Author Interview: Charissa Stastny

CStastnyCharissa Stastny, author of the Bending Willow Trilogy, made it through the snow to visit from Idaho today. Charissa is a great friend and blogging buddy. Her third novel, Hands of Mercy, has just been released so she deserves lots of chocolate and cheers.

Thanks for visiting so we could talk about your novels and finding the time to write and market a trilogy.

The new book covers look great. What was it like working with your daughter on them? How did she go about creating them?

When she came to me and told me she wanted to update my covers, I was super surprised. She works for an architect, so I didn’t know she could do the graphic art type work, but she found an awesome model for Suvi that fit my specifications and showed me her idea and I was blown away with excitement! It’s been fun working together, although hard too because we live in different states and have to do things long distance or wait until we visit each other.

Suvi goes through a lot of internal and external struggles. As the mother of young daughters, was it difficult for you to put her in those situations?

Suvi is like my child, but I knew as an author I had to torture her in order for her to shine. Real life tortures us in unique ways as well. I tell my kids all the time that God doesn’t keep them safe from every harmful or hurtful thing in the world; but He’s there to help, comfort and guide us through hard times. How we react to our challenges reveals who we really are and what we can become. An easy life makes for boring, shallow people.

2-SecretKeepers_ebookRGB_2You mentioned the missionary character who travels to Guatemala is based on your brother. What did he think of the Eyes of Light novel?

I hope he liked it. I know he read it, but he’s as quiet as I am and we don’t gush out our dreams or compliments to each other. Since most of the missionary moments are from his letters, he better have liked it or I’m not giving him a birthday present this year.

I know you like to work on multiple WIPs at one time. How many are you working on now and how different are they?

3-HandsOfMercy_ebookRGB_2I’ve got about six stories started, but I’ve been focused on editing/revising this Bending Willow Trilogy lately. I go between books – either finishing Book 3, editing book 1, making a trailer for book 2, etc (depending on what I feel like doing each day). It’s fun.

How do you find the time to work on so many different novels? What’s your writing routine like?

My routine is very sporadic. I write every day, but depending on my day job or activities for my kids, doctor appointments, etc, my time at the computer changes. My goal is to become more regimented with my writing time, but so far I’ve been more like Doug from the movie Up. “Squirrel!” I’m easily sidetracked.

Any other writing or marketing advice you’d like to share?

At the last writing conference I attended, author Jennifer Nielsen who wrote the False Prince series, said “book writing is a mental illness.” I’m definitely insane. My advice (like so many other authors out there) is to write because you love it, not because you expect to make a six-digit salary. I love the process of writing and revising. I also love the process of designing my own books and making them marketable. Whether or not I ever become rich off my books, I’ll keep writing because, like I said above, I have the writing disease bad and can’t seem to stop myself. If you are okay with that upfront (being mentally diseased), then welcome to the writing world. Let me offer you a straitjacket.

You can connect with Charissa through her blog Joy in the Moments, Twitter, or Facebook.

Click each book cover for a description. The Bending Willow Trilogy is available through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Smashwords.

A Century of Voices

bookI started the new year off with voices from the last century. I know, I’m weird.

The voices are contained within this volume of short stories. They’re in chronological order starting with the year 1915 so reading through them is like reading through history. Not the kind of history you read in textbooks, but the kind that’s filled with people’s thoughts and feelings. There have been stories about immigration and racial issues, farming communities and mobsters. Poverty. Cruelty. Injustice. And yes, hope.

Famous voices can be found through the pages, including the familiar ones of Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and William Faulkner. But I’ve enjoyed hearing the others, the ones I hadn’t heard until now.

One of my favorites so far, “A Jury of Her Peers” by Susan Glaspell, was published in 1917. It shows how often women were dismissed, even though they were always there farming, cooking, and cleaning. That attitude comes through as the normal way of things with passages like this:

“Oh well,” said Mrs. Hale’s husband, with good-natured superiority, “women are used to worrying over trifles.”

