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Interview with Marlene Satter by Lea Schizas


I had the great fortune of interviewing a very articulate author, editor, and reviewer for Foreword Magazine and FMAM, Marlene Satter - aka: Lee Barwood. Her diverse talents intrigued me and I just had to find out more about her.


I was curious as to how long she had been writing:


“I’ve been writing since I was a child. Used to have a manuscript I carried around with me and worked on whenever I had time, such as between classes or when I’d go somewhere with my parents and would have to wait in the car.


“My dad had wanted to write – I know that because in his papers after he died we found records that he had entered a writing contest with a short story. But he never mentioned it, and as far as I know never kept up with it; he worked multiple jobs most of the time.


“I always loved to read. When I was little my brother and sisters gave me books of fairy tales and myths and legends, so when I was maybe six or seven I was reading about Beowulf, Roland, Rustem and Sohrab, and the Ring of the Nibelungs. My brother spoke German, and he would translate Grimm’s fairy tales to me (which made me want to learn German – didn’t get a chance to do that till college). I also read the usual kids’ books – Black Beauty, The Black Stallion, Tom Sawyer, Little Women, The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden – and a bunch of books that most definitely weren’t typical for kids, such as Admiral Mahan’s Influence of Sea Power on History (we had it in the house, and my dad was in the Navy.). Leslie Charteris’s The Saint books. And of course I found science fiction and fantasy – in the supermarket, of all places, when I was still in grade school – and started reading Heinlein and Bradbury and Asimov and Clarke. Went through a Russian lit stage in high school, and devoured everything from Dostoevsky to Pushkin to Chekhov. I wrote ghost stories and science fiction stories, and even scripts for Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (with a friend of mine; we actually sent one in, and were crushed when it came back rejected).


“Then there were Gothics, and those were what seriously got me started. The supernatural has always fascinated me, and books with ghosts were my favorites from the time I was small. But there were so many bad Gothics! That’s when I got the idea that I could certainly write something better than what I was reading. So I started, and found out it wasn’t as easy as I thought – or as easy to find time to write with a day job as I would have liked.


“The proofreading business was something I sort of fell into. In college I had a few part-time jobs, one of which involved proofreading and another of which consisted of typing the manuscript of a math textbook for one of my college professors. That got me started, and then after college my day job had me doing technical writing, editing, and proofreading. Some years later, I started doing typing for small-press magazines. When I got my first PC, we started a business to do desktop publishing, and I’ve been involved in it ever since in one way or another.



Marlene, I noticed you are as involved with various writing areas as I am. I’d like to know before I pinpoint these areas as to how you manage your time with each venue?


Well, the day job takes priority, but then I juggle whichever project has the closest deadline or the most momentum at the moment. That seems to change from day to day, and sometimes from hour to hour. For instance, I usually have at least two freelance articles going at the same time, but depending on how difficult or easy it is to locate interview subjects or research material, I may have to put them off and focus on another project with a deadline farther off – and then shift gears if the phone rings.


How did you come to the position as Senior Editor with Investment Advisor Magazine?


I actually started as a copy editor, although I had to provide writing samples to get hired – as well as take an editing test. Once I was there it wasn’t very long at all before they were assigning me stories to write, and each month I wrote an introduction to go with the survey data we published – a different subject every month, which meant that every month I got a pretty good education in a different financial topic. From there I regularly wrote other articles on subjects that ranged from broker/dealers to insurance and estate planning, and then I began to write articles that went a bit farther afield – such as financial aspects of domestic abuse, women’s issues with money, and eldercare.


As a reviewer for Foreword Magazine and FMAM, do you find the quality of books being published now by first time authors up to par? Are these books self-published or traditional publications? Follow up question to this is: Do you find a quality difference in self-published books opposed to traditional published books?


Much of the time it depends on the publisher. I’ve read some first-time books that were absolutely fabulous, and others that are truly awful. Quite a few “small-press publishers” are actually a name given by the author to the book so that it doesn’t look as if it has been self-published. However, the writing can’t be disguised. It’s really sad, too, because in the last year I’ve read maybe a half-dozen books that had real promise, but because they weren’t edited – and I don’t mean checked for punctuation, spelling, and grammar, although those are problem areas too – their plots didn’t hang together, or their conclusions wandered way off from the rest of the story, or characters behaved very much out of character and didn’t advance the story.


I find a very substantial difference in self-published books – usually. There are always exceptions, and I’ve seen a couple of absolutely spectacular self-published books that couldn’t have been improved upon if they’d gone through every editor in New York, but mostly I’ve seen books that are mediocre to poor, with a few thrown in that should never have seen the light of day. It’s sad, really, because with some guidance some of those writers could have written books that they could really be proud of.


