Tuesday, July 21, 2020

2020 Interview: LK Hunsaker

Thanks to Leana of Leana's Books & More
for the photo.
Hi, I’m LK Hunsaker, also writing as Ella M. Kaye. I have two grown kids, one an ABA tutor working with autistic kids, the other a partner in his dad’s wood restoration and custom builds business. They each have three kids, five of which are between 6 and 1. I help take care of all five. Yes, it gets loud and chaotic around here. I pretty much live in an art studio/day care center these days. And I’m so very grateful they are now all right here so I can enjoy them and watch them grow. We’re an Army (RET) family who planted ourselves in West PA because we loved the area while passing through on our travels.  Along with my writing, I do admin and design work for my husband and son’s business. Now and then, I do some of the same for a sand therapy center. I started the West PA Book Festival back in 2015 to try to help the many local authors I’d run into help get the word out about their books. I love how it’s grown! Oh, I also have a degree in liberal arts and a bachelor’s degree in psychology, which I use in my books.

Do you have any hobbies?

Far too many! I’ve always been into art and have recently become obsessed with acrylic painting. I dabble in music and play with a beautiful acoustic guitar and the piano when I can find quiet time.  I sew and love to make pretty things for my granddaughters (sewing for boys is not nearly as fun). I’m an amateur gardener, and this year, my husband put up a nice garden space for veggies to go along with my flower gardens (so far, we have a dozen pretty green tomatoes of two varieties coming along well). I’m a bit of a photo bug. And I very much want to get into playing in clay on a wheel. The little ones and I do a lot of arts and crafts together.

What is your favorite vacation spot?

The beach. Lake, ocean, sea, even a large pond. I love water. Acadia Park, Maine is one of my past favorites, and I loved the book research trips my husband and I took to Bennington VT and Williamstown WV on the bike. 

If you were given a ticket to anywhere and spending money to indulge, where would you go?

I would probably go back to Italy. We were there on a whirlwind tour through Europe 30 years ago, by train, while stationed in Germany, and I loved seeing all of it, but Italy grabbed me. It could be my Italian roots. I was also grabbed by Ireland and Scotland (roots there, too) and hope to get back. But Italy...  Although I also want to do an east coast lighthouse tour. So it would be kind of a toss up.

Do you have pets?

We have a very stubborn 13-year-old yellow lab and a very hyper 4-year-old lab/border collie. Both were rescues of sorts since their owners had to find other homes for them.

What is your favorite color and what do you love about it?

Yellow. I also love blue, green, teal, and recently coral, but yellow has always been my favorite because it looks warm, cheerful, and inviting.

What was your favorite book as a child?

As a young child, I adored Dr. Seuss books. I still most enjoy reading those to our grands. As a preteen, I fell in love with The Hardy Boys and read every one our little library had, which thankfully, was a good many. Now I’m collecting all of the older versions of them I can find.

What is one thing about yourself you’d like to change or are trying to work on?

My overall health. I’ve gained major strides in defeating much of my social anxiety and am still working at that, but currently, I’m focusing on the physical push. That has always been a weak point. I can’t tell you how much I detested P.E. class. I did, though, take dance all the way through my growing up years, so if it’s fun enough, I’ll do it. Currently, I’m on my third 100 intentional mile walking challenge. On days, I grimace and force it. Overall, though, I’m finding my slow progress through plenty of injuries and illnesses fulfilling.

What music genre/singer/band is your go-to for a bad day? For working? 

I love lots of genres (pop, rock, country are the main ones) and have lots of favorite musical artists. For writing, when I want music (it does often help me focus), I go for classical, Celtic, or lyrical soundtracks, or sometimes Andrea Bocelli since I can’t understand many of the lyrics, anyway, although I do plan to learn Italian when I can make some time. For a bad day, my MANY-years-now go-to is Kenny Rogers. He can soothe and uplift like magic. Rest in peace, Kenny. For more upbeat needs, usually Bay City Rollers, Sawyer Brown, Journey, or Sugarland. For venting needs, Nickelback or Matchbox 20/Rob Thomas. For walking, I often use the soundtrack for The Greatest Showman.

Do you re-read books? If so, is there one in particular?

You know, I don’t re-read books. My shelves are ridiculously full of not only those I’ve read and can’t part with, but those still waiting to be read. I often hit library sales to supplement my bookstore binges. I did re-read the first romance that I somewhat remembered reading way back in my teen days and ended up skimming because I already knew the story and I was far less impressed the second time. I am considering re-reading the Kent Family Chronicles by John Jakes, but I haven’t gotten to them again yet. So many incredible books, but I have to sleep sometime. I prefer new stories to those I know. There are very few movies I re-watch, too, unless someone else turns them on and I’m doing other things at the same time.

