Consolidating Blogs

Dear Readers:

I will be closing down “Smoky Talks Authors…” and “Smoky Talks Books…” effective immediately. But not to worry! I’ll still be doing book reviews and author interviews. I’ll just be posting them on my regular blog, “Smoky Talks…”

If you are an author with an interview posted here, don’t worry–I’m not taking down the blog. Your permalinks will remain, and you can still direct friends and readers to the page where your interview is posted.

If you are a subscriber here at “Smoky Talks Authors…” but haven’t subscribed to “Smoky Talks…” yet, please hop on over there and subscribe so you don’t miss my next author interview! Just click on the blue link.

Thank you so much for your support. See you all at “Smoky Talks…”

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Meet Smoky Mountain Author Lin Stepp

You are a native Tennessean, and, like me, have a deep love for the Great Smoky Mountains. Do you remember your first trip to the national park? Do you have a favorite childhood memory of the park?

From our South Knoxville home to Gatlinburg and the Smokies, it was only about  35-40 minutes so our family went to the mountains often for weekend picnics. I can’t remember my first trip there—probably because I was so small.  I do remember my brother and I loved wading and swimming in the cold, rushing streams and jumping around on the giant boulders.  Mother always brought a huge picnic lunch of fried chicken, potato salad, green beans, fresh tomatoes from the garden, watermelon, and homemade chocolate chip cookies. Often we stopped in Gatlinburg on the way home to wander through the tourist shops. I loved watching mountain taffy or fudge prepared at the Ole Smoky Candy Kitchen—and trying a free sample.

Some of my happiest memories of the park are of summer weeks spent at Camp Margaret Townsend, a former Girl Scout camp on the west end of the Smokies. The Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont is located there now.  We slept in platform tents tucked under the trees, hiked the mountain trails, learned old time crafts, listened to tall tales, and sang around the campfire at night.  The camp dammed part of a mountain stream to create a swimming pool, and I’ll never forget how cold that water felt, jumping into the pool on a chilly morning.  We swam like crazy to keep from freezing to death!

You write two distinctly different kinds of books: you have your Smoky Mountain romance series, and then you have your The Afternoon Hiker: A Guide to Casual Hikes in the Great Smoky Mountains. What led you to write the latter, a book so different from your romance novels?

Most of my readers don’t know that my husband, J.L., and I were working on The Afternoon Hiker for years before I started my fictional novels.  We began hiking the trails of the Smokies in the late 1990s, journaling our adventures and taking photos—and soon conceived the idea of developing our own hiking guide.  As we explored the regions around the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee and North Carolina, we often stopped in gift shops and bookstores in the small towns near our trailheads. I looked for contemporary romance or mystery books in every shop. Just as I like to take a stack of beach-set novels when I go down to the beach, I wanted Smokies-set novels to read while exploring the mountains.   All I found were pioneer biographies, historical fictional accounts, mushroom guides, and mountain cookbooks.

“Where are your chick books?” I asked one of the bookstore owners one day. “You know, contemporary romances or mysteries set in the Smokies.”  He shook his head.  “We don’t have any and I sure wish someone would write some. People ask for them all the time.” … Perhaps that seeded the idea, since the concept of my contemporary novel series floated into my mind not long afterwards while on the road doing marketing work.  I raced home, wrote down my ideas, and begin to develop my plots and characters.  Good writing advice says to “write what you know,” and I certainly know the Smoky Mountain region well.  It bothered me, too, that so few authors wrote Southern contemporary fiction set in the Great Smoky Mountains, when it is the most visited national park in America.

I set my first novel The Foster Girls in the picturesque Wear’s Valley, the second Tell Me About Orchard Hollow in Townsend on the quiet side of the Smokies, the third For Six Good Reasons in little-known Greenbrier, and the fourth Delia’s Place—recently published—in the tourist town of Gatlinburg. All my books are warm contemporary romances, with a dash of suspense, a touch of inspiration, and a big dollop of Appalachian flavor.  They are stand-alone novels, with their own set of characters and story. The link in the series is that each book takes the reader to a new place around the Smoky Mountains.  There will be twelve books in the series. I am working on the tenth right now, set on the North Carolina side of the Smokies in Bryson City.

I wrote what I love to read, and I get wonderful fan mail from all around the U.S. now from readers telling me how much they love my books, that each novel makes them feel like they’ve visited the Smokies. One fan called me “east Tennessee’s best ambassador for tourism (except Dolly).”  I loved that one—especially since Dolly Parton wrote me a great endorsement for my Smoky Mtn books and asked me to send her a copy of every book in the series (and I do)!

Writing non-fiction and fiction are two very different adventures, and I enjoy both!  Our hiking guide, The Afternoon Hiker, was accepted for publication last year, and will be out this fall of 2012.  It contains 110 ten trails around the Smokies one can easily hike in a morning or afternoon, over 300 photos, and my own illustrations.  My fifth novel in the Smoky Mountain series, Second Hand Rose, will be released in the spring of 2013 – with more to come.

My favorite day hike in the Smokies is the Ramsey Cascades trail. Do you have a favorite?

Author Lin Stepp

I have many, many favorite day hikes. Five special favorites are:

(1)  The Middle Prong Trail in the Tremont area, that follows a broad mountain stream, past tumbling cascades and scenic waterfalls;

(2)  Porters Creek Trail in the Greenbrier area with its stunning wildflowers in spring and the historic farm site at Porters Flats;

(3)  Caldwell Fork Trail in the charming Cataloochee Valley with nearly a dozen stream crossings over scenic log footbridges;

(4) Deep Creek Trail, winding out of the campground behind Bryson City and twining along the streamside into the mountains; and

(5) Alum Cave Trail, a glory walk when the rhododendrons are in bloom, climbing to Arch Rock and Alum Cave Bluffs.

I hope you’ll come to the mountains of east Tennessee and try them all!

I remember Ramsey Cascades for the spectacular waterfall at the trail’s end and because it’s the day the lining of my boots wore through and I hobbled back down the trail with blisters.

Hey, I can beat you on that note–the last time I hiked Ramsey Cascades, I blew out my knee replacement and had to have it redone. Apparently, it is okay to hike up a mountain with a knee replacement, but not to hike back down! But we’re talking about you here, not me. Please, go on!

My least favorite hiking memory is of  Meigs Creek Trail behind the Sinks.  We saw three rattlesnakes on the trail that day.  The trail lies on a south-facing ridge slope that snakes love and there is a known pit in that area.

The latest in your Smoky Mountain series is Delia’s Place. Would you talk a little about what inspired you to write Delia’s story?

The beginning of Delia’s story is every girl’s nightmare—the wedding is planned, the invitations sent, and something horrible happens.  Enter Delia Eleanor Walker, sheltered young D.C. socialite, recent college graduate, engaged to a rising young doctor, preparing to drive down to the family’s beach house for congratulations parties.  Hurrying to the door to meet the FedEx delivery, she expects another wedding gift, but gets instead a fax from her fiancé saying he’s married another woman in Las Vegas the night before.

What would you have done?  …This book is Delia’s story.  The baby of her family, young and naïve, she sits holding her FedEx weeping, dreading the idea of facing anyone with her news. Wishing she could just escape. So she does…. following up on an invitation to visit her Aunt Dee’s cottage in Gatlinburg.

When life hits us with its worst problems, haven’t we all yearned to simply escape and run away?  But we seldom do.  We soldier on.  So I had Delia escape … but only to find new problems where she escapes, because that’s the way life is.

The first day she arrives, she meets a cousin, Hallie Walker, she’d never met, running from her own set of problems.  And bumps into an old childhood sweetheart, Tanner Cross, she made a fool of herself over in the past.  She has no idea what she’s going to do with her life and has a pile of family issues and personal problems to work through.

I enjoyed plotting out a story with unexpected twists and challenges for Delia—that would help her find her way to herself in the end.  And all amid the charm of Gatlinburg and the Smokies.

Delia’s Place is set in Gatlinburg, just outside the national park. Gatlinburg is such a tourist trap, yet you managed to show a different side to it. How were you able to accomplish that?

By spending a lot of time around Gatlinburg and doing a lot of research. I often think when people visit an area, they simply show up, check in a motel, and visit the “same-old, same-old” attractions everyone else goes to because they haven’t studied to find the lesser known but often more interesting places.  Most people who hike the Smokies do one of five or six main trails. Most people who visit Gatlinburg do much of the same thing.  They miss so much!

Admittedly, I am one of those “road-less-traveled” people, a bit of a non-conformist.  I wanted to take the reader to places they might not otherwise see when visiting Gatlinburg, give them a different impression of this charming mountain town than the one they might have formed from breezing through tourist brochures (or driving through Pigeon Forge coming in!)

Many people visit Gatlinburg and never discover the scenic Roaring Fork Nature Trail only a few miles behind town.  They miss discovering the charm of Arrowmont, picnicking in Mynatt Park, hiking the out-of-the-way trails, finding the Arts and Crafts community loop above Gatlinburg where they can watch artisans work, or hearing the stories of Gatlinburg’s colorful past. I wanted to introduce readers to this aspect of Gatlinburg that I know and love. …

I try to do this in my other books, too, taking my readers into each area as an “insider” and not just as a drive-through tourist.

I loved the character Hallie in Delia’s Place. Can you tell us a little bit about how you developed her character, and if there is any chance of her popping up in a starring role in a future book?

Wasn’t Hallie a kick? … She dropped out of nowhere as I planned the book—much to my delight. I wanted Delia to encounter some of her Walker kin … and I decided Miss Spitfire Hallie would be just the kind of cousin and friend Delia needed to meet.  The two made a charming contrast—in looks, personality, background, experience, and beliefs. It was fun portraying Hallie as the wiser and more experienced in life, more sure of herself and her direction than Delia, who was actually the older of the two by five years and more educated.

People different from us can often enrich us more than we might expect.  As a psychologist, I know research shows that people tend to select friends in their own social circle, with similar beliefs and backgrounds.  Sometimes people need a little “push” to branch out in their associations. I got to create the “push” and connected Delia and Hallie.

I often walk old characters back into future stories, for readers who follow all my books. Hallie may walk back into a future book planned near her home place later on.

Is there any Lin Stepp in either Delia or Hallie?

