Saturday, February 20, 2021

Maria Espinosa on Writing Her Suburban Souls Novel

In this interview, Maria Espinosa talks to Alexander “The Engineer” Lim, host of AuthorStory by, about her novel, Suburban Souls.

“Go with your instincts. Believe in yourself.” ~Maria Espinosa

Maria Espinosa was actually born Paula Cronbach, of Jewish parents, but she admits she never felt at home with her given name. She felt more attuned to the name “Maria,” so when she got the opportunity to change her name, she did so.

Writing was something that Maria had strongly felt that she had wanted to do, even though she didn’t particularly want to write. While she wrote throughout high school, she really got into writing when she wrote out a journal during a difficult time in her life, while she was in college. She began writing stories for her friends while still in high school, and she got started by self-publishing books of her poems. Her first novel, Dark Plums, came out when she was in her forties, published by a press that she had started with some female friends, and this was picked up later on by a Hispanic publisher, whose people thought she was Hispanic, due to her name being what it was.

Maria notes that she follows the advice of Woody Allen, who says that writers should sit down and actually write, and that she also reads and sets a schedule for herself - something which, she admits, is something she finds somewhat challenging, particularly now that she’s gotten older.

Where her books are concerned, Maria remarks that her first two novels are semi-autobiographical, in that the emotions that are written about in the book are essentially her own. She also noted that the character of a Jewish man who appeared in Dark Plums was a character who she didn’t originally intend to become a main character, and that that person was someone who, later on, she would meet and who would become her second husband.

Where writing is concerned, Maria notes that doing so has enabled her to become more aware of other people, as she needs to inhabit a character fully, to know that person’s feelings, emotions and motivations, when she writes. This, in turn, enables her to understand more about herself, and when she looked back over what she wrote over the years, she notes that those writings reflect the changes she has experienced throughout her life. Writing also enables her to explore her own emotions, as she notes that a writer’s own emotions become part of the story the writer works on.

Maria is also not slowing down, despite presently being 82 years old, as she is presently writing out three novels as well as a non-fiction book on homeless people whom she interviewed - a process she describes as being something similar to “a bird building its nest.”

Maria remarks that she knows Holocaust survivors and how living through such an experience affected them and continues to affect their lives, which is how she was able to accurately portray the character of a Holocaust survivor in Suburban Souls. She also knows people who lived in dysfunctional marriages, including those where at least one of the partners ignores the other, and this also served as the model for the protagonist’s marriage in the novel.

Maria notes the adage, “Youth would and age could,” remarking that, if she had the confidence she presently has now while she was back in her twenties, doing so could have saved her “a lot of heartache.” She also advises people to follow a quote she once heard: “Don’t let other people tell you who you are, tell other people who you are.”

Purchase from Amazon: Suburban Souls by Maria Espinosa

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Alexandra Bracken on the Writing of Lore

In this interview, Alexandra Bracken talks to Alexander “The Engineer” Lim, host of AuthorStory by, about her novel, Lore.

“Writing is one of those things where, to improve, you have to put the mileage into it.” ~Alexandra Bracken

Alexandra was always interested in storytelling as a child, and this was something she knew she wanted to do even then. While double-majoring in college, she decided to join a month-long writing competition intended to enable participants to create a novel within a month’s time, and while she did succeed, that novel wasn’t published. Her first novel went out of print because the publisher closed shop, and as the rights then reverted to her, Alex recently (as of this interview) reprinted the story as a graphic novel.

Alex noted that, in the United States, there has been a “steep learning curve” on social issues, and this has made her more aware of such issues when she writes her books, with her taking such steps as having readers check to see how authentic her characters are. She notes, as well, that this was parallel to her growth as a person, adding that there is always something more to learn when writing, saying that: “There is always something to learn and try out.” Alex remarks that “different stories present different challenges,” which, for her, means that a writer needs to start from scratch when writing out a story with a genre or style different from that which one has written before. To improve her craft, Alex reads craft books to see what more she can learn, particularly since, when she started out, she was an intuitive writer.

