Publishing Q and A with Sheala Henke

Today our Q and A takes a slightly different angle. Sheala Henke, fantasy author, talks about her path to a traditionally published fantasy novel.

Born and raised in the foothills of the Colorado Rocky Mountains, and local CSU alumni, Sheala Dawn Henke is a veteran educator, with nearly twenty years in the trenches. She’s the author of an honored title for the ‘What’s New in Young Adult Literature, 2018 Edition’ with her YA Climate Fiction series, IDEA33 and the new release with Pen Name Publishing of her Literary Fantasy novel, Story Bends. Sheala and her husband and two children thrive in Fort Collins, Colorado.

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Name a few of your favorite books/how they inspire you.

I find that the books that resonate most with me are the ones that pull on my heartstrings. They sit in very distinct emotional chambers in my mind that stays with me for weeks, months, sometimes years. I actually go through a process of grieving over books I’ve finished that have this quality. Only when I realize I can read them again, do I feel at peace. One of my favorite books that I read aloud each year with my students is A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd. This book is truly one of the most deliciously, tantalizingly magical books I’ve ever read for young and old. I particularly love to read this book out loud as I prefer the audio version of books with such a musical quality like this one. If “words were the sweets in the mouth of sound” this would be on my Top 10 list. Natalie is also very engaged with her audience, and she has been a source of delight for my students as they continue to fall in love with her prose. She shares her writing journey and is very responsive to independent inquiries. She even went as far as to respond personally to a letter from one of my students last year who wrote to her about how much she adored her book. She followed up by sending us some wonderful Snicker Swag.

Another author I adore for his unique and lyrical style is Neil Gaiman. His writing is leaps and bounds above anything else I’ve ever read and I’ve decided that if winning the lottery was in the cards for me, I’d happily trade it for a little whisper of his magical page dust to transfer to my own work. I also truly admire his dedication to improving his craft. I feel like he’s along the same lines as Steven King with his abilities and his commitment as a career writer.

I’ve also fallen in love with and stay true to a few classics that will always resonate with me. I’m a Jane Austin fan, through and through and I enjoy the disturbingly ethereal works of Nathanial Hawthorne, whose short story, The Haunted Mind was the initial inspiration for my Literary Fantasy, Story Bends.

I’m a fangirl for a good epic tale like Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series and Kent Follet’s Pillars of the Earth. I enjoy the way they both write with such sensory detail enhancing the reader’s experience to ‘live the days’ with the characters. It’s a writing style I aim to emulate in my work as well.

Tell us about your publishing journey. How did you decide to self-publish and what were some roadblocks and positive experiences you encountered?

My publishing journey began in a room with over 300 people at a conference for the National Gifted and Talented community. Like a burst of bumbling brilliance, it came while listening to the Keynote author, Stephanie Tolan speak about creativity. At that moment the seed of an idea came to me while I was taking notes. I sketched out the most god-awful Frankenstein rendition of a thinking map outline for what later became my first novel, IDEA 33-A Regeneration. What sparked the ignition to move it from idea to page occurred the following day when I went back into my classroom and shared the experience with my students. They were full of questions. They wanted to know about the story, the characters. There was a wanderlust in their eyes I couldn’t put down. They wanted to READ this story. This story that didn’t exist…yet. They wanted more, and it was up to me to deliver it.

So, what did I do? What anyone else out of their ‘write’ mind would do, I went home that night to hatch a story and stayed up until the crack of dawn to get enough of it down so I could share it with them the following day. Even then, I didn’t come to understand what I was doing. I was writing a novel. My first novel. I was not well-versed with the writing coat of arms or a lifetime of craft study. My writing journey was as organic an experience as any other happenstance, and as the days wore on and the yellow bricks on my road to publication evolved, I evolved with it, laying each ever-loving bricks with the support and encouragement of my family, friends and most of all, my students. I wrote the entire book that year with built-in Beta readers and they stayed with me years after the maiden voyage. In fact, we hosted a successful Kickstarter campaign to fund a full manuscript revision with a professional content and copy editor team.

