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                                 Photo and Bio courtesy of her publisher, Canonbridge, LLC
Today on writer Wednesday we have another debut author with her first book coming out from Canonbride, Cathleen Holst.  She can be found on her website, Facebook, twitter, and her blog.
BIO: Born and raised in Atlanta, Cathleen Holst is a “Georgia Peach” whose stilettos are firmly planted in the South.  She has no desire to relocate anywhere good old fashioned sweet tea is not readily available.  She lives just outside Atlanta with her extremely patient husband, their three children and two rambunctious dogs.  Although her love of literature is not confined to one particular genre, it has always been the “feel-good” stories that have resonated with her. Calling her stories “chick-lit” does not offend her in the least.  For her, these delightful easy reads are as perfect as the cherry sitting atop a banana split.  Her debut novel, The Story of Everleigh Carlisle, will be released in November of 2010.
JS:  Thank you for joining me today, Cathleen.  It’s a pleasure to have you.  When did you begin writing, and did you always envision being an author?
CH:  Writing is something I’ve always loved doing. Even as a young girl I remember writing stories, but it was something I always kept very private. I remember writing a short story for my history class during my sophomore year of high school, which I based on the Salem Witch Trials. Ms. Ray, my history teacher, returned the stories and had written a note on the top of my paper that I will never forget. In red ink she wrote, “You’re a great writer.” The seed was officially planted, but I never thought seriously about writing until I read a book (that I will leave nameless) in 2009 that I really enjoyed. The story was great and highly addictive (I literally could not stop reading). The writing, however, was mediocre at best, and I thought if writing like that could get published, than certainly mine could.
(JS:  Hmm, I wonder what book that is.  😉 )
JS:  What have been the most rewarding aspects of being a writer?
CH:  The feeling of such accomplishment I have once I complete a novel has to be one of the best feelings in the world. Second to that, (and I can only imagine) when a reader tells you how much your book means to them. I know I adore my books and each one has touched me in some way or another. I can only wish that after reading my book, the readers feel the same connection to the characters that I felt.
JS:  The most challenging?
CH:  I would have to say the most challenging thing, for me, is finding good blocks of uninterrupted writing time. My mother-in-law has been so helpful in that respect and watches my four year-old a couple days a week for me. That is such a huge help. But on a technical note, that would have to be the outlining process. I find it almost impossible to outline before I start writing. I will get an idea and just start writing like mad, but inevitably stall around the third or fourth chapter. That’s when I start outlining or really what I like to call my “what if’s”. I’ll take my idea and twist and turn it in as many different directions as I possibly can until I get something I like.
JS:  Tell me a little about your book, “Everleigh in NYC.”
CH:  Oh dear. This is something I have yet to master, how to tell a little about my book without reciting my five-page synopsis…articulately. Let’s see if I can do this. It’s about a small town girl with big city dreams who mistakes one dream come true for the real thing, while letting the other walk away.
JS:  Can you tell us a little more about how you conceived the story?
CH:  I wish I had some type of prolific answer like how the story came to me in a vivid dream, or I was sitting on train and had this sudden burst of inspiration, but sadly I have none of that. I literally had no idea what I was going to write about when I began. All I knew was that I had this burning desire to write something…anything. I had no outline, no plot ideas, not even the name of a single character. I just started typing the first thing that popped into my head. And that’s how Everleigh was born.
JS:  When you write, do you always know where you are going, or do your characters lead you in their own directions?
CH:  In the beginning I usually have a general idea of how I want the story to progress, but it’s not long after that when the characters take over and I just follow their lead. If I don’t listen to them, they tend to get very angry and will stop speaking to me for a while. Just recently my MC stopped speaking to me for a couple of weeks. She didn’t care about my looming deadline; the only thing she cared about was that I was trying to make her do something she absolutely did NOT want to do. I got the hint and things are flowing smoothly again and she’s quite happy.
JS:  What advice do you give to budding writers?
CH:  I’ve said this before, but if writing is what you want to do never stop writing and don’t let rejections get you down. It’s all part of the business. John Grisham, Stephen King, JK Rowling, Stephenie Meyer, and countless others…they’ve all received rejection letters and after receiving mine I was now a member of that club. That’s some great company to be in. If you want it bad enough, it will happen. Don’t let a few “no’s” stop you from pursuing your dream. Another piece of advice I would give is to take your time when writing your first novel, and get as much HONEST feedback as you can. That means stepping outside your comfort zone and sharing your writing with others who are not close friends (unless your close friend is also a writer) or relatives. It may be painful sometimes, but believe me it will help you grow as a writer. I received a comment about my writing once that almost had me in tears, but once I calmed down I realized everything this person had pointed out was spot on. In the end it was the best comment I’d received.
JS:  What were some of your favorite books when you were growing up?
CH:  When I was a young girl I loved “Amelia Bedelia”. But as odd as it sounds, as I got older I didn’t read much. If ever. (maybe I shouldn’t say that.)
JS:  What’s a typical day like for you?
CH:  I try to wake up as early as possible. I tend to be most creative in the early morning. That doesn’t last long, though. With three kids (two who are school age) and a husband, the house begins to stir early. Once the kids are off to school and my husband is at work, I try to squeeze in as much uninterrupted writing as I can before my youngest wakes up. Then it’s off to the races with breakfast, countless juice refills, lunch, laundry, cleaning the house, grocery shopping and somewhere in there I fit in my workout and a shower. It’s madness, really.
JS:  How long does it generally take to write one of your novels?
CH:  For my chick-lit novels, anywhere from six months to a year. Historical fiction, those tend to take a bit longer due to the time needed to dedicate to research.
JS:  How many have you written?
CH:  I have four works in progress. Of course, at the moment I’m only concentrating on “Everleigh in NYC”. Aside from that I have “The Pink Dress Collection” which will be a three-part series (that I cannot wait to get back to) and two historical fictions.
JS:  Can you tell us more about your journey?
CH:  It’s been quite a ride. I’ve had several setbacks during the time I was writing this book. The biggest was the death of my father. He passed away before I could tell him I was writing. I wanted to surprise him once the book was complete. Now I’ll never have that chance. Aside from that, it’s been amazing. When I sat down in front of my computer to write something all those months ago, I never in a million years thought I would be sitting here answering questions trying to promote my debut novel. I feel like I’ve won the lottery.
JS:  Prada or Gucci?
CH:  Yes, please.
(JS:  Ah, a girl after my on heart.)
JS:  Is there anything else you’d like to say?
CH:  I would just like to thank you, Jessica, for taking the time out of your own busy schedule to interview a fledgling novelist like me. I also need to give a huge shout-out to my dear friend Tamara. If it wasn’t for her reminding me (almost on a daily basis when I was at the lowest point in my life) not to forget about this book, that I had truly done something special, I may not be where I am today. Yes, I have a long way to go, but I have come so very far. Tamara, I will be eternally grateful to you; for your patience, for your ear, and most of all for putting up with my flakiness. I love you, girl! You get me!
And to my readers, I just hope you love reading “Everleigh in NYC” as much as I’ve loved writing it.
JA:  You’re welcome, and thank you for sharing with me today.  

