Tag Archives: author interview

Little Prayers Poetry: An Interview with Susie Meserve

When it comes to choosing the next book to read, I’ll read anything. I love challenging myself to different genres and diverse authors. I think we learn about our world as readers, and writers, through different mediums and kinds of storytelling.

April is National Poetry Month, and I love exploring this genre because it reaches the reader in a way unlike any other written form. Many of my favorite writers began as poets, and there’s something to recognize about the talent and skill it takes to craft a poem that makes you feel something in a short amount of words and with little filler.

007-KLJ-WEB-Susie-Final-3372Susie Meserve is a poet, memoirist and blogger. Her first collection of poems, Little Prayers, was recently published by Blue Light Press and was the winner of the 2018 Blue Light Book Award.

I’ve followed Susie on twitter and her blog for years, so am happy to welcome her over to the Happiness Project to chat about her new book and why poetry matters today.

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JW: Welcome, Susie! 

Describe Little Prayers in three words. 

SM: Poetry about life.

SM.LittlePrayersFrntCvrWbWhat would you say are the themes in this collection of work? 

Death and rebirth, flight and return, the life of dreams, the fleetingness of time. And maybe, as Michelle Bonczek Evory suggested on my book cover, “the daily mundane.”

Your poems feature detailed captures of moments and objects, how we can find ourselves lost within those fragments. Is that where the title “Little Prayers” comes from, those moments? 

I think so, yes! This book had several other titles before Little Prayers—for a while it was called “Losing Paradise” (and a friend suggested “The Oracle”). When I stepped back and looked at it, though, I realized that while the poems were all very different thematically and structurally, there was this fleeting, temporary quality to almost all of them. I hope that doesn’t mean they’re not memorable, but they do seem to capture somewhat ephemeral snippets of time—a bird flying in the window, waking in the middle of the night, a session doing dishes, a little ruminating on California—in a meditative, quiet sort of way. So then I looked at the poem “Little Prayer” and thought, yeah, that’s my title poem. I just slightly changed it to indicate a multitude of prayers, not just one. I should add: I’m not a religious person, but my poetry chapbook (Finishing Line Press, 2008) is called Faith. I’m not entirely sure why. I think the act of writing poetry feels somewhat spiritual to me. And let’s face it, it requires a lot of faith—in something!—to be a writer in today’s world.

What does writing poetry compared to other forms of writing allow you to do differently? Do you think you can speak your truth, or Truth, more clearly? 

I love that you capitalized Truth, here, like the universal Truth. I don’t know if I believe in that concept, though. I actually think I can speak my own truth more clearly in personal essays like this one  and this one, where I’ve had to be deeply honest to tell the story. In poetry, I can speak multiple truths, in a sense. It’s all very sneaky. Poetry is absolutely my first love, and I think what I love about it is the unexpected. I just begin sometimes, and things surprise me, and then I have a poem (that may or may not be “true”). This can be very freeing—when it’s working.

Your poems include a variety of style and format. How do you decide what is the “right” format for your poem as you’re writing? 

Great question. This book consists of poems from over 15 years of writing, so it represents a lot of different styles as I tried them on over the years. For a while I was really feeling couplets, then these formless, no-stanza, rambling poems, then poems with numbered sections. I think the poem usually tells you what it wants. For me, a poem I want more control over—because it’s got a more intense, precise quality, maybe—will ask for couplets or tercets, whereas one that feels more free and easy—or unwieldy—might not want any stanza breaks at all.

What’s your best piece of advice for someone writing poetry?

I don’t use prompts, really (though I do like the prompts in the book The Practice of Poetry, edited by Robin Behn and Chase Twichell, excellent for beginners). My biggest advice is to READ. I think when you start to be able to identify the kinds of surprises other poets incorporate into their work, you start to incorporate your own. So reading a wide variety of styles and voices is just essential.

Why do you think poetry is important today? 

I think poetry asks us to tap into a different part of our brains than prose does. It demands and requires more intangibility. I remember well the time my mom told me she liked my poems but felt like she didn’t understand them. I told her she didn’t need to, that she should just appreciate what she got out of them. She told me later how freeing that was for her, that me giving her permission not to work too hard took away a lot of her anxiety and allowed her to just sit with the lines and enjoy them. I think that’s one of the things that’s hardest about poetry—we don’t always “get it” in the way we might, say, a novel or a memoir, and maybe that’s why people run away from it. We don’t want to feel stupid or like we’re missing something. We want clarity, answers. Because poetry often raises questions. But I think that’s a really good thing! Poetry can open us up to mystery and abstraction, which is good for our brains and our hearts. And the music of poetry—learning to hear it—is essential for anyone wanting to write or appreciate good writing.

What’s next on your writing desk? 

I’m most excited about a new poetry collection I’m working on. I’m writing a series of poems about infertility, pregnancy, and motherhood. They’re deeply personal, much more raw, and all linked thematically. I’m thinking of it a bit like a memoir in verse. It’s going really well. I’m super inspired, and just hoping it’s, you know, good.

I’m sure it will be! Thanks, Susie! 

***

In honor of National Poetry Month, Susie is giving away a free copy of Little Prayers to two lucky people who signs up for her newsletter before Sunday, May 6th! Sign up at Susie’s website to win!

You can catch up with Susie on Twitter @susiemeserve or on her website, www.susiemeserve.com, where she blogs regularly about writing and being More Than a Mother.

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“Read. Read Everything. Challenge Yourself.” Author Interview with Nickolas Butler

IMG_6763This past fall, I had the pleasure of meeting Nickolas Butler, author of Shotgun Lovesongs, at UW-Madison’s Weekend With Your Novel conference.

Nick is a talented and humble guy whose writing is truthful and poetic. He’s a graduate of the Iowa Writers Workshop and an advocate for aspiring writers everywhere.

Nick was kind enough to chat with me about his work. Because I’m a big fan of his book. 

And he’s giving a copy away to one lucky winner! 

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Me: Describe yourself in three words. 

Nick: Father, husband, friend.

What three words do you wish described you? 

Debonair, raconteur, smoldering.

Ha! Nice.
Describe your book in one sentence. 

“Shotgun Lovesongs” is a novel set in rural Wisconsin about the lifelong bonds of friendship, love, marriage, envy, and childhood.

book-shotgun-lovesongsShotgun Lovesongs tells the story of five friends discovering all the ways they’ve each changed, and yet how much they’re still the same. It’s a poignant and poetic look at growing up, surviving the messy bits, and owning your own life – good and bad. What parts of your life have you “owned” and what are you most proud of? 

I’m most proud of my family and the life we’ve built together, through some real challenges. I’m proud of my wife and her accomplishments, both professionally and in our community. I’m proud of my children, proud of the fact that I think they’re both kind-hearted and compassionate kids. I’m proud of my Mom, and her unflagging work ethic and generosity. Proud of my brother for being one of the best people I’ve ever met. My life has been extremely blessed. I feel very fortunate, every day.

“What parts of my life have I owned”? I think when I was about 27 or 28 I took stock of where I was, what I was doing, and just decided that I needed to work a lot harder at becoming a writer, at becoming the person I wanted to be.

Shotgun Lovesongs is written from five points of view. How did get into each character’s voice?

It was definitely a challenge. Some of the voices/POVs came very easily – Henry, Lee, and Kip. And I can remember finishing one of their chapters and having to transition towards Beth or Ronny, and just really taking about five minutes to close my eyes, and slip into another psyche, another character. And sometimes it was easier, and maybe I’d only need a minute or two. Other times I’d have to walk away from the computer and get a cup of coffee, sort of collect myself. But it was also a lot of fun because each character illuminates the others in the cast. If everything is working right, you should get a more complex portrait of a character.

Did you have a favorite voice to write in?

I’d say Lee, when it comes to “Shotgun Lovesongs”. He’s very observant, in some ways, he thinks about the world musically, lyrically.

As someone who works a full-time job and gets writing in as a “side-hustle,” I appreciated your story about working lots of odd jobs along the way. What were a few of them and how did you carve out time for writing? 

There were so many…

When I was working at Star Liquor in Madison, I wrote after my shifts were done, around 10pm. I’d get home and still be wired, and just write short stories or poems. The thing is: when you’re trying to break through, you have to carve out time as aggressively as you can. This means sleeping less. Socializing less. Watching less TV. If you want something bad enough, you’ll figure out how to make it happen.

You’re a graduate of the prestigious Iowa Writers Workshop. What tool or skill-set did you find most valuable from that experience? 

