Welcome – What book would you like to tell our readers about?
Don’t Leave Yet, How My Mother’s Alzheimer’s Opened My Heart (She Writes Press, 2015) recounts my journey toward understanding our complicated mother-daughter relationship as she struggles through the early stage of dementia-type Alzheimer’s, and my ultimate discovery of compassion and love that goes beyond familial duty.
Do you write in more than one genre? I enjoy the challenge of poetry, creating, and recreating experiences to connect with readers. Finding a precise image or metaphor and using concise and descriptive language engages my mind in sometimes unexpected ways. The discovery can be exhilarating.
What brought you to writing? I was an English major at the University of Wisconsin -Milwaukee. I admired twentieth-century novelists and poets and wondered if I had it in me to create my own work. It wasn’t until after my father died that I began to explore poetry as a way to express grief. A decade later, when my mother was diagnosed with dementia-type Alzheimer’s, my teacher, the terrific poet Ellen Bass, suggested I might explore my experiences further if I went beyond the parameters of poetry. It was then that I turned to prose. It allowed an expansiveness I needed to convey all that I wanted to say. I started by writing vignettes, followed by full scenes with characters, dialogue, and description. Soon I had pages of material with a sense of connectedness.
Where do you write? What, if any, distractions do you allow? I write in my home office, where morning light provides a calm atmosphere and from where I can observe a yellow rose tree and a bevy of finches on the thistle feeder. I don’t tolerate distractions. But I don’t mind my Shih Tsu, Cody, who snores ever so slightly on his bed directly behind me.
Tell us about your writing process: I usually begin writing with a black ballpoint and a Mead notebook. I wrote most of my memoir in notebooks. When I had enough material, I transcribed it into a document on my laptop. I labeled each draft so as not to lose anything interesting or significant. Now I use the same process when writing poetry.
What is the most challenging part of your writing process? Revision is the most challenging. Yet, it’s the part of writing that I enjoy most. I revisit each image and metaphor. When a metaphor doesn’t do its job, I make a list of ten others and then choose the one I think works the best. I also read a poem out loud to gauge the effectiveness of line endings and stanzas. I admit I’m a perfectionist.
What are you currently working on? I’ve recently discovered some old poems that go back several years. I’m trying to revise them but often find myself starting over. I hope to also return to blogging in the near future.
Has an association membership helped you or your writing? The poetry critique group of California Writers Club Tri-Valley Branch, which I lead two times a month, has offered much-needed support as I labor with some of my poems. The members are careful listeners, and they offer critique with enthusiasm. I’ve found the structure and discipline necessary to keep on writing.
Who’s your favorite author? It’s hard to choose just one. I always look forward to reading Jack Kerouac, John Irving, and Jennifer Lauck. My favorite author of all time is John Steinbeck.
What is the best book you ever read? The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. I’ve read it at least three times. I admire its structure, honesty, and intense feeling.
How long did it take you to write your first book? It took five years to write Don’t Leave Yet. I belonged to a writing class in 2004 with Ellen Bass, reading pages each week from my notebook for critique. My mother passed away in 2008, and I was uncertain as to whether or not I could continue to write our story. Ellen, and my fellow writers, were instrumental in my effort to bring the manuscript to its completion a year later.
How long to get it published? Don’t Leave Yet was a finalist in the Pacific Northwest Writer’s Conference writing competition in the memoir category in 2011. One agent from San Francisco who attended the Conference found the book interesting, but that was it. I pursued other agents with no luck. Then I heard about Brooke Warner, the publisher of She Writes Press. I worked with an editor she recommended. She Writes published my memoir in 2015.
What authors did you dislike at first but grew to enjoy? When I read Bel Canto by Ann Patchett, I thought I might cross her off my list. But when I discovered Truth and Beauty, I was hooked.
Do you outline, or are you a pantser? I began writing Don’t Leave Yet without an outline. By the time I completed the third chapter, I had decided an outline was necessary since I wove together scenes of the present with those of the past. It was a way of keeping characters and events clear in my mind.
Looking to the future, what’s in store for you? I plan to continue placing my poems in literary journals if I’m lucky. I will also enter my chapbook, Treading Water, in more literary competitions with the goal of publication. It was recently named a finalist in Blue Lights Press writing contest.
Do you have any advice for new writers? First and foremost, be true to yourself. Write what’s meaningful and what you love. Observe the world. Read widely. And don’t ever let others tell you that you can’t write.
How do our readers contact you?
