10.20.2014

Author to Author Interview: T.E. Woods

Cathy Lamb: So, shall I call you T.E.? What is your real name?

Teri Woods: I know…sounds pompous, doesn’t it?  Like who do I think I am, Batman?  People call me Teri.  I couldn’t publish under that name because there’s already a well-established writer…of mystery novels and others…publishing as Teri Woods.  Teresa (my given name) sounds like a telemarketer is calling me, so my publisher and I decided to go with my initials. But, please, call me Teri.

T.E. Woods photo 1Teri, I love this line from your new book, “The Unforgivable Fix,” The killer won’t come for you, you fool. He’ll come for me.”

That just gives me the shivers, in a good way. Tell us what the story is about.

“The Unforgiveable Fix” is the third book in the Justice Series and continues the stories of Mort Grant, Chief of Detectives for the Seattle Police Department, and Lydia Corriger, a clinical psychologist in Olympia. Mort and Lydia’s paths crossed in my first book, “The Fixer.” I’d tell you all about that, but it would spoil the fun for readers new to the series. Suffice it to say Mort and Lydia share a secret that keeps them bound tighter than any blood line or romantic involvement could.

In this installment, Lydia tentatively resumes her private practice after healing from some serious scrapes in books one and two. She tries to start slowly, easing in with a few patients and some teaching as a favor to a friend. Soon she’s embroiled in a nasty bit of business that may cost her everything, including her life.

At the same time, Mort’s thrill seeking daughter, Allie, who’s been lost to the family for the past three years as she jets around the world playing consort to a global drug king pin, finds herself on the run from some very, very bad apples who are out to destroy her boyfriend by destroying her.

Allie runs back home and while Mort tries to save his daughter from both the Russian mob and the U.S. Attorney’s Office, he stashes her the one place he hopes she’ll be safe: with Lydia. Much tension, double-dealing, and mayhem ensues. And, as is typical in my books, nothing is as it seems.

Sheesh. I feel like I’ve been on a literary roller coaster ride already, holding my hat on my head and screaming. What a story.

T.E. Woods photo 2You seem so nice. Gentle. Kind. And then – scary evil. What draws you to crime, thrillers, killers? 

I’m a clinical psychologist and I specialize in profound behavioral and emotional dysregulation. Every day I get to work with people who do the most outlandish, destructive (and often self-destructive) things as they stumble toward some twisted idea of what would make them happy. I’m intrigued by that.

I like the way my patients take me by the hand and lead me to the edge of any manner of cruelties people are able to perpetrate against themselves or others. Very often the behaviors include crimes. Sometimes violent crimes. I think my writing is just a natural extension of what I see in my work-a-day world.

I’m sitting here in my kitchen nook, trying to drink my coffee, my mouth now hanging open, as I imagine your work day.  I try to perfect my love scenes and you’re dealing, often, with criminals and they’re twisted, cruel thinking. And then you go home and make dinner…

Did you ever imagine, as a child, or a teenager, that you would be writing this type of book? Did you even want to be a writer when you were a kid? What triggered this genre?

I can remember a yellow notebook I had when I was young. Maybe seven or eight years old. I’d write little stories in it and anyone who wanted to play with me would have to listen to my story first. It wasn’t long before kids were bringing other kids by, asking me to read them my stories, too.

Of course I was happy to oblige. I recall thinking I’d keep that notebook my entire life and it would be the first of hundreds of notebooks I would fill.

You see where this is going, right? That little yellow notebook is nowhere to be found…I didn’t give it companions on the shelf…and I doubt I ever even filled it. I grew up poor and the notion of learning how to write just wasn’t an option. I was expected to study something that was sure to give me a chance to make an independent living.

So, I studied hard, went to college, and took a Bachelor of Science degree. Very practical. Then I went on to a master’s and Ph.D. in psychology. That path worked. I earn a comfortable living. But about six years ago, after I learned another scientific article I’d written had been accepted for publication, I wondered, quite out of the blue, if I could write anything creative. Maybe the little girl with the yellow notebook was tugging at my subconscious.

t.e. woods 5In the shower that morning a murder came to me. By noon I had my cast of characters. I came home after work, went to my office, and started writing. I remember my husband came home and poked his nose in, asking what I was working on. “I’m writing a murder mystery”, I said. Now, those words had never come out of my mouth before. Nor had I expressed any desire as an adult to write creatively. But there I was. And the writing opened a joy in me that spills over to all parts of my life.

My novels may be twisted and dark, but the writing of them has brought me tremendous pleasure and light.

One of your characters, Allie Grant, has been the lover of, and I quote from your book, “One of the world’s most powerful and deadly men.” How did you do the research for this part? (Can you hear me chuckling when I ask this question?)  And what research did you do to write the Russian mob realistically?

Oh, my!  That was great fun!  I read newspaper and magazine articles about the explosion of Russian gangsters following the fall of communism. I took particular interest in the sheer hedonism of their consumption. Those guys know how to indulge themselves.

Of course, they also know how to be brutal. They don’t rule with an iron fist…that would be far too delicate for their ideas of enforcing order.  I’m also fortunate to have met several people who immigrated from Russia and learned how filled with hope people were following the collapse of the Soviet Union, only to have those hopes dashed when the authoritarian regime of the government was seemingly immediately replaced by the authoritarianism of the criminal oligarchies that emerged.

