What connects the short stories in a collection?

As I delve into the art of short story writing, I’m also looking at how authors make the stories in a collection cohesive.

SEWING_CAN_BE_DANGEROUS_largeS.R. Mallery wove together the stories in her book Sewing Can Be Dangerous and Other Small Threads using historical events and the fabric arts. Because she tied together history and short stories – two of my current interests, I’ve invited Sarah to tell us more about her approach.

What inspired you to write these stories?

My father had told me about the catastrophic Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire; not only how horrendous it was, but also in time, how important it became as the stimulus for changing factory labor practices. So years later when I started writing fiction that was the very first story to pop into my head. Besides loving history, I also began to think thematically. What about creating other stories that included sewing and crafts as well?

Do you sew? How much of your own sewing experience came into play in writing these stories?

After having been a quilt designer, quilt teacher, and quilt writer for over twenty years and surrounded by fabrics, sewing machines, and my crafts, it wasn’t a huge stretch to incorporate sewing and crafts into these stories. I had already experienced first hand how the aches and pains of intense sewing can wreak havoc on your neck and shoulders, the inherent danger of certain sewing accessories, and how viewing vibrant fabrics up close can be mind-blowing.

Your stories span centuries. How did you choose the points in time to write about?

As I recall, I simply started reading mostly coffee table books of various time periods. Then, if something caught my interest, I would try to envision how a craft or sewing project could fit into that period for a story. For example, I thought of the Salem witchcraft story because I had read in a quilt book how certain quilt patterns were seen as curses. My medieval story evolved from reading how great manors would have a separate sewing wing constructed just so local girls could stitch exquisite embroidery items 24-7.

How did you approach the research to allow you to accurately represent so many different places in time?

So much of how I do research just seems to fall into place from something I’ve read. For example, I might be thinking about an era or a story I want to follow up on and as I investigate further, I might come across one tiny fact about a person or event. That leads me to looking up more about that person or event, which often leads me to even more details attached to the subject, a plot devise, and/or a character development. These discoveries don’t necessarily happen in rapid-fire sequence, either—a shower, movie, book, gardening, teaching, or discussions with family and friends often comes in-between.

Which is your favorite story and why?

Actually, I have two favorites. The Triangle shirtwaist story and the slave quilt story. The former because I totally got swept up with those poor, poor girls dying on that fateful day, and the latter because I loved doing research and writing about how smart the U.S. slaves were, when they would do their ‘Puttin’ on the Massah’.

You also write novel-length works. How do you compare the task/challenge of writing short stories and novels?

I wrote these stories before I attempted to write my novel. So, when I began to seriously think about and dig into Unexpected Gifts I was terrified. How was I going to do a complete novel having only written short stories? Then I had an epiphany. I pretended that after I made my outline, each chapter was going to be like a short story. That calmed me down enough to continue!

I can relate to that, Sarah. I tackled my novel in much the same way. The final story in your collection is different than the others, because it includes a craft but not thread/fabric. How do you see that story fitting into the collection?

Well, actually, there are two other stories besides the one you mentioned, “Nightmare at Four Corners,” which are not really about sewing: “Lyla’s Summer of Love” involves a macramé artist, and “Border Windfalls incorporates the weaving process of making blanket like pieces. I had originally thought of doing more crafts, but decided to stick with what I had. I also liked the title Sewing Can Be Dangerous from the Triangle Shirtwaist story, so that governed my product.

What’s next for you?

I’m hoping to publish another shorter collection of stories, ranging from flash fiction to longer stories, and in the wings, lies a very general outline and characters for a Civil War book but that will undoubtedly take quite a while to write! The joy AND the pitfalls of historical fiction…

Yes – history gives us endless possibilities to explore. Anything else you’d like to share?
Just a hearty thanks for interviewing me with such interesting questions!

It’s been a pleasure to have you here today, Sarah.

Join the discussion: Which would you rather read? A short story or a novel? When you pick up a short story collection, how do you expect them to tie together?

