Author Spotlight: Julie Bogart

The Original Brave Writer: Julie Bogart

Internationally acclaimed teacher of writers and author Julie Bogart is the mind behind Brave Writer, a fantastic resource for parents and students of writing. She has authored over 200 curricula teaching writing to various age groups, helping thousands gain a better understanding of the written word, and their own voice. Her podcast is also a fantastic support for homeschool families. The same warmth and insight found in her teaching style is evident as she chats with families about their challenges and helps them find ways through the rough. We were able to score an interview and are so pleased to be able to share with our readers her work and wisdom.

TLW: Thank you so much for agreeing to visit with me about your work and approach to writing! I saw this quote recently, and felt the truth of it regarding my own writing. Even as someone who loves to write, it sometimes takes a lot of guts to put myself out there; sometimes the sacrifices required to see your work through is tough, so this really hit home:

“There are so many ways to be brave in this world. Sometimes bravery involves laying down your life for something bigger than yourself, or for someone else. Sometimes it involves giving up everything you have ever known, or everyone you have ever loved, for the sake of something greater.

But sometimes it doesn’t.

Sometimes it is nothing more than gritting your teeth through pain, and the work of every day, the slow walk toward a better life. 

That is the sort of bravery I must have now.” 

― Veronica Roth, Allegiant

Does this relate to your writing students?

JB: Courage in writing, in my view, has to do with showing up as yourself—your ideas, imagination, personal experience, opinions, thoughts. It takes courage to risk exposure of a self. We sometimes forget that it takes just as much courage to write a 4th grade report about dolphins as a poem—to make sure you have the right information in the best sequence, that you’ve shared it in a way you hope is compelling to read. So yes—that there are many ways to be brave resonates. What I notice is that not everyone recognizes the act of courage in writing. That’s my mission: to highlight that fact and help parents appreciate it.

TLW:  Tell me more about why you chose the name “Brave Writer” for your programs and materials.

JB: Both words matter.

“Brave”—because each of us has to be willing to be seen when we write. One of the reasons for the rampant experience of writer’s block is that everyone knows putting your thoughts into written form preserves them for scrutiny, judgment. When we talk, our words are ephemeral, easily revised and forgotten. Writing solidifies and preserves them—we must face our own shoddy thinking or incomplete understanding. The willingness to greet the blank page with openness and optimism often needs to be cultivated. Putting our words where they will be read is a brave act.

“Writer”—because we teach human beings (writers) not a subject (writing). The emphasis in our name is on the people taking the writing risks. Anyone who can externalize language is a writer—whether that person transcribes their own thoughts or gets someone else (secretary, parent, voice-to-text software) to do it. Writing doesn’t exist apart from the writer; writing lives inside the writer. Our task in Brave Writer is to help the writer discover their words within and then to coax those words forward with gentleness and optimism. Once we have the words on the page or screen, we can do lots of things with them—all of which can be shared in a friendly, warm way, which leads to power in writing.

TLW: That is so beautiful and powerful. How did you start your career in writing, and ultimately arrive at teaching writing?

JB: My mother (Karen O’Connor) is a professional author of over 70 books and countless magazine articles. I grew up writing as a natural birthright. As a young adult, I built a freelance writing career that included ghostwriting, magazine editing, and book editing. A homeschooling friend of mine shared her struggles teaching her children to write and asked for my help. When I looked at the materials she was using, I was floored. They were so out of step with everything I knew about the writing life. She then suggested I host a class for her and other home educators. We began with 15 parents and it grew over 7 weeks to 40 people. I discovered that what I taught felt brand new to most adults. That led me to realize that a book teaching parents how to be writing coaches and allies to their kids would be valuable.

Julie’s supplemental materials delve into more than just basic writing.

TLW:  You do have a very unique approach compared to most writing instructors for children. I love that you’ve set as a first priority helping writers find their voice. What advice do you have to writers still struggling in this area?

JB: More freedom, more space to write “badly.” One of the first ways I help kids who feel reluctant to write is to encourage them to focus only on their thoughts (not spelling, handwriting, or punctuation). Give complete attention to the ticker tape of ideas and words flowing through your mind and write down every single word—even words like, “I’m stuck” and “This is stupid; why do I have to write?” As the hand is trained to transcribe the mind, the blocks dissipate.

For especially stuck writers, I go one step further. I tell the young writer than no one (not even your parents) is allowed to read what you write. Set a timer for 3-5 minutes and write the whole time, anything you want to say, anything going through your mind, and share it with no one. Your writing is for your eyes only. Get used to seeing yourself show up on the page without the anxiety that someone will judge you for what you put there. Some kids need months of weekly writing just like this. To help create this space, I tell parents that they, too, must write for 3-5 minutes at the same time. Let’s all take the same writing risks—a democracy of writing.

TLW: We talk often about the bravery required for an aspiring writer to become a published author. What about the bravery required for teaching?

I homeschooled my five kids who are now all grown adults. I went through many of the struggles other homeschooling families face. I had one child with ADHD, another with dysgraphia, a daughter who didn’t read until she was almost 10. My family tested the ideas I share and lived with the challenges of education at home—and I learned so much. Our Brave Writer team has worked with over 100,000 families. Over the last 20 years, the one constant in all that work is this: a parent’s loving, warm relationship with the child is the key foundation for a healthy homeschool AND writing life. It takes courage as a parent to be relentlessly optimistic, to use your friendliest voice when identifying the missing capitalization yet again, to affirm the writing risk rather than to criticize the poorly developed content. It takes faith to believe that your children can arrive on the shores of adulthood ready to tackle their futures, even if their spelling skills are still “woefully behind” at age 13.

