CHAT WITH JAMES L’ETOILE

JamesLEtoile

James L’Etoile specializes in gritty crime fiction. Little River is his debut release and his complex, edgy stories are fueled by two decades of experience in prisons and jails across the country. Realistic crime fiction requires an eye for detail while immersed deep within the darkest criminal elements. James brings these stories to life with his background in probation, parole, investigation and prison operation. An experienced Associate Warden, Chief of Institution Operations, Hostage Negotiator and Director of Parole, James is unique among crime fiction authors.

Time to chat with Jim!

What is your latest book?

My debut novel, Little River, is a human trafficking thriller, set on the island of Jamaica. Two college girls fail to return from vacation and their parents set out to rescue them after the local government gives up on the search. The parents soon discover the girls are trapped inside a deadly human trafficking network. They face a parent’s worst nightmare: how far would you go to get your child back?

LittleRiver

You state that you tend to weave social themes into my stories. Can you tell us more about the different themes you’ve chosen for your books and what drew you to make those choices?

I do incorporate major social issues in my stories, not only for the character connections they bring, but they provide a lynchpin for the readers to get into the story. It raises the stakes, the tension and the consequences to all of the characters. I’ve written stories with human trafficking, homelessness, domestic terrorism, black market organ transplants, and prison gang drug rings. These social elements are real, and everyone can find something to identify within these issues.

During your two decades working in the criminal justice system, did you plan to become a crime fiction author one day? How did it all come together?

I didn’t start with the idea of becoming a writer. When you work in prisons and in probation or parole settings, you come across every personality type imaginable. In this corner, you’ve got your serial killers, over there you have the Mexican Mafia shot callers, you have hundreds of men serving life on the installment plan and every single one of them is working an angle to beat the system. It’s a high stakes game with lives in the balance.

You see a very different side of human behavior and motivation in a cell block as opposed to the shopping mall. I mean, do you know a man who stabs someone and pours hot sauce in the open wounds? I do. Trying the explain stories like that got me thinking about writing, to share the behind the scenes picture that no one sees.

What part of writing a novel do you enjoy the most? The least?

For me, the best part of writing is when I start a new novel. A blank slate, where the characters can go do what they do is liberating. Initially, I was a no-structure “Pantser” kind of guy, letting the characters loose on the page and seeing where they end up. I found that left to their own devices, the characters often didn’t play well with others, skipped over important plot points, or dug themselves into deep little corners.

Following a rigid outline, for me, is not fun. It feels like I’m doing data entry work and the passion evaporates from the words. Blah, blah, blah, then this happens, blah, blah, blah. If I can’t get the feel of the story while I’m writing it, I sure as heck know a reader isn’t going to connect with it either. So, the challenge was to find a middle ground to balance the freewheeling seat-of- the-pants creative mode and the attention to detail of the plotter.

A general outline of beginning, ending, and important plot points is enough of a leash to keep the characters on the path through the story. Enough freedom to let the protagonist find his, or her, way through the maze to the conclusion, without going off to sniff for truffles. How the character gets from scene to scene is loose enough to satisfy my creative urges and the outline serves as a guidepost to show the character the intended path. Free enough to allow for a new scene idea, or plot twist, but structured sufficiently to avoid the mess of plot hole quicksand.

Some authors, like me, always write scenes in order. But I know some people write scenes out of order. How about you?

I’m a very linear writer. With the guidepost outline, I typically work scene to scene and it helps me keep continuity in the story, the right tone, tension, and character development. The downside of writing scenes in order is that your characters conspire against you and will do the lemming walk off the plot cliff, if you aren’t careful. I’ve spoken with a number of other authors and this seems to be a point where writer’s block can take root. You’ve written a great chapter, but it takes the story in a new direction, but one inconsistent with the one the author anticipated. Self-doubt and fear creep in and the brakes come on. Where do I go from here?

Is it important for you to know the ending of a book before you write it? The title?

I have a general picture of what the ending of a book will look like. I know who will come out on top, what they have sacrificed to get there and how the story impacted their lives. The final product has enough wiggle room to develop the ending as I go, and allow the opportunity to offer one more twist, or nugget for the reader to chew on. The possibility that my antagonist ends up dead, disgraced, or gets away, is less important to me.

I’ve changed titles from draft to draft. The first label is a working draft title, so I can save the document, nothing more. One example is a book I first titled Highway, because the opening scene in the story takes place on an isolated stretch of road. The final title became, Justice Delayed, Justice Delivered, the screenplay version of which received some recognition by the Creative World Awards, and a couple of other screenwriting competitions.

Similarly, Little River started out as Trapped, then Trafficked until the final version settled on Little River, after a river in Jamaica that features prominently in the story.

After working for a very long time on a novel, many authors get to a point where they lose their objectivity and feel unable to judge their own work. Has this ever happened to you? If so, what have you done about it?

The dark demons of self-doubt whisper in every author’s ear. When I’m months deep into a manuscript, I’ve heard those same whispers, the “You aren’t going to finish this,” or, the more common, “Who are you trying to kid? No one’s gonna read this.” In my experience, it is more than self-doubt, it is self-doubt with blinders on. You’ve been in the tunnel for so long and the light at the end scares you. You’ve invested time, effort and what if no one ever reads it? I think I’m overcritical when it comes to judging my work, where it should have been tighter here, or a different direction there.

I heard Michael Connelly speak at a mystery writer’s conference a few years ago and one of the things he said that really hit home with me was, “I write stories that I want to read. If they interest me, chances are there’s someone else out there that might like them too.” He’s done pretty well with that line of thought, so I’ve tried to adopt my own version and write stories that I’d want to read.

Have you ever written characters that you truly despise?

Oh, sure. That’s half the fun of writing a crime fiction book. Working in prisons, I got a front row seat of the most vile, cold and methodical criminals. I use many of the personality traits in my villains. Jean-Paul Baptiste, the human trafficker in Little River, is a cold, methodical manipulator, who views human life as another tradable commodity. He preyed upon the victims of the Haitian earthquake before he established a human trafficking network in the Caribbean. He is not a man you’d invite over for a weekend barbeque.

Can you tell us about your road to publication?

I think my path to publication is fairly typical. I sent Little River queries to publishers who seemed like a good fit with the holdings they had in their catalogs. I had some interest, a couple of requests for a full manuscript, then a year later, nothing. So I went on and wrote another novel, then another, learning more about my writing process and becoming, I think, a better writer.

A small publisher was interested in the second and third novels and we were in contract discussions when the publisher decided that the company was going to shift to children’s books. So where did that leave my darkish crime fiction? Not in little Johnny’s reading list, that much was certain. As it happened, the publisher shared the manuscripts with a new start up publisher, SALT Media Productions and through our discussions, it was decided that Little River best fit what SALT wanted to produce, fiction with a message.

Please, tell us about your experiences with social media. What are your favorite and least-favorite parts of it?

My publisher pulled me, kicking and screaming, to the social media world. Oh my God, I don’t care what Ashton Kutcher had for breakfast. Twitter? Really? You’re really going to make me do this? Pinterest photos of grilled cheese sandwiches, honestly? At first, it was painful, scrolling through thousands of kitty videos and book spam. Gradually, I started to see some examples of how to connect on social media from the likes of Kristen Lamb and Rachel Thompson.

I’ve come to get a kick out of interacting with readers, who want to know more about the story behind the story. The questions and comments readers come up with took me by surprise. Readers identified with one character or another for something that I didn’t even notice, or they wanted to know what will happen next (I hadn’t originally planned a sequel). Interacting with other writers helps make a connection and provided confirmation that others have experienced the same ups and downs in creating a manuscript. I’ve discovered and shared marketing strategy, passed on tips I’ve learned submitting a document for print distribution (hint not all PDFs are equal).

So, fast forward to today and I’m active on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, Goodreads, Pinterest, and Ello. Then there is my blog, where I share what ever seems to be going on in my mind, writing related, or not. Drop on by and chat…

The downside of social media is the time it takes to be present in the various platforms. I don’t automate random tweets or posts into the interwebs, that’s as bad as spamming, at least in my view.

How much research was involved in writing your book? How did you go about it?

People are often surprised by the amount of research it takes to flesh out a good story. “It’s fiction, isn’t it?” “Just make it up, isn’t that what you do?” There is a limit to how far readers are willing to suspend disbelief. The story must have enough “true-glue” to hold it together while you hook the readers into your fictional account.

I visited Jamaica a few times and the culture of the island is captivating. The people are open and inviting, but there is an undercurrent of crime and corruption on the island that many accept as, “the way it is.” I spoke with many locals and felt their frustration and powerlessness to make meaningful change. Out of respect to the Jamaican people, Little River’s antagonist is not from the island.

In drafting the human trafficking angle in Little River, I poured over hundreds of pages of United Nations Human Rights reports, individual accounts from trafficking survivors, and law enforcement organizations. In the process, I found that several good non-profit organizations are making strides in the fight against human trafficking. It’s a $32 Billion dollar underground economy and many governments find themselves unable to take meaningful steps to interrupt the flow of modern slavery into and out of their borders. I donate a percentage of all my sales to the Not For Sale Campaign, a global non-profit fighting all forms of human trafficking.

Do you dread writing a synopsis for your novel as much as most writers do? Do you think writing a synopsis is inherently evil? Why?

The synopsis is the child of the Devil.

You’ve invested months, perhaps years, in the crafting of your novel, with attention to every word choice, inflection and tease. Then, you’re directed to squeeze three-hundred plus pages and wring it down to the size of a post it note. Clearly, the world of dark minions is involved in this wizardry.

Seriously, I get it. Agents and publishers have only so much time to sort the uncut gems in their slush piles. You need to be able to convey your story and stand out from the rest. That dreaded synopsis is your one shot to get in the door. You may not like it, but ignore it at your own peril.

What genre have you never written in that you’d like to try?

Until now, I have focused in crime fiction. Bad guys doing bad things, in bad ways. Something I’ve recently started tinkering with is a story with a paranormal twist. Without giving up too much, the basic premise of the story involves a fireman critically injured in a warehouse blaze who sees people differently than he did before the fire. He’s able to see greed, hate, and deception from those around him, even his friends and family as well as their true intentions. There might be something there…

Where do you live now? If you had to move to another city/state/country, where might that be?

Northern California is home, but one place that really appeals to me is the Greek island of Corfu. It doesn’t have that living on the edge of a volcano vibe that Santorini possesses, and there is less of a tourist vibe on Corfu. One local custom, which occurs on Easter, is tossing terra cotta pots from the balconies out to the street. It symbolizes hope for the coming year and that is something I can get behind. The whole place is laid back, relaxed and I can see myself parked overlooking the Ionian Sea with a cup of strong Greek coffee.

What’s your biggest pet peeve?

I have a pack of peeves, actually. I’m easily peeveable. But, the one that makes my skin crawl is when I hear someone use the “words” supposibly, or pacifcally. Oh, good God people. Supposibly sounds like a cross between a suppository and a billy goat. And pacifically seems like a place with saltwater, sharks and kelp. Shudder.

What might we be surprised to know about you?

I’m pretty much an open book. But you might not know I grew up in prison. Seriously. When I was a child, my father worked in several prisons in California and I lived on prison grounds through my high school years. Some of my earliest memories were learning about raising pigeons from an inmate and rescuing bears from garbage pits with an inmate crew. It gave me a different perspective on life behind prison walls. I later taught college classes in prison and eventually worked in the prison system, all experiences I draw from for my writing.

What simple pleasure makes you smile?

Anytime I feel stressed, all I need to do is look to our Pembroke Welsh Corgis. How can you not smile when you see those faces. Tanner and Emma are both titled performance dogs and registered Therapy Dogs. My wife and I take them to Memory Care facilities, Senior Citizen homes, and Assisted Living facilities to provide a little comfort to the residents. Reading To The Dogs is another therapy activity we are actively involved in, where children practice their skills, reading to a non-judgmental dog, who won’t make fun of their ability.

JamesLEtoileCorgi

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CHAT WITH DARLENE ARDEN

Darlene

Darlene Arden is an award-winning writer and author who lectures on Toy and Small dogs, Wellness for pets including nutrition training and behavior. She’s a lively guest expert on radio and television.

 Time to chat with Darlene!

Welcome, Darlene. I’m delighted to have you at the chateau. Please tell us how you became a certified animal behavioral consultant. You’ve written several wonderful books on pet care, including The Complete Cat’s Meow which I read and enjoyed few years ago. Can you tell us about your different titles before I overwhelm you with questions about animal behavior?

My first book, The Irrepressible Toy Dog, (Howell Book House) was the first book of its kind, written about dogs 21 lbs and no matter which Group they fit into with any dog registry. The readers dubbed it “The Bible for Toy Dog Owners,” and veterinary behaviorist, Dr. Nicholas Dodman, called me “The Toy Dog Authority.” The publisher kept my working title even though it wasn’t totally accurate. When I updated, expanded and revised it several years ago, the title was changed to, Small Dogs, Big Hearts.

