Category Archives: Interviews
James, can you tell us a little about your background and how you found your way to writing?
In 1997, a spinal cord injury due to an auto accident derailed my twenty-year railroad career [as a locomotive electrician and rail traffic manager] and steered me instead toward writing. I once studied Tai Kwon Do and taught Hatha Yoga, and I still practice metaphysics, i.e, creative visualization, or “The Secret.” Prior to my accident, my wife and I had been avid hikers of the Colorado Rockies, which along with my yoga, metaphysics, and martial arts added color and realism to “The Sibyl Reborn,” my debut urban fantasy novel.
Between 2002 and 2006, I twice served as a surrogate White House spokesperson on stem cells and interacted daily with national biotech policy advisers. This involvement revealed disturbing similarities between my novel’s premise and bi-partisan ploys for controlling the public regarding vast social issues [such as stem cells, health care, energy, and climate change]. My stem cells activism inspired me as a writer to hopefully entertain readers with a high-concept novel that wraps its sci-fi/urban fantasy plot around a factual premise…a non-fiction premise that the lies at the root of much that concerns us in the world today.
You have published “The Sibyl Reborn.” What is the premise of the book?
Its fictional premise is that Man’s genetic ancestors were quarantined on Earth by their fellow “Hue” due to an aspect of their psyches causing the outcasts to threaten the climatic balance of their former planet. This flaw, called “The Taint,” caused them to distort, deny or ignore realities that conflicted with their egos, ambitions, convenience, or beliefs. Fast forward to today: if our E.T. cousins can find and abduct a single “untainted” human, they intend to cure us of Taint and turn mankind into their humanoid source of replacement bodies.
In reality, research by Professor of Psychology Drew Westen, Ph.D., of Emory University [in 2004 and 2006] revealed that humans do in fact have a “universal” tendency to “rationalize to biased interpretations of facts” regardless of I.Q., academic training, profession, or worldview beliefs. Using functional MRIs, Westen showed that [when confronted with factual evidence that we’d rather disbelieve] humans process unwanted information with the brain’s Limbic [Emotional] Center to arrive at biased rationalizations while [metabolically] shutting down the brain’s objective region, the Dorsolateral Prefrontal Cortex.
Your main character is Casandra, a figure many people know from Greek tragedy. Does ancient literature influence the way you write, or your view of the world?
While still in elementary school, I came across copies of The Iliad, The Odyssey, and The Fall of Troy in our attic and fell in love with them. The injustice of Cassandra’s plight seemed especially cruel to my adolescent sense of fairness. The authors made it blatantly clear that her supposed ‘curse’ had nothing to do with her. Rather, it reflected blatant examples of willful denial by others. Many years later, when I fell asleep while driving and awoke from a coma to find myself paralyzed, I instantly knew that I’d been as pigheaded [through my stubborn insistence on driving through the night despite knowing I was falling asleep) as the Trojans who had scorned Cassandra for telling the truth. Her tragedy definitely played a compelling role in why I first drafted “The Sibyl Reborn” and how I see the world.
Your work has a strong “environmental” focus. Do you consider yourself an environmentalist? If so, how does this influence what and how you write?
Yes, I do, although I once styled myself a “pro-cures” stem cells activist. It was a matter of personal experiences, priorities, and what I allowed myself to learn. I chose to place “The Taint” primarily in an environmental context in “The Sibyl Reborn” because I prioritize the futures of our planet and subsequent generations over Man’s immediate convenience. This isn’t to say that I believe humans must choose between meeting our energy needs or safeguarding the future. In my opinion, the social acceptance of this false ‘either/or’ perception is due largely to special interests–whose power and profits hinge on entrenching our energy status quo–adroitly exploiting the “Taint” in human nature, i.e., the aspect of human psychology that Professor Westen reveals in his bestselling non-fiction, “The Political Brain.” I therefore felt that my novel should, first and foremost, concern Man’s relationship to Earth.
What is the next work on the horizon for you?
In addition to [currently] producing an unabridged audio book version of “The Sibyl Reborn” with Seattle actor Sean Mitchell (we expect a July release on Audible.com), I’m continuing Cassandra’s saga in a sequel. A Part III is also planned. Thank you very much for your interest in Cassandra and “The Sibyl Reborn.”
