Meet D.H. Gibbs

Today, we’re getting to know a bit more about the multi-genre talent, D.H. Gibbs. 

She hails from Trinidad and Tobago, is an author, illustrator, and lifelong bibliophile. She has found a wonderful way to blend her love of the written word with her artistic abilities by creating books for children and adults.
When not writing, she can be found dreaming up new, fantastical stories for her fans or indulging her love of art, reading, or planning her next great adventure.

Let’s talk to D.H. Gibbs

What is the first book that made you cry?

Full Circle By Danielle Steel

Does writing energize or exhaust you?

I believe it’s both. I feel energized while I’m doing it but once I stop I’m exhausted.

Have you ever gotten reader’s block?

Yes, I have and then I feel like a junky looking for my next fix. Stalking my fav authors to see if they have anything.

Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?

As a multi genre author, I think about that regularly. LOL. But I have not made a final decision.

Do you think someone could be a writer if they don’t feel emotions strongly?

No, I don’t. I myself sometimes write sad scenes and cry like a fool. If you don’t have strong emotions you can’t always identify with the realness of your characters.

What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?

My social media has blown up with a lot of indie authors this past year and I think the entire movement is so helpful and supportive that they make you want to work at your craft and be better at it.

If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

Hire an editor!!

What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?

Scrivener, Buffer and Fiction Atlas Services.

As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?

I would choose a fox. It’s smart and a survivor.  

Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?

Of course, I read my book reviews. I’m ecstatic about the good ones and use the bad ones as a learning experience. Sometimes constructive criticism can help.

Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find?

For my first nook Nika, I planted easter eggs for the next two books. I’m hoping the readers would eventually link them all.

Do you Google yourself?

Not if I can help it.

What is your favorite childhood book?

Anything Nancy Drew or Enid Blyton

If you had to do something differently as a child or teenager to become a better writer as an adult, what would you do?

I would have taken more literary courses or become a librarian. That way I can inhale the smell of books all day.


 

Look for her latest book, A Touch of Kindness, to release in 2 short days–on August 19th! 

You can catch up with D.H. Gibbs here:  D.H. Gibbs

Meet suspense author, Sherry Knowlton

 

Today, I welcome author Sherry Knowlton for a visit. This Pennsylvania native has been writing in one form or another since elementary school. Along the way, her creative and technical work has run the gamut from poetry, essays, and short stories to environmental newsletters, policy papers, regulations, and grant proposals. Her debut novel published in 2014 and her third book in the Alexa Williams series launched in April of this year.

Let’s get to know Sherry.

  • Tell us, what literary pilgrimages have you gone on?

I’ve only gone on one deliberate literary pilgrimage. In college, I did a semester-long Independent Studies project on D.H. Lawrence’s novels.  Many years ago, I attended a work conference in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  Since it was my first visit to the area, I arrived a few days early and drove to nearby Taos to visit the Lawrence Memorial at his Kiowa Ranch. The author’s ashes are interred there, so I wanted to pay him homage.

It was a pretty weird experience.  The Memorial was back a remote, dirt lane, high on a windswept hill.  The place was completely deserted.  Just me, the cold wind, and Lawrence’s ashes somewhere in the small shrine.  Although Lawrence had lived at Kiowa Ranch for several years, most of the books I’d studied – Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Sons and Lovers, Women in Love – were set in the British Isles.  So, his final resting place seemed out of step with much of his work – except for The Plumed Serpent, which is based in Mexico and incorporates Aztec themes.  But, Lawrence’s writing was ahead of his time, much of it vilified in the early 1900’s (and later) as pornography.  He only gained a reputation as an important author after his death. So, maybe it’s fitting that his ashes rest in peace and quiet above the noise and rancor that he experienced during his life.

A myriad of other authors have inspired my love of travel although I wouldn’t call the trips pilgrimages.  Mary Stewart’s novels, like The Moonspinners, sent me sailing in the Cyclades Islands of Greece.  Reading Robert Ruark and Ernest Hemingway whetted my appetite for Africa.  Robert Ludlum’s books made me want to careen through the capitals of Europe. I could go on, but you get the idea.

