A Few Quick Questions With…F J Curlew

I appreciate Curlew taking the time to do this Q&A, I hope you enjoy it and she says something to tempt you to give her work a try. I didn’t ask her everything I wanted to, because it would’ve spoiled things for the rest of you (and, frankly, I need the mystery).

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 would love to be able to say that I had always dreamed of being a writer, but no. I was a primary school teacher who had barely enough energy to read at the end of the day, let alone write! I got sick, could no longer work, but was determined not to allow that to take over my life. I decided to study creative writing at the Open University, predominantly to keep my brain active. I found out that I was quite good at it and completed the standard and advanced courses with distinctions. I haven’t stopped since. Not only has writing given me a purpose, I also absolutely love it. Whatever else is going on in my life my stories can take me away to places of my imagination. How fantastic is that? I can’t not write!
I don’t want to ask “where do you get your ideas?” But out of all the ideas floating around in your head, why’d you latch onto this one — what was it about these characters, this idea that drove you to commit months/years to it?
                     I lived in Ukraine for four years and was left with so many stories, feelings, experiences. To say the country touched me would be an understatement. I used what I had seen and heard to write some short stories for my OU coursework.They were well received and I knew there was more to come. A novel was scratching away at me. In Kyiv I had met, and spent time with, quite a few street-kids. Two of them have haunted me ever since – the two who would become Sasha and Alyona in the story. Their lives were…awful, and yet they had this innocence and grace to them. I placed them in a feasable scenario around which I could write a thriller and sprinkled them with a little bit of magic because I felt they deserved it. I hope my story has done them justice.
The Holodomor provides a lot of background to one of the stories here. As I told you before, this is the second book I’ve read this year influenced by that. You have a character say why we don’t know much about it in the West – could you tell us a little more about our lack of awareness about it, and why it captured your attention?
                     The Holodomor was something that Stalin wouldn’t show to the West, or own up to. It didn’t happen. It was all lies. And that carried on through the subsequent Soviet years. Anti-soviet propoganda would result in a stint in the gulags or death. Best to keep quiet. Despite having lived there I hadn’t heard of it myself. It wasn’t until I was researching more about the lives of Ukrainian street-kids on You-tube that I came across the Holodomor. I was horrified. My social conscience is strong and I am politically motivated. Of course I had to use it! It wasn’t until 2006 that the Ukrainian parliament recognised the Holodomor as a deliberate act of genocide. There is now a Holodomor monument in Kyiv.
What kinds of research went into the construction of this concept and the world? What was the thing you came across in your research that you loved, but just couldn’t figure out how to use? (assuming there was one)
                     A good deal of the events are actually based on things that I had first hand experience of, or stories I had been told. Of course there was also a hefty amount of research done. I read accounts of the Holodomor, Misha Glenny’s non-fiction book “McMafia” helped greatly with facts about the Mafia, and I spent hours trolling through videos and news clips about all things Ukrainian. I read Shevchenko and listened to Yarmak (Ukrainian rap) to get me in Ukrainian mode. There actually wasn’t anything I came across and loved that I couldn’t use, except perhaps a horse-riding, sword-yielding Cossack!
(yeah, that’d have been hard to fit in)

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)

                     Andrei Makine, Leif Davidsen, Sofi Oksanen. Of course there are many others, but for Eastern European stories, definitely them!
One of the things I appreciated most about the cast of characters was Maggie. Most books like this would have Nadia befriend a fun-loving local woman, instead, you provide her an Austrialian friend. Can you tell us anything about that choice (or anything else you want ot say about Maggie)?
                     Ah, Maggie! I hadn’t factored her into the story at all to begin with. Planning isn’t something I do very much of as I prefer my stories to unfold as I write; my characters to lead the way. Maggie popped up and said, “Hey! Over here! Write me!” She was a lot of fun to work with. A wise woman who lives life to the fullest and offers her own unique perspective on everything from men to politics. I think it was important for Nadia to be able to have that in this story. A friend, a confidante, an opposite. Someone to guide her strength to the surface. The expat in her becomes a core element of the story. A local wouldn’t have had the same impact.
What’s next for F. J. Curlew?
                     I seem to be working my way through the countries I have lived in! I am currently writing a novel involving Estonia’s journey from Independence to Soviet occupation and back to independence again. It’s quite a challenge because Estonia is important to me. I lived there for seven years and I love the wee place. I want, no need, to do it justice. Suffice to say hefty amounts of research are being done. My central characters are an old lady and a young drug addict. That’s all I can say for now!
Thanks for your time—and thanks for Don’t Get Involved, I enjoyed it, and hope you have plenty of success with it.

My thanks to F J Curlew for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials (including the book) provided for it.

A Few Quick Questions With…Christy J. Breedlove

I talked a little bit ago about, Screamcatcher: Web World and now I have the pleasure of sharing a Q&A I did with the author, Christy J. Breedlove. I liked the book and I like what she had to say here (there seems to be a theme…). I hope you enjoy and I hope this helps convince you to give Breedlove and her work a shot.

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?
                     My early writing accomplishment were multiple hits within a few years: In my first year of writing back in 1987, I wrote three Sf short stories that were accepted by major slick magazines which qualified me for the Science Fiction Writers of America, and at the same time achieved a Finalist award in the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Contest. This recognition garnered me a top gun SF agent at the time, Richard Curtis Associates. My first novel went to John Badham (Director) and the Producers, the Cohen Brothers. Only an option, but an extreme honor. The writer who beat me out of contention for a feature movie, was Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park. My book was called Dinothon.

