Interview with Laurel Bragstad, Author of “In the Comfort of Shadows”

A B.R.A.G. Medallion winner for her book, In the Comfort of Shadows, Ms. Laurel Bragstad shared some of her goals, history, and writing secrets.  A writer of contemporary and historical romance.

 

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

One of my intentions was to write a book that would interest women readers who are between 50-75 years old and present ideas related to dealing with haunting memories. My main goals were to deal with real-life issues of loss and regret, to honor my parents’ memories, and to honor my dad’s long-forgotten cousin by including some of his WW2 diaries. I feel like I achieved these very well.

 

What do you think most characterizes your writing?

I try to create realistic dialog and logical situations between characters. People have also told me that my book was a “quick read” – not because the writing was simple, but because they became involved with the characters.

What was the hardest part of writing this book?  

I used excerpts from the WW2 diaries of my dad’s cousin. I met my dad’s cousin and acquired the diaries after he died. However, the diary entries were in small pocket notebooks; entries were not in chronological order, and some of the writing had faded over the years. So, first I had to use a magnifying glass to read the diaries as I typed them all out and put them in order. Next, I checked the dates and facts that were recorded in the diary pages just to be sure things like dates of certain battles and names of places were accurate for the entries I used verbatim. Since the author of the diaries is also one of the main characters (Emmett) and a family member, I also wanted to be sure I stayed true to his voice and memory.

 

What did you enjoy most about writing this book?

I liked overlapping the stories of two main characters, Ann and Emmett, together. The characters are in the same family but a generation apart, yet connected by different threads of the same sad memories. I enjoyed developing their relationship, tying ends together, and bridging the generational gap.

 

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

My main character, Ann, is adopted. I am not adopted but my mother died when I was four and a half. I always felt a sense of loss—even though my dad remarried a wonderful, loving woman. My dad refused my questions about my biological mother and that saddened me over the years. Years later, as my father struggled against the cancer that would eventually take his life, I fantasized about someone who could and would answer all my questions. And when I met my dad’s elderly cousin, the “black sheep of the family,” he seemed to be the perfect choice for a character who knew the family secrets that Ann wanted to exploit.

 

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

This was my first book. Since I spend way too much time writing or revising curriculum (instructions, exams, nonfiction text-type stuff) for my college courses – writing fiction is a wonderful and welcome change of pace.

 

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

Two things: First, whenever I had a question about anything as a child, my dad always said, “Look it up and you won’t forget” instead of answering my question. Second, I like a good mystery – that’s probably related to the first item here regarding asking questions and finding answers. Like storytelling, I see life in general as an ongoing journey for answers, something like problem solving mixed together with wishin’ and hopin’.

 

How long have you been writing?

I suppose I started in my twenties even though I was only writing bits and pieces just for me. My book took ten years to finish because of life interruptions of one sort or another. That’s an example of how I don’t write constantly.
What inspires you?  

I always find inspiration in my garden, where I constantly marvel at how each plant has its own personality. Some only bloom in shade, but does that mean they have dark personalities? Some only thrive in full sun or with lots of attention, but does that mean they are needy? Some flowers are stunning, too beautiful for words. Other plants actually stink, have sharp thorns, or cause allergic reactions if touched. Some provide sustenance for birds, bees, and other critters that scatter their seeds or pollen and insure the plant’s next generation. Some flowers last a long time after being cut and put in a vase while others seem to wilt at the sight of scissors. I can go on about these garden characters. But you probably get the idea.

 

What do you like to read in your free time?
Historical fiction, science-based nonfiction, stories with believable characters in logical but complicated situations.

 

What projects are you working on at the present?
I started a second novel, but I think I’ve written myself in to a corner with it. I need to work one character into and out of a situation… somehow.

 

What do your plans for future projects include?

Make more time for my own writing!

 

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

Not sure I can put a date on that. Seems to me the thought of writing was always there.

 

How do you find or make time to write?

This is always a problem for me. I teach a college course, I also have an online college course, I have two grandsons I love to spend time with, a garden in summer, and usually some kind of craft project going during the winter. But I try to snatch writing time here and there.

 

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

Did you make the characters in your book older because you didn’t want to write about sex?