Don’t worry, guys, when it gets closer to the release of her book, I’ll rerun this interview so you can refresh your minds.
If I have anymore authors (or editors or agents) out there that would like to share with me and my readers please contact me at j.souders  (at) jsouders (dot) com. 

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Today’s teaser is from It’s Complicated. I wrote this just yesterday so it’s a little rough, but I thought you all would enjoy something from further into the story. Not exactly sure where this is going to go, but that’s half the fun. 🙂 Hope you enjoy!

Aidan smiled when he saw me and waved me over.  I hurried over, trying to ignore the horses that were tied everywhere.  If I pretended they weren’t there, I could get through.
            When I reached him, he asked, “You okay?”
            I tugged my t-shirt down.  “Perfect.  Did I make it in time?”
            “Just. He’s up next.” He led me through the groups of people so I didn’t get lost.  Or panic and bolt, I thought when a horse poked it’s head near my head and snorted.  I jumped and clung to Aidan, who laughed, but moved faster.
            Why did I come again?  Oh yeah, because Sloan deserved to have someone he knew watch him win.  Just because Maggie and my dad couldn’t be there for him, didn’t mean I couldn’t be. 
            We stopped at the fence and watched, as the horse Sloan would be riding was loaded into the chute.  Then Sloan settled himself on top and was prepped by his and the horses handlers. 
            He glanced over toward Aidan and smiled, but it slid off his face when he saw me.  His eyes widened, but before he could say anything the gate opened and the horse ran straight out into the arena, bucking the whole way.  Unfortunately, Sloan hadn’t been ready and he’d been tossed to the ground within moments of leaving the gate. 
            My heart leaped into my throat as the horse reared and came way too close to stomping on him, but he got up immediately while the wranglers soothed the horse and brought him back in.  Sloan on the other hand brushed off his hat and stomped over to me. When he reached me, he grabbed the upper part of my arm and dragged me along behind him. 
            Even though I’d dug my heels in, he was able to pull me out of the arena, past the livestock pens, and into a shaded spot that was away from the main drag. 
            I yanked out of his grasp and rubbed at my arm.  I was so angry I couldn’t form the words to tell him off. 
“Just what the hell do you think you’re doing?  You made me lose!” He glared at me, taking a step closer.
“I made you lose?! No, you did that on your own. You’re the one who fell. I did nothing but watch,” I said.  My back hit the wall behind me and I realized I’d backed up away from him.  Refusing to let him scare me, I set my feet shoulder width apart and stared him down.  But my eyes wanted to do a study of him and make sure he was all right.  He’d taken such a hard fall.
            “If it hadn’t been for you watching me, I wouldn’t have fallen.  Why are you here?” He took another step closer.  His toes bumped mine and he put his face into mine.
            I shoved my hair away from my face.  “I came to see you win.  What did it look like?  I knew you were disappointed that Maggie and my dad couldn’t come watch, so I came.  But don’t worry about it.  I won’t do it–”
            I was cut off when his mouth came down on top of mine.  At first I was frozen in place, but before long my eyes fluttered closed and I brought my arms up around his neck.  He made a sound that was a cross between a groan and a moan. His hands grabbed my hips and yanked my closer, pressing his body against mine.
            My head spun and my pulse bounded in my throat as he pulled back to give us a chance to take a breath, but I dragged him back to me again.  His mouth met mine and he pushed me so I crashed into the wall behind me.  My body was crushed between his and the wall, but I didn’t care.
            He moved his mouth to my throat and I tilted my head, enjoying the sensations of his tongue running down my neck and along my collarbone.  His hands slipped under my shirt, but stayed at my waist, his thumbs running circles over my skin and driving me crazy.
            As if from a fog I heard his name being called, but neither of us seemed to care.  When we heard it again, he groaned and pulled back, but only enough to look and see who was calling him.  A brief second later, he cursed, dropped his hands and took three huge steps backward.  I kept my eyes glued to the ground as my emotions and body tried to adjust itself to what had happened and what I needed to do now.