A year after that I published two best-selling non-fiction books and landed on radio, TV, in every library in the U.S. and in hundreds of newspapers.

I have been trying to catch that lightning in a bottle ever since. My YA dystopian novel, The Girl They Sold to the Moon won the grand prize in a publisher’s YA novel writing contest, went to a small auction and got tagged for a film option. So, I’m getting there, I hope!

I don’t want to ask “where do you get your ideas?” But out of all the ideas floating around in your head, why’d you latch onto this one — what was it about these characters, this idea that drove you to commit months/years to it?
                     I was always under the illusion that everything hasn’t been done. I fool myself into think that because premise is my number one priority. If it isn’t unique, out-of-the-box or distinctive, I won’t attempt it. We have a dream catcher in the living room, and one day I stared at it and remember some of the legend behind it. Then I looked up the lore associated with the dream catcher. That really started a fire within.
What kinds of research went into the construction of this concept and the world? What was the thing you came across in your research that you loved, but just couldn’t figure out how to use? (assuming there was one)
                     It all started with the dream catcher. This iconic item, which is rightfully ingrained in Indian lore, is a dream symbol respected by the culture that created it. It is mystifying, an enigma that that prods the imagination. Legends about the dream catcher are passed down from multiple tribes. There are variations, but the one fact that can be agreed upon is that it is a nightmare entrapment device, designed to sift through evil thoughts and images and only allow pleasant and peaceful dreams to enter into consciousness of the sleeper.

I wondered what would happen to a very ancient dream catcher that was topped off with dreams and nightmares. What if the nightmares became too sick or deathly? What if the web strings could not hold anymore visions? Would the dream catcher melt, burst, vanish, implode? I reasoned that something would have to give if too much evil was allowed to congregate inside of its structure. I found nothing on the Internet that offered a solution to this problem—I might have missed a relevant story, but nothing stood out to me. Stephen King had a story called Dream Catcher, but I found nothing in it that was similar to what I had in mind. So I took it upon myself to answer such a burning question. Like too much death on a battlefield could inundate the immediate location with lost and angry spirits, so could a dream catcher hold no more of its fill of sheer terror without morphing into something else, or opening up a lost and forbidden existence. What would it be like to be caught up in another world inside the webs of a dream catcher, and how would you get out? What would this world look like? How could it be navigated? What was the source of the exit, and what was inside of it that threatened your existence? Screamcatcher: Web World, the first in the series, was my answer. I can only hope that I have done it justice. The readers can be the judge of that.

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)
                     Oh, like what I consider stylists: Poul Anderson, Virgin Planet, Peter Benchley, The Island and Jaws, Joseph Wambaugh, The Onion Field and Black Marble, Michael Crichton, Jurassic Park, Alan Dean Foster, Icerigger trilogy, and some Stephen King. Anne Rice impresses with just about anything she has written. I think it’s the humor and irony that attracts me the most–and it’s all character related As far as Ya material, I was really floored when I studied Jo Rowling’s world building. As far as dangers, toils and snares, I was attracted to the action in The Hunger Games—a real mind changer for me.

What’s the one (or two) book/movie/show in the last 5 years that made you say, “I wish I’d written that.”?
                     Totally off the spec genre, I was captivated by Rocketman, the story of Elton John, and Bohemian Rhapsody, the story of Queen. I’m a sucker for bio-dramas, like Cinderella Man, and such. There is something about the human struggle to fame and fortune that fascinated me. I get emotionally involved in the character/characters. It’s true to life, and I’ve a similar life picture painted with such ups and down.
I see there’s another Screamcatcher volume on the way, are there more to come after that? Or have you latched on to some other idea for what’s next, and can you tell us a little about that?
                     Two more Screamcatcher books are finished and sold to the same publisher. The second in the trilogy is called Screamcatcher: Dream Chasers. The third and final is called Screamcatcher: The Shimmering Eye. By the second book, the kids have formed the Badlands Paranormal Society. The fancy themselves as true paranormal investigators since they escaped alive from the first Web World in book 1. The third books, via the blessings of George Knapp, investigative reporter out of Las Vegas, is my fiction account of what really happened at Skin Walker Ranch, the most haunting tale I’ve ever heard in my life.
Thanks for your time—and thanks for Screamcatcher, I enjoyed it, and hope you have plenty of success with it.
                     I’m honored, H.C. Newton to grace your pages and thank you for your time and consideration of my life and work.

A Few Quick Questions With…Richard Steele

So, yeah, Richard Steele’s book wasn’t my kind of thing, but like I said, Steele’s been great throughout. I appreciate his answers here and it helps me get what he was going for. I know there are people out there who’ll dig his stuff, and hope they find it.

I’ve never been given a warning before from an author after agreeing to read their book—what was behind that? Would you warn all your readers?
                     I’d probably best describe this decision as “Debut Author Jitters”.

I wrote Time Travel + Brain Stealing… by the seat of my pants (a big no-no for many writers), with almost no outlining and all spontaneity. It was quite a ride! Because of this, I labeled it’s genre Dark Humor from what I subjectively believed it to be, rather than the roller coaster of insanity it turned out to be.

It was only until I received my first review from a reader who was taken aback by the gore and vulgarity that I realized I may have misplaced the genre of my book, and therefore the pending reviewers who were currently reading it in good faith were also under that same false impression.

I researched and researched and found its home in Bizarro Fiction, albeit a rather vanilla version when compared to others, and felt it was my duty as an Author to let those who dedicated their time voluntarily to read my book know there was a potential for some to be offended by my writing and give them an opportunity to decide if this new genre was best suited to their reading taste.

