Friday, October 30, 2009

Introducing South African author Nerine Dorman

I'm interviewing author Nerine Dorman on my cluculzwriter blog on Monday, Nov. 2, 2009.  Nerine was Keith Pyeatt's editor for his first novel Dark Knowledge. On December 21, 2009, Nerine's first novel Khepera Rising is due to be released.

Nerine Dorman was born in Cape Town, South Africa, during the previous century, and has been writing weird tales involving gothboys, vampires, werewolves and other strange beasties since she can remember. She's been a Spur waitress, is an experienced penguin wrangler, plays piano accordion badly, edits genre fiction, loves travelling and lives with her photographer husband in a log cabin on stilts near Cape Point, where she regularly has to fend off baboons armed only with a broomstick. Her mother still asks when she's going to write some "proper" fiction.

Here's a brief synopsis from the Lyrical Press website.

     The wickedest man in Africa has problems, and they can't all be solved by magic. 

     Occult bookshop owner and black arts magician James Edward Guillaume reckons he has it all, and enjoys living up his reputation as South Africa's "wickedest man", a nice house, a business that's breaking even and teh pick of all the pretty Goth girls and boys in Cape town. 

      Little does he know, a group of violent Christo-militants are panting at his heels, ready to destroy his carefully constructed fantasy world. To add mischief to his misery, he's unwittingly unleashed a terrifying demonic entity, and he alone holds the key to The Burning One's secret. To bring order out of the chaos, all James has to do is conquer his personal demonds, teach a rather nasty, self-righteous sod a lesson in humility and find out whether he can win back the trust of an old flame. Only, as James discovers, getting back on top is hell on earth. 

Hope you can stop by on Monday and meet Nerine. If Supernatural Horror is your forte, you're going to love her book Khepera Rising.

Thursday, October 29, 2009


I'm trying to write the Great Canadian Novel but my dog Bandit is outside howling.

Oops, this isn't my dog, this is a Lama.

This is my dog. Okay, our dog.

Generally, you'd find Bandit outside...

frolicking in the snow,

fishing (sort of),

roaming free up at Tchentlo Lodge,

inside watching TV with his family.

However, Bandit has a new girlfriend whose mum and dad only let out a night. Which means that now I can't get Bandit to come in after dark. And during the day when I'm trying to write, Bandit is either...

begging to get out, or sitting outside the front door howling for his girl.
Have you ever heard a Syberian Husky howl? My dog could win a marathon.
Or is that howlathon?
So, please...
if you see this dog...

could you send her to our place. Bandit's heart is breaking.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

How Old is Young?

We celebrated our granddaughter's birthday this past weekend at the Aquatic Centre in Prince George. I watched from the sidelines and thought, she looks so small compared to everyone else.

Selena is 7 now. Young in numbers, but if you look closely, you'll see an old soul.That's her little brother Reece in the background.

When I say old soul, I'm referring to the expression in Selena's brilliant blue eyes. There's such wisdom there.
Yes, we all look upon our children and see things that no one else notices. And we assume we're here to teach them and guide them. Already, when I make a statement, Reece's response (he's 4) is a pact, "I know."

Selena, on the other hand, smiles.

Vera is Selena's 93-year-old great grandmother. I meant to take a picture of just the two of them to show you the similarities, but I got caught up on the festivities. Vera and Selena have the same eyes.
The only difference is Vera's confusion is more prevalent.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Interview with author Pat Bertram

