A Conversation with Anthony St. Clair

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It was Marcel Proust who once said, “The Real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” It’s a fact of life that nonwriters could travel to the most exotic corners of the world and still be puzzled about where inspiration comes from. On the flip side, real writers can walk to the neighborhood market on any given day and come home eager to jot down a conversation overheard in the cookie aisle or an amusing exchange witnessed in the parking lot. Author Anthony St. Clair not only has a lot of globetrotting in his background but also possesses the wordsmith-worthy trait of always keeping his eyes open and forever pondering creative possibilities.

Interview: Christy Campbell

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From 1998-­2000 you lived and traveled abroad in Scotland and Ireland, and since then you’ve traveled extensively. How have your world travels influenced your life and writing?

Indie world travel changed my life. When I was 20 I lived abroad in Edinburgh, Scotland, as part of a student exchange during my senior year of college. It was my first time staying in hostels, the dorm-style cheap accommodation favored by backpackers; I’d never even heard of hostels before. It was also my first time seeing people who traveled the world, sometimes after high school or college, sometimes for vacation, sometimes as a lifestyle.

It completely changed the course of my life. I spent the next year between Scotland and Ireland before moving from Edinburgh to Eugene, Oregon. Since then I have also gone to places like India, Thailand, Tibet, and Australia. My wife and I went to Canada for our honeymoon, and in 2013 we took our son, then 15 months old, to Japan. We gave him a passport for his first birthday.

When it came time to figure out the stories I needed to tell, things began taking shape when I knew the stories would revolve around travel. But when I understood that travel was just a means to an end, that’s when my fiction really started coming together.

At heart, my writing is about inspiring people to live the world. If in some small way my stories help anyone find the courage and grit to do what excites them, but that they haven’t done yet, then every word I write is worthwhile.

You’ve released two novellas so far in your Rucksack Universe series. What’s next?

Forever the Road, the first novel-length work in the Rucksack Universe series, comes out later this year. Right now the manuscript is with my copy editor, and my designer is working on the cover.

This book is a tale of travel, destiny, and beer. Three travelers in India battle their hearts and their destinies as an awakened evil prepares to destroy all life. Set in the fictional city of Agamuskara—which means “smiling fire” in Hindi—the book tells us more of the story of Jay the traveler, Faddah Rucksack (the world’s only Himalayan-Irish sage), and the mysterious more-than-a-bartender Jade Agamuskara Bluegold.

Forever the Road takes our world to a pivotal moment of destruction or renewal. Yet at its heart, the story is about connection: our longing to connect with others, and what happens when we don’t.

In one form or another, I’ve been working on this story since 2003. One day on my way to the office, I had an idea that made me pull over and write it down (I couldn’t care less that it made me late to work). I am so excited to share Forever the Road with readers. It sets the tone for many tales to come.

What makes Rucksack Universe different from other fantasy series?

I call the Rucksack Universe “travel fantasy.” Travel fantasy revolves around indie travel—not the book-a-cruise kind, but the kind where you backpack Asia for a year, live in another country, ride the same buses the locals do, or have been so many places you have to get more pages added to your passport. There’s often a large backpack involved, and dorm-style rooms in hostels where you can meet people from all over the world. There’s street food, friends you haven’t met yet, and a world where you treasure everything you experience, if only because you know there is so much more in the world than you can ever, ever know.

These stories are all about people who don’t have roots, gave up their roots, or had to go somewhere else to put down roots. These folks aren’t tethered to where they came from but seek fuller lives elsewhere. They’re vagabonds, globetrotters. The world is home and home is the road.

While the Rucksack Universe has fantastical elements, it is also very much a similar version of our world, changed by a catastrophic event known as The Blast. The world has gods, powerful forces, not-exactly-human figures, and, of course, destiny-slinging bartenders. The fantastical is interwoven with the ordinary, yet the extranormal elements also happen on an unseen level, unknown and unobserved by most people. The characters and the reader get to scratch back the skin shrouding these things, and go on an adventure with the hidden world happening unnoticed all around.

You also write a lot about craft beer and homebrew, and the beers in your stories almost seem like characters in their own right. Why is beer important in your stories?

As the old saying goes, “write what you know”! As a homebrewer and craft beer writer, beer is a passion—all the easier in a state like Oregon, where Eugene alone has 11 breweries. But what really makes beer so important in my stories is that if beer didn’t exist, travelers would have to invent it.

Everywhere I’ve traveled so far, there’s nothing like a cold one (or warm one, depending on the country) to bring people together. Beer is important in my stories because it’s a common beverage in many societies, and especially among backpackers. Pretty much every country has some sort of beer culture. From my own past, many of my favorite times involve a malty beverage or two or, well, it gets a bit blurry after that. I’m a cheap date.

The main beer in the Rucksack Universe is Galway Pradesh Stout, or GPS. It has nothing whatsoever in common with Guinness. (No, really. Ahem.) GPS is the most popular, most widely drunk beer in the world, even in hot countries like India. It’s a common element throughout the stories too. One of my plans—and I recently did a test batch—is to develop a homebrew recipe for GPS that I can make available to fellow homebrewers.

There’s clearly a lot of “long game” in the series. Is there an ultimate goal or conclusion?

Yes. No. Head bob. There’s a common saying that it’s the journey and not the destination that matters, but my stories hold them as equally important. Every story supports far-ranging plot lines, in part because I want people to come back to the early tales and shout, “That son of a ————, he was already working this!”

I see some similarities with the story and character development in Doctor Who, where there’s short-term stuff and lots of big things that get built up to, sometimes over multiple seasons. It’ll be the same with all the Rucksack Universe stories. At the same time, like Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, each book stands on its own enough to where a reader can come to the series from any book and be right at home.

Home Sweet Road in particular sniffs at some of the long game afoot. Forever the Road will tell us more, especially when it comes to Faddah Rucksack, who we first met in The Martini of Destiny. He’s the world’s only Himalayan-Irish sage. Ultimately—for now, at least—his ongoing story is at the heart of everything happening in the Rucksack Universe.

Your stories embrace a sense of both interplay and conflict between decision and destiny. Do you think we make our own choices in life or are we governed by fate?

I believe that decision and destiny are intertwined. There as aspects of us that we have no control over, such as where we are born, who our parents are, etc. There are aspects of our personalities and bodies that are hard-wired. Sometimes things happen to us that we have no control over.

However, we always have the option to do what we can with what we’ve got, and that’s where decision comes in. We can choose what we do and see where that takes us. As we progress on a path, we can make new decisions. Eventually, you can look back and be amazed at the path you’ve taken, and how you never could have foreseen what you’ve done and where you’ve gone. But all that happens only if you take the first step.

Your latest novella, Home Sweet Road, is set in Clifden, Ireland. What about the plot and setting are based on your own travels in Ireland?

I lived in Ireland for a few months back in 2000, and I spent some fine days in Clifden. The hostel where I stayed was located a wee bit away from the city center. My first full day in the city, the proprietor drew me a map about “the eighth wonder of the world, Clifden.”

Years later, when I realized I had a story that needed to be set in Ireland, I drew hard on my time there, from the hostel to the Irish breakfasts to the pubs. I love the speech there too, from the bright patterns and flowing rhythms, to wonderful words like “feck” and “eejit.” Particularly in Aisling, the Awen of Ireland, I hope that love of language comes through.

There are other parts of Ireland that work in too. The Salt & Crane pub name is both a nod to Clifden being close to the sea, and to The Crane Bar in Galway, where I spent many an evening enjoying Guinness, good company, and the Irish music sessions.

Rucksack Universe stories so far have been set in Hong Kong and Ireland, and the first novel in the series is set in India. How do you write convincingly about these different locales?

Some of it is experiential. I’ve been to Hong Kong, Ireland, and India. Walking those streets with the folks who live and work there gives me a lot to draw on. I can write about India in part because I know how the cities smell, how the food tastes, and how you wouldn’t think it possible to pack so many different vibrant colors in one place. Same with Ireland; I know the feel of mist on my face, how a peat fire feels and smells, and what natural companions a pint of stout and a music session make.

