, of the Rolling Stones, so we can chat about The Living Theatre and our dear departed friend Rufus Collins.

3 – Taj Mahal, OMG have been listening to his music for ever! Love to learn more about his work with Maria Muldaur and I think he and Mick will click.

4 – Bette Midler, besides being funny, an awesome performer and having great legs, she’s an avid gardener and has turned N.Y. wastelands into public gardens.

5 – Alice Walker, talk about interfaith, interracial, writing.


girl with a quill: If you could throw a dinner party and invite 5 of your favourite fictional characters, who would they be and why?


1 – Clara Forsythe Allen, Augustus “Gus” McCrae’s old sweetheart in Larry McMurtry’s epic novel Lonesome Dove. Clara lives with her comatose husband Bob and their children on the Platte, near Ogalalla, Nebraska. She’s a great example of the strong American frontier women, pioneers who lived under the toughest circumstances, buried children and stood by their men, while being their own person as well.

2 – Asher Lev, the young Jewish painter in Chaim Potok’s novel My Name is Asher Lev. Asher Lev refuses to let his artistic talent go unexplored and as important even, unrecognized. I appreciate the difficult path he has chosen.

3 – Sarah P. Worth, voice in John Updike’s S. I’ve been in similar situations as Sarah and I think we would have great fun schmoozing together. Also would like to hear what she thinks of Updike taking on the project to tell a woman’s story. If there’s anything she would like to change or add.

4 – Kinsey Millhone, the sleuth in Sue Grafton’s alphabet mystery series. Just love her and want to sit her next to number 5 whom I think she must admire as much as I do. And perhaps she also feels as sorry for him as I, and will amuse him. Not completely sure about the latter, since we’re talking Old World Male and California Wild Card. But you never know and opposites do attract. Just really, really want to make up for all the hardship caused by that big B of wife of his.

5 – George Smiley, the middle aged spy I’ve come to adore reading John Le Carre‘s oeuvre.


girl with a quill: If you could give you yourself one piece of advice at the beginning of your writing career, what would it be?


The advice I would give now to other aspiring writers wouldn’t have helped me back when, because it wasn’t possible to take Creative Writing at the time. If you don’t take that in account I would have told myself: Go to school, don’t do it all on your own, by yourself. I don’t think you need to, or that everybody necessarily will learn to write well in an MFA program, but I do think, that by not going to school, you lose out on the community of peers and faculty. You lose out on being mentored and both at the time and later on receiving recognition just for the fact that you got the degree.


girl with a quill: What is the one piece of writing advice you could give your future self, 10 years from now?


It only gets better.

girl with a quill: What do you want your lasting legacy, as a writer and artist, to be?


She opened Pandora’s Box, granted it took a while, but when she did, she set not just her self free.


girl with a girl: Finally where can we find you and your creative works on the web?


Dutchess Abroad Judith van Praag


On Facebook:

Pro Arts Etcetera

Works in Process

Dutch – In haar moerstaal





Talking E-Books,Indie Publishing and Writing

There is a lot of talk in the world of writing and publishing about the shape of Traditional Publishing vs Indie Publishing and Print Publishing vs E-Book Publishing. Many writers are adamant on which side of these particular fences they sit. But there are still some who are caught between a rock and a hard place. This could be because they do not know enough about the newer industries of Indie Publishing (Independant or Small Press Publishers) or E-books. Perhaps you have already made up your mind about which side of the fence you are on but if you do have questions and want to know more then this is the interview you want to sit in on.

Today I am talking E-books, Indie Publishing, Editing and Writing with Susan Landis-Steward: Writer, Editor, Publisher.

So take a seat and get comfortable. Time to be informed by a lady who knows the different sides of the publishing debate. She also has the unique position of being both a writer and publisher.

Welcome Susan. Thank you for joining us here today.


girl with a quill: Tell us a bit about yourself. Who is Susan Landis-Steward?

Susan:  I’m an almost 60-year-old woman with way too much education and way too many ideas. I fully expect to die at my desk with my slippers half on (just as they are right now) doing something involved with editing, publishing, or writing. But not for another 20 years or so. I am a lesbian mom in a very long-term relationship. We have three stupendous daughters and are relieved that the youngest just got her own apartment. We do not suffer from empty nest syndrome, but maybe that’s because we both have such interesting lives of our own. We also have four amazing grandkids, ranging in age from 13 years to three weeks. I’ve spent my working years doing things like computer systems analyst, journalist, editor, child welfare worker, teacher, professor, and even did a brief stint as a call center minion. Probably the most interesting thing to other people is that I am brain injured. I died during minor surgery, caught a jump-start from a passing surgeon, and was shouted back to life by a small elderly nurse who spent the better part of a day yelling at me to breathe. I ended up with some minor brain damage and fibromyalgia. Blessing and curse. The blessing being that I can no longer work for someone else as I need frequent naps. The curse is obvious, I think.

girl with a quill: When did you decide that you wanted to be a Writer?

Susan: I started writing at the age of four and never looked back. I always enjoyed writing, but it wasn’t until I was in my 20s that I realized I’d like to actually write something for people to read. I didn’t get the courage until I was in my 30s and went to work as a reporter.  Having thousands of people reading my work was terrifying. I tried to resist my first byline, preferring anonymity. But I got over it. After a couple of decades of journalism, I wanted to try my hand at fiction. Here’s another blessing of the brain injury. There is a women’s writers group that meets at the local community college on Wednesday afternoons. With no job, I was free to join. I started my first novel, Blind Leading the Blind, and it was just published in March 2011. I’m currently working on the sequel, Blind Spot. They are lesbian mysteries featuring a former detective and a blind therapist. Love, sex, action, horses, motorcycles, belly dancers, crime: what more could a girl want?


girl with a quill: How long have you been writing?

Susan:  Well, that involves math, but I’m 59 now and I was four then so 55 years? Is that right? But professionally, I’ve been writing for 27 years as a journalist, freelance writer, academic, professional writer for the State of Oregon, and many other tasks. I’ve made my living as a freelancer exclusively by the pen for the past five or six years.

girl with a quill: You founded Puddletown Publishing. How did you get into this?

Susan: Wow. I bought a Nook Color last fall because my eyes can no longer be sufficiently corrected to allow me to read most trade paperbacks without removing my glasses, covering one eye to keep the astigmatism at bay, holding the book two inches from my face, and squinting. With my Nook, I can bump up the size, change the font, and make the background a comfortable color.  Great adaptive technology for the baby boom. So, on January 2nd, we went to a party. It was the fifth party that week and I actually tried to get out of it. But my partner insisted, so I took my Nook. That’s what introverts do; we make sure we always have a book along in case we need a breather from the clamoring crowd. So, when I got tired of socializing, I went and sat in a quiet room with a friend,  CONTACT _Con-3B5146219 Renee LaChance, and we started talking about e-books.  Renee was the founder and publisher of Just Out newsmagazine, Oregon’s gay rag, and was itching to get back into publishing. I was a bit at loose ends myself, one regular editing gig having ended, and pretty soon the conversation went from “Why isn’t anyone doing this?” to “Why aren’t we doing this?” Within a week we were on our way. We published our first flush of books in March and our second group of nine books is coming out soon. We are having the time of our lives.

girl with a quill: Do you take control of the editing process like traditional publishers or do writers self-publish through your company?

Susan: We are not a vanity press. We call ourselves an indie press because we’re small, but we function like a traditional publisher in terms of acquisitions, editing, art, and all that rigmarole. Even my own book was submitted to the entire process. Our readers read it without knowing it was mine.  One of my books got a no, so it’s due for some serious rewriting if I ever have the time. 

girl with a quill: For those of us in the dark about e-book publishing, explain to us the process of submitting and publishing a book through your company?

Susan:  When we are accepting submissions, ask that books be sent as Word documents with a short bio and a synopsis. Right now we’re looking for books by lesbians and women of color—it’s a small group, but we don’t want to be swamped with submissions. Others will get their chance. We publish all genres. We do expect submissions to be well-written, tell a good story, and be carefully edited. I’m a bit of a grammar and spelling Nazi and won’t waste my time on something with lots of errors. I’ve quit reading many traditionally published bestsellers because they are so poorly written and edited. The books are then sent to readers who tell us if they think we should proceed with the project. Usually we go with their recommendations, although we do take another look if they say no and we think the project still has merit. Once contracts are signed, we (meaning I) do the first editing pass, looking for obvious structural problems and glaring writing problems. I take notes, send the book back to the writer, and work with the author to make it the best it can be.  Meanwhile, Renee starts working with illustrators and other sub-contractors. Once the book is up to my standards, Renee, who is a masterful copy-editor, goes through it with a fine-tooth comb and catches all the picky stuff I might have missed. Renee and I are a good match. I’m a good editor, while she’s got a business brain like no other. So she handles the contracts, the sub-contractors, the money, the traditional marketing, and all the parts I hate to do. I do work with the authors around social marketing because I enjoy that part. Renee also does the formatting for POD. Finally, we format the book, load it at all the usual suspects, and celebrate. The e-book goes up as soon as the book is ready. POD follows a few weeks later. Oh, and we pay better than average royalties and have the luxury of working with great new writers. It’s so fun!

girl with a quill: This is an e-book Publisher. What do you believe is the future for e-books and more publishers like yourself taking advantage of the wave?

Susan: I hear people all the time who say, “I’ll never get an e-reader. I love ‘real’ books too much.” Most of them are younger folks.  I said the same thing until I realized I hadn’t read anything for fun for a few years. I used to read between 200 and 300 books a year. Suddenly, I was barely getting through three.  My eyes just couldn’t handle it. I did a few rounds with my eye doctor and finally gave up. Then, bang! e-readers.  I’m reading like a maniac again. So older folks are snatching them up because you can read anything on an e-reader. Kids love them. My grandkids grew up on computers so the e-book is an easy transition for them.  And studies show that kids are reading more with e-books. Even my 30-year-old daughter bought one because she wants to be able to carry several books in one compact space, and the new apps for the Nook Color make the thing a small computer that fits in a purse. Lots of servicemen and women are buying e-readers because they fit in a uniform pocket and can hold hundreds of books. The traditional publishers have been slow to change and are going the way of the dinosaur. With books by indies costing only a few dollars, more and more people can afford to buy a book. And I love being able to check books out of the library without leaving my house. I don’t think books are going away any time soon, but the Big 6 and the brick and mortar stores need to enter the 21st century if they want to compete.  I also see a lot of writers who still want a “traditional” deal, even though it’s not in their best interest. Why spend years scrabbling for an agent, waiting for the agent to shop the book, then wait another year for the book to come out? All for 7.5 percent royalties. And, if your book doesn’t sell well, it’s on the shelves for 3 months before being remaindered, and you still haven’t earned your advance back. No wonder writers don’t make any money. An e-book is for sale forever. Writers are finding that they can either self-publish or go with the smaller e-presses like Puddletown and have their books on sale in weeks instead of years. The royalties are better, the quality is often better, and you can still have print copies for POD. There are still some problems to be worked out, like the inconsistent quality of self-published books, but I think the market will take care of that over the next few years.  Overall, I see e-books continuing to take a larger and larger share of the market. They’re cheap in a poor economy, they’re green in a society that should be worried about that, and they’re technology that Americans have shown they adore. Barring major solar flares knocking out the grid or the end of the world, I think even dyed-in-the-wool book lovers will be reading e-books with some regularity.  

girl with a quill: Why have you chosen to do predominantly only e-book publishing? Is it a personal preference? Why?

Susan:  It’s a fairly wide open market, it’s environmentally friendly, and it’s better for the writer in the long run.  We also are committed to a “green” workplace and you don’t get much greener than this.

girl with a quill: Many people in 9-5 jobs have a water-cooler space where they go to talk with their colleagues about work issues. Do you have a “water-cooler” group for your writing life?

Susan:   I’m an introvert so I like being alone. With Dropbox, I can see my business partner and our subcontractors working away at their homes. (Dropbox alerts you when other folks access the files.) I have my dog and some cats, so I’m happy. I also belong to several Facebook groups that I visit throughout the day. Renee and I also talk on the phone almost daily, and we meet once a week to go over the endless list.

girl with a quill: Who or what is the greatest influence on you as a writer? and Why?

Susan:  Without a doubt, Madeleine L’Engle. She’s been my favorite since I was a child and got A Wrinkle in Time for Christmas the year it came out. Her writing and her liberal perspective on faith have both influenced me greatly over the years.  I was fortunate to study with her for a short time.

girl with a quill: If your life story were a novel, what genre would it be and what would be the story-arc up to this point?

Susan:  Is there a genre called crazy-as-hell? My life has been a roller coaster with all the usual events: marriage, family, work, taxes. But there’s been a huge element of surprise as well: house burned down, floods, and we’ve got two more horsemen yet to come. I’ve died and lived to tell about it, started several new businesses and driven them to success. If I told you everything, you probably wouldn’t believe me. Sometimes, I think I’m trying to work out several lifetimes of karma in one.

girl with a quill: Tell us about the place that you write? What do you fill that space with?

Susan:  I have a room of my own in our home, lined floor to ceiling with books, and a desk that is cluttered beyond belief. I need a big monitor so I have a 32” flat screen TV I can blow everything up to 200 percent on. I have several computers, usually a couple of cats lounging around, and a lot of outsider art and photos of family and friends. There are also a lot of art supplies as I like to dink around with other creative forms. I’m primarily a fiber artist in my spare time.  Like Gandhi, I believe we could have world peace if everyone would just spin their own yarn.

girl with a quill: Tell us about your writing process from that magical moment when the story’s idea / character voice interrupts your thoughts…what happens next?

Susan:  I mull. I gestate. I listen to voices in my head. Finally, when I can stand it no longer, I sit down and start writing.  It’s almost like mental illness.

girl with a quill: Are you a plotter, a pantster or a little of both?