Iowa was definitely a life-changing experience for me in so many ways. But I think the thing that really pushed me forward was the competition; just going to classes and being surrounded by some of the world’s best young writers. I’d look around and think, I’ve got to get better. I’ve got to read more and work harder.

I think it’s hard to improve your craft without exposure to great writing – either through reading or through teachers or peers. I don’t think you can do it by yourself.

Your book is a love story about Wisconsin. What’s your favorite thing about our state?  

There’s a lot to love and I could literally go on for pages describing favorite cities, state parks, restaurants, sports teams, etc. But for me it comes down to family. I’m surrounded by family and that means everything to me. Family and friends.

Best piece of writing advice? 

Read. Read all the time. Read poetry and non-fiction and fiction and plays and screenplays. Read foreign writers. Read everything. Challenge yourself. Don’t discard any writing – there is something to be learned in everything.

Set a deadline for yourself. Write down your goals. Work when other people are sleeping.

book-beneaththebonfireWhat books are you enjoying right now? 

I’m about to finish Don Winslow’s “The Power of the Dog”, which is fantastic. Imagine George R.R. Martin writing an epic about The War on Drugs. Annie Dillard’s essays. I’m looking forward to reading Helen McDonald’s “H is for Hawk”. I’m rushing through both of Peter Geye’s novels, which are fantastic.

Tell us about your next project! 

My second book, “Beneath the Bonfire” came out in May and is still in hardcover and my next novel, “The Faithlessness of Men” will be published in early 2017 by Ecco.

Thank you so much for chatting with me, Nick! I can’t wait to get Shotgun Lovesongs into another reader’s hands; it really was a book that stuck with me awhile after reading it. 🙂

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photo-nickolas-butlerNickolas Butler was born in Allentown, Pennsylvania, raised in Eau Claire, Wisconsin and educated at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Iowa Writer’s Workshop. He is the author of the internationally-best selling novel Shotgun Lovesongs and a collection of short stories entitled,Beneath the Bonfire.  He is the winner of France’s prestigious PAGE Prix America, the 2014 Great Lakes Great Reads Award, the 2014 Midwest Independent Booksellers Award, the 2015 Wisconsin Library Association Literary Award, the 2015 UW-Whitewater Chancellor’s Regional Literary Award, and has been long-listed for the 2014 Flaherty Dunnan Award for First Novel and short-listed for France’s FNAC Prix.  Along the way, he has worked as: a Burger King maintenance man, a tutor, a telemarketer, a hot-dog vendor, an innkeeper (twice), an office manager, a coffee roaster, a liquor store clerk, and an author escort. His itinerant work includes: potato harvester, grape picker, and Christmas tree axe-man. 

He lives on sixteen acres of land in rural Wisconsin adjacent to a buffalo farm. He is married and has two children.

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Want to win a free copy of Nick’s book? 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Have you read Shotgun Lovesongs yet?
How do you aggressively make time to write, or read?

 

Write Strong Women and Marry Your Best Friend: An Interview About Romance With Author Roni Loren

As part of my To Be Read Challenge, I included a (signed – squeee!) copy of Crash Into You by erotic romance author, Roni Loren (@RoniLoren). I met Roni at DFWcon 3 years ago and have attended her sessions on writing realistic romance scenes. She is fabulous.

So are her books.

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Crash Into You

Sometimes the past can bring you to your knees…

Brynn LeBreck has dedicated herself to helping women in crisis, but she never imagined how personal her work would get, or where it would take her. Her younger sister is missing, suspected to be hiding from cops and criminals alike at a highly secretive BDSM retreat—a place where the elite escape to play out their most extreme sexual fantasies. To find her Brynn must go undercover as a sexual submissive. Unfortunately, The Ranch is invitation only. And the one Master who can get her in is from the darkest corner of Brynn’s past…

 

 I am very pleased to welcome Roni to the Happiness Project!

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Describe yourself in three words.

Perfectionistic, Introverted, Curious

What drew you to writing erotica? What do you love about your genre?

It was a genre I loved to read, of course. But I was really drawn to the fact that it had very few boundaries. Like I could write suspense in my story but it didn’t have to fit the restrictions of a romantic suspense. And it could be contemporary but the romance didn’t have to be light and airy. All I needed to make sure I had was a happy ending and a lot of steam (which is fun to write.) So it allows for a lot of freedom in my stories, which makes my muse happy. 🙂

I write nonfiction about my family and they all want pseudonyms. 😉 How did your friends and family respond when your first book came out?
I’ve been lucky. My family is hugely supportive and not hung up on the fact that I write the sexy stuff. My mom even reads my books (even when I told her not to, lol) and tells her friends to buy my books. I don’t hide what I write from anyone because I’m not ashamed of it. If they ask, I’ll tell them. Though, people are usually surprised when they find out because I’m the quiet, mom-next-door type. I think some people expect erotic writers to fit some outrageous image. But the people writing it (and reading it!) are every day women (and men, for that matter.)

That’s awesome! What are you reading right now?

I just finished Outlining Your Novel by K.M. Weiland because I’m a pantser with plotter envy (and am obsessed with writing craft books.) But fiction wise, I’m reading Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare (YA Steampunk Paranormal) and rereading The Shining by Stephen King.

Oooh, nice picks!
Settled in for the night after conferencing, reading Roni's book

Settled in for the night after conferencing, reading Roni’s book

I read Fifty Shades of Gray, and hated it. The main character is pretty flat – quite literally, actually, she’s tied down and having sex so much. Your lead female in Crash Into You (Brynn) is really 3-dimensional. Her mother works in the sex industry, Brynn is a sexual assault survivor, she works in a social work setting with other domestic violence victims, and she struggles to claim her own sexual identity despite her past. In what ways do you think Brynn is a champion for women, and what do you think are her shortcomings?

It’s important to me to write really strong women, particularly because of the power dynamic I use between the hero and heroine. In Brynn’s case, I wanted to show how tough and smart she is because even though she has this urge to be sexually submissive in the bedroom, she’s an independent, brave woman in her every day life. She’s driven to help others, and ultimately, she learns to help herself. The theme in all my books usually comes back to healing and self-acceptance, so I think Brynn is a prime example of that. No one fixes her problems for her. She has to learn to move through her fear, heal, and then embrace who she is.

I’m getting married in 2 months. What’s your advice for keeping the passion alive?

Yay, congrats! 🙂 I’ve been married for almost 13 years, and it still feels like we just got married (so I guess that’s good!)

 

That’s wonderful! Congrats to you, lovebirds!

 

I think the key is to marry someone you have a deep friendship with, who gets you, and who makes you laugh. That takes care of a lot of things. But with keeping the passion alive specifically, I think it’s important to develop a level of trust that you literally can talk about anything (including fantasies, likes/dislikes, etc.) with no judgment or expectations, so that you can keep things fresh. When I hear that some husbands don’t like their wives reading romance novels, I want to bonk them on the head because—hello, that’s just going to give her new ideas of what she wants to do with/to you, lol. Buy her stacks!

 

Great advice! I know you love to watch Reality TV, what are your guilty pleasures right now?

 

I just finished American Idol, of which I’m a faithful follower. And now I am so ready for Big Brother. It’s the one reality show that I can convince myself I’d have a shot at winning (ha!) unlike shows like Survivor or Amazing Race where I’d last 3.2 seconds. But there’s something about watching all those intricate human dynamics that I can’t look away from.

 

If you could host a Romance Award ceremony, who would you bestow a trophy to for the following:

 

Hottest Big Screen Actor: Oh, so many. Bradley Cooper is always a fave. And recently I’ve developed a crush on Jimmy Fallon (though, not technically a big screen actor) because funny is hot.
Best Couples Getaway: I like cold places since I live in TX, so a mountain cabin in Lake Tahoe maybe.
Most Decadent Dessert: Cheesecake

Sexiest Thing About Women: Our brains.

What’s next for you? What can readers watch out for?

In August, I’m releasing a novella called BLURRING THE LINES that is separate from my Berkley series. It will be sexy contemporary romance with a paranormal twist and is part of a multi-author continuity series called Invitation to Eden. (I’m thinking of it like the show Lost but with more sex and happily ever afters, lol.) Then in September I’m releasing a novella, FOREVER STARTS TONIGHT, and in November, my serial novel, NOT UNTIL YOU, is being put into an omnibus edition. So lots of things coming up! (In other news, I won’t be sleeping until next February, lol.)

We’ll be watching! Thanks Roni for joining us. Always a pleasure learning from you and I love your advice (and characters) about being strong, independent women with PASSION!

