Halito (hello), fellow authors! I appreciate George having me on his blog today. I’m Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer, a Choctaw author and digital course creator. My signature course, Fiction Writing: American Indians, equips authors to write authentic stories that honor Native American history and culture. I also teach a live Dictation Bootcamp for Authors that takes you through the process of mastering dictation through easy exercises that lead you to become the master of your fictional worlds.
As a tribal member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, I’ve written and published 16 historical fiction books. I’m highlighting pieces of my writing life in the hope you find them helpful on your journey.
Do you write in more than one genre? Historical fiction is my primary (and favorite) genre to read and to write. Something about digging into the past gives me a deeper connection to the present. That is especially true of my American Indian heritage. My books range from the Choctaw Trail of Tears in the 1830s to the Choctaw Code Talkers of World War I. I love a good old-fashioned western, which I get to share through my Doc Beck Westerns series set in the 1890s, featuring an Omaha Indian woman doctor. I write clean stories with close family relationships, fistfights and gunfights, and accurate cultural heritage.
What brought you to writing? When I was five years old, I had a story I wanted to share about being kind. But I was horribly shy and knew the only way to share my message was through writing it. My mama has saved that story to this day, and she continues to be my greatest fan and encourager. In my early twenties, I released a lot of the chaos in my life, wiped the slate clean, and handed the chalk over to God. He brought writing back into my life and let me know I was born to tell stories.
What are you currently working on? I released Fire and Ink, book 5 in the Choctaw Tribune series, in August and am outlining the final book in that series. There are 3 more books to go in the Doc Beck Westerns that are also underway. I have my first traditionally published nonfiction book coming out this fall, a biography on a WWI hero who was Chickasaw, Choctaw, and Cherokee — Otis W. Leader: The Ideal American Doughboy (Chickasaw Press).
How do you come up with character names? Authenticity is a significant component of my work. One of my methods for naming my American Indian characters is diving into historical records. Census, tribal rolls, and recorded stories are great sources for me to find authentic names for the people and times I’m writing about. Do you base any of your characters on real people? Absolutely. My novella, Tushpa’s Story, was based on a young boy who had a dramatic experience crossing the Trail of Tears in 1834.
Though the main character is fictional, the characters in Anumpa Warrior: Choctaw Code Talkers of World War I are the real men who were the code talkers and their commanding officers. I had the honor of interviewing descendants who knew these men and shared personal aspects that lent so much to the story. There are many historical figures sprinkled throughout my stories.
What kind of research do you do? I didn’t start off as a good researcher. I was scattered, but I knew research was vital because of the roles my work plays in the world. These books let readers experience authentic First American history and culture in an entertaining story. Through that, my stories are ambassadors. They are also a way to preserve this heritage for generations to come. My research has taken me down the backroads of Oklahoma and our homelands in Mississippi; deep into the secure vaults of the National Archives in Washington, DC; reading through stacks of nonfiction books and online archives; the WWI battlefields and cemeteries of France; sitting quietly and listening to elders.
Today, I love research and the treasures I discover of my ancestors that I get to share with readers.
Looking to the future, what’s in store for you? I’m terribly excited to get started on an action-adventure series set in the 1970s that stars a Choctaw artist who has to fight the bad guys and retrieve priceless historical American Indian art pieces. In between my own books, I’m actively teaching authors how to create authentic stories that honor Native American history and culture. I’m also gearing up for my live Dictation Bootcamp for Authors in October. Nearly 100 authors joined me in April of this year to master the skill of dictating their stories. It was a rousing success, and I can’t wait for the one this fall.
Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself and your books? The faith of my ancestors continues to inspire my writing life. They walked the trail for me, and I’m so grateful to share their extraordinary lives through my real and fictional characters so that you, the reader, can go on the journey with us.
Find out more about my books (and my mama’s art) over at ChoctawSpirit.com
Interested in the Fiction Writing American Indians digital course? Find it here: https://www.fictioncourses.com/americanindians
Want to join the live Dictation Bootcamp for Authors in October? That’s here: https://www.fictioncourses.com/dictationbootcamp
Laurel S. Peterson is a Professor of English at Norwalk Community College. She has two poetry chapbooks, That’s the Way the Music Sounds and Talking to the Mirror, and two full-length collections, Do You Expect Your Art to Answer? and Daughter of Sky. She has written two mystery novels Shadow Notes and The Fallen. She served as the town of Norwalk, Connecticut’s Poet Laureate from April 2016 – April 2019.
