Renee Interviews Author Mary Flynn

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Mary Flynn

Mary Flynn is the author of “Disney’s Secret Sauce–the little known factor behind the business world’s most legendary leadership, which took honors in the 2019 Royal Palm Literary Awards. Her recent book, Wishbones and Other Short Stories, is an eclectic and imaginative mix of humor, pathos and irony that explores the human experience -usually with a surprising twist.

Tell me about your background. Where you grew up, where you live now, education, work experience? Share some interesting things about yourself that we should know about. 

Born and raised in Brooklyn. Irish, Italian Catholic. Those values, cultural aspects and neighborhood settings show up in my novels, which take place in the fifties. I like to write about times before technology when people could not easily or quickly reach each other. I believe it offers more opportunity for tension and suspense. Did you even notice in many dramas or comedies how the lead character somehow manages to lose or destroy their cell phone – out the window, down the toilet. They know something. They know that tension really heightens when there are no bars.

I traveled extensively and lived in Turkey years back as an Air Force officer’s wife. Great and wonderful experience, which dribbles into my writing. In one of our locales, Kansas City, I managed to land a full-time job at Hallmark writing greeting cards, a gratifying and extremely useful experience that has stayed with me. A great training ground living the creative life day in and day out.

Many years later, I believe that experience made me a better writer and speaker in my role as an international conference speaker for Disney Institute, where I presented Disney’s approach to leadership and service excellence. I now do speaking engagements on the business side, as well as my humorous “Confessions of a Hallmark Greeting Card Writer,” both of which have proven to be excellent ways to promote my writing.

It’s been an interesting life journey straddling the fence between business and creative positions. I was on editorial staff of the leading publisher of guided reading materials used in the U.S. public school system; became a senior staff consultant with the two largest companies, respectively, who conducted downsizing and career transition programs for more than sixty industries; became certified in Neuro-linguistic Programming by that methodologies creator, Richard Bandler, who was Tony Robbins instructor; became a certified phobia counseling aide.. I now do a live radio show for Salem.

I believe this eclectic mix shows up in my writing, a hop, skip and jump across genres – children’s rhymed and illustrated, middle grade novella, novels, non-fiction business, poetry and just recently the release of my book of short stories. I love to write and to coach newer writers…and I really enjoy my associations with others in our vibrant writing organizations and culture.

What inspired you to write this book? What is the story behind the story? 

Unlike longer forms, short stories satisfy in me those “little” ideas that tickle around in the imagination. Unlike the driving force behind a novel, short stories typically come from what I call the little dodgy thoughts that can be so easily overlooked.

That early Hallmark experience taught me on a daily basis not to overlook any idea…but to drill into it. So, it becomes truly a what if game—what if a thug finds a new way to settle an old score? What if the harried looking shopper whom the good-hearted woman gives a ride to is not what she seems? And, like O’Henry’s delicious tales, what if there’s a twist at the end? Ha.

What has been your biggest challenge or obstacle? 

My biggest obstacle over the years was trying to do serious writing while maintaining a full-time job. Unlike J.K. Rowling, I am not the kind of person who can sit in a coffee shop with, let’s say, a child in a stroller and write an epic novel. Then, of course, husband and kids must come first. So, before long, years go by.

One of the very first stories that I wrote then I retired from Disney seven years ago was “Jeremiah’s Orchard.” I had told that story to my father…the idea, that is. He died in 1978. So, that whole time, this story-to-be sat in a folder on a shelf. I’m so gratified to say that story, which is in my latest release of short stories, first appeared in the Saturday Evening Post’s 2014 Anthology of Great Fiction.

What has been your biggest “aha” moment or success?

A little hard to say. Definitely, having “Jeremiah’s Orchard” selected for that Saturday Evening Post anthology. I mean – that’s where Hemingway and Scott Fitzgerald were published. But then, I recall how dazzled I was when an observational humor essay I submitted to The New York Times appeared on their Sunday Lifestyle cover page. Yikes. Then again, I truly was blown away when my debut novel Margaret Ferry took home the gold medal in Fiction, the silver medal in Christian Writing, and the silver medal in Religious writing…even though it’s mainstream fiction. Hard to pick one.

What people or books have had a strong influence on you or your writing? 