I wrote a new book called THE BRAVE LEARNER: Finding Everyday Magic in Homeschooling, Learning, and Life that expands on this premise—the notion that parents create a context for the magic of learning to take place. Fortunately, these are skills that can be learned by the parents—if they are brave enough to trust themselves, their children, and the process. The book is available through online retailers and local bookstores. Check out the website for more information: https://thebravelearner.com

Thank you so much for taking the time to visit with us, Julie! I’ve learned so much from your work and am so thrilled to share it with our readers.

Author Spotlight: James D. Taylor Jr.

James Taylor is a Renaissance man, delving into music, history, and writing in his decades long career. As a military veteran, composer, amateur astronomer, and historian, he brings a depth and breadth to his work that is priceless. His penchant for finding a good story in history and talent in finding true sources combine to create intelligent, engaging biographies that reveal his favorite aphorism: truth really is stranger than fiction. He has written four biographies detailing the lives of some of the lesser known Tudor royalty and two about the women behind the enduring Betty Boop. His fantasy novel, Checkmate, entwines Egyptian history with the lives of present-day researchers trying desperately to solve the puzzle that will save the world. You can check out his full list of publications at https://jamesdtaylorjr.com/literary.

 

What first attracted you to Tudor history?

I watched a movie about Lady Jane Grey, which fueled my curiosity… I encountered nothing but inconsistencies with everything I reviewed, such as the spelling of her name and her birth date, to mention a few. I realized that there should be a single unbiased reference available free from embellishments for researchers or just anyone interested in Lady Jane. This led to the following six books for the same reason.

How do you find the documents you use as the backbone for your histories?

Eighty percent of my research still involves reviewing material in libraries and private holdings, as many of the original documents and books are too fragile to be handled for digitalization. This may require traveling out of state. While accumulating material for Helen Kane, I located a single copy of the court trial transcript in New York. The day I was to leave, the copy disappeared. I was rather devastated as the trial transcript was to provide the foundation for the book, and it appeared the project would have to be cancelled. The library frantically searched for the missing copy, but it was never located. About three weeks passed when the librarian located another copy in a law library—that saved the project.

 

What a relief! That would have been disastrous. How do you even know where to look for these materials?

The Tudor era projects are perhaps a bit easier as there is a rather limited selection of published material through history, though sometimes scattered throughout the world. I lost a very dear friend, Dr. Charlene Berry, a research librarian at Madonna University who sometimes helped me with locating pre-1600 books. More often locating sources is like archaeology, but cleaner. I just kept digging and most of the time found nothing, but occasionally I did. I utilize Worldcat.org and Melcat for locating sources not found in local University libraries. The University of Michigan, by the way, has one of the finest libraries in the country.

Your work really brings alive the drama, intrigue, and excitement of people’s lives. How do you do it?

We too often imagine what a person’s life and times are like through the media’s portrayal, which is often very different. Pirates are a good example. Media presents them as dashing, swashbuckling Errol Flynn types instead of deadly, ruthless individuals who patrol the seas looking for easy prey. The Somali pirates we encountered off the coast of Vietnam when I served in the U.S. Navy killed two dozen refugees before we could save the remainder. Usually, fact is more interesting or even unbelievable than fiction. That is my driving motivation, to present the unembellished facts.

 

Tell me about your fascination with Betty Boop.

I felt that Mae Questel’s story had to be told, and the more research I conducted about Mae’s contributions to Betty Boop, the more untold elements I discovered about Betty Boop, which included Helen Kane. Betty Boop was and is an iconic figure known worldwide, but very little is known about her creation and the tragedy that followed. Some of her early (pre-Hayes code) cartoons are very dark even by today’s standards.

 

How on earth did you get celebrities like Woody Allen, Lou Hirsch, Doris Roberts, and Bob Newhart to discuss Mae Questel’s career with you?

I cold contacted all those who worked with Mrs. Questel based on who was still alive, and who would possibly respond; some by direct contact, through the studio, production faculty, or an agent. Constant diligence and persistence yielded those few who did respond. No one simple answer, as each individual warranted a different method. Many of the actors never met her on the set because of the scheduling of shooting times were different. Perhaps as high as eighty percent never responded. This includes family members.

 

That takes real tenacity. Any other tips for budding authors out there on how to research effectively?

Ask questions. Learn to decipher fact from fiction through persistent research. In a class I attended, a woman turned in a report based upon facts she obtained from Wikipedia. When the professor asked if her facts were true, she replied, “Yes, Wikipedia said they were.”

Oh wow. That is sad. You are quite the Renaissance man. Do you find your varied interests help when you sit down to write?

While serving in the military, I visited a dozen countries and had a chance to experience much that those cultures offered. These and life’s experiences have provided me with a valuable tool set allowing me to sometimes view things as others may not.

 

How do you organize your time for your work?

Writing biographies (to me anyway) is like patch-quilting. I will pick a pattern (subject), assemble the swatches (facts), lay them out and assemble them until the final result is something I am proud of. I maintain the discipline required to allocate time and it can vary from an hour to 14 hours a day and if travel is required, more.

 

How do you approach the editing phase of writing?

That is the most tedious aspect of any project in determining what remains or goes. Generally, if information is unclear or I am unable to validate or substantiate it, it is a time consuming decision as to the fate of that information. Depending on the complexity of the project, I will set it aside and re-review it at a later date to possibly gain a fresh perspective.

 

Thank you, James, for your time! It’s been wonderful getting to know you. I look forward to reading your upcoming publications!

