Today “Sylvia Says” takes a virtual trip to London, UK, to catch up with solicitor (lawyer) and author Maria Savva.
SM: Maria, welcome to Sylvia Says. It’s a real pleasure to have you featuring on the blog today, and although I’m on a “virtual” visit here in London I still remember the time I spent in this wonderful place many moons ago. London is one of my favourite cities!
MS: Thank you very much for inviting me, Sylvia. I love London too. It’s changed a lot over the years, but it still has something special.
SM: Maria, reading through your website I noticed novels in a number of different genres. Would you say it’s fair to call you a multi-genre author? And if so, what is the reason as to why you decided to be multi-genre instead of sticking to one particular genre?
MS: Yes, I think it’s fair to say I’m a multi-genre author. It’s probably because I’ve never purposefully written a novel to fit into any particular genre. A lot of my fiction is inspired by or based on true events, so the genre will depend on what the subject matter is, I suppose. You’ll find elements of romance, thriller, comedy, and even horror/paranormal in my writing. I suppose it’s a reflection of life. Nothing is ever only one genre in real life, is it? My writing seems to have become darker over the years, but I think that’s more to do with getting older and having more of an understanding of the world around me, and let’s face it, the news is never very good these days. I find that I use writing as a kind of therapy, so I often tackle dark subjects as a way of digging deeper into my own feelings and as a way of trying to make sense of what people do and why.
SM: I agree with you there. I also find writing cathartic; it helps me cope with all the negativity and darkness of this world.
In your bio I discovered you were a prolific reader as a child, just like me, and that you pretty much read most genres, or at least went through different genre phases. By the way, I noticed you read most of the good old Mills & Boon (now Harlequin) romances. I confess I must’ve gone through most of their collection when I was a young teen while at the same time becoming hooked on Nancy Drew and Three Investigator mysteries. But like you, I grew up with books, and each of them became a friend to me. What was it that got you reading at such an early age (and I see you were an advanced reading pupil at school)?
MS: Yes, I read all those Mills and Boon romances as a teenager, but soon after I started reading paranormal/horror. Then I got hooked on chick-lit for a while and then I got into self-help books, fantasy fiction, and magical realism. My writing is probably a mixture of all those things!
I was able to read before I started school, and one of my earliest memories is reading a book to another child on what I think was one of my first days at school. My brother started school a couple of years before me and I used to copy everything he did, so I probably learned to read because he was learning to read. I was a very quiet child, shy, and self-conscious with a vivid imagination. I found an escape in books. I thought books were magical, and loved to read one after the other.
SM: So when did you start seriously thinking of writing a novel, and what inspired you to write it?
MS: I always enjoyed creative writing at school. I used to enter a lot of short story competitions in my twenties, so writing was something I enjoyed from a young age. I found myself out of work in 1997, and decided to write a novel as a challenge to myself. I’d just finished reading “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho. It’s a short book and quite simply written, yet it has a great message and it inspired me to try to think of a story of my own that could perhaps change people’s lives.
At the time, I thought writing a novel was one of those impossible things and if I wrote one I would have achieved a dream. I actually found writing “Coincidences” quite easy. However, it was my first novel, and it was more about telling the story; I wasn’t paying too much attention to how I was writing it and how the reader would interpret it. It’s not an example of great literature, but it kick-started everything for me. My style of writing has developed a lot since then, and I’m learning more about writing every day.
It’s an ongoing process, as you probably know. These days, I try to be creative with the subject matter and the words I use, painstakingly searching for the exact word in each sentence (which is why it takes me years to edit my books!). “Coincidences” was what started it all, and after I wrote that I caught the writing bug and haven’t been able to stop writing.
SM: Oh, yes! I can relate to all the editing. I sometimes find myself doing more edits years later. Crazy, I know. But back to you, out of all the novels you’ve written to date, which would you say is your favourite and why?
MS: My most recent books are usually my favourites because my writing evolves with each book and story I write, so I feel that the latest book is usually more of an accurate reflection of where I’m at in my writing life.
My favourites at the moment are probably “Haunted” and “The Spider”, and the sequel to “The Spider” (which is not yet released).
Readers have told me “Haunted” is a story that stays with them. With that novel, I hopefully achieved what I wanted to achieve - to get people thinking. I had a message I wanted to convey with that book. It’s about the consequences of our actions, and living with the repercussions of one moment of anger, and not only the way our actions can alter our own lives, but the lives of many other people.
The main character in “The Spider”, Rex, is quite interesting, and I felt his story wasn’t quite over, which is why I was inspired to write a sequel.
SM: Having come from a very busy corporate career myself, I know how difficult it is to juggle work, family/friend commitments, and writing. Many people believe writing a novel is not that difficult; you just write the chapters and off you go. But authors know the painstaking work that goes into properly constructing an engaging plotline, giving life and depth to the characters, writing between five to ten drafts of the novel before we even begin to proofread properly and edit (and this happens before we engage the services of a proofreader/editor)! I know you can relate to all of this, but I simply want readers to know this is a true labour of love rather than writing to make money. So firstly, how did you manage your time to work at what obviously is a busy and stressful job and at the same time write?
MS: I’ve often wondered how I manage to concentrate long enough to put stories together, but then whenever I stop to think about it, I believe that the chaos is part of what creates inspiration and the stories that flow from that. I find that I am always being inspired by things that happen in my everyday life, so this helps when I put pen to paper and start writing a story. I find the actual writing of the stories relatively easy. It’s the editing/rewriting process that is hardest and takes the most time, and which can be quite frustrating. I agree with you, writing is hard work, you have to love doing it or you will end up giving up.
SM: Very true! And secondly, unless one hits the jackpot and gets discovered in what I call a “black swan event” and makes millions in royalties, what would your advice be to aspiring authors out there in regard to the reality of writing?
MS: Writing is a lonely business and it often means you spend a lot of time alone in a room. You really need to find people who will support you. I was lucky enough to connect online with a great community of independent authors (including you, Sylvia!) many years ago, and that has made all the difference.
If you’re an aspiring writer, I won’t tell you to do something else instead, but you shouldn’t go into it thinking you will make money. Writing has lots of other benefits. For example, I find it therapeutic.
