An invitation to visit my Facebook author’s page

If you’re a savvy reader, your first question should be, “What’s in it for me?”

If you’ve been reading this blog long enough to remember the Book Bits posts that featured links to books and authors news, reviews, interviews, and publishing trends, then you’ll know the general format of the page.

Every day, I post four or five links to these kinds of topics. So, it’s a quick place to check for publishing news, obituaries, and news of upcoming books.

I also post a link to this blog and every once in awhile a link to one of my book pages at an online bookseller.

It’s a page for “book people.”

Click on this graphic to stop by and take a look:




Bloggers: Stop asking guests, ‘When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?’

Other than family and friends, nobody buys an author’s book after seeing a lame, blog-tour question answered like this:

“I’m very passionate about writing. I knew in the first grade I wanted to be a writer, but didn’t start trying to be one until after having another career in the insurance industry that finally burned out, leading me to think, holy crap, what am I going to do with my time now?”

Okay, perhaps I exaggerate.

wordcloudBut here’s the problem: answers like that don’t sound like anything a professional writer would say, and by professional, I’m talking about career authors who have spent years paying their dues and perfecting their art and craft.

Sure, sooner or they’re asked when they started writing, but it’s usually within the context of a larger, more detail-oriented professional sounding interview.

Blogs Mass Producing Author Interviews Don’t Help Anybody

If a blogger asks the same questions to every guest, including the typical first question, “Can you tell us something about yourself?” then the resulting interview is only preaching to the choir, the choir being the author’s friends, family, and co-authors at a publisher or critique group.

In a world where most people buy most fiction from authors with major buzz at major media outlets, few serious readers are going to select a book from an unknown author after reading a generic interview.

Real Interviews are Journalism

Books are an investment of money and time. Make them sound worth it.
Books are an investment of money and time. Make them sound worth it.

While breaking news and short deadlines often cause reporters to ask bad questions, real interviews are done by reporters, magazine staff writers and competent freelancers who do their homework first. Homework means: research your guest before you start asking questions.

This is where most blog-tour bloggers fail. They’re looking for quantity rather than quality, so naturally, they don’t read the guest author’s book, study their websites, see what they say about themselves on Facebook, or so anything else to provide enough background from which to ask intelligent questions.

These bloggers are well intentioned. They see the generic interview as a service. And, on high-traffic blogs including those in which a guest author can answer, say, five out of a list of 50 possible questions, some authors may be getting decent publicity. The rest the authors are, I think being harmed more than helped.

Why? Because most readers are savvy enough to see the difference between a journalistic-style interview with a professional author and a talking-over-the-backyard-fence generic interview with an unknown author. Generic questions just scream: This is amateur stuff.

Most people have a limited book budget and are careful about what they buy: they’re not going to buy an amateur book because they can’t afford to spend the money on it, and even if they could afford it, they don’t have time to read it.

Perhaps Doing a Few Interviews Well is Better

Personally, I think a blog’s traffic goes up when it includes interviews in which readers see that the blogger actually knows something about the guest author’s work AND that s/he isn’t asking every author the exact same questions.

Publishing has become more democratic. There are more venues and more ways to get one’s workinto  print. Meanwhile, social networking sites encourage authors to get out there and shoot the breeze with as many followers as possible. It’s easy to see how this leads to blog interviews where the blogger and author act like just plain folks as though the author is the friendly neighbor who suddenly decided to write a book.

The bottom line is, people don’t spend money to buy a book written by their next door neighbor who just decided, what the hell, I think I’ll be an author.  We need bloggers willing to learn their subjects and present unknown authors in the best possible light rather than making them look like amateurs.

Now that would be an interview that makes both the blogger and author look like the kind of people we want to read again and again.



Author Melinda Clayton returns to Appalachia for her new novel

I’m pleased to welcome author Melinda Clayton (Appalachian Justice and Return to Crutcher Mountain) to the Round Table today to talk about her new novel Entangled Thorns. Once again, Clayton heads back to Appalachia for a compelling story about hard times and hard memories. Entangled Thorns, which tells the story of Beth Sloan and the “infamous Pritchett family of Cedar Hollow, West Virginia,” was released by Vanilla Heart Publishing June 27, 2012.

Malcolm: Like Appalachian Justice and Return to Crutcher Mountain, your new novel Entangled Thorns has an Appalachian setting. What draws a Florida author away from the orange groves and sunny beaches into the hills of West Virginia for her storytelling?

Melinda:  My mother’s family is from West Virginia, around the Charleston area.  My grandfather was retired from the mines.  Both of my maternal grandparents passed away when I was a teen, but up until that time we visited every summer.  I loved everything about it:  the people, the mountains, the wildlife.  My mother was born in a tiny place called Big Ugly Holler, which served as the inspiration for Cedar Hollow.  It doesn’t exist now, but we once hiked into the mountains to see what was left of it.  There was no road; by that time, there wasn’t even a trail.  When we finally reached our destination all that remained of Big Ugly Holler were a few foundations and chimneys covered in vines.

