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Preview: Conversations with Writers

Conversations with Writers

Presents interviews with writers, publishers and literary activists

Updated: 2017-02-08T04:55:24.845+00:00


[Interview_2] C. Y. Gopinath


C. Y. Gopinath has worked as a journalist, a film director, and a community development worker.His books include Travels with the Fish (Harper Collins, 1999) and the novel, Book of Answers.In this email interview, C. Y. Gopinath talks about his new book, Hoyt’s War.What is your latest book about?I just finished writing Hoyt’s War. The story is set in USA 2020, after four years of a very Trump-like President called Barry Codbag have made America the most ridiculed and reviled nation on the planet. It’s strange that my main ‘villain’ was every bit as irrational, maverick, and a dangerous loose cannon as Donald Trump. Campaigning now for four more years in the Oval Office, Codbag needs new and more diabolical distractions to confuse the electorate.Along comes an ordinary retiring American, Daniel Hoyt, a man who just would rather be left alone in peace. Hoyt knows he’s in trouble when he inherits an ancient but locked book said to contain answers to all of America’s problems.And Codbag wants it. He knows this book will help him get re-elected.Hoyt, wanting no part of this, sells the book to a dollar store. But the shop owner quickly realizes what the book could mean, and re-invents himself as a clergyman, claiming that through this book God speaks straight to him. It’s a matter of time before he is working directly with the President.The President and the pastor make a lethal pair. For every preposterous law Codbag wants to enact, the pastor makes up ‘divine’ evidence that it comes from God’s words in the book. And a gullible nation laps it up.Codbag wants to turn America into a monarchy with himself as King, in the name of minimum government. Decriminalize rape. Legalize cheating in examinations. Impose a tax on sex. Create a special Grey Area for people who think too clearly. Ban the past and future tense. Now Daniel Hoyt hates a fight; he’s no hero. But against his wishes, he gets dragged closer and closer to a confrontation with Codbag. The government wants the key to the book, and only Hoyt can get it. Suddenly he is the White House’s crosshairs.Hoyt’s War is the story of an ordinary American who reluctantly takes on the most powerful man on the planet, in a hard-hitting, riotous and all too plausible satire of a dystopian America.Is it true that Donald Trump was the inspiration for the character of President Barry Codbag?Codbag undeniably talks, thinks and feels like Trump. But the truth is that I began writing this book in 2012 and finished it in early 2015, long before Trump was even a feature on the election map. So it’s a moot point whether Trump inspired Codbag — or whether Trump could pick up a few more crazy ideas from him.The rather audacious promotional campaign I am launching actually is based on a series of ‘news stories’ from a certain fictional newspaper called Washington Psst, in which Trump is seen waving a copy of Hoyt’s War and saying it should be banned. It feels completely appropriate to take full advantage of someone as amoral, unethical, unprincipled and self-serving as Trump. What sets the book apart from other things you've written?Imagine a story set in the culture and society of one country — being re-written and re-imagined in the socio-political setting of a completely different country. I would go out on a limb and say Hoyt’s War might be the first book in literary history to do that.In 2011, HarperCollins India published my first novel, The Book of Answers, a sharp political satire along Orwellian lines, set in India. The novel got shortlisted for the 2012 Commonwealth Book Prize, though its sales in India were in the hundreds. My literary agent at that time, Nathan Bransford of Curtis Brown Limited, mentioned once that the Indian cultural setting made the story harder to sell in the US.This troubled me — the story was quintessentially about the madness of the extreme right ideologies that are dragging the world towards chaos. India and America had comparable madness. In 2013 I decided to completely re-write the story as an American po[...]

[Interview] Ellie Stevenson


Ellie Stevenson was born in Oxford and brought up in Australia. She is a member of the Careers Writers' Association and the Alliance of Independent Authors.She writes feature articles and short stories.Her first novel, Ship of Haunts: the other Titanic story (Rosegate Publications, 2012), which is available as an e-book and as a paperback, has been described as "engaging and lively ... a real page-turner" and as "thoroughly enjoyable".In this interview, Ellie Stevenson talks about her concerns as a writer:When did you start writing?When I was 10.I spent part of my childhood in Australia, and I would lie in bed and listen to the sounds of the Australian bush, and think about what I could do with my life. My first published work was a poem published in an Australian state newspaper. Then came a hiatus, quite a long one, but fortunately, that’s over now.How would you describe your writing?Fairly eclectic.Primarily I’m focused on writing more novels but I also write stories, articles and poetry. The poetry's more of a leisure thing, but I like to think it informs my work!I always wanted to write books, but life and a need for cold, hard cash got in the way. When I finally took my ambition seriously, I started with articles, as a way getting some hands-on experience. But I always planned to be a novelist – I just wasn’t sure if I had the stamina. Who is your target audience?Anyone who wants to read my work!No, seriously, I write for people who love mysteries and a sense of something other-worldly. I love to read ghost stories and books that take us across time and space. Maybe some time travel, or something that haunts or has a bit of a twist.I write the stories I want to read.I like novels which speak to the reader, are emotionally strong. And those that challenge the reader’s concepts, while still maintaining a page-turning story. Lyrical language is also important. I love to read books by Maggie O’Farrell and Douglas Kennedy.Have your own personal experiences influenced your writing in any way?My novel is a ghost story about Titanic, child migration and living a life under the sea. I’m an historian by nature and I love the past. Three of my family were child migrants and I’ve been heavily influenced by the time I spent living in Australia, an amazing country. I’ve always been passionate about Titanic. As for the ghosts, I can’t really say...What are your main concerns as a writer?Making my work the best it can be and improving its rhythm and the way it flows. Having integrity in my stories. Making people wonder if what we know isn’t all there is. Reaching readers.What are the biggest challenges that you face?Marketing my work. In order to be read, readers need to know you exist. I enjoy promoting my novel and articles but it takes a lot of time, which means less time to write. It’s a constant trade off, especially if you’re an independent author. Every day I do a little bit more.Do you write every day?At the moment I’m focused on promoting the novel. But when I’m writing, yes, every day, in allocated time slots until I have to do something else. I stop at that point, or when I come to a natural break. The initial writing isn’t that hard, the real work comes with the plot corrections, improvements to language, and the many revisions. I’m naturally self-critical and my work is never good enough. It’s not a happy trait for a writer to have!How many books have you written so far? One so far, Ship of Haunts, although a collection of short stories will be coming out in late September.How long did it take you to write the novel? Far too long. The next one will be quicker.Where and when was it published? Initially, as an ebook on Amazon (Rosegate Publications). It was published in April 2012, to coincide with the 100-year anniversary of Titanic’s sinking. Print copies are also available, via, or via me if you live in the UK.How did you choose a publisher for the book? Because it took so long to write, and I had to meet the April deadline, an ebook w[...]

[Interview] Harry Whitehead


by Nick Edgeworth, The Grassroutes Project*Harry Whitehead is a novelist, a short story writer and a creative writing lecturer at the University of Leicester. Before that, he worked in the film and TV production industry.His novel, The Cannibal Spirit (Hamish Hamilton, 2012) is set among the First Peoples of Canada at the turn of the twentieth century, and has been described as "“Unflinching and rigorously unsentimental ... a thought-provoking and impressive read.”His short stories have appeared in magazines and anthologies that include London Lies (Arachne Press, 2012), The Storyteller Magazine and Whimperbang.In this interview, Harry Whitehead talks about the concerns that inform his work as a novelist and a creative writing lecturer:To start off, thanks very much for agreeing to be interviewed.Pleasure.My first question is: where did the creative writing process begin for you? When and why did you start?Well, I used to win the prizes at primary school at creative writing exercises and competitions, and I think that started it for me. And I always wrote. I never took it seriously I don't think – but I guess everyone who writes stories sort of does take it seriously, don't they?I did an undergraduate degree in Anthropology when I was 24 – I had been in the Far East for many years – and I read a story whilst I was there: an anthropological story that stuck with me. I won't explain it immediately because it might go back to a question you ask me later, but that story just played in my mind and I ended up doing a Masters degree in Anthropology to follow the story, and then it wouldn't go away, and I did a Creative Writing MA as well, and got sidetracked and wrote a load of other stuff before I eventually came back and wrote that. So I've always written, and enjoyed storytelling from the earliest days, and I got serious about it in my thirties.Anthropology is a big part of your début novel The Cannibal Spirit. Do you think you're the sort of writer who looks very widely for ideas in interdisciplinary fields?Yeah, for sure.Before I joined this department [UoL's School of English] I had an O Level in English Literature so I haven't come from a focused reading past, in the way that English Literature trains you, at all. I come from a much broader space and have read much more multifariously, shall we say. But living abroad for so many years and then studying Anthropology has made me look all over the place for stories.My book has been reviewed well and badly, and when it's been reviewed badly it's often in terms of its cultural authenticity and arguments about that. I was treading on some pretty delicate ground writing about First Nations people in Canada and people either loved me or hated me for it. Which is all right – that's fine by me.What was it that attracted you to that setting at that point in time?Well, I was 25 and I'd just broken my back, and I read this story, actually in a piece by Claude Lévi-Strauss, one of the founders of structuralism – so a pretty unlikely spot to originate. I read this story about a nineteenth-century north-west coast shaman who wanted to become a shaman in order to expose the lies and trickery of shamanism. And he learns all these acts of prestidigitation and fraudulence as he saw them, and then a local chieftain has a dream that only he can save his sick grandson. So very reluctantly the guy performs the ritual, and lo and behold the child is cured.So, this guy, whose name is Quesalid in the story – Quesalid's dilemma fascinated me. It was about belief; it was about the placebo effect; it was about what healing means; it was about rationality – all these kind of things. And it was that story that just wouldn't go away. So I decided when I did my Masters in Anthropology that I wanted to find out who this shaman actually was. And what I learnt about who he actually was was that he was half white, half Native Canadian; he was an anthropologist's assistant as well as a shaman and a chieftain; he was tried for cannibali[...]

