Debut Authors of ’18: Samantha Heuwagen

Hello and welcome to my blog series dedicated to author interviews for 2018 debut authors! This has been started as a way to support some of my fellow ‘debutantes’ of 2018. Some of the genres may be a little outside while I usually write/talk about here, but each of these I share struck my interest in one way or another.

(See past author interviews at the end of this post!)

Guys, I’ve known Samantha for a while now, and she’s pretty spectacular. Add the fact that she’s going to be taking the Sci-Fi world by storm with all of the beautiful ways she weaves in humanitarian themes in her writing, and you’ve GOT to read this book. I was lucky enough to get an ARC, and it’s pretty dang impressive so far…

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GENERAL

– Author Name: Samantha Heuwagen

– Book Title: Dawn Among the Stars

– Book Genre: Science Fiction/Fantasy

– Release Date: May 21st, 2018 (that’s today!!!)

– Publisher: Trifecta Publishing House

THE BOOK

Set against the backdrop of intergalactic politics and war, Dawn Among the Stars follows the stories of three Humans as they struggle to understand the universe on a cosmic scale.

Kayin has a rough start when the Shielders, a potential alien ally for Earth, come out of hiding and into the public consciousness. Not only does their very existence cause her trouble, her panic attacks threaten to derail her everyday life. Can she overcome her mental health issues or will she be swallowed up in a political mess?

As for Henry Rickner, he wishes he could take back all of his mistakes in life, starting with his choice to leave Kayin.  Yet he finds himself within the chaos of war as he tries to reunite with those he holds dear.

Melissa Pebbles only has one goal: to keep her family safe during the attack. She will do anything to make sure she and her family make it through whatever challenges are thrown their way. While Melissa fights to keep her family alive, she learns that family is more than just blood.

Can these three work with the Shielders to save Earth or will they lose the only home they’ve ever known?

Teaser time

Aliens are real and living on Earth will never be the same.

– Where did you get the idea?

(I’ve answered this a millions times before, but in a dream…. Long story.)

– What was the hardest part about writing it?

For me it was finding time. From graduating from Mercer University School of Medicine life has been pretty jam-packed–– not that I would have it another way, but it definitely leaves little room for creative writing. If I wanted to write, I had to make the time. Luckily, the Universe was kind and I made it work.
– What’s the story behind the title? (e.g. who came up with it, did your publisher change it, etc.)

Dawn Among the Stars was originally the series title, but we worked together to switch it around. I’m very happy with it and I think it portrays a hope for the future in the book.

– No spoiler, but tell us something we won’t find out just by reading the book jacket.

Alien sex… Hold on, it’s about to get steamy in here.

– Tell us about your favourite character.

My favorite character has to be the sassy and smart, Kayin Aves. She’s a feisty Latina that isn’t sure she should trust these aliens that pretty much showed up out of nowhere, but she isn’t given a choice when she’s taken off planet to fight for Earth. I love that she’s true to herself and even though she struggles through panic attacks and PTSD, she’s willing to do what it takes to reclaim her home.

– If you could spend a day with one of your characters, who would it be and what would you do?

Unlike Kayin, I would want to get to know the La’Mursians. I think I’d want to see what their world was like and get to know them on a deeper level. I’m a therapist, so I always have questions up my sleeve and getting to know Space in such a unique way would be so interesting!

– Are your character based on real people, or do they come from your imaginations?

I think all the characters have a little bit of me in them sprinkled with personality quirks from the people around me. Gotta keep it interesting!

– Being a sci-fi/fantasy writer, tell us about the world! How did you come up with it? How did it grow?

I’ve mentioned briefly before everything came to me in a dream and once I started writing Dawn Among the Stars seriously, everything flowed together. I can’t really recall being deliberate with it, except a random thought floating on by.

It did grow as I’ve spent more time there, if that makes sense. The more my characters play around on Selucia, the Shielder’s home planet, I understand the culture, the language, and their ideals more clearly.

– How do your characters handle being in such a world? What did you learn about your world that you didn’t expect as you walked through it with your characters?

In the beginning we’re dropped onto Earth in the middle of a potential crisis. We get information as it comes, but it’s a pretty big news story so everyone knows something whether it’s correct or not. Kayin, one of the main characters, already deals with mental health issues, so her PTSD from the discovery of aliens doesn’t help much. The rest are a mixed bag. Some thing this is the coolest thing that could have ever happened to them, while others are scared shitless and don’t know if the Shielder’s can be trusted.

I didn’t expect to actually want to visit Selucia myself. Just because it might look and feel like Earth, doesn’t mean it is and the culture is traditional but still open about certain aspects that we aren’t so found of here in the US. I love the idea of visiting a whole new world that feels similar but isn’t at the same time. I think that would be a crazy culture shock to deal with. Might be fun if one of the characters has to deal with that, don’t you think?

 

WRITING PROCESS

– How long did you take to write this book? (You can share about the timeline from drafting to publication)

Several years, but I did take a few years off while I was in graduate school. I only started taking it seriously a couple of years ago.

– But really… how long as this story been in your head? (And how long did it take before you started actually writing it down?)

It’s been in my head almost 10 years? I started getting serious about the story only 2 years ago when some lovely ladies happened to push me forward and take my story seriously.

– What kind of research did you do for this book?

I had to look up a few locations and destinations in the US as well as some logistics in space.

– In this vein, what issues or idea (because you write SFF after all) did you struggle with most of all? Did an idea/concept/theme really stump you along the way?

I’m a romantic at heart, I am a couples therapist after all, but I really struggled with the concept of whether or not a Human could or would biologically fall in love with another species. And if that did happen, how would people/alien around them feel about that?

– How about – what did you learn while writing this book? About yourself, about the world, all of the above.

I learned that if I’m serious about writing for the rest of my life as part of my career then I have to put in the time to become a writer. That means my butt is in a seat, sitting in front of my desk. It also means I’m improving with every word, every sentence, every idea. To write is to grow and I don’t think many of us aren’t born writers, we come to it for many reasons and we grow into our voice and talent as we grow as human beings. I thought, originally, that people just fell into the writing process, but I don’t believe that anymore. The writers of the world write because they have to and because they respect the craft.

– What did you remove from this book during the editing process?

I removed the word “had” so many times I never want to see it again!

– Are you a plotter or a pantser?

Pantser for sure! I can’t plot everything out or I’d get bored.

– What is your favorite part of your writing process, and why?

I make myself laugh a lot, so when I’m writing and I bust out laughing it just feels good. It might never be funny to anyone else, but at the end of the day I’m not writing for everyone else. Sometimes writing takes a toll and is very serious, but if I can laugh through it, it makes the process that much more enjoyable.

– What is the most challenging part of your writing process, and why?

Finding time. I have to schedule my day in such a way that I can meet with all my clients (I’m a sex therapist), be present for them, teach (I teach at Kennesaw State University), and sit down to write or edit something. Luckily, there are 24hrs in a day or I’d be sunk!

– Can you share your writing routine? (e.g. How do you carve out your writing time? Where do you normally write?)

I write in my home office mostly, though I’ve been known to venture out to my local teashop. I light candles, turn on my salt lamp, blast some music usually by Sleeping at Last, and get to work–– oh and can’t forget the tea!

– Have you ever gotten writer’s block? If yes, how do you overcome it?

No. If I don’t feel like writing, I don’t. Why push myself until it hurts? That’s no fun.

– If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

Oh yes, girl, you’re going to be an author! How insane is that?

– How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?

Does my second book count? It’s on the way to publication, I just have to finish it!

– Do you have any writing quirks?

I need tea or it isn’t happening!

 

THE WRITER

I’m a bilingual sex therapist in Atlanta, GA. When I’m not doing therapy I teach the class, Love and Sex at Kennesaw State University.

– How did you get into writing?

While in graduate school I needed more self-care options. I started rewriting Dawn Among the Stars because it felt good and slowly I realized I had something special I wanted to share with the world.

– What do you like to do when you’re not writing? Tell us about your passions. What gives you an absolutely thrill (besides writing of course).

I love doing yoga, hiking, and hanging with friends. My biggest passion is changing the narrative around sex, mental health, and relationships. The best decision I’ve ever made was to become a therapist. I love being a therapist. I love helping people and I love changing the world around me. I can’t describe what it feels like to know that I’m witnessing someone’s life change. And even though my clients like to believe I’m making them change, they are ones doing the work. I simply get to be around for their journey during the time they need to heal.

– Apart from novel writing, do you do any other kind(s) of writing?

I’m a blogger. You can visit SamanthaHeuwagen.com and read my thoughts on mental health and how to live your best life!

– How about other artsy stuff?

I think writing is as arty as I get…. Nope, I lied. I can do make up pretty well and have been known to do a bride or two. That’s about it!