Although I like both Delia and Hallie and would love to be friends with either, neither are much like me.  None of the characters in my books are modeled after myself or after any of my friends or family.  I simply have a vivid imagination. Often I get annoyed with the characters I create and wish I could give them a “talking-to” to straighten them out.  Sometimes I’m surprised at the things they do and the actions they take … so different from what I might do in the same situation.  That’s the fun in writing fiction … creating new characters and worlds to play in.

I kept expecting one of the famous (or should I say, infamous?) Smoky Mountain black bears to appear in the book. Do you plan to write them into one of your future books?

Now, see?  That’s the expected thing people think of when they envision the Smokies.  I suppose people imagine bears wandering about everywhere.  However, black bears generally want to avoid humans if at all possible. In all the hundreds of hikes my husband and I have taken in the Smokies, we never saw a bear on the trail or even near the trail.

You know, I’ve heard lots of people say that, but I’ve never gone on a hike in the Smokies, or camped, when I didn’t encounter bears. I’m a bear whisperer. They come out of the woods when I’m around.

Well, we sometimes spotted bears in the picnic areas and campgrounds hoping to snag a free dinner.

Yeah, they can be a problem. Or rather, people are the problem around the bears. But I’d sure like to see you write a bear into one of your stories!

Perhaps it is time for a Smoky Mountain black bear to appear in one of my books.

Well, if you want some real-life encounters to base that on, just ask. I’ve got a whole slew of them.

I wrote about a snake bite in For Six Good Reasons, a child getting lost in the mountains in The Foster Girls,  and a mountain fire in my upcoming novel Second Hand Rose.  These are things that are a part of mountain life.  Friends I know who live near the Smokies sometimes see bears rambling through their back yards or foraging in their trash cans…. I’ll keep your idea in mind.

What do you like to do when you aren’t writing?

Work, read, play.

Work: As an adjunct professor at Tusculum College, I teach research writing courses and psychology. In past I taught more extensively than I do now … Developmental Psychology, Educational Psychology, Introductory Psychology, Gender, Adult Development and Aging, Social Psychology, and several research courses.  I also work part-time as the Educational Coordinator for Huntington Learning Center doing PR and marketing calls to K-12 school principals and guidance counselors in four counties.

Read: I read voraciously in past and still do…romances, mysteries, self-help and psychology books, devotionals and spiritual writings, autobiographies, and anything else that catches my eye. I also read books about things I’m interested in or fact and subject books.

Play: When I play I like to hike, walk, visit parks, and scenic places.  My husband and I love to play games … just the two of us or with friends.  I draw and paint … and when I can, I go to a watercolor group with other artists to chat and paint. I’m a “people person” and belong to a book group, a couple of civic groups, and a women’s church circle. In addition, I have a wonderful group of women friends I try to lunch and shop with, hike, walk or go to the movies with, whenever I can sneak the time.

What are your five favorite books of all time? Who are some of your favorite authors, and what draws you to their books?

Girlhood favorites: The Anne of Green Gables books, Nancy Drew mysteries, and Madeleine L’Engle books like Meet the Austins.

Favorite romance authors:  Nora Roberts (hooked me with the Irish Trilogy starting with Jewels of the Sun – I sat captivated with the setting, characters and her way with dialogue), Jane Anne Krentz (love her smart, independent women and orderly writing style), Mary Alice Monroe (won my heart with her touching novel set in the Asheville, NC area, called Time is a River), Robyn Carr (always entertains me with her interesting characters in the Virgin River series), Sheryll Woods (writes delightful southern stories with sparkling dialogue), Dorothea Benton Frank (another southern favorite, hooked me with The Plantation set near Charleston)

Favorite mystery authors:  Anne Perry (love the regency setting with the touches of psychology and philosophy tucked in the mystery – especially like the Charlotte and Thomas Pitt series starting with The Cater Street Hangman), Margaret Maron (my favorite books portray a spunky North Carolina judge and offer a wonderful sense of place and family; the series begins with The Bootleggers Daughter),  Dorothy Gillman’s Mrs. Pollifax books (delightfully unexpected mystery sleuth, an ordinary English widow who goes to work with the CIA), Agatha Christie (a master at creating memorable characters like Poirot and Mrs. Marple who come alive through her narrative)

Southern fiction:  Jan Karon (love the easy style and charm of the Mitford series set in North Carolina, beginning with At Home in Mitford); Deborah Smith (hooked me from the start on her books with her artful storytelling and memorable characters in On Bear Mountain, set in the Georgia Mountains),  Beth Hoffman … stole my heart recently with her fine first novel set in Charleston called Saving Cee Cee Honeycutt

Overall, I like a good setting that sweeps me into it, interesting characters that make me feel I’ve known them as real people, realistic dialog and a lot of it, a memorable story with elements throughout that keep me guessing, and a happy ending. (that’s what I try to write, too!)

Is there anything else you’d like to talk about that I haven’t asked you?

If you yearn to see pictures of the Smoky Mountains after reading this interview, you will find tons of Smokies photos on my website at: Click through all the links to enjoy them.

If you’re in a book group, there are Book Group Discussion Questions for all my novels on my author’s website ( under the “other” tab that you can download and print out for your book club.

If you’re a writer or aspiring writer, you will find Writing Craft articles under the same “other” tab on my website you might enjoy reading.

If you admired the book covers on my novels, all are paintings by the well-known Smokies artist Jim Gray.  You will find a direct link to Jim Gray’s gallery on the front page of my website. I am so blessed he is letting me put his beautiful art on the covers of all my books.

If you like my Smoky Mountain books, please email me and tell me so!  I love to get fan mail and I answer all my letters and notes. You can also “friend” me on Facebook.

If you haven’t read my books yet, look for them or order them through your favorite Barnes & Noble or Books-a-Million bookstore, through Barnes &,,,, or on Amazon. You can also purchase them as Nook or Kindle e-books.  A link to a printable order form is on the front page of my website if you want author-autographed copies sent directly to your home from my office in Tennessee.

Nice to meet you on Smoky’s blog!

Thanks, Lin. This has been a delight, talking with you about my heart-home, the Great Smoky Mountains.

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A Talk With Sharon Heath

I just finished reading your book, The History of My Body, and I just loved it! (Readers, you can read my review of the book here.) The book’s protagonist is a young girl, Fleur, who may or may not have Asperger’s Syndrome. I have a family member with AS, and I cannot imagine writing from his perspective. Yet, you did so flawlessly in your portrayal of Fleur. How did you do that?

Thank you, Smoky. Fiction writing is such a mystery, isn’t it, with its weave of personal experience and imaginal play? Actually, I didn’t set out to create a character with Asperger’s. Since my previous three novels had been written in the third person, I had a hankering to try my hand at a first-person narrative. As soon as I set that intention, this young girl skipped into my awareness, trailing images of a baby bird, a bored God, and her grandfather’s balls! I’ve come to identify a pattern in my fiction, where I’m “given” the first few sentences of a novel and what comes at the very end, with my task being to figure out how to get my characters from A to Z. It was slightly different with The History of My Body in that Fleur kept skipping ahead of me, showing me the way, and I had to run to keep up with her. As for her Asperger’s traits, what I can’t express rationally often finds its way into my fiction. Something inchoate had been stirred in me by the work of Temple Grandin and Donna Williams and by seeing a fair number of parents of quite wonderful Asperger’s kids in my analytic practice. Plus, I’ve got this pet theory that, in our age of brilliant algorithms and addiction to iEverythings, autism and Asperger’s serve as apt metaphors for what researchers are discovering about kids in our new century: that they may be far more clever than their elders in so many ways, but are losing the capacity to read facial expressions and social cues.

Fleur is so innocent to the ways of the world, as illustrated by her clumsy introduction to her own sexuality, yet to describe her as brilliant seems an understatement. Her fascination with “the void” and inherent understanding of physics are eventually what lead her away from her life with her alcoholic mother and distant, detached father. How much of a physicist are you? Did you have to consult a physicist, or read a lot of books, in order to understand this part of Fleur?

Well, here’s the joke: despite having a Master’s in Psychology, the farthest I got in the hard sciences was high school physiology, in which I earned a grade of C, or maybe even a D. In the novel’s terms, I am more of a Sammie than a Fleur. But Fleur’s obsession with the void led me inexorably to the topic of black holes, and before I knew it I was hooked and reading everything I could about quantum physics that was geared for the layperson. As a writer yourself, I’m sure you know how it is: one thing leads to another and you find yourself straying onto turf you wouldn’t normally dare set foot, all in service of the story.

Do I ever! I had that problem when I was in college—I joke that I took 17 years to get my Bachelor’s degree because I majored in everything except physics! Now I wish I had studied physics, although I’m not sure I’d understand quantum physics.

Since quantum physics is fueled by brilliance and intuition, my intuition gave me the chutzpah to play with the concepts, if not the math. A generous physicist from JPL, Ara Chutjian, read over the manuscript to make sure I didn’t totally bungle the science. Of course, Fleur’s discoveries were my own invention, though I recently read about some research coming out of Case Western that might actually substantiate some version of C-Voids. If that’s the case, I want a share of any Nobel Prizes awarded to those guys!

Author Sharon Heath

You should send them your book! But moving on: you’re a Jungian analyst. The writings of Carl Jung always fascinated me, by the way, especially as they relate to the phenomenon of synchronicity and his theory of archetypes. Do you think you would have been able to write this same book if you didn’t have your Jungian training? Is there one particular scene in the book where you found yourself especially turning to Jung?

Jung is at the very foundation of the book, since reading him, undergoing my own analysis, and years of private practice have given me the wherewithal to dive deeply enough into my own psyche and the archetype of the Divine Child to find Fleur. We Jungian Analysts have a lot in common with Fleur in that we have the folly, courage, and instinct to get on all fours and sniff into dark corners, occasionally unearthing a precious gem or two.

In a recent article you wrote for The Huffington Post, you wrote that child protagonists in novels offer adults “a chance to revisit our early years with imagination and wisdom and see the world and own lives with new eyes.” Can you expand on that for us?

I think Jung pretty much nailed it when he wrote: “In every adult there is a child—an eternal child, something is always becoming, is never completed, and calls for unceasing care, attention, and education. That is the part of the human personality which wants to develop and become whole.” But there’s also the child’s ability to see through the B.S., to name the naked truths, and to see life through the sweetening lens of awe and wonder where the adult perspective has become jaded and gone stale.

You write with such delightful humor. Nowhere is this more evident than with the character of Sister Flatulencia. Can you talk a little about her character? How did you come up with her? Was there a Sister Flatulencia in your own upbringing?

