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I got to know Ashleigh Gauch last year through our connection being published in the ‘UnCommon’ anthologies by Fighting Monkey Press. In the summer, I invited Ashleigh to write a guest post sharing her insights about being an indigenous speculative fiction writer writing across communities. Ashleigh is passionate about writing and we quickly found ourselves having spirited late night conversations about speculative fiction, trends in publishing, our favorite authors, etc. via Facebook Messenger. That’s how I found out about her intriguing new novel, Covenant of the Hollow. [check out her pre-order special at the end of the post!]

Ashleigh Gauch is a Haida author living just south of her hometown of Seattle, Washington. She went to college for nutrition but found her passions lay not in science, but in the genesis of science fiction, fantasy, and horror.

Her aquatic friend Odin and feline companion Luna love to watch her work!

Her work has been featured in the online periodical Bewildering Stories, the Fighting Monkey Press collections UnCommon Minds and UnCommon Lands, the Manawaker Press collections Starward Tales and Starward Tales 2, and the online periodical Teaching Tolerance.

Blurb for Covenant of the Hollow:

Would you give up your ability to fear in exchange for your deepest desire?

Across centuries, the lives of two young women with vastly dissimilar ambitions collide.

Annalise Silva is a 21st-century nineteen-year- old mayoral hopeful in her small city. Between dealing with abusive parents and not being taken seriously as a candidate, she has a lot on her plate. When she investigates mysterious prophetic dreams, she discovers an extradimensional alien who offers her the office in a swap for her fears.

Elizabeth Bathory’s noble birth in 1500s Hungary did not guarantee her happiness. Needing help to catch a husband to secure her family’s position, she accepts the alien creature’s whispered promise of her place in history if she will gift him her inhibitions. She didn’t know she’d be branded as the most prolific serial killer in history.

With lives running in reverse and time running out, will their attempts to stop each other’s descent into madness via shared dreams succeed—before the creature destroys the world?

I’m delighted to welcome Ashleigh Gauch back to The Practice of Creativity!

 

– Tell us about your recent novel, Covenant of the Hollow. What are you hoping readers will connect to in this story? 

Covenant of the Hollow was both a challenge and a joy to write. It follows the twin stories of Annalise Silva, a nineteen-year-old Puerto Rican girl living in the fictional town of Qualicum, WA, and Elizabeth Bathory, the most prolific female serial killer in history. They encounter an extra-dimensional creature who promises them their greatest desires (consequence free) in exchange for their ability to feel fear. Given the constant state of anxiety in which many (dare I say most) women live their lives, such an offer would seem like the easiest decision to make in the world.

One of the things I really tried to capture in both story lines was the omnipresent feeling of powerlessness women feel even as they take steps to seize power over their own lives.

Annalise’s story was based in large part on interviews with a good friend of mine about her uncle and aunt and some of the problems their daughter faced after the family moved from Puerto Rico to the mainland U.S.

Although the cousin in question didn’t run for political office, they did face several of the situations in the book, including pressure from their mother to stay in the household as a caretaker rather than starting a life of their own and having to deal with their father being extradited back to Puerto Rico, leaving the family without a steady income.

Elizabeth’s story was inspired by the article in the collection Rejected Princesses on the historical figure. In it, the author suggested that Elizabeth may have committed atrocities, but not on the scale she was convicted for and not entirely without reason. Sadism or not, she was a widow from the highest-ranking family in all of Hungary who had to hold onto her lands, and the man entrusted with care of her family had his eye on her power. Taking on a familiar horror story from that point of view brought questions to my mind about what that would be like, and what it would be like to be told that the only value you had as a person, from birth, was what you could give to the court.

She has to face many hard choices, including dealing with post-partum depression and vulnerability following an abortion, dealing with her husband’s death and a near-immediate proposal from the man he had assigned their care to, and fears that her barony will fall to Ottoman invaders before she even gets a chance to see if she’s taught her son enough to succeed his father.

That claustrophobic there-is-no-way-out-of-this feeling is one MANY women face on a daily basis, and I’m hoping that my readers find a bit of themselves both protagonists.

-Your story moves back and forth in time between two main characters. Were there any challenges in plotting or characterization that you grappled with as you worked on the book?

Well, I can tell you this book converted me from a pantser to a plotter pretty quickly!

