Thursday, July 9, 2020

QUEEN OF THE OWLS, by author BARBARA LINN PROBST

*** This book (Kindle) is on sale today only, for 99 cents on Amazon!!!

A chance meeting with a charismatic photographer will forever change Elizabeth’s life.

Until she met Richard, Elizabeth's relationship with Georgia O’Keeffe and her little-known Hawaii paintings was purely academic. Now it’s personal. Richard tells Elizabeth that the only way she can truly understand O’Keeffe isn’t with her mind―it’s by getting into O’Keeffe’s skin and reenacting her famous nude photos.

In the intimacy of Richard’s studio, Elizabeth experiences a new, intoxicating abandon and fullness. It never occurs to her that the photographs might be made public, especially without her consent. Desperate to avoid exposure―she’s a rising star in the academic world and the mother of young children―Elizabeth demands that Richard dismantle the exhibit. But he refuses. The pictures are his art. His property, not hers.

As word of the photos spreads, Elizabeth unwittingly becomes a feminist heroine to her students, who misunderstand her motives in posing. To the university, however, her actions are a public scandal. To her husband, they’re a public humiliation. Yet Richard has reawakened an awareness that’s haunted Elizabeth since she was a child―the truth that cerebral knowledge will never be enough.

Now she must face the question: How much is she willing to risk to be truly seen and known?


Reviews:

2020 Eric Hoffer First Horizon Award Finalist 2020 IPPY Awards Bronze Winner in Popular Fiction 2020 Eric Hoffer Award 1st Runner up in General Fiction “A nuanced, insightful, culturally relevant investigation of one woman’s personal and artistic awakening, Queen of the Owls limns the distance between artist and muse, creator and critic, concealment and exposure.”
―Christina Baker Kline, #1 New York Times best-selling author of A Piece of the World and Orphan Train

“This is a stunner about the true cost of creativity, and about what it means to be really seen. Gorgeously written and so, so smart (and how can you resist any novel that has Georgia O’Keeffe in it?), Probst’s novel is a work of art in itself.”
―Caroline Leavitt, best-selling author of Pictures of You, Is This Tomorrow and Cruel Beautiful World

“Readers will root for Elizabeth―and wince in amusement at her pratfalls―as she strikes out in improbable new directions … An entertaining, psychologically rich story of a sometimes giddy, sometimes painful awakening.” ―Kirkus Reviews
“Probst plumbs the depths of Elizabeth’s desperation with a delicacy that underlines the brutal truths her protagonist must face . . . A thought-provoking, introspective examination of self and sexuality.”
Booklist

Queen of the Owls is a powerful novel about a woman’s relation to her body, diving into contemporary controversies about privacy and consent. A ‘must-read’ for fans of Georgia O’Keeffe and any woman who struggles to find her true self hidden under the roles of sister, mother, wife, and colleague.”
―Barbara Claypole White, best-selling author of The Perfect Son and The Promise Between Us 

“Probst’s well-written and engaging debut asks a question every woman can relate to: what would you risk to be truly seen and understood? The lush descriptions of O'Keeffe's work and life enhance the story, and help frame the enduring feminist issues at its center.”
―Sonja Yoerg, best-selling author of True Places

“A gifted storyteller, Barbara Linn Probst writes with precision, empathy, intelligence, and a deep understanding of the psychology of a woman’s search for self.”
―Sandra Scofield, National Book Award finalist and author of The Last Draft

“Barbara Linn Probst captures the art of being a woman beautifully. Queen of the Owls is a powerful and liberating novel of self-discovery using Georgia O’Keeffe’s life, art, and relationships as a guide.”
―Ann Garvin, best-selling author of I Like You Just Fine When You’re Not Around

Some Q & A with Barbara ~

What’s Queen of the Owls about?
Queen of the Owls is a contemporary novel about a woman’s quest to claim her neglected sensuality and find her true self hidden behind the roles of wife, mother, sister, and colleague. It’s a story of awakening and transformation, framed around the art and life of iconic American painter Georgia O’Keeffe.

