Authors at Home

There is a certain kind of intimacy that comes with seeing into the home of another person. Normally a relationship needs to reach a certain point before you’re invited inside, but we’re all having to adjust to a new normal. We’re all searching for something to inspire us, and we often turn to the things we read. In light of the stay-at-home orders that most of the world is currently following, authors have brought literary salons––places to explore ideas, share stories, and gain insight into the writing process––to Instagram. By allowing us into their writing spaces, these authors are giving us a rare, uncensored look into their lives. Sharing these spaces allows us to refill our creative wells through conversation and a shared love of books and writing. It won’t surprise me if there’s a new literary renaissance in the next few years as authors––both published and aspiring––create new work under lockdown.

If you’re looking for something to do on a Friday or Saturday night in, look no further than Instagram. Authors are using live video to welcome us into their homes with open arms, sharing a bit of their lives and their writing processes as a way to engage with their readers and escape from the world. Several authors have decided to dive deep into the creative process, sharing details from their publishing and writing journeys that, as readers, we’re not always privy to. You can always read interviews, of course, but there is something curiously enthralling and inspiring about watching authors detail their journeys themselves.

With each Instagram Live stream, viewers gain some perspective on just how much emotional work goes into penning a novel. It’s a rare, uncensored look into an author’s life and their work—from moments when the author is so choked up they can hardly speak to bursts of incredulous laughter when they reread a line written years before. The format allows for spontaneity as authors answer reader questions in real time, which is important in a time when we’re all having to frame our questions and answers around our new reality. We’re able to connect to the rawness and vulnerability that comes from talking about writing during these times, and this shows us what it means to share things together.

Authors sharing an inside look at their writing and publishing journeys are inspiring to aspiring authors. Every journey is different, and these literary salons with truly wonderful writers are providing us with the creative nourishment we need. It’s difficult right now for some people to feel a creative spark, and authors know that some of the best work comes from moments when our creativity is really tested. By welcoming us into their homes, they are supplying a place where we can fan the coals of creativity and hope that something catches and burns into something new.

Here are some authors to follow for that creative spark:

  • Jeff Zentner. His Instagram Live streams are peppered with writing and publishing advice, anecdotes about writing his novel The Serpent King, and small sneak peeks into his upcoming novel, In the Wild Light. He has tentative plans to continue live streams with his second published novel.
  • V. E. Schwab. On Saturdays, she chats with a different writer about their creative process, their origin story, hurdles they’ve had to overcome, and their writing process itself.
  • Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman. They run a weekly read-along and Q and A about their novel, Aurora Rising.
  • Catherynne M. Valente. She is reading from her series The Orphan’s Tales every night until the stay-at-home orders end.

Book Playlists: Inspiration and Interaction

The world of books is growing and evolving with every passing day. Trends begin and end, but there is one trend that is likely to stick around: book playlists. Author-created lists can be part of a marketing strategy, but they are also another way to bring readers into the writing process. Whatever the reason, music can change and enhance the way we experience and enjoy reading. These playlists give readers the chance to get to know their favorite books and authors just a little bit better.

An author’s digital playlist can reveal new undertones and themes of beloved books. A particularly popular trend is a character creating a playlist within a book, or simply mentioning songs throughout. Some different playlists that might take form are those fictionally created by a character, compilations of songs mentioned in the book, or playlists created by publishers following the themes of the novel.

There are of course playlists created by fans as well. Much like fanfiction, it is a way to extend readers’ interactions with the characters and world they have come to love. The last playlist category is playlist writing. Some authors find themselves listening to certain songs and artists as inspiration while creating their books. For readers, this gives insight into author’s writing process and gives a fresh look at beloved books.

Authors like Stephen King and Divergent‘s author, Veronica Roth, created playlists of songs they listened to while writing. For Roth, this meant many songs that reminded her of characters or inspired her to create the Divergent world. Roth introduced her Divergent playlist in 2010 with the caveat that she doesn’t choose songs from particular artists intentionally, but she simply finds songs that remind her of the world she’s creating. Her personality bleeds through her introduction and she invites readers to share their playlists with her as well. Information flows freely from author to reader in this digital age. All one has to do is seek it out.

There may come a time in the not-so-distant future that playlists become a more integral part of the reading experience. Imagine an ebook that gives you the option to play each song mentioned in the book as it comes up or with each chapter plays a song that inspired it. The soundtrack of the created world would be a tap away. The digital reading experience changes and expands as technology allows it to.

For now we’ll just have to keep seeking out our favorite authors and exploring the expanded world that comes with author interaction. Check out your favorite author’s social media pages and blog spots to see if you’ve been missing out on some great world-building playlists.