SM: Yes. I have to say that writing is extremely therapeutic and, although a lonely business, most of the time I find I enjoy being in the company of all the characters inside my head. You’ll probably think I’m crazy, but I think all creatives are just a little bit crazy; otherwise, they wouldn’t be doing what we call a “labour of love”.
But I ramble... Maria, before we close off, is there anything else you would like to add, including what is the next writing project for you?
MS: I’d like to mention a few of my favourite independent authors who write fantastic books, which I’ve read and enjoyed. Whenever anyone is asked to name a favourite author, they usually mention someone famous. I’ve even seen other independent writers do that in interviews. Of course we all have famous authors who are our favourites, but let’s face it, they don’t need the publicity. Most of my favourite writers these days are independent authors and they don’t get any promotion. So here are a few I would recommend: J. Michael Radcliffe, Darcia Helle, Maria Haskins, Neil Schiller, Julie Elizabeth Powell, Jason McIntyre.
There is a whole world of undiscovered books out there, and I would ask every person reading this to try a book by one of those authors because you never know, they could end up being one of your favourites too.
As mentioned, my next writing project is the sequel to “The Spider”. It’s called “Evil Never Dies”. I’m working on the final edits now and hope to release it soon. The release has been delayed due to my busy work life this year, but hopefully it will be out next year. I’m looking forward to sharing it. I also have a collection of short stories that is almost ready to be published.
SM: Thank you so very much for taking the time to feature on Sylvia Says today, Maria. I really enjoyed learning more about you and your work, and I wish you all the best with your upcoming release! I hope next time we meet, I can physically get to lovely London in person.
MS: That would be wonderful! I’d also love to visit Australia one day!
SM: I’ll hold you to that and what’s more I’ll take you sightseeing!
For more information on Maria Savva and where you can check out her books please click HERE.
CA: For the past 16 or so years, I have been a newspaper reporter. I have always covered our local school districts and lately, my focus has been on doing features. Of course, I will write as many A&E (arts & entertainment) stories as my editors will let me. LOL. Since I did the “cops and courts” beat for 12-plus years it’s nice to chip away at and redeem the black parts of my soul. For some extra money, and I do mean a little bit, I also cover high school football and basketball games. In my spare time – and when the motivation hits me – I write op-eds* and reviews about various comic book projects and the related media on my Cary’s Comics Craze blog. So basically, I feel like I write, or should be writing, all the time. And that can be a double-edged sword.
[*Note by SM: meaning of “op-ed” – jargon speak for a newspaper page opposite the editorial page, devoted to personal comments, feature articles, etc.]
I grew up in the beautiful state of Virginia in a VERY small town called The Plains. I earned my B.A. in English with minors in secondary education and music at James Madison University. My plan was to be a band director and/or a high school English teacher. Life took some detours and here I am, where my late mother said I should have been as a back-up plan – working in journalism. Since September, I have returned to singing in the church choir and playing handbells, which has been great for my soul. I live in a lovely little city called Norwalk, Ohio, and it’s a wonderful place to call home.
SM: Life always seems to throw us detours, Cary, and here’s another one for you: I know of many reporters/journalists who have turned to writing books; so what was it that made you turn to novel writing?
CA: It really started with my writers group, which meets once a month. We read our works in progress to each other and get wonderfully constructive feedback.
I hadn’t done any fiction writing in years, so I started out just reading some of my nerdy blog posts. Having been a long-time mystery reader, I realized I always wanted to create my own P.I. or investigator. But it had to be original, not a knock-off of another character.
SM: And this brings us to Colt Maverick. What inspired you to invent this character? Tell us a bit about Colt. What is he all about?
CA: As I said, I wanted my character to be as original as possible. That’s tough when you’re writing mysteries. The name Colt Maverick came to me literally, when I was going to bed. It speaks to his somewhat rebellious nature and the name spoke to me, so suddenly I was ready to go! As an aside, many of my friends and readers say they absolutely love the name Colt Maverick. So if nothing else, I gave him a memorable first and last name.
I couldn’t just have Colt be a P.I., so I made him a retired pro football player who had been a Marine sniper. Colt is a bit full of himself; some of my readers have called him arrogant. Really, all this happened in just what was going to be an experimental scene, but I ended up loving this guy. He’s fun to write, and you just never know what he’s going to do or even say. But, as a P.I., he’s always going to end up pursuing justice for everyone involved. That’s why I started the hashtag on social media of #WhatWillColtDo or #WWCD for short.
SM: Well, he certainly sounds like an original character with an impressive background. Now, you released Colt’s debut novel not so long ago, so what’s coming up next for him?
CA: I have been working on a follow-up story for not quite a year. There have been several stops, starts and do-overs. The writing hasn’t been nearly as “easy” as the original. It’s been tough going and honestly, Colt and I are just off a couple-month “break.” But I’ve found something I can stick my teeth into – and it gets Colt into a mess at the same time. That’s where he shines. Colt is investigating a security breach related to the murder of an attorney. What’s been fun is bringing back supporting characters from my first novel. That’s challenging at the same time because, as my writers group told me early in this draft, I can’t assume everyone read the first book.
SM: Well, I can relate to that with my Mia Ferrari series. I believe there is a fine balance between not telling too much about the characters, but enough so that if a reader comes in at say, novel number three, they can still relate to the main protagonist and to the regular characters. This is not easy to do.
The same goes for continuity. Recently, I read the third book in a mystery series (written by a well known author) and a character this author had appearing in novel one ended up with a totally different name in novel three. This put me off as a reader, and it isn’t the first time I’ve come across inconsistencies in the novels of bestselling authors. If I may be so bold as to suggest a method I use for consistency: I keep a file of white cards for each character, which come out of the file every time I start a new novel—this way I’m reminded of the little things that I may no longer remember from two novels ago.
CA: That’s a great idea. I may steal that tip from you. Continuity is tough; I can’t imagine what you face with your Mia Ferrari books. I actually have a Colt Maverick sourcebook of sorts. I started a notebook devoted to the world of my novel, which details everything from who is related to whom to what they drink. It’s been helpful.