  • What is the first book that made you cry?

This isn’t a very fair question for someone who cries regularly when reading.  I cry if a beloved character dies.  I cry if the dog dies.  I cry at the perfect romantic moment.  And, don’t get me started on movies.  I’ve seen the old Streisand/Redford movie The Way We Were umpteen times.  Every time it gets to the part where Redford and his friend are sailing and reminiscing about their best year and the Redford character says, “1944, no, 1945” then whispers “1946” – I start sobbing.  Every time.  Heck, I even cry at those heartwarming commercials with the Budweiser Clydesdales and dogs.

With so many fiction-induced tears in my life, I can’t really remember the first book that made me cry.  I know that The Diary of Anne Frank and To Kill a Mockingbird were two early books that affected me deeply.  In my junior high or high school years, I remember my devastation at the end of For Whom the Bell Tolls.  (Spoiler alert.) Robert Jordan’s self-sacrifice made me sob aloud.

In all seriousness, these days I generally avoid novels that scream tearjerker.  There are a glut of novels, often characterized as women’s fiction or literary fiction, which seem engineered to be emotionally manipulative.  I’m not saying that all women’s or literary fiction falls into this bucket.  But, there’s a certain strain of fiction that seems written purely to tug at the heartstrings.  I’d rather read a book that tells a compelling story and develops absorbing characters, so the emotion invoked is more honest.

  • Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?

I have three books to date in my Alexa Williams suspense series, Dead of Autumn, Dead of Summer and the latest April release Dead of Spring.  Each book is written as a stand-alone, so a reader can pick it up and enjoy the story even though they might not have read the other books in the series.  However, many of the characters continue in one or more books:  my protagonist, Alexa’s, friends, family, colleagues, and her English mastiff, Scout.  Of course, these are suspense novels with an element of murder mystery, so in each book, a handful of characters don’t make it out alive.

One of the other key connections between my books is that social and environmental issues that are fundamental to the plots.  The latest, Dead of Spring, involves Alexa in the controversial areas of fracking and political corruption.  The themes of my earlier novels include reproductive rights for women and religious fundamentalism (Dead of Autumn) and sex trafficking (Dead of Summer). I believe that plots dealing with real-life current topics speak to readers and engage them in the suspense.

  • How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?

Publication of my first book changed my process in two key aspects.  First, it gave me more confidence about my writing.   Second, it gave me a greater understanding of the editing and publishing process. I knew better what to expect when the manuscript left my hands and went to my publisher, Sunbury Press.   So, that meant that I produced my next two manuscripts in a shorter timeframe, primarily because I didn’t do as many draft versions.

Now, that doesn’t mean that I still don’t edit and revise and re-edit.  Plus, I have a group of beta-readers who review and comment on a late draft – and I incorporate much of their feedback.  But, on my first novel, I got caught up in multiple revisions and probably wasted months before I submitted the manuscript to a publisher.  I’ve learned that you have to do your best to revise and refine your work, but at some point, you also have to let it go.  I’m lucky in that I have a wonderful editor who works with me on several rounds of edits prior to publication and always helps me make the final book better.

  • I can relate. It’s so hard to let go of that first one.      What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?

As a reporter and, then, editor of my high school newspaper, I began to understand the power that things like word choice, what to include or exclude in a story, etc. could have in shaping student knowledge and opinion.  Back then, journalism was very much Who/What/When/Where/Why and How, but even without any overt opinion or spin, the writer could have enormous impact.  

That lesson was really reinforced for me when a nationally-syndicated war correspondent spoke at our journalism awards banquet.  This was in the mid-point of the Vietnam War.  As this real-life reporter who wrote stories about life and death matters spoke, I realized the influence that his written words could have on the public perception of the war.  What he chose to write about or not write about could end up shaping opinions in a contentious national conversation. I’ve never forgotten that lesson about the power of words – a power that extends into many areas of our lives, well beyond politics and public policy.

  • I love research.   What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?

