Meet the Author Monday – Zara Altair

A Father, Writer, and Logistics Wizard

Today on Meet the Author Monday we have Zara Altair here to tell us a little about herself and her books. As usual we will put my comments/questions in BLUE and our guest author will be GREEN.

I always like to start off with exploring out my guest authors entered the literary world. Is there a specific person or even that made you a reader?
Wow, Andrew, I’ve been reading since I could read at about the age of five. In our family, reading aloud was a daily tradition, so I could get more stories when I could read myself. Kipling was an early favorite. I loved the way he talked to you, O Best Beloved, as though he were telling the story just to you. Winnie the Pooh, Just So Stories, The Wind in the Willows, both Alice books, Albert Payson Terhune because I loved dogs. Those were…

View original post 1,353 more words

History for a Supporting Character

roman tutor, roman learning

Three Shortcuts to Learning Story

3 shortcuts to learning story

True Romance, Clarence and Alabama, learn story from films

Read to Write

Reading is the inspiration for many writers to begin their own, writing career. For me it was reading and meeting an author when I was five. That’s what I want to do, was my childhood thought. Creating stories seemed like such a magical way to live a life.
As an adult, the hard truth hit that having a story idea and creating a story is a path fraught with pitfalls. When I  read my first short stories now, I am embarrassed at how they lacked story. Yep, those old tropes like a beginning, middle, and end, not to mention character revelation, action, description, and a story line that engages the reader.
Yes, there were scenes that even today can bring me to tears, but the story just did not hang together.

What’s a writer to do? Learn story.

The best and most lasting way to learn story is to go into other stories.  For fiction writers, there are three excellent ways to experience story.

  1. Read books
  2. Listen to books
  3. Watch films

However many posts (like this one, alas), software and online tools you gather they won’t help you as much as diving into other stories.

Focus On Good Writers In and Out of Your Genre

Reading books from the perspective of a writer is much different than as a reader. Once you begin the journey of writing you begin to notice things that an average reader does not.

  • The beginning – the first sentence, the hook, and the setup
  • Character arcs – not just the protagonist, but every character
  • Description – all five senses and what you need to fill in as the reader
  • The all-important Middle – how does the author keep your attention? What are the tension elements?
  • The antagonist – how is the antagonist developed
  • Point of view and why the author chose 1st person or 3rd
  • Tone – is it even throughout? Does it match the genre?
  • The ending

Yes, every element.
As you keep reading, you begin to start comparing your writing–in a good way. Would you use that plot device? Would your character have that flaw?
As you continue reading with a critical eye, you begin to see how writers, even major writers, have flaws. This is where it drags. I don’t believe that character would naturally perform that action or say those words.
The more you read, the better you understand story. 

Audiobooks and the Moments in Time

I used to have a book in different rooms–the bedroom, the kitchen, the living room. Now that I listen to audiobooks, I usually have one reading book in the bedroom and listen to audio books on my mobile device.
Applications like audible allow you to listen to books with some very dynamic readers. As you listen to the story, you can bookmark a passage with annotations like fight scene, forest description, interior monolog, deep point of view, etc. These bookmarks help later when you are constructing a certain passage in your story.
Because audio books are on a mobile device you can listen while cooking, gardening, walking the dog, driving and many other activities of daily life that would keep you from sitting down with a book.
I’ve increased my fiction “reading” since I started using audio books several years ago.

The Basics of Story: Movies

Screenwriters struggle with story basics like how to keep the middle from sagging the same way novelists do. Because films are a collaborative project scripts are the skeleton for the story that allows for interpretation from directors, actors, set designers, lighting engineers, etc. But, story basics are key to a good film.
Unlike a novel which may take hours or days to read from beginning to end, a movie is two hours or less of time. And you can spend this time with friends and family as a diversion from your solitary writing time.
Those two hours are filled with sparks for ideas: plot twists, supporting character arcs, subplots, character reveals, and the crucial elements of story getting from the beginning to the end.
The same is true for film as well as books, watch in your genre and outside of your genre to see how story is constructed.

Books, Audio Books, Film

As writers, we can always improve our craft. Learning from other writers builds an accumulation of skill points that cannot be matched. Balance your writing time by learning from others.

If you are a first time writer, developmental editing can help you strengthen your story structure. Check out my content editing service on Reedsy.
Zara Altair

Explore Character Development

Writing Exercise: Practicing the Craft

reading for writers, Ursula LeGuin, Zara Altair

Playing with Writing

A writer who wants to write good stuff needs to read great stuff.  
Ursula LeGuin says in her book Steering the Craft: A 21st-Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story. The book is a guide for writers. Each exercise is prefaced by examples from writers followed by a writing exercise following the premise of reading good stuff.
I’ve read many, many books about the craft of writing most of them filled with exercises that did not appeal to my imagination. I tried a few exercises and they felt…well…boring. I’d rather be writing my story.
On the other hand, improving my craft is important to me. That’s why I read all those books and took a stab at the exercises. I resonated with this book. If you are a writer, I highly recommend approaching your craft through the exercises.
If you are a reader, you may like seeing the kind of work a writer does that never makes it into the story you read.
The first chapter is about the sound of words, sentences, syntax and calls for some playful use of phrasing and has two parts.

The first exercise: Being Gorgeous

Being GorgeousMoisture dripped from the leaves–ferns, vines, orchids, and the round leaves of the giant tree; filled the air and planted inaudible droplets on the skin–cheeks, forehead, arms, ankles–like an unseen jacket against the cool grey day. The flutterings, slitherings, jumping, and hopping among the leaves–flashes of blue, green, red and slow and fast movement crept, crawled and leaped sustained by air and water. In her lungs the air was soft; breathing a quiet rhythm, a secret music filled with the air around. Anna said, “You know that play The Steam Room? What if waiting for God was like this?”