“The Sibyl Reborn” can be purchased at Amazon.
Our scars create the maps that help us find our way to each other.
At her birthday dinner with her husband, happily married, thirty-something, Nicola (Nicki) Botticelli’s evening ends with divorce papers in her hands and a sucker punch to her heart.
When Nicki’s husband tells her he’s leaving her for the marriage counselor they’ve been seeing to make their good marriage even better, she swan dives into couch surfing, junk food eating despair.
But this isn’t just another sad tale about a woman who’s been left by a cheating man. This story is about what can happen next. Nicki’s devoted girlfriends rally to help her pick up the pieces and she’s soon shimmying her way down the road of no regrets. Nicki begins her life again as a single mom with two kids.
She starts by begging a surly gym owner for a job. He sees something in overweight and out-of-shape Nicki and takes a chance on her. That decision pays off for both of them. She works hard and becomes an in-demand personal trainer. As her life and body shape up, she finds herself fending off the advances of a much younger trainer and realizes that she’s ready to risk her heart for love again.
Nicki’s sea-side New England town is mostly populated with retirees, making her chances of meeting Mr. Right about as likely as her showing up on the beach in a thong bikini. She decides to try online dating. Two potential love interests quickly emerge: Javier, a transplanted, Parisian Romeo and C.J., a curiously familiar younger guy with the hometown advantage. Oh, and Nicki’s ex has been dumped by his fling and he wants to come back home.
Will love trump Nicki’s fears as she comes to understand the meaning of the opposite of gravity?
D. L. (Danielle Lise’) Prophet was the quiet, shy little girl in elementary school who still managed to get in as much trouble as the wild boy in the class. She did this by rarely paying attention. It wasn’t her intention to ignore the noble striving of her teacher to educate her pliable young mind. There just was a whole, much more interesting world residing in her creative mind. She was the class daydreamer. Her perceptive sixth grade teacher recognized the value of her imagination and encouraged her to put that world to paper and that began her love of writing.
She’s been telling stories ever since. She started out writing skits and three act plays for the neighborhood kids to perform during their summer vacations. Years later she went on to hone her story-telling skills during the 80’s, as a singer/songwriter, writing for such bands as the Boston area, award-winning, Feat of Clay.
She now lives on the inspiring coast of Massachusetts where she’s renovating a home with her boyfriend, Ivan. The Opposite of Gravity is her debut novel. She’s presently working on the sequel to the Opposite of Gravity ~ Flying & Falling.
Hi Susan, can you describe for us what an “ideal” editor does?
An ideal editor is one who forms a bond and a level of trust with the writer, enabling the writer to have the confidence to hand over his/her precious words—to an absolute stranger! That trust is built through prompt, friendly communication. Writers have lots of questions about editing, and an ideal editor will be there daily to answer those questions, even before the edit begins. Then comes the edit itself, and if the bond has been formed, it will be a positive, rewarding, and successful experience for both writer and editor and will hopefully lead to a long working relationship and friendship between the two parties.
What constitutes a successful edit?
Great question! I feel an edit is a success if the writer is satisfied with the end product. The icing on the cake, however, is when the writer sends me a second editing job—a sequel, perhaps—and I can see that my instruction and suggestions have been taken to heart and incorporated in the next manuscript. Then I know I did my job!
What is the editor’s relationship to the writer?
It’s very important for the editor and the writer to become a team in order for the edit to be successful. As an editor, however, I accept the fact that I’m not the captain of the team. I’m not the one who wrote the words or spent hours enveloped in the creative process. The editor begins with a secondary role and then works to build that trust with the writer that will eventually level the playing field a bit.
Writers come to you at different stages in their career, with different talents, writing in different genres, and so on. Do you have to customize your editing for each writer?
I edit in the same manner for each writer, regardless of writing skill level or genre. I use MS Word Track Changes to allow the writer to accept or reject my suggestions. Writers who have come to know and trust me often ask me to make the changes directly to their manuscript, saving them precious time as they head toward publication. All edits are customized according to the type of edit the writer requests—whether it’s a basic proofread, a line edit, a developmental edit, or a combination of these.