In that time, we began an after-school writing group called the Write Muses, operating on one mission statement, grounded on the ‘If you build it, they will come’ theory and working on our craft together. And, THEY KEEP COMING! The group has grown and changed over time, with a membership of over thirty young aspiring writers and purveyors of their own inner guide to feed their passion. We meet twice a month and the membership is free and voluntary. They mentor one another, they learn the art of critique and find a space where they can cultivate their interests. Many of the original group members have gone on to accomplish amazing things outside of our space. They are artists, speakers, engineers, and musicians and they know what it means to feed a curiosity with every breadcrumb of success.

How did you find your way to getting traditional pubbed and why did you decide to go down this path at this time?

I have always been somewhat of a closet writer, journaling the days away and writing poetry, and although some may see my experience with how I came into publishing as a Cinderella tale, I happen to believe in the magic of perseverance and grit. Where I’ve landed today didn’t happen on accident or with the swipe of the magic wand or as a result of my Fairy God Agent. I’ve had nothing but my core conscience and a drive to keep improving my craft. I believe I will be agented one day in the near future, and I look forward to that day, but I look more forward to a future of ‘manucripting up’ to write more quality books that alter perspectives for readers of all ages. It was with pure spirit and grit that I’ve moved from point A to point P in publishing. I also believe it was due to the fact that the kids have always served as my direct muse. Without their persistence and cajoling, I might not have been enticed to take the first, second and twelfth step on a journey toward the first traditionally published Literary Fiction novel, Story Bends with Pen Name Publishing. It was a promise I made to myself and to them and our story continues…

What advice do you have for other writers about deciding what pathway to publish to take?

Choosing the path to publishing is a very intimate, personal decision. In today’s market, it can take on an overwhelming number of forms, and it really depends on each individual’s goal. I would offer the advice to consider joining a writing group or take a platform building class on branding to really dive into the ‘Why’ behind your writing. That is what success-minded people do in every industry. If writing is just a hobby, and it fills you up, then that’s all it should be. If you want to pursue it further, join a local writing group or organization to start learning more about the industry and the market and take on the beast of the craft by writing each and every day. I’d recommend you sign up for one of the myriad of social media groups who share and create together. These communities are priceless, and you can stay as anonymous as you’d like as you choose what level of engagement you wish to pursue. I also highly recommend some low-cost conference opportunities like WriteOnCon which hosts an amazing three-day intensive online conference with an even more amazing lineup of writers, editors, agents, and industry professionals in a safe (put yourself out there at your own pace) space. For more information visit their website and full conference admission is only $10! It’s probably the best deal in the industry for anyone who needs a little help navigating where they stand and it is a great place for writers of all levels.

https://writeoncon.org

What three words describe your writing.

Versified, Lyrical, Expressive

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

I would like to express my sincerest gratitude to those in the industry who embrace and support debut writers and who take a chance to build relationships with people like myself who are new to the industry. I am humbled by the kind and generous individuals, editors, agents, publishers, authors/agents who offer support and a safe commune for those of us who are new to the experience.

 

Find her here:

http://sdhenke.com/

Twitter: @HenkeSheala

Insta: @shealadawnhenke

FB: @authorshealahenke

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Author Q and A with Erica Steele (this week includes author toolbox blog hop)

Before we dive into our next Q and A, I wanted to mention that I signed up to be part of a Blog Hop with Raimey Gallant. She contacted me a few months ago and mentioned that she would be … Continue reading

Q & A with Author Rain Sivertsen

In this Q and A Rain Sivertsen answers my questions. Let’s learn a little more about her.

rain

Rain Sivertsen is a 25-year-old fantasy writer currently working on her first novel, a YA fantasy she intends to self-publish by 2019/20. She is also working on a darker fantasy trilogy about vampires. Everything Rain writes takes place in a fantasy world called Hurst where she spends most of her time, while her corporeal self is located in the beautiful city of Prague –which might be the ideal home for anyone writing fantasy, with magic hiding around every corner.

 

  1. What do you write? (genre etc.)

Fantasy. Everything I write, pretty much everything I read, is fantasy. Doesn’t matter if it’s epic, urban, YA. Anything with even a sprinkle of fantasy and I am there for it.

  1. Favorite book that you think is underrated?

You couldn’t start with an easier question? J I stare at my bookshelf and there are so many wonderful books that I wish were the kind everyone knew about and talked about. Kristine Cashore’s books Graceling and Fire are beautiful stories about strong women making the best of impossible situations, with love stories I can respect and admire, which I wish I saw more of. Ash and Huntress by Melinda Lo are lovely fantasy stories with queer women. Ask was the first book I ever read with a non-straight main character. It blew my mind.

