Author Spotlight-Anna Brentwood-The Songbird With Sapphire Eyes

by Ashlynmathews on October 9, 2012

Anna, welcome to my blog. I love to spotlight authors, and though I’m partial to those who write paranormal romance, I’m curious as to what you would categorize your debut novel, The Songbird with Sapphire Eyes.

Hi, Ashlyn.

As a reader, I also enjoy paranormal romance among other genres and appreciate your inviting me to appear on your blog. Thank you so much.

The Songbird with Sapphire Eyes is women’s fiction; historical fiction and can also be considered fiction with strong romantic elements

I read the blurb and when I saw the reference to Al Capone and Prohibition, the first thing I thought of was the gritty and violent movie, The Untouchables, with Kevin Costner. What words captures the essence of your book?

The simple answer would be captivating, riveting, heartbreaking and haunting. Though this is fiction, it is very much a real story of people living in a world/reality as foreign to us today as one of the many alternative worlds/realities authors like yourself create in paranormal stories.

For Songbird, how much of what is written is based on research? How much of it was channeled to you through your dreams?

The framework of the entire story of ‘The Songbird with Sapphire Eyes’ initially came to me in a sequence of three very detailed and realistic dreams. Using these dreams as an outline, the rest of the story was written through a combination of imagination, meditation and research.

In each of those original dreams, I was completely enveloped in Hannah’s point of view. I could feel what she was feeling, think what she was thinking and see what she was seeing both visually and as she reflected on her past. In fact, while dreaming, I thought the dream was about me until at one point, fearing for my/her safety, I became scared knowing that something bad had happened or would happen to me/her (past, present and future seemed confused) and started to run out of the apartment I/she had been in.

I/she just happened to glance into a small wall mirror by the door. Since I thought the dream was about me, when I looked into that mirror and saw a complete stranger’s face looking back at me; a young, platinum haired woman with a Jean Harlow styled hairdo, I freaked!

I physically jumped, startling myself right out of the dream and waking up my husband in the process. My heart was pounding and my mind racing and I remember sitting up in bed wondering what the hell had just happened to me.

The experience so affected me, I immediately got up to write it down as I tried to explain it to my husband. I puzzled over its meaning for weeks and sometime later, actually spent some months going through microfiche in the library at the University of California, Irvine to see if I could verify Hannah’s or Johnny’s actual existence and/or validate the address of a letter I remember seeing on the table inside Hannah’s apartment.

Not really being sure of her last name or the actual dates they lived and died this was a daunting and near impossible task considering I worked fulltime and there were years and years of papers to look through. However, I did verify the existence of a Johnny Gallo arrested for a burglary on a train around those years and that there was indeed, a Diamond Street in Brooklyn, New York,

Many, many years later when I finally had the opportunity to pursue my dream to write, I began by picking up my notes about Hannah and doing some real-time research.

Using what I “remembered”, the process opened me up to the voices of the characters that often came alive and kept me awake at night telling or showing me their stories. I often joked that I was becoming schizophrenic. I certainly felt like I was talking to ghosts. Between being haunted, reading, interviewing and writing, I was able to flesh out more and more of Hannah’s story.

In retrospect, the experience was amazing, enlightening and sometimes chillingly weird. While my actual physical research led me to develop a fascination for the era, collect mementos and learn so many interesting things along the way, the weird thing was I “knew” so many of the things I shouldn’t have known because I’d never been to many of these places nor had I ever studied or read about them prior to deciding to write about Hannah. For example, to discover where Hannah came from, I ran my hand over a map and instantly knew the area. I visualized it, the town, the kinds of farms and crops they had, the nationality of the people. I could “hear” their dialects and understand their viewpoints. Later, I would learn only after verifying the information, that what I had guessed had been totally accurate already. This happened so often with places, people and actual historical events that matched it always gave me pause.

