A Chat With Hope Bolinger

BLAZE Cover.jpg

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

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

Interview: Christina Hamlett

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: How did you get a traditional publishing contract?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: How can authors get an agent like yourself?

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

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

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

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

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

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

 

 

 

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Demon Reaper

Adele Cawley

In a slightly futuristic dystopia, a teenage girl discovers she’s an empath and that she is the linchpin between the physical world and the supernatural. Author Adele T. Cawley shares how her paranormal fantasy, Demon Reaper, came about and why it’s a genre with timeless themes of independence, individuation and rebellion that resonate with today’s YA readership.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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

A: Professionally, I’d have to say it began by taking a huge leap of faith investing in a collaborative publishing course, and forcing myself not to give up on my dream. However, my journey as a writer truly began when I learned to write words, at about age five. I can’t remember a time in my life I haven’t loved the power of the written word, and particularly, the emotions words can invoke.

Q: Were you a voracious reader growing up? What books might we have found on the nightstand of your adolescent self? Your teenage self?

A: I was a voracious reader growing up at times, and at other times it was hard to find interest in any book at all. I call the voracious spells “reading jags” because they are similar to food jags toddlers go through when they obsess over one or two foods and can’t seem to eat enough of them. (My four-year-old is currently going through a food jag with peanut butter and insists on eating it for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks.) Sometimes I get this way with books, and I can’t inhale them fast enough.

As an adolescent I loved the Childhood of Famous Americans book series, which prompted a lifelong love of historical fiction. I also loved the Hardy Boys mystery books, and I read every book my school library carried when I was in the 4th and 5th grades. These books primed me for my love of mysteries, and when I got a little older I read several Sherlock Holmes stories. I sometimes joke that my love of Frank and Joe Hardy (particularly Joe) was the foundation for my love of the Winchester brothers in the TV series, Supernatural, particularly Dean.

In my late teen years, I had a taste for the macabre and devoured the thrilling works of Stephen King and Dean Koontz, as well as the works of Edgar Allan Poe. Around this same time I read the Chronicles of Amber by Roger Zelazny which propelled me into the realm of fantasy, where I have semi-permanently stayed.

Q: What are you reading now?

A: Right now I’m reading the Red Rising series by Pierce Brown, and although I’m not a huge sci-fi fan, these books have been exciting to read. I love the clipped pacing and the throw-back to medieval fighting and chivalric code of honor, despite the books taking place in outer space. They remind me of Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card and the Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins which makes for a very fun time, and reading late into the night is a guilty pleasure of mine.

Admittedly, I am in the middle of the series and have diverted momentarily to read Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, but who doesn’t have more than one good read going on at the same time, right?

Q: What authors would you say have had the most influence on your own voice and style as a novelist?

A: I’m a huge fan of Brandon Sanderson, and if I can get half as good at storytelling and descriptive writing as him, I’ll consider myself very successful. I also loved The Giver Quartet by Lois Lowry, and I really admire her prose and storytelling abilities. The way she made me think while reading those books has stayed with me, and I want to be able to write a compelling story that would have the same effect on others.

Q: Skylar Grant, the heroine of your new book, Demon Reaper, is a teenage girl. In what way(s) have you channeled emotions and memories of yourself at that same age? In what ways is Skylar’s personality completely different from yours?

A: In writing about Skye, it would be impossible for her not to have similar characteristics to me. I was a loner-type of girl when I was younger, having only a few close friends, and her isolation reminds me of myself, especially her inability to make a strong connection with the group. I was often referred to as “stuck-up” or “snobbish” in school, and I reference this to Skye’s character when people accuse her of being a “princess.” I’ve never considered myself (or Skye) to be stuck-up. I prefer the term misunderstood.

On the other hand, Skye is more stubborn than me. She has a gutsy streak to her that I don’t have. Part of it is due to growing up in a hard environment having to survive a second American civil war and then living in a very old-fashioned community without modern comforts. I have lived a soft, mostly abundant life, where she has not, and she has the heart of a survivor. If I was dropped into her lifestyle it’d be a grand adventure for a couple of days, and then after that I’m not sure I would enjoy it anymore.

