August 2020-A Chat with mystery writer Jan Bono

Jan Bono is one of our most popular presenters at WordFest, her readings marked by her characteristic humor, verve and vivacity. Jan has lived on the SW Washington coast, just steps from Willapa Bay, since 1977. Oyster Spat is the fifth in her Sylvia Avery Mystery series. The Chicken Soup for the Soul series has published over 40 of her stories, putting her in their top five contributors world-wide. You can visit her at www.JanBonoBooks.com.


About the Book

The feud between Shallowwater Bay oystermen Brent Booi and Tom Diamond is decades old. Environmental issues, tideland ownership, and burrowing shrimp control are only a part of their ongoing disputes which escalate as time goes on.

When recent UW Marine Biologist grad Nautika Henry arrives, she enlists Sylvia Avery to help her find out what really happened to her missing father, while also working to save the oyster fishery from extinction.

Sylvia and Nautika uncover many long-standing secrets in the tiny burg of Willoopah. But must someone die before all the fences can be mended?


Your Sylvia Avery booksare cozy mysteries. How would you describe this genre?

A cozy mystery contains no graphic violence, no obscene language, and no explicit sex scenes. It has an amateur sleuth who works with the police department in a small town, a quirky cast of characters, and plenty of humor. Cozies are light reading, lots of fun, and won’t disturb your sleep. Primarily for women, my mysteries have a surprisingly strong male following as well

Oyster Spat is the fifth book in the series. What’s the significance of the title?

Like all my titles, it’s a double entendre. A spat is a disagreement between people—in this case, two oystermen—and spat is also the tiny oyster seed that has set on an oyster shell ready to mature into a harvestable bivalve mollusk.

How has Sylvia developed over the course of writing these books?

The first five books all take place within a single year. I didn’t want my characters to age too much between books, so Sylvia hasn’t aged at all, and as far as how she has developed, I like to think she will forever be a cross between I Love Lucy and one of Charlie’s Angels. She’s smart, savvy, sexy, and silly all at the same time. In fact, SYLLEE is on her personalized license plate!

Each of your books is set on the SW Washington coast and offers a richly intimate view of the physical environment, the industries, people and culture around the Long Beach-Ilwaco area. In this book, you focus on the oyster industry. How did you gain knowledge about oysters and oystermen?

I am not a fan of raw oysters, and even the fried ones are not something I would willingly order. Smoked, on crackers, are just great, but that’s as far as my knowledge went until I dove into this book.

I’ve lived here almost 43 years, teaching history for the first 30 of those years, and learned much about the area through my own teaching, but I had no idea just how much I didn’t know until I started doing research for Oyster Spat.

I started by reading a very thick folder of local newspaper articles that I’d been saving. I also watched 7 short documentaries by Stony Point Pictures on oyster farming. Keith A. Cox, a former student of mine, was behind the documentation of this important native industry, and he did a fine job! Then I wrote pages of questions in order to interview another former student who, along with her husband, is now heading up the family oyster farm. I learned so much in the months I spent researching! For example, oysters are alive when you eat them raw. Dead oysters contain bacteria that are dangerous to humans–Did I mention that I don’t like raw oysters?

As a lifelong teacher as well as learner, I worked a great deal of that factual information into the book.

You are incredibly prolific, completing on average a new mystery each year. What is your writing process?

My books are calendar-driven. In January, I read whatever I’ve stashed into my folders on the main topic of the book and do whatever research I think I’ll need to sound like an expert. (Laughs) Then in February, I write a very thorough synopsis. In books 1-4, my synopses were about 22-24 single spaced pages. But in this book, I wrote a whopping 42-page summary to guide me through the chapters when I finally sat down to write. Normally, I start the actual writing sometime in March, but this year I had knee surgery, and I waited until I was off pain meds during the day to begin writing in earnest, so my first day at the keyboard was April 15. On June 1st, I was satisfied that most of the 71,000 words I’d written were pretty good. The synopsis makes the writing move right along, and you always know what’s coming next. Then I send it to 4 or 5 friends to proofread and critique. And after fixing the boo-boos, it goes to one more friend, a woman who is AMAZING, and she catches another 15-20 things the first five readers never found.

While they’re all reading the drafts, I’m writing the end pages, the back of the book blurb, taking a photo for the cover, and the author’s photo, and doing all the formatting. The printer takes about a month. In August I rest! Then for three months in the fall I sell my books at holiday bazaars and craft fairs. I take a December breather, and start all over again in January!

