Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Q&A with Best-Selling Author Renee Carlino

If you love a good New York City love story, you will fall in love with Matt and Grace. Before We Were Strangers  (Atria Books, August 18, 2015) by Renee Carlino is a complicated love story of missed opportunities and the influence that outside factors have on a couple’s journey…or is it all really just part of their journey? I pulled Renee away from her writing desk to answer a few questions for her ever-growing fan base.

HH: What was your inspiration in using New York City as the backdrop to Grace and Matt's story?

RC: When people normally ask me what BEFORE WE WERE STRANGERS is about, I  say it's about a guy who sees "the girl who got away" on a New York subway fifteen years after they last saw each other. But I think BWWS is really about how people, rather than places or things, can color our experiences. I thought Matt and Grace would fall in love with New York together. Through their exploration of the city, they got to know each other, so NYC made for a great backdrop. There is an undeniable energy there, but I also thought it could be a place where one might feel extremely isolated among the masses, which is how we find an older Matt at the beginning of the book. I've been to a lot of cities in the US, but every time I visit New York, I get a sense of vitality and togetherness, yet at the same time I feel extremely small. I see New York City as a versatile character that I can use in many different ways to help tell a story.

HH: Both Grace and Matt are complex, deep characters...do you spend a lot of time character sketching before writing? 
RC: I usually know the big pieces before I start the book. Through the writing process other characteristics will develop, like the way Grace smells her food or swings a door open wider than the average person to accommodate her cello case, even when she's not carrying it. They are alive in my head and not based on a real person, so I suppose I am sketching them but not necessarily on paper. I do flesh the characters out much more in revisions so I enjoy the editorial process and find it extremely beneficial and rewarding.

HH: On a Saturday night would you rather be home in sweats or out in a LBD and heels? 
RC: I love my sweats and being a writer allows me to be in them an awful lot. I don't know any writers who get ready, do their hair and put on make-up to sit at the computer for six hours, so on a Saturday night I enjoy getting dressed up and going out when I can.

HH: Explain the muse of music as a prominent theme in your novels. 
RC: I just cannot live without music, so it finds its way into all of my books and it is the best food for my imagination. For BBWS, I remembered watching Nirvana Unplugged on MTV and thinking about the cello player. I wished that I could play like her. When I started researching this book, I found a more recent youtube video of Lori Goldston, the same cellist. She was playing in a station in Seattle. As soon as the music began, I got chills. The way she describes her instrument in the video is inspiring.

HH: If you could meet one of your characters in person, which one would it be? 
RC: I would want to meet Matt from BEFORE WE WERE STRANGERS. He's closer to my age, he and I share a passion for photography and I think I would have a lot of questions about his work for National Geographic. He seems like he would be a great conversationalist, which is high on my list of good qualities.
Thank you, Renee!

Friday, August 14, 2015

Q&A with Best-Selling Author K.A. Tucker

With over a dozen novels under her pen, K.A. Tucker recently added a new novel, Chasing River: A Novel (The Burying Water Series), to her Burying Water series.

I caught up with K.A. just before its release to chase down some answers about her fascination with Ireland, the depth of her characters, and her dream automobile.   

HH: Your passion for Ireland is palpable in Chasing River: A Novel; what is your connection to it?
KA: I dreamed of visiting Ireland long before I ever set foot there. I have Irish roots (as so many people do, it seems.) I finally made the trip last summer and, though I was there for less than a week, I fell in love with the people, the culture, and the countryside. I plan on visiting again, and braving the “wrong side of the road” driving in order to see the rest of the countryside.
HH: Amber’s character is complex in a common theme—torn between striving for independence and living up to her father’s standards; was it a conscious choice to downplay the role of her mother?
KA: I don’t know that it’s so much about downplaying the role of her mother as it is that Gabe Welles has always been such a strong and authoritative figure in his children’s lives. We first see this in Burying Water, with the situation that Amber’s brother, Jesse, finds himself in. Gabe Welles is the sheriff, after all. It felt only natural that it would be Sheriff Welles who would come running to Amber’s rescue in Ireland, just as he did for his son. Plus, Amber is still very much daddy’s little girl.
HH: Chasing River: A Novel has so many layers—love, friendship, family—and yet the landscape around these relationships is painted with great historic detail; how much research did it take versus innate knowledge?
KA: Before beginning this book, I spent weeks delving into both Ireland’s history and its current political situation. I knew that I wanted to weave the IRA into the story, but I didn’t have a good grasp of what that would entail. So I began digging… and digging… and digging… and so many dots in my knowledge base began connecting—the religious strife between Protestant and Catholic, the political strife between England and Ireland, the mass exodus of Irish to North America. Ireland has a rich history (much richer than I anticipated) and having a handle on it made spinning an authentic story much easier.
HH: What is your dream automobile?
KA: A Hummer (deer have a tendency to jump out in front of me on the road and tanks are illegal.)

