Out of Twenty: Jessica Levine, Author of The Geometry of Love, Answers Nine Questions

In this version of twenty questions, I send a list of questions to a willing victim author and they choose their own interview by handpicking which questions (and how many!) they want to answer. Jessica Levine is the author of  The Geometry of Love, a fantastic novel about one woman’s search for her identity as an artist, the relationships with the men in her life, and how they fuel and inhibit her passions in different ways.  Here is what Jessica had to say about reading, writing, and reversing the stereotypical gender roles of artistic muses. 

Jessica Levine, Author - The Geometry of Love

Photo Credit: Nan Phelps

Would you give us a bit of introduction and let my readers know who you are, how you got started writing, and what kind of books you like to write?

Thanks for inviting me to do this interview. I’m writing in Berkeley, California, where I live with my husband and two teenage daughters. In my life I’ve been a jack-of-all-trades, working as an English teacher, a translator (from Italian and French into English), and currently a hypnotherapist. However, “writer” has always been my core identity. My fiction is psychological in nature, the product of my fascination with human contradictoriness and unpredictability. The plots I create grow out of inner conflicts that propel my characters in new directions.

I am often struck by the different ways writers respond to the process of writing a book. Linus’s Blanket refers to my use of reading and other activities as means of escape and comfort, can you share with us any routines, food or recipes, or favorite books or rituals that help you through the writing process?

I’m a morning writer. I jumpstart my brain with a lot of black tea and some dark chocolate. I really believe that the intense pleasure provided by chocolate stimulates the creative part of the brain! I get physically restless when I write, so I take frequent breaks to stretch and move. I usually stop at lunch time. If I have ideas later in the day, I jot them down in a black Moleskine notebook. I don’t need to “force myself” to work because writing actually makes my brain feel good, as though the sentences were giving the inside of my head a massage.

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What are you reading now? What are some of your favorite books and authors? Has writing your own book changed the way that you read?

I recently discovered Jim Harrison and am reading his Brown Dog, which collects several novellas about a half-Indian character by that name. The first tale in the book offers brilliant lessons about paragraph-making and plotting. My tastes are broad, ranging from Anita Shreve to Michael Chabon. When I read fiction that’s very different from what I write, I’m motivated to push myself in new directions and experiment. When I read works that are similar, I feel validated in my current path of inquiry.

Are you able to read when you’re writing and if so what books inspire you when you’re working on your own book(s)?

Sometimes I’m reading books connected to a writing project. Last year I read a lot of Italian history in preparation for a novel that will take place during the period of Italian independence and unification in the mid-nineteenth century. Sometimes I read books my daughters are reading for school. For example, I thoroughly enjoyed John Green’s Looking for Alaska and, more recently, The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. Excellent writing of all kinds inspires me.

What were your experiences with reading when you were growing up? Was there a pivotal moment in discovering literature when you knew that you wanted to be a writer?

I remember first wanting to be a writer at the age of six. Probably I got the idea from my parents, who were both frustrated artists. They were also avid readers and always pulling classics off the shelves of our home library for me to read. E.M. Forster, Virginia Woolf, and Thomas Hardy became reliable friends. I also had the enrichment of attending a French school in New York, which led to my discovering the masterworks of Balzac, Flaubert, Stendhal, and Zola in the original. Much of what I read was beyond my level of maturity, but literature provided me with an escape during a difficult adolescence, transporting me to other times and places.

How many works in progress do you have going at any one time? How do you know when one has potential and when one just needs to be scrapped?

Usually I have a current project, a project that is firmly next in line, and a couple of book ideas that I’m playing with. The Geometry of Love features a protagonist named Julia and her two female cousins, and is the first of a planned trilogy of novels, one about each of these three women. I’m currently working on the manuscript of the second book in the series and taking mental notes for a story about the third cousin. If a project refuses to take shape, it usually metamorphoses into something else, so I rarely scrap a work, you might say I recycle it instead.

Who was your favorite character to write, and why did you have an affinity for that character in particular?

I had a blast creating Michael, Julia’s object of desire in The Geometry of Love.  I wanted to play with reversing a couple of stereotypes about men and women, the first being that women are usually muses for male artists, and the second that women are usually more emotional. In this dyad, Michael, a composer, functions as Julia’s muse because his emotional range is so broad. He can be very light-hearted but he also has a dark, depressive side. His capacity for deep feeling and his ability to express those feelings musically validate Julia’s own creative quest as a poet. In creating this character I gave birth to a psychological entity that could function as an inner muse for my own writing.

Where do you most love to write? Are there places where it comes to you easier than others?

I’m fortunate enough to have a very quiet and comfortable home office where I love to work. Outside my window is a maple tree and a patch of bamboo; in the distance, San Francisco and the reflective surface of the Bay. I have my favorite books on hand if I need inspiration, I have my journals and notebooks, my desk is set up ergonomically, there’s tea upstairs. If I take a break and go for a walk in the neighborhood, I sometimes see hawks flying overhead or deer. The conditions for writing are perfect¾at least when my kids are in school. I don’t get much done in the summer.

What’s next?

My novel about Julia’s cousin Anna, provisionally titled The Dream of Another Life, is another love story that switches back and forth between present time in northern California and past events in Rome, Italy. Working on it has been a wonderful ride, as it has allowed me to relive a splendid time I spent living and working in Rome in my early twenties. Writing, I travel back in time to a city I remember as sensual and warm with its ochre buildings and fountain-filled courtyards … and then I look up and out my window at the Golden Gate Bridge. Life is good.

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About Jessica Levine: Jessica was born in New York City. She earned her M.A. at Teachers College, Columbia University, and her Ph.D. in English Literature at the University of California at Berkeley. She has worked as a writing instructor and a teacher of English as a second language. Additionally, she has translated several books about architecture and design from French and Italian into English. Most recently, she became certified as a hypnotherapist in 2005 and now has a therapy practice in Albany, California.

Since publishing Delicate Pursuit: Discretion in Henry James and Edith Wharton in 2002, Jessica has been devoting herself to creative writing, publishing stories, essays, and poetry. The themes she addresses in her work include the evanescence of intimacy, the nature of inspiration, parenthood, the language of the body, and loss. She lives in the Bay Area with her husband, two daughters, and cat, a.k.a. “the King.”

