Matt Langford, author of The Watchman, is a 39 year old full-time ICU nurse in the UK. In his own words: “I rent two young children and a wife. I pay the basic rate so they tend to shout at me rather a lot. My wife is just about to re-enter full-time education. I manage to fit my mountain biking within, around and underneath my three full-time activities. My time is my passion. I have been writing since the age of 11 when my short story,
The Clay Hog, was read out in my school assembly. The reviews were startling. Since the advent of the internet I have had several short stories published and my work has appeared in the ABC Tales Magazine. Sadly,
The Clay Hog is now lost, presumed an archive. I also enjoy playing the guitar, although others may not agree.”BRIAN:
Matt, thanks for joining us today in The Underground. The Watchman
is a fascinating novel about the world, and a family, seen through the eyes of a mentally disabled teenage boy named Adam. Why did you select this particular, and if I may add ambitious
, subject matter for a first novel?MATT:
The advice I’ve always received when asking about inspiration for writing is ‘write about what you know’. There is little I don’t know about living within a family where a child has a learning difficulty. I started writing the novel over ten years ago and, to be honest, my reasons for writing then were very different to my reasons for writing now. The events that inspired The Watchman
were still fresh in my mind and all the principle players were alive and well and still played a large part in my life. Ten years on and things have changed. My relationships with my family have evolved and I’m a lot more mature. If I was to start The Watchman
from scratch now, I doubt the feelings and emotions I would convey would be anything like how are in the novel at present.
I unearthed The Watchman
about a year ago following an 8 years hiatus on my hard drive and found many problems with the initial draft. I’d included many short passages called ‘Gobbledeegooks’ which were, essentially, asides from Adam’s narration and information taken from the ‘real’ world. I read the draft through over and over again until it finally dawned on me that these passages detracted from the essence of the novel – namely Adam’s world, which is what the story is all about. So I cut them all (except for the opening paragraphs – a diary entry from Jane, who would go on to be Adam’s mother). I also cut about 90% of the dialogue. Soon I found that the more I took away from the outside world and the more concentrated Adam’s world became, the more the story developed. (If I was more brave I would have no dialogue at all. But I’m a bit of a woos). I lost about 30000 words! Which wasn’t easy. But without this cull I don’t think the finished piece would have worked at all.
In a sense I ended up going through a process with my 14 year old, my 26 year old, and my present self! An odd meeting of minds I’m sure you’ll agree. We all had different reasons for writing this book that complemented each other wonderfully. What I told my younger selves was that ultimately, the best stories come from within micro-worlds. Nothing is more micro than a family. Every family has a Hollywood blockbuster bursting to be written. I wouldn’t be so bold as to claim my family was particularly more interesting than any other, but it certainly contained elements that others should be made aware of, and I feel people will feel more affection to their own stories once reading The Watchman.BRIAN:
I take it, then, Adam was inspired by someone in your personal life. How difficult was it to write from the perspective of a mentally disabled person?MATT:
Adam is a character based on my brother, Deny. When I started writing The Watchman
my idea was to write nothing less than a memoir. As the writing progressed Adam took on his own personality, his own words, his fears and his own outlooks. Soon, The Watchman
evolved into a fictional novel with characters and events merely based on real life and real people. I’m unable for one moment to imagine how Deny thought or made sense of his world. Like Adam, his only communication came via made up words, gestures and physical contact. He was unable to convey any tangible feelings other than frustration –and this is what inspired me to portray Adam in the way I have. Deny was an incredible personality and genuinely moved everybody he ever met. I remember grown men crying in his presence simply because Deny treated them without prejudice and without judgment. He was extraordinary and inspirational. Sadly, he passed away a few years ago. He was truly unique.
