Monday, September 1, 2014

Quilt by Association - Meet Arlene Sachitano

I recently took part in an author fair in Lincoln City, Oregon. Because over fifty authors participated, two authors shared each table. I set up my display, taking care to use only my half. Shortly after, my tablemate, Arlene Sachitano, appeared. Her quilted table cover immediately caught my interest. When she unpacked her books and placed them on the table, I was hooked. Who wouldn’t be with titles like Make Quilts Not War, Quilt by Association, A Quilt Before the Storm? I had to know more. She kindly agreed to share her story. I’m pleased to welcome Arlene Sachitano, the author of cozy mysteries, to Book Blather.

1.    Your quilting cozies feature protagonist Harriet Truman. Any relation to Harry?

 Yes, many times removed. I have a friend named Jefferson Davis and I noticed that every time someone met him, he had to explain his name. I wanted Harriet’s parents to have done that to her. They are somewhat inconsiderate of her.

2.     Is there a little bit of Arlene in Harriet?

I’m sure there is-- but remember there is a little bit of Arlene in each of my killers too! Any character you create has your knowledge base, so that has to bleed through somewhere in each of them.

You live in Oregon, yet the setting for your quilting mysteries is in the fictional Foggy Point, Washington. How did that come about?

My best friend Susan and her husband had a house in Port Townsend, Washington for five years. We spent Thanksgiving there during those years as well as visiting other times. It is a beautiful area, but more important, it is surrounded by water on three sides, limiting the roads in and out. It also restricts big box stores to the outer perimeter of the town. All those elements are helpful in creating a town where you want to kill people. Isolation, lack of a large police force and a limited population are all ingredients necessary for  a cozy mystery. Foggy Point has a slightly larger population than Port Townsend, because you need more people if you are going to have the higher death rate necessary in a mystery series.
      The quilting group in your mysteries has at least twenty members. Do you plan to feature each one in a book?

There are ten key players, Harriet and Lauren, Aunt Beth, Mavis and Connie, Robin and DeAnn, Jenny, Carla and Sarah with Detective Morse and Criminalist Darcy Lewis as part time members. We also see the quilt store owner, Marjory Swain in some of the episodes and the “token male” restaurant owner Jorge Perez. Whether they are featured or not is dictated by the story. Robin being an attorney brings her into many of the stories.

      Your book Chip and Die features a different protagonist, Harley Spring, and isn’t about quilting. What prompted you to write this book?

Chip and Die was my first book. People say ‘write what you know’ so I gave Harley my old job - production supervisor in a high-tech factory. I soon realized that if you had to write what you really know, there would be few murder mysteries. I did work with a woman who had an ex-husband who tried to kill her twice-once at work! One of my employees was arrested for murder also - so my book is not as far from the truth as we would all hope. The book is not technical but rather about people in groups.

       Tell us about your journey to publication.

 I did all the usual things to get published. I sent out a lot of query letters to agents and publishers. I got an agent who was pretty much a fraud. At the same time, I had a mystery writing teacher who led several of us to a short story opportunity, providing the much sought after ‘clippings’. I belong to Sisters-in-Crime, a writing organization that supports woman mystery writers, and read the group email lists. Someone made a post about my publisher wanting to add a few mystery writers to its collection of SF and romance writers. I queried and the rest is history.
      Do you have any advice for beginning writers?

My advice is two-fold. First, take classes to learn about writing - story structure, character development, etc.  There is a great book called Writing Fiction by Janet Burroway. This book has examples of good writing as well as lots of exercises for you to do. Second, work at it. Write a lot and finish stories you start. My mentor told me many people start books, few finish.
       What do you read for pleasure?

 I have very eclectic tastes. I read Young Adult Dystopian fiction, murder mysteries of all sub-genre, a little romance, a little science fiction and science fantasy, some historical, I read lots of non-fiction about forensics.  

      You are also an accomplished knitter. Any plans for a knitting mystery? Perhaps solving a death by knitting needle?