Another part is research. I’ll read about places to answer questions or round out holes in my knowledge. I’ll look through Google Earth and study images. Each of my stories has its own board on Pinterest, where I’ll pin images that evoke or expand an aspect of the story.

My cover designer might also add that my writing style is visually rich and evocative. She says it actually makes her job easier—there’s so much imagery and sensory detail in the story, it helps her do different, more original things with the covers.

What drove your decision to be an indie author?

Until 2011, I held a “Real Job” as a web editor with a sales company. It was decent, honest work, but I had nowhere to go, and after 7 years there felt my career had stagnated. My wife and I spent a long time discussing my options, and more and more it was clear I needed to make a go of being a full-time writer. The year 2011 was still a time where the industry was pivoting. I spent about 6 months researching the publishing industry, what was going on, what was changing, how things might look once the future became the present.

Ultimately, I decided to go the indie route. It would let me move to market more quickly. I retained control over my work. Being indie gave me the opportunity—not the guarantee, but the opportunity—to make more money, and I didn’t have to hand over my rights for a pittance. Yet if the right publisher and the right deal came along later, I still had options. Starting out, I much preferred getting work to market than trying to get work to an agent and publisher, and then spend another couple of years getting to market.

Not every author wants to be indie, and that’s okay. I love being an author today, because we have more viable options that ever. For my skills and goals, being an indie author is a good match. I’m running my own business, and it’s in my blood—there are entrepreneurs and businesspeople throughout my family, right down to my wife, so if anything, indie is a natural fit.

How has parenthood impacted your writing and traveling?

This is where cultural cliches would have me talk about how it’s so hard to get anything done because I’m a parent, and how we never go anywhere anymore. But writing is an integral part of my life, and it is the center of my career. Travel is a passion for both me and my wife.

I’m going to defer to my grandma on this one. She was widowed and raised two daughters mostly on her own. I once asked her if that kept her from doing things she wanted to do. “No,” she told me. “My children were a reason to do things I wanted to do.”

That sealed it for me. Grandma never saw the girls as an impediment to life. She saw them as a reason to live all the fuller, and to share her interests with her kids. Both as a person and a parent, she figured out how to do the things she cared about, so her girls could see how important it was to make time for what matters to their lives. And that’s what my wife and I do with our child and our careers.

We talked hard about the impact starting a family would have on our careers, especially since 2011 not only is when we became parents, it’s also when I left my job, after years of planning. We figured out how to balance career and parenting, though in many ways that’s easier for us because we are both self-employed.

Over 2 years in to our parenting journey, we’ve made it work. As I said earlier, in 2013, when our son was 15 months old, we went to Japan for 3 weeks. My wife was going to a convention, and I was taking notes for future Rucksack Universe stories. It was an amazing trip, and it taught us much about how we work together as a family. Our son loved it, and I can’t wait until he’s older to tell him stories of when he was eating octopus in Osaka.

As for writing, Virginia Woolf nailed this years ago when she talked about having a room of one’s own with a lock. It’s true. There is lots of work I can do with my son around, such as some client work, or administrative tasks and such, and I want him to see his mom and dad engaged in work they care about. Heck, half the time I was red-pen editing the Forever the Road manuscript, my son was laughing and hanging on my arm.

With writing my stories, I have a home office that locks. My wife and I take turns with who’s watching our son. I watch him while she’s at her studio teaching violin, and she watches him while I work. Since he was born in 2011, I’ve published two books, have a third on the way, and am planning more.

If your philosophy of life were printed on a tee-shirt, what would it say?

If it’s meant to be, make it be.

Where an we learn more about you and the Rucksack Universe?

My website is http://www.anthonystclair.com. I’ve blogged since 2004, and write regularly there about the Rucksack Universe [http://www.anthonystclair.com/rucksack-universe].

I also write about craft beer [http://www.anthonystclair.com/craft-beer-writing] and provide online copywriting and marketing help for various organizations [http://www.anthonystclair.com/copywriting].

Readers can discover more about my books at https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/20643039-home-sweet-road

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/19107543-the-martini-of-destiny

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7104178.Anthony_St_Clair

I’ll be announcing the release date of Forever the Road soon, and folks can keep tabs on that and other things through my free email list [http://www.anthonystclair.com/blog/subscribe].

 

Waking Dreams

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“Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before.”—Edgar Allan Poe

Dreams fascinate us, dreams frighten us. Some dreams may eventually lead to the destruction of any human mind, bringing nightmares into full reality. In J.D. Kaplan’s fast paced sci-fi fantasy Waking Dreams, readers are thrust between two dimensions; the world where we dream and the world where we awaken. With plenty of mystery and edge-of-your-seat moments, one grieving man must fight an evil, otherworldy force who is determined to break down the very wall that separates dreams from a wakeful world.

Interviewer: Christy Campbell

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How long have you been writing and what initially got you interested in it?

As a child I was a voracious reader. An aunt introduced me to the joys of science fiction and fantasy in equal parts. For my 12th birthday she sent me Dune, The Hobbit and Lord Foul’s Bane. I loved the stories, the escape and the magic of it all and before I reached 13 I had written my first novel–the worst 200 pages ever put to paper. That story has long since been lost in the mists of time and that’s a good thing, but I still look back in amazement that I was able to get the words down at all.

Can you give us a quick introduction to your novel? What is it about?

Waking Dreams is a story of a man whose dreams sometimes come true. He dreams that he loses his wife and youngest daughter in a plane crash and when it comes to pass he is plunged into a crippling depression. The story is about how Colin discovers another world, tightly tied to our own, where all dreaming takes place. This world is in grave danger and it is up to Colin along with his surviving daughter, Sidney, and their strange and mysterious neighbor Penny to save this other world from a horrible nightmare.

Your novel is about dreams–a subject I really enjoy, by the way. How did dreams play into your creative process?

Dreams are an important part of my process. Often things I dream about play into what I write. This isn’t always a good thing, but some of my better ideas were born out of dreams or nightmares I had. I am fascinated

Most of the action in Waking Dreams takes place in a place you refer to as the Dreamside. What is that?

The Dreamside is the world we visit when we dream. It is chaotic and often illogical–anything is possible on the Dreamside. It is a reflection of what people dream. Some of the dreams are extremely transient–rippling realities created by a dreamer yet gone as soon as they wake up. Some dreams are stronger and create places persist, making up the larger part of the dreamscape. The Dreamside is separated from the waking world by the Wall of Sleep–the Wall is a concept that manifests itself in many ways. Sometimes a beautiful woman, sometimes a brick wall separating grasses meadows and sometimes just the hint of an idea on the edge of our consciousness. But we all recognize the Wall when we meet her–she is a mother, a friend, a shepherd to each dreamer. She is central to the conflict of the story as she represents a key part of the interlocked worlds. If our dreams and nightmares could cross that line at will, the waking world would be filled with the horrors and wonders we dream. And as humans need sleep and dreams to maintain their sanity, if there were no longer a place to dream, what would become of us as a species?

Who was your favorite character to write in the novel?

That’s a difficult question. Colin and Sidney are people with lots of depth and it was great fun to work with them–they grew in ways I really didn’t expect. But Penny is my favorite. She is such a conundrum–sometimes flighty and innocent and other times wise and powerful. The way she interacts with people was really fun to write.

Tell us where Tayport, Illinois is and the significance of it.

Tayport exists in my mind entirely. I have never lived in a large city like Chicago or New York. While I spend time in Chicago quite often I really don’t know what it feels like to live there–the subtleties and nuances of life. So I decided to create a city nearby that I could own and build as I wished. It’s something I learned by reading Charles de Lint. He created his own city called Newford where most of his books and stories take place. He’s been able to create and grow that place through out his career and it has such depth and imagination–something that would be hard to manage in a city you didn’t actually live in.

When you’ve got the premise nailed down, where do you get your ideas from as the story plays out?

Most of it happens when I’m running or when I’m driving in my car listening to really loud music. I like to imagine a scene, sometimes the ideas come out of how the music behaves lyrically and the shape of the sounds. More often it’s just that the music generates such an emotional reaction that my imagination is nudged and I go into a creative mode that is often hard to just kickstart on demand. Waking Dreams started as I imagined what it might feel like to burn in a fire. I was listening to a song by a band I love and one phrase in the song struck me and I found myself imagining the house fire scene in Waking Dreams. I know that’s dark and negative but it quickly grew into so much more than that. What would it be like if dreams like that came true–what would the consequences be in the real world? Those questions set me on the path that ended up in the Dreamside.