I can honestly not explain beyond a shadow of a doubt why this particular story-line came through me this way, but one thing I can say is, that whether real, imagined, ghost or wraith, Hannah wanted her story to be told. And at its heart, I think her story is one we all can learn from since we are all faced with tough choices, love and loss. And, isn’t it a bit comforting to believe that there is a plan, a reason why good and bad things happen and to be reminded that no matter how long or short each of our individual lives are, we should live them fully and well.

Well said! I got goose bumps reading about your experience. Thank you for sharing. I think all writers have a catalyst that had started them on their writing career. Mine was the Disney movie, Tangled. Smiles. What are your future plans for the rest of this year?

I love the holidays and am looking forward to celebrating them with family and friends even as I continue promoting Hannah’s story, growing my brand and hopefully acquiring and meeting new readers and author friends. I plan to continue writing, continue learning and I am happy to say I have already begun work on the sequel to “The Songbird with Sapphire Eyes’.

I read on your website that the sequel to The Songbird with Sapphire Eyes has a mobster in it too. Hmm, I’m sensing a theme here. What is it you find interesting about these men? How do you make them sympathetic or relatable characters?

I like exploring strong, powerful men who epitomize the dichotomy between light and dark, good and evil, loving yet cruel, perfect yet very flawed men who are as complex as they can be frightening. (Ashlyn interrupting- Oooh, I’m in Heaven. I love these types of characters) These are men who go after what they want single-mindedly, who are willing to do whatever it takes to achieve their goals, who risk life and limb and achieve their goals by whatever means fair or foul; passionate men who love deeply and sometimes very singly.

In “The Songbird with Sapphire Eyes’, both the key men in Hannah’s life have all or some of these traits though her stepfather, Ray is a farmer, not a gangster. Still, when I can make my female readers care and even feel attracted to and/or love this type of man, a man who appeals to them despite the fact that he can do reprehensible things, I feel I am succeeding because I want my readers to relate to what the heroine is feeling and understand her choices. I want them to be in the heroine’s head as much as I was.

The particular era of gangster also appeals because even no matter how ruthless or evil or criminal they could be, most of them had a strong sense of ethics; a moral code all their own that they abided by that valued family and most especially, loyalty.

Tell us more about your heroine, Hannah Glidden, and your hero, Johnny Gallo. What do they find attractive or unforgettable about one another? What prevents them from loving one another?

Hannah and Johnny had an intense passionate relationship filled with such love that it was destined to either burn out or end in tragedy. Think OJ and Nicole.

Hannah was a free spirit; a girl who yearned for all the beautiful things she felt life had to offer and that she had never had. She was strong in that she was willing to do whatever it took to survive, and did. When Johnny came to her like a knight in shining armor, helping her when she needed it most and offering her everything she’d ever dreamed of, he was a fantasy come to life.

Johnny was a man who had come up in life the hard way, did whatever it took to succeed in his world and valued beautiful things. He was in control, controlling and prided himself on his success and his possessions, He was a man who did not love freely or easily but he adored Hannah. She captivated him. He was determined to have her for his own. He was very happy to be the man to make all her dreams come true. He loved her beauty, her zest for life and didn’t like to share her with anyone else. In his mind, she was his and he owned her.

It is partly the fault of the era where sexism wasn’t even an ism and women were still viewed as possessions with very limited options that this mentality wasn’t discouraged. In fact, it was commonly accepted that a man might have to discipline or smack around his little woman from time to time. Added to the differences in their personalities, it was only a matter of time before the free-spirited Hannah and the controlling Johnny began to clash and when they did, it wasn’t pretty. Without giving away the story, suffice it to say, when Johnny felt he was losing Hannah, he did the only thing he could think of to keep her his own even though he knew doing it would cost him his soul.

Ok, I’m thinking a box of tissue is needed for the ending. What is one of the greatest challenges of being an author?

Being an author is a little different than being a writer, but both are similar in that each is a stage of the process and each involves being on an emotional roller coaster filled with high highs and low lows.  Going from writer to author very recently, I liken it to reaching the top of a very high mountaintop. I had spent years climbing and climbing only to finally reach the top. Guess what I found out. There are just more mountains!