RoniLorenAuthorHeadshot2

Roni wrote her first romance novel at age fifteen when she discovered writing about boys was way easier than actually talking to them. Since then, her flirting skills haven’t improved, but she likes to think her storytelling ability has. Though she’ll forever be a New Orleans girl at heart, she now lives in Dallas with her husband and son.

If she’s not working on her latest sexy story, you can find her reading, watching reality television, or indulging in her unhealthy addiction to rockstars, er, rock concerts. Yeah, that’s it. She is the New York Times and USA Today Bestselling Author of The Loving on the Edge series from Berkley Heat. Website: www.roniloren.com

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E-BOOK GIVEAWAY!!!

One lucky commenter will be receiving an e-copy (Nook or Kindle U.S.)
of Roni’s book Still Into You!

Random drawing will be held on Wednesday @ 5pm CST,
winner announced on Thursday’s blog!

Sherlock Holmes & the Red-Headed League: A Guest Post by K.B. Owen

I’m so excited to welcome mystery writer, K.B. Owen, to The Happiness Project today! She is on a whirlwind blog tour promoting her newest book, Unseemly Pursuits, and I asked her to stop by Wisconsin for some midwestern hospitality, and she obliged. *curtsy*
Since she knows redheads are some of the greatest people ever, she’s sharing some tidbits of history about Sherlock Holmes and “The Red-Headed League”.
There’s also a swag-a-licious giveaway at the end of the post, so be sure to leave a comment and you could win!
The floor is yours, Madam.
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KB OwenK.B. Owen taught college English at universities in Connecticut and Washington, DC and holds a doctorate in 19th century British literature. A long-time mystery lover, she drew upon her teaching experiences to create her amateur sleuth, Professor Concordia Wells.

Unseemly Pursuits is the second book of the series. The first book, Dangerous and Unseemly, was published in early 2013.

K.B. currently lives in Virginia with her husband and sons, and is busily planning the lady professor’s next adventure.

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Many fans of the Sherlock Holmes stories consider “The Red-Headed League” to be one of their favorites. The story was published in The Strand Magazine’s August 1891 issue, and later collected in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1892).

red01Illustrated by Sidney Paget, 1891. Wikimedia Commons.

A brief synopsis:

A red-haired businessman, Jabez Wilson, consults Holmes about a curious incident. There had been an advertisement in the paper by an organization calling itself the “Red-Headed League” looking for red-headed male candidates to fill a well-paying position with light work. Wilson had won the job, and began earning a handsome salary for basically “busy” work, copying the encyclopedia during daytime hours. Since Wilson’s own shop mostly operated in the evenings, with his assistant on hand to take care of anything that came up while Wilson was gone, the red-headed man considered it a happy arrangement. But abruptly one morning, Wilson found a sign stating that the League was “dissolved.” Reluctant to let go of a good thing, Wilson comes to Holmes to solve the mystery.

Holmes and Watson are amused, and Holmes’ curiosity is piqued. He agrees to investigate.

*SPOILER ALERT*

Holmes eventually deduces that Wilson’s assistant, John Clay, has been digging through the basement wall of Wilson’s shop into the bank vault next door. Clay had thought up the “red-headed league” scheme as a way to keep Wilson away during the day while he and his cohorts did their digging. When the work was completed and they were making final preparations to break into the vault, Clay dissolved the league. Holmes, Watson, Wilson and the police wait in the bank vault for the criminals, and nab them when they come through.

red02Illustrated by Sidney Paget, 1891. Wikimedia Commons.

If you’d like to read this story online for free through Project Gutenberg, click on the link below and scroll down to the middle of the page to “Adventure II.”

The Red-Headed League

An outlandish story, yes? Ah, but wait: in 1874 (15 years before Doyle’s story was published), a New York bank experienced a similar incident – without the red-headed part – where crooks attempted to tunnel into the vault. Below is an excerpted account from the New York Times, regarding the scheme of bank robber John Clare (very close to the name Doyle selected for his criminal) and the sharp policemen who thwarted him:

red03red04red05

For the rest of the article on the sentencing, and how Clare was eventually captured, click here: New York Times

In my searches, I have yet to find evidence that Conan Doyle based “The Red-Headed League” on any bank robbery incident, but the coincidence is interesting nonetheless.

Are you a Sherlock Holmes fan? If so, what is your favorite story?

Jess, thanks so much for having me! It was really fun. 😉

Thanks for teaching us about the Red-Headed League! Maybe I’ll start one of my own…

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Now the for book info!

A deadly secret that won’t stay buried…

UnseemlyPursuitsCover 266x400It is the fall of 1896, and Miss Concordia Wells is hip-deep in the usual tumult of a lady professor’s life: classes, clubs, student pranks, and the unending drama generated by the girls she lives with on campus.  Complicating this normality is the new Lady Principal, whom the students have nicknamed “the Ogre.”  The woman seems bent on making Concordia’s life miserable.

And then there’s the exotic spirit medium, Madame Durand, who has befriended Concordia’s mother and has started a “Spirit Club” on campus.  Madame’s prognostications of doom are at first only mildly irritating – until events take a sobering turn.  An ancient Egyptian amulet donated to the college mysteriously disappears, the donor is found murdered, and his daughter – Concordia’s best friend – confesses to killing him.

Desperate for answers, Concordia unravels a 20-year-old secret, closely guarded by men now dead.  But such secrets can be dangerous for the daughters left behind, including Concordia herself.  Can she make sense of the mystery that has bound together their fates, before it’s too late?

Where to buy Unseemly Pursuits:

Kindle: http://www.amazon.com/Unseemly-Pursuits-Concordia-Wells-Mystery-ebook/dp/B00H3JVSYI

Paperback: http://www.amazon.com/Unseemly-Pursuits-Concordia-Mystery-Volume/dp/0991236807/

Nook: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/unseemly-pursuits-k-b-owen-kb-owen/1117562781

Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/384345

Kobo: http://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/unseemly-pursuits

iBooks: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/unseemly-pursuits-concordia/id775422084?mt=11&uo=4

I so want to read this book!

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SwagKitDuring K.B.’s Unseemly Pursuits book tour, which goes through the first week of March, there’s a giveaway at each blog stop (including here!). The winner, randomly drawn from the commenters at each stop, will get a free ebook copy of Unseemly Pursuits. At the end of the tour, she’ll hold another random drawing from among the ebook winners for the final prize: a special Concordia Wells series swag package! It includes customized mug, keychain, JellyBelly mini-tin, and signed paperback copies of the first two mysteries: Dangerous and Unseemly and Unseemly Pursuits. You can read, sip your coffee, and snack on candy in unseemly style. Check the sidebar on the home page of kbowenmysteries.com for the full tour schedule and other info.

Interview & Book Giveaway w/ Amber West

Today I’m thrilled to welcome A Day Without Sushi blogger and author of The Ruth Valley Missing, Amber West to the Happiness Project!

*applause, applause ~ cheering crowds*

Amber is here to answer some really important questions on the meaning of life* and whether dogs or cats make better pets.

Note* ~ Amber will not really define what the meaning of life is. The owner of this publication sincerely apologizes for any inconvenience.

Bonus!! One lucky commenter on this post will win a FREE copy of Amber’s book, The Ruth Valley Missing, along with a cd playlist of music that inspired the story!

Share this post via Twitter or Facebook and receive a bonus entry in the drawing! Winner announced on Friday, December 13, 2013!

AmberWest-TheRuthValleyMissing-200x300 Click here to read about The Ruth Valley Missing!

Jameson Quinn is sick of trying to find herself in the big city. After a gallery opening ends in a trip to the ER and an argument with her self-involved boyfriend, she decides to take off for the peace and quiet of a small town — Ruth Valley.

The small town has everything Brooklyn lacked: simple people, peaceful surroundings, and a feeling of safety. Jameson even finds the perfect house to rent from the town’s most eligible bachelor, Sheriff Jack. Life is finally headed in a promising direction.

But something isn’t right. A young man is mysteriously injured, then disappears — and Jameson finds he isn’t the only person to suddenly vanish. The suspicious behavior of an abrasive nun and a creepy priest set her off on an investigation of what’s really happening. Will she figure out the secrets of Ruth Valley before she’s the next to go missing?

Take it away, Amber!

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Getting to Know You:

1.     Share three words that describe you. 

Loyal, generous, weird.

2.     Share three words you wish described you. 

Confident, comfortable, organized.

Pick a book.AWest Quote3.     What is your favorite book?

