I am an eclectic author who writes in a variety of fiction and non-fiction genres: biography, contemporary, western, action, romance, fantasy and spiritual. I live in a small desert community in southeastern Arizona with my husband and an Airedale terrier. I also write under the pen name Amber Flame.
Please tell me about your book. Who or what was your inspiration behind it?
My book Marcia Gates: Angel of Bataan was inspired by my aunt and her experiences during World War II as an Army nurse and prisoner of war. I hadn’t intended to write this book at all. I’m a novelist by trade, having 9 novels to my credit, and writing non-fiction was the furthest thing from my mind. One Veteran’s Day I began thinking about my aunt and I remembered that the Wisconsin Historical Society had 2 scrapbooks that my grandmother had made up while my aunt was in the Army. I downloaded pdf files of the 2 scrapbooks and began to read through the letters and the news clippings and I realized this was a story that should not be gathering dust in a drawer but needed to be out in the world for people to read. My aunt and all her generation are gone, and I didn’t want her story to be lost. In our modern world of comfort and instant gratification, sometimes we need to be reminded of what true hardship is, and how brave and persevering souls deal with it.
What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author? What was the biggest compliment? Did those change how or what you did in your next novel?
Ages ago, when I was still sending out query letters and 10-pound manuscripts to publishers, I once received a manuscript back with a typical form letter, “… doesn’t meet our needs at the present time.” Tucked inside the manuscript was a sheet of paper with hand-written notes, obviously the notes of a reader tasked with evaluating my book. I don’t now remember exactly what was written, but at the time the comments were like knives right into the center of my heart. The notes obviously were not intended for my eyes, and for that reason they were cold, harsh and absolutely devastating. Luckily, after some days of deep depression, I was able to set the rejection aside (so much so that I can’t even remember which publisher it was), and I continued on with my writing, and my querying. The book was later published.
The biggest compliments have come from my latest book, Marcia Gates: Angel of Bataan. At the beginning of the year I found the Military Writers Society of America and noticed that they reviewed books on their website. I joined the society and sent off a copy of my book. They said they were backed up, but would get to it as soon as they could. I forgot about it for some months, then remembered to check the website. There on the page was an extremely nice review. I was happy enough about that, but just a week or so later, I received an e-mail that they had nominated my book for a Best Biography award. I was unaware that they even gave out awards, so this was a very pleasant surprise. As it turns out, my book did not win the top honors in the category, but was awarded an Honorable Mention and I received a very nice medal from them. If this weren’t enough, I then received an e-mail from a TV producer in Wisconsin (my aunt’s home state). He was putting together a documentary on the military history of Wisconsin and wanted to include my aunt’s story. I was able to supply him with several photos and a copy of my book, which was highlighted in the program. Knowing that my aunt’s story touches people in a deep way is the highest praise I could wish for.
When I receive negative comments on my books, I do take them to heart and I try to weigh them as impartially as possible against the story I am telling. Sometimes they are valid, and I realize I could have done a better job (and I have corrected books and reissued them for just that reason), but sometimes it’s obvious they come from a different perspective, from a different experience of the reader or a different expectation, and I know that I can never write a story that will resonate for every single reader in the world. That said, I have not changed the way I write. My only goal is to be as true to the story and the characters as I can. No story will please 100% of the readers, but if I have remained true to the story, that’s as much as I can do and I am satisfied with that.
When you sit down to write, do you do it the old-fashioned way with pen and paper or do you use a computer?
I used to write longhand on blueline; this was before computers, and I liked the fact that I could take my writing with me wherever I went and work on it at odd moments. Now, of course, I use a computer. One of my funniest memories is from the longhand era when I was working for the phone company and writing my satire of romance novels, The Pits of Passion by Amber Flame. I would work on it every day on my lunch hour and breaks, leaving the pad of blueline in the break room when I went back to work. What I had not counted on was that my co-workers began to read it, and before I knew it I had a pack of rabid fans waiting impatiently for the next installment. There were even some outside linemen who dropped by the office just to catch up on the saga. It got to the point that when I went out for my break, I would have to pry the last page from someone’s hand in order to continue working on the book, and I had to remember to number the pages so we could keep track as they were being passed from one reader to the next. This was the only time in my life that I had an immediate following as well as instant feedback, and I found it inspired me to ratchet up the action by several notches. Luckily, in a satire, going over the top works well.
What has been your favorite part of being an author? What has been your least favorite?
My favorite part about being an author is the fact that I can create people, situations, even entire worlds that never existed before. There’s something very satisfying about birthing something entirely new and knowing it’s my creation. I remember watching my father paint, creating another new and wonderful depiction of a landscape or a wild animal, and I remember wondering how many paintings did he have inside of him? Sometimes I wonder the same thing about my books: How many do I have in me?
