Monday, November 28, 2016

Q & A with Allen Forrest | Artist

Born in Canada and bred in the U.S., Allen Forrest has worked in many mediums: computer graphics, theater, digital music, film, video, drawing and painting. Allen studied acting in the Columbia Pictures Talent Program in Los Angeles and digital media in art and design at Bellevue College. He currently works in Vancouver, Canada, as a graphic artist and painter. He is the winner of the Leslie Jacoby Honor for Art at San Jose State University's Reed Magazine and his Bel Red painting series is part of the Bellevue College Foundation's permanent art collection. Forrest's expressive drawing and painting style is a mix of avant-garde expressionism and post-Impressionist elements reminiscent of van Gogh, creating emotion on canvas.

Literary Juice: How long have you been creating art? Is it something you would define as inherent?

Allen Forrest: For almost 10 years I have been drawing and painting. Art was inherent, but I had forgotten my need for it. After going through Orgonomic (Reichian) therapy, I found I had to get involved in creating art. During the therapy I started thinking about art until it was on my mind so much of the time I was compelled to do something about it. I drew and painted naturally as a child, but lost my way as I grew up. For many years I searched in different creative arenas. Thanks to the therapy, I got back in touch with art again.

LJ: What is it that influences or inspires your work? What excites you the most as an artist?

AF: Other art inspires me, whether it is painting, music, film-making, photography, writing,  sculpture, any art form can light my fire. I get the most excited when I see something I am working on – work. That moment when it jumps off the canvas at you and says—here I am!

LJ: How, and where, do you work? Are there any techniques or methods that you practice?

AF: I work both in my room and in my art studio, depending on the size of the work or the medium. Large paintings are done in my studio, whereas smaller works on paper are done at a table in my room. I try to draw every day and work in different mediums. I like to work fast at first, then study the piece for awhile. I especially do this when I paint. The initial fast sketch, then I slow down and study the canvas, wait and see when I feel I can do more to it. Step by step I dial in the completed painting, in stages, getting to know each stage and feeling when it’s time to move forward.

LJ: What is your least favorite kind of art? Why?

AF: Well, I wouldn’t say that I have a least favorite kind of art, but let’s say art that I don’t examine and consider as much as I do others. For instance, I don’t look at pop art that much. I don’t feel there’s much depth there. Even the photographic representational art style I find more a technical accomplishment than a creative one. I’d rather spend more time studying Expressionism in its early forms all the way to its abstract works.

LJ: Is there anything you are currently working on that excites you?

AF: I have been pushing my drawing style into different avenues for the last couple of years, and I am now getting a look that I like very much. I am using this new style to create different series work, some of which is for books and magazines, some just for myself. I have also taking this looser chance-driven style into my painting.

**You can find Forrest's works in our December '16/January '17 issue here.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Q & A with Addie Scoggin | Poet | Author of CURIOSITY

Addie Scoggin, age 24, is an adjunct English instructor in Southeast Missouri who enjoys all levels of adventure across the globe. She finds her greatest pleasure when teaching English collides with exotic travels; thus, in her downtime, you can find this avid kayaker floating down the muddy, spring-fed rivers of the Midwest.

Literary Juice: “Curiosity” is your first poem published with Literary Juice. Can you tell us about the inspiration for composing this piece? How long did it take you to develop its form? What techniques, if any, did you employ as a guide? 
Addie Scoggin: Liz Gilbert, definitely. When I wrote “Curiosity” this summer, the initial draft came out in the form of a two page short story. It existed as my response, or rather my knee-jerk reaction, to Liz Gilbert’s book, Big Magic. The concept behind her book was this: in order to live a creative life, we must repeatedly “choose curiosity over fear.” I had never heard creativity defined in this way. Through her book, I developed a metacognitive awareness of my own creativity, especially in terms of my writing and my way of life. 

In reaction to her book, I immediately compiled my short story narrative, capturing my feelings and former creative limitations, and in a mad rush, I tossed the piece in my Master’s thesis the night before it was due. But it didn’t stop there. 

I kept re-reading my short story, frustrated with it. It wasn’t complete. So there I sat, cross-legged on my couch until at 4 a.m.; and finally, the finished product. I “smashed it,” (as I like to say), into a poem.

Now structuring the piece—considering line breaks, stanzas, punctuation—that was more of a happenstance. When it hit me, I had been sitting on my couch for a couple hours, and hanging up on the living room wall in front of me was a map of the world. It just happened. That was it. 

I could make this into a map, I thought. 

Considering the subject of my Master’s thesis, a travel memoir, this poem harmonized with the rest of my work. But honestly, I haven’t created anything quite like this before, especially format-wise. Thus, in order to perfect the form, I chose a digital outline map of the Americas, allowing the text of my poem to lay on top of the image, and I shaped the words, line breaks, and punctuation within the boundaries of the map. The biggest struggle was shaping North America, as it looked disproportionate to South America. 

LJ: How long have you been writing poetry? Do you remember how it began?

AS: This is a fun question. I wish I had a more impressive answer, but I had never written poetry until two years ago. 

