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Welcome to Rita’s Bower where readers gather to meet our favorite or soon-to-be favorite authors while sipping delicious drinks and savoring decadent treats. Serve yourself a plate and drink, settle back in a comfortable chair, prop up your feet, and welcome our guest author, Elizabeth Fountain. 
 
Elizabeth has dropped by to visit with us from her home and her fascinating life in the Pacific Northwest which she’ll tell us about later. For full disclosure, when I saw Liz was scheduled to interview, I jumped on it. Liz and I share a publisher, an anthology, and an affinity for NaNoWriMo.

For a start, Liz, tell us about yourself.

Is there a camera on me? No? Then I’m about 5’10” tall, 125 pounds, and no one would guess I’m over 29. Or some combination of those numbers… About three years ago, I left a high-stress career as a university administrator to pursue my dream of writing novels. I landed in beautiful central Washington State, in the middle of the gorgeous and diabolically windy Kittitas Valley. Small-town life is growing on me, and I’m lucky to have had two novels published since I arrived here.

I love books, music, movies, food, dogs, time with family and friends, and taking long walks leaning into the wind. Some of my greatest joys come from connecting with readers and other authors about the amazing creative experience of storytelling in all its forms. 

Your books reflect your love of storytelling. What inspired you to begin writing and create characters that capture the imagination?

As a little kid struggling with insomnia, I’d tell myself stories to help fall asleep. Sometimes the stories would find their way into my dreams and back again. I wrote a lot of little illustrated tales (usually involving at least one horse, because I loved to draw horses). Did you have a kid in your class who always seemed off in his or her own world? That weird kid was me. Later, in high school, I indulged in classic teen-angst poems and song lyrics. Thankfully, most of them are lost. I stopped writing when I started working for a living, but I never stopped telling myself stories about the world and my life in it. These tales became the seeds of the novels I’m writing now, at least in the sense that they helped teach me how to steer my imagination.

I like to read stories about characters I can identify with, so I write those kinds of stories too. Who can’t identify with the experience of looking at your boss and thinking, “you must be from another planet?” That’s one of the central plot lines in An Alien’s Guide to World Domination. And don’t we all wonder if there’s a Wicked Spirit stirring up trouble in our romantic lives? That’s what Jane discovers in You, Jane.

I’ve tried many times to write “serious fiction,” you know, the kind that wins prizes by exploring Significant Themes and Deep Questions using Long Words and Complex Sentences. Once, I started writing in earnest about a woman facing her midlife crisis, falling in love with the wrong man, confronting those deep questions about her existence. As I wrote the first scene, a little green genie dropped into it, landed right on my main character’s kitchen sink, and proceeded to take over the story. It happens every time – an element of fantasy, magic, or alternative universes finds its way into my writing. Now I’m thrilled it’s there. Often, the best way to describe “reality” is with an angel, alien, genie, or talking dog. 

The area where you live provides a rich environment for the creative arts. What opportunities do you participate in locally? How have you managed to expand contact with your readers using digital media?

I’m lucky that my small town includes a state university. Having Central Washington University in our midst brings artists, performers, and authors here who might not otherwise stop in a town of about ten thousand people (we double in size when the university’s in session). There’s also a strong commitment to the arts in the town itself. That might be related to the large contingent of ex-hippies who made this valley their home since the 1970’s, living peaceably (for the most part) next to cattle ranchers, hay farmers, and college professors. I like to say we are half cow town and half college town, and each half keeps the other honest. The occasional bar fights are typically quite tame.

Locally, our public library (a town treasure) sponsors a storytelling club called The Yarn Spinners. Once a month anywhere from ten to twenty folks from all walks of local life gather to tell stories, read from our own or others’ works, and swap tall tales. I’ve participated since it started this spring. Our local bookstores do a great job of supporting regional authors, and I’ve done several author parties/book signings in town. Just a few weeks ago, I was honored to be a featured reader/speaker at the Index Arts Festival, about two hours over the mountains from here. That was a blast – I got to hear teenagers perform their poems (theirs were a lot better than the ones I wrote at that age, thank goodness), witness some terrific storytellers, hear cool live music, and gaze at intriguing arts of all kinds.