Joylene: Pat, please tell us a little about Daughter Am I.
Pat: Daughter Am I is the story of a young woman who inherits a farm from murdered grandparents she never knew she had. Since her father won’t talk about them or explain why he told her they were dead, she sets out on a journey to discover who those grandparents were and why someone killed them. Armed with a little black address book she found in a secret room in the farmhouse, she travels halfway across the country talking to people who knew her grandfather. Through the stories those feisty octogenarians tell, she learns the truth about her grandparents and herself.
Joylene: What is the origin of Daughter Am I?
Pat: I have an historian friend who used to tell me stories about the Mob and how so much of what we thought we knew was untrue. For example, Al Capone was not the great crime boss depicted in so many old movies. He was the front man for the commission that ran Chicago. When he served a ten-month prison sentence for carrying a pistol, it was business as usual in the city. I decided to write a book so I could tell some of these stories. I’ve always like the story within a story format.
Joylene: Do you think writing this book changed your life? How so?
Pat: I wish I could say writing this book changed my life, it would make a good story, but the fact is, it made little difference. Daughter Am I was the third novel I wrote. I’d already experienced the joy and sense of accomplishment completing a novel gives one, and I’d already experienced the disappointment that comes from having a novel rejected. Now, if Daughter Am I would go viral, that would change my life!
Joylene: What has changed for you personally since you wrote your first book?
Pat: The main thing that changed for me in the eight years since I wrote my first book is that I learned how to write! That first book was such a horror that I have it locked away in the basement. Not really. I don’t have a basement. But the novel really was dreadful. Other changes came when I got a computer, signed up for the Internet, and began communicating with writers around the world. The final change came when Second Wind Publishing accepted my novels for publication.
Joylene: What do you think was the greatest obstacle in completing Daughter Am I?
Pat: The greatest obstacle? That’s easy -- me! The story came to me all in one day. Even the biggest story problem -- why the gold was buried -- was resolved that very night when I read a book about the war on gold. Still, even though I knew the story, it took me eleven months to write the first draft. Words come slowly to me. I’m not one who can sit down and just write what comes to mind. I have to dredge the words from somewhere deep inside.
Joylene: Can you tell us a little about the process of getting your book published?
Pat: Getting Daughter Am I published was simple. I just told my publisher I had another book and asked if he was interested. Getting the first two published was the hard part. Two hundred rejections! That pretty much tells the story. I did have three agents over the years, but none of them were any good, so I started querying publishing companies that accepted unagented submissions. During one of my querying spates, I happened to stop by a discussion thread on and found a link to Second Wind that someone had posted. I immediately shot off a query, got a manuscript request in a couple of days and an acceptance within a couple of weeks.
Joylene: Has having two books under your belt made the writing and marketing of Daughter Am I easier or harder?
Pat: Daughter Am I was written before A Spark of Heavenly Fire and More Deaths Than One were published, otherwise it would never have been written. Since publication, I’ve written almost nothing except blogs and articles. I’ve been spending my creative time trying to figure out how to get my books known. The promotion is a bit easier because I’m more comfortable with social networks, and I’m friends with a lot more people, but marketing is just as difficult. To me, promoting is letting people know about the book, marketing is getting them to buy it. I still need to learn how to market!
Joylene: What's the future hold for you? What's your next book about?
Pat: I hope the future holds more books! One of these days I will get back to my work-in-progress, a whimsically ironic apocalyptic fantasy. My poor hero has been sweltering under a tangerine sun for over a year! He’s not very happy with me. I am also planning to write a graphic novel. And lastly, I’m planning on selling a ton of books . . . as soon as I figure out how.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Pat Bertram, author of DAUGHTER AM I

Please welcome my returning guest host, Pat Bertram. Her new novel, Daughter Am I has just been released and this week she's doing her virtual book tour. I'm thrilled to have her back.

Pat Bertram is a native of Colorado and a lifelong resident. When the traditional publishers stopped publishing her favorite type of book — character and story driven novels that can’t easily be slotted into a genre — she decided to write her own. More Deaths Than One and A Spark of Heavenly Fire, available at Amazon and from Second Wind Publishing, are Bertram’s first novels.

I once got in an argument with someone who claimed that writers have no business writing about places they have never visited. To be honest, it wasn’t much of an argument since I never got a chance to speak. Still, he did make a point -- there really is no way to impart the true flavor of a place unless you have experienced it. On the other hand, how much do you really need to say about a location to put a reader in place? If you are writing a travelogue, you need to know a lot, but if you are writing a novel, you only need to know enough to set the scene.

I’ve been to very few of the places I talk about in my books. I’ve lived in Denver, stayed in northern Wisconsin for about a year. I visited the outskirts of Chicago once, perhaps drove through Peoria. But I never went to Thailand or the Philippines. Never went much of anyplace. So does that mean I’m not allowed to let my characters visit exotic locales? Nope. It just means I need to do a bit of research. Find a few significant details that let the reader envision the scene, smell it, hear it, taste it. Even better is to show those details through the character’s eyes, through the character’s emotions. And lastly, include an aspect that is so common all readers have experienced it. If this aspect is real, if the character’s emotion is real, then the place will be real.

In Daughter Am I, I have Mary Stuart, my hero, driving along North Avenue in Chicago. The house where her grandfather had grown up, along with most of the original buildings on the street, had been bulldozed and replaced with modern townhouse developments already showing signs of age.

Mary drove slowly down the street, ignoring the honking horns of irate drivers, and wondered what it had been like when her grandfather lived there. Had there been so much traffic? So many people? So much noise?

I found the information about the townhouses in a travelogue, and for the rest of it, we’ve all been there -- a busy street is a busy street is a busy street.

I’ve never been to Cluculz, but I could write a scene that takes place on the lake. The character would be slapping idly at mosquitoes, listening to the cry of a loon, feeling a cool breeze and thinking about the coming winter, perhaps see a fishing boat silhouetted against a stunning red and orange sunset, maybe hear the cry of a baby from the nearby Lakeside RV Resort. Novelists don’t need to have experienced the places their characters visit. They only need to find enough details to make the reader feel as if the character has been there.

I’d never write an entire novel that takes place somewhere I’ve never been -- it would be too easy to make a mistake. But a scene or two? No problem.

-- Pat

* Pat will be back Monday for her one on one interview

Monday, October 19, 2009

THEYTUS BOOKS, Indigenous Publishing House.