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I don’t know if a lot of you have seen my posts lately, but I’m finally out on submission.  I say finally like it hasn’t been a blink of an eye since I found my wonderful agent.  But I want to clear up a few misconceptions I’ve been noticing lately.  First, my agent isn’t my agent because I paid her.  In fact I will never pay her.  She will pay me—in a matter of speaking. 
The way an agent works is she looks through her (used loosely.  There are wonderful male agents as well) slush pile (the stack of unsolicited manuscripts, partials or query letters they receive) to find something that interests her.  Usually it’s with a query letter so we’ll start there.  She reads the query letter and decides she likes it enough to read more. 
Now with my agent she had the first 50 pages and my synopsis, so she was able to keep going.  From the query she read my first 50, determined she liked it, and then read my synopsis.  Since she liked that as well, she asked for the rest.  After reading the rest, she offered me representation. 
When I accepted, she sent me her notes.  I edited my MS based on those notes and sent it back.  Then she read it through again, sent me her notes, and I edited it again and sent it back.  This process can keep going for awhile folks, but in my case it’s stopped here and we moved onto submission.  Now it’s in her hands and I feel a little awkward. 
Why?   Because it’s a little like the querying process to find an agent, but it’s in someone else’s hands now.  She’s doing all the work.  Researching where and who to submit to, when to nudge, perfecting the pitch letter, etc.  I’m perfectly confident she’s going to find me the perfect match for my MS, but it’s hard relinquishing control like that. But that’s why you want your agent to understand you, your MS, and love your MS as much as you do. 
So you may have noticed I have not once mentioned money exchanging hands.  And that’s because it hasn’t.  I have not paid her a single penny.  She is essentially working for me for free. 
How does she get paid, you may ask?  Well, she gets paid when I do.  When a publisher makes an offer it’s usually offering an advance and then a royalty off the cover price of the book.  Since my agent will make 15% of everything I make, including the advance, it’s in her best interest to get the best deal. 
The publisher will send her a check with my advance; she takes her 15% and then gives the rest to me.  It will be the same with royalties.  So as you see, I never pay her anything. 
As you might have guessed that is why agents are so picky.  They are essentially working for free until your MS sells.  If it doesn’t sell, then they don’t make money.  So they need to find MSs they fall in love with so they can champion it properly. 
So, how can you make sure yours gets picked up?  Write a good book, get feedback on said book and edit appropriately.  Research agents thoroughly and query widely. Be patient.  In the meantime, write a new and better book and start the whole process over again.  Eventually you will get picked up. 
I hope this shed some light on agents and how they work.  So how about you?  What’s your experiences been like?  I’d love to hear from you.
Tomorrow, contests.  What they’re about and how they can help you in your career.
~JA

If you’re an agent, editor, or author and would like to do an interview or guest blog with me please contact me at j.souders (at) jasouders (dot) com

