An Interview with Jordan Rosenfeld

February 20, 2015

1. Can you give us some highlights from your book: Making a Scene?

I consider the scene the “essential DNA” of any good story—if you learn how to balance and wield the ingredients of a scene, you have the most fundamental pieces of story. My forthcoming book with Martha Alderson, Writing Deep Scenes” will go further and show you how to stack your scenes, and what kinds, to build a strong plot.

2. What do you think is the best technique to create tension?

The greatest technique may be uncertainty; creating a“push-pull” energy in every scene. That means nothing comes easy—dialogue is never flat or simple, the reader is always wondering what is coming next. You never “give” the reader exactly what s/he wants, but keep something up in the air, keep yearning alive. This also means paying attention to your language.

3. What authors have most influenced your writing?

I just wrote a piece about the “awkward female heroines” of my youth for DAME [http://bit.ly/1KSsPoD] and I’d have to say that I was strongly influenced as a child by writers like Madeleine L’Engle, Zilpha Keatly Snyder, Louisa May Alcott, and when I grew up I gravitated to Margaret Atwood, Joyce Carol Oates, Donna Tartt. I like strong female writers with a propensity toward darkness.

4. Describe your path to publication.

I often call it my “stumble and bumble” path to success. I have a BA in Liberal Arts and an MFA in Creative Writing—not exactly highly employable degrees. I’ve always just thrown myself in the path of what I loved. Did a lot of volunteer gigs that put me close to writers: led a literary salon, hosted and recorded a literary radio show (in which I got to interview some of my literary heroes like Louise Erdrich and TC Boyle). I tend to ignore advice that says “you should” or “you can’t” and go my own way. When I sold Make a Scene to Writer’s Digest Books, I had no platform, not much name for myself and no agent. If I listened to the advice I should not have been able to do that. My motto is “practice, polish, persist.” And also: “Say yes to new opportunities even if they scare you.”

5. What are the biggest mistakes you see in the manuscripts that you edit?

Lack of craft. People rush their stories out and don’t take the time to care about their sentences, their character development, grounding a reader in a scene, working on dialogue. To me, this is the one downside of the speed by which self-publishing moves—people have begun to sacrifice the work needed to revise and get feedback.

6. Do you think a social media presence is necessary to get a book deal?

In this day and age, it certainly helps. I don’t know if it’s necessary as much for fiction, but for non-fiction, yes.

7. If you were to describe yourself as a breed of cat what would it be?

Siamese. Because they are alternately graceful and annoying. They are the “snobs” of the cat world, but when you actually get to know them, they’re quite cuddly.

8. What is your greatest writing weakness?

Over-writing. I have to work on my own wordiness, over-use of adjectives, and imagery.

9. In this changing industry, do you think self-publication is a good career path for an author?

If by “career” you mean is self-publishing a good way to make money, the answer is: sometimes. But I can’t, in good faith say: quit your day job. Amazon, which is in many ways the overlord of self-publishing, no matter what service you use, since they do everything better, faster and cheaper, and ultimately control the price points, and the search algorithms, is making it harder for self-publishers to make as much money as they did when it all blew up several years ago. But like any aspect of publishing, if you find a niche and you’re good at it, sure, you can make some income off of it.

10. How do you handle rejection and what advice do you have for authors facing their 10th, 20th, 50th rejection?

The very basis of my forthcoming book A Writer’s Guide to Persistence is that you must find the joy and the meaning in your work so that you can weather the rejection and discouragement. It has to matter to you beyond approval, publication and praise or you will fall prey to discouragement. I also say that if you’re facing more rejection than anything else, it’s probably a good idea to revisit the work and go deeper into it. Otherwise, maybe look at the places you’re choosing to submit, and rethink them, as well. I’ve been pursuing a writing career for twenty years and most of my biggest success has come in the last year. There has been plenty of small success along the way, but this year, something shifted. So, above all: persist!

I hope you’ve enjoyed learning about Jordan Rosenfeld. To learn more visit her website): http://jordanrosenfeld.net/publications/


An Interview with Mystery Writer Susan Shea

February 7, 2015

1. In one paragraph, summarize your book, The King’s Jar.

When an anthropologist she had just met in San Francisco is killed in his lab and a priceless artifact he was studying is stolen, Dani O’Rourke is drawn into the hunt for the thief and killer. She is the chief fundraiser for the museum that was about to receive the King’s Jar, and an exhibit and black tie dinner in Manhattan to honor the billionaire donor are up in the air. As she juggles imperious donors, flustered volunteers, a charismatic TV host, a nervous boss, and her impulsive ex-husband who seems to show up everywhere, she edges closer – too close – to identifying the real villain.

2. What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

It’s the same advice we all get, but that doesn’t make it less important: Keep writing. Don’t give up the first time it doesn’t come easy or the first time you get feedback that says you have further to go. We all start at the beginning – all of us. It’s the ones who grit their teeth, chain themselves to the chair, and gut it through to “The End” who learn and grow into really good writers.