I’d like to go back for a second and ask you to tell us a bit about your editing services: What are some of the services you offer? Do you accept any query for edits that comes your way or do you have certain criteria you look for?


I do editing, copyediting, proofreading, and book doctoring. They’re all different, and I don’t accept just any query. The writer has to have some promise, and the motivation to improve – otherwise, we’re wasting each other’s time and they’re wasting their money. The service I recommend depends on the condition of the manuscript, and of course they’re at liberty to accept or reject any suggestions I may make.


What is the difference between proofreading, copyediting, and book doctoring?


Proofreading is basically making sure that things are spelled and punctuated correctly, and that the words the writer intended to get down on the paper are the ones that actually got there. Some people think that a spellchecking program is all a writer needs, but I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve seen “four” for “fore,” or “great” for “grate” – these are the spelling mistakes that a program won’t pick up. It takes a human being.


Copyediting goes a bit farther; I check for grammar, which can entail some rewriting; read the story for sense, to make sure that someone with red hair on page 12 doesn’t have black hair on page 74 and that the character killed off in chapter 3 stays dead (unless, of course, it’s a paranormal); and make sure that characters’ names are spelled the same way throughout the manuscript, relationships stay constant (a brother stays a brother and doesn’t turn into a cousin or a friend), and loose ends are tied up. Here I would also look for anachronisms or things out of place – a character in 8th century Britain, for instance, using a blowgun or explosives, because those things simply wouldn’t exist in that character’s reality.

Book doctoring is a lot more involved. That’s when a writer has a good idea and/or good characters, but the manuscript is poorly organized or the plot flounders, or the writing is just not up to speed. I would go through the manuscript and make recommendations on changes, from changing the order of events to recasting a character’s motivation or action – or even adding or entirely deleting characters, subplots, or chapters.


For instance, if you have a book set on an alien world, but describe everything in terms of Earth phenomena, you lose your reader by jarring him out of the world you’ve created. If you’ve come up with a creature with bright eyes and a bushy tail that eats seeds, and say that it’s like a squirrel, but your novel takes place entirely on another planet and none of your characters has ever seen a squirrel, that’s a cop-out. You can still have your creature, but you’ve got to devise a better way to describe it.


Say, too, that your whole plot hinges on that 8th century character using a blowgun. You refuse to delete it. Come up with a valid reason for him to have it – either a time traveler has brought it, or he’s invented it himself because of his innate ingenuity – and then write that part so that it’s believable. Fiction is fiction; you can have anything you want – but it’s up to you not to break your own rules.


I noticed you dabble in mystery, horror, and fantasy. Do you like one more than the rest? And why, what aspect of that genre appeals to you?


My first love is the supernatural, and you can find that in any of these genres – although probably more in horror and fantasy. However, now that paranormal books are really coming into their own, I love the element of the supernatural in mysteries. I’ve got a couple of paranormal mysteries in the works, and I’m really enjoying being able to work that in.


A Dream of Drowned Hollow sounds like an interesting read. Your title intrigued me. Do you write a story first then think of a title or does the title first jump at you and then you begin your writing? How did you come up with this interesting storyline?


I have to have a title to really get going. But that’s not always the title the book ends up with. A Dream of Drowned Hollow started out as The Old Place – because the Ozarks are the oldest mountains. I liked that feeling of old, elemental powers that lived in ancient hills and hollows, and that’s how I wrote the book. But The Old Place wasn’t very stimulating – even I had to admit that. It just worked in my imagination. So I had to really work at it to come up with another title that seemed to encapsulate the book.


I’ve worked on other stories, though, where the title was so obvious that it was really easy to write – and then I didn’t need to change the title afterwards. In 2005, for instance, I wrote a mystery (published in Futures Mystery Anthology Magazine) called “Cold Comfort.” It was about an abused spouse and what she has to do to survive her marriage, and I had the title first. Everything revolved around that title, and I never changed it.


And then there have been a couple of times I asked for help with titles, because I just couldn’t see the right one.


As a writer, it is always fascinating to hear how other writers come up with their ideas, how they build their characters. Do you have a blueprint you use before you begin writing your book? Do you build your characters first or allow them free passage as you write?


Sometimes it starts with a character – I have a two-volume heroic fantasy that started with one character who just sort of jumped into my mind. I could see him, and then I could see the heroine, and everything else just flowed from there.


