Author Sunday, Interview with Sarah by Sherri Lupton Hollister
I am so excited to be a part of Sarah Maury Swan’s author friends’ group. We are getting ready for our next Author Sunday, October 29th at the New Bern Farmers Market 1 to 4 pm.
If you have been around New Bern, you may have seen a little lady on a trike or one of those rolling walkers. Don’t make the mistake of thinking this is your average little old lady. Sarah Maury Swan is timeless. She is an adventurous soul from her days in the Peace Corps to raising horses, Sarah doesn’t balk at any challenge. I want to be her when I grow up.
Sarah, how many of these Author Sundays have you put together at the New Bern Farmers Market so far?
Sarah: This is my third.
How did you come up with the idea for this local author event?
Sarah: Julie McKeon, who runs the New Bern Farmers’ Market asked me if I would organize a semi-annual “Authors’ Sunday” similar to the one that was held years ago before the market was open every Saturday. Seemed like a good idea to me.
Sunday, October 29th we’re expecting close to forty authors from all over eastern North Carolina. How did you meet all of these authors?
Sarah: Some I knew through local events, but most of them I met thanks to Michelle Garren Flye and her store, Next Chapter Books and Art. When I mentioned the possibility of doing this, she sent out the notice to the authors who sell their books at her store. But I also sent out notices to Carteret Writers, Pamlico Writers and North Carolina Writers Network. We limited the area to eastern Carolina writers as those who live anywhere on the Eastern Raleigh edge. It’s been fun to get to know so many talented people in this area.
You’ve been writing for a number of years, but you’ve only been published a few, tell us a little of your journey to being a published author and why you chose to be indie published.
Sarah: I come from a long line of writers and book readers. So, any chance I had to write, I did. But I didn’t start writing for publication until I was in my sixties. I’m pleased to say I almost immediately got published in magazines. And when I submitted my middle-grade novel, Emily’s Ride to Courage, to the Dutton imprint of what is now part of Penguin/Putnam, the editor I sent it to liked it well enough to send it along the chain of editors until it reached the marketers who said they wouldn’t buy it because they already had a horse series in the works. So I sent it down to Peachtree in Atlanta. The editor there wrote back to me saying she liked my writing and the premise of the story, but didn’t connect with my main character, Emily. She asked me to rewrite the book and send it her again. Well, when an editor says that, by gum you rewrite the story. The second time I submitted everybody says it was a good book, but the marketers said they had another horse book in the works. I put Emily aside and wrote Terror’s Identity, which I published through Sable Books. By that time, I was in my mid seventies and decided I didn’t have the time to wait around for my books to be published through trade publishers.
What is your latest book about?
Sarah: Little Bits: A collection of short stories is a collection of short stories that had previously been published in Michelle Garren Flyes’ Next Chapter Literary Magazine. It came out this past summer. My latest novel, Earthquakes, came out just in time for COVID-19 to shut the world down.
What are you working on next?
Sarah: My first ever early reader book, Space Junk, is at my editor’s and I am finishing up another young adult novel, Bad Hair Day, about a sixteen-year-old girl who learns that her idea of having things go wrong is nothing compared to what her cousin’s bad hair day means. I am also in the beginning stages of writing a murder mystery, Serendipity’s Conundrum. Since the main character is a 82-year-old woman who rides a purple tricycle named Gertrude, the story is more a cozy mystery than Sherri’s spicy mysteries.
We will have a couple of food trucks and coupons for a local restaurant and Next Chapter Books, so come on out and choose a few books for yourself, family and friends, grab a bite to eat and support local businesses.
Sipping Sunshine Lemonade and Tea Truck will be there, along with The Burger Bus a new addition to the food truck scene from Swansboro that is US Veteran owned.
We will have live readings throughout the day by various authors.
Sarah will also be speaking at the Pamlico Writers luncheon, Tuesday, October 31st, 11 am to 1 pm at the China Bay Buffet Restaurant Chocowinity, NC. You won’t want to miss either of these events.
Welcome BT Harris to my daydream. If I ever get rich, I’d like to have a readers and writers café on the waterfront of my hometown where I can drink coffee or something stronger and talk about books and writing all day long.
What is one of your dreams if you get rich?
BT: One day I hope to start my own nonprofit charity organization called Igor’s Children, which will help mentally ill minors get the treatment they need, including medicine and doctor referrals.
Sherri: That’s a lovely dream and one that is definitely needed.
You recently published your second novel, what was your inspiration? How did you come up with the idea for Beyond Olympus?
BT: The idea came from a very intense and vivid dream. I fell asleep over exhausted, and I was listening to Buddhistic chants and hums. I dreamt I was flying through space and eventually became a star. I woke up and wrote down the contents of the dream and started writing a story the next day.
BT: A graphic novel sounds like an interesting idea, but we will wait to see how well the book is received.
Sherri: Your main character Kristina is an astronomer and Buddhist. What else can you tell us about her? Why is she being entrusted with such cosmic importance?
BT: Kristina is the first human since Buddha himself that had this remarkable potential for growth. Others have tried to learn from Umun (our Sun) but failed to prove themselves completely. These failed students, as we know them, are the ancient gods.
Sherri: I read on your social media that you are also a poet. Which came first, poetry or prose?
BT: I started with both. Most of my early stories are in poetic stanzas. My first book was actually completed thanks to a massive epic poem I wrote to guide me.