Would I warn everyone now? No, I believe my honest blurb and preface should suffice. It was more time, place and circumstance. With my previous warning and I’ve learnt very quickly that my audience is out there, but so too are my critics and I can’t control that if I want to write how I want to write.

I’ve not come across anything that describes itself as “Bizarro Fiction,” for the myself and the rest of the uninitiated, could you describe that genre?
                     Join the club! It is a great genre I literally stumbled into, and I’m sure those who are fanatic Bizarro readers may even argue that my book is too vanilla for it. However, I would deem Bizarro to be that line you cross in Dark Humor where you incorporate gore, over the top violence, toilet humor and gross-out comedy with a blend of satire and wit.

It goes beyond what the average person would deem comfortable and forces them to laugh or contemplate laughing at situations they ordinarily wouldn’t or shouldn’t.

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 did what a lot of first time foolish authors do and sent it to the big publishers, thinking I cracked a niche and had the perfect new formula.

A few nice rejections later and a small press independent publisher in Tenth Street Press found me and loved the boundaries I was pushing. They gave me a chance I believe I may have never found elsewhere to write pure and free.

I actually drafted this book as a set of small short stories when I was twelve, albeit a diluted and less Bizarro-esque version. I always remembered that feeling of making others laugh or cry or run away in horror at my writing and although I have a serious full-time occupation, that urge to write bizarre comedy never left me and only grew stronger the older I got.

In saying that, I’m still relatively young to publish (unless you believe my Author Bio then I’m almost retired), and I’m hoping this is the first of many books.

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)
                     Ah, well I can’t go past the late and great Leslie Nielsen who whilst he wasn’t an author, his style of satire and slap-stick comedy in the likes of ‘The Naked Gun’, ‘Spy Hard’ and my favorite ‘Wrongfully Accused’ have stuck with me for decades.

I always wanted to take what they could do on screen, that randomness and insanity but with such strict seriousness and splash it onto paper.

As far as other authors go, I can’t go past Andy Griffiths and his Bum Trilogy books, such as ‘Zombie Bums from Uranus’. Whilst written for a younger audience than mine, his ability to take the ridiculous and toilet humor and make it serious and funny at the same time was a large influence.

What’s the one (or two) book/movie/show in the last 5 years that made you say, “I wish I’d written that.”?
                     It may be older than 5 years but I can’t go past ‘Hot Rod’. That was absolute genius. Along with others (older also, sorry) like ‘Kung Pow: Enter the Fist’ and ‘Black Dynamite’. It’s again due to the random nature of their satirical and slap-stick humor that sometimes makes me think if they syphoned my thoughts while I slept.
What’s next for Richard Steele, author?
                     I’ve planned out 3 more books to the Good Times series, all standalone with a very minor entanglement between them. These will be splices of different genres each, just like ‘Time Travel + Brain Stealing…’ is Science Fiction and Horror etc, so the humor in each pulls on different elements from the differing genres.
However, a recent reviewee challenged me to write serious books instead and put my talent to good use. And to that I say touché!
I also have a trilogy of Science Fiction Adventure underway also aimed at Middle Grade level, a re-invented ‘Redwall’ of sorts. Under a different name of course…can you imagine parents and priests checking my name to see if my writing is appropriate? Ha!
I’ll wait to see if my legions of non-existent Bizarro fans enjoy my debut novella first before I dive back into that cesspool style of writing. So until then, Richard Steele salutes you.
Thanks for your time! I hope Time Travel + Brain Stealing = Murderous Appliances and Good Times finds its audience and that you have plenty of success with the book.

A Few Quick Questions With…Maggie Lynch

Earlier, I gave some brief thoughts about Maggie Lynch’s Gravity, a fun Space Opera/SF adventure, and now I get to ask the author a few questions. I start off talking about The Obsidian Rim series as a whole before we narrow in on Gravity and Lynch herself. There are some great answers here, and I’m blown away that she’d spend so much time on them. Hope you enjoy!

How did The Obsidian Rim project come about? Who picked who was taking part?
When I was planning my 2019 and 2020 writing schedule I decided I wanted to write more SF, but with a romantic subplot. My fiction writing career started with SF and I published short stories in magazines and anthologies back in the 1980’s and 1990’s. It was always my first love in writing. But I’ve been writing romance novels for the past decade and love the genre, and have a following. So, I wanted a way to combine the two genres with a leaning toward real science fiction.

I looked at what was labeled Science Fiction Romance and really didn’t care for the trend of shifters and mating rituals, alien lovers or world saviors, and very hot males where sex often came before relationship building. I wanted a series that was really based in a well-conceived science fiction world—preferably space opera for some fun and adventure. But I had no following in that genre. I did some research of the market and found, what I believe, was a missing niche. That is SF for smart women who liked the science but also wanted the relationships. That fit what I love to write. Character-driven stories, based in science but with definite romantic relationships that make a difference in the story. But I knew I couldn’t do it alone and get a following quick enough to make it work.

So I approached my friend, Jessa Slade writing as Elsa Jade, who’s story telling ability I love. Even when she’s writing shifters, paranormal, or alien lovers she is still writing smart fiction. She creates strong women characters who are as much in control of the situation as the men in the romances. She has been part of a number of multiple author group projects, and enjoyed the experience. So I asked if she would be interested in us co-coordinating this one. Fortunately, she agreed.

