A Few (more) Quick Questions With…Matthew Hanover

So, I gushed a bit about Hanover’s upcoming novel, Not Dressed, earlier. Now it’s time to ask him a few questions about it and a few other things. I should add, the book is available for pre-order, get on it.

With maybe two exceptions, I’ve only had good experiences doing these Q&As over the years, but this was by far the best—Hanover went well above and beyond the call with this one and was more than generous with his time and effort. Drinks are on me if we’re ever in the same city, sir.

Before we move to Not Dressed, let’s look back at Not Famous for a moment—I’ve asked a couple of your colleagues this question, and I’d love to hear your perspective: Why is it, do you think, that male readers respond so strongly to books about music? (your novels, Hornby’s, etc.)
I think—and I could be wrong—but the love of music is such a universal thing that it’s easy for male readers to relate to characters that are interested in music, or music-themed books. It’s a universal language we can all understand even if we listen to different stuff.
What lessons were you able to take from the writing, editing, marketing, launch, etc. of Not Famous to the process for Not Dressed? Were there some things that you assumed “Oh, I’ll know better next time” or “I’ve got to do this again for the next book” that in the end, you couldn’t use? Was this an easier process, more difficult, or are the experiences so tied to the different books that you can’t compare?
Not Famous did better than I expected, but I kind of set a low bar for myself as to how it would perform. I was generally happy with the launch, but when sales slowed down, I was often told that the best thing to do is to write your second book because it’s easier to sell a novel if you have more than one. So, I’m hoping that plays out, but I’ve also learned that promoting a novel—any novel—is really hard work. Both traditional and indie authors are competing with millions of other authors trying to get their novels read. While I consider my genre to be “lad lit” it’s also quite clear that most readers are women, and you have to market to women readers as much as men.

One thing that was really different was the time it took to complete each novel. Not Famous was mostly an on-and-off effort over seven years to finish the first draft. Not Dressed took seven months to complete the first draft. My writing has also become a bit more efficient. The first draft of Not Famous was over 107,000 words. The first draft of Not Dressed was 97,000. They both ended up at approximately 94,000 words, so there was a lot more cut from the first novel, which makes sense because I was still learning how to write fiction. I suspect future books will also get easier to write. Whether I’ll improve on my marketing remains to be seen. We’ll see how this new novel goes!

Let’s turn to Not Dressed now: Jake has two significant females in his life his girlfriend (a talk radio producer/co-host who moonlights doing nude modeling) and his new friend (a giant geek who doesn’t know what to do with her life), which came first—the nude modeling hook or the idea for a geeky best friend? And just where, if you can recall, did the girlfriend helping make ends meet via nude modeling come from in the first place?
I knew I wanted to do a workplace comedy for my next novel, and my original development of ideas focused entirely on that. But, I think a good novel requires multiple arcs to be really interesting, and so the first arc hat I came up with was the nude modeling one. I’d been trying to write a short story about a guy whose girlfriend models nude for a long time, even before Not Famous was finished, but I just couldn’t get it to work as a short story. It worked great for the novel because she is driven to model because they’re trying to make ends meet, and her solution to that problem causes another, bigger problem for their relationship.

The geek girl theme I came up with towards the end of writing the first draft of Not Famous when I came up with the scene where the main characters end up at a vintage gaming night. I loved the idea of exploring that type of character and quickly realized a geek girl as a love interest would be a lot of fun to write. And so I decided to use that in my next novel.

Kaylee’s more than just a geek, there’s more to her than the excellent taste in SF/F, how did you make her more than the stereotype?
Developing Kaylee as a character was even more fun than I thought it would be. She started as more of a retro gamer geek but eventually decided to make her a sci-fi geek with an affinity for Star Trek.

To really capture the realistic geek girl I reached out to people on social media, and drew upon my own interactions, and came up with a series of traits and quirks that I thought made her as realistic as possible. I liked making her a bit quirky with her geek obsessions, like her OCD with mixing and matching clothes from different SF/F properties. Which I thought was a fun trait. Most young women would say they feel sexier wearing matching bra and panties, Kaylee, however, would never wear Marvel and DC Comics together. I thought that was a perfect manifestation of her personality.