One of the big challenges came from having to change the historical events to fit part of the story I wanted to tell. For example, Elizabeth was 10 years old when she married Ferenc and had her first child at 12, possibly with a lover from the peasantry. Understandably uncomfortable with this, I aged her up to 14 during the opening scenes of the book when she woos Ferenc (a fact contested in various references) and has her abortion (also contested, some sources say she gave a daughter up for adoption).

As far as lining up the story went, I tried to allow the dream sequences they connected with and some of the base events happening in each of their story lines carry similar themes, so the transitions between chapters and points of view felt smooth.

One of the biggest challenges was making Elizabeth relatable. Most people have only encountered her story as the “Blood Countess,” hammed up for horror purposes with her bathing in blood and ripping pieces of flesh off her victims. Although some of those things were alleged in her trial, the historical accuracy was dubious for many of the claims listed. And beyond that, making a sadist relatable at all is a challenge, especially a feminine one.

Trying to showcase her struggles, her reasoning and internal debate for each choice she made, solved some of those issues, but the fact remains that many people struggle to have empathy with flawed female characters. I hope that my book can be another plank on that bridge.

-What was the most interesting tidbit that you came across while researching Hungary in the 1500s for your character, Elizabeth Bathory?

The first was that she and her husband most likely tortured girls together at first, and that he tempered her during his visits home from the war. That was a pretty big shock for me!

The second was that (again, changed in the book for story purposes) he was actually illiterate, while Elizabeth spoke over 4 languages, could read and write, and had a knack for governance. She really was a more educated and prepared ruler than he, and handled much of the court work in his absence. Her son ultimately failed as a successor because she was so afraid of having her power stripped she didn’t adequately prepare him to take over, which ended her bloodline as rulers.

-How did you get bitten by the ‘writing bug’? Did you always wish to become an author?

My first poem was published at 10 years old. It was about 9/11, and my teacher was so concerned about the contents she ended up calling my parents in for a conference. When she determined they hadn’t helped me write it (and didn’t even know about it), she sent it in to a youth writing contest and it ended up in an anthology.

From then on I wrote obsessively growing up, about anything and everything I could get my hands on. I even used the templates in the old version of Word to create a pseudo-newspaper I sent to my grandmother every month. The Storypaper. It had some running stories in parts and some complete ones, and she saved all of them before she died.

I wanted to be an author when I grew up from 10 onward, by my parents were the opposite of supportive. My stepdad thought that I’d be a starving artist if I went to college for creative writing, so I ended up majoring in nutrition when I got to school despite the fact they never ended up helping me pay for it. It wasn’t until some complications happened in school and I ended up bedridden for 2 years following a severe back injury that I picked up the pen again.

I will never put it back down as long as I live.

-What’s on your bookshelf, next to your bed (or in your e-reader)? What are you reading right now? 

J.G. Follansbee gave me an advance release copy of the third book in his Tales of a Warming Planet series, City of Ice and Dreams. I’m reading it for fiction, and a book called Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence by Daniel Goleman for nonfiction. I tend to read one of each at any given time.

– What’s your best writing tip that you’d like to share?

Every project hits a stagnation period. A place where you’re stuck in the mud despite your best planning, where the idea of sitting down to write brings more pain than joy in your mind. Where you no longer know if the idea you’re working on is worth it, if any of it is worth it, and something shinier and prettier looks easier and beckons you away from everything you’ve done up until that point.

For Covenant, it was when a couple of people in my writing group told me that the concept couldn’t work and that I needed to completely change the way I approached the book. That horror readers wouldn’t dig it and it wasn’t sci-fi enough for the science fiction crowd, either.

Don’t listen to any of those voices, human or internal. Because the new shiny pretty thing will have the same swamp waiting for you, and another newer, shinier, prettier thing will beckon, and you’ll leave a stream of unfinished projects in your wake. Give yourself the gift of done, and even after the first draft is finished, the gift of time and perspective. It’s worth it, the work is worth it, and as an author, you’re worth it, too.

No matter what any of the voices say.

Ashleigh Gauch is a writer. Her first novel is Covenant of the Hollow.

