Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Author Insides: Thomas Lopinski, author of THE ART OF RAISING HELL

Interview with Thomas Lopinski


Thomas Lopinski grew up in a quaint small town in Illinois called Georgetown with one stoplight, one high school, one square, one lake, one police car, and one hundred ways to get into trouble. It was a wonderful place to be a child. He studied at the University of Illinois and later moved to Southern California with his wife and children to work in the music business. He is also a member of the Independent Writers of Southern California (IWOSC). His first novel, Document 512, won several awards and recognition in 2012-2013 from Readers View Reviewers Choice Awards, Best Indie Book Awards, IndieFab Awards and the National Indie Excellence Book Awards.

His edgy young adult novel, The Art of Raising Hell, was released on April 28, 2015, by Dark Alley Press, an imprint of Vagabondage Press.

Thomas, what was your inspiration for The Art of Raising Hell?

I’ve always wanted to write a book about some of my best friends growing up but wasn’t quite sure how to approach it. I couldn’t write the truth because that would get everybody into trouble so I just put the idea to the side and forgot about it for several years. I also wanted to write about a few guys in my hometown who were real hell raisers that showed no fear and were feared by many. Then in the middle of the night last summer, I woke up with the opening line rolling off my tongue. I picked up the laptop and didn’t stop writing for about six weeks. That became the basis for the novel. As I was writing, other subjects like bullying, the environment, racism, and the absurd conditions we find ourselves in started creeping into the pages inspiring me to take the book to a whole other level.

What is the “art” of raising hell?

It’s more a frame of mind than anything. Anyone can howl at the moon, knock over a few trashcans and get into trouble. It takes skill to learn how to raise hell at just the right time, with just the right amount of moxie, and get away with it.

Is there any of yourself or your childhood friends in your characters? If so, how?

There were four of us in a backroom growing up. I remember sitting in the back of an old MG drinking beer at 4:00 in the morning saying, “We should write a book about all this.” Of course, when I finally got around to it, I couldn’t remember half the stories and the ones I did remember weren’t that fantastic. So, I took pieces of this story, traits of that person, made up the rest and molded it all into Bunsen Creek.

I also pulled inspiration from several residents in town that I didn’t know very well but knew about their reputations. You’d think growing up in a small town that there wouldn’t be a lot to draw from but that wasn’t the case. There were so many eccentric personalities running around my hometown that we’d classify as abnormal or psychotic today. When we were kids though, we just thought people were supposed to act like that. In the bigger cities, they’re the folks you see living on the streets or hiding behind a fenced in yard. In a small town, they’re somebody’s crazy uncle.

Did you raise hell as a teenager? If so, give us a good story of one instance.

I think the statutes of limitations haven’t run out yet so...no comment. All I will say is that many of the stories in the book are based on personal experiences.

Running on all four is a theme throughout your book. How does that theme play into your everyday life?

To me, the metaphor reminds me to take chances. We all walk around on two feet and lead fairly normal lives. When you’re running on all four, you’re taking a golden opportunity and acting upon it before it’s too late. Moving to California was a big one for me. It was scary and I still miss the family and friends I left behind. But in the end, it was the right move.

Your characters go through a lot of loss. Is that something you experienced at a young age? Why was it important to your characters to experience these losses?

I didn’t really lose anyone close growing up. That’s always one of the dangers of writing in first person. I’m sure readers will want to know what it was like growing up without a mother, but in reality, my parents both lived long fruitful lives. In college, there was a guy who always used to say “To your mother” before drinking a shot. I took that memory and built it into the storyline. People just started dying after that.

Later on in life, I did lose two of my closest friends though. They both died sudden deaths within a few years of each other. One had a brain aneurism and the other died in a freak scuba accident. Those experiences taught me that I should never take anything or anyone for granted. I think writing about loss in the book did help me heal those wounds.

What was the most challenging part of writing The Art of Raising Hell?

Keeping it short. I could have written twice as many pages easily but didn’t think it was warranted. I want people to read my book and walk away with a smile, not fall asleep.

What scene did you enjoy writing the most?

That would have to be the streaking incident. I can still remember the night it happened and how festive the whole town was throughout the evening. Of course, it didn’t quite happen the way I described it in the book but, just like any good story over time, it took on a life of its own.

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer? 

I used to play in rock bands and write very silly songs when I was younger. I was never that good at it, but boy, did I have fun. Then a group of my friends asked me to join their writers group. While most of them were struggling to finish their books and losing interest, I was already working on a second novel. That’s when I realized my calling.

