Supporting Authors One Read at a Time

Robin Van Auken (writing as Madeline Sloane) is the author of Distracted, East of Eaton, and West Wind. She discusses her book, her journey as a writer, and self-publishing on the popular Supporting Authors One Read at a Time blog by author Eri Nelson.

Q: Where are you from?
A: I live in the highlands of northern Pennsylvania, but I’m close to several airports, so the world is only a flight away. It’s a great location for a recluse.

Q: Tell us your latest news?
A: I have wrapped up my third contemporary romance novel and it completes a short series I call “Return to Eaton.” I’ve combined all three novels, “Distracted,” “East of Eaton” and “West Wind” into a trilogy so readers can choose to buy one or have all three in one handy download (or paperback).

Q: When and why did you begin writing?
A: I began writing at 12, penning short stories and poetry. I kept a journal as a teen, filling numerous notebooks with my escapades and ideas. I went to college to become a writer and have been a writer for 25 years, first as a journalist and then as an author.

Q: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
A: Ten years ago with the publication of my first (co-authored) book. I’ve written many since then, but most are regional, non-fiction history and nobody outside of Pennsylvania probably cares. Five years ago, I secretly began writing novels. In January, I published my first fiction book.

Q: What inspired you to write your first book?
A: What I’d really like to tell you is what inspired me to finish my first novel. A little money and a lot of ego prompted me to write my first non-fiction book, and the others were all a slippery slope from there. I couldn’t take a lot of pride in them, however, because I didn’t feel creative. Then, about a year ago, my husband read one of my novel drafts and he assured me that he liked it, that it was worthwhile and marketable. I was inspired. I had too little confidence in myself as an artist because I had spent so much time as a technical writer. His constant support and encouragement keep me motivated.

Q: Do you have a specific writing style?
A: I always start with a summary, then create a detailed outline. Having characters plotted along their own “hero’s journey” helps me focus on the story. As far as writing, I emphasize dialogue, then action, and finally description. An English Prof once told me to “paint the story,” but that’s not what I do. My characters talk and do so much and so quickly, I barely have time to look around their environs, much less describe them. I wish I could.

Q: How did you come up with the title?
It varies. Sometimes, titles come early, along with the story summary. Sometimes, it takes a few chapters. I don’t worry about them; they’ll pop out and if they don’t, my husband will toss a title into the mix. I generally go with his suggestions, since he has a flair with words.

Q: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
A: I try not to hit the reader over the head with a message, but each book contains elements of redemption, and that there are strength and honor in being vulnerable. I discuss my stories with my husband (generally while soaking in the hot tub with a glass of wine), and we hammer out themes and symbols.

Q: How much of the book is realistic?
A: The characters and the majority of the situations are fictitious, but the places are genuine. I stay away from real products, real businesses, and real people as much as possible. Places inspire me and my stories often spin-off from my dreams.

Q: Are experiences based on someone you know or events in your own life?
A: I’m sure my characters share some of my personality traits, to a point, as well as my family and friends, but these are fictional folk who exist in a parallel universe I go to when I’m writing. Although I have an outline and use it as a map, I feel I’m shadowing them in their world and recording what’s happening.

Q: What books have most influenced your life?
A: To Kill a Mockingbird, Island of the Blue Dolphin, My Side of the Mountain, Little Women — guess there is a theme here, huh? Strong, independent girls who grow into strong, independent women.

Q: If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
A: Harper Lee is the one I’ve always loved, but Rachel Carson is the one I always wanted to emulate. If there’s an author who’s been an unwitting mentor, however, it’s probably Elmore Leonard. I always try to follow his rules on how to “Cut the Hoopdedoodle.”

Q: What book are you reading now?
A: “The Innocent” by Vincent Zandri. I love reading on my iPad, and I like 99-cent Kindle downloads. They’re cheap and easy and fun. The last eBook I bought (deliberately and for more than 99 cents) was Jennifer Connor’s “A Lesson in Presumption.” She’s one of the first authors I communicated with before publishing my own book, so I do feel a small connection. I like to support other indie writers.

Q: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
A: Well, I spread the love, so I don’t focus too much on authors, but Sarah Woodbury is one I enjoy. I like that she’s an anthropologist and that she writes about the historic UK, where I travel for my own research.

Q: What are your current projects?
A: I’ve got six or so titles in the works, three are half-way there and the others are off to a good start. These books have a connection to the fictitious Eaton, PA, but are a bit darker. There are mystery and murder and lots of interesting new places in the works. Next up are “Consequence,” “Hearts Afire” and “Dead Line.”

Q: Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members?
A: No wait, now that I’m thinking about it, you probably meant God or Krishna or Gaia or Buddha. Shoot, can I start over?

Q: Do you see writing as a career?
A: Yes; I’m committed to writing. If a dozen people like a book I wrote, that’s ok. A million is ok too. My husband would like that.

Q: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
A: Sure, and I’m still changing things. That’s the beauty of being an indie writer and publishing in the digital domain. I’ve got all the power, Mwaaa haa haa!

Q: Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
A: My Mum. She raised six kids alone and if she hadn’t been so loyal, she would have ditched us at an orphanage and taken off to be a travel writer. She loved to write and read and I assimilated her passion. Every time I have a new work released, I think about her. I’m happy she was alive for my first book.

Q: Can you share a little of your current work with us?
A: “Consequence” features Police Chief Alec Boone (he’s appeared in previous Eaton books) and Bridget Cormac, who writes a syndicated column on history’s mysteries. She generally travels the U.S. when researching, but Boone has a local mystery for her to solve — a 50-year-old murder. They’re old friends who’ve become lovers, and their fragile, new relationship is put to the test when Boone allows forensic results to trump the human story. He sees crime as black or white, whereas she sees it through the dusty, yellowed lens of history. She strives to find and save the people behind the mystery; he strives to find the motive and exact justice.

Q: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
A: The endings. I’ve spent five years working on the beginnings and middles of my stories; I’ve spent less than a year working on endings. I don’t want to say goodbye, I guess.

Q: Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
A: Harper Lee wrote a timeless classic “To Kill a Mockingbird” and what I like the best about it, is I can read it over and over again and still find something new. There are so many levels within her writing that a child can comprehend and appreciate it, as well a teen, a young adult, a mature adult, and an old person. Everyone will perceive something different.

Q: Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?
A: Yes, it’s critical. All of my books have some element of travel in them and I try to make sure I’ve been to every place. I need that first-hand experience in order to write effectively.

Q: Who designed the covers?
A: I do. I have a bit of experience in graphic design, which helps. I use professional photographs and design the cover layout after bestsellers.

Q: What was the hardest part of writing your book?
A: Making time for writing. Stopping with the excuses as to why I can’t write.

Q: Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
A: I learned that I can get it done and I can improve with each book. My husband’s support and encouragement have boosted my confidence and makes me appreciate him more than ever.

Q: Do you have any advice for other writers?
A: Quit wasting time and quit trying to impress others. Commit to your book; focus on your work. One of the most hateful quotes I know is from “Scrooged” where Bill Murray tells his former, do-gooder girlfriend Claire to “Scrape ‘em off.” Unfortunately, if you are going to be a writer you need to be selfish and isolated, and when others try to distract you, you need to “scrape ‘em off.” Just be nice about it.

Q: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
A: I promise, the next book will be better and one after that, even better. Thanks, also, for supporting the indie writer!