– Share something about you most people probably don’t know.

I hated words when I was younger. Being diagnosed with two learning disabilities I thought writing and reading were for other people. I’m so shocked this is where I am today, but I wouldn’t change it for the world.

– Which book influenced you the most?

Though it’s problematic, Gone With the Wind had an ending that still haunts me to this day! Come on Scarlett get it together, girl!

– How do you think being a sex therapist has influenced your writing? With all of that knowledge and expertise, what do you see as really wince-worthy in common tropes of writing about sex?

Can we for the love of god use the worlds PENIS, VULVA, and VAGINA when describing the act of sex? How hard is it to call it what it is? I think as a sex educator and therapist the way I see the world and how people interact in it is all over my writing whether it’s in Dawn Among the Stars or on my blog.

I want people to be free to express themselves and their feelings without fear of ridicule. I really wanted to create an anti-masculine male character and I did that with Henry Rickner. Some people will not get it because it goes against everything we’ve seen in Sci-fi/fantasy over the last decade or so. It’s time to allow people to be full humans without limiting themselves by stereotypes or gender identities. It’s 2018, we need to move beyond that and show the world for how complex it is. I think readers are ready.

– Furthermore, what do you want to see more of (or more accurately portrayed)?

I want to see CONSENT. In the follow up to Dawn, Fading Starlight, I make sure there is consent in every single love scene. I want it to be so clear what is and isn’t consent that it begins to change the way we understand it because, frankly, no one understands and that’s a major problem. I teach sex ed and it’s amazing how so many students don’t get it and they’re already having sex. I want that to change and I want to make sure we are learning to be healthy and safe sexual beings.

 

WHAT’S NEXT

– What are you working on right now?

The follow up to Dawn Among the Stars, Fading Starlight.

– Does your debut have a sequel planned?

Oh yes and I’ve already started writing it! I can’t wait to share it, hopefully sometime next year!

– What’s your favourite writing advice?

Practice, practice, and then practice some more.

TELL US…

– The book you’re currently reading

ROOK by JC Andrijeski

– What book has really stuck in your head lately – do you have a story you can’t stop thinking about?

I’d be lying if I didn’t say my own–– I’m obsessed. But recently, ROOK has captured my imagination and I love figuring out what’s going on. I love a good story that can keep me on my toes. I never know what’s going to happen next!

– What’s your favorite part about having your debut forthcoming?

I’m excited to have other people to talk to about my work. My dream would be to create a community of awesome people thrilled about the book and aliens as much as I am. I can’t wait for others to get to know Kayin, Henry, Melissa and all the Shielders!

THE PITCH

They say ignorance is bliss, but at what cost? Aliens have made contact with Earth and Humans are having a hard time digesting the new reality. Weak and unprepared, Earth is immediately plunged into intergalactic chaos. As the governments of the world scramble to incorporate aliens into political and religious texts, the everyday citizen struggles to live day by day.

Dawn Among the Stars, set in a time of war and upheaval, follows three humans as they deal with their inner demons, while adjusting to the suddenly changing world. With Earth in the middle of an intergalactic war, Kayin, Henry, and Melissa must follow separate paths to reclaim their planet.

TAGLINE

We reached for the stars, the stars reached back.

BUY LINKS

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07CSDC77N/ref
Barnes and Noble, iBooks, and more: https://bit.ly/2rTu2cI

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BIO

Samantha Heuwagen is a sex therapist, author, and activist in Atlanta, Georgia. When she’s not doing therapy, she teaches the class, Love and Sex, at Kennesaw State University. Her debut novel, Dawn Among the Stars, will be released in May 2018.

SOCIAL MEDIA

Website: SamanthaHeuwagen.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/609493369396318/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/Sheuwagen
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/samantha_heuwagen/
Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/heuwagens/pins/
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/75884217-samantha-heuwagen

Previous author interviews:

Pamela Kopfler – BETTER DEAD

Anna Quinn – THE NIGHT CHILD

Clarissa Harwood — IMPOSSIBLE SAINTS

Negeen Papehn — FORBIDDEN BY FAITH

Clarissa Goenawan — RAINBIRDS

Cass Morris — FROM UNSEEN FIRE

YZ Chin — THOUGH I GET HOME

Jennifer Haupt — IN THE SHADOW OF 10,000 HILLS

Carolyn M. Walker — IMMORTAL DESCENT

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Debut Authors of ’18 Interviews: Carolyn M. Walker

Hello and welcome to my blog series dedicated to author interviews for 2018 debut authors! This has been started as a way to support some of my fellow ‘debutantes’ of 2018. Some of the genres may be a little outside while I usually write/talk about here, but each of these I share struck my interest in one way or another.

(See past author interviews at the end of this post!)

I AM SO EXCITED AN URBAN FANTASY (which is probably my most favorite genre ever). I’m a bad, bad reader and author and have not made the time to read this yet (bad, bad Rebekkah), but I am SO excited to partake on the journey Ms. Walker has crafted.

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GENERAL

– Author Name: Carolyn M. Walker

– Book Title: Immortal Descent

– Book Genre: Urban Fantasy

– Release Date: 4/3/18

– Publisher: Clean Reads/Astrea Press

THE BOOK

Immortal Descent is about the mystery of immortality coming to the forefront in the modern world. A young man gets thrown into the underground world surrounding an age-old secret and he discovers he plays an integral part in a dangerous plot that has potentially epic consequences.

Teaser time!

He couldn’t explain it; he couldn’t justify it. All he could think of in that moment was it was all real. What he’d just seen in those memories had been real.

“The woman—what was she?” Ethan asked, still speaking just above a whisper.

“It was a Lorn.”

 

– Where did you get the idea?

The idea originally came from studying world religion. The notion of immortality and how it was portrayed across world cultures was fascinating to me. The more I thought about it, the more I thought “what if” and before I knew it I said, “why don’t I write a novel about it.”
– What’s the story behind the title?

I came up with the title myself. I love to play on words and the title has a dual meaning. Immortal represents immortality of course but descent represents the mysterious lineage of the Lorn creatures in my story, as well as the downward spiral into the unknown—a descent which the main character makes.
– No spoiler, but tell us something we won’t find out just by reading the book jacket.

There is an entire backstory to Ethan that plays an important role in the story. It will also come up again in future installments since this book is the first in a series.
– Tell us about your favourite character.

My favorite character is Rue. She is the main female character, opposite Ethan. Her sense of duty, strength, and ethics are deeply rooted qualities that make her memorable.


– If you could spend a day with one of your characters, who would it be and what would you do? (P.S. Please keep it to PG-13)

I would spend the day with Oryx, one of the oldest Lorns in the book. He is one of the most interesting characters with an interesting past, and the ability to see the future. He is very knowledgeable about the world of Immortal Descent and I know he’d be a most gracious host as is his personality!
– Are your character based on real people, or do they come from your imaginations?

I would say certain elements might have been plucked from a person or two but really just certain attributes from here and there. I didn’t base any character on any one person. The majority of their makeup was from my crazy imagination!

 

WRITING PROCESS

– How long did you take to write this book? (You can share about the timeline from drafting to publication)

The mere notion for the story came as a partial short story idea way back in 2002. Shortly after, I shelved the idea for years before picking it back up in 2015. I finished writing it that year, began querying it out in early 2016 and a few months later I landed my publishing contract with Clean Reads.

 

– What kind of research did you do for this book?

I did TONS of research for Immortal Descent. I did a lot of reading of historical books, mythological texts, and scholarly journals. I also had to brush up on international travel because half the book takes place in Western Europe.
– What did you remove from this book during the editing process?

I had a scene that was heavy foreshadowing of the conflict that comes to the forefront in Book 2. I found it to be ill-placed so early on in Book 1, so I omitted it and saved it for the early part of the next installment.
– Are you a plotter or a pantser?

Definitely a plotter.
– What is your favorite part of your writing process, and why?

My favorite part is the research in the beginning because I love to learn and educate myself on new things. I also enjoy the editing process where I’m polishing it up for the final run. I love seeing the finished product, so I can sit back and just be proud.
– What is the most challenging part of your writing process, and why?

The most challenging part for me is laying the groundwork in writing. There are times when the story comes to me like a flowing faucet and I can’t type fast enough to keep up. Other times (when the faucet seems clogged) it can be frustrating and challenging to keep plodding along.
– Can you share your writing routine? (e.g. How do you carve out your writing time? Where do you normally write?)

Normally I plan ahead in my mind with a goal, such as “I am going to write for two hours today.” Then I devote time to that writing without distractions in my home office. I tend to be a night owl, so a lot of the magic happens at night.
– Have you ever gotten writer’s block? If yes, how do you overcome it?