Out of Twenty: Suzanne Redfearn, Author of Hush Little Baby, Answers Questions Sixteen Questions

In this version of twenty questions, I send a list of questions to a willing victim author and they choose their own interview by handpicking which questions (and how many!) they want to answer. Suzanne Redfearn is the author of Hush Little Baby, a novel about a woman who risks her leaving an abusive relationship for the sake of her life and her children’s.  Here is what Suzanne had to say about reading, writing, and cringing at her early work.

Would you give us a bit of introduction and let my readers know who you are, how you got started writing, and whatSuzanne Redfearn kind of books you like to write?

Thank you for inviting me to do this interview.  Like my protagonist I am an architect who lives in Laguna Beach, California. I have two kids, and my husband and I own a restaurant called Lumberyard.  I am an “accidental author.” I didn’t set out to be a writer or go to school for it, I sat down one day with a story and started to write. Seven months later I had my first novel and I was hooked.  Hush Little Baby is my fifth novel, but the first one to get published.  It turned out that I love to tell stories. The stories I’m particularly drawn to are contemporary tales of morality. I love creating complex characters who I then pit against each other on either side of an issue.

I am often struck by the different ways writers respond to the process of writing a book. Linus’s Blanket refers to my use of reading and other activities as a means of escape and comfort, can you share with us any routines, food or recipes, or favorite books or rituals that help you thorough the writing process?

Write, write, write, and keep writing. I don’t worry about finishing or where it the story is going. I allow the story to develop at its own pace and its own organic way, but I always write. I keep notebooks everywhere and I don’t restrict myself to writing sequentially. I do a lot of my writing in my car. An idea will strike me and I’ll pull over and write a single line or a chapter. The best ideas come when I’m not thinking about the story. I keep a sticky note beside my computer that reads, “Drama is anticipation with uncertainty.” I go where the story leads me, having faith that it will take me somewhere unexpected and amazing.

People live in stories, we are surrounded by them. What was it about this the story that made it the one you had to tell at this time?  What impact did telling this story have on your life?  Did you find that it had changed you?

Hush Little Baby is relevant to our times. The story was inspired by a couple who were going through a horrible divorce. There was a lot of he said/she said, and it was impossible to know who was telling the truth. It made me realize the power one spouse has to destroy the other. The idea was originally about marital sabotage and evolved into one about domestic violence and how far a mother will go to protect her children. In order to write the story I needed to do extensive research on abusive relationships and gained a chilling understanding of the pathology behind domestic violence. It made me realize that every woman is susceptible to the fear and manipulation abusers use to control their victims. I became incredibly sympathetic and much more understanding of their plight.

What are you reading now? What are some of your favorite books and authors?  Has writing your own book changed the way that you read?

I just finished The Rosie Project and I absolutely loved it. Some of my favorite books are The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway, and Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. Writing has definitely changed the way I read. If I read something wonderful, I find myself envious of the author’s talent. If I read something not so wonderful, I find myself editing the book as I read which distracts me from enjoying it.

Are you able to read when you’re writing and if so what books inspire you when you’re working your own book(s)?

I do read when I’m writing. I try to avoid novels too similar to what I’m working on, but I find other author’s voices inspiring. I also do a lot of research, devouring anything and everything that pertains to the topic on which I’m writing.

What was the most interesting thing that you found out while researching this book that you ultimately decided not to include?

Originally the novel had been titled Swing Low, and I had named it that because the hymn references Jillian’s Christian upbringing and hush little babyalludes to Jillian stooping to the level of Gordon in order to save her children.  A wonderful surprise came when I researched the song and discovered it was actually a song written by a black man who went to live with the Choctaw Native Americans after escaping slavery. The song is about him being separated from his family when he was sold as a young boy, and his hope to be reunited with them in heaven. He is praying to Jesus, asking if he will be forgiven for the bad things he’s done to survive – nearly the exact internal struggle Jillian deals with in the story. It was a wonderful discovery, but the title was changed, so the double-entendre was never realized.

What types of books would some of your characters have if they were readers?  Given their issues what book(s) would you suggest for them to read?

Jillian actually says in the novel that she loves dramatic literary novels by Anne Tyler and dark thrillers by Stephen King. I think she would also appreciate Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl. Read more »

Out of Twenty: James Whitfield Thomson, Lies You Wanted to Hear, Answers Nine Questions

In this version of twenty questions, I send a list of questions to a willing victim author and they choose their own interview by handpicking which questions (and how many!) they want to answer. James Whitfield Thomson is the author of Lies You Wanted to Heara novel about the far reaching consequences of a failed marriage.  Here is what James had to say about reading, writing, and his favorite character from his novel.

Would you give us a bit of introduction and let my readers know who you are, how you got started writing, and whatJames Whitfield Thomson kind of books you like to write?

I guess I’ve always wanted to be a writer, but it took me a long time to get started.  As a young man I used come up with titles I thought Pulitzer-prize winners would have gladly killed for.  Unfortunately, there were no stories to go along with them.  Now I’m superstitious and don’t give a piece a title until I’ve completed the first draft.  I didn’t write my first short story until I was forty.  I sent it out to magazines, got a handful of rejections and didn’t write another story for three years.  What finally got me going was being in a workshop with the late Andre Dubus, Jr.  He was a terrific mentor, always pushing me to go deeper into my characters to find out what makes them tick.  Finally, at the age of 68, I’m a debut novelist, so it’s taken a long time for this dream to come true.

I tell people that I write literary fiction, by which I mean stories that they are more character-driven than plot-driven.  In a murder mystery what drives the story is whodunnit.  In a literary novel we’re more concerned about whydunnit — what could drive a person to do such a terrible thing?  That said, there’s no reason why a literary novel can’t be riveting.

I am often struck by the different ways writers respond to the process of writing a book. Linus’s Blanket refers to my use of reading and other activities as a means of escape and comfort, can you share with us any routines, food or recipes, or favorite books or rituals that help you thorough the writing process?

Once I got serious about writing I decided to treat it as a job, so I needed someplace to go to work every morning.  I tried to write in a separate room in my house, but I kept getting distracted and started going to the public library.  When I got home in the evening my workday was done, though my wife will tell you that there were plenty of dinners when I was looking right at her, pretending to have a conversation, but she could tell I was far away.  Sometimes a thought will come to me — it could be almost anywhere — and I immediately jot it down on a slip of paper.  Then there are times when I stay up half the night, working at the kitchen table because things seem to be clicking and I don’t want to stop.  Unfortunately, I can’t predict how usable that late night stuff will be in the long run.  What seems like brilliance at 3am is often detritus in the light of day.