SM: That’s a great idea, Cary. I think all authors have their own methods so they can remember and ins and outs of their characters. I could go on about this topic as it would be interesting to see what other authors out there do to remember all the details when they’re giving life to their characters, but now we’re running out of time; therefore, before we conclude I have a couple of quick questions: 1. Do you have a release date for the next Colt Maverick novel? 2. Is there anything you’d like to tell potential readers out there?
CA: No release date on the sequel. Or even a tentative completion date. Not even close! I really am taking it slowly, mainly due to finding time with my work as a professional writer, but most importantly, so I can do it well. Lately I have taken to writing during my lunch break. SO many people who have read my novel have an immediate question when they see me: How is the next one coming? It’s incredibly exciting to know people want to read more about Colt, and honestly see my debut novel as the first in a series. Guess I must have done something right! Hahahaha.
To any potential readers, it’s a blessing that you support authors, especially independent ones like Sylvia and me. Also, once you do read someone’s book, please post a review or send the author an email and/or direct message on social media and let him or her know what you think. Give us shoutouts! Constructive feedback is very helpful. Personally, there’s also nothing better than knowing you enjoy what I wrote. I have taken to heart the constructive criticism on my first book; that’s only going to help push me to make the next one even better.
SM: Well, thank you so very much for taking the time to feature on Sylvia Says today. I really enjoyed learning about Colt Maverick and I look forward to reading about his adventures.
Cary, I wish you all the best with the Colt novels, and please make sure you cut me into the deal when those film options come knocking at your door. Did I tell you I’m really good with continuity? LOL.
CA: Good try, Sylvia! Hahahahaha. It has been a pleasure to be on Sylvia Says; thank you!
For more information on Cary Ashby and where you can purchase Colt Maverick’s first mystery please CLICK here.
It actually sounds like the name of a song David Bowie would write, but no; this isn't a song, and the writer is not David Bowie--but he is a funky little demon! Read on to get into AJ Beamish's mind. I guarantee it can be a scary place! And no, AJ's not one of those frigging clowns that are running around the world right now scaring young and old.
SM: Welcome to Sylvia Says, AJ. It’s great to have you as a guest on this blog. I see you’re originally from one of my favourite cities—NYC. So what are you doing in Georgia now, and why do you want to move to the land down under?
AJ: I was born in NYC to a couple of Scousers from Liverpool. So I grew up in England and NYC, probably why I have a better grasp of the English language than most Americans (*cough*TrumpSupporters*cough*). Funny thing, when we first moved to Georgia, I really wanted to move to Australia. Might have had something to do with smoking pot while watching the Paul Hogan show... Can't remember.
Alas, my wife loves her comfort zone too much and she has family here. She also hits harder than Bruce Lee. So we ended up in Southern Hell. At the time, I just wanted to get out of NYC. I thought it was because I hated it there. Now I realise I've always had severe social anxieties; I get very anxious in crowded settings. I miss NYC, but it's too expensive for working class folk now. That's a little disappointing.
SM: I see none of your facebook friends are David Bowie fans except for me. Do you think they were replaced by extraterrestrials, but still look like their human selves? Except for Author Nicole Chardenet of course; we all know she’s an extraterrestrial chick through and through!
AJ: I have Facebook friends? *looking genuinely surprised* Most of them are young-adult gamers, or they were until I started pissing them off. They're great folk, solid gaming friends with whom I've developed great personal relationships over the years. Alas, I need more writer friends on my Facebook. Writers are far more contemplative, especially regarding important social issues older generations are more concerned about. My gamer friends suffer from the vestiges and arrogance of youth, as I did at their age. Facebook is where you go to realise you have very little in common with the people you actually know--or--the people you know can't find a middle ground with you. For the most part, Facebook is a place for acquaintances, not friends. At least, that's been my experience.
SM: Another thing I noticed is that you have a dog looking at a computer on your Facebook feature pic (see below). This explains many things.... LOL. Care to comment on this and tell us who is really writing your novel?
AJ: That's Stanley. He's an only child and needs a friend, and thus is a spoiled brat. We've always had two dogs, but we lost 3 in row a few years back within a 4-year period (one to cancer, one to a rare genetic blood disease, and one to old age) and have been reluctant to adopt more (please always adopt, people!) Besides my wife, he's my best friend. Rain or shine, Stanley never leaves my side. When friends and family abandon me, he is there.
My wife says 'he's just like you', and he is. I've learned more about myself through Stanley than all my life experiences put together. He has all my fears, mania, and anxieties. He hates going outside, doesn't trust anyone, but my wife and me. When depression gets the best of me, he's sulking right next to me. When the mania hits, he's destroying his multitude of toys while I frantically pace. He looks out the window and growls at the world he has no control over. I sit on the internet and growl at the world I have no control over. We both binge-watched the entirety of "Outrageous Fortune" on Netflix like 3 times... He's a total freak, just like me.
I am most definitely writing my novel, but I'm pretty sure Stanley takes over my Facebook and Twitter feeds late at night. Oh, I should copyright that one before Trump does!
SM: Okay, enough humour. Aussies like messing about with people and taking the piss out of them (in a nice way, of course). Now, tell me about the premise of your novel, which seems to be a long labour of love.
AJ: Marley Wright is close to my heart. The bugger's been tormenting me a long time. Though I fear the story may have fermented too long. He's a simple kid, from a broken family, who gets these powers and starts seeing tiny demons all around him. The demons guide him in strange ways. He develops these precognitive magical powers through the demons and rather than doing the whole Peter Parker responsibility thing, Marley goes off on a wild tangent, gets lost, gets hunted, finds purpose, and tries to start doing what he believes he was meant to do. But is it too late by then? I'd allude more to what that purpose is, but it's a major plot twist that doesn't come about till late in the second novel.
It's a ballad, a trilogy with a couple of short stories thrown in for good measure. The ballad is a journey of discovery and the search for something to believe in. The first novel is about the loss of innocence and the bitter sting of betrayal.
I'm working on a short story for the holidays. A sort of Funky Little Demons Christmas Carol that jumps ahead quite a few years, and that will help flesh out the main character for the readers a bit more. Be sure to look out for it.
