Author Interviews

* you can find the original interviews and much more on my 'everything writing' blog (, including author spotlights, guest posts, book reviews, flash fiction or poetry - new items posted 6am UK time Monday to Saturday and writing exercises at 6pm very weekday.

Thursday, 31 January 2013

Author interview no.564 with writer RJ Berry (revisited)

Back in November 2012, I interviewed author RJ Berry for my WordPress blog. I hope you enjoy it...
Welcome to the five hundred and sixty-fourth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with historical author RJ Berry. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, RJ. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
RJ: Hello Morgen. My name is R. J. Berry and I live in DeSoto, a small suburb about thirty eight miles south of Dallas, Texas in the United States. After a thirty-year career with the Dallas Independent School District, I retired as an administrative executive. I did not retire thinking I was going to write my first novel but after resting my mind for a few months, I picked up my laptop and the words just seemed to flow. I chose to write about the life and times of my maternal grandmother after remembering stories she often told me about her life growing up. While she never got the chance to read about all of the stories she communicated to me over the years, I think she would be proud.
Morgen: I’m sure she would. I love to hear that your words just flowed. That’s what happens to me and it’s so thrilling. What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
RJ: I feel most comfortable writing historical fiction. My first novel is book 1 in the Sunday Rose series and based on true events that happened in my grandmother’s life. The next two books after the series of books are all published will also be historical fictions.
Morgen: What have you had published to-date? Do you write under a pseudonym?
RJ: My first book is entitled The First Sunday and I write under the name R J Berry. Book two of three in the Sunday Rose series will be published in the next few months.
Morgen: Have you self-published? If so, what lead to you going your own way?
RJ: My first book is not self-published but I have decided to self-publish books 2 and 3 in the Sunday Rose trilogy. This is a faster way of getting my books on the market. I want to make sure that interest in my books remains high as people are asking when the next book in the series will be available.
Morgen: I think that’s very wise. I’ve just my novel (a chick lit) but am not marketing it yet as I have another due out in the next few weeks and by having at least two out people have a choice. My next will be a mystery so they will also hopefully catch two markets. Are your books available as eBooks? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
RJ: The First Sunday is available as an eBook and can be purchased at Barnes and Noble, Amazon, and Tate Publishing bookstore. While I have always been a paper book reader for as long as I can remember, I have recently read several books in eBook format including mine.
Morgen: Isn’t it great having the option. Almost everyone I’ve spoken to says they still love holding a book in their hands and I don’t think that’ll go away – most read paper at home then electronic when they go away. Do you have a favourite of your books or characters? If any of your books were made into films, who would you have as the leading actor/s?
RJ: I must say that given the fact that I have only published one book at this point it has to be my favourite. If the Sunday Rose trilogy were made into a movie, I can see Anika Noni Rose, Paula Patton, and Common playing the lead characters.
Morgen: Did you have any say in the titles / covers of your books? How important do you think they are?
RJ: Yes, I chose the title of the book which the reader will understand after they read it. However, the cover was developed by the publishing company but it depicts the storyline of the book very well.
Morgen: It’s great you like it. Sometimes authors have no choice and have to market a book they’re not 100% pleased with which would be awful. What are you working on at the moment / next?
RJ: While I am in the process of getting book 2 published, I am also writing my fifth book.
Morgen: Do you manage to write every day? Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?
RJ: When I was writing book 1, I wrote a little every day for three months when all of the words stopped coming and I had finished the book.  I have never experienced writer’s block but I have gone through spells of being stuck and I have to walk away from the writing until I get an idea of how to proceed or what to change.
Morgen: I think everyone does, even those who say they don’t suffer from writer’s block, myself included. Even just a few hours’ break can really help see your way through better. Your first book is based on your grandmother. Are you plotting your other stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
RJ: With the first book I tried to begin the process by creating an outline but as I began writing, the words came to me that I had not put in the outline and with the other books; I just sat down at the laptop and began typing.
Morgen: That was exactly the same for me. I plotted the first one (I’m currently writing my sixth) and whilst the idea remained the same it did go off at a tangent so often that I’ve not planned much (including the chick lit which resulted in a 117,540-word first draft from notes just three pages of A4). Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
RJ: My characters are all created from the stories I heard throughout my life from both sides of my family as well as from conversations and memories with family members and friends. I never started out with names for my characters in mind they just came as I wrote.
Morgen: Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
RJ: With the first book and because I did not know about the editing process, I had some editing that had to be done. However, when I saw what changes the publisher asked me to make, I knew how not to make the same editing mistakes in the other books.
Morgen: It’s all practice, isn’t it. Do you have to do much research?
RJ: The only research I do is to always verify dates and locations.
Morgen: That sounds like my kind of research. :) What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
RJ: I write in the third person but I find it also enjoyable to write in first person. On occasion I have combined both first and third persons. I have not tried to write in second person yet but something to think about.
Morgen: Oh, do. I love it but it’s an acquired taste, and hard to write in anything longer than flash fiction. Do you write any poetry, non-fiction or short stories?
RJ: So far, I have only written historical fiction books but maybe as I get through the publishing of the next four books I have written, I may try other genres.
