Tuesday, 22 January 2013
Author Interview & Giveaway with Anne Sweazy-Kulju
ANNE SWEAZY KULJU has won awards for editorials and honors for short stories, but now she writes historical fiction adventures, exclusively. Her debut novel, “the thing with feathers,” was released by Tate Publishing in September 2012. Her book, “Bodie,” a total thrill ride, is expected to release in early 2013, and she is currently busy on her next book, “Grog Wars,” set in 1850’s Portland, Oregon, the Shanghai capital of the world. Anne lives near Pacific City, Oregon, and divides her free time between the beach and Mount Bachelor. Readers may learn more about Anne and correspond with her on her website at www.AnneSweazyKulju.com
20 Questions with Author Anne Sweazy-Kulju
1. When and why did you start writing?
I started writing “for real” (until then, I was just writing magazine articles and dreaming of selling a short story) after a major car accident, in May of 1993. We were a two-income family, but self-employed. I had to figure out a new profession I could do from my bed. It was a pretty short list, I could only think of two things… and I didn’t want to be a telemarketer (dear me, what did you think I was going to say?)
2. What inspired you to write your first book?
It was a very old photograph. In early 1990, my husband and I chucked everything, including a couple of sweet public utility jobs in SoCal, and moved to the kind-of-mysterious Oregon coast. We restored a 1906 Victorian farmhouse and opened a Bed & Breakfast Inn. The youngest member of the family that built the house was a famous photographer who lived his entire life there. He died at the age of 99. During the restoration, we found some of his old photographs in the attic. Looking at one of a pretty young woman standing on a rock at the river‘s edge, I was instantly mesmerized, but also awash with sadness. Even though the girl in the photo was smiling, it was the saddest smile I had ever seen. I wondered what it was that made her so. In fact, it haunted me for days after, and then I told my husband, “I think I know why she was so sad, and I am going to write a book about it.” His reply was to knock myself out. *He meant that in a nice way.
3. What other authors inspire you?
Flannery O’Connor has been my greatest influence. I love her beautifully flawed heroes, wicked mean villains and grotesque settings, always salted with southern poverty and peppered with racial and religious elements. Also, Jack London, John Steinbeck, Hemmingway, Nelson DeMille, Jean Auell, Mark Twain, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Rebecca Wells, Jacqueline Suzanne, and Margaret Mitchell -- these are all authors whose dialogue rings true, and whose writing I found to be very visual.
4. Is there anything you find particularly challenging in writing?
Well, yes… I write historical fiction, exclusively. It’s my thing. I love the research part, because I always learn so much. I have books and photocopied reference materials up to my arm pits. The challenge for me is to be historically accurate about physical settings, time periods, actual events, even the professions of my primary and secondary characters, without getting bogged down in technicalities. I mean, I love Tom Clancy, and he is extremely accurate about his settings, et al. But, I don’t want to write the equivalent of his “up periscope; down periscope” for ten pages. Balance without sacrificing interest, which is the challenge.
5. Did writing this book teach you anything and what was it?
Yes, lots of things. I learned quite a bit about the history of the state I call home (Oregon), and about the practices of some Baptist congregations. But the most important take-away, was that I learned there was almost no fiction in the literary world that reached out to the victims of child-rape and/or incest; there were no characters written to be their survivor, or champion, or hero. It has been my experience that when we humans find ourselves in a bad place, when we are at our saddest, angriest, or most fearful, we often to turn to literature, and we look for characters we can relate to, who maybe shares our struggles and strengths, who presses on through adversity, overcomes, and perhaps even triumphs. I wrote this book almost twenty years ago and put it on a shelf. But back when I had started writing it, there were no girls with dragon tattoos, and there were no heroines like Blair. I learned we really needed one.
6. What is your greatest strength as a writer?
I am told by readers my greatest strength is the visual way I write. I’ve been told they can feel, taste and see my story as it unfolds in their head. That is the most complimentary thing I could hear about my writing style. But as for strength, I think it is my bullish refusal to believe in writer’s block. I think that is a bunch of hooey.
