Interview of Elaine Russell, author of Across the Mekong River

An author of several books, three with Indie Brag Medallions.  An author for over 20 years, Ms. Russell draws from her travels weaving both culture and fiction together.  

1. What were your goals and intentions in this book, and how well do you feel you achieved them?

After learning about the harsh plight of the Hmong refugees who fled Laos after the Vietnam War and the difficulties they endured in adapting to life in the U.S., I wanted to tell their story. So few Americans know about the history of Laos and its role in the Vietnam War. Many don’t understand why so many Southeast Asians resettled in America. There are many excellent non-fiction books on the Hmong in America, but I hoped a fictional story might reach a wider audience. I wanted to write a story that would inspire more compassion and understanding for the challenges the Hmong and other Vietnam War refugees have endured. I felt the story was best told through the different voices of the older parents and their young daughter, as each faced unique experiences, which invoked very different emotional reactions. There is also a broader, universal truth in the story that extends to all refugees and immigrants coming to our great country. I hope I have achieved my goals. It is rewarding to hear from readers who say they never knew about this episode in history and now feel great empathy for what these refugees have endured.

2. What do you think most characterizes your writing?

I find myself writing most of my stories in first person narrative. It helps me to truly put myself in the position of my characters so I can understand their emotions, motivations, and hopes. I need to feel very close to their hearts and minds. I hope the readers will as well.

3. What was the hardest part of writing this book?

It took me a very long time to complete this novel, almost ten years on and off. I had to keep pushing myself to dig deeper and fill in the missing pieces until the book was truly ready to publish. I spent over six month working with an excellent editor to finalize the story, which was great but exhausting.

4. What did you enjoy most about writing this book?

I loved doing the research, which involved reading many resources and meeting dozens of wonderful Hmong, Mien, and Lao-Americans. I am so grateful to the people who shared their families’ experiences with me, which were often quite heartbreaking. They wanted so much for their stories to be told, and I was honored to do this. While my book is fiction, it is based on the true events of many different people.

5. How did you become involved with the subject or theme of your book?

I became interested in Hmong refugees when a number of Hmong children attended my young son’s elementary school in Sacramento years ago. About the same time, the Sacramento Bee published a series of articles on their resettlement in Sacramento. This was followed by my book group reading Ann Fadiman’s The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, a nonfiction book on Hmong beliefs in conflict with the Western medical system. And as if by serendipity, a young Hmong woman came to work in my husband’s office. She shared her story with me and introduced me to many of her friends. I traveled to Laos a few years later and became interested in the problem of unexploded cluster bombs left in the ground from U.S. bombing during the war. The bombs are still killing and maiming people all these years later. I volunteered with the U.S.-based nonprofit Legacies of War, which works to get more funding for bomb clearance. Through this work I met many Hmong and Lao refugees.

Tens of thousands of Hmong, Mein, and Lao, one third of the population of Laos, were forced to flee the country after it fell to a communist government following the end of the Vietnam War. Many ended up resettling in the U.S. after years in Thai refugee camps in dreadful conditions. Although I was a young woman during the Vietnam War, I knew virtually nothing about what had happened in Laos. I wrote several academic articles on this history and the wars aftermath during my work with Legacies of War.

6. Why did you choose to write in your particular field or genre? If you write more than one, how do you balance them?

I feel this story chose me rather than the other way around. I was a history major in college and have always had a keen interest in the way the past shapes our current world. I would call Across the Mekong River historical fiction (although some of the story takes place in more recent times). I am currently writing an adult novel that is also historical fiction set in 1901, but with a much lighter story. I also have written a children’s middle grade, mystery series, a young adult novel, and a middle grade nonfiction picture book on Thailand. I follow my heart in my writing what interests me, rather than selecting a particular genre. I love incorporating the history and culture of other countries in my stories.