You chose the self-publishing route. What are the advantages of doing such in this tough market?

One of the advantages is that it’s all on me to get it done. I retain complete control of the work and my creative schedule and process. It’s a lot of work but has been really rewarding. The Internet has exploded the world of publishing. I find myself wondering what traditional publishing houses think about the whole situation. I was able to put my book out not only in the various electronic formats but Amazon provides a publish on demand service called Createspace that allowed me to get it into trade paperback format, readily available not only on Amazon but through Ingram’s distributors. This means that you can go into any bookstore and special order it. The hard part is all the marketing and selling I’ve had to do. I’m a writer and a reader and sales, marketing and self promotion are skills that are so far from what I do well that it’s a constant struggle. But interested people are out there and they are reachable and figuring out ways to find those people has been a wonderful experience.

What is the hardest part of writing a novel, once that first chapter is in place?

Maintaining the habit and tying all the details together so that the story as a whole gets finished and when it’s done it holds up as a whole. Fighting writer’s block is inevitable and like any other discipline you have to really focus on making sure you write everyday. When I first started writing Waking Dreams I had been away from writing for several years, focused on a band I was in and my budding career as a software developer. I had a lot of trepidation about the length of a novel vs the short fiction and poetry I had been doing. At first it was work. But as things began to flow along it became pleasurable. You have to have process you use to face any situation you find yourself in; writer’s block, unsure of the progression of the plot, etc. And you have to have the openness to throw those tools aside when needed.

Who are some of your influences when it comes to writing?

Well, of course there’s Herbert, Tolkien and Donaldson but they were only the beginning. The two biggest influences have been Charles de Lint and Neil Gaiman. They were the authors that really reminded me of what I love to read and enabled me to write in that genre and cast off the yoke of “literary fiction.”

What genres do you enjoy reading?

I love contemporary fantasy, urban fantasy–that’s a guilty pleasure. But I also love epic fantasy, hard science fiction and my other guilty pleasure is space operas. I don’t mind a dose of romance and a little explicitness in a book but prefer to avoid erotica if I can help it. I am really in love with strong female main characters. There’s something really engaging about these characters. I also enjoy stories where the main character is not all powerful, or at least grows into some kind of power.

Do you have anything in the works?

Currently I am finishing up the rough draft of a first person contemporary fantasy story about a musician that sees his music as colors and is able to manipulate the emotions and feelings of the people around him with those colors and sounds. He is a person who has always been something of an outsider. Some of the book is set in the Dreamside, and the action takes place in Tayport, of course. I don’t want to give much more away because I really value the art of the “reveal.”

Will there be more stories about Colin and the Dreamside?

Yes, definitely. He makes a brief appearance in my next book and I already have begun storyboarding a novel that features all of the characters from Waking Dreams.

Please tell readers where they can learn more about you and your work:

I’ve got the obligatory Facebook page and I also spend a lot of time on Goodreads. I’ve got my own website that is kind of an afterthought but I might be focusing on more as I get more readers. And of course you can find the book online on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, Nook, iBooks and a host of other places. Here are a few links:

https://www.facebook.com/jd.kaplan.author

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7363644.J_D_Kaplan

http://www.amazon.com/Waking-Dreams-Torment-Colin-Pierce-ebook/dp/B00FPO638O/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=&qid=

http://www.thedreamside.com/

 

The Grove of the Sun

The Grove of the Sun

A fantasy tale about redemption combined with beautiful artistry and complex characters draws readers into the novel The Grove of the Sun by author Parvathi Ramkumar. A magical journey that revolves around one character’s desire to save his land and his personal struggles while doing so. Fantasy lovers will enjoy stretching their imaginations in this intriguing tale.

Interviewer: Christy Campbell

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Tell us a little bit about Parvathi Ramkumar, and how long you’ve been writing.

I’m an author and freelance journalist, as well as a professional book reviewer for a major newspaper in India. I’ve been writing for over twenty years, I began when I was seven. It’s always been a passion.

How would you describe the synopsis of The Grove of the Sun?

The Grove of the Sun is a poetic tale of magic, Order and Chaos, and one man’s discovery that the life he was taught to believe was true might be an illusion.

What kind of books do you like to read?

I like a variety of genres, and my tastes in reading are pretty eclectic. I do have a particular liking for fantasy and science fiction, though.

Is The Grove of the Sun your first book?

It’s the first book I’ve published, yes.

What was the inspiration for the subject matter?

It was inspired by a strange and vivid dream I had many years ago. Some of the setting for the book and part of the plot came from that dream.

How long did it take you to research and write The Grove of the Sun?

A little over seven years. It was a little longer than I’d initially anticipated, and there was so much I needed to know and work on.

Whereabouts did you research for the novel?

A lot of the subject matter came from Indian myths, and I also did some research on esoteric themes for the presentation of Order and Chaos in the book.

How would you describe your protagonist?

Ildanis? He’s lighthearted and warm, with a streak of ingenuity that often leads him to situations he’d love to avoid.

What’s your prime motivation when you write a novel?

To tell a story. I love creating worlds and characters, and I love putting them all together to weave a tale.

Do you have any writer’s habits that are a must when you sit down to write?

Well, I do prefer silence. Also, my desk has to be neat, just so. Anything out of place is terribly disturbing, even that pencil right there in the corner where it shouldn’t be.

Do you like to dabble in other genres?

Yes, I find literature and poetry fascinating. As well as children’s fiction and magic realism.

What next on your plate?       

I’m working on a couple more books, including a children’s book.

Where can readers find out more about you and your novels?

My website, www.parvathiramkumar.com, has more about me and my work, and I’ve created a Facebook page for my book, www.facebook.com/thegroveofthesun. I’m also active on Goodreads.

 

 

Bloodstone

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Heroes, swords, and an unexpected journey into a cursed warrior’s heart describe the suspenseful, fantastical novel Bloodstone, by author Helen Johannes. With a modern day fairy tale vibe, this romantic adventure combines the intrigue of Beauty and the Beast with the stuff swashbuckling legends are made of.

Interviewer: Christy Campbell

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Tell us, Helen, what first inspired you to start writing?

I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was in grade school. I ‘decided’ to take up the craft seriously when my children were small and I needed an outlet for my creative energy.

Where did the idea come about for your latest release BLOODSTONE?

This story grew out of the Cupid and Psyche myth. In the myth, Psyche is forced to wed what she thinks is a monster so horrible he refuses to let her see him. They can meet only in the dark. It’s a story about trust, and I wanted to build on that concept with a cursed hero who’s taken on a heavy load of guilt. He needs to be redeemed by a woman courageous enough to do ‘anything’ to save him.

What attracted you to writing fantasy romance?

I love fairy tales and Arthurian legend.  There’s something fascinating about a hero with a sword on horseback. Plus, my earliest favorite book was a collection of fairy tales. Besides the well-known tales of Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty, this one had stories like The Donkey Prince, Snow White and Rose Red, The Tin Soldier, and The Dancing Princesses, to name a few.

I’ve always been drawn to the stories about heroes in disguise, about people who are misjudged or discounted by others because of appearances. The Donkey Prince, for instance, is about a prince born with a donkey’s body due to a curse on his parents. They give him the best of everything, and he becomes a skilled lute player, but he’s still a donkey. Tired of being looked upon as a freak in his home town, he decides to take to the road, playing his lute, until one young woman falls in love with the sensitive man inside the ugly skin. That transformation from beast to beloved is a theme that I’ve always enjoyed reading, and it’s probably what drew me to the romance genre in the most elemental sense.

You’ve become published! What was the journey to success like for you?

To anyone who has any aspirations to be published someday—or to achieve any other creative dreams—I’d like to affirm that turtles do win.

