Eye of the Moon

Eye of the Moon front cover

For readers who enjoy strong female characters, supernatural elements, magical realism and the occult, there’s a delicious new Gothic mystery on the market that will satisfy all of these. Author Ivan Obolensky takes time from his busy schedule to talk to us about Eye of the Moon, demons, and who to invite to a literary dinner party.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett


Q: Tell us a little about the premise of your new book and what inspired you to write it.

A: Eye of the Moon was inspired by a large house my father owned when I was growing up. I always thought it was a perfect setting for a novel. Strange things happened there. I wanted to write an American story but differentiate it from the typical English gothic novel. Business is a unique facet of American life and sets American culture apart from those of other countries. Such relationships often involve promises of performance. I wanted to explore the consequences for having broken an oath, or a contract, not only in everyday life, but what happens when a promise is broken to an entity such as a demon. What are the consequences? What is trust, and how is it formed? What happens when we discover that we have been lied to? How do we set aside our prejudices and assumptions? These are a few of the questions I wanted to answer in the story.

Q: Literal and metaphorical demons abound as the story unfolds. How do you believe they relate to each other?

A: I think we all face demons. Some are metaphorical. Some are real. We no longer call them demons. Science has moved on and wants no part. We call them narcissistic tendencies, or perhaps we say we create images of ourselves that are unsustainable instead. Not all demons are imaginary. We each face issues of economic survival and threats to our existence. We solve them, or we don’t. In this, we are not alone. Others around us also face their own unique difficulties, but never ours exactly. Achieving wisdom is about the struggle to gain that extraordinary perspective that life was never about us to begin with. Our internal demons on the other hand, argue the opposite, that life is really about us. We are what is important, and we can demonstrate that through either outstanding success or extraordinary personal failure. I wonder which is more destructive? In the past, success was defined by achievement. Today, it is about fame. Through notoriety, we can achieve a similar measure of immortality and in the case of a person who ruins all that they touch, the demon in them is as real as any that we can imagine. The metaphorical demon then becomes the literal, and a reality we must face. Demons are still around because they never left. How we deal with them defines in no small measure who we are as individuals. Do we surrender, or not? Our faith in our goodness, our cleverness, and our humanity are our only defenses against such monsters, whether real or imaginary.

Q: Did you work from a structured outline or allow your characters to “speak” to you as you began writing?

A: I set only two constraints for Eye of the Moon. One was the location. The second was that the action takes place over a long five-day weekend. The plot was never worked out. That the story turned out as well as it did was a surprise. I would not recommend such a loose approach as a usual way of writing because it tends to be more stressful than working with an outline. The writer is constantly trying to understand where the story is going and that creates a great deal of angst. It worked out for me, but it was not easy. I think really great stories require the writer to experience a unique pressure from not knowing and having to figure out an outstanding ending. It is a form of mental torture that requires a special courage. Lucky for me, the characters and my muse helped. I followed their leads and suggestions. It is truly distressing to realize one has spent three years painting oneself into a corner with no conceivable way out. Now that is scary.

Q: Did your characters do/say anything that surprised you?

A: That was almost a constant. None of the characters behaved. They tended to do their own thing and say what they wanted. What surprised me the most was the profoundness of their thoughts.

Q: How much research was involved insofar as incorporating authenticity into the events and character interactions/motivations?

A: It is usually what the character says (the drama) that is important rather than whether a character wore a specific brand of jewelry that was available at the time. A writer can often duck the hard conflicts in favor of doing research. I did my share of it. Ancient Egypt required a fair amount, but when the research became overly involved, I scrapped it. I grew up in the environment that I wrote about so there is a sense of authenticity. The characters had strong personalities and certain inclinations. I had met many of them in real life and then added my own touches. The characters were as real as I could make them, and that kept the story authentic and strong.

Q: Who or what has had the deepest influence on your storytelling style?

A: I grew up listening to legends, myths, and magical stories. That many of them involved the mysterious and strange occurrences should come as no surprise or that the stories I like contain such elements. I also loved the idea of a plot twist. O’Henry was a master at this in his short fiction. So was Edith Wharton in Ethan Frome. I think it is a given that most of the stories that I write contain mysterious elements with a twist.

Q: The storyline is replete with strong, independent women. Were any of these females patterned after women in your own life?

A: Absolutely. I think there was a strong matriarchal streak that ran through all sides of the several families I grew up with. The women tended to be strong, wealthy, self-reliant, and didn’t stand for a lot of nonsense. I, on the other hand, liked a great deal of nonsense, the more the better, which tended to put me on the other side of the fence. I had my charm which tended to ease the struggle of wills that ensued. I won sometimes and lost at others, but it was a struggle I enjoyed. I learned a great deal because those women were often much smarter than I was.

Q: Fictional characters are frequently confronted with forks in the road that force them to either take a leap of faith or play it safe. Was there ever a time in your own career that later caused you to revisit decisions you made or didn’t make?

A: I used to constantly second-guess myself. I did so for most of my life. What changed that tendency was having nearly died. After several near-death experiences, the second-guessing fell away. I realized I could have chosen one way or the other and still ended up dead, or made a decision that was obviously flawed in hindsight, but the result was I lived. The logic of my choices did not have a high correlation with the happiness or success of the outcomes. At some point, I understood the futility of revisiting and second-guessing a decision. I look at it this way: if the decision was bad or good is irrelevant when one is standing in a happy place. Had the choices been made differently, that happy outcome may never have occurred. I am happy with everything that has happened. I wouldn’t change a thing, and that is a good place to be. I have no doubts about it.

Q: Physical settings—such as the house and grounds of Rhinebeck—often assume personalities of their own. What inspired your development of this particular backdrop?

A: I visited when I was small. Rooms were gigantic, shadows crept out of their hiding places and lengthened during the late afternoons. Thunder would rumble at the edge of hearing when there were storms, and tense silences would descend. The governesses would get nervous. We were after all cut off from the outside world. The grounds and the house I found thrilling, but adults often felt differently. They were either hypersensitive, or I was much less so. Adults would get jumpy as night fell. They drank more. I wanted to see a ghost, but then I didn’t. I did try, but with no success. I think the adults felt similarly. Many wished they hadn’t after they did. I think the possibility of seeing a ghost and the sporadic rumors that guests had occasionally seen one made invited guests uneasy. It was this tension that was a defining characteristic of the house and growing up in it. It gave the place a creep factor that was delicious.

Q: How much of your personality and personal experience is embroidered into the plot?

A: I think a great deal of me is in each of the characters. Percy and Johnny are two sides of my normal self, the optimist and the pessimist, but that may be overly simplistic. I always wanted a good friend. Johnny came from that idea. The wonderful thing about writing a novel is you can put yourself in the middle of your own play. Whatever you can dream can happen, and there are so many wonderful things to dream about. There can be characters that are realer than life and impossibly wise. There can be people more beautiful and more alive than any reality. The characters of the novel are people that visited me many times in my dreams and in my thoughts. They’re old friends and very dear. I’m happy that others can meet them.

Q: By the time you typed The End, what had you learned about yourself that you didn’t know when you started?

A: Writing is a scary business. The result may be enjoyable, fulfilling, worthwhile, and all that, but there is more to it than simply writing a story and then typing The End on the last page. It’s a whole other world that you have created. What other people think about that world becomes something out of your control, and one’s vulnerability as a result can be unsettling and disturbing. The reader may not like what has been written. The story may not communicate in the way the writer, me, thought it would. The characters were too shallow, or too loud; the dialogues, too unreal. It is hard to relinquish that control to the reader and let them decide and stand in judgement. Placing this power in the hands of another is much harder than I would have thought. Every writer knows that the work has to stand on its own, and either it does or it doesn’t. Reader acceptance is the ultimate test, and there is no avoiding it. I love it when it passes, and dislike it when it doesn’t. In the end, one realizes that one cares about what others think. That’s why it’s scary.

Q: What’s the best book you’ve read this past year?

A: Travels by Michael Crichton

Q: Do you listen to music while you write? If so, what’s on your playlist?

A: I rarely listen to music when I write. I work in an office where there are many different conversations and other activities. I have to focus so everything gets drowned out including any music.

Q: If you could relive a certain age in your life, what would it be and why?

A: I suppose we would all like to be shockingly good looking. I think we all have achieved that at one time or another as well. I really do. It is amazing to look at pictures of what older people looked like in their prime. I would certainly like to revisit that time of my life when life was forever grand, only this time with the wisdom that was singularly absent during that period. One may look great but have the mind of an idiot. That was me. It is rare when both are present in a human being.

Q: If you threw a dinner party and could invite any five people (living or not), who would they be and what question would you most like to ask each one?

A: I would probably throw Oscar Wilde, Richard Feynman, Raymond Chandler, Nancy Mitford, Stephen King, and Jane Austen in the same room just to see what would happen. There would be no particular questions that I would ask, but I would seriously listen to what was said. I would be enchanted. I would also make sure that Stanley had plenty of spirits on hand and that Dagmar had a free rein with the menu.

Q: What’s next on your list of projects?

