Teagan: Lulu! What the Sam Hill are you doing here? I’m trying to work on Atonement in Bloom. You are not part of the “Atonement-verse.”
Lulu: I figured you could use my help. I mean, Lilith is the cat’s pajamas, but she’s snoozing. You were supposed to finish that novel before spring ended. I hate to break it to you, Sheba, but you’re about out of time.
Teagan: Ha-ha… the cat is the cat’s pajamas. If you don’t skedaddle back to Valentino’s train right now, I’ll sing Don’t Bring Lulu. I know how you hate that. How am I supposed to do anything else when you keep doing the Lindy Hop into my head? Now scoot!
I’ve seen so many great books making their debuts already this month! Silly me (after all this…
Before we begin, thank you for accepting my invitation.
Thanks so much for inviting me, Robert. I’m honored to be chatting on your blog.
Tell us a little about yourself, where you’re from and how that affects your point of view?
Great question as I do think our roots inform who we are. I come from a family that spent its free time in the forest. My parents used to drop my younger brothers and me off at a trailhead in the Green Mountains and pick us up 4 days later, 25 miles down the road. Sort of “Hansel and Gretel” except we carried maps. The first time we hiked without adults, I was about 11 years old and my youngest brother would have been 7. We were fearless and adventurous kids. Sometimes the raccoons got into our food or we got stuck in a snowstorm, but we survived. Those are some of the best memories of my life, and they had nothing to do with “things.”
I was also raised by left-wing liberals, and though I labored in business for 18 years, I hated the focus on money. After 9/11, I started working as a volunteer with grieving children, quit my job, and returned to school for a counseling degree, which I loved. Today, as an author, my fantasy books reflect an appreciation for a simple life, nature, and the human pathos that arises from choices: fear, greed, power, compassion, sacrifice, and love.
You mention that your profile that as a child you preferred television to reading until you read the Hobbit by Tolkien. What was it about the Hobbit changed your life?
Reading was b..o..r..i..n..g until I turned 13 and opened The Hobbit. I plowed through it and the LoTR series in about 2 weeks. I was entranced by the characters and the epic story. When the book ended, I had a serious book hangover and cried myself to the library. I’m certain I would never have considered writing if I hadn’t cracked that magical book. Books can change lives.
September 11 was another life-changing event and as a result, you returned to school. What was that like for you?
I wasn’t in New York, and I can’t claim any heroics or personal sacrifice. I still choke up thinking about that day: the fear, the lives lost, the families forever changed, the first responders and hundreds of souls who toiled tirelessly in the rubble, risking their own health. I was working in business and suddenly couldn’t deal with the sales and profits and money-is-king mentality. None of it mattered. What mattered were human beings, love, bravery, compassion, kindness. I quit my executive job and went back to school so I could be poor and happy doing something of value.
You graduated with a Master’s degree in counseling. What kind of counseling did you do?
I became a pastoral counselor – basically mental health with a spiritual (not religious) foundation. I wanted to work with people who were dying and grieving, and an openness to all variations in spiritual faith seemed important. I ended up doing most of my grief work as a volunteer and got a job counseling little kids (0-5) and their families. It was all transformative heart-based growth – especially for me.
What draws you to fantasy?
Oh. I’m a believer in magic – basically that the world is far more complex and interconnected than my pea-brain can possibly imagine. Just because we can’t prove something, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Just because we can’t see or measure something doesn’t mean it isn’t real. I know a teeny-weeny tiny fraction of all there is to know, which to me, means anything is possible. I like asking what-if questions about the nature of reality and ushering them down the path of my imagination to see where they go.
What do you find easiest about writing?
I find all of it rewarding but none of it particularly easy. The first draft is the most challenging for me. The story is outlined but unformed, and the characters can’t help but share their opinions about who they are and where they want to go. We’re in a constant state of negotiation and I’m often backtracking. Sometimes the words pour out and sometimes I have to wrench them out with plyers.
What writers give you inspiration?
I love character-driven stories and beautifully crafted words. I read a lot of fantasy, and like both stand-alone books and big, fat series. My favorite fantasy authors are Mark Lawrence, Scott Lynch, Brandon Sanderson, and Joe Abercrombie to name a few.
I read with a highlighter and mark up my books when I find something wonderful.
When did you start blogging?
I started in 2013, but I was completely clueless for the first 2 years. I didn’t know that social media was supposed to be social (duh) and had 7 likes my first whole year. I was so bad. I started watching what the successful bloggers did, the ones I enjoyed following, and finally the light-bulb flicked on. Now I have lively interactions with a large community on a daily basis. Much, much better.
What advice do you have for writers who want to use their blogs to market their books?
I’m no expert, Robert, but here are my two cents: Go ahead and market, but remember that the most important part of blogging is building relationships – interact and reciprocate. Be yourself, of course, but remember that your blog is also your professional platform; you are sharing yourself as a person and author as well as posting content that represents the quality of your work. Pay it forward by doing for the community what you would like the community to do for you. And most of all, enjoy yourself.
Some Word Press bloggers think of Word Press as a community. Do you think of it as a community?
Absolutely. I love that aspect of blogging. I love the way the world shrinks, the rich feelings shared by wonderful people all over the globe, the empathy and support of strangers who become good friends. There’s talent and kindness, beauty and compassion everywhere. It gives me hope and makes me smile.
How do you define success?
In all parts of my life: Happiness.