7. Where did your love of books/storytelling/reading/writing/etc. come from?

I always loved reading from a young age. My mother took my sister and me to the library every week to pick out books. At about ten years old, I decided I wanted to be a writer (that is when I first read Little Women and wanted to be Jo). I would write funny short stories about my dog and my family. Perhaps it came from being a very shy child and spending a lot of time alone.

8. How long have you been writing?

I’ve been writing full time for over 20 years, ever since I was able to ease out of my day job (environmental and energy analyst) a few years after I had my son. In earlier years I wrote boring reports for work and dabbled in writing fiction.

9. What inspires you?

I take inspiration from nature, being in a quiet relaxing place where I can think and create. My husband and I are very fortunate to own a condo in Kauai, where we spend part of the year. It is my writer’s retreat. I do my best writing there without interruptions. The beauty of the ocean and landscape and the warm air sets my mind free.

10. What do you like to read in your free time?

I read mainly fiction – contemporary, literary, historical, and occasionally mysteries. Some recent favorites: All the Light We Cannot See, A Gentleman in Moscow, Girl Waits with Gun, and News of the World. Novels must be well written or I can’t get through them, not even with a clever plot. I also enjoy nonfiction at times. I read Up From Slavery and All the Great Prizes: The Life of John Hay this past fall.

11. What projects are you working on at the present?

I am currently writing a historical novel set in 1901 Denver, Colorado, with the women’s suffrage movement as the backdrop. It is based in part on my great-grandmother who was one of the early women doctors in Denver. I loved doing the research and learning about the events of the era, and how people behaved and dressed, their interests, etc. In the course of my research in Denver, I got to hold and read an original letter from Susan B. Anthony!

I am in the final editing stages and hope to have the book out in the next year or so.

12. What do your plans for future projects include?

For the last year I’ve been studying French to fulfill a lifelong desire to speak the language. The speaking part is still difficult for me, but I’m able to read and write a lot better. I want to write a novel set in French Colonial Laos. In order to research this period of time, I will need to read a number of books written in French. I love a challenge!

13. When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

I wanted to write from the time I was young. English and writing were always my best subjects in school and writing clearly was one of my strengths in various jobs for my earlier career. I didn’t have the time, money, or dedication to really start writing until later in life. Now I wish I had been able to write earlier as I’m truly passionate about it.

14. How do you find or make time to write?

Finding time to write is always a challenge. At home I have to balance activities promoting my books and writing versus spending time with family and friends, studying French, and volunteering with several non-profit groups. Escaping to Kauai is the best guarantee that I’ll settle down and really work consistently.

15. What question do you wish that someone would ask about your book, but nobody has?

I’m not sure I have an answer for this one…

16. What book would you like to write but haven’t or can’t yet?
I have so many ideas for books, but I’m not sure how I’ll get to them all. I take it one book at a time. I have one novel in particular I’d like to write that is inspired by my husband’s family history, but I’m hesitant to write it while all the relatives are still around. We’ll see…

 

Click here to visit Ms. Russell’s author page.

Interview with Barbara Underwood, Author of the Rhuna Series

Interview with Barbara Underwood

 

What were your goals and intentions in this series of books, and how well do you feel you achieved them?
My goal was to present information and theories about “Ancient Mysteries” such as Atlantis and the building of pyramids and other megaliths all over the world in an enjoyable fictional setting.  It was also my intention to include social issues that have shaped mankind’s past and continue to confront people in our day.

So far, at the completion of the fourth book in the series, I am pleasantly surprised to see how well the series is developing and that it encompasses many subjects that I wanted to share with my readers.

What are some of the references that you used while researching these books?

My interest in ancient mysteries began after reading Thor Heyerdahl’s books about his discoveries of megaliths on Pacific islands, and how they appear to be connected to megaliths in the Americas and other continents.  From then on, I read countless books on the subject, tending more and more into the New Age and esoteric/occult area, where fascinating theories began to spark my imagination.

What do you think most characterizes your writing?