D. M. Rowell (Koyh Mi O Boy Dah), like her protagonist, Mud, comes from a long line of Kiowa storytellers. After a thirty-two-year career spinning stories for Silicon Valley start-ups and corporations, with a few escapes creating award-winning independent documentaries, Rowell started a new chapter, writing mysteries that also share information about her Plains Indian tribe, the Kiowas. She enjoys life in California with her partner of thirty-eight years, their son, and a feral gray cat.
Never Name the Dead: No one called her Mud in Silicon Valley. There, Mae was a respected professional who had left her Kiowa roots far behind. But when her grandfather called, she had to go back and face her childhood rejection by the tribe. She owed him that. What she didn’t expect was that this visit was only the start of a traditional four-day vision quest that would take her into dark places involving theft, betrayal, murder—and a charging buffalo. And that was only Day One.
What brought you to writing? A life-long passion for reading, specifically mystery novels, fueled my desire to write a mystery series. As a reader, I enjoy series with reoccurring characters and ongoing story arcs. Reading a series allows me to visit old friends year after year.
As I wrote NEVER NAME THE DEAD, I planned it to be a series starting with four books spanning four sequential days emulating a four-day Kiowa vison quest (with a few murders thrown in). The first book is the first day of the vision quest of self-discovery for my main character, Mud. The novel takes place in less than 24 hours, and the second book starts fifteen minutes after the first ends, taking Mud into her second day of the quest with another murder to solve. At the end of her fourth day and fourth book, Mud’s vision quest ends with Mud finding the way to unite her worlds—and solve another murder.
Tell us about your writing process: I try to write for 3 to 4 hours every day. While I’ll start the morning with the intent to write first thing, I let myself be distracted by daily tasks before feeling comfortable enough to sink into my story. I’m not a planner. I write as the story unfolds for me. I’ll start the story once I know the murderer, the victim, and why. After a few chapters, I’ll see the reveal. That gives me my endpoint. Everything in-between comes about as I write it.
The first draft captures the story. At the end of my first draft, I go back through the story to paint a deeper picture and get it in shape to hand off to my editor. I have an excellent editor at Crooked Lanes Book, Sara J. Henry. She knows just where and how to direct the critical trimming needed to make my story shine.
What kind of research do you do? In NEVER NAME THE DEAD, I share a lot of information and insights into the Kiowa tribe, culture, and history—all from the Kiowa perspective.
My research comes from a lifetime of learning from Kiowa elders in my family and tribe. The history and traditions shared in the novel come directly from our oral traditions, originally told by tribal elders.
I was fortunate to grow up with my Kiowa grandfather, C. E. Rowell. He was a master storyteller, artist, and recognized Tribal Historian. My grandfather taught me about our Kiowa history and introduced me to other elders, including a 101 years-old!
I spent over a decade collecting memories, songs, and stories from tribe elders to preserve for future generations. Much of the footage can be seen in my documentary, Vanishing Link, and in a series of Kiowa language lesson videos posted here, www.thekiowapeople.com.
How long did it take you to write your first book? Ten months.
I wrote my first draft of NEVER NAME THE DEAD while taking courses for the UCSDX Creative Writing program. I followed teacher extraordinaire Carolyn Wheat through Novel I, II, and III. At the end of the Novel courses, I had my first draft completed. It took two more drafts before I had the book ready for readers. From start to first draft, it took six months, then four more months to complete drafts two and three.
How long did it take to get it published? I was extremely lucky! I had an agent and a book deal with Crooked Lane Books nine months after finishing the novel.
How do you come up with character names? My main character has three names. LOL!
She is known as Mae in Silicon Valley, where she has built a digital marketing agency on the cusp of national attention. In Oklahoma’s Kiowa country, she’s called Mud, a childhood nickname that stuck.
The main character’s first two names were the easiest for me to come up with. Much in my writing honors my Kiowa culture. I wanted to add a bit of my mom’s side of the family into my novel by using my mom’s name, Mae, and her mother’s childhood nickname, Mud, for the main character’s names. It delighted me as a child to hear one of my great-aunts call my grandmother “Mud.” Even now, it makes me smile.
The hard part was finding how to explain the two names of the main character, especially “Mud.” That was resolved by adding a third name and a Kiowa Naming Ceremony. I won’t reveal any more about the names other than to say that Mud’s Kiowa name speaks to the journey Mae/Mud is on through the first four novels as she finds a way to blend her two worlds; traditional Kiowa spirituality and Silicon Valley tech savvy.