Pre-order/Buy Link ($0.99 for the e-book until 2/22): https://www.amazon.com/dp/B079NNYRJZ/

Buy Link for Prequel (Diary of the Hollow): https://www.amazon.com/Diary-Hollow-Chronicles-Drowsy-Book-ebook/dp/B078RFBYW5/

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One of the things I deeply enjoy about my blog is conducting author interviews. I love finding out how writers create magic on the page and what sustains them when working on long projects. My blog allows me to reach out to new and established writers after I hear them give a reading, or learn about them online, and ask for an interview. Every time an author agrees to an interview, I feel excited and inspired. My goal is to ask thought-provoking questions that get at the heart of their ideas about craft. I look forward to checking my email and seeing how they play with and sculpt answers to my questions. Interviewing and helping to promote writers is a passion and gratitude generating activity for me.

At the end of each interview, I typically ask an author: What’s your best writing tip that you’d like to share?

Below, I have collected some of the answers from writers I interviewed in 2017 that stayed with me.

Keep this list close at hand. The advice is refreshing and offers a great way to jump-start your new year of fresh writing in 2018!

*To see the full interview, click on the author’s name.

 

Jake Bible, Stone Cold Bastards

-What’s your best writing tip that you’d like to share?

Never quit. Sit your ass down and do the work. Writing is work. The vast majority of people who are not writers think it is fun and being a writer must be a dream come true. It is fun and it is a dream come true, but the fun and the dream happen because you sit in your chair and work until you can’t work anymore. Then you do the same thing the next day. And the next. You never quit. You do the work and keep doing the work until you get to where you want to be.

Margaret Dardess, Brutal Silence

–What’s your best writing tip that you’d like to share?

When you tell someone that you want to write, ignore the ones who respond, “How are you going to do that?”  A date in college said that to me once when I told him my dream was to write a novel. That was the end of him. There never seems to be a shortage of nay-sayers and wet blankets. Avoid them at all costs. If you want to write, write. As Anne Lamott says in Bird by Bird, “Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul.”

L.C. Fiore, The Last Great American Magic

-What’s your best writing tip that you’d like to share?

The one thing no one ever really taught me, which took me years to learn, is that revision is the most important aspect of the writing process. Revision is not just checking to make sure everything is spelled correctly, or that you’ve used proper grammar. Revision also entails wholly re-imagining the way your book or story is constructed. That means exploding chapters, moving chapters around, consolidating characters, and much more. I find that usually, after my “first draft” (although there again, who counts drafts in real life?), whatever I’m working on usually sustains one, if not two, macro revisions, where I tear the manuscript down to the studs and rebuild. Why does no one teach revision? Perhaps because the workshop setting is a very poor environment for learning what it actually takes to be a writer, because there simply isn’t enough time to allow for the deep kind of revision that excellence requires. But extensive, substantive revision separates would-be writers from the pros.

Dianna Gunn, Keeper of the Dawn

–What’s your best writing tip that you’d like to share?

Don’t take criticism of your stories personally, and ignore anyone that uses flaws in your fiction to attack you as a person. I know it doesn’t FEEL like our books are separate from us, but they are. We should treat them that way.

Heloise Jones, The Writer’s Block Myth: A Guide to Get Past Stuck & Experience Lasting Creative Freedom

-What’s your best writing tip that you’d like to share?

Trust the process. Let go in the story you’re telling, and let go of the way you intend to tell it. Open to what might be there you hadn’t thought about before you go into edits. Think of your writing as a dance you’re doing, and you’re expanding the dance floor. You’ll be a stronger writer, and it will help you feel freer inside. This includes the process of editing, too. But that’s another conversation.

Tonya Liburd, A Question of Faith

– What’s your best writing tip that you’d like to share?

Keep writing; make it a habit and it’ll come even though you don’t feel “inspired”. Edit, edit and edit some more!

Alexandra Pierce and Mimi Mondal, editors, Luminescent Threads: Connections to Octavia Butler

–What’s your best writing tip that you’d like to share?

Alexandra: Pay attention to the guidelines and communicate clearly with your editor!

Mimi: “Write a little bit every day, even if you’re not in the mood.” is a wonderfully effective tip that, unfortunately, I don’t follow. It has improved my writing exponentially in a very short time every time I’ve managed to do it for short periods, though, so maybe it’s worth passing on!

 

Hi folks, Reenu-You soon gets to have its turn in the TV spotlight.

I was so honored to be invited on UNC TV’s show Bookwatch to talk about my novella “Reenu-You”. D.G. Martin is the host and we did the taping during the summer. It was great fun and I learned a ton.

