Black and Single Blues

Black and Single Blues Cover

You think finding the love of your life is hard? Try keeping her. Keith Jackson is a globe-trotting guitarist in great demand and with legions of ladies along the line. When he crosses paths with Lesli—a woman who wondrously stops his life dead in its tracks—it looks as if a happily-ever-after will be in the cards for both of them. Or will it? 

Minnesota novelist, essayist and playwright Dwight Hobbes offers a sneak peek into his new release, Black & Single Blues, and shares thoughts on his journey as a savvy wordsmith.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: With a long list of credits to your name in Essence, Reader’s Digest, The Washington Post, The San Diego-Union Tribune, guest appearances on public radio and television, and theatrical expertise at The Loft and The Playwrights Center, it seems a natural segue to your latest passion for the world of book publishing. Such success, however, never happens overnight. What was your own journey like insofar as getting the stories in your head in front of a paying readership?

A: Tough. Essence took about two years to buy a short story and, aside from placing a play, “You Can’t Always Sometimes Never Tell” in a reasonably successful anthology, Center Stage, it was all queries and rejection slips from 1980 to 1992. Went through a marriage to a lovely, very disillusioned young lady. Frank Sinatra sang that if you can make it in New York you can make it anywhere. Doesn’t necessarily mean you can make it in New York, where the assistant to the editor probably has an assistant. The Twin Cities is a much smaller, very different world. Being rejected wasn’t nearly as coldly impersonal and you had a significantly greater chance of catching on. At the magazines, newspapers. Even book publishers. Something I Said (collected essays on domestic abuse, rape, race and more) I was able to pitch to Papyrus Publishing by calling Anura Si-Asar and having coffee. Made a magazine sale a year after I got here, then newspapers and haven’t stopped since. It’s been fat, sometimes lean but it’s steady. Never gone without some kind of check whether it’s big or small.

Q: Who are some of the authors you admired from adolescence and into adulthood, and what insights did you glean from them in shaping your own successful career?

A: Well, I cut my teeth on James Baldwin and Chester Himes as a teenager. Later, John A. Williams, Ann Petry, Zora Neal Hurston. Insights?  I’ve never tackled the same subjects as any of them but did thoroughly digest their styles. Doubted myself for that until I saw that Baldwin, one of my greatest heroes, parroted Carson McCullers. Literally. After ages, I actually arrived at my own voice but even the most original pen is going to echo some influence.

Q: How did you feel the first time your saw your name in print? Was it a surprise or an expectation?

A: The greatest surprise was that Essence contract. It’s like, “What do they mean by ‘Yes.’?”  It was staring me in the face and I still couldn’t believe it. Not only was I going to be in a national magazine but the only black one that ran fiction. Negro Digest had died years before and you have to understand, it was decades before opportunities got better. I just sat there, making myself believe it was real.

Q: What was the inspiration behind Black & Single Blues?

A: The story in Essence. Which had been an attempt at an essay, really, debunking true love as a pleasant fantasy. Wound up trying it as fiction and that worked. It was still cynical until the weekly, Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder, a few years ago, needed a romance to serialize.  In the process, it became hopeful because, frankly, I welcomed a break from coming up with caustic commentary week in, week out and wanted to do something on the lighter side. Shoot-from-the-hip sardonic but good-natured, put a smile-on-your-face fun.

Q: With whom will its storyline most strongly resonate?

A: I’ve said, you don’t have to be black, single or have to the blues to enjoy it, but, yeah, it resonates best with black women. Those who, for instance, like Lifetime but want to see someone who looks like them and has a good profession. Lesli, the female lead, is a head librarian, what you could call a sexy nerd. She’s self-possessed, intelligently articulate and, of course, hot as a sunburn. Keith, the male lead, is an easy-going, fun-loving guitarist who comes across her and is just blindsided by this fascinating woman. It affords readers a seldom seen look into the heart and mind of a man in love.

Q: If Hollywood came calling, who would comprise your dream cast for this book?

A: I suppose Paula Patton. And if there’s a youngish Denzel floating around out there somewhere.

Q: Are you a plotter or a pantser? And why does this approach work well for you?

A: Had to look pantser up. No, if I don’t know where my story’s going to go, I’ll be lucky to ever get there. Before writing the first word, I need to decide how things will end. How they begin. In-between, sure, that’s a free-for-all, nudging here and there, letting the characters – you have to create them solidly enough – allowing their behavior to carry the action.

Q: What was the most challenging aspect of developing the plot and characters?

A: I have to care about the people in order to convincingly create them. Know them inside and out. Well enough to give them each spontaneous behavior and distinct dialogue. The plot, the story has to be something readers or an audience finds an interesting experience. Something they’ll feel.

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

A: Nope. Nobody reads nothin’ ‘til it’s done.

Q: How did you go about finding the right publisher for your work and what was the takeaway from that experience?

A: With Essence where else was I going to go?  They owned the market. The plays, you just keep knocking on doors until one opens. Of course, you don’t send dramas to a shop that specializes in comedy. You open up the old trusty Writers Market and see who’s looking for what. Black & Single Blues lucked out. I knew Shelley from reviewing her novels, which is how we originally came across on another. She doesn’t even do romantic fiction but asked to look at it, anyway. And liked it.

Q: Where do you see the publishing industry going in the next 10-20 years?

A: With all the advent of electronic this and that, e-books, I-Pads, what have you, God alone knows. I do have a sneaking suspicion that just like even the biggest big chains, let alone small, independent stores that have gone out of business, have run into serious trouble selling something you can hold in your hand and turn the pages of, it’s conceivable actual books could become obsolete. Not a good thing

Q: Why do you write?

A: It’s a cliché but it’s true. Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly. When it’s something to which you’re naturally suited you don’t, to coin another corny phrase, choose it. It chooses you.

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

A: That I started out reading comic books and that’s how I got hooked on books. And, these days, I thoroughly enjoy, am engrossed in Warriors. A children’s book series about clans of kitty cats adventuring in the wild.

Q: What are your best tips for aspiring writers in terms of (1) being an original voice, (2) not giving up, and (3) dealing with rejection?

A: Being original ironically calls for first finding a style you admire. You learn to speak by hearing someone else’s voice. From childhood, y’ know?  Eventually your own way of walking and talking through a story will develop. Not giving up?  What can I say, you have to refuse to lose. Have the attitude that if you ever fail, you’ll never know it because you’ll have died trying. Rejection is easier to deal with in love and life than it is in writing and dealing with it in love and life is plenty tough. With writing, you can get turned down because you don’t have the chops or simply because your material isn’t what they’re buying. And never know which reason it was. Just that you got turned down. It can be, and my ex-wife told me this, entirely arbitrary. Which is the God’s honest truth. I found out, a couple years after the Essence sale, that it happened because Marcia Ann Guillespie peeked at the editor’s desk, saw it sitting in the rejection pile and overruled her. Had she been looking left instead of right as she went past, that would’ve been that. Ultimately, you have to develop a thick skin. It helps keep your morale up to always have something out there on somebody’s desk. That way, you’re always giving yourself a chance.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: Working on two manuscripts before I get to the three waiting behind them. A Black Life On The Great White Way, memoir of ushering 20 years at Historic Theater Group/Hennepin Theatre Trust, a company that brings Broadway seasons to Minneapolis. The book is sort of a Backstairs at the White House only instead of historic drama, you get a nonetheless engaging tale of some entertaining trials and tribulations. And Ella Stanley, a play based on Effa Manley, the Negro Baseball Leagues’ only female owner who, in the late 40’s, refused to sit down somewhere, shut up, be a pretty face and let men handle things. She was a savvy businesswoman and community crusader way ahead of her time. Who, however, like the men, lost her livelihood when Branch Rickey and, after him, the rest of Major League Baseball, raided black clubs for talent like Jackie Robinson. That’s social progress for you.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

A: Www.dwighthobbes.weebly.com. That’s about it. Marcie Rendon, a former student, successful writer and good friend, tried to do a bio on Wikipedia but found the rules and regulations too tricky. Of course, there’s always Facebook.