Morgen: Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
RJ: At this point I cannot say that I do but I will always try every avenue to make sure all of my work is published.
Morgen: It does sound like your very focused so hopefully that will happen. Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
RJ: I have not had any rejections thus far.
Morgen: Congratulations. You’re of a very small minority but then many of us self-publish because we’ve tried the agent route, which these days is harder than finding a publisher. Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
RJ: I do not have an agent but I must say there is a lot to marketing an unknown author’s work as mine. I can’t say an agent is vital to an author’s success but I am sure there would be things that an agent would and could be able to accomplish that I was not able to complete.
Morgen: They say “It’s not what you know, but who you know” and an agent would have contacts we don’t but even being an agent these days is hard and I know some are actually leaving to become publishers, or writers. How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
RJ: I guess I never thought much about the marketing process after writing a book. But when I realized that I had to do much of the marketing myself after the initial press release from the publisher, I did several things. I contacted a local newspaper and had an article published and sent information to a local radio station. Lastly, whenever I have a book signing or speaking engagement event it is listed on the publisher’s calendar as well.
Morgen: Local does seem to be a great way for authors to go, plus they get to meet their audience face-to-face. My first book features the town I live in so plenty of scope there. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
RJ: The advice I would give other aspiring writers is if you want to begin the writing process, do not put it off until you have the time. Once you begin writing it will come easily to you. The writing process will relax not just your mind but your soul as well.
Morgen: Absolutely. Most of the members of my (four) writing groups are retired and say they wish they started earlier. I felt the same (I came to writing fiction in my late thirties) but then I had all those years’ experience to write about. Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
RJ: My power word is Tenacity. I have always been a person who had determination to succeed in school and work or in whatever I chose to do. Because I have a dogged drive to complete things I start, this word not only describes me but helps me to understand that nothing comes easy in life without hard work.
Morgen: You have to be a tough cookie to be a writer, and determined. If you have the passion it doesn’t feel like ‘work’… it doesn’t to me anyway. What do you do when you’re not writing?
RJ: When not writing I love attending church, gardening and tending to the entire yard, and spending time with my family.
Morgen: Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
RJ: Currently, I am on several LinkedIn groups such as Book Marketing, Books and Writers, Published Authors Network, Reader’s Entertainment, The Author’s Show, Writers and Authors Circle, Ursuline Academy of Dallas Professional Women’s Network, and National Association of Women on the Rise. I have found that all of these sites and groups offer useful information about many questions I have about writing and publishing books.
Morgen: Where can we find out about you and your writing?
RJ: I am on Facebook where I share information about my book signings and events as well as on my Amazon Author Page. My author page link is My website is
Morgen: Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
RJ: I just want to thank you Morgen for giving me and all writers this forum to communicate information about our books.
Morgen: You’re very welcome, RJ. Thank you for joining me today.
I then invited RJ to include a synopsis of her book…
The Tyler family saga begins in Kittman, Texas, a small town approximately eighty-eight miles south of Dallas, Texas. Kittman had a population of 2,573 residents, and most were close and distant relatives. The main attractions for this booming city were church services every first and third Sundays with the church circuit rotation of ministers. Usually at the end of church services, there would be dinner on the church grounds under the shade trees for people to congregate. The women would bring their fried chicken, greens, candied yams, and hot water cornbread for dinner. Some of the women had specialty desserts that they liked to bring, like sweet potato pies, fruit pies, and peach cobbler—everybody’s favorite. After eating, the men would talk about their crops and what problems they had on their respective farms. Life seemed to be good for all of the residents of Kittman. Amos and Lottie Tyler were a big part of the Kittman community. They were longtime residents of this small town and were well liked by all of their neighbors.
R. J. Berry was born in Dallas, Texas where she received her formal education from Ursuline Academy, Texas Woman’s University, and Amberton University.  In 2009, she retired as an educator from the Dallas Independent School District after thirty years.  She is a member of the Greater Golden Gate Baptist Church where she is the secretary of the Deaconess Board and member of the Contemporary Gospel Choir. She is also a proud member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.  She has been married to her husband Bernard for thirty years and they have one son, Stephen. R. J. recently released her first novel; entitled “The First Sunday” which is book 1 in the Sunday Rose series about her grandmother. The account depicts the self- imposed life struggles that her grandmother encountered throughout her life.

RJ Berry Sundays Best coverUpdate February 2013: R.J.'s second book in the Sunday Rose series, Sunday's Best, is now available on,, and Xulon Press.
If you are reading this and you write, in whatever genre, and are thinking “ooh, I’d like to do this” then you can… just email me and I’ll send you the information. They do now (January 2013) carry a fee (£10 / €12.50 / $15) for the new interviews on this blog but everything else (see Opportunities on this blog) is free.
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Author interview no.563 with non-fiction writer Lonnie Dee Robertson (revisited)

Back in November 2012, I interviewed author Lonnie Dee Robertson for my WordPress blog. I hope you enjoy it...
Welcome to the five hundred and sixty-third of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with non-fiction author Lonnie Dee Robertson. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Lonnie is a real character and we had a long chat so I hope you’re sitting comfortably and enjoy the ride!