My episode is scheduled to air on Tuesday, October 10th at 8:00pm on the North Carolina Channel & on Sunday, October 15th at Noon on UNC-TV, with an encore broadcast on UNC-TV the following Thursday at 5pm. I hope you can check it out.

In this promo clip, I talk about the creative process and how to stay connected to one’s writing.

http://video.unctv.org/video/3003427932/

At some point, I will write a post about all the things I learned during my first TV appearance!

 

One of the best occurrences in my writing life this past year has been getting to know writers in the ‘UnCommon’ anthologies community. The UnCommon anthologies are published by Fighting Monkey Press, founded by Pavarti Tyler. The series includes UnCommon Bodies, UnCommon Minds and UnCommon Origins and they all have a speculative fiction edge. Last year, my story, “The Curl of Emma Jean” was selected to appear in UnCommon Origins: Collection of Gods, Monsters, Nature and Science.  As part of the process of being published in the anthologies, Pavarti invites authors to a private Facebook group. The Facebook group includes many authors from the anthologies and everyone is committed to helping make each anthology successful. I have learned so much about indie publishing through this group and have been grateful for the encouragement we give each other.

I recently discovered that there is a new UnCommon anthology launching soon. Yay! It’s titled, Uncommon Lands: A Collection of Rising Tides, Outer Space, and Foreign Realms and it will feature a fabulous lineup of writers. I have invited one of those writers to share some insights about being a Native American speculative fiction writer writing across communities. She provides a behind the scenes look at her submission to UnCommon Lands.

I’m delighted to welcome Ashleigh Gauch to The Practice of Creativity!

Shamanism and Navigating as Native in a White World: Walker Between the Worlds

“Walker Between the Worlds” was inspired by the shamanic journeys I took under the watchful eyes of my aunt and grandmother, and by the identity struggle I felt when transitioning between being bullied at school in a predominantly white community and the beautiful native stories and experiences I had on Whidbey Island. The more I learned about my heritage, the more I realized the way shamanism and native spirituality is portrayed in the media is a gross misinterpretation of what it means to be a shaman.

In early drafts I mentioned my protagonist Shephard had a lighter skin tone, and everyone who read the story thought he must be white. I was even lectured about what shamanism is and isn’t by a middle aged white member of my group – who based his theories on Carlos Castaneda’s work and movies he’d seen when he was younger!

There’s a cultural perception about what it means to be native, and “reddish” skin is a must. If you don’t look like a Midwestern native, you must not be indigenous. I had to change the description to tawny—something I was deeply against—in order for people to believe he was Haida, despite details about his growing up on the reservation and receiving shamanic training.

The story centers around Shephard’s having to give up pieces of himself, breaking his most sacred code in order to fit in with the high-stakes world of trading securities. His identity as a native man was always overshadowed by his ambitions in the white world he found himself in, as the identities of those who try to navigate through a world that no longer tries to understand them often are. When his girlfriend’s soul is stolen by Ta’xit, the god of death in battle, he has to go on a true shamanic journey in order to recover her soul – and his sense of self.

It was a challenge to write, in part because of fear that I was the “wrong” person to tell this story. There are so few of us left in the tribe, and my family isn’t even registered because of fears of racist repercussions my great grandfather had when he removed us from tribal rolls. It took a lot of courage to accept that my experiences were relevant and very real, despite the cultural demand that my family be more “red” in order to be native.

Because my stories take a dark slant, people often ask me who my influences are. Ray Bradbury, Clive Barker, Margaret Atwood, Garth Nix, Mercedes Lackey, Robert Jordan, Piers Anthony, and Orson Scott Card all top the list. Ray Bradbury and Margaret Atwood in particular—their lyrical, authoritative voices still fill me with wonder.

I strive to one day find my place among these inspiring voices, to touch the hearts of readers who’ve struggled with their sense of identity in a world that refuses to accept them. I hope one day we will all be equal in the truest sense—able to be ourselves, embrace our identities, without fear of retribution or rejection.

Ashleigh Gauch is a Haida author currently living just south of her hometown of Seattle, Washington. She went to college for nutrition but ultimately found her true passion not in the study of science, but in the genesis of science fiction.

Her work has been featured in the online periodical Bewildering Stories, Starward Tales from Manawaker Press, Uncommon Minds from Fighting Monkey Press, the upcoming anthologies UnCommon Lands and Starward Two, and the magazine Teaching Tolerance.