It’s actually a play, but being that it’s a book on my shelf that I’ve read more than any other, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead is at least worthy of a mention. When my husband and I were dating, he gave me the book Myst (yes, like the computer game) and I actually really loved the story.

Having said that, I’m not very good at picking a favorite book. It’s like asking me to choose a favorite food – there’s so many factors involved. What’s my mood? What am I craving?

4.     What are you most grateful for today?

Family. I happen to be fortunate enough to be close to my parents and several of my siblings, which means always having people in your life you can rely on.

5.     If you could live in any time period, what one would you pick and why?

So, I’m going to totally cheat here and say that I would just travel with the Doctor in his TARDIS. Then I don’t have to choose! I can just travel anywhere I want to go.

The trouble with choosing a time in the past is that, being a woman, there’s so much I could end up giving up. And then I feel like I’d have to specify, “well, I’d live in time period X, but only if I was wealthy and married to a man of status who also happens to be a nice dude who loves me”.

That’s kinda boring. The Doctor it is.

6.     Favorite social media hangout?

I flip between Twitter (@amberwest) and Facebook the most. Facebook is where more of my family and friends I’ve had from before social media are, and it lends itself to more lengthy group discussions (like the most recent thread I’ve got going there that has 170+ comments). However, I love interacting with people I’ve met on Twitter. It’s a faster pace there, and clever (at least, the people I interact with are).

About Your Book:

1.  Tell us about your book in one sentence.

It’s mystery and silly banter and a touch of romance all rolled into one.

Absolutely Horrible.AWest.Quote2.  The Ruth Valley Missing has a big twist in it. What are your favorite books or films that shock you at the end?

Is it absolutely horrible that I can’t remember the last time a movie or book shocked me with a twist? I tend to figure things out way ahead of time. Having said that, the show Scandal has surprised me in its ability to throw out some shockers in the story.

3.  Is there a real Ruth Valley? What inspired you to set the story there?

Ruth Valley is definitely fictional. The town feel is very much meant to be like a small town in North Carolina, but it’s a made up town.

I set it in in NC for a few reasons. As you know, there is a Catholic church in the small town. Small town North Carolina isn’t exactly where you’d find a dominant Catholic population. I wanted to separate this little church community from the larger religious group, so intentionally putting them somewhere out of the way, and realistically out of place accomplished that.

From my experiences in various small towns in North Carolina, I knew I wanted to set the story in a sort of amalgam of various places I had been there – places where the community is tight knit, charming, but also a bit odd for someone used to the city.

4.   What actors would you cast to play the lead roles of your book?    

Dylan – Ryan Gosling. It’s a small role, but he was the type of guy I pictured when I started writing him. It should be noted that I don’t have the same love for Gosling that created the “Hey Girl” meme. Ha.

Father Mike – Kyle Chandler. This may have something to do with watching a lot of Friday Night Lights when I was working on the book.

Jack – I personally went with Nathan Fillion for this one. If you’ve seen his role in Waitress, think more that than his current Castle role. I’ve had a few readers recommend Blake Shelton. I’m not a country music girl, but I can see the appeal.

Jameson – Ruth Wilson, more for her look than her voice, considering she’s a British actress. She does seem to be good at quirk, though, so if we can just get her some American accent lessons…

Sister Marjorie – Susan Sarandon. I don’t remember how she came to mind for the role, but once I thought of it, I couldn’t see anyone else.

5.    What’s next for you? Can we expect another thriller?

It’s funny. I never set out to write a thriller or mystery. I’m a dialogue junkie, so I think in a way I’m probably more of a women’s fic writer at heart. But, this story just sort of developed from my first NaNoWriMo attempt and I found I just had to finish it. While I never thought of writing mysteries or thrillers, I find I like having that extra something as part of a plot. (And I should give a huge shout out to Jen Kirchner and Tiffany White, writers who told me that I had a story worth finishing and publishing – writers encouraging writers are the best!)

I have three different books I’ve been working on, all with a substantial amount of words written, but I think the one I’ll focus on finishing next is a follow up to Ruth Valley Missing. While RVM definitely works as a standalone, I wrote the ending somewhat open, mostly because I like open endings.

The response to the book has been overwhelming – beyond anything I ever expected. (I mean, Stephen Colbert hasn’t called to give me The Colbert Bump or anything, but it’s been good.) Among the many responses I’ve received from readers is the desire for more Jameson, as well as some other characters, so I have been working on a story that gives everyone more of what they want: banter, and Jameson stumbling into mysterious situations she can’t help but stick her nose in.

About Life in General:

1.   Dogs or cats? Coffee or Tea? Book or Kindle?

I have both, but I am more of a dog person. If I had a large piece of land and the funds, I’d be adopting dogs left and right. (I’m a total supporter for adopting from shelters – so many dogs need homes! Always check shelters when considering adding a new pet to your family.)

Tea v Coffee? At the moment, tea over coffee, since I’m pregnant. I love a good cup of coffee, but if I had to be tied to one, I think I would still choose tea. There’s greater variety!

Book or Kindle? The traditional girl in me so badly wants to say “book”. But, the mother of an active four year old with one on the way yelps “kindle!” (or more accurately, kindle app on the ipad). The only way I get any reading done nowadays is when the lights are out and the kid is asleep, so the Kindle app is the way to go.

2.     Best parenting tip?

On Parenting.AWest.QuoteYikes. I so don’t feel qualified. I guess I’d just say, be informed, then follow your instincts and enjoy your kid. There is so much pressure now, I think even more than in my parent’s era, to create the perfect child. So many benchmarks to be met, so much comparing, so much fighting over what you should and shouldn’t do.

I feel like the areas where we’ve made great progress with our kid have been from following our instincts (I read a ton, so those instincts are informed, mind you), and just enjoying being with our kid.

3.     What’s worth watching on TV these days?

I watch everything online via Hulu, Netflix, and so on, so I’m sure there are shows I’d leave out strictly due to accessibility. Having said that, among the newest shows, Blacklist is one that’s really pulled me in. I just cannot resist a show with James Spader in it.

Not on your TV, but worth checking out on Hulu, is The Wrong Mans. It’s a British show that follows two guys who get caught up in this whole crime/conspiracy thing. It’s exactly what I love – humor and kind of regular people caught up in a crazy story. And it’s only six episodes, so it’s worth taking the time to check it out.

4.     Favorite piece of advice you’ve received?

I think I’ll share some advice that I found particularly encouraging when it comes to pursuing creative things (though it could be applied to a lot of things). The advice came via Wil Wheaton’s blog, from Shane Nickerson:

“If I’ve learned anything in my shaky life as an artist, it’s that you must stop talking and spinning and whining and start making your thing today. Pick up a camera. Pick up an easel. Open your laptop and turn off your Internet connection while you write. Find a starting point. Ignore the voices. Ignore the critics. Reward yourself for having ideas by valuing them enough to believe in them.

Failure does not exist.”

And then this extra bit from Wil Wheaton:

 “…Failing at one thing does not mean you fail at all things and that’s the end of it. Failing at something can often be the beginning of succeeding at another thing.”

I think the fear of failing, particularly at something we love can be so crippling, so these bits of wisdom have helped me when I get in that “sad writer” rut.

*****

tennantandmecrop_SnapseedAmber West is a Northeastern transplant dodging rodent sized bugs and sweltering heat in the jungles of Central Florida. When she isn’t battling the urge to pass out, she’s busy being a wife, mother, geek, photographer, and writer, in no particular order. You can read her ramblings at http://www.withoutsushi.com or find her on Twitter (@amberwest) where she abuses hashtags and makes people laugh. Or at least, makes herself laugh.

Don’t forget to chat with Amber in the comments below and you could take home your own copy of The Ruth Valley Missing and a correlating cd playlist!

Thanks Amber!

The Redhots and Fabio Bueno: A Wicked(ly) Sens(ible) Review

Admit it!  You were all holding your breath in anticipation of who our mystery writer was going to be for this edition of…

The Redhots!

Marcia Richards and I are back together for more Halloween fun, and we invited debut author Fabio Bueno to join us this month as our first ever Indie Author Interview!

You know the saying “Double, double, toil and trouble…”?  Well, I thought there’s two of us redheads, so let the cauldron bubble by serving you up TWO interviews with our YA paranormal fantasy writer.

Meet Fabio!

Author of Young Adult novels, family man, gamer, “runner,” geek, kindle hugger, coffeeholic, SCBWIer, x-men hopeful, district 3 tribute, hufflepuff, daydreamer.