Sherri: Do you think poetry helps you write better fiction? I’m always amazed by the way a poet can say so much with so few words.
BT: Oh, certainly. I would not be surprised if there are many smaller forms of writing that writers can practice their skills while trying to finish their first draft.
Sherri: What is it you love about writing fantasy? Do you enjoy creating worlds, unique characters or using magic, or is it something else?
BT: Moreso, the escape into a world where even I have difficulty navigating. A character will speak to me saying that this is over our heads. ‘You mean this is far too much fun for the both of us, let’s bring some enemies in.’
Sherri: It is said that all artists are a bit broken because only the imperfect can create something that will touch your heart. Writing became a way of expressing myself that I wasn’t able to do in real life. Has your writing helped you as well?
BT: No one is completely whole and no one is perfect. Some of us feel on a deeper scale, but who better to quote than Socrates when he said, “The real philosophers are those who love to see the truth.” If I was to broaden his statement to the emotional understanding. If we learn to recognize what we feel inside of us, and how appreciative we are of those who see as much, our hearts can be touched in a remarkable way. Sometimes I am afraid to admit the more I develop a character, they become one of those people I learn to appreciate.
Sherri: When I published my first book, I was terrified and sometimes, I am still afraid, but I make myself do it anyway. Were you afraid to publish your new book? How did you overcome your fears?
BT: I was not afraid to publish. I was afraid of what may come afterwards. There is no overcoming fear, no matter how strong you feel. By accepting the fear, you carry it with less weight.
Sherri: How was it working with Tea with Coffee Media? What was your favorite part of working with TCM? What was your least favorite part? How was it different than when you self-published by in 2015?
BT: TCM was the best experience I had when it came to publishing. My favorite is sharing the responsibility of the book than feeling smothered by all the control through self-publishing.
Sherri: What advice would you give a young author on the verge of publishing their first novel?
BT: Never, never, never, quit. Take a break if you need one. Enjoy life if you think you should grasp it. Just don’t quit.
Sherri: Thank you, BT for sharing your author journey. Best wishes for your writing and the success of Beyond Olympus. If you enjoyed this interview, you can find BT’s book links and social media links below.
Join Us Sunday, November 20th from 1 to 4 pm at the New Bern Farmers Market
Thanks to the efforts of author Sarah Maury Swan, she has brought together an eclectic group of authors and poets for a one-day only sale at the New Bern Farmers Market, 421 South Front Street, New Bern, NC. Sarah was featured on my Creekside Cafe author interviews.
I met Sarah many years ago at a Pamlico Writers’ Conference and later we attended a Carteret Writers’ Meeting together. Sarah is a vibrant woman with so much passion for life and writing that just being around her is inspiring. While many people would make excuses not to do things, Sarah looks for ways to get them accomplished. If she doesn’t know how, she calls on her friends and she has a lot of them which is evident by the number of people who have signed up for this event.
Bill, or W. C. Furney is one of Sarah’s posse, he might even be the sheriff of this motley crew. It is thanks to his efforts that we have the poster with all of our covers. I have used his work to make a few of my own, thanks Bill for helping to promote this event. I am looking forward to a drink with Bill and a chance to pick his brain.
The list of authors attending the Sunday Author Event is astounding. We have authors who are award winning like Sarah and Eileen Lettick, Leslie Tall Manning and Michelle Garren Flye, we have professors, researchers, therapists, poets, leaders in the local arts, and more. Whether you are looking for non-fiction, poetry or genre fiction, something for yourself, your spouse, grandma or your children, we have something for everyone. Come check out our books and get a signed copy for the holidays. I will even have gift wrapping available.
If you are unable to attend the New Bern Farmers Market Authors’ Event, you can still connect with these authors and buy their books through these links.
October is associated with Halloween, a time of wearing masks and costumes. Most of us wear many costumes throughout our lives from uniforms to conforming to societies’ expectations of acceptable fashion. But for many of us Halloween is a time of unleashing our true selves, we can for one day be honest about who we hide from the world the rest of the 364 days of the year.
I spoke with a young woman this week about her poetry book, Speak. We talked about speaking our truth and unmasking ourselves. At twenty-four this lovely young woman knows who she is and has revealed her true self to her friends and family. I was in awe of her strength and courage as at fifty-eight I still feel as if I hide behind a mask of acceptability. Would people accept the real me, do I even know who that is. When I spoke with Lashanya ‘Shan’ Dudley and she shared her poetry, I saw the beauty in the raw, honesty of her words.
While I am not a poet myself, I am in awe of those who can touch your soul with their words. Shan has the talent to reach into the darkest depths and bring the truth into the light. She takes off the mask that has imprisoned her and reveals her true beauty. She gives voice to those who have been kept silent. Her words whisper a song and shout a charge to be heard over the din of peer pressure.
Good poetry should make you feel and make you think. Talking to Shan, she said “if you feel uncomfortable when you read my poetry, you should because I felt uncomfortable when I wrote it.” After she left, I couldn’t get her poems out of my mind. I did feel uncomfortable reading the poem, but I also felt sad and angry. As I ponder her words and how she put them together, I see there was also love and hope amid the anger and pain. This may have been Shan’s first collection of poetry, but I do not think it will be her last. She has a lot to say, and her words will touch you with their truth.
Speak is a collection of truth, raw, ugly, beautiful and soul-deep.
