Thursday, February 28, 2013

Author interviews: Niki Sebastian

Q&A: Authors Unleashed

H. Tell the audience a little about yourself. 
N. I was born in Washington DC, lived in Vietnam two years, Paris France three (through high school), went to Swarthmore College in PA, lived in Chicago area four years including getting a Master’s at Northwestern, lived four years in Boston, then moved to New Mexico in 1972. Lived in Lamy and Galisteo and worked in Santa Fe until 1990 when I moved to Sapello. I am working now to develop contracting/consulting income to help meet my living expenses. Love living rural, waking as today (2/20/13) to the uniquely absolute quiet of snow on the ground, fog in the air, even the birds silent around the feeder.
H. You’ve done quite a bit of writing over the years. Talk about that and how your work influences what you write. 
N. Most of the nonfiction articles are just things that catch my interest, or pieces I was asked to do by editors (Sharon, in particular). Not particularly related to my work – almost done despite my work, which was very demanding of both time and mind. I have drawn from people I knew as clients of the home health agency for some characters, or story ideas, as in Angelita’s Fire, which began with the true tale of a woman who was told that her new baby would not survive and she should take him home to die. She created an incubator for him out of her wood stove, and he lived.
H. Your writing is primarily in the nonfiction arena. Talk about your desire to delve into fiction and what genre do you find most appealing?
N. I never thought of myself as a story teller, and couldn’t get hold of the instructions regarding building a plot, so I did not expect to write fiction. Then I went to a Southwest Writer’s meeting and heard the phrase “character-driven plot,” and suddenly fiction made sense. Put a few characters into a situation, and let them tell me the story! The first short stories I wrote in that way came out quite dark, surprising me. I didn’t think I had such twisted or deviant people inside me. I don’t choose a genre; that seems to emerge from the characters also. I read a lot of mysteries, but haven’t finished writing one yet. I do have the beginnings of one, set in the Vietnam that was vanishing in the mid-fifties when my father was assigned to the embassy in Saigon.
H. You’re working on a couple of novel ideas. How do you describe the book you’re working on now? What is its basic premise?
N. Dust Devils Through a Card House is the story of the relationships of a grandmother, mother and daughter. When I began it I thought I’d have their accounts running parallel through the book, but was told  by readers of an early draft that I still needed to pick one as the lead character. What emerged was the story of the one I liked least – Sylvie, the mother. It took me awhile to accept that she needed to be the focus. She’s one of those people who use anger to cover hurt, anger as defense even when she has not been attacked, anger to keep people at a distance so she won’t be hurt again. 
H.What genre does it fit in?
N. I’m not good at determining genres – the book is women’s fiction, but several of my current beta readers are male and they have enjoyed it too. I’ve been told that a defining mark of western/southwestern stories is the role and presence of the environment, of nature, in the story. Drought is almost a character in mine, drought leading to wildfire. So I guess it’s a southwestern women’s book…?
H. As a writer, what are the elements of the story you want to nail down first?
N. I have to know the characters – not with back story and a lot of detail, but what their core personality characteristics are, and consequently how they would respond to different situations.
H. In character development what do you find most challenging?
N. Visual details are the most challenging. Everyone relates to the world primarily through one of the senses. Most people are visual, another large group – and I’m one – are tactile. We sense what places feel like, rather than see them. I can write an entire story as dialogue – then I have to go back and put myself in the place of each character and try to see what that person might see, adding it in as the frame for the dialogue. Getting myself to notice someone twisting a curl of hair around a finger, rather than merely sensing that the person is nervous, and taking that knowledge from the gesture. 
H. What did you learn about yourself in the course of writing this book you didn’t know before?
N. I learned that I am truly free of the anger I had for my own mother, from the abuse of my childhood. Sylvie feels justified in her anger, though her situation was not – compared to my personal experience – abusive. I drew on my feelings to write Sylvie but also recognized that those feelings are all in the past. That was a good realization.
H. What do you find most helpful as a member of a writing group?
N. There are many values to a writer’s group, especially the different viewpoints, different perspectives on life, different ways of expressing those experiences. If one wants a book to appeal to a wide audience, it needs to be reviewed by people from different backgrounds, and that happens in a good writer’s group like ours.
H. What writers do you admire and why?
N. I don’t have personal favorites, but rather any writer who can transport me into a world different from my own. As I mentioned, I mostly read mysteries, or historical fiction. Recently I’ve enjoyed Lisa See, and Robert Van Gulik, for China modern and very ancient. Also Elizabeth George, who writes complex character novels that just happen to involve murder and police investigation. I care about good writing defined as elegant language, correct grammar, creative use of imagery – elements I try to bring to my own work.
