Wednesday, August 29, 2012

[Interview] Lauri Kubuitsile

Lauri Kubuitsile writes romances novels; crime fiction; books and stories for children and teenagers; and, literary fiction.

She was shortlisted for the 2011 Caine Prize for African Writing and has won awards that include the PanAfrican prize for children’s literature, The Golden Baobab Prize and the Orange/Botswerere Botswana Artists Award.

Her books include the collection of short stories, In the Spirit of McPhineas Lata and Other Stories (HopeRoad, 2011); and the novels, Signed, Hopelessly in Love (August 2011) Tafelberg, 2011) and Mr Not Quite Good Enough (Sapphire Press, 2011).

In this interview, Lauri Kubuitsile talks about her concerns as a writer:

When did you start writing?

I started writing 8 years ago, just when I was turning 40.

I actually became a published author almost by accident. My books in my Kate Gomolemo Mystery Series were actually all first published in a small newspaper I owned in Botswana. We were changing format and wanted to see what we could do to maintain our readership. I decided I would write a serialised novel, 1,000 words each issue.

When the first book finished in the newspaper, people called the office asking for parts they had missed. On a whim I sent the manuscript to Macmillan hoping that they might publish the book so that our newspaper readers could get the parts they’d missed. Macmillan agreed, and that was my first published book. It was published in 2005.

How would you describe the writing you are doing?

I write primarily popular fiction.

I have four published romances with the South African publisher Sapphire Press, an imprint of Kwela Books. I also have two detective series. I write for children and teens as well. And I write short stories, and occasionally, literary stories.

Who is your target audience?

To be honest I write for myself, my hope is that other people will enjoy my stories too.

In the writing you are doing, which authors influenced you most?

I have many influences. I love J. D. Robb, John Steinbeck, Margaret Atwood, Kate Atkinson… actually it’s difficult to mention all of them.

I do find that certain writers, though they may not come out explicitly in my work, they inspire me to write. For example, Steinbeck. I go back to his work often for inspiration. His simple solid sentences resonate with me and my hope is to someday be able to move a story along in such an honest way.

How have your own personal experiences influenced your writing?

I think there is hardly a story I have written that does not start with a personal experience. It might be something in my own life, something I witnessed, or something I heard.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

I think my concerns are like every writer, to write the story I need to write the best way that I can.

What are the biggest challenges that you face?

Well, I’m a full time writer living in Botswana, the toughest thing for me is to try to make a liveable income from my work. It is a constant challenge. I try different things, I try to keep abreast of what is happening in the industry. For example, I recently published three of my Kate Gomolemo Mysteries on Amazon. Two have been published traditionally before but I kept the ebook rights. I don’t know anything about self publishing but I’m learning. I just try to be adaptable.

Do you write everyday?

I’m a full time writer and I treat my writing as my work. I usually get to my office (which is separate from my house) at about ten. I attend to administrative work first and then get to work on whatever my day’s project is. I usually knock off about 6:30.

How many books have you written so far?
  • The Fatal Payout (2005) fiction, first book in Kate Gomolemo Mystery Series, publisher Macmillan prescribed book by Ministry of Education, Form 1 
  • Murder For Profit (2008), fiction, second book in Kate Gomolemo Mystery Series publisher Pentagon Publisher 
  • Mmele and the Magic Bones ( 2009) children's fiction, Pentagon Publishers, Prescribed book for Ministry of Education, Standard 5
  • Three Collections of Short Stories for Std. 5, 6, and 7 (2009) Pentagon Publishers co-written with Wame Molefhe and Bontekanye Botumile. All three prescribed books by Ministry of Education. 
  • Lorato and the Wire Car (2009), Vivlia Publishers (RSA), a children’s book 
  • Birthday Wishes and other Stories (2009) Vivlia Publisher (RSA), a collection of three short stories for children 11-14 
  • Kwaito Love (April 2010) romance, Sapphire Press an imprint of Kwela Books South Africa 
  • Can He Be the One? (August 2010) romance, Sapphire Press an imprint of Kwela Books South Africa 
  • The Curse of the Gold Coins  (2010) Vivlia Publishers (RSA), a mystery for children 
  • Anything for Money (third book in the Detective Kate Gomolemo series), third book in Kate Gomolemo Mystery Series, Vivlia Publishers (RSA) 2011 
  • Signed, Hopelessly in Love (August 2011) Tafelberg South Africa, a humorous novel for teens 
  • Mr Not Quite Good Enough romance July 2011 Sapphire Press an imprint of Kwela Books South Africa 
  • In the Spirit of McPhineas Lata and Other Stories, ebook, HopeRoad London, Dec 2011, a short story collection, all stories set in Botswana 
  • Love in the Shadows, Romance-thriller, April 2012, Sapphire Press 
  • Murder For Profit, Anything for Money, Claws of a Killer, ebooks, May 2012 , self published at Kindle Direct Publishing
What is different about your latest books?

