HOW DID YOU GET THE IDEA FOR YOUR AWARD WINNING BOOK?
The story was initially written for a ballet that I was working on with my husband, composer Kurt Oldman. We knew the story would center around good vs evil and that there would be an underlying love story. Using Leonardo da Vinci artwork to inspire the Characters (e.g. The Annunciation – Siersha appearing to Cecilia; Five Studies Of Grotesque Faces – The Senators), Kurt came up with five-titles for the five-act ballet (e.g. Cecilia in Plockton, Cecilia and Amalardh’s Journey, Cecilia Inspires the People). Using each title as inspiration, I built the story, world and mythology. The rest just kind of fell into place. As the world I built continued to grow my 12-page ballet story blossomed into 90 pages. At that point, Kurt’s schedule ballooned and he could no longer commit to his side of the deal – writing the music. With a printout of my voluminous ballet story in hand, I marched into his studio and said, “What am I supposed to do with this?” “Write the novel,” was his reply. So, I did.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE LINE FROM YOUR AWARD WINNING BOOK AND WHY?
“The challenge in life is not to force oneself to change. The challenge is to know one’s real self and have the courage to be that person.” This advice was given to Cecilia by one of her village elders. I love this line because I can relate to feeling pressured to conform with expectations of others. Growing up, I was an academic student who was expected by teachers and friends to follow an academic career path – which I did. The entire time, I never felt comfortable in my own skin. I kept toying with the idea of writing but was too scared. It took me some time to truly know my real self and a bunch of courage to actually walk away from my career and pursue my dream.
WHICH OF YOUR CHARACTERS FROM YOUR AWARD-WINNING TITLE DO YOU BELIEVE IS MOST LIKE YOU AND WHY?
The feisty, stubborn side of Cecilia is most definitely like me. All her insecurities are basically my own and her belief that life is for living; we are not simply existing for the betterment of others, is extremely close at heart with myself.
WHAT MESSAGE DO YOU HOPE READERS WILL GLEAN FROM YOUR AWARD-WINNING BOOK?
My main message for my readers is really a question: Are you more willing to play it safe and accept the status quo, even if that means living an oppressed life; or are you prepared to take a stand, fight for the truth, even if that means death. Death, of course, does not necessarily mean a literal death. What I mean is, are you willing to risk losing your job, friends and/or social standing? I work in the entertainment industry and know of many abuses, from those we hear about in the media related to the #MeToo movement, to personal experiences of people taking credit for other’s creative work. Standing up to someone in a position of power is scary and emotionally challenging, especially when they are surrounded and supported by other high powered enablers (i.e. agents, managers, etc.). I hope that if any of my readers find themselves in a position where they must either take it up the you know what or fight, they choose to fight. I hope they can find their own inner Cecilia to help them through their tough times.
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO BECOME A WRITER?
From as far back as I can remember, I always thought that I would like to write but since English (the subject at school, not the language) was not my strong suit, I never attempted to do so. Teachers placed me on an academic track and there I stayed. My biggest champion is my husband. He first noticed me through my lyrics, which were basically a collection of poems I wrote for my own enjoyment. He encouraged me to continue writing and fully supported my Cecilia journey. I can honestly say that Cecilia would not exist if not for him.
WHO HAS HAD THE GREATEST INFLUENCE ON YOUR WRITING STYLE? – PLEASE ELABORATE:
Not meaning to be cliche but the truth is: Stephen King. And I don’t mean his novels, I mean him. One of the biggest roadblocks I gave myself when it came to writing a novel was telling myself that I can’t (or rather shouldn’t) write because I’m not a literary genius. I didn’t study Creative Writing at University. I struggle with grammar. And as someone with a math and science background, I told myself that I had no business writing, of all things, a fantasy novel. Stephen King’s ‘Toolbox’ Chapter in “On Writing” evoked a simple and effective message in me, which was basically: Don’t be afraid of the tools you currently have, and don’t try to use tools that you are not proficient in. One can always expand their toolbox over time. A wooden box crafted from a handsaw can be just as exquisite and precise as one built with power tools. After reading “On Writing” I threw my insecurities to the wind and gave myself permission to formulate a whole bunch of words on a page.
TELL US SOMETHING ABOUT YOUR EXPERIENCE AS A WRITER:
One of my young readers (a 12 y.o. girl) was applying to be a judge for the Inky Awards. Part of the application involved answering the question: “What is the best young adult book you have read and why?” Her answer: “For me, the book that takes the cake is Cecilia by Sandra L. Rostirolla. This book is my favourite young adult novel for two reasons. Firstly, it pulls in the reader – not one page of the book is even slightly boring, it keeps their attention. Secondly, the way the book is written makes the reader put themselves in Cecilia’s shoes, the use of vocabulary really drives home just how persistent she is on saving her town.” #TheBestWriterMomentEver.
TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOUR WRITING PROCESS:
I went to a seminar once and one of the speakers said: “Don’t fixate on trying to come up with a story. Come up with interesting characters and they will tell you their story.” I usually have a basic idea about what the story (i.e. what the plot might be) but I can never start writing it until I’m clear on the main characters. When I am actually writing, I try to do so everyday. My ideal would be to lock myself in a cabin for 6 weeks with no interruptions (take this to also mean that someone is doing all the cooking and cleaning). Once I have started writing, I plow forward. If I don’t know how to finish an idea or need to research something, I make a note and move on. There is a time and place for research and that time and place is never when one is in the throes of story inspiration. I try to set myself a goal of writing ‘x’ amount of words a day. This really helps when I find myself wanting to procrastinate. During my first draft, I don’t try to make things perfect and I don’t worry about word count. I let the characters be who they need to be and edit them at a later date.
WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST CHALLENGE AS A WRITER?
My greatest challenge is finding time for marketing. Setting up reads and book signings is labor-intensive and I know I probably don’t do as much promotion for my work as I probably should. When it comes to my writing, however, I am disciplined and pretty much stick to my deadlines.
IF YOU COULD BE COMPARED TO A WELL-KNOWN AUTHOR WHO WOULD YOU MOST WANT THIS TO BE AND WHY?
Jane Austen because she is known for being a game-changer of her time. She bucked social convention and did her own thing. She wrote about complex relationships and infused much comedy into her stories. She understood her characters, all of which leap of the page. Her books are used for school curriculums and have been made into film and TV shows. If I could go down in history as someone with her level of respect and admiration then that would be pretty all right by me.
HOW DID YOU GET PUBLISHED?
I self-published Cecilia. Thankfully, I have a bunch of friends who had also self-published and they were able to help me navigate the daunting process.
CAN YOU OFFER ANY ADVICE FOR WRITERS ON HOW BEST TO PROMOTE THEIR BOOK?
I like using Amazon Marketing Service for targeted Amazon Ads. I briefly tried Facebook ads but the experience was confusing and nowhere near as transparent as Amazon. I used to love Goodreads Giveaways but they changed their model and now their giveaways are cost-prohibitive. Entering into competitions is a fabulous way to promote one’s book and I will most certainly enter Literary Classics again. I recommend finding like-minded writers who you can share experiences with. I have a writer friend who also self-published around the same time as me. We Skype once a month to talk about our marketing experiences, what’s working, what isn’t. If you do decide to self-publish, don’t go it alone. Save your precious marketing time and money by learning from other people’s experiences.
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR GREATEST LITERARY ACCOMPLISHMENT?
Winning my two Literary Classics Awards for Cecilia. Gold for Best, YA/Adventure and Silver for Best YA/Fantasy.
WHAT ARE YOUR GREATEST LITERARY ASPIRATIONS?
My husband has been immensely supportive of my career, as such, I want to be able to show him that his support has not been in vain. I want my writing to be my career, one that will support me financially and one that will earn the admiration of my peers.
TELL US SOMETHING PEOPLE MAY NOT KNOW ABOUT YOU THAT THEY MIGHT FIND INTERESTING:
I once ate caustic soda and lived to talk about it. In Australia, we have a chocolate powder (similar to Quik) called Milo. One rainy day, Mum left the grocery bags on the kitchen floor to take the clothes off the line. Rummaging the bags for goodies, I happened across a tin with similar size and shape to Milo. With the lid opening the same way as Milo (i.e. stick a spoon under the rim and pry it open) and contents sealed behind a layer of foil, my four-year-old brain thought it was Milo. The white crystalline contents did not deter. In fact, upon seeing them I was even more excited as I thought Mum had bought some white chocolate Milo (as an FYI, white chocolate Milo does not exist). Grabbing a spoon, I dug in. I don’t remember too much else. I can’t imagine the panic Mum must have felt, coming in to find an open tin of crystalline poison and her daughter lying in bed. I must have spat out most of the powder as nothing went down my gullet. I do have some telltale scars on my tongue though.
IS THERE ANYTHING ELSE YOU’D LIKE TO SHARE WITH OUR READERS?
I really want to thank my readers for their support. The fact that many decided to click on an Amazon Ad and take a chance on an unknown author is amazing.
DO YOU HAVE ANY NEW BOOKS IN THE WORKS?
I have a YA/Coming of Age that I hope to release soon. I don’t have any set date as I’m still working with my editor. A common answer to a writer’s question, “What should I write about?” is “Write what you know.” Sadly, I know more than I care to about suicide and mental health issues. When a friend of mine was dealing with suicide in her family, she told me that the worst was when her daughters asked her, “Why did Daddy do it?” At that moment, I knew I had to write a story that spoke to young adults about this very topic. I’m not sure anyone can ever fully understand the “why” but I’m hoping my story will give teenagers (or anyone) an understanding of “how” such an awful thing can come to pass and ways to hopefully prevent it. My story is called “Making Friends With Monsters” and centers around twelve-year-old Sam and his struggle to understand the Monster that he is beginning to see in his older brother. When a tragic accident brings Sam’s own Monster front and center, he must figure out how to deal with it before the hungry creature opens its enormous mouth and swallows him whole. In the telling of this story, I’ve made a conscious effort not to use the word, “Suicide”.