Eye of the Moon

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

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A: Travels by Michael Crichton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

A: My website: Ivanobolensky.com

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

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

 

 

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The New Mrs. Collins

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Oh, what a tangled web we weave…when first we practice to deceive. ― Sir Walter Scott

A beautiful woman with mysterious powers. One stolen man and two southern gals with different agendas. In Quanie Miller’s second novel, The New Mrs. Collins, set in a small Louisiana town, a broken heart sends Leena Williams digging into a world of buried secrets. Based on her suspicions about the graceful yet ruthless Adira Collins, Leena soon finds the old adage to be true: looks can be deceiving, and deadly as well.

Interviewer: Christy Campbell

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Let’s talk about Quanie Miller, personally and professionally.

I’m a married mother of one. I’m from New Iberia, a small town in Southwest Louisiana that sits right on the Bayou Teche and is rich in history. I spent most of my youth reading so many books that my cousins would look at me like I was crazy. “You aren’t gonna play outside? And you’re gonna read that whole book?” Then, they would shake their heads in amazement. I love writing about strong-willed women who can’t keep themselves out of trouble and setting my stories in fictional, Louisiana towns.

What moved you to write about this plot?

I wanted to explore what would happen when a woman pulls the veil back on the seemingly normal world she lives in. The main character, Leena, has lived her whole life in this small Louisiana town, never once suspecting that there are people in the world with mystic powers, and all of a sudden, not only does one such woman come into her life, but the woman is beautiful, has stolen her fiancé, and is now the stepmother to her son! In an attempt to solve the mystery of who this woman is, Leena ends up going down the proverbial rabbit hole. I was intrigued by how I might get her out of it.

Is there one fact about your book that stands out more than any others?

When I sat down to write the first draft of The New Mrs. Collins, a funny voice took over and it turned into a comedy! I was going to tell the story from the point of view of a nanny who discovers that her boss’ new wife is a sinister woman with mystic powers. This is how the story was going to go: the nanny, because of a flat tire, would get stranded in an affluent neighborhood without a cellphone, end up knocking on a random door, mistaken for an interviewee, and land the nanny job by mistake. But when I put the character on the page, this humorous voice took over, and the nanny-to-be never made it into the house. That character ended up being Jasmine T. Peacock, the protagonist of my first novel, a romantic comedy called It Ain’t Easy Being Jazzy.

What if I asked you to summarize your latest book in one line?  

When Leena Williams suspects that there’s something otherworldly about her son’s new stepmother, she goes digging for answers and discovers a little too late that some secrets are better left buried.

Based on your experience, what has been the best part of the writing process?

I think it’s the feeling you get when the story in your head (finally!) matches what you put on paper.

Is there something you wished you’d learned earlier as a writer?

That you should get as much feedback on your work as possible so that you can learn what you do well and hone that.

We all feel that buzz of confidence when our work is done and that feeling of accomplishment abounds. What have you found your greatest strength as a writer to be?

I’d have to say my ability to infuse humor into pretty much anything that I write. It’s not even something I try to do. It just happens.

Sum up a few interesting tidbits about Quanie Miller that make us go hmmm.

I trip getting inside of my own car. I’m probably the only person in the world who hasn’t taken a selfie. And not because I’m against them but because I’ve tried to do them but somehow, in the images, all I can see is a bright flash of light and the tip of my thumb. Also, while growing up, one of my aspirations was to be a rapping psychologist!

Okay, as an interviewer, that’s the most unique aspiration I’ve heard to date! How about your own feelings as a newly published author-did you have cold feet at some point?

I had doubts about whether or not I could even write a paranormal novel but then I asked myself: what kind of story do you want to see? I knew I wanted to write about a main character I could relate to, from my neck of the woods (Southwest Louisiana!) who discovers that there is a bit of magic in the world. So I re-evaluated the The New Mrs. Collins (whole new plot, page one rewrite), set it in a fictional town in Louisiana called “Carolville,” and it was full speed ahead. It took some time, but I’m so glad I didn’t give up on it because writing it proved to me that if you push through fear and doubt, you can accomplish exactly what you put your mind to.