Once the character of Adam was established and his motives, personality and language decided upon, he kind of wrote himself. A tip for writers – the stronger the character is in your mind, the easier it is to write for them. You should be able to drop your character into any situation and write about their responses. So, regardless of Adam’s predispositions, I didn’t find it difficult to write for him once the blueprint was established. BRIAN:
From idea to publication, how long did it take you to write The Watchman? MATT:
Every one of my 39 years! I first put pen to paper in 1999. That draft was complete about a year later. I added nothing until last summer. Over the last 12 months I’ve cut, edited and added about 50% of the entire novel.
Writer and artist Nancy Klann-Moren is the author of "The Clock of Life." It won best unpublished novel when she submitted the manuscript to the San Diego Book Awards. Her previous book of short stories, "Like the Flies on the Patio," also won awards for three of its stories. Please welcome Nancy to the Underground. Candi:
Your Southern setting and characters feel so authentic. Can you tell us about your experiences that helped you bring Hadlee, Mississippi and its townspeople to life?Nancy:
I was pretty comfortable with the house setting, and with all the characters, but felt unsure about the actual town itself. So unsure I took a road trip through the back roads of Georgia and Mississippi until I finally found a town that fit all my criteria for Hadlee. Then, while writing, I literally saw each scene as if I were watching it on a screen. As for the authentic feel of the book, I once got some advice from a playwright friend who said a writer must be especially mindful about the way their characters think and speak. He said a character must never say something just so the writer can get a point across. That advice served me well during the writing of this book.Candi:
What inspired you to explore both the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement in your story? Nancy:
The idea of human inequality and how it comes to be has always been something I’m unable to understand, so the foundation of that aspect of the book was more emotional than cerebral. And, it has always been hard for me to stomach the politics of why we went into Vietnam. Looking back at those times in our history, one can see a living and breathing reality, where our American protests changed the status quo. Candi:
You address many difficult topics through the eyes of young Jason Lee. It kept a tone of simplicity and innocence, yet there was a profound sense of discovery as he came of age. How did you decide to have Jason Lee tell this story? Nancy:
This narrative began as a short story of about 4,000 words, told in Jason Lee’s point of view. (It’s included my book of short stories, Like The Flies On The Patio.) One morning while in a workshop at The Santa Barbara Writers Conference, I read an excerpt. When I finished, the instructor, Sid Stebel, asked what I was doing for the next couple years, because, “What you have written isn’t a short story, it’s a novel.” Realizing the subject matter was really important, I took up the challenge. Having Jason Lee tell the story was an honest continuation of what I’d started, and it truly is his story.Candi:
I read that your novel was adopted by the Los Medanos College English Department to be used in their freshman writing classes. Have you had any feedback from the students?Nancy:
Not yet. It is scheduled to begin in the fall semester, 2013. In the mean time I’m contacting other English Departments about using it as a framework from which bigotry can be discussed safely in the classroom, comparisons can be made, and recent history can be explored. It fits in nicely with essay readings from several sources as well as subjects in ReReading America
and Changing Society. Candi:
How has your experience been publishing this novel?Nancy
: Because of the state of the publishing industry, I opted for indie publishing, which felt satisfying because I had creative control. With that said, there are also the challenges of “Authorpreneurship,” and learning to market the books. There are huge obstacles when it comes to spreading the word through established review venues like Kirkus Reviews, and The New York Times, or even “established” local newspapers. Thank goodness for outlets like The Underground Review to help. I’m confident that through word of mouth, The Clock Of Life will become a must read.Candi:
As an artist and a writer, do you look to different means of inspiration for each, or does one compliment the other? Nancy:
I suppose they both tell a story. Art is more playful and inspired by objects, and writing takes a lot, lot, lot longer. ABOUT OUR GUEST WRITERCandi Sary, author of Black Crow White Lie, has made the finals in several writing competitions, including the William Faulkner William Wisdom Writing Competition and the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. She lives in coastal Southern California with her husband (while her 2 kids are off at college), and can often be found surfing the waters of Newport Beach. You can find her at www.candisary.com.
