Authors & Inspirations: Sandi Van

Today on the blog I’m thrilled to have my friend and fellow Buffalonian, Sandi Van! Her debut YA verse novel, Second in Command, was released last month from West 44 Books. A brief synopsis of the book is below. Welcome, Sandi!

Sixteen-year-old Leo dreams of becoming an Eagle Scout and, someday, a police officer. He makes sure to always do the right thing and be responsible. With his mom deployed and his dad constantly working, Leo is often left in charge of his two younger siblings. Then Leo’s brother, Jack, gets caught up in a dangerous plot that rocks the community. Can Leo keep his promise to stand by his brother no matter what, or will he stand on the side of justice?

 

Do you listen to music while you write? Why or why not?

Yes, I usually listen to music while I write, especially if I’m someplace noisy like a coffee shop or indoor soccer center. It helps me focus. It can also be great if I’m trying to create a certain mood, like if I have to write a heartbreaking scene I’ll loop a really sad song on repeat.

If you do listen to music while writing, share a few songs on your current writing playlist:

Normally I’ll chose a particular artist or genre to stream depending on my mood or the mood of the story. If there’s no wifi available, I’m stuck playing whatever is saved on my laptop, which is mostly techno and electronica songs. I love the beat and energy. Two of my favorites are My Way by Calvin Harris and The Greatest by Sia. I did create a playlist for Second in Command: https://open.spotify.com/user/jcix7v3qr7zd8dhc856jummqb/playlist/2b92iRMAar9paHXFwBAlxx?si=ax1FNX6MR0WYMf7g1gHNSw

What band is on your bucket list to see live?

James. I regret not seeing them live when they were big in the US. They only tour in the UK now it seems, although I did see a date in Greece this summer. That would be a fun trip. I watch their concerts on YouTube sometimes, and Tim Booth is an amazing performer. Unfortunately, my husband hates live music, so we don’t go to many shows. I’m going to Mumford and Sons with some friends in March though, and I’m really excited about that.

What TV shows are you loving lately?

I’m a sucker for This is Us. The writing is beautiful and I have yet to make it through an episode without crying. I also loved Sex Education on Netflix. So smart and funny.

What are your all-time favorite movies?

Real Genius. The Goonies. The Princess Bride. Better off Dead. Everything by John Hughes. Basically, I love 80’s movies.

You can go on a two-week, all-expenses paid writing retreat to the location of your choice. Where would you go, and why?

I used to live on the west coast and we took a road trip down to Oregon and hiked some of the waterfalls off the Columbia River. It was incredibly beautiful and inspiring. I’d love to rent a cabin out there somewhere with a view of a waterfall out my window. Get up in the morning, go for a hike, then come back and write.

What’s your favorite book you’ve read recently?

My son and I read Pax by Sara Pennypacker. It tore me apart; it was so beautiful and sad. I love books like that. My son adored it as well – he’s listened to the audiobook more times than I can count.

What are your very favorite kinds of scenes to write?

Oh, the heart wrenchingly sad ones. They are not easy to write, but I tend to lose myself in them completely and really feel connected to my characters after we’ve gone through a difficult moment together. They are emotionally draining but also very therapeutic.

When you need to recharge your batteries/refill the well as a writer, what forms of media do you most often turn to?

Books. The language of a well written story will often kick start my creative flow. If I’m stuck in a rut, getting into nature or performing menial tasks (like painting a room or cleaning windows) will often help as well.

If you could have a drink/cup of coffee/beverage of choice with any three people alive in the world right now, who would you pick?

First I want to say that if it was someone no longer alive it would be Shirley Jackson. Because she wrote some crazy stuff and I’d love to have been able to pick her brain. Margaret Atwood for sure, and Emma Watson. They are both amazing, smart, trail blazing women and I am totally in love with listening to them talk.

Let us know what’s coming up next for you: new books, new projects; what are you working on?

I’ve been going back and forth between two stories lately. One is an adult novel about a young woman who gets stuck in a snow storm and her experience on the road helps her deal with the guilt of her brother’s death. The other is a major revision to a previously finished novel; that one is YA and it’s about a girl whose father gets deployed during Desert Storm and she’s on a quest to find her mother. I recently had an idea for some changes and am excited to try and weave those into the manuscript.

 

Sandi Van is a writer, counselor, and former special education teacher from Buffalo, NY. Her nonfiction piece, “Labor and Delivery” was featured in Adoptive Families Magazine and her poetry won recognition in the Elmira Star-Gazette and the PennWriters’ In Other Words contest. Sandi is also a proud Navy wife. Her debut verse novel, Second in Command, was inspired by and dedicated to military families facing deployment.