I suppose younger readers don’t want to think about how sex works between “older people,” and older people want to keep those secrets to themselves. So in that regard, I’m glad no one has asked.

 

What book would you like to write but haven’t or can’t yet?

To Kill a Mockingbird.  J  A forever relevant story with timeless social impact.

 

Click here to purchase her book, In the Comfort of Shadows.

 

 

Interview with Paula Houseman, Author of Odyssey in a Teacup and Apoca[hot]lips

 

I have had the pleasure of reading and reviewing the two Paula Houseman books, Odyssey in a Teacup and Apoca[hot]lips.  She graciously consented to answering my interview questions.  Learn more about this insightful and delightful woman who captivates by being herself.

 

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

I had something to say. I have a viewpoint that’s outside of mainstream thinking—a mode of being that’s helped me through difficulties. And I wanted to get it out there. Initially, I intended to just blog about it, believing it had nothing to do with the book I was writing, which was a collection of unrelated, humorous short stories. But it had everything to do with it!

It’s a way of life and humor is very much a part of that. And once I let the idea weave its way through the stories, they all started to come together to form chapters of a novel, Odyssey in a Teacup. I carried the theme into the next book, Apoca[hot]lips, and it’s continuing in Book 3.

I feel I’ve achieved my objective because couching ideas in humor is a non-aggressive way of getting a message across. Whether or not the reader responds to it consciously, at the very least, it will have planted a seed.

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

I googled a lot! Still, when it came to important facts like laws and rules and procedures and timelines, I didn’t want to misrepresent the truth. So I called the relevant organisations and asked the necessary questions.

But probably my greatest research came from my favorite book, Woman Who Run With the Wolves, by Clarissa Pinkola Estés. And that wasn’t about researching the book’s content, but allowing it to help me explore the contents of my own depths.

  1. What do you think most characterizes your writing?

I’ve been told my writing is very real. It’s bawdy, for sure! But the colorful words and double entendres aren’t there for shock value. They’re not forced. It’s earthy humor—a sacred one.

Writers and readers connect at the most fundamental level of humanness, beyond all the social categories that can divide us. And that’s where I write from.

  1. What did you enjoy most about writing these books?

I’m not a plotter; I’m a pantser—I fly by the seat of my pants. So I didn’t feel bound by a specific plan. I let the characters and the story lead me. And that made the experience mysterious and much more interesting. I just never knew where I was going to be taken, or end up. So, I was the reader as much as I was the writer.

And writing is the one place I can always be all of me. I love that it moves me. If I’m laughing or crying or raging as I write, I know I’m on the right track. If my writing isn’t stirring my passions, I can’t expect it to stir the reader’s.

  1. What was the hardest part of writing these books?

I didn’t find writing the books hard. And that might be because I’m not attached to any writing formula that’s at the risk of not working. I know the creative process is messy, but I trust it. Even being taken into some dark places isn’t what I’d call hard. Challenging, maybe. It’s probably akin to wading through raw sewage at times, but I’ve been there so often, I know that under it all, there’s that warming and inspiring sacred obscenity … the ‘holy shit’!

I guess the part that I did find hard came after I’d finished the books—checking through the editor’s comments, and then scanning the manuscripts after they’d been formatted for ebook and for paperback to see if it everything was correct. Both are laborious and require a lot of focus. And then, there’s the necessity of promoting the books, when I’d rather just be writing.

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

As a baby boomer, I grew up at a time when the catchphrase ‘Children should be seen and not heard’ still held sway. ‘Children’ really just meant girls. Women. But I was pretty feisty, and I was in trouble a lot because I’d laugh at inappropriate times and I had an up-yours attitude!

I had plenty to say and I wanted it to be heard. It just wasn’t what my family wanted to hear. Being hamstrung made for a difficult childhood and adolescence. Reading allowed me to escape into the alternative realities books offered. Writing has allowed me to create alternative realities. More than that, though, it’s allowed me to be heard as an individual, and as a woman.

  1. How did you become involved with the subject or theme of your books?

It was about twelve years ago. I’d read Estés from time to time and I found her views uplifting. She shows us that folk tales contain fragments of what you find in the uncut, no-holds-barred ancient myths. And that we don’t just read or tell stories, we live them.