My latest books are the self published ebooks: Murder for Profit; Anything for Money and Claws of a Killer.

The series is set in Botswana and the books are fast paced mysteries. If you love mysteries, you’ll love these books! I know as a reader I’ve always loved series because you can follow the protagonist for some time, in different places. These books are like that. Kate’s life will change quite a bit from the first book to the last. I’ve received great feedback on the books. The first book in the series, The Fatal Payout, is currently read in all junior secondary schools in Botswana and I meet people everywhere who love the book.

Murder for Profit; Anything for Money and Claws of a Killer were self published at Amazon, Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), my first attempt at self publishing.

I wanted to try KDP and I was lucky to still have the e-rights for these three books.

What advantages and/or disadvantages has this presented?

The advantages are that you have complete control over the books - the covers, the design, the marketing. That’s also sort of the disadvantage too. You really need to put time into marketing. There are so many books published at KDP so you need to work hard to get some attention for your books.

My hope was if I published all three of them at the same time I might build a readership a bit quicker. I’m currently on a very steep learning curve.

Which aspects of the work you put into the books did you find most difficult?

The marketing is tough. Especially trying to get people to read the books and do reviews, and then to put the reviews up at Amazon. It takes a lot of time. Much more than I anticipated.

Which aspects of the work did you enjoy most?

I love starting a book. I work out the plot and character bibles by hand before I start writing, I like that part.

I also like writing the rough draft. I write very quickly/ I can write up to 8,000 words in a day at that stage.

What will your next book be about?

I’ve just finished the rough draft for a new romance. It’s called There’s Something About Him. I hope to have it to the publisher in the next two months or so.

What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

I’ve won or been shortlisted for quite a few writing prizes. I’ve twice won the PanAfrican prize for children’s story, The Golden Baobab Prize. I won our national award for creative writers sponsored by our Ministry of Youth Sports and Culture, the Orange/Botswerere Prize, and last year (2011) I was shortlisted for the Caine Prize which is perhaps the most prestigious prize for African short story writers.

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Friday, August 17, 2012

[Interview] Catherine Czerkawska

Catherine Czerkawska is a poet, a novelist and a playwright.

Her books include The Amber Heart (Amazon Kindle, 2012), Bird of Passage (Amazon Kindle, 2012) and The Curiosity Cabinet (Amazon Kindle, 2011)

In this interview, Catherine Czerkawska talks about her concerns as a writer:

When did you start writing?

When I was very young I wrote poems, stories and fan fiction before fan fiction was ever invented – stories about The Beatles, especially John Lennon. I found some of them a little while ago in a box of old papers. They weren’t too bad, considering how young I was.

I think I probably wanted to be a published writer from the start. But it’s so long ago that it’s quite hard to remember. I submitted poetry and stories to all kinds of magazines and when I was still in my teens, I began to get personal letters instead of standard rejections. By the time I was at Edinburgh University, I’d had various poems published. My first biggish sale was a short story called "Catch Two" for She Magazine. (They paid well.) I was also writing plays, especially radio plays, and I sold my first short play to Radio Scotland when I was in my early 20s. I went on to write more than 100 hours of Radio Drama, some television and many stage plays.

How would you describe your writing?