S.R. Mallery, author

S.R. Mallery, author

Author Bio: S.R. Mallery has worn various hats in her life. Starting as a classical/pop singer/composer, she moved on into the professional world of production art and calligraphy. Next came a long career as an award winning quilt artist/teacher and an ESL/Reading instructor. Her short stories have been published in descant 2008, Snowy Egret, Transcendent Visions, The Storyteller, and Down In the Dirt. She also has had quilt articles published in Traditional Quiltworks and Quilt World.

Where to find S.R. Mallery:
Website: www.srmallery.com
Twitter: @SarahMallery1
Facebook: S.R. Mallery (Sarah Mallery)

Where to find her books:


Time To Let Go – Christoph Fischer author interview

New novel shares family facing challenge of Alzheimer Disease.

Time to let go, book, Christoph FischerI’m pleased to welcome Christoph Fischer to join us again today. Christoph last stopped by in November to talk about The Black Eagle Inn, the third novel in his Three Nations trilogy. He’s left historical fiction for the moment to write his newest novel Time To Let Go, a contemporary novel that centers on a family struggling with Alzheimers.

About Time To Let Go
Following a traumatic incident at work, Stewardess Hanna Korhonen decides to take time off and leave her home in London to spend quality time with her elderly parents in rural England. There she finds that neither can she run away from her problems nor does her family provide the easy getaway place that she has hoped for. Her mother suffers from Alzheimer Disease and, while being confronted with the consequences of her issues at work, she and her entire family are forced to reassess their lives.

The book takes a close look at family dynamics and at human nature in a time of a crisis. Their challenges, individual and shared, take the Korhonens on a journey of self-discovery and redemption.

Thanks for joining us, Christoph. Where did the idea for Time To Let Go come from?
The idea came from seeing my aunt and her family dealing with Alzheimers. They are an amazing team. I wondered what it would be like for someone like Walter, the father in my book, a man who needs much more control and stability than the disease allows. A man like Walter would probably have a daughter like stewardess Hanna who spends her life running away from stability. I used to work for an airline, so it was only a matter of time before I would write a plot like hers.

Prior to now, you’ve written historical fiction. What were the challenges in switching from writing history to writing a contemporary story?
In historical fiction I had a solid, known, and non-negotiable framework that dictated some of the plot through the outer circumstances. A law passed, an invasion took place, whether it suited my ideas for the story or not. Confronting my characters with the political and historical events often made it easier to let them develop naturally.

In contemporary or literary fiction you have to make all of this happen yourself and invent significant occasions, so you need to really think what will challenge, change or affect a person in your book. At the same time, it allowed more time for the reflection and character exploration that would have been in the way of my epic war dramas.
 The research for Time To Let Go was not quite as punishing as for the historical novels I have written but there was still much more of it than I had anticipated when I started writing.

What similarities are there in writing the two genres?
In contemporary fiction you are not nailed down to an exact date for the story, but you still have some time-specific parameters, for example technology like cell phones, Internet, etc. Your freedom of invention is limited, and when dealing with a particular issue, such as air travel or Alzheimers, you also need to do some research to validate the facts and story. 
 Both sub-genres are character- and plot-driven to varying degrees and of course both can allow plenty of time for introspection.

What research did you have to do to write about Alzheimers disease?
I wrote down anecdotes which I had heard from friends and acquaintances and the experiences I had personally with my aunt and two other sufferers from the disease. I read Fran Lewis’s “Because We Care” that taught me more about the exact stages of the disease and the associated issues.
I began to ask questions of the carers and realized that all three patients were in a similar stage of the disease when I had met them, a fairly early stage. I only got to see my aunt in the later stages, too.
 I also did a lot of research and reading online; there is a vast amount of information and material available. 
 Despite all the research, I made a deliberate decision not to make the book into a dramatized documentary on the subject and deleted a lot of the disease specifics from my early drafts of the novel. Every patient is affected differently and so is every family. There is not enough space in one novel to chronicle all of the stages. Beta readers however suggested that I had gone too far with my cuts and so I brought some specifics back in.