More often, it starts with an idea – I’ll get this idea that is more or less complete, if pretty sketchy, that goes from point A to point Z. There are no in-between points, so I have to fill them all in and populate this idea with characters that work for it – but if I get the idea down, I just start writing and go from there. With these, as I write, I find sometimes that the story ends up in a completely different place because of the way the characters evolve, and the way the plot itself develops. And I have to have names for my characters so that I can see them. I can be completely stymied by a character with the wrong name – and once I’ve changed the name things just start to flow. It was like that for Drowned Hollow’s heroine April Rue. She started out with a different name, and the name just wasn’t – right. The story didn’t want to be written at that point, and I struggled and struggled with it till I realized that she needed a better name. Once she became April Rue, the story just started to flow.


A curious question: why did you decide to go with a pseudonym?


My maiden name was Barwood. I found after my marriage that, oddly enough, that more people misspelled and mispronounced Satter than Barwood – so I decided to stick with Barwood so that when people wanted to find my books they would be able to. And I had the same problem with the name Marlene; there are a lot of variations on the spelling, and Lee was shorter and easier to spell. So I became Lee Barwood. There was also still the question of getting published with an ambiguous name, versus one that was clearly masculine or feminine. I started writing for publication when it was still a bit harder for women to get published in certain fields, and I thought it would be easier. I can’t say that it has been, and today I probably wouldn’t do it, but Barwood still seems to be easier for people to spell and pronounce – so maybe I would after all.


As an author of several books, do you promote them all together or separate your promotion for each one? Also, is there a new project you are working on now?


The short answer is yes. J I promote all my books together whenever the opportunity presents itself, but I also work on promotional efforts for each individual title. I think that promotion builds on itself, so when I’m working on one book I’m always ready to mention the others.


Right now I’ve just finished a book of retellings of Australian Aboriginal legends, mostly about the koala, that is coming out from Koala Jo Publishing in May. You may wonder why someone who writes mystery, horror, and fantasy chose to do a book about koalas, but the fact is that I love them, and have ever since I can remember. Not only that, koalas are very powerful beings in Aboriginal folklore – and folklore, of course, is something I’ve been fascinated by since I was little.


Koalas and other Australian animals, and so many other creatures in the world, are under threat right now from habitat destruction, global warming, and non-native predators – and I’m donating my royalties from this book to the Australian Wildlife Hospital founded by Steve Irwin’s Wildlife Warriors. There’s so much that needs to be done if we’re going to continue to have a world populated by the birds and animals that have existed on this planet for thousands of years – extinction rates are rising, the environment is in deep trouble, and governments have not taken the lead in taking action. If each of us resolves to take action personally, in some way, it will make a difference. That’s what April Rue finds in Drowned Hollow, and that’s what I’m hoping to inspire in others with my work.


Do you have any parting suggestions for new writers out there?


Write what you love, and do the very best you can at it. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Get good advice, and remember that you don’t have to take all the advice you get. And don’t ever give up.




A DREAM OF DROWNED HOLLOW, Gryphon Award-winning ecological fantasy novel.

There are spirits afoot deep in the Ozark hills of Blackburn County, Arkansas. Things happen. Ghosts walk. Elemental creatures dance to the wild music of the rhythms of Nature. And those who?ve lived in the hills for generations can see them.

But now there’s activity of another kind ravaging the hills; bulldozers, chainsaws, and hunters of man and beast. As old-growth trees fall to developers, rivers are dammed, hollows are flooded, and residents are driven from land settled by their many-times-great-grandparents, April Rue Stoner hopes against hope that her gift can help her stop the destruction before everything she’s ever known is gone.


Klassic Koalas: Ancient Aboriginal Tales in New Retelllings


The Dreamtime is Australia’s time before time. Animals and birds and plants came into being and took their current forms, and Australia became what it is today—a place of wonder and diversity, populated by unique creatures found nowhere else.


Now, however, Australia and its creatures are under threat—from habitat destruction, global warming, and the incursions of predators not native to Australia. This book of Aboriginal stories, retold by award-winning author Lee Barwood, brings the time of Dreaming to life. From the Great Flood to the story of how the koala lost its tail, these are some glimpses into ancient Aboriginal folklore. 90 Australian Aboriginal terms, plants, and animals are represented visually or explained in detail.


The accompanying illustrations are by Joanne Ehrich and artists of the Central Ohio Art Academy, directed by Donna Boiman.


Each copy of this book contributes to Steve Irwin’s Wildlife Hospital for the preservation of the koala and other Australian creatures under threat.

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