Keeping The Balance

Keeping the Balance Cover

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

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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 Q: What attracted you to the realm of spirituality?

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

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

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

Q: What was your inspiration for writing this book?

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

Q: What does the title mean?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: What are you doing to market it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

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

 

 

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The Devil Knows

The Devil Knows cover

In the early 1960s, residents of Manchester, England were horrified by the sadistic murders of five local youth between the ages of 10 and 17. Known as The Moors Murders, the perpetrators of the crime spree—Myra Hindley and Ian Brady—showed absolutely no remorse for what they had done, nor did they serve up any explanation for why they targeted their particular victims. Upon conviction, the pair received consecutive life sentences rather than execution, the death penalty having been previously abolished. Author David Cooper revisits the scene of Hindley and Brady’s crimes in his new release, The Devil Knows.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Every author’s journey starts in a different place. Did you always know this is what you wanted to do for a career or did inspiration strike during the course of making a living doing something else?

A: I became interested in becoming an author after I interviewed a soap opera star and the interview was published in a national women’s magazine.

Q: Were you a voracious reader as a child?

A: Yes.

Q: What are some of the titles we might have found on the nightstand of your 10-year old self? As a teenager? As an adult?

A: As a teenager, The History of Mr. Polly. As an adult, Misery.

Q: Who are some of the authors you feel have had the greatest influence on your own voice as an author?

A:  Stephen King

Q: What attracted you to the true crime genre?

A:  I remember the Moors murders very well. I was the same age as their last victim at the time.

Q: So tell us what inspired you to pen a book about a pair of such heinous, unrepentant serial killers.

A: I thought that a story about their relationship would make good reading to give readers an idea of what made them what they turned out to be.

Q: How did you structure your research (i.e., interviews, newspaper accounts, etc.)?

A: I was in touch with Ian Brady and I researched internet and newspaper archives.

Q: As the story began to unfold, did you find yourself coming up with theories of your own on what drove Ian and Myra to commit such terrible crimes against children?

A: I got very involved with the story while I was writing it and my personal theory was that their past personal lives drove them to commit these crimes.

Q: How long did it take you from start to finish?

 A: About 15 months.

Q: Do you allow anyone to read your works-in-progress or do you make them wait until you have typed “The End”?

A: I allow one friend to read my works-in-progress.

Q: Like many of today’s authors, you chose to go the route of self-publishing. What governed that decision for you?

 A: One can get a book published much quicker by self-publishing.

Q: What did you learn about this DIY process that you didn’t know when you started?

A: To be honest with you, I didn’t realise it was so easy.

Q: What are you doing to market your work?

A: I am a member of lots of Facebook groups, so I market a lot that way and on other social media.

Q: Does writing energize or exhaust you?

A: I find it adventurous.

Q: What is a typical writing day like for you? And do you write every day?

A: A typical writing day is mainly doing research and yes, I try to write something every day.

Q: As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?

A: A dog. I love dogs and have three.

Q: Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?

A: Yes, every one. I’m very pleased when I receive good ones, of course. As far as the bad ones, well, I can’t please everybody.

Q: Who is the most famous person you have ever met? Did reality match expectation?

A:  I met Ginger Rogers. I never expected her to be like she was. She was a very nice lady. I didn’t expect a Hollywood legend to appear like a normal person in real life.

Q: Let’s say you could invite three famous people (living or dead) to a small dinner party you were hosting. Who would make the guest list and what would you most like to ask them over the course of the evening?

A: Mother Teresa. I’d ask her why she chose to become a nun.

J.K Rowling.  I’d ask her what the secret is to her success.

Pope John Paul II. I’d ask him what he and Mother Teresa had in common.

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

A: I was a very good friend of a child killer’s wife.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: I’m finishing my series about a paranormal investigator, then I’m writing another true crime book about the Cannock Chase murders.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

A:  http://davidjcooperauthorblog.wordpress.com

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A:  Yes. Thank you for taking the time to interview me.

 

 

Gravity Waves

 

Scott Skipper Cover

What if you were charged with the responsibility, and given the power, to correct all that you perceive as evil in the world, maybe even the universe? Such is the compelling premise of author Scott Skipper’s latest novel, Gravity Waves.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: A lot of authors who identify themselves as voracious readers discovered the joys of reading at a young age. Was that the case for you?

A: Absolutely. I think it was in the third grade I started getting serious about reading. The Bookmobile’s arrival was a life-changing event. I lived in a rural area and wasn’t allowed to cross the street, so going to the library was not an option.

Q: What books might we have found on the nightstand of your 10-year-old self? Your teenage self? Your current nightstand as an adult?

A: At 10, it would have probably been Robert Heinlein. Around that time I remember starting Gulliver’s Travels, but it was so long I had to return it to the aforementioned Bookmobile after having read only the first three voyages. To this day I love the concept of the flappers of Laputa. At my father’s suggestion, I segued into Edgar Rice Burroughs and finished his Martian and Venusian series before tackling Tarzan. Burroughs wrote a lot of books, so he occupied my nightstand into my teenage years. Around that time, Ian Fleming struck it rich with his series about a British spy named James Bond. During my late teen rebellious years, I developed a fondness for Aldous Huxley and Anthony Burgess. Today there’s no book on the nightstand; instead there’s a tablet, and on it, you will find all manner of things. I read quite a lot of history, including biographies, and I lean toward self-published authors. When I run out of something to read, I browse Smashwords and download half a dozen samples.

Q:  Did you always know you wanted to be a writer or did this passion develop over the course of doing something else to earn a living?