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Well we’ve had a slight change of plans.  Today I’ll be interviewing Lynn Rush. 
BIO:  Lynn Rush began her writing career in 2008, since then producing thirteen paranormal romance novels.
She enjoys posting to her blog, Light of Truth (http://lynnrush.wordpress.com/), six days a week and actively participating in FaceBook and Twitter.
She is actively involved with Romance Writers of America (RWA) and its special interest chapter Fantasy, Futuristic and Paranormal (FF&P) and American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW.)
 Lynn has both an undergraduate and graduate degree in the mental health field and has enjoyed applying that unique knowledge to developing interesting characters. She is a member of two online critique groups, comprised of both published and unpublished authors, specifically focusing on fiction for the younger adult. In addition, she enjoys volunteering in her church bookstore.
When Lynn’s not writing, she spends time enjoying the Arizona sunshine by road biking with her husband of thirteen years and going on five-mile jogs with her loveable Shetland Sheep dogs. She always makes time to read a good speculative fiction novel, her favorites being Ted Dekker, Frank Peretti, PC Cast, and Stephanie Meyer.
Lynn, thank you for joining us today.  First I’d like to congratulate you on not only winning the Write Your Name Across the Sky Author Contest for 2009, but also securing a publishing contract AND obtaining a wonderful agent!
JS:  When did you begin writing, and did you always envision being an author?
LR:  I didn’t really start writing until a few years ago. Way back, around 2002-ish I had a little idea and did a little jotting down (by hand) in a little notebook on lunch breaks. But I was totally just goofing around. I lost the notebook, never really gave it much thought after a while.
See—I’d never wanted to be a writer. Heck, I hated reading, how could I ever be a writer, right?
Yeah. Blame the not liking to read thing on graduate school…ugh, reading all those textbooks would kill anyone’s desire to read EVER again. Just kidding (well, sort of.)
No. It was back in summer of 2007 that I decided to get Light of Truth (first book ever) on the computer. Finished it November 2007 but had NO clue what to do next. So, I joined ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) in May 2008 and got into my first crit group.
After that, the stories flowed, and I’ve written 13 novels since then.
JS:  What have been the most rewarding aspects of being a writer?
LR:  Meeting so many amazing people has to be the first one. The second would be, learning a new skill. I never took a writing class or anything before I started writing, so I learned as I went (as evidenced by the first couple books, which will probably never leave the shelf…LOL.) There are a bunch more rewarding aspects, but the last one I’ll mention is how much fun I have losing myself in the worlds and characters I create. It’s so much fun to laugh and cry with them and torture them with crazy obstacles to overcome!
JS:  The most challenging?
LR:  Hmmm, not really sure. I don’t see much of anything that’s challenging, probably because I never really expected it to go anywhere. I guess the waiting can get tough sometimes. There are often long waits associated with agents, editors, and even contest results.
Oh—wait—I thought of one. . . A challenge is the cost of it all. Money-wise, it’s expensive to go to conferences and buy learning-the-craft books. It can get costly. So I’d say that was a challenge. 
JS:  Tell me a little about Violet Midnight.
LR:  It’s the fourth book I ever wrote and one of my favorite characters. I even had Emma host my blog for a week recently. She’s just so fun. Tough, yet broken. Oh, but can she kick some demon butt!!
The easiest way for me to describe the book is to share the back cover blurb with you. Is that okay?
The blurb:
Three years ago, Emma Martin awoke in a hospital, forever changed. Her brown eyes turned violet, and she had a mysterious tattoo on the inside of her wrist. With the help of Gabriel, a mentor turned love interest, she discovered she was a hunter of the undead. After he’s brutally killed by the very evil he trained her to vanquish, she rejects her calling and seeks out a new life.
Emma pursues a normal existence by attending college. Hiding her unique powers proves difficult because the mystical tattoo on her wrist burns when evil is near, and the heat does not dissipate until the evil is vanquished.
When Jacob Cunningham witnesses Emma using her powers and isn’t afraid, the walls she’s erected around her come crashing down. Her draw to him is intense, but she’s not sure she can trust him with her secrets or her heart.
JS:  Can you tell us a little more about how you conceived the story of Violet Midnight?
LR:  Much like how I came up with all my novels, I woke up one day with an idea. Maybe it was a dream that I didn’t remember having, but I just woke up one day and started writing. It’s been that way with almost all my novels.
The writing starts with what’s called a mind map. It’s just like an organized form of free thought. In the center of the page I had “Emma Martin” in a circle, then started drawing lines out from it with ideas, obstacles, etc.
As I wrote, the rest just kinda fell into place.  J
JS:  When you write, do you always know where you are going, or do your characters lead you in their own directions?
I RARELY know where I’m going with a story. My characters pretty much drive my stories.
LR:  What advice do you give to budding writers?
Write on. Yep—I often put that down when I comment on blogs or Facebook status’ because it’s true. Just write on. Keep going. When you’re waiting for a response from an editor/agent/whoever-write. When you’re waiting in the doctor’s office-write. When you’re waiting—okay, you get the idea. Any free moment you find-write. J
JS:   What were some of your favorite books when you were growing up?
LR:  Ahhh—I hate this question. J I see it asked all the time on blogs and such, and technically, it’s a really great question. But for me…I really don’t have a favorite, because I didn’t grow up reading. I watched a ton of movies, though. Like all the sci-fi and paranormal-type movies. Probably where a bunch of my ideas started percolating, huh?
Heck, I read Frank Peretti’s book, “This Present Darkness” and “Piercing The Darkness” April of 2006 and that’s when I really started reading.
After Peretti, I fell in love with Ted Dekker’s books, and then found Charlaine Harris, PC Cast and Stephanie Meyer. So I really don’t have a long track record of reading, that’s for sure.
JS:  What’s a typical day like for you?
LR:  I’m a creature of habit, that’s fore sure. Get up around 5-ish, do a quick Bible devotion, go running or biking, do some writing, go to the day job (write over my lunch break), then come home and cook dinner for me and my sweet hubby, then write the rest of the night.
I’m sooooo boring—ask anyone.
My weekends pretty much look the same, but instead of going to the day job, I write. J
JS:  How long does it generally take to write one of your novels?
LR:  About 7-21 days, depending on the circumstances. When I was unemployed for four months, I wrote four novels. Each took about 7 or 8 days. But that’s writing full-time. When I’m working a day job, it takes about two to three weeks, depending on how full my weekends are.
Now remember, that first draft is a mega rough draft. The real fun starts during the edits.  J
JS:  How many have you written?
Fourteen
LR:  Can you tell us more about your journey?  (How did you find out about the contest?  How did you find your agent?  How long you’ve been writing, etc.)
I found out about the contest on the FF&P loop (Romance Writers Association’s Futuristic, Fantasy, and Paranormal group). So, I checked it out, sent in my entry, and let me tell you NO ONE was more shocked than me to see Violet Midnight won!
Seriously.
I still can’t believe it sometimes and I’ve even seen the book cover for Violet Midnight!!
Within three days of learning about the contest win, I signed with Super-Agent Cari Foulk from Tribe Literary Agency. I found TribeLit by following them on Twitter. I loved what they and some of their authors tweeted about, so I queried her. My writer friend, Frank Redman, was represented by her as well. So it all came together through a query and a referral!!
JS:  Is there anything else you’d like to say?
LR:  Write on!
No, seriously, thanks for interviewing me. This was fun.
Thanks again for taking the time for this interview and good luck with your first book.  Make sure to keep us all informed so we know where and when to buy it!
If anyone is interested in doing an interview with me, please feel free to contact me at j.souders (@) jasouders (.) com.  