Author Spotlight: Ed Myers

Over the course of a week last September, I had the opportunity to administer a series of in-person interviews with the subject of our latest author spotlight, Mr. Ed Myers. I usually conduct my business via e-mail, so this was a rather unusual medium for me, but it turned out to be an unexpected blessing. I don’t use the word blessing lightly; with its overt religious overtones, it can alienate those who disdain the subject, and it can carry a distinctly heavy sort of preaching when it is put into use. I can’t deny that it fits in this case, however; to meet with Ed in person when I would normally choose the more modern route was a blessing to me. I had to consider that, while I am far from tech-savvy, I have taken refuge in insulating myself from much of the lesser social graces that come with meeting someone in person if I can avoid it. That’s the beauty of e-mail and text! I have embraced skipping over that awkwardness that comes with making small talk and chit-chatting about the weather, the uncomfortable pauses, having to listen and feign interest while someone talks about their kids and then trying to decide when it’s too soon to extricate myself from the meeting without being rude. All of this is a moot point over e-mail: it’s quick, to the point, and we none of us must suffer each other’s annoying personal qualities. What could be a more efficient arrangement?

In meeting with Ed this week, particularly for such an extended session, I came to see that there is something more important than efficiency. A connection is forged in that awkwardness borne of face-to-face interaction; there is a certain beauty in the pauses and there is the heart of human experience to be found in time spent in the presence of a person, even a person we don’t know that well. This is lost over e-mail. It may be uncomfortable and inconvenient, it may be time-consuming, but it is necessary sometimes. Especially when the topic is writing or poetry, which deals primarily and fundamentally with the subjects of the heart and how one can best explore those emotional connections. As a writer, I know I am an introvert. As an editor who works with many other writers, I am comfortable in stating that I believe many of my clients also exhibit introverted tendencies, as well. This leads us to the path of avoidance sometimes: avoidance of social contact, uncomfortable situations, and new people. In meeting with Ed this week, I’d like to share that these new experiences wake the sleeping talent in us. They revitalize our creativity even if the cost seems high and we’d prefer to shy away from that source of discomfort. I’m not counseling anyone into a panic attack, but I am pointing out that it is easy to hide behind our wall of technology and forget that human interaction is the best and most important inspiration there is for a writer. I’d like to thank Ed for reminding me of that and for giving me back my inspiration. Now, without further ado, his interview and a poem he wanted to share:

Catherine Foster: Did you like to read poetry growing up?

Ed Meyers: Yes. Edgar Allan Poe was my favorite.

CF: How long have you been writing poetry?

EM: About thirty-five years.

CF: Do you write out of passion or in hopes of publication?

EM: both

CF: What is your inspiration?

EM: Shannon

CF: Your poems are often very emotional and deal with subjects such as love, loss, longing and grief. Many authors struggle to be so open about these feelings. Do you have difficulty tapping into deep emotions and sharing them on the page for others to read?

EM: Yes and no. It’s easy to let my feelings out. It’s not easy to let people read it.

CF: Tell me what you love most about writing.

EM: The chance to express my feelings. It makes me proud.

CF: Poetry is an art form that requires an abundance of patience to master, which you have cultivated; Do you have any words of advice for your fellow poets who may need some direction?

EM: Let it flow.

CF: Thank you for your time with me. Do you have anything else you’d like to say?

EM: It’s hard work to write poetry, but the end product is usually worth the effort. It’s easier to write poetry if you write it with feeling.

Shan

Playing the role of a broken heart

is not easy,

No, not easy

Way to proceed

Like putting

the horse behind the cart.

Being with you

is simple, satisfying, serene; an art.

Tactics to endure.

You move out of the past

but it’s hard to be sure.

Being with you

is so simple

Like learning how to breathe,

for you are the reason for my reprieve.

I’d like to thank Ed for the time he spent with me and for the enormous amount of patience he had with me during these interviews. I’d also like to extend my sincere gratitude to the staff at Origami, particularly Bethany Simon and Kaitlyn Cavazos, for helping facilitate this process.

The Ruthless Side of Storytelling

Ira Glass is one of the most recognized voices in radio. He’s the man behind This American Life, which has landed no fewer than six Peabody Awards, among other accolades and nominations. Glass has spent the last 30 years of his career as reporter and host for numerous NPR programs and was nominated for an Emmy in Outstanding Writing for Nonfiction Programming. He is known for his thoughtful, relatable stories and was acknowledged for setting the aesthetic standard for nonfiction programming in both radio and television when awarded the Edward R. Murrow award. What is it about Glass that captivates audiences so effectively? Let’s take a look at two undervalued bits of wisdom from this four-part interview shared on YouTube.

1.      Finding the Right Story

 

“Often the amount of time finding the decent story is more than the amount of time it takes to produce the story… if someone wants to do creative work, you have to set aside just as much time for the looking for stories.”

–Ira Glass

 

Did you hear that? Just as much time needs to be set aside for finding the story for TV or radio. Maybe not in exactly the same ratio, but this counsel is so relevant and necessary in the lives of so many writers, both fiction and nonfiction. It takes time to really find the right story to tell, and it’s important not to be discouraged every time you hit a dead end. That’s just the way this works! Ira admits, “between  half to one-third of everything we try, we go out, we get the tape, and then we kill it…I think that not enough gets said about the importance of abandoning crap.” I’d like to add that this time spent on odds and ends that don’t pan out is not time wasted. All of that work, every interview, paragraph, and character sketch is just making you better at what you do. It’s an essential part of the creative process.

 

“… failure is a big part of success… you’re going to run into a ton of stuff and it’s going to go nowhere, and you should be happy about that.”

–Ira Glass

 

Why would we be happy about that? Because it means we’re doing it right. You have this lightning bolt idea, but toss it around, do the research, spend some time on it, and ultimately realize there are some key flaws and it’s not going to take shape the way you need it to. It’s okay to let that idea die! There’s a reason the age-old adage, “kill your darlings,” never goes away. It’s just a fact of creating good art. The key is knowing when to quit. Stop shoving effort into a blah story. Be encouraged by those discarded scraps of Not Quite. They are freeing you up to pursue something much better. Just keep looking, keep showing up and doing the work and you will be on the road to creating something special.