While the book’s overarching theme is the yearning for wholeness—which you can only find by embracing the parts of yourself you’ve denied—it also explores contemporary issues of privacy, consent, feminism, and the power of social media to upend our lives.

Tell us about the role of Georgia O’Keeffe in the story. Why O’Keeffe?
The idea of framing the story around Georgia O’Keeffe really just “appeared” to me!  I’ve always loved her paintings; they called to me in a way that felt very connected to the question of what it means to be a woman, so they were in the back of my mind as the story idea began to germinate. And then, as I began my research, I learned so much more about her life and work—which, in turn, enhanced the story in ways I hadn’t anticipated. After a while, it became clear that there was no other way to tell the story! 

O’Keeffe has been a figure of endless fascination for over a century, not only for her artistic genius but also because of how she lived. She was the quintessential feminist who rejected the feminists’ attempts to turn her into their matriarch, the severe desert recluse who created some of the most sensuous art of all time.

O’Keeffe isn’t a character in the book, as she might be if this were a historical novel—yet she’s present as protagonist Elizabeth’s inspiration, the person whose blend of austerity and voluptuousness Elizabeth longs to emulate. In seeking to understand O’Keeffe, Elizabeth comes to understand herself.

As it happened, art worked well as a vehicle for Queen of the Owls because the story is about Elizabeth’s yearning to be truly seen. And through being seen, to be known.

You mentioned “research.” What kind of research did you have to do?
So much, and so varied!  I read everything about O’Keeffe I could get my hands on, of course, including archival material at the Georgia O’Keeffe Research Center in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I also went to view her paintings at several special exhibits, visited the places where she lived and worked, talked to experts and people who knew her. And I got really, really lucky because there was a special exhibit of O’Keeffe’s Hawaii paintings—a central focus of the book—brought together for the first time in eighty years, and on view only thirty minutes from where I live! It really did feel like a sign that this was a book I was meant to write.

At one point, I even travelled to Hawaii. I wasn’t sure what I was looking for, but I knew I had to experience the place for myself. You could say that, like Elizabeth, I was seeking my own “embodied knowledge.”

Was there anything of your own life in the book?
Definitely! One of the reasons Queen of the Owls has been so meaningful to me is because it represents a fictionalized version of my own journey. Like Elizabeth, I grew up labeled a “brain” and had to embark on my own journey to wholeness.

I think all good fiction is like that, actually—not a thinly-disguised memoir, but a process of digging deeply into the emotional truths you’ve learned through your own experience and then “translating” or re-embodying those emotional truths in a fictional world.
  
Can you give us insight into your writing process? 
I’d say that it’s somewhere between mapping out the story I want to tell and leaving space for improvisation.  I do need to have an overall vision before I start, and I spend a lot time thinking, analyzing, and writing out what I’d call the “bones” of the story. But then, during the actual writing, those bones become very porous and flexible. Something entirely new will inevitably present itself, once I’m immersed in the story—in fact, that’s how the best elements appear! They can’t be known until I’ve begun to live and breathe along with the characters. And then if feels as if I’m serving the story, rather than “making” it.

What do you love most about writing?
I love all of it, even the struggles, but the best part for me is the total immersion that happens when I’m deeply, deeply connected to the story and characters. It’s a special state when my subconscious mind (where the human truths reside) and my conscious mind (the part that can bring those truths to the surface and give them form) are totally in sync.

The other part I love is hearing from readers who’ve been touched by what I’ve written. It’s so amazing to get an email from someone who tells me, “I felt as if Queen of the Owls was written about me, and for me.” 

What’s the most challenging part of the process for you?
For me, it’s not the writing itself but the endless need for promotion!  I enjoy the events tremendously—the virtual interviews and Zoom book clubs—but the need to keep self-promoting on social media is very uncomfortable for me.

What are some things you enjoy when you’re not writing?
I’m what they call a “serious amateur” pianist—something I totally love because it engages a completely different part of me that has nothing to do with words!  I also love to cook, hike, and travel. I’ve spent extended time in Turkey, Egypt, Israel, Scotland, Iceland, Italy—well, you name it!  I think it’s really important to get out of your comfort zone and see life in different ways.

