A Palette For Love and Murder

A Palette For Murder

Author Saralyn Richard knows how to weave an excellent tale of murder and mystery in her newest page-turning book, A PALETTE FOR LOVE AND MURDER, that’s sure to pull readers in and hold them fast. Fans of her protagonist, Detective Oliver Parrot, will enjoy continuing to follow his adventures, and his life, in this intriguing new series that’s winning readers from all walks of life. A creative writing instructor at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, Saralyn loves to pen stories of mystery, mayhem, and love that have garnered terrific reviews. Read on to learn more about this fascinating author and her work.

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Interviewed by Debbie A. McClure

Q Why did you choose to set this series in the world of Brandywine Valley?

A I’ve been fortunate enough to visit relatives in Brandywine Valley frequently. It is one of my happy places. The country landscape is scenic and lush, and the people who live there are among the country’s wealthiest and most powerful. Whether I’m hanging with the equestrian crowd, visiting the amazing Brandywine River Fine Arts Museum, antique shopping at Kennett Square, or hiking through the gorgeous vegetation at Longwood Gardens, I know I’m experiencing some of the best that rural America has to offer.

Some years ago, I attended a birthday celebration at a country mansion there, and after the nine-course meal, I was lounging by the fireplace and chatting with another partygoer. I said, “This would be the perfect setting for a murder mystery.” When she recovered from the shock, I added, “but for that to happen, one of us would have to die, and one of us would have to be a killer.”

What struck me about the setting was that it was so serene. It was the last place one would expect a murder to take place.

Now, having set two novels in Brandywine Valley, I have to say that the people who live and work there are so friendly and cooperative. I’ve interviewed policemen, architects, restaurateurs, artists, horse owners, magazine publishers, funeral home directors, museum employees, landscapers, and others. Everyone has been delightful to talk with and very happy to be interviewed—as long as they weren’t going to be the murder victim or the murderer!

Q What distinguishes Detective Oliver Parrott from other literary detectives?

A In MURDER IN THE ONE PERCENT, the first book in the series, we meet Oliver Parrott as he starts his rookie year as detective. He’s African-American, raised in an underprivileged urban neighborhood, and a former college football hero from Syracuse. He’s chosen a career in criminal justice because he wants to right wrongs, but sometimes the people he meets and the milieu in which he serves rub him the wrong way.

The fact that he’s an outsider, an Everyman detective (as Kirkus magazine calls him in its review of MURDER IN THE ONE PERCENT), gives him a strong rooting interest with the reader.

Parrott’s fiancée is a Navy SEAL on tour of duty in Afghanistan. His cousin Bo has been killed by policemen in a random accident. Throughout the first book and the second, A PALETTE FOR LOVE AND MURDER, his personal and professional lives come together in various ways, and Parrott becomes more than just a detective. He is a smart, responsible, organized, determined, moral, and caring individual; someone we would all want for a son, a husband, an employee, or a friend.

Q Why did you choose to write with a male protagonist?

A I don’t recall choosing at all. Parrott came to me, fully developed, and he happened to be male. As a former teacher, administrator, and school improvement consultant, I’ve spent a lot of time around young people who come from similar backgrounds as Parrott, and I suppose he is an amalgamation of the best of them. I’ve written other mysteries with female sleuths, but it never occurred to me to make Parrott a female.

Q How much research did you do into the art world, and how did you choose which aspects of that world to incorporate into your work?

A Art history was an area of concentration in my college curriculum, so I’ve long been an appreciator of paintings, sculptures, museums, and artists. The Brandywine River Fine Arts Museum is one of my favorite small museums in the world, and I admire the works of the Wyeth family. It was easy to imagine a plot set in the art community of Brandywine, but I did do extensive interviews with artists, dealers, museum personnel, and others. The National Arts Club in New York, which is mentioned several times in the book, is another place I adore.

Q Do you dabble in art yourself? If so, what do you do? If not, have you thought of exploring that area of expression?

A In one of my previous positions, I was the Fine Arts Chairperson of a large high school, so I was able to hobnob with the creative types. I’ve always had a creative passion, and I’ve taken piano, art, dance, and needlework classes. One of these days when I have time I hope to be able to paint, but right now, I’m content to admire the work of others.

Q Why did you choose the art world as your backdrop in this book?

A The proximity of the Brandywine Valley to the museum, and art galleries in the Kennett Square area, made it a perfect choice to center the book on the art world. I enjoy reading art mysteries, and I knew I would enjoy writing one.

Also, artists are fascinating people. In a sense we lead double lives—the interior lives of our imaginations, and the exterior lives of reality. Sometimes there are struggles and obstacles and secrets that live within this dichotomy, and those provide fertile ground for stories.

Q  The art world can seem mysterious and nebulous to many people. What have you learned about it that surprised you and that you’d like to share with us?

A I learned about climate and security-controlled art warehouses, where a person who buys a multi-million-dollar painting for an investment can store his purchase and avoid paying taxes until he takes the painting out to sell it. Sometimes paintings are stored in these warehouses for years, and the privacy of the owners is strictly preserved.

Q What is your favorite part about writing mysteries?

A Because a mystery author presents an intellectual and emotional puzzle for the reader to solve, there is a tight connection between the author and the reader. Every step of the way, the reader is discovering clues and evidence and foreshadowing that the author has carefully laid out for the reader. In no other genre is that author-reader wavelength so well-matched. Any time I talk with a reader, I delight in the conversation. I love hearing what the reading journey was like, whom the reader suspected, whether or not the reader was surprised by the ending.

A mystery is a feeling person’s book; a thinking person’s book. It’s a joy to engage with the reader’s heart and mind.

Q Reviewers have lauded A PALETTE FOR LOVE AND MURDER for its in-depth depictions of characters and relationships, as well as its sensitive treatment of difficult topics, both of which are rare in mysteries. Did you intend to veer away from the genre tropes, and, if so, why?

A Traditional mysteries are plot-based, but, over time, genre-blending has changed that landscape, particularly when it comes to using the tools of characterization, such as deep point of view, unheroic characters, villains with redeeming characteristics, unreliable narrators, and amateur sleuths. Many of my favorite mystery writers portray characters with complexity and depth. For example, Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch is someone I know so well—he could be my friend, my neighbor, my brother. My detective, Oliver Parrott, is the same way. After you’ve read the book, you will know him inside and out. Modern readers want to connect with protagonists. They want to feel the story from inside the protagonist’s shoes. As an author, I want the same thing. I feel it makes for a more authentic, relatable reading experience.

Q How do you come up with the names in your books?

A I approach name selection in the same way as I would if I were naming a new-born baby of mine. The name has to endure throughout the writing of the book, and long afterward, so I want to make sure it has staying power. Many of my characters are named after people in my life whom I want to honor. Many names are ethnic in nature, or attuned to the time period in which the characters were born. Once in a while, I’ll change a character’s name after I’ve started writing the book, but that’s rare. Once I’ve named him, that name starts to fit him perfectly, and I think of him as ___. In Brandywine Valley, the houses have names, too, so I have an added opportunity to play with names. The house in A PALETTE FOR LOVE AND MURDER, for example, is named Manderley, after the mansion in Daphne du Maurier’s REBECCA.

Some of my characters’ names are humorous, some are intentionally ordinary or unusual, and some are nods to famous characters in other authors’ books. Parrott, for instance, is a nod to Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot.

Q As a teacher of creative writing, what is your belief about talent vs. craft in the act of producing a work of fiction? How important is research in the writing of a fiction book?

A Talent vs. craft is the age-old question, much like, “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” Over the years I’ve had students with immense talent, but little regard for perfecting craft, and I’ve seen the opposite, as well. The truth is that both talent and craft are required to produce a work of fiction, and there is no ideal measure of how much of one or another is needed. A facility with words is certainly important, as is having a good story to tell. Whether those constitute talent or craft is debatable.

Research, however, is a much more concrete and definable part of the process of writing. I believe research is indispensable in developing a story that is realistic, believable, and authentic. Today’s reader wants to come away from a work of fiction knowing more about the people, places, and things within the novel. Research keeps the story up-to-date and relevant.

Q Who is your ideal reader?

A My ideal reader is anyone who is open to immersing himself in the milieu of the story; willing to engage with the appropriate characters; alert in catching the subtleties of clues, humor, and tension; and allowing himself or herself to be drawn in.

Q What is your greatest satisfaction in being an author?

A Because being an author is the fulfillment of a lifelong dream for me, I have many satisfactions: having a job that delights me every single day, being able to interact meaningfully with other authors and people in the publishing industry, holding my books in my hands, attending book clubs and other meetings where my books are being discussed, winning awards for my writing, and the list goes on and on. But, hands-down, the most important satisfaction for me is having a reader understand and appreciate my book. When someone tells me I’ve touched his or her life, I know I’ve succeeded as an author.

Q What plans do you have for future books?

A I have a standalone mystery, A MURDER OF PRINCIPAL, coming out in January 2021. I’m writing another standalone, BLOOD SISTERS, which I also hope will come out in 2021. Meanwhile, with all of the political unrest and recent events related to police brutality, Detective Parrott has been whispering in my ear. I’m sure he has another story or two to share with us.

Reviews, media, and tour schedule may be found at http://saralynrichard.com.

Buy links: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/A+Palette+for+Love+and+Murder?_requestid=2258777

https://www.amazon.com/Palette-Love-Murder-Detective-Parrott/dp/1644372045/ref= Social media links: https://www.amazon.com/Saralyn-Richard/e/B0787F6HD4/ref= https://twitter.com/SaralynRichard https://www.facebook.com/saralyn.richard, https://www.twitter.com/SaralynRichard, https://www.linkedin.com/in/saralyn-richard-b06b6355/, https://www.pinterest.com/saralynrichard/, https://www.instagram.com/naughty_nana_sheepdog/ https://www.pinterest.com/saralynrichard/ and https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7338961.Saralyn_Richard. https://www.bookbub.com/profile/saralyn-richard

 

 

 

 

Unmarriageable

Unmarriageable

Although Jane Austen was English and hailed from a different century, her sharp-witted commentary on patriarchal societies and the “proper” role of females obviously resonated with the sensibilities of a certain teenage Pakistani named Soniah Kamal. Her delightful novel, Unmarriageable, is a modern-day cross-cultural treat, and we’re pleased to feature the wonderfully talented and prolific Soniah this month at You Read It Here First.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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 Q: Were family expectations of matrimony and motherhood pressed upon you while you were growing up or—like Austen herself—were you born with a gene for purposeful rebellion?

A: Both. The pressure of getting married was always there even though I was a straight A student but I also had the pesky habit of questioning why? Within a Pakistani context, why was it ok for guys to smoke but not girls? Why could my much younger brother have a phone in his room while I was not allowed to, meaning why are boys allowed privacy but not girls? Why was it ok for him to stay out at all hours with his friends, but I had a curfew or was not allowed to go out at all? Good girls don’t question why but accepted that parents, teachers, adults, know what is best for her. Clearly I was a very Bad Girl. Just because needed explanations for decrees. I actually wanted to be an actress, but my father forbade it, and yet he sent me to out to college by myself in the US in early nineties. I always like to ask if this makes my parents’ values conservative or progressive?

Q: Austen was clearly an influence on your life perspectives and on your writing, but who are some of the other authors whose works we might have found on your nightstand and regular reading list(s)?

A: Growing up in a post colonial country in a certain era, the British author Enid Blyton loomed large. However I grew up for a while in Jeddah Saudi Arabia where I attended an International School with books from everywhere and so Judy Blume, S.E. Hinton, L. M Montgomery, Anne  Frank, a wonderful anthology that contained work by Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, Gwendoyln Brooks, Shirley Jackson, Anne Sexton. Decades later I found this anthology at a local library sale and I pounced on this chunk of sunshine from my childhood.  In the classics, my favorite authors were Thomas Hardy, E. M. Forster, George Eliot, Edith Wharton, Virginia Woolf, and in translation anything by authors such as Ismat Chugtai, Kishwar Naheed, Qurratulain Hyder; in fact, as I grew older, whatever I could find by South Asian authors.

Q: Who are you reading now?

A: I’m giving a keynote address at a Jane Austen Festival hosted by JASNA Louisville (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TDhHx1ud0fg), and so at the moment am back to being steeped in Jane Austen’s work which is always welcome. However, once I’m done I’m looking forward to finish How to Hide an Empire by Daniel Immerwahr and reading Lee Connell’s The Party Upstairs about a unraveling friendship as well as Rakhshanda Jalil’s But You Don’t Look Like a Muslim about Muslim identity in India.