He’s recently written a book.  A book called Wicked Sense, which just so happened to win 1st place in the YA category of the Sandy Literary Contest!  Here’s the Goodread’s blurb:

Wicked Sense –

Witches inhabit our world, organized in covens and hiding behind a shroud of secrecy—the Veil.

Skye’s London coven sends her to Seattle’s Greenwood High to find the Singularity, an unusually gifted witch who may break the Veil and trigger a dangerous new era of witch-hunting. Things get complicated when Skye meets a charming new classmate, Drake. Skye’s job becomes even trickier when she clashes with Jane, an intimidating rival witch.

Drake falls for the mysterious Skye, but odd accidents, potion mix-ups, and the occasional brush with death kind of get in the way of romance. Once he discovers Skye is a witch, he goes to war for her, even though his only weapons are a nice set of abs and a sharp sense of humor.

Fighting off wicked Jane and the other dark forces hell-bent on seizing the Singularity’s immense power, Skye and Drake will risk everything to save the covens.

Going on a date has never been harder.

*****

I promised double the fun, and Fabio…he really didn’t stand a chance against Marcia and I!  He agreed to be interviewed by BOTH of us!  So the first half is here, and it continues over at Marcia’s place!

*****

1. The main character in Wicked Sense is a witch with the gift of True Sight. Do you believe in the paranormal – ghosts, spirits, auras, mediums?

I believe in some of it. Spirits, auras, and mediums seem plausible. I want to believe that people (and animals) have a certain connection with one another and with nature. A line in Wicked Sense paraphrases one of Arthur C. Clarke laws: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Similarly, maybe some aspects of what we call “paranormal” are actually biochemical and physical properties we don’t understand yet. I expect that someday scientists will find evidence of the paranormal.

2. I loved the inner monologues of teens, Drake and Skye. How was it writing both a male’s and female’s perceptions of High School? And dating?

I loved it! It was like writing two books at once. I could play with how they perceive events and interpret things differently. I wanted to show a little bit of male thinking too, which is not explored in Paranormal Romances very often. This setup allowed me to inject some humor, uncertainty, and angst—all integral parts of high-school life and the dating scene 🙂

3. Were you always a reader/writer? What was your favorite book as a teen?

YA wasn’t as prevalent when I was a teen (I’m not that young), so I usually read adult fiction. I had an eclectic taste, reading Isaac Asimov, Agatha Christie, Mark Twain, and Jules Verne. Books that made a mark on me as a teen include “Rebecca,” “Catch-22,” “The Little Prince,” “Stranger in a Strange Land,” and “Robinson Crusoe.” And I used to read a lot of mythology and “history of inventions” books.

4. You’re a regular face on social media, getting to know and support other writers. What has the writing community meant to you?

Writing a book is exhilarating, and publishing it is very rewarding. But connecting with so many wonderful people, online and in person, is the best part. I am usually a shy person, but I feel completely at ease with my writer friends. And the support, wow. Writers are genuinely invested the happiness of one another. We hurt when a writer friend faces a setback, and we rejoice when a colleague breaks through. We share and try to help with each other. I’ve learned so much, and I hope I’ve been giving back too. I’ve worked in the academia and in the corporate world, and the difference between them and the writing community is striking.

5. In your bio, you describe yourself as a District 3 Tribute, a Hufflepuff, an X-Men hopeful! I love it! What’s your favorite pop culture craze right now?

I get news and trends online. Among my favorites are the hilarious George Takei Facebook page and the tweet #hashtag chains where everybody contributes a funny tweet to a very specific topic, like #pickuplinesforwriters, #IYKWIM, #replacesongtitlewithcake and so on. I waste a lot of time on Tumblr (meme central) and Pinterest. I’ve been visiting YouTube more than I should too. The clips from the record-breaking skydiver who jumped off a balloon fascinate me (one is here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bkIiPtj7Awo ). And I must confess that I’ve been watching parodies of Psy’s “Gangnam Style”(oh, the shame). Check out this dancing robot: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kmeJvkN4ntI

6. And in the spirit of Halloween, what’s your favorite memory of this holiday? And share your best costume!

Now that I have kids, my best memories are from when I took them to their first trick-or-treating, of course!

I don’t always wear a costume, but a couple of years ago, I decided to go as (geek alert!) … Rorscharch from Watchmen (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rorschach_(comics)) . How did I fare? See for yourself: here’s the original action figure, and the costumed me. I didn’t have a leather trench coat, though…

Rorschach, the action figure…

Rorschach, the Fabio!

Thanks, Fabio!  I love the costume!  And Readers, you can get more Wicked Sense and more Fabio at Marcia’s blog:  Wicked Sense is Wickedly Bueno!

You can also find more Fabio here:

*****

Now, want to learn how you could win one of 6 awesome chances for a copy of Fabio’s book, Wicked Sense?  I thought so! 

We’re kicking off Halloween with a fun photo contest!  You could be a winner of one of 6 prizes!

What you need to know to enter:

1. There are three categories you can enter one time each:

  • Costume – your best ever, be it scary, cute or funny
  • Outdoor decorations – your scariest or most creative
  • Party room decor – you can include your Halloween tablescape, your unique pumpkin carving, and your room decorations

2. Post your pictures, up to 3 only, at our Twitter hashtag: #TheRedHots or on our Facebook pages between October 19th and October 30th. The winners will be announced on Halloween!

3. For extra chances to win, you can choose to do the following:

  • “Like” Marcia’s and my Facebook pages
  • Tweet about the contest three times between the 19th and the 30th linking to our posts
  • Subscribe to our blogs

The prizes:

  • Grand prize will be an autographed print book by our indie author plus a Halloween Goody Bag.
  • 5 bonus prizes of a Kindlegraphed ebook from the author

Good luck!

The Redhots.  Two Redheads.  Two Opinions.  Keeping it sizzling HOT!

E-Book Giveaway and Halloween Photo Contest!

This coming Friday is the October posting of The Redhots!  News, reviews, and interviews brought to you by your favorite redheads, Marcia Richards and I!

We’re excited to bring you a surprise interview by a new indie author!  And, he’s giving away not 1, not 2, but 6 prizes!!!

You could win one of the following:

  • Grand prize will be an autographed print book by our indie author plus a Halloween Goody Bag.
  • 5 bonus prizes of a Kindlegraphed ebook from the author

Curious how to enter?

1. There are three categories you can enter one time each:

  • Costume – your best ever, be it scary, cute or funny
  • Outdoor decorations – your scariest or most creative
  • Party room decor – you can include your Halloween tablescape, your unique pumpkin carving, and your room decorations

2. Post your pictures, up to 3 only, at our Twitter hashtag: #TheRedHots between October 19th and October 30th. The winners will be announced on Halloween!

3. For extra chances to win, you can choose to do the following:

  • “Like” Marcia’s and my Facebook pages
  • Tweet about the contest three times between the 19th and the 30th linking to our posts
  • Subscribe to our blogs

Get Creative!

Looking for ideas on what to submit?  Halloween is my favorite holiday!

Here’s some pictures I took to get you in the mood!

Spooky graveyard scenes…

Spooky Halloween Decorations Inside…

Spooky Decorations Outside!

Orange and Black Themed Table Layouts

Costumes that go together! (Rocky and Bullwinkle!)

Costumes that DON’T! (Zombie Cop and Dolly Parton)

The possibilities are endless!  So get started!  I’ll be watching for you over at #TheRedHots.  We can’t wait to see what you come up with!

(Not on Twitter?  Feel free to post the photos on my Facebook page!  I want to see whatcha got!)

Author Interview with Michael Perry and Book Giveaway

It’s finally here!  The day has arrived!  Michael Perry is interviewing with me and I’m thrilled to introduce him to you guys!

Michael is a Wisconsin native, born and raised in the midwest.  If I could describe his writing style, it would combine side-stitching stories of humor in one paragraph with the most heartfelt tales of humans and their ability to love in the next.  His voice is unique and humble, descriptive and personable.  Can you tell I’m a huge fan?! 

Michael’s previous works are his memoirs Population: 485 – Meeting Your Neighbors One Siren at a Time, Truck:  A Love Story, and Coop: A Family, A Farm, and the Pursuit of One Good Egg.  I was introduced to his writing through Population: 485 when my library did a memoir discussion series.  Population recounts Michael’s years as an EMT in his small town of New Auburn, WI going from accident scene to accident scene while sharing stories of the eccentrically warm individuals in his town.  Truck chronicles his days refurbishing his beloved vehicle and meeting the woman who would become his wife.  And then in Coop, Michael and his wife have taken over her family’s farm and are raising one daughter, with another on the way.