The two women moved a little closer together. Neither of them spoke.

“And yet,” said he, with the gallantry of a young politician, “for all their worries, what would we do without the ladies?”

The women did not speak, did not unbend.

Reading through this volume has reminded me why I love short stories. They give the reader so much in only a few words. The best short stories could easily be novels. They’re packed full of emotion. In these times with so little time (really the way it’s always been), it’s surprising that more people don’t read short stories.

It’ll be interesting to see how writing styles have changed over the last century. I’ll keep reading through time and will let you know how it goes in future posts.

What do you think of short stories? Do you have a favorite short story writer?

Author Interview: Kourtney Heintz

sixtraincoverJust in time for Valentine’s Day, Kourtney Heintz is stopping by to talk about her novel, The Six Train to Wisconsin.

Six Train is such a classic love story. Did you set out to write a novel like that or is that how it evolved?  

Thank you Sheila! It was very intentional. I wanted to write a love story I could relate to. No idealized hero and heroine who live happily ever after. For me finding someone isn’t the journey. Staying together, growing into each other, and dealing with the times you aren’t connecting – that’s what love is about. I wanted to write about people who have good intentions and sometimes make bad choices. I wanted to play with all the gray in relationships and capture what it’s really like to find love and to keep it.

Where did the idea for your novel come from?

The telepathy aspect came from thinking about how great it would be to read someone’s mind and realizing how much more complicated a relationship would become.

The central core of the story is about what you would do for the person you love. What a husband will do for his wife and what she will do for him. The book begins with Oliver as the caregiver and Kai as the care needer – this came from my experience with a back injury. I wanted to take all that pain and use it for something. To tell the story of what it is like to be on both sides of an injury – the caregiver and the care needer.

Do you think telepathy is possible?

Believing in the unbelievables is my tag line on my blog and my website. And I do. I think it’s all possible. I’ve had lots of woo-woo experiences and know people who also had them. I think there is so much beyond our five senses. I’ve never met a telepath, but I like to live in a world where that is possible.

I couldn’t help thinking that the colorful aunt in your novel sounded like Grandma H. What does she think of that character?

She is actually a bit from Grandma H’s sister, Julia, who always wore floral and paisley print dresses when I was a kid.

Unfortunately, we may never know. Grandma H is a niche reader. She only reads non-fiction. Specifically biographies or autobiographies. Usually of president’s wives or movie stars. So she hasn’t read the book. She did buy two copies though, so she is very supportive. 🙂

What made you decide to go the indie route?

I spent one and a half years pitching agents at conferences and sending out queries. I received a good amount of full manuscript requests and personalized rejections. Even got a revise and resubmit two-page editorial style letter from my dream agent at my dream agency. But we had a different vision for the opening and it didn’t work out.

Most of my feedback centered around great writing, but not sure how to sell it. That told me this was a book that might do best in the indie market. I also had a very specific vision for this book down to the cover and the formatting of the chapters. I felt like this was something I needed to bring to market myself.

IMG_0891Kourtney Heintz resides in Connecticut with her warrior lapdog, Emerson, her supportive parents and three quirky golden retrievers. She dreams of one day owning a log cabin on Butternut Lake. Years of working on Wall Street provided the perfect backdrop for her imagination to run amuck at night, imagining a world where out-of-control telepathy and buried secrets collide. 

Her debut novel, The Six Train to Wisconsin, is a 2014 EPIC Ebook Awards Finalist, a 2013 USA Best Book Awards Finalist and a 2012 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Semifinalist.

You can connect with Kourtney through her blog, Facebook, or Twitter.

Where to buy: The Six Train to Wisconsin can be purchased through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, or iTunes.

Favorite Summer Reads

summer garden

My favorite summer reads aren’t exactly beach reads, maybe because I never did make it to the beach to read this summer. Each one made me think of the world in different ways. That’s usually all I look for in a book: to think beyond myself, to become a character I’d normally never be while learning something along the way.

Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver is such a wonderful book for all those reasons and the gorgeous writing tops it off. The sub-plot of a marriage winds its way through a larger environmental story while both can be seen as stories of denial. Flight Behavior shows that denial is something humans excel at, even in the face of repeated weather disasters, while sympathizing with the characters for living and surviving in a time and place where nothing is stable or sure. The novel also shows how far removed something like climate change can be. Priorities like family and enough money for food are too overwhelming to look beyond and see what’s happening in the larger world. But then, if those larger world problems continue to be ignored, they will become personal and this novel shows that too.

The Seneca Scourge by Carrie Rubin is a fun, fast-paced novel that puts the reader right into the hurried shoes of a physician at a hospital. The medical perspective gave me a newfound respect for all that doctors and nurses go through on a daily basis. Add to that a mysterious pandemic and a doctor who shows up along with it, and the pages really start turning. Carrie Rubin does an excellent job of showing the mystery surrounding Casper with scattered instances of strange behavior. The science fiction twist added even more excitement to the story. My mind started spinning with all the possibilities. By the end, the characters had become friends that I didn’t want to leave. Of course, Carrie Rubin’s blog (The Write Transition) is a favorite too.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green – Every once in a while, I’ll pick up a book based purely on the title and will try not to hear anything about it before reading it. That’s what I did with this one. If I had known it was about kids with cancer, I probably wouldn’t have read it. But I loved it. I loved the philosophical discussions about life, love, and the universe. I loved the characters, their quirkiness, and their honesty. This book will make anyone laugh and cry (sometimes at the same time), just like life.

What are some of your favorite summer reads?

Van Gogh’s Café

icon-grill-ted-strutz

Van Gogh stares through the centuries. He could be studying every detail of the café for one of his paintings: every rose-tinted light, every bottle clink and curve. The colors of his century are abstract, inviting.

He scrutinizes a shadowed corner and finds me there. He is committing it all to memory. He just might go home and paint my stunned expression as I stare back at him.

I raise my glass in a toast, wanting him to know how much his art is finally appreciated. The bartender scowls. But then, she must think I’m toasting a blank wall.

For Friday Fictioneers, writers from all over the world come up with a 100-word story or poem inspired by a photo that’s posted every Wednesday. Thank you to Rochelle Wisoff-Fields for hosting and to Ted Strutz for this photo.



The Giver Series: Learning from Fictional Societies

The GiverThank you to Milka for recommending The Giver series by Lois Lowry. I enjoyed The Giver so much that I launched into the next three: Gathering BlueMessenger, and Son. All four young adult novels are short, easy reads so they’re great for those of us most likely to fall behind on reading challenges.

Different communities are described in each book and it’s fun to compare them with each other, and then with our own society. The Giver shows a futuristic society that at first seems perfect. There are no wars. There’s no such thing as pollution, poverty, or hunger. Everyone rides bicycles to get anywhere within the community and there’s never any reason to leave.

But the characters never make any choices, which leads to having no real emotions, including love. A council decides everything: a person’s future career, spouse, children, meals. Individualism is discouraged. They think they’re content, but they’ve never known anything else.

Gathering Blue is then a surprise because the community is completely different. It’s a rougher place, with people living in huts and squabbling over territory. People act more on instinct or their own desires. They occupy themselves mostly with finding food through farming or hunting, though there is never enough food. Possibly because of this, they think nothing of ostracizing those with physical deformities, leaving them to die.

Messenger shows another, more balanced society. This one is based on welcoming outsiders, people who had to escape other places. Everyone finds a way to contribute to the community and it feels more like a family.

Then someone called the Trademaster appears. He has things people have never seen before, materialistic things, and they begin to trade the best part of themselves for those things. Materialism makes them more individualistic and they begin to worry that, with all the outsiders coming in, there won’t be enough resources for everyone. They vote to build a wall around the community. Outsiders are turned away. They don’t notice the connection between the Trademaster and the changes in their society.