What are you currently working on? I’m working with my editor, Sara J. Henry, on edits for the second novel, SILENT ARE THE DEAD. The title has just recently been finalized.
Who’s your favorite author? I stretch favorite authors to include oral storytellers; that makes the question very easy to answer. My all-time favorite storyteller is my grandfather, the late C. E. Rowell. Grandpa excelled at bringing stories to life. He was an artist, master storyteller, and a man of distinction within the Kiowa tribe. He was a Tribal Elder recognized as the Tribe Historian and Reader of the Dohason and Onko pictoglyph calendars called Sai-Guat, or Winter Marks.
My grandfather brought the people and stories to life for me. No storyteller has captured my imagination as deeply. Grandpa inspired me to follow our traditions and be a storyteller.
C. E. Rowell sharing a story from one of the Kiowa Calendars with tribe members (1999)
Do you have any advice for new writers? Believe in yourself and write your stories! I didn’t write until late in life because I did not believe I could do it or do it well enough. Finally, I started writing for myself, and the story flowed. My happiest moment as a writer came when I finished the first draft. I wrote the book I always dreamed of doing!
How do our readers contact you?
Visit my website at www.dmrowell.com.
Be sure to say hello if you see me at Left Coast Crime or Bouchercon.
Zara Altair combines mystery with a bit of adventure in the Argolicus Mysteries, based in southern Italy at the time of Ostrogoth’s rule.
Meet Argolicus, a learned man who turns detective at the bidding of neighbors who know him as trustworthy, wise, and fair. He collects evidence, deciphers politics, and digs into the deepest secrets of the human heart. His tools are the logic of Aristotle, the self-restraint of Epictetus, the theology of Arius, and the empirical insights of Marcus Aurelius, and all sharpened to an edge by wry humor and ferocious curiosity.
Italians (Romans) and Goths live under one king, while Constantinople rules the Roman Empire. At times the cultures clash, but Argolicus uses his wit, sometimes with help from his tutor Nikolaos, to provide justice in a province far from the King’s court.
Zara Altair lives in Beaverton, Oregon. Her stories are rich in historical detail based on years of research. Her approach to writing is to present the puzzle and let Argolicus and Nikolaos find the solution encountering a bit of adventure and some humor in their search.
Discover the world of long-ago Italy in the Argolicus Collection, four mysteries that cover the range from a small farm to rich families where politics and murder collide.
Do you write in more than one genre? I do now. I’m working on a modern crime novel with a female detective, Death of a Lonely Cloud, to be published this year. And, A cozy mystery for next Christmas for a new series featuring Miss Chocolate, a fluffy chocolate-colored cat who lives on a boat.
What brought you to writing? I’ve been writing since I was a child. I can’t imagine myself not writing.
What is the most challenging part of your writing process? For me, the most difficult part of the writing process is building up the tension.
Do you base any of your characters on real people? Argolicus was a real person, but not much is known about him. Argolicus leads the privileged and leisurely life of a Roman patrician under the Ostrogoth rule of King Theodoric. Raised in the tradition of privilege, he was schooled by a Greek tutor, Nikolaos, who is now his companion but still drills him in Greek and martial arts.
Argolicus was a real person at the time of Theodoric’s reign in Italy. He is mentioned nine times in Cassiodorus’ Variae (iii 11, iii 12, iii 29, iii 30, iii 33, iv 22, iv 25, iv 29, iv 42) as praefectus urbis of Rome.
Do you outline, or are you a pantser? I outline the basic plot but planned scenes change as I am actually writing. I use the next plot point to make sure I’m headed toward it no matter how the scene changes.
What kind of research do you do? For the Argolicus stories, the research involved a lot of reading—many books in English and Italian. Plus, I went to Italy and interviewed history professors who referred me to more books. For each novel, I also interview experts in themes for the book, for example, civic structure and governance in the 6th Century for The Grain Merchant.
For the current novel, I took Detective B. Adam Richardson’s Writer’s Detective School, which is crammed with details about how a detective thinks and works. Plus, he has sessions where we can ask questions that pertain to our current work. I’ve also talked with the local coroner’s office and the sheriff.
What obstacles do you face when writing about historical figures? The biggest challenge is keeping my characters in sync with the times. For example, slavery is assumed and not an issue.
Do you have any advice for new writers? Stay with your story idea. It’s your story. Write it. Don’t worry about genre or subgenre. Just write the story. The big test of writing is that you finish the story.
Visit the website at https://zaraaltair.com.