My guest today is author Sandra Mendyk.
Sandra Mendyk taught English in a private school for twenty-two years. Presently she is retired but works part time as editor of a weekly newspaper, Valley Times, where she writes an opinion column. Sandra is also a disabled American veteran, serving four years in the U.S. Army and one year in the Army Reserves. She is a member of various veterans groups, a Degree Member of the Ladies Order of Ancient Hibernians, and of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, and the Cosmic Society for Paraormal Research. She received the “Woman Making A Difference in the Valley” aware in 2008 for serving as chairperson of the Ansonia Cultural Commission to attract fairs and the arts, as well as for her dedication to her school, church, and participation in other events in her hometown of Ansonia, CT and nearby communities. Her other awards include: “Irish Woman of the Year” in 2002 by the Ancient Order of Hibernians and “Teacher of the Year” given by a local store. In 2009 Sandra published her first book, Miss M’s Storybook. She enjoys writing, reading, traveling, knitting, Irish dancing, spectator sports, acting in Renaissance faires and other re-enactment groups, as well as studying stage combat sword fighting. She most recently joined the Derby Historical Society as a docent. Sandra resides in Ansonia, Connecticut.
How did you get into writing? I got into writing way back in the ’60s when I took one of those Famous Writers’ Course. I did fairly well, although, I thought I could have gotten better grades. I got discouraged for a while. But during that time, I passed my stories around where I worked (B.F.Goodrich in Shelton) and the co-workers loved reading my work! Right then and there I decided maybe sometime in the future I can really write a book!
What genre do you write? My genre for my first book, Miss M’s Storybook, is non-fiction, also labeled as humorous. The book contains stories about my life that I told my students when I was a teacher. My second book, The Merchant’s Daughter, is historical fiction.
What have you published to date? Do you write under a pseudonym? The two books listed above are the only two books I had published so far. I use my real name for both my books.
If you are self-published, what led to this choice? I decided on self-publishing because I was afraid of rejection from a publishing company. At my age I couldn’t take any more disappointments in my life and opted for self-publishing. Nothing was more satisfying than to see my work in print! I also made my father proud. He died shortly after the publication of my second book.
Are your books available as e-books? Any other formats? My books are available on e-books, although I’d rather see people holding a book in their hand. This is a retired English teacher talking!
Do you have a favorite book or character (that you’ve written)? Out of the two books I’ve written, I have to say Miss M’s Storybook because the main character is the author!
If any of your books were to be made into films, who would you have as the lead actor(s)? If I had to have an actress playing my life story (Miss M’s Storybook), I would like Sandra Bullock. For my second book, The Merchant’s Daughter, I like Nicole Kidman. For the main male character, I would like to see Canadian actor Paul Gross in that part.
Which author(s) would you say influence your writing? The author I would compare myself to, although she writes mysteries, would be Margret Frazer. She writes about a mystery-solving nun in her series of books, and I liked her handling of a nun’s life in the medieval days. As for my first book, there’s no comparison because I witnessed everything I wrote about!
How did you choose the title / cover of your books? How important do you think title/cover is to the book? The title Miss M’s Storybook was easy because it has stories I have told my students for 22 years. When they finished an assignment and we had time left over in the school day, I would tell them, “Want to hear another Army story?” They would sit up and listen quietly. The cover I chose shows a woman sitting in a chair with children on the floor around her. That best symbolizes my telling the students my stories. The second book’s title, The Merchant’s Daughter, came to me in a dream about the time I was wondering what to call it. I gave the illustrator some clues as what I wanted in this book. It takes place during the murder of Thomas Becket in Canterbury in 1170 in his cathedral. I wanted the colors red, black and white. They did an excellent job with the illustration, which shows the evil done in that building at that time.