We both created the basis of the Obsidian Rim world. What you read on the Obsidian Rim website regarding the World background is what Jessa and I came up with. I’m the more sciency of the two of us, so things like metric measurements, wormhole time dilation etc. is from my research. The concept of Quantum Energy Drives and Bombs is Jessa’s idea and how that actually plays out in the science is both of us. The details of things like language, weaponry, etc. were contributed by individual authors as they built their own stories and is attributed.

Once we had the background, rules of the world, and contract details we began recruiting writers we knew personally who we believed could write these kinds of stories (based on what they’ve written in the past) and who we knew to be reliable. Because we have an aggressive release schedule with a new book every two weeks, we needed people who could get their books finished and through an editor on time. As we began recruiting in February, several of the people we approached were unable to join us because their annual release schedule was already full. But we are happy with the writers we have and if everything goes well this year, will open up to additional writers in 2020.

Just judging by Gravity, there was a lot of worldbuilding involved in The Obsidian Rim—how much of that was group effort, how much was you?
As I indicated above, the basis of the Obsidian Rim world was created by Elsa Jade and me. However, each author has the ability to go beyond those basics and create whatever he/she needs to make her story work. The only rules are: there are no aliens in this world; and because of the magnetic barrier at the rim no one can go beyond the galaxy rim. Everything else about the individual planets, planetoids, asteroids or space stations are up to each author as are the characters, creatures, and other developments. We do talk to each other in a closed Facebook Group just to keep everyone informed. And we do try to intersect with each other’s books in some way in order to keep readers interested in reading beyond one particular author they may already know.

So, in Gravity, the concept of cryoborns is mine and their special gift for navigation is a central piece of my trilogy in the Obsidian Rim world. The characters, their background stories, and the type of travel and planets visited are all mine. The book begins on Ydro-Down which is a mining planet that Elsa Jade created for her trilogy in the world. She gave me the outline of what was there in her mind and the basic corporate structure, and we agreed on an intersection with one particular character who would be the hero in her first book. I took it from there. When I finished the section that took place on Ydro-Down, I sent it to her for review in case I took too many liberties with her world or portrayed the intersection character inaccurately. We were both writing our drafts at the same time, so we were both figuring things out as we wrote. Fortunately, there were only a couple of easy changes to make it mesh.

Tell me a little about the participants in the project and their corners of the universe.
As I haven’t read all the books that have been published I don’t know a lot of details. I only know the blurbs that we have on the website for each book, and what the authors have shared as they try to use and pickup tidbits from each other. What I can say is that, each author has built their own worlds within the Galaxy and has committed to intersecting with at least one other author’s book. What I can tell you is that we have planets with toxic plants; a variety of criminal elements from pirates to royalty; some cool companion robots like dogs; and in one case cats with special powers to get humans to do what they need. Actually, that describes my own cats right now. ☺

We have recently put up a revised map of approximately where the different worlds are in the galaxy that have been a part of a book so far. As people share what living environments they’ve created, we try to place them in the Rim in our best guess as to how it works with the rest of the bookso and the intersection of stories. It is definitely NOT exact or even close, as the further out you go along the spiral arms the less we know right now which means less to extrapolate for the future. Also, distances even within one sector of the galaxy are still tens of thousands of light years apart.

I would love to share a little bit about each author in the 2019 round of novels.

I’ve already talked quite a bit about Elsa Jade., my co-conspirator in this undertaking. In addition to writing great stories, she is also a developmental editor and has won two Rita awards for her editing on author’s books. Jessa Slade/Elsa Jade now has 50 books published, with the more majority in SFF Romance and continues to write amazing character-driven stories that keep readers coming back. Her Obsidian Rim trilogy features the primary mining planetoid for qubition—the ore that powers ships to get through wormholes and also powered Q-bombs that destroyed most of the galaxy.

Jane Killick lives in the U.K. She works for the BBC as her day job and her love of SF started with movies and UK series television. Her most popular book, Stasis Leaked Complete, is based on interviews with the cast and crew of the successful space comedy, Red Dwarf.  Another popular nonfiction work is her five book series going behind the scenes of Babylon 5. Her most recent SFF fiction series is The Perceivers, A YA telepathy thriller series of four books. Her Obsidian Rim trilogy features freelancersplying their trades throughout the Rim.  It’s a great backdrop for exploring both the good and corrupt parts of commerce in the future.

Shree Aier is our only freshman writer. Her Obsidian Rim book, Coexistence, is her first published novel. I like Shree because she is even nerdier than me. Until recently, Shree has been pursing academic interests in science. She has two undergraduate degrees in business, psychology and biochemistry, and a Masters in materials science & engineering. She’s worked on research projects in psychology, biochemistry as well as cancer therapeutics using nanotechnology. Her trilogy features the Earth Conservatory, a place where original stocks of plants, seeds, and animals that came on generational ships are stored and monitored—not always with the best interest of humanity.

Shona Husk is a well-published writer, with 45 books published across several romance genres. The majority feature fantasy and science fiction worlds. She lives in western Australia and brings a definite knowledge of writing with multiple author series. Her Obsidian Rim trilogy, Dead Suns, features a royal family with a criminal element and mercenaries that sometimes work with them and at other times against them. Lots of page-turning adventure and great character-building within the Rim world. Her stories feature insights into social hierarchy, politics, and power and their impact on a personal level.