Memorial Day 2016

Every community in our country was affected by the Civil War; so much so that a year after the day the war ended many towns closed all their shops so people could go place flags and flowers on the graves of their loved ones. Think about how that translates to modern times. Can you think of a day in your lifetime that shut our country down a year after the event occurred? September 11, 2001, would be most people’s answer. In one day almost 3,000 people were killed, in a country with a population of 285 million. The Civil War lasted four years, and we lost 600,000 people out of a population of only 40 million.

This unofficial holiday would happen in May for years after the Civil War until General John Logan decided to organize an effort and create what they called Decoration Day. Eventually Decoration Day changed to Memorial Day, but since the South saw it as a celebration of a Union victory, not everyone celebrated on the same day. It wasn’t until after World War I, when the United States lost 130,000 servicemen and -women, that we really united as a country to give the fourth Monday in May its true meaning.

In World War II we lost 419,000 servicemen and -women. In fact, the world lost 3 percent of its population in that war. In the Korean War we lost about 54,000 of our best. In Vietnam we lost 59,000 souls, and in the current Iraq and Afghanistan Wars we’ve lost 6,882 so far.

In this last war, I lost a soldier in my squad during a coordinated and violent ambush. He was two feet behind me when he was killed. His name was Eric Scott McKinley, and he was a dear friend. We lost too many from my company: Eric, Kenny Leisten, Dave Weisenburg, Ben Isenberg, Earl Werner, and Taylor Marks. Earl and Taylor were killed on a different tour, but all of these losses really affected me on a level most people can’t understand. I came back from three deployments a different person, so different that I didn’t know who I was, how I was supposed to fit into the world anymore, or even how to really interact with society. I wrote my book The Wax Bullet War about this struggle in my life, a struggle too many veterans share and can relate to.

Sean Davis, helping with hurricane Katrina cleanup.

Sean Davis, helping with hurricane Katrina cleanup.

Memorial Day is a time to mourn and remember those we’ve lost, and I believe that can mean mourning and remembering the pieces of ourselves that we will never get back. I also believe this day reminds us veterans who were fortunate enough to come home that our service hasn’t ended. We made a promise when we raised our hands. We made a promise to our families, our communities, our country, and our gods—the sacrifice of our brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, sons, and daughters holds us to that promise. I don’t mean the oath of enlistment. The promise we made was to find our true potential, to be leaders, to bring out the best in those around us, to cover down, and to make wherever we are a better place for us being there. That’s what I believe it means to sacrifice what we’ve sacrificed for the greater good.

Too many people equate a veteran with someone who suffers from PTSD. We’ve started to see it in pop culture, TV, movies, even music videos. I worked with State Representatives Julie Parrish and Paul Evans to help put together and promote the Veteran/Lottery Fund Bill. When it was time to testify before the committee that would say yes or no to the bill, we had a room full of veterans of all ages from all wars, but it wasn’t our testimony that convinced the committee to pass the bill. In fact, they didn’t even let us testify. It came down to money (as most of our laws do nowadays). The presenter showed that with an investment of one dollar of the lottery funds we had the potential to get back twenty dollars of federal money. The plan was to hire more veteran service officers with the lottery funds so they could help more veterans get disability percentages from the VA (i.e., federal money), and that money would be spent in Oregon where our veterans live. While I was happy the bill passed and the money would go to veterans issues, I was almost insulted that our government sees veterans, especially combat veterans, as soul-broke heroes who have lost the potential to ever be whole again. In my opinion, they are betting on how messed up we are, rather than how we can positively change the communities we live in. What if they invested in our ideas, in our talents, and our abilities rather than investing in our diseases or injuries?

I don’t blame them, but somehow we’ve come to a point in our history where we see our veterans as a negative rather than a positive. I’m not saying we need to do away with the disability rating. I understand how many people are using that to live. But I believe we should set aside some of those funds and invest in what our veterans can do.

We need to honor the sacrifice of those we’ve lost as well as their families. But we also need to celebrate our lives. We need to remember our potential. Keep that promise. I want to encourage my fellow veterans: Inspire to those who need it. Do great things in your community. Do great things in your life. Do things you didn’t know you were capable of. Show the people around you that we’re more than soul-broke heroes. Get them to believe it, and in that way, you can make someone who doesn’t think they can go one more day believe it too. Live so the victories in your life are shared by those who aren’t with us anymore. Honor the millions of servicemen and -women who died before you, but honor yourself as well. Make your life a monument that will inspire others.

A pipeline rupture.

A pipeline rupture.