Today, I’d like to welcome guest blogger, Tyler Wittkofsky. Tyler is no stranger. He’s been on my blog several times with author interviews and promoting his books. If you follow me on social media, you have probably seen some of Tyler’s posts. He is an advocate for mental health. Tyler is open about his own diagnosis and shares his struggles with the development of his fictional characters. Tyler proves that we all deserve to be the hero in our own story. I hope you enjoy Tyler’s blog.
What It’s Like Writing with Mental Illness
I’ve been diagnosed with a mental illness for nearly ten years now. In that ten years, I have seen the way that mental health impacts people and have experienced the ups and downs of mental illness. When I first received my diagnosis, I was ashamed of who I was. I hid it from people. Every aspect of my life was impacted by this diagnosis, I just had never noticed it before because I simply didn’t know.
When I started writing poetry in 2012, it stemmed from my mental illness. I needed an outlet to write down my feelings to free my troubled soul. I wrote poetry to describe how I was feeling and release the emotion that would build up within me. Some of it was dark, some of it was happy, all of it was mental illness personified.
My mental illness served as my muse in that respect, giving me a source of inspiration and raw emotion to fuel my writing. I found that who I was deep down was the person I would grow to love. Despite the mental illness diagnosis, I had hope again because of my writing. I never thought about publishing it though, because it was still a secret I was ashamed of.
Fast forward a few years and my mental health was the worst it had ever been. I was drowning in life’s tides and couldn’t escape the incessant ebb and flow of the waves. Still, I hid my diagnosis from everyone except those closest to me. I was still ashamed of it.
Then one day, a book idea came to me. My first novel came about out of a desire to help others feel like they aren’t alone in life. I had spent so many years hiding my secret from everyone that when I finally started opening up to people, it made me question why I hadn’t sooner. I had this desire to write my story and help other people like me not feel alone.
I used my mental illness and experiences as my muse to write that story. I crafted a new adult fiction story that followed a young man with mental illness, showing the harsh realities of living with mental illness. My goal was to raise awareness and help people understand what it was like to live with a mental illness and help those with mental illness have the courage to reach out to those closest to them.
Then came time to let people actually read my work. My anxiety kicked in and my heart beat out of my chest. Every time I thought about someone reading it, I would hyperventilate. It felt like the air was sucked out of my chest and replaced with a void that sucked away every bit of my confidence.
When I sent it to friends and family, I started to avoid them. I didn’t want to hear their feedback because I was afraid of hearing the truth. I secluded myself and delved into a pit of darkness. The thing was, though, these people were the same ones I wrote about in my story.
They all loved it and that sent me into a spiral of mania. I was on top of the world. I put together everything I needed to publish the story and was throwing money at it to help keep it afloat, because I didn’t care about money anymore. Desire to be published filled my heart. I was happy and on a mission that I would accomplish.
It’s a never-ending cycle though, because once I published it my manic spree was over. The depression and anxiety of bipolar swarmed through my mind. I was so terrified of letting the world read my work, especially about a topic so sensitive.
I feared what future employers would think of me if they knew I cared so much about mental health. What would my current job think? Would my other friends who didn’t know about my diagnosis judge me?
Then came the people who told me thank you for writing the story. That put me on the top of the world. It wasn’t a manic type of joy, but one of pure ecstasy. I felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders, and I discovered what my truest passion was.
Writing my story pulled me out of the darkness. When I heard the stories of others, it helped me understand Iwasn’t alone in my struggles. I made it my mission to raise awareness for mental health through my writing after that. Giving people that kind of hope is what I want to accomplish with my stories.
Tyler Wittkofsky is a multi-genre author, podcaster, mental health blogger, and award-winning marketing and communications professional from the southern coast of North Carolina where he currently resides with his wife Grace and dogs Dutch and Belle.
Tyler blogs his mental health journey on www.TylerWittkofsky.com. He is the co-host on the Back Porch Parley podcast where he discusses society and modern trends in an attempt to bring civility back to discussion.
I hosted a Writer’s Block Meet Up on RWA’s virtual conference. It was a great, small meet up group that allowed us to discuss different subjects. Although the main focus was writer’s block, the discussion made me realize that there are a lot of things that can cause writer’s block.
How has Covid effected your writing? Are you in quarantine writing more or are you like me, working and feeling exhausted? My writing has suffered during the virus. I’m considered an essential worker. I manage a liquor store. People are working from home or are staying at home. But it wasn’t just the increase in sales but the worry and concern over what this virus could do to me or to my family. Working with the public, having extra responsibilities to keep us safe, fear of bringing it home, all of this made it difficult for me to write. I finished Janie’s Secrets during Covid, it was nearly a month later than I’d planned but I did finish it. Unfortunately, that put me behind on other things I wanted to write like the novella for the Heart of Carolina and The New Romance Café. Covid has just zapped me.
What do you think is the biggest cause of writer’s block? I rarely have trouble thinking of things to write. I have trouble finding time to write. This year has been difficult with the extra stress, work and grief. I have a large family, a home, a mother who depends on me, a husband who’d like a little attention occasionally, and then there is the marketing and promoting that also takes time.