I’d forgotten you’d said that there’d be a tie between Not Famous and Not Dressed, so it was a pleasant surprise when I got to that passage. How fun was that to write? How tempting was it to bring the two sets of characters together more?
After Not Famous I heard from readers who said they’d love a sequel. I knew I didn’t want to write a sequel because I felt that I was done writing Nick and Alli’s story, and any attempt to continue it in a new novel would take me in a direction I don’t want to go down. But having the book set in the same universe was a lot of fun, and I started planning for this before finishing Not Famous. You may recall that Not Famous begins after Nick has a one-night-stand with Emma, who works at Burnham & Modine—the office where Jake, the main character of Not Dressed, works. I loved doing this as opposed to a sequel, and I really enjoyed featuring more of Emma in this novel. Her friendship with Jake is loosely modeled off a friendship I have with a female coworker.

Readers of Not Famous will be happy to know that even though they don’t appear in this novel, you will get some gossip about how things are going with them.

Typically, when I run into architecture in fiction, it’s the kind of career that Jake imagined himself having, not what he ends up with. Burnham & Modine, the architecture firm that Jake works for, strikes me as incredibly accurate—is that the result of research (if so, how did you go about that) or is this from personal experience (not necessarily as bad)?
I know a lot of architects because I work in marketing for a developer. So, over the years I’ve heard all kinds of horror stories about working in the business, and overwhelmingly I hear that the job isn’t as glamorous as it is made out to be in fiction and in Hollywood. And I loved that because it was a great angle to play up in juxtaposition to the theme of expectations versus reality. I also used some generic bad office stories I’ve experienced as well.
Sisters play a significant role in both of your books—is this coincidence? Do you owe your own sister some debt you’re repaying?
It’s not entirely a coincidence, that’s for sure. I think the dynamic between siblings makes for great stories, and while each novel delves into a sibling relationship, these relationships are completely different.

In Not Famous, Nick has a much younger half-sister going through her own coming-of-age issues. In Not Dressed, Kaylee has a younger sister, close in age, who, unlike Kaylee, was popular in high school, had a lot of boyfriends, and ultimately reaches certain life goals before Kaylee does. This wasn’t one of my original ideas, but as I developed Kaylee’s character and her backstory, I really liked the idea that while she’s comfortable being a geek she feels insecure around her popular younger sister. It really made for an interesting character and resulted in some of my favorite scenes in the novel.

That said, it wasn’t my original intention to have another sibling conflict in this story, but it really gave Kaylee the depth I felt she needed to be a three-dimensional character. She’s not defined just by her geeky interests alone, but by a rivalry with her younger sister who had a much easier time growing up because of her popularity.

It appears you put a lot of thought into the backstories of your female love interest characters. How do you approach creating these and making them realistic and unique?
I’m really proud of both characters and how they turned out. I spend a lot of time thinking about the backstories of my main characters and how that affects their actions throughout the story. I spent seven years thinking and rethinking and tweaking Alli Conwell’s backstory for Not Famous because it needed to explain so much of her behavior long before the reader finds out what her backstory really is.

Developing Kaylee and her backstory was a similar, albeit quicker, process. First and foremost, I wanted Kaylee to be different from Alli. But, I think readers will find lots of similarities and differences between them. Both are ambitious, but Alli knew what her path was, and Kaylee doesn’t. Alli is independent and works hard to maintain that independence. Kaylee, however, still lives with her parents and is trying hard to find her true calling so she can be independent. As for their differences, Alli is shy, while Kaylee is more free-spirited. Alli was proudly innocent and virtuous. Kaylee, however, feels insecure about her lack of experience and has years of pent up jealousy of her promiscuous younger sister. Despite their differences, both are strong young women with hopes, dreams, and fears.

How much Star Trek: The Next Generation did you have to watch to get this written? Favorite episodes from this time?
I actually binge-watched the entire series as research. I’d seen bits and pieces before, which is why I chose that particular Star Trek show to be her primary obsession. I wanted to have her quote some episodes and really feel like a genuine Trekkie. I also got the idea of her being fluent in Klingon after watching the show and learning about the subculture of people who have done just that. I even got help from the Klingon Language Institute (yup, there’s such a thing) to help with the translations when Kaylee speaks Klingon. I thought it would be a fun easter egg for Trekkies who know Klingon to read it.

TNG has a lot of great episodes, and I would have loved to have quoted more, but one of my favorites does get a mention by Kaylee as one of her favorites, too.