 

 

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The Last Rite

The Last Rite

Ten years ago, the love of Daniel’s life disappeared. Then Daniel learns that not only did she commit suicide, but she left behind a daughter he never knew. Taking his estranged offspring home, he gets detoured to the small logging town of Shellington Heights, a town that’s no longer on any map and a population that’s no longer human. They soon find themselves pawns in a supernatural war, with the Apocalypse hinging on one question: How far will a father go to save a daughter he’s never known? Author Chad Robert Morgan introduces us to his pulse-pounding release, The Last Rite.

Interviewer; Christina Hamlett

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Q: Whether it’s in a darkened movie theatre or with our noses tucked in a book on a dark and stormy night, why do you feel our brains are wired to crave the adrenalin of being scared out of our wits?

A: I think it’s a survival technique we evolved from. The adrenalin triggers our fight-or-flight reaction, and we get a huge rush from surviving a challenge. I also think when you watch a scary movie or a horror novel, it’s sort of like practicing. We know we can pause the video or put the book down at any time, something we couldn’t do if it was happening for real. Just like how we strain our muscles when we’re lifting weights, we’re straining or nerves when being scared for entertainment, and in both cases our body gives us a reward with endorphins and the like. Survival is addicting.

Q: Were horror films and/or scary novels part of your entertainment regimen growing up?

A: I grew up before PG-13 was a thing, so I remember seeing things like Gremlins with just my friends and no parents. This was also when VHS became a thing, so while I couldn’t see Nightmare on Elm Street in theaters, no one blinked at me renting a video tape! Eventually I saw all the mainstream videos and started reaching out for more bizarre and fringe videos. I remember seeing Naked Lunch for the first time and trying to understand it; it was way over my head. Might be over my head even today but I love looking for anything that tries something new or experimental.

Q: Scariest movie or book you’ve ever experienced?

A: I remember a friend loaning me a bootleg copy of the original Grudge. I watched the grainy compressed video on my computer monitor, at the time living alone in a studio apartment in Dallas. I saw dead little boys in the corner of my eyes for three days after that.

Playing Silent Hill 2 also terrified me. The way they would build suspense with the radio, how you would hear the static, which would warn you of monsters coming out from the fog before you could see them, was tension-building. This made the game feel more real than a book or movie could, the use of the rumble control so you could feel every hit and feel your heart beat when you’re injured. One part of the game that freaked me out the most, though, was when you find a note laying out on a porch in the town somewhere but it’s addressed to you, the player character. That inspired a scene in the book where a phone with a torn cord rings. Bethany, a child growing up with cell phones and thinking nothing about a disconnected phone ringing, answers. We never hear who’s on the other side, but we hear Bethany confirm her name so whoever it is knows who Bethany is.

The first Paranormal Activity was a master stroke of building tension. A lot of people rag on Paranormal Activity because they really ran the franchise into the ground, but the original was mind-blowing to me. Every time the familiar scene of the camera in the bedroom would fade in and it would say what night it was, you could hear a groan throughout the theater because we knew the weird stuff was coming and each night was worse than the previous one.

Q: Who are some of the masters of the horror genre you especially admire?

A: Stephen King, of course. One of the reasons for his success is his believable characters and how he doesn’t shy away from the dark impulses we all might have. That’s not just the antagonists, but we can see the darker side of the protagonists, too. They’re not knights in shining armor; they’re real people in extraordinary situations.

Q: What got you interested in horror, and are there styles of horror you prefer over others?

A: I was born on Halloween, so every year my birthday and celebrating ghosts and goblins were linked.

I prefer supernatural horror to things like gore-porn (i.e., Hostel). There’s some debate over whether you can do horror without gore, but I think some of the scariest horror movies and books had little to no gore. The Amityville Horror, The Shining, The Grudge – these are movies and books that were terrifying without a lot of bloody violence. I don’t like man’s inhumanity to man; that stops being escapist fantasy and becomes too real. I’ll go with monsters and things that go bump in the night rather than a sociopath with a butcher knife.

Q: Do you write horror exclusively or are there other genres you’ve explored?

A: I write whatever I feel like writing. I look for a good story, wherever it may be. My current project is a raunchy sci-fi parody, which is as different from The Last Rite as you can get. I also have ideas for other horror stories, including sequels and prequals for The Last Rite.

Q: What terrifies you the most in real life?

A: Something happening to my kids. I had a niece who died of SIDS, and I don’t think I shook that. When my daughter was an infant, I was paranoid over it. Any product that was supposed to prevent SIDS, I owned it. Even with my two older kids living on their own and my youngest being 10, it still creeps in on me. Sometimes I’ll lay in bed and the thought will worm its way into my mind, and I’ll get up and check on my youngest son to make sure he’s still breathing.

Q: What was the inspiration behind The Last Rite?

A: The story was inspired by games like Silent Hill, which I love. Ironically, right after we had the idea to do The Last Rite, not only did they announce they were coming out with a Silent Hill movie, but the company I was working for got the contract to do one of the Silent Hill games. I shelved the project for years, not wanting to do both at the same time. After enough time had passed since Silent Hill Homecoming had shipped, I thought it was safe to revisit The Last Rite.

When we were making this as a series, we were trying to reign in the scope of the project, so an isolated and abandoned town kept the cast of characters small. Making an interesting story with a minimal number of characters was challenging, but it forced me to develop the characters and deal with their feelings and motivations.

Q: What are some of the major themes explored in this book?

A:  Fatherhood was an important theme. I wanted to explore how strong paternal instincts would be, how far the main character, Daniel, go to save a daughter he’s never met. The bribe for Daniel to abandon his daughter and it would all be over is dangled in front of him, and I wanted that to feel like a real option. Any parent would automatically say no, but to Daniel this child is a stranger, so I wanted the reader to feel there was a real risk of him accepting the offer.

Q: As you were developing the storyline, what were some of the challenges you encountered?

A: I had to balance Daniel’s desire to save his daughter and the fact they were estranged. I didn’t want Daniel to search for Bethany just because; I had to make it realistic for him to want to find Bethany even though they were strangers. I added a personal tragedy and a sense of duty to Daniel, but I feel I was struggling to explain Daniel’s motivations. I was happy to hear one reviewer mention Daniel’s sense of duty, and I breathed a sigh of relief.

Another issue was, this was the novelization of a bigger project. The dialogue had been recorded five years ago, so those were locked down. There were definitely a few times when I wish I could’ve edited the dialogue, polished or rewritten a line, but the best I could do is cut it.

Q: What motivated you to do your audiobook with a full cast?

A: The Last Rite started as 12 scripts for an animated computer animated horror series. We formed a cast of performers willing to do the series for the promise of being paid if the project were ever to be funded in the future and on royalties if the series was ever completed and sold. Five years later and I was still trying to get the project funded and working on it by myself. I kept trying to prune it down to a smaller piece I could complete, but it kept feeling like I was trying to crawl from San Diego to Seattle. No matter how much progress I made, I wasn’t getting any closer to completing anything. So, I decided to turn the cast recordings to an audio book. I figured at the least, I could get the cast’s hard work out to the public. I really owed it to them.

Q: Tell us about the dedication.

A: As I say, the book came out of a project that was stalled. I had the story, I had the cast recordings, but I couldn’t get the animation done. The biggest step forward was the week we spent recording the dialogue. We flew in the cast (except Edwyn Tiong, who played the Business Suit Man and was from Australia), put them up in a hotel, and went to a local recording studio every day for five days. We rehearsed in the morning and recorded in the afternoon. It was a blast, but it was also a lot of hard work from people who were willing to do it for free and who believed in the project and the story. For five years I worked on this project with that weight on my shoulders, and every day I didn’t complete anything was another day I felt like I was letting them all down. The cast was my motivation to not give up. They had put their faith in me, and I wasn’t going to let them down, not without giving it my best effort at least, but I had to admit what I was doing wasn’t working. I asked myself, how can I get this story out? Then the audiobook idea hit me. So, the book is dedicated to them, the cast of the original animated project The Last Rite, the recordings of which became the audiobook.