Small Dogs Big Hearts

Among my other titles are The Angell Memorial Animal Hospital Book of Wellness and Preventive Care for Dogs (MacMillan) was written with the cooperation of the hospitals staff and the president of the Massachusetts SPCA. The hospital is world renowned. The book is out of print but still available as an e-book. It is as accurate today as it was the day it was published because they are so far ahead.

Unfortunately, my agent didn’t retain e-rights. No one really was expecting this e-book revolution so soon. Rover, Get Off Her Leg! (H.C.I.) is a behavior book written with my warped sense of humor. It’s solid behavior information but I believe that we learn best through humor; we retain it. Animals are very sensitive to us and they will pick up on our stress and frustration. In that book I list the most common behavior problems, what to do, what not to do and I give real-life examples of what happened to someone else with the same problem, so laugh and let’s get on with resolving the issue. At the end is a chapter on everything you can do with your now well-mannered dog. I changed most of the names to protect the guilty. People who don’t own a dog have read it and loved it. Go figure. There were other books along the way. The full list is on my website.

Rover, Get Off Her Leg

My first cat book, The Complete Cat’s Meow, was written to do for cats and cat owners what I had done for small dog owners. I had been pitching a cat book for years. When I finally heard “Yes,” from Howell Book House, I thought they said no! It won three awards even though I never entered it or promoted it for anything except cat owners.

CompleteCatsMeow

My latest book, Beautiful Cats is a coffee table book published by Ivy Press in England. I didn’t realize that some of the information I would need was not readily available so I asked if I could bring in a British co-author. With permission, I brought Nick Mays aboard and he was able to fill in the blanks. When the coffee table book arrived I was more than a little surprised to see that it was soft cover. It is, however, beautiful.

Beautiful Cats Cover

My dog gets jealous every time I show my cat affection, but she couldn’t care less if I show him any affection. Is this typical? Is it ever the other way around?

Yes, it can happen the other way around. It depends upon personality and bonding. Your cat may very well care but will show it in other ways. Watch their body language. They are masters at reading our body language, but we’re not as good at reading theirs.

Why do dogs go completely crazy after a bath?

They want to dry off and, frankly, they prefer to roll in something smelly. Unlike cats, dogs don’t bathe themselves. Considering what they roll in given the chance, they have to be bathed or we probably couldn’t tolerate the smell. They also get dirty and need a bath. They also need weekly groom unless they have a long coat. In that case, daily grooming is required.

Everyone laughs when dogs greet one another in the most interesting ways. Thank goodness humans don’t do this. Why do dogs sniff one another’s butts?

They learn about each other that way. That’s also why dogs in the home sniff crotches. It’s perfectly acceptable behavior for dogs but not humans so we teach them an alternate greeting behavior.

Some dogs get very frightened by thunder, lightning, fireworks, etc. What can the owner of a neurotic dog do to reduce the trauma? Along the same lines, what can a pet owner do to reduce separation anxiety?

It would take more space than you have to answer that. Dogs with separation anxiety are stressed. Steps should be taken to prevent it as soon as you bring the dog or puppy home. You want them to bond but you also want them to feel secure and confident at all times.

Is it early-on training, innate characteristics, or some other trait that allows different species of animals to become best pals?

Every species has different characteristics that appeal to different people. And there are differences and characteristics even within a species.

What makes some rescued animals become fun and sweet while others stay fearful and mean? Is it the degree to which they have been abused?

Michael Vick’s dogs were turned around but, like people, some are more sensitive than others. Some can never trust again, while others, with time, patience and love can be turned around. They all need positive training. Aversive training is more abuse.

When some people hear a bird’s morning song, it conjures up pleasant, good-day vibes. I’ve heard, though, that every note is a message to other birds in the area, kind of territorial warning. Is this true?

LOL! I have no idea. I’m a certified animal behavior consultant for dogs and cats. I don’t know anything about birds except that I had a parakeet when I was a child.

Many people don’t believe that indoor cats need to keep their claws. I disagree. What do you think?

They absolutely have to keep their claws! Declawing is animal abuse. It’s the equivalent of cutting off each of your fingers at the first joint. Do you think you’d enjoy that? It also causes behavior problems, most frequently litter box issues since they can’t tolerate the feel of the litter. There are alternatives. HUMANE ones! The cat can be taught to use a scratching post. They also need a tall, sturdy cat tree so they can stretch out to their full body length. There are claw caps that can be put on so the cat doesn’t feel anything when she scratches. If someone’s furniture is more important, then they don’t deserve to have a cat. Did you know that this procedure is illegal in Europe? The Mass. SPCA will not perform it. I wish it were illegal here. I hate big government and I don’t like the government interfering in our lives but I will put up with it to end this abusive, painful, hideous practice.

What is the most common question you’re asked about animal behavior?

Depending upon the species: small dog owners ask about housetraining, while cat owners ask about litter box issues.

What advice would you give to someone going to the pound to rescue a dog or cat?

Remember that these pets usually come with “baggage” and will need time, patience and love. You have to treat them as a new puppy or kitten no matter what their age when you bring them home. Spend some time getting to know the potential new family member in the room they have set aside to get acquainted. Does the pet follow you, does the pet want to be touched by you, near you, will the activity level fit in with your lifestyle? Expect a period of adjustment. It usually takes a full year before the pet feels he is truly “home.”

Is your recent book part of a series?

No. All of my books are stand-alones meant to help pet parents, except Beautiful Cats. It has breed information and pretty pictures as well as a description of British cat shows and cat history.

If you were to advertise your book(s) on a bumper sticker, what would it say?

Building the Bond Between Pets and Owners

What else have you written?

More magazine and newspaper articles than I can count! They are mostly celebrity profiles. I was a travel writer for awhile. I’m a true eclectic. Of course I’ve also written about dogs and cats.

After working for a very long time on a book, many authors get to a point where they lose their objectivity and feel unable to judge their own work. Has this ever happened to you? If so, what have you done about it?

I stay pretty focused. Once I get the galleys I can look at it as a brand-new project.

Authors, especially Indies, are constantly trying to understand why some authors sell very while their talented fellow authors have a hard time of it. It’s an ongoing conundrum. What do you make of it all?

I wish I knew. Even in non-fiction I see some really dangerous information out there because self-promoting “celebrities” get a big bucks advance and then more money is thrown at the book for publicity in order to justify the advance. That leaves some really good authors and books out in the cold. Shameless self-promoters also get attention. That doesn’t mean that what they write is good.

Do you have any advice for first-time authors?

Don’t expect anything and be prepared to do a lot of promotion yourself. It’s a second full-time job.

Can you tell us about your road to publication?

I’m a graduate of the School of Hard Knocks. I started with magazine articles and never really cared about writing books. Really. It was while I was writing an article I had pitched on the AKC Gazette on Toy Dogs that I realized I really didn’t have enough space. It hit me like the old V8 Commercial. I muttered to myself: This should be a book. And then sort of hit myself on the forehead and said THIS should be a book! I ultimately wrote a book proposal and pitched it to a niche imprint and sold it.

Please, tell us about your experiences with social media. What are your favorite and least-favorite parts of it?

I have a love-hate relationship with Facebook where I have a Timeline, a fan/public page, a Group, and a page to represent the Donor Directed Behavior Fund I started at the American Kennel Club’ Canine Health Foundation in my Mother’s memory. I did everything wrong when I joined Twitter. Now I just stumble along and sort of enjoy it. I’m on Pinterest and I’m still not sure if I’m doing it correctly. I’m also on LinkedIn and Google+. It can take entirely too much time but I think it’s useful in book promotion and getting to know readers.

What do you like best about the books you read? What do you like least?

I like losing myself in fiction and accurate information in non-fiction. The least would be the self-published books that haven’t been properly edited. That drives me nuts. I’ve seen it happen with publishing houses, too, when they throw the book online without formatting it properly.

How much research was involved in writing your book? How did you go about it?

There’s a tremendous amount of research that goes into writing each of my books. All except the coffee table book took a year each to be written because of the extensive research. I go to the best experts I can find in the field and interview them. I also use my own experience where appropriate. My name is on each book and my reputation is on the line with each of them.

Is there a question I haven’t asked you that you would like to answer? If so, what is it?

I don’t know what the question would be but the answer is that The Chicago Book of Style drives me crazy! They insist that when writing a dog or cat breed’s name that you only capitalize the word representing the place. For example: toy Manchester terrier. It is correctly written as Toy Manchester Terrier since it is a proper noun. Dog and Cat writers have fought for this and you’ll see it in books and magazines but not in the mainstream thanks to CMS. How can we change that?

Do you allow others to read your work in progress, or do you keep it a secret until you’ve finished your first draft? Can you elaborate?

No. My editor reads it. Unlike fiction, there has always been trouble when I’ve allowed someone to read even part of a manuscript. Some of the comments I have received from some veterinarians are enough to make me bang my head against the wall. I asked them to check accuracy and someone will invariably make comments that are something other than helpful and miss the point that I’m writing for the layperson, not for veterinarians.

Have you received reactions/feedback to your work that has surprised you? In what way?

The positive: The Complete Cat’s Meow won three awards and I never entered it for anything. The negative: The Angell Memorial Animal Hospital Book of Wellness and Preventive Care for Dogs received a review from a dog writer in which she pushed her own opinion of one topic that was not something Angell Memorial would promote and complained about something else that was in committee when she knows that a book takes an entire year in production so it almost felt as if she was attacking rather than objectively reviewing the book. On Amazon someone complained that The Complete Cat’s Meow didn’t teach how to toilet train your cat. To begin with that’s an unnatural position for a cat. There is also the issue that you only have X number of pages and I prefer to fill them with what is useful and helpful.

Are you a fast typist? Does your typing speed (or lack of it) affect your writing?

No. My mind races ahead of my fingers and I always have to go back and correct what I’ve typed.

Were you “born to write” or did you discover your passion for writing later in life?

I could always write but never thought of it as a vocation. It was the furthest thing from my mind. I sort of fell into writing.

What have you done to market your novel and what did you find the most effective? The least effective?

I don’t have a novel but social networking is one of the least expensive ways but, frankly, I think the best thing is a reasonably priced publicist unless you can shamelessly self-promote without feeling as if you want to slap yourself in the face.

Having our work out there to be judged by strangers is often daunting for writers. Do you have any tips on handling a negative review?

Forget it. Remember that the people who write negative reviews, especially on Amazon, are sad little people who feel brave behind a computer screen and make themselves feel more important by knocking someone else. If they could do what you do, they wouldn’t be sitting around writing negative reviews.

Many authors do giveaways; have you found them a successful way to promote your book?

To an extent. I give away a signed book to a charity using it as a fund-raiser. The charity is invariably my audience; they are dedicated to dogs or cats. When they see the book they will often buy it. Or when someone sees the signed book in the winner’s house they will occasionally buy it. I also realize that a signed book will bring in more money than I could afford to contribute.

Are you an early bird writer or night owl? And do you have any must haves like coffee, chocolates, wine, music or something else?

Night owl, always. Since I’ve developed insomnia I find it very useful because there’s less chance of my train of thought being interrupted. I’m an avowed coffeeholic.

We all know the old saying; you can’t judge a book by its cover. This is true. However, how much importance do you place on your book cover design?

I place a lot of importance on a book cover. It’s what will often make a potential book buyer pick up the book or select it online. Think about celebrities on magazines or singers on albums (are they still called that?). They are looking off the cover at you. The reader makes eye contact with the cover.

How would you define your style of writing?

I write in my own voice as if I were talking to a friend.

A lot of authors are frustrated by readers who don’t understand how important reviews are? What would you say to a reader who doesn’t think his or her review matters?

For every written review there are many people thinking the same thing who don’t say it. This is what tells publishers what to buy, including promoting the author to publishers and it helps other readers choose books they will also enjoy.

Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? If so, how do you get around it?

Doesn’t everyone? I put it away and drive to a quiet place or a coffee shop and stop thinking about the book so I can come back to it with a fresh eye and attitude.

What do you know now that you wish you’d known five years ago?

Spend some money on publicity. I’m sure there’s much more than I need to know but we usually find out the hard way because no one shares this information. I’m grateful to you, Lisette, for giving us a place to share through interviews with authors.

Where do you live now? If you had to move to another city/state/country, where might that be?

I’ve spent my life in New England. I’d like to be someplace where I’d never have to deal with snow and ice again.

Trains, planes, automobiles, or boats?

Planes before they became so cramped.

What’s the coolest surprise you’ve ever had?

I hate surprises but the day my “chosen sister” flew in without telling me was the world’s best surprise!

What are the most important traits you look for in a friend?

Loyalty and a warped sense of humor.

What might we be surprised to know about you?

I hate to write.

What was the most valuable class you ever took in school? Why?

