Interview with Anique Sara Taylor, author of Civil Twilight

Today, we have an interview with Anique Sara Taylor, who is the author of Civil Twilight, which won the 2022 Blue Light Poetry Prize.

Please welcome Anique:

Poetic inspiration can come from life or art or anywhere. In some cases, poets are influenced by other poets. Which poets or poems did you try to emulate when you began writing poetry? Do they still influence your work today?

I’d studied 19th century poets in high school, then college. Also, Shakespeare and 17th century French poets. I’d always written vignettes and short stories using contemporary language. When I first began writing poems I tried writing formal sonnets in meter with end rhymes. I counted syllables, searched for the proper end-rhyme, but the poems felt stilted and formal.

Sometimes I used words like upon and bower, for sooth, and twisted the syntax into something completely uncomfortable, so that the rhyme could land just at the end of the line. It didn’t go well!

When I lived on the Lower East Side in NYC, I was half-a-block away from St. Mark’s Poetry Project. The poets wrote about everything around us. The City, subway, people, stores, garbage —a moving kaleidoscope of images. All words, stories, history, research, media, with open rhythms and sound. I learned poetry could be anything you could make it be. I learned to listen to my own inner rhythms. The whole world opened up with imagery and metaphor.

No. I never try to write like Robert Frost or William Wordsworth. Ever. But I do read them sometimes.

In addition to the forms throughout Civil Twilight, what are some of your favorite poetic forms and why?

I’m not a fan of forms. With a few exceptions: Sonnets of Edna St. Vincent Millay for their musicality. (I used to read them to my dear cat who listened, rapt over Millay’s lyric rhythms.) Also, Shakespeare’s Sonnets.

One of my favorite poets Gerard Manley Hopkins (who wrote well over a hundred years ago) created jagged self-propelled lines from his own inner rhythms. This is called “sprung rhythm.” Decades ahead of his time, he became known and appreciated long after his death. The famous poems “The Windhover” and “Pied Beauty” are exquisite examples of his beautiful rhythms and diction.

A contemporary poet, Patricia Smith, wrote a collection of thirteen poems called “13 Ways of Looking at 13.” It’s about the difficulties of being thirteen years old. Beautifully alive, pulsating, and shocking. I loved the thirteen poems. Later on, she said in a performance that in her thirteen, thirteen-line poems, each line has thirteen syllables. What mastery!

I often don’t recognize a form when reading a poem, but I’m excited that poets are inventing new forms all the time. There’s no limit to what can be created.

There can also be personal requirements hidden within a poet’s work, regarding subject matter, point of view, objectivity/subjectivity, description, direction, surrealism, etc. Forms within forms. Requirements within requirements. A good way to read a poem is to ask what the poet’s personal requirements in creating the piece might have been. The more I learn, the more degrees of layering among tools I discover. What a wonderful cornucopia, a never-ending opportunity to learn and grow.

If you were to teach poetry to a child in middle school who had never read a poem nor seen one on the page, how would you outline or begin your lesson?

First, I would choose a few poems from Kenneth Koch’s work with children to read to the class. From Wishes, Lies and Dreams or Sleeping on the Wing. I’d pick poems I find innovative, touching, and surprising. I’d say now we’re going to have some fun with words.

Lists! I haven’t mentioned lists yet!

I’d have them:

Write down a response to each prompt below with a full space between each line:

  • Write a short phrase with concrete nouns of what you’ve seen today:
    (I’d explain what concrete nouns and verbs are.)
  • While you were looking out your window
  • Leaving the house
  • Entering school, Etc.
  • Some Examples:
    • A bird on the bench.
    • A lady carrying a milk carton.
  • Look around the room.
  • List ten objects you see, including sounds you hear.
  • List five phrases or images from any dream you’ve had.
  • Answer in a few words:
    • What does the block you live on look like?
    • What is in your kitchen?
    • Write down something your mother said.
    • What did you hear at the grocery store?

Next. Slides:

I show around five or ten different slides. Each one for about one minute.

For each one I say:

  • Write one descriptive phrase with concrete nouns and verbs.
    (I’d explain again what concrete nouns and verbs are.)
  • Include the name of a different color in each line.
    (Also notice shapes, patterns, objects.)
  • Finish this sentence with fewer words than your age:

And what I wanted more than anything is…

With scissors:

  • Cut each phrase or line so that it is its own strip of paper.
  • Rearrange these phrases in any way you like.
  • Have fun. Experiment.
  • Do not try to make sense.
  • Tape them (with removable tape) to a blank piece of paper.
  • Take your “… and what I want more than anything in the world” line.
  • Pass it to the person on your right. That is your title.

Parts of these exercises can be shifted and changed to accommodate different situations. Children of different ages. Ones who can write. Ones who cannot write yet. I have taught children. I have also taught adults with similar age-appropriate exercises. So much beautiful work has come from it. I am forever thankful to my brave and wonderful students.

What are some of the hardest lessons you have had to learn as a poet so far?

It’s hard to know what a learned lesson is for me. Creating something new, it’s always unfolding. Craft, palette, voice may be something learned. Otherwise, it’s trying to work it out as I go. Maybe all of these below are about learned lessons.

Strangely enough, the hardest writing part may have been at the beginning, when I thought poetry was supposed to sound like Frost or Wordsworth, and I knew I could never write a sonnet as musically alive as one of Edna St. Vincent Millay’s sonnets. Maybe because I thought I had to be different than myself, that I had to be someone else to write. I couldn’t find a way inside the poems.

When the freedom of St. Marks Poetry Project came into my life and I saw poets all around me using images, description, sound, overheard conversations, memory, dreams, lists—anything you could think of, that was when my own words began to flow.

After that there might not have been hard lessons in the way one thinks. I tend to have low self-esteem and high expectations, which can be challenging personally, but not such bad traits for a poet. I’ve learned gentler ways of dealing with myself as a creative. I’ve come to see that ego, high or low, impedes the work on several levels. Writing needs to be about the work, not our ego. It’s about learning, discovering, exploring layers of possibility. Curiosity. Devotion. Honing tools. Craft, where the writing develops.

I love reading poets who can do things I can’t. I love to be surprised and delighted with others’ work. I love learning new elements, layers, and techniques.

Sometimes writing isn’t easy. I feel like I’m up against the infinite. Making decisions is a challenge. Work can go in any direction. I rewrite continually. I keep coming back to the work after my passionate attachment to it has cooled. I come back over & over & over again. I carefully sculpt what I feel the forming poem needs. Until it feels right —but not too tight. Loose enough to breathe, loose enough to let the reader in.

How to know when it’s ready? There’s no official science to this. There’s no right answer. It helps to read. To search for what feels like excellence in other writers.

Poetry can be vital in how it enters into a person’s life, and opens something up with metaphor, non-sequitur and imagery that direct language might not be able to do.

In other countries, at other times, poetry has been revered and adored by the masses. Sadly, not so in our society, not here or now. It doesn’t have the lure of best-selling novels. Most people don’t know the name of our national poet laureate. It is extremely difficult to get published. Most poets are not compensated. But that does not diminish the importance of poetry or the possibility of its impact.

Even knowing all of that, I wanted to be a poet in the poetry world. The words, poems, friendship with other poets are so rewarding. I’m forever thankful to be in that world.

How have you handled obstacles/challenges you’ve faced in your poetic career?

Maybe everything in a poetic career is an obstacle or challenge, given the cost of submitting work, the difficulty of publishing, and the challenging job of promoting a book.

When Civil Twilight was chosen First Prize, my publisher asked what my platform for promoting the book was. This is usual with almost all poetry publishers and small presses, which can be a different situation than novels published by large publishing houses.

I went from being what I call an inner poet, to an outer poet. I finally had my personal writing practice going smoothly. I’d wake up each morning at 6am. Coffee. Three hours of writing, working on poems, the next book, projects in process.

But promotion required a completely different type of activity. I didn’t know if I could figure it out. I didn’t know if I had the aptitude for promotion. But I’d just signed up for a class on podcasting. I was interviewing other poets on their process of developing and releasing their new books. I was studying recording and learning how to promote my podcast. When the publisher emailed me that I had won first prize and Civil Twilight would be published in the spring, it was exhilarating and transformational. But I realized I’d have to learn a whole new series of skills.

To get my bearings, I studied and researched. I made copious lists, asked friends. I needed to update my website and learn to make ongoing changes. I needed to arrange readings, events, lectures, workshops.

Each of these activities had many parts. Each had its own learning curve. I was also proofing the book and working on artwork for the cover. Being an artist, I was able to easily access and process images needed for promotion, but some tasks like developing a website were difficult. I tried to be patient with myself while learning new things. I made wrong turns and mistakes, but I was pleased with what I was able to learn. And over time, I realized I was always moving forward.

It was a year of deadlines and overwhelm, even as I was continuing to work on a new book. Now many of these processes are set into place, but there is still more to do and learn. More excitement, but always moving forward.

Projects still waiting in the wings:

  • Getting together and sending out a regular newsletter with events, announcements, sharing creative development and teaching points.
  • Launching my blog with posts on creativity and the creative process.

I believe the outer job of being a poet and promotion will always be part of my work from now on. Though the beginning was a challenge, I look forward to seeing growth and change in the outer work, as its own form of creativity.

Which poems did not make the manuscript or what edits did you make to poems in Civil Twilight that could be considered “killing your darlings” (also known as your favorite lines)?

Poems that didn’t make it into the book were ones that couldn’t fit within the arc or forward movement of the book. Some were too parallel in meaning to poems I’d already included. Other poems happened in the wrong season or didn’t fit geographically. Sadly, there were a few I couldn’t bring to a place where I felt good enough about them.

Edits. With thirty words, every word was up for being edited. Continually, scrupulously, with an exquisitely sharp scalpel. The early writing process rambled along in full feeling, often with story, whole sentences, and poetic phrases. I was writing parallel at the same time with longer poems for other projects. As this collection grew, I looked for the heart, fire, image, substance, whatever felt central within the nub. The alive, short phrase within the material. I continually cut extraneous words, replaced dull or lifeless words with those more substantive. I looked for the phrase to hold enough in its short form, to deliver impact. To bring the diction to enough of a point.

And just when I’d get it all to flow and flame the way I wanted, the word count would come to thirty-two or thirty-one. How could I cut one or two words exactly when every single word was necessary. How could I cut without cutting off an arm or a leg. Or. If the word count came to 28, how could I bring it up to thirty words, without inserting a flaccid, meaningless stretch.

With the necessary requirement of the feel of a long line; and color, sound, and imagery, I wanted each poem to hit a nerve. To be an alive snapshot, a surprise. It may have been the most difficult sequence I’ll ever write.

When looking to publish your manuscript, what publishers and/or contests did you consider and why? Were there specific criteria you used to make your decisions?

Blue Light Press is a beautiful, independent book publisher in San Francisco. In 2014 when I first began to gather poems into a chapbook, I was just out of grad school and writing, but not connecting with the outside world. I got my courage up. I chose Blue Light Press for the deadline. When the manuscript was returned, it had a small note on top written in blue ink. “finalist.” I wasn’t sure I’d read it correctly. I handed it to a friend to read it to me. “Finalist!” she said. That was life changing for me. Someone had chosen my chapbook Finalist. Afterward, Minerva Rising also chose it as Finalist in 2014. In 2015 Blue Light Press chose my next book Under the Ice Moon as Finalist.

