Writer Wednesday – Tiffini Johnson

Who are you?
My name is Tiffini Johnson

What type of stuff do you write?
Writing anything is my passion! I’ve been known to use paper napkins, Kroger sacks and even my own hand to write on. But at my core, I am a relational activist: my heart hurts for abused and neglected children. Almost all of my books are categorized as YA and deal with societal issues like domestic abuse, neglect and child abuse.

What do you want to pimp right now?
The work I am most proud of right now is “Dance For Me.” “Dance For Me” is 11 year old Maelea’s story. Maelea lives a poor life in Cambodia with her parents and her little sister. When her sister becomes ill with dengue fever, Maelea is sold to a brothel. The next two years, Maelea is tortured and sold to men on a nightly basis. Escape is impossible until one horrific act of torture becomes an unlikely saving grace.

This book is special to me because of the research that went into it. Child sex trafficking is an atrocity that breaks my heart, the torture, an evil I can’t fathom. I hope this story awakens my readers to what these kids go through and helps us realize that we are the only heroes these girls have.

What is your favorite book? (Okay, or two or three or… I know how writers are as readers.)
My favorite books are “The Book Thief,” “To Kill A Mockingbird” and anything by Faulkner.

What other hats do you wear besides the writer hat?
In addition to being a writer, I teach, speak as an advocate for RAINN, volunteer and, most importantly, I am a mother to two beautiful girls.

What link can we find you at?
You can find me at storiesthatmatterblog.com and Facebook at Stories That Matter and @tiffinisstories at Twitter

 

*****

Ashes

There are ashes all around. There are ashes in the air, ashes on the ground, ashes on the hands. They are spread everywhere, all over the earth. When eyes are open, I smoke comes from the chimneys; the dreams, breaths, hopes, fears, families inside are disappearing, melting to the ground, until all that is left is a mound of ashes. I smell it; that bitter, foul smell of flesh burning, day in and day out. The smoke gets in the nostrils, blows up into the brain, until it marks an impression no amount of time will erase. The men in their shiny black boots, ironed uniforms with red armbands, have ashes on them too. They shake it off their hands but it clings to their hair. Those standing stock still for hours and hours in the snow, ignoring the burning in near frostbit fingers, they have the ashes on them too. Whether you have a number on your arm or not, whether you are paid a few coins to ferry papers back and forth or your last name is Mengele, ashes fall upon your head here. There is no escaping. There is nothing but hunger and a constant, subconscious, need for fresh air, to breathe without inhaling the ashes floating around, to know what it is to live away from that smell.

Is there life without ashes?

Is there, really? There are ashes around you, too. The tears you cry are coals from the fire surrounding you. When the tears stop coming, where do they go? When you dry your eyes and rise, you move on, but if I am deep enough, I create a scab you carry around with you for the rest of time. Divorce, loss of a job, death of a dream… no matter how much time goes by, you don’t forget me. If you poke at the scab I form, if you talk about it or something makes you remember it’s there, it’s as though you’ve moved a mound of ashes and found a live ember, one that’s still burning. The ashes cover our lives with a black cloud.

I breathe and move the ashes from town to town, from house to house. Before long, I find my way into Hitler’s home, into the President’s, into the soldier’s, into the widow’s, into the peasant’s, even into the child’s. I’m selfish like that, I want everyone to know who I am. My goal is to teach everyone that fairy tales aren’t real and that hope is nothing but a cleverly disguised fairy tale. Until her brother, five-year-old, mischievous Kaplan, was ripped from her arms moments after stepping onto the train’s platform near the barking dogs and screaming men, Adele hadn’t really believed in me. It wasn’t until she watched her brother walk in one direction, while she was ordered to walk in the other, that she saw me for the first time. When she lay on the wooden planks, crammed between other girls, praying for sleep, I hung around. She cried, wanted to know where Kaplan was.

“He’s nothing but ash now,” one of the women said. “He’s in the chimney.”

There’s an exact moment when a child’s heart breaks for the first time, when her eyes are opened to all the lessons I teach, when she stops wanting to climb trees and instead finds herself scared she will fall. I am always there when this happens. If I could capture every spark as it fell from a child’s eye, I would be brighter than the Sun. And yet, it fascinates me. I still watch as it happens instead of turning my eye away. This moment, this moment in which they learn who I am, should keep them from ever smiling again. I should scare them so much they never play or laugh or love ever again. But it almost never happens. Every once in awhile, someone will decide they can’t handle me. Several people a day run into the electric fence surrounding this place, on purpose, because of me. More jump from windows or slit their wrists in an effort to finally be free of me. The vast majority, though, never give serious credence to the idea death might be better than finding me again. The vast majority continue to work, go to school, talk, eat and drink, thereby deliberately prolonging life. It should bother me, make me jealous, how resilient Hope is. It should make me angry. But I’m not. Instead, it amazes me.