Typing. I learned more on my own than in school or college. Typing was practical and I never stop using it.

If you could add a room onto your current home, what would you put in it?

A sunroom.

What’s your favorite film of all times? Favorite book?

Film: Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. I can’t choose just one book.

What’s your biggest pet peeve?

Abuse.

What’s the best gift you’ve ever received?

Love and trusted friendship.

DarleneAimee

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CHAT WITH ROBERT BIDINOTTO

Robert_B

Robert Bidinotto is the author of HUNTER, a #1 Kindle bestseller in “Mysteries & Thrillers” and “Romantic Suspense.” The recent sequel in his Dylan Hunter thriller series, BAD DEEDS, is garnering scores of five-star reviews from enthusiastic Amazon readers. As a former Staff Writer for Reader’s Digest, Robert earned a national reputation as an authority on criminal justice with his investigative crime articles. His nonfiction books, articles, essays, and magazine editing have won top national awards. He lives on the Chesapeake Bay with his musician wife, Cynthia, and their stridently individualistic cat, Luna—who plays a supporting role in the Dylan Hunter thrillers.

Welcome, Robert.

Hi, Lisette. Thanks for inviting me to chat.

You call yourself “the vigilante author.” Can you tell us why you adopted this label for yourself?

Well, all my life — since I watched The Lone Ranger and Zorro on TV, and read Batman comics as a kid during the Fifties and Sixties — justice has been a central motivating interest. In fact, that was the dominant theme of my prior career work as an investigative journalist, commentator, reviewer, blogger, editor, and nonfiction author. So I suppose it’s no surprise that it would become the central theme of my fiction-writing, too.

Like me, the hero of my Dylan Hunter thrillers is motivated by a fierce passion for justice. He can’t walk away when injustices are committed against those he cares about. And you can’t always get justice from “The System”; in fact, quite the contrary. So that’s why Dylan Hunter became a vigilante — why I refer to him as “the new face of justice” — and why I refer to myself as “The Vigilante Author.”

Were you “born to write” or did you discover your passion for writing later in life?

I have been writing since I was a little kid and first fell in love with language.

What is your latest book?

It’s titled BAD DEEDS. It’s the second in the Dylan Hunter thriller series. It picks up where the first book, HUNTER, leaves off.

BadDeeds

In HUNTER, the two main characters, Dylan Hunter and Annie Woods, meet and fall deeply in love. However, both are hiding things from each other — and it turns out that those secrets inadvertently propel them into a wrenching personal conflict. He is a crusading newspaper reporter, but on a deadly, private mission. She is a CIA officer, on the trail of an unknown assassin. Neither knows these things about the other . . . or that a sadistic predator is hunting them both.

Hunter

In BAD DEEDS, the two lovers are recovering, physically and emotionally, from their previous ordeal. Dylan now wants desperately to live a normal life with Annie. But he’s the kind of man who simply can’t walk away when his friends become victims of injustice. This puts a huge strain on their relationship — and it also puts both their lives in grave danger.

What are the special challenges in writing a series?

We’ve all read series that go stale, where the author seems out of fresh ideas, starts to repeat tired old tropes, and is just “mailing it in.” The biggest challenge is to prevent that from happening.

In my case, Lisette, I hope to avoid that in three ways. First, to come up with a startlingly fresh “high concept” for each book’s plot. Second, to reveal more and more about the key characters, and to have them evolve and grow to meet the new challenges. Third, to spice things up by introducing interesting new characters.

If you were to advertise your book on a bumper sticker, what would it say?

For BAD DEEDS, I’ve actually advertised it on a business card. It says: What price would a hero pay in his quest for justice?

How often do your characters surprise you by doing or saying something totally unexpected?

All the time. Because as they take form on the page, they reveal more and more of themselves. One of my favorite characters in the novels is a morbidly obese research genius nicknamed “Wonk.” I had only a vague impression of him when I introduced him in HUNTER. But in the debut scene, everything he said and did was so damned funny that I nearly fell off my chair laughing. He continues to surprise and amuse me—and readers—in BAD DEEDS.

What part of writing a novel do you enjoy the most? The least?

Much to my surprise, Lisette, I find that I really love writing dialogue. Before I began, I thought that would be my biggest challenge; but instead I find that it flows easily and authentically. Again to my surprise — because I have a very organized, logical, methodical mind — I find that plotting is a huge challenge, at times grueling. My plots are devious and complex, so I can’t write them “seat of the pants”: I have to plan them out meticulously in advance. That early planning stage is an ordeal. But once I get started actually writing, the process becomes thoroughly enjoyable.

I organize my projects using a novel-writing software program called “Write It Now.” (www.ravensheadservices.com)

Some authors, like me, always write scenes in order. But I know some people write scenes out of order. How about you?

As I just indicated, I’m completely methodical — almost OCD about it. I plan and write linearly and sequentially, chapter by chapter.

Is it important for you to know the ending of a book before you write it? The title?

Yes. Both. I know at least in general terms what the ending will be; I work out the details of actions and dialogue on the fly. And for me, the title either symbolizes or is somehow integral to the theme or plot of the book, so I like to choose it ahead of time.

Some writers edit excessively as they write; others wait until a novel is finished to do the bulk of the editing. How about you?

There’s no “one right way” to write a book. But again, because I’m an obsessive planner, I edit a lot as I go. That means I write only a single draft, and I have only polishing and proofreading to do when it’s done.

After working for a very long time on a novel, many authors get to a point where they lose their objectivity and feel unable to judge their own work. Has this ever happened to you? If so, what have you done about it?

I had no expectations with HUNTER, since it was my first novel. It felt good, but I wasn’t totally certain. The reader response and reviews were sensational, though, to my surprise and delight.

But that put enormous pressure on me as I wrote BAD DEEDS. At first, I wondered if I had only one story in me. I had great trouble being objective about the book as I wrote; I was second-guessing many of my choices.

Finally, I had to order myself to forget all expectations, my own or my fans’, and just finish the thing. I did, not knowing whether it was any damned good. Well, to my huge relief, reader response to BAD DEEDS has been even better than it was to HUNTER. It’s sustaining a cumulative Amazon customer rating of 4.9 out of a possible 5.0. At the moment, 96 out of 101 reader reviews are “5-star” raves. Which still stuns me.

How important is the choosing of character names to you? Have you ever decided on a name and then changed it because it wasn’t right for the character?

Very important. Somehow, names evoke certain images and emotions. Sometimes a character’s name can subtly suggest things about his or her personality and nature. You also want them to be distinctive and memorable. That’s why I had the hardest time naming my hero character. I knew that I had to get that right, above all. I went through scores of possible name combinations before I settled on Dylan Lee Hunter.

Do you have any advice for first-time authors?

Write for yourself: Don’t compare yourself to, or try to imitate, anyone else.

Follow your passions: Write the story you have to tell.

And, finally, honor your craft: Don’t settle for the second-rate in anything connected with your book’s content or its production values.

How much research was involved in writing your book? How did you go about it?

Tons of research, for both novels. For HUNTER, I had to learn a lot about the spy business, tactics, and gadgets. I already knew a lot about the news business and the legal system, but not everything I needed to know. I had to learn about sniper weapons, handguns, ammunition, and “silencers” (suppressors); about a variety of vehicles and their capabilities; about a host of locations in and around Washington, D.C.

For BAD DEEDS, I had to add to all the preceding store of knowledge, but add arcane research about explosives, all kinds of aircraft and flight procedures, electronic surveillance and jamming devices, computer hacking techniques, cold-water snorkel diving, landmark buildings and sites in Washington, locales around the Allegheny National Forest in Pennsylvania, and a lot more.

For all of this, I read a lot of books and articles; I did detailed online research; and I vetted specific scenes past various experts. I also used Google Maps and its “street view” to “visit” many locations that I couldn’t visit in person.

The real art of fiction writing is to drop this accumulated knowledge into a story judiciously, without getting pedantic and overly detailed, just to show off. The goal is only to add authenticity to the story, making it credible for readers.

Do you allow others to read your work in progress, or do you keep it a secret until you’ve finished your first draft? Can you elaborate?

I keep it entirely to myself. Finishing a book is very difficult. I think an author can fritter away his motivation to continue if he prematurely shares with others the tale as it emerges.

You’re a big advocate of self-publishing over traditional publishing. This is a topic of endless fascination for many people. Can you elaborate?

Up until the past few years, if a writer wanted to find and reach readers, there was only one route: traditional publishing. And traditional publishing, built on paper-and-ink books, existed in a world of limits. Limited shelf space in bookstores meant only a limited number of authors and print titles could be accommodated. So publishers and agents came to function as “gatekeepers,” vetting what could and couldn’t be published and sold. And success was fleeting: The minute a book’s sales began to decline, it would be remaindered, pulped, and usually placed “out of print,” to be replaced on those jammed shelves by something new. Traditional publishing was and remains a zero-sum world, where the success of one book or author comes at the expense of others.

This arrangement left countless writers out in the cold. Regardless of their talent or their works’ merits, they were at the mercy of publishing’s gatekeepers, who stood between them and their readers. It was a buyer’s market, where contracts were skewed heavily in the publishers’ favor, and most writers could only earn a pittance.

But with the emergence of online retailing, suddenly we had unlimited “virtual” shelf space to display and sell books. Next, the emergence of inexpensive ebooks provided another way of transcending the inherent limitations of the paper-and-ink book world. Online retailing, ebooks, and “print on demand” technology have, in turn, sparked the Self-Publishing Revolution. Now any writer can reach his readers directly, with no gatekeepers standing in the way. And she can keep all her rights and the lion’s share of royalties, too. Self-publishing is rocking the foundations of the print-book publishing model, to the long-term benefit of both authors and readers.

Do you have any advice to a new author if they asked you whether to pursue the traditional route to publishing or to start out as an independent writer?

For all the reasons I’ve mentioned, you lose nothing if you choose the self-publishing route, at least first. If you later want to pursue a publisher, you’ll have an easier time of it if you can show some self-publishing success.

Your website is a fantastic resource for authors planning to self-publish. What are some of the most common mistakes that self-published authors (especially new ones) make?

Thanks. Many of the fatal mistakes that indie authors make arise from impatience. Because it’s so quick and easy to publish now, too many rush their work into the world without proper preparation. They don’t take enough time to first learn the ropes of self-publishing. They release books with amateurish covers, or without getting adequate editorial or “beta-reader” feedback and proofreading. They don’t take time to carefully craft the “product description” for their book’s online sales pages, to make it a sizzling sales pitch. All these things blare “AMATEUR!” to prospective online buyers. Then these writers wonder why their books don’t sell.

Above all, many don’t take time to learn their craft. Writing a book, especially fiction, is challenging. If a writer wishes to succeed, he or she must devote the time to study the art of storytelling and to practice. Many now-bestselling authors who wrote a lot of manuscripts before they ever sought to publish anything.

What advice can you give to the author who has self-published and made these dreaded mistakes and wants to start anew?

Great question! One cool thing about self-publishing is that no mistake is ever permanent. In traditional publishing, if you somehow blew it or your books stopped selling, you might never again get a publishing contract. But as an indie author, you can “unpublish” a flawed novel, totally rework it, give it a new cover and title, then reissue it to give it a second chance. Or a third. You can change your product description, experiment with pricing, try new marketing concepts — even publish new work under a pen name. My advice is to treat mistakes as a learning experience rather than a disaster, and just move on.

It must be very gratifying to help set so many authors on the right road. What motivated you to become such an advocate for your fellow authors? How has doing so impacted your life?

Lisette, before I ever wrote or published my first novel, HUNTER, I sought out advice from highly successful self-published authors. The indie community is extraordinarily generous in sharing information. Among those who were hugely, personally helpful to me were bestselling fantasy author Michael J. Sullivan and his wife Robin, who gave local seminars on self-publishing to writers, and who spent time with me answering questions and giving advice. I also voraciously read the blogs of indie superstars like Joe Konrath, Bob Mayer, and Dean Wesley Smith.

As I compiled for myself all the wisdom and tips they shared, it felt only right to “pay it forward” to other struggling and aspiring authors. I put together an informal 20-page document I call “New Paths to Publishing,” which I send as an email attachment to any writer who asks for my help. I have also posted a great deal of self-publishing and marketing information on my blog, “The Vigilante Author.”

The rewards? Writing is a very tough gig. Success is rare and the path to it can be heartbreaking. Though I’ve been lucky enough to win a measure of success, I’ve struggled for years and been exactly where most writers are. So, I empathize with them, and I take great personal satisfaction whenever they tell me that something I’ve shared has really helped them.

Authors, especially Indies, are constantly trying to understand why some authors sell very well while their talented fellow authors have a hard time of it. It’s an ongoing conundrum. What do you make of it all?

Even though some hot-selling authors may not be as talented, or as careful craftsmen, they almost always share one quality: They are great storytellers. Readers will forgive a lot of flaws and deficiencies if an author can keep them spellbound and turning pages.