Jody Wallace is our humorous author, both in person and in her writing. Like any good comedian, she finds humor in the strangest situations. This is proven by her choice of planet for her trilogy—Trash Planet. Yes, it is literally a planet devoted to collecting and recycling all the trash from the Rim. With over 30 books published she has a great track record for delivering humor with good stories. Other writers may know her in her alter ego as the Grammar Wench, and/or the “cat lady” who has run a “meankitty” blog since 1999. Like Jessa Slade, Jody is also a freelance editor.

Sela Carsen is the author I’ve personally known the longest. We first met in an author critique group about 15 years ago. We were both starting on our novel writing journey in romance at that time and created a group of seven authors. Sela is particularly skilled at writing shorter works—short stories and novellas. Something I admire, as to me a short story is at least 8K words. The majority of her titles are in fantasy, a large number in the Nocturne Falls world created by Kristin Painter. Sela loves legends and fairy tales, so you are likely to see some of that seeping into her SF books as well. She agreed to tackle this slightly longer form for the Obsidian Rim novels and we are glad she’s joined us.

CJ Cade is another writer with a large backlist. With over 35 novels to date. Her SF Romances are written as CJ Cade, whereas her contemporaries and paranormals are written as Cathryn Cade. Right now the two pen names are running neck and neck for number of titles. Cathryn is also an author with a history of working in multiple author series, so she brings that experience of collaboration to the table. Her Obsidian Rim trilogy features a world where the plants are actually toxic to most humans, but some have adapted. An interesting dilemma indeed.

Let’s focus on Gravity now—what came first—characters or the story?
All of my SF works, whether novel length or short stories, begin with an idea. Then I try to find a character that can embody that idea and personalize it. Also, I’m one of those writers who tends to explore the same themes in every book—no matter the genre—that is how we make decisions and through that process learn to be our best selves (or not in the case of villains).

For me, I began this trilogy with the idea of how the Rim was populated or how humans were able to go tens of thousands of light years away from earth. I knew there needed to be generational ships and that likely meant most of the colonists would be in cryosleep. But what happens to people in cryo during the Oblivion War when large quantum waves wash over them? Something had to change, and that is where the special navigational abilities arise.

For me characters, and particularly with a romantic element, need to have opposing needs. I had a good idea of Kash. Though he starts the book enslaved, he has a memory of a past that was peaceful and loving before being put in cryo and that shapes his view of what is possible. That is juxtaposed by Lehanna who was raised a criminal, a pirate, and has no basis for believing anything good about the world unless she gets it or take sit herself. But these two are thrown together with these different world views and need to work it out. How do humans do that? And what pulls one to the other, even when the worldview is so opposite? I find that ultimately interesting and the basis for problem solving all the scrapes they get in. Both of their skills are needed and both of their worldviews are needed, because neither one has the entire truth.

Keeping spoiler-free, can you talk about Adira and Layla—both seemed inspired to me, don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed all the characters, but there’s something about these two and the role they played that really got to me.
I’m so happy you liked them. It’s funny, to me, how secondary characters take on a life of their own. I am what I fondly call a “plantser.” That means my native way of writing is as a “pantser” starting and writing into the mist (or the dark) and solving problems as they come along. However, the more books I’ve done and the faster I’ve learned to write, I’ve learned that plotting at least a little makes it easier to get to the end by deadline. ☺

But characters are the best part of “pantsing” for me, because they come from my heart and they are there to create questions or other views in the protagonist(s) life. It is not at all unusual that these secondary characters eventually get a story of their own.

Adira was created out of a need to steal something from the evil slave overlord on Ydro-Down. Because he was truly evil, I had to develop a character who somehow survived him no matter what trauma she felt, and yet kept her humanity because she also remembers (like Kash) a time in her life when things were beautiful and peaceful. Adira also serves as a good mirror to Lehana—who also comes from trauma but has shut down her ability to feel or sublimated it with anger and aggression.

Layla is actually a personification of my cat, Layla. ☺ She was so named because the name, from the Arabic, means “dark beauty” or one born at night. My cat, Layla, is primarily black with streaks of golden brown around the face. She is very calm, but also astute and can lay in wait for an attack for hours if needed. Layla in my book therefore is also dark skinned, calm, but very astute. I made her unusually tall to emphasize that juxtaposition between largeness and peace. Also, compared to Adira who is small, like Lehanna, it seems like another subtle way to show how diversity still brings commonality.

I don’t know yet, how Adira and Layla are going to feature in the next two books or if they will eventually get stories—or series—of their own. For now, in many ways, they are the centering force for extremes that occur with my protagonists.

Can you talk a little about what’s next for your storyline?
Magnetism is the next book in the Cryoborn Gifts trilogy. It will be released in early September. It is going through first round edits now and I hope to have actual ARCs available for reviewers in mid-August. It will take our protagonists to another level in their relationship and we get to know the children in this next book. The crux of the entire trilogy is how much is one willing to change in order to save themselves, their family, or an entire universe?

I think for many people, that is an ongoing question in our lives. How much should I, can I, do to help make things better. From stories of jews being protected in WWII at the risk of the protectors lives, to those who dedicate their life to causes that are beyond challenging and take you away from everything you know—those who fight for climate justice, homelessness, science, the arts—whatever the cause it can become all consuming and is that good?

These heroic stories are always ones that interest me. What kind of people make those choices and what price do they pay? At the end, I and the reader are left to answer the question if the price was worth it. Life is not black and white, and I like exploring the complexity of those questions.

Will Lehanna and Kash choose to change so much that they can never go back to “normal” again? Or will only one choose? Or will they find a way out of total commitment? All answers are possible and all choices are ones that help.

