Shedding Layers/Adding Layers—The Insights and Effects of UnCon

WU UnCon logoLife-Changing Experience: It’s been just over a week since I left Salem. I feel like I’m slowly emerging from the euphoric aftereffect the experience of UnCon produced. I can only now begin to analyze the insights gained and the effects produced.

For those who don’t know what an UnCon is (or was), it’s the brainchild of Writer Unboxed founder Therese Walsh—a five-day gathering of around 100 unboxed writers in Salem, Massachusetts. Not quite a writers’ conference, not quite a retreat, the WU UnConference was totally focused on the craft of writing. There have been some wonderful posts and statuses on the experience, and I identify with them all. Terms like “life-changing” and “transcendent” have been bandied, and not in a frivolous or crass way.

So I’ve been thinking about how I’ve been changed, and how my approach to my work has changed. I was struck by how layers were shed so that layers could be added. Allow me to explain.

Peeling Layers of Fear: One of my favorite posts about UnCon is by my friend Kim Bullock (read it here). Kim gets real about how UnCon and the people there managed to peel away her fears, about herself and about her work. She got me to thinking about my own layers of fear. Sometimes I feel like the little brother in Christmas Story, so bound up in layers I can hardly move ahead.Christmas Story kid bundled up But the experience of UnCon gives me insight as to how far I’ve come in shedding a few layers. I continue to gain freedom of movement to make progress on my journey. Going back to the beginning, to various degrees and at various times, here are some of the layers of fear I’ve been bound by:

*Admitting my writing aspiration—I told very few people when I started that I hoped to write a novel. I feared both that they’d think I’d never pull it off, and that they’d be right. I feared they’d think I was either nuts or a self-absorbed show-off. And I feared honestly asking myself if either of those was actually the case.

*Proclaiming myself a writer—Even after I finished a draft of my trilogy, I very rarely told those I met socially what I actually do (which is that I write fiction with a side of occasional carpentry). When I just said carpenter, it sometimes led to trouble. People would ask me to come and quote jobs for which I hadn’t the time or interest or desire. I finally realized it was easier just to say I was a writer—which also has its own set of obstacles, including dealing with the next item on this list.

*Admitting I’ve been writing for ten years and am still pursuing publication—We’ve all run into non-writers who don’t understand that successful novels aren’t written, but rewritten. Laymen think getting the thing down on the page—that’s the trick, right? Once those of us who are unpublished expose ourselves as writers to the non-writers in our lives, we must brace ourselves for the question: “So, how’s the book coming.” No matter how many manuscripts you’re working on, or how many essays, articles, or shorts you publish, they want to know about “the book.” And this could go on for years! Once I faced the fear and started coming clean, I found I could deal with the question in one of two ways: Smile, nod, and say, “The book is coming along.” Or enter into an explanation of the entire process and what I’m actually working on, and offer some explanation of why it all takes time. It’s a judgement call. Some are interested, some glaze over and/or change the subject. But it’s a layer of fear that you are forced to confront again and again. And the longer it takes, the more I imagine the laymen around me thinking, “Wow—his writing must really suck for this to be taking this long.”

*Telling people what I actually write—I spent many years avoiding telling people I write epic fantasy. I recall shortly after I started occasionally admitting that I write fiction, I met a woman at a party who asked me what I wrote. It was one of the first times I’d been asked by a new acquaintance. She surprised me into blurting, “Epic historical fantasy.” After a few nods and hums of feigned interest as I blathered about my chosen era, she interrupted me to ask: “So do you think you’ll ever write anything… you know, serious?” I honestly think she meant well. But the shock of it left me telling lies and half-truths for years afterward. “I write historical fiction,” or “I write fiction based in the ancient Roman era,” became my go-to answer to the question of what I write. I’m not sure when I overcame the fear of admitting it. I think I just got to a place of: “I don’t give a shit what you think of fantasy—it’s my genre; I’m a geek, and proud of it.” Funny that now, many years hence, I’m often immediately asked in response, “You mean like Game of Thrones?” My, how things change.