The Fallen – Clara Montague is dreaming again, and her dreams always lead to trouble. She survives a drive-by shooting that kills a cop but complicates her relationship with police chief Kyle DuPont. The hidden motives behind the shooting lead Kyle and Clara to New Orleans. Will Clara’s visions be enough to keep them safe from Kyle’s past?
Do you write in more than one genre? In addition to writing mysteries, I am a poet with four published books of poetry and two more looking for homes. I’m also working on a multi-genre work of poems and photographs. I tried including essays, but my writing group said they were just poems with too many words! The collection is about grief, so it may never find a home, but I’ve enjoyed the challenge of finding images that would extend my thinking rather than illustrate it.
I started taking photography classes online during the pandemic when, as a community college professor, I spent all my time staring at a screen, grading papers, and responding to frantic student emails. I needed something that wasn’t more words, and I had always wanted to learn to take better pictures. I signed up through a local gallery for a workshop with Thom Williams https://www.instagram.com/tmwilliamsphotography/, a fabulous and patient teacher.
What fascinates me about multi-genre writing is how it fragments forms, which so reflects modern existence. How can writers use that rupture and sense of existential threat to reflect something profound about the human experience? All writers try to do that on some level, but I like to try things that I’m not yet sure I can do.
What is the most challenging part of your writing process? Writing. Not funny? During the pandemic, a friend asked if I did yoga. Yes, I said, but I’m having a hard time just getting to the mat. Many people I knew in graduate school enrolled to give themselves deadlines for writing. It’s an expensive way to create self-discipline, but hey. If I focus on a project, it’s easier. I recently got involved with Writing the Land, https://www.writingtheland.org/, which pairs a writer with a land trust and asks them to write three poems about it during a one-year period. Being part of the project means I get to go on long walks in quiet places, which feels healing.
What are you currently working on? In addition to the multi-genre work I describe above, I’m also revising an old mystery manuscript. This will require setting and character changes. The original book was located partly in Atlantic City, but since Kyle DuPont is a local police chief, I need to shift the setting to Connecticut. Part of the story will now occur on one of Connecticut’s Native American reservations. It’s fun to see how malleable story can be.
Do you base any of your characters on real people? I base many of my characters on real people. Isn’t writing mysteries at least partly about revenge?
In case you’re wondering about people recognizing themselves, I rely on the Anne Lamott idea that people will either always see themselves or will never see themselves in your work, whether they are there or not. Of course, no characterization is exact. That would be cruel.
Do you outline, or are you a pantser? Half and half. I write about 80 or 90 pages, and then I get stuck and need to outline the rest so I know where I’m going. That first spurt motivates me because it’s the fun part, where I’m fleshing out the story and trying to create energy in the characters and setting. After that, writing feels more like a puzzle, ensuring I have all the storylines active and intertwined successfully, making sure the characters are developing. There’s a lot of double-checking and rereading while moving forward in smaller increments.
Do you have any advice for new writers? If there’s anything else you can do with your life and still have a great time, do it. Writing eats at you and you can never retire. You always want more from it. (I just want to be published; ok, now I’m published but I want to be in a better publication; Ok, I’ve got a story out, but now I want a novel; Ok, I’ve got a novel out, now I want two or sixteen novels; Ok, I’m published, but now I want to make money at it; Ok, I’ve made a little money, but I want an Edgar…) Do you see? It’s a terrible idea to take up writing. Save yourself.
How do our readers contact you?
You can reach me at my website, www.laurelpeterson.com,
Instagram or Twitter (both @laurelwriter49)
All my books are available at Amazon or on Bookshop
Crisosto Apache is originally from Mescalero, New Mexico, on the Mescalero Apache reservation, and currently lives in the Denver area with their spouse. They are Mescalero Apache, Chiricahua Apache, and Diné (Navajo) of the Salt Clan, born for the Towering House Clan. They hold an MFA from the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and are an Assistant Professor of English. Crisosto’s debut collection is GENESIS (Lost Alphabet). Their second collection is Ghostword (Gnashing Teeth Publications). They are also the Associate Editor of The Offing Magazine, and their profile can be seen on the website at crisostoapache.com.