We only get this one life, Robert; there are no second chances, no do-overs. We are each miracles, here through the perfect alignment of billions of years of evolution, choices, and chance. It’s not a gift to be wasted. Happiness means different things to different people, but for me it’s choosing an attitude of kindness, care, and compassion and acting on that choice. Writing is something that brings me joy, no strings attached.
Thank you for an enlightening interview. It was a pleasure.
My guest blogger this month is Linda Bethea of Nutstrok.
Linda is one of the first bloggers I followed when I started this blog in
2014 and over the years, we have become friends.
Linda’s Mother, who turns 90 today, May 5th, unofficially adopted me in
2015 and became my forever Mom, so in a sense, Linda and I are brother
Tell us about your place of birth and the cultural forces that shaped your childhood.
Being born in rural Northeast Louisiana in 1950 still has a huge influence on me. Being of a large nuclear family opened so many windows on life. With three grandparents, almost twenty aunts and uncles, by birth and marriage, and more than forty first cousins, our holidays and weekends were bedlam. Also, I grew up on a farm where every bit of help was needed, so I learned early to do my part. I learned to deal with all kinds of personalities, human and animal. Farm work did motivate me to get an education. I didn’t want to work that hard the rest of my life. Also, in the fifties, pressure to behave well was a huge force. We got it at home, school, and church. When I got in trouble, the news usually beat me home, even though we didn’t have a phone till 1958. I never did figure out how that worked. Our social life revolved around family, church, and school. It sounds idyllic described that way. We had good times and bad, but the older I get, the more I realize it was a good way to grow.
What event has had the most influence on your life and work?
When I was fourteen, I shot into a flock of blackbirds, just because. One fell to the ground mortally injured. I picked it up and it curled its tiny foot around my finger as the light went out of its eyes. I realized that little bird’s life was as precious as my own. I’ve never forgotten the devastation I felt at the bird’s cruel death at my hands. That changed the way I saw everything.
When did you start your blog and how has it evolved?
My first post was August 26, 2014. I was very nervous, thinking no one could be interested in my tales. Since then, I’ve learned someone is interested in almost anything a writer has to say. Here is a link to my first post.
How did you come up with the name, Nutstrok?
I love writing about family. I celebrate their eccentricities, but never lose touch with the fact that I love them dearly, hence the name, Nuts Are Okay, Nutsrok.
When did you start to write?
I started writing after I retired from thirty years as a registered Nurse. I cherished my stories and looked forward to having time to get them down for my children. Incidentally, I don’t think either of them reads my work. I guess I burned them out on the stories as they were growing up.
What have you learned about publishing since publishing ‘Everything Smells Just like Poke salad’?
I don’t how to answer the question about what I’ve learned since publishing. Writing is a lot more satisfying than promoting.
You published your second book, ‘Just Women Getting By’ in May of 2017, tell us a little about the book.
I was inspired to write Just Women because of the stories I learned and lived. When I was a child, I desperately wanted to be a boy. Girls lived with so restrictions, constantly reminded, “girls don’t do that.” “Don’t play so rough.” “Keep your dress tail down!” It didn’t take a genius to see women stayed home and were drudges while men went off and did interesting things. There were a lot more Betty Crockers than Annie Oakley’s.
Stories of the exploits of brave or evil men were common. Women were more likely to win acclaim for their beauty, not their abilities. Girls could look forward to marrying and having children. Men could do that and whatever else they aimed for. Despite the poor press women received, they were major factors in the success of home and community, rarely noticed, unless they failed. As adult, I was impressed at how much women quietly accomplish and their major contribution, showing strength in impossible situation.
Please share an excerpt from ‘Just Women Getting By’.
The excerpt is from the story “Hard Time Marrying.” Two young people find themselves married in a horrific situation with no way out.
Their union had a bleak start. Shivering miserably on the depot platform in the freezing rain, the woman folded and refolded his tattered letter. Angered, he thought of driving on when he saw her cradling a small child and holding the hand of a grimy toddler, a few tattered bundles at her feet. In her letter, she’d not mentioned the little ones, though with all fairness, the marriage was only one of need on both parts. He hadn’t promised her anything either, so after hesitating, he was mollified by the thought that the little fellows served as proof she wasn’t barren. Hurriedly, married minutes later at the preacher’s house, he apologized for the weather as they shivered the two hours home in his open wagon and was surprised to learn the woman didn’t speak or understand English. Maybe that wasn’t so bad for a man accustomed to his own company.
Burning with fever by the time they got to his homestead, his unknown wife was dead by the next sundown, leaving him with little ones he had no taste for. Barely reaching his knee, they toddled mutely in perpetual soggy diapers, uttering gibberish only they understood. As soon as he could, he buried his quilt-wrapped wife and headed back to dusty Talphus, Texas to rid himself of burden of her orphaned little ones. The church or the town would have to do for them. Loading them in a snug in a bed of hay, wrapped in a ragged quilt, hay heaped over them. he pitied and grieved for them on the long trip back to town, knowing the hard life they faced. Stopping several times to make sure they were warmly covered, he was relieved to find them pink and warm. He hardened his heart against them, knowing only too well the life they faced. He’d never known family, just been passed from hand to hand. He grieved knowing that was their lot, but deception had landed them with him and a lone-farmer could hardly be expected to shoulder the brats of a dead woman he’d never even shared a bed with.
Thank you Linda, and a Happy 90th Birthday to my Forever Mom, Kathleen.
Your gift to me still warms my heart.