Visiting Tom

His newest release, Visiting Tom, came out August 21st and he is graciously giving away 3 Hardcover copies to 3 lucky commenters on this blog!  Thank you, Michael!

You can check out more about his books and his blog at his website SneezingCow.com!  Or find him on Twitter @SneezingCow.  Or Facebook.

Check out the book trailer for Visiting Tom to peak your interest!

Without further ado, please welcome Michael Perry!

Describe yourself in three words. 

Want more words.

What three words do you wish described you?

Consistently reverent husband.

 You’ve been a busy man.  You’ve completed nursing school, spent a few years as an EMT, started up a farm with your wife and 2 daughters, released two humor cd recordings, sing and play guitar in the band The Long Beds, and you’re a writer.  Did you always want to write, or was it something that found you along your journey?  Oh, and when do you sleep?

Apart from some Crayola-based short stories and the usual naive college-aged noodling driven by a quagmire of angst at least a quarter-inch deep, I didn’t set to writing with any purpose until I was out of college and working as a nurse. Even then I didn’t have any particular direction. I just wrote about my experiences as a cowboy and a hitchhiker and a farm kid. Then a local magazine showed interest in one of my essays. So then I went to the library and got a book about how to be a writer. Then the real work began. Years of writing everything and anything, from used car ads to pizza commercials and brochures for legal seminars. I slowly wangled my way into the magazine world with essays and nonfiction pieces. After a decade or so I had wedged my way into a few national titles. Then an agent in New York read something I had written and tracked me down in Chippewa County, Wisconsin. That eventually led to my first book deal. But even that took several years and many more false starts.

I am blessed with the ability to sleep pretty much anywhere and in any position, and I am also a big fan of the post-prandial nap. You have to get what my wife and I call “the dip”; a short nap where you just dip beneath consciousness and resurface refreshed. If you sleep so long your face gets mashed, then it’s not as helpful. Frankly, years of not getting enough sleep is catching up with me and I can’t recommend it although I don’t regret it.

You also host a program called Tent Show Radio which features live performances from Lake Superior Big Top Chautauqua and is sponsored through Wisconsin Public Radio.  What’s that been like?  Who have your favorite guests been?

Most of all I love how the radio show introduces people to the tent itself. It’s a wonderful place to see a show, no matter the act. A blue tent on a green hill overlooking the Apostle Islands…the setting is unusual in the nicest way. And there’s something about gathering beneath the canvas that amplifies the shared experience between the audience members and the performers. I love to perform up there myself, and will be there September 8 with my band. (Editor’s note: Due to the show format and scheduling Mike’s portions are usually recorded during the editing process – meaning he’s not actually hanging out with Steve Earle).

You typically write memoirs.  From Population: 485 chronicling the colorful characters of your home in New Auburn, WI to Truck: A Love Story, which simultaneously shares its pages with the budding romance of your would-be wife.  And in Coop: A Year of Poultry, Pigs, and Parenting you recount your own childhood with how it compares to becoming a father yourself.  Do you think you’ll write children’s books now that your girls are getting of age?

I am currently working on a two-book Young Adult series. Or Middle Grade series. I’m not clear on the difference, it seems to be shifting some. It’s been a challenge. I love the storytelling aspect, but I am a respecter of genres, and I don’t assume that I can successfully jump from one to the other. Plus, mine have no talking unicorns. But I’m enjoying it. And the main protagonist is a girl roughly the same age as my oldest daughter, so yes, there is some “in-house” research happening.

Do you keep a journal?  And if not, is that why you include so many disclaimers about your memory in your books?  You’ve even made a blog category called Oops! that allows readers to send in any discrepancies they find.  Is your mother your biggest caller?  😉

Nope. I write ever day, but I don’t journal. I think journaling is a terrific tool for many writers, but I’m just too scattered. I journal informally, constantly jotting down notes and observations and stuffing them in my literal and figurative pockets, but lack the discipline to journal on schedule. Also, I have maudlin tendencies, meaning the few times I have kept journals and gone back to read them I found myself incapacitated with ineffable longing for things irretrievably passed. This leads to pensive gazing, intellectual paralysis, and banal prose and I’ve already got more of that than I need.

The “Oops!” thing is just a straightforward attempt to maintain the trust of readers. Despite my memory disclaimers and my all-too-scattered nature, I go to great lengths to get the verifiable facts right in my nonfiction work. And yet, I make mistakes. And it seems the only thing to do in this day and age is get those mistakes right out there. To set the record straight. I just got two emails saying I made a factual error in “Visiting Tom,” and although I’m on tour right now, driving from town to town, I’m going to follow up on those as soon as I can and add them to the “Oops!” category.

Your new book Visiting Tom shares the intimate story, albeit an eccentric one, of your neighbor.  How did you first meet?

It had to do with the woman I was dating at the time. I’d been a bachelor for 39 years. Our first visit to see Tom changed that. The rest of the story is in the book. As you can see I am currently in promotional mode.

 What does Tom think about you writing his story?

I asked his permission first, and he gave me his approval contingent on my changing his name. I spent many hours with him and his family, fact-checking the book. During that time he said I got things right. But then he grins and says since I changed his name he’s telling everybody it’s fiction. Of course at this I nearly had a seizure in light of all the controversies in the genre. But he has this wicked grin when he says it, and that’s Tom in a nutshell. Bottom line? I was over to visit him again right before book tour, and we just sat and visited. I wasn’t a writer, he wasn’t a subject, we were just neighbors again. And that’s my favorite role. Being his neighbor.

When you write about the people in your life, you have a way of making them get off the page and walk down the sidewalk in front of the reader.  You really hone in on details about people.  When you meet someone for the first time, what are the stand out traits that interest you?

I don’t think there’s a standard answer to that one. I will say that when I’m profiling someone – whether for a magazine piece or a book – I prefer to spend a lot of time with them before asking them a single interview question, because when you ask questions first, two things happen: 1) you ask questions that can be better answered through observation and natural conversation, and 2) the subject tends (rightly or wrongly, and usually wrongly) to read some sort of direction into the questions and tries to give “right” answers.

Met any interesting literary figures on your travels?  Who’s been the most inspiring to you?

Because I live in rural Wisconsin I really don’t spend much time in literary circles. I have one editor I’ve worked with for ten years and we’ve only met in person once, for a short lunch. I’ve only ever met my book editor twice. Most of my writerly friendships have been developed through chance meetings at conferences and the like. For instance, I’ve become email/Twitter friends with Christopher Moore because we wound up huddling beneath the same potted plant at a high-tone event in L.A. We were both dressed poorly for the occasion and thus bonded forever. One thing I want to make clear, however: I am not poor-mouthing literary circles. I have had wonderful experiences at places like Bread Loaf, I have benefited immeasurably from writers far more academic and artistic than I who took the time to talk writing with me – either in person or via electrons. Anybody who is writing – whatever the genre, whatever the level – has much to teach me, and I welcome all shop talk.

Maybe I’ll come at this from another angle. About 6-8 years after I started typing with intent, I read my first book by Jim Harrison, and it changed my writing life. I owe him so much. On book tour one year I had the chance to meet him for ten minutes in the back room of a bookstore. I thought it over and passed, leaving him a note instead. I realized that it was his work that changed my life, and in ten minutes on the fly I would likely just mumble things I’d spend the next three days wishing I’d said better, and also, having been on book tour myself I knew he’d probably prefer ten quiet minutes. I don’t know if it was the right decision or not, but I think so.

Do you have any superstitions or habits when you sit down to write?

Nope. As a freelancer I am driven by deadlines and house payments, so I write whether I’m in a Super 8 or sitting in my favorite coffee shop or the room over my garage. But the good news is, I get up every day as hungry to write as I was 20 years ago. And because I never saw this coming, the main thing I feel when I sit down to type is gratitude.

That said, a cup of fresh-ground snobby coffee doesn’t hurt…

What’s your opinion on the changing face of publication?  Are you a fan of e-books and blogs?  Tweets, Likes, and Pins?

I don’t think it’s a matter of being a fan, it’s a matter of navigating reality. I owe my existence to independent bookstores and hand selling, and I still try to focus my tours and my thanks and my sales accordingly. But I also know I have to keep the boat afloat wherever the river flows. The tricky part is balancing all the bloggy/tweety/likey stuff (which is an invaluable way of keeping in touch with and thanking readers) with the writing that is at the center of it all. I don’t always get it right.

What’s your favorite book of all time?

I don’t like to narrow things down that way. I’m omnivorous. In “Coop”, however, I do talk about how “All Quiet On The Western Front” changed my worldview in third grade and why I’ve re-read it so many times.

