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.

 

 

 

 

 

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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!

Children of the Night (series)

FallenEmbers cover art

Vampires and sex! What could be better for paranormal romance lovers? Author PG Forte certainly pushes the envelope and explores the dynamic, complicated lives of her vampire characters in her Children of the Night series. I wanted to delve into the world and mind of a writer who creates such complex characters and doesn’t shy away from writing outside the proverbial box. With open candour, PG provides answers that give readers insight and a behind-the-scene look into what goes into writing this kind of series, fitting in, and the benefits to not fitting in.

Interviewed by Debbie A. McClure

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Q So what’s a nice Catholic girl like you doing in a sexy vampire fantasy writing world like the ones you pen? What draws you in and holds you to this genre?

A LOL! Would you believe my daughter made me do it? No, seriously, she did. She was reading a lot of vampire fiction at the time, and I’d been complaining about the various vampire traditions I didn’t like—not being able to see themselves in mirrors, being allergic to Holy Water, that sort of stuff. She suggested I write my own, so I did. What keeps me there are the characters I created.

I love them because they’re a family. They care about each other, even though they don’t always show it. They can live forever, which isn’t always the blessing it appears to be on the surface. That’s why the first line of the first book is, “When you live forever, you’re bound to make a few mistakes.” Oh, and they do! lol! But, on the other hand, when you live forever, there’s also time to get a few things right.

Q You are writing your sixth book in a vampire series. What would you say are the challenges writers of serial books face that are different from single titles?

A Oh, where do I start? lol! I guess I should begin by saying that I love writing series. It can be hard sometimes saying good-bye to a set of characters at the end of a book. With a series, you do get a bit of a reprieve. On the other hand, I generally find myself getting frustrated at some point and have to be talked out of killing off the majority of my characters. While I was writing my Oberon series, for example, I kept threatening to have an earthquake destroy the town.

One of the big challenges is consistency. I have to go back and re-read earlier books all the time to make sure my characters aren’t contradicting themselves from book to book. Also, with a big, sprawling series, like most of mine, you end up with a lot of minor characters. Sometimes you don’t remember all their names—which can be a big problem when you reuse a name, or call the same person by two different names. Usually it gets caught in time, but I live in fear. lol!

Another problem is writing yourself into a corner—it happens a lot! Even though I plot everything, my characters have a way of taking detours or going off on tangents. Sometimes those are great, serendipitous moments of glorious inspirations. Other times, you find yourself lost in a world of pain and re-writing, to get yourself back on track.

And then there’s the pacing. You need a few series-long story arcs, but those are often the things that try your readers’ patience. Some loose ends take a while to tie up. For example, there’s a bit of a mystery in the Children of Night series involving Conrad and Damian. The two were lovers for nearly four hundred years. Then, in 1856, they had a terrible falling out. They didn’t speak to each other for the next hundred and thirteen years, and it took them another forty years to finally get back together.

Not surprisingly, readers want to know what happened. No one is thrilled when I tell them I’m not going to explain it until the seventh and last book. And, no, it’s not because I don’t know the answer! I know exactly what happened between them, and why it happened, but as it happens, they’ve both been keeping secrets from each other, so they don’t know. And until they break down and tell each other the truth, there’s no way for the readers to find out either.

So that’s another challenge: keeping your readers so interested in what’s going on, that they forget how frustrated they’re getting with you for not telling them everything up front.

Q What is the greatest lesson you’ve learned about yourself since you began your writing journey?

A Well, I’ve learned I’m a bit of a perfectionist. Trust me; anyone who’s seen my house will be as surprised as I am by that fact. I have patience—who knew? I have determination and the ability to persevere, and a trace of paranoia, which appears to be an occupational hazard for many of us. I’ve also learned I’m a lot more competitive than I ever realized.

Q Would you say you’re a plotter, or a pantster, and why?

A Oh, total plotter. Occasionally I’ll start writing a story before I have the entire plot laid out. Usually this happens when I have a deadline and start panicking about the fact that I don’t have the entire plot laid out. But even then I usually have to stop and work out all the details before I can proceed.

On the plus side, even when I get side-tracked I always have a map to get me back on track. And my finished outlines are so detailed, all I need to do is clean them up again and voila! Instant synopsis—which is a huge advantage!

Q Could you give our readers a brief summary about what your latest book is about?

A I’d love to! Fallen Embers is the fifth book in the series. It’s a seven book series, so this is the point where things are starting to look pretty bleak for some of the characters, while other characters are just starting to come into their own. Exciting times!

The series for the most part is about Conrad Quintano, the patriarch of the Quintano vampire family, and his two youngest children, twins Julie and Marc Fischer. Julie and Marc were born vampire—which is supposed to be impossible. By all the rules governing vampire culture, they should have been killed at birth. But Conrad promised their mother on her deathbed that he would protect them and raise them. He and his partner, Damian, went into hiding together (even though they were no longer lovers) and raised the twins in secret until they were adults and could “pass” for normal vampires.

In each of the books, the twins learn a little bit more about their true heritage and destiny. And, in each of the books, we also explore a little more about Conrad and his relationship with various members of his family. Fallen Embers is largely about Conrad’s relationship with Georgia—his oldest friend and another of his former lovers.

Conrad and Georgia first met in the early twelfth century. On the night they met, Conrad saved Georgia’s life, but he’s always maintained that she saved his as well. It was Georgia who taught him that, just because he was a vampire it didn’t mean he had to be a monster as well. But that was then and this is now and a lot can happen over the course of nine hundred years! They’ve both been keeping dangerous secrets from each other, and now they’re starting to come out.

Q What inspired you to write this series?

A To be honest, I didn’t exactly intend for the series to go this way. In the very beginning I wanted to write a paranormal mystery series. I imagined the twins would be growing quite bored with their lives. Sure, Conrad has amassed a huge amount of wealth over the centuries, and you’d think this would mean they could do whatever they want. But after forty years of not being able to pursue any kind of career (since they don’t age, etc.) and having to keep a low profile, I figured they’d want something to keep their minds occupied. So I thought they should start investigating crimes and mysteries in the paranormal community.

The first book was going to be an introduction to the series and their first case was going to be finding Conrad, who’d gone missing. In the course of writing the book, however, I realized there was a lot more to Conrad’s story than I’d realized. And a whole lot more to Damian’s as well.

Five books later and here we are. Sure there are still mysteries to unravel and the twins are in the thick of things, but it hasn’t unfolded at all the way I thought it would. On the other hand, I love these characters and enjoy spending time with them … now that I’ve been talked out of killing them all off!

Q For you, what is the easiest part of writing a book, the beginning, middle, or end, and why?

A It depends on the book. A lot of beginnings are easy because even when I haven’t worked out all the details of where I’m going or how I’m going to get there, I at least know where I am at the start. But beginnings are also probably where I spend the most of my time, because I am never satisfied with them and, until I have the beginning just right, I can’t move one.

Middles can seem endless, and it’s really easy to get bogged down in them, or to get turned around and lose your way. On the other hand, once you get a little momentum going—and assuming you follow your outline and don’t get off track—you can make a lot of progress in a relatively short period of time.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that endings are usually the easiest for me. However, there are a couple of exceptions. If you’re ending a series, or a stand alone book and saying goodbye to characters you aren’t ready to say goodbye to, endings can take forever. Also, I love endings; which means I’m a perfectionist. I want them to be just right. I’ve written a couple of books in which the last chapter took an embarrassingly long time to write. In fact, in one book, Waiting For The Big One, the last chapter took as long to write as the entire rest of the book. Of course, it was just a novella, and I wrote the rest of it in record time, but still!

Q Do you have a favorite character in this book, or in the series? If so, what makes this character your favorite?

A I love all my characters … well, almost all of them. Even the minor characters have a way of surprising me from time to time. I have one I just can’t kill. He was supposed to have died a couple of times, but one of the other characters keeps stepping in and saving him at the last minute. But, having said all that, I have to admit to being especially fond of Conrad and Damian. And Damian maybe a little bit more.

After 1200  years, Conrad’s a bit tired and jaded. His early life was, for the most part, very unpleasant. And by early life I mean the first several hundred years of it. This has also left him with more than a bit of a bad temper!

Damian, on the other hand, is more irrepressible—and a lot more flamboyant. Unlike Conrad, he was raised in relative luxury. He came from Spanish royalty and was serving as a courtier when he met Conrad. He fell in love with Conrad and ran away from court (and his patron—a very jealous Archduke) to be with his “demon lover”. He also has a temper, however, and a reckless, impulsive nature that regularly lands him in trouble.

I think it’s fair to say Conrad treats Damian, at times, as he would a trophy wife. He loves to indulge him and shower him with gifts, but he doesn’t always understand Damian’s needs and insecurities. There are also some times when he really wishes Damian would just shut up and do as he’s told. Yeah, that’s never gonna happen.

But the two of them love each other to death and have enormous admiration and respect for each other, so they’ll be okay. At least they will once they get those pesky secrets they’ve been keeping sorted out.

Q What’s the one thing about you that might surprise our readers?

A Uh…you mean beside the fact that I talk about my characters as though they were real people? I don’t know. I’m assuming most of them already know about the tattoos, the piercing, and the unicorn hair. That’s old news anyway. One thing that continues to surprise my husband is the fact that, when I’m on a roll, I can happily spend days in front of my computer writing. Seriously, if I’m the only one at home, and as long as I don’t run out of coffee, wine, or dog treats, I’ll barely even stop for meals.

In fact, now that the kids are out of the house, whenever my husband has to go out of town for business it’s exactly what I do. And I’m perfectly content.

Q What are your thoughts on the future of publishing and the self vs. traditional publishing debate?

A I think the more options the better, at this point. I was not an early adopter of the indie publishing movement, to be honest. DIY is a lot of work, frankly, and I really believed—or wanted to believe—that publishers had, perhaps, a better grasp on the industry than individual authors.

I still think some publishers have a better grasp on some aspects of publishing than some authors—but for the most part, I think the days when ANYONE could lay claim to having a handle on what’s going on in the publishing industry—or how best to appeal to the book buying public—are long gone.

At this point, I think the smartest way to go—for me—is hybrid. I don’t want to do all the work for every title, but some titles, yeah. I like being the one making ALL the decisions.

Right now, however, I think it’s really kind of a free-for-all. I think everyone has to decide for him or herself what kind of career best suits them.

Q You write erotic books featuring both gay and straight characters. Has it been difficult finding your “niche market” readers and/or publishing venues? If so, what has been your greatest publishing challenge?

A Oh, yes! Absolutely. Writing a series which is basically impossible to categorize? Terrible, awful, very bad idea. But it’s worse even than you know. Some of the books in the series are erotic; others have no explicit sex at all. There were several important reasons for why there was no sex—either all the sex took place in the past while my main couple were broken up and sleeping with other people and my editor pointed out that, while it was understandable they had both taken other lovers, readers would get upset if they “saw” them having sex with other people. And rightly so, btw, because readers did mention the fact after the book was published! Then, too, I write really long books, and when you have to cut 40K out of a book before it can be published, sometimes the sex has to go.

I don’t know if I’d do anything differently, because as I said, I love my characters and I’m happy with the way the series is turning out, but yeah … not a good idea. Lol!

Of course, I write in a lot of different subgenres anyway, which has hurt me in some ways too. It’s hard to sell books when you can’t easily elucidate your brand.

Q So, what’s next for you, PG?

A Well, I’m just about finished with the follow up to Fallen Embers, which is called To Curse the Darkness and is due out in December. This one picks up pretty much right where Fallen Embers leaves off. Then, before I tackle the seventh and last book in the series, I’m hoping to release a trilogy of novellas which are the start of a spin-off series from my book Inked Memories. The stories all revolve around a tattoo shop in Oakland, CA where a reality TV show is being shot. These are straight up contemporary romances … well, straight up with a little bit of kink and a lot of tattoos. I’m also hoping to finish up a short story and a novella that, hopefully, will also be released this year as part of two anthologies I’m involved with. So, hopefully, it will be a real busy year.

You can find PG here:

Website: http://www.PGForte.com

Blog: http://www.RhymesWithForeplay.blogspot.com

Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/AuthorPGForte

Facebook Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/TheCronesNest/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/PGForte

Tsu: http://www.tsu.co/pgforte

A Conversation with Carol McKibben

Carol McKibben

I’m so pleased to introduce my latest interviewee, Carol McKibben, author of Riding Through It, Luke’s Tale, and the newly released, Snow Blood. As an avid advocate for animals, and a special love for dogs, Carol’s latest books are written from the dog’s POV. Weaving tales of unconditional love, commitment, and the bonds that form our closest relationships, Carol reminds us of the valuable lessons we can all learn from the animals who share our lives. With 30+ years of experience in publishing, marketing, public relations, business management, education, and project management, Carol also brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to her writing. Join me in welcoming Carol McKibben!

Interviewer: Debbie McClure

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­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Q: Who has been the greatest mentor in your life on a personal or business level and why?

A: It’s impossible for me to just pick one. I’ve had so many. My daddy, brother and husband Mark have all had equal parts of encouraging me to be independent, strong and true to myself. But, three others particularly stick out in my mind. The first was G. Glenn Cliff. He was the editor of the Kentucky Historical Society and one of my early bosses. He encouraged my writing talent and pushed me to go back to college and complete my education. The second was another boss, a dean at Rollins College. He encouraged me to get my Master’s Degree. The third is my publisher, Stephanie at Troll River Publications. She has encouraged and supported my writing for years. The loveliest part of that relationship is that she also happens to be my daughter. And while we’re on that topic – she’s my harshest critic. So, when she finally likes something I write, I know I’m in good shape!

Q: Dogs and humans have enjoyed a symbiotic relationship for eons, which is seldom replicated between other species. What would you say dogs and people give each other, and why has this bond held true for so long?

A: The reason the bond has held true for so long is that dogs give humans unconditional love as only a dog can. No other human will love you, no matter your mood, your circumstances or the amount of attention you pay to them like dogs will. All dogs are descended from wolves. Man gave wolves food and warmth, and they evolved to be our companions and give us what we needed in return – unconditional love.

Q: You obviously have an interest in the paranormal, as evidenced in your last book, Snow Blood, about a vampire dog. Have you ever experienced anything of a paranormal nature in your own life, and if so, what was it?

A: I haven’t personally had a paranormal experience, but I have observed them in my family. Both my mother and my daughter are what I call “sensitives.” They are open to things that others can’t see. When my brother was thrown from a horse, he was unconscious for three weeks. My mother never left his side until my father forced her to go home and refresh herself. As she stretched across the bed, she felt a weight next to her and a hand touching her forehead. She looked up into her father’s blue eyes and his voice telling her that everything would be all right. Her father had passed away one month before my brother was born! At that moment, my father called to tell her that my brother was out of the coma. Years later, when my brother was in a car accident, I was sitting next to my mother who kept rubbing her leg, saying that she was in pain. When the phone rang to tell her that my brother had been in an accident and was in the hospital, she didn’t even say “hello.” The first words out of her mouth were: “I know my son has been in a horrible accident. Where is he?”

My daughter has that same uncanny ability.

Q: As a writer who has vast (30+) years of experience in publishing and editing, what advice would you give to new writers just starting out on this journey?

A: Use your passion to fuel your writing. Write about things that you love. Write every day. Hemingway believed that the only way to become a great writer was to practice, practice, practice every day. The more you write, the better you become. And understand that if you want to get published, that the writing is just a quarter of the effort you’ll need to make. Getting the book published and then marketed will be the majority of your effort.

Q: What has your writing journey taught you about yourself?

A: Most of my career, I wrote non-fiction for business purposes. After finishing my memoir, Riding Through It, I approached writing a novel for the first time with a bit of fear. I knew that I had an active imagination, but I had never written pure fiction. To my amazement, my stories just seemed to pour out of me onto the keyboard. What has amazed me after almost three novels (Snow Blood Season 2 will be out this summer) is how my main character leads the way. William Faulkner said, “It almost always starts with a character. Once he stands up and starts to move, it’s all I can do to run along behind him jotting down everything that he says and does.” And this is so true for me. So, my writing journey has taught me to trust myself.

Q: What would you say are your personal strengths and weaknesses, and why?

A: My strengths that are beneficial to being a writer: I’m organized; I’m persistent and stick to a schedule. I enjoy the time alone to write. I write every day. My weaknesses: I’m a bit selfish with my time – I need to get over that. Bad reviews still bother me, even though I try not to show it. (I’m a writer, so I’m insecure!)

Q: How have you used your strengths and weaknesses to good advantage in your writing?

A: Organization, persistence and enjoying, no loving, what I do allow me the luxury of being creative and getting a lot written. Being selfish with my time means again that I get more done as a writer. Because I am sensitive to what others say about my writing, it makes me strive harder to be better.

Q: What are your thoughts on traditional vs self-publishing in today’s writing landscape?

A: I co-authored a business book back in 1996, and it was traditionally published (by a very well-known publishing house). I didn’t feel that the publisher did much to promote the book. My writing partner and I were the ones that went out and got all the sales. Then, I self-published Riding Through It. Again, I had to market and sell it myself, but I didn’t have to give up so much of the revenue like I did with a traditional publisher. (Minus distribution, printing, etc.) For Luke’s Tale and the Snow Blood Series, I am working with a boutique publishing house that really produces for its authors – marketing plans, actual marketing, covers, editorial support, etc. And, I feel like the commission TRP takes is fair for the work they do. Let’s face it, unless you are John Irving, Stephen King,  or one of the big name authors, you won’t get that type of attention from a big publishing company. And now, there are lots of companies out there that will work with authors to self-publish. I think there’s room for both. Much of it depends upon whether you want to hold your new book in your hands in a short time span (self-publishing) or if you don’t mind going through a longer process (traditional publishing.) Then there’s the boutique publishing option, for which I’ve opted.

Q: Writing and publishing take a great deal of time, more than most people can imagine, and tenacity. How do you structure your day to fit in everything you need to accomplish?

A: I spend 50% of my day working with my clients (other authors and companies that require my writing/editing/marketing skills.)

I spend 25% of my day writing for myself, and another 25% marketing my books.

I use a DayTimer, schedule my work by degree of importance, and work through it until everything gets done. Please keep in mind that I don’t work an 8-hour day! It’s more like 12-14 hours.

Q: What would you say are the three most common mistakes new writers make when starting out?

A:

  1. Lack of Editing. The best writers re-write and re-write. New writers tend to think that editing merely means a brief read through for typos and spelling errors. That’s the very last thing to do. New writers tend to want to submit a first draft if they have an editor. Don’t do it. Put it aside for a week, then go back to it and rewrite. The first draft of a story needs to be sharpened, reworded, and it needs a professional editor when you have given it your all. I usually am up to Draft 6 or 7 before it goes to my editor.
  2. Poor Dialogue Skills. Dialogue in fiction isn’t real but it must sound real. It has to be sharp. No long confessional speeches. Engage your characters with each other. Reveal plot through dialogue and action. Use it to provide essential information and above all to show character. It’s critical to “show” and not “tell” and the proper balance of dialogue and action does that.
  3. No attention to Language. Too many writers are so busy telling a story that they don’t choose their words carefully enough. Writing should always be clear. Use intriguing language in new ways. The wind doesn’t only blow, it whips, rips, roars … really wordsmith … go over your draft for that specific purpose.

Other things newbies do are: include irrelevant detail; they rely on clichés and don’t use imagery; they don’t “set the stage” and leave out the details of the setting. They leave out taste, smell, etc. They also don’t have structure or know how to pace a story – when to give and when to withhold information, how to create tension, speed up or slow things down. This is all done by choosing the right words and the length of syllables. They sometimes shift point of view, without carefully introducing it. Finally, lack of technical knowledge (grammatical errors.) They need to learn the reasons behind the rules. Only when you know the rules can you break them! How do you learn them? By reading published fiction.

Q: What has been your most difficult lesson to learn in life so far, and why?

A: That everything changes. I tend to want to pre-plan and control my environment, my life, my situation. Change is inevitable. It always happens. Being the organizational, slightly OCD person that I am, it takes me a few minutes to warm up to changes!

Q: Rescue dogs are a lot like foster children. They often come with a whole host of emotional and physical scars. What can people who are considering taking in a rescue dog (or any animal for that matter) do to help ensure their home is the best fit for themselves and the dog?

A: I work with a great organization, LA Animal Rescue (LAAR). I suggest approaching a reputable rescue like LAAR and letting them work their magic. They take in to consideration your lifestyle, your living situation, your comfort levels and the needs of the dog. If you are a runner who wants a dog that you can take out on the trails, or a couch potato who wants a cuddle buddy, you need to be paired with the right dog. Organizations like LAAR put emotionally and physically scared dogs with fosters who will work to help them overcome their issues. They won’t pair a dog with issues to someone not willing or capable of working with them, and they never place a dangerous animal.

Q: What’s next on your plate, Carol?

A: I’m working with my editor to complete Snow Blood Season 2. I hope to have it out by this summer. (We’ve been editing since before Christmas, so you can see how important editing is to me!) After that, I plan to do the third installment in the Snow Blood Series. Then, I hope to write a novel based on quirky characters who love each other unconditionally. This is inspired by my author idol, John Irving.

Where to find Carol McKibben:

 

Website: http://www.carolmckibben.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CarolMckibbenAuthor
https://twitter.com/@carolmckibben

Linkedin: http://www.linkedin.com/in/carolmckibben

Amazon Link to Snow Blood Season 1: http://www.amazon.com/Snow-Blood-Episodes-Carol-McKibben-ebook/dp/B00JOWG05O/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1423619241&sr=8-2&keywords=Carol+McKibben

Amazon Link to Luke’sTale: http://www.amazon.com/Lukes-Tale-Story-Unconditional-Love-ebook/dp/B00ASZNBW6/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1423619241&sr=8-4&keywords=Carol+McKibben

Amazon Link to Riding Through It: Paperback version: http://www.amazon.com/Riding-Through-Memoir-Carol-McKibben/dp/1598009419/ref=sr_1_13?ie=UTF8&qid=1423619241&sr=8-13&keywords=Carol+McKibben

Amazon Kindle Link: http://www.amazon.com/Riding-Through-Memoir-Carol-McKibben-ebook/dp/B00E2C0OR6/ref=sr_1_5?ie=UTF8&qid=1423619241&sr=8-5&keywords=Carol+McKibben

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4046806.Carol_McKibben

 

 

 

Seeing Things

Nancy Young cover

“True love is like ghosts,” wrote Francois de La Rochefoucauld, ” which everyone talks about and few have seen.”

Over the years, film, television and fiction have given us a bounty of stories in which star-crossed soul mates discover themselves up against the greatest divider of all – that pesky line separating the living and the dead. Whether it’s the hero who longs to be reunited with a beloved bride that was snatched from his arms too soon or a wistful heroine who has reconciled herself to the belief that all the best men are married, gay or a possible figment of their imaginations, author Nancy Young delivers a fresh twist in her latest novel, Seeing Things.  When you’re out to debunk the existence of ghosts – as well as deny your own ability to see them– what’s a girl to do when the sexy techie whose attention she has attracted is, quite literally, out of this world?

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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 Q: So tell us a little about your journey as a writer and who (or what) was the greatest influence on your quest to become a published author?

A:        I was hooked on writing from the time the teacher posted my lion story outside our first grade classroom. Even my research reports in school tended to morph into narratives. In the college where I worked, a group of us met weekly for critiquing sessions, which helped me grow out of that awkward beginners’ stage, rife with poems about butterflies and roadkill.  Drafting up to 17 stories a week when I was a reporter gave me confidence as a writer. Once I quit teaching, I had the time to publish poems, short stories, and plays. I started the novel because everyone in my writing group was working on one, and I didn’t want to feel left out!

Q: Were you a voracious reader when you were growing up? If so, what book titles might we have found on your nightstand?

A:        I grew up in the local library—literally. My mother was a librarian, and after school I’d hang out, sometimes helping alphabetize cards, but most often working my way through the collection, graduating from the children’s floor to the adult section by the time I was in middle school. (It was a very small library.)

As a girl, I read and reread The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, as well as Mary Stewart novels, Victoria Holt novels, Poe’s and Vonnegut’s short stories, and an assortment of folklore anthologies. My guilty pleasure was those Gothic paperbacks—the ones with a nightgown-clad woman running in terror from a brooding castle. My favorite of that genre still sleeps in my bedside table: Moura by Virginia Coffman. From the list, you can see that I’m drawn to a mix of supernatural/ fantasy elements, strong characters, and dark humor.

Q: You’ve described your newest release, Seeing Things, as a romance with paranormal elements. What’s your attraction to this particular genre?

A:        The two genres are a perfect balance of light and dark. I love the tensions of romance—the friction, the rising stress, and the eventual capitulation. With paranormal elements, I can introduce unpredictability—a plane where intelligence and logic have no impact. Since I prefer strong characters, the complications they face have to be out of their immediate control.

Q: What was the inspiration behind Seeing Things?

A:        This book started out to be anti-genre. The central character is neither innocent nor naïve. She doesn’t want to be rescued.  Her love interest isn’t a taciturn alpha male, either. I took a sly delight in having Mary Catherine reject the typical hero.

Q: Have you ever had any ghostly encounters similar to those experienced by your intrepid heroine?

A:        When I was a T.A. in grad school, I shared an office with a folklore expert. He was often called upon to investigate odd phenomena and invited me along on investigations. At a plumbing supply business in Northeast Philly one bright winter afternoon, I heard bells chime in a wall where there were no bells, saw a clock run backwards when its power source had been cut off, and looked over a strange arrangement of paper plates and a dead bird on a breakroom floor. Since the business owner was anxious to keep the investigation secret lest it hurt business, a hoax seemed unlikely. This scenario found its way, in a different form, into a chapter of Seeing Things.

Another example occurred when I lived in a hundred-year-old farmhouse. In the attic (accessible through a trap door in my bedroom), hats, tools, and an old Royal typewriter had been left behind by the original owners. That typewriter would periodically have a new line of type on the tattered, yellowed sheet rolled into its platen. My kids were under five and couldn’t have accessed the attic without help—nor could they spell, for that matter.

Out of curiosity, I participated in an EVP study at Rhine Research Center, a parapsychology center that was originally part of Duke University.  Though most of what I heard in the controlled study was static, two voices sounded loud and clear. I have no idea if those were “control” sounds or actual examples of paranormal recordings.

Oddly enough, things like this fail to bother me. Put me in heavy traffic on the Beltline, though, and my palms will sweat.

Q: What governed the choice to pen this story in the first person? For instance, do you feel a special kinship with the narrator?

A:        I actually wrote the first few chapters of Seeing Things in third person before recasting it in first. The first-person POV won out with everyone who read both versions. So many of the great Gothic narratives are written in first person—Brontë’s Jane Eyre, Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart,” Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper,” du Maurier’s Rebecca. First person narratives bring immediacy to a story and create a close bond between narrator and reader. Most importantly, this point of view allows for dramatic irony; the reader sees more than the narrator does. I loved playing with that notion with Mary Catherine, my protagonist.

Some readers hate first person novels, and I knew I was taking a risk. Don’t let anyone tell you it’s the easiest perspective to write in. When it’s done right, it’s amazingly challenging. For instance, readers want to know what a character looks like, but real people don’t describe themselves. Finding innovative ways to impart such information’s like a literary game.

Early on, I thought my narrator had little in common with me, but as the book progressed, I realized we suffer from some of the same issues. My local librarian even remarked that the woman on the book cover looks like me.

Q: Unlike typical romances that are formulaic in nature – as well as predictable – you opted to incorporate unexpected twists in character and plot. Why did you decide to go this route?

A:        When I was browsing the in the public library two years ago, I picked up book after book with the same basic plots, the same interchangeable, tiresome characters. When I started writing my own novel, I set out to create a book I’d like to read—one with a funny, complex central character, an atypical love interest, and a plot that pokes into unexpected places.

Q: Would you call yourself a plotter or a pantser and why does this your choice of development style work well for your personality?

A:        I’m a pantser for most of the writing process, at least until I write myself into a dilemma and have to type my way out of it. Even though I like to feel in control of the worlds I create, my characters develop minds of their own, veering off in unanticipated directions. A good writer, like a good director, has to be flexible. In the editing process, however, I’m meticulous.

Q: Have your characters ever surprised you?

A:        They often say things I didn’t expect, and then I have to rethink the plot line. My novel characters turn out to be every bit as complicated and contradictory as real people. Developing their arcs is like watching a child mature.

Q: Tell us about the title of the book and what it means to you.

A:        Seeing Things hints at much: questioning what is real, what is imagined, what is true. People constantly close their eyes to things they cannot face. I remember teaching Oedipus Rex to a class of students who thought that Oedipus should have closed his eyes (pre-poking them out) to the evidence of his guilt, remaining happy in his ignorance. I never understood how anyone could do that.

Q: What’s your favorite novel or movie about someone falling in love with a ghost?

A:        I watched The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (Gene Tierney, Rex Harrison) when I was little, along with the old Dark Shadows TV show. And my husband and I still dance to “Unchained Melody” from the Ghost soundtrack.

Q: If, hypothetically, one day you return as a ghost yourself, where would you most likely be hanging out and why?

A:        I’d be in my office—the tower room of the Victorian house I live in. The current residents would hear the faint tapping of my keyboard late at night, and the cat would refuse to cross the threshold.

The writer might die, but the words live on.

Q: How did you go about finding a publisher for this project?

A:        I had submitted my novel to two or three big publishing houses, and it languished in the slush pile. After reading a NYT article, I aimed instead for a small publishing house and had my work accepted.

Q: “Home” for you is a small town in North Carolina. How has this influenced your life as a writer and the interactions with your non-writer neighbors?

A:        When you ask a question around here, you get a story in response. The South teems with unusual people who speak in colorful metaphors and act unpredictably. Many of my poems and short stories stem from local lore: the lost woman walking the streets twirling a hula hoop, the church organist who suffered a breakdown when faced with a new electronic keyboard, the raging diva displaced from a local singing group.

My close friends are writers and artists. To keep myself grounded, though, I joined my neighborhood book club. Most of the other members are literal people who work with computers. Unsurprisingly, we have different tastes.  I often think their book choices would benefit from the addition of a zombie, especially those dreary stories about the Episcopal priest. They find me quirky. I consider that a compliment.

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

A:        I like heavy metal.

Q: If you could summon the ghost of any famous person in history to have a chat with, who would it be and what question would you most like to ask?

A:        John Donne. As a young teen, I’d daydream about him while I studied his picture on the cover of the Norton Anthology. Donne was such a fascinating mixture of passion and intellect, and he gave up everything for love. I’d ask him if he thought it was worth it.

Q: What are you working on now?

A:        So many things—the third book in the novel series (the second’s awaiting publication) , another novel featuring a minor character from Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, a scene for a Regency play, and a short story about a pregnant woman going quietly insane.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

A:        My bio is published on Amazon and Goodreads, as well as on my publisher’s site http://www.worldcastlepublishing.com/author-nancy-young.html . I also have a Web site, http://nancymyoung.com.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A:        The sequel, Hearing Things, should be out in 2015.

 

 

 

Haylee and the Traveler’s Stone

Lisa_and_the_Haylee_Books2

What a pleasure it has been to interview and get to know Lisa Marie Redfern, author of the Haylee etrilogy and Haylee and the Traveler’s Stone (print book soon to be released). Not only is she a wonderful writer, but her talent doesn’t stop there. As an accomplished artist, photographer, and business woman, Lisa stretches the boundaries of her art and her way with words/imagery, enticing followers to dip their toes into the rippling waters of imagination.

Interviewer: Debbie McClure

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Q: Books, movies and even television shows these days are delivering a steady stream of plots that involve the undead, the unreal, and the wickedly supernatural. In your opinion, what accounts for society’s longstanding fascination with characters that are not completely human?

A: A cultural theme occurs when lots of people have similar ideas and begin exploring it in depth. We take our collective temperature with questions such as; What are we afraid of? What defines us as human? How far can we stretch our imagination? What does it mean to be ‘different? How would it feel to be powerful and untouchable? I think the dark nefarious vampires, zombies, and wickedly supernatural characters that are popular today are reflections of our attitudes and worries about the cultural and economic conditions that we live in.

Q: Tell us how you came up with your title.

A: Hyale is a daughter of the Greek gods Oceanus and Tethys. The character Haylee, and the book title, is roughly based on this name…with a modern twist.

Q: Alfred Hitchcock was a master at making cameo appearances in all of his movies. Does Lisa Redfern employ any signature tricks or insider jokes that we should know about?

A: Absolutely! Although I won’t reveal them all—I will say that many of the animal names were family pets. The Rattler/Lovey storyline was based on a rescue dog named Bandit. He lived up to his name. Once it was changed to Happy, he was much easier to live with. Lovey was one of our pet cats.

Q: Tell us about your female protagonist, and the passions that drive her thoughts and actions.

A: Haylee has spent most of her childhood living with a wounded parent—she takes on responsibilities beyond most children her age. She attempts to stay out-of-sight and out-of-mind as much as possible, has an affinity for animals, and possesses a quick mind; she aspires to become a veterinarian. But things don’t go according to plan. When it becomes clear that her strange condition poses a threat to her loved ones, she drops everything to figure out how to stop it. Along her adventurous journey, we see a maturing inner resolve, self-direction, and a belief that something good can be born from facing a problem head-on.

Q: In Haylee and the Traveler’s Stone, Haylee is transported to the turbulent backdrop of the San Francisco Gold Rush in 1849. During this time in California history, the population was dominated by young male adventurers who came from all over the world. Why did this specific era personally resonate with you?

A: I feel connected to this time period because it is woven into the historical fabric of where I live—in the heart of Gold Country. I wanted to develop a deeper understanding about what life was really like by bringing alive the sights, sounds, smells, and textures of that time. In my research, I discovered fun and quirky facts that may not have made their way into commonly read history books.

Q: What do you hope this book will accomplish?

A: My goal is to suck the reader into a vortex of altered time where his/her own life fades out for a while as Haylee’s story takes center stage. Isn’t that the ultimate definition of a good book—to entertain? Along with entertainment, I included those quirky facts (mentioned in the question above), because I want the readers to have something memorable to keep. If Haylee readers (who visit San Francisco) are able to see the city in a new way, I will be thrilled!

Q: Have your characters ever done anything that surprised you?

A: I usually arrive at my keyboard with an outline and longish, handwritten essays that fill in sections of the outline. Days of thought and nights of dreams have gone by as I’ve worked out the complexities of what I plan to write. It is a surprise when I’m typing away and a character goes in another direction…or says something unexpected. They are usually right, but we have to argue about it for a little while before I relent. When I describe it that way, it sounds psychotic doesn’t it?

Q: The publishing industry continues to reinvent itself. The combined effects of downsizing at traditional publishers and the desire by authors to have more control over their intellectual property and pricing structure has led to an escalation in self-publishing endeavors. What are your thoughts on this issue, particularly the debate as to whether a self-published title is as “real” as one produced through traditional channels?

A: Every work published is real. It is meaningful to the person who wrote it, so it can’t be anything else. Prior to 2010, when iPads and e-readers hit the market en mass, publishing houses set the quality standards for reading material before it was released to the public. The flood of independent authors who are self-publishing has changed those standards.

As a consumer, I appreciate knowing that the book I am about to read has a reasonable chance of being good—in subject matter, clean page design, and very little grammatical or spelling errors. When you buy something that has been self-published, quality levels can be hit or miss.

As an artist and independent author, I love having the ability to self-publish. For the very first time in my work life I’m unencumbered and free to create my vision from start to finish. The creation process itself is highly satisfying. I place a great value on producing work that is ‘as good as’ anything that a publishing house would turn out. Fortunately, I have developed the skills to do most of it myself, but I also invest in areas where I need help—editing and some design assistance. There is something ironic about putting so much effort into a product that sells for .99¢, $3.00, or even $5.00. Like those adventuring pioneers who braved the treacherous seas and overland treks with the hope of finding gold, we authors are gambling that more than a few readers will push that shiny, rounded-rectangle button marked ‘buy.’

Q: In addition to being an author, you are also an artist and photographer with a busy home life. How do you find time to write?

A: Good organization is a must. I use a Google calendar synced with my smart phone. Sometimes other jobs have to go to the top of the ‘to do’ list. I get as much done as I can when my son is in school. I enter into my most efficient writing zone after everyone has gone to sleep and the phone isn’t ringing. I try very hard to remind myself to go to bed before it gets too late…

Q: Lisa, you are incredibly multi-talented, and your website, book trailer are amazing. What advice would you give to new writers/artists regarding building a social media or networking platform?

A: 1. Realize that platform building and gaining followers is something that takes time. It starts small and slowly increases over time.

  1. Once you start participating in social media, know that you’ve created a ‘living’ thing that needs to be fed on a regular basis.
  2. Start slow. Choose one or two sites that you think that you might enjoy. Stick with them until you are comfortable before moving on to more.

My social media ‘ah ha’ moment came with Pinterest. Because I am visual by nature and I enjoy organizing data, this was a perfect social site to start with.

Q: As an artist and writer, you are clearly an inspiration to others, but who inspires you? Have you benefited from the wisdom and/or counsel of a mentor? If so, who and why?

A: Inspiration comes from everywhere. To quote Christina Hamlett’s book Screenwriting for Teens, “Log into life. No password required.” Also, my artist friends inspire me when we spend time together setting up art shows, getting our hands dirty, or just sharing and talking about our work.

For authors, I follow the big guys—Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Douglas Preston, Lincoln Child, Barbara Kingsolver, and Jean Auel for starters. I also follow some of the rising independent author stars—Hugh Howey, Guy Kawasaki, Rysa Walker, and Chuck Wendig. I like studying how they present themselves online, how they interact with their fans, what kinds of stories they are writing next, and what rights they are selling.

My son has a big imagination; he and I have many humorous, “What if …” conversations. Being out in nature, photographing interesting animals, random conversations, seeing something online that grabs my attention, or even just being alone and quiet, are all areas of inspiration.

Q: You’re obviously drawn to the metaphysical and otherworldly in many aspects of your creativity and writing, sometimes blurring the lines between the real and fantastical. What is it that draws you in, or inspires you?

A: Underlying everything is the hope and faith that we are much more than just our physical existence. I think all life is connected, and should be respected and honoured as the incredible gift it is. The real magic in this world is love and our relationships with the people, animals and living things around us. That is what I always attempt to express in both my art and in my words.

Q: A lot of new writers think all they have to do is write a good story and their job is done, but today’s writers are expected to do so much more, whether self or traditionally published. What advice would you give to new writers just starting out on this very long journey?

A: I think that is an urban myth. How did that one ever get started? When I worked as a book publicist, I dreaded the inevitable moment when the author bubble would burst. Once it popped, fairy dust and glitter never spewed out and sprinkled to the ground.

My advice to authors just starting out is similar to the advice you gave in your interview for In the Spirit of Love. Always conduct yourself professionally online. Stick to it – give writing a permanent place at your table – live your life – do what you need to do…and then go back and write some more. Once you have a few books out there for sale, add to your regular routine time to feed the marketing machine.

Q: Many writers and artists struggle with following their creative path vs making a (normal) living, and being accepted in a world that often can’t understand what drives the creative mind. Have you struggled with this, and if so, how do you attempt to overcome it?

A: Oh yes! More than a few times, I’ve wondered if I was adopted. Most everyone in my family is an engineer, accountant, scientist, lawyer, or a business person. Conventional social norms hold the greatest respect for professions with the highest pay scales. If pay scales were based on job satisfaction, artists and writers would be where the venture capitalists and technology moguls are now. I don’t worry about people accepting me. I am who I am, I do what I do, and I am very happy about that.

Q: Where can readers discover more about you and your books online?

Author reads sample chapter Audible.com Lisa’s art portfolio & online store Art and Words Blog Google+ Goodreads Twitter reddit Redfern Writing Facebook Page Join Lisa’s author e-mail list

Lisa: Thank you for the opportunity to participate in a You Read It Here First interview. I enjoyed responding to your thoughtful questions. Additionally, it was a pleasure to become acquainted with you and Christina and your work.