Ghostword is my second poetry book from Gnashing Teeth Publications, released in November 2022. Ghostword was inspired by the modernist Japanese writer Akutagawa Ryunosuke’s book, A Fool’s Life (Eridonos Publishers). A Fool’s Life was the last book Ryunosuke wrote before he committed suicide. The publication contains fifty-three entries, with which my book loosely conversates. Though Ryunosuke’s book emphasizes a kind of erasure, my book seeks the opposite, a search for belonging & validation.
Crisosto Apache draws powerfully on his Mescalero Apache language and culture and, guided along the way by touchstone sparks from the Japanese writer Akutagawa Ryunosuke, creates a singular journey out of “emotional burial and systemic abuse.” Where Akutagawa encounters erasure, “Gazing up at them everything was forgotten,” in Crisosto Apache’s hands, everything is remembered and confronted, and, though filled with ash, these poems are testament to struggle, survival, and, x, the mysterious light of existence. — Arthur Sze, author of The Glass Constellation
A powerful personal journey of reflection and response. In lyric vignettes inspired by Akutagawa Ryunosuke’s A Fool’s Life, Crisosto Apache creates an original portrait of a mythic and myth-making protagonist confronting the memories, language, and figures that haunt and inhabit his Ghostword – a stunning collection. – Chip Livingston, author of Crow-Blue, Crow-Black, and Museum of False Starts
Do you write in more than one genre? Poetry is the genre where I have more publications. Though I have written a few reviews and personal entries from my blog, that is not to say I will experiment with other forms. Right now, I am testing my narrative skills and slowly adding content for a memoir. The memoir will focus on my challenges as a gay Native American individual overcoming a binary colonial existence, as well as my perseverance. This approach in a narrative topic is one where I emphasize soul searching through past written journals and voice recordings. I also use sketches from old notebooks to spark a larger conversation about the memory of my life’s journey. Vaguely expressing some of these concepts through my poetry, where I want to explore moments more specifically and with reverence. Much of the writing I do always have something to do with my identity as a Native American or Indigenous person, a person impacted by colonialism, intergenerational transmission of historical trauma, binary implications and marginalization, assimilation & acculturation, prejudice as part of the 2S-LGBTQI+ identity, and so much more. My work seeks to place perspective and self-determination upon many intersectional aspects of my identity. Exploration of many of these concepts will always be an ongoing challenge. One I hope to resolve within my spirit as a creative person.
Tell us about your writing process: Writing starts at a moment of discovery and connection to what ideas come my way. I am always jotting down ideas or concepts for my writing. I keep those ramblings in an organized folder system on my computer, where each folder is categorized with the theme or concept in mind. Periodically I go through these folders in no order and begin to expand on the various concept and themes. I will also try to find reading material that will help me expand my thought process and conceptual content for each of the folders.
What are you currently working on? Having a writing project lined up is a good thing. Perspective projects give me something to look forward to. I am finishing up my third manuscript, called isness. The concept behind this manuscript is poems that represent the “meaningfulness” of the poem in a state of presence or moments. What the poem is “about” in a state of existence as it “exists” without retribution or containment. The work in isness at times feels complicated because of how poetry or art is defined by “others.” What I choose to exemplify in this manuscript is a concept where the poem is a poem that is about what the poem is about in a state of “meaningfulness,” presence, or moment.
How long did it take you to write your first book? The composition of my first book GENESIS (Lost Alphabet, 2018), took about one year and a half to complete as a viable manuscript. The rest of the time, until its publication, was focused on revision. The revision of the first book is still happening. Once my contract runs out, I want to find another publisher to relaunch a revised version. There is so much I learned during the process of my first book. This brings me to the publication of my second book Ghostword (Gnashing Teeth Publication, 2022). The concept for this book has had a long journey which I explain in depth in the Preface of the book.