I remember it well. It was two years ago when I started graduate school, and I was thrust into an advanced poetry class. Sitting in the corner, downright terrified of the infinite brilliance of those warming the seats next to me, I attempted my first poem. They were laughable, mediocre at best. 

About the fourth or fifth poem I wrote for this poetry workshop, I edged out of my shell. I wrote a daring piece on the topic of “American Exceptionalism” and how it relates to my two year relationship with my Muslim boyfriend. The poem was meant for those who reduced and rejected my association with Tareq, my boyfriend, largely due to American Islamophobia. And to my surprise, I received some volatile and explosive reactions from fellow students in the class. This allowed me to put my counter-cultural views into perspective and reflect on my lifestyle in the rural Midwest. From this moment on, I decided to play it “safe” for the rest of my poetry writing in the class. 

It was the worst thing that I could’ve done. 

I’ve since written one poem, and that was “Curiosity.” Thankfully, I feel I’ve somewhat regained my voice; after all, I remind myself often that curiosity trumps fear.

LJ: What do you do to prevent writer’s block?

AS: I like to detach myself from the public and, in some way, that produces better thoughts, better work. Isolation works, followed by more isolation. 

If I linger in that mental jam, I remind myself that it’s not about what I’m writing or how I’m writing, but why I’m writing. I write to tell truth, Addie. Often, when I have writer’s block, it’s a direct result of my fear to be original and creative. I’ve noticed, as writers, we’re afraid that we have no talent. We’re afraid that we will be rejected, mocked, or misunderstood. But I simply remind myself to accept that writing is scary, and I don’t let it petrify myself. Instead, I write to satisfy only myself.

LJ: Are you currently working on any new projects? What can we look forward to in the future?

AS: My largest, most recent project is the aforementioned travel memoir. Since my thesis was accepted, I’ve added more pieces to this on-going project. I cannot wait to finish this massive piece. 

For me, however, writing is the unscratchable itch. It hits me in the most unexpected moments: driving, waitressing, showering. And naturally, the inspiration is fleeting; if I don’t capture the thought right then, it’s gone forever. Occasionally, I only record half of it and lose the rest. Therefore, I have several piles of unfinished poems. I’m completing them slowly but surely.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Q & A with Sun Yung Shin 신 선 영 | Poet & Author | Author of UNBEARABLE SPLENDOR

Sun Yung Shin 신 선 영 is the editor of A Good Time for the Truth: Race in Minnesota, the author of poetry collections Unbearable Splendor, Rough, and Savage, and Skirt Full of Black (all from Coffee House Press). She is a co-editor of Outsiders Within: Writing on Transracial Adoption and the author of bilingual illustrated book for children Cooper’s Lesson.
Literary Juice: When did you first realize you wanted to be a poet? Do you remember the first poem you ever wrote?
Sun Yung Shin: I wrote a poem in graduate school; I was getting my teaching license. It was a response to an assignment in an education course. The poem was kind of an imagistic lyric that included a goldfish! My professor and his wife were very encouraging and then from there I started reading poetry and writing poetry and fell in love with it.
LJ: You were originally born in Seoul, South Korea, and raised by a Polish-Irish-German Catholic American family in Chicago, according to your biography. How has your background influenced your identity as a poet?
SYS: A major strand that influences my identity as a poet is being an immigrant. I have always been more or less on the outside of the nationalistic discourse of who and what America has been. For example, going to the bookstore or the public library and going to the “Asian History” or “Asia” shelf, “Korea” might have half a shelf and most of the books, up until recently would have been Korean War books written from a white U.S. military perspective. There are more books now, but very few that are translated from Korean, if any, in any mainstream book space.
LJ: Do you tend to incorporate a constant theme in your poetry? Why is that theme important to you?
SYS: Metal is an important motif in my poetry, that is something that came out unconsciously early on and I haven’t been able to suppress it; it is a major medium, a language, of human innovation and evolution--which includes wealth and war and mechanization.
LJ: What do you hope to inspire in others through your poetry?
SYS: I suppose if anything I would hope to inspire, or at least share my love of language as well as share my own perspective, my “subjectivity,” which doesn’t exist anywhere else in American culture. The values that are important to me are freedom of speech and ideas, freedom of the press, democracy, feminism, peace-building through justice building, and liberation, in particular of girls and women; but really anyone who is a victim of systematized, historical oppression and marginalization. But I also don’t want art to be propaganda. Just exploring the complexities of the human condition honestly is an act of freedom and an affirmation of the individual. I guess I would also like to honor the collective aspect of life and human solidarity... and explore how we are interdependent, and not just human beings, but all life forms and matter, if at all possible. That all sounds lofty, but I think when it comes down to it all artists need to follow their curiosity and try to do their best work and also understand that all work is political in nature...
LJ: Recently, you have published a collection of essays called, A Good Time for Truth, which includes contributions from sixteen writers from Minnesota. Alexs Pate, author and president, Innocent Technologies, LLC, states, “You will not be able to read this book without changing. Minnesota will never be the same.” Can you tell us a little bit about this book? Also, what did you look for in a contributor before publication?
SYS: I was very frustrated with, and anguished by, all of the discourse around race in Minnesota being mostly by white media and white speakers with other white speakers. Those impacted the most brutally were not at the table of these conversations, and not at the leadership tables of so many major institutions in Minnesota. I was certainly inspired to increased urgency by the ongoing, and now highly and instantaneously recorded and visible, epidemic of violence against black and brown bodies--people. I knew that many amazing writers of color had things to say that all Minnesotans could benefit from; I am a believer in anthologies because I believe my first (co-)edited anthology, Outsiders Within, has had a positive impact internationally on the racial and transnational politics of transracial adoption. I myself have benefited from reading many anthologies that have helped me grow politically--especially in understanding the concepts of intersectionality and global feminism.
What I looked for in a contributor was mostly someone who has been writing smartly and boldly about race for years, someone who has been dedicated to telling the truth about racism even though there’s a cost. They also had to be terrific artists (writers) and be able to bring all kinds of readers in through the power and nuance of their language--imagery, metaphor, etc. (a lot of the writers are poets first). They had to be authentic, they had to be fearless, and they had to be committed to making the world a better place. And I found them. I am so happy, and grateful, and lucky to work with these amazing people.
LJ: Are you currently working on any new books? What can we look forward to in the future?
SYS: I am. My next book comes out in October 2016 from Coffee House Press. It’s a book of essays, fiction, and poems titled Unbearable Splendor. One of the major themes I explore in it is the politics of hospitality. In the book are all kinds of things: The Odyssey, cyborgs, Blade Runner, the Minotaur of Crete, Pinocchio, clones, and all manner of fun things!
I may also be working on a book about clones as well as new poems loosely based on the figure of Blake’s Tyger. I also want to write a book set in the future--maybe with zombies or cyborgs or both.

