A Few (more) Quick Questions With…Michael Landweber

Oh, wow…hard to believe it’s been almost 4 years since we did this for Thursday, 1:17 PM! Apparently, he’s used the time very well. I had many, many questions I’d like to ask about The In Between, but they’d require hours of both of us (and would probably eliminate the need for anyone who read this to listen to the book)— so, I’ll limit myself to these.

How is the process different for you in preparing something for an Audible Original rather than print?
The process of writing the book was no different than my usual process, which is to charge headlong into it and hope for the best. The initial editorial process was also similar. It was a joy to work with my editor at Audible, Lara Blackman. As all good editors do, she helped me improve the book significantly. There are some editorial differences for audio only that I would have never considered, such as limiting dialogue tags (“she said”) because the narrators are doing that work for you. But overall I did not change my approach much to write this as an Audible Original.
What part of this novel came first? The teleportation technology (and/or the problems with it), the world, the characters? And then how did you go about adding the rest?
I always start books with a what if question. In this case, it was what if you got lost teleporting. Of course, once a question sticks in my mind, I face the far more difficult task of figuring out how to turn the answer into a compelling story. So characters and plot come next with the world filling in around them. In this case, when I realized that it was a child who gets lost, I knew I had my novel. I’ve got two kids myself, and even though they’re teenagers now and slightly less prone to wandering off, the thought of them being lost is terrifying.
Why Tokyo? I get Omaha, but what was it that made Tokyo the destination for the family? (I have theories, e.g. the opportunity to write off a trip to Japan on your taxes, but I’d rather hear from you)
Actually, Omaha is a more random choice for me than Tokyo. I was an East Asian Studies major in college, focusing on Japan. After graduation, I lived in Tokyo for a year, working at the English-language Japan Times as a copy editor. It is a wonderful country and fascinating from an outsider perspective. Japan is also such a tech-forward place and Tokyo itself has so many hidden oddities in those towering buildings that it made sense to me that folks might be running bootleg teleporters in Akihabara.
When self-driving cars become the norm, are you going to be one insisting on manual control?
I am definitely a Luddite when it comes to self-driving cars. I just can’t bring myself to trust them. I get nervous even watching ads where the cars are parking themselves. Logically, I know that self-driving cars are probably less prone to fatal errors that human beings. But I still can’t quite fathom being in a car that is driving itself. This is not a new issue for me. In high school, I wrote a terrible story about a guy who gets into a self-driving cab that follows everything he says literally. The guy gets pissed and yells “Go to Hell!” That was a pretty typical ending for the stories I wrote in high school.
(I’d pay to read a copy of that story…)

So how awesome are Brittany Pressley and Mark Boyett as narrators? (there’s a softball for you)

They are amazing. When I found out that I would be able to make suggestions on the narrators, I canvassed my friends who are Audible listeners for ideas. Both Brittany and Mark’s names came up repeatedly. I’m also very lucky that Audible decided to give me two narrators for the alternating Lillian and Jackson chapters. The combination of the two voices really brings the book to life.
(I want the record to show that I hadn’t read these responses when I wrote my post about the book, I didn’t steal this phrase from him. But glad to see I’m not alone in thinking it.)

Thanks for your time and willingness to let me badger you with these questions–I really enjoyed The In Between and truly hope that it finds the audience it deserves.

A Few Quick Questions With…Noelle Holten

Struck by inspiration a couple of days ago, I hit Holten up with a last-minute request to participate in this, which she graciously agreed to and found time in her busy schedule. Hope you enjoy this half as much as I did.

In case you haven’t read my posts about her books, Dead Inside and Dead Wrong, you should before (or after) you read this, so you have a clue what we’re talking about.

So what was it that flipped the switch for you to move from Award Winning Book Blogger to Crime Fiction Writer?
I’ve been an avid reader of crime fiction for so many years – too many to mention. In the back of my head I had always wished I could write a book but never thought I could string a story together. I was encouraged by other writers who I had met at various festivals and then in 2017 I attended Crime & Publishment run by Graham Smith with Michael J Malone. All I had was the prologue to Dead Inside and when I finally showed it to both of them (separately) and got the same reaction – ‘Wow. That’s powerful’ I thought maybe I could actually write a book… 12 weeks later, the draft for Dead Inside was complete!
If that draft prologue was close to the published version, I can easily see why they’d react that way. I did. 🙂

Technically, Dead Inside was a Maggie Jamieson book, but it was Lucy Sherwood’s just as much (if not more). Was the plan all along to slide into Maggie’s series like or did Dead Inside evolve into a story focusing on Lucy?

