Shane Joseph

Shane Joseph began writing as a teenager living in Sri Lanka and has never stopped. From an early surge of short stories and radio play scripts, to humorous corporate skits, travelogues, case studies and technical papers, then novels, more short stories and essays, he continues to pursue the three pages-a-day maxim and keeps writer’s block at bay.

Shelagh: Hi Shane, please tell everyone a bit about yourself.

Shane: I’m a graduate of the Humber School for Writers in Toronto. My first novel Redemption in Paradise was published in 2004. My collection of short stories Fringe Dwellers was published in 2008, and my “dystopian novel of hope,” After the Flood, was released in November 2009. My short fiction has appeared in Existere literary magazine, in several Canadian anthologies and e-zines, and in literary journals in India and Sri Lanka. My work has also been accepted for publication in the USA and the UK in 2010. I live with my wife Sarah in the lakeside town of Cobourg, Ontario, where I work as a consultant, play guitar in a rock band, write, and scoot off annually to visit one country for every year of my life.

Shelagh: When did the writing bug bite, and in what genre(s)?

Shane: The writing bug bit during my teens when I joined a writers’ workshop focused on producing plays and short stories for radio. I was (and still am) interested in the eternal human drama. Raised as a minority community member in my native Sri Lanka, having lived as an expatriate in the Middle East, and finally as an immigrant in Canada, I am a perennial fringe dweller, as I call myself. I like to explore themes of marginalization and second chances. I do not write genre fiction.

Shelagh: When you started writing, what goals did you want to accomplish? Is there a message you want readers to grasp?

Shane: Oh, as a teenager, I wanted to be the next Hemingway. I thought that writers could live in exotic locales and mail manuscript periodically to their publishers and earn untold riches, while enjoying wine, women and song. I quickly sobered up when I realized that in writing, while “luck is the product of hard work,” reward is contingent on luck as well. In fact, I quit writing at 23 because I had no more life experiences left to record and had to earn a living in the business world because I was far off from becoming Papa Hem. When my material needs had been more or less accommodated, I picked up the craft again in my mid-forties, with only one goal: I was not going to give up writing this time, whether I got to live like Hemingway or not. By then I had gained many life experiences, and the need to write had risen to the level of a compulsion. It was time to record my experiences and observations as fiction, along themes that I wanted to explore.  The message in my books is: “giving up is not an option.”

Shelagh: Briefly tell us about your latest book. Is it part of a series or stand-alone?

Shane: It’s a stand-alone novel titled After the Flood and takes place in North America between the years 2012 and 2047. It’s my only work of speculative fiction to date and was difficult to write as I had to invent a whole new world and not slump into the “tell not show” syndrome. I wanted to explore the implications of a global geological meltdown and how mankind would govern itself in this altered world. Would we screw it up once more due to that hard-coded genetic trait DESIRE, and its evil twin GREED?

Shelagh: What’s the hook for the book?

Shane: I guess it is the premise of the novel, that Fundamentalism can take place in our own backyard given the right conditions. We tend to look at other countries for extremists, but our own pre-occupations with extreme forms of Capitalism and Socialism, when under threat, can also turn us Westerners into Fundamentalists.

Shelagh: How do you develop characters and setting?

Shane: Characters come alive while I am writing my first draft, which is a rambling journey for me, to capture the story and the messages inherent in it. I constantly go back and modify characters as I see them evolve during that initial draft.  I chose a principal setting  ( e.g. North America, Sri Lanka, Toronto etc.) for my story before writing the first draft, but then the individual scenes within the overall setting may change in the re-writes as I flush out the story. I may go back and change the setting of a particular scene in my next draft if I don’t like where it is taking place or if it does not enhance the mood, character or message that I am trying to communicate.

Shelagh: Who is the most remarkable character?

Shane: I guess Samson Arthurs, the patriarch in After the Flood, is my most remarkable character. He is a survivor of the cataclysm, is deeply religious, he is a builder and a tireless helper to those in need. Yet his marriage breaks down for lack of attention to the family side of his life. He is attracted to a younger, married woman and gets himself embroiled in a scandal that brings about the near collapse of his beloved state of Tolemac (which read backwards is Camelot!)

Shelagh: Do you have specific techniques to help you maintain the course of the plot?

Shane: I have a beginning, middle, and end to my plot when I start out, and a loose outline of what I want each character to achieve in the end. Other than that, I just go where the story takes me in the first draft. The outline helps me if I stray too far off, but it also does not cramp my creativity.

Shelagh: Do you have a specific writing style? Preferred POV?

Shane: I have written in most POVs. I am told that my strongest suite is Limited Third Person. I find Second Person the hardest to write in. I have also combined First Person and Limited Third Person in some of my novels.

Shelagh: How does your environment/upbringing color your writing?