 

“You will be fierce. You will be a warrior. And you will make things you know in your heart aren’t as good as you want them to be. And you will just make one after the other.”

–Ira Glass

 

2.     Ruthless Editing

 

“You have to be, like a killer about getting rid of the boring parts and getting right to the parts that are getting to your heart, and you have to be, you know, just ruthless if anything is going to be good.”

– Ira Glass

 

You’ve found the right story to tell? Fantastic! Don’t hang up your machete. The savage work has just begun. Create and stitch and solder together your anecdotes, reflections, and revelations. Then get brutal. You will have to make tough choices about what needs to be there, and what is a distraction.

 

“Things that are really good are good because people are being really, really tough, and you’re going to be really tough.”

–Ira Glass

 

Evaluate the purpose and power of each part of your manuscript, and if in doubt, cut it out. Read it again. Does something new stand out? It is surprising how much impact is made when you’ve left only what’s most meaningful. If it’s causing your work to lose focus or spin off kilter, it’s got to go. It can be hard to see your work objectively, which is why I recommend letting it rest before diving in with the carving knife. If despite all this you know you’ve got a story, you’ve cut what you could but still aren’t satisfied; consider hiring an editor to point out the areas that need work.

 

“You don’t want to be making mediocre stuff… that’s not why anyone gets into this. The only reason why you want to do this is because you want to make something that’s really memorable…”

–Ira Glass

 

Author Spotlight: Brett Petersen (Video)

Brett Petersen was our very first client here at The LetterWorks, and fourteen of the pieces we’ve edited for him have been published or accepted for publication as of this posting! In addition to being a writer, he is also a musician and visual artist.

Brett and Josh sat down for a freewheeling conversation about what inspires him, his process and artistic hierarchy, goals, Star Wars, and… Hanson? Watch now, and scroll down for links to his stories and music!

Short Fiction:

CAVO
The Parasite From Proto-Space
Friday Tradition
A Free Ride to Pleroma
Inanimate Object Fibromatosis & Asbestos Leprosy
The Epic Quest of the Three ARMS
The Light in the Sky
Billy-Sally
The Summoning of the Memory Eaters
The Funeral Machine
The Walrus Who Touched the Sun
Ca-Caw
Sleep is One of Those Luxuries
Crystal Donut World
Cats and Dogs: A Bildungsroman for the Post-Post-Post-Modern Age
Javi and Bobby
The Labyrinth & the Jingling Keys

Music:

Raziel’s Tree
Brett Solo

Five Brilliant Ways to Write a Compelling Series

When I started writing fiction I had no idea it would turn into a series. I just wrote a story that compelled me to do my best, and as it turned out it was significantly longer than one book. It has been thirteen years since I began my journey as an author, and I’ve just released the second book in the Stealing Time Series: Shattering Time. Through that journey I’m half way through a four-book series, and I’d like to share my best tips for writing a compelling series.

  1. Develop complex characters One of the first tasks I took on as a new author was to get to know my characters. Following the advice of Evan Marshall, in The Marshall Plan for Novel Writing, I developed a bio on each character, delving into all parts of their world. I cut out pictures of them in various poses (from a JC Penney catalog) and imagined the details of their life, physical characteristics, flaws, even their parents’ jobs. As impatient as I was to get started, I think this step allowed me to feel their motivations and add layers as I moved throughout their story arcs. As I have written their dialog and mapped out their journeys, they have taken over my subconscious. Now, after the second book, they’re so much a part of me I don’t need to refer back to these notes anymore. They move through my subconscious and often dictate their path whether I like it or not.
  2. Add layers that build towards the next book When I wrote the first draft the basic story came together nicely. The editing process brought about number of layers that added a richness to my work that I believe keep the readers coming back for more. Let me share an example of this: In the first book, my main character Ronnie Andrews mentions that her father died five years in the past. As I was writing the second book, an idea developed that created an entire backstory for the father and will be an integral part of the third and fourth books in the series. It started as a tiny kernel of an idea, but as I kept exploring the possibilities a passing detail from Ronnie’s bio became an entire underlying plot driver for a future novel. Knowing this as I wrote the second book, it was easy to drop bread crumbs about this character that revealed a huge bombshell for the reader. It is one of the lingering questions at the end of book two that will bring my readers back to find out where this story thread leads.
  3. Develop the larger plot for the entire series Before I started writing the second book in the series, Shattering Time, I loosely plotted the remaining books in the series. There will be story elements that develop as I write, like the father’s backstory, but knowing where the future books will go gives me the freedom to maneuver in those parameters, add clues about what will come, and prevent me getting caught up in a plot hole in the future. This is another key strategy that allows those delicious layers to form and provides opportunities to build towards a deeper plot line than if I only worked on one storyline at a time. It is similar to watching a well-written TV series; they dive into the episodic plot, but they also weave in bigger story elements that carry through the series to add cohesion and build character depth as they move along.
  4. Introduce new characters in each book To add freshness, you need to keep the readers on their toes by adding fresh new blood to the story. In Shattering Time, I introduce two important new characters: Mike Walsh, Ronnie’s hot boss, and Steph’s little brother, Ian McKay. Both serve a purpose in future books and add an anchor point from this book to the next in the series. Mike offers Ronnie a better alternative than her current boyfriend, who Ronnie is finally seeing what her best friend Steph has been saying all along – that Jeffrey is not who she thinks he is. Ian adds comic relief to a very stressful plot and will bring an important skill set to book three.
  5. Change the scene for each book in the series Another way to add newness for the reader is to keep a distinct setting for each story. In the first book, Stealing Time, the story is split between her friend Stephanie McKay during Hurricane Charlie and Ronnie’s journey back in time to 1752 London. In the next book, Ronnie and Steph are together during Hurricane Frances until Ronnie is sent back in time to multiple locations. Still a split story but none of the same locations as the first book. In the third book, everything changes when Ronnie and Mike head to Puerto Rico on a business trip and encounter Hurricane Jeanne. The unifying elements through the entire series are the hurricane and the promise of time travel, but I’ve changed locations to add new challenges and situations to keep it fresh for the reader.

