Posts tagged ‘Arts’

An Interview With Talented Author Susan Petersen Avitzour

How did you become involved with the subject or theme of your book?

My eighteen-year-old daughter Timora died of leukemia in 2001. My book is a memoir of my journey with her while she was ill, then without her after she left this world.

Why did you choose to write in your particular field or genre?  If you write more than one, how do you balance them?

I find that writing stories on or based on my own life comes the most easily to me; I’ve also found that people are very interested in hearing my stories, as I’ve had quite an eventful life. Whether I write a story as straight memoir or use it as the basis for fiction depends on my intuition as to which genre will be most effective for that particular piece.

Where did your love of books/storytelling/reading/writing/etc. come from?

I come from a bookworm family.  I started reading at the age of four and haven’t stopped since; before then, my mother read me stories just about every day.  I can’t say why, but I’ve loved writing from the time I remember myself, though I’m the only member of my family who writes seriously.

How long have you been writing?

I wrote my first story in second grade; it was called “Susan the Clown,” and was inspired by my experience of being the odd child out among my peers. I’ve been doing creative writing ever since.

What kind(s) of writing do you do?

In the past I did translations (Hebrew to English) and a bit of journalism, and spent three years as a grant writer raising funds for nonprofit organizations. Nowadays I concentrate on my own writing – personal essays, memoir, and fiction.

What cultural value do you see in writing/reading/storytelling/etc.?

By getting us to laugh, cry, and ponder, books and stories also get us in touch with our deepest inner selves.  Reading, writing, and storytelling also connect people with each other through their common human experience; they let us know that we’re not alone in what we think and feel.  This can be done literally or symbolically: whether through memoirs like my own, which directly reflect readers’ experiences, or through creative fiction – even of the wildest kind – which strikes deep emotional chords even where readers will never come close to action such as that which takes place in the bookstory.

How does your book relate to your spiritual practice or other life path?

One of its main themes is how my belief in God and practice of Judaism affected and were affected by Timora’s illness and death.  One of its two main parts is a journal that records my thoughts and reflections as I grieve for my daughter.  Whenever an entry falls on or near a Jewish or Israeli holiday or other special day, I explore the day’s meaning and message for me, in light of Timora’s story, or my own journey.  Interestingly, the meaning I find in each case is relevant to all people facing hardship, and not only to Jews or to bereaved parents.  In addition, some of the book’s segments deal with completely universal spiritual subjects, such as the question why and how to love God in an often-cruel world.

What were your goals and intentions in this book, and how well do you feel you achieved them?

My goals were mainly two: To tell Timora’s and my stories in a way that would engross and move readers; and to write a book that would be of some comfort and/or assistance to people enduring hardship. From the feedback my readers have given me so far, it seems I achieved both goals.  As far as my first aim – to write a good story – goes, a great many people have told me they couldn’t put the book down, and many of those stayed up all night reading it.  Just about everyone who’s contacted me after reading it has used expressions such as “beautifully written,” “powerful,” and “extremely moving.”  As for the second, some have told me they found it uplifting or inspiring; others have told me that it’s helped them deal with difficulties they are facing in their own lives, even if these difficulties are very different from those I describe in the memoir – and thanked me for writing it.

What do you think most characterizes your writing?

I think my writing is clear, emotionally honest, intense, and evocative; in any case, so I’ve been told. I’m not afraid to write about topics that might be difficult for most people to tell about.

What was the hardest part of writing this book? 

Timora was a writer herself, and left behind a diary she’d kept from the time she returned to school after her first bone marrow transplant; the last entry is dated a week before she entered the hospital for the last time.  My husband Daniel read the diary a few months after she died, and then again when he had it typed up, but I couldn’t touch it for many years.  Even after I finally decided to read it, I’d open it, read a little and close it, then “forget” to go back to it for weeks at a time.  Writing the memoir, which is as much Timora’s story as mine, forced me to finally read the diary through, as it was very important to me that the book be as factually accurate as possible.  Reading the diary was one of the emotionally hardest things I’ve ever done, as you can well imagine.  Yet it was a wonderful experience in another way, as I rediscovered just how resilient Timora was.  One day she’d write about being physically hurting, mentally exhausted, and emotionally drained – and the next she’d be writing cheerfully and optimistically about plans she’d made with her sisters or friends.