  1. Favorite book from childhood?

I don’t remember much I read from childhood – mostly Norwegian books designed specifically to get kids to read more – but there was a series of five books called “Sofie and Kathrine” by Grete Haagenrud that I would borrow from the library almost every month. It’s about two young sisters during the war when Norway was occupied by Germany. Their family is forced to flee their hometown and travel through Norway. The stories were so funny, heart-warming and heart-wrenching, and though my life was so different from Sofie, I could still relate to her and a lot of the things she went through. That might be the first series that made me properly fall in love with novels.

  1. Use three words to describe what keeps you writing and persevering?

Love, persistence and forced discipline (because discipline does not come to me naturally).

  1. Where do you draw your inspiration to keep writing?

I never really choose where I get inspiration from. Sometimes I’ll try and kick-start some inspiration by looking at beautiful digital art or reading passages in my favorite books, but really it tends to come out of nowhere. It’s really important to me that I write even when I don’t feel inspired, so I’ve trained myself to do that and then be pleasantly surprised when genuine inspiration does hit. It’s the best feeling. I guess you could say that the idea of inspiration is what inspires me. Too complicated? 🙂

  1. Do you have any tricks/tips for aspiring authors you’d like to share?

Write. Down. Your. Goals.
You can’t hit a target you can’t see. If you write down your goals – both long-term goals and the smaller milestone goals along the way – you will be more motivated to work towards them. Put them somewhere you can see them every day so you never forget that you wanted this badly enough to commit it to writing. Writing down your goals helps to turn a dream into a plan. It’s pretty much the tip that helped me start taking writing seriously.

  1. As a writer who/what is your inspiration (animal, vegetable or mineral ☺)? 

Beauty. Beauty in anything – nature, music, art, architecture. Surrounding myself with beauty in all forms is what inspires me to create, to take all that beauty and try and make something magical out of it. That’s why I listen to epic instrumental music when thinking about my writing. It’s why I enjoy long walks in the most beautiful parks in Prague. I inhale beauty and hope to absorb some of it for later use in my writing.

  1. What was one of the hardest scenes for you to write?

I’m best at writing violent things, like fight scenes and torture, or just people being miserable. For the story I’m working on now, the MC spends a lot of time figuring out clues and working on solving a mystery. I’m not very good at that, at figuring out exactly which clues to reveal at exactly the right time. It’s why I could never really write crime and detective novels like Beth Green writes so brilliantly. I love to read them, but those details and clues… I’m better with the big stuff, less so with the fine print.

  1. What do you think helps you to become a better writer?

Setting clear goals and working my ass off to reach them. Not just big goals like “finish this novel and self-publish it”, but goals that aren’t so far away. Milestones. When I’m drafting, my goal is to write 30.000 words a month, approximately 1000 words per day, and when I’m plotting and outlining I also have a plan and try to spend at least 1-2 hours daily working on that plan. If I didn’t set these goals and have a clear, achievable plan, I would never write anything at all. I’m one of those people who think structure is a good thing, and I thrive on it.

  1. How do you think being someone else’s beta reader helps inform your own writing process? Or helps you become a better writer?

Being a beta-reader helped me better understand the research I’ve done into beta-reading, it helped me see which parts of that research I want to keep and which aren’t going to work for me. It’s also super motivating when you’re drafting, to read someone else’s nearly-finished work. It’s a reminder that not too long ago they were suffering the same way, but look! They got this amazing thing at the end!


Where to find Rain:

Website

Twitter

Q & A with Author, Erin Kettle

I met Erin at The Attic Institute in Portland. We took a novel writing class with Whitney Otto that connected us and kept us writing. I’m so glad we’ve kept in touch and now you get to learn a little more about her.

Erin Kettle is an author of women’s fiction. Her career is also in communications and EPatterson_Photopublic relations, most recently as a spokesperson for NIKE, Inc. As a result, Erin has written countless statements, manifestos, and press releases. Prior to her career in communications, she wrote for several publications as part of their editorial staff including The New Yorker, BRIDE’S Magazine and GQ.

