Author Interview: About Me and "Finding Heaven"

On Sunday afternoon, I had the privilege of being interviewed on Facebook by author Joy Norstrom, one of the authors with whom I am co-hosting the Inspiring Women event at Audreys Books in Edmonton on Thursday. (The other is P.D. Workman.) For posterity's sake, and in case you missed it, I am copying the interview here.

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Joy: 

Good afternoon, Talena! I hope you are staying warm up in Peace River. 

First question for you: What’s a typical writing day for you look like? Describe your perfect writing environment.

Talena:

Hi, Joy! Thanks! That's what cozy fireplaces are for. :-) Thanks for interviewing me today.

My "ideal" environment is when I can get focused right after breakfast and write for a couple of hours before lunch (hopefully knocking out nearly 3000 words), then spend the rest of my day focusing on other aspects of my business and making sure that I have supper prepped. (I teach piano two evenings a week, which means I need to start supper before my kids get home from school on those nights).

What often happens instead is that I get distracted by things that I feel are "urgent", and my morning writing time is often shortened, or moved to the afternoon. My left brain won't relax enough to let my right brain work until certain things have been dealt with, like business emails. So, it's far from the ideal, and it's a self-discipline I'm still working on. (I do much better than I used to.) But I'm also a night owl, so on days when I don't get writing done in the morning, I will often do a little late at night. Sometimes, that's my best time, because social media is usually inactive and my right brain can't use it as an excuse to stall when it is finding the work challenging. I'm also more tired and know I have a time crunch, so I'm less likely to use "research" as an excuse to stall, either. It's basically my way of tricking my right brain into doing its job because it's too tired to whine at me about it. :-)

Joy:

I hear you! It’s a balancing act isn’t it? Good for you for finding a strategy that works. Never underestimate the power of a deadline, right? 😉

Talena:

Definitely!

Joy:

Question 2: How did you get started writing? Was it something you’ve always loved?

Talena:

I loved creative writing as a child, and always did well during those units in school. However, when it came time to choose a college education, I went in for jazz piano with a composition focus with intentions of becoming a professional songwriter.

Right after college, I got married and two years later started a family. While I began down the road to my dream, due to changes in the music industry—and the realization that, as a non-performing songwriter, I'd likely have to move to Nashville to make a living at this, which is not what I wanted to do—it became more of a hobby during those years. However, I began blogging in 2006 after my third son was born, and found the creativity and community to be a great stress relief in a day filled with toddlers and tantrums (some of which were mine, lol).

It wasn't long before my readers started commenting that I should write a book. For some reason, I always heard "novel" (probably because of my life-long addiction to fiction of all kinds), and always demurred—until 2010, when I finally got an idea for a fictional world that I desperately wanted to read a story in. (I'm finally writing that story now).

After noodling around for a year or two, I took a course on fiction writing from Holly Lisle, and in 2015, self-published my first book, which I'd written while taking the course. It was at that point that I finally knew what I wanted to do when I grew up—write fiction. It was something I loved, and I knew that even independent authors could make a decent living at it if they were willing to learn and put in the work, which I was willing to do.

Joy:

Wow! What a cool journey. Between songwriting and novel writing you sound very creative. 
Is there anything you picked up from songwriting that has influenced your novel writing?

Talena:

Definitely. Songwriters have to use the least number of words to achieve the most amount of impact, which means there isn't room for dull verbs or boring metaphors. When I wrote songs, I also focused very much on the feeling I was trying to create, which has served me well as I've worked with writing scenes. Point of view is also a big deal with songwriting. The most effective ones are from the first person. While I don't usually write my stories in the first person (yet), it's important to remember that the emotions we are working with are universal—all humans have them at some point in our lives. It's finding those points of commonality that is important in both songwriting and story telling.

I always told a lot of stories in my songs, anyway. I wasn't very philosophical in them, I always just loved stories.

Joy:

Very cool!

Question 3: If writing wasn’t your career, what would you be doing?

Talena:

I'd probably be teaching piano full-time, now that my children are almost all in their teen years. I have been exclusively self-employed in various capacities since 2001. I'm almost completely unemployable, now. :-)

Joy:

Lol, I’m sure you are very much employable. 🙂

Talena:

Hard to say. I'm not eager to test it out. ;-)

Joy:

Question 4: What’s the best compliment you’ve received about your writing?