Alex remarks that feedback is important for a writer, but that this is varied, as each reader brings his or her own opinions and tastes into the review. She thus focuses more on professional reviews as well as those from other authors, so she can better her craft, and gave some examples of these. That said, she also accepts non-professional reviews which help her improve her craft.

Where trying to please everybody is concerned, Alex notes that: “You can drive yourself batty,” while also adding that she cares about how people read her books. That said, where writing a novel is concerned, it takes one to two years from the start of writing to getting published, so a writer needs to be passionate about the characters and the story to maintain such an engagement for such a long time.

Alex notes that, for young adult readers, character-driven stories are important, as this audience loves emotional stories where they can connect with the characters, which helps the story resonate with them. She likes writing for young adults because the latter live at a time in their lives where a lot of things are “high stakes,” and where young adults experience such “firsts” such as first love and first taste of freedom, particularly since they are finding out who they are and what they want to be.

Where creating ideas for stories is concerned, Alex figuratively cooks these in a “stew pot” and then picks up a story from there, giving the example of Lore springing from her reading Greek mythology as a child. She keeps what she calls a “wish list” of the kinds of stories she wants to write, with one of these being competition. Lore thus sprang from a combination of her exposure to Greek myths and her desire to write a story about competition.

Although Lore is based on Greek mythology, Alex has also included themes of the importance of confronting one’s personal past, and the past in general, to move on to a better future. Another theme of the book is the pursuit of power, and the possible tradeoffs from doing so.

To other writers, Alex remarks that practicing is a good way to grow one’s craft, and for them to find stories that they could write in “their own, unique way.”

Purchase from Amazon: Lore by Alexandra Bracken

Thursday, February 11, 2021

John Hart on His Novel, The Unwilling

In this interview, John Hart talks to Alexander “The Engineer” Lim, host of AuthorStory by, about his novel, The Unwilling.

“The finest writers out there are still honing their craft.” ~John Hart

John Hart was 40 when his first novel came out, which makes him a late bloomer. That said, his first published novel was the result of decades of honing his writing craft (during which time he wrote out two “unpublishable” novels). Much as he wanted to become an author and a writer, he didn’t want to “leave things to chance,” which was why he went to graduate school twice (accounting and law; he wrote his unpublished novels during these times). As a criminal defense attorney, he “rubbed up” against “a lot of bad guys,” which meant that he got a good idea of how criminals acted and behaved, and it was when he was slated to defend a child rapist that he decided to focus on writing.

It took John four years to get his first novel, The King of Lies, was published, which was “a quiet and lonesome affair,” as there was nobody around to tell him how to the process worked. Rejections, he note, are part of the process and part of the path for all published writers, and one of the things he needed to accept were the number of naysayers who were against his writing - naysayers who seemed to take his ambition personally and negatively. This reaction, John believes, is due to people giving up dreams of their own and who, when they meet up someone who is working on his dream, feel insecure about giving up their own dreams.

Where the craft of writing is concerned, John remarks that there is a learning curve involved and that nothing beats actually being at the keyboard and writing things out. He notes that writers have to be critical about their work, and that finding a “beta test reader” who has the sensibility and the critical eye necessary to enable the story to succeed is extremely important to a writer’s success. John also notes that a writer’s “mental space” is also important, as there needs to be a balance between honest feedback and feedback from insecure people. Writer egos also come into play here, with John giving an example of a would-be writer friend who asked him to critique a short passage. John spent hours going over it and critiquing it, and his friend’s angry response resulted in their not speaking for nearly a decade. By contrast, when John spoke with author Patricia Cornwell, who has been publishing popular novels since 1990, he found her to be humble enough to recognize that she still has a lot to learn.

John admits that he has to be “aware of the marketplace,” and that he is wary about following trends, such as the trend which followed Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. That said, he notes that a writer needs to be passionate about the people and the world that he is creating, as a writer could be involved with that particular story for one to two years, thinking and working on it even in what appears to be their leisure time. Writing purely to please another person, he notes, makes an author “ten steps behind, right out of the gate,” but an author also needs to know enough of his audience with his presentation, with John giving the example of toning down the profanity in his books to cater to this.