A: I’m writing another novel. This one is about what happens if you manage to meet a god.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

A: My website: Ivanobolensky.com

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: Keep reading. Keep thinking. Keep wondering. Be curious forever.




A Chat With Jeri Westerson

Jeri Westerson

I met Jeri Westerson at her reading at Vroman’s Pasadena, for her then new release Booke of the Hidden and, having attended several author readings for research, I was stunned at the quality and detail of her event. I had already devoured her novel in seven hours straight, literally unable to put the book down, and had considered myself a fan of hers for life. However, I held her in much higher esteem after meeting her in person, and seeing how much she cared for the fellow authors in the audience and how she had a knack for making everyone feel welcome. It is my honor and pleasure to introduce you to her.

Interviewer: Joanna Celeste

Q: You have worked with publishers on both sides of the pond and have self-published. What are the advantages of each experience?

A: There’s always an advantage to being traditionally published. Right now I have—and it blows my mind a little—four publishers: St. Martin’s still has the rights to a few of the Crispin books, mostly the first one; Severn House (my UK publisher) picked up the rest of the series of all new books; Diversion publishes my current paranormal series, BOOKE OF THE HIDDEN; and a small LGBT publisher, MLR Press still holds the rights to some of my Skyler Foxe Mysteries. In between all that, I have published a few historical novels, the rest of the Skyler Foxe Mysteries, and one Crispin book on my own. That makes me a hybrid author. The advantages to being published traditionally is the “discovery” aspect. In other words, how will readers find you? And if you are traditionally published, and with a big New York publisher at that, being in their catalogue is a huge push forward. It’s the imprimatur to booksellers, libraries, and reviewers, that your book is worth reading, which in turn puts it in front of the eyes of readers. You still have to do the lion’s share of promotion yourself, but when they take care of sending books to reviewers and setting up other things, with a publicist at your disposal, it helps a lot. The UK publisher is no different from US publishers, except for two release dates; one there and one here. Why they aren’t on the same date, I have yet to determine. Tradition, I guess. With a larger publisher, you can expect an advance. It’s nice to have operating funds. A small to medium publisher won’t offer you an advance.

So, once you’ve been publishing for a while, understanding some of the nuances of publishing, publicity, and marketing, then you might wish to venture into self-publishing. I certainly wouldn’t have done it out of the gate, and I always advise people NOT to do that. But many are impatient. I laugh when I hear they sent queries to two whole agents and got rejected. Good grief, if I had stopped at that I wouldn’t have 24 books out there published right now. Books that are well-written, well-reviewed, with multiple award-nominations. What’s wrong with paying some dues and learning along the way?

Q: In the twenty+ years you have been involved in this industry, you have been front row to a lot of change. What has been the most notable to you?

A: I suppose ebooks and self-publishing. The only way to self-publish in the old days was to go to a “vanity press” and pay them to publish you. You can still find them today, but there’s no reason to go with those who will promise you the moon, and deliver little. There are several platforms today (Amazon being the biggest and easiest to navigate), but there’s so much more to it than pressing the “publish” button. I mean, if you want to be reviewed by Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and Library Journal—and you do—they have a four to six-month lead time. In other words, the book can’t be published for at least four to six months. So what’s your hurry? All that money you’re going to rake in? That’s not going to happen. In that case, take your time. Hire yourself a content editor, then a copy editor. Hire a good cover designer. This is your face to the world. Don’t half-ass it.

And then there are the ebooks. When they really started exploding on the scene in 2010-11, something in there, they saved my skin with St. Martin’s, at least for a while. My series would have been dead if it hadn’t been for the ebook market. The books were cheaper, for one. And convenient, for the other. My overall sales are still higher in ebooks. But that’s changing too.

Q: How do you imagine or anticipate the industry moving forward from here?

A: There’s a real problem with piracy, and with readers who think that artistic content should be free. I don’t know what can be done to change those attitudes. But overall, book sales are down. Book tours aren’t profitable for the mid-lister, like me. Who knows how it will evolve? I know there will always be people who enjoy reading genre fiction, who want a good size 300-400 page book, who will pay for the privilege of buying it or encouraging their library to get it in the stacks. But right now, where are those younger readers? I’m trying to tap into them with my paranormal, but it’s tough.

Q: Your reading was one of the most engaging I had ever attended. What do you consider critical elements to a successful reading?

A: The first thing is, do NOT read more than five minutes. Even if you are the best actor in the world, the attention span these days means you must keep it short. And for those who aren’t used to reading aloud, practice. Practice by yourself and in front of someone. Read more slowly than you think you should. When we read to ourselves we zip through it, but when reading aloud, you need to Say. Each. Word. Be lively! As if you are reading to your child. Do voices. Pick an interesting scene with dialog. Have fun with it.

Q: Would you recommend new authors set up readings, even if they only get a few attendees?

A: Yes, because if you’re a newbie then no one has ever heard of your books. And this is a way to help them hear it. Being in a bookstore setting for this is the best because people just wandering through might be engaged by your reading. In a library, it’s harder because you will likely be in a closed room for your event. But do schedule those, too. Make sure the person setting up your event will advertise to whatever reading group they might have at the library. Have them schedule you accordingly. (Have an “event,” and that means doing more than a reading. Have an interesting presentation that only has to do with your book peripherally. I talk about aspects of medieval history when I do a library event, not just talk about my new book) Your event might be to speak at their book club meeting.

Q: You served two terms as president of the Southern California chapter of Mystery Writers of America (https://mysterywriters.org) served a term as Vice President of the Los Angeles chapter of Sisters in Crime (http://www.sistersincrime.org), and two terms as president of the Orange County chapter of Sisters in Crime. At the reading, you strongly recommended authors network. What were some of the best things you learned from your vantage as president and vice president of those organizations?

A: Being welcoming. You have to welcome the new, the shy. Don’t just hang with your besties. Go out and talk to people you don’t know that might have been coming to the meetings a while. These are the people you want to invite to volunteer to be on the board. And there is nothing like volunteering to learn the ins and outs of organizing, to feel better about networking with others, to learn to be a little less shy. You’re now one of the team.

Q: Booke of the Hidden, your new paranormal book series, is a different direction for you, paranormal and urban fantasy. Are there any resources you can cross over from your medieval mysteries, the Crispin Guest series?

A: I still have to do research, but it isn’t as extensive as the medieval mystery research. It’s a cakewalk! So one does use those skills. Then it’s just telling an interesting and involving tale.

Q: Speaking of, your latest Crispin Guest medieval mystery novel, The Season of Blood, was just launched Christmas Eve last year, with your next, The Deepest Grave, set for a UK release in April, with a US release in August. What do you do to keep track of details and Crispin’s history or character development across the series?

A: I have not only an historical timeline of events with real people and what they’re doing, but I have a parallel timeline for Crispin. This helps me to establish when I want him to cross over the line into what was really happening in London or elsewhere. Chaucer pokes into the story from time to time. He was once Crispin’s best friend when they both worked for the duke of Lancaster. Then Lancaster shows up occasionally. Katherine Swynford, Lancaster’s mistress makes an appearance. Henry Bolingbroke, Lancaster’s son, who becomes Henry IV, is also an important addition to the series. Jack Tucker, Crispin’s apprentice, grows up with the series. In the latest book, SEASON OF BLOOD, he is engaged to be married. And in the upcoming book, THE DEEPEST GRAVE, Jack is going to be a father and Crispin has to cope with Jack’s wife living with them. It helps the series to grow right along with the characters, rather than keeping it static like a Hercule Poirot. Poirot is the same from the first book to the last. These changes that have happened in Crispin’s life have truly seasoned him and allowed him to grow as a person, and I find this a fascinating place to go with these characters.

Q: How does your writing schedule usually go?

A: I write every day, including weekends and holidays, unless I skive off. I used to have a really regimented schedule, but I find that as I’ve gotten older and my attention span has gone all over the place, my best laid plans are all for naught. I start at seven in the morning and mess around on emails and on Facebook. Usually around 9 or 10 I will begin to write, and that means reading over what I wrote the day before, sometimes going farther back in the manuscript to read it all for sense and to get into the rhythm again. But I find I write a few paragraphs, and mess around on social media. I write a page, and then stop to do research. I stop and start a lot. And sometimes I will stop in the middle of the day to watch movies. I’ll get a second wind about three and write for several hours. It all depends. And there is no right or wrong about it. As long as I meet my deadlines. And I try to make sure I get nine months for each book.

Q: What are some things you wish were talked about more in your industry?

A: What writers make. We really make very little for all the work we do. Maybe they wouldn’t pirate books so much if they knew how important each sale is.

Q: You have had quite a host of careers and occupations! What was the moment you decided to become a full-time author? (Though, you are also an expert on the Middle Ages, with talks around the country and acting as a guest lecturer. Where you get to demonstrate medieval weaponry, how awesome is that?)