What did you enjoy most about writing this book?

Creating the book was a double process for me. On the one hand, it was therapeutic in that it forced me to dig into deep aspects of my experience which I’d been avoiding, and to explore various facets of their meaning for me.  That part was quite hard, but ultimately strengthened me.  On the other, the process was deeply artistic in that I had to decide how to take my raw experience and put it into language, and fashion into a whole with integrity – a work that would be meaningful to others besides myself.  I very much enjoyed this second part of the process – choosing my words for accuracy and for flow, and structuring the text for maximum impact. For this reason, I loved being edited.

Are there vocabulary words or concepts in your book that may be new to readers?  Define some of those.

The book contains Jewish concepts and Hebrew and Yiddish words, but I was careful to make sure their meaning would be clear from the text itself.

Are there misconceptions that people have about your book?  If so, explain.

People might think that a book like mine is a depressing read.  People who’ve read it, however, have found the story sad but optimistic, as it depicts a loving family dealing with extreme hardship in a way that only increases their love for each other, and a grieving process in which I ultimately affirm faith and love despite suffering and loss.

What inspires you? 

Seeing how other people face life’s hardships without losing their sense of humor and their ability to enjoy themselves and love others.

How did you get to be where you are in your life today?

I think I’ve gotten where I am in life due to a combination of attitude and action.  I’ve always been very open to the world and to new experience, which has brought me to places I hadn’t even dreamed of – such as moving to Israel and raising seven children.  I’m also quite an optimist; part of me refuses to accept limits to what I can do if I set my mind to it – such as raising seven children while working full time in successive careers as a lawyer, a mediator, a commercial writer and, now, a psychotherapist. Finally, as just about anyone would say in response to this question, I’ve always been willing to put in the hours and work hard.

Who are some of your favorite authors that you feel were influential in your work?  What impact have they had on your writing?

I’ve probably been influenced one way or another by every author I’ve ever read.  What comes to mind when I’m asked this question, though, is that Arhundati Roy (The God of Small Things) showed me that one can write about even the most traumatic of subjects in language that flows like poetry. The memoir/novel that most impressed me was Amos Oz’s A Tale of Love and Darkness), which he calls a novel, and reads like a novel, but is very closely based on his life.  I think it’s the best of his books, and reading it has made me feel less like I’m “cheating” by basing my stories on my own experiences.

What did you find most useful in learning to write?  What was least useful or most destructive?

Good editing was probably most useful for all the kinds of writing I’ve done – from legal opinions to translation to short stories to my memoir.  I’ve also benefitted a great deal from feedback I’ve received in workshops given by professional writers.  The most destructive thing I’ve done is compare myself with other authors.  My writing is my own, and what I need to do is just make it the best I possibly can.

Are you a full-time or part-time writer?  How does that affect your writing?

I’m a part-time writer. This certainly reduces my output, as I have many fewer hours available for writing, and am more tired during those hours, than would be the case if I wrote full-time.  But at the same time, being involved in all my other activities mean that I’m living more of life; perhaps this provides me with more raw material for my writing.

What are some day jobs that you have held?  If any of them impacted your writing, share an example.

My work as a lawyer sharpened my ability to analyze situations logically and describe them in clear, concise language.  Mediating taught me to listen closely when people describe their inner experiences, and to see beneath the surface of their words.  Commercial writing, of course, polished my style by giving me the opportunity to work with fine professional writers and editors.

How do you feel about ebooks vs. print books and alternative vs. conventional publishing?

I personally love the sensual feel of holding a print book in my hands, and of turning paper pages one by one. I think print books are easier on my eyes, too, though that problem will probably be solved in the near future.  But there’s no turning back the tide of technology, and we’ll just need to adapt.

What do you think is the future of reading/writing?

Reading fills a deep human need for storytelling, and it will certainly always be with us, though it may change its form.  It’s true that at the moment, as attention spans continue to shorten, there is a move away from longer, slower-paced works.  But I believe there will be a backlash, because people have been enjoying long tales for thousands of years, and it’s hard to imagine something so central to our collective experience just disappearing.