What’s next for Author Matthew Hanover? Is Novel #3 underway, or are you solely focused (for now) on getting this launched?
I’m currently focused on the forthcoming launch of Not Dressed, but I have been jotting down ideas and notes for a third novel, of which I’ve already determined the primary plot. Just like Not Dressed, it will be in the same universe as Not Famous and have some character crossovers.
Thanks so much for your time and help in getting this Q&A into better shape. Also, thanks for Not Dressed, I had a blast with it and hope that it finds its audience.

A Few Quick Questions With…Shellie Bowdoin

While I didn’t love Find Your Weigh as much as one might have hoped, I’m still very pleased to have the author, Shellie Bowdoin, participate in a quick Q&A about the book, so you can get a perspective on the book straight from the source.

You talk a little about this in the book, but tell us a little bit about the path to deciding to write this – what was it that made you decide it was time to write this book?
                     When I first started my own weight journey that eventually resulted in the book, Find Your Weigh, I was learning so much about myself and about food and I wanted to share it with others. That’s when I started my blog, The FABulous Journey. After a year of blogging, I realized that I had written so much that it was time to put it all together in one place. I wanted others to experience the same kind of freedom that I found after years of struggling with food.
What led you to combine general health/wellness material with Biblical material? Is there a danger of losing an audience? Do you think a reader can profit from the book while skipping the Biblical material?
                     When I first started blogging about the food/mind connection with food, I wrote from the general wellness perspective. And, for that time in my life, I felt satisfied with dispensing knowledge. However, as a Christian, I began to feel that I was neglecting an essential aspect of my journey. Eventually, I decided that I could no longer speak about one and ignore the other, because frankly I see this as a problem that a lot of Christians experience with our weight. We go to God with everything in our lives, except our weight.

I definitely believe non-Christian readers can gain considerable value from the book. The practical concepts of the book are well-researched and applicable to all. Essentially, our weight is the result of our behavior with food, which is informed by our beliefs; no matter what those beliefs may be.

What’s your background in both aspects (theology/wellness) that made you the person to write this book?
                     I have served as foreign missionary for the past 25 years and I have a masters degree in ministry, so I have the biblical background to present the spiritual concepts in the book. I am also a normal woman who has struggled with a food fixation for years, which makes my message real and relatable.
What you leave out is almost as important as what you put into a book, what kinds of things did you end up not putting in the book? How hard was the decision to not cover certain things?
                     This is actually the second edition of Find Your Weigh. In the first version, I talked a lot more about the fitness aspect. While I still feel it’s important, I didn’t want to alienate readers or make them think, “I can’t do that.” Because if truth be told, we’ve all been in that place where we try to convince ourselves that we just don’t have that special something that others do or that we’re flawed with food. Are we all different? Yes. That’s why people have to figure out what makes them tick with food and then develop habits that are tailored and suited for their lives and realities. I believe EVERYONE can do that.
What’s the one (or two) book/movie/show in the last 5 years that made you say, “I wish I’d written that.”?
                     I absolutely loved, “The Help.” I grew up in the South and I got it all. It takes awesome talent to shine a light on injustice and make people feel the pain of it.
What was the biggest surprise about the writing itself? Either, “I can’t believe X is so easy!” or “If I had known Y was going to be so hard, I’d have skipped this and watched more TV”.
                     “Wow, has this whole process been considerably harder than I could have imagined! I bit it off in pieces. First, I wrote the first edition of the book; then I wrote the 9-session Bible Study with a pilot group; then I rewrote the whole book; then came the video scripts for the study and finally the narration of the audiobook. But, all of that paled in comparison to the task of marketing and preparing the project for release. It’s one thing to put your heart and soul into something; it’s entirely another to entrust it to others. It has been an emotional journey for me and I have learned a lot along the way.
Thanks for your time—and thanks for Find Your Weigh, I enjoyed it, and hope you have plenty of success with it.

A Few Quick Questions With…T Gamache

Earlier this morning, I posted my thoughts about T Gamache’s novel, Not-So-Common People. He was kind enough to take a few minutes to A a few Q’s that I sent his way. I think you’ll appreciate these answers, I did.

Most authors have dozens of ideas bouncing around their craniums at once — what was it about this idea that made you say, “Yup — this is the one for me.”?
                     Well, it’s interesting. This started as a way to write with my 12-year-old son. He had a story idea he was trying to get out but I couldn’t get him to commit to writing. So we both did NaNoWriMo in 2018. I had no idea what I was going to do and then one day Nathan showed up.