A: Well, I wasn’t doing all that lecturing and talking until I was published. And that took a decade+. That’s why I had so many silly careers. I was a full-time mom, and writing part time with a part-time paying job. Before all this, I was a graphic designer and art director. That was a great career. With absolutely no intentions of becoming a writer. I wrote for fun in my free time and never let anyone know I wrote. So I fully intended to continue to be an artist. But I semi-retired to have a baby. And when he was about two, I decided to get back into freelancing. But the whole industry had gone to computer graphics and I knew nothing about it. I couldn’t afford the Mac I would have to acquire or the lessons to learn how to use it. So by necessity, I was trying to think of something I could do at home and also raise my son, and it occurred to me that I might try to be an author. How hard could it be? (Insert laughter) Harder than I thought, even with all my researching and getting an agent (I’m currently on my fourth). But eventually—with my husband always standing by me—I prevailed.

Q: You had shared excellent advice for new writers to read a lot, write a lot, and network; to not do this for the money; that this had to be their passion. What was some of the best advice you received when starting out?

A: I didn’t get any. I was on my own, writing historical novels in a vacuum before I started writing mysteries and finally getting to network with other mystery writers. But I soon learned the best advice for me: listen to the experts, the people further along than you. They’ve already been through it. If they make a suggestion—or a critique of your work—listen to what they have to say. Also, my training in graphic design helped me, too. It taught me that I’m creating a product for an audience. It isn’t “art” per se. It fulfills a function but it also has to work artistically. So do works of fiction. Your clients are your editor and the reading public. Yes, you are the creator, using your artistic skills, but it still has to please those readers out there.

Websites: http://www.jeriwesterson.com/ http://bookeofthehidden.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/crispin.guest
Twitter: @jeriwesterson
Instagram: jeriwestersonauthor
Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/jeriwesterson/ https://www.pinterest.com/jeriwesterson/booke-of-the-hidden/
Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Booke-Hidden-Jeri-Westerson-ebook/dp/B074TS6G7R/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1515549307&sr=8-1&keywords=booke+of+the+hidden+by+jeri+westerson


A Chat With Jacquie Gauthier

Jacquie Gauthier

By Debbie A. McClure

Someone told Canadian ex-radio host, Jacquie Gauthier that we all need to “Find Your Elephant!” When I heard that quote, I had to laugh. After all this is a woman who has literally learned what that means. Imagine falling in love, leaving your country of birth, and starting all over in a foreign country, and in the process, finding yourself. For many years I listened to Jacquie on the local radio station in London, Ontario, Canada, and worked with her on a local Make-A-Wish Foundation fundraiser. However, I never dreamed she’d roam so far, or that one day we’d be talking about elephants and writing books. Welcome Jacquie!

Q: Tell us a little about your books and how you got started.

A: My first book, The Gift Of An Elephant: A Story About Life, Love, and Africa, really came as a result of my Uncle Ernest, who was a missionary in Africa. When I was a little girl, he gave me an ebony elephant carving. I loved that little carving, and it sparked my life-long love of elephants and Africa. In fact, little did I know that my love for him and the seeds he planted, would sprout much later in life.As a result of my great uncle, I’ve always had an affinity for Africa, and for helping other people. 

I’ve had what I believe is a pretty bumpy ride to where I’m at now, living in Africa with my husband, and my passionate involvement with elephant and African wildlife conservation.  I wanted to share my own personal experiences in Africa and Canada, and the journey that’s lead me here, in an effort to remind people that anything, literally anything, you feel deeply about can happen. But change isn’t easy—I don’t think it’s supposed to be. There is a lot of pain along the way, but if you keep going, keep believing in yourself and pursuing what’s important to you, you can create the changes you need in your life. I also know that Africa changes how you view life, yourself, and others. It’s an incredibly unique place on this planet, and I wanted to share some of what I’ve experienced with others.

Q: Explain how you went from London, Ontario to South Africa, and why?

A: A few years ago, when I was at my personal lowest, I decided to go on a mission trip with Canadian Aid For Southern Sudan. My job there was simple. I was to help the kids create art, assist with the music camp, and help work on plays for the kids. I have to tell you, I loved every minute of it!  

One day I went with a group of people to deliver some medicines and interview refugees not far from where we were staying. That’s where I met Johann, a South African paramedic who was working on a U.N. contract at the time. He is such a wonderful man, and we connected immediately. After we got married, Johann came to Canada on Permanent Residence, but he couldn’t find a job. Oddly enough, he landed a job in Mozambique, so returned to Africa to work. We absolutely didn’t want to deal with a long-distance marriage, so I moved to Africa with him, but I didn’t have the documentation to work. This meant I was going to have a lot of time on my hands, which worried me a bit, but I figured something would come along.  

When we were preparing to move to Africa from Canada, I contacted the television show, House Hunters International. What followed was a crazy, fun experience of having our massive life overhaul and move to a new country, filmed. It was a great experience, and we still get stopped on the street by people everywhere who have seen that episode and recognize us!

The problem for me with moving to Africa was that Johann was required to be gone for as much as a month at a time. Because I had the time, I decided to pursue a long-held dream of writing a book. With the success of The Gift Of An Elephant, I was encouraged to write my second book, Twenty-Eight Elephants: And Other Everyday Miracles.  

I won’t say much about Twenty-Eight Elephants right now, except that this book talks to the many experiences, happenstances, and yes, miracles, I’ve had or heard about throughout my life that have changed me irrevocably for the better.

I also have to say that I’m forever grateful for the opportunity to observe, first hand, the unrelenting, inspiring resilience of the people of Africa who’ve been misplaced by famine, war, and drought, yet are happier than many North Americans. Why? Because they value each other. They pay attention, and care for each other—that’s all they have—each other. I’m convinced that miracles, serendipity, God, the Universe, whatever you want to call it, happen all the time.  

Q: You now collaborate on a highly successful new artistic venture with a remarkable artist in Africa to raise funds, awareness, and build a brand new business. How did you and your artistic partner, Alicia Fordyce, meet? 

A: Alicia and I met at an art show in far off and exciting Hoedspruit Limpopo. Alicia was an exhibiting visual artist, and I fell in love with her work. Long story short; we chatted, clicked, and continued to run into each other socially on several occasions after that. Then I had this crazy idea to do fine art and photography on elephant dung paper, which is an amazing product that really isn’t as gross as it sounds. I’ll explain in a moment. The key thing is that Alicia thought it was a great idea too, so we decided to collaborate on this new art project, which we entitled; Two Girls And An Elephant (see link below). The plan was to start a new business by creating original art, sell it, and at the same time, raise funds and awareness of African elephants and rhinos, who are at an alarming risk of becoming extinct if people don’t do something, like NOW!

Q: Tell us about your artwork.

A: Well, we started out thinking of doing prints of Alicia’s paintings and my photography (another passion of mine) on high quality art paper and elephant dung paper . We planned to sell the prints to tourists visiting the area. Of course Alicia and I have the original art, but we weren’t sure it would be as big a seller as it is. Actually, it’s doing exceptionally well! Some of our original art has been exhibited at the Lion Sands Ivory Lodge in Saubi Sands, an absolutely incredible hotel that’s often called “one of the best hotels in the world”, which sits right on the banks of the Sabi River .  

Q: Okay, I gotta ask; what is dung paper, and how do you use it?

A: *laughs* It’s made from elephant dung, or poop. You see, elephants have poor digestive systems, so what remains is mostly grass. The grass is boiled in caustic soda, then water is added to make a paste, which is then spread out on a screen and left in the sun to dry. As you can imagine, it’s a very organic look and is an amazing medium. We work hand-in-hand with a local paper-maker to have the it refined to our precise design specification, which is thinner than what they would normally produce. 

The advantages of this product is that it has such an organic look and texture. This makes it completely different from anything else out there. We like to tell purchasers that this is a great way to bring an authentic piece of Africa home with them, and it is!

The disadvantages of the dung paper are very few. Alicia loves painting on it, however, I will say that printing on it is a bit more difficult, and supply is limited. In addition to larger pieces, we also do greeting cards, book markers, etc., all at different price points of course.

Q: Who benefits from the sale of the artwork?

A: We donate 10% of the proceeds from sales of the artwork to Elephant’s Alive South Africa. 

I’ve also become very involved with a local (African) organization, Wild Shots Outreach, which teaches kids how to use a camera to create beautiful images. It’s imperative we educate the country’s youth about what’s happening in their own backyard regarding the elephant, rhino, and other wildlife populations. They’re the future, so if they can learn to connect to nature, they’re far less likely to be swayed into becoming poachers later in life. They’re also taught the importance of preservation, and where each animal on the planet fits in with it’s natural habitat. Every animal impacts the environment and other animals around it. It’s a domino effect that’s in serious jeopardy of collapsing in several areas.

Q: Tell us a bit about the importance of elephant conservation. Why should people outside Africa care?

A: 36,000 elephants are brutally murdered every year. That’s 96 elephants A DAY, or one every 15 minutes, which is completely unacceptable!

You see, the elephant is what is known as a “keystone” species. In other words, it’s survival impacts the other animals and habitat. When an elephant knocks down a tree, leafy greens are accessed by smaller animals who otherwise wouldn’t have that food source, and the tree itself becomes a nest or hiding refuge for other animals. When an elephant walks in mud, then that mud solidifies, it creates a natural water bowl for smaller animals. Their droppings mean new seeds are delivered to new locations, conveniently encased in fertilizer. 