The stuff I write at night is usually in longhand on a lined tablet, using one of my trusty uni-ball VISION elite pens with blue-black ink.  I’m a bit manic, trying to get as much down as possible, with milk and Oreos (which I’ve just discovered in the last week are as addictive as cocaine) to keep me going.  When I’m working on my laptop in the library, I make deals with myself not to check my email or read about the Red Sox on the Internet until I’ve finished thus and so.  I also turn off my cell phone, which drives my family slightly mad.

Write the question you would most like to answer in an interview, and then answer it.

In one of your two epigraphs you quote the lyrics of a song called “Good Man Blue” by Johnny Joe Thibodeau.   Why can’t I find anything when I Google him?

LieYouWantedtoHear.inddBecause I made him up.  I waited for months to get permission to quote a Jackson Browne song, only to have the publisher turn me down.  At that point I didn’t have time to get permission for something else, so I had to scramble and try to find something in the public domain, but nothing seemed to fit.  Then I remembered that Fitzgerald made up the epigraph for The Great Gatsby and I decided to follow suit.  His is such a neat little poem by a writer named Thomas Parke D’InvilliersI was in the Navy when I read the book and I liked the quote so much I tried to find out more about D’Invilliers.  This was before the Internet, so it took me a while to discover the truth.  If an interviewer asks me this question, I get a chance to mention Fitzgerald and me in the same sentence, which always brings a smile to my face. Read more »

Out of Twenty: Laura Andersen, Author of The Boleyn Deceit, Answers Eleven Questions

In this version of twenty questions, I send a list of questions to a willing victim author and they choose their own interview by handpicking which questions (and how many!) they want to answer. Laura Andersen is the author of The Boleyn Deceit, the second in her trilogy of novels concerning the reign of  King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn’s son, William.  Here is what Laura had to say about reading, writing, and her favorite Firefly episode.

Would you give us a bit of introduction and let my readers know who you are, how you got started writing, and whatlaura-andersen-2013 kind of books you like to write?

I started writing seriously just over ten years ago when I had four children between the ages of two and ten. I wrote a hundred pages of a late-Victorian mystery that I’d had been dabbling with for several years and then joined an online writing class. It was the perfect venue for me—accountability without having to worry about how my hair looked or how weird I sounded in person. The things I learned were important, but it was the other writers who changed my life and kept me on this path. I write what I call Twisted History: everything from (obviously) alternate history to historical fantasy to time travel. I just can’t seem to sit still in my own world.

 I am often struck by the different ways writers respond to the process of writing a book. Linus’s Blanket refers to my use of reading and other activities as a means of escape and comfort, can you share with us any routines, food or recipes, or favorite books or rituals that help you thorough the writing process?

Now I want routine foods while I write! (I’m imagining comforting soups and pasta and homemade bread while I draft, and lots of chocolate and cheesecake and doughnuts while I revise.) Because I started writing seriously while my children were young, I made a virtue of necessity and didn’t create rituals that might all too easily have been broken by the demands of young motherhood. But these days, I do know when I’m getting seriously near a deadline or simply have the drive to write for more than an hour, because I head to the dining room table. This is the first house in which we’ve had a separate dining room and it’s become, as my friend calls it, ‘an eat-in library’. With the New England woods watching me through the windows, the dining room table is where the bulk of The Boleyn Deceit was revised and copyedited.

Write the question you would most like to answer in an interview, and then answer it.

Hooray! I hoped someday to get this question, being an enormous fan of Joss Whedon, my question is: What is my favorite Firefly episode and why?

Answer: Out of Gas, because of its brilliant structure (I love flashbacks and this episode is a master class in how to use them) and its characteristic Joss Whedon mix of humor and drama. But mostly because Nathan Fillion as Captain Malcolm Reynolds makes me cry when he says, ‘Everyone dies alone.’ Then again, Malcolm Reynolds doing or saying anything is pretty near perfect.

What are you reading now? What are some of your favorite books and authors?  

I am reading Scott Lynch’s Republic of Thieves, the third book in his Gentleman Bastards series. I’m walking a balance between my instinct to devour it and my reluctantance to finish it. Some of my favorite writers of the last few years write outstanding fantasy: Lynch, George R.R. Martin, Brandon Sanderson, Patrick Rothfuss, Sarah J. Maas in young adult. It’s a genre I would love to be able to write someday. I also just finished Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell and I think I love it even slightly more than the excellent Eleanor and Park. Love, love, love.

Are you able to read when you’re writing and if so what books inspire you when you’re working your own book(s)?The Boleyn Deceit

If I was one of those writers that couldn’t read fiction while drafting, I don’t know if I would continue to write. That’s how important reading is to me. So yes, I read while I write, thankfully. And whatever I’m reading—from British police procedurals to high fantasy to historical mysteries to contemporary young adult—I tend to find elements that make my writing better. Mostly it’s emotional elements, and I ask myself: How can I achieve that finely-tuned tension between my own characters? How can I more effectively use setting to create atmosphere? But lots of times, my reading is the pure pleasure that reminds me why I write: to offer an emotional experience to my own readers.

If you could have everyone read five books, which ones would they be?

One of those impossible questions, because I instantly want to know more about the person reading and what they like and . . . well, how about five historical fiction books that I most often recommend? Here Be Dragons by Sharon Kay Penman (history, politics, Wales, and epic romance) Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier (the finest in historical fantasy) The Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett (far and away my favorite Tudor-era series, the six-volume Lymond Chronicles is my benchmark for historical fiction) Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (brilliant in every way) The Amelia Peabody series by Elizabeth Peters (no one wrote finer historical mysteries than Peters and her turn-of-the-last century Egyptologist family. Also, Ramses Emerson.)

Did you know what you wanted the title of the book to be?  How involved were in choosing the name of the book?

I was very lucky in that the title of my first book when submitted is the title it was published under: The Boleyn King. For the next two books in the trilogy, my agent and editor and I knew we wanted to keep a familiar structure, so I played around with words that, to me, embodied the tone of the next books. Both The Boleyn Deceit and The Boleyn Reckoning were my choices. I figure that’s my stroke of title luck for my entire career and I’m happy to let someone else choose from here on out!

