A Conversation with Amanda Lyons

 

Amanda Lyons

With catchy titles and a journey into a more complex style of horror writing, author Amanda Lyons mixes tales of psychological intrigue that give readers a little bit of everything: fear, romance, fantasy and a variety of complicated characters. You Read It Here First had a chance to learn more about Ms. Lyons, and what goes on inside the mind of a horror genre writer.

Interviewer: Christy Campbell

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You’ve chosen to write for the horror genre; how is your writing style different from other horror authors?

I write stories and novels that focus a bit more on the development of the people and their psychological perspective than on the horror itself. It can have elements of romance, fantasy and a bit more of a narrative tone than some writers use. I want you to care about the characters in my stories even if it’s just for a few pages. My first novel Eyes Like Blue Fire was gothic horror and therefore had strong romantic elements interlaced with the horror for instance.

When did you first begin writing?

At a pretty young age, about 12. It started with a sappy little story about a homeless family at Christmastime. That story impressed a teacher who liked the detail and it taught me that I could write something that caught the attention of other people. I was hooked and have been writing ever since.

Tell us what Wendy Won’t Go is all about as well as other single titles you’ve released.

Wendy Won’t Go is about a particularly long haunting and the damage it causes. A writer and his daughter are being haunted by his wife; she’s changed and cold now, scaring them and limiting their lives. They don’t know why she’s there and they have to adapt to keep her from causing harm. There’s a lot in the story about pain, loss and the damage time can cause. There are also some surprises about the whole story. I’m hoping it’s a very moving story and that people will like it and think about it long after they read it. For now it’s my only piece of short fiction out there but I’m also working on a short collection with my brother Robert Edward Lyons II called Apocrypha.

What is your upcoming short horror collection Apocrypha about? 

Apocrypha is about all the little things that haunt us in life. For some of the stories it means addressing some urban legends and fairy tales, the little things that we pass on to our kids, but for others it’s about the what ifs and the maybes we face every day. Apocrypha refers to a collection of books and stories with a dubious or unproven origin, this is exactly what these stories are, little bits and pieces from a life that you might never expect to know and you can never really prove ever happened.

How is working with a small press different than your experience as an indie author?

In terms of all of the promotion stuff so far it’s pretty much the same (most small presses need to rely on the author’s ability to sell themselves and their work because there isn’t the time and money to invest in huge campaigns) but there are a lot more people checking on how your writing is going, encouraging you to keep writing and promoting and of course helping with editing, book covers and some more avenues of marketing. You have a really solid group of people invested in your work and making it look its best so that it can catch readers’ eyes and really get the best overall debut. At J. Ellington Ashton Press that atmosphere of camaraderie and support is even more present because we’re all writers and wanting to help each other do our best.

When you’re an indie, you spend hours and hours trying to get everything together and you have a much smaller group of people acting as a support system. I actually think that’s one of the biggest killers for an indie career, that lack of support and encouragement to keep you going through the rough days. Plenty of great writers give up because it’s too overwhelming to get through all of the lack of sales and immediate proof of your quality. It takes at least a year to see any real sales on a novel no matter what market you’re in and so many people think that they’ll be able to pull off serious sales right away. The work is so much harder as an indie and there are a lot of things that can go wrong. It requires a real dedication and confidence in your work, tons of work, tons of promotion and a good attitude.

Describe the kinds of books readers can expect from you in the future.

My imagination is all over the place and I think it’s safe to say that not everything I write will be horror. Here’s a few of the books I currently have in progress and hope to finish in the next few years.

1)      Cool Green Waters: This is the sequel to my gothic horror novel Eyes Like Blue Fire. In this second book we learn a lot more about Mateo, Zero and Michael some characters who were a little underplayed in the first book. We also face Raven and Katja’s remaining problems and a whole new threat from two different characters who were changed by the events in ELBF. This book is a lot darker.

2)      Other Dangers: This is an apocalypse novel dealing with an author who writes the end of the world and then tries to save it when she realizes what she’s done. It’s far more involved than that but there’s so much I have yet to finish so I can’t go into it in too great a detail Suffice to say this is my big epic and it relies on as many fantasy elements as horror ones.

