Alison Lohans releases her newest romance Strong as a Pharoah
Welcome to fellow BWL Publishing and Writer's Guild of Canada author, Alison Lohans!
Stories have always been a central part of my life, from earliest childhood onward. When I was four years old, my mother (who had dreams of becoming a writer) asked me to illustrate a picture book manuscript that she then submitted to publishers (all of whom rejected it…) The first I recall of making up my own stories happened when I was five: I woke up in the middle of the night from a perplexing, unfinished dream. Wanting to know “what happened next”, I realized I could make up anything I wanted to happen! From then on, I routinely told myself stories in my head as an entertaining activity while falling asleep, first expanding on that fateful unfinished dream, and then venturing further. It was thrilling and empowering to discover what could be done with one’s imagination! My first case of writer’s block occurred when I was six – during a class writing activity, I couldn’t figure out how to spell “squirrel”. When I was seven, my parents decided I was old enough to use my dad’s typewriter to write my stories. At age eight, I started my first “book with chapters” (in addition to the several much-shorter ones I’d written, while younger); when I was nine, I decided I’d better type up that same book with chapters (which I’d first printed out by hand, with my own illustrations) – so it would be a “real book”. That was the year I decided I was going to be a writer. My deeply insightful mother took me to the library one day when I was 10, and checked out a copy of Writer’s Market. She encouraged me to submit my short stories to magazines! And so I did, and quickly became acquainted with rejection slips… My first never-finished novel was written when I was 11-then-12; my first publications came at the ages of 12 and 14… Also, when I was 14, my mother enrolled in a creative writing class at the local community college – and got permission for me to attend, too! More than anyone else, my (late) mother Mildred Lohans deserves full credit for the writer I eventually became.
I was extremely fortunate in that both of my parents had creative minds, and stories were always a central part of the bedtime routine. It was also really fortunate that during my 1950s and ‘60s upbringing on the outskirts of Reedley, a small agricultural town in central California, our family was one of the few who did not have a TV. Instead, I fell in love with books and the many adventures that could be experienced through reading. Taking that one logical step further, I was thrilled to be able to make up my own stories – and thus, pursue interesting ideas and questions that posed themselves, awaiting answers.
Real life, of course, is never idyllic. I realized by the age of 12 that I’d better train for a career that guaranteed some income – as familiar as I already was, with rejection slips! As a result, my university education focussed on teaching music – specifically, instrumental music, which I’ve continued to enjoy from childhood on. Real life brought me and my late husband to Canada in 1971, where he obtained his Ph.D. at the University of Victoria, and then to Regina, Saskatchewan, which has been home to me since 1976. It’s here in Saskatchewan that my writing really took root, and publication began to occur less randomly, beginning in the 1980s.
The power of exploring ideas (and “unfinished business”) through fiction first manifested itself in several young adult novels, then early chapter books for readers aged 7-9, in the 1980s and 90s. The picture book genre proved a lot harder to “crack”, but my first success there was with Nathaniel’s Violin, published in 1996, followed by several others, as well as several middle-grade novels. But not everything can be expressed within the scope of a book for young people, whatever their age. Short stories got written, then some poetry, and eventually some creative nonfiction. Always sitting enticingly on the back burner were ideas for romance novels, as well… My first published romance novels are Canine Cupid (BWL Publishing, 2021); and Strong as a Pharaoh (BWL, 2022). Ironically, the slow-down of the COVID-19 pandemic has posed terrific opportunities for writing! 2021 brought the publication of a number of short pieces (some new, some old) in literary magazines – and, in addition to Canine Cupid, another picture book The 1-Dogpower Garden Team illustrated by my artist cousin Gretchen Ehrsam (Your Nickel’s Worth Publishing) – which is now shortlisted for several awards. 2022 will bring, in addition to Strong as a Pharaoh, another early chapter book, Tyler Evans the Great (also illustrated by Gretchen Ehrsam, to be released by Your Nickel’s Worth). By the end of 2022 I’ll have published 30 books for readers of various ages. Finally, all books from traditional, commercial publishers have a “shelf life” and inevitably go out of print. With the increased ease of self-publishing through Amazon and other venues, also comes the ability to “resurrect” old books with a whole new look – and thus in my case, I’ve been working toward re-releasing my “Germy Johnson” series for young readers aged 7-9.
