July 16, 2014

Made It Moment: Andra Watkins

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 6:11 pm

To Live Forever

I’m willing to go out on a limb and say that Andra Watkins had her Moment in a place no one else ever has. She also gets the crown for strangest-place-to-hold-a-signing. Through it all, Andra’s prose tells us something about how a story can reach readers, one at a time. And maybe even something about why we write at all.

Andra Watkins

The Natchez Trace. Northwestern Alabama. I forced my bloody feet to carry me through Tasmanian-devil-like dustbowls. When I licked my lips, I tasted grit from the dawn of the universe. For the twentieth time, I dragged my body from whence the wind battered it, back to the grassy shoulder.

And I kept walking. I still had five miles to cover in my 26th consecutive fifteen-mile day.

A minivan swerved toward me. A victim of the whimsy of the wind. Like me.

Or so I thought.

Until it stopped, plowed through the shoulder and skidded to a halt two feet from me.

The window scrolled from tinted to open in slow motion, while I leaned into the gale and waited to see whether the inhabitants of the minivan were friend or foe.

I waited to stare down the muzzle of a gun. Instead, I greeted a different weapon. A green book. White letters. My name.

Will you sign our copy of your book? We’re descendants of William Clark, and we believe Meriwether Lewis was murdered, and we came all the way out here in this windstorm to get your autograph, because we heard you were out here walking the Trace.

My Made It Moment blew in on the coattails of a windstorm, the instant after I wondered whether I could go on. Because sometimes, Life has a perverse sense of humor. It goes out of its way to buffet and batter our dreams, only to show us why they matter.

Andra Watkins is the first living person to walk the 444-mile Natchez Trace as the pioneers did prior to the rise of steam power in the 1820’s. From March 1, 2014 to April 3, 2014, she walked fifteen miles a day. Six days a week. One rest day per week. She spent each night in the modern-day equivalent of stands, places much like Grinder’s Stand, where Meriwether Lewis died from two gunshot wounds on October 11, 1809. In addition to celebrating the release of To Live Forever: An Afterlife Journey of Meriwether Lewis, the walk inspired her upcoming memoir of the adventure, Not Without My Father, coming in Fall 2014. Andra lives in Charleston, South Carolina with her husband.

June 10, 2014

Made It Moment: Kristi Belcamino

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 11:57 am

Blessed Are The Dead

One of the cool kids. How many writers, I wonder, felt like we were never that? Recently I got to meet on the road a woman–except for me she will always be a girl–I grew up with. She said something about me still being funny and articulate, just like she remembered me. And I thought, THAT’S how you remember me? Cause it’s not how I remember myself.

Kristi Belcamino details quite a few moments below, and I’d like to point to another one for her, which is that Kristi’s debut novel has just released! Celebrate with us by reading BLESSED ARE THE DEAD (some title, huh?) and get to know a new writer right at the start. Kristi…welcome to the cool kids.

Kristi Belcamino

When you are a writer, your idols are, well, other writers.

So, my Made it Moment was when the doors to this magical kingdom of writers—specifically the most warm and welcoming community out there, that of mystery writers—opened wide for me.

Now, I’ve had plenty of brushes with fame in my time—as a reporter I met Edward James Olmos, Dennis Hopper, Jerry Seinfeld, Clint Eastwood, and Reggie Jackson. In addition, I’ve shaken President Clinton’s hand, had Eddie Van Halen bump into me at a party, and lived with the musician Beck and his family in L.A.. But the people who really make me swoon with fangirlishness are other writers!

I knew I had somewhat made it when I began hobnobbing with the kick butt writers I liked to read. (Ask my Facebook friends how much I freak out if S.E. Hinton replies to one of my tweets —she’s done so four times and I’ve about lost my mind EVERY TIME.)