H. Who has been most influential in your writing? 
N. My maternal grandfather, who used to come down from Baltimore every Sunday when I was small, to DC where we lived. He would take me out to the zoo, or a park, or just for a walk around our neighborhood, and ask me about my week and listen to my problems and help me feel better about myself. He was a founder of the Labor Zionist party in the US, friends with Golda Meier and Chaim Weitzman and that group, but he stayed in the US, didn’t move to Israel when it was established, as the others did. He was a Hebrew poet, and he’d talk to me about his poems, how he would search for just the right word in just the right place, to convey all the nuances he wanted for the poem. He taught me the value of listening, of reflecting, and of language.
H. In addition to the novel, you are also working on a book having to do with Parkinson’s. Talk about that and whom you’re writing the book for.
N. The book on Parkinson’s developed out of the interest of a dear friend of mine who is living with the disease. He is a very creative person, who through trial and error has come up with “inventions of movement,” to get his body to do what it tends to freeze up over. For example, when his right leg starts to drag, he hits it with his left hand to bring it back into the movement of walking. He said one day that it would be helpful to have a sort of encyclopedia of ideas like that, to go to when his body throws some new restriction at him – to get ideas from what other people have discovered. I’m interested in neuroscience and creativity as well, and am using research in that field as a backdrop for interviews with people living with Parkinson’s, from which I can extract the elements for an encyclopedia of interventions. 
H. What is your biggest challenge in writing?
N. Giving myself permission to spend time on writing. Not just the finding time, but with the emphasis on giving myself permission. I’ve realized recently that my choices in life have been guided by an expectation that I must compromise between what I want and my obligations to others – compromise even before the circumstances require that I do so. I’m at an advanced enough age now, that finally, I am beginning to believe I have a right to go for what I want first, and only think about compromise if it is absolutely necessary.
H. Talk about your work with men who are incarcerated. 
N. I worked as a psychology instructor for the College of Santa Fe, teaching inside the New Mexico Penitentiary, back before the 1980 prison riot – finishing up at the end of that spring semester. After the National Guard retook control of the facility, I went inside to the school unit, to get personal items and books from my office. The entire prison was trashed, except the school wing. Men I saw later, when I found them where they’d been transferred to Arizona and Oklahoma, told me the school was the only place they were treated with respect, so they respected it and didn’t destroy it. I took them books and gave them assignments, allowing them to finish the semester and get the credits they’d earned.
  Now, I work in the Level 2 facility at Santa Fe with men, and sometimes also at the women’s facility in Grants, as a facilitator of the Alternatives to Violence Program. It’s a series of three intensive, 20 hour weekend workshops providing experiences learning tools to respond non-violently. The program is based on a core concept that we all have within us a transforming power that allows us to change patterns or habits. The workshop offers tools for accessing that power and using it to respond in new, less violent, ways.
H. What brought you to New Mexico?
N. I was living in Boston, headed for Maine as my next – and final – destination, when I came to a point in my life that required a step back and some reflection about choices. I was doing watercolor painting then, and remembered the desert colors from my train trip across the U.S. on the way to Vietnam. I thought to go out to Phoenix where my father had cousins I’d never met. Instead I came to Santa Fe because my college friend (the one who now has Parkinson’s) and his wife had just arrived there and were starting up a theater. They said I’d like Santa Fe better than Phoenix, and they were right. I spent a month, including driving out on the Navajo reservation, and then went back to Boston to move forward with my life there. When that effort fell apart, I packed up and drove out here to the desert, which takes me out of myself in the same way the ocean did, in Maine.
H. What inspires you?
N. Communication, in all its forms – verbal, non-verbal, movement, connection, experience – the myriad ways people perceive and think and respond and share with one another. Not just people, animals too. And between people and animals. I appreciate and need solitude, but I also value and need a sense of connectedness. At one stressful time when I was living alone, I had a horse who would give me hugs. If I walked up from the front, and stood close in to Valentine’s neck, she’d put her head over my shoulder, then tuck her chin down and hug me with her head. It was just want I needed. Pure communication of affection.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Author Interviews: RJ Mirabal

Q&A: Authors unleashed

Author RJ Mirabal loves the Middle Rio Grande Valley having lived there for most of his life. A happily retired high school teacher, he now pursues writing and music while volunteering with a motorcycle club and teachers’ organizations. RJ enjoys exploring New Mexico’s wilderness areas on his four-wheeler and traveling with his wife, Cheryl. The Tower of Il Serrohe is his debut novel.