[Interview_3] Gail McFarland


Gail McFarland writes contemporary romance.Her novels include Doing Big Things (Lulu, 2012); Wayward Dreams (Genesis Press, 2008); and, Dream Keeper (Genesis Press, 2009). In addition to that, her romantic confessions and short stories have been featured in a number of magazines as well as in the anthologies, Bouquet (Pinnacle Books, 1998) and Can a Sistah Get Some Love? (Lady Leo Publishing, 2010). Her work is available in both print and e-format.In this interview, Gail McFarland talks about her experience of e-books, the future of the book and about her short stories:How much of your work is available in print form and in e-format? My novel-length work is currently available in print form and available for order and purchase in both online and brick-and-mortar-bookstores. In e-format, readers can find a dozen different stories everywhere from and B&, to the ibookstore, Kobo, Diesel, Sony, and Smashwords. Of the two formats, as a reader and then as a writer, which do you prefer? This is a great question! As a reader who grew up pre-ebook, I absolutely love the feel of a book in my hands. I love experiencing the turning of the pages and the whole holding-my-breath as I wait to see what awaits me on the next page thing. But I am at heart a reader. Truth be told, I will read just about anything, so I am reading ebooks.In my everyday real life, I work in Wellness and Fitness and for me, that is where e-books take the full advantage. They are easy to carry in my gym bag and I can read on the treadmill or while cranking out miles on a stationary bike. E-books are unmatched for downloading manuals and having ready reference available for my classes and clients. I still love a real paper book, but I guess I’m just a woman of my times and a good e-book works for me.In your view, what is the future of the book going to be like? The ease of reading and the portability of e-readers is impressive. Additionally, the opening of the market to indie authors is allowing an unprecedented rise to free and open thought that was often lost among traditional publishers. This leads me to think that more people are reading – a good thing. It also leads me to think that more ideas are being more easily exchanged and that our society, as a whole, is expanding and reshaping itself accordingly – another good thing. So ultimately, I think that both traditional and indie authors are going to have to step up our game to keep pace with this future, and that we owe this effort to our readers, ourselves, and the ongoing integrity of books.You have an impressive number of your stories that have been published in a variety of anthologies. How did this happen? One of the nicest things about writing for publication is that you are able to make contact with people whose hearts sing the same songs as your own. When that happens, how can you say, ‘no’? I have been fortunate to find myself in the company of a number of lovely ladies for the Arabesque Bouquet Mother’s Day anthology, and the Lady Leo Can a Sistah Get Some Love anthology. Additionally, a number of my short confessions (27 of them!) appeared in collections for the Sterling/MacFadden Jive, Bronze Thrills, and Black Romance magazines.In each case, I was invited to submit an idea and a subsequent story for the collection. I was very happy and enjoyed doing it.And here’s a little bit of a 'scoop' for you and your readers: I will be included in a new anthology featuring the GA Peach Authors in 2013. The anthology will include work from Jean Holloway, Marissa Monteilh (Pynk), Electa Rome-Parks, and me. As authors, we write across a wide variety of genres that include everything from erotica, murder, romance, and mainstream fiction, so this one promises to be big fun.How have the stories been received? Anthologies are nice little “samplers” of style and content. A reader may choose the book because they are partial to a particular writer or style, but in the rea[...]

[Book Review] Killing Honour... a beautifully written, heartfelt book


Reviewed by Sarah O’Rourke, The Grassroutes Project*Bali Rai is considered the writer of British Asian teen fiction, and it’s not hard to see why. Life bursts off the pages of his 2011 novel, Killing Honour. Rai tackles taboo subjects with incredible clarity and passion.Killing Honour tells the story of Sat, a Leicester-born Asian teenager, whose sister is forced into a marriage with an abusive husband who then goes onto murder her – a so-called “honour killing.” Bai makes his stance clear on these killings in the title of the book and through the voice of his narrator, who never once gives up on his sister, no matter what izzat she has offended. Sat understands that family must come before honour, saying: “[A]ll you’re doing is killing it – killing honour – not defending it,” (KH p.180) but in order to unravel the mystery of his missing sister, Sat comes up against a “wall of silence” in the Sikh community. At the same time, of course, Sat represents those Sikh men who openly condemn such murders. Killing Honour condemns domestic violence in any form, whether that be against Asian women or white women. By removing the “honour” from the phrase honour killings, Rai exposes these violent acts for what they are: murder without justification. Rai makes it clear how intolerable it can be for women who have to live up to unachievable standards to protect their family’s izzat. Sat notes that he is a male and so the “izzat thing” (KH p91) is easier for him, making his sympathy for women apparent, wishing that his sister had run away, because he could never have lived her life. Rai further instils a sense of sympathy for women by switching the point of view of his narration – sometimes it’s Sat, sometimes it’s third person from Laura’s perspective, and sometimes it’s the abused woman. Here we see the horror of domestic violence and murder from every perspective, from the family to the Asian wife to the abused white girlfriend. Rai considers all these people as victims of the same crime. Rather than privileging one over the other, he states emphatically that it is wrong. That it must be stopped.Rai paints Leicestershire as a diaspora space – that is a community in which the consciousness of not only the first generation immigrants is transformed, but the indigenous peoples too, each changing and shaping one another together as one cohesive whole. Location figures heavily in Killing Honour, set in and around Leicester, with local landmarks such as De Montfort Hall, Victoria Park, Queens Road, and even Babella’s bar. Sat says that his sister “lived on the other side of Leicester, but it wasn’t far. Nothing in Leicester is.” (KH p.9) And this image of Leicester as a tightknit community can be felt not only in the novel, but in the city itself, with art reflecting reality and vice versa.In Rai’s novel, Britishness figures as intrinsically culturally diverse. As Rai himself says, “we should celebrate what we have in common” rather than putting our differences first. And so we see Sat drinking from a Bart Simpson mug, the family visiting Disney World and hot dogs being eaten. When Sat gets a girlfriend who is white (a union frowned upon by people from both sides of the cultural divide), he is presented as very much the modern multiculturalist, showing the transformations that have taken place between first and second generations in the diaspora space of Leicester life. Sat says of his girlfriend: “Although we were both British, Charlotte came from one culture and I was from another. We were like the same, and then different too.” (KH, p38) But this is no glib celebration of multi-racial Britain. We see several examples of racism, far right activism and inter-communal strife. Most notably, we see hatred between Muslims and Sikhs, which Sat puts down to “prejudice” more than “any sense of tradition.” (KH p74) Non-white communities clash on their own terms, wh[...]

[Interview] R. J. Heald


R. J. Heald is author of 27: Six Friends, One Year (Dancing Parrot Press, 2012); founder of Five Stop Story and editor of Five Stop Story: Short Stories to Read in 5 Stops on Your Commute (Five Stop Story Press, 2011).In this interview, Heald talks about her concerns as a writer:  When did you start writing?Like a lot of writers, I always loved creative writing when I was a child and I remember writing stories as one of the highlights of my primary school education. I continued to write into my teens, but stopped completely during university.I started writing seriously when I woke up from a dream with the idea for a book about five years ago. The idea just wouldn’t go away, and when I got home from work it was still at the front of my mind, so I just started writing. That was the first novel I wrote, but it’s still in draft form and remains in a drawer at present!I’m not sure if I ever consciously thought “I want to be a published writer.” The overriding motivation was to write, to tell the stories that occupied my thoughts and to let loose the ideas. But when I finished the first draft of my second novel, publication seemed like a sensible goal. I got feedback from beta readers and produced five re-drafts of the novel over eighteen months. I entered the novel into the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Competition and reached the Quarter Finals.I’d always been interested in publishing as a business, and I run my own digital publisher, Five Stop Story, which publishes short stories. Therefore, I didn’t approach any agents or publishers, but took the decision to set up my own publishing company and self-publish the novel. How would you describe the writing you are doing?My writing is very contemporary and tells the stories of ordinary people and their everyday triumphs and disasters. My debut novel, 27: Six Friends, One Year tells the story of a year in the lives of six friends aged 27. On the surface they lead enviable lives, but underneath the facades, they are falling apart. They each face their adversities in different ways as they try and maintain their appearance to the outside world. The novel focuses on the events both big and small that shape their lives during their 27th year.I write about the drama of ordinary lives, and I try to capture the complexity of relationships, telling each character’s story.Some readers have compared my writing to One Day by David Nicholls and I think that’s a good comparison. Who is your target audience?My target audience is predominantly women in their 20s, 30s and 40s. However, I’ve had feedback from men and women outside of this age bracket, who also enjoy my writing.One piece of advice I heard when I was writing was “write the book you’d want to read.” That’s what I’ve done with 27: Six Friends: One Year. So I suppose the target audience is people like me. In the writing you are doing, which authors influenced you most?My debut novel, 27: Six Friends, One Year is all about everyday life, so my experiences and those of my friends have influenced it a lot. However, I think the experiences in the novel are universal. So, although my experiences have guided me to a certain extent, the novel is really an amalgamation of everyone’s life stories.Jodi Picoult has been a big influence. I love the way she focuses on the importance of the relationships between characters in her stories. I think Nick Hornby and David Nicolls have influenced writing style with their use of different viewpoints. What are your main concerns as a writer?I actually think that the present day is a better time than ever to be a writer. There’s an amazing support network of other authors online; that just didn’t exist 10 years ago. Through this network you can get support from writing the first draft, to editing, to publishing and finally marketing. Authors like myself also have the opportunity to take things into our own hands and independently [...]