The easy-to-read style and viewpoint from the main character, Rhuna, even though it is written in the third person.  Readers see the world through her eyes, and relate to her because she her thoughts and feelings are clearly expressed.

What was the hardest part of writing these books?

Keeping track of each character, especially as the series developed and more characters were added.  Intertwining each character’s goals or actions with the main plot and subplots is also challenging.

What did you enjoy most about writing these books?

Letting the characters develop themselves, once personality and their circumstances were established.

How did you become involved with the subject or theme of your books?
As mentioned above, reading Thor Heyerdahl’s books sparked my interest in the subject of ancient civilizations and how many things are still unexplained by conventional history and science.

Where did your love of books/storytelling/reading/writing/etc. come from?

Perhaps from my father, who could express himself better with the written word than speaking face to face.  He also read books to me as a child, but other than that, I can’t think of any particular thing or person that inspired me to write.  It was something I just enjoyed doing since early school days.
How long have you been writing?

Since early school days.  Writing something for a school project in 5th or 6th grade wasn’t enough, so I began to write about things in my spare time.  Later, I began writing letters to penpals all over the world, and as an adult I became involved in various things which allowed me to write newsletters or reviews, while still writing accounts of my travels or other experiences to share with penpals.

What inspires you?

The mysteries of ancient civilizations and the concepts found in New Age and esoteric works:  it makes me want to write about the fabulous wonders of the world in which we live.

What do you like to read in your free time?

Currently, I enjoy reading the two series by Charles Todd, namely Inspector Rutledge and Bess Crawford mysteries set in the WW! period; The Pendergast series by Preston and Charles, the gaslight mysteries by Victoria Thompson, all books by Sarah Rayne, and the Hamish Macbeth series by M.C. Beaton.

What projects are you working on at the present?
I’ve just finished the fourth book in the Rhuna series, and I’m preparing ideas for the fifth book, as well as one or two short stories, also featuring Rhuna.

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

It crossed my mind several times during school days, but I took serious steps towards it in my mid-twenties when I began a correspondence course in professional writing.

What question do you wish that someone would ask about your books, but nobody has?

How much of myself and my own life experiences do I put into my stories.  The answer is quite a lot!

 

Rhuna website:

http://www.rhunafantasybooks.com

Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/Barbara-Underwood/e/B008ZT6PBG/ref=dp_byline_cont_book_1

Twitter

https://twitter.com/KeeperWisdom

Facebook

https://www.facebook.com/RhunaKeeperWisdom/?ref=aymt_homepage_panel

Pinterest

https://au.pinterest.com/KeeperWisdom/rhuna-fantasy-book-series/

Google+

https://plus.google.com/u/0/105171705656215274408

Goodreads Author Page

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/946941.Barbara_Underwood

YouTube

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCdTv4GZBM2yG5mY1Jy30MpQ

Barbara’s Blog

http://barbaraunderwood.blogspot.com.au/

 

 

Author Interview with Tahlia Newland, The Locksmith’s Secret

A message from indieBRAG:

We are delighted that Charla has chosen to interview Tahlia Newland who is the author of, The Locksmith’s Secret, our medallion honoree at indieBRAG. To be awarded a B.R.A.G. Medallion ®, a book must receive unanimous approval by a group of our readers. It is a daunting hurdle and it serves to reaffirm that a book such as, The Locksmith’s Secret, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.

 

tahlia-newlandlocksmiths-secret

 

I had the immense pleasure of contacting author, Tahlia Newland, for an interview concerning her book The Locksmith’s Secret. Ms. Newland is based in Australia. – Charla
What were your goals and intentions in this book, and how well do you feel you achieved them?
The Locksmith’s Secret was planned as a sequel to Worlds Within Worlds. I wanted to finish the romance that I began in the first book and also to explore more of the same concepts—that of a person being made up of several strands of experience including past lives, imagination, dreams and spiritual experiences. I think I achieved this pretty well.

