Author in the Spotlight: Susan Forest

A warm welcome to Susan Forest, my author in the spotlight guest this week!

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Two-time Prix Aurora Award finalist and winner of The Galaxy Project, juried by Robert Silverberg, David Drake and Barry Malzberg, Susan Forest is a writer of science fiction, fantasy and horror, and a fiction editor for Edge Press. You can find her stories in Analog, Asimov’s, OnSpec, Blood and Water, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Tesseracts, AE Science Fiction Review, and The Urban Green Man, or in her collection, Immunity to Strange Tales (Five Rivers Press). www.speculative-fiction.ca.

Besides writing, Susan paints (acrylics and oils) both speculative and western landscapes. She teaches creative writing for adults (the novel, speculative fiction, and some weekend courses) and goes into elementary schools as an artist-in-residence (writing).

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SEVEN SPOTLIGHT QUESTIONS:

#1: Why do you write?

Stories bubble up in me all the time. As a child, I had imaginary playmates, and I still love to play with my imaginary friends. Writing, for me, is being immersed in story–surrounded by bizarre, dangerous and exciting landscapes, interacting with surprising characters. When I was younger, I enjoyed acting in community theatre, and I directed plays as well. Writing for me is the best of theatre, because I get to be all the actors and the director at the same time.

#2: What was your earliest writing experience?

In grade two, I wrote, “Jimmy the Fish That Couldn’t Swim.” In grade six, my teacher suggested my contribution to the class talent show would be to write, and read, an original story: “The Eyes on the Wall” (my first horror piece). In grade seven, the last section of my school binder with all my subjects was my first (uncompleted) novel: “Jean-Paul Travels Twice.” I used to work on it in class, after I finished the assignments for homework.

#3: Describe a day in your writing life:

First, I get rid of my email commitments, then go to the gym. Too much sitting is not only bad for your health, but leads to all sorts of stress injuries like carpal tunnel and tendonitis; besides, I like to get the blood flowing through my brain, and I find one of the most productive places to think about my stories–and solve plot problems–is on the treadmill. The afternoon is spent writing until supper, and I do my hobbies (painting), volunteer work (I am secretary for SFWA, IFWA and When Words Collide) and prep for courses I teach, in the evenings. As well as go to book launches, of course! Reading and critiquing happens while I eat or at bedtime.

#4: What authors influenced you and how?

My earliest influences were Edgar Rice Burroughs and Walter Farley, but I love so many genre authors: Ursula K LeGuin, Sherry Tepper, Robert J Sawyer, Barbara Hambly, Connie Willis, Lois McMaster Boujold, Lois Lowry, and Margaret Atwood, and non-genre authors such as Betsy Byars, Katherine Paterson and Natalie Babbitt. Burroughs was formative–Tarzan, his Martian stories and the centre of the earth stories: his worlds were so exotic. I got to hear LeGuin speak when she came to Calgary, and I’ll never forget her advice to writers about crowding (adding all the detail to make your story as complete as possible) and leaping (cutting until what is left is only your best). Tepper created the most bizarre worlds, and Sawyer has been a personal mentor. Hambly creates the most amazing turns of phrase, and Willis can kill you with laughter and tears. Boujold integrates threads. Lowry’s book “The Giver,” is the only book I closed at the end, and immediately re-opened to read again. Atwood is the master of the telling detail. Byars captures the pre-teen voice and Patterson gets to the heart of pre-teen angst. Babbitt makes you think.

#5: What are some things you learned to help with your success?

There is no substitute for experience. Once, at a conference, I listened to a pro respond to a question from the audience by saying, “In that situation, I’d do this, then I’d do this, then I’d write the book.” Simple! But not necessarily simple for me because at that time I lacked experience. Over time, I have begun to develop those tools as a writer: you can learn and study, and people can pass on their tips, but it takes time and lots and lots of reading and writing and reflection–in other words, experience–for those skills to become so integral to your being that you use them as an artist, rather than as a craftsperson.

#6: Describe your writing method:

The opening of a new story or novel is slow for me, because I have to go back and forth between writing (pantsing), planning and research. I need to be sure the characters and setting are very clear in my head, and I take the time to go slowly, revising as I write until I get the exact words I want, to make the world, the characters and the situation very real. The draft tends to pick up speed as I write, and as the plot twists itself into knots I focus on the target: the idea I am trying to express as the sum of the story. Like a game of chess, from the opening gambit, the entire goal is the opponent’s king, and one cannot get distracted by juicy bishops or rooks along the way. I am constantly reminding myself to keep the main plot elements simple, because complications love to multiply. The end usually goes very quickly. Then the real work begins: shaping through revision. I love revision, because I can see how the story improves.