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Here’s just a few tips I’ve used that have been beneficial to me.  It’s probably close to essential for me actually and I’d like to think that it’s probably close to that for all fiction writers out there.

  • Start With a Seed
  • Most, if not all, of my books are simply a product of asking the question, “What if…?”  That’s all it usually takes and then let your imagination run wild.  There are no constraints in fiction, except the ones you put on yourself, so start tiny and work big. 

  • Let the Story Tell Itself
  • Think of yourself as only the narrator of someone else’s life.  In the newage sense of the word, your “channeling” someone else’s reality and cataloging what happens.  It’s okay to plot, but don’t get so caught up in your outline that your not letting the characters be themselves.  

  • Use Realistic Characters and Dialogue
  • This is accomplished through many different approaches.  As a writer, you must learn to hone your powers of observation and watch people and how they interact.  Research can come in a variety of forms, from reading other authors to watching movies as well.  Keen observation skills and personal experience will help guide you through this aspect of fiction writing.

  • Write What You Know
  • This is a well-known mantra for fiction writers, yet many fail to adhere to this simple principle of fiction writing.  When you write about things you know and experiences you’ve had, the writing is easier to read and comes across as more authentic.  Another thing is to write in the genre you read.  Don’t start writing Sci-Fi if you’ve never and have no interest in seeing Star Trek(or any other Science Fiction staple).  

  • Become a “shut in”
  • When you’re ready to start, find a place away from distraction  If you are planning on writing a long work of fiction, you will essentially be “living in the story.”  Be prepared to shut yourself in as you work on bringing your tale to life.  Turn the phones off, as well as the Internet.  Let your significant others know you’ll be unavailable from this time to this time.  If you have kids, this will be a bit harder, but it can be done.

  • Keep Moving Forward
  • Don’t get caught up in the past; keep writing each day without taking time to go back and reread.  You’ll have time to fix everything later.  Even if you only spend 10 or 15 minutes everyday writing, it’ll keep you on the right track and stave off writer’s block.  

  • Put it Away When You’re Finished
  • When you’re finished, put it away.  Shove it in a drawer, ignore the file on your harddrive.  Whatever it takes to let it sit and settle for awhile.  I usually send mine to a critique partner and it can take anywhere from 2 days to 2 months to get your ms back, so you’ll have a decent length of time between the finish and the revisions.  In the meantime…

  • Start a New Project
  • Get started right away on a new WIP to increase the space between you and your previous work.  This will help you to come back with a new perspective and keep your productivity level high in the process.  Not to mention keeping your creative juices flowing.

  • Return to Your Finished Product
  • After some time has passed, pull out your manuscript and read the piece with a pair of fresh eyes.  Chances are you will find ways to improve upon and revise the story to make it flow more smoothly.  Sometimes it will unfortunately mean rewriting it.  As what happened to me with my first, FALLEN.  I went back with fresh eyes and realized how horrible it was.  Now I’ve rewritten it, given it a new title and it’s MUCH better than it was.  

  • Revise and Edit
  • Cuts will have to be made and the revision process can be time consuming, but will help out when you’re ready to share your work with at least 5 beta readers.  Make sure that you polish your work as much as possible before giving it out to others for their opinions.  Eliminating clutter and proofreading errors will help to get honest feedback without trivial details getting in the way.  Keep in mind though, that no matter how well you edit, there will always be something you miss and don’t let it fluster you.  No one is perfect.


    I hope these 10 tips helped and gave you a little insight on how I do my writing process.  How do you write?  Is there something you do that I didn’t mention?  Go ahead and post your answers in the comments section.



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                                  (Bio and photo courtesy of her publisher, Canonbridge.)

