When I'm not writing, I devour anything that draws me in - mystery, sci-fi, comedy, nonfiction, drama, fantasy, chick lit, pretty much everything but horror. I seem to devour romance novels most of all. They're great for in the bathtub after my monsters are in bed - a delicious escape from reality.
What are your five favorite books, and why?
I suppose it's a cop out to say all the Harry Potter books, so I'll count the series as one, because picking one would be like choosing a favorite child. The Star Wars books, especially the New Jedi Order Series (sadly the extended universe series books are now relegated to the fanfiction realm thanks to the new movies) I prefer the ones that happen after the original movies. Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom is such a charming, touching, and enlightening book. I simply adored it. Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adam is a book I read a long time ago and it just stuck with me. I gobbled it down during a flight and giggled the whole way. I had always been a nonfiction (and historical fiction) reader, strange for a teenager, but it was one that helped me branch further into fiction. It's sarcastic and fabulous.
When did you first start writing?
Once upon a time in a time long, long ago the Air Force sent me to Defense Information School, where they taught me journalism, among many awesome and valuable skills. I could tell you but then I'd have to kill you. Actually, no...read my book, Taking Flight, and you'll learn some about that world-class school. The two biggest lessons I took from there are: "If your mother says she loves you, check it out." The other was from our commencement ceremony, where an officer encouraged us to color outside the lines. I've taken both lessons with me throughout life and they've served me well.
So, yeah, I became a writer because Uncle Sam ordered it. I became an author after reading a book that was so bad that the author should be forced to carry a plant in apology for the trees that died to print the book. I can't recall the book or author, nor would I call her out, but I remember very clearly thinking that if that was published, I could surely write a book, too. It turns out it's not as easy as I thought, but when has anything worthwhile ever been simple? Like the skiing lessons in the movie "Better off Dead," you just go that way until something gets in the way, then turn...until you get where you need to go. Maybe one day I'll make it all the way there, who knows? For now, I'm loving the journey.
What's the story behind your latest book?
I wrote Taking Flight because I was bored out of my mind as a stay-at-home mom. I'd read stories and think, "They should've done this," or "Wow I wish the author had..." Whatever it was, I'd alter it in my head. Well I kept returning to the story of a woman whose life just disintegrated, like in a single day. How would someone get through that? Like anything, you get through things by putting one foot in front of the other. I don't know about other people, but my life has never gone as planned.
I imagined Stella shattered, but without a knight swooping in to save the day. Oh sure she's got people who help, but she rescues herself. She sheds that old life and former way of thinking in the most dramatic way I could imagine - she enlists in the Air Force. I chose the AF and even her career path because of my experience there. But that's where similarities end. This is a work of fiction based in a world I understand.
As this took form, I realized a few things, especially as I researched how things are now - it's been a while since my time there. It occurred to me that there aren't a lot of stories that give readers a real look into the inter-workings of daily military life, much less take you through basic training and technical school. And then there are so many misconceptions about that world, especially Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. So it became vital to me to showcase the modern military culture, and even some of the Midwestern lifestyle, in an authentic way I share that world - warts, potty mouths, and all.
It took me a few years to research, write, edit, rewrite, rewrite, research and rewrite, but eventually I put together a book I wanted to read. Something very real with swear words, wounded people (emotional and physical), missions, misunderstandings, and people trying to find their way through it all to build a life they want to live.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
There are so many joys that come with writing. It's cathartic. You explore concepts, parts of yourself and others, have grand adventures, and share these unfathomable ideas from the darkest recesses of your mind - all without leaving your seat. It's seriously cool.
The next best part is connecting with readers. When I first started I was so shy about sharing my words. I realized I had to get over it, but it's unnerving to share something so personal with the world.
I was a journalist before, but that was a world of facts. Something happened and you told someone else's story, so if someone didn't like it, that wasn't on me. I was simply the conduit to inform them of what happened. My books are my own thoughts, ideas, and words...that's incredibly intimidating.
I had a few amazing people who encouraged me and even begged to read my stuff. I wrote Taking Flight assuming it'd be a female audience, so imagine my horror when men - no not just men, beloved male warriors, combat veteran friends of mine - asked to read my manuscript! I remember being on pins and needles. And then came the thrill of them having not only connected to the characters, plot, and world I dreamed up. It's all so unreal. I love when people message me to ask questions or even just to tell me how hard they laughed over the twists in the story. Connecting with my readers is an amazing feeling.
How do you approach cover design?
I got so lucky with the cover of my book, Taking Flight. I'd been fortunate enough to meet Robert Maynard when we worked together a while back. He's so talented. I reached out to him because, as an Army veteran, he'd be able to bring some grit to the art.
I didn't want someone to expect something much more mainstream and wholesome, only to be offended when the language gets significantly more coarse a few chapters down the line. I mean, it's the military, it'd be inauthentic to omit F bombs. Some people won't care for that, and that's their prerogative. But I didn't want anybody being caught off guard, so the art needed to depict that darker reality of war and it's toll.