Promotion is a thorn in the side of most authors. How does an author figure out how to promote and where to promote—especially authors with limited budgets?

Promotion is important. Books don’t just sell themselves. But authors who think that a publisher will take all the marketing off their shoulders are in for a rude awakening. If you want your books to sell, you will have to devote some time to marketing.

As to “how”: The book marketplace is evolving so quickly that anything I say here is going to be dated in six months. I offer a lot of advice on “The Vigilante Author,” and as I learn new things, I try to share them there.

One of the key things I believe an author should focus on is to develop her own unique “brand,” something that distinguishes them and attracts their target readers. Their brand ought to be based on their personal “why” — their motive for writing. Your why will determine your how, the means you employ to implement it — and also your what: the specific works that embody your how.

For example, my “why” is justice. My “how” is writing. My “what” is the Dylan Hunter vigilante thriller series. It sounds simple, almost banal. But understanding this has allowed me to focus my marketing and develop a clear brand. I know that all my marketing has to center on the “justice” theme. And when I do that, it attracts readers who share that interest.

Please, tell us about your experiences with social media. What are your favorite and least-favorite parts of it?

I use Facebook a lot. I make friends there, writing about a variety things that interest me. People who share my interests and views show up and comment, and we all seem to enjoy it. On my blog, I try to be helpful to fellow writers, with a lot of specific topical advice posts, and to thriller readers, with items of topical interest.

Generally, if people like you and appreciate your assistance, they’ll become invested emotionally in your own work and success, as well. To me, it’s all about making friends and being a good friend.

I do think you have to be selective. Don’t try to promote on a lot of platforms; it’ll drive you crazy and rob you of writing time. Focus on just a few — maybe a blog, plus one social media site (Facebook, Twitter, Google+, etc.), plus one genre discussion board. Try to put something new up regularly, so people keep coming back to visit.

Having our work out there to be judged by strangers is often daunting for writers. Do you have any tips on handling a negative review?

No book can or will appeal to everyone. Think of your favorite three books. Now, go on Amazon and look at the reviews. I guarantee that they will have at least some very negative reviews. If the great books you love get negative reviews, you’ll realize just how silly and unimportant they are. Ignore them.

We all know the old saying; you can’t judge a book by its cover. This is true. However, how much importance do you place on your book cover design?

It is hugely important. The cover signals to your prospective reader the genre and style of the book. A bad cover can deter that reader from exploring any further. A good one can attract thousands of the right kind of readers.

What do you know now that you wish you’d known five years ago?

That I should have started writing fiction thirty years ago, instead of five years ago.

Care to brag about your family?

Absolutely! I have some adorable ladies in my life. First, my dear, patient wife, Cynthia. She is an extraordinarily talented musician with a heart bigger than the planet. I don’t know how she puts up with me, but she does, and she makes me a better human being. Without her, I’d become a misanthropic recluse. Second, my daughter, Katrina — a dazzling young woman of remarkable beauty, intelligence, sensitivity, and grace. Third and fourth, her daughters: my teenaged granddaughter Doria, and little two-plus-year-old Enid. Both are brilliant, talented, spirited, and clever. I am a lucky, lucky man.

What might we be surprised to know about you?

I love singing, and my voice isn’t half-bad. I sang Sinatra to my wife at our wedding reception, with a jazz quintet backup, and I’ve done that on other public occasions since. If I weren’t a writer, who knows? I might be a club singer in the Poconos.

What was the most valuable class you ever took in school? Why?

A junior high history class — and not for its content, but because it was taught by a teacher whose gentle encouragement and direction changed my life. His name, for the record, was Bob Gardner. He died years ago, but I’ll never forget him.

If you are a TV watcher, would you share the names of your favorite shows with us?

I love “Person of Interest” and “The Americans,” as you might expect of a thriller writer. I also love the inspiration of young talent, so I really enjoy “The Voice” and “America’s Got Talent.” I enjoy other shows, but those are my top tier.

What’s your favorite film of all times?

A Man for All Seasons. A flawless film with consummate production values. The writing, direction, and acting by an incredible cast simply couldn’t be improved upon. It’s deeply inspiring, with a profound and timeless message about personal integrity.

Favorite book?

Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead. The inspiring, iconic novel of individualism and integrity, filled with penetrating psychological insight. You never look at the world quite the same way after reading that book.

Do you have any guilty pleasures?

Shhhhh! Anyone listening? Okay . . . the movie Twister. Lisette, I’ve seen the stupid thing many times, but still can’t stop tuning in whenever I spot it on TV — even though it is filled with every lame cliché imaginable. It’s just an addictive roller coaster ride, ingeniously paced. No redeeming social value whatsoever.

Just don’t you dare tell anyone I said so.

Your secret is safe with me, Robert. Thanks for a wonderful and informative interview.

CONNECT WITH ROBERT

Website

First book: HUNTER

Second book: BAD DEEDS

Amazon Author Page

Twitter

Goodreads

Facebook Author Page

Google+

Email: RobertTheWriter@gmail.com

CHAT WITH JOHN PIRILLO

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John Pirillo was born in the coal-mining town of Avella, Pennsylvania. He cut his teeth on all the books in the local public library, read every comic book he could get his hands on, played with imaginary friends, got a degree in film and a Master’s in Experimental Animation from Disney’s school, Cal Arts.

John loves animation of almost any kind, music, art of most kinds, the laughter of children, old Disney cartoons, Redwoods, ocean views, lakes and rivers, friendship, love, writing and teaching and Robby the Robot.

Time to chat with John!

You have quite a background in art, from your 3D design skills to abstract art, character designs, landscapes, and architecture. Was writing always a part of your life, too?

More so than art actually. Though I’ve always loved working with colors and shadows, even as a child. I spent years illustrating children’s books and stories for a huge club in California at one time. I currently have some children’s picture books in e-book format, which I used my 3D design skills to create. And I am offering free children’s stories on my children’s blog.

My first serious writing was done in seventh grade after the Russians launched Sputnik. I wrote it for my English class with Mister Bronze. It was about an American Astronaut who hid aboard the Sputnik to sabotage it so it couldn’t deliver an atomic bomb on the United States as planned. Kind of a James Bond in Outer Space sort of thing.

I owe Mister Bronze for my best writing skill, speed typing. He forced me to learn typing over a summer because my personal handwriting is so terrible…”Looks like chicken scratching.” In his words.

Your writing has as much diversity as your artistic endeavors. You write adventure, fantasy, science fiction, and thrillers. What common elements do you find in these different genres? Do you have a favorite?

The common element or theme really that runs through my stories is that man is more than a physical body and that it is our great individual spirit that helps us to triumph over all odds, not our intellect alone. I suppose that’s why I’ve always been so strongly attracted to writers like Edgar Rice Burroughs, Jules Verne and H.G.Wells, to name a few, who had at the basis of their writings a nobility of spirit, adventure and wonder.

The genre I favor the most is a relatively new one, which is a blend of British air and mysticism, utilizing paranormal events, where magic and investigative skills drive the stories action, but the basic theme being our soul is at stake if we don’t do the right thing.

I suppose this is why I’ve always been so strongly attracted to the Golden Age Writers. They cut new inroads into genre writing, incorporating the best of the older Wells/Verne/Doyle colors of writing.

What is your latest book?

Journey to the Center of the Earth, “The Advent”

It’s part of a new series that will take at least three novels, perhaps as many as nine to complete. As I write it I keep finding more stories to tell within the scope of the theme.

I’m in the first proof stage of this novel.

Journey

I hear you have some very exciting news! Can you share it with us?

Moriarity, “Infinite Worlds, Infinite Choices.” I am on the final proof now and I think this will be the last. If so, it should be published within the next two weeks and available at Amazon and all other major retailers.

Moriarity RGB

Is your recent book part of a series?

Yes. Moriarity is an ongoing series. I have already finished a new story, which will eventually turn into many more and a new novel. Probably a year down the road, because I usually am working on multiple ideas at the same time.

What are the special challenges in writing a series?

Actually, for me, it’s not a challenge. I love writing that way. I grew up with Serials like Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers, Chandu the Magician and Captain Marvel, which kept telling more stories, and I’ve never run out of ideas since.

What else have you written?

I have a really nice series based on the Arthurian legend, “Young King Arthur,” which I really love a lot, though it’s a harder write because of its time period. I also have a high tech series called “Perihelion,” which investigates the nature of reality through a communicative science called “Convolution.” And of course my new “Sheridan Holmes” series, which I shall be publishing the first story of soon and my “Chittles and Red Eye” series which I’ve published two stories about. From ancient worlds to future worlds, from Baker Street to Robin Hood, that’s my trek of desire.

Is it important for you to know the ending of a book before you write it? The title?

I learned a great technique when I was in graduate school in Theater. My teacher was a famous off-Broadway director, Davey Jones. He said always right backwards. He explained that if you know the ending, then write backwards you will always keep the audience guessing.

I have incorporated that into my own writing, but mostly I actually see the whole story in my mind at once, and just basically flesh it out as I type. I always know the ending before I write the story.

Some writers edit excessively as they write; others wait until a novel is finished to do the bulk of the editing. How about you?

Brain drain. Story kill. Don’t do it! I learned way back in my early days that if you stop to examine your work and don’t finish, you kill the process. Creativity is like a breaking dam. Let it flow. Block it and risk the whole thing blowing up.

I learned that when I played guitar. I used to play songs to learn the guitar and a friend of mine Barry Nutter told me to don’t stop. Just keep playing, even if you missed some parts, otherwise you created a habit of stopping.

He was right. I never did it again and it’s always helped my creativity. If anything, I have more ideas than I could ever have time to write. Which could be depressing if I was wired that way, but it’s so exciting to be able to create…something at the drop of a hat…that I don’t even think about it anymore.BlueCrystal

Over the years, many well-known authors have stated that they wished they’d written their characters or their plots differently. Have you ever had similar regrets?

None whatsoever. I write about people I care about. I don’t believe that anyone is pure evil, but usually a mix of good and evil. Of course, you can’t always show that in every story, but I try to be fair about it.

Now, I may take a situation like World War Two with Rocketman, “The Secret War,” a new story series I began this summer, in which our hero has to deal with a man bent on dominating the world. But in reality Hitler wasn’t pure evil, but he did make a lot of horrible, horrible decisions which hurt many. (Because a person might be crazy, doesn’t make them evil, only perhaps more capable of it.) I think we’ve all made bad decisions we wish we hadn’t, trouble is that a good villain usually makes more mistakes than he can take back. At least in public view. (Nixon, Bush, or Cheney anyone?)

Which is why I did the Moriarity novel. I felt that it would be great to show that a man as evil as Professor Moriarity could actually have a counterpart of himself that was totally the opposite. That its choices we make that are evil, and make us evil in appearance and not that we’re born that way. Free will. (Mmmm, isn’t that something God was supposed to have given us?”

How important is the choosing of character names to you? Have you ever decided on a name and then changed it because it wasn’t right for the character?

Yes. For diversity usually, or contrast. Or just simply to make it easier to remember.

Authors, especially Indies, are constantly trying to understand why some authors sell very while their talented fellow authors have a hard time of it. It’s an ongoing conundrum. What do you make of it all?

When I worked in Hollywood as a screenwriter I made contacts with most of the top names of that day, people like Steven Spielberg, but I never became famous as a screenwriter. And yet much of what is on screen today I had been writing for decades before it became popular.

I’m a strong believer in the spiritual aspect of man. I subscribe to the belief that this is a lesson planet and we are all here to learn how to play nice with each other. Since not everyone can be rich and famous, some have to play lesser roles, but that does not make us lesser, it only makes us not in the spotlight in this life. But since I also believe in reincarnation, I also am sure that everyone gets a chance to grab the number one spot, just not in every life.

PirilloArt

Do you have any advice for first-time authors?

Read what you love. Love what you write.

There are so many conflicting opinions out there about everything related to publishing: e-book pricing, book promotion, social media usage etc. How do you sort through it all to figure out what works best for you?

Trial and error. Tons of research. I don’t think any one thing works, it seems to be a combination of things. I do notice however that when I am more upbeat and positive, I get better results with my work. I subscribe to the belief that what we put out comes back to us and people can feel us…sort of like when you go into a person’s home where there’s been a lot of anger you can feel it thick as molasses in the air. It makes you feel yucky. So the more positive you are, the happier you’ll be. Live for the good vibes you put out, not that you get back. If get too attached to results, you’ll drive yourself nuts…and also everyone else around you. (Divorce anyone?)

Please, tell us about your experiences with social media. What are your favorite and least-favorite parts of it?

I love social media. I wish it had been around when I was going to college, I would probably have learned a lot more about my fellow man and had a lot more fun doing it.

I love the ability to get snapshots of other lifestyles and other cultures. It fits in nice and snug with my enjoyment of alien cultures in science fiction and fantasy.