Talena:

Wow, that's a hard one. The most impacting one was when one of my beta readers (Melissa Keaster) shared how God had used my book to bring some of her own issues resulting from Childhood Sexual Abuse to light so that she could finally heal from them. She shared that story on her blog here. Mostly, I love when someone who reads my books tells me that they couldn't put it down and read it all in as short a time as possible. I feel like I've done my job as a writer if someone is that engaged.

Joy:

What an honour to be part of someone’s personal journey in this way. I agree that story can be a powerful tool. Hearing about Melissa’s experience as your beta reader must have had a huge impact on you as a writer.

Talena:

It was definitely encouraging, and gave me the courage to put a story out into the world that I was a still a little terrified to have read by people who actually knew me. :-)

Joy:

Question 5: Can you tell us about some of your favorite writers/inspirations?

Talena:

I am very inspired by writers who both use their work to share life-changing stories and who have worked very hard to be successful in the modern writing business. Christian author Francine Rivers is very inspiring to me as regards the type of work she does. (Her books have affected me deeply.) Independent authors that have inspired me by their work and/or their careers include Holly Lisle, MaryLu Tyndall, P.D. Workman, Adam Dreece, Andy Weir, and Tracy Cooper-Posey. Becoming a successful writer is about a lot more than writing excellent books these days (though that is vital), so I deeply respect those who have put in the work (and still do) to become successful.

Joy:

Agreed. There is lot of work required getting your name out there, and your book in the hands of potential readers.

Of the authors listed, do you have a particular book recommendation or two? Some of them are highly prolific.

Talena:

I'm going to be honest—I haven't read books by all of them. Some of them, I follow simply to see how they have marketed themselves as authors. :-) However, I love Holly Lisle's Memory of Fire series, MaryLu Tyndall has an amazing series called "Legacy of the King's Pirates" (I think the first book is The Redemption), and I enjoyed P.D. Workman's Endless Change. I just did a beta read for one of Adam Dreece's upcoming books, The King's-Horse, and I can tell you, it's going to be super cool! Oh, and my favourite Francine Rivers book is The Atonement Child.

Joy:

We sound similar; my wish-to-read list is often longer than my finished-reading list. 😂
Thanks for adding to my wish list. Sounds like some great stories.

Talena:

Oh, you are SO welcome! Haha. :-D

Joy:

Question 6: How did you come up with your title, Finding Heaven?

Talena:

 I'd had the basic premise of Finding Heaven sitting in the back of my brain for several years. Then, in June of 2015, my youngest son (who had just turned 3) was killed when he ran behind his daddy's truck as he was backing up.

Even though I have been a Christian for most of my life, I have a "faith heritage" from several different denominations that have a conflicting view of what happens after death. It had never much bothered me before, as I figured I would find out when I "get there", but suddenly, it mattered very much to me what, exactly, happens to a child that dies. I spent a great deal of time that summer reading books about near death experiences (NDEs), studying the Bible, and asking God to help me understand. By the time I got the final piece of the puzzle for Sarah's story in around October of that year and knew the outline of what her journey would be, those questions about my son and the afterlife had been answered in my own heart.

Sarah's journey is not about finding a literal heaven, more like finding peace and happiness after a life that was basically hell on earth, but the metaphoric title came to me and it's what I went with. (I was going to use "Finding Sarah" at first, but there was already a book by that name. Several, in fact, if I remember correctly.)

Joy:

I’m very sorry to hear about your family tragedy. That makes complete sense to me, why you would search for answers regarding the afterlife. It’s a lovely title and I like the idea of finding peace and happiness.

Talena:

Thank you.

Joy:

Question 7: I’m sure some of what you’ve shared with us must have inspired you to write this story. Were there other inspirations?

Talena:

Besides the factors I already mentioned, the original seed of the story came from an anecdote Holly Lisle shared in her How to Think Sideways course that I took in 2012. It was about a successful author she knew that hated her genre and the people who read it. I asked myself why anyone would do that to herself, and because of some other things I had been going through at that point in my life, I wondered if she may have been sexually abused and wrote erotica, and thought that that would be a very interesting story to explore.

