Guest authors in the spotlight

Chris CanderA warm welcome to our authorin the spotlight ...   Chris Cander            Chris graduated from the Honors Program at the University of Houston in 1990 with a BA in French and a minor in Political Science. Although she now focuses her efforts on fiction, Chris also writes children’s books and continues to write articles for health and fitness, lifestyle, and parenting magazines, and is collaborating on two screenplays. Like most writers, Chris was first a reader—of books, of course, but also cereal boxes and shampoo bottles and billboards. Her favorite gift as a kid was a dictionary, which she read from cover to cover. After she published her first poem and won a regional creative writing contest, both at age ten, she knew she’d spend her life pursuing happiness via the written word. I caught up with Chris recently to ask her a few questions. Chris, it's a pleasure to introduce you to UK readers -  Firstly, congratulations on the very positive reviews to  "11 STORIES". Tell us what inspired you to write the story?  I was in the process of rewriting a different novel, WHISPER HOLLOW, when I began this project, and it was really a slow compiling of ideas. Books start like that for me--a character whispers something compelling to me in a dream, or I hear of a situation that I can't stop thinking about--and that original thought attracts others until I begin to sense the shape of something that could become a story. There were some elements in place already the day I went to visit my grandmother in the memory care facility where she lived, but that was the day that I recognized  it as the novel it would become. She was eating lunch with a small group of residents, all elderly, all having lost touch with what you or I might consider to be reality. They were having the most fascinating conversation, telling one another stories about having been in the war, and their loves, and other far-reaching moments in life that they could still recall. But there was one man at the table, an elegant man in a wheelchair who looked interested in all the others but said not a single word. His name was Roscoe, and his dementia was such that he'd lost his speech as well as his memory. He had no family apparently, and he was just a polite fixture there. It was striking that this man, having lived more than eight decades, having lived a whole life full, presumably, of loves and losses and significant and insignificant moments that was now lost even to him, was just sitting there, politely ignored. Anyway, I adopted Roscoe in my mind that day, and although I know nothing more about him than what I've just told you, I wanted to, and so I imagined one for him.  We Brits can be a hard lot to please. What elements of your book will especially appeal to us? I think what may make 11 STORIES appealing to British readers is that although it's set in Chicago, there's nothing exclusively American about the story. The cast of characters is diverse in terms of race, orientation, and nationality, and the theme isn't burdened by geographical or even cultural exclusivity. Roscoe's story could easily unfold in any city in the U.K. or elsewhere in Europe, because the way we come to know Roscoe is the same way that many of us come to know ourselves--by the relationships we make or don't, the loves we gain and lose, and the enduring hopefulness of the human heart that connects us all.  What's the most important part for you when creating characters? And have you ever created one you really didn't like writing about? I like to explore the dark truths about the human condition. To create authentic and interesting characters, first I plumb the shameful, private, aching depths of my own soul, then I start in on the people I know or have read about or simply imagine. The best literary figures are those who appear unique on the page, but who reveal something universal about humanity. I’ve created characters that are vehemently unlikeable, but I’ve never disliked writing about.  Resting upon nothing, as bottomless and bankless as a waterfall, Roscoe’s life narrative shattered into droplets; a moving, living flow organized not by chronology, but bound by a vertical unity like an elevator descending in its shaft — starting with the last time he had entered the penthouse belonging to the award-winning author Lenny Dreyfus. A few of Chris' favourite lines from her book  Are you quite formulaic with your plot or do you prefer to just follow your inner voice? I tried plotting once, and it was the emotional equivalent of putting myself into a cell and locking the door. There was no freedom in it, no joy. For me, creative writing is an act of spontaneous exploration, like an unplanned road trip. There’s a character or characters, and a starting place, and off we go. At some magical point, we do a Chinese fire drill and all switch places, and I become a passenger instead of the driver. Also, it’s a haptic experience: I have to touch my fingers to the keys for the ideas to flow. I’ve always thought that were I to lose the use of my hands, I couldn’t tell stories, because it doesn’t work unless I’m physically writing. (That’s one of the reasons, by the way, that Roscoe lost his finger in 11 STORIES. I was imagining my own loss of creative expression.) I'm often asked if I constantly keep reworking chapters, and when do I say, 'enough is enough?' How about you? I think it was Leonardo da Vinci who said, "Art is never finished, only abandoned." That’s true for me. Do you ever get writer's block, and if so, how do you deal with it? I don’t have writer’s block much anymore. I used to wait for my muse to visit and offer that fickle gift of inspiration. But he was slippery and unreliable, and too often I felt abandoned, so I fired him. Now instead of inspiration, I begin each day with determination. I have a modest daily quota to meet, and that formula seems to work well. You've enjoyed success with your children's book, THE WORD BURGLAR, why do you now want to concentrate more on fictional novels? Actually, writing novels is my primary focus. THE WORD BURGLAR     “The words look good enough to eat. Please, somebody! Teach me how to read!” came about after my daughter went to sleep away camp for the first time. Each morning for three weeks, I wrote and emailed a story by 10:00 AM so that the camp admins could print it and deliver it to her cabin by bedtime. Many of the stories featured either my daughter or her brother Joshua or both, as in the case of this one. I had no idea back then that this story would eventually become a children's book illustrated by one of my dearest friends.  It has been lovely to stretch out over the pond and chat with you, Chris. We wish you every success with 11 STORIES and, of course, your future writing. Thanks for inviting me to be your guest and I hope readers have enjoyed learning a little bit about me and my writing.  11 STORIES is now available at www.amazon.co.uk You can view other titles by Chris Cander and make contact with her by visiting her website:  WWW. CHRISCANDER.COMX