A: At age 13 I wrote a short story called The Happiest Man in Hell on a 1910 Underwood with a broken ‘p.’ I submitted it to a fledgling sci/fi magazine and was dumbfounded to receive a letter from them a few weeks later saying they had sent it to an illustrator and would get back to me about the details of publication. Naturally, I figured this writing thing was a cinch and started thinking about renting a garret on the Left Bank. A few more weeks passed, and I got a letter from the magazine telling me they had landed a serial deal with Harlan Ellison, and my story was no longer required. My aspirations were so cruelly dashed I didn’t submit anything for publication for 35 years, during which time I was engrossed in that making-a-living thing. In the mid-80s, I had an opportunity to not work for a year. During that time I wrote like a fiend. I knocked out a novel, which was terrible, and managed to publish a few short pieces that earned about enough for a bottle of gin to ease the pain. Needless to say, I went back to my career in the metal fabrication business. When I retired, I didn’t immediately start to write. It was the advent of self-publishing that motivated me. At my age, I don’t have enough years left to run the traditional publishing gauntlet. In June, I published my 13th novel, and I’m 10,000 words into number 14, so don’t get between me and the keyboard.

Q: What was the first project you ever published?

A: The very first, after that above-mentioned aborted flirtation with the sci/fi magazine, was a travelogue about a trip I made to visit two very remote Mayan ruins near the Mexico/Guatemala border. As was common then—and probably still is—I was paid in copies of the magazine. Around that same time, I sold a story to a magazine that was devoted to basket weaving of all things. Somewhere, I still have a copy of their check. I think it was $25. From that era, I also saved a file full of rejection notices. Those can be funny sometimes. I remember one that was a form letter with checkboxes. The reason they checked for rejection was ‘wrong shoes.’

Q: How many works have you published since then and do you feel your writing has changed from what it was initially?

A: In addition to 13 novels, I have five short stories, and I’m in two anthologies. The short stories are for promotion. They are permanently free at Smashwords and their distribution network. How has my writing changed? Well, it’s evolved quite a bit, in fact, I’ve recently begun doing a re-edit of my earlier works. Today, I’m much more aware of point of view and taking more care to shift viewpoint with a logical break. Also, I’m looking for plots that I hope have a broader appeal. I wrote several political satires, which gave me a great deal of enjoyment, but we live in such a politically polarized time that whichever side one takes, eliminates half the potential audience.

Q: What genre(s) do you write?

A: My first two endeavors were historical fiction, and that’s because I had a trove of source material from 15 years of genealogical research. While researching In the Blood, I stumbled upon an obscure piece of history, namely the Mexican War of 1845. That inspired an alternative history. When I finished The Hundred Years Farce, I went looking for more source material and found it in my garage. It was a folder filled with brittle, yellowed newspaper clippings I had saved from the 80s when the grave of Nazi doctor, Josef Mengele, was discovered in Brazil. The story intrigued me, so I wrote about Mengele’s 40 years on the run. After that, I fell into my political satire mode, and I followed it with a science fiction story inspired by a serendipitous visit to the Roswell UFO museum. Alien Affairs was so well received I followed it with two sequels. By then, I was tired of beating a dead alien, so I switched directions with a story about a woman who, as a young reporter for an underground newspaper, witnessed the Kent State shootings and was harassed by the right-wing government for her outspoken views. As she matured, she grew conservative and became a successful novelist, but she was once again hounded by the now left-wing government. That’s A Little Rebellion Now and Then, which in my not too humble opinion, may be the best thing I ever wrote. Megalodon is a novella about some soldiers of fortune’s quest for a sixty-foot prehistoric shark. Following the shark, came an apocalyptic love story and then the tale of a California real estate agent who had to recover her estranged husband’s body from a Mexican morgue. While negotiating Mexican bureaucracy, she turned to a life of crime. That one, Artifact, may defy genre. I don’t know what to call it. Maybe it’s action and adventure. Finally, we have Gravity Waves, which is the fourth in the Alien Affairs series. So, I’m clearly a writer with genre identity issues.

Q: Agents often advise aspiring authors to pick one genre and stick with it. Do you feel that writing in multiple genres makes it more of a challenge to build a readership?

A: Actually, I do believe that. So, why don’t I try to be a little more focused? Well, frankly, I suppose that I’m a bit of a scatterbrain. I get tired of writing the same thing time and again; although, no one could truthfully accuse me of being a boilerplate writer. I don’t write with the expectation of huge success, which is a good thing, not that I don’t hold dear the belief that someday one of my books will be a bestseller. In the meantime, I’ve developed a new business model: if I can never write a book that will sell a million copies, I’ll write a million books that sell one copy.

Q: What was your inspiration for your latest release, Gravity Waves?

A: Stephen Hawking who died two months before I released Gravity Waves. I even read A Brief History of Time for the third time before I started working on Gravity Waves. It’s rather hard-science oriented, but it’s not technical mumbo-jumbo, it’s about people dealing with extraordinary situations. In it, I believe that I have not asserted anything that is out of the realm of possibility from the viewpoint of physics.

Q: Do you see yourself in any of the fictional characters you create?

A: Ha! In another interview, I declined to answer this question on the grounds that it would get me in trouble with my wife. Truthfully, there’s some of me in most of my characters. Adam Peyton, the protagonist of Golden State Blues, is a younger incarnation of me. Eric Day in Half Life is me, and there’s perhaps some of me in Vicky Rice, the real estate agent turned criminal in Artifact—maybe I’m even Terrie Deshler in Alien Child and Gravity Waves. Why? It’s because I want my characters to be real, and to be real, they have to have flaws. Since I’m the most flawed creature I know, I’m a logical model.

Q: If you yourself could be an intrepid time-traveler, would you rather go to the past and be minus the conveniences you have enjoyed in the present or go the future and face the challenges of a steep learning curve to catch up with everyone else?