Story Summary: When Shephard Mercer breaks the greatest law found in Haida shamanism and uses his powers for his own personal gain, his love, Aria, pays the price. Now he must go through live burial and a series of trials in the World Between to earn her soul back and prove himself worthy enough to return to the world of the living.

Pre-order UnCommon Lands here.

 

Tonya Liburd is a speculative fiction writer and poet. Tonya is having a fabulous writing year. She’s had several short stories published and one of her poems was nominated for the Rhysling Award given by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Poetry Association (SFPA). Her new story, “A Question of Faith” with Book Smugglers Publishing was recently released. [Another win for the Book Smugglers family! ]We’re in some of the same online writing circles and I noticed that I kept seeing her name pop up and her work mentioned. I read her essay, “Adventures in Gaming” in Mosaics: The Independent Women Anthology, and was blown away. The essay explores her experiences as a gamer spanning two decades and highlights the chronic misogyny, racism and homophobia that are endemic to gaming culture. I also am inspired by the fact that Tonya moves between writing speculative poetry and fiction. I wanted to know more about her work and writing practices.

I’m excited to welcome her to The Practice of Creativity.

-You write both speculative fiction and poetry. Can you tell us a little about your work?

Well, my first love is music; and I’ve been told that my writing leans on the literary side, and can be lyrical. I don’t have a favourite piece that I’ve done, because I have a good feeling about several pieces, but I do think the best thing I’ve written, craft-wise, is “Through Dreams She Moves”.  It made the longlist for the Carter V. Cooper (Vanderbilt) short fiction competition in 2015. Author Nisi Shawl uses my first ever published piece, “The Ace Of Knives” – which was reprinted as part of People Of Colour Take Over Fantastic Stories Of The Imagination Magazine – in her workshops to demonstrate “code switching”.  Last year a literary poem of mine, “You Don’t Want to Know Me”, won 4th prize in Ve’ahavta’s 2016 Creative Writing Competition, and this year my poem “The Architect of Bonfires” was nominated for a Rhysling Award. So here’s hoping I keep getting noticed for these things as I work harder on my writing!

-How did you get bitten by the ‘writing bug’? Did you always wish to become an author?

Ever since I could remember, English has been my best subject. My mother encouraged me to write down things in a journal, so it would improve my writing skills. I remember knowing three things I could be when I grew up: a singer/musician, a writer, or an actor. Well, one of the three panned out!

-You are the Associate Editor of Abyss & Apex Magazine. What do you enjoy about this position? What lessons have you learned about being an editor that you apply to your own writing?

I enjoy finding new voices and pioneering new things – Like I did with Celeste Rita Baker and her story “Name Calling” – and I have learned SO MUCH, thanks to Wendy Delmater (editor and publisher), being so hands on. My learning curve is still happening. I have learned that a lot of my writing was, in first draft and edited by myself, fell into the ‘so close (but no cigar!)’ territory, and I got to see what that looked like, via submissions. I have learned that grabbing an editor’s attention and making everything tight from the get-go is crucial when dealing with the sheer amount of subs they have to deal with; and that’s an important step, learning how to tighten one’s writing. Ask me this time three years ago if I would say I could write flash fiction and I’d laugh right in your face. I wrote LONG. The first thing I seriously sat down to write outside of high school was a horror novel.

-What do you say to yourself on days when the writing feels especially difficult?

I go to friends and seek emotional and moral support, and in this case they will remind me -and I will try and remind myself – that some days are easier than others. But it’s hard sometimes to tell yourself that, and just having that validation outside yourself makes the negative thoughts easier to dismiss and the positive ones harder to.

-What’s on your bookshelf, next to your bed (or in your e-reader)? What are you reading right now?

Burning Paradise by Robert Charles Wilson, and Hunger by Roxane Gay are on my bookshelf. I’m reading The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco on my kindle right now; so good!

– What’s your best writing tip that you’d like to share?

Keep writing; make it a habit and it’ll come even though you don’t feel “inspired”. Edit, edit and edit some more!

 

Tonya Liburd shares a birthday with Simeon Daniel and Ray Bradbury, which may tell you a little something about her; and while she has an enviable collection of vintage dust bunnies to her credit, her passions are music (someday!) and of course, words. Her poetry has been nominated for the Rhysling award, and her fiction has been longlisted in the 2015 Carter V. Cooper (Vanderbilt)/Exile Short Fiction Competition. Her story “The Ace of Knives” is in the anthology Postscripts to Darkness 6, and is used in Nisi Shawl’s workshops as an example of ‘code switching’. She is the Associate Editor of Abyss & Apex Magazine. Check out her Inspirations and Influences essay about the story, “A Question of Faith” here. You can find her blogging at spiderlilly.com or on Twitter at @somesillywowzer.