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

A: Self-publishing also means self-editing and self-marketing. If you think you’re going to throw your book up on Amazon, sit back, and let the Benjamins rain down on you, think again. It takes work to get your book on people’s radar.

Q: What are you doing to market the book?

A: I think one of the more effective tools was the book trailer I made. I posted it on various Facebook groups and got some good traction there. The trailer is very dramatic and eye-catching. I joined Facebook groups that were not only about audiobooks and self-publishing but also that included my target audience. One of the great things about publishing through ACX was they gave me 25 promo codes to hand out to get reviews. In retrospect, I should have handed them out a bit more carefully, but I did get several very good reviews from them.

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

A: I’ve been in the video games industry for 20 years. My first job in the industry was at LucasArts, which doesn’t exist now. Before that, I worked my way through college as a vocational nurse, and before that I was a member of the US Navy.

Q: Best advice to aspiring writers?

A: Don’t write because you want to be the next Stephen King or J. K. Rowling. Write because you have a story to tell. Write because you have a story in you that you need to get out.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: I have heard back from a few people who have read the book and said they really enjoyed it. It is a real pleasure to know my work was enjoyed by someone else. If you read a book from Amazon or listen to it from Audible and you like it, please rate it and review it! Authors want to please people, so let them know when they have succeeded!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Delilah’s Birthday Surprise

Delilah's Birthday Surprise

Who doesn’t love birthdays? Birthdays mean decorations, friends, cakes, and of course, presents. Some of us have received some pretty incredible gifts throughout our lives, but what about… a hippo? In Delilah’s Birthday Surprise, multi-genre author Danielle Van Alst introduces us to seven-year-old Delilah as she experiences the most memorable birthday of her life.

Interviewer: Sophie Lin

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 Q: How is the process of writing a children’s book different than writing a book of a different genre?

A: I believe good stories from all traditions tend to have certain things in common, including convincing dialogue, strong characters and memorable settings. This goes for children’s stories as well as stories for adults, although there are some important differences. Stories for adults, for example, aren’t usually illustrated. And, depending on the age of the children you are writing for, there are elements of violence and sexuality you’ll want to leave out or handle with great caution. I like to keep children’s books lighthearted, fun, and entertaining all while sending a message.

Q: What inspired you to write this book?

A: I grew up as an only child and had difficulty relating to people my own age. Admittingly, being an only child can get lonely at times. I thought how fun it would be to create a character who is an only child in a nontraditional household and gets a “buddy” for a birthday present. That friend just happens to be a hippopotamus from her eccentric grandmother. I wanted Delilah to be able to feel unique and special, when all she ever felt was “different or weird.” I wanted to depict a situation that may not be seen as “typical” in a fun way.

Q: How often do you write poetry?

A: I write poetry every day, even if it’s just something small like a haiku. I have an Instagram account that I use as a poetry diary. It’s a great way to express myself while combining my love of poetry and graphic design. You can check it out @dvanalstwriter.

 Q: What is your favourite genre to write and why?

A: That’s a tough question. That’s like asking me to pick a favorite child! I actually really enjoy challenging myself and experimenting across genres. I enjoy writing mystery, horror, historical fiction, poetry, kid’s lit, and tragedy. I suppose it would be easier for me to name the genres I tend to avoid and that would be sci-fi, fantasy, and erotica.

 Q: How would you describe your experience working with an illustrator?

A: I have worked with three different illustrators on three different book projects and they have all been a little different. For A World of Imagination and Delilah’s Birthday Surprise, I was not in direct contact with the illustrator. Instead, I sent a detailed storyboard to the publisher explaining in-depth exactly what I wanted each illustration to look like. The descriptions had to be exact all the way down to the shoelaces on Delilah’s sneakers and the decorations on the wall in her bedroom. The publisher would then send my storyboard over to the illustrator where they would draw it, send it back to the publisher, then the publisher would send it to me for approval or a redo.

For my upcoming book, Little Winnie Witch Goes to Flight School, I was able to work with a freelance illustrator one-on-one and it was a great experience collaborating on this project. I told her my vision and how I wanted each picture to look and she delivered with flying colors!

Q: What first ignited your passion for writing?

A: I have been writing since the day I could make scribbles on paper with a crayon. When I was really little I wanted to be a newspaper woman and write all the stories that were going on around me because I was so fascinated with other people’s lives. I was always watching and observing the world around me and making up stories about what I saw. I started a little newspaper in elementary school complete with a comics section and was certain that was what I wanted to do. I loved retreating into my imagination and making up stories that I could escape into. I guess I was just enamored with the world of pretend and make believe because it was so much more fun than reality! From there I started exploring different types of writing and got into poetry, short story writing, essays, flash fiction, and novels. I wanted to do it all!

 Q: How would you describe your publishing experience?

A: It has been both challenging and rewarding. I have worked with several different publishers and have learned a lot along the way. It’s a long process from idea to the completed book readers hold in their hands and the road is often bumpy and stressful. There is a great deal of rewriting, correcting, technical error repair, formatting, marketing, editing, graphic design, and promoting involved with the release of a single book. The result is something you created that everyone can enjoy!

Q: Was there any particular reason you chose a pet hippo as Delilah’s birthday present?

A: I thought a hippo was a unique and quirky pet. I have a lot of adventures planned for Delilah and Louise as this is book one in a series and a hippo seemed like a perfect fit for all the trouble they are going to get into!

Q: What is your favourite birthday present that you’re received?

A: Honestly, it’s the gift of love and quality time. As a kid, I never had birthday parties or anything like that but, as an adult, a very beloved friend of mine began celebrating my birthday with me. It’s so wonderful to just be together and feel loved and special on my day. There is nothing better than just relaxing and being with people you care about.

Q: What future projects of yours should we be looking out for?

A: I have a ton of projects in the works! I have another children’s book coming out in mid-September.  I also have another historical fiction novel surrounding the North Berwick Witch Trials that is very near completion. It’s a story that has taken me years to write due to the extensive amount of research that needed to be done. I’m hoping to see that released sometime next year. Stay tuned!

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

A: I just want to thank all my readers. Without you, none of this would be possible!

 

Magick Run Amok

 

cover MAGICK RUN AMOK (2).jpg

In Book #3 of her popular Abracadabra series, author Sharon Pape delivers a cozy mystery with a twist of the paranormal and a splash of humor. Her protagonist, Kailyn Wilde, is a sorcerer of ancient lineage, has a knack for solving murder cases with help from her journalist boyfriend, psychic aunt, and an aged Merlin. Let this magical read begin!

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Many successful writers had their passion for the written word ignited by a love of reading since childhood. Was that the case for you?

A: Yes, I’ve always loved reading, but because my passion for writing began as soon as I was taught to string words together to form a sentence, I think it also had roots in my DNA or perhaps a previous lifetime. Can you tell I like the paranormal and questions for which there are no definite answers?

Q: What are some of the books we might have found on the nightstand of your adolescent self? And as a teenager? And an adult?

A:  When I was an adolescent, the books on my nightstand would have included The Diary of Anne Frank, The Dana Girls mystery series by Carolyn Keene as well as Enid Blyton’s mysteries, Gone with the Wind, Mrs. Mike, Our Hearts Were Young and Gay, and Seventeen, by Booth Tarkington.

In my teens, you might have found Rebecca (Daphne Du Maurier), Exodus (Uris), Hawaii (Michener), Advise and Consent (Drury), The Winter of Our Discontent (Steinbeck), For Whom the Bell Tolls (Hemingway) and nonfiction works about the universe.

Since I’ve been an adult, the books would include: The Stand and others by Stephen King, Watchers and others by Dean Koontz, The Red Tent by Anita Diamant, Olivia and Jai by Rebecca Ryman, When God was a Woman, Mary Stewart’s trilogy about Merlin, Life After Life, Many Lives, Many Masters by Brian Weiss, MD, The Right Stuff (Wolfe), A Brief History of Time (Hawking), The Martian Chronicles, The Rent Collector, The Orphan Train, The Last Day (Klierer), The Light Between Oceans (Stedman), Me Before You (Moyer) lots of mysteries, and science fiction.

