Frances Darwin Investigates

 

Photo by Shelley Corcoran

Brew a cup of tea, invite neighborhood children to a cozy story hour, and immerse yourself in Eileen Moynihan’s latest release, Frances Darwin Investigates. When the intrepid young heroine, Frances, discovers a bit of torn paper on the ground, it instantly ignites her desire to be a detective and reunite a stray dog with its owner. But that’s just the beginning for Frances and her new friends; dog-nappers are on an aggressive prowl in her neighborhood, and it’s up to the amateur sleuth to find out who’s behind it. In a delightful interview from across the pond, Eileen attests that being young at heart has a lot to do with successfully penning stories which will resonate with the next generation of readers.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Tell us about your journey as a writer and who/what inspired you along the way.

A: I have been writing from an early age. I loved to make up stories about magic and fairies when I was about 7. Then I moved onto adventure stories around the age of 9. As I grew older I was more into characters and what made them tick. I was definitely inspired by my mother reading books to me, regular visits to the library and encouragement from teachers at school. But as I got bogged down in rearing children and working, my writing got put on the back burner. Then in later years I heard about S.C.B.W.I (Society of Children’s Book writers and Illustrators) and became a member. They were very helpful in directing me in my writing. I also joined local writers groups where I could network and receive feedback.

Q: When you were the same age as your young target readership, were you a voracious reader?

A: Yes I was always reading. I would read when and wherever I could. I would even read the cereal packets. I was often caught with a torch under the sheets reading a book.

Q: What sorts of books might we have found on your bookshelves and nightstand when you were growing up?

A: Books by Enid Blyton, the Narnia books by C.S. Lewis, @Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce, Little Women by Louisa M Alcott, poetry by Robert Louis Stevenson and A. A. Milne.

Q: What influence did your upbringing in the U.K. have on your storytelling style and your general outlook on life?

A: I suppose I was influenced by writers from the U.K. in my use of language and style of storytelling. I liked the idea of the rural idyll of small quaint villages and countryside. But my father who was Irish also persuaded me to read books by Patricia Lynch such as The Turf-Cutter’s Donkey which sparked an interest in the Irish way of life.

Q: What attracted you to the children’s market as your genre of choice?

A: I used to teach and loved to share my love of books with children. I also wanted to revisit the books I had enjoyed as a child, and discover new ones. It was just a natural step to write for children.

Q: What inspires your creativity as a wordsmith?

A: It could be something I overhear or read – a phrase that may catch my fancy. It could be something I see or feel. Sometimes it is just a random thought that ‘grows legs.’

Q: All of your titles are delightfully imaginative! How did you come up with them?

A: Rory Gumboots just jumped into my head.

The Reckolahesperus came from the phrase I heard as a child – ‘You look like the Wreck of the Hesperis.’ The Wreck of the Hesperis was a poem about a shipwreck.

Hattie and Jacques Love London came from the name of Hattie Jacques who was a star of the Carry On films.

The Dreamsmith was just pure imagination.

Q: What was the inspiration for Frances Darwin Investigates?

A: I had seen reports of dognapping in the paper and that started me thinking. I enjoyed adventure books written by Enid Blyton as a child so that definitely influenced me, too.

Q: How much of young Frances is actually Eileen?

A: There is definitely a lot of me in Frances, her curiosity, her independence and imagination.

Q: Over the course of the story, Frances makes friends with people young and old. Do you think children can identify with this?

A: I think so because children are surrounded by parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, neighbours and friends. Sometimes age doesn’t matter if there is a connection of hearts and minds.

Q: Why do you think children would enjoy this book?

A: I think children would enjoy this book because it has dogs, adventure, humour, interesting character relationships and it has a happy ending.

Q: Children today have far more distractions (many of them technological) than those of earlier generations. As a former educator, what would your advice be to parents who want their children to be more actively engaged in the joy of reading?

A: Read them books at bedtime from an early age. Encourage them to use libraries. Let them read comics. Let them read stories online or on Kindle and listen to audio-books. Buy them books as presents. Present reading in all its forms.

Q: Like many of today’s authors, you chose to don multiple hats and go the route of self-publishing. What governed this choice for you?

A: I sent Rory Gumboots to publishers and agents. I was told it was a sweet story but that they didn’t do books with anthromorphic animals etc.… so then I looked into self-publishing. I first did an eBook with KDP and then decided to get print books with Amazon’s Createspace. I am not getting any younger so I just wanted to get on with it.

Q: What have you learned (both pros and cons) about the DIY route that you didn’t know when you started?

A: The pros of self-publishing is that you are in charge of what you do and you can do it at your own pace and convenience. You learn a lot in the process and it is good to network with others who are self-publishing. The main thing is that you can produce the main product which is … your book.

The cons are that you have to do everything yourself, promotion, social media, uploading file, formatting and having to buy books before you can sell them yourself.

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

A: That I enjoy dancing and used to do stage-dancing as a child on the Isle of Wight.

Q: What is the oldest item you still have from your childhood and what is its nostalgic value to you?

A: The oldest items I have from childhood are some A.A. Milne books that belonged to my mother when she was young. I remember her reading these to me when I was at home sick from school.

Q: Plotter or pantser?

A: I believe I am mostly a pantser with a bit of plotter thrown in. For Frances Darwin Investigates I had a rough outline in my head but sometimes my characters would lead me down a different way.

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

A: I have no typical writing day. I often work better when I have a deadline for myself. I am a slow writer and give myself little rewards after doing so many sentences. I start with a small number of sentences and keep building up.

Q: Does anyone get to read your works-in-progress or do you make everyone wait until you’re finished?