Q: The parallelism of Pride and Prejudice through a Southeast Asian postcolonial lens was a delight to read. Well done! What was especially fun, though, was deciphering the Pakistani names and matching them to their English counterparts in Austen’s novels. Given the number of characters peopling this luscious plot, I’m curious as a fellow author whether some of the minor players may have been borrowed from your own family and friends? If so, how did they feel about this inclusion?

A: Thank you! I’m so glad you appreciated the postcolonial angle and retelling which was the very reason I wrote it. I grew up a postcolonial child schooled in the British medium system meaning English and British classics were my educational foundation. As an adult when I came across the reasons Thomas Babington Macaulay, back in 1835, suggested to British Parliament to implement English as the language supreme across colonies in order to create a confused “person brown in color but white sensibilities”, it became imperative to me that I write an alternative postcolonial parallel retelling, a reorienting if you will of this policy. Professor Nalini Iyer of Seattle University has called Unmarriagable Macaulay’s worst nightmare.  As the essay at the end of Unmarriageable (US paperback, green cover with faces, edition) says, I wanted to fuse my English language with my Pakistani culture and it seemed absolutely fitting to choose Jane Austen and Pride and Prejudice which I believe is a quintessentially Pakistani novel.  Jane Austen was Pakistani; she didn’t know it. There is also an essay included about why I chose the names. Many of them are not Pakistani names such as Lady or Georgeullah. I give a reason for Lady within the class conscious themes of the novel but also, and here is one of the many Eastern eggs in Unmarriageable for Austen fans: Austen’s first novel was published as ‘by a Lady’ and so Lady.

Unmarriageable is also a standalone novel, so those not coming from love of Austen need not worry. As for Georgeullah, often Pakistanis come to Western countries and Kamran will go by Kamran etc. and so in reverse of that George joins the popular suffix  -ullah, and Wickaam is spelled with a double a because in Urdu ‘aam’ meaning ordinary which is what he is in both Austen’s and Unmarriageable’s world. As for your last question, “Any references to historical events, real people, or real locales are used fictitiously. Other names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination, and any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.”

Q: With which of the Binat sisters in Unmarriageable can you picture yourself having a lifelong friendship?

A: This is a hard one. Probably Alys, Qitty and Sherry, an honorary sister. I admire Sherry’s common sense and being able to stand up to peers when needed and I very much like Alys’s no nonsense blunt sprit, needing to speak up for what is fair whatever the cost to herself as well as her being able to see through layers of hypocrisy and speaking up. Let’s say the Alys and Sherry were going to the Aurat March, a women’s right march held annually in Pakistan- Sherry would be making posters as would Alys and at the march Sherry would hold up a poster while Alys would have the loudspeaker.  I suppose Alys can get a bit exhausting but I’d prefer that to complacence. Qitty and I would completely bond over the comments we receive over about being fat. I’ve been both thin and fat and have seen the world through both these bodies. Since body positivity movement has, thankfully, gained traction and ‘fat’ has lost much of its shaming, I’ve notice the new word used to try to shame me is ‘obese’.  Qitty is, of course, very young, but we’d have a smile at those who pat themselves on their backs for supposedly doing well at the genetic ‘lottery’ while conveniently bypassing the fact that ectomorphs, endomorphs and mesomorphs are body types and that magazine/online quizzes which congratulate you for being one and not another are absolutely ridiculous and feeding into this ‘beauty’ hierarchy.  Qitty and I are big proponents of the tag line in Unmarriageable which is ‘books over looks’.

Q: If a reader had no prior frame of reference to Pride and Prejudice, Unmarriageable still makes for a satisfying standalone read. For those of us who are familiar with the source material, you’ve artfully planted a number of “Easter eggs” throughout the chapters—little insider secrets and literary references that prompt a smile. What was your favorite gem to hide in plain sight of Austen aficionados?

A: Unmarriageable is certainly a standalone novel and I worked extremely hard to make it so. However, if you are a Janeite then certainly there’s yet another layer of reading. I’m so thrilled you saw both and the Easter eggs. I’d love to know which ones you caught. There are so many favorites! Lady’s name’s Austen connection of course, and Tom Fowle shows up, and there are nods to each of Austen’s six completed novels in Unmarriageable and it’s so much fun in book clubs to hear the participants try to figure them out. Too many people have not read the delightful Northanger Abbey so that’s a hard one right there.

Q: Do you see Mrs. Binat as the quintessential “cross-cultural mum”—a woman who is as much a comedic helicopter parental wanting to meddle in everything as she is anxious and fretful that her offspring might end up sad and alone? To me, she feels interchangeable with every Jewish, Italian and Latina mother I’ve ever known.

A: Mrs. Binat may have a funny way of expressing her worries for her daughters but certainly her behavior stems from her fear that they might end up, as you say, sad and alone. Unmarriageable explores why she thinks choosing to be unmarried would equate to being sad and alone. Alys certainly doesn’t see it that way. She believes it’s better to be happily unmarried than unhappily married, and she tries to teach her students this too, much to the Principal’s dismay. That said, in Muslim honor cultures, the only legal way to have a physical relation, and thus biological children, is through marriage and this is what, I think, Mrs. Binat doesn’t want her daughters to regret missing out on. The number of readers from different cultures who reach out to tell me that ‘Unmarriageable is just like them’, and “My mother was a Mrs. Binat”, has been a consistent thrill. Jewish, Italian, Latina, like you point out, but also Irish, Southern US, Nigerian, Greek, Mexican, Brazilian, I could go on.

When it came to wanting me to get married, my own mother was a Mrs. Binat, but her worry came from love and concern, so I was really able to recognize this aspect of Mrs. Bennet/Mrs.Binat.  However, in Unmarriageable, Mrs. Binat is also looks obsessed, but then look at her own history— Mr. Binat literally sends her a proposal after taking one look at her, so in her world, looks reign supreme.  In Unmarriageable, there is a tussle between mother and daughter because Mrs. Binat thinks people like Alys with their ‘books over looks’ mantras are fools and Alys thinks her mother’s ‘looks over books’ attitude is unsmart.  We live in a world now where women are expected to be smart and earn also, but often still adhere to a certain beauty standards and this mother-daughter pair clashes over this.

Q: It’s always amazing to me that for a woman who had so much to say, Austen penned only a handful of novels before her death at age 41. Do you have a personal favorite (and have you read it more than once)?

A:  Mansfield Park is my favorite Austen novel. It’s her grimmest in many respects and one in which she totally skewers the concept of loving and supportive families and relatives. Can there be any nastier aunt than Mrs. Norris who cherry picks which niece to be decent to depending on how it will benefit her? I’ve read all of Austen’s novels countless times and they are all favorites in different ways.

Q: There’s been no shortage of film adaptations of Austen’s work. In your opinion, which one do you think comes closest to earning the late author’s seal of approval?

A:  I’m quite sure she would have enjoyed the 1995 BBC adaptations with Elizabeth Ehle and Colin Firth, the wet white shirt withstanding. There is a certain playfulness to that adaptation be it Alison Steadmans’ excellent self-obsessed and worrywart of a Mrs. Bennet or David Bamber’s bumbling yet pretentious Mr. Collins, just every actor played their part so beautifully, and because it is not a film but six episode drama, each almost an hour long, each scene in the novel is depicted on screen. It’s my favorite adaptation so I may be biased. As for screen retellings, I think she may have been well pleased with Clueless as Emma and the time traveling Lost in Austen which very cleverly interprets Pride and Prejudice. 

Q: “Janeites”—the name by which Austen fans define themselves—are fiercely loyal to the brand. To set your own version in the modern century and a different culture held the potential to send them reaching for smelling salts and fanning themselves in agitation. I understand that such was not the case when they first became aware of your book?

A: I’m a lifetime JASNA member so well acquainted with all the many thoughts pertaining to taking on Austen and I will say I was particularly intimidated because Unmarriageable is a parallel retelling meaning it exactly follows the plot line of Pride and Prejudice and all the characters are present, too. I believe this is the first parallel retelling to date and explaining that this was not a sequel, or prequel or an inspired by was the first order of business and that I’d written this from a postcolonial perspective. I live in Georgia and there were a few, especially older JASNA Georgia members, who did look askance. I gave Unmarriageable to two members to read and this was the litmus test for me, Janeites who know their Jane inside out, and it wasn’t until they both got back to me and said they loved it, that I exhaled. I mean this is literally, literally Pride and Prejudice set in Pakistan.

My first JASNA event was with JASNA Georgia, a book club and Q and A, and this was a first time a big group of Janeites would be reading it. On the day, I lingered at the door for a bit before entering, and when I did, I received a standing ovation. I cried. I had not expected the applause or the pats of the back by those who’d previously been askance. Since then, Jane Austen Books, the largest national Jane Austen booksellers and who know every variation of Austen out there, have said that Unmarriageable is ‘Our favorite Jane Austen Adaptation’ and Austenprose has called it ‘the retelling of her dreams’.  JASNA Kentucky, which hosts the biggest Jane Austen Festival, has invited me to be a featured keynote speaker, and I’ll be speaking at the 2020 JASNA AGM annual meeting, and JASNA Northern California invited me to deliver Austen’s birthday toast.  I was a featured keynote at the Jane Austen Summer Program and have served as a Jane Austen Literacy Ambassador and a judge for their Jane Austen short story competition. I could go on. Janeites have given Unmarriageable the reception of my dreams. So many have told me that reading Unmarriageable is like they’re reading Austen for the first time and could there possibly be any compliment more gratifying.

Q: If you could invite Jane Austen to lunch in your home, what would you serve?

A: I’d serve her a rich desserty chai as described in my essay at https://antiserious.com/soniah-kamal-chai-me-essay-e5b146ac1950.  I’d serve her keema (mincemeat) and chicken cocktail samosas and pakoras and Pakistani style mini pizzas made on naan. Since lunch for a guest at my house means at least eight to ten entrees there would a mutton pulao and also mutton and beef and chicken dishes such as korma and koftas and namak gosht and because I was a vegetarian for four years and love my lentils and vegetables, at least two dals, probably yellow and black, and a four to five vegetables dishes cooked in the Pakistani style, okra, eggplant, collard greens, cauliflower. There would be cumin potato cutlets and Pakistani styled spaghetti and countless condiments and rotis and white rice. All the entrees would be cooked from scratch of course. I’m not big on desserts so probably I’d have my daughter make a strawberry pavlova and also serve kulfi ice cream. I’d serve Jane Austen what I serve any guest invited to my house for lunch or dinner.

Q What are three questions you would especially like to ask Austen?

A

Why did she say yes to Harris Bigg Wither’s proposal that evening and then say no the next morning? What exactly was it that changed her mind?

If she knew she was going to be who she has become would she have done/written anything differently?

What was she planning to do with Ms. Lambe’s character in Sanditon?

Of course, I would have loved to see what Austen would have done with the industrial age in her work had she not died young and, in fact, her mother and many siblings lived into their eighties.

Q: Darsee has a wonderful line in which he expresses, “We’ve been forced to seek ourselves in the literature of others for too long.” As someone who has spoken passionately about immigration and assimilation, what are your thoughts on the challenges of embracing an adopted country’s language, customs and traditions without losing sight of the very elements which make our own heritage so precious and unique?

A: I was recently invited to deliver the keynote speech at a citizenship oath ceremony (https://bittersoutherner.com/southern-perspective/2020/we-are-the-ink-new-citizens-soniah-kamal-speech) in which I then had the great honor of handing out citizenship certificates and shook hands with all 150 new US citizens. To top it off, this took place in the same building where I myself had become a citizen. Of course there is a never a single story and each immigrant’s becomes one for different reasons and embraces aspects of their adopted country in different facets. Thanksgiving is an American holiday and the Thanksgiving meal is always one where the turkey, and green beans and cranberry sauce and potatoes can be prepared in to reflect one’s culture and, thus, illustrate a lived assimilation.

My first Thanksgiving in the US, I was invited by a college mate to her home and it was wonderful to sit amidst her large Irish-American family and hear the roots of this holiday and what they make of it and what they were going to do with this huge turkey’s left over, make sandwiches for a week at least. I loved the cornucopia of desserts, the sweet potato pie, apple pie, and my favorite, pecan pie, with fresh cream and ice creams. Darcy’s sentence, of course, comes within the context of British Empire and Babington Macaulay’s colonial policy of replacing native languages with English which then, by default, became the language of power and advantage meaning qualifying for the well paying, prestigious jobs. Generations opted for an education in English and many did not even learn another language and so their entire history shifted to British classics, as did mine actually, so there I was looking for myself in Hardy or Austen.

