Author Interview: Genevieve Graham

genevieveToday I’m welcoming historical novelist Genevieve Graham. Her first international best seller Under the Same Sky, and its two companion novels, were set in Scotland and the colonies, but she has since found her niche in writing Canadian historical fiction.

Elizabeth: Welcome, Genevieve. Can you tell us more about your most recent novel, Tides of Honour ?

Genevieve: Thanks, Elizabeth! I’m very happy to be with you here today, and I would love to tell you about Tides of Honour. Who doesn’t love to talk about their baby?

genevieve-book-tidesThe story is about Danny Baker, an Eastern Shore fisherman here in Nova Scotia. Like so many other boys, Danny heads overseas in 1914 with no idea of the nightmare he’s about to experience. Life in the trenches steals men’s humanity, suffocates hope beneath blood and mud – except just when the horrors of war are becoming too much for Danny, along comes Audrey. The last thing he had ever expected was to meet the love of his life in France. They fall in love via dirt-smudged, water-stained letters, and Danny asks Audrey to marry him, to become his wife in Canada. Even after he is gravely wounded she is determined to be with him, and she begins her own voyage – meeting suffragettes and working as a munitionette – on her way to Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Elizabeth: That sounds like a fascinating journey for both of them. I imagine for many love was the only way to survive the nightmare of war.

Genevieve: Very true. But often people change along the way, and as soon as Audrey arrives in Canada it becomes apparent that Danny’s a different man from the one she met in France. The war has taken so much more than his leg. He is tortured by memories and by the fact that his disability now renders him unable to do things he’s always done. Misery consumes him, makes him volatile and unpredictable, and he turns to the bottle for escape. With no other option, Audrey leaves him, and he is devastated.

The next morning two ships collide in the Halifax Harbour, and the explosion destroys most of the city. Almost two thousand people are killed and thousands more are maimed and/or blinded. Danny is jerked back to reality and joins the reconstruction efforts, but he cannot find the answer to the only question that matters: where is Audrey?

Elizabeth: And we’ll have to read the book to find the answer! Readers should also check out the beautiful book trailer for Tides of Honour. How much historical fact is woven into the story?

Genevieve: A lot. My goal is to breathe life back into real historical moments, and in order to do that I basically write the history and weave fictional characters/stories through the reality. History creates stories and shapes people, so my characters have to grow from within the facts, not the other way around.

Elizabeth: What does your writing process look like?

Genevieve: The spark is lit when I am intrigued by an event in Canadian history. The flame rises as I recognize that one specific moment does not stand on its own. It is surrounded, often caused, by others, and all of those things play a part in the creation of my story and characters. I am not a historian, so when I research I am teaching myself something for the first time, and I approach my writing from that perspective: my characters learn as I do. When I wrote Tides of Honour, I started by learning the basics of the Halifax Explosion, watching WW1 movies, and looking through websites on basic history, trends, fashions of the time. I need to feel as if I’m there. The creative process starts when I’m struck by an imagined scene, and that’s when I finally write. I often can’t get farther than a few pages before I have to stop to investigate something, and often that leads me down the rabbit hole and I eventually have to – reluctantly – rein myself back in. Through the course of writing a book, I always write tens of thousands of words about things that will never make it into the eventual book, but every word is vital to what I’m learning.

Elizabeth: I see you were also an editor for a number of books.

Genevieve: Yes, I ran my own editing business for about three years. Over that time I edited more than seventy books of all different genres. Editing had its pros and cons. On the positive side, it paid the bills, and it opened me up to all different styles of writing. Working with other writers was a challenge I usually enjoyed, and the end result could be truly rewarding. I enjoyed helping a writer transform an okay book to a good book, or a good book into an excellent one. I also loved to help writers learn and hone their craft. Unfortunately, I found it impossible to work on my own writing while I was editing for other people. Their styles and “voices” found their way into my work, and I inevitably had to rewrite my stories. In the end I had to take the plunge and leave editing behind so I could focus on my own books.

Elizabeth: What are you working on now?

Genevieve: Simon & Schuster Canada will be releasing my next novel, Promises to Keep, in April 2017. Again it is set in Nova Scotia, but back in 1755 the area wasn’t called that. The people called it Acadia. It tells the story of young Amelie Belliveau, one of the more than ten thousand Acadians who were ripped from their homes by the British, packed onto leaking ships, and sent nowhere in particular. Many people will know about the Acadians who became “Cajuns” in Louisiana, but my characters had a different fate in store. The romantic complication in this story stems from the fact that one of the British soldiers is a Scot who had survived Culloden. He bears no love for the British, but he is a good, honest man. If he is to save Amelie, he must commit the sin of treason.

Elizabeth: I can’t wait to read it! Can you tell us more about yourself?

Genevieve: I’m a classical musician by training, but I have dabbled in lots of different things through my life, from advertising to fundraising for the Humane Society to teaching piano and editing. I never planned to be a writer, and I feel incredibly lucky that I am able to do what I do. I began writing after I’d finished reading the Outlander series about seven times because I wanted to see if I could actually do it. About five years after I typed my first exploratory pages, Penguin US published my internationally bestselling 18th century Scottish “MacDonnell trilogy”: Under the Same Sky, Sound of the Heart, and Somewhere to Dream.

genevieve-book-under genevieve-book-sound  genevieve-book-somewhere

My husband and I will soon become empty-nesters, which is a difficult concept to face! Both our amazing daughters will be attending Dalhousie University in the fall (our eldest is already there), and we’re excited for them. They are both brilliant and ready to explore the world, and we can’t wait to see what directions they choose. My husband and I are comforting ourselves with the concept of travel … so many places to see! For now we’re just happy to bundle up with a good book in front of the fireplace along with our little white dog, Murphy. When the snow melts a little we’ll see more of our friendly flock of heritage chickens as they scratch and peck past my office window.

We’ve now reached the time in our interview for the let’s-get-to-know-the-author-better, nearly-pointless, sort-of-silly, rapid-fire questions:

Elizabeth: Coffee or tea?

Genevieve: Tea … or Coffee with Baileys.

Elizabeth: Ocean or mountain?

Genevieve: Mountain. I live by the ocean now, but I miss the Rockies.

Elizabeth: Hiking or shopping?

