Thursday, October 3, 2013


S. R. Mallery

Author Bio:

Eclectic, I have worn various hats in my life. In fact, at one interview, the interviewer even said, “Wow! You’re either amazingly versatile or you’re crazy!” Starting out as a classical/pop singer/composer, I moved on to the professional world of production art and calligraphy. Next came a long career as an award winning quilt artist/teacher, followed by being an ESL/Reading instructor.

My short stories have been published in descant 2008, Snowy Egret, Transcendent Visions, The Storyteller, and Down In the Dirt. "Unexpected Gifts", my debut novel, is currently available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. "Sewing Can Be Dangerous and Other Small Threads", my collection of short stories, are due late 2013. Both books are published by Mockingbird Lane Press.

Unexpected Gifts 

Brief synopsis of your book:

Can we learn from our ancestral past? Do our relatives’ behaviors help mold our own? In "Unexpected Gifts," that is precisely what happens to Sonia, a confused college student, heading for addictions and forever choosing the wrong man. Searching for answers, she begins to read her family’s diaries and journals from America’s past: the Vietnam War, Woodstock, and Timothy Leary era; Tupperware parties, McCarthyism, and Black Power; the Great Depression, dance marathons, and Eleanor Roosevelt; the immigrant experience and the Suffragists. Back and forth the book journeys, linking yesteryear with modern life until finally, by understanding her ancestors' hardships and faults, she gains enough clarity to make some right choices.

Current book or project you’re working on:

I’ve been doing last minute edits on my “Sewing Can Be Dangerous and Other Small Threads”, due out late 2013, and research on my third book, a missing persons mystery that takes place during the American Civil War period.

What was the inspiration for your novel?

I’ve always been highly interested in U.S. history and at the same time, enjoyed thumbing through family photo albums of my ancestors, studying their outfits and loving to hear about their stories, etc.  On top of that, lying in bed many years ago, with my then three-year-old daughter and reading one of my mother’s short stories, I suddenly realized there were three generations together that night.  I guess all of that stuck somehow…

Please share three interesting facts about your book, which are not covered in the synopsis.

1) There are a couple of descriptions of what it was like to work on the Empire State Building as a ‘high steeler’ during the 1930’s—the rhythm of their movements, how they were totally brazen as they lined up on the high beams eating their lunch, without any thought of falling 70 stories into traffic below.

2) There is a description of what the 1964 Harlem Riots were like as three of my characters get swept up into it.

3) There is also a description of how Hobos during the 1930’s would hop on trains, in order to avoid detection from the vicious ‘Bulls,’ as well as a description of the famous ‘Hooverville’ encampment of veterans, protesting their lack of benefits owed them.

What is the most complex character from your current novel ?

This is hard for me to answer, but perhaps Andrei, Sonia’s great-great grandfather from Bulgaria.  Because life handed him a sudden, raw deal, he evolved into a very different person after he was forced to come to the U.S. and start all over again as an immigrant.

Are there any characters in your book that remind you of yourself?

Yes.  The main character, Sonia, who researches her relatives, has OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), and I have some of that—the kind where the mind never rests!
Enjoyed doing some of the research on that, which comes out during her psych study groups.

If you could pick any well-known or famous author to review your book, who would you pick and why?

That’s a toughie….OK, if we’re doing hypothetical here, maybe Harper Lee (were she alive), because I loved her simplicity, her pathos, and her touching, multi-layered To Kill a Mockingbird.  If she gave my book a good review, I would be thrilled!

What genre does your book fall into?

Probably, historical fiction/contemporary combo.

What is the first book you remember reading that affected how you thought or felt about something?

Definitely, “A Tree Grows In Brooklyn,” because I loved the main character, Francie.  In her own quiet way, she was fierce—protecting her little brother and in one unforgettable scene, standing up to a local Christmas tree merchant, whose habit of throwing leftover free Xmas trees roughly at people on Christmas Day was legendary. Besides that, she was a total bookworm.  I remember reading how she would sit out on their fire escape in the summer and read and read and read. That really impressed me.

Which three authors have inspired you the most, and why?

1)  Mark Twain.  I love his complete understanding of human behavior and his hilarious, insightful, and ironic quips about the general condition of humanity.

2)  O’Henry.  I love his clever phrasing, great story telling and of course, those wonderful twist endings.

3)  Harper Lee.  As mentioned before, her simplicity is deceptive.  Behind it, lies wonderful ways of ‘showing’ rather than ‘saying’.  In other words, instead of something like, ‘I could tell Jem was scared…’ she would write something like, ‘Jem didn’t answer, but the cot he was lying on was shaking.’ LOVE that stuff!!

Have you ever read a book you couldn’t finish reading?

Yes.  Now, before I get the hate mail, I would have to say Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.  LOVED it as a movie, but as a book, I got totally fed up with all her many, many clauses. I had to fight the urge to yell out, “Just say what you mean and get on with it!!” Now, I know that was the style of many 19th century authors, especially from England, but even Dickens didn’t do that much.  You could read a description of his and totally get into it. There, that ends my rant…

Do you read a book while you are writing a book?

