Thursday, September 11, 2014

Writers Series: Interview with Dr. Barbara Darling Saxena

Today is a very special Writer's Series because I get to interview my amazing aunt, Dr. Barbara Darling Saxena. She has been a constant source of support as I pursued my writing career, and when she decided to write her own book I was deeply inspired. 

A couple years back Aunt Barbara created a bucket list and one of the items was to write a book. A lot of people say they want to write a book, but nothing actually happens. But she did it! And her novel SOUVIENS is full of history, suspense, science, love, and plot twisting deceit. I flew through the book! 

Can you tell us a little bit about your decision to write?

I frequently share with others that writing this novel was on my bucket list. I also use this endeavor as an example to my patients of “stepping out of the box” and trying new things. Writing this book helped me get through the “empty nest” sadness of my daughter leaving for college and my husband being on the road a lot. Researching and writing SOUVIENS was a creative adventure that re-energized me again!  

I often hear people say they don’t have time to do something creative. Being a solo practice Family Doc, I work very long hours, seven days a week. Yet I was able to finish the book in two years.  SOUVIENS was a novel written in stolen moments. While doing housework, I imagined character dialogue. While eating my lunch at Subway, I jotted down notes on paper napkins.  I actually looked forward to standing in lines or waiting for appointments as precious creative time!

Before you created the Bucket List had you dabbled in writing before?

I have been making up stories in my head since I was a little girl in bed, afraid of insomnia. As long as I could watch “a movie” in my head, I would not dwell on being the only person in the world who was awake! Over the years, I came to enjoy  “the movies” so much that I would forget to sleep.

And here is SOUVIENS! I love the cover!

SOUVIENS is part medical mystery, part historical fiction, with a tincture of romance. The novel explores the heroine’s belief that she has inherited actual memories from her ancestor. The plot revolves around the 1934 Hotel Kerns fire, a real life tragedy that killed thirty-four people, including seven Legislators, in Lansing, Michigan. The novel alternates between the present day and the 1930’s,  weaving the two story lines together. SOUVIENS is a 2013 Independent Publisher Book Award winner.
You can find it available on Amazon here and here.

What inspired you to write SOUVIENS?

Several years ago, while researching my own genealogy, I had this strange sensation that my ancestors’ stories felt familiar. One night while in bed, a idea popped into my head—could actual memories from our ancestors be passed down through the generations? Soon, I began making up “movies” on this topic.

Also during my genealogy research, I ran across the story of the 1934 Hotel Kerns fire in Lansing, MI, that killed 34 people, including seven Michigan legislators. Five bodies were never identified.  I  wondered who were these poor souls who never returned home. Soon, “movies” about fictionalized identities began to form in my head.

Then, one night, these two ideas—ancestral memories and the unidentified victims—morphed together in my brain, and the genesis for SOUVIENS was created.

What does SOUVIENS mean?

The word souviens is French for memory. This is where our word souvenir comes from –memory of a trip. The book explores the idea of ancestral memories. The characters also grapple with whether families are united by common memories or genetic material. Souviens is also the name of a memory research facility which plays a central  part in  the book’s plot.

When I write a novel, sometimes it's smooth sailing and sometimes It's an emotional roller coaster. What was writing SOUVIENS like for you? And if you did hit any roadblocks during the drafting process, how did you over come them? Are you a plotter or a pantster (write by the seat of your pants)?

I knew the beginning and the end of the novel, along with major milestones, at the start of the project. But I ran into several road blocks along the way. The most challenging problem was trying to make an imaginary idea, “ancestral memories”, seem real. I tried to weave enough legitimate science into the plot to make the premise seem plausible. Another writing challenge was placing fictionalized characters into a real tragedy. Many people in my community still have memories of the fire.  I wanted to be respectful of those memories, as well as of the victims of the fire.

Any advice on how to write a compelling character (you've got a couple good ones in SOUVIENS)?

I talk to people all day long in my job, and I have discovered that everyone has interesting character traits and has an interesting story to tell. The characters in my novel are conglomerations of people I’ve met over the years.  I mixed in my own experiences as well. For instance, one of the characters in the book describes discovering his direct descendent in the 1600’s was hanged in England  for his religious convictions. This was also one of my own discoveries during my genealogy research that left an emotional impact on me.  

Are you working on any other projects?

I continue to make up “movies” in my head most nights.  But nothing yet has grabbed me enough to want to live day and night with these characters for two or three years.  I greatly miss writing, and I hope soon my next idea will take hold!  I have never enjoyed an endeavor as much as I enjoyed writing Souviens.

Thank you for spending time with us on the EDGE Aunt Barbara! And go check out SOUVIENS! 

Friday, September 5, 2014

Mega Book Gossip Time

I was so busy this summer that I didn't really get a chance to read much. So to end the summer with a bang I've been tearing through some awesome books.