Can you tell us something people may not know about you?
People who know me as a novelist might not know that I wrote a nonfiction book for parents of quirky, out-of-the-box kids called When the Labels Don’t Fit.  Before I turned to fiction, I worked with parents and families, gave dozens of presentations all over the country, and was a passionate advocate for strength-based ways to understand and help kids who didn’t fit in.

I have a PhD in clinical social work, spent a number of years in academia, wrote a textbook, ran a non-profit, and worked as a therapist.  I’ve also been a full-time mom!  If you’re wondering which career was my “favorite,” the answer is that I’ve loved them all, at different times and in different ways!

Another thing most people don’t know is that I’ve lived in a lot of truly wacky places—from a cabin without electricity in the California redwoods to a converted jail cell in Greenwich Village and a former Firehouse in the Hudson Valley.

What’s next for you?
My second novel, The Sound Between the Notes, will be released in April 2021.  This time, the story is framed around music—influenced, of course, by my own study of the piano.  You could say that the protagonist in Queen of the Owls yearns to be seen, while the protagonist in The Sound Between the Notes yearns to be heard.  The story is also about adoption and the search for where one belongs.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
The two things I’d like to say are actually complements, addressing the passion and the rigor, both of which are essential for good writing. The “passion” part is to stay true to the story, no matter what—to listen to the characters and forget all the formulas, grids, templates, and rules.  The “rigor” is to surround yourself with really smart people whose judgment you trust and who can deliver a big wallop of tough love when you need it.

Is there anything special you’d like to say to your readers and fans, now that you’ve had such a successful launch?
Publishing during a pandemic has been a strange experience, to say the least. But I’ve come to believe that stories have always been a source of healing, renewal, and growth. We need them now, more than ever, and I’m so grateful that I’ve had one to offer that has resonated with so many people and received such a warm welcome into the world.

To connect with Barbara ~ 


BARBARA LINN PROBST is a writer of both fiction and non-fiction, living on a historic dirt road in New York’s Hudson Valley. Her debut novel, QUEEN OF THE OWLS (April 2020) is the powerful story of a woman’s search for wholeness, framed around the art and life of iconic American painter Georgia O’Keeffe. Endorsed by best-selling authors such as Christina Baker Kline and Caroline Leavitt, QUEEN OF THE OWLS was selected as one of the 20 most anticipated books of 2020 by Working Mother, one of the best Spring fiction books by Parade Magazine, and a debut novel “too good to ignore” by Bustle. It was also featured in lists compiled by Pop Sugar and Entertainment Weekly, among others. It won the bronze medal for popular fiction from the Independent Publishers Association, placed first runner-up in general fiction for the Eric Hoffer Award, and was short-listed for both the First Horizon and the $2500 Grand Prize. 


Barbara also has a PhD in clinical social work and blogs for several award-winning sites for writers.





Monday, June 29, 2020

THE EXIT STRATEGY, by author Lainey Cameron

Silicon Valley, sexism and the power of female friendship

Silicon Valley investor Ryn Brennan is on the verge of achieving everything she’d dreamed. She’s proven herself in the male-dominated venture capital world, benefits from the support of her successful husband, and is about to close the deal of her career.
Everything is going exactly as planned, until she meets Carly, her husband’s mistress, across the negotiating table.

Carly clawed her way back from being a teenage runaway to become an accomplished scientist, loving single mom, and co-founder of her startup. Once she marries her perfect fiancé, she’ll secure that ‘normal’ life she craves. But she’s blindsided to discover her not so perfect fiancé is already married—to Ryn, her company’s biggest investor.

In an industry full of not-so-subtle sexism, can the two women rise above, and work together to overcome heartbreak and ensure their success?

This book debuts July 8, 2020!


