Reprinted from Author Shout: Author Interview: Elizabeth Horton-Newton
Elizabeth Horton-Newton was born in New York City on February 1st, 1953. She attended public schools in Manhattan including the prestigious Hunter College High School. After attending the Brooklyn campus of Long Island University and majoring in Media Arts with an eye toward TV Production she moved to Knoxville, TN where her father was born and raised. Eventually graduating from East Tennessee State University with a degree in Interdisciplinary Studies with focuses in Psychology and Sociology she continued working in the social work field. She has been active on Governor Bredesen’s Task Force on Families First and has worked with the Knoxville YWCA’s Enough! program on Domestic Violence and the Knoxville Family Justice Center’s Voices program for domestic violence victims and survivors.
Married to author Neil Newton she has 4 children and 5 grandchildren, as well as an array of rescued dogs and cats. Her first novel “View from the Sixth Floor: An Oswald Tale” is based on her firm belief that Lee Harvey Oswald did not assassinate President John Kennedy and feels the assassination was a conspiracy.
Why do you think the Kennedy assassination is till such a popular subject?
I think anything that remains a mystery is popular. With the Kennedy assassination the questions about whether or not Lee Oswald did it alone or did it at all, whether there was a conspiracy, and who might have been involved in that conspiracy remain unanswered. Nothing we have been told satisfies us. It’s the same thing with Jack the Ripper. Who was he? Why did he kill prostitutes? Until the mysteries are satisfactorily solved they remain newsworthy.
What is your writing process? Do you follow a regular routine or do you have any weird, funny, or unusual habits while writing and what are they?
Someone asked me this the other day. I am committed to writing something every day. If I am working on a book or of I am stuck I will write a blog, tweet about something I have read, or write a review of a book I have read. I do have a rather weird thing that often helps me when I write. I like to have either a crime or court television show on the television in the background.
Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? If so, what do you do about it?
I think it’s likely all writers suffer from writer’s block at some point. There are a couple of things I do. Sometimes I will just write about something not connected to my project. Other times I will watch a movie or read a book just to clear my head. I like to write short stories and doing that will often break the block and give me a good short story to boot.
What is the single most important piece of advice for aspiring authors?
Don’t give up. If you have an idea jot it down somewhere. Carry a notebook with you everywhere; to work, on the bus or train, to dinner, even to the john. You never know when that lightning will strike. Write a little every day. Don’t count how many pages you’ve done but how far you’ve gotten in your plot. If you aren’t writing on your project write something. And read. Nothing inspires me more than reading a book by one of my favorite author’s.
What are your current/future projects?
Currently I am working on two books. One is called “Riddle” and it is a mystery/thriller/romance about a young Native American man who was adopted by white people. He is incarcerated for murdering his girlfriend while in high school. After he returns to his community things begin to happen that indicate he may not be guilty. The other is a story called “Stolen”. That one is about a young girl whose criminal parents die in a police getaway and after she is placed in foster care she begins to learn things about her past.
Why did you choose to write in your particular field or genre? If you write more than one, how do you balance them?
I grew up loving Sherlock Holmes and Edgar Allen Poe. When I was less than ten years old my father gave me his copies of the collected works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Poe. I was hooked. I love a good mystery, a little horror, and a dash of action,
What do you think is the future for independent authors and do you think it will continue to be easy for anyone to be a published author?
I do believe it will become easier for independent authors to get their works out. The big publisher’s will always be there because that is where the big bucks are. But indie writer’s often have a lot of stories banging around in their heads. We have to let them out, to share them. We’re rather like traveling story tellers from long ago. We have to tell our tales. We can’t wait for someone to realize we have something to say that is worth hearing. Indie publishing gives us that freedom.
Are you traditional or self-published, and what process did you go through to get your book published?
At one point I thought I had a small on demand publisher however she has scaled back and was only accepting four books a year. I wanted my book out ASAP. So I asked an indie writer I knew what she thought I should do. Carolyn McCray has an amazing number of books on Amazon. She steered me to Kindle Publishing which led me to Create Space. I wanted to get the book out before the 51st anniversary of the Kennedy assassination. This was the fastest way to do it.
Have you ever changed a title, book cover, or even the content of your book after it was published? What was that process like?
So far I have stuck with my final decision. I put a lot of thought into the titles. “View From the Sixth Floor An Oswald Tale” was tough because it wasn’t just about the Kennedy assassination. In fact that is just a tiny piece of the story. But that view was the epiphany for the characters so it just seemed appropriate to use it. It was my epiphany as well. I had always suspected Oswald was innocent and when I visited the Sixth Floor Museum and looked down from the windows I was convinced he was innocent,
What opportunities have being an author presented you with and share those memories? (i.e. travel, friends, events, speaking, etc..)
