Today on Meet the Author Monday we have Zara Altair here to tell us a little about herself and her books. As usual we will put my comments/questions in BLUE and our guest author will be GREEN.
I always like to start off with exploring out my guest authors entered the literary world. Is there a specific person or even that made you a reader?
Wow, Andrew, I’ve been reading since I could read at about the age of five. In our family, reading aloud was a daily tradition, so I could get more stories when I could read myself. Kipling was an early favorite. I loved the way he talked to you, O Best Beloved, as though he were telling the story just to you. Winnie the Pooh, Just So Stories, The Wind in the Willows, both Alice books, Albert Payson Terhune because I loved dogs. Those were early stories. When I was eight we moved to a small town with a local library. The limit was eight books out at any one time. Every Friday after school it was eight books out, eight books in.
Our family had an Encylopedia Britannica which also included a set of books about children in other lands. I read and reread those books.
What genre excites you the most these days?
I’m a reader omnivore. I like political thrillers, crime, mystery, history, the classics and read in English, French, Italian, and Spanish.
Four languages, that’s impressive. When did you decide that you didn’t want to just read stories, but make up your own?
When I was 5, yep, same time I was reading, I met an author of children’s books, Phyllis Ayer Sowers. (https://www.amazon.com/s?ie=UTF8&page=1&rh=n%3A283155%2Cp_27%3APhyllis%20Ayer%20Sowers) We visited her several times. Her books were stories about kids who lived in other lands. She was charming and gracious and did not talk down to me. That was the moment! In some form or another, I’ve been writing ever since. As a child I wrote stories that were set in foreign lands. As an adult I wrote science fiction.
I had years of short story rejections. When I look back at those stories now, I understand why.
I am a published poet with uncountable readings. I taught poetry to children and adults through the Poets-In-The-Schools program.
The stories I have out are short historical mysteries as part of an ongoing series.
That’s incredible that you were able to teach, a highly underrated profession. So what are you working on at the moment?
For the present, I am writing mysteries. They are fun to write. My longer work in progress is set in the same time period, early 6th Century Italy under the Ostrogoths, but is a thriller more than a mystery.
I started writing the mysteries, with the same protagonist, for fun while I work on the novel.
So a children’s author was a big catalyst for your desire to write. Where did your journey go from there?
Ah, the journey. That childhood dream was crushed by my father, who heavily criticized everything I wrote. Yeah, not fun. It took me a long time to recover from that “not good enough” feeling.
At one point I had an agent for a children’s book about a child who had a new sibling that come home from the hospital. There was a tussle with several publishers over including “umbilical cord” in the book. They felt it was too big for pre-schoolers to understand. My feeling was, Nonsense, every child knows Tyrannosaurus Rex. It didn’t get published. I still feel the same way. 🙂
I had ideas for more books, but was told that the agency would not represent me without an author platform and a marketing program in place. This was before the internet, the cost of PR managers and book tours seemed astronomical at the time.
More recently, I had a futuristic fantasy rejected several times.
Then I discovered the world of self-publishing! The world was wide open. I decided to share my short stories with no intention of making money. I have a tiny trickle of royalties each month.
The algorithms, and readers, like a minimum of three books. I’m working on the third story now.
Andrew, you are so right: it is a journey. Writing stories is just part of being an author. There’s setting up a website, writing articles/blogs, participating in social media, growing the fan base. And finding and working with a cover designer and editors…and writing more stories.
I have two editors, one content editor who catches those places where the story has a glitch like pacing and character development, and a copy editor who looks at sentence structure, wording, and the tiny elements of syntax. Each in their own way makes my stories better.
That’s great that you didn’t let rejection, either familiar or professional, get you down. The world of self-publishing is great for us “little guys” to get our stories out there. When you aren’t writing, how do you spend your time?
I live near Portland, Oregon among the tall trees by the side of a creek. It’s a peaceful environment, very conducive to writing time.
I work (day job) as a content writer focused on semantic writing for the web. I also have one current ghostwriting book project, a thriller. So when I’m not writing, I’m writing.
I consult with a select few writers on the writing process and their writing journey.
I’m a voracious reader. And I listen to audiobooks.
I love being outdoors and go on frequent trail walks.
My two grown children are two of my best friends. My son lives in Virginia with his wife and daughter (my granddaughter). My daughter lives with her husband in Hampshire County, England.
Clearly its difficult to keep your fingers off the keys or a pen out of your hands. I want to thank you for stopping by and introducing yourself Zara. Do you have any final thoughts or words of wisdom for my readers?
Thank you, Andrew, for the invitation to chat with you and your readers.
Someone asked me recently where I get my inspiration. Stories come to me and say, Tell me. It doesn’t stop until the story is told.
The idea for the Argolicus Mysteries came from a conversation with my daughter. She was telling me why I should go to Ravenna, Italy. As she chatted along, she said, “And he led his people across the frozen Danube and eventually came to Italy.” In my mind I wondered, what was it like to live then.
I did go to Ravenna and met with professors at Universitá di Bologna, Ravenna, who were amazed that some crazy woman from the West Coast of the United States wanted to write about Ravenna at the time of King Theodoric. I came home with 36 kilos of books which they generously gave me.
Fortunately, my daughter who had gone to school twice in Italy prepared me for Italian professors, you must prove your point before they answer a question. When I pointed to a mosaic of a ship and asked a professor if that was what ships looked like in 514 A.D. he answered: No, no, no. Then for forty minutes he rummaged around in his bookshelves showing me images of ships. For each one, I would answer something like: No, those were Visigoths in Spain and that was a few years later. I had a reason for why each illustration he showed me wasn’t right. At the end of 40 minutes, once again I held up the drawing of the ship and asked, So, in 514 the ships would look like this. He answered, Yes, yes, yes.
Research about the period is challenging because when the Emperor Justinian retook Italy, he had a major campaign to eliminate all evidence of the Ostrogoths.
Argolicus was a real person at the time of Theodoric’s reign in Italy. He is mentioned nine times in Cassiodorus’ Variae (iii 11, iii 12, iii 29, iii 30, iii 33, iv 22, iv 25, iv 29, iv 42) as praefectus urbis of Rome. His childhood and ongoing friendship with Cassiodorus come from my imagination as well as his retirement in the very southern tip of Italy, the setting for the mystery series.
His call to Ravenna and appointment as comitiacus officium in Felix Ravenna: A Mosaic also originated in an idea.
The mysteries are set far away from the capital in southern Italy in 512 A.D. Felix Ravenna: A Mosaic is set two years later in Ravenna during the year 514 A.D.
Your readers can find me on Amazon and just about anywhere ebooks are sold.
I hope they will take the opportunity to look up your works. For those looking for Zara’s stories, here are the links you can use.
And if any authors out there reading this want to be featured on Meet The Author Monday, You can CLICK HERE for more information.