"Timely and provocative with ripped from the headline themes, you'll want to rise up and cheer on Cameron's witty and ingeniously crafted characters." - Kerry Lonsdale, Wall Street Journal bestselling author

"A rollicking read complete with lightning-fast pacing, witty prose, lovable characters. Unputdownable!" - Samantha Vérant, author of Seven Letters from Paris 

"In the spirit of Katherine Center with Liane Moriarty- style twists. A rallying call for women to believe in themselves and join together." - Leah De Cesare, author of Forks, Knives, and Spoons

"An uplifting tale for turbulent times. Cameron...forges an unshakable female alliance that aims to do what women do best: change the world, one heart at a time." - Kathryn Craft, author of The Far End of Happy 

"A #MeToo story powered by real life, real hope, and an unlikely friendship. Cameron brings warmth and emotion to this Silicon Valley story of power, ambition, and friendship." - Jennifer Klepper, USA Today bestselling author 

"You will want to finish the book over a weekend." - Sweta Srivastava Vikram, author of award-winning novel, Louisiana Catch

"...Silicon Valley tale of bad choices, deceit, sexism, but ultimately, POWER. Specifically, the power of women, who raise their voices, instead of remaining silent." - Amy Impellizzeri, Award-winning author of The Truth About Thea and Why We Lie

"...you'll cheer for Ryn and Carly as they navigate self-doubts, forge a solid friendship, and fight the status quo in this page-turner." - Rebecca Hodge, author of the award winning novel, Wildland

Some Q & A with Lainey ~

Tell us a little about yourself and how you started writing.
Until four years ago I was a full-time executive in the tech industry, working 80-hour weeks and racking up two million airline miles flying around the world (No joke on the miles–over the course of my tech career I flew the equivalent of four round-trips to the moon).

After I left my last job as head of marketing for a Silicon Valley startup, I had this idea for a novel, and I realized that if I didn’t stop and take the time to write it, I’d be eighty years old telling friends that I, too, once had an idea for a book…

So I decided to rely on my savings and take six months, then a year, to see if I had an entire novel in me. After a ton of classes and coaching, a good dose of writerly angst, winning two awards, and ten plus versions later, that same book is releasing on July 8th.

Is anything in your book based on real-life experiences?
Absolutely! Like I said, I’m a recovering tech industry executive. I explain in the author’s note in the book that although the core story of my two main characters is fiction, the background of the continued sexist climate in the tech industry is not.

A good part of my inspiration was a desire to share my personal experience of not-so-subtle sexism and how it feels to be the only woman in the board room. What I say in that note is that, for credibility, I actually toned down quite a lot of the sexist incidents in the book.

Do you have a favorite chapter or scene?
There’s a scene in The Exit Strategy where the husband in the book fills the house with flowers, to beg his wife for forgiveness. At several points that scene almost got cut, but it’s one of my favorites, perhaps because it’s cinematic and plays out so clearly in my mind.

I’m so glad it made the final version. At one point, an alternate title of “Blue Roses and Other Lies”, was in consideration for the book, based on that one scene.

What are some things you enjoy when not writing?
The biggest is travel and experiencing new cultures. Since I became a writer, my hubby and I have turned into digital nomads, meaning we pick locations to live for up to six months at a time. Few things give me more joy than making a connection across cultures and learning something that opens my eyes to different ways of living.

Also, it’s probably the Scot in me (I’m originally from there), but I’m a big fan of good malt whisky and rooftop bars. I have a popular blog on the rooftop bars of San Miguel de Allende, in Mexico, where hubby and I now live part time.

Is there a particular author or book that influenced or inspired your writing or decision to write?
For the last decade I’ve been a big fan of women’s fiction, in fact, before I even knew what that term meant. Liane Moriarty and specifically her book “The Husband’s Secret” is an author who first inspired me to think “Maybe I, too, could write that type of story?”

Since then, I’ve met so many amazing and supportive writers in the genre. Among the best-sellers in contemporary women’s fiction, Kerry Londsale, Camille Pagán, and Rochelle Weinstein are some of my favorites. Each time I read something by one of them I see a way to improve, or it sparks ideas for my own writing.