Your books all focus on family dynamics. Why do you find this theme so intriguing?
Much of my earliest socializing was done within the circles of our wider family. My mother was one of six children, and I was the youngest of eleven cousins. I can draw from plenty of experience, because we are still very close.
 My father’s side of the family was minimalist in comparison and separated by Stalin’s Iron Curtain, which gave me two separate experiences of family life. You cannot chose your family, so those ties interest me more than voluntary relationships, like friends and partners.

What do you hope readers will take away from reading this story?
I hope that readers will be inspired to reflect on their own lives and the choices we all have to make. I hope it will make them understand more about the disease and the circumstances for the affected families and maybe make them think ‘what if that happened to me?’ I hope they will come to like the characters as much as I did while writing them and enjoy reading the book.

How did you choose your title Time To Let Go?
Every one of us, at some stage in our life – or even all through their lives – holds on to something we need to let go of. Be that control, fear, anger, clinginess, illusions … the list is endless. Often, when a crisis happens, it serves as catalyst for people to let some of these issues go. In my book, many of the characters have things they need to let go of to lead a happier life, but they need to find out which these things are and whether it really is the right time for them to do so.

Thought provoking, Christoph. I’m already considering what it may be time for me to let go of. 

What about you, readers? How do the themes in Christoph’s book resonate with you? What are you ready to let go of?

Christoph Fischer, author

Christoph Fischer & Molly

Biography:  Christoph Fischer was born in Germany, near the Austrian border, as the son of a Sudeten-German father and a Bavarian mother. Not a full local in the eyes and ears of his peers he developed an ambiguous sense of belonging and home in Bavaria. He moved to Hamburg in pursuit of his studies and to lead a life of literary indulgence. After a few years he moved on to the UK where he is still resident today. The Luck of The Weissensteiners was published in November 2012; Sebastian in May 2013 and The Black Eagle Inn in October 2013. He has written several other novels which are in the later stages of editing and finalisation.

Find Time To Let Go:

Find Christoph:

The Three Nation’s Trilogy:

History wrapped in a gripping story – Author David Lawlor

THE GOLDEN GRAVE - David LawlorI’m pleased to welcome Irish author David Lawlor to my blog today. For anyone with an interest in historical fiction, WWI, and action/adventure stories, this will be a treat.  Lawlor’s just-released novel THE GOLDEN GRAVE continues the story of Liam Mannion, an Irishman who fought valiantly in WWI but now is trying to outrun his past. Mannion finds himself back in France with his war buddies reviving the horrors of trench warfare as they pursue a treasure buried during the war.

Though THE GOLDEN GRAVE can be read as a stand-alone story, you’ll be missing a bet if you don’t go back and pick up TAN, too.

Welcome, David!
Thanks, Carol

What’s the most interesting thing to you about writing historical fiction?
I’m intrigued by those times when people were really tested and wonder how I would have fared. Questions like that inspire my writing and my delving into the past. With my first book, TAN, I delved into the world of the frontline soldier and also into the textile industry of Manchester. These things intrigued me.

What kinds of research did you do to ground yourself in the WWI era?
Some of the technical research was tedious. I nearly went mad trying to understand and describe the workings of a textile mill, but I felt it was worth it to give a sense of what my main character, Liam, was going through.

With TAN’s sequel, THE GOLDEN GRAVE, I found the research easier. I had already got a feel for the times – the clothes, the songs, etc., in the first book. I studied photographs and more accounts of trench life. I also researched tunneling techniques and bunker making.

One thing that drove me nuts was trying to figure out how long it would take to pump a water-filled bunker clear using 1920s equipment. Eventually, I contacted the Imperial War Museum and they gave me an approximate answer. It was little questions like those that held me up, not the bigger ones like how the battlefield looked. The other useful tool I had was a documentary about a WWI bunker. It was this documentary that inspired the story.