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Authors & Inspirations: Chanel Cleeton

Welcome to my first Authors & Inspirations post of 2019! To kick off the new year, I’m thrilled to have historical fiction author Chanel Cleeton. Chanel’s most recent novel, the USA Today bestselling Next Year in Havana, was Reese Witherspoon’s Book Club pick for July 2018. I was honored to have given a blurb to this stunning and powerful dual timeline novel, which follows the story of a Cuban woman whose wealthy family is forced to flee during the revolution, and her granddaughter who returns to Havana years later. Cleeton’s upcoming novel, When We Left Cuba (which I also loved!), continues the story of the Perez family in the aftermath of the revolution, and will be out on April 9, 2019. Welcome to the blog, Chanel!

 

Do you listen to music while you write? Why or why not?

Yes, music is a huge part of my writing process. I usually create playlists that fit the mood/tone of the book I’m working on and I tend to listen to those on repeat. I usually share my playlists on Spotify leading up to a book’s release. For example, when I was writing Next Year in Havana I listened to a lot of Buena Vista Social Club.

If you do listen to music while writing, share a few songs on your current writing playlist:

I just turned in a book to my editor and while I was working on it, I listened to Lord Huron’s The Night We Met, Falling Water by Peter Oren, If We Were Vampires by Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, River by Leon Bridges, and Back to Autumn by Tall Heights.

What was the last live concert you attended?

I was just in Miami a few weeks ago and I saw Marc Anthony in concert. My father had never seen him perform live and he really wanted to go so I tagged along.

What are your all-time favorite TV shows?

That’s a tough one! Gossip Girl, Corazón Salvaje (the original version), Seinfeld, Veronica Mars, Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, Stranger Things, Jane the Virgin, Sex and the City, One Day at a Time, The Nanny, Frasier, Sons of Anarchy, and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart are some of my favorites.

What TV shows are you loving lately?

I’ve really enjoyed Glow, Jane the Virgin, One Day at a Time, Stranger Things, Peaky Blinders, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, Making a Murderer, and Younger. I also really loved the sadly now cancelled Good Girls Revolt which was amazing! I also watch all of the Real Housewives franchises.

Do you ever draw on visual art in your work?

Photography is really helpful to me and I spend a lot of time looking at photos of the places and from the time periods I’m writing about.

Has a place you’ve traveled ever inspired you in your writing?

Definitely! I draw a lot from my real-life experiences. For example, I have a series set in London at an international university that was inspired by my own time at university.

You can go on a two-week, all-expenses paid writing retreat to the location of your choice. Where would you go, and why?

I’d probably go to Koh Samui, Thailand. I spent a week there a few years ago and it was one of the most beautiful and relaxing places I’ve ever been.

What authors have most inspired you in your own work?

There are so many. Some of my favorites include Carlos Eire, Beatriz Williams, Tana French, Rhys Bowen, Judith McNaught, Nora Roberts, Ahdaf Soueif, Elizabeth Kostova, Anita Shreve, Sophie Kinsella, and Jane Austen.

What was the last book you read?

I just finished China Rich Girlfriend by Kevin Kwan and dove immediately into the last book in the trilogy, Rich People Problems. They’re the ultimate binge books and my favorite series I’ve read this year.

What are your very favorite kinds of scenes to write?

I enjoy writing scenes that are high-emotion where I really learn what my characters are made of. They’re often a bit draining to work on, but I find that when I pull back the layers on my characters I connect to them the most.

When you need to recharge your batteries/refill the well as a writer, what forms of media do you most often turn to?

I watch a fair amount of television, and looking at storytelling from a slightly different perspective both refills the well and often inspires me. I also read nightly and it recharges me and gets me in the mood to write.

What artistic/creative talents do you have outside of writing?

I’m not sure how talented I am, but I really enjoy interior decorating which has been sort of a surprising development in the past few years. I’ve also always been drawn to fashion. Handbags are my weakness 🙂

Let us know what’s coming up next for you: new books, new projects; what are you working on?

My next release is When We Left Cuba, which will release on April 9, 2019. It’s set in Palm Beach in the 1960s and highlights the tumultuous Cuban-American relations of the time period including events like the Bay of Pigs, Cuban Missile Crisis, Kennedy assassination, and the many assassination attempts on Fidel Castro’s life.