#7: Tips for aspiring writers:

Read. Write. Heard that before? It’s true: I never sold to Asimov’s or Analog until I read Asimov’s and Analog. There is no substitute for experience: write! Analyze and listen to the feedback you get from other writers whom you admire. Read the best your genre has to offer (the award winners, the top sellers) and read outside your genre. Read Donald Maass and Robert McKee.

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Check out Susan’s book, Immunity to Strange Tales, available from Five Rivers Press.

12 immunity Strange Tales

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A collection of 12 short stories by one of Canada’s rising stars of speculative fiction. Forest takes you from death-bed wishes to the eerie regions of madness employing subtle skill and fresh prose. Nine of the stories have appeared in publications such as Asimov’s, On Spec, Analog, Tesseracts Ten, Tesseracts Eleven, Tesseracts 14 and AE Science Fiction Review. Three of the stories make their debut in this collection, with an introduction by one of Canada’s respected editors and experts, Mark Leslie Lefebvre.

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Excerpt:

We made movies in those days. Lasha did everything. She woke at dawn, made lists and organized, calling people, always calling people. We lived upstairs, she and I, intimate as lovers, celibate as eunuchs, in the warehouse where the filming was done, where the fantasies played out. I did nothing but what Lasha told me to do, which was everything. I went for coffee. Answered emails. Painted sets, hung lights, sewed costumes, picked up.

Mostly, I dressed Lasha. I made her clothes. I styled her hair. Lasha had wonderful hair, then, long and kinky and willfully wild. I lived to touch it, to smell it, to adorn it. I was the only one to work with her hair. She didn’t want the natural look. No, the red was a dye, a lie, different with every mood. “Put more orange in it,” she’d say. “Streaks along the top.” Then she’d lay all the way back in the barber’s chair and give herself up completely to me. “More burgundy. More red.”

Then she would be gone.

Doing things, being with people. Because people were what Lasha was all about. Actors, designers, musicians. Long-haired technicians in ripped jeans with wrenches in their pockets climbing ladders to tighten the nuts on big tin-can lights. Makeup artists smoking Camels in back rooms, swathed in chenille and rehearsal socks. Government arts funders with pale fingers and obscure forms, rigid with ass-tight loopholes. And executive producers who didn’t really matter, because Lasha was in charge. She fought for every scrap of film that ever came out under her name. A bullet-proof vest might have helped her to bear the world.

We existed in perpetual deep night, and brilliant day. Lights seared the stage so it became a desert, barren and dry. They broiled the actors, who walked through Sandbox and Godot and No Exit. But in the cool dark, behind the sandbags and dollies, behind the folding chairs and empty beer cans, there was a richness, of furtive movement and silent cues, the smell of greasepaint and spirit gum. Costumes fluttered on racks, cigarettes glowed in ballet hands. Paper cups emoted on overturned oilcan coffee tables, and ropy wires slithered across the floor or hung like vines from impossibly high catwalks.

Lasha’s life was a spotlight. Intense. Hot. Forever struggling to spill beyond the black box eclipsing her. But, as her movies leaked into the world, cracks appeared in our warehouse, admitting strangers and fear. We saw how they knocked at the doors, and we huddled inside, in curiosity and despair, she and I.

When the work was done, and it was never done, the play began, which never stopped. The actors came off stage and into the fantasy to smoke and strip out of costume and gossip. The lights dimmed then, and candles appeared, and the bottles and joints, and the Ouija and tarot. Hands, gracefully dancing in smoky glow, gestured, illustrated, slowed. Tongues loosened and names dropped, and grand ambitions flowed. They’d trade their souls for a chance at Hollywood. And it was Lasha who summoned the séance.

Other things happened, too; secretive things, in dark corners. Love-making in broom closets or overstuffed couches or deserted kitchen tables on top of the silverware and grapes, beating the table, moaning, crying.

I watched her.

From the space between the counter and the window, beneath the hanging pots, bypassed by moonlight and candlelight, I watched her jerk to the rhythm of a faceless stunt man. She watched back, eyes on mine, fever bright. Lightning current pulsed in the space between us, sharpening, demanding, insisting, until we quivered and throbbed and burst.