Dead Inside had always been Lucy’s story. In fact, Maggie had originally only played a small part in the book and the whole series I had mapped out in my mind. I always saw this as an ensemble series – many, if not most of the main players would be introduced in Dead Inside and then each of the following books would focus on someone else – with the police & Maggie solving any crimes that came up. My publisher felt that a police procedural would be a better focus and so I brought DC Maggie Jamieson more into the story. Dead Wrong was/is her story and we see much more of her in the other books that follow.
How was the experience of writing Dead Wrong different than Dead Inside? Having the confidence from one under your belt, was it easier? Or was it like starting from Square One again?
I think writing Dead Wrong was much harder. Although I had an idea mapped out, I had Dead Inside in my head for a few years – or at least an outline of it. I also didn’t have deadlines to meet! That makes a huge difference no matter how disciplined you are! I still feel very much a newbie to the game and love learning more about writing as each book comes alive. I don’t think it will ever get easier for me as I am always worried that I won’t write a story that people will want to read – the whole imposter syndrome sets in.
Obviously, you’re a Crime Book Junkie, but is there another genre you’d like to try your hand at?
If I had to choose another genre it might be horror – as I definitely would have no chance at writing a rom com or sci fi – I know I couldn’t do it! I do have an idea for a stand alone psychological thriller – so I might try that one day.
Let’s play “Online Bookstore Algorithm” (a game I’ve recently invented). What are 3-5 books whose readers may like Dead Inside? [N.B. I meant to ask about Dead Wrong, whoops.]
Oh this is a tough one! Ok, I have some series in mind so I will choose one book from those I guess!
Silent Scream by Angela Marsons
Somewhere to Hide by Mel Sherratt
A Suitable Lie by Michael J MaloneI can’t really think of others off the top of my head but the above I think each have a similar feeling to Dead Inside that I think readers would enjoy if they enjoyed these books.
What’s next for Noelle Holten, author?
I have a few crime festivals I will be attending either as an avid fan of crime fiction or on a panel. I am currently editing the third book in the series (cover and title to be revealed soon I hope – woohoo!) and that should be out towards the end of this year. I’m also about 20k into writing Book 4. I work full time as well and although blogging itself has taken a back burner, I am still reading and reviewing too. Somewhere in between all that I try and sleep too!
It’s Release Day Eve for Dead Wrong. How nervous are you? How’s it compare to Dead Inside?
I am EXTREMELY nervous. I think I feel exactly the same as I did when Dead Inside came out but maybe even a little more nervous. I mean, what if people don’t like Dead Wrong?! What if they were expecting something exactly the same as my first book – and it’s not the same – oh my god, the nerves!! So yeah, I don’t think it gets any easier.
Thanks for your time—and thanks for Dead Wrong, I’m really enjoying it, and hope you have plenty of success with it.
Thank YOU for having me and after your incredible review of Dead Inside. I am SO NERVOUS to hear what you think of Dead Wrong.

A Few (more) Quick Questions With…Matthew Hanover

So, I gushed a bit about Hanover’s upcoming novel, Not Dressed, earlier. Now it’s time to ask him a few questions about it and a few other things. I should add, the book is available for pre-order, get on it.

With maybe two exceptions, I’ve only had good experiences doing these Q&As over the years, but this was by far the best—Hanover went well above and beyond the call with this one and was more than generous with his time and effort. Drinks are on me if we’re ever in the same city, sir.

Before we move to Not Dressed, let’s look back at Not Famous for a moment—I’ve asked a couple of your colleagues this question, and I’d love to hear your perspective: Why is it, do you think, that male readers respond so strongly to books about music? (your novels, Hornby’s, etc.)
I think—and I could be wrong—but the love of music is such a universal thing that it’s easy for male readers to relate to characters that are interested in music, or music-themed books. It’s a universal language we can all understand even if we listen to different stuff.
What lessons were you able to take from the writing, editing, marketing, launch, etc. of Not Famous to the process for Not Dressed? Were there some things that you assumed “Oh, I’ll know better next time” or “I’ve got to do this again for the next book” that in the end, you couldn’t use? Was this an easier process, more difficult, or are the experiences so tied to the different books that you can’t compare?
Not Famous did better than I expected, but I kind of set a low bar for myself as to how it would perform. I was generally happy with the launch, but when sales slowed down, I was often told that the best thing to do is to write your second book because it’s easier to sell a novel if you have more than one. So, I’m hoping that plays out, but I’ve also learned that promoting a novel—any novel—is really hard work. Both traditional and indie authors are competing with millions of other authors trying to get their novels read. While I consider my genre to be “lad lit” it’s also quite clear that most readers are women, and you have to market to women readers as much as men.