Can you tell us about your challenges in getting your first book published?
Oh boy, can I speak to this! When I started looking for a path to publication for The Exit Strategy, several agents and one publisher told me they didn’t see a readership for women’s fiction set in the workplace. But as women, most of us spend more than half our lives at work. So was I seriously being told that books about women’s lives can only be about motherhood or romance?
To me that just didn’t seem right, so after 135+ rejections from agents, I was thrilled when several smaller publishers made offers for this book. I talked to a lot of authors with those smaller publishers and based on their insight I chose The Wild Rose Press to bring this debut novel to the world. I’ve been super pleased with their collaboration in the entire process, including marketing.

For me to see that early readers are enjoying it (so far I’ve heard the book called "timely and provocative",  a "page-turner", and "unputdownable"), has warmed my soul. Luckily, my experience in the corporate world must have taught me not to take no for an answer!

What would your job of choice be if you didn’t write books?
This is a funny question, because authors are supposed to hate marketing, but I’d probably help other writers with marketing and technology. I’ve been an active volunteer with Women’s Fiction Writers Association for the last years applying my tech and leadership skills, and few things give me more pleasure than helping promote other authors’ books. I even produce a TV show for Instagram called The Best of Women’s Fiction, where I interview some of the best and most interesting authors in the genre.

Place you’d like to travel?
Pre-pandemic, my hubby and I had booked tickets to the eclipse festival in Argentina, close to the border with Chile for late this year. Both countries were high on my list of places I’d like to visit, as is the city of Ushuaia, right at the tip of South America.
I’m not sure those plans will come to fruition now, but the idea would have been to spend up to 6 months working remotely in that part of South America. Maybe next year?

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
First, I’m not a fan of using the term “aspiring” to describe ourselves as writers. I actually wrote a whole blog post about how, from my perspective, the term saps creative confidence and plays to our writerly insecurities.
What I explain in that post is that one of the biggest challenges as a new writer is finding confidence in the value of our own work. Sure, we will always have craft learning to do, but in what other career do we call those new to the field, but already doing the work, call themselves “aspiring”?
Aspiring implies a lack of capability and skill, that you’re not a “real” writer yet. Unless you are sitting at your desk day after day, failing to put fingers to keyboard and write a single word, let me assure you that if you write, you are a writer., I’d be happy to see the term aspiring obliterated from our joint vocabulary. J

What are you working on now?
I’ll admit that a good chunk of my time is going into book marketing and launch activities, but I’m looking forward to getting back to my work in progress, which draws inspiration from my life as a digital nomad. It’s about an adventure travel instagrammer living under a new name to hide her dark past. Given her new-found fame, she fears her identity will be exposed and she’ll be forced to face a history she’s fought valiantly to escape.

Is there anything you’d like to say to your readers and fans?
Being a debut author has been inspiring, thrilling, and has sure taught the class of 2020 (who are doing online pandemic book launches) to roll with the punches!

But what makes a writer’s life worthwhile is when we get to see reviews and hear how readers enjoyed our books. I’m even starting to receive the odd email about how women relate to the elements of sexism in this novel, and those give me such joy, knowing that something I wrote made a connection.

So I’d like to say the hugest thank you to everyone who is reading or about to read my book, and especially to those readers who make time to leave a review for any author. Even a one liner makes a world of difference and helps keep us motivated to stick with the lengthy task of writing the next one!


 Bio:

Lainey Cameron is a digital nomad and author of women’s fiction. A recovering tech industry executive, her award-winning novel, The Exit Strategy, was inspired by a decade of being the only woman in the corporate boardroom.

A digital nomad—meaning she picks locations around the world to live (and write) for months at a time—Lainey is an avid instagrammer, and loves to share her travel tips and insights with readers.

Originally from Scotland, Lainey has a soft spot for men in kilts and good malt whisky.

To connect with Lainey:









Tuesday, May 19, 2020

SISTER DEAR by HANNAH MARY McKINNON

Beauty. Wealth. Success. 
She’s got it all. And it all should’ve been mine.