What process did you go through to get your book published?

I spent many, many hours over many, many months sending out queries, summaries, and excerpts to literary agents and small independent publishing houses.  Finally, a local agent recommended me to a small Jerusalem-based English-language publisher, and I co-published together with him.

What makes your book stand out from the crowd?

My book is different from the typical illness or grief memoir in several ways.  First, it looks back at Timora’s illness and death from a long perspective; it ends sixteen years after she was diagnosed and nine years after she died. Second, it’s the literary equivalent of a “mixed media” work of visual art, comprising both a narrative that recounts Timora’s story and mine during her illness; and a journal documenting my own journey as I grieved for her.  Third, the journal contains several different kinds of segments, some dealing with my emotional state, some with the life decisions I had to make, and some with my spiritual and philosophical reflections in light of Timora’s suffering and my loss. Examples of their highly diverse themes include “Hair,” “Forgiveness,” and “The Bare Necessities: Fun.”

Thus, in the book’s first part the reader goes through the experience of getting to know Timora; of witnessing her struggle to lead a normal life despite the cancer, and mine to support her in any way I could; and finally of losing her.  He or she then processes those experiences together with me in its second part.  Most memoirs bring the reader into only one of these – either the illness/loss, or the processing.

How do you find or make time to write?

To tell the truth, that’s one of my greatest challenges.  The only way I’ve found that works is not to take on too many other commitments – not that I always follow my own advice!  It certainly helps that at this stage in my life I no longer have children living at home.

Do you write more by logic or intuition, or some combination of the two?  Summarize your writing process.

I think all good writing involves a combination of intuition and logic.  In my case, intuition – or, if you will, inspiration – usually comes first.  I have a general idea of what I want to write about, and often walk around thinking about it for a few hours or days, but never know exactly what I want to say until I sit down at the computer and start writing.  It’s the writing itself that gets my juices flowing, and it’s in the middle of the first flow that I usually understand intuitively which words to use and how to structure the piece. Unlike many writers, I revise as I write, often going back in the middle of writing the first draft to change what I’ve already written in light of an idea or language that the act of writing has given to me. Logic comes in here too – I may realize after writing a paragraph that it’s inconsistent with something that came before it, so I go back and either choose one of the contradicting pieces of text, or reconcile them.

After I have a first draft, or the draft of a first section, I again check its logic – whether it makes sense as a whole.  Inspiration comes in here too, though; if I find a logical flaw it’s often intuition that tells me how to fix it.  I love the revision process, as it allows me to polish what I’ve written.

What are some ways in which you promote your work?  Do you find that these add to or detract from your writing time?

I’ve spoken about the book in a few different forums – my synagogue, a literary café, and two social work classes – but my main method of promotion is the virtual tour I’m now taking, visiting various blogs, book sites, and radio programs.  I must say that the virtual tour is taking up all my writing time, but it’s just for a month, so I’ll get back to my creative writing soon.

What do you like to read in your free time?

I’m an extremely eclectic reader, and love good books in most genres.  I usually read a few books at once.  Right now, for example, I’m in the middle of David Grossman’s To the End of the Land, Scott Turow’s Innocent, and Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote (in Edith Gross’s modern translation, it’s as great a read as any contemporary novel). Recently I’ve read several books by Indian authors, such as Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy.

What projects are you working on at the present?

I’m working on various short stories in the framework of a creative writing group.  I’d like to publish my finished stories in a collection that I’m tentatively calling Scenes from My Life and Other Stories.

What question do you wish that someone would ask about your book, but nobody has? Write it out here, then answer it.

What was your greatest problem in writing the book, and how did you solve it?

Hardest for me was balancing my desire to tell the story of Timora’s illness and death and the need to protect my family’s privacy.  One of the most serious challenges facing parents of children with serious illness is dealing with the family dynamics – I wanted to be honest about the very real difficulties, but without revealing things that my children would much rather be kept from the public eye.  I eventually wrote just enough not to idealize our family – to let my readers know that a situation like ours is inevitably going to be very hard on the other children, and that parents will sometimes find themselves at a loss about what to do.  At first I wasn’t sure whether to publish under my real name or a pseudonym; in the end I asked each family member if I could use his or her given name, and ended up “renaming” three of my children.