It raised questions for me, not least, if there are only remnants of the original stories in our current ones, then what’s missing from my whole story and my life?

Reading Estés’s book reminded me that it was the wild aspect of me that had gone underground—the ‘Wild Woman archetype’, she calls it. So it answered my question … but only to a point.

And then, as providence would have it, I was drawn to a sociology course at university that also promoted the archetypal approach. The main text was Care of the Soul, by archetypal psychologist Thomas Moore. In it, he exposes what he calls the ‘salvational fantasy’: Our desire to be saved from our shadow side, which makes us turn to magic bullet solutions—whether that’s a person, vitamin, exercise or diet regimen, or therapeutic modality.

At first, I hated what Moore had to say because I realized I was hostage to this fantasy. I wanted my wild woman back, but I also wanted to be rescued from the darkness where she resides! Like most people, I’d understood the idea of bettering myself meant heroically wiping out ‘undesirable’ aspects—negative thoughts and feelings and impulses. But these things are innate; you can’t erase them. And it’s unhealthy to deny them a place in our psyches and lives.

When I started to embrace this archetypal model that holds a place for everything, life became easier. I got that ‘rising above’ stuff isn’t a sign of bravery; diving into it is. Discovering that my story was much more comprehensive than a fairytale-like framework helped me become accepting of all of it. And once I did that, the aspects I’d been ashamed of didn’t have to clamor for attention as much.

  1. How long have you been writing?

It began with journal writing twenty-five years ago. Both my parents had died within seventeen months of each other, and apart from the grief, I was left with an avalanche of feelings over having had aspects of me tamped down. I needed to find a safe space to let loose without fear of being judged or shamed. Writing gave me that. And the audience of one grew to include others when I started university. I still had a lot to say, and it was very well-received. It evolved from there: submitting the odd poem to the university’s student publication; joining an online writing community; and then writing my books.

  1. What inspires you?

With my first book, I didn’t have to look past my own childhood and adolescence for inspiration. But the more I unearth the innate comedy in the tragedy, the more I understand just how absurd life is. And it’s that ridiculousness that inspires me!

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

Mystery | thriller | suspense novels. I love whoddunits, particularly, Sandra Brown’s books. She combines mystery with romance and sex.

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

I’m writing Book 3 in the series. But I also have to commit time and energy to promoting the other books, and to blogging (which I don’t do often enough).

  1. What makes your books stand out from the crowd?

Without having read the many thousands of books in my genre, it looks like a difficult question to answer. But I think it’s actually quite simple. When I write, I’m being uniquely me; I’m expressing my essence through that particular medium. It doesn’t make me better or worse than any other writer. Just different. In the words of Dr Seuss, ‘There is no one alive who is Youer than You.’ So, because no one can be Me-er than Me, that’s what sets my books apart from the rest!

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

A couple of years after I started university, I realized what I most loved about the whole experience was essay writing. And I was fortunate in that I had very encouraging tutors & lecturers who applauded my unconventional take on things. It inspired me to become more daring in my essays. But then in my final honors year, I came up against a brick wall. I had to deal with traditionalists, who were scathing in their criticism of my thesis—both my approach and my ideas. In the end, I tried to take on the establishment, but even those who commended my paper and supported me were made to back down. It was disheartening. But it was a turning point. From then on, I decided no one was going to shut me up again! I finished my first book a couple of years later, and I also started blogging.

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

There’s no one question that comes to mind. But I’d like to think my books raise questions in the readers about themselves—ones they might not have considered. Like what I asked myself all those years ago: What’s missing from my whole story and my life?

 

Links:

Author Website: http://paulahouseman.com

Author Blog: http://www.paulahouseman.com/blog/

Author Profile Page on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Paula-Houseman/e/B01547CC5Y

Author Profile Page on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/PaulaHouseman

Smashwords Profile Page: https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/PaulaHouseman

Facebook Profile: https://www.facebook.com/PaulaHousemanAuthor

Twitter Profile: https://twitter.com/paulahouseman

Instagram Profile: https://www.instagram.com/p_houseman/

Pinterest Profile: https://www.pinterest.com/paulahouseman

 

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