Demon Reaper

Adele Cawley

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

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: What are you reading now?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: How did you go about finding a publisher?

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

Q: Plotter or pantser?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: What are you currently working on?

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

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

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

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

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

 

 

 

 

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Magick Run Amok

 

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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/

Keeping The Balance

Keeping the Balance Cover

It’s challenging enough for most of us to deal with the Here and Now, with the interactions we have with others and the oftentimes complicated relationship we have with our own selves. But what happens when disruptions come from otherworldly forces that are beyond our comprehension, frame of reference and personal control? In her new book, Keeping the Balance, Sue Churchill taps the spiritual clearance work that she and her husband do in order to help their clients resolve psychic attacks, spirit possession and residual energies associated with paranormal activity.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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 Q: What attracted you to the realm of spirituality?

A: My parents were spiritualists, so it was always an open subject in our house. I questioned my own beliefs when I was in my teens as I had an interest in different religions but, in my heart, I felt that the soul or spirit surviving physical death was the truth. I spent many years developing my mediumship skills through joining different development groups. I am still developing; it is a life-long lesson. Apart from learning how to connect with spirit, I was introduced to healing and rescue work. My husband, Mick, who I work with spiritually, thankfully shared my interest and he also started to work on his development and we attended several groups together. I spent several years serving spiritualist churches as a medium: we both also began training as spiritual healers and embarked on our journey conducting spiritual clearances. This started after we experienced our own spiritual activity and worked with a medium to resolve it. Our first case was helping a close friend and gradually more people needing help were guided to us: we were broken in gently and developed more skills with each situation. Sensitive communication skills are central to spiritual working; many people you deal with are distressed and they find themselves in scary situations which they don’t understand. Mick is a trained bereavement counsellor and I have spent many years in the field of care and care training; this has given us both useful communication tools for interacting with people and handling sensitive situations.

Q: How does your background in spirituality interface with your journey as a writer?

A: I find they work quite well together. Prior to writing and publishing my first book, I had only ever composed small “inspirational prose” pieces. I wasn’t an organized writer, I would feel inspired with a few words and set them down on whatever I could find at the time. I believe some of what I wrote was inspired by spirit and served to provide philosophical insight to help with comprehending the spirit world. A medium once advised me that any philosophy I received from spirit was not specifically for me, it should be shared with others to promote a wider learning. My book explains some of the work we have done which may help others understand their own situations and how to find help as well as provide them with a better understanding and food for thought to inspire and assist them on their own spiritual journey.

Q: What was your inspiration for writing this book?

A: I noticed many of our clients we had helped spiritually were very interested in the work which we did. In 2014 I broke my arm and was unable to go to work for about three months. It was then I had the time to write so I simply started writing about some of the cases we had resolved. I wanted to help people understand what we did, how we did it and about the knowledge of life-after-death and spiritual aspects which we had learned over time. I also hoped the book would help people who are experiencing paranormal activity or spiritual problems to understand more about them and where they can go to get help.

Q: What does the title mean?

A: From my title, Keeping The Balance, it isn’t clear what the book is about, hence, the subtitle: Our Journey Through Spiritual Hell. This still doesn’t fully explain but it at least highlights the subject area. I see the spiritual work we do as tipping the scales towards the light. In my view there are many energies in the universe, most of them not yet recognised nor understood by science and mankind generally. On the one hand there is positive or good energy and on the other there is negative or dark energy. There is a constant battle between these energies to overcome each other and gain some ground. We play our part to ensure the positive energy stays strong and keep the negative energy at bay: we are keeping the balance.

Q: Paranormal activity and problems don’t happen to everyone. Are there contributory factors which can lead to a person being affected versus being left alone?