I’d describe myself as a novelist, although I still write the occasional stage play. I’m an unashamed mid-list writer. Some of my novels are historical and some contemporary. I hope they’re well written (don’t we all?) but I also hope they’re good, readable stories. I write a lot about relationships, often in a rural setting, but I don’t always do happy endings. A sense of place is very important to my fiction. I do a lot of revision, a lot of honing. Maybe because I started out as a poet!

Who is your target audience?

When I’m writing, I don’t have any target audience in mind. I’m too involved with the characters and the story. At some point in the process, (but I couldn’t say exactly when) I start to think about the audience, the readers. Am I communicating this story in the best way possible? What am I trying to say? Will people understand it?

I would say I write for a ‘mid-list’ audience - the kind of readers who seem to be increasingly ill-served by traditional publishing, which spends too much time and money trying to predict the next big success on the basis of the last big success. And I don’t much like being tied to a specific genre. In some ways, I write the kind of books I like to read myself but I always love talking to readers about my novels.

Which authors influenced you most?

There are two distinct influences. The first involves Victorian novels, the Brontes in particular. In fact my novel Bird of Passage is something of a ‘homage’ to Wuthering Heights. It’s quite subtle, but it’s there. I love the way Wuthering Heights is so heartrending but by the end, past miseries are resolved in a loving relationship – balance is restored. I love that about these novels.

But I enjoy contemporary fiction too. I’m a big fan of William Trevor. I routinely think ‘I wish I had written that’ when I’m reading his stories. They seem deceptively simple, but they have untold depths and complexity.

How have your own personal experiences influenced your writing?

Obviously I’ve accumulated a lot of experience over the years. Everything feeds into the writing. People often ask ‘where do you get your ideas from?’ but ideas are everywhere, every relationship, every experience, (even the difficult ones). It’s a process of trying not to become cynical, trying to become wise instead, trying to tell the stories that might mean something to readers just as they mean something to the writer.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

Big question. I’m endlessly interested in the relationships between men and women, not just in their love stories, but in how we betray other people for all kinds of reasons, how other people betray us and how we come to terms with that.

I’m interested in how past suffering influences the present.

And – of course – as a writer of historical fiction, I’m fascinated by the attempt to recreate the past as it might have been – not as we might see it through modern eyes. Well, that’s practically impossible, I know, but if you immerse yourself in a time and place, you can make a good enough job of it.

Perhaps most important of all, I want my readers to believe in the world I’ve created. It might be a past or a present world. But they have to believe that it’s real and true.

What are the biggest challenges that you face?

Disillusionment with the process. I had quite a lot of success early in my writing life. I spent a number of years as a reasonably successful playwright but I always knew that fiction was where my real ambitions lay. Then I had three traditionally published novels, and each time I thought ‘this is it’. One of them in particular did very well. But for one reason or another – all of them to do with fluctuations within the publishing industry – I always seemed to be going back to square one and starting again. Maybe most writing careers are like that: a switchback rather than a curve.

On the other hand, I’ve developed a lot of persistence and it has allowed me to work at my craft. I think I’m a better writer now because of it. Most ‘beginning writers’ underestimate the sheer volume of work you have to produce to get anywhere.

Do you write every day?

I write just about every day but not always fiction. I do some reviewing and the odd essay and feature article. But I’m always thinking about the latest novel, and when I do get down to it, I write very intensively. I can keep going for twelve hours at a stretch!

I work best in the afternoons and in the evenings when the house is quiet. I like to stop at a point where I actively don’t want to stop – that way it’s easier to start again the following day.

I do a very rough first draft. I wouldn’t ever let anyone see it. Then I let the work lie fallow while I get on with something else. And then I revise. A lot. It’s quite a long process.

If I’m writing something that needs research, I’ll do some preliminary research, then write the first draft to find out what I don’t know. The Curiosity Cabinet consists of two stories, separated by several centuries. I wrote each part of that story separately and then put them together afterwards – printed them out and actually shuffled the pages about physically – it worked surprisingly well.

How many books have you written so far?