I credit my mother, first and foremost, who read to me every single night when I was a child. Then…I’m Irish, after all…my Aunt Katie would hold me spellbound with the oddest, most delightful story-telling. She was quirky and funny, and I know I carry that inspiration with me to this day. Also, importantly, I attended Catholic School where, by God (literally, I think), the nuns wouldn’t have it any other way but that every child would speak and write well. When I entered public high school at the age of thirteen, I didn’t know what an atom was, but I could write for The New York Times.

Do you write every single day? Any writing rituals? 

Yes, every single day. But “writing” for me doesn’t mean necessarily sitting at the computer or with a pad in my lap. I abide John Hersey approach: he liked to go fishing to do his back-of-the-head work. I don’t go fishing, but I definitely do a lot of back-of-the-head work. I wouldn’t dream of sitting down to a blank page to “create.” I believe this is where the concept of writer’s block comes from. People sit down to that blank sheet of paper and get frustrated trying to make something up. I make it up elsewhere…until I actually get into the writing of it.

What are your interests outside of writing? 

People, friends, faith, food, going out, staying in—I have no trouble spending time alone—a true blessing from God. I favor the woods over the ocean, small gatherings over large groups (imagine a Disney retiree not liking crowds. Ha.). I’m a big movie buff. I learn from movies—how much or little a character uses to express an idea or emotion teaches me something about writing and about character. My all-time favorite movie is the original King Kong—the special effects for that time are astounding. I think silent films are brilliant.

Share some tips for other Authors or Aspiring Authors: What would you do differently? What would you do the same? Please share anything you think would be beneficial to those reading this. 

Allow me, please, a little list:

  1. Stop letting the idea that you’re not good enough keep you from writing.  Nobody is quite good enough in the beginning. By the way, that’s what good editors are for. Without Max Perkins, Hemingway and Fitzgerald might not have gotten into print.
  2. Find the industry. May sound odd, but writing is a complex industry with vast resources, and there is much to learn. Join a critique group. If it doesn’t nourish you with respect and encouragement, find another that does. Take the feedback; it’s a gift.
  3. Pay attention to the tiniest of ideas, drill down, ask what if. If it’s a common, everyday kind of thought, look at it from every angle. Imagine if you could think one brand new thought every day.
  4. Please don’t follow the advice of writers who think self-publishing or indie publishing means you don’t need outside professional help. To be perfectly candid, if you’re planning to publish, it’s going to cost money. It doesn’t matter that you taught English, you cannot edit or proof your own work. And the tragedy is that a reader who catches your mistakes in those first pages or chapters will never buy another one of your books.
  5. Don’t buy into the idea that you should only write what you know. It’s all about what you can know. That’s what research is for. Otherwise, how could Shelley have created Frankenstein’s monster? How would Moby Dick have come about? Get comfortable making stuff up…but do it the smartly.
  6. Get used to research…even for things you assume to be true. Authenticity is paramount. I was writing a story in which a grove had to catch fire. I called a grower to ask a question and was shocked when he said the grove would not burn—the trees are fresh. “Burn something else,” was his advice. I’m glad I did.
  7. Get in the habit of entering contests. They are a great proving ground. Plus, if you happen to win, place or show, it will be a good way of beginning to build your platform. Agents, editors and publishers…even festival coordinators…want to see what you’ve done. First chance you have to brag on paper, do it.
  8. Skip the long descriptive openings. Get your reader right into the action.
  9. Skip the long passages of backstory. It slows the pace and bores people.
  10. Don’t be afraid to say, he said or she said, instead of silly things like, he cajoled, she bemoaned.

 

In praise of business cards

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Business cards

Call me old-fashioned, but I love business cards.

I asked my son for his business card recently, and it was as if I’d asked him for the Holy Grail. Today, it appears that digitally-minded young executives don’t use them (sales and business development officers seem to be the exception.)

Yet, the Vistaprint company reportedly prints nearly six billion business cards each year.

I have hundreds of them, collected from acquaintances or representing jobs I’ve left behind. I view them as sentimental: Mementos of my career path representing a little slice of time or career milestones.

(Full disclosure: I pitched the ones that were so old they didn’t include email addresses or websites. What could I do with them? Origami?)