3)      Jodie: This is a novel about a very damaged teenager who wanders the woods and town where she lives and how a group of boys set out to attack her. What they don’t know is that she has a lot more going on than they thought.

4)      The Farm: A couple who own a farm are faced with terrible changes taking place there. It’s sort of Lovecraftian but on a different level.

Okay, give us your favorite established horror authors and tell us why you love them. 

Stephen King (because his narrative voice is very naturally and his books are almost always very good), Anne Rice (because she has a real love for history, atmosphere and the gothic), Gary Braunbeck (because his books and stories are always very moving and emotional), Brian Keene (because he can write such dark work and make it meaningful with great characters), Joe R Lansdale (because he goes to so many unusual places and exposes you to so many different ways of seeing the world. His versatility can have you laughing one minute and horrified the next).

Pick one of those authors and share with us one question you would ask him or her, if you had the chance.

Gary Braunbeck: “Did you always know your writing would take on this emotive and personal tone or did you build that over time?”

Do you think you’ll ever explore other themes as an author?

Yes, definitely. I have ideas that fall in all kinds of genres and subgenres, time will tell which ones I end up putting out there.

What sort of topics do you think are overdone or need to be written about less in horror?

Rape. There is a big difference between rape that has a real purpose and meaning in the story and the kind of thing where it seems tossed in for spice. The later version has become so prevalent that it’s becoming tedious and it’s often used multiple times in one book. The people that use that horrific event in that way, as a casual thing, aren’t helping resolve the rape culture or women who are affected by it.

What do you think are the benefits to self-publishing that aren’t as available to traditionally published authors?

You have a bit more control over the look, marketing and promotion of your work. It’s your choice how all of these things turn out and as a result you can manipulate the overall appeal. You also have the ability to edit and modify these things with relative ease. You control the cost of your book and reap the majority of the benefits when sales come in.

What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

Reading, drawing (really anything creative) hanging out with the kids and my partner Todd, hiking, art, listening to music and hanging out with friends at B movie night.

And of course, you must let us know your all-time favorite horror movie!

Delamorte Delamore known as Cemetery Man in the U.S.

 

Bumpy Roads – A Collection of Short Stories

bumpyroadsimage

Fasten your seat belts and prepare to travel down the bumpy roads of life. In his second collection of short stories, New Zealand author Brian WIlson entertains adults and adolescents with 35 humorous and thought-provoking vignettes based on his extensive globetrekking and observations of human behavior.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Tell us about your personal journey as a writer. Was it bumpy or smooth?

A: Bumpy Roads – A Collection of Short Stories, is my second book, the first being Moments in Time -A Collection of Short Stories. As a second book I would consider that this has been a smooth ride. Writing is creative, albeit an art. I write when I am in the mood and when the ideas are flowing. It is quite different from when I wrote a thesis for a Master’s Degree with time restraints. Writing, though, is only a small part of the journey. For those of us who don’t have the luxury of being mothered by a traditional publisher, there is a lot of time spent after the stories have been written in cover design, organising the internal layout, formatting and organising the editing. All of these are required before the book goes to print. Then about 66% of one’s time is spent on marketing. The books you mostly hear about or see in a bookshop have been published through traditional publishers, because they have the financial resources and connections for marketing. Yet many of the best written books especially today are self-published. Even in earlier times exceptional writers found getting traditional publishers difficult. There are good examples of famous self-published authors such as Charles Dickens and Beatrix Potter.

Q: Did you have mentors along the way to guide you?

A: No. I see writing as a natural process. We all have different ways of writing; this is our signature and we shouldn’t change these simply because another person doesn’t like our style. Though, I guess in going through the school and university process there is some degree of mentoring. In Bumpy Roads my daughter Rachel wrote five stories and, as the reader will see, her style is very different to mine and some may consider it better. Rachel has an award in English from high school, and Bachelor of Art and Education degrees. She has also been one of the people editing my stories and I knew that she had the ability to write good stories.