Self-publishing has exploded in the last few years. Has this resulted in an increase of writers reaching out to you?
Absolutely! Anyone can be a “published author” today, thanks to the availability and ease of self-publishing. I’ve done free edits for many people who think they can just put words on paper and someone will buy their book. Sadly, many people are putting their writing out there without going through the painstaking (and expensive!) process of editing. It’s those people who have given self-publishing a bad name.
I think I’ve veered from your question; obviously this topic is one about which I have much to say!
But yes, I have seen an increase in the number of writers seeking editing, thanks in large part to the availability of self-publishing.
You were an educator for 29 years. Do you see editing as an extension of what you did as an educator?
Yes, I do! As an editor I’m still an educator and see the writer as my student, to some extent. My job is not only to make the words shine and the sentences flow more smoothly, but to actually teach the writer how to make this happen on their own. My edits contain lots of tips and suggestions that, if incorporated, will result in the writer being much better at his/her craft. Once a teacher, always a teacher.
You offer a free edit to writers so they can see what you offer. Has this been an effective marketing technique for you?
Offering the free edit was by far the smartest thing I did when getting started as an independent editor. I didn’t really see it as a marketing tool at first, though. My original focus was on finding a way to gauge a writer’s ability level before offering a quote for services. The free edit was perfect for that. But then I began to notice that this free edit was drawing writers to me—writers who wanted to see what I could do for them. So the free edit turned into a win-win for both writer and editor. I get a good look at the writer’s skill level, enabling me to determine how long an edit will take and offer a fair quote for my services, and the writer gets to see firsthand what a professional editor can do for them. It’s my chance to shine, to strut my stuff! If I can impress a writer through that free edit, I’ve got one foot in the door!
After all the editing you do, do you still feel like reading for pleasure?
Reading is my favorite pastime. I still try to save time for pleasure reading every evening, and it’s nice to be able to just enjoy a good story without trying to pinpoint errors and “fix” things. I do notice mistakes though, even when reading for pleasure. It can put a damper on things if I let it, but I try not to do that.
You have a new web site going up. When does that go live and why did you redesign it?
I’m actually going to be doing some revamping of the old site, at the suggestion of my wonderful tech guy. I’m not sure exactly what he has in mind, but I know it will be wonderful. I recently had a new PR photo taken to replace the one of me in the rocking chair. While I am a proud grandma, I certainly don’t need to look like one! I also have some new testimonials and links that need to be added, so we’ll be doing some basic updating. I expect it will be all polished and up by late next week.
Lastly, how can writers get in touch with you?
I can be reached by email at email@example.com. I also can be found on Twitter, promoting my clients and marketing my business @hughesedits4u.
I encourage all writers who would like more information about me and my services to visit my website at www.myindependenteditor.com . To take advantage of my free edit, 1000 words can be submitted directly from the website, using the link provided there.
In conclusion, I want to thank you for conducting this interview with me and giving me the opportunity to share a little bit about myself with your readers. I’m honored to have been asked to do so.
Disclosure from FindMy Audience: We are, of course, biased in Susan’s favor, as one of our colleagues, Mark, had his work edited by Susan, and is encouraging the rest of us to do likewise!
You’ve been coaching writers for years but made this a full-time business about 8 months ago. How has it been going?
It’s been really fantastic so far. I was a bit nervous because I have traditionally coached people in person, and I was worried that I might lose something of that personal connection if I worked with writers via email or Skype. But that actually hasn’t been the case at all. In fact, I’ve noticed that writers who are more on the introverted side have been seeking me out and I think it’s precisely because the option is now open to them to do things over email. I’m an introvert myself (although because I have very strong people skills I’m often mistaken for an extrovert) so it’s been really wonderful taking on more introverted clients.
Writers seem to be like athletes – they come to you in different shapes and with different talents. How do you customize your coaching based on that?