Do you ever diverge from your original outline?

Well, my characters always get the last word, and I have changed the ending of two of the books pretty dramatically from what I thought was going to happen, and even as to who “dunnit!”

How far out do you plan your series?

Originally, I planned 8 books. Then I thought this one, number five, just might be “it.” But my readers screamed bloody murder, so I started thinking “What if….” and now there’s going to be a sixth for sure, and after that, well…we’ll see.

What’s up next for Sylvia?

Without giving anything away, Sylvia is going to be spending some time in Maui early in Book 6. I love Lahaina, and know it well, and I thought maybe she might find something interesting to do there, too.  But rest assured, the bulk of the book, the mystery itself, is right back here on the Long Beach Peninsula, and she’ll be in the thick of getting it solved. Hint: I’m pretty sure someone she loves is going to be kidnapped.

How has this time of Covid-19 changed your marketing and sales of your books? Any marketing tips for other authors?

What a nightmare this virus is! My usual “Book Release Party” would be at a coffee shop, but not this year. I used the Peninsula Senior Center’s hallway to literally “channel” the readers in one door, past the book table, and out the other end so that we could maintain social distancing. And of course, we all wore masks.

Right now I’m looking into other similar venues, like the covered porch at an ice cream shop, and perhaps an open-air carport

The worst part is that this year most of my holiday bazaars and craft fairs are cancelled. Right now, there’s only two events on my calendar instead of 10 or 12, and those two will also be cancelled if their counties aren’t in Phase 4 by then.

I’m hoping to get some buzz going and maybe hook up with some local artists and participate in an art walk or studio tour. No doubt about it, this year will be tough to make ends meet. I printed 300 copies of Oyster Spat, but I also have about 200 of each of the first four mysteries, so I’m looking at 1100 books to move, and that’s not counting the first 8 story collections I wrote!

So, how can readers purchase copies of Oyster Spat and your other books in the series?

My website is www.JanBonoBooks.com , and I almost always get orders mailed out in a day or two. If you’re in the Long Beach area, give me a call, and I’ll meet you personally in most any open-air area. Someone once thought I was dealing drugs in the grocery store parking lot (Laughs) but I ended up using that idea in my book, so all’s well that ends well!

You can watch Jan’s November 2018 KLTV Book Chat interview here.

July 2020-A Chat with D. Randall Faro

Randy is a speaker, preacher, and lifetime worker with words. His experience in the killing fields of Vietnam and apartheid-gripped Namibia, his global travels in some two dozen countries, and decades of working for peace with justice in North America provide an experience-rich context for his first novel. He lives with his wife, Betsy, in Olympia, WA.

About the book

Jedediah Bazo’s early upbringing was with the Ndebele culture of Zimbabwe. After coming to the U.S. for education, he does a stint in the Marine Corps, goes to seminary, and ends up with a street ministry to marginalized people on Seattle’s south side. Seeing the ravages of child prostitution, Jed works to dismantle a west coast trafficking ring. His USMC skills combined with an expertise in martial arts serve him well as he confronts this raw evil. Encountering a richly developed cast of characters spanning three continents and five decades, the reader will come to champion Jed and to wrestle with the same ethical issues he does.

Randy was scheduled to read at the July WordFest before Covid-19 ended group events. Alan spoke with him about his novel.

How did you get the idea for this book?

Some of the seeds sprouted from my experiences both as a Marine in Vietnam and as a Lutheran pastor for forty years. My goal was to provide a good action novel, but one that also challenges readers to examine what are morally acceptable responses when faced with soul-destroying wickedness.

The book goes into the very grim and dark territory of human trafficking, especially of children. What prompted you to explore such dark aspects of the human soul?

To stimulate wrestling with ethical questions, I chose a context which any sane person would deem ultimate evil. Character development elucidates how or why anyone could ever perpetrate such horrific actions. The subject also provides a basis for Jedediah, a man of faith, to examine his own values in the face of the sexual exploitation of little girls.

How long did it take to write?

After years of thinking, research, and plotting the story line, it took eleven months, from striking the first keys to the last. I built a little writing shack in my yard and basically disappeared. But another year passed before publication as the manuscript was given to first-readers and then revised. And revised again.

What background or training did you have for writing a novel?

