Author interview: Zeb Appel

zebLike other members of the Westport Writers Rendezvous with publishing news, Zeb Appel shared that her debut novel, Good Luck and a Benevolent God, was published this summer by DartFrog Books  not just in the US, but around the world. The book is about the colorful life and death of Mandy Flanagan, an Irish girl from the South End of Boston who elopes to New York in the twenties, how she navigates a good part of the twentieth century, and finally retires to the suburbs of Wallingford, CT. It has a great review from Kirkus, including this quote: “Appel writes in the natural prose of a raconteur, rising occasionally to the level of lyricism when praising her heroine.” I enjoyed the book too, and the way it demonstrated how stories and people intersect in their lives—what keeps them together and forces them apart. It’s a great book club book, with plenty to discuss.

I’ve followed some of Zeb’s progress via our meetings, but I wanted to know more.

GC: How did your experience as a playwright help or hinder you in writing a novel? Do you think it influenced your prose style?

ZA: Actually, my creative writing life began as a student writing poetry and short stories. These were published in literary magazines and university publications. About ten years ago I started writing plays, short and full-length, comedies and dramas. I took a class at the Hartford Stage, joined organizations and went to shows. This was fun. I learned about dialog and performance, the delivery of words, what sounded natural and what fit that particular character. This works in fiction, too. I always read my work aloud no matter what form it takes.

appelGC: What was the impetus for writing a novel at all? Just to try something different? To write about this particular character?

ZA: I am just a storyteller who writes in different forms. For me, poetry is an intimate experience while plays are public and must engage an audience. “Good Luck and a Benevolent God” originated a while ago in a workshop led by the New Haven writer Alice Mattison. Back then, it was a handful of (humorous) linked short stories about an eccentric family. Alice called it a ‘baby’ novel. Even though it ‘grew up’ to be the full portrait of a woman’s life, it still retains that ‘linked short story’ flavor about key characters and their adventures. This device (emphasizing character over plot) labeled it literary rather than commercial.

GC: Can you tell us something about your journey from first idea to publication?

ZA: Well, I don’t outline but will draw a relationship chart with major events to ‘see’ that it works logically. Initially I just write about something seen or heard that I want (need) to shape into a poem, a story or a play. My reader-friends critique and I use outside (paid) editors. But I’m fussy. I can always find fault with my work and will endlessly revise and mush the words around unless someone takes it away from me.

At present, I don’t have a literary agent (that may change). I find querying tiresome and the process to place a book with a major house too slow. A friend referred me to DartFrog Books. They liked the book and agreed to publish in less than a year and pay royalties like a traditional press. (They have since changed their business model.) They edited and formatted the content, and also designed a dandy cover. Plus, I enjoyed a book release signing and giveaway at BookCon in NYC.

GC: Mandy is considered eccentric, partly because she’s ahead of her time. To me she seems admirably independent. Is she based on anyone in particular?

ZA: My nana played slide piano on an old upright in her little house and a crowd sang along. I come from a family of four girls and we are a headstrong ornery bunch with our own sense of timing. Like most Americans, our family history is colorful. Of course I am part Irish so I enjoy a good story, music and beverages, like Mandy.

GC: You cover sixty years of New England life. How did you research the historical settings?

ZA: It was fun. The best background came from an estate. But I wasn’t writing a historic novel, so whole chapters about events like WWII had to be removed from the final version because it was too long.

GC: And finally, what’s next?

ZA: The final draft of my suspense novel, “The Median” is almost done. It’s about a woman’s breakdown, a truck driver and the startling event that changes their lives.

You can connect with Zeb on her website and at zebwrites@gmail.com, and via Facebook, and Goodreads.