Thanks to the rise of smartphones and LinkedIn, business cards are becoming extinct. Like the dinosaur or the dodo bird, they may disappear one day. Until then, I’ll carry mine – just in case.

 

 

Renee Garrison is currently writing the sequel to her award-winning book, The Anchor Clankers.

 

 

Renee interviews author Ashley Brown

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Ashley Ellington Brown jacket photo

Ashley Ellington Brown is the author of  the award-winning guide, A Beautiful Morning: How a Morning Ritual Can Feed Your Soul and Transform Your Life.

Tell me about your background. Where you grew up, where you live now, education, work experience? Share some interesting things about yourself that we should know about.
I grew up in New Orleans, Louisiana, and I ALWAYS had my nose in a book when I was younger (and often do today, as well!). Some of my childhood favorites were A Wrinkle in Time, the Narnia books, and From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.
I graduated from the University of Virginia with a degree in Foreign Affairs, which I never used! But I’d always enjoyed writing and I wrote a lot of papers in those courses, so it was helpful in that way. Learning about other cultures (I focused on China and Japan) was also fascinating.

I’d had a summer job as assistant to a marketing director during college and found that field very interesting, so I went to work at a small ad agency after graduation. I started as a receptionist and worked my way up to copywriter and account executive. I also worked as a book editor and an internal communications manager for a multinational corporation that owned and operated funeral homes and cemeteries! I went freelance in 2000, when my husband and I moved to Pensacola, Florida.

What inspired you to write this book? What is the story behind the story?
I was sitting outside with my coffee one morning, which was part of the morning ritual I had begun a few months earlier in an effort to start my days more cheerfully and peacefully. I had just started an online writing class led by Martha Beck, and I was wondering what she did each morning. Then I thought of other women who inspire me, and wondered if they had some sort of practice they did each day that helped them live their best lives. It occurred to me that that would be a very interesting book, and I decided to try to write it.

What has been your biggest challenge or obstacle?
Believing in myself. I didn’t get a lot of support for being a writer when I was younger, and was encouraged to go into a field that would make money (which is why I chose advertising, and didn’t even consider full-time writing as a career). When I got the idea for the book, I was nervous that I wouldn’t be able to do a good job. While I had more than 25 years of experience as a professional writer, it was always for clients or bosses. This was the first time I’d done something for me, and the first time I’d written a book. But being a published author had been a childhood dream (I wrote multiple “books” when I was little), and I didn’t want to let doubt keep me from accomplishing it. Plus, every time I interviewed someone and learned how vital their morning practice was to them, it reaffirmed my initial idea that this book could help others, and that spurred me on.

What has been your biggest “aha” moment or success?
Publishing my book, and then having it get positive reviews and win multiple awards, was certainly my biggest professional success. I poured a lot of my heart and soul into creating it, and worked very hard to make it as good as I could. Especially since I self-published, it was extremely fulfilling to have external validation that the book was well done, and that others found it appealing and helpful.

What authors do you like to read? What books have had a strong influence on you or your writing?
I love so many authors and books, it’s hard to choose! But some favorite authors are Madeleine L’Engle, C.S. Lewis, Judy Blume, Anna Quindlen, Elizabeth Berg, Ray Bradbury, Antoine Laurain, Alexander McCall Smith, Jincy Willett, Anne Lamott, Mary Oliver, May Sarton, Michael Chabon, Ursula K. Leguin, and Erin Morgenstern. Some of my favorite nonfiction/personal development authors are Martha Beck, Elizabeth Gilbert, Julia Cameron, Thich Nhat Hanh, Brené Brown, and Gretchen Rubin.

In terms of an influence on my writing, I love Stephen King’s On Writing, Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing, Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, and Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones and Wild Minds, as well as The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh, and Simple Abundance by Sarah Ban Breathnach. Those last three are not only inspirational and full of priceless wisdom, but the writing has such a lovely, peaceful, uplifting rhythm. I tried to have a similar feel in my book.

Do you write every single day? Any writing rituals?
I was doing Morning Pages (from The Artist’s Way, where you write three pages longhand every morning), but I’d gotten out of the habit. I’ve just re-dedicated myself to writing something every day, as it really does keep the pump primed. I’ve found that when I sit to write at my computer, it feels like work; if I want to access something more personal, I need to be somewhere other than my office, with a notebook in my hand.