A: It doesn’t affect everyone, but it can affect anyone and there isn’t one single factor which may cause it to happen. A common question we have been asked by the people we help is, “Why me?” Sometimes there may be environmental reasons for a person or household being affected: energy lines or leys may be causing more spiritual activity or exacerbating it. Historically, there may have been distressing and fatal accidents or events in the area resulting in many lost souls who need help crossing over. Some properties are very close to electricity pylons; pylons emit high amounts of electro – magnetic energy and this can cause people to experience goose bumps, mood changes and paranoia which can be mistaken for paranormal experiences. Difficult personal circumstances causing low mood, anxiety or depression may leave a person more vulnerable as negative energy can build up around them. As the negative energy grows, it will then affect them causing their low mood to worsen and intensifying the negative energy. A concentration of negative energy may cause problems and attract more energies and spirits. There is a lot to be said for confronting and trying to deal with your feelings and trying to keep positive. Personal spiritual protection for those who undertake paranormal investigation or spiritual work is important. Without it, a person can be vulnerable to attack or attachment by spirit and energies.

Q: Have you ever been attacked by spirits or experienced any unpleasant episodes of your own?

A: During one difficult case where a woman was possessed, and it required many visits to resolve, my husband was almost dragged out of bed by a spirit. He awoke in the early hours of the morning to find something had hold of his leg and was pulling it. He called out to wake me up and between us we managed to clear the energy. It was very unnerving. Due to the nature of our work to help people who are undergoing spiritual attacks or activity, we have found this can render us targets. We often find that prior to our first visit we experience negative spiritual activity at home or things crop up to stop or deter us from visiting. We have learned how to protect ourselves effectively and deal with anything which happens to us, but we still have to be on our guard.

Q: Conversely, have you ever had pleasant/positive experiences from paranormal interventions?

A: Helping a person plagued by unwanted and often negative spiritual activity where the result is peace for them gives us a good feeling and an awareness we have achieved something positive. In addition, some of the work we carry out involves spirit rescue—guiding lost and trapped souls to the light where they can find healing, understanding and continue their own journey in the spirit world. On one occasion, a few days after one such case, the spirit of the man we had helped over appeared before my husband; he immediately thought he hadn’t passed over, it hadn’t worked, and he was still earthbound. As the man smiled and then faded, my husband realized he had simply returned to thank him—a good and rewarding result.

Q: If books are judged by their covers (and I truly believe they are), what do you feel your own cover design says about what prospective readers can expect from the content?

A:  I wanted the cover to be eye-catching and sum up the philosophy of the book and our spiritual work. Mick had the initial vision of what he felt would look good and symbolise our spiritual work. He loves images of the grim reaper so that was a must, plus he felt it was a good representation of death. He felt the yin and yang symbol superimposed on an image of the earth held in the reaper’s hand would sum up the wider message in the book—yin and yang representing the balance of energies and the reaper holding that balance in his hand. Once he had the ideas and some images for the cover, an artist friend of our son came up with the final design. We both liked images of the moonlight through trees so that was a perfect choice for the background. I just hope readers won’t see the cover design as being too scary!

Q: What was your experience like in finding a publisher?

A: Although I started writing in 2014, I didn’t finish my book until early this year. I had investigated the process of publishing and I felt very overwhelmed, so I concentrated on finishing the book. I looked at companies who can sell you a package with different levels of help to publish. I was quite keen on this method until I realised that the company own the ISBN and rights. Our youngest son came to the rescue and introduced me to self-publishing. He published his first book towards the end of 2017; he managed it very quickly as he wanted it to be out before Christmas. He introduced me to Createspace and was there for me when I had little niggles and questions. I initially published in paperback and I found the guide they provide very useful and explanatory. Once it was live I decided to look at doing an electronic version. Personally, I like a proper book but I realise so many people prefer electronic now. I am quite good with computers but not an expert and it took me about three solid days to get my book Kindle-ready. My advice for anyone publishing for Kindle is to download everything available from the site to help you format your book so it is Kindle-ready.

Q: What are you doing to market it?

A: As a virgin author who self-published, I haven’t found it easy. I didn’t have the foresight to think about marketing prior to publishing. I was too busy working and trying to finish the book when I had spare time. After an intense couple of weeks in the final stages of publishing, the book was live, and I finally relaxed for a moment. I then realised I needed to market it. I regularly share my book and links to it over social media, trying to target those who have a spiritual interest and I share on pages used by potential readers such as paranormal investigators, mediums and healers. I recently discovered Book Connectors on Facebook which is a very friendly, helpful group where you can find bloggers, other authors and advice. I have also sent copies to spiritual publications and asked for a review. I have paid for two adverts. The first was in a popular spiritual magazine with a good distribution; it cost around £50 for a small paragraph with colour picture. I then came across a US company online, Whizbuzz Books. Your book remains on their site forever and they also advertise it regularly over the whole range of social media for a year; you can include a decent size description and links to your own website. Unless you have deep pockets, you must be resourceful to find as much free advertising as you can.