Apart from helping her with surprise twists and suggesting rearrangement of several sentences, I restrained myself from trying to change her way of writing.

Q: Who are some of the authors you read for leisure and how have they influenced your own approach to storytelling and creative expression?

A: Recently I have been reading a number of short stories by famous writers. I left this reading until after I wrote my first two books as I didn’t want to be influenced by other writers’ styles and ideas. The stories read were by C.S. Forester, Liam O’Flaherty, E.C. Bentley, Katherine Mansfield, Norah Burke, H.E Bates, Somerset Mangham, I.A. Williams, John Buchan, H.H. Munro, John Golsworthy, O.Henry and H.G. Wells.

Q: How did your academic background and professional experience prepare you for the challenges of putting pen to paper (or, rather, fingers to keyboard!) and sticking to a writing schedule?

A: My approach to short stories is that I don’t write for the sake of writing; there has to be a good story or theme for the reader. Therefore, there is no writing schedule as such. My writing is as the mood takes me. Writing a thesis is different requiring a writing schedule, as one does not have the luxury of time or as Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot says, “for the little grey cells to start working”. I was disappointed in reading ‘The Conga Eel’, by Liam O’Flaherty, as the whole story was simply that the eel gets netted and escapes. Simple plots are not unusual for short stories, but there has got to be something more there for the reader.  It seemed to me this story was written for the sake of writing. In my book Bumpy Roads, the story “The Journey,” can also be summed up in 7 words, but the story extends well beyond the simple story line and in fact encompasses the theme for the whole book.

Q: What’s your primary wellspring of ideas for your stories and poems?

A: I base the majority of stories on experiences. I build on these stories to create a fiction work. Stories will vary from being close to 100% true to maybe only 5%. By using experiences, I know my facts and descriptions are true and accurate. In Bumpy Roads I have stories in eight countries. They are all countries I have at some time visited and can provide accurate descriptions of.

Poetry is very much creative and lines may come in the course of having a shower or in the middle of the night. I sometimes get ideas for stories the same way.

Q: How do you go about deciding the particular style a story will embrace?

A: I don’t restrict myself to a style. It may be first or third person or narrative or dialogue. Some stories pose a greater challenge to me in the way they are written. In Bumpy Roads, the story “Three Granddads” is actually two stories being told at the same time which merge into the last sentence. This sentence also sums up the theme. Some of my stories include characters from the first book and the stories are more meaningful if you read this book first.

Q: Are your characters based on real people – including yourself – or do they materialize for you from thin air?

A: I try to create round characters and in doing so I have taken and used different parts of myself in various characters as well as parts of other people I know. It is a tricky area and I guess this is a reason why some writers use pen names.

Q: Tell us about Moments in Time. What’s that one about?

A: On the 22nd February 2011, Christchurch City, New Zealand was struck by a killer earthquake. Across the road from where I was working, a six-storey building collapsed entombing the 113 occupants. On that day 186 lives were lost, businesses collapsed, homes were destroyed and our lives were changed forever. This event marked a moment in our lives and the beginning of my short story writing. Some of my stories in Moments in Time recorded the events on that day. Others reflect overseas experiences. The stories are about times in life and are inspirational, many with humour and surprise twists.

Q: Which do you personally feel is a bigger challenge – to compose a short story or to write a full-length novel?

A: I have asked myself the same question. Novels and short stories I believe require different skill-sets. The novel requires perseverance, maintaining the reader’s attention, consistency in characters and a lot more editing. Short stories in comparison, because they are short, require more creativity and attention to detail, and give the writer little room to develop characters. I think that the writer of short stories is put more under the reader’s microscope.

Q: Should authors don the hat of “Editor” for their own work or should they hire someone to do this for them?

A: Definitely not. In my second book I have used five editors because we all miss mistakes. We see with our brains and not our eyes, and our brain fills in the gap. Two of these people are exceptionally good at editing. A quality product is paramount.

Q: Tell us about your cover art and the input you had on its design.