I just finished drafting my 2020 release, tentatively titled Our Side of Paradise, which is set in the Florida Keys in the 1930s and is centered on the lives of three heroines (one of the heroines is related to the Perez family from Next Year in Havana and When We Left Cuba) whose paths cross on one fateful weekend in September.

I’m currently researching a book that I will begin drafting soon which will release in 2021. The working title is The Most Beautiful Girl in Cuba and it’s set during the Gilded Age and the New York newspaper wars between Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst, and features a real-life Cuban heroine who was an infamous revolutionary in her time.

 

Chanel Cleeton is the USA Today bestselling author of Reese Witherspoon Book Club pick Next Year in Havana. Originally from Florida, Chanel grew up on stories of her family’s exodus from Cuba following the events of the Cuban Revolution. Her passion for politics and history continued during her years spent studying in England where she earned a bachelor’s degree in International Relations from Richmond, The American International University in London and a master’s degree in Global Politics from the London School of Economics & Political Science. Chanel also received her Juris Doctor from the University of South Carolina School of Law. She loves to travel and has lived in the Caribbean, Europe, and Asia.

Authors & Inspirations: Meghan Masterson

Today I have historical fiction author Meghan Masterson on the blog for an Authors & Inspirations interview! Meghan and I met at the Historical Novel Society conference last summer in Portland, and have kept in touch since. Her debut novel, The Wardrobe Mistress, is a fascinating, insightful, and well-researched look at the French Revolution through the eyes of one of Marie Antoinette’s wardrobe ladies. I personally couldn’t put it down! Welcome to the blog, Meghan!

 

Do you listen to music while you write? Why or why not?

I do! I often listen to albums, so it always feels very opportune when one of my favourite artists comes out with a new one while I’m working on a new book. I do make playlists sometimes, and once I listened to the same song on repeat (I don’t even want to think how many times) because it fit the mood of the scene I was writing perfectly. In the interest of full disclosure, it was ‘Navigate’ by Band of Skulls and I was writing a tragic execution scene.

If you do listen to music while writing, share a few songs on your current writing playlist:

Hysteria, Supermassive Black Hole, Citizen Erased by Muse (I’ll stop there but I often put a lot of Muse on a playlist for writing)

New Ways, Flaws, and Witches all by Daughter

Madman Across the Water by Elton John

Fast Fuse by Kasabian (actually most of that album usually ends up on the playlist)

On a Slow Night by Metric

The whole Art of Doubt album by Metric also

Lies and Hell of a Season by The Black Keys

Three Wishes by The Pierces

You Belong to Me by Cat Pierce

Wanna Wanna by Dear Rouge

Dark Side of Night by Foxboro Hottubs

9 Crimes by Damien Rice (the demo version)

Smoke and Mirrors by Imagine Dragons (I initially listed the song, but I like the whole album too)

Glory and Gore by Lorde

What was the last live concert you attended?

The Black Keys. It was a few years ago. For some reason I don’t go to a lot of concerts even though I always enjoy them when I do! I need to plan better.

Your favorite band is going to write a song based on one of your books. What band is it, and what should the song be about?

I’m twisting this question around a bit, but I actually have a new book idea (very new, fragile still) that sparked from ‘Seven Rules’ by Metric. So, that.

You are magically going to be granted the ability to be a virtuoso on one instrument. Which do you pick?

Guitar. My dad is a luthier, and he gave me a guitar when I was about nine. I often regret that I didn’t play consistently (I tended to get into it for a few months, and then drop it for a year, then repeat) because if I had stuck with it, I’d probably be decent by now.

What TV shows are you loving lately?

I am eagerly awaiting season two of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and also Disenchantment.

Is there a TV show that’s had an impact on you as a writer?

I think Justified inspired me a little on my last book, which I just finished writing. Completely different settings and time periods, but I really wanted to explore complex characters with intricate relationships and weird obligations to each other. I wanted my characters to be sympathetic and understandable, but still sometimes do bad things.

If Netflix were to option one of your books for a TV series, which book would you choose, and who would play your main characters?

I feel like I’m supposed to say The Wardrobe Mistress since it’s my only published book at the moment, but I think the one I just finished writing would be amazing as a mini-series. It’s a dual narrative that takes place in the present as well as 1856-7, partly set in America, partly in Paris and Turin. It’s a tale of secrets, poison, and Nazi art-looting and I’d love to see all the costumes, settings, poisonous plants, and art on the screen. However, the costumes and sets would also be amazing for The Wardrobe Mistress, and I once shared some casting thoughts over on my agent’s blog, which is kind of funny now because I’m not sure I agree with these choices anymore. Good thing I’m not a casting person.