H. Talk a little more about your background. 
RJ. I grew up in Peralta, NM, about 25 miles south of Albuquerque. I attended school in the Los Lunas School system, earned my teaching degree in English, speech, drama, and music at UNM, and then returned to Los Lunas High to teach those subjects for 39 years. My parents were a great encouragement to me and taught me anything I wanted required work and persistence. Neither had finished high school and were never prosperous, but they were determined I get a good education so my life would be better than theirs. As an only child, I developed quite an imagination to keep myself occupied. I always had cats and dogs as well as farm animals, so they became some of my closest companions. I enjoy the outdoors especially if I can be out riding. I used to ride motorcycles, but now enjoy a 4wheeler. Since I was a kid I also enjoyed music and participated in music at school which has continued to interest me. Recently, I have been learning to play the hammered dulcimer since I retired four years ago. I’m something of an organizer, so I have participated in organizations for many years.

H. Give us a quick synopsis of the story.
RJ. Strangely enough, my story takes place in the Middle Rio Grande Valley between Albuquerque and Los Lunas (which I call “Rio Luna” in the novel). My main character, Don Vargas, whose life is at low point, is kicked out of his home by his wife and ends up living in a two room Casita north of Rio Luna. He is visited by a bat who tells him of another valley, the Valle Abajo, which is very similar to the Rio Grande but has important differences including the Medieval lifestyle of the people who live there and the fact everything about the Valle is physically magnified. The mountains to the east are the size of the Himalayas, the river, called Dream River is a mile wide, and so on. However, the Valle Abajo is still New Mexico with its familiar environment, weather, etc. The people who are gathered into very unique clans are in a deadly conflict with the Soreyes. On the rim of the lava cliffs overlooking the valley, the Soreyes built a tower which has a magical power over the clans. The clans need someone who can figure out a way to overcome the Soreyes and the bat has come to persuadeDon to take on this quest. Of course he doesn’t want to have anything to do with this and would rather remain

H. Talk about your inspiration for this story. Is it something you had been thinking about for a while? RJ. Several years ago, after not having much success writing science fiction because of my limited scientific knowledge and new ideas demanded by that genre, I decided to try writing fantasy. I wanted to avoid the typical sword and sorcery tale with heavy elements of magic set in a Celtic or European kind of setting, so I decided to place my story in a New Mexico setting and focus more on the interaction of the characters and their inner selves rather than complicated magic. It was a nice little short story, but didn’t go anywhere. Later I started writing a realistic story about a loser—alcoholic, cynical, and profane—who had been kicked out by his promiscuous wife. Then I reached a dead end. At some point I got the idea to connect this character to my New Mexico fantasy and used the familiar portal concept to connect the two so the readers would understand this alternate valley is another version of New Mexico.

H. Talk about the character of Don Vargas. Is he running away from life or toward redemption?
RJ. I believe through most of the story he is definitely running away from life. He is tired of his career as a second rate instructor at a small college in Albuquerque; he and his wife have a poor relationship; he drinks too much; and he resents his abusive father who raised him alone since Don’s mother died giving birth to him. Near the end, I believe he starts to see the possibility of redemption, though he would never consciously admit it.

H. He does not appear particularly courageous in the beginning of the story. What drives him?
RJ. At first Don is not in the mood to risk anything for anybody. He doesn’t care about these clans or their problems, but since he is trying to escape life, he is more curious than brave. He thinks this talking bat and his story is the result of an alcoholic delirium. Once he gets into it, this curiosity keeps taking him to the next level until more courage is demanded. He would have been more afraid if he had believed this was reality from the beginning. Later, it was too late to back out.

H. This is obviously after Don Vargas discovers he has access to an alternate world. What made you use this as a vehicle for telling the story? RJ. The ability to pass through the Portal is unique to him and one other from his valley about a hundred years before, a curandera whose story is also related in the novel as well as two “sister” curanderas from the Valle Abajo. As King Arthur is the only one who can pull Excalibur from the stone, he is chosen to travel to an alternative existence, but he can’t imagine why someone like him can do this other than he is crazy or delirious. Later, more is revealed about why he is qualified though there are still unanswered questions at the end.