My most favorite part of social media is the fact that if people like you, they share you with their friends. I’ve probably sold more books when that happens. So I would encourage the use of social media.

Myself, when I like the writing of someone, I get curious about the author. In this case people get curious about you and read your writing. It’s a nice turnaround.

My least favorite part of it is that sometimes I friend people who post truly shocking things which my friends and fellow professionals can see and that’s distressing. I can usually block or remove their content and even them, but I wish that didn’t happen. I don’t like having to cut people out of my life, but if they insist on not making nice, I do what I must.

But I understand, some people like the negative attention. Personally, I have no need for negative attention. I’d rather make people feel better about their lives, or at least bring up ideas that challenge the status quo in an effort to get them to expand themselves and consequently enlarge their own happiness.

I don’t know how many saw the original Star Wars, but when Han, Luke and Chewie get their awards in front of the Rebel Forces by Princess Leia, it really raised the adrenaline in my body and hairs on the back of my neck. Yay team! Good over evil. Positive over negative! Boo Darth Daddy! Yay! Hans Cool! Solo!

Are you a fast typist? Does your typing speed (or lack of it) affect your writing?

Trouble with typing fast is that you can sometimes spend a lot of time going back and editing your mistakes. Especially troublesome if you have a bad keyboard, then you can easily create more mistakes than you might have otherwise.

Usually I can type between 90 and a 120 words a minute, with an accuracy of about 90 percent.

Having our work out there to be judged by strangers is often daunting for writers. Do you have any tips on handling a negative review?

It’s like asking someone out for a date. Not everyone is going to like you enough to go out with you, and if they do, not everyone is going to like what they see. Such is life. You can’t judge your life by another’s tastes. You have to love yourself as you are right here and now, not in some distant future that may or may not happen. If your motivations for writing are not just for the money, it won’t matter, you’ll just take the silliness and get on with more writing. If you love it, that’s the big thing. If they love it too, then Yay! for you. Just keep writing and learning. You’re going to get better and better.

Many authors do giveaways; have you found them a successful way to promote your book?

On Smashwords I give away tons of free books. I’ve given away hundreds, I think thousands by now. It helps. But I think my blog and pro site help more because they’re more personal. Hard to tell, but it’s probably all interrelated, each part kicking in at different times.

By the way I’ll be having a surprise on my author site www.johnpirillo.com…an autographed, free copy of my “Moriarity” novel. The rules will be posted on the site once the book is published.

Would you like to write a short poem for us?

For you Lisette I say these words

That flowers do spring and sing.

Your heart is like a gentle sword

that puts my heart awing.

How was that?

Lovely! Thank you, John.

Where do you live now? If you had to move to another city/state/country, where might that be?

Las Vegas is where I live. If all my friends didn’t live here, then I’d rather live in Switzerland by a lake, or perhaps Tahoe, or in Canada…by a lake! 🙂

If you could duplicate the knowledge from any single person’s head and have it magically put into your own brain, whose knowledge would you like to have? And why.

Jesus. Because he was the kindest man I’ve heard of in our Western culture. And it’d be nice to have the level of love he did for all life. Next after that would be Einstein. What a good heart and brain that man had!

What’s the best gift you’ve ever received?

A kiss from my daughter.

Have you ever played a practical joke on a friend? Ever had one played on you?

Yeah. My kids took some poop and pretended it was a huge brownie and fed it to me. I didn’t laugh at first, though they did. But later I thought it was funny. (And no, I didn’t warm their little bottoms, those little rascals!)

What are the most important traits you look for in a friend?

That I am as important to them, as they are to their self.

If you had a million dollars to give to charity, how would you allot the funds?

Be tough. There’s way more people who need help, than a million dollars could cure. But probably to a children’s hospital or home.

If you could have one skill that you don’t currently have, what would it be?

The ability to never say anything or do anything that harmed another. Ever!

What was your favorite year of school? Why?

I loved all of my school years. Best social life I ever had.

What might we be surprised to know about you?

I’m really from Mars. Just kidding. 🙂 Or am I?

What makes you angry?

Mainly politicians and the extremely wealthy. Because they have lost their ability to relate to the common man and they live in selfish worlds. They’re not evil, just distracted from what is truly valuable in a person’s life…the ability to love and care for their fellow man.

What music soothes your soul?

NewAge, Beatles, Classical, Soul music and any kind of well done Blues or Jazz.

What was the most valuable class you ever took in school? Why?

My English class during my Freshman year in College. Ms. Molly Irwin, my teacher, taught me to write what I loved and from love and don’t filter it as you do, let the soul come forth.

If you are a TV watcher, would you share the names of your favorite shows with us?

Right now, Game of Thrones; Sleepy Hollow; Grim; Once Upon a Time; Bill Maher; Extant; Falling Skies; Conan O’Brian; the Walking Dead; Big Bang; Cheers; Eureka; Haven; and head over heels in love with the new Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Who, even if it is Peter Capaldi now…who is an excellent actor by the way!

If you could add a room onto your current home, what would you put in it?

Walls of books. A very comfortable chair to meditate upon. A great sound system for soothing music. My writing computer. My pet cockatiels, whom I just love to death. And a huge set of French Widows with a balcony so I could watch the sun set and the sun rise, and get wet when it rains if I like. And lots of flowers on the balcony.

What’s your biggest pet peeve?

That we live in a world where so many have to struggle to have the basics, while a select few have the majority of the wealth and are reluctant to share it and do everything they can to make sure that it’s NOT shared. (Not always consciously, but shouldn’t those with the most, also be the ones who act as guardians of the wealth in a responsible way to protect their fellow man? To insure their happiness and health as well?)

Do you have any guilty pleasures?

Bag of potato chips while reading a book.

What are three things you think we can all do to make the world a better place?

Love each other. Forgive each other. Learn from each other.

What simple pleasure makes you smile?

A baby’s smile. A baby’s laughter.

 

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CHAT WITH AUTUMN M. BIRT

Autumn

Autumn (also known as Weifarer) is a travel and fantasy writer currently based in Maine where she lives in a small cottage lost in the woods, which she built with her husband along with the supervision, and approval of, two cairn terriers. She is an indie author, conservationist, & world traveler with plans for many more adventures both real and fantastical!

 Time to chat with Autumn!

What is your latest book? Is your recent book part of a series?

I released Spirit of Life, book 3 of my epic fantasy trilogy the Rise of the Fifth Order this spring. I’m really excited to have the trilogy complete. It feels like such an accomplishment to have started such a long story (the books do not stand alone) and managed to wrap it up… even if it took me three years to publish all three!

Spirit-of-Life-Cover_Lavinia 4inch

What are the special challenges in writing a series?

I had lots of special problems, but that is because book 1, Born of Water, was also my first book to self publish! I knew when I wrote Born of Water that the story continued, but at the time I published it and faced with the immense learning curve of formats, editing, covers, and distribution, I really hadn’t thought out too much more of the story. But I had so much fun, I knew I had to keep writing. And that is when I ran into problems.

The stories I admired as a young reader were ones laced with clues that might not be fully understood until chapters, or books, later. I loved trying to see where things were going! And so that is the type of series I set out to write. BUT I hadn’t done all of the plotting and figuring out when I wrote book 1. I did that when I began to write book 2, Rule of Fire. Happily, there were nuggets from book 1 that I could play with and enlarge that really moved the story forward, but I also think I lost an opportunity to really tighten the plot threads. I would write book 1 a little differently now. But I do still love it and really love the series.

And lesson learned, I write differently now. If it is going to be a series (which I admittedly like writing), I have the overall arc planned out before I start. I’m a plotter but not down to every detail, letting the story develop as characters make choices. To accommodate the smaller plot threads that develop, and I might want to drop in hints earlier, I’m trying to write the entire series, or at least a book or two into it, before I release the first. That is a lot of writing, but should make the releases come a little faster (fingers crossed!).

I hear you have some very exciting news! Can you share it with us?

I do! At the beginning of August I signed on with Creativia. They are a small publisher and I can’t believe how phenomenal it has been meeting their other authors and working with the founder, Miika. My head is really spinning and I don’t think that I’ve fully realized yet that I’m not alone out there anymore. I suddenly have an editor, cover artist, marketer, and lots of other authors to ask questions of. My writing speed has ramped up and I have several releases coming up in the next year and I was honestly getting worried about how to afford an editor. My writing, as much as I love it, hasn’t paid for the first editor on book 1 yet! Just knowing all that is lined up and I just need to write and post to social media is a huge relief. Of course, hopefully they will like my new work as much as my released series! lol.

You live in a small cottage in the woods. That sounds like a wonderful place for a writer. Can you tell us about it?

I am an introvert, which shouldn’t be much of a surprise since I’m a writer. I live nature and quiet. So yeah, living in a little house in the woods is awesome. It is relaxing and I can go for walks when I’m stumped. I have a little sleeping porch (think of it as a room with one wall open to outside) where I write. Its on the second floor and shaded in the afternoon and just heaven!

The downside is that my husband and I built, and are still finishing, this little cottage. That has been a tremendous amount of work the last two years! I’m the finish carpenter and I have so many bookshelves, trim, nooks, and even kitchen cabinets that I need to construct yet. Ack! I joke that I’ll have the house paid off in four years and still will be putting in cabinetry. Hopefully this fall will get the brunt of the remaining work done (while still maintaining my writing time…). Having the house done for a winter of solitude and writing will be… amazing!

Over the years, many well-known authors have stated that they wished they’d written their characters or their plots differently. Have you ever had similar regrets?

I hinted in the above question that I would have written book 1 differently if I’d realized the direction the trilogy would take. And I would have tweaked the characters a little more, especially Ria and Ty. They both tend to have extremes of emotions, Ria having been very sheltered and frightened as a child and Ty just being very sensitive. They don’t always fit the “model” of how a character is expected to behave. As much as I think that is ok as there isn’t a script of how a person must react to certain situations, there are times when it is pointed out that I feel like answering “yup, I know.” I think I would have streamlined them a bit more if I could write Born of Water again. But maybe that would be a shame too!

How important is the choosing of character names to you? Have you ever decided on a name and then changed it because it wasn’t right for the character?

For some reason character names, even place names, are a stumbling block to me. I can be writing a sentence and hit a blank name and I just can’t write any further. Sometimes, if I’m really desperate, I’ll put in a little _____ and try to keep writing. But it just drives me batty. I don’t tend to have writer’s block all that often, but if I need a name and nothing comes to mind, I’m stuck.

Do I ever change a name… sometimes but rarely. I’m usually at a standstill until the “right” name comes to me. But sometimes I’ll read through something and realize that two names are too similar. Then I have to change one… and hope it doesn’t take me all day!

How much research was involved in writing your book? How did you go about it?

Research might not be the word for my epic fantasy series (though it fits with my current WIP!), but world building certainly is. And epic fantasy takes a lot of world building! I actually rewrote Born of Water because I didn’t like the world building in it. The first draft was “pantsed” a lot. The story went all over the world where the story is set, Myrrah, and it just felt flat to me. It felt typical. So I sat down and really thought about the world, the climate, the food, the culture, the governments. What would it be like to grow up in the archipelago where seasonal rains flood the cities versus the deep forests in the north. What sort of commerce would the wooded but mountainous coast on the south shore of the Sea of Sarketh have? Once I knew the answer to those questions, I started writing again. Now I try to have all of that figured out before I write the first draft. It speeds up the process quite a lot!

Are you a fast typist? Does your typing speed (or lack of it) affect your writing?

I am a fast typist! I can churn out over 80 wpm if you want to put me in a timed test. But you know, speed doesn’t seem to be THAT big of an impact on writing.

I see lots of posts about “if you can type 4000 words a day, you can write a novel a month.” Well, yeah, but that doesn’t mean it will be a good novel. Or that you won’t spend six months editing it. There is so much more to writing than putting words on a page. That is super important to, but that is only a piece to the puzzle!

If I know where the story is going and the scene is clicking as I follow the characters along, writing speed helps. Sometimes I can’t keep up! But if the plot or motivations aren’t clear or I just can’t get into a character’s head, speed doesn’t matter. I usually try to push things along, giving it about 15 minutes of thought or plugging away. If things still aren’t moving at that point, I switch to a different WIP (I tend to write two novels at the same time for this reason!) or edit my most recently completed WIP or read (gasp!) or go for a walk (which helps tons). Sometimes I break down and actually talk to my husband. lol.

The bottom line is speed is not everything and not that important really. Consistency is – writing a bit every day. Having a good story is very important. Editing is key too. If you end up cutting a horrible chapter (or two), how fast you typed it doesn’t matter.

Do you have complete control over your characters or do they ever control you?

I wouldn’t say control comes into play, but my characters are their own people. I don’t tell them what to do, but if they want to change the story too much, well they’ve got to make a good pitch as to why!