Q: What was your attraction to writing a dystopian theme?

A: I love the genre. I’m fascinated and intrigued by the plight of humankind, particularly the young, in these types of stories. I love seeing how a person is shaped by their experience, which isn’t unlike real life. I’m an observer of the human race. People captivate me. Their motivations and rationalizations are so fascinating. I try to imagine myself in their shoes. What is it about the course their lives took that ultimately led them down the path they chose? This is beautifully described in dystopian novels when there are often harsh and cruel realities the hero must face. I love seeing them meet challenges and overcoming them, and I love seeing the why or how behind it all. Reality isn’t far off some dystopians. Humans face oppression everywhere, and some come out better for it, and some do not.

Q: In your estimation, why do such themes resonate with our younger generation?

A: In my observation and experience, being a teenager is a lot like living in a dystopia. You’re not young enough anymore to be considered a child, but you’re not old enough to be considered an adult. You’re kind of stuck in the middle, but with additional responsibilities, and you’re under the dominion, so to speak, of your parents or caregivers. Teenagers want the ability to make their own decisions without restrictions, but lack the discipline and experience to fully think through the consequences. In dystopian societies, there is always some sort of figurehead symbolic of the overbearing adult, imposing perceived injustices on the people. I remember thinking my parents were just like this. Why couldn’t they let me live my life the way I wanted to live it? I see this theme played out again and again in many dystopian novels, and in the end the hero and/or heroine come out the other end stronger, more experienced, and better able to make decisions having lived through intended, and sometimes unintended, consequences, the same way we make the transition from teenager to adult.

Q: What was your inspiration behind the plot and characters for Demon Reaper?

A: I first got the idea for the character of the daemon ripere (demon reaper, a type of undead creature who has been tricked into selling his soul to the forces of evil) six or seven years ago when I dreamed about one. The dream was so compelling I knew I had to write a story about it. I loved the idea of a demonic soul, tortured by an invisible bond to his master by a magical connection from the collar around his neck. Not only had he sold his soul, seemingly to the devil, but now he knows he’s a slave to do the bidding of his master without knowing how, or if, he will ever be freed. Not only that, but he’s an assassin, sent out to reap the souls of the living.

Originally I had thought it would be a fantasy story, but when it came time to do the writing, I felt a more modern, or even dystopian, setting better suited the character and his interactions with others. Although fantasy stories are full of all kinds of creatures, sometimes magical, sometimes not, what if my creature could exist in real life?

Q: How would you compare Demon Reaper to other books in its genre?

A: I’ve heard it compared to Twilight on a few occasions, particularly if Twilight had taken place in the Wild West and had been about angels and demons instead of vampires and werewolves. I’d say that’s a mostly accurate analysis. It does have some Twilight-esque moments (love triangle anyone?) with some intriguing supernatural elements. I also think it fits in with the Hush, Hush quartet and the Fallen series too, both of which involve fallen angels. Damon, who is the demon reaper, isn’t a fallen angel, but he has fallen from grace. And what’s even better, a human girl falls for him, pun intended.

Q: How did you go about finding a publisher?

A: For all intents and purposes, I am self-published. I enrolled in a collaborative publishing course through Author Academy Elite (AAE) where I learned how to self-publish and market. I use their imprint, which appears as publisher information on some forums (Amazon and Barnes & Noble). It was an amazing course, surrounded me with inspiring people, and kept me on track. I highly recommend them for anyone thinking about writing and publishing a book.

Q: Plotter or pantser?

A: I’m like 95 percent pantser, but OCD enough that I have to have some type of outline. I hate the restrictions of formal outlines, so I write my big ideas on sticky notes. That way I can keep track of them but have the flexibility to move them around as they work into the story. Demon Reaper started with two big ideas: the beginning and the ending. Then as the writing process took over, other big ideas came to mind. I’d write them down and rearrange them as they became pieces of the story. Each sticky note came to represent one chapter of the book, but I wouldn’t write which chapter it was until that chapter was completed in the manuscript. It was great having a simple visual representation of the manuscript that I could take a quick glance at to refresh my memory of certain events. It also allowed me to write dates on the sticky notes so I could keep the timeline straight.

