Interview with Mingmei Yip, Author of Secret of a Thousand Beauties

Secret of a Thousand Beauties by Mingmei Yip is set to be published Nov. 25, 2014, and is the latest release from Yip.  I’ve reviewed Skeleton Women and The Nine Fold Heaven, which I enjoyed.

Here’s a bit about the book:

Spring Swallow was promised in marriage while still in her mother’s belly. When the groom dies before a wedding can take place, seventeen-year-old Spring Swallow is ordered to become a ghost bride to appease his spirit. Under her in-laws’ protection, she will be little more than a servant, unable to know real love or bear children. Refusing to accept her fate as a “bad-luck woman,” Spring Swallow flees on her wedding day.

In the city of Soochow, Spring Swallow joins a community of renowned embroiderers. The women work for Aunty Peony, whose exquisite stitching once earned her the Emperor’s love. But when Aunty Peony agrees to replicate a famous painting–a lucrative assignment that will take a year to complete–betrayal and jealousy emerges within the group. Spring Swallow becomes entangled in each woman’s story of heartbreak, even while she embarks on a dangerous affair with a young revolutionary. On a journey that leads from the remote hillsides around Soochow to cosmopolitan Peking, Spring Swallow draws on the secret techniques learned from Aunty Peony and her own indomitable strength, determined to forge a life that is truly her own.

MingmeiToday, Mingmei Yip has agreed to join us and answer some questions about her novel and her work.  Please give her a warm welcome.

Where do your story ideas come from?

Story ideas usually pop up in my mind, mostly triggered when I am reading, watching a movie, looking at art works in a museum, or just day dreaming. Not long ago I saw a book on embroidery in a bookstore and was inspired to write a novel about embroiderers and the painstaking efforts they apply to create their beautiful works. That novel is my newest, Secret of a Thousand Beauties.

The idea for my third novel, Song of the Silk Road – a romantic adventure on China’s fabled route with a promised reward of three million dollars — came to me in a dream.

The heroine of your latest book, Secret of a Thousand Beauties, is a strong and independent woman like the women in your other novels. Why do you choose to write about these women who live in cultures that tend to curtail their independence?

All my protagonists are brave and strong women who relentlessly overcome hardship and tragedy to live life on their own terms and achieve happiness. It is hard now even to try to imagine the miseries women had to endure in traditional China such as marriage to a dead fiancé, making them the slaves of the dead man’s parents, or being forced into prostitution, yet not being allowed to marry or keep their babies.

Some of my characters are inspired by the lives of actual women, including Camilla the singer-spy in my novels Skeleton Women and The Nine Fold Heaven, and the teenage prostitute Xiang Xiang in my debut novel Peach Blossom Pavilion (now in its 5th printing!) I feel honored to be able to give these once-silenced women their voices. Also, by writing about them, they have become my teachers of determination, courage, and compassion.

What are your first loves as a reader about novels? Do you prefer plot or characterization?

Both. But if I have to choose, insightful description of human nature are more satisfying to me than plots filled with twists and turns.

Do you prefer to write historical fiction and would you consider writing something more contemporary?

Among my seven novels (the 7th one will come out in 2015), four are historical – Secret of a Thousand Beauties; The Nine Fold Heaven; Skeleton Women; Peach Blossom Pavilion and two are contemporary – Song of the Silk Road; Petals from the Sky. I also wrote and illustrated two children’s books: Chinese Children Favorite Stories and Grandma Panda’s China Storybook, both published by Tuttle Publishing.

Who are some of your favorite authors/poets?

My favorite authors are Eileen Cheung and Echo, unfortunately both deceased. In the West, I read almost everything by Lisa See, Amy Tan, and Anchee Min.


What current projects are you working on? Care to share any details?

My next novel, which will be my seventh is The Witches Market, about a young woman who has suddenly acquired supernatural talents. After this realization, she travels to the Canary Islands, seeking witches against whom to test her own powers and calling.

MusicalMingmeiBesides writing, I perform on the guqin, a very ancient Chinese instrument which I’ve been playing for over thirty years. I also teach calligraphy workshops for both adult and children at many venues including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Lincoln Center, CUNY and others. All these activities help provide material for my novels.

Thank you, Yip, for joining us today.  Check her out on Facebook, Twitter, and GoodReads.

Check out the book trailer:

Interview with Syrie James, Author of Jane Austen’s First Love

Syrie James is a quintessential Austenite and her Jane Austen-related fiction is never a disappointment.  Her latest release, Jane Austen’s First Love, is a contender for the Savvy Verse & Wit Best of 2014 list.

Here’s a snippet from my review:

“James cannot be praised enough for her ingenuity and dedication to the spirit of Austen and her novels.  She pays tribute to a young Jane in the best way possible.  Jane Austen’s First Love by Syrie James is the author’s best novel yet, and a must read for anyone who loves historical fiction, Jane Austen, or coming of age stories.”

Other James’ books you should consider reading include:


Today, I have a special treat … an interview with Syrie James! Please give her a warm welcome.

As a writer of Austenesque fiction, you must have a favorite Jane Austen book and character, or at least a few.  What and who are they and why?

Like many readers, my favorite Austen novel is Pride and Prejudice. It’s brilliantly constructed, beautifully written, and the characters are unique, fun, and recognizable. Best of all, Elizabeth’s and Darcy’s character arcs as they go from intense dislike to admiration to love are so wonderfully drawn and so satisfying that the story has been endlessly imitated. Pride and Prejudice, unlike Austen’s other novels, also begins with a lively conversation that grabs your attention right off the bat. I am a huge fan of Persuasion as well, with its theme about second chances. It was written later in Jane Austen’s life, and her maturity as writer really shines through.

As for favorite characters, I have so many! I adore Elizabeth Bennet, with her bright eyes and feisty nature, and Anne Elliot, who is goodness personified. I think I fell in love with Mr. Darcy (along with the rest of the female world) when Colin Firth turned him into an icon. I am also mad about Captain Wentworth and Mr. Knightley, truly divine Austen heroes who feel very real to me on the page! And this may be heresy—but my two other favorite characters are Lady Catherine de Bourgh, who I love to hate, and the foolish Mr. Collins, who, with every re-reading and in every film version, always makes me laugh.

Syrie James headshot 2012 x 250Did you always love Jane Austen’s books and when did you first fall in love with them (how did you find out about them)?

I was first introduced to Jane Austen in a British literature course in college, when we read Pride and Prejudice and Emma. I don’t remember my first reaction to the books, and Jane Austen didn’t resurface on my radar again until the mid 1990s, when four Jane Austen films came out that quickly became my favorites: SENSE AND SENSIBILITY (Emma Thompson and Hugh Grant), PRIDE AND PREJUDICE (Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle), PERSUASION (Amanda Root and Ciarán Hinds), and EMMA (Gwyneth Paltrow and Jeremy Northam.) Yes, it’s true—I fell in love with Austen because of the movies!

I immediately read or re-read all her novels, then devoured the juvenilia, biographies, and her preserved correspondence. I was desperate to learn more about the woman who wove such incredible stories and showed such a deep understanding of human nature—and the obsession has never stopped. Because there were no Austen memoirs to discover, I wrote one myself: The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen. Because there were no more new Austen novels to read, I decided to write one: The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen. And because I was intensely curious to read about Jane as a teenager while experiencing her first romance, I researched and wrote Jane Austen’s First Love.