H. What was your biggest challenge in creating the alternate world? It seems like modern-day Rio Grand Valley but there are differences. RJ. I wanted to recreate the familiar New Mexico environment while adding a sense of wonder and mystery. I felt I needed to remake it on a grand scale, but not to the point it is unrecognizable. I have always admired how the writing of Tony Hillerman and Rudolfo Anaya evoked both the reality and spirit of New Mexico. My goal is to match what they accomplished while infusing the setting with the wonder of a fantasy quest. I’ll have to leave it to the readers to determine if I succeeded.

H. Is Don Vargas ultimately drawn to the quest of defeating the Soreyes by an innate desire to regain his pride, or out of a desire to win favor? RJ. He would deny to the death any desire to win favor, but as the story develops, I believe this becomes an unspoken and, probably, unacknowledged motivation. And if he was accused of trying to regain his pride, he would be in total denial. He feels he never had pride in himself so why should he start now? Again, in my mind, he’s drawn by his curiosity and the distraction the quest offers so he doesn’t have to think about his own life, problems, and failures.

H. The protagonist has been kicked out of his somewhat comfortable existence, thrust into a future drenched in unknowns, and conflicted by his uncertain past. How do these factors contribute to his truculent nature and drinking? RJ. The drinking is his great escape. He is honest about his alcoholism, but hardly interested in reforming or giving it up. He has his moments of wanting to reform, but he is not ready to start a 12 step program. Only when other people reach out to him and the challenge of the quest makes demands on him does he consider changing his life. His truculence is due to his father’s abuse, never knowing his mother, and the general sense of failure and pointlessness to his life. Only as he encounters the rather na├»ve and trusting clanspeople of the Valle Abajo, does he mellow out somewhat.

H. What is your writing routine? RJ. Once I get an idea, I jot down a few particulars I don’t want to forget, usually in the form of a story idea or an interesting quirk a character possesses. Then I just let it roll around in my head for days, weeks, even years until I get the urge to start making it real. I usually write a rough synopsis in terms of plot. I also start developing character and setting descriptions. Only as I’m writing or even after I’ve written do I explore the thematic elements and then tweak the story and characters if needed for thematic consistency. As a teacher, I would push my students to think about the implications and themes of a work of literature. But, oddly enough, as a writer I don’t give it that much thought until I’m almost done. Some of your questions have forced me to think about themes and personality traits I hadn’t explored before. Once the fun part of running the characters through the plot is done then begins revision and copy editing. I try to read it aloud as a final step before I have others look at it. I now have an editor which is godsend because she can see possibilities to rephrase some of my sentences to give it that extra polish and punch. Plus, I always need more pairs of eyes to catch those errors I can’t see because I’m too close to it.

H. What reaction have you had from people who have read the book? RJ. Most people are intrigued by Don and mostly forgive his crusty nature. They don’t seem to fault him for his language and attitude as much as I do! Also, I have been pleased about how well I’ve surprised people by unexpected developments in the story. An author’s special effects are in his words and imagery and I’m gratified people have enjoyed the world I’ve created.

H. What did you learn about yourself in the course of writing this book?
RJ. I found out I could create a believable character that shares little with me in terms of personality and motivation. Of course, there’s a little of me in every character, but Don and I are fundamentally different. I also found out I had more in my imagination than I thought possible.

H. Your book was published by a small publisher, Black Rose Writing. What was that process like? RJ. It’s been mostly good because Reagan Rothe, the person behind Black Rose, is a young man who wants to involve authors more in the process of publishing and marketing their books which is necessary for an independent publisher. I have also learned from fellow authors that large publishers are not as supportive as one might expect unless the author is a huge best seller or a celebrity. Another thing I didn’t realize was that with the smaller publishers, you have to have your own editor to be sure your writing is well polished and more readable. On the other hand, it was nice having a publisher take care of all the details of setting it up for publication and printing, posting it as an eBook, getting it listed in the catalogs, and supplying the book to bookstores.

H. What do you wish you had known when you started writing this novel?
RJ. I wish I had known how much I needed an editor. Being an English teacher, I constantly edited my students’ work. So I thought I could edit my own. And I can, but not to the level that’s necessary. I also would have liked to have known more about promoting the book, setting up a web site, etc. But I’m learning that now and I might have been discouraged if I had anticipated all the work involved before I started writing. Sometimes, if you really want something, it works better if you enter it with some blissful ignorance otherwise you lose courage and never try.