  • Shadow of the Stone (Richard Drew, 1989): Novel written to go with my television series of the same name, first produced on STV with Alan Cumming and Shirley Henderson, all episodes now available on YouTube
  • The Golden Apple (Century, 1990): A novel about a cross cultural marriage.
  • The Curiosity Cabinet (Polygon, 2005): Alys visited the fictional Hebridean island of Garve as a child. Donal was her playmate. Now she has returned after a long absence and a difficult divorce. Interwoven with the story of their growing love, is the darker tale of Henrietta Dalrymple, kidnapped by the formidable Manus McNeill and held on Garve against her will. With three hundred years separating them, the women are linked by an embroidered casket and its contents, by the tug of motherhood and by the magic of the island itself.
  • The Curiosity Cabinet (Amazon Kindle Version, 2011)
  • Bird of Passage (Amazon Kindle, 2012): A novel about the shocking realities of state-sanctioned physical abuse in Ireland and its aftermath in Scotland. Bird of Passage is a powerful story of cruelty, loss and enduring love.
  • The Amber Heart (Amazon Kindle, 2012): An epic love story set in the troubled Eastern Borderlands of 19th century Poland, this is a tale of obsessive love and loyalty set against the backdrop of a turbulent time and place.
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How would you describe your latest book?

The Amber Heart is a love story set in the Eastern Borderlands of 19th century Poland. I think it tackles very adult themes sensitively, but there’s no denying that it’s the story of an intense physical obsession between two people, set against the backdrop of an equally turbulent time and place.

It is also the story of the ‘pancake yellow’ house of Lisko, the heroine’s beloved childhood home, and the way in which the lives of the characters are disrupted by the political turmoil of the times. It has been described as a 'Polish Gone With The Wind'. It is very loosely based on a series of extraordinary facts which came to light when I was researching my own remote family history.

How long did it take you to write the book?

Unusually for me, this one has been on the go for about 20 years! I did a lot of the research while my beloved father was still alive – I’m very glad that I did because he gave me lots of information, lots of details which would be very hard to find now. The late great Pat Kavanagh was my agent at the time and although she told me she loved the book and she was one of the best agents in the business, she simply couldn’t place it with any publisher – lots of positive responses, but they said they didn’t think they could market anything with a Polish setting. We both got very frustrated about it. I filed it away and got on with writing plays. But I kept going back to it from time to time. It’s a big piece of work, 130,000 words. Then, over the past three years, I revised and rewrote it much more intensively. I had matured as a writer and I think it’s a much more readable story now.

When and where was it published? How did you find a publisher for the book?

Last year, I took the decision to go completely ‘Indie’ and start self publishing, initially to Kindle.

The Amber Heart is my third and most recent Kindle novel.

I think like most writers of my age and stage, I had begun years earlier by looking for traditional agent/publishing deals. I was headhunted by an agent who specialised in drama after a play of mine won a major award and then the agency asked Pat to look after my fiction.

At first all went well – my first novel was sold to a small publisher, my second to a much bigger ‘mid-list’ publisher, but the whole industry was changing. That publisher, the Bodley Head, old and distinguished, was bought over by one of the Big Six and after that even Pat couldn’t sell The Amber Heart.

Much later, returning to novels after years spent on plays, I was shortlisted for the Dundee Book Prize with The Curiosity Cabinet and it was subsequently published, but although the print run sold out, the publisher declined to look at the next book and wouldn’t reprint TCC. Neither novel fitting in with their future plans, so it was fair enough But both are now available on Kindle and selling well.

For a long time, it had struck me that there was a growing imbalance for authors. Many of us were getting what my fellow writer Maggie Craig calls the Rave Rejection – ‘We love this but the marketing department says it won’t sell in big enough quantities.’ Traditional publishers were – so my agent told me – looking for an ‘oven ready product’. They were also looking for a breakthrough book right away. When I first began writing and publishing, you had time to grow as a writer. Many best-selling authors today made that breakthrough with their forth, fifth or sixth book. Now they’d be dumped after book number two. I still remember the sudden shock of hearing my later agent say ‘I won’t submit this because although it’s good, I don’t think it’s a breakthrough book and if I submit two books by you which are turned down, nobody will even look at a third.’ It was as though somebody had placed a time limit on my creativity. It was appalling.