As a fan of Austen, you must have visited the various sites in which she lived and visited. Which of these places is your favorite, where is it located, and why? What advice would you give someone interested in touring Austen’s places?

I’ve taken two Jane Austen tours of England—one of them self-guided, the other as part of a formal tour group—and I’ve had the opportunity to visit nearly all the famous Austen sites, some of them twice. It’s hard to pick a favorite, but I guess it’d have to be Chawton Cottage, now known as Jane Austen’s House Museum. It was like a pilgrimage to walk through the rooms and gardens of the house where Jane lived during the nine year period when she wrote or rewrote all her masterpieces. And to see the little table where she sat by the window and wrote, was too thrilling for words!

The Austen tour that I took with my husband was absolutely wonderful, but took many months to research and plan. To see all the iconic Austen sites I’d recommend a guided bus tour, where you will enjoy the company of like-minded people, as well as guest speakers and other Austen-related events that you won’t get on your own. JASNA has such a tour every year; they’re run by Pathfinders, the same tour company I traveled with, and they’re fabulous.

For Jane Austen’s First Love, you did quite a bit of research into her mentions of Edward Taylor, who was the heir to a home in Kent. When did you know that you should stop researching and start writing? What part of the research did not make it into the book that you wish had made it in?

I continued researching the entire time I was writing the novel! Re-reading books by Jane Austen and biographies about Jane Austen while I was writing gave me an infusion of details to use here and there, and helped me to keep her voice in my head. Continuous research proved to be even more important where Edward Taylor was concerned. When I first began the novel, I hadn’t found much information about him, and had created an imaginary back story for him—but it never felt right. So I kept looking. And looking.

By a stroke of luck, I came upon Edward Taylor’s brother’s memoirs, which filled in so many details about the Taylor family and the unusual way in which all eight children were raised abroad. What I learned was far much more fascinating and remarkable than anything I could have made up! I put all that was pertinent into my novel. There were a few great scenes however that didn’t make the final cut. I had to delete one scene, for example, where Edward is telling Jane about a family excursion off the southern coast of Italy that ended in disaster. It was a great tale, but unfortunately it didn’t move forward the action of my novel, so it had to go.

A much bigger disappointment was when I felt obliged to delete a scene from Chapter One, in which Jane inscribes her name and the names of three imaginary suitors in the register at her father’s church at Steventon. I loved the scene I’d written, but once again, it didn’t move the plot forward, and the first chapter was too long. (The deleted scene may have a new life, however, as a short story.)

As the market becomes even more saturated with works about Jane Austen and her books, do you think readers will ever tire of these spinoffs, retellings, and fictionalized accounts of her life and work?

I hope not!

What keeps you returning to Jane Austen and her world?

I love Austen for so many reasons. I love immersing myself in the way the gentry class lived and loved during the Regency era, where we rarely see anyone working (other than the servants.) Austen’s characters lived in grand manor homes, were waited on hand and foot, drove around in elegant carriages, hunted on horseback, played cards and music, sang and read, sewed and drew, took walks on impeccable grounds, and danced at balls. What’s not to like? Not to mention the way they dressed! Tight breeches, tailcoats, and cravats! Gossamer, empire-waisted gowns! Hair pinned up like the ancient Greeks! It’s like something out of a fairy tale.

What I love most about Austen, though, is not the fairy tale setting—but the brilliant way her stories are plotted and the familiarity of her characters. We all know an overbearing woman like Lady Catherine de Bourgh, who believes she knows best and must be catered to. We’ve all met a sweet, kindly blabbermouth like Miss Bates. And while we laugh at Austen’s fools and love to hate the villains, we can’t help but fall in love with her heroes and heroines, who are all flawed—just as we are—and who must earn their happy endings by recognizing their missteps and working to correct them. That’s the real reason I keep returning to Jane and her world—because her tales of courtship and romance are perfectly structured morality tales, and the lessons resonate today.

Finally, do you read poetry, why or why not? And if you do, what are some of your favorite poems and who are some of your favorite poets? Also do you read contemporary poets or classic poets, why or why not?

I’ve been so busy reading novels over the last twenty years that I haven’t read much poetry—which I truly regret (I enjoy poetry.) While researching my three Austen novels and The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Brontë, however, I read all the poetry written by Austen and the Brontës. Jane and Charlotte wrote rather good poetry, but Charlotte’s sisters Emily and Anne outshone them. I’ve posted a selection of the Brontës’ poetry on my website, which were published together in one volume in 1846. Emily’s work is as darkly compelling as her novel Wuthering Heights. One of my favorites of this collection was written by Anne Brontë (under the pseudonym Acton Bell), when she was miserable and homesick while working as a governess for a wealthy family:

by Acton Bell

How brightly glistening in the sun,
The woodland ivy plays!
While yonder beeches from their barks
Reflect his silver rays.
That sun surveys a lovely scene
From softly smiling skies;
And wildly through unnumbered trees
The wind of winter sighs. . .

But give me back my barren hills
Where colder breezes rise;
Where scarce the scattered, stunted trees
Can yield an answering swell,
But where a wilderness of heath
Returns the sound as well. . .

Restore me to that little spot,
With gray walls compassed round,
Where knotted grass neglected lies,
And weeds usurp the ground.

Though all around this mansion high
Invites the foot to roam,
And though its halls are fair within-
Oh, give me back my HOME!

Many thanks for having me here, Serena, at Savvy Verse and Wit. I’m happy to answer any other questions you or your visitors might have, so feel free to leave a comment and ask away!

JAFL Banner v6Please check out the other stops on the tour.




Win One of Five Fabulous Jane Austen-inspired Prize Packages

To celebrate the holidays and the release of Jane Austen’s First Love, Syrie is giving away five prize packages filled with an amazing selection of Jane Austen-inspired gifts and books!

To enter the giveaway contest, simply leave a comment on any of the blog stops on the Jane Austen’s First Love Holiday Blog Tour.

Increase your chances of winning by visiting multiple stops along the tour! Syrie’s unique guest posts will be featured on a variety of subjects, along with fun interviews, spotlights, excerpts, and reviews of the novel. Contest closes at 11:59pm PT, December 21, 2014.

Five lucky winners will be drawn at random from all of the comments on the tour, and announced on Syrie’s website on December 22, 2014. The giveaway contest is open to everyone, including international residents. Good luck to all!

JAFL Grand Prize x 420

Click the image for more details

Interview with Khanh Ha, author of The Demon Who Peddled Longing

You might remember my review of Khanh Ha’s Flesh in 2012.  Ha’s prose is highly stylistic and transports readers into a dark world full of mythology, and I called Flesh a “stunning debut.”

He’s got a second novel coming out called The Demon Who Peddled Longing, which is likely to look at the dark side of humanity as well, and I’ll be reviewing that in December.

Today, I’ve got an interview treat for you.  Khanh Ha has agreed to answer some questions about his writing and his books.

Please give him a warm welcome.

What myths/legends of the Vietnamese culture appeal to you most and which do make you apprehensive?

As a child growing up in Vietnam, I had an indelible belief in animism. An unseen presence dwelling in an odd-looking rock by the roadside where people placed a bowl of rice grains and a stick of incense long gone cold. Those anthropomorphic images sown in a child’s mind began with the legendary origin of Vietnam when a teacher read a textbook story to the class: “The Dragon and the Immortal,” or Tiên Rồng, from whom the Vietnamese claim their lineage.