Candy Korman is professional writer, amateur Argentine Tango dancer and cat-lover living in New York City. She writes mystery novels and short stories in addition to her series of literary novellas, Candy’s Monsters, inspired by horror classics. Her latest novella,
Poed, takes readers into a contemporary version of Edgar Allan Poe’s dark and twisted world. Please welcome Candy Korman to the Underground! Jeri: How is it that you came to write “literary novellas inspired by horror classics?”
Candy: It occurred to me while I was watching yet another Frankenstein
movie on TV that I had never read the original. Once I read it, I became enamored of the shifting points of view and the MONSTER as the ultimate misfit. The story behind Frankenstein
— the famous rainy vacation in the country and the challenge to write ghost stories for friends —became the genesis for my mystery. From Mary Shelley I went directly to Bram Stoker and then on to Poe. Once you’re on that train, it’s hard to stop. Each novella is a singular story written in a different genre, but the roots are solidly in the original soil. Jeri: What themes predominate your work?
Candy: In my Candy’s Monsters
series, and in most of my other fiction, the theme of unintended consequences seems to crop up. In The Mary Shelley Game
choices made years ago, and with the best of intentions, come back to haunt the party’s host and his guests. The protagonist in Bram Stoker’s Summer Sublet
has suffered a romantic body blow. She’s rethinking all her choices and that leaves her vulnerable and easily influenced. Because it’s a dark comedy, she rockets between scary and silly notions, until she finally determines a course of action that shakes her from the inertia of a broken heart. In Poed
and my upcoming variation on Jekyll & Hyde
, there is a clear backlash from dark choices and secrets. Expedient deals made with the devil linger on and on.
I also explore friendship in most of my Monsters-Poed
is the notable exception. Unlike romantic love, I think there are many unexplored or barely touched opportunities for writers in creating the elastic and sometimes treacherous bonds of friendship. Jeri: How has living in New York City inspired and shaped you as a writer?
Candy: YES! I love to travel and virtually everywhere I go turns up in one story or another. Living in a huge city, rich in history, culture and a crazy quilt of neighborhoods, is like handing the key to the candy store to a child with a sugar addiction. New York’s iconic buildings, museums, galleries, theaters, stores, restaurants, bars, parks, subways, stadiums… are full of stories. Everywhere I look, I find inspiration.
Using real places in fiction helps me anchor my stories. The real places also lend credibility to the fantasy aspects. The institution in Poed
is pure fiction, but its location is real. It overlooks the pier where I dance Tango on summer nights. Setting Bram Stoker’s Summer Sublet
in an East Village apartment and at various locations in Manhattan gave the story a realistic backdrop and, and according to a few readers, it was a summer tour of the city.
New York is a character in most of my work. The energy of the city, the way it draws people from around the world and the dichotomy between the image and reality —all inform my stories. My monster-in-making — The Strange Case of Dr. Hyde and Her Friends
— is also set in the New York area, with characters in various city neighborhoods and out on Eastern Long Island, too. Jeri: In what ways has your writing style has been influenced by master story tellers?
Candy: Master storytellers SHOW more than they TELL. I aspire. I try. And sometimes I even succeed. I’m a work-in-progress. It’s difficult for me to read without being conscious of the structure, character development and language choices made by the author. Except in the midst of a masterpiece and then I lose all sense of the building blocks and only see the story. Those are the writers that influence me the most. Jeri: How will the experience of reading POED differ for readers who know Edgar Allan Poe’s work well versus readers who may only have a passing familiarity with his work?
Candy: That’s a great question! I’m honestly not sure. I do know that Poe’s work — in one form or another —permeates our popular culture. The old Vincent Price movies, the wonderful version of “The Raven” on The Simpsons
TV show, and the countless references to the “The Black Cat” and his other famous stories are part of our world. Will a non-Poe person appreciate how I snuck in obscure allusions? No. But will that reader enjoy spending a night in The Usher Clinic? I certainly hope so.Jeri: Thanks again to Candy Korman by sharing with Underground Reviews today. Readers can connect with her on the following sites: Candy’s Monsters Blog
Candy’s Monsters on Facebook
, and Goodreads Candy Korman Author Page on Amazon You can also connect with the interviewer, Jeri Walker-Bickett, on her twisted book blog, What do I know?