To learn more about Susan Avitzour, author of And Twice the Marrow of Her Bones, we invite you to visit her site – For the full virtual tour schedule, visit

A Few Tips on Becoming a Real Author


Maybe you just signed your first book contract. Maybe you self-published a book. Or maybe you’ve even had a book out there for a little while and not much is happening with it. Whatever the case, there are some basic steps you can take to up your chances of getting your book into readers’ hands.

Do you have an author‘s page on GoodReads? Do you have a video trailer? APEX does great work. You can check mine out as an example. And don’t stop with GoodReads. You can get an amazon author’s page, too. Linked-in is great. Try and get yourself on others’ blogs. Do interviews. Offer your book for free maybe for a week with a coupon code on smashwords. Comment on authors’ blogs who have books similar to your own. Mainly just get your name out there as much as you can.

I know I had no idea of the amount of energy I needed to expend on marketing my books AND myself. I started a blog and put up a website where people could buy my books free of shipping. I’ve done radio shows and now feel fairly comfortable with that, especially if the interviewer knows what they’re doing.

You could also look up some good author blogs and newsletters and subscribe. I continually take in new information on how best to get well-known. I have a lot of author friends all over the world through social networking.

That’s about all I can think of for now, but feel free to ask me anything that I can help you with. I love helping new authors.

Happy Writing!

Review of Earthwalker

Neil Leckman
Mar 06, 2011

Neil Leckman rated it 5 of 5 stars

I enjoyed this book for several reasons, first and foremost would be the writing itself. If a book isn’t well written I’m falling away after the first two pages. Julie takes you for a ride that always surprises you, and leaves you wanting more. It is a vampire tale with more going for it than just a nice bite!!!

Writing Action Scenes by Julie Achterhoff

Somewhere along the way I had to learn how to write a good action scene. At first I started out with a wing and a prayer- but that doesn’t get you very far when you want your readers to experience what you’ve created in your head. I was terrified looking at that blank page the first time I tried to write one. They aren’t easy because of the simple fact that they happen so darned fast in real life- or the movies and T.V. Maybe that’s one reason we like them so much. They pump up the adrenaline, which is exactly what you want to do when writing a good piece of action.

My first suggestion, as always is to read, read, read. After you’ve done that, find a movie where you like a particular action sequence, and rent it. You want to be able to pause it at will. Then sit down with a pad and pen and write what you see. And remember above all: show, don’t tell! This will be a challenge, but if you try this a few times you should get the hang of it.

After you feel like you have a good one, show it to a friend or family member and ask them if they can “feel” it. If you’re privy to another writer or writing group, ask them what they think of it.

Action scenes can be hard if you’re not used to writing them, but they are also a lot of fun once you get them down.



Listen To My Radio Interview!

Tonia Brown and I had a great time with author Julie Achterhoff . Find out why you should beware the power of negative thinking and what you have in common with vampires.

Author of Quantum Earth Dead Lucidity and Earthwalker joins us to talk about her projects. Jan 09 2011

Susan Claridge Interviews Me

Before we get started talking about your books, tell us a little about yourself.  Where are you from?  What is your occupation outside of writing?


I’m originally from a small town in Michigan right on Lake Muskegon. Now I live behind the “Redwood Curtain” in Humboldt County, California.  It’s about six hours north of San Francisco on the coast. I don’t have a profession outside of writing.


Would you describe yourself as an introvert or an extrovert?


I think of myself as an introvert, but I can be an extrovert when I need to be!


Do you have any pets?  If so, what kind and tell us their names.


I have a multicolored kitty named Rajah.


What are your favorite books to read?


I love dipping into just about every genre, but I do love thrillers and historical epics. I guess it’s good writing I look for when I choose a book.


Where is the most unique place you have traveled?


Europe. It’s just so incredibly ancient compared to the U.S. They have buildings that are hundreds of years old, whereas we only go back a few hundred years here. Europe has such a sense of history about it.


