If you’re reading a Bookstr article, I’d guess that you love reading, but have you ever considered what it would be like to write a book? In this 5×5 we asked five authors of literary fiction to tell us how they get around writer’s block and how they hope to impact the world through their novels. Meet these five talented authors and maybe find your next read!
Meet the Authors
Lize Spit (1988) lives in Brussels. She obtained a master’s degree in Screenwriting (RITSC). She has an editorial in De Morgen. Her prose and poetry have been published in several literary magazines. Spit taught writing at the LUCA School of Arts in Brussels. In 2016 her debut novel The Melting was published, of which more than 215,000 copies were sold. Translations in fifteen countries and a film adaptation followed. The book won de Bronzen Uil, de Boekhandelsprijs, the Hebban-Debut Prize, became NRC book of the year and was shortlisted for the Libris Literature Prize and the Premio Strega Europeo. Her second novel, I’m Not Here, was published in December 2020.
The young, Swedish entrepreneur is a multifaceted man, who is a writer, a publisher, a lecturer, and an inspirer. He is specifically dedicated to issues related to mental illness, minorities, sexuality, and gender identity with titles ranging from autobiographical novels and fiction books to children’s books. Tallberg has published nearly 40 books by 23 authors under his very own super-inclusive “rainbow media” imprint, Tallbergs Förlag. On a mission to provide role models that give minority groups not only a mirror, but a voice, Tallbergs Förlag is about championing not just LGBTQ+ identities, but also people of various ethnicities, religions, classes, genders, and autism spectrum disorders. In addition to books, Tallbergs Förlag offers lectures and writing services.
Marisel Vera is a Chicago writer and proud Boricua who grew up in Humboldt Park. Through her work, Vera explores the particular burdens that Puerto Ricans, on the island and in the diaspora, carry as colonial subjects of the United States.
Her latest novel, The Taste of Sugar (Liveright Publishing, June 2020), was recognized as one of 12 best Latino books of 2020 by NBC News and named Chicago Reader’s 2020 “Best New Novel by a Chicagoan.” Set in Puerto Rico on the eve of the Spanish-American War, The Taste of Sugar follows a coffee growing family through the disastrous upheaval caused by the historic events of the 1898 U.S. Invasion and the 1899 San Ciriaco Hurricane. Vera is also the author of If I Bring You Roses (Grand Central), a story about a Puerto Rican couple who move to the United States during 1950s’ Operation Bootstrap to chase the American Dream in Chicago’s factories.
Vera is currently at work on a novel about four Puerto Rican girls growing up in 1970’s Chicago, The Girls from Humboldt Park (working title).
Dr. Candace (Candy) Campbell is an award-winning actor, author, and filmmaker… and nurse. Her background in healthcare includes clinical, academic, and administrative posts. As a professional actor, she accidentally booked her first international commercial at the ripe old age of 23. Since then, she has appeared on stage, screen, radio, and TV. Candy co-founded an improv and stand-up comedy group in the San Francisco Bay Area in the early 90’s, which led to three solo shows, including An Evening With Florence Nightingale: A Reluctant Celebrity. Fans asked for more, which led to the creation of her first semi-fiction book, Channeling Florence Nightingale: Integrity, Insight, Innovation.
Aside from performing as Miss Nightingale, she also finds time to run her own consultancy business, working with corporate and individual clients to achieve peak performance cultures and success. Just like you, she loves to read! She also likes to paint, swim, dance Jazzercise, and make her grandkids laugh.
Riley is the author of a bunch of novels in a bunch of genres that so frequently combine into a single book, she spends a lot of time thinking, “Now, how the hell do I categorize this?” She travels a lot (when the world is open), and has lived in a (mostly) lovely assortment of cities in multiple states and two countries. She currently lives in Las Vegas with her wildly sarcastic, yet oddly charming spouse Shawna, but we’ll see how long that lasts. The location… not the wife.
How do you hope your writing will impact your readers?
Lize Spit: I want them to engage with the story, and feel for the characters. I don’t want to teach them anything or be moralistic, but to bring about recognition and empathy. The readers will be taken on a trip, from which they will come back a little bit changed.
Marcus Tallberg: I hope that my readers will learn something new when reading my books, so that they can widen their perspectives and get inspired to be better and to have more understanding of others. My Queer Teen Life and Shattered Glass are both based on my own experiences, and I hope that when people read those books, as well as Being Alice – also inspired by real stories – that people can understand that they are not alone, no matter what they go through. But also, I hope that they can escape in the books, especially with The Orphan, and for a moment have a vacation from real life.