Read more of Immunity to Strange Tales:

Kobohttp://www.kobobooks.com/ebook/Immunity-to-Strange-Tales/book-I1Z3p4s750Wh6HJ3dig4TA/page1.html?s=rr5LsyF3OkaCQP5L-8Ayrw&r=1

Kindle: Amazon.com, both print and digital: http://www.amazon.com/Immunity-Strange-Tales-Susan-Forest/dp/1927400147/ref=sr_1_23?ie=UTF8&qid=1366825125&sr=8-23&keywords=five+rivers+chapmanry

Barnes & Noble, print and digital: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/immunity-to-strange-tales-susan-forest/1110920009?ean=9781927400142

Five Rivers catalogue: http://www.fiveriverspublishing.com/p/fiction-adult.html

Google Play, digital: https://play.google.com/store/books/details/Susan_Forest_Immunity_to_Strange_Tales?id=w1upEh6r7UcC&feature=search_result#?t=W251bGwsMSwxLDEsImJvb2stdzF1cEVoNnI3VWNDIl0.

Indigo: http://www.chapters.indigo.ca/books/Immunity-To-Strange-Tales-Susan-Forest/9781927400142-item.html?ikwid=immunity+to+strange+tales&ikwsec=Home

Smashwords, digital: http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/207720

Waterstones UK, print: http://www.waterstones.com/waterstonesweb/products/susan+forest/immunity+to+strange+tales/9246966/

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Connect with Susan:

Webpage: speculative-fiction.ca

Twitter: @susanjforest

Facebook: Susan Forest

Fan email address: go to speculative-fiction.ca

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Author in the Spotlight: Ceci Giltenan

Today I welcome fellow Champagne Books author, Ceci Giltenan!

ceci-giltenanCeci always wanted to be a writer but during college practicality won out and she became a nurse. She started her career as an oncology nurse at the National Institutes of Health, and eventually became a successful medical writer and a specialist in early drug development. In 1989 she met a young Irish carpenter at a friend’s wedding and she eventually married him. Now, with their children in college, Ceci is breaking away from “primary efficacy endpoints” and writing a few “happily ever after’s.” She primarily writes historical romance although she has several fantasy romance novels drafted as well. Her debut novel, Highland Solution, a medieval Highland romance was released by Champagne books in September. Currently it is Champagne’s number one best seller and is among the best-selling Scottish romances on Amazon. Her next novel Highland Courage will be released by Champagne in April 2014.

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SEVEN SPOTLIGHT QUESTIONS:

#1: Why do you write?

There are two answers to this. I do medical writing to earn a living. I am very good at it and I find it interesting. However I write fiction for the pure joy of it. I have always been a daydreamer. If I am bored or unoccupied, I slip away into another place for a while. Writing fiction allows me to take an extended vacation to a dream world of my creation. Every detail is subject to my whim. I can even control the weather. What could be more fun?

#2: What was your earliest writing experience:

I remember writing little poems when I was about six. Later I made my own newspapers. I must have done stuff like this throughout grade school because my sixth grade class predicted that I would be a writer. I said I wanted to be a nurse; Frank, the kid in charge of writing the predictions, told me someone else was going to be a nurse. “You be a writer, you’re good at that.” As it turns out I became both. I eventually combined my clinical knowledge and writing skill to become a medical writer.

#3: Describe a day in your writing life:

Because I am a professional medical writer, I write all day, every day. I generally start the day with any writing that I have to do for clients. But I switch back and forth throughout the day. When I need a break I pull up whatever manuscript is calling to me for a while. Although this sounds disjointed it is actually anything but. When I run into a snag in my medical writing, I put it aside and work on fiction. Somehow the problem tumbles around in the back of my mind until I see the answer. The reverse is true for my fiction. When I hit a block, I switch back to medical writing and mull the problem over in the background until I see the way forward. However, I tend to do most of my serious writing late at night when everyone is asleep and the phone doesn’t ring.

#4: What authors influenced you and how?