My least favorite part of being an author is the marketing. I’ve never been good at tooting my own horn and I feel very self-conscious doing it. I’ve realized it’s much easier on me and more comfortable for readers if I concentrate on the story and how it relates to people, rather than trying to sell it. I’ve found that meeting and talking to readers is much more satisfying, and then if I sell a book, it’s gravy.
Did you get to quit your day job and become an author or do you still have a day job and writing is something you do for fun? If you still have a day job, what is it?
I always have to laugh when co-workers find out I’ve published 10 books. Without fail, their first question is: What are you doing still working? They all think you publish one book and you’re a millionaire. The fact is that one half of 1 percent of all the people who write can live on what they make. Since my last name is not King or Rowling, I am not among that number. I have always had a day job: the phone company for 21 years (see above) and now I work for the National Observatory as an administrative assistant. I love my job; it’s fun, educational, interesting and inspiring. I have always had to/chosen to shoehorn my writing into my personal time and it works for me. I like variety; I like to bounce around from one thing to another, and that includes my books. At present I have three books going, and I work on one or another as the mood strikes me. I don’t think I’ve ever just sat down and banged out a single book from start to finish.
Besides writing and reading, what is your most favorite thing to do?
I love to travel. After my first big trip to Australia, I discovered that travel is addictive. As soon as my husband and I arrived home, I was already thinking of the next place to go. We’ve been to New Zealand, Costa Rica, Guatemala and Peru. Exploring different cultures (Maori, Inca) and seeing World Heritage sites and fabled wonders of the world (Machu Picchu, Tikal) is at once inspiring and connecting. Also good for research!
Did you have any teacher in school that encouraged you to write? Did you take their advice?
I had several English and Comp teachers who encouraged me. The one that had the greatest effect on me was a young, slim Asian woman named Miss Okimoto. She was small but fierce, and most students were afraid of her. My writing style must have appealed to her because she often read my essays to the class and talked about the tools I used: description, allusion, imagery. She was the first one to really explain about imagery, and with her help my writing style became much more visual. Now when I write, I simply run a “movie” of the story in my head and describe what I see.
We all have our little things when it comes to reading, is there anything that bugs you when you read a novel? What is it?
The one thing that drives me up a wall when I’m reading is a typographical or grammatical error. When I’m deep in a story, being carried along by the words that somehow disappear behind the images they create in my mind, the worst thing is to come to a screeching halt at a misspelled word or misplaced punctuation. If I have to stop and re-read a sentence because the spelling or the punctuation makes the meaning unclear, that pops me right out of the story. It not only halts the flow of the story, but it irritates me, and then I’m not as charitable toward the author. It definitely puts a negative slant on the book for me. Am I guilty of errors in my own books? Unfortunately, yes, and I hate that even worse. I posted a blog about that some time back, remarking about how my brain and my fingers all try to “help” me when I write, sometimes to my detriment. It’s something against which I have to be constantly vigilant.
What do you listen to when you write? Do you find one type of music over another that inspires you to write? Why?
I listen to music all day long. I have found many movie sound tracks to be the best mood music ever, and my CD changer is usually full of them. Movie music is specifically composed to create mood and emotion, and it’s not unusual for me to cry over a small passage of strongly moving music. I particularly love the music of Last of the Mohicans, The Ghost and the Darkness, Gladiator, King Arthur, Alexander the Great, Departures, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Island, Starman, Apollo 13, The Mission, Angels & Demons, The Man from Snowy River, Somewhere in Time, Brother Sun Sister Moon, High Road to China, Braveheart and Congo to name a few.
Who are your favorite authors?
My absolute favorite author is John Irving. I think his A Prayer for Owen Meany is the best book ever written on the planet. Although I’ve found he can be streaky and some of his books are less than satisfying, this particular book is the most complex, funny, heartbreaking and inspiring story I’ve ever read. He creates characters that that are so fully-fashioned, they become the best friends you never had. I read Owen Meany at least once a year, and have for decades.
My next favorite authors are Rita Mae Brown and Marlys Millhiser. Brown’s Six of One is the second best book on the planet, and probably the funniest. Her story of two sisters growing up in the early 20th century in a small town still ruled by Civil War rivalries captures all the nuances of a sibling love-hate relationship. I read this book over and over and it still makes me laugh out loud and cry real tears. Brown has a way of balancing the humor with the most heartfelt issues that is just inspiring. Millhiser’s The Mirror is the best time-travel book I’ve ever found. She has created the perfect mechanism for switching a woman and her grandmother back and forth, into and out of each other’s lives, each trying to come to terms with the alien world she finds herself in. This is another book I read over and over and never get tired of.
Marcia Gates: Angel of Bataan by Melissa Bowersock
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing
Softcover (178 pages)
Marcia L. Gates was an Army nurse and prisoner of war during WWII. As an "Angel of Bataan," she spent three years in a Japanese internment camp in the Philippines. This is her award-winning story, told through her letters and the newspaper clippings, photos and letters collected by her mother.
Contact the author here: Website | Blog