For a copy of Sean’s book, visit the book’s webpage.

Advice from CALYX Authors to Inspire You to Be Your Most Awesome Self

CALYX Journal, the feminist literary periodical, was founded forty years ago on March 11, 1976, by four women intent on providing a forum for the many wide-ranging and diverse voices that make up women writers and artists. To celebrate, CALYX and Ooligan Press have been diligently working to ready Memories Flow in Our Veins: Forty Years of Women’s Writing from CALYX, an anthology of poetry and prose handpicked by the CALYX Editorial Collective for publication in April 2016. CALYX has won numerous literary awards and has served as a launching pad for a host of female writers, from Julia Alvarez to Sharon Olds to Barbara Kingsolver, among four thousand others. Here are sixteen brilliant quotes from CALYX writers to guide you toward being an even better, kinder, and smarter person than you already are.

On Wandering:

“There are ways in, journeys to the center of life, through time; through air, matter, dream and thought. The ways are not always mapped or charted, but sometimes being lost, if there is such a thing, is the sweetest place to be. And always, in this search, a person might find that she is already there, at the center of the world. It may be a broken world, but it is glorious nonetheless.”
―Linda Hogan, The Woman Who Watches Over the World: A Native Memoir

On Learning:

“If you don’t understand, ask questions. If you’re uncomfortable about asking questions, say you are uncomfortable about asking questions and then ask anyway. It’s easy to tell when a question is coming from a good place. Then listen some more. Sometimes people just want to feel heard. Here’s to possibilities of friendship and connection and understanding.” ―Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Americanah

On Purpose:

“The very least you can do in your life is figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope. Not admire it from a distance but live right in it, under its roof.” ―Barbara Kingsolver, Animal Dreams

On the Body:

“This body is yours. No one can ever take it from you, if only you will accept yourself, claim it again—your arms, your spine, your ribs, the small of your back. It’s all yours. All this bounty, all this beauty, all this strength and grace is yours. This garden is yours. Take it back. Take it back.” ―Jean Hegland, Into the Forest

On Morality:

“Do nothing because it is righteous or praiseworthy or noble to do so; do nothing because it seems good to do so; do only that which you must do and which you cannot do in any other way.” ―Ursula K. Le Guin, The Farthest Shore

On Worry:

“Don’t create snakes out of ropes. You have enough to worry about.” ―Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, The Mistress of Spices

On Spontaneity:

“Don’t plan it all. Let life surprise you a little.” ––Julia Alvarez, In the Time of the Butterflies

On Crying:

Tears have a purpose. They are what we carry of the ocean, and perhaps we must become the sea, give ourselves to it, if we are to be transformed.” ―Linda Hogan, Solar Storms

On Seizing the Moment:

“This is your life. You are responsible for it. You will not live forever. Don’t wait.” ―Natalie Goldberg, Wild Mind: Living the Writer’s Life

On Self-Care:

“Take your vitamins. Exercise. Just work to love yourself as much as you can—not more than the people around you but not so much less.” ––Sharon Olds, “Advice to Young Poets: Sharon Olds in Conversation,” interview by Michael Laskey

On Control:

“Life is not orderly. No matter how we try to make it so, right in the middle of it we die, lose a leg, fall in love, or drop a jar of applesauce.” ―Natalie Goldberg, Wild Mind: Living the Writer’s Life

On Reading:

“Even the worst book can give us something to think about.” ––Wislawa Szymborska

On Writing:

“Allow yourself to release the emotions you have struggled all your life to contain.” ––Ellen Bass

“I have learned over the years that all I can do is reach for something difficult—try to get the colors right and the negative space, the angle of the light. And if a few people can see it, that has to be enough.” ––Molly Gloss, Falling from Horses

“Words aren’t simply words. They represent something. As I would say, take the ordinary and make it extraordinary.” ––Colleen J. McElroy, “‘Make the Ordinary Extraordinary:’ Interview with Colleen J. McElroy,” interview by Sampsonia Way

And, Most Importantly:

“Do NOT copy John Grisham.” ––Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, “In the Footsteps of Achebe: Enter Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Nigeria’s Newest Literary Voice,” interview by Ikechuku Anya

The Creation of Young Heroes: An Interview with Author T.A. Barron

By Lauren Brooke Horn

T.A. Barron is the award-winning author of the Merlin and Heartlight sagas. His newest release, Atlantis Rising, is the first in a trilogy exploring the mythos surrounding the creation of Atlantis. In this interview, T.A. Barron takes a moment to talk about his new book, the writing process, and his advice for aspiring authors.