A: Once we learn how to warp space-time sufficiently to allow us to travel through time, I would go both ways, to the past to correct wrongs, and to the future to see how the consequences of what we do today effect things to come. See, I’m a lot like Terrie Deshler.

Q: What do you suppose your parallel self in the multiverse is doing while you’re here answering interview questions?

A: I certainly hope I’m sitting at a seaside bar in the south of Spain drinking gin with Ernest Hemingway and my late writer pal, Burt Boyar.

Q: What is a typical writing day like for you?

A: I try to write every day. The first thing in the morning, I take care of whatever chores or annoyances that reality thrusts upon me, then I deal with email and social media nonsense. Around lunchtime, I settle onto a comfortable chair by a large corner window with a view of the San Gabriel Valley—and frequently with a Yorkshire terrier beside me. I write on a laptop until around four in the afternoon. My goal is 2,500 words, which sometimes I achieve and sometimes I don’t. At four, I reward myself with a cocktail.

Q: Writers are sometimes influenced by things that happen in their own lives. Are you?

A: Of course. Sometimes a reader will say to me, “Nobody would ever say a thing like that.” Then I have to tell them that I said that, or that the person who was the model for the character said or did things that I wrote. A Little Rebellion Now and Then is told partly in flashbacks to 60s. A lot of the experiences of the character, Katie, are based on things that happened to me or that I saw happen to people around me. In Half Life, the character is invited to bid on a project at a nuclear power plant, so he checks his briefcase to make sure he has a pencil, sketchpad, tape measure, and a draftsman’s eraser. Someone challenged me about that. He said, “Why would he take such simple things to a nuclear power plant?” I informed him that those were the exact tools I took when I called on the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. We often hear we should write what we know. I tend to agree.

Q: Critique groups: helpful or a distraction?

A: Critique groups are enormously helpful. I participate in two, the La Verne Writers’ Group and the California Writers’ Club. Feedback is essential and the input of others helps shape what I write. It’s an organic process, after all. It’s also a great way to get help spotting typos.

Q: If you could invite five of your favorite authors (living or dead) to dinner, who would they be and what would you most like to ask them?

A: Well, Hemingway would be the guest of honor, and I’d ask him what the hell Gertrude Stein said to her lesbian lover that embarrassed him so that he ran out of the house?

Tom Robbins would be on the guest list, and his question would be: What were you on when you wrote Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates?

I’d ask Robert Heinlein what gave him the idea for the waterbed. I’d also ask him how he predicted the current tattoo mania.

Arthur C. Clark I would ask what it was like working with Stanley Kubrick.

Finally, Winston Churchill, I’d have a lot of questions for him, but I guess the most pressing would be: How did it feel to be in a mounted saber charge in Sudan and live long enough to be the leader of a nuclear power?

By the way, I’d serve paella.

Q: Like many authors, you’ve chosen to go the route of self-publishing. What have you learned from this experience that you didn’t know when you started?

A: Many things, but first and foremost, I learned how to format a manuscript. That’s the essential first step to being a success in self-publishing. I know many people who self-publish but don’t know how to do it themselves, so they find it necessary to pay somebody pretty large chunks of money to format their books. The chances of them ever breaking even is almost certainly nil. The most I have spent to publish a book was $15 for the cover image of Gravity Waves. I thought I had a bargain at $5, but when I got the receipt, I realized the price was in Euros. It was worth it, though. I’m proud of that cover. Okay, that was a practical answer. A more philosophical response is that I have learned marketing is a sort of voodoo, and almost nothing is effective. As a corollary to that, I’ve learned it is incredibly hard to get people to spend $3.

Q: What’s the greatest compliment any reader has paid you about your work?

A: I’ve gotten some really head-swelling compliments. There are two aspects to that question, what was said, and who said it. Burt Boyar, who spent a considerable amount of time in the number one spot on the NY Times Best Seller List called Alien Affairs a “Fabulous Must Read” and Golden State Blues “Fabulous Page Turner.” Burt was a personal friend, but he said those things with no prodding from me. Alien Affairs has gotten the most compliments: “Absolute gem,” “It’s different, it’s wonderful,” “…the entire Alien Affairs series is nothing short of magnificent.” I could go on, but I’m beginning to feel my head swell.

Q: Conversely, how do you handle personal criticism and/or negative reviews?

A: One of the first things I learned as a writer—and this was a long time ago—is that no matter what you write, someone won’t like it. Take Hemingway for example, I think he walked on water, but he is considered an overrated hack by a lot of people. I find that the majority of negative reviews that I get are because I offended somebody not with my writing but with the content of the story. One of my favorite reviews is a one-star for Alien Affairs—it even sells some copies for me. The guy said it was a good story until I started making fun of President Obama. Now, I did not mention Obama. It’s amazing what readers project into the things you say. Something to keep in mind is that there infinitely varied readers out there. Just because I couldn’t connect with one doesn’t mean I won’t connect with another.

Q: How would you define “success”?

A: The easy answer is runaway sales, but that’s too easy. When I do my proofreading and self-editing, and I can say to myself at the end, “That was pretty damned good.” I consider it a success. There’s a chapter in A Little Rebellion Now and Then that I can’t read without getting emotional. I’ve never read it at an open mic or a critique group because I can’t get through it without being reduced to tears. I doubt if anybody else reacts to it so strongly, but I captured something there, and I know it.

Q: If someone came to you for your top tips on the craft of writing and the challenges of publishing, what would you tell them?

A: My stock answer sounds flippant, but it is what I really think about good writing, and it is what I look for in the books I read. Do your damnedest to give every preposition an object, except in dialogue, and if you’re tempted to use a metaphor, think about twice, then don’t do it. To that I would add, only inhabit one character’s head at a time. As for the challenges of publishing, learn to do it yourself. You can read the Smashwords Style Guide in one afternoon, and it will tell you all that you need to know about formatting and self-publishing—it’s also free.