There are so many ways the African elephant impacts it’s habitat in a positive manner. That’s why I’m doing what I can to raise awareness and funds to help out. Did you know that elephants cry, form complex matriarchal societies, and mourn their dead? These animals matter in a very significant way, and people can definitely do a lot to help end poaching. Can you imagine a world without these majestic, intelligent creatures?

Losing any species off our planet is scary, and potentially dangerous, in ways we can’t even predict yet, but time is our enemy. Things have to change, or in 15 years—15 years, we won’t have wild African elephants at all! A few years ago, scientists predicted that we had maybe 20 years left to protect and preserve the African wild elephant, but it’s happening much faster than originally thought. Awareness from the rest of the world is part of the answer. After all, if people don’t know there’s a problem, we don’t know how or why we need to correct it. I think the answer is in educating young people about nature and the ripple effects. The fact is, many children living close to Kruger National Park have never seen an elephant. This means they have no affinity for the animals. For the adults of a community village, poaching means money—more money than they’ve ever seen before. It’s hard or impossible to say no to that kind of offering, especially if you have a family to feed. When there’s no understanding of why the elephant is important, there’s no reason not to take the money. If people the world over would stop buying ivory, there’d be no demand, and no need to slaughter the animal. Again, it’s about education on many levels. 

Another organization that’s doing its part on behalf of education is “Nourish”. They’re working on building self-sustaining communities to banish poverty. By focusing on early childhood development, food security, English literacy, environmental education, conservation experiences, and entrepreneurial training, they’re making significant inroads with the people living in and around the wildlife areas and game reserves. Teaching the people about how they can benefit from tourism for years to come by helping to preserve it, is a key factor. 

Q: How can people reading this help?

A: *laughs* Donate! Support a charity, buy a product, (like our art) that helps the people living in and around the African elephants and other wildlife, to become more self-sustaining. When you do, you create your own ripple effect, even though you may not necessarily see it first-hand. This actually goes for all wildlife anywhere in the world. What you see us doing in South Africa, can be adapted for other areas of wildlife in need. This our planet. We created these serious problems, but we can fix it too. We just have to do it together.

By sharing my personal experiences in my books, I hope to inspire others to take on new challenges, and recognize the connectivity we are all a part of.

Website: http://www.twogirlsandanelephant.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jacquie.gauthier.5

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jacquie-gauthier-10983a16/

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Jacquie-Gauthier/e/B014V288DS

Instagram: jacquie_gauthier_author

Nourish: http://www.nourishnpo.co.za/

Elephants Alive: http://www.elephantsalive.org/

Wildshots Outreach Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/wildshotsoutreach/

Ivory Lodge Game Reserve:  https://www.sabi-sands.com/lion-sands-ivory-lodge.html






Death Unmasked


One of the sweet dreams of a reincarnation belief is that we will continue to be reunited with the souls of those we loved. Conversely, a nightmare of that same tableau is a cyclical encounter with our worst enemies and the inherent challenges of dealing with the dark side of any unfinished business.

A Houston homicide detective investigates his, and his wife’s murder … in his next lifetime. Such is the premise of Rick Sulik’s Death Unmasked, a novel of reincarnation, retribution and timeless love.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett


Q: Tell us about your journey as a writer and who or what had the biggest influence on your personal style?

A:  I have high admiration, and give much credit for my personal style, of knowing who I am, where I came from, and where I am going, to my loving parents during my growing-up, and self-awareness years. My parents taught me to believe in myself, and I learned to develop a can-do, positive, and constructive attitude, so that I would be able to accomplish whatever I set my mind on doing in life. They were my main inspiration.

Q: What were you doing career-wise prior to penning your first novel?

A:  I spent thirty-nine years in law enforcement before retiring in 2013.

Q: How did your real-life career experiences shape your approach to the challenges and discipline of writing fiction?

A:  It was a challenge to switch from ‘descriptive’ police report ‘fact’ writing, to, ‘creative’ and colorful, ‘story-telling’ novel writing. It took true grit, and I completed my story, the way I saw fit, without outside influence or interference.

Q: Where did you find the inspiration to write Death Unmasked?

A:  Music – These three inspiring, and entrancing tunes dramatize the storyline in, Death Unmasked, ‘Greensleeves,’ by Mantovani, ‘Think of Laura,’ sung by, Christopher Cross, and ‘Mary in the Morning,’ sung by, Al Martino.

* Oscar Wilde’s Disquieting Poem – ‘The Ballad of Reading Gaol (Jail).’

* My belief in Reincarnation.

Q: I love the title! Does it hold special meaning for you?

A:  Yes. When it’s quiet, I like to mediate, and within a few minutes, my free, and lighter than a feather, ‘spirit,’ is floating in the center of the cosmos. Now, close your eyes, clear your mind, and meditate. Let your ‘mem’-ory, shine through the darkness, so you can, re-‘mem’-ber. As strange as it may seem, I didn’t choose the title, Death Unmasked, it chose me, and, the reincarnation story was written, ‘in-a-blink-of-an-eye.’

Q: So what is Death Unmasked about?

A:  Death Unmasked, is a suspenseful, mystery police thriller spanning lifetimes, using reincarnation, karma, psychic ability, remote viewing, and out-of-body experience to out-wit an evil incarnated entity stalking women in, Houston, Texas.

Q: You describe its genre as “Romance / Mystery / Suspense / Thriller / Police Procedural / Urban / Fantasy / Paranormal / Supernatural / Poetry.” If it were found on the shelves of a traditional bookstore, though, where would it most likely be located?

A:  A copy of, Death Unmasked, would be found on the shelves, in the following book sections:  Romance / Mystery / Suspense / Thriller / Police Procedural / History / Urban / Fantasy / Paranormal / Supernatural / Past Lives / Poetry.

(Editorial Comment: We are assuming the author is being facetious in this reply. Unlike a virtual platform where novels can be categorized with a long list of tags, a traditional bookstore has a finite amount of shelf-space. It’s unrealistic to suggest—and especially to aspiring writers—that multiple copies of the same title would be found in a dozen different sections of the store. This is also critical to keep in mind for those of you pitching your own projects to agents or publishers. While many books certainly contain aspects of multiple genres, the objective is to define which genre is the predominant one.)

Q: Who is your target readership?

A:  High School – Adult.

Q: Given its reincarnation theme, is reincarnation something you personally believe in? If so, how did this belief come about?

A:  I believe in reincarnation. When I was young, my mom and I would walk a mile in the evenings after dinner around a lake near our home. On our last walk together before she passed away, she looked up at me, and said with a sweet smile, “If I had to do it all over again for you, and your brothers, I would.” Instinctively, without her saying another word, the knowing look in her beautiful hazel eyes communicated her thoughts, and it all came together ‘in-a-blink-of-an-eye,’ and I fully understood what my mom had meant. She had been my mother in other lifetimes.

Q: Do you plan to come back in your next lifetime? If so, as what?

A:  As a, – human being, of course. In the very beginning of time, all ‘spirits’ were created at one time, and baptized at the same time in the ‘spirit’ world by Our Creator. All spirits have their own ‘personality,’ or ‘identity.’ When a spirit uses their ‘free-will’ and incarnates to the ‘physical’ world as a human being to experience a lifetime, or lifetimes, they have their own individual ‘fingerprint,’ what the Chinese call, a ‘chop,’ or mark, which is their signature that identifies their unique spirit  from another spirit. That ‘fingerprint’ belongs to them, and only to them, each and every time their spirit decides to incarnate to ‘physical’ earth. From the very beginning of time, we were all ‘identified,’ and keep only one set of ‘physical’ fingerprints – – – for eternity. We cannot learn, ‘in-a-blink-of-an-eye,’ all about life in one lifetime. It takes many lifetimes for our spirits to evolve, and come around full-circle, in order to become completed spirits with Our Creator.

Q: Tell us about your main characters in the book. Did they spring forth from your imagination or are they modeled after real people (including yourself)?

A:  The protagonist, Sean Jamison, and his police colleagues, Roman Addison, and Captain Virginia Schaeffer, are a combination of police personalities (veterans) of all my Houston Police Department, Field Training Officers (FTO’s), during my training / probationary period in the late 70’s.

Q: What were some of the challenges you encountered in developing the plot, the characters and their interactions?

A:  I wrote from my daily experiences, and on-the-job training, in those thirty-nine years of service.

Q: Did you work from an outline or just wing it from day to day?

A:  My mind started in the middle of, Death Unmasked. At night, I would type chapters until a fog, or, ‘writer’s block,’ kept me from advancing. I would then ‘change tactics,’ and start writing chapters in the beginning, and continued typing towards the middle of the book. You probably heard the military saying – ‘Improvise, adapt, and overcome.’ I wanted to write, Death Unmasked, in a different writing style from the norm, and I tried to keep the story rolling along at a fast clip.

Q: Is there a hidden message in the story that you would like to convey to interested readers?