Collection by Sun Yung Shin
Publisher: Coffee House Press
ISBN-10: 1566894514
Paperback: $14.03
About this Book: "Sun Yung Shin moves ideas—of identity (Korean, American, adoptee, mother, Catholic, Buddhist) and interest (mythology, science fiction, Sophocles)— around like building blocks, forming and
reforming new constructions of what it means to be at home."

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Q & A with Truth Thomas | Singer-Songwriter & Poet | Founder of CHERRY CASTLE PUBLISHING

Truth Thomas is a singer-songwriter and poet.  He is the founder of Cherry Castle Publishing. His poetry collections include: Party of Black, A Day of Presence, Bottle of Life, and Speak Water, winner of the 2013 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work in Poetry. His poems have appeared in over 100 publications, including The 100 Best African American Poems (edited by Nikki Giovanni).

Literary Juice: As someone who is both a poet and a singer-songwriter, what makes writing poetry different from writing music? How does your background in one influence your composition in the other?

Truth Thomas: Other than distinctions that mark physical differences between writing poetry (perhaps on a notepad, or computer) from the composition of songs on a musical instrument, the creative mindset is not altogether different -- although there are differences. Success in both art forms requires the work of yielding to imagination. That imagination does not exist as an alien in its own body.  I am not the first to say that in music, it often takes a long to time to sound like yourself. The same thing is true for a poet.  Many times your writing will fail. (I can tell you this from experience.) And sometimes, after much hard work, you will be blessed to succeed. Ideally, whatever you write should be unique, allergic to cliché, and reflect an almost holy reverence to the concision of words.  However, when I approach the discipline of songwriting, in contrast to the practice of poetry, I have to be mindful of melodic strength, as well as lyric potency. 

Great poems are complete artistic worlds unto themselves, simply because of their lyric crafting. No musical accompaniment is needed for them “to work.” They resonate with renewed meaning with every reading.  A layering of themes and inaccessibility is frequently valued.  The same craft elements are not required for a song to be great -- nor should they be.  Especially, if you are involved in commercial music, the point that a song makes is something that is intended to be immediately accessible.  Where prose is often considered antithetical to poetry, fresh prose, with poetic elements is the benchmark of many finely written songs. 

Regarding the second part of your question, songwriting taught me to listen well to life, to write honestly about it, and about the importance of playing on time.  In the context of writing poems of witness, and honoring the place of rhythm in my poetry, those music lessons continue to carry over.  Fundamentally, I am a musician. Poetry is just a new instrument that I have learned to play. 

LJ: In 1992, you changed your name from Glenn Edward Thomas to Truth Thomas. Can you give a little history regarding your name, and the part it plays in both your life and art today?

T: Actually, I didn’t completely change my name. I revised it to Truth Glenn Edward Thomas. After that, for spiritual and artistic reasons, I condensed the designation down to Truth Thomas. The inspiration for the shift came in the form a very vivid dream.  There is more about that dream that will have to remain a matter only for my pillow to know, but essentially the change was in response to divine prompting for growth.
Glenn Edward Thomas was completely a musician, and that was cool. Truth Thomas is a father, musician, poet, publisher, and many other growing things. Whatever is not growing in life is moving in the direction of caskets. The post ’92 name -- who I am now -- reminds me of the significance of personal reinvention, and it also reminds me of the importance of ongoing growth.