Q: When you read for pleasure, what do you prefer?

A: Historical fiction, real history, and quirky stories with good characters, preferably self-published, in that order.

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

A: Hmm? Well, how about I’m a high school dropout? Or maybe that I live in a place frequently visited by bears and mountain lions. Oh, here’s a good one, I don’t have a Smart Phone.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: I’m 10,000 words into a story about a man experiencing so many strange occurrences he begins to think he’s slipping into dementia, but some of the things might be coming from an external source.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

A: www.ScottSkipper.com is where to find out about my books and stories. As of this writing, Facebook has locked me out of my account, and they don’t respond to my requests for help. Hopefully, I will get back in someday. In the meantime, email me at Scott@ca.rr.com. I occasionally tweet a thing or two, that’s @sskipperauthor.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dead Air

 

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Whenever there’s an unsettling stretch of silence on my favorite morning radio station, I always wonder if someone accidentally turned the microphone off or the station lost its power signal. Could it also be that my radio just needs a new battery? Now that Cliff Protzman’s debut mystery novel, Dead Air, is out, I have another possibility to consider: maybe there’s been a murder.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: After a long career in banking and finance, what compelled you to wake up one day and decide to try your hand at crime(writing)?

A: It wasn’t a snap of the fingers moment. Like all writers, I was an avid reader. The first book I recall was Pride of the Yankees: the Lou Gehrig story. I was amazed to be so engrossed by a story. I began writing for my high school newspaper, finding a passion for writing. I originally planned to major in journalism in college, but eventually choose a more practical course. Several times I began to pen a novel, but let distractions put it aside.

My brother had some modest success with playwriting and graphic stories. He passed away several years ago. At the funeral, my daughter, a news reporter and editor commented, “I know how to write, but I have no stories.” My reply was, “I have stories.” That’s the moment I choose to pursue my passion.

Q: Dead Air is all about mystery and dark suspense. What particularly appeals to you about this genre?

A: I contend all stories are mysteries. Will star-crossed lovers live happily ever after? Will the empire survive? Will the hero hit the game winning home run? These mysteries keep readers turning pages because they want the answer.

A murder mystery provides the reader a look into the darker side of human behavior. The investigator is compelled to solve the crime because it is the right thing to do. A murder investigation forces seemingly innocent people to hide their deep, dark secrets. The sleuth must deal with lying witnesses, hidden agendas, deep emotional conflicts, and the murderer.

With all that happening, the protagonist must struggle with their own inner conflicts as he follows the clues. We share the suspense as he solves one challenge, only to face a bigger one ahead. Throughout the story, keep in mind the PI is chasing someone who has already killed once.

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

A: I admire many authors. Two of my favorites are Max Allen Collins and Troy Soos.

Collins, A Grand Master of the Mystery Writers of America, wrote a series featuring PI Nathan Heller. He investigated the “Crimes of the Century” from the Lindberg kidnapping to the assassination of President Kennedy. Heller bills himself as PI to the Stars. His cases lead him to conversations with Al Capone, Governor Huey Lewis, Senator Joe McCarthy, the Rosenbergs, and even Robert Kennedy. Collins creates a thoroughly believable scene. Collins has a unique ability to make these scenes seem so realistic.

Soos, a physics teacher, wrote a series featuring a fictional journeyman baseball player in the early twentieth century. As Mickey Rawlings (no one by that name ever played major league baseball) is traded from town to town, he finds himself drawn into a murder investigation. Rawlings is confronted by the issues of the times; unionization, the Klu Klux Klan, World War I, gambling in baseball. Soos allows the reader to feel what it’s like to ride a trolley through Brooklyn, the smell of the Chicago stockyards, or the sounds of auto manufacturers in Detroit. Rawlings’ investigations find him talking to Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Shoeless Joe Jackson, and other greats of the time.

Q: For this—your first novel—did you work from a formal outline or listen to your muse as you went along?

A: Outlines work well for research and opinion pieces. I had no idea how to outline a fiction novel. I started with a victim, a killer and an investigator. My plot was only vaguely formed. I began to write the story. I let the characters move the story. When I reached a road block, I found myself telling the story, not Beck.

This may seem like a disjointed method. However, Beck proved the killer I had in mind was indeed innocent. I let my characters tell the story. I had not planned the scene at the hunting cabin until Beck and Irene took me there. I believe that’s why Dead Air is a compelling thriller.

Q: Did your characters ever do or say anything that surprised you?

A: I think if the characters are going to surprise the reader, the writer was probably surprised as well. Irene constantly surprised me. She had a knack of being witty, intelligent, or vulnerable at just the right time.

If I disclosed the person who surprised me the most, it would be a spoiler. Beck knew better, however.

Q: Unlike the structure of a 9-5 job that involves deadlines and interactions with others, writing is a solitary craft that requires you to spend a lot of time with the voices in your head. What were/are some of the things you did/do to stay motivated and on task?

A: Although writing may not seem be a structured task, time management is critical. Planning effectively requires a person to allow time for dealing with interruptions or delays. For me, the key was to set small goals and allow time to complete them. This kept my motivation high and procrastination at a minimum. I wasn’t necessarily looking to complete the book in one sitting. I simple completed one scene at a time. I rewarded myself and moved willing to the next small task.

Q: Was there anything that slowed down the process for you or created distractions? If so, how did you deal with it?

A: Writing may be a lifestyle. However, I am a husband, father to six, and grandfather to four. My time with them is precious. Therefore, time management is essential. I flexibly schedule my days to include time for writing, marketing, and social.