If it means sitting and staring at a blank screen because I literally have no idea on how to start (or continue), then yes! I combat it by either skipping the troublesome area or throwing myself into research. Research gets me thinking about stuff and before I know it, an idea pops into my head and bam, I’m writing again!
– If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

Do NOT doubt yourself! Thinking you cannot do something is as good as not doing it. Oh, and stop editing stuff to death—learn to let go!
– How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?

Oh boy. I’d say about a couple dozen!
– Do you have any writing quirks?

I talk to myself. I always read blocks of passages out loud before moving on. It helps me understand the writing beyond just what’s on paper.

 

THE WRITER

– Tell us about yourself. (e.g. day job, family, pet, etc)

In addition to being a creative writer, I write professionally as a copywriter. I’m also a mom to a fast-growing teen girl and a loving wife to my hubby of 13 years! We have a long-haired chihuahua named Dixie. 😉
– How did you get into writing?

Writing has been a part of my life since childhood and will be for the rest of my life. I wrote my first short story at 6, won my first state-wide writing award at 12, and published my first short story at 19 in a small literary journal. My mom fostered my love for words with an endless number of books and writing tools at home.
– What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

I love to read (surprise!) but I’m also a serious foodie and I like to recipe scrapbook! Making and cataloguing Halloween treats and holiday sweets are especially fun for me!
– Apart from novel writing, do you do any other kind(s) of writing?

I sure do! I’ve worked many years as a professional copywriter, technical writer, and ad copy writer for several firms, nationwide. I also dabbled in ghostwriting for a brief time.
– Share something about you most people probably don’t know.

I’m 20% fluent in Japanese, ha ha! I took it as my foreign language of choice in college, and I’ve always admired the culture, food, music and fashion, alongside the language. Some day I want to become fully fluent; it’s a work in progress. 😊
– Which book influenced you the most?

Many books have influenced me, but I would say that C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe really got me fascinated with fantasy as a child. To this day, I still adore that story!

 

WHAT’S NEXT

– What are you working on right now?

I am working on a couple of different projects right now. One is a heartfelt romance, another is a young adult thriller, and the third is a sci-fi story. I’ve always wanted to write a really good sci-fi story!
– What’s your favourite writing advice?

Always keep writing. It’s simple but really means the most to me. As a writer, I must keep doing what brings me the greatest joy—write (even if it’s for 10 minutes in a day, never stop).

TELL US…

– The book you’re currently reading

The Condition (book 1) by Alec Birri.

– What is one of your favorite quotes?

Smile. “Today is the tomorrow you worried about yesterday.” – Dale Carnegie

 

PITCH

Ethan West knows what it means to be different, with a haunted past and a strange sixth sense he sometimes can’t control. When he’s brutally attacked and narrowly saved by a beautiful and mysterious woman, things quickly become strange.

Ethan learns an ancient race of immortal beings known as Lorns exist and he is to be reborn as one. Suddenly thrust into a dark and bizarre world of underground societies, ancient secrets, and an age-old war, Ethan becomes a target to some and a savior to others. With a dark faction after him, Ethan struggles to understand his own purpose and power—an ordeal that tests his loyalties, beliefs, and sanity in ways unimaginable.
– Give one or two of your favourite blurbs.

“Deep in the caves of rural Western Germany, the truth about immortality has remained a secret for centuries, but now that secret is about to break free…”

“Ethan West knows what it means to be different. With a haunted past and a strange sixth sense he sometimes can’t control, Ethan’s in search of a better future. Instead, he’s brutally attacked. Narrowly saved by the beautiful and mysterious Rue, Ethan quickly learns the world is darker and more bizarre than he had ever imagined. And sparing his life comes with a price: being reborn immortal. Now, a dark faction of ancient, cursed immortal beings known as Lorns are after him. And they want his rare, newly awakened soul.”

“Descended from the mythological Nephilim, Lorns are bound by either the divine force of order or the mortal force of chaos. Ethan is a rarity, bound by neither, yet he is ruled by both. Now, wielding an ancient and volatile power, Rue and her Alliance work to keep Ethan from spiraling out of control. At the heart of a terrifying underground war between Lorns, Ethan becomes the target of one side and a savior to the other. Amid everything, Ethan struggles to understand his own purpose and power—an ordeal that tests his loyalties, beliefs, and sanity in ways unimaginable. And the greatest danger is yet to come.”

 

BUY LINKS

AMAZON: https://amzn.to/2jEGjxZ

 

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BIO

Carolyn M. Walker is a California native and lover of all things literary. As an avid reader, she’s always enjoying new and exciting reads. Now as an avid storyteller, it is her mission to bring that same joy to her beloved readers. After earning her Bachelors in English Literature and Psychology, Carolyn went on to pen the draft for her first fiction novel and hasn’t looked back since. Aside from writing, she is also passionate about art, food, travel, history, and music. Carolyn now lives in sunny Florida with her husband and daughter. Carolyn’s debut novel Immortal Descent, comes out in April 2018.

SOCIAL MEDIA

Website: https://carolynmwalker.wordpress.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/carolynmwalkerwrites
Twitter: https://twitter.com/MissWriteWise
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/misswritewise/
Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/misswri/
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/17271041.Carolyn_M_Walker

Previous author interviews:

Pamela Kopfler – BETTER DEAD

Anna Quinn – THE NIGHT CHILD

Clarissa Harwood — IMPOSSIBLE SAINTS

Negeen Papehn — FORBIDDEN BY FAITH

 


Authors of ’18 Interviews: Jennifer Haupt

Hello and welcome to my blog series dedicated to author interviews for 2018 debut authors! This has been started as a way to support some of my fellow ‘debutantes’ of 2018. Some of the genres may be a little outside while I usually write/talk about here, but each of these I share struck my interest in one way or another.

(See past author interviews at the end of this post!)

Here’s another literary fiction for you — and another one I can’t wait to read. This looks heartwrenching and fascinating!

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A Conversation with Jennifer Haupt, Author of In the Shadow of 10,000 Hills

Jennifer Haupt’s moving debut novel, In the Shadow of 10,000 Hills, is a multi-cultural story deftly weaves together the journeys of three women from vastly diverse backgrounds searching for personal peace in post-genocide Rwanda. At the heart of this novel that Bustle.com named as one of 19 debut novels to watch for in 2018 is the search for family, and the discovery of grace when there can be no forgiveness.

 

Q: Why did you go to Rwanda in 2007?

A: The short answer is that I was a reporter exploring the connection between grief and forgiveness. I went there to interview genocide survivors. I also went to interview humanitarian aid workers about why they were drawn to this tiny country still grieving a decade after the 1994 genocide.

I had an handful of assignments for magazines, writing about humanitarian efforts and they all fell through for one reason or another. That’s when I decided to hire a driver and go into the 10,000 hills to visit the small churches and schools with bloodstains on the walls and skulls of anonymous victims stacked on shelves. I wanted to trace the steps of the genocide and talk with the genocide survivors, mostly women, who were guides at these rarely visited memorials.

 

Q: What did you find in Rwanda that was surprising?

A: I didn’t even realize until I was in Rwanda that I needed to address my own grief for my sister who died when I was age two. It was forbidden to speak of Susie in our household; that’s how my parents dealt with their grief and I respect that. In Rwanda, it felt safe to grieve for the first time. My grief was miniscule compared with the genocide survivors. And yet, we shared a powerful mixture of emotions — compassion, sorrow, longing — that crossed the boundaries of race and culture.

What struck me was that many of the aid workers I interviewed were also grieving over the loss of loved ones. They came to Rwanda as a way of reaching out to help others, and also to heal their own souls. Most of the people I spoke with, no matter if they were Rwandan, American, European, were, in some way, grieving. I had always thought the universal commonality that connected all of us was love, but I learned in Rwanda that grief is an equally strong bond. Grief and love form the bridge that connects us all.

 

Q: How did your Jewish background effect you?

A: Fifteen years before I went to Rwanda, I visited the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial site in Germany. The site is an impressive museum with photo exhibits and artifacts. The former prison barracks and crematorium where some of my relatives may have been imprisoned and murdered were now scrubbed clean. I went to Dachau expecting to feel sorrow, maybe anger, but instead I felt a disturbing emptiness. Nothing.

During the two weeks I spent traveling in the ten thousand hills of Rwanda, I couldn’t help but think of my visit to Dachau. Thousands of people visit Dachau each year; we Jew vow to remember the atrocities that happened there. Never again. It struck me that I was nearly always the only visitor at the dozens of tiny bloodstained memorials I visited. There was always a guide, usually a woman, a lone Tutsi survivor whose family members were murdered at the church or school.