He was a fully formed character in my head so I just started putting him on an adventure and the story began unfolding for me. So, I guess there weren’t many other ideas at that time, so this one stuck. Now, I have a couple of plot lines I’m trying to work on, but Nathan is calling back into his world, so I think I need to finish that one first.

In the writing of Not-So-Common People, what was the biggest surprise about the writing itself? Either, “I can’t believe X is so easy!” or “If I had known Y was going to be so hard, I’d have skipped this and watched more TV.”
                     Being that it was my first venture into writing, I wasn’t aware of the pantser vs plotter approach to the art. And I am definitely a pantser. I found it really cool when I would sit down and I had the major plot points in my head, and I knew I needed to get from A to B, but once the story would start to move it would take its own direction. I would get there, but now I had new side stories and things to think about.

Many of the characters were spun on the fly and looking back that seemed really cool to me. As a musician, I am used to improvising when playing and thinking my parts up as I go, but to see this happen in another art form was really a new experience for me.

Nate’s feud with Rick felt very real – is this an autobiographical bit? Did you have a fued/frenemy relationship with a Record Store owner you based it on? Or is it just a bit of genius on your part?
                     Lol-I would love to say genius on my part, but I think it more comes from many 2 AM conversations I have had with other musicians whether it was when I was in college as a music major or on the road playing in my early 20’s. You know there are always those arguments, Beatles vs. Stones or Paul vs John, or any other rock comparison you want to make. And true music lovers are an opinionated bunch. So Rick just embodies those conversations for me. I knew that Nathan needed another neurotic person that he could relate to, but in true Nathan form, would also annoy him.
Why is it, do you think, that male readers respond so strongly to books about music/protagonists who are so focused on music? (your novel, Hornby’s, etc.)
                     I have often wondered that myself. I’ve seen it be a common theme in the lad-lit world, and I have to think that it ties to the passion many males have for music and the feelings it brings out. For me, it was writing about what I know, so it came easy. Also, I think that music lovers tend to make interesting and deep characters that a “thinking man” can relate to. I mean if you look at Hornby, it’s music and sports. Two things that are very tribal to guys and when you combine that with a passionate fandom (I think Fever Pitch and High Fidelity) I think it makes for a really interesting story. Plus, as a guy, when I walk into a bookstore and I want to find a fiction story, sometimes I don’t want a story about war or spies or murder, I just want a happy and funny book. I’m not really all that interested in what I see in the romance isle, so I think that’s where stories like this come in. And music seems to be a place of common ground.
There are a lot of characters to focus on in this book, but let’s go with Anne – how did you go about creating that character? How do you keep someone like her from being idealized/unrealistic?
                     Well, to be honest, when I first started developing the character of Anne I based a lot of her on how I felt when I first met my wife. She (Anne, not my wife) has since taken a different direction in book 2, but being that we are seeing her through Nathan’s lens, she was seen as someone who he had never had in his life in this way before. When you meet your spouse to be, I find that it is not the fireworks they like to portray in the movies, but more of a feeling of “I can’t imagine my life without this person” and it grows from there. At least that’s how it happened for me. So being that we are so close to Nathan’s emotions in all of this, we are seeing her as someone he feels he can’t be without because he has never had something outside of his friends and his music that he has ever been passionate about. He is an “all or nothing” personality so everything in his life is either an obsession or part of the background noise. So, in his mind she is someone that may come across as unrealistic, but again that is her being Nathanized. When I am able to flesh out her story more in the next book, I think she will read as a little more grounded. That’s my hope, we’ll see how I do.
Thanks for your time and willingness to let me badger you with these questions – again, I enjoyed Not-So-Common People and hope it finds success.

A Few Quick Questions With…Steven Max Russo

I’ve blogged about Russo’s two novels now, and thankfully, I got to ask him a few questions about himself and his books. If you like this Q&A, be sure you check out Thieves and The Dead Don’t Sleep.

Tell us about your road to publication—was your plan/dream always to become a novelist and your education/other jobs were just to get you to this point, or was this a later-in-life desire?
I can’t say that my plan was to become a novelist, but it was always a dream of mine. I guess since high school I’ve harbored a secret desire to become an author. I wrote short stories and took several creative writing classes in college, and even began a novel once I got out of school, but I never got around to finishing it.

The truth is, when I was young, I just didn’t know how to go about becoming a writer. Also, deep down, I didn’t think I had the talent or perseverance to actually write an entire book.