One thing that was really different was the time it took to complete each novel. Not Famous was mostly an on-and-off effort over seven years to finish the first draft. Not Dressed took seven months to complete the first draft. My writing has also become a bit more efficient. The first draft of Not Famous was over 107,000 words. The first draft of Not Dressed was 97,000. They both ended up at approximately 94,000 words, so there was a lot more cut from the first novel, which makes sense because I was still learning how to write fiction. I suspect future books will also get easier to write. Whether I’ll improve on my marketing remains to be seen. We’ll see how this new novel goes!

Let’s turn to Not Dressed now: Jake has two significant females in his life his girlfriend (a talk radio producer/co-host who moonlights doing nude modeling) and his new friend (a giant geek who doesn’t know what to do with her life), which came first—the nude modeling hook or the idea for a geeky best friend? And just where, if you can recall, did the girlfriend helping make ends meet via nude modeling come from in the first place?
I knew I wanted to do a workplace comedy for my next novel, and my original development of ideas focused entirely on that. But, I think a good novel requires multiple arcs to be really interesting, and so the first arc hat I came up with was the nude modeling one. I’d been trying to write a short story about a guy whose girlfriend models nude for a long time, even before Not Famous was finished, but I just couldn’t get it to work as a short story. It worked great for the novel because she is driven to model because they’re trying to make ends meet, and her solution to that problem causes another, bigger problem for their relationship.

The geek girl theme I came up with towards the end of writing the first draft of Not Famous when I came up with the scene where the main characters end up at a vintage gaming night. I loved the idea of exploring that type of character and quickly realized a geek girl as a love interest would be a lot of fun to write. And so I decided to use that in my next novel.

Kaylee’s more than just a geek, there’s more to her than the excellent taste in SF/F, how did you make her more than the stereotype?
Developing Kaylee as a character was even more fun than I thought it would be. She started as more of a retro gamer geek but eventually decided to make her a sci-fi geek with an affinity for Star Trek.

To really capture the realistic geek girl I reached out to people on social media, and drew upon my own interactions, and came up with a series of traits and quirks that I thought made her as realistic as possible. I liked making her a bit quirky with her geek obsessions, like her OCD with mixing and matching clothes from different SF/F properties. Which I thought was a fun trait. Most young women would say they feel sexier wearing matching bra and panties, Kaylee, however, would never wear Marvel and DC Comics together. I thought that was a perfect manifestation of her personality.

I’d forgotten you’d said that there’d be a tie between Not Famous and Not Dressed, so it was a pleasant surprise when I got to that passage. How fun was that to write? How tempting was it to bring the two sets of characters together more?
After Not Famous I heard from readers who said they’d love a sequel. I knew I didn’t want to write a sequel because I felt that I was done writing Nick and Alli’s story, and any attempt to continue it in a new novel would take me in a direction I don’t want to go down. But having the book set in the same universe was a lot of fun, and I started planning for this before finishing Not Famous. You may recall that Not Famous begins after Nick has a one-night-stand with Emma, who works at Burnham & Modine—the office where Jake, the main character of Not Dressed, works. I loved doing this as opposed to a sequel, and I really enjoyed featuring more of Emma in this novel. Her friendship with Jake is loosely modeled off a friendship I have with a female coworker.

Readers of Not Famous will be happy to know that even though they don’t appear in this novel, you will get some gossip about how things are going with them.

Typically, when I run into architecture in fiction, it’s the kind of career that Jake imagined himself having, not what he ends up with. Burnham & Modine, the architecture firm that Jake works for, strikes me as incredibly accurate—is that the result of research (if so, how did you go about that) or is this from personal experience (not necessarily as bad)?
I know a lot of architects because I work in marketing for a developer. So, over the years I’ve heard all kinds of horror stories about working in the business, and overwhelmingly I hear that the job isn’t as glamorous as it is made out to be in fiction and in Hollywood. And I loved that because it was a great angle to play up in juxtaposition to the theme of expectations versus reality. I also used some generic bad office stories I’ve experienced as well.
Sisters play a significant role in both of your books—is this coincidence? Do you owe your own sister some debt you’re repaying?
It’s not entirely a coincidence, that’s for sure. I think the dynamic between siblings makes for great stories, and while each novel delves into a sibling relationship, these relationships are completely different.