There is the promo mountain, the building your brand mountain, the writing your next book mountain and getting reviews mountain. Bottom line is, it all boils down to selling books!

Kind of like selling girl scout cookies but fortunately, not as temporary…

I’d say it helps to have a plan. To have it well edited, a great cover and to already be engaged in social media, to have a website, to be prepared, to have contacts and be connected to other writers.

When I first realized my book went live and people could buy it, I had an epiphany. I realized that no matter how good it is, there will be people who will not like it. It won’t be the genre they like or they won’t like the style and I’d have to grow a thick skin. Easier said than done though but I am working on it.

You expect family and friends to run right out and buy it. Some do, some say they will and some apologize and promised they will every time they see you. I have since discovered that there is nothing worse than someone you knew telling you they bought it, got it and then not hearing anything from them again for days or even weeks even though this is your usual relationship pattern. Let’s face it, no matter how confident you are in your work, there will always be that little worry that people won’t read it or worse, won’t like it.

So, when or if they finally call and say they read it, actually sound enthused and like or love it and in some cases, even leave a great review (which so far, has been my experience) you feel so happy but cannot help yourself from saying, “Are you sure? You don’t have to tell me you like it if you really don’t.”

When someone likes your work and supports it, you fly high. I am sure when someone doesn’t and tells me it sucks, my chin will probably hit the floor, but I will do what I have been doing all along on this writing journey. I will pick myself up off the floor, hold my head high and get back to writing my next book because that’s what we authors do; we move ahead and always look forward to the next hurdle.

What advice would you give to new writers?

Read as much as possible, join or connect with local writer groups, always learn and improve and never think you will know it all. Attend conferences, make friends, find some readers or a critique partner, and don’t pick writing as a career if you are doing it for the money, the fame or the good times. While all of that is a possibility, it isn’t the reality and writing is hard, soul and gut wrenching work.

You will put in tons of time and work long and hard, mostly for no monetary rewards and often without a pat on the back. It can be frustrating and fulfilling and sometimes you will do it for years with no success, but if writing is something you have to do and it feeds your soul, than do it and see where it takes you.

Now, Anna, I did warn you I’m a fan of Resident Evil, and that I’d ask a question related to the movie (smiles). So, a few days ago, I had a dream. In it were zombies and at least five Diana Ross zombies trying to corner me in a cave. If you had to interpret the dream, what would you say my subconscious was trying to tell me?

Interesting, Ashlyn…lol…my first guess would be that you have a latent desire to be a member of the singing group the Supremes, (Ashlyn chuckling to herself) but realize on a subconscious level that this is impossible because the Supremes no longer exist and are dead as a group—hence the zombies.

Second, the number 5 in numerology is considered the most dynamic, energetic and unpredictable of the numbers, constantly in motion and changing so I am thinking that perhaps this number has some special significance for you and reflects aspects of your character? Certainly, as a writer of paranormal romance, these traits would stand you in good stead. (Ah, I like it!)

Now add to that that these were Diana Ross zombies and Diana Ross is famous for songs like, “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and “Never Give Up” so I’d say your subconscious is telling you that your chance to be a singing diva is dead but because you decided to become a writing diva instead, that dream is alive and well and totally feasible because you have what it takes & won’t give up!

Wow, you made my day . . . no year! Thanks, Anna, for stopping by. To find out more about the lovely Anna Brentwood, please visit her at www.annabrentwood.com. And remember to pick up your copy of The Songbird with Sapphire Eyes.

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Paty Jager October 9, 2012 at 7:04 pm

What an intriguing way to come up with a story. It’s creepy and interesting at the same time. I rarely dream or if I do I can’t remember it in the morning unless it was scary, then it can stick with me for days.

Good luck with your book!