I am planning a knitting mystery!

Check out Arlene's books here:

Monday, August 25, 2014

Words of Wisdom From Writers

As writers, we all experience moments of angst. We become paralyzed with self-doubts. Is our latest work in progress so crappy we should hit the delete button? Go back to that job at the post office?
Writing is not for the faint of heart. It’s hard work and can be a cruel business. If you’re a published author, perhaps there are moments when you wonder if you’re capable of writing another book. If you’re a new writer trying to break into print, you may be sick to death of rejections that damn with faint praise. “Your book is promising, but I’m going to pass. Good luck, yada, yada, yada.”  

Moments like these may cause the creative juices to dry up and blow away. When it happens to me, I visit my old friends, books about writing by writers: writers whose words of wisdom whack me upside the head and say, “Get a grip, girl! Stop wallowing in self-induced misery and get to work. Here are some of my favorites.

Waiting for your muse to inspire you? Here’s what Stephen King in his book, On Writing, has to say about his muse.

 “There is a muse, but he’s not going to come fluttering down to your writing room and scatter creative fairy-dust all over your typewriter or computer station. He lives in the ground. He’s a basement guy. You have to descend to his level, and once you get down there you have to furnish an apartment for him to live in. You have to do all the grunt work while the muse sits and smokes cigars and pretends to ignore you.”

Do you believe in the concept of writers’ block? Humor writer, Dave Barry does not.

“People simply give up and don’t want to put forth the effort to work through the barriers. No good writing is easy. It all has to do with overcoming the obstacles we find in the way of our creativity.”

Mystery writer, Sue Grafton, learned how to handle rejection from her father. She said the most important piece of advice he ever gave her was this:

 “Bend with the wind. When disappointments come along, as surely they will, don’t stiffen with bitterness. Be graceful. Submit. Think of yourself as a sapling, yielding to circumstance without cracking or breaking. Bending with the wind allows you to right yourself again when adversity has passed.”

Natalie Goldberg: “Have compassion for yourself when you write. There is no failure – just a big field to wander in.”

Nora Profit: “The fear of rejection is worse than rejection itself.”

Strunk and White, Elements of Style: “Omit needless words.”

Anne Perry: “Put yourself on the page and all that you think and feel about life, but do it with discipline; do it with skill.”

I’ll close with my favorite quote from prolific novelist Elizabeth George. Here’s her advice to aspiring writers in her wonderful book, Write Away.

 “You will be published if you possess three qualities—talent, passion and discipline. You will probably be published if you possess two of the three qualities in either combination—either talent and discipline, or passion and discipline. You will likely be published if you possess neither talent nor passion but still have discipline. But if all you posses is talent or passion, if all you possess is talent and passion, you will not be published. The likelihood is you will never be published. And if by some miracle you are published, it will probably never happen again.”

Do you have a favorite writing quote? If so, I’d love to add to my collection. Feel free to comment.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Ashleigh from Down Under

This week’s guest on Book Blather is Australian writer, Ashleigh Galvin, the author of a remarkable fantasy titled Birth By Fire’s Embrace. Ashleigh Galvin was born in Toowoomba, Australia in 1990 and grew up in Wyreema, located in Queensland, Australia. She attempted to write her first novel in primary school and hasn’t stopped since. She enjoyed reading fantasy series as a young girl, which fuelled her desire to become a writer. Her first published novel, Birth By Fire’s Embrace, was released in May 2013. Ashleigh combines her vivid imagination and love of fantasy to create exciting and fresh novels featuring strong characters and non-stop action, designed to keep readers fully engaged. She currently lives in Brisbane, Australia. After reading Ashleigh's responses to my questions, I believe we might be kindred souls. Welcome to Book Blather, Ashleigh.

Marilee: Like many other Americans, I’ve never been to your country (maybe someday). Tell us what it was like growing up in Australia.