Morgen: Hello, Lonnie. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
Lonnie: My name is Lonnie Dee Robertson. I live on my boat so where I’m based is a tough question. In reality I’m a citizen of the Atlantic Ocean. I follow the sun (or to be more exact, the warm weather).
I have always been a writer. Well, actually I tried to be a cop once but I stopped because I didn’t feel safe when people shot at me. I also could never get the hang of telling other people what to do. So I quit the police department and began writing for newspapers. I have also written, and currently write, for magazines and other periodical publications. I also became a working musician at that time. It was the height of the Vietnam War and I knew a lot of protest songs... yeah, I’m an old hippie. Morgen, your fame has spread far and wide. I learned about you and your fine and helpful publication of author and other interviews through contacts I have made on Linkedin. I also congratulate you on your own literary successes. You are a splendid writer in your own “write” and I’m familiar with your works in ePublishing... particularly on Smashwords, etc. I’d be very interested in any direction you could give me as I try to navigate the confusing course of trying to find success as a writer.
Morgen: Wow, thank you very much. :*) I’m still working on the ‘success’ part but I do have some tips on my writing 101 page. That’s just about writing though, but you really mean marketing don’t you. It’s usually the answer to my question ‘What’s your least favourite aspect of your writing life?’ and we’re still trying to work it out. Marketing is so time-consuming and takes us away from our writing but I’d recommend being on sites such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn (which you are on) and be a guest on as many blogs / websites as you can. I know I’ve sold far more books for my guests than I have for myself because the focus is on them (you). It sounds like you’ve had some great experiences to write about. You write non-fiction, how do you decide what to write about?
Lonnie: It was sort of decided for me. I have been graced with, shall we say, a full life. My course hasn’t followed the more common paths. I just never could “colour between the lines.” As a result I amassed considerable experience in quite a few interesting, but to most people, unusual areas. This is fortunate for me because even though I don’t have a good imagination I still have much about which to write which won’t bore people rigid. My parents always told me; “Lonnie, don’t make up stories!” so I had to live the tales I tell. The main drawback is that it’s taking a long time to live them all! Not that I’m complaining, of course...
Morgen: What a shame your parents discouraged you from making up stories, for me there’s nothing quite like it. What have you had published to-date? Do you write under a pseudonym?
Lonnie: Aside from many and varied stories and articles in magazines and newspapers, the story of my schooner, The Borealis, is my first full-length book. You see, writing is not the only thing I do. I am still a performing musician, I just don’t do that many protest songs anymore... not that there isn’t reason to...
My most recent article in the magazine market is entitled The Poe Box. It was published in Elvia Magazine in May of 2012. The story is a conspiratorial piece about living outside the box... really outside the box... and escaping societal constraints by living on a boat. Your readers would love Elvia MagazineElvia Magazine is the brainchild of Michelle Anderson. It showcases articles by and about people who think outside the box. Michelle is a gracious and very competent person. Some of your readers may be interested in writing for her.
Oh yeah... the other things I’ve had published are those lovely photos in the post office. You know... They have one picture of me looking straight ahead and another one looking to the side. I get to hold this cute little sign with numbers on it! The first word in the caption is “Wanted” followed by “Dead or Alive.” The best part is they were published for free!
Regarding your question about a pseudonym... this one you’ll never believe... but here goes; I write under my real name but I live my life under a pseudonym. My life is pretty much backward in other regards too.
You see, as a writer I can write any time I feel the urge (or the pressure of a deadline). But my “other” occupation is more constricting and it is backwards to normal people. Most people work from 9 to 5. Musicians work from 5 to 9. Most people work so they can play. Musicians play for work. Most professionals “practice”... musicians actually have to do the job; they practice to get the ability to work. Most people retire after a career... musicians starve to death. Sorry, we’re talking about writing here.
Morgen: That’s OK. Elvia sounds great, by the way, I should check it out. You’ve self-published, what lead to you going your own way?
Lonnie: Going my own way? Hmmm... Being asked to leave... Unending rejection... being shunned by my fellow man (and most disturbingly; woman)... no, just kidding, actually I decided to self-publish because of my work experience. I have a solid background in print, copywriting, layout and design. More importantly than that, however, was the circumstance of my birth. I was born at night... but not last night.
My four decades of experience in the music business has taught me what rejection is. Staying alive as a performer gave me a clear grasp of who gets the gigs and why they get them. Looking at publishing through that lens assured me I would be over six hundred years old before I would ever get a mainstream publisher to accept my manuscript... unless I could figure out which palms had to be greased with “silver.” Even then I would have had to amass the required “silver;” ensuring beyond a doubt that I wouldn’t make a sou until at least my sixth book.
Morgen: A lot of it is being in the right place at the right time. I’m pretty sure that’s how Fifty Shades of Grey was picked up. Are your books available as eBooks? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Lonnie: I don’t want to imply I’m obsessed by success (or terror of starvation) but my books are available in all formats, even PDF. I’ll happily supply hand written copies (by special order) penned by authentic Egyptian scribes. I’m so eager to please my customers that if they wish I’ll personally visit them, recite the book aloud and even throw in a few sea chanties! If they are good enough customers I might even throw in my Michael Jackson impression completely gratis. After all I’m already, in effect, writing pro bono; aren’t I?