When it came to sending out Civil Twilight, I needed a deadline goal to pull another finished work together. I chose Blue Light Press again because they’d been so welcoming and supportive. I asked the post office mistress to give my chapbook package a good luck rub send-off. She was so thrilled I’d finished the book that she gave it a good-luck rub. Then, a good-luck kiss! Then invisible magic dust! That must be why months later I got an email that Blue Light was choosing my book First Prize and would be publishing it in the spring of 2023. I was shocked and thrilled, as my life was turning around, completely transformed again.

Although that’s my personal story about this book this time, and I am forever thankful to Blue Light Press for the beautiful job they’ve done on it; there might be general information that could help readers. Rules for publishing other forms of writing are a little different, so I’ll just focus on poetry.

For sending out poetry chapbooks you can search for contests and open reading periods. Both will probably involve a fee. Search listings in venues such as Poets & Writers, Submittable Discover, New Pages, Duotrope. Search online for lists of small presses and chapbook publishers. Read carefully. Always adhere to their rules. Research each publisher’s website for requirements. Also search their website for style, book covers and collections, to see what suits your needs. Chapbooks are mostly chosen in contests, but some publishers also have open reading times. Many now also have self-publishing options.

What does writing poetry and being a poet mean to you?

“Writing Poetry” and “Being a Poet” both encompass many wonderful elements.
The over-arching answer is that “Being a Poet” has brought me to a place in life I’ve always wanted to be. Being a poet is the constant challenge of courting creative fulfillment. It’s a continuing opportunity for meaningful learning. I am forever thankful for this. It’s not a static place. Each part encompasses many different sections that shift in an ongoing way as if they were alive. Maybe some lists here?

What “Writing Poetry” means to me:

  • Being in training for creativity.
  • Self-care involving healthy food, exercise. Lifestyle health on all levels.
  • Showing up daily for a time to write, to be with the writing.
  • Working well, working badly, feeling on target, feeling completely lost.
  • Researching. Exploring. Wondering. Asking.
  • Using the whole world for my palette.
  • Speaking from the point of view of any voice I choose.
  • Re-organizing. Collaging. Letting strange juxtapositions happen.
  • Inventing new forms.
  • Gathering. Discarding.
  • Carrying a notebook with me always.
  • Realizing that everything is material.
  • Reading. Reading. Reading. Reading.
  • Writing. Rewriting. Rewriting. Rewriting

What “Being a Poet” means to me:

  • Having the glorious gift of poetry friends.
  • The joy of poetry communities.
  • The wonder of poetry readers.
  • Taking classes.
  • Giving workshops.
  • Getting my work out.

Looking into the outside world to connect with:

  • Readings. Interviews. Workshops. Podcasts. Social Media. Etc.
  • Learning all the technical skills as they become necessary.
  • Taking care of my health so that my voice is in good condition for readings.
  • Supporting the beautiful work of other poets.

And for both “Writing Poetry” and “Being a Poet”:

  • I am always thankful to everyone who has contributed to making this possible.
  • I am thankful that it has brought me to the place I’ve always wanted to be.

Thank you, Anique, for this very detailed and helpful interview, especially for poets just beginning their careers.

About the Poetry Collection:

Anique Sara Taylor’s chapbook Civil Twilight is the winner of the 2022 Blue Light Poetry Prize.

As the sun sinks 6 ̊ below the horizon at dawn or dusk, it’s 5:30am/pm someplace in the world. In thirty shimmering poems (30 words/5 lines each), Civil Twilight probes borders of risk across a landscape of thunderstorms, quill-shaped mist, falcons that soar, the hope of regeneration, a compass to the center. Tightly hewn poems ring with rhythm and sound, follow ghosts who relentlessly weave through a journey of grief toward ecstasy. Spinning words seek to unhinge inner wounds among sea shells and hostile mirrors, eagles and cardinals––to enter “the infinity between atoms,” hear the invisible waltz. Even the regrets. The search for an inner silhouette becomes a quest for shards of truth, as she asks the simple question, “What will you take with you?”

About the Poet:

Anique Sara Taylor’s book Civil Twilight is Blue Light Poetry Prize 2022. Where Space Bends was published by Finishing Line Press 2020. A Pushcart Prize nominee, her chapbooks chosen Finalist in 2023 are: When Black Opalescent Birds Still Circled the Globe (Harbor Review’s Inaugural 2023 Jewish Women’s Prize); Feathered Strips of Prayer Before Morning (Minerva Rising); Cobblestone Mist (Long-listed Finalist by Harbor Editions’ Marginalia Series). Earlier Chapbook Finalists: Where Space Bends (In earlier chapbook form 2014 by both Minerva Rising & Blue Light Press.) and Under the Ice Moon (2015 Blue Light Press). She holds a Poetry MFA (Drew), Diplôme (Sorbonne, Paris), a Drawing MFA & Painting BFA (With Highest Honors / Pratt) and a Master of Divinity degree. Follow her on Facebook, X, Instagram, LinkedIn, and her blog. Sign up for her newsletter.

Buy the book at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Check out the rest of the blog tour at Poetic Book Tours.

Interview with Author Eden Robins

***This is the last interview that will be published on Savvy Verse & Wit; please subscribe to Substack.***

Eden Robins is the author of Gold: Heart of a Warrior, and today, she’ll be sharing her writing journey, what her favorite characters are like, and what advice she has for aspiring writers like you.

“Thank you for having me on Savvy Verse &Wit. I’m grateful for the opportunity to share more about my writing journey with you…,” said Eden Robins.

Savvy Verse & Wit (SVW): What has your writing journey been like? When and how did you start writing and what keeps you going?

Eden Robins (ER): My writing journey has been a learning experience, both in terms of developing my craft as a writer, and my own personal evolution. It’s also been a trek of getting lost for a while and then, eventually, finding my way back.

My first book, a sci-fi futuristic romance entitled, Never Until Tomorrow, was published in 2000. Writing “The End” on the last page of that story was the act that made me decide to take writing seriously. While growing up, creativity had been my close and consistent companion, but up until finishing that first book, I had only considered writing a hobby to indulge in when I wasn’t working at my “real job”. I thought getting a business degree, opening a bakery with my husband, and raising three children was the real life I was supposed to be living, while writing was just for fun.

Never Until Tomorrow came about when I lost my paternal grandfather. After he died, I kept wishing I could go back to before his death and spend more time getting to know him. That thought stayed with me for months and the urge to write about it grew inside me until one night I sat down at my computer and started typing. Being able to translate what was in my heart to paper in this way was not just cathartic, it was also an epiphany. I realized not only how much I loved the writing process, but also that I wanted to do it for the rest of my life.

Once that decision was made, I was lucky enough to find publishers interested in my work and had the privilege of sharing my stories with others. Nine novels later, my husband and I separated, then divorced and I simply stopped writing. I just couldn’t seem to put the words together, except for sporadic, distracted scribblings that didn’t amount to much. It was like my creativity had suddenly dried up and disappeared. It was incredibly frightening to think that the thing which had been my companion and guide since I was little would suddenly leave me. A decade later and lots of lessons learned, my creative spark returned, and I began to write again. I realize now that my creativity had never left me, it had just shifted to a different part of my life that needed my attention. But that’s another story for another time.

Today, what keeps me writing is love and hope. The love I have for the emotional hills and valleys I go on as I invest my heart and mind in the people and worlds I’ve created, and the love I hope grows in my readers hearts when they connect with the characters and stories I write. I also keep writing because of the Happily-Ever-Afters. As an avid reader myself, I savor the feeling of a satisfying ending, one that leaves me hopeful and happy, and as a writer, providing that same gift to my readers feels like the right path for me to be on, and stay on.

SVW: How long did it take you to write Gold: Heart of a Warrior? What were some of the obstacles you encountered?

ER: The first part of your question is a tricky one. Sounds strange, I know, but since I wrote Heart of a Warrior over ten years ago, while in the midst of a separation and eventual divorce, the exact timing is a little fuzzy. I believe it took about a year and the greatest obstacle I encountered was myself.

Finishing the book wasn’t an issue. I had the story pushing to come out of my head and onto the paper, so I let it flow. Once my divorce went through, however, something shifted for me and my priorities changed. I half-heartedly submitted Heart of a Warrior to a couple of publishers, but when I didn’t get a request for more, I let it drop and stuffed the story away. My mind set at the time wasn’t conducive to connecting with a publisher and getting that first story in my Gold series out to readers. I was distracted and disheartened, so more than anything else, that book not getting published for over a decade after I finished it was me being the obstacle.

Having said that, I also believe strongly that it’s the obstacle which can often guide me to where I want to go. Ryan Holiday, in his book The Obstacle Is the Way, writes a lot about this. The obstacle to me getting published again was me. My life was in transition, I didn’t feel ready, and I had lost belief in myself and what I was doing. It was only when I came back to myself, and fully embraced the journey I was on, that my work got published again.

SVW: Who are your favorite types of characters to write? Why?

ER: Interesting question. I don’t think I’ve been asked that before. I’d have to say that I like writing about a character who is or becomes determined to evolve in their life, no matter where they’re starting from or how messy it becomes, and I also enjoy penning a villain who savors and revels in their villainy. In both cases it’s about determination and intention, and there’s a richness and depth to it that’s so fulfilling to write about. A character who is willing to grow, even in the face of ugliness and fear is a character who’s multifaceted and can or learns how to access those different parts of themselves. They are or become resourceful and self-contained in a way that takes them to that next level of life they’re facing or seeking. Think of Harry in the Harry Potter series or Frodo in The Lord of the Rings.

A villain who isn’t tortured by regrets, guilt, doubts or uncertainty, but instead revels in their villainy and is ripe with the kind of arrogant certainty and self-aware intention that keeps propelling them forward is fascinating and fun to write about. Think of Hannibal Lector in Silence of the Lambs or the Grinch in How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

SVW: When and where do you most often write? Do you have special totems on your desk? Music playing in the background? Paint a picture of your writing space and day, or include a couple of photos.

ER: I write most often in my home office, or what I call my Creatress Space. My desk faces two large windows with amazing views. I’ve stared out those windows more times than I can count, imagining the stories, people and worlds I write about. I do have several totems on my desk. A tiger pin for strength. A coin inscribed with the words, “The Obstacle Is the Way,” to help me remember to look at obstacles as opportunities, and a rough cut stone amethyst to remind me that the gift I want to share with the world is already inside me. There are others, but those are a few.

I also have some posters and paintings up around the alcove where my desk sits. One is Henry David Thoreau’s quote, “Live the life you’ve imagined”. It helps me remember to stay present to the life I’m living each day.

I often, but not always play music while writing. The type of music varies. I often listen to Lo Fi instrumental while writing or editing. Music, for me, is a magic carpet that can take me to so many places, past, present and future, across the globe or just next door. It brings me back to my feelings, which then get expressed in my writing.

SVW: If you could give one piece of advice to an aspiring writer, what would it be?

ER: Write. Keep writing. In my opinion, when one is just starting out, it’s so important to focus on putting the words on the page rather than trying to create a perfect masterpiece. There’s a magic that comes from simply getting the story out of your head and on paper. And the more you write, the stronger the magic. Know what that magic produces? Better writing. Know what else it does? Creates more ideas.

Simply put, writing begets writing, which begets better writing, which begets more creative writing, which begets better, more creative writing, which leads to the masterpiece one wanted to write in the first place. It’s definitely important to begin with the end in mind, but only to the extent that one doesn’t back themselves into a corner. Knowing what one wants without worrying about how one will get it is key. Focus on one step at a time and trust that the magic of writing will get you there.

SVW: Who is your favorite poet or what is your favorite poem?