In Not Famous, Nick has a much younger half-sister going through her own coming-of-age issues. In Not Dressed, Kaylee has a younger sister, close in age, who, unlike Kaylee, was popular in high school, had a lot of boyfriends, and ultimately reaches certain life goals before Kaylee does. This wasn’t one of my original ideas, but as I developed Kaylee’s character and her backstory, I really liked the idea that while she’s comfortable being a geek she feels insecure around her popular younger sister. It really made for an interesting character and resulted in some of my favorite scenes in the novel.

That said, it wasn’t my original intention to have another sibling conflict in this story, but it really gave Kaylee the depth I felt she needed to be a three-dimensional character. She’s not defined just by her geeky interests alone, but by a rivalry with her younger sister who had a much easier time growing up because of her popularity.

It appears you put a lot of thought into the backstories of your female love interest characters. How do you approach creating these and making them realistic and unique?
I’m really proud of both characters and how they turned out. I spend a lot of time thinking about the backstories of my main characters and how that affects their actions throughout the story. I spent seven years thinking and rethinking and tweaking Alli Conwell’s backstory for Not Famous because it needed to explain so much of her behavior long before the reader finds out what her backstory really is.

Developing Kaylee and her backstory was a similar, albeit quicker, process. First and foremost, I wanted Kaylee to be different from Alli. But, I think readers will find lots of similarities and differences between them. Both are ambitious, but Alli knew what her path was, and Kaylee doesn’t. Alli is independent and works hard to maintain that independence. Kaylee, however, still lives with her parents and is trying hard to find her true calling so she can be independent. As for their differences, Alli is shy, while Kaylee is more free-spirited. Alli was proudly innocent and virtuous. Kaylee, however, feels insecure about her lack of experience and has years of pent up jealousy of her promiscuous younger sister. Despite their differences, both are strong young women with hopes, dreams, and fears.

How much Star Trek: The Next Generation did you have to watch to get this written? Favorite episodes from this time?
I actually binge-watched the entire series as research. I’d seen bits and pieces before, which is why I chose that particular Star Trek show to be her primary obsession. I wanted to have her quote some episodes and really feel like a genuine Trekkie. I also got the idea of her being fluent in Klingon after watching the show and learning about the subculture of people who have done just that. I even got help from the Klingon Language Institute (yup, there’s such a thing) to help with the translations when Kaylee speaks Klingon. I thought it would be a fun easter egg for Trekkies who know Klingon to read it.

TNG has a lot of great episodes, and I would have loved to have quoted more, but one of my favorites does get a mention by Kaylee as one of her favorites, too.

What’s next for Author Matthew Hanover? Is Novel #3 underway, or are you solely focused (for now) on getting this launched?
I’m currently focused on the forthcoming launch of Not Dressed, but I have been jotting down ideas and notes for a third novel, of which I’ve already determined the primary plot. Just like Not Dressed, it will be in the same universe as Not Famous and have some character crossovers.
Thanks so much for your time and help in getting this Q&A into better shape. Also, thanks for Not Dressed, I had a blast with it and hope that it finds its audience.

A Few Quick Questions With…Shellie Bowdoin

While I didn’t love Find Your Weigh as much as one might have hoped, I’m still very pleased to have the author, Shellie Bowdoin, participate in a quick Q&A about the book, so you can get a perspective on the book straight from the source.

You talk a little about this in the book, but tell us a little bit about the path to deciding to write this – what was it that made you decide it was time to write this book?
                     When I first started my own weight journey that eventually resulted in the book, Find Your Weigh, I was learning so much about myself and about food and I wanted to share it with others. That’s when I started my blog, The FABulous Journey. After a year of blogging, I realized that I had written so much that it was time to put it all together in one place. I wanted others to experience the same kind of freedom that I found after years of struggling with food.
What led you to combine general health/wellness material with Biblical material? Is there a danger of losing an audience? Do you think a reader can profit from the book while skipping the Biblical material?
                     When I first started blogging about the food/mind connection with food, I wrote from the general wellness perspective. And, for that time in my life, I felt satisfied with dispensing knowledge. However, as a Christian, I began to feel that I was neglecting an essential aspect of my journey. Eventually, I decided that I could no longer speak about one and ignore the other, because frankly I see this as a problem that a lot of Christians experience with our weight. We go to God with everything in our lives, except our weight.