A: I often read my works-in-progress to other people in my local writers group. I also used to be in an online S.C.B.W.I. group.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: I am working on a poetry book for children about wild flowers with accompanying photographs from my friend, Margaret O’Driscoll, who is also a poet. The illustrations of accompanying flower fairies are by my sister, Angela Gawn. The cover is done by my friend Dan Flynn who is an artist and fellow writer.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: I don’t claim to be a great writer but it is something I enjoy. I am loving the journey and learning new things every day.

 

 

 

 

 

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Mildred in Disguise With Diamonds

Toni Kief

When I asked author Toni Kief what genre her work embraces, she whimsically replied, “OA,” for “Old Adult.” Hey, if there are categories for YA and NA, why not? Turns out that when she began researching this answer, there’s such a thing as “Matron Fiction” and “Boomer Fiction.” Who knew? “My target audience,” she says, “is for mature people who like to laugh.”

And laugh they will when her protagonist, Mildred (who was anticipating a comfortable retirement), becomes a widow and discovers that her husband’s secrets change everything. Needing work, she takes the job a local casino offers—undercover security.

A delightfully wicked chat with a writer who has plenty to say. And don’t even get her started on those rumors about Mick Jagger …

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Your website divulges that you started writing around the same age as Grandma Moses started painting. What would you say accounts for your being a late-bloomer as an author?

A: I was 60, and after a little research found that—compared to G’ma Moses at 76—I was an early bloomer. I had never really thought about writing until I challenged a friend. He wanted to write more so I told him “…if you write, I’ll write.” Ten years later, we have eight books between us and new business cards.

Q: You also define yourself as an “accidental nomad.” Where have you been, what did you do there and where do you currently call Home?

A: I was born in Pekin, Illinois and moved to Peoria, almost in my cap and gown after graduation. I stayed there until I was about 22, got mad at my boyfriend, and moved to Phoenix for three weeks. (Even bought a car.) Then I flew to Florida to help my mother drive back to Illinois, but she introduced me to who would be my first husband. This is where the buses keep showing up in my short stories. I left him three times by bus and once took his van. Wonder why it didn’t work out. I ended up in Tampa Florida for 17 years and a couple relationships. Finally, I have moved to my mother’s hometown of Marysville, Washington. It is strange to be new in town and yet have generations in the cemetery. My sister told me when I arrived, “If they don’t have a neck, don’t date them they are family.” She has proven to be right. This doesn’t include my trips to Canada, Italy, Belize, Guatemala, Mexico, the Bahamas, Ireland and many trips around the USA.

Q: What prompted you to take up a pen (or sit down in front of a keyboard) and pursue a career as an author?

A: When I was challenged to write, James Johnson and I started a cookbook based on women from myth and history. I did a light-hearted biography and then we cooked for them, making up recipes as we went along. We haven’t published it, and I think he may have lost the file; you know how life throws monkey wrenches. I did get it copyrighted but only two copies printed. “Dangerous Dishes and the Food they Inspire” is still a possibility.

Q: What has surprised (or dismayed) you the most about the creative process?

A: Commas! They are nasty little ninjas that move around at night. After that, it is the need for continual marketing.

Q: Plotter or pantser?

A: Pant-seat all the way. I have a Flash Fiction writing group, and we write from prompts. It helped build skills of trying to look at things differently and then let the story tell me. I also learned to find the right words and not a line of adjectives. My first book was watching a woman walking along the side of the road near the railroad tracks. She was cussing and kicking dirt as she stomped down the road. I looked at my granddaughter and said, “That SOB got 49 years, he isn’t getting 50.” And Old Baggage was underway.

Q: Who, where or what was the inspiration for the character of Mildred?

A: I thought of her name while in the shower. The biggest inspiration is always someplace that I can’t write. I have made notes on my arm while driving. She took over from there. Mildred in Disguise with Diamonds was to be a standalone, except Mildred doesn’t quit. I just finished the third one, and I kind of miss her already.

Q: How much of Mildred is actually Toni Kief?

A: I say none, but my friends think that Mildred has Toni skills for falling into awkward situations and then mocking her way out. I was an independent insurance adjuster and did handle some of the claims at different casinos in the Northwestern USA.

Q: Tell us about the casino where Mildred goes to work undercover. Is it an actual place or a composite?

A: I live on the other side of the highway from the Tulalip Casino. The Ivory Winds is different, but I have gone over there for smells, sound, inspiration and the buffet.

Q: Like many authors, you chose to go the route of self-publishing. Why?

A: Basically because of my age. At 60 (70 now) I decided I didn’t have time to query agents, wait to be rejected and then when I find one, wait a year or so to be published. Additionally, publishing changes every day, and unknowns are stuck doing all of the marketing anyway. So, I might as well take all the bags of money and the indie route satisfies my need to hold the books and not imagine.

Q: What do you like best about wearing all of the self-publishing hats yourself versus turning it over to someone else?

A: The best thing is my books don’t have to follow a genre outline. They can be uniquely different and can blend into other types. There is so much to do, it keeps me out of the taverns.

Q: And what do you like the least about this process?

A: The 20 hours a day on marketing and trying to build a base and foundation letting my new projects waste away.

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

A: I’m mostly stunned at the thousands of thousands of other writers out there.

Q: If Hollywood came calling and wanted to turn Mildred and her adventures into a movie or TV series, who do you picture in the lead role?

A: I’ve thought about this before, and settled on Sally Field or Helen Mirren.

Q: Speaking of adventures, what’s next on the plate for Mildred … and for you?

A: Mildred Raising the Ante is at the editors now. So, we have counterfeiters and a dash of organized crime.

Q: Writing is a solitary craft. Do you belong to any writers groups and/or allow anyone to read your works in progress?

A: I actually lead two groups. Ever since I was a political activist in the 80s, I have the tendency to grab some lumber and put on a show. I’m in the Kickstart Writers which is flash fiction and I mentioned it before. Also, I’m a founding director of the Writers Cooperative of the Pacific Northwest. That group was started by watching so many of our Kickstart writers try to publish and have the same problems over and over. So, now we work together on publishing and marketing.