My first rule for coaching writers is: You are where you are right now, and that is exactly where you are supposed to be. Almost every writer who comes to me is focused on the future. They want to finish their novels, get published, gain more confidence, etc. That sort of drive is excellent when it comes to goal-setting, but it’s essential to accept yourself as an artist in this moment. Maybe you haven’t finished your novel yet, but you’ve shown the stamina to get those few rough chapters down. Maybe you haven’t even started your story, but you’ve got the creative brain churning out ideas. By constantly bringing the artist’s awareness back to the present and the positive as touchstones, I can help writers train themselves in resilience and solid self-esteem.
How do you conduct your writing groups? Do you set goals for the groups?
The writing groups I lead meet and write silently together for one hour. I don’t set concrete goals at the beginning of that hour because it’s not about meeting a certain word count or hitting manuscript milestones. However, I do conduct my groups with an emotional intention. My goal is to trust the writers who show up to write. I trust them to be present and do the work. I also put trust in their hopes for themselves and their dreams of a successful writing life. And the writers who show up respond to that trust almost immediately. Struggling writers are usually struggling with whether or not they have “the right” to call themselves a writer. My function is to really see their creative essence, and to recognize them as writers, along with giving them a time and place where they will be welcomed and encouraged to continue creating.
You have a great blog. It’s chock full of wonderful advice! How do you determine what you write – do you map out where you want your reader to go, or is it more spontaneous?
It’s totally spontaneous. I either write about about something that I’m currently challenged on, or an idea I’ve come across in something I’m reading that sparks my creative flame. I read a lot of fiction, and also a lot of material on human consciousness, psychology and personalities, and seekers throughout history. I don’t map out where I want my reader to go, but I do craft the emotional tone of each post on my blog to open up the heart. When the heart is open it’s much easier for writers to come away from my blog feeling like they can express themselves with true honesty, which is really the key to brilliant writing.
Dostoevsky has had a great impact on your work. Who do you see as the modern Dostoevsky?
Roberto Bolano is my modern Dostoyevsky. I read his 2666 this past year and it changed the way I thought about my own writing, and what is possible in writing. I really don’t even have the words to describe what an incredible writer he was.
What was the most notable book you’ve read this year?
Prisoner of Love by Jean Genet was a book that completely blew me away this year. It’s a memoir of sorts, about Genet’s time spent in the Palestinian refugee camps in Jordan in the 1970s and his time spent with the Black Panthers in the States. It’s a phenomenal recording of the instability of time and the unreliability of memory.
Do you write fiction every day?
I don’t. I actually write once a week. I’ve tried to push myself harder in the past and it just doesn’t work. I’m a very slow writer, in fact. I think of myself as this big sponge walking around, collecting all sorts of stuff and soaking up the world, and then once a week I wring myself out on the page and see what floats to the surface.
How do you set the stage for your writing practice (by editing, pacing, chewing fingernails, etc.)?
I treat it the same way as balancing my checkbook. I just sit down and make myself do it. There’s nothing romantic about it for me, it’s pure work. Work that I’m very grateful for and that I love after the fact, but work all the same. It’s like doing sit-ups. I’m not having so much fun when I’m in the middle of it, but I’m willing to put in the time to get the results.
You are based in San Francisco. How does “place” affect your writing practice?
When I moved here ten years ago I felt like I had finally come home. San Francisco is filled with eccentrics, artists, weirdos and people who just want to walk around in the streets naked. It’s also filled with ambition, innovation, and business mavericks. I love all of these things. I had been searching for a mix of exactly these things all of my life. Every picture I use on my blog is a picture I took just walking around the city, looking at stuff. I walk around San Francisco a lot and I can never get enough of it.
Do you have any writing goals for this year?
My goal is to finish the novel I’m currently working on and start another. That’s my goal every year and I do usually hit it.
How do people get in touch with you? What are your fees? Do you just work with novelists, or also with screenwriters, non-fiction writers, poets, etc.?
People usually contact me through my website, although I am also extremely active on Twitter. I work with all types of writers, but if I don’t think it’s going to be great fit, I usually know someone I can recommend for what they’re looking for. Fees vary widely. It really depends on what the writer needs and wants. Some writers are only looking for help editing a finished manuscript, while others really want to dig in and work on themselves as part of the process. I do a free consultation to determine what would be most helpful and the scope of the work.