Shane: Having being born and raised as a Burgher (European settlers in the colony) of Sri Lanka, and having spent many years in Dubai as an expatriate, over 20 years in Canada as an immigrant, and never really belonging to the literati of this country, I have always been the outsider trying to break in. I find this a preferred perspective for a writer, of being the perennial observer.  My principal characters are also somewhat off centre as a result, trying to get to base but having to struggle for it.

Shelagh: Share the best review (or a portion) that you’ve ever had.

Shane: Here is an excerpt from a recent review by Ben Antao, a Toronto-based novelist, on my novel After the Flood :

Shane Joseph engages the reader not only by his knowledge of the Old Testament but also by his insights into man-woman relationships and his flair in handling the problem of the other man/the other woman, the secret longing for carnality as revealed in the character of Delia. To quote:

Delia was dressed in a body-hugging, sleeveless T-shirt and pants, and her red hair was pulled back over her head and tied in a knot at the back. David felt the blood rush to his head again.

“I’m sorry to hear about your mother, David.” Sincerity shone through her sensuality.

The author maintains a good balance between telling the story and showing it through dialogue and action. This novel would make a fine movie, as entertaining as the book.

Shelagh: What are your current projects?

Shane: I have four completed manuscripts (two novels and two collections of linked stories) waiting to find a publisher. But I am not in a hurry any more. I need to find an agent who can represent my work well. Therefore, you could say that the first part of my current project is to find that agent. The next part of the project is to complete the first draft of a new novel, set in a small town by one of the Great Lakes in North America. It’s replete with corporate and personal greed, changing demographics as the older established population age and give way to immigrants, the alienation of youth, the melding of cultures, and the tensions that come out of all those developments.
Shelagh: Where can folks learn more about your books and events?

Shane: Please visit my website at www.shanejoseph.com – all the information you need on me will be there.

Shelagh: Thanks for joining us today, Shane.

Shane: Thank you for featuring me on your guest blog.

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Elynne Chaplik-Aleskow

Elynne Chaplik-Aleskow is Founding General Manager of WYCC-TV/PBS (Chicago’s Public Broadcasting Station) and Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Wright College in Chicago.

Shelagh: Please tell everyone a little about yourself, Elynne.

Elynne: I am an author and adult storyteller.  My non-fiction stories and essays have been published in magazines, newspapers and the following anthologies:  The Revolving Door in Chicken Soup for the Chocolate Lover’s Soul (HCI Books); Grandma Lebedow in The Wisdom of Old Souls (Hidden Brook Press);  The  Red Pen, The Elevator, Mr. X and Mr. Y, and Life 101 in Forever Friends (Mandinam Press); His Way in My Dad Is My Hero (Adams Media Publishing); The  Hat in The Ultimate Teacher (HCI Books); The Needle in the Haystack and My Gift of Now in Contemporary American Women: Our Defining Passages (All Things That Matter Press); Ronald in Chicken Soup for the Soul: True Love (Simon and Schuster)

My story, A Tale of Two Vardas, was published internationally December 2009 in the Jerusalem Post Magazine. The sequel, A Journey of the Heart, was published in The Jerusalem Post Magazine January 2010.

June 1, 2009 marked the recording debut of my audio fiction story, Professor Gabriel and her 101 Posse. The story airs on The Deepening Website (World of Fiction) and is recorded by D. L. Keur.

I am married to my best friend Richard Noel Aleskow.

Shelagh: When did you begin writing and in what genre(s)?

Elynne: I have been writing since I was around nine years old. As a young girl, I used to write stream-of-consciousness prose that bordered on poetic prose. That writing was just for me. It was a way to express my most personal feelings as I was growing up. Two and one-half years ago I decided to retire from college teaching. My husband wisely suggested that I have a plan in mind for retirement and asked me what I would like to do. Having had successful and fulfilling careers in Public Television and teaching, I answered that there was a dream I had always wanted to do. I wanted to write and publish my stories. And so I began my third career.

I had always been a reader of the short story genre. Artistically this genre gave me great pleasure as a reader and writer. The only difference was that my stories were non-fiction. With the experiences I had lived and knew about, non-fiction was a natural and exciting genre for me. I could never imagine in fiction writing some of the events that I had lived. The first year and one-half of my writing, the stories poured out of me. I was productive and inspired and wrote everyday. Then my submissions turned into published stories and I have not looked back since.

Shelagh: When you started writing, what goals did you want to accomplish? Is there a message you want readers to grasp?

Elynne: Many of my non-fiction stories are inspirational. I want my readers to be moved and to understand and empathize with the reality I am conveying.  I want my stories to offer my readers insights and to entertain them. Many of my travel stories are very funny recounting the travel adventures of my husband and me.

Shelagh: Briefly tell us about your latest stories.