While it’s wonderful to be able to find universalities within lived experiences even across centuries, it’s not an exact match and in losing language and the ability to read it also means one’s losing a sense of self within history and tradition. Darsee laments not growing up reading literature from own culturally lived experience. When Pakistan became a sovereign country in 1947, it retained English as one of its official language and so with Unmarriageable I wanted to fuse the English language I grew up with my Pakistani culture.  The theme of analogous literatures in Unmarriageable—that is, books which connect thematically or otherwise from the Subcontinental cannon and Western cannon—is a topic very dear to my heart. All the literature mentioned in Unmarriageable feeds into themes in the novel, being it Toni Morrison’s novel The Bluest Eye or Leslie Marmon Silko’s short story Lullaby.

Q: Your writer’s journey thus far has accrued a number of impressive awards and accolades. Which one means the most to you?

A: Any award, accolade, recognition is so hard to achieve, whether regional, or national, or international, there are so many brilliant books, and so each one is precious to me from just being nominated to winning, from praise by someone with three followers to praise by a major avenue. Unmarriageable has really seen so much love by so many different readers and organizations everywhere and each and every one is a blessing. I will say giving a TEDx talk, a citizenship oath ceremony and a keynote at a writers conference were never things I expected to happen and each led to epiphanies about my life and writings that were most unexpected.

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

A: Who knows? But here’s one: I was born full term yet 2 ½ pounds, what it knows as dysmature and I wasn’t meant to survive the night but here I am.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: Right now I’m just enjoying this ride Unmarriageable is taking me on.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: Thank you so much for these lovely questions. My next novel, An Isolated Incident, is debuting in the UK this month and I’m delighted to see which journey this will take me on. I wrote because my late grandfather, a refugee from Kashmir, made me promise that I would write about the Kashmir conflict. Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner called An Isolated Incident ‘a wonderful novel’ and my grandfather would have certainly have been proud of me for fulfilling my promise.

 

 

 

 

The Sign Behind the Crime Series

Ronnie Allen

No matter the season or reason, who among us doesn’t love playing armchair detective? In her The Sign Behind the Crime mystery series, author Ronnie Allen invites us on a ride-along through the mean streets of New York … and the meaner minds of crafty villains seeking to elude capture for their dark deeds.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: When I read that you and your husband made a relocation leap twelve years ago from the bustle of New York to the rural quiet of Central Florida, I couldn’t help but hear the Green Acres theme song dance through my head. Is it true that you can take the girl out of the city but not the city out of the girl?

A: Totally, Christina. I miss NYC on so many levels; the diversity, the restaurants, shopping, fast paced energy. I don’t think I’ll ever be a Floridian. And I went back home through my novels which are set in NYC. The last time I was in Manhattan was for ThrillerFest in 2015 as a debut author.

Q: Tell us how your educational and professional background made you such a natural to pen a pulse-pounding crime series with psychological elements.

A: For one, psychology is my formal education. I’m a NYS licensed School Psychologist, and have been a teacher in the NYC Department of Education for thirty-three years, retiring in 2003. Aspects of my careers are in my books. The killer in Gemini is a pretend school psychologist, and one of the detectives, Det. Samantha Wright, in Aries and the rest of the series was an elementary school teacher before she joined the police force. My holistic and alternative therapies training and experiences are also in the books, manifested through character development and the plots. Dr. John Trenton in Gemini is psychic and clairvoyant and has the same skills in the areas in which I’m certified. Det. Samantha Wright is at the beginning of becoming in tune with her abilities and her approach was similar to mine when I first became aware.

Q: Did you envision writing a series when you began or did typing THE END on the first book inspire and dare you to not let go of the gritty crime world you had created for your readers?

A: Actually, I didn’t foresee the series until I was in the middle of writing book two, Aries. I had started writing book two before Gemini was in contract. I didn’t want to write the same characters if I didn’t know the book would be picked up. When I was writing Aries, the astrological components started to reveal themselves, and I got that ‘ah ha’ moment. My tag line was The Mind Behind the Crime because I write psychological thrillers. The Sign Behind the Crime popped into my mind as the astrological signs give the clues to solving the crime. I approached my publisher about it and we ran with it.

Q: Whether it’s a novel, a film or a television program, writing about crime requires a high degree of accuracy, plausibility and realism in order for the fiction to ring true. Tell us about the level of research you employed in order to click on all cylinders.

A: Yes, research is crucial in the crime genre. Nothing is as easy in real life as portrayed on TV. I had several consultants; a detective in NYC, and a Captain of Major Crimes here in our small county, and others for the different subplots. I have folders of printed out research from police procedural courses I’ve taken as well as internet searches. I was at FBI headquarters in NYC in 2015 and received a wealth of information there. Also, getting forensic psychiatry correct was crucial for my characters and the situations in which they found themselves. Police procedure, department names, terminology used all vary from state to state. It was interesting to see the differences between the NYC PD and our Sheriff’s office. The author also needs to know what organizational names and locations have to be fictionalized, such as psychiatric organizations, hospitals, and schools.

Q: Do you allow anyone to read your books while they’re still a work in progress or do you make them wait it out? Why does your chosen method work for you?

A: During my writing process, no one reads them. When I get a complete first draft, or second, or third, then I go to my critique partners and beta readers. This works for me because I strongly believe that writing is rewriting and rewriting. Nothing is written in stone in the first or even following drafts. I want people to see my best possible work effort. If someone points out something, I don’t want to say, “Yeah, I know, I have to fix that.” It’s very frustrating for a critique partner to spend their time giving you feedback and then for you to know about it.

Q: Plotter or pantser?

A: I started out being a plotter, a very intense plotter. I had Gemini in my brain, and in notes before I hit the computer. As I was writing, if my character started to take over, which they did, I ran with it. The second book was also heavily plotted. Book three, Scorpio, was a mix, and by the time I was writing Libra, I was like, “Whoa, where are you going so fast?” Libra is the longest book.

Q: The four books in your series have all been given the names of zodiac signs. Why is that?

A: I’m a Gemini, so I decided to start with me. It went through several title changes, and when the Gemini aspects came out, I said, ‘that’s it!” And as a series, I felt it was fitting for the rest of the books.

Q: Do they need to be read in order or could each be read as a standalone?

A: Gemini and Aries can definitely be read as standalones. The third and fourth books have the characters from the first two, and I weave in enough backstory so that the reader will not get lost.

Q: Will there be more books in this crime series? (You do, after all, have eight more zodiac signs to go …)

A: I’m not sure. I wrapped up Libra with the happiest ever after the reader could want, so I’m content with ending the series there.

Q: Are any of your fictional characters fashioned after real-life people you know (including yourself)?

A: Definitely me. My readers will learn a lot about me. I’m a part of all of the major characters. My parents, Esther and Sam, are Dr. John Trenton’s parents in the series. It’s their personality, and names, not their careers. I tell my friends that no one I actually know is in the books.

Q: Which of these fictional personas would you most like to go to lunch with (and why)?

A: To go to lunch? Definitely Drs. John Trenton and Frank Khaos. Frank is the forensic psychiatrist who’s introduced in Aries. For one, I love hunky men. Dr. Trenton is a holistic psychiatrist, and I can lean more about Medical Orgone Therapy that is one of his specialties. I participated in this in the 1970’s in another form, and it pivoted me into wanting to work with chakras as part of my holistic healing practice in NYC. Frank is a BJJ fighter and I’m fascinated with martial arts.

Q: What’s the takeaway for your fans after they’ve read the final chapter(s)?

A: There are several takeaways; dreams can be manifested, your childhood traumas do not have to determine the quality of your adult life, resolving an issue from childhood is not as fearful as you thought before you took the action, traumas can push you to be a better more compassionate human being.

Q: As a fellow wordsmith, I have an extensive collection of reference books, most notably the Howdunit series published by Writer’s Digest. (You can imagine how unsettled it made our dinner guests on the occasion I’d leave one out on the coffee table.) Hypothetically, if you were to embark on a successful life of crime, what would you be most likely to pursue?

A: Yes! I can imagine how it made dinner guests feel. I don’t know! If I hadn’t resolved my childhood trauma around asthma like AriellaRose Larcon in Aries, I probably would have been a serial killer. I can’t imagine me hurting anyone, though.

Q: Best advice to aspiring authors before they begin their journey to getting published?

A: Thank you for asking this. I feel too many writers want to cut short this process. My words of advice; make sure you listen to those who have accomplished what you want. For example, in social media groups, be careful on whose advice to take. Don’t fall for any scams. Have critique partners and beta readers go through your manuscript before you submit. I’m a proponent of traditional publishing. Make sure your manuscript is as good as it can be before submission. Read the publishers guidelines on their website before you submit. Follow the directions. That’s a major reason for rejection. If you’re lucky enough to get feedback and it’s consistent between editors, listen. Edit, rewrite. Don’t submit the same manuscript repeatedly with the same errors. The writer has to step back and get their ego out of it. Don’t say, “It’s my manuscript, and I want it this way.” Because I listened, I received my first contract on only my seventh submission.

Q: What do you do to prepare yourself mentally for each new project?

A: When plotting, it comes to me naturally. There isn’t mental preparation. I don’t have to talk myself into it.

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

A: I’m very much like my characters, except for the murders or violent parts. I’ve had a very pampered life, so writing these scenes is really a stretch for me. Some scenes have actually happened. Not telling which ones, though.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: I’m coming from a film and screenwriting background from the late ‘70s through mid ‘90s, and I would like to get my books to a TV episodic series.

Q: Anything else you’d like to share?

A: Thank you so much, Christina. My website is http://www.ronnieallennovel.com, and your readers can find me on Facebook at Ronnie.allen.507. On Twitter and IG, I’m @ronnieanovelist.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Chat with Caroline England

 

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Caroline England knows the law, and she knows how to write stories that capture and hold a reader. That’s a powerful combination! Born in Sheffield, England, Caroline now resides in Manchester, UK. Having left a lucrative career as a divorce lawyer, she now writes stories filled with mystery and intrigue, and characters readers are drawn to.

Her domestic psychological thrillers, Beneath The Skin, also known as The Wife’s Secret (ebook), was published by Avon Harper Collins in October, 2017. Since then she’s gone on to pen many more stories that are gaining quite a bit of interest on many fronts. Also writing under the pen name, Caro Land, her first Natalie Bach novel, Convictions, a legal suspense, was published in January 2020, with additional titles just released. What tremendous accomplishments! Welcome, Caroline.

Interviewed by Debbie A. McClure

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Q You had a career in the law before turning your hand to writing. How much has this career influenced your writing?

A I was from a family of lawyers, so I was somewhat blinkered when I applied to study law at the University of Manchester. After my degree I tried to break free by applying for a journalism course, but at the time it felt easier to take the professional legal exams and become a solicitor.

As a trainee I worked mainly in criminal law. After that I practiced divorce and matrimonial work, then went on to do professional indemnity, also known as legal malpractice, representing professionals such as lawyers, accountants, and surveyors, who’d made a mistake – or not – as the case might be.

All these areas of the law helped on a practical level (see below) but also on an emotional level in terms of characterization and digging beneath the human facade. Being charged with a crime and facing prison is terrifying; going through a divorce or having a fight over the custody of your children is often deeply traumatic. An allegation of professional negligence can be debilitating too. Accordingly, I was given a fabulous insight into the human psyche because I saw people at their lowest ebb, emotionally stressed and raw, having to bare their souls and admit to their darkest deeds, sometimes keeping secrets and telling lies like the characters I write about!

Additionally, where people are in conflict, it’s fascinating – and eye-opening – to hear the same story told from completely different viewpoints, which is very much what writing is about.

As an ex-lawyer I’m able to write about UK legal procedure and cases, so the law has also influenced my writing on that practical level. My three published Caroline England books, Beneath the Skin, My Husband’s Lies, and Betray Her are psychological thrillers, but have lawyer characters. Also, under a pen name Caro Land, I have written two legal dramas: Convictions (published in January), introduced my solicitor protagonist, Natalie Bach. Though a feisty legal eagle on the outside, Nat is vulnerable, real, relatable and, I hope, engaging. Though there are legal cases, crime, darkness, and intrigue, there’s humour, love, and friendship too.

The follow-up, Confessions, was published this month. We follow more of Nat’s challenges and dilemmas both personally and professionally. Her cases range from mercy killing to cowboy builders, from revenge porn to murder, and all sorts in between.

In Confessions, Nat is seconded to criminal law firm Savage Solicitors, so I was able to draw on my duty solicitor days when I sat in on police interviews, visited inmates in Strangeway’s Prison, and frequented the local magistrates courts.

Q How did you jump from lawyer to writer?

