Interview

Author Interview with Peter Stipe

Two years ago, I went to my very first author event at the Williamsburg Book Festival. One of the best things about book festivals is having the chance to interact with readers and other authors--plus, there's books for sale! Anyway, it was at this event in Williamsburg that I met fellow writer Peter Stipe, author of the short story collection Finding Our Way. We've kept in touch since then and I've had the pleasure of beta reading more of his work. 

I am so excited that Peter has now published his second book (and first novel!): The Art of Love. Peter was kind enough to stop by my blog for an author interview--read on to find out more about his work, his creative inspiration, and his most recent novel!

Interview With Peter Stipe || www.ellensmithwrites.com

Ellen Smith: I’ve had the pleasure of beta-reading some of your stories, including your new release, The Art of Love. Often, your stories focus on exploring relationships. How would you describe the relationship between your two main characters, Mary and Patrick?

Peter Stipe:  Mary and Patrick share a natural attraction to each other.  They fall in love almost the day they meet.  Unfortunately there are too many issues that each of them must deal with for the relationship to work.  The reader learns on page one that the relationship will fail.  But I hope we all root for them to sort it out as we follow their story.

Mary feels an intense need to be perfect in order to please her demanding parents.  Perfection includes attaining perfect grades in grad school, marrying the right man before living with him, and above all, following the strictest directions of her Catholic faith.  Patrick is consumed by his art and is inexperienced in building a relationship with a woman.  He allows Mary to lead him in the relationship and cannot bring himself to act on the urges that both he and Mary feel.  Religious faith does not play into his direction though he does begin following Mary to church.  Their relationship is awkward, stumbling along with neither of them knowing how to move forward.

In counterpoint we see the free-wheeling relationship of their artistic friends, Melanie and Aaron.  Both very successful as artists, living together in a magnificent loft apartment, Melanie and Aaron seem to be the perfect role models for Mary and Patrick.  Then they encounter a crisis that threatens their relationship.  Maybe the perfect relationship has flaws that Mary and Patrick haven’t seen.  Melanie and Aaron are worldly but are also struggling in their relationship

Mary and Patrick are also advised by older mentors.  For Mary it is a former professor, a nun, Sister Catherine whose advice follows traditional Catholic guidelines.  For Patrick it is his Uncle Win, an artist.  Both Sister Catherine and Uncle Win care deeply about Mary and Patrick.  Some but not all of their guidance is worthwhile.

The story follows the development of this difficult relationship.  Mary and Patrick both try so hard to make it work.  We know from the beginning of the book that it can’t.  Still they are a beautiful pair and they share a wonderful year together.

ES: The Art of Love takes place in Rhode Island. I’ve actually never been to New England, but your descriptions made me feel like I was there! What inspired you to set your story in Rhode Island?

PS:  I moved to Virginia three years ago after living most of my life in New England.  It is a beautiful part of the world and I’m pleased that you felt that while reading my story.  Along with Providence the story takes the reader to other parts of Rhode Island; to an art festival in the countryside nearby, to Block Island, and to Beavertail Point, all favorite places of mine.  The story also involves visits to Patrick’s home on the coast of Maine, to Mary’s family vacation home on a lake in Connecticut, to Boston, and briefly to Montreal, though that’s not really part of New England.  Patrick settles at the end of the story in the small town of Newmarket, New Hampshire, near the coast.  I lived in Newmarket before moving to Rhode Island.  It too is a place I am fond of.

I lived outside of Providence and worked in the city for many years.  One of the fun aspects of Providence is the contrast between two colleges there with abutting campuses.  Brown University is a classic Ivy League school with traditional Ivy League values.  The Rhode Island School of Design, RISD, is one of the best art schools in the country.  It is a campus proudly displaying alternative artistic cultural approaches to art and life.  I was intrigued by the contrast of these two neighboring colleges and thought that setting the two lead  characters on these campuses would point to the conflicting views of Mary at Brown and Patrick at RISD

We also follow Patrick, a quiet country boy from the rural coast of Maine into New York City where Mary is most comfortable.  We feel Patrick’s unease in the city and sense another road block in their relationship.

