Part 2: Interview with Acascias Riphouse, in which the author gives 10 commandments for young or aspiring writers before winging off in a tiz.

So, Sphinx, what made you start writing?

It’s pronounced “sss – pinks” not “sffff – inks”.

Well, maybe you could explain, since we’re on the topic of nicknames . . .

We aren’t Ozz-waldo.

My name is Osvaldo, “oth- vall – doh.”

What made me start writing?

The series? Or in general? . . .

The series was something I came up on a trek through South Africa with to avoid stressing out about some family issues that were going on back home.  And . . . no wait, that is why I started writing too. Family stress.  It really can be a plus.

Writing is your “happy place”?

It’s my “stress reduction place.”  It’s not real life in a real world.  It’s a fantasy. But at least it keeps me from having a heart attack or a breakdown.

That’s what I liked about FAB’s philosophy.  It’s why I decided to do the series for FAB. You guys get that books can be valuable as escapist entertainment.  They can be therapeutic if you will.  For the reader and the writer.

Murder as stress release?

Murder as plot point.  Human relationships as stress release (and stress maker).

For me a book is about the world and the people in it.  The plot devices are kind of secondary.  I tried to make that clear from the outset, with the first book.  This isn’t really so much a series about murders, as coming of age, of growing into the person you were always meant to be but didn’t know it.

The Sarsfields books are all about the hero’s [Ioan Lennox] realizations and revelations about himself, about his parents, about his friends, his coworkers, his lovers, and even his true place in the world. Each book takes on one of those themes through the medium of murder and by the end, readers see how the totality of those things changes the ultimate course of his life.

It’s why I don’t bother to write much graphic detail. These aren’t books about graphic murder, or . . .

The Banquet at Roma in book 5?

Ok, I admit that was a bit . . . colorful in the description. But it was confined to a gentleperson’s verbal description and it was necessary to show both the character’s emotional detachment from the ferocity of the acts and the difference between historical and cultural viewpoints on death.

There are definite aspects of [anti-heroine] Rachel Digby’s personality that today seem borderline psychopathic.

But when put in the context of her viewpoint, her historical / cultural reference points, knowing that, the reader moves her back into the “normal” category.  And James [Rachel’s husband] acts as fulcrum. He’s somewhere between Ioan’s very modern view of life and death, and Rachel’s very archaic one. It’s through James’ viewpoint that readers subconsciously begin to question what really is the “correct” way to see or act in the world.

I like doing that, opening people’s eyes to the things they take for granted.

No question there. Moving on . . . what writers inspired you to write?

Dumas.  Absolutely. Loved his work. A must read for any aspiring fiction writer.

As a child I grew up reading classic children’s lit, Black Beauty, Lassie . . . It’s probably where I got my Georgian / regency bent. Scholastic Books also had a big role . . . Love of exotic, goofy humour. How to Eat Fried Worms, Phantom Tollbooth.

And too, my father was a great traditional story teller, and both my mother and grandfather were published authors. I think I just grew up believing anyone could write a book and probably should write at least one. I still very much believe that.

That everyone has one good book in them?

Absolutely! At least one. Maybe only one.  But definitely one.

Do you recommend young authors read a lot of fiction to develop their style?

I think when you’re young, you should read anything you can.  But as you mature, you’ll realize everything your read, shapes your style.

Explain?

My folks sent to me to a parochial school, where I became a master of the KJV Bible, and I wasn’t allowed to read real fiction because that was “sinful.”  In high school I had a friend introduced me to Harlequin Romance, Austen, and others, but we had to read it on lunch breaks, hidden away in the janitorial office (we both worked in janitorial part-time), out of sight of other students.

Then I knew this other friend, whose sister was in university and reading Tudor (English) History, so she had all these intensely factual history books lying about. BUt she read historical novels voraciously. So we would read her books and then debate about her novels’ historical accuracy.  I remember that’s where I first saw PBS too, at her house. She had that series on the six Henry VIII’s wives and used to walk about chanting: divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived.

A bit creepy?

Only when she said it some place like Baskin-Robbins.

That was in the rabbit ear days, when PBS was hard to get. I lived in a valley. It came in, but only one channel, and fuzzy, but I’d watch anyway.  Ever watch Shakespeare in a blizzard? That’s what it was like.