Author interview: Elissa Grodin

ElissaGrodin_-10EditI’ve always admired crime and mystery writers. Their ability to mislead the reader, and the way they place clues and red herrings through the manuscript, has always fascinated me. Although I love to read these books, I almost never guess who the murderer is, which is what keeps me reading. Elissa Grodin’s latest novel, A Handful of Worldliness, had me guessing (incorrectly) as one by one, suspects were eliminated. The crime-solver in this novel, Edwina Goodman, is a professor of physics at a small college in New England, and although the main investigator is her policeman boyfriend, he can’t do it without her. I needed to interrogate the author…

GC: I don’t believe I’ve ever heard of a female science professor as the main protagonist in a mystery story. What gave you the idea for the character?

elissa gEG: I’ve long been interested in the philosophical idea that objective reality is illusory—the idea that there are myriad ways of seeing any given thing or person or event.  Everything is open to interpretation.  It is human nature to assume that the world really is as we think it does.  But life—and death—are much more complicated than that.  That’s where science comes in.  Theoretical physicists like my character, Edwina, spend their lives looking into the nature of reality, and trying to describe it as accurately as possible.  In my books I use murder as the punch line for the kind of mayhem and confusion murky, superficial thinking brings about.  So, her constant questioning of what we think we know, helps reveal the truth.

GC: The initials of her name, Edwina Goodman, are the same as yours. Does this mean she’s an alter ego?

EG: Yes, Edwina is certainly my alter ego.  If I could wrap my mind around mathematics – which I have a very hard time doing – I would have liked to have become an astronomer.  My siblings gave me a lovely telescope for a recent birthday, and I take it out every so often to stargaze.

GC: I like the way you include physics as a way to help figure out whodunit.  How easy is it to incorporate this relatively esoteric knowledge into your detective’s crime-solving?

EG: Physics is a very useful way to explain much of what goes on around us.  For example, one of my characters is a raging narcissist. Once you know that about him, you can interpret, and possibly even predict his actions, by applying Newton’s 3rd law of motion: “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.”  A narcissist is likely to react in a specific way, given a particular set of circumstances—like lashing out when slighted or criticised.  Edwina uses informed logic, aided by a ferociously good imagination, to figure things out.  Her ability to connect the dots doesn’t necessarily depend on physics esoterica.  It’s just fun to throw a little bit of that stuff in once in a while.

GC: Your writing career started with books for children. What prompted the switch to adult fiction?

EG: The opportunity to write children’s books happily came my way some years ago, but I always had it in mind to move on to writing adult novels.  I developed a taste for mysteries from my mother, who was a great reader of mysteries, her favorite author being Agatha Christie.  Writing mysteries provides a somewhat larger, and more satisfying canvas on which to record the ideas I’m interested in.

GC: Do you outline your mystery novels before you start writing, or do you simply sit down and type? Why do you do it that way?

EG: I’m not nearly clever enough to hold all the subplots, and red herrings, and things in my head, so yes, I outline before I start writing.  Before I begin on a book, I know who the victim is, who the murderer is, how the murder is committed, and why.  I do a fair bit of filling in as I write, but I have the basic plot line figured out at the outset.  I rewrite incessantly.  You have to.   I also discover things I didn’t realize I wanted to say as the writing progresses.  Writing is self-discovery.

GC: What does the future hold in store for our heroine, Edwina Goodman?

EG: She’s a brilliant physicist, so certainly, she will continue to have career success.  And, I expect she and Will might get married one of these days.  We’ll see.

Keep reading to find out! You can follow Elissa on her website, as well as on Facebook, and Goodreads.