The research you did really made the time, place and experiences in your books incredibly real. In TAN, you wrote about the burning of Balbriggan, an historical fact. Where does fact end and fiction begin with your writing?
This historic event is the skeleton upon which I interweave my story. For TAN, I studied photos of Balbriggan and walked its streets, talking to locals. One of their anecdotes about the Tans actually made it into the book. The rest of TAN was fairly loose. Sometimes you can get too caught up in the historic detail to the detriment of the story.

You’ve struck the right balance between historical accuracy and characters with a good story, David. How do you go about creating your characters? Are they based on people you know? Is Liam autobiographical?
I suppose I would like to think there is some of me in Liam. The femme fatale, Sabine, was based on a woman I know, (the less said about that the better 😉 ) Ben Sweetman came easily – he’s a gentle giant, like the Death Row character in The Green Mile.

I’m impressed with your portrayal of female characters. What informed how you write about women – in general – and with regard to the war?
I approach female characters the same way as male ones. I wonder how I’d react in their situations. Sabine had to be clever and manipulative to survive and successfully run a bar catering to aggressive, battle-scarred soldiers, so I tried to show that side of her. Equally, I felt Kate, from TAN, was bound to be smart and feisty, given that her father was a successful businessman and she was living through the whole suffragette movement. Women had played an important part during the 1916 Easter Rising. I felt it was natural that their role would have impacted on Kate.

The women are right in the action, that’s for sure. Pacing is a strength in your writing. The story grabs readers and doesn’t let go. What advice do you have for writers (like me) who’d like to improve pacing?
I don’t think I can give much advice to anyone, but I try to see the story as you would a film. I leave little cliff-hangers at the end of sections and I like to flip between scenes quite quickly. I think that can be used to inject pace or to slow things down when events get too frenetic.

When you have a story idea, how do you go about building the story?
I build a clear plot before writing but leave enough room for the characters to take me on tangents. In a new book I’m working on I have one character whose basic role is clear but who I know will be intriguing; how exactly that will be revealed, I’m unsure.

David LawlorI’ll be waiting, David. I’m a fan! I could go on asking questions, but we both need to get back to writing. Thanks for joining us today.

If you’d like more info about David’s take on history, he celebrates the bit players of history on his blog: History With A Twist http://historywithatwist.wordpress.com/

And here are more ways to find him and his books.
Tan (US site) http://goo.gl/HMUKS
Tan (UK site) http://goo.gl/nK1li
The Golden Grave (US site) http://goo.gl/MwZtJ
The Golden Grave (UK site) http://goo.gl/XcMuv

Twitter: @LawlorDavid

On Goodreads:
The Golden Grave http://goo.gl/89pJZ
Tan http://goo.gl/2fb87

Writing from a place of hope – Rachelle Ayala

I’m delighted to welcome author Rachelle Ayala to my blog today. When I met her this past year, I was attracted first by her willingness to help a hopeless social media newbie (me). In addition, I’ve been blown away by her prolific creative output; she published three books (including the just introduced Hidden Under Her Heart) representing three different genre’s in less than two years. Whew!  I had to know more about her, so I invited her to share a little about herself and her writing.

* * *

Hi, Rachelle!  Welcome.  I know you’re busy, so I’ll jump right in. You’ve written across several genres – historical fiction/Biblical, technothriller and women’s fiction. How do you approach the challenge of building a market for three such different novels?Hidden_Under_Her_Hea_Cover_for_Kindle

Hi Carol. Thanks for having me here. Everything is new to me and I’m new to the readers. I’m not too concerned about crossing genres because I write what I’m interested in. I have found readers who like my storytelling and are eager to read my books regardless of the stated genre. One reader called it the “Rachelle Ayala” genre. In her words “It is almost magical, maybe mystical, the way she can intertwine a few different types or genres, into one book.” [link] By writing three novels that are so different, I avoid limiting myself to certain audiences. The common thread in my writing is deep identification with a flawed female protagonist as she works through untenable problems and falls in love. It appeals to readers who are compassionate and willing to immerse themselves into another person’s life while suspending judgmental attitudes. Another reviewer said she should dislike Jennifer Cruz Jones (Broken Build) for the mistakes she made, but something drew her to feel for her.