Q: How long did it take to write Demon Reaper from start to finish?

A: Five and a half months start to finish, counting the dead space in the middle. If I took out the months I never even looked at the manuscript, it took about 7 weeks, with the bulk of it getting done in the last 4 weeks. I wrote just over 65,000 words in about three and a half weeks, which was both grueling and exhilarating. However, it’s not a general practice I recommend. In the time since, I’ve found consistent, weekly (if not daily) writing is easier to manage.

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

A: My favorite place to write is sitting on the sofa in my bedroom, door closed, earbuds in with the music cranked loud, and laptop on my lap. It’s not the most comfortable way to write, but for some reason, it triggers a cue in me that it’s time to get in the zone. Typically I can get my best writing done either first thing in the morning (weekends) or at the end of the day and into the evening. I work a full time job, and I have six kids, so finding the time to do it during the middle of the day is almost impossible.

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

A: When I was younger, I craved feedback anytime I could get it. So I’d share works in progress. When I wrote Demon Reaper, I found myself bouncing ideas off my two oldest daughters who fit the target audience, but then I realized that doing so was a disservice to them because it would take the fun out of reading the book when it was finished. So I stopped collaborating with them and rarely talked about characters and plot with anyone until the book was finished. At that point, I took on several beta readers to proof the manuscript. I split them into two groups, and Group A got copies of the rough draft, while Group B got copies of the updated manuscript after Group A finished with it. I loved how that process went and intend to do it again after the next manuscript is finished. Until then, mum’s the word for the most part.

Q: This is Book #1 of a trilogy. From your perspective, what are the challenges inherent in writing a series versus a standalone title?

A: This is such a great question, and is actually something I’ve thought about a lot. Writing and publishing a book is a lot of work, and sometimes it’s hard work. If I’d written a standalone, I’d be done. Win, lose, or draw, I would be done, and it would be out there. But I didn’t write a standalone. I started something that’s bigger than that, and slowly a fan base is forming. They are demanding the next segment of the story. I love having that pressure because it keeps me going. I tend to perform better with a deadline because it creates focus. However, I do have some ideas for standalone novels that I look forward to writing.

Q: I’m intrigued about your background in theatre (a particular passion you and I happen to share). How has this been an influence on your writing insofar as character development, dialogue, pacing and structure?

A: I have loved my time spent acting in community theater. I love the transformation that occurs when you become another person. Writing a book allows this same creative process, only better, because now I’m not just the heroine or the villain. I’m everyone at the same time. I’m the director, and I’m the stage manager, the producer, props manager, hair/makeup artist, and all of the actors.

There is always an endorphin-fueled high following an amazing stage performance when you know you nailed it. The audience was receptive. You flawlessly executed your role. Even if you made mistakes, you recovered and kept going in a way no one ever realized what had happened. There were many times I experienced a similar high after being in the zone for an extended period of time writing. I’d found my groove and executed amazing passages. I live for moments like those.

Q: According to your bio, you’re an advocate for the arts in schools. Too often—especially in public schools—funding for arts programs is always the first to be cut from city, county and state budgets. If students aren’t exposed to plays, music and art in the classroom, where are our future theatregoers, concert audiences and museum attendees going to come from?

A: This is such a great question, and it’s something I think about often. Our young people are exposed to the arts less and less, and it saddens me because what we focus on and appreciate when we’re young shapes who we become when we’re older. Public school systems feel rigid and results-driven, and we’re seeing a rise in ADD/ADHD diagnoses. Theater and dance are great outlets for these types of children. In fact, one of my favorite success stories is about Dame Gillian Lynne whose mother took her to see a doctor when she was about seven because she couldn’t stop moving. Her mother thought she had a learning disorder. The doctor observed her and asked the mother to step outside with him for a few moments. On the way out the door, he turned on the radio and then asked the mother to watch her daughter from the hallway. Her daughter leapt around the room to the sound of that radio, and the doctor finally turned and said that there was nothing wrong with her. She was simply born to dance. This was in the 1930s. Dame Gillian Lynne went on to become a world-famous choreographer for musicals such as “Cats” and “Phantom of the Opera.” What would have happened to her if she’d been diagnosed with ADHD and then medicated as so often seems to happen today?