ER: My favorite poet is Mark Nepo. His poetry and prose capture so much of what I feel in both the mundane and spectacular moments of living. I really like his poem, Breaking Surface. It conveys the hope and faith that is, for me, the lifeline of living wholeheartedly…

Let no one keep you from your journey,
no rabbi or priest, no mother
who wants you to dig for treasures
she misplaced, no father
who won’t let one life be enough,
no lover who measures their worth
by what you might give up,
no voice that tells you in the night
it can’t be done.
Let nothing dissuade you
from seeing what you see
or feeling the winds that make you
want to dance alone
or go where no one
has yet to go.
You are the only explorer.
Your heart, the unreadable compass.
Your soul, the shore of a promise
Too great to be ignored.

SVW: “Thank you, Eden, for sharing your thoughts and journey with us.”

Learn more about her novel:

It’s just gonna be one of those days… Empathic healer and business owner, Dora Alexander decided to celebrate her 25th birthday by exploring the stalagmites and stalactites in Kartchner Caverns. Kinda nerdy? Maybe, but you do you, right? Things take a nasty turn when an earthquake rocks the cave, leaving her alone in complete darkness. Searching for a way out, she accidently awakens an immortal warrior who’s kind of cranky after his 100-year nap. Wouldn’t you be?

Philoctetes, one of Demeter’s immortal Gold warriors wakes up to the disturbing sound of a female sobbing. Thinking she’s one of the Silver demons he’s sworn to hunt down and destroy, he almost kills her before realizing she’s human. Correction. Turns out she’s not just human. She’s also the woman responsible for sending his kind to hell and causing woe and misery for the entire human race.

Dora never asked to be Pandora reborn. And she certainly didn’t ask to be paired up with an insanely hot immortal demon hunter on a mission to save the world and redeem them both. But The Fates seem to have their own quirky ideas.

One of them being if she and said hot demon hunter consummate the inferno like attraction blazing between them, they’ll simply cease to exist, with any memory of their time on earth erased forever. Oh goody, the day just got worse.

Follow the blog tour at Poetic Book Tours.

Buy Eden’s book at Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

About the Author:

Eden Robins believes in second chances. She’s been lucky enough to have a few in her life and knows there’s a magic in seizing the moment to try again. As a mentor and founder of A Wholehearted ME, her heart’s purpose is to guide people into living as their full, innate, creative potential. As a writer, Eden’s heart leads her to inspire joy, love, and hope in her readers through her tales. Creating stories about people courageously living, loving, and experiencing life true to themselves, no matter how messy it gets, are the ones she wants to write and will keep writing for you … and for her. Connect with Eden at https://linktr.ee/edenrobins and check out her blog, Living the Path, at https://awholeheartedme.com/blog

Kindle Deal & Interview with Syrie James, author of Struck by Love series

Welcome to today’s interview with Syrie James, who’s here to talk about her Struck by Love series of books. Don’t forget to stay until the end for the Amazon Kindle deal.

Syrie James just revised, retitled, and rebranded two of her most popular romance novels as the Struck By Love series: FLOATING ON AIR and TWO WEEK DEAL. The books are set in the awesome 80s and are inspired by the early days of Syrie’s whirlwind romance with her late husband. More on that in Syrie’s new blog “7 Ways My Real-Life Romance Inspired FLOATING ON AIR.”

Before we get to the interview, let’s check out the first in the series, Floating on Air:

A siren called.
He answered.
A successful radio deejay embarks on a thrilling, long distance love affair with a charismatic entrepreneur, a relationship that plays havoc with her carefully controlled life—and heart.

On a hot summer’s day in 1986, Southern California radio deejay Desiree Germain is hosting a contest on the air when she’s entranced by the deeply masculine voice of caller number twelve.

Voices never matched faces. Desiree knows that better than anyone. As KICK’s hottest radio host, she has a sultry voice that leads people to expect a tall, voluptuous bombshell.

Petite in every sense of the word, she hardly lives up to that image. To Desiree’s surprise, caller number twelve turns out to be Kyle Harrison, a handsome, wealthy businessman from Seattle. Kyle has come to claim his prize—and her heart.

They are soon involved in a whirlwind love affair that makes Desiree’s heart sing. Is it worth the risk? All the rules say that long-distance romance and radio don’t mix.

But a man who is answering a siren’s call doesn’t care about rules!

Check out the second book in the series, Two Week Deal:

It’s just business.
Or madness!
In this romantic romp set in wintry Lake Tahoe, a talented graphic artist gets the opportunity of a lifetime working with the headstrong owner of an advertising agency.

But can business and pleasure mix?

At a holiday mixer on a cold winter's eve in December 1987, freelance graphic artist Kelli Ann Harrison gets an unexpected job offer that throws all her plans into disarray. She came to South Lake Tahoe to oversee the final phase of construction on her brother’s glamorous vacation house and hoped to get in a little skiing on the side.

But when Grant Pembroke, a smart, attractive, take-charge advertising executive invites her to team up with him for two weeks on an ad campaign for a local casino, it’s a proposition that’s too exciting to refuse.

Professionally, they make a wonderful team, coming up with one clever idea after another. But privately their strong personalities tend to clash, a situation further complicated by the high-voltage romantic charge that sizzles between them.

Is this two-week deal just business … or madness? If Kelli and Grant play their cards right, can a whirlwind love affair last forever?

Doesn’t that sound fantastic? We all need a bit of romance, don’t we?

Now, let’s sit down for a chat with Syrie James:

What has your writing journey been like? When and how did you start writing and what keeps you going?

I’ve been writing ever since I can remember. When I was in sixth grade, my grandparents noticed my obsession and gave me an old typewriter from their office. I started writing my first book on that typewriter but unfortunately, I never finished it. I had a fun premise but got halfway through and couldn’t figure out what should happen next. It was an excellent lesson about the importance of an outline! Today, I can’t imagine my life without writing. When I’m working on a book, I’m in my Happy Place.

Let’s talk about Floating on Air, formerly Songbird. What inspired you to revisit this series of novels? How has the process been for you?

Floating on Air is inspired by the early days of my romance with my late husband Bill. I miss him dearly and revisiting this book series was wonderful—it was like stepping back in time and reliving the thrilling days when we first met. I had forgotten how much humor there is in these books; they were both so much fun to write!

The new title Floating On Air is an homage both to the joyful state of mind of the heroine as she falls madly in love, and to her profession (she’s a radio disc jockey).

A book set in the 80s has got to pull out the big hair and the ripped jeans. What other delights will readers find in these pages?

I love the 80s! The clothes were so much fun. Desiree’s outfit of choice is a pair of super short denim cut-offs—remember those? It was a simpler time in terms of technology. There were no personal computers, no internet, no cell phones, no Facetime or texting. In some ways I liked that better—people actually called each other and wrote letters or showed up in person! In others way it was a challenge. Desiree and Kyle have to navigate a long-distance relationship, which was trickier at the time. For more on the subject, check out my blog, 8 Things I Love About the 80s!

Desiree is a radio deejay; what are some of the qualities she had to have? And what songs are on her playlist? What songs were on your mix tapes in the 80s?

Desiree is a successful radio deejay due to her cheerful upbeat personality and her deep sultry voice, which in her mind, leads people to expect her to be voluptuous bombshell. She has a complex about that because she’s petite and feels she doesn’t live up to the image.

I LOVE the music from the 80s. In the novel, Desiree plays such classics as Rita Coolidge’s “Be Mine Tonight,” Johnny Mathis’s “So in Love With You,” and Barbra Streisand’s “Songbird.”

My favorite 80s songs include “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” “I Wanna Dance With Somebody,” “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Live” (from the film Dirty Dancing), “Walking on Sunshine,” “Uptown Girl,” and Carly Simon’s “Let the River Run” (from the film Working Girl). I smile every time I hear them!

How much of your own experiences are in this romance over the airwaves between Desiree and Kyle?

A lot! Floating on Air is based in so many ways on the early days of my whirlwind romance with my late husband that I wrote about it in my blog “7 Ways My Real-Life Romance Inspired FLOATING ON AIR.”

Book 2 in the series, Two Week Deal, is also full of personal details. It’s set in wintry Lake Tahoe (one of my favorite places). There’s skiing (one of my favorite sports); a red-hot, whirlwind romance; and lots of clever creative energy as the hero and heroine work together on an advertising campaign for a casino. I used to work in advertising and that was super fun to write!

What other projects are you working on? Any hints?

I’m working on a new book—all I’ll say is that it’s set in 19th century England, and I’m excited about it!

Lastly, if you could give one piece of advice to an aspiring writer, what would it be?

Study your craft. Write, write, write. And then rewrite. Listen to feedback. Be patient and persevere. Sometimes it takes a long time and many drafts for a story to reach its optimum potential. Most importantly: outline before you start. I highly recommend the Save the Cat story structure by Blake Snyder. It was developed for screenplays but is an invaluable foundation for every great story. I use its structure beats to outline every book I write.


I hope you enjoy my Struck By Love novels as much as I enjoyed writing them! To keep up with my book news and blog posts, please visit my website, sign up for my newsletter, and follow my blog! I blog about the inspiration for my books, all kinds of historical topics of interest, and I post reviews of my favorite books. I look forward to seeing you there!


As a special Valentine’s Day promotion, FLOATING ON AIR is on sale now for only $.99 on Kindle. The discount runs Feb. 9 – Feb. 14.

About the Author:

Syrie: pronounced like the App, but spelled better.

SYRIE JAMES is the author of thirteen critically acclaimed novels of historical fiction, romance, and young adult fiction that have been international, USA Today, and Amazon bestsellers and won numerous awards. Her books are published in more than twenty languages. A research and story structure maven, Syrie is committed to taking her characters on challenging journeys of growth and discovery.

Syrie’s novel The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen sold at auction to HarperCollins in a bidding war between three major publishing houses, became an instant bestseller, and was a Library Journal Editor’s Pick of the Year (starred review). Syrie explores Jane Austen’s real-life romance as a teenager in Jane Austen’s First Love, also a Library Journal Editor’s Pick. The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen (starred review, Kirkus) offers the ultimate Janeite fantasy: the discovery of a long-lost Jane Austen novel.

The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Brontë won the Audiobook Audie Award and was named a Women’s National Book Association Great Group Read. Nocturne was an Amazon bestseller, Barnes and Noble’s Romantic Read of the Week, Best Novel of the Year by Suspense Magazine and Romance Reviews, and Bookbub’s Best Snowbound Romance.

Syrie’s contemporary romances Floating on Air and Two Week Deal, which she recently re-branded as the Struck By Love series, are set in the awesome 80s and are dear to her heart, because they’re inspired by her real-life romance with her late husband.

Syrie’s interest in the paranormal inspired her romantic thriller Dracula, My Love and the young adult series Forbidden, which she co-wrote with her son Ryan James. Syrie’s love of all things English led to a Victorian historical romance trilogy including the #1 Amazon bestsellers Duke Darcy’s Castle and Runaway Heiress.

A Writer’s Guild of America member, Syrie has sold scripts to film and television and adapted bestselling books to screen. Syrie’s work as a playwright has been produced off-Broadway in New York City as well as in California and Canada. A member of the Historical Novel Society of North America and the Jane Austen Society of North America, Syrie has addressed dozens of organizations, universities, and literary conferences across North America and in England.

Syrie lives in Los Angeles, where she is currently writing her next book.

Giveaway & Interview with Mimi Matthews, author of The Siren of Sussex

Welcome to today’s tour stop with Mimi Matthews for her latest book, The Siren of Sussex.