Erin’s last two books were chosen to compete in a variety of unpublished fiction contests including Writer’s Voice on “Team Coffeehouse,” Query Kombat 2016, WriteClub 2016, PitchWars Setting Critique 2017, Query Kombat 2017 and Nightmare on Query Street 2017 and Nightmare on Query Street 2017.

When not writing or consulting, Erin enjoys spending time with family and friends and trying to catch her two young girls and two dogs, as they run circles around her.

What do you write?

Ever since I was little, whether watching a movie or reading a book, I was enthralled with how they would draw me into this fictional world. I wanted to find a way to write that could make people feel so deeply and would often find myself thinking of different types of story ideas. I remember writing my first short story in elementary school just for the heck of it in my spare time and wanted to create a whole book concept to go along with it. After college, I started writing editorials for magazines, moved into public relations and strategy work, but it wasn’t until I began writing novels that I realized how much if fed the soul.

Favorite book that you think is underrated?

I have to say that even though they are short stories, “The Body” (aka Stand By Me) and “Shawshank Redemption” are two of my favorites. Yes, they are both amazing movies as well, but if you read the book, the dialogue is literally verbatim. Stephen King is an amazing author, but the way he creates these characters that come off the page are outstanding in all of their faults and glory.

Favorite book from childhood?

There are so many from Shel Silverstein as the first shock and awe, to my first book love, “The Hunky-Dory Dairy” by Anne Lindbergh (1986) where a young girl stumbled upon a farm with people that somehow time traveled from the 1800s. I was fascinated.

Use three words to describe what keeps you writing and persevering?

Possibilities, dreams, survival

Where do you draw your inspiration to keep writing?

Inspiration is everywhere, and sometimes reality is crazier than fiction. Writing is a cross-pollination of ideas where you just keep pushing the narrative to see what could happen in a particular story. It’s exciting when it really starts coming together.

As a writer who/what is your muse (person, animal, vegetable or mineral)?

Sloth. Kidding! I just think they’re cute. I’d say I love snow leopards. I always loved their beauty as a child, and how stealth they were. That is until my mom told me they just wanted to eat me. At any rate, they’re unexpectedly interesting.

What was one of the hardest scenes for you to write?

To be honest, in my first coming of age book, it was the sex scene. I kept imaging my family and nieces/nephews reading it one day. I just had to let go of that idea and try to be true to the characters.

What do you think helps you to become a better writer?

Relentless learning. I just finished up a five-week class last night at the Attic in Portland, Oregon. It’s not easy to go to class 8-10 PM every week, especially when life is so busy, but it’s so important to get out of your head and just try something different. I’m always reading, usually three books at a time as well: fiction, non-fiction and some type of writing book. I’ve realized the thought process I have when working through these books is really introspective as well.

How do you think being someone else’s beta reader helps inform your own writing process? Or helps you become a better writer?

Thinking about writing structure and character development, among other things, as a beta reader really helps to build up that writing lens to also dissect your own work.


Connect with Erin here:
Website
Twitter
Facebook
Instagram


Check out previous Author Q & As:

Beth Green, Crime Fiction Author
Karen Hugg, novelist

Q and A with Aspiring Author, Karen Hugg

I love meeting new writers online and Karen is no exception. Last month I wrote about Beth Green, aspiring Crime fiction author.

Karen-HuggKaren Hugg is a writer and gardener living in the Seattle area. She is a certified ornamental horticulturalist and has an MFA from Goddard College. She’s been published in various anthologies, journals, and websites. She’s married to a very patient husband and has three kids, two dogs, and two cats. To learn more, check out her website at www.karenhugg.com.

What do you write? (genre etc)
Mainly, I write fiction. Last year I finished a literary thriller called The Forgetting Flower about a plant shop owner in Paris. This year, I wrote a New Adult novel about a young woman who can communicate with ghosts through plants. Occasionally, I write narrative nonfiction and short stories. I’m always writing for my blog, The Cultivated Life, at http://www.karenhugg.com.

Favorite book that you think is underrated?
This sounds weird but I think Les Miserables is underrated. A lot of people think it’s a boring literary book because it was written in the 1800s and is long but it’s actually a compelling thriller! Yes, Victor Hugo talks too much about politics but I encourage people to skim those parts and read the rest. It has nail-biting suspense and the most touching, sweet passages. Right now, as I think about Jean Valjean rescuing Cossette, I still get teary. He’s such a good father to her — and yet he’s hunted like an animal by the police.