Author interview: Erica Boyce

IMG_2616 (1)Erica Boyce launched her debut novel, The Fifteen Wonders of Daniel Green, at the beginning of April, and I was lucky enough to meet her at our local independent bookstore in Fairfield. I was intrigued by the idea of a story being told against a background of crop circles and the people who make them. When I read the book, I was delighted to find it exceeded my expectations. This is one of those books that you keep putting down so it will last longer. Or you read it all in one go. I stretched it out, and will probably read it again, because it’s wonderful. So well written, and the emotional understanding the author brings to the characters belies her youth. It’s hard to believe this is her first book. The themes encompass the struggle between rural and urban existence, acceptance of others, the revelation of secrets that can mar relationships but that forgiveness can restore, and the role of art in that process. The author had me rooting for every character, and I was sorry to leave them. An excellent book for clubs (it comes with a reading guide) and anyone looking for hope in the crazy world we live in today. So I asked her whether she would let me interview her.dan grn

GC: Yours is an unusual background story for a novel. I expect you’ve answered this a million times, but for the sake of readers who don’t know, what drew you to the idea of crop circles?

EB: It is sort of a funny hook, isn’t it? When I was in college, I fell down one of those YouTube rabbit holes and came across a video of people making crop circles. I thought it was so interesting that this group of people were essentially making art—not for the recognition or the praise, but rather for the joy it brings the viewer.

GC: Would you describe one of the major themes as the push and pull between rural and urban America, as embodied in the characters?

crop_circle_wallpaper_015

Crop circle

EB: That’s a very interesting read, and I’d say it’s part of the story, for sure. I think it’s also sort of paralleled by the push and pull between the family you’re born into and the family you make and where they supplant and support each other.

GC: How has your life experience influenced the story?

EB: I think there’s a little bit of myself in almost every character in here! But I’d say the biggest influence on the story came when I was diagnosed with the same mental illness that one of the characters’ lives with. I got my diagnosis in college, right around when I wrote those first few chapters, and over the years of learning about the disorder and how it’s affected my life, I started to wonder what would happen if one of the characters was learning the same things. It can be hard to find novels with characters for whom their mental illness is one part of the whole, as opposed to their antagonist or their guiding force. So, I decided I wanted to try to write one.

GC: What made you pick up your unfinished novel after such a long break? Did you find it better or worse than you expected at first?

EB: Oh, it was terrible! Those first few chapters were so, so cringe-worthy and required a lot of editing before it was all said and done. I’d been putting off writing the rest for a long time (several years!), and I think I kept looking for “a sign” that it was time to pick it up again. In late 2016, my day job shifted from full-time with a very long commute to part-time and working from home, so I had a lot more time on my hands and I figured that was as good a sign as any!

GC: What are you planning on writing next?

EB: I’m currently editing my second book (as yet untitled), which is due out in spring 2020. After that, I’m not sure; still feeling my way through a few ideas for book three. Hope to start outlining soon…

You can follow Erica on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. You can also sign up for her monthly newsletter (on hiatus for the next few months) at www.ericaboyce.com She gives away a copy of one of her favorite books to a subscriber in every newsletter!

 

Author interview – Susan Ross

Susan Ross Headshot

Susan Ross is the author of a new novel for middle grade readers, Searching for Lottie. It’s a mystery based on her family’s past, but the main character is a contemporary 12-year-old girl, working on a family research project for school. Charlie’s curiosity and excitement come through for the reader, while at the same time shining a new light on the Holocaust. I was interested to find out how Susan Ross managed to weave such a satisfying novel from such a difficult history. Continue reading

Author interview: Debbie Levison

I met Debbie Levison at a talk she was giving to the Connecticut Authors and Publishers Association. Her debut book, The Crate: A Story of War, a Murder, and Justice, is a true crime story, and seemed like an unusual … Continue reading

Author interview: Marilyn Simon Rothstein

044-MarilynRothsteinAuthorPortrait_14x11crop-more-retouchedI met Marilyn Simon Rothstein at the Saugatuck StoryFest in Westport, CT, and bought her first book, Lift and Separate, because she made me laugh. That novel, by the way, hit the number 1 slot on Amazon’s list of Satirical Fiction last week!