[Interview_4] Jonathan Taylor


Jonathan Taylor is a Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing at De Montfort University in Leicester. He is also the author of books that include the memoir, Take Me Home: Parkinson’s, My Father, Myself (Granta, 2007) and the academic books, Science and Omniscience in Nineteenth-Century Literature (Sussex Academic Press, 2007); Mastery and Slavery in Victorian Writing (Palgrave-Macmillan, 2003); and, Figures of Heresy: Radical Theology in English and American Writing, 1800-2000 (Sussex Academic Press, 2005) (co-edited with Dr. Andrew Dix).In this interview, Jonathan Taylor talks about his debut novel, Entertaining Strangers (Salt, 2012):How long did it take you to write the novel? It took me a while to write the novel: I started it in 2007, shortly after the publication of my memoir, Take Me Home: Parkinson’s, My Father, Myself (Granta Books, 2007), and finished it four or so years later.In fact, its origins lie further back, in that the starting-point was an episode which was eventually cut from my memoir. In 2001, my father was in intensive care, and I was travelling backwards and forwards to Stoke from Leicestershire, where I was working at the time. One night, in Loughborough, I was approached by a homeless woman, who said she hadn’t eaten for days, and who asked if I had anything she could eat. I’d had a few too many drinks that night, and decided it was a good idea to invite her back to our house to (and I quote) “eat our freezer.” She came back with me, I fed her, and then she met my housemate of the time, who proceeded to talk to her for hours about his current obsession: ants. After that, she slept on our floor, and then, next morning, just before she left, gave us both a kiss on the cheek and told us that she now “believed in English gentlemen again.”It was one of the nicest things anyone’s ever said to me. I never saw her again, but the novel is an attempt to imagine what her traumatic background was – what had brought her to that desperate point. In effect, she’s the novel’s narrator. The central character is a heavily fictionalised version of my ant-obsessed housemate (though he’s really a complex hybrid of my housemate, myself and other people I know).Did you write everyday?I wrote a great deal of the novel in 2008-9, when our twin girls were still babies. This meant that the writing process was squeezed between massive commitments – to my daughters (obviously), and also to my full-time job as a lecturer. So I’d sometimes have no more than an hour or two a week writing time. This meant that I had to maximise that time, and use it to its full advantage. Through sheer necessity, I’ve come to discipline myself to be able to write at will as and when I get the chance. I hardly believe in ‘inspiration’ any more – and I don’t have the kind of time available to wait for it to come. I’ve just trained myself to write as and when I get the odd hour free. In that sense, ‘writer’s block’ is something, I think, that is often the preserve of people with a lot of spare time. In terms of how I proceeded with the novel, I actually wrote it in a linear way, from beginning to end. I’ve never done this before – the memoir was built up in a piecemeal fashion from fragments, and my second novel (which I’m completing now) is much less linear. But the story for Entertaining Strangers demanded this kind of treatment: it’s a very linear, step-by-step story, where each small chapter builds up towards the climax.I wanted the story to move fast from episode to episode, and each chapter to move the story on one step.I enjoyed the challenge of writing something so different in structure to everything else I’ve done. Of course, when I’d finished the first draft, I then went back and edited, redrafted, reshaped and expanded the novel – so, ultimately, the writing experience is never[...]

[Interview] Marissa Monteilh


Marissa Monteilh is a former model, television news reporter, and commercial actress. She is a regular contributor to the literary blog, Novel Spaces, and is a member of the all female group of touring writers, Atlanta's GA Peach Authors. Her books include May December Souls (William Morrow & Company, 2002), Make Me Hot (Dafina Books, 2008), Dr Feelgood (Dafina, 2007) and The Six-Letter Word (4D Publishing, 2012). In this interview, Marissa Monteilh talks about her concerns as a writer: When did you start writing?I did not plan to be a published writer. I sat down to write my life story in 1998, and honestly, it was so boring that I added in a whole lot of fiction. Before I knew it, I had an 80,000 word rough draft. I did a lot of research on the craft of writing and finished the story, shopping it around to publishers for about one year. Once I self-published my title May December Souls (at the suggestion of a well-known author) in 1998 and it was in bound book form, I ended up signing with an agent who'd heard of my work, and before long three publishers auctioned for my titles. I signed a two-book deal with Harper Collins in 2001.How would you describe your writing?I write relationship-type novels that fall into the category of women's fiction. I also write erotica under my pen name, Pynk.My target audience is women, ages 21 to 65. I support women and enjoy showing the trials and tribulations of life as it pertains to love, family, careers, dysfunctions, addictions, religion, sex, etc. I write what I call fiction-friction... people who are broken or who struggle to gain something or break bad habits, in spite of the obstacles that stand in their way. Sometimes it can be uncomfortable to read about a woman who abuses her husband, or to read about the life of a sex addict, but through the uncomfortableness of those stories we can learn a lot about situations that we may never experience personally. Or perhaps it's a story about a tough break-up.Many of my readers enjoy being a fly on the wall, and learning about how to deal with moving on after a tough divorce. Reading is life-therapy.Which authors influenced you most?Terry McMillan influenced me with her contemporary stories about love. She writes strong female characters who are very flawed, yet very relatable overall. And James Baldwin influenced me when I was young. I read Giovanni's Room and was hooked on reading fiction. The story was bold, vivid, and unforgettable.My very first book, May December Souls, was semi-autobiographical. Without my life experience of having a well-known father who abandoned his family, having gotten caught up in the trappings of his fame, I never would have sat down to write my first book. All is in divine order.What are your main concerns as a writer? Writing is my passion. I always have new ideas and manage to meet my deadlines, which, in the beginning, I thought would be challenging. Today I focus on ways to garner continual word-of-mouth momentum so that readers are constantly aware of my titles. Most authors seek out new and innovative ways to get readers talking about our works. It's challenging and so very necessary. It takes a lot of creativity.What are the biggest challenges that you face?This is a business of numbers, so back to the previous question, we must make sure that readers know about, talk about, buy and read our books. Word-of-mouth is key.Do you write everyday?I try to write or edit at least a page per day. I handle emails and promotion during the morning hours, and begin settling down to write in the afternoon and evening hours. If I'm on deadline, I can easily spend eight to twelve hours writing. I prefer writing at home, not in a bookstore or airport, and I must have total quiet. I even turn off my phone at times. How many books have you written so far? I've written 15 titles:May December Souls (2000 and 2002),The Ch[...]

[Interview] Electa Rome Parks


Electa Rome Parks writes contemporary and erotic fiction. Her books include The Stalker Chronicles (Kensington/Urban Books, 2012); True Confessions (Kensington/Urban Books, 2010); Diary of a Stalker (Kensington/Urban Books, 2009); and These Are My Confessions (HarperCollins/Avon Red, 2007).In this interview, Electa Rome Parks talks about her concerns as a writer:When did you start writing? I have been writing for as long as I can remember; writing and reading have always defined who and what I am as a person. Writing is the love affair of my life. From a professional standpoint, I started writing and penned my first novel, The Ties That Bind in 2001.For me, becoming a published writer was a natural progression. Friends and family who knew me back in the day, they can all testify to the fact that I was always writing something (a short story, a poem, a play) or had my head buried in a book, usually mystery or supernatural. Being a quiet, shy child, writing was a means for me to express myself, non-verbally. Later, I realized I had a voice that needed to be heard (read). And reading was my escape to meeting other people and worlds that I could only imagine.I went about accomplishing my goal by researching, networking and finding mentors in my genre. I lived and breathed the literary industry. Eventually I published via print on demand, then traditionally self-published and eventually went mainstream after being picked up by a major publishing house. I achieved this by hustling... attending every conference, literary event, signing, book club meeting, etc., that I could. I made it my mission to network with creative, like-minded people in the industry and to get the word out about my book and myself. Passion, persistence and perseverance paid off when a literary agent contacted me and within 30 days had inked a 3-book deal with a major publishing house. How would you describe the writing you are doing?I write contemporary and erotic fiction. I’ve also been classified as a women’s fiction author.My target audience is anyone who enjoys a good book! Primarily, African-American women and a small percentage of men tend to purchase my novels. I don’t know if I was motivated to start writing for this audience as opposed to this audience is who I am. I am an African-American woman; however my storylines tend to stem from life experiences, lessons, and situations that are universal.Which authors influenced you most?I absolutely adore contemporary fiction authors and my greatest influence was, hands down, author Terry McMillian. I witnessed and applauded the commercial successful she achieved with her books, from them being New Times Bestselling novels to being adapted to movies for the big screen. Her books, especially Disappearing Acts, was the first book that spoke to me as I saw myself and others in the storyline. I could relate. I laughed out loud, I cried and I didn’t want that book to end. I wanted to savor each page, digest it and breathe it in. There was such a connection that it left an impact that inspired me to reach for my dream.How have your own personal experiences influenced your writing?I’m sure in many ways that I haven’t even thought about. I write from the heart about many topical issues prevalent in our communities. I’ve touched upon domestic abuse, molestation, friendship, dysfunctional relationships, stalking, mental illness and the list goes on. My characters aren’t perfect and my storylines don’t necessarily have happily-ever-after endings. However, they are much like real life. I share life lessons and give readers imperfect characters they can embrace, whether they choose to love or hate them.What are your main concerns as a writer?My main concern as a writer is the constantly changing literary climate. I know of many talented authors who have lost book deals and can’t app[...]

