Tell us about your most recent book.
My latest book, Marcia Gates: Angel of Bataan, is a complete departure from my usual. I’m a novelist by trade, so when this true story grabbed me by the throat, I was totally surprised. I had never expected to write non-fiction, but this was one story I had to tell.
Where did the idea come from?
One Veteran’s Day a couple years ago, I was thinking about my aunt, Marcia Gates. She was an Army nurse during World War II and was captured by the Japanese on Corregidor and spent years in a prisoner-of-war camp. I knew this much, but very little else, and she and all her generation are gone, so I had no one to ask about it. I did some research and found out the Wisconsin Historical Society (my aunt was from Wisconsin) had 2 scrapbooks that were created by my grandmother while my aunt was in the service. I was able to download complete files of the scrapbooks and was stunned at all they contained. My grandmother had saved every letter, every telegram, every photo, every newspaper clipping and much more memorabilia. I realized that this was a story that needed to be told, needed to be “out there,” not locked up in a drawer where no one would ever see it—and I was the one who could tell it.
What are the pros and cons of writing in multiple genres?
I didn’t set out to write across different genres, but I guess it’s just my personality that I like variety, both in reading and writing. I never tell the same story twice, and I will write whatever story I find compelling. What I find interesting about this is that each genre has a different voice. I didn’t do this consciously, but I find that a more formal voice lends itself to historical romances, while a more direct voice works better with action/adventure stories. My spiritual novel, Goddess Rising, has a distinct descriptive voice, while my satire on romance novels, The Pits of Passion by Amber Flame, lampoons the flowery voice of regency romances. (Even the villain has “alabaster thighs.”) I find it interesting (and fun) that each genre seems to require its own voice.
The “con” of writing wildly different things is that my readers may expect a single style from me, and they won’t find it. I think most readers, myself included, read one book and expect that author to write something similar in the next. I don’t do that, which means readers may be surprised and/or disappointed if they follow up one of my books with another that is vastly different. Once I tell a story, I’m ready to move on, and even though I’ve had readers ask for sequels, you won’t see them from me.
What do you most enjoy about writing?
I think the very best thing about writing is creating something that wasn’t there before. When my characters become so real that they feel like treasured old friends, that’s when I know I’ve done my job. When they start to take on a life of their own and start to do things that I never thought of, that’s when I know the magic is happening. Creation is still, and always will be, a mysterious process, but it’s also immensely satisfying.
Please share a writing tip you’ve found helpful.
I don’t plot out every detail; at the most, I will jot down a few lines of major plot points and set off from there. I know the bare bones of the story, but not the detail. That’s revealed to me as I write, much as it is for the reader. As I’m writing, I see the action unfolding in my head, very much like a movie. All I do is describe what I’m seeing. If I find that the “movie” has taken me off the beaten path or has veered into a direction I don’t want to go, I just “rewind” the tape and start over again. I’ve found it’s actually very easy to let the story take me off wherever it wants to go. Sometimes that’s a good thing, and I’m pleasantly surprised by the changes, but sometimes I have to rein it in because it’s taking me away from the story I want to tell. As you can tell, this is not exactly a scientific process! It’s creation and it’s organic, unpredictable, messy and complicated—just like life.
So you’ve been traditionally published and self-published. How do the experiences compare?
Interestingly enough, there are varying degrees of similarities and differences. When my first two books were published by a NY house, I had absolutely zero control over anything. They chose the titles, they chose the book cover artwork, they wrote the blurbs. I didn’t even know the first one was out until I got a box of books from my agent! Back then, being a newbie, I just assumed this was normal which, at the time, it was.
My next three books were all published by small presses. Completely different process. I was in constant touch with my publishers, sometimes sending back-and-forth e-mails daily to talk about everything from title to cover to edits, even the fonts we used. It was much
more collaborative and way more satisfying to be part of the creative process. When my first two books went out of print and the rights reverted back to me, I began to explore self-publishing options just so I could reissue the books and have them still viable, and that’s when I stumbled on this wonderful new industry. I love having total control over the book, determining the look and the feel of it, making it match exactly the vision I have in my head. I find the entire process—writing, editing, formatting, designing, publishing, marketing—to be infinitely satisfying, even though it’s a lot of work.
What hasn’t changed over this entire evolution is the fact that 99.99% of the marketing falls to the author. I’m afraid some writers think a traditional publisher with do all their marketing for them, but unless they’re Stephen King or J. K. Rowling, that’s just not going to happen. No one is as invested in a book as the author, which means no one is going to promote it as much as s/he needs to.
