Do you care if your favorite author writes at noon or midnight?

A writers’ magazine, that shall remain nameless here, asks authors of new titles ten questions. Clearly, the intent of these articles is to promote the book because I can’t imagine that readers care how and when authors write.

Okay, maybe I’m biased against these kinds of articles because “they” haven’t called me and asked whether I write best in fire or rain, use a pencil or a pen, or sit in Waffle Houses or woods as I craft each new book.

I’ll stipulate that there may be circumstances where a writer’s methods and techniques might be interesting:

  • Wrote the book in jail.
  • Wrote the book while clinically dead on the operating table.
  • Wrote the book while surrounded by rabid kangaroos in Australia.

Otherwise, I’m not sure readers care whether an author writes in the bedroom or the back porch or the south forty. I know I don’t care. And if “they” called me and asked for an interview in which “they” proposed a series in inane questions, I’d probably agree to it and make stuff up. People who ask inane questions deserve to be lied to.

Perhaps I would say, I always write at High Noon because “High Noon” is one of my favorite movies. Or, perhaps I would say, I always write on Hallowe’en because I channel haints and the veil between worlds at that time of the year. Personally, I think that thin veil between worlds stuff is a lot of nonsense, but people seem to believe it. That means readers would probably believe haints help me write my books.

I just got done reading one of these “ten questions for Joe Smith” kind of articles and the whole shebang was so boring, I immediately opened a bottle of Shiraz and tried to forget.

These articles all seem to be written by lazy writers who ask the same stock questions to every writer they interview, so it’s no wonder they (the authors and/or the articles) all sound like they come off an assembly line.  When a real journalist is assigned to write a feature article about an emerging author (or anyone else), the first thing they need to do is learn everything they can before the interview begins. That makes each article unique, makes the subject a real person rather than just another widget, makes the source more important than the interviewer’s stock questions.

Some blogs actually have a list of stock questions for writers to answer. Purportedly, the result is supposed to sound like an interview. It doesn’t. The result is usually boring and probably costs the emerging author a lot of book sales.

Question: What were you doing when you first thought about writing this book?
Answer: I was eating a pizza.

Wow, that information’s really going to resonate with prospective readers! As an author, I’d feel so discounted if I were asked such a question, I’d probably say, “I was watching alligators have sex.”

When I read an interview with an author, I want to see questions and answers that matter.





Author looks at Congress and a slaughterhouse through satirical lens

Marietta Rodgers
Marietta Rodgers

Today’s guest is Marietta Rodgers, author of The Bill (Second Wind Publishing, January 6, 2015). In the novel, Representative Joe Herkieze is trying to get his Hunger Relief Act passed and teenager Hope Price has taken a summer job in a slaughterhouse looking for enlightenment. This juxtaposition screams dark humor and satire.

Malcolm: Your novel The Bill is a political satire. Did you select this genre because you tend to view the world through a satirical lens or because satire seemed like a fitting approach to a story about a Congressman?

Marietta:  I do view things through a satirical lens sometimes, but the lens are more like reading glasses, where I wear them as needed as opposed to all the time. Satire is a good tool for highlighting flaws or short-comings, but it is also a way to goad individuals, groups and governments into improvement, by juxtaposing reality with absurdity and not having a giant chasm in between. The misnomer is that satirists are pessimists, or even misanthropes, but usually it is just a way to unlock human potential.

Malcolm: Did you have to do a considerable amount of research to write about the process a Representative follows to write, promote and get a bill passed?

thebillMarietta: I did research the process of a bill from the time of its inception to its fruition, because it isn’t as straightforward as people might think. These bills can get watered down or so bogged down in a committee, that they never see the light of day.  It’s good that we have checks and balances, but unfortunately what we have currently, is nothing more than obstructionism, that has little or nothing to do with the bill themselves, but more to do with party lines.

Malcolm: Obstructionism is bad for the country but good for satirists. Your book also features a slaughterhouse whose foreman is aptly named Piggy. I must confess, I haven’t read anything about a slaughterhouse since I read Upton Sinclair’s muckraking book The Jungle in school. How did you happen to select this industry for your novel, and how did you learn enough about a slaughterhouse to write about it?

Marietta: I did have to do research on slaughterhouse practices, because I too read The Jungle and thought I would be working away from that, but people would be surprised to note that some of the horrifying practices that took place then still occur. John Lennon famously said, “If a slaughterhouse had glass walls, we’d all be vegetarians.” I think that is definitely true.