Thank God for cable?

Man, yeah! And then I discovered BBC America.  My life was complete.

(laughing) I’m not sure if that’s geeky or not?

I guess you could say I was a culture geek. Plays, opera, musical theatre, DIY, HGTV, I loved it all.

And did that make you want to read more? After you left high school?

It made me read more history and autobiography.  But I actually had given up reading modern fiction by then because it was so . . . uninteresting compared to real life, to history, to older work.

That was in the era of Jackie Collins, when things in that vein were best sellers. It was all vulgar language, bad behavior, and trashy sex.  I turned off completely. I couldn’t relate to those characters and I didn’t see why anyone in their right mind would want to.

But I’m a firm believer of the mind is what the eye reads just as the body is what the mouth consumes.

Parochial school?

Popular Science, and The Journal of Developmental Psychology.

So that’s when I began reading history, autobiography, and ever more exotic foreign classics most of which had been translated in the Victorian era, or in the 1960s, but were generally composed in the 12th – 18th century.

So I guess there was always that  “out of synch with the times” way of looking at the world and using language floating around in your head?

Totally. Which is why, when it came to writing the Sarsfield series for FAB, I opted for a contemporary setting, but characters from slightly out of synch places such as Lampeter (Wales), Prince Edward Island (Canada), and rural Virginia, who were living slightly out of synch lives — as bush doctors, tall ship captains, or 200- year-old CEOs the victim of early scientific experimentation gone horribly wrong.

I could never do true fantasy writing. I’m not a fantasy writer. The genre has no appeal for me. For me a story has to be ground in 99% reality. I can appreciate when other author do fantasy and pull out all the stops. But, it’s not me.

Any advice for young writers?

As once was said by a pastor friend, “If you can do anything else in life, do it.”  I think that’s the best advice you can give.  If you aren’t passionate about it, don’t do it.  If you lie awake thinking about it, might as well give in now.

Write what you want to write about.  Don’t try to be someone else, or write in someone else’s style.  It’s okay to admire someone one, to love their work.  But be yourself, always. Love what you write about. Write it in your own way, in your own voice.  Be authentic.

My final piece of advice would be don’t be a jerk.  Your writing has to fit in around lawn mowing, oil changes, vacumming, diapers, taking your elderly friend to the  market, baby sitting your cousin’s stepbrother, walking the dog . . . and probably going to work. You really can write a great book in 15 minutes increments, while doing laundry, if you have to.

Or, maybe just women can do that.  Not sure.  I probably shouldn’t have said that. I’ve never been a man. Can you edit that out?

Sure. Any other advice?

  1. Do have a Facebook, Twitter, blog and website if you can manage it. At least have a website where you present yourself as an author. About.me and LinkdIn could help too.
  2. Don’t be afraid to ask people you respect for opinions about your work. But accept that strangers will comment, and listen to what they say. You won’t know most people that read your book (hopefully).
  3. Always be polite and open minded toward copy editors, but don’t give in if you think you’re right. Copy editors are exist to help you, and can make a read difference to your work, but it’s your voice that matters, not theirs.
  4. Do send out query letters to publishers if you can’t find an agent to take you.  Or if you don’t want an agent. A lot of writers are going free agent these days. Stay open to the simple twists of fate in life and the changes going on in the world.
  5. Don’t quit writing if  your marriage goes bad. Or your car breaks down. Or you get a new job. Or you develop an incurable illness. Or. . . [insert excuse here]. But if writing is causing your marriage to go bad, or your paying job to suffer . . . .
  6. Always print out hardcopy proofs and have them proofread by at least 3 friends that were English majors before you send out your manuscript to a publisher that liked your query. Proofreaders are vital.
  7. Do remember that self-published authors are authors and do make money. Setting up your own publishing company isn’t that hard. Making it successful . . . that’s another story.
  8. Don’t accept bad cover art. Cover art is marketing. It’s best left to marketing people. Think of your reader when you see /design cover art. Make marketing explain every choice on the cover to you, from color to graphic, to font, to placement of blurb. If they can’t explain why every detail is the way it is, they’re not good at their job, in which case go with your gut reaction.
  9. Always stay true to who you are. That is: it’s ok to say no, or I need a break, or that’s morally comfortable for me. Editors, marketing people, fans, etc, will respect you for being honest.
  10. Finally, be respectful to readers.  People are paying money they worked hard for to buy your book and spending hours of their life they’ll never get back reading your book. Appreciate that, even if they don’t. Make your words worth reading.