*Fear of being read/critiqued—I’ve written about my experiences with beta-readers and with being critiqued before. It’s never been easy for me to take criticism, but it’s certainly gotten easier over the years. It always takes me a day or so to absorb it and see it clearly. So I have never imagined myself taking critique well in a public setting, like a critique group that meets in real life. Despite my shortcomings, having great writer friends who’ve appreciated my work (as opposed to just friends and family) has been hugely encouraging and confidence-building. Even blogging has helped, but being read and critiqued is the ultimate and final layer of fear that I’ve struggled to peel away. And I know that it’s something I’ll have to continue to face, for the rest of my career. It only gets more extreme once your book is out there, being publically reviewed and discussed. (There was a hysterical and cathartic session at UnCon, led by the amazing and successful Erika Robuck, where she and other published author attendees shared their worst reviews. I can see having a sense of humor about my insecurity will help.)

UnCon—The Peel Sessions: Regarding my aforementioned fear of public critique, on day two of UnCon I was placed in a position by an admired mentor to face it. My favorite teacher of craft, Donald Maass, asked me if he could use the opening to my manuscript The Bonds of Blood during his session on micro-tension (a concept I’ve struggled to effectively master in my own work). I knew Don was going to ask the class to deconstruct my work, find its lacking, then together we would find our way to greater micro-tension in the scene. I supposed before arriving in Salem that this would be the most difficult trial I would face that week. To be honest, it was much easier than confronting the inner journey I would subsequently face. During the session, my fellow WUers were very kind and funny in the deconstruction process, and Don made it a fun exercise. I gained a better grasp on micro-tension than I’ve ever gotten from the books or posts (as good as they are). It was a gift. I consider that layer of fear truly and well peeled (for the moment).

So I’ve seen that some fears can be defeated. Some we can at least we can become inured to. But there are some we must face again and again if we are to grow. UnCon shined a light on one of the most important fears of all: Fear of revealing too much of myself—even to myself—through story. Sure, I’ve revealed parts of myself. There was self-revelation in my work before UnCon. But I’ve learned that I must delve deeper. I’ve learned that only through an honest and often difficult look at myself, and a willingness to infuse my work with what I’ve found, can I hope to truly connect in a genuine way.

Taken To Church: What Don asked of us in a later session took me to church. In his soothing voice, WU’s esteemed craft-guru asked us to look inside ourselves. At what we consider shameful, at our deepest truths; at what’s gone wrong in our lives, and at what’s gone right. He asked us to find a feeling we had never had before. Then he asked us to find the moments when our protagonist faces these things—feels these things. The session’s inner probing moved me to the point of filling my eyes with tears. A couple of times, in fact. I was peeled to my core, and I knew that what I’d found there was behind my writing journey. It wasn’t just there beneath the surface of my stories—it was at the root of what drove me to pick up a jobsite notebook and a carpenter’s pencil and write some cryptic notes about a Gothic chieftain’s son and his warrior-woman secret guardian.

From Thread-Bare to Well-Woven: Between the environment and being in the company of other willing souls, I found my way to stripping away the remnant layers. We were asked to dig as well as shed. Lisa Cron behooved us to find the foundations of our stories through backstory. She implored us to find specific moments that informed how our characters responded to the events of our ‘plots.’ “Specifics beget specifics!” was her refrain. For the story is not in what happens, but in how what happens affects our characters in the pursuit of a difficult goal!

So I came home, stripped of some of my longstanding fears, and started digging. The process is revealing the layers of depth that can be achieved. I can now see so far beyond what merely happens. I can see how much more deeply, how much more profoundly, my characters are affected by what happens. I more clearly see how it is all rooted in moments—some which are very specific—that have impacted me and left an impression on my psyche. It’s now clearer to me how my own deepest feelings are rooted in the stories I tell. If I can convey those feelings in a resonant fashion—if I can find my way to my truest self on the page—it’s certain to add richness to the weave of my stories.