So far I have connected with many other author’s and I find we are a very supportive group. We encourage one another, offer suggestions and advice. It is not as competitive as many other art fields. Performers and artists tend to be much more competitive. I think we all enjoy hearing one another’s stories. Perhaps it’s because writers are also readers. We like a good story.
What are your marketing, advertising, promotion strategies and which one(s) have worked the best for you? If you had to share your most valuable promotion tip, what would that be?
Anything you do to promote your book you must do whole heartedly. I began promoting my book on Facebook before it was even finished. I set up a Facebook page for it, I mentioned my progress in my status, I threw out snippets of the story. Now I am tweeting, retweeting for others, promoting on all social media. I did a giveaway on Goodreads. I have given away copies with the request the reader give me an honest review. I know I am not going to get all 5 star reviews. That’s okay. That’s how we learn. I have a book trailer now. I cried the first time I watched it.
If you are a self-published author, which platform do you prefer? (Amazon, Smashwords, Lulu, Author House, or something not mentioned), and why?
So far I love Amazon and Create s Space. They take you through it step by step. I haven’t tried anything else yet but I imagine I will sooner or later. I have received pretty good support from Amazon and the royalties are decent. Let’s face it, Amazon is the big dog right now. And they have purchased Goodreads so you get two for one.
What field or genre would you classify your book(s) and what attracted you to write in that field or genre?
My books are all mystery/thrillers. My family and friends tease me because I am not a chick lit kind of woman. I like some action, some challenge. I love horror stories and I have written some short stories in that genre and I am considering putting them all together in a collection and marketing that book. But that is down the road a little.
What do you do if inspiration strikes in an inconvenient place like (car, restaurant, bathroom/shower, etc..) and how do you capture that moment before it gets away from you?
That’s where the little notebook comes in handy. And with these smartphones we all have now there is always a place to jot down a few lines. I journal and blog a lot also. Grab those moments. Sometimes they can’t be retrieved.
Do you have a target amount of words/pages for each of your books or do you just know when enough is enough?
For me the story is done when the story is done. Someone told me a book should not be any longer than 80,000 words max. Someone else said it doesn’t matter as long as what you write is important to the story. That’s another thing I like about indie publishing. No one can tell me I have to shorten a story.
How do you think you have evolved as a person/author because of your writing and do you believe your writing has helped others, how/why?
I don’t know if my current book has helped anyone but I do know my blogs have. I blog a lot about social issues, especially domestic violence. I myself am a domestic violent survivor and thriver. I encourage women to find their voices. I’ve been writing since I was in the fourth grade and writing has always given me the ability to share part of myself. I think my first book may have made people think about our government and the lack of transparency. I hope my next book will raise awareness of the problems faced by adoptions in the Native American community and how that culture is sometimes lost.
How much influence do you believe a title, cover, content, page numbers have in purchasing decisions of potential buyers/readers?
Many people will buy a book because they like the cover. I think this is especially true with romances. As a woman I like to see a good looking hunk on a book cover. But I also have to be attracted to the subject. Titles rarely make an impact unless there are key words related to the story itself.
Do you believe there is value in a Press Release, have you used any press release service, and what have your experiences been?
I haven’t used any formal press releases. I created my own and I don’t think it really made a difference. My use of social media was more useful in tempting readers to take a second look. I just did a “Meet the Author/Book Signing” at a local assisted living and it was covered by a small newspaper in my town. They are going to run an article and we’ll see how that goes. The elders got really involved in my talk and have chosen my book as their first Book Club read. That’s pretty exciting.
Do you believe there is value in a review? Do you believe they are under rated, over rated, or don’t matter at all?
I think reviews are key to the success of a book. I always read the reviews. If there are a lot I will choose several from different ratings. I want to know what readers liked and what they saw as problems. A true reader will almost always check reviews. If they are all 5-star I become suspicious. Nobody can get all 5-star ratings.
What are your thoughts on authors doing review swaps, paying for reviews, or reviews that just don’t seem right for the book?
I don’t think review swaps are a bad idea. If I can’t give a book at least 3 stars I will tell the author “Look you don’t want me to do this” and tell him why. I would follow up with a “This may just not be my kind of book”. Paying for reviews seems shady to me. I have given away copies of my book asking for a review but I always emphasize I want it to be honest. Please don’t say you really liked the book without saying why. What got you fired up when you read it? What did you love? What did you hate? And why?
Do you believe there are competitors or general readers out to sabotage authors with bad reviews and what are your experiences with this?