Here are a few of those moments:

  • A famous mystery writer (who for now shall remain unnamed until he outs himself) called me and spent an hour giving me advice on the writing world.
  • My favorite writer in the galaxy, Lisa Unger, followed ME on Twitter. I fangirled big time over that!
  • I had a writerly party this year and had to stop and do a major double take when I realized the people walking around eating my biscotti and drinking my booze were once upon a time just names on the covers of the books on my shelf. And now they are my FRIENDS?! What????
  • Knowing that my two favorite authors in the entire UNIVERSE have my debut mystery novel in their hands. (I heard one has it on her nightstand —faint!) Even if they NEVER read the book or read it and don’t like it, the fact that two of the authors I admire most in the world actually have my book IN THEIR HANDS is COMPLETELY MIND BOGGLING.

So, my Made it Moment (s) are realizing that these rock star writers are in some cases my peers and in a few, very lucky case, my friends.

I’ve realized that I can’t control how my book sells — at this point all of that is out of my hands—but no matter what happens with sales, getting a book deal has granted me entrance into one of the most welcoming, warmest, and most supportive bunch of people out there. I will always be grateful to these other writers, who have opened their arms to me and made me feel like I’m one of the cool kids.

Kristi Belcamino is a writer, artist and crime reporter who also bakes a tasty biscotti. Her first novel, “Blessed are the Dead,” (HarperCollins June 2014) is inspired by her dealings with a serial killer during her life as a Bay Area crime reporter. As an award-winning crime reporter at newspapers in California, she flew over Big Sur in an FA-18 jet with the Blue Angels, raced a Dodge Viper at Laguna Seca, and watched autopsies.

April 14, 2014

Made It Moment: Rita Plush

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 9:54 pm

Lily Steps Out
Rita Plush describes something below that I think almost any emerging writer can relate to wanting to do. Only Rita Plush did it. Worked up her nerve and…really did it. With surprising effects–ones I would never have anticipated, especially in the particular scenario you’re just about to read. And it became Rita’s path to making it. What do you think? Would you have the nerve? And in the end–what do we really have to lose, when the gain just might be a Moment?

Rita Plush

Back in the summer of 2004, after reading that Joyce Carol Oates was giving an author talk at a local library, I decided to print out the first chapter of my novel, Lily Steps Out (Penumbra Publishing 2012), enclose it in a SASE and bring it to the reading.

She’ll say NO? She’ll say NO. Nothing ventured. Nothing gained.

Off the library I went and sat through her talk, clutching my offering with sweaty hands and a pounding heart, and all the while instructing myself, DO IT! DO IT!.

Full disclosure, I was starting to chicken-out. Her presentation over, I queued up to buy her book and ask her, beg if necessary, to read my chapter. My turn came. She autographed my book. I mustered all my courage.

“Ms. Oates,” I said, “I’m a writer too and I’ve written a novel. It would mean so much to me if you would read the first chapter.”

“Oh, I can’t,” she said. “People ask me all the time. I just don’t have the time.”

“Ms. Oates,” I said. “You’re like a movie star to me.” (This is true.) “I’ve read almost all of your novels and your collections of short stories more than once.”

I could sense the impatience of the crowd behind me waiting their turn. Move it lady, someone muttered behind me, but lady didn’t move. Lady stood there citing short stories Oates had written years and years before, until finally, I heard, “Send it to me at Princeton.” Words from heaven. I flew home, called the college, got her address and ran to the post office.

About a month or so later I received this typewritten postcard:

Sept. 17. 2004
9 Honey Brook Drive
Princeton, New Jersey 08540

Dear Rita Plush,

Your story is very engagingly written. The voice is shrewd, sharp, funny, and yet tender. Perhaps the theme of the “Middle-aged housewife who becomes impatient with her life” is somewhat familiar, so it’s difficult to make such material distinction. Still this is promising, and might well make a readable and marketable novel. Good luck!

Joyce Carol Oates

I couldn’t believe it! But there it was, from her brilliant fingertips —Joyce Carol Oates, the esteemed, prolific—she has her own Book of the Month Club, and why shouldn’t she? the woman writes a book a month—the most fabulous of the fabulous, whose books I loved, whose short stories I swooned over—Joyce Carol Oates liked my chapter. She thought it PROMISING! If something could be worn out by looking at it, that postcard would be dust today.