H. What advice do you have for writers?
RJ. Keep writing and keep sending things out to whoever might publish your work. Even if you never make the best seller lists, it’s a great sense of accomplishment to know you gave it your best shot. And remember, all the most successful publishers, editors, agents, and fellow writers really don’t know what will take readers by storm and what won’t. Rowling’s first Harry Potter book was rejected around 40 times before being accepted by Scholastic!

H. What are you working on now?
RJ. My small, but growing group of readers wants a sequel, so I’ve outlined the plot and have started the first few chapters. Of course, I’m concerned if it will fulfill expectations.

H. Where can the book be purchased?
RJ. My book is available from the publisher, Black Rose Writing which can be found on the Internet, along with Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords as a book and in all eBook formats. Hastings and Barnes and Noble bookstores can order my books as well as most any bookstore since my book is in all the major catalogs bookstores use. I can mail a signed copy to anyone who contacts me. I can be found on my web site: where visitors can “leave a comment” which allows me to reply. My web site has complete information on my book, my upcoming events, links, etc. Also, I am on Facebook under my name, RJ Mirabal, where I post my activities and can respond to inquiries.


If you are an author interested in a Q&A interview on Writers' Block, e-mail your query to You will be contacted for more information. The interview will appear in Happenstance, a digital magazine, and on this blog.

Sharon Vander Meer is the author of four books. She publishes Happenstance, a bi-monthly digital magazine featuring the work of talented writers in a variety of genres. Fiction, nonfiction, memoir, essays, articles and opinion pieces will be considered. Compensation is not available at this time. The magazine is available by paid subscription. Contributing writers will be given a complimentary subscription. For more information about submitting work, contact

Author Interviews: Kathleen M. Rodgers

Q&A: Authors unleashed

Kathleen Rodgers, Writer's Block guest on KFUN/KLVF, Feb. 5, grew up in a family of six kids in Clovis, N.M., home of Cannon Air Force Base and the Santa Fe Railroad. She spent countless hours in a rocking chair, daydreaming about what it would be like to be someone else. Little did she know then she was creating stories in her head. Her work has appeared in Family Circle Magazine, Air Force, Army & Navy Times, Family: The Magazine for Military Families, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Albuquerque Journal, Clovis News Journal, and in three anthologies: “Because I Fly,” by McGraw-Hill, “Lessons From Our Children,” by Health Communications, Inc. and “Hearts of Steel,” by Military Writers Society of America.

In 2008, Leatherneck Publishing released her debut novel “The Final Salute.” The following year, Army Wife Network selected it as their July 2009 book club pick and Military Writers Society of America awarded it the Silver Medal. In July 2011, the e-book edition was released by Navigator Books. That paperback edition hit the Amazon Bestseller list in 2010 and the Kindle edition November 2012.

H. What do you want people to know about you as a writer?
K. Whether I’m writing a nonfiction piece for a magazine or newspaper or working on a novel or short story, I write to get to the truth. I try to create an emotional impact that will draw my reader in. My former editor at Family Circle Magazine once told me, “Your strength as a writer is your storytelling ability.” This is around the same time that I pulled back on my freelance work and tried to concentrate on the manuscript that would grow up to become “The Final Salute.”

H. What is the earliest piece of writing you remember doing? Why did it stay with you?
K. I wrote a short mystery in seventh grade. I don’t remember the characters or much about the story, but I recall it had three main elements: a trap door, a basement, and skeletons. Looking back, I realize that story was probably my first stab at fiction. Why does it stay with me all these years? That’s the first time I can recall transferring a story in my head onto paper. Of course it was scribbled in sloppy cursive into a spiral notebook. Even then, I don’t think I stayed within the lines. Pretty risky stuff for a shy seventh grader.

H. Who most encouraged your writing?

K. The first person that comes to mind is Bill Kopf, my high school newspaper advisor at Clovis High School. Mr. Kopf let me write about Big Foot and UFOs instead of school news. He also encouraged me to enter a statewide writing contest sponsored by the New Mexico Press Women’s Association where I won first place for “Strange Blobs of Light Whiz Through the Night,” an article about UFOs. My first real boss was Mike Slinker at Eastern New Mexico University. Mike hired me as a student writer in what was then Information Services. After attending ENMU for two semesters, I moved back to Clovis and Bill Southard, the managing editor of the Clovis News Journal, hired me as a cub reporter. Initially, my job was to write first birthdays, obits and headlines. Within a week I was writing front-page feature stories.

