Mom, Mary Elizabeth McNamara entered school at 4, and taught in a one-school house in her hometown of Rocky Hill. She started writing poetry in her eighties and became known as Mary the poet. I also was a teacher and, like my mother, didn’t pursue my writing until later in life.
What is your most recent book? Tell us a bit about it.
My most recent book published is a novel, Birds of Paradise. When trucker, Joe-Mack, picks up a runaway in Vegas and drops him in Hollywood, he offers to help him. When the call comes, he reaches out to the boy and becomes embroiled in Freddie’s life along with Starlet, the homeless girl who desires stardom. Set in California’s beautiful yet challenging neighborhoods, the characters, like lost Birds of Paradise, take on risks and maintain thin threads of dignity amidst troubling situations with surprising twists along the way.
What inspired you to write this book?
It was a natural evolution from a short story critiqued by Chris Offutt and Steve Almond at two Wesleyan writing conferences. Direct affection for the characters and the story setting in Southern California – that has a huge spot in my heart- after living there for 20 years.
How did you choose the title?
The title started out as The Squat and, after a while, as I sat in my office in New England, I began to remember and experience the pure pleasure of the settings in California and it spurred me on to the images of the luscious Birds of Paradise flowers and the stunning amazing birds of that same name.
What obstacles did you encounter in getting this book published?
The usual fear and loathing beginning writers and seasoned ones experience.
Lack of knowledge of the publishing industry, comparing myself to others, time and “in the zone” constraints.
Believing there was some genius secret power that that authors had and I didn’t possess it.
How do you come up with the names for your characters?
Names of characters are discovered all over the place- I listen constantly. I love quirky. I want to use the name to further understanding of the character in a subconscious way for the readers. Humor and imagination play a big part, thus, Green, Starlet, Onge, etc.
Did you learn anything from writing and publishing this book? What?
The absolute joy of for me to have produced two books that can be held by family and fellow authors and friends and strangers, is wonderful. Although a writer’s journey often is filled with frustration and rejection- so much better are the good days when stories are accepted, when they win prizes and when a novel is completed.
If you were doing it all over again, what would you do differently?
Are you working on your next book? What can you tell us about it?
I’m considering three projects: one fun idea, Hotel Cure, inspired by Jamie Cat Callan’s Bonjour Happiness, a cheery gal’s book; an extension of “Up Baby,” the last story in A World of Love and Envy, and helping my grandson and his teacher produce a book written by him.
What is the best advice you could give other writers about writing or publishing?
Write because you love it. Get the “writer’s high” that you can only feel when you have done the work. Read everything. Write and practice! And write more. Share your writing with a small group. Work hard in classes. Pay it forward as you progress and follow your mentors’ generosity.
Where can readers learn more about you and your book?
Birds of Paradise can be found on www.riverhavenbooks.com, Amazon books and Kindle and in Indie book shops. I’d love to have you visit my site: www.kathyhandley.com and email anytime you have questions or just want to say hello. I’m in the Boston area attending lots of Grub Street activities. Check them out- www.grubstreet.org