Several months ago, the distributor for my novel Dead Witness, Nancy Wise from Sandhill Book Marketing, suggested I contact Theytus Books about publishing my novel Broken But Not Dead. I did. And last Saturday, October 17, I signed a contract. Note the gigantic smile on my face:

Anita Large, myself, Tracy Lawlor

Theytus Books was established in 1980 and became the first First Nations owned and operated Indigenous publishing house in Canada. The name Theytus is a Salishan word meaning "preserving for the sake of handing down." Selected by its' First Nations founder Randy Fred, the name Theytus was selected to symbolize the goal of documenting Indigenous cultures and worldviews via books. I'm very proud to be associated with them.

Anita Large, publisher and Tracy Lawlor, sales and marketing, gave me a warm welcome, full of enthusiasm and excitement over the publication of my book Broken But Not Dead. While our relationship has only just become, already I feel a connection to these incredibly talented women. They stand for everything I admire in my culture and my country: integrity, honour and dedication to their craft.

Thanks to Nancy Wise for suggesting I query Theytus, and for all the kind words she said about my first novel Dead Witness. Because I self-published Dead Witness, the process of publishing Broken But Not Dead will be a new experience for me. I'll keep you updated on the process and in doing so, I hope I clear up any misconceptions about the business.

Here's a brief description of my psychological thriller Broken But Not Dead:

When it comes to the safety of her daughter Zoe, retired English Professor Brendell Kisepisim Meshango knows no limit. Frightened beyond words, she draws upon an inner strength to go after her stalkers, a psycho and his murderous brother. What she must do to survive requires more than even she thought she was capable of.

Nancy Wise, Sandhill Book Marketing

Thank you to everyone for your support for Dead Witness. I hope you enjoy Broken But Not Dead with the same enthusiasm.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


While I'm skirting on down the highway to Kelowna today, please welcome Carol J. Garvin, my guest blogger.

Occasionally popping up from beneath the protection of her pseudonym, Careann, Carol Garvin writes fiction, non-fiction and poetry from her rural home in BC’s Fraser Valley. She is a member of the Federation of BC Writers and the Langley Writers’ Guild. Her magazine articles appear in assorted Canadian publications but her novels do not (yet). In what is laughingly referred to as her free time, she indulges her love of photography, gardening, oil painting, music, all aspects of the purebred dog fancy, and of course, reading… always reading!

by Carol J. Garvin

You hear it all the time: “I've got this great idea for a novel that I'm gonna write.” It's a little daunting but not an impossible task, right? Once you finally latch on to some spare time you gather your writing tools, find a place to work and get the story written.

::tap, tap, zap:: That's the delete key removing the first page because it isn't getting into the nitty-gritty of the story fast enough.

::chomp, snap:: That's the sound of fingernails being chewed off as you contemplate the unfamiliar characters that have wandered into your story and taken over a scene that now has nothing to do with anything.

::agghhhh!:: That's your scream of exasperation as you discard 283 pages that took you three months to dredge from your creative soul, only to realize that there's no evidence of a plot.

If you employ a seat-of-the-pants approach to your writing (what I call the 'Alice in Wonderland' method: “start at the beginning and when you get to the end, stop”), your story might meander in circuitous directions and never reach the satisfying conclusion you once envisioned. But what can you do if the only alternative to pantsing seems to be plotting and, like me, you hate being confined to a predesigned outline because tight control over the story kills the joy of spontaneous writing? You compromise, combine the most useful elements of both techniques and start planning!

Planning doesn't mean pre-thinking every detail of your story. It just means that as for any journey, making a few initial preparations before you jump into the vehicle will leave you free to enjoy the adventure of storytelling without the frustration of getting lost in a jungle of words.

My first two novels were 'pantsers'. Both have since gone through several revisions as I try to repair major problems. I decided I needed a more organized approach for the third novel and undertook to follow Randy Ingermanson's “Snowflake Method” of designing a story.

Based on the Koch Snowflake, which is a mathematical phenomenon, a fractal, the Snowflake Method is Randy's idea for growing a story from its basic idea to its complex completion. It uses a progression of ten steps, each one returning to expand on the one before. I tried diligently to follow them but the process just about scuttled my story!

I need more flexibility than the Snowflake Method allows, more freedom, rather than an intimidating web of plot and character details. So I salvaged the steps that had been working for me, threw away the ones that were suffocating my creativity, and emerged with a five-point plan that would ensure there was a sound structure in place before I started again but would allow me wiggle room as I proceeded. Here's my plan:

    ο    Create a one-sentence summary of the story.
    ο    Expand the one sentence into a paragraph that outlines the story basics.
    ο    Expand that paragraph into a page or two (or however many you need) to introduce the main characters, the conflict, complications, and resolution. Include how the MC will change throughout the story  (i.e., intended character arc).
    ο    Create a spreadsheet into which highlights of each chapter's action will be inserted as the first draft is written.
    ο    Write and then rewrite as necessary, adding texture with more details and description in each successive revision.