Behind the Scenes of The Art of Love || Author Interview with Peter Stipe www.ellensmithwrites.com

ES: Patrick’s development as an artist is a central theme in The Art of Love. Are you an artist as well?

PS:   I dream of being an artist.  When I graduated high school I almost went to art school but decided instead that it would be easier to earn a living with a degree from a school with a more mainstream curriculum.  I went to college and grad school in Boston and taught for a while before moving into Human Resource Development and Training.  But all the time I was working I kept up with my art as a hobby.  I do watercolor and photography.  Now that I’m retired I am able to dedicate more time to both.  I have my work on display at On the Hill Gallery in Yorktown and participate in several art shows each year.  I have been on the Board of Directors of the Yorktown Arts Foundation for the past three years.

ES: Mary is attempting to navigate her adult life while staying true to her religious beliefs. I think the coming-of-age element to the story will ring true with a lot of readers! What inspired you to write about that conflict for Mary?

PS:  I have known people who are like Mary.  I wanted a way to highlight the unbending nature of Mary’s values.  Grounding them in her Catholic faith seemed to work well.  It could have been any fundamental religious belief.  Having a strong faith is a good thing but it can become a problem when the values within that faith become unyielding to the point that they interfere with natural relationships.  I care for Mary and hope the reader can also sympathize as Mary sees the relationship fall apart.

ES: The Art of Love is your second published book and first full novel! Can you share anything about your future writing projects? Anything in the works?

PS:  Of course!  I’m always writing, several hours a day typically.  I have lots of stories waiting to be told.  I am bouncing between two right now.  One is a fanciful story, maybe a fairy tale.  It follows the development of a girl from birth to early middle age.  As a child she believes that fairies inhabit her grandfather’s garden.  They help her cope with crises.  As she grows older she never outgrows the fairies.  They are always there when she comes up against the challenges of growing up.  Maybe the fairies are real.  Or maybe they are just her way of dealing with troubles in her life. 

I’m also working on a two-part story, tracking my discovery of the life of my great-grandfather Oscar.  His story as related to me by my mother conflicts with the facts I uncover about his life with research.  The semi-fictional part of this story will be how I try to reconcile the differences between reality and my mother’s fanciful account of Oscar’s life.  The real fiction in this story will be my fantasies about how Oscar might have lived, a story that evolves as I learn the truth about him.  I have many other half-worked out stories, some short stories, some likely to evolve into full-length novels.  And my first book “Finding Our Way”, is out.  It is a compilation of eight short stories.

ES: It was great talking with you! Thanks for stopping by the blog today. Where can readers connect with you online?

PS:   People can contact me at Peterstipe.com or by visiting PeterGStipe on Facebook.  My two books, Finding Our Way (a collection of short stories) and this one, The Art of Love, are both with Amazon and with my publisher, Hightide Publications.

The Art of Love
By Peter Stipe

Author Interview with Jeff Haws

If I had to choose a favorite genre, it would have to be “speculative fiction.” Spec fic is an umbrella term for science fiction, fantasy, and horror—essentially, any work that walks that thin line between “what is” and “what if.” Stephen King purportedly writes in this genre: his works include everything from horror to paranormal to time travel. Other spec fic authors include Margaret Atwood, Ray Bradbury, Neil Gaiman, Madeleine L’Engle…in short, many of my favorites.

So when a new spec fic writer arrived on the scene this year, I was thrilled to add another author to my list of favorites. Jeff Haws released his first novel, Killing the Immortals, in July of 2016. This story explores a world in which medicine is so advanced that dying is a rarity—that is, until a new church is founded to restore mortality.