So, I took what I learned from my research, blended it in with the twisty cruelties I’ve come across in my practice, and spiced it up with my own sick imagination.

t.e. woods 4So you had a three fold force: The Russian mob, chatty criminals, and your imagination gone wild.

I love that The Fixer is a woman.  She’s a hired gun in a home built like a fortress.   Tell me what inspired this character? Any of you in her? Is she your alter ego?

The Fixer knows what it’s like to be unfairly treated and presumptively judged. I think all women can recall experiences like that in their own lives. The Fixer is interesting to me because she’s actually quite fearful. But when she’s championing the cause of someone else she’s blindingly fearless. She’s confident and strong when defending others, yet so wrapped in her own vulnerabilities she’s stunting her own life and limiting her own happiness.

But, man, I love how kick-ass she is.

I don’t know if she’s my alter ego…but I’ll cop to wishing there was more justice in the world. I’m confident in my non-violence, and The Fixer is unapologetic in raining violence down on those who clearly deserve it. So, I’m hoping there’s no overlap there. However, I do try to be an agent for fairness wherever I can.

What The Fixer and I do share is her address. While I live in Madison, Wisconsin now, when I was first married I lived in the house where The Fixer lives now. High upon a cliff overlooking Dana Passage. The islands and the mountains in the distance. Eagles and sea gulls. Cedar and Fir trees. It was heaven.  Now, when I lived there it wasn’t an armed fortress and it didn’t have the supercomputer or NSA-worthy communication center that The Fixer has in her basement, but it was lovely.

When you’re not writing you are…

I’m living a life better than that little girl with the yellow notebook growing up in that rusted-out steel town ever could have imagined. I’m healthy and strong. I’m married 33 years to the finest man I know, and we’re still crazy for one another.

I’m playing with my dogs…well, actually serving my dogs, it is they who run the house. I’m enjoying “Wednesdays are Friends Days.” Every Wednesday afternoon I meet with a group of women to eat and laugh and support one another. Then I meet with another, smaller group of women to drink and laugh and support one another.

I hike, I kayak, I bike. I binge watch HBO series and read whatever I can get my hands on. I experiment in the kitchen. I sit in the breakfast nook and watch the birds in the feeder.

And I try to stay grateful. I’ve worked hard to build my life. And I know there’s a Universe that has shown me I’m not in this alone. For that I am eternally grateful.

For everyone who wants to write out there, but who also have day jobs, give them some advice on how to do both. How to manage the time, energy, and efforts while still finding time for family and friends and sanity.

You’ve answered the question in the asking. I’m asked a lot…I mean a WHOLE lot…some version of “How do you do all the things you do?”  It’s all about managing time.

Here’s my advice to writers: WRITE. Write like you mean it. Write like it’s your job and you’re bucking for employee of the month.  Don’t FIND the time to write. MAKE it. Schedule time to write every day. I don’t care if it’s an outline of a scene or ten pages in your novel. WRITE! Don’t buy into that goofy notion that you have to wait for the muse to strike. That’s just an excuse for not writing. Write and the muse will come. The ideas will flow at varying levels. The words will wax poetic one moment and fall flat the next. That’s okay. KEEP WRITING!

MAKE time for yourself. MAKE time for friends. MAKE time for your relationship. Take care of yourself with good nutrition, sleep, and exercise. MAKE IT HAPPEN.

Here’s what we’ve got: we’ve got time, we’ve got talent, and we’ve got treasury. Spend each where it counts.

Very often, when people ask how I get so much done, I’ll ask them what they’d like to have time to do. Folks seldom have trouble answering that. “If I had time I’d write.” Or they tell me they’d travel or exercise more or spend more time with their kids or learn to speak Swahili. Whatever! Folks seem to know what they’d do if they had more time.

Well guess what…WE DON’T HAVE MORE TIME. We have THIS time. I’ll ask those same folks…after they’ve told me what they’d do if they had more time, what they did last evening. This is what I hear the majority of the time: “Nothing” “Watched television” “Played video games” “Hung out on Facebook”…yadda, yadda, yadda.

See what I mean? Pick anyone who’s successful at what they do. Ask THEM what they did last evening. They have the same amount of time we all do. They’ve simply made the decision to MAKE the time work for them by doing what brings them joy.

And don’t fall into that trap of expectations. Too many people…women especially, give their time, talent, and treasury to others. They give away their most valuable resources then wonder what happened.

Make it happen. This is your one and only life. Find what you value. Hang a goal off that value. Then point your nose in the direction of that goal and start marching toward it.

Okay…enough with the preaching. I’m kicking over that soap box.

That was quite a soap box, though. Excellent advice.

Three favorite places to be on the planet Earth?

What a great question! First and foremost I’m going to say “Anyplace my hubby is”. Now, with that out of the way…

1) Camden, Maine

2) Bayfield, Wisconsin

3) France…don’t care where. Normandy? Check. Provence? Sure. Lyon? You bet.  Just France. Yummy, lovely, expensive France.

 

Thank you for your time, Teri! 

 

Contact T.E. Woods here:

Website:  http://www.tewoodswrites.com

Facebook Author page: https://www.facebook.com/tewoodswrites

Twitter:  @tewoodswrites

 

 

 

 

10.15.2014

Author to Author Interview: Jean Kwok

Cathy Lamb: Friends, Jean Kwok wrote the New York Times bestseller, Girl In Translation.