My motto for digital media is keep it simple. I’ve got a blog that doubles as a website, and an author page on Facebook. I post regularly on both, keep my webpage and my Author Central page on Amazon up to date, and guest blog regularly on other authors’ sites. I’m a monthly contributor to The Writers Vineyard, a blog shared by a group of interesting and generous fellow Champagne Books authors. I try not to spread myself too thin, and focus more energy on these few channels, so I can keep the quality of reader interaction high.

I’m also busy recruiting young authors – middle and high school age – to guest blog on my site periodically. I’ve visited an alternative high school class in my town and plan to go to more districts when school starts again in the fall. The idea of giving new voices a place to be heard makes me very happy. 

Encouraging the arts among youth is a wonderful use of your gift! Your webpage/blog, Point No Point, is both beautiful and inviting – a reflection of you and your style. Did you develop and maintain it yourself?

Gosh, thank you – I’m blushing a little here. I use the free version of Wordpress to host my webpage/blog, and I love it. I’ve been able to do it all myself, with their online help, and keep it refreshed by changing themes every so often. My home page now features a photo I took at that arts festival I mentioned, one I snapped while exploring that beautiful area up in the mountains. Kudos to Wordpress for making it easy for us to do that sort of thing so we can focus on what we do best: write. 

Tell us about your latest novel, You, Jane (Champagne, 2014).

You, Jane is a “once upon a time” story with a twist. In this novel, Jane Margaret Blake’s drinking too much, missing work, and forgetting she’s already fed her cat, who’s getting a little fat. But Jane’s real problem is the reason she drinks: she writes stories that come true and wreak havoc in her life. In her “fables” animals, people, angels, and the Universe itself conspire to destroy Jane’s last chance to be with her old love, or, just maybe, to bring her into the arms of a new love. Years ago, a fable pushed Jane’s best friend Charlie into marrying another woman. Now another fable shoves Charlie’s little boy in front of an angry dog  - or worse, a wicked spirit bent on getting Jane and Charlie to face the truths they’ve spent a lifetime avoiding. As her drinking and writing spiral out of control, Jane must finally discover how to write her own happy ending.

The toughest part of writing this novel became smoothing the transitions between the interludes of Jane’s fables and main plot that drives the story. I wanted the fables to be whole pieces, and also contribute insight to Jane’s life predicament. Like so many of us, Jane makes choices based on fear, choices that narrow her world instead of expanding it. The fables – orchestrated by a Wicked Spirit and a Self-Doubting Angel – become the way the Universe helps Jane realize she’s always been the author of her own story, whether she knew it or not.

Oh, and I finally got to write a love scene. Page one-hundred and ten. ‘Nuff said.  

I loved your debut novel, An Alien’s Guide to World Domination (Burst!, 2013). Creating a new world that captivates readers is a major effort. How do you keep all the details of your world organized? How long does a world take to build?

Thank you for the kind words! An Alien’s Guide took nearly five years to come to life. The world in which it takes place – a world where everyone feels at least a little “alien,” no matter what planet they are from – came to me in a dream. I’d been trying to write that novel as contemporary, no aliens, magic, fantasy, whatsoever. Every word on the page bored me to tears, made me ready to give up completely.

One night, I woke up about two o’clock in the morning and started scribbling my dream. Two people stood on a bridge in a far away country. One pointed to the star he’d been born on, and explained why he’d arrived on Earth. That became a central scene in the book, and it unlocked the notion of creating a world full of aliens, each in his/her/its own way trying to dominate the planet. Much of the story wrote itself, after that.

Oh, you asked about keeping the details organized? I don’t do that, at least not very well. Thank goodness for editors, is all I can say. Editors pointed out discrepancies in eye color, character backgrounds, timelines, all kinds of things. Without their skilled interventions, the villain of the piece would still be a minor character.

So my advice to other writers who are engaged in world building is simple: seek help. 

And find an obsessive-compulsive editor? Do you have a current work in progress? 