Then, earlier this month, Jeff released a novella. Tomorrow’s News Today features a journalist who is suddenly able to write the future when he drafts his news articles. I love both books—I can’t recommend them enough!

I’m so excited that Jeff agreed to stop by the blog today for an interview! Thanks for joining us, Jeff!

Interview with Jeff Haws, author of Killing the Immortals and Tomorrow's News Today | Blog post on ellensmithwrites.com

Ellen Smith: I was so interested to learn that you were a reporter for over twenty years before you began fiction writing. One thing I loved about Killing the Immortals was your ability to show many different points of view on a complicated issue. Do you think that working in journalism had an influence on your fiction writing style?

Jeff Haws: No doubt, and in all sorts of ways. One of the differences I realized early was when it hit me that there were no excuses anymore. Sometimes, in journalism, you're just dealt a bad hand. Maybe there's not much to the topic. Maybe the subject doesn't do much other than bite his lip and say "Uh-huh" a lot. But you do what you can with what you have, take lemons and make lemonades, all that stuff. What you, of course, can't do is make up quotes, or facts.

In fiction, though, you have to do exactly that. It was pretty freeing. Character isn't interesting? "Well, that's your fault, dummy. Make him interesting." I wrote mostly sports journalism, and the big thing that makes sports writing hard is you have the factual and structural expectations of news writing alongside the reader-entertainment expectations of music or feature writing. The reader wants to be transported back to the game they watched. They want to identify with the athletes they root for. So my writing is very story- and people-focused, because that's what journalism taught me. And now with fiction, I can make those stories and people whatever I want. It's freeing, but there's also pressure. If it sucks, well, that's completely on me. If I'm dealt a bad hand, I'm, ya know, the dealer. Hell, I can put the cards in whatever order I want. So, the groundwork is very different from journalism, but the goal is largely the same: write something that doesn't suck.

ES: When did you first consider a career in writing? Did you always see yourself pursuing both fiction and journalism?

JH: In eighth grade, I had this crazy English teacher named Mrs. Jones. She had been teaching 12th-grade English for 20 years, and this was her first year coming back to 8th; she had no interest in teaching us 8th-grade English. So she basically brought her 12th-grade curriculum and test ran it on us unsuspecting 8th graders. The first day of class, she walked in and told us she was "a slave driver." We all started looking for an exit. Maybe jump out a window or something? People would understand. But, yeah, she lived up to that. Toughest class I ever had—high school and college included. She had ridiculously high standards. She'd have us write papers on the books we read, and they'd go through two rounds of peer review, then two rounds of her reviews before we'd have a final draft. We'd never seen anything like it.

But ya know what? I learned. A lot. By the end of eighth grade, I knew how to break down a sentence. I knew prepositions and gerunds and semicolons and participles, and it made me enjoy writing. I'd worked my ass off for 4 Cs and two Bs in that class (I also had her for Reading class, where I also got 4 Cs and 2 Bs—I wasn't used to getting Cs, but she had no qualms failing people, so I took that and ran with it), and I was gonna put all that work to use, damn it. By the time I walked into my 9th-grade English class and quickly realized I already knew everything they were teaching me, I needed a new writing challenge. The school newspaper was down the hall. So that's when I knew.

As far as fiction goes, I never really expected to do that. I did start to write a Stephen King-derivative story (To be honest, I probably wished it could be Stephen King-derivative) called "Phobia" in 12th grade, but that was honestly the only fiction I'd ever written until I did a short story for a writing challenge with the local alt weekly about a year ago. I had decided I wanted to pursue fiction writing because it had a permanence I liked—whereas my journalism writing gets tossed in the garbage the day after I write it, no one can ever take a novel away from me—and I needed to create a new creative outlet as it had become harder to drum up freelance work lately. I had no idea how long it would take me, but my first goal was to just read as much fiction as I could get my hands on. I thought I might do that for a year to prep. But when I saw that writing contest, I decided to try it. And I found that...hey, I enjoyed it. And the story wasn't terrible. It didn't win, but it didn't suck. So I accelerated my plan a bit, and here we are.