SM: What inspired you to write it?
AJ: That question from XTC's "Dear God" clearly comes to mind--Did you make mankind after we made you? And a quote from Homer's "The Odyssey": Ah how shameless--the way these mortals blame the gods. From us alone, they say, come all their miseries, yes, but they themselves, with their own reckless ways, compound their pains beyond their proper share. Along with my own search for something to believe in. Roman Catholic, born and raised. Dabbled in Buddhism. Now a devout atheist. Parts of it are loosely based off my own experiences growing up in Spanish Harlem, NYC. Write what you know, right?
SM: As novelists, we always reflect something within ourselves through our characters. What do you feel you reflect through your characters?
AJ: There's definitely a lot of my childhood in Marley in the first novel. But it probably stops there. There's only so much of yourself you can put in your characters. There are parts of yourself that just need to remain yours. I feel writers are solitary creatures. We sit back. We observe. We write what we see, what we think we see, what we know. In our minds we are many things, but those things are just reflections of the world around us. So while there's some of myself in Marley, the other characters probably reflect people I've known in life. I suppose we have to insert that legal caveat here regarding all characters being fictional and any similarities are merely a product of one's over-inflated ego. LOL.
SM: Where can readers get a glimpse of your novel? And are you planning on a formal release for it?
AJ: They can find the first few chapters at ajbeamish.com; and as of this moment, I don't have a release date planned. My diseased mind constantly finds ways to screw with me so I feel the same way Douglas Adams felt about deadlines--I simply love the whooshing sound they make as they whizz on by.
SM: AJ, I’d like to close off by saying that, unlike in other careers, being an older person gives an author an edge and more insight because of the life experience we go through: the lessons learned and the wisdom we acquire (at least, for most of us). This is something that a younger person may have trouble portraying in their writing unless they are exceptionally wise or they’ve suffered greatly. What are your thoughts on this?
AJ: All artists suffer. It's what we do. Mostly in melodramatic ways. Though our suffering can be somewhat selfish at times and wear down those close to us. My own introverted nature, anxieties and depression have pushed many people away, including family. So we have to find balance there, especially in our writing. Insert too much personal suffering and your narrative will come off as more whiny than entertaining.
Worldliness plays a huge part in a writer's ability to draw upon vivid experiences to infuse their narrative with. Someone who has never travelled ten feet beyond their white picket fence will be writing a lot of one dimensional characters and places until they get out there, start travelling, and start experiencing life.
It's also a "know thyself thing". In my youth I wasn't very introspective. Most humans are the same deep down; once you start figuring yourself out you've pretty much figured everyone else out. At least their base needs, wants, and fears. Everything else is just layer upon layer of internal reactions to personal experiences that warp, jade, or inspire us.
SM: It’s not always easy to open up and tell the world what we think and feel through our stories. But I think we’re blessed if we can do this, even if it makes us feel vulnerable at times. Some people may not take away anything from our writing; others will go on to criticise us and bring us down. But if we can touch one heart or one soul with the stories we write, in my estimation I think we’ve done a good job. What do you think?
AJ: When I first started writing they had this saying, if you have a message call Western Union. I suppose it would be nice if someone came up to me and told me my writing got them through a difficult time or inspired them, but I don't believe you can write a good story if you're focused on that. I think you have to write for yourself first and foremost. If something wonderful, like touching another's soul comes out of it, great. I try not to think about it too much because when I do it ends up in mental images of someone throwing one of my novels at me and screaming YOU SUCK! And then there's that whole Stephen King's Misery paradigm... My mind is a very dangerous place.
SM: And my house is your house, especially the one pictured above. Hehehehehe. Well, I think we'll stop here and ponder on this--the mind boggles--and the meaning of life, etc, etc. We all know the answer is "42", right?
AJ, it was great having you on Sylvia Says. And I hope you make it to the land down under one day so we can continue the "42" discussion, among other things. Best of luck with Funky Little Demons, and thank you for using UK/Aussie spelling in your answers to my questions. Nice touch!
AJ: Thanks, Sylvia. And I'll hold you to your invite to visit Australia.
SM: You're on :)
It is a well-known fact that most authors live vicariously through their characters. I’m not sure if this is true for all of them, but I believe authors need to live “in character” at some stage if their work is to be of quality.
In fact, I’ll take this a step further and propose that many of us (author or not) live between three worlds:
2. In character
Let’s take a closer look:
What’s reality, anyway? What if we’re figments of someone else’s imagination, and we’re fooling ourselves that our lives are real? After all, as Mr William Shakespeare suggests in his play “As You Like It”:
All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts...
Therefore, what you perceive to be real may not be real. But no matter how you perceive your reality, certain things are inescapable: birth, death, taxes, paying bills, making a living, illness, the whole myriad of human emotions, and whatever else fits into what we perceive as living "the human condition".
Now, this is where things begin to get interesting for authors (and for anyone with an imagination). As with “method actors”, we also have “method writers”. So we often find ourselves coming across to others as the characters we write about and those we identify with. This often puzzles the people who think they know us, but it’s a fact that many of us “step into character” at some stage or other in our lives in order to take a break from our reality.
So people who interact with us may think we’re simply “just another creative soul” or an absolute fruitcake.
For me, I step in and out of character at a moment’s notice between my many protagonists; and this always crosses into my reality so that people are not sure who they’re dealing with. I could be Mia Ferrari one minute, a smartarse-doesn’t-suffer-fools-gladly chick with a liking for younger men and solving mysteries, only to turn into Cat Ryan the next minute, an online-dating blogger with a love of antiques (not antique men, but antique furniture and art); then, on to Sarah Jamison, a Bridget Jones-type that comes up with madcap ideas to get a real man; and finally, to Carla Fiori, who is the love interest of David Bowie (while he’s in character as Rhys Lewis) in my latest novel, The Stranger, a sci-fi apocalyptic romance.
And this is where it starts to get really spooky! Not only do some writers live in character at times, but often we simply decide to take off from reality for a major part of our time, and we live vicariously through all our characters and the situations in which they find themselves.