A When my third daughter was born I took the decision to give up the law and be a stay-at-home mum. Before I abandoned my solicitor’s desk, I wrote the first few lines of my first novel. After that I became pretty much addicted to writing, spending my free time on the first drafts of three or four books. My novel writing stayed firmly in the ‘novel closet’, but I did admit to penning poems and short stories, and I joined a writer’s group. I regularly sent the short stories to magazines and literary publications, and I was delighted to have many of them published. I was even more thrilled to be approached by an editor who had seen one of my twist-in-the-tale short stories and wanted to publish a collection of them. This short story collection, Watching Horsepats Feed the Roses, and the follow up, Hanged by the Neck, are available to buy on Amazon. If your readers like a quick fix, these sweet and sharply twisted dark tales might appeal to them!

Q Why did you choose crime fiction as your genre?

A Back in the novel closet days, I just wrote stories I would like to read without any ‘genre’ in mind. When my debut, Beneath the Skin (known as The Wife’s Secret in ebook), was taken on by HarperCollins, I was told, to my surprise, that it was crime fiction, albeit on the psychological thriller or domestic suspense end of the spectrum. On reflection, I think my style of writing is a blend of crime and contemporary because my real interest is people, their secrets and journeys and lives. The legal drama novels are an extension of that, but this time the characters revolve around the law.

Q How much do you draw on real life to create fiction?

A Like Frankenstein, I get inspiration by pinching tiny bits of people’s lives, news stories, films, TV, newspapers, documentaries. The legal cases I have worked on help, though of course it wouldn’t be ethical to steal them outright! Like many authors, I put a bit of myself in characters and storylines too. Then there’s my crazy imagination…

Q How important is location?

A My novels could be set anywhere in the world because they are predominantly about people, which, of course, is universal. We may be different sizes, shapes, age, race, colour, sex, or creed, but we’re all human beings with the same joys and emotions and worries and fears.

However, they do say to write what you know, so my novels are all set near to where I live in Manchester, UK. Knowing an area gives a story heart and authenticity, and that helps the reader visualize and experience it, even if they live far, far away!

A How did you get a traditional publishing contract?

A The publication of my short story collection gave me a huge confidence boost, so I concentrated more seriously on the draft manuscripts I had already written. Beneath The Skin was the first of those and I started sending it out to literary agents. Though like most authors, I had a lot of rejections (and a book deal that fell through), I eventually got lucky and found my agent through submitting a short story in 2016.

The offer from HarperCollins came through a few months after signing up with my agent. Fortunately I didn’t know a great deal about the process back then, so I wasn’t constantly fretting or looking out for emails. My agent didn’t tell me about any rejections, but waited until an offer was made. I had assumed that if an editor liked a manuscript, that would be a yes, but in fact any new novel needs the thumbs up from various departments, such as marketing and sales. I was thrilled to be offered a digital deal initially, but the real pleasure was when the publishers confirmed the book would be in paperback too! It was published in 2017. My Husband’s Lies followed in 2018 and became a Kindle top ten bestseller. Just this week the audiobook of My Husband’s Lies was published by Penguin Random House Audio – I’m so excited to listen and see how the narrator has vocally interpreted the characters.

Q What are your top tips to budding writers?

A Only a few writers get lucky with an agent or a publisher the first, tenth, or even thirtieth time of trying. When yet another rejection comes your way, my advice is to shed a few tears, then pick yourself up, dust yourself down and carry on polishing that manuscript until it positively gleams.

Looking back, I would also recommend paying for a professional edit if you can afford it. An alternative is to find a beta reader to give feedback on your work. Don’t ask your great aunt Mildred, who’ll say it’s fantastic, but someone who is prepared to dish some hard truths if necessary – doing a swap with another writer is a great idea.

Above all, write, write and write more – never give up!

Q Your main characters are strong women of action. How much of your own personality finds its way into your written characters?

A As mentioned above, I think most authors put an element of themselves into each character they write – both male and female. Beneath the Skin and My Husband’s Lies have sections from different character view points, but Betray Her, as well as the two Natalie Bach legal books, are from one female POV. My next novel, Truth Games, is due out in November 2020, and it’s again from one female POV. Perhaps having three strong daughters and a brilliant female publication team at Little, Brown Book Group is an influence. However, I do have more written books which include male POVs ready to spring from my laptop!

Q Do you weave fact and fiction (i.e. real stories that have been fictionalized) in your books? If so why, and if not, why not?

A My stories and characters are entirely fictional. Some of the legal cases in the Natalie Bach books may be roughly based on real ones I have come across, but they are very much inspirational only! As a former lawyer, I most certainly wouldn’t want to be sued for libel!

I also personally feel that you need to abandon ‘fact’ or real life experiences when writing fiction. Trying to be factually accurate can hinder the creative flow. Also, truth is sometimes stranger than fiction, and therefore not always believable.

Q When writing a new story, have you ever been “surprised” by a story line, angle, character, or aspect of the story you hadn’t anticipated?

A All the time! I’m very much a ‘pantser’ (in that I fly by the seat of my pants rather than plotting out a story). I have a vague idea of a secret, a lie, a twist or a reveal and I head towards that, but all sorts happens along the way. Some authors talk about a ‘writing magic’. I’m delighted to have experienced some of that. I love it when a character decides to go in an unexpected direction. Mine very often do!

Q How much research do you do when writing a new story?

A Fortunately I don’t need to do too much in depth research, and I’m in awe of authors who do, but I like to keep my writing as realistic, grounded, and as honest as I can, so I carefully research issues such as mental health or other medical aspects. I also need to check out any legal implications, as the law changes all the time!

Q What have you learned about yourself during and after the writing process?

A I’m fairly single minded, self disciplined, and dedicated whilst I’m writing, as well as tenacious. I guess I already knew these things, but they are pretty vital in the writing process, as there are so many disappointments along the publication journey, and it’s all too easy just to give up at times. You also have to be flexible and take your editor’s feedback on the chin! It’s pretty disheartening when you have to delete a whole chunk of beautiful writing to up the pace, or take out a favourite twist, but a good editor really does know what’s for the best.

Q What’s next for you, Caroline?

A Although Betray Her has been available in ebook and audiobook for some time, I’m very much looking forward to the UK paperback release on the 16th of July 2020. I’m also looking forward to seeing Truth Games ebook out later this year. I have just seen the cover and it’s FAB!

I’m still writing away and I’m just polishing my fourteenth novel, another psychological thriller, but with a gothic element. I’d love to see that and all my other manuscripts published.

Another huge wish is to see my stories on screen, so fingers crossed Natalie Bach or my other characters will one day appear in film or on the TV

You can find Caroline’s work and connect with her here:

Website: carolineenglandauthor.co.uk

Twitter: https://twitter.com/CazEngland

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CazEngland1/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/cazengland1/

 

 

Mon Amour, Friend or Foe

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It’s 1939 and eighteen-year-old American Paulette Rousseau arrives in Paris to study at the Sorbonne and to pursue an independent and happier future away from her self-absorbed parents. Her prayers appear answered when handsome and charismatic Guy de Laval invites her to join a chemistry study group he tutors. But when Guy asks her to join the French Resistance the following year, she questions whether she can live up to his expectations. Author Elizabeth Pye joins us to discuss how her latest novel, Mon Amour, Friend or Foe, came into being.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: When and where was your passion for the craft of writing first ignited?

A:  Right in my backyard, so to speak. I grew up in Spotsylvania County Virginia in a rural area twenty-five miles from Fredericksburg, the closest town to our home.  My daily life was surrounded with reminders of the history of the early years of our nation. For example, a stroll along the streets of Fredericksburg took me past James Monroe’s Law Office; Rising Sun Tavern—where most of the pre-Revolutionary  statesmen and most of the generals, including French officers, visited there, and in 1775 the  earliest Declaration of Independence was drawn up there; General Hugh Mercer’s Apothecary shop—where it is said George Washington kept an office; the home of Washington’s mother; and Kenmore, the lovely restored  home of Colonel Fielding Lewis and his bride,  Betty Washington Lewis.

All of the historical reminders of the Civil War will need to be visited on another day. Of course, that history is rich, indeed.

I concur with award-winning author Robert Heinlein, who said, “A generation which ignores history has no past and no future.”

Q: Did you have favorite authors and genres you liked to read were you were growing up?

A: My favorite authors were Louisa May Alcott, (Little Women), Nathanael Hawthorne, (House of Seven Gables), Frances Hodgson Burnett (Secret Garden), Edgar Allan Poe (The Murder in the Rue Morgue and The Fall of the House Usher).

Q: How about now?

A: My favorite authors include Daphne Du Maurier (Rebecca and The Glass-Blowers),  Anya Seton (Green Darkness), Susanna Kearsley (The Winter Sea), Kristin Hannah (The Nightingale), Lucinda Riley, (The Lavender Garden), Jennifer Robson (Somewhere in France), Cara Black (Murder on the Left Bank), Jean-Francois Parot (The Nicolas Le Floch Affair), Honore de Balzac (The Vicar of Tours), Alan Furst (Mission to Paris)  I prefer historical Romance, mysteries, and paranormal novels. As far as nonfiction goes, I enjoy memoirs and biographies.

Q: What is your particular draw to historical novels, especially plots which are set in France?

A: I am fascinated with history, and think that there are stories to be told in many ways. Historical novels provide an enjoyable way to go back in time and learn about ways of life during various periods of interest.

From a young age, I have been a Francophile although I had little exposure to French culture. I romanticized the French language, preferred Louis XV rococo style furniture—a far cry from the early American favorite of my mother, loved formal French gardens. Many years later my dreams were fulfilled when I first traveled to France and experienced the beauty of the Paris and Loire Valley (The Valley of the Kings) chateaus.

Q: Tell us what inspired you to pen your French Connection series and, most recently, including Mon Amour, Friend or Foe?

A: My love affair with many things French had piqued my interest sufficiently that I visited a hypnotherapist for a past life regression.  I slipped in to relaxed state and became aware of my surrounding in eighteenth century Revolutionary Paris. I described my surroundings and provided names and dates of events when questioned by the hypnotherapist.

Thus, began an ongoing research project to confirm or debunk the information I described. I became more and more immersed in French history which led to my French Connection Series and the completion of the first draft of Return to Chateau Fleury, which I set aside when my husband was diagnosed with Pancreatic cancer.

I decided to write Mon Amour, Friend or Foe after the publication of Return to Chateau Fleury, the second book of the series, because the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II occurs in 2020, and remains in the memories of many people. I wanted to immerse myself in the story to gain insight as to how the French people responded to the occupation of their country. Aline, one of my favorite characters, is carried forward from Book 2 to this one.

Q: What is the underlying theme and structure of this latest title?

A: Mon Amour, Friend or Foe, is the third book in the series and is structured on the Fichtean Curve model, rather than the generally used Three Act Structure.

The primary theme of the story is Love vs. Duty. Secondary themes are Fear and Courage.

Q: For any type of series, there are inherent benefits and challenges. For instance, can your French Connection books be read out of order and still embrace continuity?

A: A qualified “yes.” Each of the three books can be read as a stand-alone novel; however, Silk or Sugar is the only one of the three that is confined to one time period—1803 of the Napoleonic era.

Q: During your research for your historical novels, how do you blend fact and fiction?

A: Most of my characters are fictional, but the challenges they face are represented with as much historical accuracy as possible, as are actual historical individuals who are included for historic context.

Q: Would you like to have lived during the historical periods you write about?

A:  I write about historical periods of epic proportions because I question how I would respond in such a situation. With challenge comes opportunity. During those times the individual is challenged to confront their strengths and weaknesses, to draw on latent talents and strengths they might not know they possess.

Q: For family and friends who know you well, would they recognize you as any of the fictional personalities in your books?

A: I doubt they would, although I’m sure some of my personality traits are expressed. On the other hand, I pen-in many of the traits that I admire, but do not possess. I’m more able to control their response to challenges than I can for myself.

Q: Some authors create storyboards during the development process. Others like to put on period music to get them into the mindsets of their characters and the atmosphere of their settings. Your own method—the design of 1:12 scale models—reminds me of how I use set design to envision backdrops for my stage plays. How did you come up with this delightfully creative tool for visualization? (and please describe an example for us of how and why a mini diorama works for you)

A: I studied interior design and enjoy decorating my own home in the French style.  Miniatures allow me to continue working on design projects, and to immerse myself in the environment of my characters.  While working on various chapters of Mon Amour, Friend or Foe, I designed the heroine’s small Paris apartment kitchen area, which served a dual purpose as her resistance work space where she typed coded messages for resistance leaders; the hero’s office in the family’s eighteenth century  Parisian mansion while he served the Free French movement, and the alcove of the great hall in the family chateau in the Loire Valley in which the family held Christmas celebrations for the surrounding community. I have a collection of French music CDs to put me on location.