Do you ever look back at your early work? How do you feel your writing style or approach to writing has evolved since you first began?

Technically, The Boleyn King is my early work. It was the third manuscript I wrote to completion (after two historical mysteries) and I distinctly remember thinking while writing it, ‘This is the book that will sell.’ I just didn’t know how long it would take. The story was originally just one book, and it was the first manuscript to get me requests from agents. But ultimately it went nowhere and I did what writers do: moved on. It was my fifth manusript that (after much revising) landed me my fabulous agent, Tamar Rydzinski, a time-travel YA featuring England during the Napoleonic wars. When that novel failed to sell, I sent Tamar my Boleyn book and, in her great wisdom, she suggested I turn it into a trilogy. I tore apart my original manuscript, wrote the first draft of the new Boleyn King, and the trilogy sold. So working on these books has been an exercise in going back to writing I did in 2004 and, well, making it better. (Also longer, considering a 110,000 word story eventually became three 100,000 word stories.) I’m less fussy now, better able to set aside ego and see what’s best for the story. But I think my dialogue and emotional tension is still pretty good: there are sections in the published books that are almost verbatim from the original.

Are there other books you love or writers you admire that are from your local area?

One of the big YA books this autumn is All the Truth That’s in Me by Julie Berry. I’m so lucky that she’s my friend! Before we moved to Massachusetts in 2011, I googled various people in the area where we’d be living and Julie’s website popped up. I was so happy to know I’d be near another writer—and then she turned out to be a fabulous woman as well. And smart . . . seriously, read All the Truth That’s in Me and, if you can, go hear her speak. She’s amazing.

Who was your favorite character to write, and why did you have an affinity for that character in particular?

This is a toss-up, depending on the day and my mood when asked. Mostly it’s Minuette, because she is very unlike me in personality and so her voice, particularly in her diary entries, was always distinct from my own and thus provided an easy way to slide into someone else’s head. I like experiencing the world from her self-assured, outgoing, cheerful point of view (cheerful, at least, in the first book.) Also, why wouldn’t I have an affinity for a beautiful woman in gorgeous clothes who has two amazing men in love with her?

What’s next?

I recently signed a new contract with Ballantine for a trilogy set in Elizabethan England. The Sovereign trilogy will reference the world already created in the Boleyn books, and will include the additional alternate historical twist that Queen Elizabeth is married. I’m working on the first book in the series and doing lots of research about Francis Walsingham’s spy networks, the imprisonment of Mary Queen of Scots, and the Catholic push to reclaim the heretical English. That sounds very scholarly, doesn’t it? It’s really just a spy story with a brilliant Englishwoman, a dangerous Frenchman, plots layered upon plots . . . and kissing.

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About: Laura Andersen has one husband, four children, and a college degree in English that she puts to non-profitable use by reading everything she can lay her hands on. Books, shoes, and travel are her fiscal downfalls, which she justifies because all three ‘take you places.’ She loves the ocean (but not sand), forests (but not camping), good food (but not cooking), and shopping (there is no downside.) Historical fiction offers her all the pleasure of visiting the past without the inconvenience of no electricity or indoor plumbing. After more than thirty years spent west of the Rocky Mountains, she now lives in Massachusetts with her family.

Out of Twenty: Rebecca Walker, Author of Ade, Answers Six Questions

In this version of twenty questions, I send a list of questions to a willing victim author and they choose their own interview by handpicking which questions (and how many!) they want to answer. Rebecca Walker is the author of Adé, a novel about a woman falling in love with a young Swahili man as she grapples with love and identity on her sojourn through Africa. Here is what Rebecca  had to say about reading, writing, and her writer’s OCD.

Would you give us a bit of introduction and let my readers know who you are, how you got rebecca walkerstarted writing, and what kind of books you like to write?

I’m Rebecca Walker and I write books. I grew up in a family of writers and readers, and apparently my first word was Book. My first volume didn’t come until many years later however—a memoir called Black, White and Jewish about growing up multiracial before it was cool. I have always been drawn to memoir and personal essay—it’s the kind of writing that helps me to remember, reflect and record—but my new book is a novel and I’m thrilled to be on the precipice of an entirely different process. I feel liberated from the pressures of “truth.”

I am often struck by the different ways writers respond to the process of writing a book. Linus’s Blanket refers to my use of reading and other activities as a means of escape and comfort, can you share with us any routines, food or recipes, or favorite books or rituals that help you through the writing process?

I have writer’s OCD, which means my house is cleanest before a deadline. A clean house gives me tremendous peace of mind and a sense of accomplishment. I convince myself that even if I don’t get any good writing done, at least my house is clean! I also light candles and procrastinate by window shopping online. I also try, as much as possible, to make sure there is a paycheck involved.

AdePeople live in stories, we are surrounded by them. What was it about this the story that made it the one you had to tell at this time?  What impact did telling this story have on your life?  Did you find that it had changed you?

This book is an ode, a love letter, to a man I once loved very, very much. Even though it’s fiction, it’s very true to the nature and quality of our relationship. I felt compelled to write Adé because as I get older I realize how very, very rare and powerful these kinds of experiences are, and how necessary it is to honor them before it’s too late. Writing this book did change me. I grew as a writer, for sure. And in going back to this particular time in my life, I opened a part of my heart that I had closed so long ago. Very cathartic.

If you could have everyone read five books, which ones would they be?

Tough one! Well, this book lives in the context of and was influenced by some of the great love stories: Giovanni’s Room, by James Baldwin; The Lover, by Marguerite Duras; and my favorite collection of love poems, The Captain’s Verses, by Pablo Neruda. It also shares DNA with Tokyo Fiancee by Amelie Nothomb, and Anna Karenina by Tolstoy. All five of these are excellent reads about love and danger.

Where do you most love to write? Are there places where it comes to you easier than others?

I used to create idyllic writing spaces—I thought I needed them to write. You know, the perfect light exposures, the lovely desk, all the right colors and textures around; then I had a child and all of that went out the window. Basically now I have to write whenever, wherever, however. If I had to choose one place, though, it would definitely be my bed. Oh! And MacDowell, the best artist colony in the world. The last time I was there, I felt I could write a book in a week.