ES: From journalism to freelance writing to fiction writing, you definitely live a creative life! In addition to writing, what other creative pastimes do you enjoy?

JH: All my creativity comes out in words. I've never really thought visually, from a creative perspective. Everything comes out in words. I don't draw or paint. I'd be lucky to put together a suitable stick figure family. But words pour out of me. I get backed up when I don't write. I can feel creatively plugged, like pressure needs to be released. At my day job, I do content marketing and social media strategy, so I do enjoy the creative challenge of using words to build a brand, and putting together a creative strategy that will help you reach the audience you intend to find—and working with those people who know more about visuals than I do.

I'm also passionate about all sorts of aspects of life that aren't all that creative, from baseball (Cubs fan since 1988) to newspapers to travel to craft beer, great food, classic film, music, religious philosophy, public transit, and grimy dive bars with sneaky-good beer lists.

ES: Both Killing the Immortals and Tomorrow’s News Today have original speculative fiction concepts. I imagine writing speculative fiction was quite a departure from journalism! How did you come up with your ideas?

JH: Killing the Immortals came out of a few brainstorming sessions where I came up with a bunch of ideas I wanted to flesh out. The basic concept was, "It's a stated goal of society and medical science to save every single life possible. So, what if we actually achieved that goal? What would be the ramifications?" Because, while it seems like an obvious goal on the individual level, reaching that goal would be completely disastrous on a societal level. I enjoy "What if?" stories, and what appealed to me about this one was, it's not all that outlandish. We are actively trying to do this, to whatever extent we can. So, I wrote out a long list of problems I saw coming from reaching this goal. When I reached "A cult would form around this going against god's plan," I knew I'd hit on something that could be a novel, especially with my interest in religious philosophy. There are lots more, though, and I'm toying with the idea of writing a series of books within this world. Not sequels, necessarily, but potentially incorporating some of the characters, and with the same basic premise.

On Tomorrow's News Today, that was the same brainstorming session. I wanted to write something about a journalist since I know and love that world so much. So I just started jotting down a sort of stream-of-consciousness page of thoughts that could turn into a story. I know this was an unapologetic "Twilight Zone" influence. I love that show so much. It being on Netflix makes my life better. And this was very much in that vein. If someone read Tomorrow's News Today and thought, "That reminded me of The Twilight Zone," I'd be very happy. Those stories were so often about a person receiving an unexpected gift of some sort, and seeing how it would change them. This story definitely looked at that.

ES: I’d love to know more about your writing process. How long did it take you to write your books? What was the process like for you?

JH: It's kind of funny to me now that Killing the Immortals only took me 6 weeks to write the rough draft. Started it Dec. 19 of last year, and I wrote the last word of the first draft on Jan. 31. That's 85,000-ish words in about 43 days. I sort of feel like that was an out-of-body experience. Then, for good measure, I wrote Tomorrow's News Today over the following 2 weeks, then a short story called The Trolley Problem in about a week in March, and then another one called The Slingshot—I think this is the best story I've written so far—in about 10 days in April. Clearly, I let the cork out of the champagne bottle, and words sprayed everywhere.

I try to write every weekday evening after work, for an hour. Since I can't—and don't want to—abandon my wife downstairs all evening every night, I don't really want to do much more than that. I think it's also good to set a time limit on yourself so you don't get too wound up in your own words and thoughts. I can usually knock out 1,200-1,500 words in an hour. Then, on weekend mornings, I typically wake up at 6, while she sleeps until 9 or 10. I'll write for a couple of hours on weekends or holidays, then read whatever book I'm on until she wakes up. I write straight through and do zero editing until two weeks after the draft is done. You can't make a good story great until you have that story to work with. I'm a big believer in getting that canvas down as efficiently as you can so you can start ripping it apart.