I’d love to know what you’d add to this list to write compelling fiction. I invite you to check out my Stealing Time Series, so you can experience the power of the storm and see how I used these five tips here.

Please sign up for my newsletter here and be a part of my specials and contests. I’m always offering ways to win copies of my books, and other special sneak peeks.

Bio: KJ Waters is the Amazon best-selling author of the short-story Blow and #1 best-seller Stealing Time. The second book in the series, Shattering Time, reached number six on the Amazon UK site and was number two as a hot new release seating neatly after Michael Crichton’s Dragon’s Teeth.

In addition to her writing, she is the CEO of Blondie’s Custom Book Covers and the co-host of the popular podcast Blondie and the Brit, and provides author consulting services covering branding, social media, and publishing.

She has a Master’s in Business and over eighteen years of experience in the marketing field. Before quitting her job to raise a family and work on writing she was the Director of Marketing and communications for a national behavioral healthcare company.

Where to find KJ Online:

  1. Books: Stealing Time, Shattering Time, and short story Blow
  2. Websites: Consultant site, Author Site, Blondie and the Brit podcast site, Book Cover Site
  3. Social media sites:
    Twitter: @KJWatersAuthor, @blondiebookcov @blondieandbrit @bbreaders
  4. Facebook: Author, Podcast, Book covers
  5. LinkedIn
  6. Instagram
  7. Pinterest
  8. Google Plus
  9. Goodreads
  10. Blog: Blondie in the Water

 

Author Spotlight: Jeff Wheeler by Amanda Wayne

Jeff Wheeler is a Wall Street Journal bestselling author of several fantasy novels. Among them are the Kingfountain and Muirwood series. His books are a blend of legend, history, and theology. He worked for many years at Intel before deciding to pursue his writing career fulltime. After dozens of rejections from traditional publishing houses, he opted to self-publish his books. This captured the attention of 47North, an Amazon publishing house. Four years after his early retirement from the IT world, Jeff Wheeler is quickly becoming a force in the literary world. He revived Deep Magic, a clean fantasy e-zine, to give writers in the subgenre a place to submit their works. Jeff’s unorthodox rise from rejection to success is an example to writers of how to overcome adversity and forging their own path to become a bestselling author. He is a devoted husband and father and a devout member of his LDS congregation. Jeff was kind enough to answer some questions for us today! (No spoilers!)

 

TLW: One of the many things I admire about your fantasy novels is the way in which you portray women. Your ladies are more Buffy than the “damsel in distress” trope. You take care to avoid writing female characters as powerless victims in a largely patriarchal society. Even your female villains are strong and powerful. What made you decide to go this much more female empowering route?

JW: It probably started with Princess Leia. I was in elementary school when the first Star Wars film came out; I still remember seeing it in the theater, and it made a huge impression on me. I grew up with mostly brothers, but then my mom had two girls and both were powerful (they needed to be when so outnumbered by us!) I’ve never liked writing stereotypes, so I’m not deliberately trying to make one sex stronger or weaker than the other. What I want is for my characters to feel realistic and human. I married a very strong woman, and she’s been an inspiration to me since we knew each other as teenagers. When I create characters, I want them to feel like real people. Many of them are actually inspired by real people—especially the girls.

 

You manage to marry historical fiction, Arthurian legend, and an undercurrent of theology into a fantasy series. This is quite an accomplishment. What made you think that a recreation of Richard III’s timeline into your fantasy world could work? How did you meld the genres so seamlessly?

I’ve always had a love of history and a love of fantasy, and it’s very natural for me to blend them together. I did my master’s thesis on an aspect of Richard III and have read many books and documents about that era. It’s part of my personal history, too—one of my ancestors died fighting in the same battle that killed Richard III. Like so many creative people, I often get my inspiration by mashing together ideas to form something new. I know a lot about the War of the Roses and thought that the setting would be an interesting era to write in. I mixed in some Arthurian legends and a trip to Yosemite, and voilà!

 

 

On the subject of theology, the Fountain magic has been compared to The Force. The Virtus concept is Roman based, but also carries some connotations of the Jedi code of honor. Your protagonists are self-sacrificing and honorable almost to a fault. In order to create tension, their adherence to their faith and their sense of nobility is constantly being tested. Were you ever tempted to have one of them fail their oaths and be destroyed by it?

Most people are inspired by inspiring stories. It sells a lot of Chicken Soup for the Soul books! There are so many examples in the world today of people who let others down or about those who are driven by greed and self-interest. I’m not interested in telling those kinds of stories. What I’ve always loved are those examples of people who gave it all for a higher cause. Those are the people I admire. Will I ever write a story about someone who doesn’t live up to that ideal? You never know. I like to surprise my readers.

 

One of the most poignant themes in your novels is that of the choice between free will and destiny. Did you find, in your research, that stories in our own history seem to repeat? Are we doomed to relive them until we learn from our mistakes?

It’s amazing to me how much history repeats itself. Take the Oath Maidens, for example, from the second half of the Kingfountain series. After coming up with that idea, I began to look for examples of more ‘Shield Maidens of Rohan’ (a nod to Tolkien) in history. I found so many. Yes, sometimes I think we are doomed to repeat mistakes if we don’t learn from them, but I also believe that every individual is capable of getting out of their cycle and doing better. History proves that is possible, too. But it’s always hard and many don’t try.