As a father of three wonderful boys, who can't remember what being well-rested feels like, it's a wonder the Jim Maher finds time to write at all. He writes for kids and as he puts it, "Kids are the ones who are either going to be hooked for life on good stories, or turned away forever by bad. I hope the ones I'm putting out for them are the good ones." Please welcome Jim Maher!Katie: Hemingway Man
connects directly with tortured writer Ernest Hemingway. What made you decide to tie your teenage protagonist in with this prolific Modernist author? Jim: Hemingway's ideals of manhood come from a different era, one that we're still struggling to move past. So many of our Western concepts of what it means to be a man still stem from that bygone time, and Hemingway was such a strong, stalwart voice for those ideals. Hemingway's list of four tasks a boy must do to become a man actually exists, and it sounds so ridiculous in today's world, but it was very much a part of his. Katie:
Coming-of-age stories almost always teach us about growing up. What do you hope audiences take away from your story about becoming a man?Jim:
That there is no set path, no rights-of-manhood rituals that determine when we have or have not yet become men. There is no clock, no set date, no age at which we have reached maturity. We learn every day, we grow every day, no matter how old we are, no matter who we are. That's what I would like readers to take away. Katie:
You tap into the teen voice so well. How do you write authentic teen voice as a grown man?Jim:
Not to sound too snooty-falooty artsy-fartsy, but I am a professionally, classically trained actor, and in theatre training, I learned how to really listen to people. How they talk, the mannerisms, funny little slangs and odd personal quirks; all of it makes up the individual. I use that acting training to fuel my dialogue and characters. Katie:
As a father of young sons, what messages will you give them about growing into manhood? Was writing this book, in a way, speaking to their future teenage selves? Jim: Never let anyone tell you who to be. Know the rules, but don't be afraid to break them. Family comes first, whatever your family may be. I hope my sons one day read Hemingway Man and understand that most of us have no idea what we're doing most of the time, and that's okay. We learn from the crazy times more than from the smooth sailing. Katie:
Will there be more books from you?Jim:
Yes, absolutely. I'm working on an adventure called 'Lyric'. I love writing, and have since before I can remember.Katie: When you aren't writing, what can we find you doing? Jim:
I am a stay-at-home dad, so my day is filled with diapers, laundry, school, cooking, and an endless barrage of 'why?' Wouldn't trade it for the world.
Thank you, Jim. You can find Jim on his website
and his book on Amazon
Seventeen-year-old Greta Rose Evans, a surfer girl from California, publishes her debut novel, The Infinite Summer. The young author joins us today to tell us about her writing and publishing experience.Please welcome Greta to the Underground. CS - What inspired you to write and publish a novel at seventeen?
Greta - When I was fifteen years old I spent my whole summer at a beach town in Southern California. Being from Northern California, it felt like a whole other world. It was such an amazing summer that, when it ended and I came home, I couldn't stop thinking about it. That's when I started writing The Infinite Summer
. I had no intentions of publishing it when I first started. I've always loved to capture things. It's one of the main reasons I love writing. As I was starting to wrap up the story, I suddenly felt like there was something really special and raw about writing and publishing a book as a teenager. I wanted to capture what its like to be young.CS - You did an excellent job describing the Southern Californian surf culture. Tell us about your personal experience with surfing.
Greta - I met my surf coach one summer a few years ago; ever since then I've been hooked on surfing. I always say surfing was my first love. It's such an addicting feeling to be out in the water. It was very important to me that I described it honestly. It's such a big part of my life.CS - I love your opening about what "home" means to Evie. Is the ocean your own definition of home as well?
Greta - Definitely. I'm living part time in Northern California and part time in Southern California right now. Going back and forth can be difficult sometimes. The ocean is my constant. Every time I paddle out it feels like home.CS - Since Evie is your age, I couldn't help but wonder how much you drew from your own life. Is Evie like you? And do her friends reflect your own friends?