All this assumes you've taken the time to get familiar with what constitutes good writing. If you need a little prompting check out Joylene's earlier blog on Seven Easy Steps to Writing a Novel. But when you're ready to start, do a little preliminary groundwork. Planning finds a comfortable mid way between pantsing and plotting, providing vital structure without constraining creativity.

Just as other methods didn't work for me, so this specific one might not work for you either. If it doesn't, improvise. Do whatever it takes to find a personal approach that meets your creative needs but ensures quality writing. By having at least an elementary plan in place before beginning your novelling journey, your chances of reaching the desired destination is much better than by starting it off with a vague idea and no prearranged way of developing it.

Now, go dig those 283 pages out of the trash and see what gems you can salvage. After all, you've got a novel waiting to be written. It would be a shame to let all the expended blood, sweat, tears and fingernails be for naught.

=  =  =

Links to insert:
Snowflake Method:

Seven Easy Steps to Writing a Novel:

Sunday, October 11, 2009


Today my family and I sit down for our annual Thanksgiving Dinner, grateful that our son, who served with the 4AD SUAV in Kandahar for seven months, is home this Thanksgiving with his friends and family. We sit down to hot turkey, thick gravy, sweet potatoes and lots of cookies and squares, more thankful than we can ever say.

Our thoughts are with those who still serve in the Middle East and with the families left behind. God Bless you and keep you safe. And thank you for your great service. 

If you're not Canadian, best wishes to you on your Thanksgiving Day.


May God grant us the peace that we all pray for.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Definition of Literary by Martha Engber

(Answer to questions posed 10/6)

I couldn't resist answering tonight about the definition of literary. Here's the best analogy I can think of:

Norman Rockwell vs. Jackson Pollock.

I love Norman Rockwell. I grew up on his illustrations. I've been to his museum. I think he was a terrific artist, and extremely hard-working. His draws readers to think of the situations in which his characters are placed: the girl who worries she'll never grow up beautiful like the actress in the picture on her lap; the African-American girl walking to school in her white dress while surrounded by four guards. Great, great stuff.


He didn't really break any new ground. I can look at his work and then forget it. I like the warm feeling it gives me. But it doesn't make me think all that hard. That's why he's such an icon in our society. People can look at his work, understand it immediately and sympathize with the sentiment. Is that bad? No!

Looking at Jackson Pollock's work — or that of any other modern artist, for that matter — is not so easy. After all, haven't we all at one time or another looked at something that's relatively simple — the proverbial red dot on a white canvas — and thought, "My cat could have done that."

We feel confused, as in why would this piece, instead of some other piece, get the privilege of being placed in a museum? We feel angry because we think the artist is trying to pull one over on us or is trying to be better, loftier, more condescending. We actually have to work to figure out what the artist wanted to say or achieve and in the end, are not given any confirmation of whether we're right.



When all is said and done, what do we remember in the long haul? That lovely portrait of the satin-dressed Lady So-and-So, or that darn dot?

That's the difference between mainstream and literary literature. Both are great. Both fit worthwhile needs in our lives. But each has a different goal.

Mainstream literature deals with the journey of characters through a particular situation.  When the characters reach the end of the journey, the situation resolve and we're left with a feeling of satisfaction and so allow ourselves to forget the story. Is that bad? No!

Literary work, on the other hand, strives to dig deeper, which means we readers might not get that satisfying conclusion. We might end with questions. If the author does a poor job, we're left feeling annoyed and forget the story.

But if the author does a great job, the story continues to haunt us because it deals with such a basic and profound concept that's treated in a way that's so close to real life — where situations rarely resolve themselves quickly or neatly, if at all — we're left in a state of agitation. We have to think about what we think. Is that bad? No! It's just a different goal.

Now let's talk about the actual wording. To me, literary work does not mean throw in as many $50 words as you can. It does not mean confuse people as much as possible because that'll give the impression I'm smarter.

Many literary books are very simply worded. Hemingway is famous for his simple sentences, which so something like, ""The man asked for a coffee," and  "We went out together."

Pretty simple stuff. The same is true of "The Stranger" by Albert Camus. Rather than coming up with complex and difficult to read sentences, then, the emphasis of literary work is on the placement of words; the intolerance of extra word; and the order in which they're placed to gain the most effect.

Mainstream literature in quite often wonderfully written. The primary goal, however, is to convey meaning rather than a sense of art. "He knew he couldn't do the job any longer, so he quit." That does the job, so why bother with something more subtle? "He laid down the white apron he'd worn for thirty-two years. He let his fingers sink into the cotton and rest against the metal counter beneath."

The first sentence leaves the situation clear. The second doesn't. Which one is better? We don't know, because we don't know the goal of the author and who she's writing the story for. Does she want to create a story that will give people a few hours of enjoyment and leave them feeling satisfied? Or does she want her readers to think harder about the underlying human condition?

And yes, genre fiction can cross over into the literary. "Day of the Jackal" is a classic, not because it's a quick spy read, but because it's the haunting tale of a man facing his worst fear, that when it matter most, he'll fail.

And yes, Stephen King has actually written quite a bit of literary fiction, some under his own name and some under a pseudonym (or two).