Malcolm: In Entangled Thorns, your protagonist Beth Sloan has been running from and/or repressing her troubled childhood until circumstances force her to confront it. Your protagonists in Appalachian Justice and Return to Crutcher Mountain were also wounded as children. Does this overarching theme of your work come out of your experience as a psychotherapist or the kinds of stories you’re drawn to on the nightly news?

Melinda:  I love this question, and the answer is, “both.”  I read a book when I was very young – I’d give anything to remember the title of it – but it was about a social worker who worked with troubled kids.  Ever since then I knew I wanted to work with troubled children and families in some capacity.  I’ve also always been drawn to true crime stories, as morbid as that might seem.  There is something about the workings of the human mind that absolutely fascinates me, particularly when it goes off-kilter in some way.

Malcolm: You recently completed a Ed.D. in Special Education Administration program which required a dissertation. How did you manage to jump back and forth between academic writing with its reliance on sources and a formal style to fiction with its emphasis on people, adventure and an accessible style?

Melinda:  That was a little challenging at times.  The act of writing fiction was a great stress reliever, but I had to work to keep the informal language (contractions, slang, etc.) from entering my academic writing.  It was tempting at times to put in something like, “This research will show that there ain’t no correlation…” for the pure fun of seeing my committees’ reaction.

Malcolm: How does the doctoral work fit into your professional goals?

Melinda:  My ultimate goal is to teach at a college level.  My doctorate sort of combined two fields of study, since my M.S. is in Community Agency Counseling, and my doctorate is in Special Education Administration.  I’d love to contribute to the field by demonstrating how the two fields often go hand-in-hand and should support each other and work together, instead of arguing over funding streams and services as so often happens.

Malcolm: For the general public, Appalachia conjures up such themes as isolated, subsistence living, hard-working and persevering people, coal mining and other environmental excesses, and pure, raw music unlike that from any other part of the country. How do your characters and plots mesh with or run counterpoint to these stereotypes? Does the lure of Appalachia for your storytelling ever translate into other areas, say, in tempting you to move there as a teacher or psychotherapist?

Melinda:  It’s a delicate line to walk.  I know from my own family that the manner in which Appalachia is often portrayed can be a sore point.  At the same time, I want the story to reflect what is, in some areas, true to life.  I relied heavily on not only my research, but also my own memories as well as my mother’s experiences.

I also know from my experiences that the poverty associated with Appalachia exists elsewhere.  There’s no need to travel to Appalachia to encounter it.  In the late 1980s, when I was fresh out of college with a B.A. in social work, my first job was as the coordinator of case management services for a rural mental health center in Tennessee.  My case workers and I were responsible for a three county area, working with the most impoverished of families. Many of our clients were without electricity or running water.  Many also lived in the most basic of housing structures, without floors or internal walls.  I think it’s difficult to believe there are still families living in such poverty in the U.S., but there are.

Malcolm: Thomas Wolfe brought the phrase “You Can’t Go Home Again” into general use. “Going home” can be awkward, embarrassing or frightening on so many levels even for those of us who had relatively normal childhoods. But your characters had strong reasons for avoiding home, yet all of them find that they must go home again. Does this theme grow out of the psychologist’s seemingly favorite “well me about your childhood” question or is it more that home is the only place where the issues of home can be fixed?

Melinda:  Again I have to smile, because it’s both.  My writing of home is a very transparent attempt to create the home I miss.  Until I was about twelve, we lived in my father’s hometown in TN surrounded by aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents.  We had fried chicken at Mawmaw’s house every Sunday after church, then spread blankets on the lawn under the pecan tree and visited well into the evening.  A rough couple of years ended all that.  One aunt died tragically in a car accident, another divorced, my grandparents lost their home to a fire, and my family moved away.  I’m sure it wasn’t as idyllic as I remember, but it’s pulled at me ever since.

But I also think it’s necessary to revisit the places that have scarred us, either symbolically (often for safety’s sake only symbolically) or physically.  We have to face our issues before we can resolve them.  Burying them doesn’t work; we have to excise them, examine them, and then choose to heal and move on.

Malcolm: Thank you, Melinda.

Where to Find Melinda on the Internet

Blogs on Xanga and WordPress



Amazon Author’s Page

Author Interviews from Visual Arts Junction

Shelagh Watkins, author of Mr. Planemaker’s Flying Machine, has compiled and published a book of author interviews conducted during the past year at Visual Arts Junction. The authors discuss their styles and influences as well as recent works, excerpts of which are included.

This Mandinam Press book can be viewed or downloaded free in multiple formats at Smashwords or purchased as a paperback via Lulu.

It was a pleasure being included in this volume with authors Pat Bertram, D. K. Christi, Caryn Gottlieb FitzGerald, Jean Holloway and others. Watkins’ hope is that “the interviews will entertain and inspire readers to find out more about the authors and their books.”

As 2009 winds down, I would like to thank those who have found adventure and magic in The Sun Singer, humor in Jock Sterwart and the Missing Sea of Fire, and yarns and tall tales in A View Inside Glacier National Park: 100 Years, 100 Stories. Best wishes for an exciting 2010 which, I hope, will include an infinite stack of books on your desk and nightstand.