Team WU at UnCon 14The UnCon Recipe: The UnCon was dedicated to elevating our shared craft. And through insight and a newfound grasp on the tools, my potential as a storyteller has been elevated. I’m not saying that my experience at UnCon will make my books successful. Success is a relative term. But the tools and insights gained there offer me a course to greater personal satisfaction. And if I remain true to what I’ve been shown, I will find my way to truer connection with readers. Now that’s a recipe for success.

The results in Salem seem magical, but they wouldn’t have come about without dedication and commitment that started at the top and permeated to all involved. So thank you, Therese Walsh. Thank you, Don Maass. Thank you Lisa Cron, Meg Rosoff, Brunonia Barry, Liz Michalski, and all of your fellow presenters and contributors. And thank you to my fellow UnCon attendees. Thank you for your willing commitment to the elevation of craft. Thank you all for being part of that wonderful recipe that resulted in the WU UnConference.

What about you? Are you comfy wearing layers? Or do you easily shed those I’ve remained bundled in? Do you struggle to dig deep for the threads that add richness to what you weave?

Interview With Ani Bolton, Author of Steel and Song (The Aileron Chronicles #1)

Steel and Song coverI’m stoked to feature my guest for several reasons. First and foremost (and the impetus to this interview) is her new book, Steel and Song. This book really knocked my socks off (which, as many of you know, is quite a feat as I love my socks). Trust me, even if you read no further, and you love a well-crafted steampunk alt-historical world populated with relatable characters in briskly-paced story, head over and download Steel and Song, by Ani Bolton. In fact, go do that now, then come back and read on.

I’m also excited because Ani is actually the writerly alter-ego of Kathleen Bolton, who is one of the co-founders of Writer Unboxed, which is the home-base of my writing community. Kath has been my boss, both as the project manager of WU’s former review site, Reader Unboxed, and as the original editor-in-chief of the WU newsletter, Writer Inboxed (now on hiatus). She’s also been a wonderful mentor, an inspiration, and a friend for some years. And now, with Steel and Song, she’s schooling me again.

As you’ll see in the interview, our work shares some similarities, and her technique and style have been a shining example for taking a story to the next level. So, without  further ado, please enjoy a bit of inspiration from my old friend/new role model.

Interview With Ani Bolton:

Vaughn Roycroft: I want to ask you about your use of historical elements, because I rely heavily on actual history as well. S&S is filled with magical and fantastic elements, but it feels heavily grounded (in my opinion) because of the real history you’ve woven in. Did you set out with the intent of creating an “alternate history” piece? Do you think utilizing real history is an advantage to you as a writer or an enhancement to the work in general?

Ani Bolton: I came from writing historical fiction as my first love (I actually have a useless graduate degree in early modern European history, shhhh), therefore, weaving in actual historical events but giving them that alt-world feel comes naturally. I’m a history junkie and I’m inspired by real-life events. I do think using real history as a world-building technique adds verisimilitude and a sense of “this could actually have happened”, which allows the reader to immerse themselves more fully into the alt-universe created.

VR: I recall an essay you did for Writer Unboxed a few years ago in which you recommended Barbara Tuchman’s Guns of August. Were you always drawn to WWI, or to the Russian scenario during the era? If yes, why so?

AB: I’m kind of a war junkie in general. But I find WWI an interesting historical moment, where the 19th century and the 20th century clash. Aristocratic privilege was under siege by revolutionaries; mechanized war was replacing cavalry charges, and the lines between classes were blurring. Plus, the stakes could not be higher. It’s an era full of interesting contradictions, which of course makes it ideal for storytelling.

When I began drafting what would now become Steel & Song, I had a close loved one deployed for Operation Iraqi Freedom. The US propaganda machine was in full swing, and as a historian I could see the eerie parallels to the jingoism and nationalism that took place in earlier wars.  Peace through War. Freedom through Oppression. We’re destroying your country to save it. The ones making the greatest sacrifices in a time of war are, as always, on the bottom of the ladder. So I wanted to tell a story with characters who slowly discover that their society is both cancerous and opulent, and give them terrible choices to make. The Russian Empire in the era of the last Czar Nicholas mapped perfectly. Plus, it’s just cool.