And yes, the literary market is much, much smaller than the genre markets, of which romance rules, probably because literary does take more time and thought to register.

I think the biggest mistake people make is in assuming literary is better than mainstream, when I think the two have such different goals the argument becomes one of apples and oranges.

My suggestion is to read across the board — poetry, essays, genre short stories, literary fiction, etc. — because there's something to be gained from each and the stretch for the mind is stimulating, and for writers in particular, necessary.

Martha Emgber's Story Template

While I was writing Growing Great Characters From the Ground Up: A Thorough Primer for the Writers of Fiction and Nonfiction (Central Avenue Press, 2007), I realized the book is not so much about a method of character development as it is a guide for living.

I found myself applying every lesson to the world around me: How to observe other people and appreciate every difference, from appearance to language to gestures. How to use one small, telling detail to figure out what makes them tick. Why people’s greatest weaknesses are often also their greatest strengths. What could I figure out about myself by applying the same powers of observation?

So that when you all — Joylene’s faithful readers — asked me on Monday to divulge the template I use to create and test each scene I write, I decided to do so, though with this recommendation:

Step outside the role of a writer who might only see the following as a writer’s tool. Instead, view the list as a “seeing” checklist, one that will help you better observe the world around you.

Again, this template is very particular to my needs and a work in progress devised from the advice of writers far greater than myself. As you read, think about how you look at the world. What do you notice and why? If you, right now, look around you, what does this template help you see and understand?

Better yet, take the list to a coffee house, courtroom, therapy group or some other peopled place of drama. Now what do you see?

 Martha’s Scene (Seeing) Template

—   What’s happening?


—   Date
—   Time
—   Location
—   Weather
—   People present

Two questions

—   Why is this happening?
—   Why is it happening at this point in time?

Structure of scene

—   Who’s the focus (main character)?
—   From who’s point-of-view is the scene occurring?
—   What’s the goal of the main character in the scene?
—   What action (emotional exchange) takes place?
—   What’s the concrete problem or conflict?
—   How does that problem change the character? Does he/she meet his goal?
—   What’s the underlying problem that led to this moment?
—   What new problem has been created? (What makes you want to keep watching/reading)?


—   What does each character want?
—   Do those desires conflict? They should.
—   Who has the power?


—   What’s the obstacle?
—   In what position does the obstacle place characters?
—   Do you sense neither will give up?
—   Does the obstacle increase in size?
—   Does the obstacle create suspense long-term?
—   Does the obstacle create tension short-term)?
—   What resolution will readers long for?
—   Will readers have to wait?

Sources of tension (use at least one)

—   a chilling fact
—   dangerous work
—   imminent deadline
—   unfortunate meeting
—   good guy trapped


—   weather
—   physical landscape
—   all five senses
—   placement of characters
—   appearance/dress of each character

If anybody is willing to test this checklist by Friday, either in his/her writing or in a real life moment, I’d love to hear the outcome!

Lastly, I’m looking for book clubs willing to test market my novel, THE WIND THIEF. I’m even willing to provide a free book to each group. If you’re interested, let me know ( and I’ll send a list of simple instructions.

* If you have any questions for Martha, post them under comments, and I'm sure Martha will have an answer for you soon.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Sunset and Veronica

Martha Engber will be back tomorrow, meantime I wanted to share lastnight's sunset with you. Somethings are just too beautiful to describe in words.

The next picture is Vera, my 93-year-old mother-in-law, fondly referred to as Grandma. She was out for the afternoon getting wood with her son.

Like everyone else, I'm fascinated by the fact that Grandma has survived so much: She's lost her husband, her daughter and 2 grandsons. Yet, she carries on, facing each day with a smile. I asked her how she does it. Her replied surprised me. "Being old is no fun. No one should live past their time."

At first I thought her comment contradicted her philosophy toward life, then I realized what she meant by "time." I think she means past the fun part.

Monday, October 5, 2009

An Interview with Author MARTHA ENGBER

An Interview with Martha Engber, author of The Wind Thief and Growing Great Charactgers from the Ground Up.

Martha wrote her first book at the age of seven. About flowers, or "flawrs," it included many lovely illustrations, including a painfully elongated, but happy, brown horse with a mouthful of daisies. Having just finished the project on the way to school, the smell of Crayon still fresh on her hands, she walked into the classroom beaming and handed the professionally stapled book to her teacher who said, "Thanks, now go sit down." She never saw the book again.

She felt so sorry for herself she somehow missed the incident's prophetic message, that writing is a tough biz, and so continued to write with abandon. Long, rhyming poems about diamonds, history essays stocked with $50 words, a truly terrible high school graduation speech. Somewhere along the way her sister gave her a journal for her birthday, upon the painful re-reading of which she concluded that 1) She had nothing interesting to say, and 2) She had to write anyway. In fact, writing, the cheapest form of therapy available, is probably the reason she's never fallen into deep despair, though having a wonderful family, an excellent body chemistry and a somewhat flexible personality doesn't hurt.