TA Barron and Lauren at Wordstock

T.A. Barron and Brooke at Wordstock 2013

LBH:  Your new book, Atlantis Rising, explores the lost mythology behind the founding of Atlantis. What can readers expect from this exciting new release?

TAB: As you know, there are hundreds of stories about Atlantis—but all of them deal with the terrible destruction of that legendary place. That’s fitting, since the whole legend began with Plato’s description of a mythic island that was completely destroyed. This new trilogy, however, is the creation of Atlantis—its magical beginnings, the heroic young people who helped make it possible, the forces of arrogance and greed that threatened to stop it, and the enchanted place itself. So this is truly a creation story . . . but of Atlantis. It will be a story of real sacrifice and ultimate triumph (and, of course, the seeds of its ultimate tragedy).

LBH:  You’ve published quite the collection of successful young adult and children’s books. What attracted you to these genres in particular?

TAB: I write books I would like to read. That means each story must have a character, a relationship, a place, a dilemma, and an idea that I care about. A lot. I like a story where an individual must deal with personal issues as well as overarching issues. So, rather than an age-specific genre, I chose to write of the mythic quest—call it fantasy if you prefer—because it allows me to incorporate all of these qualities.

LBH:  The writing process is unique and highly personal for each individual author. What interesting quirks and habits have you developed in regard to your own writing process?

TAB: Writing is a strange, mysterious process. After more than twenty years, I still don’t know how it really works. But I do know it requires a special, personal chemistry. So I always write the first draft with a blue felt pen and a pad of paper, because that’s a good chemistry for me. Probably because, as a kid growing up in Colorado, that’s how I started writing. Once the manuscript is ready—a good first draft but still far from finished—I transfer it to a computer. Then I do six or seven complete rewrites—as many as it takes to get it right.

I also do a lot of background research—about Celtic lore, Native American dances, sunken treasure ships . . . whatever is needed to make the story authentic.

Last of all, I do some careful, delicate editing—marking up the printed copy with my friendly blue pen. And I do lots of rewrites. How many? As many as it takes to get it right! Most of my novels take six or seven full rewrites and at least a year or two to finish.

LBH: What are your thoughts on the technical side of book production? Specifically, could you provide your perspective on the recent changes in the publishing industry due to the emergence of e-books into the market?

TAB: In today’s publishing world, I suggest an author’s top priority is to find a literary agent. As most have experienced, it can be difficult to get published without one. How do you find one who is right for you? There are professional writers’ organizations, such as the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, that could be helpful. Or you could track down whoever was the literary agent for a published book you admire by contacting the editorial division of the publishing house.

You may be wondering why you need an agent. Thanks to the increased availability of self-publishing, and also the ability to reach new readers through the internet, there are more alternatives than ever. But for the time being, at least, there is nothing that beats having a major publisher adopt your work and distribute it to bookstores, electronic readers, MP3 players, and the like across the planet. To accomplish that, a literary agent can be very helpful.

LBH: What advice would you pass along to young and aspiring writers?

TAB: For starters, writing is the hardest work I’ve ever done—as well as the most joyous work I’ve ever done. Which is why all the hard labor is worthwhile. But in this regard, talent will only take you a small part of the distance you need to go. What is necessary in addition is discipline and persistence. Stay with your writing, no matter how many rewrites it takes to get it right!

And finally, I would tell aspiring writers: As you think about your dream to write . . . remember what Merlin said about the value of dreams (in The Mirror of Merlin, the fourth book in The Lost Years of Merlin series):

“A life—whether seamstress or poet, farmer or king—is measured not by its length, but by the worth of its deeds and the power of its dreams.”

So . . . write well, my friend! I wish you all the grace and truth of Fincayra, Middle Earth, and Avalon. You will find that, and more, I am sure.

Author Interview: Jessica Andersen

By Whitney Smyth

Author Jessica Andersen started professionally writing romance novels in 2001, and hasn’t looked back. After recently finishing up her darkly themed Mayan apocalypse series, Final Prophecy, she donned a new penname and has begun a new series of lighter Western romances as Jesse Hayworth. I was able to snag a few minutes of Jessica’s time and asked her some questions about her writing, which she answered with her characteristic humor.

WS: Describe in five words your writing.

JA: If I could describe it in five words, I wouldn’t write hundred-thousand-word books about it! (Snicker.) Okay, to give a legit answer, for the Jessica Andersen pen name, it would be adventure romance for sci-myth nerds and for the Jesse Hayworth pen name, it would be heartwarming modern day Western romance.

WS: What got you interested in writing?