The worst time I had with writer’s block was after we lost our home to fire followed by losing my dad the next year, then Hurricane Irene destroying my mother’s home, and she falling and breaking her hip. I had a difficult time getting back into the swing of writing. Chrome Pink took several years to get written, but writing it was what helped me out of my writer’s block. One of the first things I did to help with my own writer’s block was take online classes. I also attended a local writer’s conference. I began my own writer’s group. I pushed through the block and just started writing. I wrote less than 500 words a day at that time and not every day then. Making it a habit, as often as I can a daily habit, pushing myself to write more, competing in Book in a Week and NaNoWriMo has also helped fight through the writer’s block.
Do you have any hacks to help you combat writer’s block? Normal writer’s block, i.e. fatigue, stress, lack of time, I fight in a variety of ways.
I love to dance. Sometimes a little music and movement can shake something loose in the muse.
A walk. My town is the inspiration for my series, a walk around town puts me in touch with my muse. I often take photos which I use on social media, so my walk is a two-for, or three-for as it’s also good for me.
Playing with my grandchildren, two of my grands live next door and whenever they call for grandma, I can’t say no. I mean, who could say no to two adorable little boys?
Write something different.
Try poetry. Write a poem or song, try writing it from your character’s POV.
Write an interview with your characters. Ask them the hard questions.
Write an article, blog post, advertisement, or synopsis.
Write until you have a breakthrough.
Maybe you need to read over what you’ve written and see where you’ve gone off the rails.
Rethink, replot, or rewrite until you see your way out of your schlump.
Read a craft book to help you write better.
Read and relax.
Listen: this was suggested in our discussion this morning and I cannot believe I didn’t think of it because I do this.
Audio-dramas or books: listen to your favorite performances or authors and pay attention to how they write or put words together; or listening to craft books on writing.
YouTube videos or podcasts: there are several tutorials on the craft and business of writing. They can inspire you to write better or give you new ideas.
I’d love to hear how you combat writer’s block. Share your tricks and hacks.
Welcome to my Creekside Café author and poet, M. E. Aster. Do you go by Elijah? I have a grandson named Elijah we call Eli. Welcome to my virtual café.
M.E.: Hi you can definitely call me Elijah or Eli. I also go by my Mandy in my day to day life but as an author I’m better known as Elijah so either works for me.
Sherri: Do you prefer to be known as a transgender author or do you askew labels? Are labels important?
M.E.: It is not something I scream to the world although I am proud to be a transgender author. I don’t hide it either but I also don’t want people to think “oh he’s trans so I’ll read his books.” I want my books to stand on their own and not have my gender affect them.
My books tell the stories of my characters, not me, so I don’t think what I identify as is important to know if you want to do is read my stories. In my author bios I prefer to use they/them pronouns so my story can exist without my gender or label affecting it.
But as for your second question I do think labels are important to a lot of people. I struggled with them for a long time since I don’t pass as a traditional male and I’ve occasionally been made to feel that I can’t claim I’m trans since I’m not on testosterone and I don’t plan to have any body altering surgeries. As I’ve gotten older and more confident in myself I’ve found the courage to come out as male (at least online) and I love being a voice for non-traditional trans people but I more so share that part of me with those that reach out to me on social media.
I’m also not out to my real life friends and family yet and I’ve started sharing the fact that I write with them recently, hence why I’ve changed my publishing name from Elijah Aster to M.E. Aster. I live in a very conservative town and letting every know I’m trans would affect me at my job which I don’t want. When I started publishing I never thought anyone would find out in my day to day life, but now things have changed and I am adapting to that the best that I can.
Sherri: In the world of Indie publishing we’re learning that there are categories and genres, and sometimes our work doesn’t quiet fit in the traditional labels. I read Three Halves to a Whole, it’s a lovely, tragic story, but I’m not sure if I’d label it romance or coming of age or LBGT. There is no one genre that completely defines it. I often feel that way about my own work too. So how do you categorize your work?
M.E.: That’s a very tough question because I have struggled with the same thing. When I first wrote it and sent it to beta readers they classified it as “new adult” but that in itself seems to be a niche label as well that I didn’t feel fully fit my story. Lately when people ask, I say I write lgbtq+ fiction with romantic themes. Most of my books have romantic undertones and they always feature some sort of lgbtq+ charcter but that isn’t necessary the whole plot. So as lengthy as that description is that is the best I have come up with so far.
Sherri: Have you always been a writer? You write poetry too? I have your poetry book, but I’ve not yet read it.
M.E.: I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. The first stories I remember writing were mini stories based on dreams I had that I would scribble down in a journal when I was as young as five. As I grew older, my love of writing never went away. English was always my favorite class and I constantly took creative writing classes to improve my skills. When I was fourteen I started writing a fantasy novel (my favorite genre at the time). I finished it two years later but being young and unsure if it was any good I let it fall into the background as life took me other places.
I stopped writing for a time during my college years. I got discouraged with my passion and thought it was pointless for a while. I tried to focus on my career and writing became a forgotten hobby. Then I got sick for a time and was bedridden on and off for years. I read so much during that period of my life that I found myself missing writing and the escape it would give me.
I found myself experimenting with fanfiction when the urge to write returned to me but I had no inspiration for original characters. My fanfics got a decent amount of attention and seeing people enjoy my works had my desire to publish original fiction stories returning full force. So two years ago I took a risk and published Three Halves of a Whole, which isn’t my best work, but it was finished and I wanted to see if self-publishing was for me after querying numerous publishers came back with a string of constant rejections. Now I plan to continue publishing until the day I die. Writing is my true love and I can’t see a day where I don’t want to keep doing it.