 

Your novels are in the subgenre of clean fantasy. The violence, while overt and necessary, is much more muted than in other literature. The human interactions are sweet and chaste. While there are some hints in your books of people engaging in activities that are unbecoming, your main characters are never put in positions that are untoward. Is it difficult to write in this genre and not fall into the modern trend of gory, explicit violence and oversexualization?

Let me put it this way: I think it is more difficult to write without those things than it is to include them. It’s easy to rely on the sensational or the sordid for its shock value. For years I worried that the audience for “clean fantasy” was shrinking and that no one would want to read the kind of stories I was interested in telling. But I made a commitment to myself and my family and God that I would write counter to the trend because I believe in it so strongly. It’s what motivated me to love the genre to begin with. When I started having success with my Muirwood books, it proved to myself (and my publisher) that the market for cleaner fare was ready for a change. It’s not a small niche, either. As a result of the success of my books, I re-started my old e-zine, Deep Magic, to encourage and provide a venue for other authors who share similar values and a market for readers who want more. I think the pendulum swung too far toward the darker fare. It’s gratifying seeing more and more family friendly fantasy in the market these days.

 

On the subject of writing as a craft, you managed to write three whole novels in six months. NaNoWriMo is considered an extreme, even insane, challenge for authors. Writing and editing three books in such a short time is incredible! You quit a successful IT career to become a fulltime author, but how did you stay motivated? What helped you keep writing?

I have the best job in the world—for me. Even when I was in school, I dreamed of being a fulltime author someday. I’m also grateful that I was given the chance to do what I love. Like with any job, it takes a certain amount of self-discipline not to be distracted by social media, cat videos, or the like and to knuckle down and get to work. But I love what I do and it’s not hard to stay motivated. I have a wife and five kids to support, after all! While I don’t miss the cubicle life, I’m grateful for all that I learned working for Intel. Some of it has even inspired my writing.

 

Do you have any advice for authors who are still trying to get a foot in the door?

Persistence and practice. I’ve studied the lives of successful people from all disciplines and the one thing they all have in common in uncommon persistence. That’s especially true in a field where there is so much rejection. I had 42 agents tell me no. I still don’t have an agent. But I refused to quit. What I didn’t realize was that my publisher hadn’t even been born yet. Timing is everything. And about practice, I heard from Terry Brooks (the man who inspired me to write), who attributed the quote to Stephen King, that after you’ve written your first million words, then you’re ready to start being an author. A million of anything is a lot. So practice. And keep practicing.

 

You have nothing but praise for your developmental editor. Many authors don’t know what developmental editors are or how they can help. Why did you decide that the Whispers of Mirrowen books needed a structural edit? What have you learned about the process that you can share with our readers?

I didn’t even realize that developmental editors existed until I landed my first publishing deal. My publisher, 47North, assigned a dev editor to work with me on the Mirrowen series. They didn’t do that with Muirwood because it was already on the market and already doing quite well with readers! So they re-packaged it, did some general grammatical fixing, and then recorded the audio and boom, it was ready. But I’ve found having a dev editor to be an incredibly beneficial part of my writing process. If I had known what they were and what they did, I would have used them back when I started. Even when I self-publish books, I use my team. Their input is incredibly valuable to me.

 

You went from a dedicated cubicle professional to a WSJ bestseller in just a few short years. How does it feel to be such a successful author and do you have any words of wisdom to pass along to writers hoping for success like yours?

Sometimes I do pinch myself to make sure it’s not all a dream. But to be honest, it feels very normal now. I try to foster an attitude of gratitude and appreciation every single day. It is an enormous blessing to do for a living what you love, and I certainly haven’t gotten tired of it at all. It’s a privilege having fans, impacting them in some small way, and an honor hearing from them. I try to be responsive because I remember what it felt like to hear back from authors I admired. Back in the day  you had to mail them letters! That’s one of the reasons I said yes to this interview.

 

You just revealed that you are halfway through writing a new series. What can we expect from this new series? Can you give us any hints?

I never do spoilers! The pre-order page is live along with the stunning cover art for STORM GLASS. This series will be longer than my normal ones (5 books instead of the usual 3) and will feature two main characters who see the world and the plot from very different points of view. Both characters are fun to write and sometimes I struggle as to which POV I want to focus on next. The setting will be sort of Dickensian. That’s it. No more teasers!

In Bed with Jill Hamilton by Amanda Wayne

When I started researching Jill Hamilton for this interview, I ran into a rather unique problem. Every site I visited had her essays and tips. I kept getting sucked into them and forgetting that I was there to do actual work. I wasn’t there to learn about the weirdest sex inventions, seminars for vagina meditation, or octopus fetishes. I just wanted to find out about her degree from the University of Michigan and any random tidbits on her personal life that I could. I used every millennial surfing trick I possessed. I was all over social media, scouring website “about me” blurbs, and lurking on professional networking sites. I was this close to paying one of those stalker sites to get some good info on her. I knew super intimate details about her, but not the boring surface stuff that I knew about my neighbor’s sister. Jill manages to make it feel perfectly ordinary to read about things I only talk about with my best friend after we split one of the really big bottles of cheap wine.  It turns out that reading all of Jill’s entire anthology of essays was all the research I needed on this enigmatic lady. Jill has written for major magazines such as Rolling Stone and Cosmo and Entertainment Weekly. Her blog, www.inbedwithmarriedwomen.com, is hilarious and full of useful information. She agreed to answer a few questions for me and it was every bit as entertaining as I had hoped.

You have built this persona as a sexpert, writing for Cosmo, Salon, Alternet, Jezebel and many others. How did you fall into this crazy line of work where you make money talking about sex? 

My first Cosmo story was about 10 Weirdest Sex Devices or something like that. One of the things was a 70s-era bra with built-in nipples. The joke was about would happen if your actual nipples decided to make an appearance.  That is, 2 nipples = sexy, yet 4 nipples = not so much.