Q: Would you describe yourself as a plotter or a pantser? (and why does this method work effectively for you)

A:  I’m a panstser. Before I begin a new novel, I have a general idea of the main characters and their roles in the story, but do not have more than a topics outline. I know where the story is going without a roadmap as to how to get there. I remain open during the writing to allow my characters to direct me.  I keep a note pad with me to capture promptings from my muse at any time of the day or night. With Mon Amour, Friend or Foe, I didn’t know how the story would end until the last few chapters, which contrasts with my experiences with Silk or Sugar and Return to Chateau Fleury.

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

A: I’m a researcher at heart, and as such completed a hypnotherapy course and became a certified hypnotherapist. I kept that status for two years. I didn’t go into the business, but did regressions for family and friends.

Q: Like many of your fellow authors, you chose to go the route of self-publishing. Multiple books later, what did you learn about the DIY route that you didn’t know when you began?

A: I was fortunate to belong to a critique group that included members of multiple book publications. Some had worked with traditional publishers and shared their experiences with me before I had published my first book. I had gone the way of entering Romance Writers of America sponsored contests and noted that much time could be spent that way.  I evaluated the lengthy process of seeking a traditional publisher and the decrease in assistance they provided their authors. I prefer the control I have when self-publishing. Now that I have three books, I confess I must do a better job promoting them.

Q: What are you doing to promote the French Connection series? In your view, which avenues have been the most successful for you?

A: So far, I have found Facebook ads and author’s page, my blog on my website, and book fairs and festivals work well. I’m ready to begin adding to my promotional efforts.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: I’m beginning research for Lucia’s Poppy Fields, book 4 of the French Connection series, a novel about the Great War and the Spanish Flu Pandemic.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: Visit me on Facebook or  or on my website: Https://www.EPye.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reaper: A Horror Novella

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As far back as The Inquisition, the speculative existence of demons among us has woven a dark seduction over impressionable minds of all ages. Despite centuries of religious teachings that things which go bump in the night, wander fog-shrouded cemeteries, or assume the shape of bats and wolves to feed on human prey are to be avoided at all costs, curiosity has not only killed many a cat but lured many a reader into creepy plots that conjure nightmares. But hey, what’s not to love about a good story that brings on goosebumps? Jonathan Pongratz, author of Reaper: A Horror Novella, explains his own draw to the horror genre.

Interviewer; Christina Hamlett

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 Q: Did you read horror novels and watch horror films when you were growing up?

A: Growing up, my parents wouldn’t let me read or watch anything relating to horror, but I was determined. Though I couldn’t buy any horror books against their knowledge, I spent many late nights creeping from my bedroom to the dark living room. In time I watched all the great classics, in turn giving myself constant nightmares, but it was very much worth it!

Q: Is there a favorite that stands out in your memory?

A: As far as films go, Halloween is probably my favorite. The film really focuses on the mystery and terror of the boogeyman, while also having a great build up to the blood and gore. I rewatch it every year around Halloween.

On books, I really haven’t read that many horror novels to be honest, but my favorite thus far is Sarah by Teri Polen. A scary spirit with an insatiable lust for vengeance made it a real page turner for me.

Q: Last book or movie that really scared your socks off?

A: The last one that terrified me was IT Chapter One (the remake). Every scene had such scare factor that by the end I was something of a nervous wreck. It’s very rare that that happens to me, and I was extremely impressed.

Q: What are you reading now?

A: I just finished up reading the Watchmen comic series. If you’re not familiar, it’s a superhero themed comic set in the 80s, but much more grisly, dark, and violent than most other superhero novels I’ve read before. It is pretty similar to the movie adaptation, and I absolutely loved it!

Q: What was your attraction to writing a horror-themed story?

A: I’ve always loved the horror genre. I have watched hundreds of scary movies, and writing a horror-themed story was a way for me to pay respect to the genre itself. Chills, thrills, adrenaline,

I wanted to write something creepy that got my blood pumping and hopefully the readers as well.

Q: Whose work in the horror genre do you most admire?

A: I’d have to say George Romero and James Wan. George Romero is popular for his zombie movies, Wan for Insidious and The Conjuring franchises. Both have been able to create compelling, dark landscapes that are simply unforgettable. I always gravitate back towards their works, and it’s a constant source of inspiration for my own ideas.

Q: How and when did your own journey as a writer begin?

A: My real writer’s journey began when I moved to Kansas City about eight years ago. I was at something of a crossroads in my life, and though I hadn’t written anything in years, something about the change of scenery awakened something within me. Ideas started forming in my mind, and I couldn’t ignore them. I felt an intense compulsion to write, more than I had ever felt before. I haven’t stopped writing since.

Q: Share with us the inspiration behind the plot and characters for Reaper: A Horror Novella.

A: I was watching horror movies around September of 2018 when an idea started forming in my mind. The boogeyman, creepy basements, and vanishing children are all themes that I’ve seen in movies before, but for some reason, as I rewatched my favorites this time around I was more inspired than usual.

I wanted something nostalgic, an ode to my own days as a kid, so I went with the early 90s. I wanted to write a creature feature centered around Halloween and the boogeyman, while portraying the sibling rivalry between a comic book kid and his bratty little sister. A lot of the main character’s personality are actually small pieces of my childhood.

Q: Plotter or pantser?

A: Plotter all the way. I like to have a chiseled out plan before I start writing, even if I do end up pantsing here and there on the spot. If there isn’t a chapter summary, it won’t get written.

Q: If Hollywood came calling, who would your dream cast be for this title?

A: You know, I’m not very good with names, so I would just want each character to be portrayed correctly and settle for that. Gregory as a classic 90s comic book nerd, Imogen as a bratty little sister, their parents as loving but detached. The one person I did have an actress in mind for is his mother, Patricia. I’d like to see someone that looked like Catherine Mary Stewart play her part.

Q: How long did it take to write Reaper: A Horror Novella from start to finish?

A: From draft to publication it took me about six months, which I believe to be a bit fast. The first draft itself took about 2-3 months.

Q: Did you allow anyone to read it while it was still a work in progress? Why or why not?

A: I used to do that, but nowadays I don’t. I feel that I’ve grown enough in my writing that I should be able to complete a compelling, well-written first draft. Sure, there will always be little things here and there, but you can’t catch everything. I also don’t like other peoples’ opinions weighing in until after I’ve completed the story in its totality, so that I know what I actually want to keep and what I can compromise on if there’s a problem.

Q: I understand that a sequel is already in the works?

A: Yes! I am in the late stages of writing my first draft of the sequel. Ironically, I had no intentions of continuing this story, but a week after I published the first one I woke up one morning and the sequel just started pouring into my head. If that’s not divine intervention, I don’t know what is! Sometimes you just have to go with the flow, so I did.

Q: What are some of the challenges/rewards inherent in continuing an existing story versus leaving it as a standalone?

A: Well, I believe that writing a standalone may be a bit easier. You can write a great, compelling story and move on to other projects afterwards. Some readers are series-averse. I have phases where I do not want to read a series. Sometimes you just want a one off, and that’s okay. Writing a series, however, can be quite the headache. Not only are you writing more than one novel, but ensuring the continuity is there is extremely important, amidst a plethora of other things you have to watch. That being said, it can be easier to write more than one book once you solidify your style of writing for the main characters. I had a much easier time with Gregory when writing the sequel than I did with the first book.

Q: Like many of today’s authors, you chose to go the self-publishing route. What did you learn from this that you didn’t know when you started out?

A: A lot, actually. Without a traditional publisher backing you up, you literally have to do every single step of the publishing process yourself, which can easily get confusing. ISBNs, the cover, formatting the digital copy, setting up with a print-on-demand service. I lucked out that my dear friend and fellow author Emerald Dodge took mercy and held my hand through a big chunk of the process.

Q: How are you going about marketing your work?

A: Honestly, for the most part I stick to my social media platforms. I use WordPress and Facebook primarily, but also utilize Tumblr and GoodReads to boost my presence when I can. Marketing is definitely something I could work on quite a bit more, but honestly I don’t have a lot of time after all is said and done.

Q: When and where do you feel you get your best wordsmithing done?

A: I usually write in my room with the ambient music cranked up. I have a desk and desktop with a large screen that makes things so much easier. As far as timing, that’s where the plotter in me thrives. I write before work, on lunch, and after work in at least 30 minute intervals. That’s about all I can do with my crazy busy life, but I have a system that yields results.

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

A: I’m pretty predictable nowadays, but every once in a while I love to rock out with some karaoke. I was a choir kid growing up and was even in several show choirs. Jazz hands!

Q: It’s a dark and stormy night and you’re out by yourself. Which would you rather face down—a vampire, a witch or a zombie?

A: Face down or persuade to turn me? Haha! My answer is vampire all the way. I’ve always had a love for vampires since reading Anne Rice in high school, and I’m pretty sure I would be able to convince a vampire that I’d be the best prodigy ever rather than have one kill me. I mean, my vocal and writing skills alone should earn me a lofty eternal life.

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

A: At my website www.jonathanpongratz.com. I also post frequently on Facebook at www.facebook.com/jonathanpongratz but the content is richer on my website. I’ve got a lot of great stuff planned!

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: I always like to impart a little bit of wisdom to newer writers. If any of them are listening now, I’d like to urge them to keep writing. Find a time every day to write in a comfortable space, even if you have to fight for that time. Some things are worth fighting for, and you’ll grow so much faster if you stick to it. The world is full of possibilities!

Time-Traveling with Kelsey Clifton

A Day Out of Time cover

Among the most popular “what-ifs” in our culture is the theme of time travel. What if you could go back in time and prevent a tragedy like Titanic? What if you could go forward and find out what kind of smart money investments to make in the present? What if you could take back words and actions which hurt a loved one’s feelings or choose a different career path than the one you once thought was perfect?

Or what if your quest as a member of an oddball group of misfits was to save your world—and each other—from the perils of time travel run amok? Right. No pressure. All in an afternoon’s work.

Such is the premise of Kelsey Clifton’s debut novel, A Day Out of Time. Enjoy what she has to share about the angstful anomalies and vexatious vagaries of thinking outside one’s (comfort) time zone.

Interview: Christina Hamlett

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Q: What’s your attraction to the genre of time travel?

A: It just has so much potential for chaos! That was one of the questions I got to ask myself when I was writing these books: “How can I ruin this character’s day next?” Sometimes the answer was with renegade colonial soldiers, and sometimes it was with aliens. What other genre gives you that kind of versatility?

Q: If you had the chance yourself to travel through time (and knowing everything you do in the present day), would you rather go backwards or forwards? And why?

A: In a way, I address this exact question in the Day Out of Time sequel, After/Effects. There’s such a danger in either direction; when you travel to the past, you might feel helpless to stop events from unfolding, but when you travel to the future, you might find out things you were better off not knowing. Either way, you have to worry about the burden of knowledge. For me, I think I’d want to visit some ancient civilization or lost site, just to see what it was really like.

Q: Was the theme of time travel something your adolescent and teen self was interested in when it came to favorite bedside reading? Or was it something entirely different?

A: I didn’t really become interested in time travel until I started watching Doctor Who in my early twenties. It’s probably not a coincidence that Doctor Who and its spinoff series Torchwood are two pieces of media that I often compare to A Day Out of Time. I was always more of a fantasy reader, which still holds true to this day.

Q: Which authors in this genre do you most admire and why?

A: Although Becky Chambers writes other worlds sci-fi and not time travel, she’s far and away my favorite sci-fi author because she focuses so strongly on individuals and cultures in her stories, and those are the parts that fascinate me the most. You can see a bit of that fascination in my Day Out of Time series; while there’s a lot of action and humor, they’re really stories about people relying on each other. The time travel aspect is more of a really entertaining way to explore that concept.

Q: Tell us about some of the themes inherent in A Day Out Of Time and After/Effects.

A: The main theme in A Day Out of Time is this idea of broken things and how they can be mended. Gamma Team itself is mostly made up of misfits and “broken” people who are made whole by being together. In that same vein, we have the subtler theme of the power of a group. A lot of the problems that Gamma faces can only be solved with other members.

As the title suggests, After/Effects deals with the consequences of our actions, both negative and positive. The idea that gets bandied about a lot is that nothing we do is isolated; every decision causes ripples, some far larger than others.

Q: Writing and editing a series vs. a standalone title is not without its own rewards and challenges. What has your personal experience been in this regard?

A: I think the rewards far outweigh the challenges. I’ve gotten to see these characters grow and develop over two books (soon to be three) into better, fuller versions of themselves. There’s also a lot of fun in linking stories and plot points across multiple books, even though A Day Out of Time and After/Effects can be read as standalone novels. One of the challenges that I’ve found in both this series and another that’s currently in-progress is consistency. Changing a key detail in a world can unravel a lot of threads, which is what I’m currently struggling with. Depending on how long you think a series will eventually be, I think there’s a big advantage in having at least a first draft of every book done before you start publishing.