Then along came eBooks and Amazon. I don’t have any illusions that this is a particularly benevolent industry and I don’t plan to put all my eggs in one basket, but I still wake up most mornings thinking, God Bless Jeff Bezos. This is a company which has given me the professional tools to do the job. I don’t expect nurturing – just a good businesslike relationship. Long may it continue.

Which were the most difficult aspects of the work you put into The Amber Heart?

Punctuation. Although I have a degree in English Language and Literature, I’ve spent years as a playwright. You get into the habit of writing speeches the way you want the actor to say them, regardless of punctuation. Then, suddenly, you have to get it right.

The other challenge for me was having an editor – albeit not my main editor – suddenly advise me to chop off the last third of The Amber Heart and finish it a hundred pages earlier. I enjoy working with a sympathetic editor but this was a bridge too far and I said I wouldn’t do it. When I think about it now, I see that there may be a difference between what appeals to a male and what appeals to a female reader. I felt very strongly that to do as he suggested would have made the ending of the book deeply unsatisfactory. One or two female readers agreed with me. So I didn’t follow his advice, although it did send me back to the manuscript to tighten it up a bit.

Which aspects of the work did you enjoy most?

I would have to say, writing the sensuous scenes between the hero and heroine.

Fifty Shades this isn’t, but it is a story about an intensely physical but forbidden relationship - an obsession really - between two people – one that lasts for their whole lives. That’s not all it’s about of course – but it is certainly central to the novel and the key to the whole story. I loved writing these scenes.

What sets the book apart from other things you've written?

The background, I suppose. That Polish background was familiar to me from my own childhood, in Leeds, which was where my refugee father finished up after the war, and where he met and married my Irish mother – but I don’t think I realised just how strange it would seem to others. And how much subsequent perceptions of Eastern Bloc countries might colour other people’s idea of a ‘Polish’ novel.

Essentially, The Amber Heart would appeal to anyone who enjoyed the movie of Dr Zhivago but it’s quite a challenge to get that across to potential readers!

In what way is it similar to the others?

It’s a love story with a tragic twist. So is Bird of Passage. The Curiosity Cabinet has a happier ending. All of them have largely (but not wholly) rural settings.

What will your next book be about?

It will be finished later this year – I’m revising it at the moment. It’s called The Physic Garden, a historical novel set in very early nineteenth century Glasgow. The central character – and narrator - is one of the gardeners of the old Physic Garden (the medicinal garden) of Glasgow University. He’s a very old man when he relates the story of events that happened in his youth. It’s a story about friendship and horrific betrayal. He has spent his life trying to forget it, but in old age, he has to try to come to terms with it.

What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

Two things. Finally finishing and publishing The Amber Heart, against all the odds. (It’s a BIG book and very dear to my heart.) And my stage play Wormwood which is still part of the Scottish Higher Drama syllabus. It’s about the Chernobyl disaster and I think it may be the best thing I’ve ever written. The critics liked it too.

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Monday, August 13, 2012

[Interview] Jean Holloway

Jean Holloway lives in Kennesaw, GA.

Her books include Ace of Hearts (PHE Ink, 2009)) which is also available as an audiobook; Black Jack (PHE Ink, 2009); Deuces Wild (PHE Ink, 2010) and Full House (PHE Ink, 2011).

In this interview, Jean Holloway talks about her concerns as a writer:

When did you start writing?

It all began when my sister, Lori, commented, ‘You read so much, I bet you could write book,’ and I answered, ‘I bet I can!’ and began writing Ace of Hearts in long-hand in 1980. I completed the manuscript in 1982.

I was 30 years old and the mother of six.

I never considered the possibility of becoming a published writer, in fact, if someone had told me I would become a published author at the age of 57, I wouldn’t have believed them. Lori pushed me into this career when she bought me a ticket to the National Book Club Conference in Atlanta and instructed me to print copies of my manuscript and give them to anyone who wouldn’t throw them back. That’s where I met my first publisher.

Two years later at a literary event in Houston, I met T.L. James, CEO of PHE Ink. I recognized a kindred spirit and switched publishers.

How would you describe your writing?