In other realms, Regina, Saskatchewan has continued to be a terrific home over the decades. Unlike in larger centres, there are more opportunities for community involvement than I could possibly keep track of. In addition to all my writing groups and activities, instrumental music is still a very important part of my life: I resumed my piano study (long neglected) during the pandemic and, in a number of established (as well as informal) community groups, I also play recorder, cornet and cello. International travel is something that I love, and look forward to again, once conditions open up. Travel often feeds into my creative process, and has morphed into several published books – now including Strong as a Pharaoh! When my son and daughter-in-law did their postdoctoral studies in England (2014-2019) I loved being able to visit a couple of times a year – and to take some independent trips from there, including visits to Scotland for further research on one of my works-in-progress, “Murder at Glencoe”. Otherwise, I live contentedly with my elderly Shih-tzu cross Sebastian, my zebra finch, my house plants and my “casual” outdoor gardening – where my (late) Australian shepherd cross Bailey used to love playing an interactive digging/weeding “game” that triggered the writing of The 1-Dogpower Garden Team. All of this, with many terrific writer friends nearby!
How many hours a day do you write?
I really can’t calculate the amount of time spent on writing, and writing activities, every day, but writing is definitely a focal part of each and every day. Very often it’s the necessary “writing activities” that predominate – whether it’s revising, editing, marketing, critiquing and/or reviewing others’ work, helping newer writers along the way, engaging in dialogue with colleagues, or learning new things through online presentations, and the like. It’s a treat to have genuine “time to create”, and these days I delight in programmed “writing slots” with friends and colleagues who are using that same chunk of time for their own creative work.
How do you choose which stories you will write?
Usually a story idea will “grab” me, and beg to be told. The ones that tug the hardest will get the most attention. This said, I always have several works-in-progress, and usually work on two different books simultaneously. (At the moment, two very different novels are in Chapter 8.) Some books take considerably more time to write than others…
What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?
What a terrific question! From a realistic perspective, having worked seriously at writing over the past 40+ years, it’s finding ways of dealing with the many, often-drastic changes in the marketplace. Publishers often seem to want “new, young voices” and I’ve found that with many of my previous publishers of work for young people, I’ve “hit a wall”. Suddenly, my work gets rejected for reasons they never are quite able to articulate. Numerous other, once-reliable publishers have shut down. This said, I also know that at my age, I can no longer write authentically from a current-day young adult perspective, for example.
Over the decades, I’ve always worked in a number of different genres, which may or may not be an advantage. One forward-leaning example is that since the 1980s, I’ve been intrigued with writing romance in addition to my work for kids and young adults. However, when my kids’ books started “taking off” in the 1980s, 90s and early 2000s, I thought I’d be spreading myself too thin by working on romance as well. Now, with the kids’ market mysteriously seeming closed to us older writers, and a number of presses now defunct, I have the luxury of having fun writing about middle-aged couples who find themselves having a second chance at love. It’s been exciting and fulfilling to connect with BWL, a genre publisher that likes my work, and has published my two completed romance novels within the past year!
In terms of multiple genres, I’ve also worked at short fiction for adults, some creative nonfiction, and occasional poetry. Interestingly, some of these short pieces from 20 years ago are suddenly finding homes in today’s literary market! It seems that sometimes my timing is way off in terms of the marketability of any given piece - but it also shows that work I truly believed in, all those years ago, can still find a home.
Another step I’ve been taking over the past 10 years is doing more “indie” and “hybrid” publishing (at my own expense) because if I deeply believe in a piece, I refuse to leave it to stagnate in a file on my laptop. These kinds of “creative gifts from the Muse” are too precious to squander!
Five years from now, where do you see yourself as a writer?