In an attempt to turn a passion into a trade, Martha attended journalism school where she wrote about the return of a lost wallet, interviewed Stephen Stills and witnessed a cow butchered at the campus slaughterhouse, among other things. The more people she interviewed, such as politicians, religious extremists, medical professionals, the more she understood the different worlds in which people lived.

Required to accurately quote people (a lofty goal for a college student with no prior experience) she developed an ear for dialog, as in the actual structure of what people say rather than a sanitized version that complies to the rules of grammar. She also picked up more detail and ideas than she could ever use in a single article or broadcast script, and so began squirreling away scraps of dialog, images and situations. After working as a stringer for $25 a story for a year in the St. Louis area, she moved on to part-time work at a daily paper in Wisconsin where she actually wrote about a couple who married their dogs. No doubt a hard act to follow, she moved on to a suburban Chicago weekly before freelancing for the Chicago Tribune. Ice fishing tournaments, Imelda Marcos' shoes, enthralling tell-alls about what kind of nails to use for which home projects, the ideas, images and dialog began to rack up. She sold her first piece of fiction, a goofy children's poem, in June of 1995 and cherished her two free copies. After that, whenever she got something published, she thought, It's got to get easier. But it doesn't. She won't whine anymore, however. Instead she writes. And writes. And writes. Not because fame and fortune await, but because she would be a joyless human being if she didn't. "Find what you love to do and do it."

1. Martha, can you tell us a little bit about yourself? What drew you to write?

Writing saved my life. I’m not prone to dramatization, which should convey the weight of the statement.

I grew up the third of three daughters in a middle-class family in LaGrange, IL, a suburb just west of Chicago’s business district. I thank my parents for a fun childhood in a community where Dutch elms arched the streets and neighborhood kids played tag at night during the summer. I walked to school and several times a week took the Burlington Northern into the Loop for dance lessons, movement being my second passion and the reason I’m now a personal trainer and fitness instructor when I’m not writing.

While my parents afforded me a mostly idyllic youth, they couldn’t change my quiet, secretive, don’t-bother-anyone nature, which insulated me from other people. They thought I was shy, when really I had nothing to say. Or rather, I had everything to say and no idea how to express the depth of what I felt.

But inside!

Inside I was a hurricane. I grew up Catholic and nothing scared me more than being chosen as a saint, because everyone knows saints die young and in some agonizing manner. I was too embarrassed to divulge my worries, even to my mom, and so suffered quietly while every night trying to convince God I wasn’t that good of a kid.

And then there was the night I stood out of sight on the stairs and listened to my oldest sister cry while explaining she’d just heard a girl in school had lost her brother in a car accident, and what if that had been me or my middle sister? And then there was the sound of locusts pulsing a summer night. I’d lay in bed trying to describe the heartbeat sound.

Yet when I opened my mouth—


What? people would say. Did you say something? Can you speak up? What do you mean heartbeat?

So when my middle sister gave me a diary for my 13th birthday, I opened the book and the spigot turned on. One journal led to another and another and another, which led to the beginning of short stories and essays.

Sometimes I’ll go back to read those diaries. It’s all drivel, of course, but what gets me, even now, is how hard I pressed the pen into the paper, especially when I was upset. The more angry I got, the crazier the handwriting, the more vague the arguments. Yet whether I made sense or not didn’t matter. This was the first place I’d found where I didn’t have to justify myself. The physical act of writing slowed down the world and allowed me the time necessary to figure out what I felt and why. In essence, writing taught me how to keep from going crazy. I have no doubt my many years of good mental health are a direct outcome of writing.

As I’ve always said, writing is the cheapest form of therapy around, so go ahead and get crazy. Splurge on another pen or two!

2. What's The Wind Thief about?

The Wind Thief, at its core, is a love story, albeit a very unusual one. So unusual, in fact, that a major publisher passed on the book because the editor was unsure how to market it.
My editor, Armando Benitez, however, had no such chicken-hearted doubts, and pursued my story with dogged determination that resulted in three months of intense back-and-forth editing that for me was a writer’s dream: the focus on what matters most, the word-for-word structure of the sentences and the meaning they convey.

I’d already reworked the story’s summary throughout the years leading up to this final editing, during which I again kept polishing, which resulted the following:


A tale of obsession and redemption, The Wind Thief is the story of two souls who are swept from land to land, one in search of a home, the other in search of a war and both ever a step behind the peace they seek.

Ajay, a young thief from India, is on his way to a better life when he is forced to flee Algiers and subsequently gets lost in the Sahara Desert. He is saved by a strange young woman who believes she can talk to the winds, a gift that will save mankind from an imminent apocalypse only she can stop. Ajay has no choice but to follow her out of the barren wasteland, intending to abandon her once they reach Morocco. Yet when he gets the chance to escape her, he realizes he no longer can. He follows, and continues to follow, even when serious dangers loom.