When Eleanor Hardwicke’s beloved father dies, her world is further shattered by a gut-wrenching secret: the man she’s grieving isn’t really her dad. Eleanor was the product of an affair and her biological father is still out there, living blissfully with the family he chose. With her personal life spiraling, a desperate Eleanor seeks him out, leading her to uncover another branch on her family tree—an infuriatingly enviable half sister.

Perfectly perfect Victoria has everything Eleanor could ever dream of. Loving childhood, luxury home, devoted husband. All of it stolen from Eleanor, who plans to take it back. After all, good sisters are supposed to share. And quiet little Eleanor has been waiting far too long for her turn to play.


Reviews

"A stunning achievement!"
-- "Samantha Downing, USA Today and #1 internationally bestselling author"

"Dark, twisty, compelling...Highly recommended!"
-- "Karen Hamilton, internationally bestselling author"

"A brilliant, breathless thriller that crackles with suspense and heart-thumping twists. Sister Dear is McKinnon's best book yet."
-- "Heather Gudenkauf, New York Times bestselling author"

"Sister Dear is fabulous, with a bombshell twist you won't see coming. I devoured it."
-- "Kaira Rouda, internationally bestselling author"

"An electrifying read. If you think you know where this story is headed, watch out...McKinnon has a few tricks up her sleeve. A must-read!"
-- "Mary Kubica, New York Times bestselling author"

"A slow-burn domestic suspense, with complex, remarkable characters, that hurtles to a shocking, fiery climax you won't see coming."
-- "Samantha M. Bailey, author of Woman on the Edge"

"This one creeps up the back of your neck then explodes into an ending that I guarantee you won't soon forget...and will leave you begging for a sequel. Smart, addictive, and genuinely surprising."
-- "Kimberly Belle, internationally bestselling author"
Some Q & A with Hannah ~ 

Tell us a little about yourself and how you started writing.

Writing novels wasn’t on my radar until we moved from Switzerland to Canada in 2010. When we arrived, and my HR start-up company failed, it catapulted me into deciding what I truly wanted to do, and whether I wanted to reinvent myself. After a long while (with a lot of moping about) I realized the answer was to become an author, and I got to work, making a ton of mistakes along the way (more on that later…).

My debut was a rom com called Time After Time (June 2016) a light-hearted story about paths not taken. After that I decided I wanted to write grittier stories, and quickly transitioned to the dark side of suspense. The Neighbors published in March 2018, Her Secret Son in 2019, Sister Dear is this year’s novel (May 26) and there are two others scheduled for 2021 and 2022 (and hopefully more thereafter) – all of them in the suspense genre. Sister Dear will also publish in the UK, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. It’s an exciting journey to say the least!

What are some things you enjoy when not writing?

I read a lot, as one might expect, and love being whisked away into the worlds other authors create—thrillers, or otherwise. I love getting outdoors for a hike, I’m a huge fan of the movies (I love the trailers!), I go to the gym and participate in a few obstacle runs in the summer (I live for the mud and obstacles, I’m rubbish at the running part). We have three teenage boys, so my husband and I spend time with them as often as they’ll let us. Watching films as a family is one of my favourite things. There’s something deeply comforting about us having a laugh together and just hanging out. Oh, I cook too, and love to bake. I make a mean zucchini-lime loaf, and yummy beer bread.

Where do you get your ideas?

Ideas are funny, fickle things. Just when I think I don’t have any, three pop into my head, and I can pinpoint where each of them for my novels came from. Time After Time had a lot to do with how unhappy I felt about my company failing, and my being homesick. The Neighbors is a tale about an ex-boyfriend moving in next door, and it occurred to me when two houses on our courtyard went up for sale and I found myself wondering who might move in (an ex? Awkward!). Her Secret Son is the story of a man whose partner dies and leaves behind her seven-year-old son…and lots and lots of secrets about him—the genesis for the idea came from a news segment I saw while on the treadmill.