As to eBooks; I personally love eBooks. I live on a boat. Not only do I lack sufficient space for a traditional library but any book stored on a boat is absolutely certain to be ruined by a thorough soaking in sea water. And don’t delude yourself; the salt content of the water will not prevent mold! I do have some books on the M/V Margaret Ashton but they can no longer be opened. The ocean has transformed them into something more like bricks than books. They do, however, grow some truly fascinating mold cultures! As they say across the channel “la mer ne pardon pas”.
For a brief moment of seriousness, though, I believe for reasons green and otherwise that eBooks are the future of publishing. I like the way hyperlinks, beautiful colour photos and even audio and video files can be easily... and more importantly CHEAPLY included in eBooks. I know that you use ePublishing very heavily too. I’m sort of following in the footsteps of the experts. This blog is working out great for you and as I said earlier I am very aware of the availability of your books on Smashwords, etc. If it’s good enough for you it must be OK for me too. It’s the way to go, man!
Morgen: It certainly is for many people. It was fun to do and above all, free. Did you have any say in the titles / covers of your books? How important do you think they are?
Lonnie: I make all the decisions... for example; I decided to obey my wife. Unfortunately almost all of my other decisions have been... well... wrong. I do everything where production is concerned. I am a photographer and also a competent fine artist. So cover design is easily accessible to me. That, however, creates its own problem; what I personally find attractive is evidently not what sells best.
I think the title and cover are supremely important. In the case of my latest offering I prostrated myself before the altar of commerce so to speak and followed what I perceived to be the latest and best advice from the “moguls of marketing.” Thus the title to “The Borealis” is the closest I could come to a description of the content of the book whilst incorporating what Google claims are the best “key words.” I personally hate the title... it is longer than the book... Thank God for “control-c” on the keyboard.
As to the cover; I guess I am a bit of a slacker there. I couldn’t help it. I was knackered just writing the title. I decided to use a picture of the decrepit old tub the way she was when we began the crusade of rebuilding her. The Gods at Google would doubtless have advised a steamy graphic of a hot bird being ravished by the most modern incarnation of Errol Flynn but I decided to risk literary hara kiri by using a photo of the old albatross instead. What’s the difference... it’s going to be a failure anyway! Heck... I’m already a failure. My acquaintances call me Habib the Failure. My really close acquaintances call me ‘Ol Chumbucket. I don’t actually have any friends so I can’t speculate what they would call me. It definitely wouldn’t be complementary...
Morgen: Oh dear but then being in the middle of the ocean is a challenge in that respect. Your, albeit long, title does what it says on the tin, and the pictures on the cover, far better than something totally unrelated as some covers are. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Lonnie: At this exact moment I’m doing my level best to be as entertaining as possible in this interview.
Morgen: You’re entertaining me. :)
Lonnie: If this goes like the rest of my life I should probably make the appropriate apologies now... but I’ll keep going anyway: The book you and I are discussing today is the first part of the story of my involvement with The Borey. I am working on the second and final book in the pair. It is even more bizarre than the book we are discussing. The first book consumed around 460 pages... a real hog. So I thought I had better break the story in half to keep it from becoming any more unwieldy. So the short answer is I’m working on the end of the story; Or... as Paul Harvey would say (if he were still among the quick)... “And now my friends... the rest of the story!”
The long answer (I’m good at long answers... I’d make a great MP) is that I spend between eight and ten hours per day marketing the book. I am trying to reach everyone in what I perceive as my market with my homemade Rube Goldberg advertising campaign.
I would surely appreciate you giving me some solid advice on this marketing thing. How much time do you have to devote to selling your products? Are you able to ride on the “wave” of your original marketing or do you still have to spend as much time as you did when you began? How did you learn to market effectively?
Through my marketing I am trying to create a persona, or brand, in the social marketing circles... to cultivate a customer base.
This is something else I learned in the music business. I spent my career performing other peoples’ compositions. Wait... before you condemn me... let me say that not writing original music is not a crime. Lots of really great musicians have never written a single note; for two examples people like Vladimir Horowitz (he plunked about on the piano) and Christopher Parkening (he strums a bit on the guitar) are certainly no slouches where music is concerned.
I say this to illustrate that I feel it is very important to have readers (or listeners) follow me as a person. Writing and performing have much in common. The same people who read will also enjoy music. If I just promote this book I will have to repeat the entire process with every other book. However, if I promote me maybe my supporters (all three of ‘em) will be interested in the other entertainment I can provide for them. I anticipate it will take two years or more of hard work to even begin to reach my market potential. Then I will be able to see some return.
In addition to those two things I’m doing now; TropiCelts! maintains a full performance schedule... we have to work for those shillings! (Well, OK a tuppence...)
Morgen: I’m by no means a marketing expert but I do see me as a brand rather than my books (especially as I don’t stick to one genre). There’s little doubt that all the work I do (and it’s a lot) in maintaining this blog does go a long way to getting my name out, and hopefully (eventually) to book sale (I’m the old-fashioned type of writer who just wants their words read) but it is a hard slog and we do have to keep trying different avenues and seeing what works. Of course we’re going to reach different audiences at different times so a lot of it’s luck but if you don’t put in the effort, you won’t get the (not necessarily monetary) reward. :) Do you manage to write every day? Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?