When I knew my book was to be published, I scanned the post card onto a letter asking Ms. Oates if I could use the quote on the cover. A few weeks later I received the reply, “Of course you can. Good luck!”

And there it reads on the cover of Lily Steps Out:

“…engagingly written. The voice is shrewd, sharp, funny, and yet tender.”

My Made It Moment… brought to me by Joyce Carol Oates.

Rita Plush is an author, teacher and lecturer on the decorative arts. She is the facilitator of the Self-published Authors’ Roundtable that meets every month at the Manhasset Library in Manhasset, LI. Rita presented her talk, “Writing & Publishing in the Modern Age, or So You’ve Written a Book; Now What?” at the Limmud Conference of Jewish Learning in February, 2014. During her thirty-five years as an interior designer, Rita was the coordinator of the Interior Design/Decorating Certificate Program at Queensborough Community College and taught several courses in the program.

April 8, 2014

Made It Moment: Cathi Stoler

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 9:48 am

Keeping Secrets

In many ways, writing is a leap into the abyss, and a study in audacity. I mean, come on. What allows little old us to think that by dint of sheer slashes and dots on a page, we can entice a reader to enter a world we have completely made up? Yet it happens. Time and time again, a little bit of magic in our everyday life. The ability to do this thing is a mystery–at least to me–but what certain writers have the ability to drill down to is how we find the faith to try and do it. To think that we can write a book. Cathi Stoler knows exactly what led her to dare such a feat, and it became her Made It Moment.

Cathi Stoler

My “Made It Moment” came sitting at desk in an adult education course at Marymount Manhattan College in New York City. The course, entitled “How To Overcome Your Fear of Writing Your Novel”, had gotten my attention when I read the description in the school’s brochure and I convinced myself now was the right time to pursue a dream I’d had for many years.

I’d been a voracious reader since I was a very little girl and had read every Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys story I could get my hands on. As I grew older, I graduated to Ian Fleming, Sue Grafton, Joy Fielding, James Patterson, Michael Connolly and many other mystery/suspense writers, always wondering if maybe I could write a book of my own.

In my day job, I was already a writer—an advertising copywriter with many years of experience with award winning work for well-known brands. But, I realized that writing a :30 second TV commercial was a whole lot different than writing a 70,000+ word book. I didn’t know if I had it in me or if what I’d write would be any good.

So, I got my courage up and enrolled in the course. Our instructor, Alyson Richman, a wonderful writer of historical fiction, gave us an assignment each week. She’d read the work at home and pick a few pieces to share with us at the next session and class members would critique them. When she chose the first chapter of my novel to read, I told myself this was it: if it didn’t go well–if they hated it–I’d forget about writing a mystery and stick with reading them instead.

Fortunately, my classmates liked the work very much and wanted to see more. And while I know that the class’ opinion probably shouldn’t have mattered that much, it did. It gave me the encouragement to go on and complete my first novel, and since then, several others. I look back on that class and my fellow writers, two of whom became good friends and writing group cohorts, and know I would never have gotten this far without them.

Cathi Stoler’s mysteries feature P.I. Helen McCorkendale and magazine editor, Laurel Imperiole. Her first, Telling Lies, takes on the subject of stolen Nazi art. Other books in the series include, Keeping Secrets, which delves into the subject of hidden identity and The Hard Way, a story of International diamond theft. She has also published a novella, Nick of Time, and several short stories including Magda, in Criminal Element’s Malfeasance Occasional: Girl Trouble and Out of Luck, featured in the Sisters in Crime Anthology, Murder New York Style: Fresh Slices. Her story, Fatal Flaw, published at Beat to A Pulp was a finalist for the Derringer for Best Short Story. Cathi is a member of Mystery Writers of America, as well as Sisters in Crime and posts at the womenofmystery.net blog.