Why do you write? 

That’s such a hard question to answer. Why do people sing or wear tattoos? It’s just who I am, I guess. Let me see if I can explain this a little better. If I didn’t write, my head would explode. How’s that?

Is being an author anything like you imagined it would be? 

…and then some. I’ve spent my whole life around musicians, singers, writers and artists. I’ve seen the good that comes from people getting together and spontaneously creating a wonderful song out of thin air. I’ve also seen the pitfalls too where the most talented person you’ve ever met ends up in the gutter and dies of alcohol poisoning. Writers have to be thick skinned in order to survive. That’s hard to do when you’re sharing something you’ve created from your heart and soul with the rest of the world. I knew all of that going in, so there were no visions of grandeur in my mind. That allowed me to just enjoy writing, which has made this experience so much more satisfying than I ever imagined.

What do you think makes a good story? 

Any plot that takes people to places they’ve never been and makes them feel sensations they didn’t know they had is a good story. But, if you can wrap it all up nicely in the end and leave them still thinking about it days later, you’ve written a great story.

What's your favorite genre to read? 

Like most things in life, I’m all over the place. I’ll read anything if it’s entertaining and interesting.

Who is your favorite author or poet? 

When I was young, it was Kurt Vonnegut Jr., then it was Stephen King, then J.K. Rowling and John Grisham…then Stephen King again.

What books or stories have most influenced you the most as a writer? 

I loved Stephen King’s “Dark Tower” series. “Slaughterhouse Five”, “One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest” and “The Great Gatsby” have always been favorites too.

What books or stories have most influenced you as a person? 

There are too many to list. I think the first one was “Siddhartha”. I remember walking around in school starving myself and giving away my baseball cards to people while reading it. It was the first book that I’d read where I actually became so engulfed into the main character that I physically started acting like him.

Where/how do you find the most inspiration? 

In the most unlikely place: my hot tub. I know it sounds so “L.A.” but I’ve solved the world’s problems many times over and all of my storyline problems by just sitting in hot water and looking at the stars.

What does your family think of your writing? 

Everybody’s been supportive. Most of my girls read my books and add constructive criticism. When I first started writing, my wife was a bit worried when she found out how much it would cost to self-publish a book the ‘right way’. She cautiously reminded me that we had three girls going to college soon and would need every dollar. Then after she read my first novel, she looked at me and said, “Keep writing.” Of course, maybe she just said that so I’d stay busy and not bother her as much too, who knows.

What is your work schedule like when you're writing? 

There isn’t a day that goes by where I’m not writing or at least thinking about what I’ve written. I don’t sit down with a timer or a schedule in mind. With a family, that’s nearly impossible to do. I write whenever I can find the time. If my wife sets a bag of trash down next to me, then I know it’s time to stop writing.

Do you have any writing quirks or rituals? 

I like to write outdoors in my back yard. There’s something about the trees, birds, water, wind, spider webs, the warmth of the sunshine, the neighbor’s chainsaw noises, motorcycles racing down the block that gives me inspiration. That is the great thing about living in California. I also don’t read other books while writing because I’m afraid they might influence me is some way.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing? 

Trying to find a niche or genre to stay in. I like writing different styles about different subjects. From what other writers tell me, that’s not the formula you need to be successful but, hey, it keeps me running on all four.

What are your current projects? 

I’m working on the follow up book to my first published novel, “Document 512”. My mind is back in the Amazon jungle racing through the ancient ruins of Peru.

What are you planning for future projects? 

I envisioned three books in the “Document 512” series so I need to finish that. There could even be a follow up to “The Art of Raising Hell”, maybe the college years. I have some other ideas about alternate universes, soul searchers, raising triplets, and adult diapers that could wind up becoming storylines too.

Do you have any advice for other writers? 

The best thing I’ve ever done was finding a person who reads everything I’ve written and doesn’t hesitate to tell me how good or bad it is. Without him, I’d never finish anything. Also, make sure the person you find is smarter than you are because you’ll want to bounce your crazy ideas off them with the hope that they’ll come back with something even wackier. Every bit of input or feedback makes you a better writer.

Where else can we find your work? 

I’ve never had the desire to become a journalist or work in the industry. Again, probably not the best career move, but I don’t know if I could write novels if I spent my whole day writing for someone else. You can find little stories and tidbits on my blog https://thomaslopinski.wordpress.com/ and website www.ThomasLopinski.com. You also might be able to catch a nasty letter to the editor in the local newspaper every once in a while.