What’s next?

I’m currently at work on the screenplay for the new book—it’s been optioned for the big screen, which is thrilling. I am also developing a few television projects—also thrilling. A new novel is brewing, though. I’m not sure what it is exactly, but it’s coming. And, hello there, can you hear me? I’m ready to catch you—whenever, wherever, however!

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About The Author: Rebecca Walker’s intention is to make the world a better place, one conversation at a time. She brings two decades of experience, insight, and innovation to the global conversation about race and gender, art and culture, and politics and power. She engages with audiences through writing and editing books, teaching and speaking at colleges and corporate campuses, blogging, social media, contributing to popular magazines and literary and academic journals, hosting and appearing on national and international radio programs, and developing and appearing in film and television projects. 

Adé and Rebecca Walker are on blog tour with TLC Book Tours. Visit them for more information, reviews and  interviews on Adé.

Out of Twenty: Jenny Lundquist, Author of The Princess in the Opal Mask, Answers Eight Questions

In this version of twenty questions, I send a list of questions to a willing victim author and they choose their own interview by handpicking which questions (and how many!) they want to answer. Jenny Lundquist is the author of The Princess in  the OpalJenny-Lundquist-Author1 Mask, where a teenage princess and a  commoner search to find their true identities. Here is what Jenny had to say about reading, writing, and managing a chaotic schedule.

Would you give us a bit of introduction and let my readers know who you are, how you got started writing, and what kind of books you like to write?

I am a part-time writer and full-time mom. I’ve released two middle-grade novels, Seeing Cinderella and Plastic Polly, through Simon & Schuster. My first young adult novel, The Princess in the Opal Mask, was released last month through Running Press. I feel like I have the best of all possible worlds. In the morning, I get to write, but in the afternoon when the kids come home, I click over into Mom mode.

I always liked writing when I was a child, but I never saw it as a viable career option. As far as I was concerned, people who wrote books were the super-creative, artsy types who had three brilliant ideas before breakfast. But shortly after my second son was born life became very difficult, and I felt like I needed a creative outlet that didn’t involve diapers or dirty dishes. I had always said I wanted to write a book…someday. But on that day, I realized that someday would never come unless I stared saying, I want to write today. I’ve been writing ever since.

 I am often struck by the different ways writers respond to the process of writing a book. Linus’s Blanket refers to my use of reading and other activities as a means of escape and comfort, can you share with us any routines, food or recipes, or favorite books or rituals that help you thorough the writing process?

 

I love that analogy! I guess I have my own Linus Blanket—a really ratty orange Nike sweatshirt that I like to write in. I firmly believe I’m more creative when I write in my sweatshirt and pj’s. I also need coffee when I’m writing, even if I forget to drink it. I usually try to start a writing session by brewing a new cup. When things aren’t going well, I stress eat, and chocolate becomes my best friend.

Are you able to read when you’re writing and if so what books inspire you when you’re working your own book(s)?

I need to read while I’m writing; otherwise, I start to feel like I’m trying to drag water from a dry well. But increasingly I’m realizing that I can’t read in the same genre that I’m writing in. When I was working on my middle grade novels, I read young adult. But right now while I’m working in The Princess in the Opal Maskthe young adult genre, I find myself reading more literary adult novels. I just finished Mercy Snow by Tiffany Baker and loved it.

In the past I have visited a blog called Daily Routines and it’s all about the schedules of writers and creative people.  What does a typical day look like for you and how do you manage a busy schedule?

My day varies depending upon the season. During the school year, I might get up early, between 5-6 if I have a deadline, and try to get some work done before I have to begin my morning routine with the kids. After I’ve successfully gotten them off to school (and if I haven’t lost my sanity in the process) I can usually sit down at my desk by 9am, where I work on and off (depending on how distracted I get), until about 2:30, when I have to go and pick them up again. If I’m facing a pretty heavy deadline, I’ll try to slip in more time while they’re playing outside after dinner and then again after they go to bed. It can be pretty chaotic sometimes, but such is life with kids.

Did you know what you wanted the title of the book to be?  How involved were in choosing the name of the book?

The Princess in the Opal Mask was my idea, and my publisher was really supportive in keeping it. The book is a re-imagination of The Man in the Iron Mask, so I wanted a title that paid homage to it.

What were your experiences with reading when you were growing up? Was there a pivotal moment in discovering literature when you knew that you wanted to be a writer?

When I was growing up, reading was my salvation. I was the shy awkward girl in upper elementary and middle school. I wasn’t ready for all of the changes and experiences that I saw my friends diving headlong into. One day it seemed like everyone was fine, the next, it seemed like all my friends had become boy-crazy aliens. I wasn’t ready for that, and I found solace in books. They provided a safe place for me when it seemed like the world was spinning too fast. Although I’d like to write in many different genres one day, that’s why I’ve started with middle grade and young adult: I really want to contribute to a body of literature that gave so much to me at a time when I desperately needed it.

As a published author, what’s been the biggest surprise about life after the publication of your first book?

I think the biggest surprise is that I get just as insecure about my writing as I did before I was published. I think prior to obtaining my first book contract, I looked at a book deal as a golden ticket to security and confidence, and that’s just not the way it works.

What’s next?

Currently I’m working on the sequel to The Princess in the Opal Mask, it will be out in October of 2014.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 BOOK CLUB   Forgotten Country by Catherine Chung

About the Author: Jenny Lundquist was born and raised in Huntington Beach, CA, the original “Surf City USA.” She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Intercultural Studies with a minor in TESOL (teaching English to speakers of other languages) at Biola University. Her favorite part of college was spending one semester living in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia, where she drank lots of tea, met some really interesting people, and honed her Yahtzee skills. She’s painted an orphanage in Mexico, taught English at a university in Russia, and hopes one day to kiss her husband at a café in Paris. She lives in northern California with her wonderful husband Ryan, two sons and Rambo, the world’s whiniest cat.

Out of Twenty: Trini Amador, Author of Gracianna, Answers Ten Questions

In this version of twenty questions, I send a list of questions to a willing victim author and they choose their own interview by handpicking which questions (and how many!) they want to answer. Trini Amador is the author of Gracianna, a historical novel about a French girl being recruited into the French resistance and having to make difficult choices along the way. Here is what Trini had to say about reading, writing, and his candid thoughts on negative reviews.