March 26, 2014

Made It Moment: Julie Lindsey

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 7:50 am

Murder Comes Ashore

You know that bar? The one we keep setting for ourselves? It’s like a horizon in some ways. As soon as we believe we’ve neared it, there it goes, slipping off into the unreached trammels of our lives again. In this Moment, author Julie Lindsey talks with pain and raw honesty about how that bar can become a noose around our necks, strangling our own sense of accomplishment. It took Julie’s son to remind her, Wizard of Oz-style, that really she had made it all along. And you know what? Julie’s son reminded me of that, too.

Julie Lindsey

My made it moment came in September when my 10 year old son asked to take a copy of my new release, Deceived, to show his teacher. That book is prettier than my others. It’s a young adult suspense novel. It’s hardcover with a fancy black jacket. There’s a picture of me in the back. All the things I’d dreamed of, but none of that impressed me because I was too busy seeing all the things I hadn’t accomplished. Then, my son who has zero interest in reading the book, asked to show it to his teacher. My heart collapsed. It was a moment I’ll never forget and one I hold onto in the other, tougher times of author life. This is the moment that I realized I made it.

As an only child and dogged over-achiever, I’m driven to reach goals. All goals. When I made writing for publication a goal, I had no idea I was shooting for the impossible. I may as well have decided to move to LA and become an actress. I know that now. I didn’t then. Couple the reality with my personality and I was all set for tears and disappointment. And they came. Regularly.

In the beginning, I thought finding an agent would be when I knew I really made it. I found an agent. It wasn’t the moment I’d expected. She still had to sell my book. That made me nervous so I targeted a small press, hoping for a contract so I could learn, work with an editor and maybe gain a readership. I landed a contract with the small press soon after. Made it moment? Not really. The contract was for a novella. I wanted print. I wrote more for that press. I now have three novels in print with this press, plus three novellas. Made it? Not really. They were a small press. Meanwhile, my agent found a home for my YA and I signed a contract with Merit Press for Deceived. Made it? No. Merit Press got me invited to book events, put on panels, reviewed by the big guns. Made it? Not really. ARCs came. Made it? No. Author copies arrived! Made it? Not really. It’s on bookstore shelves! I have a theatrical-style trailer! Made it? Nah. Deceived wasn’t in most stores. Sales weren’t what I expected. Editorial reviews were lukewarm. The bar in my mind kept raising out of reach. Then, I signed a three book contract with Carina Press (a digital imprint of Harlequin) for a cozy mystery series. Made it? I didn’t know. At that point, I’d worked myself into a funk.

You see, when I look back at all the moments that I thought would matter, they didn’t. They came and went in a haze of “meh.” And I did that to myself. My eyes weren’t on the real point of publishing – or life – anymore, so all the milestones I ran toward seemed insignificant once I arrived.

And then, September.

My son asked to take my book to school and show his teacher. Poof. Everything else fell away. He was proud of me.

It was a much needed moment of clarity.

I’d “made it” the moment I decided to write a novel and then saw it through. I wrote a freaking NOVEL. Who does that? How many people have lots of great ideas for a novel and never begin. Or never finish? Too many. But I did it. I set a goal and I accomplished it. And my kids were watching. They saw me chase a dream. They saw my efforts pay off. Saw that anything is possible. Learned hard work and determination can take you anywhere. My kids don’t care how much money I make or what reviewers think. All they know is their mom is an author and she loves what she does. They’re proud of me. Without even trying, I taught them a priceless life lesson. Go after your dreams. They are attainable. All the other author-life hoopla is just noise. There’s always another goal lingering just out of reach, but focusing on that meant missing what I already had.

My kid taught me that.

Julie Anne Lindsey is a multi-genre author who writes the stories that keep her up at night. She’s a self-proclaimed nerd with a penchant for words and proclivity for fun. Julie lives in rural Ohio with her husband and three small children. Today, she hopes to make someone smile. One day she plans to change the world.

Murder Comes Ashore is a sequel in her new mystery series, Patience Price, Counselor at Large, from Carina Press.

March 17, 2014

Made It Moment: Susan Sundwall

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 5:15 pm

The Red Shoelace Killer

Lately I’ve been reading the Moments with music. It makes sense, I suppose. Both artistic expressions, words telling a story. When you read Susan Sundwall’s words, I dare you not to cry. Not because it’s sad but because it’s beautiful. This run we’re all on, right? Each of us seeking to tell and share our story. Sure, the years do slip away, as Susan so poignantly notes–and Jimmy Buffet does too in this song. But look what we can achieve along the way!