I ended up becoming an advertising copywriter by default I suppose. It involves creative writing, but of a totally different sort.

Anyway, a few years back, I was feeling creatively frustrated and one night I just sat down and wrote a short story. It was about a young white collar criminal who is coerced into helping commit a murder.

I sent that story out, almost as a lark, and to my total astonishment a small online publication called The Rag actually published it. Paid me for it too!

That reignited the fire and I began writing seriously.

In Thieves, it’s really Skooley and Esmerelda’s story, and really you could’ve told the whole story without them (and Ray). But you kept bringing in Loretta. Can you—without spoiling anything—explain why you brought her into the story, what did she add that Esmerelda couldn’t have on her own?
An interviewer once asked me if I was a “plotter” or a “pantser.” Unfortunately, I am a pantser. That is, I don’t plot out where the story is going, I simply write by the seat of my pants.

I often tell people that I feel more like a reporter chronicling the events taking place than I do an author writing fiction. That is, I write what I see in my head. When I brought Loretta into the story, I was simply following Skooley as he left the house and went searching for something to eat. He ran into Loretta in a bar. I didn’t plan it that way, that’s just the way it happened.

What I think Loretta does is address a certain humanityand lack of humanityin the story.

She is the only main character that is even remotely likable. She is a victim and I think deep down sees herself as a victim. And to the psychopath, Skooley, she helps further show the depths of his depravity and psychosis.

She also helps ratchet up the tension.

Turning to The Dead Don’t Sleep, there’s at least a dozen things I want to ask. But I’m going to go with this one: The National League All Stars—where did this idea come from (both the name and the concept)? It seems like something that’s close to fact, but skewed a bit to the fictional side.
As I stated above, when I started this story, I didn’t know where it was going. I introduced this group of nasty characters and I knew they were tied to Frank’s past, but I wanted to isolate them, make them a specific group or subset that Frank could identify. Not everyone (such as Frank himself) who participated in this particular program during the war was a bad actor. Also, as the story progressed, these old baseball cards that are left were a device I could use to point the finger back at this group.

As for the name I chose, I wanted something that was instantly recognizable. It also allowed my characters to leave something that could be easily carried (baseball cards – one early reader of the manuscript, a big baseball fan, actually corrected the playing position of one of the baseball players I used) and it also allowed me to point directly to the relevant era.

Lastly, it gives the reader a hint at the false self-image this group had of itselfas an elite commando unit (hence All Stars)while their actions show that they were basically a group of drugged up, violent, and somewhat inept psychopaths.

Who are some of your major influences? (whether or not you think those influences can be seen in your work—you know they’re there)
I’d have to say that the three writers who influenced me most were Elmore Leonard, Ernest Hemingway, and Stephen King. If anyone can say they actually see their influences in my writing, I’d be immensely pleased! But I, and I believe most writers, are influenced by many of the writers we read. The trick is taking all these influences and putting them into the blender of your own imagination and then coming out with a voice that is your own, even if that voice sounds vaguely (or not so vaguely) like someone else’s.
Is there a genre that you particularly enjoy reading, but could never write? Or are you primarily a mystery/suspense/thriller reader?
I think when it comes to my own enjoyment, I am primarily a mystery/suspense/thriller reader. As far as what I can or cannot write, that remains to be seen. I am a novice author. I hate to admit it, but technically, I don’t really know what I’m doing! I can honestly say that I don’t see myself writing cozy mysteries or romance novelsbut who knows? I enjoy writing and telling stories and am just as surprised as readers are as to where the story is going next!
What’s next for Steven Max Russo?
Well, I’ve written a new book (my third) titled The Debt Collector that is now with my new agent (Peter Rubie of FinePrint Lit) and I am working on two more novels. I’m not really sure what the future holds. I plan to keep on writing. How much time I have to devote to writing novels, at least in the short term, will depend at least in part on how well my books are received, and how many I sell.
Thanks for your time—and thanks for both of these reads, I enjoyed them and hope you have plenty of success with both of them.

A Few Quick Questions With…Dr. Heather L. Beal

Earlier, I posted my quick take on Hurricane Vacation, I’ve now read and written about three of Dr. Beal’s books, it’s about time I asked her a few questions, right? I really am impressed with the idea behind this series of books and hope that they find their way into the lives of many children. (while being very glad I live in Idaho, where most of them aren’t applicable). Here’s some more information about the author and her books—I hope you enjoy.