Lonnie: I do write every day. I maintain my blog... Through the Porthole... and also work on the second book. I never suffer from “writers block” because I’m reciting the story of what actually happened in my life. I just try to communicate it in a way which produces laughter in my custome... excuse me... I mean readers.
Morgen: <laughs>
Lonnie: Oh, yeah, there’s something else I write every day. Since I was twelve years old (back when we scribes were still using clay tablets and a cuneiform stylus) I have kept a very meticulous daily journal. Sometimes obsessive compulsive disorder can be used to one’s advantage. These journals together approach the size of the Encyclopaedia Britannica... remember those?
Morgen: I do. We had a set of the children’s (deep red) ones in the Red Cross shop I volunteer at the other day. I think we only put £15 on the lot and it had gone by the time I was there next (about a week). And there was I thinking that children only ever used the internet for research. :) Anyway, you were saying…
Lonnie: If I ever wanted to commit a truly heinous crime I would publish the journals. That would be the literary equivalent of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I’m not that mean though.
Oh, darn it Morgen... I can’t lie. I’ve been trying to sound soooo cynical, tough and professional but I do suffer writers block. I suffered it this very morning. The proprietor of the marina wherein my boat is berthed knocked on my hull and asked for his rent cheque... again... Even though I’m ambidextrous, Morgen, no matter how desperately I tried I could not get either one of my hands to grip my writing utensil. There... It’s off my chest.
Morgen: A problem shared… Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Lonnie: I don’t find myself doing a lot of editing. This really is the way I talk. I’m naturally self-deprecating, sarcastic and snide. Not only that but I’m unforgivably cynical, misanthropic and I have gallows humour! I do have one saving grace; I’m not rude. Editing this stuff would only make it more disgusting than it already is. For instance; this interview was pretty nice before I went back over it... and now look what’s happened!
Morgen: That’s OK. I’m sure I’ll take my red pen to it too. :) You’re writing about what you know but do you still have to do much research?
Lonnie: I probably should... but where would I look? Sometimes I have to scramble to remember exact dates but again I am writing a chronicle of what really happened. While the occurrences I impart were normal in my life they still left an indelible impression on what still passes for my cerebral cortex! Besides, what’s not in my memory I can look up in my diaries.
Morgen: I’m rubbish at keeping diaries. The entries get shorter and shorter the busier I get but I’ve spent my days on my computer since giving up my job in March so nothing much to put in the diary anyway. :) Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Lonnie: Morgen, I’ll be shocked apoplectic if anything I write ever sees the light of day. Well, I suppose I should be accurate... it may see the light of day but I have an unshakable belief that no one but me will ever actually read it!
Morgen: Given your sense of humour here I think people should read your work. There’s a market out there for everyone. :) Do you pitch for submissions and / or are you commissioned to write?
Lonnie: I was commissioned to write back in the newspaper and magazine days. Now I’m speculating like everybody else. I make more pitches than those “guys on the mound” in professional baseball... more pitches than you see in the longest cricket match, even more pitch than it took to fill the seams in all the ships of the line under the command of Lord Nelson. I’m so used to it that I can’t even stop myself. I’m a little like the kleptomaniac who helps himself because he can’t help himself. Morgen; Please buy my book... it took me years to write it won’t you take a look?... it’s based on a novel by a man named Lear... I need a break and I wanna be a pa... oh, sorry.
Morgen: One of my favourite songs. Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Lonnie: REJECTIONS the man says... My mother put me up for adoption on the very day I tumbled wet from the womb... and we had been so close all the time she was pregnant. It all started then and went downhill from there. Musicians LIVE on rejection. Why do you think my biggest goal in life is to be able to afford a pizza with everything? You’ve certainly decided by now to reject this interview. If you haven’t you must be doing some kind of penance.
How do I deal with rejection? I have had a modicum of success with crawling up into the chain locker in the bow of the M/V Margaret Ashton, laying in the dark on the pile of salt, mud and crustacean encrusted anchor chain and whimpering.
Morgen: <laughs> Do you enter any non-fiction competitions?
Lonnie: I never enter competitions. Competitions have to be judged. Who are the judges? Are they being paid off like everybody else from preachers to politicians? (Wait a minute..., that’s the same thing isn’t it?)
I can see writing being judged on the basis of grammar. I can see writing being judged on the basis of spelling and punctuation. One may be judged on mechanics... but certainly not on content. How can anyone be qualified to judge what happened when I spent three years living under a live oak tree in the Florida Everglades... with no electricity... no running water... and no toilette? The alleged judge would have had to have lived an almost identical story to have the qualifications to pronounce “judgement.” Even then it would be subjective... there is simply no way to be objective about it. In the end it boils down to whether the reader likes the story. If there is any competition it exists only with each and every individual reader. Heck, I don’t play the lottery either... losing is guaranteed. One has a greater chance of being struck by lightning that winning the lottery... and I have a snowball’s chance in Hades of winning a writing contest.