Though, saying that, I have one or two feisty individuals who aren’t very good at sharing. I tend to set up chapters with POV and a quick blurb on what is going to happen to make sure the novel keeps on pace. But, with a few of my characters, I know it is going to be in their POV but don’t have a clue what they are going to get up to. Sinika, my main “villain” in my epic fantasy series is this way. I usually don’t know what he is going to do, doing, or why until he decides to tell me. Sort of difficult trusting the most evil character in your book to run his own show… but, gosh darn it, he does such an awesome job!

Do you miss spending time with your characters when you finish writing them?

Yes! When I started writing the final book in the series, I dragged my feet a bit knowing this was it. After this book, I was done with this world and these characters. Maybe I’d write a short story… stop by in a few years. I got myself moving again by picking away at a new WIP and then as the final book built, I couldn’t stop writing. I felt satisfied when I finished and ready to focus on that side WIP I’d started.

But the characters weren’t ready to call it quits. Seriously, they would pop into my head with little protestations about how I ended things. Their lives go on. I didn’t think they needed me. They apparently thought they did. And they made a really good argument, eventually making me realize I might have missed the most important part of their story and world! So now I’m writing a new trilogy set in the same world with the same characters. I never meant to write this, but they were so convincing and the story is so good, that I had to. Of course, now this new epic fantasy trilogy is my side WIP while I finish up the one I started when I was writing Spirit of Life. Hopefully they’ll be happy when this new story arc is done!

Trains, planes, automobiles, or boats?

Tardis, followed by sailboat, followed by dual-sport motorcycle. Definitely the Tardis first! I love to travel, I love history, and I love science, so how could I not want a time traveling spaceship? In everyday life, it is a dream of mine to sail the intercoastal waterway from the St. Lawrence down to the Caribbean. And I really want to see a meteor shower from a boat anchored somewhere dark and inspiring. Wouldn’t it be incredible to see shooting stars streak to the horizon?

I’d also love to ride my motorcycle from Alaska to Venezuela. That route is becoming more common each year, but I’d love to do it myself. Until then, I have to be content riding around Maine, the Canadian Maritimes, and to work while the weather is half way decent!

If I make it through all of that, I still want to hike the AT and the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. I guess you can say I just like to move. One method or another!

If you could have one skill that you don’t currently have, what would it be?

I would love to be a good singer. Not professional, just one of those people that can sing a tune and sound good enough to make people smile. I really love music and at the moment can’t play any instrument. Hopefully I’ll learn the guitar someday yet and really wish I could fiddle. But to not need anything but my voice… that would be awesome!

What simple pleasure makes you smile?

I’m a fairly happy person but one thing that always makes me smile is seeing some little everyday wonder… maybe something that most people would miss. I get outside as much as I can and love to be mesmerized by nature: a white spider hiding on the petals of a daisy, sparrows chasing off a bald eagle, bees finding the first pussy willows of spring. I’m one of those people that stops to watch ants, catches frogs, knows which flowers are in bloom in the meadow. They aren’t big events, but they make me feel connected to the world and happy.

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CHAT WITH JUDY PROBUS

judyprobuspicture
Judy Probus, her husband, Bill, and extended family reside in Kentucky, “the Unbridled state” – a perfect place and state of mind for a writer of fantasy/ adventure. Judy possesses a B.S. and Masters in Education, experience in the performing arts and teaching, and has volunteered countless hours in the local school system. Her favorite hobbies include reading, listening to music, watching sports and movies, gardening, traveling, and learning new things about Earth and beyond.

Hello Lisette. Thank you for inviting me to your chateau. I hope something I contribute will be of help to someone on his or her journey down the writing road.

You’re welcome, Judy! Delighted to have you here. Let’s chat.

ImagiNation Unveiled: The Hidden Realm and its supplement contain eighteen character descriptions and additional sketches. That’s quite an undertaking. Where did you get the inspiration and motivation for this book?

I answer that question best in the video embedded in my e-book, which you can also find here.

Here, I will share that it was at 10,000 feet plus, during a trip to New York that I decided to write an adventure fantasy novel. One problem was that I wasn’t a published author in the traditional sense. I’ve long been a reader and a fan of J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S Lewis, J.K Rowling, and Rick Riordan. Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty was the first story to capture my young imagination. As an adult, I like to delve into history books and anything by National Geographic. But, until I began writing my most recent book, I’d only written a few children’s short stories and they lie undisturbed in a drawer. So, my decision to write a novel was probably a simple lack of oxygen to the brain at high altitude, right?! No, I think it was more than that.

You see, as a second-grader, I witnessed NASA and the rest of America send a man to the moon. The synergy was unforgettable and the impact impressionable. At the same time, I attended public school at a time when music and drama departments flourished. Both of my parents worked hard, sometimes multiple jobs, to provide me with the means to participate in curricular programs during and after school in an attempt to unlock my proclivity for shyness. They accomplished that and much more.

Somewhere between rehearsals, marching band competitions, orchestra pit performances, and stage curtain calls, I came in contact with dedicated teachers who taught me more than how to play a few instruments, twirl a baton, and dance. They taught me teamwork, sweat, sacrifice, community pride, and persistence. They also ingrained a rock solid belief in the power of the imagination and appreciation for the arts in me that endures to this day. I believe those extracurricular programs made me a more focused student on all levels. But, more than that, the friendships I encountered and the struggles I endured in those art programs equipped me with things you don’t learn while studying English, history, or math. They equipped me for life. Sometimes, I wonder if there might be a correlation between fading art programs, plummeting scholastic scores, and general student apathy in today’s world.

My children are adults now, but my passion for the arts remains and at 10,000 feet plus, I heard the call to create stronger than ever before. Through ImagiNation Unveiled: The Hidden Realm, I hope to spark the members of our young generation’s imaginations. They are whizzes at modern technology and I suspect there is no limit to the discoveries they can make and the places they can take us – but that’s only possibly if they have the confidence and willingness to explore their imaginations.

ImagiNatioN UnveileD COVER[digital][WEB]

They say one must lead by example, so rather than just spout words from the past, I decided to climb my own mountain by learning to write. I hope my journey and the stories crafted along the way can inspire others. One is never too old to learn something new and there’s no time like the present to embark on an adventure.

I began writing ideas on the back of grocery receipts. I quickly graduated to notebooks, then a laptop, which I promptly typed the letters off of while burning the midnight oil. People who read my story while it was being developed encouraged me to continue pushing forward. Writers on Twitter wished me well. Down the writing road, I met Matt Langan, writer, editor, entrepreneur, and technological wizard, who liked the story and supports my efforts to produce an exciting quality series. The project gained momentum and awesome folks including @ElicabeDesign (cover), @harkinsart (sketch artist), @BeyondGraphics, and my local Minuteman Press branch joined the venture.

What motivates you?

Several things. Positive comments and heartfelt messages from readers have touched me on a personal level that is hard to describe. Achieving my goal to write a novel was one thing; hearing how the story touched someone else’s life is… well, I’m sure you can imagine. Five-star reviews on Amazon are encouraging. Recently, I received fantastic literary reviews from MuggleNet.com, the #1 Harry Potter fan site, and NarniaFans.com, which fueled the fires to write the second book of the series. I have a two-year-old grandson and a six-year-old granddaughter who love dragons. And so, I write.

Some authors, like me, always write scenes in order. But I know some people write scenes out of order. How about you?

I like to write scenes in order. However, if I think the story will benefit, I will back up and replace an existing scene with a new one.

Some writers edit excessively as they write; others wait until a novel is finished to do the bulk of the editing. How about you?

I like to take one step forward and two back. When I write a new chapter, I like to re-read the previous two chapters and make sure everything fits together. This seems to save time in the long run and I find it to be an effective way to stay focused and even stumble across new ideas.

Have you ever written characters that you truly despise?

Yes, I had to tap into my dark side to create Vahdeema, an evil sorceress, and Stonedish II, her accomplice. It was great fun and an awesome way to vent normal, everyday frustrations.

Do you dread writing a synopsis for your novel as much as most writers do? Do you think writing a synopsis is inherently evil? Why?

I understand the huge volume of stories created in our modern world necessitates a way to relate the essence of a story in an abbreviated form. I also understand the stress such a task generates for the author. I think the trouble with a synopsis is that they might not appropriately communicate the quality or the excitement of the story they describe. They can be cold, calculated, hyped up general outlines of the story at worst. To appreciate the true spirit of the story, I think one benefit from reading several excerpts or a few chapters from the book. My website imaginationunveiled.com offers six free chapters of reading and a few pages of free character descriptions from the supplement.

Maybe the following exaggerations will help demonstrate my point:

I wonder how Michelangelo would have reacted if someone asked him to reduce his masterpiece on the ceiling of the Sistine chapel to a stamp-sized sample? Along the same vein, I wonder if a written description of any classic overture can accurately explain how the audible crescendos and fortes of the musical piece makes listeners feel?

I think a dedicated author weaves together words with the same diligence and care a seamstress exhibits when they hand-weave a complex quilt. The author knows his or her book is best understood and enjoyed in its entirety – or at least in excess of a handful of paragraphs.

Are you an early bird writer or night owl? And do you have any must haves like coffee, chocolates, wine, music or something else?

I am an early bird and a night owl! I keep my iPad and my notebook and pen on my nightstand, ready to jot down any new ideas that pop into my head as I awake or before I go to sleep. No matter how hard I try to manipulate my writing time into regular hours during the day, my creative muse works on her own clock. So, I am willing to write anywhere and at anytime. Typing in the passenger seat is a lot easier on roads without potholes.

My writing must haves are my beats, books, unsalted popcorn, and the occasional bits of chocolate. Most mornings, I crank on the tunes and start with a workout to jumpstart the brain. Often, I listen to music to inspire my mood or the character I’m developing. In general I like the energy that movie soundtracks generate. I did listen to a lot of country music while writing because my protagonist is from Alabama.

A lot of authors are frustrated by readers who don’t understand how important reviews are. What would you say to a reader who doesn’t think his or her review matters?

In the competitive world of writing, I’ve learned that reviews are paramount. We live in a social media driven society. People constantly check their electronic devices and count on other peoples’ reviews. Reviews are the go-to shortcut for readers to find their way through all of the available lists of books.

Before e-books, people bought published books from their bookstore, which was in indirect way of communicating that the book was worth their attention. Now, with the prevalence of self-published e-books, quality varies substantially. Reviews allow readers to gauge if a book is worth their time and money. Positive reviews drive sales, it’s a fact and one that should not be taken for granted if you’re an author.

I think some people find the process of writing a review uncomfortable and time consuming. But, anyone who thinks book reviews don’t matter needs to be brought up to speed. A reader’s review is the author’s lifeline to the rest of the world. Their future in the realm of writing depends on each and every review, especially indie writers who have limited means of promotion. Besides, positive or negative, reviews help the writer grow.

Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? If so, how do you get around it?

Writer’s block is the dreaded twilight zone between the speed bump and the dead end. It can last minutes, hours, days, or longer. Yes, I’ve gone a few rounds with the invisible monster that threatens to suck the life out of my creative muse like one of Harry Potter’s Death Eaters. Panic is the first reaction, but that only makes things worse. Then self-doubt sets in and grinds down on the writer’s confidence. It’s not pretty.

My solution? Many writers stare at the empty page on their computers, hoping to force the stubborn block away. Through trial and error, I’ve found that method generates tension and tightens the block. Instead, I’ve discovered that I work best when my mind is relaxed. A quiet stroll, a hard workout, a drive through the country, or taking a break to do something fun usually unlocks my mind. In fact, I’m often surprised at the great ideas I get when I least expect it. Many times I’ve rushed out of the shower or pulled off the road to jot a new idea down. That’s the fun of creating fantasy. It can and does happen anywhere.

Do you miss spending time with your characters when you finish writing them?

I didn’t think I would, but I do. After spending so much time with them and being immersed in their day-to-day drama, they sort of became a second family. Putting the last period at the end of the last sentence of the first book in my series felt wonderful and sad at the same time. It was like saying goodbye to a close friend after a long visit. That’s what’s great about writing a series. It prolongs the goodbyes.

How would you define your style of writing?

Eclectic. I blend realism with fantasy, southern tradition with futuristic invention, nature with technology. Many locations in the book are inspired by real places I’ve visited while others are complete fabrications.

How much research was involved in writing your book? How did you go about it?

A lot of research went into writing the book. I studied online articles, books, and brochures about various locations and endangered species. I read National Geographic articles and recorded notebooks full of what I learned through my own experiences and travels. I studied pictures and additional information about some of the most interesting places on Earth and in space.

One particular interesting technique that I used to help me write the football game in the book was listening to a radio announcer call a football game while I was traveling from Alabama to Kentucky. I’ve attended many football games in my area, but listening to the radio really forced me to focus and visualize the game in my own mind. I think listening to the game on the radio strengthened my understanding of the game. I also picked up a few colorful football phrases.