It was one of my favorite books of 2013. I highly recommend it. Because I loved that book, I tracked down Jean and begged her (in a nice and non – pathetic sort of way) to let me interview her. Lucky for me, she said yes.

Jean Kwok

It’s my understanding Girl In Translation is at least partially autobiographical. You immigrated with your family from Hong Kong, lived in Brooklyn in an apartment with no heat, and your family, including you, endured jobs in sweatshops. You ended up at Harvard. What part of Girl In Translation is your story? All of it?

Jean Kwok: A great deal of Girl in Translation was indeed based upon my own life. Although the book is a work of fiction, my heroine Kimberly Chang and her mother live in an apartment that mirrors the one I grew up in: overrun with rats and roaches, plaster falling off of the walls and ceilings, and worse of all – no central heating through the bitter New York City winters.

Kimberly and her mother also work in a sweatshop in Chinatown that is a replica of the one I remember working in as a child, and I was by no means the only child there.

Like Kimberly, I was able to do well in school and that was my escape route. However, I will never forget the people I left behind.

Cathy Lamb: I am just appalled at the conditions of your apartment and that children were allowed to work in a sweatshop in the US. I thought we by passed that a hundred years ago. I am in awe of your personal story, the incredible struggles you faced as a child, and the stunning success you have now.

Let’s talk about your new book, Mambo In Chinatown.  I am fascinated by Charlie Wong and her life in Chinatown and how everything changes for her over the course of the story. We have a culture clash, we have family members in conflict, we have poverty, and we have dancing. What a combination.

Can you tell everyone what Mambo In Chinatown is about and what inspired you to write it?

Mambo-in-Chinatown-smallJean Kwok: Mambo in Chinatown is the story of a poor girl in Chinatown, Charlie Wong, who works as a dishwasher in a noodle restaurant. It was partly inspired by my own life, since I grew up very poor in the slums of Brooklyn. After my family moved to the US, we started working in a clothing factory in Chinatown and even though I was only five years old at the time, I went there every day after school and worked as well. Although I was lucky enough to have a gift for school, my heart remained in Chinatown throughout my years studying at Harvard and Columbia.

I wanted to write from the perspective of someone who works day and night just to make ends meet. When my heroine Charlie gets the chance to work as a receptionist at a ballroom dance studio, she slowly discovers her own dance talent. I wanted to invite readers to step into the closed worlds of Chinatown and ballroom dance.

As Charlie flourishes, however, her little sister Lisa becomes chronically ill and their widower father insists on treating Lisa exclusively with Eastern medicine. Charlie struggles to win a prestigious ballroom dance competition in order to save her little sister, and herself.

In a lot of ways, this is a book about finding your own dreams and talents, no matter how unusual or unlikely they may seem to be.

“Finding your own dreams and talents.” I will have to remember that line and share that with my kids.

On another note, do you know how to mambo?

Actually, I worked as a professional ballroom dancer for Fred Astaire Studios in New York City for three years in between my degrees at Harvard and Columbia, so I learned how to mambo then. As Charlie discovers in the book, mambo is one of the hardest and most exhilarating dances.

When I was doing research for Mambo in Chinatown, I went back into the professional dance world both for research and to film a promotional video. I have to admit that I hit my very kind and forgiving dance partner several times during rehearsals by accident! You can see the finished video here:

http://jeankwok.com/events.shtml

Oh, I love this!

Jean Kwok 3In your opinion, what are some of the struggles that immigrant families face?

Being misunderstood, being ignored. I think we’ve all had that experience of seeing someone on the bus, who is dressed so differently and who seems so different from mainstream America. It’s easy to dismiss that person, to think, “Oh, and she doesn’t even speak English properly.”

But I’ve been that person and I find that one of the most powerful things about novels is that they can deposit you inside the mind and heart of someone else, regardless of nationality, race or religion. One of the nicest comments I’ve heard from a reader is that when someone bumped into him accidentally on the subway after he read my book, he wouldn’t get mad or feel racist anymore but he would think, “That person could be Kimberly or Ma.”

Jean, what an amazing gift you’ve given people with your stories. You bring your characters to life and then readers apply their new knowledge and understanding to the people they meet in “real” life. 

 Where do you live now? How is your family?

The members of my family are all doing very well, so I’m extremely grateful for that. They’d always been quite ashamed of our past but with the publication of my book and the warm reception of many readers, that has turned to pride.

I actually live in the Netherlands now, which shows how unpredictable life can be. I married a Dutch man and we live there with our two boys, ages 8 and 10.

I just was in and out of the airport in Amsterdam. I should have waved. What a beautiful place to live. 

What is the hardest part about being a writer? The best part?

The hardest part is the writing itself, of course. So much of the time, writing is like trying to shoot termites in the dark.

The best part is having readers tell you that your book meant something to them, that it might have changed their lives for the better.

I felt that way after reading Girl In Translation. It opened a whole new world for me. I think it’s easy to get lost in our own comfortable lives and block out everyone else’s entrenched, radically unfair problems. 

Tell me, because I’m always curious about how other writers write.  How do you write your books? Outlining? Day by day, thought by thought? Do you follow word count goals? Editing goals?

I need to mull over my characters and story for a long time before I can begin to write. Once I feel like I have something that coheres into a possible novel, I start writing short pieces, little explorations into new territory. As I get a clearer idea of the shape of the book, I write a rough outline of the whole thing on Scrivener. There will be radical changes but the outline is just a rough map for me so that I don’t completely lose my way.