As a child, I lived in Huế, the former ancient capital of Vietnam, living in its mysterious atmosphere, half real, half magic. I used to walk home under the shade of the Indian almond trees, the poon trees. At the base of these ancient trees I would pass a shrine. If I went with my grandmother, she would push my head down. “Don’t stare at it,” grandmother said. “That’s disrespect to the genies.” Yet the one practice I deem mindless is the spirit medium-ship when a trance-induced medium lets herself be possessed by a spirit who claims himself a demigod, a deity, a medieval lord marshal; and the audience then make offerings to such spirit, asking for blessings, for their fortune foretold.

Your novels, Flesh and The Demon Who Peddled Longing, bring forth the darker sides of the humanity. What about those desires and dark secrets fascinates you as a writer?

I write dark fiction because of the dystopian world around me. But I want to come out of it alive and atoned for. My main character is like that. He is impetuous, single-minded and yet tender-hearted and loyal.

He hides his dark secrets of the love he has for his cousin, of his longing for the untouchable girl who is married to the overlord triple her age and sexually impotent. Writers are those who know how to fictionalize their dark secrets and desires, and allow readers to experience them secondhand.

If you were to offer one seed of advice to novice writers looking to get published, what would it be?

Find your own writerly voice! When you do, write as the only writer that exists, none before you, none after you. But write something, even if it’s just a suicide note. Somewhere I remember Toni Morrison once said, “I wrote my first novel because I wanted to read it.”

What was the best piece of advice you ever received as a writer?

None. Like every self-made man, I worship my creator. Because I taught myself how to write, I found it dreadful to sit and listen to someone trying to teach techniques in fiction writing. I always consider writing a private business, like lovemaking—you don’t learn how to do it, do you?

Do you read poetry?  Why or why not?  And if you do, who are some of your favorite poets or some of your favorite poems?

I love poetry. It’s the cadence and imagery in poetry that live in me when I write. I must have them to induce moods. I love poetry that’s down-to-earth, simple and sincere, crisp and elegant. For that, I love Charles Bukowski’s You Get So Alone at Times That it Just Makes Sense, and Maya Angelou’s Passing Time, which was used as the epigraph of my novel The Demon Who Peddled Longing.

Thank you, Khahn Ha, for answering my questions.  I look forward to reading your next novel.

Interview with Janel Gradowski, Author of Pies & Peril

Pies & Peril, a Culinary Competition Mystery by Janel Gradowski is a fun cozy that will have readers laughing out loud, but this heroine, Amy Ridley, is no dumb blonde.  She’s got a good head on her shoulders, but she’s also focused to win every culinary baking contest she enters.  Here’s the description from GoodReads:

When Amy Ridley decided to compete in the Kellerton Summer Festival Pie Contest, the last thing she expected was to find the reigning pie queen, Mandy Jo, dead—a raspberry pie smashed on her face! Mandy Jo made fantastic pies, but she accumulated more enemies than baking trophies. But when Amy receives a note threatening her own life, she decides to do some investigating herself.

Today, I’ve got a great interview from Janel, whom I met through book blogging, and now as an author of full-length and flash fiction, she’s here to share with us her writing and publishing experiences. Please give her a warm welcome:

1. What are your first loves as a reader about novels? Do you prefer plot or characterization? Do you love mystery or literary fiction better?

I love characters with interesting backgrounds and traits. Plot is the undercurrent that keeps all good books flowing, but I want to fall in love with the characters first and really care about them. I also love richly detailed books where the author describes the literary world they’ve created with their own, unique lens.

I will read just about anything. Different genres for different moods. I love a cozy mystery when I’m hanging out at our cabin or just want something light to read in the evening. If I really want to sink my teeth into a book I often turn to women’s fiction by authors like Barbara O’Neal and Erica Bauermeister.

2. When deciding to carve out time for your own writing, what was the catalyst for you, especially being a mother and having little time to yourself?

To be honest, my commitment to writing fiction over the last several years was a bit of a mid­life crisis. I designed and published beadwork patterns when my kids were little, so I knew I could juggle being a mom and a writer. While I loved seeing my patterns in magazines, I still wanted to be a published author in my first writing love ­ fiction. Over the past four or five years I have transitioned from writing patterns to writing fiction and I couldn’t be happier with the change.

3. What are some tips you’d provide to mothers looking to continue creatively writing if they have young children, school-­age children, and older kids?

The younger children are the less time mothers have for themselves. You need to learn to write in bits and pieces in whatever time you can grab. Just make sure to also rest when you have the chance. Exhaustion is never a good thing for moms or writers. I find that it helps to tailor the length of your stories to the time that you have available. When my children were younger I wrote flash fiction, ultra­short stories that usually have less than 1,000 words. As my kids got older I moved up to short stories, novelettes and novellas. Now my kids are pretty independent at 15 and 13­ years old. I was easily able to write Pies & Peril, my first novel, last fall.

If you are having problems “turning on” your creativity in the time you do have, I would suggest trying prompts. There are countless books and websites dedicated to writing prompts. Give yourself permission to play and get messy with your writing. Don’t worry about making it perfect, a common creativity killer, and have fun. You may be surprised at what ends up on the page.

4. Pies & Peril is your latest, full­-length published work, how long did the process take from the initial idea to finish? And how did this process differ from your previous experience with the Bartonville Series of books?

It took me about a month and a half to write the first draft of Pies & Peril. I started with a 2,000 word short story then expanded it, using subplots, into a novel. I did much more planning with this than any of the stories I’ve written for my Bartonville Series. It’s roughly twice as long as the longest Bartonville story, a novella.

I write using a program called Scrivener. It is made specifically for writers and has a virtual corkboard with wonderful virtual index cards. Each scene can be an index card in the program. For the Bartonville series I just plotted the stories using those virtual index cards. For Pies & Peril I broke out a real corkboard and index cards. I took a few weeks to jot down scene ideas on cards. Then I sat down, color­coded the cards by subplot and arranged them on the board, filling in gaps as needed. I am definitely what is called a “plotter” in the world of writing. There’s no way I would try writing a novel without plotting it out first, although I have written many flash fiction stories off the top of my head from just a tiny seed of an idea. Longer word counts take more planning. A lot more planning.

5. How happy are you about your publishing career so far, and what do you hope will happen in the future? Any new books in the planning or near completion stages and will they be food-­related too?

A year ago I never thought I would have a publisher or be writing a culinary mystery series! I wrote a short story for a contest. It turns out my publisher, Gemma Halliday, was running the contest to look for authors for the boutique publishing company she was starting. I didn’t win the contest, but I did get a publishing contract and I am thrilled! The publishing world is kind of like a gold rush right now. Everybody is scrambling to find readers and fans. Having a publisher and the other authors at Gemma Halliday Publishing help promote the book has made a huge difference in the success of Pies & Peril compared to my other self-­published books.

I am currently writing the second book in the Culinary Competition Series. It will definitely be food­-related with lots of food described in the book and recipes for some of the treats at the end. I am also working on a short story from the series that will be in a holiday anthology. I plan on adding more volumes to both of my self­published series, 6:1 and Bartonville, but those are on the backburner for the moment. There are only so many hours in the day!