I do a good bit of research before I begin each book, but I usually find that I need to augment the initial research as I write.  To illustrate my process, let me talk about the process for my latest book. Like my other novels, Dead of Spring is primarily a contemporary suspense story, but there’s a parallel historical plot.  The contemporary story deals with fracking and government corruption.  The historical story takes place during the Three Mile Island nuclear crisis in 1979.  I found a lot of written material on the internet, reviewed State regulations, viewed news clips, and more. I talked to experts in law enforcement and in hydraulic fracturing. One of my most useful bits of research came when I visited a landowner in northern Pennsylvania who had leased his land to an energy company for fracking.  He leased in the early days of fracking in Pennsylvania and was unaware of the problems he might encounter.  He shared his experience by showing me his photographs of the process that transformed his property. A beautiful woodland that step by step by step turned into an acre of gravel and machinery.  Pristine drinking water that now requires constant filtering just for showers and bathing. Battles with the energy company about compensation for various problems. I also visited sites where I could view the various steps of the fracking process.   

The preliminary research often takes a month or longer.  If I find I’m missing key information as I write, I’ll often just mark the spot and return to it later after I’ve done the research.  However, if it’s a critical plot point, I need to step away from the writing and research the item immediately.

  • How do you select the names of your characters?

Character names are one of the hardest parts about writing.  Who knew a novel had so many characters?  Often, you even have to name random characters who may only “walk on” for a scene.  I use some favorite names and variations on family names for some of my main characters.  The rest I pull from news articles, people I know or meet, and baby name books for the year of the character’s birth.  Sometimes, I hear a name that strikes me as perfect and I’ll jot it down to use in a future book. Here are just a few of the lessons I’ve learned.

You don’t want to repeat names or use names that sound too similar.  I made this mistake in my first book by naming Alexa’s best friend Melissa and her executive assistant Melinda.  Since these are continuing characters, I’m stuck with the confusion forever – unless I fire Melinda and she’s such a nice woman, I’d hesitate to do that.  Heck, even I find myself confusing the two names when I write.

Don’t give a bad guy the same name as one of your friends or colleagues.  In Dead of Autumn, I gave one of the bad guys the same name as a work colleague.  I was just looking for a biblical name, and used it without thinking of my colleague. But he’ll never let me hear the end of it.

Think about readings.  In Dead of Summer, I asked a Thai friend to help me name a Thai victim of sex trafficking.  Together we picked a name that has real meaning to the arc of the character. But, now, I can never choose a passage containing her name for a public reading, because I can never remember how to pronounce the multisyllabic Thai name without stumbling over it.

  • I think readers are sometimes surprised to learn how immersed authors are with their writing.   What was your hardest scene to write?

In my first novel, Dead of Autumn, the historical subplot is a fictionalized treatment of a historical incident, the Babes in the Woods murders.  Three young sisters were found dead in a Pennsylvania forest during the Depression after traveling from California with their father and an older female cousin.  The last chapter of this Babes in the Woods saga was very difficult for me to write. I was surprised at the amount of emotion I felt as I wrote that final scene with ten-year-old Dewilla Noakes and her father. By the time I got there, I had become so connected to my vision of this young girl, that writing that last scene was a gut-wrenching experience.

  • What is your favorite childhood book? 

The Nancy Drew series.  Sometimes I think I’m writing a grown up version of Nancy Drew although Alexa is stronger and steelier.  And, she doesn’t worry about matching sweater sets.  Plus, she’s not ready to settle for Ned.

 

  • What’s the most difficult part of your artistic process?

Starting the next book.  I’m don’t adhere to the advice that you must write something every day, even if it’s just a few pages.  After a book is finished, I usually need a break. Then, I pull together the thoughts I’ve had about my next book and organize them.  I do research and prepare an outline, although parts of the outline usually evolve as I begin to write.  Then, I’m ready to begin the next book.

But, sometimes the rest of my life intervenes in the writing process.  My husband and I do a lot of extended traveling.  We just came back from six weeks on safari in Africa and India.  Also, I do consulting projects from time to time that are usually time-limited with a hard deadline.  

