Interview with Author Roxanne Smolen

Armen's Author Page

Welcome to my blog interviews with novelists, short story authors, scriptwriters, and more.  Today’s is with author Roxanne Smolen.

Armen: Hello, Roxanne. Please tell us something about yourself, and how you came to be an author.

Roxanne:  Hello, Armen. Thank you for having me here today. I’ve been writing songs and poetry since kindergarten. When I was in high school, I graduated to short stories thanks to the encouragement of Ms. Sanderson, my teacher. In the year 2000, I lost my eyesight as well as my job. I thought it was the perfect opportunity to write a book. I’ve since written twelve novels. More on the way.

Armen:  Teachers do a lot more than instruct us in the basics.  One of my elementary teachers, Mrs. Windt, was a powerful motivator for me.  When did you first consider yourself a writer?

Roxanne:  I was always a secret writer, but I never…

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Watch Your @#%&! Language

Do you swear, cuss, and curse? When you speak, does the air turn blue around you?

I have friends who never swear, and some who swear only when the occasion calls for it. I have other friends who punctuate every single sentence with profanity. Kind of like Dexter’s sister, Deb, on the television show. I myself have been known to string a few choice words together, usually under stress. I try to watch myself around the kids ever since the time my young grandson blasted me with a barrage of expletives that caught my hair on fire.

In spite of that, I teach my children that shit and damn aren’t bad words. Words are tools, and profanity is a poor choice to get the job done. Case in point is my friend who drops the F bomb whether he’s angry, happy, sad, or amused. The word itself does little to clarify his meaning.

This brings me to my point. As writers, we are taught to cut nonessential words. Redundancy is density, and brevity is bliss, my teacher used to say. If you can take out a word without changing the meaning of the sentence, do it.

But what do you do in a day and age when every other word is F or GD? We want our characters’ dialogue to sound natural and believable, don’t we? Beyond that, we want their words to exemplify them. Characterize them. A sailor should talk like a sailor, right?

Or is that the easy way out? When does such stereotypic profiling become just plain boring? No one likes to read the same words over and over, and even foul language loses its shock value after a while. Yet how are we supposed to get the picture across to our readers? Don’t tell me we actually have to put emotion into our dialogue.

Profanity is a poor tool. Profanity is a fact of life. What’s a writer to do? We can substitute pretend words such as the laughable and endearing frakk, but in the end the trap is the same. Brevity is bliss. I wish I had the goddamned answer.

What the Heck is a QR Code?

What the Heck is a QR Code?

Simply put, a QR code (or quick response code) is a little box with black squiggles on it. You’ve probably seen them on the back of ketchup bottles or in newspaper ads. I’ve even noticed them in storefront windows. It seems they are everywhere.


If your smart phone has a QR Code reader, all you need to do is point your phone at the little box, and voila, a website will appear on your phone. The website can give you more information about the product or take you directly to a buy page. I’ve gotten free music samples and book samples from QR Codes. They make great promotional tools.

Where Can You Get a QR Code?

QR codes are free! You can get your own at Kaywa or qrstuff. Then just type in the URL where you want users to go and click generate. Copy and paste the html code into your website or blog. Or save the .jpg to use on bookmarks, etc.

What Can You Do with a QR Code?

Get creative! You can put a QR code on your business cards or postcards. If you are going to a conference, print one on the back of pamphlets or bookmarks to hand out. (I always put leftover bookmarks in with my bills.) Have return address labels printed with your QR code instead of your book cover. Make up a flyer for your book and have the QR code point to where someone could buy your book, then leave a stack at your local comic book store or even in your favorite pizza parlor if you’re friendly with the owner. A bumper sticker would be great, especially if you get stuck in traffic a lot. Or print the QR code on a window cling for your car or home.

There are any number of creative uses for QR codes. I’d love to hear your ideas.

Rejection is NOT Failure

I was cleaning out a filing cabinet in the hope of getting it to actually close again, and I came across a folder with over 1000 rejection letters. I could tell from the dates which project I was working on at the time. Email wasn’t prominent yet. These were from the day when you actually constructed a personable letter, sent it snail mail, and received a poorly printed form letter in return.

Why had I kept them? Were they badges of my failure? No, not at all. I’d heard once that it took 100 no’s to get a yes. I kept them so I could count them to see how much closer I was getting to my goal. Each rejection was one step closer to yes.

But keeping a sun-will-come-out-tomorrow attitude isn’t easy. Sometimes each rejection feels like a stab at the heart. I put so much energy into my writing, there’s so much ME there, it’s hard not to take rejection personally.

And I had so much hope when I mailed the thing out.

When I first started in this business, I would write the best query letter I could and mail-merge it to fifty agents at a time. Mail-merge simply took the body of the letter, addressed it from my database, and changed the salutation from Dear Sir to Dear So-and-So. That is not the best practice, not only because if two of those agents compared notes over lunch they would see I sent them both the same letter (like that would happen) but because query letters should evolve. People may be rejecting merely my query, not my novel. Or so I told myself. So I started sending out queries five at a time. As the rejections came in, I fine-tuned my letter and sent it back out.