Tell us about your road to publication—you talk about it a little on your website, but how did you make the decision to apply your education in writing books for children? Having made that decision, how did you implement it? How steep was that learning curve behind the first book?
Great questions. First, I tried to explain a tornado watch to my daughter one rainy, stormy, evening when I feared the watch might become a warning. Needless to say, I failed horribly and ended up scaring her. It was then that I realized that not only had I chosen the wrong time to talk with her (right before or during the event).

I started researching what was available and while I found a lot of ‘science of’ types of books, nothing was out there that could teach my daughter what to do ‘just in case’ in an age-appropriate way. Once I realized there was a gap, I decided I wanted to do something about it. I starting learning about book design, formatting, and structure. I had already dabbled in fiction books, but I had never looked at writing children’s books. As a linguist I realized that writing a children’s book was simply talking ‘child’ and the children in my books wanted their voices heard in their own special ways.

The steepest part of the learning curve had to be not so much the writing, the story developed as I wrote, but in how to balance the message, keep the story interesting, make sure children could learn how to be safe, and do it in as few words as possible. I would say that the struggle was, and continues to be, balancing that word count against everything I, and my beta-readers (mostly emergency managers like myself), think should be in the books that teach little ones how to stay safe.

I don’t want to ask “where do you get your ideas?” But how tricky is it to figure out how to present the topic to your readers? What’s been the hardest (or, if it’s a better story, the most surprisingly easy) of the topics so far to tackle?
When I started, I had a variety of topics I wanted to cover, and I still do. Before starting my third book, Lions, Leopards and Storm, Oh My, I took it to my followers, the 1,000 or so subscribers of my newsletter and asked them – where should the focus be? Hurricanes, volcanoes, severe weather, etc. The consensus was severe weather, followed by hurricanes, so that was where I got my ‘marching orders’ for the 3rd and 4th books.

The trick, or the hardest thing I feel I have to do, is figure out how to introduce all the topics, various disasters, without making my kiddos look like the unluckiest children on earth to experience everything – lol! I find that while some of the experiences can naturally occur within a classroom environment, as it might happen in day-to-day experiences such as the tornado in Elephant Wind, the storm in Lions, Leopards, and Storms, Oh My or the training for earthquakes in Tummy Rumble Quake, not everything would. For this latest book, Hurricane Vacation, the kids are visiting their cousin and we start to explore how a family prepares for a disaster. It’s important that my readers can relate this events to their own lives and different environments.

After a few of these under your belt, do you have an impulse to step out of the natural disaster realm and do something silly or fantasy-based like a rhyming book about unicorns sliding down rainbows?
While I am a huge fan of mermaids, unicorns, and the like, I have to be careful that my characters stay within the realm of what children need to do, and can do, to stay safe. Creatures with special powers or skills wouldn’t necessarily be seen by the children as having to act the same way they would.

That being said I would love to start a series of board books that more playfully look at what to do and not do as during various scenarios, sort of a question – answer short book that allows children to express themselves and laugh at the silly things the character thinks to do. I teach earthquake safety in childcare and use Tummy Rumble Quake as part of that, but my favorite part is asking the kids about how to drop, cover and hold on through a series of questions where I do it wrong. For example, I ask “do I cover here” and alternate covering my head, framing my chin, covering my ears, or my face – which gets them to laugh as the “teach me” how to do it properly. I think that could be a great series of books that would entertain as well as teach even younger kiddos what to do to stay safe.