It mutated into me doing a stint as a sexual guinea pig, testing out Ye Olde Cosmo Tips–Use a scrunchie during a BJ! Smear food all over yourselves!  I have literally taken money for having sex (with my husband, for a Cosmo story, but still.) Whorish? Best job ever? Answer unclear.

What was the first big break you got as a writer?

I found out (long story) that there was a concert at a local nudist park in Michigan featuring Foreigner, Eric Burdon and others of that ilk. I sent a query to the delightful Jancee Dunn at Rolling Stone and she sent me to cover it. In case you were wondering, no one in Foreigner got naked, but everyone around me–who were exactly the age and demographic you could expect of older, not especially-toned nudists in Michigan– were butt naked, but for, incongruously, shoes and socks.

At what point did you decide to just embrace the baser side of humanity and write about the kinds of things people read in an incognito window?

Short answer:  Why bother with anything else?

Longer answer: I was sitting at the friggin’ Chuck E. Cheese with my friend, and we were discussing our moribund sex lives. What were the other preschool mothers doing about this? Was that one lady who looked like a grandma still banging her grandpa-looking husband? Were people having affairs? Did people just let their sex lives die, chalking it up to “maturity” and focusing really really hard on something like scrap booking?

I decided to start a blog In Bed With Married Women to ask people just this. (I am alarmingly nosy.) The idea was going to be a sociology study, with women just telling their stories. Like Studs Terkel but with more nudity.  The thing was, stories about marital sex are about as interesting as actual marital sex.

About the same time I saw an ad for something called Anal Ring Toss and I kind of veered in a whole different direction. This is still the central tension in the blog today–between a serious look at sex and what the hell it even is vs. the immature joy of finding a Japanese sex spray that smells like “secretary.”

What advice do you have for moms trying to live both lives?

My kids are kind of like Stepford children and are bizarrely good and smart. Advice for others:  just do the parts you want. Like I don’t really fold clothes as much as bend them into smaller shapes.

Do you ever have trouble making those pieces work together? “Lift your left leg on to your partner’s right shoulder and- Hey! Don’t eat with scissors!”

I actually have said “Don’t eat with scissors.”  They were safety scissors, but still.  My kids are older now and they know way too much about what I do. I think it’s good though. Knowledge is power and all that. My sixteen-year-old, Maddie, is cheeky as hell and makes up fake positions that I should be sending to Cosmo.  I think the most recent one was the New Year’s themed “The Ball Drop” for the older gentleman.

What advice would you give to someone trying to get their first set of words in print? 

Write something. If you don’t, maybe you aren’t actually a writer. Maybe you’re a chef or something.

Do you ever get tired of writing about sex? 

Positions, yes. So yes. But sex, not yet.

Does anyone ever recognize you and ask for sex advice?

People ask me about sex toys. If you’re asking, I am currently going steady with an iRock by Doc Johnson.

You have a very intimate writing style. It is unapologetically frank and quite charismatic. Did this come naturally to you or did you develop it over time?

This sounds so ick and pretentious, but if you’re not talking about something real, what’s the point?

You seem to go to a lot of sex seminars and workshops, is it usually a sausage fest? Or are the sexes equally represented?

Both; people are generally earnest.  They want to be decent lovers, have good sex lives and are open to learning something new.

In the 60s, America had a sexual revolution and women came out of the kitchen burning bras and marching for rights. Women have started to march again. What do you think the future generations will have to say about what women accomplished now?

I think they will think it’s ridiculous that we were so backwards.

Do you think we have gone too far? America’s modern mother is a bread winner, bacon cooker, house maid, PTA president, soccer mom, 5k runner who also is forward thinking enough to want to be on top when the lights go down. Is this equality?

Equality is when we all can feel comfortable and able to be whoever we are. Men women, black, white, whatever.

If you could have a one minute Superbowl ad to impart your wisdom to the masses of men and women in America, what would you say?

Science is real, you fucking morons.  Hmmm, maybe should tone that down a little. (Nah!)

You interact with your readers a lot. Are you ever afraid an overzealous fan will use internet skills to find you and show up at your door? 

Eighty-five percent of my readers are exactly who I hoped–super smart, funny and curious. I adore them. The weirdest people were a group of Nazis on Twitter who got all roused/riled up by a piece on pegging I did. They were super furious, yet oddly obsessed. They were like “Are you a Jew? Cause you write like one.” I said “No, but thank you!” and they got even madder.

What’s next for Jill Hamilton? Your own sex toy line? Lingerie? A book? Directing female friendly adult films? Parenting books? Cooking show?

I’m eternally working on a book, though by “working” I mean thinking about it, then playing Words With Friends.

Author Spotlight: Nelson Lauver by Amanda Wayne

Nelson Lauver is a man of extensive talents. An advocate for dyslexics, author, motivational speaker, and syndicated radio storyteller, he has made his life about words. As a child with undiagnosed dyslexia, he struggled with words. Nelson is a successful businessman, having learned outside the classroom how to work the world around him.  He hired people to handle the reading and writing aspects of his various businesses. He didn’t become literate until his late twenties, and then he made up for lost time by making words his life, his living, and his calling. He speaks to audiences around the globe, even to NASA! His acclaimed book is given away for free to parents and teachers in the hope that his personal story of successes and failures can help adults engage with dyslexic children and spare them some of the hardships he overcame. You can find your free copy of his memoir at https://www.nelsonsbook.com.

 

You have written extensively about your life with dyslexia and how you overcame those challenges to become a successful author. To what do you attribute your success in moving past those obstacles? 

N — Constant curiosity, especially about people and the desire to learn something new from them, and then share what I have learned.

 

What advice do you have for other authors struggling with learning disabilities?