Q: Does one book in particular stand out as your all-time favorite?

A: Gone With the Wind. I’m sure the book’s impact on me had a lot to do with the young age at which I read it. I was drawn in by the sweeping romance of Scarlet and Rhett and by the dramatic period during which it took place. It didn’t hurt that the copy I read had photos of Clark Gable and Vivian Leigh from the movie. I’d still take Gable over any number of today’s actors.

Q: If you could step into the shoes of any fictitious character for 24 hours, who would it be, where would you go and what would you do?

A: I would like to be Captain James T. Kirk on the starship Enterprise during the episode “The Trouble With Tribbles.” It would be like playing with hundreds of puppies!

Q: Who are some of the authors you believe had an influence on your own style of storytelling?

 A: I think every book I’ve read has influenced my writing style, to one degree or another. You can’t beat King and Koontz for making you feel like you’re right there in the scene or M.L. Stedman for the sheer beauty of her writing. Backing up a minute, when my kids were little, I was reading The Stand by King just before I had to leave the house to pick up my daughter from nursery school. As I pulled out of the garage, there was a weird moment when I expected to see dead people everywhere.

Q: What’s the first thing you ever had published?

A: My first book sold to PocketBooks. It was entitled For Everything a Season, but since there was no paranormal genre at the time, the publisher changed the title to Ghost Fire and marketed it as horror. Redbook condensed it for their Halloween issue. It was the first paperback original they had ever condensed. When the rights reverted to me, I rewrote portions of the book and re-released it on Amazon with my original title.

Q: What was the inspiration for your Abracadabra Mysteries?

A:  Mary Stewart’s trilogy about Merlin was my inspiration. I found myself thinking what if there was a family of sorcerers who could trace their lineage back to this great mythical figure who exits in everyone’s psyche? And what if Merlin, somewhat in his dotage, were to show up in their magick shop in the present? I knew I’d have fun writing a cozy mystery series around that premise.

Q: You’ve described these books as “cozy mysteries.” For readers unfamiliar with this subgenre, what elements define the cozy label?

A: Agatha Christie’s mysteries gave birth to the cozies. Like her books, cozies have no overt sex or violence. The characters can fall in love, but they leave the reader at the bedroom door. People are murdered, but the grisly details are left to the reader’s imagination. Cozies often have funny elements as well.

Q: What are some of the challenges/joys inherent in penning a series versus a stand-alone novel? 

 A: With a series, I can keep working with the characters I created and love. In addition, the characters and their relationships can change and evolve as the series moves along. In my cozies, I always have a secondary story line that runs through all the books in the series. In Abracadabra that subplot is about Merlin.

The one big challenge for me in writing a series is keeping track of all the little details so that something in book 3 doesn’t contradict something in book 1.

Q: Describe your writing process. Do you outline or allow the plot to develop as you write?

A: I’ve tried to outline, but it’s too stiff a method for me. When I start writing a mystery, I know the victim, the killer and his motivation. However I did change killers near the end of one book and it made for a much better ending. I’m always a bit amazed by the way all the pieces fall into place by the end.

Q: Do your characters ever surprise you and make choices you hadn’t expected?

A: All the time. The other day my characters tried to run away with the plot. I caught them in time, but it wasn’t a pretty scene.

Q: How have your books come to be titled?    

A: With the exception of my first book, the publishers have accepted my titles. My first cozy series was about a police sketch artist and the ghost of a federal marshal from the Arizona Territory. I used the word sketch in each title as in, Sketch Me If You Can. I find that if I choose the title first, it automatically suggests the plot. When I came up with Sketcher in the Rye, the plot popped right into my head.

Q: A witch, a vampire and a werewolf walk into a bar. No, seriously. If you had to have one of these paranormal beings as a roommate for a month, who would you choose and why?

A: I’d take the witch, but only if she’s into white magic and can wiggle her nose to clean the house.

Q: The protagonist of your Abracadabra novels has a long association with all things magical. If you could be granted any special power to assist in your workaday life, what would it be?

A: I’d take teleportation. It would save a lot on car maintenance and gas, and I wouldn’t have to pack for a trip. I could just teleport home for whatever I needed.

Q: The advent of self-publishing has made no shortage of creative avenues “magically” accessible to today’s writers. What, then, governed your own decision to pursue the traditional route?

A: I guess I’m an old fashioned girl. My first three books were published in the dark ages – before the internet. I know that self-publishing gives the author more freedom, but I don’t want the freedom to search for a good editor or a great cover artist or a marketing team. I prefer to spend my time writing. As it is, I’ll never have enough time to write all the stories in my head.

Q: What are you doing to promote your work and which strategies have been the most successful for you?

A: I promote my work on social media platforms and I have a website. I was one of the authors blogging on Killer Characters for a couple of years. I hold giveaways of my books and I’ve done some book fairs. I also like to cross promote with other cozy authors. It’s hard to determine what method has been the most successful, but I think book fairs have been the least.

Q: What is one question you hear too often in interviews? And a question that you wish someone would ask?

A: “Why did you start writing?” It’s part of every interview. One I’d like to be asked, “What other forms of writing have you tried?” A: I’ve written poetry all my life, but I’ve never tried to have it published. I wrote a stage play, because I needed to get the subject out of my head. It sits in my filing cabinet. I’ve written a few screenplays, the most recent of which I’m going to try to market. Years ago I tried my hand at an original sitcom and was thrilled to get a note back from Norman Lear saying it wasn’t right for them at the time, but to please send along anything else I write. I never pursued it, because selling to Hollywood without previous credits is as tough as it gets. But then I forgot my own advice and I wrote an episode for Star Trek: Next Generation. Hope is a great and awful thing. I found a west coast agent to represent me. She told me there was interest and then fell off the face of the earth – drug problem from what I heard. Writing for any ongoing series is just about impossible. They have show runners and a staff of writers from the get-go. Unfortunately the ideas in my head present themselves in many forms and refuse to learn what is and isn’t possible.

Q: If there’s one thing that no amount of wishing can make disappear with a wand or a secret spell, it’s a diagnosis of breast cancer—a challenge with which you—as a cancer survivor—are personally familiar. Tell us about your journey back to wellness and what inspired you to reach out and help other women not only survive but thrive.

A: I was very lucky with the breast cancer, but it was a realization that took me a little while to accept. I was forty-five at the time and thankfully it was caught at an early stage. I was fortunate to have a skilled and caring surgical oncologist, a wonderfully supportive husband, family and friends. But I didn’t know anyone who had ever gone through breast cancer, so there were times I felt very alone.

After recovering from surgery and reconstruction, I wanted to help other women who were recently diagnosed. I wanted to be their “someone” who’d gone through it. I became a Reach to Recovery volunteer for the American Cancer Society and went on to become the coordinator for the program in Nassau and Suffolk Counties on Long Island. When my surgeon asked me to start a similar program within his practice, I was happy to help out. With the help of two other volunteers, we created a nonprofit to provide information and peer support to his patients. When the organization hit its ten year mark and was running smoothly, I resigned to pursue my writing once again.

Q: If your favorite quote were put on a tee-shirt, what would it say and why does this quote resonate with you?

A: “It’s never too late to be what you might have been,” George Eliot. This quote reminds us that at any stage of life we have the ability to reach for goals. We only fail when we give up.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I’m writing the fifth book in the Abracadabra cozy mystery series.

Q: Anything else you’d like to share?

A:  Although my husband and I watch our kids’ dogs when they’re at work, it’s time for us to have another dog of our own. We’re thinking we’d like a golden retriever mix and have applications in with a couple of rescue groups. We’re trying to be patient and wait for someone who’ll be the right match for us.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

A:   They can visit my website: https://sharonpape.com/

The View From Mars

Larsen 4

Many stories are about protagonists who somehow manage to balance completing schoolwork, falling in love, and saving the world all at the same time. But let’s be honest, that’s not how life usually works. The View From Mars by Seth Larsen and his twins, Dylan and Kai Larsen, presents the wonderfully crafted tale of a young boy named Mars who is trying to juggle living in a new state, protecting his family, and saving his parents’ marriage. Relatable, enthralling, and humorous—this coming-of-age story is one you definitely won’t want to miss!