[Interview] Lauri Kubuitsile


Lauri Kubuitsile writes romances novels; crime fiction; books and stories for children and teenagers; and, literary fiction.She was shortlisted for the 2011 Caine Prize for African Writing and has won awards that include the PanAfrican prize for children’s literature, The Golden Baobab Prize and the Orange/Botswerere Botswana Artists Award.Her books include the collection of short stories, In the Spirit of McPhineas Lata and Other Stories (HopeRoad, 2011); and the novels, Signed, Hopelessly in Love (August 2011) Tafelberg, 2011) and Mr Not Quite Good Enough (Sapphire Press, 2011).In this interview, Lauri Kubuitsile talks about her concerns as a writer:When did you start writing?I started writing 8 years ago, just when I was turning 40. I actually became a published author almost by accident. My books in my Kate Gomolemo Mystery Series were actually all first published in a small newspaper I owned in Botswana. We were changing format and wanted to see what we could do to maintain our readership. I decided I would write a serialised novel, 1,000 words each issue.When the first book finished in the newspaper, people called the office asking for parts they had missed. On a whim I sent the manuscript to Macmillan hoping that they might publish the book so that our newspaper readers could get the parts they’d missed. Macmillan agreed, and that was my first published book. It was published in 2005. How would you describe the writing you are doing?I write primarily popular fiction.I have four published romances with the South African publisher Sapphire Press, an imprint of Kwela Books. I also have two detective series. I write for children and teens as well. And I write short stories, and occasionally, literary stories. Who is your target audience?To be honest I write for myself, my hope is that other people will enjoy my stories too. In the writing you are doing, which authors influenced you most?I have many influences. I love J. D. Robb, John Steinbeck, Margaret Atwood, Kate Atkinson… actually it’s difficult to mention all of them.I do find that certain writers, though they may not come out explicitly in my work, they inspire me to write. For example, Steinbeck. I go back to his work often for inspiration. His simple solid sentences resonate with me and my hope is to someday be able to move a story along in such an honest way. How have your own personal experiences influenced your writing?I think there is hardly a story I have written that does not start with a personal experience. It might be something in my own life, something I witnessed, or something I heard. What are your main concerns as a writer?I think my concerns are like every writer, to write the story I need to write the best way that I can. What are the biggest challenges that you face?Well, I’m a full time writer living in Botswana, the toughest thing for me is to try to make a liveable income from my work. It is a constant challenge. I try different things, I try to keep abreast of what is happening in the industry. For example, I recently published three of my Kate Gomolemo Mysteries on Amazon. Two have been published traditionally before but I kept the ebook rights. I don’t know anything about self publishing but I’m learning. I just try to be adaptable. Do you write everyday?I’m a full time writer and I treat my writing as my work. I usually get to my office (which is separate from my house) at about ten. I attend to administrative work first and then get to work on whatever my day’s project is. I usually knock off about 6:30. How many books have you written so far? The Fatal Payout (2005) fiction, first book in Kate Gomolemo Mystery Series, publisher Macmillan prescribed book by Ministry of Education, Form 1 Murder For Profit (2008), fiction, second book in Kate Gomolemo Mystery Series publishe[...]

[Interview] Catherine Czerkawska


Catherine Czerkawska is a poet, a novelist and a playwright.Her books include The Amber Heart (Amazon Kindle, 2012), Bird of Passage (Amazon Kindle, 2012) and The Curiosity Cabinet (Amazon Kindle, 2011) In this interview, Catherine Czerkawska talks about her concerns as a writer:When did you start writing?When I was very young I wrote poems, stories and fan fiction before fan fiction was ever invented – stories about The Beatles, especially John Lennon. I found some of them a little while ago in a box of old papers. They weren’t too bad, considering how young I was. I think I probably wanted to be a published writer from the start. But it’s so long ago that it’s quite hard to remember. I submitted poetry and stories to all kinds of magazines and when I was still in my teens, I began to get personal letters instead of standard rejections. By the time I was at Edinburgh University, I’d had various poems published. My first biggish sale was a short story called "Catch Two" for She Magazine. (They paid well.) I was also writing plays, especially radio plays, and I sold my first short play to Radio Scotland when I was in my early 20s. I went on to write more than 100 hours of Radio Drama, some television and many stage plays. How would you describe your writing?I’d describe myself as a novelist, although I still write the occasional stage play. I’m an unashamed mid-list writer. Some of my novels are historical and some contemporary. I hope they’re well written (don’t we all?) but I also hope they’re good, readable stories. I write a lot about relationships, often in a rural setting, but I don’t always do happy endings. A sense of place is very important to my fiction. I do a lot of revision, a lot of honing. Maybe because I started out as a poet! Who is your target audience?When I’m writing, I don’t have any target audience in mind. I’m too involved with the characters and the story. At some point in the process, (but I couldn’t say exactly when) I start to think about the audience, the readers. Am I communicating this story in the best way possible? What am I trying to say? Will people understand it? I would say I write for a ‘mid-list’ audience - the kind of readers who seem to be increasingly ill-served by traditional publishing, which spends too much time and money trying to predict the next big success on the basis of the last big success. And I don’t much like being tied to a specific genre. In some ways, I write the kind of books I like to read myself but I always love talking to readers about my novels.Which authors influenced you most?There are two distinct influences. The first involves Victorian novels, the Brontes in particular. In fact my novel Bird of Passage is something of a ‘homage’ to Wuthering Heights. It’s quite subtle, but it’s there. I love the way Wuthering Heights is so heartrending but by the end, past miseries are resolved in a loving relationship – balance is restored. I love that about these novels. But I enjoy contemporary fiction too. I’m a big fan of William Trevor. I routinely think ‘I wish I had written that’ when I’m reading his stories. They seem deceptively simple, but they have untold depths and complexity. How have your own personal experiences influenced your writing?Obviously I’ve accumulated a lot of experience over the years. Everything feeds into the writing. People often ask ‘where do you get your ideas from?’ but ideas are everywhere, every relationship, every experience, (even the difficult ones). It’s a process of trying not to become cynical, trying to become wise instead, trying to tell the stories that might mean something to readers just as they mean something to the writer. What are your main concerns as a writer?Big question. I’m endlessly [...]

[Interview] Jean Holloway


Jean Holloway lives in Kennesaw, GA. Her books include Ace of Hearts (PHE Ink, 2009)) which is also available as an audiobook; Black Jack (PHE Ink, 2009); Deuces Wild (PHE Ink, 2010) and Full House (PHE Ink, 2011).In this interview, Jean Holloway talks about her concerns as a writer:When did you start writing?It all began when my sister, Lori, commented, ‘You read so much, I bet you could write book,’ and I answered, ‘I bet I can!’ and began writing Ace of Hearts in long-hand in 1980. I completed the manuscript in 1982.I was 30 years old and the mother of six. I never considered the possibility of becoming a published writer, in fact, if someone had told me I would become a published author at the age of 57, I wouldn’t have believed them. Lori pushed me into this career when she bought me a ticket to the National Book Club Conference in Atlanta and instructed me to print copies of my manuscript and give them to anyone who wouldn’t throw them back. That’s where I met my first publisher. Two years later at a literary event in Houston, I met T.L. James, CEO of PHE Ink. I recognized a kindred spirit and switched publishers.How would you describe your writing?I’m a genre bender, writing risqué romantic thrillers with a splash of the paranormal.My target audience is mainly women over 21. I thought they could empathize with my protagonist, Detective Shevaughn Robinson.Which authors influenced you most?All my life I’ve been a fan of Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Tananarive Due and Jean Auel. I admired their ability to transport me into their world and take me on a roller coaster ride. I wanted to have the same effect on my readers.And how have your own personal experiences influenced your writing?I thought the influence was minimal until my sister, April pointed out the similarities of my characters (especially Shevaughn’s) experiences to correlating events and attitudes in my own life. What an eye-opener!What are the biggest challenges that you face? I think my biggest challenge is getting readers who are unfamiliar with my work to give me a chance. I find there are a lot of readers who only read their favorite authors and won’t gamble on someone new. How are you dealing with this challenge?I’ve put excerpts on all my social networks. Usually, once they read a smidgen, either they love me or hate me. Do you write everyday? No, not every day. I usually write when my characters tell me to. A session starts when I hear one of them whisper in my mind. Then I go to my computer and write what I hear. It ends when they get quiet. Since they seem to be nocturnal, sometimes I find myself jumping out of bed at three in the morning running down to the computer to get down our thoughts before I forget.How many books have you written so far?Ace of Hearts, PHE Ink – Writing Solutions Firm, July 13, 2009, Second EditionBlack Jack, PHE Ink – Writing Solutions Firm, May 14, 2009Deuces Wild, PHE Ink – Writing Solutions Firm, October 10, 2010. That was my 60th birthday present to me!Full House, PHE Ink – Writing Solutions Firm – November 22, 2011The four novels complete the Deck of Cardz series.Detective Shevaughn Robinson is the main character in all four novels. You get to follow her life and career from rookie to Captain of the Homicide Division. As Portsborough, NY’s first Black female homicide detective in 1981, you watch as she strives to prove herself in a male-dominated workforce. You also meet her new partner, Jared Benjamin, and Tony O'Brien, an unexpected love interest. The series introduces you to a series of sexual predators, starting with Eric Becker in Ace of Hearts, a psycho who has the inexperienced Shevaughn in his sights.What is your latest book about?In Full House, the final novel of the Deck o[...]