Malcolm: I understand George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” is among the books that have influenced you. Is it partly responsible for your choosing satire as a genre and possibly for naming a slaughterhouse foreman “Piggy”?

animalfarmMarietta:  I wrote, The Bill as a satire, because it just felt natural. George Orwell could have written, Animal Farm (I’m sure he would have titled it something else) as a straight forward tale, without the use of satire, or the metaphorical use of animals to convey his dismay over Stalinism, but it would have been a halfhearted jab, as opposed to the knock out punch it delivered instead. It would have definitely lost a lot of bite in the telling. The slaughterhouse foreman’s nickname is Piggy, which was given to him by the other workers. I chose that name for him, because he is the head of an entire slaughterhouse machine, which slaughters not only pigs, but really human dignity as well.

Malcolm: Do you have a new satirical novel in the works or have you shifted your focus for your next book?

Marietta: I wrote a novel called, Loony Bin Incorporated, which is a satire of big business. It is tentatively scheduled to be available for sale, June 1, 2015. This was another novel, that I felt was better told as a satire. It employs a lot more lighthearted humor than, The Bill though. Currently, I have shifted my focus to writing short stories, that each revolve around the lives of tenants in a particular building in New York City.

Malcolm: What did I forget to ask you?

Marietta: “Vanity Fair” does the Proust Questionnaire, based on the famous questionnaire of the French writer, Marcel Proust. One of the questions they ask authors that I like is, what is your current state of mind? The answer: always a chaotic preoccupation of ideas.

Malcolm: I’ve found that chaos is often a writer’s best friend. Thanks for dropping by the Round Table today to talk about The Bill and the ways and means of satire.

thebillYou can read more about Marietta Rodgers at “Pat Bertram Introduces” and her Second Wind Publishing author’s page. The Bill is available in paperback and e-book.

Lame author’s questions and answers


Our guest today is Jock Stewart of Junction City, Texas. He’s the star of Jock Stewart and the Missing Sea of Fire, a loose biographical tail, and the author of Jock Stewart Strikes Back.

Stewart: Before you start asking me questions, I want to know where the hell your copy editor is. Look at the title. Makes me look like I’m lame. The questions and answers are lame. “Sea of Fire” isn’t a loose biographical tail, it’s a loosely biographical tale.

MRT: Thank you for acting like a grammar nazi before we hit the questions your readers came here to read. So, tell us about yourself?

Stewart: That’s not a bloody question, it’s an order and I don’t like it. What it shows me is this: you didn’t do your homework before starting this interview. If you had, you’d be asking me questions like, “Were you really raised by alligators in a Florida swamp?” and “Why did you ditch gossip columnist Monique Starnes in favor of shacking up with the mayor’s wife.” But I’m not talking about that. As for me, I’m a newspaper reporter of the old school. Old school reporters smoke cigarettes, drink, shack up with women and do their homework before interviewing people.

MRT: Where do you get your ideas?

Stewart: God help us from questions like that. I get them from the editor. He says, “Stewart, get your ass in here.” Here is is office which is filled with cigarette smoke. There’s usually a gun on the desk. Then he says, “A source told me somebody got killed behind the windmill at the miniature golf course. Go out there and find out who’s dead, how they died, and whether the windmill was damaged in any way.”

MRT: Does “any way” mean blood stains or bullet holes?

Stewart's Boss
Stewart’s Boss

Stewart: It means anything that shuts down the golf course so the kids can’t stop by an drop a few grand playing the links. Last year, the victim was left out there on the 9th hole for a couple of days and he just became another hazard. Business picked up for a while.

MRT: So, when did you first know you wanted to be a writer?

Stewart: That day still hasn’t arrived. But, if you want to know why I work for a newspaper, it’s because I think people need to know what’s happening. That requires writers. My dear old daddy once told me that I wasn’t going to amount to squat and, looking at my career, you can see that he was right. I tried too prove him wrong by going into the gigolo business, but things didn’t work out.

MRT: Where can people find you on the web?

Stewart: They can’t.

MRT: Where can they find you.