For me, this is addictive, and I often find myself in this world. This can happen to me while I’m writing (or "in the zone" as I call it) or while I'm watching a movie, or reading a book. And oftentimes, I simply switch from reality and immerse myself in this particular world because this is where I like to be best of all.
In this world, I can be anybody, and I can interact with any character. This is the world where I’m the superhero and save the day; or I have a ton of younger men as lovers; or a young version of David Bowie and I are an item and we compose and perform music, among other things; or I solve all sorts of crimes and bring the bad guys to justice. In this world, I’m invincible, fit and healthy, and a gorgeous femme fatale; and the list goes on.
So whether you’re a creative type, or you have a love of films and books, or you can simply daydream at will—you, too, live between three worlds. The question is: Which world do you mostly want to live in?
As an author looking to sell the film rights to one of my novels to Hollywood, my journey has been very slow so far. Most filmmakers will not take "unsolicited" manuscripts. In Hollywood, it's not what you know but who you know!
So I figured if I kept trying, one day something big was going to happen. Lo and behold, who should land right on my doorstep but unconventional, open-minded, two-time director, Angelina Jolie!
Recently, she's made the news headlines again as she is in the process of directing her second film, and using locations within Australia. The film is called Unbroken, and it's based on a non-fiction book by author Laura Hillenbrand.
But all this is besides the point. I knew Ms Jolie was going to be filming a scene outside one of the hotels where I freelance in human resources (my bread and butter gig). This is what I do to pay the bills in between writing. Anyway, this incredible and talented lady (Ms Jolie) was going to be literally on my doorstep, with one of our hotels being in the background of one of the scenes in the film. So how was I going to get my novel to her? The set was heavily guarded, and anyone trying to approach the area where the filming was taking place was turned away by security. Lucky for me, I found a way. You know what they say--where there is a will, there is a way.
Before you get excited, the answer is "No", I didn't get to meet Ms Jolie. At the time I pulled my "covert" operation of trying to get my novel to her, she was filming behind closed doors. In any case, below is my account of how I did it:
"It was a real production (no pun intended) just trying to get the whole thing to happen. First, my boss told me he was going to pass on my novel to Ms Jolie (as he expected to meet her), or he would hand it to the locations manager, who is the guy he'd been dealing with regarding the changes to the façade of our hotel's entry way (our hotel was going to be made to look like a Japanese store of some kind).
Anyway, to cut a long story short, one day before the shoot, my boss told me he was going to be in and out of the office attending meetings. I was devastated. I had been counting on him being around to hand over the novel to Ms Jolie (after all, he'd read it and loved it). So when he told me he would be flat out that day (Friday, 22 November), I felt like giving up. I was angry, disappointed, and wanted to cry at the same time.
Then an idea came to me--I got the name of the locations manager from my boss, and I googled him (Yes, always, ALWAYS do your homework!). The guy has an incredible filmography--he's worked in all the major blockbusters made in Australia for the last 30 years including Wolverine and Gatsby. I tried to get a clear image on Google of this man so I would recognise him if I saw him, but I could only find a tiny photo of him, taken at a distance, and it was blurry at that. I wasn't sure how I was going to identify him on the set. My idea was to approach him directly.
On Friday morning, I made my way to the hotel, and it was bedlam. There were extras dressed as Japanese soldiers and 1940s-type civilians, and a whole bunch of vintage cars were parked along the road (the scene was meant to be a street in Tokyo). People were everywhere--security guards, crew members, etc. Scaffolding and filming lights, trucks, and loads of equipment occupied the street, which was soon to be blocked off to general traffic and the public.
I made it into the hotel, and my boss was busy. He said he'd introduce me to the locations guy, but then he got caught up with other things. Ms Jolie was already inside a building across the road from us, which is an art-deco style building, and she'd been there since early morning. I was told by someone from our hotel, who knew what was happening, that she was filming behind closed doors, and no one but crew could get in.
The entrance to the building was flanked by security officers and all manner of film crew individuals. I stood across the road with my package in hand (novel and letter addressed to Ms Jolie), watching, watching, watching, and waiting, waiting, waiting. Then, this guy comes out of the building. He looked vaguely familiar. My intuition told me it was him (the locations manager). He looked like the pic I saw on Google, but I couldn't be 100% sure. His name is Phillip Roope, by the way.
Suddenly, he was talking to some people, and standing like 2 feet away from me. I was going to wait till he finished talking and then attract his attention. But before I could do this, he walked off. I was really distressed and disappointed. He was my only chance, and he'd just walked away. Still, I waited and waited some more as Mr Roope went back into the building where the filming was taking place.
Then it started to pour with rain (we had thundery weather in Sydney on Friday), and I thought, Damn! What else can go wrong? And just as I thought this, Mr Roope came out of the building again and started to walk up the road. I said to myself, "It's now or never, Sylvia."
I ran across the road despite the heavy rain, almost getting run over by cars as the road hadn't yet been blocked off. Meanwhile, Mr Roope was going way up the road, away from me. I quickened my pace, but a security officer blocked my way, and said, "Excuse me, madam, are you crew?"
I went into official mode, gave her a stern look, and with my most authoritative tone, I replied, "I'm after Mr Roope." This seemed to work because, without further questions, she called out after him (by the way, I'm good at authority. You have to be if you're in human resources. Not a wasted career after all).
Mr Roope stopped, turned to me, and we took shelter under the awning of a building, as it was still raining heavily. And then, after apologising for taking up his time, I launched into my spiel (and believe me, you have to be ready for this because you never know when the opportunity to sell your novel/script/idea will come up). I told him who I was, gave him my official hotel business card, told him I had permission from my boss to approach him, and that I had a novel for Ms Jolie, and would he give it to her.
I further told him I knew she probably gets millions of these, but the Universe dictated that she be here today, and therefore, I had to take the chance. Fortunately, Mr Roope, an Aussie, was really nice and easy going (as most Aussies are), and he promised he would put it in her hands. I then thanked him, complimented him on his fantastic career, and finally went on my way.