Thanks, Janel, for talking with us today, and you know I love your writing and your books.  Stay tuned for my review of Pies & Peril tomorrow!

JanelGAbout the Author:

Janel Gradowski lives in a land that looks like a cold weather fashion accessory, the mitten­-shaped state of Michigan. She is a wife and mom to two kids and one Golden Retriever. Her journey to becoming an author is littered with odd jobs like renting apartments to college students and programming commercials for an AM radio station. Somewhere along the way she also became a beadwork designer and teacher. She enjoys cooking recipes found in her formidable cookbook and culinary fiction collection. Searching for unique treasures at art fairs, flea markets and thrift stores is also a favorite pastime. Coffee is an essential part of her life. She writes the Culinary Competition Mystery Series, along with The Bartonville Series (women’s fiction) and the 6:1 Series (flash fiction). She has also had many short stories published in both online and print publications.  Check her Website, on Facebook, and on Twitter.  Check out her books.

Interview with Beth Hoffman, Author of Looking for Me

LookingForMePaperbackLooking for Me by Beth Hoffman, which made my Best of 2013 list, is due out in paperback this month.  Her second novel weaves “a story that will enchant readers with not only its southern charm and hospitality, but also the mysteries of family connections and miscommunications.”

Today, Beth will regale us with her wit and charm in a short interview.

Thank you so much for inviting me to chat with you, Serena.

1. In Looking for Me (on Kobo), Teddi Overman has a gift for restoring old furniture, but she seems unable to cope with the past. How do you think her ability to restore furniture reflects her inability to address her own past or the life she leads after high school?

Teddi adores her brother, and her hope for his survival is a tangled mess of guilt, unbearable grief, and even anger. These feelings translate into how she believes even the most severely damaged piece of furniture can be resurrected. By immersing herself in her craft, each repair represents how she’s trying to mend herself and her past.

2. Have you ever restored furniture or found a piece that just spoke to you?

Though I’ve restored a few pieces, I don’t have the patience to do what Teddi did. She was a master. Yes, certain pieces speak to me, and when they do it’s like being reunited with an old friend. Years ago I walked by an antiques shop and saw a circa 1908 Herschell-Spillman carousel horse in the window. My reaction was so powerful that nothing could have stopped me from having him. He was far outside my budget, but I found ways to scrape together enough to finally bring him home. I named him Ziggy.

3. When we leave home, we often leave behind who we were or were expected to be, how is this true of Teddi and do you think those pieces we leave behind can ever be recaptured?

The best way I can sum up my feelings is to quote Teddi: “I thought about that old saying, how we can never go home again. But I think it’s more like a piece of us stays behind when we leave—a piece we can never reclaim. One that awaits our next visit and demands that we remember.”

4. Between Saving CeeCee Honeycutt and Looking for Me, could you describe your experience in publishing and editing the books? How were they the same and how were they different?

CeeCee’s story was my debut, and I had no idea what to expect once it was acquired.

I had edited the manuscript with a ruthless hand, so the re-pub editing was minimal and easy. But when the book published I felt like I’d been shot out of a cannon! I’m an introvert, so having a big spotlight shined on my face was frightening. Plus, I didn’t know how grueling a book tour could be. But it was an amazing experience that I wouldn’t trade.

When Looking for Me published I knew the ropes and had my feet beneath me, so I was better prepared.

5. What current projects are you working on? Care to share any details?

I recently started a new novel, and so far I’m enthralled with the characters. The story takes place in two historic districts that sit back-to-back in Northern Kentucky (Newport and Covington). The two female main characters (one in her early 30s and one in her silver years) are both hiding something. It’s through their unusual friendship that their mysteries unfold.

Thanks, Beth, for sharing a little bit about your books with us and about your new work. I know I cannot wait to read it!

****Enter to win a copy of Looking for Me by Beth Hoffman by leaving a comment here.  You must live in the continental U.S. to enter.  Deadline to enter is May 9, 2014, by 11:59 PM EST.***

Emma Eden Ramos Interviews Poet Brooke Elise Axtell

Emma Eden Ramos is a poet, middle-grade, and young adult novelist, and I’ve featured her a few times on the blog.  We’re Internet buddies who have a “poking” war from time to time, and we talk poetry and books all the time.  Check out my reviews of Still, At Your Door, The Realm of the Lost, and Three Women: A Poetic Triptych and Selected Poems.  Check out the interviews, and her guest interview.

BRK2Emma will be interviewing poet Brooke Elise Axtell, and we’ll share one of her poems.  Please give them a warm welcome.

be careful with a woman like me 
by Brooke Elise Axtell

be careful with a woman like me
who lives like a drunkard 
for the grey honey of the sea
who sends her singing voice to distant coves
like a hurricane trapped in a green bottle just to see 
if shrouds can be ripped & the dead raised.

be careful with a woman like me
who sharpens her heart like an ivory dagger
& howls her monsoon music to the moon
who wraps her secrets in silver cloths
to hide beneath deck & makes no promises
who is a cloud no hammer can nail to the bed
who will keep you restless & well fed on blackberries.

be careful with a woman like me
who dances in with a brass band
then slips away like a line in the sand
when the slightest wind moves.
it is not that i can't be true.
it is not that you are a red lacquered door
to open & quickly pass through.

but what appears to be 
a delicate locket hanging
from a gold chain at my neck
holds a private tempest & the shipwreck
of every storm-torn night my skin eats.

be careful of a woman like me.
i am true the way rain is true.
i am pure & vanishing. 
when the thirst of brittle leaves is quenched
when the land is a screaming emerald
it is clear. i am no longer here.

i am as restless as a sloop at bay, 
swaying with the seducing wave & her dark granite gaze.

i secretly flunked the school of manners
though i held my spoon at such a graceful angle.
i disguised my dissent behind the careful lifting 
of the teacup & memorized the map of their make believe.

i breathed heavy in the bed of my enemy
so i could overturn the twist of the sordid fist. 
i oiled the gears of my mind like a pleasing machine.
you should be careful with a woman like me.

all the while i trained in guerilla warfare 
chewed rabbit stew, sank my teeth 
into the neck of a god who does not topple 
at the earthquake of the shrine.

i crossed seven purple mountains on my knees.
i sucked on stones until they turned to bread.
i gave my heart to a hungry harlot to eat for breakfast

& you will find only the grey honey of the sea 
rocking, rocking 
in a woman like me.

Emma: The ability to write isn’t always all inclusive. Someone who composes beautiful prose may find that they’re completely hopeless when it comes to writing verse. You, however, are an award winning poet and short story writer. What, for you, is the link that makes both mediums accessible?

Brooke: I start with an initial instinct, a visceral energy that inevitably gives way to a particular form. When I begin writing I know that there is an underlying architecture that will reveal itself, but the line between verse and story in not absolute. Hybrid forms fascinate me. The intersection of text, song, performance and story yields such a rich alchemy. Lately, I’ve been intrigued by journalism as a site of beautiful protest.When you watch the boundaries between genres breed and dissolve, you begin to feel that every form is open to you.

Emma: You are also a very well-established singer/songwriter. You’ve worked with artists such as Terry Bozzio (of Missing Persons and Frank Zappa), Charlie Sexton (guitarist for Bob Dylan), Mitch Watkins (guitarist for Leonard Cohen), and a number of other great musicians. How do you find the collaborative process?