It bears mentioning that to be called “Truth” is not a matter of being particularly candid, either in relationships or in art -- although, understandably, many people tend to think so. I cannot say that I am any more direct, pious, honest, or holy than I have ever been. However, my determination to be a drum major for those qualities has certainly been more keen since the name change.  

LJ: I’ve noticed that race plays a significant role in your poetry. As an African-American, have you ever been faced with prejudices in your personal life or at any time in your career as a writer? In what ways have these prejudices influenced you as a poet, and how were you able to overcome them?  

T: I write about all aspects of my life, which, as a black man, includes the subject of racism. To be sure, the unresolved legacy of slavery, and its byproduct of ever-expanding race-based hatred, impacts our nation profoundly. The cold fact of that bigotry is as significant to the American experience as was a much storied iceberg to the Titanic. To ignore the reality that race plays in the cultural currents of the United States is not a luxury that I can afford.
Yes, I have been called names far from divine by skinheads on the street. And yes, as it pertains to my career, I’ve have had poems that deal with race rejected by many “so called” mainstream publications -- although they would never admit to this. However, when you take in the thematic scope of what many iconic poetry journals routinely publish, the notable absence of almost any address of racism -- or writers of color -- seems far from accidental.  The white gaze in the editorial world often expects writers of color to either be colorless in their literary work, or write “feel good” poems about race issues that do not challenge the status quo. The pressure to be a "poetic good negro," in order to get published, is not foreign to me. In that way, racism routinely -- albeit unsuccessfully -- tries to repress my voice and make my humanity invisible.

I confront all adversity first by prayer, and then by positive creative action. As long as I know I am writing well, and with forthrightness, modern day Jim Crow manifestations give me little pause.  Some people climb mountains and write about vistas of nature with startling beauty. Those writers have great value and I applaud them. I choose to write about the black experience in America, which continues to confront mountains of "un-trumped" hatred. Poems that document our problematic landscape also have great value -- and I know this.  Consequently, I have learned to applaud myself when no one else will.

LJ: Your midrashic poetry collection, Speak Water, which has won the 2013 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work in Poetry, is described as being “framed by both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible…” Why incorporate the Bible in this collection? In what ways does the Scripture help communicate the message in your poetry?

T: Parallelisms, rich imagery, and vivid figures of speech abound in both the Old and New Testaments.  Acrostics are striking in Psalms. Beatitudes in Matthew resonate with anaphora.  In a sense, the Bible is a centuries enduring, transformative, bestselling book of poetry. As a writer, you learn to study the masters and to incorporate the lessons learned into your own work in order to grow. I studied the Bible as inspiration for writing Speak Water precisely for that reason -- and as a matter of personal transformation.

One of the key themes in Scripture, particularly in the New Testament, is the idea of overcoming what is disagreeable in the spirit of love. When I considered the composition of Speak Water, I wanted to express similar “overcoming” themes, commenting specifically on racism, sexism, and many other American social ills, by way of midrashic improvisation.  Arguably, framing poems in Scripture imbues pieces with a bridge to the familiar that draws readers in and amplifies their impact.

LJ: You are the founder of Cherry Castle Publishing. Can you tell us about the mission of your company, and what sets it apart from other publishers?

T: Cherry Castle Publishing embraces the work of all people. We are actively engaged in reflecting literary art that mirrors the unfiltered social and political state of contemporary America. What also distinguishes us is that we esteem the work of writers of color, political poets, and writers committed to social justice concerns.

Along those lines, next year, we will be publishing Songs for a Passbook Torch: A Nelson Mandela Poetry Anthology -- which is the first anthology of its kind that I am aware ofThis project is international in scope (and I encourage all your writer-readers to submit their work for publishing consideration by simply emailing pieces to: The reverence for social activism embodied in the anthology is indicative of the overall spirit of our press. 

LJ: What is the best advice you’ve ever received from someone on how to succeed in your art?

T: Work hard. Read, study, and listen to the work of the masters. Take what you can use, but keep your own voice. Practice daily. Write daily. Don’t compare yourself with other artists. Be confident in your own uniqueness. Don’t be afraid to take risks in your work.  And above all, cultivate your talents fully. The winning ticket of these efforts is yours alone to redeem.

Poetry by Truth Thomas
Publisher: Cherry Castle Publishing
Kindle: $7.99
About this Book: "Truth Thomas' Speak Water won the 2013 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work in Poetry. It chronicles the human quest to conquer hate with love, a grand and piercing collection of midrashic poetry, written from an African-American perspective. It is framed by both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible, as each poem references some aspect of every book contained in Scripture. This homecoming work, Thomas' third full collection of verses, is the first to be published in the United States, and reflects breakthrough poetry from one of America's finest writers." 