Genevieve: Shopping. But mostly reading.

Elizabeth: Violin or piano?

Genevieve: Oboe! Ha! Actually, I play piano and my daughter plays violin. As long as it’s classical, I’m happy.

Elizabeth: Mystery or fantasy?

Genevieve: Either … if it’s believable.

Elizabeth: Darcy or Heathcliff?

Genevieve: Darcy

Elizabeth: Love scene or death scene?

Genevieve: Love, of course, though it can be heartrendingly beautiful to pen a poignant death scene.

There are book trailers for each of Genevieve’s books. I just love book trailers!

For more about Genevieve and her books, visit the sites below.





Links to Tides of Honour and Promises to Keep:

Syncopation E-book for 99 cents

Syncopation_EcoverFor the rest of the year, you can buy Syncopation: A Memoir of Adele Hugo as an e-book for just 99 cents.

Syncopation is available from SmashwordsBarnes and Noble , Kobo, and iBook (get the iBook app, then search Syncopation: a Memoir of Adele Hugo).

The price change was immediate on Smashwords, but may take a few hours to go through at other retailers.

Happy Holidays!


Author Interview: Louise Turner


Today I welcome Louise Turner to my series of author interviews. Louise is both a historical novelist and an archeologist. Her novel, Fire and Sword, is set in fifteen century Scotland.

Elizabeth: Welcome, Louise. Can you tell us more about Fire and Sword?

louise-turner-bookLouise: It’s based on real historical events that occurred in the west of Scotland in the late 15th century, during the early reign of King James IV. James arguably went on to become Scotland’s greatest Renaissance king, but his reign began in typical early Stewart fashion with a bit of skulduggery. His father, King James III, was very unpopular because he made a mess of the economy and surrounded himself with ‘evil counsellors.’ Things came to a head in the spring of 1488 and by June of that year, there was an armed rebellion that ended in a battle which saw James III murdered and his son made king in his place.

It’s the very turbulent events which unfolded during the aftermath that form the focus of both Fire and Sword, and its follow-up, The Gryphon at Bay, which will be published next spring by Hadley Rille Books. The story of Fire and Sword revolves around the trials and tribulations of John Sempill of Ellestoun, who fights for James III and finds himself having to rebuild his fortunes following the regime change. Historically speaking, he’s quite an obscure local figure who merits just a brief mention in the wider story of Scotland’s past, which meant there really wasn’t much to go on when I started to explore his life story.

Elizabeth: So what inspired you to write about John Sempill in particular?

Louise: I’ve lived in west Renfrewshire all my life: the landscape, the history and the archaeology is very familiar to me, and it’s an area which I think should be more widely appreciated. When I first explored the idea of writing a historical novel, it seemed obvious to look close to home for inspiration, and since the Sempills were one of our prominent local families they seemed an obvious place to start my research.

It was while reading one well-known local history source (The Parish of Lochwinnoch by Elizabeth Anderson), I discovered an intriguing paragraph which related how, only a few years after John Sempill’s father died during the battle fighting for James III, Sempill himself enjoyed an astounding change in fortunes and was made a Lord of Parliament. I wanted to find out more about the circumstances behind his dramatic change in circumstances.

I soon discovered an intriguing link between John Sempill of Ellestoun and one of the more notorious local characters at the time, Hugh, 2nd Lord Montgomerie, who was one of James IV’s most loyal followers and who was appointed to the Privy Council in the early years of the new reign. The events which unfolded clearly demonstrated that Renfrewshire and Ayrshire, normally thought of as cultural and political backwaters well away from the intrigues and powerplay of Edinburgh, were the scene of pivotal events which helping secure James IV upon his throne.

Castle Semple Collegiate Church

Right from the start, I found Sempill a fascinating figure. He was definitely ahead of his time: in a world where disputes were settled at the point of the sword and where feuding was the widely accepted method of finding justice, he seemed determined to keep the peace and put his faith in the legal system. He was a builder: he left a secure legacy for his descendants and he was fond of the finer things in life, too. He was a patron of the arts, and he seems to have been a pious man: he founded a Collegiate church and ‘sang school’ (i.e. a school for choristers). Perhaps this was his most enduring legacy: its ruins still survive and can be visited by the general public.

It was only at a comparatively late stage that I discovered I’m not the first writer to have found my curiosity piqued by the Semple family! In a literary sense, John Sempill’s family punches well above its weight, with the Sempills/Semples having achieved notoriety in literary circles for their place in the work of the celebrated historical fiction author Dorothy Dunnett.

Elizabeth: How much historical fact is woven into your story?

Louise: I’d say it’s about 20% fact, 40% educated conjecture and 40% fiction. The framework, everything which underpins the story, is fact, and I populate the narrative was as many recreated historical characters as possible. It’s the interaction of these various individuals which drives the narrative, and recreates history. Or at least, that’s the theory…

Elizabeth: What does your research process look like?

Louise: Very long, and tortuous! I approach historical novel writing in a multi-layered way, because my final aim is not to tell a story, but to experience a story. My first task is to read up on the literature, and listen to the music, so I can get an impression of the way they might have been thinking through the metaphors that dominated their thinking and language. For my late medieval gentry and nobility, this includes both Biblical and religious analogies, some Classical thinking as well as chivalric ideals (we’re in the era which saw the increasing popularity of King Arthur and his nights of the round table) and more mundane practical things like hunting. And of course I’m writing a story set in medieval Scotland, so I have to balance the fact that the characters communicate in Middle Scots (think Rab C Nisbet meets Geoffrey Chaucer) with the needs of the reader.

Then there are the physical and material aspects of their lives, which I explore from the top down, so to speak. What was the physical environment like at the time, including settlement distribution, natural environment, agriculture and architecture? And what was the material culture like? This covers a vast range of topics, from textiles to horse harness to weaponry to the tableware that graced their boards each night. In that respect, a lot of my research was archaeological, as opposed to historical. I’ve worked on a few medieval urban excavations in the west of Scotland myself, so that provided a good starting point, and I’d also made a few useful contacts in my profession who were more than willing to help point me in the right direction.

