Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Author Interview: Amira Makansi

Amira K. Makansi is a winemaker-cum-writer, who spends her days sipping wine from barrels and crushing grapes during harvest, and her nights spinning new worlds into existence. After graduating from the University of Chicago in 2010 and narrowly dodging a career in law, she made it her mission to follow the wine path to the west coast of America to craft amazing wines. At the same time, she and her mother Kristy and sister Elena started writing a book together, which eventually became THE SOWING, the first book in the Seeds trilogy. Now, with the Seeds trilogy complete, she is looking forward to new projects. She divides her time between writing and winemaking, working the long hours of harvest in the fall and spending the rest of the year doing what she does best—bringing new stories to life.

Welcome, Amira. From the moment I met you, your passion for life, justice, and the literary world was evident. I remember thinking, I need to get to know her, and thinking not long after that, one day I need to interview her, so more folks can be introduced to that passion and that wisdom. So, here we are. When did it crystallize for you that you were going to be a writer, and was it a bolt of lighting epiphany, or more so a gradual actualization of your writerly DNA?

I think it was a very slow evolution. Like so many writers, I imagine, I was constantly writing when I was a kid. I wrote a thirty page Brian Jacques fanfiction about some ferocious bunnies living in the woods in green gel-pen (in cursive!) when I was nine. Two years later I graduated to Harry Potter fanfiction on a website called fanfiction.net. I had a fifty-page single-spaced, very character-driven story about Fawkes the phoenix. From the beginning, I was drawn to write. But during high school and college, a lot of that was squashed out of me. I didn’t have time to read books for pleasure, let alone write new ones. (Says something about the priorities of our educational system.) I forgot about writing entirely.

I still had the itch, though, and it came out in bursts of creative clarity. I got back into writing after graduation. I developed a story idea based on a dream I’d had years before, about a group of boys I knew growing up. That one may yet end up a novel one day. Then my mom got me hooked on this girl named Remy, and her romantic antagonist, who at the time we called Alex. Remy and Alex, too, were based on characters from a dream of hers. Elena and I wrote chapters alternating between Remy and Alex’s perspective, Kristy edited it, Alex eventually became Vale, and their story, tentatively titled Seeds, eventually became The Sowing. At some point along the road to publishing The Sowing in July of 2013, I realized that having written a book made me a writer, and I suppose that was the moment when I decided I liked that title and wanted to continue being a writer.

The story of how the Seeds Trilogy (and the terrific companion piece, The Prelude) came about is pretty cool—tell us about that, and what the series is about?

Sociologists and anthropologists will tell you that all stories can be boiled down to some remarkably small number of similar storylines. Seeds is, at its heart, a story of a girl and a boy growing up, confronting an evil world, and trying to change it for the better. The prologue to The Sowing sets the stage for the rest of the story—Remy Alexander’s older sister Tai is murdered in a classroom massacre. In the next chapter, we learn that this event drove the remaining Alexander family members to join the Resistance, a group of fighters working against the corrupt government at the heart of the Okarian Sector. Meanwhile, Valerian OrleĆ”n, who was just starting to fall in love with Remy when she fled, is searching for answers. The first book is about their inevitable collision, and the ripple effect of that collision.

The backdrop to all of this is a world in which the government has begun controlling people, changing their personalities, their identities, using chemically enriched food and genetically modified seeds. In the wake of devastating wars and climate change that changes agriculture as we know it today, food has become the world’s most precious resource. It’s meant to be a cautionary tale: this is what the world could look like, if we carry on too far down our current path.

What was it like writing, editing and publishing as a team, and are there future familial collaborations in store, or going your separate literary ways for now?

Writing as a team was incredible. We each brought different strengths to the table, and I think we were able to parlay those into a powerful combined voice. Whenever one of us was done writing a chapter, we had two built-in editors near at hand to tell us how great—or shitty—that first draft was. However, we are going our separate ways for now. K. Makansi was a great introduction into the world of publishing, and I don’t think we could have done it without support from each other. But we are all ready to tackle our own projects now.