Marisel Vera: Soon after The Taste of Sugar, my second novel, was published in 2020, a reader said that for the first time as a Puerto Rican living in Chicago, she felt seen. I totally understood this because I have often felt as if I didn’t belong in the United States and, in a way, I felt as if I lived underground. This is what happens when you are made to feel that you are not part of the mainstream, when you are told, “Get back on the boat. Speak English not Spanish. This is America.” I wish that I’d had The Taste of Sugar when I was growing up so I could have responded with, “The United States invading Puerto Rico is the reason I’m here!”
In The Taste of Sugar, my protagonists, Vicente Vega and Valentina Sánchez, are a hard-working couple who want to raise their children in their own home and live happily ever after. Unfortunately, circumstances beyond their control—the world economy, the economy in the United States after the Civil War, the 1898 U.S. invasion of Puerto Rico during the Spanish American War, the policies and taxation that the Americans implemented on Puerto Rico and on Puerto Ricans—caused Vicente and Valentina, like thousands of Puerto Ricans, to lose their land and their livelihood. Shortly afterward the U.S. military occupation of Puerto Rico, a powerful hurricane (similar to 2017’s Hurricane Maria) devastated the island. It’s the final blow for Vicente and Valentina and they lose their small coffee farm. They, along with thousands of others, believe the promises of a better life that the agents of the Hawaiian sugar planters make and they migrate to Hawaii, to what to them must have the other side of the world, in a time before plane travel. Of course, it’s a tremendous sacrifice and a big risk to leave home in search of a better life, but they are young and strong and, possibly, a little adventurous. Certainly, they are desperate. Many of my readers, Puerto Rican and not Puerto Rican, can relate to having to leave their homeland because either they did it or their parents or other ancestors.
After I began working on the novel back in 2012, I realized that The Taste of Sugar would be more than a story about a Puerto Rican couple who were among the 5,000 Puerto Ricans who leave Puerto Rico to work in the Hawaiian sugar plantations, as I first intended. The novel became a sacred work for me. I saw The Taste of Sugar as a validation of our right as Puerto Ricans to live in the United States and to claim all the privileges we are entitled to claim as citizens. The Taste of Sugar is an invitation to Puerto Rican readers to celebrate Puerto Rico, our culture, and our people. Through the lives of Valentina Sánchez, Vicente Vega, and Vicente’s brother Raúlito Villanueva, The Taste of Sugar can enlighten both Puerto Ricans and non-Puerto Ricans alike about the first government-approved mass migration of Puerto Ricans that took place under US colonial rule.
Candy Campbell: I hope to inspire people to do their best and appreciate others. I also hope readers will understand that whenever you strive for the good, there will be opposition…but it’s worth it!
Riley LaShea: When I’m writing, I always hope to have the same impact my favorite books have on me. They make me think about things differently. They put into words things I’ve experienced or worry about in a way I never could.
Most importantly, they make me feel something.
I’m an emotional reader. I cry over the sad things and the happy things. Sometimes I cry over the smallest things because they are so poignantly put.
If I can grab hold of someone and make them care about my characters enough to cry for them or worry for them or laugh with them, that’s really what it’s all about.
What is your favorite genre to write and why?
Lize Spit: I write tensive literature. Psychological drama.
Marcus Tallberg: It depends on the mood. I loved writing The Orphan, which would be considered a post-apocalyptic urban fantasy, because I can pretend to have powers and I can truly become part of the book and its world. It’s a place where I create all the rules, and, honestly, it’s so fun to do all the research for it.
Marisel Vera: My mother was one for telling stories about growing up in Puerto Rico during the 1940s and I was a child who listened to my elders when they gathered to talk, especially when they said, “These are not stories for children.” So, from the very beginning, even as a little girl in Chicago, I was learning about Puerto Rico through my mother’s personal history and that of other Puerto Ricans. My mother’s stories influenced me to imagine her life and also to dream about Puerto Rico, a place that we — a family of six children — couldn’t visit on my father’s factory worker paycheck. I think this is why I love to write historical fiction because it allows me to imagine where my ancestors came from, how they lived, how they loved, what they dreamed. When I conduct research for my books, I am imagining my ancestors living in the period. I am rooted to my past; I embrace the spirits of my family who came before me.