I remember at one church, I was met by a woman named Julia, in her mid-forties, around my age at the time. She had survived by laying on the floor among the dead bodies. Now, she gave tours so that no one would forget. I talked with Julia about her family members and friends who had been murdered here. We cried together; my tears were, in part, for my relatives and members of my tribe who had been murdered during the holocaust. I experienced a powerful connection with this stranger who lived halfway around the world from me, in a culture so different than mine, through both love and grief. I wanted to share that experience with others through the characters in my novel.

 

Q: Why did you write this novel, instead of a memoir about your time in Rwanda?

A: Amahoro is a Kinyarwanda greeting that translates literally to peace, but means so much more when exchanged between Hutus and Tutsis since the genocide. It’s a shared desire for grace when there can be no forgiveness. It’s an acknowledgement of shared pain, an apology, a quest for reconciliation. I wanted to be the conduit for telling the stories of amahoro that I had heard in Rwanda, from Tutsis and Hutus. I wanted to explore more deeply the meaning of amahoro, from many different world views. I wanted to excavate my own grief more fully and, perhaps, find my own vision of amahoro. I could only do all of that, I felt, as a novelist.

 

Q: Why did you choose to tell this story through the eyes of three women of different ages and cultural backgrounds?

A: I wanted to offer Westerners a window into a very different world, and to do that I started with an American protagonist leaving everything she knows to try and find amahoro. Rachel Shepherd is searching for her father, Henry, in Rwanda. She is also searching for the piece of her heart that he took when he left her twenty years earlier. The piece that knows how to love: like a child, like a wife, like a mother.

I also wanted to connect the African-American civil rights struggle with the struggle for civil rights of the Tutsis in Rwanda. That’s where Lillian comes from. Once I decided that she and Henry Shepherd had an ill-fated interracial love affair during the late 1960s in Atlanta, their story took on a life of it’s own. Lillian is on equal footing with Rachel as a central character in this novel.

Originally, this was just Rachel and Lillian’s journey: The intertwining stories of two women searching for the man they both love. Two women trying to piece together a family. I didn’t add Nadine’s story until eight years after I started writing this novel. She’s based on a 19-year-old woman I met in Rwanda who had left after the genocide and was returning for the trial of a Hutu man, a former neighbor, who she had seen shoot her mother and sister.

Nadine is a fusion of this woman’s story as well as other stories I heard in Rwanda — and then, of course, my imagination. She’s the lynch-pin that hold together the stories of Lillian, Henry, Rachel, and Rachel’s love interest in Rwanda, an American doctor running from his past who has become like an older brother to Nadine.

 

Q: Is this a political story about the genocide?

A: No, this is a story that is set against the backdrop of pre-genocide, the genocide, and then after the genocide. I conducted a lot of research about Rwandan history but I don’t claim to be an expert on the country’s politics or tumultuous past. I do present some background about the genocide, which is factual, but this is historical fiction. The story is about the experiences of the characters during this time in history.

 

About the Author

Jennifer Haupt has been a journalist for more than 25 years. Her essays and articles have been published in O, The Oprah Magazine, The Rumpus, Psychology Today, Travel & Leisure, The Seattle Times, Spirituality & Health, and many other publications. Her well-read Psychology Today blog, One True Thing, is a collection of essays and interviews with bestselling authors. In the Shadow of Ten Thousand Hills is her first novel. She lives in Seattle with her husband, two sons and Duck Toller.

 

For more information about Jennifer Haupt and In the Shadow of 10,000 Hills please visit www.jenniferhaupt.com.

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Previous author interviews:

Pamela Kopfler – BETTER DEAD

Anna Quinn – THE NIGHT CHILD

Clarissa Harwood — IMPOSSIBLE SAINTS

Negeen Papehn — FORBIDDEN BY FAITH


Debut Authors of ’18 Interviews: YZ Chin

Hello and welcome to my blog series dedicated to author interviews for 2018 debut authors! This has been started as a way to support some of my fellow ‘debutantes’ of 2018. Some of the genres may be a little outside while I usually write/talk about here, but each of these I share struck my interest in one way or another.

(See past author interviews at the end of this post!)

Alright, so reading through the inspiration and motivation behind this book gave me shivers. It looks incredibly poignant and thoughtful, and I’m seriously looking forward to sitting down and reading it.

ThoughIGetHome.png

GENERAL

– Author Name: YZ Chin

– Book Title: Though I Get Home

– Book Genre: Literary Fiction

– Release Date: April 10, 2018

– Publisher: Feminist Press

THE BOOK

Though I Get Home is a collection of interconnected stories that spiral inward to paint a picture of current-day Malaysia. The book is tied together by Isabella Sin, a young woman thrown in jail without trial for writing “controversial” political poems. Other characters include Isa’s grandfather, an immigrant to Malaya who becomes a butler of sorts under colonial masters.

Share a teaser:

            Hunger pinned her to the bunk. Starvation impaled her through the stomach, keeping her down on the thin mattress, resisting the momentum of her feebly raised head. Her neck strained to bring her vision to the requisite level such that she could observe the movement of sun against her prison walls. The sun was her way of telling time and estimating the next delivery of food.
– Where did you get the idea?

  • My great fear as a writer is self-imposed censorship. When I first started writing fiction seriously, it was pointed out to me that I was really holding back from writing about “taboo” topics like sex. I spent a lot of time exploring the roots of this self-repression, and I realized that I had been conditioned by a lifelong atmosphere of state censorship. That realization formed the seeds for Though I Get Home.

– What’s the story behind the title? 

  • The title is from an Emily Dickinson poem (#199 Franklin; #207 Johnson). The poem is complex and full of turns, succeeding in being both emotionally heightened and ambiguous at the same time – which mirrors how I feel about the idea of “home.”

– No spoiler, but tell us something we won’t find out just by reading the book jacket.

  • There is a surprising development in the main character Isa’s story arc (Kirkus called it an “unexpected twist” in a starred review). There are also explorations of Isa’s relationships with her grandfather, her mother, her father and her best friend.

– Tell us about your favourite character.

  • Isabella Sin, the young woman who is thrown in jail without trial for writing “controversial” poems. Her grandfather immigrated to Malaya and served under colonial masters, and her relationship with her parents are strained because of their separation and her preference for dating women. She is dealt a poor hand by fate, but she does her best to add a personal touch to the roles she is given to play.

– Are your character based on real people, or do they come from your imaginations?

  • Government censorship of the arts is a very real threat. In recent years, dancer Bilqis Hijjas was arrested and charged for releasing yellow balloons bearing the words “Free media,” “Democracy,” and “Justice” during an arts festival opening. Cartoonist Zunar has previously been arrested, and is still under travel ban for his political drawings.

 

WRITING PROCESS

– How long did you take to write this book? (You can share about the timeline from drafting to publication)

  • The book took about five years and at least four drafts. I worked full-time as a software engineer (partly to maintain legal status to remain in America), so I could write only on the weekends and in the seams of workdays. Drafts took so long to write that by the time I reached the end of the book, I was already a subtly different writer than the one who wrote the beginning of the draft, and I would have to throw out the beginning to start all over.

 

– What kind of research did you do for this book?

  • Two books by unjustly imprisoned men especially informed my work: Universiti Kedua (“The Second University”) by Kassim Ahmad and Sengsara Kem Kamunting: Kisah Hidup dalam Penjara ISA (“The Tortures of Camp Kamunting: Life Behind Bars in the ISA Prison”) by Saari Sungib. And of course, the daily news coming out of not just Malaysia, but also the U.S. and beyond.

– Are you a plotter or a pantser?

  • I sometimes pretend to be a plotter, but the stories and characters inevitably bring me down endless unexpected paths. I follow them willingly.

– What is your favorite part of your writing process, and why?

  • Oddly enough, my favourite part of writing does not always take place when my fingers are on a keyboard or holding a pen. It can be in the shower, or while I am taking a long walk to clear my head – the magical moments when a beautiful sentence assembles on my tongue, or when an unassailable truth about a character makes itself known in my head, and my heart knows it to be real.

– What is the most challenging part of your writing process, and why?

  • Honestly, the most challenging part is finding enough uninterrupted time to write while working full-time in an office.

– Can you share your writing routine?

  • I write in dribbles before work and on the weekends. If I am feeling particularly inspired, I squeeze in bits of writing time during lunch breaks and after work, even though I am usually drained by then.

– Have you ever gotten writer’s block? If yes, how do you overcome it?

  • Explore another (short) project. Expand a dream into a scene. Flesh out a “what if” idea into a plot or a flash fiction piece. Flip through a notebook I keep of scattered thoughts, half-formed musings, and sentence fragments.

 

THE WRITER

– Tell us about yourself. 