Over the next several years, I learned more and more about domestic violence, childhood sexual abuse, and sex trafficking, and knew I wanted to include all of those issues in this story. Because of the heavy subject matter, I wasn't sure I would ever be ready to actually write the story, though—until I lost my son. Suddenly, I knew that I needed to write a story like this, one that would allow me to tackle something that really mattered and look for healing for my character—which was hugely instrumental in my own healing journey.

The final piece came when a friend of mine posted her cancer survival story, which was also wrapped up in how she met her life partner. It was what I needed to pull the whole story together, and I began writing it within days.

Joy:

Question 8: It sounds like there are several heavy topics in Finding Heaven, including human trafficking. What kind of research did you do in preparation?

Talena:

I read a lot of books and personal accounts, some of which awoke a desire to make a difference in those areas in the first place, and some of which helped me to understand the full scope of the problem. I also researched organizations who currently work with human trafficking victims in India to understand what is currently being done about it. One of the most informative books I read was Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Slavery by Siddharth Kara.

In regards to Childhood Sexual Abuse, I found the book The Wounded Heart by Dan Allender to be extremely impacting. Even though CSA is not my own story, the lessons learned from that book helped me to both grieve my son and deal with some of the hurts that I did experience as a child. It changed my life.

I have listed these and other resources that I found helpful while researching on my website at www.talenawinters.com/resources.

Joy:

Great resources!

Talena:

Thank you. :-)

Joy:

Question 9: Anything you can tell us about upcoming projects?

Talena:

Absolutely! I am finally writing the story that made me want to become a fiction writer—a story that sprang from my guilty pleasure of mermaid stories and the question "where are all the mermen?" called The Mermaid's TearIt is a young adult historical fantasy that explores the consequences of slavery and gender oppression, which is serious stuff, but all wrapped up in a "seriously cool" world.

I also intend to write another romantic story this year, probably more "romantic women's fiction" than straight romance, though.

My goal is to get to the point where I produce two books per year. I am not a fast writer, so this is definitely a goal-in-progress. I have also considered trying the traditional publishing route with the mermaid fantasy, simply because of the wider distribution available. We'll see what happens with that.

Joy:

🧜‍♀️ 🧜‍♀️🧜‍♀️! Sounds very fun! I can’t wait to read it! 
Sounds like you will be joining the prolific writer list 😉

Talena:

Being prolific is my goal. It seems to be the only way to be successful and make a living as a writer, these days.

And are those mermaid emojis?? Awesome!

Joy:

They sure are. And here’s the 🧜‍♂️😊

Question 10: okay, fun questions: chocolate or potato chips?

Talena:

Chocolate. Always chocolate. (Dark chocolate only.) :-D

Joy:

Beach or mountains?

Talena:

Mountains. Love 'em. (To visit.)

Joy:

Tea or coffee?

Talena:

Both, but black tea is my first love. Too much coffee disagrees with me.

Joy:

Do you read your reviews? Yes or no?

Talena:

Yes, I read my reviews. So far, I haven't really had any bad ones, so I'll cross that bridge when I come to it. My favourites are ones that hint that my book changed the reader in some way and helped them on their own journey. That is what Finding Heaven is about—healing.

Joy:

Absolutely!

Last Question: How can readers contact you?

Talena:

I love to stay in touch with my readers in a variety of ways. Joining my newsletter means you never miss the important stuff and that I get to bring you a little pick-me-up once a month (my newsletter focuses on being "inspirational"), but finding me on Facebook or Instagram means that you find out about stuff sooner (assuming you turn on notifications so you don't miss anything) and that I can get to know you, too! You can find all the many ways to contact me from my Contact page at www.talenawinters.com/contact. On Facebook, my author page is at www.facebook.com/talenawinters.artist.

Joy:

Thanks for sharing with us, Talena! Can’t wait to see you on International Women’s Day, and hear you read from Finding Heaven ❤️.

Talena:

Thank you, Joy. I appreciate your time, and am looking forward to seeing you again, too. Have a great night!


If you are near enough to Edmonton to join us, I hope to see you on Thursday, March 8, 2018 at 7:00 pm at Audreys Books in Edmonton, 10702 Jasper Ave. :-)

Have a great week, friend!