I definitely believe non-Christian readers can gain considerable value from the book. The practical concepts of the book are well-researched and applicable to all. Essentially, our weight is the result of our behavior with food, which is informed by our beliefs; no matter what those beliefs may be.

What’s your background in both aspects (theology/wellness) that made you the person to write this book?
                     I have served as foreign missionary for the past 25 years and I have a masters degree in ministry, so I have the biblical background to present the spiritual concepts in the book. I am also a normal woman who has struggled with a food fixation for years, which makes my message real and relatable.
What you leave out is almost as important as what you put into a book, what kinds of things did you end up not putting in the book? How hard was the decision to not cover certain things?
                     This is actually the second edition of Find Your Weigh. In the first version, I talked a lot more about the fitness aspect. While I still feel it’s important, I didn’t want to alienate readers or make them think, “I can’t do that.” Because if truth be told, we’ve all been in that place where we try to convince ourselves that we just don’t have that special something that others do or that we’re flawed with food. Are we all different? Yes. That’s why people have to figure out what makes them tick with food and then develop habits that are tailored and suited for their lives and realities. I believe EVERYONE can do that.
What’s the one (or two) book/movie/show in the last 5 years that made you say, “I wish I’d written that.”?
                     I absolutely loved, “The Help.” I grew up in the South and I got it all. It takes awesome talent to shine a light on injustice and make people feel the pain of it.
What was the biggest surprise about the writing itself? Either, “I can’t believe X is so easy!” or “If I had known Y was going to be so hard, I’d have skipped this and watched more TV”.
                     “Wow, has this whole process been considerably harder than I could have imagined! I bit it off in pieces. First, I wrote the first edition of the book; then I wrote the 9-session Bible Study with a pilot group; then I rewrote the whole book; then came the video scripts for the study and finally the narration of the audiobook. But, all of that paled in comparison to the task of marketing and preparing the project for release. It’s one thing to put your heart and soul into something; it’s entirely another to entrust it to others. It has been an emotional journey for me and I have learned a lot along the way.
Thanks for your time—and thanks for Find Your Weigh, I enjoyed it, and hope you have plenty of success with it.

A Few Quick Questions With…T Gamache

Earlier this morning, I posted my thoughts about T Gamache’s novel, Not-So-Common People. He was kind enough to take a few minutes to A a few Q’s that I sent his way. I think you’ll appreciate these answers, I did.

Most authors have dozens of ideas bouncing around their craniums at once — what was it about this idea that made you say, “Yup — this is the one for me.”?
                     Well, it’s interesting. This started as a way to write with my 12-year-old son. He had a story idea he was trying to get out but I couldn’t get him to commit to writing. So we both did NaNoWriMo in 2018. I had no idea what I was going to do and then one day Nathan showed up.

He was a fully formed character in my head so I just started putting him on an adventure and the story began unfolding for me. So, I guess there weren’t many other ideas at that time, so this one stuck. Now, I have a couple of plot lines I’m trying to work on, but Nathan is calling back into his world, so I think I need to finish that one first.

In the writing of Not-So-Common People, what was the biggest surprise about the writing itself? Either, “I can’t believe X is so easy!” or “If I had known Y was going to be so hard, I’d have skipped this and watched more TV.”
                     Being that it was my first venture into writing, I wasn’t aware of the pantser vs plotter approach to the art. And I am definitely a pantser. I found it really cool when I would sit down and I had the major plot points in my head, and I knew I needed to get from A to B, but once the story would start to move it would take its own direction. I would get there, but now I had new side stories and things to think about.

Many of the characters were spun on the fly and looking back that seemed really cool to me. As a musician, I am used to improvising when playing and thinking my parts up as I go, but to see this happen in another art form was really a new experience for me.