Absolutely. As an historical fiction writer, there is always tons of research to do, for plot as well as ambiance, so there’s that.  But I also love to read fiction on my Kindle at night.  It doesn’t seem to get in the way of writing…actually, I think it helps my writing.

How many books have you written?  Which book is your favourite and why?

I have written two books: Unexpected Gifts, and the upcoming Sewing Can Be Dangerous and Other Small Threads.  To be honest, each one was my favorite at the time.

Is there anything that helps get you in the mood to write?

Music.  I use it as total inspiration—when I’m driving in my car, listening to Pandora, particularly when I try to get music that fits the period I’m writing about.  In Unexpected Gifts, I went from a tape during the late 90’s for my main character, 60’s tape, 50’s tape, 30’s tape, an Irish music tape (for one of my characters) and even an early 19th century music tape.  It was wonderful and totally helped me think of plots, motivations, scenes, etc.

What were three challenges you faced when writing your book?

1) Once I started, realizing the scope of what I was trying to do was huge.  That scared me for a while, particularly since I had never written an actual book, just short stories.
But then I decided to think of each chapter being like a ‘story,’ and that calmed me down.

2) Making sure that the memoirs of Sonia’s relatives and her own life dovetailed.  I had to make up a two-columned list—which fault/problem with her ancestor coincided with her current relationships.  That took a little doing…

3) Because I love history so much, I tended to put so much detail that when my publisher first formatted it, it was 650 pages! Yikes!  So, we cut it down by half, and I have to admit, it is a better book.  It still has a lot of description and ambiance, but it flows now, or so I have been told.

What lessons have you learned as an aspiring writer?

I’ve learned that the process of writing and research is very, very different from marketing.  I can get into the latter, but when the balance is off, and I’m not really doing much writing, I am not a happy camper.  I’m constantly learning to ‘back off’
from internet promotion and work on my third book, about a Civil War missing persons case.

Do you ever experience writer’s block?  If so, what helps you to ‘overcome’?

If I sit down to write, I can always come up with something, but, as is the case right now, I’m so distracted with marketing, editing of my upcoming collection, that I still only have a very basic plot outline for my next book.  Until I figure out more about that, I will feel uneasy, like a student on Xmas vacation, never really relaxing because he/she knows there’s a big exam awaiting him/her as soon as school starts up again!

What is the most important thing you’ve learned, either in the self-publishing or traditional publisher, route?

I’ve learned so much from my publisher---the back and forth editing process, the collaboration on the book cover and trailer, the learning process of Twitter, FB, and Goodreads (I’m STILL not all that savvy!). 

I never considered being self-published before, but as that route has increased and been accepted exponentially, I find myself more and more open to it in the future.  But until then, I’m okay where I am—my publisher is very nice and patient with me, and that’s exactly what I’ve needed as a newbie.

How long does it usually take for you to complete a book?

Don’t ask!  The one major drawback to being an historical fiction author is doing all that research.  Oh, I’ve read historical novels that are nice stories but hardly have anything that gives the real flavor of the period in them, and I’ve thought, ‘wow! If I did that, I could bang out a whole slew of books!’.  But that’s just not me.  The research fascinates me and gives me all kinds of ideas, so I guess as long as I write in that genre, I’m stuck with the time issue.

Do you have any ideas for your book and Hollywood? Actors, directors, music.

Nothing specific, but you can bet, when my second book is out for a little while, I will be trying to tap into the entertainment field.  Several readers of my short stories, in particular, have said they would make great movies.  We’lllllll see………

Which book to movie conversion is your favourite?

Actually, I can think of three offhand.  1) “To Kill a Mockingbird”, because it was so faithful to the tone of the book.  2)  “Pride and Prejudice,” for the reasons stated before.  3)  “Billy Budd,” originally written by Herman Melville, and brilliantly adapted for screen by the great Peter Ustinov.

Do you watch a lot of sciene fiction or fantasy movies?

No, sorry.  However, I have read Ray Bradbury and Roahl Dahl and loved their quirky fantasies.

Do you study science, the planets, history, or anything special to help you with your writing?

Of course history, that goes without saying.  But I studied some Haiku poetry for a while to help with being succinct in my descriptions.

What, who, and when were you first inspired you to write?

Because my father was a television writer, I grew up with the sound of his Underwood typewriter clicking away at night---it was very comforting to me.  Other relatives also wrote books and articles, so although I was so drawn to the whole field, I was also too intimated to really try my hand in it until I was much, much older.  But once I did, I couldn’t stop!