3. What motivated you to write The Wind Thief?


I’m aware of the immediate connotation that word conjures for most people: ardent sexual emotion. When I think of passion, however, I think beyond that limited definition to any emotion so powerful it must be released.

According to that last interpretation, I’m passionate about wind of all kinds, from slight breezes to near hurricane force blows. From aired baked to desert hot to that frozen by sub-zero temperatures. Wind, to me, embodies the freedom that I feel when I move and write.

So psychologically-inclined, I listened one spring night to a windstorm so loud it woke me up, broke my wind chimes and shook my house. Amidst my worry that an evergreen out back might fall and flatten me, I heard the creepiest scratching just above my head: of leaves scuttling back and forth. The sound struck me as a type of evil on the lookout for a way to slip in. And so I began to wonder: what if wind was not singular, but rather plural? What if each wind was sentient and had its own purpose, its own agenda? And so began the character of Madina, a woman haunted by a world of winds so powerful they could crush the world.

4. What came first, the characters or the plot?

The character of Madina came first. To me, writing is all about finding out why people do what they do. When they take an action, that tells you a little more about who they are and what motivates them. Each action they take is one step in a plot.

5. Do you outline your books, or write linearly?

I’ve experimented in all kinds of ways. Because I began writing this book when I was newer to fiction writing, I started out in a linear fashion. In this last revision, however, I moved to a highly-detailed template I’ve developed for each scene to check my work for gaps in plot, get rid of excess and make sure every move characters make stems directly from their defining details, which assures consistency in their actions.

I’m a seat-of-the-pants writer by nature, but have learned that if I want to become adept at using various advanced tools to convey a story (instead of hoping the story comes out right), I’ve got to be very disciplined at evaluating the technical aspects of my work and using every opportunity to learn.

6. What do you find the hardest part of writing a novel, beginning, middle or end? How do you overcome the obstacle?

Actually, the hardest part is overcoming my impatience.

I’m a very impatient person by nature, but have learned a painful truth: my novels take about 10 years to write. Here’s the even more shocking breakdown: the stories only take 1-2 months to write, while the rest of the time is spent rewriting. It’s only through the constant turning of the story over and over that I can extract the riches of my theme.

This realization is the result of analyzing my pattern of rejections and acceptances.

Fortunately I’ve got a huge portfolio of work. Rather than work one story to death, I can put away a newer project in order to take up and refine an older project.

7. How long did it take to find a publisher for The Wind Thief? How did you maintain inspiration while you waited?

I wrote and rewrote the book for two years before starting the submission process. I found a well-known agent within a few weeks and she started submitting the book. She got a bite from a major publisher, who ultimately passed on the book (as I mentioned above).

The agent submitted the story about 17 times, which covered all the major publishers and the various imprints. Then the agent cut me loose and said, “Good luck!”

I submitted to about 10 medium-sized publishers, then put the book away and started work on my next book.

Throughout the intervening years, I’d keep going back to the story, which I believe is the sign a story is worth fighting for. I kept rewriting and submitting until finding an independent publisher that believes in story first and marketing second, which was the way the publishing industry used to operate.

What sustains me is that I have no choice when it comes to writing. I have to breathe, I have to eat and drink, I have to move and I have to write. Writing is the most delicious dessert possible.

Writing is mediation that leaves my mind calm. Writing is what keeps me from turning into a wicked witch.

Over the years I’ve met countless people who have to force themselves to write. I can’t even imagine that.

8. How has your family and friends reacted to your choice to write?

My husband is an extremely practical guy. While he considered my journalism degree impractical from a self-sustaining economic standpoint, the skills are at least practical.

But banging one’s head against a wall for years and years with no prospect of payment, much less even modest fame and fortune? I don’t think he’ll ever stop shaking his head. But he knows writing is what makes me spark and sparkle, and he likes me sparkly.

In terms of my kids, they’re kids, in that what they’re parents do belongs in some other universe, the farther the better. But as my kids grow older, they’re learning to appreciate the enormity of the task and the cache of being published.

9. When did you first call yourself a "writer"?

I had the advantage of coming out of college as a published writer via my journalism background.
But unfortunately, I took much, much too long to think of and label myself as a writer of fiction and creative nonfiction.

Having grown up a secretive kid, I’d developing a successful strategy of hiding what I was doing. If I failed, no one would know and I’d save myself the embarrassment. If I succeeded, I could say, Ta-da! and everyone would be amazed.

Writing takes so many years of practice, however, that not allowing myself the freedom to see myself as a writer held me back from the bold moves I needed to take to increase my skills and develop a name for myself.

I now believe that when people cease to think of writing as a hobby and begin to see themselves as professional writers, they drop their half-baked efforts and do what it takes to succeed, like enrolling in serious writing programs, creating professionally-formatted manuscripts and actively researching and submitting their work.

10. What do you think is the biggest mistake new writers make today?

To believe that despite the millions of examples to the contrary, they’re different and will achieve success in the short-term, preferable within a year or two of picking up a pen.

Writing is above all else an ultra-marathon sport. Talent has little to do with anything, whereas stamina is the number one predictor of success.