What are your interests outside of writing?
I love to travel and I find great joy in planning our next trip. I also enjoy learning new things, going to the beach, doing yoga, baking, and getting creative (I like to play with paints and explore fun tools like alcohol inks).

Share some tips for other Authors or Aspiring Authors: What would you do differently? What would you do the same? Please share anything you think would be beneficial to those reading this.

I wouldn’t have waited so long to work on my own writing. I wish I’d continued to explore my own voice when I was younger, rather than focus solely on client work. It’s difficult to get out of the mindset of writing for others (and writing as a job rather than a passion).

And when you have an idea, keep going! The feeling when you finish is truly magnificent, and worth all the effort. Also: what you have to say is important. The world needs your voice. Writing is a sacred act that can be healing for you and for others. Be brave and put yourself out there. And gather a team around you to cheer you on. Doing this alone is so difficult; having someone to encourage you will make a huge difference. Try to talk to other writers, or get professional assistance. I worked with a book coach (Cynthia Morris) who made the process less overwhelming and gave me valuable advice.

Renee interviews author Mark Barie

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Mark Barie

Mark Barie’s debut novel, “War Calls, Love Cries” is about a farm boy from upstate New York whose dreams are shattered when the Civil War erupts. The book won a 2019 Gold Medal in the Florida Authors and Publishers President’s Book Awards and was a Finalist in the 2019 Eric Hoffer Award for Historical Fiction.

Tell me about your background. Where you grew up, where you live now, education, work experience? Share some interesting things about yourself that we should know about.

I am a native of upstate New York with a master’s degree in business and then some. I am now a full-time resident of Sebring, Florida, having retired from owning a number of consulting companies over my 30+ year career as a business person.

What inspired you to write this book? What is the story behind the story?

My wife, who is an expert genealogist, came into the living room one day and announced that my great great grandfather fought in the Civil War. When I found a three-year diary of a man who served in the same regiment, the idea for the book was born. It was my first attempt at historical fiction and I had a blast writing it. I have previously authored two biographies and co-authored two local history books and frankly was tired of footnotes. Historical fiction requires you to be accurate but not to document every single thing.

What has been your biggest challenge or obstacle?

The biggest challenge with authoring a book is the marketing, but I feel that I have an advantage over most authors in that I have an extensive background in business. My marketing thus far has consisted of speaking events, Facebook, and author page, and A growing email list.

What has been your biggest “aha” moment or success?

The biggest success thus far has been the FAPA gold medal for Historical Fiction and being a finalist in the Eric Hoffer competition, a very prestigious honor. For me those awards were important because it meant that someone other than my friends and family thought the book was good. I needed that affirmation.

What authors do you like to read? What books have had a strong influence on you or your writing?

You may not believe this but I very rarely read fiction. Instead I read history books. Tons of them. I’ve already decided what my third fourth and fifth novels will be about…All with the theme of love and war… My current one just finished but still being edited takes place during the American revolutionary war. My third one, being outlined, takes place during the war of 1812. And unfortunately, mankind has given me plenty of wars to write about.

Do you write every single day? Any writing rituals?

I do not write every single day but I do something every single day to further my career as an author. I either write, or do some research or do marketing. Every single day. It is a good habit to get into.

What are your interests outside of writing?

I play the guitar, I have a couple of dozen bonsai pots on my lanai, I do some woodworking with a mini lathe. (I’m Trying to make a chess set… So far, I have murdered 7 pawns.)

I also have four adult children three grandchildren and an absolutely marvelous wife and all of them keep me very busy.

Share some tips for other Authors or Aspiring Authors: What would you do differently? What would you do the same? Please share anything you think would be beneficial to those reading this.

I have written and published a series of columns on writing tips for first time authors.

Number one: finish the book you’re working on. The combination of marriage, kids, a job, and the normal pressures of day-to-day life impede if not stop entirely an author’s progress on his or her first book. Nothing can or will happen until you finish the book.

Second, find a publisher. If you insist on a traditional publisher versus a hybrid publisher, (where you will pay for a portion of the publisher’s professional services but receive a significantly higher royalty), it may be a long wait. Most new authors are reduced to finding an agent who may or may not be able to find a traditional publisher. Consider a hybrid publisher.