  • I work as a software engineer coding in C, which is a programming language invented in the early seventies. My husband and I have the world’s most beautiful and softest cat named Meursault (after Camus’ The Stranger). I was born and raised in small-town Malaysia, and I left at 19 for an engineering education in the U.S.

– How did you get into writing?

  • I was a fat kid with a skin condition who was bullied at school (and Buddhist camp). For a while I had no friends. Books were my connection to the world. I want to extend that connection. Books also saved my life, and my hope is that someday my words can do the same for another lonely person.

– What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

  • Reading, of course. Exercise-wise I used to do a lot of weightlifting, and then I started doing more rock climbing. But I dislocated my elbow last year when I fell 15 feet during rock climbing, so I suppose I shouldn’t say it’s something I like to do anymore?

– Apart from novel writing, do you do any other kind(s) of writing?

  • I am also a poet. I have two poetry chapbooks published or forthcoming: In Passing (Anomalous Press, 2019) and deter (dancing girl press, 2013). And my very first longform personal essay will be appearing soon in a magazine!

– Share something about you most people probably don’t know.

  • I used to do weightlifting as a form of exercise. I once deadlifted 245 pounds, which was 2.5 times my body weight. Ah, the glory days.

– Which book influenced you the most?

  • Toni Morrison’s Beloved changed what I thought was possible in writing. It is a masterpiece that depicts extreme brutality with intelligence and utmost tenderness.

 

WHAT’S NEXT

– What are you working on right now?

  • I’m working (for some reason) on two very different novels. One is about intimacy and the tough choices so-called “skilled worker” immigrants have to make, especially when facing health issues. The other I’m not quite ready to talk about yet.

TELL US…

– The book you’re currently reading

  • Jeremy Tiang’s State of Emergency. It’s a tightly woven story about the leftist movement in the immediate aftermath of colonialism in Malaysia and Singapore, told from multiple angles.

    PITCH

Though I Get Home is an intimate exploration of what it means to be an individual and a citizen within a state that wishes to control the narrative, which is a description that fits more countries than we would like to admit in today’s world.

FAVORITE BLURBS

“YZ Chin’s tender and furious debut, Though I Get Home, is a long gaze into a black sky; her characters are defiant enough to find light.” —Catherine Lacey, author of The Answers

“Sharp as an old wound that never heals, these linked stories remind us afresh of what it takes to survive in a brutal, racially fraught society.” —Shirley Geok-lin Lim, author of Among the White Moon Faces

BUY LINKS

 

BIO

YZChin.jpg

YZ Chin’s debut book of fiction Though I Get Home (Feminist Press, 2018) is the premier winner of the Louise Meriwether First Book Prize. She is also the author of poetry chapbooks In Passing (Anomalous Press, 2019) and deter (dancing girl press, 2013).

Born and raised in Taiping, Malaysia, she now lives in New York. She works by day as a software engineer, and writes by night.

SOCIAL MEDIA

Website: https://www.yzchin.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/yzxyz/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/yz_chin
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/36393578-though-i-get-home

Previous author interviews:

Pamela Kopfler – BETTER DEAD

Anna Quinn – THE NIGHT CHILD

Clarissa Harwood — IMPOSSIBLE SAINTS

Negeen Papehn — FORBIDDEN BY FAITH


Debut Authors of ’18 Interviews: Cass Morris

Hello and welcome to my blog series dedicated to author interviews for 2018 debut authors! This has been started as a way to support some of my fellow ‘debutantes’ of 2018. Some of the genres may be a little outside while I usually write/talk about here, but each of these I share struck my interest in one way or another.

(See past author interviews at the end of this post!)

WOW, am I freaking excited for this book. My interest was piqued just by the concept, but as I’ve read more of the content and the inspiration behind it, I cannot freaking wait!

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GENERAL

– Author Name: Cass Morris

– Book Title: FROM UNSEEN FIRE: Book One of the Aven Cycle

– Book Genre: historical fantasy

– Release Date: April 17th, 2018

– Publisher: DAW Books

THE BOOK

From Unseen Fire takes place in Aven, an alternate version of ancient Rome where elemental magic has shaped society as much as law and war. In the wake of a brutal dictatorship, two factions compete to rebuild the Republic in the shape they desire. One side is protectionist and isolationist, seeking to preserve conventional morals and keep their nation small enough to easily control; the other side is expansionist and more permissive, looking to embrace the opportunities that allies and immigrants can provide. By law, the use of magic to influence politics is forbidden, but both sides skirt the rules where they can — and some are willing to step dangerously far over the line.
– Share a teaser.

Shadow and Water both moved in him, a blend that lent itself to a strange intuition, an ability to hear words unsaid and see things not-yet-done. Drawing energy from the dark corners of the garden, from the dimming sky above, from the water that flowed into the peristyle, Sempronius concentrated on what it was he needed to know, willing the answers to come to him, etched on the surface of the obsidian mirror. His heartbeat slowed; his muscles relaxed as he eased into that place where body and mind flowed synchronously with his Elements. Thus settled, Sempronius passed a hand over the dark glass and waited, all patience, for something to surface.
– Where did you get the idea?

I knew I wanted to write a historical fantasy with a different setting than the somewhat typical pseudo-medieval-western-Europe. I’ve had one foot in the classical world since starting Latin at the age of twelve, and so working with Rome seemed a natural fit. The Roman pantheon blended nicely with some ideas about elemental magic I’d been developing for ages, and from that, the world of Aven was born.
– What’s the story behind the title? 

I am the worst at titles. If I can’t steal it from Shakespeare or a song lyric, I’m totally useless. This was just called “Aven” for the longest time. Eventually my first editor had me try to come up with something more compelling. I liked the idea of something like Scintilla, which means “spark” in Latin, with subsequent books using words for increasingly large fires, but my publisher was worried the Latin might scare people off. So I started plundering Roman poetry for elegant phrases. From Unseen Fire was among those, but my then-editor didn’t go for it, and for a while the book was titled A Flame Arises instead. When I got switched to a different editor, however, she much preferred From Unseen Fire, so we went back to that.
– No spoiler, but tell us something we won’t find out just by reading the book jacket.

There are nine magical Elements, and the power to use them is seen as a blessing from the gods. About one in every thousand Aventans manifests some magical talent, but far fewer have strong powers.
– Tell us about your favourite character.

Vitellia Latona is the character closest to my heart. She’s a powerful mage of Spirit and Fire, but she’s never made the most of it, partly for lack of training and partly due to discouragement from various sources out of spite, jealousy, or just plain misogyny. In From Unseen Fire, she’s in the process of breaking free of all those restrictions and repressions, learning to own herself and take up the space in the world that she deserves.
– If you could spend a day with one of your characters, who would it be and what would you do?

I would love to let Aula Vitellia, Latona’s cheerful and irreverent older sister, take me shopping and then to a lovely dinner party.
– Are your character based on real people, or do they come from your imaginations?

They’re mostly from my imagination, though they have some historical inspiration. Julius Caesar, Tiberius Gracchus, Germanicus and his wife Agrippina, Mark Antony, Fulvia, and many other Romans have not direct analogs, but correlations in my characters.

WRITING PROCESS

– How long did you take to write this book?

From Unseen Fire began life as a 2011 NaNoWriMo project. I was trying to kick myself back into fiction writing after having done little of it during graduate school and my first years working for a non-profit organization. By early 2013, I was ready to query agents, and I signed with Connor Goldsmith in October of that year. We spent about a year polishing the manuscript through several revisions and went out on sub in late 2014, then signed with DAW Books in October 2015. The book was initially supposed to debut in September 2017, but delays related to my editor switch-up pushed it into 2018. I am the poster child for the publishing world’s occasionally glacial pace.

 

– What kind of research did you do for this book?

A lot of my research was reviving things I had studied in high school and college and then delving deeper. I had to get a lot more into the social history of ancient Rome than just the political overview and the “great men” narrative. Alberto Angela’s Day in the Life of Ancient Rome was supremely helpful, as were the works of Philip Matyczak. I’ve a full list of recommended resources on my website (cassmorriswrites.com/aven-cycle/the-world-of-aven/resources-and-history/). The most fun research, though, was taking a trip to Rome and spending a few days wandering around the Seven Hills!
– What did you remove from this book during the editing process?

This book has been reworked and restructured so much that I suspect I’ve forgotten most of the changes. The one that stands out is an enormous set piece that, during my revisions with Connor, I removed in a single 20,000 word slaughter. It’s a sequence I love, set during games at a festival, but it just no longer had a place in this book. I’m intending to rework it for Book 2, though!
– Are you a plotter or a pantser?