Of course, creativity has no on/off switch. That is why I attempt to achieve small tasks, and the larger ones are more manageable. If this sounds perfect, it’s not. It does help to have a template.

Q: How did you manage to network within the writing community?

A: I don’t believe writing is a solitary craft. The best writers are social beings, they interact with the world, not just electronically.

My first step was to join a writing group, not one focused solely on mysteries. I experienced not only differing styles, voices, and techniques, but also how they work within different genres. This helped me fashion the techniques into a mystery. It should be noted the group is comprised of accomplished writers.

Writers conferences are an excellent opportunity to meet the writing community. In additions to informative workshops, valuable information about the business is available. Of course, you can learn as much at happy hour as you can in classes. Most conferences have the opportunity to pitch an agent or have manuscript evaluated. I owe authors Julie Hyzy, Matthew Clements, and Jess Loughery for their valuable contributions.

Q: Dead Air features a male protagonist with a strong female collaborator. Where did these characters come from?

A: Beck, as a male, was easy for me to create. Irene, a combination of two women, was more challenging. I desired a woman that was a trusted resource for Beck. He eventually realized how much more she meant to him.

I wanted the sexual tension between the two as a subplot. She had to be strong in order to refocus Beck when his arrogance started to take control. Their interaction helped move the plot and created titillation for the readers. Several reviewers have been very complimentary when mentioning her. I am very proud of Irene, she will continue to have a prominent role in future books.

Q: If Hollywood came calling for a TV series, who would play your two lead characters?

A: Michael Keaton is the only choice for Beck. Dead Air is set in Pittsburgh, the hometown of Keaton. He has shown the ability to display the toughness of Beck, as well as his humor. I believe he could convey the many emotional conflicts Beck faces. In his favor, Keaton was the best Batman.

Tea Leoni is perfect for Irene. She is not only an actor, but also a producer. She projects the beauty and strength the exemplifies Irene. I think she could add a personal touch to the character that audiences will enjoy. Leoni could easily handle the professionalism and humanity of the character.

Q: Like many of today’s writers, you chose to go the self-publishing route. What governed that choice and what have you learned from it?

A: It really wasn’t much of a choice. At my age, I did not want to wait several years to attract an agent or publisher. I believe the book was good and could be marketed. I choose self-publishing as an expedient entry to the market, to see what I could accomplish. I realized that it would require a lot of my time to market, but traditional publishing requires quite a bit of time as well.

I have learned and continue to learn how difficult it is for a debut author to be seen. I am looking at the process as my own form of an advanced degree.

Q: What are you doing to market the book and which strategies have been successful for you?

A: As a debut author, there was no template for me to follow. My plan was to utilize social media to drive brand awareness. The most effective reach has been blog tours. The tours generated reviews and to my delight highly positive reviews.

Q: Now that Dead Air is released, have you achieved what you expected?

A: Yes and no. I had two goals. Naturally sales. The second was critical acceptance.

I wanted simply to break even on my investment. That goal is within sight. I knew that immediate acceptance would be difficult for a debut author. I hired a publicist to reach unknown markets. That has provided some outreach to social media that I may not have had otherwise. I learned a valuable lesson, I started too late. However, sales are starting to improve.

I have been amazed by the reviews and rating from readers. The comments range from well written and plotted, to exciting character development. One reviewer termed it a modern noir, which I find exciting. Dead Air has received one literary award. I am pleased to have created a story that readers enjoy.

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

A: Readers would not be the least bit surprised to discover I love baseball. As a child, very few games were televised, so we listened to the game on radio. I lived in a city neighborhood. In the summer folks sat on the front porch with a radio tuned to the game. We played in the streets and listened to baseball since the sound echoed throughout the neighborhood. When the game was on the West Coast starting at 10:30, Mom let us take a transistor radio to bed with us. We listened until we fell asleep or the batteries died.

I like to write with a game on. The TV is behind me and I write during the game. Unfortunately, today’s announcers are not as eloquent as their radio counterpoints of the past. A past radio announcer would describe a runner was out by a gnat’s eyelash, meaning it was a close play. Today the call would be the runner’s out, we’ll wait for the replay.

Q: If you were hosting a murder mystery dinner and could invite any five mystery authors or fictional sleuths, who would comprise your guest list, what would happen, and who would solve the case by the time dessert was served?

A: The setting would have to be a remote Victorian mansion on a dark and stormy night. Mystery authors create fictional sleuths, so fiction it is. Phillip Marlowe (Raymond Chandler) would be the first to arrive. Someone has to belt down the scotch and offer a wisecrack. Hercules Poirot (Agatha Christie) would provide a continental approach to the crime. Lieutenant (Frank) Columbo (Levinson and Link) would arrive raincoat wrinkled and drenched in rain. After all, when it comes to murder there is always “just one more thing.” Sherlock Holmes (Arthur Conan Doyle) to analyze the pattern of dust particles circling the dead body. Lastly Kinsey Millhone (Sue Grafton) because men never get it right.

With such great minds, the case would have to be a previously unsolved murder. Perhaps a fictional version of Jack the Ripper, the Kennedy assassination, or Nicole Brown Simpson.  What a great dialogue would ensue. Columbo and Holmes discuss a fine point of evidence. Poirot and Marlowe sharing analysis of the motive. Millhone throwing in common sense and intuition. What a great adventure. I have no idea who wins.

Q: What’s your next project?

A: I have written a Christmas short story featuring Beck and his granddaughter. I plan to offer this as an add-on to Dead Air this year. This is leading to release of the second book in the Glenn Beckert Mysteries.