I guess I have only myself to blame for writing such a character! I come from a long line of Jewish Sister and Brother Flatulencias, which was a source of serious mortification to me as a girl, especially when I hosted pajama parties in my pre-teens.  There we’d all be, a gaggle of girls in shortie PJs and giant curlers, just starting to nod off after hours of pigging out on potato chips and gossip, and Toot Central would pipe up from my parents’ adjacent bedroom. As to whether I’ve managed to live up (or down) to my lineage, well, sometimes least said is best!

Speaking of upbringing, how much of you is in Fleur, and how much Fleur is in you?

I think I’m just beginning to get that there might be a little bit of Fleur in everyone! Certainly, since she comes out of my own creative imagination, there are bits of her that are sourced in my own inner life and early years: feeling lost and unseen in the midst of a noisy extended family; reading anything I could get my hands on, from cereal boxes to Anna Karenina; a soft spot for cats; sitting for hours on end with a beloved grandfather, watching “our” tree; a panicky attempt to save a baby bird. The introspection and preoccupation with God and the void? Me. The brilliance. Not me. Which made this my most difficult novel yet to write. I’d say Fleur feels more like my creative child than a replication of me.

What’s next for you as far as writing is concerned? Will there be a follow up to The History of My Body, or is this the last we’ll hear about Fleur?

Good guess! I’m working on a sequel that begins with Fleur turning 21 and facing an even more complex set of personal challenges and scientific conundrums.

That sounds wonderful! I was hoping we’d hear more from Fleur!

And just so my Muse doesn’t lose her rep for setting me impossible tasks—forget about the old saw, “Write what you know” —part of it takes place in Ethiopia.

Tell us a little about yourself. What do you like to do when you aren’t writing or working at your day job?

I’m a doting mama of adult kids and three—yes, count ‘em, three!—cats. I love my Jungian private practice and teaching. I’m crazy about film, music, yoga, British murder mysteries when I’m actively working on a novel and all sorts of fiction when I’m not. I’m pretty passionately engaged with the body politic, and I find nothing more healing than walking in my neighborhood, with its sycamores and squirrels, mockingbirds and crows.  I’ll dance, ecstatically, any chance I get. I’m not alone: if you get a bunch of Jungians on a dance floor, we really get down!

Where can readers purchase your book, and where can they find you on the Internet?

The History of My Body is available from selected bookstores, in paperback and Kindle editions on, in paperback and Nook editions on, on iPad from iBook, and in everything from Kobo and Mobi to Sony and PDF from my publisher Fisher King Press. I blog regularly at and occasionally on My Facebook page is The History of My Body and my Twitter moniker is @HistoryofMyBody.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell us before we close?

Yes—you ask such juicy questions, Smoky!

Thank you, Sharon. This has been a delight!

And a total pleasure for me. Thank YOU!

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A Chat with Collin Kelley

I know Collin Kelley because we share a publisher, Vanilla Heart Publishing. But getting to know him via Facebook and the VHP authors group, and by reading his books and poetry, I realized quickly Collin was the kind of person I’d want as a friend even if we didn’t share a publisher. He’s brilliant, funny, and outspoken. Recently, he agreed to sit down with me to discuss his novels and poetry. Here is that discussion:

Looking at your bio on your Website, your writing career began with you working as a journalist, and you also have an impressive publication resume as a poet. Having once been a journalist myself, I know how different it is from writing fiction or poetry. What did you find to be the most difficult part of transitioning from journalism to fiction writing?

Author and Poet Collin Kelley

I think journalism lends itself to writing poetry, because you learn to be concise and leave out extraneous words. With fiction, I had to learn to “write long.” Before Conquering Venus, I’d start a novel, get to about fifty or sixty pages and then wind up abandoning it because I’d already told the story. Adding details to set character, mood, and place as well as letting the story “simmer” until its conclusion are all things fiction writers have to learn at some point.

I have published quite a bit of poetry myself, but I find I have to be in a certain mood, a certain state of mind, in order to write poetry. Fiction, on the other hand, seems to just flow from my fingertips. How about you? Can you easily segue from poetry to fiction writing to journalism and back again? 

I have a rule: when I’m writing fiction, I read poetry; when I’m writing poetry, I read fiction. I don’t like to muddy the waters, so to speak, or be influenced by what I’m reading.

What a fabulous idea! I’d never thought of doing that, but it makes perfect sense. But please, go on; I didn’t mean to interrupt.

After writing a novel, slipping back into poetry can be difficult at first because my poems start turning into these epic narratives that go on for pages. I’ve been trying to finesse my poetry into shorter, tighter stanzas. Right now, long poems really bore me, but that’s not always the case.

Your latest novel, Remain in Light, is the second book in your Venus Trilogy, the first book being Conquering Venus. Remain in Light picks up with the same characters as the first book. Do you think Remain in Light stand on its own, or was your intention in writing it that people read the books in order? 

The Venus Trilogy is connected, but I’m writing the books so that they can be read in any order. The first two have different tones. Conquering Venus is more literary fiction/character study, while Remain In Light is more mystery/suspense. The third book will be a hybrid. I love the challenge of putting my characters into different, unexpected situations yet keeping their voice intact. There are so many dark and twisted secrets in Remain In Light, that it gave me a chance to really plumb the depths of each character, really bore down to their essence to see what makes them tick. I think, and what readers have told me, is that Remain In Light is the main story and Conquering Venus is almost like a prequel. I think that’s a great way to approach the books. The trilogy is a big puzzle and it won’t be clear until all three books are out, so solve it any way you like.

I know you have traveled to Paris and love the city; I assume inspiration for both books came from your travels. But what about the characters themselves? Did you meet an Irène, a Martin, a Diane? Or are all these complex and intriguing characters totally of your own creation?

Yes, I’ve been to Paris three times and I actually wrote part of Remain In Light while I was there in the summer of 2010. All the characters are amalgamations of people I know or have encountered. There’s an aspect of me in each one of them, too. I would say Irène was the most difficult to write because she’s the most unlike me—a sixty-something Parisian widow who survived the Nazi occupation and lost her husband in the student/worker riots in 1968. Her character required the most research, but I was helped immeasurably by watching the old French New Wave films with Jeanne Moreau and Catherine Deneuve. So, feel free to picture either of them when you’re reading Irène. The pushy, mouthy teacher is based on a couple of my friends, but I always picture her looking like actress Parker Posey. See, I’m casting my own film versions.

Remain in Light was just nominated for the prestigious 2012 Townsend Prize for Fiction. Congratulations, first of all! Where were you when you heard the news? Have you read any of the other nominated books? How do you feel, being in the company of these other nominated authors?

I was at work and received an email. I thought it was a joke. Keeping it a secret for two weeks until the official announcement was tough. I’ve read Amanda Kyle William’s The Stranger You Seek and Joshilyn Jackson’s A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty is on my coffee table right now. I want to read all of the other nominees, but I think they would agree that when you’re deep in the writing, editing, rewriting phase as I was with Remain In Light over the past year, reading other authors’ novels is a luxury. I’m thrilled to be in such fine company for 2012, and even more humbled to know that I’m nominated for an award won by some of my literary icons, like Alice Walker.

I love your poem “What I’m Wearing”, especially the line, “I’m casting off responsibilities and people like a warm coat”. The poem, to me, is about shrugging off stereotypes and the expectations of others, about being your own person—something it took me nearly 50 years to learn how to do, so I’m amazed someone as young as you can write about it so expertly. Have I summed the poem up accurately, in your mind?

It took me well into my 30s to learn to shrug off others’ expectations. Now, I pretty much do, say, and write whatever I want and damn the consequences. I don’t follow fads and I don’t write in form. Confessional poetry is on the outs right now, but will eventually swing back. My poetry is unapologetically confessional, but I also try to use my own experiences and observations to craft poems that are accessible and universal even as they mine my personal life. Anne Sexton is the master of this and I wouldn’t be a poet without her. “What I’m Wearing” is one of the poems in my forthcoming collection, Render, which will be published by Sibling Rivalry Press in April 2013.

How do you define poetry? What, to you, makes a cluster of words a poem and not simply a cluster of words?

For me, poetry is made when the words elicit an emotional response. There’s an ongoing argument about poetry being too “accessible”—that the rhythm and musicality is being stripped out of modern poetry. Jorie Graham has argued for more vagueness to give the reader a riddle to solve and leave the poem up for more loose interpretation. And that’s fine, but I think it drives people away from poetry.

I so agree! It amazes me when someone reads one of my poems and makes a comment about it, an observation, that I’d not seen myself. I also agree about people being driven away from poetry if they have to work too hard to figure it out. People read for relaxation—they don’t want their minds to be taxed to exhaustion. At least, that’s my opinion.

Agreed. Besides, even a so-called accessible poem is up for interpretation. Even when you think a poem is straightforward, a reader will apply his or her own emotion and experience to it.

Do you have any tricks or writing rituals you do before you write? Are those rituals different, depending on whether you are writing poetry, fiction, or a journalistic piece?

I must have music no matter what kind of writing I’m doing. I’ll put on Kate Bush, Bjork, Massive Attack, Miles Davis, Nina Simone, Vanessa Daou or the soundtrack of a great film like The Tango Lesson or The Portrait of a Lady. Sometimes I choose the soundtrack depending on what kind of mood I’m trying to set in what I’m writing at the moment. The right piece of music will help foster that. When I was finishing and editing Remain In Light, my sweet spot was 9 p.m. to 2 a.m., so I would often stream BBC Radio 2 from London. I even thanked the DJs in my acknowledgements for providing the soundtrack.

Your writing sweet spot starts at 9 p.m.? Good heavens! I’m sound asleep and dead to the world by then. I’m an early bird myself. I often wish, though, I was more of a night owl. I admire people who can write the night away. Less distractions, I would think.

Speaking of distractions, what do you like to do with your free time when you aren’t writing?

Vegging out on the couch watching movies, hanging out with friends and indulging in my wanderlust.

Where can people find you online?

The portal is my Website. You can read the blog, find links to buy my work (it’s available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords and many others). I’m also very active on Facebook ( and I’m a Twitter nut (@CollinKelley).

Thank you, Collin, for your time. It’s been delightful!

And thank you, Smoky, for your thoughtful questions.


