Today I’d like to welcome an award-winning author whose latest book is unique, mystical, and a real page-turner. Michele Cozzens truly has lived a dream life, so I am thrilled to have her join us here.
1. Michele, I have now read three of your published books, and each one is so unique. What inspires your stories?
First of all, thank you for reading my stories. It may sound odd but sometimes I get so close to the work while writing, I lose sight of the idea that someone outside of my head will be reading. As far as what inspires me, I think it can best be described as a trigger. My first novel, A Line Between Friends, was triggered by a cryptic note I once received from a long-term friend, who—without explanation—asked me to stop all contact. In order to honor his request, I didn’t contact him to ask why. Instead I made up two fictional characters and handed over the scenario to them. Even though I definitely rewrote history to a large degree, and found myself relating more to the man than the woman, the experience was quite therapeutic . . . and fun.
A hilarious bunko group triggered my second novel, It’s Not Your Mother’s Bridge Club. I was part of this group for years and reveled in their humor and their drama. As I simultaneously raised two daughters, I couldn’t help but reflect on the evolution of female friendships/relationships from elementary school to middle age. Our group no longer meets due to a variety of circumstances (mostly life getting in the way), so I’m glad I have this little piece of evidence that a group like this once existed.
As far as my newest novel, Irish Twins, is concerned, because I am an Irish Twin and I have an extraordinary sister, I have always wanted to write a sister story based on our lives. The trigger, however, was my mother’s death. Writing this story from what I imagined to be my mother’s point of view, once again proved to be a very cathartic method of dealing with my grief over losing her.
2. In “Irish Twins,” you describe an interesting phenomenon—the afterlife as a transitional place, but different from “purgatory.” Can you share how you created this place?
I grew up as a member of the Catholic Church. Just as there are prayers, psalms and 1970s guitar mass hymns I will never forget, there are also catechismal concepts deeply embedded in my psyche. Purgatory is one of them. Regardless, I don’t think I ever truly understood this so-called “in-between” or “judgment” place. As I created the in-between place for my narrator in Irish Twins, Anne, I used everything I’d learned as a child—and asked other grown-up Catholics for their interpretations. Ultimately I created “Ohr.” Ohr, which is the Hebrew word for “light,” is the place where Anne spends most of her time in this story as she reviews and judges her life. By the way, in choosing a Hebrew word, I purposefully wanted to blur religious lines, and stress my belief that God created us in His image; however, man created religion, and in this place, religion did not exist. What I ultimately propose in telling the story of Anne and her family is that faith and love are the strongest and most universally important concepts.
3. Was there an individual who inspired the character of Anne Shields in “Irish Twins”?
Yes. My mother. The story begins with the death of Anne, who is not only an Irish Twin, but also the mother of Irish Twins. I describe, as I know it to have happened, the exact way my mother died, which was while water-skiing at the age of 80. When she was still alive, my mom was rather tight-lipped. She didn’t share a lot with us about her personal history. I was an inquisitive child and was often disappointed with her choices to not only not answer my many questions, but to also assure me I had no business asking them in the first place. So, like I did by telling the story of Joel and Noelle in A Line Between Friends, I made up a history based on a few things I actually did know about my mother’s life. I think it’s important to note that I did this with a great deal of love and respect. Throughout the process, I liked to believe that my mother was channeling the voice of Anne to me from that in-between place.
4. Are you currently working on another book? If so, what can you share about it?
I have ideas for two books: a novel about youth soccer and another non-fiction book about the business of being an inn-keeper, which would essentially be a sequel to my first book, I’m Living Your Dream Life: The Story of a Northwoods Resort Owner. I’ve got notes on each and a lot swimming around in my brain, but technically, I haven’t begun writing either one. Right now I’m heavily focused on my teenagers and their many needs.
5. What is your typical writing day like?
My most creative and productive period of time begins the moment I get out of bed in the morning. When I’m in the middle of a novel, I’m lucky to have a very supportive husband who gets the kids rolling and out the door to school. I tend to work in snippets throughout the day, and I pace A LOT, particularly after an idea or sentence comes to me. Movement stimulates me. So does the shower. I often jump in the shower when I’m stuck and inevitably, the words or where I want to go with the story/characters come to me. I have a lovely office; however, I’ve been known to cart my laptop to other spots in the house—next to the fireplace or to the place we call the “Arizona room.” On nice days, and there are many here in Tucson, I work outside. Something else I do, and have done with each of my books, is spend time between writing sessions with my husband or a girlfriend working out and sharing ideas. I’ve found that when I return to my computer, a lot of the conversation finds its way into the work. It takes the notion of working in a vacuum out of the process. Once the kids are home from school, I’m primarily in mom mode, which usually involves driving them to some kind of sporting practice or cleaning up some kind of mess.
6. I know that you divide your time between two unique homes. Which one is your favorite space for creating?
How I wish I had time to “create” while spending summers in the Northwoods of Wisconsin. It’s such a beautiful, inspiring place, where my husband and I take pride in having created a unique family business (Sandy Point Resort, the world’s first disc golf resort). In the future, after our kids are out of high school, I hope to spend more time there, and certainly more time writing there. For now, however, Tucson is where I write and design and create my jewelry line. It’s simply a matter of having the time when I’m away from running the business.