I then force myself to write a complete rough draft from beginning to end, no matter how terrible. I rewrite and rewrite and rewrite. When I’m working steadily, I set a word count goal for myself per day instead of an amount of time that I need to sit in front of my computer. If the deadline is far away, I like to write about 1200 words per day but as my agent starts asking how my new book is going, that target number can go way, way up.

What’s a typical day like for you?

I have to balance writing, publicity and my family. I usually wake up at 6am, although I used to be a night person! When I’m up against a deadline, I get up at 5am to get some writing in before my day begins. I take the kids to school and then write or do interviews, etc. until they come home. Sometimes I need to do Skype events or write a piece for a magazine, and that can be difficult while the kids are clinging to me like little Velcro monkeys.

I’ve also had a great deal of international publicity since my books have been published in 17 countries so I travel a lot as well. Many schools have added Girl in Translation to their curriculum, and one of the things I enjoy doing most is giving talks to students who have studied my book.

I am a former teacher and I am just thrilled that students are reading your books. 

What are your future plans and goals, both personally and professionally?

There are still many books I’d like to write, worlds I’d enjoy showing to my readers. I believe in trying to enlighten and entertain my readers at the same time. My next book will be about a woman who moves to Amsterdam to start a new life.

Personally, I’d like to find peace. Since I’m writing this interview while on an airplane because this is the only free period I’ve had for weeks, I’m not sure how likely this goal is. ;-)

Wishing you peace, always, Jean.

Thank you for your time.

 

 

 

10.14.2014

All You Have To Have To Be A Husband Is A Marriage License And A Dick

My character, Grenadine Scotch Wild, in “What I Remember Most,” is a collage artist and painter, but is working, currently, as a bartender in a central Oregon town as she is on the run.

This is a conversation she had with a dim witted, slimy husband. Some of you may know that type of husband.


New What I Remember MostThe next complaint was a ringer, to which I showed a boatload of compassion: “My wife’s always complaining because she don’t get no free time cause of the kids.”

“How many kids do you two have?” I asked

“Five.”

I slammed a pitcher of beer down. My anger is always simmering. “You’re here every night and you’re complaining about your wife because she says she needs free time? You must be joking, Selfish One. What do you think you’re doing here? Working?”

“Uh. No.”

“You’re having free time. I dare you to let your wife come sit at this bar and you go home and take care of the kids.”

“I don’t want my wife here! There’s a whole bunch of men here.”
“Why don’t you go home and love your wife before she discovers there’s a whole bunch of men here and chooses one to live with who is not you?”

His face paled.

“You think she won’t do that? You think she won’t fall in love with some other man simply because she said ‘I do’ to you years ago when she was young and not thinking rationally? She said a vow and you think that will keep your wife from leaving some jackass husband who goes to a bar like a liquor leech and talks behind her back?”

“Uh.”

“Uh yourself. Ask yourself an easy question: What are you doing to keep your wife in love with you? What?”

“I’m her husband!”

“Big deal. I can assure you that part is not impressive. All you have to have to be a husband is a marriage license and a dick. Yours is probably small, but she signed the paper, poor woman. You should do what you can to prevent her from signing another piece of paper saying you are now her ex-husband because her life would be easier without you. Now, good-bye.” I took his beer. “Tip first, Selfish One.”

He gave me a five and scuttled on out.

 

10.13.2014

Humor, Thinking and Witchery In Scotland

My next book, out in August of 2015, is set in Scotland. So la dee dah, I got to visit!

I try to look for humor wherever I am.  I need it. WE need it, right?  Below are a few of the funnier (is funnier a word?) shots I took while skipping around Scotland.  These are the shots that made me laugh or think or pause.

Or, best yet, the shots that gave me ideas for my next story.

And yes, I did see men in kilts. Quite handsome they were, and those bagpipes? There is nothing like the haunting, cheerful, mysterious, soul – touching, musical blast of bagpipes.

There is only one picture that is not self explanatory. It’s the one where there is a hole. This hole was in a castle, built and rebuilt at different points during the last 800 years and is now in ruins.

The Archbishop used to throw people he didn’t like down the hole.  The hole was a prison, located in the castle he lived in in richness and splendor.  The prisoner is thrown through the hole and down the tunnel, which widens at the bottom. Like a science beaker. The poor prisoner was probably someone who spoke out against the Archbishop or the church. Charming, wasn’t he?

One of the archbishops of the castle also had 20 illegitimate children…another real winner, clearly devoted to the church’s teachings…

Scotland 062

Scotland 244Scotland 090

Scotland 066Scotland 079Scotland 080Scotland 054Scotland 083Scotland 212Scotland 053Scotland 111Scotland 190

10.13.2014

Author to Author Interview: Sally Koslow

Cathy Lamb: I’ll admit it. Sally Koslow fascinates me because of her outstanding career as a writer in many different capacities. Her work history is quite impressive. I would tell you all about it right now, in a hushed and awed tone of voice, but she’s much better at telling her own story, so I’ll get out of the way….

Sally Koslow 4Sally, you had many jobs before you became a full time writer.  Can you tell us about those jobs, the good, the bad, the surprising and exciting, the ones you’d like to forget…

Sally Koslow: Early on, wanting to be Lois Lane, I chased newspaper jobs. My first paid gigs were summer jobs at my hometown newspaper in North Dakota and writing obits at the Wisconsin State Journal in Madison while I attended the University of Wisconsin.