Greta - Of course I drew from my own life. The most important thing to me is that my writing is authentic. I always want it to be relatable. I think some writers portray their characters as these perfect people. I want my characters to be a little messy and imperfect, I think you can only design characters like this by drawing from real people. I don't think Evie is like me, but if I were to meet her I think we'd get along. Her friends reflect my friends in some ways. I believe they reflect strangers more though. I always take little bits and pieces from people I've met along the way.CS - What has been your favorite reaction to your book so far?
Greta - I can't pick one! I've been really enjoying hearing from people all over the world. It's slightly surreal to know people have read my book in Sweden, Brazil, and other cool places.CS - How are you marketing your book?
Greta - Social media has been my best friend. From the moment I decided to publish my book, I've done my best to update people along the way. I posted photos from the photoshoot we did for the cover, and little sneak peaks of it leading up to the release. I also teach surf lessons, so I meet a lot of people through that, and I always tell my students about The Infinite Summer
Thanks, Greta. You can find her on Facebook
and her book on Amazon
and Barnes and Noble.
Here at the Underground, our goal is to promote as many quality indie authors as we can. Toward this end, we are introducing Author Spotlight Thursdays. Please welcome Jane Susann MacCarter . 1. Tell us about your book.
Homely college student Stella and nerdy professor Harry find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time during a convenience store hold-up, where deadly consequences result and Stella falls into a coma. But she’s more ‘alive’ than doctors realize; though outwardly unresponsive, she’s actually ‘awakening’ in an Eden-like paradise that actually existed around 7000 B.C. In this alternate world, New Stella inhabits a body that’s beautiful and desirable, while the hunky chief of the tribe turns out to be a notched-up version of professor Harry. But is Stella’s beloved new life just a figment of her severely injured brain? When she finally emerges from the coma, she must choose between two lives… one of which may not truly exist. 2. What is one thing you want audiences to know about you?
That all my heroines are generally based on… me! Maybe that’s why they’re typically salt-of-the-earth types, trying their best to deal with the mixed bag of goods that Destiny has gifted to them. They’re not Beautiful Babes with tempestuous manes of tawny hair, faces framed by the requisite ‘errant tendrils.’ Nor do they ‘prettily bite their lower lip.’ They’re real young women who wear size 12s, but they’re looking for love too, just as much or more than the pouting Babes.3. If you had a writing motto what would it be?
Don’t expect writing to be fun. It’s NEVER truly enjoyable; satisfying, yes, when it’s all over, but never fun. The late, great Irish author Maeve Binchy nailed it when she said (and I’m paraphrasing here), “You must plant your butt in your chair in front of your computer and not rise from it until you have typed five new pages of your book. Per DAY. No exceptions.”4. What book character do you most relate to and why?
In other people’s books, I relate most closely with the character of Jane in JANE EYRE. Though poor and plain, Jane was also tenacious and persistent about getting what she wanted: True Love and her own Happily Ever After. The last chapter in JANE EYRE begins with the words: “Reader, I married him.” (Best first line of a last chapter ever!) 5. What's the best-kept secret you've found in regard to indie publishing?
The best-kept secret about indie publishing is… that there is NO
… One… Best… Authority… on what to do and when/how to do it, no matter who insists that theirs is The Way. Even when you start thinking you might
have The Way finally in sight, you actually don’t, and things have morphed yet again overnight. Persistence is the only answer.