Since we’re all flawed in some way, I just say, thank heaven for compassionate friends and readers! The volume of writing you produce is inspiring to me. It makes me wonder what inspires you to write?
I write because I have hope. I hope for a better world, kinder people, and understanding. People cannot really understand what motivates someone else without walking in their shoes. While we personally cannot have every experience possible, fiction is the closest in getting ourselves into someone else’s life. By exploring their motivations, desires, fears and hope, I can lead the reader into situations where she can experience the emotions of the story characters. This hopefully leads to acceptance of people who are different or have had different life experiences from the reader.

Experiencing other lives is one of the things I like best about reading fiction. Writing and publishing are fraught with possible pitfalls. What’s the part of the writing process that gives you the most trouble?
I pretty much enjoy the entire writing process, including giving and receiving critiques. I suppose it is obsession. It takes me time to get into character, but once I’m in, I see almost everything through their viewpoint. For example, after writing Maryanne Torres, a nurse who is pregnant from rape, I am now joining pro-life groups, including those who advocate for rape babies. I never gave much thought before about the rape and incest exception. But now that it has touched my character who is so close to me, I’ve gained a new perspective. My new character is so different from Maryanne and right now I’m trying to change myself into someone who does not want love, who avoids commitment and does not easily trust. My family has to suffer through these mood swings and personality shifts. Ha, ha.

My husband struggles with my mood swings as I write, too.  But he’s really happy when I complete a project. Where do you find the most joy in your writing?
The entire creative process. I daydream and get a lot of ideas when I’m out walking or jogging. Now that I’m writing, I look forward to visiting new places and noticing details. I never have to force a story to go in a prescribed direction. But I do like to challenge myself with seemingly impossible situations, where I write myself into a corner and plausibly extricate my characters and plot.

You do have an amazing ability to get your characters into and out of trouble. Speaking of getting characters out of trouble, you’ve helped me more than once to navigate the world of social media.  In fact, you’re one of the most knowledgeable and helpful social media people on the planet. How do you find time for it?
*Blush* You are too complimentary. Having a computer background helps. I pretty much grew up with the computing industry and the Internet. I’ve always been comfortable meeting and interacting with people online when it was only USENET newsgroups and e-mail digests. I enjoy social networking so it is relaxation time for me. I learn from others as much as they learn from me and believe that sharing information makes us a true online community.

It has been fun to learn at your knee and now be able to pay it forward. So, what’s next for you?
I’m working on a story about a woman who is hardened toward feelings and emotions. The last man she said “I love you” to was her father right before he jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge. This will be a romantic suspense and involve a past and current mystery. I’ll also touch on physical disability. The two characters I have in mind are hard to love. This will present a challenge with reader identification, but I’ll worry about that later. First, get the story down, right?

Get the story down. I agree that’s the first and most important task. No matter the genre. I wish you well, Rachelle, as you continue on this remarkable writing journey filled with hope.  Thanks for talking with me.

More about Rachelle Ayala:

Rachelle Ayala was a software engineer until she discovered storytelling works better in fiction than real code. She has over thirty years of writing experience and has always lived in a multi-cultural environment.

Rachelle is an active member of online critique group, Critique Circle, and a volunteer for the World Literary Cafe. She is a very happy woman and lives in California with her husband. She has three children and has taught violin and made mountain dulcimers.

Visit her at: http://www.rachelleayala.com or follow @AyalaRachelle on Twitter.

Rachelle Ayala’s books: Michal’s Window,  Broken Build and Hidden Under Her Heart
Rachelle’s blog: http://rachelleayala.com