During my senior year it occurred to me that a magazine job might be interesting, so I took myself to New York City during spring break to snoop around. Harper’s Bazaar offered me a copywriting job on the spot. Like a fool, I declined: I didn’t want to miss the end of senior year.

That summer, however, I returned to NYC and landed a job at Mademoiselle. From MLLE I s-l-o-w-l-y rose in the ranks, twenty years later winding up as editor-in-chief of McCall’s and later, starting Lifetime, which was associated with the television network.

None of these magazines are alive anymore, alas. There were a few short-lived clunker jobs during my 30+ magazine years, but mostly, I felt born to be a magazine editor and loved it all. The big surprise: I’ve found a second act I love as much, writing books.

Sally Koslow 3Ah, I join in in that love of writing books.

I absolutely love this excerpt from your first novel Little Pink Slips.

“Plain and simple, Magnolia Gold had always adored magazines. They’d taught her to relieve flatulence, give a hand job and handicap the marriage prospects of Prince William…Being an editor-in chief was the ultimate job for the editor of the high school newspaper, especially one with questionable grammar…When she was growing up in Fargo, magazines had given Magnolia a window into a world where people watched indie movies, wore clothes paraded on red carpets, and referred to Donatella Versace as if she were their college roommate….”

Do tell. Was this book your autobiography?

No! Well, sort of.  In Little Pink Slips I drew on my own experience to pull back the curtains on what it’s like to head a large magazine, though since this was the moment for chick lit, I reinvented Magnolia as single, so I could give her a more rollicking private life than my own. (I married my college boyfriend and we have two sons.)

The editor who acquired the book said she that she didn’t find it “credible” that a girl from a Jewish girl from North Dakota would wind up as an editor-in-chief in New York. Non-negotiable, said I, since those details were ripped from my resume.

Now that’s hilarious. You gave the editor true life and she didn’t think it was credible. Hear me groan… then laugh.

As I understand it, you were laid off from McCall’s, after it was renamed Rosie, when Rosie O’Donnell became the editor.   You then started to write novels.  I love this part of your personal story because so many of us lose a job, quit a job, and it feels hopeless, and then something fantastic comes of it. 

It’s very encouraging and hopeful.   What would you say to people who have, or are in, a similar situation with a job?

 Sally Koslow 2To be axed in order for a celebrity to take my place was a bizarre blow. Rosie moved into my office and took over the staff I’d hired. McCall’s was 122 years old; Rosie lasted for nine months. Just saying.

While I slunk around, job-less, friends urged me to “enjoy hobbies.” Fine, except that I had no hobbies. I’d worked, been a wife and mother and exercised. Period. I did, however, like to write, so I enrolled myself in a neighborhood workshop and since all of life is material, began to spin a novel based on my own you-can’t-make-this-stuff-up experience.

If you’re interested in writing fiction about contemporary life, I advise starting with using what you’ve lived as well as joining a writing workshop for both its structure and camaraderie. Everyone needs deadlines, something I know from the world of magazines, where you have deadlines by the hour. If you’ve been canned, nothing good comes from sulking at home.

See everyone? I LOVE Sally’s story. I can see it in a movie already.

This piece you wrote inThe New York Times was excellent, by the way. http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/06/17/writing-fiction-and-nonfiction/?smid=tw-share

Thank you!

You have written both fiction and nonfiction books. Your latest novel is The Widow Waltz. I loved the premise, a woman in New York City havin’ it all who discovers that her husband, who dies of a heart attack in Central Park, has left her and their two young adult daughters with less than nothing. Tell us about that story. What prompted it?

Why do some of us crumple under duress and others blossom? Resilience fascinates me. In The Widow Waltz I wanted to explore that theme along with sibling rivalry, the struggle of coming to terms with a deceased spouse’s betrayal and the rich topic of forgiveness. This is fairly gritty material; each book I write is less fluffy.

 Sally Koslow 1You write fiction, nonfiction, and essays. You sound very busy so I am going to lay down and take a nap FOR you. You’ve written for O, Ladies Home Journal, MORE, Real Simple, etc. If I forced you to say, under threat of burying you in chocolate, which medium do you prefer? Fiction, non-fiction, or essays and why?

After years of reporting and editing factual articles, I’m getting charged from the exercise in imagination required by writing fiction and personal essays. But I thoroughly enjoyed returning to non-fiction for Slouching Toward Adulthood, a hybrid of reporting and memoir that I wrote two years ago.

Wonderful essay by Sally here: http://sallykoslow.com/pdf/O.pdf

Another wonderful essay: http://dearteenme.com/?p=7408

Oh, and one more. I just have to include it: http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/guide-to-literary-agents/7-things-ive-learned-so-far-by-sally-koslow

What has been a struggle in terms of writing and marketing your books? What do you love about writing?

Trying to compose requires you to stare at a blank computer screen, alone and helpless. But after the first draft, it’s a kick. I rewrite constantly. Every time I reread my work, I tighten and sharpen.

Marketing, on the other hand, is the dog’s dinner. The expectation that authors expose their books on social media is high and your time can go to those tasks rather than writing. You also never know if any of your efforts are paying off.