Before we get to the interview, read a little bit about this book:

Victorian high society’s most daring equestrienne finds love and an unexpected ally in her fight for independence in the strong arms of London’s most sought after and devastatingly handsome half-Indian tailor.

Evelyn Maltravers understands exactly how little she’s worth on the marriage mart. As an incurable bluestocking from a family tumbling swiftly toward ruin, she knows she’ll never make a match in a ballroom. Her only hope is to distinguish herself by making the biggest splash in the one sphere she excels: on horseback. In haute couture. But to truly capture London’s attention she’ll need a habit-maker who’s not afraid to take risks with his designs—and with his heart.

Half-Indian tailor Ahmad Malik has always had a talent for making women beautiful, inching his way toward recognition by designing riding habits for Rotten Row’s infamous Pretty Horsebreakers—but no one compares to Evelyn. Her unbridled spirit enchants him, awakening a depth of feeling he never thought possible.

But pushing boundaries comes at a cost and not everyone is pleased to welcome Evelyn and Ahmad into fashionable society. With obstacles spanning between them, the indomitable pair must decide which hurdles they can jump and what matters most: making their mark or following their hearts?

I just love these kinds of stories about couples kept apart by social expectation and how they can overcome them.

Please welcome Mimi Matthews:

What has your writing journey been like? When and how did you start writing and what keeps you going?

I started writing very young, finishing my first manuscript at thirteen and signing with my first agent at eighteen. After that, my writing career was on hold while I finished college and law school, worked, and traveled a bit. It wasn’t until I suffered a serious neck injury that I returned to writing fiction. I love researching and writing about nineteenth century history. It’s a passion for me as much as it is a job.

How has self-publishing prepared you for publishing with a traditional publisher? How are these journeys similar and different?

I was traditionally published first, for my nonfiction history books. I think that’s part of the reason I had confidence to give the indie world a try. I had received an offer for my novel The Lost Letter from a smaller publisher, but ultimately decided to put it out myself. It was one of the best decisions I ever made.

The biggest difference between traditional and indie publishing is the level of control the author has over what happens to their manuscript. As for similarities, it really depends how you approach the indie publishing journey. I tend to follow a traditional publishing model, so it actually feels quite similar to me.

You’ve written historical fiction, what is your favorite time period to write about and why?

The Victorian era is my favorite time period. It was an era of enormous change. I love delving deeper into how people responded to those changes.

Your latest novel, The Siren of Sussex, has a very independent woman in the lead during a time period where women weren’t too much in control of their own lives. Why is it important to shed light on these independent women? How hard was it to keep modern sensibilities in check while writing a woman’s story during the Victorian age?

I love to write female characters who don’t fit the stereotypical Victorian mold—women who are independent minded, who think about bigger issues like race and class, and who manage to carve out unique niches for themselves in a society that exerted unrelenting pressure to conform.

Modern sensibilities don’t even come into because women like this actually existed in the Victorian era.

Tell us a little bit about the Siren’s main love interest, Ahmad Malik, and what some of the obstacles are facing this pair.

Ahmad Malik is a brilliant tailor who dreams of becoming a society dressmaker. Born of a Muslim Indian mother and an English father, he’s spent most of his life as an outsider.

When he meets Evelyn Maltravers, he sees a way to improve both their fortunes. He doesn’t anticipate falling in love with her. To make a success of his work—and his burgeoning romance with Evelyn—Ahmad must face the prejudice of some members of fashionable society; He must also overcome his personal qualms about becoming involved with a lady of a different race and class.

Lastly, if you could give one piece of advice to an aspiring writer, what would it be?

Write what you love. You won’t stick with it otherwise.

Thank you, Mimi, for agreeing to the interview.

It’s wonderful to know that forward-thinking women have not been lost to history and that we can shed light on them through fictional characters.

About the Author:

USA Today bestselling author Mimi Matthews writes both historical nonfiction and award-winning proper Victorian romances. Her novels have received starred reviews in Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, Booklist, and Kirkus, and her articles have been featured on the Victorian Web, the Journal of Victorian Culture, and in syndication at BUST Magazine. In her other life, Mimi is an attorney. She resides in California with her family, which includes a retired Andalusian dressage horse, a Sheltie, and two Siamese cats. Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, BookBub, and GoodReads.

GIVEAWAY: Jan. 4, 2022 to Feb. 7, 2022

Terms & Conditions:
Giveaway hosted by Mimi Matthews. No Purchase Necessary. Entrants must be 18 years or older. Open to U.S. residents only. Void where prohibited.

The Giveaway Package: ENTER HERE

1 winner (selected at random by Rafflecopter) receives the following:

  • Signed print copy of The Siren of Sussex
  • Horse scarf
  • Pewter sidesaddle brooch (made in Sussex, England!)
  • The Siren of Sussex tote bag
  • Three candles in scents: Fresh Hay, New Saddle, and Winter Ride
  • Box of Ahmad Tea (60 count, assorted flavors)
  • The Siren of Sussex bookmark

The winner will be announced on Mimi’s blog at 8:00 pm Pacific time on Feb. 8, 2022.

Interview with Anne Leigh Parrish, author of the moon won’t be dared

Today we have an interview with poet and author Anne Leigh Parrish, whose latest poetry collection the moon won’t be dared toured with Poetic Book Tours.

Before we get to the interview, I want to point out that this is far more than a poetry collection. The moon won’t be dared also includes collage images from Lydia Selk.


In this momentous debut collection, the poet harnesses language to give readers a new vision of nature, the impossible plight of womanhood, love, aging, and beauty. Being a woman in a male-dominated society affords Anne Leigh Parrish the space to witness the world on an uneven keel. Parrish pays tribute to the splendor of seasonal renewal, but also weaves the harsh truths of betrayal and brutality into the laments holding the collection together.

Please welcome Anne:

When did you begin writing poetry, and do you remember the first poem you wrote?

Poetry was a late arrival. I didn’t begin until 2017, and yes, I remember quite well the first poem I wrote. It’s called “storm” and appears in my debut collection, the moon won’t be dared.

In the moon won’t be dared, there’s an immediate juxtaposition between Lydia Selk’s collages with people and your poems that primarily use nature imagery. Was this intentional and what parallels do you see between your words and her visuals that readers may not see at first glance?

Lydia is a fabulous artist and very interesting. I’m not sure how she chooses her images, but I sent her the manuscript and asked her to design collages for any poems that particularly resonated with her.

I met Lydia after my first book, All The Roads That Lead From Home, came out in 2011. The publisher chose the cover art, and when I read the attribution, I was surprised to see Lydia lived in Puyallup, WA. I was in Seattle then, Olympia now, and Puyallup isn’t too far from either. My publisher was in North Carolina, and the artist he chose was essentially in my backyard. I contacted her and we began corresponding.

She’s a fabulous photographer, and I used one of her images for the cover of my second book, Our Love Could Light The World, and for my first novel, What Is Found, What Is Lost. I thought it would be very cool if my first poetry book were illustrated, so I reached out to her again. She was focusing on collage art at that point and we both agreed it would make for some amazing illustrations.

Your poems have very little punctuation or capitalization. How did you reach this artistic decision and what do you think it conveys?

I want poetry to flow, for the ideas they rest on to be free.

When writing a poem, is the first draft the only draft or do you tinker with it and for how long or how many drafts before you consider it ready for publication?

Oh, I do a lot of tinkering! The endings in particular are a place of tight focus.

Tell us about finding a publisher. What was that journey like? Did you submit to multiple publishers? How many rejections? How did you keep going (i.e. what was your continued motivation)?

I had been publishing with Unsolicited Press since 2016 when they accepted my short story collection, by the wayside. I told the publisher I was tinkering with a poetry manuscript – that would have been in 2019, and she told me to send her what I had. That manuscript became the moon won’t be dared. So, in my case, there were no multiple submissions.

Do you have any advice for poets just starting to write? Tips and Tricks for crafting the best poem they can and placing them in literary magazines?

It’s important to get good feedback from people whose judgment you trust. A writing course can help, or a writers group. Where feedback is concerned, my rule of thumb is pretty simple – if ten people raise ten different issues about your work, you can’t do much with that. But, if ten people are more or less saying the same thing, pointing to the same issue in your work, that’s worth thinking about.

I find Twitter to be a great source for places that are currently accepting poetry submissions. Another great resource is Submittable. You have to register for a free account, and when you do and log in, there is a tab called Discover. This brings you to places that are currently accepting submissions in many genres, so you have to go to the tag box and click on “poetry.” This filters the results and pulls up places just looking for poems.

A final word about craft – be fearless, not foolhardy. There’s a huge difference between these two, and once you determine what it is and how it applies to your own work, you’ll be that much further down the road of reaching of writing goals.

What are you working on now? Any hints?

The current projects are the hedgerow, a novel coming out in 2024, and blue (or some similar title, that is not yet set), a brand-new poetry manuscript. There is no publication date for that one yet. That said, there are several other pending titles, if you don’t mind my listing them: an open door, a novel, October 2022; if the sky won’t have me, a poetry collection, April, 2023; and a summer morning, a novel, October, 2023. These are all forthcoming from Unsolicited Press.

Thank you, Anne, for being so candid with your work and your publication journey.

Interview with Dorothea Jensen, author of Liberty-Loving Lafayette: How ‘America’s Favorite Fighting Frenchman’ Helped Win Our Independence

If you missed my review of Liberty-Loving Lafayette last week, please do check out this fun way for kids to learn some U.S. history.

Today, we have a treat for readers and writers with an interview. Dorothea Jensen has graciously answered some questions about her love of Lafayette and her writing inspirations and advice.

Please give her a warm welcome, and do ask your own questions in the comments.

Why such an interest in Lafayette? What does he represent/mean to you?

I have always been interested in history. During the Revolutionary War Bicentennial, my husband and I happened to move to a small town near Philadelphia. My kids learned to ride bikes at Valley Forge, and we often visited historical sites such as the Brandywine battlefield, Independence Hall, etc. When we later moved back to Minnesota, I wanted to keep this sense of history alive for my children, so I wrote a novel about the American Revolution for middle graders, The Riddle of Penncroft Farm. This has been in print since 1989.

Despite making up one story about our historic struggle, however, my interest in Lafayette himself was not sparked until 1997, when I happened to meet an elderly woman who told me that as a little girl her great grandmother had received a kiss (called a buss at the time) from Major General Lafayette in 1824 during his Farewell Tour. That buss had been passed down in her family to her. Of course, first I asked her to pass it along to me, and then I started reading about Lafayette. I’ve been reading and writing about him ever since.

First of all, I found out that Lafayette visited my town in 1825, and went right past my house. Then I learned more and about the man himself, and found him to be hugely appealing. Not only was he charming, idealistic, enthusiastic, and courageous, but he also had a wonderfully self-deprecating sense of humor. He also was a lifelong abolitionist. In addition to being an effective military leader (despite his youth and inexperience), his close friendship with and loyalty to George Washington helped the commander-in-chief weather some difficult challenges, such as the Conway Cabal. Finally, Lafayette played a huge role in gaining more support from France and making the French alliance work, which was certainly crucial to our final victory.

What inspired you to start writing? What motivates you to continue writing?

Like many authors, I was inspired to start writing because I was a passionate reader as a child. I read constantly and especially loved historical novels like The Witch of Blackbird Pond and The Sherwood Ring. I didn’t start trying to write for publication until I was in my mid-thirties and the last of my three children was born. I decided to write historical fiction such as that I loved as a kid. I have written two historical novels for MG/YA so far: The Riddle of Penncroft Farm and A Buss from Lafayette.