Susan:  A pantster, for sure.  I tried plotting but could never get the whole thing done. Finally, I sat down and started writing.  Sometimes I have no idea what’s coming next, so I get surprised.

girl with a quill: What genre do you write in now?

Susan: I love mysteries so I write mysteries. I’m also working on a couple of theology projects (I trained as a theologian), and one book that combines theology with mystery.

girl with a quill: If you could try your pen at another genre, which genre would you choose?

Susan: Probably fantasy or science fiction. With lesbian protagonists. I like women’s voices and there’s not enough good lesbian literature out there.

girl with a quill: Are you working on any WIP now? Can you tell us a bit about it?

Susan: I’m writing two sequels to my first book.  The first is Blind Spot and the second is Blind Faith. The first three are all in the POV of the detective who is neurotic as hell but can see. The fourth book will be Blind Leading the Blind and will be in the POV of the blind therapist. That will be a challenge.

girl with a quill: Why do you write?

Susan:  Because it’s what I do. If I’m not writing books, I’m writing articles, or sermons, or blog posts, or…

girl with a quill: Do you have a common theme or Omni-Premise that threads its way through all your writing? If so, what is it?

Susan:  Hmm.  I guess the combination of lesbian and liberal theologian makes me most interested in the ideas of inclusion and diversity over all other themes. I want to write things that normalize all the differences for my readers. Like the idea that lesbians can just be normal folks or that a blind person can lead a rich, rewarding, and creative life. Or that one can be spiritual, even religious, without leaving your brain behind.

girl with a quill: If you found a golden lamp with a genie and he told you he could either make one of your stories come true or that you could become a character for a short time in another author’s book, which option would you choose and why?

Susan:  Oh! I’d be Meg Murray in Madeleine L’Engle’s books. Or I’d be Anna Pigeon in Nevada Barr’s books. I like Meg because she’s an awkward kid and so was I. I like Anna because she gets to work in the National Parks. 

girl with a quill: What is more important to you: Story or Character? Why?

Susan:  I like character driven books best. If you have a good character, one that I can get to know and care about, I’ll probably forgive minor issues with the story. I’m not as forgiving about great stories with flat or stereotypical characters.

girl with a quill: Who is your favourite character that you have created and why?

Susan:  I’d have to say Erik Walton (short for Erika) in my Blind series. She’s smart, tough, smart-assed, and neurotic as hell. Her weaknesses and tenderness shine through all her bluster. Her inner dialogue is pretty true to my own life.

girl with a quill: Who is your favourite character in the literary world and why?

Susan:   Marvin in Dr. Seuss’s Marvin K. Mooney. He cracks me up.

girl with a quill: If you could throw a dinner party and invite 5 famous creative people, who would they be and why?

Susan:  Madeleine L’Engle. Well, duh. Nevada Barr, because she writes gripping books with great female characters.  Rita Nakashima Brock, one of my favorite feminist theologians. Mozart, because I’d want him to play for us after dinner, and he was a crazy child prodigy.  Willa Cather, because she’s one of the few writers who can take my breath away, and I can’t figure out if it’s the story or the writing that did it. An amazing thing when that happens.

girl with a quill: If you could throw a dinner party and invite 5 of your favourite fictional characters, who would they be and why?

Susan:  Anna Pigeon, because I love her adventures in the wilderness.  God as portrayed in Gospel by Wilhelm Barnhardt, because he’s laugh-out-loud funny as hell, doesn’t take him/herself seriously, and is much like God as I imagine him/her.  Alex Delaware, from the mysteries by Jonathon Kellerman, because I could use a good guitar-playing shrink.  Stephanie Plum, Janet Evanovich’s bounty hunter, because she makes me laugh and she’s the kind of person I like to hang out with. Rina Lazarus from the books by Faye Kellerman, because I want to know everything about her faith.

girl with a quill: If you could give yourself one piece of advice at the beginning of your writing career, what would it be?

Susan:  Just write. Don’t wait for it to be perfect. Just write.

girl with a quill: What is the one piece of writing advice you could give your future self, 10 years from now?

Susan: Just write. Don’t wait for it to be perfect. Just write. And publish it.

girl with a quill: What do you want your lasting legacy, as a writer, to be?

Susan: Mostly I think about my kids and grandkids. I want them to be proud of my body of work. Even though I don’t want the grandkids reading some of it until they’re older. I think explicit sex, even if fairly tame, has no place in the hands of kids under 15 or 16 or so.

girl with a quill: Finally where can we find on the web?

Answer: HYPERLINK “”


Facebook: HYPERLINK “”





Twitter: HYPERLINK “”






Spotlight on Matthew Munson

Today I welcome a writer who I met through an online writer’s group that I belong to. What always amazes me about the writing groups I belong to is the plethora of writing talent in these groups. Matthew Munson is one of these writers. He is a writer who likes asking the Big Questions. He likes writing stories that make a reader sit up and say: What if? So join me in welcoming Matthew Munson. Pull up a seat and make yourself comfortable as we discuss life’s challenges, writing, fantasy, clowns and morris dancers…If you are like me and want to know what Morris Dancers are, well pay attention and Matthew will tell us all.
Welcome Matthew…Thank you for joining me in the Dragonfly Scrolls studio.
girl with a quill: Tell us a bit about yourself. Who is Matthew Munson?
Matthew: Matthew is … an Englishman in New York. Ha, not really, I just love the song 🙂 So that’s the level of my humour anyway … I am English, though.
    I’m 29 years old (30 in June) and live in the south-east of England in a town you’ve probably never heard of (thanks for that quote, Sir Terry Pratchett). I live right by the sea in touristy Broadstairs and have been born and raised here. I have a condition called dyspraxia and OCD and am currently learning British Sign Language. Looking over that last paragraph, I can’t work out how I’m not actually three people.girl with a quill: When did you decide that you wanted to be a Writer?

Matthew: I don’t honestly think there was a specific time when I didn’t want to write, in some form. My dad was a journalist and both my parents have always been avid readers, so literature and a love of words has always been part of my life. For a while, I considered going into journalism, but don’t think I’d enjoy the intensity of the lifestyle – I like to be a bit more laid-back about my career choices!

girl with a quill:How long have you been writing for?

Matthew: Well, I wrote my first book when I was eight or nine, and it was a way of getting out of double geography at primary school – which I loathed. During my teenage years, I’d often write short stories, but never had the confidence to do anything with them. It was only when I was in my twenties did I actually think “Come on, Matthew, just do it” – face the fear (and the rejection!) and start sending some stuff out there!

girl with a quill: You have a very interesting website written from two different POVs? What made you decide on this unique website?
Matthew: I wish there was a more interesting story to this … a friend of mine and I have joined forces to publicise our work. We thought by sharing a site that we could increase traffic to our short stories and double our chances of getting people interested in what we’ve written. We share a lot of similar interests, so sharing a website seemed a logical extension of that.
girl with a quill: On your website you state you have 3 fears; Clowns,Morris Dancers and Water. Is there a reason why you fear these? What are Morris Dancers? 
Matthew: You don’t know what Morris Dancers are? I’m shocked! They’re an English folk tradition; dancers with bells tied round their legs and hankies tied to their sleeves doing weird dances to welcome in Summer on May Day. They’re a very … intense group of people who have regular conventions, and probably the only group of dancers that you can hear coming from half a mile away. There’s also a dance called the “Black Morris”, which welcomes in Winter – as a kid, that used to terrify me, and I can’t shake it off to this day.
    Water – well, that’s an easy one. I had swimming lessons as a kid, and would never put my head under water, so my swimming teacher once pushed it under and I swallowed a huge amount of water. It was absolutely terrifying, and any large body of water still gives me the creeps to this day.
    Clowns … well, don’t they scare you??
girl with a quill:One often hears that you need to face your fears to overcome them and I believe writers often use stories to work through events. Have you ever/Would you create a story with these three things you fear?
Matthew: Strange you should say that … I’ve written a short story about a clown called Hector, which was published in Ethereal Times a coupld of months ago. That was great fun to write – I utterly LOVED creating the compexity of Hector, he was – and is – awesome, at least as far as I’m concerned.
    I’m currently working on a short story about the sea as well … but I won’t say too much about that at the moment. As for Morris Dancers … hmm, that’s one to think about for the future – maybe!
    I am definitely one who channels his thoughts and feelings into his writing; it’s very therapeutic.

girl with a quill: Many people in 9-5 jobs have a water-cooler space where they go to talk with their colleagues about work issues. Do you have a “water-cooler” group for your writing life?
Matthew: Facebook and Twitter! I have met some awesome writers through here – Eden Baylee, Richard Wood, my interviewer to name but three, and there are a lot more there. I love bouncing ideas off people and seeing how other people work.
    I’ve also got two “off-line” friends as well, one being a very prolific writer in the south-west of England, James Sheridan – we’ve known each other for 20 years, and can be totally honest with each others’ work. David Grimstone is a huge inspiration to me, and I’m glad to know him – he always incredibly encouraging to me and I always value our chats!

girl with a quill: Who or what is the greatest influence on you as a writer? and Why?

Matthew: Phew, there’s a question … I don’t know if I can say one thing. My parents, clearly, are huge influences on my writing. As I said earlier, I grew up in a house filled with books and words, and learnt to love both. I think that my dad’s writing style has rubbed off on me, although he is far more awesome at constructing a column or an article; our humour is very similar, though, so we tend to approach things from a similar viewpoint.

    Author-wise, I’d have to say … well, there’s a list. Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman are utter legends, and Stephen King and James Herbert aren’t far behind. I could go on and on and on … but those four appeal to me because of their complex plots that are still very easy to follow and wonderful to read. I love writers where you’re physically excited about their next book.

girl with a quill: If your life story were a novel, what genre would it be and what would be the story-arc up to this point?

Matthew: It would definitely be a cross between fantasy and some sort of medical textbook, I suspect! Fantasy because I don’t honestly believe people would believe some of the jobs I’ve had and people I’ve met during my life, and medical because of my dyspraxia and OCD that has an impact on my life – although I make sure it’s as little impact as possible.

    The arc would be … interesting, to say the least; highs and lows, the same as anyone! Really developing new strands to my life in my 20’s; developing the confidence to face the inevitable rejection of being a fledgling writer, starting to learn Sign language and becoming an advocate for dyspraxia and deaf awareness. An intense arc, some might say!

girl with a quill: Tell us about the place that you write? What do you fill that space with?

Matthew: I have a desk in my front room right by the window, so I can look out over the street from my flat. I love that; it gives me so much inspiration, just that view of people and the sea. The actual desk is fairly Spartan – two laptops, some notepaper and pens … oh, and a book I really MUST take back to the library. I prefer the space to be as empty as possible; it’s less distracting and more calming for me.

girl with a quill: Tell us about your writing process from that magical moment when the story’s idea / character voice interrupts your thoughts…what happens next?

Matthew: They won’t shut up! I usually spend a week or so just jotting random thoughts down; names of characters, bits of plot, etc, then spend a lot of time daydreaming! I find music really helps me with that; it sends me off into the realms of … well, wherever you got when you daydream! I often walk as well – for some reason, walking and music together really help me think about the process. Gradually, things solidfy in my mind and I just start writing.

girl with a quill: Are you a plotter, a pantster or a little of both?

Matthew: Both – although more of a paster, if I’m honest! Everytime I start a story, I tell myself I will plot it through and follow that plot religiously … but it doesn’t quite work somehow. I love how things can evolve, and that can only happen if your plot is flexible enough to change.

girl with a quill: What genre do you write in now?

Matthew: Reality-based fantasy. I love using the real world as a basis for my fantasy stories, because I love the “what if” question, and fantasy really helps me explore that. I can put the world into different contexts and see how people would react to the incredible.

girl with a quill: If you could try your pen at another genre, which genre would you choose?

Matthew: I’d love to try horror one day – but haven’t yet got the confidence. You need to be able to get that “fear factor” just right, and I need to read more extensively more I even have the nerve to try it!

girl with a quill: Are you working on any WIP now? Can you tell us a bit about it?

Matthew: Working on a couple of short stories at the moment, then hoping to go back to my manuscript in a couple of months; I need to change portions of that, so I’m having some “thinking time” away from it!

girl with a quill: Why do you write?
Matthew: Because I couldn’t imagine a life without it.
girl with a quill: Do you have a common theme or Omni-Premise that threads its way through all your writing? If so, what is it?
Matthew: I would hope there’s a humour that permeates my work. I find it funny, but the test is if other people find it funny as well! I’d also like to think that there’s a passion for life that comes through, as well; a message that life can survive, in a lot of different forms.

girl with a quill: If you found a golden lamp with a genie and he told you he could either make one of your stories come true or that you could become a character for a short time in another author’s book, which option would you choose and why?

Matthew: I’d love to be a characted in Jasper Fforde’s series of Thursday Next books. Thursday is a LiteraTec, a detective working in and out of the fictional world and real world. That would be a fabulous job to try.

girl with a quill: What is more important to you: Story or Character? Why?

Matthew: Character, because without strong, powerful characters, your story will wither and die.

girl with a quill: Who is your favourite character that you have created and why?

Matthew: I’ve got two; Hector the Clown, who I’ve mentioned before, because he’s got this extraordinary gift and just uses in such a morally dubious way, but for reasons that he thinks are good and decent and honest.

    My second character is Joseph, a leading character in my unpublished manuscript “Fall From Grace”, which I’m just re-editing now. He is very similar to me in many ways, and he was definitely my mouthpiece in the book.

girl with a quill: Who is your favourite character in the literary world and why?

Matthew:It’s tough to pick just one, it really is. I’m going to say Thursday Next again, because of how she’s written; Jasper Fforde has created this absolutely deep and layered character and invested a huge amount of humour and pathos within her.

girl with a quill: If you could throw a dinner party and invite 5 famous creative people, who would they be and why?