Her novels are filled with humor, as well as romance, pathos and a host of other emotions. The first book made me want to read the sequel, Husbands and Other Sharp Objects, another satisfying read. Marilyn has had a career in advertising, and became a published author relatively late in the game, so naturally I had questions for her. Continue reading

Author interview: Clare Pernice

I ran into Clare Pernice at Goldenberry, a shop in Wilton, not too far from here, that stocks British products. No surprise there, because we’re both British-born, and we were looking for a few seasonal treats. But I noticed her … Continue reading

Author interview: Leslie Connor

leslie cI’ve long been an admirer of Leslie Connor, an award-winning middle-grade author whose characters have always stayed with me after reading the last page of the book. Her latest, The Truth According to Mason Buttle, is no exception. It’s a finalist in the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, and I think deserves to win. (I’m prejudiced because I loved it.) The results will be announced on Wednesday, November 14, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed. The character of Mason is unique in juvenile fiction, as far as I know, and yet he’s someone recognizable to all of us. Read on to find out more.

GC:  You’ve written many middle-grade novels. For this one, which came first – the character, Mason Buttle, or the plot idea?

LC: My stories generally start with a situation—an element of nonfiction, such as a news report, or an event I have observed or read about. My imagination does a lot of work on that seed idea, bending it this way and that. If it’s a story-worthy idea, a character shows up—usually in my ear—and I go from there. In truth, that character has often already been kicking around the attic of my brain for quite a while. I’ve heard it said that character is plot. I have to agree; I never know either plot or character completely until I bring them together.

indexGC: You’ve captured Mason’s voice in an extraordinary and highly readable way. Do you know someone with these kind of learning difficulties, and characteristics (honesty, emotional synesthesia) or did Mason appear fully-formed from your imagination?

LC: Thank you! Mason is definitely a composite. I’ve always been able to pick out the kid in a classroom who is having a different experience from their peers. I know about some learning disabilities firsthand, but synesthesia was new to me. When I saw Mason Buttle in my mind’s eye, I knew what he was experiencing but I had to do some research to diagnose him.

GC: How would you characterize the main themes of the book? What would you like young people to take away from it?

LC: This question is difficult for me to answer. I’m not thinking about themes when I’m writing. For me, the most prevalent character traits (always tied to theme, right?) that emerged here are: self-reliance and honesty. Takeaways from this read might include empathy, compassion, and an increased sense of self-worth.

GC:  For writers interested in writing for middle-grade – what makes an MG book different from a chapter book, YA novel, or an adult novel, for that matter?

LC: Writers are creative beings and lines are blurred, when it comes to formats. For instance, we see novels in verse and graphic novels for both the YA and MG audiences. So what separates them? For me, the single most important determinant of genre lies in the level of self and social awareness of the main character—no matter the age, no matter the topic.

GC: Your last two books have had a boy as the main protagonist. Are you planning anything with a girl as the featured character?

LC: Yes! I was surprised to be writing from a young male point of view, but the characters came to me an authentic way, and so far, I haven’t heard that they don’t work! (I chalk that up to having grown up between two brothers and having raised two sons.) My latest book (under contract) features a female protagonist, and in fact, there are very few males in this new story.

YOu can find Leslie on Twitter, Goodreads, Facebook, and Instagram.

Continue reading

Author interview: Lynne Constantine

Lynne Constantine and her sister Valerie together form a writing partnership, Liv Constantine, whose nail-biting psychological thriller, The Last Mrs Parrish, has become a breakout international best-seller. It’s now available in 22 countries/territories, including places like Brazil, Croatia and China. … Continue reading

Author interview: Susan Hood

Susan Hood photoI was surprised to find myself at a reading given by award-winning children’s book author Susan Hood, because she’s written more than 200 books for small children, and I don’t read many of those. But I heard about her debut novel for middle-grade children, written in verse, and suddenly felt I had to find out more. The book, Lifeboat 12, tells the story of a shipload of British children being evacuated to Canada in 1940, when their ship is torpedoed, leaving very few survivors.

I’m fascinated by World War II stories, and this one happens to be true. I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to read a book in verse, but I bought it and read it, gripped Continue reading