The Izzy Elves stories came about because of a childhood experience during which I thought Santa had been trapped under our Christmas tree. I decided create stories in rhyming verse based on the rhythm and rhyme scheme of Clement Moore’s 19th century classic, “A Visit from Saint Nicholas.” The main difference is that my eight elves—Bizzy, Blizzy, Dizzy, Fizzy, Frizzy, Quizzy, Tizzy, and Whizzy—are savvy in modern technology. I have written five Izzy Elf stories so far: Tizzy, the Christmas Shelf Elf; Blizzy, the Worrywart Elf; Dizzy, the Stowaway Elf; Frizzy, the S.A.D. Elf; and Bizzy, the Bossy Boots Elf.

Why I keep writing is simple. I do so because story ideas keep occurring to me and I just can’t ignore them. I have to write them down and see where they lead.

Give us an inside look at your writing routines. How do you start your day? How long do you write each day?

My routine varies hugely depending on the stage of composition. Sometimes I spend upwards of 10-12+ hours working. Of course, when I am writing historical fiction, I am doing research as well as writing, and these days I am also required to spend a great deal of precious time on promotion (not my favorite activity).

As time goes by and my memory becomes a bit less reliable, I am starting my days by composing lists of writing tasks and goals to focus on.

Do you listen to music while you’re writing? Do you need silence? What are some of your must-haves while writing?

My main requirement is silence. I have to hear the dialogue etc. in my head, and I find music too distracting. I can write anywhere as long as it is relatively quiet. Parts of my books have been created on airplanes and trains, and in libraries, dentist and doctors’ offices, etc. As long as I have a computer or a piece of paper at hand, I can write wherever I am.

Provide new writers with 1-2 pieces of writing advice that will inspire them to keep going when writer’s block hits or publishing seems impossible.

The way I avoid writer’s block is pretty simple: I usually work on two very different writing projects at once. If I get stuck on one, I work on the other one for a while and it “unsticks” me. For example, while I was writing A Buss from Lafayette, a historical novel set in my small New Hampshire town during Lafayette’s Farewell Tour, I was also working on Frizzy, the S.A.D. Elf, one of the modern Christmas stories I write in homage to Clement Moore’s classic poem.

The main character in the MG/YA novel, Clara, is unhappy because she has a stepmother (her late mother’s older sister), who is trying to make her act like a lady. Clara also is a target for teasing because of her red hair. In the elf story, Frizzy, who styles the hair of Christmas dollies, feels unhappy every time Santa takes them away for delivery. (She has something called “Seasonal Affection Distress,” as this happens every single Christmas.) The ways in which Clara and Frizzy deal with their emotional problems are nothing alike, to say the least, but bouncing back and forth between their stories always freed up and fired up my imagination for them both.

(I must comment here that until writing the above paragraph, it had never occurred to me that an important element in both Clara and Frizzy’s stories is hair.)

Of course, when I was writing Liberty-Loving Lafayette: How “America’s Favorite Fighting Frenchman” Helped Win Our Independence, it was a slightly different dynamic, because it was nonfiction history told entirely in rhyming verse. I did, however, couple this effort with writing another elf story, Bizzy, the Bossy Boots Elf. (It occurs to me as I write this that Lafayette and Bizzy share only one thing: both were/are excellent leaders!)

I must admit that I never planned on creating a history in verse. After writing A Buss from Lafayette, however, I knew a lot about Lafayette. Oddly enough, I found that rhyming couplets about him just started popping up in my head. Besides, although Buss tells much of Lafayette’s story, it is done through historical fiction, and Lafayette must share the stage with Clara. Once I decided to write Liberty-Loving Lafayette, I started thinking of it as a companion book for Buss, as in it I tell the complete story of Lafayette’s role in our War of Independence.

I wrote both Liberty-Loving Lafayette and Bizzy, the Bossy Boots Elf during the pandemic lockdown in 2020. This activity proved to be an excellent antidote to the claustrophobia and isolation of that situation.

Thank you, Dorothea, for sharing with us part of your writing journey and advice.

Interview with Stephen Ord, author of Pemberley by Moonlight

What makes the Jane Austen-inspired fiction world so delicious? The imagination of its authors to take beloved characters like Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy and place them in unusual situations.

Pemberley by Moonlight by Stephen Ord pushes that envelope further. I can’t wait for you to read my interview with him, but first check out the book:

WHAT HAS HAPPENED to Fitzwilliam Darcy?

IT HAS BEEN NEARLY A YEAR since the master of Pemberley disappeared, leaving behind his distraught young sister and a family in turmoil. But clues to his whereabouts are scarce and it soon seems there will be nothing to do but see Georgiana married and have him declared legally dead.

ELIZABETH BENNET, ON HOLIDAY with her aunt and uncle, visits Pemberley and soon finds herself drawn into the mystery of the missing gentleman. But what secrets are hidden within the gardens of Pemberley? And what is the strange attraction she feels towards the statue of the man she has never met?

Powerful forces want to keep them apart, but true love will overcome even the most fearsome evil.

Aren’t you just eager to read this one? I am. But let’s check out the interview with Stephen, but don’t forget to enter the giveaway.

Welcome, Stephen!

Hi Serena. Thank you for opening up your blog to me today.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer and who inspired you to take the plunge?

I think most people have a story within them, the issue often is that it becomes so known to them that they forget how special their voice is. I’m certain we can’t all be Jane Austen or Charles Dickens, but I love to read Pride and Prejudice and JAFF variations where people have put their own spin on them. Often the influences, life experiences, and even sources of fascination and inspiration come across in what the JAFF writers produce. It was from reading these stories during the first COVID-19 lockdown that I became inspired enough to contribute some of my own work.

Tell us a little bit about your novel, Pemberley by Moonlight?

Pemberley by Moonlight combines my fascination with Ancient Cultures with my love of JAFF. In common with many of my favorite books it has a feeling of wonder within it, as it’s not just based on a straightforward interaction between Elizabeth and Darcy.

In fact, it avoids much of the ‘old ground’ that we all know and love, but can quote by heart already, in favor of a new tale for our beloved couple.

What is your favorite Jane Austen novel and why?

Pride and Prejudice, it has such strong voices within it and tells a tale of coming of age that many of us can identify with. Elizabeth suddenly has her horizons expanded and moves beyond her initial book-smart, but naïve, to something more aware and worldly. Many of us go through this exact journey as we ‘leave the nest’ and find the massive diversity of people in the wider world (and sadly learn not to take them all at face value at times).

The themes within the novel are still relevant today, which is simply amazing.

If you were to live in Jane Austen’s novels, which character would you be and why?

Knowing my personality, I would be someone’s (perhaps Darcy’s) estate manager —hardworking, organized and making a positive difference, but without taking center stage or craving undue attention, as my family comes first. I know that it would be fine form to admit that my disposition holds more common ground with Darcy than Collins, Bingley, Wickham, or Colonel Fitzwilliam, but I’m certain that I would be happier holding the pen, than fascinating the audience.

Offer one piece of writing advice that you wish someone had told you and one piece of writing advice you did receive that you found helpful.

My favorite advice received on writing (as part of the brilliant support I’ve had from Quills & Quartos) was to always do the research, because readers (especially JAFF readers) are clever and know the subject that they’re interested in very well.

If I could go back in time and offer one piece of advice to myself, it would be to write down every scene that comes to mind and make notes of all ideas, regardless of if the story is ready for them. It’s amazing how often those notes and scenes become something more.

Photographer Stephen Ord

When not writing Jane-Austen-inspired novels, what do you love to do? Any unique hobbies?

Living in Scotland I have on my bucket list to climb every Munro. A Munro is any of the 277 mountains in Scotland that are at least 3,000 feet high (approximately 914 meters). To those who do it, it is known as ‘Munro Bagging’ and climbing with my dogs and my camera has led to many excellent views and experiences.

When and where do you most often write? Do you have special totems on your desk? Music playing in the background? Paint a picture of your writing space and day or include a couple of photos.

From my attempts to walk around Scotland whenever possible, I am often surrounded by photos I have taken. This helps me with my day job, when stuck at my desk, and when writing too as they inspire me.

Photographer Stephen Ord

What’s your next project? Any hints?

After such a long time stuck at home, I think many people need the escapism of books and stories. I would love to offer a unique Darcy to the world, still strong and moral, but with a greater dash of wonder. Perhaps I could bring him to Scotland and have Elizabeth emerge from our legends and folk tales to beguile him once more.

Thank you for your time, Stephen, and sharing those beautiful photos.

On my bucket list is visiting Ireland, England, Scotland, and Wales. These photos will have to tide me over until I get there.

Enter the Giveaway:

Commenters are eligible to win an ebook of Pemberley by Moonlight.

Leave a comment speculating on what forces are keeping our lovers apart!

One winner per blog stop. Winners will be selected one week after the blog tour ends. Open internationally.

About the Author:

Stephen Ord discovered Jane Austen during his teens, and then found the treasure trove of works inspired by her as he reached forty. Becoming part of the JAFF community inspired him to contribute his own stories, and now he doesn’t believe he can stop writing (and indeed, does not want to).

Stephen reads a lot of everything and has done so from early childhood. When he was around eight years old, he bought a book on unsolved mysteries. One of the mysteries was around the life and times of Lord Byron, and several of the others were around Ancient Egypt. This was the seed that grew into an ongoing fascination with Regency times, ancient cultures and mythology.

Stephen has read a lot on the cultures and histories of Britain, Rome, Ancient Greece
and Ancient Egypt (amongst others). These histories have joined works from Jane Austen, Lord Byron, Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett, and books of just about every other
genre, inside his rather active imagination. He knows it is time to write more when his
ears begin to whistle.

Stephen lives and works in Bonny Scotland, where his lovely wife and two kids keep his feet on the ground, while supporting him to have his head in the clouds on occasion too.

Interview: Francine Falk-Allen, author of No Spring Chicken

Today, I have a treat for my readers, an interview with author Francine Falk-Allen, who wrote No Spring Chicken: Stories and Advice from a Wild Handicapper on Aging and Disability. She’s going to share some tips for traveling and helping our loved ones who may be disabled or just appreciate an extra hand.

First, check out the synopsis of her book:

As we age, we all begin to have physical difficulties to contend with.

In No Spring Chicken, Francine Falk-Allen—a polio survivor who knows a thing or two about living with a disability—offers her own take on how to navigate the complications aging brings with equanimity (and a sense of humor). The handbook is divided into three sections: Part I is a jaunt through accessible travel pleasures and pitfalls in several parts of the world; Part II addresses the adaptation people who love a handicapped or aging person could make in order to have a lighter, more mutually rewarding relationship with him or her, as well as advice for physically challenged and aging persons themselves regarding self-care, exercise, pain management, healthcare, and more; and Part III discusses the challenges, rewards and logistics of engaging with groups of people who share similar issues.

Accessible and wryly funny, No Spring Chicken is a fun and informative guide to living your best and longest life—whatever your physical challenges, and whatever your age.

Please give Francine Falk-Allen a warm welcome and enjoy our interview:

Tell us about your new book.

No Spring Chicken addresses what we all face eventually: aging and the physical difficulties that can ensue.

I’m a polio survivor who knows a thing or two about living with a disability, and offer my take on how to navigate the complications aging brings with equanimity (and a sense of humor).