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 was a creative child growing up. I wrote poetry, music, and stories from the moment I could conceive them. In high school I was playing a violin in the orchestra, writing my own kind of folk music, a regular member in drama club and doing theater. And occasionally wrote stories or scripts. However, I also grew up as the oldest of nine children and not a lot of money for things beyond food.

I didn’t plan to go to college because I couldn’t afford to go. However, my father guilted me into using my savings from working as a waitress for three years to go to one year of college instead of moving out. He was a smart man and I loved the challenge of learning. I never considered pursuing a creative path because I was paying for it all myself and I knew it would never pay me enough to live on my own. My career and eventually academia was a great way to satisfy my love of life-long learning and get paid for it.

My need for creative outlet was satisfied by writing short stories on the side—occasionally getting them published in magazines and anthologies. I have about 60 out of more than 100 I wrote that were published. I participated in community theater until into my early 40’s and occasionally got a small part in a B movie being filmed near where I lived. One week of filming at base SAG rates was more income than I got paid in a month of working as a therapist at a university. But those films only came around once every couple of years.

Somewhere around age 45 I realized that the best way for me to pursue a creative life was to be a novelist. I’d had nonfiction work published in books, along with a variety of articles—from academic to every day articles in local magazines or tourist features. Being ever the planner, I decided if I started my novel career by the time I was 50, and could write three books a year while working full time. I would have built up 30 books by my retirement and have a following.

It didn’t work exactly how I planned, but that’s another story. I retired early, at 56, and began writing full time then. I’m up to about 20 books but picking up steam. I don’t know that I’ll ever achieve the income I had in academia or consulting. But I make enough to keep food on the table and a roof over our head and I love what I do.

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’m going to stretch your timeline a bit, because the truth is I haven’t had much time to watch movies or read books beyond what is required for my writing. So, my list is limited. I can say that in the last decade the movie that affected me the most was Avatar. In some ways it mirrored the fantasy series I was writing at the time—The Forest People—in that it explored a group of beings that revered the natural ways of nature in both a spiritual and a practical way. There is a lot I disliked about that movie—particularly how the ending was done—but I liked the themes.

In terms of a book, in 2008, a good friend told me about Suzette Haden Elgin’s trilogy. She is a linguist who created an entire language, Laadan, specifically for women in her fictional series. She wrote a series of books about a future time when the 19th amendment was repealed. Women had been stripped of their civil rights. Yet, it is the women who have the skills to communicate with alien races. And those skills create the language Laadan which gives them power and

Though the trilogy was published 1984-1987 I’d never heard of it. It was the first time I’d read a book that might be described as feminist. She played with form and function and made them a part of the story. I personally liked the story as a whole, and liked that the women never gave up communicating with each other and with trying new ways to communicate with aliens. It was a “smart” book for smart readers and I appreciated that. It opened my mind to new levels of writing I hadn’t considered.

Thanks for your time—and thanks for Gravity, I enjoyed it, and hope you have plenty of success with it.
Thank you, for taking the time to read my book! I love learning what people see or don’t see in a finished book. Certainly, as the writer, I put things in that speak to me and the themes I am exploring and hope that some of those speak to the reader. However, I’m always excited to hear what other things become important to the readers.

Ultimately, once a book is in a reader’s hands, the story becomes their story and they may see things I never thought/knew were there. That is the beauty of creation and sharing it with others. If I kept it to myself, I’d never learn more about how we as humans can make connections that are common even within such diversity of thought and experience.

A Few Quick Questions With…Brian VanDongen

This post is a team effort: the good people over at iREAD Book Tours provided the questions, Brian VanDongen provided the answers, I provided the . . . er, well, intro? I really want to read this book after reading this, hopefully you have the same reaction.

What made you write a book about play?
I feel that there is a “play deficit” in today’s society. For children, with the reduction of recess in schools in favor of more classroom time to focus on standardized testing and the increased “professionalization” of youth sports, free play is diminishing. As a recreation professional, I know the value that free play has on everyone’s life. I wrote this book to try to reframe the value of play and provide helpful stories and tips on how to live more playfully, and why living playfully will help people live a better life.
How did you get those stories about play for the book?
Fortunately, there are a lot of great organizations and initiatives for play across the country and around the globe. These organizations are very willing to share their stories and successes, because they want people to live more playfully, too!
Did you have a favorite story you came across during your research?
Wow, that’s a tough question. All the stories are great in their own right. I particularly enjoyed learning about an exhibit in the Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry, where children used real tools to build things. I’m sure you’re thinking, “real tools for kids!? Wouldn’t someone get hurt?” Well, yes, but it may not be who you think!
Seems dangerous.
As I note in the book, in two chapters, there’s a difference between risky play and dangerous play. But through risky play, children learn how to assess and manage risk, a key adult, real-world skill.
Do you have a favorite place to play?
Being in New Jersey, it’s easy to find places to play. We have mountain ranges with beautiful trails (including part of the Appalachian Trail) and gorgeous beaches. You’re not far from a place to play. Of course, the world can be your playground if you look hard enough!

Read the book in question, Play to Live: Life Skills and Joy Through the Natural Talent to Play by Brian VanDongen.

My thanks to iREAD Book Tours for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials they provided.

A Few (more) Quick Questions With…Devri Walls

Ages ago (it seems), Devri Walls stopped by to talk about her stand-alone The Wizard’s Heir, and gave us a little taste of her upcoming series, Venators (including a cover that I don’t think I ever saw again). Since then, I’ve actually spoken to her at book store events and a comic convention (sat in on a couple of her panels, too). At the book launch for her most recent book, Venators: Promises Forged, (see my earlier post) she did a Q&A that got a couple of questions percolating in the back of my mind. Before I knew it, I had enough for one of these posts and Devri was able to find a time to answer them.

