Friday, May 25, 2012

Interview and Giveaway: K. Hollan Van Zandt

Please join me in welcoming K. Hollan Van Zandt to Debbie's Book Bag today. She is here promoting the release of her debut novel, Written in Ashes. There is a giveaway for one copy of Van Zandt's book as well, see details at the end of the post.

DEB: K. Hollan , this is the first time you've been with us here at Debbie's Book Bag. Tell us a little bit about yourself.

KH: Well, I’m a new mom. I named my son ‘Atticus’ after a particular character I’ve always loved.
We live next door to his great-grandparents who are 91 and 92. My grandmother was my reading and writing inspiration. Her mother at the turn of the century was a newspaper editor, running the entire paper in their small farm town in Arkansas. I come from a lineage of women who write, and I’m proud of that. I wrote my first novel when I was seven years old- it was three chapters long.

I think our destinies appear at an early age if we are paying attention, and if the right fertilizer is there for that seed it will blossom. As women, we must remember we live in a culture that glorifies youth and beauty. The media indicates we are all washed up after we hit 40, but that’s when a good novelist is just coming into herself. Age is good for books... books and wine. I think like a tree, when a woman ages she has a stronger trunk and more reach with her many branches. She becomes more beautiful, and more of service. Her many knots and past tangles are meant to provide wisdom for others.

DEB: Tell us about your latest release, Written in Ashes. Is this a single title, a part of a series, etc. 

KH: Written in the Ashes is book one of a trilogy. It deals with the events that led up to the burning of the Great Library of Alexandria. I have had book two in my mind for about 7 years now. Ashes takes place in Greece and Egypt, and book two (which I have been calling A Further Shore –for anyone who recognizes the last lines from the famous Seamus Heaney play) takes place on Santa Cruz de Tenerife off the coast of Africa and also in Athens. I’m also working in some flashbacks of Constantinople- modern Istanbul. Perhaps Crete. Perhaps Cyprus. I’m writing in the last sacred rite at Eleusis. The series is called The Mediterranean Trilogy for this reason.

I think some of us really herald to another time- future or past. And I think some of us are born in a country that we don’t have a real heart connection to. For us, our journey is one of nostos- of homecoming. Of trying to find our way back. We don’t fit in anywhere. We can’t figure out why. We are the ones who spend a lifetime on the adventure of sailing from island to island until we finally reach that further shore, the one where we always belonged, a true home.

DEB: What kind of research did you do for this novel? Were there specific aspects of the book that you needed more information for?

KH: I researched this novel as I went throughout over thirty drafts of writing. I accessed some of the most major university libraries in America for my research, as well as the Getty museum and various helpful scholars. Books were a great guidance, but I enjoyed speaking with the classicists more- it’s dying focus in this country and I think these scholars deserve a great deal of credit.

As you write the research you need to do makes itself evident in the kinds of questions a perceptive reader will have. What were they wearing? What kinds of dishes did they cook? What kinds of ships did they sail on and what was known about nautical navigation then? How did they tell time? What languages were spoken? Who was in power? How were slaves marked as such? Did they have hot water? What animals did they husband? Etc.

The research never ends in a historical novel, and I’m always slightly appalled when I see an author knock out a historical novel in a year or two. I’m not naming any names here, but I really think there should be a minimum requirement of at least four years of writing and research to bring a historical novel to life. Written in the Ashes took ten. Apparently, so did Pillars of the Earth, which my novel is often compared to in depth of story and historical detail. Ten is a respectable number.

DEB: Do you have to have specific things in place to write comfortably? A quiet house, a certain drink etc.

KH: I always love this question. When I was working on Written in the Ashes, I was making about $12k a year teaching yoga, and living in a tiny 400 sq. ft. cabin in the woods. Now that I think about it, that cabin shared the same three seasons as Egypt: spring, summer, and flood. The luxury of deciding when I would write, or what I had to have in place to write was totally non-existent. (There is no motivation as powerful as poverty.) I wrote at midnight. I wrote at noon.

I wrote the entire first draft longhand in pen, mostly in cafes. I tend to edit at home. I will say, I prefer writing once the dishes are all clean. Although, that also went out the window once I gave birth to my son. Time to write is always hard to find, whether you are a success or just starting out. I like to tell aspiring writers to write every day whether you grandma has just died or there’s a black out. Whip out the candles. Wipe the tears with your pen. Ideally, you write for a three hour block at the minimum. That gives you enough time to warm up and enjoy the ecstasy of being in that world till you have to stop.
DEB: How did you did you feel when you got the word that your first book would be published? What was your reaction...