What’s your favorite thing about Wisconsin?

Again, I just don’t care for the favorite thing. Not being cranky, it’s just that today it might be deep-fried cheese curds, tomorrow it might be a black-and-white cow in a green field beside a red barn, and then Friday night it might be the cotton-candy scent of burnt racing fuel at the dirt track races.

Best place to go in our state?

Home.

What do your daughters think of what you do?  What family member is your biggest fan?

I come from a blue-collar family. Farmers, loggers, nurses, truckers. I reject the idea that being a writer is any more special than any of those things. I always say I’m a writer with a small “w”, and I figure most critics and people would agree. My family is just as interested in my writing as they are interested in my brother’s corn crop or my sister’s factory job and that’s how it oughta be. My daughters know their dad is self-employed and gone a lot, but they also know that truckers and soldiers are gone a lot more and under much tougher circumstances. I love what I do, I’m grateful to do what I do, and it may be a calling, but it’s not a HIGHER calling.

Growing up you were raised with a number of foster kids in the house; some were legally adopted by your parents.  Coop shares a lot of that story, but for readers here, what impact do you think it had on how you parent now?

Well, it makes me feel a little bit guilty, because I simply haven’t demonstrated the ability to take in children the same way my folks have (and still do). That said, I think the greatest impact is that my children have come to understand that health and a happy home are the greatest gifts and never to be taken for granted. Also, because my Mom and Dad still care for some profoundly challenged children, my daughters are growing up with a sense of compassion and are not fearful of children who are “different.”

What’s the best parenting advice you’ve been given?

Not a “best” but to synthesize all the good advice I’ve been given, I’d say it comes down to “Stand firm, take the long view, and prepare to pray no matter the state of your faith.”

Best advice about relationships?

Best? Dunno best. But try this: Look in the mirror regularly and see if you can maintain eye contact. Not as easy as it sounds, and reminds you what the other person is dealing with.

LOL.  Ok, best writing advice?

OK. Finally I can give you an absolute “BEST”!

Do exactly what Neil Gaiman says you should do: Read. Write. Everything else is just circling the rug.

*****

Michael, thank you so much for being on The Happiness Project!  It was a pleasure having you, and sharing a favorite local author of mine with my readers!  I gotta give Wisconsin cheers when I can!

Michael Perry is a humorist and author of the bestselling memoirs Population 485: Meeting Your Neighbors One Siren at a Time, Truck: A Love Story and Coop: A Year of Poultry, Pigs and Parenting, as well as the essay collection Off Main Street.Perry has written for Esquire, The New York Times Magazine, Outside, Backpacker, Orion and Salon.com, and is a contributing editor to Men’s Health. He has performed and produced two live audience humor recordings (I Got It From the Cows and Never Stand Behind a Sneezing Cow) and he performs regularly with his band the Long Beds.  Perry lives in rural Wisconsin, where he remains active with the local volunteer rescue service. He can be found online at www.sneezingcow.com.

Raised on a small dairy farm, Perry equates his writing career to cleaning calf pens – just keep shoveling, and eventually you’ve got a pile so big, someone will notice. Perry further prepared for the writing life by reading every Louis L’Amour cowboy book he could get his hands on – most of them twice. He then worked for five summers on a real ranch in Wyoming, a career cut short by his fear of horses and an incident in which he almost avoided a charging bull. Based on a series of informal conversations held around the ol’ branding fire, Perry still holds the record for being the only cowboy in all of Wyoming who was simultaneously attending nursing school, from which he graduated in 1987 after giving the commencement address in a hairdo combining mousse spikes on top, a mullet in back, and a moustache up front – otherwise known as the bad hair trifecta. Recently Perry has begun to lose his hair, and although his current classification varies depending on the lighting, he is definitely Bald Man Walking.

Perry has run a forklift, operated a backhoe, driven truck, worked as a proofreader and physical therapy aide and has distinguished himself as a licensed cycle rider by careening into a concrete bridge completely unassisted. He has worked for a surgeon, answered a suicide hotline, picked rock in the rain with an alcoholic transvestite, was a country music roadie in Switzerland , and once worked as a roller-skating Snoopy. He can run a pitchfork, milk a cow in the dark, and say “I don’t understand” in French, Greek and Norwegian. He has never been bucked off a horse, and contends that falling off doesn’t count. He is utterly unable to polka.

Don’t forget to leave a comment and enter for a chance to win a Hardcover copy of Visiting Tom!  Comments must be in by Saturday, September 29th, midnight.  

Interview with NYTBS Author Karen Abbott: Why She’s a Better Writer Than Lifeguard

I’ve been hinting at it for weeks now.  And the day is finally here!  I’m so pleased to welcome New York Times Bestselling Author Karen Abbott as a Featured Writer on the Happiness Project.

Karen is author of the historical nonfiction hits, Sin in the Second City and American Rose.  Now, I’m a big fan of history as it is, but if you ask me, Karen has some of the coolest stuff around illustrating her research and her passion for this genre!  Her websites are some of my all time favorites!  There’s KarenAbbott.net, SinInTheSecondCity.com, and AmericanRoseTheBook.com.  Just look at her book trailer for American Rose!  She’s got blurbs from authors Kathryn Stockett (The Help) and Rebecca Skloot (The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.)

Before I reach total fangirl overload, I better let you meet Karen for yourselves.

*****

Describe yourself in three words.

12th House Pluto (it’s an astrological aspect in my natal chart–I’m a bit of an astrology buff). But if you read the descriptions it’s very fitting… 
Tell us about your first job.

I was a lifeguard for a small pool at an apartment complex when I was in high school. I was easily the worst lifeguard ever–more interested in reading and tanning than in potentially saving lives. I got fired after a resident called to complain that I was “rotating with the sun.” My first real job (in journalism) was as a listings editor at a weekly newspaper in Philadelphia. 
What led you into journalism?
I’d always wanted to be a lawyer, but during my junior year I got an internship at Philadelphia magazine, and fell in love with journalism. I worked as a journalist in Philly for six years before trying my hand at book-length narrative nonfiction.
How’d you come across the story of Ada and Minna Everleigh?  
As a journalist in Philadelphia, I wrote about crime, murder, sex, shady politics, and plenty of characters with charismatic sleaze—but never about history. My interest in the past began with a piece of family lore: in 1905, my great-grandmother and her sister emigrated to America from Ljubljana, Slovenia. One weekend the sister boarded a train for Chicago and was never heard from again. On a whim, I began going through that year’s archives of the Chicago Tribune, and stumbled upon the murder of department store scion Marshall Field Jr. When I read the rumor that he’d been shot in a luxurious brothel called the Everleigh Club, I forgot all about my missing relative and started researching the Club’s enigmatic proprietors, sisters Minna and Ada Everleigh, and the national culture war that erupted when a motley crew of reformers tried to shut them down.
You must have had an amazing time doing research!  What kinds of fun places did you go?

One of my favorite collections was at the University of Illinois at Chicago–it’s called the “Lawrence J. Gutter Collection of Chicagoana,” and it includes the “Vic Shaw Family Album.” (Vic Shaw was another madam in the Levee district and the Everleigh sisters’ greatest nemesis; she tried to frame them twice for murder.) The album features a picture of Vic Shaw’s “whipper”–the person in charge of disciplining the prostitutes. Her name was “Lil the Whipper” and she looked more like a prim headmistress than a savage enforcer: hair in a bun, horn-rimmed glasses, thin, tight-lipped smile. But the caption beneath reads: “Lil the Whipper: Beat 1,000 prostitutes bloody.” Apparently it was a badge of honor. 
I’m convinced the Everleigh sisters were feminists of their day!  What do you think made them so successful?

I think both the sisters and Gypsy Rose Lee tapped into a fundamental element of human nature: we’re always going to want most what we can’t have. The sisters, for example, were the first cathouse proprietors to apply the inverse formula for success: The more difficult it is to gain entry to an establishment, the greater the number of people who vie to do so. And Gypsy, of course, because famous for being the “Intellectual Stripper” whose act was more tease than strip. I first became intrigued by Gypsy from a story my grandmother told me. Her cousin went to see Gypsy perform in 1935. “She took fifteen minutes to peel off a glove,” the cousin reportedly said, “and she was so damn good at it I would’ve gladly give her fifteen more.” Who else but Gypsy could make the simple act of peeling off a glove so compelling that one would be willing to watch it for a full half hour? 
You made the city of Chicago just as much a character as the Everleigh sisters.  How did you go about defining place so descriptively in your book?