Son ties everything up, with characters appearing from all three books like long lost friends. My favorites were The Giver and Messenger, mostly because of the unique communities but also because I loved Matty, the main character in Messenger.

Speaking of communities, I’m thankful for the friends I’ve found here. Milka (who recommended these books to me) has two great blogs: Perfecting Motherhood, a humorous look at parenthood with reviews of adult and children’s books, and a nature photography site where she finds beauty everywhere.

What do you think a perfect community would be like? Can we learn from fictional societies like these?

History as Inspiration

History is more easily overlooked than crazy dogs or nature, but stories from long ago can also be a source of inspiration. It’s the everyday history that inspires and it’s all around us. Whether you’re writing historical fiction or an adventure novel, it’s always fun to sprinkle bits of the past through the pages.

Martha's Vineyard houses

GosnoldSometimes finding these stories is as easy as walking up to a plaque or statue, even if it might make you look like a tourist. I found this plaque practically covered in vines. It mentions Bartholomew Gosnold, who led the first recorded European expedition to Cape Cod before the Pilgrims. It brings to mind what this area would have looked like at that time, what life would have been like, the challenges people faced.

Gosnold's landing area today

historic Cape Cod houseWidow’s walks or cupolas make me think of the days when women waited for years for a ship to appear on the horizon. Although we romanticize that kind of thing today, would it be all that romantic if you were really living it? Somehow, I don’t think so.

windmillShipbuilders, farmers, and fishermen once worked this land. Some may have spent their lives building ships bound for the Orient, hearing only tales and legends from the adventurers who came back.

stone building for whalingStone walls always make me think of borders that are now long gone and the people who placed each heavy stone, building and shaping their land and future.

Just imagine: ice was once cut and harvested from local ponds for refrigeration. Windmills were needed to grind grain into flour. A stone building that’s now a research center was used as a holding area for whales that were caught and hauled in from the ocean. And we think we work hard these days.

I like to imagine these people who came before us. Their stories are everywhere.

stone wall

Have you found inspiration in local or everyday history? Do you think history has a place in all kinds of fiction or just historical fiction?

Out of Reach

reach

He shuffled by the statue on his way to work. He tried not to look but always did.

On the worst and grayest days, a demon grasped and pulled at his ankle. Sometimes the demon was love and then it wasn’t so bad. Still, the man kept reaching. But for what? Salvation, freedom, a better life in some other, faraway place? All that reaching could turn into too much. All that reaching could make a man fall. The statue showed him that. He ducked away from the drizzle and went to work.

Still, the man kept reaching.

For Friday Fictioneers, writers from all over the world come up with a 100-word story or poem inspired by a random photo. Thank you to Rochelle Wisoff-Fields for hosting and to David Stewart for this photo.


Virtual Reality

For Friday Fictioneers, writers from all over the world come up with a 100-word story or poem inspired by a random photo. Thank you to Rochelle Wisoff-Fields for hosting and to Renee Homan Heath for this photo that taunts us with the promise of warmth during these frozen days.

copyright-renee-homan-heath

This one stirred her heart with the rustle of palm tree leaves. She could feel the sand between her toes and the warmth of the boardwalk. Her feet made a hollow echo while the waves sounded out their own rhythms.

Just as she was about to step onto the warm sand, everything changed and her feet squished onto a muddy jungle path. Monkeys screeched instead of seagulls and the leaf rustling felt much more menacing. These virtual realities never lasted long enough, but she knew if they did last too long, any fantasy could turn into a nightmare. She began to run.

Have We Progressed and Is Progress Worth It?

Novel themes are fun because they’re subtle. It’s possible to read a book without realizing what the theme is even though it’s usually there, lurking in the background.

Ironically, the theme of the novel it’s taken me more than a year to revise is progress. I think about progress a lot.