My aunt, Kay Lamb of Albuquerque, gave me my first subscription to Writers Digest when I was a senior in high school. She, along with my late uncle gave me my first typewriter, a portable turquoise manual I carried everywhere. My mother bought me my first briefcase with my initials on the handle. Then there’s my longtime writing mentor and friend, Parris Afton Bonds, a New York Times bestselling author. I met Parris in 1984, and she has stayed steadfast in her belief in my work. My husband Tom, is a huge source of support. He pushes me to get my work done. And last but not least, my READERS. They’ve become some of my biggest cheerleaders.
H. What inspired “The Final Salute?” 
K. Two things: Fighter pilots dying in peacetime training missions, and how the brass cover up sex scandals in the military. The story is based on the years I spent as a military wife married to an Air Force fighter pilot. I was twenty-one years old when I married into the world of military aviation. A world I thought was full of parties at the Officer’s Club, the roar of jet engines, and a place where my husband and the other pilots lived on the edge of the envelope at a speed faster than the rest of us.

Early in my marriage, I learned about the other side of military aviation. The side that nobody likes to talk about when a plane goes down. When a hush goes over a squadron of men like a black pall because earth and sky have collided and one of their brothers isn’t coming home. In one year alone, my husband and I lost eleven friends in air mishaps. And this was during peacetime. But the crashes kept coming, and the death toll rose. We toasted the dead and partied on.

I learned to accept two things about my husband’s career choice: His job could kill him, and he loved every minute of it. When I started writing the novel twenty years ago, my main goal was to give a voice to the men who perished flying for their country and the women and children they left behind.

H. How did you market your book?
K. Without the help of an expensive publicist, I used modern technology and old-school methods to gain national attention for my book. Write-ups have appeared in The Associated Press, USA Today, Military Times, Family Magazine, Mobile Press-Register, Midwest Book Review, Fort Worth-Texas Magazine, the Star-Telegram, and many other publications. The Final Salute hit #1 on Amazon's Top Rated War Fiction in 2012 and #2 on Amazon's Bestseller list in Military Aviation in 2010. In 2009, Army Wife Network selected The Final Salute for their July book club, and that same year I won a Silver Medal from Military Writers Society of America.

H. Do you typically base your characters on specific people or are they composites... or are they completely created out of thin air?
K. My characters are composites of other people. I like to think of my fiction as a combination of real life and make-believe. When mixed together, you have a rich and satisfying gumbo. At least that’s my goal as a novelist.

H. What is your writing process like?
K. I whine a lot. Then I realize how lucky I am. A writing instructor at SMU reminded me recently that writing fiction is a privilege that so many people in the world don’t get to indulge in. Even when I’m writing a first draft, I’m constantly revising. I write longhand on legal pads, in journals, on Post -it-notes, in the margins of the church bulletin and on the computer. The writing life is a messy life, but it’s the only life I know.

Many years ago I was contracted to write a story about ADHD for Family Circle. The 2500 word piece was puzzled together using sticky notes, napkins, scraps of paper, index cards. In a photo my husband snapped of me at work, I’m seated on the living room floor with all those notes fanned out in front of me. There’s nothing linear about my process, but with the magic of computers, I can put it all together into some semblance of order.

Since “The Final Salute” was written on speculation, I had to impose my own deadlines, and I had to keep telling the ugly voices in my head to shut up. One voice kept asking, “Who are you to tell a story about fighter pilots? You’re a woman. You’re not even a pilot.” I learned to trust my storytelling abilities and my life experiences, and that combination gave me the authority I needed to complete the novel and put it through numerous revisions.

H. What writers inspired you as a child? What writers inspire you now?
K. I wasn’t a big reader as a child, but the book – or series – that got my attention was “The Boxcar Children.” My oldest sister and I used to act out the stories in our backyard, taking turns being each of the characters. Then imagine my delight as a young writer to learn that I'm a descendant of Samuel Langhorne Clemens on my Grandmother Virgie Clemens side. I’ve been trying to channel him for years.