Elynne: My stories are presently published in seven anthologies and several magazines including the international Jerusalem Post Magazine. Two very important stories about my life, The Needle in the Haystack, the story of how my husband and I met in middle age and, My Gift of Now, about my retirement and the beginning of my writing career, have just been published in the anthology, Contemporary American Women: Our Defining Passages.

I intentionally have chosen to submit my stories for publication in a variety of anthologies because I feel that they will get the best distribution and variety of readership this way. Each editor and publisher along with the contributing authors works hard to market each anthology. I believe it is an advantageous way to establish an audience for one’s work.

Shelagh: How are the anthologies marketed?

Elynne: Contemporary American Women: Our Defining Passages (All Things That Matter Press) is being marketed to the public as well as to Universities and Colleges as a text for Women’s Studies Programs. That thought thrills me. I see this book as an eloquent mentor to the next generation of women. It can be purchased from the publisher and at Amazon.com.

Shelagh: Do you have a specific writing style or preferred POV?

Elynne: My point of view preference in writing is first person. There is a personal quality and tone that a first person narrator is potentially able to convey in telling the story. As a reader, I have always been attracted to and interested in storytelling and the narrator’s role and effectiveness in this process.

In performing my stories, I find the audience engages naturally with a first person narrator. The first time I performed a program consisting solely of my own published stories was a moment I will never forget. I had achieved my dream.

For me performance of my work is a natural extension of my art as a writer. To perform my work for an audience establishes a connection and bond between them and me as I function as both the writer and the performer. The audience feedback is immediate. Will they laugh where I intended them to laugh? Will they feel moved as I intended them to feel? Will my interpretation of my story parallel their own interpretation as readers?

As an artist, combining writing and performance is an exquisite challenge.

Shelagh: Share the best review (or a portion) that you’ve ever had.

Elynne: I have received many wonderful and insightful reviews about my writing and my performing. I would be happy to share one of each.

The following is a review of my audio fiction story, Professor Gabriel and her 101 Posse, which is available at www.thedeepening.com.   It is a short story that lends itself well to being read and recorded. It was recorded by D.L. Keur.

Elynne’s vivid and creative story touches the reader with emotion, just as Prof. Gabriel touched her students…The story of LK and the kidnapping would make an inspirational anticipatory set for any curriculum on creative writing … punctuated with chapter-like titles; i.e. “The Attic”, “The Billboard”, “The Conversation”, etc. the reader is held captive. I love how the story of Miguel is woven as a sub-plot to help clarify the Prof’s “mission” to help LK. The wisdom that the writer (and Professor Gabriel) imparts throughout is invaluable. “My burden was to help him lose his arrogance.” … “She taught us how not to be afraid” … Listening to her story was a very “deepening experience”. Thank you.

C.J. Breman

The feedback I have received from my performance programs are reviews that are indeed gratifying. The following is one of my favorites:

Most writers are Sooooo disappointing as speakers but you are dynamite wrapped in silk.
Illene Ashkenaz

Shelagh: What are your current projects?

Elynne: My most current writing project involved a Facebook experience that became two non-fiction stories published internationally in The Jerusalem Post Magazine. After the first story was published, the Jerusalem Post Magazine editor invited me to write a sequel. The entire experience from living the stories to writing them was magical. And gaining an international audience through this paper’s print distribution and website was an invaluable opportunity.

I have stories accepted in two more anthologies that will be out toward the end of 2010.

I am always either thinking about my next story or writing it.

Shelagh: Where can folks learn more about your books and events?

Elynne: The anthologies with my stories, my performance schedule, reviews and book signings can be found at http://LookAroundMe.blogspot.com

March 22nd I have been invited with other contributing authors to the University of Maine to perform my stories in Contemporary American Women: Our Defining Passages. Both Cynthia Brackett-Vincent, the editor of Passages, and I are contributing authors to the anthology, Forever Friends edited by Shelagh Watkins.

Shelagh: Thanks for joining us today, Elynne.

Elynne: I am delighted to be interviewed by you. Thank you for the invitation.

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A. Colin Wright

A. Colin Wright’s first novel, Sardinian Silver, was a finalist in the 2009 Indie Awards. It received an honorary mention in the fiction category of the San Francisco Book Festival and was one of two runners-up in the fiction category of the New York Book Festival. It has recently won a Pinnacle Books Award for the best fiction.

Shelagh: Please tell us a little about yourself, Colin.

Colin: I was born in Chelmsford, Essex, England. After serving as a linguist in the British Royal Air Force (learning Russian), I attended Cambridge University, where I earned M.A and Ph.D degrees. In 1962 I lived for six months in Sassari, Sardinia, followed the next year by a longer period in Reggio Calabria. I speak five languages reasonably fluently, and can stumble along in two more. In 1964, after a year’s study at the Herzen Pedagogical Institute in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg), I was appointed professor of Russian at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. I remained at Queen’s until retirement in 1999 and still reside in Kingston. I am married and have two grown sons.

