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Wednesday 1 June 2016

SHORE TO SHORE - an interview with Mariam Kobras

Today I have the pleasure of welcoming a very special friend to my blog: the fabulous Mariam Kobras.

Mariam and I started our writing careers at around the same time, though it took me rather longer to produce a published novel.  Mariam is the author of five wonderful books (details below), and her writing oozes quality in every paragraph.  

Welcome, Mariam!

What prompted you to first start writing? What was the first thing you wrote?

I’d wanted to write for a long time before I actually started, but the story just hadn’t come alive for me. I was missing the right setting. I had this idea, but I didn’t know where to stage it. That changed when I visited Norway with a friend. We drove to the small town of Florø late one afternoon. It was raining, the ocean was grey and choppy, the air saturated with salt spray. I stood there on the small pier, right outside the yellow hotel that would become the home of Naomi Carlsson, the place where her long-lost love Jon would find her again. I knew I had arrived. This was the place where The Distant Shore would start!

That was the first full-length novel that I wrote. I had written a few short stories and essays before that, and I think I attempted a novel when I was a kid, but my first serious attempt was The Distant Shore. I started writing it when I was 53, just a few years ago. It took me a year to complete.

Can you summarise your latest work in just a few words?

Right now I’m working on two projects. One is For the Fireflies, the last book in the Stone Series (The Distant Shore, Under the Same Sun, Song of the Storm, The Rosewood Guitar, Waiting for a Song). The first five books tell the story of Jon Stone, international rock star, and his beloved, Naomi Carlsson. For the Fireflies picks up a few years after Song of the Storm ends and tells the story of their children, Joshua and Allegra.

Joshua,a young grownup, can’t decide what he wants to do with his life. His education has prepared him to follow two paths: either become a composer/musician like his father, or take over the hotel empire from his mother’s family. To find out what he really wants from life he leaves his family and goes to Key West with friends. But his parents are never far away, and they’re always good for a surprise.

The other project that I’ve just started is a new romance/mystery series set on Vancouver Island, titled Sunset Bay.

Liese Winter, a luckless author in her mid-thirties, learns that she has inherited property on the wild, west coast of Vancouver Island. She travels there from her home in New York City only to discover there’s more to the inheritance than she expected. There are sinister forces at work. What is hiding in the forest? Are the people of the small town really as friendly as they seem? And why does the ex-cop Duncan seem to stalk her?

I’m writing this series with a co-author, and it’s so much fun!

What was the inspiration for this book?

The inspiration for Sunset Bay came to me when I visited friends in Vancouver. I asked them to take me to a place where the cedars grow all the way to the beach, and they did. I stood there on that beach and knew that I wanted to write about it.

Two years ago I returned and we visited Vancouver Island and drove all the way to Tofino.
I’ve never been to another place that’s this unique, this special in its own way. There it was, the dense cedar forest that bordered the dark, gloomy beaches, the driftwood tree trunks piled into impossible sculptures, the Pacific and its silver light.

The first time I stepped onto Chesterman Beach and saw that endless expanse of water my heart almost stopped. This, yes, this was where I wanted to set a novel, or better yet, a series of novels!

Strange, but now that I think about it, my books are generally inspired by places It’s almost as if the settings speak to me and whisper their secrets in my ears, and all I have to do is add characters and a story.

Did you do any research for the book?

Oh yes, two trips to Vancouver and Vancouver Island —remember, I live in Germany. It’s quite far from British Columbia—and I’m getting ready to go there again this September. This time, though, my research will be more specific, since I know what I need to know and see. I’ll visit the RCMP detachment in Tofino, the Tofino General Hospital, several resorts on the coast. I can hardly wait.

What does a typical writing day involve for you?

I get up around 10AM. I sleep late because I stay up late; my publisher is in the NYC area. We often talk when it’s late at night for me. I make some coffee, cuddle the cat, and then settle at my desk and write for two or three hours. The rest of the day I spend with my family, tweeting, Facebooking, being on Pinterest, blogging. All the internet stuff an author generally does. I’ve written and delivered six books in five years this way.

How do you decide on the names for your characters?

It’s pretty spontaneous. Some I steal from book covers on one of the shelves around me, some just happen. Generally the character comes with a name. They tell me their names when they first appear in the story.

Do you plot your novels in advance, or allow them to develop as you write?

Both. So far I’ve done really well with developing the story while writing, but I have a feeling that this doesn’t work too well with mystery. Thankfully my coauthor is a lot more organized and disciplined than I am. I’m sure I’ll learn a lot more about writing in the next few years. Since we’re also good friends, we’re having fun writing together!

Which writers have influenced your own writing?

Oh dear… I’m afraid that’s a difficult question. I read so much, and I used to read even more before I started writing. I really love John Galsworthy (The Forsyte Saga) and his slow style of telling a story, Sigrid Undset (Kristin Lavransdottir) Sena Jeter Naslund (Ahab’s Wife), Vikram Seth (A Suitable Boy), and so many more!

I really love reading SciFi and Fantasy, too!

What has been the best part of the writing process…and the worst?

All of it is the best part! I love writing and making up stories, I love working with deadlines because they give me a purpose, I love talking about my books and my writing career. I love being an author! There hasn’t been a bad moment yet.

Now your books are published and ‘out there’ how do you feel?

Oh, it’s a great feeling. I can claim the time to write, and not feel bad about it, after years of being a housewife and mom I finally have a purpose that’s all my own. I can call myself an author! And I’m having fun. I get to travel, I have new and fascinating author friends who like to talk about writing as much as I do.

Well into my late middle-age I’m feel like a complete person.

Is there a message in any of your books? 

No… I don’t think so.

I write about love, about art and creativity, about music, about family and the love they have for each other.

The Stone Series is labelled romance, but it’s not the traditional boy meets girl, gets girl, loses girl, reunites with girl, live happily ever after kind of romance. My characters are real people with real troubles, sometimes they’re well-behaved, and sometimes they whine and complain, and they don’t always get what they want.

Do you have any advice for new writers?

Yes. Stop talking about wanting to write, just do it. Butt in chair, write! It’s the only way you’ll ever get a novel written.

What can we expect from you in the future?

Well, the Stone Series is done. After six books I think I’ve explored their lives sufficiently. Once For the Fireflies is finished I’ll concentrate on Sunset Bay. By the way, if your readers would like to read For the Fireflies, they can sign up for my newsletter and read it as it comes out – one chapter at a time. A new adventure with new characters is waiting for me!

Thank you, Mariam, for a fascinating interview.  Please come again!

Three-time Independent Publisher's Book Award Winner, Mariam was born in Frankfurt, Germany. Growing up, she and her family lived in Brazil and Saudi Arabia before they decided to settle in Germany. Mariam attended school there and studied American Literature and Psychology at Justus-Liebig-University in Giessen. Today she lives and writes in Hamburg, Germany, with her husband, two sons, and two cats.