Ashleigh: It was great. I hate the cold so the heat in Australia is perfect for me. I live in Brisbane which is the capital city of Queensland, Australia’s top right state. I grew up on a small property with my mother, father and sister plus a wide variety of pets and animals. One of my favorite past times when I was young was catching lizards. I was never allowed to keep them though so they were always released, unscathed back into the wilds. I guess this is where my fascination with Dragons started. I still have lizards around my current unit. They are good at keeping the spider population down.

Marilee: When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?

Ashleigh: I believe the official year would be back when I was still in High School, probably 2006 or 2007 but I’ve been creating stories even since I can remember. I had my first crack at writing a novel when I was about 9 or 10. It was called The Scar of Athens. I made it to about 50 pages which was huge in my young mind. It lives on my computer with my other projects but it would take an entire re-write before I even considered releasing it. It was not my first masterpiece. My mother still has the stories I wrote even before that. So I’ve basically been creating stories since I could control a pencil but it was in High School that I decided to get serious and make a career out of my musings.

Marilee: What was the hardest part of writing your book?

Ashleigh: The hardest part for me is the editing stage. Coming up with new ideas is easy. I currently have fifteen other book ideas just living on my computer. I’d love to write them all at once but I try to work on one series at a time. Otherwise I go a little crazy, trying to live in three different universes. Planning and writing, once again, are a breeze. Once I know where my book is going, I can plan and write with very little trouble. But then comes the editing stage… sigh. This is where I start to hit my head against the desk. My novels usually go through about 3 or 4 stages of editing before they are released. My current manuscript is in its early editing stages. The reason I struggle with editing is I have a hard time focusing. Once I start reading my manuscript, I can start to forget that I’m meant to be editing it. I’ll just read it and enjoy. Then it’ll hit me that I was meant to be editing it and have to go back a few pages and start again. 

Marilee: What do you like best about writing?

Ashleigh: I love the freedom I get when writing. It allows me to open my mind and channel my stories onto paper. My imagination is so strong, if I didn’t, I think my head would explode! Writing allows me to take the characters in my head and make them real. I get to watch them learn and evolve into better (or worse) people than when they were just figments floating around my ears. It also allows me to share my stories with others. I don’t want to keep them all to myself. I want to spread them around the world so that everyone can enjoy them. Writing Fantasy allows me to suspend reality. I can walk into a world with strange creatures and magic. To create a story brimming with the amazing and impossible, it’s utterly fantastic.

Marilee: Tell us about your plans for future books, or books you dream of writing one day.

Ashleigh: Standing In The Wind’s Shadow is currently in the publication process. My project at the moment is editing Book 3 of the Amethyst Series. I plan to keep writing until I can’t move and even then I intend to speak my stories. I’ve got fifteen book ideas on my computer with more being added regularly so I don’t think I’m going to run out of work any time soon. While I still want to write Fantasy, I’d like to branch out in the future and attempt other genres. For example I have a thriller concept as well as a sci-fi idea that may one day get written.

Marilee: What part of yourself did you include in the characters (hobbies, attitudes, background)?

Ashleigh: I put a lot myself into all my novels and characters. Sharrlette has quite a few similarities with me. For an example, we’ve both worked in a Clothes shop and prefer nature over the hustle and bustle of the city. She has my temper and also my love of reading.

Marilee: Now let's take a peek at an excerpt from Birth By Fires's Embrace.
 Scroll down for Ashleigh's links.

Moaning, she slowly got to her feet. The fall must have knocked something right, because her headache was gone. Looking around, she still felt uneasy. Although the forest here was not burning and felt cool, the deathly stillness unnerved Shar. Billea’s voice echoed in her head. He said to keep running against the wind. But down here, there wasn’t any. She turned slowly, her movements like explosions in the woods. Listening to the echoes, she bit her lip. A cool breeze gently swept along her sweaty face. Turning against it, she started to walk, hoping it was the right direction.