Morgen: I’m one of the first round judges (we do it for free and I'm Chair so got to read them all) of the H.E. Bates Short Story Competition and love it because short stories are my passion. It is hard to be objective but I know good writing and when I’m entertained by a story (and it doesn’t have to be funny to entertain) and that’s what I base my score on. The whole group judges then Nick, our Secretary, sends the top ten to the judge (crime novelist Stephen Booth this year). Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Lonnie: Here we see another crossover in the arts. I don’t use agents for my writing. Nor do I use them in the music business. I am very covetous of writers and entertainers who have agents. Agents have business sense. A competent agent would be the best thing that could happen to me. Unfortunately though, agents have to make a living (unless they are on the dole). Therefore they must necessarily be disposed to representing writers who have a proven sales record. If I were an agent I would like to have GRR Martin or even Danielle Steele as my client. I could not afford to spend time spinning my wheels in a fruitless attempt to sell Lonnie Dee Robertson! The best I could do would be to place Lonnie’s latest tome on, Barnes and Noble... Well, hell! I can do that myself and pay no commission. I don’t even expect my wife Jinna to do any marketing for me. If by some miracle I did achieve some tiny modicum of success I would be better served by a barrister. If I got really successful maybe I could avail myself of the services of a QC. You know; someone to handle the intricacies of contract negotiations and hiding income in the Cayman Islands or something.
Morgen: As agents work on commission have to have faith that you’re the next Martin or Steele. They wouldn’t take a writer on if they didn’t think they’d earn anything. How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Lonnie: I devote between eight and ten hours per day every day to beating the bushes. I follow up all leads and personally have answered both people who contacted me... yes, Morgen, you’re the second... you would have been first ‘cept for Mum.
Morgen: :)
Lonnie: I actively pursue every avenue and lead I can find in the nautical field. Anyone interested in boats is a potential satisfied customer. I know I have to sell each and every one of them individually. I schedule book presentations at any forum that will have me which serves the boating world. Because I am an experienced performer I feel totally comfortable in front of an audience. I try to make my listeners laugh but at the same time I impart technical and useful knowledge to them... something they can take home and use on their own boats... and lots of other places. But I always leave ‘em laughin’ even if I use myself as the butt of the gag.
Morgen: “experienced performer” I can tell. :) What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
Lonnie: My favourite part of writing is the excitement I feel in the process of writing. I get giddy about what I’m saying and how I’m saying it. When I go back and read my books and articles I enjoy them. I like reading what I wrote. I don’t really care if anyone else likes it. I deeply care about whether they will buy it! But Morgen, if don’t like it how can I expect the reader to like it?
Morgen: Absolutely. If you’re bored the reader will likely be too.
Lonnie: The aspect of writing I like least is not really writing at all. It’s the endless marketing. Man, I’d rather take my little boat and go to the beach or just ride around. I live in the Florida Keys. It is one of the most beautiful and comfortable places on our little blue planet... well... to me it is. If I’m going to be a success at selling this stuff I have work tirelessly to sell it. Slacking off isn’t going to “Git ‘er done” as the rednecks around here so eloquently put it. So I never take a day off.
Has anything surprised me? Yeah, I’m shocked speechless you let me do this interview!
Morgen: I’m not, I’m enjoying it. And I never lie. :) What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Lonnie: Write.
Morgen: We are writers after all. If you could invite three people from any era to dinner, who would you choose and what would you cook (or hide the takeaway containers)?
Lonnie: Well, Morgen, let’s get this confession out of the way: I don’t know how to cook. As I would put it at a Takeaway Addicts Anonymous meeting; “Hello everyone... I’m Lonnie Robertson and I’m a tin opener.” So it’s the take away containers for me.
Now as to whom I would invite and from what era; Jeez...that’s a tough one, Morgen. I guess first of all I’d like to invite someone deeply involved in tracking sales in the “book biz.” The era? Let’s say 2018... March 26th... yes... March 26th 2018 would be good. This unnamed balding bean counter, from the world’s most accurate book sales tracking site will be able to, over lukewarm containers of Moo Goo Gai Pan and General Jor’s Chicken, be able to confirm that the five copies of my book purchased from CreateSpace six years ago are still in that dusty warehouse in the empire of Amazon Dot Com.
The second person I would invite would be Kurt Vonnegut. I would invite Kurt in the present. I wouldn’t invite him to the same party as the bean counter though. I couldn’t bear the embarrassment. I would serve Jamaican Jerk Chicken because the Pissant Hilton was in the Caribbean. You know... Jerk Chicken... you’re a jerk if you eat it and a chicken if you don’t. The Jamaicans immolate the chicken whole (and in some cases... unplucked), smear the remains with Habanero peppers (unless they can find something hotter). Then they chop it into bits with a rusty, dirty machete. I would, however, invite Kurt for the same reason I invited the aforementioned bean counter. You see, on Tralfamador, a planet in one of Kurt’s novels, time occurred all at once. It was not linear like it is for us. Time was sort of an all-inclusive temporal painting... like da Vinci’s Last Supper... except instead of a “discipular panorama” you would see all of time at once. Sort of like you can see all the disciples at once in the Last Supper. So on Tralfamador nothing was forever... not even failure like mine! Only forever was forever! Kurt and I could communicate by breaking wind and tap dancing like true Tralfamadorians. He could tell me how to write a decent book. I would take his advice... then I could say; “Well, at least I’m not a failure anymore.”
