Interview with Zara Altair   3 comments

Today’s interview is with Zara Altair. Welcome to the blog. Tell us something about yourself. 

Profile photoLela, thank you for inviting me to this conversation. I live just outside of Portland, Oregon, in the United States. When I’m not working on my stories, I’m still writing. I contribute semantically optimized content for several websites and blog article series. Right now, I am also ghostwriting a thriller.

I’ve taught writing in various roles from kindergarten through university. For the past 10 years, I’ve been helping other story writers with developmental editing and script review.

 

 

At what point did you know you wanted to be a writer? 

I’ve been telling stories since I was a toddler and began writing stories when I was around five years old. At that same time, I met a writer of children’s books and knew I wanted to be a writer.

 

 

Tell us about your writing process.

The process is a mix. Characters come to me and want their story told. I get to know my character and, for the historical mysteries, I do a great deal of research.

For planning, I do a three-point plan: Beginning, middle, and end. Then I fill in the chapters that get the story from the beginning to the end. Those chapter notes are loose ideas. I find that as I write, characters do and say things that move the story in unexpected ways. I do not compose the story linearly. If a scene pops into my head, I write it while it is fresh in my mind. A similar process may happen with bits of dialog. So-and-so has to say this, and then fit it into the story.  But, in the main, I write from the beginning to the end, fitting in those already written scenes at the appropriate place in the story line.

Writing time is uninterrupted. No phone conversations. No quick checks of email. I want to get “in the flow” and stay there during writing time.

 

What is your favorite genre … to read … to write?

The Used Virgin: An Argolicus Mystery (Argolicus Mysteries) by [Altair, Zara]I read a lot of thrillers, crime, police procedurals, some legal thrillers. I also read science fiction.

 

I love writing mysteries. I think it is the puzzle that intrigues me. What is the puzzle? Who is involved? Who seems like the perfect foil? What are the clues? Where do I plant them in the story?

 

 

Where do you get the inspiration for your novels?

I find that reading history of the time of my stories, early 6th Century Italy, provides great inspiration for the circumstances of the plot and what issues surround characters. Some of the reading is fairly dry, but as a storyteller my response may be: What the bishops were running a slave trade? The area was known for horse breeding? Sometimes these idea sparks come from scholarly footnotes, not the main text. I’m always looking for juicy situations.

 

Because the Emperor Justinian did everything he could to remove all traces of the Ostrogoths in Italy, research is always a challenge. From quotidian details like meals and clothing to palace intrigue sources are scant. A perfect example is the mosaic of the palace in Sant’Apollonare Nuovo. Justinian had the original mosaic, believed to be Theoderic and his court, removed and replaced with the curtains. If you look closely you can see hands on three of the pillars which are left over from the original mosaic.

 

My central character, 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.

 

 

What sort of research do you do for your novels?

The Peach Widow: An Argolicus Mystery (Argolicus Mysteries) by [Altair, Zara]I have bookshelves full of historical references. Conference proceedings bound into books, sometimes including lively question and answer sessions. Many of the books are in Italian. One conference may have presentations in English, French, Italian, etc. I struggle through quotes in Latin and Greek. My one comparison to Shakespeare is that, as Ben Jonson said, I have “small Latin and less Greek.” I sound out the Greek. It’s like a kid just learning to read.

 

I traveled to Italy, to interview scholars at the Universitá di Bologna, who graciously answered many questions and supplied me with 30 kilos of books to further my research. Two questions I had were inadvertently answered by just being there. I found a small cookbook in a bookstore about the food of the Ostrogoths, and a bartender gave me a local journal that spoke of an underground café, which for story purposes, was the place where the king stored the wheat and bread that he gave out.

 

 

If someone who hasn’t read any of your novels asked you to describe your writing, what would you say?

My stories are traditional mysteries set in a long-ago time, a time when the Ostrogoths ruled Italy. The main character straddles the two worlds of Ostrogoth and Italian culture. There were no police or private detectives, and murder was not a crime under either legal system.

 

 

Do you have a special place where you write?

Yes, my desk. Sometimes it is covered with reference books.

 

 

 

Are you a plot driven or character driven writer? Why?

Mysteries have a standard plot trope. Beyond that, I play with the characters.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What influenced your decision to self-publish?

My short story, The Used Virgin, had been sitting on my computer for several years. I decided to put it out there for anyone who might be interested. Little did I know at the time, how much I had to learn about creating an author platform and communicating with readers and potential readers.

 

What do you find to be the greatest advantage of self-publishing?

Getting the book out is a relatively short process. The author has control of publication.

 

With the number of self-published books increasing by such a huge rate, it is really difficult for authors to make their books stand out. How do you go about this?

I don’t think so much about getting the books to stand out as finding readers who want to read the type of story I write. That thinking comes from working as a writer in the Search Engine Optimization world. Business owners, that’s me as an author, can spend energy on ranking, or they can optimize to engage with customers. It’s a similar approach.

Ask me again in two years.

 

 

Who designed your book cover/s?

I feel fortunate to work with Ryan J. Rhoades of Reformation Designs. After talking with him about the series, he created covers that captured the essence of the time. And, each cover has an important clue hidden in the details. We did that for fun.

Although I had worked with him on other design projects, his branding tends to look very modern. I was hesitant at the beginning but as soon as I saw his first cover I knew I had made a good decision.

 

 

Do you believe that self-published authors can produce books as high-quality as the traditional published? If so, how do you think we should go about that?

Absolutely. Write the best story you can. Find an editor familiar with your genre. Hire a cover designer who understands your book. Choose cover material and paper that match the feel of your book. Self-published authors who put in attention to detail in all phases of book production have no worries about high-quality.

 

Do you belong to a writer’s cooperative? Describe your experience with that.

Nothing so formal as a cooperative. I have been in writing groups for years starting with the Russian River Writers in California in the late 1970s.

My current writing group is small. When I moved to Oregon from California four years ago, I looked at a number of groups but most of them were not a fit. I started corresponding with a contact from a group that had folded and we chatted about our “ideal” group. It took us almost a year to form the group. We have written rules, a trial period, and a tight community.

We meet twice a month. We bring printed copies of the pages. We take turns reading each other’s passage aloud. After the reading each individual comments. The writer leaves with written comments and suggested edits from each member.

The comments and suggestions are instrumental in honing the final story. I recommend a writing group for any writer. What we do with suggestions is up to the writer.

 

How do readers find you and your books?

 

 

Links:

Amazon Author Page

Author Website

Facebook Author Fan Page

Twitter

Goodreads

Google+

YouTube

 

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3 responses to “Interview with Zara Altair

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  1. Reblogged this on Daermad Cycle.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Interview with Zara Altair – Felix Ravenna

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