KH: As a savvy marketer, I took another tack. My novel was optioned by Academy Award winning-producer Mark Harris when it was still in manuscript form. I actually met him in a church parking lot and insisted he wouldn’t like my book. I was being genuine. Turns out this is the best way to interest a producer in your work... Anyway, I decided to retain the rights to see what would come of the movie deal so I self-published the first printing. This also gave me complete editorial and marketing control. I also designed the artwork in my book, and had a say in the cover- which I adore! These are things not many authors with a publishing house can do unless they are celebs. Time will tell if this was a wise decision. So far, I’m pleased.
DEB: Do you have advice for new writers?

KH: Keep re-writing. Don’t show anyone a first draft. Definitely don’t show anyone your writing who you know in advance won’t be approving. Don’t ever give up on publication, no matter how many agents, rejections, or years it takes. Don’t be in a hurry to get your work out there- make sure it’s the best you can make it first. And follow your gut. On everything. Learn something from every rejection and let it make your writing better. Keep working to prove them wrong. And keep at least one friend nearby who believes in you and tells you so every day.

DEB: What are you working on right now? Or what are your plans for the future as far as writing goes?

KH: Right now as a single mother my priority is my baby. My day job is also writing, so that’s the sum of my focus. I hope to start another novel at some point. But I’ve written two other books in the last several years I would like to find homes for. One is a YA called Cello in Central Park that deals with a character suffering from an eating disorder, and the other is a children’s novel called Mockingbird Summer- about a mockingbird who decides he would rather write than sing and who befriends a Mark Twain-inspired mentor. To keep my chops up, I write poetry.

DEB: Do you have a favorite author or genre? What do you read when you have the opportunity?

KH: (Laughs) Well, I wish they would make a novel series out of Downton Abbey! Oh, Lady Mary. I will marry her if Mathew won’t! I love reading historical fiction, but I do read everything. I like books with strong women in them. I really love beautiful writing. Writing that gives you pause. I read more poetry than anything else. I love Neruda, Rilke, Mary Oliver, and my new favorite is David Whyte. I like a book that reveals things to me, makes me think differently, or simply moves me to tears.

DEBTell us one thing about you that readers may not know?

KH: I hold seven yoga certifications, and I’m an animal lover- I actually founded the youth division of the Humane Society of the United States about 20 years ago. One of my goals is to save as many animal species as I can before I die.


This giveaway is one copy of Written in Ashes by K. Hollan Van Zandt.

~You must be a GFC follow or an E-mail subscriber to participate.
~ This giveaway is international. U.S. readers will have a choice of print or e-book copies and  International readers will receive an e-book copy. 
~Deadline to enter this giveaway is Midnight EST June 8th.

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Teddy Rose said...

I wonder if Atticus will become a lawyer like his namesake or perhap a writer like him mom.

Lexi said...

Atticus, what a great name! =)
Amazing all the work you put into this book. But hopefully that means it is exactly how you want it, and not some publisher. I love the cover, it seems to fit with the feel of the story.
Glad you were here! Fun to read your answers.

justpeachy36 said...

I'll admit I'm not much on reviewing self published novels. Usually that's because the quality suffers. From the cover art to the editing and stuff like that tends to get on my nerves, but I can definitely see the merits of self publishing when it comes to creative control and your own intellectual property. This one proves that self-publishing doesn't have to mean a lower standard.

Karen B said...

I haven't read historical fiction in years but have just put your book on my TBR list! It sounds fascinating. All the best to you and your precious son.

Renee said...

Wow! I really admire your stamina. Anyone who can continue to write with growing children has passion that cannot be ignored. Keep writing!

Sue Farrell said...

Anyone who names her child Atticus and loves animals must have a view of the world similar to mine---so I'd love to read your new historical.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the awesome giveaway. I would love to read this book.

catslady said...

My favorite type of read and knowing how much research went into it makes it even better. I was so saddened when I heard about the Alexandria library burning down - so much lost. This sounds like a wonderful series.

bn100 said...

Very nice interview and good advice.

Carol M said...

I've heard that this is really good! I can't wait to read it!

Angela - Bookaunt said...

This looks like and interesting book to me. Thank you for the chance to win