In the second installment, Beck dismisses a missing person case that turns into murder the week before his wedding. The victim, a software engineer, was developing an artificial intelligence application for the military. The deceased had a past gay liaison that ended badly. The clues lead Beck to chase alternating motives. Amidst the confusion, beck learns a secret from Irene’s past that threatens to destroy their relationship. The planned release is early 2019.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: In the competitive world of selling books, Christina Hamlett is a bright light advocating the craft of writing. Although I was included in her anthology Unfinished Chapters, there was no obligation for her to follow me. Yet she did. I will never forget her support and encouragement. It is what we writers do. Thank you, Christina.

 

 

 

 

A Chat With Lorelei Kay

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After living 50 years as a devout Mormon, Lorelei Kay accepted a “calling” from her bishop which caused the doctrinal foundation of her world to crumble. That journey is captured in her new book, From Mormon to Mermaid – One Woman’s Voyage from Oppression to Freedom.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: With 50 years of your life invested in the Mormon Church, what prompted you to leave?

A: My transformation began when my bishop called me to teach Gospel Doctrine, the scripture class for adults. Like anything else any bishop had ever asked me to do, I put my whole heart and soul into it. I spent over ten hours a week in preparation for my class each Sunday. As I began to realize the depth of problems in Mormon doctrine, my spirituality changed from a placid sea into a raging torrent. Then, as I tell in my memoir, “All halibut broke loose.”

Q: Your book has an intriguing title. How did it come about?

A: While my father was a soldier stationed in Italy during World War II, he heard the enchanting story of the Lorelei—the German mermaid who perches on the River Rhine. After he returned home, still fascinated by the tale, he named his first-born daughter Lorelei. That’s me!

As a child, I felt embarrassed I had been named for a half-naked siren. It took a few years, but I came to appreciate and claim my mermaid heritage.

After I left the church, I found many people interested in the controversial and complicated doctrines that makes up Mormonism. One day I was sharing with a friend the Mormon belief that God is a polygamist, and he said, “You should write a book—and call it, From Mormonism to Mermaidism. Great idea!

I shortened his suggested title to From Mormon to Mermaid and began writing my memoir. I used an aquatic metaphor because of my name. I found using my sea-theme throughout gave me a net to hang my story on.

For example, some of my chapters titles are, “Hook, Line, and Thinker,” “The Undertow of Underwear,” “Kissing the Sails of Ships,” and “Prying Open the Oyster Shell.” The chapter on sex is called, “Wet.”

Q: Who is your target audience and what do you envision as the book’s takeaway value for them?

A: Women! Men! Inquiring minds! Mormons struggling with their faith! Mormons not struggling who want to understand why people leave! People who want to understand how Mormon doctrine influences the daily life of its members.

Many people hear, “Family first,” and have a lofty false impression about Mormon family life. The truth is, “Follow the Prophet” comes first, often at the expense of the family. And while the men are taught to work toward godhood, the women are kept bound to the shoreline by men who wield all the power.

I tell my story of my life as a Mormon woman to encourage people to break free from damaging doctrines and limiting belief systems—and claim their own authentic lives.

Q: There’s no question that penning a memoir is a cathartic experience. Catharsis, however, doesn’t necessarily translate to commercial success. What did you envision in this regard at the outset and has that objective been met?

A: Commercial success is a long voyage, and I’m still on that trail.

Q: To what personality traits do you attribute your passion and commitment to the craft of writing?

A: Loving my dad and following his example.

Q: Were there particular parts of your memoir that were challenging for you to write?

A: I didn’t want to write about my divorce—I didn’t want to rehash it or relive it. But after my first editor pointed out I couldn’t just sail along and then say, “we got a divorce,” I tackled it. This caused me to rewrite much of the memoir. In fact, I did a complete edit from my ex-husband’s point of view just to make sure I was being fair. But it’s richer. And because of that edit, I gained new insights.

Q: What constitutes a safety net for you … or do you have one?

A: The California Writers Club has been a terrific safety net. Friends there have provided critique, information, networking, and support. The club we have here in the High Desert is a tremendous asset.

Q: What prompted you to go the self-publishing route?

A: After ten years of hard work, I wanted a professional edit before sending my memoir out to the world. I went with Dog Ear publishing because I was impressed with the editing done there by Stephanie Seiifert-Stringham, Managing Editor. That worked very well for me because Dog Ear awarded it their “Literary Award of Excellence,” which they bequeath annually to just a few authors. Stephanie also wrote a wonderful blurb for my book cover.

Q: What did you learn from this DIY experience that you didn’t know when you started?

A: That’s a whole other book . . .

Q: Appendix/footnotes are unusual for a memoir. What inspired you to include all the references?

A: When I shared my memoir with a good friend who had been an active Mormon, he said, “No one is going to believe the shocking doctrines you share about the Mormon Church—unless you give them proof.” He suggested footnotes, which I tried at one point. But it looked too scholarly, not friendly enough. So I moved them all to the back under the title of Appendix. That way, no one can say I misunderstood, or my family misinterpreted doctrine, or my bishop didn’t explain things correctly. I quote Mormon scripture and prophets. I give references. There can be no question about my claims about the doctrines espoused by the Mormon Church. I back up every claim I make.

Q: The book has accrued no shortage of reviews since its publication. Which reviews have personally been the most meaningful to you?

A: One of my strongest and most meaningful reviews on Amazon came from an active Mormon woman who loved my book. Many Mormon and ex-Mormon women have written me expressing gratitude for writing a book showing the demeaning and oppressive role of woman they experienced while members of  the Mormon Church. Many have shared with me that reading my story has given them the courage to make changes in their lives, and that’s been most gratifying.

Q: I understand you’ve won some awards, too. Tell us about them.

A: I was thrilled when Dog Ear Publishing awarded From Mormon to Mermaid an “Award of Literary Excellence” upon publication. Also, Shelf Unbound awarded it a “Best Indie book for 2016 Runner-up.” Hip hip hooray!