Posted in author blogs, author interviews, blogging, books, fiction, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 14 Comments

Meet Juliet Waldron

I normally don’t review self-published books, and because I consider author interviews to imply an endorsement of the author’s book, I don’t normally interview self-published authors, either. But once in a while, I run across a book published on CreateSpace or one of the other self-publishing sites, and I am totally enchanted. Juliet Waldron’s wonderful historical novel, Mozart’s Wife, is one such book. Perhaps it is because I grew up listening to classical music. Perhaps it is because I’m married to a classical guitarist and musicologist who adores Mozart. Either way, I had to read Waldron’s book, and once I read the book, I had to interview the author herself.

So with no further ado, meet Juliet Waldron.

Let me start by telling you how much I enjoyed reading Mozart’s Wife. I’ve read several books recently about women from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries who were brilliant, strong, and independent, and yours ranks among the best.

Thanks, Smoky! When you’ve had to go the publishing route I have, you worry that your work won’t be taken seriously. Kind words about my Stanzi are genuine music to my ears.

Being married to a classical musician and college music professor, Mozart is a pretty common topic of conversation in my household. What led you to wanting to write about his wife, Constanze? From where did you get your inspiration? 

I confess, my inspiration was the movie Amadeus. My sons and my husband went to see an action/adventure starring Arnold Schwartznegger, while I went to see the “chick historical.” I emerged from the theater sobbing and totally obsessed. I simply had to find out how much of the movie was fictional and how much was the real deal. I spent the next decade researching and making preliminary stabs at the story. I knew I couldn’t work from Mozart’s perspective—I’m not that bright—so I picked the closest person to him, his “best beloved” Constanze. That led to an exploration of eighteenth century mores, especially the chattel position of women. Gender issues have always been of special interest.

What most endeared Constanze to you? 

Initially not much. Mozart’s biographers, especially the old-timers, were dismissive and condescending about his wife. What I first gathered from these gentlemen I put into in my book blurb: “giddy sugarplum or calculating bitch …?” In fact, Constanze is often hard to like, but after living inside her POV for all those years, I grew to understand the choices she made. She became my quintessential “hard-headed woman,” a lady who survived her husband’s career crash-and-burn and his catastrophic demise, then picked up the pieces and got on with her life. She’s not a romantic heroine, but there are plenty of women in the real world who can relate to her.

How did you go about researching this story? Did you read her letters and diaries? Were you fortunate enough to be able to travel to Vienna, Salzburg, or any of the other sites where the Mozarts lived? 

I never was able to make the pilgrimage to Salzburg or Vienna, although it was a burning desire, especially during my decade of Mozart obsession. Constanze did leave diaries, but at the time I was writing, these were not yet translated. Not that they would have helped much, because they are from her second marriage years, a time when she had more money and leisure. Tellingly, she never mentions Wolfgang.

I did most of the research in the State Library of Pennsylvania. (This was the 1980’s.) I first used what was the common English-language source, The Mozart Family Letters, translated by Emily Anderson. The documentary biography of O. E. Deutsch provided a host of interesting leads to follow up and a wealth of period detail.

Mozart’s Wife is a work of fiction, yet given how much is known about Constanze, would I be correct in assuming it is more biographical than not? Just exactly what about this book makes it a novel rather than a biography?

Mozart has plenty of books written about his life, but the old saw, “Anonymous was a woman,” still applied to his wife. A hint here, a mention there, had to do. Not long after starting, the simplest thing occurred to me, which was to track her illnesses (mentioned in Mozart’s letters) and the births and deaths of their children, which are part of the public record. I began to match Mozart’s compositional output with these events and with their many changes of residence. These helped me plaster my fiction over a bare bones biography.

Aside from his undisputed musical genius, what do you think Constanze loved about Mozart?

I don’t think she ever really understood how marvelous his music was, at least, not until after he was long dead and that same music continued to provide for her.  One of his German biographers, Wolfgang Hildesheimer, remarked that their relationship was “rooted in the deep earth of erotic understanding,” and I’d agree. Initially, Stanzi loved his romantic nature as much as she admired the bravery of his attempt to succeed in a big way without a patron. 

It’s a well-known fact Mozart was quite the womanizer. As a woman, why do you think Constanze put up with all of her husband’s dalliances? Do you think it’s just a sign of the times in which they lived? 

Mozart was a sensual man; he loved women and they loved him back, especially “his” prima donnas and piano pupils.  If they were talented—and sometimes even if they weren’t—he would write splendid music for them.  These women, in their way, became his instruments, objects through which he expressed immense creativity. The eighteenth century was famously libidinous, with one rule for men and another for women. Constanze was often pregnant and just as often seriously ill; she didn’t always have the strength to fight back against the current “other woman.” Later in their marriage, I think she went her own way, including the retaliatory affair.

The movie, Amadeus, made a big issue of Mozart being poisoned, and led viewers to believe that possibly his arch rival, Antonio Salieri, was behind his untimely death. Yet no one knows for certain how Mozart died. Poisoning is one theory, but there are musicologists—including my husband—who don’t buy the poisoning story. Other theories range from rheumatic fever to Vitamin D deficiency. What made you decide to go with poisoning as his cause of death? Was there a particular bit of research you did that led you to conclude he had indeed been murdered? 

Poor Salieri! He had no need to poison Mozart, as the “little man’s” career at court was, by that time, pretty much over. I read a book called Mozart and Constanze by Francis Carr, which I thought made a good case for his murder at the hands of the husband of one of his piano pupils.  There are, in fact, many odd things about his sudden demise and his throwaway burial that, for me, just didn’t seem right.  On the other side of the argument, Mozart’s medical history certainly indicates long-lasting problems. He might have died from kidney failure or from a strep infection. He had, after all, barely survived rheumatic fever and smallpox during childhood.

Juliet Waldron

Were you a fan of Mozart’s music before writing this book? If not, did this make you a fan? Do you have a favorite work of his? 

Yes. I grew up in a house with classical music. My mother was a huge opera fan, although in the fifties, that meant a lot of Puccini, Verdi, and Wagner. The only opera we had of his was the Marriage of Figaro. Mom also had Mozart piano concertos she liked.  After my “love affair” began, however, I collected his music. Sir Neville Marriner and the Academy of St. Martin-in-the Fields, Mitsuko Uchida, Jeffrey Tate and the English Chamber Orchestra, John Eliot Gardiner and the English Baroque Soloists, Alfred Brendel and Malcolm Bilson, became daily companions. I was also fortunate to be listening in an era when I could hear original instruments. Musical input accompanied writing the story.

I find it rather dismaying that Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber penned autobiographies that rank so much higher on Amazon than a book about Constanze Mozart. Classical music has a rather particular and limited fan base these days, unfortunately. Has that made it difficult to find an audience for the book?

Yes, Mozart’s Wife in many ways is a niche book, but it’s also an involving and recognizable human love story, one that could be set in any age.  People who like historical novels do keep finding it, so that’s a plus.

What are you working on now? Is there another work of historical fiction in the works, by any chance?

I’ve a bunch of files of ideas that have been percolating for years. All need re-editing. So much energy now goes to the inevitable blogging, a practice we’re all learning about. Maybe that’s all the big stuff there is. I thank the Muse for what she’s given.

Who are your three favorite authors, and your three favorite books, keeping in mind favorite books don’t necessarily have to be written by your favorite authors? What kind of book, in general, are you most drawn to reading? 

This is a tough one. I like historical fiction, but if I discover a compelling character, I needed also to learn what the academics have to say, so I’m split between fiction and non-fiction history. My fiction favorites change, with the exception of T. H. White, Jane Austen, and J.R.R. Tolkien. I loved Margaret Irwin’s historicals during my teen years. I’ve admired Henry Fielding, Margaret George, and, of course, Cecelia Holland. In the last decade I’ve binged on Perez-Reverte, and read Foucault’s Pendulum nineteen times in the bath.  A recent non-fiction favorite is Hengeworld by Mike Pitts.

Tell us a little bit more about Juliet, the person. What do you like to do when you aren’t writing? 

I like to walk. It clears the mind and straightens you out. I would like to travel more, although at my age it’s a hassle. This year I got to the UK for a couple of weeks to do some tourist things and then solo hike, which I really enjoyed. I’m a hermit cat lady, mostly, spending my days playing doorman and housekeeper for them and my husband. I watch too much BBC and too many movies, listen to music, ride my bike and putter outside in the summer and try to keep reading and growing.

Where can readers learn more about you?

The best place to start is at my Website, and the Mozart’s Wife Website. I’m also on Blogspot with my Cronehenge blog, and on Facebook.

Thank you, Juliet, for being with us. People, Mozart’s Wife is a wonderful read if you’re a fan of historical fiction, or a fan of Mozart, or both. I highly recommend it.

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A Talk With Debra Brenegan

I recently stumbled across the most amazing book; Shame the Devil, about 19th century writer Fanny Fern. I fell in love with Fanny from the start. In fact, midway through the book, I realized if I had lived in the same era as Fanny, I could have been her. (You can read my review of Shame the Devil here.)

Imagine my delight when I tracked down the author of this delightful book, and she agreed to an interview! Debra Brenegan is as amazing a woman as Fanny Fern herself, for she brought this all-but-forgotten woman to life again. I have thoroughly enjoyed talking with her, preparing for this interview. So without further ado, please say hello to Debra Brenegan.

I reviewed Shame the Devil on my Smoky Talks Books blog recently. What an amazing woman Fanny Fern was! She outsold Harriet Beecher Stowe, who was a friend of hers, and was well respected by literary giants like Nathaniel Hawthorne. So why is it I’d never heard of her before reading your book? Why has her star dimmed so throughout history?

I don’t think there is any one reason for this, but, rather a collection of possible reasons.  First, she wasn’t a literary writer, so when editors and scholars began formally and informally to assign works to the “canon,” she was probably passed over for being a popular writer.  Second, she was a woman, and, again, during the canon formation period, most of the attention went to white, male writers like Hawthorne, Melville, Thoreau, and, yes, Whitman.  Many women writers, along with many other marginalized writers, were forgotten about. Third, since the idea of women working and having careers in general was still considered unfeminine, even vulgar, during Fern’s life and in the years after it, she and her family were judged, sometimes harshly, for her endeavors.  When she died, she made it known that she wanted her literary fame to die along with her.  Her family, abiding by her wishes, didn’t encourage her literary memory in the same way that, say, Walt Whitman’s followers and fans did after he died.