Tell us a little about New Moon Rising’s publishing services. What distinguishes you from the competition?
Gosh, I’ve never really even thought about being competitive. My publishing services are primarily helping indie authors format their books either for self-publishing or for e-books. Since I’ve self-published over 10 books and formatted them all for e-books, I found I was being asked for advice and/or help from others. I figured it was a win/win if I could help someone through these processes with all I’ve learned and keep them from having to re-invent the wheel, and the authors I’ve helped seem to think so, too. That’s what’s great about the indie culture today; it’s moved from a climate of competition to one of cooperation. We’re happy to help each other out because I don’t think we’re going to run out of readers anytime soon!
How’d you get interested in hypnotherapy? What’s a day in the life of a hypnotherapist?
I have always been intrigued by hypnosis and reincarnation, but I thought past-life regressions by a professional hypnotist were way beyond me in terms of accessibility and cost. One day I found out that a co-worker in my office was a hypnotist and did past-life regressions, and I almost vaulted over my desk to get to him and make an appointment. After my first regression, I was completely hooked, and over the next couple of years I reviewed over 20 of my own past lives and learned a lot about the process as well. Later I went to school to become a certified hypnotherapist and although I don’t practice much anymore, I still love hypnosis. It’s a marvelous tool. I find it absolutely fascinating where it can take people, the events it uncovers, the traits it reveals. Knowing our past lives gives us a much more complete picture of the souls that we are, and helps us truly understand who we are and why we’re here.
What’s the best book you’ve ever read?
As far as I’m concerned, the best book on the planet is A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving. Irving can be streaky in his writing, and some of his other books are less than inspired, but Owen Meany stands head and shoulders above any other book I’ve ever read. The characters are the most memorable you’ll ever find, the story is inspired and the way he writes is just captivating. He writes in such a wandering, almost circular style that it makes you wonder where he’s going, but then you realize that the whole time he’s been propelling you forward toward the stunning resolution. I read it over again every year and it still makes me cry, still makes me laugh out loud. It’s an absolute masterpiece.
Who is your favorite fictional character? (Any medium)
After much thought, I have to say Gus McCrae from Lonesome Dove. Not only did Larry McMurtry write a fully-developed, complex character in the book, but Robert Duvall’s portrayal in the mini-series was inspired. Gus is a man of many dichotomies—sympathetic to whores, yet he can hang his friend for horse-thieving; studying Greek and Latin while running a dirt-poor ranch; raising laziness to an art but never shirking a task—but he’s as honest as you can get. Everything that Gus is, thinks and feels is right there for all to see. He is just unforgettable.
If you could have one super-power, what would it be and why?
Ever since I was a kid watching Superman on TV, I have wished I could fly. I am terrified of heights, yet I am drawn to places with wide, high views. I love the Grand Canyon, even though I panic at the thought of getting close to the edge and falling in. I’ve been able to push back on my fear with a little bit of bravado, going para-sailing and zip-lining, but I draw the line at skydiving, which my husband loves. Being able to fly like an eagle, soaring over all the beautiful places in the world, would be divine. Guess I’ll just have to settle for playing with Google Earth!
What can you tell us about your current work-in-progress?
I am currently finishing up a ghost story. I got the idea from an Arizona Highways show that talked about the London Bridge in Lake Havasu and about the ghosts that were said to haunt it. My initial idea was to write a “fish-out-of-water” story about a ghost going through culture shock when she realized she was no longer in London but in the desert southwest of “the colonies.” I had thought it would be light and fluffy and comedic, but as it turns out, my main (living) character had other ideas. He’s the one who connects with the female ghost, and he has a decidedly moody and dark side to him, and the tone of the story became much more serious than I had originally intended. The good news is that the back story is providing much more texture and tension than my original idea, always a good thing! I’m just now choreographing the end of the book, figuring out the order of the revelations and resolutions, and I’m excited about finishing it. It’s always fun to finish a book, but of course that’s when the real work starts, the editing and rewriting.
Where can people learn more about your work?
Please share one fun fact about yourself.
I am a complete space junkie and a half. I love everything space-related. In my day job, I work at the National Observatory and am part of a project to build a large telescope in Chile, so for me this is like a kid working in a candy store. Some years back, my husband and I went to adult Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama and had a ball. I’ve already decided that in my next life I am going to be an astronaut, which means I have to choose parents who love math (ug) or at least will support me in my quest.
Thank you, Melissa!