Shelagh: When did the writing bug bite, and in what genre(s)?

Colin: At a relatively early age, I read a book on English history from the local children’s library. I decided to dramatize the kings of England, using paper cut-outs as puppets. The project didn’t get very far, but I still have a few pages of elementary dialogue, such as William II dying by an arrow in the New Forest, with him falling off his horse and saying “Oh blow!”

I was also fascinated by sailing ships and wrote the following at the age of six:

ST. MARIA
By A.C. Wright
IT IS TROOY BOAT BOOK
Aorgust 28th 1944
St. Maria
CHAPTER 1
The St. Maria was made on janyouvery 8th 1931. Made by W. Higham. The St. Maria was the ferst saling ship that was made by W. Higham.
CHAPTER 2
The St. Maria has got two booms like all ships have. One is a sall boom and the other is an orderry boom that is rearly calld the latean boom.
CHAPTER 3
The St. Maria has got fuor salls rearly five salls becools of the one on the sall boom.

Well, you get the idea.

And then … when I was young I enjoyed Enid Blyton’s “adventure” series (Castle of Adventure, etc.) and I remember wondering what it would be like to write a book: looking at one paragraph and thinking how difficult it would be to produce so many words. I even copied it down to see what it would look like.

Shelagh: When you started writing, what goals did you want to accomplish? Is there a message you want readers to grasp?

Colin: Encouraged by a teacher at grammar school in England, I just wanted to write, trying short stories — which were so terrible that I haven’t the courage to reread them. Then, when I was teaching at University, I published academic articles on Russian and comparative literature, including a major book on Mikhail Bulgakov. But I still wrote novels, short stories and plays.

In my fiction, the idea of a message only came later, but for me it is essential. I am interested in “what life is all about” — in a serious, religious sense — although combined with a good story.

Shelagh: Briefly tell us about your latest book.

Colin: My first published novel is Sardinian Silver. An English tourist representative in Sardinia seeks a Sard girl-friend, but is frustrated by local attitudes, with “continental” freedoms considered “immoral.” Eventually he finds a girl who’s unaccepted at home, but she falls for his friend, an introspective lawyer. Among others, he meets a tempestuous local maid, a pedantically Catholic schoolteacher and a flamboyant American woman. Included, of course, are many of my own reflections about life.

Shelagh: What’s the hook for the book?

Colin: Whether the young man hero will finally find love.

Shelagh: How do you develop characters? Setting?

Colin: In a sense, both were already given. In Sardinia and elsewhere I met a whole range of characters, whom then I developed in my own (fictitious) way. Sardinia itself was fascinating. My approach is similar in my other works: starting with people and places I find interesting.

Shelagh: Who’s the most unusual/most likeable character?

Colin: Other than my three major protagonists, I’d have to say Isabelle, the crazy American who constantly offends local susceptibilities.

Shelagh: Do you have specific techniques to help you maintain the course of the plot?

Colin: I wish I did. Plot is where I have most difficulties, although in the case of Sardinian Silver the actual events of my time there helped.

Shelagh: Do you have a specific writing style?

Colin: I aim for precision and accuracy, with no superfluous words, so I spend a great deal of time editing. However, I sometimes enjoy fantasy and experimentation, including “unreliable narrators,” particularly in my stories. I vary my POV according to what seems to work best. Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses (which I didn’t much like) taught me that one can do absolutely anything in a novel if one can discover how.

Shelagh: How does your environment/upbringing color your writing?

Colin: There was an insistence at my school on good grammar. Then the study at university of great Russian, German and French literature was a strong influence.

Shelagh: Share the best review (or a portion) that you’ve even had.

Colin: “It’s a fantastic short read, to tell you the truth, like discovering a lost Graham Greene story… Wright takes his time here with his story, making plot a dim second to the mere establishment of time and place and mood, gently exploring the back alleys and side daytrips of this remarkable island with a kind of grace and ease that only comes with maturity. And in this, astute readers might be reminded as well of the “Alexandria Quartet” by Lawrence Durrell … This novel is without a doubt as good as one of Graham Greene’s minor works, and in fact could easily be mistaken for some forgotten Greene tale.”

Shelagh: What are your current projects?

Colin: To publish my short stories as a collection; then my somewhat fantastic long novel Veronica’s Papers; to get some of my plays performed professionally; and to complete another novel I’ve been having problems with, set in post-war Berlin. Finally, to publish a non-fiction book based on some of my articles on what I personally believe about God and life.

Shelagh: Where can folks learn more about your books and events?

Colin: For my novel, see www.sardiniansilver.com. For my career in general, see www.acolinwright.ca. And for a selection of some of my stories plus articles and literary blogs, see www.authorsden.com/acolinwright.

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