1.When did you fall in love with books?
I was in my 30’s. I guess you could say I’m a really late bloomer. But the truth is, I was so busy with life until then, that books other than Dr. Seuss just weren’t on my radar. I remember reading a comment from someone in a magazine article or something; the woman said that she loved to visit bookstores when she traveled. She went on to speak about reading as if it was something really cool to do. And I thought, I want that. So, I made a conscious effort to become that kind of person.
2. When did you realize you wanted to write?
I liked writing when I was young. I wrote in journals, and I wrote poetry. When I was in High School, I was so excited when I got a babysitting job for a little boy who was disabled. He was four years old, but had a syndrome that stunted his growth and his mental abilities. He was like a baby just a few months old. When he died suddenly, I wrote about the experience, and the comfort I took in imagining him in heaven running, playing, and smiling. I entered the story in the Guideposts Youth Writing Contest and won a college scholarship for it. That was the first time I realized that I could write. But it was also the beginning of my love for working with kids with disabilities. I used my scholarship to get a degree in special education and taught for 14-years, before health issues forced me to finish that chapter of my life, and begin a new one. And when that happened, my love of writing moved up the list.
3. Tell us about yourself.
I have three adult children – no grandchildren yet (I hope my kids read this!). For the time being, I’ve replaced my future grandchildren with a dog – my first ever. Togo is a husky-retriever mix and I’ve become one of those crazy dog owners, who spends more time talking about her dog, than about her husband. (sorry, honey)
But on the serious side, I wanted nothing more in life than to be a mom and a teacher. I achieved both. I taught special education at the elementary school level for years. It was a career I loved. I would still be teaching, if I was able.
After leaving my beloved special kids, I floundered for a bit before going back to what my first grade teacher taught me – a love of writing. I started to write about the pain of losing my job, and about living with Multiple Sclerosis. My essays were published in the Chicken Soup for the Soul series, and in Voices of Multiple Sclerosis. It was about that time that the subject for a book, landed in my lap, literally. My father, a WWII veteran began having symptoms of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder at the age of 81, and a few months later put two notebooks full of letters he wrote during the war, in my lap. Slowly, he began telling me his story, and that story would become the basis for my first book, a memoir.
4. Who are your favorite authors?
It’s a long and varied list. I have loved memoir since I knew there was such a thing. The only memoirs I’ve yet to develop a love for are celebrity memoirs. Other than that, I just love reading about other people’s life experiences. It’s such a unique genre; a combination of following the author’s unique journey, and at the same time having those, “Oh, that’s just like me” experiences.
5. What are your favorite books?
Laura Hillenbrand’s, Unbroken, is amazing. She takes the life of an ordinary man, Louie Zamporini, and leads us through the making of a true hero.
The Color of Water, by James McBride is a fascinating look at a biracial man who seeks to find himself in his history.
I enjoy Anne Lamott’s nonfiction books because she’s just so real. I love that.
Brenda Ueland was fairly unknown when I discovered her book in a quaint bookstore on the Oregon Coast. First published in 1938, her book, If You Want to Write, is my favorite writing book. She was ahead of her time in so many ways. Her advice to aspiring creative is both timely and timeless.
My guilty pleasure is anything by crime novelist, James Patterson. The subject is so far from what I write that his books are just fun to read. But on the reader-writer connection, he is a master at ending his chapters in a way that makes you want to keep reading. What’s even more amazing about it is that his chapters are very short. I try to emulate that in my writing.
6. What would you like for readers to get out of Breaking the Code?
Everyone has a story. We all have someone in our life who has a story. Maybe it’s a family member or a close friend. Maybe it’s the guy who sits on the park bench every afternoon, or a neighbor. Maybe it’s someone we sit next to in our place of worship.
I could never have imagined the story my father had to tell. I knew he had been in the war. But he’d said so many times that he simply sat behind a desk during the war. So, when he started having nightmares and flashbacks, I knew it didn’t fit with that picture. It was only through time and lots of patience, that the true story was finally revealed.
We all have that “someone” in our lives. But people tell themselves that there will be a perfect time to get those stories written down, sometime in the future. We’ll wait until things aren’t so crazy at work, or until the kids are just a little older. Truth is – many of us will run out of time, while waiting for the perfect time. And when our loved one is gone, so are their stories. When you take the time to listen to someone’s story, you honor them in a way that is unique. It’s the most important thing you’ll ever do. I want my readers to catch the vision of a Story Sharing Revolution. My challenge: find the story in your life – and then tell that story.
7. What makes you unique as an author and what sets your book apart from other books in the same genre?
My book has two story lines. There is the story of a daughter trying to find the truth. There is also the story of a young man during the 1940’s who leaves his tiny hometown to serve in WWII. Somehow Naval Intelligence becomes aware that he has the skills to be a top secret code breaker. Unbeknownst to him, a plan is set in motion – one that will have devastating consequences.
A very unique aspect of Breaking the Code: a Father’s Secret, a Daughter’s Journey, and the Question That Changed Everything, is that the letters my father wrote to his “folks” during the war are included. Very few changes were made to those letters, and there are a couple in most chapters. The letters serve to anchor the story in a time and place that most of us have only read about in history books. It’s a mini-history lesson of its own.
8. What is your writing process?
I am a project writer. What that means is that once I get going on a subject, whether it’s a freelance article, an essay, or a book, I just keep going. I guess you could say I’m a bit obsessed. That’s only for the first draft though. After that, it’s just hard work. Real writers are successful because they write when they don’t feel like it.
I write in three-hour chunks of time. I find that it’s just enough time to get in the zone, but not so much that my brain is fatigued. Then I take a break, and usually do something physical like go for a walk. Some days that’s all I write; other times I might write two or three more three-hour periods.
Two of my kids are grown and on their own, so a bedroom was freed up. I made it into a writing room (office). But even though I have that dream space I always wanted, I find that if I really need to concentrate, I have to leave the house. At home, I run the risk of distracting myself with piles of laundry, scrubbing floors, or alphabetizing my spice rack. So, most days I spend at least part of my writing day at the library, a local university, or my favorite coffee shop.
9. Are you currently working on anything new? If so, please give a brief synopsis and when should we expect it?
Running in Circles is a memoir about raising a child who has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). My son is now 18, and it’s only in looking back, that I can laugh about all we went through. A mother will do some crazy things, when she has absolutely no idea how to be the mother her child needs. If I’d stopped at two children, I would have thought of myself as a pretty darned great mother. And then there was Caleb. I had a lot to learn. I’ve recently started a blog that is solely for the subject of raising an ADHD child: http://www.onadhd.blogspot.com . Tentative publication date is fall, 2013.
Drawing Me Home is a narrative nonfiction book about an incredible man. He is a talented artist in the Seattle, Washington area. He is also a Vietnam Veteran, who fought long and hard to carve out a life for himself after returning from the war. He was the official artist for the University of Washington, a talented artist who drew portraits of everyone from actors to presidents, from Playboy bunnies to Popes. His donations of artwork raised more than $10 million for charity. But in 2003, because of a desperate widow’s request, he gave it all up. He has dedicated his life to drawing portraits of fallen soldiers. He’s drawn more than 3,000 to date. Tentative publication date is fall 2014.
10. How can readers connect with you?
Amazon Page: http://www.amazon.com/Karen-Fisher-Alaniz/e/B0052UMUOW
Enter to Win a Double-Signed Copy of: Breaking the Code: A Father’s Journey And The Question That Changed Everything by visiting: www.storymatters2.com