 

Hi folks,

Today, I am thrilled to be featured on Graveyard Shift Sisters, a site highlighting Black women’s and women of color’s contribution to the horror and “dark fiction” field. I embrace the term speculative fiction writer and am increasingly embracing the fact that I often write stories that could be labeled ‘”dark fiction” and are in the territory of horror. I was interviewed by the amazing writer, Eden Royce and we went deep talking about creating characters that explore the bonds of friendship and sisterhood during adversity, what scares me (and how those fears fuel my writing), how to stay motivated as a writer and much more. I really enjoyed this interview. It was the first time that I was sent questions ahead of time, answered them and then had a follow-up conversation with the interviewer (Eden), to discuss my answers. Neat process.

http://www.graveyardshiftsisters.com/2017/08/black-women-horror-writers-interview.html

ALSO:

If you’re in North Carolina and close to the Triangle, I’m inviting you to come help me celebrate my first book reading and signing for Reenu-You on Saturday, August 26, 2pm at McIntyre’s Books, Fearrington Village in Pittsboro. I am so excited! I’ll read, share insights about staying inspired on the creative path, take your questions and sign books. There will be yummy refreshments and DOOR PRIZES. I look forward to celebrating this milestone on my writing journey with you.

https://www.fearrington.com/event/michele-berger-reenu-you/

 

What makes you write? If you ask that question of ten different writers, you’ll most likely receive ten different answers. Sometimes hearing a true story from someone who survived a horrible situation can compel us to write. Such is the case for Margaret Dardess.

Margaret Dardess has enjoyed a rich and full life. She has lived and traveled across several continents. Her day jobs have included being an international trade lawyer, a corporate executive and most recently, a university administrator.

I know Margaret as the President of the Board of Trustees for the North Carolina Writers’ Network (NCWN). The NCWN is a nonprofit literary organization that serves writers at every stage of development through programs that offer opportunities for professional growth in skills and insight. I’m passionate about the work of NCWN. The expertise, camaraderie and mentoring that I have received as a NCWN member has been invaluable in helping me develop my writing craft and negotiate the ever changing field of publishing. Last year with finesse and deft, Margaret recruited me to serve on the board. NCWN’s meetings are ones that I always look forward to!

In the last few years, Margaret has followed her heart’s desire and made time to write her first novel, Brutal Silence. In this thriller, Dardess tackles the topic of human trafficking. She wrote Brutal Silence after meeting a woman who successfully escaped from human traffickers. She was so angry after hearing the woman’s story that she couldn’t walk away. She had to make others aware of human trafficking. Brutal Silence is the story of resilient and gutsy Alex Harrington, a young woman who is thrown into the terrifying world of sex trafficking.

When I heard a little of Margaret’s inspiration for this novel at a gathering, I was immediately intrigued. I wanted to know more about she came to the topic of human trafficking and how she made space for a creative life. I’m delighted to welcome her to ‘The Practice of Creativity’.

Tell us about your recent book, Brutal Silence. Why did you want to write this book?
Brutal Silence begins with every woman’s worst nightmare. Alex Harrington, a twenty-five year old woman who runs a free clinic in Dalton, North Carolina is kidnapped by human traffickers while on vacation in Mexico City. She is dragged from a public bus, and no one, driver or passengers, will help her. She wakes on a grit-covered cement floor, head throbbing, looking up into the terrified faces of a dozen women. Fortunately, Alex is resourceful and a champion runner. She manages to escape, and return to Dalton, but when a battered woman seeks refuge at her clinic, only to die moments later, Alex learns that human traffickers don’t only exist in Mexico. They are operating even in her home town, targeting her, and she has no idea why. Alex learns who she is and who she is not while confronting the brutal world of human trafficking. She wants answers, but when the trail leads back to those she loves the most, she finds that sometimes it’s the most innocent and ordinary places that hide the most terrible secrets.