In regards to my poetry, it’s something I used to do as a personal release. I struggle with anxiety and depression and sometimes getting my words onto paper helps me more than any medication could. That is how I started writing poetry, it was cathartic. My published poetry book fairytales features the loss of a relationship that was very important to me. It was a tough time in my life and I wrote so much poetry about that person that I decided to publish it. The act of putting my pain out in the world actually helped me heal and I’m so glad I did it. I don’t know if I’ll ever publish another poetry book again but I am so proud of the one I have out and baring that part of myself to the world was very freeing.
Sherri: What is the one thing you feel you’ve learned on this publishing journey? What do you wish you’d known before you started?
M.E. Wow just one thing – I feel like I’ve learned so much. The main thing I think I didn’t think was as important as I do now is formatting. I don’t have a lot of extra funds and I did all the formatting and editing myself. It took me ages and tons of research, but I found that it made a big difference when I actually published it.
I was lucky to have friends that had self-published with KDP before I had and warned me to do my homework and learn how it worked before jumping in and publishing. That is one of the reasons I chose to publish THOAH first. I do love that story but it wasn’t my best work and in my mind I felt that if I messed it up at least it wouldn’t be one of my best works and I could learn from my mistakes.
Also editing is such a huge deal. I know everyone harps on that but it’s true. I wonderful story can come across as subpar if it isn’t properly edited. I can’t afford a professional editor so I send it to as many people as I can and read and listen to it aloud numerous times before I publish it in the hopes of catching as many mistakes as possible.
Sherri: Has your writing changed since you became published?
M.E.: This is another difficult question to answer because I only have two books published and my first book wasn’t truly indicative of my current writing style as I’ve mentioned before. I don’t think my writing has changed too much but little things have shifted. I’ve learned how to show better, and I try to stay away from adverbs more than I used to. I think the biggest change is that I’ve taken to writing in present tense instead of past tense. I find it helps me get into the story better in most cases and it is a lot of fun to write.
Sherri: What do you hope a reader gets from your stories and poems?
M.E.: All I’ve ever wanted is for one person to enjoy my stories, to have them mean something to them, and I have more than achieved that goal. I try to write relatable characters that struggle through things either I went through or someone I know has been through. I want to show my readers that they aren’t alone – even if it’s only a fictional character in a book that they can relate to, someone out there is with them.
I can’t even begin to explain how much reading and books in general have improved my life, and I’m so happy to have my books exist out there in the world and to maybe be that safe space for others that so many stories were for me.
Sherri: What are you working on now?
M.E.: My current novel I’m working on is called Take His Place. It’s a story featuring a journalist named James who is stuck in a dead end relationship that is going nowhere. He finds himself falling for a stripper named Logan that he meets at his best friend’s bachelor party. James tries to forget about him but he keeps turning up where he least expects him. James isn’t a cheater, but he can’t deny that Logan makes him happier than his boyfriend ever has.
It’s basically a fluffy romance filled with some sensitive topics like poverty and an emotionally abusive relationship. I think a lot of people can find something to enjoy and relate to in it and I’m excited to share this book with the world since I think it’s much better written than anything I’ve ever published before.
Sherri: What are your writing and publishing goals for future?
M.E.: Now that I have found self-publishing I have tons of plans to release most of the stories I’ve written, which is too many to count. After Take His Place is published, I plan to release a collection of short stories that I’ve written over the past few years. I also have an angel/demon love story I want to touch up and try to publish as well but that one needs a lot of work before it will be ready to see the light of day.
Sherri: What would you tell your younger self if you could go back in time?
M.E.: Don’t give up on your writing.
There were so many times I stopped writing because people told me “you’ll never make it as an author” and I believed them even though that has always been my dream. I even changed my major from English to computer programming because my friends and even my mentors managed to convince me that I would never do anything but teach with that degree. I am so glad I eventually found my way back to writing but sometimes I wonder if I had never given up on myself in the first place if I would have ten published books right now instead of just two. I try not to dwell on the past but that is one thing I wish I could impart to my younger self.
Sherri: What do you feel is your greatest achievement so far?
M.E.: I know this sounds sort of silly but I think having Halo Scot read and review my book has been the best part of publishing so far. I love Halo so much as both an author and a person and to have them not only read but enjoy my book meant the world to me!
Sherri: What is the hardest part of being an author, especially an indie author?
M.E. For me personally it is marketing. I am a writer, not a salesperson, and I find pushing my book and getting it out there to the public is the hardest thing for me to do. I have tried tons of people’s advice regarding ads and review programs with little luck. At the end of the day, my best tactic has been making connections on twitter. Even so my book sales have been low but even one sale makes me happy when I realize my story is out there in the world.
Sherri: If you were giving a Keynote address to a group of young writers, what would you tell them?
M.E.: I think at the end of the day my main message would be write what you want to write. Tell your story. So many authors have these rules for writing or worry so much about what is popular or what will sell, but I believe if you truly love your book and you are willing to put the time and effort into it to polish it then you should do it.
Fear and doubt deter so many of us, myself included, but I wish I had taken the plunge and started publishing earlier. Maybe someone will read this and decide to publish their story instead of wait. I wish even one person had told me that when I was struggling with my desire to write.