Although constitutionally wimpy when measured against the Cool and Adventuresome, Jane Susann MacCarter nonetheless managed to come through some pretty hairy times unscathed (at least enough so to write about them afterwards). Like that time when the mountain lion jumped on her. Or when an estimated 750,000 bats ejected droplets of pee on her as they surged from the mouth of the cave she was exploring. Then there was that time, snorkeling in an underground 'cenote' in the Yucatan, when the single overhead light went out. And don’t forget that time with the furious bull moose... MacCarter is still here to tell the tale(s) and even see some of them published. But now she's venturing into even stranger territory: the World of a Fiction Writer. To paraphrase Bette Davis: “Fasten your seatbelts, folks It’s going to be quite a ride.” Her Linkshttp://www.goodreads.com/book/show/17376988-dreamer http://www.facebook.com/pages/Dreamer/397655740325800
Erin Parker, a contributor in the anthology Uno Kudo: Naked, is a merchandise manager and designer by day and a writer and artist by… well, pretty much all the time.
Her short story, Dance Home, is about a young woman who recovers from rape through her experience with modern dance. In Dance Home, Erin Parker brings us through the healing process with naked honesty and emotion.
Amy: The themes and images in Dance Home are emotional and heartfelt. What inspired you to write this story?
Erin: Dance Home is based on my own experience. The story was painful to write, but it was also kind of exhilarating to get it out there after so many years. Every aspect of rape seems to get discussed in the media except for what really counts: how someone can heal. Yes, it changed me and how I move through life. Yes, it changed how I see the world around me. Yes, it changed how I viewed people. But I wanted to show that there really is a way through the healing process. It is different for everyone. Dance and the Arts resonated with me, so this was my experience.
There really is a studio in Santa Monica, California called Dance Home. I used to go there quite a bit during that time, and it is a really special place that I grew to love. I wanted to pay homage to it in my story.
I hope that my story Dance Home is ultimately seen as a story of hope, because that’s the story I wanted to tell.
Amy: Between dancing, visual arts and writing, you have a well-rounded artistic background. What would you say is your strongest suit?
Erin: At this point in my life, I spend equal amounts of time between writing and design. I love doing both, so I couldn’t say which I am strongest at. I haven’t danced in some years, but I hope the rhythms and tones of dance come through in my writing. What I mean by that is rhythm and cadence are utmost in my mind when I write. Dance Home, for example, has a very intentional sentence structure and sound for each part of the story. The first part is minimal and kind of flatline… numb. The second part is the swirling rhythm and the beat of the studio music and dancers, building to the end and being set free.
Amy: Now for a mean question: If you had to focus on only one area of art, what would it be?
Erin: That’s an absolutely impossible question to answer! The thing that matters most to me is telling the story, not what language you use. Dance is a language. Design is a language. Art is a language. Illustration, Architecture, Typography, Poetry, Film, Photography… are all languages. It’s impossible for me to separate them. Sometimes I need the rhythm and the sound of words. Other times I need to tell stories visually through shape, space, color or light. There really is no distinction for me.
Bostonian author, husband and suburban farmer, Scott Cramer joins us today to talk about his book, writing and his life. Please welcome, Scott Cramer to the Underground!Katie:
What gave you the idea for Night of the Purple Moon
I wanted to write something that was high concept, something I could describe in a few sentences and people would know what the book was about. I also wanted to put my protagonist in a dangerous situation where the stakes were high. At the same time, I wanted to place my characters in a setting I could describe in some detail (a small island off Maine). Those were some of the things on my mind when I was plotting Night of the Purple Moon
. Finally, I had read a number of very good books where kids set out on their own after the death of their parents. I thought it would raise the stakes significantly if virtually every older teen and adult were to die.Katie:
What research went into the premise for the purple moon and the space dust that decimated the adults in your story?Scott:
I was looking for something that adults had but kids did not. That’s when I discovered the hormones, testosterone and estrogen. The levels of those hormones increase at puberty. The levels decrease in old age. It then became a matter of having a bacteria attack those hormones. The comet’s tail became the way to spread the bacteria everywhere quickly. (Several people wrote to me recently about the close encounter Earth had with an asteroid and the meteorite that crashed in Siberia.) In one scene, an elderly neighbor, Mr. Couture, does not die right away. In a sense, that was plausible because he had lower levels of the hormones.Katie:
When you create your characters, how do you write authentic children?Scott:
I guess I see all characters the same, no matter their age. Everyone has fears and dreams and desires. Everyone has strengths and faults. If you can weave all those elements together, you should have the foundation of a strong character. Then it’s a matter of having them change and grow over time as the result of their struggles.Katie:
What are you currently working on? Scott:
Colony East, Book #2 in The Toucan Trilogy. I have a pretty good handle on it, and I hope to publish it during the summer of 2013. But I also don’t want to rush it.Katie:
What is the best piece of writing advice you've received?Scott:
Write every day. Writing, at least to me, is 1 part joy, 1 part inspiration, and 8 parts hard work, like breaking rocks into pebbles and then turning the pebbles to dust. But if you keep chipping away, through thick and thin, you will eventually create a story.Katie:
How much marketing are you doing? What's your best kept marketing secret? Scott:
Obscurity is the enemy for all authors, and especially indie authors. My favorite part of marketing is when I connect with readers. The 8 parts of drudgery (mentioned above) is all worth it when I get feedback from readers who really liked the book. On a side note, I’d say that most of the readers of Night of the Purple Moon
are over the age of 20. But I got a note from a sixth grader recently. She featured me in her school’s author fair. It doesn’t get much better than that.Katie:
Why the Young Adult genre? Have you considered writing in other genres?Scott:
In the same way I don’t distinguish between the ages of characters, I almost feel the same way about genres. It’s mostly about the story. The characters may be 12 or 15 years old, but it still boils down to story.Katie:
Thank you, Scott. You can find Scott on Facebook
. You can find Night of the Purple Moon here.
Tara Staley is the author of Need to Breathe. Staley’s writing background includes undergraduate and graduate degrees in English and Creative Writing, a Romance Writers of America (RWA) award, and involvement with the North Carolina Writers Network. She is also a founding member of the online writers’ community Backspace. She was born, raised, and will most likely die in Kernersville, North Carolina.
BRIAN: Tara, welcome to the Underground. We are delighted to have you here. If I could sum up Need to Breathe in one word, from a debut writer’s perspective, I would say “ambitious.” You bit off a big chunk with your first published book. Need to Breathe is no less than the sweep of a girl’s life from birth to young adulthood from the perspective of her guardian spirit. There were so many characters, so many issues, and so many moving parts to keep up with. Why did you choose something so ambitious for your debut novel?
TARA: For several reasons...Need to Breathe, although it’s my debut published novel, it isn’t the first book I’ve written. I had five other novels under my belt (most of which will never be pulled out of the drawer) and felt the need to try something a bit more challenging. Plus, I thought the magnitude of the situation in Need to Breathe--a baby surviving a botched abortion--commanded a different approach. When I start writing a novel, I have to be completely hooked and obsessed with the premise because I work on my novels for a long time. I draft, re-draft, edit, polish, repeat. It took me two years to get NEED TO BREATHE ready for publication. I lost count of how many drafts this novel has been through! It definitely wasn't easy.
BRIAN: I understand Need to Breathe has already generated some buzz from a few notable authors.
TARA: Yes--I had finished a draft of the manuscript when I was invited to join an online critique group that included Priscille Sibley and Catherine DiCairano. We read each others’ manuscripts and tore them to pieces. Diplomatically, I mean. That’s when I started re-drafting the book all over again. Coincidentally, Priscille was a NICU nurse, and she walked me through the information I needed to revise the first few chapters, when Claire is struggling for life as a preemie. She sent photos, explained medical procedures over the phone, and I really am indebted to her for making those opening chapters zing with authenticity. Priscille sold her debut novel Promise of Stardust to William Morrow, and her book is due out in just a couple of weeks. Because she loved Need to Breathe, she blurbed it. Same with Cathy, who went on to publish several short stories in e-zines such as The Shine Journal, Word Riot, Bewildering Stories and Underground Voices. Carolyn Burns Bass, founder and moderator of the popular Twitter forum @LitChat, has published several stories herself, and author/reviewer Terez Rose played a key role in shaping the novel as well... I can’t express enough appreciation to these outstanding authors for their superb critiques, support and willingness to put their names with the book.
