Writer Wednesday – Elizabeth Donald

Let’s start with the basics. Who are you?
Tell us (briefly) about you…
…and a bit about what you’ve written…
…and what you’re working on right now.
I’m Elizabeth Donald, and I write stuff. By day I write for a daily newspaper on a variety of topics ranging from education to politics to crime. By night I write about monsters and zombies and things that go chomp in the night. I started writing fiction for publication a few years into my journalism career, though my fiction habit really dates all the way back to childhood. My first novel was published in 2004, and I’ve since written maybe 13 novels and novellas, depending on how you count the ebooks.

Right this moment, I’m working on a short story for an anthology about tragic love in speculative fiction. I’ve recently finished a collection of short stories titled Moonlight Sonata that I hope will see print next year, and waiting in the wings is a space adventure titled Banshee’s Run. I also have a few projects waiting in the editing queue and preparing to take my photography work to the next level. Other than that, I’m not too busy.

What are your earliest book-related memories?
My mother replaced the Berenstain Bears with Nancy Drew when I was a young girl, and Nancy led me into what we would have called “young adult” fiction if that term had existed. I started falling into historical drama and mysteries as a ‘tween, but then Star Trek: The Next Generation premiered and I was a science fiction fan for life.

What are your three favorite books?
You’ve just broken me. My favorite novel is probably IT by Stephen King, whose entire bibliography ranks among my top re-reads in my ridiculous library. Peter David’s Imzadi is one of the best tie-in novels I’ve ever read, and for more recent work, I’m desperately in love with the Newsflesh series by Mira Grant, particularly the first novel, Feed.

How many books to do you read at any given time? What are you reading now?
I used to devour a book a night – up to three nights if it was a real epic, like The Stand or Gone With the Wind. Then I had a child, and I discovered the desperation of sleep deprivation. I usually read one fiction and one nonfiction book simultaneously, since they use different parts of my brain, but then I also read a copious number of blogs, articles and assorted nonsense for work. Currently I’m reading The Day She Died by Bill Garrison, and just finished Book of Shadows by Alexandra Sokoloff. In nonfiction, I have a stack of books on the influenza epidemic of 1918 – research for future misbehavior.

Finish this sentence; when I curl up with a book, I ___
…want to fall through the hole in the paper.

To re-read or not to re-read, that is the question.
I love re-reading. It’s territory I’ve scouted before, but if the writing is strong enough, you can fall through again and be transported to a place you really enjoyed visiting. I have this wild idea to reread Stephen King’s entire bibliography in the order he wrote them, and see what I can learn from the evolution Master of Horror. All I need is an extra three hours in the day.

How likely are you to read a book that’s been recommended to you?
Very likely, if it’s a premise that intrigues me. I have certain authors that are an auto-buy for me, of course: Jonathan Maberry, Mira Grant/Seanan McGuire, Gillian Flynn, Joe Hill, Julia Spencer-Fleming and of course the big names like Stephen King and Harlan Ellison – John Grisham if he’s in familiar territory, the courtroom. All of them have demonstrated the ability to send me through the hole in the paper, and that’s what I’m really after. If someone I trust recommends a book, I’ll give it a try, which is probably why my to-be-read pile is so high.

How likely are you to recommend a book (that isn’t yours)?
I recommend books all the time, and try to keep up with reviews. I used to write a review column for the newspaper, and when it was canceled, I launched it as an independent blog. Unfortunately, time constraints mean I don’t post all that often, but I know the importance of good reviews for a book, and try to do so.

What do you look for in a good book?
Story and dialogue are key; if I’m not interested in the events unfolding or the people are speaking in voices I can’t really hear, I’m bored. Bored means I’m falling asleep, and I don’t get enough sleep anyway. So keep me awake with smart people and crackling dialogue, then give them something interesting to do. I don’t want extensive descriptions of his smoldering eyes and her lovely gown, and for some people that’s the kind of thing they really want. To each his or her own, as in anything this subjective.