I met you at a writer’s conference (and am forever grateful). What’s your take on those, and a little more broadly, what advice do you have for writers relative to building their platforms and engaging literary communities?

Budding writers and aspiring authors should take any and all opportunities they can afford to network, connect, bond, schmooze, and pal around with other writers. If you are a writer, other writers are your most important allies in the fight for publication, recognition, and book sales. If you are writing your first book, other writers will help you make that book better. If you are trying to publish a book, other writers will give you advice and tell you what to do and what not to do. If you are published and are trying to sell your book, other writers are the most powerful weapons in your arsenal for convincing readers to read your books. If you can afford to go to that writing conference in your hometown, do it. If you are a blogger, blog about writing, reading, and publishing, so that other writers will be engaged and share your posts. If you are an avid reader, read books by writers in your network, review them, and share those reviews with the world. You will make friends and allies everywhere, and these alliances will only help you all in the fight for literary success.

I think many, if not most fiction scribes—definitely myself among them—fantasize about seeing their work on the big screen. This dream may well become a reality for you. What can you tell us about that, and what else is next for you in your journey?

Thanks for asking! K. Makansi recently sold the option to adapt The Sowing into a screenplay for a film production to Big Picture Ranch in Ojai, California. Big Picture Ranch, composed of Joshua Tickell and Rebecca Harrell Tickell, specializes in films that raise awareness, inspire change, and solidify new cultural ideas. Their films have been shortlisted for Oscars, won awards at Sundance and Cannes, and been picked as New York Times Critics’ Picks. We were incredibly excited about working with Josh and Rebecca because of how passionate they were about the project, and because, unlike many Hollywood producers who sit on the rights to produce a book without ever moving forward, they are truly committed to bringing The Sowing to the big screen. They just contacted us today to say they’re moving forward on the screenplay!

One more question, and it’s a touch personal. Not only has it been my good fortune that you have become one of my most treasured friends, but it’s moved my heart witness the bond you and my young daughter Rachel have built through these last few years. You inspire her as a woman, author, and friend (and she likewise for you, you’ve shared).  Your journey—despite your remarkable early success—is like Rachel’s still nascent (which is amazing to think about): when long from now all’s said and done, what would you like your legacy to be?


I want to inspire the next generation of writers, just like Brian Jacques and J.K. Rowling did for me fifteen years ago. I want kids to write fanfiction of my books, based on my characters, until they are mature and developed enough to create their own worlds, their own stories, their own characters. I want people to read my stories and feel utterly compelled to create their own. It blew my mind when K. Makansi got our first piece of fan mail about The Sowing. But I’ll probably cry if a kid ever sends me a story written in gel pen he or she wrote based on my characters. The day someone tells me she was inspired to write because of me—that’ll be the day I sit back and rest on my laurels.




Monday, April 25, 2016

Guest Post: Promises to Keep and Miles to Go

So grateful to the wonderful Gilda Evans for letting my guest on her esteemed site for the 3rd time!

Take a peek here  for the story behind the story, and the dream behind it all, for The Awakening of David Rose.

Hope you enjoy. Thanks!

Author Interview: KM Weiland

A few years back I had the good fortune to connect with KM Weiland, award-winning author of speculative and historical fiction as well as myriad literary resources. I have learned a lot from her, and she has been kind enough to let me guest post on her highly-esteemed sites. Her latest novel, the dieselpunk adventure Storming, is going gangbusters, and I am beyond thrilled that she agreed to an interview. I know you’ll enjoy getting to know this talented and generous soul as much as I have.

*You have accomplished quite a lot already in your career—as someone who knew from childhood I wanted to be a writer, and who has an 11-year –old daughter who harbors these passions as well, I’d love to know when your literary embers began to spark, when you knew writing and mentoring would be your calling, and if you have any advice on encouraging (yet not overwhelming) young writers?