Q: If you could invite three authors (living or dead) to a dinner party, who would be on your guest list and what would you most like to ask them?

A: Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway and Janet Evanovich. I have a chance for one of the three. The second part of this question stopped me cold. I’m a bit of a jabberer and let conversations build on their own. I guess I would ask Sam and Papa what books they were hoping to write next. As for Janet would be “Do you ever take a break?”

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

A: That I have an FBI file.

Q: And the rumors about you and Mick Jagger?

A: I made them up. As a fiction writer, you have to watch my stories closely. Although, in 1964 when the Beatles first arrived in the US, I swore to never go see them because Paul McCartney would love me so much, he would quit music to be with me. I just couldn’t do that to the rest of the world.

Q: Best advice to an aspiring author?

A: Read, read and then some more, and not just one contrived genre.

Q: Best advice anyone ever gave you about honing your craft as a wordsmith?

A: Keep at it and don’t quit. I particularly love the Hemingway quote “The first draft of everything is shit.” Followed with “Write Drunk, Edit Sober.”

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

A: A couple choices, the first is meet me at Happy Hour on Friday at CCR. Otherwise I have a website at www.tonikief.com and author pages on both Facebook https://www.facebook.com/tonikief8author/ and Amazon, https://www.amazon.com/Toni-Kief/e/B01CR8V3RG/ref

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: This has been an unexpected reincarnation. I find it difficult, rewarding and exciting. I am stunned that I have written one book, let alone 300 short stories and 4 novels. No telling what will happen next.

 

 

 

Dead Air

 

CProtzman-DeadAir_Cov1

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.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

Death Unmasked

death-unmasked-rick-sulik

One of the sweet dreams of a reincarnation belief is that we will continue to be reunited with the souls of those we loved. Conversely, a nightmare of that same tableau is a cyclical encounter with our worst enemies and the inherent challenges of dealing with the dark side of any unfinished business.

A Houston homicide detective investigates his, and his wife’s murder … in his next lifetime. Such is the premise of Rick Sulik’s Death Unmasked, a novel of reincarnation, retribution and timeless love.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

**********

Q: Tell us about your journey as a writer and who or what had the biggest influence on your personal style?

A:  I have high admiration, and give much credit for my personal style, of knowing who I am, where I came from, and where I am going, to my loving parents during my growing-up, and self-awareness years. My parents taught me to believe in myself, and I learned to develop a can-do, positive, and constructive attitude, so that I would be able to accomplish whatever I set my mind on doing in life. They were my main inspiration.

Q: What were you doing career-wise prior to penning your first novel?

A:  I spent thirty-nine years in law enforcement before retiring in 2013.

Q: How did your real-life career experiences shape your approach to the challenges and discipline of writing fiction?

A:  It was a challenge to switch from ‘descriptive’ police report ‘fact’ writing, to, ‘creative’ and colorful, ‘story-telling’ novel writing. It took true grit, and I completed my story, the way I saw fit, without outside influence or interference.

Q: Where did you find the inspiration to write Death Unmasked?

A:  Music – These three inspiring, and entrancing tunes dramatize the storyline in, Death Unmasked, ‘Greensleeves,’ by Mantovani, ‘Think of Laura,’ sung by, Christopher Cross, and ‘Mary in the Morning,’ sung by, Al Martino.

* Oscar Wilde’s Disquieting Poem – ‘The Ballad of Reading Gaol (Jail).’

* My belief in Reincarnation.

Q: I love the title! Does it hold special meaning for you?

A:  Yes. When it’s quiet, I like to mediate, and within a few minutes, my free, and lighter than a feather, ‘spirit,’ is floating in the center of the cosmos. Now, close your eyes, clear your mind, and meditate. Let your ‘mem’-ory, shine through the darkness, so you can, re-‘mem’-ber. As strange as it may seem, I didn’t choose the title, Death Unmasked, it chose me, and, the reincarnation story was written, ‘in-a-blink-of-an-eye.’

Q: So what is Death Unmasked about?

A:  Death Unmasked, is a suspenseful, mystery police thriller spanning lifetimes, using reincarnation, karma, psychic ability, remote viewing, and out-of-body experience to out-wit an evil incarnated entity stalking women in, Houston, Texas.

Q: You describe its genre as “Romance / Mystery / Suspense / Thriller / Police Procedural / Urban / Fantasy / Paranormal / Supernatural / Poetry.” If it were found on the shelves of a traditional bookstore, though, where would it most likely be located?

A:  A copy of, Death Unmasked, would be found on the shelves, in the following book sections:  Romance / Mystery / Suspense / Thriller / Police Procedural / History / Urban / Fantasy / Paranormal / Supernatural / Past Lives / Poetry.

(Editorial Comment: We are assuming the author is being facetious in this reply. Unlike a virtual platform where novels can be categorized with a long list of tags, a traditional bookstore has a finite amount of shelf-space. It’s unrealistic to suggest—and especially to aspiring writers—that multiple copies of the same title would be found in a dozen different sections of the store. This is also critical to keep in mind for those of you pitching your own projects to agents or publishers. While many books certainly contain aspects of multiple genres, the objective is to define which genre is the predominant one.)

Q: Who is your target readership?

A:  High School – Adult.

Q: Given its reincarnation theme, is reincarnation something you personally believe in? If so, how did this belief come about?

A:  I believe in reincarnation. When I was young, my mom and I would walk a mile in the evenings after dinner around a lake near our home. On our last walk together before she passed away, she looked up at me, and said with a sweet smile, “If I had to do it all over again for you, and your brothers, I would.” Instinctively, without her saying another word, the knowing look in her beautiful hazel eyes communicated her thoughts, and it all came together ‘in-a-blink-of-an-eye,’ and I fully understood what my mom had meant. She had been my mother in other lifetimes.