Q: Tell us about the characters in the series. Were some of them easier to write than others (and why)?

A: Cat and Darwin are the two easiest characters to write because they more or less appeared in my head fully formed, like Athena bursting out of Zeus’s skull. Cat is a force of nature – specifically a tornado. When she’s angry, she can touch down and do incredible damage in a very specific spot, while leaving everything else around her untouched. She’s one of the few things that can cow Darwin, who’s otherwise completely uncontrollable. Every scene with him in it automatically becomes 150% more fun to write.

Specs and Helix provide much-needed ballast in the group by acting as the moral and emotional centers. Specs is the steady ground to Cat’s whirlwind, making him invaluable as her lieutenant. On top of being their geneticist, Helix is the team’s medic, which suits her caring personality. She takes the team’s physical and emotional well being very seriously, even when she’s technically off the clock.

Cushioned between these wildly different personality sets, we have Millennia, Grunt, and the New Kid. Millennia was the easiest of the three to pin down because she has all the best qualities of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, which makes her so vivacious and fun to write. The New Kid acts as our “guide” through the world of the Dogs, and at first he seemed deceptively easy because of his mild nature. Over the course of the first draft, however, I discovered all kinds of unplumbed depths to him! And Grunt, of course, is the most enigmatic of all. I think he’s the kind of character you just instinctually understand, even if you don’t know all that much about him.

Q: Over the course of your publishing journey, you tried the traditional route. What prompted you to make the switch and become self-published?

A: I had grown a bit tired of querying, honestly, but I’d never really given self-publishing much serious thought. Then a friend sent me a link to an author who had completely funded her novel on Kickstarter within 24 hours or something. And even though it turned out that she was a fairly well-known comic book artist with an established following, it really got me thinking about it for the first time. I started doing research into the market and my different options, and I decided that I was tired of waiting around for the chance to tell my stories.

Q: Going the DIY route, of course, requires authors to don multiple hats. What do you like the best (and least) about managing your intellectual property from start to finish?

A: I’m a bit of a control freak, so I do really enjoy the creative control that I have over everything. I like that there’s no one pressuring me to change the title or the ending. The part that I like the least is the constant need to seek out potential readers. I’m a casual social media user at heart, so I’d almost always rather be working on a new project instead, but I have to put my writing aside sometimes and dedicate an hour or two to promoting myself and my work.

Q: What surprised you the most about navigating the ropes of self-publishing?

A: How easy it is to look up and say, “Oh my God, I haven’t posted to [X] in so long, I haven’t updated the website, I need to schedule a signing, etc.” You just get caught up in one aspect, and before you know it you’re getting reminders from your Facebook page about posting.

Q: If Marie Kondo were to visit your home, would she applaud your embrace of minimalism or be alarmed by your unabashed clutter?

A: Marie Kondo would just look around and say, “Oh my goodness” on repeat. I have a hard time getting rid of things anyway, but I also have a habit of collecting little trinkets or memorabilia that I leave strewn across every surface and tucked away in memory boxes. There are definitely things I could get rid of, but plenty of others that fill me with joy. Basically, I’m a dragon at heart and I cannot be reformed.

Q: Authors often picture their finished works as taking on another life as, for instance, a television series, a stage play or a movie. Is this the case for you with your time travel series?

A: I think A Day Out of Time would make an incredible TV series. There’s plenty of potential for “Problem of the Week” episodes, along with more complicated story arcs. I’d be open to surprise casting for all but two characters: Cat and Specs. I will accept Robin Wright and Mike Colter, or nobody.

Q: What is the thing you enjoy most about the creative process of writing?

A: Honestly, editing. A lot of writers gripe about the editing process, but it’s my favorite part. Writing a first draft is messy and grueling and magical, like metaphorical childbirth. But editing is like helping your story grow up. I’m also a big fan of “Aha!” moments, when the threads of a plot come together – especially if it turns out that I was subconsciously working towards a certain concept all along.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I’m currently working on the final draft of a standalone sword & sorcery novel called Fire and Lightning, Ash and Stone. It’s like a snarkier version of The Enchanted Forest Chronicles, and I’m hoping to release it in early or mid-January. Fans of A Day Out of Time will find a similar mix of humor, action, and heartbreak.

Q: Anything else you’d like readers to know about you?

A: In spite of what I said earlier about social media, I really am very approachable! Feel free to find me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Tumblr and say hello. I may not enjoy trying to market myself, but I do enjoy engaging with readers.

 

Windmaster Legend

Widnmaster Cover

 

From the mists of time, a forbidden love. An impossible quest. Threats to life and career. But can love survive the accusation of witchcraft? Author Helen Henderson invites us into the magical world of her new fantasy romance, Windmaster Legend.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: How did the dichotomy of a simplistic upbringing on a farm and a professional career in computer design influence your writing style and the development of your works’ pacing, structure, dialogue and characters?

A: While there is a certain consistency in my writing voice and I try to write action and adventure into each storyline, my characters have to be unique … and real. My fantasy worlds have various ranks of characters such as leaders, historians, and arbiters of justice; villagers and the elders who guide and protect the town; or officers and the crew that serve in their command. One of the ways to make a distinction is for one to have different types and amounts of formal education (here I channel more of the professional side of my life) and the other the down-to-earth farm side.

A piece of writing advice I’ve heard since I first put pen to paper is to, “Write what you know.” While I have never lived in the Old West, courtesy of my farm life I have fired a rifle, watched deer in the fields, and ridden a horse. And on the flip side, while I have never worked on the bridge of a starship, I have been behind the controls of a small aircraft and studied the cockpit of commercial aircraft. Combine that with experience designing and programming computers and my thoughts wander the stars to create the more technical worlds of science fiction.

Q: Do you remember the first story or article you ever wrote? 

A: The first article bearing my byline was a story about New Jersey salt-glazed stoneware for a national publication for antique collectors. That first piece led to another and eventually to a career as a correspondent and feature story writer for a dozen or so national and international publications.

The first piece of fiction to be published came many years later after that non-fiction piece and at the time was only the latest of many short stories I had crafted. Considering the first story I wrote was quite a few (not saying how many) years ago, the tale itself is lost in the mists of the past. That said, during a clean-out of old papers, an early story resurfaced. Written while I was a grade-schooler living in the Philippines, the fictional tale set during the Vietnam War chronicled the first mission of one pilot and the final one of another. I not only took the premise but much of the original writing, added another layer, and polished it with the more experienced eye acquired after years of writing. After some tears and a final salute to the me of yesteryear, the base that no longer exists, and to those who never made it home, FIRST MISSION, FINAL DAY was published in Hearth and Sand, a tribute to family members who served in the military.

Q: What books might we have found on the nightstand of your adolescent self? Your teenage self? And now?

A: In some ways my to-be-read pile hasn’t changed much. I still like action and adventure … and a happy ending. The adolescent me would be reading my mother’s collection of Cherry Ames books and every Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys in our local library. My teenage self progressed to the historical westerns favored by my father. Adventure and mystery came courtesy of the characters created by Alistair Maclean, Leslie Charteris, and Ian Fleming.

My current pile of favorites, read, and to-be-read includes historical westerns by Louis L’Amour, science fiction by Anne McCaffrey, and an eclectic collection of historical romance and fantasy.

Q: Tell us about the inspiration for penning Windmaster Legend.

A: To me, a fantasy book requires a rich environment, which means not only the world of today, but legends, myths, and tales of times past. Intended as a bit of foreshadowing of a potential romance between Captain Ellspeth and the archmage, Lord Dal, in the first book of the series, Ellspeth is explaining the story behind two especially bright stars in the night sky. According to legend, the stars are a pair of lovers named Iol and Pelra. They were turned into stars and placed in the sky by the water gods so the pair could be together for all eternity. A brush stroke of fantasy, a sprinkle of forbidden love and slash of feuding families, Windmaster Legend recounts the real story behind what was given just a few lines in the earlier books of the series.

Q: This is Book #3 of a series. What do you find to be the challenges inherent in writing a series versus a standalone title?

A: With each additional book in a series, keeping the details straight becomes harder. You don’t want to use the same name for two different characters. Fantasy series have an additional problem with unusual character or location names. As the number of volumes grows in a series, the potential for misspelling also increases. And the problem grows by a magnitude when you have written multiple series. I find myself asking were the Revarn Mountains in the Dragshi Chronicles or the Windmaster Novels? Or one of the novellas or stand-alone novels? Creating a series bible helps, but isn’t an absolute solution.

An additional problem I found when writing series is keeping the storyline fresh. While I may include a magical equine of some form in each series, you don’t want the exact same plot and characters over and over and over again. A challenge I inadvertently created for myself was when I wrote the fantasy series, the Dragshi Chronicles, and reprised a scene from early in the book as the story’s ending. Then I had to do something similar for the other books to keep a consistency in the series.

Q: Do you have a favorite character from one of your books? If the two of you hung out together for a day, what would you likely be doing?

A: My heart says my favorite character remains Ellspeth, captain of Sea Falcon. The tale of Ellspeth and the archmage, Lord Dal, is told in Windmaster, the first book I ever had placed under contract so there is a sentimental aspect. That said, I choose to spend a day with Glyn of Clan Miller. Hopefully, one of the magical equines the dragshi raise would allow me to be its rider for the day and Glyn and I would journey along the mountain trails. After lunch in a flower-covered alpine meadow, we’d return to Cloud Eyrie. Or if the weather was not cooperative, we’d spend the day in the practice room while she coached me on some of the finer points of the fighting staff and short bow. If I happen to be there when a celebration is being held for one of the local resident’s naming day, there will be music and dancing. And if I am lucky enough, maybe Lord Talann would grant me the favor of a dance. Just not the dragon wing, I don’t think I’m ready for that energetic or acrobatic maneuver.

Q: Rumor has it that you like to hang out with mages and fly with dragons. Tell us about those dragons!

A: I met the dragons while visiting Cloud Eyrie to interview some of the dragshi. The dragshi are two beings, one human, one a dragon, who share one body in time and space. This sharing allows the human to take on dragon form and take to the skies. Many dragon soul twins stay in the background, sleeping unless needed by their human twin. The quiesence continues until the human half dies and the dragon is able to fulfill its destiny and join the rest of their kind on the high ledges of the remote mountains. Other dragons, such as Honored Old One Llewlyn who is the soul twin of Lord Branin, take an interest in human affairs, observing them and attempting to understand us. And on more than one occasion, expressing his opinion.

The human and dragon halves communicate through mindspeech. Some rare humans also have the ability and they are educated and their talents encouraged. While I don’t have a dragon soul, I have been fortunate to be chosen to chronicle some of the tales of the dragshi and to interview Llewlyn. Through him I have found out that even though they don’t possess magic in the usual sense of casting spells, the dragons are magical creatures and possess an earth magic of their own. Their fire can heal or kill. Although the honored old ones are forbidden to harm a human no matter what the provocation, some of their dragon twins such as Lord Branin are skilled fighters and when in dragon form have on occasion used fire, talon and tail as weapons.

Depending on what part of the land they came from, the human half of each dragshi pairing has their own food preferences. However, most dragons’ favorite meal is sheep, and mountain villagers keep flocks just for the dragons.

Beyond that, anything else I have been told in confidence about his kind by Llewlyn or his mate Honored Old One Jessian, must remain private, unless it was documented in the Dragshi Chronicles.

Q: Does this suggest you were a fan of Game of Thrones?

A: Since I write fantasy, I don’t know if I should admit this or not, but I am probably one of the few people who didn’t see a single episode of Game of Thrones. As to the reason? I could say my cable company didn’t carry it, or that I don’t have cable. Or, that when I’m writing, I don’t read in that genre to avoid inadvertent cross-over from the other author’s work. The same would apply to the small screen. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Q: Do you allow anyone to read your work while it is still in progress or do you make everyone wait until you have typed “The End?”

A: As a rule I don’t usually allow anyone to read a work-in-progress until the story is written and gone through a good polishing. I want it as close to perfect as I can make it before letting it out into the world, even if it is only exposing it to friendly fire. Although I do admit there were a couple of times when I was only a step ahead of the online critique group readers and was giving one chapter its final polish as the group was going over the previous one.

Q: Writing is a solitary craft. How do you combat the potential demons of loneliness?

A: Walking along the waterfront or bicycling a shore trail brought with it the serenity of the outdoors. Attendance at local writers group meetings and an occasional conference reinforced the feeling of community. Since I also wrote non-fiction, being a docent at a local history museum and lecturing at other historical groups also brought me into contact with other people. But I would say the greatest tool to combat the demon of loneliness is the Internet. Although we only met in the virtual world, there are a number of writers that I am privileged to call a friend.