I do find it interesting that I was writing Steel & Song around the same times as Suzanne Collins was probably drafting out Hunger Games; dystopian fiction in general was taking off. I think we were all drinking from the same well.

 Felix Schwormstädt, Zeppelin L38 Attacking England, 1916

Felix Schwormstädt, Zeppelin L38 Attacking England, 1916

VR: There are so many layers of conflict in the story (beyond the Grand Duchy versus the Franks, there is the Novgorod versus gytrash, and even other ethnic gytrash versus Sámi). I found it really interesting that those born with magic were relegated to an inferior social status. The book makes a solid statement about social conflict and the fear behind racism and class stratification. Were these themes on your radar at the onset, or did they develop during the process?

AB: I definitely took cues from the racial oppression in Europe during the fin de siècle where there were fears of Jews, gypsies, and generally anything that was considered “other” and how intellectuals rationalized bigotry with bogus scientific theories. For Steel & Song, I thought it would be interesting to tell the story of a character whose being could either be the country’s agent of destruction or its salvation—which way is it going to go? I haven’t really decided. As a storyteller, you want to go for the throat and be sure that your character’s greatest strength is also their greatest weakness.

 VR: You chose to present Tova via a first-person perspective and Dashkov via third-person. Although I really enjoyed this nuanced approach, I wonder if you’d be willing to share some insight as to how this developed on the page. Do you prefer one POV over the other as a writer? As a reader?

I prefer to write in first person POV but honestly, the two different POV techniques were how the characters spoke to me. Tova came to me fully formed: her voice was complete and it was in first person. Dashkov took a little longer. I also thought using close third for Dashkov would allow me to use close third for other characters without it coming from left field—for example, I cut Oleg’s POV scenes on the advice of several betas (koff,Therese and Jeanne,koff). They weren’t as enchanted with his brutishness as I was, LOL.

VR: You’ve done a masterful job of weaving in backstory as the narrative unfolds, both with Tova and with Dashkov. Did you delve into their backstories before you began, or did their pasts reveal themselves to you as you wrote? (Sort of a tricky way of asking the “pantser versus plotter” question, isn’t it?)

AB: Thank you! Backstory is a tricky beast, especially when writing an alt-world novel because you need enough to ground the reader and hook them without resorting to an info dump. I am a plotter, but backstory is where I pants it. I think letting the backstory emerge naturally rather than hewing a plot to a backstory allows for surprises.

And sometimes it’s helpful to just drop the hint that there’s something about a character’s past that readers should pay attention to, and come back to it later.

VR: I’m slightly ashamed to admit that this is my very first Steampunk novel. For me, the concept of an airwitch is totally unique, and so creative. And I love that their magic is limited and can even turn harmful if overused. Could you share your perspectives on magic with us?

AB: A long time ago, I read something from the paranormal novelist Holly Lisle who said that “magic must come with a price”. That stuck with me. It’s also the overarching theme of most of my books: what is taken must also be given. What could be higher stakes than magic that can kill the wielder? Plus, it’s sort of boring if every problem can be solved with magic. A problem solved by magic must lead to a bigger problem.

Steampunk and dieselpunk (cyberpunk and biopunk also) are thriving subgenres of science fiction right now. I love the mashup aspect of it, where novelists can draw from all sorts of inspirations and mush them up. Fantasy with a sci-fi twist. That’s kind of my thing anyway.

VR: I can’t let you get away without asking about Writer Unboxed Publishing. Do you think launching this book under the WU mantle has been helpful? And, if you don’t mind: if so, how so? Is there anything else you can tell us about WU’s exciting new venture? (Such as: are you going to be taking submissions in the foreseeable future? 😉 )

AB: LOL, I can’t say much about Writer Unboxed Publishing right now, but what I can tell you that Therese and I are in serious discussions about it. Launching Steel & Song through the WU imprint with the support of the WU community has been hugely helpful, and we are gleaning valuable metrics about marketing and co-branding, which is the strength of WU brand. We want the venture to benefit both the author and the publisher. We’ll have more to share about it soon, promise!