She had only taken a single step when she heard it. The crack of a twig, the scrape of fierce claws against bark, the rustle of leaves concealing danger. Then she heard the hissing. She tried to control the panic racing through her blood. Spinning, she desperately searched the forest for signs of the intruders. There, a bush a ways back, it was gently smoking. So was the tree to the other side of her. Every way she turned there appeared to be a thin smoke screen slowly creeping its way forward, closing its trap. Shar looked around, trying to find something, anything she could use as a weapon. Nothing. Turning, she quickly scrambled up a tree, thinking she could hide. The smoke blocked her from them as well. Maybe, if she kept very still and quiet, they would simply pass her by. Faulty footing brought Shar back to reality and the ground. She hit it hard, the broken branch falling a few metres from her.

Gasping, she held her chest. Everything she did today seemed cursed. Bringing her gaze up, she saw the fire lizards were very close. Climbing to her feet, she rushed to the branch, gripping its rough bark with sweaty hands. It was big and clumsy but she didn’t care. It was better than nothing. Slowly creeping through the bushes, the first wave of salamanders began to appear. There was so many, a lot more than Shar saw Dazzaroth call. Swinging the branch around, she managed to get three of them, knocking them back into each other. She struggled to keep the beasts away but for everyone she hit, she lost a little of her stick. Their burning skin was slowing turning it to ash. Shar could see this wasn’t going to last long. Desperately looking around, she tried to find the direction to run again, but it was impossible to tell the difference between the trees. Down to a mere wood chip, Shar knew she had to guess.

Looking down, she spotted a gap between two lizards. Both looked a bit beaten up so it was definitely her best shot. Throwing her branch hard at the lizards, she slid quickly between them. One was faster than the other. One snapped at her and missed, but the other latched onto Shar’s ankle. Shar didn’t stop. She couldn’t. The pain was intense but she knew the only way to survive was to keep running. It seemed like forever until he lost his grip and fell into the underbrush. Angry hisses followed her. They were hungry and gaining. Her heart pounded as she ran. She didn’t care which way she was going as long as it was away from them. Then she saw it, a bright light breaking through the trees. Finally, she was coming to the edge of this accursed forest.

Hope came with a renewed burst of energy. A tentative curve crept its way onto Shar’s lips. Surely, the lizards wouldn’t follow her into the crowded city. Roughly tearing her way through the last few branches, Sharrlette burst into the clean open air.

“No!” Shar screamed in horror. She ran the wrong way. Instead of going out, she ran further in. She came to a giant cliff on the top of Mt. Colt. She skidded to a halt just shy of the edge. Turning slowly, her lips trembling, she saw the salamanders surround her. They knew she was defeated now. Even if they missed, the cliff wouldn’t. It was a long way down. A hiker died here a few years ago. It wasn’t pleasant. Shar knew she wouldn’t survive.

 One of the vicious creatures lunged forward, delighting in terrifying her. It snapped eagerly at her ankle. Yelping in fear, she took a step back away from its jagged teeth. Her foot slipped off the edge, the loose dirt crumbling down the cliff face. Balancing on her other leg, she turned, looking down the cliff. She could see Billea. He was at the bottom, looking up at her. It was a pity he had to see this. The dissolving edge wouldn’t be able to hold her for much longer, but the salamanders weren’t in the mood to wait. The closest beast launched itself at her, screeching for her blood. 

Time slowed and Sharrlette knew it was over, but at least she had a choice. A fast painless fall from the cliff or the creatures’ razor claws ripping her body apart. Neither appealed but, if she must, she wasn’t going to submit to the salamanders. She couldn’t prove Dazzaroth right. If she must die, it’ll be by her hand not his.

Shutting her eyes, she took a deep breath in and threw her body backwards. She heard the hissing lizard fly past her head, narrowly missing her neck. At least one would fall with her. She could see the rugged cliff face rushing up. Tears flew from her eyes as gravity savagely pulled her down and the wind screamed in her ears, then . . . nothing.