Although I was born and raised in New Mexico, I’ve always been drawn to southern writers. When I was young and trying to find my own voice, I practically worshipped at the feet of Pat Conroy. My favorite African-American author is Ernest J. Gaines. I’ve read “A Lesson Before Dying,” “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman,” and “A Gathering of Old Men” at least twice. Mark Childress’ novel “Crazy In Alabama,” taught me that a good story could have a reader laughing and crying at the same time. That’s what I tried to do in “The Final Salute.” I tried to balance the serious stuff with lots of dark humor.

Two of my favorite female novelists are the late Carol Shields and Irish novelist Maeve Binchy. Both have a gift for turning the ordinary family situation into the dramatic without it coming across like a soap opera. That’s my goal, too.

H. What are you writing now?
K. A midlife coming-of-age novel titled “Johnnie Come Lately.” I’m about four scenes shy of completion. In the story, closet writer Johnnie Kitchen has a crisis that turns explosive, exposing a secret that tears her family apart. Still haunted by her mama’s disappearance and her father’s death in Vietnam, Johnnie turns to her journal, penning irreverent letters to the missing and dead. It’s 2007, the country is involved in two bloody wars, and her youngest son enlists in the military against her will. Rebuffed in her efforts to repair the damage she’s inflicted on her now-estranged husband, Johnnie finds herself trapped in a terrifying emotional spiral that threatens to trigger a relapse of her bulimia, which almost killed her. On top of that, a mysterious woman who looks like her mama has been seen around their small town of Portion, Texas.

After “The Final Salute” came out in late 2008, I thought I was done exploring the military in my fiction. Then my youngest son joined the Army. Let’s just say it’s had an impact on my work. My goal is to find a major publishing house, but the industry is changing so rapidly. One way or another “Johnnie Come Lately” will find an audience.

H. Where can people get “The Final Salute”?K. Thee-book edition is available at Amazon:
The paperback edition is almost sold out, but used copes are available on Amazon and other online retailers.

I would like to add in conclusion that if you have a dream, go out there and chase it. God gave me a teaspoon of talent and a jug of determination. When mixed together, I milk it for all it’s worth.

Author’s website:
Kathleen M. Rodgers
Author of the Amazon best-selling novel, THE FINAL SALUTE
Ranked #1 in Amazon's Top Rated War Fiction - 2012


If you are an author interested in a Q&A interview on Writers' Block, e-mail your query to You will be contacted for more information. The interview will appear in Happenstance, a digital magazine, and on this blog.

Sharon Vander Meer is the author of four books. She publishes Happenstance, a bi-monthly digital magazine featuring the work of talented writers in a variety of genres. Fiction, nonfiction, memoir, essays, articles and opinion pieces will be considered. Compensation is not available at this time. The magazine is available by paid subscription. Contributing writers will be given a complimentary subscription. For more information about submitting work, contact

Author Interviews

Q&A: Alexander Valdez

 H. Please tell our audience a little about yourself.
A. I am a graduate of the University of Southern California Cinema-Television Master’s Degee program. I learned editing there and I also apprenticed under Academy Award Winner Gray Frederickson and Albert S. Ruddy as well as his business partner Andre Morgan.

H. What are ideation tools and how do you teach the concept?
A. Ideation tools are what help a seasoned writer to make well formed story tools. Examples of Story tools I give in my book are characters or scenes. Ideation tools help these to be more polished. I put forwards the following eight elements of story: The Hero, The Arena, The Spectacle, The Goals, The Opposition, The Gain, The Benefit and the Resolve. I go into more detail and I also put forward in the Screenwriter’s Notebook, Twelve Pictographs writer’s questions. These are also in my writer’s Guide which has a free electronic version at my website,

H. Why did you write these books?
A. I helped a group of students while I was in film school. I found so much of what we were trying to do was repetitive to processes I have learned in other places, but how was the first time writers supposed to know where to begin? I set these books out as a series of guides, one Your Story Begins: Advance your ideas to Words, functions as my guidepost to what I hope will be a growing movement in Cinema-Libre, the other is a step-by-step fill in the blank I would like to use for each of my projects, guiding each of them to a more cinematic and exciting film.

H. How is screen writing different from writing for other media?
A. In screenwriting, so much of the number of words on the page go into the structure of cinema. Dialogue is actually normally very sparse. The majority of your writing goes into describing the physical action the motion of the motion picture will show. Many times, in cinema, the more simple the action the better. Get your characters to the point they are doing something which film can represent.