Building the actual story was also quite a challenge. In this case, I wanted to establish what was happening on the national scale, and to figure out how the information derived from local historical sources fitted into this wider picture. The local sources were all rather blinkered, going along the lines of ‘they were all a shocking bunch of angry lawless men who kept on fighting and feuding with each other.’ The overall impression I got was that the west of Scotland was like a late medieval version of America’s Wild West! But when I juxtaposed these local feuds against the wider political landscape I discovered that most of the unrest unfolding here in Renfrewshire had their roots in grievances that stemmed from decisions made much further afield in Edinburgh. That’s when things began to get interesting!

As this narrative started to take shape, I was creating a network of characters, based on real individuals who often little more than references in the historical record. To make these characters authentic, I mapped their life-paths – what age were they when the action took place, who were their parents, who did their children marry, how many children did they have both inside and outside wedlock, and what distinguishing actions did they performed in their life, whether it was being charged and acquitted of murder, or serving on the Privy Council or building a church or whatever- and at that point I could start to see how they interacted with one another in the ‘real’ historical world. The final test was when I was able to set them loose in the scenario history had created for them and see how they reacted in these circumstances. Thankfully, things mirrored the (known) historical reality rather well!

Elizabeth: What is your writing process?

Louise: The first draft usually slips out very easily, but at this stage, everything’s quite skeletal. I often hear the conversations before I see the actions and the reactions of those doing the talking. Then once I start to ‘see’ what people are doing, I’ll pan out and take in more of the surroundings, ‘re-writing for atmosphere,’ so to speak.

I usually spend a lot of time editing, to get things just right. Then the final stage is like trimming a bonsai. I clip, clip, clip away at all the excess growth (usually going through the manuscript three or four times), until I have a tight paced narrative which springs along at a sprightly trot (though I don’t believe in pushing it on into a gallop).

I’m a firm believer in sending the finished manuscript on to my publisher when I genuinely think I cannot do anything more to improve it. This does not mean it doesn’t need any editing – of course it does, because every piece of writing benefits from being scanned by a fresh pair of eyes – but it certainly eases everyone’s workload!

Elizabeth: Tell us about your short story, “The Lay of the Lost Ministrel.”

Louise: Originally intended as a short introduction to Fire and Sword, it proved really interesting to write. I wanted to explore the events in the novel from a totally different viewpoint character, but one who was, nonetheless, integral to the action.

William Haislet was an excellent choice because he’s always there or thereabouts, providing John Sempill of Ellestoun with a rather stoical supporting presence whatever the circumstances. At the same time, he keeps his own counsel and I always found him quite reserved and unassuming. Actually getting into his head was quite an adventure: I’d always known that he was English, and that he’d originally lived an itinerant life before marrying a local girl and settling down to life at Ellestoun. He also gets on extremely well with the novel’s irascible anti-hero, Hugh Montgomerie, and the exact nature of this relationship was something I was able to pursue further. The odd thing is: I always tend to write short stories in a completely different way, and The Lay of the Lost Minstrel was no exception. It was much more literary in tone (the need to drive the narrative onwards was less of an issue, so I indulged myself a little…) and it was written in the present tense so I was quite literally seeing the world through William’s eyes and ears.

Although William’s a fictional character, even he has his origins in historical fact. John Sempill kept a talented harpist named John Haislet amongst his retinue, who played to James IV on the king’s visit to Ellestoun in the early 1500s. He was also one of 574 named individuals ‘put to the horn’ with William 2nd Lord Sempill (John’s son) in the 1520s, following riots in Edinburgh which resulted in the death of a Dutchman. William’s the fictional father of John Haislet, who himself appears briefly in my second novel and who will I suspect become more prominent in the future!

Elizabeth: What are you working on at the moment?

Louise: The follow-up to Fire and Sword (The Gryphon at Bay, mentioned earlier) will be published next spring, and in the meantime I’ve taken a short sabbatical from historical fiction to write a historical fantasy called A Black Ship Into Hades. It’s a time travel novel where a young man from Ancient Sparta finds himself brought to modern (i.e 21st century) Wiltshire. So many time travel novels feature young heroines from the modern world traveling back to a Past which is in so many ways simpler and more appealing than the Present. I wanted to turn this trope on its head to some extent: Lysander, the hero of my novel, knows he’s better off in the modern world (for all its faults) and there’s no way he’s going back. He is, in essence, seeking political asylum from the Past.

I’m having great fun writing it because, once again, it requires an awful lot of research because I want my Spartans to be as authentic as possible. Which means that they come across as slightly strange, and slightly alien, while at the same time remaining recognizably human. And I get to pay homage to all sorts of archaeological sites and schools of thoughts and even artifacts. It is becoming, I suppose, my archaeological novel…

Elizabeth: What have you read recently that you feel passionate about?

Louise: I spent the last couple of years grappling with Dorothy Dunnett’s House of Niccolo series, and finally I’m hooked on Dunnett. I can’t say it was love at first sight: I’d read Niccolo Rising twice and was halfway through Spring of the Ram before Dunnett’s writing finally clicked, but now I’m finally a convert. I don’t always agree with how she portrays the Scotland of James III and I’m irritated at the suggestion that the root of Scotland’s woes at the time was a brilliant and mischievous Flemish merchant, but the way she uses history to weave a story is magnificent and her breadth of knowledge in terms of what’s happening on the world-wide stage at the time is staggering. Next year, I plan to batter into the Lymond Chronicles, which will be another epic reading task….

Elizabeth: Can you tell us more about yourself?

Louise: I’m an archaeologist by training: I work for a medium-sized commercial archaeology company in the west of Scotland. This is really quite beneficial for my writing, and a bit strange at times because sometimes these two facets of my life overlap. I’ve worked as an archaeologist in locations which feature in my books, and I often write about places and people I’ve stumbled across at work.

Though medieval archaeology was something I discovered rather late – I specialized in prehistory and the study of Bronze Age metalwork hoards for my Ph.D. research. I now spend much of my working life working with finds, in particular medieval and modern ceramics, and I also do a lot of historic building recording and industrial archaeology, too. Castles are a regular destination these days, and what’s more of a bonus is that quite often I find myself working with conservation architects and incredibly talented stonemasons. It’s always very rewarding to be taking part in a historic building’s long-term survival and preservation.

And when I’m not working or writing, I enjoy gardening, horse-riding and hill-walking, so I’m never bored, or at a loss for something to do.