What’s the most challenging thing about writing characters from the opposite sex? Writing front the perspective of the opposite sex sometimes is a challenge, as well as writing in another persona. There are instances in my writing where I do write in other personas. In my book Ghostword there are several poems where I try to utilize the persona of my mother. Over the years, she and I had many conversations and exchanged stories, so I was able, through these stories, to get a good sense of her perspective. My poem “11. Dawn” is an example where I use my mother’s persona. The story is about a moment when I was a child when she and my father were seeking legal custody of me and my younger brother. I was about ten years old, and my brother was about eight. At the time, I did not know she would sleep in her car across the street where my father was renting a house in Albuquerque, New Mexico. It was not an easy time for either of my parents because they both were from different reservations. My father was a member of the Navajo Nation on a small checkerboard section called Tó hajiileehé (trans., where the water comes from), and my mother was from the Mescalero Apache Tribe, both located in New Mexico. Eventually, my father agrees to have my brother, and I live with my mother on the Mescalero Apache Reservation. The day we arrive at my mother’s reservation was so vivid. The look on the mother’s face when she saw the both of us enter the playground where she worked. She was employed with the tribal children’s daycare at the time.
Another poem where I use my mother’s persona is “4. Saltwell”. This is a poem about my mother as a child. She lived with her mother on a remote part of the reservation called Whitetail, which was very far from the main tribal community and main road. Whitetail was the area on the reservation where the Chiricahua Apache settled once they were released as prisoners of war in 1886 from St. Augustine, Florida. Many of the Apache band remained in Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and the remaining member moved to Whitetail on the Mescalero Apache Reservation. As a child, my mother sometimes was left alone at her mother’s house in Whitetail. She would hitch a ride to the main road and head towards an area of the reservation called Salt Well, where her grandparents lived. She often stayed with her grandparents in Salt Well. This poem is about one moment when she traveled from Whitetail to Salt Well as a child. The journey took her all afternoon because the traffic was minimal that day from Whitetail. She eventually got a ride and arrived at her grandparent’s house at dusk. Experimenting with persona allows me to explore different situations and perspectives, adding a specific depth to the poem and or story. It takes me out of my head and voice, which is necessary to tell good stories.
What kind of research do you do? The research I do for my writing depends on the project. In my first book GENESIS (Lost Alphabet), the research investigated specific indigenous historical moments, such as in my poem, “K‘us tádini tsąąbi’ +2: [38 Necks +2]”. The poem is a list poem paying tribute to the 38 Dakota hanged by President Lincoln’s Executive Order on December 26, 1862, in Mankato, Minnesota. This event is still considered the largest mass hanging in American History. In GENESIS, the tread of the book focused on the nine months in utero in 1970-71, where I investigated current events of the time. What I found out was the expansion of space exploration, lunar launches, and nuclear/atomic testing, which became part of the thread of the book, along with what my mother was experiencing while carrying me for those nine months. In Ghostword (Gnashing Teeth Publishing), much of the research the book focused on was the modernist writer Ryayunosuke Akutagawa (1892-1927) and his last manuscript, A Fools Life (Eridonos Press) and a few of his short stories. The last manuscript is integral to Ghostword because of the unfettered conversation I have with each of the fifty-three entries and the few selected stories. I had to do some background investigation about the concepts and references in each entry and try to pair the same concept for my conversation but interject my own experience of “belonging,” whereas Akautagawa’s voice in each entry focused on “erasure.” This manuscript took many years to complete through constant rewriting and revision. Each entry of my versions went through meticulous examinations to figure out how I was going to balance out a kind of likeness, which was more difficult than I anticipated. I am glad and relieved to know I am not struggling now to have this book exist for people to access in the world.
How do our readers contact you?
Email: email@example.com (serious inquiries only)
Publisher’s website: https://gnashingteethpublishing.com/books/ghostword/
Instagram: @ crisosto_apache
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.
Brian Lush is a music journalist based in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He is the founder of Rockwired.com and was the founding editor of Rockwired Magazine, which ran from 2012 through 2017. An enrolled member of the Yankton Sioux Tribe in Southeastern South Dakota, he studied Creative Writing at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He received his B.A. in Creative Writing from the University of New Mexico.
Yankton Sioux writer Brian Lush spins a grim tale of war, occupation, and oppression in his debut novel Roger’s War – a gritty, dystopian coming-of-age story with a Native perspective.