Part I is a jaunt through accessible travel pleasures and pitfalls; Part II addresses the adaptations caregivers can make for a mutually rewarding relationship with their loved ones, plus advice for physically challenged and aging persons themselves regarding exercise, diet, pain management, mobility, care tips and more; and Part III discusses the rewards of engaging with support groups sharing similar issues, with a little activism and advocacy for good measure.

I’m told it’s accessible and wryly funny,and is a fun and informative guide to living your best and longest life―whatever your physical challenges, and whatever your age.

What inspired you to write it?

Well, again, I have a lifetime of experience to share about how to take care of oneself with a physical challenge, handicap or disability, and enjoy life as much as possible at the same time. I thought it would be useful to those facing the later years of life, or even younger people with a disability, or family and friends who are perhaps stumped about how to face their loved one’s challenges.

What is the one aspect that you hope readers learn from it?

I hope they take away that there is almost always something we can do to improve at least one aspect of our condition,if not many, and to keep functioning as best we can in order to enjoy whatever opportunities present themselves to us.

As family members age, what should we keep in mind?

That they are the same people they have always been with the same needs and desires, and they want to keep participating in life to the extent possible. Also, generally, aging people could use a little or even a lot of assistance, but most of us hate to ask, and only ask when it’s a dire necessity. There are exceptions of course, but most people I know prefer to be as independent as possible. So chipping in more than you used to without an air of “You should have asked me for help” or “Mom, you aren’t keeping your house clean enough anymore” is likely to be appreciated.

What adaptations should we make for our loved ones?

Ask what is most needed rather than assuming we know. Remember that walking can become more difficult and think about what you can do to make this accommodation. For instance, renting a mobility scooter for family outings or vacations can allow Grandma or Mom to participate fully. A friend surprised me with this on a vacation in Hawaii and it made all the difference; I had a much better time since I could not walk the long distance to the beach or even to the pool in the complex, and it was helpful when we went shopping as well.

You have traveled many places as someone living with a disability. What are your favorite places to travel?

Ooh, there are so many great places. I love Maui, Hawaii; Edinburgh, Scotland; New Orleans, LA; Butchart Gardens on Victoria Island, BC, Canada; Kilkenny, Ireland; New York City, NY; and of course, Paris, France.

What do you look for when deciding on a vacation spot?

My husband and I both like places with beautiful scenery, and/or perhaps some culture such as concerts,or music clubs. We sometimes go to museums as well, but find that we can only do a couple of hours of a museum before we start to feel overwhelmed. We also are very interested in history and the culture of the people in the area we visit, and we like places with very good restaurants. (I start to feel ill if we eat too much fast food or simple carbs.) We sometimes plan a trip in order to see friends or family, also. For getting around, there have to be paved walkways for my scooter, or we take a lot of cabs or rent a car. I cannot go for long walks, but like to go places where I can scoot around, and then get off the scooter and walk a bit and see things up close, or sit in a park or on a beach and read. Sometimes, I paint a watercolor, so I appreciate a really nice view.

With regard to lodging, my first priority is that the hotel is easy and either has an elevator or is one-story, since stairs are very difficult for me, and also has food service in case I’m too tired to go out. Next would be that if there is not a restaurant in the hotel, there is one next door! And I always try for a place with a warm accessible pool if possible. I always call ahead to make sure the staff does not put us down a long hallway, because then sometimes I may be able to go to the lobby or restaurant without needing to use my mobility scooter.

Share some of your favorite self-care tips.

I do a little yoga and core strengthening every single morning, and I do pool therapy a few days a week. Stretching and keeping up what strength you have is important in order to stay mobile. I also avoid eating large amounts of simple carbohydrates (basically, white foods!) but I do try to eat a large amount of vegetables! It’s important to keep weight down, or to at least not become obese, to avoid or keep in check joint pain, heart disease, diabetes and cancer. And of course all that helps just to assist yourself in feeling great so that you have a positive attitude. Also, I rest regularly, and sometimes take a little nap, and get at least six or seven hours sleep every night. I think meals or tea dates with friends, reading good books, watching inspiring movies and spending time outdoors are also great ways to reduce stress and increase a feeling of peace and well being.

Do you have any advice for someone who wants to be an activist?

Look for others who are already activists in the issues you care about. Someone has probably already got a group going and would love your participation and assistance and perhaps your knowledge and experience. If you can’t find that, you can start a group; I describe how to do that in my book. If you are housebound, you can research on a computer and stay informed with news on PBS and other reliable channels, and there are websites you can access which recommend what actions you can take, such as signing petitions or donating money, or making phone calls. Some groups will continue meeting on Zoom now that that is established. I am on an Americans with Disabilities Act accessibility committee in my town, which has met via Zoom during the pandemic, and I started a polio support group some years ago.

Anything else you would like to add?

I truly hope people will buy and enjoy No Spring Chicken, or ask for it at their local library, and suggest it to their friends and family. If they do, it’s helpful to the success of any book, especially for someone who is not a celebrity author, to leave a very good rating or review on Amazon, Goodreads, Barnes and Noble, or Walmart’s book review pages. Do remember that anything less than four or five stars is considered poor, though, by the algorithms that run those sites.

Even if people don’t read either of my books (my first book was Not a Poster Child: Living Well with a Disability—A Memoir, about growing up with a disability and navigating the world as a women with a disability), I hope that everyone who has physical difficulty is finding ways to keep on enjoying life! That’s what I’m intending to do. Later this year, we’re hoping to visit someplace like Hawaii or New Mexico, where there is a high number of vaccinated people and a low incidence of the COVID-19 virus. Happy trails to all!

Thank you, Francine, for sharing your travel tips and for writing a great resource for others.

About the Author:

Francine Falk-Allen was born in Los Angeles and has lived nearly all of her life in Northern California. A former art major with a BA in managerial accounting who ran her own business for thirty-three years, she has always craved creative outlets. This has taken the form of singing and recording with various groups, painting, and writing songs, poetry, and essays, some of which have been published.

Falk-Allen facilitates Polio Survivors of Marin County and Just Write Marin County (a Meetup writing group), and is a volunteer member of the San Rafael City ADA Accessibility Committee.

Her first book, Not a Poster Child: Living Well with a Disability: A Memoir has been included on several national outlets’ lists of best books of 2018, including Kirkus Reviews, BuzzFeed, and PopSugar, and received a gold medal from Living Now Book Awards for Inspiring Memoir – Female and a silver medal from Sarton Women’s Book Awards for memoir.

She was also named one of “25 Women Making a Difference in 2019” by Conversations Magazine. She loves the outdoors, gardening, pool exercise, her sweet, peculiar old cat, spending time with her husband and good friends, strong British tea, and a little champagne now and then.

Interview with Daniel James Brown, author of Facing the Mountain

Facing the Mountain: A True Story of Japanese American Heroes in World War by Daniel James Brown was published last month, and a commemorative stamp for these heroes has been issued by the U.S. Postal Service.

If you’re a stamp collector, like I am, this is one you’ll want to add to your collection.

If you love historical fiction and nonfiction about WWII, this is a book you don’t want to miss.

Here’s a little bit about the book before we get to the interview:

They came from across the continent and Hawaii. Their parents taught them to embrace both their Japanese heritage and the ways of America. They faced bigotry, yet they believed in their bright futures as American citizens. But within days of Pearl Harbor, the FBI was ransacking their houses and locking up their fathers. And within months many would themselves be living behind barbed wire.

Facing the Mountain is an unforgettable chronicle of war-time America and the battlefields of Europe. Based on Daniel James Brown’s extensive interviews with the families of the protagonists as well as deep archival research, it portrays the kaleidoscopic journey of four Japanese-American families and their sons, who volunteered for 442nd Regimental Combat Team and were deployed to France, Germany, and Italy, where they were asked to do the near impossible.

But this is more than a war story. Brown also tells the story of these soldiers’ parents, immigrants who were forced to shutter the businesses, surrender their homes, and submit to life in concentration camps on U.S. soil. Woven throughout is the chronicle of a brave young man, one of a cadre of patriotic resisters who stood up against their government in defense of their own rights. Whether fighting on battlefields or in courtrooms, these were Americans under unprecedented strain, doing what Americans do best–striving, resisting, pushing back, rising up, standing on principle, laying down their lives, and enduring.

Please give Daniel James Brown a warm welcome:

Facing the Mountain is about a topic that isn’t often written about, taught, and told in the U.S. What piqued your interest in the internment of Japanese Americans during World War Two?

The Japanese American experience during World War Two has, in many ways, been over-simplified in history books and in the popular imagination, reduced to a single, stark storyline centered on the forced removal of thousands of families from their homes and their incarceration in camps. That is, of course, a central part of what occurred, but there is much more to the story than that,and it’s something I have always wanted to know more about. My father worked in the flower business in the Bay Area when I was growing up, and many of his customers and colleagues were Japanese American nurserymen and florists. He was also an unusually soft-spoken and gentle man. I almost never saw him visibly angry at anyone. The one exception was whenever he talked about what had happened to his Japanese American customers and close friends during the war, a subject that would inevitably quickly reduce him to rage. So, I was naturally interested when Tom Ikeda started sharing some of his oral histories with me and I began to see the dimensions of a story that went far beyond what I had previously understood about the Japanese American experience during these years.

Facing the Mountain follows four Japanese American families and their sons—Gordon Hirabayashi, Rudy Tokiwa, Fred Shiosaki, and Kats Miho. How did you choose these four to write about when there are so many others? Were any of them alive for you to speak with? Did you talk with their families?

On the one hand, I wanted to tell the big, sweeping story of two generations of Japanese Americans, and yet at the same time, I wanted the book to be focused on the personal experiences of a relatively small cast of characters that readers could easily relate to. I wanted some geographical balance, so the story unfolded primarily in the Pacific Northwest, in California, and in Hawaii. I also needed to find individuals who had left behind plenty of documentation of their experiences and who had living family members interested in helping to unveil their stories. So, with a lot of help from Tom Ikeda and his team at Densho, I eventually settled on four young men (and their families) whose stories pretty much encompassed the range of experiences of both the Nisei and the Issei generations on the mainland and in Hawaii. At the time I started working on the project, only Fred Shiosaki was still alive, and I spent a lot of time talking to Fred, with the help of his son, Michael. The family members of most of the other people in the book—not just the four principal protagonists—were also very forthcoming and helpful in fleshing out the oral histories from which I was primarily working.

Three of the men you focused on joined the military,but Gordon was a resister. Why is it important to share his story?

Japanese Americans, like all Americans, are not now and were not then, a monolith, and their opinions and attitudes about their experiences during the war years varied widely. Individuals and families reacted in different ways to the mountain of problems that suddenly stood in their way beginning with the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Some felt obliged to submit quietly to the authorities and dutifully go off to live in the camps. Some bitterly resented their incarceration and the loss of their livelihoods. Some young men volunteered for military service as soon as they were allowed to do so, believing it would prove their loyalty to the United States.

Others vigorously opposed service so long as their families were incarcerated. Gordon Hirabayashi was a particularly thoughtful advocate for resisting both the incarcerations and military service, so I felt it was vitally important to balance the stories of military valor with his story of principled resistance. I also wanted to demonstrate that there are different dimensions to courage—that courage on the battlefield and courage in the courtroom may both be virtues worth celebrating, even when they may seem to be in conflict with one another.

Much like The Boys in the Boat, Facing the Mountain must have taken extensive research before writing. Can you speak to the research that went into this book and was there anything while researching that really surprised you?