              





    Today I have the absolute pleasure of interviewing a good friend of mine, fellow inkslinger and wonderful fantasy novelist, MJ Heiser.  
           BIO:  MJ Heiser was born in the Philippines to an American Navy Mormon and a Filipina Catholic.  She came to the United States as a baby, started reading at the age of three and began to write at the age of 12.  Educated in San Antonio, Texas, MJ is an avid student of religion, politics, anthropology and technological gadgetry.  She lives in Austin, Texas with her husband and their menagerie of pets and electronic devices.  Apart from writing, she spends her time walking, plotting, being silly, eating sushi and trying to not trip over something.  Her first book in the Chronicles of Jaenrye series is Corona, published first in eReader format in February 2010 by Canonbridge LLC.
    JSFirst of all, thank you for joining me today.  What have been the most rewarding aspects of being a writer?
    MH:  The most rewarding thing for me is the realization that I could be good at something, even if I was born with an atrocious singing voice.  That’s a traumatic thing to realize as a little kid born into a family of musicians.  
    JS:  The most challenging?
    MH:  I have a fragile ego, so being told my work isn’t good enough for anyone is brutal.  Fortunately, I’ve also learned to take it as much-needed guidance and a refreshing breath of honesty; after all, your friends are conditioned to tell you what you want to hear, right?
    JS:  What would you say are the most important qualities one needs to possess in order to make a living as a writer?
    MH:  Stubbornness, and the ability to hear the small voice of your story calling to you .
    JS:  Why do you write?
    MH:  Because it makes me feel good . . .it puts me in touch with something that I imagine is outside of myself, a river of creative thought and urge that runs through each of us.  Every now and then I dip my ladle into that stream and pull out a sip of Wonder.
    JS:  What’s a typical day like for you?
    MH:  Long.  Frustrating.  I have a full-time job as a claims examiner, then I come home to run a house full of dogs and cats.  –No, they’re not charity cases, but I’m childless, and they’re my little Surrogates.  All I want to do is plot my stories and write them, but real life has a habit of delaying gratification.
    JS:  Do you ever experience writer’s block? If so, how do you work through it?
    MH:  Unlike most writers, I don’t really hate writer’s block.  I think there are times it comes up for practical reasons — like, maybe you need a reminder of how much you love to write, and only by depriving you of the ability can you fully appreciate it.  Sometimes also it’s used to divert you from a bad story idea, or a good story idea executed badly.  Most of the time, writer’s block is specific to one story, and can be overcome by stepping away from that story for a bit and working on an intriguing new one.  When you finally return to the blocked story, you can probably see why you got blocked in the first place.  😉
    JS:  How long does it generally take to write one of your novels?
    MH:  Oh, there are no generalities when it comes to what I write.  My first (and worst) novel took 10 years.  (See what I mean about listening to the writer’s block?)  CORONA took 5.5 weeks for the first draft.  CANTICLE, the prequel, is almost a year in progress.  Seriously, it’s just all over the place.
    JS:  What’s your favorite quotation?
    MH:  Sadly, it’s from an anonymous source:  “Those who dance are considered insane by those who can’t hear the music.”  A lot of people attribute it to George Carlin, but sadly, it’s not his.
    JS:  What are you working on now?
    MH:  CANTICLE, the 2nd (or 1st, depending on how you look at it) in the Chronicles of Jaenrye (pronounced “JANE-RYE”).  Sheesh, she’s a true labor of love.  CORONA was a blast to write, but CANTICLE is, I think, maybe just that much outside my skill set.  I’m learning as I go. 
    JS:   What do you think is one of the biggest misconceptions aspiring novelists have of the writer’s life?
    MH:  That it has to be lonely.  I know I thought all writers were forced to write alone and figure it out alone, but in this day and age, with Twitter and Facebook and WEbook, there is simply no need to be alone anymore.  Besides, writers are my favorite kind of people; they’re just like me!  🙂
    JS:  What advice would you impart to these aspiring novelists?
    MH:  Don’t suffer; there’s no need.  Don’t hide your babies; that’s not the point of writing.  Get out there, make your work available to review, and push, push, push.  This dream doesn’t come true on its own. 
    JS:  Where did the inspiration for CORONA come from?
    MH:  Some of the aspects of CORONA (the Travellers, for instance) have been in my head since I was a kid.  The story itself started with Father Rey, who was inspired by Father Oliver O’Grady, a pedophile priest who was shuffled by the church from one small California town to another when his abuses were discovered.  I sucked this guy into Jaenrye to find a way to make him pay for what he did.  Then, since I was controlling the story anyway, I made the control a little more…transparent. 
    JS:  What do you hope your readers take away after they’re done reading?
    MH:  Never, EVER give up on your opportunity to make it right with yourself.  If you ever feel a tinge of regret or failure, address it head on; become the hero you promised yourself you’d be when you grew up.  It’s never too late.
    JS:  Tell me a little about CORONA.
    MH:  CORONA is my one breathless moment, the story that made me laugh and cry as I wrote it, the one I made my truest writer’s promise to.  I promised I would not abandon it and let it be forgotten.  That story truly took my breath away, and she deserved my full attention.
    JS:  Thanks for doing this interview with me MJ, it’s been a real pleasure having known you and reading CORONA.  I can’t wait for its sequel(prequel) to be released.  Now I have just one last question. If electricity comes from electrons, does morality come from morons?
    MH:  From what I can tell — yes.  🙂
             Thanks again for joining me folks for my very first author interview!  Next week I’ll be interviewing S.S. Michaels AKA @slushpilehero for all you twitter followers.  
            
