A Chat With Adam Dreece

Adam steampunked - Forest

Best-selling, multi-published author of some very cutting edge YA, steampunk, and fantasy novels, Adam Dreece is out to do more than just entertain readers. His public speaking engagements span the gamut of everything from how to give a good book signing, to stepping outside your comfort zone, to how to deal with dyslexia—something Adam knows a thing or two about. Read on to learn more about this talented writer and his work.

Interviewer: Debbie A. McClure

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Q: What inspired you to hang up your software career and launch your indie author life, Adam?

A: My first two books were doing well and then my software contract ended as oil prices really started to take a dive. Living in Calgary, the heart of oil country in Canada, my phone didn’t ring with opportunities for the first time since the dot com bubble burst back in 1999. My wife, who was also a software architect but had been at home with our third kid, started looking for a job as well. As soon as she locked in a good contract, she turned to me and said she wanted me to focus on my books because they were achieving good momentum. We both knew that financially things could shift at any moment, requiring me to get a job as well. My author career was our start-up company and I wasn’t going to squander a second I had. Now I’ve got my 8th and 9th books coming out since I started in 2014.

Q: When you put out your first book, Along Came a Wolf, did you know this was going to be a series?

A: I wondered, I hoped, but I didn’t know. I’d never written a book before and I had no idea if anyone would like Along Came a Wolf, other than my daughter. I wondered if maybe the best thing to do would be to write something else completely. Then I started to get some ideas, and passionate feedback started to float in. Before I knew it, I was a third of the way through writing Breadcrumb Trail, the second book of The Yellow Hoods. That was when I knew this was going to be a series.

Q: How did you come up with the idea of fusing steampunk and fairy tales together?

A: When my first son (my middle child) was six months old, he was a really fussy sleeper. I’d walk around with him, as heavy as he was. One day, I started singing The Muffin Man to him. Because he would take a long time to fall asleep, I started adding to it. Every night since, and now with two sons, I sing The Muffin Man to them.

I started writing Along Came a Wolf when my daughter was nine and my elder son was two. I was inspired by the fairytale song Ring-Around-The-Rosie, and how that was a rhyme that spoke to the black plague (ignoring historical accuracy arguments for the keeners). Could I use the opposite idea for fairytales and nursery rhymes? Could I take the simple rhymes and stories we knew and create something substantial out of them, without making the books an official re-telling? Take Rub-a-dub-dub and deconstruct that to being about a secret society named the Tub, led of course by a butcher, baker, and a candlestick maker.

With the fairytale approach set, I really got into the story. Then I arrived at a fight scene where I had Tee, who was twelve, staring down the barrel of a full grown man. I needed her to win the fight, but I had a dilemma; how? Do I use magic? That felt like a cheat, and honestly I wanted to keep my distance from Harry Potter. Do I leave it as realistic? That would definitely be a hard sell. So then I mused about the idea of inventions, and thus steampunk became the vehicle of choice. I already had Nikolas Klaus, Tee’s grandfather, mentioned as a brilliant inventor in his twilight years, so I had an “in” I could use without reworking the story. It came out perfectly.

Q: Did you have the entire five book series planned out, or did that come about after the release of the first book?

A: As Book 2, Breadcrumb Trail, took shape, I saw how Book 3, 4 and possibly 5 would work. There was a story about change, power, and revolutionary times going on, and the main characters would be very much transformed by it. As I wrote book 4, I had an idea for books 6, 7, 8, and possibly up to 10, but it would be a different story arc and I wasn’t as convinced that those were needed. I’ll give a bit more detail on this a little later.

Q: When did you know where The Day the Sky Fell was going?

A: As soon as my editor sent it back to me. He he—no. When Book 2 ended, I knew the heart of what was going to happen at the end of the arc. It was during Book 4 that I saw I would definitely need one more book to finish the current story arc, but I wasn’t sure exactly where it was going to land.

I’d written the first four books of The Yellow Hoods in the span of two years, with a novelette in that world during that time as well (called Snappy and Dashing). I’d pushed myself so far, and carried the responsibility of being a stay-at-home dad for my three kids, resulting in a depression. I knew if I tried to tackle Book 5 (which didn’t have a confirmed title) I was just playing around with The Day the Sky Fell as a possible title. I knew at that point I’d never be happy with the way the story out if I stopped then. Over the next year everything came together and I found my excitement again. I went back through the other four books and found all the hints I’d left for myself as to how I’d thought Book 5 could come together, and wow, did it ever come together. I think it’s hands down, the best of the series.

Q: Last year you branched out and became a multi-genre author, stepping into sci-fi with The Man of Cloud 9 and into science fantasy with The Wizard Killer. Why take that step before finishing The Yellow Hoods, and what were the dangers and benefits of doing so?

A: Getting Book 4 of The Yellow Hoods, Beauties of the Beast, took everything out of me. In all honesty, I fumbled the launch, but it was there and my fans got something to enjoy that was well regarded as a solid addition to the series.

I knew I couldn’t just stop writing until I felt better, because I don’t work that way. I was on a roll, I needed to keep going, I just had to change things up to allow myself to breath. That was when a friend of mine asked if I was interested in writing a short story for her anthology. I walked around with the idea for a couple of days, and connected it with a piece of a story I’d had in mind for years. I sat down and wrote it. It was about two thousand words too long, which would have been okay, but it felt very much like the real story was only beginning. I decided to change things up, abandon the idea of a short story, and really allow this sci-fi story to blossom.

As The Man of Cloud 9 came together, I felt restricted. There were no battle scenes. Instead, there were corporate board rooms. I felt out of balance, and so I started writing The Wizard Killer – Season One. When I was done with both of them, I felt that I had shared with the world the other two key sides of me as an author, and I felt a lot better. I’d also proven to myself that I wasn’t a “steampunk/fairytale only” author, but an author who was able to bring new and exciting worlds to life that were vivid and immersive.

There were several dangers in doing this, however. The first is; what happens to your existing fan base? Having delivered four and a half books in two years, they were giving me some grace. Putting out The Wizard Killer, a high action story with a world that’s been compared to Stephen King’s Gunslinger, and then following it with The Man of Cloud 9, which is a more cerebral, character driven, techno-thriller, was tactically questionable though. Some of my fans loved one and when they read the other, felt their brain broke. I got a lot of complements about having range, but some folks were jumping from my adrenaline junkie post-apocalyptic fantasy world into a totally different side of me.

At first I wasn’t sure this wasn’t the wisest thing to have done, but I came to see that I’d really opened myself up to a wider range of readers, and more importantly, my younger readers who were maturing made it really clear that they loved the new stuff and my range. It was like I was offering them something new and older, with a hint of what they’d discovered in The Yellow Hoods. As for the adults, this allowed me to draw in different audiences who had no real interest in my other works.

Q: Is The Day the Sky Fell the end of your Yellow Hoods world, and if so, why end it now?

A: Book 5 – The Day the Sky Fell is indeed the end of The Yellow Hoods series, however, it isn’t the end of the Yellow Hoods. I realized as I wrote Book 5 that the original story arc had run its course. I had ideas for a story arc to cover Books 6-7, and a few other ideas to bring it up to 10, but it felt forced.

The main characters had been through a lot in a relatively short period of time (about 2 years) from Book 1 to the end of Book 5. In my mind, they deserved a rest. Adding more on top would forfeit some of the realism and intensity that was at the heart of the entire series. I thought pushing it would make it almost comical in a bad way. Another aspect that I considered was that my character gallery had grown significantly, with fans requesting spin-off stories about Bakon and Egelina-Marie, about Christina and Mounira, and others.

The plan I came up with when I was writing Book 2 wasn’t just for a series for 4-5 books, but rather it was to have a sequel series that takes place five to ten years later, allowing us to see where Tee, Elly, Richy, and the others ended up. Actually, I’d love to one day have a third series that would see Tee being a mother, and thus the series would come full circle. We’ll see if I ever get there.

I’ve now given a name to that next series, The Mark of the Yellow Hoods. My hope is to start writing that series in 2019. Between now and then I have a few spin-off novellas and a spin-off series that I’m hoping to bring out. This approach will allow me to shake things up, change the pattern and cast that’s involved, as well as visit other parts of their world.

Q: Why did you opt to go the self-publishing route?

A: About six months before I started writing my first book I turned the radio on and found myself in the middle of an interview with ‘marketing guru’ Seth Godin. He said (paraphrased) “If I had a book ready today, there’s no way I would go with a traditional publisher if I was an entrepreneur and willing to learn from a few mistakes” That thought stuck in my head.

When I started looking into publishing, I was finding people waiting years before getting any reader/fan feedback. That was a purgatory that I didn’t want. Every day I had stabbing pain from my chronic abdominal scar tissue issues, and felt like I was carrying a lead-vest because of my severe asthma. I wasn’t going to wait years. I was willing to work hard enough, run fast enough, to outpace my mistakes.

Coming from the software side, I really did think of myself as a start-up. I had an idea; I was going to take it directly to market. I wasn’t going to ask permission or try to fit within someone else’s portfolio and align to their timing. Instead, I would start things off. If one day I got ‘acquired’, i.e. a big publisher wanted to take over one of my series, or wanted to offer me a deal, I would have experience and a following to bring to the table. Actually, a few weeks ago I started talking with a publisher about bringing out a spin-off series of The Yellow Hoods.

I refer to myself as an indie author, rather than as a self-published author. The reason being that I do everything that a publisher does, from having my works professionally edited and covered, to handling the marketing and getting out there to push it, as well as handling distribution and direct bookstore relationships. I have both an online and in-print strategy that I continue to build in. In every way I can, I’m emulating classic indie bands who went from unknown to hitting it big. Will I hit it big? I have no idea. Will I be “pure” indie the entire time? I doubt it. There are strategic advantages for the additional reach of traditional publishers, and possibly divesting myself of some responsibilities that take away from my writing.

So in brief? I went indie because there is no greater motivator than a stabbing pain in your abdomen. If I was going to fail, then it was going to be entirely on me. But I didn’t.

Q: You’ve said that giving back is important to you. How and why is this a part of your author career?

A: I believe strongly in becoming the mentor you wished you’d found. In my software career I kept hoping to find someone who would see me and go, “Ah, you remind me of me. Come on, I’ll give you a boost.” As time went by, I decided I wouldn’t waste my time always looking for them and instead I would become that type of mentor for others.

I brought that same thinking to my life as an author, except even more so. As I started to have some success, I shared what I knew with others. I’d make time to give feedback on stories, and so on. I carved out a portion of every week to do that. I find doing this keeps me grounded and connected with people, as well as appreciating what I’ve done rather than only focusing on what I haven’t done yet.

This past week, for example, I had coffee with two other authors. In one case, he’d gone down the traditional road, had an agent, and after years, found himself with a lot of compliments about his work but no one willing to take the plunge. He felt like he’d wasted so much time and wanted to know about being an indie. After two hours, he had several pages of notes and a plan of action. The second person I met with was about the same age (late 50s, early 60s) and had a book ready to go. They already had an established audience because of other work that they’d been doing, and wanted to know things from another side. I was happy to share with them.

Some authors I’ve met are very secretive and competitive. They want to know everything about what you are doing, how much you’re paying for your books, etc., but won’t share a single thing of value back. That’s a shame. We’re a community that’s far stronger together, and our real competition are video games and non-books, not each other (not really).

I believe if I’m able to share something that helps someone become the next J.K. Rowling, then fantastic, but do I want to succeed at someone’s expense? No. There are some people who are leeches, and you’ve always got to be careful of them. Those are the ones who will actively try to push you out of whatever limelight you share. I’ve had this happen to me a few times, and though it makes me wary of who I share stuff with, it doesn’t stop me.

Q: What have you learned about yourself since beginning this journey into writing and publishing?

A: More than anything else, I’ve learned to have faith in the storyteller that I am. There are real people out there who love what I write and how I write. There’s something magical about being at my table at a convention and within 15 minutes of the door opening, someone who has driven several hours to get there, runs right up to my booth wanting whatever new book I have available. That excitement, that joy, I had a part in that. It’s unbelievable.

Q: What is the most surprising thing you’ve learned about the business of writing and publishing?

A: On the publishing front, it’s about the amount of lead time you need to give yourself and the capital (money) involved, particularly if you’re carrying inventory. Being prolific comes with a cost.

On the writing front, it’s about how much words that come out of my head can mean to someone else. I’ve had a cancer survivor tell me how it helped get them through chemo, a man tell me how it helped him as his mother passed, and more. Those experiences also bring with them a sense of responsibility to keep going, to add more good into the world.

Q: One of your challenges that you talk about openly is being dyslexic. How has this affected you, because having written nine books in three years, it’s clearly not slowing you down?

A: On the plus side of being dyslexic, my imagination is very visual, 3D. It’s like I’m walking around in a movie scene, able to rewind, replay, alter, and replay. Often I feel like my writing is just the transcribing of the movie I’m privileged to have in my head.

The downside is obvious, in terms of words tripping me up. I accepted that my writing was going to be very far from perfect, but I adapted my process for getting it ready for release. That means when I’m done my draft, I go through it from start to finish at least three times in order to clean it up. Then it goes to my beta readers, some of whom can’t help themselves and do some grammar and word-substitution corrections. After going through those proposed changes and incorporating them, it goes to my editor for the first round. She goes through it, sends it back to me, I incorporate her changes, and then send it back to her for another round. After that’s done, then I have one to three  proofreaders go through it to catch as many of the tiny errors that managed to sneak through as possible. THEN I declare it done.

As a software architect, I learned that my dyslexia was a net-advantage for me. At first, I thought everyone could take a concept and create a machine in their head that mapped to it, and then walk around the machine, identifying problems or weak points, and bring it up.

I used to cringe when I’d hear “You have to read tons to be a writer.” I can’t read quickly at all, and while I read a lot of news, I don’t read many books. I’ve come to believe that this is really the heart of what it means to be a writer; we need to be absorbing new experiences, moments, and thoughts. I get that from conversations, movies, TV, and other sources. Maybe that’s why my characters feel so real, I don’t know.

Q: When talking about being a dyslexic author, what is the message you want to convey?

A: The advantage I, and perhaps other dyslexics have is that my highly visual imagination greatly outweighs tripping on words. Be willing to make a mess, because a mess that’s written is better than perfection locked in the prison of your mind. Also, with that mess, clean it up as best you can, and then have others clean it up more.

Q: What’s next for you, Adam?

A: Less than three weeks after The Day the Sky Fell releases, The Wizard Killer – Season Two releases. I’ve just sent the first draft of a non-fiction book to a friend of mine, which I hope to bring out by August. This will then be followed by my first installment in a new fantasy, space opera series called Tilruna.

As an ambitious madman who believes in making use of every moment that isn’t invested in my family, I’m hoping to bring a Yellow Hoods world story out in April 2018, along with The Wizard Killer – Season Three, and that fall, Tilruna – Season Two. InApril 2019? Well, keep your eyes peeled, because you might see the first book in that Yellow Hoods spin-off series published by someone else, bringing together Dreece versions of tales like The Pied Piper and Little Match Girl.

Ambitious? Absolutely. Crazy? Yeah, especially when you consider there are a few short stories in there and growing the distribution side of my publishing business. Still, at the end of the day, I love what I do, and I’m spending far more time with my family that I ever did when working in software.

The Day The Sky Fell

Mini-blurb: The Day the Sky Fell brings a dramatic conclusion to the steampunk meets fairytale saga, with airship battles and betrayals at every level.

You can find/connect with Adam here:

Blog – AdamDreece.com

Facebook http://facebook.com/AdamDreeceAuthor

Instagram – http://instagram.com/AdamDreece

 

 

Ten Days in Summer

Calder-TenDaysInSummer[825]

In chatting with novelists over the years, it has always fascinated me how they go about choosing careers for their protagonists. Some of those professions are dream jobs the writers themselves would love to have pursued–provided, of course, they could gracefully pirouette across a stage without tripping, fearlessly jump out of a plane to pursue a villain in the alps, or design breathtaking architecture that truly takes everyone’s breath away. Others draw from personal experience and give us insider insights into career choices with which we may not be familiar The insurance industry, for instance. The latter was the case for author Susan Calder, who drew from her expertise as an insurance adjuster–and her remembrance of some of the more unusual claims–to create a most watchable series character, Paula Savard. In her new novel, Ten Days in Summer, we meet Paula as she is investigating a suspicious building fire that caused the death of a hoarder.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: What (or who) first ignited your passion for writing?

A: As a child, I wrote a few plays for the kids on our street to perform for our mothers. I also enjoyed writing stories and poems for school, and got encouragement from my teachers. My sister and I spent countless hours making up stories with our paper dolls or simply with our voices talking out characters. I set that kind of storytelling aside for 27 years, until a personal crisis shook me up and landed me in a place where I felt I had things to say and wanted to create stories again.

Q: Were you a voracious reader as an adolescent and teen? If so, what are some of the titles we might have found on your bedroom nightstand?

A: I recall an uncle admonishing me for burying my nose in a book rather than appreciating the sunset, so I must have read a fair bit. My most memorable books on my teenage nightstand were Gone With The Wind, High Wind in Jamaica, The Catcher in the Rye and The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell. I also loved two novels we studied in class: Pride & Prejudice and Of Human Bondage. They led me to read other novels by Jane Austen and Somerset Maugham. Glad as I am that I read all of these books and more, I think my uncle was right about the sunset.

Q: What attracted you to the mystery genre?

A: My childhood reading included an abundance of mystery novels. Whenever I found a series I liked, I read every book I could get my hands on. It began with The Bobbsey Twins and continued to Nancy Drew, The Happy Hollisters, Trixie Belden and several British series. In my teens I enjoyed Mary Stewart’s romantic mysteries and later I got into Agatha Christie and Daphne du Maurier. So, mystery novels were never far from my nightstand and we tend to write what we read, for good reasons. Several themes intrinsic to the mystery genre appeal to me. The search for the truth. Who can you trust? What’s really going on beneath the surface?

Q: Who are some of the mystery authors whose work you especially admire?

A: Dennis Lehane, Laura Lippman, Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, for their complex characters and plots. I like Donna Leon’s Commissario Brunetti series for its Venice setting and the dark story endings that rarely show justice completely served. And I still think my classic favourites, Agatha Christie and Daphne du Maurier, stand up to the best of mystery writing.

Q: In your view, what governs the choice to make a mystery novel a standalone title or a series?

A: When I wrote my first novel, Deadly Fall, I intended it to be a standalone. Paula, my protagonist, functioned as an amateur sleuth and I wrote it as a story of personal growth within a mystery plot. It was only toward the end of the second draft that I thought I would like to continue with these characters, to see what happens to them next. This was partly because, with the attention needed for the mystery of the victim’s life, I didn’t have space to explore all I wanted about Paula. A standalone is probably a story where the protagonist primarily investigates her own life. It becomes her defining, life-altering experience and why would she need another one?

Q: One of the biggest advantages of series fiction is that one’s lead characters are already well known to readers. A challenge, though, is in ensuring that one’s readers actually read the books in the same order in which they were written. Is this the case with your own work or could a reader be introduced to your protagonist at any juncture in the line-up?

A: I think a new reader to the series could pick up book 2, Ten Days in Summer, and quickly become acquainted with Paula, her family, friends and colleagues. They are where they are at this point in their lives and I make little reference to past cases and experiences. I plan to do the same for book three. Except, there are a couple of spoilers in Ten Days in Summer for those who read Deadly Fall afterward and there will probably be one more spoiler in my next book for people who read that one first.

Q: What aspects of your real-life career in the insurance industry influenced your approach to planning and writing works of fiction?

A: I wanted Paula to have a career and figured it would be easiest to give her one I know well—insurance adjuster. It didn’t occur to me until I was almost finished with the first draft of the novel that adjusters might stumble on insurance claims that conceal a murder, such as burglaries, fires and automobile accidents. Rather than continue with Paula as an amateur sleuth, a genre that’s hard to make believable, I wanted her next mysteries to come from her job. To start each novel off, I have to think of the kinds of insurance claims I encountered in my work.

Before Deadly Fall, my insurance career inspired a short story called “Adjusting the Ashes,” which in several ways is a forerunner to the Paula books. I chose a type of case we encountered periodically, which I found peculiar and humourous. Our company insured a brewery. Every so often someone would claim he swallowed a mouse in his bottle of beer. We settled these claims for nominal amounts to get rid of them. But I thought, what if one of these nuisance claims mushroomed into something huge? This story has been published so I can’t do the mouse swallowing again, but it would be fun to come up with an unusual claim for a future Paula story. Maybe for book four.

Q: Ten Days in Summer is set in Calgary. What elements of this city’s “personality” are infused in the storyline and make it as much a living, breathing character as the human players?

A: The Calgary Stampede wild west festival takes over the whole city of Calgary for 10 days each summer. People dress cowboy and cowgirl; banks and stores sport bales of hay and drawings of horses on their windows. I wanted the atmosphere to permeate the novel and I doubt there’s a chapter without some reference to the Stampede. Several scenes feature it prominently. Another aspect of Calgary is that it’s an oil town, subject to boom and bust. Ten Days in Summer is set when the price of oil and the city is near bottom, and that mood prevails in the book. But during the booms, Calgary’s a place where people come to try their fortune or escape their past. It’s also a city of entrepreneurs and individualists, reflecting the western spirit. I try to bring this out through the characters Paula meets in her investigation. Paula, herself, is a migrant from Montreal, who moved west to improve her life and found that everything didn’t work out as she’d hoped. Now she’s moving in new directions.

Q: What was your inspiration for this particular plot?

A: I was mainly inspired by the Stampede and Hoarding. Since Deadly Fall was set in the fall, I wanted the sequel to take place in another season and settled on summer. Among other things, summer in Calgary means the Stampede. I find two weeks or thereabouts a good time frame for a novel and realized I could set the whole story over the Stampede’s 10 days. My sister had once lived on the top floor of a building with a view of downtown Calgary and the Stampede grounds. I joined her one evening to watch the fireworks from her deck. I decided the novel would begin with Paula at the opening day parade and end the last night of the Stampede, with a group of characters watching the fireworks from the deck of the building damaged in the fire claim Paula was investigating.

At the time I was developing the idea, my siblings and I were engaged in assorted legalities regarding our late grandmother’s house. With our mother also gone, we had to deal with her only sibling, a hoarder who occupied the home’s second floor. He made things so difficult that I decided to fictionally kill him off. A hoarder’s home would be a high fire risk, which gave me the idea to have this character die in a suspicious building fire. Paula would come in to handle the property insurance claim and deal with his heirs, who gained financially from his death.

Certain things changed in the process of writing the book. I discovered it worked better to start the story the night before the parade. Technically, it’s still Stampede time, since the fair grounds are open for preview on this sneak-a-peek night. And the hoarder character inspired by my annoying uncle became the most sympathetic character in his fictional family.

Q: Which comes first for you – the characters or the storyline?

A: The characters. For Deadly Fall, I first thought of Paula, her associates and her family members. Then came the inciting plot incident—her best friend from childhood is murdered. Next more characters arrive: two detectives, people from her friend’s life. Their actions and agendas fuel the plot, which develops all the characters, including Paula.

For Ten Days in Summer, I already had Paula and the continuing characters in place. So the characters came first again. To start things off, I needed a plot point, the insurance-related incident, and decided on the fire. Through her work, Paula meets people involved with the victim and the claim. They create plot and are, in turn, affected by story developments.

Q: Do you work from an outline or allow the plot to unfold as you go along?

A: I start with a few elements – basic ideas for characters, a murder or suspected murder, and setting details. I also have some thoughts about what’s happening in Paula’s personal life. Paula spends the first quarter or so of the novel draft meeting with suspects, colleagues and family members, setting up the story problems. I try to write loosely, letting unexpected details and dialogue creep in, while keeping on top of the pacing, to make sure this beginning doesn’t get sidetracked or go on too long. From this setup, the plot unfolds. There should be enough to keep it rolling to the middle, when I need new wrinkles to raise the conflicts and tension until the end.

Q: You’ve won a number of contests for your short stories and poems. Are these two outlets easier or harder than writing a full-length novel?

A: Generally speaking, I find the more words in a piece of writing, the longer it takes to write and revise to make the best I can. In that sense, a full-length novel is harder than shorter works. The few short poems I’ve written have come to me almost fully formed. I can write them down in an afternoon. After that, I tweak and revise, but there are only so many words and punctuation marks to play with. I also feel I’m not experienced enough in poetry to know how to improve poems a lot. I haven’t won contests for poems, but have published four—vs. only two published novels that represent many more years of work.

While there are contests for unpublished novels, there are many more contests for unpublished poems and short stories. Usually these contests come with publication. I discovered I had better luck getting my short stories published through contests than through regular submissions. Perhaps this was a fluke, or perhaps there is less competition in contests due to the entry fee. To build a resume of published credits, I entered contests and sometimes won or placed. It’s nice to say now that my stories have won contests, but it doesn’t mean more than publication.

Q: Do your characters ever surprise you over the course of writing their story? 

A: Since I develop my characters in the process of writing the story, they always surprise me, at least in small ways. A large surprise in Deadly Fall was realizing, in draft # 4, that a character I had not considered a suspect might be the killer. I seriously considered changing my plan about who did it. I figured, if I hadn’t had a clue, how many readers would? In the end, I stuck with my original vision, although this character’s new involvement in the case solved a plot glitch.

Q: If Hollywood came calling, who would you like to see cast as Paula Savard?

A: This is fun. Since no one came immediately to mind, I did a Google search for Hollywood actresses aged 50. I like Diane Lane. She’s not highly recognizable and I’ve admired her work in movies. I can also see that a number of others who are more familiar could suit the part and infuse themselves into Paula’s character. Choices might be Emma Thompson (if she’ll do a Canadian accent), Andie McDowell, Julia Louis-Dreyfus or Julianna Marguilies, who I enjoyed on the TV show ER when she was involved romantically George Clooney’s doctor character. I could handle George Clooney as my movie’s male romantic lead.

Q: How much was research was involved and what were your principal resources to ensure authenticity?

A: My insurance work experience was long ago and didn’t involve many property claims. At a literary reading, I happened to talk with a man who told me that he’d recently retired from insurance claims work. He gave me his email address and I contacted him with questions about insurance, to get those details right and up to date in the book. To learn about building fires, I called a friend’s son who is a fire fighter and met with him and his colleagues at a Calgary fire station.

When I was writing my first mystery, Deadly Fall, I belonged to a Calgary Mystery Writers group that featured monthly speakers on topics related to crime writing. Some of these were police officers or others with knowledge relevant to my book. I learned much about police procedure here and also took the free Calgary Citizens Police Academy course, a 12-week program with speakers from different branches of the police.

Any time I step outside my immediate experience, I have to look things up, even something simple like the location of a particular street. The Internet helps. I read a couple of books on hoarding to confirm and enhance my understanding of this psychological condition. It’s surprising how much research you need to do for a contemporary story set in your home town, but I want to make things as accurate as I possibly can.

Q:  Do you revise and edit scenes as you move along or wait until the very end? Why is your chosen method an effective one for you?

A: I write to the end before doing any editing. The rare times I might revise a scene would be when I can’t move forward without doing this. Since I don’t write from an outline, the first draft becomes my process of developing the story and discovering what it’s all about. Only when I reach the end do I fully know if the novel works and what I need to add, delete, change or enhance in the earlier chapters.

Q: Do you let anyone read your work in progress or do you make them wait until you have typed THE END?

A: Ideally, I wait until I’ve typed THE END. I believe the first draft should be only the writer’s vision. After that, you find out how the story and characters are coming across to others and modify them for readers. Now that I have more confidence in my writing, I will occasionally show people small pieces before I’ve finished the first draft. For someone newer to writing, I think if you show your work too early, you risk being swayed too much by their opinions and you might lose what’s strongest and most original about your story.

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

A: I mainly write at home, in my den at my computer and don’t feel the need for different locations to wordsmith better. I like writing best in the mornings, when I’m fresh, but other activities often get in the way of this.

Q: What, for you, is the hardest part of the writing life and what helps you to move past this hurdle?

A: Rejection. By this I mean rejection from publishers and losing out on contests and awards that I’d thought I had a chance with. It’s also criticism of my writing at any stage in the process, from showing an early piece of work to others or receiving a critical print review.

What helps me move past this, is forcing myself to sit down and write. Before long I’m into it, and realize that it’s the process of writing that I love and it’s not really about outside opinion.

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

A: That I read The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell as a teenager? It surprises me to recall that I did, partly because today we don’t hear much about this philosopher, mathematician, political activist and 1950 Nobel prize recipient for Literature. ‘Bertie’ inspired me to take a math option at university because he declared that math was essential to the study of philosophy.

On the other side of the intellectual coin, for the past forty years, off and on, I’ve followed Coronation Street, the British TV soap opera about working classes residents in Manchester. I enjoy the tangled relationships between those everyday blokes. This was one thing I didn’t need to research for Ten Days in Summer, when I made Paula’s mother a Corrie fan.

Q: When you’re not writing, what do you do for fun?

A: Travel. Over the past few years, my husband and I have been to Europe and Mexico several times each. We make regular shorter trips to eastern Canada to visit relatives and friends.

Hiking. For the past 8 years, we’ve belonged to a hiking club that does weekly day trips to the nearby Rocky Mountains from May-Oct. Our club organizes an away trip each summer, this year to Revelstoke where I’ve never hiked before. The rest of the year, we do two hour walks in Calgary and region parks. Every couple of years, a member organizes a hiking holiday. This winter, about 25 of us spent a fabulous week in Mesa, Arizona.

I also enjoy my twice-weekly Zumba class and look forward to bicycling when the ice and winter grunge finally disappear from Calgary’s pathways and streets.

 

 

 

The Freedom Broker

The Freedom Broker

Thea Paris is one of twenty-five elite kidnap negotiators in the world, and she takes on her toughest case with a special client: her father. The pulse-pounding action unfolds In K.J. Howe’s new thriller, The Freedom Broker, and we’re delighted to put her in the spotlight this week at You Read It Here First.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q:  You’ve lead an international life with a wide variety of activities. Tell us about some of them.

A:  Growing up, I lived in the Middle East, Africa, the Caribbean, and Europe because my father worked in telecommunications. Adventure and travel have been an important part of my life ever since. I’ve had the pleasure of racing camels in Jordan, ziplining in Costa Rica, diving with Great Whites in South Africa, and interacting with elephants in Botswana. I really enjoy immersing myself in other cultures and learning about them.

Q:  In what ways was that lifestyle influential in prompting the urge to become a writer?

A: I had an eclectic education because of all the travel. Stories were my sanctuary, a lovely escape from the pressures of always being the new kid. I enjoyed reading so much that I wanted to create my own books. I spent years as a medical writer as I worked on my craft and storytelling skills in fiction, and I’m most grateful to have The Freedom Broker out now.

Q:  If you had never left Toronto—or had grown up and stayed in a small community—would you still have started writing novels?

A:  I definitely feel that I would be writing whether or not I’d had my international upbringing, as I love books, stories, and the experience novels provide. I started reading at an early age, and I always wanted to be an author. That said, I believe my choice of international thrillers is firmly rooted in the experiences I’ve had abroad. I work hard to create verisimilitude by immersing myself in the locales I’m writing about, as I love to transport readers there, bringing them the smells, tastes, and sounds of a country. Maybe if I would have stayed in Toronto, I would have written different books—but most likely in the thriller genre.

Q:  What comes first for you—the characters or the plot?

A:  Thea Paris came first, but in thrilleresque fashion, the story raced to close the distance. I wanted to create a strong, talented woman with humanizing vulnerabilities, including Type 1 diabetes. I enjoy books that are character based, so I’m hoping Thea might resonate with people, and perhaps encourage anyone with an illness that they can still reach for their dreams.

Given my extensive research into kidnapping the last three years, I wanted Thea to be an elite kidnap negotiator—a freedom broker—who travels to the world’s hotspots to bring captives back home. The world of hostage retrieval fascinated me, as it lurks in the shadows of society, a heartbreaking and dangerous milieu. Thea Paris became a freedom broker after she witnessed her brother’s kidnapping as a child. While her brother returned home nine months later, he was never the same. As a result, she was determined to help other hostages. There are over 40,000 reported kidnappings every year, and the number continues to grow.

Q:  What attracted you to the thriller genre?

A:  Thrillers appealed to me because I’ve always been a bit of an adrenaline junkie, something that was fostered by my father. He introduced me to motorcycles, scuba diving, and other adventures. I also love whiplash pacing, and the most suitable genre for that is thrillers. And maybe writing suspense novels is my way of vicariously experiencing the life of an action hero!

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

A:  David Morrell, also known as Rambo’s Daddy, is an exceptional writer. He has had such a rich and diverse career writing everything from spy novels to historical trilogies to papers on John Wayne. I respect David’s approach to writing as he delves deeply into whatever subject matter he is studying. He is also a guru on the craft of writing, a professor of literature. And creating a new word in the English language—Rambo—is pretty darn sensational.  I also have the deepest respect for Lee Child and his creation of Jack Reacher, Lee’s character is a throwback to a Western hero, a stranger who comes into town and solves a problem, then blows back out with the wind. I love that Reacher doesn’t do laundry, that he doesn’t own a credit card, that he lives by his own rules. It’s refreshing in today’s world to have a character who stands out in the crowd—and not just by his height. And Lee’s prose is tight, smooth—he’s a brilliant author.

Q:  Authors often infuse their fictional characters with aspects of their own personality. In what ways are you and your protagonist, Thea, very much alike? And in what ways are you very much different?

A: Most authors inject themselves into their characters because writing is a catharsis, a way of making sense of our world. I feel a strong collegiality with Thea Paris, as I never wanted the fact that I was a woman to stop me from pursuing any interests. Thea and I share a love for travel and adventure, but Thea is far braver than I am. I’m not big on being shot at, but she rushes into the fray. And Thea has Type 1 diabetes, which is a serious vulnerability for her, especially when she travels abroad, as insulin is her elixir—without it, she would die.

Q:  In Thea Paris’ bio, we learn that her brother’s kidnapping led her to become a negotiator for kidnap situations and an advocate for the families. What in your life prompted you to choose this particular career path for your main character?

A:  With over 40,000 reported kidnappings a year, this issue has become a global crisis. Kidnapping is a purgatory of sorts, as the hostage is alive, but not really living life. Every single item a hostage wants, whether it be food or privileges, he/she must obtain permission for it, a horrible existence.

I spent a lot of time in countries with high threat levels, so there was always a shadow hovering over me—and being abducted was a realistic fear. When I met former hostage Peter Moore, the longest held hostage in Iraq (for almost 1000 days), I had such respect for the courage he showed under enormous duress. Peter was taken hostage along with four British military gentlemen, and sadly, he was the only one to come home alive. What made Peter able to cope?  I explore issues like this in my book. I wanted to create a character who would help bring hostages home, a strong female who would do anything to assist others. And Thea is personally motivated to be a kidnap negotiator because of her brother’s experience. It’s more of a calling than a job.

Q:  The theme of The Freedom Broker had to have involved extensive research in the arena of covert operations. How did you go about identifying expert resources so that your suspenseful plot would ring true?

A:  I attended a kidnap and ransom conference, and I met some fabulous experts who were willing to share their knowledge. From there, I kept building relationships with a variety of people in the milieu, including kidnap negotiators, former hostages, K&R insurance executives, reintegration experts, and the Special Forces soldiers who deliver ransoms and execute rescues. I plan to continue my education on this compelling topic as I write the series.

Q: What was the most intriguing thing you learned from your body of research?

A: The kidnappers usually settle for around 10-15 percent of the original ransom demand—and haggling is an important part of the process to avoid the kidnappers thinking they have a cash cow on their hands. If the hostage’s family doesn’t stretch out the negotiations (which is hard to do when your loved one is in captivity), then the kidnappers might accept the ransom as a first payment and demand more. Also, it’s important to cry poor because if you pay too much, too quickly, then you are seen as a soft target, and the kidnappers might come after you or your family member again.

Q:  Did you envision Thea Paris’ journey to become a series when you started writing your debut novel?

A: Yes, I wanted to create a series character, and I felt a freedom broker had endless story potential. There are many facets of kidnapping, from kidnap for ransom to virtual kidnappings to tiger kidnappings. I could also explore extortion and piracy in the series because Thea works in those areas. And there are endless hotspots in the world, so there are countless settings for future novels.

Q:  Let’s talk about the advantages—and the challenges—in creating and sustaining a series with an overall story arc.

A:  The advantages are many in a series. Readers tend to connect with recurring characters, as they become real to them. It’s incredible to see the fan loyalty with some major fictional characters. I definitely considered the overall story arc, but I also left wiggle room for being impulsive. Like any seasoned operative, Thea left me egress routes all planned out.

Q:  Do you work from an outline or do you let your characters “talk” to you as you work from chapter to chapter? Why does this approach work well for you?

A:  When people ask if I’m a plotter or a pantser, I answer, “pants on fire.”  I’m definitely an organic writer. I do think about the story all the time, but I don’t plot out my novels. Instead, I feel that if I’m surprised, my readers will hopefully be as well. I don’t think there is one right way to write, it’s more a personal decision based on the way you work best. I love creating as I go.

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

A:  Charlize Theron or Mila Jovovich for Thea Paris—I’d like to see a strong, fit woman play her. Phillip Winchester for Rif Asker, as I loved him in Strike Back. And Thea’s brother Nikos, maybe Robert Downey Junior or Lieb Shreiver.

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

A:  I’m happy to have help along the way. It’s good to talk to trusted readers, get feedback.

Q:  When and where do you feel you do your best writing?

A:  I do my best writing on my laptop alone at home on a comfortable couch. Because I travel a lot, I write on planes and in hotel rooms, but my first choice would be home sweet home.

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

A:  That I’m an introvert at heart. Because I had to integrate into new environments, I’ve had to come out of my shell and become more extroverted, but I truly am introverted and a little shy.

Q:  What’s next on Thea’s (and your own) plate?

A:  I’m doing edits on the second book in the series now, Skyjack. Thea is shepherding two African orphans from Nairobi to London where they are being adopted when the plane they are on is hijacked. The adventures kick off from there. The CIA, the Vatican, secret stay-behind armies from WWII all collide when Thea has a huge challenge in the not-so-friendly skies.

Q:  When you’re not at your keyboard, what do you do for fun?

A: I love sports, especially tennis and swimming. Being out in nature is also very restorative. Travel, adventure, thrills. I love learning new things.

Q:  You’re the executive director of ThrillerFest. Can you tell us more about this conference for thriller enthusiasts?

A:  ThrillerFest is the annual conference for the International Thriller Writers held every July in NYC. It’s a wonderful gathering of over 1000 authors, and we celebrate the genre. We have something for everyone, whether you’re an aspiring author, a fan, or an industry professional. You can learn more via www.thrillerfest.com

Q:  Best advice for aspiring authors?

A:  Be passionate about your subject matter. You will spend so much time working on your books, take your time and choose the genre and topic carefully. And embrace constructive criticism. Writing is a journey of a thousand steps—or more like a million words—so enjoy the process of learning and be kind to yourself. Like any skill, you need practice.

Q:  Anything else you’d like to add?

A:  I love hearing from readers, so if you’re reading this, please drop me a line anytime at kj@kjhowe.com.

I’d like to thank you for taking the time to interview me. It has been a real pleasure.

Raisin the Dead

 

Karoline Barrett

“Cooking,” wrote American journalist Harriet Van Horne, “is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all.” The same can be said about the craft of writing, and when these two passions come together in a culinary themed mystery, it’s the recipe for a mouth-watering delight that leaves readers hungry for more. Karoline Barrett – today’s featured author – joins the ranks of Ellie Alexander, Miranda Bliss, Christine Wenger and other kindred spirit wordsmiths whose protagonists have a taste for solving neighborhood crimes. In Barrett’s latest release, Raisin the Dead, library director Anne Tyler is a person of interest in a murder, a scenario that compels bakery owner Molly Tyler to step in to help clear her mother’s name.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: When did you first know that writer’s ink was flowing through your veins and you just had to do something about it?

A: I’ve always enjoyed writing, but didn’t take it up seriously until I was older (we won’t discuss how much older). My husband encouraged me to take writing classes from an online writing school in Connecticut, where we now live, called Long Ridge Writers Group. They were wonderful and I learned so much. My very first published novel, The Art of Being Rebekkah, started as a short story in one of my classes.

Q: Stylistically, what authors (living or dead) do you feel have had the greatest influence on your own approach to storytelling?

A: Ann B. Ross (author of the Miss Julia series) because of her character portrayals, they’re so very real, and Janet Evanovich because of her humor.

Q: The Bread and Batter mystery series is a clever concept. What inspired it?

A: I was having a hard time thinking of another writing project and my agent asked me what I liked to read. The answer was mysteries. She suggested I write one, and I took her advice. I like discovering new bakeries, so I wanted the series to center around Molly and the bakery she owns with her best friend, Olivia. I’m happy to say it worked out.

Q: Which of your characters is secretly your fictional self?

A: I’m asked that a lot. In reality, my characters come from my imagination. If I had to pick the one I want to be my fictional self, it would be Emily, the owner of Barking Mad books. I’ve always thought owing a small bookstore would be delightful.

Q: Favored baked dessert – a cake, a pie or cookies?

A: Since ice-cream isn’t a choice, chocolate cake with chocolate icing (do you see a chocolate theme here?)

Q: Store-bought or homemade?

A: Homemade. The best kind!

Q: In your daily writing routine, when and where do you feel you are at your most energized?

A: I’m a morning person, so I do well between 7 a.m. and 3 p.m. My writing desk faces a window, so I navigate between that and my recliner when I’m writing.

Q: Do you allow anyone to read your material while it’s still a work-in-progress or do you make them wait until you have typed The End?

A: They have to wait. My work-in-progress goes through a lot of changes between the time I type the first work and the time I type The End.

Q: Which do you feel is more challenging – to pen a short story, to develop a stand-alone novel, or to create recurring characters for a series?

A: I’ve done all three, so I have to say a series. I have to keep each book fresh, make sure all the characters come back with the same names, eye colors, etc. Make sure the town names haven’t changed. It’s also a challenge not to say too much about the previous books in case someone hasn’t read them yet. Then there’s the challenge of keeping all the characters interesting.

Q: Let’s say Hollywood comes calling to turn Raisin the Dead into a new TV series. Who’s on your wish list for casting?

A: I have to confess I don’t keep up on who’s who in Hollywood. I don’t know who the Gilmore Girls are, and I thought The Game of Thrones had something to do with Queen Elizabeth. I’m going to chicken out of this one and say I’d be so thrilled to see it as a TV series, I don’t care who was playing the characters. Although, I’d love to hear from readers on whom they think would be good casting.

Q: How did you go about finding the right literary agent to represent your work?

A: As mentioned, my first novel was The Art of Being Rebekkah. I compiled a list of agents who were looking for women’s fiction.  I got a lot of requests for the partial manuscript, and the full manuscript, but no takers. After going through 120 agents, I was thinking about calling it quits. Then, on Twitter, I saw someone discussing Frances Black. She and a partner own Literary Counsel. Okay, I thought. One more time! She loved my book and signed me. The rest, as they say, is history.

Q: What’s your favorite thing about being published?

A: Pleasing my readers and having them ask for more books!

Q: Promoting a new title is almost as much – if not more – work than writing it in the first place. What are some of the activities you’re pursuing in this regard to put your book(s) on everyone’s radar?

A: It really is! I’m a constant presence on Facebook. Both on my author page and personal page. I’ve connected with a lot of other authors, readers, and bloggers. I do a lot of blog tours and giveaways. I love the giveaways, but I make my husband pick winners. I just can’t do it. I’d pick everyone!  Since my Bread and Batter series is e-book only, I can’t do book signings, which I’d really like to do.

Q: To celebrate your success, you’ve made reservations for dinner at your favorite restaurant and can invite any three famous authors to join you. Who are they, what are the seating arrangements, and what question would you most love to ask each of them?

A: I’d have Shirley Jackson, Janet Evanovich, and Debbie Macomber. I’d be at the head at the table, so I could see and hear everyone.  Shirley’s question would be, “How on earth did you come up with The Lottery? It’s my favorite short story of all time.” For Janet, I’d want to know how she comes up with all the scrapes her characters get in to and how she keeps all her books so funny and fresh. I’d like to talk character development with Debbie. Her books are so character driven, which is what I love about them.

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

A: I want to write a psychological thriller like The Girl on the Train.

Q: What do you do when you’re not writing?

A: Read, shop, spend time at the beach. Think about writing.

Q: Do you typically read one book at a time or have multiple stacks throughout the house?

A: I can handle reading two books at once, but more than that and my brain starts complaining.

Q: What are you reading now?

A: I just finished A Muddied Murder by Wendy Tyson. Time for a trip to the library!

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A:I’m working on book three of my Bread and Batter series, I’m outlining a new series I want to present to my agent, and I also have a romance half-written.

Q: Best advice to aspiring writers?

A: Write what you love, believe in yourself, and have patience, lots of patience.

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

A: My website is karolinebarrett  On Facebook, readers can find me here, KarolineBarrettBooks

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: Thank you so much for having me, it’s been fun! Of course, a thank you to all my readers!

 

 

Heaven’s Gate

Jan Dunlap

Science fiction, spirituality and a dose of suspense describes author Jan Dunlap’s first book in her new series Heaven’s Gate: Archangels Book I. Jan spins a tale of intrigue when a physicist inadvertently proves the existence of heaven and all hell breaks loose. Be the first of your friends to read what one reviewer called “a mind-blowing experience”!

Interviewer: Christy Campbell

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What or who inspired you to begin this whole journey?

The first time I stepped into a public library – I think I was about five years old – I decided then and there that some day, I wanted to have my name on a book on a library shelf. That led me to become a ferocious reader; I earned a communications degree in college and worked in PR and advertising for a few years as an account executive/writer. I wrote a family humor column for our local paper while I raised my five children, and then one day, I decided to try my hand at writing a cozy mystery just to see if I could do it. That turned into my first Birder Murder Mystery, of which there are now seven in the series.

Your previous books of memoir and cozy mystery have all employed humor. Have you always had an interest in scientific subjects that led you to switch genres?

I’ve been a closet science geek my whole life, and especially loved astronomy. When PBS aired their series on string theory many years ago, it renewed my interest in cosmology and the mysteries of quantum physics. About the same time, my oldest son took a college course from the author of the Afterlife Experiments, and he urged me to read the text, which I did. That book sparked a landslide of ideas in my head for a suspense thriller that combined speculation about life after death, religious faith, and cutting-edge physics. I thought about it for years until I realized I had to write Heaven’s Gate (the first book in my new Archangel series) or I’d never quit thinking about it! It was a huge leap from comic cozy mystery, but writing those books helped me hone my skills at suspense and character development which are key to Heaven’s Gate.

And what was Jan Dunlap, successful author, doing before exploring the publishing world?

Raising five children as a stay-at-home mom, volunteering at their schools, writing my weekly humor column and eating chocolate.

Since this book incorporates topics of spirituality and faith in God, do you have a personal backstory to share?

My children and I often discussed spirituality as they were growing up, or at least, I spent a lot of time explaining why people practiced a religion. The older my kids got, the more interesting the questions they asked! In particular, a lot of contemporary scientific discoveries seemed to diminish or contradict faith, rather than strengthen it. It made me really explore my own belief in God, and I wrote Heaven’s Gate almost as an argument for faith in God that incorporates science, rather than taking sides in a faith OR science debate.

There are those people in this world who truly believe in psychic abilities. How do you feel about that?

I totally think that we have yet to discover/document the full potential of the human brain. We all have déjà vu, compelling instincts and even snippets of prescience. I think those are types of psychic abilities, and that some people are more skilled at using those abilities than others. As my Heaven’s Gate medium Khristina reminds my hero Michael, Shakespeare was right when he penned the line that “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” If we think we know everything about life, that’s our pride talking, because only God knows everything.

Which leads me to of course to ask, have you ever had a psychic experience of your own?

I’ve never had what I’d term a classic psychic experience. I can’t move objects with my mind, I can’t forecast the winning lottery number, and I can’t find lost items by picturing them in my head. (Actually, I can’t find lost items no matter what I do…) But there have been a few times in my life where I could feel that something was about to happen, or I see something and I recognize it even though I have no recollection of seeing it before. Whether that’s psychic or not, it reminds me that there is more in the universe than we know.

Fill us in on some of the research topics you explored to write this manuscript?

I read extensively about Albert Einstein’s later years as he searched for the One Theory of Everything, and I poured over the PBS transcripts of the Elegant Strings series. I read about psychics who work with detectives to find lost children, and I reread the Afterlife Experiments, along with material about mediumship. I even researched survivors’ eye-witness accounts of tornados and reviewed my notes from grad school in English studies about William Blake and the Grand Narrative concept of literary criticism. I spent hours online looking up everything I could find about archangels in the Bible, as well as contemporary religious cults. I read about Russian icons and Jesuit scientists and reviewed what I remembered about a Rubik’s cube.

You’ve developed a great story! What’s next in the Archangels series?

Book Two is already finished, tentatively titled Heart and Soul, and it deals with medical science, neurobiology and the power of prayer. The hero is Raphael, or Rafe, as he’s known to my cast of characters, and his story is another roller coaster of deceit, betrayal, murder, forgiveness and redemption.

Lastly, let’s switch gears a bit. If you could attend a meet and greet for any writer living or dead, who would that be and why?

Dr. Seuss, hands down. He was unbelievably creative. I’d love to talk with him about the risks he felt concocting such wacky stories that influenced generations of children and writers.

Where can readers delve into more info about your series? Any social media or websites?

I have a Facebook page dedicated to the Archangel series at https://www.facebook.com/Archangelsseries/ and readers can get a deep look into my research and writing process on my Pinterest board https://www.pinterest.com/jandunlap/archangels-book-one/ . I’m also on Twitter @BirderMurder, on Facebook at Birder Murder Mama, and my author website is jandunlap.com. I write a blog on Goodreads now, too: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/2100500.Jan_Dunlap/blog

 

 

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.

So Much for Buckingham

So Much For Buckingham cover art

Former actor and stage director Anne R. Allen is a wonderfully funny mystery writer who loves to bring some levity to what can be dark, heavy topics. Anne also co-authors a well-written, widely read blog and has worked on joint projects with other writers, so in addition to penning her own books, it’s clear she knows how to operate as a team player. What a pleasure it’s been getting to know Anne and her work, and if you haven’t already read her books, we’re thrilled to introduce her to you.

Interviewed By Debbie A. McClure

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Q         You combine comedy with mystery writing. That can’t be easy, or is it? What is the easiest and/or most difficult aspect to writing this type of book?

A         Actually, what’s hard for me is taking the comedy out of my writing. I find humor in everything. Always have. When I was about seven, I used to put on puppet shows in my back yard. Lots of carnage. Lots of laughs. I was a twisted kid. LOL.

When I try to write heartfelt, deeply emotional stuff, it falls flat. I like fast-paced stories that are fun, but leave you with something to think about later.

Mysteries were an obvious choice for me. I’ve been a mystery fan since I read my first Nancy Drew book, and since then I’ve read all the classics: pretty much everything by Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Margery Allingham, Ngaio Marsh, Josephine Tey, Chandler, Hammett, etc. I’ve written a few books that aren’t standard whodunnits, but they always have a mystery element. I think I like the structure involved with the mystery genre.

My newest book, So Much for Buckingham, is the 5th in my Camilla Randall series of comedy-mysteries. It deals with some major issues: cyberbullying and character assassination. I also delve into the mystery of whether Richard III really killed the princes in the Tower (I don’t think he did.). Camilla’s best friend gets accused of killing an historical re-enactor dressed as the Duke of Buckingham. The only witness is apparently the ghost of Richard III. I hope people will find it funny and thought provoking.

Book #4, No Place Like Home, deals with homelessness and “bag lady syndrome”—the fear many older women have of ending up homeless.

Because I write funny mysteries, I get to deal with these issues in an unsentimental, detached way that examines all sides and still provides a lot of entertainment.

Q         Many writers today struggle with how to fit into this new e-landscape we’re seeing. What advice would you give to someone just starting out?

A         Number one: let go of the idea that paper books are the only “real” publishing. Most authors now make the bulk of their money from e-books.

Also, accept social media as a necessary evil and then find aspects you can enjoy. For me, it’s blogging. Every author needs to find a place online where they can interact and make friends. That’s where we find readers and mentors—and maybe an agent and publisher.

I’d also add this advice to new writers: don’t believe everything you read online. Lots of the publishing advice on the internet is old, misguided, or just plain wrong. Always consider the source and read widely.

Q         Who has been your greatest life or business mentor, and why?

A         I’m very lucky that I made friends with my Central Coast (CA) neighbor, Catherine Ryan Hyde (author of Pay it Forward and Amazon superstar) early in my career. She has been an inspiration and mentor to me for the last two decades. She’s an amazing human being. I am so blessed that she agreed to co-write a handbook for writers with me: How to be a Writer in the E-Age: A Self-Help Guide.

Her ups and downs over the last twenty years have shown me that there is no certainty in this business, and you need to keep in touch with your readers and stay true to your voice no matter what.

Q         You and I are both representatives of the “Boomer” generation. What advantages would you say we have over our mother’s and grandmother’s generations?

A         Oh, there are so many! Tech alone has totally changed the process. I started writing in the days of typewriter ribbons and carbons, and younger people don’t realize how time consuming all that stuff was. No cut and paste. One typo and you had to start the page over with a carbon.

And now we have email queries. I still have some of those old nesting boxes we used to send out our manuscripts with postage for return. Expensive! Plus all that postage …

And of course there’s the fact women have so much more freedom and respect than they did in the early and mid-20th century. As an unmarried female, I’m not expected to live with other family members as their live-in servant, the way “old maids”, divorcees, and widows did in my grandmother’s day.

Even my mother had to fight hard for respect, even though she had an Ivy League PhD in English literature. People accept me as an authority because of what I say, not my gender. That’s such a huge thing that younger women take for granted.

Q         Writing is far more difficult than most people understand. Was there anything in your past professions as an actress and/or stage director that helped prepare you for this role of writer?

A         Acting and directing are great preparation for a novelist!

As an actor, you learn you always need motivation for whatever action you take on stage. A novelist needs to remember that even the most minor characters need to have a goal and a purpose in every scene.

As a director, I learned what short attention spans audiences have, and how to keep up the pace and never let up. The immediate feedback of rapt attention and laughter vs. coughing, rustling programs, and trips to the restroom lets a director know what works and what doesn’t.

Q         What would you say has been the most difficult personal lesson for you to learn in life?

A         I used to be way too trusting and giving. When I was younger, I always judged other people by myself and assumed everybody had honest, altruistic motives.

I’ve had to learn that accepting people as they present themselves can lead to grief. Learning to recognize narcissists and sociopaths and avoid letting them dominate my life has been a huge (and tough) life lesson for me.

But I’ve had so much fun killing them off in my novels! LOL.

Also, I’ve had to accept that I have more highly tuned senses than most people, so I can easily get over-stimulated—which leads to health problems. So I can’t push myself past my limits with things like NaNoWriMo, big conferences, or marathon book tours. Learning that I’m a “highly sensitive person” has finally allowed me to learn to say no to overload and overwhelming situations.

Q         What do you see as the future for publishing and the new e-technology, and why?

A         Obviously the e-reader has changed the publishing industry in a major way, and the changes keep coming.

I’d like to believe the publishing industry won’t go the way of the music business, where everything is expected to be free and people think artists shouldn’t be paid. Definitely the new paradigm has led to a lower bottom line for most traditional authors.

It has also given rise to the self-publishing movement, which is great for a lot of authors, and I’ve even self-published some of my own books.

But the “Kindle gold rush” is over, and lots of amateur writers who hoped to make millions are giving up now. Kindle Unlimited has cut into the self-publishing bottom line in a major way for a lot of us.

Self-publishers will need to spread a wide net on many platforms and many countries in order to succeed.

Things will never return to business as usual  pre-Kindle days, but we also can’t party like it’s 2009. Self-publishing will continue to be a viable option, but only the savvy and hard-working will make a living at it.

I think bookstores will continue to exist, the way movie theatres do, in spite of Netflix, Hulu and other streaming sites. People like the whole experience of visiting a bookstore.

Q         You’ve collaborated on three projects now, one with author Catherine Ryan Hyde, and two with NYT million-seller author, Ruth Harris. Can you tell us a little about them, and what you feel are the advantages of writers partnering?

A         I have co-written one book with Catherine Ryan Hyde. Ruth and I collaborate on our blog and we put together a two-fer boxed set of two of our novels, CHANEL AND GATSBY, but we didn’t write them together. We just combined her CHANEL CAPER, and my GATSBY GAME in between digital covers.

I’ve also worked with other novelists on some boxed sets and anthologies, when we worked a lot on co-promotion. These were fantastic opportunities to network with other authors in my genre and meet new readers. I think authors should jump on any chance to collaborate with other authors in boxed sets and other co-promotions. It’s a fantastic way to expand your readership.

The book I co-authored with Amazon superstar Catherine Ryan Hyde, How To Be A Writer In The E-Age, came together very easily because it was a nonfiction book and we wrote alternate chapters. We were already good friends, so it was a great experience.

Q       Blogging has become something more writers are discovering, but often struggle with how to create a “voice” or meaningful content. What recommendations would you give to writers just starting out on this blogging path?

A         Actually, I’m writing a book the subject. Because I’ve managed to build a very successful blog, averaging about 90,000 hits a month, with nearly 4000 subscribers, I think I am uniquely qualified to help new authors build a blog.

The most important thing to remember about blogs is that they are part of social media, and social media is, well, social. Authors need to interact and respond to comments, as well as visit and comment on other blogs.

A good way to find your voice is to pay attention to how you comment on other blogs. Use that voice on your own. Don’t preach, brag, or condescend. Just chat. Treat people as if they’re visitors in your living room.

Q         What are your thoughts on the traditional vs self-publishing debate so prevalent in our industry right now?

A         I don’t think all authors are cut out to self-publish. It’s very hard to make the big time if you’re starting to self-publish right now and you’ve never been published before.

The days of breakout Amazon stars like Hugh Howey are pretty much over because Amazon’s algorithms no longer favor indies, and Kindle Unlimited has drastically reduced royalties. It’s also hard to get traction on other retailers like iTunes and GooglePlay if you’re an indie.

But self-publishing is fantastic for established authors who get dropped by their publishers, or who want to supplement their income with novellas and stories between “big books”.

I would recommend that non-tech-savvy writers try for traditional publishing first, especially if they write literary fiction or children’s lit—which sell better in brick and mortar stores.

I don’t know of any literary writer who has an exclusively indie career that’s taken off. I think that’s because literary writers depend on reviews in established print magazines.

And children’s books (except for YA) don’t sell as well in e-books as adult genre fiction does.

But it is true that writers going the traditional route need to be much more wary than in earlier times. They need to find agents or small presses that understand the new paradigm and will allow them to self-publish between books, and won’t offer odious contracts that tie up work for your lifetime plus 70 years.

I’ve been with a series of small presses, some of which were better than others, but they always gave me my rights back with no problem. I also learned a lot and got great editing.

Now I have some books with a small press and some are self-published. That works for me.

I think most authors should plan to self-publish at some point, but I don’t think it’s a good first step for most genres, unless you’re really a savvy marketer with a lot of books in the hopper ready to go.

Romance, mystery, and thriller writers may be an exception. I think they can do well self-publishing right out of the gate, especially if they write fast and have a lot of titles. I know a number who do.

Q         What is it about writing mysteries, especially those with, ahem, older female protagonists that draws you in and holds you?

A         I love writing stories that mix mystery and romantic comedy, especially when the protagonists are older people. In No Place Like Home, 60-yr old former billionaire, Doria, reconnects with her homeless high school sweetheart. That was so much fun to write.

And how often do you read romantic stories about older people? It’s fun to do something different.

Q         What’s next for you, Anne?

A         So Much For Buckingham launched July 8th and is now available.

After that, I’m working on a series of short books for new authors on subjects like blogging, building a platform, writing that first chapter, etc. I’m calling them “two-hour courses” –simple, “just the facts ma’am” type information you might have to plow through a lot of big books or blog archives to get. Plus, I put my own humorous spin on things.

I’ll also be starting my next Camilla book, which has the working title, The Knight of Cups.

Anne blogs with NYT million-seller Ruth Harris at Anne R. Allen’s Blog…with Ruth Harris (http://annerallen.blogspot.com/), named to Writer’s Digest for Best 101 Websites for Writers. She is also the author of eight comic novels, including the hilarious Camilla Randall Mysteries. SO MUCH FOR BUCKINGHAM, which launched July 8, 2015, is #5 in the series but can be read as a stand-alone.

For more on Anne, please check out her links below:

Amazon.com author page: http://www.amazon.com/Anne-R.-Allen/e/B005R2SBI4

Goodreads author page: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5304269.Anne_R_Allen

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/annerallen1

Twitter: https://twitter.com/annerallen

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/pub/anne-r-allen/10/262/493

Google+: https://plus.google.com/+AnneRAllen/posts

Email: annerallen.allen@gmail.com