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Q & A with Joe Moore | Author of the SANTA CLAUS TRILOGY & RETURN OF THE BIRDS

Joe Moore (left) pictured with his wife, Mary.
Joe Moore is not only a novelist and children's writer, he is also a magazine feature writer, former business editor and a professional Santa Claus in the latter part of the year. Having such a diverse background enables Joe to write on a variety of subjects.

Literary Juice: Your life seems to be brimming with Christmas magic! Not only are you the author of the Santa Claus Trilogy and Santa’s Elf Series at The North Pole Press, but you have been a professional Santa Claus for over a decade as well. What is it about Christmas that has shaped who you are today? Also, how has your experience as a professional Santa Claus influenced your writing?  

Joe Moore: To say Christmas has shaped my life is an understatement. It began when my wife and I were building the North Pole from porcelain houses and miniatures. What began as a quaint village sprung up into a huge display with four different “sections” of the North Pole each with its own theme (think Disneyland). What took place shortly after was numerous open houses to see this spectacle and then the transition to me as Santa Claus in order to give “the tour”.

Once I started down that path there was no returning. As my wife, Mary (yes we are Mary and Joseph), and I developed our Santa and Mrs. Claus personalities, I also began writing about the North Pole and the events that took place there. While I have deviated from that theme in my last novel, I still spend the bulk of my time there.

LJ: On your LinkedIn page, you wrote of your 2011 Christmas story, Faith, Hope & Reindeer, “Not since Miracle on 34th Street has there been such a vital storyline for the holidays.” What do you feel is missing in most modern Christmas stories? How does Faith, Hope & Reindeer fulfill what other holiday stories lack?   

JM: While there have been some really great Christmas movies produced on both the big and small screens, this story lines contains all the magic, all the belief and the hope that represents Christmas bundled into one beautifully wrapped gift. We all lose faith and hope from time to time, and many of us will see ourselves in the characters of this story.

What Faith, Hope & Reindeer shows is that we are rarely ever alone in our journey, and that magic and miracles are all around us if we only will open our eyes and hearts.

LJ: What does your writing process look like? For instance, when working on stories with a Christmas theme, do you employ any techniques that help you keep the holiday spirit alive, even after the season has ended?

JM: The season never really ends for me. Because I keep my beard and long hair all year (along with my large frame), whether it is April or August, I am always stopped by children and adults alike. What is wonderful is that this always affords me the opportunity to bring my characters out of the closet and parade them in front of my audience.

Many of my elves and their responsibilities began from talking to children and answering their questions about me, Mrs, Claus, the reindeer and the elves. When you can live your story lines, there is no better muse.

LJ: On a different note, you have been working on novels of a different flavor. Return of the Birds and The Chindi River venture from the Christmas nature for which you are known, and enter a realm of horror and suspense. Can you tell us a little more about these books? What was it like to make the transition from writing about holiday cheer to stories that are dark and suspenseful in nature?  

JM: Light and dark exist in every one of us. One of the biggest personal challenges I have is that if mood is not great, I cannot leave the house for fear it may show to children or anyone else expecting to see Santa Claus.

By writing in a darker genre, I am able to release some of those dark tendencies and take on a completely separate personality. Think of Stephen King's The Dark Half, without the physical acting out. It is a great cleansing of the soul to be able to write both genres.

LJ: We couldn’t help but notice Mrs. Claus is always right at your side! We are certain our readers would also love to hear about her as well! Are there any projects or stories she is working on?                  

JM: Without Mrs, Claus, there would be no Santa – at least in this Jolly Old Elf's case. In addition to supporting and playing a starring role in every thing we do as Santa and Mrs. Mary designs my covers, illustrates the children's books, formats and publishes the novels,  is my main sounding board, and of course is my first critic and editor. She was there in the beginning helping me build and shape the North Pole (and subsequently my ideas for the novels), and she continues to help me with new story ideas and developing each new character for the Santa's Elf Series.

She is as much a part of everything I do as joy is a part of Christmas.

Fiction by Joe Moore
Publisher: North Pole Press
ISBN-10: 0978712927
Paperback: 376pp, $16.41; Kindle: $6.95
About this Book: Santa Claus has treated many of the Moore's kindly. He inspired Clement Clark Moore into writing one of the most beloved poems in literary history. And now he has asked Joe Moore to write Santa's memoirs about several families who have visited him, the North Pole and its people. But this book is much more then a novel about Santa Claus. It is about families who have struggled through life and its adversities and are in need of a booster shot of Faith. It is about all of us who struggle in life, but never dare to give up Hope. 

Monday, March 23, 2015

Q & A with Jan Moran | Author of SCENT OF TRIUMPH

Q & A with author Jan Moran
Jan Moran is a bestselling and award winning author. She writes historical women's fiction for St. Martin's Press, contemporary women's fiction, and nonfiction books. Her stories are smart and stylish, and written with emotional depth. Jan often draws on her international travel and business experiences, infusing her books with realistic details. TheMidwest Book Review and Kirkus have recommended her books, calling her heroines strong, complex, and resourceful. Visit to learn more.