11. In hindsight, is there anything you wish you'd known at the beginning of your career?

I don’t believe in hindsight. I believe that every move we humans take is built on the previous step we took. There’s no way I could have reached this moment in my career even one moment before now.

I know all of this sounds namby-pamby, but there’s no concept I take more seriously than that every moment has the potential to lift us higher, even those that are most crushing.

A rather somber sentiment, but the attitude is one of absolute optimism. We are where we are because of every step we’ve taken before. If we don’t like where we are, we’ve got the option to take new steps.

I did just that last year. I determined my latest novel would follow the same pattern as my past novels (agent acquired followed by rejection, rejection, rejection). So I pulled my novel out of active submission, sought the expertise of a professional editor, ramped up my learning to increase my technical skills, started over with the novel and after being contacted by Armando, rewrote THE WIND THIEF according to my newer and higher standards.


Thanks so much, Martha. It's been learning more about you and your work. Best success on your novel The Wind Thief, and all that follows. It's been a pleasure. I'll see you back here on Wednesday for your guest blog.

Martha will be available to answer any questions you pose next Wednesday. So, by all means, utilize her experience and ask away.

Meanwhile, I'm reading from one of my stories tonight on 93.1 CFIS-FM at 6 PM PST. Hope you get a chance to listen.

Friday, October 2, 2009


Next week my guest blogger will be Martha Engber, author of The Wind Thief and Growing Characters from the Ground Up. Here's a news release on her book.

HOUSTON, TX - Solidifying its reputation as the purveyor of unique, high-quality books, independent publisher Alondra Press announces it newest title, The Wind Thief, an accessible literary novel that fits the bill of an Oprah Book Club pick. The haunting love story by California writer, journalist and public speaker Martha Engber will appeal to the millions of readers who habitually purchase the modestly-priced trade paperback versions of books chosen by Oprah as must-reads.

In specific, the target market for the book consists of female readers between the ages of 30 and 64 who belong to book clubs or choose fiction based on book club recommendations and/or major prizes, such as the National Book Award.

A Unique and Engaging Story

A tale of obsession and redemption, The Wind Thief is the story of two souls who are swept from land to land, one in search of a home, the other in search of a war and both ever a step behind the peace they seek.

Ajay, a young thief from India, is on his way to a better life when he is forced to flee Algiers and subsequently gets lost in the Sahara Desert. He is saved by a strange young woman who believes she can talk to the winds, a gift that will save mankind from an imminent apocalypse only she can stop. Ajay has no choice but to follow her out of the barren wasteland, intending to abandon her once they reach Morocco. Yet when he gets the chance to escape her, he realizes he no longer can. He follows, and continues to follow, even when serious dangers loom.

The Wind Thief combines three features that create a powerful commercial success: an exotic locale, like that portrayed in Isabel Allende’s Daughter of Fortune; a unique story of unusual characters, as in Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides; and a deeply personal journey reminiscent of The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje.

An Affordable Price

The Wind Thief will be aggressively marketed by Alondra Press via an affordable price of $10.95 in a strategy that capitalizes on the in-person and online platform developed by Martha Engber.

A dynamic and experienced public speaker, Martha is the author of Growing Great Characters From the Ground Up: A Thorough Primer for Writers of Fiction and Nonfiction (Central Avenue Press 2007). Martha teaches and lectures to hundreds of people each year through in-person events at bookstores, conferences and meetings and through online classes. She has a fully-developed website, maintains a blog for writers and has an author page on She’s also a member of the Women’s National Book Association, which actively encourages readers to join book clubs through national events backed by bestselling authors like Amy Tan and Holly Goddard Jones and sustaining members such as Ingram Book Group, HarperCollins and Chronicle Books.

A journalist by profession, Martha has interviewed former First Lady of the Philippines Imelda Marcos, Apollo 13 astronaut James Lovell, actress Marlo Thomas and other celebrities. She’s had a full-length play produced in Hollywood. Her poetry and fiction have appeared in Watchword, Iconoclast, Bookpress, the Berkeley Fiction Review and other literary journals.

An Emerging Independent Press

The Wind Thief is the latest title from Alondra Press founded by Kathleen Palmer and Solomon Tager in 2007.

Though only two years old, the press has accrued a strong list of unusual and engaging books like Rio San Pedro (Henry Hollenbaugh), a fictionalized journal of a man’s crocodile-hunting years in Central America during the 1950s, The Canyon Chronicles (K. Gray Jones), a historical novel based on the early history of the Mormon Church, and The Other Face of Murder (Dr. Gil Porat), a tragic-comedy that confronts end-of-life issues.

For additional information about The Wind Thief, contact:
Martha Engber
(408) 243-7662
Kathleen Palmer/Solomon Tager (founders)
Amando Benitez, Editor
Alondra Press

In anticipation of Martha's guest blog next week, if you have any questions about writing, need some advise or even a second opinion, Martha has agreed to answer as many are posted. So, everybody, fill your boots! And we'll see you then.