That’s right—turtles, the slow and steady plodders. I am a turtle. It’s taken me years to realize my dream of becoming a published author. Lots of rejection letters, contest finals, conferences and workshops later, I have two books available from The Wild Rose Press. I’m not likely to become a household name, but I can hold my dreams in my hand today. So can you. Just keep plodding along.

Any steadfast work rituals in your writing process?

I write in the kitchen on a laptop at the table where I’ve installed my cushy office chair. I like the sunlight from my southerly window and the easy access to the microwave for hot tea. Sometimes I listen to music while I write, usually a soundtrack or something Celtic-inspired. I need something where I don’t understand the lyrics so I won’t try to listen to them. The music for me is about creating a ‘zone.’

What’s the best perk of being an author?

Realizing a dream has to be the foremost. Another great perk is connecting with authors and readers around the world. Writing is a solitary business, so making connections to other creative people who listen to the ‘voices in their heads’ is a definite plus.

What are your ultimate ambitions as a writer?

I’d like to establish a reputation for writing well-crafted books that have something to say about the power of love to heal and inspire. And I’d like to have fun doing it.

What’s the most unusual or challenging character you’ve ever written?

In BLOODSTONE I took on two challenging characters. The first is a blind boy, and I had to imagine the world as he would encounter it without using the familiar sense of sight. Everything for him became about the sounds and scents and sensations. The other challenging character was a Wehrland she-lion. I used my knowledge of growing up with pet cats to describe her behavior. As it turned out, she was the most fun to write.

Okay, who’s your author ‘crush’ and what makes him or her so great?

I’d love to pick Rick Riordan’s brain. In his Percy Jackson series he manages to juggle multiple storylines with vivid and unique characters while keeping the plot running at full gallop—and he sustains it over a series of books.

What were your favorite books growing up?

Fairy tales and books about horses, definitely—what little girl doesn’t love horses (or unicorns)? The stories of a boy and his horse, or a girl and her horse, feeds right into my historical bent. I do so love a hero on horseback with a sword. From fairy tales to medieval knights isn’t a big leap, especially when fairy tales led me to THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy and Middle Earth. It’s no wonder that my two published novels are fantasy romances featuring heroes on horseback with swords.

Any words for aspiring writers?

Read. Write. Finish something. Join a writers’ group. Share your work and get feedback. Enter contests. Learn from your mistakes. Cycle through all steps repeatedly.

Where can we learn more about the published works of Helen Johannes?

Books:

THE PRINCE OF VAL-FEYRIDGE (debut book)

 BLOODSTONE (new release)

 

Websites and Links:

Blog: http://helencjohannes.blogspot.com/

Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4031965.Helen_C_Johannes

Amazon author page: http://www.amazon.com/Helen-C.-Johannes/e/B003JJDQWS/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_pop_1

The Wild Rose Press author page: http://www.wildrosepublishing.com/maincatalog_v151/index.php?main_page=index&manufacturers_id=742

 

Buy link to Amazon:

THE PRINCE OF VAL-FEYRIDGE: http://amzn.com/B003JH8CO2

 

BLOODSTONE: http://amzn.com/B00G8GTHRC

 

Buy link to Barnes and Noble:

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-prince-of-val-feyridge-helen-c-johannes/1021446067

 

 

The Witch’s Hand

The Witch's Hand

There’s no question that people have had a fascination throughout history with fantasy, magic, and the supernatural. In her new book, The Witch’s Hand, author Wendy Joseph demonstrates that she’s adept at stitching all three together against a compelling – and terrifying – backdrop. We also have it on good authority that she has performed on stage and in film, been chased by pirates and typhoons, can splice a 12-strand line, and can even say “Argh!” in six languages.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

**********

Q: What was your inspiration to develop your plot about a witch, an unwilling apprentice, and a flawed Crusader with PTSD?

A: The Witch’s Hand started with a vision in 1985, that of a hand, suffused with light and emanating power. What did that suggest? Magic, witchcraft. When and where was the heyday of witches? Medieval France—they reputedly burned more witches than any other country. How could I make a really good story out of this? Nothing is worth writing unless it’s a good story. How about a powerful witch who wanted to do humanity some good, but was rebuffed? How about an apprentice who is scared of her own powers and doesn’t want to be a witch? Who could help her? Somebody unlikely. Everything in the story came out of this.

Q: You’ve indicated that The Witch’s Hand is “the thinking person’s sword and sorcery.”

A: I wanted to not just tell a good story, but give the tale more depth and philosophical meaning than the usual hero-must-conquer-the-evil-sorcerer-and-save-the-princess saga, with 3-D characters, not just the good guys and the bad guys. I wanted to look into the deeper parts of people’s motivations and mental processes, and raise questions of right and wrong and how to choose between them. I wanted to take an accurate look at the Church’s good and bad sides, at everybody’s good and bad sides. So Jettaret struggles with his moral demons and quotes medieval scholars and Malaxia justifies her actions as working toward a greater good. How does one successfully deal with power like hers?

Q: What was your primary attraction to this genre?

A: The genre came along because of the nature and setting of the story. I don’t intentionally write in any genre. The story is first, and if it happens to be a murder mystery with a film noir detective, then it’s in that genre.

Q: Were you a voracious reader as an adolescent and teen?

A: Voracious? I was insatiable! I have loved words from my first reading lesson in the first grade. When Mrs. Sechler pointed to the big black letters on the big white poster board and said “Look. L-O-O-K,” I sat up straight and knew This Was Important. And it’s been important ever since. Every time we ordered Scholastic Books in elementary school, I would get seven or eight when everyone else was getting one or two. In junior high I read the Norse Eddas. In high school I read Don Quixote, War and Peace, and Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Hamlet, and King Lear. Biography was fascinating then and now; I read bios of Madame Curie and George Washington Carver, people who had to overcome great odds to achieve what they did.

Q: Tell us about the research that went into crafting the magical elements and historical backdrop for The Witch’s Hand in order to stitch them into a plausible and compelling tableau.

A: Ah, historical research in France! Getting picked up by men with questionable motives at the Gare de Lyon in Paris, then tossing them out of hotel windows—I had to work, after all—having visions of the Virgin at 3 am after sleepless nights in a furied frenzy of composition, walking the ground my characters walked, catching up on medieval French history at every tiny local museum, many of which had an astounding amount of information, and scoring a coup-de-grace with the discovery of a twenty volume collection of medieval legends and tales. How exactly did they make brooms and wooden pitchforks in 1206? What kind of locks and keys did they have, and how big exactly were they? What kind of crops did they plant in the Auvergne region, and when? And on and on. Know where the phrase “to point the finger” at a criminal to identify him came from? A long time ago, a robber murdered a man and cut him into pieces, then continued down the road to an inn. The severed finger of the victim inched its way down the road after the murderer, leaving a bloody trail, went inside and pointed at him. The authorities followed the bloody trail, found the victim, and nabbed the murderer.

And while ensconced in a hotel near the Louvre to consolidate my research, I luxuriated in the knowledge that I was playing American expatriate writer in Paris, like Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Gertie Stein, et al. Yum. The poor cleaning girl wanted to come in and vacuum—she was under pressure from the dragon lady manager—but I had papers carefully strewn over everything and wouldn’t let her. Finally I opened the door and pointed to a space about one foot square. “Vacuum there.”

I studied up on Tarot and other medieval occult fields, grabbing every book I could find on medieval magic and devouring it. I even attended a contemporary witch’s gathering, complete with boiling cauldron and magical chants. This was on April 30, 1986, four days after the Chernobyl nuclear plant blew. It was sending a plume of radioactive particles north toward the pole, which were expected to come down over Canada and the US. So the chants were in the vein of “Go back! Go away! Begone!” And the next day the plume started to turn around and head back toward Chernobyl. I am not a practitioner of or believer in magic but that was a “Whoa!” moment. At any rate, I got a feel for how witches view the magical arts.

Q: How has technology impacted how, when and where you write?

A: In 1985 I wrote the first draft of The Witch’s Hand longhand, on several 6”x9” notepads, working through the night for several nights. I later typed it up on an electric typewriter reluctantly, not being the world’s greatest typist; my reading is fine but my typing is dyslexic. Finally computers with autocorrect programs came along and I don’t mind typing anymore. I have no set time for writing, but I used to work on The Witch’s Hand early in the morning. I don’t get up early anymore.