Interviewer: Sophie Lin

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 Q: Why did you decide to write a book with your children?

 A: The seed was that I wanted to connect and spend more time with my twins Daylen and Kai, who were in fifth grade at the time. I knew they enjoyed creative writing—they sometimes write short stories just for fun, the same way I did when I was their age. I suggested the idea of writing a book together, and they immediately said yes. I cautioned that we’d have to meet regularly, and it would take a long time, but that didn’t temper their enthusiasm at all. We didn’t fully understand what we were getting into, but before any of us knew it, we were off and running.

Q: What inspired you to become a writer?

 A: I’ve loved writing stories ever since I was a kid. When I was eleven or twelve, I would hole up in my room to write ambitious stories, although I rarely finished them. I used to watch sporting events on TV and write articles about what I saw—then compare it to the article in the newspaper the next day, to see “who did it better.” I moved to Los Angeles after college to try and make a go of it as a writer. I was never really able to make a living from it, but I’ve never stopped writing in one form or another. It’s just too much of my DNA—I couldn’t stop if I wanted to.

Q: Who came up with the idea for Mars?

 A: From the outset, we spent quite a bit of time coming up with a catchy title for the book. We wanted it to be kind of a play on the character’s name—something that conveyed a specific point of view. After bouncing around countless character names and title ideas, we arrived at the name and title. It’s unusual to come up with the title first, but we wanted to have an idea and concept to keep returning to—something that would sustain our inspiration. We all agreed that we wanted a “fish out of water” character, because those were the types of characters my twins really enjoyed reading. My kids enjoyed the Diary of a Wimpy Kid book series, and I showed them some episodes of one of my favorite TV shows from childhood, “The Wonder Years.” We definitely wanted a mix of humor and real life. From there, most of the characters came from the minds of Daylen and Kai. I asked a lot of questions, and helped shape the overall story arc (and the grammar!).

Q: What was your process for writing The View From Mars, considering that you had three writers and two illustrators?

 A: My twins and I met up Wednesdays and Sunday nights. Initially, these were whiteboard sessions, and our ideas were all over the place. We focused on characters—developing people that would be fun to write…flawed people that you could take a journey with. Once we felt we had a strong set of characters that would generate conflict with one another, we developed story lines and character arcs for each of the primary characters. Nearly all of the story points were conjured up by Daylen and Kai. We jotted down countless ideas for specific chapters, many of which were based on things that had happened to my twins (or to me when I was their age), and things that we’d observed on the playground. My role was to help us connect these ideas into coherent story lines and themes…making sure the story was building toward something, with an effective set-up and pay-off. My other two kids, Savahn (aka Shiu Shiu) and Seth (aka Sumo), had been expressing an interest in being involved in the creative process somehow. Savahn loves art and drawing, so I suggested she illustrate—and she was really excited about that. Sumo isn’t necessarily wired toward art in the way my daughter is, but he has a great sense of humor and helped integrate that into the drawings. Besides, we couldn’t leave him out! Once we finished the first draft of the book, Daylen and Kai began describing the scenes to Savahn and Sumo so that they could start creating looks for each of the characters. After a series of revisions between the kids that was surprisingly collaborative and mature, they started generating drawings that could be used in the book. Then we all voted on which ones made the most sense to include.

Q: What was your greatest challenge while writing this book?

 A: Without question, the biggest obstacle was time. For the twins, balancing their schoolwork and activities with writing the book. For me, balancing the commitments of being a husband, a father of four, and fitting in my actual day job. That’s why it took a year and a half from our first meeting to having an actual book in hand.

Q: How did writing this book affect your relationship with your kids?

 A: Writing this book was easily one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. It benefited our relationship in ways I didn’t anticipate. The twins always really looked forward to our writing sessions, and so did I. I expected that. But the surprise for me was that it helped them see me as more of a “person” with actual feelings than just a robotic “dad.” When Daylen and Kai would toss out story ideas based on things they were dealing with, or things their friends were dealing with, it gave me the space to say, “Oh, yeah—that happened to me when I was your age, too.” I’d proceed to tell them these childhood stories, sometimes things that I hadn’t even thought about in 35 years. It gave them a perspective and an understanding of me that they would have never otherwise had. You could literally see their eyes widen—it blew their minds that I’d gone through many of the same emotions and feelings they’re going through now. And many of these things wove their way into our book, one way or the other. It was a special time that we’ll share for the rest of our lives.

Q: What advice would you give someone around Mars’s age to survive becoming a teenager?

 A: Life is messy. But it can also be full of beautiful moments if you choose to recognize them. Realize that you can work through life’s challenges, and there can be positive outcomes, even if they aren’t always wrapped up nicely in a bow.

Q: How was your publishing experience?

 A: Our publishing experience was very positive. We didn’t want to self-publish because we didn’t have money to spend upfront, and also didn’t want the stress of potentially carrying a lot of inventory that we were desperate to sell. So, we went the publishing-on-demand route. We used CreateSpace for the paperback, where you send them your files, and when people order through Amazon, the book is printed and sent. They, of course, take a healthy percentage of the profits, but we aren’t risking our own money—and it’s relatively easy and stress-free on our side. CreateSpace doesn’t do hard cover versions of books though. We knew we wanted a hardcover version because artistically they’re just cool, and also we found out that libraries prefer hardcover—and we knew we wanted to try and get our book in the LA County library (which we ultimately did!). For our hardcover version, we used Ingram Spark, who works with Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and most distributors. When someone buys the book through any of those channels, Ingram Spark prints the book, and it ultimately gets to where it needs to go.

Q: This book covers some pretty heavy topics, such as bullying and parental separation. Why did you choose to write about these issues?

 A: We wanted the book to include some daunting challenges for the characters because that’s more interesting dramatically, but we also wanted the book to be relatable. We wanted sixth graders and young teens to read the book and immediately identify with the characters and what they’re going through. We wanted to deal with these things honestly, and with humor where possible. In one form or another, my twins and I have wrestled with many of the things described in the book, or been close to similar situations. Real life, after all, informed the book.

Q: If there was one message that a reader could take away from reading your book, what would you want it to be?

 A: We have precious few family rules, but one of them is, “Always protect your family.” Sometimes it’s all you have, and the fabric of your family is only as strong as you make it. My wife and I drill this message into our kids all the time, because we believe it’ll carry them through life’s challenges into adulthood, long after we’re gone. That’s not to say the family isn’t full of its own complexities and conflict, but we have a deep desire for our kids to remain close. Thematically in our book, Mars and his siblings desperately want to get their parents back together, which is a beautiful thing, even if the way they go about it is naïve (and dishonest!). Mars’ brother and sister drive him nuts, too, but you can tell the love they have for each other.

Q: Are you working on any other projects (like a sequel!) that we should keep an eye out for?

 A: Yes, we plan on writing a sequel. Savahn and Sumo also want to work on spin-off books, focusing on the journeys of the siblings. Ideas aren’t fully baked, but we’ll get there.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

 A: Fun fact: Mars’ younger brother is named Sumo. The character was heavily influenced by their real-life brother “Sumo.” The character name was a placeholder, and we never found a better name, so it stuck.

 

Gravity Waves

 

Scott Skipper Cover

What if you were charged with the responsibility, and given the power, to correct all that you perceive as evil in the world, maybe even the universe? Such is the compelling premise of author Scott Skipper’s latest novel, Gravity Waves.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: A lot of authors who identify themselves as voracious readers discovered the joys of reading at a young age. Was that the case for you?

A: Absolutely. I think it was in the third grade I started getting serious about reading. The Bookmobile’s arrival was a life-changing event. I lived in a rural area and wasn’t allowed to cross the street, so going to the library was not an option.

Q: What books might we have found on the nightstand of your 10-year-old self? Your teenage self? Your current nightstand as an adult?