What are you working on at the moment? Are you planning on another book? At this time, when I have the time, I’m writing a sequel to Miss M’s Storybook which will be entitled Miss M’s Storybook–No Rhyme or Reason because there won’t be chapter titles in this book. The little stories come from anywhere and everywhere. I figure since I’m still living, my life is still exciting and funny. I just keep adding one story after another as they happen. So far I have 45 pages written.
Do you manage to write every day? Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? My life is so busy at this time that I haven’t had time to actually sit down on a daily basis to add to the book. In fact, I haven’t touched it in a year due to my outside commitments. I had a lot of writer’s block when I was writing The Merchant’s Daughter.
Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it? Miss M’s Storybook doesn’t have much of a plot because they’re just little stories from different parts of my life. But my second book I had to make sure I knew what my main character was doing. She is definitely a historical character in a different time period than now. Sometimes ideas just flowed from my head, but sometimes I had to take a legal pad and write down a lot of her traits, background, and what she was capable of doing back in the 12th century.
Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names, and what do you think makes them believable? My first book, as mentioned before, the character is the author. The other characters are real people who were either family, friends, co-workers, military, or anyone I ever had contact with and ended up being memorable. The second book the main character, Idonea, actually lived in the 12th century. There wasn’t much said about her, so I decided to take this person and make a story around her that would be interesting. The only thing known about her is that she was asked to do a dangerous mission for Archbishop Thomas Becket of Canterbury. The question is, did she or did she not? You would have to read the book to find that out!
Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed? I did a lot of editing for The Merchant’s Daughter because it entailed a few historical characters. I wanted to make sure they spoke, acted, and lived properly in the 12th century.
How much research do you do? No research for Miss M’s Storybook was necessary, but I did a lot of research for The Merchant’s Daughter. I had to make sure the dates, times, clothing, convents and abbeys, the cathedral in Canterbury where Becket was murdered were realistic and as close to fact as possible, although the book is labeled as historical fiction. The story takes place in medieval France and England. The hardest part was getting events according to the historical date, and filling in what happened in between the historical dates. That’s where the fiction comes in.
Do you write any poetry, non-fiction, or short stories? I hate to say this, but I hate poetry–even as a retired English teacher. I think I wrote one poem in my whole life, and it was forced on me as a senior in high school. I wrote a lot of short stories which I handed out to my co-workers where I worked. I was asked to write a Christmas story for the company newsletter one year which was well received. Right now I don’t do that because of time restraints.
Do you have pieces you’ve written that you think should never see the light of day? I have a file folder full of stories that I wrote that will never see publication unless I actually sit down and rewrite them. When I wrote them, I hadn’t gone to college to study English and journalism, so there’s a lot of editing there. The stories are actually my daydreams, and I feel no one would want to read those!
Have you had any rejections from publishing houses? If so, how do you deal with them? Since I went to a self-publishing company, I never had to encounter a rejection. My novel writing professor did one of my works, though. I was crushed because everyone in the class got a copy and trashed it! It took me a long time to regain my confidence and composure to try and write something after that.
Do you have an agent? Do you believe they are vital to an author’s success? The self-publishing company I use assigns me an agent, but the only thing he/she does is try to help promote the book by charging my money to do so. I can’t speak for agents from a real publishing company since I never used one.
The Merchant’s Daughter
Idonea did not want to live the rest of her life in a nunnery. Her father, Baldwin de Redvers, a knight for King Henry II and a well-known merchant, felt a nunnery was in his motherless daughter’s best interest in the event he died in combat. Baldwin was encouraged by one of the most powerful men in the country, Chancellor Thomas Becket, to place his daughter, Idonea, in a nunnery. In later years when the chancellor became Archbishop of Canterbury and fled England to France in exile, now Sister Idonea had been called to his presence. She still felt hatred for this man whom she believed ruined her life. When she met with him, he asked a favor from her-a mission which was considered dangerous. Would Sister Idonea accept this mission? Sister Idonea met the archbishop on two further occasions-the last time to witness the most horrendous and sacrilegious murder in history.