My qualification for writing the book was simply being a lifelong wordsmith and inveterate reader. I have had no formal training in writing, but having read zillions of books and spending a career as a preacher/teacher, I was determined to give it a shot. With this as my first novel, I wondered if I could do it and if I would enjoy it. The answer to both is an emphatic yes. I had more fun than I ever imagined . . . which continues with the sequel, Gunnar.

You write very authoritatively and affectionately about the Ndebele people of Zimbabwe. How are you familiar with their culture?

I have traveled repeatedly throughout southern Africa and met some Ndebele people. After choosing 1940s southern Rhodesia as the place for Jed’s early development, I then simply did extensive online research. My purpose was for Jed Bazo to be raised with the Ndebele values of courage and caring.

What was the process in getting the book published?

Everything I read encouraged self-publishing, so I formed Beartracks Press (www.beartrackspress.com). Siblings contributed to the proofreading and editing, and my son David turned the manuscript into digital and print formats for its availability at Amazon online.

How soon will the sequel be coming out?

Gunnar is in the making and will hopefully be available late this year or early 2021. The COVID-19 scourge is making on-the-ground research more challenging, but the internet helps a lot. There will be a “spoiler alert” at the beginning of the sequel because if it is read prior to Bazo, it will ruin some big surprises in the latter.

How are you marketing Bazo?

David has done professional marketing for another industry and is handling this for me. Our idea for marketing was to segment our potential audiences into the specific groups who the book might appeal to–the general book reading public, readers who identify with a religious faith, and the military–and then create marketing plans aimed at each group. We’ve created video interviews for my YouTube channel and have also created a Facebook page. We are attempting to build a large enough list of subscribers that we can begin a re-marketing campaign through larger media outlets. We are also compiling an email list of organizations, people, and institutions that we feel would have an interest in the themes in the book, and we are sending regular marketing emails to this list. We hope to spend the next few months generating a buzz that lights a fire.

You can watch Randy’s video interviews about the writing of his book and the issues it confronts on his Author’s YouTube Channel here.

Bazo is available at Amazon.com in paperback ($18) or as an e-Book ($4.99)

June 2020-A Chat with Joan Enders

Joan taught literature and research skills in middle and high school libraries for 28 years. She was a recipient of the American Library Association’s Frances Henne Award for library leadership. She is a FamilySearch online volunteer fielding questions from directors of  Family History Centers.   She enjoys “peeling the research onion” for students and adults. Joan speaks to professional organizations and at genealogy conferences


About the books:

Evidence is Lacking, Yet I Still Hope by Joan Enders (2018) $24.95

Joshua Henry Bates, a young teacher in a country school, wondered what he would do with his life. He enjoyed summers away from the farm, attending the University of Utah, dancing and watching pictures shows, and ice cream on bone dry summer days. In his journal he questioned his future. He found a young woman to love, then registered for service in the American Expeditionary Forces. Readers will review primary sources about Joshua, an everyman doughboy of World War I, including documents and photographs from his youth, his journal and Camp Lewis diary and many other materials about him.


Semper Fi: Idaho to Iwo Jima by Joan Enders (2020) $19.95

His mother called him “Sunshine Boy.” He played cowboy riding the goat, Jack, around their dry farm in Idaho, stalked lions (their dog Fritz) in the field, rode fine Arabian stick horses, and picked buttercups for the best mother in the world. He didn’t realize how poor they were until a city slicker pointed it out. Graduating from high school, Lee enlisted as a Marine. This interactive book includes Lee’s photographs, his own words, and documents for the reader-detective to patch together Lee’s story, experiencing World War II, Iwo Jima, and his life on the personal level it was lived.

Alan asked Joan about her books and their popularity among people interested in researching family histories.

How would you describe your two books?  

Thumbing through them, you would think they were scrapbooks. Semper Fi  and Evidence is Lacking are both “deconstructed” life stories of  young men serving their country. What was it like to be a World War I doughboy in the newly constructed Camp Lewis? We’ve all seen the photos of Marines on Iwo Jima, but what was it like to a private first class in the 27th Division? Both books include primary source materials (diaries, journals, photographs, official documents, newspaper clippings, written histories, etc.) that the reader-detective uses to form a historical narrative about the person. It requires that you read, sort, analyze, and research the sources to make sure the narrative is as exact as it can be, based on the material in the book.