ES: Now I’m curious to know what projects you’re working on! Can you tell us anything about your current work-in-progress?

JH: Besides the final edits on The Trolley Problem and The Slingshot—I'd guess The Slingshot will come out on Kindle in January, while The Trolley Problem is probably set for March or April—I'm working on a story that still doesn't have a title I've liked. It's actually a massive expansion upon the short story I wrote for the local alt weekly's writing competition, and I'm approaching the 25,000-word mark. My hope is to finish it by the end of February, and have it out in the summer.

I feel like the scope of it is bigger than Killing the Immortals. More characters. More challenging concept. And I think it'll be longer. So it's been more difficult to write so far. The basic premise is that a virus rapidly wiped out a huge percentage of the world's population. Alessandra, a small town in North Georgia, was isolated enough for its citizens to avoid transmitting the disease, and they walled themselves off from the rest of the world. Audrey, Alessandra's leader, tells the people that the virus spread through human contact, and she requires everyone to wear a steel ring around their midsection in order to keep people from touching—all cohabitation or even having visitors to your home is banned. What are the psychological ramifications of this sort of forced personal isolation within a community? What will the people do to regain control over their lives? And what will Audrey resort to in order to protect the people of Alessandra while keeping her power?

ES: It was great chatting with you and learning more about your work! How can readers stay in touch with you through social media?

JH: As luck would have it, I'm really easy to find. I'm pretty much everywhere, and I love interacting with readers!

Twitter/Instagram: @byjeffhaws

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/byjeffhaws

Website and blog: http://www.jeffhaws.com

Thanks so much for stopping by the blog, Jeff! It was great talking with you!

Thanks so much for stopping by the blog, Jeff! It was great talking with you!

Interview with Angela J. Ford

Often people say that writing is a solitary business, but I really think it’s the opposite! I’m always meeting more authors, readers, and book lovers that are just as passionate about great stories as I am. It’s part of what makes the writing life so much fun!

If you love talking about books and meeting new authors, you definitely want to meet Angela J. Ford.

Angela is the author of the epic fantasy novel The Five Warriors and also works as a Digital Marketing Strategist. She recently created a course called How to Plan a Book Launch. I had the honor of previewing the course and I can’t emphasize enough how helpful and well put-together it is. This course has everything I wish I knew when I was launching my first book! Indie authors, take note—this course doesn’t just show you how to market your book, it makes you excited to market your book!

I’m so happy that Angela agreed to stop by the blog today for an interview! Thanks for joining us, Angela!


Ellen Smith: Angela, I love how much support you offer new and indie authors with your course, How to Plan a Book Launch. What inspired you to create this course?

Angela J. Ford: The course creation was a long journey. I started my business as a freelance marketer while I finished writing and published The Five Warriors. I'd been following the book launches of several authors including Jeff Goins, Todd Henry, and Michael Hyatt. Even though I don't have the kind of budget they do (one of them spent $100,000 on a book launch), I knew I could still make an impact, have an amazing book launch, and make money!

Once my book came out, authors started messaging me on Facebook, emailing me and having calls with me to discuss book launch strategies. I put together a free guide: "How to Plan an Epic Book Launch in 6 Steps" and authors started downloading it like crazy, which got me thinking: How can I monetize my expertise and help authors understand book marketing? I created the sales page and wrote up the course curriculum and I found it's actually a lot of fun, I may like talking more than I like writing!

ES: You have personal experience with launching a book from marketing your first novel, The Five Warriors. Can you tell us a little bit about how you planned for your book’s launch?