What do you think most characterizes your writing?
I’ve been told that my writing makes people feel as if they’re in the scene with the characters, but other than that, I guess it’s the metaphysical aspects of all my work. There is always some spiritual or mental level to my stories.

What was the hardest part of writing this book?
Getting the different strands to weave together so it feels like one story.

What did you enjoy most about writing this book?
I love the ephemeral city—a vacant transparent city floating in space and existing only by the grace of the lines of light that draw it like a sketch. Ella spends most of her time there trying to get to the locksmith who is the only other soul in the whole city, and he’s several floors up in a building with no doors. The story thread, particularly the end, is a symbol of what is actually happening in her real life.

How did you become involved with the subject or theme of your book?
There’s a strong emancipation theme in the book, and that’s just something that I’ve always been concerned about, and the idea of a person having many strands to their existence is also a subject that has fascinated me for years. So I guess these interests just came out in the book.

Why did you choose to write in your particular field or genre? If you write more than one, how do you balance them?
My books are all fantasy or magical realism with a touch of romance. I like these genres because they have lots of scope for powerful metaphysics.

Where did your love of books/storytelling/reading/writing/etc. come from?
I’ve been an avid reader since I was a young child. I saw books as a doorway to worlds that I would never see any other way. Now I can share the worlds of my imagination with others.

How long have you been writing?
Since 2007. My first publication was in 2010.

What inspires you?
Ideas and mental images.

What do you like to read in your free time?
Fantasy and sci-fi and sometimes really good lit fiction or a cozy mystery.

What projects are you working on at the present?
My energy at the moment is going into a pod and video cast called Happiness Hints, which is on You Tube, Podbean, Stitcher and iTunes. I put out a show every week, so it’s taking all my writing time for the moment. If it doesn’t take off after a few months, I’ll go back to writing.

What do your plans for future projects include?
I have a steampunk book ¾ done (The Rise of the Aether Mages) and an adult fantasy romance in the works.

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
I never wanted to be a writer, it just happened when I got inspired for The Diamond Peak Series. Inspiration drove me to learn what I needed to learn in order to write well.

How do you find or make time to write?
I’m under-employed so I have plenty of time. When I’m in the midst of a project I get up early and write before the day gets going.

What question do you wish that someone would ask about your book, but nobody has?
Is mind really that powerful? The answer is ‘yes.’

What book would you like to write but haven’t or can’t yet?
I would like to finish Captive, which is the fantasy romance I mentioned above, but it’s a tricky one because the protagonist is taken for a ‘personal’ slave, so it’s a subject matter that needs to be handled carefully. The theme of the book is that real freedom comes from mental freedom. I’ve written two drafts, but haven’t felt ready to finish it yet. It needs a time when I can really focus on it.

 

Stop by Tahlia’s website to keep up on her writings: http://tahlianewland.com

 

Author Interview with Michelle Eastman, The Legend of Dust Bunnies, A Fairy’s Tail

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A message from indieBRAG:

We are delighted that Charla has chosen to interview Michelle Eastman who is the author of, The Legend of Dust Bunnies, a Fairy’s Tail, our medallion honoree at indieBRAG. To be awarded a B.R.A.G. Medallion ®, a book must receive unanimous approval by a group of our readers. It is a daunting hurdle and it serves to reaffirm that a book such as, The Legend of Dust Bunnies, A Fairy’s Tail, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.

michelle-eastman

To know more, visit Michelle’s social media/websites at:
http://www.michelleeastmanbooks.com/
https://www.facebook.com/michelleeastmanbooks/
https://www.facebook.com/PBPiO

What were your goals and intentions in this book, and how well do you feel you achieved them?
The goal for publishing my first book, The Legend of Dust Bunnies, a Fairy’s Tail, was to create a picture book for my son. Initially, I had no intention of publishing it for others to read. I just wanted him to have something special from me. Thankfully, the story became much bigger than that, and I am delighted with the way things turned out. Collaborating with illustrator Kevin Richter was a wonderful experience, and that experience led to book number two, Dust Fairy Tales: Absolutely Aggie.