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Writer Wednesday – Steven Manchester

Let’s start with the basics.
Tell us (briefly) about you…

I’m a veteran of Operation Desert Storm, where I promised that I would chase my lifelong dreams of being a writer. When not spending time with my beautiful wife, Paula, or my four children, I’m out promoting my works or writing. Visit: http://www.StevenManchester.com

…and a bit about what you’ve written…
I’m the author of my new release, The Rockin’ Chair, as well as the #1 best seller, Twelve Months. I’m also the author of A Christmas Wish (Kindle exclusive), the heart-warming prequel to Goodnight, Brian. My work has appeared on NBC’s Today Show, CBS’s The Early Show, CNN’s American Morning and BET’s Nightly News. Recently, three of my short stories were selected “101 Best” for Chicken Soup for the Soul series.

…and what you’re working on right now.
I’m rewriting a manuscript that I finished some years ago, entitled, Pressed Pennies. I expect that it will be released early 2014.

What are your earliest book-related memories?
In Mrs. Parson’s 4th grade class, I had two poems published in a classroom anthology. This had an enormous impact on me; I really thought it was quite the accomplishment.

What are your three favorite books?
The Bible; To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee; Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt (amongst many others)

How many books to do you read at any given time? What are you reading now?
No more than two at a time, and right now I’m actually reviewing a manuscript for a fellow writer.

Finish this sentence; when I curl up with a book, I __
lose myself to the world around me.

To re-read or not to re-read that is the question.
Re-read!

How likely are you to read a book that’s been recommended to you?
Very likely—given that the recommendation comes from someone I know.

How likely are you to recommend a book (that isn’t yours)?
Very likely—especially when I know the writer (I’ll do whatever I can to help promote them).

What do you look for in a good book?
I believe that good books make people think, while great books make people feel. I look for raw emotion.

Why do you write?
I’d just returned home from Operation Desert Storm, and was working as a prison investigator in Massachusetts. Needless to say, there was great negativity in my life at that time. I decided to return to college to finish my degree in Criminal Justice. During one of the classes, the professor talked about police work but nothing else. I finally raised my hand and asked, “The criminal justice system is vast. What about the courts, probation, parole – corrections?” He smiled and told me to see him after class. I thought I’d finally done it! In his office, he explained, “There’s no written material out there on corrections or prisons, except from the slanted perspective of inmates.” He smiled again and dropped the bomb. “If you’re so smart,” he said, “why don’t you write it?” Nine months later, I dropped the first draft of 6-5; A Different Shade of Blue on his desk. From then on, I was hooked. I was a writer.

If you couldn’t be a writer, what would you be?
A stand-up comedian (I’m joking, of course).

Where do you draw your inspiration from?
My wife and children!

What has writing taught you about yourself?
That my life will be spent in the quest of knowledge; that I possess the determination to make my dreams come true.

How do the people in your life seem to view your writing career?
I’ve been at it for nearly two decades now. I think that the people in my life enjoy sharing the journey with me. And for me, it wouldn’t mean nearly as much if I couldn’t share it all.

Are there any stereotypes about writers that you don’t think are true?
Work ethic; there’s a belief that writers sit around all day—in the comfort of their homes—tinkering with words. In truth, I’ve never worked harder at anything my entire life.

What do you see as the biggest challenge today for writers starting out?
The rejection rates are insane. I really enjoy working with new writers and this is what I share with them; things I wish I had known at the beginning of my career:
Be true to yourself, always.

  • Write constantly.
  • Keep the faith!!!
  • And NEVER, EVER, EVER quit. Most people in this industry would agree that more than talent or skill or even luck, perseverance is the one trait that will always get the job done.
  • Knock on every door you can, and keep knocking. I promise that eventually someone will open and the warmth you feel on your face will more than validate every hour spent alone in the darkness.

Have you made any writing mistakes that seem obvious in retrospect but weren’t at the time?
Writing is a discipline as much as it is a passion for me, so as I continue to put in the work, my talent has developed. When comparing my recent works with my earlier work, I can’t help but to cringe at times. But I suppose that’s the nature of things and most writers feel the same.