I can not say enough how much I love Cassandra Clare's Infernal Devices series. I can't believe I'm saying this (gasp) I may have fallen in love with it more than the Mortal Instruments Series. I may have. Reading a story about Shadowhunters set in Victorian England was enchanting to say the least. I've always loved character driven novels, and the characters and their complex relationships are so rich and real in this series. Will, Jem, Tessa, Charlotte, Henry, Jessamine--they're all characters that stayed with me way after I finished reading. And the ending was absolutely beautiful.

I had actually started reading City of Heavenly Fire before I read Clockwork Princess. That was a bad idea. If you haven't started the Infernal Devices series, then go ahead and read the Mortal Instruments Series. But, if you're in the middle of reading the Infernal Devices Series, like I was, and then you read City of Heavenly Fire before finishing Clockwork Princess, well, in my opinion, it gives away what happens to some of the characters in Clockwork Princess. So I actually stopped reading City of Heavenly Fire, read Clockwork Princess, and then went back and finished reading CoHF.
But Brava on a fantastic, unpredictable ending to the series! I bow down to you Ms. Clare for tying up the everything like you did and placing my heart in my throat as many times as you did!

I had marked the release date for this book in my calendar almost a year in advance. I simply couldn't wait to see what had happened to Anna & Etienne and Lola & Cricket and return to Paris for another school year through the eyes of Isla. I devoured this book. If you haven't checked out these books by Stephanie Perkins, I HIGHLY recommend them. Start with Anna and the French Kiss, then proceed to Lola and the Boy Next Door, and then sit down with a box of tissues as you finish things off with Isla and the Happily Ever After. Sending cyber hugs to Stephanie Perkins for tugging on my heart strings like she did.

And last, but not least, I just finished reading Hexed, written by my agency mate, Michelle Krys. This book was hilarious and dark and is a completely fresh take on witches and sorcerers. I immediately fell in love with Indigo's voice and I loved the fact that the story took place in LA. Some of my besties live there and so as I was reading I could see all the places in my mind's eyes. Fabulous read and I can't wait for the sequel, Charmed, to come out!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Last Week in Review

So it started with me getting Jalapeno in my eye. I was making guacamole and rinsing a jalapeno under the kitchen sink. The jalapeno was so hot, the heat wafted off the pepper in waves and sent me into a coughing fit. And then later that night, even though I had washed my hands several times and taken a shower, the jalapeno oil was still on my fingers and soaked into my contacts. So not only did I burn my cornea Sunday night, but I was stupid Monday morning and burned my cornea again when I tried to put the same contacts back in. My vision was affected and my eye burned for three days! Not fun.

Last Monday I finished my first draft for my MG Fantasy, COLLIDE. I started working on this last fall during a Mediabistro online class with Emilia Rhodes last fall. Took a break with it for six months and picked it back up this past July. I'll probably wait six or eight weeks before I tackle revising the story.

Last Wednesday I must have eaten or touched something and my face blew up from an allergic reaction. It was not fun. I had to cancel work and conk myself out with a couple Benadryl. And when you have such a big allergic reaction, it kicks you in the butt. I was wiped out for three or four days after that--trudging through life like a zombie.

Friday through Sunday I went to an EIGHTEEN HOUR conference for work stuff! 18 hours is a very long time! My bottom was not happy. But there were two shining moments during the weekend. One, I finished reading CITY OF HEAVENLY FIRE by Cassandra Clare. It was such an amazing ending to a six book series I have THOROUGHLY enjoyed reading. Two, I had an epiphany for a new book idea! The concept is so cool....and...I have no explanation for it....yet. This is the fun part of writing a book--developing the idea and the characters. Who is who? Where is this all taking place? Why? Why? and more Whys? What helps me out the most during this process is talking the concept out with Sarcastically Delicious (aka huzband) or friends.

Hope everyone has a fantastic week!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

In Memory of Billie Letts

Billie Letts, 'Where the Heart is' Novelist, Dies at 76

I was saddened to hear of the passing Ms. Letts today. She was one of the first people who encouraged me to pursue my writing dreams.

Rewind back to 2004. I was in grad school, unsure if I was pursuing a career that I was truly passionate about. It was a year that I did a lot of soul searching, and I came to the conclusion that I had abandoned something in college that I had truly loved--writing.

I met Ms. Letts when I was studying for an exam at Books A Million and she was doing a signing for her new novel, Shoot the Moon. I recognized who she was right away because I had read Where the Heart is earlier that year. I watched readers line up with copies of her books (instead of studying) and how she smiled and signed each one. After a few hours the crowd dwindled and I was itching to talk to her. I purchased a copy of her book for her to sign, but what I really wanted was to talk to her about how to become an author.

Let me tell you, I was soooo nervous. But, she was so warm, friendly, and helpful. We talked for a good bit and she told me about literary agents, and how it was important to complete a novel before trying to pursue representation. I was a happy sponge, just soaking up all the information she had to offer. And to top it off, she even offered, whenever I finished writing my novel, that she'd be happy to read it! And then she even told me how to send it to her! I was blown away by her generosity.