Q: How long did The Witch’s Hand take you to write from start to finish?

A: Twenty-five years. It’s a long time to give birth. It staggered and stopped and picked up again throughout the process.

Q: Do you prefer to work from an outline or let your muse guide you from one chapter to the next?

A: I get the ending clear as soon as I have the beginning down, then the fun part is deciding how to get from one to the other. I don’t use an outline as I don’t want the story to be too tied down to going in one direction in case it doesn’t work. Sometimes I work from scribbled notes.

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

A: Alberge was supposed to only play a minor role; introducing him as Jettaret’s former comrade-in-arms was to help flesh out Jettaret’s background, nothing more. But I walked into the inn and there he was, a total rascal, and I knew I wasn’t going to able to drop Alberge after only one scene.

Q: Did you allow anyone to read your chapters in progress or did you make them wait until the project was completed?

A: Nobody reads my stuff until it’s done. I don’t need somebody else’s mind messing up my work. As a matter of fact, I don’t like anyone messing with it after it’s done.

Q: Who’s your favorite character in the book and what aspects of his/her personality are a reflection of your personal hopes, fears and dreams?

A: Alberge is the character I most wish were real, because if he were, I’d run off with him. Have an attraction to rascals. I gave Alberge my sense of humor. After the story ends, I figure he dies in the gutter in Paris, but trust that won’t be my fate. I write seeing through the character’s eyes, or looking just over his/her shoulder. Everything they do is real to me. I worked out the swordfights by playing both combatants; I have swordplay training. I try to make all the characters 3-D, with a sympathetic side to even the worst ones. And if you’ve done your job right, the characters will resonate with the audience.

Q: What do you hope this book will accomplish?

A: I want people to read it, enjoy the story, love the characters, and think about some of the problems presented as they pertain to the reader’s life. Oh, and a few million copies sold, a movie, ballet and opera produced wouldn’t be bad, either.

Q: If Hollywood came calling, who would be your dream cast for a film adaptation?

A: I’d go back to Faye Dunaway’s Milady in Lester’s The Three (and Four) Musketeers for Malaxia, or Angelina Jolie today. There are a lot of good actors for Jettaret, but I’d want one that can do the pathos as well as the swashbuckling. Liana needs to have her feet on the ground and be scared and strong at the same time. Alberge needs a basso growl, and he’s short, stumpy and lame, but built like a blacksmith on top.

Q: In your personal life, you’re certainly no stranger to pulse-pounding, globetrotting adventures. Please share a few of these with us, along with the takeaway lessons that you believe best prepared you for the drama, uncertainties and euphoria of a writing career.

A: Somali pirates chased my ship in 2010. Here’s my report from my Sea Log, with some info on life at sea, the pirate chase, and a treatment of it in poetry. It’s a little long, but I didn’t know when to say “cut.”

We discuss pirate attack the same way you’d talk about bad traffic on the freeway. The ship has numerous barriers and obstacles to prevent pirates from successfully storming the ship, and you will understand if I don’t tell you what they are. We did one pirate drill, which essentially is to circle the wagons and wait for the cavalry. At the PA announcement, “Alamo, Alamo, Alamo,” we go to a secure room, and I’m not saying where that is either, with extra food, water, and a radio, and call the nearest coalition warship. Somebody aboard wondered why they chose a call word to get us to safety from a battle where everybody died.

Too many liability issues if we shoot back ourselves, though many would like to. I’d love to get one of the Lady Washington’s cannon off at them. We are trying to get Uncle Sam to give us, the US flagged commercial ships, a military unit aboard for protection, as the Military Sealift Command ships have (they are military cargo ships owned by the Navy but crewed by civilians). There is a Natl. Guard unit on those ships; during WWII the civilian Liberty ships that delivered cargo carried Naval Armed Guard units. If the war on terror is truly a war, shouldn’t we have the necessary protection against terrorists? The shipping companies don’t want to spend the money for armed private security units.

But pirates are nothing compared to what my dad went through in WWII; he had one ship torpedoed out from under him before Pearl Harbor, then on the Murmansk Run in ’42 he ran a 24/7 gauntlet against mines, submarines, air attack and icebergs. He came through all without a scratch. I have his Merchant Marine dogtag from then, and figure if that doesn’t bring us luck, nothing will.

Bad news from off of Cameroon, West Africa: The Northern Star, a 7,000 ton ship, was attacked by pirates near midnight Monday night. Twenty armed pirates in three boats came aboard, stole cash and computers, smashed all the communication equipment on the bridge, and took the Capt. and Chief Engineer with them as hostages when they left. No word on a ransom demand. All the other crew are apparently safe. Don’t know what flag she was.

5/26/10

Out into the Gulf of Aden. Commencing pirate watches tonight. I’m on as rover on deck from 00:00 to 04:00, after my regular 20:00 to 24:00 watch. Watch out, bad guys, Bloody Wendy is waiting. Grabbing some sack time so I’ll last through the night, then up again for my 08:00 to 12:00 watch. One warship was nearby

Leaving Colombo, Sri Lanka—Call out was 00:30 for 01:00 departure, after a long day and twenty minutes lying down but not sleeping. We stood to and waited. And waited. Didn’t get away till about 05:00, off watch at 06:00. Enough time to get cleaned up and lie down for another twenty minutes before bridge watch at 07:45. Third Mate had had the same hours so we pulled down all the window sun shades to spare our bloodshot eyes from the cheery morning light. No OT today; everyone catching up on sleep.

Flash! Zombies Take Over Ship!

Mindless maniacs sail ship in great circle off the coast of Sri Lanka, as long dead creatures rise up out of the sea, and with zombie riders, slosh ashore to steal popcorn and spread green slime around! Stay tuned!

6/19/10

Sat., 09:15. Off of Oman. Rough and choppy, many whitecaps. 40 kt. wind on the bow, a little to port. White water and spray over the forward port side; spray arcs up over the containers to starboard, sun catches it and makes rainbows.

I thought nobody in their right mind would be out in a small boat in this stuff. But then pirates aren’t in their right minds.

02:30. It was a very warm night/early morning on pirate watch, and I was on roving patrol on deck. We carry a hand held supercharged searchlight known as the Ronnie Ray-Gun, after the late president, and I was also armed with a radio, a knife, a Leatherman multiplex, a small flashlight and my keys. Those pirates better not mess with me. Got up to the bow where there was a bit of a wafting wind, and wanted to cool off, so I laid down, unbuttoned my shirt and let God admire His handiwork. Felt a bit like the Little Mermaid, or like pirate Mary Read, who, disguised as a man, killed another man in a duel. As he lay dying, she ripped her blouse open so he could see, to add insult to fatal injury, that the man who had killed him was a woman.

This is Pirate Central, where the Gulf of Aden joins the Red Sea, from about 12°12.5’ N., 45°47.5’ E., to 13°08.4’ N., 43°05.9’ E., between Somalia and Yemen. Collected some Genuine Pirate Water up on the bow at 12°24’ N., 44°16’ E., and put it in a bottle. Maybe I can sell it on E-Bay.

On the bridge, looking at our computer chart with AIS ship names and positions on it. Big cluster of ships ahead, so dense you can’t read the names. Feels like we’re at the back of the pack in the Indy 500. Shipping lanes are marked on the charts here so the pirates know where we’ll be. Still no sign of any. EU warship out of sight broad to port, six miles out; visibility poor, lots of haze. British by the sound of their radio calls. Nice to know they’re out there. Two choppers flew by as well.

16:00 to 20:00 pirate watch. It’s Rhonda’s 43rd birthday so I took her watch. Over an hour’s time, half a dozen very small launches, in ones and twos, sped toward us and tried to keep pace. None could, and they all fell away. There were two or three guys in each boat, no room for more, or for any artillery bigger than a shotgun; more then that and the recoil would capsize them. I was told they were fishermen. Fishermen? Drug runners? Or pirate scouts? They didn’t look like fishing boats; no room for any real gear or fish. The fishing boats around here are bigger, enough for five or six guys and a reasonably sizable catch, thirty feet long at least. These were much smaller. And if they were fishing boats, I’m Prince William.