[Interview] Jennifer McBride


Jennifer McBride has written and published books that include Touching the Trees (2011); Cape of Leaves (2012); Basement Daisies (2012) and Child Less Parent (2012).In this interview, she talks about her concerns as a writer:When did you start writing? I began writing a few years after I began to read. My first "produced" work was in 2nd grade. I was around seven or eight years old and I wrote a play that my teacher allowed me to make into a classroom production. At around the same time, I wrote a story that my uncle read aloud to a large family reunion. I was hooked after that.What made you decide you wanted to be a published writer?I resisted the urge to be published because I thought it was too difficult to achieve but once self-publishing became an option, I explored this avenue and found that I really enjoyed being involved in every aspect of the publishing process. I majored in writing in college, but didn't do much with that for almost 15 years. Then I began taking writing classes at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis and knew I wanted to work at being a published author. More interesting, though, is that about six years ago I made a conscious decision to not write. I was trying to find a way to stay in a relationship and I knew writing was going to lead me to find myself... and lead me away from the sad comfort of that situation. So, I sat in a bar in Saint Paul, Minnesota, and announced "I will not be a writer." In that funny way life has of changing one's mind, though, it wasn't three months later that the urge and desire and calling to write became overwhelming and I began taking classes again. I haven't stopped writing since. Needless to say, I'm not in that relationship anymore.How would you describe your writing?It's funny you ask that. I'm kind of a Kelly Clarkson writer. I dabble in many genres... nonfiction, essay, blogging, poetry, and fiction... just like she's able to sing in many different ways: country, pop, soul, rock, etc. I am, however, primarily a non-fiction writer right now. Who is your target audience?My target audience has been slightly different for each book I've written. Overall, my audience is women and men who have had to make significant changes in their lives, whether it's because of relationships, job transitions, illness, etc. I became motivated to write for this audience when I became divorced and in search of an identity other than "wife" and "carpooler."In the writing you are doing, which authors influenced you most?Mary Oliver and Billy Collins have influenced my poetry. I try to write accessible poems that express deep emotions. Mary Oliver's poetry sung to me and I heard Billy Collins speak in Minneapolis many years ago and I thought, "Wow. I really like his poetry. I should try writing some." For my non-fiction, I'm inflenced by Elizabeth Gilbert and Anna Quindlen. Both women are frank, unashamed, and witty. I long to write like them! For fiction, my "mentors" are Janet Evanovich and Jonathon Kellerman. I'm trying to find a balance between murder mystery, humor, and societal issues.Have your own personal experiences influenced your writing in any way?That's all they do! I write nonfiction "self-help" because I needed help and finally feel I can share what I've learned with others. When I was getting divorced, I thought there had to be a better way to "do" the incredible changes that come from such a traumatic life experience. I didn't want my divorce to be in vain... I wanted to be a better, stronger, more alive person because of it. One of my books is in reaction to finding out more about Parental Alienation Disorder and how un-noticed and un-handled it is in the family court system. One book was written as a series of affirmations for my father-in[...]

[Interview_3] Mark Adam Kaplan


School teacher and screenwriter Mark Adam Kaplan has written and published two novels, A Thousand Beauties (Bewrite Books, 2009) and Down (Bewrite 2012) as well as an illustrated picture book, Monsters Do Ugly Things (BookBaby, 2011).In this interview, he talks about his latest novel:How would you describe Down?Down is a contemporary, urban, YA thriller about a 15-year old trying to stay out of lock up. Leon Mendoza starts the school year with an ankle monitor and an upcoming court date. He's determined to stay out of trouble. But how can he with the pending charges against him, his P.O. breathing down his neck, a father in jail, a mother in deep depression, and even his home boys pressuring him to quietly take the rap? Will the attention of an attractive school girl, the support of a few teachers and a part-time job make a difference to Leon? Or is he destined to follow in his father's footsteps, and spend his life in and out of jail? How did the idea behind the novel come about?I teach middle school in East Los Angeles, I have seen how disconnected from pleasure reading most of my students are. Reading for their classes is not just a chore for some of them, it is torture. A surprising number of middle school students in the inner cities in the United States have never read a complete book. A good number of them haven’t read any books since the third grade.But I was lucky enough to come across Townsend Press, and their Bluford Series. These books offered adult, urban themes about teenagers at a very accessible reading level. Paul Langan, Anne Schraff, and John Langan have done a remarkable job creating high-interest books for urban teens. As a teacher, I assigned the Bluford books to my students, and I cannot count the number of formerly non-reading students who read not just one book of the series, but several. Then one of my students, a 15-year old eighth grader, handed me Sapphire’s Push, which was turned into the movie “Precious”, and I saw further proof of these students’ needs.Twenty years ago, in “For Colored Girls Who Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Wasn’t Enough, Ntozake Shange said something like, “The New York TImes never said nothin’ to me.” She repeats it over and over. That sentiment is still true.Regardless of the advances so-called “minorities” have made in the political arena, urban kids today are inundated not with personally empowering works, or slice-of-life stories designed with respect for the audience. They are bludgeoned with senseless violence, or idiot humor - the Saw series, Scarface, American Me, Blood In Blood Out, any Adam Sandler film, SpongeBob, etc. The only other outlet they are afforded is sports, and many of them have parents who don’t let them out in the neighborhood to play sports because the area is dangerous.As I looked into what else is available, I discovered Street Lit, and realized that I wanted to be a part of this movement. Although my life was blessed compared with some of my students’, I faced my own issues as a teenager, including getting thrown out of both a middle school and a high school (both public).I realized how much I wanted to write a book for my students who are struggling readers. My personal writing process led me somewhere between Bluford and Precious, and I believe that Down will speak to a wider audience than those for whom I wrote it.How long did it take you to write the novel?The book gestated in my mind for a couple of years before I put it down on paper. But from the time I sat down to write until its publication this past May took about 22 months.Did you write everyday? I teach full-time, have two small children and a marriage that requires my attention. [...]

[Interview_2] Julius Sai Mutyambizi-Dewa


Julius Sai Mutyambizi-Dewa is the author of Preaching to Priests (Timeless Avatar, 2007); Candid Narratives (i-Proclaim Books, 2010); and, Two Faces One Woman (i-Proclaim Books, 2011):In this interview, Mutyambizi-Dewa talks about his latest play:How would you describe Two Faces One Woman?The story I tell in Two Faces One Woman touches on contemporary post-colonial societies, especially the crossroads that Zimbabwe finds herself in post-2000. In approaching the topic, I had to set aside my own political affiliations and sympathies and approached the topic from the position of an innocent bystander. I liked the whole idea of a Debbie Scott, a young white Zimbabwean, being the chief defender of the black government where Takubona Mapembwe, the son of a war veteran, comes out as black Zimbabwe’s chief antagonist. What motivated you to take this approach?I have this thing in mind that tries to get the races seeing beyond race and I believe writers have a role to play. Readers will notice that my writing, especially where it regards the whole point of the liberation struggle and the post-colonial Zimbabwe, will be approached from this philosophy. I want to see a stronger Zimbabwe emerge which is not painted in colour and which is based on merit. We have to demistify this thing of race war in Zimbabwe. There were more blacks in the Rhodesia National Army than there were whites and we have white Zimbabweans who died fighting for the liberation cause. We also have people like Rob Monro, Professor O.T. Ranger, Jeremy Brickhill, A.V.M. Welch and others who suffered in one way or the other during UDI in Zimbabwe. Post-independence we have people like Ian Kay, Roy Bennett etc who helped black farmers in their neighbourhoods. I am driven by this philosophy, to tell a story of integration... white, Indian, black, Kalanga, Shona, Venda, Ndebele, Tonga etc... we are all a mix of villains and saints but unfortunately we have created a society where the villains and saints are identified by race, tribe and creed not deeds. This therefore sets Two Faces One Woman apart from any story I have told so far. The issue of racial, ethnic and religious integration will continue to define my characterisation and writing for the forseeable future. In what way is Two Faces One Woman similar to other things you have written?It is similar to other work that I have published and that I will publish in future because I am that same writer who never took an English literature class in high school. I believe I am original and I do not have so many literary influences speaking to me as I write. I enjoy this aspect so much as well. How did you choose a publisher for Two Faces One Woman?All my books are self-published. I write in genres that are very difficult to place with mainstream publishers... poetry and plays... and this has meant I have to self-publish. I started Two Faces One Woman in 2010 and finished writing it in 2011. I then sent it to Penguin in South Africa but although they expressed interest in the idea be book, they advised that they did not publish plays as there is no market for plays. After trying two more publishers and they too expressing some doubts about a market for plays, I abandoned the project and started writing the story in the form of a novel. But something wasn’t coming out even as I tried, the idea had been a play originally and to change it would kill off the very qualities I want to maintain. I then decided to self-publish and bring the story out that way. Some colleagues have said they will be serialising the play in an online newspaper, which, to me is welcome news. What are your plans for the future?I have already finished my next book, Ndimi[...]