Literary Juice: With your professional background in beauty and fragrance, we can find these elements deeply rooted in your writing. For instance, your recent novel, Scent of Triumph: A Novel of Perfume andPassion, tells the story of a French perfumer who leaves behind her son and her home in Poland at the brink of the Second World War. In what ways is fragrance—as well as beauty, if applicable—used to influence this particular story? How does it help evoke emotion, or convey the message you hope to share with your readers?

Jan Moran: In Scent of Triumph, perfume and the natural ingredients from which fragrance compounds are derived at this time in history figure prominently in the story. Besides being the main character Danielle’s profession, perfume and ingredients are used in characterization, mood, and setting. The journal entries at the beginning of each chapter often relate to something in the chapter, or are used to set the mood. Indeed, every aroma, plant, essential oil, and perfume was carefully chosen.

LJ: On Amazon, one reviewer wrote, in regards to Scent of Triumph, “The one word I would use to describe this sweeping story is passion. Not romantic passion, although there is a wonderful love story that develops, but a woman’s passion for her family, heritage, and country.” These are meaningful words, and there are many more remarkable reviews like it. What is it that influences, or brings about such passion in your writing? From where did you draw your inspiration for Scent of Triumph?

JM: We all harbor deep desires, and I think readers are picking up on these human commonalities. For example, family is vitally important in this story; Danielle’s love and devotion to her children is really the root of her ambition, as it is with many women who wish to create a better life for themselves and their children. She is an ordinary woman, who achieves extraordinary things despite heartache, tragedy, and setbacks. Often Danielle must make a choice between equally heartbreaking options. Sometimes she makes mistakes – as any of us might. But still, she forges on and does the best she can. We admire those who have fine, strong beliefs and never give up, especially in the face of adversity.

LJ: Not only are you an author, but an entrepreneur, consultant and a major brand/retailer spokesperson as well, according to When did you start feeling the call to write fiction? Have you always wanted to write fiction?  

JM: I began writing fiction as a young girl, but life intervened. However, I believe my work now is more layered now due to the experiences I’ve had in life and in business. Scent of Triumph was a labor of love, a fifteen year effort – on and off, course – but like Danielle, I was determined. To me it was a story that must be told.

LJ: What time management strategies do you employ that help you dedicate time to writing your books while juggling other multiple roles in such a busy lifestyle? How long does it normally take you to complete one book? 

JM: Ah, time—the ticking clock is the bane of my existence! Fortunately, I don’t juggle everything at once, though I do love having a grand idea and seeing it through to fruition.
As I mentioned, Scent of Triumph was a fifteen-year effort, but now, a year is average for my historical novels, with a few more months for editing. Historical fiction is a demanding mistress – it involves intricate historical timelines onto which every action and detail must be pegged and verified. I love including small details, but the research involved is quite time consuming. Still, I love writing historical fiction.

My contemporary fiction requires less time. I write it in between historical novels for fun and as a way to recharge. I like to include authentic details in these works, too, so many of these books draw on my personal travels and experiences. Although the setting and tone in my contemporary works are different from my historical novels, what these books have in common is the heroines’ determination, values, and creativity.

LJ: Since publishing Scent of Triumph, are you currently working on any other books? If so, can you give a hint of what readers can look forward to in the future?           
JM: Right now I’m editing a historical novel that’s near to my heart. It takes place in Italy, Paris, and California, where I live. Though not set during World War II as Scent of Triumph is, the World Wars do impact the story. This saga deals with secrets that often thread through families, and I’m terribly excited about it. Again, I did a tremendous amount of research and traveled to get a sense of history and place. Look for it in spring of 2016 from St. Martin’s.

In the meantime, I have a couple of new novels in my contemporary beauty series that will be published later in 2015. After Flawless and Beauty Mark, which are available now, the next up is Runway. These stories are drawn from my experiences in the beauty industry, and from my years of living in Beverly Hills. I really enjoy writing these, too.

Shortly I’ll begin working on my third historical novel. It’s another idea I’ve had for a long time, and I’ve been doing research on it for years. I’m thrilled to write this one and can’t wait to share it with readers, too.

Historical Fiction by Jan Moran
ISBN-10: 1250048907
Paperback: 384pp, $11.99; Kindle: $9.99
About this Book: When French perfumer Danielle Bretancourt steps aboard a luxury ocean liner, leaving her son behind in Poland with his grandmother, she has no idea that her life is about to change forever. The year is 1939, and the declaration of war on the European continent soon threatens her beloved family, scattered across many countries. Traveling through London and Paris into occupied Poland, Danielle searches desperately for her the remains of her family, relying on the strength and support of Jonathan Newell-Grey, a young captain. Finally, she is forced to gather the fragments of her impoverished family and flee to America. There she vows to begin life anew, in 1940s Los Angeles.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Q & A with Amelia Autin | Author of McKINNON'S ROYAL MISSION & CODY WALKER'S WOMAN | Harlequin Romantic Suspense

Q&A with Harlequin Romance author Amelia Autin

Amelia Autin is a voracious reader who can't bear to put a good book down...or part with it. Her bookshelves are crammed with books her husband periodically threatens to donate to a good cause, but he always relents...eventually.