I’m not entirely sure the priorities of public schools, especially with the adoption of core standards, have shifted in the right direction. I love Montessori schools and their approach. I love interest-driven learning. When a student is having fun, they are engaged, and when they are engaged, they learn effortlessly. What if their passion is for music? Or theater? Or art? When and where do we encourage this in public schools and drive them to seek excellence in these fields? Do they have the foundation and support they need to excel in these areas? Or do we kill their natural talent for them simply because reading, writing, and arithmetic are more important? Skills can always be taught, but talent must be finely honed.

I’ll stop there. I am very passionate about this subject, and I feel I get a little preachy when I talk about it.

Q: What’s the oldest, weirdest or most sentimental thing in your closet?

A: The oldest, most sentimental thing I own is actually in my hope chest, not my closet. It is a diamond and pearl ring and necklace set given to me by my mother on my 18th birthday. They were gifted to her by her aunt, who was the closest person I had to a maternal grandmother growing up because my grandma had passed away when I was just a baby. I always admired the jewelry, and I was very fond of my great aunt, who passed away about a year and a half before I turned 18. So receiving the set meant a lot to me, and I hope to pass it on to my oldest daughter when she comes of age.

Q: Okay, so aside from what you just disclosed about your closet, what would readers be the most surprised to learn about you?

A: I have a very large, overdeveloped sense of vanity. I care deeply about my appearance and how others see me, and I have since I was a small child. Now, that is hardly a surprise. What’s shocking is what happened when I was young because of it.

When I was in the 4th grade, there was a boy in my class who had the most beautiful, delicately shaped eyebrows. I had unfortunately inherited my dad’s bushy, unruly brows. I admired this boy’s eyebrows and stewed for days about what I could do to make mine more like his. I didn’t know at the time that it would require tweezers, a steady hand, a high tolerance to pain, and patience.

One evening at home I finally had a plan to give myself the most beautiful eyebrows ever bestowed on a ten-year-old girl. I carefully sneaked into my parents’ bathroom while they were distracted in the kitchen, quickly found my dad’s razor, and carefully placed it over my right eyebrow. One easy swipe is all it would take. Well, sure enough, one easy swipe and the eyebrow was gone, with the exception of two or three sneaky hairs that were not in the direct path of the destructive razor. To say the result was shocking is an understatement. I was horrified. Not only was I missing the artistically shaped eyebrow I’d been dreaming about, I was missing an eyebrow! I took a deep breath and re-analyzed the situation. It was obvious I couldn’t have lopsided features, so I quickly swiped the other side to even things out a bit. Now I had no eyebrows, but at least my face looked symmetrical once again.

The next morning I’d forgotten all about the incident until my mom saw me and freaked (I mean f-r-e-a-k-e-d) out. She was beyond upset. When I went back to school, my teacher was so amused by it she made me stand up in front of the class (this was still socially acceptable in the 1980s) and let my classmates have a good look. It mortified me, but to my relief (and rescue) it inspired another boy in my class who went home that day and shaved off his eyebrows too. We became the talk of the school and even upper classmen sought me out to see if the stories they’d heard were true. I’d earned a bit of notoriety and gained an ego boost to my vanity despite the mishap. With the modern obsession over eyebrows since, who knew I’d start a movement spanning the last three decades? *wink*

Q: If you could invite three authors (living or dead) to dinner, who would they be, what would be on the menu and what would you ask them?

A: J.R.R. Tolkien and Jane Austen are definitely on my list. For my third, it’s a tossup between Lois Lowry and Stephen Chbosky. The Perks of Being a Wallflower is so poignant and beautiful it is the only book I read the last page and immediately turned to page 1 and reread it cover to cover again. Likewise, The Giver Quartet also stirred a lot of passion and thought in me. All authors exposed the plight of humankind in a rich, unapologetic, sometimes humorous way that has stayed with me for years.

We’d have light fare on the menu. I have a preference for a fine wine (or cocktail, but only if I’m mixing) and charcuterie board to just about anything else, wrapping up with a simple dessert and wee dram of Scotch. And by wee, I mean a generous pour, of course.

