Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Meet Lisa Hinsley

Yes, yes I did meet Lisa on Facebook. But oddly enough, not until quite a while after I'd read a few of her novels and a short story collection. To be honest, I don't remember how I came across her UK bestseller, Plague. I do know it was before Simon & Schuster picked it up. But somehow it ended up on my kindle and I read it. And I loved it. It made me cry, and it horrified me. That's sort of a tough combo. But I highly recommend the read.

Then, a couple of years later, I "met" Lisa through a women horror writer's group. And was lucky enough to get a free copy of her latest novella, Sacrifice. It wasn't in exchange for a review, but after I read it, I asked Lisa if I could interview her and review the novella. Mostly because I think writers I enjoy should get more attention. And it's my blog, so there. So, you can head on over to See Spot Read to read a review of the novella, (first in a series) Sacrifice, or you can stay here and read an interview. Or you can do both, because I'm all about free will.

1.     How long have you been writing?

I wrote my first poem around the age of five, so I guess that would mean a really long time ago as I am early forties now! By the time I was ten I was writing short stories and wrote my first novella at thirteen – it was an awful angst-ridden teen production where I destroyed the world in a great flood. Thirty years later, and I’m still regularly destroying the world in my books.
2.     What's the first thing you had published?   

I was first published in a school magazine when I must have been nine. It was a poem about autumn. I remember my mum being really proud as the magazine usually only took submissions from girls in the senior school.

 3.     Do you write full time or do you have a day job?   

Until recently I worked a day job, as a carer for elderly people. But I am now lucky enough to be a full time writer.

 4.     What is your writing routine?    Where do you write?

I used to write anywhere in the house where there was a free spot and I could sit down with my laptop. Usually this would be the living room or the dining room depending on where the kids were (I can’t write with noise and distractions!). This summer one of my children moved out and into her own place, and I am now converting her bedroom into my study. It feels like a real luxury having a space in the house that is all mine!


5.     Have you always been a fan of the Horror genre?  

I discovered Stephen King in 1986 when we moved to NH. I’d already read Dean Koontz and a few other horror writers, but King really hit the horror spot. I was fifteen and discovering a whole new scary world. I’ve been hooked ever since.

6.     What scares you? Any silly phobias? 

What lurks under the bed scares me most. I was in my late thirties before I got to a point where I wasn’t making long jump leaps onto the bed to avoid any evil creatures swiping at my ankles. I solved the fear by packing the under-the-bed space tight with junk. Anything would do, so long as it meant nothing sinister could fit under there. Now I am in my forties and own a dog. He sleeps under the bed and keeps me safe. Mirrors are also creepy. You never know for sure what will be reflected when you take a look into one.

 7.     What other writers do you admire, or have influenced you the most?  

Stephen King is probably the writer that has influenced me the most, but I have read widely and love sci-fi as well. Early sci-fi writers like Ray Bradbury (his many short stories) and Aldous Huxley (Brave New World) have also left their mark on me, as well as Michael Crichton (Sphere) and Clive Barker (Weaveworld). Richard Matheson (I am Legend) and John Wyndham (The Day of the Triffids) are also hugely influential. I could go on, but I’ll stop there. J

 8.     I know most writers hate the “where do you get your ideas” question, but as a writer, I ALWAYS want to know. So, where’d you get the idea?                 

I get a great many of my ideas from the newspapers. An article will spark an idea and I will ask that all important question: but what if…? And then I’m off running with a new story idea. I also get ideas from my conspiratally-minded husband, who often spouts off about something he’s read on one of the odd websites he visits. The idea for my bestselling book, Plague, came after a late night talk about terrorists using viruses and bacterium as a weapon.

9.     I didn’t realize that Sacrifice was part of a series when I read it. What made you decide to go with a series of novellas, instead of a stand-alone novel?    

I think novellas will become increasingly popular as time-constrained readers look for books they can consume in a few hours or over several nights. This has driven me to write shorter works, and I have seen other authors doing the same. The idea of producing the series with Sacrifice partly came out of the time scale involved, with years separating each installment, but also because the following novellas will focus mainly on individual characters, with their individual problems coming to the fore. To me, it seemed logical to make each as stand-alone as possible, with the running theme of the storyline keeping the novellas as a series.

10.    I first read your work when I read the novel, Plague. I have to admit the book brought me to tears. I couldn’t imagine the horror that these people were facing. And yet, that was all man made horror, with no supernatural leanings. Which type of horror do you think is more terrifying? Which is easier to write?                                                                                              

To be honest the supernatural scares me far more than manmade horrors. I don’t write much supernatural horror, I think partly because it scares me so much even to think about it! I am planning to do a series of books featuring ghosts, but I’m still trying to find the courage to write them. Lately I’ve been reading lots of zombie books, which I find entertaining, but not scary. I’d love to try my hand at one of those, but there are too many authors out there doing a far better job than I would!

11.  Best writing advice you've ever been given?  

No1: If you’ve got an idea, just write. Get it out of your head and onto paper.

No2: Pay for an editor! If you want to produce a professional piece of work, you must hire an editor to point out all those plot holes you can’t see and find the errors you skip over as they are invisible to the writer. If you can’t afford to do that, or you are just beginning as a writer, find a critique site to become a member of. These can be an invaluable (and free!) resource. I spent years as a member at a number of various sites and received advice that got me to where I am now.  Here are a few I’ve used over the years (in the order I found them). There are many more out there, find one where you click with some of the other members.