Snowden - NSA sketch artist drawing
Snowden – NSA sketch artist drawing

Stewart: If it’s Saturday night, I’m sleeping it off in the slammer. If it’s lunch time, I’m eating lunch. If it’s bedtime, I’m in somebody’s bed. Seriously, I really don’t want to see the kind of people who are usually looking for me.

MRT: What are you working on now?

Stewart: I’m working on getting the hell out of this lame interview as soon as possible. Interviews like this are a dime a dozen. That’s why you see this same list of questions on so many blogs. If you’re talking books, which I guess you must be, my work in progress is called What Edward Snowden Does When He’s Not Taking a Leak.

MRT: I hope you did your homework before you interviewed him and didn’t start out with something lame like “Tell us about yourself.”

Stewart: You’ve got that right. Before I got to Putin’s bedroom, I knew more about Snowden than all the other reporters in the free world.

MRT: Putin’s bedroom?

Putin - Predator drone imagery
Putin – Predator drone imagery

Stewart: People said they were probably in bed together. He wasn’t there, but what with all the Ukrainian separatists, the place was kind of crowded. Snowden has a rich, full life–to the extent that’s possible in a country that was filled with commies a couple of years ago and is trying to revert back to a police state mentality.

MRT: I’m looking forward to the book?

Stewart: Want to be a beta reader?

MRT: No.

Stewart: Good, because real writers don’t need beta readers to tell them how to write. God help us from people who write by committee, it you know what I mean.

MRT: I think I know, but I need to check with my blogging team here to see how to best respond to that question.

Stewart: Figures.

This interview first appeared on the Junction City (TX) Star-Gazer where people found it worked much better than the comics for lining parrot and hamster cages.




Author’s ‘In a Flash’ Recounts Being Struck by Lightning

In July 1989, Chicago Tribune headlines brought readers the first chapter of the saga of a young woman who was struck by lightning:


Today, my guest is author Smoky Trudeau Zeidel whose new Kindle story In a Flash recounts the lightning strike, the immediate aftermath and the twenty two years of pain and suffering that followed.

Malcolm: In the story, you say that you didn’t know you were struck by lightning until you woke up in the hospital. Did you believe them when they told you what happened or did it sound too farfetched?

Smoky: It was confusing at first, because I had no memory of the event, but I was in such a fog from the morphine I guess I would have believed anything they told me. I couldn’t speak, because I was on a respirator, so I was in no position to question them. I guess I realized how seriously injured I was when I saw that all my siblings—who lived as far away as Georgia to the east and Washington to the west—had gathered at my bedside.

Malcolm: Do you see the incident as random bad luck that could have happened to anyone or as something that was meant to be? That is, was it destiny?

Smoky: Both. I believe it was random luck—I was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. I don’t believe God was out to get me, as one misguided person wrote me in a letter shortly afterward. However, I believe that random luck can force a person to confront their destiny if they’ve been on the wrong path, and that happened to me. I came to that realization when I met a Native American teacher at a lecture on native healing. Somehow, the story of my being touched by lightning came up. He urged me to explore and study shamanism. “With many indigenous peoples, their shamans are people who have been touched by the Thunder People,” he told me.  You were struck by lightning—touched by the Thunder People.  You are being called for something.” I take that charge seriously.

Malcolm: Since the story got into the newspapers, did you go for a while constantly being hounded by reporters for the latest update? If so, did you ever get tired of all the attention? Did people on the street recognize you from a picture in the paper and say, “hey, there goes that lady who do struck by lightning?”

Smoky: I did get hounded by the press, especially once they found out the following spring that I was pregnant. One exuberant reporter asked to be present at my first ultrasound so they could report that on the news! At that point, I had to ask the press to please back off and give me my privacy. I promised the reporter I’d call him before any other reporter after the baby was born, and I did that. News spread quickly; when I was discharged from the hospital there were reporters from every major news station in Chicago filming me leaving the hospital with Robin!

Even years afterward, I would get calls to make comments on stories about people being hit by lightning. Eventually, the bruhaha settled down, but it took years.

Fortunately, people on the street didn’t seem to notice me that much. You know how it is—when you see someone out of context you might think they look familiar, but not be able to place who they are. Medical personnel, however, all seemed to know my story.

Malcolm: When reporters and others asked “what was it like,” were they disappointed when you told them the lightning caused short-term memory loss and that you didn’t really know what it was like? That is, were they hoping for a dramatic story?