Susan Sundwall

I was in the airport waiting to board a plane with my new husband. As we happily discussed our future I, full of the ridiculous confidence of youth, said, “I will be a writer.” I wanted to assure him that I would be no slouch of a wife – I had a dream.

Then forty years went by at Mach 5 and I found myself sitting at work staring at a computer screen wondering what the devil had happened. Life happened, that’s what. Kids and critters happened, jobs and houses and in-laws happened. The dream had gone underground.

Oh, there were some tattered remnants of it along the way. Classes, contests, stinky novels under the bed. And then one day I wrote a story for a family newsletter – a Christmas story about a little sparrow. It met with such rave reviews I gave it to our pastor to read during the children’s service. It met with rave reviews.

The dream glimmered in the mist. And there I sat staring at the computer screen wondering what the Sam hill I was waiting for (for those under thirty that’s really old fashioned cussing). I decided to go seeking online. I needed to know what I was up against. Turned out the world was overflowing with writer wannabes and needy me befriended some of them.

New vistas opened up for me then. I wrote and sold to small markets. Each acceptance goaded me on. I landed a lucrative assignment for a writer’s guide. I got praise for my humerous essays and children’s stories. But the book was the thing. Yeah, you know what I’m talking about. The book you just know will strike a cord in a half million readers if only you could get it out there. I forged on – and on.

Landing a publishing contract is no small feat and if it takes ten years, like with my book, it can be discouraging. Suddenly you have great sympathy for Sisyphus. But then that bright, gasping, beautiful day comes when someone sees your book like you do, and you’re offered a contract. And ten months later you find yourself signing book after book at your launch where almost sixty people come to buy your book and congratulate you.

And when it was over, forty years dropped away at Mach 5, and the young girl inside whispered, “Hey, writer, I think you’ve made it.”

Thank you so much, Jenny, for letting me tell it!

Susan Sundwall and her husband live in a one hundred and fifty year old house on four lumpy bumpy acres lined with pine trees in Columbia County, New York. Her work has appeared in several anthologies including two stories in the popular Chicken Soup for the Soul books. Many of her poems, essays, and articles on writing have also been published. Her first mystery,The Red Shoelace Killer – A Minnie Markwood Mystery, was published in 2012. Her second book in the series is written and she has high hopes of hitting some bestseller list sometime, somewhere, in any country, and in this century.

February 19, 2014

Made It Moment: Tilia Klebenov Jacobs

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 10:24 am

Wrong Place Wrong Time

We’ve heard a lot from writers on the traditional/indie fence lately. The debate to my mind should be less of a debate and more of a weighing of the pros and cons of each deserving path. That’s what author Tilia Jacobs did, and with some very good reasons for deciding, she chose a path. I won’t steal her thunder by revealing what it was. But the reason I’m featuring Tilia is not simply because she has a good story, or because her reasoning on this question is sound. It’s not because we agree on a lot of things, because we actually disagree about a fair amount. For example, I’ve found traditional publishing to be very different from her experience with it (and no, that didn’t just give the whole thing away). The reason I’m sharing this piece is because Tilia has a simply great Moment. One that takes that indie/trad fence…and knocks it all to bits.

Tilia Klebenov Jacobs

First off, I must thank Jenny for offering me this spot on her blog.  What a splendid, ongoing source of inspiration!

And now for that moment.

I wrote my book because I had a story stuck in my head and characters I took to bed with me every night.  I wrote it because I loved it.  Happily, I still do.

Even more happily, I am not the only one who feels this way.  When it was still a manuscript I sent it out to a flock of Beta readers who said lovely things like, “This was the only thing I could read for three days,” and “I called my mom in the middle to tell her how great it was,” and “I couldn’t put it down—my wife was yelling at me to do the things I usually do, like sleep.”