Steve RobinsonA warm welcome to our authorin the spotlight ...   Steve Robinson            Steve Robinson was born in coastal Kent, UK, and now lives near London on the Essex/Hertfordshire border. His passion for writing began at the age of sixteen when he was first published in a computer adventure magazine and he has been writing by way of a creative hobby ever since. When a career in software and telecommunications ended in redundancy, he began to write full time. In the Blood, his debut novel, was the result. "I write for the mystery/thriller genre with a family history angle, having become interested in genealogy as a means to tell the story of 'In the Blood' and perhaps because at the time I had no idea who my own maternal grandfather was - which is something that has always intrigued me. He was an American GI billeted in England during the second world war. A few years after the war ended he went back to America leaving a young family behind and to my knowledge no further contact was made. I traced him to Los Angeles through his 1943 enlistment record and discovered that he was born in Arkansas, but at the time I knew very little else about him. Perhaps this is also why my lead character is an American genealogist." Steve, welcome to the spotlight!  As 2013 draws to a close I know it has been an eventful year for you. What have been your highlights, and what can we expect from Steve Robinson, the author, in 2014?  The novel that started it all for SteveIn the BloodVoted one of Amazon UK’s ‘Best Books of 2011’in the ‘Kindle Customer Favourites’ category. A couple of months ago I would have said my highlight was seeing two of my books break into the Amazon.com top 100 bestseller list, but since then, and probably as a result of that, I’ve signed a four book deal with Amazon Publishing, so that has to be my highlight. What can you expect from me in 2014?  My existing three Jefferson Tayte genealogical crime mysteries are going to be re-published with Thomas & Mercer next April, with my new book in the series hopefully out soon after. Then I’ll be plotting and writing book five." As a fellow author, I'm often asked what is my writing process? For me I write very cinematographically, how about you? Take us through a typical working day when you're writing. I like to see a scene in my head before I set out to write it, so I suppose that aspect is much the same for me as it is for you.  As my books are often set across past and present timelines, I like to stay in character and write the entire past narrative first, then work it in as I write the present-day narrative.  I work out an overall plot to keep me on track and I expand on that as I go along so I know what I’m going to write several scenes ahead.  I find it helps to keep the writing flow going. How do you develop your ideas and do you work with a development editor? I work on ideas with my wife all the time and I’m sure I couldn’t do it without her.  I think it’s good to talk about thoughts and ideas.  When you’re on your own I think you can get stuck in  your ways and creativity can become stifled.  Bouncing ideas around is great, especially when you’re stuck on a plot issue. Does writing come naturally to you or do you really have to work to structure? It feels more natural to me now that it did when I first set out to write In the Blood, and some days are certainly better than others.  I find I have to edit less now than I used to and I guess that’s just down to practice and finding your style.  Dialogue seems to come naturally enough, which I’m very pleased about.  I can really get in the zone when I’m writing dialogue. In considering your plots what lessons have you learned over the years? The biggest lesson I’ve learned about plots is to have one. I wrote In the Blood pretty much without one and my first draft was 168,000 words.  I had to cut almost 60,000 and it gave me plenty of headaches.  That said, I love how it turned out in the end and I suppose at the time I really liked the freedom to be able to wonder what happens next without knowing the answer already.  Subsequent books were plotted beforehand to a larger extent though, not least because with dual timelines and family history research things can easily become very confusing if you’re not careful, and I like to know that a story is going to work before I commit to the time it takes to write it." The other novels in Steve'sJefferson Tayte series Available through AmazonOut of all the books you've written, which was the most enjoyable and why? That’s a tough one.  I can honestly say that I’ve enjoyed aspects of all of them for different reasons. In the Blood was the great fun.  It’s a big adventure.  The Last Queen of England is  a  pacey thriller that almost seemed to write itself as I became caught  up in that pace and the rich royal history I was able to draw on.  I have to say though that the character of Mena from my second book To the Grave steals the show for me.  I’m often asked how I managed to write such a convincing character - how I got into the head of a teenage girl in 1944 so well.  I don’t  really know the answer to that, other than that I loved researching and writing the World War 2 era  she lived in so much that I became completely immersed in it myself." Have you ever thought of adapting any of your books into a screenplay? No, I’m focused on writing my series of books for now.  Maybe in the meantime someone else will come along and make me an offer for the film/TV rights.  Then I’m sure they would have someone far more adept at writing screenplays than me. What was the best and worst book review you've had? I don’t feel comfortable singling out a worst review, if you don’t mind.  Everyone is entitled to their opinion and I respect that.  You can’t please everyone and that’s okay.  From the good reviews, one sentence stands out for me.  ‘If ever you need to fall in love with reading again, this book will do it.’  I thought that high praise indeed. Have you any events coming up that readers need to know about? No, none at all.  I need to get out more. :o) It has been great to talk to you, Steve.  Finally, just remind readers where we can follow your news and buy your books? My website:  www.steve-robinson.me My blog:  www.ancestryauthor.blogspot.com  X

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