It wasn’t so much a decision. It just happened—which is how I think the right things in life usually happen. I grew up horse crazy, spent part of every summer working on a friend’s cattle ranch in Wyoming, and thought I’d end up being a horse trainer. But somewhere in high school, I realized I was having more fun staying inside and writing than I was going outside and riding. So after graduation, I sold the horses and started focusing on writing as much as I could.

My greatest bit of advice to young writers would be: Write for the love of it, first and foremost. As Anne Lamott says, “Being published isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. But writing is.” Write the stories of your heart, not the stories you think the market wants. Write the story you’d want to read if you were one of your own readers.

*You have two wonderful websites: KMWeiland.com as well as Helping Writers Become Authors. What are the primary differences between the sites and why have you found it beneficial to have two?

HelpingWritersBecomeAuthors.com focuses on teaching writing how-to and my related non-fiction. KMWeiland.com is my “official” author site, which is more of a showcase for my novels. I originally started out with just the KMWeiland.com site, but then started using Blogger to host my blog. Eventually, I purchased the HelpingWritersBecomeAuthors.com domain for the blog and migrated it to the Wordpress site it’s become today.

I choose to continue them as separate sites primarily because the platform for my fiction is very different from that of my non-fiction. On the non-fic site, the fiction kind of gets lost in the shuffle. And the writing how-to stuff is pretty out of place amongst my fiction readers. I don’t do too much with the KMWeiland site. It’s pretty static except for when a new book comes out. But the HelpingWritersBecomeAuthors site keeps me hopping!

*What drew you most compellingly to historical and speculative fiction? You novels have been received with acclaim, and I always admired those who write effectively in this genre, as it seems there is a careful balance to be sought between fidelity to history/fact, and the fiction/speculative/even fantastical aspects of the tale. You are renown for your writing tips—if you could provide but one for the aspiring writer of these genres, what would it be?

With a few exceptions, my historical and speculative novels are distinct from each other in following the tenets of their separate genres. I’ve always loved history: its important realism within foreign and even fantastical settings. Really, my love of fantasy has grown out of my love for history. All of my fantasy stories are firmly based in history—just with the added bonus that I’m not tied down to getting all the facts exactly right.

My tip to historical authors would be to read broadly about whatever period you’re writing in. Research is key. You want to immerse yourself in the subject to the point that the details come effortlessly for the most part.

To fantasy authors, I would stress an emphasis on proper and detailed world building. This is what is going to set your story apart in its unique attributes as well as distinguishing it as a fantasy novel. I recommend Patrica C. Wrede’s awesome World Building Questionnaire: https://www.sfwa.org/2009/08/fantasy-worldbuilding-questions/

*I love the Peter De Vries quote on your site: I write when I’m inspired, and I see to it that I’m inspired at nine o’clock every morning. How important has establishing a routine been to your career, and does that ever challenge the spontaneity writers often seek, or in fact provide a forum which makes creativity more likely to flourish?

I love that quote too! I always say schedules are my secret weapon. My life is extremely busy. Even though I write full-time, my “day job” is my non-fiction writing about writing. It’s easy to let that side take over. So I have always been very strict with myself in maintaining my two hours of fiction writing every day. Schedules are the only way that happens for me.
I will say, however, that I’m just naturally a structured person, so schedules come easily. I don’t find them inhibiting at all because I’m not a very spontaneous person. Although I definitely believe that some kind of schedule is going to be useful and important to just about any kind of writer, I think some people—depending on their lifestyles and personalities—will find a “looser,” more flexible schedule to be more useful to them in maximizing their creativity.

*You have enjoyed wide-ranging success as a novelist and a writing mentor, and have earned an impressive and loyal following. But I know first-hand—and see this from you all the time—that you have remained a personable, accessible and humble person—and this can be kind of rare. I am sure this speaks first and foremost simply to who you are as a person, but has it at times also been something you’ve consciously considered, or even taken steps to ensure you stay grounded, and stay you?