I can’t tell you much I struggle with the social media question. It takes up so much time but, like you, I’m not sure what pays off in social media, if anything at all. Still, I do it…

I definitely want to sign up to be in one of the writing classes you teach at The Writing Institute of Sarah Lawrence College (http://www.slc.edu/ce/writing-institute/ and at the New York Writer’s Workshop (www.newyorkwritersworkshop.com)

What do you like about teaching writing? What is your goal as a teacher?

I believe I can help anyone become a better writer. As a teacher, that’s my goal and where I find my satisfaction. It’s not that different from mentoring magazine employees, many of whom are now editors-in-chief, which makes me proud. I wish my resume had a line: spots talent and hires well.

What’s a typical day like for you with your many avenues of work/writing/teaching?  Do you always have time to squish in that run in Central Park?

Early morning: run or walk in the park. Check social media. By nine until about 1, write. Break to meet a friend for lunch, go to Pilates, run errands. Write again in the later afternoon/cook dinner. Evening: write a tad, read, teach or do editing projects

(I work as an independent writing coach—anyone interested can read me at spkoslow@gmail.com.)

This fall I’m experimenting with teaching on the weekends, to reach students who don’t have time for a weekday class.

You’re from Fargo, North Dakota. You had a dream and you went to New York City to fulfill it. What advice do you have for people who want to fulfill dreams but see many obstacles in front of them?

Don’t overthink your plan. Blunder ahead and figure things out as you go. That’s how I write every novel, more or less. To be honest, I saw New York as an easy place to move to because I didn’t need a car (I loathe driving*) and had family and friends there. I was also 22. If it hadn’t worked out, I had plenty of time ahead of me to move in another direction.

Three things you want to do in the next five years.

a)     Finish two more novels and write a screenplay

b)     Travel as much as possible

c)      *Become a better driver.

 

Sally Koslow’s advice, shamelessly lifted from her website.

 

TAKE YOUR WRITING FROM GOOD TO GREAT
These tricks work for me. I hope they help you, too.

 

Read excellent writing. Let it inspire you.

Look for a writing workshop to provide deadlines and collegial support.

Always have a notebook—jot down ideas, quotes from actual conversation, vocabulary-stretching words.

Catch your dreams. Keep pen and paper handy to record ideas you invent in your sleep.

Use what you’ve lived. Everything is material, especially the bad stuff.

To unleash your creativity, do solo repetitive exercise: running, walking, swimming, biking—nothing strategic like golf or tennis

Make writing a habit. Try to write every day, even for only 10 minutes.

Have fun with nouns and verbs.

Think of adjectives and adverbs as cayenne pepper. Use sparingly. “Write with nouns and verbs, not with adjectives and adverbs,” William Strunk and E.B. White wrote in their venerated Elements of Style. “The adjective hasn’t been built that can pull a weak or inaccurate noun out of a tight place.”

Check spelling and details. Google is a gift, but don’t forget your dictionary.

In fiction and in dialogue, picture a scene as a movie, and take notes.

Don’t read your work only on a computer—print it out. Switch typefaces to see your work in a fresh way.

Read your work aloud. Listen for the rhythm (or lack of it,) dull and awkward spots and especially words writers overuse: all, always, just, so, usually, very, perhaps…

When you think you’re finished, put your writing aside to let it gel. Hurried writing is rarely your best work. Read, tweak, read again, tweak again…

If you get stuck, start writing something else.

 

www.sallykoslow.com

Twitter: @sallykoslow.com

Facebook: Sally Koslow—author

https://www.facebook.com/SallyKoslowAuthor?ref=aymt_homepage_panel

 

Thank you, Sally!

 

 

 

 

10.01.2014

To Say That I Am Fine Is Ridiculous

“To say that I am fine is ridiculous. I am not. I trigger back to my past in all sorts of ways and probably will all my life. Dark forests, fog, empty cupboards, disorganization, ugly rooms, chaos, dog kennels, ropes, even loneliness and aloneness will set me off.

New What I Remember MostI still have to control Alice, My Anxiety. I will probably always need my black charcoal pencil and my sketch pad to push the past back.

But I like me again. I like making collages and paintings. I like using whipping cream in my coffee, and I like whipping it up and using it on Kade.

I know who I am.

I’ve had tragedy in my life, and miracles. But isn’t that life for all of us?

Some darkness, some rainbows?

Some fear, some courage?

Some love, some loss?

Yes to all of it.

It is life.

I am Grenadine Scotch Wild.”

From my book, “What I Remember Most.”

09.29.2014

On Puzzle Pieces That Run Off With New Lovers

A few weeks ago I went on a hike with Innocent Husband and Youngest Rebel Daughter.

We hiked into the gorge here in Oregon to a place called Devil’s Punch Bowl. It is unclear to me whether or not the Devil has ever drunk from the punch bowl, but I did not dwell on the Devil’s drinking habits.

It was stunning, like walking into a postcard, only we could feel the crisp wind, smell the pine trees, and touch the craggy mountains.

 

On the hike, the trail became skinny enough, and high enough up, with an intimidating cliff – like drop, that we had to hold onto a steel rope attached to the side of the mountain.

I am no fan of heights. I don’t like clinging to a cliff. But one does not want to be a wimp, especially in front of a daughter who is young and fearless and willing to kick some ass if she needs to. So I did it, I clung, and did not look down, heck no, I did not.

Devil’s Punchbowl actually does look like a huge blue – green punch bowl. The gorge around it is shaded by mountains of trees that roll off into the blue horizon forever. It’s a place of magical nature and a ton of young people jumping off cliffs and diving into their own “punch.”