The third person I would invite would be my biological mother... whatever her name was. I would serve crow. Crow wing appetizers with hot sauce. Crow chowder. Roast stuffed crow for the main course. For dessert... yup... crow a-la-mode. Crow T. Robot. I would invite her on the evening of July 13 1947. I would thereby interrupt her plans for that evening. This would metamorphose to the Latin phrase; coitus interruptus. The result would be that she would not be burdened with lugging around a concealed weapon... me... for nine excruciatingly uncomfortable months. would be absolved of the burden of trying to market this book... and a whole lot of other unpleasantness as well!
Morgen: I’d love to be a fly on the wall at your dinner parties. And I can’t cook either, other than better flapjacks than my mum (she said so), and a friend bought me a plaque saying, ‘I only have a kitchen because it came with the house’. It’s so true. Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Lonnie: I can’t think of a more lovely sound than a knock on the side of the boat followed by a cheerful and lusty: “Domino’s Pizza Delivery!”
Morgen: That would be interesting if you were in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing?
Lonnie: Let’s see... I forged a medical certificate so we could get our job performing on the QEII... or was it the Regent Star? Then there was that letter to the draft board during the Viet Nam War... I know there were a number of other sordid things but memory at my age...
Morgen: So you do write fiction. :) What do you do when you’re not writing? Any hobbies or party tricks? :)
Lonnie: TropiCelts! performs frequently (as frequently as we can... bills, you know). Speaking of bills; my bills make me feel like a Pelican. No matter which way I turn there’s a huge bill in front of me!
Of course the boat takes a good bit of maintenance. We actually rebuilt it ourselves... with our own grubby little hands. We purchased the vessel with two seized engines and a seized generator. The boat also had no interior. Hey, when you’re a writer / musician you have to take what you can get.
It took us nearly a year to build the interior. At the time we had a very complete wood shop. When we purchased the wood for the boat it still had leaves, limbs and bark on it. The only thing we didn’t have to do was cut the trees down ourselves. We did all the milling ourselves. Then we constructed the complete interior and even built an enclosed wheelhouse on the flying bridge. She is the second boat we have built from a total wreck. The Borealis, featured in my book, was the first boat. We eventually sold the Borey to another victim and purchased the trawler upon which we now live. I have hand carved all the cabinet doors out of solid tropical hardwoods. My connections in Central America and West Africa really come in handy when it comes to exotic wood.
Morgen: The harder you work the greater sense of achievement at the end of it (like me with this blog). Are there any writing-related websites and / or books that you find useful?
Lonnie: The best writing related web site I can think of is:
Morgen: <laughs> You’re too kind. :) Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
Lonnie: I participate a lot in Linkedin. There are many people on Linkedin in the same boat as I’m in. We’re all trying to figure out how to make a decent living as artists. Linkedin also provides me direct access to potential markets for my products and services. With Linkedin I can bypass the gatekeepers and stroll right into the president’s office. You can’t be a blatant spammer but with a little politeness you can reach the real decision makers. The people I contact are very understanding. They are businessmen too and have problems and challenges similar to the ones I face. If you have a product for a niche market Linkedin can efficiently steer you to knowledge and customers in that market. I have not accumulated enough experience yet to have truly mastered the intricacies... but I can clearly recognize the potential. Plus... Linkedin has discussion groups who deal with how to use Linkedin. Linkedin had doubled its size in the last year. That is very impressive. I highly recommend any writer in any genre to join Linkedin.
I also maintain a presence on Facebook. I do not have the same enthusiasm for Facebook I do with Linkedin, Twitter or Google+. I don’t mean this in a derogatory sense at all but the best way I can describe it is Facebook is... well... blue collar. That is the feeling I get from it. I maintain my page there and communicate without fail with those who “like” me... and I very much appreciate them. But I always come away from a Facebook session feeling as if I have been speaking a foreign tongue incompetently.
Morgen: Ah, LinkedIn’s probably how we met. It’s a great resource. What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Lonnie: Well that depends on who the writer is. The future looks decidedly bleak for me; but I’d say it’s pretty rosy for J.K. Rowling and G.R.R. Martin. Seriously though I think because of the Internet and its unlimited opportunities for distribution and sales, the future has never been brighter for writers. The question is not; will the writing sell? The real question is how does one learn to use the available technology to identify and serve the micro-market with which one is endeavouring to connect. The Internet is without question almost as big an event in history as the invention of the mouldboard plow. It has completely revolutionized the way we “human beans” communicate with one another. Rather than the major corporations, churches and governments deciding what we consumers will be fed we now have the chance to decide for ourselves. WE MUST JEALOUSLY GUARD THIS OPPORTUNITY.
Morgen: I absolutely agree. I don’t think it’s been a better time to be a writer… which is why there are so many for me to interview. :) Where can we find out about you and your writing?