BRIAN: In many books I review I must to go back and look up certain character’s names before I can write a review. Not so with Need to Breathe, the characters were
quickly and forever burned into my brain. Without ruining relationships or angering friends and relations, how much of these characters are inspired from real life and how much did you make out of whole cloth?
TARA: I used “modeling” like this a lot in past novels, and it helps tremendously in crafting three-dimensional characters. Need to Breathe doesn’t have as much modeling as my other works, but a few characters are based on real people. Mick is modeled somewhat after my dad--a quiet, reclusive engineer type. Likewise, I could draw some parallels between Manda and my mother--dramatic, combustible. (Don’t opposites always attract?) The twin sisters Gertha and Grace were modeled a bit after my grandmother. She does drink Rock n Rye for her bronchitis (or so she claims it’s for
bronchitis). Charlie Vance is a conglomerate of all the geeks I hung out with in high school calculus class. We were the kind of students who would rather graph functions than go to a party. As for Claire... she really is whole cloth.
BRIAN: How did you come up with the idea for Need To Breathe?
TARA: One Sunday afternoon in 2006 or 2007, I heard an interview on our local Christian rock station, WBFJ, with Gianna Jessen. Gianna had survived a saline abortion attempt in the 70s, and her voice grabbed me. I had never heard of a baby surviving an abortion. That interview prompted me to do some research, and I found out that failed abortions were common. In some situations, the baby is adopted. In others, the parent(s) choose to keep the child and make the best of the situation. I became fascinated with it--wondering about the process of revelation to these children, the emotional fallout, the repercussions. A story started forming in my head after that
interview, and the book was written from 2007-2009. It landed an agent but didn’t sell to a publisher, so it marinated on my hard drive for nearly 3 years. It was this past summer when my agent suggested indie publishing, so I revised it yet again and put it on Amazon.
Today the Underground is proud to welcome Laurie Boris. Laurie is a freelance writer, editor, proofreader, and former graphic designer with a long history of ignoring housework and pots on the stove to sneak in "just a few more pages" of her novels. She has had her short fiction published in small magazines and on the Web. She is the author of two novels, The Joke's on Me and Drawing Breath. Please welcome Laurie Boris!Katie: Drawing Breath
is an extraordinary story, the quality of which is not often seen in a self-published novel. How did you get your novel in such tip-top shape for publication?Laurie:
Oh, thank you! This project is so close to my heart and I wanted to do the story justice. First, I set the early draft away for a time, to get more distance. This helped me with the self-editing, to realize what was important and what could be cut. I enlisted the help of beta readers and a proofreader. I borrowed some tips from fellow self-published author M. Edward McNally and read that final manuscript on my Kindle, out loud. This helped me catch more errors.Katie:
Daniel is a very sympathetic character. What compelled you to write about a character with cystic fibrosis?Laurie:
One of my husband's best friends had cystic fibrosis and survived into his mid-thirties, which at the time was considered an astoundingly long life span. Bill was one of my heroes. He didn't live his days like a guy who had a life threatening disease. He just lived his life, giving all he could of himself to his twin loves of art and acting. He was flawed, however, as we all are. And I hated how some people treated him as if he were carrying the plague. I wanted to write about a character like him, and show that people with chronic illnesses are still just people, equally deserving of love and respect, as well as showing a real look at how chronic illness, especially CF, with its time-intensive maintenance program, affects the dynamics of families and relationships.Katie:
What are you currently working on?Laurie: I just released a new novel, Don't Tell Anyone, another contemporary story circling around family dynamics. In this one, a careful weave of secrets and lies begins to unravel the Trager family when they accidentally learn that their matriarch has breast cancer—and never intended to tell them. Next up is something with a bit more of a comic tilt, which I'm really enjoying.