With a war between Russia and Ukraine and a lull in a global pandemic, who wants to get lost in a tale of a world gone mad? It wasn’t exactly the kind of territory that writer Brian Lush wanted to mine in what would become his first novel, Roger’s War.
“This was where the muse led me,” says Lush. “The roots of his dystopian coming-of-age story stemmed from the nightmarish events of the 2018 Stoneman Douglas High School shootings and the belief by some that teachers should be armed. “It was pretty wild to imagine high school teachers being armed and yielding that kind of control over kids. Children! Back then, I thought I had at least a short story on my hands. However, life got in the way, and I had other commitments, and the story never saw the light of day. The idea was in the back of my head and then snowballed. The pandemic, and then this little story I had in my head about the abuse of power became this huge novel on how one young boy survives.”
Roger’s War is a tense and frantic narrative that illustrates the life of a young man coming of age in a frightfully repressed society. The country once known as the United States of America has descended into a second civil war. Emerging from the devastation is a rogue nation called Heartland – a totalitarian theocracy under the rule of a maniacal, self-proclaimed prophet known simply as Father and his lethal military. Plucked from the ashes of a war-torn America is a half-Native/half-black fourteen-year-old named Roger Bretagne.
After losing his family to Heartland’s devastating blitzkrieg, Roger is rounded up and matriculated into this stark, repressed, and dangerous new world. His new parents are powerful predators, the quiet country town he lives in is an oppressive hamlet gripped by fear, and his school – under the control of the beastly schoolmaster Brother Isaac – emphasizes brutal indoctrination. Somehow, sanity must prevail. In cautiously navigating the rocky road of this toxic milieu, Roger finds love, allies, and a burgeoning resistance movement hellbent on destroying Heartland and building a glorious future. Whatever that entails.
Roger is not a first when it comes to first-person narratives in worlds gone mad, but his half-Sioux/half-black lineage is a definite first in Native American fiction. Roger is a character that was very unexpected to me. There were a lot of surprises in the writing of this book, but the character of Roger felt like a revelation. While I took great pains to create a character and not put myself or anyone I loved in a fascist society, I feel like I ended up putting myself there. Roger was more than just a window into this world. We share the same heritage. It feels like I’ve got skin in the game.
Roger’s War is available on Kindle and paperback through Amazon.com.
Phone: (505) 239-2666
Lorna and Larry Collins grew up together in Alhambra, California. They have been married for fifty-seven years and have one daughter, Kimberly.
They worked together on the Universal Studios Japan theme park in Osaka. Larry was a Project Engineer responsible for the Jurassic Park, JAWS, and WaterWorld attractions. Lorna was the Document Control Supervisor in the Osaka field office.
Their memoir of that experience, 31 Months in Japan: The Building of a Theme Park, was a 2006 EPPIE finalist, and named one of Rebeccas Reads Best Nonfiction books of 2005.
Their mysteries, set in Hawaii, are Murder…They Wrote and Murder in Paradise.
Along with several friends, Lorna co-wrote the six sweet romance collections in the Aspen Grove Romance Anthologies series, set in Colorado. Directions of Love won the 2011 EPIC eBook Award as best anthology.
Her solo mystery/fantasy is a ‘beach read’ called Ghost Writer. She also wrote Jewel of the Missions: San Juan Capistrano and a children’s book, Lola, The Parrot Who Saved the Mission. Their joint venture is The Memory Keeper, a historical novel set in San Juan Capistrano in the 1800s, told from the point-of-view of a Juaneño Indian.
Larry’s collection of short stories is entitled, Lakeview Park. His latest project is his sci-fi series, The McGregor Chronicles. He has finished nine books in the series.
Their latest collaboration is Dominic Drive, from an idea of Lorna’s late brother, Ronald Travis Lund. (Available in ebook, paperback, hardcover, and audio.)
Dominic Drive is the coming-of-age story of Charlie Williams, a young man who has a difficult childhood but who remains optimistic and hopeful, told through the eyes of another young man who becomes as close as a brother to him. Set in the late 1950s and early 1960s, it captures life in a post-WWII community.
All their books are available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, their website (www.lornalarry.com), and other online book outlets. Follow Lorna’s blog at http://lornacollins-author.blogspot.com.