Brooke: It is an incredible honor to collaborate with such powerful musicians. I grew up dancing with a professional ballet company, so I approach the songwriting process as both a poet and a dancer. Music connects language and movement in a way that is completely transformative for me.

Emma: Which do you prefer, collaborating with other artists on a project or creating on your own?

Brooke: I appreciate both modalities. I crave solitude and connection. I am most alive as an artist when I create space for each side of the process. Collaboration challenges me to expand and grow. Solitude renews me and helps me reconnect with my courage. In a media-saturated climate I am vulnerable to distraction. I need to set aside moments to honor the interior life as well as cultivate authentic community.

Emma: Some time back, you won first place in the Young Texas Writer’s Awards for your short story “Maya’s Mirror.” Have you been writing since you were a young girl?

Brooke: Yes. As soon as I could write I started inventing stories about aliens, ghosts and unknown planets. I also wrote mystical poems about nature with themes of isolation. In retrospect, I see that I was working with creative codes to process the trauma I experienced.

Emma: Are there a few poets, fiction writers or lyricists who have deeply influenced you?

Brooke: I am nourished by many sources. As far as poets, I am reading the work of Akilah Oliver, Alice Notley, Bhanu Kapil and countless others. As far as songwriting, I am drawn to the work of Tori Amos, Bjork, Ani Di Franco, PJ Harvey, Billy Holiday and Sarah Vaughan. Fierce, imaginative women who tap into multiple states of consciousness. I am also grateful for the rich legacy of feminist writer/activists such as Audre Lorde and Adrienne Rich.

Emma: What would you say is your greatest inspiration?

Brooke: Mending the aftershocks of violence, honoring the body, healing ruptures through creative alchemy, a fierce hunger for social justice, my love of women, blues and jazz.

Emma: Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

Brooke: Set aside time to write consistently. It has to become your way of life. This is a core decision, a sacred space you create, a ritual. You write because it is who you are and silence feels like a form of erasure.

I keep a hand-written journal to collect all the fragments: streams of consciousness, postcards of films, research, drawings, poetry. Recently, I found a gorgeous photograph of an anatomical heart and taped it inside. It is important to have private places as a writer, where there is no pressure to perform.

Immerse yourself in writers who speak to you. Join some form of creative community with writers who are more experienced than you. Ultimately, trust the value of you own voice, honor your instincts and stay open to wise counsel.

If you do not connect to someone else’s work they may not be an ideal mentor for you. Teachers and professors can be helpful, but take a look at their body of work before you invest too much in their critiques.

Going to open mics and public readings is a powerful way to come into your voice. For my poetry collections, I engage with performance as part of the editing process. I listen to what resonates and what feels like excess. It brings me back to the original energy of a piece.

Keep writing and refining your process. You deserve to be heard.

Thanks to both Emma and Brooke for this great interview today, as we wind down the April National Poetry Month celebration.

Description from GoodReads:

Brooke Axtell’s mesmerizing poetry explores the thirst for solace in desolate spaces. It is a thirst for cleansing, healing and rejuvenation. In her third collection of poems, she plunges the body of pain, the “remembering body,” into the renewing element of water. With fierce elegance, she reveals the core thirst of life: to experience all as sacred. Her gift of striking imagery and stunning, musical language has the power to haunt and heal. She transmutes pain into incantation. This is the alchemy of the artist.Just as Kore of Greek myth was forced into the underworld and initiated into a cycle of ascension, Axtell investigates a realm of ruin and rises to share a new vision of life. Her poems confront the ravages of violence with the relentless hope of the creative process. She explores the archetype of the wild woman, the sacred marriage of the soul, the cost of injustice, the modern sex industry, the Divine Feminine and the gift of intimacy that honors the emergence of the true untamed nature. Here is the map of one woman’s spiritual journey. You will find solace in these waters, “the healing waterfall behind the ancient wall.”

For today’s 2014 National Poetry Month: Reach for the Horizon tour stop, click the image below:

Interview With Emma Eden Ramos

As I say on the back of Emma Eden Ramos’ Still, At Your Door: A Fictional Memoir:

Still, At Your Door: A Fictional Memoir is a powerhouse of emotion from the moment you begin.  Sabrina Gibbons’ story is upended from the moment her mother drags them out of their abusive home in Butler, Penn, and drops them off with their grandparents in the Big Apple.  Like New York City, this novella precariously teeters between nightmares and dreams, exploring mutual dependence where one wrong step over the threshold can lead to disaster.”

Today, Emma has agreed to answer a few questions about her latest work.  Please give her a warm welcome, and check out my review.

1. You now have 2 full length young readers works completed and published. What inspires you to write for that audience? Is there a message you are looking to get across?

Adolescence, while it only takes up a short chapter in our lives, is a time many of us look back on with relief. “Thank God that’s over,” we say. It’s easy to leave those eight years behind and pretend they are that section in a book we’d rather not underline and revisit. In divorcing ourselves from our own painful experiences, however, we can do a great injustice to young adults who want understanding and reassurance. Yes, being a teenager can feel torturous. Yes, it seems to go on for eternity. No, it doesn’t actually last forever. It’s been ten years since I was sixteen. I attempted suicide twice, engaged in dangerous and impulsive behaviors, and assumed my daily unhappiness would never dissipate. When I look back, I wish there’d been someone there to tell me my life would get better.

The demand for YA fiction is enormous. Authors like Jacqueline Woodson, Laurie Halse Anderson and Ellen Hopkins have helped teens make sense of their experiences and, most importantly, validate their feelings. I’d like to follow in the footsteps of these writers. I want to write stories that resonate with young readers. I want to let teens know that they are resilient and there is hope.

2. Sabrina’s life is far from the nuclear family most people envision. Was there a particular real life experience or inspiration for her and her situation?

The idea for Still, At Your Door: A Fictional Memoir came to me after an unpleasant conversation I had with someone I am happy to say no longer has a leading role in my life. “People like you,” she said, “should never have children.” The comment lingered with me for a few days. I’d recently read Linda Gray Sexton’s memoir titled Searching for Mercy Street: My Journey Back to My Mother, Anne Sexton, so exploring the mother-daughter relationship was something I already wanted to do. While reading Searching for Mercy Street, I found myself identifying with both Linda Gray and Anne Sexton. Linda Gray was the first daughter of a woman who suffered from a debilitating mental illness.

She, like many children of a parent who has a psychiatric disorder, was forced to grow up quickly and learn to fend for herself. While I empathized with Linda Gray’s struggle, I caught myself wondering if I would be the kind of mother Anne Sexton was. Would the stresses of motherhood be too difficult for me, too?

One evening I was brushing my teeth and, as I caught my reflection in the mirror, I asked myself (these are the exact words), “who is the mother I don’t want to be?” Sheila, Sabrina’s mother, was the answer to my question. That was the first line on the blueprint for Still, At Your Door.

3. You’ve studied psychology and that comes through in the Still, At Your Door. What particular behavioral conditions and knowledge did you use and why?

Sheila, Sabrina’s mother, suffers from Bipolar disorder. While she is an eccentric person between episodes, Sheila, when she cycles, is at the mercy of her illness. Bipolar disorder, like other psychiatric illnesses, varies in severity from person to person. Sheila is on the higher end of the spectrum.