How can the books be helpful to people who are interested in exploring their own family’s history?​

Family history use was not my initial goal for the books, but the reviewer and reader comments have consistently mentioned that reading and working with the books gave them the impetus to find the same kind of sources for their ancestors. 


What prompted you to create these books? 

The US History teachers at RA Long High School were in mourning over my impending retirement, and at conferences, teachers would tell me there was no way they or their librarians could create such a wealth of primary source materials to analyze, so I decided to produce the first book for them. I also created a teacher resource book, and offer teacher workshops and student debriefings online.


What are the similarities and differences between them? 

The formats of the books are the same. The artifacts and documents are in chronological order, and both subjects are honorable, accomplished men. W. Lee Robinson, the subject of the second book, is alive and well. A retired vice president of forestry for Fibre, he just turned 96 and is one of the most amazing persons I have met. He writes poetry for his children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. He wrote his own life story from which I liberally quoted. Much of it is about Iwo Jima.


You volunteer with FamilySearch. What resources does the organization provide? 

Do you have a day?  They assist in Family Tree construction and archiving of family photographs, documents, stories, audio recordings, research materials in digital and book formats, and provide advice, assisted by more than 1000 volunteers. They also offer local Family History Centers where people can access help and online genealogy lessons and databases for free. 

You can learn more about Joan’s books and Family Search on her website at www.joanenders.com.

May 2020-A Chat with Jan Marie Fortier

Jan Marie Fortier lives in the hills of Kelso, Washington, with her husband Jerry. She has previously published a novel, titled Roots and Wildflowers, and a chapbook of poems, Falling Leaves: Poems from My Heart.

About the book:

As she lives into middle age, Michelle invites several women to a special dinner she is hosting. Though all are friends from different periods of Michelle’s life in Seattle, none of them have met each other before this evening. What does Michelle want to discover from this meeting of strangers? What will it mean?

Alan recently spoke with Jan Marie about her new novel.

Where did the idea for this book come from?

At my age I feel as if I have lived many lives and have had good friends from each of those times, special personalities who’ve had a strong and lasting influence on me. Like the main character, Michelle, I wanted to bring these people, who did not know each other, together and share them.

The characters are vividly drawn. Are they based on actual people?

Except for one of the six characters, they are all based on actual friends in my life. One character is based on a friend I wish I’d had, and didn’t. They are not perfect; they all have faults. All have been challenged by life, as all people, even the privileged, are.

How long did it take to write the book?

Approximately two years. Much quicker than my first novel, which took many, many years, with much starting and stopping.

What is your writing process?

When writing this novel, I was meeting with a critique group every two weeks in Longview. We had to submit pages for each meeting, which kept me writing most every day. Now I am in the practice of writing every day, at least from 9 to 10 in the morning, my sacred hour.

What was the process in getting it published?

After hiring two editors and attempts at interesting agents and publishers with my first novel, I realized what a full-time job it is to get published. A writing guide suggested I work with Gorham Printing in Chehalis, and they have been wonderful in helping me publish both novels.

Are you working on a new project?

I’m in the beginning stages of a third novel, this one dealing with the main character’s European and French Canadian ancestry. Though it will be fictional, I’m hoping not to get too bogged down in the constraints of historical fiction, though it will be as accurate as it can.

Readers can order a copy of The Girls from Seattle ($25) by contacting Jan Marie at JanMarieFC@gmail.com, or at 503.319.8033.

April 2020–A Chat with Pat Nelson

In a time of global pandemic, Woodland author Pat Nelson recently published Open Window: The Lake Julia TB Sanatorium, a Community Created by Tuberculosis, providing a look back to a time and community that was defined by a disease.

Pat Nelson is a freelance proofreader and editor as well as a former columnist for The Daily News and The Valley Bugler. She is co-creator of two humorous anthologies, Not Your Mother’s Book on Being a Parent and Not Your Mother’s Book on Working for a Living. Her short stories have been published in Chicken Soup for the Soul and the Not Your Mother’s Book anthology series. She lives in Woodland with her husband, Bob.

In the early years of TB sanatoriums, mothers, fathers, children, grandparents, the young and the old, rich and poor, went away to recover at hospitals where even  in winter they slept by open windows, sometimes waking to snow and ice on their thick covering of blankets.