Kathleen BoltonAbout Ani Bolton:

Ani Bolton’s love of storytelling started when she was a kid, ignited by Laura Ingalls and Nellie Olsen’s epic smackdown, which stole her sleep on a school night. She’s been scribbling stories ever since.

Her novels blend her love of history and adventure with romance, magic and the occasional foray into the weird.Her alter ego is Kathleen Bolton, co-founder of Writer Unboxed, a writing community. She’s written a number of novels under a variety of pen names.

 Find out more about Ani at the following hangouts:  Twitter: @Ani.Bolton; her website; Tumblr if you’re into WWI, gifs of cats being magical, and ‘punk (steam and diesel—she’s equal opportunity); and Facebook, which is like her Tumblr page but with more pictures. Actually, her Facebook page is kind of a mess.

Thank you again for featuring me, Vaughn!

Written To Death – Writer Unboxed Redirect

Caspar_David_Friedrich_-_A_Walk_at_DuskOnce again, I am honored to have one of my essays featured on Writer Unboxed. I never quite know when these opportunities might arise, and it seems a bit unfortunate to me that I chose a fairly heavy topic (death) and that my chance occurred on a sunny (here in the Mighty Mitten, anyway) early summer Friday. It may be a heavy subject, but I tried to keep my take lighthearted. Those of you who’ve read my work know that I do not shy away from the topic on the page. And I’m fairly certain that upon closer examination, death plays a role in your work as well. After all, death is a part of life. Hence, it should be a part of story.

On that sunny note, Happy Friday, everyone. Please smile as you head over and check out Written to Death, on the best darn writing blog on the interwebs, and the mothership to my writing community, Writer Unboxed.

Story Research – Letting the Brain Assist the Heart

Research BooksAn Intricate Mess:

“If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, then what are we to think of an empty desk?” ~Albert Einstein

I’ve written about my approach to world-building before, in general here, and in regards to names and naming here. But my friend Heather Reed recently undertook a new historical fantasy project, and she asked me specifically about my approach to researching the Broken Oaths trilogy. In looking back at my notes, I’m both excited for her and amazed.

Excited because they remind me of the adventure of the hunt, and the thrill of discovery. But amazed by the wide and disparate variety of sources that I mined for my story elements. In wading through what can only be called a disorganized mess, it’s a wonder that I was able to arrive at anything coherent.

This is one of the reasons I subscribe to the notion of a story muse. I’m the antithesis of organized, which seems contrary to being a good researcher. And yet somehow I was able to pull a story out of my intricate mess.

As an example, I give you my namey-namer cheat-sheet (see photo). It’s a simple 81/2” x 11” sheet of plainLOBO Cheat-sheet white paper that started out as a short list of possible character names. It’s now covered, front and back, with hundreds of names and obscure references. Please note there is very little means of organization, other than a handful of breakdowns by character group. And yet it continues to serve me well. I’m not sure how I find such a crazy resource helpful, but every time I need to check a name, this is my go-to reference. Honestly, I rarely need it. It’s mostly in issues such as: “Now what’s that secondary character’s grandmother’s name again?” And somehow I know what part of which side to look to find gramma’s name. This from a guy who honestly can’t recall his own phone number. Go figure.

Getting Wet:

“Pearls do not lie on the seashore. He who desires one must dive.” ~Chinese Proverb

We’re in the information age, right? And with so much access to a mighty river of information, the toughest part is going to be finding the tributaries and offshoots that apply to your story. In order to do that, sticking your toe in will not do. You’re going to have to get wet.