For the most part now, I’m interested in writing fiction that explores the psyches of middle-aged and aging women, whose voices unfortunately seem to be regarded as irrelevant these days. This will ideally appear in a couple of novels-to-be, in-progress, as well as in short fiction. Five years from now, I hope to have completed my time-slip novel, “Murder at Glencoe”, whose primary protagonist is…a woman in her fifties (and another narrative voice in that novel is that of an elderly Scotsman, who feels useless in his 1692 world.) I also hope to have completed and published my work of YA historical fiction (a mixed-race romance), “Free to Come Home”, which addresses challenges faced by Japanese-American citizens when they were finally allowed to return home from the World War II internment camps. I definitely owe it to my characters, and to myself, to bring those books to fruition after the many years already invested! There are more ideas still in the “bud stage” for a couple of romance novels. Likewise, it would be great fun to write a couple more picture books, and possibly more early chapter books for kids aged 7-9. Five years from now, my ultimate hope is to have more control over my own work, and more ways of launching it into publication.
How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
1 middle-grade science fiction novel - not worth pursuing
2 or 3 picture book manuscripts – worth more marketing attempts, when time opens up…
1 early chapter book that a couple of editors said should be turned into a YA novel instead (started more than a decade ago in a couple of different paradigms, but got stuck in its earliest chapters. An unexpected offshoot of this material is an adult short story that was published in an anthology, summer 2021!)
1 young adult historical fiction/mixed race romance
1 adult time-slip novel
1 adult fantasy novel
1 current romance novel, early in the process
At least 2 very old romance novels, which may or may not be worth spending more time on
1 “young middle grade” novel for ages 8-10, definitely worth pursuing; deals with the sensitive topics of adoption and racial prejudice
1 possible young adult novel, based on the completed early chapter book mentioned in the “unpublished” section above
Several early chapter books, which may or may not merit more time invested
Who inspires you to write?
In this regard, I’m very much self-directed, with stories that ache to be written (or “repaired”).
At the same time, I treasure my active friendships with fellow writers, and a number of writing groups, for the camaraderie of “all being in this together”. Most of these friendships are within Saskatchewan, but some are entirely virtual, including a writer in Yorkshire, UK, and another in Toronto.
The groups I belong to and value include the Children’s Writers’ Round Robin, which I co-founded in 1984 and is still very much up and running (now with members in BC as well as Saskatchewan). In this case, the pandemic actually increased our activity, now with weekly meetings on Zoom and monthly critiquing sessions, rather than only meeting in person twice a year, in addition to our frequent email exchanges! I really enjoy The Monday Muses, which occurs weekly on Zoom and has a membership spread literally from coast-to-coast across Canada – here, we all write “together” in the same time slot. The Saskatchewan Romance Writers stopped meeting in person and holding retreats during the pandemic, but still has a somewhat active presence on Facebook, as well as a few helpful email exchanges. Mostly-online is CANSCAIP Sask, an offshoot of the Children’s Writers’ Round Robin and CANSCAIP, but with a much wider membership, which has a fairly active Facebook group, and a conference (either virtual or in person) every two years. There’s the Facebook group Sask Writers, where I mostly reply to other people’s questions if I happen to have expertise in that area, and also the Facebook group for the Manitoba/Saskatchewan members of The Writers’ Union of Canada – where it’s interesting to keep abreast of what other members are doing. There’s also the private Facebook group for BWL Authors, which I’m learning can be extremely helpful. And then there are my professional organizations – The Saskatchewan Writers’ Guild; The Writers’ Union of Canada; and CANSCAIP…
So – while writing is essentially a solitary activity, that doesn’t mean we’re necessarily “alone”!
Newly-released by BWL Publishing on June 1!
Egypt! What better place to break free of painful ruts and crippling memories of two disastrous first marriages?
Megan, a blocked mystery writer, signs on for a tour of this ancient world of temples, pyramids and pharaohs, desperately needing to re-create herself in the aftermath of the suicide of her emotionally abusive husband. She no longer needs a man in her life…she thinks….