Why do you write?
I write because the voices in my head told me to. I write because it’s what I was made to do, how my mind was constructed. I write horror because the things I see in the real world are so much more awful and yet mundane that I’d rather see something fantastic and terrible. It’s cheaper than therapy. But I have been writing ever since I could pick up a pencil, and probably before, making up stories in my head to entertain myself when I’m bored and telling stories to my little sister at night to help her sleep. You might as well ask why I breathe.

If you couldn’t be a writer, what would you be?
I can’t imagine a circumstance where I wouldn’t write. If I lost my job and my publishing career, I’d write my novels and bury them in a trunk for someone to uncover someday. If I were stranded on a desert island, I’d make up the stories in my head and sing them to the canaries. If I suffered an injury or illness that robbed me of my mind and my ability to create, to form words… well, I think then I’d rather be dead, but that’s rather dramatic, don’t you think?

Where do you draw your inspiration from?
Schenectady. There’s an idea service there that sends you a six-pack of ideas every week. That smartass answer is to be attributed to Harlan Ellison, who uses that answer every time he’s asked where his ideas come from. As he says, “Aristotle can’t answer that question.” They come from the ether, from Neverland, from the place between awake and asleep. I believe that just about everyone gets inspiration – those random creative thought-balloons that float through their minds when they’re stuck in traffic. The trick isn’t getting ideas. The trick is grabbing hold of them when they come, winding the ribbons around your hand and letting them carry you off to Neverland. When you learn how to harness ideas and turn them into stories you can share with others, you’ve become a writer.

What has writing taught you about yourself?
That I will never stop learning, and that I cannot ever do just one thing at a time.

How do the people in your life seem to view your writing career?
My husband is also a writer; we met first through a mutual friend twelve years ago, and later re-met when he published his first book and began the tour circuit. It is a wonderful blessing to share my life with someone who understands the insanity. My son is wholly unimpressed, since he’s grown up hanging out at book signings and helping to carry boxes of books. I think the rest of my family is waiting for me to set aside these vampires and zombies and write something in the real world!

Are there any stereotypes about writers that you don’t think are true?
No. We’re all poverty-stricken, insecure drunkards. Well, at least it helps… In all seriousness, just about every stereotype has a writer or five who confirm the stereotype. Probably the only real misconception is the one perpetuated by Richard Castle: being a novelist means you’re a gazillionaire. Unless you’re James Patterson or John Grisham, you’ll be lucky to make a living. And when I say “make a living,” well… the last statistic I read said that fewer than 3 percent of authors make $10,000 a year or more on their books. So “poverty-stricken” is pretty much assured, as is the day job and/or the spouse who works for a living and has health insurance. As for insecurity and alcohol… let’s just say I’ve poured drinks for most of the small-press authors in the Midwest and the South.

What do you see as the biggest challenge today for writers starting out?
Their biggest challenge is internal: impatience. The ability to toss a book out onto the internet the instant you type THE END has given a lot of aspiring writers a fast-forward button, and the temptation to skip all that bothersome editing, submission and working with a publisher is very real. The problem is that most aspiring writers have a lot to learn, and they learn a great deal from that process, including rejection and wrestling with a recalcitrant editor over a comma. Skipping that process is the biggest mistake they can make, and so many of them do. Patience, grasshopper. Good writing eventually finds a home, and at the end of the marathon, it’s going to be a book you’ll be proud to call your own and a launch to a writing career.

Have you made any writing mistakes that seem obvious in retrospect but weren’t at the time?
If I’d known how wildly popular my zombie novella The Cold Ones would be, I wouldn’t have killed off so many characters! I’m famous for offing people in my books – c’mon, I’m a horror writer – but I did get especially bloodthirsty in The Cold Ones, because it was supposed to be a standalone novella. Then it sold out its initial print run in 48 hours, and by the end of the weekend I had a deal for two sequels. But even that I can’t really count as a mistake, because I count Blackfire (the sequel) as one of the finest books I’ve ever written, and I’m really looking forward to completing that trilogy.