When he entered, what was left was things. He walked to her dressing table and touched each jar one by one. He opened one–Spikenard and something, an evening under the stars. He opened another and sniffed–faint earth in red powder. He opened them each, one by one and mixed all the contents on the table top. There was the white robe ready for the Christening hanging from the wardrobe. Her writing desk was clean except for a piece of thin vellum and a pen. He bent to look at the vellum: a quick note unfinished. Dearest Mother, I miss you. I feel alone. I am afraid. You said it would be like fire and joy…

He turned to look at the bed. The stripped mattress was covered in fresh bleached linen. He bent over and looked under the bed to see: nothing but the sunlight through the window lighting a bright spot on the floor on the other side of the bed. Not one piece of swaddling cloth. Not one drop of blood. He put his hands on the bed and raised himself up off the tiled floor. He put his face to the mattress; nothing of her. Nothing of a child. Nothing of a blue baby. Nothing of Julia.

Zara Altair

Creating a Template for Mysteries

The Author Behind The Story: Interview

Zara Altair author

First Author Interview


My first author interview. I am excited. Thanks so much to fellow author Katherine Hayton for inviting me to interview for her website.
Enjoy the interview. If you have any questions, get in touch I love talking with readers and other authors.

Zara Altair – The Used Virgin
Please tell us a bit about yourself
Zara Altair combines mystery with a bit of adventure in the Argolicus mysteries. The Used Virgin is the first in a series of mysteries based in southern Italy at the time of the Ostrogoth rule of Italy under Theoderic the Great. Italians (Romans) and Goths live under one king while the Roman Empire is ruled from Constantinople. At times the cultures clash, but Argolicus uses his wit, sometimes with help from his tutor Nikolaos, to provide justice in a province far from the King’s court.
Zara Altair lives in Beaverton, Oregon. She is a fiction author writing in the historical fiction genre. Her approach to writing is to present the puzzle and let Argolicus and Nikolaos find the solution encountering a bit of adventure and some humor in their search. Her stories are rich in historical detail based on years of research. Zara is working on a historical novel Felix Ravenna: A Mosaic set in the same time period with Argolicus as the main character. To get on the reader list for Argolicus fans go here (copy and paste to your browser).
Zara loves reader feedback. Be sure to leave a review. Write comments here on the Author Page. Zara replies to all comments.
Author Q&A
What genre are your books?
Historical mystery. In Italy, giallo storico.
What draws you to this genre?
I’ve been reading in this genre since Nancy Drew for mystery and a gift subscription to monthly history books for kids.
Have you ever considered writing stories for other genres?
Yes. I’ve ghostwritten a number of steamy romance books and sometimes I write science fiction.
When did you first discover your passion for writing?
I’ve been telling stories since I was two when I sat on the back porch and told stories to Yoohoody, the owl who perched in the tree. I’ve been writing stories since I was seven.
What inspired your latest novel?
A phone conversation with my daughter. We were talking about how much we love the Italian day and she said, “Mommy, you should go to Ravenna.” Then she told me about Theoderic leading his people across the frozen Danube and eventually arriving in Ravenna. I thought, “I wonder what it was like then?”
I started researching and discovered a time of divided loyalties, intense theological differences, and a “barbarian” who lived like an emperor.
Do you have a teaser for The Used Virgin?
After Rome, before the Middle Ages, Italy belonged to the Ostrogoths. A young magistrate of mixed ancestry retires to find people are just as corrupt and venal in the provinces.
A corrupt Governor. A young girl. And old man.
A ruined reputation is worse than murder in Italy. Argolicus and his lifelong tutor, Nikolaos, discover evil, greed, and extreme extortion.
Argolicus unravels the threads.
What is your least favorite word?
Do you ever read your stories out loud?
Always. And in my writing group we read each other’s work. You can instantly hear the clunks or the stumbles over awkward phrasing.
What’s the first book you remember making an indelible impression on you?
Anna Karenina. I couldn’t stop. I read all night and finished just after dawn.
Do you have a favorite author?
In historical fiction, Robert Harris. My favorite is Pompeii. I love how his “Roman” is an engineer. And, the reader knows from the beginning that Vesuvius is going to erupt. From that moment on, it is a cliffhanger. Plus, for world builders, his alternative history, Fatherland, is a prime example of a character caught in the surrounding culture.
What are you currently working on?
Along with the next short story, The Peach Widow, I’m always at work on the novel Felix Ravenna: A Mosaic which takes place two years after the mystery series. Oh, and there’s that other contemporary mystery series that is percolating in my head with retired detective, Jake “Cozy” Cozzens.
If your book were made into a movie, who would you cast?
When I started, it was Tom Hardy as Argolicus for the smoldering undercurrent, but Argolicus is 32 at the time of the mysteries, so I needed a new actor. Argolicus Clive Standen. Nikolaos Dragos Bucur.
What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
Write. Study story. Read in your genre. Start your author platform. It takes time. Have everything—author bio, book description, website, email autoresponder (emails written and sequenced), email opt-in—set up before you publish. Write. Edit. Keep writing. Connect with other writers. Plan you next book. Keep writing.
That’s all practical. Most importantly, believe in your story.
Is there anything you would like to add?
Katherine, thank you so much for the interview. Although writing is a solitary activity, sharing our individual stories is part of building a community.
Thank you, Zara. How can readers keep in touch?
Author WebsiteAuthor BlogFacebookTwitterLinkedinGoodreads,Amazon Author PageTHE USED VIRGIN
Thank you for reading.

Zara Altair

Ancient Hooligans Fought Over Religion

modern hooligans, writing research, Zara Altair