Q: History holds a special passion for you, and you’ve had the experience of participating in archaeological digs. If someone from 200 years in the future were to look at the artifacts we left behind, how would they define us as a culture?

A: Wow, what a hard question. Especially since I don’t consider myself a futurist. A lot can happen in 200 years. In that period of time, a country could go from initial exploration to becoming a major civilization. Archaeology has provided insights into the movements of troops on a battlefield or the migration of a people across thousands of miles. The quality of artifacts can show how people lived. From shards or even entire items we can determine whether the people who lived at a particular site used fine porcelain or primitive stoneware. Even in just my lifetime (and no, I am not hundreds of years old), there has been the Korean Conflict, the eruption of Mount Saint Helens, and the fall of the towers on 9-11. A man has walked on the moon and a mechanical explorer roamed the sands of Mars.

To answer the prompt, I focused on the electronic age. The same amount of computing power that once required huge racks of equipment in climate-controlled warehouses can now be had in a small device we hold in the palm of our hand. As to how our culture might be viewed? I will use one word, primitive. If electronic devices continue to increase in power, our laptops, tablets, and smart phones would be considered crude by the standards of the future civilization. They might also wonder how we ever managed to get anything done with the massive volumes of data that to them was essentially an unorganized dump. After all, we didn’t have the sophisticated artificial intelligence to organize information to its maximum usefulness.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: A novel set in the world of Windmaster that I started during NanoWriMo (also known as the crazy month for authors when we try to write 50,000 words in a span of a month) is demanding to be finished. And a twist on a dragon shifter story is fighting for equal time.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: I love to hear from my readers and invite them to join me on travels through the stars, or among fantasy worlds of the imagination. Excerpts of my work, writing tips, and information on new releases can be found at https://helenhenderson-author.blogspot.com. Or connect with me online at

Facebook—https://www.facebook.com/HelenHenderson.author

Twitter—https://twitter.com/history2write

Amazon—https://www.amazon.com/Helen-Henderson/e/B001HPM2XK

Goodreads—https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/777491.Helen_Henderson

 

 

Demon Reaper

Adele Cawley

In a slightly futuristic dystopia, a teenage girl discovers she’s an empath and that she is the linchpin between the physical world and the supernatural. Author Adele T. Cawley shares how her paranormal fantasy, Demon Reaper, came about and why it’s a genre with timeless themes of independence, individuation and rebellion that resonate with today’s YA readership.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: How and when did your journey as a writer begin?

A: Professionally, I’d have to say it began by taking a huge leap of faith investing in a collaborative publishing course, and forcing myself not to give up on my dream. However, my journey as a writer truly began when I learned to write words, at about age five. I can’t remember a time in my life I haven’t loved the power of the written word, and particularly, the emotions words can invoke.

Q: Were you a voracious reader growing up? What books might we have found on the nightstand of your adolescent self? Your teenage self?

A: I was a voracious reader growing up at times, and at other times it was hard to find interest in any book at all. I call the voracious spells “reading jags” because they are similar to food jags toddlers go through when they obsess over one or two foods and can’t seem to eat enough of them. (My four-year-old is currently going through a food jag with peanut butter and insists on eating it for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks.) Sometimes I get this way with books, and I can’t inhale them fast enough.

As an adolescent I loved the Childhood of Famous Americans book series, which prompted a lifelong love of historical fiction. I also loved the Hardy Boys mystery books, and I read every book my school library carried when I was in the 4th and 5th grades. These books primed me for my love of mysteries, and when I got a little older I read several Sherlock Holmes stories. I sometimes joke that my love of Frank and Joe Hardy (particularly Joe) was the foundation for my love of the Winchester brothers in the TV series, Supernatural, particularly Dean.

In my late teen years, I had a taste for the macabre and devoured the thrilling works of Stephen King and Dean Koontz, as well as the works of Edgar Allan Poe. Around this same time I read the Chronicles of Amber by Roger Zelazny which propelled me into the realm of fantasy, where I have semi-permanently stayed.

Q: What are you reading now?

A: Right now I’m reading the Red Rising series by Pierce Brown, and although I’m not a huge sci-fi fan, these books have been exciting to read. I love the clipped pacing and the throw-back to medieval fighting and chivalric code of honor, despite the books taking place in outer space. They remind me of Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card and the Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins which makes for a very fun time, and reading late into the night is a guilty pleasure of mine.

Admittedly, I am in the middle of the series and have diverted momentarily to read Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, but who doesn’t have more than one good read going on at the same time, right?

Q: What authors would you say have had the most influence on your own voice and style as a novelist?

A: I’m a huge fan of Brandon Sanderson, and if I can get half as good at storytelling and descriptive writing as him, I’ll consider myself very successful. I also loved The Giver Quartet by Lois Lowry, and I really admire her prose and storytelling abilities. The way she made me think while reading those books has stayed with me, and I want to be able to write a compelling story that would have the same effect on others.

Q: Skylar Grant, the heroine of your new book, Demon Reaper, is a teenage girl. In what way(s) have you channeled emotions and memories of yourself at that same age? In what ways is Skylar’s personality completely different from yours?

A: In writing about Skye, it would be impossible for her not to have similar characteristics to me. I was a loner-type of girl when I was younger, having only a few close friends, and her isolation reminds me of myself, especially her inability to make a strong connection with the group. I was often referred to as “stuck-up” or “snobbish” in school, and I reference this to Skye’s character when people accuse her of being a “princess.” I’ve never considered myself (or Skye) to be stuck-up. I prefer the term misunderstood.

On the other hand, Skye is more stubborn than me. She has a gutsy streak to her that I don’t have. Part of it is due to growing up in a hard environment having to survive a second American civil war and then living in a very old-fashioned community without modern comforts. I have lived a soft, mostly abundant life, where she has not, and she has the heart of a survivor. If I was dropped into her lifestyle it’d be a grand adventure for a couple of days, and then after that I’m not sure I would enjoy it anymore.

Q: What was your attraction to writing a dystopian theme?

A: I love the genre. I’m fascinated and intrigued by the plight of humankind, particularly the young, in these types of stories. I love seeing how a person is shaped by their experience, which isn’t unlike real life. I’m an observer of the human race. People captivate me. Their motivations and rationalizations are so fascinating. I try to imagine myself in their shoes. What is it about the course their lives took that ultimately led them down the path they chose? This is beautifully described in dystopian novels when there are often harsh and cruel realities the hero must face. I love seeing them meet challenges and overcoming them, and I love seeing the why or how behind it all. Reality isn’t far off some dystopians. Humans face oppression everywhere, and some come out better for it, and some do not.

Q: In your estimation, why do such themes resonate with our younger generation?

A: In my observation and experience, being a teenager is a lot like living in a dystopia. You’re not young enough anymore to be considered a child, but you’re not old enough to be considered an adult. You’re kind of stuck in the middle, but with additional responsibilities, and you’re under the dominion, so to speak, of your parents or caregivers. Teenagers want the ability to make their own decisions without restrictions, but lack the discipline and experience to fully think through the consequences. In dystopian societies, there is always some sort of figurehead symbolic of the overbearing adult, imposing perceived injustices on the people. I remember thinking my parents were just like this. Why couldn’t they let me live my life the way I wanted to live it? I see this theme played out again and again in many dystopian novels, and in the end the hero and/or heroine come out the other end stronger, more experienced, and better able to make decisions having lived through intended, and sometimes unintended, consequences, the same way we make the transition from teenager to adult.

Q: What was your inspiration behind the plot and characters for Demon Reaper?

A: I first got the idea for the character of the daemon ripere (demon reaper, a type of undead creature who has been tricked into selling his soul to the forces of evil) six or seven years ago when I dreamed about one. The dream was so compelling I knew I had to write a story about it. I loved the idea of a demonic soul, tortured by an invisible bond to his master by a magical connection from the collar around his neck. Not only had he sold his soul, seemingly to the devil, but now he knows he’s a slave to do the bidding of his master without knowing how, or if, he will ever be freed. Not only that, but he’s an assassin, sent out to reap the souls of the living.

Originally I had thought it would be a fantasy story, but when it came time to do the writing, I felt a more modern, or even dystopian, setting better suited the character and his interactions with others. Although fantasy stories are full of all kinds of creatures, sometimes magical, sometimes not, what if my creature could exist in real life?

Q: How would you compare Demon Reaper to other books in its genre?

A: I’ve heard it compared to Twilight on a few occasions, particularly if Twilight had taken place in the Wild West and had been about angels and demons instead of vampires and werewolves. I’d say that’s a mostly accurate analysis. It does have some Twilight-esque moments (love triangle anyone?) with some intriguing supernatural elements. I also think it fits in with the Hush, Hush quartet and the Fallen series too, both of which involve fallen angels. Damon, who is the demon reaper, isn’t a fallen angel, but he has fallen from grace. And what’s even better, a human girl falls for him, pun intended.

Q: How did you go about finding a publisher?

A: For all intents and purposes, I am self-published. I enrolled in a collaborative publishing course through Author Academy Elite (AAE) where I learned how to self-publish and market. I use their imprint, which appears as publisher information on some forums (Amazon and Barnes & Noble). It was an amazing course, surrounded me with inspiring people, and kept me on track. I highly recommend them for anyone thinking about writing and publishing a book.

Q: Plotter or pantser?

A: I’m like 95 percent pantser, but OCD enough that I have to have some type of outline. I hate the restrictions of formal outlines, so I write my big ideas on sticky notes. That way I can keep track of them but have the flexibility to move them around as they work into the story. Demon Reaper started with two big ideas: the beginning and the ending. Then as the writing process took over, other big ideas came to mind. I’d write them down and rearrange them as they became pieces of the story. Each sticky note came to represent one chapter of the book, but I wouldn’t write which chapter it was until that chapter was completed in the manuscript. It was great having a simple visual representation of the manuscript that I could take a quick glance at to refresh my memory of certain events. It also allowed me to write dates on the sticky notes so I could keep the timeline straight.

Q: How long did it take to write Demon Reaper from start to finish?

A: Five and a half months start to finish, counting the dead space in the middle. If I took out the months I never even looked at the manuscript, it took about 7 weeks, with the bulk of it getting done in the last 4 weeks. I wrote just over 65,000 words in about three and a half weeks, which was both grueling and exhilarating. However, it’s not a general practice I recommend. In the time since, I’ve found consistent, weekly (if not daily) writing is easier to manage.

Q: When and where do you get your best writing done?

A: My favorite place to write is sitting on the sofa in my bedroom, door closed, earbuds in with the music cranked loud, and laptop on my lap. It’s not the most comfortable way to write, but for some reason, it triggers a cue in me that it’s time to get in the zone. Typically I can get my best writing done either first thing in the morning (weekends) or at the end of the day and into the evening. I work a full time job, and I have six kids, so finding the time to do it during the middle of the day is almost impossible.

Q: Do you allow anyone to read your work while it is still in progress or do you make everyone wait until you have typed “The End?”

A: When I was younger, I craved feedback anytime I could get it. So I’d share works in progress. When I wrote Demon Reaper, I found myself bouncing ideas off my two oldest daughters who fit the target audience, but then I realized that doing so was a disservice to them because it would take the fun out of reading the book when it was finished. So I stopped collaborating with them and rarely talked about characters and plot with anyone until the book was finished. At that point, I took on several beta readers to proof the manuscript. I split them into two groups, and Group A got copies of the rough draft, while Group B got copies of the updated manuscript after Group A finished with it. I loved how that process went and intend to do it again after the next manuscript is finished. Until then, mum’s the word for the most part.

Q: This is Book #1 of a trilogy. From your perspective, what are the challenges inherent in writing a series versus a standalone title?

A: This is such a great question, and is actually something I’ve thought about a lot. Writing and publishing a book is a lot of work, and sometimes it’s hard work. If I’d written a standalone, I’d be done. Win, lose, or draw, I would be done, and it would be out there. But I didn’t write a standalone. I started something that’s bigger than that, and slowly a fan base is forming. They are demanding the next segment of the story. I love having that pressure because it keeps me going. I tend to perform better with a deadline because it creates focus. However, I do have some ideas for standalone novels that I look forward to writing.

Q: I’m intrigued about your background in theatre (a particular passion you and I happen to share). How has this been an influence on your writing insofar as character development, dialogue, pacing and structure?

A: I have loved my time spent acting in community theater. I love the transformation that occurs when you become another person. Writing a book allows this same creative process, only better, because now I’m not just the heroine or the villain. I’m everyone at the same time. I’m the director, and I’m the stage manager, the producer, props manager, hair/makeup artist, and all of the actors.