HH: With over a dozen and counting novels under your pen, which character was the hardest to create?
KA: I struggled with both main characters in Surviving Ice: A Novel (Ivy and Sebastian), because they’re quite similar to each other. Ivy is not necessarily “likeable” as far as suspenseful romance characters go, and going out of my way to make her softer didn’t feel like the right thing to do. Her character does grow and change, but it’s done in a more subtle way. I hope readers see and appreciate that.
Click here to read my NewYork Journal of Books review for Chasing River.
Thank you, K.A.!

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Suicide Notes: Notable Writers Who Committed Suicide

"What do you write?" Any writer will tell you that this is the first question asked when people find out what they do for a living. It's not like identifying yourself as a doctor because most doctors will indicate their specialty, such as "I'm a cardiologist," or "I'm a chiropractor." But when writers' tell people that they are a writer, they prepare to explain what kind of writing they do.

My writing career can't be pigeon-holed because I write both nonfiction and fiction books as well as articles. "I've written two novels and am working on my third. Oh, and I'm ghostwriting four books for clients," is my current explanation-in-a-box.

It's easy to forget that authors started writing out of their known genre as well. Stephen King submitted several short stories to publications and tacked the rejection slips to his wall for several years before selling his book (and later the movie), Carrie. His book On Writing: 10th Anniversary Edition: A Memoir of the Craft, now in its 10th anniversary, intertwines his biography with advice for writers that many wannabe writers pay hundreds of dollars to learn in workshops. Very few people knew that lawyer turned author, David Baldacci, was writing a novel until he had already signed a contract with a publisher. He was a closet writer who spent much of his childhood and "free" time while in law school writing stories. Later, he penned Absolute Power late at night and on weekends. Even now his work is published in several different genres...there is no pigeon-holing David's work.


Every writer's story about their struggles, their early days, and when they broke through varies. Sadly, some became bigger than life authors after their lives ended. Sylvia Plath's work shadowed her husband's, Ted Hughes, until after the event of her suicide. Sylvia's suicide brings up an interesting reality -- Wikipedia has a link that lists hundreds of seasoned writers who committed suicide. One of them, Jean Amery, penned a book titled, On Suicide: A Discourse on Voluntary Death. In 1978 he followed his own advice and suicided. Evidently the philosophies on the pages he wrote were validated in his mind to the point of taking his own life.

In reading about the lives and deaths of the writers in this category, the reasons for suicide were evident -- medical or mental. I suppose that would be true of anyone who suicides, yet in reading the biographies of these writers, many of them felt that they set themselves free when they died. Some were unable to continue writing due to their medical or mental restraints; therefore, perhaps, they felt their lives were not worth living beyond that point, as evident in the letters they left behind. (I now wonder if any writer who has suicided did not leave a written note?)
My first novel, Whispers from the Heart, portrays a high school English teacher who copes with the suicidal death of one of her students. She uses journal writing in the classroom as a tool for the students to heal and try to understand why someone with so much life ahead of them would cut it short deliberately. This is a question rarely answered by the people left behind to grieve. It becomes about coping more than understanding.

In Sylvia Plath's case, she fought clinical depression for several years, but before ending her life, she realized and admitted to a friend that through her thoughts she created the distressing aspects of her life. In the biographical movie, Sylvia, Gwyneth Paltrow plays Sylvia and tells her friend, "You see, if you fear something enough you can make it happen." Unfortunately, she felt she learned this lesson too late.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

If Everyone Is Working for Free, How Is Anyone Supposed to Earn a Living?