Is there a particular project you would love to be involved with?
I’m already up to my eyeballs in work as it is! I’m wrapping a space adventure that’s probably the pulpiest thing I’ve ever done, and just completed another short-story collection that follows up to my first print release, Setting Suns. After that I need to finish the Blackfire series, and then there’s the continuation of the Nocturne series, and there are three other standalone novels standing in line. I don’t need new projects, I need more hours in the day.

How do you deal with your fan base?
Fans are wonderful! I am always grateful and humbled when someone tells me that my work reached them. Stephen King says in On Writing that writing is the closest we’ll ever come to telepathy: I have an image or a character in my head, and I have only this clumsy mechanism of words to share it with you. The better I am at replicating that image in your head, the better writer I have become. So when someone tells me that my work made them cry or throw the book across the room, I’m delighted.

Finish this sentence; my fans would be surprised to know ___ about me.
I’m shy. Yes, really. I was a very shy kid, and I still have that wallflower tendency. I speak in public often and spend a great deal of time in large crowds, cocktail parties, panel discussions, and it takes a tremendous energy to overcome a natural introversion that tells me to go hide in my hotel room. But this is key: it can be overcome. It takes energy and knowing your limits. But if the girl who didn’t speak outside the house for days at a stretch can moderate a panel at Dragoncon… you can do it too. I swear.

Anything else we should know?
I run the author cooperative Literary Underworld, and several of us will be guests at Archon in St. Louis on Oct. 2-4. Guest of honor is Harlan Ellison, whom I have met once before. I hope to repeat my streak of not drooling on his shoes. If you have the means, do stop by the Literary Underworld booth and say hello!

Elizabeth Donald is a dark fiction writer fond of things that go chomp in the night. She is a three-time winner of the Darrell Award for speculative fiction and author of the Nocturne vampire mystery series and Blackfire zombie series, as well as other novels and short stories in the horror, science fiction and fantasy genres. She is the founder of the Literary Underworld author cooperative; an award-winning newspaper reporter and lecturer on journalism ethics; a nature and art photographer; freelance editor and writing coach. She lives with her husband and her son in a haunted house in Illinois. In her spare time, she has no spare time. Her latest release is Nocturne Infernum, a trilogy of vampire mysteries set in a dark alternate Memphis.

Website: http://www.elizabethdonald.com
Blog: literaryunderworld.blogspot.com
Twitter: @edonald

Writer Wednesday – Jane Bennett Munro

Let’s start with the basics. Who are you?
Jane Bennett Munro

Tell us (briefly) about you…
I’m a pathologist. Not a medical examiner. Just a general hospital based pathologist in a rural hospital. I was solo for 24 years. Now I have three partners. I’m 67 years old and semi-retired. I’ve done a number of coroner’s cases, have given depositions and testified before a grand jury, but I’ve been lucky enough to stay out of court. I served 8 years on the Idaho State Board of Medicine and was chairman for two years.

…and a bit about what you’ve written…
My books feature a female pathologist in a rural hospital, sort of like me, only smarter and more kick-ass. My first book, Murder Under the Microscope, won an IPPY award. My second book, Too Much Blood, came out last summer. My third book, Grievous Bodily Harm, is inpublication and should come out this summer.

…and what you’re working on right now.
My fourth book, Death by Autopsy.

What are your earliest book-related memories?
Nancy Drew. Crawling underneath the Christmas tree to see if anybody had given me one for Christmas. My Friend Flicka. Black Beauty. Going to the bookmobile with my best friend to check out the Black Stallion books. Recently I bought those to give my best friend’s sister so she’d have them for her grandchildren; but I had to reread them all before I let her have them.

What are your three favorite books?
I can’t possibly answer that. There are just too many. I can’t just pick three favorites, but if I did, I bet they’d all be by Lisa Scottoline.

How many books to do you read at any given time? What are you reading now?
One or two. I’m reading Karen McInerney’s Murder Most Maine on my Nook right now.

Finish this sentence; when I curl up with a book, I
travel to a different world.

To re-read or not to re-read that is the question.
I do that all the time. It’s like visiting old friends.