For me, that seemed the only way to deal with it. Hope is but a query letter away. As one came back, I would content myself with the knowledge that four others were out there. I’d stick the reject in my folder to be counted later.

Today, of course, queries and rejects are all done electronically. I send out my email and when it comes back I log the reject on Excel. I think sending a query via email makes it even easier to reject. Having a busy day? Just go down the list and delete, delete, delete. I’m grateful to the agents and publishers who take the time to respond. It’s those outstanding queries that can drive you crazy.

I still count my rejections. My goal is to receive a certain amount of rejects a year. That shifts my focus to submitting my work rather than getting it published. I commit to submitting 101 times. It takes 100 no’s. But it isn’t easy.

If you can’t stand to see another NO, there are services out there that will submit and collect your rejections for you. Writers Relief is a good place to start, but there are others.

Rejection is NOT failure. Giving up on your dream is failure. And really, you don’t want all those people who said no anyway. You want someone who is as passionate and excited about your book as you are.

Don’t give up.

Be a Paranormal Investigator

Are you interested in paranormal activity? Then you owe it to yourself to visit Florida. Sure, it’s famous for its sunny beaches. It’s also haunted.

The city of St. Augustine is listed in the National Directory of Haunted Places. Did you know that St. Augustine is the oldest city in America? It was founded in 1565. The city has beautiful, historic buildings and homes that are painstakingly preserved right down to the original residents.

If you are a paranormal newbie, you should consider taking one of St. Augustine’s many haunted tours. You might enjoy the Ghost Tour (voted the best guided tour in Florida) or the Paranormal Investigation Tour at Potter’s Wax Museum. Or try the afterhours paranormal tour, Dark of the Moon, which takes you into the super haunted St. Augustine Lighthouse.

A more seasoned paranormal investigator might skip St. Augustine’s touristy tours and head straight for the old jail and gallows where several of the original prisoners are still hanging around. The old schoolhouse and the chapel are also good bets for ghostly encounters. The adventurous might spend the night in the Huguenot Cemetery, a place where orbs abound, so be sure to bring a camera.

If St. Augustine is not your destination, there are other haunted spots in Florida to investigate. Like The Good Shepherd Hospice in Auburndale or The Old Courthouse in Bartow. Plan a stay at the Vinoy Hotel in St. Petersburg, which is said to be immensely haunted. Or if you’re visiting Jensen Beach, stop for a coke at Tuckahoe, The Leach Mansion.

One not-to-miss spot is the Cassadaga Hotel, which is famous for its orbs and spirit sightings. Don’t forget your camera.

The hotel is smack in the middle of the Psychic Capital of the World, Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp. If you are more interested in speaking to spiritualists than to spirits, this is the place for you. The town is populated by certified mediums, healers, sensitives, and astrologers. They believe everyone is psychic—that means you, too—and hold public classes to bring out latent talents.

The townsfolk of Cassadaga are a deeply religious people who follow the nine principles of spiritualism:

1. We believe in God.
2. We believe that God is expressed through all Nature.
3. True religion is living in obedience to Nature’s Laws.
4. We never die.
5. Spiritualism proves that we can talk with people in the Spirit World.
6. Be kind, do good, and others will do likewise.
7. We bring unhappiness to ourselves by the errors we make and we will be happy if we obey the laws of life.
8. Everyday is a new beginning.
9. Prophecy and healing are expressions of God.

The town began as a community of tents in 1894 and slowly grew to more permanent wooden cabins. Today, Cassadaga looks like any small town. The homes are quaint, and the parks are tranquil. The best way to find your personal spiritual counselor is to walk down the streets (which are always eerily quiet) and wait to feel a vibration or see an aura around a particular house. Then just walk right up and knock. Both believers and skeptics are welcome.

Before you book that flight to Florida, you should consider packing more than your bathing suit. All paranormal investigators use tools, and you should, too.

A good EMF detector will measure the strength and direction of electromagnetic fields as well as magnetic waves and radio microwaves. Paranormal events cause fluctuations in electrical fields, and a gaussmeter will verify that you’ve touched another realm.

A basic infrared thermometer gun will certify sudden drops in temperature. Sensations of extreme cold are often reported during spirit visits.

You should have a digital voice recorder. Not for quick memos to me but to record creaks, bangs, and voices from beyond.

Also, invest in a low lux digital camcorder. It needs to be low lux because your research might take place in the dark, and you’ll need a camera that can function with little or no light.

Publish your findings on YouTube or a blog, and your followers will clamor for more.

If you’d rather experience paranormal activity from the comfort of your home, you might enjoy a good book. My novel, Satan’s Mirror, follows Emily Goodman, a paranormal investigator, from St. Augustine, Florida, to Hell. Buy it now!