Posts Tagged ‘writing’

Guest Post: Susann Cokal

September 12th, 2014 • by Karen A. Chase • No Comments

Another author joins me today as part of a week-long shout-out about the James River Writers Conference this coming October 17-19th in Richmond. Susann Cokal is also a member of our JRW organization. Her newest book, The Kingdom of Little Wounds, is set in the Scandinavian Renaissance. She’ll be a speaker at our conference and happily answered a couple questions about her writing process.

kingdom_wounds_SusannCokal SusannCokal

Do stories find you, or do you go in search of them?
I’m always in search of a story—or at least I let the gods of story know that I’m open. I think ideas find me because they know I’ll give them a loving home. Sometimes an agonized one, of course; writing is a series of ups and downs as I often doubt I’ll be able to match the ideal that first glimmered in my mind.

The idea for my latest novel, The Kingdom of Little Wounds, came to me about eighteen years ago. A sentence sprang up: “The children in the royal nursery were sick.” That was the tip of a big concept—the kingdom might easily dissolve into chaos if the king dies with no healthy heir. I’d already read for pleasure about Renaissance kings and queens and commoners; of course, I needed to do more specific research in order to write about Renaissance courts, seamstresses, slavery, food, fashion, astronomy, medicine, and so on.

I try to have a nice chat with each of my favorite ideas every day. I wrote two other novels before beginning The Kingdom. I didn’t know the third novel would take as many years as my first, but there’s no predicting the course of art. Especially when a lot of writing energy has to go to my job; I teach at VCU, so I’m commenting on fiction-in-progress every day. Time and confidence, the confidence that I can bring a project to the end—those precious entities come in spurts.

What has attending the JRW conference done for you?
At the JRW conference, the air crackles with energy. The conversations and panels breed a lot of ideas and hope. This year, like every year, I look forward to sharing encouragement and enthusiasm.

You can read a review of Susann’s book from the New York Times Book Review. Or visit her website for all things bookish.

Guest Post: Jon Sealy

September 10th, 2014 • by Karen A. Chase • No Comments

As part of a week-long shout-out about the James River Writers Conference this coming October 17-19th in Richmond, I’m featuring two local authors here on my blog in one week. The first is Jon Sealy. A member of our JRW organization, Jon has not only released a dark, southern, debut novel called The Whisky Baron, he’ll also be speaking at the conference. I posed a few questions, and Jon happily answered.



How do you perform research for your writing?
I visit libraries to read books and magazines contemporary to my story. For the 1930s, the Sears & Roebuck catalog was helpful (a tip I stole from the writer Tom Franklin).

Do stories find you, or do you go in search of them?
Who knows where ideas come from? I have an old English major’s sensibility that books are made out of books, and that authors are as much in conversation with each other as they are with the reader. With that in mind, I’m always looking for a great book to read, which is a reminder of why it all matters and provides a constant measure of excellence.

Which other authors influenced your work?
In the spirit of “books are made from books,” I’d like to mention two under-read authors. The first is William Gay, who I think is the finest southern writer in recent decades. The second is Mark Powell, a fellow South Carolinian, whose new novel The Sheltering is a real tour de force.

What do you hope to share about your work at the conference?
I’m on a panel about southern literature, which should be interesting because I think southern literature has reached something of a dead end. Places are invented constructs that humans constantly reinvent, and I’m not sure the “South” really exists anymore. I could be wrong, so I’m curious to hear what my fellow panelists think.

Whiskey Baron cover FINAL

Visit Jon Sealy on his website, or follow him for fun bits on Twitter.

You can find out more about the conference on my Facebook page, or on the conference website.



Guest Post: Mary Chris Escobar

September 5th, 2014 • by Karen A. Chase • 3 Comments

Today, my fair readers, I am happy to introduce Mary Chris Escobar. A friend and author, Mary Chris and I frequently dish about books, writing and well… dishes. We discuss what we eat. Where we eat. We’ve even cooked together. She graciously drops by the blog today to offer her take on Books and Food:

Mary Chris Escobar

BOOKS & FOOD by Mary Chris Escobar

My books make people hungry. Not metaphorically hungry as in, “I can’t wait to devour the next novel”; physically hungry as in, “She has an amazing ability to make ME hungry when her characters are enjoying nachos.” Really, that is an actual quote from a review. At least one review for each of my books indicates that it made the reader want to eat something.

The strange thing is, I have no idea how this happens. In all my stories there are scenes where food is mentioned, but not described with the sort of detail I would assume is required to make someone hungry. For example, here is a line about making lasagna from my most recent novel, How to be Alive: “My whole apartment smelled like tomatoes and garlic.” The scene continues with the characters catching up over dinner, but no additional details are given about the lasagna.

My characters frequently meet in restaurants or over home-cooked meals. It’s a natural place for conversation and connection. Perhaps my readers get hungry because they feel drawn into the scene and want to share food with the characters. Perhaps they are hungry when they sit down to read, and just don’t realize it until I mention nachos.

No matter the reason, it is the highest compliment for a writer to know that their words have affected the reader in some way. Therefore, I feel honored to know that I can make my readers’ stomachs growl.

(Just in case you want lasagna after reading this, here is one of my favorite recipes.)

Mary Chris writes women’s fiction. Her second novel, How to be Alive, came out in late June. She lives in Richmond, Virginia in a renovated parking garage with her husband, and you can find her just about anywhere with good coffee or craft beer. Find her at She also hangs out on Twitter @marychris_e