How likely are you to read a book that’s been recommended to you?
Depends on who recommends it. Some people’s taste is way too different from mine and I know I won’t like anything they recommend.

How likely are you to recommend a book (that isn’t yours)?
I do that all the time.

What do you look for in a good book? A meaty plot. Believable and likable characters. The next book in a series that I like. The newest book by a favorite author. I hate buying a book and finding out that it’s a bunch of short stories, or number three in a trilogy. I want to find a synopsis of the book on the back cover so I know what I’m getting into. And I hate books written in present tense.

Why do you write?
I always thought it would be a good thing to do after I retired. When I was in medical school and internship and residency, every time somebody was nasty to me I would threaten to put them in my book. And now, I’m doing that.

If you couldn’t be a writer, what would you be?
I’m a pathologist, so I guess I’d still be one if I didn’t write. I love gardening, so maybe I could have a second career as a landscape architect, or something like that.

Where do you draw your inspiration from?
My work as a pathologist.

How do the people in your life seem to view your writing career?
They love it. They think it’s cool. They brag on me.

Are there any stereotypes about writers that you don’t think are true?
That they’re arrogant and can’t take criticism? Maybe some are. That’s to cover up their basic insecurity. I may be insecure, but I’m not arrogant. My favorite writer, Lisa Scottoline, isn’t either.

What do you see as the biggest challenge today for writers starting out?
Breaking into the field and getting recognized. There are so many writers out there, especially in my genre, and getting accepted by a publisher is almost impossible. And now, with indie publishing growing like it is, more books are getting published than ever, so getting noticed in such a big crowd is ever so much worse now.

Have you made any writing mistakes that seem obvious in retrospect but weren’t at the time?
One I can think of is putting too much backstory at the beginning of the book. It stops the action cold. I did that in my first book, and my editor jumped right on it. Another is putting in too much thinking by my protagonist. My books are in the first person, so it’s tempting to put in a bunch of reflections about happened in her past or what she feels about things. That slows the action down too.

Is there a particular project you would love to be involved with?
Turning my books into movies. Heck, why not dream big?

How do you deal with your fan base?
Well, right now my fan base is mostly people around here, that I work with, go to church with, sing in the chorale with, do business with. I’m not well enough known to have anything to deal with yet.

Finish this sentence; my fans would be surprised to know ___ about me.
everything

Writer Wednesday – Lauren Rachel Tharp

Let’s start with the basics. Who are you?
My name is Lauren Rachel Tharp.

Tell us (briefly) about you…
I’m 28 years old, I’m hypoglycemic, and I’m a cat owner. Oh, and I’m a writer!

…and a bit about what you’ve written…
I’m a freelance writer for hire. I specialize in taking “dull” topics and making them interesting. Copywriting.

When I’m not doing that, I’m working on short stories, poems, and my young adult novels.

…and what you’re working on right now.
At this exact moment, I’m pretty wrapped up in marketing The Ballad of Allison and Bandit, my first published young adult novel. It’s been very exciting! Next week I’m scheduled to speak to 900 teenagers… Which has left me both ecstatic and absolutely terrified. Haha.

After that, I’ll be working on my next young adult novel. I’ve already written down a ton of notes. It will be a while before it’s finished, but I’m prepared to jump right in.

And, of course, my freelance work over at littlezotz.com.

What are your earliest book-related memories?
My dad used to read aloud to me every night. And then taught me how to read via comic books—mostly Uncle Scrooge & Donald Duck. I adore Don Rosa’s Life and Times series.

He also read a TON of Nancy Drew books aloud to my mother and me during family time. We’d all sit around for a couple hours each night and he’d read them…

However, the first “real” book I read on my own was The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. I re-read it about once a year.

What are your three favorite books?
The Phantom Tollbooth will always have a special place in my heart. I’d put that at the top of the list forever. But the rest of the list… It’s always changing. I love the Ramona Quimby books by Beverly Cleary, but I also love Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon. I adore Roald Dahl, but I also get a kick out of Sophie Kinsella. And Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones is brilliant too! And if you throw comic books and graphic novels into the mix… my goodness! Forget it. This question is impossible.