Do you write in more than one genre? We started writing a nonfiction memoir of our time spent working in Osaka on the Universal Studios Japan theme park, 31 Months in Japan: The Building of a Theme Park. We never expected to write and publish anything else. However, we attended a writing conference and got an idea for our first Mystery, Murder…They Wrote. This led to our second mystery, Murder in Paradise, and we have added several other genres since.
What is the most challenging part of your writing process? Since we write together, blending our voices into one seamless voice was initially a challenge. Also, Larry is a plotter, and Lorna is a “pantser.” (She writes by the seat of her pants.) Over the first few books, Larry learned to trust the characters, and Lorna became more disciplined. We sometimes disagree on plotlines, but we usually throw out both ideas and settle on another—better—one. After having written several books together, the process has become almost second nature.
What are you currently working on? After nearly three years of research, in 2014, we published The Memory Keeper, a historical novel set in San Juan Capistrano, California, between 1820 and 1890. We talked about a sequel and started the research for it. However, we both were pulled into other projects, and this one languished. When Larry finished Book 9 of The McGregor Chronicles, he was ready to get back to it. Meanwhile, Lorna had written quite a few chapters, but she needed Larry’s voice in the story. They are finally finishing the sequel to be called Becoming the Jewel, to be published soon.
Has an association membership helped you with your writing? After we wrote our first book, it was nominated for an EPPIE award from EPIC (The Electronic Publishing Industry Coalition). We attended their conference in 2006 and became members. There we met publishers, other authors, agents, and other industry professionals, from whom we learned a great deal. We did presentations and panels at over a dozen or more of their conferences, including one keynote address, and Lorna moderated the publishers’ panels. We remained members until the group disbanded several years ago.
Through members of EPIC, we joined PSWA (Public Service Writers Association). We have attended several of their conferences and learned a great deal about police procedures as well as how other safety professionals work. We have also made some great friends in the group.
What’s the most challenging thing about writing characters of the opposite sex? This is where writing together gives us a decided advantage. For the most part, Larry writes the male characters, and Lorna writes the female ones. With one exception: Larry writes most of the old ladies in our novels! For some reason, he started writing them in our first mystery, and he has continued ever since.
Do you ever kill a popular character? If so, what happens to your story? Between 1861 and 1863, a plague (black pox or smallpox) killed 90% of the Indian population of San Juan Capistrano. When we were writing The Memory Keeper, we knew at least one of our characters would have to die. Larry was set to lose one, but Lorna argued with him. If 90% of the native population died, then their family would have to lose more of their members.
When we reread the completed chapters about the plague, Lorna sobbed. She does so every time she rereads the book. A few chapters later, we needed to lose another character. He was a particular favorite, so his loss felt very personal to both of us.
In these cases, their loss was already part of the plot. (Larry is a plotter, remember?) The storyline already included their losses, so the storyline continued as planned.
What obstacles do you face when writing about historical figures? Because we write about the authentic history of San Juan Capistrano, California, and because history is so revered and protected here, we have to be 100% accurate. (History is like a second religion in town.) If we say a particular thing happened at a specific time, it did. Historical figures must be portrayed exactly as they were. So far, we have received no criticism about our historical accuracy, so we must have done a few things right. But in order to achieve this level of accuracy, we have to read a great many books and articles and interview many experts. About 95% of what we learn never makes it onto the pages of our books, but it is necessary for us to know it.
Do you have any advice for new writers? The first thing is to keep writing. Too many writers give up early. Second, join a critique group or take a college-level writing class. Third, when you think you are finished, find a few beta readers, who are NOT friends or family members, to read the complete work and give you feedback. This is where professional organizations can be of great help.
Once you get positive feedback, hire a professional editor. No one can properly edit their own work—including us.
Last, if you intend to self-publish, also invest in a professional cover artist. Since books are now purchased mostly online, the cover must stand out when seen as a thumbnail image. A professional can help you with an image that will sell your book.
Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourselves? Lorna is a well-respected professional editor. She had lots of experience in her former career in Document Control and carried it into her writing profession. She provides content and line editing as well as formatting for ebooks and print.
Larry is a professional cover artist with well over 100 published covers to his credit. He has designed nearly all of the covers for their books.