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CHAT WITH MARGIE MIKLAS

Margie

Margie Miklas is winding down her career as a critical-care nurse by focusing on writing about her passion, Italy. Her blog evolved into two books based on her experiences throughout the country of her ancestors. Her latest book, My Love Affair with Sicily, takes you along with her as she  explores the country she loves.

Time to chat with Margie!

Welcome to my writers’ chateau, Margie. I’ve had writers travel from all corners of the world to visit me, but you’re my first travel writer. You have quite a love affair with Italy; how did it begin?

Thank you Lisette, for inviting me. I fell in love with Italy the first time I visited. Although I knew very little Italian, I had a sense of feeling at home there, and I knew I wanted to return. I was in awe of almost everything there, but I think going to the village of my grandparents really meant a lot to me.

I hear you have some very exciting news! Can you share it with us?

Yes, I recently received news that Memoirs of a Solo Traveler – My Love Affair with Italy is a finalist in the 2014 Florida Writers Association Awards. I am surprised, humbled, and excited! For me this means more than selling books, because it is a validation of my writing by experienced authors, editors, and publishers. The awards are not announced until the end October, during the Writers Conference, which I plan to attend.

MargieBook

Traveling solo can be worlds apart from traveling with others. What is the most important advice that you give to people traveling alone?

I think it would be to immerse yourself into the culture. While a certain sense of independence exists to wander about on your own, you gain much more by engaging the local people, as well as other travelers. It’s easy in Italy because, for example, outdoor tables are placed close to one another; sometimes you may sit at a table with other diners. I am a people person, so I would begin a conversation, either in Italian or English, and found that I enjoyed the entire experience.

I also would recommend joining a small group excursion for day trips. When I was in Siena, I asked the concierge at the hotel about tours to the wine country, and he was more than happy to arrange one. The next morning a van was there and I had the most incredible day with travelers from New Zealand and Boston.

TreviFountain(Trevi Fountain, Rome)

What are some of the biggest mistakes people make when traveling, especially for the first time?

I think it would be overpacking. I did this myself, until I learned how much work it is to lug a huge suitcase on and off trains. Packing light is not that difficult, and since I stayed for several weeks at a minimum, I did a little laundry in my hotel room sink.

I would imagine that you keep a notebook with you at all times. Do you always know what you’re going to write about, or are there surprises along the way?

Since my books are non-fiction, I knew I wanted to write about all of my experiences. So yes, a notebook was always in my bag, and more recently, I carried a small digital recorder, so I could verbally record what I saw and smelled and heard as I was walking. That way, later, I could transcribe my notes, and along with my photographs, I could reconstruct my adventures.

Vesuvius(Margie by Mt. Vesuvius)

Many people get confused about money issues when they travel. Do I use traveler’s checks? Where is the best place to get the most for my money? Where is the worst place? Will I get a fair conversion if I use my credit card? What advice can you offer?

I can understand and I did a lot of research about the best ways to access money while traveling overseas. Very few places accept traveler’s checks today. The most popular way to obtain cash in euros is the ATM. Most banks charge fees up to $3 – $5 each time in addition to a percent, but a few banks issue cards that only charge 1 percent fee. I have a card from the online bank, Everbank, and have had no problems with it. It is important to remember though, that when you are withdrawing €250, it is actually around $335, depending on the conversion rate. Once, I tried to withdraw money, and was denied. When I checked my account, I had used up the funds, and hadn’t realized it. In that case, it is always a good idea, to have a second bank card, with funds available. That is what I did, until I could transfer funds to my card of choice.

For purchases, it is the same. Many banks charge 3 percent. I use Capital One and there is only a 1 percent extra charge. I know other banks offer this as well. You just have to check around. I would also recommend contacting your bank before traveling and advising them of the dates that you will be out of town and making purchases.

Amalfi(Amalfi Coast)

What is your latest book?

My Love Affair with Sicily was released at the end of April. It is written in the same style as my first book, so readers feel as though they are traveling alongside me in Italy. This book covers five separate trips to Sicily, and only during the last trip was I aware that I planned on writing a book about Sicily.

Authors, especially Indies, are constantly trying to understand why some authors sell very while their talented fellow authors have a hard time of it. It’s an ongoing conundrum. What do you make of it all?

I do think that an author must market his or her book. Social media seems to be one of the best ways to do so, and Twitter, in particular, is a great venue for networking and promoting books. I find the community of writers on Twitter to be extremely supportive, no matter the genre. Of course, when I published my first book in September of 2012, I didn’t have a clue. I took an online course on marketing for authors, and it helped me tremendously. It’s not a guarantee to sell millions of books, but if you don’t market, you can pretty much guarantee that you won’t sell many books.

GondolierVenice(Gondolier in Venice)

Please, tell us about your experiences with social media. What are your favorite and least-favorite parts of it?

As I stated, Twitter is my favorite place to talk about books, but I believe you have to engage others and have diverse interests. Writers are people who like other things besides writing. I enjoy engaging with others on Twitter, talking about photography, music, travel, editing, grandchildren, and other topics. I use Facebook too, especially the pages, and I think that Pinterest is a great place to market as well, especially because of the visual power of photos.

The least favorite experiences with social media are having to block someone who is just too annoying. I hate doing it buy have had to occasionally. The occasional DM by someone looking for a date is also not my favorite part of social media.

Were you “born to write” or did you discover your passion for writing later in life?

I really didn’t start writing until 3 or 4 years ago, when I began writing for some online sites and then started my blog. I always liked writing though, and wrote limericks as a child. In high school I wrote letters to the editor and was the headline editor of my school newspaper. Years later I wrote a creative satirical newsletter for my ICU colleagues at a hospital in Tampa.

If you were to write a novel, what might it be about?

As a matter of fact, Lisette, I am currently writing my first novel, a psychological thriller based in a hospital. I don’t expect it to be completed 2015.

Many authors do giveaways; have you found them a successful way to promote your book?

I think giveaways are a great way to thank readers as well as to promote a book. I did one when My Love Affair with Sicily launched, and my blog hits rose tremendously as a result. I think we all like to get something for free, so everyone wins. My blog is approaching 100,000 hits, so I plan on doing another giveaway soon.

What are the most important traits you look for in a friend?

For me, honesty is number one. I value the truth and a friend will tell you the truth, even if it isn’t what you want to hear. The other important trait I value in a friend is the ability to listen and understand without telling me what I need to do. If I want advice I’ll ask. I appreciate being heard, and I try to do the same for my friends.

What makes you angry?

I rarely get really angry, but when I do it’s with someone who feels entitled to something, or for someone who acts like a victim. If you want something better for yourself, you have to make it happen. I particularly respect anyone who has been faced with great challenges, maybe lost everything, and persevered to make a better life. I was raised with the knowledge that my Italian grandparents came here with nothing, yet they made a life for themselves and their families by working hard. I value that work ethic and don’t think much of laziness and the “poor me” attitude.

What music soothes your soul?

I love music and find it very evocative and mood altering. I grew up listening to classical music that my dad played on a hi-fi system he built from a kit, so I appreciate that music today. But I have a wide range of musical interests from Bruce Springsteen, to Billy Joel, to Motown, to Andrea Bocelli, to hip-hop.

Do you have any guilty pleasures?

Unfortunately I do and it is overindulging in sweets and carbs, like chocolate, cannoli, cookies, and bread. I am paying for it now as I am trying to lose weight and get in shape for my next trip to Italy. It is embarrassing to be huffing and puffing walking up all those steep inclines.

What simple pleasure makes you smile?

Seeing the energy of my darling twin granddaughters always makes me smile. Soon to be ten years old, they are the light of my life! I am fortunate to live close by and be able to see them often. They are one of the main reasons I could never live in Italy because I would miss them too much.

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CHAT WITH ELLE BOCA

ElleBocaElle is the author of the Weeia urban fantasy series set in Miami, Florida in the United States. Growing up the only child of a monkey mother and a rabbit father she learned to keep herself entertained and spend time reading.

I hear you have some very exciting news! Can you share it with us?

Unelmoija: The Spiritshifter, book three of the Weeia Series, was just published. Woo hoo!

In Unelmoija: The Dreamshifter, book one, we met Amy, the lead character in the series, and Duncan, her love interest. That book is an introduction to the Weeia for Amy and the readers. After discovering her Weeia identity and a rare ability, she is forced to become self-reliant and mature in a hurry.

In Unelmoija: The Mindshifter, book two, we learn more about Weeia ways. The story takes us down a dangerous and dark side of life when Amy and her friends fight powerful slavers to rescue Lilly, her college friend who has been kidnapped. Amy’s new ability comes to light. She finds the courage to help others at the risk of her own safety. At the same time, she discovers she can accomplish much more by working with her friends that battling alone.

In book three, after Loi, a young superhuman, is found dead under suspicious circumstances, Amy, and her friends agree to investigate. Problems arise when it becomes likely that Amy may have the same ability as the dead man. If she uses her ability selflessly for the good of the Weeia, whoever killed Loi may come after her. Should she risk her life and place her friends in harm’s way?

ElleBookCover

What are the special challenges in writing a series?

It’s necessary for me to see the whole story from the outset and make sure everything in each book makes sense with what’s happened (or will happen) in the other books in the series. In the first book, I set the stage I build on for the story that unfolds in the other books, and go on working from that foundation. The further along in the series the more aware I have to be that the story is continuous, that the dates match, the timeline flows well and so forth. I write the books one at a time over months or longer, but a reader might sit down and read the whole series in days. I’ve known readers who finished a book overnight only to wake up hungering for the next one that I was still writing.

The facts of the story have to match throughout the whole series, even small details can make a difference; and readers notice and challenge aspects of the story. It’s a good thing, I think. It means they’re reading with care and they’re paying attention. As a writer it’s a wonderful compliment because it tells me that they’re engrossed in the characters, the setting and the story. Something as minor as the type of water a character drinks might draw a reader’s attention. At some point the characters I created no longer belong to me, they belong to the readers as well, requiring that I pay close attention.

What I mean is that the more readers get to know the characters the more they care that their words and actions match a reader’s idea of what that character might do in a particular situation. The more vested they are in the series the more this might be the case. At the same time, characters may evolve during the series. This is especially true of the main character such as Amy in the Weeia Series. She won’t be exactly the same person in the last book that she was in the first book. I have to handle that transition with care. Too little change and the character is immature in his or her evolution; too much change and it won’t be credible. Totally bad characters don’t turn into totally good characters so that the evil witch never becomes the white princess by the end of the story, although sometimes there are exceptional circumstances.

Elle_Boca_Plant-300x303

What part of writing a novel do you enjoy the most? The least?

So many! The story, journey, writing, and discovery of the characters inner thoughts and feelings. When the book is published I feel elated, excited and apprehensive all at the same time. Editing is my least favorite task and yet it’s essential.

Is it important for you to know the ending of a book before you write it? The title?

Yes! For me, it’s especially helpful to map out the essence of the story before I begin, and that includes the end. It’s possible that the story will morph along the way, but at least I start out with a direction. This is particularly true with a series. I can’t easily get from point A to point B if I don’t know I’m going to B.

ebbannertoonlighthouseweeai

Some writers edit excessively as they write; others wait until a novel is finished to do the bulk of the editing. How about you?

Both. I edit as I write and then again at the end. Writing and editing, editing and writing then repeat. That’s my cycle, ad nauseam.

How important is the choosing of character names to you? Have you ever decided on a name and then changed it because it wasn’t right for the character?

It’s important to me that the name fit the personality of the main characters. Yes, it’s happened that I’ve named a character and as I fleshed out his or her personality I decided the name didn’t match my vision of that character.

Have you ever written characters that you truly despise?

The slavers in Unelmoija: The Mindshifter were difficult to write. That’s such a horrible side of humankind that it was painful to write and edit. I strive for some character depth, at least a little within the limitations of the genre and readers patience. This drives me to the conclusion that even evil characters have reasons, feelings, flaws and motivations. The more we see of those the more engaging the story can be. At the same time, in real life people are complex and multidimensional. As a cartoon I read this morning said, we believe what we want to believe. We don’t always know what drives someone to commit a crime or do something petty or cruel. Should we expect to have all the answers in fiction?

In book two, Fecundo, the head of the Miami slaver organization, explains he is in it for the money. Yes, of course there are fringe benefits, but for the most part it’s a lucrative business, he explains in one scene. On the other hand, he points out that there are people in his network who work for the sadistic pleasure of controlling or hurting others. Both are terrible deformed beings who hurt defenseless people because they can. It’s an ugliness that’s hard to fathom, and yet the reality is so much worse than anything I could possibly convey in the story, even if I had it in me to drop down deep enough to that lightless place where they dwell. Maybe that was more than you wanted to know…

Do you have any advice for first-time authors

When friends ask me about writing, I suggest they first figure out their goals. In other words why are they writing? Is it to fulfill a lifelong dream to publish a story in their head, because they seek a career change, to make a living, because they’re passionate about writing? Once they know why they’re doing it they can measure success which can be a number of things. For example, sales might be a measure of success. Another measure might be positive reviews, critics acclaim, the admiration of friends and family or the sheer pleasure of seeing your name on the cover of a published book.