Is there a particular project you would love to be involved with?
The Rockin’ Chair—as a film!

How do you deal with your fan base?
As personally as possible. I appreciate all the feedback and the support, so I go out of my way to share the same.

Finish this sentence; my fans would be surprised to know __ about me.
That although I write tear-jerkers, I’m really more of a clown in real life.

Anything else we should know?
My favorite saying: “If you can dream it, you can do it.” – Walt Disney

Writer Wednesday – Valerie Douglas

Let’s start with the basics.  Who are you?
My name is Valerie Douglas

 Tell us (briefly) about you…
*grins* Well, my husband says I’m schizophrenic, depending on which character I’m writing – which is like having a different wife every few weeks. He also says I’m one cat short of being a cat lady (we have four – one with one eye, one whose jaw was broken, and another who sucks her tail) but we also have two dogs.

…and a bit about what you’ve written…
I have sixteen books out now, mostly fantasy, but there’s a four book romance series, a mystery/romantic suspense, and a contemporary fiction novel I just released

…and what you’re working on right now.
I’m dueling projects right now, I have a horror novel I’m polishing for release shortly, and an erotica…..

What are your earliest book-related memories?
Books were always my refuge….

What are your three favorite books?
Just three?!!! To Kill a Mockingbird, anything by Shakespeare, anything by Tolkien

 How many books to do you read at any given time?  What are you reading now?
I don’t read much when I’m working – but I have an anthology from my group downloaded, The Black Count, Gamble by Dick Francis’s son Felix, and The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch, A Team of Rivals, and I just finished Jim Butcher’s Ghost Story.

Finish this sentence; when I curl up with a book, I ___
Disappear

To re-read or not to re-read that is the question.
Some books I know I’ll reread, they’re comforting – like Nora Robert’s Chesapeake Bay series, or anything by Anne McCaffrey, and all of Dick Francis’s books.

How likely are you to read a book that’s been recommended to you? I’d only read a book that was recommended by a friend who knows my eclectic tastes well.

How likely are you to recommend a book (that isn’t yours)?
Unless I know the other person’s tastes well, I don’t.

What do you look for in a good book?
Good involving characters in a well-reasoned plot. I like something new and different – a friend has a book she has yet to release about a cop in a reality show set sometime in the immediate future.

Why do you write?
Because it’s the only way I stay sane? Because the voices won’t stop talking to me and the stories demand to be told?

If you couldn’t be a writer, what would you be?
An artist of some kind – I’ve done community theater, and I was a portrait artist.

Where do you draw your inspiration from?
Sometimes even I can’t answer that question. Where in the world does anyone get the idea of writing about an Egyptian Priestess who gets mummified alive? (Servant of the Gods) My old job and the spate of Ponzi schemes gave me the idea for Lucky Charm. The most recent release was courtesy of a picture a friend sent me.

What has writing taught you about yourself?
I’ve had a few revelations. It definitely opened me up emotionally… sometimes a little too much.

How do the people in your life seem to view your writing career?
My husband, bless his heart, is incredibly supportive.  *grins* Most of my family seem to treat it like it’s a dirty habit like smoking, and just try to ignore it.

Are there any stereotypes about writers that you don’t think are true?
*laughing*  No, most of the stereotypes are true. We’re an introverted, mostly insecure lot, observers. You have to be to write characters with any depth.

What do you see as the biggest challenge today for writers starting out?
Learning that there isn’t a magic formula. That one book will not make you famous.

Have you made any writing mistakes that seem obvious in retrospect but weren’t at the time?
The biggest one is that traditional publishing is a business – while there are a lot of great editors out there, their primary responsibility is to the company. And be careful who you trust.

Is there a particular project you would love to be involved with?
No, I’m not a collaborator. I’m a loner in that respect. There’s a few projects of my own in the future.

How do you deal with your fan base?
With immense gratitude!

Finish this sentence; my fans would be surprised to know ___ about me.
That I can be pretty goofy in real life.

Anything else we should know?
Not that I can think of, but that can change….

 

 

Writer Wednesday – Jacqueline Sheehan

New York Times Bestselling Author Jaqueline Sheehan has been in print for almost a decade now, and has several novels to her credit.  This is her story…

Let’s start with the basics. Who are you?
Jacqueline Sheehan

Tell us (briefly) about you…
Jacqueline Sheehan, Ph.D., is a New York Times Bestselling author of fiction She is also a psychologist. She is a New Englander through and through, but spent twenty years living in Oregon, California, and New Mexico doing a variety of things, including house painting, photography, freelance journalism, clerking in a health food store, and directing a traveling troupe of high school puppeteers.