A: I initiated the title Bumpy Roads as this is how you could describe post-earthquake Christchurch as well as the difficult times in our lives.

I would not in any way consider myself artistic in drawing, but I designed the cover and drew the cartoon. Trafford Publishing was happy with both my cover and title. They only modified my drawing to include the rectangular sign with the author names. Previously I had our names at the bottom of the cover.

Q: How much research went into your decision to find a publisher?

A: Probably not a great deal. I checked out various sites and was also very interested in an Australian self-publishing firm, but in the end it came down to costs and services provided.

Q: With so many publishing venues available today for indie authors, what influenced your decision to go with one that charges high-end prices?

A: I have found Trafford produces a quality product but I am open to better deals for future books. For both books published by Trafford, the publishing package I secured was discounted heavily to about half the advertised rate.

Q: Tell us about your marketing platform for your books and what you’re doing to build a readership.

A: When I published my first book I had no involvement in social media. Following my first book I got involved in Linkedin and later Pinterest. These are now well established. Over the last two months I have now set up Facebook and Twitter sites as well as Goodreads, Amazon, WordPress, Google and Blogger.dot com  I have been featured on many Guest Author spots and currently I am looking at putting out several trailers and doing a guest podcast. My first book had a very good review by a top USA reviewer: http://www.theusreview.com/reviews/Moments-Wilson.html

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

A: I worked as an investigator for about 28 years

Q: So what’s next on your plate?

A: I am currently writing my third book of short stories. Completion is about a year away.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: Thanks for the interview

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

A: Websites:

http://brian-d-wilson.com/

http://www.amazon.com/Brian-Wilson/e/B001K833VO

Blog spots:

http://www.pinterest.com/briandwilson78/pins/

http://wilsonbd.wordpress.com/author/wilsonbd/

http://brian-d-wilson.blogspot.co.nz/

http://www.goodreads.com/author_blog_posts/3664510-moments-in-time-a-collection-of-short-stories

 

 

Early Out

Early Out cover

In the early 19th century, a young Spanish scout named Rafael Rivera wandered off from Antonio Armijo’s trading expedition – en route to Los Angeles – and came back to report he had just discovered a breathtaking oasis in the middle of nowhere. Though long traversed by Southern Paiutes, the Patayan and even the Anasazi, “The Meadows” (as it would be named by European adventurers) would soon become a happenin’ hot spot and refueling venue in more ways than one. We simply know it as Las Vegas – the backdrop for debut author Jesse Kaellis’ gritty collection of real-life stories about the gambling capital of the world.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: What prompted you to write a book about the twilight glitz that is the casino subculture of Las Vegas?

A: I wasn’t really planning on writing a book. I started writing stories that I was posting on an online writers forum that was connected to a free dating site. I developed a following. When I had a body of work together my girlfriend helped me proof it and I started making submissions mostly to Canadian publishers. My girlfriend found out about a contest, the Simon Fraser University/Anvil Press 1st Book Contest. This was under the auspices of the SFU Creative Writing Department and the winner got a contract with Anvil Press, a mid-level lower mainland publisher. I shortlisted and I came in third place. The head of the department, John Mavin, kindly sent me comments from the reviews. I realized that I had a lot of raw talent and a strong voice. My style was unique; that was the feedback that I received.

Q: You’ve indicated that the book is a memoir about Vegas, boxing, violence, sex, love, grief, narcotics, the death industry, irony, despair, surfacing, humor, black humor, arcane jobs and subcultures, and the alchemy of transforming pain into empathy. Traditionally, autobiographies about people who aren’t well known to the general public are a tough sell in the publishing industry. What was the thought process that made you pursue it anyway rather than opting for a straight work of fiction?

A: Because some stories are stranger than fiction? People of notoriety have stories but can they write? Those stories are usually ghost written. I don’t read fiction and I only ever wrote one piece of fiction which was transparently my alter ego. My stories were earned the hard way, I lived them. But I have a voice; I have a style, a style that is not contrived in anyway. I wrote a story, it’s in my book, and it’s called ‘A story about nothing happened’ and, of course, the point being that there is always something happening if I have eyes to see and a voice to describe my perceptions. To sum it up, I wrote about what I know; if nobody wants to read it, then that’s just my hard luck.