I’ll elaborate a little more for Sister Dear: I heard a radio segment about a woman who’d found a wedding ring at a playground and was trying to locate the owner through social media. It got me thinking—what if the woman found out the ring’s owner had a dream life, and felt jealous? The more I thought about it, the more twisted things became. I realized the individuals had to be related somehow, and if I made them half-sisters it would add to the drama and intrigue. It seems some of the most despicable acts are carried out within families. That was something I wanted to explore.

Is there a particular author or book that influenced or inspired your writing or decision to write?

I’ve had a long-standing love-affair with both Lisa Jewell and David Nicholls’s books. I discovered Lisa Jewell’s first novel, Ralph’s Party, at the airport back in 1999, and have all her books. She has a shelf to herself! I adore how she expertly shifted from rom-com to family drama to domestic suspense throughout her career, and her stories always pull me in.

A friend gave me David Nicholls’s One Day when it published. I devoured it in a matter of days and ordered all his other books so I could do the same. His characters are so rich, his dialogue perfect, his stories funny yet poignant, he’s an auto-buy author for me and I love his work.

I must also mention Jennifer Hillier. While waiting for my son at our local library I spotted her debut Creep on a shelf. Intrigued by the cover, I picked it up, read the blurb, took it home and couldn’t put it down. It was a turning point in my writing career. When I was younger, I mainly read thrillers, but after a personal tragedy in my early 20s, I could only stomach light-hearted reads. Creep reminded me of my love of thrillers, and I realized the second book I was working on, The Neighbors, was far grittier than my debut (rom com Time After Time). Jennifer’s book gave me that final push I needed to cross over to the dark side. Fun fact: we live in the same town and have become great friends. Jennifer is an inspiration to me and fiercely talented, and I have all her books. I’ll read anything she writes!

Can you tell us about your challenges in getting your first book published?

The biggest challenge was myself because I rushed submitting Time After Time to agents when it was far from ready, only I didn’t know it at the time. After multiple rejections I took creative writing workshops and weekly courses, and had the manuscript professionally edited, which was eye-opening. A few agents were kind enough to tell me the premise was good, but the execution was flawed, so I had a lot of work to do. On the other hand, my inexperience perhaps wasn’t such a bad thing. If I’d known how difficult it was going to be from the outset, maybe I wouldn’t have persevered.

If you had to go back and do it all over, is there any aspect of your novel or getting it published that you’d change?

My first novel? I wouldn’t have sent it out to agents but taken my time to ensure it was as ready as it could be. Having said that, while the rejections hurt, they also made me more determined. I’m a very driven person, and I just wouldn’t quit.
  
How do you market your work?

In collaboration with my publisher, HarperCollins who are incredibly supportive and have a fabulous team I can’t praise highly enough. I’m also very active on social media and love connecting with readers, reviewers and bloggers. My author friends are fabulous champions of my novels, too. Their tireless enthusiasm is a balm for the writerly soul and I’m grateful to every single one of them. It really does take a village.

With Covid, a group of us were discussing how we could promote one another. I half-jokingly offered to read the first chapter of their novels on Facebook and Instagram, and within a few days I had over 40 daily readings lined up and launched First Chapter Fun. I read from March 17 to May 8, introducing viewers to a new novel and author each day.

As of May 12, I teamed up with my partner-in-fictional-crime, powerhouse Hank Phillippi Ryan. We created a new Facebook group www.facebook.com/groups/firstchapterfun and Instagram account www.instagram.com/firstchapterfun. We read twice a week, every Tuesday and Thursday (the days with a “T) on both platforms simultaneously at 11.30 am ET, and already have readings scheduled until late October. All the previously aired episodes are saved and can be viewed at leisure.

The one thing that surprised me the most about this industry is how genuine, welcoming, and helpful other authors are. This project is my way of paying it forward.

What are you working on now?

My next two novels are psychological suspense stories. Book 5 is back with my wonderful editor, Emily, after structural edits. Book 6 is outlined and I’m about to get to work. I’m incredibly excited and can’t wait to put fingers to keyboard.

Is anything in your book based on real-life experiences?