There are so many writers whose work I love, E.B. White, Louisa May Alcott, Laura Ingalls Wilder, C.S Lewis, J.K Rowling, Julie Garwood, and Robin McKinley to name a few. I suppose they have all had some influence. However, if I had to pick one, it would be C.S. Lewis but probably not for the reasons you might expect. C.S. Lewis authored a book called The Four Loves in which he examines the nature of love. He describes storge—affection, philia—friendship, eros—romantic love, and agape—unconditional love. This has always fascinated me and as you might expect eros plays a strong role in my romance novels. However, I really try to reveal all of the facets of love in my writing. It is really gratifying to read reviews left by readers and see comments on all of these.

#5: What are some things you learned to help with your success?

I am still learning. I have lived in a very different world until now. I think the thing that has helped the most is acknowledging that I am out of my element and putting my trust in the experts. I listened to my editor. I gave the publisher and cover artist free rein. I asked successful authors their opinion on promoting my book. The result was a good book, in an attractive cover, which was introduced to the right audience.

#6: Describe your writing method:

I think I apply the scientific process that I use in medical writing. Essentially I ask a “What if?” question. “What if a medieval woman in Scotland was forced to marry a stranger from the Highlands?” Obviously this is not a unique situation; there are many novels written with this basic design. The elements that an author adds to a standard plot are what can make each story exciting and unique. So I start creating an environment and characters. I spend a lot of time building characters, imagining his or her entire history in detail. Finally when I know the characters well enough to imagine how they would react in any situation and can clearly see the settings where the action will occur, I insert the problem. The story evolves as I imagine what happens.

#7: Tips for aspiring writers:

Write. Although I have been employed as a medical writer for years it really didn’t fulfill the creative drive within me. I wanted to write fiction. I thought about it for a long time. I imagined characters and settings, problems they might face, and possible plots. Quite literally I pondered it for over thirty years. In fairness, I had a job and a family to raise, but still it was my fondest desire. Once I sat down and started, it was as if I took a daily trip to paradise. I loved it. Nothing I have ever done was that much fun. Why on earth did I not start sooner?

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About Ceci’s book:

 

Highland Solution is a historical romance released the September 3, 2013. It is currently Champagne Books’ number 1 best seller and is among the bestselling books in its genre on Amazon in the US, UK, Canada, and Germany.

 

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Laird Niall MacIan needs Lady Katherine Ruthven’s dowry to relieve his clan’s crushing debt but he has no intention of giving her his heart in the bargain.

 

Niall MacIan, a Highland laird, desperately needs funds to save his impoverished clan. Lady Katherine Ruthven, a lowland heiress, is rumored to be “unmarriageable” and her uncle hopes to be granted her title and lands when the king sends her to a convent. King David II, anxious to strengthen his alliances, sees a solution that will give Ruthven the title he wants, and MacIan the money he needs. Laird MacIan will receive Lady Katherine’s hand along with her substantial dowry and her uncle will receive her lands and title.

 

Lady Katherine must forfeit everything in exchange for a husband who does not want to be married and believes all women to be self-centered and deceitful. Can the lovely and gentle Katherine mend his heart and build a life with him or will he allow the treachery of others to destroy them?

 

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Excerpt:

 

“Lady Katherine, oh, Lady Katherine, there you are,” said an ashen faced chambermaid as she rushed into the kitchen. “You have to come quick. There are two Highlanders in the great hall with your uncle. Sir Ruthven bid me to fetch you there now.”

 

Hot, flushed, and certainly not prepared to receive visitors or face her uncle again so soon, Katherine sighed, saying, “You stay here. I’ll go to the great hall alone. It never pays to keep Uncle Ambrose waiting.” At the look of panic on the girl’s face, Katherine added, “I’m sure it’s nothing, don’t worry.”

 

Katherine froze when she saw at least a dozen rather imposing Highland warriors waiting in the courtyard. An even larger group of Ruthven soldiers kept their distance, observing the strangers cautiously. Knowing she’d pay for it later, she stepped back into the kitchen and asked Moyna to offer them food and ale. Then, fearing she had already kept her uncle waiting too long, she hurried into the great hall.

 

She entered with her head down. Sometimes a show of subservience tempered her uncle’s anger. He read from an unfurled scroll and didn’t acknowledge her immediately, so, with her eyes still downcast, she took a quick look to her right. Two sets of feet in the open leather shoes Highlanders wore caught her attention. Unbidden, her eyes followed the nearest thickly muscled bare legs up the length of the man’s tall, powerfully built body. He wore typical Highland clothing, a belted linen tunic that barely reached his knees, with a plaid fastened by a brooch around his massive shoulders. She had to tilt her head back to see his face. The grim expression he wore startled her. Clearly this man was not happy and she suspected Uncle Ambrose had something to do with it.