There are psychiatric disorders that seem to be associated with creativity. Many famous artists, while they went undiagnosed because psychiatry was in its early stages of development, showed signs of particular disorders. Virginia Woolf, for example, seemed to be Bipolar. Like many sufferers, Woolf experienced severe depression, hypomania and mania. The hypomanic phase is the phase in which people tend to feel most creative. In Sheila’s case, it is in the hypomanic phase of her cycle that she is the fun-loving, creative woman her children adore. Sheila will learn all the lines to a play in just one evening, take her children on exciting outings and still have energy to entertain a crowded restaurant with Marlene Dietrich impressions. When she is experiencing depression or full-blown mania, however, Sheila is frightening and even dangerous.

I have been interested in mental illness and its effects on creativity for some time now. Two disorders that seem to be linked directly to creativity, Bipolar disorder and Borderline personality disorder, are especially interesting to me. I am not, however, merely curious in clinical sense. For me, it’s personal. That’s another story, though.

4. How would you describe your writing process?

I tend to begin plotting a story a month or so in advance. I do most of my plotting in my head because I have a habit of losing things. I once wrote out an idea for a piece on a pamphlet I received from the Hare Krishnas in Union Square Park.

I, at some point between discussing Krishna consciousness with a lovely woman named Gopi and riding the subway, lost the outline. I’m not sure which I missed more, the pamphlet or the story idea.

It generally takes me nine months to write a book. There have been times when I’ve started a story, abandoned it, then revisited it later on. Still, At Your Door was one of those stories.

5. What projects do you have coming up next?

I’m in the process of writing another YA book. Please stay tuned!

Thanks, Emma, for taking the time to chat with us!

The Rebel Pirate by Donna Thorland

Source: Berkley/NAL, Penguin Group USA
Paperback, 416 pages
I am an Amazon Affiliate

The Rebel Pirate by Donna Thorland, the second book in the Renegades of the Revolution series, set during the Revolutionary War uncovers the double-dealing spying that occurred on both sides of the war, as well as the privateering that local businessmen resorted to when the British cut the colonies off from trade and banned them from trading with other countries, while levying extraordinary taxes.  Sarah Ward finds her ship, the Sally, boarded by the British crew of the Wasp, and she has little recourse but to dress as a boy to protect her younger brother Ned from being pressed into military service.  Despite being loyalists, she takes the only action she can in expelling the threat and taking the Wasp’s Captain James Sparhawk prisoner.

“Boston’s North Shore had been the haunt of pirates for a hundred years, almost every inlet and harbor a supposed hiding place for their loot.  Blackbeard’s silver was rumored to be buried somewhere in the Isles of Shoals; the hoard of Quelch in a cave at Marblehead; that of Veal in the Lynn Woods.  The American Main was the stuff of pirate legend.” (page 201)

Readers will be captivated by the headstrong and stubborn Sarah Ward as she navigates the town of Salem, which considers her the jilted lover of Micah Wild, a savvy businessman looking out for himself, and her loyalties to her family.  Her father, a pardoned pirate, is captive in his own body, while Mr. Cheap is a loyal shipman who is protective of the family and its interests.  Enter Sparhawk and his reputation as a rake, who is charmed beyond reason by Sarah.  He cannot think straight around her, and against his better principles and naval code, agrees to follow along in her scheme to keep her safe from Wild’s wrath regarding the demolished Sally and the lost French gold.

Thorland’s series is detailed in its history, is trussed up in mystery and romance, and unfolds like a spy thriller as all of the characters become embroiled with one another’s affairs.  These are the kinds of Revolutionary War books readers will love because they are rich in history and imagination.  The Rebel Pirate by Donna Thorland is a captivating book that will have readers up late at night rushing through the pages to finish.  The midnight candles will be burning with this sexy read.

Thorland answered a few questions for the blog tour today:

Q: Sarah and James have such intense chemistry. Is that easy to write? How do you make two characters seem so attracted to each other?

A: I’m interested in love stories where two people meet who have the potential to become true partners in life, and who will challenge one another to become their best selves. That begins with the ability of the hero and heroine to see through the masks they’re both wearing. And I think that’s where chemistry comes from—the process of the hero and heroine stripping each other down to their essential selves. Seeing and accepting each other, as Rainer Maria Rilke put, “whole against the sky.”

Q: What is your favorite thing about writing historical romance?

A: There’s so much to love in this category. But let’s boil it down to its essentials: my favorite thing is going on an adventure with a heroine—a heroine who will be rewarded with love at the end of the story.

About the Author:

Graduating from Yale with a degree in Classics and Art History, Donna Thorland managed architecture and interpretation at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem for several years. She then earned an MFA in film production from the USC School of Cinematic Arts. She has been a Disney/ABC Television Writing Fellow and a WGA Writer’s Access Project Honoree, and has written for the TV shows Cupid and Tron: Uprising. The director of several award-winning short films, her most recent project aired on WNET Channel 13. Her fiction has appeared in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. Donna is married with one cat and splits her time between Salem and Los Angeles.

Check out my other reviews for this series:

The Turncoat by Donna Thorland

7th book for 2014 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.





ENTER TO WIN — The Rebel Pirate by Donna Thorland

U.S. addresses only.  Leave a comment by March 17, 2014, at 11:59 PM EST

Interview with John P. Davidson, author of The Obedient Assassin

Welcome to the tour stop for John P. Davidson’s The Obedient Assassin.  I’m really looking forward to this novel about an assassin assigned to murder Leon Trotsky, the founder of the Red army who joined the Bolsheviks before the revolution in 1917 and became a major player in the Soviet Union.  I love a good thriller, and this sounds like one of those books that’s sure to deliver.

About the book from GoodReads:

Ramón Mercader was plucked from the front of the Spanish Civil War by the Soviets and conscripted to murder the great in­tellectual Leon Trotsky, a leader of the Bolshevik Revolution who was exiled in the 1920s for opposing Joseph Stalin.

As Ramón is trained for the task and assumes a new identity, he lives a lush life in Paris, befriending Frida Kahlo and other artists of the time. He falls in love with a left-leaning Jewish woman whom he is ordered to seduce as a means of getting at Trotsky.

Today, Davidson is joining us for a little question-and-answer fun; please give him a warm welcome:

1.     What was the most surprising thing you learned from your 10 years of research for the book?

One of the many surprising things I learned was that Trotsky had almost absolute faith in the power of the written word. Knowing that Joseph Stalin was attempting to have him killed, Trotsky was attempting to defend himself by writing a biography of Stalin. This had to set some kind of record for a problematic author-subject relationship.

2.     What drew you to Trotsky that made you decide to center a book around him?

Trotsky was a classical tragic character. He was known as one of the “great minds” of his time, was considered the greatest orator of the Russian language, and was a brilliant writer who, coming from nowhere, rose to the greatest heights only to have everything ripped away because he had slighted Stalin.

3.     The Obedient Assassin is a story full of personal relationships. Which relationship is most interesting to you?

The relationship between Ramon and Sylvia and Ramon was intriguing in that it developed slowly into a genuine romance, but what was perhaps more fascinating and certainly more unusual was what occurred between Ramon and Trotsky toward the end of the book. With little direct contact, from opposite sides of the wall,  they became intensely aware of each other and it seemed that Trotsky all but collaborated with Ramon in his execution. As Sylvia says at the end of the book about panic attacks, he certainly stopped looking.
4.     How difficult is it to write fictional dialogue and actions for characters that really existed in history?