Before I get to the Q&A, a word about that book launch — Devri seems to have a good number of solid fans, it’s encouraging to see — from a wide age-range, too. She had more people in the front row of her reading than were in the audience of the last reading I’d been to at Rediscovered Books (and that author had one of the major publishing houses behind him) — and she had some Facebook live viewers, too. It’s good to see an indie author getting that kind of support.

As is usual when I get a second shot with someone, we got a little more into details of the particular book/series in question—but I don’t think you have to be a Venators-reader to appreciate these answers. Check them out and then go grab her books.

You’ve talked about how everyone’s favorite character is Beltran (I demur), given his appeal/popularity—how hard is it to keep him from taking over the series? How are you going about that?
This book is different in that there really are a lot of main players. This is going to allow Beltran to have a large role, and you’re going to see him really stepping into that in book three. But yes, he cannot take over. I think the key when working with strong supporting characters is that although they can have a heavy-handed part in the story, at the end of the day, they can’t be the hero. They can assist the hero, they can motivate the hero, they can set up a hero, but they can’t actually “pull the trigger”, so to speak. Given who Beltran is this will be tricky, but it has to be done in order for the climax to feel satisfactory to the readers.
Let’s talk about names for a minute: there’s a lot of creativity and strangeness in names (up to Rune from Earth), but then you give us Tate. An oddly Earthy name. Is that just to mess with people? I’ve always wondered, but never asked anyone—how do you come up with character names? Is the process different per series/world/book?
This made me laugh! No, I was not trying to just mess with you. Although I will admit to giving the giant race ridiculously human names because it amused me. However I promise to keep it consistent. With Tate on the other hand, he is part Venator, which means he’s part human. It made sense to me that given the backstory of this world and its connection to earth that there would be human names floating around both in the human villages as well as the Venators.

When it comes to choosing names there is there rare occasion that I will just completely make a name up, but for the most part I lean heavily on baby name websites. People are ever disappointed when I give this answer because they think that we authors pull all of these things out of our heads. The thing I looove about the baby name websites is that I can sort the results. For example, I can choose to look at old Scottish names specifically or only Norse names. This allows me to keep a consistent feel through an entire story, or in a book like Venators, a consistent feel within different species.

Normally before I even start a book I will visit baby name websites. Trying to choose names is both a time suck and a momentum killer for me. If I have a list of names both male and female that I have decided I like ready to go, then I have a very short list to reference when I add a new character.

Talk to me a little more about Arwin the wizard. First, how am I not supposed to think about Liv Tyler/the Lady of Rivendell? Secondly, the brilliant character who probably knows more about what’s going on than anyone, but plays the doddering, clumsy fool is a mainstay. How hard is it to pull that character off convincingly? And why have you gone that route with him—is it just because that’s more interesting than the super-powerful, all wise type?
I think anytime you’re working with a genre like fantasy there’s always going to be things that remind you of other stories. It’s, dare I say, almost unavoidable. But instead of fighting this, I did lean into the tropes on purpose. I wanted to play on the idea that all the stories and legends we tell today originated in Eon. In order to do that some of the threads needed to feel very familiar, while others I purposely twisted. Just like in the game telephone the end result will have some aspects of truth and some other things that have drifted far from the truth. That’s the basis that I was working from when deciding lore and chapter traits to keep or leave.

As far as Arwin’s character is concerned, I did choose to portray him as doddering very specifically. I needed to balance the story. When you look at the council you have a werewolf, vampire, incubus, succubus, elf, fae and wizard. From that list, three characters are very intense and serious. One of the characters is cruel and although she think she has a sense of humor, it’s dark and malevolent. Two of the characters have the ability to break tension in a scene but the sexual themes that run through that tension break is only sustainable for so long. And although all of these characters are much, much deeper than their facades, it’s the facades that they must present at the council house in order to keep themselves and their own people safe. Which means that by default every council scene will become unavoidably stifling. I needed someone to diffuse the situation and add a lightness to the writing. Thus, Arwin’s portrayal was born. Now, we are too early in the edits so I can’t guarantee that this scene will stay, but in book three we get a delightful taste of Arwin dropping that part of himself and showing the reader exactly what he is capable in a Council meeting by breaking up a argument between Dimitri and Silen. I think both you and the readers will be very happy with the result.

Now that you’ve told me about it, the scene has to stay. At the very least it needs to be included as a cut scene in an appendix. Or there will be rioting in the streets! (assuming I can figure out how to instigate one)

Can you tell me about the timeline for this series? A lot has happened in less than 2 weeks in Eon (assuming my memory/math is right), your poor characters have barely been able to catch their breath—are you planning on some kind of time jump? Is it going to keep going at this pace?