All of these factors can contribute to delays in getting my next book underway.  I’m struggling with that now.  One good thing.  Once I begin, I usually get caught up in the writing and just plow ahead until I’ve finished the first draft.

  • Do you Google yourself?

You caught me.  Yes, I do.  And, it can be an enlightening process.  Sometimes, I’m checking to see if a promised article or blog post has been published.  Sometimes, I’ve found that I’ve been mentioned in an article or on a blog – and I wasn’t aware of it. Twice, I’ve found that someone pirated my book and was peddling it online; so, I let my publisher know.  

One of the interesting results of searching my name online are the trails to my past life that pop up from time to time.  In the 1990’s I worked for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in a job where, in my official capacity, I issued a lot of communications about the Medicaid program in the state.  A lot of those bulletins and related work from those days are hanging around out there on the internet.  Some of them, I don’t even remember signing.

But, my primary purpose in Googling these days, is to keep current for author-related marketing purposes.

I must confess, I have not read Sherry’s books yet because she’s a new author to me. But, they are definitely on my TBR list now!  

Read about her latest novel: Dead of Spring 

When a beloved state senator plunges to his death at Alexa Williams’ feet in the Capitol Rotunda, the authorities suspect suicide. Although the powerful chair of the Environmental Resources and Energy Committee was at the center of a controversial new bill to expand hydraulic fracturing, he was also rumored to be ill. Shaken, Alexa tries to move past the disturbing incident by concentrating on work. She’s leading a senate commission on sex trafficking. Plus, she’s helping an old college roommate sue a natural gas company for their role in causing her daughter’s rare cancer.

In researching the lawsuit, Alexa becomes embroiled in the high-stakes politics of fracking. As the relationship with her state trooper boyfriend drifts onto the rocks, Alexa is drawn to a charismatic state legislator who’s leading an anti-fracking crusade. Then, the police shock Alexa with the news that she could be in danger; she’s a witness to the senator’s murder, not his suicide.

When Alexa narrowly escapes a sniper’s bullet, she must discover why she’s a target―and who she can trust—before the next shot hits its mark.

With Sherry Knowlton’s trademark mix of feminism, history, romance, and fast-paced thrills, Dead of Springskyrockets from the fracking fields of the Marcellus Shale to the Three Mile Island nuclear disaster of 1979 to the rolling hills of Tuscany to the halls of Pennsylvania state government. In this suspenseful tale of corruption and runaway greed, Alexa Williams proves, once again, that she’s a formidable heroine. The twists and turns keep will keep you on the edge of your seat.

Here’s where you can get the scoop on the Alexa Williams series: 

Amazon     Sunbury     Barnes & Noble     Indie Bound

Meet the author, Austen fan, and Avenger geek: Melanie Stanford

 

Melanie

Hi Melanie, tell us a little about yourself.

Tardis

Here you go!

I’m first a mother, second a writer, sometimes dancing, always daydreaming. I read too much and play music too loud. I’d also like my very own TARDIS… but only to go back in time, not into the future.   

 

 

What do you think people would be the most surprised to learn about you?

If you know me online then this might not be a surprise, but most people who know me in real life are surprised when they find out I’m into “nerdy” stuff. 

(Do you think Melanie wears that mask when she writes? )

The family's Avenger Figurines

The Stanford Family Avenger Figurine Collection

I collect dragons, Marvel action figures, fandom t-shirts, and recently went to my first ever comic book convention (I totally dressed up, too). I don’t know why this surprises people, but there you go.

 

reading in sun

What do you enjoy most in your free time?

Reading, obviously. And being in the sunshine. Wait, reading in the sunshine.

 

 

Other than a computer, what modern convenience could you never live without?

Definitely flushable toilets. 

This                                                                                              Not this!

Flickr

Flickr

Flickr

Flickr

 

 

 

 

 

 

Every author has a process—what works for them when they write. What does your writing process look like from first scribbles to finished manuscript?

IMG_4073

Melanie’s successful author workspace.