 

Katherine realized eventually that her uncle didn’t intend to acknowledge her. Unable to stand the tension any longer, she said, “Uncle Ambrose, you sent for me?” Chancing another quick glance at the Highlander she saw his grim expression replaced first by confusion, followed very quickly by anger.

 

Turning her attention back to Uncle Ambrose, his barely concealed glee worried her. Finally he answered her, “Yes, Katherine, my darling, we have received a missive from the king and it concerns you.”

 

This is definitely not good. She carefully kept her emotions masked. “Me?” she asked calmly.

 

“Yes, my sweet. This is Niall MacIan, Laird of Clan MacIan,” he said, gesturing to the angry warrior she had eyed, “and the commander of his guard, Diarmad. Our king has requested that you become Laird MacIan’s wife.” Katherine took a breath and, with supreme will, continued to appear calm and emotionless.

 

“Requested that I become his wife?” she asked slowly.

 

“Of course, my dear, it is a request.”

 

“I can decline this request?

 

“Of course you can, Katherine. However, His Majesty says if you choose to decline, it is in your best interest, and the best interests of Clan Ruthvan, for me to be named Lord Ruthvan and for you to enter the religious life.”

 

“And what happens to Cotharach and my people if I accept the proposal?” she asked, a note of panic creeping into her voice.

 

A look of smug satisfaction crossed her uncle’s face, and he spoke to her as if she were a very dull child.

 

“Oh, my dear, I have bungled this badly. I will start over and try to help you understand. His Majesty feels it is in the best interests of Clan Ruthvan for me to assume control as Lord Ruthvan and rule Cotharach. He is giving you two options. The one His Majesty prefers is for you to marry Laird MacIan and go with him to his home in the Highlands. As your husband, Laird MacIan will renounce his claim to your title and lands. In return, he will receive an exceedingly generous dowry. However, if this is not acceptable, you may choose to enter the religious life. The good sisters will receive a modest dowry, but His Majesty has determined that Laird MacIan will still receive the bulk of your dowry because of his willingness to aid his king in this matter. Does that make it clear, my dear?”

 

Katherine felt as if she had descended into swirling chaos and she trembled. Trying not to reveal her inner turmoil, which would add to his pleasure, she bowed her head and whispered, “Aye, uncle. I understand.”

 

After a moment, she looked directly into the eyes of each of the three men staring at her. In Uncle Ambrose’s expression she read joy, in Diarmad’s, pity, and in Laird MacIan’s, iron determination. She wanted to run—she needed to think.

 

Her uncle prodded, “Well, dear, which will it be?”

 

“You want a decision now? Am I to be given no time to consider this?”

 

In a colder, less unctuous voice, Uncle Ambrose said, “You must choose now. You can leave for the convent within the hour or, if you choose marriage, we will summon Father James and you can be married as soon as he arrives. Laird MacIan is anxious to return to the Highlands, so he wishes to depart immediately after exchanging wedding vows. Either way, you leave today.”

 

Katherine knew her uncle had won, she just didn’t know how he had done it. From the day her father died, Ambrose had wanted the title and lands that were to be held in reserve for her husband. How had this Highlander been convinced to marry her and relinquish all but a portion of her wealth? She didn’t relish either option. Finally she said flatly, “I will marry.”

 

“Very well, I will send for Father James.” As Katherine turned to leave, her uncle demanded, “Where are you going?”

 

She glanced down at the old gown she generally wore when working and realized the absurdity of this situation. She lifted her head, stared at her uncle, and said, “For the next few minutes at least, Uncle, I am Lady Katherine Ruthven. This is my keep. I am going to pack my things and dress for my wedding.”

 

She turned again to leave the great hall, and for the first time, she heard her betrothed’s voice, “Lass, one bag is all ye’ll be bringing.

 

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Buy Links:

Kindle: http://www.amazon.com/Highland-Solution-ebook/dp/B00EXYAEYQ/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1383403549&sr=8-1&keywords=ceci+giltenan

Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/370391

Champagne Books: http://champagnebooks.com/shop/index.php?route=product/product&product_id=693

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Connect with Ceci:

Webpage: www.cecigiltenan.com

Twitter: @CeciGiltenan

Facebook: Facebook CGiltenan

Fan email address: cecigiltenan@comcast.net