 Q: Your book addresses spiritual areas and beliefs which many may see as controversial or unbelievable. Do you think it would be well received or of interest to those from different belief systems?

A: I hope so, as many people are exploring different philosophies nowadays and seeking answers. Part 1 of the book describes a cross section of the spiritual clearance cases we have resolved and is, therefore, factual. However, each of these clients were from different backgrounds and belief systems. I explain how we conducted each clearance and how, in some cases we adapted according to the beliefs or religion of the client in question. Negative spiritual activity does not discriminate, it can affect anyone. One of our clients was Catholic and her parents were Baptist. After we helped her, I talked her through methods and techniques for keeping positive, moving forward and protection. She liked to use prayer and I supported that because it was her belief and her confidence in prayer which helped her through this negative episode. In Part 2, I speculate and theorise around spiritualism and belief systems which I hope will encourage readers to explore for themselves. I make it very clear my conjecture is according to our experiences and how my understanding and knowledge has grown from them.

Q: There are lots of books about spirituality out there. A simple search on Amazon, for instance, reveals over 60,000. Can books help readers glean a better understanding of spiritual subjects? If so, how do they possibly go about choosing which ones will be the best fit for them?

A: Books can help immensely with gaining a basic understanding of many areas and helping an individual look at the different paths. There are many which provide fundamental information on auras, chakra, meditation and spiritual protection. However, I feel it’s important to remember that some of the information written will be the authors’ opinion, not necessarily fact. When choosing a book, you may have specific authors or books which have been recommended to you, but it’s still difficult to select which is right for you. Have a good look through bookstores. Amazon is great as there is so much choice but that isn’t always helpful. Going to a good book shop and taking your time to browse is often better. There’s nothing like handling a book to get a feel for what it is like. If it seems to be right for the subject area you’re seeking, then go with your gut feeling for which is best—the one which feels right, the one your eyes want to go back to. Listen to your intuition. Never take everything as gospel. You will begin to recognise authors you like or indeed practitioners, like us, who publish their experiences.

Q: If readers are having spiritual problems, what do you recommend as a starting point for them to seek resolution?

A: It depends on the person affected and their beliefs. A strongly religious person may be better off approaching their own minister for advice as a first step. Otherwise, I would suggest a local spiritualist church or centre or a recommended paranormal investigation group. Spiritualist churches (you can find lists on the Internet), will usually be able to help or suggest a local medium who is able to help. I strongly advise against finding a medium, psychic or paranormal investigation group online unless they have been recommended or you are able to check them; there are so many who do not know what they are doing.

Q: What’s your advice for fellow wordsmiths who—like you—are planning to write their first book?

A: My advice is, do it! Life is for doing, not for regretting missed opportunities. Last year I enrolled on a distance learning creative writing course which I am finding very beneficial and I would recommend. Not only does it help with writing styles for different genres, it also teaches the processes for progression in different areas of professional writing. For this book, I did no planning, I just started writing and although it worked quite well as it is non-fiction, it did cause me more work going back and forth and re reading to complete. I would also advise making a careful note of any quotations or references to other works so when it comes to acknowledging them, they are easy to find, and you don’t miss any.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: For anyone who is experiencing upsetting spiritual activity or problems, no, you are not mad. Don’t suffer alone in silence; seek help. You can check out our website or contact for a chat https://suechurchill966.wixsite.com/spiritualbalance and suechurchill966@yahoo.com. If you’re a new writer, there are many people out there who are keen to help you along the way. Join groups, connect on Facebook; they will all help to guide you and it can open doors to more help and connections.

 

 

A Chat With Jeri Westerson

Jeri Westerson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: How does your writing schedule usually go?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Chandler Affairs

GWRenshaw

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

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: What attracted you to the paranormal mystery genre?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: How long do you envision this series continuing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: What are you working on now?

