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Linda Ulleseit: “Write every day.”

Aloha is a very Hawaiian concept. I’m not Hawaiian, and though I’ve visited many times I’ve never lived there. This book is my tribute to those who have achieved the ability to live their lives with aloha. My main character finds it difficult, because of her upbringing, to appreciate the world around her. She has […]

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Aloha is a very Hawaiian concept. I’m not Hawaiian, and though I’ve visited many times I’ve never lived there. This book is my tribute to those who have achieved the ability to live their lives with aloha. My main character finds it difficult, because of her upbringing, to appreciate the world around her. She has trouble loving others who are awful to her. Only by learning to love and respect herself first can she pass aloha to others. This is a lesson that transcends culture. I hope readers see that the key to bettering your life is first bettering yourself.


As part of my interview series on the five things you need to know to become a great author, I had the pleasure of interviewing Linda Ulleseit.

Linda was born and raised in Saratoga, California, and has been a bookstore assistant manager, a Human Resources Director, an elementary school teacher, and a mom. She is Marketing Director for Women Writing the West and a founding member of Paper Lantern Writers. She has an MFA in writing from Lindenwood University and recently retired from teaching elementary school and now enjoys writing full time.


Thank you so much for joining us! Can you share a story about what brought you to this particular career path?

I have always loved to write. In fact, I have a very early story about a pig written in a multicolor crayon on newsprint. I never shared my writing with anyone, though, until I was an adult. While teaching sixth grade, I decided I couldn’t ask my students to write a good story if I couldn’t. I decided to finish a novel I’d been playing with for several years. When it was done, I thought it was pretty good and shared it with a couple of carefully chosen people. Like most first novels, it was garbage. Readers were encouraging, though. They liked the idea, and they liked my writing. That was all it took. I was off. That was five books ago.

Can you share the most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?

While researching The Aloha Spirit, my husband and I went to Kauai, the birthplace of his grandmother. We knew she’d been born in Mekaweli, which no longer exists except for a U.S. post office. We were thrilled to find that! We stayed at Waimea Plantation Cottages, in a cottage similar to the one his grandmother grew up in. It was extremely inspiring, and I wrote several chapters of my novel while we were there.

What was the biggest challenge you faced in your journey to becoming an author? How did you overcome it? Can you share a story about that that other aspiring writers can learn from?

When I first decided to write seriously, I was working full time as an elementary school teacher and my sons were away at college. Between summer vacations and no kids underfoot, I knew I’d have plenty of time to write. Where did all those hours go? I don’t know. I’d often go days, or even weeks without writing anything. It was hard to get started in the morning, and hard to stay focused. Most importantly, it was hard to believe that what I was writing was any good. I still struggle with these things, but I have the success of having published five books to prove that I can do it. If you are a new author, please surround yourself with support. I am a member of groups on Facebook and Goodreads for both readers and writers. I also joined a handful of organizations that offer writing critique groups. Having to produce something for my writing group really pokes me to get started!

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

My first novel was a Young Adult historical fantasy involving herds of flying horses. My initial plan was to place it in modern-day, in the Sierra Nevada mountains in California. In the back of my head, I was thinking of Rick Riordan’s The Lightning Thief, which puts Greek mythology in modern settings. The first time I submitted a chapter to a writing group, I was crushed. They wanted the flying horses to be dragons. They hated the setting. The modern-day premise didn’t work. I took all their criticism stoically and rewrote the book entirely to set it in medieval Wales. I did a lot of substituting “he threw on a cloak” for “he zipped up his jacket.” I eagerly accepted every suggestion anyone made. In the process, I completely ruined the book. It took me several more years to strip it down and polish it. It still ended up with flying horses in medieval Wales.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

My most recent two books are based on the lives of family members. I have some incredible female ancestors whose stories deserve to be told. I don’t know enough about them to write a biography, but historical fiction works very well. My newest book, The Aloha Spirit, was inspired by my husband’s grandmother, who overcame an incredibly difficult youth to become an amazing woman. My work in progress focuses on an ancestor born at Fort Snelling in Minnesota in 1835 when that area was the center of the frontier. Many famous people were in the area, like Zachary Taylor, Jefferson Davis, Will Clark, Dred Scott, and even Abraham Lincoln.

Can you share the most interesting story that you shared in your book?