I used to be a full-on pantser, but I’ve started plotting a bit first. Usually just notes about the characters, and I’ll try to make beats of the plot. After that, I like to write every day for at least a couple of hours, usually right after lunch. It usually only takes me a couple of months to write the book, then I revise, send to critique partners, then revise again, send to beta readers, then revise again. I definitely spend more time revising than on the first draft. 

 

What is your all time favorite book and why?

Ahh, don’t make me pick! Can I choose the entire Harry Potter series? I would like to live in Harry Potterthat world. In fact, I’m still waiting for my letter from Hogwarts. I don’t think their owls fly to Canada though.

 

 

 

Project research, love it or hate it?

Ugh, research. My problem is, as soon as I get a book idea, I want to dive in with the writing. I don’t like putting that off to research first.

So that’s a no, then.             Is there a specific author who inspires you?

There are so many authors I read and think, man I wish I could write like that. I’m always inspired by the ones who had to work really hard to get published- I love to hear those stories. Specifically, though, the author who gave me the inspiration to actually finish a manuscript was Stephenie Meyer. I wanted to be a writer long before her books ever came out but I remember reading Twilight and thinking, I can do this.

 

What has been the most exciting aspect to releasing your first novel? Melanie launch

Holding the actual book in my hands for the first time. Don’t tell anyone, but I hugged it a lot when no one was looking.

Awww. I know that feeling. Tell the truth…you still hug it every now and again.

 

 

Moving on.   What has been the most detrimental?

I assumed when I published my first book that my journey would only go forward from here. Lately, I’ve learned otherwise, but there’s nothing to do but roll with it.

 

What other projects are you working on?  IMG_1003

Melanie! I said projects, not propositions.

 

I have another classical retelling, this one of Elizabeth Gaskell’s NORTH & SOUTH, that I will shortly be finding a new home for. I’m also querying a Young Adult Mystery, and writing another adult romance/retelling. 

How did you come up with the title for your l book?

I did a synonym search on the word “persuasion.” When SWAY came up it just clicked. Even though there are quite a few other books titled SWAY, I knew I had to use it. 

How long did it take you to write SWAY?

About two-three months for the first draft. Lots more time after for revisions. 

Tell us a little about the book.

SWAY is a modern-day retelling of Jane Austen’s PERSUASION,  but if you don’t know that book, basically it’s a second-chance romance. My two main characters were engaged right out of high school but she breaks it off because of family pressure, and because she’s scared. The book starts eight years later when they’re suddenly back in each other’s lives. Awkwardness and angst ensue.    

It’s been fun getting to know more about you, Melanie. Thanks for the interview!

Here’s the official blurb for SWAY:

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Ava Elliot never thought she’d become a couch surfer. But with a freshly minted—and worthless—degree from Julliard, and her dad squandering the family fortune, what choice does she have?

Living with her old high school friends, though, has its own drawbacks. Especially when her ex-fiancé Eric Wentworth drops back into her life. Eight years ago, she was too young, too scared of being poor, and too scared of her dad’s disapproval. Dumping him was a big mistake.

In the most ironic of role reversals, Eric is rolling in musical success, and Ava’s starting at the bottom to build her career. Worse, every song Eric sings is an arrow aimed straight for her regrets.

One encounter, one song too many, and Ava can’t go on like this. It’s time to tell Eric the truth, and make a choice. Finally let go of the past, or risk her heart for a second chance with her first love. If he can forgive her…and she can forgive herself. 

You can find Melanie on her website: melaniestanfordbooks.com and on Twitter @MelMStanford or on Facebook here. She also blogs over at the YA-NA Sisterhood and Austen Variations.

A Debut Author’s Next Steps

This past week I was fortunate enough to be part of an author round table on International Thriller Writer’s on air forum—Author’s on the Air, talking about next steps in a debut author’s path. Author, Jenny Milchman, hosted me and four other thriller writers for an hour long sharing of personal journeys.

Listen in as five authors share their personal publishing experience and what the immediate future holds for each of them.

Blog talk radio/ Authors on the air