We’ve now reached the time in our interview for the let’s-get-to-know-the-author-better, nearly-pointless, sort-of-silly, rapid-fire questions:

Elizabeth: Coffee or tea?

Louise: Coffee, please. Almost every time. Except perhaps when it’s a hot and sunny afternoon, in summer…

Elizabeth: Ocean or mountain?

Louise: Ooh, mountain. Definitely mountain. I love the Lake District, and the Scottish Highlands, and the Welsh mountains too. A trip to the Lakes and a bit of fell-walking does wonders to invigorate me! Scottish mountains, however, I prefer to admire from afar. I went walking in Glencoe a few years back and realised, during an ascent of the unforgiving Bidean Nam Bien, that I’d finally met my hill-walking nemesis. I didn’t quite reach the summit, but at least I got down safely, without the aid of a helicopter…

Elizabeth: Hiking or shopping?

Louise: See above – I love my hill-walking, I think there’s nothing quite like venturing up on to the fell tops in the Lake District and getting a completely new perspective on the world. I don’t suppose I collect summits, but I do collect views! Every fell top is slightly different, and I’ve walked up so many fells now that they all seem like old friends. And they have wonderful names. Like Helvellyn, and Blencathra, and Ullscarf, and Thunacar Knott. And Barf. Let’s not forget Barf…

I’m not entirely impervious to shopping, though. I do like garden centres. And I love bookstores, too…

Elizabeth: Violin or piano?

Louise: Can I play Devil’s Advocate here and say ‘French Horn?’ I was very musical in my youth. I played piano, violin, viola and French Horn with varying degrees of competence and seriousness. The French Horn was always my favourite, by a long chalk, and at one point in my life I was planning to become a professional orchestral musician. Before I discovered archaeology. Though if I really must choose between the two, I do have a soft spot for the piano, too.

Elizabeth: Mystery or fantasy?

Louise: Most definitely fantasy. I’m a Tolkein fan, and I was brought up with Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising series.

Elizabeth: Darcy or Heathcliff?

Louise: Heathcliff. He wins hands down. All that smouldering! But here’s the caveat – I’d rather he stayed safely confined within the pages of a book. I mean, having to put up with such a high maintenance Significant Other in real life would be just impossible, wouldn’t it?

Elizabeth: Love scene or death scene?

Louise: Hard to say, really. I’m inclined to say ‘death scene,’ because that’s where you strip your characters right back and make them confront their own mortality. It’s not really the character who’s just kicked the bucket who faces all these problems – it’s those left behind. They have to renegotiate their place in the world, and sometimes the seismic shift that ensues (particularly on the political level, when you’re dealing with members of the nobility or whatever in the late middle ages) can have profound consequences which must be dealt with along with the more ‘mundane’ aspects like grieving and loss. Gosh, I’m talking like a theoretical archaeologist now, aren’t I?

 Elizabeth: Louise, thanks for visiting my blog today.

Louise: Thank you very much for having me! It’s been a pleasure.

To learn more about Louise Turner, visit her website or visit any of the links below: 




Amazon US:



Amazon UK:



SCBWI WI Fall 2016 Conference

Green Lake, Wisconsin

Last weekend I was at the fall conference of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Wisconsin Chapter, held in beautiful Green Lake, Wisconsin. It was an absolutely gorgeous weekend. My picture doesn’t do justice to the vibrant fall colors and clear blue skies. The weather was amazing: sunny days that were cool and fresh without being cold. Wisconsin at its best!

The Roger Williams Inn

I stayed at the historic Roger Williams Inn and ate at the Kraft Center. Between the two buildings is this delightful sculpture of children playing. A perfect piece of art for a group of children’s book writers and illustrators!

Sculpture of children playing

The faculty for the program were amazing and included nationally recognized editors, agents, authors and illustrators.

Varian Johnson and me

Author Varian Johnson critiqued the first ten pages of The Stepsisters, and had some helpful advice about my prologue. Johnson is the author of The Great Greene Heist middle grade series. (Purchased, signed and now in my TBR pile.)

OK, I know you all are wondering about my costume. I was going to be Mary Poppins and had cobbled together some pieces from the UWSP costume shop. However, the skirt and jacket were uncomfortable, the hat too small, and my umbrella recognizably modern. When a pre-conference email encouraged people to bring masks (MASKS!) and explained that we would have the chance to make masks (MAKE MASKS!) at the conference, I eagerly returned the costume. . .

having forgot that I wear glasses. Glasses and masks don’t work well together. Of course, necessity is the mother of invention (as someone once said.) So, I invented a comfortable, glasses-friendly mask. But what character from children’s literature was I? Sadly, I was without an identity– until a writer suggested that I could be the clock from The Invention of Hugo Cabret. So, here I am, the clock from Hugo Cabret:

                The clock from The Invention of Hugo Cabret

It was a fun weekend, and now I am inspired and with a clear plan of attack for improving my manuscript. Just in time for NaNoWriMo!

Author Interview: Jeff Lyons

jeff-lyonsToday I welcome Jeff Lyons to my series of author interviews.  Jeff is a consultant on the craft of storytelling and has written two books on that topic:  Anatomy of a Premise Line: How to Master Premise and Story Development for Writing Success and Rapid Story Development: How to Use the Enneagram-Story Connection to Become a Master Storyteller. His fiction includes the sci-fi-horror novella, 13 Minutes, and the mystery-thriller series Jack Be Dead, which Jeff is writing with Stephen David Brooks.

Elizabeth: Welcome, Jeff.   The first book in your Jack Be Dead series, Revelation, was recently released. Tell us about that book.

jack-be-dead Jeff: Jack Be Dead was co-written with my writing partner Stephen David Brooks. Stephen is a film director and screenwriter, and the idea for Jack Be Dead was originally from a script he wrote years ago. We worked together, over time, to rework his script into a TV pilot but weren’t able to get any traction. Then I came up with the harebrained scheme to write the pilot as a series of novellas, and then maybe we could sell the books to a production company and get a deal that way. This strategy, by the way, is one that is being used by lots of screenwriters trying to get movie and TV deals. Leveraging the  self-publishing revolution is a powerful tool now for screenwriters trying to turn their old screenplays into novels (but that’s a whole other interview). Anyway, we wrote the first book last year and published it online under my publishing imprint, Storygeeks Press. It got a pretty good response, good reviews on and off of Amazon, but hasn’t taken off the way we’d hoped. But, we’re going to do the other two novellas in the series and then see what happens. Personally, I don’t really care what happens with any TV deal, the novellas are great to have published and will help me (and us) get a stronger footprint in the publishing world as authors of genre fiction. That’s really where the action is for writers anyway, not film or TV. If you want a career as a writer today you have to be writing in multiple arenas, on multiple genres, on multiple platforms, and for multiple audiences. The days of saying “I only write screenplays” or “I only write novels” are over. You have to diversify and be everywhere to be successful now. Just the reality of being a working writer in the 21st century.

Elizabeth:  When will the next book in the series be released?

anatomy-of-a-premise-line Jeff: Not until next year. Stephen and I are too busy with other projects, and I have another writing book I have to get finished for my publisher: Rapid Story Development: How to Use the Enneagram-Story Connection to Become a Master Storyteller. It’s the only book that’s ever been written that teaches how to use the Enneagram system as a story development tool. It will be quite an event when it comes out in late 2017. The publisher is Focal Press. My other book with Focal Press is Anatomy of a Premise Line: How to Master Premise and Story Development for Writing Success and it is the only book available that teaches how to build a story from the ground up BEFORE you start writing pages, and can help writers cut their development time literally in half and save them a lot of wasted pages as they ramble on writing with no clue where they’re going. The worst advice people learn about creative writing in MFA programs is to “just do it.” Horrible advice for 99.9% of writers. My book can help save you from that bad advice and give you a solid alternative that will be productive and creatively alive.

Elizabeth: How difficult is co-writing a story? How does that process differ from solo endeavors?

Jeff:  The process is very different. I prefer writing alone, but Stephen and I have a great synergy. We complete each other’s sentences.  It’s kind of scary. Our collaboration is also very old, more than a decade, so we know how the other thinks and writes. We trade off breaking out story (development) and then take turns writing actual pages and then keep kicking things back and forth until we agree it’s done—enough. Because it’s never done.  It’s a great collaboration and works well with our mutual ambitions to get more film and TV work, though I am more and more focused on the book-writing world and self-publishing. That’s really where I want my career to go, because that’s where the real opportunities lie for writers.  Film and TV are nice, but the industry sucks, and it’s impossible to sell anything. Not so in the book world. As someone has already said, “The publishing problem has been solved.”  Not so much the getting-produced problem.

Elizabeth: Tell us about your “novelette” 13 Minutes.

13-minutesJeff: I decided to self-publish 13 Minutes this year. I’m getting more and more into self-publishing. This story is smart people’s sci-fi, meaning, it is not just sci-fi high concept, but rather a strongly character-based story that focuses on dramatic human relationships. 13 Minutes takes place over a short period of story-time, is set in one room, and has a great twist ending most people never see coming. It was great fun to write, and I’ll probably get it produced into a short film for film festivals next year. I have a director interested. It’ll be a great short film for the sci-fi community and for the web watchers.

Elizabeth: Can you tell us more about Storygeeks Press?

Jeff:  Storygeeks is a story consulting and story development services company I started in 2006 to brand myself in the story consulting world. While I still consult, have some clients, and teach, my focus now is on writing (novels, screenplays). Consequently, I’m moving away from the Storygeeks brand and focusing more on my own name and my author site. Storygeeks is still kind of “here” in the form of my self-publishing brand, Storygeeks Press, but otherwise I’m pretty much retiring that name and branding myself under my own name. People can still consult with me, but the best place to find me now is at

Elizabeth: How did you get into the business of being a “story teller consultant?’

Jeff:  That’s a very long story, but it started in the late 1980s. I slowly discovered that I had a talent for story. I didn’t know if I was a good writer yet, but I started to get the feeling I had good storytelling senses. You see, story development and writing are two different things. They have nothing to do with one another. They’re two different talents, and two different skill sets. You don’t have to be anywhere near a pencil and a piece of paper to tell a story. You can dance a story, mime a story, paint a story, writing is just one more way of conveying a story. Stories don’t need writers, they only need story tellers, and storytellers can tell stories in lots of different ways.  Writing is just one of those ways. The problem is that most writers think they can tell stories and they can’t. Most writers are good with writing, but weak with story.  Some people have what I call the “story gene” and they just “get” story. They have a natural talent for storytelling. I’m one of those people. I can also write (not great, but good), and it’s taken me many years to develop that talent into a craft skill that I can teach to others. That’s what story development is all about for me, teaching other writers how to develop stories and give them tools they can use for their entire careers to shore up their weak story stills. I do this for students, like through my Stanford University classes, privately, and I consult with film and TV production companies. You may not be a great storyteller, but you can learn the craft of storytelling and so become a better writer.  I’m convinced of that, and have seen literally thousands of writers improve their story skills, and so become stronger in all areas of their writing. I’m a writer first, but story consulting is the next best thing. There are lots of “story gurus” out there teaching all manner of tips and tricks and story snake oil. You have to find what resonates with you and then use whatever tools make sense. My mantra is:  Listen to everyone. Try everything. Follow no one. You are your own guru. It’s a story jungle out there.

Elizabeth: What have you read recently that you feel passionate about?

Jeff: Cruel Beautiful World (Algonquin) Caroline Leavitt. Caroline is a friend of mine and this is like her 10th book or something, and she’s on fire. I love her writing and want to grow up to be her. Her book comes out in October 2016, so buy it.

Elizabeth: Great recommendation! I’m adding Caroline Leavitt to my TBR list.  Can you tell us more about yourself?

Jeff: I like puppies, and double rainbows on rainy days, and long walks on the beach … and pulling wings off flies. Let’s leave it there, for now.

Elizabeth: Ha! We’ve reached the time in our interview for the let’s-get-to-know-the-author-better, nearly-pointless, sort-of-silly, rapid-fire questions:

Elizabeth: Coffee or tea?


Elizabeth: Ocean or mountain?

Jeff: Ocean

Elizabeth: Hiking or shopping?

Jeff: Ugh—both require you to have to move, right?

Elizabeth: Violin or piano?

Jeff:  Violin. No, piano. No, violin. No, piano … damn.

Elizabeth: Mystery or fantasy?