In The Art of Raising Hell, Thomas Lopinski takes the readers along on a journey as four boys grow into young adults and all the trials and tribulations that entails when living in a small town, where minor disruptions linger on the rumor mill for years. Friendships, adolescent love, and loyalties are put to the test as these teenagers face challenges that force them to decide what will define them and what will break them. 

Both entertaining and at times heartbreaking, Raising Hell reminds us all how our teenage years can shape us and how important it is to have true friends to see you through it. 

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Author Insides: Tamela Ritter, author of FROM THESE ASHES


Interview with Tamela Ritter

Tamela’s truck driving father taught her the value of stories, travel and adventure. Her housewife mother taught her the value of daydreaming, family and escapism. Though she was raised in Spokane Washington, it wasn’t until she moved to Missoula Montana that she felt she was “home.” She currently lives in Virginia, but still dreams of the Big Sky.

Her debut novel, From These Ashes, was released in March 2013 to numerous 5-star reviews. We wanted to take a peak into her inspiration and her writing process.

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer? 

I remember the exact moment. I was 10 years old and my teacher, Mr. Knowles, gave us inanimate objects and we were told to write their life story. I received a beat up A&W Root Beer can. I remember how excited I was to create this story for the object, how I imagined a long and torturous life for this misused can. I did research on the recycling process and created transformation and rebirth, only to be separated by his pack family. It was pretty epic.  I remember taking my story to school and being horrified and terribly embarrassed when I saw that everyone else’s stories were a page or two long; mine was 10 pages. But, that fear of fourth grade public humiliation was short lived because what I remember most was the awe of my teacher and the praise bestowed on me by the school. I won my first award that year. In fact, in my entire school career from then to college, the only awards I ever won were for my writing. I was hooked.

Why do you write? 

Haha, if it’s true that there are only a handful of original ideas out there, I’d say there are even less so original reasons why anyone writes. Mine is just as clich├ęd as everyone else’s. I’ve never NOT written; I can’t imagine I’d be very good at it.

What was the inspiration for From These Ashes?

I wanted to tell stories about my brother. I remember talking to my sister who is three years younger than me and I was telling stories about him—he died when I was 10, she was 7—she told me that she feels horrible that she doesn’t remember much about him. That broke my heart. I feel like he’s been such a motivational force in my life and I wanted her to know a bit about what I remembered. Of course it turned into something completely different, but that was the inspiration.

How has your own heritage played into this story?

I didn’t set out to write about American Indians. Like so much of this story, I just arrived at it organically, and discovered I couldn’t tell it any other way. I honestly know very little of my own heritage, my being Cherokee. My mother came from a very troubled and dark background and I believe she blamed a lot of that on her heritage and so walked away from it. We never got to spend too much of our time with her family, but the time I did spend with my grandmother I remember two things distinctly: she was extremely proud of being Cherokee and she loved my brother Tim the best. I somehow had it in my head that these two things were linked. My brother looked way more Indian, was way more curious about his heritage then any of the rest of us.

Sadly, since I’m unfamiliar with most things having to do with Cherokee, but am really well educated in, and have been surrounded by Spokane, Kootenai, Coeur d'Alene and Flathead my whole life, I have committed a horrible sin. I have assimilated my characters into a tribe not their own. Since this whole book is about them trying to find a place to belong, and not feeling they ever really knew who they were in relation with the heritage, it seems rather appropriate. Besides, this story needed to be told in the West of my childhood, of my earliest memories and the home I turned to in Montana when I myself went looking for a family, a place to belong.
 
Do you see any of yourself in your characters and their hopes and dreams and struggles?

Yes. So very much. Though we didn’t live on a reservation, we did live in extreme poverty and the struggle to survive, the hope for a place to belong and the dream that somewhere out there is a family that will accept you for what you are and see all your strengths and all that you can offer and welcome you. Those are all themes I’m familiar with.

You put your character through a very traumatic incident – something that happened to you personally. Care to talk about what it was like to write that scene.

Yikes. Which one? I stole a lot of painful memories from my own life for this story. When I was 10 my brother was run over by an 18 wheeler on his way home from school. For years after I had nightmares where I was there that day, standing beside him, watching and not able to do anything. Later, I tried to see it from everyone involved’s POV, including the man who was driving the truck; a man I know nothing about but had to imagine experienced something just as life-altering. For me, the rest of the novel exists as a way to tell that story.

What do you think makes a good story? 

Characters.

What's your favorite genre to read? 