Q: Who or what has had the greatest influence on your decision to be a writer?

A: When I was in third grade, my father sat me down and helped me with my first poem. I was hooked.

I also saw my father’s dedication to writing his own book about the Book of Mormon and writing family history. Since he couldn’t find any room in our small home for writing, he carved out a place in the crawl space under the house, made a desk using an old door sitting on cinder blocks, and set his Royal manual typewriter on top. And he wrote.

I have inherited a glorious heritage of commitment to writing.

Q: What is your definition of happiness?

A: Living a life at peace with internal beliefs, and being able to explore new, fun adventures. For me, writing is always an adventure.

Q: What is your favorite quote that inspires you?

“If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again! And now they is (sic) asking to do it, the men better let them.”    Sojourner truth, activist

I also get a big kick out of Gloria Steinem’s quote: “Women grow radical with age. One day an army of gray-haired women may quietly take over the earth.”  She just may be onto something.

Both of these quotes, along with many others, can be found in the book, Nasty Women’s Almanac – Feminine Voices Striving for a Brighter Day, which I published in 2016.

Q: If you could share a cab ride to the airport with any celebrity, who would it be and what would you talk about?

A: I would love to have a heart-to-heart conversation with Sojourner Truth. She was an African-American abolitionist and women’s rights activist born into slavery. She escaped with her infant daughter to freedom in 1826 and went to court to recover her son. In 1828 she became the first black woman to win such a case against a white man. She has left us with a wealth of personal wisdom, and demonstrated how confidence in her abilities overcame huge adversities. What a shining example of overcoming obstacles!

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: I’m in the middle of writing a novel called Breath of the Dragon, which is based on a true story of a Mormon missionary. And madness.  I also continue my love of writing poetry, and I’m almost ready to publish a children’s book called Oh! The Places We’ve Been!

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: I’d like to leave you with is refrain included in From Mormon to Mermaid:

A symbol of transformation,

mermaids whisper from the sea:

“Live true to your inner heartstrings,

and your truth will set you free.”

 

 

Eye of the Moon

Eye of the Moon front cover

For readers who enjoy strong female characters, supernatural elements, magical realism and the occult, there’s a delicious new Gothic mystery on the market that will satisfy all of these. Author Ivan Obolensky takes time from his busy schedule to talk to us about Eye of the Moon, demons, and who to invite to a literary dinner party.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Tell us a little about the premise of your new book and what inspired you to write it.

A: Eye of the Moon was inspired by a large house my father owned when I was growing up. I always thought it was a perfect setting for a novel. Strange things happened there. I wanted to write an American story but differentiate it from the typical English gothic novel. Business is a unique facet of American life and sets American culture apart from those of other countries. Such relationships often involve promises of performance. I wanted to explore the consequences for having broken an oath, or a contract, not only in everyday life, but what happens when a promise is broken to an entity such as a demon. What are the consequences? What is trust, and how is it formed? What happens when we discover that we have been lied to? How do we set aside our prejudices and assumptions? These are a few of the questions I wanted to answer in the story.

Q: Literal and metaphorical demons abound as the story unfolds. How do you believe they relate to each other?

A: I think we all face demons. Some are metaphorical. Some are real. We no longer call them demons. Science has moved on and wants no part. We call them narcissistic tendencies, or perhaps we say we create images of ourselves that are unsustainable instead. Not all demons are imaginary. We each face issues of economic survival and threats to our existence. We solve them, or we don’t. In this, we are not alone. Others around us also face their own unique difficulties, but never ours exactly. Achieving wisdom is about the struggle to gain that extraordinary perspective that life was never about us to begin with. Our internal demons on the other hand, argue the opposite, that life is really about us. We are what is important, and we can demonstrate that through either outstanding success or extraordinary personal failure. I wonder which is more destructive? In the past, success was defined by achievement. Today, it is about fame. Through notoriety, we can achieve a similar measure of immortality and in the case of a person who ruins all that they touch, the demon in them is as real as any that we can imagine. The metaphorical demon then becomes the literal, and a reality we must face. Demons are still around because they never left. How we deal with them defines in no small measure who we are as individuals. Do we surrender, or not? Our faith in our goodness, our cleverness, and our humanity are our only defenses against such monsters, whether real or imaginary.

Q: Did you work from a structured outline or allow your characters to “speak” to you as you began writing?

A: I set only two constraints for Eye of the Moon. One was the location. The second was that the action takes place over a long five-day weekend. The plot was never worked out. That the story turned out as well as it did was a surprise. I would not recommend such a loose approach as a usual way of writing because it tends to be more stressful than working with an outline. The writer is constantly trying to understand where the story is going and that creates a great deal of angst. It worked out for me, but it was not easy. I think really great stories require the writer to experience a unique pressure from not knowing and having to figure out an outstanding ending. It is a form of mental torture that requires a special courage. Lucky for me, the characters and my muse helped. I followed their leads and suggestions. It is truly distressing to realize one has spent three years painting oneself into a corner with no conceivable way out. Now that is scary.

Q: Did your characters do/say anything that surprised you?

A: That was almost a constant. None of the characters behaved. They tended to do their own thing and say what they wanted. What surprised me the most was the profoundness of their thoughts.

Q: How much research was involved insofar as incorporating authenticity into the events and character interactions/motivations?

A: It is usually what the character says (the drama) that is important rather than whether a character wore a specific brand of jewelry that was available at the time. A writer can often duck the hard conflicts in favor of doing research. I did my share of it. Ancient Egypt required a fair amount, but when the research became overly involved, I scrapped it. I grew up in the environment that I wrote about so there is a sense of authenticity. The characters had strong personalities and certain inclinations. I had met many of them in real life and then added my own touches. The characters were as real as I could make them, and that kept the story authentic and strong.