I’m a big believer in whatever timeline is natural and working for the story is the timeline that I’m going to use. Most of my work has always been a continual line without a lot of time jumping. For the first few books in the series I expect that will continue with small time jumps added to account for travel days. When we get past book five, I suspect we may need a time jump and some summarization of their day to day life when their world is not completely falling apart. But yes, overall I take it as it comes and I like a very logical and linear progression.
At the book launch, you talked a lot about what you’ve got worked out for the future in terms of plot and character—but I want to look at the world. How much of Eon have you mapped out (mentally or literally), do you know this world’s geography or is it more of a case of “I need an area like X, I’ll put it overrrrrr…here!”
Oh geography, I hate geography. Maps really do hurt my head. By happy accident I made a new writer friend who looooves making maps. So much so that she actually sat down with me and offered to map out the first general idea of Eon. It was very basic. However, as I’ve been writing book three and thinking through the plot points for the next couple of books, I realized that in order to set things up properly the geography absolutely had to be handled. Almost all of the council members areas have now been mapped out with the exception of Tashara and Shax for reasons I will explain in another book. But yes, there is actually a solid map on my wall now and despite the process causing me an aneurysm, I do really like the end result. Having something solid to refer to has been great. I definitely see the advantage to mapping things out at the start of the story and will probably move more toward doing that earlier in future projects.
I’m glad you were able to find some time in your hectic schedule for these answers and hope Promises Forged is a big success (and that you survive the editing process for #3!)

A Few Quick Questions With…Ian Shane

So, I just blathered on about Postgraduate, the great novel by Ian Shane. And now, here’s a little from the Man Himself in response to some questions I had for him. I hope you enjoy. For those keeping score at home, after a few Q&As of one of my theories being validated, I totally whiffed one here. I still liked the answer, just wish I’d asked a better question 🙂

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.”?
First, in the interest of full disclosure, Postgraduate is semi-autobiographical. For a while, I was running an Internet classic alternative radio station (which has been offline for a couple of years). During this time, I was having a hard time finding a story I wanted to write. There would be ideas here and there, but nothing ever developed into a compelling story. On a whim, I picked up a copy of Old Records Never Die by Eric Spitznagel. It’s a memoir based on Spitznagel’s quest to rebuild his lost record collection. Not copies of the albums he lost, mind you…the actual albums. His musical mid-life crisis inspired me to write about mine.
In the writing of Postgraduate, 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”.
I was really amazed at how quickly I wrote the first draft. I have a day job, so the amount of time I have to write is limited. I decided to track my progress on Facebook to keep myself accountable to my friends. The first night, I wrote 1330 words. The next night, I wrote 1557 words. Then it started to become a thing…how many nights can I write more than a thousand words? In the first week, I wrote 10,269 words. I started Postgraduate on October 25, 2017, and I finished the first draft on February 1, 2018. The total was 92,947 words in 97 days. I’ve never had a writing streak like that before, and I am not likely to ever have one like that again.
Danny’s reaction to the news that his favorite record store had closed (and some time ago), was one of my favorite parts of Postgraduate. Is it one of the semi-autobiographical parts of the book? Tell us a little about the store/its closing.
This is very autobiographical. There really was a Cats Record Store in my hometown (Evansville, Indiana). Cats was the place to find stuff from The Smiths or Elvis Costello. It was as I described it in the book…hardwood floors, cedar walls, and a general warm feeling when you walked in. There were two locations, on the east side and north side of town (the north side was the one I went to often). Not too long after I left town, my brother had told me that Cats had closed. I just assumed he meant the one on the east side. A few years later, on a visit to town, I decided to go to the north side and see what they had to offer. When I got there, I was grief-stricken to see the “For Lease” sign on the door. It really felt like a death.

However, showing that Cats had closed also served two subtler purposes. One, I wanted to have something unexpected to happen for Danny. It shatters the frozen-in-time, idealized image of the area around campus he had in his head. Something had to be not quite right, and that’s what I chose to be the missing ingredient.

And, as an aging Gen-Xer, I wanted to have an image of how people get music today, as opposed to how we did it when I was a college student. Hard copies, at least on a digital format, have fallen out of favor with “the kids.” I realize by saying this, I run the risk of sounding like the old guy who complains that a ticket for the moving picture show used to be only a nickel.

Why is it, do you think, that male readers respond so strongly to books about music? (your novels, Hornby’s, etc.)
I think it’s because guys (especially when we’re in our teens and 20s) have a terrible time expressing how we feel. I don’t want to get all “blame it on society,” but we were taught at an early age to not show our emotions—boys don’t cry (you know, kinda like that Cure song), and we have a hard time hashing out what was going on in our heads. It’s a thing of beauty when a songwriter reads our minds and says something more eloquently than we ever could and does it in 4/4 time. It grabs us and shakes us to our cores. In a way, music becomes a part of who we are. That’s the reason we made mixtapes to impress women. We couldn’t find the words to say we liked them and wanted to get to know them better, but Neil Finn could. So, we’d let him and the rest of Crowded House stand proxy for us for four and a half minutes.

When we read a book like High Fidelity or Postgraduate, we relate to using music as a primary coping mechanism (like Rob and Danny respectively) more than we get Heathcliff walking along the moors. While dealing with my last breakup, I listened to “Don’t Look Back in Anger” by Oasis on a continuous loop while drinking a heroic amount of whiskey. I didn’t spit out a two-page soliloquy while standing on my patio and looking at the moon. It’s just how we do it now.

I’d imagine that in a novel like this, it’d be difficult to keep from making Sam (the one that got away) an idealized woman, or Angela (the adulterous ex) into . . . an idealized harlot, I guess. Especially with this being written from Danny’s perspective. How do you walk the line?
I don’t really know if I thought about it too much while I was writing Angela and Sam. I just had a full picture in my mind who these women were…their wonderful qualities and their flaws. I had an idea of what made Danny and Angela work and what didn’t. The same was true with Danny and Sam.
Thanks for your time and willingness to let me badger you with these questions – again, I really enjoyed Postgraduate and truly hope that it finds the audience it deserves.