[Interview] The Coffin Factory Folks


In this interview, Laura Isaacman and Randy Rosenthal talk about The Coffin Factory, a magazine that has been described as "a nexus between readers, writers, and the book publishing industry."How would you describe The Coffin Factory?The Coffin Factory is the magazine for people who love books. We acquire stories, essays, and poems from at least a handful of more-recognizable authors and publish their work alongside those of lesser-known writers, whose work we believe is as compelling and thrilling to read. The high-quality design and content from writers and artists from around the world signals to our readers that each issue is worth reading cover to cover, just as they would a book.What role do you play in the magazine?We are publishers, editors, art directors, and we do the design of both the print magazine and website.What are the most challenging aspects of the work that you do?Publishing a printed, visually engaging magazine that features some of the best authors and artists in the world on virtually no budget.How do you deal with these challenges?We keep our chin up.What do you like most about the magazine?The white space. There's tons of it.When was the magazine set up?The idea for the magazine began in April of 2011. The first issue was in stores in October.Why was it set up?We believe that quality literature and art are essential for the existence of an intelligent society, and we want to perpetuate an intellectually engaged culture.Who was involved in setting up the magazine?Both of us. We also have two wonderful Managing Editors who helped to develop the idea as it grew from a baby into a toddler.What was the nature of their involvement?They converted us from Scotch to Bourbon.Are all the people who were involved at the beginning still there?Yes. Because they share the same passion for literature as we do. And we have a fun time putting an issue of our favorite authors together, and being able to share that with readers.What were the most challenging aspects of the work that went into setting up the magazine?Entering the publishing business without any experience in the publishing business.Why do you think this was so?Because we had no experience in the publishing business.How did you deal with these challenges?We're still learning the publishing business.How has it been received?Very well.Who is your target audience?People with good taste.How do you find them?They find us.Where are your contributors coming from?From all over the world. We're pretty sure we have the most diverse list of authors and artists in any North American magazine.What would you say about the range and quality of submissions you are receiving at present?We receive a lot of submissions. And the writers that are familiar with the magazine's particular aesthetic taste submit very good work.What is The Library Donation Project?The Library Donation Project is our effort to introduce young readers to the world's most exciting contemporary writers. We are donating 1,000 magazines to universities across the country, with a goal to raise $3,000 to help cover the cost of shipping.What motivated The Coffin Factory's involvement in the project?We hope that the next generation of readers will know that it's cool to be smart. It's important to try and save the younger generation from participating in the degeneration of language, which, sooner or later, will affect the level of our nation's intelligence. Can't be a superpower if you're super stupid.Related articles:Finding Equilibrium, LJ Best Magazines 2011, By LJ Reviews, Library Journal, May 4, 2012Magazine Review #9: The Coffin Factory, Issue #1, By Nancy Smith, The Rumpus, November 18, 2011Ta[...]

[Interview] Virginia W. Dike


Virginia W. Dike is Professor of Library and Information Science at the University of Nigeria where she specialises in school libraries, children's literature and library services.She is also one of the founders of The Children's Centre, a comprehensive educational and recreational facility for children and young people that includes a model children's library.In addition to that, she is a director with the Libraries for Literacy Foundation, a non-governmental organisation that works to extend library services to schools, communities and prisons and to generate local learning resources.Her books include Library Resources in Education (Abic, 1993) and the children's non-fiction books, Birds of Our Land: A Child’s Guide to West African Birds (2nd ed. Abuja, Nigeria: Cassava Republic, 2011) and Why We Need Trees (Cassava Republic, Forthcoming). In this interview, Virginia Dike talks about her writing and about the state of Nigerian children's literature:When did you start writing? I began writing during my teenage and college years, with journals containing my thoughts and experiences, a little poetry, and long letters to friends. This was writing just to express myself and communicate with others. Writing became especially important as a means of expression during the two years I spent in Tanzania after graduating from college. I was living in a small village where no one spoke English, only Swahili and KiBena - so I relied on letters home to articulate my experiences and keep my English, even. Having said that, I now remember childhood beginnings - in second and third grade we wrote compositions, with a drawing, of an experience we’d had each week. It was pretty rudimentary (mine usually ending with “We had fun.”), but I took great pride in it. In the middle grades, I wrote an episodic chapter book about two girls’ primary school adventures and a musical play of medieval romance (perhaps inspired by Robin Hood and Ivanhoe movies), performed in my neighbourhood and on a visit to family friends. Those were my last forays into fiction.In adulthood, most of my writing has been academic, as a lecturer in library and information science, until I started writing for children.Looking at this background, I wonder if young people today have the same opportunities to develop writing craft. Education in Nigeria, as I’ve known it through my children’s experiences and my work with primary school pupils, often lacks these kinds of writing opportunities, both in creative and expository writing, as well as the copious voluntary reading on which writing skills are based. And looking at the world generally, others have as well commented on the decline in thoughtful journal and letter writing in an age of e-mail and text message communication, and the implications of this for writing craft, as well as for historical records. I think we have much to do to encourage writing and the development of written communication skills.How did decide you wanted to be a published writer?I don’t remember deciding that I wanted to be a published writer. What happened was that I came to Nigeria and fell in love with the beautiful and fascinating birds I discovered here. I wanted a book that would allow me to share this excitement over West African birds with my children - and I couldn’t find such a book. This was about 1979, the International Year of the Child. Conversations with a friend, Miriam Ikejiani-Clark, about the possibility of our teaming up to write books on birds and trees for IYC led to contact with her cousin Arthur Nwankwo, the owner of a local publishing house. Fourth Dimensi[...]

[Interview] Bunny Suraiya


Bunny Suraiya has worked in the advertising industry, first as a copyeditor and then as creative director. She has also worked as a freelance writer and has contributed material to magazines that include Illustrated Weekly, JS, Time Out and Khaleej Times.In this interview, Bunny Suraiya talks about her debut novel, Calcutta Exile (Harper Collins Publishers India, 2011):When did you start writing?My first short story was published way back in 1973, by eminent author, Khushwant Singh, when he was the editor of the Illustrated Weekly. After that, I wrote another short story for the iconic Indian youth magazine, JS. Shortly after that, I got into the profession of advertising as a copywriter, ending up finally as Creative Director with JWT and before that Ogilvy & Mather – and the long hours, crazy deadlines and relentless pressure drove all thoughts of writing anything not connected with advertising out of my head.When I quit full-time advertising and went into freelance mode in the late 90s, I started writing again. Book reviews, travel features, opinion pieces, Delhi happenings for Time Out, London, and a fortnightly column for the weekend magazine of the Khaleej Times published out of Dubai. I never actually decided I wanted to be a published writer; I just wanted to write this story about a city in which I grew up and which was home to so many communities – Armenians, Jews, Goans (while they were still Portuguese), British, Chinese – and most of all the Anglo-Indians – before it grew so severely alien to them that they felt they had no option but to leave it. As I did. There are so many Calcutta Exiles all over the world today – in Britain, Canada, Australia, America – and of course in the many cities of India where they have settled and frequently meet to reminisce about what was once the greatest city in Asia, the acknowledged second city of the Empire after London.I woke up one morning in March 2010, and with no fixed plan in my mind, sat down at my laptop and wrote the first sentence: Ayah’s name was Sohag Khatun, but she was never addressed as anything but Ayah by the Ryan family with whom she had worked for nineteen years, first as a nanny to the children, then as a highly-valued cook and general factotum.After that, the story just spooled out of my mind as if it was writing itself. I wrote every day for two hours – from 11 am to 1 pm – and put down about 1,200 words every session. What was terribly exciting about writing Calcutta Exile was that the characters just took over the story, and often I would get up from a writing session and go back and read what was on the page and find myself completely surprised by the direction the story had taken thanks to the actions of the characters! It’s obvious to me now that the story was in my mind at a subconscious level for years, and was just waiting to spring out. The book took me four months to write.Who is your target audience?My target audience is everyone. Everyone who enjoys a good story, everyone who has ever felt a sense of rootlessness and alienation from the place they live in, everyone who is unsure of their identity. In this increasingly globalised and rapidly changing world, where people are either uprooted from their home regions or even where they have remained where they always were only to find that their homes have changed so much as to make them feel isolated, everyone is an exile. Exile is a state of mind more than a physical or geographic displacement; this insight is what motivated me to write this story of Calcutta Exile.How did you chose a publisher for the book?I was[...]