Um . . . so we’ve been on you about Commandment 1 for two years now . . .

Really? You want to go there, again? After I took a complete chance on FAB when I could have published anywhere, under my own name, and sold millions of copies by now?

After I’ve written 6 books for FAB and spent two years letting FAB work all its production kinks without a single complaint — including when you put Prince Edwards Island on the back of the last cover blurb!?

And  you bring this up? While I’m still working through the final edit of book 6? I mean . . . Really?  That’s what you want to say to me, you little . . . .

[author storms out, reisling in hand, slamming the door behind her]

And I think we’ll close there! Hope you’ve all learned something. If not, come back next week (Weds, July 27) when we kick off a month-long inspirational/practical series on writing, publishing, getting published, and so forth.

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Part 1: Interview with Acascias Riphouse, on PBS, Cash in the Attic, hating the Irish, having Autoimmune Disease, and Real Life Mysteries

So why the Gardner Museum heist?

I blame PBS Independent Lens, they did show called “Stolen” on Art Detectives. Back in early 2007.  I really admired Harold Smith, in fact, there’s a character in the final book that’s a sort of nod to him.  Also, I would love to see The Concert, in person, at the ISMG before I die. So, it was a way to keep the story out there, in front of the public.

Do you attend auctions?

Like I can afford to bid in an auction on what FAB pays in royalties.

Honestly,  I was dragged to endless flea markets and garage sales as a child, and we moved frequently which prompted my mother to have a lot of garage sales . . . in which she accidently sold off some of my possessions. It’s where I get my fear of crowds, and my refusal to sell anything. Although I do have a family member that works with a very successful auctioneer.

As close as I ever want to be to an auction would be watching an episode of BBC America’s Cash in the Attic.

So you’re a hoarder?

No. I just buy carefully, use it completely, and then throw it out.  Very cost effective.

If you did attend an auction, what would you go for?

Colonial American furniture, probably. It was my parents’ big obsession. The whole house was Ethan Allen which, back when they were married and buying their first lounge suites, was a Colonial revival store.

Did you know Whitey Bulger was in California?

He had to be somewhere.  And don’t most mob bosses retire to somewhere warm? It was a lucky guess, and I’m sticking to that answer.

Do you really hate the Irish?

I am Irish. It’s a character. Characters have all sorts of quirks, just like people. They say stupid politically incorrect things without any malice, they lie, they forget, they kill, they steal, they love . . . just like human beings.  My characters don’t reflect me or my views on anything. They’re just characters.

So, you didn’t answer the question?

No, I don’t hate the Irish. OR any other community, race, nationality, gender, lifestyle, . . . .

Will you keep writing after Loose Fantasies is released?

After 6 books? No. I’m done with the Sarsfields set.  If the BBC or Masterpiece Theater or someone wants to buy the rights an do a series, God bless them. But they can do what they like with the characters and the storylines.

I’m all about letting go and trying new things at this stage in my life. I’ve been writing successfully for 30 years under another name, it holds no thrill for me.  If someone wants to published some older work I never bothered to publish, I’d probably let that happen. But new work? No.

Why did you create a heroine with Autoimmune disease?

Same reason I made the hero Welsh, it’s something most people have heard of but know nothing about. It expands the realm of possibilites, for the writer and the reader.

People rather trashed  Missy Elliott coming out about Grave’s Disease . . .

Yes, and that was rather sad. Especially, hearing other people with autoimmune diseases rant about how Grave’s wasn’t serious. It just showed the level of ignorance the public (even the public with autoimmune diseases) has regarding the disease.

In some patients, Graves disease represents a part of more extensive autoimmune processes leading to dysfunction of multiple organs (eg, polyglandular autoimmune syndromes). How would you liked to have thyroid problems plus all of the following:

  •  pernicious anemia,
  • systemic lupus erythematosus,
  • Addison disease,
  • celiac disease,
  • vitiligo,
  • diabetes mellitus type 1,
  • autoimmune adrenal insufficiency,
  • systemic sclerosis,
  • myasthenia gravis,
  • Sjögren syndrome
  • rheumatoid arthritis.