By nature, a pantser. When I start a story, I tend to have a strong idea of who the characters are, and finding the plot is a matter of letting them collide into each other until something happens. As I work on Books 2 and 3 of the Aven Cycle, however, I’m having to work more to an outline, since it’s what my publisher has approved. It’s an interesting challenge — I have to remind myself that I’m not irrevocably wedded to that skeleton.
– What is your favorite part of your writing process, and why?

The moment where pieces suddenly fall into place. It might be finding the plot element to connect two scenes, or figuring out the reasoning behind a character’s actions, or seeing a connection between two characters that I hadn’t seen before. When one of those hits, I’m prone to flailing my arms about like Kermit the Frog before returning my fingers to the keyboard.
– What is the most challenging part of your writing process, and why?

Pacing. As a child who happily read the encyclopedia for fun, I don’t always have the best natural sense of how a story should move along. My inclination is to let characters wander into each other and have long conversations. My agent and editor did a lot to make sure that exciting incidents happen at regular intervals!
– Can you share your writing routine? 

I typically work at my standing desk in my apartment. I’m not well-heeled enough to afford a place where I can devote space just for writing, so it’s in my living room (which, in my current apartment, is also my kitchen). I tend to do my best work from about 7pm-Midnight, and I often enjoy a glass of wine to help lubricate the creative process.
– Have you ever gotten writer’s block? If yes, how do you overcome it?

No. The ideas are always there. If I’m not being productive as a writer, it’s because I’m having trouble making the time or summoning the energy.
– If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

Perseverance matters a lot more than almost anything else. Learn how to take a punch and stay on your feet.
– How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?

Dozens.
– Do you have any writing quirks?

I have to hunt down the words “somewhat” and “rather” and slaughter them. My copy editor also pointed out that I’m over-fond of ellipses and that I often use two prepositions where one would suffice.

 

THE WRITER

– Tell us about yourself.

I’ve lived in Virginia my whole life, and most of my work has been as an educator. I spent seven years at the American Shakespeare Center, where I wrote 22 guides to help teachers make plays exciting for their students. My parents and sister live in our hometown, so I revisit my old stomping grounds fairly regularly. I live in the mountains with two cats, a nineteen-year-old calico and a seven-year-old Abyssinian.
– How did you get into writing?

I literally can’t remember a time when I wasn’t a storyteller. I got interested in writing as a career after seeing Star Wars at the age of 11, and I’ve talked about that on my personal blog (https://cassmorriswrites.com/2013/12/22/how-star-wars-changed-my-life/).
– What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

Read, visit wineries, attend conventions, play MarioKart and Civilization.

 

– Apart from novel writing, do you do any other kind(s) of writing?

I’ve done quite a bit of academic writing, including those Shakespeare teaching guides and a number of papers and presentations for conferences. I’ve also been a blogger and fanfic writer basically as long as I’ve been on the internet.

 

– Share something about you most people probably don’t know.

I am an utterly indifferent cook. I can make basic things like pasta, tacos, pancakes, but I just don’t have the interest in learning to make anything more complex. I can bake, though, and I make exceptionally good cookies.

 

– Which book influenced you the most?

Oh, gods. In my whole life? Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series, probably. Or the Witches books from Discworld. Or The Last Unicorn. Or Harry Potter. Or Dinotopia.

 

WHAT’S NEXT

– What are you working on right now?

Book Two of the Aven Cycle, as well as drafting a space opera with a rakish heroine loosely based on Julie d’Aubigny.
– What’s your favourite writing advice?

“Planning to write is not writing. Outlining, researching, talking to people about what you’re doing, none of that is writing. Writing is writing.” – E L Doctorow

TELL US…

– The book you’re currently reading

At the time of writing this, I’m in the middle of Glass Town Game by Catherynne Valente, Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood, and 1177 BC: The Year Civilization Collapsed by Eric Cline.

PITCH

Super-short version: I gave the ancient Romans magic to see what they’d do with it.

Slightly longer version:

In the nation of Aven, Elemental magic has shaped the way of life as much as politics and war. Latona of the Vitelliae, a mage of Spirit and Fire, has suppressed her phenomenal talents for fear they would draw unwanted attention from unscrupulous men. When the Dictator who threatened her family dies, she may have an opportunity to seize a greater destiny as a protector of the people — if only she can find the courage to try.

Latona’s path intersects with that of Sempronius Tarren, an ambitious senator harboring a dangerous secret. Sacred law dictates that no mage may hold high office, but Sempronius, a Shadow mage who has kept his abilities a life-long secret, intends to do just that. As rebellion brews in the provinces, Sempronius must outwit the ruthless leader of the opposing Senate faction to claim the political and military power he needs to secure a glorious future for Aven and his own place in history.

As politics draw them together and romance blossoms between them, Latona and Sempronius use wit, charm, and magic to shape Aven’s fate — but will that be enough, when their foes resort to brutal violence and foul sorcery?

BUY LINKS

Amazon — https://www.amazon.com/Unseen-Fire-Aven-Cycle/dp/0756412242

B&N — https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/from-unseen-fire-cass-morris/1125456861

IndieBound — http://www.indiebound.org/book/9780756412241

Kobo — https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/from-unseen-fire

GooglePlay — https://play.google.com/store/books/details/Cass_Morris_From_Unseen_Fire?id=hyq2DQAAQBAJ

 

BIO

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Cass Morris lives and works in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia with the companionship of two royal felines, Princess and Ptolemy. She completed her Master of Letters at Mary Baldwin University in 2010, and she earned her undergraduate degree, a BA in English with a minor in history, from the College of William and Mary in 2007. She reads voraciously, wears corsets voluntarily, and will beat you at MarioKart.

SOCIAL MEDIA

Website: cassmorriswrites.com
Patreon: patreon.com/CassRMorris
Twitter: @CassRMorris twitter.com/CassRMorris
Facebook: facebook.com/cassmorriswrites
Instagram: instagram.com/cassrmorris/
Goodreads: goodreads.com/CassRMorris
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/cass-morris-4509907a/

Previous author interviews:

Pamela Kopfler – BETTER DEAD

Anna Quinn – THE NIGHT CHILD

Clarissa Harwood — IMPOSSIBLE SAINTS

Negeen Papehn — FORBIDDEN BY FAITH

Clarissa Goenawan — RAINBIRDS


Authors of ’18 Interviews: Clarissa Goenawan

Hello and welcome to my blog series dedicated to author interviews for 2018 debut authors! This has been started as a way to support some of my fellow ‘debutantes’ of 2018. Some of the genres may be a little outside while I usually write/talk about here, but each of these I share struck my interest in one way or another.

(See past author interviews at the end of this post!)

Full disclosure: I just started Rainbirds the other day and I’m a little enraptured. It’s not something you can really speed through, yet the voice, the descriptions, the intrigue… it’s really hard to put down! It’s difficult to really put a finger on what exactly draws you in, but draw you in it does…

Rainbirds

GENERAL

– Author Name: Clarissa Goenawan

– Book Title: RAINBIRDS

– Book Genre: Literary Mystery

– Release Date: 6 March 2018

– Publisher: Soho Press

THE BOOK

– Please describe what the book is about.
RAINBIRDS is a story of a young man who is trying to come to terms with his older sister’s death by finding out the truth behind her murder, but in doing so, he ends up confronting his own dark secret.

– Share a teaser from your book.
When the car had stopped at the traffic junction, a soft light had fallen onto her pale skin, highlighting her delicate features. My hand was on hers, but she didn’t say a word, nor did she look at me. She didn’t even flinch. Her body was there, but her mind wasn’t.
That night, the two of us were lonely, isolated under Tokyo’s dazzling lights.

– Where did you get the idea?
One afternoon, I was just wondering, “What if someone I cared about suddenly passed away, and then, I realized too late that I never actually got to know them?” At first, I wanted to write a short story about a young man who had just lost his older brother, which later on, morphed to an older sister. And then, I realized there were so many things I wanted to explore in their relationship, and that this story has to be a novel.

– What’s the story behind the title? 
I came up with it! There was actually a really funny story behind it, which you can read at the end of my guest post for Bath Novel Award, “Five Ways to Find The Perfect Title for Your Novel.”
Link: https://bathnovelaward.co.uk/2017/07/26/five-ways-to-find-the-perfect-title-for-your-novel/

– No spoiler, but tell us something we won’t find out just by reading the book jacket.
RAINBIRDS is part of a series of interrelated novels. So do keep a lookout at the side characters, because they might be the main characters for the next book.

– Tell us about your favourite character.
Rio Nakajima, also known as ‘Seven Stars.’ She’s a seventeen-year-old girl who is bright and bold, unafraid to voice her opinion and relentlessly goes after what she wants. She doesn’t care about conforming to public’s expectation, and I really admire her for that.