12.  What advice would you give any newbies out there? 

Enjoy what you do. I love to write. It’s not a chore, it is a pleasant release. I love to get my ideas out of my head and if one other person reads my story and likes what they’ve read, then I’m happy. I saw a video of a Stephen King talk a couple of months ago which I found very interesting. He compared ideas to sand. If they trickle through your fingers to be lost, then they weren’t worth pursuing. The big ideas that refuse to fall between your fingers (and be forgotten) are the ones to chase and write. I’m not sure I entirely agree with this, and I certainly didn’t when I first heard him say this. I have notebooks of ideas, lines, single words, links to things that have inspired me waiting to be referred to. Most of these ideas are forgotten, they gather dust in the notebooks on my shelf and in the hard drive of my computer. The ideas that tend to get written are the ones that refuse to leave me alone, so maybe the master of modern fiction does indeed have it right.
Thank you, Lisa, for answering all of my silly questions! If you'd like to connect with Lisa, you can find her here:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/LisaHinsley.author
Twitter: @lisachinsley


Again, I really recommend Plague, as well as her other books. Thanks for dropping by!


Thursday, September 4, 2014

This is not about writing...

I wanted to be up front about that just in case anyone wandered in looking for author type stuff. This blog is about being an amazing pioneer woman/catch, I mean, canning things. Yep. I can things. So far, mostly jam. But today is salsa day. Yum!

We have a huge area near us that is full of blackberry bushes and we picked tons and tons of blackberries over the month of July. Now, just in case you've never been blackberry picking, and have visions of wandering through a beautiful sunlit meadow with a wicker basket, let me break this down for you. Blackberry picking, while extremely rewarding, basically sucks. You have to put on long sleeves and pants, and I recommend rubber knee boots. Because blackberry bushes have thorns, large ones, that will scratch your skin. And our blackberry bushes grow wild, which means in a jungly tangle, amidst other weeds, and trees. Also, the grass is really tall and there are snakes (hence the rubber boots). Although I only saw one once which is awesome since I froze for a full fifteen minutes afterwards and then had to pep talk myself into continuing in that direction. And it's Illinois in July, so it's hot and humid and sweaty, especially since you are wearing all those damn clothes. And we get so far back in the patch that you can't see us, and we get tangled up in the vines, and bitten by mosquitos, and fight with spiders, anyway, it's not particularly fun. I think it's the sense of accomplishment that keeps us going. (And by "us" I mean myself and my daughter, Molly, when she's home, and my niece, Madi, when she's here; don't even think that Mike is picking berries.)

But as Molly, Madi, and I were discussing once while picking, we all evolved from tribes that basically hunted and gathered. And women were the gatherers. So being good at it, fearless in the face of the heat and (sort of) danger, fulfills some deep need in your evolutionary core. I told Molly that since she's a good gatherer, a good gardener, and births babies easily, she'd be quite a catch in her tribe.

So we picked many times over the month (once in the dusk and rain, talk about difficult and spooky), and gathered a shit ton of blackberries. The boys ate a lot of them. Who knew toddlers could pack away so much fruit? We made some cobblers, some blackberry shortcake, and then I decided to make jam. Now, I'd only made jam once before, in England when I was about 13, with an elderly neighbor lady. We made black currant jam and it was awful. So my knowledge of jam making and canning was almost nil. So I turned to the internet and by toggling between a few sites learned what I needed to know. Then I bought canning supplies. Hello, expensive. But since you only have to buy the pot and tools once, it's worth it. And then I made jam.

First you have to rinse, smash, and cook the berries. Then you spoon it into jars, leaving headspace, getting out air bubbles, putting on lids, and then bathing the jars in a hot water bath. And that's the part that worried me--what if they didn't seal right? What if I gave everyone botulism? But they did, and I didn't, and I heard the satisfying "ping" of lids sealing very clearly. So I made more. I ended up with three batches: Blackberry, Blackberry Cherry, and Blackberry Blueberry. It was delicious. So much so, that I went from this:

To this:
Way too quickly. I sent some home with my parents. I sent some home with my niece. I sent a jar to Sean. I gave a jar to the neighbors. And then Molly and Luke took 5 jars with them when they left. But, because I'm a nice person, I offered a jar to my mailman yesterday. And it went like this:
Mailman: (handing over three boxes of books) Here you go.
Me: Thanks so much for bringing them to the door.
Mailman: No problem.
Me: Would you like a jar of homemade jam?
Mailman: (Huge sigh) Thanks, but my wife makes jam. She made so much we're trying to get rid of it.
And he left. What?? But, but, you don't understand. I don't have much left so my offer was not me trying to get rid of it, but me being really generous. It's my first jam making. It needs to be celebrated!! Don't turn down my jam!! But he did. And then he walked back to his jeep. And I felt this odd sense of rejection. Although, if I think about it, he may think I'm slightly odd, and well, I wouldn't take jam from someone I thought was odd either. It's like taking candy from strangers.
So, in closing, I've thought a lot about the amazing feeling of accomplishment I got from making and canning homemade jam. Cooking always fills me with a sense of "rightness" and accomplishment. And I think it's because I grew up in a family (and extended family) where that's what women did. We do the cooking, and it's a way of showing love and taking care of your family. And I know that a lot of folks today will think that's old fashioned and silly, but frankly, I don't care. For me, fixing a meal and having everyone at the table will always be my happy place.
And learning the art of canning, which I know isn't that big of a deal considering women have been doing it for centuries, and with far less convenience than my modern kitchen, still filled me with a sense of wonder and an amazing satisfaction. And maybe it's because I joined those ranks: I can grow a garden, I can make food, and put it away for later use. I can make sure my family is fed from my own labor. I rock.
Also, I can make a mess:

And clean it up.
Today, I'm making and canning salsa with tomatoes and peppers from my garden. Because I can. And also because it's yummy.
What do you do that gives you that amazing feeling of pride? Seriously, I want to know!