There is always an endorphin-fueled high following an amazing stage performance when you know you nailed it. The audience was receptive. You flawlessly executed your role. Even if you made mistakes, you recovered and kept going in a way no one ever realized what had happened. There were many times I experienced a similar high after being in the zone for an extended period of time writing. I’d found my groove and executed amazing passages. I live for moments like those.

Q: According to your bio, you’re an advocate for the arts in schools. Too often—especially in public schools—funding for arts programs is always the first to be cut from city, county and state budgets. If students aren’t exposed to plays, music and art in the classroom, where are our future theatregoers, concert audiences and museum attendees going to come from?

A: This is such a great question, and it’s something I think about often. Our young people are exposed to the arts less and less, and it saddens me because what we focus on and appreciate when we’re young shapes who we become when we’re older. Public school systems feel rigid and results-driven, and we’re seeing a rise in ADD/ADHD diagnoses. Theater and dance are great outlets for these types of children. In fact, one of my favorite success stories is about Dame Gillian Lynne whose mother took her to see a doctor when she was about seven because she couldn’t stop moving. Her mother thought she had a learning disorder. The doctor observed her and asked the mother to step outside with him for a few moments. On the way out the door, he turned on the radio and then asked the mother to watch her daughter from the hallway. Her daughter leapt around the room to the sound of that radio, and the doctor finally turned and said that there was nothing wrong with her. She was simply born to dance. This was in the 1930s. Dame Gillian Lynne went on to become a world-famous choreographer for musicals such as “Cats” and “Phantom of the Opera.” What would have happened to her if she’d been diagnosed with ADHD and then medicated as so often seems to happen today?

I’m not entirely sure the priorities of public schools, especially with the adoption of core standards, have shifted in the right direction. I love Montessori schools and their approach. I love interest-driven learning. When a student is having fun, they are engaged, and when they are engaged, they learn effortlessly. What if their passion is for music? Or theater? Or art? When and where do we encourage this in public schools and drive them to seek excellence in these fields? Do they have the foundation and support they need to excel in these areas? Or do we kill their natural talent for them simply because reading, writing, and arithmetic are more important? Skills can always be taught, but talent must be finely honed.

I’ll stop there. I am very passionate about this subject, and I feel I get a little preachy when I talk about it.

Q: What’s the oldest, weirdest or most sentimental thing in your closet?

A: The oldest, most sentimental thing I own is actually in my hope chest, not my closet. It is a diamond and pearl ring and necklace set given to me by my mother on my 18th birthday. They were gifted to her by her aunt, who was the closest person I had to a maternal grandmother growing up because my grandma had passed away when I was just a baby. I always admired the jewelry, and I was very fond of my great aunt, who passed away about a year and a half before I turned 18. So receiving the set meant a lot to me, and I hope to pass it on to my oldest daughter when she comes of age.

Q: Okay, so aside from what you just disclosed about your closet, what would readers be the most surprised to learn about you?

A: I have a very large, overdeveloped sense of vanity. I care deeply about my appearance and how others see me, and I have since I was a small child. Now, that is hardly a surprise. What’s shocking is what happened when I was young because of it.

When I was in the 4th grade, there was a boy in my class who had the most beautiful, delicately shaped eyebrows. I had unfortunately inherited my dad’s bushy, unruly brows. I admired this boy’s eyebrows and stewed for days about what I could do to make mine more like his. I didn’t know at the time that it would require tweezers, a steady hand, a high tolerance to pain, and patience.

One evening at home I finally had a plan to give myself the most beautiful eyebrows ever bestowed on a ten-year-old girl. I carefully sneaked into my parents’ bathroom while they were distracted in the kitchen, quickly found my dad’s razor, and carefully placed it over my right eyebrow. One easy swipe is all it would take. Well, sure enough, one easy swipe and the eyebrow was gone, with the exception of two or three sneaky hairs that were not in the direct path of the destructive razor. To say the result was shocking is an understatement. I was horrified. Not only was I missing the artistically shaped eyebrow I’d been dreaming about, I was missing an eyebrow! I took a deep breath and re-analyzed the situation. It was obvious I couldn’t have lopsided features, so I quickly swiped the other side to even things out a bit. Now I had no eyebrows, but at least my face looked symmetrical once again.

The next morning I’d forgotten all about the incident until my mom saw me and freaked (I mean f-r-e-a-k-e-d) out. She was beyond upset. When I went back to school, my teacher was so amused by it she made me stand up in front of the class (this was still socially acceptable in the 1980s) and let my classmates have a good look. It mortified me, but to my relief (and rescue) it inspired another boy in my class who went home that day and shaved off his eyebrows too. We became the talk of the school and even upper classmen sought me out to see if the stories they’d heard were true. I’d earned a bit of notoriety and gained an ego boost to my vanity despite the mishap. With the modern obsession over eyebrows since, who knew I’d start a movement spanning the last three decades? *wink*

Q: If you could invite three authors (living or dead) to dinner, who would they be, what would be on the menu and what would you ask them?

A: J.R.R. Tolkien and Jane Austen are definitely on my list. For my third, it’s a tossup between Lois Lowry and Stephen Chbosky. The Perks of Being a Wallflower is so poignant and beautiful it is the only book I read the last page and immediately turned to page 1 and reread it cover to cover again. Likewise, The Giver Quartet also stirred a lot of passion and thought in me. All authors exposed the plight of humankind in a rich, unapologetic, sometimes humorous way that has stayed with me for years.

We’d have light fare on the menu. I have a preference for a fine wine (or cocktail, but only if I’m mixing) and charcuterie board to just about anything else, wrapping up with a simple dessert and wee dram of Scotch. And by wee, I mean a generous pour, of course.

I’d ask them about their experiences, not just in becoming writers, but ultimately what shaped their paths to become writers and what influenced them the most to write about the subjects they chose. If they had even a shred of advice, I’d devour it, particularly from Tolkien because I think he was a truly inspired man.

Q: What are you currently working on?

A: I am currently working on the second book of the Demon Reaper Trilogy. I was recently asked in an interview if the second book has a title, which it does, and then I was asked if I would share it, which I will. The title of book two is Indigo Moon.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

A: Readers can check out my website at https://adeletcawley.com where I casually post blogs and upload photos of my hobbies, when I have time for it. They are also more than welcome to follow me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/adeletcawley or Instagram @a.cawley_author.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: This has been a great interview, and I’ve had a lot of fun answering the questions. Thank you for the opportunity, and I look forward to connecting with readers and future fans often!

 

 

 

 

Once Left the Field of Valor

ONCE LEFT IN THE FIELD OF VALOR

As of this writing, Hulu is debuting an adaptation of Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, a satirical novel about the insanity of war. It, thus, seems only fitting to feature an interview this month with R.C. Sprague about his latest release, Once Left the Field of Valor, a gripping story about a young lieutenant’s guilt and post-traumatic stress to deliver a German soldier’s death letter to his lover. Military enthusiasts and fans of historical fiction will want to add this one to their bookshelves.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Your stint as an Army pilot has not only taken you around the world but also allowed you to see humanity at both its best and its worst. How much of your own personality and personal experiences shaped the development of Damien Shaw’s moral journey and are embedded in the story?

A: Damien Shaw is a character that reflects a lot of myself. At times he has a rough exterior, which many people have told me I do. About two years into writing the book I gained a new understanding for the guilt that plagues Damien throughout the book when two of my friends were killed in Afghanistan. Just as with Damien, it took me a while to come to grips with what happened.

Damien’s home town of Sackets Harbor is actually a small town in northern New York only a few miles from Fort Drum which was where I was stationed during much of the writing process.

Q: When did you start writing Once Left the Field of Valor?

A: I started writing Once Left the Field of Valor in the summer of 2012. During a lack luster lecture at the U.S. Army’s flight school, I began writing the first chapter. The idea came to me the night before and after sharing it with my wife, I knew I had to tell the story.

Q: What inspired the title?

A: I wanted the title to sound correct for the setting. I drew inspiration from classics like All Quiet on the Western Front and  For Whom the Bell Tolls.

Q: Plotter or panster? And why does your chosen method work effectively for you?

A: I am absolutely a panster. When writing fiction, I find that free flowing allows the story to surprise me and keeps me wanting to write. It may sound strange, but my imagination keeps me on the edge of my seat with unexpected twists and turns. There are scenes in Once Left the Field of Valor where I was like wow I didn’t see that coming. I really enjoy the twists and turns that come with being a panster.

Q: Did you know the novel’s ending before you began Chapter 1?

A: The ending was a mystery to me until the late chapters. Even then, and now, I wonder if I should have chosen the alternate ending. Luckily, reviews have cited the ending as surprising and well written, so I guess I chose wisely.

Q: Had you written anything prior to this and/or dabbled in other genres?

A: Writing is a main part of who I am, and I have done it for as long as I can remember. Once Left the Field of Valor is my debut novel. Prior to releasing it, my published works were non-fiction leadership and sports articles.

Q: What appeals to you about this particular genre?

A: I’m a history buff who loves to study people. In a situation such as war, I wanted to get into the mind of a soldier and paint a picture for the world. I feel historical fiction allows reader to time travel and live in another time.

Q: What do you find to be the most challenging aspect of the writing process?

A: Balancing life demands with writing. While writing Once Left the Field of Valor I had three kids, moved three times, spent nine months in Afghanistan, and worked full-time. Luckily, I’ve gained better understanding for how to squeeze in writing!

Q: And, conversely, the most rewarding?

A: I love watching characters develop and take on lives of their own. Certain characters such as Albert were initially supposed to have a minor role. As I wrote him through his back story, it became more elaborate and his impact on the story became crucial to the plot.

Q: How have your talents as a lyricist influenced your ear for writing dialogue?

A: Writing song lyrics forces the creator to hone in on the flow of the words. When writing dialogue, I always say it out aloud to test whether it sounds natural in a conversation. Just as with song lyrics, conversations are filled with slang and broken sentences. I’m hoping that my dialogues sound natural and don’t detract from the story.

Q: Tell us about the characters in your debut novel and which ones you most admired or despised.

A: There are so many characters that are close to my heart in this story. Aside from Damien and Emily, my favorite characters are without a doubt Madame and Albert. Their roles as supporting characters were instrumental in Damien’s journey. By far my least favorite character is Geordan. His brutish attitude and insufferable demeanor made him despicable but a necessary supporting character.

Q: Historical fiction often calls for in-depth research in order to make events ring “true” for one’s target audience. There’s always a risk, however, in either overstuffing a narrative with too many facts that make the text read like a history lesson or embroidering it with so many liberties as to deviate significantly from reality. Tell us about your own research strategies to embrace a plausible balance.

A: When researching the time period, I watched several movies, read books, and went to military museums to get an idea of what it was like to live in that time. I take great pride in getting the locations of major historical events correct and painting a scene that allows the reader to flawlessly fall into the book.

Q: The cornerstone of Once Left the Field of Valor is a bloodied letter penned by an enemy soldier to the one he loves. Is this letter’s hold on Damien of supernatural essence or is its impact all in his head?

A: There is some form of supernatural connection with the letter. Whether you call it fate, divine intervention, or a self-fulfilling prophecy, the letter is the key to Damien’s future.

Q: Favorite quote about redemption?

A: My favorite redemption quote comes from Lewis B. Smedes, “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” I think it’s such a powerful statement and really sheds light on the cycle of guilt that plagues many people.

Q: Like many authors, you decided to go the self-publishing route. What governed that choice?

A: Breaking into the traditional publishing scene is a difficult process. I felt that my story would resonate with readers and needed to be released without any further delay or bureaucracy.

Q: What did you learn about self-publishing that you didn’t know when you started?

A: Self-publishing can be a very tedious process. Properly formatting your document can be an ordeal. Overall, I do enjoy the creative freedom that self-publishing gives me.

Q: What are you doing to promote the book?

A: I have completed several written and podcast interviews, all of which can be viewed on my website rcsprague.com. In addition to interviews, I held a free eBook event in April and did a live reading on Facebook. I’m quite active on social media and can be found on Facebook and twitter @rcspraguewriter as well as @rcsprague on Instagram and Youtube.

Q: What would you like readers to take away from this story by the time they turn the last page?

A: I want readers to know that redemption is possible. A person can overcome their past and take back their destiny.

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

A: One of my “guilty pleasure” is singing along to showtunes.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: In July I’ll release my debut poetry collection, The Soul Behind the Mask. Additionally, I’m revising my second novel which is the first in a three-part series called Tales of a Toy Soldier. I hope to release part one of that series in spring/ summer 2020.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: I just want to say thank you for the opportunity to conduct this interview and I hope everyone has enjoyed getting inside my head.