Jeff: Fantasy

Elizabeth: Katniss Everdeen or Lisbeth Salander?

Jeff: Jessica Rabbit

Elizabeth: Love scene or death scene?

Jeff: Hmmm—aren’t they the same thing?

For more  information about Jeff Lyons and his work, follow the links below.

Anatomy of Premise Line

13 Minutes

Jack Be Dead: Revelation


Twitter:  @storygeeks

Who Will I Be at the SCBWI-Wi Masquerade Ball?

In late October, I will be attending the fall retreat of the Wisconsin chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. I’ve been to several of this group’s workshops and retreats, and they’ve always been fun.

This year’s fall retreat includes a Masquerade Ball, and we are encouraged to dress up as characters from children’s stories. I love dressing up! I still haven’t decided who I’ll be. Several months ago, I asked my Facebook friends for some ideas. Here are my favorite:

I may be too stout to be Amelia Bedelia amelia-bedelia

and not stout enough to be Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle. mrs-piggle-wiggle

As Mary Poppins I might be practically perfect….mary-poppins


Being the White Witch would be fun. I could drape my wedding dress with icicles; I wonder if it still fits….


To be the Wicked Witch of the East, I would need to find striped socks and ruby slippers (or silver, from the book). I could wear a house, OR I could be creative with the rest of the costume. According to the book, all witches wear white. Again, if I could just squeeze into my wedding gown….

One of my favorite suggestions is the Paper Bag Princess. Who remembered that the bag was so short? I think I’d make my bag a little longer.paper-bag-princess

If I want to rent a costume, I could leave the human race behind.  I absolutely adore the One and Only Ivan.


And as my cousin said, being Celeste would be a hoot, although it might make conversation and dancing and just about anything else a challenge.


If you have any additional ideas for me, leave them below. After the fall retreat, I’ll post pictures of the event, and you can see who I chose to be!



Author Interview: Helen Hollick


Today I’m welcoming Helen Hollick to my series of author interviews. Helen is the author of numerous historical novels, including a trilogy about King Arthur, the Sea Witch pirate series, novels of Saxon England, and a nonfiction book for aspiring novelists. Helen’s most recent publications are two short stories in 1066 Turned Upside Down, a collection of alternate history stories in celebration of the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings.

helen-1066Elizabeth: Welcome, Helen. Tell us about your story in 1066 Turned Upside Down.

Helen: Hello! How lovely to be here, thank you for inviting me onto your blog. I have two stories in 1066 Turned Upside Down and both are adapted from my novel Harold the King (the US title of which is I Am The Chosen King – same book different publisher and title). I was delighted to have this opportunity to alter these two scenes as I obviously could not write them as I wanted to in the ‘serious’ novel because I had to stick to the facts. My first alternate story, To Crown A King, opens 1066 Turned Upside Down in January 1066 when King Edward has just died and a successor is being elected. (Yes a king was chosen in the 11th century by the Council of England, the Witan; what we would now call Parliament!) The candidates are Harold, Earl of Wessex, Edgar, the grandson of Edmund Ironside (who would have been King if he had not died, and in consequence Cnut of Denmark took the throne,) and Duke William of Normandy. The latter was instantly dismissed as a possibility, so the decision was between the older and more experienced Harold, and the young lad, still only a boy, Edgar.

My other story, In The Wake of the Dolphin, is an event of 1066 that I am passionate about: were the Normans initially defeated at sea in the summer of 1066? I believe they were, for England had a powerful and competent navy (the schypfyrd) which King Harold II would have deployed, and William’s fleet was devastatingly depleted. Norman sources claim this was because of a storm, I believe this is propaganda to hide the truth of defeat. I thoroughly enjoyed going back to alter my original scene for this ‘different’ one. Incidentally, both this version of the encounter at sea and the original were dedicated to author Rosemary Sutcliff, whose wonderful books steered me in the direction of historical fiction and still remain my favourites. The Saxon longship in the story, the Dolphin, was named in her honour.

I’ll not say more – spoilers – except these are ‘alternative’ stories which do not follow the facts as we know them.

Elizabeth: Your historical novels have been called “meticulously researched.” How different is writing alternate history to writing history-accurate historical fiction?

Helen: Well I try my best to be accurate, although all authors make inevitable mistakes, especially when new information comes to light. (Who would have expected Richard III to have been buried where he was?) The important thing about writing fiction – any fiction, be it historical, a thriller, romance or even fantasy is to entice the reader into believing it is all true. If the reader keeps thinking ‘oh this is far-fetched,’ or ‘that couldn’t possibly have happened’ then the whole story could fall apart because the reader does not believe in it. So the known facts must be correct. Who would enjoy a story about the most famous battle in English history, the Battle of Hastings, if it was set in 1065 or 1067? Unless of course it was deliberately written as an alternative story! But even then there has to be a sense of reality and belief for the background detail. So the skill of ‘making things up’ comes from getting the rest of it spot-on right.

The fun comes with knowing you can make up the other imagined bits as much as you like!

Elizabeth: How did the collaboration of historical novelists in 1066 Turned Upside Down come to be?

Helen: I was with author Joanna Courtney at the Battle of Hastings re-enactment in October 2015, and in between book signings and author talks we briefly discussed a few ‘what if’ scenarios: what if Hardrada had won at Stamford Bridge? what if William had lost the fight that October day? Then, a few months later Joanna contacted me to say ‘What if we created an e-book of short stories for the year 1066 exploring the what if concept?’ I jumped at the chance!

Elizabeth: Tell us about your King Arthur series.

Helen: My first published novels were a trilogy. (I’d had no idea that I had written enough for three books – I thought I was writing just one, somewhat long novel. Such is the naivety of novice writers! *laugh*) I wanted to write a story about King Arthur as events might have really happened. IF Arthur had existed (and that is a big if!) he would have been a warlord in the 5th/6th centuries between the going of the Romans and the coming of the Anglo-Saxons. There would have been no knights in armour, no holy grail, no Lancelot and no Merlin. I also wanted to re-write Guinevere’s story. I call her Gwenhwyfar, which is an earlier Welsh spelling of her name, and according to these Welsh legends she and Arthur had three sons with no hint of her adultery. I saw Gwen as a feisty, capable woman who loved Arthur dearly, but as they were both strong characters their tempers often clashed. My Arthur is a warts-and-all military commander. He is not the Godly goody-goody king of Medieval tales; in my trilogy he has to fight hard to gain his kingdom, and fight even harder to keep it.


The Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy: The Kingmaking, Pendragon’s Banner, and Shadow of the King

Elizabeth: You’ve written five novels about Captain Acorne. Was he a real historical figure?

Helen: Captain Acorne is entirely made-up. He is a pirate (well, ex-pirate) who gets into all sorts of scrapes – my tag line is ‘Trouble follows Jesamiah Acorne like a ship’s wake.’ I have just published the fifth Voyage in the series, and these are nautical adventures written for adult, or older teenagers as they have adult content. The stories also have an element of fantasy in that Jesamiah’s ‘love interest’ Tiola, his girlfriend (and then wife), is a White Witch, and there are supernatural elements running through each adventure: Tethys, the elemental spirit of the sea, a ghost, a Night-Walker etc. All written for fun and meant to be read for fun. I think of the Sea Witch Voyages as sailor’s yarns – not meant to be taken seriously!

If you enjoyed the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie, you will enjoy the Sea Witch Voyages.


Sea Witch Voyages: Sea Witch (Voyage One), Pirate Code (Voyage Two), Bring It Close (Voyage Three), Ripples In The Sand (Voyage Four), On The Account (Voyage Five)

Elizabeth: What drew you to these time periods and characters?

Helen: For Arthur it was a fascination with post-Roman Britain, and a realisation that if there was an Arthur he would not have been a knight in armour and sitting there almost oblivious to being cuckolded by his wife and best friend. (He would have done something about it. A quite dramatic something!). I was also fed-up with Gwenhwyfar always being the one blamed for everything falling apart, I could not see her as betraying Arthur, at least, not deliberately. And what about these three sons that were mentioned in the early legends? I wanted to explore their existence.

Harold and 1066 drew me because I then lived near Waltham Abbey, which was Harold’s territory when he was Earl of Essex. It was nice to be able to do research on my own doorstep! I also dislike English history as being portrayed as starting at 1066 with the Norman Conquest. I thought it about time that someone wrote the story from the English point of view. (This was back in 1999 when there were very few 11th Century novels about 1066.)

Jesamiah? I had no idea I would become so passionate about the Golden Age of Piracy, or that I would be so consumed by an imagined character, but well, I adore Jesamiah! I think the phrase is, ‘he is the love of my life’!

Elizabeth: What is your writing process?

Helen: Stare out the window at the fabulous Taw River Valley that I can see from my study window here in Devon. Write a line or two. Stare out the window again. Write a bit more. Get up to see what all the noise the geese are making is about. Have lunch. Write another sentence. Pat Eddie the dog who is nudging me… Tea break… *laugh*. Get the picture? Devon life in an 18th century farmhouse can be somewhat distracting!

Elizabeth: What are you working on now?

Helen: I have been commissioned to write a non-fiction book about pirates, which is good fun but very demanding (not quite so much staring out of the window for this one!) I’m writing it to explore the facts about piracy in the early 18th century and our fascination with fiction about pirates, so blending the fact in with the fiction.

Elizabeth: Can you tell us more about yourself?

Helen: I am now officially a pensioner having reached the ‘mature’ age of sixty-three. I lived in the London Suburb of Walthamstow until 2013 when my family and I moved to a thirteen acre farm here in Devon (and we love it). I started writing stories when I was about thirteen, was accepted for publication a week after my 40th birthday, and I wish someone could invent a 36 hour day so I could write all the stories I still want to write!

We’ve now reached the time in our interview for the let’s-get-to-know-the-author-better, nearly-pointless, sort-of-silly, rapid-fire questions:

Elizabeth: Coffee or tea?

Helen: Both actually. Tea first thing in the morning, at lunch, and in the evening; coffee during the day.

Elizabeth: Ocean or mountain?

Helen: Ocean!

Elizabeth: Hiking or shopping?

Helen: Hiking in my younger days, but arthritic knees and fading sight have scuppered the long walks now. I hate shopping!

Elizabeth: Violin or piano?

Helen: Piano. I wish I’d learnt to play it.

Elizabeth: Mystery or fantasy?

Helen: Mystery.

Elizabeth: Hermione or Katniss?

Helen: Hermione

Elizabeth: Darcy or Heathcliff?

Helen: Darcy

Elizabeth: Love scene or death scene?

Helen: um…. (need to think about this one) Death I think.

Learn more about Helen and her novels at Helen Hollick’s World of Books




Twitter: @HelenHollick

Her Author Page on an Amazon near you :

Children’s Literature, Fall 2016

wiz of ozI’ve chosen the books for this semester!

Students will read seven books in my Children’s Literature class at UWSP. First, we’ll all read The Wizard of Oz. (I love the movie, and the book is better!)

For literature circles, my students will choose and read one book from each genre:

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

Historical Fiction
Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell
The Watsons Go to Birmingham–1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis
Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse

Contemporary Realistic Fiction
The Lemonade War by Jacqueline Davis
Becoming Naomi Leon by Pam Munoz Ryan
The Report Card by Andrew Clements
The Tiger Rising by Kate DiCamillo

Mixed Genre
Holes by Louis Sachar
Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett
Chocolate Fever by Robert Kimmel Smith
Lincoln’s Grave Robbers by Steve Sheinkin

Their last two books will be choice books, based on an author and a theme.

It’s going to be a fun semester!

Author Interview: Suzanne McLain Rosenwasser

suzanneToday I welcome author Suzanne McLain Rosenwasser to my blog. She is the author of the essay collections Manhasset Stories: A Baby Boomer Looks Back and Manhasset Stories: More Baby Boomer Memories. Suzanne’s most recent publication is the historical novel Don’t Ya Know, which takes place on the fictional Corycian Island, off the coast of Long Island, at the start of the 20th Century.

Elizabeth: Welcome, Suzanne. Tell us more about Don’t Ya Know.

suzanne dont yaSuzanne: Hello, Elizabeth. Thank you for inviting me to talk about my work, in particular, Don’t Ya Know, a labor of love for my Long Island roots. Until the 1890s, Long Island’s shoreline was dotted with malodorous, fish oil factories. Terms like “The Gold Coast” and “The Hamptons” were not part of the vernacular. Change came rapidly, however, once real estate developers saw the value of beachfront luxury. By the 1900s, the ferries of the Long Island Sound transported tourists instead of fertilizer to and from the barrier islands.