That sounds scary.

It is scary. People with Grave’s Disease have been put into mental hospitals, because their doctors didn’t understand their thyroid was out of whack. That doesn’t happen when you have something more obvious such a broken arm or cancer.

I worked in a doctor’s office for a few months to help out a friend. It was during the period when no Western medical doctor would call fibromyalgia a real physical disease. I daily saw suffering people, who had paid their GPs for help, and had been dismissed, even ridiculed, and sent on to Psychiatrists.

This went on for almost 2 decades, till finally the Western medical community became convinced these people weren’t mentally ill or faking. And that only happened because psychologists with integrity started standing up and saying, look, these people are not mentally ill.  They’re depressed because they are physically sick and you’re not treating them!

Not a big fan of the medical community then? Like your heroine?

Actually, I am a big fan of medicine that’s grounded in genuine care for the patient. There are a lot of good, caring, open-minded doctors out there, which is why diseases like Lupus have finally been recognized.

But I think western medicine is always way behind in realizing people live in a truly toxic environment that’s impacting people’s health and well being in ways they don’t yet know how to recognize as disease, but which certainly definitely is disease. Autism would be a good case in point.

It’s an established pattern now.  Western doctors simply dismiss their patients’ complaints if they don’t recognize the problem inside 2 minutes, especially if those patients are female. The problems continue, for a decade or two, till men are affected too, then suddenly it’s a real disease in need of treatment.  It’s happened with Lupus, Lyme disease, and the list goes on and on, . . .

Travel abroad, and at  home, is a big theme in your books.  Do you personally do a lot of traveling?

Huge fan of travel.  I love experiencing different cultures, places, ways of being in the world.  I started traveling when I was very small, all across America. It was great, but a drawback of Americas size is that most Americans grow up thinking “well, everyone lives pretty much the same, everywhere I go, this must be the only way to live, to believe, to run a government.”

Traveling outside the US, to South Africa, Finland, Tasmania, Hong Kong, anywhere is what shows one  there’s all manner of ways to live, to work, to think, to believe  . . . .  Everyone should spend a summer or a year abroad. Just to have that perspective on their own life.  And even if that time is spent quite close by in Mexico, Puerto Rico, Haiti, or Canada. So long as it’s different.

I really applaud Prince Charles for encouraging his sons to get out there.

Ever been involved in any real life mysteries?

A couple.  For some reason I always seem to be in the wrong place at the right time.  You know, walking a black dog, under some dark shadowy trees, at night, when a camarro comes tearing down the street, halts a few yards away, a guy in a track jacket jumps out of the passenger’s side and throws something heavy in a trash bin (the trash which you know is going to be collected the next morning at dawn). Then he leaps in the car and drives away.

That happened a couple years back.

You just know you have to go and look in the bin, because it might be a gun or a body part or drugs or . . . .

What kind of neighborhood do you live in?

Middle class, suburbia.  But the town is freeway close, so gangs tend to hop off the freeway, scream down a side street, steal a car, rob a bank, etc, and then jump back on the freeway and return to LA.

Anyway, then there was the time my teacher told me I couldn’t possibly be the legitimate child of my parents since they (and everyone else in the family) were O blood types and I was an A. Turns out it’s rare but it can happen, but I had to find that out through digging around scientific journals. And then I sued my science teacher for making slanderous public remarks about me and my mother. Good for the college fund.

Oh, and then last year, there was this rainy Friday morning I was going to the bank and found a guy driving around  in an unmarked truck, taking pictures of the entrances with a telephoto lens. I couldn’t help noticing. I’m was standing right there, and I’ve always been prone to observation. So I confronted him . . .

You what?

Hey, it was my money in that bank. So I looked this white guy in his white Ford F150 right in the eyes (while his camera was still in hand), one of those “I know what you’re doing, buddy” looks, and he pealed off . I went in and told the manager, who called the police. And I was glad I did. Two other banks were hit that day, just down the road.  Banks on off ramps closer toward LA. So, I figure . . . .

I’m getting the picture.  No pun intended.

Sure.

Speaking of pictures, do you think The Gardner’s art will ever be returned?