N — I don’t think of myself as having a learning disability.  I certainly respect the opinions of others who feel they have a learning disability.  I think of myself as having a learning difference (I learn differently from others).  With that said, there are upsides and downsides regardless of what label one puts on it. Tech has changed everything!  There are many tech options for every individual reading and writing style. For instance, I prefer to read with my ears and write with my voice.

 

You have made a name for yourself doing motivational and comedic performances in front of audiences across the country. Is there any venue or audience that really stood out for you? 

N — Yes, those who know my story know that I was an academic failure.  I just couldn’t learn in the traditional brick and mortar schoolhouse, and the punishments at school were brutal, archaic, and downright criminal.  My local school district couldn’t wait to purge me from the system. Eventually, new administrators replaced retiring ones, and things slowly started to change. Imagine my delight when I received the invitation to appear at my old school to discuss achievement and success with the students.

 

You have said that you believe dyslexics make excellent problem solvers because they learn to read society as a way around learning to read and write. Do you think this unique learning experience aided you in being a successful businessman and entrepreneur? 

N — A study by the Cass School of Business found that 35% of American Entrepreneurs identify as dyslexic.  This fact plays out over and over again in discussions as researchers try to discern why.

The “why” is pretty simple; by the time we finish with all things educational, we’ve had our bellies full of people telling us how to do things that don’t work for us.  It’s good to be king — It’s better to be your own boss.

 

What do you think non-dyslexics can learn from the dyslexic way of learning? 

N— That everyone learns best when they learn in the style that is best for them.

 

You have an impressive online presence. Do you have any marketing tips for writers looking to improve their sales or recognition?

N– It’s a business and nothing happens in business until someone sells something.  My dad always said, “Selling is like shaving, you have to do it every day.”  Sell!

 

You provide your memoir free to parents and teachers. What do you most hope your book teaches those interacting with struggling dyslexics? 

N– That the only reason people with the dyslexic mind struggle to learn is because society struggles to teach them. After I broke even on my Memoir (10,000 or so copies), I simply started giving books away (at cost) in service of the true mission of the book.  The e-book is 100% free.  I owned a broadcast media company and because of the similarities, it was very easy and suited my needs better than using an outside source for publishing.

To date, I have sold, provided at cost, and given away somewhere north of 250,000 copies of my original book.

 

As an author of a memoir, is it difficult to put your private life out into the world? Do you ever find it unsettling to run into someone you have never met who knows such personal things about you?

N– What I find unsettling is not what I have shared, and always happy to discuss with a stranger, but what questions a reader may have but finds themselves afraid to ask… and moreover, why are they afraid to ask.

 

What was the moment when you decided that your life was interesting enough that other people would actually want to read about it? Were you just brushing your teeth one day and thought, “Wow, I am just a really fascinating person. I should write a book about my life”?

N– I never wrote a book thinking my life was interesting.  I knew for a dozen or so years that I needed to write a book regarding my early life.  Finally, I could no longer turn away; I had a duty to tell my story as a way of helping others. I gave it a great deal of thought and decided that if I were to undertake a book, It would be necessary do it right. If you want to write a book to become famous or because you are famous and you just want to hear yourself talk; best of luck to you.  If you need to write a book because you feel compelled to help others, it will be necessary to cut yourself open and bleed onto every page of every chapter.  Your blood must saturate your book if you truly wish for change.  As hard as it is you must relive the experience to tell your story; best of luck to this type of author, as well.

 

What accomplishment or accolade makes you proudest?

I have a lot of plaques, awards, and citations for my “achievements.”

What I don’t have is even one award for any of my many miserable “failures.” Almost everything I do well is a direct result of learning by screwing up. I would be so happy to hang an award for “failure” as it has been my greatest teacher.

 

What can you tell us about speaking for NASA? Did you do any special research before that performance?

N– I have been a keynoter for NASA twice. They are lovely people, as I find all my audiences to be.  The thing that struck me most about the folks at NASA came during my tour of the space station assembly area.  I got to walk through a space station unit that had returned to earth, AND it had the same identical $39 microwave in it that I had at home.  I figured the rocket scientist at NASA were either as down to earth as I am OR I’M AS SMART AS A ROCKET SCIENTIST!

 

Your book is ironically entitled “Most Unlikely to Succeed.” Why did you decide on this title versus others you may have considered? 

N– The raw honesty that comes with adversity and the fact that we should never negatively speculate on the outcome of anyone’s life.

 

Do you have any advice for new authors hoping to become published?

N– Your best chance to become published is to become a publisher. It’s never been easier.  Read “The Well-Fed Self Publisher.”  As I said earlier, it’s good to be king; It’s better to be your own boss.

 

What’s your latest or next project? 

N– I’m wrapping up another book about dyslexia and then moving on to a highly curious subject: the female soul.  Stay tuned!

 

Author Spotlight: Kristy Gherlone

Kristy Gherlone was born in Maine into a family of musicians, writers, and outdoor enthusiasts. Much of the inspiration for her writing comes from her unusual childhood experiences, including the series of events that led her to the north Maine woods town of Millinocket, where she spent most her life.

After graduating high school, Kristy went on to the University of Maine.  In between attending classes, she co-opened a day care center and worked at the University child care center.

Later, she made the decision to leave school to start a family of her own, and raised three girls. She worked for several years at Baxter State Park, as a Behavioral Specialist, and then as an Early Interventionist for children with autism. She has a great deal of passion for children and nature.

In 2004, Kristy moved to New Hampshire. She married a wonderful man from the area in 2014, and finally found peace. She started writing, which was something she had always wanted to do, and released her first novel, The History Lottery, in 2015. Since then, she has published two more novels, Twelve Urns, and Innate Tendencies.

Recently, she has turned her attention towards flash fiction and short stories, and has appeared in seven different magazines. One of her stories, The Whupping Tree, was edited with the help of The Letter Works, and it will appear in The Mystic Blue Review very soon.