Something I’ve always tried to focus on in inviting others to learn from me is putting my service to them at the forefront. I try very hard never to take people for granted. When they visit my site or buy my books, they’re doing me as much of a kindness as I am them, and I try to always keep that front and center. I’m only able to do what I do because of the kind and generous writers I’m blessed to interact with every day.

That said, the busier I get, the more I’ve had to adjust how I interact with people. I used to respond to every single tweet, every single Facebook response. But I just can’t do that anymore (even though it drives my OCD side wild!). I still interact as much as I can, but I have to set limits for myself. I have a policy of answering every single writing question anyone wants to email me, but at the beginning of the year, I instituted a new rule of only answering one question a day. That alone has provided me a huge amount of breathing space and really taken the pressure off my daily workload.

I think it’s important to take a few steps back every now and then, since that allows the quality of my interactions to remain higher than it might be if I tried to respond with the same frequency and intensity I did when I first started blogging.

*So, Storming is doing great. What can you tell us about Diesel Punk and what drew you to that?

Dieselpunk is a subgenre of steampunk, which incorporates the usual steampunk technological aspects into a historical era between the World Wars (instead of the Victorian period). I have to admit, however, I’d never even heard of dieselpunk prior to writing this story. I came up with the idea of a historical novel about a barnstorming biplane pilot in the 1920s, who discovers something strange up there in the clouds—and then learned it technically qualified as dieselpunk.
I actually hesitate to even call it a dieselpunk story, since what it is is a historical novel—with a few dieselpunk attributes. I had a ton of fun writing it! It came out in December and I’m humbled by the great response it has gotten!

K.M. Weiland lives in make-believe worlds, talks to imaginary friends, and survives primarily on chocolate truffles and espresso. She is the IPPY and NIEA Award-winning and internationally published author of the Amazon bestsellers Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel, as well as Jane Eyre: The Writer’s Digest Annotated Classic. She writes historical and speculative fiction from her home in western Nebraska and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors. Her highly-acclaimed dieselpunk adventure novel, Storming, is available now.





BOOK RELEASE: The Awakening of David Rose

Some ten years after the bond between my children inspired the idea, my novel The Awakening of David Rose is at long last a reality. It’s a young adult/fantasy about a 15-year-old boy who in his quest to protect his sister and discover the truth about their mom’s disappearance, awakens a sinister plot centuries in the making, and unlocks the door to worlds he never knew existed.  Counting all drafts and revisions I’ve likely poured near a million words into this labor of love, so on this day when it is finally released, I’m going to keep things brief. I’m just going to say thank you for your support, and that while this is a huge step in my literary journey, I very much hope and intend it is the only the first.

If you might be interested in the book you may find it on Amazon, B&N, and iBooks, and I’d love for you to drop by the virtual launch party tonight.

From childhood three callings beckoned: becoming a father, becoming a writer, and becoming a baseball player. While I may have to reluctantly stop waiting by the phone for a ball club to call, two out of three ain’t bad.


Thanks for letting me share my dream, and heartfelt best wishes in the pursuit of yours….




Thursday, April 21, 2016

Who Wants to Live Forever? The Theme of Time & Immortality in The David Rose Series

Immortality, he understood now, wasn’t about living forever: it
was, more than anything, about those who forever refused to let
things die. And now he lurched unsteadily as this great portal which
connected time and place and people and souls opened and began to
fill him with a great many things.

The Awakening of David Rose

Now that the cover has at long last been revealed for The Awakening of David Rose, it may be readily deduced that time—among other things—is a major theme. All those years ago when the idea came to me, a bit of a different turn on immortality began to swirl in my head. I thought about bitter, historic feuds—Hatfields-McCoys and the like—and the book in fact touches on a bit of it. Stephen King mentions in his book On Writing how he most successfully conjures his tales by starting with a simple What If proposition. What hit me was the consideration, what if some feuds, some antipathies, simmered so intensely as to endure beyond even death? What if some conflicts raged so bitterly as to be uncontainable by time and space, and perpetuated through lifetimes? What if immortality “wasn’t about living forever, “but was instead “about those who forever refused to let things die?”