I’d never been to Chicago before I began researching Sin in the Second City, but I fell in love with the city right away. I spent countless hours in the historical society and the library, going through archives and old newspapers. I also walked around the city, looking for locations I mention in the book. The former address of the Everleigh Club is now the site of the Hillard Homes, a public housing project.
You’re also a contributing writer for the Smithsonian.  How’d you get involved with them?

They approached my friend, author Mike Dash, who writes really fantastic, incredibly researched historical narrative nonfiction. They needed another blogger, and he very kindly suggested me. I really enjoy writing for them. It gives me a chance to explore little pockets of forgotten history that would probably never work as a full-length book. 

Your newest book tells the story of burlesque sensation, Gypsy Rose Lee.  You were able to actually connect with both her son, Erik Preminger, and her sister, June Havoc.  What was that like?  (See full story here.)

Erik was really generous with his time and insights, telling me anecdotes that had never been published before. For example, Gypsy’s memoir contains a scene in which her mother accidentally shoots a cow while they’re camping. Erik implied that it wasn’t actually a cow at all but someone who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time… And talking with June Havoc was like time traveling back to the 1920s. The first time I met her she was 96 and had been bedridden for years; I couldn’t imagine how frustrating it must’ve been for someone who had been dancing since the age of two to lose the use of her legs. She had her white hair done up in these little pigtails and was eating her favorite snack of Oreos and milk. She was still gorgeous but fierce; I had the feeling that, if she were so inclined, she could leap up from that bed and strangle me with her bare hands. She shared many stories about her relationship with Gypsy–they were sort of death bed confessions. I was the last person to interview her before she died, and it was truly an honor. 


Were you nervous to write about such legendary women – the Everleighs and Gypsy?


There are always moments when I feel like the project is impossible. I think it’s inevitable for any writer. Some days you just wake up and feel like a fraud.
What was most rewarding about depicting these women’s prodigious lives?

Bringing them back to life, even for just a little while. I wish I’d been able to live their lives, but writing about them is the next best thing. 
You’ve achieved every writer’s dream – New York Times Bestselling Status! What was your first thought when that happened?

My editor immediately called me and just said one word, “Bask.” I tried to do that as best as I could, but I’m not a natural bask-er. I did have some champagne, though–before noon!–and got the page framed.
 
How do you stay up to date on our rapidly changing industry?

When I’m in the midst of drafting a book, I try to unplug from that as much as possible. If I get too caught up in the business aspect of publishing, I just end up obsessing over things I can’t control. The book is the only thing I can control. 
What writers/bloggers are you currently following?

I’m immersed in Civil War material–just finished 1861 by Adam Goodheart. It’s a fascinating, multi-layered perspective of the first year of the war. 
What’s the best writing advice you ever got?

This, from novelist (and fellow former Philly journalist) Jennifer Weiner: Write to please yourself. Tell the story that’s been growing in your heart, the characters you can’t keep out of your head, the tale that speaks to you, that pops into your head during your daily commute, that wakes you up in the morning. Don’t write something just because you think it will sell. Tell the story you want to tell, and don’t give up. 
What writers have you met on your career that have been the most inspiring?
Probably Erica Jong. She’s brilliant, a feminist icon, and also so warm and supportive and generous. The Everleigh sisters and Gypsy would’ve loved her. Also Erik Larson. Knowledgable about journalism, history, and the best way to make a martini. 

What do you feel has been your biggest accomplishment to date?


Professionally, hitting the printed New York Times bestseller list. Personally, managing to keep my husband (and college sweetheart) around for 16 years…
What’s next on your goal list?

Currently I’m trying to polish up a draft of the year 1862. One of my spies has just been arrested. Another, disguised as a man and serving in the Union army, is falling in love with a fellow soldier. 
What’s the best joke you know?

I found this joke while researching American Rose. When NYC Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia called burlesque “entertainment for morons and perverts” he was referring not only to striptease, but also to burlesque comedy. Here’s an example of a typical burlesque joke (warning: it’s neither lewd nor funny!) 


MAN: Baby, when are you gonna marry me? 

WOMAN: I can’t marry you–it’s Lent!

MAN: Well can’t you get it back for a few days? 

*cue groaning* 

In the 1980s, shortly before he died, burlesque impresario Morton Minsky wrote a letter to the New York Times saying he wished LaGuardia had lived to see what happened to Times Square in the 1970s: the live sex shows, the open prostitution, the general seediness, etc. He said the mayor might have then reconsidered his complaints about burlesque. He had a point…
Any lasting words of advice?

Get out of your own head as much as possible.
 
*****
Karen Abbott is the author of Sin in the Second City and American Rose, both New York Times bestsellers. She is a featured contributor to Smithsonian magazine’s history blog, Past Imperfect, and also writes for Disunion, the New York Times series about the Civil War. A native of Philadelphia, where she worked as a journalist, she now lives in New York City with her husband and two African Grey parrots, Poe and Dexter. She’s at work on her next book, a true story of four daring (and not entirely scrupulous) Civil War spies who risked everything for their cause.
It ain’t over till the fat lady sings!  Karen is offering one lucky commenter a FREE copy of

American Rose!  

Leave a comment before Thursday, 5pm CST, and winner will be announced on Friday’s post!

Oops, there’s Vic Shaw, guess the party’s over!  See you in the comments section!

For more fun, check out Karen’s interview with Beauty and the Book owner, Kathy Patrick!  They go vintage shopping together!  Learn how to make your own Gypsy Rose Lee outfit!

Kait Nolan is Cuckoo for Cookie Dough

Welcome to another bandit version of Guilty Pleasures Friday!  Taking over my blog today is the amazingly-mostly-glutton-free Kait Nolan.  But she has one little guilty pleasure after all…  Tell us about it, Kait!

*****

(thaimedicalnews.com)

I have a confession to make.  When Jess asked me to write a post about my guilty pleasures, I immediately said yes.  And then when I sat down to write it…I couldn’t think of a thing.  Not that I don’t have pleasures in life—I just don’t consider any of them guilty.  I feel like they are all well deserved.  I exercise while watching the Food Network instead of going off and making everything I’m drooling over.  Reading is NEVER guilty and always well merited.  Chocolate is a necessary component of sanity.  And my morning cuppa tea is a public service to keep me from going off on a homicidal rampage against the morning people of the world.  So where’s the guilty pleasure?

And then I thought of it.  The thing I allow myself so seldom expressly because of the guilt (and the calories).

Cookie dough.

(progressivenewsdaily.com)

Oh dear God, how I love cookie dough.  I have NO RESTRAINT with it.  None.  It does not ever make it to baked cookies in my house, and I invariably eat obscene amounts of it with a big glass of milk chaser.  My answer to this in the past has been simply to never keep one of the ingredients in the house.  If I REALLY want cookie dough, I have to want it bad enough to drive all the way into town to the grocery to pick up brown sugar.  I rarely want it that bad.

But I’d been pondering for a while about the notion of making a single serving of cookie dough.  AllRecipes.com has a nifty calculator where you can adjust recipes to a different quantity of servings.  But that one really stumped me because of course all cookie dough recipes have eggs.  It is very difficult to have a fractional egg, and Egg Beaters (while eliminating the fear of E-coli—which I admit was never really an issue for me) just aren’t the same.

Enter Pinterest.  Another guilty pleasure, now that I think about it.  While trolling around on my weekly allotted hour (I have to limit myself or I’ll fritter away scads of time), I came across a recipe for single serve cookie dough.  No eggs, no leavening agent.  It’s never meant to be baked.  It’s all about the flavor of the dough.

Glory halleluiah!

I had to try it.  And BOY was it worth it!  Just the right portion (okay, yeah, I admit, I’ll often make a double batch—but that’s still less than I’d eat if I made regular cookie dough) and a sensible indulgence that won’t totally blow the calorie budget.

Excuse me, I need another glass of milk…

Kait Nolan is stuck in an office all day, sometimes juggling all three of her jobs at once with the skill of a trained bear—sometimes with a similar temperament. After hours, she uses her powers for good, creating escapist fiction. The work of this Mississippi native is packed with action, romance, and the kinds of imaginative paranormal creatures you’d want to sweep you off your feet…or eat your boss.  When she’s not working or writing, she’s in her kitchen, heading up a revolution to Retake Homemade from her cooking blog, Pots and Plots.  You can catch up with her at her blog, Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads.

Winner!!!  August McLaughlin is the winner of Kait’s e-book copy of Red!  Congratulations, August!

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