Q: Do you plan to come back in your next lifetime? If so, as what?

A:  As a, – human being, of course. In the very beginning of time, all ‘spirits’ were created at one time, and baptized at the same time in the ‘spirit’ world by Our Creator. All spirits have their own ‘personality,’ or ‘identity.’ When a spirit uses their ‘free-will’ and incarnates to the ‘physical’ world as a human being to experience a lifetime, or lifetimes, they have their own individual ‘fingerprint,’ what the Chinese call, a ‘chop,’ or mark, which is their signature that identifies their unique spirit  from another spirit. That ‘fingerprint’ belongs to them, and only to them, each and every time their spirit decides to incarnate to ‘physical’ earth. From the very beginning of time, we were all ‘identified,’ and keep only one set of ‘physical’ fingerprints – – – for eternity. We cannot learn, ‘in-a-blink-of-an-eye,’ all about life in one lifetime. It takes many lifetimes for our spirits to evolve, and come around full-circle, in order to become completed spirits with Our Creator.

Q: Tell us about your main characters in the book. Did they spring forth from your imagination or are they modeled after real people (including yourself)?

A:  The protagonist, Sean Jamison, and his police colleagues, Roman Addison, and Captain Virginia Schaeffer, are a combination of police personalities (veterans) of all my Houston Police Department, Field Training Officers (FTO’s), during my training / probationary period in the late 70’s.

Q: What were some of the challenges you encountered in developing the plot, the characters and their interactions?

A:  I wrote from my daily experiences, and on-the-job training, in those thirty-nine years of service.

Q: Did you work from an outline or just wing it from day to day?

A:  My mind started in the middle of, Death Unmasked. At night, I would type chapters until a fog, or, ‘writer’s block,’ kept me from advancing. I would then ‘change tactics,’ and start writing chapters in the beginning, and continued typing towards the middle of the book. You probably heard the military saying – ‘Improvise, adapt, and overcome.’ I wanted to write, Death Unmasked, in a different writing style from the norm, and I tried to keep the story rolling along at a fast clip.

Q: Is there a hidden message in the story that you would like to convey to interested readers?

A:  There are no hidden messages. It’s all laid out in black-and-white. At the conclusion of the story, the reader should be able to decide for themselves in the comfort, and in the silence of their sanctuary, if the story convinced them that reincarnation – is a reality.

Q: When and where are you at your most creative?

A:  When I’m in my element. I can switch it on, or off, as I please – anywhere.

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

A:  I’m a fallible human being, no better, no different than another earthly human being, and my blood is the color red.

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

A:  It took many painstaking hours of searching. Tenacity finally prevailed. I finally found the light switch in the very dark and empty room.

Q: What are you doing to market it?

A:  I hope, Christina, your blog will attract many interested readers, and book clubs to read, Death Unmasked, and that everyone will enjoy discussing, and learning something new, and be inspired by my intriguing reincarnation story.

Q: Any new projects in the works?

A:   None. I’m retired and a senior citizen. I’m enjoying life at a much slower pace these days. There are no more schedules for me to keep up with. My motto – Live life to its fullest, and forget your age. I now have more time to stop and smell the roses. I might consider penning another book in my next incarnation – somewhere down the road, and over the next hill, in the not so near future, and only when I decide the time is right, to use my God gifted free-will again.

Q: What’s your best advice to aspiring writers?

A:  I will quote Richard Bach, author of, Jonathan Livingston Seagull, “A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.”

Q: Where can readers find your book?

A:   www.christophermatthewspub.com

Amazon Link:  http://amzn.to/2r2LpFI

Goodreads Link: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/27510127-death-unmasked?fromsearch=true

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: I thought it interesting, since Army General George S. Patton Jr., (born 11-11-1885) believed in reincarnation, that his Warrior ‘spirit,’ in foresight, would choose to incarnate (Free-Will) back into the ‘physical’ on the date, 11-11. General Patton’s poem, ‘Through a Glass, Darkly’ is evident of his resolute belief in reincarnation. I quote, “So as through a glass and darkly, the age long strife I see, where I fought in many guises, many names, but always me.” To Patton, who strongly believed in God, the date 11-11, might symbolize ‘spirits’ re-entering the ‘physical’ (earth) by way of the top left inside 11, and eventually departing by way of the lower right inside 11, back to the ‘spirit’ world, only to be ‘reborn’ again (a cycle) at some future date by using – The All Merciful Father’s (God) greatest gift to humanity – ‘Free-Will.’ At 11:00 am, of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, WWI came to an end, and it was to be the war that would end all wars. Patton lived half of his adult life at this point in history. General Patton’s Warrior ‘Spirit’ might have foreseen, before reincarnating on his latest birthday, 11-11-1885, that years after WWII, his birthday (November 11) would be remembered as a National Holiday, and would honor all veterans, and that Armistice Day, would be eventually changed to – Veterans Day.

Thank you very much, Christina, for taking time out from your busy schedule to do this  interview.

 

 

 

 

The Chandler Affairs

GWRenshaw

Who among us hasn’t enjoyed the challenge of playing armchair detective and vicariously solving crimes? In his paranormal mystery series, The Chandler Affairs, author G.W. Renshaw invites readers to learn from the sleuthing skills of his Canadian private investigator protagonist, Veronica Chandler—an intrepid young woman whose professional cases and personal life are weirder than she could ever have imagined.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

**********

Q: What an eclectic background you have! A gunner in the Canadian forces, medieval skills gleaned from the Society for Creative Anachronisms, a Search and Rescue manager, a spelunker, a Linux druid (and okay I have absolutely no idea what that last one entails). With all of these things in your arsenal of talents, how and why did you make the time for writing?