My inspiration for Brutal Silence came when at the urging of a friend I attended a conference on human trafficking sponsored by the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill over ten years ago. At lunch I sat next to a courageous young woman who had escaped after being trafficked and who was speaking out about human trafficking in hopes of saving others. I was so moved by her story that I wanted to learn more about human trafficking, and I found to my surprise that most people did not want to see or talk about it–hence my title, Brutal Silence. I set out to write something that would build awareness and inspire support for the efforts of those who work heroically against human trafficking. Anything I make on Brutal Silence will go to combat human trafficking.

 

 

 

Brutal Silence is a thriller. Have you always enjoyed reading thrillers?

I have always relaxed by reading thrillers, finding them a welcome change from the challenging and often cumbersome writing that filled my days as an academic, an attorney, a corporate executive and a university administrator. I am at heart a romantic, drawn to stories about protagonists who risk everything to overcome evil and make the world a better place. The thriller  genre seemed particularly well suited to a story whose underlying crime was human trafficking because human trafficking with its total disregard to human life in the interests of greed is about as evil as you can get. In good thriller style, in Brutal Silence, Alex Harrington takes on the evil of human trafficking at considerable cost to herself.

-While writing the book were there particular authors that you turned to for inspiration?

I look to good writing of all kinds. In writing Brutal Silence I studied mystery and thriller writers like Dashiell Hammett, Anne Perry and Andrew Gross for craft, and I looked for insight into the struggles of the human psyche in books like Helen Macdonald’s H is for Hawk, Ron Rash’s Something Rich and Strange: Selected Stories, Bryce Courtenay’s The Power of One, and Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken among many others.

-What was the most challenging aspect of writing Brutal Silence?

The creation of the character, Emilio Vargas, the Mexican crime boss in Brutal Silence, was especially tough, because I had to think like a sociopathic killer. I don’t spend a lot of time with sociopaths, at least not if I can help it, and I certainly don’t know any from the world of Mexican organized crime. I had to rely on research and my imagination. I immersed myself in The Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout, El Sicario, the Autobiography of a Mexican Assassin and interviews with really bad guys like El Chopo, and tried see the world through the eyes of someone who cannot feel anything for other people. It was not easy, especially when the sociopaths started showing up at night when I was trying to sleep.

-What’s been the biggest surprise thus far in being published?

I have been surprised and pleased at the support and generosity of many people. Publishing Brutal Silence has brought back into my life friends from my past, some from school days and others from my time practicing law in Philadelphia and Washington, DC. Glaxo friends have come to launch parties and author events even bringing with them adult children who I remembered from when they were little. Still more from my days at UNC and the North Carolina Writers’ Network have been especially helpful, and new friends have guided me through the bewildering publication process.

– You’re recently retired. How has your writing practice changed over the past year?

When I was working full time, I squeezed writing into my day whenever I could and wrote on weekends. Now I go to a little office near my house and write every morning. Afternoons, while I take care of the business of living, I think about what I’ll write the following day, often playing ideas over in my head while on the treadmill or driving around town. I have come home from grocery stopping with a rutabaga when I really needed an onion because my mind was somewhere other than in the vegetable section of Whole Foods.

– What’s your best writing tip that you’d like to share?

When you tell someone that you want to write, ignore the ones who respond, “How are you going to do that?”  A date in college said that to me once when I told him my dream was to write a novel. That was the end of him. There never seems to be a shortage of nay-sayers and wet blankets. Avoid them at all costs. If you want to write, write. As Anne Lamott says in Bird by Bird, “Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul.”
 

Many thanks, Michele, for inviting me to post on your blog and to your readers for listening.

 

Margaret Dardess was born and raised just outside of New York City, and has lived and traveled across several continents, landing at last in Chapel Hill, North Carolina where she should have been all along.  She is the daughter of an artist and a poet, who were determined to steer their only daughter away from a life in the arts. For many years they succeeded.

After graduating from Connecticut College, Margaret returned to New York to study Japanese history at Columbia University, and after a brief teaching career, went on to tackle the law.  When she finally stopped going to school, she set off on a journey, masquerading as an international trade lawyer, a corporate executive and a university administrator until at last she cast her parents’ warnings to the wind and began to write.

Brutal Silence is Margaret’s first novel. Margaret is hard at work on a sequel that will take Alex to Margaret’s native New York City where vengeance and murder threaten to destroy the new life that Alex is determined to build.

Find out more about Margaret here.


Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

Author, Academic, Creativity Expert I'm an award winning writer.

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