A:  There are no hidden messages. It’s all laid out in black-and-white. At the conclusion of the story, the reader should be able to decide for themselves in the comfort, and in the silence of their sanctuary, if the story convinced them that reincarnation – is a reality.

Q: When and where are you at your most creative?

A:  When I’m in my element. I can switch it on, or off, as I please – anywhere.

Q: What would readers be the most surprised to learn about you?

A:  I’m a fallible human being, no better, no different than another earthly human being, and my blood is the color red.

Q: How did you go about finding a publisher for your work?

A:  It took many painstaking hours of searching. Tenacity finally prevailed. I finally found the light switch in the very dark and empty room.

Q: What are you doing to market it?

A:  I hope, Christina, your blog will attract many interested readers, and book clubs to read, Death Unmasked, and that everyone will enjoy discussing, and learning something new, and be inspired by my intriguing reincarnation story.

Q: Any new projects in the works?

A:   None. I’m retired and a senior citizen. I’m enjoying life at a much slower pace these days. There are no more schedules for me to keep up with. My motto – Live life to its fullest, and forget your age. I now have more time to stop and smell the roses. I might consider penning another book in my next incarnation – somewhere down the road, and over the next hill, in the not so near future, and only when I decide the time is right, to use my God gifted free-will again.

Q: What’s your best advice to aspiring writers?

A:  I will quote Richard Bach, author of, Jonathan Livingston Seagull, “A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.”

Q: Where can readers find your book?

A:   www.christophermatthewspub.com

Amazon Link:  http://amzn.to/2r2LpFI

Goodreads Link: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/27510127-death-unmasked?fromsearch=true

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: I thought it interesting, since Army General George S. Patton Jr., (born 11-11-1885) believed in reincarnation, that his Warrior ‘spirit,’ in foresight, would choose to incarnate (Free-Will) back into the ‘physical’ on the date, 11-11. General Patton’s poem, ‘Through a Glass, Darkly’ is evident of his resolute belief in reincarnation. I quote, “So as through a glass and darkly, the age long strife I see, where I fought in many guises, many names, but always me.” To Patton, who strongly believed in God, the date 11-11, might symbolize ‘spirits’ re-entering the ‘physical’ (earth) by way of the top left inside 11, and eventually departing by way of the lower right inside 11, back to the ‘spirit’ world, only to be ‘reborn’ again (a cycle) at some future date by using – The All Merciful Father’s (God) greatest gift to humanity – ‘Free-Will.’ At 11:00 am, of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, WWI came to an end, and it was to be the war that would end all wars. Patton lived half of his adult life at this point in history. General Patton’s Warrior ‘Spirit’ might have foreseen, before reincarnating on his latest birthday, 11-11-1885, that years after WWII, his birthday (November 11) would be remembered as a National Holiday, and would honor all veterans, and that Armistice Day, would be eventually changed to – Veterans Day.

Thank you very much, Christina, for taking time out from your busy schedule to do this  interview.






A Chat With Eddi Fiegel

Eddi Fiegel byline photo

The same year the United States entered World War II, a first-born baby girl named Ellen Naomi Cohen entered the lives of a Jewish family in Baltimore. Thirty-two years later, following a headlining performance at the London Palladium, the singer who had come to be known as Mama Cass was found dead at Harry Nilsson’s flat in Mayfair. As much an enigma in death as she was in life, her roller coaster journey of sex, drugs, politics and folk music became open for review in Dream a Little Dream of Me by British author and BBC correspondent Eddi Fiegel.

I met Eddi when her book first came out in 2005. Happily, we have reconnected in 2017 to chat about her latest project which focuses on the generation of young females who went crazy about one of Britain’s most popular exports, The Beatles.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett


Q: You belong to a generation that came into its own long after The Mamas and Papas had already disbanded. When did you first discover their music and allow it to captivate you?

A:  I loved The Beatles from an early age even though I was too young to have enjoyed them while they were still together and I soon realised that I loved the sound of other records from the ‘60s too. I remember vividly hearing The Mamas and Papas’ ‘Creeque Alley’ for the first time on the radio and immediately wanting to find out who it was by and where I could get a copy. I think it was the infectiousness of the melody and the gorgeous harmonies that just sounded so upbeat and captivating, particularly in grey London.

Q: Did you come from a musical background/childhood?

A: My mother grew up with classical music and when I was a child, she always had classical music on the radio or playing on a record. I also grew up playing piano and always loved music. Pop music, however, was my own domain, in contrast to classical which belonged very much to my parents’ world.

Q: Was music ever something you wanted to pursue as a professional career?

A:  I loved the idea of becoming a professional pianist as a child but was discouraged by my mother and a piano teacher who apparently told her I was unlikely to become a female Vladimir Ashkenazi. If I had another life, I’ve always thought it would be incredible to play a piano concerto with an orchestra.

Q: Tell us about your foray into the world of BBC reporting and how it shaped your decision to do feature interviews and biographies.

A: I worked as a BBC radio reporter for several years. I started off reporting from Spain where I was living in Barcelona at the time, doing reports on young people and music in the city. Then when I moved back to London, I began doing feature interviews with musicians and reporting from music events. I met some wonderful artists during that time. Amongst my favourites were Paul McCartney, David Bowie, Philip Glass, world music artist Anjelique Kidjo and Nitin Sawhney.

I had always wanted to write however and magazines like Mojo had begun asking me to write up some of my interviews so it was an easy progression. I also found that many of the skills I had learnt whilst training as a BBC reporter related equally to writing and were very much transferrable skills.

Q: What particularly made you want to write about the life and times of Cass Elliot?

A: I had always loved her version of ‘Dream A Little Dream of Me’. In fact I had a seven inch of it as a child and used to love singing along, as although I don’t have a voice to speak of at all, my voice could more or less match her pitch so I could sing along easily.

Then in the early 1990s I discovered Cass Elliot’s solo albums.  I particularly loved tracks like It’s Getting Better, One Way Ticket and Make Your Own Kind of Music so I started trying to find out more about her. I was amazed and intrigued by what I discovered. I found out that she was born Ellen Naomi Cohen but that she had died young in London, under ambiguous circumstances. I also learnt that during her years with The Mamas and Papas, she had been a leading light of the LA social scene, hosting unofficial salons attended by everyone from The Beatles to Hollywood A-listers like Jack Nicholson and Warren Beatty.

She was responsible for introducing David Crosby to Graham Nash and had been friends with Joni Mitchell. All this made me want to know more so I looked for a book on her life and saw that no biography had been written. I was looking for a subject for my next book around this time and I knew then that I had found it.

Q: Was this your first music biography?

A: No. I had written the biography of British film composer John Barry before. John is most famous for writing the scores to the original James Bond films as well as the Oscar winning Born Free, but he had also led a fascinating life. I have also co-written biographies of Madonna and Cher.

Q: What do you feel most distinguished her in a music industry which, at the time, was dominated by men?

A: Cass had an astounding voice and the determination to be accepted on her own terms. When she started out in music, she was constantly rejected by musicians, managers and agents who took one look at her and refused to believe that a woman of her size could become a star. As soon as they heard her sing, however, they were nearly always bowled over by her voice and charisma.

Q: What was the most astonishing takeaway you found when you were doing your research?

A: There were various points which I found fascinating in different ways. I had known that amphetamines had been routinely prescribed as a dieting aid during the 1960s but it was still alarming to hear about Cass having had them prescribed by her doctor when she was still an adolescent.  I was also fascinated to hear one of my female interviewees talk about her experience of the ‘free love’ ethos in the late 60s. She told me that she had felt there was as much pressure during that era to ‘be free’ with your love as there had been not to be free in the more buttoned up era which immediately preceded it. This seems obvious in hindsight but the way that era is presented rarely focuses on this particular female viewpoint.

Q: How long did the book take you to write?

A: Four years.

Q: Had she lived, do you think Cass Elliot would have stayed viable in the music business or done something else?

A: The 70s and early 80s were a difficult time for many performers who had become famous during the 60s, particularly those who, like Cass, didn’t write their own material. But from the mid 80s onwards, a new generation started discovering the music of the 60s and there was a renewed interest in them and their work.

I think Cass would have benefited from that and been championed by young artists and consequently the music industry itself. Musicians including Boy George, kd Lang and Antony Kiedis from The Red Hot Chilli Peppers have all talked about how much they admire her voice.

I also think she would have become successful as a TV star and possibly explored the world of politics further. She campaigned for George McGovern when he stood as presidential candidate against Nixon in the 1972 election and she talked about how she liked the idea of exploring that that area further.

Q: You have something interesting trivia to share about Cass’ high school class and the musical Grease. What is it and how does it speak to the younger generation today about trying to straddle the line between popularity and individuality?

A: Cass attended Forest Park High School in Baltimore which has often been talked about as providing part of the inspiration for the musical Grease. The musical was originally produced by two friends and ex-classmates of Cass’s– Ken Waissman and Maxine Fox, and the culture it portrays was very much the way things were for her. Classmates of hers remember the pressure amongst pupils to fit in and be liked but also to be quick-witted and smart.

The musical clearly portrays that and the idea of being yourself and having the strength to resist peer pressure is obviously still relevant today, particularly amongst high school students.