Hi Micki, can you tell us a little about yourself?
I recently concluded a twenty-two year career in law enforcement that started in California as a patrol officer and ended in Colorado as a commander. During my career, I served as a hostage negotiator, led the Detective Bureau, managed Records, the Property & Evidence Bureau, Training, and Internal Affairs. I trained as a SWAT commander, and served as an agency Public Information Officer. Now, I split my time hiking in the Colorado Rockies and scuba diving off the Florida Keys.
You have a fascinating background, one that includes a stint with The FBI National Academy. How has that influenced your choice of genre and subject matter for your books?
We’ve all heard the adage that authors should write what they know. After 22 years of being a cop, I know the culture inside and out. I also know that nothing is black and white. Criminals do things for a variety of reasons — not all of which are nefarious. One of my favorite stories is Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. It explores issues of blind justice and redemption. Jean Valjean is an ex-convict, Inspector Javert a dedicated law officer. Both have secrets, both have good intentions. The story challenges assumptions. Crime sets the stage, but the story is ultimately about people. As a cop, I’ve seen amazing and horrible things. These experiences color everything I write. Of course, having Sue Grafton attend the Citizens’ Police Academy I coordinated was also inspirational!
You offer consulting to writers who are writing about crime and want to get the details correct. What does a typical consult consist of?
I’ve discovered there is no such thing as a typical consult. People are at different stages in their manuscript. Writers may have a simple question about protocol. Sometimes, an author will describe a scenario and want to know if A leads to B, will (or can) C happen? Others have written multiple chapters that they’d like me to review for authenticity and technical oversight. Ultimately, I offer suggestions to ensure accuracy and increase the author’s credibility.
Quite frankly, it’s often unexpected details that trip up crime writers. For example, I just critiqued a scene where a teenager looks back at a car that’s following her and sees a New Mexico license plate. The problem? New Mexico only issues a single plate and it’s affixed to the back of the car. Or one author wanted to arm her protagonist with a sawed-off shotgun. She didn’t realize that possession of this type of modified weapon is a felony and thus turned her law-abiding heroine into a felon.
Fortunately, it often only takes a few tweaks to turn a glaring mistake into a realistic scenario.
You have a BA in Medieval Studies. How has that impacted your own writing?
I obtained my degree while working full time. I knew the degree wouldn’t have a direct impact on my job, but the classes fascinated me. In the process, I learned time management skills and the importance of research. Every story or article requires research. The trick is deciding what details to include overtly, what to layer in discretely, and what facts should be quietly forgotten. Now that I’m “retired,” structuring my time has become even more critical.
Perhaps someday I’ll be able to use my knowledge to pen a mystery series as engaging as Ellis Peters’ Brother Cadfael!
Can you tell us a little about your books and what writing you are doing now?
Up until lately, my writing was predominately nonfiction. I’ve written for magazines, newspapers and textbooks. Since retiring from law enforcement, I’ve shifted to fiction. Like many of the authors I help, I’m currently in the query process–and doing my best to develop patience. In the meantime, I’ve received recognition for several short pieces I’ve submitted to contests, and I’m hard at work on my next crime novel.
Thrillers, detective series, espionage — these genres (most of which revolve around a crime) are attracting some of the best writers today. What do you attribute that to?
Regardless of genre, the best writers have always spun tales that illuminate the human condition with great specificity. I find that the most engaging crime fiction lingers not on the crime itself, but rather its impact. How does if affect a person individually? How does it ripple through a community? Jodi Picoult and Dennis Lehane are masters at detailing the repercussions that reverberate through lives.
Do you see a difference in approach to a crime novel by authors from different nationalities?
Funny you should ask this question. The more I travel, the more I’m convinced that people are people are people. Yes, there are cultural differences, but ultimately, we all love, we all have regrets, we all dream, we all feel violated by crime. So while there may be stylistic differences in the execution, the germ of the story originates from the same wellspring.
If a writer would like to get in touch with you for a consultation, what should they do?
It all starts with an email, micki@literarypartnersincrime. For Contact directions, please visit http://literarypartnersincrime.com/contact.htm. Once I know what an author needs, together we’ll devise a plan to achieve it.