I do.  And I firmly believe I’ll live to see it. It’s an economic downturn, the art has been gone 20 years, there’s no punishment for returning it, and there’s a huge tax-free reward. Eventually a collector will die, someone will discover it, and return it for the money. Although . . .

Although?

I really don’t care if the Degas works, the Ku Vase, the gilded Eagle, or the Manet stay lost. Just the Vermeer and the Rembrandts interest me. I mean, have you ever seen anything as ugly as this Manet?

It is rather unusual looking.

And if you look really close at the left hand, the one holding the pencil, you can see the subject is flipping the artist the bird. Sort of “Get away from me you, weirdo. I’m trying to write here. Don’t be sketching me!”

So you’re offended as a fellow writer who doesn’t like to be disturbed?

Sorry, we’ll have to stop now. I’ve lost my train of thought. That flute of wine in the picture reminds me, I have to go open a new bottle of reisling I bought last night.

Ok, ok, we know you’ve been wondering. So, here it is. Observations Upon “The Religion of Doctors” — Your end of summer read about a FABulous wedding on gorgeous Prince Edward Island awaits!

No, we didn’t plan it this way, but apparently theRoyal couple, Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge (Catherine nee Middleton) are beginning their Candian Tour tomorrow and making a stop on beautiful  Prince Edward Island * for the Fourth of July weekend.

If you’d like to enter the contest to win a trip to PEI, the good folks at Tourism PEI are sponsoring a “follow in Royal Footsteps” contest, allowing the winner to go to all the charming spots in Canada the Royal couple will visit.

Observations Upon “The Religion of Doctors,” Book 5, of the series we’ve been publishing about the Gardner Museum heist (by Acascias Riphouse), had been rolled as of today. It is the penultimate book of the series, and features a contemporary Labor Day wedding on Prince Edward Island (home of LM Montgomery’s famous red-headed Anne of Green Gables).

If you’re wondering what it would be like to vacation on PEI, pick up a copy now and tag along to find out about all the PEI summer hotspots while solving the mystery.  Or, hang on to it for your own end of August getaway (or that destination wedding your dreading) and see how your adventures stack up with ours. Hopefully your holiday / wedding won’t end in murder!

If you want to check out the first few chapters, you can do that on our main website, or check out Google Books.  Haven’t read the earlier books in the series? No worries, you can always catch up. If you want to see just how beautiful the island really is, click Dan James’ CEO Blues Gallery link and see our favorite shot. Dan, amazingly is not a professional photographer, but CEO of silverorange web systems.

This book is only available in Trade paperback or e-Book formats, because really, who buys hardbacks these days?

Next month we’ll be devoting some blogspace to an author interview. So, fasten your seatbelt, we’ll be asking all the ugly questions about the Welsh, autoimmune diseases, auction houses. And the most important, did you know Whitey Bulger was living in Santa Monica? And hopefully we’ll have some dish on the final book of the series Loose Fantasies:  The Memoirs which will be available at the end of August.

*(Yes, it really is Prince Edward Island, not Prince Edwards Island, but we probably messed that up at least once somewhere in the book, or on the website, or even on the cover. Sorry.)

It’s not a symbol of mourning. It’s a symbol of hope.

“It’s a place holder. It’s not a symbol of mourning. I see it as a symbol of hope.”

— Anthony Amore

In the wee hours of this day, 21 years ago, as drunken St Patrick’s Day revellers were staggering home in the streets of Boston . . . . the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum was robbed of 13 of its greatest and most well-beloved treasures, including the Vermeer pictured on the bookjacket below.

Over 2 decades have passed, but the museum has never given up hope that the art would be found. There remains frames, awaiting the return of canvases at the museum. And a $5 million reward is still waiting to be claimed.  At this point, there’s complete immunity for anyone that brings the art home. One can only hope that in the current economy, someone will return it for the reward, if not for the love of the art.

Until then . . . you can read a multipart story based on the fictional recovery of this art by Acascias Riphouse’s, starting with The Closet [of Sir Kenelm Digby, Esq.] Opened, published by Far Away Books (of course!) It’s available through Amazon and other retailers. You can also preview a few chapters online or even purchase the book for your e-reader for only $2 through Adobe Digital editions or other fine eBook retailers.