Sherri: Thank you for stopping by my Creekside Café. If y’all liked my talk with M.E. Aster, check out his links below and follow him on social media. Come see us again real soon.
Welcome Natalie, it is so good to have you at my virtual café.
Natalie: Thank you Sherri, it’s a pleasure to be here.
Sherri: Natalie and I met through our Twitter group Shameless Self-Promo. I am so glad I got involved with this group. I have met some wonderful people.
Natalie: It has been a very supportive community, and I’m glad I found it.
Sherri: You are an author, poet, and priestess. Do these three connect?
Natalie: In my mind they do. I am a sea priestess by training and with that came a dedication to verse and poetry. But because of my novels, I’ve had to put the poetry on the back burner. I have been able to work some poems into my stories, generally by weaving into the tale by way of a spell, all my stories have magic in them some how.
Sherri: When did you first discover your love of writing?
Natalie: I first started writing poetry in high school, the stories were a bit later. Even though I enjoyed writing stories, I could never finish them A poem was quick (for me anyway), and it was done. I found I liked that, the immediate release from getting that which was in my head, out. When I got into college, the first time around, I started having recurring dreams, very specific, very repetitive dreams. I was forced to start writing them down. Most of the ones from that period (2005-2008) are lost, but a couple from my time in university (2008-2015) survived and I am working on finishing them. That in and of itself is exhilarating. Coming back to a project, realizing what I was trying to convey, and then having the voices return to get me to finish the project.
Sherri: When did you first become a published author?
Natalie: My first book, Love and Pain in Zion, was published on December 13, 2019 on Amazon.
Sherri: Are you indie published or traditionally published? What obstacles did you face when you first began your career as a published author?
Natalie: I’m independently published, through Amazon KDP. My main obstacle is marketing, honestly, I’m not very good at putting myself out there. Just publishing has been a nerve-wracking experience for me. But I’m trying, and I’m getting a few sales here and there. Having a couple more books up certainly helps.
Sherri: What are some of the things you’ve learned along the journey that you wish to tell others who are hoping to become published?
Natalie: Don’t stop. Don’t think you can’t do it. Because you can. Keep pushing forward, because the only person who is truly stopping you from doing what you want, is you.
Sherri: How do you juggle real life with your writing, publishing, and promoting?
Natalie: I haven’t, really. I wrote while I was in class, or working. Not so much that it distracted me from finishing my work or school work, but I wrote whenever I could. And now, with three books up on Amazon, I’m really working on the promotion and marketing aspects. I’ve been a little lucky. My job contract ended while we are in quarantine/lockdown, so I’ve been able to devote more time to my writing and promotion. But it has still affected my family life, I haven’t been as engaged in helping my stepson with his schoolwork, and it’s straining our relationship.
Sherri: Do you have any writing/business tips or tricks that have helped you that you’d be willing to share?
Natalie: Keep a book or a journal with you to scribble down ideas, because I’ve been out someplace and had an amazing idea for how to connect two plot points, and nothing to scribble on. And yes, I know that all phones have a notepad, I never seem to remember that. Then I lose the connection and must struggle later to recall it. Also, no idea is too silly. It may not fit with one story, but it may start off a separate one.
Sherri: Share with us one of your favorite moments as a writer/author.
Natalie: When my first book was officially published, I cried a little. Also, when I received the first author copy of “Love and Pain in Zion!”
My second favourite memory, was when my friend told me that he bought the eBook of Apotheosis, but then stopped reading it when he found out there was a paperback, and ordered the paperback. He put reading it on hold until the physical book came in.
Sherri: If you could turn back time, what would you do differently?
Natalie: I’d focus on finishing my stories earlier, get them published sooner, and focus more heavily on promotion and marketing. I think that if I had devoted more active time to my writing, I’d have more finished, and may be a little more along than I am.
Sherri: What do you have in the works now?
Natalie: The next one to finish, hopefully, is The Domed City (working title), is currently up on Wattpad, along with my other works in progress. I don’t see the end to it though, but I am enjoying the ride that Jillian is taking me on. Also, I would very much like to work on my poetry some more.
If you enjoyed our chat, follow Natalie on social media and check out her books. Her links are below:
Tirza Schaefer, it is great to have you at my Creekside Café, this is my virtual café where I meet the most interesting people from all over the world. If I ever win the lottery it would be my dream job, a place to write, drink coffee and talk to other writers and readers.
Tirza: That sounds absolutely beautiful! I’ll be a regular guest there!
Sherri: Tell me a little about yourself. Where are you from?
Tirza: I am from Germany and live outside of Cologne in a small city with a
name no one who isn’t German can pronounce. It’s like a suburb here, lots of
green, gardens and cats and dogs and children. I like to post my coffee quite
often on my Instagram or on Facebook. I love to sit on my patio, overlooking
the garden with my laptop, coffee and often the cat beside me and work there. I
call that my summer office.
I am a mother of 3 wonderful children, a boy, 20, and two girls, 17 and
12. My son left for university already and will study history and archaeology.
We also have a cat, an Arabian Mau that was flown in from Dubai. Taani is very
talkative, spoilt and loved to abandon, but she is also so loving and devoted
herself. We are so blessed to have her as part of our family, and I am so
blessed with my children whom I’ve raised all by myself from birth.