Edit your book. So many authors refuse to pay a professional editor preferring to do it themselves or calling their friend the English teacher. More often than not this is a mistake. Even the best editor will miss the occasional typo. Amateurs will miss too many mistakes and the result will be that both the publisher and the reader will be turned off.

Market your book. Speaking in public, social media, direct mail, advertising, Book Fairs, and a good Email List are the necessary evils of most authors. Many times, such endeavors are so far removed from the authors comfort zone, that little or nothing is done in this regard. But marketing is our first and most important job.

Get rid of the self-doubt. Too many authors are intimidated if not openly frightened by the apparent success of their fellow authors, the myriad of rules that new authors are instructed to follow, and the seemingly impossible task of getting their book noticed when anywhere from 600,000 to 1,000,000 new books are published each year in the United States. That fact alone has silenced the pen of too many authors. The answer to this challenge, not unlike any other challenge in life, is the same. Welcome adversity, practice patience, be persistent, work smart not hard, and along the way help other authors. And remember, each time you fail, you are that much closer to your next success.

 

 

Emotional objects

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robe

I own a new bathrobe.

It’s Turkish white cotton and it replaces one that I have worn since 2007. When my mother died, I brought her bathrobe home with me and, for a decade, it served as the hug she could no longer deliver. It wasn’t expensive – its value was in its sentiment. Big and fluffy, it tumbled through the washer and dryer thousands of times until loose threads began to appear and, like my mother, it perished.

Finally, I was ready to let it go. Parting with an item (like a robe) may simply be a matter of accepting the end of certain relationships and understanding how the physical objects around us have served as their emotional accomplices.

I still miss my mother, of course, but I think she would be pleased to see me wrapped in a new bathrobe – especially one that looks a lot like hers.

 

 

Renee Garrison is the award-winning author of The Anchor Clankers.

Renee interviews author Robert Jacob

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Pirate Portrait

Digging deep into the true history of Piracy and those who lived this life, Robert Jacob unearthed a treasure of information that allows his readers to experience the true life and motivation of pirates in their Golden Age. His book, A Pirate’s Life in the Golden Age of Piracy won a Gold Medal in the Education category of the 2019 Florida Authors and Publisher’s President’s Book Awards (and a Silver Medal in the Coffee Table Book category.)

Tell me about your background. Where you grew up, where you live now, education, work experience? Share some interesting things about yourself that we should know about.

I grew up in Pittsburgh, PA and got involved with living history in 1971. I did Revolutionary war re-enacting all through the bicentennial. I received a BS in education from Duquesne University and a MA from VCU in Richmond. I served in the United States Marine Corps for 31 years (1982-2013)
While serving in the Corps, I continued with my living history hobby, doing Rev-War, western gunfighter and mountain man rendezvous along with my wife, Anne, who always participates in these events. In 2006, I became interested in pirate re-enacting.
I retired from the Corps in 2013 and moved to Florida.

What inspired you to write this book? What is the story behind the story?

When I became interested in pirate living history, I wanted to learn about the time period, so I read every book I could find. I quickly realized that most of them were highly inaccurate and none of them told the complete story. Most were re-hashes of one book written in 1724, which was not historically correct and was filled with embellishments and incorrect “facts”. After several years of searching for a good and complete book on the subject, I decided to write the book I was searching for.

What has been your biggest challenge or obstacle?

Finding a publisher.

What has been your biggest “aha” moment or success?

I have many of them, each time someone tells me that they really enjoyed reading my book.

What authors do you like to read? What books have had a strong influence on you or your writing?

I exclusively read history books. Most of them are difficult to read. Not only are they exceptionally wordy, but the jump around in the historical timeline when telling their story. Their influence on me was to develop a style that is NOT theirs. My narrative is easy to read and is chronological as much as possible. There is one author whose style did influence me, James Burke. He also did a TV series in the 1980’s titled “The Day the Universe Changed.”

Do you write every single day? Any writing rituals?

My writing seems to go in spurts. I may write constantly for a week, then not touch it for a month.

What are your interests outside of writing?

I still do living history and give lectures on pirate history. I also enjoy fishing.