[Transcript] The Future of the Book Industry


In an interview that was conducted during at the States of Independence fare which was held at De Montfort University in Leicester on March 17, 2012, David A. Bowman (Bluewood Publishing) talks about the books his company publishes and about where he sees the book publishing industry going: allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="360" src="" width="480">Hi, I'm David Bowman. I'm one half of Bluewood Publishing. We are an international small press publisher. My business partner is actually in Christchurch, New Zealand. We publish genre fiction in ebook and print. We've been around for about two and a half years. We have about 150 titles currently available as ebooks, 32 of which are now in print.When you say 'genre fiction', what do you mean?Genre fiction is popular fiction as opposed to literary fiction. For example, we have alternative history, romance, western romance, fantasy, science fiction, thriller and, dark fantasy... i.e. the vampire type stories. We also have one non-fiction title but that was because that was just such a brilliantly written manuscript we couldn't turn it down.You use a combination of print and ebook...Yes. We actually started in ebook rather than in print. Simply, it was a mechanism that worked for us and then we expanded into print.Why is that? I get the impression that people are actually moving from print to ebook.I think that's because when we formed, we had a blank canvas. Most people are coming from a background of print. We were coming from a background more as authors than as print [publishers] and, as a result, it was a manner of working that worked for us. So, we started with an ebook and then moved through into print, from that direction. So, we are going against the tide but we are going with the tide because, obviously, ebook sales continue to grow and grow and grow. In many respects, paperback sales are relatively flat. There is not growth in that market as there has been in the past.What do you see happening to the industry? Where do you see it going?I have both sat on panels and seen the panel [on the future of the book and the book industry] here today. I don't think there is a simple answer to that question. Ebooks are taking over and TESCOs, I think, sold 225,000 kindles in the run-up to Christmas, which is an enormous amount for a supermarket to sell. Ebooks are selling and selling and selling.Essentially, you have two wins with an ebook. Firstly, your ebook reader is a light device. You can carry around your entire library in your handbag or in your back-pocket. The second is ecological. You haven't destroyed a tree to print an ebook. There is an element of people that, of course, say the ebook reader itself has taken rather more than just a tree to be produced but ebooks have a better cost profile, obviously. It costs a lot of money to print a book, particularly on a short run. If you print millions of books, you can do it a lot better. But, for a small press like ourselves, it takes a lot of investment to actually produce the printed version of the book.Which takes us back to the question we discussed earlier... Why switch from ebooks to print?It's not a switch. We always intended to do both but we started with the ebook because that was, for us, the easier way to do it... and then we moved through to print... but all of the print books are available as ebooks. It's just that there are a lot of ebooks we published that are a lot shorter which makes for not such an economic model for print.One of the things that I heard today was that ebooks pres[...]

[Interview] Agrena Mushonga


Agrena Mushonga trained at Seke Teachers' College in Chitungwiza, Zimbabwe and went on to teach in a number of primary schools in Chitungwiza.In addition to teaching, she co-ordinated the Chitungwiza Children's Reading Tent Project and, in collaboration with Mbuya Muroyiwa, hosted story-telling sessions on the Zimbabwean children's television channel, KidzNet.She is also the author of children's books that include Kapitau and the Magic Whistle (Priority Projects Publishers, 2001) and Stories from Africa: Meet Kapitau Junior (Kapitau Publishing Ltd, 2012). In this interview, Agrena Mushonga talks about her writing:When did you start writing?Way back, when I was growing up in my home village of Goneso in Mashonaland East Province in Zimbabwe, in mid-70s. I remember I had this great desire to write even when I was still in 4th grade in primary school. I was 10 years old then. (I started school at the age of seven). I never stopped writing since then. When did you decide you wanted to be a published writer?There was an acute shortage of reading materials in primary schools in Zimbabwe around late 90s, particularly at the school where I was teaching. To get around this problem I gathered empty shoe boxes from the local town centre. I made up little summaries of stories, some from the text books and supplementary readers and some which I just made out of my imagination. I drafted a few questions and things to do at the end of each story. Each story ended up being a work card. Due to large enrolment in the school, we ended up with hot sitting so those reading cum work cards occupied my school pupils until they went into the classrooms. I soon realised a remarkable improvement in my classes’ performance. I then came up with a bound volume of appropriate registers in Shona after I realised that our Grade 7 pupils were performing badly in examinations in this particular area. I also wrote a collection of Shona stories which, together with the bound volumes, I took to a leading publishing company. After a while I received a very encouraging letter with a lot of advice from one of Zimbabwe’s highly regarded writers today, on how to improve my manuscripts. I did not do anything about the manuscripts. I put them away and began to write a collection of folktales – some in Shona and some in English. I had a very strong connection with one of the tales, Kapitau and the Magic Whistle. It was perhaps because Kapitau was an orphan and my mother spoke a lot about her life as an orphan. I decided to publish this folktale and when I approached Priority Projects Publishing they agreed to publish the story. My intention was to use the story for reading promotion in our Children’s Reading Tent Project of which I had been chosen as co-ordinator in Chitungwiza. That was in 2001.How would you describe the writing you are doing now?Presently I am writing a series of children’s stories. I like to enter the mind of the young reader when writing for children. I get into their world and explore it. I also recently completed a novel which will be out soon. I hope it comes out well before the end of 2012. I put myself in the shoes of Nokuthula, the main character in this story. Nokuthula means ‘be still or stay put’. I just don’t know how to disconnect as an author – I am emotionally connected to this story and I just love it. I empathise with the main character.Who is your target audience?For the children’s series my target audience is children of about six to 10 years old. I probably enjoy writing for this age group due to th[...]

[Interview] Elizabeth Wood


Elizabeth Wood - head of digital publishing at Worldreader, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting literacy in the developing world by bringing books to all using e-books - talks about how authors and publishers are making e-books available to readers in rural Africa:What motivates Worldreader?As you know, many people in rural parts of Africa have limited access to books. Using new technology (e-books, e-readers, mobile phones, etc), we can provide people in the developing world with access to hundreds of thousands of books and stories. Worldreader currently has e-reader programs in schools in Ghana and Kenya. This week, we began an e-reader program in Uganda, and soon we kick off in Rwanda. If efforts to find new ways to bring more books to more people, Worldreader is testing a reading application for mobile phones, that will work on almost any mobile phone thanks to our partner biNu’s technology that turns feature phones into smart phones. As mobile penetration continues to grow in the developing world, this could be a way for millions of folks to have access to books. Where are the e-books you are making accessible in this manner coming from?Many international publishers and authors are donating the use of their e-books to our e-reader programs. These publishers include Random House and Penguin. Recently Puffin in the UK decided to allow our kids access to Roald Dahl's brilliant e-books - a huge win for us and for our kids!We also aim to give people in Africa access to great African writers, both of yesterday and today. We partner with local publishers across Africa, digitizing their books and using them in our programs. And we partner directly with African authors. We are fortunate to have Chika Unigwe, Meshack Asare, Brian Chikwava, Jackee Batanda and other great African authors donating work to our programs. And we'd love to add more African writers to this list! If there are writers out there who are are interested in taking part in the programme, what should they do?One way to get involved would be to contribute one or more short stories - which we would publish digitally and send to the e-readers in our programs. We will pay for conversion costs, which are minimal, so there is no cost to an author. In 4 or 6 weeks' time, we could have our students reading your work!For example, Chika Unigwe contributed 6 short stories, which we published as a collection of stories. Although the collection of short stories is available to folks in the USA at 99 cents, it is given free of charge to students and teachers in our programs across Africa and will be available free of charge on the book reading application for mobile phones.In your view, how has this project affected people who have had access to it?We are passionate about the project and we are already seeing clear proof that our programs are working to improve literacy. The kids in Ghana who have had e-readers for the past year are spending 50% more time reading, and they have improved dramatically in reading fluency and comprehension.Related books: src="" style="width:120px;height:240px;" scrolling="no" marginwidth="0" marginheight="0" frameborder="0">, src="" style="width:120px;height:240px;" scrol[...]

[Interview] Mathias B. Freese


Mathias B. Freese lives in Henderson, Nevada in the United States. He has worked as a teacher and a psychotherapist and has been writing for over 42 years. His books include a Holocaust novel, The i Tetralogy (Wheatmark, 2005); a collection of short stories, Down to a Sunless Sea (Wheatmark, 2008); the mixture of memoir and essay, This Mobius Strip of Ifs (Wheatmark, forthcoming) and a second collection of short stories, I Truly Lament (___, forthcoming).In this interview, Freese talks about his writing:When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?In 1968 I wrote a short article, “Is Content Enough?” for an education journal of some note. It was my first publication, but not a literary one, although I devoted a few months to perfecting the article. I had no idea that I would become a writer, much like I had no idea that I would become a psychotherapist, or have children, or lose my wife in an accident. Often such happenings are made randomly or we just walk into them. Much of life is a wild run through a corn field like Cary Grant in North by Northwest.By 1974 I was listed in The Best American Stories of 1974, with such writers as Joyce Carol Oates, Isaac Bashevis Singer, John Hawkes, etc. Me? Martha Foley, who had edited Hemingway, among others, was the editor and through a series of errors my name was mixed up with H. T. Kirby Smith, a poet. To make a long story very short, Mensa Bulletin, 2011, just published my award-winning essay, “To Miss Foley, With Gratitude,” which is the tale behind “Herbie,” the first story of note that I ever had published, and credit given to Kirby-Smith. That’ll show you. As I look back, it was a terrific gift to a new writer. To know you’re good at something doesn’t mean you have to hear it from others. The inner-directed writer needs no acclaim.As an English teacher I wrote stories during lunch breaks, study halls, during the evenings late into the night and over the week-ends; my trusty second-hand Smith-Corona was repaired several times as the letter “e” got an intense battering. Rejections were rife, but as an autodidact I continued to self-learn. I had to feed my family and had no time for "conferences", and all that folderol. I made a promise to myself during these difficult years as a husband, father and as a teacher who loathed the mediocrity in high schools, that whatever stories I could not get published I would publish someday. I waited about 30 years for that to happen. In 2008, I self-published Down to a Sunless Sea and won the Finalist Indie Excellence Award. I persevered. I am the turtle behind the turtle racing against the hare. Think on this for a moment and you can get a handle on me!How would you describe your writing?All my writing is visceral and passionate. I favor the passion of the mind as well as that of the soul. As to my "target audience", that is part of the marketing world and I do not respond to that at all. I have always written for myself, believing that if I do it well the person reading it will connect to me. I have a conversation always with myself. Apparently some people like that. All literature is an internet among people. To understand this about me is to understand why I take risks and dare in my writing. What I really do know is that fearlessness makes for authenticity in writing. I do not write to be remembered. I write in the now and for the interaction and discussion it might bring about. I have my close ones to remember me. In short, I write to give off[...]