Then it won an award, and more people told me how exciting it was, and how the characters drew them in.  I basked; I beamed.

So when the twenty-sixth agent turned it down, I got a little cranky.

“This is stupid!” I fumed.  “By the time I get published, half my characters will be dead.”

My nine-year-old, always my biggest cheerleader, agreed with me.   He knows my secondary characters are old.

My “Aha!” moment came when I gave myself permission to indie pub.  Some might call it a “Duh” moment.  I won’t argue.

It took a while.  I had, alas, drunk freely of the traditional-publish Kool-Aid.  “Don’t do it,” people said.  “It’s the last refuge of the unpublishable writer.  You’ll torpedo your career.”

But.  William Blake, James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, Rudyard Kipling, Edgar Allen Poe, Mark Twain, Gertrude Stein, and many others self-published.

This, I thought, is not a bad club to be in.

Then I met several writers who had indie pubbed.  Not one regretted it.

“Aha!” I cried.  (Or perhaps, “Duh!”)  “I can do this too.”

The real joy set in when I realized that in the absence of an agent, an editor, and a traditional publisher, I was the last word on quality.  Being a Type A who doesn’t really want to turn her work over to a team of people who can edit mistakes into it (wish I were kidding about that), I embraced each moment of the indie pub process.  Formatting the book for print.  Working with an artist on the cover, and then the trailer.  Re-formatting for Kindle.  I was shocked at how much fun this was.  Getting my much-loved story ready for its publication date felt like helping a firstborn daughter dress for her debutante ball.

My proof copy arrived one evening just before dinner.  I opened the box and—

—and it was my book.  It wasn’t pages from my printer or a bound copy I had made up at Staples.  It wasn’t an image on my computer.  It was My Book, and it was in my hands and it was solid and real.  It was my work and love for the past several years.

I screamed.  My kids screamed.  Literary euphoria took over the house.

That night after dinner my nine-year-old said, “Mommy, I want to make dessert.”  Giggling, he retired to the kitchen where he very carefully spelled out the word “Author” on a plate with chocolate-covered raisins.

And that was the sweetest Moment of all.

Tilia Klebenov Jacobs has won numerous awards for her fiction and nonfiction writing. She is a judge in the Soul-Making Keats Literary Competition, and teaches writing in two prisons in Massachusetts. Tilia lives near Boston with her husband, two children, and two standard poodles. Tilia is the author of Wrong Place, Wrong Time, available at Amazon and select indie bookstores.

February 11, 2014

Made It Moment II: Judy Mollen Walters

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 12:21 pm

The Opposite of Normal

It’s not every day that I get to do two very special things. One, feature the Moment of a dear friend. And two, celebrate her release day right here on the blog! I met Judy Walters when we were both struggling to get published (Judy’s first Moment can be read here). Our dinners and lunches often included much head-scratching (and even hair-tearing) and yet they became some of the most pleasurable times for me along this writing road. In the end, or the beginning, as it may be more accurate to say, Judy and I wound up walking two very different paths. Yet our goals are the same. To tell stories that mean something to us, and that reach readers. I hope that you will become, as I am, a fan of Judy’s work. Her new book just out today should definitely set that in motion!

Judy Mollen Walters

This is going to sound strange, but my Made it Moment is the day I fired my agent, about seven months ago.

This is not going to be a post about hating on traditional publishing. I have lots of traditionally published friends, like Jenny. They’ve found their way in this big, bad world of publishing, and they’re happy.

This is about finding my own way.

I was with my agent for four years.  She was with one of the biggest, most well-known literary agencies in New York.  She had a solid name herself – had worked in publishing, and then in movies, for years.  She was friends with some of the biggest editors in the industry. A simple phone call put my manuscript in their hands.

Yet she couldn’t sell my first manuscript.

My second manuscript was a lot stronger. This time we’d used a developmental editor.  My agent tried to sell it, but this time…let’s say her enthusiasm waned earlier in the process.  She wanted me to e-book it with her agency, in a new program they’d started for writers like me. After a while, I agreed to this.  And six months later, my book came out.