Janelle Rachel Travis baby photos 2014 041(I did not jump off a cliff, but I think I should get credit for watching.)

Youngest Rebel Daughter read her kindle when we had lunch and Innocent Husband and I sat down and pretended not to look wiped out as we rested near the treetops, the emerald gorge spread out for miles below.

But I was stressed, up there above the crashing waterfall.

It had been quite a summer. All the little sweethearts were home, which I love. It was always busy and noisy with people coming and going and a mind numbing load of housework.

I was trying to write another book and meet word count and edit goals.

What I Remember Most, my eighth novel, had just been released. There was lots of marketing/facebooking/social media types of things that I needed to do.

I am not so good at all these social marketing types of things. If I wasn’t a writer, I don’t think I’d even be on facebook. I like to be in my head. I can be social, but I have a very strong loner streak and social media doesn’t like loner streaks.

My mind was a zinging mess when we left for the cliff – hugging hike. I was not calm. I was not settled. In addition, Oldest Warrior Daughter and Youngest Rebel Daughter will be taking off for shores far, far away soon, and so I am a bit nervous, and missing them already, even though their sweet smiles are right in front of me.

But up in the treetops on Sunday, I eventually started to simmer down.  I thought, I hoped, I would have some revelation about the book I am writing now, the one that is a tangle and a maze, the one that is confounding my poor brain. This novel is, as usual at this point, a literary puzzle and there are puzzle pieces that are missing, ripped, and a few that have run off with new lovers and I can’t find them at all.

Janelle Rachel Travis baby photos 2014 043I had no revelation about my new book on our hike. None.

But what I did have a revelation about was nature, and how much I love it, how much I love being in it, and how it soothes my raggedy soul.

So this is what I know today:  Daydreaming is relaxing. Walking takes the stress jiggles away. And nature puts you right back where you need to be.

Nature is a bridge to peace, even if you are hiking towards the Devil’s Punchbowl on a scary cliff.

Wishing you many quiet, serene, exciting trips into nature this year.

And books, of course. One can not do life without books.

 

Janelle Rachel Travis baby photos 2014 051

 

09.24.2014

Author To Author Interview: Brandi Megan Granett

Brandi_proof_12I am filled with a passionate desire to share one key idea with the world.  This idea is that thoughts are things.  The very stuff we fill our minds with spills out and fills our worlds.

By learning what we are thinking and where those thoughts come from, we can change our experiences within the world.- Brandi Megan Granett

Cathy Lamb: Hello Brandi, thanks for joining me here for an Author to Author interview. I have many questions for you, but tell us first about your latest book, “Cars And Other Things That Get Around.”  What is it about? What was the inspiration?

Brandi Megan Granett: “Cars and Other Things That Get Around” is a collection of my early short fictions.  My students inspired me to put this work together.  I wanted them to see what I published before literary journals went digital.  Also, I wanted to experience the tools of self-publishing to share this knowledge with my writing students.

You have written two other novels, too, My Intended and Floaters.  Not to cut you off at the literary pass, so to speak, but give us a sentence each on what those books are about, too.

cars“My Intended” is about a woman who married her fiancée posthumously. It is really a story about how the people in her life allowed her to grieve and reconnect to the world.  “Floaters” is the story of a newly married woman questioning her life’s decisions.

I am always curious about people. Maybe that’s why I became a writer. But I’m curious about you! Tell us about your life. For example, where do you live, what are your interests and hobbies, what did you do last weekend?

I live in Stockton, NJ, a town on the Delaware River.  My biggest passion next to writing is archery.  I recently switched to compound archery, so I spent my weekend learning all about my new equipment!

I am very impressed with your archery skills. If you are ever upset with me, I will remind myself to run away from you in a zig zag sort of pattern. Not that you would actually point a bow and arrow at me, of course.

 

floatersWhat just drives you crazy about writing? What’s the hard part of it all? 

What drives me crazy about writing—that is a great question!  I have to say that creating chapters makes me nuts.  I usually write the novel straight through and then need to go back and figure out where the chapter breaks belong.  I love sharing my writing process with my husband; he reads and comments on all of my drafts.  The characters in my books become our family friends.

All my characters live in my head. Some I like. Some I don’t. Some are friends of mine, some aren’t. But back to you. 

You have several different jobs. You are so busy I feel like laying down and taking a nap FOR you.  Can you tell us about what you do?

I like to keep several irons in the fire.  I mainly work as an online writing professor for several colleges.  I also have a private writing mentor practice; I want to help authors that are either new to writing or removed from a community of writers to hone their craft and reach their writing goals.

I understand you have a Ph.D. in Creative Writing from Aberystwyth University in Wales, an MFA in Fiction from Sarah Lawrence College, and an M.Ed in Adult and Distance Education from Penn State. (That’s a lot of degrees!) What degree did you most enjoy receiving and why? 

Not to disrespect my creative writing degrees, which I enjoyed immensely, my M.Ed challenged my boundaries; I had to pass Statistics!  And it taught me how to be a better teacher, which I value every day.  From my PhD, I learned the value of being ruthless with revision.  In order to graduate, I needed to revise some elements of the non-fiction elements of thesis.  In a very short amount of time, I learned how to kill my darlings with lightning speed.  I was shocked to find that this translated to my fiction writing.

intendedOh, I love that line, “I learned how to kill my darlings with lightning speed.” 