Because of this, it is very important to me to get the historical facts correct and I devote a lot of my time to reading books and newspapers about Puerto Rico and Puerto Ricans in both English and Spanish. For The Taste of Sugar, it was especially important because I didn’t want anyone to say, “This and that didn’t happen. You made up all the historical details, so maybe what you wrote about the people is made up too.” I’m proud that Puerto Rican historians have told me that they’re impressed with the historical accuracy in the world of The Taste of Sugar.
Candy Campbell: Tricky question! I wrote a few children’s books first, then the Nightingale book (again, requested by fans), then the improv books, which are non-fiction. I think the poetry of the Nightingale book and the children’s books, all inspired by real-life, are my fav.
Riley LaShea: Fantasy is my favorite genre to write because of the lack of limitation. I often put fantastical elements into my stories that are not fantasy. Some readers like that. Others really hate it.
But I don’t like reading books too based in reality. Multiple mentions of technology and pop culture suck me right out of the make believe into the real world. I prefer to suspend disbelief. Real life is unbelievable enough right now.
When did you know you wanted to be an author? Did you always know that you wanted to write?
Lize Spit: I grew up as a child of addicted parents. Observing details was necessary to feel safe and keep control.
I learned that catching those observations in language gave me a powerful feeling of being in control, and that became a reflexive mechanism – to this day, that mechanism makes me a writer.
Marcus Tallberg: I’ve been writing ever since I was a kid. I think my first book was when I was four. I stapled some folded papers together to form the book, and then I drew a dragon on the front. I cut it so the book was dragon-shaped, and wrote on lines I had drawn myself. I try to remember the people who have said I am a great storyteller, and I hope it wasn’t just to be nice. At the same time, everyone told me that it’s difficult to become an author and that it would be better to focus on something else. So, in the beginning, writing was just a hobby for me. Still, after six books, it’s hard to understand that I am an author. But, I love it. Not just because I get to do what I love, but because I feel so connected with my readers. I love sharing my worlds with you.
Marisel Vera: We didn’t have books because my father was a factory worker — his paycheck went for rent and rice and beans. But in the second grade, I fell in love with reading and I am still in love— I read everything. I was lucky because I had the Chicago Public Library and also lucky because no librarian or teacher took the time to censor or advise me on what to read and what not to read. At my neighborhood’s Humboldt Park branch, I discovered a cache of volumes of fairy tales—Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen, but also volumes of fairy tales from China and Iran and other places, and I couldn’t get enough. Not the sugar-sweet kind of fairy tales, but true fairy tales with spilled blood and abandoned children and horrible stepmothers and dangerous journeys that don’t always end up happily ever after. Now I wonder if this was the beginning of my foundation as a fiction writer and my love for heartbreaking stories.
In seventh grade, my teacher assigned the class to write a short story. I don’t remember what the story was about, but I do recall that I fell in love for the second time. I wanted to write and live happily ever after but, like in most fairy tales, the journey was long and difficult. In fact, I didn’t think that I could ever be a novelist because I revered novelists so much; I saw them as gods and goddesses. I read Henry James, Jane Austen, Edith Wharton, and William Faulkner. How could someone like me who came from el barrio, who didn’t have an MFA or fancy writing awards, how could someone like me be a novelist? I didn’t read books written by people like me. Instead, I did other kinds of writing—public relations, advertising, copywriting. Then I read Dreaming in Cuban by Cristina Garcia, and it inspired me to try to be a novelist.
Candy Campbell: I started as a kid, writing for school assignments, was encouraged by successive teachers to write letters to the local paper, The Oregonian, and found I could get paid (usually with books to review or passes to movies!). I won some writing competitions but never expected to be an author. I wanted to be a journalist in high school.
Riley LaShea: I don’t know that I always knew I wanted to write. I’ve just always written. Since so far back, I don’t remember when I started. I did it as a hobby, sometimes more compulsively than others.
I wrote my first novel and multiple screenplays in high school. I had a lot of good teachers who were really encouraging. Shoutout to Mr. Rodgers, Ms. Moody, and Miss Harper. Especially Miss Harper, who, about three weeks after meeting me, handed me an Indigo Girls cassette and said, “Here, I think you’ll like this.”
What are you passionate about? How do you reflect those topics or ideas into your book(s)?
Lize Spit: I’m passionate about human relations, and the tension between people who feel unseen or misunderstood, or who love each other but are struggling with different aspects of life.