Have we, as humans, progressed? There’s no doubt we have. But sometimes it seems as if for every step forward, we take at least another step back. We have time saving devices like computers and washing machines, but they cause pollution and disposal problems. Cars and highways were once seen as signs of progress over horses and dirt roads. Now traffic jams slow any progress down.

Electricity was another sign of progress. Yet we still create most of our electricity by burning fossil fuels. Now we’re looking toward using alternative energy sources. Any meaningful progress seems too slow.

Throughout history, most of our progress has come at the expense of nature. Nature does have a way of fighting back though. Sometimes I can’t help but think this would be progress of a different kind:

nature, progress

Maybe progress shouldn’t be measured by technology and inventions, but by how we treat each other. When looked at that way, there have been huge strides since the 1950s when segregation ruled the South and a woman’s place was in the home (and only the home). So while we keep taking steps forward and back, hopefully we’ll continue to take a few leaps ahead every once in a while. Sometimes we don’t even realize progress is happening until we look back and say, “Wow, everything is different. How did that happen?”

What are your thoughts on progress? Is progress worth it?

Still Dreaming

I grew up dreaming of the possibility of a better world. My mom worked on John F. Kennedy’s campaign as a teenager. I wasn’t born yet when Kennedy was shot, but the thought of it brings tears to my eyes.

At a time when others turned inward, my mom went on dreaming. Years ago, when plans came up to build a sewage tunnel from Boston to Cape Cod Bay, we went to the beaches and collected signatures against it. The sewage tunnel didn’t make sense to us. Why spend $3.58 billion constructing a tunnel to dump partially treated sewage farther away when that money could be spent fully treating the sewage in Boston Harbor? The tunnel would point toward Stellwagen Bank, a feeding ground for endangered whales. Even though the Cape Cod group that rose up against it gathered thousands of signatures, the tunnel was constructed.

There were so many people against it. We thought for sure we would stop it. My mom went on to fight more environmental battles, but I gave up on politics after that. I started writing articles for newspapers and magazines, hoping that every once in a while, one might make a difference. I have no idea if any of them did.

I’m still dreaming. My novel, Ocean Echoes, centers on the ocean and characters who try to make a difference. More than anything else, I hope it’s a fun adventure story. When it’s published, a percentage of any profit will go toward organizations working to protect the world’s oceans for future generations. I know groups like Oceana and The Ocean Conservancy make a difference. By supporting them, maybe I can make a difference too.

“Our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.” – John F. Kennedy

Are you a dreamer? What do you dream of?

Friday Fictioneers: Sunglasses at Night

It’s time for Friday Fictioneers, a chance to write a 100-word story or poem inspired by a random photo. Thank you to Rochelle Wisoff-Fields for hosting and to Ted Strutz for this mysterious photo.

The sunglasses were strategically placed near the toys that fly. Most people ran right up to the flying toys and sent them whizzing through the air. They didn’t see the need for sunglasses, even as the toy airplanes buzzed by their eyelashes and almost landed on their heads.

Jake put his sunglasses on and strolled up to the giggling pack of girls. They became shadows. He could no longer see eyes rolling or the possibility of condescending looks. He walked up to the girl and held out his hand. She took it. Without a word, he led her away.


The Great Escape

For Friday Fictioneers, everyone over at the Madison Woods site writes a 100-word story or poem inspired by a photograph. It sounds like fun and should be interesting to see how similar the stories or poems are once they’re posted each Friday. This week’s photo was taken by Jan Morrill. Even though it’s not Friday yet, it’s about time to start celebrating so here’s my first attempt.

He sprinted down the white-walled alley. A chill from the shadowed sand ran up his legs and settled in his gut. Each turn only led to more walls and more alleyways. The sky taunted him with openness.

If only he could fly like the birds he so loved to watch. He tried jumping but the walls proved too high. He scratched and scrambled and fell back down to the sand.

A sweet smell drifted from the door. Just as he took a step toward it, a hand gripped the back of his neck. Soon the dreaded leash was once again upon him.