Aside from your successes in the writing industry, what in your life has given you the greatest sense of accomplishment?


I used to be a homebirth midwife, delivering babies at home. Nothing can ever compare to that.


How many books have you written and how many of those are published?  (Please list the names of your books here)


I have four published books, plus a few I started but haven’t finished. They’re titled: Native Vengeance (novella), Quantum Earth, Deadly Lucidity, and Earthwalker- Earth can be Hell for a Vampire.


Do you have one particular genre that all your books fall under (i.e. suspense, romance, etc.)  or do you write in many different genres?


I’ve been told that my writing is pretty unique. For one thing they’re hard to pin down as to genre. All of them have something to do with the paranormal, and there’s always a fear factor involved. I’m a multi-genre writer I guess.


How much character and plot detailing do you plan out before you begin writing a novel, or are you a “pantser” (fly by the seat of your pants) ?


I pretty much dream up a story I think I can live with for the duration, create a main character or two, and just let everything else just come to me. My stories seem to write themselves after that.


Prior to becoming a published author, how many rejections did you receive?  How did you handle the rejections?


I got many, many rejections before I snagged a couple of publishers who vied for Quantum Earth. That was crazy! I knew ahead of time that it takes a lot of rejections before you find a publisher that believes in your book enough to actually publish it. They get loads of queries from people all the time, some hundreds each month. I just kept telling myself that with every rejection I was just getting closer to getting published.


How and when do you write? Do you keep yourself on a schedule or do you work while the muse is with you?


I write almost constantly when I’m working on a book project. My muse is pretty cooperative once I’ve found something that excites me.


If you have a new release coming out, tell us about it.  (a short synopsis)


Earthwalker- Earth can be Hell for a Vampire is my latest release. It’s about a woman who’s going through a lot of emotional turmoil and heads to the mountains to be alone. Well, she’s not alone for long. A loud crashing noise in the night wakes her up and she goes out to investigate. She finds a man badly hurt next to a small spaceship. Of course she’s terrified, but he convinces her that he won’t hurt her if she helps him. This is the beginning of a very rocky romance, full of thrills and chills, not to mention passion. It’s a hard story to describe without giving away too much. I will say that the vampires involved are very different from what you’re used to. I wanted to create a world that was fresh and exciting.


If you have many books already released, tell us which is your favorite and why.


I really love them all, but since you’ve put me in a corner I’d have to say Earthwalker. I chose this one because I think vampires are so fun to read about. They can also be so multidimensional.


Out of all the books you’ve written and the characters you’ve created, which is your favorite character and why?


I think it would have to be the female protagonist in Deadly Lucidity. She’s got to deal with this crazy nightmare world she’s trapped in, going from one dream to the next in a heartbeat. It really makes her character have to evolve throughout the story, which I really enjoy.


If you could give one piece of advice to writers trying to get published, what would that advice be?

I never go with the obvious one about expecting lots of rejections. I tell them something I was totally clueless about, which is don’t think the work is over once you’ve gotten your book published. That’s only the beginning if you want to sell books. You’ve got to learn how to market yourself and your book. Publishers just don’t do that anymore for the most part. That’s one reason I self-published my second two books. For $500 I was able to get everything I got when I was with a publishing house, plus I get a much larger cut for all my hard work. There is a lot of great free info on marketing for writers on the internet. Do your research and market till your fingers bleed!


Anything else you’d like to share with my blog readers?


I’m offering a free pdf file of Earthwalker to anybody who would like to write a review of it on amazon and goodreads. Just contact me at if you’re interested. Happy reading to everyone!


Where can we read more about you and your work?


You can search my name on Google or any other search engine, or you can visit my blog at

There are lots of reviews on amazon, too. If you’d like to purchase my books with free shipping, go to

Be My Guest- Guest Blog Participation


Hello! Thanks for your interest in guest blogging at I love hosting other authors who have something to share.

Here is some information you’ll need:

At the bottom, there is a form for you to fill out so I know who you are and why you want to be here.

Please fill it out, then rename the MS Word file your name (example: JULIEACHTERHOFF.doc).  That will help me keep things organized.