Q: Who or what has had the deepest influence on your storytelling style?

A: I grew up listening to legends, myths, and magical stories. That many of them involved the mysterious and strange occurrences should come as no surprise or that the stories I like contain such elements. I also loved the idea of a plot twist. O’Henry was a master at this in his short fiction. So was Edith Wharton in Ethan Frome. I think it is a given that most of the stories that I write contain mysterious elements with a twist.

Q: The storyline is replete with strong, independent women. Were any of these females patterned after women in your own life?

A: Absolutely. I think there was a strong matriarchal streak that ran through all sides of the several families I grew up with. The women tended to be strong, wealthy, self-reliant, and didn’t stand for a lot of nonsense. I, on the other hand, liked a great deal of nonsense, the more the better, which tended to put me on the other side of the fence. I had my charm which tended to ease the struggle of wills that ensued. I won sometimes and lost at others, but it was a struggle I enjoyed. I learned a great deal because those women were often much smarter than I was.

Q: Fictional characters are frequently confronted with forks in the road that force them to either take a leap of faith or play it safe. Was there ever a time in your own career that later caused you to revisit decisions you made or didn’t make?

A: I used to constantly second-guess myself. I did so for most of my life. What changed that tendency was having nearly died. After several near-death experiences, the second-guessing fell away. I realized I could have chosen one way or the other and still ended up dead, or made a decision that was obviously flawed in hindsight, but the result was I lived. The logic of my choices did not have a high correlation with the happiness or success of the outcomes. At some point, I understood the futility of revisiting and second-guessing a decision. I look at it this way: if the decision was bad or good is irrelevant when one is standing in a happy place. Had the choices been made differently, that happy outcome may never have occurred. I am happy with everything that has happened. I wouldn’t change a thing, and that is a good place to be. I have no doubts about it.

Q: Physical settings—such as the house and grounds of Rhinebeck—often assume personalities of their own. What inspired your development of this particular backdrop?

A: I visited when I was small. Rooms were gigantic, shadows crept out of their hiding places and lengthened during the late afternoons. Thunder would rumble at the edge of hearing when there were storms, and tense silences would descend. The governesses would get nervous. We were after all cut off from the outside world. The grounds and the house I found thrilling, but adults often felt differently. They were either hypersensitive, or I was much less so. Adults would get jumpy as night fell. They drank more. I wanted to see a ghost, but then I didn’t. I did try, but with no success. I think the adults felt similarly. Many wished they hadn’t after they did. I think the possibility of seeing a ghost and the sporadic rumors that guests had occasionally seen one made invited guests uneasy. It was this tension that was a defining characteristic of the house and growing up in it. It gave the place a creep factor that was delicious.

Q: How much of your personality and personal experience is embroidered into the plot?

A: I think a great deal of me is in each of the characters. Percy and Johnny are two sides of my normal self, the optimist and the pessimist, but that may be overly simplistic. I always wanted a good friend. Johnny came from that idea. The wonderful thing about writing a novel is you can put yourself in the middle of your own play. Whatever you can dream can happen, and there are so many wonderful things to dream about. There can be characters that are realer than life and impossibly wise. There can be people more beautiful and more alive than any reality. The characters of the novel are people that visited me many times in my dreams and in my thoughts. They’re old friends and very dear. I’m happy that others can meet them.

Q: By the time you typed The End, what had you learned about yourself that you didn’t know when you started?

A: Writing is a scary business. The result may be enjoyable, fulfilling, worthwhile, and all that, but there is more to it than simply writing a story and then typing The End on the last page. It’s a whole other world that you have created. What other people think about that world becomes something out of your control, and one’s vulnerability as a result can be unsettling and disturbing. The reader may not like what has been written. The story may not communicate in the way the writer, me, thought it would. The characters were too shallow, or too loud; the dialogues, too unreal. It is hard to relinquish that control to the reader and let them decide and stand in judgement. Placing this power in the hands of another is much harder than I would have thought. Every writer knows that the work has to stand on its own, and either it does or it doesn’t. Reader acceptance is the ultimate test, and there is no avoiding it. I love it when it passes, and dislike it when it doesn’t. In the end, one realizes that one cares about what others think. That’s why it’s scary.

Q: What’s the best book you’ve read this past year?

A: Travels by Michael Crichton

Q: Do you listen to music while you write? If so, what’s on your playlist?

A: I rarely listen to music when I write. I work in an office where there are many different conversations and other activities. I have to focus so everything gets drowned out including any music.

Q: If you could relive a certain age in your life, what would it be and why?

A: I suppose we would all like to be shockingly good looking. I think we all have achieved that at one time or another as well. I really do. It is amazing to look at pictures of what older people looked like in their prime. I would certainly like to revisit that time of my life when life was forever grand, only this time with the wisdom that was singularly absent during that period. One may look great but have the mind of an idiot. That was me. It is rare when both are present in a human being.

Q: If you threw a dinner party and could invite any five people (living or not), who would they be and what question would you most like to ask each one?

A: I would probably throw Oscar Wilde, Richard Feynman, Raymond Chandler, Nancy Mitford, Stephen King, and Jane Austen in the same room just to see what would happen. There would be no particular questions that I would ask, but I would seriously listen to what was said. I would be enchanted. I would also make sure that Stanley had plenty of spirits on hand and that Dagmar had a free rein with the menu.

Q: What’s next on your list of projects?

A: I’m writing another novel. This one is about what happens if you manage to meet a god.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

A: My website: Ivanobolensky.com

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: Keep reading. Keep thinking. Keep wondering. Be curious forever.

 

 

A Chat With Jeri Westerson

Jeri Westerson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: How does your writing schedule usually go?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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