I’m fascinated by the process of putting together a book like this—and seeing how different children’s book authors answer this. What’s the process like between you and the illustrator behind the scenes? Does it vary a little from illustrator to illustrator?
It’s a very educative one. I have been lucky to work with two different illustrators and have learned a lot about creative license. I provide a page by page guidance document if you will of my vision for the cover and page illustrations, but sometimes I get stuck on what exactly I want to depict and there is a great collaboration with my illustrators on ideas about how to best approach the desired image. There is variance between illustrators, but that too has taught me a lot. For example, my first illustrator brought my vision of different children to life, but her cultural background was different from my own and it was a really fun discussion about how kiddos here are different than where she grew up and it helped me realize the importance of not assuming my writer’s vision would be the same as my illustrator’s vision.
What kind of feedback are you getting from kids, parents/guardians, teachers? Are there one or two items that really stand-out to you?
I do get a lot of feedback from parents, and childcare providers. If I had to pick what was most talked about, it would have to be the songs and the resources and questions in the back if the book. I remember the Berenstain Bears from when I was a kid and that was where I got the idea to have the questions that parents and providers could talk with kiddos about to see if they understood the topics, or just have available to answer their more detailed questions. On my list of ‘hot’ items to do is getting a recording of the songs on my website to compliments the free downloadable certificates of training and song posters that can be used to help kids remember what to do in these scenarios.
Can you talk about your next project yet?
I have a couple of things in the works, but the very next project is the sequel if you will to Hurricane Vacation. When we end Hurricane Vacation the family is on the way to the shelter. Coming up next has to be what happens there. My goal is to help demystify a shelter and make it a less-scary idea. A lot of work has been happening within emergency management and sheltering operations to help create safe, child-friendly spaces within shelters and I want to highlight to positives of shelters. Again, like all disaster situations, there are negatives, but the goal of these books is to focus on the positives and help empower children to be safer and better prepared for what often times cannot be prevented.
Thanks for your time—and thanks for Hurricane Vacation. I enjoyed it, and hope it finds its way into the hands of many kids who could use it.

Yet More Quick Questions with . . . Nick Kolakowski

Man…this is the third time I’ve got to pick Nick Kolakowski’s brain (the first and the second, for you completists). I can’t believe he keeps coming back for more — but when I get great answers like these, I’ve gotta keep asking, you know? Do read the others if you’re wanting to learn more about him in general — I stuck to Maxine Unleashes Doomsday (I posted about it earlier today, in case you missed that) this time.

Hope you enjoy!

Did you set out to write Science Fiction or is that something that came about as you started the project?
I’ve always wanted to write a dystopian novel, but all my early attempts were ignoble failures; they were Diet Cormac McCarthy, pastiches of “The Road” that were just retreads of what everyone else was trying to do. It’s only when I mashed the concept onto a noir framework that it started to work for me—a heist novel was the grounding that I needed, even if the target of that heist, in this post-apocalyptic context, is really, really weird.
What were some of the new challenges (and/or freedoms) compared to your earlier works given this setting/genre?
I’ve never written a book that covers the whole scope of someone’s life. Any novel comes with its share of continuity challenges; even if the timeframe is really short (i.e., a few hours or days), you need to keep all of your pieces and characters aligned and consistent. But keeping the details of a character’s life aligned across decades can prove much more difficult—did this happen to her left or right arm when she was a teenager, etc.

In terms of freedoms, though, you can create an incredible character arc if you have that kind of super-expansive timeframe to play with. There’s a real poignancy to tracing someone’s life from their teenagehood to the very end, especially if the country is radically changing around them at the same time.

What came first—the story or Maxine? Is that your typical approach, or does it vary from project to project?
Maxine came first: I had a vision of a badass woman, bitter and chain-smoking but refusing to give up no matter what life threw at her. From there, I wanted a story that put her in worse and worse circumstances. What happens to someone who loses everything? What’s left?

In terms of actual writing, this book started in the middle. Then I wrote Maxine’s childhood and teenage-dom. Then I stalled for about a year because I couldn’t think of where to take her from there; it was only when I came up with the broader framework—of academics discussing her life and her impact on society—that I figured out where to take everything.

In this book, Preacher reminded me a lot of Main Bad Guy’s Walker—but a very different take on the character type. Is 2019 your Year of the Aging Badass, or is that just a coincidence?  I’m having a hard time not asking a spoiler-laden question about him, so let me take the easy way out – what would a prospective reader want to know about Maxine’s very disfunctional paternal figure?
That was a coincidence, but now that you mention it… yeah, Preacher and Walker are brothers of a type! I didn’t mean it that way; Preacher made his first appearance in my head circa 2014, while Walker emerged around 2017-18, when I was writing “Main Bad Guy.”

Not to spoil too much, but Preacher isn’t the badass that Maxine thinks. He’s ultra-tough, and he deserves his fearsome reputation in the ruined part of the world where Maxine and her family lives. But his weaknesses—and frankly, his lies—eventually force Maxine to step up. The thing about badasses like Preacher and Walker, they can serve as crutches for your main character; at some point, you need to neuter them or take them away if your protagonist is truly going to move on and grow.