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Ashlynmathews October 9, 2012 at 7:07 pm

Paty, I had goosebumps while I was reading how Anna’s story came to be.

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Jackie Leigh Allen October 9, 2012 at 10:38 pm

I love. Oops thaT have real people in them. Sounds like a scary fun time will be had.

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dianamcc October 10, 2012 at 9:27 am

Hi, Anna, What an interesting blog post! I can tell you love your characters. Having not one but three dreams about your story is amazing and I’d have to say Paranormal! Having met you at the Portland meeting I can imagine your shock at seeing a blonde woman in the mirror when you passed by. I’ve had some weird dreams, but usually I feel it’s someone on the other side, who has passed on, trying to tell me something. Good luck with your sells

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Maggie Jaimeson October 10, 2012 at 10:22 am

What an amazing story about how you approached this book. My mother, a sometimes psychic, taught me that when these experiences are so complete and indistinguishable from reality that they are induced by spirits called “walk-ins.” These spirits may switch places with your soul for short periods of times (e.g., lucid dreams), or sometimes you agree to let them take up permanent residence and your original spirit continues on its own journey.

I’ve never decided what I believe in terms of “walk-ins” but I do believe that lucid dreaming always comes as a way to provide a cross-roads in life, an opportunity to make a different choice. It sounds to me like this story is that choice for you–a choice that provides another career as an author.

Congrats on your book release!

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Delilah Marvelle October 10, 2012 at 10:40 am

Hi Anna!
Having already read the book, all I can say is that I’m looking forward to your next installment! Congrats on your release!!!

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Anna Brentwood October 10, 2012 at 5:42 pm

Thanks so much to all of you– all my wonderful, talented author friends and everyone who has written in with their positive comments, thoughts and encouragement. Whichever way the muse comes, it is what we do with it that matters & I think this is such an exciting time for all of us both writers and readers.

Again, thanks to Ashlyn– I so appreciate her fun questions and for giving me this format. BTW– feedback for the site and the blog has also been very positive so in every case, this is a win-win for all. Thanks!

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Colton "Brentwood" October 11, 2012 at 4:30 pm

Having grown up with this, I can detest to how bizarre the entire situation is. For half of my life my mother has secretly dedicated herself to this book. (I say secretly because she was a mother, wife, and loving individual first, and writing second. Although, she would say writing was first. . .) Anyway, I barely noticed until I was old enough to observe what she was doing.
However, until I actually read the first three chapters of the book, did I realize. Non of the words, experiences, or any of the writing in the book sounds like it came from my mother. All of the writing sounds like the life of someone else carefully executed by a skilled writer and also penned to paper (in this case the computer) with originality. Regardless of what you believe, I believe this book was someone else’s life, because there was never any indication that my mother could think or be like this because she is so drastically different it still amazes me.

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Colton "Brentwood" October 11, 2012 at 4:32 pm

I hit enter before I was done. So I couldn’t correct my fast typing. Sorry. Anyway. All I can say is that the entire experience aside of the culmination of this book, wherever it came from, that this book is really something that she should be proud of and I can see this easily being made into a film that really capitalizes on nuances of film noire and time styled sets and characters.

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Ashlynmathews October 11, 2012 at 4:39 pm

Aww, you are a very supportive son and Anna is a lucky woman. As a mother of four boys myself, the support and patience from my family is invaluable. Think messy house and burnt dinners, lol!

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Dakotah November 4, 2012 at 2:25 pm

I remember sneaking peaks at chapters every once in awhile when my mom was forced to take breaks from writing (family duties). Mainly when I wanted to use the computer for my own teenage needs (Myspace), Even with reading bits and pieces, here and there, I was intrigued to learn what was going to happen next. Although I’m NOT an avid reader, to my mothers dismay, of any type of literature. I did take the time to read her story. I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed it! I actually read the entire book in a two hour span just to find out how it would end. Congrats Mom! You did a wonderful job putting this to paper, and painting a story everyone can enjoy.

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