Indeed. I spent about a year and a half researching various aspects of the story before writing a single word of the manuscript. I listened to countless hours of oral histories, traveled to meet family members, toured battlefields in Europe, read World War Two histories, and spent many, many hours in archives poring over old letters and microfilm of newspapers from the 1940s—all the usual stuff. But in the end,it was a very close study of the recorded oral histories left behind by my four protagonists and talking to those who knew them that was most important. There were many surprises along the way, but I think in the end the thing that really stunned me was just how courageous, earnest, and good hearted all four of my protagonists were, even as they differed enormously in many more superficial ways.

Thank you for bringing this part of history to the forefront.

About the Author:

Daniel James Brown is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Boys in the Boat, The Indifferent Stars Above, and Under a Flaming Sky. He has taught writing at San Jose State University and Stanford University. He lives outside Seattle. Visit DanielJamesBrown.com.

Foreword Author:

Tom Ikeda, who has written the foreword, is executive director of Densho, a Seattle-based non-profit dedicated to collecting, preserving, and sharing Japanese American history and promoting social justice and equity.

Interview with Mary Anne Mushatt, author of For the Deepest Love

We have a great interview today from Mary Anne Mushatt. But before we get to that Pride & Prejudice lovers, check out this blurb of her new book, For the Deepest Love:

“After thinking long and hard, I have come to the conclusion that—although it may not be the kind of love my sister and I once had in mind—marrying Mr Darcy would be marrying for a love of the deepest kind.”

Recovering from their parents’ deaths, Elizabeth and Jane Bennet have held their family together, leaning on the support of their uncle, Edward Gardiner, to help them survive. Thus, when Mr Gardiner is threatened with scandal and ruin, Elizabeth vows to help him. Hearing of her distress, the scandalous Fitzwilliam Darcy enters her life—offering his aid in exchange for her hand.

Accepting his proposal upends her life in unimaginable ways as she learns of the treachery of the peer courting her, the betrayal and violence committed by her childhood friend, and the threat to her country as it faces another war.

As Elizabeth and Darcy face the turmoil and trials swirling around them, they risk opening their hearts to unexpected passion. In order to survive challenges from without and fears within, they must summon unknown strengths and forge new bonds to solidify a love of the deepest kind.

Please welcome, Mary, to the blog:

Hi Serena,

Thank you so much for having me here today, and thank you for supporting For The Deepest Love.

1. When did you know you wanted to be a writer and who inspired you to take the plunge?

I believe I began writing when my father got sick with colon cancer in my junior year in high school, then died in my freshman year of college. It was a dark period in my life, where a lot of men in my family passed, and I was rather lost. After college, I moved to New York City, studied acting at the Lee Strasberg Theater Institute to learn what actors needed in a script. At that time, I was writing plays while working at Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. When they departed for Duluth, Minnesota, I worked odd jobs in NYC, living a bohemian life in the East Village.

Real life caught up with me and, after a decade, I moved to New Orleans, but all the while keeping journals to record my flights of fancy. I started ‘seriously’ writing in 2006, when exiled from my home. I would drop off my two sons and niece at their schools, head to a coffee shop and write for hours. This was an enchanting time for me, because I felt I could leave the outer reality and enter the world living on the pages of my notebook. When I found Austen fanfiction, I was hooked, somehow feeling these characters, in this particular time period, were my writing home.

2. Tell us a little bit about your first novel, Darcy and the Duchess?

Once I discovered Pride and Prejudice, admittedly very late in my life, I was spellbound by it and the abundant stories accessible through the internet. One genre that particularly held me enthralled was where Elizabeth had a previous marriage that elevated her status. Perhaps I wanted to give her equal footing to Darcy, or independence from her parents. I wanted her to have a loving relationship, but as her husband is ill when they meet, there is no potential for them to have the intimate bond that I believe links Darcy and Elizabeth.

To be completely honest, I believe what I truly love about this plot line is that Elizabeth has the status to back up her sass. As a duchess her intelligence and impertinence are accepted and, in many ways, she is freed from the constraints placed upon Elizabeth of Longbourn. Of course, there are other constraints imposed by her status, but she comes to Darcy with a breadth of experience of her own.

3. How has writing your subsequent books, Taken and For the Deepest Love, differed from your experience in writing the first one?

Taken is one of my favorite stories, if a writer allowed to have one. I remember writing it incessantly. There are parts that made me cry when I began editing it for publication. I wrote it nearly a decade ago, but revisiting it was a joy. In terms of writing, let me backtrack. All three of these books were written a number of years ago, and each taught me how to expand characters, scenes and write dialogue that felt like real people might speak—not that I claim to know how 19th century Regency folks really spoke. What has markedly improved is what my editors have taught me.

How to tighten scenes without losing the essence of what propels the story forward. How to highlight details to create atmosphere rather than elaborate and down the scene with them.

From then to now, I feel I am a better writer. I’ve learned how to trust the first draft, to write and write and not care if I say something three times in a scene, knowing I will winnow it back to the best version. I’ve learned when to listen to my cold readers, betas, and editors and when to stand up for my choices and intent. And maybe what is most important, at least to me, is to allow myself to follow plot lines that appeal to me, and not worry they may not please anyone else. Because, even if they don’t, they have something to teach me.

4. What is your favorite Jane Austen novel and why?

Pride and Prejudice, hands down. I was flying from New Orleans to Boston and had laid hands on a copy for my vacation read. I read it through to the last page Then turned back to the beginning and read it again, and again, and again. I read it in the car from Boston to Cape Cod even though I get carsick when I read. I read it over and over again throughout my vacation and even when I got home.

Now, as to why, that may be harder to pinpoint. Miss Austen has a fine ear for the nuances of dialogue, gestures, and the intimate—and often delicate—nature of relationships between young women, their families, and the world. Take the Bennets. We are given their characters, their strengths, and their foibles as warp strands that Miss Austen then weaves into remarkable tapestries by the experiences and adventures, actions and reactions of their day-to-day lives.

And then, of course, there is Mr. Darcy. Need I say more? What I adore about him is, that despite the hubris inculcated in him by his social position, he is a decent, responsible man, who has the inner strength to change to become a better man. What’s not to love? Oh, and did I mention he’s tall, dark, and handsome?

5. If you were to live in Jane Austen’s novels, which character would you be and why?

Elizabeth Bennet. Of course. For me, she has the most freedom. While Jane Bennet is admired for her beauty, it is a burden as well. Her mother imposes the salvation of their family on Jane’s shoulders. She is to marry a wealthy man and establish her sisters, and of course keep Mrs. B from the hedgerows.

Elizabeth, however, has the education to see and think beyond her little hamlet. While her time and social station limit her, she is the free-est from the inner limits the condescension of rank may impose on others. She evaluates—dare I say judges? —people by their characters and how they treat others, and this is a quality to emulate.

6. Offer one piece of writing advice that you wish someone had told you and one piece of writing advice you did receive that you found helpful.

The piece of advice I received that has helped me the most is to just write. Don’t judge or edit the first version, just start writing and get the ideas on paper. You will go back and revise later. For me, it is crucial to just start and get the words rolling.

What I wish someone had told me is to let my imagination run uncensored. It builds on what I just said, but that was for the actual writing process. What I’m talking about is to let the plot flow where it wants to go. To trust it to create its own links so it ties together, however loosely, at the end. While it’s great to have an outline—and I have worked with them—there comes a point where is ok to break free and let a subplot grow.

A second piece of advice—I wish I had learned earlier is that it doesn’t have to be perfect. I try and make a scene, a chapter, and a story as honest, interesting, and polished as I can, but I’m still learning, and next time I’ll do better.

7. When not writing Jane-Austen-inspired novels, what do you love to do? Any unique hobbies?

I love being in my garden. I often find story lines or characters develop while tending my flowers. Living in New Orleans, we have a collection of Mardi Gras beads, and I’ve taken to hot gluing them on wooden eggs to create Easter eggs, or cones to make Christmas trees. I use the translucent beads of the traditional green,
gold/yellow or purple, but the krews now throw pinks, blues and orange beads so my ‘palette.’ I’m going to try gluing them on to glass vases, hoping to create a stained-glass effect.

In one of my subsequent stories, one of the subplots involves human trafficking. While working on it, I realized that if my fictional Elizabeth could do something about trafficking, so could I. Fortunately, New Orleans has an active anti-trafficking network, and now I help bring awareness that trafficking is happening right under our noses to the general public.

8. When and where do you most often write? Do you have special totems on your desk? Music playing in the background? Paint a picture of your writing space and day, or include a couple of photos.

When my kids were in school, I would write at our dining table. During the pandemic when both my ‘boys’—one now, as of May 20 th a college graduate, and the other a freshman at university—were home, I took a small table, plucked it down in front of one of our French-door windows in the front room, out of the way, and wrote for a couple of hours in the morning. The window looks out to our garden, and tall stalks of ginger grew in front of the window. They blocked the strong Southern sun, and when I was stuck, there was always a little lizard or butterfly to distract me.

While writing spaces are important, mainly in terms of letting my family members not to disturb me, it is more my supplies. In the last 5 to 7 years or so, I have discovered a fascination for fountain pens, and now, that is what I prefer to write with. That and notebooks. There is something about the shape of the pen nib scratching across the paper that is soothing to me, maybe because my stories are set in Regency England, but I feel it makes something undefinable, accessible to me. Whatever it is, it helps me shut out the present, turning inward where my stories find me.

9. What’s your next project? Any hints?

While I’ve started another Regency story, I’m working up to starting a story set in
the 1930’s.

Thank you, Mary. We can’t wait to read For the Deepest Love.

About the Author:

A lifelong writer, Mary Anne Mushatt relocated to New Orleans last century, where she earned an MFA and created a documentary of oral histories in the African-American and Native American communities along Louisiana’s River Road. When the levees failed, exiling her family from their home, she discovered the community of Jane Austen acolytes and began writing novels placing the beloved characters of Pride & Prejudice in innovative situations. Taken is her second published novel. As a result of one of her earlier novels, she works with a multi-disciplinary team aiding victims of human trafficking become survivors.

Mary Anne lives in New Orleans with her husband, two sons, and two dogs.

Follow the blog tour and leave comments and be entered into the giveaway:

The blog tour wraps up on June 8. Winners will be chosen on June 8, 2021. The winners will be posted on the Quills and Quartos Facebook and Instagram pages.

Interview with Poet Teri Ellen Cross Davis, Author of a more perfect Union

I am excited to share with you my interview with local poet Teri Ellen Cross Davis, author of the poetry collection a more perfect Union and Poetry Coordinator for the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C.

About the collection:

In the tender, sensual, and bracing poems of a more perfect Union, Teri Ellen Cross Davis reclaims the experience of living and mothering while Black in contemporary America, centering Black women’s pleasure by wresting it away from the relentless commodification of the White gaze. Cross Davis deploys stunning emotional range to uplift the mundane, interrogate the status quo, and ultimately create her own goddesses. Parenting, lust, household chores—all are fair game for Cross Davis’s gimlet eye. Whether honoring her grief for Prince’s passing while examining his role in midwifing her sexual awakening or contemplating travel and the gamble of being Black across this wide world, these poems tirelessly seek a path out of the labyrinth to hope.

Stay tuned for some video readings and more upcoming events with Teri (virtual and in person).

Please give Teri a warm welcome:

Savvy Verse & Wit: What is your earliest memory of poetry? Was it read to you? Did you write it? Did someone gift you a book of poems?

Teri Ellen Cross Davis: My earliest memory of poetry is less memory and more fact. My mother taught me to read to Nikki Giovanni’s work. She would read it to me – I was four. I remember the hard cover, tan and coarse, not the paper jacket, she’d taken that off and stashed it away somewhere probably like I do now with my children.