[Interview_2] Mark Adam Kaplan


Mark Adam Kaplan is a school teacher, a novelist and a screenwriter.His first novel, A Thousand Beauties, was published by BeWrite Books in 2009. His second novel, Down, has just been picked up by Bewrite Books, and will be released soon. In this interview, Mark Kaplan talks about his first picture book, Monsters Do Ugly Things.How would you describe Monsters Do Ugly Things?Monsters Do Ugly Things contains 36 illustrations about all things monstrous. It is a satire of social norms and common behaviors. Most of all, it's fun.It is about inappropriate social behavior. Our monsters pick their noses, eat when they talk, make messes, etc. They also do 'pretty' things, like have friends, and share.How did you come up with the idea for the book?This book has been gestating in my mind for years. After the birth of my children, it just gelled. But the book is nothing without Glenn Scano's brilliant illustrations. I'd written the book and it sat in a drawer for a long time. Then I found one of Glenn's old pieces, an etched mirror, that I'd bought from a crafts show. The minute I thought of Glenn for this book, all the lights went on. The book began even simpler than it ended up. Glenn's art inspired me to expand on the original idea. The book grew organically from our work together.I wrote the book fairly quickly, then worked with Glenn's illustrations to hone the idea and craft the entire piece. Glenn worked every day, 12 hours a day for 10 months, stopping only for bodily functions and doctor's visits.Where and when was the book published? Monsters Do Ugly Things was published on November 15, 2011. Several issues (on the publisher's side) pulled the book from the shelves for a few days. Then it reappeared, all issues resolved.We had been rejected form about a dozen agents and a handful of publishers. When we investigated self-publishing, we discovered how expensive it would be to print out high-gloss, hard cover books. Add that to my constantly seeing women baby sit their kids while shopping by stuffing an iPhone in their faces... it just made sense to go eBook. But we found there were no established outlets for new Children's eBooks. ePublishing houses also did little or no promotion for the books they published. It didn't make a lot of sense to give the lion's share of the profits to a company that wasn't really working for it. One big disadvantage is that we have to market the book ourselves. Neither Glenn nor I are marketing experts. Because we are selling a picture book, many people want a hard cover to read at night with their children, and are thrown by the fact that we aren't offering one. But the future is electronic, and many people I know let their children play with their iPad. Why not have something specific, safe, and fun to give the kids to look through?Which aspects of the work you put into the book did you find most difficult?The most difficult part of this was preparing the book for ePublication. Glenn spent hundreds of hours tweaking the illustrations and the text, adjusting the coloring and the sizes, formatting the files and refining the edges My favorite part was opening the files to see Glenn's artwork. Glenn's favorite part was creating the monsters. We spent more time laughing than doing just about anything else. We've known each other for 35 years, but this is the first project we've ever done together. We plan to do many more.What sets Monsters Do Ugly Things apart from the other things you've wri[...]

[Interview_2] Tahlia Newland


Tahlia Newland writes young adult and adult urban fantasy. Her books include The Drorgon Slayer’s Choice (Catapult Press, 2011); A Matter of Perception (Catapult Press, 2011) and Realm Hunter (Catapult Press, forthcoming 2012). Newland is giving away a limited number of ebook copies of her short paranormal romance, The Drorgon Slayer’s Choice while the e-book version of her anthology of urban fantasy & magical realism, A Matter of Perception is available at the special release price of 99c until November 14. On the November 15 the price for A Matter of Perception goes up to $1.99.In this interview, Tahlia Newland talks about A Matter of Perception:How would you describe your latest anthology?A Matter of Perception is an unusual collection of urban fantasy and magical realism that will make you wonder what’s real and what’s not. The stories are thematically linked by various supernatural beings, a touch of romance, a bit of humour, and a smidgen of philosophy. There are gods, aliens, ghosts in the service of sirens, sorcerers who battle each other with magical light, a dream of a future past, a pair of rose-coloured glasses and Norris.Norris?Yeah, he’s a really sweet, shy, rather pedantic guy who would like to be a knight in shining armour.How long did it take you to write the stories that appear in this anthology?I’m a very creative person. Ideas fly around my mind all the time. I wrote these stories just to try some of them out, but it wasn’t until about a year afterwards that I thought about publishing them. I worked on these and other short stories for about three months initially ... writing, revising or editing every day. I sent some of them into competitions and to magazines, and one got to the semi finals in a big competition, but they’re really different. It took another three weeks to get feedback, fine edit them and prepare them for publication.The anthology was published by Catapult Press on November 2, 2011 and is available on Amazon, Smashwords & will soon be in other major outlets. Catapult Press is the publishing arm of Centrepiece Productions, a company owned by myself and my husband. We set up the publishing side to publish my shorter books while my agent still chases a print deal from traditional publishers for my longer works. The advantage is that I have control over all facets of the production. The downside is that I have responsibility for all facets of production. I’m handling it by being very organised and allotting just a few tasks to do each day.Which aspects of the work you put into the book did you find most difficult?I hadn’t written short stories before, so it was a new game for me. The hardest thing is finding a really snappy story and giving it a bit of a twist at the end. Which aspects of the work did you enjoy most?I didn’t have much trouble with the stories in A Matter of Perception. They came easily. It was just the right time, I guess.I like finding great endings and several people commented on the clever and often humorous, or tragic endings in the stories, so I’m happy about that. I also love great characters and there are some good ones in this collection. Norris is my favourite. He’s terribly lovable.What sets A Matter of Perception apart from other things you've written?All my writing has unusual ideas and a mix of humour, action and romance. All my themes encourage readers to look more closely at the nature of their world, t[...]

[Interview] Fungisayi Sasa


Zimbabwean poet and author Fungisayi Sasa lives in Milton Keynes. She is the author of the children’s book, The Search for the Perfect Head (Eloquent Books, 2008).One of her short stories was published in the anthology, Writing Free (Weaver Press, 2011) while her poems have appeared in places that include the Poetry International Web and Spilt Milk Magazine.In this interview, Fungisayi Sasa talks about her concerns as a writer:When did you start writing?My dad unwittingly led me to writing during my early childhood years. He was very firm about studying and, as children, we weren't allowed to watch television during the week. And he would often take us to the local library.At first, I didn't like these visits to the library because reading felt like work to me. But eventually I started enjoying it and through reading, my passion for writing grew and I started writing poems and short stories about my family and the annoying things they would have done to me. Instead of ranting and raving at them when they made me angry, I would write a story about them or write an angry poem. Writing was therapeutic.When I was in Zimbabwe, writing was simply a hobby, I didn't think I could go anywhere with it. Even though I read many books, my mind didn't grasp the concept that I could be a writer.When the political situation in Zimbabwe forced my family to flee to the United Kingdom, I found loads of career opportunities that included writing. I studied creative writing at the University of Bedfordshire and with guidance and support from my lecturers, I sharpened my skills. I gained the confidence to send my work out and I found that the thing with writing and becoming published is that you have to push and persevere.I used to spend hours trawling websites and writing down their details, sending work by post or e-mail - hoping that somebody would be interested. I even used to write work specifically tailored for particular magazines and websites. I sent my work out to so many places and received so many rejections but I didn't let this deter me. I was motivated because I knew that my work was of a suitable standard. If I was asked to make changes, I would.Have your experiences influenced your writing in any way?My personal experiences are everything when it comes to my writing.Some of my characters have my personal traits. They talk the way I do.My writing flows more easily if it comes from my own personal perspective. For example, in the short story, “Eyes On”, which was published in Writing Free, the idea of stalking came from the fact that when I am on Facebook, I cannot randomly go on a person's profile and check out what they are doing because, to me, it feels like I am stalking them.However, it would also appear that one of the wonders of modern technology and social networking sites is they appear to have normalised stalking to such an extent that we are not disturbed when we are followed around. It is probably because of this 'miracle' that the main character in “Eyes On”, isn't alarmed when he realises that he is being followed.What are the most difficult aspects?Starting writing anything is always difficult. The first sentence is always important to me. It has to make the right impact. If it doesn't, I can't continue.I can write three pages but if the first sentence of the story or book isn't quite right, I will delete it all.I don't start writing until the sentence sounds r[...]