I’d ask them about their experiences, not just in becoming writers, but ultimately what shaped their paths to become writers and what influenced them the most to write about the subjects they chose. If they had even a shred of advice, I’d devour it, particularly from Tolkien because I think he was a truly inspired man.

Q: What are you currently working on?

A: I am currently working on the second book of the Demon Reaper Trilogy. I was recently asked in an interview if the second book has a title, which it does, and then I was asked if I would share it, which I will. The title of book two is Indigo Moon.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

A: Readers can check out my website at https://adeletcawley.com where I casually post blogs and upload photos of my hobbies, when I have time for it. They are also more than welcome to follow me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/adeletcawley or Instagram @a.cawley_author.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: This has been a great interview, and I’ve had a lot of fun answering the questions. Thank you for the opportunity, and I look forward to connecting with readers and future fans often!

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Fresh Eggs and Dog Beds 2 – Still ‘Living the Dream’ in Rural Ireland

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Can complacency with one’s comfort zone and the status quo cause us to miss out on potential adventures that are literally far from “home?” “Yes, I believe so,” says multi-published author Nick Albert. “Certainly it’s easy to get so stuck in the rut of modern life as to miss the opportunity to explore, but it’s important to realize adventure is largely a matter of perspective. Many people would consider taking a flying lesson as a great adventure but, for the instructor, it’s just another day at work.” Nick’s own perspective change helped him as a writer to recognize the adventure that is all around.  “Some people may call it Mindfulness. For me, it’s just a way of looking for the positive story hidden in everyday events. Viewed from the right perspective, life is one big adventure.”

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Many an aspiring author has decided to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) following a life-changing experience which caused him/her to rethink perspectives and priorities. Was this the case for you?

A: I suppose the short answer is yes. However, things are seldom that simple. In retrospect I can recognize the succession of events which contributed to our overall feeling of discontentment with our lifestyle in England. Sometimes we get so focused on the task at hand, making a living, paying the bills and trying to save a little money that we completely forsake the pleasure of living. We were so busy playing the game, we forgot to stop and smell the flowers. Like water pressure building behind a dam, events were conspiring, each causing little cracks to widen until the dam crumbled.

Although our life was outwardly wonderful – I had a great job, a lovely home, a desirable car and so on – my wife and I couldn’t get away from the feeling it was all just window dressing, a meaningless sham. Then, within a few short months, I experienced several upsetting events. My father passed away, a close friend was killed in a car crash, another friend was diagnosed with brain cancer and several thousand of my workmates were made redundant. When I had my own health scare, I found my perspective had changed irrevocably. That change in perspective jump-started a sequence of decisions culminating in my wife and I beginning a new life here in rural Ireland.

Did I decide to put pen to paper because of what happened? No. I’ve always been a writer. My first book, “The Adventures of Sticky, The Stick Insect,” was completed when I was eight. Just five pages long and sprinkled with spelling errors, it was not a big hit with the critics. Undaunted, over the next 35 years I continued to write, gradually developing my skills, but not my spelling. What moving to Ireland gave me was space. At last I had the time I needed to write.

Q: What was the most challenging aspect of relocating to rural Ireland? And the easiest?

A: In fairness, we weren’t trying to land on the moon, but I suppose the logistics of getting all my ‘ducks’ lined up was the most challenging aspect. There were so many things which needed to happen in the correct order. It was frustrating trying to communicate with banks, lawyers and property inspectors remotely, particularly as the vendor was in South America and only contactable via a weekly fax message. Fortunately, I’m passionate about making lists and keeping track, so when things went awry I was able to react quickly. In the end, I moved over and rented a cottage until we flopped gratefully over the finish line.

The easiest part of the move? One word, commitment. Once we had made the choice to relocate to Ireland, there was never a moment when we doubted the decision. That kind of clarity in our lives was very refreshing. Considering the relocation and then the huge project of renovating the property without any previous experience, I believe I’ve realized that, with patience, tenacity, careful research and a lot of planning, you can pretty much achieve anything. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t want to do it all over again though. Once is definitely enough – at least for now.