Smoky: I don’t think anyone was disappointed. Plenty of witnesses saw the event, so the press got the lurid details from then. And because I had so many serious issues that developed as a result of the event, they got fresh story material on a pretty regular basis. It did get tiring after a while.

Malcolm: Do you do anything every year on the anniversary of the lightning strike?

Smoky: When I still lived in the Chicago area, I would take donuts or cupcakes to the paramedics at the firehouse—the team that saved my life initially, and who continued to save me every time I had a health crisis and had to call them. But once I moved away, I stopped doing anything like that. Now, I just stop at 10:21 on July 11 for a moment and give thanks for my life and the blessings I’ve had since that day.

Malcolm: What was it about the lightning strike and its aftermath that made you decide to change you career plans from social work to writing?

Smoky: I was so seriously injured I could no longer attend graduate school. Nor could I hold any kind of full-time job. Who would hire a person who was in the hospital for a week every month? But as broken as my body was, my mind was just fine, blessed be. Writing gave me an outlet to do something worthwhile, something that mattered. I started out as a freelance feature writing for my community’s newspaper. I had a great editor, a guy who was familiar with my story. He gave me stories when I felt well enough to work, and let me be when I was not. It was perfect for me. I gradually expanded to working for other newspapers, and doing magazine stories. But my lifelong dream had been to write a book. Once my first book, Redeeming Grace, was published, I retired from feature writing an focused all my attention on creative writing.

Malcolm: And, the story continues. Your recent knee surgery ended up being more difficult than the doctors expected. What’s their latest prognosis on the long-term viability and functionality of the replacement knee?

Smoky: It’s finally doing better. I have to wear a splint for eight hours a day that is helping loosen the stiff muscles and tendons—a splint I have affectionately named Gizmo Sally. It’s working quite well, and I now have hopes the knee will be working almost normally in another few months.

Malcolm: During your recovery, you met an energy healer who, in the process of helping you deal with the pain, led you to discover Bear, your totem animal. Does Bear still appear to you in dreams and meditations or as an aspect of your intuition when you have important decisions to make?

Smoky: Absolutely! Bear still is a constant presence in my life. People who walk with Bear tend to be introspective, to have inner strength. I would not be alive today if Bear did not share her inner strength with me. I live in almost constant pain, and sometimes that pain reaches almost unbearable levels. But what is in the center of the word un-BEAR-able? Bear herself! Letting me know that even though I hurt, she is with me.

Bear also introduced me to Snake—Rattlesnake, to be more specific. Snake energy tends to awaken in women in the midlife, and appears as a burst of creative energy—awakening kundalini. Bear taught me I could not rid myself of my pain, but that I could use that pain to do wonderful things. When Bear awakened Snake, my creative, artistic side really blossomed. I branched out from writing and began expressing my creativity in a variety of ways. I now consider myself not only a writer, but a visual artist as well.

I have both Bear and Rattlesnake tattooed on my arm as a constant reminder that, no matter what life throws me, I walk side by side with powerful protection. Seeing them on my arm also reminds me to slow down, to focus (Bear energy) on channeling my pain into more useful, creative outcomes (Snake energy).

I believe, ultimately, this was my gift from the Thunder People—Bear and Rattlesnake as my companions in life, keeping me strong, keeping my creative energy, my kundalini energy, flowing. Sometimes, it is hard to live up to this gift. Sometimes, I just want to lie in bed and moan and groan and scream, “Why me?” But ultimately, Bear and Rattlesnake won’t let me do it, at least not for long. I’m a better person because of them, and that is something I will never take for granted.

Malcolm: Than you for stopping by Malcolm’s Round Table, Smoky. Readers will find my review of In a Flash here.

Excerpt from In a Flash

Forty thousand amps of raw electrical power tore through my body and into Bob, who was still holding my hand. The force of the lightning was so great that we were literally catapulted out of our shoes and tossed twenty feet through the air like rag dolls. Hit by the wall of intense heat created by the blast, Steven tumbled over backward. Bob’s plastic key ring melted into his hand. I ended up face-down in a pool of blood, my pierced earrings blasted out of my earlobes like miniature missiles, my gold and opal necklace vaporized into my chest skin. To all outward appearances, we were dead.

Smoky is also the author of “The Cabin” and “Observations of an Earth Mage.” Malcolm is the author of “The Sun Singer” and “Jock Stewart and the Missing Sea of Fire.”