Share some tips for other Authors or Aspiring Authors: What would you do differently? What would you do the same? Please share anything you think would be beneficial to those reading this.

Getting the right publishing team is everything. No matter how good your writing is, getting it formatted and getting the right cover design is very important. I found my publisher by joining local groups of writers and asking them to introduce me to their publishers.

Renee interviews author James R. Hannibal

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James

Tell me about your background. Where you grew up, where you live now, education, work experience? Share some interesting things about yourself that we should know about.

I am a former US Air Force Stealth Bomber pilot. I grew up moving all over as a military kid, then joined the Air Force at seventeen, and kept on moving around. Between the ages of 9 months old and thirty-one, I moved seventeen times, so I never know how to answer the question of “Where are you from?” I was born in Texas, and I graduated from high school in Texas (having lived many other places in between), so by the most accounts, I’m from Texas.

I studied applied physics at the Air Force Academy until that side of the program was cancelled in favor of quantum, and then I shifted to Middle Eastern Studies and counter-terrorism. For the most part quantum physics is just fiction via elegant math, and I didn’t see the point. The Mid East Studies program was experimental, so my degree says “History.” After the Academy, I flew T-38 Talons, A-10 Thunderbolts, B-2 Spirits, and MQ-1 Predators, with a total of more than 1500 combat and combat support hours. While working in the stealth, my clearances got me involved in some interesting extracurricular work. That’s all I can say about that.

Probably the most interesting thing about me is my synesthesia. I have a condition categorized as a “neurological phenomenon” that merges my senses through bridges of gray matter. I see and feel sounds, hear flashes of light and quick movements, and see and feel smells. For me walking through an area of bad roadkill scent feels the same as the blasts of sand hitting me when I walked through a sandstorm in Kuwait. A flash of light is like getting slapped in the face. But a string quartet is a silvery, tickling marvel.

What inspired you to write this book? What is the story behind the story?

With The Gryphon Heist, I wanted to explore the concept of morality in espionage within a fun thief/spy story. What I didn’t expect was the opportunity to explore forgiveness as well. But Talia’s character brought that home to me. She had so much bitterness built up over a life of hard knocks, that I knew she would have to learn to forgive in order to heal. While I was playing with the loyalty of spies and the technology of twenty-first-century thieves, Talia was pushing me to dig into the need to forgive and let go.

She brought up the question: “How do you forgive someone who murdered your father?” I shrugged. “I don’t have a clue.” And then the phone rang. I was called in to fly that very moment. I’m an on-call international airline pilot, filling in for the guys who call in sick. I didn’t want to go flying to Amsterdam that night, because I was just starting to Talia’s story moving. But once we settled in at cruising altitude, the captain and I began to talk. He told me about his passion (aside from flying). He was a counselor, specializing in helping the most traumatized victims learn to forgive, including the families of murder victims. He taught me so much in two ten-hour flights to Amsterdam and back. When I needed an expert in forgiveness to help me with Talia’s story, God put me on right on his flight deck.

What has been your biggest challenge or obstacle?

Right now, my biggest challenge is keeping up with the work God places in my path. I used to worry about getting writing contracts. Now I worry about how I’m going to fulfill them. Each one is a calling, and I want to do them justice.

What has been your biggest “aha” moment or success?

After The Gryphon Heist, comes Chasing the White Lion, continuing the adventures of Talia, Tyler, and their team of elite thieves. Chasing the White Lion has an unlikely star. I won’t give away too much, but amid a string of increasingly complex con games, the team must bring down a crime syndicate involved in human trafficking. One of the real hero organizations fighting child poverty, and by extension fighting human trafficking, is Compassion International. I asked them if I could give them a starring role in my next spy/thief book to raise awareness of their incredible work. I never thought they’d say yes. They did. I am so excited about where Chasing the White Lion will take us when we show the world how everyday people can stop human traffickers (and build up children at the same time) by helping organizations like Compassion.

What authors do you like to read? What books have had a strong influence on you or your writing?

I read an eclectic mix. Jon Land recently took over the Murder She Wrote series, and I love his ability to capture human character in the smallest movements and moments. Ronie Kendig has a flare for action in both her military and sci-fi thrillers. Brandon Sanderson is (in my opinion) the current master of fantasy. DiAnn Mills is the master of the protagonist’s internal psyche. These are the folks I’m reading these days.