Favorite book from childhood?
That’s easy. When I was ten, I read The Lord of the Rings during a summer and it blew me away. I wanted to live inside that fantastic world. It was so rich with mystery and beauty and darkness. The idea of Lothlorien, a city built among trees, was the coolest idea I’d ever heard of. At the time, I was in Chicago and Tolkien’s love of the natural world awoke my love for it too. It’s no wonder I later moved to the Pacific Northwest where we have giant trees!

Use three words to describe what keeps you writing and persevering?
Plants. Dreaming. Sharing.

Where do you draw your inspiration to keep writing?
From the natural world. I’m a professional gardener and I love plants. I want to bring the awe and wonder of plants into people’s lives. From a more practical standpoint, I draw inspiration to keep writing from husband, who truly believes I have talent, and friend-writers, who are also struggling to share their truths. I admire established writers too, especially the ones whose road to success took many years of perseverance.

Do you have any tricks/tips for aspiring authors you’d like to share?
I would encourage writers to write short pieces as well as long, and then try to get those short pieces published. You have to try again and again but when you get a hit, that small “yes” makes you feel like a million bucks. It means there is another person out there who does care about what you’re saying and thinks it’s worth publishing. It may take awhile but it’s worth the effort. Plus, it helps you build a list of publications to show off to an agent or publisher.

As a writer who/what is your inspiration (animal, vegetable or mineral ☺)?
Again, it’s plants. Plants are amazingly delicate and yet incredibly tough. They’re fascinating. They have little lives of their own and care nothing about us. They make their own food and don’t need us at all. Yet we think we rule over them. It’s a crazy dynamic. Without them, humans would be eradicated as a group.

What was one of the hardest scenes for you to write?
I’d say generally the first scene of every novel is the hardest for me to write. I’m constantly wondering if I’ve backed up the tape in this character’s life far enough or come in too late into the scene, etc. I do begin the novel just before the inciting incident but how far before is always the question. There’s a lot of pressure on a novelist to land in the exact right place.

What do you think helps you to become a better writer?
Reading beyond my comfort zone. We all have favorite writers or genres we tend to read but when I read a book that is very unlike what I would choose, I find I’m always changed by it more. My brain has expanded into a new way of thinking. I put sentences together differently. I write insights I never would have before. For instance, I love reading 20th-Century, Eastern European writers like Bruno Schulz and George Konrad. They are wild and absurd and amazing. The language travels like a scribble on a paper, going where ever the author needs to go and the result is a trippy dream.

How do you think being someone else’s beta reader helps inform your own writing process? Or helps you become a better writer?
Being someone else’s beta reader temporarily turns you into an editor and that’s a good thing. It teaches you how to nurture someone else’s vision rather than you just rewriting the book as you would have. It also teaches you how to approach a work from a distance. It helps you become a better writer because you can take the weaknesses or strengths in another’s manuscript and apply those lessons to your own writing.


Reach out to Karen:

If you like this post check out my other Q and A with aspiring author, Beth Green.


Aspiring Writer Q and A Series, Edition I: Beth Green, Crime Fiction Author

I had the pleasure of interviewing Beth Green, freelance writer and aspiring novelist, for the first edition of the title of this post! I first met Beth through one of the Manuscript Wishlist (MSWL) holiday party Google Hangouts in 2016. Lot’s of great resources for aspiring authors there too. Anyway, we chatted and offered to help each other with beta reading. It was so great to have feedback from her and to get to know her over the past year or so. Thank you to MSWL for having such fun online events. Okay, onto the actual Q and A. First, let’s learn a little more about Beth…

Beth

Beth Green grew up on a sailboat but these days is most often found ashore—currently in Prague, Czech Republic. Beth is a former reporter, English teacher and travel blogger; she is now a full-time freelance writer. When not writing for clients or plotting international crimes to take place in her fiction, Beth enjoys reading, scuba diving, and the art of slow travel.


What do you write? (genre etc)

I write crime fiction because I am fascinated by the darker side of the human psyche and I love both reading and writing stories where the world is torn apart and then set to rights.