Person favs:
Drink – chardonnay
Food –  all kinds, except sushi
Vacation – visiting the British Isles
TV show – no one particular show, but I love many series—Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Orange is the New Black, Downton Abbey, Homeland, The Wire, etc, etc.
Movie – The Miracle Worker, L.A. Confidential, Argo, Born Yesterday, Poltergeist—what can I say?  I’m eclectic!
Animal – cats
Sport – tennis
Book -  (Please see my other answer….)

EXCERPT for Unexpected Gifts:  
(I’ve included a little bit from Sonia’s various relatives)

Chapter 2:  Sam––Living With Fear
          [From Sonia’s father’s letters]
         “….crack-crack-crack! Everyone froze.  “Get the fuck down!” yelled our squad leader, Sgt. Carbini.
         We dropped like stones, trying to listen for snipers over our pounding chests…..”
         “….Nearing the village, we passed women in their beige tunics, black pants, and Sampan hats…Most kept their heads lowered as they walked, but the few who didn’t, stared up at us with dead, black-brown eyes and pressed lips….”
         “….Carbini was first. He marched over to a hooch, flipped on his Zippo, and carefully lit the underbelly of its thatched roof.  It smoldered for a few seconds, a thin, rising wisp of smoke twisting in the tropical air.  From that, a flame grew, nibbling at the straw with a low, blue heat before suddenly bursting into a torch, arcing up towards the sky in a yellow-hot blaze….”

Chapter 10:  Tony’s Demons
          [from Sonia’s great-grandfather Tony’s journal]
         “…In 1930, the big city breadlines expanded by the hour, snaking around buildings like a cobra slowly choking the life out of its victims, but the farmers stayed smug; they thought they were the bee’s knees…..but when record droughts, the likes of which had never been seen, ravaged the Great Plains, farming became impossible. By 1936, storms had picked up, slamming the entire country with heavy rains, blizzards, tornadoes, and floods, and if that didn’t beat all, giant black clouds of rolling dust and grit darkened the sky over the Midwest, cocooning it like it was the end of the world….”

Chapter 12: Daria––Living With Proverbs
          [written in Sonia’s Irish great great-grandmother Daria’s bible]
         “….And they say I was born at an inconvenient time.  The year was 1902, and the moment, the wee hours of a rain-soaked morn in County Kerry.  A terrible storm it was, with lightning that crackled the sky and hoarse winds that rattled the trees.  If it be true that St. Patrick had banished all the snakes from Ireland, it sure was a shame he didn’t bother with the rain.  But maybe that was too big a job even for the likes of him, who knows?”

Chapter 14: Adriana––Guilty Freedoms
          [from Sonia’s great Aunt Adriana’s journal]
         “…Eleanor [Roosevelt] surreptitiously pulled me aside…” 
         “I want you to go down to Alabama…”
         “….speeding off, I looked behind us at the Spanish Moss swaying in the sultry summer breeze, the porch lights on, the fireflies sparking, the cicadas sawing their song, and the memory of…double-edged gentility.  We both breathed huge sighs of relief and agreed how we could now fully commiserate with the Negroes in our country, not only in the South.
         BANG! My body lurched forward, my head hitting the windshield.  I could hear Jim swearing.
         “Dammit!  They’re comin’ after us!”

Chapter16: Adriana––Sentinels Amongst the Hoi Polloi

         [From Sonia’s great-great aunt Adriana’s journal when she was a young suffragist]
         “…as the nurse jammed a twenty foot tube, topped off with a funnel on one end, far up into my right nostril, all my senses heightened.  I could smell the stench of urine in my underwear, feel the ties on my hands digging into my skin, the hard chair under me prodding my backbone, and just before the steady flow of liquid food descended into my nasal cavity, I heard the nurse heave the tiniest of sighs.”

Chapter 18:Andrei––Escaping Icons
         [From Sonia’s great great-grandfather Andrei’s journal working at the Ford Factory in 1915 Detroit]
         “….The first couple of rooms were filled with drive train assembly lines, the large, metal chains hoisting and lowering engines onto chasses.  The next couple of rooms were only for women building spark plugs by hand, their backs hunched over in awkward positions that foreshadowed major arthritis at too young an age…”

~ ~ ~ ~ 




The eleven long short stories in “Sewing Can Be Dangerous and Other Small Threads combine history, mystery, action and/or romance, and range from drug trafficking using Guatemalan hand-woven wallets, to an Antebellum U.S. slave using codes in her quilts as a message system to freedom; from an ex-journalist and her Hopi Indian maid solving a cold case together involving Katchina spirits, to a couple hiding Christian passports in a comforter in Nazi Germany; from a wedding quilt curse dating back to the Salem Witchcraft Trials, to a mystery involving a young seamstress in the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire; from a 1980’s Romeo and Juliet romance between a rising Wall Street financial ‘star’ and an eclectic fiber artist, to a Haight-Asbury love affair between a professor and a beautiful macramé artist gone horribly askew, just to name a few.

How can people connect with you?
Twitter: SarahMallery1
Facebook: S.R. Mallery (Sarah Mallery):

Where can readers find your book?