A writer needs to love, in some way, “even the most despicable character ever written” in his story, particularly since he focuses on making his stories character driven. That said, John’s style of writing and development is “organic,” rather than using notes and outlines, going for “what feels real” and what would motivate the characters. He notes that people are already set in who they are by the time they are adults, even if they aren’t aware of it, and he goes into making the reader understand what the character is all about, even if the character, himself, doesn’t understand what he is all about. One of the things John has also learned is to allow readers to fill in the blanks, rather than write out every last detail of who and what a character is.

The Unwilling might take place in the past, but John notes that all of his books have some element of family relationships and drama, as just about everyone has had experience with family relationships. He notes that a lot of people said that his books start out slowly and build up to the end, and John remarks that this is because he wants the reader to spend time with the characters, so they know who they are dealing with. That said, John makes sure to give the reader a tradeoff for their patience, by planting some compelling questions that make the reader wonder about the situation and the characters involved, and then gives some examples of this.

“Part of the job is putting false modesty aside,” John remarks, noting that he doesn’t mind telling people what he does. He notes that a lot of writers are actually introverts, and he credits his publisher, at the early part of his career, with helping build his reputation as a “literary thriller” writer. For John, “literary” refers to details related to other than plot - characterization, for one thing. He attributes his use of language to enabling a reader to emotionally respond to a situation beyond that which a scene or a character would warrant, particularly with the kind of scenes which would make a reader want to put the book down and wonder. He credits this style of his to his wife, as she prefers a literary style, and John needed to get her buy-in to start his career as a writer to begin with, as he was quitting being an attorney to do so.

Where the writing industry is concerned, John notes that the writing business is a “hard” and a “cold” one, but it is also a vibrant one which needs new voices, as it is a constantly evolving business. He believes that new, young talent need to bring their voices in, and likewise believes that these should be encouraged.

Purchase from Amazon: The Unwilling by John Hart

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Robert M. Hardaway: Saving the Electoral College: Why the National Popular Vote Would Undermine Democracy

In this interview, Robert Hardaway talks to Alexander “The Engineer” Lim, host of AuthorStory by, about his book, Saving the Electoral College: Why the National Popular Vote Would Undermine Democracy.

“We've been through this so many times in our history, it's kind of become old hat.” ~Robert Hardaway

Robert was in government class in high school, where a member of Congress would talk on a particular current topic, after which the class would be split into two parties, with Robert being the head of one party and Al Gore (who would later become the 45th Vice President of the United States) to debate the issue. The electoral college was one on such topic covered, and since then Robert has spent time as an attorney in the US Navy’s Judge Advocate General corps and as an assistant district attorney in Colorado. He has also spent the last 40 years researching on the electoral college, culminating in several books and articles on the topic.

According to Robert, the electoral method is enshrined in Article 2 of the United States constitution, where the legislature of each state will select a certain number of electors who will cast their vote in the electoral college. This system, Robert notes, is very similar to that of parliamentary democracies, such as the United Kingdom, except that, in the United Kingdom, the electors are Members of Parliament (MPs). The electoral college is kept separate from Congress (which is designed only to pass legislation), to maintain the independence of the executive, legislative and judiciary arms of the United States government. Up until 1876, state legislators selected the electors themselves, but after that time, the states delegated that responsibility to the people, which is why people vote - for their electors.

An elector cannot be a member of the state government, and can be anyone. Each party puts up a slate of people which acts as electors, and when people go to vote, each party thus effectively tells each voter to vote for the slate of their party, each member of the slate being a member of their particular party who has been nominated by that party to be an elector. Each elector has to be of at least 21 years of age and a citizen of the United States, and their only responsibility is to vote for a candidate in the electoral college. Some states put the names of the electors down, which means that a voter can pick and choose amongst individual electors from both parties, while other states do not so name their electors, which means that each voter then votes for a particular party’s slate.

Each state is guaranteed at least three electors: at least one based on how many representatives that state has in the House of Representatives, as well as at least two electors based on their representation in the Senate. The number of electors posted might vary, but this is based on the principle that each state, no matter how small in terms of population, should have equal representation in Congress. This split, which was proposed by Benjamin Franklin and which was subsequently adopted, between the upper and lower houses of the United States government, with the upper house (the Senate) having one member from each state, and the lower house (Congress) having a number of representatives based on that state’s population. Benjamin Franklin’s proposal was vital as, at the time of the Constitutional Convention, the various states then in existence were in danger of fragmenting and becoming entirely different nations, all of whose economies were nearing collapse and all of whom were squabbling with each other - a situation which was greatly to the advantage of the then-ruling British king, George IV.