Favorite book that you think is underrated?

Ooh, tough question! I am not always sure how the books I read are viewed—I am pretty much an opportunist when it comes to reading, so I don’t always check out reviews before I dive into the book. That said, I know that I love the fantasy and dystopian books by fellow Prague expat author Sonya Lano and that she doesn’t have the readership she deserves. Her book The Ever Spirits is dark and beautiful and immersive and her ongoing Heiress series (Heiress of Healing, Heiress of Magic) is captivating!

Favorite book from childhood?

Oh, so many! I am an only child who was homeschooled on a boat (that’s another long story…) and I read ALL. THE. TIME. A few children’s titles that I read and re-read were classics: The Princess and the Goblin, the Narnia books, Harriet the Spy. I also read a lot of adult fiction even when I was a kid (a lot of it went over my head, I’m sure!) with favorites that I still re-read regularly: The Valley of Horses by Jean M. Auel (hence my current pre-historical projects!), The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy, Jurassic Park. I also went through a phase at 10 or 11 when I scared myself silly reading Dean Koontz and Stephen King late at night.

Use three words to describe what keeps you writing and persevering?

The story wants to be told. (That’s not 3 words, sorry. I’m not good at word limits…)

Where do you draw your inspiration to keep writing?

From travel and meeting people and questioning everything.

Do you have any tricks/tips for aspiring authors you’d like to share?

Try new things! I switch up what I do and how I do it all the time. Some stuff works, other stuff doesn’t, but trying new stuff always helps me—whether I’m looking for motivation or inspiration or to level up on craft.

As a writer who/what is your muse/familiar?

If I were a witch I’d 100% choose a jaguar as a familiar. But the Pottermore test told me my Patronus is an orangutan or something else ridiculous, so IDK. How well do we really know ourselves?

What was one of the hardest scenes for you to write?

Generally, for me, it seems that if a scene is difficult in the first draft, I have missed the mark somewhere—in my plotting, in my assessment of the character motives. Usually, it’s a sign that I need to go back into the planning phase and rejig it until I can get in the zone and make it just flow. In my current project (a thriller set in Europe), I am stuck on the transition between the second and third acts for one of the POV characters. I’ve tried to write it about ten times and keep coming up on a wall. I have been avoiding getting back to the outline phase and ripping stuff up, but I know I will have to do it before I can move on!

What do you think helps you to become a better writer?

Reading. Reading lots. Getting over the fear of having other people read your work and owning your style, including its flaws.

How do you think being someone else’s beta reader helps inform your own writing process? Or helps you become a better writer?

Being someone’s beta reader is so helpful! (Like yours, Christi!) It’s helpful on several levels. First, on a craft level, it’s important to train yourself to look for the things that a reader responds to in a work in progress and to ask yourself, “Why?” Why did the author choose to do this? Why does it work or not work? Why does it seem out of place or unpolished or effortless or deft? Why does it produce an emotional response? You can do this of course with a published book too, but when you’re in the beta process you’re at a place where you might be able to get a dialogue going with the writer. Then, on a more emotional level, it helps build up the expectation of criticism. Getting feedback on something you’ve written and poured so much of yourself into can be distressing. Putting myself in another writer’s shoes, trying to couch feedback so it’s helpful but not devastating, helps me put the feedback I get on my own work in perspective. Plus, it’s just so cool to see books that are on their way to the world!

Thank you, Beth, for sharing your insights!


Sign up for Beth’s monthly newsletterand get a free short story about an assassin. And Patreon patrons get monthly short stories, travel tales, and more!

You can also connect with her on Twitter @bethverde, Facebook.com/bethgreenwritesor Instagram @bethtravel.

Interview with Rebecca Kelley, author of Broken Homes & Gardens

I first met Rebecca in an advanced fiction workshop at Portland State University in the Spring of 2002. I’ll never forget one of the scenes in a short story she had written. A woman is cutting up a cucumber for a salad that she is going to share with her boyfriend. She alternates between thick and thin slices, so she cuts up the cucumber in “thick, thin, thick, thin” slices. The details you put into that scene created an authentic story for me and I feel like that is translated through your current work. – Christi R. Suzanne

I interview Rebecca Kelley about her new book, Broken Homes & Gardens. Read the interview