JORDANES Origins & Deeds of the GothsAnd you never know where the currents will carry you. For example, my quest for original source material about the Goths swiftly revealed a scarcity. Which is why I was so excited to find one of the few existing documents about the Goths by a Goth—Jordanes’ The Origin and Deeds of the Goths. Although I quickly realized Jordanes was writing about previous generations with few specific references and an obvious quantity of bluster, one note caught my attention and held it. He claimed that the Greek myth of the Amazons originated with the Ancient Greeks’ discovery of a group of Goth women whose husbands and sons had left them on the north shore of the Black Sea to raid in Persia and Egypt. I was fascinated, and it led to months of study of the Amazons and related myths and topics. And ultimately, to my creation of the Skolani—an all-female warrior sect that plays a prominent role in all of my work. All from a paragraph in an ancient treatise. There were no kickass warrior women on my radar at the onset, but oh-how-glad I am that I was willing to dive and found my way to them. They are most certainly a pearl.

There’s a lot to take in, on most any subject. But it’s difficult to pick and choose your sources. I say dive in and let it wash over you. Go with the flow. You might end up somewhere you like.

Panning For Gold:

“The subconscious is a hundred times smarter than we are. We’re just taking dictation.” ~Steven Pressfield

In hindsight, I wish I’d worried less about delving for specifics. I wish I’d gone in with only the idea that I was going to educate myself and feed my enthusiasm, knowing the rest would more or less take care of itself. Because that’s what ended up happening.

As another example, in my research of the Goths, I began by broadly perusing subjects pertaining to the Germanic Tribes at the height of the Roman Empire. I studied their social structure and kingship. I went on to study their laws and mores, settlement layouts, agriculture, games and amusements, clothing and jewelry, migration (causes and effects), and their weapons and warfare. What I really wanted was more specific information about how they governed themselves. Sadly, there is little information, and much of it is conflicting.

futhark ring hiltsBut in the course of my search, as I studied the last topic—weapons and warfare—I now see what became the roots of my solution. There is an entry in my notes from a book called Battle-ax People, by Olivia Vlahos. The note pertains to the expense and significance of swords, and how certain swords became important relics passed from father to son, occasionally symbolizing a legacy of chieftainship. From another book called The Everyday Life of Barbarians: Goths, Franks, and Vandals, by Malcom Todd, I note that some important swords are inscribed with oaths, and occasionally such oaths appeared in the form of rune rings, attached to the hilt. The two notes are only a few sentences each, and were taken several months apart. And yet they clearly led to the Futhark swords of the Gottari ruling clans—the symbolic relics which represent the leadership of my two ruling clans.

I don’t see any notation that I’d put the two together—inherited swords symbolic of leadership and rune rings on hilts—at the time. But when it came time to outline, a symbol was needed, and there they were: the Futhark swords. I invented much of the rest of the elements of their governance from other tidbits gleaned over the course of my research, and it all fell into place once I had the Futhark swords. So I’d advise you not to bother looking for bright baubles as you go. Just scoop it in. Your muse (or your subconscious) will sift through for the gems.

Take It From Me (Or Don’t):

It might seem silly, now that you’ve read this far, that a guy who admits he’s a disorganized and somewhat aimless researcher is now going to give you advice on researching. But I am (going to give advice, not silly—or is it both?). Take it or leave it. It’s all in good fun (as any research for fiction should be).

*Find your passion! As I say, this should be fun. If you’re passionate about your subject or era, your research will not only be easy, but a pleasure—something you’ll look forward to doing.

*Give yourself ENOUGH time, but not ENDLESS time. If you’re having fun researching, as you should, you might find a point of diminishing returns. At some point we all have to stop researching and start writing.

*Start online, but zero in with books. Nothing beats the internet for gaining a broader understanding of a topic or era. But you’ll soon realize that if you want any depth and citation, you need to go to books. I buy as many as I can, but for most of us, trips to the library become an indispensable part of any major research project.