Q: Along with your latest release, you’ve written two comedy memoirs, a twisty thriller, a children’s book and a golf instruction book. Shouldn’t you just pick one horse and ride it?

A: Is that a law? I don’t think so. If you’ve got a story to tell, and you know your stuff, don’t let protocol hold you back.

Q: So how do you cope with writing for such diverse audiences?

A: Wear a different hat perhaps? I guess it’s a bit like method acting. I just listen for the internal dialog I hear when I’m telling a story or a joke. As a qualified golf coach, when I write about that subject, it’s very much as if I’m giving someone a lesson. The same principle applies to my other works. The humorous sections in the Fresh Eggs and Dog Beds series sound very similar to how I tell jokes and the thriller has the same tension and misdirects I would use if I were telling that tale. By the way, there is only one copy of the children’s book. I wrote it for my grandson, he seems to like it.

Q: Plotter or pantser?

A: I’m definitely a plotter. Before I start writing any book, I create voluminous lists and flowcharts. It’s a long and arduous process but essential to create the framework for my story. Once the fingers are flying and the words flowing, I can permit my butterfly mind to occasionally flit off-track, secure in the knowledge I will never lose my way. Having a plan isn’t restrictive, quite the opposite, it encourages creativity. When I was writing Wrecking Crew, there were a couple of times when I was astonished by an event that just popped into my head, particularly as it slotted perfectly into the storyline. About halfway through the book, the protagonist Eric Stone opens the trunk of a car and there was… well, I won’t spoil the surprise. I recall sitting back in astonishment as I really had no idea what was about to happen. Of course, it was just my imagination running along ahead, something that could only happen because it had a clear path to follow.

Q: How does writing a thriller like Wrecking Crew differ from the process you would follow for one of your memoirs?

A: Writing memoirs need strict adherence to a good timeline, particularly for me, otherwise it is all too easy to jump about chronologically and that can become very confusing for the reader. My timelines are usually dozens of pages of A4 covered in scribbled notes and yellow post-it’s. It can take months to get all the events in the correct order. Usually my notes are just single-line memory triggers, meaningless to anyone but me.

For a thriller like Wrecking Crew and the follow up, Stone Façade, which is still under construction, I made a storyboard with detailed notes about each scene including links to important events in the overall plot. When you are trying to slip clues into the narrative to help or sometimes misdirect the reader, it’s crucial to have a clear plan. Thriller writing requires a considerable amount of research,  particularly when the storyline touches on areas that are outside of the author’s experience. Google Earth and the internet is now a great resource for geographical research (and a real money-saver) but sometimes there is no substitute for getting hands-on. As part of my research for Wrecking Crew, I took a course in lock-picking as I knew it was a skill my protagonist would need to demonstrate. In the end, much of that scene ended up on the cutting room floor but it wasn’t for a lack of quality research.

Q: Do you allow anyone to read your work while it’s in progress?

A: I share every chapter and here’s why. I’m very consistent, so if I make an error the chances are I’m just going to keep repeating it. To my mind, it’s far better to have a reliable eye watching over me and picking up any problems before it’s too late. I would hate to get off-track and not find out until I’ve wasted 120,000 words. Trust me, it happens.

In Zoe Marr, I’m very fortunate to have access to a wonderful editor. She’s based in New Zealand and I’m on the other side of the world here in Ireland. That time difference works to our mutual advantage. At the end of my working day I can email her a chapter or two, secure in the knowledge her edits and helpful comments will be waiting for my attention just after breakfast. It’s a great way to work.

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

A: I began looking for a publisher at about the time the industry began this seismic shift away from the traditional publishing model, brought about by the success of Lulu and Amazon as publishing platforms. At first I approached several agents along with those few publishers who were still accepting direct submissions. All I got in return was silence or cold boilerplate rejection letters. As someone who accepts refusal about as well as a child in a sweetshop, I found it all very depressing. However, when I saw J.K.Rowling (writing as Robert Galbraith) had experienced the same issue, I began to feel a bit less discouraged. Eventually I ran out of patience and opted for the self-published approach using the Amazon platform.