Do you have any advice for new writers that you’d have given yourself on the journey to self-publishing?

My advice is to hone your craft. Do it any way you can and multiple ways. Take classes on writing. Read books on the craft of writing and study the work of writers that you admire. Study, study, study! And also, believe in yourself, even when nobody else does.

And last but not least. Let’s imagine your book was in the works for a movie. Who do you envision playing your main characters?

Love this question! I could totally see Taraji Henson or Jill Scott playing my main character, Leena. And of course, my BFF in my head, Kerry Washington, playing the villain, Adira.

Find The New Mrs. Collins, and more about author Quanie Miller, at: http://www.amazon.com/New-Mrs-Collins-Quanie-Miller/dp/1502489252/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1415717314&sr=8-1&keywords=the+new+mrs+collins

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7218800.Quanie_Miller

 

 

The Fury

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The Mafia, gangs and a killer hyena. Not your typical day in the New York City life of one female detective. In John Reinhard Dizon’s The Fury, readers will delve into a twisted thriller that combines the battle of good versus evil with the modern day realism of an occult world. A fast-paced read, Dizon will both frighten and intrigue with this tale of suspenseful mayhem.

Interviewer: Christy Campbell

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Tell the readers a little about your background. Have you always wanted to be a writer?

I wrote my novella, Enemy Ace, when I was in sixth grade. It was a James Bond knockoff with a German fighter pilot turned British Secret Service agent. I wish I knew what happened to it, maybe it’ll be in a museum someday long after I’m dead. I decided to take my chances when I moved to Missouri ten years ago and submitted a manuscript to Publish America. After having five books published, I decided to try my hand at being my own publicist/agent. I wanted to expand my horizons beyond the POD field, and as it turned out, Netherworld Books shared my vision.

The Fury isn’t your typical horror genre novel, and you took a risk doing so. How did you come up with the premise?

I never wrote anything in the horror genre and took it as a new challenge. A big part of it would be in coming up with a different angle than what is already on the market. Having an African shaman turn into a hyena and be manipulated by West Indian drug gangs in East Harlem is one I hadn’t seen before. My previous experience as a crime fiction writer was a big plus.

Voodoo cults, drug trades, New York City and the Mafia are all featured in your book. How did all of that work together in order to appeal to a common horror fan?

It had to be something that included the Mafia or the book wouldn’t have been realistic, so we have the centuries-old prophecy of an Italian dynasty and French royalty joining to create a demonic kingdom in the New World. The history of voodoo in the West Indies and New Orleans worked perfectly as Bridgette Celine’s ancestry is seen as the missing link between the Rossini Family and Miss Goyette’s voodoo sect. Having a hyena eliminating the competition was the secret ingredient.

You opted for a female main character. Tell us about Bridgette Celine, and what it was like to write from a female point of view.

Bridgette Celine is probably the most aggressive of all my female protagonists in my previous works. She comes from a working-class background and carries lots of emotional baggage that she hides beneath a punk rock demeanor. She handles the danger and the supernatural horror well, but having to deal with her family history leaves her vulnerable and uncertain. People who like strong female characters will love Bridge because she is way over the top. Yet her personality is peeled like an onion as the story progresses, and her different sides gives her the depth of character that makes her special.

I enjoy the challenge of writing from a female perspective. Tiara was largely written from Princess Jennifer’s POV, and Penny Flame focuses on Moneen Murphy’s journey into the unknown. I have a couple more coming up as well -– stay tuned!

Give us the goods on a couple of other characters in the novel. What roles do they play?