What do you think most characterizes your writing?
What most characterizes my writing is rewriting. I always begin with a legal pad and pen, and a messy, disjointed series of drafts. I cross things out, switch things around, and highlight pieces I like. When I feel I have most of the story fleshed out, I type the first draft on my PC. Then, it begins again. I write and rewrite over and over until I think it is ready to for others to critique.

What was the hardest part of writing this book? 
Oddly enough, the hardest part of writing both of my books was creating the synopsis for the back of the book. I find it very difficult to sum up the entire story in two to three sentences.

What did you enjoy most about writing this book?
One of the things I enjoyed most about writing both books was creating the dedication page. It means a lot to me to be able to acknowledge the people I love who encourage my writing journey. Being able to acknowledge my son in both books was fantastic.

How did you become involved with the subject or theme of your book?
The idea for magical dust bunnies came to me in college when we were asked to write our own picture books for a children’s literature class. The two books I’ve subsequently written borrow from the original idea, but there is very little of that original story in either book.
The theme both of my books touches on is the desire kids feel to fit in or belong. Both books explore the struggle kids can experience with peer relations, as well as the joy that comes with embracing your own individuality.

Why did you choose to write in your particular field or genre?
Picture books are a passion of mine. I love to read old favorites and discover new titles. I consider it an honor to be a picture book author.

Where did your love of books/storytelling/reading/writing/etc. come from?
I have written and pursued creative arts throughout my life. Picture books have always held a special place in my heart. As a mom, reading to my son every night is a special tradition we still share (even though he’s now eleven).

How long have you been writing?
I have enjoyed writing since early elementary school, but I did not pursue publishing my writing until 2013. After researching agents and publishers, and submitting a few queries, I decided to explore independent publishing. For me, indie publishing turned out to be a great fit. Throughout my journey, I’ve connected with many indie and traditionally published authors, and I’ve gained a wealth of knowledge about the publishing business. At some point, I may pursue traditional publishing, but for now, I am happy with the flexibility and creative control I enjoy as an indie.

What inspires you? 
Reading all of the wonderful contemporary picture books as well as discovering, and rediscovering, old classics inspires me. As a mom, educator, and author, I am also inspired to have an impact in my community. When I learned that nearly 2/3 of children living in poverty do not own books, I decided to make a difference. I created the literacy initiative, Picture Book Pass it On, to get books to children of incarcerated parents. Since 2014, we’ve collected more than 800 books for kids in need. You can learn more about it at https://www.facebook.com/PBPiO/

What do you like to read in your free time?
With an active eleven year-old, I don’t have a lot of free time. In my spare moments, I like to read short stories and historical fiction. I love accessing titles from my public library via Overdrive. It really comes in handy while waiting in the stands during long swim team practices.

What projects are you working on at the present?
I am working on an idea for a new picture book series, as well as a Dust Fairy Christmas Tale.

What do your plans for future projects include?
In the future, I see myself writing juvenile historical fiction. It’s a genre I loved reading as a child, and I am excited about all of the possibilities.

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
I have written stories and poems since childhood. Becoming an author has been a life-long dream. I feel fortunate to have made that dream into a reality.

How do you find or make time to write?
I am not as disciplined as I should be. I tend to be more of a binge writer. Once an idea is in my head, I write incessantly until it is complete. Once I am committed to publishing a story, I do not work on other ideas. I may jot other ideas down for later, but I am not good at multi-tasking writing projects.
What question do you wish that someone would ask about your book, but nobody has?
Well, kids ask some pretty intriguing questions. They may have covered most of them. One of the aspects of being a published author I like best is traveling to schools and libraries and speaking with children. I always wish that Kevin, the illustrator of my books, could be with me to answer questions. His art work is amazing, and kids are always interested in his process. Unfortunately, Kevin is in the UK, and I am in Iowa. So, the logistics don’t lend themselves well to joint author visits.