Please, tell us about your experiences with social media. What are your favorite and least-favorite parts of it?

Twitter is my favorite social media site. It’s easy and fast to connect with people in all walks of life across the globe. There’s a community of supportive, intelligent, interesting and engaging fellow writers there. The challenge is always time. I could spend half my day browsing Tweets, Twitter profiles and the links they lead to and never get any writing done!

How much research was involved in writing your book? How did you go about it?

I researched the geography of the region to describe the city in the series. Given that in an urban fantasy the setting is as salient as a main character it was important for me to paint a vibrant picture of Miami which is where Amy lives and most of the story takes place. In the book, Miami is a large area that in real life encompasses three counties with a population of several million people. In the series, some features are true to life and I modified others taking artistic liberties for various reasons.

In Unelmoija: The Mindshifter, I spent a lot of time reading, listening and watching interviews about the slave trade, especially in Miami. I remember in particular one interview on public radio in which experts shared tips with police and authorities on spotting victims at the airports. It wasn’t enough to identify them as victims, they had to follow the right approach to avoid spooking them because they were so afraid or under the control of their handlers. It’s hard to imagine and understand that those activities take place all the time and we don’t even realize they are happening, sometimes before our eyes because we don’t know the signs.

For Unelmoija: The Spiritshifter, Amy had to sing for her new ability to work. A rock band was the medium. I didn’t know much about the behind the scenes and professional side of singing or the ins and outs of a rock band. In addition to online research, several people who have personal experience as rock band members and fans shared insights with me. They were generous with their knowledge and time.

Is there a question I haven’t asked you that you would like to answer? If so, what is it?

Who are the Weeia?

The Weeia (pronounced way-yah) are superhumans living in the United States. They are like you or me in almost every way except that they have extra abilities. They live hidden among us unnoticed. Who is Weeia? It’s hard to know. It could be your neighbor, the person behind you at the grocery store, your banker, boss or doctor, maybe a person you’ve known all your life. A Weeia might be telekinetic, have super smell or ultra vision or one of many other extra abilities.

Trains, planes, automobiles, or boats?

Trains, planes, automobiles and boats.

What’s your favorite comfort food? Least favorite food?

It’s hard to say, there are so many… I love fruit. Homemade sweet potato fries (baked), French fries, and homemade cottage pie, though I rarely eat any, are up there at the top of the list.

What’s the best gift you’ve ever received?

The gift of life.

Okay, so maybe you were looking for something less existential? Someone recently gifted me a beautiful watercolor of a tiger. It was a total surprise, unexpected and generous. I smile every time I see the tiger because of the thoughtful gesture and because the piece is beautiful.

Do you have any guilty pleasures?

Cookies, cake and chocolate or is it chocolate, cake and cookies?

What simple pleasure makes you smile?

Nature makes me smile everyday. A couple of days ago, I saw a mother limpkin (shy bird) with two young on the edge of a nearby pond. This morning, I saw two muscovy ducks engaged in a dominance duel in the pond. It was beautiful, like an elegant, and at times violent, dance in the water.

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CHAT WITH VERONICA SCOTT

Veronica Scott

Amazon best-seller Veronica Scott is a two-time recipient of the SFR Galaxy Award and has written a number of science-fiction and paranormal romances. She’s also the SciFi Encounters columnist for the USA today/HEA blog. Currently published by Carina Press as well as self publishing, Veronica also holds down a day job at a NASA facility.

Time to chat with Veronica!

What is your latest book?

My most recent science fiction romance is Escape From Zulaire but I have a new SFR coming in August. Strictly speaking, my latest book would be Magic of the Nile, from my paranormal series set in ancient Egypt. I alternate my writing time between the two settings – SFRs set in the far future and PNRs set in the distant past. Here’s the story in a nutshell:

Andi Markriss hasn’t exactly enjoyed being the houseguest of the planetary high-lord, but her company sent her to represent them at a political wedding. When hotshot Sectors Special Forces Captain Tom Deverane barges in on the night of the biggest social event of the summer, Andi isn’t about to offend her high-ranking host on Deverane’s say-so—no matter how sexy he is, or how much he believes they need to leave now. And then the war breaks out…

Escape-from-Zulaire

Is your recent book part of a series?

All my science fiction occurs in a future where the galaxy is divided into Sectors and populated by humans and nonhumans so the books are a loosely connected series. So far I haven’t written any SFR books using the same characters but never say never! I’m interested in telling the story of my hero and heroine in the particular situation rather writing a lot of galactic politics and/or scientific theory. My people live in their universe the way we live in ours – they use the blasters and the spaceships without having to think about how the technology works. We don’t explain to ourselves how an elevator or a microwave functions when we use them! I write strong female characters and my heroes are usually in the Sectors Special Forces, which is my take on the SEALs of the future. I plunge them into an extreme situation (the ship has crashed into something and is going to explode or the war has broken out and they’re cut off behind enemy lines) and over the course of the novel the characters work to survive, fall in love (since I write romances) and reach that Happily Ever After ending. But the journey is as dangerous and exciting as I can make it.

Some authors, like me, always write scenes in order. But I know some people write scenes out of order. How about you?

When I start a book I know the main characters, the beginning, the ending and a few of the major scenes. After that I’m writing by the seat of my pants, as they say. Sometimes the plot goes in a direction I hadn’t foreseen, or the characters do something I wasn’t expecting but the process works for me. I’m almost superstitious about the way my Muse works! I’ve also found that if I do an outline or think too much about the story without actually writing, then I lose the spark of creativity because I feel as if the book is done. Very hard to recover from that. So I might write a few of the big scenes if I’m impatient to get to them and then circle back to earlier events. At some point I put my head down and begin at the beginning and tie it all together. As far as a title (which was a subquestion to this one), I’m terrible at clever titles. My Egyptian novels are all Something of the Nile.

MagicOfTheNile_1600x2400

Do you have any advice for first-time authors?

Write every day, no exceptions. And don’t fall into self-editing as you go. Edit when the manuscript is finished, of course, but if you pick at your words too much while you’re in progress, you may never finish that first book. A first draft is by definition going to need some rework and will have issues to be fixed. It’s ok!

Can you tell us about your road to publication?

I’ve been writing since I was seven years old but didn’t start to seriously hone my craft until around 2011. Prior to that I was busy with my day job and being a single mother to two daughters. I submitted Priestess of the Nile to the Carina Press slush pile in early 2011 and received The Call from Angela James in August of that year. I was pretty incoherent on the phone with her – talk about dreams coming true! Priestess came out in January 2012 and my first self-published novel Wreck of the Nebula Dream came out in March of the same year. I hadn’t really planned to self-publish but 2012 was the 100th anniversary of the sinking of Titanic, and my book is loosely based on the tragedy. I’d been working on Wreck before Priestess sold, so I finished it but there was no time to go through the submission and editing process with a publisher, not even with Carina, so I put it out myself. (I did have an editor.) Wreck became an Amazon Best Seller and received an SFR Galaxy Award, so I was pretty encouraged to continue the self-publishing route.

There are so many conflicting opinions out there about everything related to publishing: e-book pricing, book promotion, social media usage etc. How do you sort through it all to figure out what works best for you?

Sometimes it’s like drinking from a fire hose, with so many possibilities. I do still work full time so I have to pick and choose what promotion to do. I belong to several author loops to stay up on the new and current trends, on pricing for example, or doing boxed sets. My approach is to only do the things that feel natural and comfortable to me. So I tweet all the time – I discovered I was born to be on twitter – but I’m not as big a user of Facebook. I love to blog, I love to do guest posts, I write a column for the USA Today Happily Ever After blog, I try to do some judiciously selected print ads through the year, I do a few book signings…but I always have to remember to prioritize writing the next book, which is the best promo of all.

How much research was involved in writing your book? How did you go about it?

For the science fiction romances, I actually do some research. Since Wreck of the Nebula Dream is based on Titanic, I delved into all aspects of the sinking. Escape from Zulaire is primarily inspired by the Sepoy Incident which occurred in India during the British time there, so I researched that, more to get a feel for how it was to be an English woman, trapped in that awful situation where people you knew and trusted suddenly were out to massacre you. For my ancient Egyptians I do massive research all the time. I want to include as many real life details and settings as possible, to create a genuine feeling of being in the midst of events several thousand years in the past. I talk about historical accuracy and research on my blog.

If you were to write a non-fiction book, what might it be about?

Ancient Egypt, no question! I have a huge library of books covering all aspects of the history and the culture and I love to discover new things about their civilization.

We all know the old saying; you can’t judge a book by its cover. This is true. However, how much importance do you place on your book cover design?

The cover is really important. That’s the first thing a reader sees, usually in thumbnail form, and you want it to draw them in, to intrigue them, to give a strong sense that this is a quality book. I work with Fiona Jayde for my SFR covers and with Frauke Spanuth of Croco Designs for the Egyptians. They both have a strong sense of what fits the genre I’m writing in, what art and fonts will convey the essence of my stories. Some people are talented enough to do fabulous covers for themselves but for the vast majority of us it’s better to hire a top notch cover artist and collaborate.

Do you miss spending time with your characters when you finish writing them?

Not really, because by the time I finish one book, I usually have several more trying to get my attention, so I’ll have started thinking about the next set of characters and their story. I do have a couple of sequels in mind though!

If you had a million dollars to give to charity, how would you allot the funds?

I tend to support charities that benefit either children (especially those with autism), veterans or animals. I’d love to give the Los Angeles Zoo a big donation to have a red panda house!

If you are a TV watcher, would you share the names of your favorite shows with us?

I love “Project Runway” in any form, also “Say Yes To The Dress”. “Dancing With The Stars” is another show I really enjoy. As far as fictional programs, I’m mesmerized by “The Walking Dead” and “The Big Bang Theory” is lots of fun on many levels.

Have you ever walked out of a movie? If so, what was it?

Only once have I actually walked out and that was “Anaconda”. Since I hate snakes, I ought to have known I wasn’t going to be able to sit through this!

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CROSSING GENRES by Eden Baylee

 

Lisette has generously offered me space to guest blog about my latest book, Stranger at Sunset, so before anything else, I want to thank her for hosting me.

I’m very happy to be here because I’ve known Lisette for some time and have recently started to delve into her work. I have enormous respect for her as an author as she writes in multiple genres—from YA to literary fiction to romantic comedy.

I’ve always maintained that any writer with a talent for words can create a story. A genre is merely made up of ideas dropped into a funnel. If enough elements fall out of it under a specific category, that’s how the book will ultimately be labeled. There are no hard rules, and many novels stagger multiple genres.

As an author, I don’t have any great attachment to whether my book is labeled a mystery or thriller or suspense. Labels give readers an idea of what to expect and they help marketers promote books. I started as a writer of erotica, and then took a hard turn to pen Stranger at Sunset, a psychological mystery/thriller. It helped that I had written flash fiction and short stories in multiple genres previously. It’s been a challenge but not impossible to gain acceptance into a new genre.

As a reader, you might be asking: What is a psychological mystery/thriller? And what can you expect from Stranger at Sunset?

STRANGER_SUNSET

In brief, it is not a traditional mystery because although there is a crime, you will not know who the victim or perpetrator is from the start. It’s not a “whodunit?” There is no detective.

The story stimulates mood with a focus on moral conflict. I use unreliable narrators to drive the psychological tension in unpredictable ways. What I’m exploring are the characters’ motives and how they view the world, which is different from how you and I may see it. Multiple characters are revealed via changes in point of view and scenes that involve each separately.

The “psychological mystery” part reveals a battle of wits between the characters, and more importantly, a struggle within individual minds. The themes of identity and raison d’être are important.

The “thriller” part defines how the reader rides along with the protagonist, Dr. Kate Hampton, experiencing things as they happen to her. You will be just as surprised as she is when the “monster” jumps out of the closet.

Suspense is essential, and it builds between characters in a place where you would not normally have conflict—a tropical resort in sunny Jamaica. It’s the antithesis of where you would expect to find human foibles such as intolerance, inhibitions, and insecurities.

And of course, there is always the element of a twist ending, just because I love twist endings. 😀

I hope this synopsis gives you an idea of what Stranger at Sunset offers. I would love to answer any questions or discuss thoughts about genre barriers or writing a psychological mystery/thriller, so please don’t hesitate to comment.

 

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Thank you, Lisette, for giving me this opportunity to share with your readers. I really appreciate all you do to connect authors to an audience.

My pleasure, Eden. As you know, I’ve read Stranger At Sunset and just loved it. You write beautifully and your characters were wonderfully complex and intriguing. I’m very much looking forward to the next in the series.

For readers who may have missed your interview at my writers’ chateau in December, 2012, it can be read here.

EdenBaylee

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