SVW: Can you recall the first poem you wrote and what it was about?

TCD: My first poem was in third grade. I was eight and it was about a squirrel. I sat in my living room and watched the squirrel from the safety of my house. The squirrel was running around the base of a wide oak tree in our backyard, right at the perimeter of a fence that separated our yard from the neighbor behind us. What I love about thinking about this is that my family just gave me that quiet time to sit there and watch that squirrel– no one demanded anything of me, I was just allowed that time and I discovered a poem.

SVW: Did you mimic someone else’s style? And how have you evolved in your poetic skills since then? Speak a little bit about your writing journey.

TCD: My writing journey is a long one. My mother gave me Maya Angelou I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings at 12 at the same time she gave me Carlos Castaneda The Teachings Of Don Juan. Both blew my mind. I also came across my mother’s college poetry books, so Dudley Randall’s The Black Poets and an Oxford Edition of Modern Verse, which led me to Edna St. Vincent Millay and Robert Frost.

In high school, my English teacher gave me Ntozake Shange’s For the Colored Girls Who Considered Suicide When The Rainbow Is Enuf and by then I had also started a poetry club inspired by my love of Edna Saint Vincent Millay. I continued reading poetry on my own and by college I felt confident/bold/reckless enough to read my poems aloud to an audience.

But it was at Cave Canem in 1999, which was also the first year I had a poem accepted for publication, that I truly laid claim to being a poet. And I will say that running a poetry series for 16 years has definitely had an effect on my voice and ability. I have brought in so many poets who range in terms of their style and to see that this variety exists lets me know that I have a place somewhere within this whole cannon.

SVW: As the poetry coordinator for the Folger Shakespeare Library, what’s your role and how does that work fit into the poetic culture of the D.C. region?

TCD: I select the poets and themes for the reading and themes for the overall seasons. I write up most of the material for marketing and remain the primary contact for the poets. I love using themes and collaborating with different organizations as I see these actions as ways for me to open up poetry and poets to a new audience.

In terms of how it fits within the poetic culture of the D.C. region, we occupy a national profile but on a local level. I try to involve local poets in introducing and moderating conversations with the poets but I also involve local poets as readers too. Taylor Johnson and Michael Collier are examples from this past season and I often rely on local poets for “Not Just Another Day Off” the Martin Luther King programming that I do at the Folger. And the series has history! I am coordinating the 53 rd continual season and am excited to continue adding the Folger’s tradition of bringing emerging and established poets to the actual or virtual stage.

SVW: In your new collection, a more perfect Union, music (especially Prince) plays a large role in your poems, why was it important for you to include Prince and others in your collection, exalting them like gods and goddesses?

TCD: Mainly because the influence of Prince on my work and in my life is like that of a God. His voice is in my head, his lyrics are the ones that I’ve committed to memory, and his music- it just makes my body move and touches my spirit. I think music is an incredible way to communicate to others, whether it’s about social issues, breakups, falling in love, having a child, like poetry, music just occupies this aural space and I want to honor that. I honestly listen to music every day. I like to think that somewhere inside me lurks a singer/songwriter!

Teri Ellen Cross Davis reads The Goddess of Cleaning:

SVW: Why is it important for poets to explore the new and old gods and goddesses? Your poems are infused with pop culture and the old world. How does this blending help readers see that the “more perfect union” is possible?

TCD: I’ve often chafed at the idea of fitting into any one category. I recognize that who I am is a layering of the old and the new, the high and the low, the avant guard and the mainstream and there’s nothing wrong with that. I try not to hold anyone element of that in higher esteem than the other.

I love letting my diction soar like a kid on the swings who then jumps off and hits the dirt. It’s so much fun to mix it all up and I think once we can let go of these ideas that we have to remain rigidly fixed into any one category and that we can’t respect the others, once we let that go, we can become fully realized people who can honor, respect, and acknowledge all of it. I loved my time with my great aunts and my grandparents and I loved my time in college hanging out and going to Freaknik.

I can be both of those people. Why can’t we all see the beauty in the old world- recognize the traditions and knowledge in those old gods- but also take in with fresh eyes and open hearts the new gods as they pop up? In such openness we stay fresh, we stay absorbent, and we continue to learn.

SVW: The book cover is as sensual as the poems inside. Is this collection a love letter and to whom?

TCD: Thank you for that! In many ways this collection is a love letter to the idea of America; an America that we haven’t seen rise to its full potential in terms of equality and freedom for everyone.

But it’s also a love letter to the American citizen, to the human being, who sees something greater in this country and knows how deeply it is flawed in its failings to live up to the ideals it presents to the rest of the world.

I just want to tell people “I see you and I feel the same way you do”- the frustration, the rage, the sadness, the disappointment and that perhaps together we can enact the change that we want to see and not wait on others to do it but at the same time I recognize that there are those in power who need to understand that so many of us have a righteous rage regarding this country and it needs to be acknowledged and we need to be heard. So this book is my barbaric yawp.

Thank you, Teri, for your candid answers, and I cannot wait to hear you read live in person.

Here’s a treat for my readers, a YouTube readings, and a list of upcoming readings on her schedule:

Poets in conversation feature on Politics and Prose Live! With Teri Ellen Cross Davis and Sandra Beasley:

About the Poet:

Teri Ellen Cross Davis is the author of a more perfect Union, 2019 winner of The Journal/Charles B. Wheeler Poetry Prize and Haint  winner of the 2017 Ohioana Book Award for Poetry. She’s a Cave Canem fellow, member of the Black Ladies Brunch Collective, and lives in Maryland.

If you are in the areas or online, check out her upcoming events:

Interview with Karen Lyon, columnist at Hill Rag and founder of The Literary Hill BookFest

When: May 2, 2021,  at 11:00 a.m. Where: Online

The Literary Hill BookFest is going to be virtual again this year on Sunday, May 2, at 11:00 a.m.

Since you won’t have to travel to Washington D.C., why not begin your day with some fiction writers, poets, and children’s authors.

I’m very excited to be part of this event for the first time as part of Poets on the Patio. View my recording here and stay tuned on May 2 at 1:45 p.m. for my appearance.

Today’s guest is Karen Lyon who writes the column Literary Hill at Hill Rag.

We’ll be talking with her about her love of books and the festival. Please give Karen a warm welcome.

Savvy Verse & Wit: After writing your column in The Hill Rag for a decade, what prompted you to consider transporting that content into a live event for the D.C. area given the number of festivals already available, including the Maryland-based Gaithersburg Book Festival, Fall for the Book at George Mason University in Virginia, and the National Book Festival in D.C.?

Photo Credit: Bruce Guthrie; Literary Hill BookFest 2016

Karen Lyon: Actually, I got talked into it by some friends who thought that Capitol Hill needed its own book festival. There are so many writers who live on the Hill, whether drawn here to do research at the Library of Congress or just because they find it a rich and beautiful neighborhood. Evidence the fact that, in the 20 years I’ve been doing my column, which now features 2-4 reviews per month, I’ve never been in danger of running out of authors.

And it’s really nice to bring them together once a year so they can meet each other, as well as attracting potential readers. Many of the writers have told me how much they enjoy the live event and how special it is that it’s a neighborhood affair. They’re all very eager to get back to meeting in person.

Photo Credit: Bruce Guthrie from Literary Hill BookFest 2017

SVW: Tell us about your favorite childhood book and/or when you met your favorite author for the first time. What were your feelings? What do you remember the most about that and did you have those memories in mind when drafting plans for the first BookFest?

KL: I loved mystery novels as a kid—still do—so when I first approached Melissa Ashabranner about doing something for the Hill Rag and, in the course of our talk, she told me that the great Martha Grimes lived on the Hill, I was absolutely beside myself.

At that point, of course, I was far too intimidated to interview her in person, so I faxed her questions (back in the low-tech days) and she graciously faxed her answers back to me.

My first in-person interview was with the also great Louis Bayard, who, in addition to being a fabulous writer, is one of the kindest, funniest, and most generous guys you’ll ever meet. He gave me the confidence to keep at it—and eventually I did meet and interview Ms. Grimes, as well as many other well-known writers who lived here at the time.

Now I confine myself to book reviews rather than the labor-intensive interviews. Alas, Martha Grimes no longer lives on Capitol Hill (and, hooray, Lou Bayard now serves on the BookFest board!).

Photo Credit: Bruce Guthrie; Literary Hill BookFest 2019 (Jona Colson)

SVW: What have been some of your favorite memories from the live, in-person Literary Hill BookFests?

KL: It’s not exactly a favorite, but I think one of my most vivid memories is from the first year, which, as you can imagine, was fraught. None of us knew what we were doing and it made for many sleepness nights (and the occasional “good cry”). My husband Ed and I were both working full time then and trying to fit “BookFest” in here and there—just as Liz and her husband Dan are doing this year, so we appreciate the enormous effort it takes.

I lost almost eight pounds, both from the physical labor as well as the stress. I remember as we were closing down the event that day, I was stumbling around like a zombie looking for trash to pick up when one of the writers came up to me, all perky and enthusiastic, and said, “This was great! You’re going to do it again next year, right?” Uh…

Nevertheless we persisted—and over time, we figured more things out and got more people to help us, so we were able to relax (sort of, not really) and enjoy many rewarding moments.

Getting to meet the authors whom I feel I already know through their books–and seeing their faces light up when I introduce myself–has to be one of the most gratifying things ever. Being able to give local writers a venue and help publicize their work is what keeps me going.

SVW: As many other festivals were forced to do, Literary Hill BookFest went virtual in 2020, what do you think made the festival stand out from other festivals that went virtual that year? What were some lessons learned from that experience that you’re applying to this year’s festival?

KL: I have to confess that I didn’t check out the competition, but I thought Liz and Dan did an absolutely superb job of showcasing our Hill authors.

Photo Credit: Bruce Guthrie; Literary Hill BookFest 2018 (Ethelbert Miller)

The panel discussion, poetry reading, and everything else about the event—including the ukulele interlude—just blew me away.

My technical skills are pretty much limited to word processing, so I never in a million years could have done it. In fact, even once we do get back to an in-person event, I see their amazing website as being a continuing and very important component of the BookFest.

It allows for more intimate presentations by the authors as well as a much broader scope of visitors, who can access it from wherever they are and well beyond a three-hour window in May.

SVW: What are you most looking forward to at this year’s virtual Literary Hill BookFest?

KL: I think our discussion topics this year are particularly ripe for some interesting commentary. I can’t wait to hear what our authors have to say about how children’s literature can dismantle divisions, how they find literary inspiration in D.C., and how nonfiction can tackle social issues. Those alone should make for some fascinating discussions, but we’ve also got a nature writing workshop and one on what makes a great opening line, as well as the always popular live poetry reading.

It’s going to be another great day for books and authors on Capitol Hill—and, thanks to technology, everywhere else as well. It’s wonderful to be able to invite friends and family from around the country to tune it.

We may even get a woman from my Zoom exercise class who lives in Croatia!

Photo Credit: Bruce Guthrie; Literary Hill BookFest 2014

Thank you, Karen, for agreeing to an interview. I can’t wait to see everyone there (online)!

About the Columnist and Founder:

Karen Lyon writes the Literary Hill column for the Hill Rag and served as president of the Literary Hill BookFest in its initial years. She formerly worked at the Folger Shakespeare Library as assistant to the director and as a writer for Folger Magazine specializing in articles about everyday life in Shakespeare’s time.