Are you an introvert, extravert, or ambivert?

I’m an extremist introvert/social phobic who enjoys people but has trouble being around them. Social media was made for people like me, and I spend too much time there. ;-)

Does pineapple go on pizza?

I haven’t tried it. I would, but I haven’t. I didn’t think I’d like bacon with ice cream, but that’s really pretty good. You never know.

How many places have you lived?

I was raised in central IL, at 21 moved to TX with my Army husband, then Germany (West Germany at that time) where my daughter was born, MA (just west of Boston) where my son was born, GA (just west of Savannah), VA (just south of D.C.) during the times of the D.C. snipers and 9/11, and finally PA after my husband retired from the Army and we got to choose.

What was your first job?

Babysitting. I did that quite a bit while young. Otherwise, H&R Block as a tax preparer. No, I do not like math, but I’m good at logic. Mom worked for and later owned/still owns an office, so I got a bit of a push into it. I’ve also done retail and 2 day care centers in the infant room. I’m good with babies. :-)

What is your favorite down time activity?

Down time... That’s generally after I give up trying to get work done because I’m too tired and go read in bed. But, I also love being on the back of the bike just cruising around enjoying the scenery. I’m not sure I can really call that down time, since I’m often thinking about story plots at the same time. I’m a bit of a workaholic. I do love to swim, though. I grew up taking swimming lessons, up to junior life guard. Now that I’ve found a nice place nearby, I hope to do that a lot more often. 

Are you an outdoor type? Have a green thumb?

Yes and no. I love nature. I love trees and flowers. But I detest insects and crawly things. I have a few flower gardens that I don’t keep up with well because there are only so many hours in the day. I’m doing well with basil and parsley in large containers on my back porch, but I can’t seem to grow spinach. My husband put up a small garden this spring, fenced in to keep the deer out, and it’s looking beautiful except the cabbage that will have to be pulled out because it’s more holes than leaves. He helps water it because... well, because I may not get to it when I should. So, no, I don’t really have a green thumb, but I do keep trying. Playing in the dirt is good relaxing therapy.

If you could live inside a movie, which would you choose and which character would you be?

Preferably, a movie would be made of my Rehearsal series and I’d jump into that in the role of Susie. Her life can be pretty tough, but it’s very adventurous and full of music and true friendship. Other than that, maybe My Best Friend’s Wedding as Jules because, yes, she screws everything up, but she comes around and fixes it and she has a good heart. I love romantic comedies. 

Are you the type to take a dare?

Nope. I have no need to prove anything to anyone who would ask me to do so.

Do you have a favorite motto or quote that applies to your own life?

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. For me, it’s as basic as you can get. I’m ridiculously far from perfect, just like anyone else, but I do my best to be respectful, since I expect to be treated respectfully. Of course that doesn’t always happen, but you lead best by example.
Also, “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” Picasso. 

What is one thing you’ve learned through experience that you’d love to pass along to others?

To young people: Listen. No, really listen. Realize you’re seeing from your own perspective, but that’s only a small drop in a huge bucket of what’s really going on. Look farther and deeper. Learn on your own. Don’t just buy something. Look it up. In several places. Question yourself constantly.

I grew up listening to my large family discuss politics and there were always at least two well-developed contrasting sides to every discussion. These were all people I loved and they often vehemently disagreed and had good reasons to disagree, but before leaving the gathering for the day, they hugged and told each other to take care. Agreeing isn’t always necessary, or possible, but listening is, as is respect.

Two major things I remember from Grandpa, one of the wisest people I’ve known: “You can learn something from anyone,” and “Remember who you are.” It makes me sad to see so many young people ashamed of who they are. There’s no need for it. We are who we are because that’s who we’re supposed to be. Accept yourself and respect yourself.

What books, other than your own, would you highly recommend?

I could list so many here, but I have to say, being a big supporter of local authors and indie authors, do yourself a favor and find some locals and indies who are writing well outside the “big pub small options” genres. Only the current “in” genres get published and promoted by the big commercial pubs, but there are so many more options and genres being mixed and blended and blurred. Such a richness that is often overlooked. Also, watch bookstore clearance bins for author names you don’t know. I’ve found those are usually some of the best books. They just didn’t get the huge advertising bucks so you know the authors’ names.

On to writing: what inspired you to start creating stories/non-fiction? How long ago?