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

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

Q: Where can readers learn more about your work?

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

 

 

 

 

 

Windstalker: Awareness

baginski

The soul that has conceived one wickedness can nurse no good thereafter. -SOPHOCLES, Philoctetes

Science fiction, fantasy, romance and inhuman creatures all blend together in author K.M. (Kisa) Baginski’s debut series Windstalker. In Awareness, the first book Baginski introduces, she spins a tale that introduces a force of evil that preys on a group of unsuspecting young adults sucked into a world of chaos. Note to avid fantasy fans: Be prepared for a lot of suspense, with a little nail-biting thrown in!

Interviewer: Christy Campbell

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Great title by the way! Tell us a bit about Kisa the author and your debut novel, Windstalker: Awareness.

I’m just getting started in the world of writing and look forward to producing much more. For me there was always drive to get particular stories out of my system. I haven’t been in training like many authors I know and respect. In terms of my educational profile, I was always science matriculated. I’ve just wanted to share stories as they come to me. Storytelling is such a beautiful art form. I hope to grow and continue learning as I tell more of them. Awareness is about the Windstalker creature, an evolved Nephilim- half angel and half human. It’s set in New York City and the creature has an impact on a group of unassuming, nonspiritual and emotionally dysfunctional friends. They try to cling to reality for much of the story, ignoring or avoiding the presence of something they can’t rationalize, until they are forced to accept events and circumstances that defy logic. They become aware of the presence of a supernatural force. A Windstalker.

What was your inspiration for writing a supernatural thriller?

I have these amazing vivid dreams from time to time that are a lot like watching a film. They are usually open around the rising action of the story to its climax. The calm just before the storm and, of course, the storm. Windstalker began as one of these dreams.

It came about because as a teen I dreamt from the perspective of a pair of creatures that hovered in an abandoned lot next to a building. The creatures were disguised as swirling wind but could also morph into men, so human beings did not notice them at all. The building was isolated on a dark corner of the street and only significant because of a woman who lived there. She was a sweet, gentle single mother of an infant. Though she was not a particularly noteworthy citizen, one of the two creatures stalked her. And you have to remember the dream was seen from the perspective of the creature. The woman reminded him of a life he had known previously, when human, a life to which he desperately wanted to return. He didn’t say as much to his formless partner as he knew the partner didn’t want to be alone. The longing creature led a sort of tug-of-war among the three as he searched for and tested ways to permanently revert back to human form. Almost ten years later, I hadn’t forgotten the intensity of that dream. So I thought it would be a great start for a novel-writing future. I have many stories that began that way, waiting to surface.

Introduce us to your main characters. What are some of their struggles throughout the story?

Mitchell Geathers is an ambitious young man. He is a leader in his family and maintains a certain level of control. He’s really driven by fear that he will lose control and endanger his loved ones. Chelsea Easton is lost in the real world. She often feels out of place and thinks she has to divert attention away from herself. But being the product of a broken, dysfunctional family, she actually craves love, affection and validation from others.

What makes your novel unique from other paranormal novels out there?

I would say the creature itself. A windstalker isn’t just a shapeshifter. It is a very difficult creature to destroy and can also be reverted into a human being, given a special set of circumstances the reader will have to discover throughout the series.

Were there any authors you read for inspiration while preparing for your first book?

I read a few Victorian Gothic horror novels such as Dracula (Bram Stoker) and The Picture of Dorian Gray (Oscar Wilde). I also read Lolita (Vladimir Nabokov); for a while I toyed with making the character Chelsea younger. I read Anna Karenina (Leo Tolstoy) for Tolstoy’s panoramic scenes allowing the reader to understand the same incident from another character’s perspective. I thought if I was going to try writing my own novel, I needed to wrap my mind around some of the most celebrated masters of prose and the horror/fantasy genre.

Is this volume one of its kind or will it be part of a series you are developing?

Awareness is the first in the Windstalker series. There are at least two more parts I’m working on now.

In that case, what can your readers look forward to in the next book in your series?

The next book is geared toward discovering the levels of hierarchy within the Windstalker culture. There is a major division within their inner world. An alliance with the peace keepers among them and the stronger group for the time being and a rogue organization seeking to overthrow the peace keepers and establish themselves as supreme leaders of the species.