A: A lot of these are in my past, which helps with time management. As to why I became a writer—I’ve always been an avid reader, but there are stories I’d like to read that nobody has written yet. It’s a case of “if you want something done, do it yourself.”

Q: Which of your skill sets figures the most prominently in The Chandler Affairs?

A: The biggest ones are investigation, counseling, martial arts, and cooking.

I learned investigative techniques from Search and Rescue, where we often found ourselves collecting evidence in the field, securing potential crime scenes, and interviewing witnesses. The Calgary Police Service has a three-month course for civilians that covers the operation of every branch of the service. I have the Canadian Private Investigator’s Handbook, and taken mantracking from Terry Grant (the original TV Mantracker).

My lovely wife and I are both trained critical incident stress counselors, which means we work with victims of traumatic incidents helping them avoid PTSD. Some of the techniques used by Dr. MacMillan in the books come from that background.

As for my PI’s fighting skill, I’d have loved to have her share my black belt in Aikido, but it’s not an easy art to describe and it’s difficult for her to start a fight. I could have gone with karate, in which I have a blue belt, but Krav Maga is more exotic and fits her personality better.

I’ve been cooking ever since I was eleven years old, and I love exploring new cuisines. At the moment a friend in Finland is helping me explore Bulgarian food. Guess where Veronica gets her passion for the kitchen?

Q: What attracted you to the paranormal mystery genre?

A: Oddly enough, it was more or less by accident. Several friends of mine were having a good time writing mysteries, and it sounded like fun. Of course, I wanted to do something different.

I created my investigator and started writing short stories about her adventures. Then things became surreal for her. I realized that her story was too complex for short stories, and started planning the novels instead. Most fictional paranormal investigators are also magical practitioners of some kind. In keeping with being unique, my investigator not only has zero magical talent, but doesn’t believe that the paranormal exists. It’s a lot of fun feeding her red herrings as she tries to put her understanding of reality back together.

Q: Your protagonist in the series is a Canadian private investigator named Veronica Chandler. Why did you choose to write in the voice of a female rather than a male?

A: There’s a conventional wisdom that people only want to read books with protagonists of their own gender. My experience in talking to people over the years is that this is nonsense. It doesn’t matter to most people what characters are as long as the story and the characters are gripping. The traditional fictional private investigator is a 50ish, male, ex-cop, perpetually in debt, and has a bottle of scotch in his desk and/or an ex-wife. The male viewpoint is over-represented. There are several amateur female sleuths (Miss Marple, Jessica Fletcher, Veronica Mars, Nancy Drew, for example) but I wanted to give people a woman who broke with tradition and was a competent professional and normal, well-rounded individual.

I also wanted to explore some of the issues that women face in a male-dominated world. It was enlightening to ask women for their thoughts and feelings on a variety of subjects, and then incorporate that research into the story. I’ve had young female readers tell me that, although they don’t want to be Veronica, some of her struggles in coming to terms with life have inspired them to examine how they handle their own lives. That gives me a lot of joy.

Q: What are some of Veronica’s unique traits that she brings to the table?

A: For one thing, dolls completely freak her out. Her parents encouraged her to read whatever she wanted as a child, which makes her more mature than her years would suggest, at least in a theoretical way. Sometimes reality trips her up. Veronica is really impatient and extremely stubborn. She’s discovering that her sexuality is more complex than she initially thought. Professionally, she’s been investigating since she uncovered the truth about Santa Claus when she was eight. Her mother arranged for her to do an unpaid internship with the Calgary Police, and she took the investigator’s course online while she was in high school. She’s very young for a licensed PI. Eventually she’ll find herself in situations she could never have imagined in her wildest dreams, with no real option but to rise to the occasion. Despite what many believe, courage and leadership are learned traits.

Q: How is The Chandler Affairs different from other private investigator series?

A: Firstly, Veronica earns her PI license at 18, which as far as I know is only possible in Alberta. The real trick was to give her a background that made this not only possible, but plausible. Sometimes her age trips her up, as one might expect. Veronica lives with Canadian law. She can’t carry a gun. She does carry a licensed tactical baton and has considerable Krav Maga skills. Her mother is a homicide detective, but Veronica can’t just call her up to run a license plate for her because of our information privacy laws. Any help she gets from her police contacts has to be oblique at best so nobody loses their job.

I’m a cruel writer. Most of the problems she faces must be solved with intelligence and cunning rather than violence. Each book presents a different problem for her, but they all fit into the overall arc of the series. Her biggest question isn’t who-dunnit, but rather what-the-heck-is-going-on-here.

Q: Do you have recurring characters who assist or thwart Veronica’s efforts?

A: Her mother and father, Janet and Quin, are loving parents who eventually support her decision to become a PI. Janet wants her to become a “real” police officer, and Quin wants her to take over his restaurant when he retires. He’s the one who taught her to be a chef.

Her best friend/adopted sister is Kali, formally known as Liliana Marina Hernandéz Rojas. She transferred to a Calgary school when her family moved from Colombia. She owns an occult shop and tries to help Veronica make sense of the things she encounters.

Beleth and Sitri are demons. So are a lot of their friends. Need I say more?

Q: What governed your decision to write a series rather than a stand-alone title?

A: Originally I planned to write some short stories about Veronica’s cases, but once I started coming up with ideas it became obvious that her overall story is too epic for a collection or a single book. She’s definitely on a complex journey.

Q: What are some of the challenges or benefits you’ve encountered in developing series fiction?

A: The challenge that trips up a lot of people is continuity. Without meticulous notes and pre-planning (yes, I’m a plotter) it’s far too easy to contradict something you said in an earlier volume, or to forget a dangling subplot. Some readers won’t start a series until it is complete. I can understand that, although I don’t do it myself. On the other hand, publishers tend to like a series that is planned because they know that if the first book is a success there is more money to be made. Another benefit is that each story has a natural length. Some can be told in a few thousand words, some in a hundred thousand, and some in not fewer than a million.