In The Aloha Spirit, I had to tell the story of civilians in Honolulu during and after the Pearl Harbor attack. I interviewed my husband’s grandfather, who was working at Pearl Harbor that morning. He was a civilian ship fitter. When the bombs began to drop, he and a buddy were sent him out on the deck to remove scaffolding from the ship they were working on so they could move it to safety. Later, he helped workers trying to save men trapped in Oklahoma. His first-person account showed both his terror during the attack and his pride in the part he was able to play.

What is the main empowering lesson you want your readers to take away after finishing your book?

Aloha is a very Hawaiian concept. I’m not Hawaiian, and though I’ve visited many times I’ve never lived there. This book is my tribute to those who have achieved the ability to live their lives with aloha. My main character finds it difficult, because of her upbringing, to appreciate the world around her. She has trouble loving others who are awful to her. Only by learning to love and respect herself first can she pass aloha to others. This is a lesson that transcends culture. I hope readers see that the key to bettering your life is first bettering yourself.

Based on your experience, what are the “5 Things You Need to Know to Become a Great Author”? Please share a story or example for each.

1. Develop a thick skin when you let others read your work. You’ll never become great if you let readers’ comments affect your work. In my most recent novel, The Aloha Spirit, my husband’s aunts make an appearance. The addition of another child interrupted the flow of the story, so I only used one of them in the book. I had to tell the aunt who didn’t make it before the book was released. Luckily, she laughed and made me promise to make her the heroine in my next book.

2. Create relationships on social media. Yeah, I know, I hate that this is necessary, too. Unfortunately, in this day and age, you cannot get your book in front of people unless you work social media, and no one will know you are great unless they read your book. At first, I went crazy and signed up for every social media I could think of. I was quickly overwhelmed. Now I put my efforts into Facebook, Goodreads, Twitter, and Instagram. By focusing, I can interact with other people.

3. Invest in professional editing. I don’t care how wonderful a writer you are, your work will benefit from fresh eyes. I was asked to review an ARC once where the main character’s name changed halfway through the book. That’s an obvious and very embarrassing error.

4. Read books in your genre. I write what’s in my head, not what the market requires, but it’s helpful to know, for example, that YA books are generally written in the first person while historical fiction is in third. I, of course, wrote my YA trilogy in the third person and my first historical fiction in first. That’s how the stories came to me, and so I wrote them that way. My most recent novel is in the third person as it should be. We’ll see if that makes a difference in sales or acclaim.

5. Write every day. Even if your work in progress is not going well, write something. It can be a future scene in the book, a journal, a character sketch, anything. For one of my YA flying horse books, when I was stuck one day, I took a minor character and wrote him an ancillary scene that didn’t appear in the book. I liked him and ended up giving him a bigger role in the novel. He’s one of my readers’ favorite characters.

What is the one habit you believe contributed the most to you becoming a great writer? (i.e. perseverance, discipline, play, craft study) Can you share a story or example?

I’ve always said that anyone can be a great writer with perseverance. If you can persevere through writing the first draft, through editing and revising (multiple times), through the query process and through publication, you can be a great author. To be a successful author you also need to persevere through marketing the heck out of your book, but that’s a different topic.

Which literature do you draw inspiration from? Why?

Any book where the author transports me to another time and place inspires me. A well-written character, or a moving scene, is also inspirational. The author who does this most often for me is Diana Gabaldon. Her Outlander series is a masterwork in characterization and setting. Maybe one reason she inspires me so is that I had the opportunity to meet her at one of her book signings. I told her how she inspired me. I’m sure she hears that often, but it was an important moment for me.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

As a retired public school teacher, I know that education is the future of our country. Unfortunately, because it is also the most expensive part of the budget, it is the first target for cuts when money is tight. Too often, monetary concerns triumph over the needs of the teachers and students. As a nation, we should increase our respect for teachers and value their opinions about what is best for students. We need to ensure that everyone, no matter where they live, what language they speak, or what race they are, receives the best education that can be provided. The money is there. It’s just being spent on other priorities, and that needs to stop.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Everything is funneled through my website: ulleseit.com. I am also on Paper Lantern Writers, Facebook, Goodreads, Twitter, and Instagram. On Goodreads I host a book club for historical fiction readers called Paper Lantern Writers Read! Come follow me everywhere!

Thank you so much for this. This was very inspiring!

Thank you for having me! This was fun.

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