             If you are interested in doing an interview with me, please email me at J.Souders (@) jasouders (.) com.  

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    Here’s the first chapter of my current WIP, tentatively titled SPIRIT DETECTIVE.  I started it a while ago, but put it off to the side to write MIRROR, but it’s calling to me again so I thought I’d pull it out and see what people thought.  It’s rough as it only has the bare minimum of editing done, but hopefully that won’t detract.


    Blurb:  I don’t have a blurb yet.  Sorry.  


    My heart accelerated in my chest as I stood looking at the abandoned house in front of me. Simply put, it was falling apart.  Most of the windows were broken, their dark depths imploring me to follow my instincts and leave.  The paint was peeling and chipping, revealing the termite riddled wood beneath it.  The once white porch sagged and groaned under my feet, begging me to leave.  The door was broken and tilted at an odd angle, leaving the house open to the elements.  The ripped screen door squealed as it opened as if some unseen person was inviting me in.
                Just step in Rowena, I told myself with a quick glance over my shoulders.  My best friend, Lucas stood at the end of the cracked sidewalk where the squeaky gate for the splintered picket fence opened and shut with the wind.
                He grinned at me, brushing back a stray blonde hair the wind had blown into his eyes.  “If you’re scared, Ro, just say so.  We’ll go home.”
                With a growl, I yelled back, “I’m not scared.”  The one remaining shutter slapped against the house, causing me to jump.  Luke barked out a laugh and I straightened my shoulders and turned to face the house again. 
                It’s just a house. It’s just a house, I repeated like a chant in my head as I stepped toward the gaping hole that was the front door.  The wind blew through the house, causing a sound like a moan to emit from it and me to stop in my tracks as my heart jumped into my throat.
                My hand trembled as I reached for the knob.  Why am I doing this again?  Oh yeah, that stupid ten-dollar bet, a bet I’d made on a dare. 
                Luke and I had been sitting outside on my front porch, drinking soda and playing truth or dare, but–because we knew everything about each other–it was more along the lines of dare or dare.  He’d dared me to spend an hour at the abandoned house and bet me ten dollars I couldn’t do it. I’d, of course, taken it. 
                If it had been just the ten dollars I’d have backed up and gone back home, laughing, but it wasn’t.  There was a much more important thing on the line than just a measly ten dollars.  My pride. 
                I’d never welched on a bet, or chickened out from a dare.  I wasn’t planning on starting now.
                With a deep breath, I pushed aside the tilted door and jumped when the last rusted hinge broke and the door feel into the house and crashed to the floor. 
                “Well, geez, Ro.  Why don’t you just wake the dead while you’re at it?” Luke called, his voice laughing at me.
                “Very funny,” I yelled over my shoulder and winced when my voice echoed throughout the house.
                Taking a minute to let my heart settle again, I looked around inside. I’d never seen it before. If you took the outside into consideration, the inside looked pretty good.  If you didn’t take into count the spider webs and dust that covered every square inch I could see.
                With another deep breath, I took the first step through the doorway and then stopped to turn around.  “I’m in.  Start the clock.”
                “Got it,” Luke called back and even through the howling wind I could hear the beep that symbolized the start of my hour. 
                Well, I’m in.  Now what? I’ve got a whole hour to kill. Might as well explore. 
                The house was three stories and I decided to start on it and then work my way down.  A house this old had to have something interesting in it. The dust on the floor was so thick I left footprints in it with each step.
                It had been abandoned for as long as I could remember, but my mom and her Bunko buddies talked often about the Mooney Mansion.  It had been the first house in Seminole County in the late 1800s.  The Mooney’s had had a whole plantation of celery, hundreds of acres, but when they died, the children had sold off the land an acre at a time until only the land surrounding the home was left.  Eventually the house was sold off to pay the taxes.
                Since then, the house had been bought and sold numerous times, no one staying longer than five years; earning it it’s haunted house title. 
                It didn’t appear too scary, now that I was inside.  In fact, the inside looked pretty darn good.  The staircase creaked slightly with each step, but the wood appeared to be in good shape and the carpet was only slightly threadbare.
    At the landing for the second floor, a mouse scurried in front of me, squeaking at me as if yelling at me for ruining it’s nighttime stroll.  I slapped a hand across my mouth to block the little yelp that tried to escape and continued on up to the third floor, trailing my hand along the surprisingly smooth banister. 
    A shiver racked my body as a breeze blew through the hall and I frowned as I wondered where it had come from.  There weren’t any windows and the doors to the rooms were all shut. 
    I paused.  Which way should I go?  Left? Or right?  After a quick game of “Eeny Meeny Miney Moe,” I went left.
    A feeling of unease settled in my belly almost immediately as I walked to the room at the end of the hall. Whatever was in that room I was sure I didn’t want to know about, but I was still strangely pulled to it.
                A flash of memory came to me as my hand wrapped around the crystal doorknob. 
                My mom and her friend Kate had been sitting outside on the front porch of my home the summer after I’d turned five.  They were both sipping their tea and gossiping about neighborhood news and almost daily pastime.
                “Did you hear about the old Mooney place?” my mom had asked, her face showing the hope and excitement it always did when she was sure she had something juicy to tell.
                “No.  I thought that young couple bought it a few months back, but they’ve never done anything with it,” Kate replied, sipping her tea.
                My mom beamed.  “No, and they won’t.  The woman was staying there about a week ago trying to decide on paint samples while her husband went to get food.  Well, she went to one of the rooms on the third floor, but the door was locked.”
                Kate sniffed and then winked at me.  “Well, couldn’t she get a key?”
                My mom rolled her eyes.  “Kate.  The doors don’t lock.  Not the bedroom doors.”
                “Oh.”
                “So, anyway, thinking the door was just stuck, she rammed the door with her shoulder and the door opened as easy as you please.”
                Kate shrugged.  “Maybe she just didn’t push hard enough the first time.”  She smiled down at me and then, when she was sure my mom wasn’t looking, slipped me a piece of toffee she had hidden in her skirt pocket.
                I took it with a smile and carefully unwrapped it, hoping my mom wouldn’t hear the telltale crinkle of the wrapper.
                My mom still looking away from us said, “Maybe, but when she stepped into the room you’ll never believe what she saw.”
                Kate rolled her eyes at me, causing me to giggle.  “What?
                “Well,” my mom said, leaning forward toward Kate, dragging out the story, “she opened the door and on the walls, written in blood, were words.”
                I choked on the piece of candy, and Kate gave me a few thumps on the back to dislodge it, while she laughed.  “Oh, come on, Lynn.  You don’t really believe that, do you?”
                My mom laughed and shook her head.  “No, of course not, but she did.  Screamed like the devil himself had visited her and ran straight out of the house.  When her husband came to get her, she demanded they leave right then and there.  Don’t know if he saw it, but they left that night, leaving everything they had there.  ”
               
