- GUEST AUTHOR -
Today, I interview an author from California.
Welcome, Gini ...
1. TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOURSELF AND YOUR WRITING JOURNEY.
I grew up in east Sacramento, California where at the age of seven I began helping in my dad’s eye surgery practice. Though my father would have loved me to be a doctor, I preferred writing stories inspired by Little Women. As a child I loved to write my own plays and have the neighbourhood children act the parts. In high school I enjoyed performing in school dramas and I wrote a lot of poetry. Though I had an equal love of history and cultural studies, I majored in English at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon and I studied with poet laureate William Stafford.
2. WHEN AND HOW DID YOU BECOME A WRITER?
After a career teaching high school English and creative writing, I longed to write my own historical series, The American Madams. My first work, Madam of My Heart, fictionalizes the life of one of San Francisco’s most infamous Irish madams at a time when the Vigilantes took the law into their own hands. My next novel due this year, Madam in Silk, explores a Chinese madam’s journey to find herself in Gold Rush Chinatown. When I am not writing, I teach creative writing to small adult groups or I travel to the sites where my books take place. As a matter of fact, this fall I am traveling to France to research for the third American Madams novel, called Madam in Lace, due out in 2021.
3. WHAT TYPE OF PREPARATION DO YOU DO FOR A MANUSCRIPT? DO YOU PLAN EVERYTHING FIRST OR JUST SHOOT FROM THE HIP?
Since my novels are inspired by historical women, I read a lot of reference materials and histories in order to find a woman whose story might appeal to today’s audiences. After gathering the pieces of her story, I create an arc, a synopsis, then break it into scenes, then chapters. All along I embellish, adding dialogue and setting details. I do many manuscript revisions with feedback from my developmental editor and my critique group.
4. WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT BEING A WRITER?
The way the characters spring to life and take on their own personalities. No longer relegated to the pages of history, characters become flesh and blood, talking to the author and the reader across time and space. I think it is quite magical.
5. WHAT IS THE HARDEST THING ABOUT BEING A WRITER?
Carving out the time to focus on the page amidst all the pressures of daily life. Writers have to claim time which takes its toll on family members. I am lucky to have a generous, forgiving husband who understands and appreciates my need for writing time. He cooks dinner for me every night!
6. WHAT WERE YOU IN A PAST LIFE, BEFORE YOU BECAME A WRITER?
After college, I was a travel agent for eight years. It was a very enlightening experience for a young person as I had the chance to travel to Asia, South America, the Caribbean, and Europe. I think that made me a different kind of English teacher for my students when later on I became an educator. I was able to present a more global view about the literature and writing we studied. Much of my writing is influenced by those broadening experiences in my early years.
7. WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST WRITING ACHIEVEMENT?
My debut historical novel, Madam of My Heart has won four awards, among them the prestigious 2018 Silver Medal at the Independent Publisher (IPPY) awards, along with the 2017 Hollywood Book Festival Runner-Up Award for Genre Fiction, the 2018 San Francisco Book Festival Honorable Mention for General Fiction, and 2018 American Fiction Awards Finalist for Historical Fiction.. That is very satisfying! It also gives me the courage to continue writing my series.
8. WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON AT THE MOMENT?
My next novel in the American Madams series is entitled Madam in Silk. Inspired by the life of Ah Toy, the first Chinese madam in San Francisco in 1849, the novel charts her journey as she arrives in town as a twenty-one-year-old widow, then establishes a “lookee girl” house where the miners and sailors lined up to see her pose naked. No longer a woman subject to the whims of a Chinese husband, she struggles to find her voice and new love in a tumultuous gold rush California, a place where immigrant women are expendable.
9. WHAT INSPIRES YOU?
Among many sources of inspiration, I find strength and courage in the positive Amherst Writers group I founded in 2013. Based on Pat Schneider’s seminal book, Writing Alone and With Others, each week we write together and study our novel or memoir craft with great intensity. Our group’s positive feedback and confidential nature allows us to experiment and grow in the writing craft along with other writers.
10. WHAT GENRE DO YOU WRITE?
Historical fiction with romance and a touch of mysticism. Though I base my novels on lesser known women in history, I select ones who show great strength of purpose. I also write poetry which not only provides a reprieve from the long work of the novel, but also gets me out with a different crowd of writers at open mic events.