Johnny Devlin emerges as the major male protagonist as a street-weary detective in a NYPD ‘black ops’ unit trying to solve the hyena murders plaguing East Harlem. At first he uses his friendship with Bobby Mendoza, Bridge’s boyfriend, to find out more about her relationship with Mafia don Peter Ross. Eventually a mutual respect develops between himself and Bridge, and when he falls in love with her cousin Becca the situation becomes personal. Devlin is used to taking the law into his own hands in dealing with the lowest scum in the NYC underworld, but the Satanists prove to be more than he bargained for.

Anna and Becca, two characters featured, are clearly good people. Is there a downright evil person in your story?

The sorcerer Achok Majok and the voodoo priestess Miss Goyette are the closest resemblances to the Devil Incarnate. Everyone else might find readers seeing them as victims of circumstance. Peter Ross rolls the dice to see if the Satanic prophecy will establish his narcotics empire and loses big-time. Buda Sakumbe is pretty close to what you might call a victim of human trafficking. Even when Bobby Mendoza does a heel turn at the end of the novel, we can see where he was blinded by the demonic promise just like everyone else.

Is there some personal element in your story, or is it just pure fiction?

Lots of the Lower Manhattan scenes were based on personal experiences as a NYC punk rocker in my young adulthood. The characters in Johnny Devlin’s Zombie Squad were all based on people I knew. As a rule, I tend to use real people in my characterizations because lots of the people in my past are so interesting, you couldn’t make them up.

If you were to rewrite your book what changes might you make, if any?

I’d say the editor and I may have dropped the ball in the omniscient narrative as far as the occupants on the second and third floors in the haunted tenement. Miss Goyette seems to move from one apartment to another as do other characters, and it turns into an exercise in postmodernist technique that is too easily perceived as an editing issue. The idea was to convey the sense of helplessness people feel when they get lost in a hostile environment. Ever go into a dark subway, walk all the way to the end of a deserted platform, and find the exit’s locked? Or try to drive through a bad neighborhood at night and find out you misread the map? We should have overemphasized the fact that people kept finding themselves on the wrong floors. Some critics felt like we were the ones who got lost. Regardless of location, the characters make it clear they can’t wait to get out of there.

How about some authors who have inspired you as a writer?

I would have to consider myself a postmodernist author at this stage of my career, and I’ve been studying others of like mind to enhance my own style. Right now I’m reading Kafka; he’s having an enormous influence on my new manuscripts. In my opinion, Shakespeare is the greatest writer of all time, and I’ll have to consider him my greatest overall influence. Ian Fleming was the one who inspired me in my early days, and Robert E. Howard was another one who gave me a new perspective in developing my abilities over the years.

Which horror films or books appeal to you, as a viewer or reader?

As far as horror, nobody touches Stephen King, though I hope readers will make favorable comparisons as my work surfaces. I’ll never forget staying up nights reading Bram Stoker’s Dracula as a school kid. That one stands up against any of King’s books. Moviewise, The Exorcist is the greatest of all time, while I don’t think anyone appreciates the impact Texas Chainsaw Massacre had as the first of the slasher-type flicks. I walked home after the premiere looking over my shoulder.

As writers, we all have habits we employ during a day’s work. What are some of yours?

Lots of times I end up doing more research than writing on any given day. I spent a large amount of time with the historical backdrop on The Fury substantiating the expository narrative. I feel like I’ve validated the work when readers can do some checking up and find out the subplots are based on actual persons, places and events. When I’ve written a dynamic chapter that I know will captivate the audience, I’ll take a break and go for a walk to recharge my batteries and rehearse where the characters are going next. I also enjoy watching pro wrestling to compare notes on how to capture the audience’s imagination with the least dialogue and the most impact.

Where can readers find The Fury, as well as your other novels?

Just plug in John Reinhard Dizon in the Books search engine on Amazon. There’ll be my previous works with Publish America on sale, as well as The Standard available through Tenth Street Press. I take pride in the fact that I don’t allow myself to be confined within any particular genre. Every novel is a new experience that I’m sure the reader will enjoy. I can guarantee that you won’t find any of them a boring read!