It must be innate, since I started writing musical plays for my siblings, cousins, and myself to act out for our family gatherings way back when I was 7-8ish, at best guest. In junior high, a friend and I wrote screenplays and exchanged them for comment/critique. Hers was Star Wars fanfic and mine was Emergency (TV show, remember it?) fanfic. I still have it. It’s pretty atrocious! You have to start somewhere.

How do you choose your settings (fiction) or topics (non-fiction)?

Characterization is my strong point. My books always focus mainly on character development, and the settings stem from that. The first published, Finishing Touches, is set in my hometown area. The Rehearsal series is set in Massachusetts, just outside Boston, but in a fictional town, in honor of living there for some time and loving the area. Off The Moon and Moondrops & Thistles are set mainly in NYC due to the main character’s career. Protect the Heart is set in old time Idaho in honor of my husband’s hometown area. Under my pen name, Ella M. Kaye, I’m doing things differently and working around related settings (Lighthouses, Rural areas, Cities), fitting the characters to their environments and social situations.

All of my books, under both LK Hunsaker and Ella M. Kaye, revolve around the arts and have a lot of psychology/family issues because those are my strongest interests.

Can you tell us a bit about your path to publication?

A bit of a long story that I’ll try to keep short: After writing for YEARS without thoughts of publishing, my husband asked what I was going to do with it. Um..? Shrug. I’m doing it because it keeps me sane through taking care of my little ones pretty much by myself with no family or friends around? Not good enough? I figured it was. But with the seed planted, I started researching the publishing business and looking at the sad statistics that kept yelling in my face, “You don’t FIT! Forget it! We don’t want that right now. BANG! (door closed)” I mix romance with literary fiction, and that wasn’t a genre. At all. Way back in 2002 or so when I started researching. It’s still a hard sell, but it’s coming around lately. Anyway, I decided not to bother with the agent/contract route. I’m pretty independent. I figured I’d just do it myself. There was no Kindle/Nook/Kobo back then. The only options for going it alone were 1) pay someone to print a ton of books and hand sell them, or 2) use one of the newly emerging presses that would do the formatting and print them on demand so you didn’t have to sink $5,000 or whatever into boxes of books to store in the garage. 

Obviously, I went with plan 2. It added to the “hard sell” factor since that also made them more expensive than equal length traditionally published (commercial) books. As soon as better options came along, I jumped on them, establishing my own company, buying a block of ISBNs, doing my cover art using my art and design training, and figuring out how to do the formatting. It was a HUGE learning curve, but worth it. My books now come out under my own Elucidate Publishing, using Ingram for printing/distributing prints and Smashwords for my ebooks. I’m not restricted as to what I can write, and they stay competitively priced with the big guy pub books.

An aside, I started using the term Indie Publishing way back before I ever heard the term being used because the “experts” kept insisting that “self-publishing” only covered option 1 and the other was just “vanity” printing. I objected to being called a vanity author because it was not for my own vanity. I believe my stories can reach people, touch them, help them understand other viewpoints, and entertain, as well. I work very hard on them. I’ve taken a novel writing course on top of my own studies and avid reading. I’m not a vanity author. I’m independent just like indie musicians (not the genre, but the publishing process). So I decided my “literary romances” were “indie published” and I’ve never looked back. Okay, at times I do. It’s tough to market yourself without a big press background. It’s an awful lot of work doing so much on your own. But overall, the control and freedom are worth the extra effort.

Finally, please tell us about your books and add your website so we can find you:

Under LK Hunsaker, I have 9 novels out. Four are from my massive Rehearsal serial/saga, and the early ones are being revamped currently. Three more will follow, plus a sequel and possibly a prequel. I also have a children’s picture book out called Stanley: A Raindrop’s Story that tells of a little raindrop that always finds the hardest places to fall. Plus, there are so far two write/color/sketch books for my Write the Light In project, one for adults with writing prompts, and one for kids with a growth chart, favorites lists, and space for photos as well as for writing stories. You’ll find them at LKHunsaker.com.

Under Ella M. Kaye, I have 6 novels out under two series: Dancers & Lighthouses, and Artists & Cottages. The newest WIP will be the first in the Songwriters & Cities series and is set here in the West PA area. My hope is to have it out by the end of the year. You’ll find them at EllaMKaye.com
(Since everyone asks, I decided to do books under a different pen name because they are more romance, less lit fic than my LK books. They still have psychology and family mixed in, and along with whatever art is highlighted, they deal with mental health issues.)

Thank you to all for stopping by! Yes, I do tend to be verbose in my books, as well. I like to read fully fleshed stories without a lot of extraneous info and description, so that’s how I try to write them. 

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