*Don’t be afraid to follow the rabbit down the hole. I think I’ve pretty well illustrated this point. If you’re writing about Goths and Romans in the 4th Century AD, don’t be afraid to spend a few months chasing Amazons across Ancient Greece and beyond. Or something along those lines.LOBO Research Notes

 Let Your Brain Assist Your Heart:

“I’ve noticed this effect: When writers undertake to write a story, the insights and information they need to write it well tend to arrive unasked for. Those things arrive at the right moments, perfectly timed gifts from the story god.

Or, is it rather that an author’s brain, working on a story, begins to grab available information and synthesize it, which is to say bend, blend and meld it to the purposes of the story?

Is it magic, serendipity or synthesis? Whatever it is, I don’t think it’s accidental. I think authors make it happen. It’s the brain assisting the heart.” ~Donald Maass

Don’s quote above is from a comment he made on a wonderful WU post this week. The post is largely about the mysterious and seemingly random serendipity of the power of the brain, by Maureen Seaberg, the co-author of Struck by Genius. And, as he often does, for me Don took the post to a whole new level.

The Dreamer, by Caspar David Friedrich (1835)I allotted a year to research when I began my manuscript in earnest. And I ended up with a pile of notebooks even larger than the one pictured above. But once I started writing, I rarely dug through that disorganized mess (perhaps in part because it was disorganized). The insights and information I needed tended to arrive as perfectly timed gifts from the story god. Or did my brain somehow know better than my conscious self which bits to grasp and gather, to then “bend, blend and meld to the purposes of the story”? Either way, I’m glad I somehow found my way to allowing my brain to assist my heart.

Moving forward, I’m hoping I can repeat the process, but I’m not too worried. I’ve already stumbled onto streams that have led my subconscious to begin the bending, blending and melding all over again.

Now it’s your turn. Is your research organized? Do your notebooks have color-coded tabs and an index? Do you trust that your brain will know better than your conscious self, and will assist your heart?

Chatting With A Hero – A Video Interview of Therese Walsh

ThereseDefining “Hero”: So I was sitting here wondering how to title this post. I jotted the words: “Chatting With A Hero.” Then I wondered if I was overselling (I’m sure she’d humbly say as much). But a hero is someone admired for their courage or outstanding achievements. And, I would add, someone who inspires courage or the aspiration of others to strive for the outstanding. I was surprised when I googled “hero” to find the words “typically a man” in their definition. I consider quite a few women to be heroes, my wife first and foremost. So then I wondered if I should switch it to “heroine.” But that word seemed to relegate the subject to the pages of a story or the script of a movie. And Therese Walsh is definitely a real-life, flesh-and-blood person that I admire; for her courage, for her example in persevering to accomplish the outstanding, and for her inspiration. She fits the billing. So hero it is.

An “Interesting” Experiment: What (I hope) you are about to witness is an experiment. I’ve never really interviewed anyone, let alone in a video format. But when Therese and I stumbled across the idea, I thought that it would be a lot of fun, at the very least. And it was. But in hindsight, it also gave me a huge appreciation for those who interview writers they admire, and for those who do so on camera all the more. I hope you’ll forgive my inexperience but, as I said, at least it was a lot of fun. And although I’m not the most experienced moderator of such a discussion (we occasionally got a little carried away, enjoying our shared passion for writing), thankfully my subject is interesting and wise and her new book is wonderful. These things, I think, come clear throughout our occasionally rambling discussion. Besides, as I said, T inspires me. And I’m willing to bet she’ll inspire you, too.

So, without further ado, please enjoy my discussion of a new favorite book of mine, The Moon Sisters, with its author–my hero and friend, Therese Walsh.

(Side Note: The reason I’m laughing at the opening is that I couldn’t get our Skype session to record. My guest was not only gracious during my 20 minute technical struggle, she googled the problem and read the step-by-step solution to me as I fumbled to success.)

About The Moon Sisters:

“The night before the worst day of my life, I dreamed the sun went dark and ice cracked every mirror in the house, but I didn’t take it for a warning.”