None of the sinister parts! Thankfully, my books aren’t true crime. I do sprinkle little details here and there my family would recognize: Superman pajamas, a stuffed toy, mud runs—those kinds of things. In Sister Dear, my protagonist Eleanor has some emotional eating issues, something I’ve dealt with for years, but otherwise I pull very little from my life. My job is to make things up, and it’s a part of the process I thoroughly enjoy.

Do you have a favorite chapter or scene?

In Sister Dear it has to be the last chapter because it was so dark and deliciously evil to write. I’ll admit I cackled a little, which sounds as creepy as it felt.
  
Do you have a favorite character?

Eleanor for the win! Writing the entire story from her point-of-view allowed me to really get inside her head and understand how and why she’d become who she was. Right from the start I knew Eleanor would have a distinct lack of confidence, particularly regarding her physical traits. She’d perceive herself far more negatively than anybody else did—primarily because of her relationship with her mother—and she’d suffer from a kind of body dysmorphia. I wanted to show how the attitude of others can impact a person, how we carry these things forward and what they can do to us. It made Eleanor complex and interesting to write, and most of the time I wanted to give her a hug. Having said that, while I hoped the reader felt sympathy for her, I didn’t want it to be so during the entire novel. She did make some rather dubious choices, after all.

What would your job of choice be if you didn’t write books?

I worked in IT recruitment for fifteen years before coming to Canada and was the CEO for a European company. Perhaps I’d still be doing that if I didn’t change careers a decade ago. If I was told I had to stop writing today, then I’d have to find a job in publishing somewhere. I can’t imagine working in another industry now.

What was the most unique research you had to do for a book?

That’s such a great question and my dubious search history has definitely got me flagged somewhere. I think the most unique bits so far are how to get rid of an extra body in a graveyard without it being detected, how to muddle a crime scene enough to mess up forensics, how allergy meds can jumble your memory, and how a person can die while working under a car. Like I said: dubious!

I’ve also sought help from an advisor from child services, a lawyer, a medical examiner, poison control, and a police detective, to name but a few. I’m continually amazed how people are so incredibly generous with their time, knowledge and expertise when I call and say, “I’m an author, honest, and I have a few weird questions.” For example, fellow author Bruce Robert Coffin is a retired police detective, and he’s helped me get away with fictional murder multiple times. His input is incredible!

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

Read as much and often as you can and listen to audio books. I wrote an article about how the latter make you a better author here. Write, even if you think it’s rubbish, because an empty page is impossible to edit. Another tip someone once suggested was to skip ahead if I couldn’t get a grasp on a chapter or scene, that I should focus on another part of the manuscript and trust myself enough to backfill later. It was revolutionary to me, and it beats the heck out of staring at a blank page or shoving my hand in the cookie jar. Also, I was advised to read my manuscript out loud. Every. Single. Word. Doing so helps avoid repetition, improves cadence, and zaps stilted dialogue. And, finally, share your work. It can be scary, but it’s the only way you’ll get feedback and improve your craft.
Favorite band or music?  Favorite book and/or movie?

I listen to all kinds of music but I’m useless at remembering the names of singers or bands. Impossible to choose a favourite book, but my favourite movie is Love, Actually. I watch it every Christmas, know most of the words and absolutely adore it.

Place you’d like to travel?

Once things go back to normal, I’m looking forward to visiting my family and friends in Switzerland. I was supposed to go in April 2020, but that trip was cancelled, and I can’t wait to get back into the mountains.

Is there anything you’d like to say to your readers and fans?

Thank you for your continued support. Readers, reviewers, bloggers and bookstagrammers are so generous with their support and everything they do for the book community. It’s truly a wonder to behold.


Bio:

Hannah Mary McKinnon was born in the UK, grew up in Switzerland and moved to Canada in 2010. After a successful career in recruitment, she quit the corporate world in favor of writing. While her debut, TIME AFTER TIME, was a rom-cm, she quickly transitioned to the dark side. Her suspense novels include THE NEIGHBORS, HER SECRET SON and SISTER DEAR. Hannah Mary lives in Oakville, Ontario, with her husband and three sons. For more information and to connect on social media, visit www.hannahmarymckinnon.com


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