I called their positions in to the bridge, from the forward catwalk on the bow. It’s between the forward mooring station bulkhead and the first row of containers, you get a good view to port or starboard, and it’s well protected. It was exciting, running back and forth on the catwalk to check both sides, and not scary.

They didn’t fire at us so technically we weren’t under attack. But were they pirates or drug runners or joyriding fishermen? Why would fishermen do that? Exciting anyway. Chased by pirates!

Pirate Chase off Somalia

Aboard the APL container ship

President Jackson, in the

Gulf of Aden off Somalia,

June 20, 2010

Run, run back,

Oh; no, run the other way,

they’re coming.

How am I going to call

pirate boats approaching from both sides

when they rush us at the same time?

Careful on the catwalk here,

narrow, narrow,

don’t slip, don’t trip,

slips-trips-and-falls-are-the-single-most-

common-cause-of-injury-aboard-ship.

Protected here,

bulkhead this side,

containers that side,

what about RPG attack?

Goddam they’re close.

Bridge, Bow Lookout,

two small vessels approaching

broad to port;

one small vessel approaching

three points to starboard,

Bloody hell these can’t be fishing boats,

vessels approaching rapidly,

Hey this is fun!

Two more vessels

approaching fine to port

Do they have AK-47’s?

Wouldn’t they have used them by now?

Hey the cook said

he’s got something hot for them

if they get below but we’d

all be in the safe room by that time

Hey, we’re getting attacked by pirates!

but is it an attack if

they aren’t shooting at you yet?

Bridge, Bow Lookout,

vessels approaching—

 

But you know something? None of this makes getting a rejection slip any easier. It still stings, and if someone hurts me in an interpersonal relationship, that is just as bad too.

Q: You’re also an accomplished playwright and actor. What aspects of penning theatrical scripts and treading the boards have enhanced your skills as a storyteller and novelist?

A: I wrote The Witch’s Hand as a play first. In play form, you can go straight to the conflict between characters and the characters’ inner conflicts. And you can’t depend on “take two” and CG effects on stage. The drama is there or it isn’t. In play format, scenery can be minimal and that focuses attention on the drama too. It’s the best way to get the bare bones of the story and character down.

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

A: Considering my job as a Merchant Marine deckhand on cargo and military ships, people might be surprised that I am 61, only stand 5’4” and weigh 110 lbs. But I get the job done. I also won a Bad Hemingway contest.

Q: So what’s next on your plate for 2014?

A: Oy! I have several projects in the hopper but work on them is slow. The Diary of Bobbie MacBride, nearly finished, is a War of 1812 swashbuckler. Irish lass Bobbie disguises herself as a boy and hops a ship in search of her Johnnie, who’s been taken by the King’s press gang to fight the war in America. They meet up with pirate Jean Lafitte and—but you’ll have to wait for it.

Of three plays, one is Mr. Jefferson Requests, about the famous dinner in 1790 with Madison, Hamilton and Jefferson in attendance. The Constitution is newly adopted but untested. There is no Bill of Rights. The government is deeply in debt. There is no consensus on where the federal capitol will be.

Nobody took notes at this dinner, but we know that the parties agreed to locate the federal capitol in the South in return for the Southern states, who had paid off their share of the Revolutionary War debts, helping the Northern states pay off theirs. And after that, the three worthies never agreed on anything again.

So how did they get there? And more enticingly, what else did the three greatest minds of the founding fathers talk about? What did they say? Jefferson was in the midst of his affair with Sally Hemings at the time; where do she and her chef brother James fit in?

Ulysses

A grad student in English Lit. is trying to figure out James Joyce’s densely written and enigmatic Ulysses. He is not particularly helped by the novel’s characters, who act out their parts, upbraid and cajole him into fits of rage, frustration and ecstasy.

Mein Kampf

How did Hitler do it, hoodwink a nation, and what were his deepest motives? JJ, a jaded American journalist, becomes a Greek Chorus and the conscience Hitler didn’t have, and confronts him repeatedly as the evil genius plots, manipulates and murders his way to power.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: Where can I get a winning Lotto ticket?

 

The Elf Lord’s Revenge

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A sexy elf who falls in love while solving a murder mystery is as unique as it gets! In Arabella Thorne’s fantasy novel The Elf Lord’s Revenge, readers are treated to a concept not yet explored when an otherworldly man meets a human who just might capture his heart while healing her own. In this suspenseful fairy tale, happily ever after comes with a price.

Interviewer: Christy Campbell
**********

What made you choose the paranormal/historical fantasy genre?

I have always loved magic. I read fairytales from many lands when I was a kid. I like the surprise and wonder of magic…especially in everyday life. When all else fails; magic just may do it! So writing under the umbrella of fantasy was a no brainer. The historical aspect is because I love California history (where I grew up) which I got from my mom. I have set two other novels in contemporary England with elves. But I felt—elves: England (mostly because of Tolkien). So I wanted to try something a little different. I picked 1843 because things were moving along. Los Angeles was a little sleepy town, but already growing…This is alternate universe, of course, so there are no hostilities with Mexico in my tale yet (California became a state in 1849 seceding from Mexico to do so).

You chose a unique concept for your novel, amidst today’s flurry of vampires, werewolves and wizards. Why elves for your first paranormal foray?

After seeing Peter Jackson’s interpretation of the elves in his Lord of The Rings movies, it was all over but the shouting. I fell in love with Elrond because he was an elf with attitude. (Legolas was/is gorgeous. What’s not to love?). I wrote fan fiction ten years ago which still resides on FanFiction.net. I was inspired. So it is really no surprise my first novel would deal with elves. And my next few shall as well!
What do you think it is about young adult stories that attract so many older readers?

Some nostalgia, I imagine. But the stories are about growth and discovery frequently, and wonder (when they are not dark tales). Some of my all-time favorite books are YA: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (and the sequels), Citizen of the Galaxy by Robert Heinlein, Lloyd Alexander’s Book of Three and the other novels of Prydain, To Kill a Mockingbird (okay not YA strictly (grins) because the heroine was young and I read it when I was twelve or thirteen) just to name a few. They were adventures and refreshing.

Tell us about your background in writing . . . when did you first become interested in being an author?

Well, I have been writing since I was twelve. I loved the TV show “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” so I wrote my first fan fic about those guys. I thought Ilya Kuryakin was swoon-worthy even then! I worked at the LA Times for almost nineteen years and freelanced a ton of stories, features, book reviews. (I was not a staff writer but the film editor’s desk assistant.) I was also a professional dance photographer and got to photograph Baryshnikov and Nureyev and subsequently was published in books and magazines and even the NY Times.

I, like so many others, wrote about four novels that all reside in boxes in closets or the garage before settling on my first novel The Elf Lord’s Revenge. My first efforts were all fantasy/paranormal even ages ago…I wrote a tale about an aristocratic wizard who had a tiger who could go invisible as a familiar set in Victorian London about 25 years ago. I’ll have to dig it out some time…..I loved entertaining myself with alternate versions of reality so I wrote stories.

Which authors, past and present, have influenced you?

You know, it’s not just one author: it’s pretty much all of them! I think because I am a voracious reader and will read sweet romances, Regencies, Science fiction, high Fantasy and mainstream NY Times bestsellers as well as classical literature (I am very fond of Russian literature) I got marinated with the thousands of words in all those books. Journalism helped me to be a bit more succinct.

My favorite authors remain: Mark Twain, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Lois McMaster Bujold, Diana Gabaldon, Ivan Turgenev, Henry James, Jane Austen, Steven Berry, James Rollins…well the list is pretty endless!

Do you have a specific routine when it comes to writing, i.e. habits or a special place to concentrate?

My writing routine is pretty much all over the map. I can write under the noise of a house filled with grandkids, young mother and boyfriend, the pressure of emotional trouble, time constraints. I wrote my first feature for the LA Times in a notebook on a packed city bus after a night of no sleep. I like writing at work on my lunch break. I can write in waiting rooms and cafes…..I usually write linearly from beginning to end but I can write in a notebook, on spare paper or my computer.

Do you write full time?