How did you discover Fanny Fern? What made you feel compelled to write her story? With her being little known today, was researching her story challenging?

In graduate school, I took a nineteenth-century American Literature class with a professor who told me, “I know a writer you’re just going to love.”  This writer, Fanny Fern, wasn’t on our reading list that semester, so, he added her book, Ruth Hall, to the reading list of a course I took with him the next semester.  And, he was right; I adored her!  Fanny Fern was the highest-paid, most popular writer of her era.  She served as a literary mentor to Walt Whitman, earned the respect of Nathaniel Hawthorne and was friends with Harriet Beecher Stowe.  Fern’s personal life was a rollercoaster of highs and lows.  She was widowed, escaped an abusive second marriage, then married a third man, eleven years her junior.  I became so interested in Fern and her amazing life that I started writing papers about her.  I applied for and got a graduate school fellowship to visit Fern’s archives at Smith College in Massachusetts.  Luckily for me, she had relatives who saved loads of information about her.  Between the archival information and her own abundant writings, I found it wasn’t too hard to research her story.

While the basic facts of Shame the Devil are accurate, you did, of course, have to make up the dialogue. How did you get into your characters’ heads to imagine what they might have said to one another?

Fanny Fern

Fanny Fern left years of her columns behind, and her columns held her voice. She also frequently wrote about issues in her own life, so my imagined dialogue had ties to what she actually wrote.  In addition, she exchanged letters with many of the other characters featured in my novel, and, those letters also gave me insights about the voices of those characters.  I was also lucky that her granddaughter and her husband left detailed biographies about Fern that proved very helpful. I utilized all of these sources to suppose what the characters might have actually said to one another and to create the dialogue and scenes.

When I was reading this book, I kept thinking Fanny was much like I would have been had I lived in the middle 1800s. Do you think there is a little Fanny Fern in you? If so, what parts of Fanny do you see reflected in yourself?

A lot of people have had the same reaction you describe, and I think it’s because Fanny Fern’s characteristics are very human. She was flawed, yet genuine, not to mention progressive. I like to think I’d have had her courage and her perseverance, but, of course, one never knows. I do know that I could relate to her intense determination to get her writing published!

What do you hope readers take away with them after reading this book?

My number one reason for writing this book was to introduce Fanny Fern to readers who have never heard of her. I wanted her story to be known, and I wanted people to understand how amazing her professional and personal life was. I wanted to bring her back to life so that people understood not only what life was like for women in Fern’s era, but so they could see how our own society has (or hasn’t) changed regarding women’s expectations, obligations and roles.

You have an impressive list of short story credentials to your name, writing for such journals as Southern Women’s Review and a favorite of mine, Calyx: A Journal of Art and Literature by Women. Do you have a preference, writing short stories or novels? Why?

Lately, I like writing novels best. For at least right now, I find it immensely satisfying to work out the details of a long narrative and to create (or attempt to create) a coherent well-paced work with vivid characters. I enjoy writing short stories and poems, though, as well. Sometimes an issue, character or image comes to me and I want to explore it in a shorter form, so I’ll work on a short story or a poem. I also use poems and short stories to practice writing techniques and to experiment with style, narration, chronology, and voice.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading “The Last Triangle,” a short story that appeared in Calyx several years ago. It was written in second person POV, something I find challenging to read and even more challenging to write. Yet, you pulled it off beautifully. Why did you choose that point of view? Did you enjoy writing in second person?

I’m glad you liked the story!  It’s one of my favorites, too.  I specifically wrote that story to experiment with second person. I had a workshop professor tell us that second person is rarely used (rightfully so!) and that we should steer clear of it as much as possible.

I used to tell my own students that very same thing. And I’ve never been brave enough to attempt a second-person story myself.

I puzzled about this and decided to try to write a second-person story that would “work.” One of the problems associated with second person is that readers often reject “you” narratives because they don’t resonate perfectly with them. I thought if I created a narration that didn’t try for reader resonance, but instead, did the opposite, it might work.  I hoped that if readers would immediately know this story was, in fact, not about them, but was really a defensive version of a first-person narrative, that they would stop searching for resonance and would be able to fall into the story and accept it as they would a first person narrative, despite it being written entirely as a second person narrative.

You recently blogged about discovering you share your home not only with your husband, but a ghost as well. Any plans for turning this event into a book or short story?

I hadn’t thought about that possibility, but now that you mention it . . . hmmm.

With a BA in Journalism and an MA and PhD in Creative Writing, it would appear writing is in your blood. Do you remember what triggered your desire to become a writer? Was it a particular book, or teacher?

I was the kind of person who always loved to read and write, but it took me a while to understand that this was my calling—something I could, and should, do for a living. I started college as a medical technology major and did well in my math and science courses. One day, I was walking around campus in the rain and it hit me (almost like a bolt of lightning, but not literally) that I didn’t love my courses. I was enduring them. In fact, I missed my literature and writing courses and felt sad that I had left those behind me. I decided then and there to change majors and pursue a field I felt passionate about, even if I didn’t know if I could support myself or get a job as a writer.

What are your three favorite books of all time? What draws you to these books?

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë is the book I’ve read and taught more than any other book.  It’s also a book I haven’t gotten tired of. Every time I read it, I find new things to appreciate – sly humor, incredible details, excellent characterization, progressive vision, amazing plotting and just flat-out wonderful writing. I feel the same way about Toni Morrison’s Beloved and William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury. But, there are many other contenders for the top spots on my most-loved books list—I’ve listed many of my favorite authors on my website and sometimes blog about books I particularly enjoy.

Can you tell us a bit about what you are working on now?

I just finished a draft of another novel, tentatively titled Motherless.  It is a contemporary fiction piece from the perspective of a pregnant college student who decides to hide her pregnancy and have her baby in secret.  I just sent it to an agent who requested the first reading.  I, of course, have crossed all of my fingers and toes, hoping she will like it!  I also have a short story collection that is being considered by several publishers.

What do you like to do when you aren’t writing?

I love to bake—especially pies.  I also enjoy gardening, and traveling with my wonderful husband.

Where can we find you on the Web?

You can find my website at: and my blog at

Thank you, Debra, for your time today.

Thank YOU, Smoky, for the lovely interview . . . and for taking an interest in Fanny Fern and my book.

Posted in author interviews, books, fiction, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

A Chat With Morgen Bailey

My guest today is an author from Across the Pond who has become a great friend and supporter of me and other American authors. Morgen is witty, funny, smart, and spells words weird. (Okay, she doesn’t think she spells weird. She simply spells with British spellings, which are most definitely not weird if you are from Britain. Come to think of it, she probably thinks I’m the one who spells things weird!)

So with no further ado, let me introduce all y’all to Morgen Bailey.

Hello Smoky.

You recently said to me, “I write both dark and light.” What, exactly, does that mean?

Morgen Bailey

Ah yes, I did, didn’t I. I’m often asked what genre I write, and unlike a lot of authors, I don’t stick to one or two (an agent’s nightmare) but do tend to either write grim (which I’ve learned not to show my mother) or humorous (which I do show her sometimes if it’s light and fluffy enough) and sometimes a mix of both, if that makes sense. I read crime and chick-lit so I suppose it does make sense that my writing would reflect both ends of the spectrum, although my dark side takes over more often.

You have a wonderful bit of fiction on your Website, a piece called The Threadbare Girl. ( What beautiful writing! Yet, I assume, this falls into your “dark” category of writing. You say this is an extract, an excerpt. Can you talk about this story? Is it complete? Where did the inspiration for it come?

Thank you Smoky.  I actually wrote this for day 11 of Story A Day May ( where we’re given a prompt each day for a month. That day the prompt hadn’t come in by 5pm UK time (it’s an American site) so I decided I’d better write something anyway. I was in the bathroom and for some reason I have two clocks in there and the house was so quiet (there’s normally only myself and the dog to make noise so it often is) and I noticed that they weren’t in sync and that’s when the first line came to me. It’s not complete, far from it in fact, and the piece I wrote the next day is the end (so I need to write a middle!); having been given the prompt of ‘reunion’ it fitted in nicely. The stories I wrote for that project are actually due out any day as an eBook. Having only ever done NaNoWriMo ( in such a short amount of time and then I had the month rather than having to write every day from something someone else gave me, I’m rather proud of it (it has some gems).

The first piece of fiction you ever published was a 60-word flash fiction piece. Here it is:

“Deep Pan 12-inch Hawaiian, delivered please.” Alex was starving. Moving house, he’d skipped lunch. He thought of his ex-girlfriend, Jane, and sighed. Landing a high-powered job had gone to her head and she’d kicked him out of her flat. His doorbell rang. He got his money and opened the door. The delivery driver, horrified, dropped the pizza. Alex smiled. “Hello Jane.”

It was. You’ve done your research.

Thank you. I pride myself in researching authors before interviewing them. But go on; this is about you, not me!

I sent a page of about a dozen 60-worders to Woman’s Weekly, and a few weeks later saw it in their October 2006 Fiction Special (then received the cheque a few days later). I’d called it ‘Deep Pan Payback’ and they’d called it ‘Payback’. I naïvely thought, being the first on the page I’d submitted, that they’d then work their way through the page but they stopped accepting 60-worders after that. Chat magazine used to publish 55-worders but stopped so; these days there isn’t much call for short flash fiction in the UK other than online, which is a shame.

I agree—I love flash fiction. It’s an art form unto itself. I’m a former writing instructor; I often had students write flash fiction in class, but rarely were they able to put so much into so few words, as you do here. Do you enjoy writing flash fiction? What type of writing do you most enjoy?

Oh, thank you. I’ve since written a long version with Jane and her friend dancing to Adam Ant’s “Stand & Deliver,” which was fun, but yes, I love doing flash, and I found with the 60-worders that the more I wrote, the closer I’d get to the word count on the first attempt. They’re great discipline for editing, keeping it tight.

That’s exactly why I used to have my students write so many flash fiction pieces.

My favourite format really is the monologue. It’s great literally getting inside a character’s head and not being able to stray. I adore second person viewpoint, which few people enjoy reading or writing, so it’s not popular, and editors tend to avoid them, but the joy of releasing your own eBooks is that you can reach an audience directly. Second person indulges my dark side and they don’t suit longer pieces so again it’s good for keeping the writing strict.