What are three rules you live by?

This is probably my favorite question.

Thoughts are things—what we dwell on shapes our reality.

The universe sides with love—if you follow your heart’s passion, the universe will work together with you.

The moment of power is now—in any given moment, you can choose differently.  You can change your life.

Fun quotes written by Brandi:

Day dream believer but never a homecoming queen.  Writing mentor, novelist, and archer. (In describing herself) 

 

Perhaps the biggest lesson of all from my archery experience is the power of standing up straight. In archery, if you don’t keep the same physical stance from shot to shot, you ruin your chances of shooting arrows that hit the mark. If you hunch over, you wind up pulling with your fingers and plucking the string. You may even strike the string against your arm, which can, even with an arm guard, hurt enough to make you curse like a truck driver. As in all things in life, if you stand up straight and keep your balance (however you decide to do it — because like life, a good archer’s form has some uniqueness tailored just to them) you will hit your mark more often than not.

 

 Shoot like You Aren’t Afraid to Miss

 

Connect with Brandi Here:

https://www.facebook.com/BrandiMeganGranett

Twitter: https://twitter.com/brandigranett

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/brandi-megan-mantha/

brandi.granett@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

09.18.2014

An Excerpt from “What I Remember Most” #2

Grenadine Scotch Wild: That night I thought of my interview with Tildy. The, “Tell me about yourself,” question always throws me. What should I say about myself? What should I not say about myself?

I’m a crack shot and can hit damn near anything.

New What I Remember Most I’m a collage artist and painter.

I used to have a little green house. I sold it. That was a huge mistake.

I can smash beer cans on my forehead.

I fight dirty. Someone comes at me, and my instinctive reaction is to smash and pulverize. It has gotten me into trouble.

I love to decorate. Things must be pretty around me or I feel like I’m losing it.

I have a temper, my anger perpetually on low seethe, and I have struggled with self esteem issues and flashbacks for as long as I can remember.

I can wear four inch heels and designer clothes like wealthy women, make social chit chat, and pretend I’m exactly like them. I am not like them at all.

Some of the kindest people I have ever met were missing a lot of their teeth and loved their guns and pickups.

Some of the worst, most narcissistic, uncaring people I’ve met drove Mercedes and belonged to country clubs.

I survived my childhood. Now I’m trying to reinvent myself to survive once again.

Who am I?

Where did I come from?

Those questions I can answer easily: I don’t know.

 

09.15.2014

Talking To Myself While Shopping

POWELL'SYesterday I went shopping.

I hate shopping. The crowds, the lights, the noise, and all these pant sizes that I am SURE have shrunk in the last year.

I am not into fashion and I can’t find anything unless my daughters pick it out and tell me what to wear.

Unfortunately, I needed to get something to wear to my presentation at Powell’s Books that night and Rebel Oldest Daughter and Rebel Youngest Daughter are away at school.

Way to wait until the last minute, right?

I dragged a bunch of dresses into the dressing room at Macy’s. It was like entering fashion hell for me, complete with a hot flash and bad lighting that emphasized cellulite and a grumpy face.

I groaned and whined and moaned.

I didn’t realize I was talking OUT LOUD to myself in the dressing room until I heard someone thunk the wall between us. I’m sure she thought I was an utter loon.

I should have been embarrassed at talking to myself at such loud volume, but I am too old for embarrassment anymore.

These are the things I said before The Thunk.

1) That dress looks good on your boobs but not on your butt.

2) You need Spanx.

3) Where do we buy Spanx?

4) Would Spanx give me a hot flash? I don’t want to have a hot flash at Powell’s.

5) Your butt is too big.

6) How did your butt get that big?

7) Please stop eating chocolate.

8) You look like you’re sort of pregnant.

9) Why are you even trying on this dress? What are you, Pollyanna?

10) That is way too expensive. We’re not buying that!

11) Take that off. Just take it off.

I know. Pathetic.

I didn’t find anything to wear for Powell’s.

what I remember Most 350I called my friend, Karen Calcagno, who I was supposed to meet for dinner before the presentation. I canceled because I was going to have to raid my closet for something decent to wear. Karen and I have been friends for twenty years. We have seen life together. Lots of it beautiful, some of it harsh and sad, and it has knocked us on our butts.

But we laugh  a lot and it has been a staple of our friendship. Karen is also very wise. She told me after I had blubbered on and on, “Cathy, go home. Put on your favorite pair of jeans. Put on a t – shirt. Get that beautiful lace shirt you have and wear that. Be comfortable.”

And that’s what I did.

I was trying to find something fancy to wear to Powell’s, but I don’t do fancy. I do jeans. So I wore my favorite jeans and the lace shirt to Powell’s, exactly as Calm Zen Karen told me to do.

I spoke about my latest book “What I Remember Most.” Lots of people came. They were all friendly and fun. My journalism teacher from high school was there, as usual.

I don’t think they cared what I wore, but I felt better in my old jeans than a dress, that is for sure. I would have felt like I was suffocating and hot flashing in Spanx.

Once again I learned my lesson: Be you. You’re best being you.

 

(If you were next to me in the dressing room at Macy’s and you heard me talking to myself, don’t be alarmed! I talk to myself, and my characters, all day long. I am safe to be around, now don’t you worry.)


Cathy Lamb
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