Q: You interviewed many fascinating and high profile interviewees from David Crosby and Graham Nash to the late senator and U.S presidential candidate George McGovern. Was it difficult to get interviews with some of these people and how did they respond to your request?

A: Was it difficult to get to some of the people? Yes. Getting to some of my interviews was indeed a very long drawn out process in many cases, but well worth it in the end!

David Crosby only agreed to talk to me after several people he knew and trusted had met me and presumably decided that I was ‘kosher’ and not a psychopath. Nevertheless, when Crosby finally agreed, he suggested we meet in a branch of the Coffee Bean near his home. I was surprised that we were going to conduct what I hoped would be a lengthy and in-depth interview in a café but after about 15 minutes, he suggested I follow his car to his home. I realised at this point that the café meeting had been my audition and that I had evidently passed.

The late Senator George McGovern meanwhile was someone I had initially written to requesting an interview but over a year later, I had had no reply. I had entirely given up on hearing from him, when, one night in the summer of 2003 my phone rang at around 1am. I happened to still be awake and answered the phone to find a very polite gentleman telling me down a very crackly phone line that this was George McGovern.

I can only assume he had not realised the time difference between the UK and US but he very graciously agreed to wait whilst I rushed to find my notes before we began our conversation. His memory of events some thirty years earlier was incredible and he was very complimentary in his recollections of Cass’s enthusiasm and support for his campaign and her ability to talk to supporters knowledgably.

Q: In an earlier interview I did with you, you observed that “Cass could have been Oprah before Oprah.” What did you mean by that?

A: Cass Elliot had a natural and winning way with people as well as a very quick wit, so she was perfect as a TV guest and I believe she would definitely have been offered work as a TV show host. There was in fact talk of this kind of thing with her manager and various people in TV before she died. Consequently I think had she lived, she would easily have hosted a show like Oprah’s and become equally successful doing that.

Q: What do you look for when deciding on the subjects for your books?

A: I have always tried to write books that I myself would like to read. So it has to be a person or a subject which intrigues me, that makes me want to know more.

Q: What do you think makes a great biography?

A: Good research, good writing, a passion for the subject from the author, and portraying the subject’s life in the context of the times they lived in.

Q: Your latest project is all about The Beatles. Tell us about it.

A: I’m working on a new book called She Loves You – The Girls Who Screamed for The Beatles.

We’ve all seen the newsreels and the photos of screaming girls waiting for The Beatles at Kennedy airport or at concerts both across the US and UK and we all know the story of The Beatles. What we don’t know is the story of those girls.

I want to find out who they were and how they came to be there. Did they tell their parents they were having a sleepover at a friend’s? Did they raid their pocket money savings to buy tickets? Did they wait for hours in the cold to see the group and what was it like when they did? What became of them in their lives subsequently? Did they go to college and get married?  Did they discover the women’s movement and live in a hippy commune? Where are they now and do they still love The Beatles? Do they have children or grandchildren who like The Beatles?

Each chapter of the book will tell the individual story of a different woman, using their experience of seeing or waiting for The Beatles as the starting point. I believe this generation of women have lived through particularly fascinating times and will have had wonderful and varied life experiences.  The book will, therefore, explore not only the story of Beatlemania but the story of a generation.

This book will also be a different experience for me in terms of the publisher. My previous books have been published by traditional publishers such as Macmillan but I am writing She Loves You for the award-winning UK publisher Unbound. Since they started six years ago they have had books nominated for major literary awards such as the Man Booker prize and hit books such as The Immigrant but the way they work is different in that they are a crowdfunding publisher.

When a lot of people hear this, they assume it’s virtually the same as self-publishing and this must be the last resort for an author who can’t get published anywhere else. This is not the case at all with Unbound. They have distribution of their books through Penguin/Random House ie major publishers who ensure that Unbound’s books are available in all bookshops as well as on Amazon etc and they have a commissioning, editing and marketing process just like traditional publishers.

‘So why would an author choose them?’ you’re probably wondering. Well, the reason is because Unbound allow authors much more control and input into aspects of the publishing process such as book jacket, editing, etc than traditional publishers. Crucially, Unbound also split profits with their authors, giving them 50% of the profits. With traditional publishers authors receive an advance; i.e., money upfront for writing the book (which we don’t get with Unbound) but then only about 2 or 3% of the proceeds from the cover price of the book.

The way the crowdfunding works is that everyone who supports the book gets their name printed in every edition of the book. Pledges start from $12 / £10 and there are different pledge levels from there on with different ‘rewards’ including signed copies of She Loves You and signed copies of my previous books. You can obviously pledge in your own name but some people also like to do this as a gift for a friend or relative.

If anyone reading this likes the sound of She Loves You, it would be wonderful if you could make a pledge, however small! All the details are here: www.unbound.com/books/she-loves-you

There’s a short video of me at the top of the page talking about the book and the pledge levels are detailed below.

Q: What is it about the decade of the1960s that so appeals to you?

A: Several different things. The 60s was an incredibly creative decade. There was an extraordinary explosion of talent with groups like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, The Who and The Mamas and The Papas all emerging within a few years.

You also had great fashion and social revolutions on both sides of the Atlantic. In Britain’s ‘Swinging London’ the young generation were taking over and for the first time young people of all backgrounds and social classes were becoming stars in the worlds of theatre, film, fashion and literature.

In America, the Civil Rights Movement, John F. Kennedy’s assassination, the hippie movement and the Vietnam War were all likewise momentous stages in America’s history.

I find these events fascinating in their own right and as they informed the lives of both Cass Elliot and John Barry, they have also made powerful and compelling backgrounds to their life stories. They will also have figured in the lives of the women whose stories I will be telling in She Loves You.

Q: In the 1960s, there was not as much overexposure of celebrities as there is today. What do you think she would say about the current trend of baring souls and bodies in order to dominate the Internet and appease fans?

A: Cass was full of contradictions, so I think on the one hand, she would have welcomed more openness and honesty about celebrity’s lives. She herself famously posed lying naked (stomach down) in a bed of daisies for a photograph advertising one of her albums. So in that respect she was a non-conformist who loved sticking two fingers up at the establishment and having a bit of a risqué thrill.

I also think that had she lived she may, like many people in the 70s, have explored therapy and may well have come to do some further soul-baring of her own when talking to the media.

On the other hand, that all said, she was a classy, dignified lady who had good taste and so I think she would have wanted to draw the line at a certain point and retain a certain amount of privacy for herself and her family.

Q: If there is one question you could have asked Cass Elliot personally, what would it be?

A: There are lots of things I could have asked her but in particular I would love to find out more from her about the circumstances of her death. One of the myths I dismantle in the book is that she died choking after eating a sandwich. There is no truth in this whatsoever – it was simply a case of people jumping to conclusions in the immediate aftermath of her death. The details are much more complex and I explore those but it would be great to know some of the missing details.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you and your work?

A: For She Loves You, at www.unbound.com/books/she-loves-you on my own website: www.eddifiegel.com

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: No. Just to say: thank you very much for inviting me to talk about my work. I love the site and have enjoyed reading the interviews with other authors.





A Chat With David Selby


Selby Collage Framed

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

Once upon a long ago time—half a century, to be precise—my friends and I used to rush home from school to catch an American Gothic soap opera called Dark Shadows. The imaginative brainchild of creator Dan Curtis, the weekday series was unlike anything on daytime television. While it is often quipped that Jessica Fletcher’s Cabot Cove, Maine (Murder, She Wrote) is the murder center of the world, Curtis’ spooky Collinsport, Maine was the gathering place for witches, vampires, werewolves and ghosts—all of whom conspired to keep the innocent Victoria Winters off-balance in her quest to decipher a murky past.

Miss a single episode and you could literally miss a hundred years, so artfully did the storylines incorporate reincarnation, time travel, parallel time and dead relatives who, bless their hearts, just couldn’t stay dead and entombed in the Collins family crypt. From 1966 to 1971, the series developed what subsequently became a cult following that still exists today. Despite the wonky missteps of a feature length film called House of Dark Shadows in 1970, Night of Dark Shadows in 1971, a prime time series reboot in 1991 called Dark Shadows: The Revival and a Tim Burton horror comedy in 2012 called Dark Shadows, it’s the original that still stirs fond memories. Among my own favorite memories was the introduction of a brooding werewolf named Quentin who had a propensity for flying into a rage and hurling brandy snifters into the fireplace or against a wall. David Selby, the actor who made the role of Quentin so swoon-worthy, not only continues to act in film, television and onstage but is also an accomplished author, a distinction that earned him an interview slot on You Read It Here First.

The 6’3” West Virginia native is unabashed in his praise of why Dark Shadows was a much needed respite during the decade it debuted. “We had the Vietnam War going on, the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, and I think people in general were feeling anxious about the state of the world. The show was fantasy escapism that gave viewers something ‘different,’ fun and totally strange to look forward to every day.”