I haven’t been sabotaged. I imagine there may be some authors or readers who have agendas. You have to shrug your shoulders and move on. There are people who are unhappy in every field who will try to undermine another person for no good reason.
Have you ever had an interesting, funny, or even bad experience during a live interview, reading, event, or autograph session?
I did have a funny experience at my first reading. The discussion beforehand was very lively and the crowd was quite engaged. I kept noticing an older woman off to one side who seemed to be very jumpy. After I read a little we all talked a few more minutes and she suddenly began getting up and taking her walker with her. When we gathered for refreshments afterward she sought me out and apologized saying she had a bladder infection and absolutely had to go to the potty but she didn’t want to miss anything. I gave her a copy of my book. She made my night.
With self-publishing being so easy these days, do you believe there is an overabundance of books out there and how do you sort through all the hype or copycats?
There can never be an overabundance of books. If anything there is a greater variety to choose from. Even if stories are similar every writer will have a different way of presenting her tale. No two people think exactly the same way so each person will tell their story with their own words and their own life experience behind it.
What is your biggest fear about having a book published?
Honestly I was never afraid of having my book published. I was more frightened I would never have it published. I had a story I needed to tell. I knew someone somewhere would want to read it. There was a reader out there waiting for my book, eager to see what I had to say.
If you have multiple books published what do you feel is your greatest work, why?
So far I only have the one book published. I may have greater works in the future but this one will always be special. It’s like my first child.
What is the intended audience for you book?
I would have to say my book is mostly directed at older people who lived through the Kennedy assassination. Even the romance in the book takes place between senior citizens. I think it’s important to understand that even people in their sixties and seventies can have romantic and sexual feelings for one another.
Give us a fun fact about your book(s)?
When one of the characters in my book talks about her memory of the assassination and watching it on television she complains about how she wanted to know when cartoons would come back on. That is actually true, but it was my husband who asked his mother that question.
If you had the chance to get one message out there to reach readers all over the world, what would that message be?
Never stop reading, Read books by writer’s you know and by new writers. Read the classics, read something in every genre. Finish every book you start because it sometimes takes a few pages to get to the meat of the story.
Do you find it easier to connect with your readers with the advances in technology we have today like social media? What platform do you prefer, and why?
I do feel social media has opened up a whole new world for author’s. I like blogging because the reader gets to know more about the author and that can offer a new perspective on where the author is coming from. Facebook is good because you can share more than just your book; you can share other books you like, movies you like, what your interests are, and readers get to know you better.
What makes a good story, why?
A good story is one you talk about after the book is finished. A good story will keep you reading even if there are draggy parts because you just know something good is around the corner. When you’ve finished you put it aside and the next day you are telling someone about it, you are thinking about it.
How important are names to you in your books? Do you choose the names based on liking the way it sounds or the meaning? Do you have any name choosing resources you recommend?
In my first book I used my father’s last name as the last name of my male protagonist. My father was always very encouraging and I wanted my first book to pay homage to him in some way. Otherwise the names are just there. It’s like having a baby. You know the name is right because it IS right. Maybe I have a little angel or devil on my shoulder whispering the name in my ear.
Do you read your reviews? Do you respond to them, good or bad? Do you have any advice on how to deal with the bad?
I read all my reviews. I haven’t responded to any yet but I am actually planning to do that. I think your reader’s deserve to know that their opinions are important. If someone takes the time to write something, positive or negative, they deserve recognition.
What are some events you have attended or participated in that has been a positive experience/influence on/for your writing?
Touring the Sixth Floor Museum in Dallas was key in my writing. Listening to other’s who were touring as well, sharing their thoughts, made a great impact on me. My presentation at the senior center was very positive. Sharing our thoughts regarding the events that changed the course of history in our country was amazing. We all had somewhat similar experiences. I am originally from New York City and these people are chiefly from small towns but our feelings were so much alike.
What is the easiest/hardest scene for you to write, why? (Love, action, fight, death, racy, controversial, etc…)
That’s an interesting question. So far it has all gone smoothly. When I write I can virtually see what I am writing so it is almost like telling a blind person what is on the movie screen.
What would you like to write about that you have never written about before?
I’d like to write anything in the science fiction genre. It seems so daunting to me. Perhaps something about space travel and life on other planets.
Have you ever had a book idea or characters come to you in a dream? What did you do about it afterwards?
Oh goodness I have had so many ideas come to me in dreams. I often write them down and know I will return to them at a later date, Dreams are wonderful for writers. That’s when your imagination is truly set free and you aren’t inhibited by logic or reality. Maybe that’s when I’ll get the idea for my science fiction story.
Do you have any characters you would like to introduce in other books or a combination of characters from multiple books you would like to write about in one book?