Nate’s feud with Rick felt very real – is this an autobiographical bit? Did you have a fued/frenemy relationship with a Record Store owner you based it on? Or is it just a bit of genius on your part?
                     Lol-I would love to say genius on my part, but I think it more comes from many 2 AM conversations I have had with other musicians whether it was when I was in college as a music major or on the road playing in my early 20’s. You know there are always those arguments, Beatles vs. Stones or Paul vs John, or any other rock comparison you want to make. And true music lovers are an opinionated bunch. So Rick just embodies those conversations for me. I knew that Nathan needed another neurotic person that he could relate to, but in true Nathan form, would also annoy him.
Why is it, do you think, that male readers respond so strongly to books about music/protagonists who are so focused on music? (your novel, Hornby’s, etc.)
                     I have often wondered that myself. I’ve seen it be a common theme in the lad-lit world, and I have to think that it ties to the passion many males have for music and the feelings it brings out. For me, it was writing about what I know, so it came easy. Also, I think that music lovers tend to make interesting and deep characters that a “thinking man” can relate to. I mean if you look at Hornby, it’s music and sports. Two things that are very tribal to guys and when you combine that with a passionate fandom (I think Fever Pitch and High Fidelity) I think it makes for a really interesting story. Plus, as a guy, when I walk into a bookstore and I want to find a fiction story, sometimes I don’t want a story about war or spies or murder, I just want a happy and funny book. I’m not really all that interested in what I see in the romance isle, so I think that’s where stories like this come in. And music seems to be a place of common ground.
There are a lot of characters to focus on in this book, but let’s go with Anne – how did you go about creating that character? How do you keep someone like her from being idealized/unrealistic?
                     Well, to be honest, when I first started developing the character of Anne I based a lot of her on how I felt when I first met my wife. She (Anne, not my wife) has since taken a different direction in book 2, but being that we are seeing her through Nathan’s lens, she was seen as someone who he had never had in his life in this way before. When you meet your spouse to be, I find that it is not the fireworks they like to portray in the movies, but more of a feeling of “I can’t imagine my life without this person” and it grows from there. At least that’s how it happened for me. So being that we are so close to Nathan’s emotions in all of this, we are seeing her as someone he feels he can’t be without because he has never had something outside of his friends and his music that he has ever been passionate about. He is an “all or nothing” personality so everything in his life is either an obsession or part of the background noise. So, in his mind she is someone that may come across as unrealistic, but again that is her being Nathanized. When I am able to flesh out her story more in the next book, I think she will read as a little more grounded. That’s my hope, we’ll see how I do.
Thanks for your time and willingness to let me badger you with these questions – again, I enjoyed Not-So-Common People and hope it finds success.

A Few Quick Questions With…Steven Max Russo

I’ve blogged about Russo’s two novels now, and thankfully, I got to ask him a few questions about himself and his books. If you like this Q&A, be sure you check out Thieves and The Dead Don’t Sleep.

Tell us about your road to publication—was your plan/dream always to become a novelist and your education/other jobs were just to get you to this point, or was this a later-in-life desire?
I can’t say that my plan was to become a novelist, but it was always a dream of mine. I guess since high school I’ve harbored a secret desire to become an author. I wrote short stories and took several creative writing classes in college, and even began a novel once I got out of school, but I never got around to finishing it.

The truth is, when I was young, I just didn’t know how to go about becoming a writer. Also, deep down, I didn’t think I had the talent or perseverance to actually write an entire book.

I ended up becoming an advertising copywriter by default I suppose. It involves creative writing, but of a totally different sort.

Anyway, a few years back, I was feeling creatively frustrated and one night I just sat down and wrote a short story. It was about a young white collar criminal who is coerced into helping commit a murder.

I sent that story out, almost as a lark, and to my total astonishment a small online publication called The Rag actually published it. Paid me for it too!

That reignited the fire and I began writing seriously.

In Thieves, it’s really Skooley and Esmerelda’s story, and really you could’ve told the whole story without them (and Ray). But you kept bringing in Loretta. Can you—without spoiling anything—explain why you brought her into the story, what did she add that Esmerelda couldn’t have on her own?
An interviewer once asked me if I was a “plotter” or a “pantser.” Unfortunately, I am a pantser. That is, I don’t plot out where the story is going, I simply write by the seat of my pants.

I often tell people that I feel more like a reporter chronicling the events taking place than I do an author writing fiction. That is, I write what I see in my head. When I brought Loretta into the story, I was simply following Skooley as he left the house and went searching for something to eat. He ran into Loretta in a bar. I didn’t plan it that way, that’s just the way it happened.