Matthew: Must I have just five?? Alright then … Jasper Fforde (because of his book series and how much I suspect his humour is similar to mine, Richard Wood (because  he runs the Word Count Podcast and has just been published – and would have a lot of stories to tell), Terry Pratchett (who is just plain awesome), David Grimstone (the author I mentioned earlier who is incredibly down to Earth and well-versed in so many subjects that overlap with my interests) and Jeani Reactor, editor of the Horror Zine, who is an amazing and patient editor!

girl with a quill: If you could throw a dinner party and invite 5 of your favourite fictional characters, who would they be and why?

Matthew: Thursday Next – because she just kicks arse; Samuel Vimes from the Discworld novels, because he would actually give a totally straight answer to anything you asked and wouldn’t filter his response; Davey Swag from David Stone’s book of the same name because he’s had experiences so far out of this world, it’s untrue; Symond Bryson from The Prodigal’s Foole, because he could really advise me on my own fantasy creations, and Lyra Belacqua from Phillip Pullman’s Dark Materials trilogy – she’s so well-written and complex.

girl with a quill: If you could give yourself one piece of advice at the beginning of your writing career, what would it be?

Matthew: Don’t be afraid of rejection. It happens to everyone – accept it and make your writing better as a result.

girl with a quill: What is the one piece of writing advice you could give your future self, 10 years from now?

Matthew: Remember how you felt when you had your first piece of fiction published? Hold on to that feeling; if you ever lose it, it might be time to consider your options.

girl with a quill: What do you want your lasting legacy, as a writer, to be?

Matthew: To engage people in my stories and make them think.

girl with a quill: Finally where can we find you on the web?

Matthew: At or – come and visit, maybe even say “hi!”

Mary Lou Cassotto ~ Sisterhood & Stories

Today I have the honour of having a woman who has “fought the good fight” on behalf of all women out there. She was an instrumental part of the 1970’s Women’s Movement and helped get the first Woman Senator elected to her seat. She is woman who has worn many hats in her lifetime, amongst these being a lawyer at a time when women were rarely seen in court and when they were they tended to raise eyebrows. She still wears many hats and like all women seems to thrive on being the Multi-Tasker juggling many different balls in the air. Sit down with me while I chat to a woman who knows the true value and meaning of the term “Sisterhood” and what it took to give the Modern Woman her equal voice. Be prepared to want to ask many more questions of my fascinating and courageous guest…

I introduce Mary Lou Cassotto  –  a true Survivor, a courageous “sister” and a warrior of words and ideals.

girl with a quill: Hi Mary Lou. Lovely to have you here in the Dragonfly Scrolls studio. Take a seat. Get comfortable. Can I offer you something to drink while we talk?

Mary Lou: My favourite drinks would be Chai tea in cooler months, apple martinis or mango ones in the warmer ones.

girl with a quill: Who is Mary Lou?

Mary Lou: Mary Lou is the person who has looked for the perfect job her entire life, one that would give her time to have a real life and a stimulating professional one at the same time. If you know what it is, please let ME know! She is a dreamer/realist who was once the shyest person in her class but now teaches Public Speaking on the college level when she is not teaching College Writing mostly to criminal investigation students. She loves cats, dogs, children, attending writing, reading and library conventions and meeting other writers.

girl with a quill: You have been a lawyer, teacher, librarian, drama coach. What role was most challenging?

Mary Lou: You forgot to add that I worked as a counselor as well for a while! (My apologies..) I’d have to say the most challenging role had to be the one of being a lawyer, although each job had its challenges. When I practiced law in 1975, I was often the only woman in the courtroom. I think there were just three or four of us at that time in the state capital where I worked. A lot of men did not think we women should be in the courtroom, as well as most of the women. I am sure that has all changed now, although the lack of creativity one is allowed to express in the courtroom, I doubt, has changed.

(Now I can definitely see a compelling story here..)

Writing now has its challenges as well. Although I have taught writing in college, high school and junior high school for more than twenty years, the kind of writing I was taught in school and that I teach,  is totally different from the kind one needs to know about to be a good creative writer. Writers today definitely are not following the formats of the classical authors. There is no time for readers to spend focusing on and absorbing the literature of the past. The writing craft is changing constantly, and I am continually learning.

girl with a quill: When did you decide to become a writer and how long have you been writing?

The only things I ever really wanted to be in my life were a writer and an artist, ever since grammar school. Being able to do those things seemed to me only for those born with  talent, or the very brave. I was OK at those two disciplines, but to survive I took the safer route, I became an English and Art teacher, and a librarian.

I realized at age seven that the only way to have a lasting influence on the world was to paint or write, so I began then to write my first novel. I don’t remember, but I think my book was about a princess; I wanted to be one of those too! I read every fairy tale book there was in my public library as well as studied painting in the turrets there with professional artists. My mother worked part time to fund my art courses. The library was my bridge to a larger world. My mother hadn’t completed high school, my aunts never made it out of grade school; one of my grandmothers signed her name with an X, so you can see how much of an effect the library had on me. I wish I knew where that first book was.

(The young Mary Lou was wise beyond her years it may seem in reflection. How astute an observation! Yes the power of art and creativity can not only influence the world but change it. It is a path that is not a job but a calling.)

In the 1970’s, I later tried to write a play about the women’s movement. I had helped put together most of the women’s groups in my state; I and six friends worked on legislation, hired the first woman lobbyist, groomed women to run for public office and sponsored them. I flew down to Texas to obtain funds to help run the first woman for the state Senate. I also was instrumental in establishing the Permanent Commission of the Status of Women, sat on the first Board of Directors, was the first woman chair in my town of the Economic Development Commission, as well as the first day care and battered wives shelter. The play was about the women in my groups, my “sisters” we called ourselves, and how different we all were. Many of the women  had switched sexual orientation after finding no support in their efforts at authentication. We often disagreed, because I wanted to find a way of reconciling  the “old ways” with the new. I had been raised strict Catholic and was married. The play was called, “Where Do We Go from Here?” Unfortunately, I never finished it. It was written when Wendy Wasserstein first wrote.

Then in 2009, NaNoWriMo came into my life and the rest is history. While everyone else worked on their novel, I tried writing a memoir about the true story of the women’s movement in my state. I wanted others to know the costs some women had to pay in order for other women to have their rights. After three attempts I gave up non-fiction, and switched to YA fiction. As I had worked with young people as a public defender for juveniles and as a teacher, it was a logical choice.

girl with a quill: In most jobs, we all have a water cooler area where we gather around the water cooler or automatic coffee machine and discuss the office news and gossip. Do you have a Water Cooler group?

Mary Lou: Without a doubt, my main Water Cooler group is the Warrior Chat group begun by Lia Keyes, who has been very active in the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. I am absolutely addicted to the group and have learned so much about writing craft and the changes in the publishing industry from them. The members feel like “best friends” and I especially love commiserating with my Brit sisters from England, Australia, New Zealand, and my other European  sisters from Holland and from Spain. My background, because of the times I grew up in, the literature I read, and my major in college, make me think more British than American. Communicating with the group is like coming home.

I also belong to two SCBWI picture groups, and a YA group that meets near New York City. Each group is so different.

girl with a quill: Who has been the greatest influence on your life and your writing?

Mary Lou: Gladys Taber, the woman who compiled the Stillmeadow books from her magazine articles in the 1960’s in Family Circle magazine, has had the most effect on my life, overall. She is my favorite author, and like me attended an all women’s college. She then went on to teach writing at Columbia, and like myself, became disenchanted with the city, so she and her best friend from college bought a little house in Southbury, Connecticut, where they raised prize-winning cocker spaniels and where she supported herself and the rest of their families, by writing  cooking and gardening books as well as self-reflective books about the changing of the seasons. She was my hope and life line in my times of greatest despair. Like me, she wound up being separated from her husband, and how she continued to make herself happy has always been of the utmost inspiration to me.

I have also belonged to a couple of Jane Austen fan clubs, visited the homes of various women authors and male painters, and studied the Bronte sisters’ life in depth. Concord, Massachusetts, the home of Louisa May Alcott is one of my favorite places as is Stockbridge, Massachusetts, the home of Daniel Chester French, who sculpted the Lincoln Memorial. Literally, I decided to study and teach art and literature after visiting Alcott’s and French’s homes.

girl with a quill: If your life was a novel, what kind of novel would it be and what would be the story arc?

Mary Lou: My life would be a realistic YA novel as well as an inspirational one, because I have had to overcome many obstacles in my life, including being the first woman in my family to attend college, and the first woman in my town to attend law school. My being divorced after a long marriage and being a single mom also presented severe challenges.

(Those are some astounding “firsts”. You truly embody chasing after a dream!)

girl with a quill: Describe your writing space.

Mary Lou: Well, years ago I bought a table like the one Hemingway wrote on in Key West, but I write in the same place I used to write as a little girl, in my bed, with my electric blanket turned up full blast even in April, and with my dogs Cutie and Tia, and my cat Snowflake, by my side. There has to be a pine, lavender or grass scented candle wafting in the distance, complete silence, and a large block of time. I don’t know how others can write at their kids’ soccer practice! I also need my story outline and character motivation sheets at my side. Snow days are a God send.

(Wow…I am envious: A table like Ernest Hemingway..I am also a bed-writer. You have to love the invention of the laptop computer.)

girl with a quill: From the moment when you first get the inkling of a story, what is your writing process.

Mary Lou: I am afraid my writing process is not all that magical.  Don’t tell anyone, but after all these years, I first start with a theme or lesson in mind, and create a main character who is a younger version of myself. I then write out a plot outline. Even though I am a writing teacher, making one of these has also been a recent requirement of mine, including indications of where quotations, recurring symbols and crises will occur. I also fill out painstakingly long character motivation sheets. I do not find using these constraining, but liberating; they free me to just focus on dialogue and the details.

If I have any muses, they are my pets, who continue to love me, even when I am too tired to walk them. Their antics also give me ideas for my picture books.

girl with a quill: Are you a plotter or a pantser?

Mary Lou: During NaNoWriMo, I was a pantser, but I have found that plotting is the best way to write. I jot down the skeleton of my story first, and over a period of a few weeks I tweak it. Then usually, without trying, the details, like dialogue, come to me in my sleep at night.  I am usually thinking about what should happen in the next few chapters when I am writing, and I keep a notebook near my bed to record whatever ideas inevitably wake me up at 3AM.

girl with a quill: What genre are you writing in now? What genre would you choose to write in?

Presently, I am really focusing on a YA realistic novel, but I also am writing first drafts of picture books about the adventures of my pets.  Next, I have a great idea for a YA historical novel about the times of Mary Lincoln, a comic boy-girl YA book based on a girl’s experience with her history teacher mother and her mother’s love for Winston Churchill, and a paranormal sequel to Jane Eyre.

(Sounds fascinating…Get writing on the new idea..sounds like a keeper.)

girl with a quill: I hear that you are challenging yourself by writing in three different categories right now. Tell us about the three genres you are writing in right now.

Mary Lou: I am afraid I gave up trying to write a memoir a long time ago, but instead decided to make a fictional character in my YA realistic fiction book that like myself was very active in the women’s movement.

My YA book began with  a quote from Louisa May Alcott and a trip to Concord, Massachusetts. It was heavily influenced by some heroic girls I once met who decided to carry their unplanned pregnancies to full term and put them up for adoption. My novel is about a young girl putting her baby up for adoption. I wanted to say that girls have choices if they find themselves pregnant. I know how hard it was to be a single parent, yet being a mother was my favorite job. I think babies are a treasure and that there is more than one way to deal with babies if a girl finds herself in a situation of becoming a mother before she is ready to.

Anyone who knows me knows I am a bit eccentric about my dogs. We do all crazy things together, go to dog costume events, dog Easter egg hunts; we even belong to Dog Scouts of America and do reading therapy work for our badges. My picture books are about them and my “good cat Snowflake” to borrow an appellation from my favorite early chapter book author, Cynthia Ryland.

girl with a quill: Is it a challenge to write three different stories for three different markets? Which category was the most challenging, and why?

Mary Lou: It is very challenging to write in three genres both because each one is so different and because of time constraints. When I teach college expository writing, there is a different story structure for process, cause and effect, classification, and comparison and contrast essays, for instance. The same is true for the genres. One has to look at samples of each category to see the difference and study the differences in how the stories open up and hang together.

Although I focus on my realistic YA novel, I belong to two picture book critique groups and write first drafts of picture books, because I want to write books about my pets while they are still alive, and not later when sadness might enter my stories.

As I said, I have given up writing a memoir for now. I am afraid that my story just wouldn’t be sensational enough in today’s competitive market with all the celebrity stories out there. I also had difficulty figuring out how to present my story in a novel engaging way. Russell Baker chose to write about himself by focusing on how the three women in his life, his mother, mother-in-law and wife effected him. I tried this but it wasn’t exciting enough.

(I don’t know about “not sensational enough”…I am sure you were at the heart of a lot of sensational dramas in those times. Your story is a real story and I think that many people would prefer to read about a story that they can relate to than one based in Hollywood…I know I would.)

girl with a quill: If you found a genie in a lamp and could have a wish granted to be a character in you own book or in another author’s, what character would you choose?

Mary Lou: That is not a difficult choice at all. I would be the newly divorced female character, or maybe not so newly divorced when her feelings were so raw, in Under the Tuscan Sun. My divorce impacted me much as it did that author, but she got to live it out by buying a home in Italy.  Wouldn’t that be every divorced woman’s dream?

(Great Choice! I think that would be any woman’s dream….loved Under the Tuscan Sun.)

girl with a quill:What is more important to you, plot or character, and why?