Would you give us a bit of introduction and let my readers know who you are, how you got started writing, and whatTrini Amador Author kind of books you like to write?

I own a global brand marketing consulting practice. “What is that?” I specialize in helping my clients have a deeper understanding of their customers whether they are end-user consumers of businesses and then activate those insights.  I travel a lot in fact I am over the Philippines now on my way from Tokyo to Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam to lead a training workshop.  I have always loved to write. My Catholic education taught me how to construct a sentence is 2nd and 3rd grade and I was off to the races. Those sentence construction drills were invaluable. I have always loved to read and writing just seems to be an extension of that. My family owns the lauded Gracianna Winery in Sonoma County in California. Gracianna was my French-Basque great-grandmother and the subject of my book. 

I am often struck by the different ways writers respond to the process of writing a book. Linus’s Blanket refers to my use of reading and other activities as a means of escape and comfort, can you share with us any routines, food or recipes, or favorite books or rituals that help you thorough the writing process?

I like to clear my head of all of the “things” that are going on in my day to day work and life before I start to write. I will get quiet and find a comfortable chair and start in the late afternoon. My favorite time to write is overnight. It is nearly hypnotic. My mind let’s go and the words just come. This is of course after and extensive outline so I know where I am headed. I enjoy the interplay of words and love the mental exercise of storytelling, character development and bringing emotion to life.

Write the question you would most like to answer in an interview, and then answer it.

Is being so damn smart and handsome a cross to bear sometimes?

LOL. I enjoy having fun and being funny. As I have aged with more responsibility and different elements pulling at me it is hard to “let go” sometimes but I definitely look at the world from a unique point of view. I see opportunity everywhere I look. I enjoy helping others see opportunity as well.

People live in stories, we are surrounded by them. What was it about this the story that made it the one you had to tell at this time?  What impact did telling this story have on your life?  Did you find that it had changed you?

This story grew out of a true-life incident that happened when I was a boy. At four-years old my great-grandmother caught me walking around her living room with a loaded German Luger! The memory came to be before my teens and she died shortly after that. I never had a chance to talk to her about it and I wondered about it and her. Over time I started to take shreds of this and that and made a mental image of what had happened. Then as our wine brand stated it was obvious what to call it since Gracianna used to talk to me about being thankful, a value that most kids don’t get drilled into them at an early age. But I did. And it stuck with me. Now that value permeates our family and the wine that we make. As I researched the book my Aunt told me about meeting Gracianna’s sister and seeing the “mark” on her forearm. That sent a chill down my spine and I knew I had to earn more and tell the story. The research took me to the Basque country, then Paris and eventually to Auschwitz.

Are you able to read when you’re writing and if so what books inspire you when you’re working your own book(s)?  Gracianna

Actually I listen to music when I write. I have every Van Morrison record known to man (courtesy of my friend Don Wilson) and I usually zone out, writing with the music in the background. His melodic interpretations inspire me to push words and meanings and emotional visualizations.

Did you know what you wanted the title of the book to be?  How involved were in choosing the name of the book?

At first I had a long list of names and they all fell away as the book was finished. Gracianna was the only choice.

How many works in progress do you have going at any one time? How do you know when one has potential and when one just needs to be scrapped?

I have already written a second outline (on my mobile phone!) of another story that is inspired by true events that I experienced while working in the music business in Hollywood. I knew what this needed to be called from the outset. However, my publisher has expressed interest in the follow up story of Gracianna so I am a bit torn. I hope to come to some decisions about writing another book after the first of the year.

As a published author, what’s been the biggest surprise about life after the publication of your first book?

How people spell their names. I learned early on when signing books to have folks spell their name…Carol isn’t Carol really…it is “Karil” and so on. Actually the biggest surprise is how involved some readers get in the story. They really absorb it and can speak deeply about the characters and their motivations and ask intelligent questions. Some people really pay close attention. Read more »

Out of Twenty: Paul Lynch, Author of Red Sky in Morning, Answers Eleven Questions

In this version of twenty questions, I send a list of questions to a willing victim author and they choose their own interview by handpicking which questions (and how many!) they want to answer. Paul Lynch is the author of Red Sky in Morninga novel about a family man who accidentally kills his landlord, the son of a famous tracker, and his subsequent flight from Ireland to the United States with a killer in hot pursuit. Here is what Paul had to say about reading, writing, and Northern Gothic literature.Paul Lynch

Would you give us a bit of introduction and let my readers know who you are, how you got started writing, and what kind of books you like to write?

Greetings from Dublin, Ireland and thank you for having me. My name is Paul Lynch and I’m the Irish author of Red Sky In Morning, a novel set in rural Co Donegal in 1832. It is the story of a family man who kills a landowner, is chased across the windswept bogs of Co Donegal to America and to the work camps of the American railroad. Parts of the book are narrated by his wife who is left behind. I guess you could descripe it as Irish country noir. Or perhaps you could call it Northern Gothic, an Irish twist on your own brand of Southern.

The kind of books I like to write are the books that come to me. I have no choice in this matter. I am very interested in exploring language and have a secret ambition to do away with the boundary between prose and poetry. Red Sky In  Morning is a book in which language is as strong a character as anybody else.

I am often struck by the different ways writers respond to the process of writing a book. Linus’s Blanket refers to my use of reading and other activities as a means of escape and comfort, can you share with us any routines, food or recipes, or favorite books or rituals that help you thorough the writing process?

For me, meditation is a way of cultivating the liminal dream-state of writing. So I usually meditate for half an hour before I write. By then I am in the flow. I like the quiet of the early morning. I like to write with strong jazz in my headphones. (Right now my writing soundtrack is Phronesis). My first sentence of the day is preceded by an espresso. I don’t believe in spending all day at the work. That sounds to me like you are not doing it right. I write very tight to the line, go into a very deep concentration that lasts for about 90 minutes or so. I am one of those strange-headed writers that edit as they write. I spent years working as a sub-editor so it comes naturally to me. Most days I can write in total for about three hours and then I am exhausted. Sometimes I am too tired afterwards to read for leisure.

What are you reading now? What are some of your favorite books and authors?  Has writing your own book changed the way that you read?