JA: I started writing my first romance novel as a feel-good antidote to my PhD thesis in Genetics. When the time came to get a postdoc, I started freelancing as a scientific editor instead, as it gave me time to work on my novels rather than grant applications. I also trained horses and gave riding lessons to pay the bills.

WS: When did you first, without hesitation, call yourself a writer?

JA: I call myself a Romance Novelist (with capital letters and everything) because I’m proud to be a highly educated woman who loves to write (and read!) about people finding their happily-ever-afters. As for when I started self-identifying that wayI honestly don’t remember. Since 2001, I’ve written more than forty books for five different publishers, with nearly two million books sold to date. So somewhere in there.

WS: Authors have many varying means and methods for getting themselves in the mood to write. What is yours?

JA: Most of the time, I’m not in the mood to write unless there’s some reason I can’t—a doctor’s appointment, a cat up a tree, being in the middle of a bikini wax—whereupon I’m dying to write. When writing time comes and I’ve got nothing to say, though, I still sit my butt down, put my fingers on the keyboard, and force myself to get words on the page. Sometimes they’re brilliant-ish, more often they’re flatter than week-old roadkill, but by the end of the day I’ve got a few thousand more words than I started with. And even the roadkill is valuable—I tend to write a whole lot of words that wind up in the digital trash bin, but every one of them helps me figure out what doesn’t work for the characters, until eventually I see what does work. And then it gets fun!

WS: Approximately how long does it take you to finish the first draft of a manuscript?

JA: Six months, give or take. For a while, I was writing four to six full-length novels per year—but that was back when my life wasn’t making me very happy, and I would far rather be lost in a story. I’m in a much better life-place now, and my writing reflects it in fewer publications and the new Jesse Hayworth pen name, where I write lighter, funnier stories that come from my happier self.

WS: What was it about paranormal romance that attracted you to that genre?

JA: I grew up reading science fiction/fantasy—Azimov, Heinlein, McCaffrey, Anthony, etc. But I also love knowing that no matter what I put my characters through, they’re guaranteed to get their HEA (happily ever after). Paranormal romance has been a great way for me to play with fantasy while getting my happily-evers.

WS: One piece of advice commonly given to authors starting out is “write what you know.” In paranormal romance, this clearly isn’t the case. How do you get into the head of a paranormal character?

JA: I usually write about everyday people who discover that they have extraordinary powers—so I imagine myself in their heads as they make the discovery, and picture what would happen next. So fun!

WS: Your Final Prophecy series focuses on the Mayan doomsday calendar. What turned you on to this particular idea?

JA: I was doing the Google-fu thing one day, working on a story idea about a snake cult, when one interesting tidbit led to another, and I found myself reading about the Mayan calendar. I had traveled the Yucatan a bunch as a kid, back before the ruins were highly restored or regulated, and remember climbing up inside them, and looking down into the sacred well…and I thought, “I totally have to write a paranormal romance series about the magic-users who are going to save us from this!”

WS: You’ve written other books in the romantic suspense genre as well. Did you notice any changes in your writing methods between the different genres?

JA: Jessica Andersen’s paranormal and suspense voices are very similar—there’s running, screaming, sexytimes, more running, more sexytimes…you get the picture! Jesse Hayworth’s contemporary romance voice, on the other hand, is much lighter, funnier and sweeter. A trick for keeping them straight? I use different fonts for each genre: Courier for suspense, Times New Roman for paranormal, and Cambria for contemporary romance.

WS: Which of your books (or a particular scene in a book) was the hardest to write?

JA: In the Final Prophecy series, Blood Spells was a real challenge for me. It focuses on a married couple who have drifted apart and broken some of the trust between them and need to find the way back to each other (whilst running, screaming, fighting demons, etc.). I wrote it during the implosion of a long-term relationship. Which in hindsight was a good thing, but at the time was a whole lot of “not fun.” I think my experiences made Blood Spells a better book, but it wasn’t easy to write by a long shot.

WS: Authors tend to grow pretty attached to their characters after spending so much time with them. Do you have a favorite character among the ones you’ve created?

JA: I try to find something to love about each of my characters when I’m writing them. As for a real stand-out, Lucius Hunt (Demonkeepers) is a favorite of mine. He’s the nerd that roared—a geeky outsider who finds his inner superhero and saves the day, only to realize that his one-and-only, Jade, has loved him all along.

WS: What do you think about the publishing industry today?

JA: I think we’re in a scary-exciting-intimidating-invigorating time, when authors can take more control of their careers than ever before, but need to work harder and harder to find their readers.

WS: Where do you hope your writing will take you in the future?

JA: I like where I am right now. I’ll be grateful if I can keep on this path—or some version of it—for a long time to come.