Over the next few years, I continued to make submissions, but now I had a better offering – a proven track record of sales, hundreds of great reviews and a solid social media presence. Finally, I received an offer to publish. In fact I had four within just six months. Suddenly, I had a dilemma. As a successful self-published author, what had I to gain from signing a contract to publish?

Most of the publishers were essentially offering to do what I was already doing but charge me a fee for the privilege. They were reticent to talk about marketing strategy, budgets or anticipated revenue, but were expecting me to sign over the artistic rights to my work. I chose to sign with Ant Press precisely because they were different. To begin with, they don’t sign books, they sign authors. Secondly, they have considerable experience publishing memoirs, so they really know their stuff. Thirdly, they asked me to make changes to my manuscripts – a lot of changes.

At that time I had two completed manuscripts, totaling almost 200,000 words. Ant Press asked me to make so many changes, it made my head spin. Even so, I was impressed they had such courage in their convictions. For a month we had robust but amicable discussions about what a new series of books would look like. I even rewrote a couple of chapters to see if I was comfortable with the stylistic changes they were proposing. Finally, we were in agreement and I became an Ant Press author. It was a proud day for me. I have no regrets.

Q: Where do you see the publishing industry moving in the next 10-20 years?

A: I see a lot of similarities between publishing and the film business just now. Since the financial crash, it feels like both industries have ceded editorial control to accountants. Whereas before the occasional blockbuster/bestseller supported the less financially successful, but equally important, remainder of their portfolios, now every book or film has to be a huge moneymaker. The financial pressures must be huge. I think this is why we’re seeing so many film remakes and sequels like, “The new blockbuster movie starring (insert famous name here)”. With both industries, this shift in focus has created some terrific opportunities for someone to come in and fill the void. Suddenly, we have Netflix, Sky and Amazon video producing exclusive content. Some of it is world class. The same thing has happened in publishing.

New technologies like Audible, Kindle and print on demand have created almost unrestricted routes to market for authors and modern cloud-based publishers. But, just like the internet, there’s a downside to this new freedom. The lack of editorial control on these platforms is degrading the market, swamping us with so many new books – many of them of questionable quality or subject matter – that it’s becoming difficult for customers to find what they want. I’ve read that 800-1,000 new books a day are published on the Amazon platform alone, with some genres becoming saturated. If the idea of self-publishing was to make it easier for aspiring authors to be seen, it’s close to failure. But there is some hope.

Much like the film and TV business, I think publishing will move further away from the traditional arrangement, work through this messy transitional phase and settle on a stovepipe model of quality exclusive content. Perhaps in the future we’ll see a Netflix sister company called Netbooks, asserting editorial control and producing top quality books and screenplays, written by their stable of authors and delivered exclusively to your device. Whatever happens, I’m confident the future will be exciting.

Q: If we were to take a peek at the bookshelves of your younger self, what might we have found there?

A: Hundreds of books piled chaotically. I was, and still am, a veracious reader, it’s an absolute must for any aspiring author. As a child, I was introduced to the wonderful world of books by my sister, when she gave me her well-thumbed copy of Winnie-the-Pooh. A short while later, I discovered The Story of Doctor Doolittle, by Hugh Lofting. I believe I read all 13 books in the series in a month. Introducing a child to the joys of reading is the greatest gift anyone can ever give.

When I was a student living in Norwich, England, my first flat was next door to the best secondhand bookshop in the city. What heaven! Back then I read a lot of sci-fi books and thrillers, purely for the escapism. Because I was from a forces family, I collected hundreds of military biographies. Other favorites in my collection were Clive James, David Niven and Spike Mulligan. These books were treasured possessions, I still have most of them now.

Q: And what would your current collection of reading material tell us about you as a person?

A: My collection is somewhat eclectic, I’m not sure what that says about me. I have a library and dozens of stacked boxes bulging with hundreds of golf books, biographies featuring authors from all walks of life, loads of thrillers, some sci-fi and the complete works of Sue Grafton, Lee Child, Tom Holt, Terry Pratchett and William Shakespeare. I’m never without a book. One secret I can reveal, if I’m writing comedy, I’ll only read thrillers – and vice versa.

Q: If you could invite three famous authors (living or dead) to enjoy a bottle of wine and watch an Irish sunset with you, who would it be and why?