A: At 10, it would have probably been Robert Heinlein. Around that time I remember starting Gulliver’s Travels, but it was so long I had to return it to the aforementioned Bookmobile after having read only the first three voyages. To this day I love the concept of the flappers of Laputa. At my father’s suggestion, I segued into Edgar Rice Burroughs and finished his Martian and Venusian series before tackling Tarzan. Burroughs wrote a lot of books, so he occupied my nightstand into my teenage years. Around that time, Ian Fleming struck it rich with his series about a British spy named James Bond. During my late teen rebellious years, I developed a fondness for Aldous Huxley and Anthony Burgess. Today there’s no book on the nightstand; instead there’s a tablet, and on it, you will find all manner of things. I read quite a lot of history, including biographies, and I lean toward self-published authors. When I run out of something to read, I browse Smashwords and download half a dozen samples.

Q:  Did you always know you wanted to be a writer or did this passion develop over the course of doing something else to earn a living?

A: At age 13 I wrote a short story called The Happiest Man in Hell on a 1910 Underwood with a broken ‘p.’ I submitted it to a fledgling sci/fi magazine and was dumbfounded to receive a letter from them a few weeks later saying they had sent it to an illustrator and would get back to me about the details of publication. Naturally, I figured this writing thing was a cinch and started thinking about renting a garret on the Left Bank. A few more weeks passed, and I got a letter from the magazine telling me they had landed a serial deal with Harlan Ellison, and my story was no longer required. My aspirations were so cruelly dashed I didn’t submit anything for publication for 35 years, during which time I was engrossed in that making-a-living thing. In the mid-80s, I had an opportunity to not work for a year. During that time I wrote like a fiend. I knocked out a novel, which was terrible, and managed to publish a few short pieces that earned about enough for a bottle of gin to ease the pain. Needless to say, I went back to my career in the metal fabrication business. When I retired, I didn’t immediately start to write. It was the advent of self-publishing that motivated me. At my age, I don’t have enough years left to run the traditional publishing gauntlet. In June, I published my 13th novel, and I’m 10,000 words into number 14, so don’t get between me and the keyboard.

Q: What was the first project you ever published?

A: The very first, after that above-mentioned aborted flirtation with the sci/fi magazine, was a travelogue about a trip I made to visit two very remote Mayan ruins near the Mexico/Guatemala border. As was common then—and probably still is—I was paid in copies of the magazine. Around that same time, I sold a story to a magazine that was devoted to basket weaving of all things. Somewhere, I still have a copy of their check. I think it was $25. From that era, I also saved a file full of rejection notices. Those can be funny sometimes. I remember one that was a form letter with checkboxes. The reason they checked for rejection was ‘wrong shoes.’

Q: How many works have you published since then and do you feel your writing has changed from what it was initially?

A: In addition to 13 novels, I have five short stories, and I’m in two anthologies. The short stories are for promotion. They are permanently free at Smashwords and their distribution network. How has my writing changed? Well, it’s evolved quite a bit, in fact, I’ve recently begun doing a re-edit of my earlier works. Today, I’m much more aware of point of view and taking more care to shift viewpoint with a logical break. Also, I’m looking for plots that I hope have a broader appeal. I wrote several political satires, which gave me a great deal of enjoyment, but we live in such a politically polarized time that whichever side one takes, eliminates half the potential audience.

Q: What genre(s) do you write?

A: My first two endeavors were historical fiction, and that’s because I had a trove of source material from 15 years of genealogical research. While researching In the Blood, I stumbled upon an obscure piece of history, namely the Mexican War of 1845. That inspired an alternative history. When I finished The Hundred Years Farce, I went looking for more source material and found it in my garage. It was a folder filled with brittle, yellowed newspaper clippings I had saved from the 80s when the grave of Nazi doctor, Josef Mengele, was discovered in Brazil. The story intrigued me, so I wrote about Mengele’s 40 years on the run. After that, I fell into my political satire mode, and I followed it with a science fiction story inspired by a serendipitous visit to the Roswell UFO museum. Alien Affairs was so well received I followed it with two sequels. By then, I was tired of beating a dead alien, so I switched directions with a story about a woman who, as a young reporter for an underground newspaper, witnessed the Kent State shootings and was harassed by the right-wing government for her outspoken views. As she matured, she grew conservative and became a successful novelist, but she was once again hounded by the now left-wing government. That’s A Little Rebellion Now and Then, which in my not too humble opinion, may be the best thing I ever wrote. Megalodon is a novella about some soldiers of fortune’s quest for a sixty-foot prehistoric shark. Following the shark, came an apocalyptic love story and then the tale of a California real estate agent who had to recover her estranged husband’s body from a Mexican morgue. While negotiating Mexican bureaucracy, she turned to a life of crime. That one, Artifact, may defy genre. I don’t know what to call it. Maybe it’s action and adventure. Finally, we have Gravity Waves, which is the fourth in the Alien Affairs series. So, I’m clearly a writer with genre identity issues.

Q: Agents often advise aspiring authors to pick one genre and stick with it. Do you feel that writing in multiple genres makes it more of a challenge to build a readership?

A: Actually, I do believe that. So, why don’t I try to be a little more focused? Well, frankly, I suppose that I’m a bit of a scatterbrain. I get tired of writing the same thing time and again; although, no one could truthfully accuse me of being a boilerplate writer. I don’t write with the expectation of huge success, which is a good thing, not that I don’t hold dear the belief that someday one of my books will be a bestseller. In the meantime, I’ve developed a new business model: if I can never write a book that will sell a million copies, I’ll write a million books that sell one copy.

Q: What was your inspiration for your latest release, Gravity Waves?

A: Stephen Hawking who died two months before I released Gravity Waves. I even read A Brief History of Time for the third time before I started working on Gravity Waves. It’s rather hard-science oriented, but it’s not technical mumbo-jumbo, it’s about people dealing with extraordinary situations. In it, I believe that I have not asserted anything that is out of the realm of possibility from the viewpoint of physics.

Q: Do you see yourself in any of the fictional characters you create?

A: Ha! In another interview, I declined to answer this question on the grounds that it would get me in trouble with my wife. Truthfully, there’s some of me in most of my characters. Adam Peyton, the protagonist of Golden State Blues, is a younger incarnation of me. Eric Day in Half Life is me, and there’s perhaps some of me in Vicky Rice, the real estate agent turned criminal in Artifact—maybe I’m even Terrie Deshler in Alien Child and Gravity Waves. Why? It’s because I want my characters to be real, and to be real, they have to have flaws. Since I’m the most flawed creature I know, I’m a logical model.

Q: If you yourself could be an intrepid time-traveler, would you rather go to the past and be minus the conveniences you have enjoyed in the present or go the future and face the challenges of a steep learning curve to catch up with everyone else?

A: Once we learn how to warp space-time sufficiently to allow us to travel through time, I would go both ways, to the past to correct wrongs, and to the future to see how the consequences of what we do today effect things to come. See, I’m a lot like Terrie Deshler.

Q: What do you suppose your parallel self in the multiverse is doing while you’re here answering interview questions?

A: I certainly hope I’m sitting at a seaside bar in the south of Spain drinking gin with Ernest Hemingway and my late writer pal, Burt Boyar.

Q: What is a typical writing day like for you?

A: I try to write every day. The first thing in the morning, I take care of whatever chores or annoyances that reality thrusts upon me, then I deal with email and social media nonsense. Around lunchtime, I settle onto a comfortable chair by a large corner window with a view of the San Gabriel Valley—and frequently with a Yorkshire terrier beside me. I write on a laptop until around four in the afternoon. My goal is 2,500 words, which sometimes I achieve and sometimes I don’t. At four, I reward myself with a cocktail.

Q: Writers are sometimes influenced by things that happen in their own lives. Are you?

A: Of course. Sometimes a reader will say to me, “Nobody would ever say a thing like that.” Then I have to tell them that I said that, or that the person who was the model for the character said or did things that I wrote. A Little Rebellion Now and Then is told partly in flashbacks to 60s. A lot of the experiences of the character, Katie, are based on things that happened to me or that I saw happen to people around me. In Half Life, the character is invited to bid on a project at a nuclear power plant, so he checks his briefcase to make sure he has a pencil, sketchpad, tape measure, and a draftsman’s eraser. Someone challenged me about that. He said, “Why would he take such simple things to a nuclear power plant?” I informed him that those were the exact tools I took when I called on the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. We often hear we should write what we know. I tend to agree.