Because so many of the characters were speaking a second or third language, they needed to sound a bit foreign and that was fairly easy because I’ve studied German, French, Italian and am fluent in Spanish. The scene in the hospital room at the end of the book when there were so many languages being spoken and simultaneously translated was tricky but the power of the drama was worth the effort.

5.     What draws you to this particular period in history?

The late 1930s were a romantic, dramatic and mysterious time when the world powers were on a collision course, alliances were shifting, and one could cast the story in terms of good and evil.

6.     If you could go back to one period in history in any part of the world, what would you choose?

Paris in the years after the first World War.

7.     Why do you think that few have written about Trotsky’s story?

The Kremlin’s propaganda machine destroyed Trotsky reputation and wrote him out of Soviet history.  There are famous photographs from the Revolution that were airbrushed to remove Trotsky from the picture. Many Russians today don’t know that Trotsky was a revolutionary hero.

8.     If Trotsky had not been assassinated, how do you think the world would be different?

Trotsky provided a voice of reason and a humane face for socialism, but the forces against him were so great, I doubt the world would be any different.
9.     How did growing up in a small ranching community in Texas impact your imagination as a child and your desire to write?

We were newcomers and outsiders in a deeply rooted and tightly knit German community. We didn’t speak the language or know all that much about the culture, so that understanding relationships required attention and curiosity.
10.  After studying economics and history in college, what inspired you to leave Texas and serve in the Peace Corps?

I wanted to have exotic adventures, speak a foreign, and help less fortunate people.

11.  How did your time in Peru impact your storytelling?

I was the only foreigner and English speaker living in a small desert village. At night, I read Henry James by candle light after the town’s generator was turned off.

What questions would you like answered?

Interview with Marianne Harden, Author of Malicious Mischief and Giveaway

Malicious Mischief by Marianne Harden is the first in the Rylie Keyes mystery series.

Today, Harden is visiting my readers to talk about her path to publication, and there’s a giveaway.

But first, here’s a little bit about the book:

Is it strange to have the unemployment office on speed dial? Not for twenty-four-year-old college dropout Rylie Keyes. Her current job at a small retirement home is worlds more important than all her past gigs, though: if she loses this job, she won’t be able to stop the forced sale of her grandfather’s home, a house that has been in the family for ages. However, to keep her job she must figure out the truth behind the death of a senior citizen who was found murdered while in her care. Explain that one, Miss Keyes.

The victim was thought to be a penniless man with a silly grudge against Rylie. However, his enemies will do whatever it takes to keep their part in his murder secret.

Forced to dust off the PI training she needs to keep hidden from her ex-detective grandfather, Rylie must juggle the attentions of two sexy police officers who both excite and fluster her. And as she trudges through the case, she has no idea that along the way she might win, or lose, a little piece of her heart.

Please also check out the book trailer:

Without further ado, here’s the interview with Harden on her path to publication:

How long have you been writing?

I’ve been writing one genre or another on and off since late 1999 or early 2000. Or was it early 1999? I dunno. The same estrogen that gave me breasts and wider hips is robbing my brain of memory thanks to menopause. What was the question again? Oh yeah, the amount of time I’ve been writing. It’s been years and years and years.

Why did you start writing?

The sweet smell of success, the mind-boggling wealth, the respect of publishers, thousands upon thousands of happy readers—hahahaha—then I woke up.

Is there a favorite place you like to write?

My fourth-floor office overlooking Mt. Rainier. I know the view by heart. It’s imprinted on my brain; that is until menopause strips me of it. Damn dwindling estrogen.

What moves you to write?

I’m not much for confrontations, though the abovementioned menopause is changing that a bit. Oh, hello, testosterone. What injustice do you wish to rant about today? This shift in my disposition has been both freeing and disturbing at the same time. However, my M.O has not changed that much. I am peace loving, but many in the world are aggressive. And the aggressors, they are winning. So I write about them, exposing what I believe is wrong, unfair or nasty, and I do so with humor, always with humor because to do otherwise would be too painful.

Are you published?

Yes, with Entangled Publishing.

How did you sell your book to your publisher, directly or via an agent.

Publishing is more backbreaking and lonelier than it looks. I knew I didn’t want to go it alone, so when I finished Malicious Mischief in 2009, I sent out over two hundred queries, but the rejections were quick and numerous. I gave up for a year. A chance to live in Europe distracted me and filled my time, managing to pull me away from writing altogether. Then in 2011, and at the insistence of a friend, I queried again, sending out only two this time. Both hit. I signed with my agent in February of 2011. I’ve never looked back. We’re a team.

How long did it take you to write, sell and release your book?

Malicious Mischief took nine months to write, ten months to sell, and twenty-two months to release due to changes when Entangled Publishing integrated with Macmillan Publishing.

Describe your worst rejection letter.

That’s easy. I remember the letter well and the undue accusation. The agent sent me an email accusing me of submitting to him twice, saying I changed the title of the book to try to slip it past him. He said he didn’t like my story the first time and didn’t like it now.

Describe your best rejection letter.

Another easy one. She called me from New York. She was very kind, and I sensed she wanted to give me better news. Her voice was apologetic, hesitant, and solemn. She paused before she spoke, lingering over her words. She said she thought long and hard over her decision not to offer representation. She felt the mystery market was currently too tight for debut authors.

What is the most difficult part of the publishing industry?

Marketing. Marketing. Marketing. It’s overly time consuming.

What advice would you give to new writers starting out?

Don’t do it. There I said it. This business is brutal. However, take note of the next question.

If you could do anything differently, what would it be?

Steer clear of cynics and naysayers.

About the Author:

Marianne Harden loves a good laugh. So much so, she cannot stop humor from spilling into her books. Over the years she has backpacked through the wilds of Australia, explored the exotics of Asia, soaked up the sun in the Caribbean, and delighted in the historic riches of Europe. Her goals in life are simple: do more good than harm and someday master the do-not-mess-with-me look. She divides her time between Switzerland and Washington State where she lives with her husband and two children. Please visit her Website, Twitter, and Facebook.

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Interview with Beth Kephart, author of Handling the Truth, & Giveaway

It has been several weeks since I posted my review of Beth Kephart’s August release, Handling the Truth: On the Writing of Memoir, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been thinking about those wise words.  My review of the book heaped on the praise, and I think that I’ve merely joined a widening group of reviewers who are in love with this writing reference/memoir — from other bloggers like Florinda and Patty to her former student, Stephanie Trott, the New York Journal of Books, and Booklist.  And let’s not forget the elite list the book landed on in O Magazine, alongside another of my favorites, Stephen King.

Kephart is on the touring circuit for her book and she’s made a splash with the launch event at the Free Library of Philadelphia to a discussion on WHYY; both of which you can listen to via podcast.

In addition to all of this talk about her book and her extremely busy schedule, she took a few minutes between the end of her corporate work and her dinner to answer some interview questions about her book and about writing memoir. I’m forever grateful.  Please give her a warm welcome:

Do you recommend changing friend/family names in memoir? By the same token, should an author consider a pen name when writing memoir? Why or why not?