Q: How much creative license did you take in relating real-life events?

A: Zero; no embellishment and I didn’t spare myself at all. People call my book painfully honest. It didn’t pain me, or I should say the pain was already there. The surcease for me was in writing about it. For instance, giving up in a fight, a boxing match, that’s never going to be okay. I made a decision at a moment in time; I took the back door because I wanted out of there and I did it in front of friends and strangers, and I didn’t have to do that and it was not remotely worth it. I learned the hard way.

Q: What do you feel distinguishes your book from the competition?

A: I do believe that I have a unique style, one reviewer, an online magazine I did an interview with years ago; she said I have a gift for literary simplicity. The first thing I do is figure out what I want to say, then I want to get there fairly directly. At the same time, I’m writing and remembering and getting insights as I write. The story is pulling me along. I’m also looking for that payoff, and it could be a sentence or even just a single word.

Q: Tell us about your choice of title and what it means to you.

A: “Early Out” is a term that any casino dealer is familiar with. All it means is that you get to go home early. Let’s say you have a dead dice game, no action, and there is another game with a little bit of action. So let’s say it’s a six pm to two am shift. Around midnight you are on a dead game and, “Who wants to go home?”

I always did because I wanted to get home and party, a party at which I was the only guest. They count the bank, get a fill, if they need it, bring up the lid and lock it and then the crew goes home. We maybe stop at the back bar to get a drink. See the casinos pay dealers minimum wage. Most of your income comes from tokes, tips. Casinos have a rock hard bottom line. Why pay dealers to stand around, even if it’s just at minimum wage? These joints count every penny.

As well, “Early Out” has a more sinister connotation, given how hard I pushed it over the nine years that I lived in Vegas. “I got so high this time that I never came down, never came back.”

Q: Is Early Out your first published work? If so, how difficult was it for you to construct?

A: It is my first published work; no—wait, I had three pieces published in SubTerrain Magazine, a quarterly literary magazine, published by Anvil Press. That was a couple of years ago. Writing it was not difficult. I wrote it one story at a time. I didn’t have a plan, I didn’t have to develop characters, I mean all I did was remember and write. I started with the Vegas stuff and after a while I felt I should provide motivation for the protagonist, I mean, why was I such a lowlife? I didn’t alibi, but I did delineate a bereft childhood. I figured that was fair enough. Everybody comes from somewhere. Nobody is born a monster, or perhaps they are, I don’t know. Maybe I was concerned with being a sympathetic character. One of the reviewers from the SFU Creative Writing Department wrote that in many ways I was not likable but he did like me and he had empathy for me.

I wept when I read that because I knew I was doing my job. This is what I’m saying, honesty is not just in the facts but it is in the tone, the “feel” of my narrative. My character came through as authentic. And I may be a sympathetic character because of my flaws and deformities, because we all fall short.

Q: Did you start with a working outline or simply let the creative juices flow from one day to the next?

A: I just wrote it one story at a time. The more I wrote, the more I remembered.

Q: How long did it take you to write Early Out?

A: About ten months.

Q: Were you editing throughout the process or did you wait until the whole thing was done?

A: I was proofing it. I have little formal education. I didn’t complete grade school. I was an undiagnosed dyslexic as a child. I didn’t read until I was eight years old. I have taken no creative writing classes. Just the same, I’m articulate and I write the way I talk. I wrote on instinct and I improved as I went along. I believe that my book gets stronger and ends strongly.

Q: Tell us about the audience you’re hoping to attract and what the book’s takeaway will be?

A: I have no idea—how about anybody under the sun? Naturally I’m hoping that I can touch everybody, anybody. I wrote a story, or dozens of stories and I stitched them into some kind of intuitively non linear order. I didn’t write it to an audience, how could I know, and I still don’t. What’s the takeaway? That the book is interesting? Many people read it in one or two sittings. There is nothing that I could ever write that would fundamentally change this world, and how about this? The world doesn’t need changing. Be careful how you hear that. This is a perfect world. Careful.