7. Have you developed a specific writing style?
I believe I have. I research stuff to the hilt, then I create pages and pages and pages of background about each character--even tertiary ones, before I begin writing. Then I use my completely fleshed-out, realistic characters to push my plot forward in well-researched settings. By the time I begin writing, my characters are well-rounded enough to be real people, to me. I think that is why they become so real to my readers.
8. Have you ever had writer’s block? If so, what do you do about it?
Ha! NO. But then I’m usually packin’ a sixer of Andre Brut and a big club I borrowed from Jack London. (“You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.”)
9. What is most rewarding about writing?
Hearing from folks who tell me they loved reading something that I wrote. It’s a wonderfully warm fuzzy.
10. What is the one line in your writing that you love the most?
In this book, I would have to say it is this one (Sean Marshall to Blair Bowman Marshall): “We all do what we have to do to survive. I mean, I believe God expects us to fight for our lives, don’t you?”
11. What advice can you give to beginner writers about writing sex scenes?
I would recommend reading Flannery O’Connor first. Examine how she can impart a suicide occurrence without ever mentioning death, suicide, or the hanging of oneself? She covers all the sensory stuff so well, the reader “just knows” what happened. I think a good writer can (and should) do the same thing with sex scenes. I believe this because, no matter how hard a writer tries or how talented she is, she will never nail that perfect sexual encounter better than a reader can imagine for his or her self. Consider this: I wrote a novel which revolves around the awful taboo of incestual child-rape, and it was published by a Christian publishing house. Every once in a while, at any given author appearance or talk, I will still have a reader approach me and say he or she thought the rape scenes were just a little too graphic, too raw. Isn’t it interesting that I never actually detailed a rape anywhere in the book?
12. What kind of research did you do for this book?
I did a mountain of research. I wrote this before the internet was available for PCs. (When I got my first computer, its hard drive was ¾ of 1 mb.) So, it was many trips to libraries and sending for materials from far away libraries, plus visits to local historical museums and historical societies. I also did a few (old school) interviews: 1) the best friend and estate executrix to the real-life person I fashioned Sean Marshall after--he is my book’s hero; 2) the Tillamook Pioneer Museum Curator; 3) veterans who suffered, or knew someone who had suffered, from a traumatic dissociative disorder; and, 4) school administrators and social services counselors, about recognizing the signs of sexual abuse in students. It was difficult to glean material about the subject--and PTSD was a term not yet coined. When I did my first edit (almost 20 years later), I had the internet at my fingertips, and thus the world. I used it to tighten up facts and remembrances of things like, for instance, my childhood memories of Chicago--to find the perfect home for Cindy.
13. How did you get interested in writing in this genre?
Oh that’s easy. I never really considered any other. My father was a high school history teacher (and football coach) for some 40 years. He got me interested in history the same way he hooked his students: with cool, little known historical facts. He taught history by event, instead of by timeline, and it was much more fun (and easier to retain the knowledge) than by memorizing dates. I was writing little stories even as a kid and I loved it when I could throw in some interesting historical facts, ala dad, to confound the reader as to what is real and what wasn’t.
14. Tell me about this book, what made you want to write this story?
I guess you could say that photo haunted me into it. And when I found out how little in the way of literary heroes was available to the poor souls who are so victimized, I knew I had to write this story--and I had to write it well.
15. Can you recommend any reading or websites that have helped you in your writing (research, stylization, etc.)?
I have read several books by Linda Seger, an award-winning screenwriter, on character development. I believe faceted character building is tres important in novels, but it really is more a craft than an art. Her suggestions helped me to create tighter, stronger characters that really come to life in a reader’s head.