H. How do you describe your books?
A. Screenwriter’s Notebook is great for young writers, new writers and writers looking for something new in their process, designed to be helpful all the way to screenplay. It expands a writer’s basic efforts in to a simple, straightforward point towards a path any writer can use to advance their ideas to words. Your Story Begins is more of a preparation book where writers can gather their goals and measures, no matter how large or small and put themselves to the mindset of the writer.

H. What do you want your readers to get from reading these books? A. The books function in a series. The main book, Your Story Begins: Advance your ideas to words, I am hoping to ignite in the readers something primal. I begin with anthropology and the essence of story. From there, I move to propaganda and social goal. I talk about goal setting and measure, and I do use examples of other writer’s successes even a first time writer can emulate. The Screenwriter’s Notebook is a fill in the blank guide to get seasoned writer’s writing and to get novice writers focused and moving the pen. They work hand-in-hand with my Writer’s Guide, which I offer a free version of with a valid email address at my website I also have a paper version available at

H. What are the five most important things to keep in mind when you write a screenplay?
A. Where you are going with the story, what you are building towards in cinematic showmanship, what your heroes overcome, what led your characters to the point of action, and what makes your heroes unique.

H. In the description of "The Screenwriter's Notebook" it says the book is a fill-in-the-blank guide to writing a story, which is native to you. Talk about what “writing a story, which is native to you,” means.
A. I put a lot of effort into each writer getting back from the screenwriter’s notebook what they want. My structure is intentionally to the background so what they want out of the screenplay is what they get, something they as a writer felt to be a story worth telling. We as a writers are the champions for our own stories, we are the ones who move the words on the page to make the story move. I wanted to reach writers who are passionate and give them a way where they would know how to begin. Just last week I met a woman, a dental assistant, who admitted she would love to be a writer, she comes up with plots all the time, but she didn’t know where to begin. I suggested she give these books a try.

H. The notebook format is a guide. Who will most benefit from what it has to offer?
A. The notebooks were designed with a remedial audience in mind, but I tried to make them with an artist as the audience. When someone is really just starting out, this structure will help anyone to write their main characters and opponent characters as well as support characters while taking them step-by-step through 38 scenes with guidelines and goals for the overall project, as well as sending them in the right direction to go beyond the notebook. I honestly do feel, at $6.95 they are an excellent value and I genuinely believe they can help anyone.

H. In what ways is character development different when writing a screenplay?
A. Writing for film is a deft art form. A motion picture is really about showing a story. When you write characters for a screenplay, you don’t have the advantage of portraying the inner monologue of the characters, but you do have the added advantage of showing things in their life.

H. What did you learn about yourself in the course of writing these books you didn’t know before?
A. When I was a painter’s apprentice, my interest in making films was fairly unique to the work site. Now, in the film industry, the knowledge I gained as an apprentice is the unique thing. Going over these old stories and jokes, I really took interest with some sentimentality to the old days exterior painting. One of the things I learned as an apprentice is the doingness of getting things done. I am glad to have several of these lessons fresh in my memory.

H. What are you working on now?
A. I am trying to get every thing together to offer a film festival. I’ll probably have a link up at indiegogo soon. I am also trying to get more interest at my weblogs, which I would encourage your listeners to participate in at The blogs are free and open. We have made a no- derision decision, so we have a very friendly and supportive atmosphere.

H. Where can people get your books?
A. My paperback books are available at and at my website, which is the only place they can get the free electronic version of my Writer’s Guide. Your Story Begins is available at the iTunes store and also for kindle and the paperback is available at; is the only place they can get the hardcover other than, my printer. If they go to amazon, just do a search with my name, Alexander Valdez, and all three are there on the first page of results. I also want to let everyone know I would love any and all participation at my weblogs and in my film movement. The weblogs are free and I am also offering a free download of the electronic version of my Writer’s Guide All you need is a valid email address.

If you are an author interested in a Q&A interview on Writers' Block, e-mail your query to You will be contacted for more information. The interview will appear in Happenstance, a digital magazine, and on this blog.

Sharon Vander Meer is the author of four books. She publishes Happenstance, a bi-monthly digital magazine featuring the work of talented writers in a variety of genres. Fiction, nonfiction, memoir, essays, articles and opinion pieces will be considered. Compensation is not available at this time. The magazine is available by paid subscription. Contributing writers will be given a complimentary subscription. For more information about submitting work, contact