I hadn't even written a novel at this point, and yet she was so supportive and encouraging of pursuing my dreams.

We chatted a bit, and then I needed to get back to studying. So I handed her my book, she signed it, and I went back to my study table. I remember I couldn't stop grinning. She had lit a fire of hope inside me. Maybe my writing dreams weren't so crazy after all.

Instead of opening up my study notes, I opened up my copy of Shoot the Moon and saw what Ms. Letts had wrote:

I haven't opened up Shoot the Moon in many years, until I heard of Ms. Letts passing today. And I had totally forgotten that this is what she had signed inside my book.

On one of the blank pages of the novel I had also written notes about what Ms. Letts and I had discussed that day, and I had just happened to write the date that we had talked: July 22, 2004.

Adrian Ranta offered to be my literary agent on July 21, 2014--almost ten years to the day.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Don't Fixate on the Numbers

I announced last week that I signed with an agent.

For years I've read author's posts about How I Got An Agent--and I've always found them inspiring. I'd gobble up every useful piece of information, and try to implement it in my own writing and querying journey. And I couldn't wait until the day that I would get to write my own post about signing with an agent. 

But in most of these How I Got An Agent stories, there were the NUMBERS, and I'd fixate on those NUMBERS. So and so wrote this many books before they got their agent. Or it took so and so only ten queries before they got five offers. Or so and so queried eighty get my point. And even though I knew the numbers didn't really matter, that it really only takes finding one agent who is passionate about your writing--deep down I let the numbers eat at me.

I'd say I was pretty positive the first eight or so years of my journey. But then it got so bad, I couldn't even walk into a book store. I didn't like going to the library. I didn't like watching movies. I stopped tweeting. I wouldn't listen to any new audio books. I hung out with what I'd like to say my comfort books: Harry Potter, Anna and the French Kiss, etc....

Because in my mind, I had put in the numbers. I poured my heart and soul into producing numbers that should have gotten me some kind of step forward in my writing career...something. 

And, yet, nothing was happening for me. 

I can't say exactly how I got out of my funk. I think it was a combination of taking a Mediabistro YA Novel Writing Course with Emilia Rhodes last fall, learning how to knit, and sketching again, and just time....time to change my attitude. And, most importantly, talking to other writers who had been through it. 

Fast forward to July.
I'm reading up on Adriann Ranta's clients.
And then I get to Ron Smith's How I Got An Agent post. And I respected the fact that he didn't get into the numbers of queries, the number of full requests, the number of books he wrote that got him to where he was. We all love stats because we're all curious muffins. But Ron said it best: I have to say what everyone else has said and you’ve heard it a million times: It only takes one Yes.

I tried to make the signing video focus on different type of numbers--the numbers that make a journey worthwhile.

So I guess the purpose of this post is that if I can save just one aspiring writer from the misery I put myself through by fixating on the numbers--I'll consider writing this post a success.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

COVER REVEAL....Darkness by Elizabeth Arroyo

I am totally fan girling all over this cover. It's beautiful, spooky, with a dash of a thriller chill. My long time crit partner, Elizabeth Arroyo, will be releasing this bad ass book on August 12th!

That's thirteen days from today....even spookier.

Seventeen-year-old Carly Lopez suffers from post-traumatic stress, though the “post” part technically doesn’t apply…not when the killer’s still out there.

As the only survivor of the killing spree that left four dead girls in its wake, Carly fails to unearth her buried memories of that day and is consumed with guilt. After a year of silence, the killer's back, and Carly will stop at nothing to stop him.

With each new death, Carly’s reality shatters, propelling her deeper into the darkness where the dead haunt her and where the truth lies. Her only firm grasp of reality is Hunter Jackson, whose mysterious overprotectiveness of Carly forces her to doubt the reason behind her guilt.   

But Hunter has a secret.

And when she discovers a horrible truth, Carly questions her involvement in the murders. Was she directly responsible? Did she help the killer? Carly soon learns that finding answers may mean risking more than just her sanity.

AHHHH! It's too much too handle. I couldn't imagine what it'd be like to be the only survivor of a killing spree. Or the psychological damage one experiences from witnessing said killing spree. Poor Carly. Ghastly. 

Other than just being my loyal crit partner and friend, Liz is also a writing machine and has other books out too!

Elizabeth is the author of THE SECOND SIGN and THE SECOND SHADOW, a dark young adult paranormal romance series. Elizabeth currently teaches writing to teens at a local community center. You can find more information about Elizabeth at:

Monday, July 28, 2014

I've Signed with an Agent

Thrilled to announced that I've signed with Adriann Ranta of Wolf Literary Services. Here's a little video about it =)

Signing Day from Saxena Video Productions on Vimeo.