Marcus Tallberg: Injustice. All of my books feature a minority group in at least one way. I want to shine light on those topics and explore the richness in those stories. Everybody has one. And I feel like there are some stories that are not being told in favor of others, so I am passionate about telling them.
Marisel Vera: I am passionate about all things Puerto Rican. I am passionate about people, how they think, how they work, who they love. I read to educate myself about Puerto Rican history so that I can do the same for my readers. When I was working on If I Bring You Roses, my first novel, I was fortunate to be able to ask my godmother and my mother many questions about growing up in Puerto Rico during the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. They told me wonderful stories that helped me create a world that I personally knew nothing about, one that I hadn’t personally experienced. The details that only they could tell me were diamonds. I am particular about details and I work to create characters that are real people to my readers, that my readers will care about and they’ll think about them long after they finish the book. My readers will stay up at night worrying about if my characters are happy—as some readers have told me they worry about Valentina and Vicente and Raúlito in The Taste of Sugar.
Candy Campbell: So many things! I’ve written many articles on care of the premature baby, which was a focus in my clinical life for >20 yrs, then there’s my research on veterans and PTSD, plus, acting and writing solo shows (I’m on #3), leadership in nursing – they all interest me.
Riley LaShea: Dangerous question. How much space do you have?
I’m passionate about a lot of things, but I guess women’s issues, LGBTQ representation (especially lesbian representation) in the media, socioeconomic divisions, equality, travel, and creativity top my list.
Pretty much everything I write touches in some way on what it means to be a woman in the world and has lesbian rep. A lot of my books are set in places I’ve been that inspire me.
I write a lot of scrappy characters who see the unfairness of the world plainly and are always trying to claw their way out of their given circumstances. I also write a lot of characters who don’t have the strength to claw.
Who or what inspires you to write when you’re feeling stuck?
Lize Spit: Listening to soundtracks (Hans Zimmer, Philip Glass). They carry me away. And riding my bike, alone.
Reading a chapter in a random fine book. (And if I really need some confidence: reading a chapter in a mediocre book.)
Marcus Tallberg: It depends on the moment. Often, a walk will help. Just fresh air and some walking will make my brain function again. But, I also call my editor or my friends, and most of the time just EXPLAINING the problem will unlock the solution. Most of the time, they don’t talk, just listen. But, if it’s inspiration I am looking for, I just go out and look at people, listen to them. Watch a movie or a series in the genre you’re writing. But most of all, read books. As an author, you will get tons of free tips just by reading other authors’ texts.
Marisel Vera: I’m inspired by the knowledge that I write for Puerto Ricans so that our stories will become part of American literature so that we can claim our history. For many of us, on the island and off, we haven’t been taught our history. (This is why I think “claiming” is more accurate than “reclaiming.”) Most likely, we’ve learned American history and Puerto Rican history is ignored or erased from school teaching; this is what happens when you are a colony.
When I find it difficult to get into a story or a character, I read poetry. Or I turn to a non-fiction book to learn about an aspect—an event, a time period — that I’m writing about. That usually helps. Sometimes, I just take a walk. I’ve learned through the years that when I’m having difficulty with something, when I’m stuck, it’s because I haven’t figured out yet how to express an idea, how to write it. But I know that, eventually, I’ll figure it out.
Candy Campbell: I pray! I also get encouragement and direction from a group of my peers in the National Speakers Assoc.– we’re all writers.
Riley LaShea: Commitment to my characters.
I’m really lucky in that I haven’t experienced a lot of writer’s block. (Though, these past couple of years have been something else.) But, once I fixate on a story, I feel really committed to its characters. Even if I feel blasé about the plot for a second, I always want to get back to the characters.
Find these books
The Melting by Lize Spit
Eva can trace the route to Pim’s farm with her eyes closed, even though she has not been to Bovenmeer for many years. There she grew up among the rape fields and dairy farms. There lies also the root of all their grief. Eva was one of three children born in her small Flemish town in 1988. Growing up alongside the boys Laurens and Pim, Eva sought refuge from her loveless family life in the company of her two friends. But with adolescence came a growing awareness of their burgeoning sexuality. Driven by their newly found desires, the children begin a game that will have serious and violent consequences for them all. Thirteen years after the summer she’s tried for so long to forget, Eva is returning to her village. Everything fell apart that summer, but this time she’ll be prepared. She has a large block of ice in her car boot and she’s ready to settle the score . . . Part thriller, part coming-of-age novel, The Melting is an extraordinary and unsettling debut from Lize Spit, a reckoning with adolescent cruelty and the scars it leaves.