– If you could spend a day with one of your characters, who would it be and what would you do? 
There is this young girl who celebrated my main character’s seventeenth birthday in the most bizarre way. I’m not going to give any spoilers, but let’s just say I wish to be part of the party (though that can possibly make me the third wheel… hmmm…)

– Are your characters based on real people, or do they come from your imagination?
Most of them came from my imagination, but a few were very loosely based on people I knew in real life. For example, Honda, Ren’s colleague, was inspired by my ex-colleague and lunch buddy who used to drive—yes, you guessed it—a black Honda sedan. All the characters’ personal stories are, of course, fictional.

WRITING PROCESS

– How long did you take to write this book?
Almost five years, which at a point of time, does feel ‘forever’ to me. But, in term of traditional publishing, it’s still relatively fast.

The breakdown:
First draft – 1,5 months
Editing – 1,5 years
Submission to agents – about half a year
Submission to publishers – about half a year
From signing of contract to publication date – about two years
– What kind of research did you do for this book?
I grew up reading copious amounts of manga (Japanese comic books), and I learnt Japanese language since high school, so that gave me a good starting point. I also consulted a huge number of books, essays, and articles, and asked some friends who’re familiar with Japan to be my beta readers.

– What did you remove from this book during the editing process?
A lot of things that don’t really matter, including a scene of Honda teaching Ren the best way to enjoy xiaolongbao, a type of Chinese steamed bun.
Are you a plotter or a pantser?
I tried to plot, but that didn’t work. I normally have a sense of beginning, somewhat of an ending (though, most of the time, it changes), but nothing inbetween.
– What is your favorite part of your writing process, and why?
The first draft! I’m always pleasantly surprised by the unexpected places my characters lead me to.

– What is the most challenging part of your writing process, and why?
The last few edits are the hardest for me. By then, I have grown too familiar with my work. It’s hard to discern the trees from the forest.

– Can you share your writing routine? (e.g. How do you carve out your writing time? Where do you normally write?)
I do my writing after I drop my kids at school, and until it’s time to pick them up. That gives me about a five hour solid time block. Most of my writing is done on random benches around my kids’ school.
– Have you ever gotten writer’s block? If yes, how do you overcome it?
Some people are going to hate me for saying this, but I don’t believe in writer’s block.

– If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
Be patient. Be very, very patent, because publishing moves in a different time from the rest of the world. It’s so sloooowwwww. There is a lot of waiting, and I’m not good with waiting—but I’m learning!

– How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
RAINBIRDS, my debut novel, is the first novel I ever wrote. I know this is not a common scenario in traditional publishing, and I’ve been so lucky.

– Do you have any writing quirks?
I like to write on a big table.

THE WRITER

– Tell us about yourself.
I was born and raised in Surabaya, a city in East Java and also the second most populated city in Indonesia. In my mid-teens, I migrated to Singapore, which I now call home. I live with my husband, three beautiful daughters, and a broken-coated Jack Russell named ‘Hunter.’

– How did you get into writing?
It was my childhood dream. I’d loved reading ever since I was a kid and dreamt that one day, I would publish my own book. But I only started to seriously pursuing the profession after I quit my banking job at age twenty-four (probably not the most conventional thing to do, but I never regretted it.)

– What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
My guilty pleasure: I read a lot of manga (Japanese comic books.) I also spend a lot of time reading online articles and on Twitter—probably too much for my own good.

– Apart from novel writing, do you do any other kind(s) of writing?
Yes, I write short stories, though not as often as I used to do when I’d just started out writing. I realized I prefer to work on novels, though short stories are great for variety.

– Share something about you most people probably don’t know.
I used to be a bookseller. I was in charge of marketing children’s books for a regional book distribution company, which include everything from baby boardbooks to YA novels. I spontaneously talked about countless books—most of them I’d only read the short synopsis because there were so many— to the media every month, but when it comes to pitching my own book, I’m always struggling. Always.

– Which book influenced you the most?
Stephen King’s On Writing, which I highly recommend to all aspiring writers. It’s full of gold—awesome writing advice, great editing tips, and a realistic portrayal of a writer’s life. Worth re-reading every year.

WHAT’S NEXT

– What are you working on right now?
I’m currently editing my second and third novels, both of them literary mysteries. And just like RAINBIRDS, they’re set in Japan.

– What’s your favourite writing advice?
If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. – Stephen King.

PITCH

Intertwining elements of suspense and magical realism, award-winning literary debut RAINBIRDS opens with a murder and shines a spotlight on life in fictional small-town Japan.

BLURB

“Luminous, sinister, and page-turning all at once. I loved it.”
—Kate Hamer, internationally bestselling author of The Girl in the Red Coat and The Doll Funeral

“A beautiful mystery setup with a complex, magical love story.”
—Eka Kurniawan, award-winning author of Beauty Is a Wound and Vengeance Is Mine, All Others Pay Cash

BUY LINKS

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1616958553

Barnes & Nobles: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/rainbirds-clarissa-goenawan/1126551443?ean=9781616958558

BookDepository: https://www.bookdepository.com/Rainbirds-Clariss-Goenawan/9781616958558

Indiebound: https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781616958558

BIO

ClarissaGoenawan
Clarissa Goenawan is an Indonesian-born Singaporean writer. Her debut novel, RAINBIRDS, is the winner of the 2015 Bath Novel Award. Her short stories have won several awards and been published in various literary magazines and anthologies. She loves rainy days, pretty books, and hot green tea.

SOCIAL MEDIA

Website: http://www.clarissagoenawan.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/clarissagoenawan/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/ClaireClaire05
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/clarissagoenawan/
Pinterest: N.A.
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/16100168.Clarissa_Goenawan

Previous author interviews:

Pamela Kopfler – BETTER DEAD

Anna Quinn – THE NIGHT CHILD

Clarissa Harwood — IMPOSSIBLE SAINTS

Negeen Papehn — FORBIDDEN BY FAITH


Authors of ’18 Interviews: Negeen Papehn

Hello, hello! Welcome to my blog series dedicated to author interviews for 2018 debut authors. This series has been started as a way to support some of my fellow ‘debutantes’ of 2018. Some of the genres may be a little outside while I usually write/talk about here, but each of these I share struck my interest in one way or another.

(See past author interviews at the end of this post!)

I finished this a few weeks ago, and let me tell you, this is a good book. Papehn’s writing style was the first thing that struck me: she’s telling a story, not leading you through it. In a world where “show don’t tell” is hammered into any writer’s skull, I was surprised and intrigued by this shift.

At first I thought I wasn’t going to like it… and then I found myself unable to put it down. There is something entrancing and seductive about the way Forbidden by Faith is weaved. I found myself identifying with the main character Sara on WAY too many levels, and I was thinking about her for days afterwards.

Needless to say, I really recommend this. It’s fresh, it’s interesting, I don’t think you’re going to find anything really like it. And here’s what she has to say about it!

 

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GENERAL

– Author Name: Negeen Papehn

– Book Title: Forbidden by Faith (Forbidden Love Series, Book 1)

– Book Genre: New Adult Contemporary Romance

– Release Date: February 20, 2018

– Publisher: City Owl Press

THE BOOK

Sara knows her life would be easier if she married a Muslim man, but when has love ever been easy?

Raised by her immigrant Iranian Muslim parents, she’s been taught that a good daughter makes decisions based on her family’s approval, and she’s spent most of her life doing just that. Then one night, she meets Maziar, and her world is turned upside down. She feels an instant electricity between them, and it seems like fate when he tells her he’s also Iranian. Just as her mind begins to soar with the possibilities, he shatters her hopes when he tells her he’s Jewish.

Despite the centuries of unrest behind them, Sara and Maziar embark on a forbidden love affair, attempting to navigate through the cultural and religious prejudices that beat them down and attempt to tear them apart.

Deep within the trenches of her battle, Sara finds herself more empowered and careless than ever before. Angry at and disappointed by the people she’s idolized all her life, she’s determined to forge her own path. But choosing who to be could mean creating a life that’s no longer acceptable to those around her.

Sara feels herself growing into an independent and confident woman, but will it be worth the ultimate cost: her family?

 

Share a teaser from your book.

“I want you back.”

I hadn’t let myself hope he would say that to me tonight. I thought if he didn’t, the disappointment would be unbearable. I realized that hearing him say he wanted us, and knowing that it was impossible, was more than disappointing. It was utterly devastating.

 

Where did you get the idea?

The premise of FORBIDDEN BY FAITH with the clashing religions comes from my own relationship. My husband is Jewish and I’m Muslim. People think this story is the story of us, but it’s not. We’re lucky to have the families that we do. We didn’t have to go to war over a love that was ours, but a fight that spanned centuries behind us. It could have been our story though. So instead, I wrote the story for Maziar and Sara. This is their love story, not mine.