This minute, Bruce Chatwin’s On The Black Hill, a beautiful timeless novel about life on a Welsh farm sent to me as a gift. Chatwin can teach you a lot about the telling detail. And he cuts his prose like a tailor. I’ve changed my reading habits over the past couple of years so that I only read one book of fiction at a time. (Though I’m always dipping into lots of non-fiction). I almost always finish what I start and rarely throw a book away — it helps to be very choosy about what I read beforehand. At least half the novels I read or re-read are classics.

I have no doubt that becoming a professional novelist changes the way one reads. I used to read for pure pleasure with no ulterior motive. Now I read to be a better writer. Or I read jealously and with resentment. Sometimes I read secretly to feel I’m better than another writer. (Believe me, every writer does this). I read the truly great wrtiers with awe, for this inspires me to reach for better myself. I read with such an awareness of technique I yearn for the days of old when reading was carefree and simiply for pleasure. This is the price one pays for one’s craft.

Are you able to read when you’re writing and if so what books inspire you when you’re working your own book(s)?

I read voraciously while I’m writing. A writer friend refuses to read much while on a project, saying he doesn’t want to let anything from another writer leak in. I see this as a lost opportunity. (Anyhow, I spend a couple of years on each book — I can’t imagine not reading for that length of time.)

You can never learn enough from other writers. If you know who you are as a writer, you will not start to sound like the writer you are reading. But you may be subtly informed on questions of technique — something one can never learn enough of. But what I really enjoy most about reading while writing is not what inspires you directly from another’s work, but what inspires you indirectly — how completely different ideas spring to mind as you are reading something else. Your unconscious is always at work and I find that reading widely helps to set the sparks off. It is important to be attuned to this. Many of my best ideas have happened while reading other people’s work that have had nothing to do with the work I was reading. Reading is another way of being creative.

What were your experiences with reading when you were growing up? Was there a pivotal moment in discovering literature when you knew that you wanted to be a writer?

I read non-stop as a youngster. I used to read in the dark. I used to read in school with the book held secretly under the desk. I thought nobody knew until my mother told me years later that my teacher let it pass. I always knew deep down I would be writer. But I was terrified at the prospect because I set my standards too high.

I wrote poetry in my teens. I spent my twenties thinking that there was no point writing unless you could write a book as good as Don DeLillo’s Underworld. So I didn’t even bother. I did everything else but be a writer and eventually it made me miserable. I played in a band. I worked for a newspaper. I explored my passion for the movies as a film critic. I look back now and see it as good advice: try not to be a writer. Honestly, give it a go. If you are truly a writer the wellspring will persist. Until then the only way you can live with it is to write. Then you know you are a writer. By the time I hit 30 I was going to explode unless I got started with it. And what I found was that all those years of editing and writing and thinking as a critic had given me the full-range of technical skills to hit the ground running. In many ways, I was honing my craft without even knowing it.

Red sky in Morning

How many works in progress do you have going at any one time? How do you know when one has potential and when one just needs to be scrapped?

I write just one book at a time. I don’t write plays or screenplays and I do my damndest not to write poetry but sometimes give in to the urge. I consider myself a novelist only and think it is important to know which form of writing you are best at. When I start a book (and I’m on my third now) I usually know before I start what the book will be, can see it schematically in my head, and know the ending. However, the journey is never how you expect it will be and I like to remain open about how and where it will go. I trust and am guided by the feel of language. Read more »

Out of Twenty: Michelle Diener, Author of Banquet of Lies, Answers Thirteen Questions

In this version of twenty questions, I send a list of questions to a willing victim author and they choose their own interview Michelle Dienerby handpicking which questions (and how many!) they want to answer. Michelle Diener is the author of Banquet of Liesan historical novel exploring the life of a young noblewoman who flees to London to escape a murderer. A perfect book to cozy up with this fall season. Here is what Michelle had to say about reading, writing, and  how growing up in KwaZulu-Natal influenced her life.

Would you give us a bit of introduction and let my readers know who you are, how you got started writing, and what kind of books you like to write?

My name is Michelle Diener, and I while I now live in Australia, I was born in London and grew up in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. I think having to adjust to new places often influences the way I write, and so it’s probably not surprising I love to write about characters who find themselves out of their comfort zone and I also love playing with the theme of people not being what they appear. I currently have  five historical novels published, with Banquet of Lies, coming out on October 22nd, being number six,  but I have written a fantasy novel based on the fairy tale East of the Sun, West of the Moon, and that should be out at the end of this year.

I am often struck by the different ways writers respond to the process of writing a book. Linus’s Blanket refers to my use of reading and other activities as a means of escape and comfort, can you share with us any routines, food or recipes, or favorite books or rituals that help you thorough the writing process?

I like to have  a very rough outline before I start writing, and when I get stuck, I tend to get out of it by writing rough scene outlines. I also like to shake myself out of a rut by going to work in the library or in a cafe from time to time, and generally find I get a lot of pages written that way. Baking is pretty essential to my process. When I need to work through a plot point or try to think a way forward for my characters, I will almost always either go for a long walk or bake something.

What are you reading now? What are some of your favorite books and authors?  Has writing your own book changed the way that you read?

I am reading a book called Between the Wars 1919-1930: The Cartoonist’s Vision by Roy Douglas as part of the research I’m doing for the book I plan to start after the book I’m writing now is done. I usually start researching my next book when I have about 50 pages of my current work-in-progress to go, to get my sub-conscious working on the next book in advance. I love the science fiction works of Iain M. Banks, the fantasy of Terry Pratchett, the romances of Jayne Anne Krentz and the urban fantasy of Patricia Briggs, to name a few. I love to read widely, and always have, even before I started writing seriously. I don’t think my writing has changed the way I read, but it does sometimes get in the way of my reading.  I see the constructs and what the author is trying to do more easily, and I absolutely love finding a book that sucks me in and I forget about the mechanics of the work and just enjoy it like a pure reader.

Are you able to read when you’re writing and if so what books inspire you when you’re working your own book(s)?

I love reading while I’m writing, but I find I am hyper-critial, especially towards the end of my book. I’m finishing off a manuscript  now and every book I’ve picked up recently I haven’t made it through more than three chapters. I do love re-reading old favorites when I get to this point, though. I also make a point of reading outside the genre I’m writing while I’m busy writing a book.