The Melting is available on Amazon.
The Orphan by Marcus Tallberg and Elin Frykholm
After the Disaster, the ice caps are gone. The planet is toxic. The world’s remaining superpowers have united as Ela, a para-military planet-nation governed by the authoritarian President Daegal. On a mission to restore the world to its pre-Disaster glory, he rules the people of Ela by fear, violence, and propaganda. Frequent terrorist attacks are blamed on the hated and hunted Tabia, people born with superhuman powers, who appeared after the Disaster.
When the President’s military school, Bionbyr, drafts Freija for mandatory service, she does not resist. She dreams of saving her struggling orphanage home with the salary she’ll receive once she completes her training. Far from the rusting towers and rotting streets of her hometown, Bionbyr is deceptively luxurious, an enormous glistening white dome floating between shrunken, lifeless continents. It is here that Freija and her orphan sister Embla, implanted with microchips, tracked, observed, and tested, discover how far the Authority will go to preserve the dark secrets of Ela. And how far they must go to preserve their own.
The Orphan is available on Amazon.
The Taste of Sugar by Marisel Vera
It is 1898, and groups of starving Puerto Ricans, los hambrientos, roam the parched countryside and dusty towns begging for food. Under the yoke of Spanish oppression, the Caribbean island is forced to prepare to wage war with the United States. Up in the mountainous coffee region of Utuado, Vicente Vega and Valentina Sanchez labor to keep their small farm from the creditors. When the Spanish-American War and the great San Ciriaco Hurricane of 1899 bring devastating upheaval, the young couple is lured, along with thousands of other puertorriqueños, to the sugar plantations of Hawaii—another US territory—where they are confronted by the hollowness of America’s promises of prosperity. Writing in the tradition of great Latin American storytelling, Marisel Vera’s The Taste of Sugar is an unforgettable novel of love and endurance, and is a timeless portrait of the reasons we leave home.
The Taste of Sugar is available on Amazon.
Channeling Florence Nightingale: Integrity, Insight, Innovation by Candy Campbell
Just listen to the news: it’s the best of times and the worst of times for public health today. What would it be like, if that brilliant polymath, that icon of the nursing profession and population health science, Florence Nightingale, consistently named among history’s 100 most famous women, could have a chat with you? Campbell has used the copious writings of this famous Victorian to inspire her staged character portrayal. In this work, requested by fans, she reprises the longer version of the play and adds personal reflections of how Nightingale’s struggles inspired her own purpose of serving others. The book inspires all readers to find their voice and identify their soul’s purpose in serving others.
Channeling Florence Nightingale is available on Amazon.
Dr. Todson’s Home for Incorrigible Women by Riley LaShea
A gentle Victorian tale of women’s passions and power, with a sprinkle of romance, a trifle of steampunk, and heaps and heaps of quiet revolution.
Caroline Ajax is an inconvenient woman. Unwell. Hot-tempered. Harboring a tragic secret she can’t share with another living soul. Dropped at an institution in the Surrey Hills by her husband, Thomas, her only objective is to survive, to endure, to make it back to what little there is of her life as soon as she possibly can. But it doesn’t take her long to discover there is something unusual about this house and its eclectic group of inhabitants. Not to mention its unconventional proprietor.
Eirinn Todson is an untameable woman. Brilliant. Determined. Forging her way through the world of men as brazenly as she knows how. Her dream of becoming a doctor leads her to Dr. Elizabeth Garrett Anderson and her clinic for women and children in London, then onto Paris with her best friend and quasi-brother Rand. But an unexpected encounter and personal tragedy will change the course of Eirinn’s life and future forever.
In the spring of 1886, Eirinn is now Dr. Todson, proprietor of Dr. Todson’s Home for Women. When Caroline Ajax is admitted into her care, Eirinn has every reason to believe Caroline is just another resident. Caroline has every reason to believe Dr. Todson’s is just another sadistic madhouse. But Dr. Todson’s Home harbors a treasure trove of secrets, some deeper and more dangerous than others, and Caroline’s and Eirinn’s past tragedies share a common thread. Together, they may find a sliver of justice neither of them ever thought to get.
Dr. Todson’s Home for Incorrigible Women is available on Amazon.
We hope you enjoyed this 5×5. If you would like to see more interviews with authors, check them out here.