Sherri: Have you ever been to the United States, especially
the east coast? My imaginary café is on the Inner Banks of the Pamlico Sound
which is in eastern North Carolina. We just dodged a hurricane though our
neighbours on the Outer Banks weren’t as lucky. There is something beautiful
about a storm though after being through several very bad hurricanes, it is
difficult to separate the destruction from the beauty. How is the weather where
you are? I always think of England as raining but that’s not true, is it?
Tirza: Last things first, England does have a lot of rain and clouds but when
the days are sunny and bright, it’s beautiful! I love the UK, anyway. I used to
live there in the 90s and studied at university. Tourism related. I never
actually worked in that field as I had my children straight after and moved
back to Germany, mainly being a full-time mum with a few stints at various
offices before I started my own business.
Sherri: Oops, I misspoke, I thought you were from England. I’m sorry. But you
studied in England, I cannot even imagine. I dropped out of college after my
first year to have my oldest son.
Tirza: I’ve travelled to the US twice in my life and if I had the money, I’d
go a few times more. It was beautiful each time and the country is so vast, you
really have to travel around to see it all. I also have friends in Canada I’d
like to visit one day as well. When I was 16, I was on a student exchange to
Snowqualmie, near Seattle, WA, and when 2 of my 3 children were born already,
my middle one still being a baby, we went to visit a friend in LA, Long Beach.
I didn’t see that much as I had young children with me, so we spent most of the
day at the playground, which was lovely, as everyone was so nice, but we did
see some things and it was a perfect visit of relaxation which I needed after
giving birth and the first few months of sleepless nights.
Sherri: I’ve never been to the west coast of the US but have a grandson in California
and a niece in Seattle, Washington area. I’ve not travelled very much myself
and especially not after having children.
I remember those sleepless nights after babies. I raised six sons, gave birth to three. I tell my daughters-in-law to sleep when the babies do, the house will wait.
Tirza: My current partner is a US Army veteran who lives in Germany. He is
originally from Pittsburgh and by far the most mature, most responsible, caring
and attentive, gentlemanly man I have ever met in my life! They don’t make them
over here! I am so lucky, he decided to stay after he left the Army and our
life paths crossed eventually. I smile every time I think of him.
Sherri: I have been to Pittsburgh, for a writer’s conference. Its beautiful but
the traffic is scary. I’m from the country where a traffic jam consists of
three cars and a tractor.
Tirza: The weather in Germany where I live is pretty muddy in general, rainy and cloudy, but lately, we had a dry spell and it’s been sunny, so the summer was quite lovely most of the time.
I love thunderstorms but ours are not as destructive, so we can
concentrate more on the beauty of it all. I hope you didn’t suffer any damages.
Sherri: We were blessed this year and suffered only some wind damage and power
outage. My deep freezer died, and I lost a lot of food but all in all, we were
so lucky. Our neighbours to the east had a lot of flooding as well as wind
Germany weather sounds a lot like North Carolina, a lot of rain and
mud, a dry sunny spell then more rain and mud. This week has been fantastic,
sunny with a bit of a breeze, not much humidity.
Tell me about
your books. According to your bio, you cannot be contained in a box. You write
in more than one genre, what is your favourite style of writing? Do you
consider yourself a romance author?
Tirza: I would definitely consider myself a romance author – amongst other
things. Fact is that out of my 24 books, 20 are romance novels and one is a
collection of romantic poetry. So yes, can’t deny that part of me. However, I
can’t really say I prefer one over the other. If I had to always write in the
same genre, I’d be bored and uninspired, I am sure. I love that I can write a
romance novel and hop over to do some research online to write an article on a
Goddess or a Power Animal. So I’d say, books are romantic fiction mainly and
articles and blogs are mostly spiritual.
However, one definitely touches the other. When I write a romance
novel, I work in a Goddess archetypal scenario so the spirituality is mostly
hidden beneath the layers of storyline. You can only really see it when you
know what to look for but at the same time, it teaches you without being a
teaching manual, through the story alone. Other times, my spirituality is more
blatantly exposed, as in Snake Goddess Rising, or in Balcony Above the Sea, where the female MC tells a gay man how exactly being gay is
absolutely natural and divine. It’s quite logical.
Sherri: It sounds very loving and reaffirming.
Your website is very interesting, but it isn’t just about your books, tell us about your meditation. How does your meditation and beliefs factor into your writing?
Tirza: Meditation in itself is a practice that helps you ground, focus, heal
and calm yourself. To write on archetypes like Goddesses, Gods and Power
Animals or even Tarot cards, is something that helps me personally a lot to
explore, understand and heal my own psyche and through writing about these
archetypes, I explain how it can work to others. Archetypes are personifications
of certain aspects of your psyche. For example, Ganesha, the Hindu elephant God
is the symbol for your inner strength, Aphrodite teaches you femininity and
self-love, and so on. Tapping into their specific energies can connect you to
them within yourself and show you where you still need to work on yourself.
I am also an Usui Reiki Master and founder of Goddess Reiki. Reiki is
an energy healing modality that works with laying on hands but can also be
projected across time and space. Furthermore, I am an intuitive reader, I work
with oracle cards, tarot, pendulum, my own Goddess Oracle I made myself and I
also channel messages straight without any “tools.” It all depends on the mood
of the day and circumstances. I allow my intuition to guide me and follow it
without question. I’ve learned in a painful manner that not listening to your
inner voice can have terrible consequences. It is important to cultivate a good
relationship with and to trust your inner voice, your intuition
Sherri: While our religious beliefs may be a bit different, there are
similarities in our core. I agree, it is important to listen to your inner self,
we often know what is best for us but sometimes we want what we know isn’t good
for us. As my grandmother would say, hindsight is 20/20, too bad you didn’t
know it first.