Q: Critique groups: helpful or a distraction?

A: Critique groups are enormously helpful. I participate in two, the La Verne Writers’ Group and the California Writers’ Club. Feedback is essential and the input of others helps shape what I write. It’s an organic process, after all. It’s also a great way to get help spotting typos.

Q: If you could invite five of your favorite authors (living or dead) to dinner, who would they be and what would you most like to ask them?

A: Well, Hemingway would be the guest of honor, and I’d ask him what the hell Gertrude Stein said to her lesbian lover that embarrassed him so that he ran out of the house?

Tom Robbins would be on the guest list, and his question would be: What were you on when you wrote Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates?

I’d ask Robert Heinlein what gave him the idea for the waterbed. I’d also ask him how he predicted the current tattoo mania.

Arthur C. Clark I would ask what it was like working with Stanley Kubrick.

Finally, Winston Churchill, I’d have a lot of questions for him, but I guess the most pressing would be: How did it feel to be in a mounted saber charge in Sudan and live long enough to be the leader of a nuclear power?

By the way, I’d serve paella.

Q: Like many authors, you’ve chosen to go the route of self-publishing. What have you learned from this experience that you didn’t know when you started?

A: Many things, but first and foremost, I learned how to format a manuscript. That’s the essential first step to being a success in self-publishing. I know many people who self-publish but don’t know how to do it themselves, so they find it necessary to pay somebody pretty large chunks of money to format their books. The chances of them ever breaking even is almost certainly nil. The most I have spent to publish a book was $15 for the cover image of Gravity Waves. I thought I had a bargain at $5, but when I got the receipt, I realized the price was in Euros. It was worth it, though. I’m proud of that cover. Okay, that was a practical answer. A more philosophical response is that I have learned marketing is a sort of voodoo, and almost nothing is effective. As a corollary to that, I’ve learned it is incredibly hard to get people to spend $3.

Q: What’s the greatest compliment any reader has paid you about your work?

A: I’ve gotten some really head-swelling compliments. There are two aspects to that question, what was said, and who said it. Burt Boyar, who spent a considerable amount of time in the number one spot on the NY Times Best Seller List called Alien Affairs a “Fabulous Must Read” and Golden State Blues “Fabulous Page Turner.” Burt was a personal friend, but he said those things with no prodding from me. Alien Affairs has gotten the most compliments: “Absolute gem,” “It’s different, it’s wonderful,” “…the entire Alien Affairs series is nothing short of magnificent.” I could go on, but I’m beginning to feel my head swell.

Q: Conversely, how do you handle personal criticism and/or negative reviews?

A: One of the first things I learned as a writer—and this was a long time ago—is that no matter what you write, someone won’t like it. Take Hemingway for example, I think he walked on water, but he is considered an overrated hack by a lot of people. I find that the majority of negative reviews that I get are because I offended somebody not with my writing but with the content of the story. One of my favorite reviews is a one-star for Alien Affairs—it even sells some copies for me. The guy said it was a good story until I started making fun of President Obama. Now, I did not mention Obama. It’s amazing what readers project into the things you say. Something to keep in mind is that there infinitely varied readers out there. Just because I couldn’t connect with one doesn’t mean I won’t connect with another.

Q: How would you define “success”?

A: The easy answer is runaway sales, but that’s too easy. When I do my proofreading and self-editing, and I can say to myself at the end, “That was pretty damned good.” I consider it a success. There’s a chapter in A Little Rebellion Now and Then that I can’t read without getting emotional. I’ve never read it at an open mic or a critique group because I can’t get through it without being reduced to tears. I doubt if anybody else reacts to it so strongly, but I captured something there, and I know it.

Q: If someone came to you for your top tips on the craft of writing and the challenges of publishing, what would you tell them?

A: My stock answer sounds flippant, but it is what I really think about good writing, and it is what I look for in the books I read. Do your damnedest to give every preposition an object, except in dialogue, and if you’re tempted to use a metaphor, think about twice, then don’t do it. To that I would add, only inhabit one character’s head at a time. As for the challenges of publishing, learn to do it yourself. You can read the Smashwords Style Guide in one afternoon, and it will tell you all that you need to know about formatting and self-publishing—it’s also free.

Q: When you read for pleasure, what do you prefer?

A: Historical fiction, real history, and quirky stories with good characters, preferably self-published, in that order.

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

A: Hmm? Well, how about I’m a high school dropout? Or maybe that I live in a place frequently visited by bears and mountain lions. Oh, here’s a good one, I don’t have a Smart Phone.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: I’m 10,000 words into a story about a man experiencing so many strange occurrences he begins to think he’s slipping into dementia, but some of the things might be coming from an external source.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

A: www.ScottSkipper.com is where to find out about my books and stories. As of this writing, Facebook has locked me out of my account, and they don’t respond to my requests for help. Hopefully, I will get back in someday. In the meantime, email me at Scott@ca.rr.com. I occasionally tweet a thing or two, that’s @sskipperauthor.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dead Air

 

CProtzman-DeadAir_Cov1

Whenever there’s an unsettling stretch of silence on my favorite morning radio station, I always wonder if someone accidentally turned the microphone off or the station lost its power signal. Could it also be that my radio just needs a new battery? Now that Cliff Protzman’s debut mystery novel, Dead Air, is out, I have another possibility to consider: maybe there’s been a murder.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: After a long career in banking and finance, what compelled you to wake up one day and decide to try your hand at crime(writing)?

A: It wasn’t a snap of the fingers moment. Like all writers, I was an avid reader. The first book I recall was Pride of the Yankees: the Lou Gehrig story. I was amazed to be so engrossed by a story. I began writing for my high school newspaper, finding a passion for writing. I originally planned to major in journalism in college, but eventually choose a more practical course. Several times I began to pen a novel, but let distractions put it aside.

My brother had some modest success with playwriting and graphic stories. He passed away several years ago. At the funeral, my daughter, a news reporter and editor commented, “I know how to write, but I have no stories.” My reply was, “I have stories.” That’s the moment I choose to pursue my passion.

Q: Dead Air is all about mystery and dark suspense. What particularly appeals to you about this genre?

A: I contend all stories are mysteries. Will star-crossed lovers live happily ever after? Will the empire survive? Will the hero hit the game winning home run? These mysteries keep readers turning pages because they want the answer.

A murder mystery provides the reader a look into the darker side of human behavior. The investigator is compelled to solve the crime because it is the right thing to do. A murder investigation forces seemingly innocent people to hide their deep, dark secrets. The sleuth must deal with lying witnesses, hidden agendas, deep emotional conflicts, and the murderer.

With all that happening, the protagonist must struggle with their own inner conflicts as he follows the clues. We share the suspense as he solves one challenge, only to face a bigger one ahead. Throughout the story, keep in mind the PI is chasing someone who has already killed once.

Q: Who are some of the authors you admire in this genre?

A: I admire many authors. Two of my favorites are Max Allen Collins and Troy Soos.

Collins, A Grand Master of the Mystery Writers of America, wrote a series featuring PI Nathan Heller. He investigated the “Crimes of the Century” from the Lindberg kidnapping to the assassination of President Kennedy. Heller bills himself as PI to the Stars. His cases lead him to conversations with Al Capone, Governor Huey Lewis, Senator Joe McCarthy, the Rosenbergs, and even Robert Kennedy. Collins creates a thoroughly believable scene. Collins has a unique ability to make these scenes seem so realistic.

Soos, a physics teacher, wrote a series featuring a fictional journeyman baseball player in the early twentieth century. As Mickey Rawlings (no one by that name ever played major league baseball) is traded from town to town, he finds himself drawn into a murder investigation. Rawlings is confronted by the issues of the times; unionization, the Klu Klux Klan, World War I, gambling in baseball. Soos allows the reader to feel what it’s like to ride a trolley through Brooklyn, the smell of the Chicago stockyards, or the sounds of auto manufacturers in Detroit. Rawlings’ investigations find him talking to Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Shoeless Joe Jackson, and other greats of the time.