That it attracted notable stage actors such as Jonathan Frid, Joan Bennett and Nancy Barrett was a treat matched only by the tight-knit sense of family the cast enjoyed working together in a small studio in Manhattan. “We’d rehearse upstairs and then we’d run downstairs to shoot our scenes. We’d also get exhausted running to and from scenes if the sets were at opposite ends of the studio but the action was supposed to be continuous. Just like a live theatre performance, everyone simply kept going even if something went wrong.” To his knowledge, he never brained anyone with all those brandy glasses he threw.

The two of us enjoy a reminiscence about lightweight tombstones that wobbled and fell over if a character brushed against one during an entrance, copious amounts of dry ice that inexplicably wafted in through interior doorways, and actors who forgot their lines. “We used a teleprompter—which I personally hated—and if something went astray with it during one of Jonathan’s speeches, he’d just amble on saying whatever happened to be scrolling on the screen.”

When he was a teen growing up in the rural environment of Morgantown, Selby had no clue what it was he wanted to do when he grew up. He did, however, enjoy a passion for movies and liked to imagine himself playing Errol Flynn or—on some occasions—even pretend he was a musician. “College wasn’t something that was pushed on me by my parents. In fact, I became the first person on either side of my family to graduate from a university. I saw college as an opportunity to escape and to go somewhere else, although I didn’t know at the time where or what I’d be escaping to.” Nor did he have support among his peers who liked to joke, “Selby will be the first one to flunk out.” Instead he went on to earn several degrees—including a doctorate—just to prove them wrong. “It’s funny, though, that no one ever asks actors if they have a degree. The only thing they want to know is if the person can act.”

It was an instructor named Charles Neel who suggested he take a theatre class. “Theatre definitely saved my life because it gave me a chance to do for real all of the things I’d been acting out in my own imagination.” Once the acting bug bit him, he could never imagine himself doing anything else … and he hasn’t. While a lot of actors say that they got their start acting in the high school play, such wasn’t the case for him. “I tried out for a play and there was a scene where I was supposed to kiss the girl. And so I gave her a kiss and everybody laughed and I decided I’d never do it again.” Famous last words.

He didn’t really know anything about Dark Shadows in his early years in New York until a casting person named Marion Dougherty of Marion Dougherty Associates put him in a cab and told him he was going to an audition. The rest, as they say, is history. In the episodes where the werewolf character was first introduced, however, he didn’t have any lines; he was just a tall, brooding presence with distinctive muttonchops. “And I thought, ‘Oh great. Is this going to be some kind of silent movie gig where I never get to say anything? Why did I say yes to this?’”

So were those muttonchops real? “At the start, they’d glue them on every day and then pull them off after the shoot. This got to be tiring and so I decided to just grow my own.” This, however, brought a new set of problems. Specifically, if you want to run out to a grocery store on the weekend, you can’t just put on a pair of glasses like Clark Kent and no one will know who you are. “I was also doing a lot of theatre and playing characters who obviously weren’t wearing Victorian frock coats and having that much facial hair. Accordingly, I had to keep shaving them off. We later just went back to applying fake ones.”

As the show grew in popularity, it wasn’t just high school students like myself rushing home to see it. He relates with a grin that at his wife’s office in New York at the time, the staff would go into a boardroom and close the door to watch it. “And they weren’t the only ones who did that, either. All over New York, there were plenty of closed board room doors around four in the afternoon!” That he was so easily recognized by fans also created potentially dangerous mob scenes for him. “I remember being told that there was an event I couldn’t go to because of the number of uncontrollable—and unpredictable—people who would be there. And so they got me a car and put me in it and I had to drive myself home.” Golly, where are those Clark Kent glasses when you need a quick switch to anonymity?

Ten years after the end of Dark Shadows, Selby found himself playing another conflicted character—the rakishly handsome, charismatic and conniving Richard Channing on Falcon Crest. “What’s interesting about both series is that the families were headed up by extremely strong matriarchs played by Joan Bennett and Jane Wyman.” Were there to be a reality show where the House of Collins and the House of Channing were pitted against each other, he predicts that the last two left standing from the respective sides would easily be Joan and Jane.

While he continues to have a host of exciting new projects in the works—including Stephen King’s Castle Rock for Hulu—live theatre is a first love we share. “There’s nothing more energizing and personally rewarding than knowing that you’re really reaching people, that you’re giving them something they’ll long remember.”

Given his height and his physique, he’s no stranger to playing Abraham Lincoln. In fact, he originally wrote his novel, Lincoln’s Better Angel, as a stage production. In 2008 he played the role of Abe in James Still’s The Heavens Are Hung In Black at no less than Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C. He proceeds to share stories about how the historic theatre was boarded up for years following Lincoln’s assassination. Not only was the structure believed to be bad luck and haunted but any future production about Lincoln himself was met with fear, disdain and even threats. Not unlike, it would seem, the superstition among theatre people about saying aloud the name of “the Scottish play.”

He remembers being onstage and looking up at the presidential box where the tragedy occurred. “I think our current times call for another Lincoln to emerge and guide us. He was certainly a forward thinker in guiding the country through its most troubled times, and a lot of what he had to say still holds true in the 21st century.” He further relates the tidbit that the 16th president had a higher voice than one might expect from someone of his stature. This, thus, required a smidge of adjustment on Selby’s part since the latter’s rich baritone voice is such a trademark of his acting persona.

Along with Lincoln’s Better Angel, he is also the author of In and Out of the Shadows, Promises of Love, My Mother’s Autumn and A Better Place—all of which are available on Amazon. A new screenplay is currently in the works.

So how does his approach to acting compare/contract to his approach to the craft of writing? That one of them requires an external director and the other is an internal director-in-his-head doesn’t phase him at all. “Just like when I was growing up and imagining myself in different play-acting roles, I tend to talk to myself a lot and do the voices of all my characters.”

I tell him that it is yet again something we have in common. As an only child, I entertained myself with a plethora of imaginary friends—all of them coincidentally named after the original Mouseketeers. I’d run around the backyard doing all of their voices, a scenario that caused the neighbors on more than one occasion to ask my parents, “How many children did you say you had?” To which they would reply, “Just the one.”

That it is something we still do as adults in our respective writing careers was a refreshing revelation and perhaps even early foreshadowing that we’d grow up to be actors and authors. With a wink and a grin, he closes our interview with the observation, “I’d say it turned out pretty well then.”








The Chandler Affairs


Who among us hasn’t enjoyed the challenge of playing armchair detective and vicariously solving crimes? In his paranormal mystery series, The Chandler Affairs, author G.W. Renshaw invites readers to learn from the sleuthing skills of his Canadian private investigator protagonist, Veronica Chandler—an intrepid young woman whose professional cases and personal life are weirder than she could ever have imagined.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett


Q: What an eclectic background you have! A gunner in the Canadian forces, medieval skills gleaned from the Society for Creative Anachronisms, a Search and Rescue manager, a spelunker, a Linux druid (and okay I have absolutely no idea what that last one entails). With all of these things in your arsenal of talents, how and why did you make the time for writing?

A: A lot of these are in my past, which helps with time management. As to why I became a writer—I’ve always been an avid reader, but there are stories I’d like to read that nobody has written yet. It’s a case of “if you want something done, do it yourself.”

Q: Which of your skill sets figures the most prominently in The Chandler Affairs?

A: The biggest ones are investigation, counseling, martial arts, and cooking.

I learned investigative techniques from Search and Rescue, where we often found ourselves collecting evidence in the field, securing potential crime scenes, and interviewing witnesses. The Calgary Police Service has a three-month course for civilians that covers the operation of every branch of the service. I have the Canadian Private Investigator’s Handbook, and taken mantracking from Terry Grant (the original TV Mantracker).

My lovely wife and I are both trained critical incident stress counselors, which means we work with victims of traumatic incidents helping them avoid PTSD. Some of the techniques used by Dr. MacMillan in the books come from that background.

As for my PI’s fighting skill, I’d have loved to have her share my black belt in Aikido, but it’s not an easy art to describe and it’s difficult for her to start a fight. I could have gone with karate, in which I have a blue belt, but Krav Maga is more exotic and fits her personality better.

I’ve been cooking ever since I was eleven years old, and I love exploring new cuisines. At the moment a friend in Finland is helping me explore Bulgarian food. Guess where Veronica gets her passion for the kitchen?

Q: What attracted you to the paranormal mystery genre?

A: Oddly enough, it was more or less by accident. Several friends of mine were having a good time writing mysteries, and it sounded like fun. Of course, I wanted to do something different.

I created my investigator and started writing short stories about her adventures. Then things became surreal for her. I realized that her story was too complex for short stories, and started planning the novels instead. Most fictional paranormal investigators are also magical practitioners of some kind. In keeping with being unique, my investigator not only has zero magical talent, but doesn’t believe that the paranormal exists. It’s a lot of fun feeding her red herrings as she tries to put her understanding of reality back together.

Q: Your protagonist in the series is a Canadian private investigator named Veronica Chandler. Why did you choose to write in the voice of a female rather than a male?