Do you write every single day? Any writing rituals?

I wish I could write every day. It doesn’t always work out with a day job as an international pilot. When I get to a hotel overseas, I take a nap, go for a walk if the weather permits to re-cage my mind, and then sit down at the desk and write. That’s the key. You’ve got to sit down, open whatever software you use, and write.

What are your interests outside of writing? 

Aviation (obviously). I’d hate to fly with a pilot who didn’t like flying. I’ve also helped train pro fighters in MMA, so I like keeping tabs on that world. Recently I took over a fantasy game world from the 1980s, so I’ve gotten into the board game community. In my spare time, I’ve been studying game design. There are a lot of parallels to storytelling, so those to aspects of my work dovetail nicely.

Share some tips for other Authors or Aspiring Authors: What would you do differently? What would you do the same? Please share anything you think would be beneficial to those reading this.

I never say I’d do something differently, because I feel God has led me to this point in my life in His way. I wouldn’t want to mess with that. I do wish that someone would have explained to me a long time ago that not everyone sees sounds and hears flashes of light. It would have spared me from looking crazy for half my life. That’s one reason I wrote the Section 13 series for kids—to help raise awareness of synesthesia.

My advice to aspiring authors is to keep writing. Too often I meet a writer who stopped at one book and has been trying to get it published for the last four or five years. If you’re going to be a professional writer, one book a year is a starting point. Keep sending out those queries, but keep writing too. When I was finally picked up, I’d been querying for four years, but I was also halfway through my fourth book. Each book is a learning experience—a new level. Getting stuck on just one is like staying in the same grade in school year after year.

 

Renee Garrison is the award-winning author of The Anchor Clankers.

Renee interviews author Nancy J. Cohen

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PubPink

Nancy J. Cohen writes cozy mysteries set in Florida. Her stories contain a touch of humor and a hint of romance. Her book, “A Bad Hair Day Cookbook,” received a Five Star Review from Readers Favorite.

Tell me about your background. Where you grew up, where you live now,
education, work experience? Share some interesting things about yourself that we
should know about.

I grew up in New Jersey. My Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing was earned at University of Rochester in NY and my Master’s Degree at University of California in San Francisco. I worked as a Registered Nurse for ten years before retiring to write full-time. Currently, I live in South Florida with my husband. We are empty nesters with two grown children and a grandson.

What inspired you to write this book? What is the story behind the story?

I love to talk about food. I attend cooking classes and read food magazines. I like to cook and experiment with new dishes. I’ve posted recipes on my website and photos of dishes I’ve made on my Facebook page. The recipe list on my website got so long that I considered compiling them into a cookbook to save storage space. It would be a legacy for my children, containing all my favorite recipes and ones I’d inherited from my mother.

Food is a happy topic. When writing a mystery, we deal with sad events. Eating brings comfort, and so food is the light that balances the darkness of death in these stories. My heroine sleuth, Marla Vail, likes to cook. Working in the kitchen offers an escape from daily strife. She’s the narrator for the cookbook, adding her own commentary and anecdotes to flavor the recipes with her perspective. I meant this as a tribute to my fans. The cookbook is a companion to the series. With the excerpts included, it’s also a great introduction to the series for home cooks who haven’t read any of the books.

What has been your biggest challenge or obstacle?

Regarding the cookbook, getting the measurements and ingredients listed to be precise and consistent was my biggest challenge. Regarding my career as a published author, the biggest challenge is that I’ve had to change publishers several times. When I wrote for Kensington, I got “orphaned” and they dropped my series after nine books. Five Star dropped their entire mystery line after I did four books with them. Then Kensington licensed rights to some of my books to Open Road Media, so there was yet another version out there. Rather than seek another publisher for this series, I decided to go indie starting with book 14. It’s been a good decision. Readers have been my biggest supporters. Easter Hair Hunt, book 16, will be out in March. Then I’ll see where I want to go from there.

What has been your biggest “aha” moment or success?