You say you don’t consider yourself a poet, yet you have a poem on your Website called Three Quarters of a Whole that is quite lovely. If you aren’t a poet, what inspired you to write this piece? Do you have to be in a certain mood to write poetry?

The poem revolves around a dusty picture of my father, brother and myself and I wrote the piece for college having just blitzed my loft and found the picture, with tiny dead flies under the glass. I think poetry is a lot deeper than I can write. Mine tends to be quite humorous and only last night I read out a rhyming piece to my critique group (which included three poets) and they really liked it and surprisingly had nothing to change on it, but then I had already told them that I’d entered it into a writing magazine poetry competition so perhaps too late to tweak anyway. It sit in awe when they read their poetry out and don’t usually have a lot to say, which is not like me. I’ve never had any formal poetry training, so I keep thinking that I should at least do a day course on it, but my first love is prose, so I think I have enough ideas for that, that maybe I’ll move on to poetry if I run out. I find with writing I’ll get an idea (often from a newspaper article—the quirkier the better) and write about it rather than sit and wait for inspiration. I’m lucky I rarely get writer’s block. If I get stuck on something I just do something else and pick up where I left off when I come back to it. Reading out loud helps. It’s time I struggle with but I’m going freelance after Christmas so maybe it’ll be different if I have to write to order. I tend to write poetry for competitions or submission opportunities rather than for pleasure (as such) and I’m far better when given a theme and deadline (see earlier references to NaNoWriMo and Story A Day) and perhaps having the mortgage payments looming will actually help.

What are you working on right now? Do you work on multiple projects at the same time, or are you a one-at-a-timer?

I’m just doing the final touches to five eBooks that I’m planning to submit to Smashwords and Amazon this week (which may even be live when this interview comes out)—a writer’s block workbook, the Story A Day May collection, and three short stories (monologue, second person and third person, all from forthcoming collections). After that it’ll be NaNoWriMo whilst some editing of other pieces to go off to my editor so she isn’t waiting for me for too long. I’ll then have all my earlier work to go through and previous three NaNoWriMo books (which will probably end up as novellas), so I’d say multiple but will probably submit to Rachel one at a time, so yes to that question.

What inspired you to become a writer? Was it a particular book, or teacher?

I’d always loved reading (Stephen King with a torch under the duvet in my teens) and English was my best subject at school, but it wasn’t until I’d moved and went to evening classes to meet new people that I took up a creative writing workshop (having brushed up on the languages/computing skills) with crime writer Sally Spedding ( and I was hooked, to the point where I’d send out Morse code messages to dog walkers on the green in my close by, switching the light on and off, so often waking up with ideas. That was six years ago, and I’m hooked more than ever. My mum said recently that I shouldn’t let it take over my life, but I didn’t like to say she was a few months too late. Sally moved to Wales in 2008 and I took over her group and we’re still going strong. We’re two groups now actually; the original critique and a writing workshop (sometimes the only time in the week that I actually write something!).

What are the last three books you read? What are you reading right now? What are the next three books on your “To read” list? What made you choose these books?

Most recent was Stephen Booth’s Blood on the Tongue, because I interviewed him for my blog. That’s become a bit of a recurrence (previous were Adrian Magson’s No Peace for the Wicked, Matt Hilton’s Cut and Run, and next is Trisha Ashley’s Winter’s Tale). I also have a few of Katie Forde’s because she’s our head judge for the H.E. Bates writing competition ( I’ve not yet plucked up the courage to invite her for an interview, not sure why as we’ve been nattering away in our emails, maybe I will when I meet her in January. I do say on my blog and in my info. pack that I can’t review authors’ books because I do an interview a day (plus guest blogs, spotlights etc) so superhuman as I am (according to some fellow LinkedIn members) I only have so much time, but if I have an author’s book already I’ll certainly try to read a chunk. I rarely read Christmas books so I really want to this Christmas, and Trisha’s Twelve Days of Christmas is top of the list. I love anthologies and novellas, so there are a few of those vying for my attention … the quirkier the better.

You have a very active blog, where you interview a wide variety of writers. What have you learned from the people you have interviewed?

Ah thank you. I’ve been surprised by how many budding authors there are. I am encouraged, however, how many are already writing full-time, so despite so many people saying that books are dead, I think there’s been no better time to be a writer. eBooks give an author so much freedom. Yes, it means that there’s a lot of dross out there, but I still think that reviews will be the clincher, as an author can only have so many friends and family. I’m also surprised by how different people’s answers have been. I thought that by asking the same questions (although I’ve added a few over the weeks) that I’d end up getting the same answers, but pretty much every one is refreshingly different.

Tell us about Morgen when she has her wordsmith switch turned off. What do you like to do when you aren’t writing or reading?

<laughs heartily> see earlier reference to ‘obsession’.  I share my house with my 11-on-Boxing Day (or thereabout, he’s a rescue) Jack Russell / Cairn-cross so they need attention every now and then but he gets much more than the house does. I’m sure if it wasn’t for my writing group descending on me every Monday night I’d be ankle-deep in dust. Given the choice of Hoovering or writing, you can tell which would win. I can walk the dog whilst reading, writing or editing, but I’ve not quite mastered that while Hoovering. I am a fan of the cinema and either go on my own Tuesday lunchtimes (after my weekly stint at my local Red Cross shop’s ‘book lady’) or with some non-writing friends from Meet Up (, but they know I write so the conversation usually swings round to that at some stage. I also analyse films (I wrote the beginning of a script for Script Frenzy ( April 2010 and whilst I didn’t enjoy the process, it’s opened my eyes to how scripts work. I’m a bit like that with books too and am forever jotting down phrases I like (not to use, obviously) or else stick in those little legal tabs so the book ends up looking like a multi-coloured hedgehog by the time I’ve finished. Almost every author has recommended reading as it really does help. Too many people worry they’re going to plagiarise by mistake, but I don’t have that good a memory.

If money were no object, where in the world would you most like to travel? What is your dream adventure?

It depends on whether an airplane was involved. I’m not one to lie on a beach for too long, but a hot Jamaican sandy one is appealing. I get terrible travel sickness so if I could get there instantly that would certainly be a top three. I like to explore, so Egypt would be an experience. I’m easily pleased so if I could have my friends, dog, and computer with me I’d be happy. I did spend my birthday this year (mid-August) on a sunny beach in Norfolk, and I think I’m falling in love with that county. I’d previously had visions of having a second home near Brighton on the southern Sussex coast, but think I might have to aim for three!

You are throwing a dinner party, and you can invite six authors, musicians, or artists from any time in history. Who would you invite, and why? Which two of these would you wish to sit next to?

The two are easy; Roald Dahl and Kate Atkinson. Roald’s Tales of the Unexpected have always been a favourite, and I first learned of Kate at a college course back in … let me check (it was just before Case Histories came out) … ooh, she’s been made an MBE this year, I didn’t know that! … 2003/2004, thank you Wikipedia, and have loved her writing ever since. She released Started Early, Took the Dog on my birthday last year, which was very kind of her.

So they’d be two of the six. I think Stevie Wonder would be really interesting and give a good insight into the five senses that us writers rely on. Salvador Dali and Jack Vettriano are my favourite artists, but I’d go for Salvador for his mind. I wouldn’t call them my favourite group as I have such varied taste, but I have more Pink Floyd on my iPod than any other so I’d probably have them playing in the background (and they’ve done some really quirky stuff). Angus Young from AC/DC would liven the evening up if it threatened to get a bit dull. I’d love to ask Agatha Christie where she disappeared to in December 1926 but I’d love to write like her (and have been told by a few agents that I should write crime) so if she didn’t want to tell me I’d just pick her brain for her voice.

Is there anything you’d like to tell my readers I haven’t asked you about?

I can flip a stack of coins (I think 11 is my record) off the back of my right elbow and bark like a seal. Not sure why. Oh, and I can swim upside down underwater. I did say I was weird. Maybe I didn’t, but it would explain a few things.

Where can we find you on the Web?

My blog is the heart of my online presence.

Thank you Morgen, for stopping by. You’ve been a delight, as always!

Thank you Smoky, it’s been fun being on the receiving end and the dinner party question really got me thinking.

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A Chat With Malcolm R. Campbell

Let me start off today by making it clear that Malcolm is not only a fellow Vanilla Heart author, he is also a dear friend of mine. That in no way affected what I asked him, and I don’t believe it affected how he answered my questions. Even if he were not a dear friend, I would highly recommend his books, especially The Sun Singer and his most recent book, Sarabande. I, too, am a former journalist; we learn to set aside our personal feelings to get to the heart of the story. I believe I have done that here, chatting with Malcolm. I hope by the time you finish reading this, you’ll want to check out his books, because they are fabulous.

You started off your writing career as a journalist and a technical writer. As a former journalist myself, I know how hard it is to change from writing “just the facts, ma’am” to being able to write wildly creative fantasy, as you do in both The Sun Singer and Sarabande. How were you able to turn off that part of your brain that allowed you to write only news stories so that your creative imagination could take over?

I seem to be able to adapt to multiple styles and formats rather automatically. Perhaps this is similar to people who can sit down at the piano and switch from Scott Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag” to Chopin’s Polonaise in A-Flat Major without missing a beat.

Ooh, I like that analogy! That explains a lot.

Yes; I “hear” the cadence of each writing style inside my head whether it’s a grant application, a news release or a novel.

The Sun Singer, Allerton Park

The Sun Singer was inspired by a statue by the same name at Allerton Park in Monticello, Illinois. I’ve been fortunate enough to visit Allerton, and it is indeed inspiring—but I was in my forties when I first saw The Sun Singer. You were quite a young boy, were you not? What was it about that statue that stuck with you for so many decades and inspired you to write your novel?

All of the mythic statuary in the park played into the experience. I was at an age where I knew little about myths or sculpture. As you know, the Sun Singer is huge, so with the sun shining on it where it stood rather alone in a meadow, it made quite an impression—psychic, almost. A violent thunderstorm rolled through the park as we were getting our things together to leave after dark. Watching out the car window, the centaur, fu dogs and other statues seemed to be moving when they came in and out of view with the lightning flashes.

Fu Dog, Allerton Park

That would be terrifying for a child!

That experience morphed into nightmares later about being chased by the statues, or beasts like the statues, with the exception of the Sun Singer. As a writer, it was easy to imagine taking this one step further into fantasy and magic.