Lonnie: Probably the United States Department of Corrections... or do they still call it The Bureau of Prisons. No, that’s not it. The best way would probably be Twitter, Linkedin, My Facebook page or Jinna’s and my website. Another place to look would be homeless shelters, refugee camps... and possibly the Salvation Army Soup Kitchen.
Morgen: And the Atlantic Ocean. Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Lonnie: Only the last and most important thing, Morgen: I deeply appreciate what you are doing for me. I am painfully aware of how much work you do to make this happen... and the incredible amount of effort you have expended to create this invaluable service to those of us trying to survive in the writing arena. I shudder to think how much we writers would miss you if you weren’t here. The world would unquestionably much the poorer if you were not in it. In the end all I can say is... Thank you.
Morgen: <blushes> And I didn’t pay him to say that! You’re very welcome, Lonnie. It is a lot of work and although it’s not cost me anything (other than many, many hours) to-date it has not earned me anything either so it’s come to a time where I’ve had to put a donate button / page on the site. I’d rather do that than advertising because while the site’s free I’d have no control over the ads and although they assured to be appropriate I don’t want to take that risk. I do offer a free pdf ebook with every £2 donated and of course it’s still a person’s choice so no pressure from me. :) Is there anything you’d like to ask me?
Lonnie: Well... y-y-yes... Its 1945 and I’ve been working on this since 0930... could I go to the bathroom, please?
Morgen: Oh my, absolutely! You must be starving too. Thank you so much. :)
I then invited Lonnie to provide an extract of his writing…
The surveyor arrived promptly at the scheduled appointment time and bravely climbed on board to commence the survey. In less than thirty seconds he emerged from the main hatch with all his gear and announced to me:
“I am not going to survey this boat. In fact I'm not even going to charge you for coming here today.”
“Why?” I asked.
“There are full grown oysters living in the bilge forward under the mast step. Do you know what that means?”
I thought hard and the only thing I could come up with was that maybe I’d have my own on board raw bar… and that seemed good.
“No” I said hesitantly.
“Oysters must have rapidly flowing clean water to live,” continued the surveyor. “That means this boat is leaking so profusely... even sitting here at the dock... that there is enough water flowing through the bilge to keep them alive and well!”
With that the disgusted surveyor spun on his heel and left.
The “survey” being over I hastened forthwith to consummate the purchase of the ship of my dreams. The “gentleman” from whom I purchased the Borey was an untrusting fellow who could, himself, under no circumstances, be trusted. He shall remain nameless in accordance with my reticence to speak ill of the deceased (or due to fear of those who might cause me to be numbered among deceased).
He had recently relocated to South Florida (for “personal” reasons, he said) from a northern city whose alumni included such notable humanitarians as Al Capone (who apparently had a propensity for islands) and John Wayne Gacy. He shared with the aforementioned Mr. Capone both his ethnic heritage and his fear and resentment of the IRS. Presumably he shared nothing with John Wayne Gacy. For this (and I imagine, other) reasons the payment for my new yacht was made through the instrument of myriad checks drawn in small amounts. The number of these small checks would have sufficed to wallpaper an efficiency apartment. He explained his desire for small checks in terms of something he called “red flags”. Apparently he did not like flags and red ones particularly irritated him. Well, in nautical terms I guess he had the “con”. Besides I had already learned that the usual daily activity in South Florida would qualify as an indictable offense anywhere else in the civilized world. So after this arduous exercise in penmanship I became the 13th owner of the Borealis. I immediately began to experience the legacy implied by that number.
And a synopsis…
The Borealis is an informative and hilarious new book about my 30 year relationship with an old boat. Every word of the story is true except the names. I admit that the names have been changed to protect the guilty. Even if you know very little about boats you will enjoy some hearty laughter. If you do have experience with boats you will laugh even harder. In either case you will learn about what it's like to live a dream... well, OK... a nightmare. You will also learn a lot about what is involved in restoring something with your bare hands... with no knowledge, no running water, no electricity and very little pizza. So grab your Dramamine, your adult beverage, and Welcome Aboard!
Author, entertainer and lecturer Lonnie Dee Robertson has just published his latest book; The Borealis; A true story about living aboard while restoring a 90-year-old wood boat. The book is available in both print and eBook at and on Lonnie and Jinna’s website. Lonnie's numerous articles, essays and stories have been published in newspapers, magazines and on the web.
Lonnie was born and raised in Liberia, West Africa, educated in Europe and graduated from college and graduate school in the USA. Lonnie has been a live-aboard sailor and cruiser for over four decades
Lonnie and Jinna, professional musicians, perform as the musical duo TropiCelts! Specializing in Celtic and sea songs but performing all genres of music, they have performed ashore worldwide and on 15 cruise ships. They have appeared on numerous television and radio programmes. Jinna Jean Robertson has just completed her newest book Living Aboard With Eight Chihuahuas soon to be available at and on the website.
Lonnie and Jinna currently live and cruise aboard their trawler M/V Margaret Ashton with their crew of eight energetic Chihuahuas.
Lonnie may be contacted at or directly through the website at Jinna may be contacted at
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