Are you far enough into your next book to talk about it – are you sticking with SF, going back to Crime Fiction, or trying your hand at something like Wizards?
Haha! Noir-ish wizards would be pretty cool, although I’m sure someone has already covered that arena already. Up next is actually the sequel to “Boise Longpig Hunting Club,” so it’s back to crime fiction (and Idaho!). The as-yet-untitled sequel is actually giving me a bit of trouble, because I’m trying to ratchet up the tension as tightly as possible on Jake and Frankie, my two main characters (and siblings). They survived some insane crap in the first book, so I have to figure out a way to make things even crazier.
Thanks for your time—and thanks for introducing me to Maxine
Thank you! I love her. I hope readers will, too.

A Few Quick Questions With…Beth Ruggiero York

Earlier, I posted about Beth Ruggiero York’s Flying Alone. York kindly took the time to provide a few As to some Qs that I sent her. They probably do a better job of recommending the book to you than I may have pulled off. I think I’ve said it before, but I don’t read what an author says in these before I write a post about the book. So it looks like she’s actually responding to that post I wrote over the weekend. Which works out nicely.

Hope you enjoy this, I did.

Could you start off by giving the reader a quick “elevator pitch” for your book and tell us why you decided to tell this particular story and why do it now?
“From the time she was a teenager, Beth knew she wanted to fly, and a solo trip across the country to visit family confirmed her aspirations of becoming a pilot. But her dreams were almost grounded before they could take off when she received the diagnosis of multiple sclerosis at the age of 22. Beth vowed that this new challenge would not put restrictions on her life and embarked on journey to become an airline pilot. Starting at the small local airport, the aviation world swallowed her whole, and the next five years of her life were as turbulent as an airplane in a thunderstorm, never knowing when, how or if she would emerge. An agonizing love affair with her flight instructor, dangerous risks in the sky and flying broken airplanes for shady companies all intertwined to define her road to the airlines, eventually being hired by Trans World Airlines in 1989. Flying Alone takes readers through the struggles and the challenges of civil aviation that Beth faced 30 years ago. Ultimately a story of survival and overcoming overwhelming odds, Flying Alone is told with soul-baring candor, taking readers on a suspenseful journey through terror, romance and victory.”

I wrote Flying Alone when my aviation career came to an abrupt end in 1990. The years leading up to that had been so turbulent and challenging that I wanted to write it all down while the events were still fresh in my memory. The story is of the challenges of a young woman and how she battled through them and came through on the other side a stronger person. The message is very important for young women of any generation as they find their place in the world.

I’m always interested in the writing process, why writers make the choices they make along the way—and know that so often the important choices aren’t what to include, but are what not to include. How did you make those choices? Especially looking back at the book now, are there things you’re kicking yourself for not finding a way to work in (or the opposite, I guess)?
Because this is my memoir, it was extremely difficult to decide to include certain things for fear of making myself look like, for lack of a better word, an ‘idiot’. I made many bad decisions during those years, so the ultimate decision to tell the story candidly and expose my vulnerability was difficult. In the end, I bared it all and am so glad I did. It couldn’t just be a story of triumphs, because triumph doesn’t come without struggles and setbacks.

Looking back now, though, I wish I had not ended it where I did. I’ve had feedback that readers want to know more, and, in fact, there is so much more to tell from that time. So, I am planning to write a follow-up memoir to give ‘the rest of the story’.

What was the biggest surprise about the writing itself? Either, “I can’t believe X is so easy!” or “If I had known Y was going to be so hard, I’d have skipped this and watched more TV”.
The biggest surprise about writing has been how therapeutic it can be to go into my own physical and mental space and let the words flow.
A lot of what makes a writer are the books that they’ve read—what books, in particular, do you think made you the writer you are/the book the book it is?
There are a number of books that will always be with me because of their words and messages. Foremost are Pearl Buck’s The Good Earth, Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s North to the Orient, and Beryl Markham’s West with The Night.
(This is mostly tongue-in-cheek, but not wholly) How do you expect your readers to feel safe flying – or being anywhere near a flight path – after some of what you say about Cash Air and other ill-advised piloting choices here?
I’ve had some readers tell me they’re going to take it on vacation and read it on the flight, and I always squirm a little. Really, though, commercial flying is very safe. It has changed quite a bit since the 1980s, and the world of Cash Air and those types of companies were isolated situations flying freight. I feel safe flying, and I know what goes on up there in the cockpit!
Thanks for your time—and thanks for Flying Alone, I enjoyed it, and hope you have plenty of success with it.