At this point in time, I do not write full time. I am still employed by a day job. I hope to retire in a few years when I can indeed spend my day wrestling words and plots.

What do you think of the current surge in indie publishing?

I am so glad independent publishing has come along! I always dreamed of being published by New York and holding a hardback book in my hand. But finding an agent and waiting and waiting and getting rejected and waiting….just was such a grind to contemplate.

I feel indie publishing has allowed me to fly or fall—and then I’ll know whether the rest of the reading world thinks I can write and I’m not just deluding myself

What do you think your strengths are as a writer?

The strongest aspect of my writing is my descriptive ability and I think my dialogue is pretty good. At least, I do not usually struggle to figure out what a character needs to say. Subtext is my weakest aspect. I can meet a deadline (after all my years at the newspaper—I should hope so!) and I can, if needed, write quickly.

What do you enjoy doing in your spare time, when you aren’t parked in front of a computer?

Reading. And more reading. Pottering about the yard, Getting together with friends. Shopping. Especially thrift store shopping! And right now I’m involved with prepping my house for sale—which is taking a lot of time—since I have a lot to get rid of and reorganize!

Tell us what you’re working on at the moment.

I am working on the second book of the elves of California series, The Elf Lord’s Secret and then I hope to do the third book The Elf Lord’s Return. I also have a contemporary novel set in England (also involving elves—what a surprise) that I would like to tweak into shape.

I finished a story for an anthology based on a game “Kaiser’s Gate” which deals with an alternate WWI where the fae (elves, dwarves, etc.) have entered our world and are involved in the Great War. It was done in a short amount of time. I do not have a pub date for it yet. My story involves a dragon-shifter and the Romanovs of Russia. Down the road I’d like to tackle a historical set in Regency or Victorian England.

 

The Elf Lord’s Revenge is available on Amazon. Readers can learn more about the author on her website at http://www.arabellathorne.com.

A Conversation with C. S. Lakin

C.S._Lakin

A Conversation with C.S. Lakin

C.S. Lakin is a prolific author, blogger and advocate for writers, with her website Live Write Thrive (http://livewritethrive.com/ which is aptly named), writing workshops and critiquing/editing services. As an author of fairy tales for adults, she combines Christian scripture with myth and fairy tale to evoke fascinating worlds.

It is a treat to experience her work, fiction or nonfiction, because of the heart behind her words. It was a pleasure to chat with her about her Gates of Heaven series, her upcoming workshop and how-to book –  Shoot Your Novel – and to get a broader perspective on writing and engaging with others in this digital, fast-paced age.

Interviewer: Joanna Celeste

**********

Q: As an author of fairy tales for adults, you manage to employ recurring themes and rich textures without upsetting the balance between too much or too little description and the messages don’t become overly repetitive. How do you weave these aspects into your stories?

A: Thanks for the compliment on my writing.

I always start with themes, since those are the most important to me. And once I have themes, I try to come up with some motifs, which can be ideas or quotes, that are repeated by the characters throughout. As far as textures go, I’m all about beautiful language and imagery—the more the better.

I’ve been writing novels for nearly 30 years. I have over a million words in print. So it’s just putting that requisite 10,000 hours in to become proficient as a writer. I feel like it takes about 4-5 novels to get a voice, a style, a rhythm. I think craft/skill is 95% and the other 5% is inspiration and creativity. That’s why a lot of untalented people can write good, successful books without really having talent. My agent told me that—only 5% is talent. But sometimes that 5% is amazing and stands out. But overall, writing is like learning anything. It’s a skill anyone can learn if they put their mind to it. I’ve just developed my style through practice, such that I rarely ever write past a first draft. I usually edit and proofread my first draft and it’s done. I plot extensively but also listen to my intuition. I just wrote a blog post on that. And now I have a series on mind mapping and brainstorming, and I do that a lot.

Q: What is your favorite method of research for your Gates of Heaven series?

A: I read fairy tales. Hundreds of them. I’m finishing the last book, though, and I am so happy with the variety of themes and topics and characters. I feel I have created a wonderful, amazing world.

Q: Even as a series, each book stands alone. Does your process of writing change with a Gates of Heaven book from your process of writing your contemporary fiction or other fiction such as Time Sniffers?

A: Hmm, if you are talking about the difference between writing a series and a stand-alone, there can be huge differences. With a seven-book series like mine, I have one overarching world with overlapping locales and characters, but with a complete fairy tale in the story. Since I decided to have seven sites in seven places, I had to create almost a new world for each book. It’s been a challenge but the last book is like the final curtain, bringing all the main characters from the first six books together, although I’m trying to also make it a stand-alone book. And it’s a story within a story within a story, so that’s a huge challenge.

Q: Wow! That will be fascinating to see how you create that, when the books are already multi-layered.

You have held a series of “Writing for Life” workshops for writers earlier this year, with your next event scheduled for December (“Sizzling Scenes”). What do you enjoy most with these workshops?

A: I love teaching these workshops and seeing how these new perspectives help writers become better writers. All the material I teach is also on my blog, Live Write Thrive.

Q: What can we expect from “Sizzling Scenes”?

A: I created this workshop because I see as the biggest problem with my critique and editing clients that few writers know how to correctly craft a scene. There really are “rules” to structuring scenes, and I like to liken it to preparing a meal, with many different entrees. A dish must have spices, have a surprise, leave a specific aftertaste, etc. You’ll just have to take the workshop to get the whole flavor!

Q: I love that analogy. Among your posts on Live Write Thrive are those about “shooting your novel,” some of which will be included in your upcoming how-to. What inspired you to approach novel-writing in the context of film technique?

A: I was raised in the TV industry and spent my growing-up years reading scripts and on sets. So I have a cinematic take on writing fiction. Some of the best novelists were first screenwriters. It’s crucial to make scenes visual in a way the reader can picture events unfolding in real time. Readers are so accustomed to movies and TV that they expect book scenes to also have this technique. This entire year covers all this movie technique. The book, Shoot Your Novel, will hopefully be out soon!

Q: On Live Write Thrive you share your critique checklist and different paid options for your critique services. What is the most challenging, and the most rewarding, aspect to critiquing the works of others?

A: I love the challenge of working on every kind of genre with clients in six continents. It’s so fun and exciting. The reward is in seeing writers grow in their love of writing and their ability. I’ve watched so many writers I’ve coached go from writing a train wreck of a novel to a masterpiece that sells big or wins awards. I love helping writers as much as I love writing, so I’m always torn between wanting to do both. Right now I work full-time doing critiques and edits, and still write two novels a year. It’s a challenge but I don’t want to cut back on either activity.

Q: That’s amazing! How do you manage to juggle everything?  

A: I get up early, run two miles on my treadmill at about 6:30, spend most of the morning working in between throwing the Frisbee for the lab. I go to the library from 11-5. I write fast because I’ve learned to do that. I don’t rush my editing, though.

Q: Smart to have a schedule like that. You share many articles and guest posts on your site, and you have built quite a large social media presence. There is a fine line between being engaged and becoming overloaded–how do you navigate that?

I was taught the best way to draw fans and readers and clients is to share as much free information as possible, and I love to do that, so I dedicate a lot of my time to my blog. I write about 150,000 words a year on my blog, the equivalent of a couple of novels. I also tweet my posts, put on Facebook, and share with about 30 LinkedIn groups. I love how discussions ensue and people write me every day to thank me for the great info. Basically I felt I wasted twenty years as a writer floundering around not knowing what I was doing, so my hope is to teach methods in a way that will spare other writers the grief I went through.

Q: Much appreciated! On your site, you offer your editing services. How would you say editing others has strengthened you as a writer?

A: Editing definitely helps me as a writer, especially reading so many beginning novels and noting what is missing or wrong.

Q: How did you develop as an editor—were you an editor first, or did you learn as you wrote and worked with other editors?

A: I’ve been writing novels for nearly thirty years. I’ve also been editing a while but didn’t begin taking it seriously, in terms of learning Chicago style and making book editing my career, until five years ago. I was still writing novels full-time, but in the last two years moved to full-time editing. Since I’ve written about fourteen novels, in a half-dozen genres, I began to specialize in critiques, since most editors aren’t novelists, so now about 90% of my work is critiques—I do about 200 a year of various lengths. I have a couple of great copyeditors on my team who often do the initial content editing for my clients, but I always have my hands and eyes on the projects and do all the final proofreading. I’ve never “worked” with other editors, but I am on editing loops and groups and learn from others as well as share my insights with them.