Although I try never to say never, I advocate against changing names. It is a slippery slope. A name changes, a detail changes, a scene changes, a year changes, and then…we have fiction. Yes, I recognize the importance of protecting others. But if the story is so dicey that people will be upset if their real names are used, should you be telling the story? For truly, at the end of the day—name changed or not changed—the person who is being written about is going to recognize herself/himself. And so, most likely, will the neighbor.

In the book, you talk about asking your students to take photos and then write about something in the background, rather than the foreground. Should students apply this to their own memoir writing by not writing about the first most obvious memory or issue they think of and seek the memories or ideas just at the periphery?

A great question. I believe that we often write our very best when we don’t take the straight on path toward a story. Approach the memoir from multiple angles. Value the oblique. Dwell in the unexpected tangent. See what happens.

As a follow-up to that question, how would you advise a student who also dabbles in photography, but prefers to fill the frame with their chosen subject (i.e. a niece’s face, a tree, et. al.) so that nothing, if just a bit of sky is visible in the background?

Well, there you go. Another great question. But, Serena, even with a macro lens there is something just beyond the image’s true focus. There is something unintentional, in other words. What is it? Why is it there?

When you began your writing of memoirs, what types of fears did you suppress in order to send out that first manuscript? Did you think it was polished enough and how did you know? Was it a different type of fear because it was memoir and more personal, rather than separateness that fiction affords sometimes or do you find that the anxieties are similar?

I was a completely naïve first-time writer, with no connections, no expectations, no real sense of the writing life. Remember, this was the pre-blogging era. This was me—a full-time mother and freelance business writer with no writing friends, no book groups, no teacher until I went to Spoleto on a family vacation and met Rosellen Brown and Reginald Gibbons. I did not know what I was in for, and so I meandered toward dangers I did not even foresee. I believed I’d written a story that only a handful of friends might read. When Television came knocking, Radio, Prizes, Off Broadway (I capitalize, for I grew to fear these things), I was both unprepared and anxious (and to most things I also said no). I’ve written history, poetry, fable, and young adult literature since. There are anxieties bound up in every genre.

What vulnerabilities do you see showcased in memoir that are not observed in poetry or fiction?

The best memoirs are born of absolute vulnerability. It is the writer saying not, This happened to me, but, This happened to me and I need to know what it means. The search for meaning is the human being at her most vulnerable. We search for meaning in fiction and poetry, too. All good writing comes from this raw place.

What poets/poems or fiction have taught you techniques or styles that would work well in memoir? Please feel free to share any examples.

I could go on and on in answer to this question. But, simply: Gerald Stern, the poet, teaches what the conversational sounds like, even within the space of a monologuing poem. Michael Ondaatje and Alice McDermott teach the power of honesty, no matter the form. I never think about technique. I think about impact.

Finally, what would you have done for a career had you not taught and written books?

Well, I smile, for I guess I am living that career. I’ve had my own business since I was twenty-five, writing annual reports, histories, books, and employee magazines/newsletters for companies and not-for-profits. It consumes upwards of eighty hours each week. Writing and teaching are what I do on the side.

What are your thoughts on memoirs — the writing and reading of them?

If you want to learn more, there’s also this great interview Kephart does with herself. And this interview with Priscilla Gilman and another chance to win the book.

For one lucky reader interested in writing memoir or otherwise, please comment about what your memoir would be and why.

You’ll be entered to win a copy of Beth Kephart’s Handling the Truth.

This giveaway is international. Deadline to enter is Aug. 30, 2013 at 11:59 PM EST.

Interview with Poet Kathryn Kirkpatrick

I reviewed Our Held Animal Breath by Kathryn Kirkpatrick back in June and found that the book stayed with me long afterward, forcing me to revisit some particularly resonant pieces, like “Millennium” and “At the Turkey Farm,” that question the loneliness we feel when what we should see and feel is that connection we have with the animals and world around us.  There is so much to discuss in the collection, that it would make an interesting book club discussion.  I was intrigued enough to pose my own questions to the poet, and today, I share with you her answers.

Please give Kathryn Kirkpatrick a warm welcome.

Our Held Animal Breath seems to refer to the connections between ourselves and the wider animal kingdom; what is your view of humanity’s place in the animal kingdom and nature?

I’ve always felt myself to be what would now be called bio-centric or eco-centric.  That means our species doesn’t have any greater right to the planet than any other; we should be sharing it with all the other creatures.  I can remember as a sophomore in college giving an impassioned report to my biology class on endangered species.  That was back in the early 1970s when it was becoming widely known how human activities were depriving so many species of their habitats.  As a poet, I am increasingly working to develop my already strong empathy for animals.

How hard is it to change perceptions about how humans should treat animals and the environment and how important is it that we do so, in your opinion?

I think it’s critical that we change because our anthropomorphic beliefs and behaviors have already created what Bill McKibben has called Eaarth; he’s changed the spelling of earth to denote the radical shifts that have already happened to our atmosphere and our oceans such that the severe effects of climate change are now here and coming.  I find it heartbreaking that this wasn’t inevitable; the scientists have been warning us for decades.

But perhaps what the scientists missed was that at the root of this environmental crisis is the human assumption that nature is here exclusively for our use, and we can see this everywhere in the U.S., most especially in our attitudes toward and our treatment of animals.  We value those animals who serve a function for us–as companions, as workers; we encroach on the habitats of wild animals; and, we warehouse animals for food in the most appalling conditions.  But animals are subjects of their own lives, and if we believed that we would respect their habitats and see that ultimately treating the earth with respect and gratitude is good for both us and all the others.

Most people actually love animals, and it takes a lot of work by the dominant culture to get them to ignore the suffering of animals.  So when I can evoke feelings in a poem for other creatures, I can remind readers of the empathy they have always had.  That might be some small step toward changing behaviors.

Ecofeminist ideas seem to make their way into your poems as well, have you studied the philosophy and its principles or stumbled upon them?

I’ve had my thinking transformed by the great eco-feminist thinkers of the last decades—Carol Adams, Val Plumwood, Vandana Shiva, Karen Warren, Greta Gaard.  They make the crucial connections between oppressions of women, other marginalized peoples, and nature.  It’s the most compelling philosophy we’ve come up with as a species, and if I were to have one hope for the 21st century, it’s that we’d act on those insights.

As a poet, do you find it difficult to build readership in today’s Internet driven world or is it easier?

The Internet, assuming we can keep it free, is a wonderful tool, and I think it’s brought poetry to a great many more people than ever before.  A poem in a good online magazine reaches far more people than it does in a print journal.  That doesn’t mean I think we should get rid of print journals—there’s a place for all of it.  The monolithic thinking that says we’re all digital is the same kind of thinking that has brought us monocultures in all their limiting forms—in our food, our languages, our mindsets.

Finally, what are some of your favorite poems/poets who you’d like to see gain a wider audience?

I’d include in any list of my favorite poets Adrienne Rich, Seamus Heaney, Eavan Boland, Denise Levertov, Sylvia Plath, Paula Meehan, Gary Snyder, William Butler Yeats, and Carolyn Kizer.  I have written a number of essays in the last ten years on the work of the Dublin poet, Paula Meehan.  There is no one working today that I know of whose craft and vision interest me more.

Thanks, Kathryn, for sharing your views on nature, poetry, and behavior with us today.