AJF: I was taking a coaching class about writing a book in 100 days, and it focused on the writing, but not so much on the marketing. However, the coach asked us to put our marketing plans together, which made me think through what I wanted to do. Here goes:
• An interactive quiz + giveaway where people could get to know The Five Warriors
• A ThunderClap campaign to spread the word on social media
• Pre-order bonuses to encourage readers to order the book before it came out
• A book launch party in Nashville, TN
• A virtual book launch party on Facebook for everyone who couldn't be at the party in Nashville, TN
• Giveaways to encourage readers to leave reviews
• Goodreads giveaways of the paperback novel to reach a new audience
• Ads on Facebook, Goodreads and Amazon to make more people aware of the book
• Daily posts on Instagram to connect with book bloggers
• Outreach to book bloggers for a review/promotion
• A blog tour to reach a new audience
• Free ebook promotion to increase awareness of the book and gain new reviews

It sounds like a lot but the key is, I didn't do it all at once! Each month had a focus and goal which helped make the process easier.

ES: I’d love to know more about your writing process. How long did it take you to write The Five Warriors? What was the process like for you?

AJF: Wow it took me two years, which was not what I was aiming for. I was hoping I could get it done in one. I wrote the original book when I was 12 years old, and I still have it just to look back and laugh at it. When I was 25 I took a week long vacation to Tucson, Arizona for a writing retreat. I stayed at an amazing resort and focused on writing, that was the beginning.

From there I wrote almost every day, sometimes it was 10 words, sometimes 100. Once I got into a rhythm I started averaging 5,000 words a week. I also did several re-writes based on feedback from my beta readers, especially since the first ending I wrote was disappointing and fell flat. Re-writing the ending was the best moment in writing The Five Warriors. I was at a coffee shop in Nashville one morning, with a white chocolate mocha (my favorite drink). I wrote for 3 hours in a fury, my fingers flying over the keyboard, never stopping until it was done. It was like I was there, watching what was happening and all I needed to do was write it down.

ES: You’re working on a sequel for The Five Warriors, too! Can you share a little bit about what your work-in-progress is about?

AJF: The Blended Ones is Book 2 of The Four Worlds Series. I've completed the 1st and 2nd drafts of the book and now I'm working on the final draft, but I had a crazy idea for a plot twist, so I’m working on that. With NaNoWriMo coming up, my focus will be completing it by the end of the month, then turning it over to beta readers and starting the editing process.

ES: Do you plan to use any new or different strategies when you launch your second book that weren’t available when you launched your first?

AJF: Yes, I didn't put together a book launch team, that's something I will focus on with the goal of ramping up reviews on launch day. I also plan on having a bigger book launch party in Nashville, TN and using candles as the pre-order bonus.

ES: One thing that shines through in your work as an author and as a digital marketing strategist is that you really love what you do! How did you decide to make the change from the 9-to-5 workweek to the entrepreneurial lifestyle?

AJF: You know, it was one of those moments when I looked at my future and I thought to myself: If I am doing exactly what I'm doing now next year or 5 years from now, will I be happy with the direction my life is taking? The answer was NO – and that's when I knew I had to make a change.

ES: One thing I love about the entrepreneurial life is that it allows us to have more time and flexibility to be creative! In addition to writing, what other creative pastimes do you enjoy?

AJF: Oh, I love traveling! Just like the characters in my books, I'm always off to my next adventure. One of my big passions is music, I used to be a musician when I was a teenager, now I love listening to soundtracks, eventually I want to film a movie. I'm not sure whether you would call this a creative pastime, but I love world building games and I'm still obsessed with Mario.

ES: It was fun talking with you and finding out more about your work! How can readers stay connected with you?

AJF: Join me on Twitter to chat about anything and everything: www.twitter.com/aford21
Find me on Instagram and see lovely photos of The Five Warriors: www.instagram.com/aford21


Thanks so much for stopping by the blog, Angela! If you’re interested in Angela’s course, How to Plan a Book Launch, click here to get started.* I highly recommend it!

*Note: link is an affiliate. I only link and blog about products that I sincerely love and think you will love, too. Affiliate links help me stay well-stocked in fine-point Sharpies, post-it notes, and other writing essentials.