While tuberculosis still casts its sinister shadow, infecting one-fourth of the world’s population, Open Window looks back to the Lake Julia Tuberculosis Sanatorium in Northern Minnesota where the author’s parents once lived and worked, a place where an entire community was created and bound together by the tubercle bacillus. At the heart of the community is the determined Dr. Mary Ghostley who some called a witch for studying medicine in the early 1900s. Along with Dr. Ghostley are dedicated staff, risking their own health for their patients, and the patients themselves who “worked hard at doing nothing,” hoping their treatment would allow them someday to return home rather than leaving in a box.

Alan recently spoke with Pat about her book and about publishing during a new pandemic.

This is quite a change in tone and topic from your earlier humorous works. Where did the idea for this book come from?

I lived on the dairy farm of the Lake Julia Tuberculosis Sanatorium in Minnesota when I was very young, from ages two to four. In spite of my young age, the “San” had a huge influence on my life because it was so important to my parents, who worked there.

I left Minnesota for Washington when I was five. When I returned nearly 30 years later, I was overwhelmed by the sense of community that remained. Everywhere I turned, I was “welcomed home.” When I detect a story, it’s like hearing something faint, then listening as it becomes louder and louder, and so persistent that I can’t dismiss it. When a friend asked me why I wrote Open Window, my reply was, “I didn’t have a choice.”

You call this a “collective biography,” of Dr. Mary Ghostley, of your parents, and one of the long-term residents, Art Holmstrom. But it’s also a kind of biography of the community.

Yes, the sanatorium was located two miles from the small town of Puposky, Minnesota, and was sort of the hub of the community. People who worked at the “San” lived on the grounds or nearby, in Puposky, so I say the sanatorium was a community created by the tubercle bacillus.

Folks didn’t have much money for entertainment in those days, but they worked together, socialized together, and worshipped together at the church they built themselves. They got together for picnics, dances at neighbors’ houses, or church socials, and they helped each other when there was a need. The employees got to know and love the patients as they watched them get well, or linger in bed, or die of the disease. And everyone, patients, employees, and neighbors alike, loved Dr. Mary Ghostley, the superintendent of the San.

Dr, Mary Ghostley

How long did it take to write the book?

It took me at least 15 years to publish the book once I made the commitment to myself and to Dr. Ghostley’s son, Jim. He said, “Everyone says they’re going to write a book about Dr. Mary, but no one ever does it.” I vowed to be the one who would get it done.

What was your process?

Doing the research was so much fun, watching the story form and tying the bits of information together.  Jim suggested that I go to International Falls to visit Art Holmstrom, who, while looking forward to graduating from high school as valedictorian, instead had gone to the San for many years. As I listened to Art’s fascinating story, the hook was set.

My husband, Bob, encouraged me to make trips to Minnesota for my research. Eventually, I had recordings, notes, newspaper articles, letters, and even copies of most of the patient records from the Sanatorium.

When I had a rough draft, I sent it to Art Holmstrom and Jim Ghostley. They were pleased with it. In time, Art passed away, and then Jim. I felt sad that I hadn’t finished the book, but I was determined that, one day, I would.

I persisted through frustration, a dead computer, lost passwords, a new computer, new software, software upgrades, and late nights, and I did the formatting myself! I published both the print version and the eBook on schedule. I am still putting my marketing plan together and building my website. I’ve learned that I can move forward even if everything isn’t yet perfect.

In this time of COVID-19, what lessons can we take from Open Window?

Probably one of the most important lessons is that sometimes we have to adjust our daily routines for the good of all.

For years, I told my husband, “Once I finally publish this book, there will probably be a big epidemic, thinking TB, which still infects one person in four in the world. I couldn’t have guessed that the current global pandemic would be called COVID-19.

They have many similarities: there was no cure; it primarily attacks the lungs; people isolate themselves to avoid spreading the disease. It attacks all ages, both male and female, rich and poor. Like tuberculosis, COVID-19 is spread by droplets of saliva through coughing, sneezing, talking, spitting, and singing, and it spreads more easily where large groups gather.

We continue learning from tuberculosis, and we are now learning daily from COVID-19.

Are you working on a new project?

No new project. But who knows? There might be a story just waiting for me. When it’s there, I’ll hear it calling, softly at first and then with a persistence that won’t let me ignore it.

Open Window is available at Amazon.com in both print ($19.50) and as an eBook ($9.50). The print version is 8″ x 10″ and 283 pages and features more than 135 historical photos. For more information, see www.OpenWindowTB.com.