11. DO YOU HAVE ANY TIPS FOR NEW WRITERS?
Spend a lot of time in your local writing community. Build associations with established writers who can guide and mentor you. Age is no barrier. We writers can learn so much from those older and younger than we are. Go to craft classes and learn the business of writing.
12. DO YOU SUFFER FROM WRITER’S BLOCK?
I suffer from it when I have completed a lot of work, then send it to the editor, only to have it returned with lots of marks telling me I have more work to do. At those times, the hill I have to climb looks more like a mountain. I have to get out of my head, stop indulging in “poor me” thinking, and go back to the page. Eventually the block goes away. The key is to just keep moving ahead, one step at a time.
13. DO YOU HAVE A PREFERRED WRITING SCHEDULE?
Every morning, from 6:30-10 am, give or take. My brain works well with the first cups of coffee and the silence of the house. After 10 am, the dogs want their walks, the phone rings, and errands take my time. I work on the business end of writing in the afternoons, toward the end of the day.
14. DO YOU HAVE A FAVOURITE WRITING PLACE?
In my family room facing the gas fireplace and the French doors leading to my garden. My two dogs are usually nearby, snoring. If there is a lot going on at my house, I also like escaping to certain cafes where I can hunker down behind my laptop with my earbuds amidst the crowd.
15. WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST JOY IN WRITING?
Talking to people about my novel at sales events. People are very interested in the women’s history they never learned in school, and I love hearing about their relatives who were madams in early California. Every country on earth has legends about its madams, and every state as well.
16. WHO IS YOUR FAVOURITE AUTHOR AND WHY?
Kristen Hannah. In The Nightingale, she weaves the historical details seamlessly into the WWII characters’ emotional journeys. I also love Anthony Doerr who won the Pulitzer Prize for All the Light We Cannot See. His scenes are not only memorable, they imprint on our imaginations. I aspire to that level of craft.
17. WHAT’S THE GREATEST COMPLIMENT YOU EVER RECEIVED FROM A READER?
“This book was so hard to put down. The character development made you fall in love with the characters and made them endearing. The historical nature of the book helped frame the context and it didn't overshadow the story, as it has in other novels I've read. I can't wait for the next instalment, and I am eager to read Gini's next book.”
18. WHAT WAS THE WORST COMMENT FROM A READER?
“Now, the book had some ups and down for me, with some parts working better for me than other. For instance, I enjoyed the last part of the book, set in San Francisco the best, not that I did not enjoy the stories set in Baltimore and New Orleans. But, the San Francisco story had more action to it, more thrilling drama. The beginning in Baltimore, for instance, was good, but we all knew where Brianna's naivety would get her in the end. Although I have to give it to Brianna, I really felt sorry for her, hardly knowing anything about the risk of pregnancy other than sex is a sin. So, all in all is this a good book and I bet romance readers will love it.”
19. WRITERS ARE SOMETIMES INFLUENCED BY THINGS THAT HAPPEN IN THEIR OWN LIVES. ARE YOU?
My women characters are a part of me, so I can’t help but project my own views and reactions onto them. My challenge, though, as a writer, is to present points of view that are opposite, or different, than my own. My characters have to be challenged to grow, just as I was during my younger years. I think forces in opposition makes my writing stronger. My own life as a twice-married wife and mother of two boys influences my view about women’s journeys, and my belief in women’s rights has not waivered from my teenage years. It is natural that those values and attitudes would be reflected in my work.
20. OTHER THAN WRITING, WHAT ELSE DO YOU LOVE?
My cairn terrier Murphy and my mini-pinscher Maya love to go for long walks in our nearby parks that wind through the most glorious stands of trees. My dogs are by my side the majority of every day. I also love going to visit my children and grandchild who live in the bay area. There is nothing more satisfying than watching our youngsters grow up and face life’s challenges. I enjoy also love arthouse films and watching British TV dramas, such as those found on cable channels. I also enjoy working out at the gym and getting on a plane and traveling somewhere new.
21. DID YOU HAVE YOUR BOOK / BOOKS PROFESSIONALLY EDITED BEFORE PUBLICATION?
Yes, I have a developmental editor and a copyeditor who work on my novel before publication. I go over the drafts many times before publication as well on my own.
Clancy's comment: I love the book covers, Gini. Well done. Keep up the good work.