Oh, but just before I left, I did say that I knew Ms Jolie might simply put the book in the trash, or never get to read it. But if she did read it, she would surely love it, and cry at the ending. Mr Roope smiled, a twinkle in his eye, and once again promised he'd give it to her. Wow! I was suddenly on top of the world. Talk about six degrees of separation. And this was only one degree of separation!"
When relating my story to a colleague, she commented on my determination. I replied that I would have stepped over bodies lying in the streets if it meant I could get my novel to Ms Jolie. I've never been shy of approaching people. I had something to sell, and I wanted an open-minded director for it. The Universe saw fit to bring Ms Jolie literally to my doorstep. The worst she or Mr Roope could have said was "No". So I had nothing to lose and everything to gain.
Now it's all out of my hands. I do not expect to hear any time soon, if ever. Ms Jolie might put the whole package straight into the trash; after all, she undoubtedly gets hit with this kind of thing all the time. Or she might put it away for later and forget all about it. Or she might open it and put the book aside for another day and not read it for a year. Or she might read it and not like it. Or she might read it, like it, but decide it's not a good film project. Or... the best outcome of all, she might love it, cry at the end of the story, and get her people to contact me with a movie deal because she just has to make this novel into a movie!
My mother once said to me regarding lost opportunities: "We might miss several trains, but we always catch the last one." This thought was what kept me going against all odds to get my book to Ms Jolie. And since you can never depend on anybody else except yourself, I decided to take matters into my own hands. I simply did what I had to do and what was under my control--the rest, I handed over to the Universe.
And now, while I wait for that magic call (if it should ever come), I can finally go around saying my most favourite line of all time to people who never answer their phones: "You never know when Hollywood is going to call."
... Only, we’re in Detroit and not Chicago.
Picture this: Detroit in the late 1920s. A beautiful, headstrong, young girl determined not to follow in the wake of well-mannered young ladies of that period and be “married off” to the best suitor. A mysterious walk-in closet; a mother with a dark secret. Men and women with self-serving motives, gangsters and molls, booze, murder, and flying bullets!
All this, and more, will you find in author Patty Wiseman’s trilogy, The Velvet Shoe Collection, consisting of: An Unlikely Arrangement, An Unlikely Beginning, and An Unlikely Conclusion.
Patty is experiencing great success with her romance suspense series featuring 17-year-old Ruth Squire, and her “unlikely” adventures.
I’ve just finished reading Book 2 in the collection, and caught up with Patty in between book tours and literary award dinners to ask her a few questions about her unique series.
Sylvia: You picked an interesting era to write about--Detroit, late 1920s--what made you write about this time in history?
Patty: Imagine a tow-headed, five-year-old runt of a girl crouching behind the stairwell in her grandmother’s three-story mansion, listening to the grownups talk about her life during the roaring twenties. We were leaving to move to Kansas. My dad took a new job there. Kansas is where my grandmother met her second husband, and where her story took an unexpected twist. She’d fled from Detroit, Michigan, to save her life and her son’s. I’m a naturally curious being, and my vivid imagination worked over time while grandmother spun her story of intrigue. I’ve often thought she missed her calling. She should have been a writer herself. Over the years, I made a point to stay with her on any occasion I could and sat in rapture most of the time as she told the story of her life’s journey. Those stories never left me. I knew I had to write about them. Life, of course, got in the way. I put it on the back burner, but shortly before I retired, the stories grabbed hold of me and wouldn’t let me go.
Sylvia: How did you find having to research details to write about this era?
Patty: First of all, I love, love, love that era. Partly, because of the stories I heard, but more because when I did start to research that era, the role women played during that time fascinated me. This was an era of women really coming out of the shadows, and making themselves and their desires known. I put my grandmother in that category, as well. She was headstrong, passionate, and beautiful. She knew what she wanted, and was going to find a way to have it. I found a lot of information through ancestry.com. I also have a lot of online friends who live in Detroit, who were very accommodating when I needed to verify facts about the time period. I really had a lot of fun researching.
Sylvia: Why did you name this series of books "The Velvet Shoe Collection"?
Patty: As I said before, I spent a lot of time with my grandmother growing up. She had a huge house, and the guestroom I stayed in had a cavernous closet. I was always exploring; and one night, I found the closet didn’t end in the guest room. It actually turned the corner and continued into my grandmother’s dressing room. When I turned that corner, I was amazed. Rows of fancy dresses, jewelry and shoes! So many shoes! There were all kinds to match her dresses, but the ones I liked best were the velvet ones. Especially a red velvet pair. That’s where I came up with the name. I wrote that closet and those dresses into the books.
Sylvia: So the idea to write this series come from real life, as with most authors?
Patty: Yes. I wrote the stories from my grandmother’s perspective, but really to honor her first husband, my father’s father, who never lived to see him grow up. I had only planned on one book at first, but I got such a wonderful response, I decided to write a series. Now, people are clamoring for me to write about some of the other characters in the books and to expand on their lives. There is so much material there. I could write for years!
Sylvia: I see you are doing some book tours and talks around the country. Please tell us more about this.
Patty: In 2012, I pulled out all the stops and traveled everywhere for book signings and festivals, libraries and book stores. I hardly ever had a weekend off. What I found was women who love to read about strong women who have found a way to live their dreams. This year, I’ve slowed down on the tours and am working on a series of workshops designed to encourage women to pursue their dreams no matter what station in life they find themselves. If you follow me on my website, www.pattywiseman.com, you will be able to keep up to date on the progress of these endeavors.
Sylvia: I like the slogan on your website: "Challenge, Conquer, Change". What is the premise behind this?
Patty: I’ve been able to live my dream, and it is a passion of mine to encourage other women to follow theirs. So many women feel that time has passed them by, that they don’t have anything meaningful to contribute anymore. There are two blogs about "Women of a Certain Age" on my website. One spotlights quotes from women at various ages, and what they like most about the age they are. The other, affirms the worth of women as they get older and spotlights the man’s point of view, and the beauty they find as their partner travels through each decade.
We should never discount our influence in this world because we are aging. Too many times, women get trapped in what the media portrays beauty to be, thus creating an impossible image to sustain. We need to stand away from the television, the billboards, and the magazines, and examine the virtues we have to offer to the younger generations. We are beautiful at every age! We need to find the jewel within!