Mary Lou: I’d have to say they are both important. We live in an action packed world today, and there definitely is no story without conflict, but characters are what make stories timeless and universal. I have read many stories about the Civil War, but what would Gone with the Wind be without Scarlett O’Hara. Setting is important too, but what would the moors be without Heathcliff? People read stories to understand human nature.

girl with a quill: Who is your favorite character in your own writing? Why?

Mary Lou: My favorite character would have to be Emma, the new friend my main character meets after she has been set up by the popularity hungry girls she has been friends with since grade school. Emma is half-American Jew, half-Brit. Both of her parents are English teachers and the family loves the classics. Emma is the perfect friend anyone would ever want to have. I named her Emma after my adorable five-year old grand-niece, but then, of course, there is Jane Austen’s Emma. I unconsciously modeled her a little after two older “adopted big sisters” I had that were Jewish, and my best friend from college who was an atypical army brat who spent her formative years in England. We shared the same interests, but then she went off to be a nun and work with AID’s patients in Haiti. She died at 53 of cancer. I miss her, but made her come alive  in my book.

girl with a quill: Who is your favorite character in the literary world? Why?

Mary Lou: This is difficult to answer, because there are so many: Elizabeth Bennett, Jane Eyre, Hermann Hesse’s Demian. The first two had integrity and a will to endure. The latter shows a more vulnerable person another way of living and protects that person from bullies. I like Carrie Jone’s YA main characters a lot; they care about other people, maybe even more than themselves and have some of the same qualities as those classical characters.

girl with a quill: If I was throwing a dinner party and told you to invite five famous creative people  or literary characters, whom would you invite and why?

Mary Lou: The answer to this might have been Van Gogh in my youth; I taught art and loved his work , or Michelangelo. It might even have been Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, or my favorite author, Gladys Taber. But lately, I’ve met other heroines who are extremely creative and talented.  I’d rather invite the men and women I’ve met in my Facebook Warrior Chat group. They are so creative, so diverse and so supportive, and have lived such interesting lives. They’ve been international journalists, set designers, artists, directors, special education teachers, computer geeks. They have their pulses on the future.

Only thing, I want to meet in a warm place like Brisbane, Australia, where authors know how to party and where I can feed the kangaroos, and not in cold New England.

(I am sure Sheryl Gwyther would be tickled pink at the idea of us all showing up in her home town…mmmhhh maybe an idea is percolating…)

girl with a quill: What one piece of advice would you give yourself at the beginning of your writing career?

Mary Lou: I would say, “Tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” Life is what it is; don’t worry about what others think or say. Use your real voice.

girl with a quill: What one piece of advice will you give yourself as a writer at the end of the next ten years?

Mary Lou: I would tell myself, “Remember those distractions that kept you from writing all those years? The dogs being sick or having to walk them, having to keep a job to make a living, exercising, reading, visiting your friends? That was your real life.

To use all the clichés: ‘This isn’t a dress rehearsal; it’s the real thing, and you only go around once.’ You made memories; use them in your books. It’s all you really have.”

girl with a quill: What is the lasting legacy you would like to leave as a writer?

Mary Lou: I would like my books to reflect the value of the classics and knowledge of history, as well as the joys of my traditional simple life style. I would also like future young women to understand that the women in my generation valued “sisterhood” and that my generation paid a price to ensure the choices in theirs. That is enough.

girl with a quill: Where can we find you on the web?

My blog is entitled What is essential is, and can be found at  HYPERLINK “”

Well Mary Lou it has indeed been an honour having you in my studio today. This is what I love about doing these “Warrior Wednesdays”: No matter how many times I run these interviews, I never tire of learning something new and being freshly inspired. I would also like to put forward my vote that you do write a memoir, whether it be in fiction or non-fiction format – just listening to you talk now has left me wanting to know more. Looking back at all you and many other women have accomplished that I may be able to hold my head high and have an equal voice leaves me humbled and filled with gratitude. You still have a lot to teach us younger women and I look forward to the stories you create. Thank you.

Scared by a story? Meet Elise VanCise….

We have all tucked into our favourite armchair with a cup of hot cocoa. It is cold and dark outside. The wind is whistling softly outside. It is the perfect time to open your new purchase: your favourite thriller. You open up the pages and soon you are so lost in the story that when the phone rings; you jump and your heart is racing a mile a minute. Every creak in the floorboards, every noise in the house makes you tuck in deeper, trying to hide from all the would-be dangers…that is when you know that you are reading a book that turns even the most mundane into a thrill. Have you ever wondered what sort of person is behind the pen that writes that book? What skills do they need to thrill you? What experiences turn them into a person who can write a story that can make you jump at imagined danger…and all this with the power of words and imagination? Well wonder no more. Today’s Warrior is that person behind that book that thrills you on cold winter nights….So sit down, tuck into a favourite armchair with a cup of cocoa and listen to the talk behind the thrills…

Introducing author: Elise VanCise

girl with a quill: Tell us a bit about yourself. Who is Elise VanCise?

Elise:   I’m a writer/photographer, native Floridian, and a single home schooling mom. I love to explore museums and historic sites. I’m addicted to dark chocolate and cherry Dr Pepper. I carry pen and notebook where ever I go. I’ve been known to write in the middle of the grocery store when an idea hits.

girl with a quill: If you wrote yourself a part in one of your stories, what role would you play and why?

Elise: The beautiful rich heroine that gets the guy of course! Really though I think I write a bit of myself in every story. There’s always a quirk or favorite thing in the stories that reflect a bit of who I am.

girl with a quill: Which is the more challenging hat to wear and why – that of journalist or that of novelist?

Elise: Journalist, because you have to be careful of what you report and how accurate it is. Every detail must be checked and double checked. Fiction you have much more freedom to bend reality anyway you like.

girl with a quill: When did you decide that you wanted to be a writer/journalist?

Elise:  In 2006 I joined NaNoWriMo and wrote the first draft of In the Dark. Finishing the book I realized hey this has been my passion all along. I had just never written a full novel.  I wanted to have an avenue that was a bit more lucrative between books so I started working as a freelance journalist /photographer in 2009.  I love being able to write about the people and places I meet along the way.

girl with a quill: Do you find that your skills in journalism have helped/hindered your skills as a novelist? How?

Elise:  I think learning to think like a journalist has helped me see things in new ways. I have been able to put that into my fiction writing as well. I’ve been able to find some great story ideas while out and working as a journalist. My hindrance is switching my tenses lol. You write mostly active voice present tense in a news/non-fiction article. I find myself switching tenses in the middle of my stories. It makes editing interesting and I drive my writing partner Rose Wade a little crazy sometimes.

girl with a quill: I know that you are a prolific NaNoWriMo participant and winner 5 times over.

What is it about NaNoWriMo that makes you keep on competing?

Elise:  I love the challenge of NaNoWriMo. To write 50,000 words in only 30 days is a feat. It’s a great feeling of accomplishment to hit that mark and watch your green bar go purple. I also enjoy the camaraderie that you get with writers from around the world.

girl with a quill: For those naysayers of NaNoWriMo, what would you say have been the highlights of your NaNoWriMo involvement, not only as a writer but as a municipal liaison?

Elise:  I think the highlight of NaNo for me is seeing people who never thought they could write a story. It really doesn’t matter if you make it to 50k. NaNoWriMo is all about the joy of writing.  Being able to see first time writers grow and find their own voices over the course of the contest is a really great thing to witness.

As a municipal liaison I’ve been able to create a group for writers in my area. We meet the 4th Wed. every month at the Eustis Denny’s at 6:30pm. Everyone is welcome we have members of all ages.

girl with a quill: Many people in 9-5 jobs have a water-cooler space where they go to talk with their colleagues about work issues. Do you have a “water-cooler” group for your writing life?

Elise:  Yes, I do. I have the monthly group I spoke about and I chat every day with my writing partner Rose.  We met on a fan fic writing board and became close friends, sisters-in-heart.  I also am an online member of a few groups such as Fellow Writers on Facebook. Lots of wonderful people in there.

girl with a quill: Who or what is the greatest influence on you as a writer? and Why?

Elise: I would have to say just the world around me is my greatest influence.  God created this great big place, filling it with such wonders. There’s something to be inspired by everywhere you look.

girl with a quill: If your life story were a novel, what genre would it be and what would be the story-arc up to this point?

Elise:  I would have to say a mix of Drama, Horror, and Comedy. The last year has been such a roller coaster of emotions and events, I’m kind of surprised the white coats haven’t knocked on my door yet lol.

girl with a quill: Tell us about the place that you write? What do you fill that space with?

Elise: I write mostly at my desk. I have photos of my fave places and my son. Two books always at hand a thesaurus and The Descriptionary. I have a koosh ball and Baoding Balls, both are great when your hands get tired from typing or sore. I have carpel tunnel and arthritis so they are great tools for my poor achy hands. I have a flower pot painted with all my pens and pencils in it. I have all sorts of crazy shaped ones.  Most important other than my computer is my bulletin board. Part of it is filled with some memory items but half is my novel notes and bullet points.

girl with a quill: Tell us about your writing process from that magical moment when the story’s idea / character voice interrupts your thoughts…what happens next?

Elise:  I start jotting down ideas and possibilities of where it might lead. Then jump into some research for some building materials to really set the idea. As I look though these materials the characters really start to come to life. I’ll do little shorts or a paragraph or two writing about or as that character to flesh them out. Once we’re all acquainted I dive into the story.

girl with a quill: Are you a plotter, a pantster or a little of both?

Elise: I’m somewhere in the middle. I make a bullet point outline of at least 60 points. Scenes, dialog, plot points, character notes. Whatever I need, I then print it out and cut them apart. I put each bullet on the board in story sequence, sort of like a story board.  It helps me see the progress as each finished bullet is pulled down.

girl with a quill: How important a part does the digital world and an online platform play in your life?

Do you believe that writers now have more control over their own platform now that we live in an increasingly virtual online world of social networking/blogging/tumbling/tweeting ect?

Elise: The digital world is a huge part of my life. I work, play and even use online curriculum to home school my son.  I think writers now have the ability to be more hands on. There are more and more opportunities being created for us to spread the word about our ‘brand’.  Being involved in social networking is almost a necessity these days. You need to have an internet presence to reach the audience you want.

girl with a quill: What genre do you write in now?

Elise: That’s hard to answer. I write so many different kinds of stories but I think my books and niche fall in Paranormal Thrillers. There is always a touch of comedy and romance tossed in the mix as well.

girl with a quill: If you could try your pen at another genre, which genre would you choose?

Elise:  Crime/Mystery these are the things I like to read. A good thrill or a dark mystery to solve.

girl with a quill: Are you working on any new story now? Can you tell us a bit about it?

Elise:  I have several projects going actually. I’m working on one called Out of the Air. Evan is a scientist who doesn’t believe in anything other than logic. A near death experience causes her to meet someone who shows her science can’t explain everything.

The other is Worth.  A photographer working for World Magazine doing a story on the Congo where she finds herself in a war zone doing more than taking pictures.

girl with a quill: If you met a found a golden lamp with a genie and he told you he could either make one of your stories come true or that you could become a character for a short time in another author’s book, which option would you choose and why?

Elise:  To become a character for a short time. Everyone wants to be someone else, just for a little while, to lead a more adventurous, glamorous life. Then just think of the story ideals you’ll come out with for your own work!

girl with a quill: What is more important to you: Story or Character? Why?

Elise: Character, it’s the character that readers really connect with. You can love a story and not be thrilled with the characters. But once you fall in love with a Character the story becomes more compelling. You’re feeling something for them every time you turn the page.

girl with a quill: Who is your favourite character that you have created and why?

Elise:  That’s hard they’re all my darlings lol. I would have to say Dean Cross. He’s an ex Marine with a bigger than life personality. Fun loving but ready for action at a moments notice.

girl with a quill: Who is your favourite character in the literary world and why?

Elise:  You know I’m not really sure I have a favorite.

girl with a quill: If you could throw a dinner party and invite 5 famous creative people, who would they be and why?

Elise:  Stephen King, what writer wouldn’t want to sit down with the master! Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, I would love to see Florida though her eyes in the early days of the state.  My favorite artist Salvador Dali, his art has so much in it. Each piece tells more than one story.  Russell Crowe, an actor who brings so much life to the characters he plays. It would be wonderful to talk about characterization and what makes them so compelling or not to an audience. And lastly Mark Twain, a man who made no excuses for who he was, lived his life to the fullest with pen and heart.

girl with a quill: If you could throw a dinner party and invite 5 of your favourite fictional characters, who would they be and why?

Elise: Capt. Jack Aubrey from Patrick O’Brian’s Master and Commander series. I couldn’t help but fall in love with this character on the first page as he hummed and tapped his foot and leg to the music of the orchestra with such exuberance.  Jack Reacher from Lee Child’s books, tall dark handsome ex military, kind of brooding… do I really need to explain this one?  Travis Criton from my book Half, I’ve always thought he would just be so much fun to be out on the town with.  Robin Hood, he has been my hero since childhood.

girl with a quill: If you could give yourself one piece of advice at the beginning of your writing career, what would it be?

Elise:  It would be the same advice I give myself now. Don’t stop, don’t give up, don’t stop searching for the end of the rainbow, keep dreaming big.

girl with a quill: What is the one piece of writing advice you could give your future self, 10 years from now?

Elise:  Just breathe it all in and enjoy life to the fullest.

girl with a quill: What do you want your lasting legacy, as a writer, to be?

Elise: To be someone who inspired others to follow dreams and write their tales.

girl with a quill: Where can we buy your books?

Elise: Most online retailers or your best price would be at my Literary Emporium

girl with a quill: Finally where can we find on the web?

Elise:  My official site
My blog Gladiator’s Pen
Twitter @elisevancise
Facebook Author Elise VanCise

The Gift of Truth Telling

Image by TW Collins via Flickr

How important is telling the truth to you?

For many writers, they tell the truth about emotional subjects and difficult tales through their stories. They may change a few names around or they may base a character loosely on themselves. I believe all fiction does carry something of the writer‘s experience and emotional map about it. But there are those writers who are called to write a story that will make people question their world views. Their stories make the reader confront the truth. As we all know sometimes the truths in this world can be ugly and destroying. But sometimes there are those rare individuals who can use trials and torments to rise above their circumstances and use that very pain to bring comfort and nurturing warmth into all whose lives they touch. Then you go a step further and meet those same individuals who use their stories of pain as a looking-glass mirror where, through the naked reflection of their pain, they offer others in the same circumstances a way out, a way paved with hope and resilience. Tonight I have the honour of having such an individual and such a writer in the Dragonfly Scrolls studio with me. I am not going to digress anymore because tonight she is going to share her amazing story with you. So I am going to take a step back and let you be inspired by a woman who, like myself, believes in not only seeking the truth but in telling the truth in all its naked complexity. This is a story of a true survivor. Listen to her and have hope no matter how hopeless your world may seem right now.

Firstly thank you for joining me in the Dragonfly Scrolls studio…

Let us start by you introducing yourself to us…Who is Suzannah Burke?

Of all the questions I am ever asked this is perhaps the most difficult to answer. Who am I?  I am an Australian woman in my fifties.  I wake before sunrise and go back to bed after midnight.  I love to walk in the rain, and read in the sun.  I watched Toy Story 3 and cried; I sat with my 30-year-old daughter and watched the entire first series of Glee in one sitting, snuggled on the sofa with enormous amounts of munchies.  On her next visit, we watched the entire first season of Trueblood together.  I live alone on the northeastern coast of Australia in a small fishing village.  I am a friend, a neighbor, an acquaintance, an ex-wife, but my favorite title is mother. I am a writer fortunate enough to have had a book published.  I love my animals, my solitude and my life is as perfect as it’s going to get right now.

Tell us about your background in writing.

I didn’t really begin writing as more than a hobby until 5 years ago.  Like many people my friends said, “Hey, this is good stuff.”  I joined an online writing site and to my delight, they agreed with my friends. I wrote my first complete fiction novel for Nanowrimo in 2009.  I completed another fiction novel for Nanowrimo in 2010…and in between, I wrote “Empty Chairs”

I know that you have a book called Empty Chairs out.  Can you tell us a bit about it?

Empty Chairs is my biography from age three to age 11.  It covers the early years when I was subjected to horrendous abuse instigated by my mother and the pedophile ring she was a pivotal member of.  It covers the abuse and moves quickly on to my life living on the streets at age 11. I hope that people will see within the pages that the results of abuse can be life threatening and certainly life altering.  However, it also made me understand that I had a core of strength inside that simply refused to be broken.  I had a dream of something better and nothing would stop me striving towards that dream.

Now it must take great courage to write about painful events in your life but yet you have.

What was your inspiration for writing this story?

When I first hit the streets, I met and ultimately shared my life with a group of street kids.  We were together for 5 years, and some of us remained friends for over 4 decades. One of the gang was only 8 years old.  Her name was “Jenny.”  I was not the youngest at 11, which in itself will shock many people.  Jenny and I grew close and over the years maintained our bond.  Jenny had asked me to write about our lives on the street.  I used to write {for want of a better term} I wrote stories for Jenny when we were together, normally in the columns of newspapers that we used to sleep on.  I made Jenny the hero in all the stories; she was the Princess who always managed to save herself from whatever monsters I conjured up.  Jenny loved those stories.

I had made her a promise, that “One day” I would write it all down. I promised her I would tell everyone what is was like to live on the streets as we did. Jenny committed suicide on September 1st 2009.  I hadn’t kept my promise.  When I began to recover from my anger and sadness at her death, I made the decision to honor the promise that I had made to her. Empty Chairs is the result.

I have heard that for the month of April all the profits received for your book will be donated to ISPCAN the International Society for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect.

That is quite a contribution. Can you tell us a little about ISPCAN?

The International Society for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect, founded in 1977, is the only multidisciplinary international organization that brings together a worldwide cross-section of committed professionals to work towards the prevention and treatment of child abuse, neglect, and exploitation globally.

ISPCAN’s mission is to prevent cruelty to children in every nation, in every form: physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, street children, child fatalities, child prostitution, children of war, emotional abuse, and child labor.  ISPCAN is committed to increasing public awareness of all forms of violence against children, developing activities to prevent such violence, and promoting the rights of children in all regions of the world. ISPCAN invites you to join forces with its members around the world to protect children in need: their bodies, minds, hearts, and rights.

I think this is a very worthy cause. Can you tell readers where to get a copy of your book in April?

The kindle version on Amazon is here:

The paperback version on Amazon is here:

The Smashwords edition in kindle or eBook is here:

Question: What is your hope for this book and for this cause Susannah?

I hope that people will read this and begin to understand and acknowledge that Child abuse is not only perpetrated in poor neighborhoods, it is not restricted to the uneducated masses…people appear to have a misconception of Abuse, perhaps to safely distance their thoughts from anything so sordid and difficult to comprehend they lump child abuse in a category. That is a misconception that must change. News flash folks, I came from an upper middle class background. My abusers were pillars of the community.  These pedophiles didn’t drive rusted out cars and wear tacky clothes.  They drove Mercedes- Benz and Porsche. They wore Armani and Dior. There are NO social boundaries when it comes to pedophilia.

Abuse is a terrible crime that humans seem to excel at. I am sure there are many people out there who have no support and no place to run to. For readers who may know of or have experienced abuse, what would you say to them now?

When I was a child, there was no place to turn.  This horror was never spoken of.  Today thanks to the hard work of many wonderful people worldwide and the internet, every hospital has counseling and referral facilities.  Doctors are mandated to report suspected abuse to the relevant authorities if the child is under age.  Police departments have their own departments set up specifically to deal with complaints of this nature.  Salvation Army, Red cross, and most churches have their own teams where a person can phone anonymously to access assistance. I have a very long list of help sites on my blog, covering the USA the UK and Australia. The list is growing daily.  I check all the sites before I add them to be certain they are legitimate and approved.  If you are reading this interview and you have been abused or suspect someone you know may be experiencing it now please speak up.  The avenues will respect your privacy, they WILL believe you.  At times especially with younger folks, it is the fear that they will not be believed that prevents them seeking help.  The people and the facilities out there are now immense, they will help you to take all the steps necessary to either stop the abuse or recover from abuse inflicted long ago.

Looking back at your life through the mirror of Empty Chairs, would you say there was a defining moment that led you to write down your story in this book?

Jenny’s death by her own hand was the catalyst.  She was a precious, marvelous human being, yet her soul was murdered long before she took her last breath.  I was so devastated and angry when I got the call. It took me months before I could calm down enough to write the book clearly without emotional overload.

After reading the sample chapter of this book, I see that you chose to write this story in present tense. This creates a really powerful reality where the reader sees everything through your deep POV (point of view).

This must have been very difficult for you as you would have re-experienced much of the heartache and pain again?

Did you have a support system to help you through the writing of this story?

I told no one that I was writing the book, I didn’t want to inflict what I was dealing with on anyone else. I needed to do it in my own time and without questions when I had almost completed it I posted the first chapter on The Night Publishing site. Tim Roux who is Night Publishing contacted me, and on the basis of chapter, one he signed me to a publishing contract for Empty Chairs.  To say I was stunned would be a major understatement.

What would you say was the biggest challenge in writing a non-fiction story based on your life story?

I had flashbacks and panic attacks during the writing of the book. I often had to stop and take myself outside into the clean air to gain a perspective and continue writing. The biggest challenge in so far as the writing itself was to remain true to who I am now and yet recall how I felt then without hyperbole or drama. I needed to allow the things to unfold as I remembered them. I am aware that it is a difficult thing to read.  My honesty can be daunting.  Yet it is not a subject that can be prettied up for public consumption.  I wrote it exactly as I remembered it.

What advice would you give to a writer contemplating on writing a similar memoir style biography?

Be aware that many people simply don’t want to hear about painful topics.  They label this kind of work as “Misery Memoir” You must be prepared for folks to not want to know any more about a very painful topic.  I am one of the very fortunate few who has a Publisher that has supported me.  If you decide to write a biography remember to be true to yourself every step of the way.  I had one publishing house that wanted to sign the book, but only if I prettied it up for general consumption, I refused.

If you decide to self publish be prepared to do the heavy-duty promotional work required to have people read your work.  My publisher is very supportive but I still have a need to put in the hours to help people learn about my work.  Set yourself a target every day, try, and keep to it.  If you find yourself getting caught up in the emotion of the book it will reflect in your writing: that is not necessarily a bad thing, no one wants to read a book devoid of any emotion, but by the same token people need to be able to read the book without the feeling that they are being preached at or ranted to.  Sometimes you need to put it aside and distance yourself a little before you continue.  Most of all believe in yourself.

Since “Empty Chairs” is non-fiction, will you be writing some fiction/have you written any fiction?

I had already completed a Comedy/Romance novel “Dudes Down Under” before commencing “Empty Chairs” and during Empty Chairs, I added more to the fiction book, and I needed to have the Comedy as a release from the remembering.  I also have a fiction Psychological Thriller “Twisted “completed which I’m currently editing.

Would you say there is quite a large difference between writing fiction and non-fiction?

Oh hell, yes!  There is no comparison.  My non-fiction book does not allow me the luxury of inventing characters, places, and happenings.  Truth is often more difficult to write.  With my Fiction work, I have a wonderful time, developing the plot and inventing and rounding out the characterizations.

What other genres do you write in and why?

I write in so many different genres, ‘Dudes Down Under” is a Comedy/Romance I had a ball writing it, and inventing my pivotal chapter linking “character” of Cyril…Cyril is a 28ft long crocodile who wears Armani, drinks copious amounts of JD loves Al Pacino and Brando, dances to “Some enchanted evening” and whose thoughts on every imaginable topic are only known to the reader. The misunderstandings are rife as the story is set on a brand new tropical island resort catering only to the Hollywood ‘A’ listers. What Cyril does to the croc skin luggage of the stars is not to be missed. I adore the escapism of Comedy, and the fun of the romantic scenes. As for my other novel “Twisted” Phew!  What can I say…I have a ball again in a different way, by killing off folks and weaving in a serial murderer and a conspiracy as well, again escapism. I also submit regular short stories online in contests ranging from westerns to paranormal. The only topics I have yet to tackle is Science Fiction and Fantasy…I don’t feel I have enough knowledge for one and am not comfortable with the other.

Are you working on any new projects now?  Can you share anything about them?

I am currently writing the follow-up to Empty Chairs as so many kind people have asked me what happened then?  Where did you go?  What did your life turn out like?

So, yes…I am picking the book up the day after book one ends.  I am also working on another novel entitled “The inheritance” about a young Australian women who is made Guardian of her wealthy US friend’s 4-year-old child.  It’s developing nicely and will I think be labeled as a romance when I am done exploring all the possible journeys that the characters are taking me on.

What would you like you lasting legacy to be as a writer?

This is a difficult question: I guess with my Non-fiction work I would like people who have bought it to say, “Hey, if she can get through it and have a richly rewarding life, then hell, so can I.”  With my fiction work, I love to inform and entertain; if that is how my readers feel then I would be one very delighted woman.

Can you tell us where to find you on the web Susannah?

Okay…  I have my book review/interview/talk writing site on

My book related site for Empty Chairs is on

I have a competition that I run every month that is very popular at

And….my comedy romance and interviews with a crocodile site is

Phew, I do have a few.

Thank you so much for agreeing to this interview with me.

I commend your courage in bringing a very real and painful subject to life.

Your story is one that is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit even in the face of great pain.

It has been an honour and pleasure to feature an author with such a worthy message.

I hope that you will come back and visit with me in my studio in the near future and tell us more of your future endeavors.

I trust that Empty Chairs becomes a fast best seller so that you may raise many well needed earnings for ISPCAN.

I look forward to watching your future success and especially to your sequel to “Empty Chairs”. Your’s is a story that had to be written. Thank you for showing the great courage you have by writing it.

I am so appreciative of the time and the kindness you have shown, thank you for the opportunity.

© All Rights Reserved Kim Koning.

For those readers interested in finding out more about the prevention of child abuse, I have added a link to the ISPCAN.


Introducing …. Leigh K Hunt

Today I have the pleasure and honour of interviewing Leigh K Hunt. We have decided to conduct the interview in a civilised manner so I hope you won’t mind if we open a bottle of lovely red wine to enjoy while we chat. I got to know Leigh through mutual writer friends that we had in common and am now pleased to call her not only a fellow writer but also a friend. The first thing that struck me about Leigh was her openness and her straight-forward nature. She also has a wicked sense of humour that is at times irrepressible. But I won’t spoil the interview by giving you any more information, why don’t I just sit back and let Leigh charm you herself.

Welcome to my studio, Leigh. Thank you for taking the time to do this interview with me.

girl with a quill: Introduce us to Leigh K Hunt – Writer?

Leigh: Dreamer, writer, painter, surfer, environmentalist, designer, lover, wife. I’m not sure what else to say.

girl with a quill: How long have you been writing for?

Leigh: Technically, I think I have been writing throughout my whole life, but until now – I have never really acknowledged it. My parents have still got the multitude of ‘books’ that I wrote when I was a child. When I morphed into an adolescent, I tried my hand at all sorts of tortured teenager poetry. I even wrote a couple of chapters of a fantasy novel when I was about fifteen, which I now wished I had kept. After that particularly nasty period of my life, I kept journals. Every single day, I made sure that I wrote about my woes, worries, happy times, and inspirations.

In terms of writing fiction, I have been writing that for just about five years now. It all started off in a whirlwind of a journey, and became something that I never expected. To say that it took me by surprise is an understatement. My parents had just split up, and I found an old journal that had a ‘bucket list’ inside it. On that this was 100 things that I wanted to do before I died. Sitting there at number 13 was: Write a novel. And that was the day that my fictional life started – 1 November 2006. (So for you #13 was a lucky number as it led you to your writing. Interesting how many writers have difficult childhoods or experience pain or maybe as writers we just tend to be more in tune with our emotions both negative and positive.)

girl with a quill:  Who or what influences your writing?

Leigh: That’s a really tough question that has a multitude of answers to go with it. Everything influences my writing, whether it’s the people I meet, music, art, or even the weather patterns. I collect books, and have a whole library stacked with them. Each of these books all leave their own mark on me. The writers range from Janet Evanovich, to Tess Gerritsen, to Bryce Courtney, to Matthew Reilly, to Eric Lustbader, to Jodi Piccoult, to Khalad Hosseini, to Jane Austen, and to Shakespeare. And there are so many more in between. I think that each and all of the writers sitting in my library with me influence me in their own ways. As well as the incredible expanse of the outer world that the other part of me lives in.

girl with a quill: What aspect of the writing life do you find the most challenging?

Leigh: The middle-book-blues. Some people call this ‘writer’s block’, but I know deep down inside, that I’m not blocked up. It’s the point in a book – somewhere near the middle, that when I feel that every single word that I write is crap, none of which are advancing the story, characters, or plotline of the book. I usually end up feeling like utter rubbish for a while, but I know that the only way out of it is to keep writing. Thankfully, my husband recognises it when it happens, and distracts the living daylights out of me for a while till I work myself out of it. It’s a blessing. (I am sure most writers can relate to this at some point in a book. I prefer the way you describe though, not a block – which can seem insurmountable – but “blues” which has more of a temporary sense to it.)

girl with a quill: Do you have a Write time of day set aside or do you write when the inspiration strikes?

Leigh: I have set times of the day when I write. Early morning during the week, from 6.30am to 8.30am. I arrive at my office at 6.30, set up, and get stuck in. Usually there are a couple of writing-related emails to respond to, but I get those out-of-the-way quick smart, and settle in. I used to also write from 4.30pm to 6.00pm as well due to my husband’s working hours, but they have recently changed, which now means that I have to re-sort out my schedule. Mental note to self: Sort out afternoon/evening writing schedule.

girl with a quill: Tell us what inspires you as a writer?

Leigh: Knowing that I have so many stories and characters within me that are scrambling to get out. I have always lived in my head and my imagination… so releasing these characters and stories is a natural thrill for me.

My mother and grandmother are brilliant story tellers… my talent in story telling is stories of fiction – not of life. I get a huge buzz out of developing characters, throwing them into impossible situations, and watching them work their way out of it.

Doing research inspires new twists and turns to the story, meeting new people inspires new character traits, studying body language gives me more grunt and guts when it comes to creating realistic characters, and music gives me the rhythm to unleash these new beings on the world.

girl with a quill: Do you have a Muse?

Leigh: Yes, I think I do. I know that traditionally, a muse is female, but this one is a dude. A big powerful dude! My muse would be Tangaroa (Maori), god of the Sea. In Greek mythology, he is known as Poseidon. I see Tangaroa/Poseidon as my keeper, inspiration, and loyal follower. He keeps me safe when I am out in the water, and he inspires the writer within.  (He definitely sounds like a keeper then.)

girl with a quill: Where do you write? Describe your place of writing to us?

Leigh: I have a few places that I write in. My number one place is my library. Surrounded by knowledge, literature, music, comfort, and a bed so that when I am really tired, I can crawl into bed for a sleep, and then I can roll out of bed when I feel the need to keep writing. This is so that I don’t disturb the husband when I’m in writing mode. I also have an incredible sound system hooked up in this room, which surrounds me with its rhythm and beats whenever I need them. I thank that the gods every day that I used sound-proofing materials when we built this room. Most of the month of November, I’m holed up in this library – if I’m not at work!

The other place in our house where I write is at the special antique desk in our bedroom. You can find me there when I’m really in need of my own solitude and space. No one disturbs me when I’m there. It’s wonderful.

I used to love writing on the train, when I caught it to and from work… but I haven’t done that in months now. There are times when I seriously miss it. (I love the news that you write in your very own library..what great inspiration from being surrounded by a wealth of imagination and creativity. Mmmh I like the idea of sound-proofing your writing space.)

girl with a quill: Are you a pen and paper writer/typewriter/digital writer?

Leigh: I am both a pen and paper writer, and a digital writer. With a pen and paper, I find that thoughts and ideas flow a lot more organically, so I tend to use pen and paper to freely process ideas, mind-map, and plan. Then everything is transferred into the digital world into more sensible structures.

But when I’m writing normally, I write digital.

girl with a quill: Do you have any writing superstitions or traditions that you follow?

Leigh: I’m not sure if this counts or not, but when I get bad news about something, I light a candle to drive away my woes and inner-demons. If I don’t do this, then my writing turns into something dark, morbid, snarky, and to be honest – it’s not very pleasant to read.

For example, today I got some feedback from a friend that I guess I didn’t really want.  So before I started writing the responses to this interview, I lit the candle, and set to work. Letting the candle light absorb all the negative thoughts that I had flying around in my mind. (I love that idea of lighting a candle to deal with negative energy. Good idea to be able to do something physical and tangible to rid yourself of negative energy.)

girl with a quill: Do you believe it takes more self-discipline to write while working a full-time job?

Leigh: I believe that it takes a huge amount of discipline to write anyway, regardless of all the other happenings going on around you in life. Yes, working a 40-hour-week certainly impacts on my time. I am often jealous of writers who have the luxury of writing full-time, as I would love nothing more than to be able to do that myself.

But it’s about managing time and workload, and life balance in general. I have to allow for a solid 25+ hour writing week, plus my day job, as well as spending quality time with my husband, friends, and family. Needless to say, I try to do the friends/family thing during the week, as well as the day job, and some evenings are spent with my husband, as well as some hours of the weekend. I’m pretty lucky that he can entertain himself quite happily. God only knows what it’s going to be like once we start having children!

girl with a quill: What genre do you write in and why?

Leigh: I typically write thrillers. I love writing them, because of the thrill, surprisingly. Creating twists and turns, linking everything together, causing events, and throwing my characters into unrelenting situations. And I love creating the dynamic bad dudes, as they are so much fun to play with! At the moment I am writing a trilogy which is primarily Urban Fantasy, but each book is still a thriller. I have also written a couple of Glitz-thrillers as well.

girl with a quill: What genre would you like to write in but have not yet? Why?

Leigh: One day, I would love to try my hand at writing horror. Why? Because it fascinates me, scares me, thrills me, and terrifies me. I don’t read much horror because of all these different reasons, not to mention it keeps me up at night, but I would love to write something that does these exact things to readers. There is something about the darkness that I find interesting. I love some incredibly dark music, and I often play it when I’m writing the ‘bad-dudes’ in my work… But to explore some of the darker inner-workings of the brain and mind would be a huge experience that one day I will have to embark on.

girl with a quill: Do you have any beta readers or critique partners? Do you think they are a necessary resource for writers?

Leigh: I’ve had beta-readers for a few years now. A couple of incredibly trusted people. I am a writer who was seriously stung by releasing a piece of draft work to someone who I thought could be trusted with my precious creation. It was not a good experience by any stretch of the imagination. I thought about throwing it all in at that point, and even tried to! But the creative writing calling was too strong, and I went back to it.

And as of this year, I now have critique partners. Wonderful critique partners! Great people, brutally honest, and never malicious. The sole purpose of this group is to become better and brilliant writers within ourselves, and with each of us giving support and love and motivation when we need it. (I am sure that all writers would agree in that having the support, love and motivation of like-minded individuals who understand the pains and gains of the creative process are invaluable. From the sounds of it, you have a great group of people to lean on.)

girl with a quill: You belong to Warrior Chat, an online writers group seeded in NaNoWriMo. Do you find it useful to belong to a writers group? Why?

Leigh: Very useful, yes. This group is amazing collective of dynamic creative individuals from all walks of life, who all have the same focus: to write. I find being there with them is great. You see discussions and opinions forming all over the place that really makes you think. There are incredible amounts of information flowing, that you can choose to take in, or choose to leave it for another time. And we all laugh. We all support. And we know that we all have our good days and bad days. We celebrate success. Everyone experiences the similar emotions in there at different times, and it opens my eyes to know that I am not the only one. It’s reassuring.

girl with a quill: Would you describe yourself as a panster or a plotter?

Leigh: Ah, I am a hybrid. Technically, I am first a plotter, as I like to kind of know what pathway my writing is walking down. I’m really good at character profiling before I even start writing a novel. But then I find that my characters start taking on a life of their own, and then I become a panster.

I think that writing organically can take you places that you never would have plotted before. Once you start researching locations, careers of your characters, and all sorts of other symbology in relation to your work in progress, the story starts to evolve. So, to start me off, I’m definitely a plotter. It’s as if I need some sort of map or some form of direction to get me going. But after that, I’m a flying by the seat of my pants for the rest of the way.

If I start to get stuck anywhere, or confused, then I will revert back to plotting. This means a complete read through, superficial edit, stock-take of the storyline, and then re-plotting my way forward until I start pantsing again.

girl with a quill: You competed in NaNoWriMo2010. Tell us about your experience? Would you compete in NaNoWriMo again?

Leigh: Absolutely. November is the one month of the year that I have an excuse to be a total hermit, and hole myself away in my library and just create! It is the one month of the year that my friends, family, colleagues, and everyone else knows that I am not coming out to play.

My experience with NaNoWriMo 2010 was a mixed one. As I tried to remain focused on the goal, everything else was in turmoil around me… my place of work announced a restructure of our team, and I had to try to maintain my creative focus. I found that the word wars schedule our Nano Warriors set up were incredibly helpful at jump starting me back into action with it. I don’t think I could have done it without the support of the Warrior team! I slogged it out at the end. I really didn’t know if I was going to make it or not – completely on the wire. I finally finished up with 50,003 words to my name for the month of November. (You have to love those word wars..nothing like someone saying go and everyone writing together for a mad hour.)

girl with a quill: Tell us about your process of getting a new idea for a novel or story?

Leigh: The process is massive. It’s a big job in itself, but I think that every writer probably has similar processes going on.

Something, (doesn’t have to be big,) will etch its way into my mind. My mind will start to play with it, slowly tossing and turning it over. And that’s when it all starts snowballing out of control. The next thing I know, I’m looking at different locations and situations. Developing new personalities, setting scenes in the planning stage, and then I start plotting. I can actually spend days plotting and planning. Sometimes I completely overdo it – and then I already know the story inside out and backwards, and I don’t want to write it anymore. But I always save all my notes and hard work, knowing that one of these days, I might just come back to it. (One word: Back up….Back up….Repeat…Back up…those ideas are precious.)

girl with a quill: Are you working on anything now? Can you share a little about your latest WIP?

Leigh: I am always working on something… At the moment it’s an Urban Fantasy trilogy called Talent. I’ve completed the first draft of the first book, and I am currently writing the second book – Talent Uprising. Here is a little piece about the books… for the rest of it, you’ll just have to wait and see.

Ollie is a normal seventeen year old; passionate about skating, girls, and still trying to decide what he wants to be when he grows up. Becoming a pro-skateboarder would be his ideal career choice, until one day he wakes up and finds that normal life has all been an illusion created to protect him.

Discovering a world of carefully weaved lies and deception throws Ollie onto a pathway he never dreamt of walking.

The Talented are a secret race of people living amongst the rest of humanity. Bound by the elements and the rules of their powers, the Talented are split into two clear factions; Light Talent, and Dark Talent.

As Ollie discovers Talent, and the people associated with it, he also finds that he is caught in the middle of a war that has been raging for centuries that the rest of humanity is oblivious to.

Summer, Ollie’s biological twin, knows that she is not like Ollie in the slightest. Not only does her brother believe her to be dead, but she is part of the Dark Talent faction. She is extremely advanced in her abilities, and she has no fear of using them to her own advantage. No matter what the cost.

No matter how much you try to avoid trouble, it will always find you… (Now this sounds like a story I want to read…love the idea of twins being on opposite sides, just adds that extra element of conflict. Can’t wait for you to finish this trilogy Leigh.)

girl with a quill: What publishing market are you aiming for?

Leigh: I think that I am aiming at two different publishing markets with my work. My big thrillers are aimed at adults with an age-group ranging from 25 years old and upwards. But my trilogy is definitely aimed at the Young Adult market – probably 16+. Although, I have recently had a 13-year-old beta-reader go through it, and she felt that it was wonderful. I’m feeling the pressure from her for me to finish it.

girl with a quill: There is a lot of talk right now about Digital Publishing (Ebook) versus Traditional Publishing? What are your thoughts on this debate?

Leigh: There is a massive amount of chatter on this subject at the moment! So much, that I have recently joined a group that specifically explores the different e-book publishing techniques. As much as I love holding a book in my hand, and snuggling up with a good book… I really do think that e-books are definitely the way of the future. I keep looking at getting myself a kindle, and thinking that if I had one, I could store a couple of thousand books on there (or however many it holds) and then for those books that I seriously think are special – I might have them in hard copy to add to my book collection.

I think that some of the e-book success stories like Amanda Hocking are the exception, and not the rule. Her success truly is incredible, but she has also been writing for years. For her, this payoff is years and years of very hard work. She also had a few manuscripts that were complete, polished, and ready to roll when she had the time to release them, and so she rolled them out one after the other. It’s an amazing journey that she has been through over the past 18 months, but she is the first to admit that this sort of journey won’t happen for everyone in e-publishing. She has good books, and a very critical eye when it comes to editing her own work.

So, my thoughts? I think it would be wonderful to publish your own work on e-book, and be that successful. But I also know that it’s a heck of a lot of hard work. I’m pretty 50/50 on the debate at the moment. But, like Amanda Hocking, if I do get rejected a multitude of times, then perhaps I will go down the e-publishing route. (This is definitely an interesting topic..To e-book or not to e-book. A debate to look out for I think. But I do agree with you in that Amanda Hocking did put a lot of work into it.)

girl with a quill: Living in New Zealand is a help or hindrance to becoming a published writer?

Leigh: I think that it is a hindrance because the publishing industry and market for New Zealand writers is so small! I have always written for a much wider market, broader market, and international market. At the start of my writing career, I never intended on publishing in New Zealand, and I never wanted to be recognised as a New Zealand writer.

Some of you will probably wonder what the hell I am on about here, but it’s just that I don’t particularly like traditional New Zealand literature. I find that some of the more famous traditional NZ writers over-describe every single thing, and I get incredibly frustrated when a writer takes two pages just to describe the way the sky looks, or how green the grass is over here. And I know that I am probably not the only person to get frustrated with this, so I didn’t want my work judged by the preconception of New Zealand writing. (It would be great if New Zealand could expand in the publishing world, hopefully one day it will.)

girl with a quill: What is more important to you: Story or Character? Why?

Leigh: Character first, then story. Naturally when I first start planning a story, I dream up the situation first. But I then throw all my focus on creating a character with natural flaws that will hinder them in some way. Each journey that the characters embark on is never easy. I prefer to stretch the character beyond their known limitations, and therefore provide the character with growth.

girl with a quill: Who is your favourite character that you have created and why?

Leigh: I actually had to take time out from this interview to think about this. I would probably have to say Summer Atlantis, out of the Talent Trilogy. While she is still young, she is trained to be a killer, and a leader. She is sexy, powerful, she knows what she wants, but she’s confused. She’s fun to write, because she is so conflicted with the feelings about her brother (not sexual at all, so you can get that nasty notion out of your heads straight away!), but yet she also has to constantly conform to the evil bidding of Cyprian – her mentor and leader.

girl with a quill: Who is your favourite character in the literary world and why?

Leigh: Stephanie Plum, created by Janet Evanovich. I just cannot get enough of Ms Plum. She is hilarious. Stephanie is a bounty hunter by trade, and a complete klutz in every other aspect of her life. Whether it’s love, bounty hunting, or just taking her grandmother to the local morgue for a ‘viewing’ – she always right-royally screws it up. They are fabulous stories, which will make anyone laugh, no matter how serious a person they are.

girl with a quill: If you could throw a dinner party and invite 5 famous creative people, who would they be and why?


  • Michelangelo: He once said – “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.” He was a poet, an artist, an architect, and a sculptor – not to mention that many consider him the creator of the Renaissance period. I think he would be an absolutely fascinating person to meet.
  • Oscar Wilde: As a clever ‘quip master’ I think that he would provide huge entertainment and debate on societies shortcomings.
  • Edward De Bono: Because of his incredible ways of extraordinary thinking and his theories around human thought processes.
  • Jane Austen: Her wittiness, cynical outlook would be hilarious at the dinner table. She would quietly watch everyone there with class and intelligence, and then write about all the silliness of their airs and graces later on.
  • And finally… Leonard Cohen. He wasn’t famous for his music until he was in his thirties, but he was a brilliant poet and writer before he started singing.

girl with a quill: If you could throw a dinner party and invite 5 of your favourite fictional characters, who would they be and why?


  • Jemima Puddleduck (Beatrix Potter) – She’s so gorgeous, that everyone would love her instantly.
  • Jace Weiland (Cassandra Clare) – because I want to know what he would really be like in real life.
  • The Mad Hatter (Lewis Carroll) – for obvious reasons.
  • Stephanie Plum (Janet Evanovich ) – because everything she tries to do turns into utter chaos.
  • Mr Darcy (Jane Austen ) – because he has no tolerance for stupidity or the lower-class, and he’s arrogant as hell. (I would even seat him next to the Mad-Hatter just for entertainment purposes!)(Sounds like your party would be a riot! Mmmh Mr Darcy and the Mad Hatter, now that is Mad food for thought. Could be a story in that Leigh?)

girl with a quill: If you could give yourself one piece of advice at the beginning of your writing career, what would it be?


  • Don’t stop writing.
  • Planning isn’t everything.
  • Take on feedback, but choose whether or not you use it.
  • Learn when to stop editing.

girl with a quill: What is the one piece of writing advice you could give your future self, 10 years from now?


  • Learn from the past.
  • Don’t forget what it’s like to be young.
  • Never forget to eat because you just want to get one more chapter finished.
  • Don’t get plastered on red wine just because you can’t write that sex scene sober – don’t write it at all. (Talking of red wine, I don’t know about you but this wine is going down very smoothly..maybe it’s the great conversation.)

girl with a quill: What do you want your lasting legacy, as a writer, to be?

Leigh: Even just having a legacy would be great. What that is… I have no idea. As long as it’s not anything bad, then I’ll be happy.

girl with a quill: Tell us where we can find you on the World Wide Web?

Leigh: You can find me in a myriad of places on the ‘interweb’.

Facebook: Leigh K Hunt

Goodreads: LeighKHunt

Writer’s Blog:

Review Blogs: and


Email: or

Twitter: @leighkhunt

Thank you for a very entertaining and informative interview Leigh. You have been a literary pleasure. I know that the audience will agree that we are waiting with bated breath for the publication of the Talent Trilogy.

signing off….~girl with a quill


© All Rights Reserved Kim Koning.

Upcoming…Watch this space

The first issue of Mad. Art by Harvey Kurtzman.
Image via Wikipedia

I have decided to find the genie in the lamp. He has spent enough time parading around 1001 Arabian Nights with Aladdin and company. I need him stat, as they say in the medical dramas. I find that I need the magical ability to fit 48 hours into 24 hours and that I need this for every day for the next month. 24 Hours is just not enough anymore to get all the things done that I must get done, both writing related and day job related not to mention still fitting in normal life activities like eating and sleeping…

But I digress….enough with the wishes….

There are some exciting events happening in my writing life and my blogging life. April looks like it is going to be as Mad if not Madder than March. I have quite a few submissions due this coming month as well as quite a bit of editing to do.

As for blogging…Warrior Wednesdays is going to be interviewing some amazing authors and writers and I now have all interviews confirmed and locked in until the end of August. So I know where you will all be every Wednesday: sitting down with a cuppa and joining this girl with a quill as I interview some very talented people out there. As Warrior Wednesdays has gained a regular following I am going to start upping the ante as they say a bit…I am going to start digging even deeper into these Warrior Writers and Creative’s  Psyche to get to the real secret veins of gold at the heart of their creativity. For this, I am going to ask for audience participation. That would be you dear readers and fellow creatives / bloggers. I need you to tell me what questions you really want answered from these writers. So in order to do this, I have set up two methods of dialogue and discussion.

Warrior Wednesdays Page

This is the area I have created for Audience Participation. This is your area. You get to post a question here that you would like answered by each Warrior. Each week, starting on the first Wednesday of April I will pick a question from this page (it could be your question) to ask the Warrior.

Warrior Wednesdays Tweets

This is a twitter chat room where you can tweet your questions. You can also discuss the previous interviews. I will be asking all the Warriors that I have interviewed already whether they can do a guest host on this tweet chat and you can delve further into anything you would like to know from them. I will let you know via here when we will be doing some guest hosting with the Warriors themselves.

This will allow you to not only read the interview but get you involved in the interview process. So starting this week, you have 1 week to post your questions.

Wednesday 30/03 Warrior

For this week’s Warrior Interview I have the very gutsy and sassy Leigh K Hunt in studio. I have already received her interview answers and let me tell you that this is going to be a Wowser of an interview. So watch this space tomorrow. You definitely want to be here for this interview.

Other Exciting Developments

This coming month of April is: Child Abuse Awareness and Prevention month. So in honour of this worthy cause I am going to have the honour of interviewing an Australian Author who is donating the April income from her new biography to this cause. This interview will be hosted on Friday, April the 1st this week. So watch this space for that interview.


In April I am going to be reviewing a pre-print new fantasy book. I just received the book today so will be letting you know a review date once I have read it. Let me just tell you the book looks like a very intriguing read.

So yes, April is going to be a Mad month again but there are some exciting developments coming up. I hope to see you all here.

Look forward to seeing you all participate…lets have some great blog discussions.

– Kim

Ramblings with Writer/Artist Robert A. Sloan

Join me in welcoming Warrior Writer and Artist, Robert A. Sloan.
This is a man who is eloquent and thoughtful in his verbosity. This is a man who does not believe that illness or disabilities should get in the way of your dreams and passion. This is a man who believes in the fight for survival and always takes the side and gives a voice to the under-dog or under-cat as the case may be. Robert uses his writing courageously and to inspire courage in others. His heart that is as large as his vocabulary shines through in his characters and his stories. I met Robert through NaNoWriMo and ever since then have been amazed with his acute sense of intuition and wisdom. He believes in the impossible becoming possible and to a world without creative boundaries. Let Robert inspire you as holding this interview with him has inspired me. So please join us both in my lounge where you will catch glimpses of his unique and unusual characters. Be warned though, Ari; Robert’s cat, muse and favourite critique partner, may find his way onto your lap before the interview is over…
girl with a quill: Firstly, Welcome to Warrior Wednesdays. I am glad to finally have you as a guest on my blog. Running up to this interview I have had numerous other warrior writers ask me when this interview would go to air. So it is an honour and privilege to have you finally join me online.
Tell us a little about the man Robert A. Sloan and the writer Robert A. Sloan.

Robert: The man Robert A. Sloan – short, crooked, cat-loving, disabled, opinionated and weird. The writer – copious and imaginative. I’m one of those world champions at sitting still and daydreaming. Add decades of practice and now I write whopping big SFF novels. My first finished novel, Raven Dance, came out huge, fast-paced and complex.

Recently I’ve been branching out into other directions with a pure nature novel set in the North American Pleistocene. No human characters, no dialogue as such, it was a technical challenge that came off well. It’s still in rewrite but most of what it needs is tweaking.

I wrote it for my beloved cat Ari, who watched “Big Cat Diaries” with me dozens of times while researching it. He loves documentaries and films with cats in them, they always get his attention.

girl with a quill: Who is your biggest influence in writing and why?

Robert: Ray Bradbury. There are others but Ray Bradbury is always in the list and usually heads the list. I’m not an Arthur C. Clarke giving ideas to engineers, don’t have all the degrees of an Isaac Asimov or the life experience of Robert Heinlein. What moved me most consistently was Ray Bradbury’s heart and imagination. He wasn’t normal. In his books and stories it was all right to not be normal whether that was black, winged, gifted or disabled. Unlike most fiction, I could imagine his characters as my friends when I was a kid, not turning away in horror and disgust. I could live in his worlds.

girl with a quill: Did you know what genre you wanted to write in from the beginning of your writing career? Or did you experiment with a few genres?

Robert: Absolutely. Science Fiction for me included fantasy and some types of horror. I never wanted to do anything else. I didn’t want to write about the normal things in life. I’ve never had a normal life or cared about the normal things like Getting Ahead or how much money anyone’s got. In science fiction, so many times characters faced survival problems instead of social infighting. I didn’t like romance at all, don’t get into mystery unless it’s got a good cat in it and occasionally like to read historical novels. But historical novels take too much research and you have to check your facts. I’m more with Dave Barry – I’d like to do impressionistic fact-free fiction, something to take your mind off everyday things to let you get a good night’s sleep.

With the exception of my latest novel of course. Sabertooth has facts in it, plenty of them. I did more research on that one book than any other I’ve written, it was a technical challenge. A fun one because I enjoy prehistoric beasties and will probably do something like it again with dinosaurs or other periods of ancient life. Those are stories I’d like to read that no one else has written.

I define them as Science Fiction because paleontology is a science. My prehistoric animals novel is just as likely to become obsolete by a discovery next week as any hard science fiction writer’s spaceship. It won’t matter if it’s a good story though, just the same way Charles R. Knight’s murals are still beautiful paintings even with all that we now know about dinosaurs.

girl with a quill: Tell us a little about your writing process…How do you start a story?

Robert: That’s the easy part. I get an idea for the opening conflict, the premise. Sometimes it’s an event, sometimes it’s the setting. I knew starting Sabertooth that I was going to write the story of the cat with the broken back – an older female Smilodon who lived for six months in a crippled state, fed and cared for by her pride. Her bones show that she was loved.

The book surprised me from the point of the first line. It didn’t start with Elder, it started with a young male Smilodon coming of age and showing unusually gentle, sociable character. He becomes her pride-male along with the cousin who follows him, which was absolutely necessary to ensure that Elder’s pride were the sort of cats who would support and take care of a crippled elderly family member instead of just abandoning her.

If they were a human family I’d have to show the family was that supportive too. Elder’s personality had a lot to do with it, but she could not make a bad choice for a mate or it wouldn’t have happened. The fossil told me that she did get taken care of by her pride.

– Robert’s sketch of his character – Musky –
girl with a quill: Are you a pantser or a plotter?

Robert: Pantser. My unconscious mind is a far better writer than I am consciously. I tried outlining once, just to see if I could do it. I managed it, the process was a lot less fun and did not come out any better in the rough draft for having been plotted carefully before I wrote it.

As a kid I used to write my school essays first and derive the outline from the essays when teachers demanded outlines. It was easier that way than thinking in terms of outlines.

girl with a quill: You wrote an incredible amount of words in the NaNoWriMo 2010 challenge? Was this your first NaNoWriMO and can you tell us a little about your experience?

Robert: Hardly my first NaNoWriMo! I love NaNoWriMo. It’s turned the world’s loneliest art form into something like the Boston Marathon. I meet other writers at NaNoWriMo. I’m not a freak for wanting to write novels instead of going bowling or doing a marathon.

I first joined NaNoWriMo in 2000 – the second year there was one. I wrote 90,000 words that year in a loony NaNoWriMo-inspired romp. All three of my characters – middle-aged SF writer, his wife trying to write one herself for the first time and their adopted son – were trying to complete NaNoWriMo in a haunted cabin in the woods, complete with a bear breaking in to wreak havoc and reptilian little people prodding them with spears. The old pro writer got haunted by a dead character who appeared like a ghost from his golden years and said one magic word to him in front of his computer – “Prequel.”

I have yet to decide if that’s too silly and self referential to write or if it’d be just the sort of romp that would get a lot of readers.

girl with a quill: I know that your art is very important to your creative process. Do you feel that being an artist strengthens your creative process as a writer or vice versa?

Robert: Everything I do affects everything else I do. I’m taking a master class in landscape composition right now and it’s given me a new way to view plot pacing – an understanding of why my plots work when I do them by the seat of my pants. I once created a main character who was an artist and that became integral to why he was in the bad situation he was. I might do that again because I’m familiar with the lifestyle.

Artists are observant, as much so as detectives. Maybe more so. To draw realistically you have to pay attention to reality rather than the symbols that are our mental map of reality. Drawing not only improved my descriptions but it improved my ability to observe everything. I look past ideas to try to see how things really are – in the case of my stories, how they really would be.

girl with a quill: Tell us about some of the stories that you have written? Is there any one story in particular that is your favourite?

Robert: The one I’m working on now, Sabertooth. Of short stories, the first horror story I ever sold was wonderful. It had a fun title – “Crossthought on the Hatestream.” Unfortunately I lost it about eight hard drives ago, otherwise I would be submitting it for reprint to every anthology that takes horror. If I ever find a copy, I will.

girl with a quill: If you were to pick another genre to write in or wanted to challenge yourself in a new genre, what genre would you choose? Why?

Robert: I found one completely by accident – nonfiction. Specifically, art instruction. That started with a few how to draw articles for and Hubpages, then grew when I started My one writing interest aside from speculative fiction is the nuts and bolts of painting and drawing. For some reason I had a blind spot about that all my life. When people suggested “Write some nonfiction to get a better income and support your fiction writing” their examples were usually cookbooks, travelogues, journalism, celebrity novels, all the sorts of things that I can’t do well or can’t do at all.

Not one friend who said “Try doing nonfiction” ever suggested “You could do an article on how to draw dragons.” That’s a nonfiction topic too, it’s not all cookbooks and hiking guides.” I think the reason was that I was living in complete denial of my physical disabilities.

I avoided anything I couldn’t do and thought of that as personal taste. I had no idea most of the things I couldn’t stand, like sports or cooking, were the things I can’t do. I thought I just didn’t like them. My family did not believe I had physical disabilities and they snowed everyone including me into thinking it was all in my head. It sounds stupid, but it’s true – I got conditioned to ignore the limp and think of my chronic pain as depression. Hint – if taking an aspirin relieves it, that’s not emotional pain.

Some of it wasn’t even discovered back then though. Most cases of fibromyalgia and other autoimmune diseases got blown off as hypochondria or depression. I had skeletal problems too but if a kid’s labeled as a malingerer who fakes illness, they believe the adults who labeled the kid. Too many gym teachers shouted “Quit clowning around and faking that limp.”

People don’t live in reality. They live in what people tell them reality is. That includes me. I got raised to believe everyone else in the world had to push that hard to get up in the morning or stay awake in class, walk down the hall or endure constant pain and injury in gym. I just thought they were better at covering the pain than I was.

That’s some of why I like setting my stories in completely imaginary far distant worlds. Fewer people will take them for real in anything but an introspective sense. They are all innerscape, all in the storyland of the mind instead of a particular view of politics or society as it is right now. Reality is usually a lot better than people will tell you it is. Even at its roughest, facing what the trouble actually is can give you a better way to handle it.

If I wrote about President Obama as recently as 1990, people would think it was unbelievable. Yet there he is in the White House and I helped vote him in. Sometimes the good things in science fiction come true. My laptop and the President are two of them.

girl with a quill: Are you working on a new writing project?
Can you tell us a little bit about it?

Robert: Sabertooth. Can’t get my mind off it. I’m at the editing and polishing stage. I spend a lot of time thinking about it, maybe a hundred times before actually opening the file and doing something. Then when I buckle down to do the copy editing, it sings and the bigger changes I thought of in standing back from it flow as easily as when I was first creating it.

I do need to trust my unconscious though, it’s still a better writer than I am.

girl with a quill: Writers can be superstitious people. Are you superstitious when it comes to your writing? Can you give us some examples if you are?

Robert: Did you know a cat will not sleep on a bad manuscript? It’s true. Your cat knows your writing is worth something. Ari helps me with all of my fiction.

I get territorial about my computer. I get panic attacks if someone else has to touch the keyboard, even if it’s someone helping me with a problem. It’s hard to calm down until the problem’s solved. I feel much more secure if I have a working backup machine that I can return to or hand off as a loaner if some family member or friend is in dire need.

I used to think that I’d get a typewriter and hang onto that machine for life the way so many authors did when I was a kid. I didn’t count on science fiction coming true. I fell in love with PCs from the day I got a word processor, then when I got a real computer the world opened up for me. In the 1980s I desperately hoped someday they’d invent a real computer about the size of a three-ring binder, with the keyboard on one flap and a flip-up screen on the other side.

Right now I’m working on a 17” screen refurbished gaming laptop and it’s a joy. The faster the computer, the more I can relax and enjoy it. I keep a game open to ruminate on during pauses – has to be a very familiar game that takes no thought, like Solitaire, since I’m constantly putting it down again after just a few seconds of pause. I like to keep a browser open for research and socializing in breaks.

I wouldn’t call them superstitions so much as set writing habits, a routine that I’ve established. I have music playing, that’s the prompt to write. I have the file open. I have the novel in progress on desktop rather than in Documents, it has to be a visible folder on the desktop. That’s the door into the page for me.

But I’ve also written the first ten chapters of a novel on copier paper with borrowed pens when I was stuck in a hospital without anything else to use. I like having my cat and my computer and I function better as a human being with them, but I would write no matter where I was or what I was doing it with.

girl with a quill: Do you belong to any writing groups and do you have a critique partner? Do you think writing groups or critique partners are important for writers? Why?

Robert: I belong to a high-powered critique group that I love and I’ve had several weeks of sick time, so I’m slacking. I need to go back and post Leave of Absence again since I missed last month due to health issues. I love them but it’s hard to keep up when I have to work around fibromyalgia. My memory is a steel trap – it mangles anything that gets into it.

Except things actually in the specific novel I’m working on and its world. Somehow the writing process gets going and I will remember where the water hole is near Ambush Rock when I can’t find my wallet.

girl with a quill: What is more important to you: Story or Character? Why?

Robert: Characters create the story with their decisions. This is a big part of why I’m a pantser. I have no idea what will happen in the book. I set up a situation and then see what happens. They go live within the first few sentences and make their own decisions.

I did not consciously know that young Musky was going to be one of the world’s most lovable, family oriented cats. Musky decided that. I thought I was writing about his “Get out of my house!” fight with his dad. Male lions and male house cats do that, it’s the females that stay home. Instead, he did something different – he faced the social situation in a new way and instead of fighting his dad, made up with him. Then left after one last play session establishing the close relationship.

It all made sense later. He has a strong personality. As an individual, Musky is more social and family oriented than the average cat. Way after writing the book, I knew he had to be. But when I was on the spot writing, it was much more like the film crews of Big Cat Diary just watching cats to see what they’ll do next.

At the beginning of my books everything is chance. I throw in anything and the kitchen sink, every idea that crosses my mind gets tossed at the characters. Midway, that shifts to half and half fate and chance. Fate is the consequences of their decisions, chance the things I toss in just to see what’ll happen. By the end of the book that narrows till the story rests on what the characters do at a critical peak moment. By that time, they’re who they are and will do what they do whether it’s tragic or heroic or both.

girl with a quill: Who is your favourite character that you have created and why?

Robert: It’s always the protagonist of the book I’m working on. Right now that’s Elder’s pride. Overall though, I think that I have spent more time with Malcolm Evans than any other character I created. He’s the vampire hero of Raven Dance, a Victorian vampire that survived through into a thousands of years off future on another world. He started out in a fragmentary story when I was ten or so, roaming around in a purple hearse throwing tailgate parties with assorted hippie weirdos and other supernatural creatures.

He had a werewolf friend too. A little like Dark Shadows but far less doomed than Barnabas, he didn’t kill his dates so he wasn’t guilty about being himself and just enjoyed it. He also dressed a bit like Dr. Who before I ever saw the series, he was always into colorful, creative clothing.

girl with a quill: Who is your favourite character in the literary world and why?

Robert: Hard to pick favorites. Might be Gandalf, he moved me so much for so many years. Ender, from Ender’s Game. Harry Potter. Jim Nightshade from “Something Wicked This Way Comes” by Ray Bradbury. There’s a bit of a pattern – characters who are children who think and behave as human beings rather than Proper Children. I’m not sure I could ever write a children’s book, not one that a parent would buy anyway.

I have not written a book with that archetype. That’s an interesting gap, I may have to think about why not and consider writing one for adults about a kid who handles a bad situation too well. There are too many real kids like that, going home to alcoholic homes, born in war zones or ghettos, enduring hardships no one should have to deal with and then treated as helpless objects even by the people who try to help them.

girl with a quill: If you could throw a dinner party and invite 5 famous creative people, who would they be and why?

Robert: Ray Bradbury, Neil Gaiman, J. K. Rowling, Harlan Ellison and Stephen King. Heck with the dinner party though, I’d love to be cooped up in a haunted hotel with all five of them scaring each other with cool stories and drifting off to rattle keys when any of us got the urge.

I considered inviting my art mentors but I’m not sure they’d mix well with the writers. No, they’d get along famously. It’s more that I’d go nuts trying to flip between “writing mode” and “art mode.”

If I were to make it a painting vacation, plain air weekend in the Mediterranean or something great like that, then it’d be Charlotte Herczfeld, Johannes Vloothuis, Maggie Price, Susan Sarback and Richard McKinley. Though that would also require a massive truckload of pastels and oil paints for everyone to play with.

The writers’ get together all we’d need would be laptops and words.

girl with a quill: If you could throw a dinner party and invite 5 of your favourite fictional characters, who would they be and why?

Robert: Gandalf, Professor Dumbledore, Lazarus Long, Mr. Fezziwig and Granny Weatherwax. Yes, that’s a lot of old people and none of them like the same food, but they all have a wit and a sense of humor. I probably wouldn’t get a word in edgewise. It’d be fun. Besides, I’d feel like a kid in that crowd.

girl with a quill: If you could give yourself one piece of advice at the beginning of your writing career, what would it be?

Robert: Leave the house, go directly to San Francisco and start writing for money. Don’t worry about whether it’s any good, just do it for eight hours a day, forty hours a week to start and once the dam breaks it’ll get better. Don’t bother with college, you don’t need it, you learn more from reading and meeting interesting people than you ever did from classes, you’re an autodidact. Don’t bother working other jobs. Draw a few dragons to keep yourself in smokes and cash till the writing pays. Write nonfiction too, anything that actually interests you can sell somewhere because you’re not the only one who likes it.

When I think of what San Francisco was like in 1972, what publishers paid for new novels and how many soft markets existed then, it’s pathetic how blocked I was. I went from a family that sabotaged and discouraged my writing into a long co-dependent relationship with someone who sabotaged and discouraged my writing. I was a mess – and that kick in the pants might even have given me the wake up call I needed about my physical disabilities.

The only job I ever wanted is the only job that’s remotely practical for me to do with my physical limitations. I may love doing plain air painting but I can only do it a few days out of a year. No one can live on a week’s work. I am a better writer than artist no matter how good an artist I am, because I can do the writing job on bad days when I could not lift a brush. I can be a writer year round, that’s a big difference in itself.

But I love writing about art and that’s my nonfiction niche. It crept up on me. Art instruction is my Other Genre, the only thing I want to do when I think about writing in the real world. Focus on the good things in it, the beauty of landscapes and how to paint them, the fun of new toys and colors and how to get the most from them.

girl with a quill: What is the one piece of writing advice you could give your future self, 10 years from now?

Robert: Don’t forget that you love it. Don’t think of it as a job like typesetting or any other grind. Don’t ever forget why you do it is to write something you want to read next. It is not all about the money, it’s about doing it and the money is something that pays for you to go on doing that thing you love. If you need a vacation, just take one for as long as it takes to recharge and do some painting.

girl with a quill: What do you want your lasting legacy, as a writer, to be?

Robert: I want my books to stay in print, to be timeless. I don’t know which ones will be or not. I have no idea whether one novel I loved and thought was my best falls flat into obscurity and something I tossed off for the heck of it turns out to be meaningful literature that gets taught in schoolrooms centuries after I’m gone. I’m not sure I care which one, if I do this thing well and do a lot of it, some of them will be.

All of them are about standing up to trouble and not surrendering to it, not being who the world tells you that you are but being who you are. Living in reality is not as bad as it’s made out to be in the social fiction. Most people have a lot more freedom than they think they do. It’s not a bad thing to want to be happy or to surround yourself with friends or do something you love that comes from the heart. When you do things like that it slops over into other people’s lives in an honest way.

girl with a quill: Tell us where we can find you online.

Robert: Robert A. Sloan

This is the cover of Robert’s book. You can purchase it at:

Thank you for joining me here Robert and Ari. I wait eagerly for the day when Musky’s story is in print. I can’t wait to see what other characters you come up with.
signing off,
girl with a quill….