During that time, I was writing another book. I’d titled it The Opposite of Normal.  Again, I used a developmental editor, and I was really proud of this book. Felt really good about it.

My agent and I had never communicated very well, and at long last, with this special book, I realized I would not get what I wanted from her.  She didn’t have the same vision for this book as I did, or frankly, for my publishing career in general.  I was tired of spinning my wheels with her. So after four years of trying to work together, I let her go.

I thought about going to another agent. There are so many reputable, wonderful, solid agents out there. But the book was ready. It was ready now.   And I had already given up so much to try to publish traditionally. I wanted the control back.

So for the last six months or so, I’ve been on this great journey of doing it all by myself. I’ve loved most minutes of it – from choosing the cover to doing my own PR and marketing, from writing my own jacket copy to choosing my own conversion company for the Kindle files. (It’s coming out in both paperback and on Kindle.)  There have been minutes of despair and frustration, too – like trying to get the Kindle files to work, setting up my Amazon site, and learning how many people don’t consider an independent book a book worthy of reading.  But the deep satisfaction I have – my “other” Moment – is doing it all myself and being proud of the work I’ve done.

Judy Mollen Walters is the author of Child of Mine (2013) and The Opposite of Normal (February 11, 2014). She is the Stay-at-home mother of two teenage daughters, and lives with her family in New Jersey, where she is at work on her next novel.

February 4, 2014

Made It Moment: Kitty Sewell

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 11:34 am

Cloud Fever

All of you know how much I love winter books, so it may not come as a surprise when I say that Kitty Sewell’s Ice Trap was one of my favorite novels when I discovered it back in 2007. Getting to share Kitty’s Moment–and many of the ups and downs of her career that followed–is a real thrill for me. In the time between 2007 and now, there’s been an explosion here in the US and Kitty is a part of it. What explains our love affair with Scandinavian thriller writers? What do these books offer that intrigue and compel us so? I don’t have a precise answer for that, but I do have a recommendation. Order a copy of Kitty Sewell’s latest. Her heart-stopping chapters and sleek prose will give you some idea.

Kitty Sewell

My “I made It” moment was drawn out over a heady few weeks, seven years ago, when all in one go I was taken on by an excellent London agent, had my debut novel ICE TRAP accepted by Simon & Schuster publishers, and was shortlisted for the Hay Festival Wales Book of the Year and the Crime writer Association’s New Blood Award. On the day, I won neither, but hey, the star-studded events were fabulous and I had my 15 minutes of fame. ICE TRAP went on to win International Book of the Month with Bertelsmann’s Media, BBC Radio People’s Choice, and a few other accolades.

I wrote ICE TRAP as a dissertation for an MA in Creative Writing. My only writing experience to date had been a weekly column that I had been churning out over a decade for a newspaper group. It was my expertise as a psychotherapist, not as a writer, that had precipitated this assignment. I had thought I was a fairly experienced writer as a result, but as soon as I dipped my pen to write fiction, I realized how wrong I was. I had a hell of a lot to learn. To top these challenges, English was actually my fourth language. My native Swedish had been replaced by, first Spanish as a result of moving to Spain in my early teens, then having quickly to learn German, as in Spain my parents placed me in a wholly German school. English was picked up from a weekly class in school, conversations with English and American friends, watching films, etc. At eighteen I emigrated to Canada, and then had good cause to perfect my English, but this was never in a classroom setting, so grammar and vocabulary was picked up along the way.

It was after the whirlwind of ICE TRAP, seeing it translated into some fifteen languages, and sold worldwide, that I began to realize that to stay on top, a novelist is only as good as her last novel (unless you are an absolute writer-superstar, in which case you can afford one or two flops). Somewhere I read of the dreaded concept “one book wonder” and saw how many novelists were shot down with the inevitable comparisons of subsequent novels with their best-selling debut. Predictably, my own second novel, BLOODPRINT, did not do as well as my first, though a lot more time, effort and skill went into it. Nevertheless it reached bestseller status in France and another few countries.