Banquet of Lies In the past I have visited a blog called Daily Routines and it’s all about the schedules of writers and creative people.  What does a typical day look like for you and how do you manage a busy schedule?

I have two children, and I typically get them ready for school and walk them over, and then keep going. I try to walk around four to five kilometres a day. I like to concentrate on what I plan to write that day as I walk. Then I come home, shower and try to jump straight into the writing, but I sometimes have to deal with emails first. I work on and off, with breaks for checking facts in my research until its time to fetch my children in the afternoon. I seldom have a chance to write after this because of after-school activities, homework and then dinner, but I sometimes get more writing in after the kids are in bed.

Did you know what you wanted the title of the book to be?  How involved were in choosing the name of the book?

For once, this title is totally my idea :). My other books through Simon & Schuster have  never ended up being the ones I originally called the book, but this one, everyone loved my title and it stuck.

Do you ever look back at your early work? How do you feel your writing style or approach to writing has evolved since you first began?

I do sometimes dip back into my older work. Some of it still resonates with me, and I think when I have the opportunity, it would be good to totally rewrite it. I have definitely evolved as a writer. I have worked hard to improve my craft, and I like to think I’m constantly working to improve it. Read more »

Out of Twenty: Diane Hammond Author of Friday’s Harbor, Answers Twelve Questions

Photo by Delaney Andrews.

Photo by Delaney Andrews.

In this version of twenty questions, I send a list of questions to a willing victim author and they choose their own interview by handpicking which questions (and how many!) they want to answer. Diane Hammond is the author of Friday’s Harbor, a novel exploring the recovery of a killer whale brought to a zoo to recover from his injuries and the ensuing controversy over the wild animals in captivity. Here is what Diane had to say about reading, writing, and whether she is adept at the art of writing.

Would you give us a bit of introduction and let my readers know who you are, how you got started writing, and what kind of books you like to write?
 
I consider myself one of the luckiest people I know:  I now write fiction for a living. (Not always so—I only gave up my day job building websites for small businesses two and a half years ago; fifteen years ago I left my 25-year-long career in public relations for various non-profit organizations.) I have had two novels published by Random House / Doubleday / Ballantine (Going to Bend and Homesick Creek) and three by HarperCollins / William Morrow (Hannah’s Dream, Seeing Stars, and Friday’s Harbor, which was released Oct. 8. The most popular book of mine is Hannah’s Dream, the story of an Asian elephant in a small zoo and the zookeeper who loved and cared for her for 41 years. My just-released book, Friday’s Harbor, is a sequel to Hannah’s Dream, and focuses on a killer whale brought to the same zoo for rehabilitation.

I always wanted to be a writer, and in fact my public relations work consisted primarily of writing print materials: newsletters, speeches, annual reports, press releases, etc. I began writing fiction when I was 22, and didn’t publish my first novel until I was 44. It took me that long to teach myself the basic craft.  I’m still learning.

Since I’m plot-challenged, I write character-driven, literary fiction.  So far, my work is all set in the Pacific Northwest and Los Angeles. Now that I live in Minnesota, I expect that will change—it’s only a question of when.
 
I am often struck by the different ways writers respond to the process of writing a book. Linus’s Blanket refers to my use of reading and other activities as a means of escape and comfort, can you share with us any routines, food or recipes, or favorite books or rituals that help you thorough the writing process?
 
Writing is a lonely profession, but I’m a hopeless introvert, so it suits me.  On a good day, I write for three or four hours. This doesn’t happen nearly as often as I’d like. On a bad day I eat for three or four hours: oyster crackers, pretzels, Twizzlers. My food du jour while I was writing Friday’s Harbor consisted almost exclusively of butterscotch hard candies—lots and lots of them.  Happily, despite my fears, they resulted in just two cavities.
 
Write the question you would most like to answer in an interview, and then answer it.

You’ve written five novels. Do you feel you’ve become adept at the art of writing?
 
Not at all. At best, I’ve learned to trust my writing instincts and to listen to myself think—in the  voices of my characters, in composing narrative passages, in staying at least one step ahead of where I am in the book’s plot. In one way or another, I’ve always managed to bring my books home, to end them competently. The rest is all about editing.  It’s still scary, though!

People live in stories, we are surrounded by them. What was it about this the story that made it the one you had to tell at this time?  What impact did telling this story have on your life?  Did you find that it had changed you?

Friday’s Harbor sprang from a challenge put to me by my agent and editor: since Hannah’s Dream had such a loyal and vocal readership, why not consider writing a sequel, as many readers requested?

Fifteen years ago, I served as the spokesperson for a killer whale named Keiko, the one who’d starred in the hit movie Free Willy.  For two years I explained to members of the international media what the staff was doing to restore Keiko to good health. Through Keiko I learned enough to create Friday, the killer whale star of Friday’s Harbor.

Friday's Harbor by Diane HammondAre you able to read when you’re writing and if so what books inspire you when you’re working your own book(s)?

What a good question! Although I can read while I’m writing, the books have to be non-fiction. Otherwise, I unconsciously parrot the voice of the author I’m reading. I love biographies and memoirs when I’m writing (a recent favorite is Wild by Cheryl Strayed); between books, some of my favorite authors are Ann Lamott, Elizabeth Strout, Zoe Heller, Louise Erdrich—writers of literary fiction.

In the past I have visited a blog called Daily Routines and it’s all about the schedules of writers and creative people.  What does a typical day look like for you and how do you manage a busy schedule?

My husband and I share our house with three Pembroke Welsh corgis, so my day always begins the same way: with a long walk, ideally off-leash and in the woods. I can clear my head this way, but also channel my thoughts towards what I’ll be writing about that day.

Once we’re home, I try to go straight to my computer so I can get down some of the ideas that have bubbled up while walking. Often this includes bits of dialogue, narrative, and plot points.

I envy writers who can write for six or eight hours a day. My optimum window is three hours; four, tops. After that I’m producing facile, thin stuff that I have to spend the next day wiping out and replacing.

Do you ever look back at your early work? How do you feel your writing style or approach to writing has evolved since you first began?

I can’t read any of my books. I do know I use much less profanity now than I did in my first two books—but I’m also writing about characters who wouldn’t swear much. I think profanity for its own sake is jarring and indulgent, but if a character’s natural speech would include profanity, as was the case in my first two books, the dialogue needs to reflect that. Read more »