Fans of science fiction thrillers that touch on romance will easily devour a story like Windstalker. If you could choose a couple of famous folks to play your characters, who comes to mind?

It’s funny but the only character I could see having a famous actor doppelganger is Eli Roberts. I see Eli being played by Charlie Hunnam for some reason.

Give us a few of your favorite films or television shows that might compare to the theme of Windstalker.

I’d like to think Windstalker: Awareness could very well resonate with True Blood, Dexter, Dead Like Me or even Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV fans; or fans of the movie Fallen – for the Grigori Angel mythology. Most of these projects had a dark premise, complex characters and a good mix between horror, romance, thriller and comedy genres.

There are so many online resources today where readers can learn all about their favorite authors. How can readers stay connected to you and any future book projects?

Windstalker stories are available on Amazon and my Windstalker books website. I’ll be announcing any new Windstalker projects as they surface. There is currently a short story prequel (Windstaker: The Fall of Samyaza) and novella about a character named Drew Royce (from Awareness) in development. Both will be released before the second book in the series.

Can you provide your audience with any retail and/or review links as well?

The series website is www.windstalkerbooks.com.

An Unsubstantiated Chamber

Jackson cover

If through some celestial twist the future had not only arrived sooner but brought with it an airship full of technological gizmos and gadgets as well, the past would clearly reflect today’s popular genre called “steampunk.” The clever mash-up of science fiction, alternative history, romance and even a smattering of Victorian “penny dreadfuls” were certainly flirted with in the works of H.G. Wells and Jules Verne – two icons who’d find plenty to chat about – and applaud – with William J. Jackson, author of the Rail Legacy books. Set against a backdrop of 1886 Railroad City, Missouri, An Unsubstantiated Chamber finds two unlikely allies working together to track down a paranormal killer. Looking for a page-turner summer read? We recommend hopping Jackson’s fast train to a race against time. Just fasten your seat belt first…

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Congratulations on the debut of the launch title in a new steampunk series! Since you’ve indicated that the Rail Legacy books will appeal to audiences 14 years and older, we’re curious what the 14-year-old self of William Jackson might have had on his nightstand.

A: I was coming out of my Stephen King phase then. But comics, mainly DC and Marvel. LOTS of comics.

Q: What are you reading these days?

A: Indie! I gave up on ever changing Dc and Marvel – popular books just based on what’s hot and read indie. Try Kara Jorgensen, Jack Tyler, David Lee Summers and many more!

Q: Who (or what) inspired you to start penning your own books?

A: I always wanted to write but couldn’t find the words or the self-esteem. Both came gradually.

Q: Do you begin with a formal outline or do you allow your muse to guide you from one chapter to the next?

A: First the muse, then an outline. Slowly, the outline gives way to how the characters should naturally behave. Then back to the muse.

Q: So what attracted you to the popularity of steampunk fiction?

A: Childhood, long before it had a name, there was H.G Wells and Jules Verne. The rpg Space:1889 really got me back into it again.

Q: For readers unfamiliar with the rudiments of a steampunk story, give us a 101 primer on the types of characters, plots and settings one typically finds in this genre.

A: While many see goggles, top hats and airships (mine has those) steampunk is more of an archetype of advanced steam technology and the historical mess of imperialism to which any time period or other genre can be merged. It’s really quite open once you know those basics.

Q: When YA novels initially hit their stride in the 1970s, the majority of their themes revolved around the misfit experiences of high school and the pangs of unrequited crushes. YA titles today have dramatically left that suburban comfort zone and plunged readers into the midst of dark paranormal and dystopian worlds. Yet, in your view, have the teenage quests for love, acceptance and survival really changed that much?

A: Regardless of the type of world built, the emotional and maturity struggles remain. The only real difference is how hard said world makes life and growing up.

Q: A lot of these YA stories of escapism and empowerment appeal to adults just as much as they do to teenagers. Why is that?

A: Adults have the monster called Responsibility, and thus also crave escape! It’s more a human factor than one of age.

Q: What was the inspiration behind “An Unsubstantiated Chamber”?