I’m a genre bender, writing risqué romantic thrillers with a splash of the paranormal.

My target audience is mainly women over 21. I thought they could empathize with my protagonist, Detective Shevaughn Robinson.

Which authors influenced you most?

All my life I’ve been a fan of Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Tananarive Due and Jean Auel. I admired their ability to transport me into their world and take me on a roller coaster ride. I wanted to have the same effect on my readers.

And how have your own personal experiences influenced your writing?

I thought the influence was minimal until my sister, April pointed out the similarities of my characters (especially Shevaughn’s) experiences to correlating events and attitudes in my own life. What an eye-opener!

What are the biggest challenges that you face?

I think my biggest challenge is getting readers who are unfamiliar with my work to give me a chance. I find there are a lot of readers who only read their favorite authors and won’t gamble on someone new.

How are you dealing with this challenge?

I’ve put excerpts on all my social networks. Usually, once they read a smidgen, either they love me or hate me.

Do you write everyday?

No, not every day. I usually write when my characters tell me to. A session starts when I hear one of them whisper in my mind. Then I go to my computer and write what I hear. It ends when they get quiet. Since they seem to be nocturnal, sometimes I find myself jumping out of bed at three in the morning running down to the computer to get down our thoughts before I forget.

How many books have you written so far?

  • Ace of Hearts, PHE Ink – Writing Solutions Firm, July 13, 2009, Second Edition
  • Black Jack, PHE Ink – Writing Solutions Firm, May 14, 2009
  • Deuces Wild, PHE Ink – Writing Solutions Firm, October 10, 2010. That was my 60th birthday present to me!
  • Full House, PHE Ink – Writing Solutions Firm – November 22, 2011

The four novels complete the Deck of Cardz series.

Detective Shevaughn Robinson is the main character in all four novels. You get to follow her life and career from rookie to Captain of the Homicide Division. As Portsborough, NY’s first Black female homicide detective in 1981, you watch as she strives to prove herself in a male-dominated workforce. You also meet her new partner, Jared Benjamin, and Tony O'Brien, an unexpected love interest.

The series introduces you to a series of sexual predators, starting with Eric Becker in Ace of Hearts, a psycho who has the inexperienced Shevaughn in his sights.

What is your latest book about?

In Full House, the final novel of the Deck of Cardz series, Captain Shevaughn Robinson is at the pinnacle of her career and living the challenging life of a single mother of two. It doesn’t help that her adolescent daughter still communicates with the dead and is in a relationship that’s way too serious for her age. Or that Nonna, the only one she can depend on, is beginning to show signs of Alzheimer's.

When she hears allegations that the police are ignoring the growing number of missing black women in Portsborough, Shevaughn pledges to personally investigate their disappearance. It leads her to one of the most unusual crimes in her entire career and gives new meaning to the phrase, "honor thy mother".

How long did it take you to write the novel?

Full House took me a year because it’s the last novel of the Deck of Cardz series and after working on this series since 1980, I really hated to let it go. I procrastinated a bit.

Which aspects of the work did you enjoy most?

I loved seeing how everything came together.

I don’t use outlines or storyboards or anything. I write by the seat of my pants and once I’m through getting it all out, I have to arrange everything chronologically like a time puzzle.

What sets Full House apart from other things you've written?

This time I have an entire dysfunctional family instead of my usual one psychopath.

In what way is it similar to the others?

Shevaughn is one tough cookie from start to finish.

How did you choose a publisher for the book?

When I met T.L. James, we clicked. I chose PHE Ink because it’s a small, independent press which allowed them to give me the personal attention I wanted. It’s more like a literary family. I really don’t see any disadvantages since I’m now Managing Partner.

What will your next book be about?

I’m contemplating collaborating with another author or maybe another series, but haven’t worked out the details as of yet.

What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

Ace of Hearts was nominated against the esteemed Walter Mosley’s The Tempest Tales in 2008. Of course, he beat me like a bad child, but what an honor!

Now Ace is an audiobook, but not your usual audiobook; it has music and sound effects like a classic radio show. And last year, I became a member of the GA Peach Authors. I’m proud to be touring with such a group of well-respected authors.

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