Have you or your company ever hired someone from a website such as Freelancer, oDesk, Fiverr, eLance, or another popular site for outsourcing gigs? Alternatively, have you or your company offered services on one or more of these sites? If so, you are a part of the Global Online Employment trend that has been booming for quite a while now.

I personally have used a few of these sites as a resource to clients seeking a ghostwriter for their books and bios. Yet, I found that the competition was too willing to bid low dollar amounts for their work or they lived in areas where the cost of living was significantly less than mine, thereby being able to bid lower and still earn a significant living. As such, my bids were frequently four and five times higher than most (except on Fiverr, which is a fixed amount). Sometimes I landed the gig anyway, sometimes I didn't.

I also recently posted a photo captured in a chain restaurant and Tweeted it via Instagram. Within moments, I heard from the restaurant, which wanted full rights to my image to use for their social media campaigns. The catch was, they didn't want to open their wallets to pay me for it. My thought was, "I go into their establishment and open my wallet for their product. They come to my establishment and request full rights to my product, but don't want to pay me for it?" As a professional photographer, this aggravated me. So, I began to question, If everyone is giving away their work, how is anyone supposed to earn a living?

To find the answer, I reached out to Freelancer's Nikki Parker, Regional Director, North America & Oceania.

Photo Courtesy of Freelancer
Q: Let's start with some statistics. How many people actively use Freelancer?

Freelancer currently has 10.7 million members. The term "active" varies for each user, as we have people who spend their entire work day bidding on projects or we have employers that need to use Freelancer.com at specific times of the year, e.g. tax time, end of financial year, annual reports, etc.

Q: There are many websites like Freelancer that create a marketplace for creative entrepreneurs. How have they impacted the way entrepreneurs earn a living?

Thanks to the internet the way that we connect, collaborate and work has changed quite dramatically and it is opening up a world of new opportunities.

When working online in a global marketplace like Freelancer.com there is the opportunity for employers and freelancers to barter and enter into an agreement to work on specific projects that suit both parties. An employer will choose to work with a freelancer after they have weighed up the freelancers skill, past experience, online reputation, length of time required to complete the project and the overall price and a freelancer can decide what projects they work on.

Q: How do creative entrepreneurs compete in such a competitive environment?

On Freelancer.com there are freelancers who are charging an hourly rate significantly higher than those they could command in their countries and for freelancers from the developing world they are able to earn their weeks wage in just one hour. Freelancers working on Freelancer.com certainly do not give away their work for free, in fact, it is quite the opposite and they are able to sell their services and work with global clients they would not previously had access to. Freelancers working on the site are not only able to make a living for themselves, but they are also able to lift their families out of poverty. A freelancer can choose what work they bid for and work on and if they deem a price range too low for that service they can focus on other projects.

Q: Isn't this highly competitive environment more difficult for those who live where the cost of living is higher? 

We are seeing a lot of savvy entrepreneurs and business owners who have typically sold services, e.g. web design or development, and have now realized that there are others around the world who are offering more competitive rates. Rather than see this as a challenge they are seeing this as a huge opportunity. They are now outsourcing pieces of work to global freelancers and refocusing their efforts elsewhere, e.g. building up a client base, sales or marketing for their business.

Businesses who recognize that the way we do work is changing and who adapt to these changes will be able to take advantage of the world of opportunities and a global workforce that they have at their fingertips.

Q: Is there a place in Freelancer.com for entrepreneurs who are accustomed to billing higher dollars for their work?

Yes I definitely see high quality freelancers charging well above the "average" bid price and landing the job! Ultimately if I need to get work done as an employer I have to pick someone who can do the work, irrespective of price. I genuinely believe marketplaces like Freelancer.com are opening up incredible opportunities for both freelancers and employers to get great work done, earn a good income and collaborate with clients from around the world.

I admit that Nikki opened my eyes to a different angle. However, I still won't give my photographs away for free to an establishment that will profit from them, and yet where I pay (make that "paid") for their products.