7. From your website, I have learned that you once had a career in journalism. Would you share your journey to your current writing experiences?
Sure. I learned to write at an early age, and I believe it’s a skill I’ll have for as long as I’m lucid and my fingers remain free of arthritis. I received my first journal (actually, a “Five Year Diary”) on my ninth birthday and that’s when I began recording my life. Journalism was a natural course of study for me in college. After working as a reporter, feature writer and editor, my ultimate goal was to be a newspaper columnist. (I had a thing for Anna Quindlen and not only read her NY Times column, but all of her books, non-fiction collections and novels). After I achieved that goal while living in the San Francisco Bay area, life threw me a curve ball. I married a professional disc golfer, became one myself and left my journalism career behind to create the world’s first disc golf resort. I, however, never stopped writing. Ten years into our life at Sandy Point Resort, I’d answered the question, “How did you do it?” and heard the words, “You’re living my dream life,” many, many times. Then when a national magazine, (Midwest Living) published an article featuring our story, our phone rang non-stop. Interestingly, the callers weren’t inquiring about reservations. Almost all wanted to know how we went from being a couple California-based yuppies to living a life on Golden Pond. Mind you, they were calling on our toll-free line and phone expenses really added up! I’d answered so many of the same questions so many times, the book I’m Living Your Dream Life practically wrote itself. I found an interested publisher (McKenna Publishing Group) very quickly and this book, published in 2002, continues to sell quite well for them. My relationship with McKenna is so strong, I give them a first look at everything I write and they have published a new book every two years during the past decade.
8. Do you have any favorite journalistic adventures that you can describe for us?
I had many adventures while working as an editor in San Francisco for a publication that focused on tourism, meetings and conventions. When you write or assign hotel and property reviews, the hotel sales teams roll out the red carpets. So, not only did I get to sleep in luxurious, oceanside suites, I also played golf, took hot air balloon rides, ate lavish meals and had just a few spa treatments. Let’s just say, I didn’t mind the perks and did my best to present objective and informative property reviews.
9. What can you share about your family life?
Well, I just turned 50 and along with my husband of 21 years, I’m raising two teenage girls. Let’s just say family life is VERY hormonal. The one question I’m often asked is about whether or not our girls give us any trouble over moving back-and-forth between the desert and the Northwoods. They do not. Both Willow, 15, and Camille, 13, love spending summers at the lake, and they have a lot of friends there as well. Also, they’re both at an age where they can be helpful running the family business. Each makes a substantial contribution. We’re a tightly knit unit and definitely enjoy being together, especially when we’re active athletically. If I were given a choice of doing anything exciting or interesting on any given day or night, my first choice would always be to be with Mike and the girls.
10. Most people enjoy reading about a writer’s journey to publication of that first book. What can you tell us about that experience?
I may have answered this question previously; however, what I didn’t say is that I went about finding a publisher in what I felt was a realistic manner. Having worked as an editor and experienced the “slush pile” of queries, proposals and resumes for staff positions, I understood how difficult it is to stand out and be noticed. I therefore looked for a small publisher who was actually in acquisition mode. This is how I found McKenna Publishing Group. The rest was just luck. The editor who read my manuscript liked a crack I made about how only Catholics tend to go to church on Sunday while on vacation (he married a Catholic and found that to be true) and told me years after the publication of I’m Living Your Dream Life that after reading this line, he knew he’d publish the book no matter what the rest of it contained.
The other thing I’d like to stress is that after you have the good fortune to find a publisher willing to shell out the money to publish your material, the difficult part truly begins. I have found it far easier to get my work published than to get it read. Unless you’ve got major connections or are a celebrity with a tell-all book, it’s highly unlikely your book will sell enough copies to pay the monthly electric bill. This is why I’m so very grateful to people like you, Laurel-Rain, and the massive and supportive writing community on the World Wide Web, who have helped me spread the word about my books. I’ve met writers and authors from around the world and have developed valuable friendships.
11. I know that you have a blog and also network on Facebook. What marketing efforts work best for you?
I try not to saturate my blog (Michele Cozzens’ Blog) or Facebook with marketing efforts, because my guess is people find that boring. No one likes a boastful self-promoter; however, if we don’t promote our work, who will? I have to admit, with a wry smile on my 50-year-old face, that on my birthday I posted my birthday wishes, which were to have “ Respectful, HEALTHY and well-behaved children; Political and World Peace; and For everyone who reads this to go straight to amazon.com and buy a copy of Irish Twins.” I’m happy to report that my marketing effort worked and there was a brief spike in sales. Hey, whatever works, right?
12. The Dames love animals…do you have any pets?
Oh yes indeed. Her name is Cinco (because she is the fifth member of our family) and I absolutely adore this little six-pound, longhaired Chihuahua. Previous dogs in my life were all huge—labradors, huskies and hybrid wolves. I never imagined myself to be a lapdog kind of girl. Boy was I wrong. And P.S. She loves ME best. It’s because I’m the MOM.