Her novels include, The Comet’s Tale a novel about Sojourner Truth, Lost & Found, Now & Then, and Picture This. She has published travel articles, short stories, and numerous essays and radio pieces. In 2005, she edited the anthology, Women Writing in Prison.

Jacqueline has been awarded residencies at Hawthornden Castle in Scotland and Jentel Arts Colony in Wyoming. She teaches workshops at Grub Street in Boston and Writers in Progress in Florence, Massachusetts. She has offered international writing retreats in Jamaica, Guatemala, Wales, Ireland, and Scotland.

…and a bit about what you’ve written…
See above.

…and what you’re working on right now.
I’m taking a sharp departure and writing a book that is loosely based on a massacre that took place in Guatemala, 1990 in a Mayan village.

What are your earliest book-related memories?
I lived in a small town in CT where we had a one-room library. The rules were strict and if you were in the library, you were either sitting at table reading or searching for a book. Also, a wonderful memory is having chicken pox (that part wasn’t so wonderful) and my mother bringing me a mountain of books from the library. One of the books was The Incredible Journey and I loved it. I hadn’t realized until this moment how much that book probably influenced my writing. In both Lost & Found and Picture This, there are several chapter from the point of view of a dog.

What are your three favorite books?
To Kill a Mocking Bird, by Harper Lee. I read it every few years. It is nearly perfect.
Prodigal Summer, by Barbara Kingsolver. She writes about the lustiness of nature so beautifully.
In the Woods, by Tana French. She’s an Irish writer who excels in dark psychological mysteries.

How many books to do you read at any given time? What are you reading now?
If I’m reading more than one book at a time, it means that I’m not fully captivated by the writing. Right now I’m reading a memoir, Misadventures of a Garden State Yogi, by Brian Leaf. Very funny and humble.

Finish this sentence; when I curl up with a book, I ___
I pray that the cat won’t knead his claws into my legs.

To re-read or not to re-read that is the question.
There aren’t many books that I re-read, but when I do it is like visiting a good friend.

How likely are you to read a book that’s been recommended to you?
It depends entirely on who is recommending it. But the chances of choosing a book with a personal recommendation are usually much higher.

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

What do you look for in a good book?
I want to be fully immersed in the story, inside the skin of the characters.

Why do you write?
This will sound trite, but I write to more fully understand and experience the world.

If you couldn’t be a writer, what would you be?
I’m also a psychologist, but if I hadn’t been either a writer or a therapist, I probably would have studied frogs and insects. I was fascinated by them.

Where do you draw your inspiration from?
My childhood.
My current relationships.
The news.

What has writing taught you about yourself?
It has taught me that my most intimate and painful experiences are universal.

How do the people in your life seem to view your writing career?
My writing friends completely understand the grinding level of work is required.
My civilian friends seem to think I’m on a pro-longed vacation. I’ve given up trying to change their minds.

Are there any stereotypes about writers that you don’t think are true?
I don’t know what the stereotypes are, which means I might be one.

What do you see as the biggest challenge today for writers starting out?
Writers can talk about writing too much, rather than just writing. And new writers complain bitterly about the publishing industry before they even get a contract. I think it is part of the image that newbies might have of writers to complain about publishers. My experience with publishers has been quite good.

Have you made any writing mistakes that seem obvious in retrospect but weren’t at the time?
I can be overly accommodating. I might need to stiffen up a bit.

Is there a particular project you would love to be involved with?
When Lost & Found is optioned for film again, I’d like to be the psychological consultant on the film.

How do you deal with your fan base?
I answer every single email that I get from readers. And I love doing readings. Meeting readers is still a thrill for me. I am grateful to them and I’m interested in what they have to say.

Finish this sentence; my fans would be surprised to know ___ about me.
That I hitchhiked across the country once. What an idiot!

Anything else we should know?
I could eat Mexican food every day of the week.

Writer Wednesday – Abigail Keam (and a giveaway!!!)

Abigail Keam is an award-winning author who writes the Josiah Reynolds mystery series about a beekeeper turned sleuth.

Death By A HoneyBee won the 2010 Gold Medal Award for Women’s Lit from Reader’s Favorite and was a Finalist of the USA BOOK NEWS-Best Books of 2011. Death By Drowning won the 2011 Gold Medal Award for Best Mystery Sleuth and also was placed on the USA BOOK NEWS-Best Books of 2011.