What I think Loretta does is address a certain humanityand lack of humanityin the story.

She is the only main character that is even remotely likable. She is a victim and I think deep down sees herself as a victim. And to the psychopath, Skooley, she helps further show the depths of his depravity and psychosis.

She also helps ratchet up the tension.

Turning to The Dead Don’t Sleep, there’s at least a dozen things I want to ask. But I’m going to go with this one: The National League All Stars—where did this idea come from (both the name and the concept)? It seems like something that’s close to fact, but skewed a bit to the fictional side.
As I stated above, when I started this story, I didn’t know where it was going. I introduced this group of nasty characters and I knew they were tied to Frank’s past, but I wanted to isolate them, make them a specific group or subset that Frank could identify. Not everyone (such as Frank himself) who participated in this particular program during the war was a bad actor. Also, as the story progressed, these old baseball cards that are left were a device I could use to point the finger back at this group.

As for the name I chose, I wanted something that was instantly recognizable. It also allowed my characters to leave something that could be easily carried (baseball cards – one early reader of the manuscript, a big baseball fan, actually corrected the playing position of one of the baseball players I used) and it also allowed me to point directly to the relevant era.

Lastly, it gives the reader a hint at the false self-image this group had of itselfas an elite commando unit (hence All Stars)while their actions show that they were basically a group of drugged up, violent, and somewhat inept psychopaths.

Who are some of your major influences? (whether or not you think those influences can be seen in your work—you know they’re there)
I’d have to say that the three writers who influenced me most were Elmore Leonard, Ernest Hemingway, and Stephen King. If anyone can say they actually see their influences in my writing, I’d be immensely pleased! But I, and I believe most writers, are influenced by many of the writers we read. The trick is taking all these influences and putting them into the blender of your own imagination and then coming out with a voice that is your own, even if that voice sounds vaguely (or not so vaguely) like someone else’s.
Is there a genre that you particularly enjoy reading, but could never write? Or are you primarily a mystery/suspense/thriller reader?
I think when it comes to my own enjoyment, I am primarily a mystery/suspense/thriller reader. As far as what I can or cannot write, that remains to be seen. I am a novice author. I hate to admit it, but technically, I don’t really know what I’m doing! I can honestly say that I don’t see myself writing cozy mysteries or romance novelsbut who knows? I enjoy writing and telling stories and am just as surprised as readers are as to where the story is going next!
What’s next for Steven Max Russo?
Well, I’ve written a new book (my third) titled The Debt Collector that is now with my new agent (Peter Rubie of FinePrint Lit) and I am working on two more novels. I’m not really sure what the future holds. I plan to keep on writing. How much time I have to devote to writing novels, at least in the short term, will depend at least in part on how well my books are received, and how many I sell.
Thanks for your time—and thanks for both of these reads, I enjoyed them and hope you have plenty of success with both of them.

A Few Quick Questions With…Dr. Heather L. Beal

Earlier, I posted my quick take on Hurricane Vacation, I’ve now read and written about three of Dr. Beal’s books, it’s about time I asked her a few questions, right? I really am impressed with the idea behind this series of books and hope that they find their way into the lives of many children. (while being very glad I live in Idaho, where most of them aren’t applicable). Here’s some more information about the author and her books—I hope you enjoy.

Tell us about your road to publication—you talk about it a little on your website, but how did you make the decision to apply your education in writing books for children? Having made that decision, how did you implement it? How steep was that learning curve behind the first book?
Great questions. First, I tried to explain a tornado watch to my daughter one rainy, stormy, evening when I feared the watch might become a warning. Needless to say, I failed horribly and ended up scaring her. It was then that I realized that not only had I chosen the wrong time to talk with her (right before or during the event).

I started researching what was available and while I found a lot of ‘science of’ types of books, nothing was out there that could teach my daughter what to do ‘just in case’ in an age-appropriate way. Once I realized there was a gap, I decided I wanted to do something about it. I starting learning about book design, formatting, and structure. I had already dabbled in fiction books, but I had never looked at writing children’s books. As a linguist I realized that writing a children’s book was simply talking ‘child’ and the children in my books wanted their voices heard in their own special ways.

The steepest part of the learning curve had to be not so much the writing, the story developed as I wrote, but in how to balance the message, keep the story interesting, make sure children could learn how to be safe, and do it in as few words as possible. I would say that the struggle was, and continues to be, balancing that word count against everything I, and my beta-readers (mostly emergency managers like myself), think should be in the books that teach little ones how to stay safe.