My third and latest psychological suspense novel, CLOUD FEVER, has been translated and sold in Europe over the last two years, and is now, after a major re-write, at last being published in English on Amazon and Kindle worldwide. I think it is the novel I most enjoyed writing and to myself, my best work so far.

I am just happy to be amongst the small number of novelist who can actually live, eat and pay the mortgage from the proceeds of their work. Just! Long may it last.

Kitty Sewell was born in Sweden and has lived in Spain, Canada, England and Wales. After running an estate agency in the frozen north of Canada she trained as a psychotherapist and then as a sculptor. Since 1991 she has written a popular agony column which is published in various newspapers around Britain. Her first book What Took You So Long is biographical and was published by Penguin in 1995. She loves adventure and travel and hitch-hiked around South America for a year in her late teens. She has done various long-haul motorcycling journeys, including a solo ride around Europe for her 50th Birthday. She is also a founder member of ‘Catwomen from Hell’, a Swansea motorcycling gang for women. Her debut novel Ice Trap (Simon & Schuster 2006) is set in Wales and the Canadian Arctic. It was shortlisted for the Wales Book of the year and for New Blood Crimewriters Award in 2006. Kitty is single and lives within her sculpture park in southern Spain.


January 30, 2014

Made It Moment: Wally Wood

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 10:14 am

The Girl In The Photo

This writing life can bring us into all sorts of unexpected places, including prison, as Wally Wood’s Moment shows. But Wally’s Moment also shows a great deal more. As writers we pursue our art and craft largely in isolation. Even if we’re lucky enough to be published, and people read our work, we don’t often know what effect it may be having. If a page is read in a forest, does the writer hear? Wally was given the opportunity for his words not only to wind up in someone’s hands, but also in their heart. He really changed somebody’s life. And in the end, isn’t that what all we storytellers hope to do?

Wally Wood

Shortly after my wife and I moved into our house twenty years ago, the recently-opened men’s prison in town suffered a riot and an escape. These confirmed the worst fears of the townspeople, who’d fought the state over the prison. A number of prison staff—the chaplain, head of recreation, head of volunteer services, and several others—held an informational meeting at a local church to talk to residents about the situation. They said they would welcome volunteers to work with the prisoners. I volunteered.

As a former magazine reporter and editor and as someone who supports his fiction habit by ghostwriting business books, I developed and taught six writing units: fiction, journals poetry, articles, plays, letters. The students volunteered for the classes and they had to bring a piece of writing every night as a ticket of admission. No ticket (a barely-literate short paragraph was fine), no class. Miss a class and no certificate at the end of the six weeks.

Because I was never a teacher in a classroom, I hadn’t had the experience before of watching a student catch fire and begin to thrive—like watching a flower bloom in stop-action photography. Still, you never truly know what effect you’re having and prison conditions (no contact outside of class, no phone calls, abrupt transfers to another facility) make it even more difficult. You would like to think you’re making a difference, but you cannot know.

All this background sets a context for my Made it Moment. One of my students was doing a sentence for murder. He was released on parole a year ago and he spoke to a newspaper reporter. I happened across the article in which my student said he began to change his life in prison, attended substance abuse programs, enrolled in the college classes that were available, and exercised regularly, which helped him release negative energy.

But, writes the reporter, “his most important bit of therapy was when he enrolled in writing classes offered at the prison. He said that these classes were his ‘emotional release’ that allowed him to put his thoughts on paper. He said that it was the writing classes that truly ‘helped him get through.’”

Wally Wood—not related to the late comic book artist Wally Wood—has written two novels about love, loss, and relationships while making a living writing business books. A member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, he has woven his lifelong love of Japan into both novels.

Wally got the idea for his debut novel, Getting Oriented: A Novel about Japan (2011), a few years after serving as a first-time tour guide for Americans vacationing in Japan. His second novel, The Girl in the Photo (2013), grew out of his experience rubbing shoulders with surgeons while stationed at an Army hospital in Japan after the end of the Korean War. The book follows the emotional journey of a middle-aged brother and sister as they mourn the death of their surgeon father and discover a romance he’d kept hidden for 50 years.

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