Robert notes that, in the present system, when people vote, they do not vote for a party’s president. Instead, they vote for a slate of electors, and it is these electors who actually vote for the candidates concerned. He also remarks that the popular issue is when the so-called “popular vote” does not seem to jibe with the electoral vote.

According to Robert, some states are presently forming a cabal (the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, or NPVIC) whose members are essentially choosing to ignore the will of the people in their own state by declaring a winner based on a hypothetical popular vote projected from other states - something which, Robert points out, doesn’t exist under the present electoral system. (A popular vote would result in national elections where people write in the name of their candidate, and the winner being declared based on the most number of votes for that candidate.) Robert remarks that such a drive has existed for some time, but it runs into the non-amendable requirement that each state should have equal representation in the Senate. As Article 5 of the Constitution states that the electoral college cannot be abrogated unless all members of the Senate agree to do so, and as the small-population states would want to ensure their continued representation in the government, it is highly unlikely that the move to convert the electoral system from that of the present electoral college to a national popular vote will come into being. Robert noted that this equal representation is the basis of the existence of the United States, particularly since it was because of this that the smaller states joined the Union.

Robert quotes John F. Kennedy as saying: “A popular vote election will increase the likelihood of a president being elected by a minority of the voters. It will break down the federal system in which the states entered the Union, which provides a system of checks and balances to ensure that no area or group shall obtain too much power.” Robert points out that, with a popular vote, a president could be elected from more populous areas, such as coastal cities, with the result that those states or groups which supported the resultant president would get more favors compared to those states or groups which were smaller in population. The electoral college is thus designed to support the Founding Fathers’ ideal of having a president with popular support throughout the nation, rather than from one particular region.

Robert points out that nations which use the popular vote can wind up with presidents that the majority of the population actually reject. He cites the case of France, where, in the 2017 elections, the two better-perceived candidates were nudged out by a margin of 2%, leaving the French voters with an extreme-right candidate and a moderate but most likely ineffectual candidate to choose from, both of whom were supported only by a minority of the population. The French voters were so disgusted by the unwanted choices that over three million of them submitted blank ballots in the run-off elections.

Where electors are concerned, Robert notes that human beings aren’t really needed to be electors, as the individual names of the electors don’t need to be known. This is a housekeeping recommendation he puts forth, with each individual vote going to that of the number of electors in a particular state, creating an automatic allocation of votes. Another recommendation was that governors certify the votes within ten days, and that Congress not need to count the votes themselves. He also notes that, in Great Britain, people vote for a member of parliament who is affiliated with a party because they are assured that the person they voted for will thus vote for a leader that is a member of that particular party.

Robert bemoans that most Americans don’t know what the electoral college is all about, particularly since electors are so elected only once every four years. He also notes that the perception that the electoral college vote doesn’t jibe with the hypothetical popular vote took place in 1888, 2000 and 2016, and notes that this also happens in parliamentary democracies, citing the case of the 1974 election in Great Britain, when the Labor Party won, despite the Conservative Party having the greater number of hypothetical popular votes.

Robert noted that the electoral college is responsible for the two-party system, and mentioned the case of the Socialists in 1932, which had 15% of the American population’s support. The Socialists realized that, despite such support, they couldn’t get an electoral vote unless they had a plurality in a single state, so they went to the Democratic Party and compromised with them to do so. Such alliances ensure broad support for a candidate within a given party.

Robert remarked that he had been called to testify about the electoral college twice. He appeared in front of the Colorado legislature in 2007, which swung the vote against the NPVIC, and again in 2020, as one of over 300 people who wanted to witness at the hearing. He was told he only had a minute, which would have been impossible for him to make a dent in the current for the NPVIC.

Purchase from Amazon: 

Saving the Electoral College: Why the National Popular Vote Would Undermine Democracy by Robert Hardaway