Robert managed to capture everything based on a brief synopsis of the book. He absolutely nailed it...the cover looks just like the poster from a movie I'd love to see! He bent my mind.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
Originally, I sought agencies, and got great feedback but my book, Taking Flight is not a typical story. I heard from a few that they liked my writing, but the story wasn't something they felt they could market. I thought about continuing until I found someone willing to gamble. Then I realized it'd take me years to get the book out there, and the story is current and important.
A lot of people don't know this, but there's a terrible statistic with the military world - 23 people take their lives every day! TWENTY THREE! Suicide is a sign of lost hope, of a last resort to get away from pain, whether physical or emotional. I cannot stand that my brothers and sisters are losing this battle.
I'm just one person, but what if they read my book and realize they're not alone? What if I make them feel understood, and make them laugh and forget their sorrows for just a little while? What if they find something in that story that unlocks some answers for them? What if their mom, sister, dad, wife, daughter, son...or just anybody who cares reads my story and finds something that can help them to understand them a little better, or find a different way to offer support? How could I wait years to get that book out there?
Also, I'm a stubborn redheaded veteran...tell me I can't do it and I'll do it twice, and take pictures. It's just who I am. I know I can do this. Even if nobody reads this, I already showed a lot of naysayers they were wrong simply by writing the book. What's a few more in the grand scheme of getting this book under people's noses?
What are you working on next?
I have so many stories swimming in my mind, it's unreal. I uncorked this part of my mind and it's a swirling vortex of ideas.
My next book is in the works, but it'll take me a while. It's a complete departure from Taking Flight (pardon my pun). Without spoiling anything, it's a story of a family in transition after suffering a tragic loss, while they learn to mend and struggle with their new reality. It centers around a child who is challenged by developmental issues, and the people who love her.
What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
Usually I'm just trying to get my overgrown tap-dancing black lab outside to go potty without waking the kids. But after that, I stay out out of bed because I've got a lot of jerks to prove wrong! Oh, and awesome kids to raise, and new stories to tell.
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
My first official story as a journalist was so bad that my instructor threatened to kick me out of his Air Force. It would've been easier to simply paint the entire sheet red, that's how awful it was. But I learned quickly and eventually earned some pretty major accolades in the newspaper world. Shockingly, a couple years later, that same instructor requested me to work on his team for an event.
The topic of that first story was a feature about another Defense Information School instructor's hobby, whittling wood. Yeah, thrilling stuff ha ha. Thankfully, I was able to overcome that disastrous first assignment and eventually was staff writer for a newspaper that was named Best in the Air Force. (I'll be careful not to sprain my wrist patting myself on the back here).
However, the greatest honor I had as a writer was in telling the world the story of our mourning as we buried airmen lost in an aircraft collision. That was why the good sergeant had been so hard on me. There's no room to fail our brothers and sisters, especially when the world is watching.
What is your writing process?
When I get an idea, I let it stew for a while. Then I do some homework, because nothing ruins a good story like an unrealistic idea, or misinformation, except maybe an unrelatable situation or character. An error in fact is a big no-no, so I spend a lot of time researching. This is what I return to when ideas or scenes seem a little sticky, I won't say writers block, because I've been fortunate to be able to push through any time my mind slows.
I also try to think of some great names - usually these are names I loved and wanted to name my babies but were shot down by their father. This usually goes into a spreadsheet so I can keep track of the traits and quirks of the characters.
I spend a lot of time with the idea marinating as I go through life's motions, and allow it to take shape. When I have a rough idea of the basics - who, what, when, and where - I start writing.
I keep notes because my memory is too crowded. This is usually in the form of a word or excel document so I can see what I have and haven't written in. It's not a time line, necessarily, just things I want to be sure to include, so I won't forget. Then I move the thing to the next column so I know it's in there. It stops a lot of redundancy. I've got kids, pets, and a daytime job, so it's easy to have things slip through the cracks and I've found this helps me. I include research notes here, too so they're handy.
Afterward, as scenes form in my mind I write them out, in no particular order. As the story takes shape, The scenes go into a rough order so I can fill in the spaces between. There's not a huge amount of planning, only a few key points and a rough idea of the destination. Then the characters take over. Sometimes they go to some strange places...like a blanket fort in the living room after a long evening of drunken revelry.
I'm new to fiction, so it takes quite a few stages of editing. I'm pretty wordy, so I end up cutting a lot, and adding more perspective and try very hard to balance any drama with levity. I strive to enlighten, entertain, and distract readers from their own world. Sometimes I manage that neat balancing trick. Other times I fail because I'm human. But I always get back up and try again.
Describe your desk
Pure chaos. But once I have my computer in front of me and headphones on, I can write anywhere - and I often escape to Panera where the dishes and laundry won't distract me from my words.
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