Ah. Well. Um. See, here’s the thing about me as a writer. I can’t avoid correcting your question. Not to quibble, of course, but the proper phrasing would be “how many current works in progress are languishing in the dark bowels of your computer’s hard drive?”

There’s a memoir I’m helping a friend work on, the story of his life since he arrived in the U.S. as an unaccompanied minor sent away from Havana, Cuba, in 1962. Fifty-two years since he’s seen his mother, his siblings, or his homeland. He wound up in a small farming community here in Washington as part of a Catholic relief effort. It’s quite a story.

Then there’s the manuscript from 2011’s NaNoWriMo, a story I really like about a woman who takes over (temporarily, she believes) for Death in order to avoid being condemned to Hell. This tale includes a ghost greyhound, a savior disguised as Pippi Longstocking, and an epic battle between good and evil staged in a Home Depot. Lots of fun!

Finally, closest to my writing heart now is a series of books for younger readers (ages 12-18), following the adventures of Amy June Pilgrim on her quest to find mathematical formulas for forgiveness, love, and eternal life. All while trying to prove she’s not a little kid anymore. Amy June learns about life from her grandfather, meets a shaman boy, makes a gentle mute giant her best friend, and goes nowhere without the black Lab who earned her name, Licky.  

Looks like you’ve created a wealth of fascinating characters. Out of all of the characters that you've written, who is your favorite? Why?

I have no favorites. I love them all the same.

There, now that’s out of the way, I’ll confess a particular fondness for Aunt Emma in An Alien’s Guide. She can make a mean pumpkin pie, store memories in a charm bracelet, and battle the meanest aliens around. And, she’s not above dropping the F-bomb when it’s truly needed.

I also love the animals who make appearances in my stories. Buddy, the blind mini-Schnauzer who saves the world in An Alien’s Guide is modeled on my own dog, Charlie. There’s a talking fox in You, Jane who expresses a worldview eerily similar to my own, at times. And Licky, the black Lab in my WIP for younger readers, farts to foil a kidnapping. If you’ve ever been trapped in a moving car with a farting dog, you’ll know. 

You’re a fellow NaNoWriMo participant. Tell us a little about NaNo and your experiences with it.

You, Jane was born during my first joyous experience with National Novel Writing Month in 2010. NaNoWriMo enlists participants who commit to writing fifty thousand words in thirty days. That first time around, a brainstorm came to me: write about a woman whose stories come true. That way, any time I got stuck on the main plot, I could write another short story. I ended that month of writing with a giant beautiful mess of a manuscript, which took me another three years to clean up sufficiently to submit for publication.

Ever since then, I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo to jump start my work. Because of the commitment to write every day, you have to turn off your “inner editor” – you know, the voice inside that loves to create doubt about your ability as a writer, get in the way of inspiration, question your best ideas. With the inner editor silenced, I can create pages and pages and pages of wonderful raw material.

My first two years of NaNo-ing, I wrote with a group that met in a local tavern. Some of the best stuff I’ve ever written was pounded out on my laptop while beer poured, bad music pounded from the juke box, and darts flew overhead. It was awesome.

I’ve had a lot of success with NaNo – every year for the last five years. Did I just answer my next question? Anyway, what advice do you have for aspiring authors?

Work on your craft. Become the best writer you can be. Go to workshops, read great writing of all varieties and genres, and practice, practice, practice. Be open to collaboration with those who will critique and edit your work – we all need that. Listen carefully to all the “rules” about good writing and then break the ones you feel you need to break to tell the stories your heart wants to tell. Remember you hold everything you need to write your book inside you; your job is simply to translate your imagination into words others can share.

And don’t give up. In the words of a song written by a good friend of mine, who’s in the band Avolition: Work for what you wish for. You might get it.

Where can we find out more about you and your writing?

WEBSITE/BLOG | FACEBOOK | EMAIL for readers

Thank you, ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Liz, for visiting. Drop by again any time. The door to Rita’s Bower is always open to authors and readers who appreciate happily-ever-afters.

Happy reading, dear readers, until our next visit,

 

 

 

 

 

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