                Another cold chill shook my body as I turned the knob easily in my hand and stepped into the room with my eyes closed.  I was sure this was the room they were talking about.  Why else would I have been drawn to it?
                A voice in my head told me to turn around and wait for the remaining minutes downstairs, but despite being scared out of my mind I was insanely curious.  Would there be words written on the walls?
                The minute I stepped through a breeze blew through and slammed the door shut, causing me to jump and yelp again.  My eyes flew open and I took a relieved breath.  The room was empty, minus a few stray pieces of furniture.
                The room was large, especially for a home as old as it was.  The wallpaper was torn, almost shredded in places, showing the slat walls behind it.  In the corner was a trunk.  I wandered around the room, tracing my fingers over the wall, half hoping to find a switch that would open a secret door. 
                I paused when I got to the trunk and then, wanting a closer look, knelt in front of it, my hands shook for some unknown reason as I touched it.  It was metal and had strange symbols etched onto its black sides. There were three locks in the front that prevented me from opening it, each lock in the shape of a skull.
    In the hopes of finding the key, I searched the room oblivious to the time. I noticed a roll-top desk on the wall by the door and slid the top up and searched the drawers. When my fingers probed the middle drawer, they found a hole only big enough for my finger.  I slipped it in and pulled up, revealing a secret space.  Cautiously, I slid my hand in the space and felt something cold and metal brush against my fingers.
    When I pulled it out, it was a strange looking skeleton key, which matched the chest.  I rushed over to it and slipped the key in the middle lock, smiling when I heard a soft click. Excited, I unlocked the remaining two locks and pushed open the lid, revealing a trunk full of old clothes. 
    The smell of lavender permeated my nose as I pulled each article out.  This was so cool.  These clothes had to be hundreds of years old.  The little white muslin I’d just pulled out had to be from the Victorian era at least.  The high-neck and sweeping skirt proved it. 
    I don’t know how long I spent going through the chest before I found a leather-bound book and wooden box.
    I opened the wooden box first and pulled out a necklace.  The charm on the end of it was three triangles interconnected within a circle.  With a shrug, I slipped the leather cord around my neck, letting the symbol rest between my breasts. 
    The book was the only thing left, so I flipped through it. 
    “It’s just a bunch of mumble jumble,” I said in disgust. I flipped to the first page and tried figuring out what it said.  Thinking maybe it would make more sense I read it aloud, stumbling over the handwritten words.
    være på vakt forbannelsen av gudene
    snakker ikke ordene nedenfor
    skjenket på deg øyet av tre.
    The minute I finished, a bright light filled the room, blinding me. And I started screaming as a searing, shocking pain ran through my head, as if I’d been struck by lighting.   

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