Hence was born a key theme of my story. Something of a dark, even violent theme, to be sure, but it wasn’t destined to be all doom and gloom. Our world has been undeniably subject to terrible moments of darkness, and so very much shaped by violence, but somehow we have found a way to carry on, to retain at least some glimmers of beauty and hope. And this construct begged for me and my tale that additional question: what are those things inside us which, when things are darkest, we call upon to help light our way?

It is my hope that this book—and the series—represents a compelling journey along the way toward finding some of those answers.


Thanks for your support, and I hope you’ll drop by on the 25th for our launch party!


Wednesday, April 20, 2016

COVER REVEAL: The Awakening of David Rose

Ah, very excited for this! The search for the right cover designer/the right cover, took time...more time than I anticipated in fact but after so much time and effort had gone into this project--by me and others--I knew a little more time to get this right was well worth it.

So a huge shout-out and thank you to Elena Makanski who donated her (considerable) time and talent to conjure this awesome cover, which beautifully represents the themes and tones of the tale. And big gratitude to Melody and the BT team for their support and help with this(and all) aspect too.

I hope you like it(let me know your thoughts), and I hope you'll join us Monday, April 25,  6-10PM CST(drop in anytime) for the Launch Party, where the book will be available, you can interact with me and other writers/readers, there will be give-aways, and more.

Join the Awakening here, on the 25th.

The Awakening of David Rose


Heartbeats and Dragon Curves: The Birth of a Story


What do you think of first when you hear, Jurassic Park? Dinosaurs? Blockbuster? Spielberg? Crichton?


Most likely not, Ekeland, or Gleick. But Michael Crichton credits them in the acknowledgements of his novel, and Jeff Goldblum conferred with both in preparation for his role as resident "chaotician" in the film. Ekeland's Mathematics and the Unexpected, and Gleick's Chaos: A New Kind of Science, influenced Crichton so deeply that it may in fact be argued that it was chaos and fractals, which comprise the foundation of the iconic franchise. There's a reason those iterations--a progression known as a Dragon Curve--adorn the start of each section of the novel. 

But it might also be safe to say that a purely scientific tome might not have had the teeth or achieved a fractal--err, fraction--of the popular acclaim as did the dino version. 


Sometimes--maybe most times--even a story with a strong message and theme needs, well, a good story, a hook, and some good 'ol fun. And the reverse is most certainly true: no amount of bells and whistles can save a story if the heartbeat of the tale fails to ring true, or, worse yet, there is no heartbeat at all.


Around a decade ago I was leaving a Harry Potter movie with my eldest child, David, and savoring the wonder and awe Rowling's stories (and subsequent films) imbued in children and adults alike. Soon thereafter an idea fell to me for a fantasy tale, brimming with notions of magic, immortality, and ancient feuds. I wrote a bit here, a bit there, then it would sit, and for a year or so it just never really took hold. It was around that time my family attended a child's birthday party and a quiet incident transpired which embodied the bond and protection David had already demonstrated with his little sister, Rachel. Some of you know the story (retold in this guest post), but it was then and there that the embers for my novel reignited. The heartbeat of my tale. The impetus for the David Rose series, which in its progression through four books will see a steady surge in the fantastical, dark and magical elements. Even some heavy biblical turns. 


But no matter how deep the mystery, how ancient the conflict, no matter the incredible powers David discovers and must summon from lives and worlds past, it becomes more paramount each step of the way that he remain true to who he really is...no matter how many different hims there seem to be. Just as I learned I must remain true to the heartbeat of my story. It has been--and surely will be--a blast conjuring worlds and discovering them right along with my characters (for we must in the end follow their lead, not the other way around). But just as each of them ultimately needs that touchstone upon which to stay anchored, so too as a writer do I. That heartbeat, that thing in this world which means the world to me; my compass as my characters and I go gallivanting across time and space. 



I hope you'll join us. The Awakening of David Rose launches here on April 25. 


(image from Slantmagazine.com)