Corycian (Core’seen) Island represents a microcosm of Long Island’s physical and cultural transformation through the stories of her indigenous people, the locals who meet the challenges of change head-on, though often haphazardly. The worst among them sow silent seeds of hate; while the best cling to the ancient concept of living “all-a-wanna”- or all together – and sow seeds of spirit and hope.

Elizabeth: What drew you to this time and place?

Suzanne: I grew up on Long Island in the 50s and 60s, lived on Manhattan island in the 70s, and moved to a small barrier island off Long Island’s east end, Shelter Island, in the 1980s. The similarities of those, vastly different, island environments intrigued me, and continued to do so as I visited more islands along the eastern shoreline in later years. I also wrote for a 100-year-old local newspaper in the 80s, The Shelter Island Reporter. The feature stories I researched opened up a whole world for me. I was introduced to splintered Algonquin tribes, Dutch sugar merchants, Barbadian slaves, runaway New England Quakers, and legacy baymen. This unlikely group formed an agricultural society that led to a thriving economy driven by fertilizer factories and canning plants along hundreds of miles of shoreline. This was the world of Long Island until its beaches became a mecca for real estate developers and millionaires in the1890s. I wondered how the locals dealt with that enormous transformation, along with the turbulence of the times.

Elizabeth: How much historical fact is woven into your story?

Suzanne: The story takes place from 1900-1928 when great change occurred worldwide. Corycian Islanders endured the effects of women’s suffrage, spiritualism, WWI, the flu epidemic, and Prohibition. Fortunately, there are many books specific to Long Island on these topics, including guides for Algonquin words and stories of Barbadian slaves on Long Island, as well as photographs of the factories, the Victorian cottages, the baymen, the ferries and the hotels of the era. I visited many island cemeteries from Shelter Island, New York to St. Simon’s, Georgia. Sadly, one of those had been desecrated, and the impact of that senselessness worked its way onto Corycian Island.

Elizabeth: Tell me about your protagonist, Nuna Shellfoot.

Suzanne: Nuna is of Native American and Barbadian ancestry. Nuna expresses the theme of the novel in her rhythmic dialect: “Great spirit be a mother. She feed us, we feeds dem. Round and round. That’s de way. You helps dem, so you helps alla us; all-a-wanna or all together, don’t ya know.” Nuna’s words are few, but her wisdom is great.

Elizabeth: Tell us about your essay collections, Manhasset Stories.

suzanne manhassetSuzanne: Manhasset and so many towns like it on Long Island in the mid-20th century were new hamlets, largely made up of first and second generation Americans moving from the boroughs of New York. Growing up as Baby Boomers in this era allowed a “new” post-WWII perspective. The suburbs were a new concept. It was a new middle class. The families were young and new. The highways to Long Island were new. The shopping centers and area parks were new. We lived in the epicenter of changing times. We shared a golden era, and I chose to dwell on the times we enjoy remembering. The small book was intended as a gift-sized volume. It proved so popular, I followed it up with Volume II – More Baby Boomer Memories.

Elizabeth: What led you to write these essays?

Suzanne: The New York Times had published two essays I submitted about my hometown and beach life as a Long Island Baby Boomer. The great feedback I received led me to the idea of a gift book

Elizabeth: What are the biggest differences between writing nonfiction and fiction?

Suzanne: When I write non-fiction, mostly memoir, I know how it’s going to turn out ahead of time. In fiction, the story unfolds before me as it takes on life.

Elizabeth: What does your writing day look like?

Suzanne: Having newspaper deadlines in the 1980s for everything from zoning board meetings to historical features introduced discipline to my writing days. I had two small children, so I started writing at 4 a.m. before they woke up for school. I continued to do that for the next 35+ years, either writing myself or reviewing my students’ writing.

Elizabeth: What have you read recently that you feel passionate about?

Suzanne: I listened to the audio book of The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah and found the story to be so well woven with history, character, and place – all further enhanced by the French accents of the reader while I listened. Also, I reread a favorite, The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay, and was once again struck by the lessons we learn about the world in fiction. This is a brilliant book. While reading it I realized a character in Don’t Ya Know, Ezra Goldsmith, may well have derived his wisdom from the influence of “Doc” in Courtenay’s book.

Elizabeth: Can you tell us more about yourself?

Suzanne: I am a retired educator who loved teaching English literature, writing, and drama to high school students. Reaching a teen’s heart is challenging and rewarding. I found the written word to be a great vehicle for that target. Also, I am a life-long writer who began entering short story contests at the age of ten. I received nothing but rejections until the age of 35 when a major publisher offered me an astonishing contract. The book ended up in publishing hell (see Harry Chapin and Me). My job at the newspaper and a website called, renewed my writing voice.

Elizabeth: We’ve now reached the time in our interview for the let’s-get-to-know-the-author-better, nearly-pointless, sort-of-silly, rapid-fire questions:

Elizabeth: Coffee or tea?

Suzanne: Coffee – though I’m being told to cut back. Horrors!

Elizabeth: Ocean or mountain?

Suzanne: Ocean. Ocean. Ocean.

Elizabeth: Hiking or shopping?

Suzanne: Hiking

Elizabeth: Violin or piano?

Suzanne: Violin

Elizabeth: Mystery or fantasy?

Suzanne: Mystery

Elizabeth: Darcy or Heathcliff?

Suzanne: Darcy

Elizabeth: Love scene or death scene?

Suzanne: Death scene

To learn more about Suzanne and her writing, visit:

follow her on Twitter:@zanne1 @storiesdontyaknow

and friend her on Facebook: Suzanne McLain Rosenwasser, author


My Bicycle Bell

I used my bicycle bell today.
I’d forgotten its lovely chime.
A soft gentle alarm,
to warn people of my pedaling presence.

My bell rang, and the woman in front of me turned.
Our eyes met. She smiled and I smiled back.
The day brightened.
She stepped to the side, and I slowly rolled by.

A shared moment of kinship,
brought about by the sweet song of my bicycle bell