I don’t want to ask “where do you get your ideas?” But how tricky is it to figure out how to present the topic to your readers? What’s been the hardest (or, if it’s a better story, the most surprisingly easy) of the topics so far to tackle?
When I started, I had a variety of topics I wanted to cover, and I still do. Before starting my third book, Lions, Leopards and Storm, Oh My, I took it to my followers, the 1,000 or so subscribers of my newsletter and asked them – where should the focus be? Hurricanes, volcanoes, severe weather, etc. The consensus was severe weather, followed by hurricanes, so that was where I got my ‘marching orders’ for the 3rd and 4th books.

The trick, or the hardest thing I feel I have to do, is figure out how to introduce all the topics, various disasters, without making my kiddos look like the unluckiest children on earth to experience everything – lol! I find that while some of the experiences can naturally occur within a classroom environment, as it might happen in day-to-day experiences such as the tornado in Elephant Wind, the storm in Lions, Leopards, and Storms, Oh My or the training for earthquakes in Tummy Rumble Quake, not everything would. For this latest book, Hurricane Vacation, the kids are visiting their cousin and we start to explore how a family prepares for a disaster. It’s important that my readers can relate this events to their own lives and different environments.

After a few of these under your belt, do you have an impulse to step out of the natural disaster realm and do something silly or fantasy-based like a rhyming book about unicorns sliding down rainbows?
While I am a huge fan of mermaids, unicorns, and the like, I have to be careful that my characters stay within the realm of what children need to do, and can do, to stay safe. Creatures with special powers or skills wouldn’t necessarily be seen by the children as having to act the same way they would.

That being said I would love to start a series of board books that more playfully look at what to do and not do as during various scenarios, sort of a question – answer short book that allows children to express themselves and laugh at the silly things the character thinks to do. I teach earthquake safety in childcare and use Tummy Rumble Quake as part of that, but my favorite part is asking the kids about how to drop, cover and hold on through a series of questions where I do it wrong. For example, I ask “do I cover here” and alternate covering my head, framing my chin, covering my ears, or my face – which gets them to laugh as the “teach me” how to do it properly. I think that could be a great series of books that would entertain as well as teach even younger kiddos what to do to stay safe.

I’m fascinated by the process of putting together a book like this—and seeing how different children’s book authors answer this. What’s the process like between you and the illustrator behind the scenes? Does it vary a little from illustrator to illustrator?
It’s a very educative one. I have been lucky to work with two different illustrators and have learned a lot about creative license. I provide a page by page guidance document if you will of my vision for the cover and page illustrations, but sometimes I get stuck on what exactly I want to depict and there is a great collaboration with my illustrators on ideas about how to best approach the desired image. There is variance between illustrators, but that too has taught me a lot. For example, my first illustrator brought my vision of different children to life, but her cultural background was different from my own and it was a really fun discussion about how kiddos here are different than where she grew up and it helped me realize the importance of not assuming my writer’s vision would be the same as my illustrator’s vision.
What kind of feedback are you getting from kids, parents/guardians, teachers? Are there one or two items that really stand-out to you?
I do get a lot of feedback from parents, and childcare providers. If I had to pick what was most talked about, it would have to be the songs and the resources and questions in the back if the book. I remember the Berenstain Bears from when I was a kid and that was where I got the idea to have the questions that parents and providers could talk with kiddos about to see if they understood the topics, or just have available to answer their more detailed questions. On my list of ‘hot’ items to do is getting a recording of the songs on my website to compliments the free downloadable certificates of training and song posters that can be used to help kids remember what to do in these scenarios.
Can you talk about your next project yet?
I have a couple of things in the works, but the very next project is the sequel if you will to Hurricane Vacation. When we end Hurricane Vacation the family is on the way to the shelter. Coming up next has to be what happens there. My goal is to help demystify a shelter and make it a less-scary idea. A lot of work has been happening within emergency management and sheltering operations to help create safe, child-friendly spaces within shelters and I want to highlight to positives of shelters. Again, like all disaster situations, there are negatives, but the goal of these books is to focus on the positives and help empower children to be safer and better prepared for what often times cannot be prevented.
Thanks for your time—and thanks for Hurricane Vacation. I enjoyed it, and hope it finds its way into the hands of many kids who could use it.