16. What is the best advice you have ever gotten about writing?
My Communications 101 Professor told me, “Don’t ever become a journalist.” He gave me my only college “C”. He’d said I deserved a lower grade than that, but because I was a good writer, he did not want to ruin my GPA. So, you’re probably wondering why I was given the poor grade. It’s because of suspense--I guess I was born to write fiction, because (he said) I always bury the lead.
17. What is one of the most rewarding things that have come from being a writer?
I have gained a sense of self-worth. I am disabled and was unable to earn a living, after having worked full-time, and sometimes working two jobs, since I was fourteen years old. It left me feeling pretty worthless. It doesn’t help that my disability checks now read, “Government benefit check”. I mean, really? And here I thought those checks were drawn on an insurance policy I had paid premiums into since I was 14. (Sorry; irks me!)
18. What are you reading right now?
Research works on China and the Oregon Trail, Lew Hunter‘s “Screenwriting 434“, and for an entertainment break, I am reading a screenplay written by a talented friend.
19. What is the one thing you want your readers and other writers to know about you?
I would like book lovers (and book writers) to know that I am just getting started. The more I write, the more I want to write. I have a notebook filled with story and character ideas that I can’t wait to dive into, if I just had more time in the day, and more days in the week.
20. What can we expect next from you?
Next out is “Bodie” (Spring 2013). This historical fiction (Western) adventure is blended with a healthy dose of psychic and political intrigue. And, it is based upon a true story--my own! When two sisters discover they had been sharing the exact same repetitive dream for years, and decide to undergo “regression” in hopes of learning more, neither woman would have believed it would lead to murder. Bodie is distinguished as having been the most violent town in America’s history. The town averaged a murder a day, which was blamed on bad weather, bad whiskey, and bad men. But the sisters think it was something else entirely. Goodbye, God! They‘re going to Bodie to investigate!
My current manuscript under construction, “Grog Wars,” is a super-fun, free-bootin’ free-for-all, which will be at least as much fun to read as it is to write. The characters are complex and bursting with color, and the settings are sweeping and stretch across three different continents. It is an epic adventure I have to tear myself away from in order to work on other things. I’m glad I won’t have to be away for long!
by Anne Sweazy-Kulju
As the inhabitants of Cloverdale, Oregon, welcomed in the twentieth century, they were not unaccustomed to hard times and thorny situations. Small communities banded together for protection and hope. Heroes and villains were often difficult to decipher.
When an itinerate Baptist preacher arrived with his baby daughter and a wife lost on the trail, there was no one prepared to suspect what lurid secrets and heartbreak he might be concealing. As the preacher sets his sights against those who might oppose him, the names and the lives of the good people of Cloverdale may not be spared.
Yet in the midst of the machinations of a mad man, virtue and valor can persist. The Thing with Feathers is known to fly through wars, depressions, and natural disasters. Will the Marshall clan and the good people of Cloverdale find it in time?
“Seems she don’t much care for song leaders neither.” The musician reached for another piece of the pie.
“On the contrary.” Preacher Bowman gave the man a knowing look.
“Serious? Naw. Pull my other leg, it has bells on!” he’d told him.
“I never knew a young girl who didn’t attempt to lure a man she’s interested in away from the prying eyes of her father.” The preacher pushed his platter away from himself and smiled. “You’ll probably be wanting your payment now. I believe I promised you better pay than you’ve ever had before. Well, my man, it waits for you in the canning shed out back.” Bowman nodded his head toward the kitchen window. He encouraged the music man to get up and take a look.
The musician followed Bowman’s gaze out the window that hung over the kitchen sink. He spotted the side of the small shed and his eyes caught barely a glimpse of Blair’s floral skirt moving within. He tossed a confused look to the preacher, who gave the man a surreptitious wink and then resumed his seat at the table.
A lecherous look registered in the music man’s deep-set eyes about the same instant the preacher’s intentions reached his cramped mind. The musician reached for the back door handle and opened it, looking back at the preacher once more to be sure that that was what the preacher intended. He was rewarded with a silent nod.
Preacher Bowman reached for another slice of pie.
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