What’s the story behind the title?

I came up with the title, but that was after my editor thought we should change it. It was originally called UNBOUND but that didn’t seem as intriguing. After a lot of brainstorming with my CPs, my editor and I decided on FORBIDDEN BY FAITH.

No spoiler, but tell us something we won’t find out just by reading the book jacket.

There’s a steamy love triangle that unfolds. Everyone chooses a team by the time they’re done J

Well us about your favorite character.

My favorite character is Bita. She’s my male MC’s sister. I think her evolution throughout the book is pretty spectacular. She starts off being the person you love to hate, but as the story progresses and she’s faced with losing her brother, she begins to question her decisions, and ultimately chooses to change. By the end, you’re rooting for her.

If you could spend a day with one of your characters, who would it be and what would you do?

Hmmm… I think I’d spend the day with Ben. He’s a bit dreamy and I have a tiny crush on him, LOL. Maybe we’d go to a baseball game. He’s a big fan. Or maybe we’d do karaoke. That’s a pretty fun scene in my book.

Are your characters based on real people, or do they come from your imaginations?

A little bit of both. No character is based on one single person, but more of a combination of characteristics of people in my life, past and present. And some of it just comes from my imagination.

 

WRITING PROCESS

How long did you take to write this book?

It took me a year to write it and then another year to have it picked up. By the time my book is published, it’ll be close to three years.

 

What kind of research did you do for this book?

I had to do research on the religions. I’m not very religious so I wanted to make sure I had the details correct. I also researched various aspects of the Iranian culture. Other than that, there wasn’t too much else. My book is based in Los Angeles, so I’m familiar with the location.

What did you remove from this book during the editing process?

I did a complete rewrite before I sent it in to agents/editors. I restructured the timeframe of the love triangle and changed the details. There was about ten chapters that were cut and redone. Once my editor did a sweep, we took out a few chapters that didn’t seem necessary.

Are you a plotter or a pantser?

I’m a total pantser! Sometimes, I think it’s my downfall. I would love to be a plotter, and I try, but my story always has a mind of its own. I end up backed in corners that I have to find ways out of, which slows down the writing process. In the end, though, I come up with a storyline I hadn’t anticipated, which is exciting.

What is your favorite part of your writing process, and why?

My favorite part of the writing process is when my manuscript is ready for the first round of beta readers. I love sharing my work with people. Hearing their reactions and listening to their responses is my drug of choice. And it doesn’t have to just be praise. I welcome their constructive criticism as well. Makes the story better, and makes me a better writer.

What is the most challenging part of your writing process, and why?

The most challenging part for me is the beginning. The actual process of brainstorming and coming up with a premise for the next story, one that’s interesting, different, and deeper than just the surface. I’m so passionate about writing; it’s a dream for me. But I’m always afraid I won’t be able to come up with the next idea, and it will all come to a tragic end. I almost paralyze myself with fear. It causes me to get major writer’s block.

 

Can you share your writing routine?

I don’t actually have a routine other than writing in between everything. On my days off I try to carve out a few hours to write, if errands and my children allow it. The days I work, I write in between patients and during my lunch breaks. Weekends are usually up in the air. Any free time I can find, even if it’s twenty minutes, I write. I just pick up where I left off and keep going any chance I get!

The location I write in isn’t always the same. Sometimes I’m at my desk in the spare room, sometimes at the dining room table, and sometimes I escape to the local coffee shop. Just depends on what works for the moment. But, regardless of where I’m sitting, my headphones are on and always blaring in my ears.

 

Have you ever gotten writer’s block? If yes, how do you overcome it?

Yes! It’s miserable. I just walk away. I leave the writing behind for a week, give my mind a break by binge watching shows.

If you could tell your younger writing-self anything, what would it be?

“Hang in there. Even when you feel like you’ve lost sight of who you used to be, don’t worry, you’ll find her again. And when you do, amazing things will happen.”

How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?

I have one full unpublished manuscript that I need to start submitting soon, titled What Will Be, and I’m halfway through the second book in the Forbidden Love series.

Do you have any writing quirks?

Yes. I’m picky about location. I don’t need to write in the same spot each time, but the space needs to have the right energy. I have to feel the creativity flowing, otherwise I’m too distracted. And I must have a good playlist going. It needs to compliment the scene I’m in, otherwise it throws me off. So sad scenes get a ballad, hot scenes need a steamy 90s R&B song, and so on.

 

THE WRITER

Tell us about yourself.

I’m a mom and a wife. I have two boys, they’re 8 and 10. They’re spectacular little human beings and keep me super busy.  They are in the “arguing phase” of their relationship right now, so it’s lovely. I’m a dentist by day. I know, not a glamorous job, nor is it even close to writing, but I dig it. I get to interact with a lot of people, and I’m definitely a social butterfly so it works for me. Oh! And I love wine, LOL.

How did you get into writing?

Growing up, I sang and wrote music and poetry. But then adult life took over and I lost that creativity. A few years ago, I started getting desperate for an outlet; it felt like I was suffocating without it. A friend suggested I write a book after I told her an elaborate recollection of a situation that had transpired.

Two weeks later, I thought, what the hell, and sat in front of my laptop. The rest is history.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

I love spending time with my family, reading, hanging out with friends, wine tasting, going on vacations. I’m pretty easy and low key. I’m a social butterfly for sure, but prefer it in casual, intimate settings.

 

Apart from novel writing, do you do any other kind(s) of writing?

I used to write poetry and music but I haven’t done that in ages.

Share something about you most people probably don’t know.

I can sing. I won a national contest for a song I wrote and recorded with my band in high school. And I was prom queen.

 

Which book influenced you the most?

Me Before You, by Jojo Moyes. I was depressed for a week after I finished that book! I loved the reality of it. Just because her MCs fell in love, the path of Will’s decisions didn’t change. That’s how real life goes. When I started writing, I wanted to implement the raw, messy truths of life into my own work as well. And I wanted my readers to believe it, completely involved and invested in my characters, long after they turned the last page.

 

WHAT’S NEXT

What are you working on right now?

I’m currently working on the second novel of the Forbidden Love series. I’m very type A, so sadly, I can’t work on more than one project at a time.

What’s your favorite writing advice?

“No matter what happens, you’ve already won. This has become so much more than you ever imagined. Remember that. Hold onto that. You can’t fail.” My boss is one of my biggest supporters and he said that to me when I was in full panic mode over the publishing process.

TELL US…

The book you’re currently reading:

I’m currently reading The Finish Line by Leslie Scott. It’s her debut novel and it’s fabulous.

Of the books you’ve read, which one changed you the most?

KITE RUNNER by: Khaled Hosseini

I can’t really explain how this book changed me, but I just know that it did. It opened my eyes to the horror that so many in this world face, and reminded me of how privileged I am to have been born and raised in the States. Things could have been so different if my parents hadn’t come to America so many years ago. This books tragic beauty and heartbreaking devastation has stayed with me from the moment I read it.

PITCH

Sara knows marrying a Muslim man would be easier, but when has love ever been easy?

When Sara and Maziar embark on a forbidden love affair, they must navigate through the cultural and religious differences that divide them, pushing themselves to limits they never imagined, in the hopes of finding true love.

Give one or two of your favorite blurbs.

 

“Much more than a love story… FORBIDDEN BY FAITH is full of twists and turns as two lovers navigate their way through one of history’s oldest cultural divides.”

“A little 50 Shades… A little Romeo & Juliet… FORBIDDEN BY FAITH is sure to keep you turning the page. Although after some of the pages, you may need to take a cigarette break (even if you don’t smoke!).”

BUY LINKS

Amazon: http://smarturl.it/FLove1Amz

BN: http://smarturl.it/FLove1BN

Kobo: http://smarturl.it/FLove1Kobo

Apple: http://smarturl.it/FLove1iBooks

Google: http://smarturl.it/FLove1Google

 

BIO

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Negeen Papehn was born and raised in southern California, where she currently lives with her husband and two boys. She wasn’t always a writer. A graduate of USC dental school, Negeen spends half of her week with patients and the other half in front of her laptop. In the little time she finds in between, she loves to play with her kids, go wine tasting with her friends, throw parties, and relax with her family.

FORBIDDEN BY FAITH is her debut novel.

SOCIAL MEDIA

Website: www.negeenpapehn.com

Twitter handle: https://twitter.com/NegeenPapehn

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/NegeenPapehn/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/negeenpapehn/

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/17379780.Negeen_Papehn

 

Previous author interviews:

Pamela Kopfler – BETTER DEAD

Anna Quinn – THE NIGHT CHILD

Clarissa Harwood — IMPOSSIBLE SAINTS