Both The Sun Singer and Sarabande (as well as your nonfiction, historical short, Bears: Where They Fought) take place at least partly in Glacier National Park. I know you worked there as a young man. How did your experience working in the park influence your writing about it? How difficult did you find it to change the park into an alternate world, as it is in parts of the novels?

I “see” and “feel” magic—or psychic impressions—everywhere, so it’s easy to write about the streams and mountains in Glacier Park’s Swiftcurrent Valley as it is in our science and technology world or as it might be in Pyrrha’s alternate universe of magic and “old religion” focus. For years, I intended to live near the park. Since it’s my favorite place, I set the novel there because I knew no place better.

As much as I enjoy reading about Glacier’s beauty in your books, you write so well about our natural world, I’d love to read anything you might write about other places of natural beauty. If you could travel to, and set a story in, any other place of exquisite wonder and beauty on the planet, where would it be? What draws you to that locale?

If I could travel anywhere, I would go to K2 (Chogori), the world’s second highest mountain, in the Karakoram Range along the Pakistan/China border and climb up at least to the base camp level and just breathe in the thin air and the wonderment. I grew up reading books about the first Mt. Everest climbs and then later began reading about the other peaks that were the focus of so many expeditions. Such mountains speak to me, perhaps in a manner similar to other people hearing messages in jazz or the blues or certain artists’ paintings. David Ward, my protagonist, in Garden of Heaven: an Odyssey, climbs K2 and then writes a novel about it called Chogori of the Winds. He did what I dreamt about doing.

I love the roles animals play in your books, especially Sikimí, the black Friesian stallion who can fly. What a magnificent creature he is! How does your own relationship with animals affect your writing? Do you think you could write as well about animals if you didn’t have a special relationship of some sort with them?

In many ways, my characters are living out the life I expected to lead. I have always loved mountains and horses. Perhaps it’s because I remember the family moving from Oregon to north Florida when I was six, and how sad it made me feel to leave—and how upset I was, even in grade school, to learn that the move wasn’t just a temporary change. The west draws me like a magnet. The animals I use are often my own totem animals or those that I’ve seen often and feel comfortable talking about.

In Sarabande, a coyote plays a prominent role. Did you consider using any other animal to play coyote’s role, like a raven, or snake? Why was coyote chosen?

Coyote just showed up. I intentionally mentioned her during a healing ceremony in the first part of the book. I had no idea she planned to become a strong character later in the story. Sikimí (the black horse) and Raven first showed up in The Sun Singer and had also strong roles in Garden of Heaven: an Odyssey. I personally like coyotes as animals and as tricksters in native mythologies, so perhaps I invited her into Sarabande subconsciously.

There is a spiritual element to both The Sun Singer and Sarabande that is just beautiful, and reminds me very much of my personal spiritual beliefs and practices. How do your own spiritual beliefs and practices affect what and how you write?

What I believe doesn’t have the name of a sect, system, or religion attached to it. The spiritual nature of people, animals, plants, landforms, bodies of water, etc. is basic, I think, to what they are and what they are about. The symbols and metaphors I use in the books are a convenient way of communicating the “inner life of the world;” the archetypes for ways of being are so deeply engraved within us, that when I use a symbol such as “moon” or “light,” I know that people already have a feeling about it and will, I hope, resonate with the numinous side of the world in the story. The Huna (Hawaiian mysticism) belief that there is nothing that is not God, is very close to what I feel.

Let’s switch focus here. You’re also the author of the book, Jock Stewart and the Missing Sea of Fire. That book should come with a warning label: “Do not drink beverages of any kind while reading this book,” or some such thing. I nearly spewed coffee or Diet Coke on more than one occasion reading it, because it is hysterically funny! You are a gifted satirist. Is this a natural talent, or did you have to work hard to develop it?

My father and middle brother stunned the family senseless with an unending barrage of puns while I was growing up. So, I had to learn the craft. Those who know me in real life see me doing the same thing without really intending to be doing it. That is, it’s natural to me to see double meanings, symbols, and “what if?” questions about everything. In a way, it feels like I’m seeing colors others aren’t seeing because the multiple meanings of a word or phrase are so obvious to me that I can’t help but think of dark/humorous/sarcastic interpretations of the most innocent and mundane things I read or hear in conversation.

Tell the truth: are you Jock Stewart? Or perhaps I should ask, is Jock Stewart you?

In my novels, I am essentially the David Ward character; he’s the protagonist in Garden of Heaven: an Odyssey, my randomly autobiographical, magical realism novel. I see David/Malcolm as like Dr. Jekyll and Malcolm/Jock as rather like a beautifully and expediently warped Mr. Hyde. David/Malcolm reels the world too strongly and uses Jock Stewart as a defense, a way of pushing it away when it becomes too much.

The Sun Singer and Sarabande are fantasy realism; Jock Stewart and the Missing Sea of Fire is both a mystery and a satire. What led you to write in these genres? Would you want to write a book in a different genre, such as historical fiction, or suspense?

I don’t understand the whole genre thing and see those labels as something pasted onto a short story or a novel from the outside. I know that genres have morphed into minor religions, each with gods, goddesses, dogmas, sins, rituals, heavens and hells. When I look at the guidelines for magazines and publishers with a rabid focus on a genre or sub-genre, my eyes glaze over. Obviously, a lot of writers have written some great stuff by consciously adhering to genre rules and regs. But just thinking of such things makes me feel like I’m in a straightjacket. I simply see a story that looks and feels compelling to me without a clue whether it’s in one genre or another. Based on how others see my writing, my comfort area is contemporary fantasy and magical realism—or so I hear.

What are the last three books you’ve read? What are you currently reading? What are the next three books on your “to read” pile? And what led you to choose these books?

First up on my “to be  read” pile is Erin Morgenstern’s The Night  Circus, followed by Donald T. Williams’ collected poems in, Stars Through the Clouds and Lisa Mantchev’s Perchance to Dream. Right now, I’m reading Beth Sorensen’s romantic mystery Divorcing a Dead Man, the second in her Thomas Hall Series. I recently read The Help, Unbroken: World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption and The Tiger’s Wife.

What draws you to a book? What must it have to maintain your interest? Are you one of those people who, once he’s started reading, feels he has to finish a book, or will you toss one aside if it fails to meet your expectations?

The characters, plot, and setting must draw me into a world that feels just as real as our own whether it’s Stephen Donaldson’s epic fantasy series, The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, Lisa See’s historical novel, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, or Stieg Larsson’s popular murder mystery trilogy that began with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. These novels have little in common except for compelling stories and characters; I am drawn in by a wide variety of fiction except for occult, erotica, steamy romances, and detective stories.

What do you like to do when you aren’t writing? (And don’t say “Mow the lawn.” We’re Facebook friends, and I know better.)

I read a lot. Surprised? When we can, Lesa and I like to hike the trails along the Blue Ridge Parkway between Mt. Mitchell and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We also enjoy the trails and settings of Asheville’s Biltmore Estate. Here in Jefferson, Georgia, I was active on the Historic Preservation Commission, chairing it for three years. I also mow the lawn.

What’s next for you? Is there another spin-off from The Sun Singer in you? I, for one, would sure love to read such a book.

I’d like to see how readers respond to Sarabande before writing another novel in that series. My inclination would be to continue that storyline by having the grandfather character from The Sun Singer return to the mountains.

Did you hear that, readers? He needs you to respond favorably to Sarabande before he writes another novel in that series. I have pretty discriminating taste in books, and I can tell you: The Sun Singer and Sarabande are fabulous books. Please, please read them!

Now, where were we? Oh, yes: where can readers find you on the Internet?

I can be found at my website as well as my Malcolm’s Round Table blog. My books are available in multiple e-book formats on Smashwords, on Amazon as trade paperback and Kindle, on Barnes & Noble as trade paperback and Nook, and at other online resellers such as Powell’s.

Thank you, Malcolm!

I had a good time stopping by for a chat, Smoky.

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Meet Robert Hays

Robert Hays is another author with Vanilla Heart Publishing, who publish my books. He also is a former student of mine–the best student I ever had, as a matter of fact. I’m almost as proud of him as he is himself of his four novels! Meet Robert Hays:

You started off a journalist, and have been a journalism professor for many years. Having once been a journalist myself, I know how different writing fiction is. What did you find to be the most difficult part of transitioning from journalism to fiction writing? Why did you decide to become a novelist after such a successful journalism career?

I think the most difficult part simply was allowing myself the freedom to be creative. As you know, journalism—especially newspaper reporting—is highly structured. The writing must be concise and direct, strictly functional. After many years of this it was not easy to let myself expand into the less formalized structure of fiction and to take my time letting plot, characters, and settings develop. I had always wanted to write fiction but never had the time until I retired from teaching.

The military plays important roles in your first two novels, Circles in the Water and The Life and Death of Lizzie Morris. Can you talk a little bit about how your own experiences influenced these beautiful books?

 These two novels were greatly influenced by my own experiences in two ways. In the case of Circles in the Water, I drew heavily on my military service. Military experience is intense in so many ways, and inevitably leaves lasting memories. Much of the setting and to some extent the plot in Circles reflects my experiences after having volunteered for the draft at age 20 and served in the Army at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, where I had a number of airborne soldiers as friends. The Life and Death of Lizzie Morris draws on things I learned while collaborating with retired Army General Oscar Koch on the military history, G-2: Intelligence for Patton. This includes virtually everything in the story relating to Bradley Morris’s combat experiences.

Your first two novels were based on realism; your third novel, The Baby River Angel, took on a surprising element of the paranormal. What made you decide to attempt something so different?

 In truth, it was not a conscience decision. I expected the story that turned out to be Baby Angel to be a real-world novel, and in terms of setting and characters it is. For example, I did serious research on fishing in the Ohio River, and I have had experiences with river flooding. The swing to the paranormal came early, though, when I had to decide: Where did this abandoned baby come from? That decision, once I’d made it, set the direction for the way the plot developed.

While I have read and loved all four of your novels, in my opinion, your last novel, Blood on the Roses, is your finest to date. It simply stunned me. Set in the rural South during the racially tense 1950s, the book is both a mystery and a commentary of the social and political atmosphere of the times. Can you tell us a little bit about how you came up with the story, and what made you decide to write about this time in American history?