3. Who inspired your character Dani O’Rourke?

Dani’s a combination of real women I know or read about, with something of me in her voice, and a lot of the professional skills I have admired in my colleagues over the years. One big difference between me and Dani is her failed marriage to a charming but highly impulsive man with $450 million, two Porsches, and a pied a terre in Paris!

4. What has been the biggest challenge on your path to publication?

The first one was finding the time, energy, and focus to finish a full length novel while holding down a demanding job that also required writing. The second was finding a publisher (I got lucky and found a great agent early on) in the dark days of 2008 after the market crash, when a lot of imprints were temporarily suspending their buying.

5. How did you find your agent?

Kimberley Cameron was on the faculty at the Book Passage Mystery Writing Conference – a first-rate program, by the way – and was among the faculty willing to read our first 20 pages. By that time, Murder in the Abstract had gone through lots of revisions and a writing group’s crits, so it was pretty polished. She signed me on the spot. I was speechless!

6. What authors have most influenced your writing?

Start with Jane Austen, whose character portraits, romantic tensions, and funny bits delight me again and again. Anthony Trollope’s wicked satire, Agatha Christie’s devilish plots, Janet Evanovitch’s breezy first person prose, Sue Grafton’s modern woman… the list goes on and on.

7. If you were to describe yourself as a character in a murder mystery (e.g., sleuth, police investigator, etc.) who would that be?

Well, I guess it would be what I did with the series: I’d be a fundraiser who works with the uber rich (entitled), artists (also entitled) and fascinating, creative people, but whose slightly cynical interior commentary is best kept to herself.

8. What is your greatest writing weakness?

The discipline to do rewriting and to work every day even when the garden beckons.

9. What is your writing routine?

See above. Sketchy at best. I’m not a morning person, so the best time is usually from about 2 p.m. until 7 or 7:30. My study gets messier and messier until things begin slipping onto the floor when one of my cats marches across the desk, and then I have to set aside a day to get rid of paper.

10. What drew you to writing crime fiction?

I like crime fiction. I love series. Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe series delighted me and gave me an idea that I could at least try it. Mysteries have a format, a structure on which to build, and for me coming into fiction after a long career writing other kinds of prose, it was a real help and confidence builder.

I hope you’ve enjoyed learning about Susan Shea. To learn more visit her website ( http://www.susancshea.com or follow her on Criminal Minds (http://7criminalminds.blogspot.com). Her print and e-books and the Audible version of The King’s Jar are available on Amazon and at some indie bookstores.


An Interview with Alfred J. Garrotto

November 9, 2014

 

Blogger’s Note:  Please join Al Garrotto at the December 12, 2015 Mt. Diablo California Writer’s Club Holiday meeting.  Al will be speaking on the Perfection aspect of the Three Ps of Publishing.  We have a seated meal for this event and you can choose from: pasta primavera, salmon, chicken parmesan, or NY steak.  Costs are $20 members and $25 nonmembers. Reservations required, contact Robin Gigoux at ragig@aol.com , leave a message at 925-933-9670, or sign up via PayPal: Click “buy now” on the Mt. Diablo website, http://cwcmtdiablowriters.wordpress.com/next-program/ . Add the $2 transaction fee.  In all cases, please let Robin know your meal choice so the restaurant can plan. Sign-in starts at 11:15 am. Luncheon 12 – 12:45 pm. Speakers 1- 2 pm at Zio Fraedo’s Restaurant: 611 Gregory Lane, Pleasant Hill. $25 members, $30 guests Reservation deadline: noon, Wednesday, December 9th.  If you need to cancel, you must do so before noon on Friday, Dec 11 to avoid forfeiting the cost of the meeting.

  1. In one paragraph, summarize your book: There’s More . . . : a Novella of Life and Afterlife

Relief pitcher Jack Thorne stares at his catcher’s target. His single focus is to get this batter out. If he does, a coveted World Series ring will be his. But, will this pitch be his last? The Universe might have a different plan for this Catholic priest-turned-ballplayer. There’s More is a creative imagining of the ultimate human mysteries—death and Afterlife. This story invites readers to expand their existing concepts and consider broader cosmic possibilities in answer to the universal question, “What’s next?”

  1. What was the inspiration behind writing this book?

There are two sources of inspiration for There’s More . . . 
First, I am a passionate baseball fan and student of the game. I’ve always wanted to write a baseball story. This particular tale was inspired by a friend I knew well, who gave up a career in baseball to become a Catholic priest. His name was John Thom. At the age of 32, he was murdered “in the line of duty.” My main character, Jack Thorne, is a lot like my priest-friend.

My second source of inspiration came from the catalyst character in Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, Bishop Charles Francois Myriel. For a long time, I’ve wanted to write a novel based on him. Jack Thorne and Bishop Myriel first met, when I began writing There’s More. They immediately liked each other, and the story took off from there.

  1. Who are your favorite authors? 

I’ll try to keep my list as short as possible by focusing on fiction writers. Number one is Victor Hugo, primarily as author of Les Miserables, the most amazing novel I’ve ever read and the one that has had the greatest influence my life. I also admire Ann Patchett, and I’ve often said that Bel Canto is a novel I wish I had written myself. (She beat me to it.) I like Ken Follett for being able to write in epic style, which I cannot. My stories are small and tight. I greatly admired his novel, Pillars of the Earth. I have read the first two volumes of his 20th Century Trilogy and found them to be great models of telling an epic story from the point of view of an international cast of ordinary people with real lives and passions. Other favorite novelists include Jussi Adler-Olson and Carlos Ruiz Zafon.

  1. What has been the biggest challenge on your path to publication? 

Although my earlier novels were published by commercial houses, they were always off the mark from what the current market was looking for. My biggest obstacle to commercial success may have been my inability to write for the “hot market.” I’ve chosen, instead, to write the stories that were in my heart and send them out into the universe.

  1. Was this book easier to write than your previous novel, The Saint of Florenville: A Love Story?

Yes, but only in the sense that I already had a lot of the material that ended up in There’s More. Let me explain. I was writing a baseball novel that just wasn’t going anywhere. At the same time, I was gathering material for a novel about Bishop Myriel of Les Miserables fame. And that wasn’t going anywhere. Reluctant to give up on these two projects, I got the idea to put the two stories together and . . . voila! It worked. The odd couple of Jack Thorne and Bishop Myriel melded quite well, and I’m very happy with the result. I think they are too.

  1. What advice would you give to new writers?

Let me speak to first-time novelists. (Nonfiction is a different animal, usually rising out of an area of the author’s unique experience and expertise.) Often, writers must make a choice—write what’s in your heart, chase what is currently hot, or try to “divine” what might be the next “hot thing,” by the time you finish writing your book. Make whatever choice you wish, then give it everything you’ve got. Set your imagination free and sit your bottom in a chair. Work as long as it takes to get the book written, edited, proofed, and published. Most of all enjoy the process of story building. Have fun watching your characters blossom and grow.

  1. If you were to describe yourself as a character in There’s More . . . , who would that be?

I’d be Bishop Myriel. In a way, I’m a lot like Victor Hugo in that respect. His personal life was far different from the lives of his two heroic figures, Jean Valjean and Bishop Myriel. I’ve always thought that Hugo saw in these two characters the best self he truly wanted to be—spiritual, compassionate, forgiving, faithful. Like me, the real Hugo could not bring himself to maintain these desired qualities in his personal life.

  1. What are your writing strengths?

The first is perseverance, the ability to see a project through, from concept to publication. As a novelist, I create characters who act and talk like real people. The best compliment I ever received was from a reader of one of my early novels. She was present at a book signing at a local Barnes & Noble store. She commented that my writing “read like poetry.” I don’t know if that’s true or not, but I do think my writing has a comfortable flow to it.

  1. What do you see as the challenges in adapting a novel to a screenplay?

So far, I’ve adapted one of my novels, The Saint of Florenville, to a screenplay. It has garnered a lot of interest, but so far no option. I will soon begin adaptation of There’s More for the big screen. The challenge is to think visually. In a novel, you can rummage around inside a character’s head—for a long time. Film is visual storytelling and demands that the adapter be able to create memorable images on the page that will later translate to the screen. Learning the technical aspects of screenwriting are not all that difficult, but it helps to have someone “in the business” to offer advice. My advisor is my friend, the Italian director Max Leonida, whose career as a filmmaker in the U.S. is heating up.

    10. How do you balance writing with a full-time job?

Although I’ve passed retirement age, I still work full time. There are weeks when I do not touch my manuscript. Even so, characters and plot are always present and active somewhere in my imagination. Then, at other times I feel so compelled to write that I find cracks in my schedule where I can do that.

I hope you’ve enjoyed learning about Alfred J. Garrotto.

To learn more, visit his website http://www.alfredjgarrotto.com.

He blogs at wisdomoflesmiserables.blogspot.com (e-mail him at algarrotto@comcast.net).

There’s More . . . is his seventh novel and eleventh book. They are available on Amazon.com at (http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=alfred%20j.%20garrotto) and other online booksellers.


Finding Inspiration in Another’s Journey

May 7, 2011

Two of our WOTJ members accomplishments were honored in the May 2011 California Writer’s Club (Mt. Diablo Branch) newsletter this week.  Susan Berman’s “Bad News About Our First Maricabo Christmastook first place in the Matilda Butler’s memoir contest.  Cheryl Spanos’ “Holey Vole-y” was accepted for publication in Stories for Children.  I am blessed to be in the company of such talented writers. 

A success for one of us is a win for all of us.  

Well done Susan and Cheryl!