Sylvia: That is inspiring indeed! Ageing is not very kind to women because of the media, and the culture we live in, especially in Anglo-Saxon countries such as the US, Canada, UK, Australia, and New Zealand. Is there anything else you'd like to tell your readers?
Patty: I’d just like to encourage all women to explore the UNLIKELY! Many times, we fall into a pattern, and just stay on the same old treadmill. Try something new, whether it be in the books you read, the entertainment you enjoy, or the places you travel, even the food you eat. Open up your world! Explore the possibilities. It’s an exciting time to be a woman!
Sylvia: Patty, it has been a great pleasure to feature you on "Sylvia Says". Thank you, and I wish you all the best with the Velvet Shoe Collection and your workshops on inspiring women to reach their potential. I think this kind of empowerment is something we can never get enough of.
Patty: The pleasure is mine. Thank you for the interview, and for having me on your blog. I wish you all the best with your own "Unlikely Adventures" as a strong woman and novelist!
We all have our trials and tribulations. We have to deal at some stage in our lives with adversity, obstacles, loss, grief, illness, and so on. We often ask ourselves "why me?" We question life, the existence of God--we sometimes even think we're cursed. We tend to compare ourselves to others, and think they're lucky and we are not. We get depressed, we despair, and sometimes we want to stop living.
Like many of you reading this blog post, I've had my fair share of disasters in life, but what I've learned from the bad times was that no matter how awful things got, I could always reinvent myself. We can all reinvent ourselves, but whether it's for better or worse, only you can decide.
Today, it gives me great pleasure to introduce to you such a person--one who opted to reinvent himself for the better. Please meet fellow author, Gary Goldstein.
Gary resides in New York City, and I met him a couple of years ago when he appeared as a guest in my then literary show "The Lit Chick Show". Since that time, Gary and I have bumped into one another through the social media, and I decided to invite Gary for an interview on Sylvia Says. I believe if anyone can give us an example of facing adversity, overcoming obstacles and despair, and coming out on the other side with a smile and a lot to give, it is Gary Goldstein.
And so, we move on to find out a little more about Gary and his life.
SM: Gary, thank you for being a guest on Sylvia Says. Do you think writing Jew in Jail was a cathartic experience for you?
GG: Thank you, Sylvia. Good to be here. As to your question--yes, writing Jew in Jail absolutely was a cathartic experience, especially since I wrote it AS I was serving my sentence!
SM: How was this experience cathartic?
GG: It allowed me to become very introspective and think about why I had become the way I was, as far as not having any self-esteem and self-confidence, and why I was resorting to alcohol, drugs and gambling in order to step out of my reality.
SM: Like many people who've been through trauma, whether it be from an accident, a death in the family, drug addiction, etc, can you describe a time when you felt the lowest you could ever be and how you pulled out of it?
GG: Yes, and this is a very good question. It was when I finally decided that I had enough of my "revolving door" lifestyle on the morning of October 31, 2007.
Even though I spent nearly six years behind bars, I did suffer one last relapse 18 months after coming home in 2004, because I had decided and justified that I "deserved" to get high as a result of everything I had been through and dealt with.
However, when I woke up on October 31, 2007, and realized that I felt like a rat in maze and was never going to amount to anything in life unless I finally cleaned up my act and got help for my addictions, I walked over to the Coney Island Hospital Chemical Dependency Outpatient Drug Treatment Program and voluntarily signed in.
Long story short, I remained six months longer than was necessary, and today serve as the alumni committee president.
In addition, this has led to my becoming a motivational & inspirational speaker, and I get to help other recovering addicts at drug programs, hospital detoxes, jails, schools, etc., and get tremendous satisfaction out of passing the message of hope onto those who need it.
SM: Like most people, we sometimes feel in the depths of despair--we feel like we're going to lose it--if you were ever there, what do you think gave you the strength to pull yourself out of this feeling?
GG: Just finally realizing and believing that I was born with greatness - like I tell others when I speak - and that my accomplishments, including college degrees, career in print and broadcast journalism, intelligence, wit, personality and life experience necessitated that I do my best to live up to my full potential.
That, plus the fact that I have a very loving and supportive family and friends who refused to get down on me, even when I was very much down on myself!
SM: How did it feel to be in jail?
GG: It felt degrading, embarrassing and humiliating. Of course, I obviously had nobody else to blame for it happening but myself.
However, after being stripped of my dignity, I slowly but surely began to dig out from the desperation my life had become, and started to work out, tutor other inmates in the school, go to the general and law libraries, lay in the sun out in the yard, and, of course, write "Jew in Jail!"
So, my point is that even under these horrible conditions of being behind bars, it is possible to overcome anything in life, and end up a better person.
SM: What message do you want people to take away from your story?
GG: I want people to understand that, no matter who you are, where you come from, your economic status, or any other factor, addiction is a disease that can affect anyone, and does not discriminate.
Furthermore, I also want people to realize that, regardless of what kind of a tough time they might be going through, they are never alone as there are always people who have experienced the same thing themselves and are willing to help.
Simply put, never be ashamed to ask for help, and never be too proud to admit that you need help in life, because we are all human beings and make mistakes.
SM: If you could go back in time, what would you change about your life?
GG: This is another very good question, and I would say that I would just never take anything for granted, like I did when I was growing up.
I would also appreciate everything I had as a kid, including a great family, friends, education, career after graduation, and just basically know that I could have been whatever I wanted to be in life, as long as I maintained my self-esteem and self-confidence, which, sadly, wasn't the case.
SM: You entitled your book "Jew in Jail". Is this because of the faith you were born into and you were identifying with it, or because you suffered discrimination because of your faith?
GG: Both actually, although more of the second, as I was definitely subjected to a lot of discrimination while incarcerated.
SM: What is your next project?
GG: Aside from continuing to promote "Jew in Jail," and deliver motivational & inspirational speeches in order to help others, I am very interested in getting my own radio and/or television show so I can empower people to always be their best.