Literary fiction is my go-to. I also really enjoy and am amazed by Young Adult.

Who is your favorite author or poet? 

Steinbeck and Whitman: two men who had distinct views on America—the good and the bad and articulated them masterfully.

What books or stories have most influenced you as a writer? 

Sherman Alexie’s “The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven.” I read it for the first time in college. One of the stories was given as an assignment—I can’t remember which one—and I remember this overwhelming sense of optimism that someone could exist and be heralded as a voice of a generation who came from where I did, and wrote about characters who were flawed in stereotypical and not so stereotypical ways like I did. That you could be funny and also heartbreakingly honest, like I desperately wanted to be.

What books or stories have most influenced you as a person? 

S.E. Hinton’s “The Outsiders.” Without that book I don’t think I’d have dreamed of being an author from the age of 12. I mean, at 10 I knew I wanted to write, at 12 I wanted to write honest to goodness books! I’m certain that “From These Ashes” wouldn’t have been written if I hadn’t had “The Outsiders” in my life first.

From the very beginning, walking out of the movie theater (yes, I saw the movie first—best adaptation EVER!), I couldn’t get the comparison of my brother and a lot of those characters—mostly Johnny Cade—out of my head. I remember just weeping the entire ride home and it’s really the first time I remember mourning my brother’s death.

It’s almost embarrassing now how very obsessed with that book I was and for how long. At one time I had the first two pages memorized and to this day can recite the first paragraph. I walked around barefoot for six months because Sodapop Curtis did, I read Frost because Ponyboy did and I started smoking because…wait, nevermind.

Where/how do you find the most inspiration? 

Just everywhere. There are different sorts of inspiration that I seek out and they occur at very different places. For ideas and character-study inspiration, nothing beats book stores, bars, malls and amusement parks. To write, or to become inspired to write, I like to be outside—at the beach, lake, river, or in the mountains.

What does your family think of your writing? 

My family is extremely proud of any accomplishment I achieve and I truly think they like my stories.

What is your work schedule like when you're writing? 

Schedule? What’s that? These days I grab any free moment I can to write but I am constantly—no matter what I’m doing—creating, plotting, thinking of my characters and where they are in the story and where they need to go.

Do you have any writing quirks or rituals? 

None that I’m proud of and absolutely none I’d condone others to emulate.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing? 

Um… all of it? No, seriously, I usually have no problem coming up with stories, finding characters that have worthwhile things to say as they travel through tremendously painful traumas on their way to self-actualization. I know how blessed I am to have that come so easily, and yet, I am constantly feeling I let down that gift when it comes to actually sitting down to put the words on the page. So, for me, I guess the most challenging thing is mustering the concentration it takes to get the story from my mind to the page before I lose it.

What are your current projects? 

I just went through every computer I’ve ever owned and pulled out all the things I’ve started and never finished. In there were at least 10 short stories I still think might have value and 4 novels in varied levels of undone. My current project is going through all of these files and sorting what needs to be banished to hard-drive hell to burn for an eternity and what needs to be dusted off, spruced up and finished.

What are you planning for future projects?

Ahhhh, so many future projects, so very little planned. I get stifled when I think too far in the future.

Do you have any advice for other writers? 

Read everything. Don’t be afraid to suck. Don’t be afraid that you won’t find your own voice. You will. Until then? Fake it ‘til you make it.

Where else can we find your work? 

I have a few short stories online, there are a few obscure literary journals floating around with my work included. Or, if you’d like to help a worthy cause, there’s the anthology “Ripple Effect” that I’m still extremely proud of and whose proceeds still go to New Orleans Public Libraries.

Anything else you’d like to add?

I always feel the need to be witty when asked this question—or whip out pictures of my pets. Honestly though? I got nothing.

From These Ashes is available in paperback from Powells, Amazon, and B&N, and is also available for Kindle, Nook, and other eReaders.

From These Ashes chronicles the journey of two siblings looking for “home,” while searching for themselves, each other, their heritage and their destiny.

In a center for cult recovery in Phoenix, Arizona, 16-year-old Native American Naomi West refuses to talk; instead she writes — about her life, about her brother, about the prophecy, and about the fire that nearly destroyed it all. 

Meanwhile, her half-white brother, Tim West, awakes alone in a forest without memories of his past, only an unconscious urge to head west. It is on a Cascade mountaintop where he once again gets too close to a fire, and what starts as a horrifying nightmare wakens him to the truth of his past and a devastating choice that cost him everything.