Amelia currently resides with her Ph.D. engineer husband in quiet Vail, Arizona, where they can see the stars at night and have a "million dollar view" of the Rincon Mountain from their back yard.

Literary Juice: According to your website, you have been writing since you were a little girl. When did you discover your love for writing romance? What was it that nourished this passion?  

Amelia Autin: Writing romance was a natural extension of reading romance. I started reading romance in my teens—Georgette Heyer was my introduction (terrific author!), and I was hooked from that point on. Then later I picked up my first Silhouette Intimate Moments in a drug store when the cover caught my eye (Naomi Horton’s In Safekeeping, a keeper-shelf book I highly recommend), and I was blown away. Romance and suspense? Writing from the male point of view? Strong, independent women as heroines? I read everything I could get my hands on by Naomi Horton, both her Silhouette Intimate Moments and Silhouette Desire books. That led to reading other authors in those lines, and…well…you know how it goes. Linda Howard, Jennifer Greene, Nora Roberts, Elizabeth Lowell—the list is endless.

I can’t honestly say when the idea first occurred to me I could write romances myself. I had made up stories all my life, but could I write something someone else would want to read? I had read hundreds (if not thousands) of romances by this time, but I really didn’t know anything about crafting a salable story. I wrote a couple of manuscripts that will never see the light of day before I learned about Romance Writers of America (RWA). I dedicated my first book, Gideon’s Bride, in part to my RWA “sisters,” who generously shared their skills with me and taught me the craft of writing fiction.

LJ: In your Harlequin blog, Sold! So YouThink You Can Write, you talked about the overwhelming joy you felt when you sold your first manuscript, Gideon’s Bride, to Silhouette Books; however, upon publishing your second book, rather than feeling that same joy, you only felt relief that you weren’t a failure. Due to this fear of failure, you refrained from writing romance for the next sixteen years.  But in February 2013, you sat down and reclaimed romance writing once more. Can you recall that day in February when you sat down at your computer and started, in a sense, where you last left off? What was it that helped you eliminate your fear once and for all?

AA: My nephew, John (also my godson, and very dear to my heart), had given me a journal for Christmas a few weeks earlier. But it wasn’t just any journal. It was a journal handmade from volume two in a sixteen-book compilation series from my childhood, entitled The Children’s Hour. (My sisters and brothers and I always called them “the red books” when we were growing up, because the covers are red.) Volume two in The Children’s Hour is Favorite Fairy Tales. A note accompanied the journal, and the combination of the gift and the note reminded me I still had stories to tell…and I needed to tell them. (I dedicated King’s Ransom to John as a way of thanking him for the reminder.)

I had spent years writing technical documents and how-to guides in my job, so it wasn’t as if I’d stopped writing completely. And in one way fiction and non-fiction are the same—both tell a story. But writing fiction is also very different in that it’s extremely personal—for me, at least. And when I started writing fiction again it was just for me. I didn’t research the market, didn’t have a target I was aiming for. I just remembered my editor from years ago, Mary-Theresa Hussey, telling me that Cody Walker (from Reilly’s Return) was such a strong secondary character he deserved his own book. And she was right. When I sat down and started writing Cody’s story it was as if I’d never stopped.

I won’t say everything was easy after that—it wasn’t. Sometimes writing is a struggle. Sometimes I trash whole chapters because they just don’t work after all. But when you get to the end, when you’ve created something you’re proud of, there’s a sense of accomplishment that’s worth the struggle. And when you see your book in print—when you see it on the bookshelves or listed on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Books A Million, eBooks, etc.—there’s nothing like it in the whole world…except maybe holding your baby in your arms for the first time. Jill Shalvis, a New York Times bestselling author and one of my favorite writers, still gets a kick out of seeing her books on the shelf at Wal-Mart…or anywhere. It never gets old.

This brings me to something I have to get off my chest—negative reviews hurt. Badly. I don’t think readers understand just how personal a book is for an author. A harshly critical review is like telling a mother her baby is ugly—you just don’t do that. I like to follow Thumper’s advice from the Disney movie, Bambi. “If you can’t say somethin’ nice, don’t say nothin’ at all.” I’m not asking readers to be dishonest and say they liked something they didn’t. I know what I write won’t appeal to everyone. So if you rate my book one star (or less), okay, I can accept that. I don’t like it, but I can accept it. But please, just say it wasn’t your cup of tea, give it your honest rating, and move on.

LJ: When you began writing romance again after sixteen years, did you find that the market evolved since publishing your first two books? For instance, how have the readers’ taste in romance changed? Are there different personality traits in the hero/heroine that readers prefer today compared to traits sixteen years ago?     

AA: Yes, yes, and yes!

The market had evolved, and the line I’d first written for (Silhouette Intimate Moments) no longer existed. Silhouette was already owned by Harlequin when my first book was published by them in 1995, but now the Silhouette imprint had disappeared completely, replaced by the Harlequin name (Harlequin Desire, Harlequin Special Edition, etc.) Not to mention the advent of indie publishing. Back in the day, indie publishing was considered “vanity press,” but that’s no longer the case.