Q: For this—your first novel—did you work from a formal outline or listen to your muse as you went along?

A: Outlines work well for research and opinion pieces. I had no idea how to outline a fiction novel. I started with a victim, a killer and an investigator. My plot was only vaguely formed. I began to write the story. I let the characters move the story. When I reached a road block, I found myself telling the story, not Beck.

This may seem like a disjointed method. However, Beck proved the killer I had in mind was indeed innocent. I let my characters tell the story. I had not planned the scene at the hunting cabin until Beck and Irene took me there. I believe that’s why Dead Air is a compelling thriller.

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

A: I think if the characters are going to surprise the reader, the writer was probably surprised as well. Irene constantly surprised me. She had a knack of being witty, intelligent, or vulnerable at just the right time.

If I disclosed the person who surprised me the most, it would be a spoiler. Beck knew better, however.

Q: Unlike the structure of a 9-5 job that involves deadlines and interactions with others, writing is a solitary craft that requires you to spend a lot of time with the voices in your head. What were/are some of the things you did/do to stay motivated and on task?

A: Although writing may not seem be a structured task, time management is critical. Planning effectively requires a person to allow time for dealing with interruptions or delays. For me, the key was to set small goals and allow time to complete them. This kept my motivation high and procrastination at a minimum. I wasn’t necessarily looking to complete the book in one sitting. I simple completed one scene at a time. I rewarded myself and moved willing to the next small task.

Q: Was there anything that slowed down the process for you or created distractions? If so, how did you deal with it?

A: Writing may be a lifestyle. However, I am a husband, father to six, and grandfather to four. My time with them is precious. Therefore, time management is essential. I flexibly schedule my days to include time for writing, marketing, and social.

Of course, creativity has no on/off switch. That is why I attempt to achieve small tasks, and the larger ones are more manageable. If this sounds perfect, it’s not. It does help to have a template.

Q: How did you manage to network within the writing community?

A: I don’t believe writing is a solitary craft. The best writers are social beings, they interact with the world, not just electronically.

My first step was to join a writing group, not one focused solely on mysteries. I experienced not only differing styles, voices, and techniques, but also how they work within different genres. This helped me fashion the techniques into a mystery. It should be noted the group is comprised of accomplished writers.

Writers conferences are an excellent opportunity to meet the writing community. In additions to informative workshops, valuable information about the business is available. Of course, you can learn as much at happy hour as you can in classes. Most conferences have the opportunity to pitch an agent or have manuscript evaluated. I owe authors Julie Hyzy, Matthew Clements, and Jess Loughery for their valuable contributions.

Q: Dead Air features a male protagonist with a strong female collaborator. Where did these characters come from?

A: Beck, as a male, was easy for me to create. Irene, a combination of two women, was more challenging. I desired a woman that was a trusted resource for Beck. He eventually realized how much more she meant to him.

I wanted the sexual tension between the two as a subplot. She had to be strong in order to refocus Beck when his arrogance started to take control. Their interaction helped move the plot and created titillation for the readers. Several reviewers have been very complimentary when mentioning her. I am very proud of Irene, she will continue to have a prominent role in future books.

Q: If Hollywood came calling for a TV series, who would play your two lead characters?

A: Michael Keaton is the only choice for Beck. Dead Air is set in Pittsburgh, the hometown of Keaton. He has shown the ability to display the toughness of Beck, as well as his humor. I believe he could convey the many emotional conflicts Beck faces. In his favor, Keaton was the best Batman.

Tea Leoni is perfect for Irene. She is not only an actor, but also a producer. She projects the beauty and strength the exemplifies Irene. I think she could add a personal touch to the character that audiences will enjoy. Leoni could easily handle the professionalism and humanity of the character.

Q: Like many of today’s writers, you chose to go the self-publishing route. What governed that choice and what have you learned from it?

A: It really wasn’t much of a choice. At my age, I did not want to wait several years to attract an agent or publisher. I believe the book was good and could be marketed. I choose self-publishing as an expedient entry to the market, to see what I could accomplish. I realized that it would require a lot of my time to market, but traditional publishing requires quite a bit of time as well.

I have learned and continue to learn how difficult it is for a debut author to be seen. I am looking at the process as my own form of an advanced degree.

Q: What are you doing to market the book and which strategies have been successful for you?

A: As a debut author, there was no template for me to follow. My plan was to utilize social media to drive brand awareness. The most effective reach has been blog tours. The tours generated reviews and to my delight highly positive reviews.

Q: Now that Dead Air is released, have you achieved what you expected?

A: Yes and no. I had two goals. Naturally sales. The second was critical acceptance.

I wanted simply to break even on my investment. That goal is within sight. I knew that immediate acceptance would be difficult for a debut author. I hired a publicist to reach unknown markets. That has provided some outreach to social media that I may not have had otherwise. I learned a valuable lesson, I started too late. However, sales are starting to improve.

I have been amazed by the reviews and rating from readers. The comments range from well written and plotted, to exciting character development. One reviewer termed it a modern noir, which I find exciting. Dead Air has received one literary award. I am pleased to have created a story that readers enjoy.

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

A: Readers would not be the least bit surprised to discover I love baseball. As a child, very few games were televised, so we listened to the game on radio. I lived in a city neighborhood. In the summer folks sat on the front porch with a radio tuned to the game. We played in the streets and listened to baseball since the sound echoed throughout the neighborhood. When the game was on the West Coast starting at 10:30, Mom let us take a transistor radio to bed with us. We listened until we fell asleep or the batteries died.

I like to write with a game on. The TV is behind me and I write during the game. Unfortunately, today’s announcers are not as eloquent as their radio counterpoints of the past. A past radio announcer would describe a runner was out by a gnat’s eyelash, meaning it was a close play. Today the call would be the runner’s out, we’ll wait for the replay.

Q: If you were hosting a murder mystery dinner and could invite any five mystery authors or fictional sleuths, who would comprise your guest list, what would happen, and who would solve the case by the time dessert was served?

A: The setting would have to be a remote Victorian mansion on a dark and stormy night. Mystery authors create fictional sleuths, so fiction it is. Phillip Marlowe (Raymond Chandler) would be the first to arrive. Someone has to belt down the scotch and offer a wisecrack. Hercules Poirot (Agatha Christie) would provide a continental approach to the crime. Lieutenant (Frank) Columbo (Levinson and Link) would arrive raincoat wrinkled and drenched in rain. After all, when it comes to murder there is always “just one more thing.” Sherlock Holmes (Arthur Conan Doyle) to analyze the pattern of dust particles circling the dead body. Lastly Kinsey Millhone (Sue Grafton) because men never get it right.

With such great minds, the case would have to be a previously unsolved murder. Perhaps a fictional version of Jack the Ripper, the Kennedy assassination, or Nicole Brown Simpson.  What a great dialogue would ensue. Columbo and Holmes discuss a fine point of evidence. Poirot and Marlowe sharing analysis of the motive. Millhone throwing in common sense and intuition. What a great adventure. I have no idea who wins.

Q: What’s your next project?

A: I have written a Christmas short story featuring Beck and his granddaughter. I plan to offer this as an add-on to Dead Air this year. This is leading to release of the second book in the Glenn Beckert Mysteries.

In the second installment, Beck dismisses a missing person case that turns into murder the week before his wedding. The victim, a software engineer, was developing an artificial intelligence application for the military. The deceased had a past gay liaison that ended badly. The clues lead Beck to chase alternating motives. Amidst the confusion, beck learns a secret from Irene’s past that threatens to destroy their relationship. The planned release is early 2019.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: In the competitive world of selling books, Christina Hamlett is a bright light advocating the craft of writing. Although I was included in her anthology Unfinished Chapters, there was no obligation for her to follow me. Yet she did. I will never forget her support and encouragement. It is what we writers do. Thank you, Christina.