Q: That’s great. Your website (cslakin.com) notes “In all her books she seeks to journey to the heart of human motivation, to uncover unmet needs, and show the path to healing and grace.” When and how did you determine this was what you wanted to evoke with your writing?

I’ve been through a lot of pain and misery in my life, spiritually and emotionally. Like many, I’ve used my writing as a cathartic way to understand and process those experiences. I’ve always been fascinated by the human psyche, and love how complex people are. I’m a very character-driven novelist and most of my books are relational dramas or journeys of the heart for my characters.

Q: Yes, I enjoy that about your work. Is there anything else you would like to say?

A: I don’t sleep (just kidding). Really, although people look at what I do and are astonished, I look at some of my other author friends and they make me feel like I’m downright lazy. Meaning, don’t compare yourself with other writers. Their journey is their own, and yours is your own. Write because you love it. Cherish the freedom you have to write, even if it’s just a few minutes a day, and remember there are a lot of other people like you out there trying to be the best writer they can be. They are not your competition. Let them be your inspiration. God has a plan for your life and your writing. He won’t tell you what it is, and more than likely, it will not look like the plan you have. That’s how He works. I’m trying to live in that place in peace. It’s not easy, but if you focus on the joy of telling a story and be there to encourage and help others, the journey will be an utter blast! Take off!

 

The Sharing Moon

The Sharing Moon

“It’s only in hindsight,” wrote artist/architect Maya Lin,

“that you realize what indeed your childhood was really like.”

In her debut fantasy/romance YA title, The Sharing Moon, author Christy Campbell weaves a compelling tale of do-overs, regrets and redemption as experienced by a pair of troubled, star-crossed teens.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

**********

Q: Let’s start by telling readers about how your creative journey as a writer first began.

A: I first started writing short stories and poems in middle school. I won numerous awards for fiction and in high school, my Creative Writing teacher read my work as an example and told me that I should pursue writing. When I was unemployed last year, it was a good time to get down to business and finally start the book I’d put off for so long.

Q: Did you read a lot as an adolescent and teen? If so, what were some of your favorite titles/genres and who were some of the favorite authors that had the most influence on your personal style as a storyteller?

A: I read a ton and still do. In earlier years I loved Carolyn Keane, Judy Blume, Beverly Cleary, and I would say Judy Blume’s young adult novels stuck with me the most. Mysteries and adolescent angst were my favorites. Then in high school I got heavily into Dean Koontz and found a pull toward science fiction/fantasy. I liked that he threw romance sometimes into such dark stories. I got into John Grisham too, who reminded me of Koontz in a way.

Q: If you could have lunch with one of those favorite authors, who would it be, where would you go, and what question would you most like to ask him/her?

A: Definitely Dean Koontz! We’d go somewhere near the beach, since he always impressed me with his details of the California coast. I’d ask him where on Earth he comes up with the compelling ideas for such ‘out there’ topics.

Q: What are you reading now?

A: I just finished the last book in the Delirium series, Requiem, by Lauren Oliver. It’s in the YA genre.

Q: So tell us what your new book, The Sharing Moon, is all about.

A: A teen boy, Elijah, has died, and cannot recall any memories of his former life. He is stuck in between two dimensions, Before and After. Given a second chance to go back and live a new life, he finds the cost of such involves more than he imagined. He’s sent back to help another teen who battles her own emotional issues and the relationship becomes quite complicated. Elijah has no idea how his past has led him to the girl, but he learns along the way and it is very intriguing and heart wrenching as well. There is mystery and romance and some spirituality as well.

Q: What was your inspiration to write it?

A: I had this jumble of thoughts in my head to write about depression and how it affects teens. But I wanted to place a fantasy/romance aspect into the story so that it wasn’t too gloomy. I have dealt with depression and my husband, who was the same age as my character when we met, inspired a lot of the ideas. I wasn’t as severe as the female character, however. To portray both sides, I needed to have dual protagonists.

Q: The plot unfolds in South Haven, Michigan. Why did you choose this particular setting?

A: We love South Haven. There is no other Lake Michigan location in our state that is prettier, in my opinion. We’ve been there so many times and it’s so hard to leave. I know the area well and felt a lakeshore town was an interesting place to place teenage characters who live there year round, and don’t consider it just a tourist’s city.

Q: Which of the characters in your book was the hardest to write? Conversely, which one was the easiest?

A: Seraphina’s mother, Marah, was the hardest to portray. As a reclusive, emotionally damaged woman, there was a lot of background I had to cover and do it with her being a character who isn’t featured as often. Elijah and Seraphina were equally easy to write, the two lead characters, because I was a teen girl once, and remember first love very well. Writing a strong teen boy wasn’t as hard as I thought; his personality came very naturally to me. I thought of my husband.

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

A: The female lead, Seraphina, suffers a form of depression from a traumatic experience. I have been through a different type of depression and related to many of her issues.

Q: If you could go back and be the age of your young protagonists, what “do-over” moment would you most want to change and why?

A: In my own life, I would spend more time with my father, who died when I was 22. As a high school girl, I wish I’d appreciated the days I had with him more. High school years are all too consuming. Maturity seems far out of reach at 17 and 18.

Q: Did you start with an outline or simply wing it as you went along?

A: I used nothing except the mass of thoughts in my head! No outline, although I stopped dozens of times when I was out somewhere or doing something and sent myself long text messages of scenes I’d just came up with out of the blue.

Q: Was anyone in your circle of family and friends allowed to read chapters in progress or did you make them wait until the whole thing was done?

A: No one was allowed to see anything. I’m not sure why I was so protective about it. My mom is the first to have read the paperback from start to finish and absolutely loved it. I was worried what my family might think, even though I was proud of my work.

Q: Writing is a solitary craft. In your view, what’s the value of having a support network or critique group?

A: It can be good and bad. Unfortunately, I’ve found only a few family members and online groups to be the most encouraging. I’ve not received the support from friends and colleagues as I assumed. If I did, however, I’m not sure I could handle their opinions. What if they hated my work? I’ve gotten some great comments from some contacts who have made it so worth it already.

Q: From your perspective, what are some of the biggest challenges – and joys – of writing for today’s young adult market?

A: A positive right away that sealed it for me was the fact that YA novels cross over to the adult audience as well. With YA there is more to play with when it comes to fantasy type storytelling. The challenge, though, is breaking out a plot that hasn’t already been covered by all of the other YA authors.

Q: How did you go about finding the right publisher for your work?

A: I self-published, which has some advantages. I was able to list my book as an eBook on Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and with the help of a publishing press called Lulu, I have paperbacks available now.

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

A: That hiring people is stress-free for a reason! Editors, agents, marketing people, you pay for those services and don’t have to worry about anything. I’d love to go that route.

Q: Is there a takeaway message from The Sharing Moon you’d like YA readers to discover?

A: I’d like readers to understand that mental illness during the teen years, or any age, is not to be taken lightly and we need to reduce the stigma. I’d also like to inspire young people to face obstacles with strength and learn that friendship and love can move someone to really embrace faith and hope.

Q: Okay, let’s say that Hollywood comes calling to turn The Sharing Moon into a movie. Who is your dream cast for it?

A: If I ever had faces pass through my mind it was someone who looks like Zac Efron now but 18 years old, for Elijah and someone who looks like Dakota Fanning at 17 for Sera. As for the rest, I can’t come up with anyone yet!

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

A: Well, I only have a few (smile) but they might not know that I am somewhat introverted, desperately want to learn to play the piano, and that I cry at the drop of a hat.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: If something successful happens with my book, I will begin a follow-up about one of the secondary characters in The Sharing Moon. The antagonist named Damian. I also will be job hunting, since my college degree is actually in the human services field.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

A: I have Facebook and Twitter pages listed under The Sharing Moon, and a Goodreads profile under Christy Campbell/The Sharing Moon. I am working on a blog as well.