Q: How did you go about choosing a publisher for your book?

A: I took whoever wanted me and I was grateful for it. I was resigned to dying in complete obscurity. There were more than a few people that knew I would find a publisher, “You’re too good.” They believed in me more than I ever did my own self, particularly my ex girlfriend. I got Mountain Springs House, got a contract that I signed last March, and I was happy for it. At one point, at what seems like a lifetime ago, I thought I was going to get one of the Big 6 publishers. That story is partially told in my book.

Q: What do you know about the publishing industry now that you didn’t know when you started?

A: This has been about three plus years now. I was warned about how tough it can be but it takes going through it yourself to really know the vagaries of this business. The publishing industry is in upheaval at this time in particular. It really hasn’t shaken out yet, if ever. It has been painful at times and difficult, it has also been exhilarating and moving for me. My book has touched people. I wanted to be known, that’s why I wrote it. That’s why guys fight, as well, by the way. Fight in the ring. They are making a statement: I am. There is no higher expression of individuality in my perception. And women also fight as well, especially now a days.

Q: What would you have done differently in your journey to publication?

A: I wouldn’t have alienated one publisher in particular. I didn’t need to do it. There was nothing but a loss in it for me, I had a bi-winning moment and I burnt this guy down and maybe every other publisher on the lower mainland, but live and learn; and I got a second chance with another publisher.

Q: What are you doing to promote the book?

A: Not enough really. You can always do more—I’m doing online stuff, using my blog, interviews…

I found a service that places books in Nevada and Northern California for a nominal fee. They put paperbacks in casino gift shops and at the airport, convenience stores. They are based in Reno and Las Vegas and I expect to move books through this venue.

I am at number 3 on the Smashwords bestseller list in my genre. I broke the Amazon top one hundred about ten days ago; I had some really low numbers.

Q: Were you a voracious reader growing up? If so, what are some of the books and who are some of the authors that most influenced your style of storytelling?

A: Once I was able to read, yes, was an avid reader. My reading wasn’t restricted and my parents were left wing types, so: Mailer, Baldwin, Claude Brown, Alex Haley, George Orwell, Upton Sinclair, Jerzey Koszinski, Primo Levy, Joyce Carol Oates, Nick Touches, many more.

Q: What are you currently reading?

A: I’m not currently reading a book.

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

A: I don’t leave much room for speculation in my book. I’m not sure. My left eye is smaller than my right eye – noticeably. Seriously, I don’t know. I’m standing naked in my book, pretty much, but I don’t tell everything and I never will. God knows all, nobody else.

Q: If Early Out were turned into a movie, who would be in your dream cast for it?

A: I would like Daniel Day Lewis to play me, just because he’s a great actor. I don’t think you could turn my story into a movie—the scope of it. It could be a cast of thousands. However, any one story could be turned into a screenplay.

Q: What’s your best advice to aspiring writers who want to get published?

A: I am probably the worst person that could give advice. When publishers that allow unsolicited submissions give you submission guidelines then you better obey. But I didn’t and I don’t. I mean if you follow their guidelines it can be very time consuming. I’ll advise this; make multiple submissions. Tell the publisher that you have multiple submissions out there and you don’t have to list them by name. It’s an industry practice no matter what they say. You can’t wait on each single submission. You have an average six week turnaround. Be careful with contests, they can get costly. They generally charge an entry fee. Use your instincts if you have any.

I’m not organized, I’m not patient, I have thin skin, and the whole process has been inordinately painful for me, so, take heart. If I can do it, you can do it. Just don’t give up.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: My biggest problem with this business is that it is a business. I wanted the deal where I would be discovered and be transformed into an overnight star, something like what happened to James Frey. I know and I have known that I need to publish more material, and I do have a good deal of stuff that I can use, I think I have a book’s worth already. Now I just have to light a fire under my rear end and do it.