A: My love of superhero tales, but wanting a deeper one about justice to go with the battles and splashy powers. My love of Victorian scientific romances, but hating the vapid racism/sexism of the era. Let’s combine the two, but add what I felt was missing.

Q: Which came first for you – the characters or the plot?

A: Plot. I dreamed of Railroad City back in 1993! Steam trains and a city of heroes really gave me a kick in my rpg days. Then it was a game, but I said back then that if I ever became a writer, the Rail, the Legacy Universe as a whole, would be first.

Q: Any special meaning behind the title?

A: It is very self-explanatory, but I wanted words that I wouldn’t find in another title. I’m anal that way.

Q: How is the series steampunk and how is it not?

A: Goggles, airships, top hats, imperial militant takeover, steam power…check! The basics are there, as well as the bad effects of the military rule. But add to it powers (talents) caused by an alien element. Oh, and there were aliens, too, at one point.

Q: Which character in the series do you most identify with?

A: Flag Epsom. He loves history, is a loner, and is very sarcastic. Sarcasm was how I got through being picked on in school. Now I’m trying to get rid of it and be more calm.

Q: What governed your decision to craft Rail Legacy as a series? (beyond the obvious reason that many of us simply hate to say goodbye to our characters by the final chapter!)

A: The story is a chase. But the things uncovered will unleash a cacophony of secrets, lies, and drama that most of the characters in the book and those to come will find hard to accept, and to handle. Thus, it would take more than one or even two books to tell it.

Q: One of the challenges of writing a series is the fact that readers might not read the books sequentially. How do you address this insofar as giving your new readers enough back-story to be brought up to speed while not boring your fans that are all ready for the next adventure and don’t need a recap?

A: Each book will remain its own, while connecting to the next one. So, it really shouldn’t hurt not to read in order.

Q: Any book(s) written over a long stretch necessitate great organizational and time management skills so as not to lose track of who’s doing what where and why? What’s your insider secret about this?

A: Lots of note paper! Truly, I write tons of little notes that look frantic on the table but help to organize my thinking. In one book I have the overall timeline, and reference that. All together, it works.

Q: What’s a typical day of writing like for you? (i.e., setting, time of day, music in the background, quirky habits)

A: Early morning, put out hopefully a thousand words in the quiet. If TV is on, I use headphones and listen to jazz/dubstep. Not exactly steampunk music, but it works!

Q: Are there any “rules” of writing that you steadfastly never break? Any that you always break?

A: I hate writing rules. No adverbs. No ending in a preposition. Bleh! If it’s in the English language, I use it. If it fits the story, I write it. There are the rules.

Q: As with many aspiring authors, you chose to exercise control over your intellectual property and go the self-publishing route. What do you know now that you didn’t know when this publishing journey began? Any advice to writers considering a similar path?

A: That KDP Select makes you unable to sell your ebook elsewhere for at least 90 days. If I had known, I would not have enrolled. I suggest trying Direct2Digital, Smashwords and more first. They are more lenient.

Q: What are you doing to promote the book?

A: Alerts on Facebook and Twitter. I have the ad program on Goodreads, tweets via BookWerm. I guess they’re helping.

Q: If Hollywood came calling for the Rail Legacy to make it a movie or television series, who would comprise your dream cast for it?

A: Wow. Flag Epsom – Christopher Eccleston. Aretha Astin – Gina Rodriquez. Sergeant Powell -Sam Neill. Madame Amberson – Meryl Streep. And I guess for the role of the elusive killer, Michael Keaton.

Q: And would you want a role in it yourself?

A: I want to be in the green suit, playing any of the oddest paranormals in the background!

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: Finishing Book Two, writing a dieselpunk chapter every week on Wattpad,

Q: Where can readers learn more about your work (and buy your book)?

A: They can buy it at…http://www.amazon.com/Unsubstantiated-Chamber-Book-Rail-Legacy/dp/1502714353/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1433966474&sr=8-1&keywords=an+unsubstantiated+chamber&pebp=1433967675551&perid=80B0C8398D324B8E8D08

I also blog about my book and the genre at therailbaron.wordpress.com.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: I’m excited to talk to steampunk and all punk fans online. Email me at andorian9@gmail.com or find me on Facebook. Let’s come together and build up the indie scene!