Interacting directly with readers has been highly gratifying. We couldn’t do this in the earlier days of the publishing industry. Now we can communicate directly thanks to social media. I am accountable to my readers more so than to any publisher, and readers are ultimately our audience. Success is being asked, “When is your next book coming out?” In terms of awards, and my books have earned several, the biggest honor was getting an Agatha Award nomination for my instructional guide, Writing the Cozy Mystery.

What authors do you like to read? What books have had a strong influence on you
or your writing?

A series that greatly influenced my writing was Horatio Hornblower. As I progressed through the stories about this young officer in the British Navy, I realized that what drew me to the next book weren’t the sea battles. It was how Horatio grew and changed throughout the series. If you think about Nancy Drew, she hardly evolves in the original titles. You get a fun mystery in each book, but her character doesn’t change. That was okay back then but it wouldn’t appeal to me now. I like to follow the personal lives of characters from book to book, and we need to do the same as writers. Our characters must evolve and change. They become friends to our readers who want to follow their personal lives.

Do you write every single day? Any writing rituals?

It depends on if I’m in a writing phase or a revision phrase. I’ll give myself a daily quota to achieve. Once I’ve met my page count, I spend the rest of the day on marketing. Social media and book promotion are incredibly time-consuming. I write very early in the morning so I can usually take the afternoons off to do other things.

What are your interests outside of writing?

Reading, dining out, cooking, cruising, and visiting Disney World. Now we have a new grandson, so that’s changed the family dynamics.

Share some tips for other Authors or Aspiring Authors: What would you do
differently? What would you do the same? Please share anything you think would be beneficial to those reading this.

I would still advise new authors to get a publisher. It’s important to cross that line for validation. A publisher can give your book wider distribution and promotional support in ways you cannot do for yourself. Also, determine your audience. Don’t bounce around from one genre to the next. Stick with the one you love and keep producing more material. Make sure you maintain the rights to your characters and series. Then you can take them elsewhere if necessary. Be versatile and realize you have options, especially if you get dropped by your publisher or your line folds. Most importantly, be active in the writing community. Join online listserves, participate in writing groups, go to conferences and workshops. Always learn and always keep striving toward success. Follow the 3 P’s – Professionalism, Practice, and Perseverance.

Name that book

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Books in a circle

When it comes to giving your book a title, less is definitely more. (Think Dracula. Emma. Twilight. Ivanhoe. Mockingjay.)
I struggle with two choices for my upcoming sequel to The Anchor Clankers.
1. Anchored in Love
2. Anchored Together
I studied Amazon’s book list to see how many books have the same title and discovered Anchored In Love: An Intimate Portrait of June Carter Cash,” which was published in 2007.

Would that be a problem? Too confusing?

Author Madeleine L’Engle once admitted, “We had to search for the proper name for ‘A Wrinkle in Time,’ and it was my mother who came up with it, during a night of insomnia. I went into her room with a cup of coffee in the morning, and she said, ‘I think I have a title for your book, and it’s right out of the text: A Wrinkle in Time.’ Madeleine goes on to say that many titles had been considered and all vetoed before her mother mentioned A Wrinkle in Time.

I wish I had an insomniac mother who could come up with a great book title.

Shifting traditions

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Thanksgiving retro-

My grandmother set her Thanksgiving table with an Irish lace cloth. I’m not sure that I even own one. (If I do, it’s packed away.) In her eighties, Nana once threw a crystal cranberry dish across the table at my mother because Mom neglected to remove it from the china closet and serve the cranberry sauce in it. A stickler for tradition, that one…
When my children were growing up, we didn’t always live close to family. Today, my daughter lives in Illinois and my son, in Texas, so we are learning to navigate a shifting holiday tradition.
I’ve become a guest, now, rather than a host. It’s delightful to watch them prepare recipes that are meaningful to our family. But I’m also pleased to see their unique additions to the day. Candidly, my daughter-in-law does a better job with appetizers than I ever could.
Screen time with family is wonderful, but nothing replaces being together, the affectionate hugs and the opportunities for reconnecting with one another over a holiday meal.
I hope they will carry forward a few of the cherished holiday traditions of their childhood for the next generation. Unlike my grandmother, I let go of any expectations and – along with the food – I savor the moments, the chance to be together.

 

Renee Garrison is the award-winning author of The Anchor Clankers.