After their mother’s probable suicide, sisters Olivia and Jazz are figuring out how to move on with their lives. Jazz, logical and forward-thinking, decides toThe Moon Sisters get a new job, but spirited, strong-willed Olivia, who can see sounds, taste words, and smell sights, is determined to travel to the remote setting of their mother’s unfinished novel to say her final goodbyes and lay their mother’s spirit to rest.

Already resentful of Olivia’s foolish quest and her family’s insistence upon her involvement, Jazz is further aggravated when they run into trouble along the way and Olivia latches on to a worldly train-hopper who warns he shouldn’t be trusted. As Jazz and Olivia make their way toward their destination, each hiding something from the other, their journey toward acceptance of their mother’s death becomes as important as their journey to understand each other and themselves.

Buy the book! (Yes, now, before you forget.) 

About Therese Walsh: 

Therese’s second novel, The Moon Sisters, was published in hard cover on March 4th, 2014 by Crown (Random House). Her debut, The Last Will of Moira Leahy, was named one of January Magazine’s Best Books of 2009, was nominated for a RITA award for Best First Book, and was a TARGET Breakout Book.

Therese is the co-founder of Writer Unboxed, a site that’s visited daily by thousands of writers interested in the craft and business of fiction.

Before turning to fiction, she was a researcher and writer for Prevention magazine, and then a freelance writer. She’s had hundreds of articles on nutrition and fitness published in consumer magazines and online. She has a master’s degree in psychology.

Aside from writing, her favorite things include music, art, crab legs, Whose Line is it Anyway?, dark chocolate, photography, unique movies and novels, people watching, strong Irish tea, and spending time with her husband, two kids and their Jack Russell.

Visit Therese: At Her Website, On Twitter, and On Facebook:

Your turn! What are the unique aspects of your writing process? Have you read either of Therese’s books? If not, what are you waiting for? Could there be a more gracious interview subject, or a more bumbling interviewer? Please share your thoughts in the comments. 

The Arts & Crafts of Writing Fiction – Writer Unboxed Redirect

Horseshoe Front door 1Having one of my essays featured on Writer Unboxed is always a thrill and a distinct honor for me. Since I always say this, may I attempt to explain? As most of you know, it’s the Mothership blog of my writing community. It’s so special for me because it’s the first place I found that I felt the empathy and specific, relevant instruction that one can only feel from others undergoing the same journey. It’s a special sense of belonging, and it’s ongoing. And I hold the founders and regular contributors in such high esteem.

This time around, I wanted to demonstrate how my love of all things Arts and Crafts fits into my philosophy on writing. Some of you might have read my post on what building our Arts & Crafts bungalow taught me about writing, which might give you some idea. This time I delve a little deeper into the A&C Writer’s lifestyle I strive to live. It’s about how beauty can be found in simplicity and functionality (like our front door and Pewabic pottery–a few of my favorite Arts & Crafts possessions). So please head over to Writer Unboxed and join the conversation. A&C Pottery

A Writerly Pilot Light – Writer Unboxed Redirect

Gas Flame in handsToday I have the honor of contributing to the Writer Unboxed blog. And it really is an honor. As most of you know, WU is the home-base of my writing community. I’m a moderator on the WU group page, and a contributor for Writer Inboxed, the WU newsetter. But it’s just such a special thrill for me to be a featured contributor to the main page–among some of my all-time favorite bloggers and mentors.

Today’s post is about dealing with writerly waiting. Which is hell. Sorry I haven’t offered anything here in a few weeks. I wrote the WU post a little while back, when I was just coming out of a waiting period. I’ve since finished another rewrite of book one of my trilogy, which is what’s kept me from blogging. It’s about to go back out into the world. Once again I’m banking my writerly embers for the long haul.  So rereading my own words on this is particularly helpful. I hope so for some of you, too.

So please join me over on WU for A Writerly Pilot Light.

Image credit: <a href=’http://www.123rf.com/photo_7708392_hands-holding-a-flame-gas.html’>pakhnyushchyy / 123RF Stock Photo</a>