I do have many characters waiting in the wings. Some of them already have stories to be told. Others are just wanders waiting for the right vehicle to make their appearance.
Were your characters based off real life people/events or did you make it all up?
Of course in “View From the Sixth Floor” one of the characters is based on a living person although even he is more my imagining of what the real man might be like. I culled some aspects of his personality from factual stories of his personality. But in the end he became my view of what he would be. The main character in my current project “Riddle” is based somewhat on stories told to me by someone I knew a long time ago and his experiences. I have toned it down a bit but he was definitely the inspiration.
What are the most important elements of good writing? According to you, what tools are must-haves for writers?
A good fiction writer must be able to free his imagination. You can’t be trapped by whether a story is believable. You need a good support system, someone who will tell you the truth. If something stinks you have to hear it up front. It has to be someone you trust. A food writer has to understand people. You have to see where people are coming from so you can take them where you want them to go.
What book(s), author(s), or significant life event(s) have had a positive or negative influence in your life that inspired you to begin writing?
The writer’s I have been most inspired by are Stephen King, Edgar Allen Poe, Harper Lee, Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, and Bram Stoker. I know that is quite a variety. Each story I write has been inspired by some life event or some person I have known.
What are your thoughts about eBooks vs. print books?
When eBooks fist came out I swore I would NEVER read one. I maintained I had to have a book in my hand and to turn the pages. I have eaten those words. I travel a lot and if I didn’t have a Kindle or I-Pad I would be in big trouble. I used to carry two or three books on cruises or long vacations and heaven help me if I lost one before I finished it. Now I can have hundreds of book sin one place and start another as soon as one is done. It’s like having an entire library in my hand.
Do you view writing as a career, labor of love, hobby, creative outlet, therapy, or something else?
Writing has always been a labor love. Or perhaps some type of outlet, As I said, I have all these stories and characters that must be set free. It will never be a real career because I doubt I will ever make a lot of money doing it. But if I give one person the pleasure of reading one of my books I am happy.
Were there any challenges (research, literary, psychological, or logistical) in bringing your book to life?
The challenge with this book was the research. I had to decide if I wanted to go at it from my personal point of view or try to go against my beliefs. I had a couple of minutes when I considered taking darker turns but they just didn’t feel right. I love research. In fact some of the places in my book actually exist. I based one of the locations on a vacation spot my husband and I enjoy that is actually in North Carolina. I moved it to Arkansas but believe me, it’s the same place.
Do you proofread/edit your own books or do you send them off to an editor? If you send them off to an editor, who/what have you had the best experience with?
I proof my own books. Then I have my sister proof it. Then I have my husband proof it. Then I proof it again. Hopefully it turns out alright in the end.
What are the advantages/disadvantages of self or traditional publishing?
The advantage of self-publishing is the freedom it affords you. The disadvantage is that you have to promote your own work and you have to do your own editing. You don’t have the expertise of professionals and have to rely on your gut to lead you.
Do you have a subject/genre you would never write about, why?
I would never write anything pornographic. That just isn’t my thing. Sex is one thing but outright pornography just isn’t something I think I could do well. I couldn’t write about child or animal abuse in any detail. I could hint at it if it were vital to the story but not descriptively.
What motivates you to write and where does your inspiration come from?
My inspiration is the story that niggles at the back of my mind calling out for me to see it, feel it, set it free. That sounds rather mystical, or maybe crazy, but I will hear a name, see a place, smell something, and then the story starts, A bit of conversation at a dinner table in a restaurant between two strangers may set me off.
What makes your book stand out from the crowd?
I take a somewhat controversial approach to a real life event. It offers closure to something that occurred over fifty years ago and remains a mystery of sorts.
Do you design your own cover? If not who does, why?
I took the photo on my cover myself when I was in Dallas Texas, It makes the whole thing totally mine. I used a template but plugged in my own colors and typeface. But I feel it’s the photo that’s going to grab attention.
What is your most/least favorite part of the writing process, why?
I love everything about writing. From the first idea, the research, through the first draft, the editing, step of the way is exhilarating. Watching it all come together in bits and pieces and thinking you know where you are headed is rather like starting a journey and having the route mapped out but taking a side trip every once in a while to see an usual site.
“View” has a new cover designed by artist Rachel Bostwick who also formatted the hard copy available at Createspace. In addition it was re-edited by Angela Bishop.
“Riddle” has been published with a cover also designed by Rachel Bostwick.
I am currently putting the finishing touches on my third novel, “Stolen” which is a thriller romance. It will be available in Spring of 2016.
I have had short stories published in two anthologies:
I’m honored to have another of my short stories, “Old Habits”, included in an anthology due out soon.