A: There’s a conventional wisdom that people only want to read books with protagonists of their own gender. My experience in talking to people over the years is that this is nonsense. It doesn’t matter to most people what characters are as long as the story and the characters are gripping. The traditional fictional private investigator is a 50ish, male, ex-cop, perpetually in debt, and has a bottle of scotch in his desk and/or an ex-wife. The male viewpoint is over-represented. There are several amateur female sleuths (Miss Marple, Jessica Fletcher, Veronica Mars, Nancy Drew, for example) but I wanted to give people a woman who broke with tradition and was a competent professional and normal, well-rounded individual.

I also wanted to explore some of the issues that women face in a male-dominated world. It was enlightening to ask women for their thoughts and feelings on a variety of subjects, and then incorporate that research into the story. I’ve had young female readers tell me that, although they don’t want to be Veronica, some of her struggles in coming to terms with life have inspired them to examine how they handle their own lives. That gives me a lot of joy.

Q: What are some of Veronica’s unique traits that she brings to the table?

A: For one thing, dolls completely freak her out. Her parents encouraged her to read whatever she wanted as a child, which makes her more mature than her years would suggest, at least in a theoretical way. Sometimes reality trips her up. Veronica is really impatient and extremely stubborn. She’s discovering that her sexuality is more complex than she initially thought. Professionally, she’s been investigating since she uncovered the truth about Santa Claus when she was eight. Her mother arranged for her to do an unpaid internship with the Calgary Police, and she took the investigator’s course online while she was in high school. She’s very young for a licensed PI. Eventually she’ll find herself in situations she could never have imagined in her wildest dreams, with no real option but to rise to the occasion. Despite what many believe, courage and leadership are learned traits.

Q: How is The Chandler Affairs different from other private investigator series?

A: Firstly, Veronica earns her PI license at 18, which as far as I know is only possible in Alberta. The real trick was to give her a background that made this not only possible, but plausible. Sometimes her age trips her up, as one might expect. Veronica lives with Canadian law. She can’t carry a gun. She does carry a licensed tactical baton and has considerable Krav Maga skills. Her mother is a homicide detective, but Veronica can’t just call her up to run a license plate for her because of our information privacy laws. Any help she gets from her police contacts has to be oblique at best so nobody loses their job.

I’m a cruel writer. Most of the problems she faces must be solved with intelligence and cunning rather than violence. Each book presents a different problem for her, but they all fit into the overall arc of the series. Her biggest question isn’t who-dunnit, but rather what-the-heck-is-going-on-here.

Q: Do you have recurring characters who assist or thwart Veronica’s efforts?

A: Her mother and father, Janet and Quin, are loving parents who eventually support her decision to become a PI. Janet wants her to become a “real” police officer, and Quin wants her to take over his restaurant when he retires. He’s the one who taught her to be a chef.

Her best friend/adopted sister is Kali, formally known as Liliana Marina Hernandéz Rojas. She transferred to a Calgary school when her family moved from Colombia. She owns an occult shop and tries to help Veronica make sense of the things she encounters.

Beleth and Sitri are demons. So are a lot of their friends. Need I say more?

Q: What governed your decision to write a series rather than a stand-alone title?

A: Originally I planned to write some short stories about Veronica’s cases, but once I started coming up with ideas it became obvious that her overall story is too epic for a collection or a single book. She’s definitely on a complex journey.

Q: What are some of the challenges or benefits you’ve encountered in developing series fiction?

A: The challenge that trips up a lot of people is continuity. Without meticulous notes and pre-planning (yes, I’m a plotter) it’s far too easy to contradict something you said in an earlier volume, or to forget a dangling subplot. Some readers won’t start a series until it is complete. I can understand that, although I don’t do it myself. On the other hand, publishers tend to like a series that is planned because they know that if the first book is a success there is more money to be made. Another benefit is that each story has a natural length. Some can be told in a few thousand words, some in a hundred thousand, and some in not fewer than a million.

Q: How long do you envision this series continuing?

A: At the moment, I’m planning on about ten books in the series. It depends on how long it takes to tell the full story. I’m a plotter, but I’m also open to the characters telling me to pursue side streets that are important to them.

Q: Can the books be read out of order or do they have to be read sequentially?

A: The reader will be happiest reading them in order simply because there is an overall arc. Each book is relatively independent, but there will always be details that were covered earlier that might cause some confusion.

Q: Tell us about the research involved in bringing The Chandler Affairs to life.

A: I over-research everything. The Chandler Affairs takes place in Calgary, which is where I live, so geographical research isn’t too much trouble. If Veronica goes to a specific restaurant, you can be sure it really exists and is good as she says. I did as much research as I could about Colombian culture, politics, geology, and language before writing scenes with Kali and her parents. Then I had a Colombian friend read them to make sure I got the details right. One funny thing happened when I needed Kali to be really angry with Veronica. I handed an outline of the situation to my friend for translation, and he gave it to his wife because, “she’s much better at swearing than I am.”

For The Kalevala Affair I had to do a huge amount of research: Finnish mythology and law enforcement; Swedish history and libraries; Polish history, geography, geology, and universities; volcanoes, Korean airports, Austrian tourist attractions, Slovakian history. The scene where Veronica goes to a random concert was serendipity: a friend I asked about Finnish highway signs turned out to have been in that concert. I’d never heard of Nightwish before and now the band is reading the book and I’m friends with their music teacher. He’s originally from Bulgaria and we talk about food at lot.

Q: Did/do your characters ever surprise you over the course of developing their story?

A: Wow, did they ever. Beleth was initially a one-time character in the first book. As is typical of her, she took over when I wasn’t looking. Constable Holley had some background I wasn’t aware of and Constable Watkins had some interesting extra-curricular activities. Sitri turned out to be pivotal and he has his own story (and sweetheart) that leads to a lot of running around and screaming.

Q: What are some of the tools and techniques you use in your writing?

A: I use Xubuntu Linux as my operating system because it lets me do anything I can imagine. Just so you know, Windows has wizards but Linux has druids. All of my writing is done with LibreOffice with a few extensions (LanguageTool, Alternative Searching, Template Changer, and about a dozen extra language dictionaries). Every time I find a grammatical error that isn’t covered by LanguageTool I write a new rule to fix it, including my bad stylistic habits. I also created a proofreading mode that makes that task easier.

Once the books are designed, templates are built so I can write my drafts exactly as they will appear in print. That way I can work on the content, but also the presentation at the same time. We can then switch templates to format the ebook version. It saves a lot of time and effort as well as looking really cool while I’m writing.

I use other free software for various tasks. Inkscape and The GIMP for graphics; Calibre and Sigil for reading, creating, and fixing ebooks; Celtx for writing screenplays; Marble which is an open-source atlas and gazetteer; and Stellarium which shows me the sky from any planet for any date within the past or future 100,000 years. I’ve also written a few custom programs for creating minor character names and alien languages.

Q: Do you allow anyone to read your works-in-progress or do you make them wait until you have typed THE END?

A: Except for asking specific people to vet certain scenes/facts, I make them wait.

Q: If Hollywood came calling, who would be your dream Veronica?

A: Tatiana Maslany, star of (and half the characters in) Orphan Black. She’s an utterly brilliant actor with the skills for the action scenes and the talent for everything else. I’ve seen her play characters anywhere from 16 to 30s. Tatiana would be awesome. Besides, she’s Canadian.

Q: What do you wish you’d known when you started writing that you know now?

A: I wish I’d known how to write. Most of us have bad habits in our speech, such as starting a statement with “I think” that get in the way when we start writing. Except in special circumstances such as “I think you need to reconsider how much respect you show the boss,” it doesn’t make a character sound humble. Just weak and indecisive. It would also have been nice to understand the publishing industry instead of tripping over things I didn’t know. Of course, that’s the problem with being a beginner—you don’t know what you don’t know.

Q: How did you go about finding a publisher for your work?

A: I tried pitching to a medium-sized publisher, but their list was full for the next two years. Rather than waiting, I pitched to one of the Big Five, and got a lot of interest, but there was some internal reorganization and the people who were interested moved on before things got to the contract stage. Rather than re-pitch to them, I pitched to a small press who were looking for a project and was accepted. Sometimes it’s all in the timing.

Q: You also maintain a website called When Words Collide. What’s it about?

A: When Words Collide is an annual festival for readers and writers in Calgary, Alberta. We’re currently working on our eighth edition. We get about 750 people coming, and we’ve sold out early the past few years. Unlike most literary conventions, we cover the interests of both readers and writers with a huge amount of programming, and we cover everything that has to do with the written word: poetry, screenplays, short stories, literary forms, and novels. We don’t do film, TV, or media guests.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: Books five and six of The Chandler Affairs, tentatively titled The Diplomatic Affair, and The Private Investigator’s Cooking Course. The latter will be the textbook for the cooking course one of Veronica’s friends suggested she teach. It won’t be the typical one-theme cookbook, but rather present all the dishes Veronica has cooked along with explanations of the techniques involved.

I’m also starting work on a stand-alone steampunk-horror novel that’s been stewing for a while.

Q: Where can readers learn more about your work?

A: At my web site: gwrenshaw.ca; or on Facebook at GWRenshaw. If you are at an event that I’m attending (such as When Words Collide) come and say hi. I love to talk to readers.