As for readers’ tastes in romance, they’ve changed, but not as much as you might think. One hero, one heroine, for instance—that’s still the same. And the HEA—the Happily Ever After ending—that hasn’t changed, either. True, not every romance ends in marriage these days as they used to, but the commitment is there between the hero and the heroine. And readers love to see heroes and heroines from previous books make guest appearances in follow-on books, proving the HEA for them is real. That was true twenty years ago, and it’s still true.

The biggest change I’ve seen is the personality traits in the hero and heroine. Alpha males were popular way back when, and they still are…to a certain extent. But a lot of the heroes from years ago could never get away with the stuff they did back then—women today just won’t stand for it. And those passive heroines? Uh-uh. As authors we have to recognize we’re not just writing for our generation—we have to appeal to a wider audience. And that means thinking the way they think. Putting ourselves in those younger (or older) shoes.

LJ: What is your writing process like? Do you work with outlines, or do you simply begin writing at once, allowing the story take control? Also, you mentioned on your website that you can finish a 60k-word manuscript in a month, and a 75k-word manuscript in six weeks. What strategies do you employ that help you write at a swift pace, yet still allow you to tell a compelling story?   

AA: I write by the seat of my pants. I have a kernel of an idea, but that’s all I start with. I know where I want to end up (and I don’t just mean the HEA), but I don’t plot things out chapter by chapter. I let my characters take the wheel, and as the story develops and my characters reveal themselves to me bit by bit, the story can change from what I originally envisioned because my characters have to remain true to themselves. I might have thought something would work out a certain way, but when I get to that point in the story I realize the character(s) just wouldn’t do that, so I have to modify.

This approach works wonderfully well if you write the entire story before you try to sell it to your publisher, but not so well if you want to sell on proposal. I just finished a three-book contract for Harlequin Romantic Suspense where the first book was finished (King’s Ransom) but the second and third books were just outlines and the first three chapters. As I told my editor, I could do it this way if they didn’t hold me too tightly to the story as originally outlined…and I was right. Books two and three (Alec’s Royal Assignment and Liam’s Witness Protection) bear a general resemblance to the original outline, but that’s all. Harlequin has been remarkably understanding so far (and I’m keeping my fingers crossed).

Speaking of which, I hate writing outlines/synopses. I even have trouble writing them after the book is written!

LJ: Today writers are faced with many distractions, such as social media, texting and other interferences. What advice can you give writers that will help them focus more on their creative powers rather than the major distractions that impede their work?     

AA: I’m the poster child for allowing myself to be distracted, so any advice I gave would be along the lines of “Do as I say, not as I do.” Seriously, though, deadlines are wonderful. External deadlines tied to money are pretty powerful (i.e., contract deadlines), but internal deadlines can work, too. Set a goal of so many words per day, or so many pages per day, and don’t let yourself get up from the keyboard until you meet that goal. Even if it’s only one page, in a year you’ll have written a 365 page manuscript. (No one will publish it, but you get my point.)

I stayed up until 4:00 a.m. one Sunday night into Monday morning to finish revisions and get the revised manuscript emailed to my editor before she got into her New York office at 9:00 a.m. Then I slept for an hour, got up and got dressed, and went to work. My husband said I was crazy. Could I have let it slip a day? Would my editor have understood? Yes, but…I had made a commitment, and I was going to meet that commitment come hell or high water. That’s what I mean when I say even internal deadlines can be helpful if you stick with them.

I’m extremely fortunate that even though I have a full-time job I still have plenty of time to write. My husband is very understanding and encouraging, and there are no little ones underfoot. That’s a huge benefit. But the bottom line is writers write. That’s what we do. If you don’t feel driven to write, if you don’t feel there are stories bubbling inside you trying to get out, then maybe writing isn’t for you.

But if you do feel driven to write, then don’t let anyone talk you out of it. And don’t let fear of rejection, or fear of failure, or fear of any kind stop you. If you have stories to tell, tell them. Follow your dreams wherever they may lead you.

Harlequin Romantic Suspense by AMELIA AUTIN
Publisher: Harlequin
Paperback: 288pp, $5.50; Kindle: $3.49
About this Book: The secret princess's bodyguard… 
 As head of a visiting royal's protection detail, Trace McKinnon's focus should be strictly on the external threats against a woman's life. But what happens when he finds Dr. Mara Marianescu—a princess incognito as a college professor—much more intriguing? 

Harlequin Romantic Suspense by AMELIA AUTIN
Publisher: Harlequin
Paperback: 281pp, $5.50; Kindle: $3.49
About this Book: Working undercover with the last man she should trust… 
Rescuing a "civilian" blew his latest undercover op—but when Special Agent Cody Walker next met the damsel in distress, he was astonished to discover she was a fellow agent! Now they are assigned to the same task force to track down a terrorist cell that has a personal connection to Cody's past….