Please return all of this ASAP, and at least two weeks ahead of the date you’d like to appear on my blog.


1.   Follow the directions.  I am not going to go looking around the www for your information.  With writing deadlines and the insanity that is my life, I just don’t have the time.

2.   Give me the URL for any photos you’d like included.  I don’t have the space on my server to host large images. Instructions can be found below on how to find an image URL.

3.   Offer swag if you can.  Just a free copy or download of one of your books is great.  (Unpublished authors are not expected to offer swag.)

4.   Copy, fill out this form completely and return it to me as an MS Word attachment to at least two weeks ahead of the date you would like to appear.

Date you would like to appear (if no date is specified, I will assign one to you):

Name/Pen Name:

Contact Email (not to be given out, just for me):





Book You are Promoting:

Buy Link (either to your author site or online places like Amazon):

URL for cover: (right click on the pic, then go to properties. It will have a URL, copy and paste that here)

You have the choice of writing an article, a character interview, or excerpt.

Articles and Interviews MUST be new.  I will not repost something that has already been posted on another author’s website.  For the article, gear it toward readers, not other authors.

The interview can be yours or a character of yours.  For your interview questions, scroll down.  You are responsible for interviewing your own characters.  See an example done by Melissa Schroeder here:

What do you plan to do (article, interview, excerpt)-

Cut and paste it here (Be sure to proofread it.  I am a writer, not an editor):

What are you offering for swag (giveaway):

Would you rather have people comment or answer a certain question to get their name in the hat for the prize?:

When you are done filling this out, send it to me at

I’ll confirm receipt when I get it, so if you don’t hear from me within 72 hours, please contact me.

You are more than welcome and encouraged to show up on your guest blog/interview day to chat with readers.

I will give them until 8 a.m. Pacific on the following day to post for a chance to win.

I will draw a name, announce it on the blog, then send the contact info to you.

It is your responsibility to contact the reader and get the prize to them.

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask,

–  Julie

Special thanks to the lovely and talented Melissa Schroeder

for showing me just how to do guest blogs properly.

Author Interviews

If you’re an author and would like to be interviewed by me on this blog, please fill out the questions below and return them to me via email at:
Author interviews and/or guest blogs will be posted on Tuesdays and Thursdays at but I will work with you to schedule another day if you need it.

Please send your answers or guest blog to me no later than two weeks prior to the date you require so I have time to post it.  I will not post interviews/guest blogs on the same day you send them.  In case you’re wondering why, read this:

If you’re promoting a specific book, please include the blurb, short excerpt, cover, and purchase link for the book in your interview (all in one document, please).

Author interview questions:

1) What genre do you write and why?

2) If  romance, what subgenres do you write in? Why?

3) Are you aware of any themes that run through your stories? If so, what are they?

4) What would you like readers to take away from your stories?

5) What inspires your stories?

6) Will you be attending any book or writing conferences this year? If yes, which

ones? Where and when?

7) Do you have any book signings or author appearances coming soon? If yes, where and when?

8)What is your writing schedule like?

9) Do you have any other passions besides writing? If yes, what are they? Why?

10) What is your best memory?

11) What is your favorite comfort food?

12) What relaxes you?

13) What is your favorite guilty pleasure?

14) What decade has been your favorite? Why?

15) What is your favorite way to promote your work?

16) Where is your favorite place to write? Why?

17) What is your favorite fairy tale? Why?

18) What was your favorite vacation?

19) If you had another career, what was it?

20) If you didn’t write, what would you do instead?

21) If you could have one wish, what would it be?

22) If you could describe yourself in only one word, what would it be?

23) Are you a cat or dog person? Do you have any pets and if so, please tell us about them.

24) What is the one thing you most want to do that you haven’t yet?

25) When the zombies take over, what will you do?

26) Vampire or werewolf?  Why?

27) Please tell us about your most recent release and where we can purchase it.

28) Please give us your urls and your publisher’s url.

29) Is there anything else you’d like to share with your readers? Please do so here.

Thank you.
If there are any questions you don’t wish to answer, please ignore them.

I look forward to working with you.


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