You don’t care to
cook, or you only like to cook when you have something else to entertain you? I
love to cook but it is more fun with an audiobook or YouTube interview going,
or someone else to cook with. I enjoy cooking with my sons and
daughters-in-law. I have six sons, four enjoy cooking. Do you cook with your
children? Do you have a favourite recipe?
Tirza: I definitely like cooking together a lot more than doing it alone.
However, our kitchen is unfortunately so small that only one at a time can
comfortably prepare anything there, so it is very anti-social. In the old
apartment, we had a bigger kitchen, which I loved, but there was a bedroom less
and no garden, so we sacrificed on the kitchen for the many benefits we gained.
But I do miss having a large kitchen.
Favourite recipe? Probably pasta or rice with vegetables, seitan and
spicy tomato sauce. You can vary it according to which vegetables you have and
as long as you season and spice it nicely, it’s always a delicious treat. We’re
a vegetarian household and we love seitan a lot more than tofu. It is made from
wheat protein and harder, as well as stronger in taste, as it is usually
marinated in vegetable brine. Very tasty.
Sherri: I’m not familiar with seitan but my oldest daughter-in-law is
Cambodian, and she has introduced me to many different types of food, including
tofu, which I am not a fan of.
I cooked a lot of pasta meals when the boys were all home and still do
when they are in for visits.
Do you have other hobbies? Do these show up in your writing?
Tirza: I used to dance quite intensely for years when I was younger. Ballet,
jazz and modern dance mainly. Once in a while that shows, and sometimes a
female MC will do a special sensual dance for the man she loves in one of my
books. I find many things interesting, I’m a bit of a nerd and so like to read
up on things I come across that I want to know more about. I cycle and walk a
lot more than driving in a car, too. Once in a while I feel like painting,
colouring in or crafting, but that happens maybe once or twice a year and I am
not good at it. However, it’s about the feel-good-factor and it certainly serves
that purpose then.
Sherri: I used to do a lot of crafting, painting and sewing
but it seems writing has become a second job and there is little time for
Who or what has
been the greatest influence on your writing?
Tirza: Jane Austen and William Shakespeare. When I lived in London back in
the 90s, I read Pride and Prejudice and just when I’d finished the book,
having mental orgasms over the language, the way she writes, the BBC showed the
4-part version of it with Colin Firth. What a man! Swoon! I was done for. I
bought the video and watched it several times a week for years. I had to buy a
couple of new ones before I got it finally on DVD and the tape could no longer
wear out. It became less with motherhood, but I can still talk along most of
From Jane Austen, as well as William Shakespeare, I learned that the
most important thing in writing isn’t even the most eloquent language, even
though both authors’ works possess it, but that you have to touch people’s
hearts with your writing to make it immortal. I don’t want to be remembered for
the most eloquent language expert. I want people to remember how I made them
feel when they read my books. I want to touch their hearts and find a place
there for good. To me, that is what a truly successful writer does.
Sherri: That is a great way to measure success. I like
If you could help
someone else on the journey to be a published author, what would you tell them?
Take pride in your work and make sure you deliver great quality.
Don’t let anyone tell you it won’t work. Follow your dreams always.
Seek to touch people’s hearts.
Dare to put yourself out there.
Never ever give up.
Sherri: That is fabulous insight Tirza. I need to print it
out and post it on my mirror in my bathroom so I will see it every day.
Like me, your
family is an important part of who you are.
Tirza: Yes, family is very important to me, so I decided to
have a family alliteration, all starting with T to ensure my children grew up
with a sense of belonging and family loyalty. My son’s name is Tajun, my
daughters are called Tarjani and Tarini. It worked, too.
I’ve always been
a bit of a rebel in my quest to find and voice the truth, not agreeing to keep
quiet about dysfunctional patterns or avoiding taboo subjects. It wasn’t always
an easy path, but it has, ultimately, been a rewarding one. I have not only
gathered knowledge but gained wisdom. Ultimately, I am forging my path ever
more along the lines I want it to travel.
One thing I would
never change is my love for writing. My youngest daughter has inherited this
passion and talent from me and writes stories already. This year, in January, I
have suffered a burnout and subsequently had a long journey of healing that is
by no means at an end. I found it quite challenging, not to be able to write,
focus and retain information in my mind, forgetting and confusing more, the
more I struggle against my condition.
It took me months
to surrender to the healing process and first I was able to read again, not
only watch TV and listen to audiobooks, then I started to write another article
and managed to finish it. With all challenges, giving up has never been an
option. I love what I do and how I make people feel. I’ll never give up on
shining my light and encouraging and empowering others to shine theirs.
This is my only published
children’s book and it was inspired by a conversation I had with my youngest
daughter Tarini when she was 8 years old. Knowing that children learn best when
having fun and enjoying themselves, I brought the humour I teach her with into
this book. So don’t be surprised when you are being catapulted from the
racetrack to a cave and into the kitchen with a stopover in Rome.
Working with opposites was
so much fun! Not only in opposing characters, but individual characters being
at war within themselves, because human nature is so complex, nothing is really