Daniel, a professor and church music director, signs on for a tour of Egypt at the end of his sabbatical in Oxford. He loved his mentally-ill ex-wife, and still can’t understand why she left him all those years ago, taking their daughter with her.
Two kindred spirits meet overseas and keep finding new common ground, a growing attraction…and hidden secrets…as they visit Cairo and Luxor, then board a cruise ship on the Nile. But it’s not all glamor. Mummies look grisly; vendors are aggressive; and women are regarded as second-class citizens. Screams punctuate the night as memories surface in nightmares, and a nearby hot air balloon crash triggers more trauma. And who’d ever guess that the mentally-ill ex might show up -- on the same cruise ship! -- clearly no longer taking the medications that kept her stable? And that she even seems to want Daniel back…right when Megan and Daniel are discovering a new love that’s helping them learn to trust again.
“Strong as a Pharaoh takes us to exotic locations. Ms. Lohans’ descriptions of
Egypt are so vivid I can practically smell the Nile! What really makes the
story sing are the characters. We love them, we root for them, and want them to
have a happy ending together.”
Jana Richards, author of Strong Enough; Unexpected; and many other romance novels
“Another beautiful book with Alison Lohans’ characteristic deep, sympathetic portrayal of the human spirit in all its mystery and confusion. I was enthralled from start to finish.”
Sharon Plumb, author of Draco’s Child; Dragon Planet: Kraamlok; and other novels
“An intriguing travel romance that takes us on
a tour of Egypt, with beauty and history unfolding before us. Both our hero and
heroine don’t intend to fall in love, and many obstacles seem to defy hope of a
happy ending – but love does, indeed, triumph.”
Liz Martinson, author of Belonging; Ullandale;and other romance novels
“Strong as a Pharaoh takes Megan on a journey of discovery, unearthing treasures and traumas along the Nile and in her heart. Along the way, she discovers the true treasures long buried inside herself, eagerly awaiting release.”
Morgan Traquair, psychologist and poet
Released by BWL Publishing, July 2021
Kara’s vengeful con-man ex-husband has left her with a
mountain of fraudulent debt – and now he’s begun stalking her, too! What is a
hardworking elementary school teacher to do, simply to stay afloat, let alone
trust someone new? Is Kara even safe?
Peter is still grieving the deaths of his beloved wife and daughter. Even so, his self-pitying widowed mother keeps escalating her unreasonable demands. Meanwhile, Peter’s stand partner in the symphony comes on to him, although he’s tried hard to make it clear that he’s not interested – in anyone.
When Kara slams on the brakes to avoid hitting a stray dog and Peter rear-ends her, an unexpected and unwelcome attraction begins to flare…
"This love story is beautiful. These two people are real. Past experiences have made them skittish. They are attracted to each other, but they are afraid of being hurt or of imposing their own burdens on each other. Yet they work through it all, gradually and realistically, separately, and--most important of all--as a couple. When they come together at the end, the reader can be pretty sure that they belong together and that they will stay together and be happy--they and their dogs!"
Mary Balogh, New York Times Bestselling author of Regency romances
"The skillfully drawn characters come to life in this well-written contemporary romance novel. Our hearts ache for them as they work through the psychological scars from the tragedies in each of their pasts and struggle to overcome the real obstacles to a fulfilling future together."
Sharie Argue, musician and educator
“I felt like I was immersed in the lives of two people I’ve actually met—people who juggle a relationship with the demands of their careers, the ghosts of past relationships, and the pressures of caring for a parent. Canine Cupid is a delightful read for lovers of romance—and of course—dogs.
Maureen Ulrich, author of the Jessie Mac Hockey Series – Power Plays; Face Off, and more
“Author Alison Lohans wasted no time getting into the plot of her novel, but I found I was swept away by the characters. When you add this to a well-written plot that slips down as easily as lemonade on a hot summer afternoon, and – of course – two VICs (Very Important Canines), you have everything you need for a charming romantic read.”
Riana Everly, author of The Mystery of the Missing Heiress: A Pride and Prejudice Mystery; Through a Different Lens: A Pride and Prejudice Variation, and more