Do you ever draw on visual art in your work?

La Castiglione, an Italian countess and mistress to Emperor Napoleon III, is a central character in the book I just finished writing, and she was obsessed with photography. I pored over photographs of her, musing about her decisions for different poses and costumes – sometimes she dressed up as historical or literary figures – while I was writing. Obviously photography is a more advanced and accessible now, but there’s something magical about those old photographs from the 1850s – they’re a snap of a moment in time, but also took so much effort to get! So different from now when we can all take impromptu photos on our phones.

You can go on a two-week, all-expenses paid writing retreat to the location of your choice. Where would you go, and why?

Honestly, I should probably stay home and get someone to take care of all the cooking and cleaning for two weeks because I thoroughly explore every place I visit and I would spend those two weeks rambling around and not writing! Or else the writing retreat would have to be somewhere remote, where there’s not too much for me to see. Actually, now I want to say a writing retreat on the moors of Cornwall or something would be ideal, where I can walk all morning and then nap a bit in the afternoon and write into the night. Didn’t Agatha Christie do that once? I want to copy her now.

What authors have most inspired you in your own work?

Mary Stewart has been a huge influence, both her Merlin trilogy (I used to write more fantasy type stuff, then shifted to historical, and now I can feel a longing for some magic coming back around) and her romantic suspense novels. I’ve learned a lot about action in fiction from Bernard Cornwell’s books – those battle scenes! I dream of someday mastering an endless build of tension like Daphne du Maurier, or creating a perfectly immersive historical world like Sharon Kay Penman. A lot of historical authors have been profound influences because I read that genre so avidly, and I feel really lucky that I’ve been able to meet a few of them at conferences, like Kate Quinn, Kate Forsyth, Stephanie Dray, and of course you, Alyssa!

What’s your favorite book you’ve read recently?

A Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy by Mackenzie Lee. I actually listened to the audiobook (still counts as reading, right?) on a road trip and it was the first time I didn’t want to get out of the car by the end, because I was enjoying it so much.

What’s a book you’ve loved that you feel more people should be talking about?

The Second Duchess by Elizabeth Loupas is a beautiful, sensitive historical mystery and I want everyone to read it.

What are your very favorite kinds of scenes to write?

Scenes where a secret is revealed, particularly if it occurs during a confrontation or otherwise intense meeting between two characters. Morbid as it sounds, I also quite enjoy writing death scenes…but on the other hand, I swoon over writing a sweet first kiss, too.

When you need to recharge your batteries/refill the well as a writer, what forms of media do you most often turn to?

The usuals of music and TV shows, but I also kind of love playing games and letting my mind just wander. I like board games and I’m usually down for Mario Kart. Non-media, but I also find painting quite soothing and I will often spend quite a few hours painting when I’m between books. Going back to that question about being a virtuoso on an instrument, I think I’d almost rather somehow become an amazing painter instead… Lastly, and also not media, yoga and hiking are ways I like to recharge, too.

What artistic/creative talents do you have outside of writing?

I mentioned painting – I’m not that good, though. It’s just fun. I like playing with colours. I don’t know if it’s artistic, but I enjoy cooking and baking, and I’ll lump that into creativity because I’m sort of notorious for going rogue with the recipes.

What artistic/creative talent do you wish you had?

Sometimes I wish I could sing. I’m too shy to sing in front of most people, thank goodness, because I’m always off key.

Let us know what’s coming up next for you: new books, new projects; what are you working on?

I mentioned that I just finished writing a dual timeline novel that takes place in the present as well as the 1800s – it’s tentatively called A Bitter Remedy. Now I’m getting started on a new WIP that I’m not ready to talk about too much yet (I’m always scared I’ll fall out of love with a new idea if I talk about it too much too soon) but I’m really excited about it because it’s a shift into some more fantastical elements. There are witches. I really like my main character’s voice – she’s quite cooperative and chatty so far. Okay, that’s all I will say for now.

 

Meghan Masterson graduated from the University of Calgary with an Honours Bachelor of Arts in Communications Studies, and has worked several unrelated jobs while writing on the side. Her debut novel, The Wardrobe Mistress, about one of Marie Antoinette’s wardrobe women who spies on the queen during the revolution, was an RT Book Reviews Top Pick and a 2017 RT Reviewers’ Choice Best Book Nominee. When she’s not writing, Meghan can be found reading at all hours (even at breakfast), cooking, and going for walks with her dog.

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