Ms. Keam is also an award-winning beekeeper who lives on the Kentucky River in a metal house with her husband and various critters.

*

Let’s start with the basics.  Who are you?
Abigail Keam, born and bred in the great state of Kentucky, sired by Appalachian and Southern parents.

Tell us (briefly) about you…
I’m pretty much a stereotype.  I’m old, cantankerous and an embarrassment to my children.

…and a bit about what you’ve written…
I write the Josiah Reynolds mysteries or the Death By ____ series.  My first book was Death by a HoneyBee.  The mysteries are about a female Kentucky beekeeper who becomes an amateur sleuth.  I’ve been fortunate that the books have been so well received by positive reviews and awards like the USA Book News – Best Books List of 2011, which included Death By Drowning as a Finalist.  

…and what you’re working on right now.
Death By Lotto

What are your earliest book-related memories?
I have lovely memories of my mother taking me to the Cincinnati library and checking books out for me.   My mother didn’t drive, so we had to take the bus, walk seven blocks to the library and then back to the bus station.  I’m sure it wore her out, but she was determined that her children be educated.

What are your three favorite books?
Double Indemnity by James M. Cain
To Kill A Mockingbird  by Harper Lee
The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett

How many books to do you read at any given time?  What are you reading now?
One at a time.  I am currently reading Herakleitos and Diogenes.  Translated from the Greek by Guy Davenport.  You asked.

Finish this sentence; when I curl up with a book, I ___
I’m transported.

To re-read or not to re-read that is the question.
Everyone should reread the classics.  It’s important the people read the great books in all genres and streamline those books into our culture.   It’s sad that many young people do not know the great ancient myths or they don’t understand the meaning when someone says “thirty pieces of silver” or “the road to Damascus”.   Regardless of our ethnic or religious backgrounds, we should have a common understanding of our western culture.

How likely are you to read a book that’s been recommended to you?
Rarely.

How likely are you to recommend a book (that isn’t yours)?
Hmmm.  Next question.

What do you look for in a good book?
A good book will draw you into it.  That’s all it needs to do.

Why do you write?
I feel compelled like Moses in the Wilderness.

If you couldn’t be a writer, what would you be?
A beekeeper.

Where do you draw your inspiration from?
My past.  My cultural identity.

What has writing taught you about yourself?
That I am a terrible speller.

How do the people in your life seem to view your writing career?
They could care less.  Remember the saying that a prophet is not honored in his own country.

Are there any stereotypes about writers that you don’t think are true?
I think that they are all true.

What do you see as the biggest challenge today for writers starting out?
To get an even break.  Thank goodness for Ebooks.  Also they are handicapped by their lack of education.  A person graduating from high school in 1970 is better educated than a person graduating from college today.  This is very true in Kentucky.  

Have you made any writing mistakes that seem obvious in retrospect but weren’t at the time?
I don’t contemplate on them because it would undermine my confidence.  A writer shouldn’t look back but keep on truckin’.

Is there a particular project you would love to be involved with?
I would love to co-write a novel series with one or two authors that I know.

How do you deal with your fan base?
I am sorry to say that I am an adulation whore.  I just love my fans.  My Street Team is called Josiah’s Queen Bees.  Hokey I know, but I love it.  

Finish this sentence; my fans would be surprised to know ___ about me.
That I was surprised when my readers told me that the Josiah Reynolds series was funny.  I didn’t intend them to be.  

Anything else we should know?
Let’s keep a little mystery, shall we?

*

Links you might be interested in:

Abigail Keam’s Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/abigailshoney

Abigail’s website: http://www.abigailkeam.com

Death by Bourbon Paperback link – http://www.amazon.com/Death-Bourbon-Josiah-Reynolds-Mystery/dp/0615651593

Death by Bourbon eBook Link –  http://www.amazon.com/Bourbon-Reynolds-Mystery-Mysteries-ebook/dp/B0098BMV54

Or find Abigail on twitter @AbigailKeam.

So, hey, you saw the title of the post, right, and you totally want a chance to win stuff?  So here’s the deal.  Rafflecopter’s pretty box can’t imbed in wordpress, so follow this link and you could win copies of Abigail’s books *and* jars of her award winning honey!

CHECK OUT ABIGAIL’S RAFFLECOPTER GIVEAWAY HERE!!!

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