I truly believe that I can help so many people achieve their goals by instilling in them a sense of greatness, and letting them know and realize that nothing can stop them from succeeding in life as long as they remain diligent, hard working, and focused.
SM: I wish you well with your book, Gary, and once again, thank you for being a guest on my blog.
GG: My pleasure, and thank you.
You can connect with Gary Goldstein through the following links:
It’s been less than a month since I returned from a cruise to New Caledonia and the Loyalty Islands, and already I am looking forward to another one. What was so good about the cruise? Well, if you look at it from my protagonist, Mia Ferrari's point of view, it was the cute, young officers.
You can’t blame Mia, older-woman and wannabe investigator, seeing as she likes Playing with the bad boys, right? (Also the name of her first mystery adventure). Mia likes them young and good looking (even if they’re gay!), and on a cruise of over 1700 passengers and around 700 crew, one is bound to run into some young flesh ;) And she did.
But what was the real reason for going on this cruise? Namely,
relaxation, and to plan my next murder mystery, which will take place on the high seas and will feature Mia, her friends, and a host of other characters.
I will be starting to write Mia Ferrari’s next mystery adventure The South Pacific Murders in the next few weeks, and hope to release it in early 2014..
You can expect a number of murders, sexual tension, and quite a few suspects. Mia is going to be under pressure to solve these murders in a short time span, seeing as the cruise is not a long one, and she must solve the murders before the ship arrives at its destination. So the pressure is on.
This is why Mia’s creator, little me, is in need of another cruise in order to relax :)
While you are waiting for Mia’s third mystery to be released, why not grab a copy of her first two adventures? Click HERE to have a look at where you can buy them.
So, see you on board soon, and Bon voyage!
That’s right, online friendships can turn to murder—but it’s fictitious, so that’s a relief.
You’re probably wondering what in heaven’s name I’m talking about. Let me explain: some time ago, I read a couple of humorous fiction novels by British author, Carol E. Wyer. I met Carol when I used to run a vlog, interviewing authors on their respective work, and we maintained contact since. So ours is what I call a cyber-friendship.
In her novels, Carol developed a character that followed the blog of her main protagonist, Amanda Wilson. The blog follower went by the name of SexyFitChick, and she was from Australia. SexyFitChick became a good online friend of Amanda Wilson, Carol’s main character in her two novels, Mini Skirts and Laughter Lines and Surfing in Stilettos.
Carol later revealed to me that SexyFitChick reminded her of me, although I don’t know about the “fit” part *laughter and wink*, but I do agree about the “sexy” bit :D
Over the next couple of years, Carol and I maintained our cyber-friendship, and I really enjoyed reading about the escapades of Amanda Wilson. So much so, that when my own protagonist, smartarse, older chick, super-sleuth, Mia Ferrari, was published in her second adventure, The Gay Mardi Gras Murders, I decided to bring Amanda Wilson (Carol's protagonist) to the land down under for a visit with Mia.
In the story, Amanda (or Mandy) is suffering from “grumpy-hubby syndrome” and so she runs off Down Under to visit with best online friend, Mia Ferrari, and catch the world-famous Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras at the same time.
As it turns out, not only does Mandy become part of an investigation into several murders, one of which involves a transsexual with a very valuable diamond that carries a so-called curse; but she is thrown into Mia’s world—a world of luxury international hotels, Ferrari cars, insidious characters, younger men, a bunch of bitchy drag queens, drop-dead gorgeous gay boys, and a lot more. To make matters worse, and really test the friendship between the two protagonists, Mandy develops a crush on Mia’s archenemy, the very good looking Detective Sergeant Phil Smythe.
I won’t go on with the plot and spoil it for you, but I want to point out that from a cyber-friendship between two authors who are continents apart was born the fictional friendship of Amanda Wilson and Mia Ferrari (our respective protagonists). This led our protagonists--both strong and independent mature women, to adventure, the challenge of overcoming rivalry between two good friends, sexual fantasies of "playing with some bad boys", and even hoping to convert a few sexy gay boys--and finally, solving a number of murders before more bodies piled up.
The message in this particular novel, The Gay Mardi Gras Muders, is that through all the obstacles of life, friendship is the most important thing there is—sometimes, friendship is stronger than love, as Mia Ferrari soon learns.
So how’s that for the power of a fictional friendship, which was born in the minds of two authors who became online friends? Personally, I think this takes friendship to a whole new level.
Okay, this is really spooky. It seems that every time I write a novel I am either on the way to fulfilling some kind of unknown or subconscious prophecy, or my life changes in such a way that I start to become like the main character in my novel.
For instance, when I wrote the romantic comedy, The Other Boyfriend (TOB), in 2010, there were certain elements in the story that at the time were mainly fiction but partly based on an old ex-boyfriend. But lo and behold, within months of publishing TOB my marriage broke up and I discovered in my ex-husband aspects of the lying, cheating and thieving person he turned out to be--and which he shared with one of the characters in TOB! Ironically, when I started my first draft of TOB, I hadn't even met my now ex-husband. Yes, I started working on TOB about a year before I met him!
Now, I have just finished writing Playing With The Bad Boys--A Mia Ferrari Mystery; and suddenly, I've started to become more like her: confident, sassy, doesn't suffer fools gladly, assertive, strong, and a whole lot more. Well, I've always possessed these personality traits, but now they have become a lot more pronounced. And what's really strange is that Mia Ferrari works for a hotel group and this is where she stumbles upon her mysteries. Now, only this week, I have started consulting for a hotel group! You see, my bread and butter comes from consulting (this is until I become famous like JKRowling. LOL), and in between my consulting I write.
One of my present clients is a wholesaler and I have been consulting to them for 20 months. But as soon as I finished writing Mia's first mystery I landed my second client, and sure enough, like Mia, I will be working within a group of hotels Australia-wide. So how's that for spooky? I only hope that when I start consulting this coming week I won't stumple upon a dead body, like Mia does in her first mystery!
I know that writers draw from their life experience, but it all starts to get a little weird when something I write about ends up happening in my life at a later stage. On the upside, this sets me to thinking that I should write about winning Lotto! Hmm. Food for thought.
Author Sylvia Massara's: