Checked Out For Murder

In Checked Out for Murder—the fourth book in The Haunted Library series—the filming of a new movie in Clover Ridge is suddenly overshadowed by mystery, mayhem…and murder. Protagonist Carrie Singleton not only has her hands full dealing with the death of a new friend but also finding herself involved in her mother’s marital problems. Author Marilyn Levinson (writing as Allison Brook) takes time from her busy schedule to share why cozies are so popular with fans of mystery novels.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: For readers who aren’t familiar with a “cozy,” what are some of the elements which differentiate this subgenre from other mysteries?

A: Cozy mysteries are called that because aside from the murder or murders in each book, they evoke a cozy feeling in the reader. The setting is a picturesque small town where people know one another. The sleuth is usually an amateur detective who gets involved in solving a murder because either he/she is a suspect or someone close is a suspect. The murder or murders occur off scene, and children and animals are never harmed.

Q: What aspects of writing cozies especially appeal to you?

A: I love writing cozies because I enjoy writing a series that enables me to write about my sleuth and her friends and family and activities that take place in the town where she lives. The story lives on and on, and there’s no need to say good-bye to the main characters because they reappear in the next book.

Q: The physical backdrop/setting of a novel is just as important as any of the characters who populate it. Tell us about Clover Ridge and whether it bears any similarity to actual places you’ve lived in or visited.

A: Clover Ridge is a town that I created. That said, I created it based on my visit to Guilford, Connecticut. I was impressed by the centuries’ old buildings that were built around the village green. I loved the idea of the green, and that’s where I set the library where my sleuth, Carrie Singleton, is head of programs and events. I also liked setting the town close to the Long Island Sound, across from Long Island, where I’ve lived most of my life. Also, my family had a summer home in Connecticut when I was growing up and I have always maintained a love for that state.

Q: What’s not to love about amateur sleuths? Not only is your heroine, Carrie, someone who can’t turn her back on murder and mayhem but she is also paired with a paranormal partner who is equally zealous about seeing that criminals get properly “booked.” How and why did Carrie’s librarian friend become a mainstay of the series?

A: Evelyn Havers—the ghost in my series— is a woman in her sixties who used to work in the Clover Ridge Library and appears in the library very often. Of course, the only people who can see and communicate with Evelyn are Carrie and Carrie’s four-year-old cousin. Evelyn isn’t the first ghost I’ve included in a book. There’s a ghost in my mystery Giving Up the Ghost and in my children’s novel, Getting Back to Normal. Evelyn often helps Carrie solve mysteries and crimes, but holds back information when she feels it casts one of her relatives in a bad light. She often asks Carrie to handle or investigate personal requests, which always seem to connect to the unsolved mystery.  

Q: And why is there a cat?

A: I love cats and cozies often include a cat or a dog or a furry creature of some sort. In the case of the Haunted Library series, Carrie discovered Smoky Joe one day when he walked through the woods separating her cottage from the farm where he was born. He jumped into her car and she found herself bringing him into the library where he immediately became the library cat. Smoky Joe is beloved by the library patrons. He helps to solve a mystery in Read and Gone.

Q: Plotter or pantser?

A: I do plot my books. That said, I’m a pantser when it comes to linking scenes and explaining why something happens. Then, of course, something completely unplanned occurs. So I suppose I’m both plotter and pantser.

Q: What are some of the challenges inherent in penning a series versus a standalone?

A: When writing a series, you’re dealing with a cast of characters, many of whom continue to appear from book to book. I often find that something I mention about a character in one book, has an impact on the events in a book further on in the series. Also, my characters change and evolve through the series. Carrie, who comes from a dysfunctional family and has never felt secure in any one place, grows more confident and becomes an active member of her community. Her father, a thief for many years, makes important changes in his life. These are challenges but are very rewarding to me.

Q: Does anyone get to read your works-in-progress and offer feedback or do you make everyone wait until you have typed THE END?

A: My editor is the first person who reads my manuscript. If I have a plotting problem I throw it out to the members of my little group of seasoned mystery authors. We’ve been together about twenty years. Invariably, their comments either provide a solution or inspire me to come up with my own solution to the problem.

Q: Does romance have a place in your cozies or do you feel it detracts from the mystery aspects?

A: I always include a romantic interest in my mysteries. I think it adds a dimension to the story. In the Haunted Library series, Carrie has a love interest. Though her relationship with Dylan Avery continues to deepen with each book, it never detracts from the mystery. In fact, in Book Number Six, which I’m currently outlining, the mystery affects Carrie’s fiancé and she learns more about Dylan’s earlier life.

Q: Two female arrivals to Clover Ridge cause Carrie plausible apprehensions. Who are they and which one generates the higher degree of angst for your protagonist?

A: One is Daphne Marriott, a psychic, whom Carrie befriends. Though Daphne shares some of her past with Carrie, she omits the most important elements, elements Carrie finally unravels at the end of the book.

The other female who comes to Clover Ridge is Carrie’s mother–a visit Carrie dreads and generates the most angst for her because she and her mother don’t get along. Linda, or Brianna as she now calls herself, has come to Clover Ridge because her second husband, who is twelve years her junior, is featured in a movie being filmed in Clover Ridge. Neither Carrie nor her mother is prepared for the turmoil this visit provides.

Q: How did you go about finding a publisher?

A: My wonderful agent, Dawn Dowdle, found Crooked Lane Books for me. I might add that I’ve written many books before this series.

Q: Where do you see the publishing industry headed in the next 5-10 years?

A: Good question. I think books will continue to thrive and e-books will continue to grow in popularity. Audios as well.

Q: When you’re not writing, who/what are you reading?

A: I read and listen to mysteries, of course. Loved The Guest List and The Silent Patient as well as several cozies. I also read and listen to mainstream novels. I recently enjoyed Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine. 

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

A: I often procrastinate before I sit down to write each day.

Q: Best advice to fellow wordsmiths who want to enter the world of cozies?

A: Read several cozies by a wide range of authors to get a feel for the genre.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: I’m doing edits for Dead On The Shelf, which will be out in the fall of 2021. I’m also outlining the sixth book in the Haunted Library series.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: You should read and write what you like, not what other people tell you to read and write.

Killing Time

The Etonville Little Theatre is producing Dracula and somebody planted a stake in a stranger’s heart. Sleuth Dodie O’Dell is on the job!

Just in time for Halloween, a bewitching new mystery by author Suzanne Trauth.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: We’re clearly kindred spirits in our respective expertise with novels, theatrical scripts and screenplays. Of these three storytelling platforms, do you have a favorite?

A: Choosing one would be like choosing a favorite child! You love them all. Because my background is in theatre, playwriting was most familiar but the genre I started writing last. Writing screenplays taught me storytelling structure. But novels have provided the most freedom, the most leeway in storytelling. I would have to say my favorite is whatever genre I am working on at the moment and right now, at least through the pandemic, it’s been novels, so novels are my favorite genre right now.

Q: What was your first foray into publishing and where did it lead in your evolution as a writer?

A: My initial publishing ventures were in the academic arena—a book co-written with a colleague on acting technique titled Sonia Moore and American Acting Training, that focused on character development and the creation of story. I also co-edited a play anthology that included a play I’d co-written. The anthology, Katrina on Stage, focused on plays written about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. Though these works were either non-fiction or theatre-based, writing them sowed seeds of discipline, the importance of editing, meeting schedules. And character development was the topic, or formed the basis, of all the works which naturally fed into the creation of character in novels.

Q: How do/did these various genres influence each other?

A: Since I started writing screenplays first, I had an opportunity to learn structure, hone dialogue, and create the specific world of characters quickly. Writing plays was an easy transition with dialogue and character, though I felt screenplays were more like an outline and theatrical plays allowed characters more room to express their emotional and internal lives. Once I settled into writing novels, both genres influenced my storytelling via a tight structure, dramatic dialogue that pushed the narrative forward, and characters that were specific, had clear wants and needs, and relationships.

Q: If you could sit down with any three writers whose work most influenced your own style, who would they be and what would you like to ask them?

A: Elizabeth George: “Though you are an American living in California, your Inspector Lynley Series takes place in England. How do you mine a foreign country and its language, manners, history, geography, and customs to be credible for an international audience?”

Agatha Christie: “When you disappeared in 1926 for eleven days, what really happened to you?” It’s still one of the great mysteries about the queen of mystery.

Louis Penny: “You’ve created a lovely, gentle, intelligent protagonist in Armand Gamache. How do you balance these wonderful character traits with the need to have a flawed protagonist as well?” I love this series and am working my way through all of her books.

Q: Tell us how your Dodie O’Dell mystery series came about.

A: I had written a book a number of years ago that featured Dodie and some of the characters currently in the series. When I approached an editor, a terrific help, he suggested I decide which I was writing: women’s fiction or a mystery? “Where do you see your book on the bookstore shelf?” I immediately said “mystery” and he set to work assisting me in the developmental editing process. I queried Kensington Books at his suggestion and was offered a three book contract.

Q: What is it about female sleuths that make them so appealing to mystery lovers?

A: Good question. I think most mystery readers are women and more and more protagonists are female. In my experience, they are rarely hard-boiled and bring sensitivity, humor, and personable traits to the sleuth. I’m thinking Kinsey Milhone in Sue Grafton’s series, Stephanie Plum in Janet Evanovich’s books, even Miss Marple and Nancy Drew which, by the way, I grew up reading!

Q: Is there a particular character in this series with whom you strongly identify?

A: I suppose I’d have to say Dodie…in a way she is my alter ego. I would have enjoyed engaging in amateur sleuthing on a regular basis years ago. However she manages a restaurant, and I include lots of menu items in the books, but I don’t cook so much…at least I didn’t before the pandemic hit. I’m actually cooking more now!

But since I spent decades teaching, producing, and directing theatre, I have a soft spot for Penny, the whistle-blowing stage manager. I was able to channel my funny, crazy, traumatic theatre experiences through her.

Q: Your mysteries include a good amount of time spent in the world of theatre, a focus which reflects both your academic background and the number of years you spent acting, directing, teaching and penning plays. In light of the current pandemic which has shuttered production companies across the country and around the world, what is your prediction for theatre’s comeback…or will it?

A: Yes! I definitely believe theatre will come back. It’s an art form that has an almost three thousand year history…an institution like that cannot simply die. However, I think “coming back” will take time and require flexibility. For example, some regional theatres are producing work outside under tents; some are severely limiting indoor seating and size of productions and casts; new plays are being written and presented in staged readings on Zoom and other platforms. Writers are still creating and actors still performing. I do fear, however, that it will be a while before Broadway reopens. But I am hopeful that even two thousand seat houses will one day be able to fill them. I so look forward to it.

Q: How do you choose which plays and details of production to feature in each book?

A: When I started the series I began with Romeo and Juliet, a play that is well known to most readers, for the first book, Show Time. I continued to choose shows that most people would have some familiarity with: classics, a musical, a new play based on an old chestnut. Once I had the play, I worked the mystery around it: Who is murdered? Who is new to the theatre company? What characters in the company would have a motivation to kill? What would the rehearsal process be like with this particular production? How does the rehearsal and performance mesh with Dodie’s sleuthing and attempts to solve the mystery? I could then incorporate running jokes, like the artistic director’s comical pre-show warm-ups. I have to say, much of the theatre activity is based on my experience, and then enhanced.

Q: Writers often do “casting” in their heads as they develop their characters. Is this the case for you?

A: While I don’t actually cast characters in my mystery series, I do see them and hear them as I am writing and they give me quite the runaround! Sometimes they get ahead of me and I have to catch up…maybe it’s my theatre background but the characters are always “acting out.”

Q: In your own experience, what are the pros and cons of writing a mystery series versus standalone works?

A: Writing a series gives me the opportunity to develop characters and setting over a number of books. I have the time to create arcs for the main characters and watch them change and grow. Readers tell me they love to see the small town of Etonville come alive book after book. However, I have to be careful not to repeat myself with a series: though each book has primarily the same cast and setting, the play, murder, motivations etc. have to change.

I am writing my first standalone novel now and I am finding it exhilarating. I have the freedom to wander in different directions. I can make the book breathe. On the other hand, each standalone novel requires a whole new setting and cast of characters. I think it takes much more preparation and research time. Though I have to admit I am a “plantser,” I combine some plotting with writing by the seat of my pants.

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

A: I am a celebrant and perform weddings in the New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania area.

Q: What’s currently on your reading list?

A: I have several great books that I am in the midst of or looking forward to reading:

The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel

Aftermath by Julia Alvarez

Bury Your Dead by Louis Penny

The Abolitionist’s Daughter by Diane McPhail

Q: Best advice for aspiring writers?

A: The same advice I was given over and over: persist. Don’t get bogged down by perfectionism (especially on that first draft), in-your-head criticism, or distractions. Write every day even if it’s only one sentence! Find a great editor when you are ready to share your book with the world. And, I am doing it for the first time this year, try NaNoWriMo: National Novel Writing Month. It is a project to push writers to attempt 50,000 words during the month of November. In other words, draft a new novel. I am cheating a little since I hope to have the novel half-drafted by November.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: I am in the midst of a standalone mystery that I hope to have drafted by Christmas—with the help of NaNoWriMo. I am also finishing a last draft of a new play.

Q: Anything else you’d like to share?

A: Thanks so much for having me on your blog! I really enjoyed sharing my thoughts on writing with you.

Old Sins Never Die

The good news is that journalist Emmeline Kirby and jewel thief/insurance investigator Gregory Longdon have an opportunity to thwart an international assassination when they overhear someone attempting to hire a rogue MI5 agent for the deed. The bad news is that they have no idea who the intended victim is going to be. In the latest book in Daniella Burnett’s mystery series, Old Sins Never Die, the intrepid pair has more than enough on their plate to keep them one step ahead of certain danger.

It’s enough to put any new marriage to the test.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Let’s talk about your journey as a writer. Who or what would you say had the greatest influence on your passion for storytelling?

A: It began with a love affair with reading. I thank my parents for reading to me and my sister from a very young age. This developed into an appreciation for the written word. All writers are readers at heart. Writing is like breathing. It’s something I must do. I can’t imagine not writing. I would be like an empty shell, lost and forlorn on a stretch of silken sands. I love devising plots, adding twists and turns, and leaving a string of red herrings in my characters’ wake just for a bit of fun.

Q: Were you an avid fan of mysteries when you were growing up? If so, who are some of the authors whose work especially resonated with you?

A: Since my mother introduced my sister and me to mysteries and thrillers, I’ve been off on a literary adventure. Agatha Christie is my hero. She was truly a master at her craft. Her deliciously wicked and ingenious plots appeal to the reader’s intellect. Christie had an astute insight into human nature and all its foibles. One wouldn’t characterize Daphne Du Maurier as a mystery author, but I admire the brilliant way she created an atmosphere of suspense. As each page was flipped, the reader had the sense that he or she was taking another step toward the danger.

Q: Do you ever play armchair detective in your real life or do you leave all the savvy sleuthing to your fictional characters?

A: Oh, I am definitely an expert armchair detective. I enjoy racing the sleuth to the solution. It’s a matter of paying careful attention to the clues that the author casts before readers. Only on very rare occasions have I been proved wrong, when it comes to unmasking the murderer. I suppose it’s because my mind leans toward the devious.

Q: Do you share any particular attributes with your lead players, Emmeline and Gregory?

A: I think a part of every author is in his or her characters. Perhaps it’s a trait you wish you had. Or a witty riposte you should have flung back at some quite insufferable person. Now, as an author, you have a second chance. Anything is possible. The author and his or her characters set out on a journey together. It’s a conspiracy, if you will. Each brings something distinctive to the story as it unfolds.

Q: What do you feel makes you uniquely qualified to shine in this genre?

A: Everyone comes from different backgrounds. Each one of us is shaped by the myriad people with which we come into contact; the situations in which we find ourselves; and the opportunities we’re given—and let slip through our fingers—in life. It is this confluence of factors combined with our inherent nature and temperament that make us unique. Therefore, only I could have conjured up Emmeline and Gregory. It is the story that I wanted to tell.

Q: Tell us what governed your decision to develop a series rather than a standalone title.

A: I chose to write a series because I wanted to take time to develop my characters—their flaws, admirable qualities, likes and dislikes. Each book provides another nugget of information to peel back the curtain on Emmeline and Gregory, while also leaving something dangling. After all, the human species is full of contradictions that are begging to be explored.

Q: Series fiction is not without its own set of challenges, especially if your readers don’t read the books in the sequential order in which they were intended. Share with us how you addressed keeping each book fresh and yet still building on what your readership already knows.

A: Each book can stand alone. Readers will be fine if they pick up one of the middle books because I include some of the backstory so that they understand the characters and don’t feel lost. Of course, if readers want to see how the relationship between Emmeline and Gregory develops, then they should start with the first book.

In terms of keeping each book fresh, I find it devilishly good fun to dangle a little surprise on the last page to leave readers clamoring to know what happens next. It also sets me on the path of the plot for my new book.

Q: Oftentimes the kiss of death in television series where there is sexual chemistry between the two leads is the decision to marry them off. How do you plan to maintain the heat between Emmeline and Gregory now that they have said, “I do”?

A: Gregory’s shadowy past provides endless possibilities and the fact that he continues to derive an adrenaline rush from stealing jewels. Meanwhile, secrets and lies are a constant threat. And yet, Gregory has gotten under Emmeline’s skin. She can’t deny her love for him. What’s life without a dollop of trouble, now and then.

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

A: I’ve often been asked this question. Naturally, all my choices are British actors. Rufus Sewell would be perfect as Gregory. He’s charming, witty and handsome, and extremely talented. Emmeline is a bit more difficult, but I believe Lily James would bring her to life with great skill because she has such a wide acting range. Hugh Bonneville would pull off the character of Superintendent Oliver Burnell of Scotland Yard with aplomb. Rupert Penrys-Jones would be terrific as Philip Acheson, who ostensibly works for the British Foreign Office, but is a MI5 agent.

Q: What makes for a good mystery?

A: A tantalizing puzzle that the reader must unravel hooks me every time. It has always been about answering the question, “Why?” I love following the clues that the author has strategically dropped. Once the reader understands a criminal’s motivation, everything falls into place.

Q: What tropes do you loathe the most in mystery novels?

A: I find insanity (although terrifying) a boring motive. Rather than devising a knotty reason for the crime, an author is taking the easy road by suggesting that the murderer could not help himself or herself. On the same token, serial killer novels make me shudder. They focus too heavily on gore and violence.

Q: Who’s your favorite detective and why?

A: Hercule Poirot, bien sûr. I adore Poirot for his razor-sharp mind. Yes, he is fusty and arrogant, but not in a mean-spirited way. He is merely confident in his own abilities and impatient with those who are slow-witted. Poirot has a tremendous respect for the law and therefore cannot allow a criminal to flout it. Meanwhile, he is sensitive and empathetic. He understands that we all have faults, as well as good qualities.

Q: If you were throwing a dinner party and could invite any three writers to join you, who would be on the guest list and what would you most like to ask each one?

A: Agatha Christie, of course. I would hang on her every word, absorbing things like a sponge. I would like to know whether she was involved in any adventures in her personal life that influenced her writing. Anthony Horowitz would be invited too. I saw him in an interview once. He has an incisive mind and a droll personality. I would ask him for advice on subtle ways to add shocking twists to the tale. Finally, Jeffrey Archer would round out the table. I would pepper him with questions about his life. He’s a peer of the realm, a former politician and was sent to jail for perjury and perverting the course of justice. I would be curious to know about the fascinating life he has led.

Q: What’s on your current reading list and where do you most like to spend time enjoying the work of others?

A: I’m looking forward to reading The Rose Code by Kate Quinn; Band of Sisters by Lauren Willig; Moonflower Murders by Anthony Horowitz; Hidden In Plain Sight by Jeffrey Archer; The King’s Justice by Susan Elia MacNeal; Poppy Redfern and the Fatal Flyers by Tessa Arlen; A Devious Death by Alyssa Maxwell, and so many others. My TBR pile never dwindles since there is a perpetual need to nourish the mind and the soul.

As for the nook where I like to escape with a book, I usually like to read curled up in a comfortable armchair or in bed. In the summer, I often lose myself in a good book in the cool shadows of a tree as the dulcet susurration of the balmy breeze dandles the branches above me.

Q: Best advice for aspiring authors?

A: I would tell aspiring authors to write the story that they want to write and not what others tell them or what the current market trends are. To write a great story, you have to breathe it, live with it, and nurture it in your dreams and waking hours.

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

A: I am utterly useless when it comes to technology and anything mechanical. Don’t ever ask me a question having to do with a computer. If my laptop starts giving me a problem, my first reaction is to throw it out the window. Another secret I will share (more of a warning) is that I’m impatient and have a short temper.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: Viper’s Nest of Lies, Book 7, will be published in fall 2021. I’m currently working on Book 8. There’s no rest for the wicked. Emmeline and Gregory are always dragging me off on another adventure.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: If readers would like to learn more about me, my website is http://www.daniellabernett.com. There’s an e-mail address on the site, if anyone would like to drop me a note. Readers also can follow me on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100008802318282 or on Goodreads https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/40690254-daniella-bernett.

A Palette For Love and Murder

A Palette For Murder

Author Saralyn Richard knows how to weave an excellent tale of murder and mystery in her newest page-turning book, A PALETTE FOR LOVE AND MURDER, that’s sure to pull readers in and hold them fast. Fans of her protagonist, Detective Oliver Parrot, will enjoy continuing to follow his adventures, and his life, in this intriguing new series that’s winning readers from all walks of life. A creative writing instructor at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, Saralyn loves to pen stories of mystery, mayhem, and love that have garnered terrific reviews. Read on to learn more about this fascinating author and her work.

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Interviewed by Debbie A. McClure

Q Why did you choose to set this series in the world of Brandywine Valley?

A I’ve been fortunate enough to visit relatives in Brandywine Valley frequently. It is one of my happy places. The country landscape is scenic and lush, and the people who live there are among the country’s wealthiest and most powerful. Whether I’m hanging with the equestrian crowd, visiting the amazing Brandywine River Fine Arts Museum, antique shopping at Kennett Square, or hiking through the gorgeous vegetation at Longwood Gardens, I know I’m experiencing some of the best that rural America has to offer.

Some years ago, I attended a birthday celebration at a country mansion there, and after the nine-course meal, I was lounging by the fireplace and chatting with another partygoer. I said, “This would be the perfect setting for a murder mystery.” When she recovered from the shock, I added, “but for that to happen, one of us would have to die, and one of us would have to be a killer.”

What struck me about the setting was that it was so serene. It was the last place one would expect a murder to take place.

Now, having set two novels in Brandywine Valley, I have to say that the people who live and work there are so friendly and cooperative. I’ve interviewed policemen, architects, restaurateurs, artists, horse owners, magazine publishers, funeral home directors, museum employees, landscapers, and others. Everyone has been delightful to talk with and very happy to be interviewed—as long as they weren’t going to be the murder victim or the murderer!

Q What distinguishes Detective Oliver Parrott from other literary detectives?

A In MURDER IN THE ONE PERCENT, the first book in the series, we meet Oliver Parrott as he starts his rookie year as detective. He’s African-American, raised in an underprivileged urban neighborhood, and a former college football hero from Syracuse. He’s chosen a career in criminal justice because he wants to right wrongs, but sometimes the people he meets and the milieu in which he serves rub him the wrong way.

The fact that he’s an outsider, an Everyman detective (as Kirkus magazine calls him in its review of MURDER IN THE ONE PERCENT), gives him a strong rooting interest with the reader.

Parrott’s fiancée is a Navy SEAL on tour of duty in Afghanistan. His cousin Bo has been killed by policemen in a random accident. Throughout the first book and the second, A PALETTE FOR LOVE AND MURDER, his personal and professional lives come together in various ways, and Parrott becomes more than just a detective. He is a smart, responsible, organized, determined, moral, and caring individual; someone we would all want for a son, a husband, an employee, or a friend.

Q Why did you choose to write with a male protagonist?

A I don’t recall choosing at all. Parrott came to me, fully developed, and he happened to be male. As a former teacher, administrator, and school improvement consultant, I’ve spent a lot of time around young people who come from similar backgrounds as Parrott, and I suppose he is an amalgamation of the best of them. I’ve written other mysteries with female sleuths, but it never occurred to me to make Parrott a female.

Q How much research did you do into the art world, and how did you choose which aspects of that world to incorporate into your work?

A Art history was an area of concentration in my college curriculum, so I’ve long been an appreciator of paintings, sculptures, museums, and artists. The Brandywine River Fine Arts Museum is one of my favorite small museums in the world, and I admire the works of the Wyeth family. It was easy to imagine a plot set in the art community of Brandywine, but I did do extensive interviews with artists, dealers, museum personnel, and others. The National Arts Club in New York, which is mentioned several times in the book, is another place I adore.

Q Do you dabble in art yourself? If so, what do you do? If not, have you thought of exploring that area of expression?

A In one of my previous positions, I was the Fine Arts Chairperson of a large high school, so I was able to hobnob with the creative types. I’ve always had a creative passion, and I’ve taken piano, art, dance, and needlework classes. One of these days when I have time I hope to be able to paint, but right now, I’m content to admire the work of others.

Q Why did you choose the art world as your backdrop in this book?

A The proximity of the Brandywine Valley to the museum, and art galleries in the Kennett Square area, made it a perfect choice to center the book on the art world. I enjoy reading art mysteries, and I knew I would enjoy writing one.

Also, artists are fascinating people. In a sense we lead double lives—the interior lives of our imaginations, and the exterior lives of reality. Sometimes there are struggles and obstacles and secrets that live within this dichotomy, and those provide fertile ground for stories.

Q  The art world can seem mysterious and nebulous to many people. What have you learned about it that surprised you and that you’d like to share with us?

A I learned about climate and security-controlled art warehouses, where a person who buys a multi-million-dollar painting for an investment can store his purchase and avoid paying taxes until he takes the painting out to sell it. Sometimes paintings are stored in these warehouses for years, and the privacy of the owners is strictly preserved.

Q What is your favorite part about writing mysteries?

A Because a mystery author presents an intellectual and emotional puzzle for the reader to solve, there is a tight connection between the author and the reader. Every step of the way, the reader is discovering clues and evidence and foreshadowing that the author has carefully laid out for the reader. In no other genre is that author-reader wavelength so well-matched. Any time I talk with a reader, I delight in the conversation. I love hearing what the reading journey was like, whom the reader suspected, whether or not the reader was surprised by the ending.

A mystery is a feeling person’s book; a thinking person’s book. It’s a joy to engage with the reader’s heart and mind.

Q Reviewers have lauded A PALETTE FOR LOVE AND MURDER for its in-depth depictions of characters and relationships, as well as its sensitive treatment of difficult topics, both of which are rare in mysteries. Did you intend to veer away from the genre tropes, and, if so, why?

A Traditional mysteries are plot-based, but, over time, genre-blending has changed that landscape, particularly when it comes to using the tools of characterization, such as deep point of view, unheroic characters, villains with redeeming characteristics, unreliable narrators, and amateur sleuths. Many of my favorite mystery writers portray characters with complexity and depth. For example, Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch is someone I know so well—he could be my friend, my neighbor, my brother. My detective, Oliver Parrott, is the same way. After you’ve read the book, you will know him inside and out. Modern readers want to connect with protagonists. They want to feel the story from inside the protagonist’s shoes. As an author, I want the same thing. I feel it makes for a more authentic, relatable reading experience.

Q How do you come up with the names in your books?

A I approach name selection in the same way as I would if I were naming a new-born baby of mine. The name has to endure throughout the writing of the book, and long afterward, so I want to make sure it has staying power. Many of my characters are named after people in my life whom I want to honor. Many names are ethnic in nature, or attuned to the time period in which the characters were born. Once in a while, I’ll change a character’s name after I’ve started writing the book, but that’s rare. Once I’ve named him, that name starts to fit him perfectly, and I think of him as ___. In Brandywine Valley, the houses have names, too, so I have an added opportunity to play with names. The house in A PALETTE FOR LOVE AND MURDER, for example, is named Manderley, after the mansion in Daphne du Maurier’s REBECCA.

Some of my characters’ names are humorous, some are intentionally ordinary or unusual, and some are nods to famous characters in other authors’ books. Parrott, for instance, is a nod to Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot.

Q As a teacher of creative writing, what is your belief about talent vs. craft in the act of producing a work of fiction? How important is research in the writing of a fiction book?

A Talent vs. craft is the age-old question, much like, “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” Over the years I’ve had students with immense talent, but little regard for perfecting craft, and I’ve seen the opposite, as well. The truth is that both talent and craft are required to produce a work of fiction, and there is no ideal measure of how much of one or another is needed. A facility with words is certainly important, as is having a good story to tell. Whether those constitute talent or craft is debatable.

Research, however, is a much more concrete and definable part of the process of writing. I believe research is indispensable in developing a story that is realistic, believable, and authentic. Today’s reader wants to come away from a work of fiction knowing more about the people, places, and things within the novel. Research keeps the story up-to-date and relevant.

Q Who is your ideal reader?

A My ideal reader is anyone who is open to immersing himself in the milieu of the story; willing to engage with the appropriate characters; alert in catching the subtleties of clues, humor, and tension; and allowing himself or herself to be drawn in.

Q What is your greatest satisfaction in being an author?

A Because being an author is the fulfillment of a lifelong dream for me, I have many satisfactions: having a job that delights me every single day, being able to interact meaningfully with other authors and people in the publishing industry, holding my books in my hands, attending book clubs and other meetings where my books are being discussed, winning awards for my writing, and the list goes on and on. But, hands-down, the most important satisfaction for me is having a reader understand and appreciate my book. When someone tells me I’ve touched his or her life, I know I’ve succeeded as an author.

Q What plans do you have for future books?

A I have a standalone mystery, A MURDER OF PRINCIPAL, coming out in January 2021. I’m writing another standalone, BLOOD SISTERS, which I also hope will come out in 2021. Meanwhile, with all of the political unrest and recent events related to police brutality, Detective Parrott has been whispering in my ear. I’m sure he has another story or two to share with us.

Reviews, media, and tour schedule may be found at http://saralynrichard.com.

Buy links: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/A+Palette+for+Love+and+Murder?_requestid=2258777

https://www.amazon.com/Palette-Love-Murder-Detective-Parrott/dp/1644372045/ref= Social media links: https://www.amazon.com/Saralyn-Richard/e/B0787F6HD4/ref= https://twitter.com/SaralynRichard https://www.facebook.com/saralyn.richard, https://www.twitter.com/SaralynRichard, https://www.linkedin.com/in/saralyn-richard-b06b6355/, https://www.pinterest.com/saralynrichard/, https://www.instagram.com/naughty_nana_sheepdog/ https://www.pinterest.com/saralynrichard/ and https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7338961.Saralyn_Richard. https://www.bookbub.com/profile/saralyn-richard

 

 

 

 

The Sign Behind the Crime Series

Ronnie Allen

No matter the season or reason, who among us doesn’t love playing armchair detective? In her The Sign Behind the Crime mystery series, author Ronnie Allen invites us on a ride-along through the mean streets of New York … and the meaner minds of crafty villains seeking to elude capture for their dark deeds.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: When I read that you and your husband made a relocation leap twelve years ago from the bustle of New York to the rural quiet of Central Florida, I couldn’t help but hear the Green Acres theme song dance through my head. Is it true that you can take the girl out of the city but not the city out of the girl?

A: Totally, Christina. I miss NYC on so many levels; the diversity, the restaurants, shopping, fast paced energy. I don’t think I’ll ever be a Floridian. And I went back home through my novels which are set in NYC. The last time I was in Manhattan was for ThrillerFest in 2015 as a debut author.

Q: Tell us how your educational and professional background made you such a natural to pen a pulse-pounding crime series with psychological elements.

A: For one, psychology is my formal education. I’m a NYS licensed School Psychologist, and have been a teacher in the NYC Department of Education for thirty-three years, retiring in 2003. Aspects of my careers are in my books. The killer in Gemini is a pretend school psychologist, and one of the detectives, Det. Samantha Wright, in Aries and the rest of the series was an elementary school teacher before she joined the police force. My holistic and alternative therapies training and experiences are also in the books, manifested through character development and the plots. Dr. John Trenton in Gemini is psychic and clairvoyant and has the same skills in the areas in which I’m certified. Det. Samantha Wright is at the beginning of becoming in tune with her abilities and her approach was similar to mine when I first became aware.

Q: Did you envision writing a series when you began or did typing THE END on the first book inspire and dare you to not let go of the gritty crime world you had created for your readers?

A: Actually, I didn’t foresee the series until I was in the middle of writing book two, Aries. I had started writing book two before Gemini was in contract. I didn’t want to write the same characters if I didn’t know the book would be picked up. When I was writing Aries, the astrological components started to reveal themselves, and I got that ‘ah ha’ moment. My tag line was The Mind Behind the Crime because I write psychological thrillers. The Sign Behind the Crime popped into my mind as the astrological signs give the clues to solving the crime. I approached my publisher about it and we ran with it.

Q: Whether it’s a novel, a film or a television program, writing about crime requires a high degree of accuracy, plausibility and realism in order for the fiction to ring true. Tell us about the level of research you employed in order to click on all cylinders.

A: Yes, research is crucial in the crime genre. Nothing is as easy in real life as portrayed on TV. I had several consultants; a detective in NYC, and a Captain of Major Crimes here in our small county, and others for the different subplots. I have folders of printed out research from police procedural courses I’ve taken as well as internet searches. I was at FBI headquarters in NYC in 2015 and received a wealth of information there. Also, getting forensic psychiatry correct was crucial for my characters and the situations in which they found themselves. Police procedure, department names, terminology used all vary from state to state. It was interesting to see the differences between the NYC PD and our Sheriff’s office. The author also needs to know what organizational names and locations have to be fictionalized, such as psychiatric organizations, hospitals, and schools.

Q: Do you allow anyone to read your books while they’re still a work in progress or do you make them wait it out? Why does your chosen method work for you?

A: During my writing process, no one reads them. When I get a complete first draft, or second, or third, then I go to my critique partners and beta readers. This works for me because I strongly believe that writing is rewriting and rewriting. Nothing is written in stone in the first or even following drafts. I want people to see my best possible work effort. If someone points out something, I don’t want to say, “Yeah, I know, I have to fix that.” It’s very frustrating for a critique partner to spend their time giving you feedback and then for you to know about it.

Q: Plotter or pantser?

A: I started out being a plotter, a very intense plotter. I had Gemini in my brain, and in notes before I hit the computer. As I was writing, if my character started to take over, which they did, I ran with it. The second book was also heavily plotted. Book three, Scorpio, was a mix, and by the time I was writing Libra, I was like, “Whoa, where are you going so fast?” Libra is the longest book.

Q: The four books in your series have all been given the names of zodiac signs. Why is that?

A: I’m a Gemini, so I decided to start with me. It went through several title changes, and when the Gemini aspects came out, I said, ‘that’s it!” And as a series, I felt it was fitting for the rest of the books.

Q: Do they need to be read in order or could each be read as a standalone?

A: Gemini and Aries can definitely be read as standalones. The third and fourth books have the characters from the first two, and I weave in enough backstory so that the reader will not get lost.

Q: Will there be more books in this crime series? (You do, after all, have eight more zodiac signs to go …)

A: I’m not sure. I wrapped up Libra with the happiest ever after the reader could want, so I’m content with ending the series there.

Q: Are any of your fictional characters fashioned after real-life people you know (including yourself)?

A: Definitely me. My readers will learn a lot about me. I’m a part of all of the major characters. My parents, Esther and Sam, are Dr. John Trenton’s parents in the series. It’s their personality, and names, not their careers. I tell my friends that no one I actually know is in the books.

Q: Which of these fictional personas would you most like to go to lunch with (and why)?

A: To go to lunch? Definitely Drs. John Trenton and Frank Khaos. Frank is the forensic psychiatrist who’s introduced in Aries. For one, I love hunky men. Dr. Trenton is a holistic psychiatrist, and I can lean more about Medical Orgone Therapy that is one of his specialties. I participated in this in the 1970’s in another form, and it pivoted me into wanting to work with chakras as part of my holistic healing practice in NYC. Frank is a BJJ fighter and I’m fascinated with martial arts.

Q: What’s the takeaway for your fans after they’ve read the final chapter(s)?

A: There are several takeaways; dreams can be manifested, your childhood traumas do not have to determine the quality of your adult life, resolving an issue from childhood is not as fearful as you thought before you took the action, traumas can push you to be a better more compassionate human being.

Q: As a fellow wordsmith, I have an extensive collection of reference books, most notably the Howdunit series published by Writer’s Digest. (You can imagine how unsettled it made our dinner guests on the occasion I’d leave one out on the coffee table.) Hypothetically, if you were to embark on a successful life of crime, what would you be most likely to pursue?

A: Yes! I can imagine how it made dinner guests feel. I don’t know! If I hadn’t resolved my childhood trauma around asthma like AriellaRose Larcon in Aries, I probably would have been a serial killer. I can’t imagine me hurting anyone, though.

Q: Best advice to aspiring authors before they begin their journey to getting published?

A: Thank you for asking this. I feel too many writers want to cut short this process. My words of advice; make sure you listen to those who have accomplished what you want. For example, in social media groups, be careful on whose advice to take. Don’t fall for any scams. Have critique partners and beta readers go through your manuscript before you submit. I’m a proponent of traditional publishing. Make sure your manuscript is as good as it can be before submission. Read the publishers guidelines on their website before you submit. Follow the directions. That’s a major reason for rejection. If you’re lucky enough to get feedback and it’s consistent between editors, listen. Edit, rewrite. Don’t submit the same manuscript repeatedly with the same errors. The writer has to step back and get their ego out of it. Don’t say, “It’s my manuscript, and I want it this way.” Because I listened, I received my first contract on only my seventh submission.

Q: What do you do to prepare yourself mentally for each new project?

A: When plotting, it comes to me naturally. There isn’t mental preparation. I don’t have to talk myself into it.

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

A: I’m very much like my characters, except for the murders or violent parts. I’ve had a very pampered life, so writing these scenes is really a stretch for me. Some scenes have actually happened. Not telling which ones, though.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: I’m coming from a film and screenwriting background from the late ‘70s through mid ‘90s, and I would like to get my books to a TV episodic series.

Q: Anything else you’d like to share?

A: Thank you so much, Christina. My website is http://www.ronnieallennovel.com, and your readers can find me on Facebook at Ronnie.allen.507. On Twitter and IG, I’m @ronnieanovelist.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mon Amour, Friend or Foe

MON AMOUR_FRONT COVER_150 DPI

It’s 1939 and eighteen-year-old American Paulette Rousseau arrives in Paris to study at the Sorbonne and to pursue an independent and happier future away from her self-absorbed parents. Her prayers appear answered when handsome and charismatic Guy de Laval invites her to join a chemistry study group he tutors. But when Guy asks her to join the French Resistance the following year, she questions whether she can live up to his expectations. Author Elizabeth Pye joins us to discuss how her latest novel, Mon Amour, Friend or Foe, came into being.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

**********

Q: When and where was your passion for the craft of writing first ignited?

A:  Right in my backyard, so to speak. I grew up in Spotsylvania County Virginia in a rural area twenty-five miles from Fredericksburg, the closest town to our home.  My daily life was surrounded with reminders of the history of the early years of our nation. For example, a stroll along the streets of Fredericksburg took me past James Monroe’s Law Office; Rising Sun Tavern—where most of the pre-Revolutionary  statesmen and most of the generals, including French officers, visited there, and in 1775 the  earliest Declaration of Independence was drawn up there; General Hugh Mercer’s Apothecary shop—where it is said George Washington kept an office; the home of Washington’s mother; and Kenmore, the lovely restored  home of Colonel Fielding Lewis and his bride,  Betty Washington Lewis.

All of the historical reminders of the Civil War will need to be visited on another day. Of course, that history is rich, indeed.

I concur with award-winning author Robert Heinlein, who said, “A generation which ignores history has no past and no future.”

Q: Did you have favorite authors and genres you liked to read were you were growing up?

A: My favorite authors were Louisa May Alcott, (Little Women), Nathanael Hawthorne, (House of Seven Gables), Frances Hodgson Burnett (Secret Garden), Edgar Allan Poe (The Murder in the Rue Morgue and The Fall of the House Usher).

Q: How about now?

A: My favorite authors include Daphne Du Maurier (Rebecca and The Glass-Blowers),  Anya Seton (Green Darkness), Susanna Kearsley (The Winter Sea), Kristin Hannah (The Nightingale), Lucinda Riley, (The Lavender Garden), Jennifer Robson (Somewhere in France), Cara Black (Murder on the Left Bank), Jean-Francois Parot (The Nicolas Le Floch Affair), Honore de Balzac (The Vicar of Tours), Alan Furst (Mission to Paris)  I prefer historical Romance, mysteries, and paranormal novels. As far as nonfiction goes, I enjoy memoirs and biographies.

Q: What is your particular draw to historical novels, especially plots which are set in France?

A: I am fascinated with history, and think that there are stories to be told in many ways. Historical novels provide an enjoyable way to go back in time and learn about ways of life during various periods of interest.

From a young age, I have been a Francophile although I had little exposure to French culture. I romanticized the French language, preferred Louis XV rococo style furniture—a far cry from the early American favorite of my mother, loved formal French gardens. Many years later my dreams were fulfilled when I first traveled to France and experienced the beauty of the Paris and Loire Valley (The Valley of the Kings) chateaus.

Q: Tell us what inspired you to pen your French Connection series and, most recently, including Mon Amour, Friend or Foe?

A: My love affair with many things French had piqued my interest sufficiently that I visited a hypnotherapist for a past life regression.  I slipped in to relaxed state and became aware of my surrounding in eighteenth century Revolutionary Paris. I described my surroundings and provided names and dates of events when questioned by the hypnotherapist.

Thus, began an ongoing research project to confirm or debunk the information I described. I became more and more immersed in French history which led to my French Connection Series and the completion of the first draft of Return to Chateau Fleury, which I set aside when my husband was diagnosed with Pancreatic cancer.

I decided to write Mon Amour, Friend or Foe after the publication of Return to Chateau Fleury, the second book of the series, because the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II occurs in 2020, and remains in the memories of many people. I wanted to immerse myself in the story to gain insight as to how the French people responded to the occupation of their country. Aline, one of my favorite characters, is carried forward from Book 2 to this one.

Q: What is the underlying theme and structure of this latest title?

A: Mon Amour, Friend or Foe, is the third book in the series and is structured on the Fichtean Curve model, rather than the generally used Three Act Structure.

The primary theme of the story is Love vs. Duty. Secondary themes are Fear and Courage.

Q: For any type of series, there are inherent benefits and challenges. For instance, can your French Connection books be read out of order and still embrace continuity?

A: A qualified “yes.” Each of the three books can be read as a stand-alone novel; however, Silk or Sugar is the only one of the three that is confined to one time period—1803 of the Napoleonic era.

Q: During your research for your historical novels, how do you blend fact and fiction?

A: Most of my characters are fictional, but the challenges they face are represented with as much historical accuracy as possible, as are actual historical individuals who are included for historic context.

Q: Would you like to have lived during the historical periods you write about?

A:  I write about historical periods of epic proportions because I question how I would respond in such a situation. With challenge comes opportunity. During those times the individual is challenged to confront their strengths and weaknesses, to draw on latent talents and strengths they might not know they possess.

Q: For family and friends who know you well, would they recognize you as any of the fictional personalities in your books?

A: I doubt they would, although I’m sure some of my personality traits are expressed. On the other hand, I pen-in many of the traits that I admire, but do not possess. I’m more able to control their response to challenges than I can for myself.

Q: Some authors create storyboards during the development process. Others like to put on period music to get them into the mindsets of their characters and the atmosphere of their settings. Your own method—the design of 1:12 scale models—reminds me of how I use set design to envision backdrops for my stage plays. How did you come up with this delightfully creative tool for visualization? (and please describe an example for us of how and why a mini diorama works for you)

A: I studied interior design and enjoy decorating my own home in the French style.  Miniatures allow me to continue working on design projects, and to immerse myself in the environment of my characters.  While working on various chapters of Mon Amour, Friend or Foe, I designed the heroine’s small Paris apartment kitchen area, which served a dual purpose as her resistance work space where she typed coded messages for resistance leaders; the hero’s office in the family’s eighteenth century  Parisian mansion while he served the Free French movement, and the alcove of the great hall in the family chateau in the Loire Valley in which the family held Christmas celebrations for the surrounding community. I have a collection of French music CDs to put me on location.

Q: Would you describe yourself as a plotter or a pantser? (and why does this method work effectively for you)

A:  I’m a panstser. Before I begin a new novel, I have a general idea of the main characters and their roles in the story, but do not have more than a topics outline. I know where the story is going without a roadmap as to how to get there. I remain open during the writing to allow my characters to direct me.  I keep a note pad with me to capture promptings from my muse at any time of the day or night. With Mon Amour, Friend or Foe, I didn’t know how the story would end until the last few chapters, which contrasts with my experiences with Silk or Sugar and Return to Chateau Fleury.

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

A: I’m a researcher at heart, and as such completed a hypnotherapy course and became a certified hypnotherapist. I kept that status for two years. I didn’t go into the business, but did regressions for family and friends.

Q: Like many of your fellow authors, you chose to go the route of self-publishing. Multiple books later, what did you learn about the DIY route that you didn’t know when you began?

A: I was fortunate to belong to a critique group that included members of multiple book publications. Some had worked with traditional publishers and shared their experiences with me before I had published my first book. I had gone the way of entering Romance Writers of America sponsored contests and noted that much time could be spent that way.  I evaluated the lengthy process of seeking a traditional publisher and the decrease in assistance they provided their authors. I prefer the control I have when self-publishing. Now that I have three books, I confess I must do a better job promoting them.

Q: What are you doing to promote the French Connection series? In your view, which avenues have been the most successful for you?

A: So far, I have found Facebook ads and author’s page, my blog on my website, and book fairs and festivals work well. I’m ready to begin adding to my promotional efforts.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: I’m beginning research for Lucia’s Poppy Fields, book 4 of the French Connection series, a novel about the Great War and the Spanish Flu Pandemic.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: Visit me on Facebook or  or on my website: Https://www.EPye.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reaper: A Horror Novella

JonathanPongratzHeadshot

As far back as The Inquisition, the speculative existence of demons among us has woven a dark seduction over impressionable minds of all ages. Despite centuries of religious teachings that things which go bump in the night, wander fog-shrouded cemeteries, or assume the shape of bats and wolves to feed on human prey are to be avoided at all costs, curiosity has not only killed many a cat but lured many a reader into creepy plots that conjure nightmares. But hey, what’s not to love about a good story that brings on goosebumps? Jonathan Pongratz, author of Reaper: A Horror Novella, explains his own draw to the horror genre.

Interviewer; Christina Hamlett

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 Q: Did you read horror novels and watch horror films when you were growing up?

A: Growing up, my parents wouldn’t let me read or watch anything relating to horror, but I was determined. Though I couldn’t buy any horror books against their knowledge, I spent many late nights creeping from my bedroom to the dark living room. In time I watched all the great classics, in turn giving myself constant nightmares, but it was very much worth it!

Q: Is there a favorite that stands out in your memory?

A: As far as films go, Halloween is probably my favorite. The film really focuses on the mystery and terror of the boogeyman, while also having a great build up to the blood and gore. I rewatch it every year around Halloween.

On books, I really haven’t read that many horror novels to be honest, but my favorite thus far is Sarah by Teri Polen. A scary spirit with an insatiable lust for vengeance made it a real page turner for me.

Q: Last book or movie that really scared your socks off?

A: The last one that terrified me was IT Chapter One (the remake). Every scene had such scare factor that by the end I was something of a nervous wreck. It’s very rare that that happens to me, and I was extremely impressed.

Q: What are you reading now?

A: I just finished up reading the Watchmen comic series. If you’re not familiar, it’s a superhero themed comic set in the 80s, but much more grisly, dark, and violent than most other superhero novels I’ve read before. It is pretty similar to the movie adaptation, and I absolutely loved it!

Q: What was your attraction to writing a horror-themed story?

A: I’ve always loved the horror genre. I have watched hundreds of scary movies, and writing a horror-themed story was a way for me to pay respect to the genre itself. Chills, thrills, adrenaline,

I wanted to write something creepy that got my blood pumping and hopefully the readers as well.

Q: Whose work in the horror genre do you most admire?

A: I’d have to say George Romero and James Wan. George Romero is popular for his zombie movies, Wan for Insidious and The Conjuring franchises. Both have been able to create compelling, dark landscapes that are simply unforgettable. I always gravitate back towards their works, and it’s a constant source of inspiration for my own ideas.

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

A: My real writer’s journey began when I moved to Kansas City about eight years ago. I was at something of a crossroads in my life, and though I hadn’t written anything in years, something about the change of scenery awakened something within me. Ideas started forming in my mind, and I couldn’t ignore them. I felt an intense compulsion to write, more than I had ever felt before. I haven’t stopped writing since.

Q: Share with us the inspiration behind the plot and characters for Reaper: A Horror Novella.

A: I was watching horror movies around September of 2018 when an idea started forming in my mind. The boogeyman, creepy basements, and vanishing children are all themes that I’ve seen in movies before, but for some reason, as I rewatched my favorites this time around I was more inspired than usual.

I wanted something nostalgic, an ode to my own days as a kid, so I went with the early 90s. I wanted to write a creature feature centered around Halloween and the boogeyman, while portraying the sibling rivalry between a comic book kid and his bratty little sister. A lot of the main character’s personality are actually small pieces of my childhood.

Q: Plotter or pantser?

A: Plotter all the way. I like to have a chiseled out plan before I start writing, even if I do end up pantsing here and there on the spot. If there isn’t a chapter summary, it won’t get written.

Q: If Hollywood came calling, who would your dream cast be for this title?

A: You know, I’m not very good with names, so I would just want each character to be portrayed correctly and settle for that. Gregory as a classic 90s comic book nerd, Imogen as a bratty little sister, their parents as loving but detached. The one person I did have an actress in mind for is his mother, Patricia. I’d like to see someone that looked like Catherine Mary Stewart play her part.

Q: How long did it take to write Reaper: A Horror Novella from start to finish?

A: From draft to publication it took me about six months, which I believe to be a bit fast. The first draft itself took about 2-3 months.

Q: Did you allow anyone to read it while it was still a work in progress? Why or why not?

A: I used to do that, but nowadays I don’t. I feel that I’ve grown enough in my writing that I should be able to complete a compelling, well-written first draft. Sure, there will always be little things here and there, but you can’t catch everything. I also don’t like other peoples’ opinions weighing in until after I’ve completed the story in its totality, so that I know what I actually want to keep and what I can compromise on if there’s a problem.

Q: I understand that a sequel is already in the works?

A: Yes! I am in the late stages of writing my first draft of the sequel. Ironically, I had no intentions of continuing this story, but a week after I published the first one I woke up one morning and the sequel just started pouring into my head. If that’s not divine intervention, I don’t know what is! Sometimes you just have to go with the flow, so I did.

Q: What are some of the challenges/rewards inherent in continuing an existing story versus leaving it as a standalone?

A: Well, I believe that writing a standalone may be a bit easier. You can write a great, compelling story and move on to other projects afterwards. Some readers are series-averse. I have phases where I do not want to read a series. Sometimes you just want a one off, and that’s okay. Writing a series, however, can be quite the headache. Not only are you writing more than one novel, but ensuring the continuity is there is extremely important, amidst a plethora of other things you have to watch. That being said, it can be easier to write more than one book once you solidify your style of writing for the main characters. I had a much easier time with Gregory when writing the sequel than I did with the first book.

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

A: A lot, actually. Without a traditional publisher backing you up, you literally have to do every single step of the publishing process yourself, which can easily get confusing. ISBNs, the cover, formatting the digital copy, setting up with a print-on-demand service. I lucked out that my dear friend and fellow author Emerald Dodge took mercy and held my hand through a big chunk of the process.

Q: How are you going about marketing your work?

A: Honestly, for the most part I stick to my social media platforms. I use WordPress and Facebook primarily, but also utilize Tumblr and GoodReads to boost my presence when I can. Marketing is definitely something I could work on quite a bit more, but honestly I don’t have a lot of time after all is said and done.

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

A: I usually write in my room with the ambient music cranked up. I have a desk and desktop with a large screen that makes things so much easier. As far as timing, that’s where the plotter in me thrives. I write before work, on lunch, and after work in at least 30 minute intervals. That’s about all I can do with my crazy busy life, but I have a system that yields results.

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

A: I’m pretty predictable nowadays, but every once in a while I love to rock out with some karaoke. I was a choir kid growing up and was even in several show choirs. Jazz hands!

Q: It’s a dark and stormy night and you’re out by yourself. Which would you rather face down—a vampire, a witch or a zombie?

A: Face down or persuade to turn me? Haha! My answer is vampire all the way. I’ve always had a love for vampires since reading Anne Rice in high school, and I’m pretty sure I would be able to convince a vampire that I’d be the best prodigy ever rather than have one kill me. I mean, my vocal and writing skills alone should earn me a lofty eternal life.

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

A: At my website www.jonathanpongratz.com. I also post frequently on Facebook at www.facebook.com/jonathanpongratz but the content is richer on my website. I’ve got a lot of great stuff planned!

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: I always like to impart a little bit of wisdom to newer writers. If any of them are listening now, I’d like to urge them to keep writing. Find a time every day to write in a comfortable space, even if you have to fight for that time. Some things are worth fighting for, and you’ll grow so much faster if you stick to it. The world is full of possibilities!

Time-Traveling with Kelsey Clifton

A Day Out of Time cover

Among the most popular “what-ifs” in our culture is the theme of time travel. What if you could go back in time and prevent a tragedy like Titanic? What if you could go forward and find out what kind of smart money investments to make in the present? What if you could take back words and actions which hurt a loved one’s feelings or choose a different career path than the one you once thought was perfect?

Or what if your quest as a member of an oddball group of misfits was to save your world—and each other—from the perils of time travel run amok? Right. No pressure. All in an afternoon’s work.

Such is the premise of Kelsey Clifton’s debut novel, A Day Out of Time. Enjoy what she has to share about the angstful anomalies and vexatious vagaries of thinking outside one’s (comfort) time zone.

Interview: Christina Hamlett

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Q: What’s your attraction to the genre of time travel?

A: It just has so much potential for chaos! That was one of the questions I got to ask myself when I was writing these books: “How can I ruin this character’s day next?” Sometimes the answer was with renegade colonial soldiers, and sometimes it was with aliens. What other genre gives you that kind of versatility?

Q: If you had the chance yourself to travel through time (and knowing everything you do in the present day), would you rather go backwards or forwards? And why?

A: In a way, I address this exact question in the Day Out of Time sequel, After/Effects. There’s such a danger in either direction; when you travel to the past, you might feel helpless to stop events from unfolding, but when you travel to the future, you might find out things you were better off not knowing. Either way, you have to worry about the burden of knowledge. For me, I think I’d want to visit some ancient civilization or lost site, just to see what it was really like.

Q: Was the theme of time travel something your adolescent and teen self was interested in when it came to favorite bedside reading? Or was it something entirely different?

A: I didn’t really become interested in time travel until I started watching Doctor Who in my early twenties. It’s probably not a coincidence that Doctor Who and its spinoff series Torchwood are two pieces of media that I often compare to A Day Out of Time. I was always more of a fantasy reader, which still holds true to this day.

Q: Which authors in this genre do you most admire and why?

A: Although Becky Chambers writes other worlds sci-fi and not time travel, she’s far and away my favorite sci-fi author because she focuses so strongly on individuals and cultures in her stories, and those are the parts that fascinate me the most. You can see a bit of that fascination in my Day Out of Time series; while there’s a lot of action and humor, they’re really stories about people relying on each other. The time travel aspect is more of a really entertaining way to explore that concept.

Q: Tell us about some of the themes inherent in A Day Out Of Time and After/Effects.

A: The main theme in A Day Out of Time is this idea of broken things and how they can be mended. Gamma Team itself is mostly made up of misfits and “broken” people who are made whole by being together. In that same vein, we have the subtler theme of the power of a group. A lot of the problems that Gamma faces can only be solved with other members.

As the title suggests, After/Effects deals with the consequences of our actions, both negative and positive. The idea that gets bandied about a lot is that nothing we do is isolated; every decision causes ripples, some far larger than others.

Q: Writing and editing a series vs. a standalone title is not without its own rewards and challenges. What has your personal experience been in this regard?

A: I think the rewards far outweigh the challenges. I’ve gotten to see these characters grow and develop over two books (soon to be three) into better, fuller versions of themselves. There’s also a lot of fun in linking stories and plot points across multiple books, even though A Day Out of Time and After/Effects can be read as standalone novels. One of the challenges that I’ve found in both this series and another that’s currently in-progress is consistency. Changing a key detail in a world can unravel a lot of threads, which is what I’m currently struggling with. Depending on how long you think a series will eventually be, I think there’s a big advantage in having at least a first draft of every book done before you start publishing.

Q: Tell us about the characters in the series. Were some of them easier to write than others (and why)?

A: Cat and Darwin are the two easiest characters to write because they more or less appeared in my head fully formed, like Athena bursting out of Zeus’s skull. Cat is a force of nature – specifically a tornado. When she’s angry, she can touch down and do incredible damage in a very specific spot, while leaving everything else around her untouched. She’s one of the few things that can cow Darwin, who’s otherwise completely uncontrollable. Every scene with him in it automatically becomes 150% more fun to write.

Specs and Helix provide much-needed ballast in the group by acting as the moral and emotional centers. Specs is the steady ground to Cat’s whirlwind, making him invaluable as her lieutenant. On top of being their geneticist, Helix is the team’s medic, which suits her caring personality. She takes the team’s physical and emotional well being very seriously, even when she’s technically off the clock.

Cushioned between these wildly different personality sets, we have Millennia, Grunt, and the New Kid. Millennia was the easiest of the three to pin down because she has all the best qualities of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, which makes her so vivacious and fun to write. The New Kid acts as our “guide” through the world of the Dogs, and at first he seemed deceptively easy because of his mild nature. Over the course of the first draft, however, I discovered all kinds of unplumbed depths to him! And Grunt, of course, is the most enigmatic of all. I think he’s the kind of character you just instinctually understand, even if you don’t know all that much about him.

Q: Over the course of your publishing journey, you tried the traditional route. What prompted you to make the switch and become self-published?

A: I had grown a bit tired of querying, honestly, but I’d never really given self-publishing much serious thought. Then a friend sent me a link to an author who had completely funded her novel on Kickstarter within 24 hours or something. And even though it turned out that she was a fairly well-known comic book artist with an established following, it really got me thinking about it for the first time. I started doing research into the market and my different options, and I decided that I was tired of waiting around for the chance to tell my stories.

Q: Going the DIY route, of course, requires authors to don multiple hats. What do you like the best (and least) about managing your intellectual property from start to finish?

A: I’m a bit of a control freak, so I do really enjoy the creative control that I have over everything. I like that there’s no one pressuring me to change the title or the ending. The part that I like the least is the constant need to seek out potential readers. I’m a casual social media user at heart, so I’d almost always rather be working on a new project instead, but I have to put my writing aside sometimes and dedicate an hour or two to promoting myself and my work.

Q: What surprised you the most about navigating the ropes of self-publishing?

A: How easy it is to look up and say, “Oh my God, I haven’t posted to [X] in so long, I haven’t updated the website, I need to schedule a signing, etc.” You just get caught up in one aspect, and before you know it you’re getting reminders from your Facebook page about posting.

Q: If Marie Kondo were to visit your home, would she applaud your embrace of minimalism or be alarmed by your unabashed clutter?

A: Marie Kondo would just look around and say, “Oh my goodness” on repeat. I have a hard time getting rid of things anyway, but I also have a habit of collecting little trinkets or memorabilia that I leave strewn across every surface and tucked away in memory boxes. There are definitely things I could get rid of, but plenty of others that fill me with joy. Basically, I’m a dragon at heart and I cannot be reformed.

Q: Authors often picture their finished works as taking on another life as, for instance, a television series, a stage play or a movie. Is this the case for you with your time travel series?

A: I think A Day Out of Time would make an incredible TV series. There’s plenty of potential for “Problem of the Week” episodes, along with more complicated story arcs. I’d be open to surprise casting for all but two characters: Cat and Specs. I will accept Robin Wright and Mike Colter, or nobody.

Q: What is the thing you enjoy most about the creative process of writing?

A: Honestly, editing. A lot of writers gripe about the editing process, but it’s my favorite part. Writing a first draft is messy and grueling and magical, like metaphorical childbirth. But editing is like helping your story grow up. I’m also a big fan of “Aha!” moments, when the threads of a plot come together – especially if it turns out that I was subconsciously working towards a certain concept all along.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I’m currently working on the final draft of a standalone sword & sorcery novel called Fire and Lightning, Ash and Stone. It’s like a snarkier version of The Enchanted Forest Chronicles, and I’m hoping to release it in early or mid-January. Fans of A Day Out of Time will find a similar mix of humor, action, and heartbreak.

Q: Anything else you’d like readers to know about you?

A: In spite of what I said earlier about social media, I really am very approachable! Feel free to find me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Tumblr and say hello. I may not enjoy trying to market myself, but I do enjoy engaging with readers.

 

Windmaster Legend

Widnmaster Cover

 

From the mists of time, a forbidden love. An impossible quest. Threats to life and career. But can love survive the accusation of witchcraft? Author Helen Henderson invites us into the magical world of her new fantasy romance, Windmaster Legend.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: How did the dichotomy of a simplistic upbringing on a farm and a professional career in computer design influence your writing style and the development of your works’ pacing, structure, dialogue and characters?

A: While there is a certain consistency in my writing voice and I try to write action and adventure into each storyline, my characters have to be unique … and real. My fantasy worlds have various ranks of characters such as leaders, historians, and arbiters of justice; villagers and the elders who guide and protect the town; or officers and the crew that serve in their command. One of the ways to make a distinction is for one to have different types and amounts of formal education (here I channel more of the professional side of my life) and the other the down-to-earth farm side.

A piece of writing advice I’ve heard since I first put pen to paper is to, “Write what you know.” While I have never lived in the Old West, courtesy of my farm life I have fired a rifle, watched deer in the fields, and ridden a horse. And on the flip side, while I have never worked on the bridge of a starship, I have been behind the controls of a small aircraft and studied the cockpit of commercial aircraft. Combine that with experience designing and programming computers and my thoughts wander the stars to create the more technical worlds of science fiction.

Q: Do you remember the first story or article you ever wrote? 

A: The first article bearing my byline was a story about New Jersey salt-glazed stoneware for a national publication for antique collectors. That first piece led to another and eventually to a career as a correspondent and feature story writer for a dozen or so national and international publications.

The first piece of fiction to be published came many years later after that non-fiction piece and at the time was only the latest of many short stories I had crafted. Considering the first story I wrote was quite a few (not saying how many) years ago, the tale itself is lost in the mists of the past. That said, during a clean-out of old papers, an early story resurfaced. Written while I was a grade-schooler living in the Philippines, the fictional tale set during the Vietnam War chronicled the first mission of one pilot and the final one of another. I not only took the premise but much of the original writing, added another layer, and polished it with the more experienced eye acquired after years of writing. After some tears and a final salute to the me of yesteryear, the base that no longer exists, and to those who never made it home, FIRST MISSION, FINAL DAY was published in Hearth and Sand, a tribute to family members who served in the military.

Q: What books might we have found on the nightstand of your adolescent self? Your teenage self? And now?

A: In some ways my to-be-read pile hasn’t changed much. I still like action and adventure … and a happy ending. The adolescent me would be reading my mother’s collection of Cherry Ames books and every Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys in our local library. My teenage self progressed to the historical westerns favored by my father. Adventure and mystery came courtesy of the characters created by Alistair Maclean, Leslie Charteris, and Ian Fleming.

My current pile of favorites, read, and to-be-read includes historical westerns by Louis L’Amour, science fiction by Anne McCaffrey, and an eclectic collection of historical romance and fantasy.

Q: Tell us about the inspiration for penning Windmaster Legend.

A: To me, a fantasy book requires a rich environment, which means not only the world of today, but legends, myths, and tales of times past. Intended as a bit of foreshadowing of a potential romance between Captain Ellspeth and the archmage, Lord Dal, in the first book of the series, Ellspeth is explaining the story behind two especially bright stars in the night sky. According to legend, the stars are a pair of lovers named Iol and Pelra. They were turned into stars and placed in the sky by the water gods so the pair could be together for all eternity. A brush stroke of fantasy, a sprinkle of forbidden love and slash of feuding families, Windmaster Legend recounts the real story behind what was given just a few lines in the earlier books of the series.

Q: This is Book #3 of a series. What do you find to be the challenges inherent in writing a series versus a standalone title?

A: With each additional book in a series, keeping the details straight becomes harder. You don’t want to use the same name for two different characters. Fantasy series have an additional problem with unusual character or location names. As the number of volumes grows in a series, the potential for misspelling also increases. And the problem grows by a magnitude when you have written multiple series. I find myself asking were the Revarn Mountains in the Dragshi Chronicles or the Windmaster Novels? Or one of the novellas or stand-alone novels? Creating a series bible helps, but isn’t an absolute solution.

An additional problem I found when writing series is keeping the storyline fresh. While I may include a magical equine of some form in each series, you don’t want the exact same plot and characters over and over and over again. A challenge I inadvertently created for myself was when I wrote the fantasy series, the Dragshi Chronicles, and reprised a scene from early in the book as the story’s ending. Then I had to do something similar for the other books to keep a consistency in the series.

Q: Do you have a favorite character from one of your books? If the two of you hung out together for a day, what would you likely be doing?

A: My heart says my favorite character remains Ellspeth, captain of Sea Falcon. The tale of Ellspeth and the archmage, Lord Dal, is told in Windmaster, the first book I ever had placed under contract so there is a sentimental aspect. That said, I choose to spend a day with Glyn of Clan Miller. Hopefully, one of the magical equines the dragshi raise would allow me to be its rider for the day and Glyn and I would journey along the mountain trails. After lunch in a flower-covered alpine meadow, we’d return to Cloud Eyrie. Or if the weather was not cooperative, we’d spend the day in the practice room while she coached me on some of the finer points of the fighting staff and short bow. If I happen to be there when a celebration is being held for one of the local resident’s naming day, there will be music and dancing. And if I am lucky enough, maybe Lord Talann would grant me the favor of a dance. Just not the dragon wing, I don’t think I’m ready for that energetic or acrobatic maneuver.

Q: Rumor has it that you like to hang out with mages and fly with dragons. Tell us about those dragons!

A: I met the dragons while visiting Cloud Eyrie to interview some of the dragshi. The dragshi are two beings, one human, one a dragon, who share one body in time and space. This sharing allows the human to take on dragon form and take to the skies. Many dragon soul twins stay in the background, sleeping unless needed by their human twin. The quiesence continues until the human half dies and the dragon is able to fulfill its destiny and join the rest of their kind on the high ledges of the remote mountains. Other dragons, such as Honored Old One Llewlyn who is the soul twin of Lord Branin, take an interest in human affairs, observing them and attempting to understand us. And on more than one occasion, expressing his opinion.

The human and dragon halves communicate through mindspeech. Some rare humans also have the ability and they are educated and their talents encouraged. While I don’t have a dragon soul, I have been fortunate to be chosen to chronicle some of the tales of the dragshi and to interview Llewlyn. Through him I have found out that even though they don’t possess magic in the usual sense of casting spells, the dragons are magical creatures and possess an earth magic of their own. Their fire can heal or kill. Although the honored old ones are forbidden to harm a human no matter what the provocation, some of their dragon twins such as Lord Branin are skilled fighters and when in dragon form have on occasion used fire, talon and tail as weapons.

Depending on what part of the land they came from, the human half of each dragshi pairing has their own food preferences. However, most dragons’ favorite meal is sheep, and mountain villagers keep flocks just for the dragons.

Beyond that, anything else I have been told in confidence about his kind by Llewlyn or his mate Honored Old One Jessian, must remain private, unless it was documented in the Dragshi Chronicles.

Q: Does this suggest you were a fan of Game of Thrones?

A: Since I write fantasy, I don’t know if I should admit this or not, but I am probably one of the few people who didn’t see a single episode of Game of Thrones. As to the reason? I could say my cable company didn’t carry it, or that I don’t have cable. Or, that when I’m writing, I don’t read in that genre to avoid inadvertent cross-over from the other author’s work. The same would apply to the small screen. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

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

A: As a rule I don’t usually allow anyone to read a work-in-progress until the story is written and gone through a good polishing. I want it as close to perfect as I can make it before letting it out into the world, even if it is only exposing it to friendly fire. Although I do admit there were a couple of times when I was only a step ahead of the online critique group readers and was giving one chapter its final polish as the group was going over the previous one.

Q: Writing is a solitary craft. How do you combat the potential demons of loneliness?

A: Walking along the waterfront or bicycling a shore trail brought with it the serenity of the outdoors. Attendance at local writers group meetings and an occasional conference reinforced the feeling of community. Since I also wrote non-fiction, being a docent at a local history museum and lecturing at other historical groups also brought me into contact with other people. But I would say the greatest tool to combat the demon of loneliness is the Internet. Although we only met in the virtual world, there are a number of writers that I am privileged to call a friend.

Q: History holds a special passion for you, and you’ve had the experience of participating in archaeological digs. If someone from 200 years in the future were to look at the artifacts we left behind, how would they define us as a culture?

A: Wow, what a hard question. Especially since I don’t consider myself a futurist. A lot can happen in 200 years. In that period of time, a country could go from initial exploration to becoming a major civilization. Archaeology has provided insights into the movements of troops on a battlefield or the migration of a people across thousands of miles. The quality of artifacts can show how people lived. From shards or even entire items we can determine whether the people who lived at a particular site used fine porcelain or primitive stoneware. Even in just my lifetime (and no, I am not hundreds of years old), there has been the Korean Conflict, the eruption of Mount Saint Helens, and the fall of the towers on 9-11. A man has walked on the moon and a mechanical explorer roamed the sands of Mars.

To answer the prompt, I focused on the electronic age. The same amount of computing power that once required huge racks of equipment in climate-controlled warehouses can now be had in a small device we hold in the palm of our hand. As to how our culture might be viewed? I will use one word, primitive. If electronic devices continue to increase in power, our laptops, tablets, and smart phones would be considered crude by the standards of the future civilization. They might also wonder how we ever managed to get anything done with the massive volumes of data that to them was essentially an unorganized dump. After all, we didn’t have the sophisticated artificial intelligence to organize information to its maximum usefulness.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: A novel set in the world of Windmaster that I started during NanoWriMo (also known as the crazy month for authors when we try to write 50,000 words in a span of a month) is demanding to be finished. And a twist on a dragon shifter story is fighting for equal time.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: I love to hear from my readers and invite them to join me on travels through the stars, or among fantasy worlds of the imagination. Excerpts of my work, writing tips, and information on new releases can be found at https://helenhenderson-author.blogspot.com. Or connect with me online at

Facebook—https://www.facebook.com/HelenHenderson.author

Twitter—https://twitter.com/history2write

Amazon—https://www.amazon.com/Helen-Henderson/e/B001HPM2XK

Goodreads—https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/777491.Helen_Henderson

 

 

A Chat With Hope Bolinger

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When I was in high school in the 1960s (even though I only claim to be 35), I used to think that teenagers had an inordinate amount of “stuff” on their plates. In retrospect, I’ve come to appreciate that such stuff is really not much different from what any other younger generation endured (i.e., peer pressure, self-esteem, unreasonable parentals, exam anxieties, and trying to strike a balance between fitting in and being unique). The difference with today’s generation, however, has been the dark impact technology has had on fostering unrealistic comparisons, exposing embarrassing secrets through social media and magnifying one’s sense of helplessness in a world that, for all intents and purposes, appears to have gone insane.

Author and savvy young literary agent Hope Bolinger clearly has a finger on the pulse of YA fears, dreams and sensibilities and effectively taps that expertise for Blaze, the first book in a new series about navigating the scary road to adulthood.

Interview: Christina Hamlett

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Q: When did you first know that being a published author was your true calling?

A: I started writing novels in high school because my best friend wrote them, but when my AP Literature teacher pulled me into her office, reviewing one of my papers, and said, “Obviously you can write well,” I thought, Maybe I could do something with this.

Q: Who or what has had the most influence on guiding your career?

A: That’s such a hard question. I can’t say one particular person alone shaped me. So many writing mentors and friends throughout the years propelled me to where I have landed today. If I listed all the names of everyone who helped me get here, it would probably take the entire interview.

Q: New writers often lament that they have trouble coming up with ideas and yet an abundance of “recyclable” material already exists in Shakespeare, mythology, folk tales and the Bible. As was your own case in developing the “Daniel” series, what is it about timeless themes that make them such a wellspring of inspiration for modern/updated spins?

A: Great question. It’s true nothing’s new under the sun. I saw a lot of parallels between the life of Daniel and the life of the average American teenager. We get forced into a Babylon of sorts (the school system) and have to outshine our classmates in fierce competition and eliminate any trace of our identity. The characters did develop on their own apart from their historical counterparts, but I loved the idea of a revamped Daniel for the modern times. Some inspiration was pulled from Francine Rivers’ Redeeming Love, a revamped version of Hosea and Gomer.

Q: Of the four main characters in Blaze, which one would you most like to spend an afternoon with (and why)?

A: Oh, without a doubt, Hannah. She’s weird, morbid, and wonderful, and she’d have so many wild shenanigans planned for that afternoon.

Q: Which of these characters is the most/least like you in terms of personality traits, aspirations, fears and beliefs?

A: It’s funny. Technically all of them, but when I made a test for my launch party, “Which Character from Blaze are You?” I got Michelle.

I can see it. We both love tennis, journalism, and theater, and we want to look out for our friends. I think I have more of Rayah’s timid personality, so I won’t speak my mind as much as Michelle, but I have her same tenacity.

As for fears, I often approach the situation more like Danny, cracking jokes but battling severe stomach pain.

Q: What are some of the hard themes you tackle in the Blaze trilogy and why do you believe they resonate with today’s teens?

A: Oh dear, I leave no stone unturned in this series. I’ll break it down by book:

Blaze (2019): Mental health, terrible administrations, poorly run school systems, divorce, severe academic expectations, blurring or eradicating of personal identities. Teens deal with all of these. Even the nicest high schools can tend to have a few bad eggs running things. They have way too much unnecessary stress placed upon them.

Den (2020): Suicide, teen pregnancy, school shootings, sexual assault, mental health. All of these have hit hard in the past few years, especially close to home.

Vision (TBD): Mental health, problems with the medical care system in America and those most vulnerable in it, and spiritual warfare. Without giving away too much, I’ve had friends in their teens severely mistreated by the medical care system in the past few years but are too afraid to speak up because they won’t be believed or will end up in terrible situations they tried to get out of.

Can you tell I take mental health seriously? I love that teen books now plan to confront this topic, but back in high school when I needed characters who looked like me, I couldn’t find them anywhere.

Q: “Great things,” wrote an unknown author, “never came from comfort zones.” In your own experience, have you ever dreaded a major change and then discovered it was the best thing ever to happen?

A: Oh, always. I hate change. I feel often like Sheldon Cooper from Big Bang Theory. The slightest shift in routine can set me off. But in publishing, and in life, you can’t excel without massive change and without stretching yourself far beyond your comfort zone.

Q: How did you get a traditional publishing contract?

A: Oh dear, let me try to truncate this in bullet points.

  • Started writing books in 2013 in high school
  • Tried querying agents in 2014
  • Self-published my first book in 2015
  • Went to Taylor University in 2015
  • Went to a writer’s conference based on exceling well in one of my writing classes at Taylor and pitched an agent in 2016
  • The agent ended up rejecting me a few months later
  • 2016-2017 interned for that agent
  • In 2017 that agent encouraged me to pitch another agent at his agency. I did so and got a contract.
  • That summer I wrote Blaze while my parents split.
  • That fall, I pitched it to the editor of LPC at a conference.
  • After multiple rounds of editing back and forth, the pub board finally accepted it spring of 2018.

Q: There are certain challenges inherent in penning a series vs. a standalone title, not the least of which is the risk of repetition in order to keep new readers on the same page as those who are already familiar with characters and scenarios from the preceding books. How have you handled this?

A: I try to write each book as if it can stand alone. If someone dives into book two or three in the series, I don’t want them to feel the normal disorientation you can encounter in some other series.

I think my biggest fear in a series is I want to do better each book. I’ve read so many trilogies where I couldn’t even finish the third book because I could tell the author put in only a small percentage of effort in succeeding titles, as opposed to book one. I want to keep things as fresh as possible, while maintaining the same foreboding tone throughout the series.

Q: Your career currently encompasses that of literary agent, author and other industry-related jobs. Which “hat” is your favorite and how do you strike a balance to ensure you’re delivering quality time and attention to each one?

A: Ooooh, so good. Can I cheat and say all of them? I will anyway. All of them. I wouldn’t do anything else. I strike the balance in a number of ways. First, I maintain specific work hours for agenting. Past those hours, I write. That way I can maintain boundaries and still give my clients the attention they deserve for their books.

Q: What’s the most common misconception people have about writing books?

A: Wow. I’ve written entire blog posts about this. I’ll do three common misconceptions.

  • One: Book writers are just lazy and sit around all day and write. Umm, no. We market, edit, go to conferences, go to speaking engagements, send out thousands of emails, ping reviewers, etc. We honestly only write a small percentage of the time.
  • Two: People write books during free time. No. Free time doesn’t exist. You force yourself to make room in your schedule.
  • Three: Publishers, libraries, all book people want to read it after you finish it, especially if you have an agent. It takes years, and you still deal with a ton of rejections before you can get a contract, if you get one.

Q: What are your thoughts on self-publishing vs. traditional?

A: Both are viable options. It depends on how much marketing you are willing to do, and how much time you would be willing to wait. Traditional publishing takes years. I had a writer pitch to me at a conference the other day, saying, “If you pick up this book, I want it published next year.”

I scrunched my eyebrows. “Ma’am, it takes two years minimum.”

I’ve seen authors do well in both. You just have to work at both like crazy. Neither is the “easier” option.

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

A: Well, I see it going in a platform route. Only those with the largest followings will get book contracts.

I can also see other types of books hitting the market. I’m wondering if apps like Hooked (text-message based stories) will start to go for long-form content. And audiobooks will continue to grow in popularity.

But who honestly can say? Things trending in this year won’t next year. No one can really predict what will happen.

Q: How can authors get an agent like yourself?

A: Best way? Meet me at a conference. I will most likely take more time on your submission if you met me in person. Second best way? If I like your pitch on a Twitter pitch party. Third best way? Follow my submissions guidelines here: https://www.hopebolinger.com/instructions

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

A: I don’t sleep to alarms. I haven’t since first grade. During then, I discovered my pineal gland would wake me up ten minutes prior to my alarm every morning. I decided to test out my internal alarm clock and haven’t woken to any beeping noises since.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: Writers, please keep writing. I know the industry gets discouraging. At least once a week I text my agent friend Alyssa and ask some variation of, “Can I die/give up now?” And she always responds, “If you do, I do.” So, of course, I have to keep going.

Know, even after you get published, imposter syndrome still lurks around and you never truly get over it. If I still get discouraged and keep going, so can you.