How many books to do you read at any given time? What are you reading now?
I tend to read three books at a time: One fiction novel, one graphic novel, and one non-fiction novel.

Right now I’m re-reading A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle as my fiction book, Absolute Boyfriend by Yuu Watase as my comic book (manga), and Robert Bly’s The Copywriter’s Handbook as my non-fiction book.

Finish this sentence; when I curl up with a book, I…
…am about to fall asleep. But I try very hard not to!

To re-read or not to re-read that is the question.
Oh, definitely re-read.

How likely are you to read a book that’s been recommended to you?
It sounds a bit mean, but it really does depend on who’s doing the recommending…

How likely are you to recommend a book (that isn’t yours)?
Extremely likely! Haha. I recommend books to people all the dang time. Actually, I recommend all of the books I’ve mentioned in the previous questions!

What do you look for in a good book?
Good pacing. A dash (or a lot) of humor. Good characters and dialogue can get you far with me, even if your plot is simple.

Why do you write?
Because I must!

If you couldn’t be a writer, what would you be?
Extremely sad.
Or maybe a private detective?

Where do you draw your inspiration from?
Many of my stories start as dreams. So sleep is pretty important. Haha. I also use my own life as a source of inspiration. Write what you know, right?

How do the people in your life seem to view your writing career?
There were a few worried naysayers when I first quit my day job to become a writer full-time, but as soon as I started making a living off of it, they were like “Oh. Okay!” Hahaha.

As Cyndi Lauper says, “Money changes everything.”

Are there any stereotypes about writers that you don’t think are true?
All of the stereotypes I disagree with have to do with liquids: “All writers drink coffee.” “All writers are drunks by night.”

No and no. I don’t drink coffee or liquor and writing is what takes up most of my time.

What do you see as the biggest challenge today for writers starting out?
Getting noticed. There are so many writers out there. It’s hard enough to be just starting out, but you’re not going to go anywhere if you don’t stand out as well. And that can be very tough. And a bit depressing if it doesn’t happen right away.

Just hang in there! Persistence pays off.

Have you made any writing mistakes that seem obvious in retrospect but weren’t at the time?
Even professional writers make typos. I made one just the other week… I wrote “without further adieu” instead of “without further ado.” Ugh. I could have slapped myself silly for that one! Thank goodness I noticed it on time to fix it before it went to print, but I still felt horrible saying, “Oh, um, on that article I just turned in… I made a really stupid error that I should have caught when I proofread it…” Embarrassing.

Is there a particular project you would love to be involved with?
I’d love to do something to help the homeless in my state. Homeless people and homeless cats.

And I’d love to do something for Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles… I was born without my right hip and they built me a new one—free of charge! I owe them a lot. I try to make donations every year, but I’d love to do something more.

How do you deal with your fan base?
I actually do have a few people that write to me! Haha. That’s always been such a surprise to me, but I love it. I love hearing from people.

I basically write back to them, answer any questions they have, and just… do my best to be friendly? I’m not sure what else to say to this one. I’ve had a problem once or twice with people getting a bit too friendly/flirty, but so far I’ve been able to stop them in their tracks before things got out of hand (unless they’re peeping in at me right now and I don’t know it! Yikes!).

For the most part, it’s been just lovely. I hope to hear from even more people with the release of my new book, The Ballad of Allison and Bandit. Some of my dear friends actually started out as pen pals. So you never know—if you write to me, we may end up being friends!

Finish this sentence; my fans would be surprised to know ___ about me.
I’m allergic to soy. Which is in everything here in America—even gum. So, I cook most of the meals I eat myself.

Anything else we should know?
I am absolutely thrilled to be interviewed! I’m usually the one interviewing other people, so it was an absolute joy to be asked a few questions myself. Haha. Thank you so much!

Oh, and please check out my young adult novel, The Ballad of Allison and Bandit. It’s available for FREE as an e-book on my author website at laurentharp.net!

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