This is a long story, and once again the answers reflect personal experience. As a young man who witnessed formal, public-policy racial segregation in the South in the 1950s, I was left with indelible impressions of its injustices. Some of the events in Blood on the Roses are dreadful to read, but I know they are an authentic representation of life in that time and place. I decided to write the story after finding how little my students in recent years—the best and brightest of their generation—actually knew about this ugly period in American history. I felt that it is important for these young men and women to know this history if they are to understand how much progress we’ve made in race relations and at the same time be prepared to guard against any regression. If you’ll permit a personal reference, I wrote about my own experiences in a newspaper column published in May and accessible at:

What do you think is the most important thing for your books to do: to entertain, to educate, to instill moral values, or to enlighten? Why?

First, I hope my books entertain. It is a bonus if they educate readers in some way as, for example, Circles in the Water might do in regards to the effects of hydrocodone addiction or, as I’ve just noted earlier, Blood on the Roses might do in regards to knowing our past. I think it would be the ultimate in hubris to think that I might or should try to instill moral values or enlighten my readers.      

What inspires you?

I’m inspired by good stories. These may come from books, from newspapers or other news media, or through conversations with friends in the coffee shop. Wherever. For me, the best literature is about ordinary people living ordinary lives in ordinary settings, who respond to events and circumstances as best they can. I am a firm believer that heroes are made, not born.

You speak so often and so lovingly about your wife, Mary. What parts of Mary have you woven into your characters?

Mary was in many ways the model for Lizzie in The Life and Death of Lizzie Morris—making that a difficult story for me to write. I wanted both her strength of character and her physical beauty to be seen in Lizzie. There is some of Mary also in Colletta in Circles in the Water. In this instance, I was imagining her as a child and teenager because I did not know her then!

What are your three favorite novels of all time? What about them makes them your favorites?

This is a hard call and my answer often changes. I think The Grapes of Wrath will always stand as my favorite, with its powerful story and strong characters. To Kill a Mockingbird would probably rank as my second choice. It is as close to being a perfect novel as anything in literature. For Number 3, I suppose there is about a 100-way tie: everything from ancient works like The Iliad through classics such as Beau Geste to contemporary novels like the works of Kent Haruf. And so very many I have yet to read!

What do you do for pleasure when you aren’t writing?

I’ve always liked to travel, but don’t do much of it anymore. I love gardening, but don’t do much of that anymore, either. I love music. I love to read. I love spending time with Mary doing little or nothing. I love to teach and keep getting called back to fill in when emergencies arise—but this year finally declined. I love to drive and just recently bought a new Jeep Grand Cherokee. I love life and find great pleasure in many, many things.

What’s next for you?

I’ve just turned back to non-fiction, starting a biographical memoir about General Oscar Koch. He was General George S. Patton’s intelligence officer in World War II and is truly one of the war’s unsung heroes. I had the privilege of having him as a friend and collaborator, and I feel compelled to pay him at least a small portion of the credit he’s due.

Where can readers find more about you and your books?

My blog and Website can be found right here on WordPress. My books can be found both in print and in Kindle format at Amazon, and in multiple eBook format at Smashwords.

Thank you, Robert, for being with us today.

Thank you, Smoky, for allowing me this opportunity to express myself!



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Meet Janet Lane Walters

It isn’t every day you meet an author who has published nearly 40 books. Then again, if you’re an author with Vanilla Heart Publishing, which I am, you get used to being in distinguished company. So today, meet Janet Lane Walters:

You wrote your first story on a manual typewriter; you sold your first story in 1968. What was that story about? How different is your writing now from that first story told 43 years ago?

Had to really think back since there were a few short stories written around that time. The first story if I remember correctly was about a night nurse who was a very lonely person and the friendship she established with a dying man during her duty on the night shift. It was called “A Small Smile” and had a lot of bathos. I’m not sure my writing is much different except that I have become a better writer and I can no longer write short stories. I even have trouble with novellas. I tend to think from sixty thousand words and upward.

According to your author page at the Vanilla Heart Publishing Website, you’ve published 39 novels and novellas. Looking back over your long career, are there any stories you now wish you could change? Perhaps end differently, or something different about a character?

Guess what? I’m not sure how many I’ve written. I don’t really keep track, especially with the novellas sneaking in. I have never wanted to change any story I’ve written. I feel each one is the best that I could do at the time. I’ve never read any of my own books after I’ve finished with the edits from my editors. I sort of feel “It’s a wrap.” To change a story would mean completely rewriting the story. I once had an editor on a “rights back” book want extensive changes. She didn’t like the short scenes but wanted longer ones. I tried and I couldn’t do this because the story as it was written was the way I wanted to write it from the beginning. Since I know the ending before I begin the story changing the ending wouldn’t appeal. Often it’s the last scene that arises complete before I start. About the characters, unfortunately or fortunately, I love them all, and each one, in my view, is the right character for the story

Your author page says you use astrology to develop your characters. I know in your fantasy novel, The Warrior of Bast, Tira’s adventure in an alternate universe begins with having her horoscope cast by two elderly women. Besides this obvious example of your use of astrology, how do you use this fascinating science to develop your characters?

I use astrology when developing them and have layers established. Here’s what I do. I sit with my astrology books, the ones I purchased when I was doing horoscopes for fun and a bit of profit. I know the kind of story I’m writing. For The Warrior of Bast, I was looking for characters with fire signs. In this case I had decided each would have an Aries sun. They are destined to become warriors. The sun sign tells a person’s inner nature and is involved in their goals in life. Something they may or may not show to others. Then I looked for the moon signs. These show the emotional response. This gives action and reaction or motivation. Then I come to the ascendant, which characterizes the side the person shows the world. This brings in conflicts. The characters in The Warrior of Bast have the same sun sign, and ascendants. Their moon signs are different. But if one looks at a number of aspects of their characters, you can see how they are almost like twin characters. I’m doing the same thing with the next book in the series. The Chosen of Horu. Here they are again fire signs but this time Leos who are destined to become rulers. Not sure if this makes much sense but it works for me.

In addition to being an accomplished author, you’re a registered nurse with many years of medical practice behind you. Your latest Vanilla Heart title, Healwoman, is a fantasy. Norna, the protagonist, must use her newly developing skills as a healwoman to save Shandor, the man she loves, when he is brutally injured. Of course, Norna has no modern hospital, no antibiotics or painkillers, at her disposal. How did your nursing training help you write the healing scenes in this book in a believable manner?

I use a good bit of my experience as a nurse in what happens in a lot of my books. I also use my interest in psychic healing. I also have research books like the Merck’s Manual that can give me a bird’s eye on the symptoms I need for the stories I tell. So when writing the fantasies, I combine the modern with my knowledge and experience in psychic healing.

If you couldn’t express your creative side through storytelling, how would you express it? Is there another artistic medium you’ve ever wished to pursue—or possibly already do pursue?

If not storytelling, I would write music. In fact, I have composed some pieces that were performed, but I came to the study of music and forms too late in life to really undergo the training needed. There is also the fact that I don’t play an instrument.

If you could invite six authors from any time in history over to your house for dinner, who would you invite? Who would sit next to whom, and what would you wish to talk about with them?

As to where they would sit, I think I would want a round table. I would invite Jane Austen, Leo Tolstoy, James Rollins, Jane Toombs, Mary Jo Putney, and Piers Anthony. There are probably a few others I would like to include. Six seems like a small dinner party. I do like casts of thousands.

Could you please list links where people can find you?

Here the reader can find every book and short story available and also the buy buttons. But I’ll add some of the more popular ones.

Would you please share an excerpt from Healwoman with us?

Since I always like to start at the beginning, here is the opening scene.



Part One


1 The Hodara of Healing in Bethsada

 Mabe sat on one of the stone benches in the Grotto.  The Eldest had called her here and she didn’t know why.  She didn’t think she had done anything to deserve a judging, but why else would the god and goddess want her presence?  Soon, the moon would rise and she would dip her hands in the chill waters of the crater lake.  Midra and Midran would speak.  The only time she had heard their voices had been the night she’d finished her training and had been accepted as a Healwoman.  She rubbed her hands along her arms.

The Eldest touched her shoulder.  “The time is near.  There are things I must tell you.”

“Are you sure ’tis me they want?”

“You are part of their plans for the future.”  The old woman smiled. “In the days of yore, the Three of Midra–Seer, Warrior, Healer–united with their mates.  Together they defeated those who embraced the dark faces of Midra and Midran.  For a time, the priestesses and priests who served the god and goddess walked in the light and brought miracles to the land.  But as time rolled on its circular path, what was once came again.  The dark face of Midra enthralled the priestesses.  They turned from the light.  Then the power of the goddess faltered.  Midran drew his priests into the shadows.  Still, what was will come again.”

Mabe nodded.  She’d read the old tales kept in the archives.  She had found them fascinating, but were they true?  They told of the days when the face of the goddess had darkened.  ’Twas then the Healwomen had walked away from the temples to found their own place.  In the years that followed, the temples had ruled and men had little power in ruling any of the four divisions of the land now known as nomes.  Gradually, the priests of Midran had gained strength, first in the light.  Then they had embraced the dark face of the god.

She glanced at the dome over the cavern.  Rays of moonlight shone through the four crescent shaped holes, one for each nome.  Keltoi, Sippal, Nilos and Incal.  Bands of color–red, yellow, blue and white–spread across the water.  The arrival of the colors never failed to startle and amaze Mabe. What caused them to appear?  She turned to the Eldest.  “What do the legends have to do with me?”

“One will come from Keltoi.  She is a daughter of this nome.  Her lineage rises from the Seer, the Warrior, the Healer and their spouses.  She will have four talents and will be the gleaner who finds the Four and Four. One pair for each nome.  They will bring light from darkness.  You will seek and find her.  Bring her to Bethsada so she can enter the hodara and learn.”

Mabe nodded and accepted the task.  She felt both humbled and excited to be chosen.  “When do I leave?”

The Eldest rose.  “The god and goddess will tell you when.”  She placed her hands on Mabe’s head.  “Seek their blessing.  Their commands are for you alone.”

Once the shuffling footsteps of the old woman no longer echoed, Mabe closed her eyes.  Her thoughts turned inward.  She had hoped to remain in Bethsada and join the other women who taught in the hodara.  Though her talents in Earth and Fire were moderate, her years of travel had brought her knowledge of the customs and ways of the people in each nome.  This knowledge was valuable to the Healwomen who staffed the many hodaras.

She rose and walked to the rock shelf surrounding the crater lake. She knelt and dipped her hands in the icy water.  “Midra, Midran, I have come.  What would you have me do?”

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