Q: How long do you envision this series continuing?

A: At the moment, I’m planning on about ten books in the series. It depends on how long it takes to tell the full story. I’m a plotter, but I’m also open to the characters telling me to pursue side streets that are important to them.

Q: Can the books be read out of order or do they have to be read sequentially?

A: The reader will be happiest reading them in order simply because there is an overall arc. Each book is relatively independent, but there will always be details that were covered earlier that might cause some confusion.

Q: Tell us about the research involved in bringing The Chandler Affairs to life.

A: I over-research everything. The Chandler Affairs takes place in Calgary, which is where I live, so geographical research isn’t too much trouble. If Veronica goes to a specific restaurant, you can be sure it really exists and is good as she says. I did as much research as I could about Colombian culture, politics, geology, and language before writing scenes with Kali and her parents. Then I had a Colombian friend read them to make sure I got the details right. One funny thing happened when I needed Kali to be really angry with Veronica. I handed an outline of the situation to my friend for translation, and he gave it to his wife because, “she’s much better at swearing than I am.”

For The Kalevala Affair I had to do a huge amount of research: Finnish mythology and law enforcement; Swedish history and libraries; Polish history, geography, geology, and universities; volcanoes, Korean airports, Austrian tourist attractions, Slovakian history. The scene where Veronica goes to a random concert was serendipity: a friend I asked about Finnish highway signs turned out to have been in that concert. I’d never heard of Nightwish before and now the band is reading the book and I’m friends with their music teacher. He’s originally from Bulgaria and we talk about food at lot.

Q: Did/do your characters ever surprise you over the course of developing their story?

A: Wow, did they ever. Beleth was initially a one-time character in the first book. As is typical of her, she took over when I wasn’t looking. Constable Holley had some background I wasn’t aware of and Constable Watkins had some interesting extra-curricular activities. Sitri turned out to be pivotal and he has his own story (and sweetheart) that leads to a lot of running around and screaming.

Q: What are some of the tools and techniques you use in your writing?

A: I use Xubuntu Linux as my operating system because it lets me do anything I can imagine. Just so you know, Windows has wizards but Linux has druids. All of my writing is done with LibreOffice with a few extensions (LanguageTool, Alternative Searching, Template Changer, and about a dozen extra language dictionaries). Every time I find a grammatical error that isn’t covered by LanguageTool I write a new rule to fix it, including my bad stylistic habits. I also created a proofreading mode that makes that task easier.

Once the books are designed, templates are built so I can write my drafts exactly as they will appear in print. That way I can work on the content, but also the presentation at the same time. We can then switch templates to format the ebook version. It saves a lot of time and effort as well as looking really cool while I’m writing.

I use other free software for various tasks. Inkscape and The GIMP for graphics; Calibre and Sigil for reading, creating, and fixing ebooks; Celtx for writing screenplays; Marble which is an open-source atlas and gazetteer; and Stellarium which shows me the sky from any planet for any date within the past or future 100,000 years. I’ve also written a few custom programs for creating minor character names and alien languages.

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

A: Except for asking specific people to vet certain scenes/facts, I make them wait.

Q: If Hollywood came calling, who would be your dream Veronica?

A: Tatiana Maslany, star of (and half the characters in) Orphan Black. She’s an utterly brilliant actor with the skills for the action scenes and the talent for everything else. I’ve seen her play characters anywhere from 16 to 30s. Tatiana would be awesome. Besides, she’s Canadian.

Q: What do you wish you’d known when you started writing that you know now?

A: I wish I’d known how to write. Most of us have bad habits in our speech, such as starting a statement with “I think” that get in the way when we start writing. Except in special circumstances such as “I think you need to reconsider how much respect you show the boss,” it doesn’t make a character sound humble. Just weak and indecisive. It would also have been nice to understand the publishing industry instead of tripping over things I didn’t know. Of course, that’s the problem with being a beginner—you don’t know what you don’t know.

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

A: I tried pitching to a medium-sized publisher, but their list was full for the next two years. Rather than waiting, I pitched to one of the Big Five, and got a lot of interest, but there was some internal reorganization and the people who were interested moved on before things got to the contract stage. Rather than re-pitch to them, I pitched to a small press who were looking for a project and was accepted. Sometimes it’s all in the timing.

Q: You also maintain a website called When Words Collide. What’s it about?

A: When Words Collide is an annual festival for readers and writers in Calgary, Alberta. We’re currently working on our eighth edition. We get about 750 people coming, and we’ve sold out early the past few years. Unlike most literary conventions, we cover the interests of both readers and writers with a huge amount of programming, and we cover everything that has to do with the written word: poetry, screenplays, short stories, literary forms, and novels. We don’t do film, TV, or media guests.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: Books five and six of The Chandler Affairs, tentatively titled The Diplomatic Affair, and The Private Investigator’s Cooking Course. The latter will be the textbook for the cooking course one of Veronica’s friends suggested she teach. It won’t be the typical one-theme cookbook, but rather present all the dishes Veronica has cooked along with explanations of the techniques involved.

I’m also starting work on a stand-alone steampunk-horror novel that’s been stewing for a while.

Q: Where can readers learn more about your work?

A: At my web site: gwrenshaw.ca; or on Facebook at GWRenshaw. If you are at an event that I’m attending (such as When Words Collide) come and say hi. I love to talk to readers.