A: Only three? Tough choice.

  1. Gene Kranz, author of Failure Is Not an Option. Gene Kranz was present at the creation of America’s manned space program and was a key player in it for three decades. As a flight director in NASA’s Mission Control, Kranz witnessed firsthand the making of history. He participated in the space program from the early days of the Mercury program, through the moon landings to the last Apollo mission, and beyond. It would be fantastic to hear his story firsthand.
  2. Beth Haslam, author of the Fat Dogs and French Estates Beth is a fellow Ant Press memoirist and very much an inspiration to me as an author. She was brought up on a country estate in Wales. Her childhood was spent either on horseback, helping the gamekeepers raise pheasants, or out sailing. After a serious car crash, she set up her own consultancy business. As semi-retirement beckoned, Beth and her husband decided to buy a second home in France. This became a life-changing event where computers and mobile phones swapped places with understanding the foibles of the French, and tackling the language. Somehow, she found the time to write a bestselling series of memoirs. In many ways our journeys are similar. We’ve only chatted online, but I think she’d be great company over a glass of wine.
  3. Terry Pratchett. Because he died too soon and I’d like to have him back writing again.

Q: What’s the oldest, weirdest or most nostalgic item in your closet and what is your particular attachment to it?

A: An old Irish coin. It’s called a Punt and I found it in my father’s desk, when I was clearing it out shortly after his death. To the best of my knowledge my dad had never visited Ireland and he had no earthly reason to have or keep a coin that had no value. At that time my wife and I were planning our move to Ireland, so I felt it was a significant discovery, as if he were saying, “Go ahead, it’ll be grand!” which it was.

Q: What have you learned from your own journey as a writer that you would pass along to someone who came to you for advice about how to break into publication?

A: Before you write, read – a lot. Read what you enjoy. Read the kind of books you would like to write but be sure to observe the authors craft as you read. Take note of how they mix dialog with narration, how they paint their pictures and how they guide your mind. Try to look beyond the words to understand how the story was constructed. Do all this and more, before you put pen to paper.

When you begin writing, remember it is a craft, one that needs developing. No matter how talented you are at the beginning, your writing should always improve over time. You should expect your last book to be much better than your first. Never let anyone tell you that you are unworthy.

Understanding the difference between dreams and goals can make your task considerably less stressful. Dreams are the things we would like to achieve, but have very little control over – like winning the lottery. Goals are the steps we take towards achieving our dream – like buying that lottery ticket. Goals you control, dreams you don’t. That distinction is important. As a writer, you must focus your efforts and evaluate your success based only on the things you can control. Trying to do otherwise is a recipe for disaster.

Many excellent writers have given up because they made getting published their goal and failed.  Trying to get published won’t make you a better writer, but being a better writer, and building a large social media following of people who like your work, will definitely help you to get published. Focus on what you can control.

Q: Any new projects in the works?

A: My ‘ideas folder’ is bulging with interesting storylines, but it would be a mistake to take on too much. Just now I’m writing the third book in the six-part Fresh Eggs and Dog Beds series. It is progressing well and due out in early 2019. In the background I’m researching a book about my father’s fascinating life in the RAF. I’m also working on Stone Façade, the second in my Eric Stone thriller series. I am very excited about the twisty plot, which will bring Stone to Ireland in search of a missing journalist, but not all is as it seems…

Q: Where do you see yourself 30 years from now?

A: I hope I’ll still be writing. Perhaps my spelling will improve. If I can average a book a year until I’m 90, that would be something special to look back on.

Q: Anything else you’d like to share?

A: Writing is the loneliest job in the world. I have only my characters and four dogs to keep me company, but becoming a successful author is a team effort. I have to thank my wife, my publisher, my editor, my cover artist and, most of all, the thousands of authors whose books I have read. I humbly stand on the shoulders of these giants, so I can reach a little higher.

 

Dead Air

 

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

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: What’s your next project?

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

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

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

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

 

 

 

 

A Chat With Jeri Westerson

Jeri Westerson

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

Interviewer: Joanna Celeste
******

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: How does your writing schedule usually go?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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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.