 

 

 

 

 

A Chat with Megan Edwards

GooFS-Cover

“Every wall is a door,” wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson. If you swap out the word wall for obstacle, it’s as true to life as you get. Whether it’s the sensation of feeling boxed in, running up against impediments, banging your head repeatedly, or simply not knowing what’s on the other side, a wall can either curtail your journey or provide a chance to forge your own detour. For Megan Edwards, the fire that completely destroyed her home subsequently became the spark of imagination that led to the smokin’ hot keyboard she has today as a published author. Getting Off on Frank Sinatra is the launch book of her new mystery series.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: If we could time-travel and visit the bedroom of your 10-year-old self, what might its contents—and bedside reading material—have revealed about your career dreams of the future?

A: At ten, I was living in Berkeley, California. One book I read that year was Ishi: Last of his Tribe, the partly fictionalized story of the last Yahi Indian who lived in San Francisco until his death in 1916. I loved going to the anthropology museum at the university and thought I might one day become an anthropologist or archaeologist. I did later study classical archaeology, although I never worked in the field professionally. Also that year, I was confined to bed for a couple of months with an illness that was never diagnosed. While recuperating, I read a book about bookbinding. I wrote, illustrated, and bound my own book, a story about a rabbit that gave everyone else gifts but never received any. It wasn’t a great story, and the binding was far from professional, but I guess it was technically my first book!

Q: What advice would the adult you give now to that 10-year-old self?

A: Keep that inquiring mind! Don’t let anybody force or nudge you in directions you don’t want to go, just because they’re safe, respectable, or normal.

Q: Who would you say had the most influence on the person you grew up to be? A favorite memory to share?

A: My mother always got great books for me to read and encouraged me to pursue a wide range of interests. She gave me Ishi: Last of His Tribe when it was first released. “I think you’ll like this,” she said, and she was so right. I was enthralled. She also encouraged and provided for my artistic tendencies.

Q: In what way(s) did your study of Greek and Latin in school shape your outlook about the human condition … and the challenges of wordsmithing those views into something that would one day captivate readers?

A: I am grateful to have a familiarity with Greek and Latin literature and language, not so much because I agree with what those cultures valued and promoted, but because they have been so influential in shaping the world we live in today. I’ve always loved words, grammar, and etymology. A background in Latin and Greek has given me a sort of “operating system” I draw from all the time.

Q: Are there particular books that truly resonate with you and/or authors whose work you admire?

A: As a child, I loved C. S. Lewis’s Narnia books. I still admire his storytelling brilliance. Three books I admire right now are Gentlemen Prefer Blondes by Anita Loos, Winterdance: The Fine Madness of Running the Iditarod by Gary Paulsen, and The Doomsday Book by Connie Willis. The first is an amazing tour de force that is sadly underappreciated because the film version featuring Marilyn Monroe has completely overshadowed it. The second is the best memoir I’ve ever read. I admire the third because it’s an enthralling story about a horrible topic: the Black Death. In spite of the gloomy subject matter, the story conveys a message of hope and has the best ending of any novel I’ve ever read. While it’s difficult to choose just a few titles when there are so many fabulous books, these rise to the top of my list right now.

Q: What did you learn about yourself from the devastating experience of becoming “stuffless” when your home totally burned to the ground in 1993 and you had to start over?

A: I’m still learning from that experience! One realization that appeared rapidly is that “stuff” had been keeping me from doing things I longed to do. In the years since, “stuff” has once again accumulated, but my relationship with it is utterly different. In a nutshell, it was my boss before the fire. Now, I’m the boss. I now prize access over ownership. I’m not quite a true minimalist, but I admire the concept and lean toward it. We’re all only visitors on earth, and the platitude is correct: you can’t take it with you. I’ve learned that I like seeing myself as a traveler through life, and that I like to travel light. I will admit, however, that I’m a virtual hoarder. My digital attic never runs out of space!

Q: One of the positive outcomes of that tragedy was the development of your first book, a travel memoir called Roads from the Ashes. Were you actually writing notes the whole time on the road or did the concept for the book not come together until you finally settled into a home without wheels and a windshield?

A: I did keep a journal while traveling, but the idea of writing a book came after we’d been on a roll for a couple of years. When we first set out, we never dreamed our journey would last as long as it did, and it took a while for me to realize that the beginning stages of the Internet revolution were a fascinating time to be traveling the continent and possibly worth writing about. When we hit the road in 1994, email was just becoming ubiquitous. In 1996, my husband and I launched our first website, roadtripamerica.com. It’s older than Google, which may be the reason we did at times feel like pioneers. I wrote the book toward the end of our odyssey, and it was published just before we decided to make Las Vegas our home.

Q: Tell us about Marvin, the road dog.

A: Marvin was a white cockapoo. Or maybe he was a bichon. Because he was a rescue, we never knew for sure, but he was white and fluffy, and he didn’t shed. He was very friendly, and he loved our motorhome—when it was parked. He definitely preferred being settled to being in motion, but he was a good sport and wore his own special seatbelt without complaint when we were on a roll. He could be a scoundrel, of course, like the time he chased a mule deer through a campground in western Oregon or the time he disrupted an entire newsroom in Staten Island. Good thing he was cute!

When we finally settled in Las Vegas, we called our new house Marvin’s Resort. He loved it because 1. It didn’t move, and 2. It had a pool with a shallow beach area. Marvin wasn’t a swimmer, but he loved basking.

Q: Marriage is all about compromise, especially cohabiting a tiny place. I’m trying to fathom what it must have been like for you and your husband to share an RV (and miniscule closet space!) without driving each other crazy. How did you manage to make it work?

A: We had about 200 square feet of living space, so yes, some negotiation was required. Early on, I remember showing a visitor around and saying, “We don’t have much space, so we have to get along.” The man replied, “Honey, when you aren’t getting along, the whole world isn’t big enough.” He was so right, and there were times my husband and I did drive each other crazy. Thankfully, we worked it all out, and those negotiations still govern how we live together now. One thing about a motorhome that helps make up for the lack of interior space is that you can move it. Having a backyard the size of North America makes a big difference.

Q: You originally went to Las Vegas for a six-week stay. Seventeen years later, you’re still there. How did this come about, and what’s the principal attraction that happily keeps you there?

A: We were still living in our motorhome when I finished writing my travel memoir and decided to try my hand at fiction. The protagonist in the novel I began writing had to be a Las Vegas native. As I wrote, drawing from my limited, biased, and heavily stereotypical knowledge of southern Nevada, I realized I would never be able to craft an authentic character and backstory without spending some time in her hometown. So, off to Las Vegas we drove, thinking that a week or two—six at the most—would be more than enough time for me to learn everything I needed to know about a city I was sure I would dislike. We found a pretty nice RV park on Boulder Highway, I bought myself a bus pass, and I proceeded to learn what I could about Las Vegas beyond the neon.

Whenever you spend time getting to know a person or a place in depth, your opinion changes. In the case of me and Las Vegas, mine quickly changed for the better. As I rode every bus line to the end, wandered around neighborhoods I never knew existed, and took a hike or two in Red Rock Canyon, I got over being surprised and started wanting more. I was also discovering the city’s amazing libraries at the time and reading up on its unique history. I feel fortunate that my husband and I both felt like we’d found a home after we’d been here a month or so. But—if someone had told us nearly seven years before when we left Pasadena, California that we would drive all over the continent and then decide to live permanently in Las Vegas, I would have said, “Never!”

Q: A lot of people have impressions about Las Vegas based on what they’ve seen in movies—many of which involve glittering casinos, scantily attired showgirls and Bugsy-esque mobsters. What was the most surprising thing you discovered about Sin City once you actually became part of its population?

A: Las Vegas is the most conservative place I’ve ever lived. I shouldn’t have been surprised—Las Vegas was founded by Mormons and boasts the largest Mormon population outside of Salt Lake City. Although expanding population has changed things, the city used to have the highest number of churches per capita in the country. Another feature that surprised me is its large Hawaiian community. Hawaiians call Las Vegas “the ninth island.”

Q: Las Vegas is the setting for the debut book in your mystery series. Is it just because you live there and are familiar with it or was there another reason that influenced your choice?

A: I came to Las Vegas to do research for a novel and found way more fascinating material than I ever anticipated. I could write twenty more novels and still have ample subject matter for more. It’s a writer’s gold mine!

Q: Where did you get the idea for Getting Off on Frank Sinatra? Is it based on real events?

A: When I was first in Las Vegas, I taught for a year in a private prep school. While the story is not based on that school or actual events, I have drawn from my experiences to craft a story that is entirely fictional but also, I hope, authentic.

Q: If Hollywood came calling to make Getting Off on Frank Sinatra a mini-series, who would you like to see play Copper Black?

A: I’ll go with Abigail Breslin, but I’m sure there are a number of young actors who could do a great job. It’s important that Copper be the right age—twenty-something and still caught between family and true independence.

Q: What was the transition like for you going from nonfiction to fiction? For instance, is one easier/harder than the other?

A: After my travel memoir was published, I developed an itch for making things up. When I started working on a novel, it didn’t take me long to realize that fiction set in a real location requires just as much truth as nonfiction, even when the plot and characters are fabrications. When I chose to set a novel in Las Vegas, I had to be able to paint Las Vegas believably, because readers don’t like to be pulled out of the story by errors and inaccuracies. In addition, fictional characters must behave according to their constructed personalities, which is why authors often comment that their characters tell them what to do. So—I find fiction every bit as challenging as nonfiction. It must ring true to be successful, even though the stories may not be based on real events.

Q: What governed your decision to make this book the first in a series versus a stand-alone title?

A: The idea of creating a series grew while I was working on the first book. I’d had the idea in mind, but as I worked on the first project, I saw some longer arcs connected to Copper’s life that could be developed in subsequent stories. In addition, I saw the potential for some of the secondary characters to have larger roles in future novels.

Q: What are some of the benefits/challenges you envision in having a recurring character rather than writing a new protagonist each time?

A: When you create a recurring character, it’s a little like marriage—you’re committed to that character for better or worse. I tried to create one with enough depth and potential for growth to carry a story—and then another story. I also created secondary characters with their own backstories that can fuel events in new stories.

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

A: My husband is my biggest fan and harshest critic. I run things by him all the time. I have a few other friends from whom I elicit impressions while working on a project, but I never give it to my editor until I’ve finished a complete draft. It’s important that the person in that role experience the whole work at one time. First impressions of the work as a whole are important.

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

A: When I first completed a manuscript back in the early 2000s, I signed with an agent. While no fiction deal came of that relationship, I kept writing, querying, and submitting. It’s perhaps ironic that I landed my first fiction contract without an agent, but I know my earlier experiences all contributed to my securing that deal.

Q: What are some of the things you’re doing to promote your work and which ones are the most effective for you?

A: I am active on social media and blog once a week on my website. I speak at events and host signings in bookstores and other retail locations. I’m especially appreciative of media coverage (newspaper, TV, radio, and Web), because it reaches potential readers very efficiently.

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

A: I’m pretty boring, but I did attend fourteen different schools by the time I graduated from high school, including three in Costa Rica. My father was a career army officer until I was about twelve, which meant my family moved often. My four years at Scripps College, where I earned my bachelor’s degree, were the longest stretch I spent at any one school, and I spent one of those semesters in Rome.

Q: Any advice for aspiring authors?

A: Go for it! Find a way to make yourself write, whether it’s committing to a blog or a writing group. For most people, deadlines are essential. The only other advice I have is that you really do need to know the rules. You can break them later, but you must know them first.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

A: My website is meganedwards.com. I’m on Facebook at megan.edwards.author, Twitter @MeganEdwards, and Instragram @meganfedwards. I’m also on Goodreads.